Goodbye old shoes

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I am a top-class de-clutterer!  I will happily give books I have read to friends, send things I no longer use or wear to the charity shop and sell stuff to others via Ebay and yet I am finding parting with these old shoes a real wrench.  These Brasher Ntoba shoes have given me around 15-years of comfort and I am pretty sure that no other shoes will ever be the same again.  Made for everyday comfort for exploring and travelling I have worn these shoes on walks up small hills and around the countryside, they have taken me to work in wet and snowy weather and out to the shops through the last ten winters; they have never felt uncomfortable and putting them on has always bought me pleasure.

I can still remember the day I bought these wonderful shoes.  It was a wet day in the Lake District and not really fit for walking and so we were shopping for shoes in one of the many shops specialising in walking gear in Ambleside.  I put these Brasher shoes on and as I walked around the shop trying them out for size and comfort I knew straight away they were special shoes; really I should have bought two pairs [or maybe three] while I was there so I had enough for a lifetime.

I think I am finding parting with these shoes particularly difficult because shoes are perhaps the most important item of clothing I buy.  They are my connection with the earth and carry me on the miles I walk every day and being able to do this is so much a part of who I am.  As these wonderful old grey shoes were already on their last legs five years ago I bought a replacement pair of Brasher shoes [again in Ambleside].  These brown Ambler GTX shoes are robust and comfortable enough for a few hours and I wear them through the winter but for some reason they are not the same and wearing them all day leaves my feet feeling tired.  Consequently I don’t love them in the same way as my old shoes.  For the hills I now also have some technical lightweight shoes that are really comfortable to wear and this might be the way to go for the Salford streets too.

I have hung on to these old grey shoes way beyond their reasonable lifespan as I have been unable to part with them but walking in them recently both side seams were gaping wide open where the stitching had come undone, the soles no longer have any tread left and I had to admit that it was time to call it a day.  So farewell old shoes, I am not sure walking will ever be quite the same again.

 

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What if you had loads of money?

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A very expensive house boat on the River Thames

We were at a travel show recently and began to daydream about what we might do if we didn’t have to live on our budget and had a bucket-full of money to spare.  We have a good and happy life spending our £24,000 a year, we travel around Europe in our campervan, socialise, eat as much ice-cream as we need and go to the cinema and concerts pretty much when we want.  Our frugal lifestyle isn’t exactly impoverished and we are content with the life we have because it is the one we chose.  Although I find it hard to put myself in the shoes of someone who doesn’t need to watch the pennies [after 40-years of thrift] I have pushed myself to have fun playing the what-if game?  So … what if a premium bond win or a surprise inheritance suddenly gave us an extra £10,000 to spend, what do I think we would do with it?

  1. Topping up the contingency fund

No surprise here, we might be really boring and just add this to our contingency fund but that isn’t really playing the game is it?

2. Travel

Turns out if we had a chunk of money I would mostly want to use it to do something we certainly couldn’t do without the money and this is travel to see far-away friends.  We have dear friends in the USA and in Australia and spending time with them would be such a wonderful treat.  We have the time now and it is really only the cost of the flights that stops us packing a suitcase and going.  Unfortunately, our current budget doesn’t quite allow for this trip on top of our European trips in our campervan.

The other trip that is hugely expensive but that I have on my wish list is taking the campervan to Iceland on the ferry [over €3,000 for 2018] but what a trip that would be; in my dreams we would spend a month or so touring around Iceland, just imagine …

3. A new home?

I am comfortable living in the less wealthy side of town  where our neighbours are hard-working individuals who don’t go to work in suits but often leave early in the morning in a high-vis jacket; I like living alongside these down-to-earth folk.  £10,000 wouldn’t be enough to make moving home worthwhile but double that might have us considering buying somewhere in the posher [and more expensive] part of town.  We certainly wouldn’t be buying an expensive house boat on the River Thames.

4. A shopping spree?

Even with money to burn we wouldn’t start buying stuff.  Would we buy a new campervan I hear you ask?  Our current Devon Tempest works really well for us, is only three-years old and has done just 26,000 miles; this hardly merits replacement.

5. Giving

In my dreams I have enough money to be able to give a chunk of cash to one or more of my favourite local charities, helping them to be financially stable, and still have enough left over to shower my friends and family with gifts.

These might be harmless musings but it has spurned me on to start calculating the cost of my dream trip to visit our faraway friends.  Having under-spent on our £27,000 budget by £3,000 in 2017 I might hang on to this dream by just a tiny thread.  If we under-spend again in 2018 it might become a real possibility in the future.

 

 

What is the best travel writer’s camera? The Panasonic Lumix DMC TZ100 is my choice

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A perfect day at Loch Linnhe on the Scottish west coast

Cameras are such an individual choice and fortunately today there are plenty of options out there to suit everyone but I am not the only person that wants high quality photographs from a compact camera.  I now own a Panasonic Lumix DMC TZ100 and think it is the perfect camera for the active traveller I am.  This camera is a million miles from the first camera I owned as a young teenager; this was my dad’s Kodak Brownie that he had been given in the 1950s and I was over-the-moon to have my own camera.  Once I was earning money I splashed out on my own 35-mm SLR camera, a Canon AE-1, apparently the first SLR with a microprocessor and a model that sold very well.  I bought different lenses for my Canon over 25-years and loved using it and it took beautiful photographs but by the 1990s we were taking back-packing holidays more and more and a bulky 35-mm camera with its associated lenses was taking up too much room in my rucksack.  Although I still loved taking photographs, it got to the point where I would deliberate whether I really wanted to take my camera out with me.

My first digital camera was bought in 2005, it was a second-hand Fuji that was still fairly bulky but I was quickly sold with the convenience of digital over film.  Never again would we lose a roll of film because someone had set the postbox alight [such as our precious wedding day photographs] or even have to limit the number of photographs I took.  Digital was the way forward for me; I could take as many photographs as I wanted, see them immediately and edit them in the comfort of my home on the computer.

By 2008 I had moved on to digital compacts and owned a Canon and an Olympus before upgrading and buying a Panasonic DMC-TZ40 Lumix just over four years ago.  At this time we were still saving up to retire and I thought the £200+ I paid for this camera was more than enough for someone who was trying to be frugal.  In this effort to save money I had not anticipated how important photography would become in my emerging career as a travel writer.  I loved using the TZ40 but it didn’t always perform as well as I would like.  There is a lesson here that sometimes being frugal can cost you money rather than save it and less than three years later I took the plunge and paid £550 for my Panasonic DMC TZ100.

I know there are more expensive cameras out there and although every camera is a compromise in some way, I now feel I have the camera of my dreams.  Although I am sure I could get even greater quality out of a more expensive camera, the TZ100 delivers great quality photographs, gives me flexibility to change settings, has more features than I will ever need to use and is small and compact and so is never a nuisance to carry on a walk.  I chose the Panasonic because of the positive reviews, for the good quality large viewing screen that I can use even in bright sun and because of my positive experience with the TZ40.  Staying with Panasonic brand also meant I could use the camera immediately as much of the functionality was familiar.

With this little gem of a camera by my side I can no longer blame the camera for poor photographs; I only have myself to blame for any hopeless shots.

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The Panasonic Lumix TZ100

Camping comfort food: dhal or lentil curry

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Dhal simmering in the pan

While the weather is below freezing I want to eat warming comfort food that is quick to make and delicious to eat.  My go-to recipe in these circumstances is lentil curry.  The recipe is below but it is a versatile dish that you can make your own and add to as suits you.  This is made from ingredients we always have in the store cupboard either at home or in the campervan and for me lentil curry is the ultimate comfort food, you can eat it from a bowl with just a fork [or even a spoon], it is warming and spicy and tasty and memories of all those other lentil curries from the past linger around it.

Dhal / lentil curry for two

Boil a pan of water with a pinch of salt and add two good handfuls (maybe 200 grams) of dried red lentils and a couple of bay leaves.  Boil and skim off any white scum as they boil and top up the water if necessary until the lentils are soft [about 20 minutes].  For this recipe you don’t have to boil the lentils dry.

Remove the bay leaves and put the lentils to one side [I put them in a bowl in the campervan and reuse the same pan for the next stage].

Fry a finely chopped onion in vegetable oil until it starts to catch and brown slightly and then add spices to suit you.  At home I use a teaspoon each of ground tumeric, ground cumin and ground coriander, a couple of crushed garlic cloves, a pinch of chili flakes or a fresh chili chopped and maybe a little fresh ginger if I have some in.  In the campervan I usually only have a garam masala mix and fresh garlic to hand.  Fry these for a minute or two and then add the lentils to the pan.  You are now more or less finished but you can garnish the curry with fresh coriander if you have this available.

For variety I sometimes add a couple of chopped tomatoes to the onion or a chopped courgette.  Sometimes I add some finely chopped spinach at the end and this adds some colour.

I serve this wonderful simple food with either plain boiled rice or naan bread or home-made chapattis, the choice is yours.  Not only is this quick to make it is also a cheap eat.  In the campervan naan bread keeps the washing up to just one pan which is a win-win.  Enjoy!

How can you afford holidays when you live on a low budget

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Verona in 1991

We all prioritise what we spend our money on to have the life we want.  You won’t be surprised to read that I have always prioritised holidays over pretty much all discretionary spending.  Despite living on an average or low income for 40-years we have always travelled.  Firstly, some background … when I first started work and living alone I had little money to spare so marriage to Mr BOTRA was a big plus financially [and in many other ways].  Even with below average salaries we were much better off living as a couple.  We had our son in the Thatcher years and so received only a few weeks maternity pay, had to fight for one week of paternity leave, received no Family Tax Credits and the only state help we received was Family Allowance that was frozen in the late 1980s.  And yet we managed to afford holidays, how did we do this?

Through all those years we prioritised holidays over living in expensive houses, buying new furniture and cars and posh frocks.  This was our choice and whereas we would probably be better off now if we had made different decisions no one can ever take all those holiday memories away from us.  We had a ‘big’ holiday every year and these were often adventurous holidays abroad.  After paying the mortgage and the utilities, holidays were our next priority and we saved a set amount every month that was earmarked specifically for holidays.  This amount was put in to a dedicated savings account and such was our determination to explore foreign places that we never dipped in to this money for other financial emergencies.

Our holidays were never expensive and luxurious trips, it was always the travelling that we were interested in.  We enjoyed camping and before our baby was born we bought a high quality tent and acclimatised him to camping from being a toddler.  We chose wisely, buying a Saunders Spacepacker lightweight back-packing tent, widely recognised as the best available in the 1980s and beyond.  We could carry this and our ‘gear’ for our trip in two big rucksacks.  When our son outgrew our shared Spacepacker we bought him his own.

Travelling and seeing new places was what mattered to us, taking walks costs nothing and our holidays were about hiking in the mountains and enjoying fresh air and new experiences.  The budget rarely ran to eating out; the exception was our trip to what was then Czechoslovakia and is now the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1992.  Back then eating out was so cheap in those countries we could indulge.  We slipped up when we visited the Black Forest in Germany the following year, assuming the same budget as we had spent in Czechoslovakia and finding out that Germany was much more expensive than eastern Europe!  With no credit card to prop us up we had to stay within budget and it was a tight fortnight.  We discovered Germany’s budget supermarkets, spent the days walking, playing in the parks and visiting free museums and pitched up on a scruffy, anarchic and most importantly cheap campsite; it was an interesting trip.

It was 1991 when we first went abroad to Italy [see the photograph above] and this trip set the pattern.  We took the train to Verona, which had been on my list for many years and I thought I had arrived in heaven.  Camping Castel San Pietro above the town turned out to be the perfect place for two young parents and their five-year old child.  Set inside ancient walls this was a relaxed, welcoming and slightly quirky campsite.  From here we made our way on public transport to the Dolomites and spent our days walking in the dramatic and unbeatable mountain scenery.

As well as these train and backpacking holidays we would visit Scotland every Easter, sharing the cost of a large self-catering house with friends made it affordable and we would have numerous weekends away with the tent in the UK.  These were the days before Facebook but if we had been able to post about our holiday activity you would have thought we had loads of money!

These adventures and trips to all corners of Europe would not have been possible without that discipline of regular saving over twelve months.  We didn’t consider ourselves natural savers and we certainly didn’t save for anything else at this time, there was very little spare.  Our desire to travel gave us the motivation and we continued this monthly saving plan even as we became more financially comfortable.

Think Save Retire recently blogged about earmarking your money a well-timed post as I was drafting this.  Completing Steve’s statement clarified for me that holidays have always been our priority and made me realise how we continue to make sure that our money supports that priority.

 

 

 

 

Three more small steps to giving up plastic: Update #4

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A basket of cloths

1. Toilet rolls

We welcomed in 2018 by receiving a box of 48 toilet rolls from Who Gives A Crap.  This company are trying to make the world a better place one toilet roll at a time.  Their toilet paper comes wrapped in paper, not plastic and most importantly it does the job [we bought the premium 100% bamboo rolls].  Who Gives A Crap started four-years ago thanks to a crowd funding campaign and I heard about them thanks to blogs written by people who are way ahead of me in their pursuit of giving up plastic.  Who Gives A Crap’s toilet rolls are from recycled paper or from sustainable bamboo and they donate 50% of their profits to organisations such as WaterAid to help build toilets and improve sanitation in countries that don’t have access to a toilet.

2. Re-usable bags for fruit and vegetables

Apart from toilet rolls [and I just can’t go there] my current interest is in finding items we can re-use rather than use and bin, as much as it in finding items that are plastic-free.  We have invested in six  re-usable mesh bags for tomatoes, mushrooms, onions, small oranges and other fruit and vegetables we buy loose.  I keep three at home in the bike pannier that is used for shopping trips and three in the campervan.  I have come to the conclusion that re-using our own bags is preferable to even using paper bags and so bought these bags and keep them handy so there is no excuse to use anything else.  I found the mesh draw-string bags on Ebay [I think they are also sold for separating laundry items].  The staff in our local supermarket were happy to peer in them before weighing and they are light and easy to wash if you need to, so these are a big win.

3. Re-usable alternatives to kitchen roll

We are not big kitchen roll users, we always have a damp cloths [torn up clothes or towels] hanging around the kitchen for small spills.  But we always have a roll in the kitchen for things like mopping up bigger spills and drying aubergine that has been salted and rinsed.  To prevent even this small usage we now have a basket of dry cloths in the kitchen window [see top photo].  These are a combination of torn up old towels, old face cloths and some miscellaneous new reusable cloths we had in the cupboard.  This makes it really easy to grab a dry and clean cloth when ever it is needed and then throw them in the washing machine to be used again.

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The toilet rolls arrived wrapped in paper and in a cardboard box

 

 

 

 

 

My first year of retirement in numbers

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Above Castleton in the Peak District

Twelve months retired – so how has that gone?  We’ve certainly packed a lot in to the last year and at home we have settled in to a pattern for a shared retirement that is comfortable and relaxed.  At home we both have our own projects and interests and often beaver quietly away at these before taking an afternoon walk around the neighbourhood or cycle to the supermarket.  But we were only home for eight months of the year and those holiday days have a different pattern of walking and cycling and discovering new places.  In some ways this year has been unusual as after the incident in Greece we were without a campervan for two months while it was off the road.

I have managed to keep my resolution to not say ‘I don’t know how I ever had time to go to work’ which I guess must annoy all those people who are squeezing work and life into their seven days.  We have also made a conscious effort to do just / at least one thing each day.

Holidays and trips – 16 different holidays from one-night to two months.  We had planned two longish trips to mainland Europe in the spring and the autumn and we had a wonderful trip to Spain and Portugal in September and October but our trip to Greece in the spring didn’t go quite according to plan.  Now this is all over we can look back on the whole Greek tragedy as a learning experience [although one we would have preferred to do without] and we haven’t let the trip knock our confidence; we might even head off to Greece again in the future.  In the UK we spent a few weeks in Scotland, went to the wonderful Upton Blues Festival and various other short breaks.  We have been away in the campervan for about 120 nights during the year.  This is less than we would have expected as the ‘van was off the road for a couple of months.  We tried other types of holidays and these just confirmed that the campervan life is the one for us.

Number of accidents in the campervan  – 1 (see above)

Number of times we have set the alarm clock – NONE!

Writing travel articles – 8- this is a similar number of travel articles for MMM as last year.  This doesn’t sound many and it truly isn’t and is in no way a full-time job.  But I work slowly and each 2,000 words represents about a months work – research, travelling, taking photographs, further research, editing photographs, writing and editing.  In addition I write some campsite reviews and short articles.  This makes my retirement a working one, although if it felt like work I would stop tomorrow.

Number of matinees we have been to – Three – hurrah!

Number of times I have wanted to go back to nine-to-five work – NONE!

Foreign languages learnt – 3 [although I am not fluent in any] – before our spring trip we both worked hard at learning some Greek with flash cards and 1970s TV programmes and our efforts were generally appreciated.  I also used Duolingo to brush up my Italian.  In the summer I learnt Spanish on Duolingo and TV learning and Mr BOTRA picked up some Portuguese.  This learning meant that we could confidently book in to campsites and order in cafes.  Mr BOTRA also keeps his German up to scratch.  Next year we will want to learn some Croatian and Slovenian phrases as well as brushing up other European languages.

Good deeds done – Never enough!  I wanted to do some good in retirement and continue to do the things I listed in this previous post.  My elderly neighbours situation has recently worsened and I feel guilty for not helping her more.

Tai chi – Between once a week and daily!  While we were away in September and October we practiced tai chi every day, a combination of fine weather and peaceful campsites made this easy and fun to do.  At home we just about have enough space for tai chi without bumping in to each other and so manage to do occasional practice, as well as get to our weekly class.

Number of books read  – 64 – this year I have made a conscious effort to read more travel books and fiction as well as novels.

Number of blog posts in 2017 – 101 – I managed 78 posts on Back On The Road Again and just 23 posts on my Memorial Bench Stories blog [I must try harder].

Number of days we haven’t been outdoors for at least half-an-hour – 4 [this is a guess] – mostly we like to get out and enjoy some fresh air even if it is raining and we get out for just half-an-hour.

It has mostly added up to a good year and bring on year two of retirement, I’m loving it.