We can afford to give our time


We visited the Yorkshire Dales National Park recently and met a group of volunteers working on one of the paths while we were out walking.  We chatted to the group for a short while about the work they were carrying out and as we walked away we both agreed that we could do that.

Once I have retired fully it is my intention to give some of my time for free and I have started to think about the places I could do this.

I am already the Treasurer for a small charity and I give my time freely as a minute taker to the management board of our flats but not working will free up more time to do some good around Greater Manchester.

I am keen that my volunteering is enjoyable and I am thinking about conservation and environmental organisations where I could do some good for now and the future.  I would also like to volunteer locally and support an organisation in Salford.  Fortunately, we have plenty of excellent organisations around us.

The shortlist includes:

Ordsall Hall Museum

RHS garden at Worsley New Hall

Lancashire Wildlife Trust

Wildfowl & Wetland Trust at Martin Mere

Yorkshire Dales National Park

In addition, I plan to spend time every week [when we are at home] picking up litter and tidying up the bushes around our local area.  I used to collect litter walking to and from work every day and I want to spend a bit more time making the area where we live more pleasant to live in.




The truth is out there! Work know about my early retirement

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I am looking forward to time for more cycling trips in Italy and …

So I have done it!  My boss now knows that in three months time I will be retiring.  How did that go?  I work for a caring charity and my boss is a lovely person.  She trusts me, knows that I am reliable and understands that I don’t make decision lightly … she also understands my need for a good work-life balance to stay happy and healthy and respects my desire to work in admin, rather than as the manager I used to be … but when I told her my news it was clear that it wasn’t something she was expecting.

Mostly she was upset that she was losing a reliable member of staff.  She argued that I wasn’t anywhere near old enough to retire [I know].  I [possibly unrealistically] wanted her to be happy for me and so kept reminding her that my retirement is wonderful news and that perhaps she could be pleased for me.

We were meeting at our head office and later we went to tell other colleagues who were equally shocked and also envious.  This broadcasting of the announcement helped me to really absorb the reality of it in my heart, as well as my head [this might sound silly after so much planning] and the inner joy I felt was almost overwhelming.  I was able to fly the flag for the power of saving and how being frugal and strict with outgoings can pay off.  Of course, everyone wanted to know what our retirement plans are and became misty-eyed with envy at all those forthcoming long trips to sunny places in our campervan.

I was feeling happy and relieved to have got this conversation over and then the mood flipped.  As you might have read, the company has been through various re-organisations recently and just after I had given my news the information came through that the company is implementing an immediate recruitment freeze.  A stab of guilt pierced through my joyful state as I realised I was leaving at a time when they won’t be able to replace me, but honestly this only made a small chip in my elation.

Back in April I deliberated about when to get this conversation out of the way.  At that time leaving was eight months away and it was certainly too soon to tell.  But after the months of waiting I feel so relieved for a number of reasons; I was feeling very awkward having being part of a number of conversations recently regarding additional responsibilities and new projects that would continue beyond the festive period and so beyond my time with the company and I also prefer to be honest and open and I was uncomfortable not sharing my plans with colleagues.  Of course, that niggling guilt will keep returning because that is the person I am, but I know that I am not dispensable.  Now the company has three months to plan where my workload will sit from the New Year and I feel satisfied that I have treated them fairly.

I don’t expect a big fuss when I retire as working from home I won’t leave a desk-sized gap in anyone’s office.  There will be no surprise bunch of flowers, no card signed by everyone in the building, little joking about how lucky I am to be retiring and no cake baking for my last day at work.  I feel a mixture of gratefulness and sadness about this, I don’t like lots of fuss but I am someone who likes to mark occasions … I think I will need to find a way with family and friends to mark the ending of my office-bound working life, after all it is now over 40-years since I walked in to my first workplace [an opticians] as a young and naive 16-year old.

Teesdale camping weekend with friends

Big views across the river Tees

We are happy with any excuse to visit Teesdale and explore this lovely valley a little bit more and so set off for Cotherstone (pronounced to rhyme with fun not phone) in a cheerful mood, looking forward to meeting up with old friends and making new ones.  Yes, this was the autumn get together of the Devon Owners group.

We were staying at the lovely and welcoming Doe Park Caravan Site just a ten minute walk from Cotherstone.  For someone so hopeless remembering names there were so many Devon ‘vans [and their owners] at this meet it was hard to keep up with who was who, we kept the attendance list close by all weekend and apologise to everyone whose name we got wrong.

Our welcome was warm and very genial.  Normally when we arrive on a campsite the first thing we do [being addicted to a cuppa] is put the kettle on and have a cup of tea.  Parking on our pitch on Friday afternoon we managed to get the kettle on, but it was over an hour before we had a long enough break in neighbours popping over to say hello and could actually make that brew.

Of course, we did some walking and while many people walked or cycled into the delightful Barnard Castle, we decided to go the other way to Eggleston, which has a lovely hall and gardens, with a tea shop and a pretty garden trail that passes colourful borders, a ruined chapel and fruit trees laden with apples and plums.  Autumn is settling in now and we walked high above the river, finding huge puffball mushrooms and picked blackberries from the hedgerows.  We returned along the Tees Railway Path from Romaldkirk which is perfect for walking or cycling.

On the way home we stopped in Kirkby Stephen on the edge of the lovely Howgill Fells and walked up Smardale Fell.  We were walking in blustery sunshine and could see showers flitting across the Pennines and watched rainbows briefly arching over the hills.

Buying second-hand makes sense to us

The new-to-us sofa

Big changes are afoot at the BOTRA household.  As we move away from paid work it made sense to change the use of the second bedroom of our flat from office [and storage of stuff] to dining room [and storage of stuff].  This is a bit of a challenge, as although generally our dining room only needs enough space for two and up to six when we have visitors a couple of times a year it needs to stretch as we host our book group.  On these evenings we need space to sit ten people for a meal; a big ask for a small flat.

After much deliberating, measuring and scribbling of plans we figured we could fit the two dining tables needed for book group in to the room formerly known as the ‘office’ as well as some built in cupboards for the stuff and so the project started to take shape.

A bonus with this plan is that moving the dining table out of the living room gave us much more space in the living room.  More consideration and measurements later and we realised we could fit in another sofa.  Hurrah!  Not only would the ten book group members be able to sit and eat, they would now also have more space to relax in during the pre-eating and post-eating phase of our meetings.

But our excitement plummeted when we realised what an expensive business buying a new sofa is.  We don’t buy new furniture very often but we walked down to a local furniture store and sat on everything they had.  The cheap [ish] ones felt shoddy and although we are frugal, we don’t like shoddy, we expect things we buy to last for years and years.  The well-made sofas felt the business but would take a good chunk of our budget.

Somewhat disheartened I went to look in a local charity shop that specialises in furniture and found the sofa in the photo, just the right colour to compliment our other sofa, from a well-known and expensive brand and professionally cleaned by the charity before being put on sale.  At only £125 it was a good recycling bargain.

We feel good because we haven’t spent lots of money and our savings have stayed on track, our cash has gone to a charity, rather than a big business and we have helped to recycle a sofa and so reduced the amount going to landfill and no new resources have been used up.

Reducing our use of plastic one tiny step at a time

Making hummus in our tiny food processor

We have a long way to go before we are anywhere near a Zero Waste Home.  But, as with everything, when the overall goal is so enormous I feel better if I at least start to make some small steps towards getting there.

Since the 1980s we have taken many tiny steps towards being a low waste house.  We already make our own bread; we don’t buy any sort of microwave meals [we don’t have a microwave] or convenience foods [with the exception of Linda McCartney’s sausages, which come sensibly packaged in just an easily recycled cardboard box].  We gave up laundry liquid for a cardboard box of powder earlier this year and buy as many fruit and vegetables that are both local and come without packaging as we can find.  We have recently moved on to Lush shampoo bars, rather than buying plastic bottles.  We keep leftovers in bowls and containers in the fridge [and then use them] and have a roll of clingfilm we have owned for decades and it just seems a shame to throw it away.

So, it has been a long time in coming but I finally got around to making our own hummus.  This is something I eat lots of and the plastic pots it comes in have been taunting me every time I bought it and spoiling my enjoyment of this wonderful food.

For me the crucial step was buying a jar of tahini [we always have garlic, olive oil and chickpeas in the cupboard] … every time I went shopping I prevaricated because it was just something else to make space for in to our tiny kitchen.  I know that making hummus is really easy to do and takes just a few minutes, after all I made my own back in the eighties when you couldn’t find it in a supermarket.  But last week I got a grip, bought the tahini and whipped up some delicious hummus.

So for a day or two I will enjoy the virtuous feeling of taking a step in the right direction until I read some more and come up with the next thing to tackle … if I can find room for a five litre container of white vinegar it might be cleaning products.

A long overdue visit to glorious Wharfedale

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The river Wharfe near Grassington

Well …  Mr BOTRA and I do know that life is rushing by us at an alarming rate but we really couldn’t believe it had been two years since we had visited the gorgeous Wharfedale in the Yorkshire Dales.  What were we thinking of?  Why had we neglected this beautiful valley for so long?  Had other beautiful parts of the UK been distracting us?  [The answer is yes to the last question].

We made up for it this last weekend and were rewarded for our return with beautiful weather for a couple of days that was perfect for walking trips.

On day one we followed a favourite walk from the campsite near Grassington, following grassy paths over Malham Moor and stopping to admire the wide open views.  We crossed the lovely Wharfe at Conistone and here decided to head for Kettlewell and pick up the bus back down the dale.  This took us to the wonderful dry limestone valley known as Conistone Dib.  The path winds upwards through a rocky gorge that would once have been a lively stream and we enjoyed climbing up the steps of old waterfalls and along the gravel stream bed.  Along the way we met a group of National Park volunteers clearing stone cairns and we stopped to chat.  As we walked away we were both thinking the same thing … how lovely it will be to have the time to volunteer in this beautiful area.

The next day was still sunny and we walked from Grassington along the river Wharfe to the pretty village of Burnsall.  Thanks to rain a couple of days before the river was full and this made crossing by the stepping stones at Linton and Burnsall entertaining for everyone who was watching.  We watched dad wading across, the river up to his thighs; he held the hand of his young daughter who was then able to jump across the stones.  Later we marvelled at the daring of a walker who ran across so fast his feet hardly touched the stones.  We returned through the valley-side village of Hebden and as we came through Grassington Park Estate Meadows we promised ourselves we would visit next July to see the flowering meadows in their full glory.

Following our hearts: does owning a campervan make financial sense?

Our Devon Tempest campervan

This article in the Observer newspaper last week got Mr BOTRA and I thinking about whether owning our campervan saves or costs us money.  It shows how important owning the ‘van is to us that we have never given this much thought before.  As someone who has spreadsheets to plot our spending and savings to every penny, this seems like a huge omission and just goes to show that when it comes down to it our hearts rule over our heads.  We own the ‘van because we love the lifestyle, rather than to save money and even while we have been saving to retire we have never thought of not owning a campervan.

To investigate further I opened up all the spreadsheets and looked at the costs for our previous ‘van over eight camping seasons from 2007 to 2014

Insurance, services, road tax, MOT, tracker & club membership cost around £1,200 each year.  Before we had a campervan we didn’t own a car but we did spend money on hiring cars every month.

Over the years the ‘van didn’t need a lot of maintenance [it was a VW] but it did travel 70,000 miles and we had to buy the following, a new exhaust, tyres, new covers for the front seats, two replacement windows.  The cost of these averages out at £161 a year.

Our regular camping holiday in Europe for over three weeks, and including a ferry, costs around £1,350 each year [note, I haven’t counted food bought in supermarkets in this total as we would eat if we were at home].

In those years we spent an average of 25 other nights camping in the UK [from 18 to 48 nights].  These nights were mostly on campsites with some wild camping and cost an average of £17.63 / night, giving an average of £581 each year.

I haven’t calculated diesel costs in this rough and ready estimate, as we would still want to go to places …yes, I do know the ‘van is not as economical as a car but neither have I accounted for car hire and taxis in my calculations.  It is all getting complicated and I hope these things just cancel each other out.

Motorhomes don’t depreciate in the same way as cars.  When we traded in the ‘van we only lost £8,500 on the price we had paid for it, this works out at £1,062 per year.

Total cost each year has been £4,354 per year for an average of 52 nights holiday each year.

It is hard to estimate what we would have spent on holidays if we hadn’t had the ‘van but based on what we used to do I can estimate a figure.  We used to have a three week organised cycling holiday using hotels in mainland Europe [£3,000], a week in Scotland [£700], a short break in Germany [£700] and a UK short break [£400].

This gives a grand total of £4,800 on around 37 nights of holiday.

So owning the ‘van saves us £446 / year and we get 15 nights more holiday a year.  But hang on … Interest rates were considerably higher between 2007 and 2014 [5.5% in 2007].  If we had invested the £32,000 we had spent on the ‘van we could have received at least £2,000 a year in interest and would be quids in; however, with today’s low interest rates the sums add up very differently, as the article suggests.  Do we regret buying the ‘van when we did – absolutely not!