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

2012-06-05 Cecina cycle ride 006.JPG
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

2016 Sept Wharfedale Grassington (21).JPG
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!

Supermarket shopping by bike: a win-win

Ortlieb panniers can carry a lot of stuff

Isn’t it great when something turns out better than you thought.  Since working from home the only thing I have really missed is the exercise I got walking to work.  Although I make sure I move around a lot during the day, my work is mostly sitting at a laptop and so by the end of the working day I am itching to get moving.

To make sure this idea to take exercise happens I thought I would try stopping the supermarket ‘big’ shop in the ‘van or using home delivery and instead get out on the bike two or three times a week to get all our shopping.

Previously, I have always done a bicycle shopping trip once a week mainly for fresh fruit and vegetables.  In addition about once a month we would do what we call round here a ‘big’ shop to get store cupboard essentials and cleaning materials. We are lucky to have five supermarkets within easy cycling distance of home [no farmers market nearby unfortunately as we don’t live in that sort of an area] and I vary which one I visit to add variety to my trips.

I honestly expected this method of shopping to be more expensive, as I am visiting the shops more; however, the spreadsheet doesn’t lie and I am pleased to say I have found the opposite, it has actually saved us money.  It helps that I do plan meals, make a list and stick to it as I hate to waste food and I mostly use the cheaper supermarkets.  Also, I am limited to how much I can fit in to my [very roomy] Ortlieb pannier which stops some impulse buys.

So … the figures.  For the first four months of 2016 our supermarket shopping [all our food and household items] average was £248 per month. For the last two months, since working at home and shopping by bicycle the average monthly spend in the supermarkets has been £212 per month, a saving of £36 each month.   In May and June we were mostly on holiday, so different rules apply and these months are not featured.

We are saving money and I get out on my bike – a win-win, as they say.


Tents & rucksacks are now part of our past

1995 July wild camping near Sgurr a Chaorachain
Wild camping in Scotland

It has been an emotional recently in the BOTRA household, with lots of reminiscing and a few tears.  All because Mr BOTRA and I have faced the truth that we are [probably] never going to sleep under canvas or take a backpacking trip again.

I don’t think we are the only motorhomers who started our camping holidays with a tent, although we might be the only ones who, when we got married, didn’t own a fridge or a washing machine but did both bring a Vango Force 10 tent to the marital home.  Given our lack of white goods and possession of two tents, an extravagant purchase early in our marriage was a lightweight Saunders Spacepacker.  This beautiful and practical tent served us well over the years as we backpacked all over Europe, firstly just the two of us and later fitting our son into its womb-like interior.  Although the Spacepacker was sold on eBay years ago (another emotional time) as part of our money saving project to buy a brand new campervan, we had hung on to the larger tent and the possibility of camping.  In reality, since we bought our first campervan in 2005, the tent has only been used by friends and relatives.

During a recent clear out of the stuff among the dust under our bed, I pulled out the tent and our two large Karrimor rucksacks and dared to suggest it was time to offer them out to the world via eBay.

Mr BOTRA, the sentimental one, became misty-eyed, remembering all the places he had carried his rucksack and a trip down memory lane, accompanied by photographs took up the afternoon.  I was the practical one, reminding him how much we enjoy the comfort and freedom of the ‘van and pointing out how else we could use the valuable storage space in our small flat.

Amazingly there is a market for old camping gear, thanks to the British passion for festivals where inexpensive gear makes common sense.  So the old, but still waterproof, tent was collected by a local man who was optimistic enough to think that a British festival might not be as muddy as we knew it would be, and our old trusty rucksacks were bought by two similar music-loving individuals.  Our savings got a small boost and the tent and rucksacks were recycled and given a new life.


Saving money on the lovely island of Anglesey

The beautiful Llanddwyn Island on the Isle of Anglesey

Spending a few days visiting some of the wonderful nature reserves and wildlife sites on the Isle of Anglesey proved to be a very frugal holiday.  With no admission fees to pay, our only costs were small amounts for parking, leaving enough to buy the occasional [okay daily] ice-cream.

Anglesey has designated its 125 miles of coastline as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and rightly so, as the coastline is beautiful and varied.  We stood in the fresh breeze on the top of Holyhead Mountain and walked around the expanse of Red Wharf Bay, spotting egrets, curlew and oyster catchers feeding on the rich feeding grounds.  On the way to Amlwch, with its fascinating [and free] museum about the geology of Anglesey, we visited the old copper mine at Parys Mountain [again no charge] and were stunned by the vibrant purple and orange colours and the huge open cast mine.  We walked around Rhoscolyn Head to find the perfect white sea arch; this is just as impressive as Durdle Door but is kept a secret, as on a sunny day we had this idyllic spot to ourselves.  I have struggled to decide which photograph to use from this trip as there are so many but opted for this view of Llanddwyn Island, a tidal island accessed from Newborough Forest [we were just sorry we didn’t spot a red squirrel but with such an expanse of trees the squirrels were no doubt having fun out of sight].

Anglesey also has international recognition for its important geological heritage as it is one of the 120 areas that are part of the UNESCO Global Geoparks network.  Travelling across Anglesey is a journey across twelve Geological periods and 100 rock types.  The colour and variety of the rocks on Anglesey are there for every visitor to discover and of course this rocky diversity results in a range of different plants too.

We stayed on a small Caravan Club Certified Location [CL] site for £13 a night called Tyddyn Osgar in the village of Brynteg.  Mr BOTRA and I don’t understand the pricing policy of these small sites and it seems to be completely arbitrary with some charging over £15 a night for nothing more than a hook-up.  This one provided a friendly welcome, one of the best campsite showers we have ever found, well-cut grass, wide-open views across to the Snowdonia mountains, a pub nearby, great cycling from the site and an offer of a lift for linear walks if we needed it … all hard to beat and ensured our trip didn’t eat in to the savings.