What do retirees do all day?

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Two years into retirement, what do we do with our days? The paid travel writing I do to one side, here is a selection of things we get up to. There isn’t anything on the list that will blow your socks of, this is stuff that everyone does. The difference is that working people have to fit these activities into evenings and weekends. We enjoy having a lot more time!

What do retired people do all day? The list:

Daily or more than weekly

  • Blog writing
  • Listening to the radio or music
  • Reading novels [so much writing meant that last year I only read 47 books compared to 69 in 2017]
  • Keeping up-to-date with current affairs
  • Watching TV programmes and films
  • Learning languages
  • Getting out for a walk either locally or further afield – I am aiming to walk 2,019 kms in 2019!
  • Puzzles and quizzes
  • Completing surveys for small financial remuneration [with You Gov, Research Opinions and others]
  • Practising tai chi [we attend a weekly class when we are at home]
  • Going to our on-site gym
  • Social media
  • Cooking [and eating]
  • Talking to each other about our plans and ideas or politics and the news
  • Cleaning and laundry
  • Supermarket shopping – we tend to do this on foot or bicycles and shop at least a couple of times a week
  • Managing our finances

More than once a month

  • Researching and planning trips in our campervan
  • Supporting a local charity as a volunteer
  • Supporting the company that manages our flats as volunteers
  • Going camping
  • Cleaning, fixing or making things in our campervan

Monthly or occasionally

  • Meeting up with friends
  • Helping friends and neighbours
  • Attending our book group
  • Litter picking [although I’ve not done this as much as I hoped]
  • Going to music gigs, the cinema or theatre or football matches
  • Visiting local museums and galleries
  • Jigsaws
  • DIY in the flat

How to Apply Marginal Thinking to Financial Independence and Frugality

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A Portuguese cat looking down on us

Maybe in 2018 I took my eye off our financial ball.  Maybe I thought I had got the hang of being frugal, I was complacent and we ended up with a higher spending year than our budget allowed.  I thought we were in the frugal groove, I relaxed and wasn’t frugal 100% of the time.  Some people suggest you can’t take time out and that it is better to be frugal every minute of every day, staying in control and never allowing any marginal spending that will be the start of the path to profligacy!

Clayton Christensen tells his readers:

“It’s easier to hold your principles 100 percent of the time than it is to hold them 98 percent of the time.” 

He argues that if you follow your rules 98% of the time and make the assumption that doing something ‘just this once’ is a marginal action and negligible in the bigger picture, in the long run you will pay a higher cost.

An example … There are times when – in some particular extenuating circumstances – you might think of breaking the law with a small-time low-level crime that doesn’t hurt anyone.  Analysing your action based on the marginal cost, you figure the chances of being caught and going to jail are low.  But then small lies or wrong-doings can lead to further covering up and more lies, quickly snowballing and very soon the price doesn’t seem so low.  Hold your moral boundaries 100% of the time and you can be happy with who you are.

It is only human to use this marginal-cost analysis.  I am certainly guilty of occasionally buying just this one thing on the spur of the moment, rather than following our think-about-it-for-a-month policy.  Is this a slippery slope?  Will that one purchase snowball and lead to extravagance?

I am not totally convinced with this argument and think I might be happy with achieving frugality 98% of the time; however, I recognise that being aware of what is happening is a useful first step in considering your action, acknowledging it and finding strategies to avoid it in the future.

And yet … If I do buy something on the spur of the moment it is something I do with a full picture of our finances.  Everything we spend is noted, a manual process I find gives me time to thoroughly examine our outgoings.  It gives me the opportunity to question if any spur-of-the-moment purchase, however marginal, really did bring contentment or meet a need.  The process also means I will spot trends early enough to make changes.  A small just-because purchase doesn’t necessarily throw everything out of kilter.

I don’t think I did take my eye off the ball in 2018, my own way through a frugal life continues.  In 2018 one of the main reasons we over-spent was because of maintenance and repairs on our campervan.  These were in no way marginal costs, they weren’t negotiable and I don’t see them as an extravagant trend.

We all have our own ways of being frugal, some people continue to enjoy restaurant meals, others still want to spend money on looking good or have expensive holidays.  Everyone works it out for themselves.  Being frugal 100% of the time, avoiding unnecessary purchases and avoiding any marginal spending might be an ideal … but then again I am only human!

 

Walking 2,019 km in 2019

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Walking in the woods near Henley-on-Thames

It all started with a conversation with a friend towards the end of 2018.  We were on a walk together and he was keen to take the long way round to the pub because, it turned out, he sets himself a target for miles walked every year and he was worried he wouldn’t make the distance before 31 December.  This conversation made me realise two things; firstly, although I consider myself a keen walker I have no idea how many miles I walk each year and secondly I have a bit of a competitive streak.  We get out for a walk most days now we are retired as this is a free activity that we enjoy.  These walks might just be a circuit around Salford Quays for a mile or two, or to the local park or cemetery or it might be a utilitarian trip to the supermarket.  On top of these daily trips around Salford we take longer and what you might consider ‘proper walks’ in the countryside in Scotland, the Lake District and wherever else we might be visiting.

Although this is not a competition, my small competitive streak wanted to find out just how the distance I walked each year compared with my friend and so I decided to set my own target for walking in 2019.  My own rules are that I can count any distance that I walk, even if it is just to the supermarket, as I have chosen to walk there rather than take the bus, cycle or drive, although I don’t count distances under one kilometre such as to the corner shop or our tai chi class.

Someone I follow on Twitter is aiming to do 2,019 miles in 2019 in aid of the Trussell Trust.   You can combine cycling, swimming, running and walking for this challenge but it is still quite a challenging target and I am in awe.  I don’t intend to put my own target out there for fund raising for a charity but I did begin thinking I could try and walk 2,019 miles throughout the year.  I quickly calculated that this needed an average of around 5.5 miles a day and that this was perhaps too much of a stretch.  Thank goodness for kilometres!  I always walk and cycle in kilometres, they are so much easier to get through and sound more impressive and so it was only natural that I would come up with my own target of 2,019 km in the year, around 5.5 km a day – much more achievable.

A spread sheet was set up and the counting began.   After two and a half months I am feeling the target is achievable [unless, of course, I break a leg during the year] but not easy and I certainly don’t feel I can let up for a few days.  If I have a couple of days when I don’t walk anywhere I know I have to make up those kilometres with a long walk.

Up to the time of writing this post I have walked 486 km (301 miles) this year, which is an impressive [I think] average of just over 6 km a day.

A couple of things I have learnt from being target driven with my walking this year:

  • I am now keen to get out whatever the weather – not necessarily a bad thing.
  • I have to be organised and record how far I have walked every day before I forget.
  • I am more keen to walk than cycle when we are making the choice about how to travel somewhere so the bikes are feeling neglected [perhaps next year I’ll have a cycling target].
  • The added frugal bonus has been that we rarely take the tram into town these days as I prefer to clock up some kilometres.
  • The expensive downside could be that I wear out more pairs of shoes during the year!

 

Silver Cinema – a frugal thing to do in retirement in Greater Manchester

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I’ve chatted before about the fun of going to a cinema matinee now we are retired and the thrill of this simple pleasure that feels almost illicit hasn’t worn off despite it being two years since we last went out to work!  But an 11.00 showing at the cinema, that felt like a whole different experience.  We had never been to the cinema so early before, would this feel even more sinful than watching daytime TV?  Would the people of Salford and Manchester judge us harshly?  It turns out it doesn’t really matter what time of day I go to the cinema, once those house lights are down I am immersed in the world of the film with no distractions and the hour is pretty irrelevant.

The Odeon Cinema in Manchester has a Silver Cinema deal on a Tuesday morning.  For just £3 you get to see a film, get a free cup of tea or coffee and a couple of custard creams!  What’s not to like.  The only hurdle is that you have to be there at 11.00.  On their website the Odeon note that these showings are for over 55s and we were somewhat disappointed when no one checked our ID!  I reckon anyone in their 50s could sneak in and enjoy an affordable cinema trip.

It was a wet and blustery Tuesday morning when we turned up to see Bohemian Rhapsody.  We had intended to see this film anyway but hadn’t got round to it and spotting that we could get to see it for £3 each was a real frugal bonus.  It turns out we aren’t the only retired people in Greater Manchester that can get their act together by 11.00 in the morning and there were a few of us shaking the rain off our raincoats and queuing up for the drinks and biscuits as the staff members woke up the cinema for another day.

Of course, we knew this film was never going to have a happy ending but a few hours later we emerged red-eyed from so much weeping into lunchtime Manchester.  The movie was occasionally uplifting and funny but ultimately sad and, of course, is packed with good songs.

 

 

Extreme de-cluttering & minimalism? Throwing away those teenage diaries

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Who didn’t start keeping a diary as a teenager?  I started writing a journal when I was 13-years old and continued pretty much daily into my mid-twenties.  Each diary was a hardback note book and was sometimes super-neat and at other times I filled it with pages of large angry scrawl.  Unlike many people I no longer have these diaries.  Some of you will be horrified that I have thrown away something so personal, but these notebooks were ditched in an early quest for a minimalist life, in fact before it was even a thing.  My teenage diaries went into the bin in my late twenties and it felt good.  I realised I had no regrets and after keeping the later diaries for a while longer, eventually I could no longer justify the space they took up and these hit the bin too.  How did I find the strength to throw away the inner ramblings of my younger self?

I was an unhappy teenager, lacking in self-confidence and I poured my heart out to these diaries.  Every day I wrote about the self-obsessed life of a miserable and often lonely young woman.  Living in a village I was isolated from my school friends; many living in even more remote locations miles away.  My evenings, weekends and school holidays were often spent in solitude with music, books and the radio and writing my diary.  My best friend didn’t even have a home phone!  Instead I wrote to an imaginary best friend in these diaries.

My diaries were the only place I recorded my unhappiness and overwhelming longing for someone who would care for me and I wrote at length about the ups and downs of unsuitable and ultimately dismal relationships.  My diary kept many secrets, including the night of my unsuccessful suicide attempt and surprise when I woke up the next morning feeling dreadful and light-headed.  My diaries helped me deal with the death of my best friend at the age of 14 and were where I slowly learnt to be thankful for every day I am alive.

There were good times in these diaries too.  My love of school and learning was recorded and I had fun with friends but it was my imaginary friend in my diaries that I was closest to.

After a painful year in my early twenties when I survived my first marriage ending, my parents separating and my much-loved grandma dying, I discovered how resilient I was.  Living alone and still isolated in my country cottage, often with no human contact through the evenings and weekends I matured and became less self-obsessed.  I found strength and self-containment and started to figure out the person I could be and my diaries were where I explored some of my ideas.  In my mid-twenties the love of Mr BOTRA helped me turn my life around and I started to become the person I am today.  The very large pile of around 30 notebooks was a weighty symbol of the person I had been and I carried them to and from the first two houses we lived in together.  I found I had less need to revisit that intense period of teenage navel gazing; that person wasn’t someone I wanted to see again.  For me, throwing out those earlier diaries was an important and meaningful first step that helped me realise I didn’t need to hang on to the past.  This made the second and final de-cluttering episode easier.

This extreme de-cluttering might be harder if your diaries record happier times but I grew to know that the diaries remembered a life I had no need to hang on to.  I can’t undo that past and it has made me who I am but I didn’t want anyone to read those diaries and judge me for being the person I was.  Getting rid of those diaries was liberating and I felt re-born and buoyant as I dumped them in the bin.  It was time to move on, as they say these days!

 

 

 

 

Hope the voyage is a long one

 

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I can’t resist cats, pretty tea-towels and net curtains

I heard the author Louis de Bernieres talking on the radio and {as so often happens with radio programmes] he took me to a new place – Ithaka by Constantine Cavafy.  He was sharing a poem that had changed his life and it resonated with me too.  The Greek island of Ithaca or Ithaka identifies with Homer’s Ithaca, home of Odysseus and his odyssey to return there.  Ithaka is our goal, the thing we get up for every morning or our own quest.  But like Odysseus, it is the adventures and discoveries along the way to our quest that are important and there are good reasons why we shouldn’t rush the journey just to get to the end of our odyssey.  Constantine Cavafy speaks of the importance of enjoying the road to our own Ithaka, pausing to appreciate the route but keeping ‘Ithaka always in your mind’.  We can then hope to arrive at our Ithaka older and wiser after years of learning on the way.  ‘Without her you wouldn’t have set out’, Constantine Cavafy reminds us.

Louis de Bernieres interprets Ithaka and ‘what you’re destined for’ as every human’s inevitable journey to death.  We take the first steps on this journey as soon as we are born and we all hope that this is a long and interesting journey.  ‘Ithaka’ and Louis de Bernieres’ response, ‘When the Time Comes,’ are poems that intimate that we would do best to enjoy whatever life throws at us and hope that we don’t reach the end of our journey until we are old.  Louis de Bernieres poem has become popular as a reading at funerals and I can see why.

To someone who adores to travel those words, ‘And if you wish, let there be Spanish music, Greek seas, And French sun, the hills of Ireland if you loved them’, make me smile.  Even if my own Ithaka comes tomorrow, I have been lucky enough to have found those and other treasured places … but hopefully my journey will continue a little longer. 

Ithaka, Constantine Cavafy
As you set out for Ithaka 
hope your road is a long one, 
full of adventure, full of discovery. 
Laistrygonians, Cyclops, 
angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them: 
you’ll never find things like that on your way 
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high, 
as long as a rare excitement 
stirs your spirit and your body. 
Laistrygonians, Cyclops, 
wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them 
unless you bring them along inside your soul, 
unless your soul sets them up in front of you. 

Hope your road is a long one. 
May there be many summer mornings when, 
with what pleasure, what joy, 
you enter harbors you’re seeing for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations 
to buy fine things, 
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony, 
sensual perfume of every kind—
as many sensual perfumes as you can; and may you visit many Egyptian cities 
to learn and go on learning from their scholars. 

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you’re destined for. 
But don’t hurry the journey at all. 
Better if it lasts for years, 
so you’re old by the time you reach the island, 
wealthy with all you’ve gained on the way, 
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich. 
 
Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey. 
Without her you wouldn’t have set out. 
She has nothing left to give you now. 

And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you. 
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience, 
you’ll have understood by then what these Ithakas mean. 

When the Time Comes, Louis de Bernieres

When the time comes, it is better that death be welcome,
As an old friend who embraces and forgives.
Sieze advantage of what little time is left,
And if imagination serves, if strength endures, if memory lives,
Ponder on those vanished loves, those jesting faces.
Take once more their hands and press them to your cheek,
Think of you and them as young again, and running in the fields,
As drinking wine and laughing.
And if you wish, let there be Spanish music, Greek seas
And French sun, the hills of Ireland if you loved them,
Some other place if that should please, some other music
More suited to your taste.
Consider, if you can, that
Soon you’ll shed this weariness, this pain,
The heaped-upon indignities, and afterwards — who knows? —
Perhaps you’ll walk with angels, should angels be ,
By fresher meadows, unfamiliar streams.
You may find that those who did not love you do so now,
That those who loved you did so more than you believed.
You may go on to better lives and other worlds.
You may meet God, directly or disguised.
You may, on the other hand — who knows? — just wander off
To sleep that seamless, darkest, dreamless, unimaginable sleep.
Do not be bitter, no world lasts forever.
You who travelled like Odysseus,
This is Ithaca, this is your destination.
This is your last adventure. Here is my hand,
The living to the dying;
Yours will grow cold in mine, when the time comes.

Failing frugality: Year two of financial independence

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The pan is empty

It is now over 18 months since I finished the nine-to-five and 15 months since Mr BOTRA last had any paid work.  At the end of 2017 I was feeling pretty smug as our spending of £24,000 in our first year of retirement was well under budget – clever us I thought.  Now it feels as if all manner of expenses were just waiting in the wings for year two.  We are just over half way through our second year of spending our savings and we are on target to spend £3,000 more than last year.  You may recall £27,000 was our budget for each year. What has gone awry?

The campervan

Just over £1,000 of our additional spending in 2018 has been on the campervan.  Our Devon Tempest is now over three years old and with over 30,000 miles on the clock has needed some TLC this year; two new tyres [it will need two more before the end of the year], new brake pads all round as well as general servicing.  The conversion has also needed a bit of work as we had to have the water level sensor replaced.  There have been other odds and ends such as a new kettle and replacement levelling blocks too.  This year has been spend, spend, spend on the ‘van.

Holidays

Holidays remain our priority.  As well as the usual costs for ferries and campsites we have had a long weekend in Milan this year for a significant birthday [not the cheapest city to visit and our trip cost just under £1,000] and we have paid almost £400 up front for a holidays for 2019.

Health

Our health is important but this has been the year we have both had to have new specs and Mr BOTRA has had some expensive dental work, totalling over £900.

Clothing

We wear everything until it falls apart and when it comes to gear we like to buy quality kit but with so much free time we are out walking a lot of the time and it seems that even quality gear doesn’t last forever.  This year we have had to replace walking shoes and other bits and bobs of clothing, pushing this budget line to over £800 already this year.  Last year it was much less, maybe next year it will be too!

Increased cost of living

We know the cost of food has increased in the UK and we have noticed this in our spending.  In 2018 we are spending an average of around 16% a month more than we did in 2017.  I don’t think we have changed what we eat or where we shop so this must be related to an increase in the cost of fresh vegetables and other staples.  In addition with the pound falling against the euro our supermarket shops on our holidays abroad have become more expensive.

Don’t panic

We monitor our spending so that we can keep it in check and avoid any problems but there are three reasons why we aren’t in a panic yet about this increase in our spending.

Firstly, we had given ourselves what we thought was a generous budget of £27,000 a year and we are currently projecting around that amount for 2018.  It could be that our first year of not working was particularly cheap and the budget we set was accurate rather than generous.

Secondly at the moment my travel writing income will more than cover the £3,000 projected increase in our spending for 2018 over 2017.

Thirdly, we have that emergency fund.  We are glad we saved what we needed and a little bit more to give us a cushion in the tough times.  This emergency fund increased last year as we spent under our budget and it increases every time I have a travel article published.  We don’t really want this to dwindle to nothing and hopefully it won’t.

Looking ahead

On reflection our campervan, our health and our trip to Milan together more or less account for the increase in our spending.  Only the wonderful trip to Milan was really optional and we won’t be repeating this in 2019.  We will keep monitoring our spending and see if we need to revise our budget and perhaps rethink some of our regular spending.  We have already arranged to switch our gas and electric supplier to save us a small amount and we have come up with some new water saving ideas too but there are others areas of spending that we could pull back on if we need to in the future to keep us on track.

 

 

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 I wish everyone knew about rock music

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What a rock concert looks like when you are only 1.6 m tall

We had a good position in the middle of the floor, safely on the edge of the mosh pit.  In front of me energetic fans ebbed and flowed like waves on the beach as they flowed towards the stage and back.  As the tempo increased the band screamed ‘Jump,’ and these people reached for the roof, briefly levitating and bouncing off each other like human pinball.  I could feel the rhythm of the bass guitar to my core.  ‘Jump as high as you can and try and stay there,’ the band instructed; there was so much energy in the room this seemed possible.  No one was checking their phones or talking about their day at work, everyone was completely in the moment.  A mosh pit might look like chaos but there are rules to keep everyone safe in this bundle of energy; someone fell and my daughter-in-laws strong arms quickly pulled him up before he was crushed, at the end of a song our son waved a handbag he had found in the air until the owner claimed it.

I have written before about my love of loud rock music; the noise, energy and total immersion of the experience.  Academy Three part of the Student Union building in Manchester is a small [holding 470 people] and intimate venue on the third floor.  Turbowolf have a loyal following that made for a great night of heavy rock music but you might be forgiven for never having heard of them and attending one of their gigs is not on everyone’s tick list.  Every person that was there on Friday night was there because they love rock music, not because it was somewhere to be seen and brag about.

We walked home in gentle rain, hot, happy and tired and soaked in mass-produced lager spilt from glasses as fans rushed to join in the fun at the front.  It is a feeling I want to hang on to.

 

You can’t get too much winter in the winter

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Lowther Castle in Cumbria is a stunning ruin

Retirement has completely changed my experience of winter and given the season a different character that is new and refreshing.  I have always dreaded the winter and would become quite low in November as the days got shorter and colder.  But now we are retired and no longer tied to just two days of freedom we can take off for a day trip or camping tour as soon as sunshine is forecast.  This flexibility means that winter starts to feel like a succession of fantastic frosty and sunny days and is suddenly much more enjoyable and fun.  Last week we spotted another window of opportunity to make the most of the blue skies and we headed north.  After some mooching around the border city of Carlisle with its red sandstone castle and marvellous museum, we visited the dramatic ruin of Lowther Castle whose roof was removed in the 1950s to save the estate from crippling taxation.  The castle and gardens have been recently opened up and are a fantastic place for a day out at any time of year.

We returned south via another ruin, Shap Abbey.  Set in an idyllic and peaceful valley the remains of this ancient abbey are open to the public, although only one tower remains from the original buildings.  From the village of Shap we had views to the Lake District fells dusted in snow and in the sunshine the north-west of England showed off its most beautiful side.

We popped in to Preston for old times sake and were pleased to see the hot potato and parched peas stall [the original street food] was still doing business in the Flag Square.  Continuing south to the town of Ashbourne in Derbyshire we had a great day walking in more sunshine.  Then the weekend arrived and with it the drizzle.  We met friends for a pub lunch and a walk and had a lovely afternoon thanks to excellent waterproofs but it would have been better if the fine weather had blessed those working folk too.

PS the quote is from Robert Frost.