My first live music gig was the four-piece Herman’s Hermits. I don’t know if my parent’s couldn’t get a babysitter or decided to widen my cultural horizons but they took me along. I can remember being thrilled looking down on four guys on a big stage! I soon moved on to making my own musical choices and wasn’t even a teenager when I went to see the band Slade play on a memorable November 17 1972 at The Victoria Hall in Hanley. This atmospheric venue, affectionately called The Vicky Hall was packed with fans and with Suzi Quatro and the amazing Thin Lizzy as the guests it was a night that hooked me into live music, a passion that continues to the present and led to a New Year’s resolution.
This resolution wasn’t in 2020. It was back in 2002 that I realised we weren’t seeing as much live music as we used to. This was understandable; a combination of having a young son and little money had got us out of the habit of going to see bands. Organising and paying a babysitter for a night out meant they didn’t come as often as they did when we were teenagers. But by 2002 our son was old enough to leave on his own and my New Years resolution was to get us back into the groove and see at least one music concert a month.
In 2002 we were living in Preston, both working in average paid jobs and we had enough spare cash to commit to this target, although seeing a band wasn’t quite as expensive as it is today. My year of 12 gigs cost us £421.60 for the two of us. These gigs varied from free pub bands to a day at a festival. The music varied from jazz and folk to rock music, We were at Leeds Festival to see Muse but this was also the first time I saw Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and became a fan. 2002 was also a memorable year as I saw the Indigo Girls twice, once in Manchester and once, unforgettably, in the open air in Berkeley California with my lovely friend who had moved to that area.
The cost of concerts these days varies wildly. A day ticket for Leeds Festival has pretty much doubled since 2002 but I saw the Indigo Girls again in 2018 and paid just £25. I have no doubt you would pay more than £25 to see Bob Dylan today and tickets to see Kate Rusby these days hover around £30. The Manic Street Preachers are one of the best live bands I have seen [2002 was my first experience & I’ve seen them a further four times] and this summer they are playing in the stunning Halifax Peace Hall for £45.
We still get to as many live gigs as we can but have slipped out of the habit of going so often while we have concentrated on frugality. Perhaps one year I will want to dust off this resolution and repeat it.
My Year of Music
Indigo Girls [American folk rock]
Manchester University Students Union
The Sue Parish Band [jazz]
The John O’Gaunt, Lancaster
The Hamsters [blues rock / parodies]
The Platform, Morecambe
Joanne Shaw Taylor Band [blues rock]
The Kite Club, Blackpool
Kate Rusby [folk]
Accrington Town Hall
Indigo Girls[American folk rock]
Greek Theatre, Berkeley
Leeds Festival [rock music] – The Libertines, Midtown, Otis Lee Crenshaw, The Hives, Ben Kweller, Sum 41, Ash, Muse, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
2019 has been an unusual year with no trips abroad in our campervan and a house move. We have stayed alive and healthy and we spent two months touring Scotland in our campervan, learning to love that country even more and visiting Shetland for the first time, leaving a little bit of our hearts there. Financially it has been good too. We have stayed within budget; in 2019 our household spending was as low as £22,428. The ONS calculate that the average household in the north-west of England spent £26,062 a year in 2017-2018. Of course, this average will include large families and single-person households, households that have expensive hobbies [like a campervan], those who are home all day and people who have little money or are super-frugal. Although we don’t consider ourselves to be average, we generally aim to spend less than this average. I had hoped that our frugal fail in 2018 was a blip [we spent over £28,000] and it certainly seems that we have got back on track in 2019.
Despite the rigour of my spreadsheets, our annual spending creates a graph that looks like a roller coaster and this does make a bit of a joke of the budgeting we do. Over the last nine years our spending has ranged over £6,000 from £21,972 to £28,107, not allowing for inflation. All this information really tells me is there are expensive years and cheaper years and that our budget for 2020 of around £26,000 doesn’t look too unrealistic. What is interesting is that our 2019 spending of £22,428 is our next to lowest spending year [and a rough online inflation calculator suggests that £21,972 in 2011 is now the equivalent of over £27,000] so for us 2019 has been a frugal year.
This household spending does gloss over the £36,000 plus that has disappeared from our savings and been spent on our recent house move and the improvements to bring our 1960s bungalow into the 21st century. It seemed fair to leave out these one-off costs as they would have massively skewed the figures but it also seemed best to fess up about this spending here. Of course before we took the plunge of moving we did the sums and, although when our pensions start paying in 2026 we will have considerably less savings in the bank, we felt it was an outlay that was manageable … but time will tell. The move became essential for our well-being and we are reasonably comfortable that we will have enough of an emergency fund to take us into our old age. Who knows what will happen with the cost of care by the time we are in our 80s and whether we will need any. We certainly won’t have much money spare for anything expensive but we live in hope that a fair system will be in place by then.
Our own expensive hobby of running a campervan and having lots of holidays continues and this is generally our downfall. If we never went anywhere our spending would be much lower! Everyone spends their money in their own way, this is how our 2019 spending pans out:
Essentials – total £7,721 [35% of total spending] [2018 £9,654 / 34%]
Food – £3,491 [2018 £3,870] – This is an essential but also an easy area to control and after the shock of 2018 we have been careful to use the cheaper supermarkets. We cook mostly from scratch, including making bread, only ever buy what we need and rarely waste anything. We now have a garden but don’t expect to start growing food, as this doesn’t really work with taking a long holiday.
Utilities, insurance & service charges for a 2-bed 58 sq mtrs [624 sq feet] flat for 10 months & a 2-bed 57.2 sq mtrs [615.7 sq feet] bungalow for 2 months – £3,974 [2018 £4,841] – We have been home more than previous years but try and restrain our use of the heating and water. Our bungalow is more expensive to run in terms of utilities than the flat, despite good insulation, so watch this space for 2020. But a big plus of not living in a flat is that we no longer have service charges of over £1,000/year! On the flip-side we are now responsible for the upkeep of our four walls and roof, not to mention a garden, this feels a bit daunting just at the moment.
Our health [including tai chi classes] – £256 [2018 £943] – We had no expensive spectacles or dental work this year, hurrah! We were lucky to find another reasonably priced tai chi class in Morecambe, at £3 each a week this is manageable and we can afford to attend regularly.
Stuff (electronics, newspapers and other kit) – £3,151 [14% of total spending] [2018 £3,333 / 11%]
Household spending [everything from glue and newspapers to parts for the bikes and a new kettle] & miscellaneous un-identified items – £2,300 [ 2018 £2,364] – We are a long way from a no-spend year on stuff but I’m relieved that this spending line is similar to 2018 as I thought that moving house might have spiralled this into another realm as we splashed out on new [to us] curtains, gardening equipment and a Remoska oven.
Clothes & accessories – £851 [2018 £969] – I am really pleased this spending line is lower than last year, particularly when I take into account that over half of this is accounted for by new waterproof jackets. We took a deep breath and bought quality so hope they will last for years and years – maybe until we die?
Experiences – £10,952 [48% of total spending] [2018 14.095 / 51%]
Holidays [our favourite spending line] – £3,601 [2018 £4,681] – Our holiday spending is less than other years as [thanks to the house move] we didn’t get abroad but we did spend a fantastic two months touring Scotland. Factor in the cost of the ferry to Spain in 2018 [about £900] and this line would have pretty much stayed the same; the ferries are really the biggest chunk of our holiday costs. We spent only 108 nights away in our campervan, less than previous years [again due to the house move] but campsites in the UK are often more expensive than mainland Europe. We took ourselves off for 10-days during the house buying process and returned to a pile of paperwork waiting to be signed, after that we hardly dared venture away. This does include a splash-out weekend in a swanky Lake District hotel to celebrate a significant birthday.
Restaurants & cafes – £2,418 [2018 £2,963] – This is another chunk of spending that we can keep under control if we need to but we love meeting friends for meals out and sitting in friendly cafes. So I am surprised [and pleased] this spending is lower than in 2019 as we seem to have been out with friends on plenty of occasions … but the numbers don’t lie!
Running the campervan [servicing & insurance etc] – £1,931 [2018 £2,578] – I was excited to find that moving to Morecambe from Salford reduced our insurance costs on our campervan, although it is no longer parked in a gated car park! 2018 was an expensive year for our ‘van and in 2019 we didn’t take such a hit spending £800 on fixing things on our campervan to keep it on the road. Our ‘van is almost five years old and has driven around 50,000 miles and among other things it needed new brakes and reversing sensors. I think the ‘van might be saving everything up for 2020 though!
Diesel for the above ‘van – £1,500 [2018 £1,937 ] – This is lower due to reduced campervan trips and lower mileage through the year.
Tickets for concerts, football & attractions – £941 [2018 £1,114] – A cheaper year but we have still had lots of fun experiences seeing bands, going to the football and getting face to face with a pine marten.
Transport costs included buses, trains & parking – £561 [2018 £670] – My target to walk 2,019 km in 2019 kept this number down as I was constantly choosing to walk rather than take the tram or bus. We have spent more for the last two months of the year since moving to Morecambe, as not wishing to pollute the world more than we need to we have taken the train to Manchester on all but one occasion.
Giving – £654 [3% of total spending] [2018 £1,025 / 4%]
Gifts & donations – £654 [2018 £1,025] – Another discretionary spending line and we can only hope our family and friends understand why presents, although still thoughtful, have been small in 2019.
TOTAL SPENDING FOR 2019 – £22,478 – staying comfortably within our £26,000 budget helps to give us some financial resilience for future years.
I might often fail but I aim to be a travel writer that tells stories about places. Pretty much each of my travel articles has a narrative thread through it and I work hard to weave travel information that is handy for the campervan and motorhome community through this story, along with history and fascinating facts so that the article is both inspiring and useful.
I find various ways of telling a story. In some articles I have followed an earlier traveller, such as Bonnie Prince Charlie from Scotland to Derby [published May 2019] or Celia Fiennes on the Welsh border [published February 2017]. In other articles I have focused on local food. I took this approach for a trip to Lancashire [February 2015] and found the atmospheric cave-like wine shop in Clitheroe. More recently I visited the Conwy Honey Fair [August 2019] where everything related to honey can be purchased. In Spain I tried to get under the skin of the Spanish Civil War in my December 2019 article. Sometimes it is other writers that have inspired my trip; Alan Garner took me to Cheshire [November 2018], in Somerset and Devon [August 2018] I followed various authors and my latest MMM article to East Sussex explores the world of some of my favourite children’s authors. At times I chase my own memories; my trip around familiar Staffordshire towns and villages was one such trip [July 2016].
I try to write something that readers will enjoy, that will entertain them and that they will want to read until the end because they are following my story. On the way I will try to bring the place alive, maybe the smell of wood smoke in a Tuscan village, the taste of creamy ice-cream in Lancashire or the feel of the Orcadian wind in their hair. Readers can join me in the thrill of trying different Belgian beers in a small friendly bar, my frustrations with the weather or getting lost and my enthusiasm when I find something truly unique.
Good travel writing isn’t about statistics and lists, the ten best things to do, the cheapest restaurant for authentic food or the most comfortable hotels. While these things are useful once you are into the detail of planning your trip, for real inspiration I like to think readers want a story that paints a picture of a place. Initially, fellow travellers want to know if that place has something to interest them. They want to know if it is their kind of town or country and whether they might want to follow in my footsteps, making a trip that will become their own story.
My favourite travel writer is Dervla Murphy an inspirational author who writes intimate tales from unlikely places that bring both the place and the people alive. Although inspirational, it is her warmth and interest in people that I want to follow her example of. Every one of her books makes me feel as if I have walked or cycled alongside her on her journey. In an interview in the Irish Examiner she modestly said,
“If I am to be remembered, I’d like to be remembered as someone who was interested in the ordinary people of whatever country I was in.”
I understand I will never achieve the brilliance of Dervla Murphy and that is fine, we all have to have people we look up to. So long as I find stories hidden in the places I go to I will keep sharing them with readers.
To read any of my published travel articles head for the relevant page on the blog from the menu at the top.
Moving house is a pretty expensive undertaking, as well as being one of the most stressful experiences you can put yourself through. For the frugal, moving house isn’t something to undertake lightly as it will eat up a chunk of money. If the reason for yearning to relocate can be fixed by building a garage or a shed, fitting a new kitchen or changing the layout of your rooms then it is always worth considering that first. But once you’ve decided that moving home is the only way to go how do you do this within a budget?
We made the decision to move from our Salford flat to somewhere more tranquil earlier this year; only closing all the roads would make Salford quieter, so finding a new place to live became the only option. Moving house wasn’t something we had budgeted for when we retired in 2017, we thought we would be in Salford until the end of our days but being comfortable where we live is important and fortunately we had the flexibility within our finances to spend the money we needed to.
We had always built in some contingency to our early retirement planning but mostly we were only able to afford a move because we had continued to live frugally in our retirement and because we had earnings from my travel writing. With two years experience of our spending in our retired life, we gave the savings we had left a good hard look, made a spreadsheet and planned what we could afford to spend on moving house. Our Morecambe home cost a tad more than our Salford flat and on top of this the process of moving home cost us £4,761. There isn’t much slack in our savings now [we can’t move again!] but we have retained that contingency fund and feel comfortable.
Below is where we managed to shave a bit off the cost of moving house.
Solicitors – £1,711
We are members of Unison and this gives us a discount with BBH Legal Services Ltd. There are cheaper conveyancing solicitors out there but cheap does not always mean the most efficient and helpful. During the process of selling our flat our chain was held up on more than one occasion due to the incompetence of a solicitors that offered a cheap online service and had clearly taken on more work than he could manage. Having a proficient solicitor is important in keeping the stress levels down during a move and in our experience BBH were always available and realistic and gave an excellent service at a reasonable cost.
Packing – £53
We saved money by doing the packing ourselves and also saved 75p per box by buying used cardboard boxes from a Manchester storage company. We don’t have lots of delicate trinkets but we have china plates, bowls and mugs. It turned out that large rolls of plastic bubble wrap were not necessary to protect these precious items. We bought 100 sheets of tissue paper from the storage company for £4 which was plenty and nothing got broken between Salford and Morecambe. After we had moved we advertised the boxes as being available online. Someone asked for them almost immediately and gave us wine and chocolates when we delivered the now third-hand boxes!
Removal firm – £662
Last time we moved house we hired a van and moved ourselves but this move was further and would have needed two trips as we now owned two sofas [so much for minimalism] so we decided to pay for the professionals. We shopped around for a good removal firm, asked for recommendations on local Facebook groups and eventually choosing a small firm in Morecambe. They were not only excellent, compared to Manchester-based companies, they were about £300 cheaper. They were also around £500 cheaper than the one large national firm we received a quote from. Every member of the company, from arranging a quote, to setting the date and moving our furniture, were friendly and efficient. Buying local and outside metropolitan areas can be cost saving.
Estate Agent – £2,040
Last time we moved house we didn’t use an estate agent but sold it ourselves, just paying a small fee to have the house advertised on the relevant websites. We did this because of the local market and we put a lot of work in ourselves leafleting locally and showing people around. Our flat was a different place to sell and we knew this time we needed the help of an estate agent. We considered three estate agents and did hire the most expensive of those three because they were local and we felt they knew the development we lived in best and would sell it to prospective buyers. We hoped this would lead to a successful quick sale of our flat. We saved £200 by refusing the premium listing cost they offered for better photographs and a highlighted listing online. The flat sold in just a few weeks but how much that was down to how we presented it [we worked hard to ensure it looked its best] and how much to the Estate Agent’s work is a bit of an unknown. Maybe it was team work!
Energy Performance Certificate – £45
We had to have one of these completed for our flat and we shopped around ourselves, rather than paying for one through the Estate Agent, saving ourselves £30.
Stamp Duty – £250
This is a fixed cost that relates to the price of the property you are buying.
I am sure we could have done this cheaper … have you?
We have been a trifle busy just lately. After eleven years of living in a flat in Salford we decided it was time, as they say, to move on. Salford has been good to us and in many ways we will miss living in a vibrant and dynamic city and being a part of Greater Manchester. Leaving our many friendly and helpful neighbours and our lovely tai chi class [a nicer bunch of people you would struggle to meet] was a hard but positive decision.
When we moved to Salford, a city packed with modern, shiny high-rise blocks of flats, we chose an unusual 1930s development of flats with three floors arranged around large courtyard gardens and open shared areas. Thanks to the design of the flats, we got to know more neighbours than we have anywhere else we have lived. The site is secure and we have never worried about the leaving our flat on our long holidays and the gated parking for our campervan has been appreciated. The large garden is a sheltered and sunny place to sit on a warm day with none of the worries of having to actually do any gardening yourself, it was a happy and liberating place to live.
A short walk from home was Salford Quays and a stroll around the water was a regular favourite way to spend some time. This is where we could encounter nature; the trees changing colour through the year, Canada geese and black-headed gulls and sometimes coots and pied wagtails and different weather transforming the river and canal from sparkling blue to slate grey. In addition there is always something new to see; someone might be filming around Media City, we could encounter groups queuing for a popular TV show or stumble upon one of the many special events such as the Makers Markets or Lightwaves.
If Salford is so perfect why are you moving on? A search for quiet is the simple answer. Although there had been other nudges, it was after spending two months in Scotland earlier this year that we both returned to our urban flat and struggled to adjust to the bustle of the city. The 1930s flats were solidly built with thick external and internal walls and there is rarely any noise that gets through from neighbours to either side of us. What my acute hearing did pick up was from the flat upstairs. The guy was always respectful and well-behaved but I began to get tired of knowing when he was home, when he went to bed, when he decided to listen to music, when he had visitors and even when he visited the bathroom! In addition, in the 1970s it was decided to build the M602 through Salford and the roar of the traffic on this short adjacent motorway was a continuous presence.
That said, we would have stayed in Salford if someone had built / was building small affordable bungalows and not just tall blocks of flats or if we had won on the Premium Bonds and had been able to afford the half a million or so for a penthouse flat overlooking Salford Quays. With none of those options available, we checked our budget and began the search for a bungalow [we like living on one-floor] that wasn’t off the beaten track but offered some tranquillity, alongside some culture, and had natural areas within easy walking distance.
Having lived in Lancashire for many years, it is not surprising that we soon decided on the seaside resort of Morecambe where we follow in the footsteps of a long line of retiring Lancastrians. Morecambe has plenty of bungalows to accommodate retirees and along with Lancaster has a thriving art and cultural scene and has that magnificent view across the sands of Morecambe Bay to the Lake District.
Our move to Morecambe isn’t so much a downsize as a new era. We have gained a garden [again] and a kitchen that seems vast after living with one where I could stand in the centre and stretch out and reach everything! But, having got used to our huge bedroom in the flat our new bedroom can best be described as cosy and our 1960s bungalow needs a long list of improvements to bring it up–to-date … but now when there are footsteps overhead it is just a herring gull landing on the roof.
1986 seems like another era; I had big hair, we owned a British Leyland Metro, Spitting Image was still on TV and we moved to Preston in Lancashire. Along with fashions, the pattern of the communities in our cities have also altered many times since those days. As a young couple with a tiny baby and two cats, living away from our home town and our respective families, we moved into a 19th century brick-built terraced house in a row of similar terraced houses. This was our stomping ground for two years before we became upwardly mobile and moved to a more spacious semi-detached house.
These Lancashire terraced streets are still there and continue to provide great housing for families. Our small terrace had two downstairs rooms and upstairs a double bedroom, two single bedrooms and a small bathroom. Along the side of the house was a narrow alley that went underneath our upstairs rooms and that we shared with our neighbour. This gave us access to the back yard and garden and was where we stored ladders and bikes.
In the 1980s we weren’t on our journey to financial independence, our priority was keeping our heads above water. We were a single-income family with a mortgage on a house that had cost us £15,000 [you now need almost this much for a deposit on these properties]. Our terraced row of houses felt crowded but comfortable. Along with our neighbours, none of us were wealthy; here was the wonderful diversity of what might be called the working classes, all struggling to make ends meet. Although our family income came from a ‘professional’ job at the university, this is where we could afford to live.
To one side lived a couple with one child. He had worked as a jockey, riding horses, as a young man but was now a butcher, both fascinating worlds I knew little about. She was an outgoing hairdresser, working in a city centre salon. On her day off she styled the hair of the neighbours in their homes, including me, giving us mates rates. While we lived next door their marriage broke down and she began working evenings in a Preston nightclub for extra income as a pole dancer, another world I knew little about.
To our other side lived a couple with two children, a family living on the single income of his manual job. It was this mum that was usually the parent that would offer to sit on the front step and watch her own children play in the street during the early evening, along with those of neighbours. If the weather was fine I would often join her for a while with the baby and sitting on our respective steps we would talk generally about family news, the best schools and favourite TV programmes. It was on these steps that I was informed that the best local primary school was the Roman Catholic school; I mentioned that we were atheists but she didn’t really grasp why that would mean this school wasn’t suitable for our little one.
During the daytime the street was a place for women and young children, all the men were at work and my early lessons in bringing up a child came from these women. The street was lived in by families that were white-British but we were on the edges of more diverse areas of Preston and nearby there were shops that sold exotic fruit and vegetables that I enjoyed exploring. At the end of the street, in the 20th century social housing, was a Muslim woman with children. She was divorced, somewhat unusual in her community, and this single status sadly led to bullying by people who shared her religion; she needed a friend and sometimes I listened.
Just around the corner were an elderly couple, long-time residents of the area. On warm afternoons he liked to bring a dining chair outside his tiny two-up-two-down terraced house and sit and chat to anyone who came by. I walked by his house to the local shops and into town, always carrying our baby in a papoose, and would stop for a while. He told me funny and interesting stories of his days as an engineer building bridges on the M6. Life seemed to be slower in those days in this corner of Preston and people had time to talk.
Another family across the road had a son who was difficult to manage, he was often aggressive and sometimes violent. He was removed from home and sent to the local children’s home that was unfortunately just 100 metres away. He continued to return home and scream loudly outside his family home and once he broke a window while everyone along our street cowered indoors, no one trying to help. In these narrow streets there is nowhere to hide and the family’s shame was a burden they carried, knowing the next day that everyone was talking about them.
On the corner of the road was the vicarage. The vicar and his friendly wife had four children and were considered the middle-class residents of the street. Quizzing me about how many more children we would have, I told her, ‘One is enough.’ She failed to persuade me that a big family was the way to go. Their house was an enormous rambling property surrounded by a garden and easily swallowed their large family and the numerous visitors they happily entertained.
I have said before I have a literal mind and so when I learnt there was a Mums and Toddler Group nearby [these would now be called a play group or parent and toddler group] I understood the term precisely and didn’t attend until our son was actually toddling at 11 months old. I laughed when I was told I didn’t have to wait until he could walk! The group was held twice a week in a draughty and dismal church hall with a selection of old toys for the children to play with and tea and biscuits for the mums / parents. In this unpromising environment, there was no sense of competitive parenting and everyone was supportive and helpful and I learnt more child-rearing skills. It was here that I met parents who shared my love of reading, cooking good food, an interest in environmentalism and fellow atheists who recommended the local county primary school. I made some firm friends here and the plan to move a short distance away to a bigger house began.
The narrow terraced streets are still there and probably still lived in by hard-working families. The vicar no longer lives at the end of the road and the extensive garden is now a car park, the social housing has been improved. The corner shop has gone, along with the telephone box where we would ring distant family and friends as we didn’t have a home phone. Traffic has increased everywhere and I doubt if I walked here on a sunny evening I would still see parents sitting on the steps watching their children playing in the street but then again …