2020 Spending Reviewed & The Covid-19 Factor Means Nothing is Normal

It is that time of the year again when I share how much money we have spent in the last 12 months, revealing our spending habits in all their profligacy. I divulge our expenditure for interest and accountability, as we aim to stay within a budget. Our spending is peculiar to us but any comments are gladly received.

Our budget remains at £27,000 a year for the fourth year running. This is now below the average UK household spending. The headline is that despite the strange year we have had our outgoings for 2020 came within budget [hurrah], although the headline doesn’t tell the whole story. As I said last year, our annual spending seems to go up and down like a rollercoaster, with alternating frugal years and expensive years. Sometimes it is our campervan that costs us a lot of money but 2020 was a year of home-making and healthcare.

It is just over twelve months since we moved to our Morecambe bungalow. The home improvements that are included in our 2020 spending are all things we would expect to carry out more than once in our [expected] remaining lifetime. These purchases include a new bedroom carpet to replace the grotty brown carpet from the 1980s that came with the bungalow and could tell a tale or two; new furniture to replace some that was second-hand 36 years ago, a new sofa bed [as we thought we would have visitors!] as well as smaller items like paint, varnish and brushes. More expensive home improvements which we consider one-off items are kept separate. So, on top of the budgeted expenditure in the usual categories, in 2020 we spent £13,300 on new windows and doors, resurfacing the drive and a new kitchen.

Not unsurprisingly our 2020 spending reflects the Covid-19 factor. The breakdown shows that we had less opportunities for experiences and spent more of our money on food in supermarkets and local shops.

Essentials – total £9,833 [38% of total spending] [2019 £7,721 / 35%]

Food – £4,703 [2019 £3,491] – In my experience food prices have increased in 2020 as we haven’t eaten anything different or developed an expensive taste in anything. We will have spent more as we have eaten mostly at home [sitting eating around a friend’s dining table is a distant memory]. We continue to use discount supermarkets for the majority of our shopping and generally cook from scratch.

Utilities, insurance & service charges for a 2-bed 57.2 sq mtrs [615.7 sq feet] bungalow – £4,463 [2019 £3,974] – The various lock downs and restrictive tiers mean who have been home more than ever and so using more gas and electric. Council tax and heating for the bungalow are both more expensive than the flat, but we no longer have service charges to pay. The improvements we have made to bring our bungalow into the 21st century will help save money on utilities.

Our health [including tai chi classes] – £667 [2019 £256] – There has been very little spending on tai chi classes in 2020 and this is mostly some expensive dental work and new specs.

In theory this is the minimum we need to survive a year, although it would be a strange year when we didn’t need / buy some stuff.

Stuff (electronics, newspapers and other kit) – £7,175 [27% of total spending] [2019 £3,151 / 14%]

Household spending [everything from glue, newspapers and books to hiring a sander, plants for the garden and parts for the bikes] – £6,189 [ 2019 £2,300] – Wow! We have clearly had too much time for DIY and nest building this year! In 2019 we were moving house and the only DIY we did was freshening up the paint for the sale of our flat. This is a big category, with furniture, carpet, cushions and pictures on the walls all thrown into it. I am uncomfortable buying stuff and we try and source antiques / junk / second-hand items when this is practical. Bargain purchases this year included an Edwardian What Not [yes really] for a kitchen wall to contrast with the shiny white units for £30, second-hand lined curtains for the large living room window for £25 and some second-hand cushion covers for £5.

Clothes & accessories – £986 [2019 £851] – I have never gone down the route of a clothes buying ban, preferring to stick to buying what I need, as something wears out. Pretty much all the clothes we bought in 2020 were hard-wearing hill walking kit and probably not most people’s idea of clothes shopping. I needed new boots, we bought new waterproof trousers, a fleece, wellies and some comfy walking shoes; these were all replacement items. Where we could we bought second-hand items, for example a men’s winter coat on Ebay was just £24. Even when you buy quality items they don’t last forever but our walking gear gets plenty of wear; my previous boots had walked a lot of miles over six years.

Experiences – £8,226 [31% of total spending] [2019 £10,952 / 48%]

Holidays [our favourite spending line] – £2,834 [2019 £3,601] – The reason for this reduction in our holiday spending in 2020 is obvious and it isn’t because I have lost my wanderlust! In the north-west of England we have had travel restrictions for over six months of the year. We did get away a few times in the first three months of the year before the three months of lock down. We spent July taking trips to the Lake District, got to France in August and [after quarantine] thankfully managed to travel to Scotland in October. We have also paid for a holiday in a self-catering house in Scotland that has been moved to 2021 [fingers crossed].

Restaurants & cafes – £1,309 [2019 £2,418] – Despite using local cafes and restaurants when we can this year and having more takeaways than we would normally do to support local businesses this is much lower than normal. It is not particularly the food I miss, what I have really miss is seeing friends. In a normal year there are two old friends we would meet about eight times a year for drinks and a meal at a cost of about £500. Chatting over Zoom, although cheaper, hasn’t been the same. Interestingly, the reduction in our eating out spending is more or less off-set by the increase in our food spending.

Running the campervan [servicing & insurance etc] – £2,093 [2019 £1,931] – Last year I wondered if our six year old Renault Master was saving up some expensive repairs for 2020. It hasn’t done too badly but needed some essentials like tyres and brakes replacing as well as the usual servicing, insurance and road tax.

Diesel for the above ‘van – £1,227 [2019 £1,500 ] – We certainly haven’t put the miles across Europe on the campervan we would normally do.

Tickets for concerts, football & attractions – £403 [2019 £941] – Well what do you expect as for much of the year nothing was open. Live music is just a distant memory and the last football match we went to was a Morecambe FC match last Christmas. We have supported some arts events by buying tickets for online events and visited some RSPB reserves when we could.

Public transport costs – £360 [2019 £561] – Again, the pandemic effect has kept us at home much of the time.

Giving – £937 [4% of total spending] [2019 £654 / 3%]

Gifts & donations – £937 [2019 £654] – Another discretionary spending line that we try and keep under control but in 2020 we felt a need to be more generous. Many charities needed additional funding as events and places were closed and during the first lock down we sent cheering-up parcels to friends, as well as the usual birthday and Christmas gifts.

TOTAL SPENDING FOR 2020 – £26,171 – Despite all the home-making we have done in 2020, we have stayed within our £27,000 budget. Hurrah!

Over my four years of retirement we have spent an average of £25,351 a year.

Our expenditure doesn’t all come from our savings. As well as my side hustle travel writing income [reduced in 2020 due to Covid-19], in 2020 my small NHS pension began. This is based on my many years of part-time and full-time NHS work and is the equivalent to 12 years NHS service. These both help to reduce what we take from the ever-diminishing savings pot. For me, saving for early retirement was never just about giving up work, it was also about us having the financial resilience to survive whatever ups and downs life threw at us.

A Year Without Gluhwein

For over a decade, visiting the incredible Manchester Christmas Market has been an autumnal household tradition. Before we lived in Greater Manchester we would take the train into Manchester for a special day out. Once we lived in Salford, we would walk across the Irwell and potter around the market a number of times, usually starting with the opening day. The Christmas Market was always my number one choice to meet friends and soak up some festive atmosphere.

A mug of gluhwein isn’t cheap, so we will save some money this year but I will miss standing in the cold, people milling around me, my gloved hands wrapped around a mug of steaming hot gluhwein. The warming spicy wine is something that tastes best drunk outside surrounded by Christmas, it just doesn’t taste the same drunk at home. Part of the fun of drinking my gluhwein is having Rudolph, the festive singing reindeer, belting out Christmas songs above my head and Manchester’s Gothic town hall looking magnificent across the square.

On a weekday morning I would be one of the first visitors to the Christmas Market, taking the chance to browse the stalls and maybe even buy something. But mostly Manchester’s Christmas Market is about the food and drink. For a mid-morning snack I might buy a bag of warm, spicy nuts to nibble before finding a seat and treating myself to an alcoholic hot chocolate from the French stall on charming King Street. It is the next best thing to being in Paris.

In the afternoons, before the after-work rush, we will arrange to meet friends for gluhwein. After years of research I have found that the gluhwein varies across the many stalls and our favourite has become the drink from what we call the Rudolph stall. This stall always has prime position in Albert Square, provides malted milk biscuits to soak up your gluhwein and has the singing reindeer head above the counter. Their gluhwein isn’t too sweet and sickly, it tastes of alcohol and provides the much-anticipated inner glow. While I am happy with straight gluhwein, my partner likes to add rum to his gluhwein for that extra kick!

Before all the building work began we would often meet friends in the Alpine hut complex on Brazennose Street, for some reason always a quiet corner of the market even in the evenings. The crowds flock to Albert Square for the lights and conviviality and by contrast, Brazennose Street always had seats and even shelter, useful if rain was threatening. It was also quiet enough to facilitate talking without shouting. Unfortunately, this cosy spot served gluhwein so sweet it was like sipping hot Vimto, rather than anything alcoholic. This always fooled my brain into thinking it was harmless and I would find myself getting up for more refills than I should!

As the evening progressed all that gluhwein would make me hungry and I would head for the Bavarian käsespätzle stall in Albert Square. The glum owner was never happy to be in Manchester; while we waited for a new batch of käsespätzle to be cooked he would often complain about the high cost of his stall, the poor facilities and how much he missed home. He returned year after year so the trip must have made financial sense and eating a plateful of his delicious German version of macaroni cheese transported me right back to Germany where this dish is often the only vegetarian option on a menu.

It has been decided to cancel the Christmas Market in Manchester this year due to coronavirus. Certainly social distancing is all but impossible on a busy evening on the market. It is just another part of my life and year that has been taken away and I will really miss it. I will just have to keep watching and re-watching the beautiful Lego version in the video below.

Vegan Apple & Blueberry Cake

This is a perfect cake for damp autumn afternoons. I have been experimenting with this recipe for a few weeks now, trying to make a cake that isn’t too sweet but is tasty. This means we have munched our way through some delicious but slightly fragile versions of this cake until I managed to get the ratios right so that we had something with enough robustness to be picked up. Here is the recipe I am sticking with …

Recipe

  • 90 g of brown sugar
  • 100 g of margarine melted & cooled
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla essence
  • 50 ml of milk [I use soya milk]
  • Half of a 270 g jar of apple sauce [I use Lidl]
  • 150 – 200 g of blueberries
  • 190 g of plain flour
  • 2 teaspoons of baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons of cinnamon or mixed spice

Optional topping – 1 teaspoon of brown sugar with a tablespoon of lemon juice or apple juice and 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon or mixed spice

Method – Put the blueberries in a small bowl and mix with 20 g of the brown sugar. In a large bowl beat the cooled melted margarine with the remaining 70 g of the sugar.

Add the vanilla essence, milk and apple sauce to the bowl and mix well.

Sift the flour with the baking powder and cinnamon or mixed spice and fold into the wet ingredients.

Carefully mix the sugar-coated blueberries into the cake mixture.

Grease your baking tin. I use a 6″ square tin but have tried muffin tins and loaf tins too.

I bake in the Remoska for about 40 – 45 minutes. Otherwise, bake at 180C [gas mark 4] for about 45 minutes or longer, depending on your oven and the tin you have used. A skewer should come out clean when the cake is cooked and your kitchen will smell warm and inviting!

Cool in the tin and while it is still warm you can coat the top with a mixture of sugar, cinnamon / mixed spice and juice for a slightly crunchy sweet topping.

Fashionable Mask Wearing in Beautiful Brittany

We weren’t sure whether we would make it to France and, if we did, what we would find here. It turns out it is both normal and abnormal.

After landing in St Malo, we spent the first few days on the Côte de Granite Rose on Brittany’s north coast. Camping Tourony came highly recommended and was a great site to relax on. Good bread was available every morning and we could walk to a lovely beach in the evenings and practice tai chi among the large boulders. So far, so normal.

The area was busy with visitors and masks were required on le sentier des douaniers that follows the beautiful coast among the boulders and trees. This seemed reasonable given the number of people but wearing a mask while outside is a strange experience that takes something away from the joy of being in the great outdoors; no smelling the surf on the breeze or the scent of pine trees when you are behind a mask. Elsewhere walking and hiking have felt pretty much normal and provided relief from coronavirus. On this walk you couldn’t forget this was DC (during coronavirus).

Mask wearing in fashionable France is interesting to observe. On le sentier des douaniers about 80% of walkers complied. The masks varied from the colourful homemade to disposable, but plain re-usable masks were most common. We walked back through the streets as these were quieter and masks were not compulsory here and around the shops.

The French have different ways of carrying their mask when they are not wearing it. Some tuck it below their mouth so that it covers their chin, like a sort of beard mask. Some go lower and put the mask around their necks. Quite common is leaving the mask dangling off one ear when not required, this is a relaxed and jolly fashion statement. Others attach their mask to the straps on their bag or camera or wear it around their wrist. Losing my mask has become a new anxiety for me. I keep mine in my pocket and am constantly checking it is still there.

Our masks are always handy!

Île-Grande, further west, was quieter and consequently more relaxed for a day out walking. The island’s circuit is easy and there is plenty that is interesting along the way. We walked around pretty bays, to craggy points and by marinas packed with boats. We climbed to the centre of the island for the view from the rocky outcrop and found the burial cairn, covered in two huge slabs of rock. My favourite time was walking through the warm and shallow blue water along the edge of the beach back to the mainland, splashing gently and not a thought for a virus.

Of course, much is still normal. The wine is good and cheap and you’ll be pleased to hear that France is as welcoming as ever to motorhomers. There are plenty of vans and their owners on holiday in Brittany and they are making full use of the campsites and aires and enjoying this beautiful country. There are campers from Germany, the Netherlands and Italy but the vast majority we have seen are French. Of course in these DC days everything is seen differently and French supermarkets that used to be such fun to explore now feel crowded. Numbers are not restricted and social distancing seems to mean nothing in the rush to shop. We’re doing as big a shop as we can fit in or small van in one go!

We’re being cautious while enjoying France and not dwelling on our quarantine time when we return too much.

Campsites: Same pandemic, different ways of keeping campers safe

06.26.2018 Veurne Belgium (6)
These Belgian park benches were installed before social distancing was a thing

We were on the starting blocks on the 4th July, booked into the Caravan and Motorhome Club (CAMC) Site in Borrowdale with an arrival time of 10.00!  Since that heady first night back in our much-loved campervan we have slept happily at seven different campsites.  We made the decision to stay local in the north-west of England for the first month and luckily for us this includes the beautiful Lake District where we could catch up on some much-needed fell walking.

I noticed each campsite has adopted a different way of making their site’s facilities safe for visitors.  Here’s a roundup:

No facilities, no problem!

Our Devon Tempest campervan can be self-sufficient, it has a toilet, sink and shower in its modest bathroom.  This means we can stay on sites with no facilities at all.  Borrowdale and Dockray Meadow in Lamplugh in West Cumbria are two sites in the CAMC stable that never have a facilities block.  Of course, you don’t have to use the facilities when they are there, but if we’ve paid for them it seems a waste not to!  At Borrowdale and Dockray Meadow we did find that with no system to negotiate to get into the toilets and showers, staying on both of these sites was a calm and relaxing experience.  They are both always peaceful sites and the walking options from Borrowdale in particular are hard to beat.  They are ideal places to stay for anyone cautious about being away in their ‘van as social distancing is easy when everyone is staying on their pitch.

We also had a couple of nights at a site that is part of the other club’s network, Ravenglass Camping and Caravanning Club Site.  This site normally has a facilities block but has chosen to keep it closed and only open the washing up sinks this season, however, it is charging it’s usual fees, making it much more expensive than the former two sites.  Nevertheless, this small site among the trees and on the edge of the pretty coastal village of Ravenglass is a lovely place to stay.

Using your common sense

Delamere Camping and Caravanning Club Site did have its facilities block open.  They asked campers to use common sense to ensure it never got too crowded and this informal way of managing people worked really well.  There were never more than three people in the toilets and showers and the wash-up area was always quiet, even though the site was full.  Hand sanitiser was available outside the toilets and showers too.  We like this site as you walk through the perimeter fence straight into the extensive network of walking and cycling paths that Delamere Forest offers.

CAMC Wristbands

The Caravan and Motorhome Club’s wristband system had reached me via Twitter before we got to Troutbeck Head CAMC Site.  Not surprisingly, there were lovers and haters on social media.  Wearing our colourful wristbands we felt like we were at the swimming pool and found it a bit of a nuisance to remember to take a wristband to the sanitary block.  Once there it seemed there were always more wristbands hanging up on the three hooks than there were people in the facilities as people forgot to take their wristband away.   I found the tension of wondering if someone else would pick up my particular wristband while I was showering somewhat incompatible with a relaxing holiday.

A simple approach is often best

Our first independent site was Sykeside at Brother’s Water near Ullswater.  This is a long-standing favourite site, surrounded by high fells.  Not surprising for a great campsite, they had taken a sensible approach to social distancing and had installed a board outside the male and female toilet doors with four occupied / vacant signs and a sliding mechanism.  There was no need to remember to take anything with you, you slid one row to occupied as you went in and slid it back to vacant when you came out.  There was sanitising gel available too and paper towels in the washrooms.  Sykeside got lots of ticks from me.

occupied images

Clocking off

Hillcroft Park near Pooley Bridge is a large campsite with a mixture of tents, motorhomes, caravans and static caravans.  Their sanitary facilities are modern and airy with good roomy hot showers that are kept sparkling clean.  They introduced a sort of clocking in system, giving campers a card with their pitch number on.  You were expected to put this card into one of the ten slots by the door.  As a well-behaved camper, I took my card the first few times I used the facilities and popped it in one of the slots.  It soon became clear that no one else was bothering with this system and so I gradually went native.  It turned out this wasn’t a problem, common sense prevailed and the facilities never felt too crowded.

What works best?

This is no exhaustive research study, although if anyone wants to give me a grant to visit a more comprehensive sample of the UK’s campsites I am your woman.

From the sites we have visited, it seems to me that the systems that worked best don’t involve anyone having to take anything with them to the sanitary blocks as these are generally forgotten or left behind.  The common sense approach at Delamere was the simplest way to manage numbers and it seems that campers have common sense in spades.  The occupied / vacant boards at Sykeside were another good option, giving nervous or cautious campers the information they needed to help them feel confident about entering the facilities.

Has anyone found a different system that works better?

 

 

The ups and downs of inheriting a garden

17.06.2016 Hotton (5)

When we moved to Morecambe last November we inherited a garden, having been without one for many years.  Although it is lovely to have some outdoor space, unfortunately, the garden that came with our house isn’t a perfect mature garden that requires little input from us.  In November, the garden was mostly sleeping and what we seemed to have was lots of empty beds waiting to be filled, a rough selection of uneven paving slabs and pitted and cracked concrete paths and a few over-grown shrubs fighting each other for space alongside self-seeded buddleia bushes and brambles.  We tried to remember what it was like in the summer when we had viewed the house but the detail escaped us, we would have to wait and see.

The garden had missed the tender loving care of an owner.  Before our occupation our bungalow has been tenanted for eight years by different families.  Tenants often know their time in a property might be short and don’t always invest in the garden and in the case of our bungalow neither they nor the landlords were gardeners and they both neglected the outdoor space.

We played a waiting game over the winter, just getting out on fine days and keeping the garden tidy but avoiding disturbing anything that might be interesting as every plant is precious.  Some of the over-grown bushes benefited from being pruned in those dormant months.  As we worked in the garden we began to spot signs that this was once a loved garden; someone had carefully chosen these shrubs and designed the flower beds and digging we would sometimes find an old label for plants that had once been purchased and planted here.

As spring began to appear we started gently dividing some of the tangled shrubs and we noticed green shoots appearing.  Working in the front garden, neighbours would stop and introduce themselves and many of them would tell us stories about the garden.  ‘I helped the couple who lived here until eight years ago, we planted over a thousand bulbs in this garden,’ the chap who lives a couple of door away told us one sunny afternoon as we tidied up the beds.  That explained the profusion of spring flowering bulbs that had begun to emerge as the days lengthened, we enjoyed bluebells and tulips for months.  I like the earthy link with a couple we will never know and it is fantastic that their love of gardening still peeps through.  As the year progressed we looked forward to seeing what else would pop up [the middle picture shows some of the plants we have inherited].

Working in the garden reminded me that every house I have ever lived in has had a garden that needed considerable amounts of work and care.  Is the country full of neglected gardens or have I been unlucky?

Over the last three months the garden hasn’t just revealed spring and summer bulbs.  We have a honeysuckle that has climbed over the roof of the garage, apparently the only gardening the previous tenants did was to try and keep this honeysuckle in check.  In the front garden a rose bush I pruned in the winter has been producing glorious yellow sweet-smelling blooms since April, working down-wind of this rose bush is pure joy.  Those previous gardeners clearly loved roses and we have three or four bushes in the front garden.  I imagine the elderly couple planning the garden and picking their favourites for scent and colour.

Along with the valued plants, a healthy crop of horsetails have pushed their soft feathery fir-tree like shoots up in every inch of the back garden.  We knew we were buying a horsetail-crowded garden, this was the one thing we could remember from our viewings!  We thought we had the energy to tackle them but they are robust and vigorous plants and as I pull them out and dig them up I both admire their strength and hate them.  Getting them under control may take the rest of our lives!

We are following a long line of retirees to Morecambe and there is plenty of evidence that the previous owners had some mobility problems, with handrails and additional steps.  As we were moving the additional flagstone that someone had added to the steps into our sunken back garden, to give our feet more room, our next-door neighbour leaned over the fence and reminisced about helping the guy put that in place.  Apparently, he was already very elderly when he decided that he needed some extra help on these steps and he was spotted struggling from his car with this long flagstone.

On the garage wall are two colourful metal butterflies which our neighbour said once decorated the front of the house.  Someone adorned the back wall with three squirrel figures that are forever climbing upwards.  Clearing some of the brambles I found a stone tortoise and a stone hedgehog, remnants of when the garden was a different place.  Garden ornaments are not generally our thing but these fragments feel part of the space and they have stayed.

We have a rear wall that has clearly grown almost organically, the brickwork a mixture of styles and brick-laying competence.  In front of this are a couple of sprawling privet bushes.  ‘Ray would trim that privet to symmetrical perfection,’ we were told.  I don’t go in for much symmetry in the garden and after years of neglect the privet bushes needed more hacking then trimming.  I would emerge from among them, twigs and spiders stuck in my hair!

‘This garden has had more attention during this lock down than it has over the last eight years,’ our immediate neighbour remarked the other day.  My laugh is despondency-tinged when he says this.  He knows that we didn’t plan to spend this spring working on the garden and that we had months of campervan trips planned.  But there is no doubt I have been glad to have something physical and tiring to do when we couldn’t go far and I haven’t had the mind-set to write or edit photographs.  I don’t turn to gardening willingly but having our own outdoors has helped me get through lock down.

The most useful thing the previous gardeners left us was a system of water butts.  This survived the tenants and landlord and were just ignored behind the garage.  With such a dry spring we have been so glad to be able to capture what water there is.

We have planted a tree, a couple of bushes of our own, some herbs and patched up the paths but we are trying to avoid letting the garden suck up all our money and disrupt the finances.  I have a forlorn dream that all the work we have done this spring will mean we can just potter doing a bit of light pruning in future years.  We’ll see!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2017 Campsites through France, Italy to Greece

Greece (98)

We spent a month driving through France and then touring Greece.  Here are the campsites we stayed at until our dream trip was cut tragically short.

 

Campsite name Comments
Pont a Mousson Aire, France Busy aire by river Moselle and pleasant town, full even in April, shops nearby, toilets and shower until 20.00
Les Cent Vignes Municipal Site, Beaune, France Tidy site with hard-standing near the town centre, facilities clean, showers warm, hot water for wash-up, water on pitch and 6 amps.
Le Bourget du Lac aire near Chambery, France Marked pitches, next to campsite, no EHU, can use campsite facilities, open views
Camping Du Bourg, Digne les Bains, France Good views, chalets, friendly welcome, showers have very hot water but shower head hopeless!  Facilities clean but basic, 10 mins walk to town
Camping Val Fleuri, Cagnes sur Mer, France Marked good-sized pitches, pool, 4 km from sea, facilities clean & modern & showers hot, although push button.  Bread brought to pitch in the morning.
Campeggio dei Fiori, Pietra Ligure, Italy 800 m from the sea but peaceful.  Marked pitches, hot water, showers small, 15 mins walk to shops
Le Fonti, Cervarezza Terme, Italy Large site with lots of bungalows, pitch had spectacular views over the valley, sanitary blocks modern with doors, friendly welcome, roomy hot showers & hot water in sinks
Camper Club Mutina, Modena, Italy Well laid out sosta with some grass & trees, clean facilities & good hot showers, 30 mins cycle ride to centre & given a map at reception
Camping Village Mar Y Sierra, Stacciola near Mondolfo, Italy Terraced site & shaded pitches, lovely views across a valley to a pretty Italian town, peaceful.  Facilities clean & modern, showers cramped but hot, adjustable & continuous
Camping Acrogiai, Riza, Greece Had a pitch facing the sea, lots of statics, right on beach, pitch sloped, facilities clean & spacious, water lukewarm, 2 small yapping dogs run around freely!
Camping Apollon, Delphi, Greece Terraced site with stunning views across the bay.  English spoken at reception, bread, marked pitches with some trees, hot water for wash-up & showers, clean facilities, good
Afrodites Waters, Ancient Corinth Very friendly welcome and given fruit & honey.  Small gravel site with marked pitches but little space, 2 toilets & shower & wash-up, water lukewarm, 10 mins walk to Ancient Corinth
Nicholas II, Epidavros On the seafront and under trees, facilities shabby but clean, water only lukewarm for wash up but very hot for showers
Camping Apollon, Delphi As good as the first time!
Camping Sikia, Kato Gatzea, Pelion Peninsular Simply the best campsite.  Friendly owners, beautiful facilities, peaceful coastal location with lovely views from pitches, great walking from the site, lovely bistro.

A New Year’s Resolution to enjoy a Year of Music

1970s
My ticket collection from the 1970s

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

Band Date Venue Cost
Indigo Girls [American folk rock] 31/01/2002 Manchester University Students Union £14.00
The Sue Parish Band [jazz] 01/02/2002 The John O’Gaunt, Lancaster £0.00
The Hamsters [blues rock / parodies] 09/03/2002 The Platform, Morecambe £8.50
Joanne Shaw Taylor Band [blues rock] 26/04/2002 The Kite Club, Blackpool £6.00
Bob Dylan 09/05/2002 Manchester Arena £25.00
Kate Rusby [folk] 07/06/2002 Accrington Town Hall £12.00
Indigo Girls[American folk rock] 13/07/2002 Greek Theatre, Berkeley £15.00
Leeds Festival [rock music] – The Libertines, Midtown, Otis Lee Crenshaw, The Hives, Ben Kweller, Sum 41, Ash, Muse, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club 25/08/2002 Temple Newsam, Leeds £40.00 (one day)
Oasis [rock] 15/09/2002 Lancashire County Cricket Ground, Manchester £28.50
Robert Plant [rock] 20/10/2002 Apollo, Manchester £20.00
John Mayall & Peter Green [blues] 04/11/2002 Preston Guild Hall £19.50
Manic Street Preachers [rock] 06/12/2002 Manchester Arena £22.30

2019 spending £22,478 / year: Our most frugal year & below household average

05.29.2019 Eshaness (1)
Is there a pot of gold?

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.

annual spending graph
Our household spending from 2010 to 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.

 

 

 

Travel Writing That Tells a Story is not a Guidebook

2016 Oct Lake District (1)

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.