Just the two of us …

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Splashing out on cocktails

It was Mr BOTRA’s birthday a little while ago [apologies this blog post isn’t as up-to-date as it could be].  We have always been frugal with presents and don’t buy expensive gifts for birthdays [we either need things and buy them or it is just stuff we don’t need] but I did buy him something to read and some of his favourite chocolates.

Along with these gifts I wrote a note promising to buy him cocktails down at The Lime Bar on Salford Quays.  You might say one of two things to this;  it is either no big deal or an extravagance too far for two people who are saving up for early retirement.  However, it was a lovely and enjoyable gift for both of us, as we got to spend time together, just the two of us.

We eat out or have drinks fairly regularly in Salford and Manchester but always with friends, sometimes to celebrate something or sometimes just as an excuse to get together or before seeing a band or going to the theatre.  We enjoy these sociable occasions and want to continue being able to afford these luxuries [necessities].  However, going out for drinks or a meal when it is just the two of us is an indulgence;  after all if we want to chat to each other we can do this at home.

And we do chat and talk at home; we talk about what we have been up to during the day, our plans and hopes for the future, our friends and family, what we are reading, the state of the nation, our finances and little things we have seen that have amused us [of course we also argue sometimes].

But it turned out that being ‘out’, that is away from the flat, was different.  It meant that we weren’t distracted by chores or projects, the internet or the radio and so our time at The Lime Bar was special because I was able to just enjoy being with my lovely partner.  We enjoyed good cocktails and nattered and I remembered why I have been happily married to him for over 30-years.  Is that so extravagant?

A labyrinth is a symbolic journey

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A map always helps to decide which way to go

I love maps!  I gaze at them and imagine journeys I can take and try and picture the places they represent.  My fingers follow the patterns of the paths, rivers and ridges and how these affect the pattern of the towns and villages.  For me, maps open up possibilities and going out with a map gives me the confidence to explore; this also means that without a map I feel a bit lost and all-at-sea.

I like to think of our plan for early retirement and financial independence as a map.  This map also has a path I am wandering along but the benefit of the map is that I can spot the opportunities for short-cuts and longer more scenic routes, should I fancy deviating from the path.  This map gives me confidence and the ability to be flexible around the route Mr BOTRA and I have mapped out and with this map I am hopeful that I won’t end up in a dead end or get lost along the way.

And so, not surprisingly, I love the look of these literary maps.  They are designed as a sort of mobile and self-taught creative writing course, with exercises to help a writer explore a particular environment.  There is a writing map for the city, for cafes and bookshops, for writing by the sea and in crowded places  and others.  Each map is designed by a different person and is a beautiful item to own and look at and make use of.  I am hoping someone buys at least one for me some time soon.

As a travel writer and a blog writer I am not too proud to take any help I can get.  I get loads of inspiration from other people’s blogs, from conversations with other people, from observation and from reading.  These literary maps look like a great way to initiate the generation of new ideas in my brain.  Take a look and let me know how you find inspiration for your ideas, projects and writing.

A quick word on the quote I have used: “A labyrinth is a symbolic journey . . . but it is a map we can really walk on, blurring the difference between map and world.” From Rebecca Solnit wonderful book Wanderlust: A History of Walking.

… and one week later it is warm enough for shorts

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Last weekend we had the heating on, fleeces and hats during the daytime and were wrapped up at night in pyjamas, silk sleeping bag liners, duvets and blankets.  One week later, here we are at last in shorts and able to sit outside the ‘van.  We have moved from Please make it warmer! to putting the thermals and thick socks to the back of the drawer in just a few days.

As we set off walking in the rolling Shropshire countryside Mr BOTRA and I both felt lighter and we were.  We were carrying just the camera and binoculars, no need for waterproofs and those extra layers.  In the ‘van making the beds was easier and now we could eat outdoors, there were no crumbs in the van after eating.

We had a glorious weekend near Shrewsbury; walking up and around Lyth Hill, where we were congratulating ourselves for our excellent navigation skills and Shropshire Council for their excellent signage and then [you guessed it] we got lost.  We found our way back to our route and then got lost again due to poor signage through a farmyard [we suspect the farmer was trying to deter walkers and had removed the helpful yellow arrows].

On the Sunday we visited the beautiful ruin of Haughmond Abbey, a tranquil and scenic spot and then moved on to Hawkstone Park Follies.  If you have never been to this fantastical wonderland of grottos, narrow bridges, tall monuments and stunning woodland, all set on a sandstone ridge, then you should try and get here soon.  I last visited in the late 1970s, when it was neglected and over-grown and not operated as a visitor attraction at all.  Then we felt like we were the first people to discover it as we fought our way through rhododendron bushes and along narrow paths.  Today, the paths are well marked and with your entrance fee to see the 200-year old park you get a map.  Despite this taming of the landscape, the walks are both fun and demanding and there are still uneven paths, steep steps and dark caves and gullies to explore.  We particularly liked ‘The Cleft’, a rocky gash in the hillside that is dark, damp and mossy and the rain water has eroded circular patterns in the sandstone.

It was cheering to see so many people having so much fun in the outdoors.  What a difference the sun makes!

 

I used to be a gardener

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We used to have a garden

I was planting geraniums in our window boxes yesterday and thinking about gardening.

Before we downsized to a small flat in the city, we lived in a semi-detached house and had a reasonably large garden.  The garden had apple trees, a beautiful silver birch and a rowan tree, a pond that was always full of frogs and a pretty wooden greenhouse.  The garden had been neglected when we bought the house and in the 20+ years we were there we tended it and made it a very special place.

I did get a lot of pleasure from the garden.  We had good soil and the garden faced south and was sheltered and warm.  In the summer the garden buzzed with bees, butterflies flitted through and we had plenty of birds visiting the bird table and bird bath and nesting.

However, the garden took up lots of my and Mr BOTRA’s time.  Looking after the garden competed with our desire to be away in the ‘van as much as possible.  The garden needed regular tending, particularly in the spring and summer when we most wanted to be away … so the time to move on had arrived.

Now, we live in the city and have a couple of pots by our front door and some window boxes.  We chose our flat because it is in a development that was built in a time when land was cheaper and benefit from having large sheltered central gardens that the management company employ gardeners to maintain.

Sometimes friends ask if I miss having a garden.  But why would I when I now have a garden that someone else cares for and the great outdoors to enjoy in the ‘van.  Camping in the ‘van provides opportunities for the fresh air and tranquillity we crave and takes us to natural surroundings.  The beauty of natural landscapes is that they can be different every day, we can choose coastline or mountains, moorland or woodland and we don’t have to spend time maintaining it.

Owning a flat and campervan work well together for us, helping us to be both financial independent and happy.

 

Lucky litter pick

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Mr BOTRA and I can’t help ourselves.  Whenever we are out walking in the beautiful British countryside, if we spot any litter we have to pick it up and stuff it in the outside pocket of the rucksack.  We just like to leave places looking better than when we arrived.

On a recent walk / litter pick, along with the usual cans and bottles, McDonalds packaging and plastic, we found a £5 note!  We felt doubly blessed as litter picking always makes us feel good anyway.

I don’t just litter pick in the countryside.  Although here in Salford the Council provide some street cleaning, this doesn’t in anyway keep up with the amount of litter on the streets.  On my journey to and from work I often arrive with an armful of rubbish, mostly sweet wrappers and plastic bottles and I always pick up glass bottles as these are so lethal when they break, particularly for the tyres of bicycles.  This doesn’t really take up any of my time but helps to keep our environment looking just that little bit better.

Another good find on a litter picking sessions some time ago was a fluffy [after it had been washed] chocolate brown hand towel that we still use in our bathroom.  This probably was less litter and more lost but after seeing it for a few days it was morphing in to litter and I could only assume the original owner had no idea where they had lost it.

I would really like to live in a world where this litter picking wasn’t necessary but until then I carry on in the hope that for all those people who see me and think I am one crazy woman, just one or two will spot me and next time think twice about throwing litter down … until then I never know what I might find.

 

Taking our Devon Conversion van to Devon

The Devon coast near Hartland Quay
The Devon coast near Hartland Quay

Well … now we are wondering why did we wait so long to get to Devon?

Despite its name, Devon Conversions are based in County Durham in the north of England, a long way from the south-west.  We often meet people in other countries who smile and tell us how much they have enjoyed holidays in the beautiful county of Devon in South West England and we have to apologise for never having been there, until now.

We spent a few days exploring Somerset and North Devon and found some stunning coastlines and picturesque villages.  We particularly enjoyed the Hartland Peninsular which was perfect for us.  The spectacular rocky coastal scenery provided great walking country, Clovelly took us back in time and the clotted cream ice-cream was excellent.  The sunshine in the photograph hides the stiff breeze that kept the temperatures down but in the sheltered corners it was warm enough to walk without a fleece jacket.

Devon is well known for its narrow lanes with tall hedges and I certainly held my breath plenty of times as we met oncoming traffic as we toured around what count for main roads in this part of the country.  We are very familiar with single track roads in Scotland but this was different; in Scotland you generally have an open view over the moorland and the passing places are always regular and marked.  Breathing in on the narrow sections didn’t help one bit for the ‘van to squeeze through the narrow gaps but it was something I just couldn’t help doing.

Since we have been home I’ve been telling everyone how stunningly beautiful north Devon is but then lots of people already know this, it is just the two of us that have taken so long to discover one of the delights of our little country.

 

Normality is a paved road; It’s comfortable to walk but no flowers grow

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A beautiful Italian sunset

Normality is a paved road; it’s comfortable to walk but no flowers grow

I am well aware that for many people even ticking along through life can be stressful and that life throws more tough times at some people than is fair.  I am sure these folk must feel irritated by trite sayings like this … so apologies if I’ve got your back up but perhaps you will still read on.

The quote is attributed to Vincent Van Gogh and it is one of those quotes that appears in the blogosphere now and then to start a discussion on taking an unusual or creative path.

Firstly I need to say that I have had times when too many awful things are going on and I will be heard to complain, ‘I just want a quiet and normal life!’  I don’t think there is any shame in wanting a carefree and stress-free life.  I also know that when I have survived a period along the rocky road and I return to the smooth path of ‘normal’ life I have a greater sense of strength and self-reliance … adversity can be character building.

What I also take from this quote is that sometimes I need to turn away from the easy paved road because it is taking me in a direction that will not make me happy in the long run, even if it seems the path of least resistance.  If you saw a copy of my cv you might be horrified at the number of organisations [over 20] I have worked for since I first started work at the age of 16.  This fickleness is partly because I am easily bored [the longest I have stayed in any job is five years] but is also due to my lack of patience with employers who either undermine me, pay me badly, set impossible targets, have ridiculous rules or don’t give me enough to do [some employers have excelled themselves and will do more than one of these things].

As an example, let me take you back in time to an office in a Midlands city in the 1980s.  I worked for a [very] short time for a company who insisted women [not men] wore tights even if it was 30°C in the office [this was before air-conditioned offices].  In addition, although the office of about 20 people was very busy processing wages for temporary workers Monday to Wednesday, on Thursday and Friday we were kicking our hosiery-clad heels.   These were pre-internet days and having nothing to do at work was exceptionally tiresome; however, my practical and money-saving suggestion to management that I work part-time was refused.  Needless to say, although staying in the job would have kept me on the smooth path of security, I soon left for the rocky road of short-term unemployment until the next opportunity came up.

I think this experience of constantly changing jobs makes me feel fairly confident that I will always find some kind of work if financial pressures mean that I need to because of some unforeseen catastrophe.  This certainly contributes to giving me the confidence to take retirement as soon as I can.