Thursday, March 27, 2008

A few money-saving ideas

I sometimes wonder why we (myself included) are fond of frittering away
our money, spending more than we need to on energy and insuring our homes
& cars, or leaving our money to fritter away in low interest savings

Is it due to inertia … a well known phenomenon when it comes to changing
anything to do with our finances? Otherwise known as laziness or bone

Perhaps a version of sticking your head in the sand and hoping things
will turn out for the best?

Is it due to ignorance?

Or could it merely be a desire to give our money away to fat cat company
directors and company shareholders?

Take for example the record profits made by British Gas in the past year
or so. Isn’t it wonderful that British Gas managed to achieve annual
profits of £571 million in 2007, up from £95 million in 2006?

Wow! £571 million. How wonderful.

Not only that but British Gas increased its gas & electricity prices
in January by 15 per cent, in line with increases made by other energy

Well, looking on the bright side, that will make a lot of people think
about using less energy in their homes, thereby cutting our carbon
dioxide emissions … good news for the environment.

In the past month or so, I’ve spent some time looking at various online
price comparison sites…

Martin Lewis’ moneysavingexpert site for energy & home insurance,

and Confused dot com for car insurance.

Overall, I reckon I’ve saved £670 by switching to cheaper providers,
or by haggling with an existing one ...

1. Direct Line reduced the renewal premium on our house & contents
insurance, when I mentioned a less expensive online quote I’d obtained.
Saving made: £340 for this year.

2. Switching to EBIco for dual fuel will save us about £260 for this
coming year.

3. Switching to the Post Office for car insurance saved us £90 for
this year.

So, why not use the internet to shop around and save yourself some money?

Please let me know about any success stories that you’ve had.

By the way, we’re saving an additional £20 each month on our phone,
Broadband & TV package, after I persuaded Virgin Media to offer me a large “retention offer” to stay with them rather than go over to BT
(and subsequently Talk-Talk). If you’re with Virgin Media & you are
outside any contractual term with them, the Disconnections Team are
the people to contact.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

My Flickr site

Hi folks,
I've just updated my Flickr site with a selection of photos dating
back to January. I've also added a few family photos, featuring
the gorgeous Mrs C, our four daughters (the fourth is on page two
of the Flickr site), plus our two granddaughters.
Hope you'll like them.

Just been reading Keith's funny post about the Flaming Chalice, which
reminds me of a true story about a schoolmistress who asked her class
of 9 year olds to give an example of how to use the word "charming"
twice in a sentence. (This all happened in the 1960s).
One of boys put up his hand and said: "Miss, my sister came home from
school yesterday and told my dad and mum that she was pregnant. And
Dad said, from behind his newspaper, "Charming, bloody charming!""

Monday, March 24, 2008

To text or not to text? That is the question.

A few questions for you....

1. Do you think women better at sending text messages than men?
2. Do women send more text messages than men?
3. Is sending text messages cool?
4. Do young people prefer sending a text to sending an email?
(Is it only old farts like me who prefer sending an email?)
5. Why not use an ordinary phone to phone family & friends on
their landlines, instead of sending text messages to their mobile

Well thinking about my own family, my answers are:

1. Yes … the women are much better ... I’m crap at sending text

2. Definitely yes … I’m outnumbered by women (and no, I don’t run
a harem), and all the women are constantly sending each other text
messages. The womenfolk are: Mrs C, our four daughters and two of
our nieces.

3. I don't think much of what I do is cool, apart from blogging of

4. I get the impression that texting is the height of coolness …
and that it’s a young person’s essential daily activity … as
essential as eating food and having sex.

5. We’re on a phone tariff with Virgin Media, whereby we pay a
fixed monthly amount for any number of phone calls made day or
night to the cheaper landline numbers … which encourages me to
use our landline phone more. I’ve got little incentive to send
text messages at 10p a text, and so my mobile phone stays
switched off most of the time.

About a month ago, I bought a fairly new Nokia mobile phone
to replace one that was nicked. I asked the shop assistant to
show me how to work it … he showed me a fairly complicated way
of turning on & off the predictive text.

A couple of days ago, one of my daughters failed to turn us at
Nottingham Bus Station, as I’d pre-arranged with her … she’d
given me the wrong date (she came to stay with us yesterday,
in fact).

I wasted over an hour at lunchtime doing 10 laps around the
BroadMarsh Bus Station and then parking my car in a side street
(so I could nip into the Centre for a pee, and then hang around
the Bus Station for her).

So rather than hang around any longer, I sent Mrs C a text ... ...
well, this took me a lot longer than I’d anticipated … could I
work out how to turn off the predictive text? Nope. As a result,
I couldn’t spell certain words & names, and ended up sending
Mrs C a rather unfriendly text message: “ No sign so coming back”.

Mrs C’s quick reply: “Have you phoned Bubs?”.

“No.” (I didn’t have much money on the phone, and I wasn’t sure
how to phone out on it).

Well, Mrs C is a world expert on sending text messages on a Nokia
phone, and she gave me a quick demo of how to use it when I got
back (the shop assistant’s lesson was rubbish in comparison).
We ate up the fresh pizza we’d made for lunch, without Bubs that
day. Bubs was very apologetic for getting her dates mixed up.

Now, how do you switch the predictive text on & off? .... Er..hmm. :)

Friday, March 21, 2008

Words and nuisance phone calls

Not a lot happened this past week, apart from a visit mid-week
from Little Ava and her mum ... little A is as cute as ever, and
is very lively and is becoming more verbal. One of her latest
sayings is a very dramatic "Ooh No-o-o!" whenever something bad
happens (such as Teddy falling off / being pushed off the table).

Thinking about funny expressions / catch-phrases which we've
acquired over the years, here are a few of them ...

"Suppose so ..." said repeatedly by a woman who ran a guest house
we stayed at near Scarborough. She spent most of her time chatting
on the phone to her friends & family, just like Sybil Fawlty in
Fawlty Towers ... what a character. "Hmm...suppose so."

"Horrenderous" ... an word used a lot by some guy complaining about
the loud music coming from a neighbouring pub, to one of my daughters
(who works in Environmental Health). What a horrenderous noise.

Seen on a newspaper advert for a curry house in Leeds, about the
high quality of the food served there... "You will be surpriz!"

My parents invited a family to come and join us for Sunday lunch ..
... after eating his portion of delicious roast chicken, the five
year old son shouted to my mum: "More! Better!"

And then there's the well known Nottingham greeting:
"'Ey up, me duck!" as well as commonly used words like:
Sweetheart, Darlin', Dear and Love. I've become used to hearing these
friendly words, but some people take them the wrong way and feel
offended or patronised. Would you feel offended?

What irritates me are those automated/random phone calls, which
we get a few times a week ... there's often a slight pause before
the voice starts up: "Congratulations! You have won a holiday!"
or a similar prize offering.

Our phone number is ex-directory by the way, and we never say
our names when we answer the phone, so when a rep starts off
by saying we've been "specially selected" ... or "we're in your area
at the moment" ... or "Are you the houseowner?" I often feel like
challenging the caller or saying something like: "I'm the lodger".

One of our relatives has a bit of fun and invents a whole series
of replies like: "Hello, it's the Thorndyke Funeral Home ... can I
be of assistance?" ... or ... (pause) ..."Please hold the line...
we're trying to connect you!"

Monday, March 17, 2008

Luxury bog roll

I've just been reading an interesting article in last Saturday's
Times by Sathnam Sanghera, about how certain words have become
devalued by overuse / mis-use in advertising stuff for sale.

Take a walk down a supermarket isle stacked high with bog roll.

Now would you chose some luxury toilet paper, deluxe toilet paper
or recycled toilet roll (which can feel like using sandpaper)?

How about Value bog roll, where you might need to use several sheets
at one go, or quilted paper drenched in aloe vera for exquisite
comfort ... and what about using baby wipes, which I've read our
soldiers in Irag use for their rear ends .... essential for their
grim working conditions.

Let's come back to the use of words such as luxury & designer ... labels
that give a certain mystique and a touch of class to a product, but
which are being used to market cheapo stuff.

A luxury bog roll doesn't sound quite the same as a luxury yatch, does
it? And yet I go for the luxury bog roll every time ... in packs of

Well, I do like to pamper myself .... because I'm worth it.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

How do you feel about burning £5 notes?

I've spent a fair amount of time indoors in the past few days...
preparing some IT talks for the computer group I help run. I've
spent several days putting together a Powerpoint presentation
on Windows Vista, which I'm gradually getting used to on the
laptop I'm using at present.

I've got a very good book out of the library ... Harshad Kotecha's
"Windows Vista in Easy Steps" ... brilliantly put together and
well illustrated. It's so good that I'm thinking of buying a copy,
so I can refer to it from time to time for teaching purposes.

There's no doubt in my mind, that one of the best ways of learning
a new subject is to teach it ... I'm forced to look something up
that I'm "hazy" about, and to try out new things on the computer,
and do further reading around the subject in magazines, books, and
on the internet itself. I wouldn't like to put across info to
others that was inaccurate, or tell them about stuff I hadn't tried
out myself first.

I sometimes think about the time when my Maths teacher asked the
entire class to present something of general interest to everyone
in the class. It was my second year at one of the grammar schools
in Leeds, and the teacher gave us a few days' notice to prepare
our talks. My parents had 2 sets of encyclopaedias at home (Chambers
& the Oxford Junior), and I chose the British Coal industry for my
talk. The trouble was that I couldn't find out much about it in
the books at home or in the local library ... so I ended up with
bugger-all to present, and I was shit-scared of public speaking

Very luckily for me, the teacher chose 3 other lads in the class to
present their topics -- I wasn't chosen, but from then on, I've
tended to be very well prepared for any talks I give, and to
prepare them well in advance. My talk on Vista was going to be in
mid-April, but I've had to postpone it until June/July, owing to
baby-sitting duties.

Today I've more or less completed another talk on file management
(using Vista), including the simple method of dating all my stuff
with the current date written as YYMMDD and photo folders dated as
MMYY ... Windows does the rest of the work in stacking up files &
folders in date & alphabetical order. I've also included a section
on hiding files (password protected), and one on creating shortcuts
on the taskbar.

We've decided it's time to sell our car (a 1993 Peugeot 306 XRDT)
... it's in good condition mechanically, but like most old cars,
it's rusting badly. We're thinking about changing it for something
similar in engine size ... a Ford Focus, for example ... but I've
just been reading about how the Govt is going to tax more heavily
the more powerful cars (& older ones too) ... with view to all of
us progressively reducing our carbon dioxide emissions.

I'm generally in favour of the latter, though the Govt may just be
using green issues to levy more tax out of us.

Do some of you remember the old days, when we used to put gallons
rather than litres of petrol into our cars? It doesn't seem all
that long ago, when motorists were horrified by paying £1 a gallon
for petrol (perhaps that was in the 1970s when I come to think
about it).

Anyway ... SHOCK HORROR ... I've read in the press that petrol has
now reached the dizzy height of £5 for a gallon (that's about 4
litres, is it not?).

£5 for a gallon of petrol.

Just think what you could spend £5 on .... er ... er ... two large
cappuccinos in a coffee shop perhaps, or two pints of beer in a pub
... or two largish blocks of cheddar cheese, or a CD of cheerful
Xmas music (with dear old Bing singing "White Christmas"). I'd
rather listen to Bing singing, than pour a gallon of petrol into
a car.... just feels like burning £5 notes to me.

(17 March: I paid £1.12 per litre for diesel fuel for my car
today. I checked out the metric conversion tables, and 1 gallon
works out at 4.55 litres, and so costs £5.09. I put £24's worth
of diesel into a fairly empty fuel tank, and it's now less than half
full (or more than half empty for those of you who like to think that
way). Putting petrol into a car fuel tank is said to be one of the
Brits' least favourite activities ... perhaps we should all start to
think about the positive aspects of buying fuel for our cars ...we
could all start jumping up and down with joy, with thoughts of getting
out and about for picnics & walks in the countryside, and visiting
all our relations around the country ... YIPPEE!).

Friday, March 14, 2008

Homo nerdicus

(In a hoarse whisper). This is a rare sight indeed. Our cameraman had
been waiting in his hide-out for an utterly boring three weeks, for this
moment - waiting to take a snapshot of this rare breed of British tourist.
Notice how unaccustomed to the bright daylight he is -- it is often said
that members of this species are virtually nocturnal in habit, preferring
to spend their daylight hours sitting inside darkened rooms, looking at
computer screens.
They come out for short periods in the evenings in the search for food to
eat. Their numbers are very low in the wild, as they are too shy when it
comes to meeting members of the opposite sex... so mating doesn't often
occur. Most of their sexual activity is said to be virtual, occurring on
their computer screens... as this is being recorded for family viewing,
we are unable to show this virtual mating activity.
So I feel very priviledged indeed to be able to see this individual, and
to be able to show him to you rarely do we see Nerdicus in this
habitat, which must be so alien to him.
Next week, we'll explore the Canary Wharf in London for related tribes of
the human species.

Monday, March 10, 2008

In the early mornin' sun

I'm starting to feel like my usual self today ... I'm coughing less,
I'm feeling more like eating something, and my tea and coffee is
tasting better ... isn't strange how tasteless and horrible drinks
like this can feel, and even more off-putting as will drinking hot
drinks, you start hacking up more gunge off your chest.

I'ts a good job I gave up smoking not long after I started, as a student,
as I would hate to be coughing my guts up each morning to clear the
catarrh / tar residues. And giving up wasn't easy, as I was almost
addicted to the stuff. What convinced me to do so was falling ill with
pneumonia & pleurisy while I was a student on a Children's Ward in
Leeds ... I should have been in a hospital bed myself, but I got over
it without any antibiotics. It was the writing on the wall.

On a more cheerful note, I thought I'd post a few of my holiday snaps,
taken at dawn .... it was lovely to get outside at that time of day
for walks, while it was cool, fresh and sunny. Funny to see several
joggers running around along the beach and side streets at that time,
but then I wouldn't like to be running in the middle of the day when
it's much hotter.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Not feeling very well today

I haven't been feeling very well today. I've had mild cold & cough
for a few days, and then I woke at 4am with a bad sore throat, a
chesty cough plus a fever. I went downstairs & started up the central
heating early, as I was feeling cold & shivery.

I've got through today dosing myself up with usual pills plus some
sage tea (which so far hasn't done me a lot of good this time) ...
and took myself off to bed twice during the day to catch up on some

I'm not feeling too bad at the mo ... and managed to watch the TV cop
drama set in 1981: Ashes to Ashes, which I thought wasn't as good as
usual ... not a very convincing script, especially when a good guy
shoots the bad guy towards the end, and appears to have been let off
any criminal charges for doing so ... humm. Some of male characters
in this drama were gay ... so we got the usual tirade of name-calling
from certain detectives. I think the skin trouble which one of the men
had, was Kaposi's Sarcoma, by the way.

Here are a couple more photos for you. Los Gigantes (revisited) and a
little village in a remote mountainous region, called Masca.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

More snaps of Tenerife

The first photo is of the bay close to the hotel pool I showed you
yesterday. The second is the entrance hall to the Bahia Princess
Hotel at Fanabe ... I was very impressed by the architecture,
especially the domed glass roof ... I wonder how they manage to keep
it so clean?

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

One man's meat is another's poison

Fancy living somewhere like this with a gorgeous view, lovely hot
sunshine, plus a view of Gomera in the distance? Looks great, doesn't
it? This is part of a hotel near Puerto Colon in Tenerife....but it's
not very private with the likes of me taking photos of the hotel

There's a lovely promenade around the coast here ... just right for
a stroll ... with lots of cafes, bars and restaurants to choose from.

And yet I could get bored living in a place like this.... too much sun,
food and drink, and not a lot to occupy me apart from reading some books
and doing crosswords, and watching some footie on the TV. My life would
feel rather empty. However, I can see how this would be the ideal life-
style for other folk ... a great escape from life in the UK, and the
cold, wet & windy weather here. One man's meat is another's poison.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Area around Mt Teide

Here is a photo of the bizarre landscape around Mt Teide in Tenerife
... I imagine the surface of the moon would look something like this
(without the plants and people)... it could be background scenery to a
Salvador Dali painting - it looks so surreal. I find it hard to believe
that Tenerife's basic water supply depends on the melting snow on
Teide itself, when the region looks so dry and barren.... I didn't see
any cascading water on the side of Teide that we were looking at.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

We're back from our holibobs ...

Hi everyone, we're back from gloriously sunny Tenerife ... every day was
around 20-21 deg C, though there were a few clouds from time to time, and
a refreshingly cool sea breeze. We stayed at Torviscas Bay which is not
far from Los Cristianos, and went on two tours (coach trips round the
island during our stay) together with lots of walking around the bays.
Our first trip took in Mount Teide (though we didn't climb up it)... I'll
post some of my pics for you in the coming week or two. Teide is surrounded
by an incredible lunar-like landscape, the likes of which I've never seen
before - it's really amazing, and surprisingly barren (apart from the
vegetation you see above, and there's not a lot of that).

On the way back, our pilot told us to expect some refreshing weather in
the UK. Most of the rain had gone by the time we arrived back, but it
was very windy (up to 70mph in parts of the UK), and surprisingly mild
(around 10 C).

Mrs C and I spent yesterday unpacking, food shopping and reading through
the usual pile of mail (plus emails), before our daughter Luce arrived
with Little Mini in the early evening. They're staying with us for the
next few days.

Today was Mother's Day (as everyone in the UK will know), which we spent
with other members of our family ... two more of our daughters, Em and
Beck (plus her hubby and Little Ava), and Mrs C's mum too ... so a lot of
chatting, cooking, washing up, and making cups of tea and coffee.

It's now past 11pm ... I'm the only one still up, and it's very quiet.
Hardly any passing traffic, which is a bit unusual, but I suppose most
sensible people will be in bed by now (sleeping or bonking), rather than
doing a little blogging. At the moment this is my best time of day to
do so, while we've got family staying with us ... how do you all manage
to do any blogging when you've got people to stay with you?