Sunday, July 2, 2017

June update - with photos!

The Knights Trail, Lincoln

It's been a good month (not spending-wise, however) as it's been busy at work, and I was away last week for a long weekend.

I joined a women's group last year and there's an annual conference to bring lots of us together from all over the country for a day or three. The conferences move around the country, allowing day attendance for whichever local groups are in the area. There are also regional conferences throughout the year which everyone is welcome to attend.

There were about 300 of us at this national conference, held in the very pretty city of Lincoln (Lincolnshire). There were wraparound events planned and three of us from my group attended. I drove up with one other lady, Alison, on Friday and we arrived at about 1:00, after a 5-hour journey. To be fair, we would have been slightly earlier but were talking so much at one point that we missed our exit and carried on almost to Birmingham (too far west). Whoops! A bit of a cross-country trek back got us back on track, fortunately.

I had booked an AirBnB which was in the perfect location - a 5-minute walk from the castle and about 15 mins from the University of Lincoln, where the conference was being held. Perfect! We weren't actually in the BnB itself but in a separate house, only 2-minutes away from it, which was really comfortable. There were three bedrooms (one with en-suite, downstairs) and it was set up with everything that we needed. There were three other people staying there, two fellows in the downstairs room and one other, who was let in at 3 a.m. by one of the fellows downstairs and then left his dirty breakfast bowl in the sink. Rude! It was still there when we left on Sunday morning, as no one wanted to clean up after him...

Once we'd got ourselves settled, we headed out for a castle tour. After that, we had a cheese tasting session (delicious!) and a lovely meal at a pub called the Wig and Mitre on Steep Hill (because it is!).

Castle Square, looking at the cathedral

The castle is free to enter - it's the buildings & wall walk that you pay extra for.

Setting up for the Cliff Richard concert on Saturday night! A £22million refurbishment of the castle, finished in 2015, has ensured that this beautiful building can remain standing. The Lincoln limestone is so soft it was crumbling and more or less a ruin. The red building in the centre is the prison - there is a Victorian and an Edwardian section, in the middle of which is a brand new, state of the art vault containing one of only four original 1215 copies of the Magna Carta! 

The Lincoln courthouse - this is the Lincoln City court. You can be held in contempt if you interrupt the proceedings in any way while court is in session, so you have to be very quiety when outside it. The court jurisdiction begins at the paving stones.

Crumbling limestone walls.

Another knight! There were 37 in total to find.

Steep Hill, which leads into the more modern high street much lower down.

Steep Hill.

The more modern high street.

Located in Castle Square, at the top of Steep Hill and opposite the castle.

The cheese tasting was delicious, although I baulked at the blue cheese, I admit. Some fabulous cheeses, but so filling that we only had starters for dinner, although they were quite delicious themselves - salmon balls with a chili dressing - and a pudding. I had a lemon mousse-type dessert (can't remember what it was called now) which was nice, but not lemon-y enough in my opinion and a bit heavier than I would have liked.

Anyway, the conference the next day was good - the speakers were excellent. Sophie Wells MBE is a Paralympian dressage rider, who has won gold and silver at London and Rio. She's a tiny little thing but very determined and really made me consider my own excuses for not getting thing done. It really is mostly a mental attitude.

The next speaker was Mary Powell, who managed the funding and oversaw the refurbishment of the castle. She explained how the money was raised and that it was, so far, outstripping their expectations in respect of how many visitors it would attract. The project has been a huge success and Lincoln is very proud of its beautiful 'new' castle.

I actually snuck out after lunch and returned to the castle because I wanted to see the Magna Carta. It was on display with the Charter of the Forest and the Domesday Book (1086) which is on loan to Lincoln until September 3. After that, it will disappear back into the National Archives and won't see the light of day, so to speak, for another 5 years. I wanted to take the opportunity to see it while it and I were in the same place. 

The Domesday Book is more or less a Land Registry and is still referred to! The most recent use was in 1964 and while the pages are still original, it has been rebound to ensure it stays together. Fascinating!

I then walked the walls and took a quick tour through the prison, although it didn't really hold my interest that much. Despite dekeing out of the conference, I did want to get back for the last speaker of the day.

The entrance to the Magna Carta vault.

Crests of the Barons who signed the Magna Carta.

Part of the document's translation.

The vault. As close as I dared to take a photo.

The prison.

Creepy! They put mannequins in to show how the prison chapel works, with doors separating the prisoners from each other.

From the walls of the castle, looking east.

Into the bailey.

I climbed that tower on the mott (the grass hill) to get a beautiful view of the city below.

Prison yard.

Climbing the tower on the mott. They wanted to replace these stairs but figured out quickly that they were the only thing holding the tower up! So they reinforced and added passing areas instead.

A lift for the handicapped to allow them to walk at least part of the walls. Those stairs are also the only way up to the walls. The metal is new(ish) but is designed to rust quickly in order to blend in a bit more with the environment.

Lincoln Cathedral.

Our last speaker was author Sophie Hannah. I'm not sure how many had actually ever heard of her - I certainly hadn't prior to this - but not only is she quite a prolific author in her own right (of mysteries), she is also the author of the new Agatha Christie Hercule Poirot novels, chosen by the Christie family & estate to continue the legacy. Very funny and a very interesting story of how she became their chosen author.

For dinner that evening, we had a fantastic Thai meal and then wandered around at the top of town so I could get photos of the Knights - I was determined to find all 37 - before our ghost walk that evening. Accompanied by the concert of Sir Cliff Richard and led by the woman who is the official town crier of Lincoln, we had a very interesting hour and a half, wandering around the streets and hearing stories of ghostly happenings.

Sunday we finished off our Knights Trail - hurrah! We found them all - and then had an hour-long boat trip on the river. It was ... well, I could have happily not done it and not missed doing it. Let's just say that. It was relaxing, I'll give it that, but that's about it.

We headed home after that (no missed junctions this time) and arrived home in time for dinner. A fully, busy weekend in a truly lovely city. I'm glad I went and I'm glad I took time away from the conference to see the Domesday Book - I certainly don't regret that.

Lincoln is on my 'to visit again' list. It's small and pretty (if you stay away from the modern high street) and full of university students. And it's north - technically, the Midlands - which I like as well. The people are a bit more open in the north and it feels more welcoming sometimes than the south. Just an observation from this foreigner...

Hope you've all had a lovely weekend - and Happy Canada Day (yesterday) and Happy Independence Day (Tuesday)! 

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Learning my options

It's not like I've never moved before or had to set a place up from scratch. I know what the basic expenses and expenditures are: set up fees for utilities, bathroom & kitchen items, furniture, etc. I know it's stressful and frustrating at times.  That's just for an apartment - never mind the legal fees, movers costs, etc. that are involved with an actual house. I also know that, despite that stuff, it's an excellent opportunity to declutter and move with a nominally smaller amount of stuff.

But I've never in my life had to pay estate agent fees on top of that to find a place. I'm not sure real estate agents even deal with rentals in Canada, do they? Certainly, I've never used one to find an apartment before. I thought they stuck with houses and condos and things, not rentals. I've been lucky and things have always worked out for me and I have no reason to think it won't be the same now, but I'm learning that it just might be a bit more difficult.

I've been chatting to a couple of estate agents about the process and am learning that each estate agent has different fees. These range between £200-£600 ON TOP OF RENTAL DEPOSITS which are 6 weeks' worth of rent + first month. There are referencing fees (which are charged PER PERSON); there are Tenancy Agreement preparation costs; there are Pet Addendum fees (if applicable); there are check-out fees at the end of the tenancy; there are Tenancy Extension fees. All are non-refundable. Some may be refundable, but only if the landlord changes his/her mind over you as a tenant, not if you change your mind about being a tenant for that property. I'm afraid to ask whether these fees are charged per flat (at the same agency) or if, once referenced, etc., you are on the books with them and can look to your heart's content. Certainly, you pay more fees if you sign on with more than one agency.

So the minimum I need to rent a place is almost £2,500 before I've even moved in. And if for whatever reason, I don't get accepted, I lose my fees. I can't afford that.

It's criminal. It really is.

I've also learned from one of the agents that the referencing tool they use requires someone interested in a place with a monthly rent of £850 to earn £26k per year. Someone referencing for a monthly rent of £700 is required to earn £21k. That is £5-£10k more than I currently make (and there isn't a great chance that I'll ever make either one of those numbers anytime soon). Which leads me to believe my available rental level is somewhere around £300-£400 per month. I'll be lucky to find a room for that.

I do appreciate, however, that they want to ensure they get the rent. I understand - to a point - why there's a minimum. I don't understand the variously priced fees for the agents. Why not a flat fee for all of that?

How do people rent places? I work full-time and make a very modest wage. Even without my debt payments, I won't qualify (based on the above numbers) for even a studio flat. I'm likely going to start with moving from my room with my cousin to another room in someone else's house. I was hoping to avoid that, but I can't afford to be particularly fussy sadly.

Despite all this, I KNOW the perfect place is out there for me. It may just not be ready yet. I've never failed to find a home - even when I had four cats - so I'm not worried, just kind of disgusted and slightly frustrated. Knowledge is power, however, so it's not a total waste of time learning how the process works. I know what I want, so I just have to be patient. I'm in a very fortunate position, with a job, a comfortable place to live and a cousin who, while itching to get to work on her house and have me out of it, won't leave me homeless and is being kind and generous enough to let me pay a minimal amount so that I can save most of my wage to put towards a place.

In other news, I've paid off a bill from the Canada Revenue Agency which was from 2014. I cashed out one of my RSPs but was unaware that it was subject to 25% tax, as I'm a non-resident (although I thought I wasn't deemed a non-resident until after I'd cashed it out. Anyway...). I got the bill last month and finally got around to calling Ottawa about it a week or so ago. The only place I could pull the funds from was my LOC, so I've done that today. I'm both glad and sad about this. I was one payment away from clearing a full $1000 off my LOC and now I've fallen back down again, but I no longer owe the Canadian Government and I think that's a wiser move. Plus, the interest rate is lower on my LOC.

I was told some complicated way of paying it off through the CRA website, but it didn't give me an option to pay from a Canadian bank account (assuming, I suppose, that you don't have one). I specifically asked if I could pay it through my bank account and was told 'no'. I was surprised but took her word for it - she should know, right?

Well, apparently she doesn't. I wanted to clear it up today and after looking at a couple of options, I went to my bank and checked what bills were available to set up and there it was: CRA NON RES ARR (CRA non-resident arrears).

So. Done.

Once I've moved, I really need to find a part-time job.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Moving news!
Well. This is exciting! Our staff meeting revealed that we are moving (which isn't a surprise to me - ha ha) and it will be to the western edge of the Forest, to a town called Ringwood.
Ringwood is a market town, much nicer and it edges into the Forest on its eastern side. It has all the amenities and conveniences you could want - except direct bus or train transport. You can see it here, and where it sits in relation to Southampton.
This is much nicer for me, as I had more or less decided that Totton (which is not indicated on the map, but is almost exactly halfway between Southampton and Ashurst, at the very eastern edge of the Forest and bumping up against Southampton Water). I don't much like Totton other than for its convenience, so this actually gives me a much wider net to cast as far as looking for available properties.
I've found a super one that I'd like to go and view - all inclusive, including being furnished, which is extremely rare. It's slightly more expensive than I'd like to pay, but during my review the words 'pay rise' were bandied about, but that will be hammered out at a further meeting in the summer, once we know for sure what our new premises will be and what they will incorporate.
This is the little flat - here. It's probably a 20 min drive from Ringwood (you can see Burley on the map, just a little south of Ringwood). But the further I dig, the more I find, so this is looking much better than my options for Totton. I've since found a tidy little one-bed, detached flat - a converted garage from the looks of things - for £500 a month! It's further north, towards Fordingbridge, but what a find!
So I'm feeling much more positive about things.
My colleague, though, is not as happy as I am as it means a much further commute for her, although there will be parking at the office and we were told that travel could be compensated - there's no point discussing it at the moment when we aren't sure exactly where we'll be and when we'll be there, although it's looking like the autumn at this point.
But it'll also mean a lot of hard work, packing up and moving stuff, so I'm sure there's going to be discussion about that as well.
Lunch is over! Back to work I go :D

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Taking time to rest

This is what I'm planning to do this week. I've been sleeping very well since my procedure on Saturday and am thinking I would like to take the rest of this week off to rest and recuperate while I can.

Regardless of it not being major surgery, my body has still been through some serious trauma and needs time to heal. I'm enjoying being at home and being quiet and calm. There's been no pain, but I'm aware of the area if that makes sense. A little 'nudge' here and there to remind me of it. And I have a gigantic bruise where the anaesthetic IV went into my hand. Doesn't hurt, but it's pretty impressive!

I've not been eating much at all, but have been getting lots of fluids (water and tea), so I'm fasting I suppose. It's not necessarily a conscious thing, but it feels like the right thing to do.

I admit I don't really want to go back to work just yet, either. I'm enjoying this quiet and calm and want to go back when I feel both mentally and physically ready, rather than just when I feel I 'should'. Feeling guilty means I care about what I do, but I know that if something were to happen, it could potentially mean even MORE time away and why open that kettle of fish?

My supervisor isn't in today but I will call her tomorrow to discuss. I'll enjoy my peace and quiet today and worry about tomorrow, tomorrow. :)

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Update: week ending 6 May

It's going to be a quiet few days for me. I'm off work tomorrow and Tuesday, just taking some time to recover from a routine out-patient procedure I had done yesterday. It was under general anaesthetic so I'm feeling a bit delicate today as the anaesthesia works its way out of my system (approx 24 hours).

All went well. I arrived at 12:15 and was called in almost immediately. Paperwork in quadruplicate as each staff member had to come in and chat, check and sign paperwork and I was asked the same questions about 4 times. No getting around it, but it is time-consuming! At any rate, I didn't wait long to be prepped and taken to the OR.

I was having a lovely dream and then woke up to a nurse called Rachel greeting me at about 3:30. A few minutes in the recovery room, where the doctor came in and said some stuff to me (which he admitted I likely wouldn't remember) and off I went to the ward for a few hours. They loaded me up with water as I needed to pee 200ml before they would let me go. That seemed to take ages and ages, but finally, they got enough to release me and let me go with loads of pills - all of which I'm supposed to take 3-4 times a day, but I'm a bit confused with them, so will read the directions and see what I'm supposed to do with them. They're all for pain management, but so far have only taken an Ibuprofen last night. I imagine I'll need them a bit more as the anaesthetic wears off during the day.

The staff were great and the nurses really lovely. I will need a follow-up at some point, I think, and also need to make an appointment with my regular doctor anyway, so can drop the discharge information there when I do that. 

So I'm not venturing far, today at least, and fortunately have plenty of unread books at hand, as well as a few emails and letters to write. I feel I need to take advantage of a couple of days off and get caught up there.

I've started looking at flats and there are several that I really like but as I said previously, there doesn't seem much point looking for something I can't yet afford to do. If I'm feeling up to it on Tuesday, I may take myself into town and register at a couple of places to get started.

I had a brief chat with my boss on Thursday, however, and he said not to make any sudden move plans for the moment. The reason being that the MDs are thinking of moving the office closer to home (on the western edge of the Forest) so my plans on where to move might change. This wouldn't happen right away, obviously, but it does open up options for me, although Totton is where my ladies group is and I don't want to be TOO far from that. At any rate, we're having an office meeting in a couple of weeks so that the MDs can have a chat to us about it. I've been sworn to secrecy at this point, so will have to act surprised.

I did get a 6-month train pass, too, which makes more sense than an annual one at this point, seeing as neither I nor the office knows where we'll be come the new year. So that's handy, although a bit more expensive than an annual pass. Oh well, not complaining! I'm very lucky to be able to say 'I need a new train pass' and get one. Ha ha!

Otherwise, it's been a quiet week! I've set aside some cash for moving (£32 - woot!) and have about £25 more at the moment from various bits & pieces. Can take that to the bank this week and feel better about doing something. I've found a job ad for a tea shop in Lyndhurst that might be right up my alley, so am going to apply for that (weekend shop front staff). No guarantees, but it doesn't hurt to try. I don't have any experience in food service, but this is quite a nice shop and serves 99% tea, so might just be perfect.

Anyway, this was just a quick update. Hope you're all having a good weekend!