Sunday, July 10, 2016

Updates from the New Forest

Ed, the magnificent European Eagle Owl.

It's early morning in the Forest, with yet another overcast and damp day ahead apparently. It's been one of the warmest Junes on record, but mostly overcast and wet - thanks, Jet Stream! - so it's hard to get excited about 'summer'. 

I've hardly been out on my bike but did finally get out yesterday for a decent ride. I went to Lyndhurst to meet my sister in the morning. It's about 5 miles and took me half an hour (each way, obviously). The weather was on the cool side when we met up but had warmed up considerably by the time we parted. It was a lovely ride - the local authority has paved the track beside the road and it's a flat, smooth ride right into town. I'm definitely not in the best shape but the beauty of having so many gears is that you can always find one that works for you. :) It felt really good to be out on the bike.

I picked up a pair of shorts in anticipation of some decent weather in Ireland in September when I go hiking with Jane again, something I'm very much looking forward to. We've got almost all the details organised now, just need to book some transport from place to place, and are counting down the days. 

Our trip starts in Dublin, then we spend two days on Inis Mor, the largest of the Aran Islands on the West Coast. Technically we have two days hiking while we're there but we may opt for bikes, depending on the cost, for at least one of those days. 8 days later we arrive in the town of Westport, on the mainland, before heading back to Galway for three nights. After that it's Cork for 2 nights and a visit to Blarney Castle to kiss the Blarney Stone (!). Back to Dublin and we go our separate ways again. I have total confidence that this trip will be as great as last year's - despite not really knowing each other before last year, we got on extremely well so this year promises to be even better.

I've wanted to visit Ireland for DECADES, so this is literally a dream come true for me. Being able to share the experience with a friend just adds to the joy. SO excited!!

In other news, I've changed my car insurance this year to a different insurer. I just about fell over when I got my renewal form: £381!! That's half of what I paid for the car, really not worth it. Fortunately there are about a million other options here so I plugged in some numbers, got some suggestions, et voila! I've got a new policy that's saved me £120. My current insurer couldn't match it, so they said 'thank you very much for your custom' and let me go without a fuss, which I appreciated. I would've stayed had they been able to match it, but it wasn't to be. At least not this year. But I'm pleased nonetheless. Every little bit helps.

I'm less disappointed about Brexit now that I've had time to think and learn more about it. It sounds stupid to say that post-vote, but I haven't lived with the EU for 40 years, so despite a little reading pre-vote there was only so much I could absorb and understand. The English have been living with this for decades so have a better idea (or at least stronger opinions) about it. Now that all the 'Leave' campaigners have bailed, however, it will be interesting to see how things pan out - but a woman Prime Minister is pretty much a given. I know nothing about the women running, so it appears I'll have to do some more reading, but it wouldn't surprise me if, despite being the firm favourite (and part of Team Remain), Theresa May doesn't get the job. If it goes to a general election, it's quite likely the People will continue their decimation of the privileged and bring in someone entirely unexpected.

As I said before, interesting times!

I took myself to the doctor last week and had a chat. It wasn't with my regular doctor (who doesn't work this day or this day and is the emergency doctor that day...) and I actually felt like I was listened to. I went because I'm slightly concerned by the fact that I'm almost permanently bloated in my legs (started about two years ago). He wrote up a bloodwork request and included kidney numbers (harking back to my issues in Whitehorse), which I was pleased about. Oedema can be caused by heart or kidney issues.

He took the pulse in my legs and feet and my blood pressure and said he wasn't at all concerned that it was my heart (phew!), as the pulse was strong and the blood pressure right where it should be.

It also includes iron numbers, as I've been taking my iron supplements since February or March. I've definitely noticed an improvement in my breathing and energy levels but sometimes think I could use more, so I suppose I'll have to wait until the results come back before asking about that. I'm positive that some of it is menopause related, but not all of it, so I'm glad there is this bit of follow-up.

Work has been quiet this week, partially because two of our surveyors have been on holiday, and also because of the air of general uncertainty that's hovering around the economy at the moment. People are still buying houses, but even in the past two weeks things have noticeably quieted down. I think this initial uncertainty is going to be around until the new year. In the meantime, I've managed to get some long, long overdue filing started (stuff from 2010!). I have spoken with the MD about putting in some extra hours to get this organised, but I may save that until the fall, when the weather is really rubbish and I don't want to spend my weekends trying to get out on my bike. I had suggested that I take some extra time off for extra hours worked (1:1), but may take half cash, half time. That would get me a little more each paycheque without losing most of it to tax, which I can then put towards debt, and 'save up' for a bit of extra time off here and there.

Anyway, apart from library visits, a day trip to Poole with my sister, watching some terrific British dramas, lots of reading and talking Ireland with Jane, not much else has been going on.

Hope you're all enjoying your summer!

Saturday, June 25, 2016


Oh boy - Brexit.

I can't say I'm not disappointed, but I'm feeling more philosophical about it today. It is what it is and now we just have to see how things unfold over the next few months and years.

I don't believe it was a good result - fear won this - xenophobia and wedge politics - not facts and figures because, let's face it, there weren't many. Both sides resorted to scaremongering and supposition and theories and fingerpointing and a lot of guessing (and awishin' and ahopin').

So what happens now? WHO KNOWS!

Lots of speculation, rumours, the Prime Minister's resultant resignation, the EU top brass asserting the remaining 27 member countries will continue as they are but warning that there will be no precedents set with respect to trade deals, renegotiations, etc. And why should they? The divorice negotiations are going to be tricky.

Anyhow, here were are on the other side of a historic event with only a sketchy idea of which way we're going - forward.

What happens to Wales, which voted to go but which has one of the poorest economies in the UK and get millions in subsidies from the EU, which are going to stop? Scotland is livid and is probably already printing the ballots for their next 'leave' referendum. Northern Ireland and the Republic - what happens there with an EU border between them, after such huge strides to peace? Gibraltor, hanging off the bottom of Spain, voted almost unanimously to stay (96%). What do they do? Will Spain ask for it back? What does this mean for the remaining Commonwealth? Will we weather a bigger recession than 2008?

So many questions and so much uncertainty, but here we are.

I got told off this morning (by a family member) on FB because I made a post about how I have the option of going back to Canada ('why don't you leave now, then?'). The thing is, I've ALWAYS had that option - nothing has changed in that respect - and I'm staying here because I'm happy here. That's fine. The 'complaining remainers' all over his FB feed would be 'complaining leavers' if it had gone the other way (based on his response, I'm guessing he's in the latter camp).

Can England go it alone? WHO KNOWS! 52% believe it can, 49% aren't as confident.

Interesting times, indeed.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

A new bike - finally!!

Some of you may remember that shortly after I arrived in the UK almost three years ago, I bought myself a bike so I could a) get some exercise and, b) get around a little on my own, without relying too much on my cousin.

It worked beautifully for a while, until only 6 months later when it was stolen from the train station. I'd taken to riding it to the station and leaving it locked up (in a 'leave it at your own risk' bike rack) and one day I arrived back to see only the front wheel remaining. I was pretty pissed. I reported it to the police, but the officer I spoke with said that the chances of getting it back were slim to none. While I appreciated the honest, it didn't really make me feel a lot better at the time. 

Then my little car appeared and the bike slipped off my radar for a while.

I haven't really prioristed it either, until now (or really had the means). However, a few months ago I got a credit card and have been good about consistent monthly payments. They seem to have appreciated this, so they raised my limit about two weeks ago (a pleasant surprise). I bought new hiking boots last weekend for my trip to Ireland in September and today I went out to "look" at bikes.

Who am I kidding? I wanted to come home with one and I sort of did.

I knew what I wanted (see the photo at the top): an Ariel Specialised hybrid with disc brakes (they're a little more solid than the clamping ones) in size large (17"). After a brief look on my own and seeing a row of bikes that looked right, I got some help and was led right to it! The only difference between the bike I bought and the one that was stolen is the colour. My one's white with turquoise writing on it, the old one was what they called 'blackberry' (more eggplant colour, a lovely rich, dark purple). So while I'm sad about the lack of colour, I'm very excited that I have a new bike.

Yes, it did go on my credit card. The interest rate on that sucker is somewhere around 35% (newbie credit builder), but I've set up a recurring monthly direct payment to ensure that I neither miss a payment nor carry the balance for too long. I realise that I would be better off to plan and pay for these things in full, however, but I'm also still throwing cash at my debt in Canada. Slowly but steadily that's coming down, too, and I'm quite pleased with my efforts all round, if I'm honest.

I got some new accessories (new pannier rack, lock, mud guards and bike rack for the car; still have my helmet and panniers from last year, fortunately) although it won't be ready until Wednesday, which means I'll need to arrange to leave work over an hour early to get there on time, but I don't believe that will be a problem.

Tomorrow I'm going to scope out the bike rack at the station. It's been a while since I've even looked at it. If I'm not comfortable with the way it's set up, I won't ride there and will leave the riding for evenings and weekends instead.

I missed riding last summer, so am really thrilled that I can do it this year. I bought the bike rack for the car so I can go a little further afield with it, although there's plenty around here to start.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Meeting a friend at last!

I spent yesterday in the nation's busy, bustling, noisy, exciting, overwhelming capital. I don't head up to London often - it literally exhausts me - but do enjoy the opportunity when it arises.

I've been up TWICE in two weeks this month!

The first time was the bank holiday weekend at the beginning of May to meet with a woman who was one of my instructors at school - not technically a 'friend', but most certainly an acquaintance - and who I've kept in touch with since graduating. We spent most of the day in Regents Park, walking around and catching up. I hadn't been to Regents Park going on 30 years, I'm sure, although I don't remember anything in it so it was new to me! We saw the Princess Diana memorial fountain, opened 2004, by HM Queen Elizabeth.

image courtesy:

It's very low profile, but the water flows around it over a variety of textures and it's very pretty and relaxing.

We wandered over to the Royal Albert Hall and saw the magnificent Albert Memorial, sitting down for a tea in full view of both (the below is what we saw, only missing the sunshine).

image courtesy:
It was great to see her - she, her husband and parents were off on a 37-day cruise to Singapore! - and catch up. Walking was the perfect way to catch up. Afterwards we sat down for a proper tea for an hour before I headed back to the coast.
Yesterday I returned to the city to meet another friend. Ines and I have been friends for over 25 years but this was the first time we ever met in person! I met her through a penfriend organisation out of Ireland, back in the day when snailmail was the only way to do things (early to mid-90's). I can't remember if she was one of my first (I joined consistently for about 5 years), but she is among only a handful I'm still in touch with. I have a friend in Nottingham I've been writing to since we were 17, but have yet to get up there to meet him. Soon, I hope.
Ines was in London with her family (husband and two sons) and I went up to meet her. We met at the London Eye (along with about 5 million other people) and spent the rest of the day on open-top double decker tour buses taking in the sights, chit chatting, etc. We had a stop for lunch in between - finding an empty bakery to sit down in for an hour to get some peace and quiet - before ending the day walking across the Millenium Bridge and along the South Bank to get to Waterloo.
It was so wonderful to finally meet her! She's not the first penfriend I've met - I've been lucky enough to meet several others - but certainly is one that I've had the longest. It was quite an easy transition from 'pen' to just 'friend' and I'm so glad the chance arose to meet her.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Fort McMurray

I've been overwhelmed with the news about Fort McMurray this week: photos, videos, and stories of sadness, grief, total loss and utter devastation.

But the fact remains that outside of a tragic traffic accident, 88,000+ people made it safely out of a terrifying situation. That's not a little thing. 

The Emergency Services at every level are proving themselves beyond question. They're working 24/7 while their own families leave, their homes possibly gone. All levels of government are working together to do the best they can in a terrifying, incomprehensible situation. One that isn't actually getting any better from the sounds of things.

I can't really afford it, but I donated to the Red Cross for the relief effort. I decided to put my money where my mouth is. There are thousands right now who have nothing and I'm very fortunate to have all my comforts - whatever I deem those to be. With the Feds matching $ for $ that means I doubled my donation to $400. Maybe someone can get some groceries with that, or a new pair of shoes and some clothes for the kids. A dog or cat or horse can get a new blanket or bed. Or a hotel bill can be paid. Or a new book can be bought.

Frustration is high. Anger is high. Fear is rampant. Rumours abound and communication is garbled. Keyboard warriors abound - politicising, finger pointing, blaming, assuming, undermining, etc. Think what you want about the government at every level, love them or hate them, but what matters most is that everyone is safe. The hardest part will be post-fire, when the damage is assessed and the rebuilding starts.

Let's just all be Canadians together right now and support those who so desperately need it right now. Alberta really needs us.