the skinflint philosopher

Attempting to thrift our way to a better life, with a toddler in tow!


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That old chestnut France #2

Leaving Le Mont St Michel behind, we headed south to a nondescript town called Heric, whose only saving grace was the artisan boulangerie in an otherwise empty  square. The campsite we stayed in was almost as bland- a pit stop for motorhomers heading south- except Tiddler befriended the owner’s five year old son. She had a scooter. He had a bike. Clearly a common language was unnecessary. They raced around the pitches to cries of ‘ Le grande prix’ and ‘viva La France’ stopping only to break off acorn laden sprigs of oak to feed to the two curious goats, Desiree and Prunette.

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We then spent two miserably wet days on the Ile de Re. The guide book clearly saw us coming, enticing us in with promises of ‘the highest levels of sunlight in France , excepting the Côte d’Azur. Joined to La Rochelle by an €8 toll bridge, the island is a cross somewhere between Sandbanks (Dorset) and a Spanish holiday resort. It reeks of exclusivity, but clearly caters to a mass market of local and foreign tourists in it’s green shuttered clone towns. Someone either bought a job lot on green paint, or it is all part of the image being marketed. We saw it out of season (many campsites in France close at the end of September) and in the rain, so perhaps not viewed at its best, but it was all a little reminiscent of  The Prisoner.

 

 

Onwards to Vieux Mariuel, via Cognac for a lazy lunch out treat, where we came across a campsite L’etang Bleu, run by an English couple who relocated their family to the Dordogne in 2001. A little bar open in the evenings was propped up by a motley crew of English static caravan owners who clearly lived much of the year on site. It was a little like walking into a local back home, from the in-jokes, to the questions, to the drunk at the end of the bar, so we felt quite at home and had a couple of social beers before last orders at 8.30pm.

Here the weather began to improve, and we set off on a foraging walk. A good haul on the chestnuts, but we didn’t feel confident enough to brave the champignons on offer. Digger says, sitting on the makeshift bench we pulled together on the forest floor to pause for lunch, ‘Listen to the chestnuts. I can’t hear anything but the sound of them falling. They are falling out of the trees just for us’. Seeing as we had spotted the very same for sale at €7.99 per kilo, an excellent thrifty supplement to our travelling diet, and a lovely afternoon all together spuddling under the quiet trees.

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Next post: sore fingers and sore toes.

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Bouncy castles in the air France #1

 

We’ve been on the road now for 10 days, and have found our way down to Pujols, a medieval hilltop settlement in the south of France. More detail of all that to come , but firstly as a good skinflinter must, let’s tot up the financial hit that we needed to take to get going on this little mini adventure.

Expected costs:

Leo the campervan £6250

Insurance £371 once they had decided our island driving licences were not completely suspicious

Tax  £246

Breakdown cover £90

Ferry crossing Poole to Cherbourg £160

followed by slightly unexpected costs:

a new battery for Leo £101

Chairs (Sale price as we are at the end of the uk season) £10

Awning and groundsheet ( after our trial run of an overnight near Bristol to visit a friend from university, we realised Tiddler in the van is a bit like a bee in a jam jar). Extra ‘living’ space was a must. Second hand from a Facebook selling site £75

Legalities, including breathalyser kits, warning triangle, high vis for Tiddler ( Digger had two for us from his work fortunately) GB sticker, headlamp deflectors etc £50 ish

ACIS camping discount card, for low season, already saved us £10 on our trial night away £17

Gadgetry, water container, electric hook up adaptor etc £30

Completely unexpected costs:

Speedo shorts for Digger. We still haven’t fathomed the logic but trunks are a big ‘nil point’ in French pools. Digger is not impressed with the look. €8

All in all then, it’s not exactly been a budget get away to start with, but as my Grandad always said, ‘ The more you eat, the better you’re paid’. Sometimes paying out in advance is a necessary evil. Let’s hope Leo stays the distance!

First few nights in Framce were spent in a little ghost town of a coastal village, in St.Jean de la Riviera, in the La Manche region of lower Normandy. This was just a short hour drive from Cherbourg, so just giving Digger enough time to get used to driving on the right. Of course, that is the norm for him in Bulgaria, but not in a right hand drive vehicle, and following French road signs. He’s coping admirable however, with me as co-pilot with different scale maps in various stages of falling apart at the seams spread over my knees. Tiddler wants to map read too, but she tells us every map leads us to, based on a half remembered conversation from Papa, Dorchester.

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Digger and Tiddler scooter round the campsite observing countries of registration on the vehicle stickers, and taking note of our fellow campers. The English couple watching ITV news out the back of their motor home. The Dutch chap with his cunning two washing up bowl system. The French man doing a sun salutation on his groundsheet. Before long we are Bonjour-ing and Bonsoir-ing like the best of them, and ordering croissants to be delivered for breakfast and drinking red wine at lunch. Leo is clearly the poor man’s version of a motor home. We are slightly in awe of the sleek, refined vehicles all around us. Driving Leo in this part of the world is clearly like taking a mongrol to Crufts.

Both at this campsite and the next, there are bouncy castles and covered pools. Digger gets his money’s worth from the speedos, and Tiddler seems to be the only child on site so gets the bouncy castle all to herself, and I sneak on for a crafty bounce myself seeing as no one is about.

The next castle however is real. We head down and stay for two nights in what is clearly the des res of sites in Beauvoir, a well aimed stone’s throw from supposedly the biggest attraction in France (excluding Paris) and receiving upwards of three million visitors per year- Le Mont St Michel. On a slightly damp day in October we were glad to have taken the advice of our neighbours and get there early before the rampaging hoards of tourists, including numerous school parties of slightly sulky French teenagers, scoffing Nutella crepes and sneaking cigarettes on the ramparts, before entertaining the crowds by going barefoot through the grey mud flats, shrieking and slipping over and scrawling French graffiti and quite possibly rude words in the sand.

As much as the abbey and village isolated in the estuary had their charms, I actually preferred the view and vista we saw the previous day as we drove along the less well travelled coastal road. In the late afternoon sun, shining a warm golden haze on the maize fields, the island rose eerily into view like a distant backdrop in a movie. Tiddler thought it was a pirate ship, sailing through the swaying landscape, with the archangel Micheal the flag on a crows nest, and I like that idea better.

From here we continued south: next post to include goats, lighthouses, chestnuts and a breakage!

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Pimping my ride : Leo

The latest on Leo’s overhaul- Digger found both a flat battery and a leaky water connection when he wired Leo up to the mains, but all now resolved (we hope for good). I finally had my maiden voyage in The good ship Leo (only down to the petrol station and back) and then we carried on getting things ready.

Digger has tried out the sleeping accomodation, spending a night on the driveway while Tiddler and I were tucked up asleep in the house.

Verdict, comfy but cold. The second week of September and that is the UK weather, unless we wrap ourselves in tinfoil in there it is going to be cool at night. 9 degrees he said, at silly o’clock when he got up to christen the porta potty. Thank goodness we are going south, but we do need to get going, and note to self: hot water bottle. I also realised that all my white bedlinen is not the most practical thing to be heading off in a campervan with, but it is what we have got, and no point in buying new.

He has also finished Tiddler’s bunk, in the end without the ‘stolen’ chair legs.  It is more satisfy that it is all in wood, though now with a hinged support is is heavier, but still will sit flat under the side seat during the day.

 

We realised however that by the time the mattress (a sun lounger cushion borrowed from Granny (Hoarder) and Papa (Snoozer) inside an old sheet sewn up into a sort of giant pillowcase) is on the bunk, plus pillow, Tiddler, and duvet, she is fairly high up from the double bed below. As Tiddler is also ‘Wriggler’, we now needed a solution to keep her in the bunk.

In the end we came up with what I explained to the others as ‘the windbreak design’. This gave me the chance to make another thrifty item at no cost to us – a piece of old window blind fabric, an old broom handle (that Digger had brought with him from the island- goodness only knows what he was thinking he would use it for at the time!), and the chance to use my mother’s lovely old Singer sewing machine, complete with a random box of sewing paraphernalia as part of the hygge factor. The final picture show it before I sewed in the last baton, but hopefully you get the idea. The broom handle pieces can just be pushed down into the holes in the main bed board after she falls asleep, so we still can do goodnight stories, but she isn’t going to attempt to crowd surf us in the middle of the night.

While this was going on, Digger took a break to fashion something else out of wood. My parents have a bit of a seagull problem. The tealeaf-ing gulls get in through the chicken doors to the sheds, and peck and eat the hens eggs. Friends have suggested nets or awnings overhead but the seagulls will still land and walk in, a dead gull hanging up (!), and blowing eggs and filling the empty shells with mustard or chilli sauce as a decoy, which sounds pretty epic but fiddly. So Digger put together a little roosting box with a double slope so in theory the eggs should roll down and under a second board, so the gulls can’t get to them but we can. In place this evening, so will have to see whether it works, and whether even the hens will take to it as a place to sit.

My next job has been carpet fitting. Again using an old off cut we had, with Papa in the background back seat directing with ‘measure twice, cut once’, and Digger extolling the virtues of the correct way to cut with a stanley knife to avoid impaling myself,  I then had to get my head round the reverse maths of cutting on the back to then flip over to fit.Not exactly a perfect job, but given the wierd shape of the floor space I’m pretty darn chuffed with my attempt.

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In non Leo related news, Tiddler and I have been playing playgroup roulette, trying out various groups in the neighbourhood to give her a bit of ‘other children’ time.  Tiddler has tried out the local pool, and managed full immersion for the first time, albeit while laying on her tummy underwater on a shallow step. She has learnt to say ‘ramsbottom’ and ‘bonzo’ and other random sayings of my father. I have had emails from work colleagues asking how we are doing and telling me that the start of the new term is pretty much like always. Digger and I hold hands on the sofa and smile a quiet smile at each other while we are watching TV with my parents. We are busy, but not tired. We are planning, but not stressed. I ask Tiddler in the morning what she dreamt of. ‘It was you Mama, dancing.’

 

 

[Motorhomers out there- still open to suggestions and ideas you may have of things we should take, or things we should know before we set off. Particularly any legal requirments for Europe we might not be aware of? Any comments welcome please- thank you!]

 

 


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The best laid plans…

Well, to be fair, we never really had clear plans in the first place. We had a sort of ‘let’s-motorhome-across-Europe-and-then-chill-out-in-Bulgaria’ kind of grand scheme, but were so bamboozled with the logistics in getting us and our stuff off the island and across to *in hushed tones* ‘the mainland’ that we didn’t quite get round to hammering out the finer points. How we joshed to our friends before we left, that it’s good not to have a fixed plan as then we can play it by ear. Ahem, are we still joking quite so much about that now? More to come on that towards the end of this post…..

Primarily, we have hit the Westcountry during a heatwave. Our island chums are posting pictures of themselves on facebook and instagram in wellies and waterproofs (#islandsummer), while we are swanning about as if we are already on the French Riviera, guzzling stawberries by the bucket load, lazing on the decking and generally pootling in holiday mode already.


First major observation on leaving the island: other places are not always windy. You don’t always need a coat and a hat even in midsummer to keep the chill off. You can sit out on a picnic blanket without having to scout around first for large rocks to weigh it down. Needless to say, Tiddler has been running around in the garden and beach in her birthday suit and has turned a glorious nut brown of which I am very envious. Her hair ends are bleaching in the sun and curl up like the seaweed fronds she has been splashing amongst.
Second observation: I feel like I’m in a permanent game of ‘Where’s Wally?’ (Waldo for my across-the-pond readers). This place is heaving. Whether tourists avoiding Brexit-affected European holidays, or locals making the most of the balmy weather before it turns, or rather I think just normal mainland life, we have a full on in your face reminder of how beautifully quiet and peaceful our island was. There are people and dogs and cars and jams wherever we turn here, a stroppy heat-bothered mass of ‘other people’.
Thirdly, Digger really is in limbo. Having given up our island address, closed bank accounts and all, Digger now cannot open anything new. He cannot even register with a doctor. To do all of this he needs a proof of address in the UK. We have no utility bills as are temporarily staying with my parents. He cannot use his old utility bills and driving licence as the address on those, while British Isles, is not UK. He is here, but like a ghost. No-one official will accept he exists.  I am more fortunate, as held on to old accounts when I moved to the island, so the transition back is not too painful for me. Even opening an account for Tiddler here seems problematic at first as the bank query her birth certificate showing she is an Islander, and Island born, even if that still means she is automatically a British citizen. Digger by the way is also a British citizen, (he applied for and was awarded citizenship) but never having lived within the UK or GB he is still at square one for getting any paperwork sorted. Getting confused? Read here to help, or confuse you even more!

We spent the first days catching up with family (my parents, and my sister and her two children) and a few friends who remain local. Digger’s father, Dyado (Grandfather) is also here for a week- he has been visiting Digger’s elder brother in Canada and has stopped off to see us here briefly on his route back home to Bulgaria. Tiddler, having been on a fairly meagre diet of visiting relatives for the last three years, is like the proverbial kid in a sweetie shop- she doesn’t know which one to hug and chatter away to first, and instead bounces between everybody so that we all end up feeling dizzy. She burns herself out and falls asleep on the sofa, a sticky ice cream dribble on her chin. Despite the hospitality offered, we are aware that for Granny and Papa Westcountry our presence (and all our stuff now squeezed into sheds and cupboards) is fairly disruptive. They are getting older, and the changes are more pronounced when you have not seen them for a while.

Digger vows to get off on the road as soon as possible. We start viewing motorhomes, and Digger has long conversations under bonnets with the pre-loved owners while I wonder if having a log book all and only in German might be a bit confusing. I investigate the fold out/hideaway/ multi purpose functions, while Digger dismisses vehicles for having rusty crossmembers which I have no idea what it means but sounds like a not very good travelling companion.

In the middle of all of this, we decide to go and look at a few properties. Our hard earned, skinflintered savings of the last few years were due to be our spending money, our rainy day fund, our cushion, to enable us to not have to work for this year. However Digger’s increasing and unusual vehemence towards the banking and other administrations, mean he thinks we ought to get our money working for us instead. We consider rental opportunties, and whether we could sink our money into a buy-to-let. The rental income would be far higher than any interest rates paid on our savings, even if we had to pay an agent to managing the letting in our absence. Digger find a run down dilapidated cottage in need of a complete overhaul, and says ‘Let’s just go and have a look at this one for the fun of it shall we?’

And here is where we reach where I am tonight. Somehow, in less than a week, we have managed to let our original plans go a little bit gang aft agley. Possibly. Unless this is a better plan? Tomorrow we are likely to hear whether our offer on this cottage has been accepted. It will take roughly 80% of our savings, with a remaining 15% put by to attempt to do a quick flip, if that is the right term. With Digger not working, he thinks he can do a lot of the graft himself to bring it back into habitable use. We estimate if successful it could be rented out at around £500 per month. Which goes quite a long way if we are living in Bulgaria.  But does this mean we can get to Bulgaria this autumn? How quick can we survey, purchase, strip and rebuild? Can Granny and Papa Westcountry cope with us that long? Can we still afford a motorhome? What about the whole point of not working?

Hmmmm….. let’s see what the morrow brings, but please offer up any advice or thoughts you have in the comment section! (Please!)

 

(NB: if you don’t know the origins of the poem I have referenced in the title and elsewhere, please see here. 
Apologies that it is a just a wiki link but probably best to show the original and meaning side by side)


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Moving day….

It’s all been a little bit hectic here the last week as you can imagine. Not only packing up and getting ready to go, but fond farewells to good friends, and last visits to favourite places on the island.
All the furniture has gone so we have been camping out in the bedrooms. Tiddler tells everyone she meets we are going on an adventure, and rolls up to sleep on her cushion makeshift bed as if she was a many seasoned backswoodsman.
Many, many things to post- but no time.  I’ll try and catch up once we get down to the Westcountry, which is our stop gap for a few weeks while we visit my parents before we head off on the road trip to Bulgaria. Cutting close to the line, today on our way to the ferry I’m calling in to hand back this laptop to my former place of work, so please bear with me if it takes a little while to get back up and running with posts. Bon voyage Thrifter, Digger and Tiddler!