Sunday, 30 June 2013

Westhumble geocaching

First one found
The sun is out so it's geocaching time again.

Two Pollonella for the teen to keep hay fever at bay first thing this morning and away we went.

I'd printed out a little map so we could work out a couple of places to park near where we wanted to start. Also, out of courtesy, I had called the pub we were to stop in to have a drink on our way back to see if they would mind me leaving the car there while we went walking (there's not much parking around Westhumble and the streets are very narrow), which they didn't object to.

As we arrived, there was just one space in the tiny triangle where you can park for free so we frightened off some young back-packers who were sitting on the curb and parked up.  Cyclists were whizzing past down the hill.  There was clearly a rambling event and a cycling one both going on through this village.  The first 'achoo' from J as well. Oh dear.

Our first of the day was a little walk beside the railway line to Humble Hike 33.  The clue was great and I spotted it, sending J in for the retrieve. She did a great job avoiding the one stinger near it.  There was a little bench nearby overlooking the fields and dried up stream so the girls sat there with hubby while I logged the cache on my phone, watching the trains go past.

Humble Hike 33 almost in hand
There seemed to be quite a few people hiking around here and we spotted a few heading the same way as us.  Slightly awkward as this was the point S needed a wee.  While I understand she's only little still, I do try and hide her away a bit for her and everyone elses dignity.  There was just one tree coming up so we ducked behind that, to realise it just opened up the other side. Oh well, needs must and the other people had disappeared from view.

Up the path we went to Humble Hike 34 which was the next one from where we finished last time.  Hubby was sent in to make the retrieve as he had boots and socks on (not sandals and flip-flops like us girls) and the stingers and brambles were high here.  He made a quick spot and the log was signed. 

J and I striding away in the distance
Back through the stile we went across the field and to the car.  "Are we going home again now?" asked N.  We pointed out we were not but off to find more caches which made her happy.  'Achoo' again from J.

We crossed over the road and walked up the footpath that ran past some very nice houses (another village we'd be happy to live in) until we had about a 5 metre walk on the road, which we did very quickly, to claim our next find for Humble Hike 32.  A nice easy spot for S.

S found it quickly
Down the alleyway we went, chatting away.  More hikers came past and we exchanged the usual pleasantries.  The alleyway opened up onto another little cul-de-sac and we all said we'd like to live there.  All these wonderful, tucked away places we have found while out caching.  Off we went down another alleyway to retrieve Humble Hike 31 which was a quick find for S again.  

What has N spotted?
Through another kissing gate and across a field (more sneezing from J) we came to the North Downs Way path which we were going to walk down for a while. We were right next to North Downs Way Micro Trail Part 2 so we opted to pick this one up as we were passing.  GPS was bouncing around a bit and there were some clear cachers trails disappearing into nettles. I wasn't about to do that.  The shame about this area was that it was full of dog poo bags. They were literally everywhere - hanging in trees, on bushes, by the path, in the nettles...  The poo fairy clearly is very busy around there.  We weren't about to go searching this area (for obvious reasons), so the girls and hubby went into Denbies Wine Estate and settled down while J and I had a cursory look around.  Hubby popped his head back over the kissing gate and had a look too.  I suddenly spotted the cache but still had to dodge a close dog poo bag to get it. Not nice but it was now signed.  Into Denbies for our picnic at the edge of the vines.

Picnic by the vines
Lunch eaten and we headed back to the North Downs Way to continue our trip.  Another small detour to collect North Downs Way Micro Trail Part 3 which hubby spotted from a little way off.  

Back onto the path and up to Humble Hike 30.  This is apparently a very close multi-cache.  We read the clue.  We looked around.  We read previous logs.  We looked around.   We looked around some more. The GPS was settled but we widened our search going through the kissing gate and looking the other side.  We even looked up when the clue said look down, just in case.  Nothing.  We couldn't find the sign so we couldn't do anything else. I just placed a note on the cache page to say we didn't find the sign which is a bit of  a concern as others said it was really easy to spot.  Oh well, onwards we go.

"Come on, it's this way"
Walking towards Humble Hike 29 and poor J was really suffering now with her hay fever. The sneezes were coming thicker and faster and her nose was very blocked up. My right eye had begun to itch too and was starting to feel like I had grit in it. Not good.  The cache was quickly in hand though and we turned up the path towards the next one.  However, at the end we had a choice of walking around the field - the long route - or through it but it was full of cows.  Now, call me picky, but I'm just not a fan of being rushed up to by cows and especially not with the girls.  Let's face it, it's bad enough when your adult height but being 4 and 2 would be very scary.  The girls were getting a bit tired, J was sneezing, my eye was itching so this was the point we decided to call it a day. Wise I feel.  

Back we went past another lot of young hikers and to the car.  

Chapel of Ease
There was one final cache I was going to get.  The girls and hubby sat in the car and got the aircon on while J and I went off to find Church Micro 2381 - Westhumble Chapel of Ease which was a short multi.  First to retrieve the numbers we needed.  

J sitting on the 'clue'
Written down and location of cache found, J and I had a death-defying walk down to it, having to cross the road twice due to the bends/lack of pavement.  Cache was quickly in hand and signed and then we headed back.  Cyclists are probably more dangerous than cars here and we were nearly taken out by two who came flying round the bend (you can't hear them!) as we were stepping out to cross. We had to jump back onto the pavement.  

Back at the car, we hopped in and turned around, heading to the Stepping Stones pub to have a well deserved drink in the sunshine before heading home to give poor J some Piriton and me some allergy eye drops!

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Don't be so darn honest!

I'm a hopeless liar. My husband says that I am just too obvious when I lie. Apparently this has to do with my need to embellish my story.  If I'm telling the truth, apparently I state the simple facts. If I'm lying, however, according to hubby, I tell a tale worthy of a Ronnie Corbett monologue!

I am learning, however, that sometimes the truth is just not the way forward. Let me give you some examples.

On our honeymoon, hubby and I decided to go for a resort dive.  Now, I did almost all bar a part of a Padi open water course before (why almost all?  Well, that's another story!) with no problems at all.  Off we went to the Padi centre to book our dive.  Of course, we were handed a load of forms to complete about ourselves and any illnesses.  Hubby just ticked no to everything (which is the truth for him) but I stumbled on the question about being Asthmatic. I whispered to hubby "Should I tick this and be honest?"  He shot me a look to say was I completely bonkers and said "No, of course not.  Just say no or I bet they'll stop you diving and you know you can do it just fine."  I hesitated a bit more.  "Just say no" he said again.  I ticked yes.  You guessed it, no resort dive for us and not a very happy hubby.  As the instructor read down the form and then started on about needing medical proof that I could dive safely, I just wished, for once, I'd lied and ticked the bloody no box!  Lesson learned....or was it...

The latest faux pas I've made is being honest about a geocache I have.  When I placed the cache, it was in a small pipe sticking out of the ground.  Rules state that caches cannot be buried or placed in the earth.  As the pipe was there, sticking out of the ground just a bit, I deemed it was fine. It's been found by many experienced cachers and they have enjoyed the find.  Recently though I did a bit of maintenance on it and noticed that the pipe appears to have gone so it's just in the ground now.  Above ground but placed in the earth a little. I left it alone.

A recent cacher finally found it and enjoyed the experience but put a short comment into their otherwise lovely log about it possibly breaking the rules.  Of course, I worried about this. I therefore posted a note on a forum to ask a question. As the pipe has vanished, I want to put a new bit of 'eco' pipe in to support the cache.  Most people said do it or just leave it be and if every cache that broke the rule slightly was removed, there'd be none left!  As, you see, you can't put them in a drain pipe, under a drain cover, in a grass bank, in an old animal hole, etc, etc....you get the point.  Then someone on the forum said I should contact the reviewer and get a final decision and placing my new piece of pipe into the ground breaks the rules for sure.  Another person afterwards said, just put the pipe in and don't ask anyone as asking often leads to a negative result.  This is so true.  I'll put the pipe in and just be quiet about it.  I wish I'd not bothered asking.

When I wanted to place a cache last year on a SSSI I contacted the preservation society about it.  I spoke to a lovely chap who said that if I 'formally' asked, the answer would be no as they have to say no to every such request. However, if I just 'did it' and didn't ask, they wouldn't ask me to remove it, providing it didn't cause a problem to flora or fauna.  So that's what I did. It's been found many times and enjoyed with no issues.

So, a couple of minor examples but it goes to show that sometimes honesty is not the best policy!

Sunday, 23 June 2013

You are where?

This morning I had a total palm-forehead moment.

Having got up at a reasonable hour and lazed around the house a bit, I noticed on the PC that our friends were coming over at 2pm for a play date.  Lovely.  Looking forward to that.

The girls were talking about seeing grandma and granddad so I called the outlaws up and they were free so off we went, leaving the house about 9.30am.

Arriving at just turned 10am, my phone was ringing in my bag. I missed the call but noticed that my friend had phoned me.  It was then that the penny dropped...

We had re-arranged the time of her visit to me to 10am as she had an errand to do in the afternoon.  She was sitting outside my house wandering where I was!

I could only apologise. I offered to turn around and go straight back but she said not to worry and she'd go off and do a bit of shopping at our local town centre.  Of course it wasn't worth her hanging around for the 30 minutes we'd take to get back as she had her afternoon plan which was why we changed the time in the first place!

I felt awful.  What a numpty.  I've promised to make it up to her with copious amounts of cake next time we meet up.

Monday, 17 June 2013

Roseola Infantum - a Harry Potter spell or a virus?

Harry Potter couldn't cast this spell
No, it's not a Harry Potter spell but a little known virus that affects children between 6 months and 3 years.

N came out in a rash a couple of weeks ago. As children are, she was fine the day before and we'd been to Wisley having a lovely picnic but the next day she had a rash on her upper back and upper arms.  It disappeared when I pressed it (my first course of action for *any* rash) and she wasn't unwell in herself. No temperature or appearing to be under the weather. I presumed that it was simply a heat rash or hives. Perhaps rolling around on the grass at Wisley something had irritated her skin?

The following day it looked a bit worse and she had it all over her face too.  I made an appointment at the doctors for her immediately and a few hours later hubby took her down.  Having given her a thorough check, the doctor said it was Roseola Infantum aka Three Day Fever.

There seems to be little known about this 'common' virus.  Of course, she was contagious but it turns out that she was up to 10 days ago BEFORE the rash even makes an appearance. Typical of a childhood illness isn't it - you don't know you have it until it's too late for everyone around you!

As she'd been in and out of school with S, I called them up to let them know about it, sending a picture of N's back to help other parents.  The children themselves wouldn't catch it but there are also a lot of younger siblings so best to be warned.

N showed no signs of the temperature during the whole process but the rash did appear on her face so it clearly is different in every child.  Some need Calpol (or equivalent) whereas others, like N, were absolutely fine but it's always worth getting it checked out as you want to eliminate anything more serious such as Measles.

Fortunately a few days later the rash started to vanish (from her face first) and she is back to...errr...the same as she was when she had the rash, just less spotty!

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Chesham in the rain/sun/thunder/rain....aka British Summer

Madcats with the cache
I met up with my bestie yesterday for a spot of lunch, a lot of chatting and, of course, some geocaching too.

We tend to opt for halfway (or thereabouts) locations to meet and this time we went for Chesham.  What a place!  If you look a that map on geocaching.com for the area, you are absolutely spoiled for choice. Talk about a cache-rich location.

I had downloaded a PQ ready and G had put the caches onto her iPhone too.  We had decided before heading out to do the Ashley Green series.

Finding a pub we could meet at, we opted for The Black Horse on Chesham Vale. Somewhere good to have a spot of lunch and a nice little ring of 16 caches nearby for us to do.

Getting there was another story.  It was ok for G coming from the opposite direction from me, but I decided to come up through from Beaconsfield and Amersham to be met with the whole of Chesham town centre closed for a fete/show with floats, band and dancers.  Doing a u-turn in the road (with most of the other traffic) I headed back out of the area having been less than 1 mile from my destination.  Thank goodness for a GPS as when I felt I was far enough away for it not to lead me back to the same area again, I turned off and it guided me happily around the road blocks and to the pub.  It had taken me over 2 hours to get here.

Soaked but having fun
Once arrived, we checked G's phone as she had downloaded the local caches.  The whole Ashley Green series wasn't showing up but there was a pretty good ring to walk so we weren't too worried about that.  I thought it would be useful to open the PQ I had on my phone.  This was another lesson learned. I thought that PQs were saved to you phone for offline use.  It seems not.  No signal for me and no access to the PQ.  Pretty pointless then having 500 caches in the area that I couldn't access.  Fortunately we are on different networks so G could download a few more for us.  After a very enjoyable lunch, off we went.  The pub informed us they do not open again until 6pm but we will probably be finished well before then...or would we?

Wisely, we took our waterproof jackets which was a good call because it started to rain a little as we were heading to our first find.

First of the day was Ashley Green - Hollow a nice easy one for us both.  Which way shall we now go. Right was the option and away we went. Ashely Green - Nesting was another easy spot.  Somehow the more people try and 'hide' the cache, the more obvious it becomes.  Even without knowing the exact coordinates, seeing a pile of sticks at the side of a tree is a pretty sure sign.  Stick-o-flague put back and away we went.  It was now raining quite a bit but under the tree coverage we were fairly well protected.
Trying to keep the phone dry

Ashley Green - Tree was next.  What can I tell you about this that you can't already guess?  Yes, lovely tree.  Cache found and signed and away to the next.  Ashely Green - Post a Field Note took us a few minutes to locate.  The rain was heavy now and the GPS was bouncing around a bit.  There were a few suspects around too but we got there in the end.  Much of our missing it at first was to do with the fact that we were engrossed in our conversation - well, what would you expect of two women out caching?

Ashley Green - Flamstead Farm was next for us. Took a while to locate this one as we spotted an obvious place (complete with a few sticks) but nothing seemed to be there. Upon climbing up the bank a bit, it was clear that the container had gone and all that was left of the cache was a small, temporary log book in a plastic bag.  Dry enough to sign but we popped a maintenance request on for the CO.

Ashley Green- Snowhill was next and we crossed the road and headed up the alleyway.  The rain was pouring down, thunder boomed all around us and G was hunched over her phone reading the clue.  What kind of idiots cache in this weather?  Madcats and DreamScorpio it seems!  Not to be deterred by the noise around us, we started our search.  Probably took a little longer here than we needed as we were getting drenched but we got there in the end.  Now a decision.  Did we go back down the alley and off to get the rest of the Ashely Green caches that were on the map or did we detour to a wooded area a short way ahead to collect some of the Hockeridge series?  There was a nice little loop around the forest after all.  Well, we were out, we were wet already so we may as well grab a few more in woodland right?  Off we went.

Madcats and DreamScorpio with the cache
The slope leading down to our first one Hockeridge - Back to Basics was very slippery from the rain and, for some reason, covered in dog poo!  How unpleasant. So not only were we trying to not slip over, we were trying not to tread in a slalom of dog mess.  Slip-sliding our way to the bottom, we got into some relative cover of trees.  G had a look for the clue but the iPhone was protesting at being dripped on and took it's own sweet time to tell us.  My phone, on the other hand, simply refused to come out in the rain (no signal still).  Clue to hand and cache followed shortly afterwards.  Decision on direction made and away we went again.

G nearly fell down the rather steep bank on one side was we were making our way to the next cache.  We were discussing if the area had been a chalk pit due to it's depth and shape and she slipped on a tree root.  I grabbed her but luckily she was stumbling backwards rather than forwards.  I didn't fancy carrying her back to the car.

Bones 13 Hockeridge was a bit of a tricky find.  On the bright side, the rain was dying down and the sun was trying it's best to make an appearance but everything (including us) was very soggy and the GPS was having a mad moment.  We had both forgotten what the clue was so were searching multi-trunked trees until G re-read it (memories like goldfish we both have) and then we made the spot.  All the containers around this circuit are a pretty good size so a shame there were no TBs to be found for us.  Signed and for the first time we took our hats/hoods off and the birds started to sing.

Pond in the middle of nowhere (well, a forest)
Hockeridge - Stumped Again was a quickly. Stump-tastic in fact! Splish-Splosh made us wonder if we were going to get our feet wet(ter) again.  If it wasn't for caching, how would we ever have known about this pond in the middle of a wood?  Bet it would be lovely in the sunshine!  Fortunately, at least it wasn't raining at the moment so we took the opportunity to get a quick picture by the bench.  The way that G sat down had me in stitches. Little did I realise the kind of limbo-sit was all to do with her trying to get her coat under her so she didn't get a wet bottom sitting on the bench.  If only I'd videoed it.  The clue suggested some small trees but how small is 'small'?  How long ago was the cache placed too as they could have grown by now!  Questions aside we started our search.  I was fairly convinced that a tree almost in the water could have been the item but there clearly was nothing there.  G spotted some more likely suspects and off we went to search.  We decided geo-sticks were in order (yep, sticks used for prodding and poking) as the leaf litter was so wet.  Finally the shout went up and G had found it having kind of ducked/crawled under some branches.  A nice result after a short search around when we'd almost given up.  She logged, I signed and put back.

Hockeridge - Triple Trunks speaks for itself.  Cute little log book here.  It's raining again.  Hockeridge - Post a Field Note had has stumped.  We got to GZ but despite the good clue and the GPS pointing us to the location, a thorough (we think) search turned up nothing.  It wasn't easy going due to barbed wire protecting the farmer's field and quite a selection of holly bushes.  Never to be deterred though we got stuck in.  Nothing came to hand so we considered that perhaps we needed to be in the field itself so walked up a bit further to see if there was a path but all we were met with was more barbed wire and signs saying private.  A DNF for us here so we ventured back along the forest path.

Hockeridge - The heart of it was next and the GPS was trying to get us to go over the ancient remains of a wall into private land again but fortunately caching senses took over and we soon had it to hand. Surprised to see a packet of chocolate buttons in the cache.  I don't know anyone who would give their child sweets or chocolate from a cache but I could see it causing a lot of problems for some poor parent.  Perhaps the person who put them there didn't realise they aren't things to leave in a cache.  Hockeridge - Fallen had us looking under the wrong tree at first but realising we couldn't get anywhere near the other end of it, we spotted a more likely candidate and made the find quickly. More sweets in the container.  Thunder and rain had stopped again now, thank goodness. We are positively steaming!

Soaked in the field
Hockeridge - In plain view was actually an easier spot than we suspected.  The trouble is that we aren't that tall, especially in flat walking shoes/boots.  We really could have done with stilettos or a small ladder here.  However, with a stretch, I managed to get it and just about put it back.  A favourite point from me for this.  Back we went down up dog-poo path to continue the Ashley Green series.

Ashley Green - A Micro Gate was next for us.  Which gate though as there were quite a few along here?  GPS finally settled and we were at the right one. Much fumbling under the gate(s) and prodding turned up nothing more than a few slugs out due to the rain.  A DNF again for us.  We're not the only ones though so perhaps it has gone.

Across the field we went to Ashley Green - Treehouse. We had to walk across a field to get to this that had grass at knee height and a very narrow piece of 'path' through it. To say that we both got completely soaked again was an understatement. I now realise my boots have a hole too!  At least the sun was shining now though and with the wind that was starting, we should be blow-dried in no time.

What are you doing?
As we approached GZ we were so busy chatting (see a theme here?) that we overshot the area by about 30 feet.  Back we went and the cache was soon in hand. The treehouse was a bit further down the path. I bet the farmer's children had some fun in that but how to get into it as the rope was about 6' off the ground.  Perhaps they were very tall children.

Ashley Green - Unhinged took us past a collection of animals on the farm.  G, who keeps chickens, commented on the lovely breeds that were there and took some photographs. The alpaca was quite curious about what we were doing but not as curious as the horse who stuck his head over the gate and whinnied at us repeatedly. Maybe he thought we had polos on us.  We were being beaten by the wind at this point and the sky was an amazing array of colours with the the sun trying very hard to break through the black thunder clouds.  What kind of nut goes caching in this weather?  What next for us?  Snow?  Anyway, the gate was soon in front of us and we had another fumble around and the cache was soon to hand.  We were drying nicely from the wind and now had more of a field to walk across giving us ample time to natter and dry out.

Wet, wet, wet....
Ashley Green - Crossroads was in the middle of a field.  The crossroads in question were public footpaths. A very well trodden cachers path greeted us and we had a rummage.  Rather a lot of nettles around on this caching expedition due to our great British summer weather no doubt.  As I had jeans and long boots on, I tramped around searching.  However, neither Madcats nor I noticed the dog walker almost upon us as I retrieved the cache with a loud "Found it".  Wonder if he knew what we were up to?  Signed and away we went, keeping an eye on the skies.  Only a few more to go.

British Summer
Ashley Green - Inside was next but we were a bit confused here. GPS was telling us to go onto private land. Surely the CO wouldn't put the cache where we would be trespassing but there was simply nowhere we could see it could be on the right side of the area.  We ventured over the logpile (which contained a lot of barbed wire upon closer inspection) and just into the wooded area.  A scout around turned up nothing which was a surprise as apparently this was a very large container and an easy find.  Not for us I'm afraid.  Another DNF logged. Looking at this cache, we are the only people not to find it so I wonder if we were getting a bit tired at this point and our cachers instinct was failing us as we were both quite thirsty and looking forward to getting back to the pub so we could change out of our wet boots and socks (of course we had spares in the car - we're cachers don't ya know).

Now a bit windswept
Back along the right side of the property and to Ashley Green - Pipe.  Chatting away again we went a little past GZ before we realised. Doubling back it was a quick spot.  G helped me down the bank and I stuck my arm up the pipe trying to find the cache.  Being of little memory between us, we had read the clue and both forgotten it again (what are we like) and once I was up to my shoulder, a voice said "under" to me, grinning. I'm sure she did that on purpose... ;-)  Cache found and off we went for our penultimate one of the day.

Ashley Green - Tube had us stumped.  The post clearly said that it was private land beyond. The public footpath was where we were so surely we weren't to trespass again?  Nothing around the post at all.  A cachers path seemed to lead under the holly but neither of us had any intention of (a) crawling under a holly bush or (b) going into private land.  I'm sure the farmer would be less than impressed to see people grovelling around in his holly.  Reading some logs we saw that indeed it seems that we need to enter this area. Nope, not for us.  Off we went listing another DNF (we're the only ones again).

Ashley Green - Butcher's Grove was to be our last of the day.  Once again we wandered past engrossed in conversation. Not too far to go back though to make a retrieve of our last of the day.  Fabulous. It was now 6pm so we headed back to the pub and had a dessert to share (we opted not to have pud before we went caching) and a well deserved drink before parting company and heading off home.  I'm pleased to say I was home in less than an hour.

Friday, 14 June 2013

Bankruptcy - it's not the end of the world you know

I know. I've been there.

Let me tell you what happened.

First some background.

I would like to say I lived a wild, extravagant lifestyle with yachts, houses and diamonds but that wasn't the case.  It was far more mundane than that.

Almost 10 years ago I went through my first redundancy.  It was a bit of a blow but I got a reasonable pay-out and cleared nearly all of my debts.  At the same time, I had to move house so ended up putting quite a bit of money onto credit cards and taking a bank loan because I wasn't working (yes, the bank happily threw £25k at me with no income whatsoever coming in - no I didn't lie about it, I told them I wasn't working but I had been a 'great customer').  I could live for a while until I found another job and then, when I was earning a proper salary again, I would pay it all off.  Simple.

Not.

After almost a year and racking up the credit cards even further after the last of my redundancy money had gone (how else was I going to pay the loan?), I got a job.  It was in IT sales.  It was paying almost £20k per year less than I had been on.  Not good.  However, there was commission.  Good.  It was not a big percentage. Not good.  But, I was working so I could begin to pay the debts off, which I did.

After working for the company for just over a year, I was headhunted.  I moved jobs and ended up on a better salary with a superb commission structure that would effectively double my money.  First quarter ended and I received an impressive almost £9k commission after tax.  This was the life!  Then the management changed. With that they wanted to change the contracts too - it seems that Chinese feel free to alter whatever they like.  The job went down the pan and within another year, commission dried up, sales fell away and I was made redundant again.  This time I only got a month's money.

I found a new role within a few months this time but sadly it was far less money and so the spiral continued.  The debts were just about being paid each month, the interest was crippling me and I was working pretty much for nothing by repaying creditors.  I was also feeling pretty low about it all.  I went to a free credit management service (CCCS, now called StepChange) to help me.  They sorted out a Debt Management Plan (DMP) in 2006 and I started to pay my debts off at around £500 per month. It took almost a year of horrible phone calls, letters and constant arguing with my creditors but they all finally stopped charging interest.  Some debts were sold on to other debt companies and the letters and calls started all over again but eventually, it all settled down (a lot to do with changing my mobile and home numbers and only allowing them to contact me by post as I was not prepared to be stressed daily or receive hassling calls at 9pm at night).  Yes, I know I was in debt but I really was trying to do something about it and many of these companies clearly employed kids who read a script. The times I was asked to borrow money from "family or friends" was incredible.  Clearly I never even considered such a ridiculous suggestion.

A few times CCCS suggested I went bankrupt but the thought of that terrified me.  I had heard and read horror stories of Bailiffs coming into your house and taking everything, even down to silly things like CDs, to sell for pennies.  I had the image of sitting on the floor in a barren house with nothing but my duvet.  I think I was more scared of losing my gorgeous SAAB convertible (bonkers I know) than anything else.  If I knew then what I know now, I'd have done it in an instant.

In 2008 I had my 2nd daughter and stopped work.  The amount I was paying under the DMP went down to around £150 per month (mostly my child benefit money, some income from my self-employment and some savings).  In 2010 I had my 3rd daughter and the amount dropped then to around £50 per month.  All this was agreed via CCCS with the creditors but now I was looking at some of my debts that would take around 100 years to pay off!  Clearly that was never going to happen.

I had been concerned for a long time about trying to pay my creditors back but I had begun to get a bit of a 'who gives a f**k' attitude as the economy was tightening and I was hearing more about poor lending choices and the likes of the banks pulling the rug from under people's feet with no regard for making a family homeless or pushing someone to the brink of suicide.  Doorstep lending was on the increase and awful companies were springing up everywhere with their 7000% APR adverts.  Financial horror stories were in the papers almost daily.

At the end of 2011, it was suggested again by CCCS that I consider bankruptcy.  I was in rented accommodation, not about to go back to work or buy a house, had no credit still available to me and really had nothing to lose.  This time I thought about it very seriously indeed.  I discussed it with my husband. At some stage in the future I want to buy a house with him and I didn't want any debt hanging over my head and I certainly didn't want a bunch of credit cards and bank loans paid out of any money I had when I died.  I had another chat with CCCS and they put me on to their bankruptcy team to tell me all about the impact, what I would need to do and what happens.  I read all about bankruptcy on the Government's Insolvency Service website.  I would suggest anyone who is thinking about it also has a good read through as it is not straight-forward if you own property, have pensions about to pay out or are still working.

My husband backed me and the decision was made.

Bankruptcy also does not come for free (ironically enough) and I had to pay £700 to go bankrupt.  As I had no money, it was suggested by CCCS that I sell my car and that way I could buy a new one (up to £2,000 value for work as I was self-employed), get it serviced, MOT'd and insured, pay the bankruptcy fee and keep some cash (£50 each) for buying back my life assurance policies and some money for my old motorbike.  The rest of the money, around £5,000 went into my bank account to be used by the Official Receiver to pay my debts.  My debts were huge.  Really huge.

I went through the very complicated form with the bankruptcy team at CCCS and they were brilliant. The call took almost 2 hours for me to go through every part of that form (most of which I had completed beforehand) and they phoned me I'm pleased to say!  Form ready, I phoned the Court to get a date for the bankruptcy hearing.  They could do it within the week.  I picked a date and that was it.  Ready to go.  I think my stomach stayed in a knot from then until the Court date arrived.

The morning of my hearing came and off I went.  Again, having Googled what would happen, I was terrified that it would be open Court, lots of people in the viewing gallery and maybe someone I knew would be there or the local papers. It was nothing like that (so my advice is to ignore the idiots commenting about such things if you do a search on Google).

I went to the Court office first, paid my fees and had some paperwork stamped and was given a case number. I then went upstairs to wait to see the Judge.  The hearing was to be done in his chambers.  It was a nervous 20 minute wait and then I was called in by the Usher who was this wonderful older gentleman who could see I was nervous and reassured me that the Judge was lovely and lots of people go through this. It was February 2012 and I was already bankruptcy case number 56 for my local Court!

In I went to the Judge who was very kind and understanding. He even produced a box of tissues when I began to cry.  It really hit me at that point what a mess my life had become financially.  He chatted through my financial document and said that as far as he could see this really was the best course of action for me. He checked that I knew what it meant to be bankrupt and then he agreed it all and signed the Order.  He assured me that he's known many people who have found that bankruptcy has been the most efficient course of action to clear their debts and have gone on to own property and businesses.  I appreciated his words.

I went back to the Court office and sat down for another 15 minutes or so to wait while my bankruptcy order was typed up.  I received two copies and details of the Official Receiver and told to call them.  I left Court a bankrupt but somehow a weight had lifted off of me.  All my accounts were frozen instantly.  Fortunately I had been warned this would happen by CCCS and on the morning of the Court hearing had drawn some money out to live on as they can be frozen for up to 14 days.  However, you have to write down the cash you have in a box on the form which you can only do on the day of the hearing.

How different was my life going to be now it was under the magnifying glass?

I phoned the Official Receiver (OR) and told them that I had just been made bankrupt. They didn't have anything on their system yet and suggested I call later that day, which I did. They then said they would send me an information pack out in the post and someone from their office would be in touch to arrange a telephone interview with me.

The pack arrived the next day and contained all of the information I had to send to the OR.  Bank accounts, creditor statements, tenancy agreement, proof of sale of vehicle and purchase of new one, life assurance policies, etc.  I spent that day bundling it all up and sending it off by recorded delivery to the OR's office.

The next day I received a letter advising me of a date and time that one of the OR's staff would speak to me about my bankruptcy.  It was in 10 days time and I arranged for hubby to be off work so he could look after the girls and I had time to talk without being interrupted.

The day arrived and the OR's lady called.  She went through my bankruptcy document with me confirming matters and reading my statements and additional information.  As I was self-employed, I was allowed to keep the car (they can take it if you don't need it for work) and it was made exempt from the bankruptcy.  I had to wait for her to get confirmation on my life assurance policies to see if there was any surrender value (there wasn't) and then I could buy them back for the £50 each.  The same with my pension.  That was done within the next two weeks.  My husband also bought my old (non-working) motorbike from me for £50.

The OR's lady said she would write to all my creditors and say I was bankrupt but if I heard anything further from any of them, to refer them to her or simply send them a copy of the bankruptcy.  Two began to act in  a ridiculous fashion, sending demands repeatedly, but finally they got the message (from her I'm pleased to say).

So, what was the year of bankruptcy like?  Honestly?  It was easy.  It also flew by.  Once all the paperwork had been dealt with, I heard nothing from the OR again.  In February this year, I was discharged, exactly one year to the minute after I had been made bankrupt. It showed up on my credit file instantly.

My credit file is excellent by the way.  My creditors marked all my debts as 'satisfied' and most will vanish off the file by the middle of next year anyway as they stay for 6 years after the noted default date so that isn't a problem.

The bankruptcy itself stays on file for 6 years from date of discharge. It will take us that long to save a deposit for a house in this economy!  Buying a house can be a problem in the first 2 years after discharge (if you wanted to buy, you may need to find specialist brokers and it might cost you quite a high percentage compared to High Street lenders) but after that point, almost all mortgages are open to you (except Santander who will never lend to a discharged bankrupt - no matter how long ago it was).

I'm debt free. I obtained the first credit card I applied for.  No, worry not, it's to rebuild my credit worthiness (not my credit rating which is fab ironically enough) and I will use it to buy little bits now and again and pay it straight off.

Will I ever get into debt again? No.

For over 6 years now hubby and I have lived on what is in our bank accounts. We have no credit cards, overdrafts or loans and we have done very nicely thank you.  I have no intention of ever getting back into debt again - with the exception of a mortgage.  If we can't afford it - we don't have it. It's that simple.  Living within your means is a pretty good way to go.

So, if you are worried by debt and seriously considering bankruptcy, take advice and try not to be too scared about it.  It probably isn't as bad as you imagine it will be.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Apps the way to do it

I love smartphones.

They have been a fantastic step forward in technology as far as I am concerned.

Why?  Well, they have managed to provide a wealth of good little learning applications for my girls when we are out and about.  I don't mean that I let them walk around using my phone - oh no. But when S is doing ballet or tap, for example, N loves to play with the apps on my phone.

I have some pure games of course like Angry Birds or Cut the Rope but even they teach her how to aim the little candy or bird and work out what to do next.

Most of the apps I have are little learning ones.  Puzzles, numbers, memory games and letters.

The variety of free games to pop onto your phone is fabulous.  Having a phone with a reasonable size screen helps. My old HTC Wildfire S was ok but the girls really did have a small area to work with. The new Samsung Galaxy SIII is fab (even if it no longer fits in my pocket!).

Naturally, some of the better apps I have upgraded and paid for the full versions. Having a Lite one to try out is a good indication of whether it captivates your child enough to pay for it. To be honest though, most are around £1 so it's money worth spending even if they don't want to play with it in a month's time.

I love the fact that no matter what phone you move to, all your apps are sitting happily in Google Play ready to download to your new device.  How cool is that?

Of course, pens and paper are equal fun (the girls tend to have these rather than my phone in, say, a restaurant) but for certain things the phone is king.

Right, I'd best get back to looking for some more games the girls will enjoy.

Monday, 3 June 2013

Snail-mail

The local postman is very, very slow
Every now and again a particular geocache catches my eye and I feel that it deserves a favourite point.  Either for ingenuity in making the cache container or for a fun find.  This one got one from me yesterday.  I understand it is part of a series and that every one is the same but finding our first ever like this was a real laugh.

J and I were over in Maidenhead and decided to grab a few caches before dropping her home.  

Our first was near a road where I used to live.  We parked up and took a short stroll to GZ. We would just like to thank the kind dog owner who had thrown a bag of mess down for the 'poo fairy' to collect instead of disposing of it themselves. It was treacherously near the cache but with the deft use of a stick and a rear approach (oo-err missus) the cache was soon in hand.  Of course I did all this as J didn't want to go near it.  I don't blame her really but I'm not going to miss a cache for poking a poo bag a few inches away.  I did use a baby wipe on my hands afterwards though.

We parked up in Pinkneys Green near a Chinese restaurant and took a walk through some wood by some more houses we can't afford (ever probably!) to find the first one of the day.  

J had me in stitches. She is paranoid about getting a face-full of spider web - rather a hazard you have to deal with when caching in woodland - and was waving her hands in front of her like some wild banshee making her way all of three feet forward to the cache. Never mind, she got it in the end.

I knew the next one was a the top of the road so we walked in the little bit of woodland until it suddenly ran out. We then crossed over onto the footpath and carried on.  J asked where the cache was. I pointed to the end of the road (grinning a bit admittedly).  A groan ensued. She was hot/feet aching/tired...you know, the teenage kind of stuff.

We got there in the end and she was delighted to see the container.  She wants one. In fact, she now wants a costume like it.  She thinks we should put an appropriate shell on the top of my car.  Her imagination knows no bounds!

To placate her for the walk back to the car, I bought her an ice cream at the garage.  I also made her laugh by trying to open the bloody stupid door the wrong way going both in and out.  I wasn't really paying attention as I was trying to escape her poking my arms. She's so childish. Don't worry though, I managed a quick poke back and ran away...*tee-hee*