Tuesday, 29 October 2019

They want too much

I'm presently in the New Forest, in the second week of my last holiday of the year. There was definitely an end-of-season feel to my first week at Lyme Regis, further west, but it's not so apparent here, in south Hampshire. Most tourist attractions are still open, even if everybody turns up dressed in coats and boots to fend off wind and rain.

Not that I automatically visit 'attractions' when on holiday. I generally avoid them, and do something instead that costs nothing, something that often involves open air and scenery. For instance, I have a forest walk planned for Sunday, to a spot north of Burley prettily named Mouse's Cupboard, which I haven't been to since the 1970s. That definitely will be free!

But I'm quite prepared to pay for pleasures I really want. So tomorrow I drive Fiona on board the 10.00am ferry from Lymington to Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight, just as I have for the last two years, and travel around the Island ticking off places of interest, with a good lunch thrown in.

I booked the ferry online with my phone last night. Wightlink emailed me an e-ticket that shows a QR Code which the chap at their Lymington ferry terminal will scan, and I then just join the boarding queue without needing to flash any further documentation. The return ticket for my car, which includes me too, cost me £69. Once on the Island, I'll spend another £20-odd on a decent pub lunch, and then a few quid more for an afternoon coffee and cake at a friendly place I discovered last year. Then there's the incidental cost of fuel and parking.

All told, tomorrow's adventure on the Isle of Wight will probably cost me £100. That's a lot, but it will seem worth every penny.

So I really do stump up real money when I want to. I am not however prepared to spend money on things of limited or no appeal. There are two nearby attractions which I certainly don't regard as 'must-see', but which I would nevertheless visit if they were a lot cheaper: the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu, and Buckler's Hard.

I can't take a lot of interest nowadays in motor vehicles, however classic or legendary. It's driving I love, not what I do it in. And I take the view that throughout my lifetime cars have been getting nicer to drive, more comfortable, more reliable, and more durable. I am so looking forward to the powerful, futuristic, high-tech, all-electric car I plan to buy in six years time, when Fiona gets her honourable and well-deserved retirement. I have no love whatever for the tinny, noisy, ill-equipped, cramped, unsafe rustbuckets of yesteryear, even if they bore a fancy badge. Those cars smelled of petrol, gave you a headache, and often back pain as well.

I won't deny for a moment that the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu is a wonderful experience for a nostalgic and car-obsessed person. But I'm not one. In any case, I have to ask this: would things have changed very much since my last visit there in 1990, on an office trip? Well, I'm not willing to spend a whopping £23.75 to find out. That's right, £23.75. Look at these prices:


Similarly with Buckler's Hard. I mean, what's there? Two rows of pretty houses leading down to the Beaulieu River, with a green space in between; and a nautical and boatbuilding museum. I've already seen the place several times during the last forty to fifty years, the last occasion being in 2003. And it won't have changed. And yet look what the admission charge is: £7.00.

You pay this to park: the rest is free, including the museum, apart from any refreshments you may buy.

Outrageous! I actually turned up there this afternoon, expecting the museum to be closed and the car park free. It was a cold, dull, late-October afternoon, with sunset less than two hours ahead. But there was a man in attendance at the car park entrance. He confirmed that even a brief visit would still cost me £7. Even though it was the end of the year, and the end of day. I declined, did a U-turn and drove on. As no doubt many a person already had that day.

I don't want to sound miserly, but I think their paltry senior discounts are a joke.

It's my defnite impression that in the last year or two prices for most places you pay to visit have risen sharply. For me, these places are now too expensive. By which I mean that while I can afford the admission, I'll be damned if I give them what they ask.

Come to think of it, I have gradually opted out of an entire slew of charges that other people seem to pay without thinking, such as TV entertainment packages and other kinds of media subscription. I rarely watch TV nowadays, vastly preferring radio. I really don't feel cut off from anything worthwhile.

Wednesday, 23 October 2019

All set for foul weather!

I'd been loyal to my aqua-coloured hooded jacket for too long. I mean this one. Here I am, wearing it at Bosham on Chichester Harbour, with Fiona behind. It was September 2011, and the jacket was still new.

The next two pictures show me wearing it in March 2012 at Lyme Regis, and in October 2019 at Newhaven.

Seven years apart. A couple of washes during that time haven't changed the colour much, nor has it become tatty, and it's still very serviceable as a windproof jacket. I wish I had worn so well! My neck has become crinkly with age.

I bought this jacket in August 2011, within minutes of having very good news from the auctioneers who had been selling Ouse Cottage in Piddinghoe, the property that was jointly bought as an investment in September 2007 - as it happened, just before the property market faltered, but we didn't see that coming. It was held in my name, so the responsibility for the expenses of running it fell to me. It caused me a lot of grief in the four long years it took to sell it. In fact, not selling it threatened to make me bankrupt by the end of 2012, because from May 2009 I'd had two properties on my hands, and the Cottage was twice as expensive to own as the smaller retirement home I had inherited from my parents. I had almost run out of money.

You can easily see why I was intensely relieved when the auctioneers told me it had gone - not at the auction itself, but as the result of a post-auction enquiry. Auction rules still applied: the bargain had to be concluded within 30 days. Meanwhile contracts had been exchanged, and I was off the hook.

Well, I was in the Ocean View Café at Wroes in Bude, and after the first rush of emotion - sheer relief, then pure elation - I decided that I had to mark the occasion with a purchase (Wroes is a surprisingly good department store for its isolated North Cornwall location). I considered various things, but (being practical) settled on that aqua-coloured jacket. And it has given me excellent service ever since.

However, it isn't an all-weather jacket. While it will shrug off a short shower, sustained rain will soak in; and in any case the jacket is too short to keep my legs dry. So for some time now I have felt the need to buy a longer hooded garment for wet weather, one that is properly waterproof. And in a nice colour too - certainly not the drab colours that Burberry use, and preferably not dark blue or yellow either.

Well, I found what I wanted in Seasalt. A green knee-length hooded raincoat. I saw it first in Hereford, in late September, and hesitated. Last week (on the 16th October) I saw it again in Canterbury, and this time I had my cousin Rosemary with me. She liked it on me, and I trust her judgement. The cost was £140, though. That's what you have to pay in shops like Seasalt (Joules, say) for a raincoat like this. But this time, I didn't hestitate. Autumn had arrived, and Winter was approaching. Both promised to be wet. I took the plunge.

This was me at home that very night.

And this is me at Sidmouth and Lyme Regis yesterday.

I'd gone into Lyme Regis to catch the sunset on the Cobb, and it was a chilly evening. My new Seasalt raincoat has however a fleece lining to the hood, and across the chest, with quilting below that. So I was snug in the breeze.

The sunset turned out to be very good. The gathering clouds added drama to it.

I love this part of the world!

Tuesday, 15 October 2019

Oh no, am I in an infinite loop?

Just when I thought my ongoing BT Mobile experience was going nicely after a smooth set-up, I get this email from them:

It really seems to be them, and not a spoof:

Three months ago, in July, I switched from Vodafone to BT Mobile, and received not only a keenly-priced SIM-only deal, but two side-benefits: a very nice JBL speaker and a £65 spending voucher. Getting those to me on the dates they were promised all went to plan. I was very pleased. I still am.

But now there is this strange and unexpected email. Are wheels in motion that will set up a duplicate mobile account with duplicate rewards, and an ongoing duplicate direct debit each month for two SIM cards? I hope not!

What's the betting that they have somehow set up another account? It will be a nightmare to shut down - and quite possibly the original account could vanish with it, leaving me without a mobile phone service. Shriek!

Well, what to do?

I was going to respond to that email at once, but perhaps I should just wait and see. Maybe it's all a computer glitch, without consequences, and I'll hear no more. Particularly as the July deal is no longer on offer, and they can't actually send me another speaker because they've all gone. The deal has changed. 

I have of course checked my BT account (and their Rewards website) for anything odd showing up there. There's nothing.

So...it seems OK. But this episode has shaken my faith in BT Mobile at the very start of our acquaintance. Lesson: you can't relax. You need to stay vigilant for silly errors that might cost you money.

Sunday, 13 October 2019

Inexplicably groggy

Ever since I had those two vaccinations a week and a half ago, I've felt a little off-colour, and at times a bit groggy. It's not serious, it's not stopped me doing anything, and it hasn't (for instance) affected my appetite. But sometimes it takes more effort to concentrate, and I feel a little light-headed and floaty now and then. And occasionally mildly nauseous, as if sea-sickness were coming on. Yet at other times all is normal.

I can't put it firmly down to post-vaccination fallout. Four days before those flu and pneumococci jabs, I switched HRT treatments, changing from small patches of Estradot twice a week to one big patch of FemSeven once a week. The same dose (100mcg), but a different routine, and one big hit rather than two smaller ones. It may be that the switch hasn't suited my body, and I'm getting kickback.

Other things might account for this. In the past, too much screen work on my laptop - hundreds of photos edited within a few days, say - has had a mild effect. (I don't think it's that, though) Lack of sleep, or not sleeping well, has in the past left me feeling washed-out. (But I'm sleeping normally) Without claiming any kind of allergy, I've definitely become sensitive to eating things I normally avoid, such as bread and pastry, and I consumed pastry in a steak-and-ale pie eaten at an evening quiz just before these symptoms began. (But any effect would have worn off by now)

I think the front runners for my present malaise must be jab-fallout and changing my HRT.

I have pondered the jab-fallout. The sore, red arm went away after a few days. But my blood stream must still be awash with all the extra white blood cells that were produced in response to the vaccinations. That would presumably alter the proportion of infection-combating white blood cells to the oxygen-carrying red blood cells, effectively diluting the supply of oxygen to vital organs, such as my brain. That might account for any mild loss of focus, and the occasional light-headedness.

But a change in HRT routine is just as likely a reason for not feeling completely right.

So I'm presently conducting an experiment. I still have a small stock of Estradot patches, and I'm now using them to see whether I feel better. After one day, I think I do. Mind you, that might simply be because I expect to feel better! Let's see if the apparent improvement lasts.

In two weeks' time, I'll revert to FemSeven. By then any jab-fallout will surely have faded away to nothing. If I immediately feel odd when I go back to FemSeven, then it will strongly suggest that it's FemSeven that's upsetting me.

At least it might as a once-a-week treatment. I could try cutting the large FemSeven patch in half, and applying two halves during the week, to mimic the Estradot routine. The same dose, but two smaller hits.

Would it work? Well, I could give it a go and find out.

I can hear normally again, almost

Rather stupidly, I let those Bluetooth earbuds that I've now sold blast my eardrums when first trying them out. I knew, of course, that loud noise wasn't good for one's delicate ear-parts, but I didn't know just how bad.

I wasn't deafened, but there is a residual singing sensation in my ears all the time. It may have been there before, but I don't think so. At any rate, I am definitely conscious of it now. It's easily drowned out by ordinary everyday noises when out and about, but in the stillness of my home, which has good sound-insulation, it's a constant companion. I hope it gradually fades.

The episode prompted me to read up about hearing damage and hearing loss on the Internet, and I think I've become a lot better-informed. That doesn't mitigate the effects of past exposure to too much sound, and it's no consolation for any permanent damage done, but at least I now know the dangers and can try to avoid them. I probably won't be buying any kind of earphones from now on. And I won't be attending any event involving very loud noise, cinemas included. My remaining hearing needs to be protected.

One of the things I did back in August was to install a hearing-test app on my phone, and, with earbuds in (I had a choice of wired or Bluetooth at the time) go through a testing routine. The app I used asked me to indicate whether I could detect a series of tones at frequencies high and low, to establish my hearing threshold at those levels. It then interpreted the results for me, and kept a record of the test, so that I could repeat it later on and make comparisons.

This was the result on 16th August, soon after blasting my eardrums:

The ears are differentiated, blue for one, red for the other.  It's not good, is it? 'Moderate' to 'severe' hearing loss at the higher sound frequencies, and one of my ears has a hearing-age of nearly 80. And I'm only 67. Oh dear!

I did a retest two days ago on 11th October. I still have my wired earbuds. It's a much better result. 

Hearing loss has improved to only 'mild'. And my hearing-age on the not-so-good ear is now less than my actual age. I still can't hear nearly as well as a young person can, but in a quiet environment I can pick up some very soft sounds indeed. That's a relief. I will now want to keep it this way.

I might do fresh tests every couple of months, and see whether any further improvement is possible. Probably not much; once damaged, ear parts never recover. 

Hearing is very important to me. I rarely watch TV now, and the radio (or recorded music) plays a big part in my daily life. I don't want to grow older with most things around me silenced, and nobody talking to me because I can't understand what they say. I want to take country walks and hear the tiny noises that wild creatures make, and the sweet song of birds, and the buzzing of bees. I want to hear the breeze, and the crash of the surf. I want to hear the postman call at my front door. I want to hear the tread behind of anybody who might be following me with bad intent. Good hearing is so useful, and it's not to be taken for granted. 

Where's my money?

The earphone saga continues. And although I said I wouldn't be, I am annoyed.

It's the cheek of it.

To recap (assuming you've not been following this). I bought some good-looking, high-tech Bluetooth true-wireless earbuds by RHA back in early August. They were comfortable, practical, convenient and they worked well. But almost simultaneously I acquired a free JBL Bluetooth speaker, and found that I preferred listening to that. Hard to pin down why, it was just so.

The new earbuds, for which I'd paid a princely (or princessly) £150 weren't getting a look-in. So I put them up for auction on eBay, and they sold on 6th October for £80. The buyer has had them since 8th October (I posted them using Royal Mail First-Class Special Delivery with tracking) and has since that date has sent eBay positive feedback, which they have flagged up against the sale on their website. I reckon I've been a model seller.

But I'm not a frequent user of eBay. In fact I last sold an item way back in 2011 (a photo lens) and not since - until now. So they are treating me as a new kid on the block, with no history. And since 2011 they have clearly introduced a policy of making newbies wait up to 21 days (sometimes longer, I hear) for sale monies.

At first then, the money-release date (which they'd notify to their slave company PayPal) was going to be 27th October, 21 days on from the sale date. Then it was advanced to today. But now I see it's back to 27th October. Why, if the buyer is clearly happy? And if they need to check me out, to see whether I'm a real person, or what my credit rating is, that can be done almost instantly. Why does it take three weeks?

The amount actually due to me is £77.38, which is that £80.00 less eBay's auction fee of £2.62. I don't need the money urgently. A delay of another two weeks won't affect my finances one bit. But I really dislike eBay holding onto money like this, for no obvious reason.

I suspect that it's simply a way for them to make a profit on money owed to sellers. (Guess what - PayPal, their creature, is now in the credit business. Think about it.)

As I said, exactly when I get that £77.38 is not critical for me. But it might be for some other people. I'm thinking of somebody urgently raising money to live on, or to pay for some unexpected bill. 

It was initially fun using eBay again, but this unwarranted delay has rather soured the affair for me. It's just as well that I haven't anything else of value that I want to auction off. Because I don't want to use eBay now. I feel messed around.

Well, I phoned eBay up late in the evening on 13th October to ask about the money. I spoke to a very polite young man with an American accent, who checked that the buyer had indeed got the earbuds and had left positive feedback. So he 'manually' released the £77.38, and said it should show up in my PayPal account within 24 hours. That seems to be an excellent outcome, but we'll see.

eBay and PayPal cough up
Hmm, that little bit of pressure over the phone did the trick. It didn't take 24 hours for my money to be available - less than five hours after my phoning eBay, at 4.15am, PayPal sent me an email confirming that I could now have my net sale proceeds. I saw it on waking. I immediately asked them to transfer the £77.38 to my ordinary bank account, and as I write this (at 9.13am) I can see that this money has indeed reached my bank account, for immediate use if I need to spend it. Which I don't; but so nice to have it safely there at last.

Do I still feel miffed about eBay's behaviour? Yes. I don't mind a cautious set of payout policies, but this felt unreasonable.

PayPal get a rosette for efficiency but a rotten egg for being at the complete beck and call of eBay. Verily a supine lapdog.

All that said, eBay (and PayPal) are facts of life, and no doubt I will have to use them again in the future. At least I know that eBay will respond to a justified payout request. I'll remember that.   

Sunday, 6 October 2019

Blimey, they sold!

Just now I checked eBay and saw this:

Yes, I did put those RHA earbuds back on eBay, starting at £25. The bids came in steadily, and last night the best bid was £56. I'm delighted with £80.

Why the 'blimey'? Well, I hadn't used eBay for a long while, and I'd forgotten how effective it can be as a platform for selling things you have put aside and don't use. So I'm astonished! I'm now wondering what else I might sell.

I offered to pay the postage on this item, so that must come off, and eBay will take a fee, but I should clear £70 or so, which would represent 47% of what I paid for these earbuds back in August. I'd say that's a pretty good outcome, and the money will help cover the cost of getting Fiona's scraped wheel arch repaired. 

So, tomorrow morning - once the buyer has paid - I'll be down at the local post office with the earbuds all boxed up and labelled, ready for dispatch by first-class post. 

Do I have any pangs? Not one. I'm really pleased that the buds are now going to somebody who will fully appreciate them. 

Update same day, a few hours later
The buyer has paid! Right: it'll be a packing session tonight, and a visit to the post office tomorrow morning. 

One unexpected thing - eBay have asked PayPal not to release any money to me for now. I imagine this is because (a) I haven't yet put a 'dispatched' marker against this item (but I will be able to tomorrow), and (b) I have no recent eBay track record, and they can't take it for granted that I will do the right thing by the buyer. I'll probably have to wait until the buyer confirms receipt and that he is satisfied. 

Is this delay actually a snag? No, not at all. This is, after all, just extra money, a kind of windfall. I'm not relying on getting it by any particular date.

Saturday, 5 October 2019

Vaccination reactions

Two days ago I had my free NHS winter flu jab, which I can get because I am aged 65 and over. I've had two of these before without any reaction beyond very local tenderness at the injection spot that quickly disappeared. Not so this time.

The local medical practice was holding four vaccination sessions on different days, times and locations in my Mid Sussex area. I'd attended the Hurstpierpoint venue on both the previous occasions, and had found it absolutely packed, with very long queues. So this year I decided to go to either Hassocks or Ditchling. Hassocks at 3.00pm for two hours suited me best, so there I went. I deliberately turned up early. And just as well. Lots of other people had had the same notion, and the queues were already long. Thankfully, the staff administering the session had decided to begin half an hour sooner than scheduled, so the queues were moving forward.

I learned while chatting that eight hundred people had turned up on the previous Saturday morning at Hurstpierpoint, many of them in cars, and it had been impossible to park in that village. As I would have driven too, I was glad I didn't try to go there! You need to bear in mind that I don't live in a city, but in one of several local Mid-Sussex villages which between them provide most of the everyday facilities you need, but you do have to shuttle between them. And the local bus services are, on the whole, infrequent and inconvenient. (That's why I have spurned having a Bus Pass - it's useless where I live. A Senior Railcard, for occasional use, is much handier) So car travel is for me the practical option for all purposes - if you can park.

Anyway, my turn came, and it seemed they were keen to give me two jabs - this year's flu vaccination, plus a pneumococci vaccination. 'Cocci' means bacteria, and yes, this would be a one-off protective measure against infectious lung diseases. An extra insurance. Had I had one before? No. It would be a good idea to have one now then. I cheerfully agreed.

It was all efficiently done, although both jabs went into the same left arm. I'm not scared of needles, so I made a point of watching how it was accomplished. Quite fascinating really. I admired the obvious hygiene. And it was good to know that once vaccinated, I'd be able to fight off most bronchial infections, although I've never, in all my life, been prone to such things.

For the rest of that afternoon I felt fine, but by bedtime my left arm was starting to feel sore.

Next day the discomfort was greater, although I could still use my left arm normally. It was decidedly tender to the touch, however. By the early evening I felt hot and flushed, and disinclined to do anything too demanding, although I still ate a hearty meal. I popped a DVD into the machine - Riding Giants, the 2004 film about surfing, full of cold-water scenes - and watched that. The hotness gradually lessened, but when getting ready for bed I noticed that the skin around the injection sites was looking a bit pink.

Hmm. It didn't stop me sleeping though.

Next day - yesterday - that pinkness began to spread across my upper left arm, and it looked more intense. My arm felt even more sore. This was the position in the morning, soon after waking.

But I still didn't feel concerned. I felt assured - from a bit of Internet research - that it would all fade over the next few days, that it wasn't indicative of an abnormal allergic reaction, and that meanwhile I simply had to put up with it.

Still, I wondered whether it would interfere with my weekend plans. I decided not to go to pilates that morning. But I met my friends Jo and Sue for lunch. They didn't like the look of my arm at all. I stoutly maintained that all was well. It would all pass.

I felt fully up to the evening's charity quiz at the local heritage centre, but once there Jo became very concerned at the way the redness had advanced, most of my upper arm now being suffused by a well-defined patch of inflamed-looking skin. She marked the edge with a pen, and I had to admit it was spreading.

And by the end of the evening, I was feeling very tired too, more so than I'd expect. It was clear that the pinkness was still spreading down my arm in the direction of my elbow.

But I refused to share Jo's worries. Surely this was just evidence that my body was engaging with the vaccination, and producing antibodies as fast as it could. I didn't feel this was anything I needed to take back to the doctor, and certainly not to A&E.

And I think I was quite right. This morning, the arm was much less tender, and although the redness had leaked half and inch beyond Jo's pen-line, it was starting to fade. As for the tiredness, I'd slept over seven hours (two hours longer than usual) and actually felt quite chipper and alert.

End of a curious episode, I think. Curious because I don't normally have adverse reactions of any kind. Well, I don't need to have this particular vaccination again, only the flu jab next year.