A day in Lytham St Annes

Driving into St Annes for an afternoon to check out an alternative to Blackpool, we didn't know what to expect.
Trying to avoid the over £7 parking charges of Blackpool, all I was hoping for was a decent chippy, some ice cream and a beach.

Driving through the main shopping street was easy enough for us as first time visitors, right on to the prom, we managed to bag a parking space no problem at all.
£4.30 for all day parking within a stones throw from the beach was a great start.
At last, we thought, a council using it's common sense to attract visitors.
Varied shops, including a Bon Marche (thought they had gone bust?) and a few charity shops, with banks within walking distance from the sea front.

An open air kiddies pool just off the beach, another plus.
Not too many kiosks to choose from, just enough to offer some choice.
A mini toddlers fair was yards from the beach, along the sea front. Another plus.
Those big balls that you can run around in and some small boats to take out on a small cove of water seperate from the sea was more good stuff to see.

Food... Not too many chippies to pick from but we went for the chippy just off the main shopping street.
Tables outside were littered with cigarette stubs on the floor, no probs we'll eat take-out.
The award for the most staff ever seen in a chip shop goes to... still they were all very friendly and chatty, good service.
Where it fell down was the price.
£9.50 for two lots of fish and chips!
Fish were a regular size and chips were a small portion, but they were decent enough.

We decided to eat them on the beach. The sandy beach, near to the small pier, had lots of litter (it was teatime though) and broken shells, some quite sharp. Tide was out.
Barbeques were going nearby on the sand, good to see in my view. There were donkey rides available. The volleyball net was a nice touch, although whether this is a council thing or someone's own I couldn't make out.
We scoffed the fish and chips and made our way to the main seafront to grab an ice cream. Bins were full and rubbish piled up alongside them, where we placed our tied up bag of fish and chip wrappers, but we did spot a council worker emptying bins further down the front, a thankless task on a hot day.
We stopped at a brick kiosk for a Mr Whippys ice cream. Double 99, single 99 in a chocolate cone and a single cone 99 for the sprog set us back a shocking £8.50!
(The same items from our local ice cream van would cost £4.60)

Clearly their ice cream needs more cream and less milk, as within 5 minutes all had completely melted, even the adult ones could not be eaten quickly enough.

We noticed that the beach further down the coastline away from the pier cove, was alot cleaner and better quality. If we return we will park further down.

So to sum up;
Parking: Easy, plenty of spaces and a lot cheaper than Blackpool. 9/10
Attractions: Good variety, more for the younger ones. 8/10
Town: The main street we walked around, just off the seafront, decent variety and easy to find banks, interesting buildings and a few pubs. A good mix. 8/10
Food: Fish and chips - decent quality, but over priced. Ice creams - poor quality and over priced. 4/10
Beach: Too much litter (but it was late in the day) 4/10
Better to aim further up the coast for better quality beach.

I don't understand how a fish bought in a coastal town can be around a pound more expensive than a fish bought 20 miles inland and needs to be delivered?
If you fancy a day out, there are a lot worse places to visit than St Annes, good variety, plenty going on, but take a packed lunch/some fruit if you are on a budget.

Frugal internet catch up TV via windows 7

Mrs frugal loves to watch the soaps and various TV series.
For some time now, we've been recording them on a freeview recorder box.
Occasionally, it misses but more often than not, it managed to record everything ok.

Factor in, that I have been looking at why we have a HDTV, yet only ever use it via our old blue-ray player?

So I attempted to get the internet on our TV, through a new recorder box.
I asked around and was advised by our TV equipment provider that there were two options available to us.
I could rent a recorder box that has smart TV built in, enabling us to get easy recordable access to iplayer, itvplayer, etc, as well as conventional recording.
Or option two, rent a new "smart" TV.
The recorder box was only £6 per month more, the smart TV would cost around £20 per month more.
Me being of the frugal ilk, opted for the recorder box option.

I went through the scenario of what is a weekly occurance in our home, via recording off freeview.
I asked dozens of questions, can the box get BBC iplayer? Can it receive itv, channel 4OD, channel 5? Can it receive tubeyou, etc?
Yes was the answer, so we booked one out and waited eagerly.
When the brand new box came, not only was it faulty, not recording any freeview programs, but it also had no options to receive BBC iplayer, itvplayer, channel 4OD, etc.
I returned the box and got the old one back after haggling them back down to the original price I was paying, for their clear misrepresentation at the point of sale.

Visiting a number of forums, the Humax recorder box never had BBC iplayer available and had no plans to, this was the statement put out on the Humax bookface page.
This got me thinking.
My computer is relatively new and next to the monitor plug I had a HD socket. Why didn't I just use this?
Connecting the sound up seperately is no problem, I use a cable from my computer headphone socket to my amplifier anyway, I have for years. No problems there.
For the picture it was a little more complicated.

After connecting my HD lead from my monitor socket to my HDTV, I needed a way of changing the resolution.
After a little trial and error I found a way of doing just this.
A problem I had was that using windows 7, whenever I turned on my TV channel to match my computer output, my computer screen would display fine, but the TV display was either blocky or a small percentage of the screen.
Not good for viewing TV, films, videos, etc.
I found that both monitor and TV had a "priority" option.
The monitor was classed as 1 and the TV was classed as 2.
But when I turned on the TV to view my desktop, windows 7 automatically switched these two around so the TV became the priority monitor for the computer. No matter how much I fiddled around with them, changed and saved new settings, this remained the case.

I read website forums, windows forums, questions and answers, but was left with no clear way to get my head around it and resolve the issue.
So off to bed I went, as I often do, leave it alone and an answer will come.
Sure enough it did.
It suddenly dawned upon me that I was attempting to change the resolution that windows used, I could use "dual display" through windows 7, but the TV resolution/screen size, was actually controlled by my graphics card... in particular, my graphics card settings.
A quick change of my graphics card settings and when windows automatically reverted my TV to priority 1 for my computer monitor, it then followed my graphics card settings.
My desktop monitor, now priority 2 (when my TV was being used as a monitor) was being run off windows 7 settings (even though it is connected to my graphics card in the same way).
The picture problem resolved, the sound was never an issue, I can now display anything on my computer through our main TV, as and when I choose.

Tubeyou music videos, even old boxing videos, anything from all the terrestrial catch up websites.
The beauty of it all is that it cost me just £20 for a HD lead long enough to reach my TV, the better half can still record anything she wants but if she misses anything, I can now play it back on our front room HDTV.
There are no more hassles, as I've set up a simple limited account on the computer, that she can use when I'm not around, it's as easy as switching the TV over to the feed channel.
I am no longer reliant on a smart TV or an internet recorder box and what they choose to allow me to watch.
The tubeyou video search is no longer only a partial service featuring the top few videos they allow me to watch and search for (as was the case with the internet box), instead I get tubeyou music videos in full of what I want to watch, without limitations.
I can watch films stored on pen drives, my hard drives, etc. All the family can view all the family photos and home videos on the main TV in glorious HD, all in all, a very frugal way to watch everything we want to see.

World consumer rights day - a total failure

How did your "World consumer rights day" go?

Mine was right up there with the failings of business to grasp any sense of the law or honesty and even more distant from those organisations that are supposed to be "protecting" people!

First up, Box clever, from which we get our TV equipment:
The better half occasionally forgets to record things on her Humax freeview recorder box.
My aim was simple, find a box or TV that we could connect to the internet via our modem, so that she could, at the push of a button, switch the TV over to BBC iplayer, ITV catch up, 4oD, channel 5 catch up, etc.

Sales advisor one informed me of two options.
I could either go for a smart TV - costing £20 a month more than we pay now, or get an upgraded recorder box from Humax, that enables all these services and more to be accessed, downloaded, saved, etc.
I opted for the Humax HD-FOX T2 Freeview HD Set Top Box or the "fox box" as it's called.
Appointment was booked for today.

I came home to have the box sat there all ready to go.
Unfortunately, the picture on all channels breaks up, so is unwatchable, let alone good enough to record.
I rang Box clever, a lady didn't even bother to listen and said a technician would phone back sometime in the next 3 hours.
A call came two hours later, asking about my repair booking that I had made on Monday.
Not made one, but the "advisor" had kindly gone ahead and booked one, without mentioning it, ringing me back or even bothering to ask if it would ok.
I was told I may get a call from a technician, I may not.
The appointment was rebooked for tomorrow instead.
That was ok I thought, I'll set up the internet connection so that the wide variety of online TV channel catch up websites can be watched. Sadly, this too, turned out to be nothing more than made up business marketing spin to attract a sale/upgrade.
Only BBC iplayer is available on the Humax HD-FOX T2 Freeview HD Set Top Box.
No ITV, channel 4 or channel 5 player is available, unless you download and install some firmware, which invalidates the warranty.

So when the sales staff on the phone were saying it has these and more, they were misrepresenting at the point of sale.
When the two installation staff came to fit the box today, they were also misrepresenting as the box does not do anything like this.
Even on the youtube screen, only certain songs would play due to a conflict of file type, yet another failure.

Humax, that make the boxes openly stated on their own facebook page back in 2011, that they have no plans to include ITV, channel 4, channel 5 or sky player catch up services on their machines, so where exactly have box clever staff got their claims from?

Next up, we have the wonderful world of Indesit, or more accurately, the world that they own, Hotpoint:
Hotpoint washing machine bought in September 2012.
Faulty power switch, draining conditioner off before start of a cycle, power knocking off by itself.
Four visits by engineers, two of which informed us that the Hotpoint washing machine we bought only months earlier, was in fact a recently new model, "It's only been on the market about 8 months!"

So after four visits, waiting in most of the day each time and various parts fitted that did not solve the problem, I contacted them to demand a new machine as is my right.
"You have waited over 28 days since our last repair, so we have the right to send out another engineer to try and fix the machine!"
No, I think you'll find that regardless of Hotpoint's policies, I have given you a fair time to fix the machine and you have failed to do so. Under trading standards law, I am now within my rights to demand a replacement machine or a full refund.
"No you are not!"
Well it's this way or the a small claims court, you decide!
"Either myself, the engineer, or his department will call you back within the next 48 hours"

A couple of days later, a call came, from none of them. The replacement department left me a message to say that they didn't have any of this machine in stock at the moment and they were waiting it coming in.
Three days went by and today another call.
Our machine is obsolete (only months since it came out they said earlier?) but instead we would like to replace it with the more up to date model.
I was given the model number so that I could have a look at it before confirming that we wanted one sending out. The new machine they proposed, was nothing short of an insult.

1kg smaller wash load
250rpm slower spin
No hand wash
No silk wash
No digital display
No half load wash

I stopped looking after this and rang them back. Their offer was a complete joke.

"How is it different from your machine now?"
I was stopped from reeling off more reasons not to accept it.
"It's obviously nothing like the standard of machine you have, I shall email them and get them to ring you back as soon as possible!"
That was hours ago, still I've heard nothing from Hotpoint.

So it's world consumer rights day is it?

When we, the public get some, then perhaps I will take any notice of it.
As it stands, we pay more than we ever to have a voice, yet never has it been so ignored. It is a complete joke!

Dad diary - Family finances, the family unit and the opportunist

In recent weeks, I've had first hand experience of how important the role of family finances plays in maintaining a stable home life.
For me, my family is essential to my well being. I love my family, always have and always will, but when factors are out of my hands, I am left to deal with the consequences, which is a personal nightmare.
Of course I accept, there are other factors involved, other people's decisions and actions, but after recent times here, "Money" has been the single most common factor in what's gone on.

MONEY LIMITS:
This website is not a sideline business as others of a frugal/thrifty ilk often are.
I don't sit here in a quarter of a million plus pound house, looking after my children, while my better half earns enough money to support us all three times over.
This website is a personal reference for me.
All the things I talk about are real life, they are essential to financial survival for my family or that of our friends.
When the family finances take various hits, as they have done in the past 3-4 years, pressure builds on the family unit.

For example, in 2012 we had £2700 LESS money to play with (Tax credit cuts - 1% wage rise - rising prices of over 3% on everything from food/petrol to insurances, etc.)
These financial constraints took away our holiday plans, for the sixth year running, when the old second hand banger (essential for shift work on a non bus route) needed work, cuts had to be made to balance our books.
Imagine working all year round, booking your time off, then having to watch as one by one your workmates jet off to sunny climbs and you have to cancel your plans and sit at home for 2 weeks. Totally demoralising.

Of course you could change your plans, holiday in the UK at one of the wonderful rip off britain priced caravans or holiday homes.
Take days out? For us to go to the seaside for the day costs £8 in parking and £30 in petrol alone. For the zoo, again the petrol is a factor, plus £30 for us to get in. It may not sound much to most people, but for a household that's on a strict budget to balance the books, it is the difference between fixing the brakes on the car so it can be used for work and taking a day off away from it all.

There are other factors to financial limitations. We struggle to do anything around the house, like plastering. To get someone in to do it costs in the region of £100 per day, plus materials. When you are juggling money around to scrimp together a spare £150 a month, this is unworkable without borrowing.
In 2012 I was able to have 2 nights out. For my hard working wife, this was limited to just one Christmas meal with her friends.
This has had a devastating personal effect on our family.
It also affects buying new clothes, birthdays, Christmas, special occasions, etc.

OPPORTUNISTS:
In all walks of life, there are those that consider others and those that do not.
While businesses play the game to extract maximum money from your pocket, with extras, add ons, hidden charges, etc, as well as yoyo pricing to increase their profits, there is also a personal side to the opportunist.
Years of scraping to get by and balancing the family books, can have a devastating effect on personal lives.

There are those out there that show scant regard for others, by taking advantage.

The workplace banter and little in jokes, the casual flirting, etc, at the pub or a work's night out. Their target, because that what they are, a target, can easily have their head turned away from the stresses and strains of daily life.
What starts out as a bit of fun, a distraction, can quickly lead to a total break up for a family.
There will be those that say it's down to the individual, personal choices, but as we all know, when a person has their head turned in jest, they can easily lose sight of what their other half is doing in day to day life and the situation that financial constraints have put on the family.
For me this is not true. Yes it's personal choice, but there is equal blame also.
Head turning would not happen had the opportunist not taken advantage of the situation for their own ends.

Opportunists are cowards, they take no responsibility for their actions.
They have no regard for the family unit, regardless of whether it's opportunism on a personal or financial level. Had the family unit had sufficient finances available to them, there would have been holidays, nights out, work around the house, relief from the day to day strains of work and balancing the family books.

LESSONS LEARNED:
Some family breakdown may well be personal, but on the whole, there are underlying factors, a major one is the finances of the family unit.
For me, the easiest thing would be to start borrowing, take out a couple of credit cards and "flash the cash" with a holiday, nights out, etc. This would make me more popular I dare say, but once the brass had gone, yet more strain would be put on the family finances in future months and this would create more problems than we have now.
It would leave more openings for the sympathetic ear that is the opportunist, who is only too quick to take advantage.

I don't know of anyone who doesn't like the distractions and excitement away from the day to day toil of the UK adult, but extra borrowing would come with longer term costs.
We can all be interesting and fun when we don't have to say no because our hands are tied financially. For me, the biggest lesson I've learned is, it is important to remember people have needs.
The relief and satisfaction of balancing the family books for another month gives me great pleasure, but to others, this is boring/dull. If we couldn't balance the books every month, more borrowing would lead to a deeper financial hole (and more personal problems) down the line, so it's vital to a healthy family life.

This monthly battle is getting harder each time, with 0% pay rises, over inflation price rises in food, petrol, household bills, etc.
Government is taking help away, wages are failing to keep pace, times are hard.
Remember to keep your eye on the ball, as regards a personal level.
Make the effort, no matter how small or mundain it may seem to you, it maybe of vital importance to those around you. If you choke off the oxygen for the disaffected party to confide in an opportunist, this is half the battle won.

Dad diary - Money, Hobson's choice!

I was in the bath earlier this week, pondering about how to spend the £80 we had coming in this week. I enjoy this kind of thinking, it's a relief to be thinking about something positive for our clan, the options that this modest amount will give me and of course, it distracts me from worrying. It's a win-win.

Christmas will be here very soon, perhaps use some of the money for a few stocking fillers?
I could use almost two thirds of it to buy ceiling plaster board for the back room, this would still leave me around £30 to play with.
What about a "Chinese hat" for our flue pipe that will be ordered next week? Least then another cost will be out of the way. (A chinese hat is the chimney plate on which the flue pipe is attacjed and the chimney pot sits upon)
This £80 would cover our christmas fresh meat hamper, cheeses, fish, fruit and veg for the christmas fortnight, all bought off local traders and leave us a little bit extra in the pocket.
Some of it would pay for our new fake christmas tree, the better half has been pestering for us to get.

The opportunities are endless...

Then my ponderings turned to more realistic (some would say boring) things.
It could be put away to cover some of our easter car tax or put towards our soon to be needed cat part of the exhaust that's on the way out.
I could put it away to pay for February and March logs, leaving only the £10 recent increase in price to find.
You get the picture.

It was all pointless brain work in the end, as no sooner had I collected it, then real life took it away from us.
£20 of it disappeared on yet another extra gas payment, bringing this month's total to £100 so far for putting the heating on and off, to get the temperature up to 18 degrees. The burner is out of action until we can afford to put a new flue pipe in.
£15 went on the magically disappearing electricity - we don't heat the house, water or cook with it, yet still the winter months see mysterious unexplained costs added, "Because it's been 3 degrees colder than in summer/autumn months!"
£20 went on extra petrol, as running with the petrol light on in freezing temperatures is never advisable, especially with defrosting the car.

The last £25 will cover the slow puncture repair needed, buy us some milk for the week and leave us with a couple of quid loose change.

Not to worry, there's always an 8% increase in electricity prices in January to look forward to and another year of the same wages, we have just found out a 0% rise will be coming this year.
Funny enough, I wasn't advised life would be like this when I was at school...