Gold: Thursday Photo Challenge

Welcome! Come and join the Thursday Photo Challenge, a weekly photography challenge for everyone who likes to take photos!

This week’s challenge is gold.

The Earth turns to gold in the hands of the wise.

Rumi

Of course, you have the option of photographing literal gold, and making this an exercise in colours, but you could also look at gold as a metaphor for something valuable to you or to someone else.

My photo is from Dubai, where the sun was setting behind the Burj Khalifa, throwing it into silhouette, and a dancing water fountain was spraying cool liquid into a pool. There is a lot of gold in Dubai (not as much as in Abu Dhabi), but the really rich people have expensive water features like this one. In the blazing desert sun, water is more valuable than gold.

Here’s how to take part:

  1. Take a photo or search your files for one that represents the week’s theme.
  2. Write a post, including your photo, any words of explanation or inspiration you wish to share, and a link to this challenge page.
  3. Comment on this post with a link to your page so others can see your contribution.
  4. That’s it! Super easy.

This challenge will stay open for one week, then next Thursday, I will post the next challenge!

Buying a house during Covid

Should we buy a house during Covid? This was a question that did pop up, but our need for a new home (in a new country) was so great, we couldn’t wait. Let me explain how we ended up buying a house during Covid and give you some tips.

Four years ago, we moved to China from England. We rented out our home in England and thought we could always sell it when we got back. Obviously, I didn’t polish my crystal ball and I had no idea anything like the disruption or financial ruin of this pandemic was on the horizon, or I would have sold our house in 2016 and invested the money somewhere.

When we were ready to sell our home, of course, our tenants weren’t ready to move out. They moved out 7 months after I came back from China, heavily pregnant. In fact, I had a five-month-old when we got our house back. So in the meantime, I’d rented somewhere. Anyway, I never wanted to live in England again (and I still don’t) so we didn’t ever plan to move back into our old house. The rental place I got was abysmal due to the rental crisis in Ireland. Also, I couldn’t get anywhere in the South due to the rental crisis, so we ended up in Belfast where you have to learn a whole new way of talking about a lot of things to avoid offending people. But that’s another story.

We put our house up for sale in January 2020. We had viewings and multiple offers and had accepted an offer for full asking price within 7 days of the house going up for sale. Wow. We thought we’d be out of that rental in six weeks.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

The sale finally completed in August. This was a no-chain sale, we were moving countries so we were going to be cash buyers, and our buyer was a first-time buyer who was already approved for a mortgage when they put the offer in. Unfortunately, during the first English lockdown they shut down all the legal offices. This meant that our sale ground to a halt for months. Simple aspects of a house sale became impossible. When they all reopened, there was an enormous backlog.

Anyway, we had the cash at the start of August. By now, our baby had his first birthday and we were still in the rental, but we were finally able to go househunting. We booked some viewings.

Obviously, with the current situation, it’s not really possible to go to view the same house as many times as you normally would. To put it into perspective, when we were looking for our first house, in 2013, we viewed it (and another house) three times each to be sure we were making the right choice, that there were no issues we hadn’t spotted, that the area was decent, etc.

With our purchase last year, we had to make a decision from one visit. One of the main issues I’ve seen when househunting is damp patches. They can mean a lot of different things. Roof leaks, pipe leaks, bad bathroom installation, building defects in new builds, cracks in the walls from mica or pyrite (Ireland only), condensation or rising damp from outside. Basically, you don’t want damp patches. And on a viewing, they can be impossible to spot. The nicest houses get them. Even newbuilds. So I bought this FLIR infrared camera from US Amazon.

It attached to my phone, I downloaded an app, then it showed me areas of hot or cold. Basically it meant I could see behind the walls to find out if there were any leaks which will show as a sudden cold patch in the FLIR app.

For househunting in Covid times, it was the best $250 I spent. Think about it. This is the biggest purchase we’re making in our lives. We’re buying a house outright with no mortgage. If this falls down around our ears, we have lost the full cost of a house. An extra $250 is less than the cost of the surveyor or house insurance which are also intended to guard this investment. If you’re buying a house during Covid and are worried about not being able to find out enough from one brief viewing, I 100% recommend you get a FLIR One Infrared Camera for your phone.

You can get the FLIR One camera from UK Amazon here (it was about $50 cheaper to get it from the US for me).

Or buy it from US Amazon here.

If you’re in Ireland, the best place to get it will fluctuate week-by-week and you can shop on either site.

I was really excited to get one of these as I enjoy photography as a hobby and have messed around with infrared lenses in the past. This type of infrared camera is different to the infrared lenses you can get for DSLR cameras, though, and it creates images from the far-infrared part of the spectrum, which is less artistic and much more practical.

These are the sort of pictures you get (you can see the heat left from footprints on the floor, and the cold left from ice cream standing on a table, even after you’ve moved the ice cream):

The space where the ice cream had been sitting is that big dark circle at the bottom of the picture.
A footprint after I moved my foot. This camera is very sensitive and will show you a lot of information.

The estate agents didn’t say anything while I deployed the FLIR camera on each brief viewing of the two houses on our shortlist. We were not allowed to touch anything, which was annoying as it meant we couldn’t find out if the windows opened properly, or if the doors were hanging correctly, etc. This did mean we ended up buying a house where there were problems with the doors on the kitchen cupboards, but these aren’t hard to replace and it did make us feel more justified about the offer we had made for the house, which was 8k below asking.

Once we had satisfied ourselves that we were buying a house that was structurally sound and that didn’t have any hidden disasters for us to find later, we put in an offer and it was accepted, and four months later (thanks to more Covid delays) we were the proud owners of our new home.

And if you want to know how I managed to start a business that enabled me to be mortgage free by thirty-three years of age (including taking two years out for a baby), I will write about that at some point soon.

Dynamic: Thursday Photo Challenge

Welcome! Come and join the Thursday Photo Challenge, a weekly photography challenge for everyone who likes to take photos!

This week’s challenge is dynamic.

Attitude is dynamic,

whereas character is static.

Suriyah Dhinakaran

Dynamic is a word for movement, growth, change, energy…

It is perhaps best understood by its opposite word: Static.

So this week’s challenge asks you to find an image that represents or depicts the word dynamic. What can you come up with?

My photo is from Xi’an, China, where a man carrying a huge bag walked across the crossing while cars and buses zoomed past. In case you’re wondering, he did make it to the other side safely.

Here’s how to take part:

  1. Take a photo or search your files for one that represents the week’s theme.
  2. Write a post, including your photo, any words of explanation or inspiration you wish to share, and a link to this challenge page.
  3. Comment on this post with a link to your page so others can see your contribution.
  4. That’s it! Super easy.

This challenge will stay open for one week, then next Thursday, I will post the next challenge!

Delicious: Thursday Photo Challenge!

Welcome to the weekly Thursday Photo Challenge, a weekly photography challenge for everyone who likes to take photos!

This week’s challenge is delicious.

You can go anywhere in the world, and people’s faces light up when they put delicious food in their mouths.

Sandi Toksvig

My photo is from one of my extended trips to America. You may instantly recognise my picture as the syrup jugs from iHOP (international house of pancakes?), the most delicious place to get pancakes I’ve ever been to. I was alone in America and I wished I had someone to share the love of iHOP with.

Looking at that picture makes me wistful. Also hungry. Food is the best part of any travel adventure, I always think.

What can you come up with on the theme of delicious?

Here’s how to take part:

  1. Take a photo or search your files for one that represents the week’s theme.
  2. Write a post, including your photo, any words of explanation or inspiration you wish to share, and a link to this challenge page.
  3. Comment on this post with a link to your page so others can see your contribution.
  4. That’s it! Super easy.

This challenge will stay open for one week, then next Thursday, I will post the next challenge!

I just want normal trousers

I have a shopping problem. Tops are fairly easy. But every time I need to buy a pair of trousers, I take hours. I don’t know why clothing retailers waste money making trousers in shapes and sizes that no one actually wants. I mean, let’s say you’re in a marketing meeting. You’re working for a big company. You’re well respected and until now, you have quite a good track record at making sensible decisions about products.

Then someone gives you the trouser account. And instead of thinking, legs haven’t changed for tens of thousands of years, let’s just go with what works, you decide that the way for you to make your mark on trouserland is to change everything. And to test the market, you decide to manufacture these monstrosities in size 2-4 only.

Not satisfied with your contribution to the world, you flood every single online retailer with your stupid designs. Cropped jeans. Skinny jeans. Super skinny jeans. Ultra-high-waist jeans. Jeggings. Wide leg jeans. Extra wide-leg jeans. The low-rise. The high-rise. The rise-and-shine (now made without leather)…

And that’s just the jeans!

Dear God is it too much to ask for a fucking pair of trousers that go on past my feet, and go around my legs, and fasten at the waist without making me look like one of those nurses from the 90’s with those awful elastic belts, and simultaneously not gaping at the back showing my knickers to all and sundry? How hard is it to just… make a pair of jeans? I don’t want options other than “these ones will fit you”. I don’t have some weird body type. I am a normal-sized woman with average-sized bones. I am 5’6” tall so my legs are regular. I don’t want jeans that scrape the floor when I walk and therefore the seams get ruined after about three hours and I have to buy another pair. I don’t want jeans that look like someone dropped paint on them or vomited on them. I don’t want them to look like the man at the dyehouse was drunk and incompetent and somehow made the seams dark blue and a big oval around my arse light blue so everyone behind me thinks I sat in bleach.

When men buy jeans? They walk to a shelf, pick up their size, pay and leave, knowing this pair will fit exactly the same as all their old pairs did.

I want that. I want to find all the jeans and trousers in one category in any given online store, and I want two options. Jeans or trousers. We only have 500 options because every last one of them is an inadequate trade-off designed to ruin our self-esteem so we are forced to go shopping again.

I am sick of taking on the mental load of thinking about clothes. I just want to not be naked in public. That’s really all I want from my clothes. Why can’t the clothing industry make that happen with the least amount of fuss and fanfare as possible?

Could you imagine if some totally random industry, like the car industry or the gardening industry, had options as stupid as women’s trousers? They’d never get investors!

“Uh, yeah, so I want to bring out a brand of car that has seats that are too short, so the headrest stabs people in the back. I want the steering wheel to be triangular so it looks really cool but doesn’t turn the car around corners. And I want no cupholders or those little door pockets. Gloveboxes are right out. Every car owner will need to buy a trailer which will be sold separately and may or may not actually fit their phone and purse. Oh, and the paint will flake off after six months so you have to scrap it and buy a new one every year, and we’ll manufacture them in Shantytown, Nowhereistan, so those people who attend protests all bully their friends for owning our cars. For colour ranges? Why don’t we just get a cat to shit on it and sell it like that? We’ll call it post-post-postmodernism.”

“Hi, I’m designing a new seed for people’s vegetable patches. The plant will have no leaves, flower heads, fruit, vegetables or petals and the root system will only work in a climate that’s Everest in the summer and the Sahara in the winter. We’ll make it sell by removing any actual vegetables from the seed catalogue this year. Oh and we’ll size it so there’s half a seed in each packet. It will be inedible. We will call it post-foodism and target 18-25-year-old gardeners with about two acres of land who live in the inner city.”

It’s like clothing companies utterly misunderstand the average requirements of their customers. And they’re wondering how the Arcadia Group and Debenhams collapsed within about a year of each other, emptying half the British high street in any given town. We don’t want to be sold shit that is impractical and has a lifespan of about 3 months unless you wash it. There’s only so many times you can rip off customers before they just stop buying.

So if you’re a clothing designer and you just got your first big contract, how about making trousers like this:

  1. They actually fit. Around the waist and the leg. At the same time.
  2. They are made of a fabric that you can’t see daylight through when you hold it up to a window.
  3. The seams are stitched so they don’t tear apart or unravel in normal use.
  4. The button holes are big enough for the buttons.
  5. The colour is something you could see the average woman wearing on a rainy day in Sutton Coldfield or Twickenham.
  6. There are no stupid words on them. If you must put your brand name on them, the only appropriate location on trousers is a leather patch near the belt loops.
  7. Don’t ruin them by embellishing them with some stupid ribbon down the sides of the leg that means I have to buy new trousers in a year and can only wear them with two jumpers unless I buy more.
  8. Refer to an actual size chart with measurements before calling something a size 8, 10, 12, 14, 16 etc. In this day and age, people don’t want a size 8 that only fits a size 10, or a size 16 that a 12 couldn’t get into. People are shopping online and returns are expensive and make people mad because they didn’t get to wear their clothes when they wanted to. Standardize your fucking sizes. I had to send about £125 of a £200 order back to ASOS.com recently because sizing is meaningless to clothing companies. I am a very consistent middle-of-the-road 8. There is no reason for jeans to be sized with a different system to trousers, they both go on my same legs. I don’t know what a 26, 27, 28, S, R or L mean, or how you’ve sized the hips if 28 is the waist. I know I am an 8. Make trousers in an 8. Jeans are trousers, stop kidding yourself that they’re special or different.
  9. If your clothing is targeted at over 30s (which I recommend; there are a lot of us and we’d be more economically active if you sold stuff we wanted to buy), consider the fact that we are likely to have had at least one pregnancy, and therefore our ribcages and waistlines have shifted. Letting out the waists by about 1-2 inches would give a much better fit for each size.
  10. Don’t bother making clothes in a size 2. I can 100% guarantee you’ll have several thousand pairs of trousers left over in a size 2 which you won’t even be able to get rid of in a sale.

Sort your shit out and make normal trousers for normal people. What is normal? How about stop wasting time on pointless unanswerable pontifications and go make some better trousers, fashion industry!

Unkempt: Join the Thursday photo challenge!

Welcome to the weekly Thursday Photo Challenge, a weekly photography challenge for everyone who likes to take photos! Anyone can join, just follow the steps below!

This week’s challenge is unkempt.

Unkempt about those hedges blows,

An unofficial English rose.

Rupert Brooke

My photo is from a tumbledown house in County Meath, Ireland, near Newgrange.

There is a huge problem in Ireland where people have let old houses fall into such bad disrepair, but at the same time they have a housing crisis meaning a lot of people have nowhere to live. Some people think that when a house is empty, people should be allowed to live in it, which seems fair, but a lot of the empty houses are not for sale for some reason, so no one can buy them or rent them to live in!

So there are a lot of these unkempt buildings around Ireland and almost no one is doing anything to make them habitable!

Here’s how to take part:

  1. Take a photo or search your files for one that represents the week’s theme.
  2. Write a post, including your photo, any words of explanation or inspiration you wish to share, and a link to this challenge page.
  3. Comment on this post with a link to your page so others can see your contribution.
  4. That’s it! Super easy.

This challenge will stay open for one week, then next Thursday, I will post the next challenge!