Repair all the Things!

Imagine if there was a somewhere within walking distance of where you live that you could take your faulty, ripped, wonky and broken stuff to get it repaired?

This is exactly the idea behind “Repair Cafe” – and there just so happens to be one in Southampton!

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The Repair Cafe operates from the United Reformed Church in Shirley High Street on the first Saturday of the month, every month from approx 10:30am to 1pm. It is run with calm efficiency by Angela and staffed by a small squad of volunteers who attempt to help people fix things of every shape, size and description.

What kinds of things? Bikes, vacuum cleaners, laptop computers, FM/AM radios, phones, hair straighteners, sewing machines, jewelry, clothes… and probably other stuff I can’t think of.

There are also people who need help with software problems – which could range from how to download and edit a Word document to changing the font-size on their email software.

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In the most recent one in November I saw someone bring in a Betamax Video recorder. These are no longer made having lost out to VHS (which itself lost out to DVD, which itself has lost to Bluray…) It was looked at by a volunteer electronics engineer.

This comprehensize toolbox was custom-made  by the owner Neville. Very cool.
This comprehensize toolbox was custom-made by the owner Neville. Very cool.
An example of ingenuity -  this is a homebrew headtorch with magnifier lenses!
An example of ingenuity -
this is a head-torch with built-in magnifier lenses!

Yeap – you get very kind professional people giving their time for free at these places. Although I could not repair that myself, I helped this particular person by looking up local companies that do BetaMax to digital transfers – and they left happy :)

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I’ve been volunteering at the last two Repair Cafes and I can tell you that it gives a warm fuzzy feeling to help people in your local community. You also get a buzz from being a bit of a “superhero” because there are things you may know or do that might be like magical super-powers to others.

Henry vacuum cleaner getting some TLC - this picture also points out a cup of tea and brownie - did I mention that volunteers get a token for one cup of tea and cake for FREE?!?
Henry vacuum cleaner getting some TLC – this picture also points out a cup of tea and brownie – did I mention that volunteers get a token for one cup of tea and cake for FREE?!? This puts the CAFE in Repair Cafe

I mentioned Angela earlier who is the organizer. She told me that there are plenty of people in other areas of Southampton who would love to be able to bring their stuff in but are unable to drive – or would find it awkward to take their broken vacuum cleaner or bike on the bus!

I known that Angela is keen to get a repair kitchen going in the area of Bitterne.

So, this blog post is a call-to-arms to anyone out there willing to chip-in to attain that warm fuzzy “help the community” feeling I talked about.

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Be a local superhero and get in touch with the organizer Angela via email

Learn more:

Southampton Repair Kitchen on Facebook

Transition Southampton – ideas for sustainable living around Southampton

PS: I cycled to the Repair Cafe despite the rain (makes it interesting!). My slightly dodgy rear brake was looked at by the friendly bike guys – thanks guys!

In Praise of my Home Town of Southampton

When we look at the news today we often see terrible things happening in other parts of the world. Some of these are environmental (tornadoes, floods) and man-made (war, conflict). If you’re reading this in West Europe or North America you are in the top-tier of humanity in benefiting from life in a prosperous, peaceful society. This is a thought that we don’t dwell on enough in our busy daily lives. So… with that in mind, I thought it is way past time that I write something about my home town: Southampton.

OK, so technically my home town is actually a small village on the outskirts that isn’t in Southampton at all (it’s in the borough of Eastleigh – voted one of the best places to live for quality of life in the UK). Let’s not split hairs though – Southampton right? Southampton.

One of my favourite things to do is to get on my bike and cycle from my village of West End into Southampton city centre. I normally plan this to get a delicious cooked lunch or to go see a movie – or both! From the city centre you can roam around and be along the waterfront featuring huge cruise ships, survey the modern West Quay mall from the surviving ancient city walls or take a wander through an intact Tudor house and garden.

I normally do one of two routes – these Google Fit track maps roughly shows the routes – I like the second one because it takes me through a fun twisty bit through Southampton University and a pleasant track in Southampton Common. The other route takes you along the River Itchen and right by St Marys Stadium. I like to switch between the two.

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The Southampton Common portion of this track is inaccurate for some reason :/
The Southampton Common portion of this track is inaccurate for some reason :/

Anyway, it was on just such a trip recently that I decided to take photos to illustrate some of the amazing places of my home city.

So let’s imaging we’re starting off on a typical bike ride from my village of West End – this is a village with a generous green space nearby called Hatch Grange. It’s most famous inhabitant was Sir Barbe Baker also known as “Man of the Trees” for his outstanding contribution to tree conservation.

This photo (not by me) shows the spectacular avenue of tree’s in Hatch Grange during autumn:

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Let’s me detour into a mini-priase about West End village itself – from reading alot of stuff from MMM recently, he advises living “within a mile of your house” to help decrease your consumption footprint. I feel lucky where I live because in 5 minutes I can walk to the local supermarket and get everything we need for a weekly shop. There is also a super-friendly local barber (shout out to Bob the Barber at Beales ), a bakery (viennesse fingers!), a post office and even fish & chips for those Friday night splurges :)

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West End is hilly in places and that means you get some good views over the rolling hills of Hampshire
West End is hilly in places and that means you get some good views over the rolling hills of Hampshire

So back to the bike ride – I’m going to post some random photos I took from the latest ride/walk. Please check the captions for the narration ;)

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My journey took me by a boxing gym and I had a friendly chat with the owner who let me take some photos - those boxers have to be fit to move that tyre
My journey took me by a boxing gym and I had a friendly chat with the owner who let me take some photos – those boxers have to be fit to move that tyre
There is a cargo train railway connecting the docks to the wider rail network - it is always a rare sight when it is in operation and so I snapped a few photos of  the seemingly endless carriages
There is a cargo train railway connecting the docks to the wider rail network – it is always a rare sight when it is in operation and so I snapped a few photos of the seemingly endless carriages
I passed bt St Marys Church - this is near to where Southampton FC had it's original ground hence why they are nicknamed "The Saints"
I passed bt St Marys Church – this is near to where Southampton FC had it’s original ground hence why they are nicknamed “The Saints”

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The Holy Rood church is one of four major churches and it's damage from WWII is very visible. It commemorates those of died at sea.
The Holy Rood church is one of four major churches and it’s damage from WWII is very visible. It commemorates those of died at sea.
There is a long stretch of road from the watefront right through the spine of the city called the QE2 Mile - named for the royal cruise ship. This anchor for that might vessel rests here along - I caught a double-rainbow in the background :)
There is a long stretch of road from the waterfront right through the spine of the city called the “QE2 Mile” – named for the royal cruise ship. This anchor from that might vessel was donated to the city and rests here near the Holy Rood church. I caught a double-rainbow in the background :)

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Southampton has a lovely big central park which looks very striking in the autumn. Look closely and you can even find some interesting looking wildlife...
Southampton has a lovely big central park which looks very striking in the autumn. Look closely and you can even find some interesting looking wildlife…

Probably my favourite places to eat is Mettricks – this is a locally-owned small chain of tea & coffee houses. What I like about them is the fact that they source ingredients from local farms and that they make sure to treat their staff like family. This means to get happy staff and good service and from going there for the last year I can certainly verify that. It also just has a nice cosy atmosphere and the coffee is superb. Best in Southampton in my humble opinion. Below are some photos from the Guildhall branch – this is probably my favourite one because of the spacious upstairs seating area. Try the Met fruit’n’oat bar for a nice after-meal dessert :)

Here are some photos – notice the bookshelf of board games and the trndy lighting. The walls feature cherished photos of the Mettrick family.

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On having breakfast at the Old Town branch, I finally completed this card showing that I have visited all four Mettricks branches around the city thereby earning me a free coffee. It was a fun way challenge and got me out further out on my bike to reach the Woolston branch :)
On having breakfast at the Old Town branch, I finally completed this card showing that I have visited all four Mettricks branches around the city thereby earning me a free coffee. It was a fun challenge and got me further out on my bike to reach the Woolston branch :)
The Guidhall all shiny and fresh after the rain shower
The Guidhall all shiny and fresh after the rain shower – Mettricks can be found across Guildhall Square just to the right…

Sometimes you find weird and wonderful events in the square – this photo from late August shows “Dinner in the Sky”

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Southampton Central Mosque
Southampton has a self-sufficient Muslim community as evidenced by the large and modern central mosque
This tourist map shows most of the interesting features of the city centre
This tourist map shows most of the interesting features of the city centre
John Le Fleming, major of Southampton  in the 14th century, looking out over the city walls. I wonder what he would make of the city today...
John Le Fleming, major of Southampton in the 14th century, looking out over the city walls. I wonder what he would make of the city today…
21st century modern restaurants on the left... ancient Medieval defence walls on right
21st century modern restaurants on the left… ancient Medieval defence walls on right

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These pictures show a pub that has capitalized on the city being the maiden port of the Titanic and several restored Medieval buildings - the merchants home is definitely worth a look.
These pictures show a pub that has capitalized on the city being the maiden port of the Titanic and several restored Medieval buildings – the merchants home is definitely worth a look.
This stained glass window features four of Southamptons most famous churches - two of which feature in this blog post. This is from St Michaels church which is the oldest Medieval building in the city.
This stained glass window features four of Southamptons most famous churches – two of which feature in this blog post. This is from St Michaels church which is the oldest Medieval building in the city.

That is all for now – in the near future I’ll do a “Part 2″ from the other cycle route and snap some more photos. Then there are Southampton’s speciality shops (whole-foods, retro video games and more) to write about. Until then, let me know in the comments what you like (or don’t like) about your home town.

Financial Independance through Bad Ass-ity

I’ve been thinking a lot about financial independence these days.

One thing that has spurred these thoughts is the two periods of annual leave I took in August. During this time I didn’t go abroad, I did not go hiking to Everest and neither did I stay out late, ending every night in a drunken stupor (I don’t drink anyway). I pretty much stayed in Hampshire enjoying the simple things like walking, cycling, catching up with friends, personal projects, the odd spot of eating out and the occasional trip to London.

It was kind of bitter-sweet towards the end of each annual leave because sometimes it felt like another week would be good. Not that I hate my job, far from it, the thing I like most about my work is the people I work with – a bunch of well-balanced, talented, friendly dudes.

All this got me thinking… what would I need to do to perpetually be on annual leave? eg. have an income from something that pays ALL my expenses and simply allows me to live a fairly simple life as described above?

A bit of Googling turned up the blog of Mr Money Moustache – also known as “MMM” or “Triple-M”. I urge you to check out his “Start Here” post but in a nutshell, his idea is pretty simple: by living frugally and saving 50% of your take home salary you can be financially independent in 10 years.

OK so there is a bit more to that. For instance, living frugally might not sound like fun to some of you reading this: What about the latest iPhone I want to buy? And that car I desire? Or the latest videogames? Or that all-expenses guided luxury vacation to Veneuzela?

Well, there is nothing that terribly wrong with those things. But MMM’s point is that those things do not necessarily bring you lasting happiness. They bring short term happiness definitely but as someone who has owned a nice, fast car after a short while it becomes “just another car” – it stops being special. Then you need to save up for another more expensive, faster, more polluting car in order to get the same buzz! The scales to many things such as phones all the way up to houses and private jets (!).

The things is, after absorbing some of his posts and listening to several interviews with him on YouTube (link below) – I feel I have arrived at some of his conclusions independently and know them to be true. I’m not financially independent though – MMM is well ahead of me on that front. He retired at age 31 and by all accounts has a very happy, fulfilled life with a wife and one child all living at under $25,000 a year (that is about £18,560 in UK money).

So what do I mean by “arrived at some of his conclusions independently”? Well, here are some things I do that are in tune with the “Moustachian Way of Life” (thats what fans of MMM call it)…

* cycle as much as you can to get around – it is good for you, fun, exhilarating and you can discover some amazing short-cuts and places not far from your home.

* do not spend more than you can afford (except on big, important purchases things like your home… and maybe your car)

* if you want something, try to make use of what you have – or sell something first to justify it (I did this with video-games, complete it and sell to fund the next one – I enjoyed games much more this way)

* eat a sensible diet, preferably home cooked/prepared with lots of fresh fruit and vegetables – minimize processed food

* keep eating out to an occasional treat, not an everyday things

* if you prepare your own lunch then you can save a lot of money in a year… and you will really value eating that cooked lunch at the canteen on a Friday when you allow yourself a day off from tuna sandwiches :)

* move more – walking to get your groceries, doing your own garden work and home improvement, do not employ a cleaner

* keep fit and active, you can get your own home gym (used weights from Gumtree/eBay etc) or fit exercises into your life in novel ways

* read real books by real authors – the internet is largely advert-driven and aside from authentic writings from blogs like MMM is not something to read for self-education

* realise that spending and consuming is not a long-term, sustainable recipe for happiness

* live life in balance – consume things in moderation, do not be overly frugal

* save money where you can, in other ways be generous, especially spending on friends & family

* avoid world news topics and worrying over geo-politics you have no control over

* try to avoid convenience (eg. take the stairs rather than lift)

Do you identify with any of the above? If not, then I would urge you to try some of these things even as an experiment.

If you want to get the MMM message in a nutshell then I recommend you listen to this fascinating 30 minute interview. The key thing is that MMM is not “anti-money”, he admits of his own weaknesses which in his case is a luxury home (but attained with hard-work and developed largely by his own hard work in doing it up!). His blog message is “anti-waste” and to shine a light on the problems of over-consumption in modern American society. He seems to be very authentic in his position of being very happy living on relatively modest means – and I believe him.

Anyway, the list above shows how I’ve arrived at this mindset already. Especially the idea that consuming more shiny things does not really bring lasting happiness. That is not to say you should go without basics. However the feeling of getting shiny new car will fade after a while into just a desire for something reliable to get you from A to B. Therefore it is best to go for something sued and sensible. For me a new car does not excite me unless we’re talking a BMW i8 – even then I know the “wow” feeling will probably last a few months or so and then fade into “just another car to maintain”.

I think as one gets older, we get wiser. We know ourselves and what we can sustain, what makes us happy and what does not. You can leverage this ability to focus on the what makes you happy/unhappy to cut out the crap and double-down on the stuff that truly brings happiness. Try to calculate how much you would save over 10 years if you cut out some “expensive indulgences” and replaced them with “bad-ass” versions of them – this can range from your daily £5 latte coffee, your new expensive mountain bike (which you hardly ride anyway) to your new VW Golf which you bought on credit thinking it a good deal and “just what everyone else does” ;)

You also realize that “less is more” and the relentless march towards “faster, more convenient, smaller, cheaper” does not necessarily mean “and better for you”. Case in point: I still use a dead music format: MiniDisc.

Yep – I really enjoy MiniDisc even though I can’t fill discs like an mp3 player and I savour the time taken in crafting a disc with music I sourced for free in legal, ways. Less is more. You’d never see me with a Spotify subscription ;)

I’m not perfectly frugal though, neither am I “mustachian” (a term that describes the teachings of MMM). I could do more of my own home improvement projects. I really admire people who do their own major home improvement like Mr Money Mustache. I am making some small changes in that direction though.

Over to you, give me examples of your own “bad-assity” in the comments!

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