Daniel fasting diet part 2: Trying it for myself

I’d been very skeptical about the fasting diet my girlfriend had been trying.

She was trying a variation on the 2000 year old ‘Daniel fast’ and only allowed a limited amount of fruit and vegetables; no tea, coffee, dairy, eggs, fish/meat, or alcohol.

Side effects were exhaustion and headaches.

Why bother?

Because it was an excellent way to detox, loose weight, and potentially ‘reboot’ or ‘reset’ the human bodies immune system.

And it had seemed to work well for her, improving her skin condition.

It’s not a convenient diet to do, depending on your work, life and social situation.

But I wasn’t working that week and after seeing her positive results figured that it was worth a shot.

One axiom in life I follow is that you should try anything once. You never know unless you try.


How would I survive without my morning cuppa cha? (translation: cup of tea)

How would I cope with being hungry?

One problem I’ve suffered with pretty much all my life, or at least from my teenage years – I can’t remember much further back than that – is that I’m very regularly hungry.

I’ve never been fat as such as it just makes me feel terrible; I’ve veered towards the overweight border a few times and felt so bad I’ve quickly cut back on my eating or exercised more to get my weight under control. But I’ve struggled to keep ‘the perfect weight’ without having to be very careful with what I eat and ensure I exercise regularly – mainly because I seem to have a problem in filling myself up.

Up until recently, I’ve had to eat pretty much every 2 hours. Occasionally something would fill me up for 3; and yes, I could stuff myself to last longer but then I would feel bloated and sleepy.

It’s not that I could ignore the hunger – a deep rumbling noise that could be heard by anyone in the near vicinity would vibrate through my bowels.

And it would hurt.

If I did ignore it, it would go away. For 10-15 mins, a maximum of 30 mins.

But then it would return.

And this time it meant business.

It would really start to hurt, and I’d have to eat.

On the few occasions I’ve been caught short and was unable to eat, I’d be in pain for a while, and it would finally pass, but then my stomach would be very displeased with me. When I’d finally come to eat something, it would feel like lead in my stomach. I could then have stomach pains for the next few days.

Was something wrong with me?

My work colleague Dave would joke that I had worms and I was feeding them to keep them happy.

I knew he was joking, but I decided to do some research and even asked the doctor once.

It wasn’t that – it was just the way my stomach worked. I needed to eat regularly.

I’ve been assured that this is a healthy way of eating by my once nutritionist and fitness instructor brother.

But trying to get the balance right and eat healthily, in a work environment, or out and about, is tricky, and you end up having
unhealthy snacks.

I won’t go further into this now as I will cover it in my other posts. But recently I’d manage to ‘train my stomach’ to not have to eat so often, via a combination of the Montignac method (see Montignac Diet: Part 1 and Montignac Diet: Part 2) and using Slim XL (post/link coming soon).

Back to the Daniel Fast. I figured I’d give it a go.

Due to my recently improved diet and ability to last a bit longer between eating, I was no longer waking up starving. I was able to get up, refresh myself and dress and check my emails, before making myself a cup of hot lemon water.

Half an hour or so after this, i.e. about an hour after waking, I was starting to get hungry.

So I ate a bowl of tomatoes and onions with a dash of salt and black pepper.

Tasty, but I overdid the onions.

My stomach hurt.

It hurt for quite a while and I wasn’t too happy. I drank some more lemon juice.

Eventually my stomach started to settle. I couldn’t work out if I was hungry or it still hurt. But I concentrated on doing some work on the computer and stopped thinking about it. I had an apple herbal tea that helped settle my stomach further.

I had an apple. It went down ok.

Then some of my girlfriends delicious lecho; basically a ratatouille – i.e. a stew of onions, courgettes, tomatoes, peppers and aubergines with a bit of chilli powder and other herbs.

We’d also bought a juicer recently (see the posts Juicing: Part 1 and Juicing: Part 2) and I was drinking refreshing juicers such as apple and cucumber, or tomato, carrot and basil.

I survived the day.

I didn’t even get a headache – just a dull ache early in the evening that lasted about half an hour.

I hadn’t struggled with being hungry.

did feel absolutely bloody knackered.

I collapsed into bed and slept for about 12 hours.

I woke up feeling very refreshed the next day and got up and cracked on with a few jobs around the house.

For the first hour, I’d even forgot about drinking or eating, aside from a glass of water when I’d first woke up.

Then my stomach reminded me of his presence.

I had a lemon drink, and that kept me happy for an hour.

Then I had a bowl of tomatoes – with significantly less onion than last time. It was good.

I snacked on some carrots grated with apple.

I had a apple herbal tea.

I ate another bowl of lecho.

I snacked on some Polish fermented cabbage, a bit like sauerkraut.

I had more freshly juiced low sugar fruit and vegetables.

I didn’t worry about being too hungry; I was managing to fill myself up.

Apparently, when you are only eating food with low glycemic indexes (GI), you body thinks it’s fasting and goes into a different mode. Allegedly it stops sending the “I’m hungry” message to your brain. If I’d added oil or anything with high calories or a high GI value then my body would have stopped it’s process of burning away the bad cells – i.e. fat, damaged body cells, spots and even moles.

You can get rid of moles with this diet?

Again, I become skeptical.

However there does seem to be research that suggests this works, and that you can cure all sorts of body ailments. There’s even talk of restoring eyesight, healing scars, curing infertility, and dare I say it, healing cancer.

I quote again Dr Ewa Dabrowska from the Medical Academy in Gdansk (as in my first post):

“Contemporary civilization is associated with enormous changes in almost all areas of life, including in the field of human nutrition. Natural Foods lost their biological value being replaced by processed food; refining deprived food of precious fiber, several vitamins and micronutrients, while subjecting foods to high temperatures led to the destruction of enzymes and changes in the spatial structure of proteins. The consequence of food processing was the emergence, on the unprecedented scale, of a number of chronic “civilization” diseases of a degenerative character, such as -inflammation of atherosclerosis, and cancer. And yet 100 years ago, when food was natural, the main cause of death was infectious diseases such as influenza and tuberculosis, and not – as it is today – heart attacks and cancer.

It is known that a man as a biological creature has remained unchanged over the centuries; the cells still have the same needs in
terms of nutrients, as thousands of years ago. If a departure from nature was the cause of civilization diseases, then natural foods based on vegetables and fruits could be an example of causal treatment of these diseases.”

To do all of this though, you need to fast much longer.

I lasted 4 days – which wasn’t bad, considering I’d only meant to do 3 days.

The second day I’d been fine in terms of hunger, but had a swine of a headache for an hour in the evening.

The third day I’d been a lot hungrier, but just ate vast quantities of the delicious lecho stew. I’d been a bit tired later but had no headache.

On the final day I felt absolutely fine and celebrated with a glass of wine in the evening that went absolutely straight to my head!

I’d have been tempted to try a fifth day but we were going away for a few days and it’s just not practical when you’re not at home.

So would I do it again?

Did it cure any of my problems?

My girlfriend is going to do it on an ad-hoc basis. If she has a day where she has no customers or isn’t too busy, is at home and it’s convenient, she will do the diet for 1 day. Maybe even 2 or 3, depending on how she feels.

There’s no harm in doing it, it seems to help her, she feels absolutely fine with it and it also helps with weight loss.

As I do an office job now, with a long commute, it’s not so practical for me to do. On Saturday afternoons I pick up my daughter and look after her until Monday or Tuesday, and we’re are often out and about, and again, it’s simply not practical to do.

But on the occasional Saturday I’ll do it. Or on the occasional day when I can work from home.

Why not? I lost 2 or 3kg – that’s about 6lbs – in 3 or 4 days. And if I’m only doing the odd day here and there I won’t suffer from any headaches or tiredness.

It didn’t cure my red nose and cheeks (possibly Rosacea?) or my damaged tailbone. Nor my -8.5 eye prescription. But I didn’t
expect it to!

It seems to be helping my girlfriend with her skin condition though, so perhaps it could help you.

At the end of the day, people have been doing it for 2000 years, so why not give it a try?

More information can be found in the book Ultimate Guide to the Daniel Fast.

I just want to point out again that I am not a nutritionist, a dietician or a doctor. I’m a computer scientist! So this is just my take on things and it’s worked well for us. When dieting you should always seek professional help if in doubt.

Daniel fasting diet part 1: Fast? No chance. Me hungry!

As soon as I heard the word ‘fasting’ my thoughts were: no.

I need to eat!!

But the Daniel fast – or at least, the version my girlfriend was trying – actually allows you to eat as much as you want – but restricts you to a limited subset of allowed food.

(NB: we have since learned that to have the maximum benefit, you should also restrict the calorie intake).

The Daniel fast goes way back to bible. Now, I’m not religious, and have no interest in the diet from that side of things; but the original concept of man not being excessive and eating reasonably sits well with me.

There’s lots of evidence to prove that eating less, rather than overeating, leads to better healthy and a longer life span. Experiments were carried out on monkeys for twenty years. One group were able to eat as much food as they liked, whilst another was restricted to eating 30 percent less. The monkeys that ate more were three times more likely to suffer from diseases such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease. Half of those monkeys died in the twenty year period, whereas only 20 percent of the restricted diet monkeys died. Research also showed shrinkage in certain brain areas of the over eating group.

(NB: Other research has disputed this outcome… but that always seems to be the case with research, they often contradict… the question is which to trust?)

Healthier fasting money on the left, over eating monkey on the right
Healthier fasting money on the left, over eating monkey on the right

My girlfriend wasn’t intending to do this diet long term. She’d read something very interesting about short term fasting, in that it enables the human body and immune system to do a kind of ‘reset’ and repair itself.

Ever again the skeptic, I ummed and ahhed and wanted more evidence.

Yes, my Windows Operating System gets its knickers in a twist and a reboot will sort it out, but does the human body work in the same way?

Quite possibly.

Research has apparently shown that performing a Daniel fast – or similar style fast – has helped to cure or improve numerous skin
and health conditions in a number of people eating excessively. The reasons are due to the way our diets have changed in the last 100 years – we’re just not eating naturally anymore. I quote:

“Contemporary civilization is associated with enormous changes in almost all areas of life, including in the field of human nutrition. Natural Foods lost their biological value being replaced by processed food; refining deprived food of precious fiber, several vitamins and micronutrients, while subjecting foods to high temperatures led to the destruction of enzymes and changes in the spatial structure of proteins. The consequence of food processing was the emergence, on the unprecedented scale, of a number of chronic “civilization” diseases of a degenerative character, such as -inflammation of atherosclerosis, and cancer. And yet 100 years ago, when food was natural, the main cause of death was infectious diseases such as influenza and tuberculosis, and not – as it is today – heart attacks and cancer.

It is known that a man as a biological creature has remained unchanged over the centuries; the cells still have the same needs in
terms of nutrients, as thousands of years ago. If a departure from nature was the cause of civilization diseases, then natural foods based on vegetables and fruits could be an example of causal treatment of these diseases.”

(from Ewa Dabrowskalong-time employee of the Medical Academy in Gdansk)

My girlfriend suffers from some skin problems and also has a problem with the membrane in her nose breaking, and she was interested to give the fast a go.

The original diet has been around for more than 2000 years so it couldn’t be all that bad!

There are more extreme versions of the Daniel Fast, but she decided it was worth trying a particular method for 6 days, which I will describe.

She could eat only fruit and vegetables, but only low sugar fruit such as grapefruits, lemon, and apples, and only low Glycemic Indexes (GI) vegetables (see my posts on the “Montignac diet” for more information on GI levels: Montignac Diet: Part 1 and Montignac Diet: Part 2) – so potatoes were out.

No legumes – i.e. lentils or beans.

No rice or bread – GI levels too high.

No meat or fish.

No eggs.

No oil.

No tea.

No coffee.

No milk – no dairy at all, so no yoghurt, butter.

No alcohol!!!!

Crikey, that’s stricter than a fully vegan diet.

How could she cope eating and drinking with such restrictions for 6 days??

I couldn’t do that!

But I did… well, for 4 days. But more on that later…

So what the hell can you eat?

A great substitute for a morning cuppa was half a lemon freshly squeezed into hot water.

An hour or so later, for breakfast, a bowl of chopped tomatoes and onions. A dash of salt and pepper is allowed.

For lunch, steamed broccoli and cauliflower.

For dinner, she made a variation of the Polish dish ‘lecho‘, that was basically a ratatouille – i.e. a stew of onions, courgettes, tomatoes, peppers and aubergines with a bit of chilli powder and other herbs.

Drinks of water, or lemon hot/cold water, or herbal tea (not black tea with fruit flavours but actual herb tea – we had a lovely apple flavoured one with also happened to be a natural dieting aid, handy) were allowed.

At the end of the first day, she felt exhausted. On this diet you are taking in significantly less calories than the body normally needs and a side effect can be lack of energy.

But she hadn’t been hungry. She’d made a huge batch of lecho which she could ‘snack’ on, and the cherry tomatoes we’ve discovered at a local fruit and veg shop are just amazing; they taste so fresh and juicy, almost as good as the ones I’ve eaten fresh in Mediterranean climates, so she was quite happy to keep eating those.

She was also able to snack on apples, carrots (raw) and fermented cabbage (think German sauerkraut). We’d also bought a juicer recently (see the posts Juicing: Part 1 and Juicing: Part 2) and we were making delicious tomato and carrot, or apple, carrot and basil juices.

The second day she got the first headache.

These can be side effects of the diet, and another reason I didn’t fancy trying it.

But they only last an hour or so (bear in mind you’re not allowed to take any pills or supplements!) and then pass. At the end of the second day she was even more shattered, and to be honest, looked pretty bad.

My skepticism grew.

However, by the third day, apart from a small headache in the evening, she was fine. She also reported that the skin in her nostril had practically healed – it normally took weeks before it healed after cracking. Was the ‘reboot repair’ working already?

It wasn’t even supposed to work that quickly, so she was even skeptical herself – but nonetheless happy!

Her skin on her back though wasn’t looking good, but she wasn’t worried. One of the side effects is that the condition can get
worse before getting better.

The last 3 days of the fast proceeded smoothly. Her stomach had become accustomed to the diet and she was needing to eat less,
wasn’t feeling hungry, having any more headaches or feeling tired. She lost some weight and felt good.

Her nose had healed!

And her skin on her back was much better.

One thing to note at this stage: this is not a practical diet.

Depending on your work/love/family/social life, this can be very inconvenient.

There’s practically nothing you can eat if you’re eating out.

If you’re at work all day and have limited kitchen facilities you’re in a mess. If you’re tired and have headaches in the afternoon it’s not ideal when you’re at work, and potentially dangerous if you have a long commute.

If you have children and they’re eating a typical diet it’s hard not to finish off their leftovers or have a lick of their ice cream. Again, if you have a headache and no energy in the afternoon and have a young child demanding attention, forget it!

If you are single and out every few nights with friends or on dates, it can be hard not eating out and not drinking alcohol.

My girlfriend was in the early stages of her new business and although she had taken plenty of future bookings, was pretty much
free for at least a week, so it was a good time for her to do the diet.

After her good results and the fact that I was currently not working either (I had some work lined up but not for a few weeks) I figured that I would give it a go for 3 days. Her lecho had been damn tasty and I was quite happy to eat that, and I’d been drinking too much wine recently and a detox would do me no harm.

I will shortly post how I got on.

For further reading, try The Daniel Fast: Feed your soul, strengthen your spirit, and renew your body.

I just want to point out again that I am not a nutritionist, a dietician or a doctor. I’m a computer scientist! So this is just my take on things and it’s worked well for us. When dieting you should always seek professional help if in doubt.

The effects of food on your skin: healthy eating

I never realised how much eating the right food could affect your skin.

Everyone’s heard the old saying, “You are what you eat“. And it’s not just a fable that if you eat too many carrots, you will turn orange – the high beta-carotene content means that if you eat a sufficient amount, your skin will take on an orange pigmentation.

I also knew that too much chocolate and other junk food could make your skin greasy.

What I hadn’t realised was how sensitive your body really is to the fuel you supply it until recently when we experimented on my daughter.

I will rephrase that.

My six year old daughter suffers from a mild eczema. She gets an itchy rash on the insides of her arms, and sometimes on her back and the backs of her knees. She has had this for a few years, and when younger would scratch it excessively, making it much worse and sore.

The doctor advised the usual creams and to some extent they have helped soothe the itching, but they never really prevented it.
DoubleBase was probably the best. My daughter being a little older now has more control over scratching it, but on occasions when it becomes particularly itchy, sometimes succumbs.

In spring this year my girlfriend and I went on holiday with my daughter to Portugal for about 6 days. Her skin was particularly
bad at this stage and the sun tan lotion caused it to itch further.

The first two days were a typical holiday. We ate ice cream, lots of sugary desserts, and my daughter regularly ate sweets from
the resort shop.

Her rashes became very angry looking and the itching almost unbearable.

My girlfriend also suffers from a skin condition and after avoiding ‘bad’ foods and potential allergens such as seafood and nuts, her skin had improved.

Also aware of the fact that sugary foods tended to make my daughter rather hyperactive, and with the combination of a day in the heat of the sun tiring her out resulting in unpredictable behaviour and sleeping patterns, we decided to adopt a much healthier diet for the next 4 days.

No sweets or lollipops, no ice creams, no sugary desserts.

Fortunately for me, my daughter is very logically minded and listened to the plan with reason; after all, the itching was driving her mad. She also loves tomatoes and fruit so we were able to keep her happy with healthy alternatives.

At the end of the holiday, even after using sun lotion and the occasional dip in the chlorine filled pool (which also seems to be a source of irritation), her skin was much better.

Did the diet help? Or was it just that the Mediterranean sun had healed her skin?

A few weeks passed and then she went away for a weeks holiday with her Mum, visiting her Grandmother.

Her Grandmother owns the village store, that stocks a mouth watering array of sweets, chocolate and cakes.

My daughter came back with her skin worse than ever.

A healthy diet for a few weeks and her skin cleared up again.

True, sun tan lotion may be playing a factor too; we try and use a mineral based one now. It seems pretty clear though from the combinations of food and lotions that food is playing a major role in her skin condition.

We now maintain as healthy a diet as we can. She used to get a sweet every morning from ‘the sweet fairy’ if she’d been good/got ready on time/cleaned her room etc. I’ve now phased that out, and try to avoid giving her sweets at all. If I do, I go for the ‘healthiest’ ones without preservatives, unnatural colourings and fake sugars (sugar is better than most of the alternatives). Her mum or other relatives occasionally give them to her so I don’t feel she’s missing out; I’m just trying to reduce the overall negative side effects on her.

Don’t get me wrong: on a sunny day, if we pass an ice cream van, we won’t say no.

On a rainy day, if we pass a coffee shop and there’s a particularly appealing looking chocolate cake, we won’t say no.

But we are more reasonably in general and we won’t ‘pig out’ as often as we used to, and we will share a cake, rather than over eating. If there’s several we like and we can’t choose, previously we’d get them all!! Nowadays I argue that we will come back in a few weeks and try the others.

She asked me the other day why she no longer got “sweets from the fairy”. I reminded her of the holiday and the trip to her Grandmothers and the effect that ‘bad’ food had on her skin. She accepted this and has only mentioned it a couple of times since, with the occasional sad ‘awww‘ sound, but gets over it quickly, and is mollified by the occasional ice cream. She also has a dollop of honey on her yoghurt most days – although I only give her half the amount I used to and she doesn’t seem to have noticed.

Besides, honey is a natural sugar – its the sweets, processed food and other junk food containing the preservatives, colouring and chemical Es that I believe are the source of the problem.

We’ve also cut back on juices; the sugar content is way too high (there was an interesting photo on Facebook showing sugar content in popular drinks: Sugar in drinks). She’s always loved lemons and
is very happy with our ‘home made lemonade’ drink which is simply half a lemon squeezed into soda water. It’s a little sour for some, but she loves it – and it’s very healthy. Although it’s not so good for her teeth so I’m making sure she at least uses a straw!

She still has some dry patches on her arms that occasionally itch, but the bad bits of the back of her knees have gone and it’s rare that her back is affected.

So the next time your skin looks or feels bad, don’t reach for the creams – think about what you ate over the last few days, and try to eat healthier food.

The Pool Obsession part 3: The Pool House

After the disaster of the 24 x 12 foot Intex Ultra Frame Pool I decided to be more realistic.

Buying a pool big enough to swim in required far too large a volume of water to heat.

In the UK climate, that’s going to be expensive to install or to run.

I opted to have something to just cool off in, and forget swimming. I was working somewhere with a gym and pool directly opposite the office, so my swimming urges were satiated.

The 10ft Intex Easy Set Pool beckoned me again; I could buy one for only £35 now! (sometimes cheaper to buy for more with a filter pump then separate later).

This time though, I’d do it properly.

I had a perfect size, level concrete slab patio at the end of my garden, behind the garage. I would utilise a cheap Intex (i.e. same brand – same connections/plumbing!!) pool pump and electric heater which I could power from the garage without any additional electrical requirements.

I bought a vinyl pool cover to keep the leaves out. I considered a saltwater chlorination system, but for a pool that size realised it would be easy enough to keep clean using the chemicals and the cover.

Of course the cover was rubbish.

An 11ft diameter circle of vinyl is bloody tricky to stretch over a 10ft ‘floppy’ pool. Especially when windy. It also kept falling off. When it did stay on, rainwater would build up in huge puddles, stretching and damaging the vinyl.

I’d already started building a hexagonal frame around the pool to make it look nicer and to be able to sit on the sides. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m no carpenter; but I was single, working from home often, and had plenty of spare time – so I managed to knock together a suitable frame.

With this frame in place I was able to build a two-halves wooden vinyl covered structure as a better pool cover.

My intex pool frame & cover
My intex pool frame & cover

Well, I’d hoped it would be better.

The completed frame
The completed frame

It needed to be light enough to be able to lift on and off easily, yet heavy enough to not be blown about in the wind. The end result just about worked, but again, rain water would build up on the vinyl section and it ended up stretching. The poor joints (hello, not a carpenter!) soon came loose and the frames fell apart.

The location of the pool directly below pine trees didn’t help; the pool water got filthy.

The solution?

Build a roof over the pool.

At first I envisaged this as a simple four post structure with a sloping plastic roof, something I would build myself.

I studied the area and worked out how I could build a stable structure.

I couldn’t, really. I would need some more solid walls.

Then I thought to myself, why not enclose the whole pool, and build a greenhouse around it?

I’d already had the idea of filling the gaps between the wooden shell and the pool with insulation to help prevent heat loss; putting the whole pool in a greenhouse would actually help heat the pool!

However, greenhouse glass is incredibly flimsy, and dangerous – considering my young daughter would also be playing in this. Most
greenhouses would also be too small to accommodate it.

It would need a sturdier, larger solution – more like a conservatory.

Here I stopped myself. Costs were spiralling!

I considered a plastic/perspect type conservatory/greenhouse. But that would look naff.

So I decided to build a wooden framed enclosure with several windows and a glass roof that could open when it got too warm.

This was way beyond my abilities so I got in three tradespeople to quote building a large ‘shed’ around the pool.

The first two guys quoted around £1500-£2000 which was way beyond what I’d hoped to pay.

Even the third guys quote of £800 was more than I wanted to pay, but I knocked the price down by a couple of hundred pounds by
using corrugated plastic rather than glass in the windows and roof.

I was quite disappointed with the result though and perhaps shouldn’t have gone for the cheapest option.

The windows look a bit, well, crappy, in corrugated plastic. You can’t see through them properly and they don’t have the same heating ability of glass.

They were also far too small. The “pool house” (ooo, fancy) was a bit dark – I’d imagined a light and airy enclosure.

Getting a soaking in the pool house
Getting a soaking in the pool house

The roof window was also really difficult to open, and only opened a fraction.

However, the principle issue of keeping the leaves and flies out was solved!

Enter the spiders.

I don’t know if I have suicidal or accident prone spiders in my garden, but the number of dead spiders I find in my pool is disturbing. I regularly have to fish them out with a net; actually my daughter quite enjoys helping me with this!

The heating was vastly improved too now; and late in the summer of 2012 my daughter and I enjoyed several days splashing around in the pool.

The next summer though I hardly used the pool.


Quite a few reasons… it wasn’t a great summer; if there were hot, dry days then they usually weren’t in sequence, so the pool hadn’t time to heat up enough… and those days spent with my daughter we spent on days out, making the most of the weather. I was single/dating and kept busy for the rest of the weekend and the evenings. Even though I worked from home a couple of days a week, I was busy with other projects.

I also went on holiday a lot that year.

Later, I painted the interior a light blue to brighten it up. However, the moisture built up and black and green mould started to grow on the ceiling. A lot of scrubbing and effort later, I managed to clean it up and re-painted it, mixing in an anti-mould paint additive.

It didn’t work too well though, so I now leave the windows open to reduce moisture build up. This is of course means though that the heat doesn’t build up, and on those odd days I think “let’s use the pool!“, it’s not warm enough.

We come to the present day and I still have my “pool house” and it’s collection of cobwebs and dead spiders.

The roof now leaks from rain, although that’s not a major concern. However the lack of light and general gloominess makes it rather undesirable.

This spring, I spent several weeks searching for a company that could fit a new, slide to open, glass roof.

Such a company doesn’t seem to exist.

Several glazers, shed companies and other random tradespeople refused even to come and have a look at it. “Ooo that’s not something we do“. So I started looking for a sliding window frame – such as many be fitted in a loft or top floor apartment, with the idea of purchasing one and getting a local builder to fit it.

Crikey they’re expensive.

Most of the designs are electric powered sliding systems for luxury homes. It was very hard to find a simple manual slide open window of a suitable size, and even that wasn’t cheap. The best solution I could find was 1960s VW campervan sliding window!! But they were a little small and how the hell would I fit them to the ceiling?

The madness had to stop.

I have left the pool house as it is.

We have hardly used it this summer.

We have had many days in a row that have been sufficiently warm to use it, but again, have been busy with other projects. We managed to take quite a few weekends away, so have fulfilled our swimming pool urges for this year.

Last month the weather was hot and my daughter was with me and asked if we could use the pool. I’d recently bought a saltwater chlorination system (the idea being if we’d got a proper glass roof, we could dual up it’s role as a greenhouse and grow tomatoes, and I didn’t want chlorine and other chemicals in the air around the plants) so the pool water was constantly clean and she was convinced the water was warm enough.

I wasn’t. So I kept my t-shirt and shorts on and she happily splashed around for 10 minutes or so.

Splashing me in the process of course, and I got cold and came out.

I asked if she was cold and she denied it, but 5 minutes later I saw her teeth chattering so fished her out.

So what does the future hold for my pool house?

At this stage, I don’t think it’s worth spending money on. We’re not using it often enough. If we can find a cheap glass roof solution and double up it’s purpose as a greenhouse, that would be a good way to go. But we’d need someone to fit it, and fit a new door, as access to the plants would be impractical in the current set up. So it’s more money.

I’d rather spend the money to go on holiday and use a real pool.

My god! Am I becoming sane in my old age?!

The Pool Obsession part 2: Plumbing Nightmares

In the spring of 2008 I had carried out almost a years worth of research on home swimming pools and had purchased what I believedto be the perfect solution for only £800: A 24ft x 12ft Intex Ultra Frame Pool.

Although of course, it cost a lot more than that.

The Intex 24 x 12 ft monster
The Intex 24 x 12 ft monster

I needed a filter pump to keep it clean. The cheapest with a suitable flow rate was a sand filter pump for £300. The sand itself cost another £55.

I figured having lights in the pool would be great for the evening – they set me back another £200.

Then there was a cover to consider; I wanted to keep the leaves out. I bought a huge roller and solar bubble cover. The idea was that with the cover on, the sun heated the air bubbles on the cover which in result heats the pool slightly. Getting a 24x12ft cover off the pool manually would be a pain, hence the roller system.

Keeping leaves off would only be half the problem. I still had to maintain the water cleansliness. I could do this through the use of water tester strips to check ph and other important levels and then add the relevant chemicals and consult online charts. There was a whole science to this and I spent many hours studying the complexities. I eventually found out about something called a saltwater chlorinator system that sounded much easier, but decided to cut the spending for now and maybe purchase later if it became too much to manage.

An additional cost was the levelling of the garden. Recalling the large effect even a slight incline had made on a relatively small pool, I realised that a level surface would be critical to a pool of this size. We drafted in a couple of guys for a day to level off the garden and lay a solid sand base, and take away the excess earth. I can’t recall how much this cost, but I don’t believe it was as cheap as I would have liked.

So what else did I need to spend money on?

An outdoor waterproof electrical system was required. The heat pump and filter pump needed a safe electricity supply that could
operate outdoors. A suitable panel was bought at cost of something horrendous like £500 if I recall correctly, and then I had to pay for the electrician to fit it.

Anything else to buy?

A heater.

Ah, the heater.

The critical element to the whole picture.

The main problem with my previous 10 foot, 2500l (550 UK gallons) pool had been the water temperature – particularly important in
the UK climate!

How was I going to heat a 24 x 12ft 32,000l (7000 UK gallons) pool?

Well, I’d done my research.

Electric heaters were the simple option, but only really worked for smaller pools. They were cheap to buy, but the heat output was minimal, and they cost a fortune to run.

Gas heaters were the supreme option. These heated up a pool the quickest and were more efficient to run. But the outright purchase cost of these were extortionate.

Surely there was a middle ground?

Enter the wondrous technological miracle that is the Heat Pump.

A heat pump works in the opposite way to a fridge. Instead of using electricity to turn outside warm air into cold air, it turns outside cold air into warm air.


Many people in the US and Canada were already using heat pumps attached to their houses to provide warmth in winter. Recently the
technology had been adopted for swimming pool heaters, particularly in Canada.

The heat pump used a measly amount of electricity so was incredibly cheap to run. However, it also output a measly amount of heat. The idea was that you would leave it running constantly and it would gradually heat up your pool.

Sounded like the solution for me.

Some of them though were as costly as gas heater. However, after much digging, I eventually found a suitable heat pump for £1500 (they’re cheaper these days, see here).

Ok, it was twice as much as the pool itself cost. But it was the best solution; and the total cost of my purchases was around three and a half grand – surely you couldn’t buy a complete pool solution with heater, that size, for any less?

Indeed you couldn’t.

That’s because my solution didn’t work.

I’d saved huge costs by shopping around, buying different parts from different suppliers.

It seemed the Americans, Europeans and Chinese all used different sized pipes and plumbing fittings.

So nothing fit together.

I spent another small fortune on pipes and connectors, trying to piece the giant puzzle together. I’d figure I’d need one part and order it, only for it to arrive a week later to find that it didn’t fit after all or I would need an additional part for it to work.

Eventually, I bolted, screwed, glued and jammed all the equipment and plastic piping together. I’d even had to build a small shed to house the pump and heating systems, as a lean-to at the back of the house. If the ugly grey vinyl monstrosity of a pool in the back garden wasn’t exactly a pretty sight, then my lean-to shed, also visible from the kitchen window, wasn’t helping matters.

I started to fill the pool.

37 hours later (yes, that’s right, thirty-seven hours) the pool was more or less full.

The pool filled
The pool filled

I opened the values to let the water flow through the pipework to the pump and heater.

And closed them again immediately after being sprayed with water from (several) leaks.

After repairing the leaks, I tried again.

The leaks weren’t so bad this time, but they were still present, and at multiple junctures. The sheer volume and pressure of the water was too much for my bodge job piping to cope with.

The leaks were significant enough to not be able to run the system; too much water would be lost over time and air bubbles in the pump could also cause damage. I had to repair the leaks.

Usually the bodge job fittings I’d made were from parts sourced from eBay and B&Q plumbing spares. All attempts over the next few weeks failed; I couldn’t fix the leaks using these solutions.

I had to go to the Australian Navy!

Well, not literally. But I found a product that they used to fix leaks in their ships. It was a resin soaked bandage that you wrapped around the leak, soaked with water, waited, and it set hard. It wasn’t cheap but I had ran out of options.

At this stage, I was getting somewhat stressed. Spring had passed and we were in the critical summer period. Also, I hadn’t had time to attempt any ‘camouflage’ to make the pool look better and the missus wasn’t happy with the ugly beast ruining her view. Worse still, I was spending so much time on the pool I wasn’t helping as much as I should with the baby either.

This solution had to work.

It didn’t.

Well… it worked on some of the fittings. In places it dribbled at a rate I could ignore; in some places I had to redesign it completely and buy new piping and re-glue. If I ever get offered a ride in an Australian Navy boat though, I’ll give it a miss.

Unable to run the pump to mix chemicals, the pool had gone green by this stage.

Come on in, the water's lovely!
Come on in, the water’s lovely!

In July I’d decided to purchase the saltwater chlorination system as opposed to using chemicals; the idea is that an electric current passes through an electrolytic cell, electrifying the salt water to turn salt in your water (at a concentration much less than sea salt and barely tastable) into chlorine. Salt is composed of sodium and chlorine; by passing a current through it the salt temporarily breaks down into chlorine (and sodium); thus cleaning the water passing through; before turning back to saltwater.


Except this had further complicated my pipework and I couldn’t run it until the pipework was sorted!

By the time I got the plumbing (more or less) fixed and I was able to run the system and clean the water, summer had passed.

I tried to use the heat pump but it was autumn and she didn’t seem up to the job; it was barely raising the temperature by a degree or two.

Dejected, I waited for the next season to be able to use my pool.

The water was a 'tad' cold in my pool...
The water was a ‘tad’ cold in my pool…

Meanwhile, I’d been trying to make the pool ‘prettier’. The original plan had been to build an edging around 50cm deep at the height of the pool all around it on which you could sit and dangle your feet in.

This was beyond my carpentry skills though.

The next idea was more along the idea of fence panelling. It would border the entire pool to mask the vinyl sides, and have a small overhang to hide the top rim of the pool.

Again, it looked tricky or expensive to do, and winter was coming.

The wife at the time, desperate to make the most of a bad situation, had a solution. We could lay (relatively cheap) trellis panels on the metal side supports and plant creepers that would grow up the sides of them, masking a significant part of the pool to merge it more into the green garden.

Good idea in theory, but the creepers took forever to grow, and in some cases, didn’t grow at all.

Spring 2009 came around and I was desperate to try my over sized paddling pool.

I fired up the heat pump and watched the temperature climb.


Oh, so very slowly.

One spring day, the temperature outside reached 25 degrees celsius.

A lovely day for a dip!

Not in my pool it wasn’t. It was far too cold still.

Was I doing something wrong with the heat pump? No, it all looked good… I could feel that some warmer water was coming out of it… but it didn’t seem to be able to cope; especially overnight. I’d loose the vast majority of any heat gained.

I kept my solar cover on, but this didn’t help with the heat loss. On sunny days, I’d lift the cover and put my fingers in the pool, to find the water a lovely warm temperature.

For the first two centimeters.

Dipping my hand lower resulted in a cold shock. The cover was only warming the very top layer of water and the main pool water was still very cold.

It was then I realised my mistake.

Heat pumps are designed for in-ground pools.

Not for above-ground pools.

All my heat was escaping through the thin vinyl sides of the pool.


The heat pump was doing its job correctly; using minimal electricity and topping up the pool temperature by about 1 or 2 degrees daily.

Through the night though, it was unable to contest with the cold spring temperatures and the heat loss though the sides of the pool.

Would it cope in summer?

Thankfully, it did. The summer weather heated the pool water and the evenings became milder; the heat pump was just about able to fight off the heat loss. The water temperature rose to a pleasant, even warm, level!

I was able to swim!!

Finally enjoying a swim in my own pool!
Finally enjoying a swim in my own pool!

It was amazing. The water was just the right height to swim comfortably in, and being able to do about 7 full breast strokes from
one end to the other before having to turn around was just about long enough to have a good 20 minutes blast of solid swimming in.

My Dad came round as soon as he heard the good news, and was in the pool before I’d even had the chance to say “come on in, the water’s lovely”. Being 12ft wide, there was room for us to both swim side by side.

I was living the dream!

I had my own swimming pool in my back garden!!

I tried my original plan of waking up and having a swim before work. It was only just bearable though on the warmest days. A swim after work was better but again it had to be a significantly hot day and the sun still out.

I worked from home occasionally for a period at that point; this was ideal. At lunch time I’d go straight outside and spend an hour in the pool.


Summer passed too quickly.

The heat pump couldn’t cope with the quickly cooling evenings, and the water became too cold for me to swim.

Dammit dammit dammit.

What could I do?

Buy a gas heater?

Nope. I was skint.

Summer 2008 has presented Europe with an economic crash.

My contract had ended and wasn’t renewed; I had been out of work for 5 months, finally getting a new permanent job in February 2009. It didn’t pay as well as contracting though, and the bills had mounted from the 5 months I’d been out of work.

Then we decided to move house.

The pool had to go.

I’d considered trying to take it apart and transport to the next house, but the wife wouldn’t hear about it. It just wasn’t practical, and it was a waste of money. Couldn’t we sell the damn thing?

At first I dismissed the thought: how could I sell my rather dodgy bespoke above ground pool system? The best bet was to just sell it with the house. The estate agent though decided that it wouldn’t increase the value of the house at all. In fact, it may put people off.

So I figured I’d try selling it on eBay.

And it worked!

Someone bought it, and took the entire system back to Yorkshire with him. He didn’t pay much more it in the end; yet I bet he’s still cursing me for buying such a contraption.

The question in my mind though was: how do I install a cheap but optimal pool system in the next house?

My obsession was rudely interrupted by the break up of my marriage.

I’m not going to discuss such a personal thing as my separation and eventual divorce on here, and the reasons leading to it, but I’m pretty sure my pool obsession hadn’t helped matters.

Actually I’d become a bit obsessed about many things and when 6 months later a new girlfriend accused me of having OCD, it hit me
that she was actually probably right. That’s when I was forced to reinvent myself – but that’s an entirely different story!

I lived with my Dad for a year before buying my own house.

2 years later and several dry hot summers passed; I needed a pool again.

But this time I would be more realistic… Part 3 coming up soon 🙂

The Pool Obsession part 1: The Beast

A midlife crisis during 2008 resulted in me erecting a 24 foot by 12 foot 32,000 litres (7000 UK gallons) swimming pool in my back garden, causing endless expenditure of money and stress.

My obsession started in, I believe, 2006.

The summer was hot and dry and I longed to cool off in the sea or a pool.

We tried to go away to the coast at the weekends, but we were either busy, or the weather was happened to be bad the times we were free, or at the coast.

I sat in our spacious back garden sweltering in the sun one evening thinking that I just needed to dip my feet in some cool water. The idea of bringing out a washing up basin to put my feet into popped into my head. This brought back childhood memories of padding pools.

Why didn’t I buy a paddling pool?

Because they were for children… I need something bigger. I needed an adult sized paddling pool.

I then had a flashback of something I’d seen on one of the ‘toys for boys’ type websites I’d been looking at the previous Christmas to buy my brother and Dad something suitable; I’d seen an adult sized paddling pool.

I ran inside and checked the web; yes, you could buy a 10 foot diameter pool for your garden for only £50!

Said pool was duly ordered and delivered only a couple of days later.

I unpacked my Intex Easy Set 10 foot paddling pool and followed the instructions on how to inflate and fill. Ok, it needs to be on a flat surface… that’s fairly obvious I guess. I decided my lawn would do the job nicely. I found the flatest area, spread the pool out, inflated the sides and fetched the hose.

And waited.

And waited.

2 hours later it looked rather disappointing; I had a floppy looking vinyl ring with a small puddle in it. It seems that 2500 litres (550 UK gallons) of water is actually quite a lot of water, and my garden hose was failing to deliver it in a timely manner.

I did a quick calculation of how much time the hose had been running and how full it was so far and decided it was safe to leave on overnight.

The next morning I got up and got ready for work, and checked the pool before I left.

It was looking better… but rather lopsided. The inflatable top ring hadn’t taken much effect until more water had filled out the sides and was now taking on some shape, but at a sickening looking angle. One vinyl side looked quite solid and the other was still very floppy looking; it seems that my lawn wasn’t quite as flat as I had hoped.

I had to get to work though so I switched off the hose and headed off, eager for the day to pass quickly so I could play with my new toy.

As soon as I got home I took a better look at the pool.

It was decidedly wonky. The almost imperceptible slope of the garden was significantly visible when such volumes of water are involved. It didn’t look good. Still, it could be filled further, so I hoped it may straighten out a bit.

What worried me though was the wrinkles and creases on the base of the pool. You were supposed to keep straightening it out by pulling the sides and standing in the pool to smooth them out whilst filling. I’d been pulling the sides during the first few hours of filling but it had been a bit chilly that evening so I’d not fancied getting in it.

After the overnight filling, it was now too heavy to move the sides by pulling them, so I took of my shoes and socks, rolled up my jeans and jumped in.

Sheesh that was cold. Had I added ice or something?

I attempted to smooth out the creases – nothing happened. There was simply too much weight of the water preventing me from
straightening it. Oh well; it would be fine. I continued to fill it for a few more hours.

It looked rather poorly. The volume of water pushed against one side so much that it lifted the inflatable top ring from the other side at a drunken looking angle.

But that didn’t matter. I now had a pool!

I took a photo and showed my work colleagues who nicknamed her ‘The Beast‘.

I waited eagerly for the hot weekend.

Of course, that weekend wasn’t so hot.

It was pleasant enough, but hopping in the pool even with shorts and a t-shirt on was pretty cold.

A week passed, and the pool started to look rather dejected.

Leaves and dead flies floated in the cold waters. The weekend passed and we didn’t use it.

By the middle of the next week, the water was starting to go green.

I’d read about pool maintenance; the use of chlorine and ideally a pool pump. It seems I could skimp on all that and just use bleach; but I was a bit scared of getting it wrong.

I decided that the best option was to start again.

Using a patch of land we had dug up to one side with the original intention to grow plants, we straightened out the land as best
we could. Our neighbour was throwing away a huge amount of old magazines and we decided to use these to pad out and level the
land as best as we could.

As the pool was filled, we stretched and pulled and smoothed the bottom all weekend long.

The end result was much better; although admittedly the pool still had a distinct lean to one side.

A hot day came and we were just about able to bear sitting down in the pool; it was bloody freezing though.

'The Beast' - my first 10 foot Intex pool
‘The Beast’ – my first 10 foot Intex pool

I looked into pool heaters but the cost was to purchase and then run was beyond my pay packet. Trying to ‘top up’ the pool with a
kettle/saucepan was a joke; the volume of hot water to cold water was so insignificant as to have no effect whatsoever.

However, we then proceeded to have several hot days one after another.

The pool water began to warm up.

One balmy night, we invited our neighbours over to join us for a few drinks on our newly constructed patio (which also had a distinctive lean to one side… perhaps me and my mate shouldn’t have drank 20 cans of beer between us whilst building it…?). A few drinks quickly descended into, how would I put it, ‘a right royal piss up?‘.

My wife at the time, the neighbour, her daughter & her boyfriend, and I, all ended up in the pool.

It was great fun. It wasn’t so hot by that time of evening, but the alcohol had lowered our objection to the cool water and we
probably spent an hour or two in there.

That was the last time we’d use it.

The water went green a few days later and I emptied the pool ready for the next warm spell.

We didn’t have one that year.

By summer 2007 we had moved house and every spare moment at home was spent renovating our new house. The pace had to be picked up when we learned that a baby was on our way.

The old pool had become mouldy and spider infested over the autumn/winter and we had decided to throw it away during the house move. We were so busy that there would have been no time to use one anyway.

But the idea had not gone from my head.

In my spare time when I wasn’t decorating, I was on the internet, researching swimming pools.

My ideas were grander. I was earning good money at work. Could I fit a proper swimming pool in my back garden??


A ‘proper’ swimming pool was going to cost at least £25,000. I couldn’t afford that. Well, perhaps I could, if I saved hard… but a baby was on the way, and was a pool really practical in England, with all the rain and cold weather?

Yet I couldn’t shake the idea off. I wanted a pool. I didn’t want another ‘adult sized paddling pool’. I wanted a real pool; I
wanted to be able to swim!!

Through my entire childhood our family would go on caravanning holidays, many many times a year. If we weren’t at the seaside,
there was usually an indoor swimming pool, or even an outdoor one, should the weather permit. I loved swimming. My Dad had been
into scuba driving, and had been keen to get my brother and I into swimming at an early age.

I admit that I didn’t take to the water immediately; as a young child I was terrified and hated water in my eyes, whereas my younger brother took to it like a fish. Eventually I overcame my fears and genuinely thank my father for getting me into the joy of water. One of the most joyous moments in my life was this summer when I swam in the sea with my own daughter for the first time.

Since my teenage years, wherever I found water, I would swim in it: sea, lakes, rivers. Although I’m a bit put off rivers after the water snakes in Italy… but that’s other story.

I’d also got quite into my fitness and knew that swimming was excellent exercise. If I could wake up in the morning, have a swim
in my own back garden, every day, that would be worth it for the health benefit alone, right?

The wife wasn’t so convinced. We certainly couldn’t justify spending £25,000.

So I went back to the research.

It seemed you could buy bigger versions of the ‘adult sized padding pool’ in which I could potentially swim. They all looked ‘floppy’ or naff though and still weren’t ‘proper’ pools.

One of the main problems with ‘in ground pools’ is the sheer volume of earth that has to be dug up and removed. Apparently this is very time consuming and is one of the main expenses.

The pools that then took my attention were ‘above ground pools’ (AGPs). There were the inflatable/vinyl style pools, the big
brothers of my original ‘adult sized paddling pool’, but I fancied something a bit flasher. I found some plastic and wooden AGPs
that looked absolutely beautiful.

Problem was, they still cost around £10,000 – £15,000.

I eventually found some in the £5000 – £8000 range which I seriously considered.

The main issues were that these were round in shape.

This meant that unless I bought a significantly large one, I wouldn’t practically be able to swim in it. I needed a long, thin pool.

We were also planning the layout of our new garden and a round pool didn’t fit conveniently.

What if I could find a suitable vinyl sided pool (ugly) but build a wooden frame around it?

I eventually stumbled back across the 24ft x 12ft Intex Ultra Frame Pool.

I’d originally seen this baby when looking for an upgrade from the original 10 foot pool. It was a huge beast, and not particularly attractive with its grey vinyl sides and metal support bars, but with some fencing or decking panels around it could be made to look much more impressive…

It was a good size too: 24 foot (7.3m) long and 52 inches (1.3m) deep meant I could actually swim: once she was up and running I was able to do a good 7 breast strokes from one end to the other before having to turn around.

It was rectangular, thin and long, so could fit in the garden well – just.

And best of all? It was only £1200…

In March 2008 I made the purchase, having found it at a reduced price of £800.


Well… it wasn’t quite as cheap as that, as you’ll see in my next post…

How to save on car insurance (and bike insurance)

Car insurance is one of the biggest headaches for many motorists, but through the years I’ve learned a few useful money saving tips I’d like to share.

My first car cost as much to insure as it did to buy: about £350. This was back in 1995 as a 17 year old lad for a 1980 1 litre Austin Metro. It’s worse though for the youth of today; we’re talking one to two grand in insurance for a similar modern equivalent depending on various factors.

One solution for younger drives is to not insure themselves, but be named on their parents policy. To do this though, it really needs to be your parents car and not your own, the theory being you’re not the main driver, and hence the insurance cost is reduced as the risk is then reduced – the younger driver considered to be only using the car on an occasional basis.

Another problem with this though is that you don’t build up any no claims bonus (although the fact that you’ve driven on someone elses policy/another car is usually taken into account when you come to insure yourself in later years).

On the flip side, it may be worth adding a parent to the young drivers insurance policy: the risk is lowered (and hence the cost) because it is considered that the more experienced driver is driving the car a portion of the time, and the younger driver less so.

This isn’t also a good approach for younger drivers, but those that have expensive insurance for other reasons such as: having only lived in the UK for a short time, older but new/less experienced drivers, those with points/criminal records etc.

For example, my girlfriend was able to reduce her insurance cost by about 30% by adding me as a second driver. It would have been even cheaper if the car had been fully insured in my name and she was added as the second driver, but as she is indeed the main driver, this could be taken as fraud! Besides, I already had two other vehicles so splitting no claims cost issues arose, and she also wanted to build up her own NCB (No Claims Bonus) so that future insurance for her would be cheaper.

Younger drivers should also look around for insurance companies specifically tailored to new drivers; there are a few companies that offer reduced price policies. The larger ‘household name’ insurance companies have to cover a larger range of drivers and therefore price younger ‘higher risk’ drivers higher.

Similarly, if you are an older driver, look around for insurance companies specifically tailored to more experience drivers, such as Saga Car Insurance.

Many factors other than age and driving years experience influence insurance costs. Your geographical location, or where the car is kept overnight or during your working day is taken into account too. If you live in a ‘dodgy’ area then parking your car on the road can increase the insurance costs; if you have a driveway, or even better, a garage, this can help significantly. Similarly consider you work parking situation: if you are parked in a secure office car park it’s going to be better than city centre or even residential street parking.

Then there’s the number of miles you do per year. Typical commuters may do 10,000 to 20,000 miles per year. Usually if you specify your estimated mileage around these figures then no-one queries this; but if you know you will do less than 10,000 miles, look around for insurers that take this into consideration; you can save yourself quite a lot with some policies. For example, Adrian Flux and some other ‘specialist’ insurance brokers consider that a ‘cherished’ car may be something you are driving much less often and taking more care of. I’ve saved money for many years by insuring a second car under Adrian Flux’s ‘cherished’ policy with a limited mileage policy. It’s still insured for use to commute to work; but the theory is that I will be using the other vehicle as the daily commute the majority of the time, and the second car is more for weekends/casual use.

Beware though: they do check that you aren’t exceeding the mileage limitation. I had one car with a limit of 5000 miles when my work situation meant I did around 12,000 miles per year; the second car was set at 10,000 miles per year so I just kept an eye on the odometer and ensured I didn’t exceed the limit.

Points on your license will of course increase your insurance costs; all I can say is try to avoid getting these in the first place!

NCB built up over the years also considerably reduces your insurance price. They say that even one years NCB can reduce your premium by up to 30%, and four or five years can reduce the cost of insurance by even 60%. You can also pay a premium to protect your NCB. This may or may not be worth it, depending on the amount of the premium and the likelihood you may need to make a claim. Are you naturally clumsy/lack coordination/have already had a few scrapes? If you’ve been driving a few years without an accident then you may decide to take the ‘risk’ of not protecting your NCB, it may actually pay off over the years.

Deciding what to cover and not to cover is always a gamble with insurance, of any kind. It may or not pay off. The same goes for excesses. Insurers usually insist on a compulsory excess charge in the case of a claim, but offer you an voluntary excess figure in addition. Keeping this low means your annual insurance will be higher; if you are likely to make a claim then it may be worth doing so; especially if you make multiple claims in a year. Setting a higher excess means your annual insurance will be reduced; but if you do have to make a claim then you’ll be forking out more later.

Again, it’s a gamble.

Always try and pay your insurance annually rather than monthly; the percentage charge added by paying monthly can be significant. Put aside a little each month ready for next years insurance.

Many insurance companies now offer multi-car policies. The idea usually is that most households have more than one vehicle, so the insurance brokers offer you a discount for insuring both with them. This normally works by splitting the NCB across the cars.

For me this has allowed me to own multiple cars; I’ve regularly had two cars; a two seater for weekend fun, and the other for the daily commute/family practicality – I’ve had three cars at once several times and even four at one stage, although that was more to do with mechanical problems and struggling to sell one or two cars!

Always use the online comparison sites, such as comparethemarket, moneysupermarket and gocompare – even if it’s just to get an idea. Never just renew with who you are currently insured without looking about first; often loyalty is NOT rewarded and the premium is sneakily put up without a reason!

Note that the comparison sites often make ‘assumptions’ about the car and may not be suitable for modified or imported vehicles.

Check the comparison sites and ring your current insurer and let them know what you’ve found. You should at least be able to get 10% off, but they might still be more costly than what you’ve found online. Once I found the company I was currently insured with quoting online significantly less than the renewal price I’d been mailed. I rang them up and they said that they couldn’t match it over the phone; I was best cancelling and renewing it with them through the comparison site! As it was I found another company even cheaper…

Another point to note is; don’t always buy it via the comparison site. As I said, it’s a good starting point… it may however been worth contacting the top / best priced insurers individually. If you do this online, they’ll likely come out at the same price… which is fine, as you can then use TopCashBack.

I’ve been using TopCashBack for years and it has literally saved me over a thousand pounds. The idea is that you sign up with them, search for the company you wish to purchase a product though (they have many but of course not everyone), click via the link to go to that companies site, and if you make a purchase, you receive cash back.

This can be as little at 0.5% and up to 50%. I’ve used them to save on hotel bookings (normally around 5-12%), new phone contracts (had about £80 cashback once) and utilities (think I got over a £100 for switching energy suppliers on one occasion); but they are also excellent for car (and other) insurance policies. I recently had a Ducati 749s bike insured with one company for about £600. I downgraded to a Ninja 250 with only a month of my policy left, so there was no charge/refund. I then got a letter from them quoting a renewal price of £180. Great, I thought, that’s much cheaper. But before renewing I went online and used the comparison sites… and found several policies for around £85.

I then visited TopCashBack and searched for those cheaper insurance brokers, and found one of them was offering £20 cashback.

So I was able to reduce my insurance renewal from £180 to only £65!

You can join TopCashBack by clicking here.

Another cashback company worth checking out is Quidco.

If you try and insure an imported or modified car you may also find that the ‘usual’ insurance companies will charge a premium. It’s worth looking around for companies that specialise in cars of this type. I’ve already mentioned Adrian Flux for their ‘cherished’ car insurance – they split the NCB across multiple cars too; companies such as Brentacre, A-Plan and Carole Nash are good for imports and modified car insurance.

Some companies charge an addition premium for each modification a car has. This can be extremely costly for a heavily modified vehicle. Brentacre insurance simply classes the car as ‘modified’ and then calculates the premium based on the power (BHP) of the vehicle instead. This enabled me to insure an imported and modified car for only £600 when everyone else had quoted well over a grand.

Car forums are a great source of information for car insurance. If you are planning on getting a particular car for which you have had high insurance quotes from your current insurer/the household insurers, register on a forum specific to that vehicle and have a look at what people are recommending, and make a post if necessary, specifying your particular criteria/issues – you never know, someone else may be in exactly the same boat and be able to help you save money.

Another point to note is whether it’s actually worth claiming in the event of an accident. Not only do you risk any no claims bonus you may have accrued, excess charges can make it not worth the cost. It may just be cheaper to get it fixed yourself, or if it’s minor, just leave the damage alone. Even if you have protected NCB, the fact that you have made a claim is on record and you need to state the fact when looking for new insurance in years to come – and that fact is factored in; you are now higher risk!

A frustrating point too is that if someone crashes into you, and it’s clearly their fault – and any damage/injury is settled through the insurance, that too is on record. No matter that it wasn’t your fault – someone, you are now classed as a higher risk, and your insurance costs will go up. Statistically, someone that has been involved in an accident, regardless of fault, is more likely to have another accident in the future, than someone that hasn’t.

So if damage is light and there are no injuries, it may even be worth settling personally.

I’m not a car insurer or solicitor though so always take legal advice if unsure!

A final tip: keep your distance. That rule has saved me so many times. Not only from my own occasional lapse of concentration and having spared myself some room to brake or manoeuvre in, but from others behind me that haven’t seen me brake/slow down; I’ve been able to move forwards more or out of the way to avoid them driving into the back of me.

Happy motoring all 🙂



My car history part 14: From Lotus to… Skoda?

At the end of August I finally managed to sell the RX-7.

Even after it’s engine rebuild, it hadn’t been quite right. It had scraped through the MOT with many advisories. I decided to be honest about it’s problems and re-advertised it at a lower price, listing the issues. I had a a lot of interest; over a couple of weeks, I probably had about fifteen people contact me.

Only a couple came to see it.

The first guy found several more problems and walked away.

The second person found even more… but was a great guy, and even fixed one problem for me!

In the end, a company specialising in selling RX-7s came to have a look.

And guess what?

They found even more problems.

I was offered a low amount for them to take her away, fix her up, and sell on.

My insurance was about to run out, my adverts had expired, nobody else seemed to have the cash or were trying to sell their cars first, I didn’t want to use it for the work commute as it was too thirsty and I was worried I would make it’s problems worse, and even though I absolutely loved the MX-5, Maggy the 5th, it wasn’t the ideal car for doing a 50+ mile to work and back again down motorways slog…

I took the low offer.

But what to replace it with?

In my last post, I decided to finally be sensible, and get the efficient, diesel hatchback I should have bought on many, many occasions.

I’d done some research.

  • Diesels from before about 1998 were loud, smokey, and slow.
  • Diesels between 98/99 and 2005 were a bit more refined, efficient, and although there were some slow ones, it seemed there were plenty of nippy ones that were still efficient – some offering 130 or 150 BHP yet still getting over 50mpg, some even up to 65mpg.
  • Diesels between 2005 and around 2010 didn’t seem as good; new emissions laws meant a slight drop in power, as well as efficiently – the 130 BHP ones getting more like 45mpg. New technologies had to bought into play quickly and resulted in a few technical flaws; people were suffering from injector or DPF (Diesel Particle Filter) issues.
  • Modern diesels, in the last 3 or 4 years, were incredibly efficient, and powerful. Yet they were too new; too expensive, and problems along the line yet unknown.

So a diesel from the early noughties sounded good to me.

I’d started off looking at the BMW 1 series and Audi A3. In the price range I was considering, it would have to be a 109 BHP BMW
118d. Would it be powerful enough for me?

I took one for a test drive. It was fine; but nothing exciting.

I then tried a slightly newer 2.0 A3. That pulled beautifully; but was a bit pricier, and I realised it had a DPF, and other known (expensive) issues.

I considered a BMW 3 series from that era. But I’d had one before – albeit a 3 litre petrol model – and that had been a bit dull. Plus checking the ‘real world’ MPG figures seemed to suggest I’d only get around 45mpg.

What I found was the VAG (Volkswagen Audi Group) engines of that age seemed to be superior; in particular, the 1.9TDi.

This was featured in a wide range of cars. One of the best seemed to be the Audi A4 ‘B5’. I spoke to an old work friend, who had owned a 2002 model. Supposedly the 130 BHP model he had owned achieved more MPG that the official figures – very rare – and had said that even ‘ragging it’ would be able to get over 50mpg, and he could achieve 55mpg without any major effort. It was also supposedly somewhat underrated at 130 BHP, and in reality was producing closer to 150 BHP…

I was very interested.

But I’ve always preferred hatchbacks over saloons.

So why not the A3 1.9TDi?

Real world MPG figures seem to be much lower. As far as I can ascertain, the engine isn’t exactly the same, and it’s mounted in a
different way. A cars gearing, weight, wheel size, aerodynamics and all sorts of other factors come into play regarding fuel efficiency.

So which other VAG cars were there out there with more or less the same engine, with good MPG reports?

There was the VW Golf – but it seemed most models were the dull 90 or 110 BHP models; and they were relatively expensive, compared to the A4.

Then there’s the VW Passat, Bora or Jetta – all pretty good – but not quite as ‘pretty’ as the A4.

Or there’s the Skoda – the Octavia is actually not a bad looking car.

A 130 BHP early noughties Skoda Octavia 1.9TDi could be purchased at a very reasonable price, and would be very efficient, yet nippy enough.

Hang on.

I used to drive a Lotus Elise.

Am I going to really buy a Skoda?

The old Jasper Carrott joke sprang to mind.

Two policemen are manning a speed trap. A Skoda goes past… one of the officers says to the other:

‘Sarge I’ve got his number……his chassis number’

From a Lotus Elise...
From a Lotus Elise…
... to a Skoda?
… to a Skoda?

At the end of the day though, it’s just a badge.  Skoda’s have come a long way since those days. The VAG cars are more or less the same: why be embarrassed about driving a Skoda Octavia when it’s practically the same car as an Audi A4 or Volkswagen Passat?

I did have to admit to myself though, that if I could help it, I’d rather not buy a Skoda… and to honest, I prefered the look of the A4.

I went to look at a beautiful looking example in a dark grey in Derby – it had been sold before I got there. On the way home, I went for a look
at one in Risley, but I wasn’t sure about the colour – a very dark blue. I was also less impressed with the condition of the car; although it had only had one owner, and was the same age as the previous grey car in Derby (2002), it looked rather tatty. Still, I took it out for a test drive and was very pleased – yes, I could happily buy one of these.

So I bought a Seat Leon 1.9TDi FR 150.


Well, it seemed that the real world MPG figures were even better for the Leon – even owners of the sportier FR / Cupra model with 150BHP were reporting over 50mpg with normal driving, and some claiming to even get 65mpg. It didn’t seem to make much difference having the lower powered 130BHP model.

It’s lighter than the Audi, and had the practical hatchback. I wasn’t 100% sure about the looks though, and had been determined
to take a closer look at one and have a test drive – but just couldn’t find any locally.

In the end, I’d sold the RX-7 on the Wednesday and wanted a replacement ASAP, so set out to Seat town of the UK – Peterborough.

At least it seemed that way; there were five or six on sale there, and none in Nottinghamshire. Three in particular took my fancy, and I decided that if I didn’t like the way they looked or drove in comparison to the A4, that I would then head towards Leicester where there was a couple of good examples of the Audi.

I loved the first Seat Leon I checked; I had a great test drive and was very impressed with the performance: how could a car this nippy get 50-65mpg?! I wasn’t so keen on it in silver though and although the advert said that it had the service history, the dealer told he was still ‘waiting for it from the previous owner’. Hmmm.

Next one – a lovely example in black. The dealer was useless though and the car stank of cigarette smoke, so I moved onto the next.

And bought it!

Leona (Seat Leon) joins Maggy and Mimi
Leona (Seat Leon) joins Maggy and Mimi

Leona has now joined Maggy and Mimi on my ever changing driveway. I’m hoping though now that there will be a period of stability:
the girlfriend loves her car, Maggy will always remain, and, so far, Leona is delivering. I’ve finally managed to find an efficient and practical diesel hatchback that’s also great fun to drive. I’m just hoping now that she delivers on the fuel performance… I’ve only driven back from Peterborough to Nottingham in her so far, so haven’t made any measurements. But at a ‘nice’ motorway speed, the extra sixth gear meant that she was quiet and pleasantly ambling along at only a couple of thousand RPM… as opposed to Maggy at that speed in fifth gear howling her socks off at almost 6000rpm…!

So let’s hope this is the final part of the story… at least, for a couple of months 😉