Today I’m discussing an opportunity with the potential to generate a lot of money for little effort. As you will gather, that is allowing your home to be used as a location for film, TV or still photography.
Of course, this opportunity won’t be suitable for everyone. You need to live somewhere with characteristics or features that might be in demand by a production company. But, as I’ll be explaining, you definitely don’t need to live in a stately home. A huge range of properties is required, so wherever you live there’s a chance it could be the perfect location for an upcoming project.
I’ll put my cards on the table and admit that I haven’t any direct experience of doing this myself. Some friends who live in a perfectly normal suburban semi did, though. Their house was chosen for filming a toilet roll commercial. As well as a generous fee for two days’ filming, they received several large boxes of premium toilet rolls for their trouble!
What Homes Are Required?
All sorts of properties may be of interest, although those meeting the following criteria are in most demand…
Good accessibility and parking – film-makers in particular may have trucks and lorries that need to be parked near-by.
Large rooms and through lounges – around a dozen crew members plus their equipment are likely to be in the house at any time, so there must be enough space for them as well as the actors.
Unusual features – traditional stone fireplaces, spiral staircases, farmhouse-style kitchens, extra-large bathrooms, and so on.
Not too many narrow stairs and hallways, and not too close to main roads, busy railway lines or aircraft flight-paths.
Homes with a particular “look” – a typical English country cottage, for example, or a 1970s-style bachelor pad!
In addition, homes within the M25 are likely to generate more interest, as most production companies are based in and around London.
Earnings can range from a few hundred pounds for an ordinary house or flat, up to £5,000 or more for an unusual (e.g. ultra-modern/architect-designed) home. Other things being equal, film-makers tend to pay better than TV companies.
As mentioned above, there is also a demand for properties for still photography (typically featuring the latest designs or fashions). For this type of opportunity, it helps to have a larger house, ideally with attractive gardens as well.
How to Apply
The Location Partnership is one agency that is always keen to hear from people willing to offer their homes for filming. It is free to register with them, and all they ask initially is that you take some photos of your property (interior and exterior) and send them with a completed registration form.
If your property is used, The Location Partnership will negotiate the fee for you and provide a contract and any other advice you might need to ensure a successful shoot. They charge a 20 percent commission (+VAT) of the final fee paid to you by the production company.
The Electric Cinema in Birmingham is owned by the son of a friend of mine. They have a film-making offshoot called Electric Flix, which sometimes needs locations. Here’s an example ad from last year which shows that even run-down properties can be in demand…
Our production company Electric Flix is in production with our second feature film. We need a Midlands based house to shoot in for three days and will pay up to £800 for the right location.
We are looking for a terraced or modest semi-detached house. Ideally it will have a drive to park a vehicle (or space outside to park) and the hallway leading to the kitchen or another large room. Rooms needed for filming are hallway, kitchen or other ground floor large room and a decent sized bedroom.
The house should be sparsely furnished – or even empty. A student house or a run down property would be preferred over anything recently renovated. The house is needed for filming October 16th-19th October.
If you would like to put your house forward please email xxxxxxxx with photos of the house (exterior, hallway, bedroom and kitchen/large room), along with your contact details including mobile, confirmation that this house would be free on the dates stated, and you have permission to offer it up as a location.
I have blanked out the email address as this ad is no longer current. However, you can follow them on Facebook where they posted this (and also learn about the latest films they are showing!).
Good luck, and I hope to see your home in a film or TV show sometime soon 🙂
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At the age of 61 I just got my first Senior Railcard.
I must admit I hadn’t realised I was even eligible for a Senior Railcard – I assumed you had to be over 65 for this and/or receiving a pension. That’s definitely not the case, though. As long as you are 60 or above, that’s all that’s necessary.
I already saved most of the cost of my card within a month visiting a friend who was in hospital in Birmingham (now safely home, I’m glad to say). So in this post I thought I’d say a bit about Senior Railcards and railcards more generally. If you ever travel by train, they can generate big savings for you over the course of a year.
The Senior Railcard (which I now have) costs £30 a year, or you can save yourself £20 by paying £70 for three years.
If you really feel like travelling in style, you can also use your railcard to get a third off a first class ticket. That would almost certainly cover the cost of the card in one trip!
For travelling from Lichfield City (my nearest station) to University (the station for Birmingham University and the Queen Elizabeth Hospital), using my railcard cut the cost of a day return from about £9 to £6. Obviously, for longer journeys the savings would be even greater.
To use the card, you have to present it at the ticket office when buying your ticket. It is also available as an option on automatic ticket machines and when buying a ticket from websites (where this is possible). One important thing to remember is that you must have your Senior Railcard with you when travelling, as a ticket inspector may want to see it.
You can buy a Senior Railcard at any staffed railway station, or on the Senior Railcard website. I did the latter, and my card duly arrived by post two days later. Note that in order to buy a Senior Railcard online, you will need to enter your driving licence or passport number to prove your eligibility.
If you aren’t over 60, there are still other railcards you may be eligible for. They are listed in the table below. In most cases holders of these cards get 1/3 off the normal fare. There may be some restrictions, e.g. you may not be allowed to use them in the morning rush hour (in London and the South-East especially).
Name of Card
Age 60 or over
Two adults of any age
Must travel after 09.30 on weekdays
Age 16-25 or full-time mature student of any age
Family & Friends
Up to 4 adults and 4 children
Gives 1/3 off adult fares and 60% off children's fares
16 and over
Valid anywhere in the London and South-East region
Must have a disability and/or receive a disabled person's benefit
Also valid for an accompanying adult
Must be a serving member of UK armed forces or reservist, or spouse/partner of one, or a dependant
I mentioned then that Free Postcode Lottery was one of my favourite such sites, and that applies even more now. Last week I logged in as usual and saw my postcode staring back at me as the winner of the main draw 😮
I honestly thought for a moment that I was dreaming, but quickly realised that I wasn’t. I looked for and found the claim button (it wasn’t quite as prominent as I expected) and clicked on it. And that was it – I had just won the Free Postcode Lottery!
The prize fund that day was £1200 and FPL said there was one other registered player in my postcode area. I must admit that I was slightly disappointed when, a few hours later, that person put in their claim as well, meaning I would have to split the £1200 with them. Still, I’m really not complaining, as an extra £600 (tax-free) has come in very handy indeed as the winter bills pour in.
And if you’re wondering, the other £14.53 is my loyalty bonus. I accrued this through introducing other players and signing up for offers on the FPL site. When you win FPL, your loyalty bonus is added to your winnings. I only wish I’d signed up for a few more offers now 😀
More About Free Postcode Lottery
I’d been meaning to write a special post about FPL anyway, so I shall say a bit more about it now.
As mentioned, this is a free lottery site. There is nothing to pay and all prizes are funded by advertising. It is not to be confused with The People’s Postcode Lottery, which is advertised on TV and you have to pay for.
To be eligible for prizes on FPL, all you have to do is sign up on the website, including your postcode, email address and PayPal account details (any winnings are paid into this). You then have to return to the site every day to check whether your postcode has come up. If a prize isn’t claimed the fund rolls over to the next day. With the Main Draw, it currently goes up by £400 a day. The prize can easily rise to over £1000 if a few days go by without anyone claiming.
One thing I really like about FPL is that there are multiple draws, greatly boosting your chances of winning. As well as the Main Draw (which I was lucky enough to win) there is also a Survey Draw (where you may have to complete a survey to see the winning postcode) and a Video Draw (where you have to watch a music video). There are also Stackpot and Bonus Draws, with smaller prizes. And finally, there is a £50 gift card to be won every week by courtesy of the price comparison website Quidco. All six draws can be accessed via the tabs at the top of the page, as shown in the screen capture below.
It only takes a few moments to check all the draws. Personally I use the Tab Alarm add-on in Firefox to open up FPL and all the other free lotteries I am registered with at the same time every day. That means they can all then be checked in five minutes or so. It also ensures that I don’t forget on the day my number comes up!
In late 2014 I invested £30,000 from an inheritance on premium bonds. I liked the idea of making a tax-free income this way, with the (admittedly slim) chance every month of winning a life-changing sum.
Initially anyway it went fairly well, though all I ever won were £25 prizes. Then in June 2016 the interest rate and hence the prize fund was reduced, and almost immediately I saw a big drop in the number of prizes I was receiving. For comparison purposes, here are the prizes I got from November 2014 (the first month my bonds were eligible for the monthly draws) to May 2016…
Number of Prizes won
Total Prize Value £s
In contrast, here are my winnings after the change was made in June 2016.
Number of Prizes won
Total Prize Value £s
So in the period November 2014 to May 2016 I won 23 prizes totaling £600 in value, and from June 2016 to February 2017 I won 7 prizes totaling £150 in value.
Obviously we aren’t comparing like with like here, as the first period is 16 months and the second period just nine months. So here are the pro rata figures for the returns both pre- and post-June 2016.
Pre-June 2016 – 600 x 12/16 = £450 per year
June 2016 onward – 150 x 12/9 = £200 per year
So, in effect, my rate of return has more than halved since the June 2016 changes. When you calculate this as a percentage return on my £30,000 investment it looks even worse.
Pre-June 2016 – 450/30000 x 100 = 1.5%
June 2016 onwards – 200/30000 x 100 = 0.67%
By current standards, a tax-free return of 1.5% per year isn’t too shabby – it compares pretty well with cash ISAs, for example, even though the return with the latter is guaranteed (until the rate changes anyway).
On the other hand, 0.67% is clearly disappointing. I would have made more keeping the money in my Santander 123 current account which pays 1.5% (3% pre-November 2016), even though they only pay this on the first £20,000 in your account.
It’s hard to quantify what the chance of winning a big prize is worth. On the one hand you probably won’t – but on the other hand, somebody has to!
So What Action Am I Taking?
After nine months under the current premium bond terms I have decided enough is enough.
I withdrew £25,000 of my £30,000 today and plan to put this in a variety of equity-based investments. Obviously these are not guaranteed either, but by a conservative assessment they should generate an annual return of around 5%, or about eight times what I am getting from premium bonds currently.
I am going to keep £5,000 in premium bonds for the time being. At least it gives me a bit of excitement at the start of every month. And I am never going to lose this money, although obviously in time its value will be eroded by inflation.
So that’s my view of premium bonds, but what do you think? Are they still a worthwhile investment or are they now a mug’s game? Please leave any comments below as usual!
Today – February 4 2017 – is World Cancer Day, so to mark this I am doing a special post on the subject of cancer and specifically my experiences with it.
I say experiences, as cancer has touched my life in various ways. My father died from cancer of the neck and my partner Jayne passed away three years ago from breast cancer. These were clearly horrible and distressing periods in my life, but in this post I want to focus on my own personal experience.
In my case, the lottery of life gave me prostate cancer. This is of course a very common cancer among men, but due to its nature it is not widely discussed. I hope talking about it here, and being as open and honest as I can, may help other men who have this condition or are worried they might.
So here’s my story. I was 58 and living on my own after my partner had passed away a year or so earlier. I had been diagnosed with an enlarged prostate some years earlier, but I started getting additional symptoms that concerned me (largely aches and pains in that region). One thing you often hear about prostate cancer is that an early symptom can be having to get up several times in the night to pee, but with an enlarged prostate that was old news to me, and I didn’t notice any particular changes anyway where that was concerned.
So I asked my doctor for a PSA (Prostate Specific Antigen) test. Although by no means 100% reliable as a test for prostate cancer, this can indicate when further investigation may be needed. When the day after my test I got a phone call from my doctor asking me to come and see him directly after afternoon surgery, I was pretty sure it wasn’t going to be good news.
Anyway, he told me my test result was 8.0. That’s not massively high but above the normal maximum of 4.0, so he wanted to perform a physical (rectal) examination. Initially at least he was quite reassuring, saying that my raised reading could be due to something as simple as sitting down for a long period, but he wanted to rule out anything more serious. A rectal examination is not the pleasantest of experiences, as any man who has had one will tell you, but as the prostate is situated directly beside the rectum this is the only way to access it physically.
Anyway, after doing this my doctor’s demeanour changed noticeably. I guess he felt a lump or something else that didn’t feel right. He didn’t say anything but immediately started writing out a referral form to the hospital. I could see the word ‘cancer’ at the top and that sent a bit of a shiver down my spine, although I had of course suspected it.
So off I went to see a urologist at Stafford Hospital, and he repeated the examination and referred me for more tests. One of these was an MRI scan, which was straightforward enough. Another was a bone scan. This likewise was no big deal, apart from the fact that it involved being injected with a small amount of radioactive isotope. It was therefore done in the bowels of the hospital behind various scary-looking warning signs.
The other diagnostic test, however, was the dreaded transrectal biopsy. I’ll say a bit more about that here, as I know it’s the one thing many men fear more than any other, and I’ve also seen a lot of misinformation about it in the media.
My Prostate Biopsy
A biopsy involves taking samples of tissue from your prostate. It is really the only way they can be certain that you have prostate cancer, and also gives an indication of how aggressive it is.
The procedure is performed by an ultrasound expert using a special piece of equipment. It is actually not as painful as you might think, partly because a local anaesthetic is used, and partly because (I was told) there are no pain receptors in the rectum itself. Nonetheless, it is uncomfortable and does hurt for a few hours afterwards. If you need to have a transrectal biopsy, definitely get someone else to drive you home and be sure to take some paracetamol with you.
In my case I was fortunate to have my lovely sister Annie to accompany me and drive me to the hospital and back (a 40-minute journey). I didn’t bring any paracetamol with me, though, and found I couldn’t buy any at the hospital, so I had to get her to stop at Superdrug on the way back. Don’t make my mistake!
There is a risk of going down with an infection after any biopsy, especially (for obvious reasons) in the rectal area, but I have seen some ridiculous claims about this. You are given a shot of antibiotics directly before the procedure and have a short course of oral antibiotics to take before and after as well. The reality is that only a small proportion of people (about 3 percent) contract an infection, but the medics do like you to have someone in the house with you for at least one night afterwards just in case it happens. Again, my sister Annie stepped up to the plate. And no, I didn’t get an infection myself.
To no surprise, the biopsy and scans confirmed that I had prostate cancer. After discussing the options with a urologist (surgery would have been a possibility but he didn’t recommend it in my case) I was referred to a radiotherapy oncologist.
She (I was quite pleased it was a woman) told me I would need a standard treatment regime of hormone therapy combined with 37 sessions of radiotherapy. More about the latter shortly; I’ll talk about the hormone therapy first.
Hormone therapy for men involves taking a drug or drugs that stop your body producing testosterone. This doesn’t kill the cancer on its own, but as prostate cancer feeds on testosterone (that’s not a scientific way of expressing it but I think sums it up), it starves the cancer and shrinks it. She wanted me to go on hormone therapy for about six months before radiotherapy, in order to shrink the cancer first.
I started off on tablets then switched to three-monthly injections of a hormone therapy drug called Prostap. As mentioned, this effectively shuts down your body’s production of testosterone. As you might expect, this has side effects 🙁
One very common result is that you get hot flushes. Somewhat surprisingly I have never had this, although talking to other patients I consider myself fortunate in that regard. I did though find that it made me tire more easily and reduced my stamina, and I also put on some weight around the midriff especially. The most noticeable effect, however, was that it effectively switched off my libido.
I don’t want to go into too much detail about this here, as I’m sure you’ll understand, but I will say that there are various things you can do or take if this is a concern for you. Drugs like Viagra and Cialis will assist with the physical aspects, but won’t do anything about your sex drive. There are also various other options, including injections into the penis and a vacuum pump device. Suffice to say, some of these options are less appealing than others. Even if you are not currently in a relationship, though, it is still important to pay some attention to this bodily function. ‘Use it or lose it’ is an apt expression here. And that is all I will say on this subject!
After six months I started my radiotherapy at the Royal Stoke University Hospital Cancer Centre (pictured). As mentioned earlier, this involved 37 sessions, with only weekends off. In effect, it became my day job for two months in the summer of 2015. Every day I had an hour’s drive to the hospital, including at least 20 minutes on the M6.
I had to arrive about three hours before my appointment time to complete what is euphemistically referred to as ‘prep’. This involves various preparatory tasks including drinking a lot of water to ensure your bladder is full and taking a self-administered enema. This all helps improve the targeting of the beam and ensure that other tissues are affected as little as possible, but of course it doesn’t make it a very joyous experience.
That summer was clearly a test of endurance, and I am forever indebted to various friends and relatives who willingly gave up their time to give me lifts, either part or all of the way, depending on where they lived. It was also great to have their company. Most weeks there were at least two days when I had someone with me. On the odd week when I didn’t, it definitely felt more of a grind. On the right you will see a picture of me and my sister Annie taken in the small garden within the treatment centre. As you can see, she is a lot more photogenic than I am!
Radiotherapy itself is non-invasive and painless (although I did get mild radiation burns towards the end of the treatment period). I did get tired and fed up, though, and the worst period was about a fortnight in, when I contracted some sort of virus. I didn’t want to stop my treatment, but I felt wretched for a week or so. I got over that eventually, however, and after that things went a little better.
I did get some urinary tract symptoms, including difficulty peeing at night, for which I was put on a drug called Tamsulosin. This is very common with radiotherapy patients, as the radiation causes a certain amount of collateral damage. The symptoms do ease gradually after treatment ends, but I still have to take Tamsulosin today and may have to for the rest of my life.
Going through two months of radiotherapy (or radiation therapy as the Americans call it) is an interesting experience, though not one I would wish to repeat. You get to know some of the staff quite well, and your fellow cancer patients even better. When you are finding it a hard slog their support and comradeship is very much appreciated, and of course a certain amount of black humour gets shared. “You only know you’ve been cured of cancer when you die of something else” is one gem somebody came out with…
Thirty-seven sessions seems like an eternity initially, but once you get past the half-way mark it seems to go a lot faster. I should like to place on record here my deepest gratitude to all the staff at the radiotherapy department of the Royal Stoke University Hospital for their kindness and consideration, and to my oncologist, Dr Bhana, for whose support and and professional expertise I owe more than words can say.
So Where Am I Now?
It is now around 18 months since I finished radiotherapy. I am still on hormone therapy as a precautionary measure to try to reduce the chances of a recurrence, but that will hopefully end this summer, or failing that (and it is partly my decision) summer 2018.
I have regular PSA tests every few months to monitor my health, and with these tests the general rule is the lower the figure, the better. Thankfully all my results so far have been very low indeed. Fingers crossed, that will continue to be the case.
Final Thoughts and Advice
Having been through the prostate cancer diagnosis and treatment process myself, I thought I would close by sharing some thoughts on it for anyone else who may be in the position I was…
If you are at all concerned about prostate-related symptoms, ask your doctor for a PSA test. Prostate cancer is much easier to treat if it hasn’t spread, so don’t delay. Personally I think every man over 50 should have PSA tests regularly, but I am aware that this is somewhat controversial. Better to be safe than sorry, though.
Don’t be put off by scare stories in the media. I have been staggered to read some of the ‘facts’ about prostate cancer promulgated in national newspapers. Prostate cancer CAN be treated and cured if caught early enough, so take action at the earliest opportunity, and take all the tests and treatments that are recommended for you.
In particular, don’t be put off by scare stories about the biopsy. It is unpleasant and somewhat painful, but entirely endurable. And as long as you take your antibiotics as directed it is unlikely you will go down with an infection afterwards.
Enlist as much support as you can from friends and family – both practical and emotional – to help get you through the treatment process. It really does make a massive difference.
Don’t be put off talking about your condition. There is nothing shameful about getting prostate cancer (or any other cancer for that matter). It is not your fault, and has no bearing on who you are as a person.
Don’t assume that a prostate cancer diagnosis is a death sentence. The plain fact is that most men who are diagnosed with this condition don’t die from it. But I can’t emphasise enough the importance of having it diagnosed and treated early.
More World Cancer Day Blog Posts
Please check out also these articles by my blogging colleagues on other types of cancer.