Saturday, 30 April 2011

March/April SitRep

Well, where did April go? I kept meaning and meaning to do a March sitrep so that I could tell you how the frugality is going and before I knew it the month was over. Suppose because I was working two jobs and some weeks three - the time flew by AND it was harder to spend money too. I've made a good few bob from my census collecting job - it hasn't been in the least bit onerous (the weather helped there) and apart from my gun scare it's been very civilised. However, this is the last week coming up so that money will end. I'm still waiting for my cheque from the pedestrian counting gig and for some mystery shopping I did for Secret Shopper. It was the start of March when I did that - a pretty long wait and you're paid in dollars. What's $50 worth? About £30? It cost me almost that in petrol but then again I did have Babcia here on holiday at the time so it made a nice change for her to be driven around the Hampshire countryside. Instead of just driven round the bend by my Dad. Boom boom!! I have a very long day on Friday as a Poll Clerk - my first time! I think we get paid extra because the AV referendum is on the same day...we also get our cheques at the end of the night rather than waiting for it to be sent.

So, down to brass tacks. Over the two months we reduced our debt by £1903.64 - we are both really made up about it. I've brought a £450 overdraft into credit and paid off a couple other smallish debts too....they related to our business which currently isn't pulling in enough to cover the bills without our personal money. In addition we have fines from Companies House to pay plus the £18k personal guarantee Big Man gave for our failed business. We also have two credit cards that we are trying to pay off....both were used trying to keep our old business afloat and one of them was used to pay for a holiday we went on in December 2006. Shameful isn't it? I don't wanna be paying for two weeks in Sharm-el-Sheikh five years ago for the next ten years. The thing with these two cards is the interest. It's totally crippling. The Halifax card asks for a minimum payment this month of £88.45 but the interest to be charged (on outstanding balance of £3988) is £94.89. MBNA is even worse - you think you've paid a big whack on it then find it's really only half after the interest's added on. Sigh. We are both throwing our wages at the cards as a matter of urgency because the repayment of the personal guarantee has been set by the court so we don't worry so much about that, rightly or wrongly. At least there's no interest on that.

One thing I'm having a HEAP of trouble with is the food budget. I budget £200 a month for two adults (three at weekends) and a cat. In April I went up to £300 because Mr Charming was home all month and Red appeared for about 10 days. Oh and PC Furious came for the weekend of course but since he has a somewhat ascetic character I'm not counting him. Well, we have gone over the budget every month so far. I can't understand it because I meal plan and stick to it, and I only shop at Lidl. I shop about every 8-10 days and cook from scratch and we don't have loads of crappy crisps and sweets. I just don't know how other frugalistas seem to do it. I do know that Big Man wouldn't (and doesn't, when I try it) put up with some of the skittering little amounts of food, and more off-the-wall ideas for meals that some bloggers' partners go along with. He's as keen as I am to get rid of our debts but not if it means the quality or quantity of his food goes down. What's a gal to do? I suppose I'll just have to accept that food is never going to be a particularly low spend for us and economise in other ways.

Overall, how have we done since January 1? We've paid off......(drum roll).....£5434.09!!!! Our debts are now just over £40,000 from almost £46,000. Am I happy? You betcha! Can we sustain it? Watch this space!

Friday, 29 April 2011

Born To Be Queen!

Stunning girl. Stunning frock. Amazing spectacle. We really know how to pull the Big One off.

Photo from New York Magazine

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Cook's Weekly

At a car boot sale last year I bought 50 copies of Cook's Weekly magazine for £2. They all date from the mid-80s and I wanted them because I remember reading Babcia's copies of this (and another magazine from the same era called 'Home and Freezer Digest' - anybody remember that?). I wrote yesterday about finding old stuff from my younger days comforting didn't I? And also I hoped I might find some frugal ideas and recipes between their pages, which I did.

I don't know whether it's something to do with the printing processes in the 80s but everything looks strangely garish and not particularly appetising (one way of being frugal I guess - nothing looks good enough to eat). And I don't remember there being such a reliance on offal either...Chinese-Style Liver anyone?

It's interesting to see how ideas that we take for granted nowadays were just starting to be mooted 25 years ago - there's an article in the December 86 issue that talks about sugar-free items and mentions that research suggests 'a hyperactive child will benefit from a diet low in sugar'. But in November 86 there was a section on cooking for a 'Difficult-People Dinner Party'. The 'difficult people' in question are vegans (who did you think it was going to be???!) and the suggested menu is Carrot and Bean Pate, Curried Vegetables and Ginger and Cashew Nut Ice Cream in case you're interested....
I was quite surprised to see an article on fillings for tacos because I wouldn't have thought Mexican food was all that common back then, certainly not in our neck of the woods anyway!

Each issue also has 'A Run Down The Aisles' which gives supermarkets' prices for various different items...I'm assuming these were current special offers. Co-Op was selling 500g plus 20% free Buitoni Short Spaghetti for 39p and Bird's Whisk and Serve Custard at 19p for 69g. I don't know about you but that's what I'd pay now for those items (though not those brands) in Asda or Lidl. The prices given for Tesco show a far bigger change over the years; for example Wall's Pork and Turkey Sausages were just 79p for 1lb plus 25% extra, whilst Tesco Golden Almond Marzipan was 97p for 500g. I think I paid more than double that for Sainsbury's own brand when I made my Simnel Cake a couple weeks back. And do you remember Fine Fare stores, and Bejam?

Despite some of the recipes being a bit odd (Avocado Mille-Feuille! Bacon-Stuffed Celery! Life's too short to stuff a mushroom so it's DEFINITELY too short to stuff a stick of celery!) these little magazines are packed with hints, tips and good ideas. I found out how to make Sloe Gin, how to boil a tongue, and how to skin a rabbit. For a good laugh there is the 'Memorable Meals' section where a famous person of the day describes their most memorable meal; what they like to cook and where they like to eat. Some I'd totally forgotten about (Debbie Greenwood? Mavis Nicholson?) but here's one famous face who is still around today...

Little did he know that his destiny was to one day be 'King of the Jungle'!!!

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

I Has New Pyrex!!!

For a long time I've been collecting Pyrex. At one stage you could make quite a bit of money from it on eBay but the bottom seems to have dropped out of the market a bit lately. Trends seem to come and go - for a while buyers paid a premium for Carnaby/Tempo pattern, then it was Chelsea. Chelsea still does okay - Autumn Gold/Autumn Glory had a flurry, but now it looks like June Rose and Cottage Rose are in the ascent. However, I don't go for any of those patterns. My favourites, as used by Babcia many years ago, are the Fruits/Vegetables/Fish variety. Not quite so commonplace but a bit funkier than the rest.

I bought this lovely oblong dish in a charity shop the other day. At £3.50 it was a bit more than I usually pay but I had to have it.

Look at that splendid lobster! This dish is about 10" by 7" I suppose and a good size for a Shepherd's Pie or stuff like that. The only problem is that I have one just the same, with lid, in June Rose....and I don't need two. So I'll be eBaying the Rose one when I stop procrastinating and start listing again. Soon, my darlings....soon.

Any other Pyrex fans out there? I also love Gooseberry and Clover and have some beautiful big mixing bowls in those designs. There is a pretty good website here if you have any unidentified Pyrex lurking in your cupboards. I'm not a collector as such but I like using cool old stuff plus it reminds me of growing up. That's good, right?

PS  Sad clown face tonight....Mr Charming is en route back to Cornwall and won't be home for five weeks. Only Big Man and Carb Addict left here now.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

A Big Job Jobbed

Everybody seems to have had a lovely relaxing Easter and Bank Holiday but me.

I had to work on Friday, work on Monday and on Saturday I worked on the last leg of my big job. I spent three days counting and interviewing pedestrians on a desolate railway path with only William from Malawi for company. As I am (probably) old enough to be his mother we had very little to say to each other. Obviously I was the underling and I felt the force of his disapproval every time he and not I hopped along to ask an unwary passer-by whether they had time to 'answer a few questions about their journey'. Very few people passed our way during the 12 hours we spent by the shunting yard (yes, THREE LOTS of 12 hours!) and most of those that did were either speeding by on bikes; non-English speakers; drunk; or just plain nutty. Some fell into more than one category.

 Excited crowds flock to sample Keshling's interviewing technique!

Needless to say it was tear-inducingly tedious and for £78 a day I won't be doing it again in a hurry. It's all money in the bank, or rather off the credit cards though so it was worth doing I suppose.

One thing happened towards the late afternoon that made me feel a bit bad, and still does now just thinking about it. William and I had our bags by the metal uprights of the overpass and two youths came walking along - shirts off, very happy and singing, maybe a bit tipsy. I had been pacing up and down and wasn't near the bags, whilst William had managed to snare a pedestrian to quiz. As they neared our stuff I began to walk towards them - I'll admit it, I wasn't worried what happened to William's bag but mine had a copy of Portal 2 in it that I'd just spent £40 on for Mr Charming's birthday. One of the boys looked as if he was going towards our bags then he looked up and saw me strolling along in what I hoped was a casual manner. He said to his friend 'Look, she thinks we're gonna nick their bags!'. What could I say? I did think they were going to steal our bags. I just laughed and said 'Yep, you saw right through me!' They laughed too but I felt really bad afterwards, and still do now when I think about it.
Would I have acted that way had it been two silly girls walking along? I'm not sure, probably not....I wouldn't feel frightened to take a girl on if I had to. But it was quite deserted with no residential area nearby, in a pretty downbeat neighbourhood. I didn't feel particularly personally threatened by the boys, but you never know. I just think I judged them harshly and that I was wrong to do so. I wouldn't like to think that another middle-aged woman thought my Mr Charming was going to steal her bag - I know that he wouldn't confront her like the lad did me, but he would feel embarrassed and angry. 

Would anybody else feel like I did?

PS I've applied for 2012 tickets this evening. If I get them it'll cost £200, which I appreciate isn't very frugal. BUT! The Olympics probably won't be held in my own country again in my lifetime so I'd be a sad sack if I didn't at least try for some. That's my opinion anyway. BTW, I have some exciting news at the end of the week!!!

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

A Visit From The Met

We had a visitor last weekend, Red's latest love PC Furious. He is a PCSO with the Met and rather officious. On their first date there was a very strong smell of weed in the pub they were in and PC Furious was all for finding out who was smoking it then making a citizen's arrest. He's that type of chap. This was only his second visit here and last time he came he said as he was leaving 'thank you for letting me stay in your cold house'. Although I'd be the first to admit it is cold here I was quite put was Winter after all and I'd made him sleep in the loft, what did he expect? Still he's harmless I suppose and Red has him right where she wants him so I'll reserve judgement a little longer.

In other news my family has shrunk to four because Red has returned to London, supposedly just until Sunday when Mr Charming is 19. I asked why she was going back at all, just for four days and she said 'because it's only £4'. Do you ever feel as if people are speaking a different language or one that makes no sense whatsoever to you? It's normally me that gets asked 'what are you talking about?'

Phase 1 of the census collecting has ended now and before Phase 2 starts on Thursday I have a totally guilt-free evening and day - no work at the Dragon's Den tomorrow! - so I am going to take full advantage by knitting and watching all the shows I've Sky+'d tonight and then chilling and doing a few small bits tomorrow. Babcia and I are still building up our stock for our Etsy shop but I hope to have it up and running soon. I'll post a pic of an item of our stock soon so you can all give me your opinions. But don't be too critical...I'm easily bruised. I bought some lovely wool for Babcia (she's 67 on Friday) so hopefully she'll get cracking on even more sweet things.

Off for a nice lazy night x

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Being Ill vs 'Taking To Your Bed'

Quite often lately bloggers I follow have disappeared, only to return a couple of weeks later after being ill in some shape or form. I am lucky because I am rarely ill (touch wood!). I put this down to taking Vitamin C every day but to my family this is just one more manifestation of my 'being ridiculous'....'how sharper than a serpent's tooth' and all that. Although I have convinced Babcia to take a vitamin pill - she is, however, at the time of life where once again, everything I do is sensible, clever and excellent in every way.

So I am not often ill. That doesn't mean though that I never take to my bed. Oh no, 'taking to your bed' is a special tradition in my family. As a form of disapproval taking to your bed is second to none - my dad took to his bed for two days when I left home for real at 18. His father, my grandad, took to his bed for a week when his eldest daughter married an Italian. Other valid reasons for taking to your bed are: feeling sad; feeling hacked off; feeling angry; after an argument; and my favourite and most frequently used - 'just had enough'. It's not strictly necessary to sleep once you've taken to your bed but if asked what's the matter by a family member you must answer, with a sigh and a pained expression, 'nothing' - that's important....keep 'em guessing.

Yes, it's just an extreme 'time out' I suppose or a glorified sulk. A chance to think, maybe a chance to get over yourself. I'm not sure if it's an Irish thing (it's only my Irish side of the family that do it) or a paternal side of the family thing. Babcia rarely takes to her bed (and it's not always after half a bottle of Wybrowka when she does), but she does do it sometimes. Probably my dad's influence. Big Man doesn't take to his bed and had never come across 'taking to your bed' before he met me, but he appreciates the respite when I do it. And only today Red took to her bed when it was tortillas for dinner - slightly flimsy reason imho but it's a start. The tradition continues!

As a way of making you feel better I'd recommend it 100%. And you don't even have to be ill to start with!!

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

I've Got 1,2,3,4,5....Imagination Working Overtime

You know that I am taking part in the Great Census Collection at the moment and basically it's okay. The weather has been nice and the people I've met have been friendly and helpful. Overall I've enjoyed it a lot. Apart from the time I got frightened that I might end up being eaten with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.
This Titanic city of ours is dirty and shabby but we have pride in it, even transplanted Northerners like me. I've mentioned before the malignant Northern city where I was born - it's like the Wild West - and what happened last night would have been par for the course there, but the Beautiful South? It's opened my eyes, I can say.

I've been lucky enough to get a nice area down by the river so I've had houseboats to call on and nice views - really glorious with the warm weather - but it also includes quite a lot of flats. I had to call at two flats within one block and rang both bells - no response. A family came along and let me into the block which is small and quite new. As I got to the first flat (the two I needed were next door to each other) I saw that the door had been kicked in and repaired. Oh-oh, thought I. I knocked on the door and there was immediately the sound of claws on the floor at the other side then something threw itself at the door with all its strength - all I could hear was growling and scratching. Obviously I stood to the side when this started, just in case the dog (werewolf? lion?) was able to get through. Just as well because the next thing I heard was a gun being racked (is that what it's called, when it goes, 'ker-crack'?) - a sound I recognised only too well from my CI5 days. A man called through the door 'who is it?' to which I tremulously replied 'I'm from the National Census...we don't seem to have a completed form from you'. All this time the Beast from Hell was throwing itself at the door. 'Oh right, Carol...come and sort the census out'. A woman came to the door and said, from the other side, 'Erm, yeah, I just rang them today for a new copy' (a likely story). I said that I could give her a new one right there and then. Silence. 'Oh....okay then'. So I pushed one, with difficulty, through the letter box. There was a lull in the panting, sniffing, whining and snarling whilst the animal the other side slavered and drooled over the census form. And probably tore it to shreds for fun. 'Thanks for your time' I said as I edged down the stairs. I think I might mark that as a 'Do Not Visit'....leave it for the census enforcers maybe.

The funny thing is though, I was alarmed and a bit taken aback but not really frightened. Of course I played it up when I got home but as the general consensus was that I was being ridiculous (they weren't even there! How would they know???) I've quietly let it drop. I know you'll all believe me, but where's Jodie Bodie when I really need her?

Friday, 8 April 2011

Daily Wail

I am starting to wonder why I read a newspaper at all, particularly why I read the Daily Mail. Have you noticed how 'I bet you read the Daily Mail' has become a left-wing insult in the past few years, or a way to describe anybody who doesn't find Frankie Boyle that funny?
There are still some things I like about it but a lot of things annoy me about it too; on the one hand fashion designers are castigated for not clothing 'real' (ie over size 14) women but lollipop-headed celebrities are held up for faux-pity if they appear to have put on a couple of pounds; there is an over-reliance on child-related sob-stories (ie my adopted children were so awful I handed them back/I've spent £0000's on IVF and now I can't get funded for any more/I love my son more than my daughter/'Why am I made to feel bad for not having any children?'...where are the 'my kids are great and I love them dearly' stories?); the Affordable Fashion spreads that are based around Monsoon, River Island and Coast. Don't they realise that for many readers affordable fashion begins and ends with Primark and New Look? Actually, reading that it looks like I'm annoyed by Femail rather than the Daily Mail so there might be a solution here...

One thing I scour every day is the Letters page, interested as I am in the emotional turmoil and general opinions of others. On Wednesday I didn't bother to suppress a snort of derision when I read a plaintive missive ('Loneliest Day') from a Miss Smith of Birmingham who writes;

Another Mother's Day has passed, but while families are spoiling their mothers and grandmothers, please spare a thought for those women who are not mothers or wives. I have many friends with children and grandchildren, but on Mother's Day they forget about me as they go off with their children for a Mother's Day lunch.
Thousands hate Christmas because they are on their own. I am never on my own at Christmas, but the one day in the year I really hate is Mother's Day.

My question is, is this a troll or a real person? Can anybody be that selfish and self-pitying as to want to deny mothers (who put up with more crap than any group of people in the world) one special day? Am I mean and out of step with the sisterhood? Or do you agree with Red, who commented with all the contempt a loved-up, beautiful, 21 year-old can muster "If that's how she feels she should have some ******* children!"

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Walk-In Back To Happiness

On Sunday I became convinced that I had meningitis so I took myself to the local walk-in centre. For those who don't know what they are walk-in centres are a buffer between doctors' surgeries and the A&E department. They are usually open from early in the morning until may be 20:00 at night. At one stage there were four in this middling-sized city - the one nearest to us was very well-used but when we had the swine flu 'epidemic' it closed (supposedly temporarily due to staff shortages) and never opened again. Now the nearest one to me is based at the local psychiatric hospital. Hmmm.

When I arrived at about 7pm there were maybe six groups of people sitting around and I couldn't help noticing that a small child was the focus in perhaps three of these groups. The children were in their pyjamas, wrapped up warmly and looking very sleepy. The parents were chuntering...'if that stupid cow tries to tell me again that it's just a cold I'll swing for her' was one overheard example.
It got me wondering where the wise mums and grannies of yesteryear are now. I could hear mobile phone conversations...'she's really hot, she's just laid sleeping' and it occurred to me that an older female relative could have put these worried young people right. Their children were hot because the building is kept that way and they are wrapped in blankets. Their children are laid sleeping because it's past their bedtime. Children get days now and again when they're whiney and a bit under the weather - it's part of growing up.
But lots of young (and not so young) mothers and fathers don't have anyone sensible and experienced they can turn to. They don't have someone they can call on who will say 'don't worry, that's okay. Just see how they are tomorrow'. Or 'I'll pop over and have a look'. Why is that? I know that I rang Babcia often and described symptoms down the phone when Red in particular was small and I can't remember her ever saying 'get that child to the doctor's at once!' Nowadays we are all too ready to dash to the surgery or walk-in centre and expect medicine or whatever every time. And then we wonder why the NHS is in such a bad way.
Now I'm not a nurse and I do know that children can become very ill, very quickly and that we shouldn't take chances with them. What I suppose I'm trying to say is that it's a pity society nowadays doesn't have friendly neighbour ladies - older with common-sense who have brought their own children up and who can help young parents that might not have that kind of family help close by. I remember as a very small girl playing out in the street and there were always nosy old grannies sitting on their doorsteps yatting together, or sitting on a kitchen chair by their gate, just passing the time with anyone who passed by. That's the kind of thing I'm talking about, and isn't it a shame it's all gone?

Anyway, I didn't have meningitis as it happens; all small children were sent home with prescriptions for Calpol; and I overheard (see, nosy old woman in the making) this exchange between who I took to be a father, possibly late-50s and a bit disreputable looking, and a woman who looked to be his daughter, maybe late 20s. She was filling the form in for him and it asks what the reason for your visit is - I guess they'd reached this part because he said something, she asked him a question and I heard him say 'S-P-L-I-N-T-E-R'. I could understand someone having trouble with haemorrhoids or enphysema maybe, or schizophrenia but splinter? And we wonder why the UK is falling down the education league tables..