Thursday, 26 January 2012

Things That Make You Go Grrrr!!!

When you're the first car at the lights, which are red. They turn to green and within TWO SECONDS the car behind is blowing his (always, but always his) horn for you to move. If this drives you crazy too can I recommend you avoid being the first car in the left-turn only lane at Tescos in Millbrook, Southampton. Unless your name is Mrs Stig.

Pic from here

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Minnie's Funeral

Today was a gloomy, rainy day, the kind that TV directors traditionally use to show that everyone is unhappy and things are going badly. I went to the funeral of one of our residents, Minnie. She was 85 when she died, very suddenly, a couple of days after Christmas - it truly was what she wanted.

Minnie only came to us about August last year. At first she could stand up, with the help of two carers but within a very short time her legs couldn't hold her up any more and this, coupled with her fear of falling, resulted in her being confined to her chair. A widow with no children and precious few visitors, she was extremely private and I guess had been raised not to cause any trouble or fuss. This characteristic made her seem at times ungrateful, and she certainly was rather ungracious. On Christmas Day she turned down the lovely dinner and asked for sausages. One of my colleagues told me later that Minnie had told her that she 'wished we hadn't bothered getting her any Christmas presents', even though every resident got just a small gift, a gesture really, from the staff and management. I popped into her room every morning when I arrived at work to see how she was, and every few days she would ask me to do her nails for her - her way of asking for some company. I kept trying to get her to take part in activities that were going on but she refused point blank to come out of her room until one day a week before she died.
I kept saying to her that I was determined to get her into the lounge, even if only once in 2011 so she could watch some entertainment. She, in return, kept telling me that she wanted to die and that she hated being stuck in her room, unable to do anything. In exasperation I said 'don't tell me any more that you wish you could do something, Min! Everything I suggest to you gets turned down, so don't tell me any more' and flounced off. And yes, I do feel bad, FYI. Ten minutes later a colleague came to say that Minnie wanted me - she'd decided to come out and watch a school choir that were singing carols to the residents that morning. She didn't speak to any of the others there; got herself put sitting right beside the door (in case anybody tried to speak to her); and insisted on returning to her room almost before the last note had been warbled. And that was the only time Minnie left her room.

We were all surprised when Minnie died. She'd felt a bit ill on the Monday and seemed to be leaning to one side in her chair, but was still with it - still talking in her normal querulous fashion. Then by 5.30 the next morning she was gone.
Ten days ago I went into her room to ask her family - a not-very-close female relative who I had seen visiting only once before, with her husband - if everything was okay. They had cases with them and were going through the room like a pair of locusts. They had taken down a silly little ornament I'd bought her - for something to say I said 'I bought that for her, for a bit of fun'. Well, they took that; all her old lady clothes that I would say were worthless; even half-eaten boxes of chocs. But afterwards, when they'd gone, I discovered they hadn't bothered to take two items that Minnie had taken the time to bring from home, just knick-knacks; and they had left behind photos of her as a young woman and with her husband. Is it just me or does anyone else see something wrong in that? I know that Minnie had a house that'll need to be sold and I'm trying not to be judgmental, but... Heck, who am I trying to kid, I'm the most judgmental person I know. I think they're stinkers.

The funeral was as grim as I expected. About 20 people turned up, including me and Minnie's social worker. There was no priest in attendance; rather a smarmy-looking man who clearly had never met Minnie, in fact he said that he had been told about her by her family - I knew more about her just from filing her nails every week! Most of the time he was talking in general terms about death, and he read two poems about death. The hymns were piped over the tannoy and were the most innocuous you could imagine (and my three most hated hymns, unfortunately). There was nothing of the real person in the funeral and that made me upset.

Can there be anything sadder than a funeral that lasts 25 minutes, led by a stranger whose lines have been fed to him, attended by just a handful of people? It's almost as if Minnie came and went, and left no mark on the world at all.....

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Is It Money-Saving If.... decide against buying biscuits and cake at Lidl in favour of baking a homemade cake, which you all then eat 7/8ths of in one sitting?

Looking nothing like the picture but still very scrummy, with a bit of going-mouldy fromage frais!

I had £47 left of my £250 food budget when I went shopping this morning, and my list had food needs for the next 11 days meals. I didn't need much because I have the makings of most things in the freezer or cupboards already. The total came to £52 but that included 6lbs of minced steak at £1.49 a lb - not on my list and limited to six per customer but such a bargain that I couldn't turn it down. But then, when I got home and checked my emails later I had one from Approved Foods. Carb Addict is a popcorn freak and they are selling popcorn kernels at 99p per kilo so I ordered four. Plus another £36 of stuff on top that we didn't really need. I'm not sure why I am the world's worst self-sabotager but I am. I suppose the good thing is I got an extra £200 in my wages for the overtime on Christmas Day and New Year's Eve, and even being £50 over my food budget is good for me.
We bought a reduced turkey crown just after Christmas. I cooked it this evening and I hope to get three meals out of it - roast dinner, turkey and leek pie and turkey stew and dumplings. I also got three meals out of the pork loin I bought after New Year's, that was reduced by 50% to £10. I'm just not used to ekeing things out like this, and we still have meat or sausages for nearly every meal; even just a bit of bacon in Egg, Bacon and Potato Bake counts as a meaty meal to me. Thank God I can cook is all I can say - it must be very hard for those who can't or won't home cook. My Red cooked a couple days this week and she's pretty good least she won't starve.

I'm working tomorrow, Monday and Tuesday at my regular job. Wednesday I am doing extra hours as a carer, Thursday and Friday my regular job then Saturday and Sunday I am the chef. Never cooked in a works kitchen before and I'm soooooo nervous about it! Keep your fingers crossed I don't poison any of the residents!!!

Me on Saturday. Except I will be screaming.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Some Enchanted Evening

On Tuesday night Big Man and I went to the Mayflower Theatre in Southampton to see 'South Pacific' and I've got to tell you, if you get a chance to see this show then go, go, GO!!! It is fantastic!!

I'd received the tickets as a Christmas present and was really excited about seeing it - I totally love musicals and we get a pretty good selection in Southampton. I was also interested to see what kind of job Samantha Womack made of the role of Nellie Forbush, since we're more used to seeing her over-emoting in EastEnders (I think she's meant to be in prison right now, isn't she? That would explain her absence away in the South Pacific lol!). Anyway, I can tell you that she blew me away! Her voice is incredible and she does a mean American accent too. Her co-star Matthew Cammelle as Emile was also fantastic. I was surprised to see Alex Ferns (Little Mo's abusive husband Trevor, also from EastEnders) in a singing, comedic role as Luther Billis - again a really excellent performance.

At about three hours it's pretty long but the time flies by  - before we knew it we were giving a standing ovation. I really can't recommend South Pacific highly enough. I'd love to see it again and if you fancy checking it out the dates for the rest of the tour can be found here.

If you only see one show this year try to make it South Pacific!!

Monday, 16 January 2012

Come Dancing!

Come dancing! Come on sister
Have yourself a ball
Don't be afraid to come dancing,
It's only natural

This evening Big Man and I had our first ballroom dancing lesson and it was such a lot of fun. He learned as a child and I...well, I just want to go on Strictly and this could be the first step. Nah, don't worry - I'm not that deluded! The class is a 10-week course in a local school and for anyone on an income of less than £12,000 a year it's only £7.50. That would be us then, so we're only paying 75p a week. Where can you get an hour-and-a-half's entertainment for 75p these days? Subsidised education is a wonderful thing.

This evening we did the Foxtrot and the Cha Cha Cha (daaaahling!) There were only three other couples there and one of those was two women. The older of them was so like Babcia to look at (but without her good teeth) that we were quite freaked out. When I texted her afterwards to tell her she has a doppelganger, Babcia replied 'Yes, that WAS me tonight, didn't want to tell you I'd be there, how did I do?' She gets nuttier as she gets older, she really does.

I think we did pretty well all told. We picked the steps up quickly and the instructor is really good. A bit of a namedropper - he knows Len Goodman!!!! - but still a fun bloke. My feet were aching at the end of the session and Big Man's knee was playing him up a bit, but I can't wait for next Monday. I'll be making Big Man practice every chance I get whether he wants to or not. Blackpool here I come!!!!!

One-two, cha cha cha!!!

Thursday, 12 January 2012

A Bloody Business

I fulfilled one of my 2012 goals today when I gave blood successfully for the first time ever. Go me!!!!

I'd tried once before, a long time ago, when the Blood Donation Service paid a visit to the offices where I worked as an accountant. It took quite a long time to get the needle into my arm (I am from a family of narrow-veined people; so much so that when my sister V was in hospital once so many veins collapsed in her arms, feet and hands that she ended up with a cannula in her neck. Poor, poor girl!) and when the person eventually did manage to jab it in he collapsed my vein. Not only did he chew my arm up and leave me with a massive bruise from wrist to armpit, he told me I was a 'slow bleeder' and not to try giving blood again. Pig.

Undeterred (well, only for about 26 years!) I decided that as I am a Universal Donor, and since I can only receive my own blood group (thanks, datacreata!), I should try again. So I made it one of my goals for this year. I found the first session of the new year I could and booked an appointment. Just before I went I had my eyebrows and upper lip threaded, so I'd remember what real pain was and though Red was happy to come to that with me she (a fellow universal donor) ducked out of the needle stabbing.

There were a lot of students waiting in the strangely Gothic surroundings of a local church, all eager to 'do their bit'. One girl almost fainted when she'd finished! The first phlebotomist (for that is indeed their title) couldn't get a good vein but the second one said there was a pretty good side one. I smiled bravely. The second lady managed to get a needle in - not massively painful but not pain-free either. Maybe level with waxing, not quite as bad as threading. And five minutes and three seconds later I was done! I'd given my first full 470ml.....a bit less than a pint. I didn't feel like I was wasting away and I didn't feel faint - I just hopped off the bed and walked home carrying my bags of Boots' sale goodies. Oh, and I made my next appointment for June.

If you can give blood (and some people can't - Big Man always did but because of the drugs he takes since his heart attack he can't do it any more. He is also O Rh -ve.) then try to do it. It's always needed.

Just as an aside, after I had Red and was still in the delivery room I was, as a Rh -ve mum, given an anti-D injection. I protested that my husband, the baby's dad was also Rh -ve so surely I didn't need the jab? The midwife said 'yes, but you might have babies with someone else'. A nice thing to say to a panicking young mum whose baby has just been rushed to the SCBU, no? And you all thought they were so considerate in 'One Born Every Minute'.........

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Food, Glorious Food!

I am always manking about the cost of feeding my crew on this blog so I thought I'd give you some figures and see whether y'all think I'm right to moan; spending waaaay too much and we're all gannetty pigs; or if I'm doing okay under the circumstances. At the start of 2011 I changed from shopping indiscriminately at Asda (monthly), Sainsbury's (almost daily) and Tesco (infrequently - too expensive for me), to getting my monthly shop at Lidl. It's alright - nothing to tempt me away from my menu plan, unless it's one of their random houseware items -  not too expensive and they normally have what I want. Unless it's marzipan (only stocked at Christmas), suet (whenever I need it they have none, then when I don't they have plenty) or anything on their weekly newsletter that I really love (Rachel's Organic Greek Honey Yogurt for 99p).

Wants it cheap! No fair!!!

So, on Sunday I spent £85.08 on groceries which included £26 on non-food items (loo roll, kitchen roll, socks, plughole unblocker, cat food and dishwasher tablets) so £59 on food. That also included a wholly unnecessary £3 on Belgian Praline Seashells and £2 on Christmas puddings, leaving £54 on meal items. My menu plan was:

Chicken Curry with Rice and Naan Breads
Egg, Bacon and Potato Bake
Spinach and Ricotta Pasta Bake
Pulled Pork in Buns with Chips
Blue Cheese and Butternut Squash Risotto with HM Garlic Bread
Mixed Grill
Meatloaf, Potatoes, Veg and Gravy

I saw 'was' because we've already eaten two of the meals (the top two). I had the rice in stock, as were the naans which were 'Approved Food' specials so I spent £5.97 plus about 40p for the naans and maybe 30p for the rice.That's about £1.67 a head. By some people's standards I guess that's pretty high but for us it's good. The Egg, Bacon and Potato Bake used five big spuds from a 7.5kg sack that cost £2; four eggs from a '10 for 85p' box; one pack of bacon at £1.25; 2T of flour; 2T of cooking margarine; maybe 3/4pt of milk from a '£1 for 2l' bottle; and maybe 200g cheese at £1.48. I think it probably comes out at about £1.25 per head tops (4 of us for the curry, 3 for the potato bake).
We'll probably have the mixed grill tomorrow (because I want Red to cook) and that'll be bacon (£1.25), sausages (£1.49), eggs (cooked somehow, maybe Eggy Fried Bread, at 8.5p per egg - bread is £1 a loaf but we won't eat a whole one!) and beans (41p per tin). That's between 3 people. The pulled pork is a third of a pork loin joint I bought for £10.44, reduced from £21; the buns I have in the freezer and I also have the chips - both were from Lidl. Good quality but cheap. Blue cheese risotto will use up the last of the Stilton from Christmas, plus some reduced Gorgonzola I bought a while back; I have the risotto rice in my storecupboard, and the squash and I'll use some more Lidl frozen rolls for the garlic bread.

It's fortunate that I have well-stocked cupboards, and that I still had a bit of food left over from Christmas, otherwise I might have spent more. I will have one third of the pork joint left after this week and we also bought a half-price turkey crown (£9.50) last week that has been frozen and will make two or possibly three meals. I'm trying to have a couple meat-free meals as you can see. And though it looks like we hardly eat any vegetables it's not strictly true. We just don't eat masses of them!

I suppose some people might turn their noses up at the fact that I don't go to farmer's markets or eat organic but, call me a Philistine, I just don't notice enough difference to pay over the odds for free-range eggs or 'running in the fields all day' lamb. To me, food is food - I don't have any opinion either way about how or where it's produced....I could say 'as long as it's cheap' but that's not strictly true. I buy the best quality that is available to me where I shop. When I've paid my debts off I might go organic, then again I might decide that holidays are more important. It's all about priorities I guess.

Anyway, am I doing okay, do you think? Is food a priority for you? Have I reason to be moaning about how much I'm spending? And could I trim it down more? By the way, I am awaiting delivery of (amongst other things) 3.5kg of Yorkshire pudding mix from Approved Food. I forsee plenty of Toads-in-the Hole coming up! ;D

Pic from here - mine never looks remotely as nice as this!

Saturday, 7 January 2012


Oh dear, I'm not doing very well with one of my goals for this year. I said that I was going to try to treat Big Man's TV choices with less contempt but it was a struggle this evening. It's not as if I'm always watching National Geographic, or Sky Arts or BBC4 - I watch as much crap as anybody else - but he seems to go for the most ridiculous, ludicrous programmes. His favourite, not to be missed shows, are Casualty and Holby City, both strange choices for someone who had a heart attack I think. He likes real-life hospital/air ambulance/paramedic shows too but for some reason I don't find them too repellant, just the dramas.

I don't know if it's the sheer preposterousness of the story lines (tonight Casualty had a motorway pile-up; a taboo teacher/pupil relationship that resulted in an overdose, the twist being that the teacher was a woman; a gas explosion; a dangerous chemical leak; an affair where the unwitting spouse was in a wheelchair; and the reopening of the department) or the way all the staff are painted as caring for their patients to the extent where one or more nurse/doctor/orderly/receptionist is at risk of losing their job/s each week just because they care so much. It's all such a load of old hogwash that really, it's an insult to the viewers. Big Man usually watches it upstairs whilst I carry on with whatever I'm doing in the front room but tonight I fell asleep on the settee and when I woke up it was on.

I was able, with difficulty, to restrain my usual cutting remarks on the risibility of the whole show. I may have given a few sarcastic snorts; I may, once or twice, have said 'this is such cack!!!!', but on the whole I was pretty good. I've decided that in order to keep to my resolution in future I'm gonna have to insist Big Man watches Casualty upstairs from now on. It might mean I don't get to see the divine Michael French any more but at least I'm in with a shout of meeting one goal this year ;P

What TV shows do you avoid?

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Everybody's Doing It (Pt 2) And A Year-End SitRep

Yesterday I went through my personal goals for 2012 (*and still managed to miss one off!). I also said that I'd give a year-end sitrep so everyone can see what I've managed to pull off in twelve months. I'm only going to do a quick and dirty post because it's freeeezing in this house, and because I want to get into my onesie and watch a film. Something loud and childish.....I'm thinking maybe Transformers 2. Anyhow, at the start of the new year -

- I'm a happy bunny. We reduced our overall debt by £9,387.83 and whilst I'd hoped it would be £12,000 (and we haven't progressed much at all from the end of June) it represents a real achievement for us. We still managed to go on our lovely holiday, which was partly paid for by Big Man's tax refund, and we've stayed reasonably warm and haven't gone hungry. I'm willing to be more strict with myself but I've come to realise that Big Man has his limits (one of which is refusing to eat the same meal two days in a row, making leftovers an unviable option most of the time) and does like his little extras, such as wine and the odd takeaway. Food is an area where we had epic fails every month. I made menu plans and shopped at Lidl all through the year but either we have expensive tastes (don't really think so) or I'm too extravagant in my menus. I budgeted on average £250 per month for all shopping, including Otto's food, and missed it every time. It didn't help that various kids kept coming home for weeks at a time and then permanently, and expected to be fed! I can't complain about that though ;P. Radical rethink needed.

Fab pic from here

My spreadsheet has been very useful in showing me where we are spending frivolously; I think nearly £300 on takeaways and eating out in a year is mighty high but Big Man thinks it's a piddling amount; I have spent over £140 on vitamins and medication that could've been avoided if I put my repeat prescription in on time (a personal goal for 2012); and so on. It's food for thought.
I have come up with a few financial goals but I feel sure that I'll add to the list. I hope they'll help me to shape up!

1. Remember to take my coupons with me whenever I go shopping. I have a special wallet for money-off tokens and I MUST keep it in my bag at all times! I opened an old letter today from Tesco to Red that had two coupons for double points, valid up to January 1. Big Man paid £300 for a new TV from Tesco on New Year's Day and although he used my Club Card I'll only get £300-worth of points instead of the £600-worth I could've had if we'd opened the letter in a timely manner. Scowl.

Nifty little coupon wallet. Handy, and only a chazzed 99p!

2. We paid £333.61 in bank charges last year through our (for 'our' read 'my', since I seem to have ended up in charge) stupidity and lack of attention. I absolutely refuse to pay any bank charges this year. I will be hyper-vigilant!!

3. Paring the expenses alone is useless - I will have to make additional money in any way I can. I want to make £100 a month on eBay; the money will be handy PLUS I will be able to declutter my 'stock'.

4. Pay for everything I can through Quidco. One of my jobs today was to arrange pet insurance for Otto - he's 8 but still quite a rascal so I think it's a good idea. I compared quotes on Compare the Market, found a policy that seemed right then checked on Quidco for cashback offers. The policy is £9.04 a month (£108 the year) but I get £40 cashback, bringing the cost down to £68. Incidentally, it's costing as much to insure Otto, a basic moggie, as it does to insure me. Something wrong there, surely?

5. Go through all our expenses and direct debits with a fine tooth comb to see if I can't bring the total down even more. I pay £6.99 for phone insurance and I plan to call our contents insurer to check out the policy on mobiles. If I can save £84 a year, well, why not do it?

6. Keep an eye on every day. There are some great tips and offers on there. It's a brilliant place for advice too. Plus advance heads-ups on free cinema previews, another of my personal goals.

7. Continue to ask myself 'is this a want or a need?' before I waste money on things. For example, I've read several blogs whose owners wax lyrical over their mini-ovens, and according to my Lidl newsletter they will be on sale there from Thursday for £29.99. I'd like one, but do I need one? No. So I won't spend £30....I'll use it for something I really need.

There's bound to be other things that I just can't remember right now - extreme cold has that effect on me. Overall I guess I am aiming to keep a tighter rein on the finances whilst trying to throw as much spare cash as I/we can at our debts. Not very interesting, just more of the same. Grind away.

Anybody else gloomy about having to tighten belts even more? Or is this whole recession thing passing you by?

* Another personal goal is to donate blood this year and I have already booked an appointment for Friday this week. I'm O Rh Neg, a 'Universal Donor', so I am really just fulfilling a civic duty (she says in a holier-than-thou way:)). One job under way - go, Keshling, go!!!! 


Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Everybody's Doing It.......

...setting out their goals for 2012 that is (and NOT 'picking their nose and chewing it' as we used to say so charmingly at school. Yuck.) So not wanting to be left out I thought I'd jot a couple down. Nothing major, nothing too onerous, just stuff that won't cause me to throw myself flailing onto the ground in tears if I don't accomplish them. I like to aim low, or as Babcia says, 'hope for the best but expect the worst'.

So, in the spirit of the (Year of the) Dragon, my resolutions for 2012 are;

1. Say 'no' more often. I said I wouldn't work any more nights again after the last time and this latest one really took it out of me. The trouble is that when one of my colleagues needs help I can't stop myself from offering. I must stop trying to be all things to all people.
2. Look at the calendar and my diary every day to see what's been organised. Big Man is very good at marking things down that I then totally miss because I've not checked for weeks.
3. Pay more attention to my husband, Big Man. He has a lot of good points and I'm sure he sometimes feels like the enemy in his own home. I should try to stop treating his TV choices with contempt too because that's just mean. ;P
4. Make my grown-up kids take responsibility for their own lives. They can do things for themselves, I just have to let them/make them.
5. Go to bed at a reasonable time. Aiming for pre-midnight.....
6. Read 100 books this year. I will post a pic of my loft (aka Babcia's bedroom....I really do have a madwoman in the attic, tee hee!) and you'll all see how library-like it is. There must be 100 books on the floor by the two full bookcases that are up there, plus a third bookcase with self-help tomes on it. None of which have helped me. I'm aiming to not buy any books this year either, just read my stock. This'll be hard - I almost bought this and this yesterday because I really want to read them - but they'll come to me somehow, I'm sure of it. I can't really use the library because I have a biggish fine outstanding, as does Red (from a DVD Carb Addict borrowed on her card and then lost for two years. Ratatouille if you're interested) though I guess I could use one of the men's of them may be fine-free. Anyway, I'm an extremely fast reader so I'm not expecting 100 books to be too onerous.

Similar to my loft but I don't have a ladder up there. Or an old man.
7. Make sure I order my prescription in plenty of time so I don't end up having to buy stuff to tide me over.
8. Set mine and Babcia's Etsy shop up properly. She has made masses of stuff and I've made nowt.
9. Finish knitting my Christmas Advent Tree for next Christmas. I am a lazy, lazy woman.
10. See more SeeFilmFirst free movies this year than last.
11. Update my ideas notebook.
12. Try to write 200 posts this year and get 100 followers.

Tomorrow I'll have my year-end sitrep and some financial goals. Before I go please listen to the video below and tell me if her voice and this song don't weave some kinda magic together. Spine-tingling....