Category Archives: Community and shopping

My Royal Wedding

Not my house, sadly

I had a lovely day on Friday 29th April.  At ten o’clock we went round to Mrs Cecil’s house to watch the Royal Wedding on her big telly.  We ooh-ed and aah-ed at the dress (which I thought was stunning) and the bridesmaids (the eldest of which was generally thought to be stunning also), picked all the guests’ outfits to pieces and laughed uproariously at Eugenie and Beatrice’s attempts at individuality.  We joined in with all the hymns and rejoiced in the amount of Parry on the programme.

At lunchtime, more people arrived and we swanned about in the garden eating lovely food.  I then took the chaps to Slawston Village Hall for a Royal Wedding Tea which had been arranged for the village and to which we were invited on the strength of the residence of their father.

Admirable re-use of decorations

It was such fun.  The hall was awash with Union Flags and red, white and blue balloons (with Golden Jubilee on them which had been found in someone’s attic) and there were delightful sponge cakes with ‘Kate and William’ stencilled on them with icing sugar.  There was wine, and tea in sage green utility cups and saucers.  I felt completely at home.

Quiche La Reine

Boy the Younger was delighted to find one of his school friends in attendance and as soon as the last ham sandwich had been stuffed down their throats, they disappeared off into the village never to be seen again.  Well until the other boy’s mother knocked at the Father of My Children’s door and told us where to find them.

Royal Wedding toast

I eventually went to fetch him and ended up staying for a couple of hours, drinking jolly nice wine and chatting amiably.  I know the boy’s mother, Mrs Ursula Wold from school and from my increasingly infrequent attendance at the Friday morning coffee meeting and it was lovely to spend time chatting with her and Mr Wold whom I have only previously met in passing.

We eventually rolled home at about 9.30pm having had a thoroughly pleasant day among thoroughly pleasant people.  Such a day would not have happened without the excuse of the Royal Wedding, so thank you William and Catherine and I sincerely wish you a long and happy marriage.

Gawd Bless 'em

Boy the Elder indulges in a little guerilla patriotism. Note the Converse...

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Filed under Community and shopping, History, Life in general, Slider

The importance of a well fitting bra

Today I had a really nice experience.  Last night the underwire snapped on my last decent bra, so I went down to The Little Big Bra Shop in Adam and Eve Street, Market Harborough, an independent and relatively new business, and had a proper fitting.

When I was skinny, I rarely wore a bra and I had my very first fitting at the age of 32 when Boy the Elder was still being cooked.  For the last few years though, having put on weight and had two children, foundation garments have come into regular usage.

I’m not very good in shops.  I don’t like trying on clothes, and the harsh lighting makes me irritable and badly behaved.  And I don’t like being measured and messed about with as it just reminds me that I’m wobbly and my chosen underwear won’t look like it does on the models..

I walked into The Little Big Bra Shop and asked for a fitting.  A charming and diffident woman showed me to the changing room and asked me what sort of thing I wanted as I took my top layers off.  She took a quick measurement across my back, stared at me for a second, then came back with a bra which fitted perfectly.  She then brought a couple of others to try for style and colour.

The best bra I've ever had

What was really nice was that she treated the bra like any other item of apparel, checking that the colour suited me and that the style was flattering as well as being supportive and comfortable.  I chose a beautiful pinkish-red bra that is, without question, the most comfortable I have ever worn and a pair of matching pants.  It cost me £24, which is more than I normally spend, but by crikey it’s worth every penny.

“Do you want to keep it on?” she asked, smiling.  “Absolutely!” I answered, hoping against hope that I wouldn’t be arrested in the street and be required to explain why I was carrying a grey and shapeless undergarment in my handbag.  On the other hand,  I was quite keen to be run over so that my gorgeous new underwear would be seen to pass muster.

It is absolutely essential to have a well fitting and comfortable bra.  Breasts become more and more subject to gravity as we get older and our skin gets less elastic – a saggy bust does no-one any favours.  A decent bra will also improve your posture because it naturally holds your back and shoulders in the right position and, consequently, will make you look slimmer.

Size is another important factor.  Today I discovered that I have been wearing a bra with a cup two sizes too small and one size too big around the ribs.  Women with large breasts really must have adequate support in order to cope with the extra weight at the front of their bodies.  Wide straps are essential as well as good structure from the sides and underneath.  Heavy breasted women can start to develop a dip in their shoulders and invariably suffer from back problems in later life if they don’t wear a properly fitted and appropriate bra for their size and shape.

Cup shape plays a crucial role in how you look in your clothes.  If the cup is too tight at the top, it can form an unsightly crease and bulge known as ‘double busting’ which doesn’t look nice and can be most uncomfortable.  Small breasted women can achieve a lovely, natural looking shape with a carefully fitted bra.

It is also important to put your bra on correctly.  You should lean slightly forward so that your breasts drop into the cup.  Once on, you should slip your hand under your arm and pull your breast forward into the cup.  Apparently a lot of women wander around with their boobs under their armpits.  Who knew?

Oh – I nearly forgot laundering.  Unless the bra states otherwise, you really should hand wash it if you want it to last.  Machine washing soon causes the material to stretch and weaken and the colour will fade, no matter how expensive your washing powder.

The modern day bra is a relatively recent invention.  Women have historically used corsetry to change and support their bodies and these corsets simply pushed the breasts upwards.  There were some garments which were suspended from the neck and attached to the corset with suspenders (garters) which must have been fiendishly uncomfortable.

Breast shape and size have also been subject to fashion over the centuries.  Breasts have been pushed up, flattened out and lumped together, and it is easy to see why feminist reformers saw the management of their breasts as political as well as practical.  The desire of women to be released from the social and physical strictures of their corsets played a big part in the development of the bra.

World War 1 can be said to be partly responsible for the bra.  Many women took on men’s work, as the men were all abroad being pointlessly slaughtered, and gender roles and ensuing social attitudes began to change.  Women were no longer pretty things mincing stiffly about in suffocating and unhealthy whalebone, they were drivers and factory workers and labourers who needed comfort and freedom.

1930s bra

Although the prototype of the modern bra had been created in 1907, it wasn’t until the 1930s that the ‘brassiere’ started to be commercially manufactured and generally known as a ‘bra’.  The manufacture of new materials such as Lycra and Elastene have had a major impact on the comfort of bras, as well as many other garments, and this has allowed the flourishing of styles and designs with which to enhance or modify breast shape.

I walked out of the The Little Big Bra Shop feeling like a different woman.  I was more comfortable for a start and I felt ever so slightly taller and thinner.  I was also thrilled to be told I had bigger bosoms than I thought I had, although there is the danger that if I lose some weight, I might lose those as well.  Oh well, you can’t have everything.

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Filed under Community and shopping, fashion

French Markets and a guest appearance by Rowan Atkinson

What is it about French markets that are so  much better than English ones?  I hate lazy, cultural stereotypes, but it would appear that, in some areas, the French definitely have more flair than we do.  A French market comes to Market Harborough a couple of times a year and it really is a joy.

Take a look at these photos and tell me if you’ve ever seen anything this appealing on an English market stall.  And while you’re at it, have a listen to this wonderful song from Rowan Atkinson’s ‘Live in Belfast’ album from 1980.

a veritable creperie

Sausage

Let's hope the next stall sells parsley

Savon

Tray bonbon

Sadly, French biscuits look better than they taste

The Lavender Hill Mob

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Win Free Beer with The Dabbler and Bath Ales!

Golden Hare, Ginger Hare, Wild Hare, Rare Hare, Gem… 

Four pints of heaven

… this may sound like The Wartime Housewife’s shopping list but it is, in fact, a few of the wonderful names given to Bath Ales of Bristol. 

I’m a regular reader of The Dabbler, a cultural magazine blog.  It covers a broad range of subjects, is often humorous and always readable.  I contributed myself only a few weeks ago in their ‘6Clicks’ feature, so they are clearly people of discernment.  If you’re even vaguely interested in art, literature, music and the wider world, give it a go.

At the moment, The Dabbler is running an exclusive competition to win some Bath Ale.  I have only recently converted to drinking beer on a regular basis and I have to admit that I would buy these based on their labels alone.  Apparently, Bath Ales produce the best beer in the known universe – as Brit explained here – and The Dabbler has been in touch with these lovely people to wangle one of you a free case.

Bath Ales use traditional brewing techniques blended with cutting-edge technology.  They are an independent micro-brewery established in Bristol in 1995. Their founders all come from a brewing background and have combined a complementary range of skills with a shared passion for real ale. They have also just opened a new bottling plant and brewery shop.

It’s so heart-warming to see these micro-breweries springing up all over the place and we should be supporting local breweries wherever they appear.  There is so much revolting alcoholic crap being touted around in pubs and clubs these days, that it is sheer joy to experience properly brewed, well-kept beers, made from real ingredients and that taste divine.  Wild Hare at 5%?  Give me three pints at once.

Read The Dabbler and go in for their Bath Ales competition.   You won’t regret it.

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Filed under Community and shopping, Food, Poetry, Literature, Music and Art, Regional

Is it OK to build on Green Belt land?

In which the Wartime Housewife draws your attention to GASP, a pressure group in Buckinghamshire, and offers explanation and discussion about what Green Belt and Brown Field sites really are.
Recently, Sister the Second announced that she had been on a Demonstration.  Now, I spent large chunks of my late-teens to mid-twenties marching, demonstrating, campaigning and generally sounding off about a variety of political and social issues, but Sister the Second has never had an obvious militant tendency.  I beat her over the head with a placard and demanded to know what it was about.

The owners of Wycombe Wanderers and London Wasps Rugby Clubs want to leave Adams Park (their current ground) and build a new stadium development. Wycombe Air Park is their preferred site. This is Green Belt land next to an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.  Wycombe District Council is proposing to support and part-fund the project through substantial ‘enabling development’ i.e. selling off land owned by WDC for housing development – possibly 2000 homes. The project is likely to cost tens of millions of pounds.

Group Against The Stadium Proposals (GASP) was officially formed on Monday 15th November 2010 when concerned representatives of independent groups representing some 13,000 residents came together to unite against the stadium proposals by Wycombe District Council and private enterprise. Groups include parish councils, residents’ associations, sports clubs and conservation bodies from both the local and wider area.

Whilst each group has their own individual concerns, many are shared by all groups, including loss of countryside in the Green Belt, concerns about access to and from the stadium and housing development.  To learn more about their campaign, log on to http://www.gasp-no.org
 

What does Green Belt actually mean?

A Green Belt is an allotted space of land that is held in reserve for an area of public open space and for recreational purposes. Greenbelt land is normally undeveloped or sparsely populated land, which has has been set aside to enclose developments, prevent towns from merging and provide open space.

The beginning of the Green Belt was in 1935 and was established by the Greater London Regional Planning Committee. It was not until 1947 that the Town and Country Planning Act allowed Green Belts to be included in their development plans and it was not until 1955 that the whole idea was beginning to be used throughout the UK.

There are a few set purposes for these greenbelt areas which include preventing large areas from getting larger and keeping them in one area, to keep neighboring towns from growing together, to protect the countryside from development, to preserve the character and history of smaller towns, and to help with the rebirth of derelict areas within the urban area.

Green Belt map of England

13% of England is Green Belt, the largest being the London Green Belt, at about 486,000 hectares. The smallest Green Belt is the Burton-Swadlincote Green Belt at just 700 hectares. There are around 14 Green Belts throughout England.

Green Belts were necessary because London and other major cities kept on expanding, and there had to be intervention to stop the countryside being concreted overIt has been said many times that once an open space has been built, on it will almost certainly be lost forever – no-one is ever going to look at a housing estate and say “Let’s knock this down – we could grow barley here”. 

There are five purposes for  designating Green Belt land: 

  1. Check the unrestricted sprawl of large built-up areas
  2. Prevent neighbouring towns from merging into one another
  3. Assist in safeguarding the countryside from encroachment
  4. Preserve the setting and special character of historic towns
  5. Assist in urban regeneration by encouraging the recycling of derelict and other urban land 

 There are also five threats to Green Belt land:

  1. Short term planning gain – over-riding the permanent nature of Green Belts by shifting the boundaries enabling towns to expand.  The 2005 draft Milton Keynes and South Midlands Plan produced for the ODPM (Office of the Deputy Prime Minister) talks of shifting the Green Belt to enable existing towns to expand.
  2. Housing pressures.  For example, in the South East of England (Kent, Surrey, Sussex etc) the government is asking for 500,000 more houses.
  3. London overspill.  People who currently live and work in London and are finding it too expensive and too crowded to live in London which is reducing their quality of life.  As a result, they are moving out of London to live in surrounding towns.  This is increasing the pressures for more housing in the Home Counties
  4. It is easier and cheaper to build on green field sites because brown field sites can be expensive to decontaminate.  Technically, developers have to demonstrate ‘special circumstances’ to build on Green Belt.
  5. Inappropriate development which reduces the openness of Green Belt land.  For examples, click here for appeals against refusal of permission to develop on Green Belt land

Between 1 April 2009 and 31 March 2010 there has been a net decrease of 80 hectares when compared with the latest 2008/09 estimates. This is due to two authorities who adopted new plans which resulted in a real net decrease in the area of Green Belt.  Since these statistics were first compiled in 1997, there has been an increase in the area of Green Belt, but this is because a huge chunk of the New Forest National Park was redesignated as Green Belt in 2005.

So what is a Brown Field site?

A Brown Field site

Brown Field land development is previously developed land that may or may not have been contaminated. Today, you will find literally thousands of Brown Field sites that were previously used for industrial use. Because of this, these sites potentially present dramatic risks to people’s health, along with the environment.

With the problem of these sites being so significant, the UK government has stepped in, initiating programs to help redevelop Brown Field sites, calling these cleaned up areas Green Field sites. The program defined by the government is to take up to 60% of Brown Field sites and use them for new housing developments. The goal is to eliminate stress on green belt areas of the country.

Land that has not had industrial activity on it does not usually have contamination issues and its use is dependent on the regional councils having the will to use it and the impetus to encourage and incentivise developers to move into these areas.

One of the problems with Brown Field land development is that the public are much better informed and understandably wary about the potential liabilities associated with building a new house on previously industrial land.

Brown Field land development could be successful if waste and chemical risk is removed, making the land stable. Although new processes are being reviewed, the current steps involve redevelopment through a planning process for both environmental and economic relief and growth. This must include stringent surveys to ascertain the history of the land, groundwater testing, subsurface soil testing, and so on.

Landfill sites are going to become a huge problem in the future because it is so hard to decontaminate the site to use the land for anything useful.  Have a look at this previous post for more information.

Ultimately, we have to decide whether we are happy for our green spaces to be slowly but surely eroded.  Once they’re gone, they’re gone.  No going back.  No reclaiming land for agriculture or farming, no knocking down of stadiums to build a nature reserve or a green space to stop us all going bonkers.  And no more back-handers for corrupt planning officials.  Now there’s a thought….

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Filed under Community and shopping, Environment, Politics, Science and Technology

Some Last Minute Christmas Tips & Ideas

Balls

If, like me, you’ve left everything to the last minute, here are a few Christmas tips and ideas for food, cards, presents and activities.

If you’ve only just made your Christmas Cake, feed it with a teaspoon of brandy three times a day for the next week, then apply the marzipan.  Leave it overnight to dry.  Buy a ready mix packet of Royal Icing Mix and spike it all over.  Supermarkets now have some super and classy-looking ready-made decorations, so pop one of those on the top.

If you’ve left it too late to post your Christmas cards abroad, go out with your camera and take a photograph of something Christmassy.  E-mail this with a short note, and a grovelling apology for your wretchedness, to all your foreign or ex-patriot friends and family.  This could also work with other friends if you’ve really messed it up.

If you’re really stuck for a present for someone, most supermarkets now have a fantastic range of gift cards for both local and larger High Street shops.  I think vouchers are a great gift, especially for difficult teenagers for whom there is absolutely no chance of getting it right unless they’ve given you a list.  Monsoon, HMV, iTunes, book shops, cinemas, restaurants etc – you can’t go wrong.  Click on these links to High Street Vouchers and  The Gift Card Centre and see what’s out there. Fed up with buying expensive wrapping paper that just gets ripped off and thrown away?  Wrap your gifts very neatly with newspaper and tie up the parcels with thick brightly coloured ribbon.  The ribbon can be rolled up and used again and so can the paper.

Can’t think of a gift for an older female friend or relative?  In this cold weather, skin really suffers.  Some really nice hand cream, eg. Crabtree & Evelyn, Molton Brown, Aveda, Floris, and The National Trust does a lovely range of flower scented hand creams and co-ordinating products.  It will be well received, I can assure you.

Men can be terribly difficult to buy for, particularly if the chaps in your life don’t have any discernable hobbies or interests.  Again, vouchers for HMV or a favourite clothes shop will never go to waste, but the following sites have some good ideas.  Presents for Men or Find Me a Gift could give you some clues or what about buying them an activity gift to get them interested in something?  Also a decanter and a bottle of something nice to put in it would surely bring a smile to any bod’s face.  A local antique market would be a great an inexpensive place to start or many high street jewellers sell them now.

Don’t be afraid to ask people what they want.  My family doesn’t see enough of each other to know what we have in our houses and we want to spend our money carefully on something the person really needs or would like as a treat.  Get everyone to make a list and then you know you’ll get it right.  This isn’t cynical and horrid, it’s practical and sensible at a time when people want to spend their money wisely.

CHRISTMAS FOOD

Don’t tear your hair out worrying about making Christmas Lunch for the family.  Think of it as Sunday Lunch XL!  It doesn’t have to be a great extravaganza; after all the point of having people over is to share Christmas with them, not to show off how clever you are in the kitchen.  Planning is the key and prepare as much as you can in advance. 

Starters – an unusual soup can be prepared the day before and reheated. Smoked Salmon with some coloured salad leaves and a twist of lemon will never be sneered at or failing that, buy some pre-prepared salmon mousses wrapped in smoked salmon and pop them on a bed or rocket.  Lovely. 

Pudding – Christmas Pud can be reheated in the microwave then served with fresh cream or brandy butter.  If some people don’t like Christmas Pud, make a trifle or make/buy a special ice-cream dessert.  A good cheese board with nice savoury biscuits and fruit takes no effort and can be brought to room temperature while the dinner is cooking.  More importantly, allow people to help you.  There are no prizes for being knackered and grumpy because you feel pressured and put-upon.

Christmas Tea – most people will still be stuffed from lunch so don’t go overboard.  Have a cold collation prepared: cold turkey, nice ham, a bowl of salad and a choice of dressings, some good bread, crisps, Christmas Cake, Mince Pies.  Alternatively buy a selection of party nibbles from a shop and dig in.  Again, get people to muck in and help.

If you’re going to be flying around in the style of a fly with a blue bottom, the trick is to think ahead.  Make (and freeze) or buy a curry sauce and make sure you have some rice in, then on Boxing Day or the day after, if you can’t face any more cooking, a turkey curry can be knocked up in 20 minutes.

ACTIVITIES

Christmas can be a time when people can get grumpy and dyspeptic if not carefully managed.  Think about having a walk before it gets dark to allow the grown ups to walk off their lunch and to let the children run off a bit of steam.  Everyone will feel better for it and it breaks up the day.

Have some games planned that everyone can join in with and have a laugh.  Charades or Give Us a Clue can involve the whole family as can Trivial Pursuit.  Heads, Bodies and Legs is easy for little ones and more fun than you’d think, likewise Consequences, where everyone writes a line of an agreed story and then passes the paper round and everyone writes the next line etc.  Kerplunk had us all in  stitches last year as did the game where someone sticks the name of a person on your forehead and you have to ask questions until you guess who it is.

I would also suggest that you discourage the children from sitting in front of their new computer games all day.  It’s rather bad manners to ignore everyone else like that, the game isn’t going to go away.  Take the opportunity to make the day something out of the ordinary and have a bit of fun!

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Filed under Christmas, Community and shopping, Family and Friends

London – Part 2: The West End

Now before we go any further, if you are planning a cultural / sightseeing/ shopping trip to a big city, and money is at all limited, the first thing you must do is to pack a picnic.  As I mentioned yesterday, eating at the site of an accepted landmark is reckless and foolhardy.  Their sole purpose is to fleece hapless tourists of their hard earned euros / dollars/ yen and no amount of weeping and cries of “I’m not a Tourist, I’m a Free Man!” will melt their hardened capitalist hearts.  Trust me, I’ve tried it.  Backpack, picnic, flask of cocoa; thirty quid more in your pocket to spend on fridge magnets and fudge.  That was Top Tip No. 1

Oxford StreetWe left St Paul’s and headed along the Central Line to Oxford Circus, where we emerged into a throng of more people than I have ever seen in my life, despite being a Londoner by birth.  Apparently, last Saturday is the busiest Saturday of the year.  Top Tip No. 2 – do not visit the West End of London on this day. 

In the past, Selfridges department store has had the most fabulous window displays; marvellous dioramas of fairy tales or children’s stories, or cats or something, all with moving figures and sparkly stuff.  This year there were groovily arranged piles of merchandise with mannequins with Betty Boop style heads on.   Boy the Younger liked it because it was bright and colourful, but Boy the Elder and I felt that we’d walked a sod of a long way to see a Shrine to Mammon.  We wandered around the store for a few minutes but were totally overwhelmed by the people and the stench of perfume nearly set my asthma off.

We went back into Oxford Street and walked slowly along, looking at all the shops and enjoying a variety of people you simply don’t get in Market Harborough.  Remind me another time to talk about hats.  A lot of the shops were having a fun with their displays and there were loads of hospitality girls and demonstrations going on.  Debenhams had a fashion show in their main window which was brilliant, hosted by a really gregarious and attractive person who, whilst showing off some really nice gear, nevertheless had his tongue firmly in his cheek. 

Window display at HamelysWe bought some freshly baked triple chocolate cookies from a tiny shop in an arcade and proceeded with all speed to Regent Street for the Hamleys experience.  The windows there were really lovely; huge bears in clothes doing baking and moving about.  That’s more like it.  There were so many people trying to get in, that there were security staff on every door, stairwell and escalator and they were letting the shoppers in in batches when enough other people had left.

It was completely overwhelming and again, although the boys loved it, there was none of the sense of ‘specialness’ that one used to get in Hamleys, the feeling that you were in a special place full of special toys.  We have a toyshop in Leicester called Dominos which is equally good and considerably cheaper.  I gave the chaps £5 each to spend as they saw fit; BTE bought an Airfix model and BTY found a Lego figure which he adores … which was lucky as there was precious little else they could have afforded.  Top Tip No. 3 – support your local toy shop, if you are still fortunate enough to have such a thing.

Regent Street lights

Home beckoned, and we sauntered down Regent Street, enjoying the ‘Narnia’ themed lights, to Piccadilly Circus.  It was quite touching how excited BTE was to see the huge flashing advertising board on the corner in real life and to see Eros silhouetted against it.  We fought our way onto the tube and settled into the inevitable monologue of BTY reading out every single station name and counting the number of stops left until Hatton Cross.

We arrived back at the Aged Parent’s at about 7 o’clock, to be greeted with steaming plates of sausages and mash, tired but thoroughly excited by our day.  When Granny asked the boys what had been their favourite bit, I was hugely gratified when they answered (with absolutely no prompting from me) that it had been St Paul’s.  With the triple chocolate cookies coming a very close second.

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Filed under Community and shopping, Family and Friends, Leisure, Outdoor Activities, Transport

Car Insurance – don’t let them get away with it

My insurance broker

I implore you to check your insurance premiums very, very carefully when they are due for renewal.  Whatever your insurance company offers, ring a few other people and mercilessly play them off against each other until you get a sensible quote.

My car insurance is up for renewal tomorrow.  I am currently insured with the AA and I get a special deal on AA Breakdown into the bargain.  I have been insuring my car and home contents with them for years but, come renewal time,  no quarter is given.  Apart from the fact that I am sick to death of the AA apparently having a long, long checklist of reasons why they can’t come and rescue me when I break down, I considered defecting to the RAC after the fantastic service I received when I was recently involved in an accident.

I received two unsolicited quotes from the AA in the post, the first on 27th October for £533, the second on 8th November for £589, both for the same policy specifications.  When I rang them they assured me that the absolute lowest they could go was £500.  So I rang the RAC, and obtained a quote for £478.  I immediately rang the AA back and, magically, they were able to offer me £478.

All insurers are thieving scumbags who take your money and make every excuse in the book not to pay out when you need them.  In the unlikely event that they do pay out, you are required to meet them at a crossroads in a lonely spot, where you both play the banjo and your soul is handed over to the devil.

I am a great believer in haggling, ducking and diving.  I bob and weave.  I lift and separate.  I haggle at book fairs, antique fairs and market stalls and I even attempt it in ordinary shops.  I managed to get a pair of shoes from Brantano  for £10 less than the sale price because it was the last pair “and you can never sell the last pair…”.  I managed to get £200 off a petrol lawnmower by playing three local companies off against one another until they broke down sobbing with tiny drops of blood oozing from their ears.  Whenever I go into the shop now, it’s like a ghost town with tiny sounds of scuffling coming from the stock room.

The insurance companies will rip you off if you don’t keep your wits about you and tradespeople will always charge the highest price they can get away with.  Just remember that insurance is  betting under another name.   Pull yourself up to your full height, take a deep breath and start haggling, do a deal, strike a pose.  You’ve nothing to lose.

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The Wartime Housewife Recommends…

I had a very, very productive day yesterday.  It’s the first completely free and uninterrupted day I’ve had for a long time and I have used it wisely.  After the school run, I put some washing on and then watched a bit of Jeremy Kyle while I had my breakfast.  I then did some paperwork, cleaned the bathroom and went into Harborough where I collected  a prescription, did some shopping, taxed my car and returned a defective lavatory seat to Focus.

On returning home, I fitted the replacement lavatory seat (antique pine – very tasteful), put some coat hooks up in the hall, did another load of washing, loaded the dishwasher and prepared dinner.  I actually managed to leave on time to collect the boys and caught the end of a really good science programme on Radio 4, in which I became so engrossed that I forgot to get out of the car and actually collect the boys.  Do I have to remember everything?

On returning home I did a bit more paperwork, cut my own and my neighbour’s lawn, put another load of washing on and  retrieved some boxes from my secret storage place in the disused barn opposite. 

This is where the recommendation comes in.  I have one of those rotary washing lines, although mine hasn’t rotated since the bottom of the pole snapped off in a gale a couple of years ago.  I attempted to put the spike into the lawn when I moved in to this house, but it tilted at the most alarming angle and finally toppled.   I’m blowed if I’m concreting in a spike in a garden that’s not my own.

Then one day, I was browsing through the Cooper’s catalogue and discovered the Zinc Plated Soil Spike.  It’s a ridiculously simple but thoroughly effective device which screws into the ground, without having to dig a hole or involve oneself with concrete.  It then has three screw-tightened brackets into which you slip your pole and there it is, solid as a rock.  It can be used for rotary dryers, parasols, bird feeders, flags – anything with a pole.  My rotary dryer has never been so firm and my three loads of washing did not cause it to budge an inch.  And of course, one can move it about with ease if you change the layout of the garden or have to move house.  Simple pleasures.

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Filed under Community and shopping, Life in general

The Great British Disgrace

I have just watched a television programme that made me feel genuinely panicky.  I could actually feel my heart racing at certain points when the visual evidence combined with statistics shocked me to the marrow.

This programme was called ‘The Great British Waste Menu’ on BBC1 at 8.30pm.  Four of the country’s top chef’s were challenged to produce a three course meal for 60 people out of unwanted, wasted food from any part of the food chain to highlight the amount of edible produce which is thrown away every day.  If ever there was a programme made for The Wartime Housewife, this was it. 

I’m going to startle you with some statistics.  I must add that none of these figures are researched by me, they are all courtesy of the programme.

  • One fifth of all food in the UK is thrown away
  • 3,500 potatoes are wasted every minute either in raw or cooked form
  • One million cattle are slaughtered in Britain every year and yet huge quantities are thown away or sold for dog meat because people only want the expensive cuts
  • £1.4 billion worth of food is wasted at some point in the supply chain by supermarkets every year
  • According to the charity ‘Fareshare’, four million people go hungry in the UK every day
  • On one farm alone, 30,000 heads of lettuce were ploughed back into the field on ONE DAY because they didn’t meet the supermarket specification

One fifth of all food in the UK is thrown away. How can that fail to sicken any right minded person? The chefs not only visited farms, wholesalers and supermarkets, they also knocked on the doors of homes in South London and asked  if there were any things that people were about to throw out.  Many of the people they asked didn’t even know what was in their fridges and had let stuff go off because they had forgotten it was there, or refused to eat perfectly edible food because it was past its sell-by date.  

Sell-by dates are there for the convenience of the supermarkets, for their stock rotation and their pathological fear of falling foul of the health and safety fascists.  Sell-by dates, like so much recent political legislation, have successfully robbed individuals of their common sense and their ability to make reasonable, instinctive judgements about what they put in their gobs.

I used to work for one of the (more ethical) leading supermarkets and I asked the manager why such huge amounts of food were going into the waste bins every day.  They are past their sell-by dates he told me and not fit for human consumption.  “I’d eat it” I said, hopefully, but it was made very clear that if I so much as glanced sideways at a wholemeal seeded batch I would be sacked on the spot.  I asked why the food could not be given to the homeless shelter.  I was told that would be illegal.  Wasting a skip-load of food every day should be illegal.

We, as consumers, are the biggest problem as far as the supermarkets are concerned.  The public has become obsessed with visual perfection and alleged convenient uniformity at the expense of flavour.  Egg farms throw thousands of eggs away every day because they are too small.  Apparently, the British housewife cannot work out how to use a small egg and panics if confronted with a hefty courgette. 

Millions of vegetables are thrown away for having tiny blemishes on their skins, potatoes wasted because they have sprouted slightly.  Supermarkets demand that courgettes are between 17-21cm long or they will reject them.  They also reject small strawberries (apparently the shoppers don’t want them) and those which cannot be sold at farmers markets are thrown away.

The chefs had an incredible haul of food salvaged for their menu.  One baker was going to throw away a foot long topside of beef, fishermen handed over boxes of young sole, called ‘slip sole’, because British housewives can’t be bothered to cook them,  Ideally, of course, we should be developing more sophisticated methods of fishing so that these young fish wouldn’t be caught in the first place.  But how difficult is it to cook a fish on the bone (more tasty anyway) and eat it?  Markets throw away binfuls of fruit and vegetables because they’ve fallen on the floor, gone a tiny bit soft or they simply can’t be bothered to take it home.

We have let this happen.  We have become so lazy and senseless that we are treating the precious resource of food, that takes so much effort to produce, that nourishes our bodies, and of which there is plenty to go round, like so much garbage. 

A TV programme last year showed a family of five who spent £400 a week on food and threw away a third of it.  Part of this was because they weren’t great cooks and partly it was because they allowed their children to be fussy and dictate what they would or wouldn’t eat.  They were effectively running a canteen and some days cooked four separate dishes at one meal.  Utter, profligate madness.

I produce very little food waste – vegetable peelings, the very odd bit of cold meat that I have completely forgotten to cook in time.  I scrape the mould off cheddar and bread (within reason), and any vegetables that get a little elderly are roasted or turned into soup.  I don’t do massive shops, and I admit to using the supermarket more than I should because of time constraints.  When there was a farm shop up the road, I rarely went to the supermarket except for cleaning stuff and dry goods.  

However there is a farm shop on the other side of Harborough and I am going to go to it.  In fact, time permitting, I am going to start scavenging.  I am a terrific scavenger for everything else, so I’m going to start scavenging for food.  I’ll let the excitement of this programme die down a bit, and then I shall set to.  And I pledge here and now, that every time I successfully scavenge stuff, I will tell you what I’ve cooked with it.  Maybe a new side bar or feature box is called for.  I will consult an expert.

If ‘Great British Waste Menu’ is repeated on iPlayer, please, please watch it and make your families and friends watch it.  And more importantly, look very hard at your fridges and larders and make a firm commitment to wasting less and save yourself some money.  Plan your meals and your shopping, never go out without a list, investigate cheaper cuts of meat and ask your butcher for them.    ‘Waste not, want not’ is as about as good a cliché as you will ever hear.  We are entering a period of much needed austerity.  Be prepared.

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Filed under Community and shopping, Ethics, Food, Tips, Skips and Scavenging

What we need is another war

This is what my grandmother used to say with astonishing regularity whenever she perceived the world to be a Worsening Place.* “Bring back National Service” was another regular supporting feature.

So.  The necessity for another war.  Even as a child I used to think this was a wicked thing to say and told her so.  I had read about the two World Wars and I’d seen Vietnam and Palestine on the news; who could possibly want a repeat of that?

The problem is, I now know what she means.  She didn’t want bombs, terror and death, she wanted an environment where people, looked after each other, valued what they had and didn’t whinge because they felt hard done by all the time.  She saw what was coming and feared the dissolution of society.

Last night, Sister the Second and I watch ‘Housewife 49’ the real life story of Nella Last, a housewife during WW2, who wrote a diary for the Mass Observation Project.  It is the sixth time I have watched it.  Thank you to my cousin Long Lost 1 for introducing me to that.

Before the outbreak of war, Nella Last had been a timid, nervous and unfulfilled women with limited life experience, who was married to a suffocating and emotionally fearful man.  The war gave her the courage and the opportunity to break out and learn who she was and what she could do.  She joined the WVS, undertook practical, useful work and made friends with people who liked and valued her and it changed her life.

Many people today feel undervalued either at work, at home or in their social sphere.  Women feel they have to have a career, children, an ideal home, foreign holidays, regular orgasms and a perfect body.  Men are under tremendous pressure to support all these things and be a hands on father, a passionate and sensitive husband and maintain their masculinity at all times without feeling emasculated by their thrusting wives.  And yet it’s still not enough.

Why are we doing this?  Why do we have all these ‘time-saving’ gadgets and machines to help us in the home and yet we still have no time?  Why can no-one bear to be quiet?  Everywhere we go there is noise; music in shops, radios, television, traffic, ‘phones, computers, iPods.  You see shuffling families walking together in shopping centres and half of them have earphones on.  Trains are a cacophony of mobiles, laptops, fizzing high hats and people shouting into slivers of plastic that ‘I’M ON THE TRAIN!’

What are they trying to block out I wonder?  I put it to you that they are drowning out the loudly gnashing teeth of greed.  Strugging to suppress the wailing of their perceived inadequacy and desperately trying to quench the crackling flames of failure.  No really.

Many people lead pointless lives.  They are de-skilled, de-motivated and devolving.  How many people are capable of sitting quietly with no sound, no flickering images?  Even supposing that anyone can sew, knit or make things, how many would do it without the TV, radio or stereo piping away in the background?

I’m not suggesting that we should all be sitting in silence, just that we shouldn’t be frightened of doing so.  We should allow ourselves time to reflect on what we’re doing,  how we’re doing it and whether we’re on the right track.

I think we also need to have activities in our lives where we can actually see the end result of what we’ve being working towards.  Many people never see a ‘product’ at work and never experience the satisfaction of a job well done and there’s not always a lot we can do about it.  But we should try to find windows in our manic schedules in which to say ‘I am going to do this; I’m going to put some effort and skill into it and at the end, I will have this and I will like it’.

It doesn’t have to be anything grand or ambitious – it could be an Airfix model, a flower arrangement, a knitted scarf, a wooden toy, a jigsaw, the taking of photographs, a painting, writing a letter, building a model railway – anything that allows you to calm down, focus and create something.

And maybe some form of National Service wouldn’t be such a bad thing, particularly in view of  the rising levels of youth unemployment.  Not necessarily military, but a year or two’s community service might well be just the thing to drag disillusioned, unskilled young people away from their  Nintendos and alcopops.  Discuss.

Technology and communications are wonderful things and full of potential to enhance our lives, but if we’re not careful, they will become substitutes for self reliance, independent thought and creativity.  Technology is only a tool.  My grandmother didn’t want another war, she just wanted someone to restore the factory settings.

*  Just for record I really, really regret that I didn’t realise what an interesting person my grandmother was until after she’d died.  Although, in my defence, she was 77 when I was born and I was only 13 when she died.  If you’re out there Nana, you were much loved and I’m sorry for being an ungrateful git.

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Stock Exchange: buying and selling at the antique market

I had a bit of a haul at the Sunday Antique Market.  I really didn’t mean to go.  I picked Boy the Elder up from Scout Camp, went to church then remembered that I needed something from Sainsbury’s that I’d forgotten on Saturday.  Then I remembered that Smog needed a new flea collar and she will only wear yellow which means getting one from Wilkinson’s which is right next to the market. Rats.  Before I knew it, I had cruised in like a rooster and was contentedly browsing the stalls.

Now I happened to have, in the car, an inoffensive, mass-produced Japanese tea set that I had been given some time ago.  I have been attempting to downsize in view of the diminished proportions of WH HQ and I remembered that I had forgotten to take it in on Friday.  I fished it out and managed to persuade a feeble-minded trader to take it off my hands.  I only got beer money but I did then feel justified in doing another circuit of the hall.

One stall, quite uncharacteristically, had a load of magazines and ephemera onto which I swooped vampire-like.  This is what I bought:

  • A 1951 ‘Woman’s Own’ magazine – slightly tatty but containing a three-page section on producing a first Sunday lunch for a new bride
  • A wartime ‘Needlewoman and Needlecraft’ magazine which still had two transfer embroidery patterns in it
  • A Red Cross ’Junior Nursing Manual’ which has convinced me that children should stop learning PSHE and Citizenship and should be doing First Aid instead.

I spurn you OK, Chat and Heat as I would spurn a rabid dog

I also bought two Staffordshire china cups and saucers with violets on which will necessitate the purchase of a little purple or yellow teapot so I can be all elegant and co-ordinated and that.

All of this led me to rummage through my (badly arranged) collection of pamphlets and I rediscovered my 1930s ‘Hints for Home Sewing’ and a wartime Ministry of Food ‘ABC of Cookery’.

You will be glad to know that I will be sharing the contents of these with you. 
But I will do it gradually so you don’t get the vapours.

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Giving blood is very important

This week, I toddled down to The Three Swans in Market Harborough, accompanied by The Boys, and handed over slightly more than a pint of The Wartime Housewife’s finest O Rh Positive.  I say slightly over, because an extra donation is taken in order to extract platelets and plasma.  I’m also on the Bone Marrow donation and  the Organ Donation registers and all this information is logged on the little plastic card I carry round in my purse – for my own use and also in case I go under a bus and someone needs my kidneys. 

I have given blood intermittently for years; intermittently because I couldn’t donate for a while after visiting the Far East and likewise after the birth of The Boys due to having caesarian sections.  I usually take The Boys with me so that they see loads of different people doing it, observe that it’s easy and I hope that it will encourage them to do it themselves when they’re 17.  They also get a drink and a chocolate biscuit which always goes down well.   

In the UK only 4% of the population gives blood and yet many of us will need transfusions due to surgery, illness or accidents. Last year they collected 2.1 million donations from about 1.6 million donors. Although that sounds a lot, that is 4% of the population, giving two or three times a year.

8,000 units of blood are needed every day to meet hospital demand. Blood comes in four main types – O, A, B and AB – Group O is the most common which means it is in high demand. Blood can also be subdivided into its main components – red cells, white cells, platelets and plasma. Unfortunately red cells only have a shelf-life of 35 days, while the shelf life of platelets is only five days, so the stocks constantly need replenishing.

The history of blood and transfusions is interesting.  The Greek physician and writer, Claudius Galen is a giant in the story of medicine.  Born around AD130 he wrote some 400 treatises on medicine and his work on anatomy was seriously impressive.  He understood that the heart regulated the flow of blood and although he had worked out that there was a venous and arterial system, but he thought the liver was the crucial organ of the blood and he never cracked the concept of circulation. 

In the Middle Ages, blood was known to be a vital component of human health and it was thought that disease could be caused by an excess of bodily fluids such as blood.  Blood letting became a main treatment and was often undertaken by barbers at public baths.  Sometimes a vein was opened to release the blood but often it was extracted using leeches or cupping vessels to remove ‘the viscious humours’.

It wasn’t until 1628 that William Harvey established that blood circulated round the body and outlined the mechanics of the cardio-vascular system.  The next major step occurred in 1665 by Dr Richard Lower who carried out the first successful blood transfusion in dogs.  He noted that dark venous blood injected into the aerated lungs of the recipient turned bright red and thus he came close to understanding the modern concept of oxygenation of blood in the lungs.

However, when he started performing transfusions on humans, he couldn’t understand why people receiving the blood kept dying.  In the early 1800’s a Dr James Blundell was attempting to transfuse women who suffered haemorrhage after childbirth; miraculously it sometimes worked, but not often.  It wasn’t until 1900 when Dr Karl Landsteiner discovered the ABO blood group system, that doctors understood that patients need compatible blood.  This discovery won him the Nobel Prize.

There were various small advances, particularly during the First World War when it was discovered that blood kept longer if it was kept in the fridge and also that by mixing it with sodium citrate they could prevent it from clotting.  In 1921 members of The British Red Cross volunteered to donate blood, which was the first step towards a voluntary donation system.  In 1936 the world’s first blood bank was opened in Chicago, USA, closely followed by Ipswich, UK.

The outbreak of the Second World War really focused the minds of the doctors and nurses treating the wounded and transfusion centres were set up all over the country. In 1946 The Blood Transfusion Service was born and when the National Health Service was established the following year, they immediately began to work in close partnership.  It is now called The National Blood Service.

From then on the service went from strength to strength.  Testing was introduced for hepatitis and HIV and more recently Nucleic Acid Amplification Technology (NATS) is used for detecting viruses in their early stages, making blood transfusion safer than ever.

If you make an appointment, giving blood can take less than 40 minutes.  You fill in a questionnaire, a nurse will take a drop of blood from your finger to make sure that you are not anaemic (low on haemoglobin), and you are then taken to a trolley on which you lie comfortably while a needle is inserted into a vein. There is a slight prick as the needle goes in, but nothing more than that. You flex your hand gently to ensure good blood flow whilst you’re lying there, then, when it’s finished, usually after about 20 minutes, you have a drink and a biscuit.  And they’re usually really nice biscuits.  I had an orange Club.

For the sake of 40 minutes of your time you will have saved someone’s life.  Fair swap.

Log on to the National Blood Service website now and find out where you can go to save a life. 

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Filed under Community and shopping, Health and Fitness, History, Medical, Science and Technology

Keep Calm and Carry On

Yes.  ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ is what the poster says and very lovely it is too.  Barter Books of Alnwick in Northumberland found this poster in a box of old books and had the nouse to produce and sell it.  Not only does it look beautiful in the frame on my dining room wall and on the mug in my cupboard, but it is excellent advice for an hysterical, degenerate and spineless society.

The first inevitable parodies were quite amusing I suppose, but it really is getting rather out of hand now.  The pastiches are everywhere!  On a children’s TV programme, a classroom wall had one which said ‘Keep Calm and Stay Silent’, another poster has been spotted which read ‘Change Words and Be Hilarious’ which, if it’s heaving with irony, is pleasing in its way.

But today, on my way home, I realised that things have gone Too Far.  Outside a local church, I saw this on the notice board next to the service schedule and the poster warning villagers that someone might be trying to steal their car.  I believe that postcards of this poster have also been popped through local letterboxes to persuade people that the Church of England is  ‘on trend’. *


The vicar there is a lovely man and I’m sure he was trying to catch a bit of zeitgeist, but it misses the mark in such a cringeworthy way that I’m rather glad that I commune with the Baby Jesus in another parish.  In fact, if he’d put the actual poster up, it would have been rather charming and reassuring.

After a period of reflection, The Wartime Housewife says ‘Chin Up’ and ‘Best Foot Forward’.  And not infrequently ‘You’re Never Alone with Custard’.  That would get the punters in.

* Please forgive the quality of the photo, but I took it from a moving vehicle with one hand, a Coronation Chicken roll in my mouth and the other hand firmly on the steering wheel.

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Summer fetes and what you can find there

We are now heavily into the Summer Fete* season. Barely a weekend goes by without there being at least one fete or summer show to tickle our fancies.  They are usually tremendous fun, with lots of games, stalls, bric-a-brac, teas and displays and they make a great deal of money for  schools, local charities and projects.  Which is a comfort as your wallet empties, your children’s arms fill with other people’s cast-off toys and your tummy starts to grumble at the third cream scone you’ve stuffed into it.

I’m going to set you a challenge based on Wartime Housewife values and sensibilities.  In the next month, I want you to attend one (or many) fetes.  Rummage feverishly among the stalls and find an object which is either an incredible find or, better still, can be turned into something else that is useful, beautiful or both.  I will do the same and report back.

Last year, I bought a concertina mug rack for 10p on which I hang all my necklaces.  I don’t know how I managed without it.  Go forth and scavenge my dears.

*  If anyone can tell me how to get a circumflex over my ‘e’ in Word I’d be very grateful.

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Filed under Community and shopping, Leisure, Re-use Recycle, Tips, Skips and Scavenging