Category Archives: Community and shopping

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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Filed under Community and shopping, Family and Friends, Leisure, Life in general, Politics

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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