Category Archives: Household Hints

Life is too short not to have a Filing System

How can people live without at least one small filing cabinet in their houses?  How do they access the mountains of paperwork which drop through our letterboxes, into children’s bookbags, handed to you on the doorstep by frightening, burly men …. oh sorry, forget that last bit.  But you get my point.

At any given time, I have a pile of papers on my desk that are waiting to be dealt with by return letter, the filling in of forms, the production of other documents, ‘phone calls at the very least and almost always requiring the handing over of shining piles of cash.

The only way of keeping on top of this lot is to have an accurate, well organised filing cabinet which is regularly scanned and weeded for superfluous and out of date papers.  I have a large filing cabinet that has been travelling with me for the last 20 years.

The top drawer is devoted to The Wartime Housewife (and who isn’t?), the second drawer is for major household categories that require money to change hands eg utilities, car, schools, bank, tax etc, important documents such as medical cards, passports, birth certificates, and instruction leaflets with their receipts and guarantees.  The third drawer is predominantly recreational – Scouts, vet, English Heritage and that sort of thing.

When the car needs insurance or an MOT, I go the Car File and take out the envelope marked ‘Car Docs’ which contains MOT, Insurance policy and the log book.  Today the Inland Revenue needed a copy of a document from several years ago and I was able to go straight to my drawer and retrieve it while the chap was on the ‘phone.

The thing about accurate filing is that it saves so much time.  Having systems for dealing with incoming mail and tasks means that you have infinitely more chance of keeping on top of things and significantly less tasks of letting something critical slip through the net.

I have an In-Tray next to my desk where papers go for sorting.  I then have three magazine holders on the other side of my desk marked ‘Things to be Done Imminently’, ‘School & Scouts Letters and Forms’ and ‘Things to be Kept at Hand’.  The things in the first two holders will also appear on my (typed) Things To Do List which is pinned to my noticeboard and, when completed, the documents are either filed or thrown away.

I also have plastic folders for ongoing issues (in the To Be Kept at Hand), such as the car accident I had last year and every time I make contact with the insurers, I add a note to the file with the details so that I have an accurate record of every step.

The other things I do which I find endlessly useful, is I keep a sheet on the computer which has a list of all my regular income and expenditure on a monthly basis and every time something changes, it is updated and a printout stored in the file.   This not only helps me to keep a tight rein on my finances but I am frequently asked for this information and I save so much time by having the data at my fingertips.

My only problem is that I do have a box of filing which came with me from the old house, but it is only small and if something isn’t in the file, it will be in the box.

Without these systems I would probably be in jail.  I have poor short term memory and too many demands and variables in my daily life.  My brain is, by nature, chaotic and I impose these structures in order to function. Before I realised the value of systems, I lived in chaos and was constantly fire-fighting.  Life is just too short.

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Wills’ Cigarette Cards No 10: Making a Dog Kennel

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Lost the integral plug for your washbasin? Problem solved!

The washbasin in my bathroom is one of those with an integral plug which is raised and lowered using a flimsy little handle behind the tap.  Sadly the plug is missing and they are jolly difficult to replace.  They are also jolly easy to lose things down as there is no grille in the plughole to stop one dropping contact lenses, earrings or plastic toys.  There are examples of all three down this particular plughole.

But then Boy the Younger solved it.  He placed a large glass marble into the plughole and it keeps the water in when you want to do washing but keeps your valuables out when one is merely inserting contact lenses or playing pirate ships with handfuls of Crazy Go-Gos, Lego or Playmobil. I think it looks wierdly cool.

Washbasin with missing integral plug

Basin with marble plug substitute

Giant marble filling the hole

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Wills’ Cigarette Cards No. 9: Distempering

Distemper may seem a somewhat outmoded decorative option, but anyone who has an old property will undoubtedly have come across it.  Also, anyone who is involved in conservation will be familiar with it, as well as lime mortar.  However, this is entirely separate from the veterinary condition and under no circumstances must you attempt to paint your dog, however shabby his appearance.
For more information on distemper and lime mortar click on Building Conservation.com.

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Filed under General DIY, History, Household Hints, Wills Cigarette Cards

Horror and achievement in equal quantities

Yesterday was a funny old day.  Despite several urgent administrative matters which reared their heads in the morning, I managed to complete my entire list of things to do, except the shelves.  These were not done because I ran out of red rawl plugs and I was buggered if I was going to drive five miles just to get some more – the TP  round the corner only sells them in batches of 20,000.

After I had done my jobs in the hall, I got the vacuum out to clean the carpets.  Because we are still hauling boxes and moving furniture, I have left a piece of off-cut carpet in the hall so the real carpet doesn’t get dirty.  I vacuumed the top and then lifted it up to vacuum underneath.

To my horror, the underside was absolutely crawling with maggots.  After the shock had worn off,  I tried to work out where they’d come from.  The carpet off-cut was relatively new and I had vacuumed under it recently, so it couldn’t be the carpet.  I checked for any rogue food which the boys might have dropped but there was nothing.

Then it dawned on me.  Last week we had very heavy rain and something organic and dead had been washed out of the gutter and, as I went out of the front door that night, the whole of the front step was covered with maggots.  I had poured boiling water on them and swept them up the next morning, but  clearly, some of them had got inside and snuggled up under my carpet.  Yuk. I would even go so far as to say ‘Eeooow’ in that slightly affected way of the Californian teenage girl.

I cleared up and carried on with my tasks.  Hooks were hung, steps were scrubbed, windows cleaned, ‘phone calls made, Boy the Younger was collected from school. I then went out to pick up Boy the Elder from the bus stop.  It’s only a ten minute drive and the first part is along a narrow road where one has to drive slowly because of parked cars.  20-25mph is about as fast as you can go.

As I came round a wide bend, I saw a group of little girls standing at the side of the road.  I slowed down a bit more, just in case, but they saw me and stepped back from the kerb.  Then, just before I drew level with the girls, two of them suddenly made a dash for it and ran straight out in front of my car.

I slammed on the brakes and literally, and I mean literally, stopped short of  the girl at the back by about four inches.  I stopped the car and got out, shaking.  Both sets of girls were stock still at the side of the road, obviously terrified that I was going to give them a bollocking.

I didn’t shout.  I checked that they were ok and then gave them a very serious but gentle lecture about crossing the road and how important it is to look both ways, twice, before crossing the road, looking and listening all the time.  The girls who didn’t cross were very upset and full of apologies.  The girl who I nearly hit just kept saying “I didn’t see you, I didn’t see you”.  Absolutely horrible.

I had a dear friend once who accidentally killed someone in a car and he never got over it.  He was driving down a main road and he saw a car coming out of a gateway and he slowed down just in case it pulled out.  The other driver saw him and pulled back.  But then, inexplicably, just as my friend was about to drive past, the car pulled out at speed and my friend ploughed into the driver’s side killing him instantly.  Fortunately the little girl who was in the passenger seat was unharmed.  My friend developed a crippling stammer which never left him.

Drive safely all of you.  And clean out your guttering.

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Filed under Children, Cleaning, Family and Friends, General DIY, Life in general, Transport

A simple and practical Outdoor Ashtray

Now that smokers have all been forced into the wilderness to carry out their unspeakable evil, the problem of what to do with fag ends has become an al fresco problem.

Which can now be solved with the Wartime Housewife’s Flower Pot Outdoor AshtrayImpervious to the Elements!

Simply buy a terracotta flower pot with matching tray, upturn the flower pot and deposit your ash and cigarette butts into the hole at the top.  The wind will not blow your nicotine nastiness all over the garden and the tray can then be emptied easily into the bin – and no Butts in your Buddleias!


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How to treat cup rings on leather-topped tables

Not a mark on it

A week or so ago I committed the cardinal sin of putting a hot, damp-bottomed mug directly onto a leather-topped table.  This immediately occasioned a white cup ring which fag-ash paste failed to remedy.  What to do?

I picked up a super little leather topped occasional table from the antique and bric-a-brac people who set up their stall under-cover of the Old Grammar School in Market Harborough.  It is exactly what I need beside my wing-backed armchair and upon which I place a table lamp, a magnifying glass for reading the small writing on DVDs and the beverage of my choice.  I usually user a saucer, even with a mug, to avoid marking tables or slopping, but on this occasion I forgot and the horrid white cup ring soon appeared.  Then I had a brainwave.

How to remove a white ring from a leather table top
The leather was brown so this is what I did:-

I fetched the dark tan shoe polish
an old soft toothbrush
a soft cloth

Apply the shoe polish to the leather, working it well in with the toothbrush
Leave for a while to really soak in

Buff off with the soft cloth
If the ring has not quite gone, repeat the process

This worked a treat and it looks beautiful.
You can also use vinegar which you apply in the same way, but finish off by buffing it up with furniture polish.

It is a good idea to oil leather tops occasionally to stop them drying out and cracking.  Get some oil and a soft cloth and work the oil gently into the top.  Leave it to dry naturally or wipe off any excess with kitchen paper.

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Wills’ Cigarette Cards No 8: Cycle Brackets

Now I know there are a few of you out there who would find much use for a sturdy pair of brackets like these for your velocipedes, to say nothing of frollicking with a bracing strut …

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A solution to the problem of lost chargers: a Charging Station

Thousands of electrical things in our house need charging rather than replacing batteries, seemingly on an hourly basis.  Although I attach little white labels with the name of the appliance to which they belong onto all my stuff, the boys shuffle, weeping, around the house looking for the chargers for NDSs, cameras, ‘phones, video players and, if things have gone really critical, toothbrushes.

I have solved the problem.  I have erected two shelves just outside The Bunker, next to the electric sockets and have run two long extension boards to each shelf.  Into these I have plugged the chargers (which I have carefully labelled).  When anyone needs to charge something, they bring it down to the cellar and just plug it in.

There is the danger that they may wilfully attempt to use the appliance whilst it’s charging (not the ‘phones of course children, as using a ‘phone whilst it’s charging will fry your brain).  In which case, if they then lose said charger, they have only themselves to blame.

I, however, will never lose sight of a charger again.  She said smugly.

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Yesterday’s Skip Scavenge

Saved

Yesterday I spent the whole day cleaning, tidying, sorting, taking bags to charity shops and, sadly, taking things to the tip.  I was obliged to put a few items into the ‘Household Electricals’ bin, despite the fact that they were in perfect working order, because no-one would take them without a PAT test.

However, there is nothing to stop me taking things out again.  Right near the top I found this super lamp which looks pretty much brand new and works beautifully.  Hurrah.

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Wills’ Cigarette Cards No 7: A useful clothes-line

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Good night, sleep tight and mind the bugs, bacteria and dust mites don’t bite

Dust mites

In which the Wartime Housewife compares historical hygiene and the importance of airing bed linen.

Isn’t it interesting how concepts of hygiene change over the years?  Adverts tell us that there are more germs on our chopping boards than on our lavatory seats, that we will catch something nasty if we so much as touch the soap dispenser and hint that our spouses may abandon us if our houses smell of anything but ‘Evening Musk of Calibar’.  And yet we survive.

However, we fail to do simple things that could very well curb some of the allergies and respiratory problems which plague the modern family.  Things that our grandparents did as a matter of course.

A potentially lethal mug of cocoa

After two years, one third of the weight of a pillow consists of dust mites, dust mite faeces, dead skin, bacteria and saliva.  A duvet will be similar but with the addition of other body fluids.  Oh, and Ovaltine and cocoa in my case.

Dust mites are terribly fashionable these days and our beds are full of them.  The Victorians were most fastidious about bedrooms and bed linen, and at Spring Cleaning time, they would literally take beds to pieces and wash down ever single bit, then put them back together.  Bed linen was washed at high temperatures, aired and pressed with a hot iron.  Mattresses and pillows were regularly aired and exposed to sunlight.  Windows would be opened at night to let the fresh air in.

Dust mites hate heat and light, therefore washing at 60o or over and then airing in the sun will soon put a stop to them as the sunlight causes them to dry out and die.  Unfortunately, the prevalence of the dust mite has increased with our obsession with washing things at low temperatures.  Perhaps using less detergent but higher temperatures would be better for the environment?  Discuss.

Dust - for those of us who have never noticed it...

All pillows and duvets can be machine washed – even duck and goose down ones.  Pillows will fit into the domestic washing machine and most launderettes have big machines that will accommodate a duvet and have a large tumble dryer to finish them off.  I’m sorry to say that some people buy new duvets instead of washing them, their argument being that it is cheaper to buy a new one than to wash it.  This is missing the point and is wrong-headed; just think what will happen to that duvet when you’ve taken it to the tip.

Incidentally, it is thought that goose and duck down is less susceptible to microbial growth due to the density of the fibres.  Despite being asthmatic, I am not affected by feathers but for the people who are, washing and airing your synthetic pillows should have a high priority.

A bed bug

4 bed bugs infested with poorly manicured human fingers

Bed bugs had been practically eradicated by the 1940s but have increased in incidence since 1995. We’re not quite sure why this has happened, but it may have links to increased foreign travel or a greater focus on controlling other pests.  Spiders, cockroaches, ants and millipedes all predate on them, but I wouldn’t recommend using your bedroom as the pest control equivalent of companion planting.  Reputable insecticides and heat treatments are the answer.  It’s also a good idea to give any second hand furniture, that may be susceptible, a good hovering before first use.  Tight weave mattress protectors are also a good idea, both for suppressing bugs and for keeping mattresses free of ‘fluids’  (and I include Ovaltine and  cocoa in that as well).

Let the sun and air do the work and they cost nothing.  Sheets and pillow cases always feel and smell fresher and nicer when they’ve been hung outside in the fresh air to dry.  What a joy it is to have a bath, then get into a clean nightie and snuggle up between freshly washed sheets.
Wait for a hot, sunny day and peg out your pillows.  I feel a new slogan coming on.

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One more thing about trousers – how to turn them into shorts

Boy formerly wearing trousers

A little while ago I showed you how to patch a hole in a pair of trousers.   Now that the warm weather is here, another, simpler, alternative to patching long trousers is to turn them into short ones.

If the hole is on the knee, put a pin as close above the hole as you can and measure the distance between the pin and the hem of the trousers
Then measure the same distance from the hem and mark with tailors chalk or a pin, all the way round each leg
Using sharp scissors, cut along the marked line (get a grown up to help you with this)
Turn the shorts inside out
Turn up about 0.5cm / ¼ “ of fabric then turn it up again a further 1cm / ½ “ so you have a neat hem
Check the leg lengths are equal and adjust if necessary
Pin it and tack
Machine neatly round the hem or hand sew using small, neat stitches
Remove the tacking thread

Et voila! One pair of shorts for warm sunny days and grazed knees.

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Filed under Children, Household Hints, Sewing

Unexpected clown trousers

On Saturday afternoon, Boy the Younger handed me a letter from his schoolbag informing me that, as it was Creative Week starting on Monday, the children had to go into school in clown outfits to start the week in a jolly way.  Oh blimey.

I bought a couple of yards of blue and white spotted fabric and some elastic and set to work.
I cut out four giant trouser legs and hemmed them all round.
I then stitched them together and made a wide hem round the waist, leaving a gap for threading wire through.
I opened out a coat-hanger and bent it into a circle, pinching hooks into the ends to link them together, then threaded it through the waist hem.
I squeezed the ends of the hanger shut with pliers and then stitched up the gap in the hem.
At the bottom of the trouser legs I did the same, but threaded those through with elastic so the trousers were really baggy.
I made braces out of ribbon, but I wish I’d bought extra elastic so that the trousers would have stayed on better AND bounced up and down.

To finish the outfit off, he wore some long striped socks and my Converse on his feet, a dark blue long-sleeved t-shirt with a red Indian waistcoat and I had made a bow tie out of the surplus trouser fabric.  I didn’t have time to make a hat, so he wore a wizard’s hat which I made years ago which has a big padded brim, a pointy cone and an old diamante earring stitched to the front like a jewel.

Children’s dressing up clothes can be made quite simply with cheap material and a bit of imagination.  You don’t have to have tailoring skills – just look at a pair of trousers, for example, take note of the shape of the pieces and copy them.  Even shirts, tops and dresses can be made with little skill.

Alternatively, you can pick up bits and pieces from charity shops which can be adapted with the application of a pair of scissors and a strip of Wunda-Web* into something marvellous.

I once made a Robin Hood outfit for Boy the Elder out of an old airtex shirt of mine, dyed green.  I made a little shoulder cape out of a remnant of green upholstery fabric and cut out a crenellated edge which I finished off with blanket stitch to make it look authentic.  Then I gathered the edge of the cape slightly with a drawstring thread and stitched it round the collar of the shirt.  A belt was applied round the waist and bingo!, a Merry Man as I lived and breathed.  Boy the Younger was wearing it only yesterday.  All day.  With my pirate boots.

* Wunda-Web is a  wunderful thing.  It is a long thin strip of something vaguely sticky which you fold into the hem of the garment you need turning up.  You then iron it on and it holds the hem or seam – no sewing required.  A boon, particularly if you don’t have a sewing machine.

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Wills’ Cigarette Cards No 6: Whitening a ceiling

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