Category Archives: Product comparisons

A Tale of Two Childhoods


The Boys are off to Norfolk with their dad for a few days tomorrow and, while the washing machine was carrying out its incessant and inexorable labours, we went into Leicester, primarily with the intention of seeing if we could get Boy the Elder’s camera fixed.  Yet another example of our throw-away society – a £50 camera would have cost £120 to get fixed.  They can get f****d.  (Fixed – what did you think I meant?)  I haven’t been into Leicester since Christmas and I think one visit every eight months is all that’s necessary.

We looked in many shops.  The boys looked at toys, computer games, gadgets and books while I looked at shoes, boots, sandals and books. I bought a boxed set of Powell & Pressburger DVDs for a fiver and a hairband with a red bow on – last of the big spenders, me.

However, we went into two shops in The Shires which, to me, were about as opposite as it was possible to be. 
The first was called (I think) The Model Shop.  It sold model kits of things; aeroplanes, tanks, ships, rockets, cars, Star Wars and Dr Who stuff and sets of figures to go with your kits.  It had a whole corner devoted to Hornby train sets and all the glorious paraphernalia that goes with it and we were all dry mouthed with excitement for different reasons.  I have a train set rattling in its box with nowhere to set it up.  Boy the Elder likes WW2 tanks, planes and ships and Boy the Younger likes planes, Star Wars and anything Boy the Elder has got.

There was no music playing and it was staffed by young men who knew all about the things they sold.  One chap spent ages with Boy the Younger helping him to find something he could manage without getting overwhelmed and dispirited.  All the things in the shop required an initial interest, patience, a bit of skill and the opportunity for development of one’s skill and the associated learning that comes with collecting things. 

It was lovely, although I admit I was the only girl in there and certainly the only one dribbling gently on the ‘OO’ gauge landscaping materials.  I nearly bought a ‘Trackside’ Morris Oxford, just in case, but Boy the Elder calmed me down, gave me an injection and persuaded me not to empty the garden shed in order to re-create a post war rural layout (mixed traffic)  in obsessive detail. 

The other shop was a place of horror and revulsion.  The Disney Store.  In some ways, I don’t feel the need to say anything else.  There was loud music blasting from speakers in the ceiling, nauseatingly perky, yet strangely passionless shop assistants pounced the minute one was through the door and the lighting could have been used to extract confessions from Russian dissidents.

It was bulging with plastic and polyester shite designed to turn parents upside down to extract every last penny from their fraying pockets.  Racks and racks of hideous merchandising from every film you can think of and some we didn’t even realize were Disney.  I didn’t see Mickey Mouse anywhere.  When Boy the Elder spotted Marvel Comic merchandise, he started sounding off in the way that only indignant teenage boys can.  When I explained to him that Disney had bought Marvel for $4 billion last year, he walked out of the shop, convinced that the world had ended.

Poor Boy the Younger just wanted to look at Buzz Lightyear drinks bottles, untroubled by the wailing and gnashing of teeth from his family, but it was horrible.  The worst thing was that everything was instant, required no skill or imagination and was utterly disposable. 

The two shops seemed to represent two separate worlds; one in which children’s play could be calm, constructive and fun, and one in which children were willing victims of the iniquity and greed of the merchandisers.  And naturally it is presented in such a way that the children are encouraged to want more and more as every new film comes out and the parents are too enfeebled and anaesthetised to say no.

Would anyone like to buy me a shed?


Filed under Children, Collecting, Indoor Activities, Leisure, Life in general, Product comparisons, Uncategorized

What you need is a nice Milky Drink: a comparison of bed-time drinks

I’m a bit of a purist myself. Every night I have a hot mug of Ovaltine, which I mix with hot (skimmed) milk and drink it while I’m reading my book.  Occasionally, if I’ve run out of Ovaltine, I’ll have a mug of cocoa, made with milk and half a teaspoon of sugar, but I prefer cocoa during the day, perhaps to warm up after a brisk walk in the cold and preferably accompanied by something with jam in it. 

I have only strayed into the realm of the Instant Hot Chocolate in cafes where one is hard pressed to get anything else.  Sister the Second only drinks the instant varieties and, on close questioning of my friends, I find that loyalties to the hot, ostensibly milky, beverage are strong and divided.  I have not ventured into the badlands of the ‘flavoured’ chocolate drinks – orange, mint, caramel etc or we’d be here until Domesday and I would be sick in a bucket.

With so many variables, I think it’s time to Compare and Contrast! 
BTE means Boy the Elder who tried some of them.




Type Calories with water Sugar Comment
Cadbury’s Hot Chocolate Instant – add hot water 120 16.3g Slightly burnt smell, quite chocolatey, aware of a thickener, tastes nice, not too sweet but the sweetness tastes artificial
BTE: This is what we have a Scouts. Lovely
Ovaltine original Light Instant – add hot water 102 9.3g “Nutritiously delicious” “for an instant break in your day”
Nice colour but no smell. Rather watery with an indistinct but not unpleasant flavour. Slightly metallic aftertaste.
BTE: Nice enough, but real Ovaltine is nicer
Horlicks Light Instant – add hot water 114 16g approx “Unwind for a good night’s sleep”
The beige colour really put me off. It was very thin and I’d be hard-pressed to tell you what it tasted of.  Not too sweet though and it went down easily.
Galaxy Instant – add hot water 98 17.3g This almost tasted like real hot chocolate with milk. It was very chocolatey, thick but not gloopy. Not too sugary.
BTE: Too much like hot chocolate with milk – didn’t like it.
Cadbury Highlights – Fairtrade Instant – add hot water 40 3.1g This tasted of soya and sugar and chocolate ‘flavour’. Didn’t like it.
BTE: Gorgeous, just like real chocolate
The Skinny Cow
Instant Indulgent hot chocolate
Instant – add hot water 37 3.9g This had a nice dark colour but no smell.  It felt powdery in the mouth and the overall taste was of cardboard with an aftertaste of saccharin.  Nasty.
Weight Watchers Hot Chocolate Drink Instant – add hot water 50 3.2g “With real chocolate”
This smelled of chemicals, had a nice colour but looked very thin and powdery. Strong chocolatey flavour which was nicer than expected. A bit sweet, but no nasty aftertaste.  Not bad.
Options Belgian Chocolate(Interestingly, made by Ovaltine) Instant – add hot water 37 4.4g “Some stupid pseudo-sexual phrase” on the front.  Smelled of chocolate and developed a ‘crema’ type froth. Really chocolatey, quite thick but not gloopy.  It was not too sweet and the sweetness seemed to come from the chocolate not sugar or sweetener.  I really liked this and would have it again. 

Type Calories using semi-skimmed milk Sugar Comment
Cadbury’s Hot Chocolate Add hot milk 165 22.9g This was how I remember it as a child; great jugs of it at break-time in the Junior Com. (with jam doughnuts on Wednesdays). Comforting, gentle on the palate and unexpectedly not too sweet. Lovely. And if you don’t stir it, you get a nice chocolatey sludge at the bottom.
BTE: Nice at bedtime but not sweet enough.
Ovaltine Original Add hot milk 191 22.5g Lovely froth, smells malty. Nice malty flavour, creamy and comforting. Surprisingly un-sugary.  It does contain barley, malt, eggs and added vitamins and minerals so I guess this is where the extra calories come from.
Horlicks Original Mix with a little water and hot milk 187 19.1g “Unwind for a good night’s sleep”
I’ve always had a thing against Horlicks, no reason, just didn’t like the idea of it, but it was lovely.  It smelled nice, it was a wholesome, wheat-y colour with a nice froth, and it tasted creamy and malty.  It contains barley malt and added vitamins & minerals.  Really comforting. I am converted.
Cadbury’s Bournville Cocoa Mix with a little water and hot milk 112 0.5g Nice rich colour, smelled chocolatey. Strong cocoa flavour, bit powdery, slightly bitter. Very nice.
Green & Blacks Cocoa
(Organic & fair-trade)
Mix with a little water and hot milk Don’t tell you ? Purply brown colour, smells of chocolate, slightly powdery texture.  Tastes of rich chocolate, no bitterness.  My favourite.
BTE: Too rich and gritty
Sainsbury’s Cocoa (Fairtrade) Mix with a little water and hot milk 113 0.5g Rich reddy-brown colour and chocolatey smell.  Rich, cocoa flavour although the texture was a little powdery.  Really nice.


Filed under Food, Product comparisons

Several good reasons to support Local Businesses

We are extremely fortunate in Market Harborough to have many independent shops that are run by local people.  Clothes, shoes, housewares, cafes, bookshops, chemists, bakers, butchers – you name it.  There are some high street names but there really is the commercial space for them all as long as ‘the big boys’ are kept in check.  Of course, there are some things you can’t get, school uniform for example, but not many.

A Shop 100 years ago. We still have shops today.

One area where I absolutely insist on only using local bods is cafes.  Harborough is awash with places to eat and drink but without question, the best ones are the independents.  The Boys and I felt the need for a warming hot chocolate on Sunday afternoon, but, the Market Café being closed because of the weather (!) the only places open were Costa, Nero and Starbucks.  I occasionally go to Café Nero with friends because they have young children and it is big enough to hide the little ones in a corner and not upset anyone.  Fair enough, but I don’t like the place because a) it’s too noisy and b) you can waste half your allotted time queuing up to get your drink.  The same is true of Costa (albeit quieter) and I wouldn’t darken the door of Starbucks. 

So on Sunday we ended up in Costas.  I had to wait ages to actually get our three drinks and three cakes only to find that not a single spare table had been cleared.  We cleared out own table and the one next to it and settled down to enjoy our snack.  Boy the Elder’s frappe which we thought was a milkshake was an indistinguishable favour and my Victoria Sandwich, which had looked home made on the counter, was full of a synthetic tasting cream which I have not encountered since about 1975.  And it cost £12.  I will not be going back. 

But let me tell you this; when Wartime Housewife Cafes are appearing across the country, you will be served at your table, by smiling, uniformed waiting staff, with home made food, from local suppliers at proper prices.  Just you wait.

Without hesitation I will tell you the places in Harborough that I like – I’m sure there are others just as good, this is only my preference:
Aldin’s on the corner of Church Street is a proper old-fashioned tea room.  You are served at the table, the menu is simple and wholesome, the portions generous and the prices very reasonable.  The cakes are all home made and you can get spaghetti hoops on toast.

Joules just off the High Street has a reasonably priced and extensive menu, several different areas in which to eat, including outside in clement weather, you can get a cracking breakfast and they have theme nights and live music in the summer.  There is also a bric-a-brac/reclaim area at the back in which to rummage.

Webb’s Café in Bennett’s Yard is a little gem.  It has contemporary décor and a more adventurous menu including, what I call ‘brown food’.  Healthy stuff with rice and interesting salads as well as lovely cakes and good coffee.

There is also a café behind the Baptist Church which I can’t for the life of me remember the name of.  It is run by the church, is incredibly cheap and you can have a good feed (two courses and a drink) for under a fiver.  It also has the advantage of having a really odd selection of people who go in there. Avoid the coffee though.  And, despite being unexpectedly closed on Sunday, the cafe in the market does a great all day breakfast and good cakes as well, but obviously it’s only open on market days (Tues, Fri, Sat & Sun)

One other local business that I must mention is the wonderful Rural Trading company.  They run a mobile shop which visits loads of local villages on a regular schedule.  They provide fruit & veg, meat, poultry, home made ready meals, dairy, chemist and general groceries and all the fresh food comes from local suppliers.  I realise that this is very local to us, but there must be lots of these ventures all over the country and if there aren’t, there should be.  Maybe there’s an opportunity for you?

Most towns have independent shops and if you want them to stay you have to actually shop there.  It’s no good buying all your meat in Sainsburys and then lamenting the loss of your local butcher.  The same goes for pubs, churches and village halls.  If you want them, you have to support them, you have to go there, shop there, drink there.  Don’t let your town or village become indistinguishable from any other town or village in the country.

* Just in case you’re interested The Shop in the photo belonged to my Great Aunt and her husband and was taken in Flixton, Lancashire in 1910.


Filed under Community and shopping, Ethics, Food, Product comparisons


Chocolate 13.08.09Last week, Mr De Worde and I decided to entertain ourselves with an evening in front of the television set.  This activity is naturally not complete without a full teapot and a large bar of chocolate and I was despatched to the shop having been put on confectionery detail.  There is a massive array of brands and types of chocolate on sale, and I would sell my own mother for a Lindt Bunny, but naturally the Wartime Housewife is keen to combine quality with economy and I can be easily swayed by an attractive package.  My eye fell upon a pink cardboard packet of Co-operative Fairtrade milk chocolate which had a 50’s style picture with an amusing caption on it.  I was really impressed by this, as it is unusual to find imaginative packaging for an own brand item.

It was with absolutely no reluctance that I decided to conduct a taste test into the supermarket own brand milk chocolate (I don’t like dark chocolate but I am happy to sub-contract this one), and my findings were as follows.  I will note that Tesco didn’t sell an own brand Fairtrade bar at the Metro in Market Harborough, but it is available in bigger stores.  Also, I couldn’t find a Fairtrade bar in Sainsbury’s, but when I asked the very handsome young man at the till whether such an item existed, he went to so much trouble to find one for me, I didn’t have the heart not to buy that one as well.

Supermarket brand




out of 10

The Co-operative Fairtrade milk chocolate  This was gorgeous; creamy but not too gloopy, chocolaty (?sp) but not cocoa-y.  One immediately wanted a second bar.28% cocoa solids 





Sainsbury’s Belgian milk chocolate This was nice, but tasted quite buttery and left a slightly cocoa-y aftertaste.  One bar is quite enough between two people.30% cocoa solids 





Sainsbury’s organic Fairtrade milk chocolate This was not nearly as nice as I expected it to be.  It was lovely and creamy, but had a really odd initial taste which I can’t place and left a slight sharpness on the tastebuds afterwards.  One piece with a cup of coffee would be ample.35% cocoa solids 





Tesco milk chocolate This was really nasty.  It tasted like the unpleasantly sweet, cheap, pretend chocolate you get with ‘Jazzies’ or other children’s sweets. Only suitable for cooking.26% cocoa solids 





 There is no Waitrose within 20 miles of me.

Homespun Fun with Chocolate

Game 1:  Take a box of chocolates, essentially the ones with different centres.  Take one out of the box without letting your friend see which one it is.  Put it in your mouth and chew it five times.  Open your mouth and let your friend guess which chocolate you took!

Game 2:  Buy several packets of chocolate buttons and place them in the freezer for a couple of hours.  Put as many of them as you can in your mouth at once  and crunch them up without dribbling or choking.  I can manage 45!  What can you do?

Pip Pip!

Post script:  I am sorry to report that the Co-operative packet mentioned above was a Mothers’ Day Special Edition and therefore no longer on sale.  The chocolate, however, is still out there.  Well done anyway, Co-op!


Filed under Food, Product comparisons