Category Archives: Tips, Skips and Scavenging

Yesterday’s Skip Scavenge


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.


Filed under Household Hints, Tips, Skips and Scavenging

How to make an attractive display case out of an old cutlery tray

Cutlery trays

Old wooden cutlery trays can make useful display cases or storage trays for little things.  My boys love little things and have masses of tiny plastic abominations which are carefully abandoned about the house in case I should feel the need of a nasty accident.

I had a cutlery tray left over when I bought a larger one to accommodate a new cutlery set, but you can pick them up at junk stalls from between 10p and £1.  I bought acrylic paints because they dry very quickly and wash off hands and clothes easily with soapy water; these cost about £1.25 a bottle and last quite a long time.  I found the felt squares in the local stationery shop costing 45p each.  For sticking the felt, you can use PVA glue, although I used a hot glue gun in the interests of speed and less mess.

First coat of paint


1 x wooden cutlery tray
Acrylic paints
PVA or hot glue
Paint brushes – 1cm wide
You might also like some transfers or sparkly things or varnish
2 x Small mirror plates if you wish to hang it on the wall

Line with felt

Firstly, choose your colours
Then paint the insides of the tray, overlapping a bit on the bottom where the felt will go
Leave it to dry then apply a second coat
Then paint the outside edges, leave to dry then apply another coat
Lastly paint the back, leave to dry then apply another coat
If you are varnishing, apply a thin coat and leave to dry, applying another coat if necessary
Cut out the felt to the size of the compartments
Glue the felt into place, making sure the glue goes right to the edges

Add extra decoration

Apply any other decorations
If you wish to hang it on the wall, apply two small mirror plates to the back

Boy the Younger's Blue & Green tray

Boy the Elder's Gothic tray


Filed under Collecting, Decorative, fashion, Household Hints, Indoor Activities, Leisure, Re-use Recycle, Tips, Skips and Scavenging

Not enough thermals in the world

Leicestershire in October

I cannot believe how cold my house is and it’s only October.

Last winter I lived in the Victorian house across the road which had central heating, double glazing on the ground floor and hot water.  This winter I live in 1920’s house which has no double glazing, night storage heating and we have to switch on the immersion to get a bathful of hot water.  You have to be quick though, because the bathroom is so cold that the only way to tackle it is have a bath so hot that the cool air is a welcome relief.

Storage heaters are the worst system in the whole universe unless you live in one room and go to bed at eight o’clock.  The idea is that they buy electricity during the night (when it’s slightly cheaper) and heat the bricks which live in the elephantine units that are bolted to the wall.  The bricks then release the heat during the day.  Marvellous.  Except that most people are out of the house all day and want the heat at night which means you have to keep them switched on in order to have any heat at night which costs an absolute bloody packet.  I had these at a house before and our first electricity bill, in 1996, was over £500 for one quarter.  I dare not switch them on.  Storage heating is The Landlords’ Choice as it requires no plumbing in or installation of expensive boilers.  It also means that if you want to have enough money to pay your rent you’d better not switch them on.

This means that I have to think of other ways to keep my house warm.  The first way, which I wrote about last year, is to cover your windows with cling film or purpose built plastic to keep out the draughts.  It is incredibly effective and cheap.

Next, I have bought curtains from the charity shop and stitched them together to make one big curtain that covers the front door.

I have also found some old curtains that don’t fit anywhere else and this weekend I’m going to make a thick curtain to cover the sitting room door in an attempt the block out the icy draught that could not be colder if we were shooting Dr Zhivago on location.

I have bought us all electric blankets so that at least we can be warm in bed.

I’m going to buy some oil filled radiators which are apparently much, much cheaper to run.  I tried to have a look on Freecycle but the internet keeps crashing so it will have to wait until tomorrow and failing that a trip to Argos seems in order.

There is an open fire in the sitting room and once I’ve put the curtain at the door and cling film at the windows that should be warm enough, but some arsehole has boarded up the fireplace in the dining room with a sheet of hardboard and sealed it with silicone.  I have tried to chisel this out but most of the silicone is behind the board so I’ll have to buy a chemical solvent to remove it.  The landlord assures me that the chimney is fit for use so it must be true, but in true Wartime Housewife Style, I have my own set of chimney brushes and unless there a boy or a brick stuck up there, we should be good to go.

Draught excluders under the doors are also essential and  attractive ones can be made very simply by sewing up a tube of material and stuffing it with rags.  If you don’t want to be irritated by constantly moving them every time you go in and out, attach little loops along the top, screw small curtain hooks into the door about 2” / 4cm above the bottom to line up with the loops and hang the draught excluder from it, obviously making sure that it sits on the ground.

Apart from that, I’m going to wear more jumpers and thicker socks.  And then I shall stock up on lace hankies in case my consumption comes back.


Filed under Household Hints, Life in general, Sewing, Tips, Skips and Scavenging

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.


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

Startled by a skip

End of term and, having successfully avoided the Leavers’ Service, Boy the Younger and I wandered down the road towards the car, clutching armfuls of books, drawings, sewing, and all the other detritus collected over a school year.

Then, on the outskirts of my, highly trained, peripheral vision, I spied a skip at the side of the road.  Ah-haaa.  “Hang on Chap,” I said, “I just need to look in this ’ere skip”.  Groans all round.  But not nearly as loud as the groans I groaned when I saw what was in there.

12 x school dictionaries – used but useable
1 x large bag of size 12-14, immaculate clothing
1 x large bag of baby toys – good condition
2 x large books of children’s sample wallpapers – excellent for craft use

And all, bar a few of the baby toys, spoiled by the rain.

How much effort would it have taken for someone to drop that stuff in at a charity shop in a black bin liner?  I know one shouldn’t do it, but if necessary, pop it on the step on your way past.  As a last resort, put it in a bin liner and label the bags so the refuse men might just sort it at the tip.  Supermarkets now have weatherproof  re-cycling bins that can be accessed day or night, so there’s not really any excuse.  The contents of that skip will now end up in landfill.

We must stop wasting.   I’m not asking everyone to fashion their stained shirts into useful pinnies, use single socks to make cosy sleeping bags for hamsters or even knit their leftover spaghetti into a warm vest.  And whatever you do, don’t actually use your toenail clippings to make a nutty Bubble and Squeak.   Just think before you treat something which could be a valuable resource to someone else with profligate contempt.  There are schools in the third world that would give their eye teeth for a dozen English dictionaries and if I was a size 12, I would have snaffled the clothing, but any of the charity shops would have been grateful for it.  The Parents and Toddlers groups at any of the churches would have loved the toys.

We are running out of land. Land on which we should be growing food is being sold off for housing developments or more offices that will sit empty and we will never get that land back again.  Landfill sites are getting bigger and bigger and although many domestic tips are really making an effort with recycling, and opening areas where they sell on the decent stuff, we have to make the effort on the home front.

We have been in recession and now we are facing a period of essential austerity in an attempt to correct it.  Put away your storecards, hide your credit cards to be used in emergencies only; take stock of what you have, appreciate it and make the most of it.  Go mad – save up for something.  Learn some basic skills so you can bring out your creative side and make things last a little longer.  I assure you that if someone comes into your house and admires something you’ve made yourself, it’s worth every bit of effort. Smug Factor 50.  Job done.


Filed under Re-use Recycle, Tips, Skips and Scavenging

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.


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

The Hell of an Untidy Bedroom and what came out of it

A couple of months ago, I was so utterly sick of the state of The Boys’ Bedroom, that I was obliged to declare a State of Emergency.  The Boys were banned from their room, they slept in my bedroom, while I slept on the sofa, and I went in with a digger I had borrowed from the Council.   I will tell you now that this took one week.  Eight and a half hours went into the tidying and cleaning of that room, after which I removed all their toys to the outhouse and left them with only books (which are a human right not a privilege), crayons and Leicestershire for their recreation. 

They were then given the opportunity to win the boxes back through continued tidiness and good behaviour.  I nailed a typed programme to the wall, which detailed in large simple words the 8 steps to tidying their room (which should have begun with “My name is Boy the Elder/Younger and I am a dirty, untidy boy” followed by a round of applause).

Essential Reading

Essential Reading

Within a week it looked as though I had never been in.  I walked in at the end of a rainy afternoon which had necessitated indoor play and actually burst into tears.  They had managed to trash the room with books, clothes, paper and things that they had salvaged from Outside which included sticks, leaves, jars full of insects, hub caps (my own fault), pieces of wood, wire netting, dirty cups and plates and a camouflage net.

I confess that at this point I absolutely lost it, and even though my remonstrations were verbal, they looked genuinely frightened.  But it was still not enough.  The problem is that my children are interesting and have vivid imaginations; they can make something out of the most unexpected things and see anything they find as a piece of glowing, shimmering potential.

I consulted my recently rediscovered cousins, Longlost 1 and Longlost 2, who both have grown up children and know a thing or two about the iniquities of revolting minors.  They declared that I could not win and that there were no circumstances in which I could win.  I feebly protested that surely it was my job to teach them to be tidy and clean or how would they learn?  They sensibly argued that I have spent the last 12 years in this thankless task and so far nothing has worked.

Their advice was this:-

1. Let them live in whatever squalor they choose, but if their clothes don’t make it into the wash basket, they will not be washed.  This will mean that they have to go to school in dirty clothes and there is nothing like the disapprobation of your peer group to persuade you to smarten up and change your pants.

2.  If their room is untidy, they will not be allowed to have friends round to play/hang out.

3.  Continue the rule of absolutely no toys downstairs without a chitty signed in triplicate with their own blood.  Any that are not taken back upstairs after one warning will be thrown away.

I bit the bullet, although it felt fundamentally negligent.  I have to admit that it has taken the pressure off with regard to constantly nagging to tidy their room and the threat of no friends gives an intermittent incentive to clear up.  The dirty clothes thing is working, although the occasion when Boy the Elder left for school with no socks or pants was buttock clenchingly awful, but it only happened once.  He had PE.

I have only returned two toy boxes to them and, other than one (ignored) plea for the Smalls Cars and Vehicles Box, it has made no difference to them whatsoever.  Very telling – and my children have more toys than some, but a lot less than most.

More Things to Make 18.10.09One of the activities that they both love is Junk Modelling, and with an age difference of five and a half years, it is often hard to find things that they can do together.  I keep a large bag behind the kitchen door into which I put any bits and pieces that I think are interesting and useful.  Egg boxes, cardboard tubes, lolly sticks, foil cake cases, polystyrene shapes, match boxes etc and they can then help themselves. 

They have a pot on the dining room table which has biros, pencils, scissors and sellotape and an Art Box under the stairs full of paints, crayons, felt pens and interesting paper.  They do it for hours; spaceships, rockets, houses for creatures, robot limbs, masks, sculptures, you name it.  Sometimes they are then thrown away and sometimes they are broken down and returned to the bag.

Toys & Games to Make 18.10.09I’ve always tried really hard to find the balance between not giving in to the mountains of pre-formed plastic rubbish that are beamed into our homes from the television, but not isolating them from their peer group. They own a Nintendo DS and they are allowed restricted access to the computer.  They get pocket money and they can spend it how they wish.  But it has really brought home to me how little they actually need.  I know someone who spends more than £500 on EACH of her children at Christmas.  After about a year, those presents end up in black plastic bin liners.  I just hope I live near her local tip.

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Filed under Children, Family and Friends, Household Hints, Indoor Activities, Tips, Skips and Scavenging