Tag Archives: Home and Family

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lot is to have an accurate, well organised filing cabinet which is regularly scanned and weeded for superfluous and out of date papers.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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Filed under Household Hints, Life in general, Slider

Operation Christmas Child

Operation Christmas Child has been running for nineteen years and is an initiative of Samaritan’s Purse, a relief and development organisation operating in Eastern Europe, Africa and Central Asia.

Every year the UK sends over a million Christmas boxes to children from ages 2-14, in seriously disadvantaged circumstances in the most desolate of places where it would be easy for them to think that the world has forgotten them.

Individuals all over the country get a shoe box, cover it in wrapping paper and fill it with small gifts of toys and sweets, educational supplies, wash kits, gloves and hats, little trinkets etc appropriate to the age and gender of your selected category.   They give you a list of the sorts of gifts that are welcome and those that are inappropriate..  A donation of £2.50 to cover the logistical expenses is popped in an envelope and placed in the box (or you can donate online) and the box is then dropped at a collection point near you such as a school, college or shop.  These are then collected and taken to major distribution points and thence to the people in need.

It’s hard to imagine how little some of these children have; many are orphaned, living in terrible poverty or in refugee camps and every day is a struggle, and the boxes full of surprises give them hope and remind them that they have not been forgotten.  I always put a Christmas card in the box addressed to ‘My dear friend’ to let them know that a family in the UK is sending love to them and sharing a bit of our own good fortune.

There is still time to do a box.  This charity operates in the United States and other European countries – it’s not just in the UK.  We get so much pleasure from choosing the things to go in – why don’t you have a go?

If you’re not sure where your local collection point is log onto their website at www.operationchristmaschild.org.uk or telephone them on 0870 011 2002 / 01392 455036 and they will give you all the information you need.

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Filed under Children, Christmas, Slider

Ill-mannered letters and other people’s whiplash is grinding me down

Angry Bird - like wot I am

In fact, it’s not just the paperwork, it’s the tone of the paperwork.

Having recently become self employed, there is an astonishing amount of paperwork required of me on an almost continual basis, mostly because there are lots of things that I now have to pay for which I didn’t before.  I am also constantly asked to account for myself to various bodies and, whilst I understand that this needs to be done, I come close to getting upset by the hectoring tones of many of these letters.

One letter, asking me for details of the work I have been doing has the penultimate paragraph in large, bold type, some of which is underlined, threatening that if I don’t provide this information within 15 days the payment in question will stop.  This is the first letter of its kind from them and I would mind less if it hadn’t, in fact, been sent to the wrong address.

I have two other ill-mannered letters this week.  The first one regarding Council Tax which is threatening me with court action if I don’t pay £27 which is 7 days overdue.  They informed me that I was  constantly falling into arrears in this financial year and that it simply would not do.  I only received the letter confirming my Council Tax bill three weeks ago.

The second made me want to spit blood with rage at the hypocrisy of it all.  For the first time in a very long while, I was overdrawn at the bank.  Overdrawn by £8 for a grand total of 4 days.  This meant that a direct debit was not paid and for which I was charged £8.  Fair enough.

What was not fair enough was the letter that I subsequently received from my bank lecturing me on the evils of being in debt, that it was totally unacceptable to overdraw without authority and would I like to see an advisor and go on a debt management course.

Do you know what?  I would like the banks to go on a debt management course.  Added to that, I would like the writers of these letters to think twice before assuming that everyone is a work-shy, backsliding criminal.

I just get angry, but I wonder what an elderly or vulnerable person would feel like if they received letters like these.

And whilst I’m on the subject of getting angry, I would like to share with you my entire morning spent trying to get a quote on my car insurance.  My insurance has gone up by over £250 since last year and that was the cheapest quote I could get.  I was expecting it to go up a little bit because I took someone’s wing mirror off back in July and, apparently foolishly, owned up on the flimsy grounds that it was categorically my fault.

I asked each insurer (I rather quaintly get my quotes from humans on telephones) why premiums had gone up so much.  Each one told me that a large factor was the no win no fee companies urging people to claim for whiplash.  Apparently the new trick is to get your friend to bang into your car from behind, you both claim on your insurance, then get a whopping payout for whiplash – the going rate is currently £2k.

When some stupid tart ran into the side of me a year ago (still not gone to court, incidentally) I was bombarded with calls from claims companies for weeks afterwards asking whether I was getting headaches or back pain. Several of them suggested that I was foolish not to claim as whiplash was virtually impossible to gainsay.  Needless to say, I refused to play the game, again on the frail excuse that I was not actually injured.

Nonetheless, my premiums have gone up by £250.

I am very, very cross.  I probably blame Thatcher.

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Filed under Life in general, Transport

Well done darling, have this award for existing

In which the Wartime Housewife discusses the modern need for constant approbation.

There was a news article recently which reported on a couple of teenagers who found £5,000 at a bus stop and handed it in to the police.  The owner was delighted to have had the money returned (obviously) and thanked the boys for their honesty.  However, he didn’t give them a reward.  The newspapers picked up on this and were ‘outraged’ that the man didn’t offer a financial reward and suggested that the boys had learned that honesty doesn’t pay.  To their credit, the boys weren’t in the least concerned.

Why does absolutely everything we do have to be rewarded?  Was it not enough for the boys to know that they had done the decent thing without having to have an outside agent confirming their decency with a material reward?

Many modern parents have got into the habit of praising their children to the skies for every tiny little thing that they do.  Everything must have a positive affirmation or they will grow up feeling negative about themselves and lacking in support. Children practically receive a round of applause for breathing in and then out again.

Bringing up children is a difficult business and there is no perfect way of doing it.  We are all different and our children are different; sanctions that work with one child may not work with another.  One parent’s childrearing technique may work for their family but not necessarily for yours.  We just have to get on with it the best we can.

One thing I do know is that our job is unequivocally to equip our children for the rigours of adult life and the key word, as in law, is ‘reasonable’.  We must teach them to have a reasonable degree of self esteem and confidence and yet show compassion and empathy for others.  We need them to stand on their own feet and fight their own battles.  They must learn that failure is not the end of the world and can sometimes teach us more about life than success and that we can’t be good at everything.  Sometimes they may not be invited to the party or picked for the team and they have to learn to take it on the chin and move on.

As parents, the teaching of these things means that we are sometimes going to be unpopular.  If your child has never, at any point, turned round to you and said “I hate you, you never let me do anything!” then you’re doing something wrong and that something may be that you’re spending too much time trying to be popular.

A parent should not be a child’s best friend.  They’ve got mates, your job is to be their parent and that means doing things that, sometimes, they’re not going to like.  It also means not jumping in and rescuing them at every turn, not fighting their battles and not intervening every time they face a difficulty.

My sisters and I were brought up in a family with no guidance or support of any kind and I know that I have sometimes had to fight the urge to jump in and ‘save’ my boys from difficulties or unpleasantness.  I wouldn’t wish my childhood on anyone and neglect of a young people is a difficult thing to forgive, but by God, we three girls are tough and there’s not much that life throws at us that we can’t cope with, each in our different way.

Young people have to learn to cope and that sometimes means letting them fail, helping them to overcome difficulties on their own and giving them the freedom to make mistakes.  Let them fall out of trees, fall out with their friends, fall in love with unsuitable people.  They will never manage risk if they don’t take risks. My sister talks about ‘Slopey Shoulder Syndrome’ where people are too feeble to tackle anything for themselves and constantly plead for others to do things for them.

In real life, everyone you meet is not going to tell you you’re great. Your boss at work is not going to hand you a certificate for doing the job you’re paid to do and you are not going to receive constant reassurance from every colleague, tutor, manager, client, lover, that you are a super human being.  If your every childhood move has been praised to the skies with a burst of fireworks, this is going to come as one hell of a shock.

If your kids fuck up you have to tell them so they can make better decisions.  If they behave badly, you have a responsibility to punish them to teach them consequences.  Don’t let them do everything they want to do, just because you have the resources to make it happen, it devalues what they chose to do and tells them nothing about the assessment of choices.

I read an interesting article recently about a psychologist who, as well as the normal parade of those with unhappy backgrounds,  has started seeing a lot of 20 to 30-somethings who feel a lack of purpose, anxious, confused and empty inside.  On further questioning, these young people have had fabulous parents, who were their ‘best friends’, supported them at every turn, talked through their feelings, always helped them with their homework, were attuned to their every need.

Now, is it possible that these wondrous parents had simply done too much, had actually disabled their children through their constant support and intervention.  I am always deeply suspicious of people who hero worship their parents, because cynical me can’t help feeling that somehow those parents have tried too hard to be popular and I find that those people are often not as empathetic or sympathetic to the difficulties of others.

Don’t make your children’s lives too perfect, if you really love your children don’t shield them from the things they need to learn.  Teach them to do their best, not yours.

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Filed under Behaviour and Etiquette, Children, Family and Friends

Star Charts – hit them where it hurts

Don't know why BTY has crossed his stars out - an investigation is underway

My children are unbearably untidy, intermittently violent and vile to each other and sporadically lazy.  They only do their apportioned chores if I’m waving a metaphorical big stick at them, Boy the Younger spends his evenings trying to sleep in Boy the Elder’s bed and keep him awake and both boys are genuinely frightened that they will melt if touched by water unless it is a full moon or a Friday in May.

Although I can’t help feeling that Boy the Elder, at 14, is too old for star charts, he is definitely not too old if said star chart is index linked to his pocket money.  Boy the Younger spends his money on random Lego figures and Kinder Eggs, whilst Boy the Elder spends his on books and film magazines.  Either way, pocket money matters, so I have to hit them where it hurts.

I am determined that, seeing as they have bedrooms, it is not unreasonable to ban toys and mess from the sitting room as I have to have at least one place into which I could bring another adult without  bursting into a volley of excuses – I’ve been ill, the vacuum’s broken down, we were burgled, we were raided by immigration – you know, the usual.

Firstly, I cancelled their pocket money and removed all privileges.  For privileges read TV, DSs, computer access, iPods and the portable DVD.  Then I re-vamped their childhood star charts and called them Achievement Charts which has a more adult and positive edge.

They can earn stars for being tidy, doing chores, staying in bed at night, washing, cleaning teeth, leaving me alone to work, playing nicely, being kind etc.  They get black spots for fighting, disobedience, laziness, lack of hygiene, failure to do chores, shouting and screaming, looking at me in a funny way etc.

The key thing though, is that stars represent 50p pocket money earned and black spots represent 50p pocket money lost. They can also earn privileges back for not getting any black spots in a day – yesterday they re-gained their DSs which is a bummer for BTY as he can’t find his. Unlucky – he should look after it better.

The other problem is, that in the past, I have been unable to remember exactly what I’ve banned and why and things start to slip back without my noticing.  To rectify this, I have purchased a notice board which is half whiteboard and half cork board.  The Achievement Charts are pinned to the cork board and I can write sanctions and returns on the whiteboard. Problem solved, consistency maintained.

When they were younger, they would happily wash and stay in bed for small treats such as sweets, but money is a whole different ball game.  They crave independent spending power and the realisation this morning that, after ten days, they are each only 50p up is starting to hit home.  The end of the month draws nigh and BTE can see his copy of Total Film slipping from his grasp.  BTY may actually expire if he doesn’t get his hands on another piece of preformed plastic shite.

It’s in their hands.

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Filed under Behaviour and Etiquette, Children, Family and Friends

Harvest Festival

Foodscape photograph by the wonderful Carl Warner

Aha!  I am back amongst you!

However, I am in such bad humour about so many things today, that it’s hard to know quite where to start.

I will begin with Harvest Festival because I attended the Harvest service at Boy the Younger’s school today.  As we went in, I said to my friend “what do you think the chances are of us singing ‘We plough the fields and scatter’ or ‘Come ye thankful people come’.? “Zero,” she said, laughing.

Well it was worse than zero.  I realise that in some aspects of life, I am an unspeakable old fuddy-duddy, but why does everything that involves children have to be turned into an entertainment?  In a moment of desperation, I fed my programme to the beaming baby in the pew in front so I am unable to delight you with the nauseating detail of the ‘service’.

The children sang several feeble pop songs with the word ‘Jesus’ in them, most of which had stupid actions with which the parents were encouraged to join in.  When we were asked to clap our hand to our heart, I’m sorry to tell you that I quietly intoned “I pledge allegiance to the United States of America…” followed by a hand-jive, which had the parents on the row behind dissolving into nervous giggles.

Then there was a really good bit where it all stopped and young and delightfully handsome young man from the nearby CARE village stood up and thanked us all for the donations of food which would be given to the residents.

After this, the Reverend Blodwyn stood up and began the ‘It’s behind you’ section of the service where all the children were encouraged to shout out stuff about vegetables, after which she delivered a lecture about the environment.  Just in case the children hadn’t worked out what rain was, she put up a handy Powerpoint presentation with a character from a ‘Peanuts’ cartoon in which the character gets rained on. Ha bloody ha.

There is absolutely no need for church to be boring.  A good minister can deliver a sermon which will not only uplift and encourage, but will leave the congregation with something to think about for the rest of the week.  Hymns can be joyful and spirit raising, a reading in the hands of a decent reader is a lovely thing to listen to.

But Church, among many other things, is one really good opportunity to teach your children that there are times in life when they have to be quiet and behave with decorum.  There is an unending stream of complaints about how children can never sit still, can’t concentrate, can’t keep quiet.

A large part of the problem is that children are not taught to be quiet and behave with decorum.  Everything they do has to be entertaining.  Well life isn’t always entertaining, in fact, quite large chunks of life can be a bit boring and require us to keep our gobs shut when we’d rather not.  Sometimes we have to be quiet for the comfort of others.

Children need to be taught that there are times to have fun and times to be quiet and still.  How can they learn to think and reason if their minds are being swamped with a constant and unrelenting cacophony of sounds and sights and ‘stimulation’?  How can they learn to appreciate the small and simple things with which they’re surrounded if they never have a moment’s peace in which to do it?

I love Harvest Festival; whatever one’s spiritual pathway, it is completely reasonable to be grateful that we have enough food and that we still have farmers out there producing it.  It is a gratifying experience to share some of that produce with those who have less than us. I personally thanked the farmers in the next pew for growing our milk.  They did the narrowed eyes thing and left.

When I was at school, the Harvest service was a beautiful thing.  The girls doing cookery baked fabulous loaves to look like sheaves of corn, flowers graced every windowsill and the joyful Harvest hymns rocked the rafters as the organ thundered and the choir sang descants that could have lifted the tiles off the roof.

The last ‘hymn’ was called ‘Harvest Hoe Down’ accompanied by a tinny recorded sound track and a bazooka solo from some invisible children – I don’t need to draw you a picture of how awful that was.  I left Boy the Younger’s service with my teeth ground down to powder.   I accosted a teacher in the playground and pleaded that, just once before I BTY leaves, could we sing ‘We plough the fields and scatter’? Just once. “Why?” she answered.

It all makes ‘Cauliflowers fluffy…’ seem positively Wesleyan.

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Filed under Behaviour and Etiquette, Children, Education, Life in general, Religion

Sticking to resolutions, the importance of friends and a valuable cooking tip

This year, I have made two commitments:
1.  Make more effort to see my friends
2.  Drink more

I am doing sterling work.  I think I mentioned that, a few weeks ago, Lady Olivier and her family came up and we had a smashing weekend which included a visit to Belton House in Lincolnshire.  This trip satisfied both the grown-ups’ wish to stare at stately homes and talk incessantly, and the children’s desire to run around shouting, as it had the biggest adventure playground I have ever seen – well worth a visit… and the zip wire is big enough for grown-ups….

Then there was my birthday about which enough has been said. However, I am happy to report that my project continues apace.

Last weekend, my sisters and I paid a long overdue visit to The Marquis of Barnet and his partner, Signor Fandango.  We have know The Marquis for more years than I care to remember and the Aged Parent refers to him as “the son she never had and the daughter she hadn’t bargained for”.  He is the sort of friend who, no matter how long we’ve been apart, always slips comfortably into the old friendship, and the intervening years just roll back.

My sisters and I always laugh a lot when we get together, but the combination of a lovely meal, an astonishing amount of gin and the company of The Marquis and Fandango caused so much laughter that the tears were streaming down our faces and our stomachs ached as though we’d done ten rounds with Mike Tyson (as opposed to the ten rounds of Bombay Saphire – boom boom).

We weren’t quite so clever the following morning, but the judicious application of egg and bacon sandwiches and a bucket of coffee had us sufficiently restored to drive home.  I arrived in Market Harborough about 1.45pm, bought a chamber pot for my new plant, then flopped on the sofa with a further bucket of tea, a chocolate éclair and ‘Goodnight Mr Tom’ on the DVD, through which I sobbed pitifully as usual.

What a perfect weekend, I hear you say.  And you’re right, but the fun didn’t stop there – I take my projects seriously you know.  Today, after several hours of intensive, high-speed, full-tilt paperwork, I went out with my friend, Mrs Crellin, to the home of Monsieur Tartiflette of Rutland, for lunch.  Msr Tartiflette is not only delightful company, he is also a cook of exceptional talent.  It has been over a year since we last met up and we were looking forward to it very much.

Msr T lives in an idyllic gatehouse lodge in the depths of Rutland and the only sound you can hear is the a capella chorus of the birds.  The sun shone down and we sat in his lovely garden sipping red wine and catching up.

And then came the lunch.  OMG (as the young people say).  Out came a tomato and onion salad with some sort of balsamic vinegar-based dressing, crisp green lettuce, a dish of cold roasted peppers and crunchy baked baguettes.  Mrs Crellin and I could have gone face down in the peppers alone which were sweet and flavoursome.

Next, a proper Quiche Lorraine appeared on the table and I confess that I actually gasped when I put the first forkful in my mouth.  The texture was like the finest crème brulee, the pastry was crisp and rich and the bacon sweet and juicy.  As if this wasn’t enough, a cold Treacle Tart followed, which was as light as a feather and served with a dollop of vanilla ice cream.  What joy.

Now the point of this story is not just about the joy of troughing and quaffing, it is about the joy of making the time to spend with people you really like.  Life undoubtedly carries us away, but if we’re not careful, our friends make get carried away as well, sometimes actually carried off, before we get the chance to see them.  Friendships are the stuff of life; our friends make us remember who we really are, not just grown-ups who plod on working, cooking, cleaning, driving, laundering, bill-paying, protecting and fretting.

And the valuable cooking tip?  Msr Tartiflette says that when making the filling for a quiche, don’t beat it to death with a high-speed mixer, blend it together gently, whisk it only lightly and smile at it fondly. You will achieve untold success.

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Filed under Family and Friends, Food, Life in general