Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Just My Luck!

I finally admitted defeat and put the central heating on an hour ago (yes, I know I said I wasn't going to until December but I'm blooming freezing).

We had about 20 minutes of glorious, wonderful, toasty warmness.....

.......... and the bloody gas ran out!!!

No heating until tomorrow and hmmmmm, maybe we won't be having sausage and mash tonight after all.

Oh well, cheese and pickle cobs for tea it is then. I loathe electric cookers but at times like this they look more appealing.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Have YOU Turned Your Heating On Yet?

Well have you? Have the dark nights and frosty mornings prompted you to light the fire or turn on the central heating? Or, like me, are you still stubbornly refusing to give in to the chill and simply donning extra clothes and digging out that trusty old hot water bottle? - Although in our case 'trusty' isn't the word as 'old faithful' sprung a leak a few nights ago when hubby was using it to ease his back pain (thankfully it was wrapped in a towel at the time, preventing him from being scalded by the hot water) and we've had to invest in a new one this week.

Throughout October, as it began to get colder and the evenings became quite chilly, I adamantly insisted I wasn't putting the central heating on (our only form of heat) until the calendar turned the page and November was well and truly here. Of course with November's arrival I moved the goal posts, scared by the rising gas prices, and vowed it wasn't going on until December. When December rolls around who knows.... will I be brave (or daft) enough to say lets wait until January?

To be honest with you I haven't been cold. Not really. Chilly, yes, but not properly cold. I certainly haven't sat here shivering of an evening and once I'm in bed, snuggled up under the duvet I'm actually quite cosy. My husband's felt the cold more, but I invested in a £3 fleecy throw from ASDA and since he's had that to tuck around his legs, or even sometimes wrap around his shoulders like a big cosy shawl, he's been as warm as toast. It's certainly proved cheaper than feeding the hungry gas meter. I think I'll get another one.
We close the curtains as soon as it starts to get dark, keeping as much heat into our south facing lounge as possible, and have a draft excluder at the door. We focus on keeping that one room as warm as we can. We both have thermals from our working days. I worked outdoors all the time and quickly learnt the trick of layering, and hubby often had to work outdoors too so we invested in decent thermal garments because a) we could afford to and b) they were worth their weight in gold. They still are. We haven't worn them much yet, we'll appreciate them much more when the temperature really drops.
Early nights and late mornings are another way we stay warm. That's not as lazy as staying in bed late sounds, honest, although it feels quite decadent sometimes. Emails, letters, sewing projects etc can all be done just as easily in bed and warm under the duvet as they can up and about and shivering in a chair. Winter just means a bit of a rethink of our routines. I might not like doing things this way but I know when we finally have to give in and start putting extra money on the gas meter that money has got to come from somewhere, and the thing most likely to be hit is the food budget. I'd rather not do that, so I'll use every trick in the book to keep us warm for as long as possible without increasing the gas company's profits.
I'll often go for a brisk walk if I'm starting to feel the chill, up the hill to the cliffs and back is enough to warm me up for ages. It's just a shame that isn't an option for my husband too. I'd love to be able to go for a long walk with him but he can't manage it at a pace to warm him up and the pain is just too much when it's cold and damp.
I haven't yet resorted to wearing gloves and hats around the flat, but there's a first time for everything. I'm not ruling anything out.

Monday, 11 November 2013

Damn you internet, you're making me be productive.

I've been having internet problems (on going) which is why I haven't posted anything lately. Hopefully it will be resolved soon because, frankly, it's driving me mad.

On the plus side however, without the distractions of that demon facebook, I've managed to get lots of little jobs done that I've been putting off for far too long - including the largest pile of ironing ever known to man. I've cleaned my carpets too, well some of them anyway, and washed the curtains. I've even been plugging away at the novel I started a couple of years ago for NaNoWriMo. Well it is November after all.
But best of all I've spent some quality time with my husband, simply talking or working together around the flat. Maybe I should schedule a couple of internet free days every week, even when it is up and running properly again.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

I Have a Fridge!

Isn't that exciting? A fridge! It keeps milk cold and everything!

It was way back at the start of the summer that my fridge decided it had chilled its last. Lousy timing that, don't you think? Any fridge with compassion, with decency, would have given up the ghost at a more seemly time of year, like December, when I could at least have relied on my kitchen to resemble an ice box most of the time. I could have resorted, as I have in the past when necessary, to storing my milk outside on the window ledge, but no, it picked a warm, sunny, glorious day to make  a strange spluttering noise and die.
As usual when household appliances pack up without warning, it happened at a time that was not only seasonally inappropriate, but financially impossible. The chances of replacing it were slim, if not non-existent. There were expenses coming up that simply couldn't be avoided, a new fridge would just have to wait.
I must admit that at the time I did think, as I magnanimously set aside my need desire for a new fridge, that it would probably be only a month, maybe a teeny bit longer, before we managed to scrape together enough to buy a second hand one. Hmmmm. The problem with managing without something is you become accustomed to it surprisingly quickly. At first it drove me crazy. I had to completely rethink my shopping habits as there were so many things I couldn't keep fresh. Things I took for granted. Things like milk.
All of a sudden I couldn't buy cheap 4 pint bottles of milk for £1 from the co-op. Instead I was paying 60p for just 1 pint... and often having to throw half of that away. Milk disappeared from the shopping list to be replaced by coffee whitener (yuck) although I discovered it doesn't really matter what coffee you buy when you add whitener to it, it all tastes much the same. So I scrapped my one treat - a half decent coffee- and replaced it with 47p-for-100g-pig-swill-pretending-to-be-coffee.
Cheese was another thing I stopped buying. Yogurt was another. I discovered I could still keep a lettuce looking half decent and not a wilted mush if I kept it in the spare bedroom which never, ever gets any sun (wow, that makes the bedroom tax worth it doesn't it?) but cucumbers go off very quickly.
Sometimes I'd get very down about not having something that most people take for granted, especially if one came up on freecycle and we hadn't got the diesel to collect it, or if I saw one in a charity or second hand shop that I still couldn't afford, but most of the time I didn't even think about it...although I did become very wistful remembering the cold slab my grandma used to have in her pantry. When you think about it, only a few generations ago a fridge would have been an expensive luxury. If generations of grandmothers could cope without one, then so could I.
But I was extremely relieved to see one come up on freecycle last week, especially as it was very local and therefore not a problem to collect.
So now I am the proud owner of a fridge. It was a bit grubby and tatty (it was being used on a caravan site as their 'outdoor beer fridge') but after peeling off a few old stickers, giving it a good old scrub and some tlc, it looks pretty good and I am extremely grateful to the lovely lady who was giving it away.
Now I just need to find something to put in it.

Saturday, 7 September 2013


I love this time of year, the misty mornings giving way to blue skies, the still warm days but far fewer people on the beach; the woody scent of bonfires mixing with the last of the barbeques, and free food dripping from every hedgerow.

With what seemed to be an ever-shrinking budget fresh fruit was one of the first victims on my shopping list, brutally culled to ensure we weren't running out of things to eat two days before pension day. As a result, the arrival of blackberry season as been greeted with even more joy than usual, and not just the blackberries. Hips and haws, elderberries, rowan, even a few early sloes.... there has hardly been a day when I haven't been out walking the footpaths and lanes around here, filling my freezer (and our stomachs) to overflowing.
Hubby is particularly fond of blackberry crumble. So far none have made it as far as the freezer, I think I shall have to start making those in secret. Blackberry muffins are another favourite, although they are my weakness not his. Elderberry cordial, rosehip syrup...my kitchen is likely to be a hive of activity for weeks to come as I find as many ways to preserve all that berry goodness as I can. All too soon the cold weather will be here, and the hedgerow abundance will be over for another year, but if I plan this right and harvest what I can now, preserve as much as I can, we should have plenty to see us through the dark months.

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Live Below The Line? That's My Life!

I've been reading with interest, and in some cases amusement, many of the stories this last week of those participating in the Live Below The Line Challenge. It's all in aid of a good cause, so please don't think when I say 'amusement' that I have in any way been laughing in a condescending way at their attempts to exist on £5's worth of food for five days, because I haven't. For many of those taking part it has been extremely tough and I think it has seriously opened a few eyes. Sometimes I wished I could just say to someone 'No, no, you're doing it all wrong. Look, just put all that food you bought aside and start again, and I'll show you how it's done'. But of course I couldn't, because firstly, I don't know these people, and well, that would rather defeat the object in the first place.
It was made harder, I think, by the fact it was only a five day challenge. £5 for five days is much more limiting than say £7 for seven days or £10 for ten days. Five measly pounds doesn't give you much variety. It will should have been a little easier for those taking part as a couple, or a family as they will have had more money to play with in the first place. It will still have been an unpleasant five days for many though.
£1 a day for food doesn't seem very much does it? There has been quite a bit in the media recently about how much is needed for food in order to survive, and depending on which newspaper you read the amount can vary quite wildly. The BBC says £12 a week is enough to provide a healthy diet. Damn right it is! That's the maximum I spend to feed two of us. If we had that each we'd be eating like kings :) Upon reading the article however, I find the terms 'with careful planning' and 'theoretically it is possible' and the chart they give as an example is based on a £15 spend not a £12 spend. As it is, I usually spend between £10 and £12 a week actually on food. The supermarket receipt reads slightly more than that, but by the time you've taken off things like loo rolls, tooth paste and shampoo, the food itself comes in at less than £12. For two of us. Less than £6 each. That's is less than the £1 a day that even the Daily Mail says you can 'survive' on.
Now don't you go worrying about the state of my diet, because I'm here to tell you I eat just fine. Last night we enjoyed a lovely chicken salad made with chicken breast. Later I made biscuits on a 'whim' to surprise my husband who had dozed off in front of the TV. This morning I had a banana before I went out for my run and egg on toast when I got back. For lunch I had homemade chicken liver pate with crackers and salad, and for tea tonight we'll be having a sausage casserole. I browned off a few Aldi frozen sausages this morning and popped them into the slow cooker with a stock cube, sliced onions, two tins of chopped tomatoes, the ends of a few bags of frozen veg that I wanted to clear out and a rather rubbery looking carrot I found hiding in the back of the fridge (nothing gets wasted here). I'll probably serve it with hubby's favourite, mashed potato, which means there will be more than enough for either tomorrow, or to go in the freezer. I may even add a tin of sweetcorn to it. Does that sound like an impoverished diet to you?
I'm not going to pretend that it is easy, because it is not. It has taken a long time of trial and error to get to this stage. There are times when I walk around the supermarket fighting back tears, and times too when I am unable to fight them back and I'm stood in the dairy isle sobbing, with other customers and staff doing their best to pretend not to notice (for which I am eternally grateful! If ever you see me, I will not think you harsh or callous if you don't ask if I'm OK, I'll just be relieved I don't have to talk). There have been times when I have fed my husband and gone without, pretending to him I feel sick so he doesn't question why I'm only nibbling on dry cream crackers. There have been times when I have made three days food last a week; when I've picked mould off the bread and toasted it in the hope it would taste OK that way; when I've cut squishy bits off vegetables to save the little bit that was OK; when I've lived off bread and jam; when I thought I'd never taste fresh fruit again...
It is thoroughly depressing, and demoralising, when you see only day after day after day of that kind of existence, especially when only a short time before you were a two income household spending as much in one week on food as you now spend in a month. It is easy to allow it to drag you down, to get into  a spiral of depression, but you have to fight that, you have to keep on keeping on. You have to get up bright and early each morning with a smile on your face, even if you don't feel like smiling, and you have to find a way to get by. You have to hope that there is an end to all this even if there isn't one in sight, because it will destroy you if you don't.
You learn to take pleasure in simple things. You find cheaper ways of doing or making the things you used to take for granted. You scrimp and scrimp, because you can't possibly save, and you get by. You find recipes, or invent them. You discover the wonders of cooking bacon and lemon curd and you forget you ever heard of such a thing as free range eggs. You sacrifice your green principles to make your grey world a little brighter, and you thank your lucky stars that you haven't yet resorted to taking the advice the Duke of Norfolk once suggested to ease the suffering of the starving masses during the Irish Potato Famine and added curry powder to hot water in place of food.  

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Pure Indulgence 15p

Mandarin & Pineapple Meringue
Probably not the most attractive looking dessert you've ever seen, but it may well be one of the most indulgent, and certainly calorific, that you are likely to have. Best of all (as long as you are sensible and restrained, and not greedy little piggies like we were) it serves 12 making it perfect for a dinner party or celebration (piping the meringue would pretty it up no end -I liked the random chaos of just splodging it on, besides, my piping bag has gone awol) and brings the cost in at 15p per portion.

I've been meaning to post this up all week but life just sort of ran away with me. This is the dessert I made when my step-daughter and her husband visited last weekend. As they had promised to bring beer and pizza (rare treats), it was only fair that I provided pudding, and as I'd got quite a stash of egg whites in the freezer, meringue was the obvious choice.

I think I may have mentioned before, my hubby detests eggs whites on fried eggs and as he's rather partial to egg on toast I collect far more than my fair share of egg whites. I am on a permanant mission to discover new and interesting ways to use them (suggestions very welcome). Thankfully they freeze very well.
A quick rumage through my cupboards revealed a tin of mandarins and a tin of pineapple chunks, maybe not my prefered choice, but they'd do and step-daughter promised me she'd pick up some double cream. It was all coming together nicely.

Mandarin and Pineapple Indulgence

All prices rounded to the nearest penny

6 egg whites 24p* (Aldi 15 eggs £1.35)
300g sugar 26p (Aldi 1kg 85p)
1 can pineapple chunks, drained 20p (Morrison's Savers 20p)
1 can broken mandarin segments 23p (Morrison's Savers 23p)
20g lemon curd 1p (411g Morrison's Savers 22p)
300ml pot double cream 85p (Aldi 85p)
1 tablespoon Cornflour 1p (Aldi 400g 55p)
Total cost £1.80     Serves 12 at 15p per portion

* I've costed the egg whites as half an egg each as I'd already used the yolk.

Pre heat oven to gas mark 2 (150C)

Whip egg whites until light and fluffy then gradually stir in the sugar and continue to whisk until thick and glossy and forming stiff peaks. Stir in cornflour.
Spoon or pipe mixture onto a baking tray lined with a sheet of greaseproof paper. I used a circular shape for simplicity but you could use any I suppose. When you have your circle about an inch thick, pipe or spoon extra dollops (that's a technical term, don't ya know) around the edge creating a central well for the fruit and cream once it's cooked.
Bake on a low shelf at gas mark 2 (150C) for one hour, the turn down the heat to gas mark 1(140C) for a further 2 hours. This gives you a meringue that is a lovely golden colour, crisp on the outside but still slightly gooey in the middle. If you prefer yours softer or crunchier just adjust the timings.

Once baked, turn off the oven and LEAVE IN OVEN to cool. This helps to reduce cracking. I forgot, as you can probably tell from the picture.

When completely cool, whip your cream until it forms soft peaks and gently stir through the lemon curd. Spoon the cream and fruit into the meringue casing in as pretty or haphazzard way as you prefer.
It went down very well, and we still have quite a bit in the freezer all portioned up but I'm trying to forget it's there. Tasty it may be, innocent it isn't!

You could, of course, use any fruit. I just used what I had in my cupboards as it was all done on rather short notice but I think it would work well with most things. I fancy raspberries, although if I make it again I'll probably make much less of it, it's just too much of  a temptation ;)

Friday, 5 April 2013

Thank You For Your Concern, It Means a Lot

Over the last few weeks I've become increasingly aware that many people are concerned about how we are managing. Some have been people who read this blog and have heard about the changes hitting us financially; others have been family who have seen behind the smiles designed to keep my worries from them; some have been friends who have read between the cheerful lines I put on facebook, or recognised that edge in my voice that says 'I don't really want to talk about it but I'm almost ready to scream'.
People generally react in one of two ways, either there is an almost imperceptible nod of recognition as they see in my eyes the same haunted look that stares back from the bathroom mirror each morning, (just before they launch into tales of having dry cream crackers for tea or how there is only 18p left on their electric meter, confident they are talking to a kindred spirit) or they ask with deep concern if you've taken advice, and double checked that you're receiving all you are entitled to because they cannot believe that, in this day and age, anyone could be left to struggle so much. I can't believe it either, but this is how it is. Not just for me, but for many. Thousands. Up and down the country there are people, families, who can't afford to live. It's not like it because we're somehow missing out on something we're entitled to but because we are having to pay more and more and more out of the bare minimum we get to live on and, eventually, something has to give.

For those of you fortunate enough to have never experienced having to claim something like Jobseekers Allowance or ESA, when you are first awarded whichever benefit you receive, you get a letter. Somewhere in that letter it will tell you how much little you will be getting each week, followed by the words 'this is the amount the law says you need to live on'. When my husband's war pension went up by the grand sum of £1.26 (or thereabouts) the exact same amount was taken off the small amount of ESA he receives to top up that pension to what the law decrees we can live on. Heaven forbid we might have been £1.26 better off. And yet the cost of living spirals ever upwards. The gap between living and barely existing is getting wider. It isn't only impacting on the unemployed of course, those on low wages are in the same boat, it's just that right now I'm viewing things, albeit unwillingly, from the position of being a dependant of someone ESA.
If you haven't already, read Hunger Hurts by Jack Monroe on her fantastic blog A Girl Called Jack. It was written last summer and, thankfully, life is on the up for her now but for many others this is still an everyday reality. It is a reality that feels like it has no end. A reality where desperation is a constant companion and hunger is always waiting in the wings. For the thousands in the welfare system, it feels the light at the end of the tunnel really is the lights of the oncoming train.
That is how the recent, and the imminent, changes to benefits feel, like we've just been hit by the 9.25 from Waterloo. And the 6.15 from Paddington. And the... well you get the idea.
I'm not saying the benefit system didn't need changing, because it did. It was chaotic and confusing and full of cracks. However what it is being replaced with is doing more harm than good, damaging the poorest and most vulnerable in our society at a time when they are truly on their knees. Despite what certain factions of the media would have us believe (yes, Daily Mail, I mean you, although you are not the only one) the vast majority of people on benefits DO NOT WANT TO BE. Seriously, who in their right mind would live this way by choice? Yes, there are those who abuse the system, just as there are big corporations who avoid paying tax, and politicians who fiddle their expenses, but that does not mean that every big corporation isn't paying their dues or that every M.P is corrupt. I'm tired of being tarred with the 'scrounger' brush. I'm tired of feeling like a second class citizen. I'm glad I can't afford to buy a newspaper because some days, most days just lately it seems, the headlines make me want to cry.

My husband fought for this country, he has worked hard throughout his life, working long hours, taking every scrap overtime to provide for his family. He has paid his taxes and avoided claiming benefits at all costs, even during brief periods of unemployment when he was perfectly entitled to, until he really had no other choice. Now that money the 'law says' we need to live on has been effectively cut by the changes to housing and council tax benefit.

It is taking it's toll. Already we are feeling the pinch and it is only going to get worse. A few days ago I paid this week's rent and this month's instalment of council tax. The council tax was paid, at least in part, by my mum, although she doesn't know it. She sent us a bit of money to 'get ourselves something nice' for Easter. I couldn't think of anything nicer than the peace of mind that comes with knowing I haven't got to worry about it this month. I don't know where I'd have found it from otherwise, but even so it's still left us short. There is no fruit or veg this week, I needed potatoes and toilet rolls. I made decisions like that over and over as I walked dismally around the supermarket, paring back the shopping like never before. I've defrosted the freezer and unplugged it. No point in wasting electricity on it when it's empty anyway.

But I would like to reassure everyone that yes, we are getting everything we can. My husband sat down and went through it all with his employment adviser, who in turn got a nice lady at the CAB to do a benefits check independently for us, just to make sure he hadn't missed anything. I am thankful for your concern, at a time when those on benefits are being slated everywhere I turn, it means a lot to know that some people don't fall for the propaganda, and that some people still care.

WE WILL MANAGE, somehow, because we have no choice. We get up each morning, like everyone else, and do the very best we can.


Saturday, 30 March 2013

Fry-Up Treat For A Lazy Saturday (48p per person)

First of all I'd like to say thank you and welcome to all my new followers :) It's lovely to have you stop by.

What a glorious day today is! After so many days of cold and grey it is fabulous to see the sun. I know it's still cold outside, but I'm sitting here beside my window basking in the heat through the glass feeling like it really is spring after all, and that does my heart good.
We had a very lazy start to the morning; a phone call in the early hours from one of the offspring meant we were both still shattered. Fortunately, in the grand scheme of things, it had been nothing serious but when you are young these little knocks and bumps in life seem like the end of the world so some parental TLC and serious cheering up had been needed which meant sleep hadn't figured too highly in our night. Had it been as grey this morning as previous mornings I may have been tempted to just pull the duvet over my head and go back to sleep, but waking to find sun streaming through our windows seemed such a novelty it was a shame to waste it.
In truth I probably wasn't really tired enough to go back to sleep, tired enough to not want to get up, but more sleep would just have made me feel groggy for the rest of the day. As it was we threw open the curtains to let the sun in, made a mug of coffee and just snuggled in bed talking for an hour or two. About serious stuff, fun stuff, frivolous stuff, memories...it was a lovely way to pass the time once I'd managed to shake the feeling of guilt and laziness about still being in bed.
It took hubby to point out it was a BANK HOLIDAY WEEKEND and we really had nothing we needed to be doing. That's the thing with not going out to work, after a while one day seems much like the next and things like weekends and holidays drift by unnoticed. Not that I paid much attention to weekends or bank holidays when I was working either, I worked in tourism so they were my busiest days. A bank holiday to me just meant extra work!
I'd almost forgotten about Easter completely until I nipped into Morrison's on Thursday. I'd done most of my weekly shop in Aldi the day before (spending a grand total of £11.26) but there were still one or two things I needed like bleach, cooking bacon and hubby's denture glue (I'm glad he doesn't read this, he won't thank me for mentioning that!) that I needed to get elsewhere. It was absolutely manic in there. I wondered for a moment what on earth was going on, people were spending like the shops were all going to close in an hour, never to re-open again! Then it dawned on me. I've never really understood the shopping frenzy that goes hand in hand with Christmas, but I understand it even less for Easter. I don't remember it ever being like that when I was a child.
I did worry for a brief moment, 'Oh, it's Easter weekend and we won't have anything special' and then I thought 'Don't be such a Muppet!' We'll still have some nice things, but they'll be things I can make with the basic ingredients we've got in and I know we won't feel deprived at all.
I certainly didn't feel deprived this morning. After our lazy lie in my husband said that it was a shame he couldn't have a fry up, cooked breakfasts and lazy lie ins go hand in hand after all ;)
Well, I couldn't let that go now could I? I had a quick think and I was sure I could put something together, it wouldn't quite be the 'full english' but it would still be good and after the stresses of the last few weeks maybe a 'blow out' would do us good.
What really amazed me was how little it cost to do.
75g Bacon, 1 sausage, 2 eggs, spoonful of tomatoes, 1 slice of fried bread for 48p and to be honest if I were to do it again, I'd cook less, it was a bit too much for me. Just taking one egg off would drop the cost to 39p, losing the sausage as well takes it down to 29p! Bargain!!!
So how did I do it?
*note. Portion prices have been rounded up or down to the nearest penny as appropriate for ease of calculation (my maths is atrocious).
To Serve 2
150g Cooking Bacon (Morrison's Savers 81p for 500g) 24p
2 Irish recipe sausages (Asda £2 for 20 - I actually think I paid less than that as they've been in the back of my freezer for ages, but this is the current price) 20p
4 eggs (Aldi £1.35 for 15) 36p
1/3 tin plum tomatoes (Aldi 31p) 10p
25 ml Cooking Oil (Poundland £1 for 750ml) 1p
2 slices bread (Aldi Everyday Essentials 22 slice loaf 50p) 4p
Tomato ketchup (Morrison's Savers 40p for 550g) 1p
That's a total cost of 96p for two delicious fried breakfasts.
As we sat down at our table with what looked like a slap up feast in front of us, it felt like the height of luxury. It didn't matter that the bacon wasn't in 'proper' rashers but instead in bits and chunks, it didn't matter that the eggs weren't organic, or the sausages from the local butcher, all that mattered was that as we shared that meal we felt like we were having a real, once in a blue moon, treat and it cost less than a pound for the two of us.
*Thinking about it, it cost fractionally less than I've said as hubby doesn't like fried egg whites so I separated his eggs before I cooked them. The egg whites will be making meringue nests for a special pudding tomorrow. Bonus :)

Friday, 22 March 2013

27p in My Purse

That's it folks, I'm literally down to pennies. There is the grand sum of 27p in my purse. I'm almost giddy with excitement, trying to decide what to spend it on!

I shouldn't complain (I shouldn't, but I'm going to so if you want to back away now quietly, I'll understand, just close the door behind you please, it gets cold in here otherwise). There is food in my kitchen cupboards, not a lot but there are things I can work with, there might be some strange meals and odd combinations but I'll keep us both fed until pension day. I have gas and electric on my meters, and neither of them are on 'emergency'....yet. I have paid this week's water instalment on time and although the car got us home on fumes last night, we had managed to put just enough diesel in to enable us to run our errands (unless I count the car being serviced today, I had to call and cancel that as we just couldn't get there).
We have managed, with the meagre funds we get, to pay everything that needs to be paid and buy some fairly basic food. We have done those things, without wasting money on fripperies, or eating out, or buying newspapers or magazines. We haven't had a drink, or bought new clothes, or gone to the cinema. We haven't put money on the phone, or posted birthday cards, or even posted my Mum's Mother's Day present which I bought in the January sales for £1.49 and now can't afford to send. We haven't done these things and yet I still only have 27p left in my purse.
We have done what we needed to do to survive, not to live, and yet somehow from April we have to find an extra £70 a month.
From where?
Suggestions on a postcard please.
We knew we were getting stung with the 'bedroom tax' and had pretty much resigned ourselves to a difficult few months at least. We did talk about moving to a smaller property but discounted the idea for several reasons. We do actually use the 'spare' room. If hubby gets his business off the ground like he hopes he's going to need that space as his office/craft area. We have good neighbours. We can't face moving again, and well, this is our home. Life has been pretty grotty for the last few years but we've done our best to make this place a comfy, cosy retreat for us where we feel safe. when we moved here we didn't expect to have to move again, ever. Not to mention the fact that there are no where near enough one bed properties available to accommodate all those who wish to downsize.
After giving it a lot of thought, and it really was a lot of thought, we decided to stay put and find the extra money somehow. If we cut back just a little bit on everything, we thought we could just about manage it. It would mean scrimping with the food shop and using the car less, using the phone only in emergencies (although that's pretty much what we do anyway). With the summer coming and less going on the gas and electric meters we thought we could do it, or buy ourselves a little time at least.
But then WHAM! Thudding through the letter box came a council tax bill.
Now, I knew the government were introducing changes which meant local councils would now be in charge of the way council benefit tax was administered....but, and here's the thing... I checked with them back in November and was told not to worry, it probably wouldn't affect us, and if it did they would let us know in ample time. So why was it that the first I knew about us no longer being entitled to full council tax benefit was when the bill dropped through the letter box a few days ago?
The combined effect of the 'bedroom tax' and council tax will be devastating. I don't see how we can do it. I've gone over and over the figures and I simply can't find an extra £70 a month no matter what I do. So with a very heavy heart I have registered us on the list to move. It could be months and months before something comes of that though.
And I'm job hunting again. Despite the fact that there are many days when hubby isn't well enough to be left alone. What other choice do we have?

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

A VERY Nasty Bug

I've been poorly, so very poorly, and although I'm up and about I'm still run down, tired, achy, queasy and generally bleuggghhh. Is that a word? Well it should be! Bleuggghhh is is just about right for how I feel.
I caught a bug, I don't know where, a nasty little vomiting bug that came on quite suddenly last Thursday. One minute I was feeling fine and enjoying the spring sunshine, the next I was yelling 'STOP THE CAR!' at my husband as I fought in vain with my breakfast. Sorry, was that a bit too much information? Thinking back I had been a bit cold and shivery the night before but that's not unusual in our flat so I didn't think too much about it, even though the heating was on and hubby wasn't cold. I woke feeling fine so the whole thing hit me like a bolt from the blue.
I spent three whole days in bed (I have NEVER done that in my life before). GP said there was nothing to do, just drink plenty of fluids....easier said than done! After about a day I was managing sips of water though so although it didn't feel like it I must have been improving. I managed to drag myself out of bed for a few hours on Sunday and I've got gradually better since but I still can't drink anything other than water without feeling queasy and most foods are more than I can face too. Fresh fruit is about the only thing I can eat that doesn't make me feel instantly ill, and even if I could afford a steady diet of fruit it's hardly going to build me up again is it?
I'm going to try a bowl of rice pudding later. My grandma always gave me that when I was poorly. It was her cure-all for everything, rice pudding and boiled lemonade! It's worth a try. Who am I to argue? Grandma knows best.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Soda Bread

I love Soda Bread. Those Irish certainly know a thing or two. It has to be the tastiest, easiest bread to make. Ever.

My Homemade Soda Bread
I'd never tried soda bread until I met my husband, in fact if I'm being totally honest I'm not sure I'd even heard of it! But he liked it so on one of my weekly jaunts to the supermarket, I bought some. It was OK I guess, but I couldn't really see what he was making such a fuss about. He did say shop bought wasn't quite the same as the real thing, but I didn't think much more about it. I enjoyed baking, but back then I was far too busy with work to do very much of it.

Fast forward a few years..................................

We had just relocated to Cornwall and had nothing. And when I say nothing, I really do mean virtually NOTHING. We had sold just about everything we owned to raise money and much of what we hadn't sold had not survived 'storage' with a family member (long story). We had a few bits of furniture (think bedside tables, drinks cabinet...nothing really useful) and a few personal items (clothes, photo's etc) and that was about it. There we were in a cold, damp, empty flat, starting again from scratch, from teaspoons up.
For those first few weeks I cooked on a two ring camping stove. We had no fridge, no freezer, which meant having to buy food in small quantities instead of in bigger, more economical amounts. It was expensive and severely limiting...not to mention the cost of replacing the silly little impractical gas canisters. It was the kind of stove meant for a weekend away, not long term use. In desperation we bought a second hand microwave from the Heart Foundation shop for £15. It wasn't ideal but better than nothing and we certainly got our money's worth...we got three years service out of my trusty, battered friend before it finally gave up the ghost.
I got books from the library on microwave cooking but for the most part I found them frustrating. So many of the recipes only used the microwave for part of the cooking; what kind of microwave cookbook requires you to also have a conventional oven? A pretty useless one in my opinion! It took quite a bit of digging to find recipes I could actually make use of...and one of them was for Soda Bread.
I have to say it was a rather pasty looking, and slightly soggy, Soda Bread, and would certainly have benefited from being browned off under the grill, but it tasted good and I'd made it from scratch, which after microwave meals, was a blessed relief.
It was another couple of months before I finally got an oven and I gratefully retired my microwave standbys in favour of some serious baking, but recently, as we tighten our belts ever further and cut the food shopping to almost impossible levels, I've had to again rethink the way I do things.
More and more I'm making my own bread, experimenting with different recipes and methods, but the one we keep coming back to, the quick fix, the saviour when I can't afford to keep the kitchen warm enough for an ordinary loaf to rise, is Soda Bread.
I've tried a few different recipes, looking expectantly for hubby's approval. Each, he said, was nice but not quite how he remembered from the time he spent in Ireland. In the end I took a bit from here, a bit from there, adapted to suit what I had in my cupboards, and came up with the recipe I use today which hubby insists is just 'perfect'.
6oz SR Flour
6oz Strong White Flour
1 tsp salt
2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
184 ml (approx) buttermilk* (depending on the brand, the size of pot varies a little bit)
splash of milk
Mix all the dry ingredients in a bowl.
Stir in buttermilk.
Add a splash of milk (if needed) until dough is of a soft, but not sticky, consistency.
Shape dough into a round and place on a floured baking tray.
Cut a deep 'cross' in the top of the dough.
Cook on gas mark 6 (ish- my oven is a bit temperamental) for about 20-25 mins until golden.
*Nowhere locally sells buttermilk and as it's almost a 20 mile round trip up to Morrison's I've had to find alternatives if I've run out. I add about a tablespoon of vinegar to about 200ml of milk then let it rest for about ten minutes and that usually does the trick. It doesn't tend to rise quite as well, making it a slightly denser loaf but it still tastes fine. I'm told you can do the same by adding lemon juice but I haven't tried that.
**Not for the squeamish. Adding vinegar to milk isn't pretty!

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Better Late Than Never

I had the funniest conversation with my step daughter at the weekend. She had called me about something else but repeatedly kept telling me she was going into town later to buy vegetables. We talked about babies and holidays and dogs and kayaking but through it all those veggies kept rearing their heads to say hello. I was starting to wonder if it was some sort of code, was there someone else listening? Was there something she wanted to tell me but couldn't? Was she being held against her will by some crazed, long haired nutter? ....Oh wait, that's her husband. lol
Whatever it was I couldn't understand this sudden obsession with vegetables. She doesn't even like cooking, and will send her husband to the supermarket whenever she can get away with it. Shopping she excells at, but food shopping really isn't her thing!
In the end I just had to ask.
*Fanfare* Yes, lets have a fanfare here, it deserves it.
Thanks to the horsemeat scandal which made her rethink her habits, my step daughter has finally worked out that shopping at the local market is cheaper than Sainsburys.
I have never heard such excitement in her voice before. She joyously listed all the veg she'd bought the previous week and squeeled 'I saved £20!' followed quickly by 'and I bought meat too, loads of it, from the meat market, and it was so cheap'.
Yes dear, I know.
On a roll from her successes she even ventured into Poundland. (Believe me, if you knew my step daughter you'd know just how funny this is).
'I usually spend £100 a week in the supermarket' she said.
'By going to the market I only spent £50'
I hadn't the heart to tell her I don't usually spend that much in a month, I didn't want to burst her bubble. The girl has to start somewhere. lol
Of course she blew all her savings on new clothes, but hey, she's young and she works hard, I don't begrudge her that.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Hair Today

I haven't had my hair cut professionally for years, and I have NEVER had it coloured professionally despite the fact I haven't seen my natural colour since I was 15! It has been various shades over the years, from goth black to vibrant red and just about everything in between. I didn't have the luxury, as a teenager, of the fantastic range of colours my daughters enjoy today (think pink, purple, blue, green, you name it, they've tried it) but I did pretty well. I didn't like my natural colour very much and rather derisively described it as 'dead rat brown' if anyone asked, but these days I'm honest enough to admit that I dye it simply to hide the grey.

It's not that I mind grey hair, I don't have a problem with getting older - it comes to all of us in the end - and if I were to wake up one morning to find my hair a uniform silvery colour I don't think I'd mind too much. It's this inbetweeny stage I don't like, those random grey hairs that streak the brown in a disorderly fashion. Maybe one day, when the grey outweighs the dark, I'll give up on the dye but until then I'll spend a few pounds every 6 weeks or so in the name of vanity.

Money has been a bit tighter of late and hair dye was something that kept getting pushed off the bottom of my list. I like my hair to look OK, but when it comes right down to it I'm not so vane that I'm going to skimp on food or electricity for the sake of doing my roots and so it was that those roots got longer and longer and the grey more and more obvious and that didn't make me very happy at all. I felt I couldn't really justify spending money out on dye but when it started to make me miserable...
.... that 2" stripe of grey down the middle of my head had to go!
I've never really bothered with the more expensive hair colours you find on the shelves these days unless they are on offer, I usually spend about £4 or £5, and to be honest I've not noticed any real difference in quality regardless of price...except perhaps that the cheaper ones don't smell as nice but are often better at covering grey.
This time I couldn't afford my usual colour but the sinking feeling I got each morning when I looked in the mirror prompted me to give one I found in Poundland a go. I wasn't really expecting much, not for a pound. The colour wasn't as rich, or red, as I'd have liked but I thought 'what the heck? It will cover my grey and if I can afford a decent colour in a couple of weeks I can always do it again.'
And this was the result.
It's a bit darker than I wanted. It looks OK in the sun, or under bright lights, but on a dull day -to my eyes- it looks almost black and my goth days are long gone! lol
It'll do, I thought, until I can get something better. But then I realised how soft it felt, how silky smooth....was this really my hair??? And then, without any prompting, hubby said how much he liked the colour, how it really suited me!
So now there are three boxes of pound shop hair dye sitting in my cupboard, and I shall stock up on a couple more next week. No more grey roots for me.
Now, I just have to take about an inch of dead ends off and it'll look just as good as the days when I used to sip G&T's in a salon in Covent Garden as a glamourous stylist snipped and smoothed my locks for almost £100 of my hard earned cash!
£1 or £100? It's an easy choice.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Disappearing Biscuits

Firstly, let me apologise. There should have been photo's to go with this post but I have to admit to us having been greedy little piggies who devoured a whole plate of biscuits before I remembered to get my camera out! Oooops!

Hubby often gets a bit of a sweet tooth and anything even remotely looking like it might contain sugar, when he's in one of those moods, doesn't stand a chance. I, on the other hand am usually much more restrained, especially after having lost so much weight last year. I have absolutely NO intention of allowing that two stone to creep back on, but yesterday was just one of those days.

We were curled up yesterday evening watching TV when hubby uttered those fateful words, 'Is there anything sweet to eat?' I could, probably should, have suggested apples, or bananas, but where's the fun in that? You see I like baking, I love baking in fact. I don't think I'm ever happier than when I'm in my kitchen with my mixing bowl so it doesn't take very much before I'm offering to make cakes or muffins or a batch of biscuits...

Last night I turned to one of the very first recipes I ever learnt, taught to me by my Grandma as I stood on a stool in her kitchen. If I remember rightly it's from her old Be-Ro recipe book, almost everything my Grandma made came from that little book and with good reason. Unlike so many recipes today they are simple, basic even, requiring very few ingredients which in turn usually made them inexpensive. And that's what we all want right? Something tasty which doesn't cost a lot to make.
So here is the recipe for Melting Moments - originally, I think, from the Be-Ro book but given to me by my Grandma and I've been making these with success for over 40 years. They are lovely crunchy biscuits that keep well in an air tight container for about a week (if they last that long ;) )
5oz SR Flour
3oz Sugar
2 1/2 oz margarine
1 1/2 oz lard
half an egg * this always annoys me - what am I supposed to do with the other half? I often double the quantities so I can use a full egg if I'm not likely to use it up elsewhere.
1tsp vanilla essence (I often don't bother with this)
Rolled oats or dessicated coconut
Cream together the fats and sugar and then beat in egg and the vanilla essence.
Stir in the flour and mix well.
With wet hands form mixture into balls and coat with either oats or coconut.
Place on a greased baking sheet and press slightly.
bake at gas mark 3-4 or 350-375 F (haven't got C listed and I'm not sure what the conversion is)
the recipe says it makes around 40 but I always make them larger and make 20 or so. They'd be very tiny (bite sized) if you did 40.
This time I didn't bother with the oats or coconut and instead melted a bar of chocolate we'd had in the fridge for a while to coat them with when they had cooled. Just that little bit of chocolate made it seem like a really decadent treat.
I'll have to be especially good for the rest of the week now (and I did go out for a run this morning) but sometimes its nice to be a bit over indulgent.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013


It's Shrove Tuesday. Pancake Day. And I forgot.

Not only did I completely forget that today I had the perfect excuse for throwing caution to the wind, ignoring the diet and pigging out on yummy pancakes, but I failed to ensure I had the bare essentials in the kitchen cupboards. I have no lemon juice, I'm eeking out what little milk we have for teas and coffees (If I have to drink black coffee tomorrow morning I will not be a happy bunny), and without even thinking, I fried the last two eggs for hubby's breakfast this morning.

I have quite a reputation for being able to rustle something up from nothing but I don't think even I could manage to make pancakes without eggs and milk!

I love pancake day. I love pancakes and I'm absolutely gutted that I won't be indulging today along with everyone else. There's nothing to stop me having pancakes tomorrow of course, and I shall, but it's not the same. It's not that I go in for the whole Lent thing, I'm not Christian so it doesn't really apply, but I do love traditions and well, it's traditional. I remember making pancakes with my Grandma when I was only very small (I had to stand on a stool to reach the table) and her explaining what it was all about. I remember (friendly) arguments raging about the 'right' way to eat a pancake, rolled up or flat (Granddad said rolled was better, Grandma said that was greedy and they lasted longer and you felt you had more if it was flat on the plate). Then there was the debate about lemon. Mum insisted on lemon and sugar, Dad would spread his with butter and sugar! As a child I didn't mind either way although these days I lean towards the lemon option. Although having said that... chocolate, bananas, whipped cream, strawberries, caramel, nuts, Cinnamon...as long as it's sweet I think it's safe to say it goes well with a pancake ;)
But all this talk of pancakes is making me hungry, and very cross with myself for being so forgetful so I'm off to make a shepherd's pie and dream of indulging tomorrow. You all enjoy your pancakes today, I've got the pleasure still to come.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Water, Water, Every Where, But Can't Afford to Drink

I'm at war with my water company, at least that's what it feels like. Never before, in all my years, have I encountered a company so difficult to deal with so, petty and pig headed. Yes, pig headed! I have been too, I suppose, although I admit that only grudgingly. They have brought out the very worst in me, but now I'm throwing in the towel. We are at a kind of stalemate where both parties can perhaps walk away pretending victory with dignity intact. At least that's what I'm telling myself. I'm tired of fighting now. I just want it paid, gone, forgotten.
I had NEVER had a problem with a water bill before I moved to Cornwall. Water bills were something I barely gave a moments thought to, they dropped through the letter box, were paid, and that was that. No problem. They were small bills, almost insignificant bills, compared to others we had to deal with. At times our water bills were so low that our landlords were even happy to include it with our rent and we didn't even have to think about it at all. It's fair to say that although I was always careful with my water usage, I did so purely because of environmental concerns not financial ones.
We considered many things when we were making the decision to relocate. We discussed the impact of a big drop in income, we talked about how we'd cope with a slower pace of life after living life at 100 mph for so long. We debated the consequences of being further away from our families, and even looked at differences between local health trusts but never, never ever, not once, did we think about if we'd be able to afford our water bill! And yet on more than one occasion since we moved here that has been a factor in those 'did we do the right thing?' conversations. There have even been times, on my darker days I admit, when I've even considered moving away just to rid myself of the dreaded, demon water company.
I'm not going to go into detail here (mainly because it would probably bore you, but also because just thinking about it sends my blood pressure sky high) but an unexpectedly high (and, I still maintain, incorrect) bill, coupled with a change to six monthly billing which meant I didn't know there was a problem until it was too late (convenient that) resulted in having to pay by instalments instead of paying the bill outright each time as we always had. Now this wouldn't have been a problem if the instalments hadn't been set at a level we couldn't possibly afford (being based on the high bill). The problem with paying by instalment is you aren't just paying the bill you've just received but are also paying towards the next one.
And so began a spiral of missed payments, arguments, negotiations, threats of court action and bully boy tactics. Every offer of payment I made was refused and countered with an impossibly high demand. I am absolutely convinced that I could offer them the sun, the moon and the stars only for them to come back with a demand for the space station and proof of life on Mars too!

Eventually, in desperation, I wrote a long letter, not offering this time but telling them exactly what I would be paying and when and much to my surprise I got a very different letter in reply. It ignored many of my points and yes, still demanded more than I had said I would be paying, but it was considerably less than previously (maybe suggesting I open a vein had an impact. lol) It's more than I wanted to be paying BUT with a bit of juggling it is manageable. Phew.

The letter also confirmed what I had long suspected, I've managed to bring our water consumption down to a fantastically low level. We are now using less than they would expect for a single person household (without feeling like we're suffering at all, honest) at a cost of approx £5 per week. Now for anyone in other parts of the country with cheaper water bills that might not seem something to shout about (my step daughter runs two deep baths a day and spends less than that- and yes I am jealous!) but anyone who lives in the south west region will know what an amazing achievement that is. I swear it would be cheaper to have liquid gold flowing from our taps ;)

There is a big debt to clear, it's going to take time, but finally I feel it's achievable.

Saturday, 2 February 2013

NOT a Fun Way to Save Money

Uggghh. I feel terrible. I've felt terrible for over a week now. It started with a migraine (with a cold thrown in for good measure) then progressed with a delightful little tummy bug, only to see the return of my migraine (cruelly just as I thought I was starting to feel better) for the last few days. It's on it's way out now (I hope) but I still feel grotty and washed out.

On the bright side, as a result of feeling like death warmed up, I've barely dragged myself out of bed so I've been nice and warm without having to put the heating on and I really haven't felt like eating very much at all (it's been soup and rice pudding for the most part).

It's been a very inexpensive week but I have to say, on reflection, that there are nicer ways to save money.

Now, I'm making a mug of hot chocolate and going back to bed. Fingers crossed I'll feel much better in the morning.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Cold Fingers, Hot food

I had quite a shock on Monday morning. I don't know what made me do it, I had no real reason to, but as we were coming back in from Hubby's latest visit to the doctor I checked our meters. I'd already looked on Friday and was a little concerned about how fast the electric was going down so I'd topped it up with the last few pounds in my purse; the gas meter had been pretty much where I'd expected it to be and we'd continued to be careful since then. I had no reason to think that either one of them was in any danger of running out, and yet I checked. Something made me hesitate as we hurried to get back indoors and out of the bitter January chill. Something made me spend that extra minute fighting with the swollen door of the outside cupboard that houses meters and recycling box and gardening tools. Something made me press the little button that lights up the digital screen on the gas meter instead of following hubby eagerly up the stairs towards kitchen, kettle and coffee.
Arrrggggghhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! How could it possibly be that low? I'd put the emergency on on Saturday evening, which gives us £5 credit. I'd fully expected that to last through until Wednesday; pension day. Last week I'd used the emergency on the Friday and it'd run out Tuesday evening, so it stood to reason that we could make it from Saturday to Wednesday surely? and yet there we were, Monday morning with only £1.12 on the meter. Oh heck!
This cold snap will be the death of me. On a normal week we don't use the emergency at all. At the moment we are putting extra on the meter, using the emergency, and still running out. I'm not sure how though, we aren't exactly being extravagant with the heating :(
 So our home is a little chilly at the moment! I never put the central heating on first thing in the morning, no matter how cold it is, if I get dressed fast enough I don't notice the shock ;)  besides, it's invigorating, gets the blood pumping! So the last time our heating was on was Sunday evening. We did give in last night and put the little electric fan heater on in the bedroom for ten minutes before we went to bed, but other than that it's been hot water bottles and piling on the layers. We're saving that little bit of gas left on the meter for cooking. We can put up with a bit of cold for a while but not without a hot meal inside us. I'm using the slow cooker as much as I can and saving the gas cooker for making porridge for breakfast, or heating soup for lunch. It may may be that I'm being a bit over cautious as far as that's concerned, but rather that than find we have nothing hot to eat.
Last night was particularly cold, we've had no snow but we did have a hail storm come rolling in about 11pm last night coating everywhere with crunchy white. It looked very pretty. It must be a little milder now though as it rained this afternoon so the white is all gone and we're back to the grey.
The aroma from the kitchen is making me hungry. There are a few sausages, the last couple of potatoes and onions in the slow cooker. I'll add the last of a bag of frozen veg to it soon. Have you ever noticed that the less food you have in your cupboards the hungrier you are? I'm starting to really notice the bite now from this weeks bill paying. I know we did the right thing, paying it off in one go, but I hate to see my cupboards so bare. I'm very glad of course that they were well stocked enough to see us through, but I also know it's going to take me a while to build up those stocks again. It's not like I can afford to just go out and do one big shop and replace it all. Hubby's pension comes in tomorrow but there won't be much of that left for food, there are too many other things that need to be paid out of it.
I had thought we were in for a difficult week, and it has been, but the reality of it is, we're in for several difficult weeks. Especially if the weather stays this cold.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Miscellaneous Meat

About a month before Christmas our neighbour popped round and asked if we'd do him a favour. His car was off the road but he needed to get to see his mum, would we take him? Well of course we would. It's the first time in years that we have lived somewhere without problematic neighbours, we absolutely love that we can just knock on each others doors whenever one or the other of us needs something.
It turned out that his 'bogof' addict mother was having a big clear out of her freezer to make room for her Christmas shopping and was packing her single son off home with all her surplus stocks. We spent a fun afternoon drinking tea with a lovely old lady before squeezing what seemed like enough to restock the local Iceland into our car. I swear the back end actually dipped from all the extra weight! No one thought to question how big our neighbour's freezer was and if he's actually have room for it all. Which is why quite a bit of it ended up in my freezer, kindly donated by our neighbour who just hadn't got the room for it and knew a lot of it he'd probably never eat anyway.
Some of it is the kind of things we'd never normally buy, ready meals and the like, which I'm keeping in reserve, my stand-by, 'emergency' food. However a lot of it is fresh meat that has been bagged up in individual portions. This, very helpfully, has the date it was purchased written on the bag. Less helpful is the fact that there is nothing to identify said meat! I can guess at a lot of it, there are a couple of what are obviously pork chops, and a piece of chicken. From there on in it gets a bit more interesting. There is a bag of what may be bacon, or perhaps gammon, and some breaded things that could be just about anything under those breadcrumbs. Chicken? Fish?
Last night I took out a bag of what looked like diced beef to defrost. This morning when I took it out of the fridge I wasn't so sure, it looked a little pale for beef. Although as I browned it prior to setting the slow cooker going I started to think maybe it was beef after all, stewing steak perhaps? Heck, for all I know it could be horse! although I seriously doubt it ;) It's not chicken, I think I can say that with some certainty, and it's not pork. That narrows it down a bit. I think when my husband asks what's for tea I'm just going to say it's a special recipe...Not-Chicken Casserole. lol
Whatever it is, I don't mind. Tonight when we sit down to a tasty casserole washed down with a glass or two of homemade wine I'm just going to thank my lucky stars for friendly, generous neighbours (and their mothers) and enjoy.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

The Sad Truth

I made it to twenty to five today before I finally gave in and turned the heating on. The backs of my hands felt like ice and I was actually contemplating putting my gloves on, when I realised that, despite several layers of clothing, my teeth were chattering and I thought enough is enough. For maybe a full five minutes I was rather proud of myself for having held out for so long, and then as my fingers defrosted around a mug of coffee it dawned on me how desperately sad the whole situation is.
This is the UK, in the 21st century for heavens sake, no one, and I really mean no one, old or young, rich or poor, employed or not, should ever be in a position where they can't afford to put their heating on in winter. It is a sad state of affairs indeed.
I caught the headline on one of the newspapers earlier when I nipped out to buy milk, about soaring heating costs. I couldn't afford to buy the paper and in all honesty I haven't had the heart to look it up on line yet, but from what I could see it's only going to get worse. As the cold snap bites energy prices are going up. Again.
I've been cold today out of choice. Well, not choice exactly, I would rather have been warm, obviously, but I could have put my heating on if I'd wanted to. I decided not to in order to increase the chances of the credit on my gas meter lasting the week. A little bit each day is better than a few days of being warm only to have to go without completely for a couple of days. What worries me is how many people are there out there today who couldn't put their heating on at all? How many elderly folk are scared to put their fire on for fear of a large bill? How many are shivering because their meters have already run out?
Don't think it happens? Trust me it does.
The problem with having a pre-payment meter and being on a very low income is that you tend to budget for what you expect it to be and most of the time that's probably fine, but every so often we get a week like this one, when the temperature plummets or the snow falls and all your careful budgeting flies out the window. Last week my two year old grandson and his mother spent two days without heating before a neighbour found out and came to their rescue. They had kept warm by spending the days snuggled up under blankets with hot water bottles. Only a few nights ago our own meter ran out and we spent an evening bitterly cold. My brother and his kids are staying with friends this weekend so they can all share the cost of the heating, feeding one meter instead of two. The kids all think it's great of course, sleep overs and snowball fights are the things memories are made of, but for my brother and his single mum friend it's an effort hiding the strain even through the fun times.
We do what we need to get by. For me that means early nights and late mornings, staying in bed until I can bare the feelings of laziness no more. I'm not being lazy of course, this morning I probably got more work done in bed than I would have done if I'd been up and about, I checked emails, wrote letters, darned socks, replaced a zip and several buttons on things that have been sitting in my sewing basket for months, but I felt lazy staying abed until mid morning just to keep warm. Once I was up I kept as busy as I could, I swept and mopped and scrubbed, I went for a brisk walk to the local shop, but sooner or later you have to slow down, do things that require less energy, and that is when the chill settles into your bones.
If you've ever been cold, and I mean really cold, for a long period of time you'll know it effects everything you try to do. You move slower, think slower, you make mistakes. Even conversation becomes difficult after a while. You withdraw into yourself as if by pulling in you can somehow keep warmer. A day without heating in winter can do this, even to a fit and healthy person, two days certainly does. I know because I've done it, beyond that I don't know, thankfully I've never been there and I hope I never will but my heart goes out to those who are cold, truly cold, tonight.  

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Sun, Glorious Sun!

Oh I was so happy to see the sun this morning. I'm sure I wasn't alone in that. After weeks of endless grey I imagine quite a few people were delighted when they threw open their curtains and saw its yellow loveliness blazing down, but for me it wasn't just the sight of it that filled me with joy. It wasn't the brightness of the morning, or all that blue sky or the crisp promise of a winter's day that made my heart sing (well it did a bit, but it wasn't only that ;) ) no, it was the fact that today I won't need to put my heating on!
You see I am lucky enough to have south facing windows and even a cold winter sun streaming through them warms my kitchen and living room delightfully. In fact, sometimes it is actually uncomfortably warm and I'm forced to throw open a window for a while. I had never lived anywhere with south facing windows before we moved into our council flat two years ago, and it still feels like a luxury. It's a novelty, a wonder, and indeed I do wonder at how we ever managed before. The difference it can make to the amount of money we feed into our hungry gas meter is huge. Of course, I need the weather to co-operate in order to reap the benefits (and it hasn't done that much lately) but when it does I am very grateful for our free heating.
Now I just need it to stay this way. The gas meter is already on 'emergency' (something I try to avoid if I can) thanks to a combination of colder weather and my husband's long, lingering chest infection (really need to keep him warm) and I've no way of topping it up until Wednesday. I have to admit I was panicking a bit and I've been sending hubby back to bed and piling on the jumpers and waiting until I couldn't feel my fingers before I gave in and turned the heating on over the last few days. Today has been a welcome relief and gives me a fighting chance of making it through.
Thank you Sun, long may you shine.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

The Story So Far

Leaving London and our relatively well paid jobs was planned.
Moving to a quieter location was planned.
Slowing our lives down and living more simply was planned.
Illness, heart attacks, strokes, no savings and being caught up in the benefit system was definitely not planned.
In retrospect we didn't plan things anywhere near as well as we thought we had although who, in all honesty, plans for sudden declines in health when you feel fine? We should have done, I suppose. My husband's health has thrown us curve balls in the past, but we always came through it and carried on, always kept our heads above water.
I don't think our heads have been above water for about four and a half years now, although we do come up for air occasionally ;)
We live in a small coastal town that attracts many tourists each summer. We know that despite everything we are very lucky. Life may not be the way we planned it but we have much to be grateful for.
We exist (I refuse to say 'live') on my husband's small pension, topped up with ESA. It's only a tiny amount of ESA benefit we get, but it's a benefit all the same and the damage that has done to his pride is enormous. Hence his plan (still in its infancy) to start a small business selling things he can make. The thought of it is keeping him sane, and it means he can work only on the days he's well enough (what employer would put up with that?). We know it's our only option but we'll be doing it on a shoestring -less than a shoe string- with no start up money, no contingency fund.
What could possibly go wrong?
Don't answer that!
We fumble from one week to the next, often robbing Peter to pay Paul. A cold snap forcing us to put more credit on our pre-pay gas and electric metres means not paying the water bill or cutting back the food shop to the bare minimum. A birthday, or worse still Christmas, means eeking out the gas and not putting the heating on. A family crisis, a wedding, or a funeral we need to travel for (our family live hundreds of miles away), means throwing caution to the wind and spending months catching up with payments and fighting to keep the wolves from the door.
It's not a nice way to live and hopefully 2013 will be the year that changes. We don't want much, just to pay our own way, keep a roof over our heads and put food on the table. We are simple people with simple needs and simple pleasures.
We want to be as self suficiant as we can, we want to provide for ourselves and make the most of everything. We want to enjoy life and that starts here, at home, with us.