Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Making a Mockery

Yesterday's jewellery class was highly productive as I made this entire bangle in the three hour session!  Okay,  even those of you with less than 20:20 vision might well have spotted that it is just made out of paper but  it  is the first version of a coursework piece that must be finished by spring. I even cracked on and cut out one of the ships that will make up my copper Mk. 2 prototype.  This mock up will enable me to  practice the different techniques that I need to master  before I go on to  make my final  more expensive silver/brass version.  I might even get a second wearable piece of jewellery into the bargain!

Currently this work represents a big personal milestone and I'm hoping that it marks a turning point.  For the past few weeks I've been feeling more tense and anxious. This was precipitated by a hectic period at work that invariably heralds the onset of winter. I feel tired and stressed and therefore the normal demands of home life seem onerous. At times like this,  my concentration goes out of the window and I find it extremely hard to apply myself.  This makes clearing an ever increasing backlog of tasks ever more daunting.

An evening where I managed to concentrate on what I'm doing and got encouragement to exceed my goal for the evening's class has really given me a lift. Funnily enough, I got a decent night's sleep too. These boosters have helped me realise that my head hasn't turned to mush forever and hopefully it won't be long before I get my focus back, return to my normal creative experimental self and can get on top of my to do list once more - just in time for the Christmas rush!

Monday, 29 November 2010

Buy Nothing Day: A Reflection

Well, as I've already admitted I wasn't exactly a miserable failure on Saturday's 'Buy Nothing Day' but then I didn't manage a day without spending either.  My lack of pre-planning meant that I made the discovery that we'd run out of eggs halfway through preparing lunch.  Had I have been more organised we would have already had eggs in the house or at the very least I would have noticed my store cupboard deficit earlier and cooked something else.

But I'm quite proud of the fact that breaking my resolve didn't precipitate into a massive unplanned spending spree.  It might have started with buying a paper and some sweets for Louis in the village shop and who knows where that could have ended.  Ashamed of my inability to keep my purse shut I could have easily embarked on a bit of retail therapy to soothe my troubled soul!

Now I'm not really a spendaholic and the event wasn't a particular hardship for me.  In fact I didn't spend anything on two of the days in the preceding week.   But 'Buy Nothing Day' helped me to focus on the lack of awareness involved with some of my spending and how easy it is to go with my impulses and make purchases.

What I also found was that I didn't miss my newspaper as I read it online.  I didn't buy one on Sunday either and may give up habitually purchasing the weekend papers for a while.  It'll give me a chance to get used, instead, to reading the news and other articles on the Guardian website and perhaps I'll get the opportunity, for the first time in ages, to see what the paper has to offer midweek too!

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Days Out in Devon: Ranger Ralph

The Lovelygrey family live literally a stone's throw away from Dartmoor National Park.  Okay you'd have to pick someone with a good overarm technique as the boundary is  about seventy five yards away on the lane adjoining our estate.  I'm a weedy thrower and would probably fall short by some distance but I reckon the distance would be peanuts for a bowler in one of the local cricket teams.

So,  as someone who has access to this marvellous free leisure resource,  I would urge the tourists and day visitors,  after they've purchased their 99s, to step away from the ice cream vans in the car park  near Haytor and explore more of what this beautiful wilderness has to offer.  Stroll over to the visitor's centre (or one of the others around the moor) and the helpful staff will give you lots of ideas.

A visit there on our way back from The Edge exhibition  alerted me to Ranger Ralph Club.  For the bargain investment of four large letter 2nd class stamps, a 5-12 year old member gets a pack of goodies, a quarterly newsletter and the opportunity to participate in free events that take place regularly on the moor. Here's Louis taking part  in his first chilly activity with the club,  'Marvellous Maps'.  I'll post more pictures again in December when he meets Ralph again and builds a shelter for Rudolph!

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Marrow and Feta Pie

Mmm! Yummy marrows - my favourite vegetable.  Actually I lie.  These big old guys, that are really just overgrown courgettes, used to fill me with dread, especially when stuffed.  They look promising but really they're just so watery and tasteless.

But the other day I spotted 80p marrows at the Trago Mills vegetable stall and snapped one up with glee.  Why the change of heart?  Well, there's a delicious dish which is a surprising favourite of mine which showcases this vegetable at its best.

This Marrow and Feta Pie  is a Greek dish,  a country whose rustic unpretentious cuisine is one of my favourites.   The recipe suggests making four small pies but I just knock up one great big beauty.  I'm also lax with sticking to the recommended weights and measures for the ingredients of the filling but this lack of accuracy doesn't seem to make an awful lot of difference to the finished product.  Granted, the marrow takes a bit of prep; peeling, chopping, grating, weighing it down under a layer of salt and using a muslin to squeeze out the liquid that comes from this osmotic process.   But after that,  it is really simple, just rolling out puff pastry and filling the pie with a mixture of grated marrow,  eggs, butter, oil, feta and basil.  The resultant dish, a wonderful meat-free treat, looks and tastes stunning.

PS:  Oh! I forgot to mention when I first posted this that the pie is great either hot or cold..
PPS:  I was also going to say that I ever so nearly adhered to my firm resolve to stick to 'Buy Nothing Day'.  However I found that we were out of eggs midway through my cooking activities and had to pop out to the village shop.  Must plan in advance next year!

Friday, 26 November 2010

Haven't They Grown!

'Growing Pains',  a recent programme  in the BBC Radio 4 series In Business' recently caught my eye, or rather ear, as it fitted in nicely with my current interest in ethical finance. If you're quick you can listen to this interesting debate on the BBC i-Player. It provides arguments for and against the pursuit of economic growth, a relatively new historical concept that, surprisingly, has only been around for the last 80 odd years as it was a concerted attempted to fund the war effort of WWII.

I'm none the wiser in coming to a conclusion on this matter.  After all I'm just a grey airhead and not a sophisticated philosopher.  However the programme has raised more questions for me to think about that I thought I'd share!

  • Does increased consumption just make the rich richer or can it lift others out of poverty?
  • Is it  fair for the relatively well-off  to adopt strategies that deny  people with less resources a similiar standard of living to their own?
  •  Can many people adopting a personal approach to careful financial control really yield global benefits or are the greedy rich so powerful that they will negate our best efforts?
  • How do I target my buying power to achieve the most benefit with emphasis on how best to benefit poorer overseas economies.
 Heavy stuff, you'll no doubt agree.  I'll come back to this subject whenever I'm inspired to do so!

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Thought for the Day: Knackered!

It's so unlike me!  Today, tiredness has overwhelmed me and I can think of nothing much to say.  It's been a relentless few weeks at work  dealing with one crisis after another  - but then for some unexplainable reason it's always the way at this time of year.  I just have to recall my mindfulness stuff and remember that things will always change and just maybe there will be calm after the storm.

So I'm letting myself off with just a  mini piece of writing today and plan to go upstairs in two secs with a nice cuppa and dig into the book mountain next to my bed.  And I count myself so fortunate that, unlike so many of the people that I see during my working day,  I have the privilege of having times within a twenty four hour period when I am able to switch off and relax.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

The Antidote to Spending

More thoughts about Edinburgh - a city of delights for the serious shopper!  Lots of beautiful quality clothes, jewellery, crafts and furniture.  I could have embarked on a spend, spend, spend quest that could have easily maxxed out the credit card. A pink corduroy coat here and an artisan pendant there.   Yet, aside from my concert CDs, one of which I gave to Louis, and a bottle of whiskey to thank Mr Lovelygrey for his lone childcare efforts and airport shuttle service, I found it relatively easy to resist what might have represented substantial temptation in my younger years.  Because instead of spending now I snap!

Taking pictures of my objects of desire, like this brooch  by Orkney artist Ola Gorie has quelled my desire to get my purse out and engage in an unplanned shopping frenzy.   It allows me time to contemplate whether I  (or Mama Lovelygrey) could make something similar myself or make a scheduled purchase in the future.  So here's a list of some of the other artists/retailers that caught my eye!

Heathergems - For the intriguing process by which they make their 'jewels'
Ola Gorie - More lovely shiny stuff from the Orkney Islands
Ness -  The Scottish equivalent of White Stuff and manufacturer of the aforementioned pink coat
Ortak  - Another inspirational jeweller
Fisherman - Maker of the much coveted £225 cable knit hoodie which might prompt me to investigate Mama Lovelygrey's long lost knitting skills
Sheila Fleet - Goodness they must all spend their time making beautiful jewellery during the long winter months in the Orkney Isles.!

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Mary, Mary not Contrary

In yesterday's post I omitted telling you the main reason for the girls' Edinburgh trip, a concert by Mary Gauthier!  This was because  I was awaiting the photographic evidence of having met my No.2 musical hero, after the great Leonard Cohen of course.  This lady is a super talented  American songwriter whose lyrics contain dark humour and poignancy, often with autobiographical themes.  Her musicianship isn't bad either.  If you aren't familiar with her work,  try out the jukebox from her website here.

I love discovering new music and Ben Glover, who supported Mary is a real find whose most recent CD, bought at the concert, will be my accompaniment as I drive around the tiny lanes of the South Hams  over the next week or so. From my recent festival going I've learning more and more that I don't just have to look to the big, famous names to provide the soundtrack to my life. Often less well known artists are just as talented and supporting them through attending their gigs and buying their recordings parallels a philosophy of choosing small businesses over the mighty corporations.

 Before I go I have to say that I am pleased that Louis and I have a lot in common when it comes to musical preference,  Okay, whilst ackowledging his talent,  I'm not so keen on Michael Jackson but we both share a liking for greats like the aforementioned Mr Cohen, David Bowie and the Smiths and lesser known bands such as the Plymouth based Mad Dog McCrea. Louis sings along to Mary Gauthier in the car and in order make amends for not allowing him to attend the concert he now has his owned signed copy of 'The Foundling' (as well as a pair of spy specs from the Camera Obscura shop).  Many thanks Mary for a great night and your kindness.

Monday, 22 November 2010

A Bit of Culture

Just back from a weekend in Edinburgh with the girls! It's only my second visit to Scotland but each time I've gone I have kicked myself for not discovering this brilliant country with its rich cultural history, friendly people and reliable cheap public transport earlier.

We could only scratch the surface of this fascinating city.  Although we are sophisticated individuals we decided to eschew culture and have a bit of a laugh instead. So after balking at the cost of going into the Castle we instead opted for the Camera Obscura and World of Images.

The camera, we were informed, was the first purpose built tourist attraction in the city.  It is housed in a tower on top of a tall building in the Royal Mile and I enjoyed scooping up some of the passers-by that we spied upon with a playing card.  After that we explored four further floors of interactive stuff and that's where the fun and the multiple photo opportunites really started.

Sadly we did not capture the picture from our favourite exhibit, a thermal imaging camera which produced a tasteful 'hot crotch' effect that was too embarrassing to preserve for posterity.  Our blushes were perfectly captured by the camera too.   But here's some of the photographic evidence of our visit which comes highly recommended to those who wish to throw some inhibition to the wind and bring out their inner child!


Sunday, 21 November 2010

My Love Affair With Bernard Moss (Continued)

It was a demanding week at work which culminated in a crisis last thing on Friday afternoon.  Just the way I like to be eased into my weekend (not!).  So, to cheer me up, I stopped off at China Blue on the way home to see if the results of our recent pottery painting had materialised  and it had.  I was also perked up by the lovely ladies that work there.    When I arrived home this wonderful little fellow was waiting for me too

 Behold, the rabbi,  my first piece  of pottery by Bernard Moss!  I didn't think I'd own any of his work so quickly because it seems a little hard to come by.  However, this friendly chap in the potter's characteristic blue, black  and white colour scheme came up on Ebay  last week.  Foolishly,  I placed a ridiculously high bid and was very pleased when I won the auction for what seemed like a bargain.  Phew!

As I said in my previous post  I  used Bernard Moss's work as inspiration to produce my own homage..  As befitting to someone working in Cornwall, quite a few of  pieces of his work that I've seen have a nautical flavour so I thought I'd borrow that idea.   At the request of Mr Lovelygrey I painted a teapot that was large enough to fill two of the massive mugs that are used to administer the requisite amount of caffeine at given times of the day.  I found it interesting to use a  palette that was much more restricted than usual but didn't think that the primitive nature of the design was out of keeping with things I'd produced before.  Give me a stick man over realism any day!

I'll save Louis' masterpiece that he produced to show off another time soon!

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Funky Fifties Frogs

I haven't retained a lot of stuff from childhood.  My liking for tat at that stage in my life has got something to do with that.  Not a lot was worth saving into my adult life.  Somehow even Nicholas, my beloved gnarled and raggeddy childhood bear, was lost on route

But I do love these frogs that have followed me around for a long time.  I recall, at one time they may have been perched at either end of the pelmet above the curtains in my garish 1970s bedroom.  I've reunited them now and  they've benefitted from each other's company and surprisingly, given my propensity for clumsiness,  have remained a pair.

I've no idea where these stylised amphibians came from.  Originally, they were Grandmama Lovelygrey's  and I would imagine from their shape and style that they were manufactured in the 1950s.  There's a maker's mark on the bottom of each but it's not very clear.  If anyone, say a member of the Antiques Roadshow team, knows their origin and passes this post , I'd love to know.  Of course,  they hold great sentimental value and I wouldn't ever part with them...unless the sum offered paid off the mortgage in which case all  those feelings of mushiness could go to the wind!

Friday, 19 November 2010

Take a Chance on Me

It had to be done!  Finding an excuse that allows me to use a picture of  the 1970's supergroup who are indisputably the  emperors and empresses of cheesiness.  But what could I write that has relevance to the title?  I've had a think and come up with something  pertinent to say that  relates well to my own experience of anxiety.

Perfection is something to be aimed for, yeah?  But sometimes its pursuit can be a right royal hindrance, completely stalling a  practical project or worse  still  suppressing realisation of dreams.  Fear of failure and criticism can  inhibit action in a way that is truly disabling.  I know because I've experienced this, so what  I'm working on taking more and more chances and promoting a  greater acceptance of the fact that sometimes, things will not go to plan.  True, this has the potential of exposing me to failure, increasing the uncomfortable effects of anxiety and even feelings that come close to humiliation.  However, if this approach  is  adhered to and I learn to accept my bloopers,  I reckon that the benefits could substantially outweigh adopting the Shrinking Violet stance of playing safe.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Sorry Mama Lovelygrey: I've Kept You Waiting

I've mentioned before that I am no David Bailey when it comes to fashion shoots and have been pondering over how I could show off newly made clothes to better effect by improving my photographic composition. But Mama Lovelygrey, one of my loyalist blog readers, sent me a new dress over a week ago now and I still haven't come up with a solution. Rather than let her think I'd gone silent because of a secret dislike of her latest creation,  I thought I'd better hurry up and post something just to let her know that I love it!
This is the finished article that I spoke about in 'Sleeves' a few weeks back, a bastardised version of Simplicity pattern 2926 made after a trial and error approach to changing the arms on the original design to a longer length.  It's my fifth garment made from this pattern which has turned out to be a very economical buy.  I love the atomic designs from the '50s and have devoted a small section to these in the resource section of my jewellery workbook.  Some of those funky graphics could come in handy incorporated into a future pendant.  This  fabric reminds me of those retro designs and  the dress is one I'll be likely to be wearing again and again.   Thanks Mama Lovelygrey and also for reading my posts again and again! xxx

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Thought for the Day: Thrifty, Frugal or Mean?

"Ooh darling! I've got a great idea. If  we cancel the staff party we'll look like we're in tune with the masses struggling in these austere times.  Look there's now a spare £50,000 in our bank account.   That can go towards our son's wedding.  Oh goody! I've just remembered it's traditional for the bride's family to pay. "

This  imaginary conversation that could have come straight from the upper echelons of British society serves as a good introduction for the topic of today's post.  Being careful with the pennies can be regarded as thrifty, frugal or downright tight but what's the difference between these terms?

Well, a chap called Dong has gone some way in defining this, although he uses the Americanism 'cheap' rather than mean to describe a person whose tighter than a duck's arse (or ass for my Transatlantic friends).  He's even included one of my beloved Venn diagrams. 

For me, it seems that there is an overlap between thrift and frugality which Dong acknowledges too.  They can co-exist very nicely together, thank you very much but there is mockery and scorn between what can sometimes be considered two different factions. 'How can you consider having lunch rather than dinner in a Michelin starred restaurant as making good economic sense.  I could buy two months worth of stuff from Netto for that kind of money!'  says Mr Frugal to Mrs Thifty.  'Is the food there locally sourced?' replies Mrs Thrifty.

Yet, both imply a considered approach to dealing with money which surely is to be applauded in these days where many people's spending has gone awry.  Both the thrify and frugal person are keen to cut waste.  It seems though that the frugal goes one step further on the careful spending scale, placing a degree of emphasis on using less resources  that a purely thrify person might find unacceptable.  Whether you are predominantly thrifty or frugal is down to mindset too. When you feel rich whatever your income you are more likely to live a simpler life and passing up on the latest handbag will not feel like an act of denial.

We now come onto 'mean'.  Well that's in an entirely different ballpark altogether. Certainly penny pinching at the expense of others needs to be considered carefully.  The relatively affluent are lucky enough to be able to consider the effects of their spending on others and can choose to buy more expensive local or Fairtrade products rather than hunting out cheap goods.  And  whilst it might be okay to review spending  at Christmas cutting back on expenditure (like the aforementioned staff party)  used to show appreciation to others requires careful forethought.  Foisting your penny pinching on others rather than feeling the effects yourself can  leave a bad taste in the mouth.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

In the Time It Takes to Boil An Egg!

On the advice of Louis' blonde and  rather gorgeous class teacher,  Mr Lovelygrey, whom I'm sure hasn't noticed her positive attributes, has bought Louis an hourglass to help him keep focused on what he's doing.  It's not like this rather beautiful fine crafted glass creation but is a blue plastic jobbie purchased for £1.75 on Ebay.  The sand runs through in three minutes, which, I acknowledge, is too short a time to boil an egg, but is sufficient for a small boy to do chores such as straightening their duvet getting dressed and cleaning teeth.  It seems to work.  He's far less distracted by Yoda or his weaponry these days.

My post yesterday talked about how I was going to persuade Louis to do more housework and today I found myself tidying his room.  'She caved in quickly!' you might think.  But hold on,  I was doing an experiment.  How much tidying could I do in three minutes?  As you can see from my before and after shots the results are pretty impressive and my new found speedy tidying methods are now going to be transferred to my son!


Monday, 15 November 2010

Just finished Reading: Cut the Clutter

I have a bunch of eclectic reading from the library  which has meant my progress through Life of Pi  has ground to a halt for the time-being.   Few things are nicer than snuggling in bed with a big cup of tea and a huge pile of books.

Cut The Clutter, by the creator of a website called OrganizedHome.com has now been flicked through in detail!  On the whole I think it's an excellent book. It's little and often approach to tackling a huge mess is to be lauded and the cleaning tips section of the book is excellent.  I'm already using my new found hoovering skills and vacuuming the floor using the criss-cross method.  The plea to cut kitchen sentimentality is a cry from my own heart too.  And the section on teaching children to clean has inspired me to get my son more involved around the home  'This book could be bad news for you,' I told Louis.  Yet, he's taking to straightening his bed, making a sandwich and emptying the dishwasher.  At his request,  I even let him has a go at 'dangerous' tasks yesterday, cutting up fruit and ironing.  It won't be long now before I pluck up the courage to send him up the chimney!

But the book advocates a little too much organisation and cleanliness for me. Although undoubtedbly a good idea I rebel against the Household Notebook idea that '...serves as a command centre for the entire family'.  It seems to me a  little bit like overkill and  I can't help thinking that Cynthia Ewer, the author, is  a little obsessive-compulsive but then I'm sure that she would think that I'm a downright slob.  Even though I admit to having a cleaning plan to tackle regular and less frequent jobs I don't clean as often as she does.  Beds get changed fortnightly and  hoovering takes place once a week.  And we might have some issues in the laundry department too.  My strategies to reduce this activity to a bare minimum from a green and timesaving perspective could well have Mrs Ewer reaching for her protective clothing.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Real Men Eat Quiche (and Whatever Else They Blooming Well Like!)

Behold my quiche, beloved of the Lovelygrey boys.  It comes in several different varieties depending on what's in the fridge but today's version contained smoked salmon and a mixture of vegetables - PSB impulsively bought on the veg stall at Trago Mills, onion, leeks and a red pepper sneaked in when Louis wasn't looking.

The basis of my recipe is this Chard and Cheddar Tart from Nigel Slater which is good in its own right    I've kept the cheddar in the pastry and in the egg custard filling, also using parmesan to replace the pecorino in the original version. Who says that cheese and seafood don't go? Sometimes I recall that people are pleasantly surprised with this combination on cookery programmes.

There's an added bonus to this recipe. The leftover cheesy pastry can be used to make a type of cheese straw. I just roll the pastry remains into a rough rectangle and cut it into finger-ish pieces.  There's no precision here.  It's all very rustic.  Once the straws are on a  greased baking sheet I season them with salt, pepper and chilli flakes, grating over a little parmesan to enhance their cheesiness further. These go in the oven at the same time as the quiche for about 15 minutes and are always wolfed down by the boys immediatiely they are cooked!

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Hopelessly in Love with Bernard Moss!

Ever so occasionally  something or someone  makes my heart sing at a louder volume than ix usual......la la La La LA LA LAA LAAA!  The most recent occurence of this has been coming across the work of an obscure potter.

Bernard Moss worked in a number of studios around Cornwall.  According to the website Cornish Ceramics, a useful resource about the county's pottery heritage, he sold an annual limited edition collection to Heal's Furnishing Store in the late fifties and sixties. These were the predominantly blue, black and white pieces that caught my eye in the home of a lady that I visited.  I was  taken by the timeless, almost primitve design, their warmth and humour and sheer ingenuity of the work which frequently have moving parts and give them the feel of automata.

And today I've been to China Blue in Totnes and attempted my first homage to Bernard Moss's work, a teapot.  I stuck to the limited colour palette and produced a nautically themed piece of ceramic painting that I hope would not seem out of kilter with a Cornish theme.  I'll share this with you once it's fired.  In the meantime admire these original beauties.

Friday, 12 November 2010

I Go Private You Know!

Ah! the NHS, that cradle to grave service that's served me well. I can gaze directly into other people's eyes rather than having them think that there's something more interesting over their shoulder. A good surgeon fixed my squint you see. And I've had excellent treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome, depression and all sorts of aches and pains in the past. Not forgetting the wonderful practitioners who were instrumental in bringing  Louis into the world.  Why would I want to go elsewhere for healthcare when you can get so much for free?

Yet in the last year I've forked out for private healthcare practitioners twice. No, I haven't given up on Anusol and succumbed to the knife for a proper eye job to remedy the bags. On the first occasion 'White Van Man' rear ended me  and I got  whiplash.   I could have waited for an NHS physiotherapist but  I wanted to control the speed of access to a service and take control of my own treatment.  So I saw Sharon, an osteopath who owns  Still Point House in Bovey Tracey.   Not only did I get effective and fast relief from my pain,  she worked in a way that matched my own belief system.

This week I've again taken 'the Harley Street' route.  I have problems with Morton's Neuroma, which causes severe pain in the base of my foot.  I've learnt to self manage this, mainly by wearing a range of ugly but comfy shoes (Think Crocs, Birkenstocks and Dr Scholl).  However the problem persists if I pursue my much loved sporting activities that need specialist footwear. 

Now the NHS has limited resources and I didn't feel that helping me continue my chosen leisure pursuits was a good use of public money, even though I firmly believe that there is a valid argument in some cases for this. After all,  I'm an occupational therapist with firm views about the power of activity to improve health.  But,  I decided to seek private help to help me get the best out of my extra special ski holiday that is planned for January (watch this space!). So I consulted Simon at Penninsula Podiatry who not  only carried out an impressive assessment but also made me two foot orthoses, all for the bargain price of £35.

Both therapists that I've seen provided a holistic service that I felt went way beyond my expectations.  They were both aware of the financial cost of their intervention and were mindful about providing the best value.  
As someone who has previously worked in a fee based financial environment I found this very refreshing!

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Die reën in Spanje val hoofsaaklik op die Plain

My esteemed colleague, the Master of Love, is Afrikaans and is soon to return to his sunny, wine laden homeland.  He's a voracious Facebook addict and once he's back with his kith and kin I am afraid that he might forget English altogether and my newsfeed will be clogged up with incomprehensible dialogue between himself and his fellow countrymen.  I needed a plan to foil his code  and that's how I discovered Google Translate.  Forgive me if I'm way behind the times and sharing something which is passe to most.  There are times, I'll admit, when I catch onto things just as they're nearing their sell by date.  After all, I live in Devon.

I've tried out some longish messages translated into Afrikaans and was delighted that I could be understood.  To give you an idea of the power of this tool, I'll let you try out cutting and pasting the following phrases from different languages into the application.

Het jy 'n mens griep of' n hamster allergie  (Afrikaans)

Ge mig en halvliter av dina finaste öl och ett paket fläsk scratchings (Swedish)

میرا کتا نہیں ناک ہے! کیا تو اس نے خوشبو کیسی ہے؟ بیکار!  (Urdu)

Yr wyf ynA allech chi gymryd y cennin allan o fy cawl os gwelwch yn dda?  (Welsh)

Whilst the translations back to English are not always perfect, you can generally get the idea.  So, go forth and enjoy your new found freedom to communicate internationally without those pesky language barriers.  And as Eddie Izzard said 'Le singe est dans l'arbre'!

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Decking the Halls Ahead of Time

Most of us object to the displays of Christmas tat that start to grace stores before summer has passed. But unless you take the perfectly valid position of ignoring the festive season altogether, some forward planning and preparation can mean that this holiday retains its specialness as a family time without being tainted by commercialism.

As up to twelve people are due to descend on our house and motorhome(!) I'm looking for ideas to make the occasion special. I was passing Southwesterly, my favourite Dartmouth gallery, and was taken by the wonderful driftwood trees in the window. I thought I'd share these in case anyone else wants to head down to their local beach and gather the materials to replicate this chic idea.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Killing Two Birds

I'm in the library writing this post tonight.  Why am I not home in my cosy hideout with a glass of Mr Lovelygrey's fine homebrewed beer to oil the cogs of inspiration. Well, it's Beaver's night and it's not my turn on the helper's rota.  Louis' usual liftshare didn't work out and so he needed a lift.

Now living and working  in a rural area, a car is pretty much essential.  Gone are the days of city life where we walked to work and could go up to two months without buying a tank of fuel.    My lease car does about 15,000 miles a year.  Of this I do about 10,000 miles of private mileage and roughly half of this is used up just by getting to work.  This leaves just under 100 average weekly miles for all other journeys.  Sounds workable until I factor in a couple of 'long haul' journeys to visit friends and family and then I'm struggling to stay within my mileage quota.

And yet  I'm pleased to do this.  I don't want to jump into the car without thinking about its enviromental and budgetary consequences.  We cycle and walk whenever possible.    And when I use the car I work, as far as possible, to the killing two birds with one stone rule.  For example,  I try to pick up groceries during my lunch hour or at the end of the day so no need for a special shopping trip.  And whilst I'm experiencing, say, the bright lights of Newton Abbot, I may combine a visit to the park, a trip into the town centre and taking stuff to the recycling centre into one trip

Staying in Bovey Tracey for the hour whilst Louis is at Beavers saves four private miles.  In the summer I swim in the open air pool and in the winter the library is my hdeout.  This may seem like peanuts  but over the year this tactic probably saves me just over 150 miles, about 1.5% of my total private mileage.  Not startling when viewed in isolation but  overall, I reckon I drive three or four thousand miles less than I would have  if I hadn't adpted this tactic.

PS:  I feel I need to acknowledge the source of the wonderful image  used to illustrate this post.  It was produced by a pupil at a school in Texas!  Check out their pictorial representatives of common sayings!

Monday, 8 November 2010

Thought for the Day: Subjectively Rich

I've been thinking about money a bit lately and will share the produce of my rambling mind in posts over the next few weeks. Part of this mental activity has been geared towards our goal of paying off the mortgage. (a subject of a very early post). Now, with 4 years 144 days to go, and despite the naturally pessimistic Mr Lovelygrey's doubts, I think we're right on target to achieve a totally debt free lifestyle by my 50th birthday!

Now, in my own eyes and the majority of people's too, our family unit are well off so I feel a bit of an imposter when reading other people's blogs on thrift and frugality.  We are both in full time employment and can afford a great house and a motorhome too. There are savings in our offset accounts which means that the interest payments on our mortgage are at the measly all time low of £43. And I don't have to worry too much if we want to treat ourselves. But I've come across other people with similar or higher incomes who certainly don't hold the view that they're rather wealthy and indeed struggle to live on what's coming into the household pot. The most extreme case was a bloke, whom I came across during my days as a tax consultant. He believed that he was poor on an annual income £250,000.

Of course, wealth is subjective and our perception of how much money is enough is almost certainly affected by our views on what we think we need and deserve. I would be strapped for cash if I had a penchant for Birkin bags or Jimmy Choo shoes. Likewise, my NHS salary would be severely stretched if I'd caught the sailing bug and decided that I needed my own craft but fortunately, its not quite my bag. I'm also aware that my own spending habits might be seen as profligate by others and will admit that four holidays a year is rather extravagant.

So, my thinking has focused on what it means to be thrifty and 'rich' and the responsibility that comes with this to strike the right balance and spend money wisely. Is it right to be tight when I'm well off? What's the difference between thrifty and frugal? And were the government right to advocate personal spending as a way out of the recession? I'm still pondering these ideas and will let you know what I come up with!

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Shiny Shiny

Currently I'm multi-tasking, writing my post this evening, whilst waiting for my polishing machine to weave (or maybe even tumble!) its magic and provide much needed sparkle to the first creation from my silver jewellery class, a topaz ring. I have to admit it's not perfect as you'll see when I've added the photo after the process has finished. It's has an asymmetric feel but you have to start someone.

In the meantime I thought I'd share some work of a proper jeweller, a Irish chap called Alan Ardiff from whose website I've pinched these images to give him a tiny piece of free advertising.  If I ever get anywhere as competent as this I'd be well chuffed!  His pieces incorporate gold as well as silver and often have mechanisms so that they move,  butterflies can flap their wings and tiny cars encapsulated into cufflinks roll on wheels.

I'm currently producing a portfolio of work that inspires me and Mr Ardiff, sir,  you will certainly feature.  And I'm beginning to formulate an idea for a design that incorporates some of multi colour kinetic qualities that I admire, albeit at a much simpler level.

And just as I'd finished writing the first three paragraphs, the oven timer went off to remind me to visit the tumble polisher. Here's the result, a wearable ring, but not in its final form. The process, together with the close up photography, has highlighted that theres a bit more work to do in terms of tidying up so I'll consult Lizzie my jewellery teacher tomorrow about what's best. In the meantime I'll start to show it off, hidden amongst a nest of other rings to conceal its rough edges!

Saturday, 6 November 2010

In Flanders' Field

Remember back in September when I was accosted by a land girl at Castle Drogo?  She persuaded me to give two hours of my time to sell poppies in support of the British Legion. which fitted in nicely with my plans to increase my irregular volunteering activity for charities that mean something to me.  This organisation has done so much for some of the people that I come into  contact with in my professional life, providing financial support when it is desperately needed by ex-service personnel.

And of course I took my powerful sales weapon, Louis, along. My son, a budding Alan Sugar, could sell coals to Newcastle and probably, come to that, his own brand of brown ale.   I was touched by the fact that so many people are prepared to dig deep and contribute to this cause. Whilst collecting it was lovely to meet veterans who had been helped by the British Legion  and they were so appreciative of the fact that a child was giving up their time. And its wonderful that Louis has been given the opportunity to find out more about the significance of Remembrance Day and how he can play a part in giving back something to those who have made sacrifices for us.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Marron Glaces

Bonfire Night! What is interesting is that my pictures of the fire at Louis' school don't look anything like what I was picking up visually at the time of the event. I had hoped to show the arty silhouettes of items in the fire, pallets and, of course, Guy himself. Oh! and the mysterious 'Sexy Lady' that Louis insisted that he'd seen on the fire. However, it appears my camera has distorted the images perhaps by bringing the usually unseen infra-red range into view. They now just look like stills from a fire training video. Explain that to me all you science boffins out there!

To keep in tune with an autumnal theme, I tried to make Marron Glaces from a recipe by Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall last night, a normally reliable source of failsafe seasonal foodie recipes. I'd grubbed around in the dirt outside 'Cosmopolis' in Brittany to collect wonderful chestnuts that I'd thought would be just right for this dish.  I even think I impressed an elderly French lady who was doing the same thing with whom I shared recipe tips.  She was only going to boil hers as a vegetable.

Now I had visions of amazing the family at Christmas with my homemade delicacies, imagining them cooing with delight when presented with these hand wrapped bespoke candies but it all went horribly wrong.  Even though I followed the recipe to the letter they've turned out to be an overcooked disappointment, too disgraceful to photograph in their finished form.  The only things I've got to show for my efforts are gnarled sticky balls (Madam!) and also sore fingers from voracious chestnut picking and peeling activity.  'Forget your Little House on the Prairie dreams' advised Mr Lovelygrey sensibly.  If someone can advise me of a failsafe way to produce these I'd love to know.  If not, I'll happily stump up the full price to procure this luxury item as I now have an appreciation of the work that goes into producing them.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Giving us a Bad Name

We blame that Leslie Neilson chap for defiling the name of our species.  Before Naked Gun there was no problem.  'Beaver', just described me and my mates - hardworking furry creatures with a penchant for chewing timber.  And then the word took on an altogether different meaning.  For instance, our dear friend Lovelygrey cannot mention her son's Beaver Scout activities without her puerile colleague, Mr Metrosexual, collapsing into idiotic giggles.

Take, for example, this scenario. Louis was working conscientiously towards his Emergency Aid badge. In order to alert her nursing colleagues to the risks of dressing minor wounds Lovelygrey showed them this very sensible note that had been pinnned to the door of the Scout Hut. The poor dear innocent creature was horrified by the innuendo laden guffaws from members of her team.

We realise that we cannot rid the world of the dirty minds of others but perhaps creatures other than ourselves and our feline companions should take in on the chin by being the butt of their jokes. So, you guinea pigs, hamsters and gerbils our there, I'm campaigning for it to be your turn and I urge the readers of this post to support me in my campaign.

Yours truly

Roger the Beaver