Sunday, 31 March 2013

Easter Egg Hunt!

Happy Easter to you all!

My tremendously chocoholic son isn't awake yet and I'm enjoying the peace.  I've also 'hidden' his Easter Egg.  How long do you think that he'll take to find it?

I could resist the Wow! factor of this stonking  1kg Asda  Extra Special Hand Decorated White and Milk Chocolate Belgian Egg chosen for the store by Leith's School of Food and Wine.  It  was  just a tenner.  I was going to tell you all about them when I bought it but they sold out weeks ago just as they hit the shelves.  Oh, and by the way, in case you're wondering, we are not one of those households where a child is allowed to eat all their Easter eggs on one day.  The 'rich creamy white chocolate with buttery vanilla notes' should last for months.  Or maybe not - if Mum helps out!

Saturday, 30 March 2013

Dame Hannah's Boat

Here's my latest rather exciting impulse purchase!  I'm not allowing myself to buy decorative items to adorn shelves or tables in 2013, although  I have strayed once with the Hornsea Pig that I couldn't bear to leave in the charity shop where I found him.  I've made room on a side table but there are few horizontal surfaces that need any more adornment at Lovelygrey Cottage.  There is space for wall art though  and when I spied this in the gorgeous Brand H shop in Newton Abbot, I just had to have it!  Don't I just sound like Viv Nicholson?  If you don't know who she is, follow the link for a very cautionary tale.

This lovely multi-media boat set me back twenty pounds and its acquisition can be justified by the fact that it is my birthday in a couple of days.  What's  rather special about it is that is was made in one of the Dame Hannah Rogers workshops for people with special needs.  I've written about this organisation, that exists to empower those with disabilities before.  Their campus at Seale Hayne, near Newton Abbot is a brilliant place to visit.  It's a tribute to social enterprise and inclusion, a great place, for lunch, courses, shopping for crafts and strolling around.    I'm pretty sure that my brilliant find, that now cheers up my living room,  is a product of the HannahArt group,  where people with disabilities meet weekly to create wonderful stuff which is often for sale in their on site shop.  I've been rather tempted by a clock of theirs in the past but have enough timepieces.   Their work is a brilliant demonstration of how anyone, anywhere can produce pieces of art that can be loved and treasured.

Friday, 29 March 2013

10 Today!

It really is a decade ago that my lovely Louis reluctantly appeared after three long days of labour.  He was very quiet for about twenty four hours.  It was the shock of leaving a cosy mummy tummy I suppose.  Then he found his voice  and hasn't stopped making a noise since!

I've kept to my 2013 rule about no purchases of wrapping paper.  The gift wrap and frippery that for his presents was left over from Christmas.  If you look closely each gold circle represents a bauble but is an excited child going to scrutinise the design before tearing off  the paper to get at what's inside each parcel?  There may be a small minority but mine certainly won't notice. After all there are Xbox games to be had!

The card is a product of the printing course that I went on.  What I like about this new found craft is the ability to duplicate work.  Once a linocut is produced there's so much potential to make personal home made gifts for friends and family again and again!

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Frugal French School Holiday Travel

Evening all!  I didn't post this morning as I got carried away booking not one, but two ferry trips to France for later in the year.    Oh, and there was a stay in a French campsite as well.  At Whitsun we're going to Yelloh Village Le Ranolien on the clifftops above Perros Guirec in Northern Brittany.  It's an all singing, dancing holiday park with water slides, kids clubs and all sorts of other things that I would have avoided when I was childless. The cost of a pitch with an electric hookup for six nights is just over 150 Euros.  That's for four of us.  Scary Secretary's coming along with her own six year old bundle of joy too.

I thought that it would be useful to share the fact that school holiday travel in  Europe can be considerably cheaper if your stay doesn't coincide with when the kids of that land are off. The UK Bank Holiday week in August is always cheap because the French term has already started.  It looks like the May Bank Holiday is good from an economic point of view too.  Just make sure that you book accommodation directly rather than through a British travel agency.  After all they're hardly likely to pass this secret saving onto you!

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Total Pinko Leftie Hypocrite

Just to prove that the world is not a places where decisions are  black and white, we're having Louis coached for his 11 plus.  There I've 'fessed up and said it!  I had always hoped that he might attend the local comprehensive but our experience of his junior school's response to his diagnosis of a Specific Learning Difficulty (SpLD) has been rather lacklustre.  Because he is bright and getting by they have pooh-poohed the suggestion that anything much needs to be done.  His Dad and I are afraid that, in a mixed ability high school, the same attitude might prevail, whereas  other parents with children of the same ilk have found that the grammar school takes account of the learning needs associated with this group of children who can err towards geekiness.  After all these educators have got their exam performance scores to maintain.

There's more than a hint of guilt involved with this process.  It goes right against my egalitarian political beliefs.  Surely it's wrong for those, like us, who can afford to pay the not insubstantial fees for tuition, to buy the advantage of more choice in education. At least in my day, exam practice to gain entry to the selective schools was part of our primary classroom experience.

What errs me towards thinking that I might be doing the right thing?  Well, in spite of his difficulties Louis' doing well in the mock exam.  It's only the English that we've really got to work on.   The tuition is having a knock on effect on his everyday schoolwork and in the main he's enjoying his extra homework.  It's boosted his self belief in a way that his sporty school hasn't managed to do.  Hey! you just try and do your best for your kids.  Funnily enough, we've found some surprisingly lefty supporters who're with us on this one.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Thought for the Day: Aargh! Chemicals

This offering is going to make me sound  like a right royal grumpbag but truly, I'm far from it.  My happiness levels are higher than they've been for a very long time.  Work is manageable, good things are happening in my home life and there's plenty to look forward to.   So then, I feel perfectly entitled to the occasional niggle or two to disturb my  paradise.

Here's one. Why do people talk about how dreadful it is to put chemicals on their skin, home on inside their bodies when in fact everything around us is molecular or elemental anyway, including our own bodies?  This clumsy language is one of the things that causes ructions in my perfect little world.  I'd like it to stop now.  Either I'd like the culprits to use more defined terminology or go and live in a vacuum somewhere where none of those nasty chemicals can touch them!

Monday, 25 March 2013

It's About Hats!

For the puerile out there let me set you straight immediately.  A beaver is a visor on a medieval helmet.  This video was posted for its artistic merit.  It's a fine poem by Robert Burns set to music.  There is no comedic value in it at all.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Food, Fuel and Frugal Frolicking

Compliance with one of my 2013 spending rules is really awry.  Give or take a little cheat or two,  like lino printing supplies and a couple of bottles of wine for lone consumption after particularly trying days at work, I've done rather well on adhering to my own self imposed regulations about what I can and can't buy.  What's not going to plan is my vow to source 50% of stuff from local suppliers.  This is much more tricky than I thought.

For starters, supermarket food shopping is so easy for all the obvious reasons.  Everything under one roof,  the range of goods on offer, ease of parking blah, blah, blah.  But are all these large stores off limits?  Waitrose is owned by its employees in partnership and the Coop's profits go to its members. That includes me!   Do these stores therefore meet my criteria of being local businesses?  Can I buy halloumi from them guilt free rather than wandering around half the little stores in Devon to find a pack?

And then there's the nubby question of fuel. There are no oil reserves around here so none of my diesel is sourced from Devon.  Aren't all the petrol stations reliant on the big petroleum suppliers to provide their stock?  I know that most of the local garages are independently owned so is their fuel 'kosher' as far as I'm concerned?  If it's not I'd just have to rely on shank's pony, public transport and a pushbike.  Not practicable at all in a rural area where I'm reliant on my car for work and pleasure.

I've done a bit better as far as my social life is concerned, avoiding chain restaurants and pubs in favour of independents.  Lou and I liked the pizzas at  Aglio e Olio in Plymouth  just as much, if not a little more than our old favourites at Pizza Express.  But how local is local.  The Old Market House in Brixham with it's lovely fresh fish and chips is one of my favourite haunts but it's owned by St Austell, a Cornish company.   That constitutes another country in the view of some of its citizens so is that allowed?  And talking of foreign, what about fairtrade goods.  Are they off limits.

Aaaaaaah!  I'm overwhelmed.  This particular rule must be mulled over and firmed up.  In the meantime I'll just keep trying my best to make informed purchases rather than those where I haven't engaged my brain at all!

Saturday, 23 March 2013

The Hopeful Hiker

This is the Southern Terminus of the Appalachian Trail.  I stood here sixteen years ago in pouring rain determined to reach the other end at Mount Katadhin in Maine over 2,000 miles away. Alas, it was not to be.  Mr Lovelygrey cracked a bone in his knee some 600 miles in, and in an flash our hike was over.

I thought that my long distance walking days might behind me due to intense foot pain but today I excitedly picked up some custom made insoles from  the friendly folk at Foot Solutions in Plymouth.  You may remember that this purchase has was motivated by the death of a former hiking companion from Motor Neurone Disease.Disease.   A couple of weeks ago  I had a comprehensive assessment and a pair of insoles with what look like unfeasibly high arch supports to match my unfeasibly high arches have arrived from the United States.

Fingers crossed that they'll do the trick.    Let me start out with a few day hikes first and I'll let you know if I'm painfree after more than a hour or so of walking.  If so, I'll set off with my backpack for my longer Lori Salzarulo Memorial Walk.  I know she would have loved this.

Friday, 22 March 2013

Cleaning Clothie

A quick one this morning.  I've woken late again but put it down to a minor lurgy that's causing one blocked ear and some snuffles.  'It's nature's way of getting rid of the body's toxins.' I've told the crew at work as they reach for their  multitude of cold cures.  'Just let the cleansing begin!'.  Their over reliance on Night Nurse and Sudafed is really rather worrying.

This follows on nicely from yesterday's post about Lou's sleeping habits.  When I was pregnant I wished for my baby to form a secure and loving bond with a cute monster defeating bear who could be his friend through thick and thin.  Instead he still insists, that after Mum and Dad, his muslins from babyhood 'clothies' as they're known are the third most important thing in his life.  They're grey, smelly, raggedly and entirely unphotogenic and boy, do I get a telling off when I sneak them into the washing machine!

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Little Boydom's Last Stand

Here's Louis in my bed, the giveaway being that he isn't swathed in a Bart Simpson cover but something a little more tasteful. The reason  is that he's taken to sleeping with me rather a lot.  It's not always conducive to a good night's kip.  He's a duvet hogging, kicking, snoring supremo.  How someone so small can be so invasive is beyond me.

'Why are you allowing this?' I've been asked by more than one person.  Well, he's ten next week and growing fast. Lots of his little boy attributes have already gone.  He's a bit twitchy about kissing me or holding hands in public. Much loved books and toys have been cast aside because they're babyish and he's shooting up at a rate of knots, so  much so that his replacement trouser budget matches the GDP of a small African nation.  Soon he'll find that the idea of sharing a bed with his Mum is 'totally gross'.  So I'm enjoying the final throes of little boydom while it lasts!

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Happy Happiness Day!

Did you know that today is the UN's First International Day of Happiness?  Ha!  I bet you won't find a card in Clintons to mark it yet though.  I've had a quick peep on the BBC news frontpage and it doesn't mention the occasion.  So who wins the award for the scoop of the day then!

The General Assembly of the United Nation  declared the day as it recognised that happiness and well-being should be universal goals and aspirations in the lives of the world's citizens and that this should be reflected in policy making.   Remember that in your budget speech today Mr Osborne.  But that doesn't mean the day is just for big wigs in power.  Individuals can join in too.  Whoopee!  If you usually err on the side of cruelness instead or are just  a compassionate soul who's stuck for ideas, go to the website of Action for Happiness.  These fellas will sort you out!

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Pick Up Your Poo!

If the state of Culvercliffe Walk in Minehead is anything to go by, ignorant dog owners  definitely don't have the intelligence to decipher the flowery language that a literary wannabe in a council office somewhere in Somerset dreamed up.   The red circle with the picture of a pooch stepping away from his freshly created steaming turd doesn't even register with those dirty blighters who don't have half a brain cell to rub together!

Monday, 18 March 2013

Motivation for a Monday

Aaaaargh!  The start of the working week.  It's enough to make you feel like snuggling under the covers, curling up and going right on back to sleep.   But don't.  Instead, spend under five minutes watching this witty, handsome, inspirational man tell his own story.  Then think about what you're going to do with your life this week.

Sunday, 17 March 2013


I'm starting to feel uber bored with my winter wardrobe.  In the olden days when I was more flush with cash and thrifting hadn't really taken hold I'd spend about five hundred pounds every six months on a seasonal update getting rid of things that I was tatty, worse for wear after careless laundering  or that I was just plain bored with.   Five hundred pounds!  Today that figure seems rather absurd.  But if my spending had remained the same I'd rather tempted to top up my Spring/Summer wardrobe with this Seasalt oilcloth coat......

......and this easy wear but elegant maxi dress by Pyrus from Atterley Road.  There's still a little over £200 left for my virtual spending spree.

I'm quite taken by the ruched Megan skirt and Milo top from Charli.  They look like they'd be things that I'd wear and wear.

And I'm a sucker for slouchy jumpers.  This cable knit one from Toast fits the bill rather nicely!

Budget blown!  But in reality the 2013 rules prevent spending on clothes and there's been no lapses so far in this area..  I'm anxious to show off that I can exercise willpower and for this to continue.  Hang on though!  I will have a complete new overhaul of my wardrobe in a few weeks when my summer gear comes out of storage.  Roll on the warmer weather when this can happen.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Bending those Rules

Up until I worked through Melanie Fennell's rather excellent, and indeed life changing,  three part Overcoming Low Self-Esteem Self-help Course I was terrified of being told off.  Perhaps it was because I grew up in the 1970s, an era where violent punishment that was entirely disproportionate to the  misdemeanour was still de rigueur.  I once got whacked around the head by a teacher as the intended recipient ducked out of the way and I caught the blow.  Her response?  Well, she justified her attack by saying that I probably deserved it for something that I'd down and got away with!  Miss Brown loved kids so much that she did Guiding in her spare time.

Now thanks to a bit of cognitive behavioural therapy I'm an out and out rebel.   Don't worry too much though.  That spate of robberies in your neighbourhood isn't down to me.  Nor am I trying to pep up my thrifty lifestyle by buying from the back of lorries or suchlike.  I'm as straight as a die when it comes to those matters.  What I am doing much more is taking a chance when I'm now sure what the rules are. Am I allowed to take a picture of a piece at an exhibition?  I snap away until I'm told off.   Is it all right to stand/park/sit here?  I'll do so until I'm moved!

And so in the same vein we move onto my money saving tip of today.  If you're thinking of buying a car and considering a Ford  Econetique, take their mileage figures with a very big dose of salt.  My model, chosen for its fuel efficiency only used to average 53mpg, a figure that the bloke in the local dealership service department thought was pretty good   That's way under the 76.3mpg published combined fuel consumption figure.  Let's hope that there's action on these money grabbing car companies after they've been exposed using loopholes to manipulate figures.  I might be talking about bending rules here but I don't exploit others.

What I am doing to increase fuel consumption is rather a lot of coasting.  That's putting the car in neutral and letting it roll downhill.  And up a bit at the brow too! It doesn't feel at all risky and I still have full control of my steering.  As soon as driving conditions look more hazardous I just pop the car back into gear.  I never did it before because I thought it was illegal in the UK but it really is a grey area.  What is against the law is losing control of your vehicle.  This government website suggests that coasting increases the risk of this but doesn't tell you in an out and out way not to do it.  It's a grey area and someone living colourfully between black and white likes those!

So by adopting this practice when its safe to do so I've increased my fuel consumption by over 10%.  That's £200 a year saved on diesel cost or half a ferry trip to France with the motorhome in spending terms.   I'm expecting better results as the weath gets warmer.  Obviously you won't find me careering out of gear down an icy stretch of road, on really narrow winding country lines or driving like this when my concentration is more at risk of waning- at night for example.  But I'll now do this until someone tells me I really shouldn't!

Friday, 15 March 2013

I Need £1,650!

It's highly dangerous leaving my office and going for a wander in Totnes High Street at lunchtime.  The town, that prides itself on being a haven for independent retailers and the victor in the Battle against Costa is quite top end when it comes to a shopping experience. True there's a Peacocks but that's pretty much it for budget retailers.   What's in many of the other shops is highly covetable fair for a lover of original and quality stuff.

The art gallery White Space is particularly tempting.  In one of my early posts I show Mark Hall's lovely bronze chestnuts that I snapped in their window. That sound's a bit rude doesn't it?  But enough of the innuendo.   This is meant to be an aesthetic offering.

What arrested my step the other day was this gorgeous calming watercolour   'Sands and Islands' by David Brayne.   I haven't stopped thinking about it since I saw it. Money is tight at the moment.  My motorhome needs a service and more importantly I haven't even got a bed after physics intervened.  Plus the fact that I'm still paying for one of my brother's painting AND I've got a house purchase going through.  But if I could find a spare £1,650 before some rich South Hams-ite snaps it up with their spare change.........well it would be an investment wouldn't it?!!!

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Swings, Roundabouts: Roundabouts, Swings

Photo: Bobbejaanland
Did you know that merry-go rounds traditionally turn clockwise in the UK but counter or anti-clockwise in the US? Just one of the amazing facts that I probably would never have picked up if I were not a blogger.

Yesterday morning I had intended to write about my new zest for life in today's post.  It's meant that for the last few weeks I've been on top form with two or three extra hours to day to spare.   This is because I'm going to bed later, rising earlier and managing with far less sleep than I seemed to have needed for ever such a long time.   I was going to be super smug and  tell you about how consistently productive I'm now being.

The major sound of  crashing and burning could be heard at Lovelygrey Cottage yesterday evening.  Exhaustion well and truly set in after a post work swim.   'But I must stay up so I can tell my bloggy audience how great I am'  was one of my thoughts.  'Now where's that A4 paper so I can knock up a big kusudama ball before midnight'   Damn these silly notions! Instead I snuggled up under a cosy duvet and succumbed to an eight thirty bedtime.  Whilst not the perkiest human being on the planet I'm a bit more  refreshed than I would have been burning the near midnight oil.  Perhaps I can use my newly kindled bit of vigour in the kitchen and prepare some healthy fare to get me through the day with a bit more va-va-voom!

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Great Balls of Paper!

2013 is turning out to be a much better crafting year than the last.  The creative fairy, who is the spit of Kirstie Allsopp  but tinier, has so far granted my not unreasonable wish to complete a project every month. In January it was my mosaic robin.  I modified him to show off his plumage to better effect.  I wasn't happy with the colour of the grout I'd used so I dipped him in a container of black poster paint.  A messy old process but I'm far happier with the end product
Swiftly moving on we come to  February which yielded spoils from a printing workshop.  Now we're not even halfway through March and I've already finished a project.  Even more impressive is the fact that my Kusudama flower was, with a concerted push, nearly completed in just one evening!

I'm rather drawn to papercraft at the current time. One of the reasons for this is that some rather impressive stuff can be made for nothing or, at least hardly any money at all.  That's got to be good in these hard times.  I came across this project on StumbleUpon.  Alas, the post with the instructions seems to have disappeared in the ether but  I've found this one instead.  Ignore the warning at the end of the tutorial dissuading beginners from making one.  I've never done origami and even though I have klutz-like tendencies of the highest order it was absolutely fine.   My modus operandum was a rather factory like process.  I cut 60 squares of paper, then made 60 petals then 12 flowers and then stuck them all together.  Next time round I'll complete the ball as I go along.   It'll help me retain interest and will probably result in a neater finish.

So will there be a next time?  Oh yes indeedy!  My first ball made from 15 sheets of A4 printer paper easily fits into the palm of my hand.  I plan a bigger version  with each petal made from one sheet of A4 squared off.  My thoughts are even turning to an enormous version made from entire double spreads of  a broadsheet newspaper.  A Financial Times pink version would be good!

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

The Owl Gets the Cream

Maybe it's because I've banned most spending in 2013 that I've got a bit of a thing going on for jugs  I'm on the lookout in the charity shops for a few more of larger sized ones so I've the perfect excuse to have a bit of a rummage still.  They're so useful for storing stuff in the fridge and are jolly good for serving at the table as well.  But hey, you don't need a lesson from me on how to use an everyday kitchen utensil!

The big one is, of course, a Cornishware T.G. Green,  bought new in Trago Mills when they had a batch of the manufacturer's stuff in last year.   I've got a tactility thing going on with the ridged blue and white stripey surface. The others cost no more than a couple of quid.  There's the J&G Meakin Tulip Jug and  a Rayware blue cutesy, again with a bit of texture to run my fingers against.  And my latest acquisition is a kitsch West Highland Pottery jug decorated with transfer print grouse.  Just right for the water with the whiskey if I ever let bottles of spirits into my house ever again.

My favourite though is this  supersmooth, lithesome warm beige Holkham Pottery Owl Eye jug that could have been made at any time between 1951 and 1997 when manufacture  took place at Holkham Hall, a stately home in Norfolk.   Apparently it was the first to have its own pottery to supply the gift shop.   That harks back from the time when country houses had be innovative and think of money making things to survive.   A quick browse around Ebay shows that much of the stuff made at Holkham have a similar fluid theme.

This one was a snip at £1.50 and well worth straying from my usual blue crockery colour scheme!  Just the right size for storing pouring cream in the fridge and keeping it away from stray cats looking for a treat!

Monday, 11 March 2013

A Singing Heart at the Start of the Week

Here's one that befits a Monday post for it is the day  that is widely known to be the worst for many of the working population.   But let me help you start your week with something uplifting.   I do try my level best to spread feelings of peace and kindness except, that is, when I'm  in a bad mood. Then the pins and the voodoo dolls just have to come out!

I stumbled upon this Bryson Andres video on Saturday and I hope that it instills the same sense of joy as you watch and listen as it did for me.  According to Andres himself street performance is a way of inspiring people without them having to pay for something beautiful.   Don't you just love this attitude?  It's poles apart from that of the big name upstart who  expected star struck school kids to pay through the nose for concert tickets and merchandise and and then  thought he had the right make them wait around  whilst he finished his sulk and whatever level he was playing on a video game. I'm not even one of the parents who were at the O2 and I'm fuming!  Pass me my badly hewn plasticine Justin Bieber and my sewing basket right and I'll dig out the  pin cushion?  All feelings of bonhommie and peace have well and truly departed.

Ah!  they're back again now as I've just listened to this incredibly moving rendition of One Republic's Secrets again.  Love and peace reigneth once more.  What I love is  the ability of  this extraordinarily talented artist  to bring radiance with his slightly oriental sounding music into what seems to be a candidate for the most humdrum, souless shopping street in the world.  I understand that Bryson Andres tours the US busking.  Let's hope that wanderlust brings him over to the UK soon.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Retro Mackerel Pate

Happy Mothering Sunday to you all.  I've enjoyed my flowers, a meal out and a homemade card and keyring from Louis.   He ate the chocolate gift himself though!  But I'm not going to talk about that.  Here's something entirely different for those who don't give two hoots about maternal celebrations.

Yonks ago I wrote about my treasured Stork recipe book and other vintage cookery titles.  I try not to be an opinionated person but will express a very firm view here.  If your cookbook shelf in the kitchen only contains titles by TV celebrity chefs then something is sadly lacking.  Go and have a dig around a charity shop  for some more obscure titles from yesteryear.  Ignore anything by Fanny Craddock or the Galloping Gourmet.  Just go for ones by ladies with sensible sounding names who probably were home economists by profession.

Here's one I forgot to mention in my previous post.  Cooking For Pleasure  by Margaret Fulton is a cracker despite being the 5,532,415th bestseller at Amazon.    Lots of lovely easy recipes from an era when spices and more unusual vegetables were just starting to become readily available.  On page 257, there's a  last minute pate made out of tinned salmon that's so good I've served it at Christmas.  I adapted it the other day to feed to the masses at work using a couple of tins of little mackerel. Here's my version

Take two drained cans of mackerel and a few anchovies,  Whizz in a food processor with 4oz butter and the juice of half a lemon and season to taste with ground pepper and a goodly glug of Worcester sauce.   Chill in the fridge until needed.   That's the entire recipe. Easy peasy it most certainly is.

I was going to illustrate this with a picture of all the ingredients in the food processor.  It wasn't as photogenic as this one of Mr Metrosexual though stuffing his face.  Far more lovely and in shot is my pottery terrine, bought for me by Nana and Grandpa Lovelygrey many Christmas ago from their local potter Michael Gaitskell who worked from a converted mill until his retirement in 2009.    Craft and cookery combined. What more could you want on a dreary Sunday evening?

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Hornsea Pig

A lovely busy day today as opposed to last Saturday that was a horrible busy day!  How can this be?  There's hardly been any time to blog and I'll tell you about some of the things that I've done at a later date.  A lot of meaningful work in progress towards bigger targets is going down.

However  I did manage a quick reccy round the charity shops and found a fella just like this one who currently is atracting a bid on Ebay of £28.55 with nearly a day to go.  My twin  pig was £3.99 from a charity shop and is not perfect like the one for sale on the world's largest auction site as he's got a small nick from his ear.  All the more need to give him love and affection in a comfy new home.   He breaks one of my 2013 spending rules but hell!  If I'd left the shop without him I'd have regretted it for the rest of they year.  As there's no need for  using him to save the pennies towards telephone bills Lou and I have got to decide what the money popped in his slot goes towards!

Friday, 8 March 2013

Making Matches More Heavenly

Thrown together following a chance meeting and then destined to spend hours and hours together through thick and thin.  Ha! I bet a fair few of you think I'm referring to marriage or other lifelong unions like the civil partnership that I'm desperately trying to engineer between my friend Mr Metrosexual and his boyfriend Ruff Stu.  I have designs on being a bridesmaid for their special day and wearing something pink and floaty that sets off my grey hair to a tea.  However, I'm not referring to  partnerships  which arise as a consequence of mutual attraction, shared interests and convergent value sets.  What I'm on about here is those relationships that personnel departments up and down the land create.  The colleagues that they choose for you may not be the type of people that you'd want to spend a quarter of your week with voluntarily.

I'm lucky in that my workmates are lush. They are kind intelligent people who share my highly refined sense of toilet humour and like a bit of Sid James-esque innuendo to boot.  We work in an environment that has considerable amounts of potential for inducing stress.   Think of a scenario where a wandersome underdressed soul has been spotted limping towards the slip road of the A38 whilst another in Dartmouth is, at the same time, contemplating suicide by jumping off the ferry.  Who would you deal with first?  This is an made up scenario but one that is not completely far fetched.  It puts those burning issues that I dealt with when working for Big Eight/Seven/Six/Five/Four accountancy firms entirely in perspective.  No-one's going to die if you get their tax calculation wrong!    Yet workmates there were more likely to splay you alive for an innocent error that support you through hard times.

But my lot at the moment look after each other. How?  Well here's a few ways that we have achieved that harmonious match made in  a HR department in Exeter.
  • We communicate appropriately.  None of this sniping with emails across the bows from work stations two feet away that I've encountered in other offices I've worked in.  On the rare occasions we're pissed off with each other we talk face to face.  Most of the time though our words are of encouragement, reflection or reassurance or advice that can be taken or left.
  • We don't bitch about each other to those higher up the management scale. 
  • We don't pull rank and have a split between grades or clinical/non clinical staff.  Everyone makes the tea.
  • If we are aggrieved we complain in unison.  Strength in numbers and all that.
  • We welcome newcomers in and don't judge them before they've opened their mouths.
  • We're not afraid of admitting if we've made a mistake or don't know something.
  • We share food.  Every so often we have a lunch where everyone contributes but there's home cooked and shop bought nibbles to share on a much more frequent informal basis.  There's butter in the fridge and a mutually agreed tea/coffee fund.
  • We buy each other gifts.  I'm on a mission to get all the girls a handy Skipping Girl tote as they come up for sale on Ebay.   Svelte Support knitted us all scarfs and  Scary Secretary treated the girlies to a bottle of Coco Mademoiselle last week.  Oops, my mistake.  I mean we each got a bottle of Lidl's 'Suddenly' by Madame Glamour!
  • If someone is below par we notice and take care of them.  Where possible they offload a bit of work to the rest of us.
  • We have a jolly good night out every so often.

So what's the outcome of doing this?  Well for the umpteenth time today we've had feedback that we're the best team that someone's worked with.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Better Than A Trip To The Dump

I reckoned the resale value of Lou's uncomfy mattresses was approximately zilch.  Thank's to Freecycle though it's been removed from my home with minimal fuss.  The only effort involved was writing a quick post on the organisation's local site and a couple of emails.  I didn't even have to carry it downstairs.  Much to Louis' amusement, it just slid over the banisters and descended the whole flight of stairs under its own steam.

I can't believe that there are people out there reading my blog who haven't come across Freecycle which operates in many countries around the world.  Just in case you haven't I'll use the organisations own succinct description of what they do.

'Freecycle groups match people who have things they want to get rid of with people who can use them.'

That says it in a nutshell.  You can either post details of something that you want to give away or ask the freecycling community if they have something that you need and are prepared to gift you.   How blooming friendly and community spirited is that?

 Remember my bed that collapsed despite the lack of nocturnal slap and tickle (one of today's Guardian crossword solutions!)?  Whilst preparing my post about the mattress I noticed that someone needed some scrap wood.  So, now its old frame is destined for an allotment somewhere near here.  Hearty thanks go to Lisa (mattress lady) and Alistair (wood man) for you have both saved me a trip to the recycling centre! 

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

The Start of a Bit of Art

Photo: Alison Deggan
'Make me a picture of a cat' commanded Dr Betty the clinical psychologist that I work with.  She really can be rather masterful or is the word mistressful?  This must go down a storm in her therapy sessions.

The observant among you will notice that the picture to one side of this writing isn't a cat.  It's actually a linocut of Hardraw Force, the highest in England.  I didn't know that and thought that Hardacre, or perhaps Hardy to his friends, was the name of the uber cool person who produced it. In fact it's by someone called Alison Deggan who sells her work through Folksy at rather reasonable prices.  Sadly this particular print has sold out.

What I like about it is how the different things in the landscape are differentiated by patterning.  It's something I wanted to try and replicate in my first piece of lino cut without a tutor from the Double Elephant Print Workshop guiding my progress.

Here's another picture but there's still no cat.  You can search all you like but still won't find one.  This is one of my own photos taken after a night of revelry with my seafaring friend Salty Dog.  Occasionally a couple of times a year she comes ashore in Plymouth and this is the view from the room where I slept.  I like the rows and rows of rooftops and thought that I could incorporate a similar, albeit simplified, landscape into my own artistic creation.  The plan is to show the different lines of buildings using different patterning like the picture above.  Clever eh!

And here's my idea.  At last there's the requested moggy .  It's not my usual subject matter.  I'm more of a seascape kind of gal.

I'm not sure I like the soft cut stuff that I'm working on.  It's much harder to draw on that proper lino.  Hey!  wait just  a  cotton picking moment.  It's just dawned on me that I  ordered proper hessian backed tiles on Ebay and have now emailed the seller to come up with a solution.  Working with another nine sheets of this stuff would be a nightmare.

I hope to start my cutting tonight.  That's if I get the bathroom clean, do all the ironing, sort out paperwork for the house purchase etc., etc.  I'll give you a progress update once my template is cut!

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Made to Last

The air of miffedness  is upon me!  I furnished and equipped Lovelygrey Cottage pretty much from scratch last year and have had to fork out for replacement items already.  The sprung mattress on Lou's bunk bed , supposedly made for the very purpose of high rise sleeping, was mightily uncomfortable and hence that necessitated our trip from hell to Argos and beyond this weekend.  In hindsight, it was worth it.  My boy is now so much more snug on  his new, better than half price memory foam mattress.  Not an annoying lump or bump anywhere.   But yesterday I had to replace a year old ironing board too. Okay I'll admit I bought an economy version when kitting out the house but even so I had expected it to last a little longer before twisting itself into an irreparable heap.  It's heat resistant pad and spotty cover have been salvaged though.  You never know if they might come in handy!

What I like is stuff that lasts, that hopefully will give an lifetime of function and pleasure.   I read through some classifieds yesterday and found adverts for a two year old sofa and a swivel armchair from one of the most popular and heavily advertised and discounted furniture suppliers.  Both had bad signs or wear and tear including a creaky turning mechanism and tears in the fabric under the cushions.    Not so cheap methinks if an expensive item only gives a couple of years of use.

In a roundabout way I came across my very own utility tallboy in an image of an old brochure.  New, it cost £10, probably a princely sum in those postwar years of austerity.  To me?  Well, its price had appreciated fourfold when I fell in love with its simple design, usefulness and excellent craftmanship in our local Heart Foundation furniture shop.  Now here's something which I can almost guarantee will not be falling apart at any time soon!

Monday, 4 March 2013

One for the Scrapbook of Ideas

Sometimes my blog is a place where I can preserve ideas that can be acted on at a later date.  And so it is with today's post that arose  from listening to  Radio 4's Soul Music, a series where contributors talk about what a particular song means to them.  The focus of this particular episode was an Irish Ballad called 'She Moved Through the Fair'.  I'd urge you to listen to this moving programme which is available long term on the BBC's i-player.  Three cheers once more for the tremendous value service that I get in return for my licence money!

What really inspired me was the story that a woman told about how a recording of her father singing the song was played in the crematorium as his own funeral.  It sounded as if it were an incredibly moving experience for all those who come to say their final goodbyes.  I've already shared my wishes for a cosy felt cocoon here .  Now I might as well start planning my farewell ceremony too.  Not that, I hasten to add, I'm planning on popping off soon.  There's so much else to do in my lifetime.  I haven't seen those big stone blokes on Easter Island yet.  But hey, you never know what's around the corner.

So now I'm loosening up those vocal chords in every echoey space in order that I too may give what may be my first and only ever solo performance apart from on the loo, on the bath or in the car.  I'd really would like to record my own farewell tune  if I can get to the point where I can muster up a seamfree rendition and before my voice goes all croaky. So, what will it be?   Well,  it's got to be an inspirational Leonard Cohen number.   I think I've know the perfect song for a send off.  Click on video above and see if you agree.

Sunday, 3 March 2013


Since I've discovered the Guardian crossword online a few months back I've been enjoying a bit of word finding fun most mornings with the day's first dose of caffeine. Even on Sunday's when there's no quick version  published I'm sorted.  There's an immense library of over 13,000 from back issues of the newspaper that I haven't yet completed. A special function suits my lazy state at that time of day.  When I've come up with each solution I don't have to type it in.  Oh no!  I click on the word 'Cheat' and the magic pixie that lives in my computer fills in the squares for me.  Superb!

This shortcut is only used for its real purpose in absolute emergencies when I'm totally and utterly stumped. and are often my first ports of call when I'm struggling for an answer.  And then sometimes I'll go off on a proper full blown trawl around the Internet.  It's not often that Google in combination with Wikipedia let me down.

So do I see this process as unsportsmanlike?  It certainly would be if crossword solving was a game for multiple players held in exam-like conditions.  But it's each to their own.  I know many people ponder on clues throughout the day hoping for that lightbulb moment when all is revealed but not me.  It's a quick and dirty affair that's down and dusted by the time that I can see the bottom of my T.G Green mug (£4 charity shop find).  What I like is the pleasure of discovering new words and facts.  Did you know that the Blue Whale is part of a family called rorquals, so named because it's derived from the Norwegian for furrow describing the folds on their chinny chin chins?

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Proper Shopping

Like millions of Brits I've been shopping today.  Not the usual  spontaneous mooch around  charity shops that I love but a  trip  to buy some stuff for the home that  couldn't be readily acquired by digging about in Oxfam, Scope and the like .  I've come away with six jars of half price Options Belgian Choc drink, a new mattress for Lou's bed from Argos and two hand towels from Dunhelm Mill to go in the downstairs cloakroom.  The whole process has left me tired, uninspired and devoid of creativity.  It's not a day's activity that I want to repeat for a very long time.    What's astounding is how many people describe trudging around retail outlets as their favourite leisure activity. It beggars belief!

Friday, 1 March 2013

How Much!

The best hot chocolate that I've ever had was in a mountain chalet in Italy whilst walking the Tour Mont Blanc.  By the way my most memorable pasta meal was to be had there too.  It came out wrapped in foil, en papilote, as the French say but I've now just learnt that al cartoccio is the Italian term for the same process.    It would be very crass to compare Options Belgian Chocolate to the cup of lovingly prepared gorgeousness that I consumed whilst taking in the Alpine scenery but it ain't half bad especially as it comes in at only forty calories a mug.

I discovered it when I visited someone's home on one of my work visits and it was proffered instead of the usual tea or coffee.   Usual that is unless someone is suffering from severe depression.  Those poor loves are often so wrapped up in their own horrific little world that they don't offer visitors a drink until they're getting well again.  This is a fact that dawned on me when I came home so parched that my mouth resembled a particularly rough grade of sandpaper after visiting four of them in a row.  I see the resumption of usual civilities and the offer of a nice cuppa, or a dainty bone china teacup as befits the posh South Hams, as a sign of recovery.

My new indulgence is a bit expensive though £3.19 for a twenty portion jar.  That totally negates the saving on other grocery items, for example that bargain box of Asda Smartprice Bran Flakes.  88p for a big 750g packet, less than the third of a price of its branded counterpart.  Call me a philistine but I can't tell the difference!   The hefty price tag got me  of my new choccy woccy indulgence got me wondering.  Is there a website where I can stick the name of more expensive items in my shop and Boing!  - out will come where I can buy it at the cheapest price?

Yes there is;  does the trick.  If I rush down to Tesco before Sunday I can stockpile supplies to make my new bedtime beverage for just  £1.59 a jar.  It'll stretch the storage capacity of my little kitchen but will be worth it!  Because I normally write this post before breakfast extensive research is out of the question so I haven't investigated this website further. It looks great but isn't completely comprehensive. For example, it won't help me satisfy  my Pieminster pie addiction  at a knockdown price  as they're not featured but hey! I'll admit that's a bit specialist.  Anyway I picked up two 'Heidis', a vegetarian version in the reduced section at the Coop yesterday so I'm sorted for now.  So, I'll leave you  with some homework.  Feed in those expensive items on your own lists into the search engine to see if it reveals where savings specific to your own shop are to be had!