Sunday, 30 June 2013

Ah So Maths!

Louis isn't Perfect Peter in any sense.  I still have to nag and nag to get him to clean his teeth every day, his volume control is defective and getting him to do any task that involves writing is akin to getting that darned camel through the needle's eye. Yet he views maths problems as puzzles and will set to homework involving calculation with gusto.

During one of my bimbles around the South Hams tending the sick(!) I chanced upon a  fascinationg programme on Radio 4 about maths in Asian culture.  In spite of the advance in electronic gadgetry, the use of the abacus is alive and well in Japan and by acquiring the skill to use this ancient piece of equipment, children learn how to manipulate complex arithmetical problems in seconds. Fractions of a second in some cases once they visualise a virtual abacus in their head and are put in a competitive environment.  Abacus contests are a big hit in Japan.  

'That would be good to do with Lou,' is a thought that often crosses my mind when I encounter something new. Alas, bad, busy parent that I am, these ideas seldom come to fruition.   Don't worry here if you think that my self esteem as a mummy is plummeting.  I know that I'm at least keeping up with the majority of you out there who're doing a pretty reasonable job in spite of poo-poohing most of the advice in parenting manuals

And so it was that the idea to introduce abacus skills to Lou came and went. But hurrah! My lovely brother Paul Bernard Harris is visiting at the moment and he must have the ability to read my butterfly mind.  For he's bought his nephew a japanese abacus, a Soroban as its know to its Eastern afficionados.   There's plenty of advice on how to use it on the Internet and even online competitions.  Lou was inspired by watching a clip of children using their abaci and  has already started teaching himself the basics courtesy of further YouTube videos.  He's so thrilled with this new gadget that his new beady friend has been given pride of place in his bed!   It share the limited sleeping space with twenty or so furry companions.   I'll try to remember to give updates if he  achieves mastery and this new but ancient gadget is not a five minute wonder!

Saturday, 29 June 2013

Thrifty Ski: But Book Early!

During one of the hottest spells of this year so far my thoughts have turned to my winter skiing holiday!  It was finding out about that super expensive school trip that provided me with the poke up the bottom to start the ball rolling around its organisation.  After all I want to get the cheapest deal possible for what can be a rather expensive old do.

Two years ago I wrote on the same subject.  Now, I'm a single parent and on a much more restricted budget it's even more imperative that my money works for me.  Here's my plans for this year.

  • Even though those teachers out there may be tut-tutting I'm taking Louis out of school rather than taking our holiday at half term.  After all the professionals aren't the only ones who provide his education.  To up the learning experience I've tacked on a couple of nights in Barcelona where we'll be staying in a hospital.
  • Flights from Bristol have been arranged through Easyjet. Booking early really brings down the cost.  Our luggage will be restricted to one bag in the hold so we'll have to be savvy with our packing.
  • I've bought a pair of boots on Ebay after the ski season to save on rental costs again and again.  
  • I've scoured the Internet for the hotel we want to stay in that's slap bang on top of the ski lifts.  Okay booking a 4 star with a spa seems an extravagance too far but having those facilities cuts down on extra costs for entertaining ourselves while we're in the resort.  It also means we'll have a mini bar in our room, ideal for storing beer and soft drinks that will save pounds off the bar price.  There's free Wi-Fi in the public areas so I use Skype to phone and save on those extortionate international call costs.
  • Paying upfront on a debit card saves on card fees for flights and hotel.
  • What's really pleased me this year is that I booked my hotel from Thomas Cook Holidays through Quidco.  This old established travel firm offered the cheapest deal and I'm getting a whopping 11% back.  The discount also applies to their summer rates too so if you're planning to go away
  • Instead of hiring the car I'll be booking the transfer bus from the airport.  It was tried and tested last year and the pleasant fuss-free journey was cheaper than the cheapest car hire.
  • Although there's little saving to be had I'll be shopping around for the cheapest equipment hire costs.
That's all the snowy saving tips I can think of for now.   Perhaps they'll be sufficient savings to be had for some of you who believed that they couldn't possibly afford this type of swanky holiday to join us on the slopes.  See you in January!

Friday, 28 June 2013

Out of the Freezer

I was going to take a picture of the contents of my shopping basket that was full of stuff from the reduced section at the supermarket to illustrate this post.  However this wasn't a very aesthetically pleasing shot.  So I decided that as my readers are clever enough to put two and two together I'd go for a subject that gave a sense of the chilly environment that I'm going to talk about.  And who out there doesn't like penguins?  Unless I have an audience of psychopathic bird haters  I believe I'm onto a winner!

This is another post directed at Spendy Spendy Student who, you'll all be pleased to know, has stopped buying her sandwiches at the station.  Hurrah!  Here's a  second message that Scary Secretary and I want to get home to her.  She's not just learning about nursing in our team.  Thrift is right up there on the agenda too.  It's how the gang operate so that they have money over after essentials for a rollicking good time.  So, Spendy Spendy, ditch those ready meals and take heed of Scary's favourite frugal mantra:

                                    Your Freezer is Your Friend!

Scary Secretary and I have discovered that we use our limited freezer space in different ways.  She is a batch cooker, cooking and dividing large portions for consumption at a later date.  There's a few tubs of home made ragu in my drawers (ooh missus!)  but the main bulk of the space is taken up with meat and fish gleaned from the reduced section of the supermarket chill cabinets. Bakery products sometimes get a look in if there's room as well.  And what about the tiny ice box in the motorhome?  Well you won't find any savoury stuff here.  That's reserved for ice cream cones so that I'm now always shelling out for expensive holiday treats.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Nuts

If you weren't one of the four million viewers of  Channel 4's 'The Man with The Ten Stone Testicles' on Monday, I'd urge you to catch it on 4oD .  It makes for thought provoking viewing and is a testament to why we so need those effective joined up health and social care systems that this, and I have to say, pretty much every other government seems so hell bent on dismantling at the moment.

Fortunately Wesley Warren's Jnr's story has a happy ending but before his operation he had to endure years of suffering and hardship whilst he worked out the logistics of how he was going to get the surgery that he needed in the modern day US, arguably the most advanced country in the world.  Attempts to publicise his plight with a view to raising funds for medical care met with accusations in the press and on social media that he had become addicted to the fame that his condition had brought him.  His moneymaking endeavours came to an abrupt halt but not before Social Services had stopped his benefits because a small amount of cash had come in from his efforts.

I'm 99.9% sure that no-one in the UK would be in this man's predicament and that he'd receive the medical care needed at a far earlier stage.  At least I hope to God that this is so.    What astounded me was that the surgeon, who ended up operating  for free, stalled on making the decision to do so to see if Wesley could stump up the six figure sum that it cost.  In the meantime his tumour, for that is what his 'testicles' turned out to be,  increased further in size rendering him more disabled and increasing the risk of fatality when surgery actually took place.  How can such financial motivation outweigh compassion for a fellow human being that was clearly vulnerable and suffering.  I'm at a loss but know with absolute certainty that this is not the kind of inequality that I want in my own country.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Sewn Up Storage Solution

I thought I show off a rather stylish use for old cotton reels  that I saw on one of the stalls at the Contemporary Craft Fayre.  They're displaying the lovely folded ribbon necklaces made by Nikki Ainscow who trades through as Maneggi at Not On the High Street  as well as a few other online marketplaces.   When I'm a bit more flush I'd rather fancy one of her leather petal necklaces.  Go hither and follow the link to see if you like it too.

This is a nifty storage solution that'll have to wait until I move into Great Tits House  as I can't use it at Lovelygrey Cottage.  It'll give me time to source those bobbins.   In rented accommodation you can't just go around making a million holes in the walls unless you want your work cut out at the end of the tenancy.  You have to restore the property to its pre-let state  although lord knows how I'll restore the tar-like mould that I scrubbed off some of the window frames.  I just wish I'd know that you can get  Removable Picture Hooks   before I went around the house hammering in those little brass jobbies!

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Out Of the School Bag

Let me know if I'm being a tight wadded misery guts here.  School, who seemingly think that parents have bottomless pockets,  have sent a letter home giving notice of a two night trip that they've arranged for Louis and his year group in a residential centre less than ten miles from home. It's due to take place in June 2014.  The reason why we're being told about this so far in advance is to give us an opportunity to spread the exorbitant cost over the next year.  I wouldn't want him to be left out so of course he's going but not before I have a good old moan!

For those without kids, let me try to put things  into perspective even though a direct comparison isn't possible.  Louis' Cub and Scout camps are £30 and £70 this year for a weekend and week respectively.  They offer a similar range of activities to the school trip but in tented accommodation with volunteer leaders  who like those  at the residential centre are all 'suitably trained and qualified' .  I'm hoping that I can bring next year's skiing holiday including a stay in a four star hotel,  flights, transfers, lift passes, equipment hire, ski school and our spending money in for below £1,500 for the two of us next year.  That'll be a nightly cost of just over £100 each for an outdoor pursuit that's got a far more robust reputation for being expensive than the circus skills, archery and orienteering that Louis will be taking part in with his friends.   So how is it that a two night stay for a child in dormitory accommodation a whopping £207.50 each or over £9,000 for the entire year group if they all go.  Someone it making a mint here.   Perhaps if these trips were met out of school budgets rather than parents pockets, then the organisers might think more carefully about how to be creative and get those costs down to a much more acceptable level!

Monday, 24 June 2013

Noticing

It was  well over a month ago  I said that I'd be having little chats in future posts about 'The Five Ways to Wellbeing' book, a rather marvellous booklet produced by my employer, Devon Partnership NHS Trust.  Even with my propensity for procrastination I thought I'd get round to it sooner.  Ho hum!  Life is always so busy and I refuse to start beating myself up about tardiness when things are urgent in the first place.

This lovely image from  the Action for Happiness Facebook page spurred me into action.  'I'll know how I'll use that.' I thought. 'Let's talk about one of the 'Five a Day' that isn't a carrot or an apple.

Being me I'm not going to start with the first topic in the booklet but I'll skip around like a demented kangaroo and consider Step 4 first.  After all, I can do what I like.  It's my blog.

You can foster wellbeing by noticing the world around you - even on a Monday which is purported by some to be the crappiest day of the week.  The booklet sums up how to do this rather nicely:

'Be curious. Catch sight of the beautiful. Remark on the unusual. Notice the changing seasons. Savour the moment, whether you are walking to work, eating lunch or talking to friends. Be aware of the world around you and what you are feeling. Reflecting on your experiences will help you appreciate what matters to you. 

My jolly helpful local camping supplier didn't have any idea where I might get a replacement gas hose for my motorhome.  And why would they?  It's a twenty year old Germanic oddity.  The lack of an instant solution to what is turning out to be a nubbier problem than I anticipated might have peeved me off.  Instead I got the peepers working and spied their caravan inspired bird feeder in the car park.  That perked me up no end!

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Days Out in Devon: The River Exe Cafe

Today I'm going to give instructions for how to visit what has to be one of the coolest bar/restaurants in Britain.



Firstly park your motorhome for the night right up  to the edge of where the car park meets the sea at  Exmouth Harbour.   Be bold and get up close.  With a decent handbrake you shouldn't fall in!   Pay either £8 for the night or £12 for a full twenty four hour period at the kiosk or, if that's not open,  in the seafood shop to the right of the parking
entrance.








Take the water taxi from the harbour. The capable skipper will know where to point the boat so even Jack from the US of A doesn't have to worry about getting lost on route.    He'll take you on a twenty minute jaunt up to the River Exe by a circuitous route. Don't ask if he can't get there quicker by taking a short cut across the sandbanks!




Oooh, it's getting close!  Do you see that thing between the boats that looks like someone has decided to set sail in their shed?  That's where the ferryman is heading for.



Once there you won't find it's a place to keep your bikes and garden tools.  Don't be stupid there isn't a lawn to be mowed anyone in the vicinity.  It's a bar and restaurant!








Seeing that that British summers have taken a turn for the worse, allegedly because of the warming of the Atlantic,  it can be a bit chilly.  That's why those thoughtful people at  River Exe Cafe have got blankets for you to borrow.  Or nick your Mum's festival poncho if she's sensible enough to keep one in her motorhome




What to order?  The fish of the day is a good choice......


.



...or how about baked crab artfully garnished with a broad bean and samphire salad.  You could even add a dollop of good old Heinz Tomato Ketchup if it takes your fancy!




Blimey that's a bit close!  It's not every day that you get spied on by passengers on a tourist boat whilst tucking into supper.







The lavvies are on deck but they're not too tricky to find!






There's plenty of space to get some fresh air, even tables outside on deck for those who don't mind shivering their timbers!



You might have to make your own entertainment whilst waiting for the water taxi to take you back to shore. Feeding wasabi coated nuts to a ten year old is suprisingly good for a laugh.





Or how about letting the kids borrow a camera so they can take their own scary shots.  I'm sure that  Joyce didn't realise that this was part of the deal when she flew home all the way from Australia.




Get the ferry back to shore.   How come Louis wrangled a seat in the cosy cab........




...whilst the rest of us risked a  right royal splashing outside?




Thanks to Jack's mum and dad, Martha and Nigel for treating us all to a lovely and unusual evening out.  And to Vicky, Louis' favourite waitress and the rest of the staff for the warm welcome, lovely food and great atmosphere.  Let me try to re-arrange my diary so that we can return before the restaurant closes for the season at the end of September!

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Just Finished Reading: The Piano Teacher


Scary Secretary surprised herself on our recent holiday as, in spite of having a six year old who demands attention a lot of the time, she finished a novel.  So, my sneaky plan to get rid of the kids by choosing a place where they couldn't resist off and playing  did the trick!   I myself got through a rather acceptable two and a half novels.

My tally might have been more had I not picked  Marian Keye's Anybody Out There?.  Now this Irish author's yarns often make it onto my holiday reading shortlist.  My gripe though is that they're so, so lengthy, a  verbosity that  doesn't add anything to stories that might  easily be told in half the word count.  But these books are like cocaine and no doubt my uncontrolled addiction means that  I'll whisk another off as holiday reading sometime in the near future.

There followed David Nicholl's One Day, a story for my own generation that I found gripping.  That is  until I reached the end where I deemed the final part of the plot to be a right royal predictable cop out.   Scary Secretary has read it since and disagreed with my point of view.  You'll have to read it yourself to decide who's right.

What disappointed me at school was that there was no scope after GCE O-Level to go on and do a composition A-level.  You had to choose to study literature if you wanted to carry on with English.  I've never been one for navel gazing analysis of stories, particularly ones like The Canterbury Tales that I didn't appeal in the first place.  As such my book reviews will never be detailed and in depth.  I pop down to Amazon to see what other people have said. for help.   This was the case with my final holiday read The Piano Teacher by Janice YK Lee.  It wasn't polished off until I was back in Blighty.  

What I enjoyed about this book was its fascinating portrayal of life in wartime Hong Kong.  I had no idea that it had been occupied but then again I gave up studying history,  at the drop of a hat too.    The plot about one man's love affair during and after the war was  entirely satisfactory.   I like a bit of romance!  There was something though that I wasn't too  happy about that I couldn't put my finger on. One of those one star reviewers, who'd no doubt paid more attention in literature classes,  helped me hit the nail on the head.  The characters were too wooden and implausible. There wasn't one I liked!

Friday, 21 June 2013

5:2 Spending Diet

Here's an idea from the Guardian that I lurrve baby! There you go, I've gone all Barry White.  It must be something to do with this sultry weather.

 My preferred daily ran an entire feature on extending that 5-2 diet  that I myself have been using on and off.  The suggestion is that the five days of carrying on as normal interspersed by  two days of abstinence or, in some cases, a change of  behaviour, may be extended into other wide ranging areas of life.  Alcohol detox, relationship fixing and even worrying are all considered, the latter by Jon Ronson who is the absolute king of angst.  Follow the link for some entertaining and thought provoking reading.

My favourite ideas has got to be the 5:2 spending plan.  What a wonderful way of kicking start thrifty habits and fostering money saving habits for those who don't usually give a thought to their daily spending.  To my impoverished student friend who  can't  resist the urge of shop bought lunches with bottled drinks,  BOUGHT FROM THE RAILWAY STATION FOR GOODNESS SAKE, listen up!  It might be a jolly good idea for you.  You know who you are!  For us more accomplished thrifters and frugalistas, perhaps we might set ourselves an altogether harder challenge. How about reversing the digits and keeping to a 2:5 regime?

Thursday, 20 June 2013

The Neurons Are Still Revolting

Those blooming head zaps are still in attendance nearly a fortnight after I stopped taking citalopram, my own preferred brand of happy pill.  They're not so bad that I need to take to my sick bed again.  However they still vary in  intensity  ranging  from mildly annoying to debilitating enough for me to need a bit of a sit down.  Climbing stairs and rushing about seem to bring them on so it's a good excuse not to do too much of that nasty exercise stuff for the time being.  My sleep pattern is also way out of kilter from its norm.  I've turned into Margaret Thatcher and am surviving on about four hours worth with a little nap if there's time.  Could I be her new reincarnation sent to dig Britain out of the quagmire those men in Savoy Row suits have got us into?

The good thing is my mood hasn't dipped.  There's joy to be found in what I see and do; The paranoia that is part of my own depressive pattern has not crept back; My concentration is not shot to pieces.  What I will admit is that I'm more irritable with Louis at the moment but that's because he can be an intensely annoying ten year old rather this being a reflection of my mental state.  I've checked this out with other mums who concur with me.  How do you get children to stop shouting at you from the other end of the house or tidy up after themselves without near constant nagging?  It's an utter mystery.

I could go back to my GP and tell her that the symptoms of SSRI withdrawal syndrome are still persisting.  In all likelihood that would mean reinstating anti-depressants. As I don't want to do that, I've taken a far more philosophical approach instead.   According to mindfulness theory and, more importantly  the unfeasibly young looking  1980's pop star,Paul Young, 'Everything Must Change'!  This operates on both micro and macro levels.  On a daily basis what goes on in my head varies.  It's not always as if there's a wasp in a jar up there.  I'm noticing that there are periods where there is a neurological calm.  And in the longer term, the literature suggests,that these transitional shocks will go away altogether.  It's good to realise that and in the meantime it's just a question of watching and waiting 

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Chipping Away

Photo: Wknight94
I was filled with glee in anticipation of having to find a hunky woodcutter picture to  jazz up this post.  Not the most onerous task for a heterosexual female I have to say. It didn't take too long to find this one of a chap strutting his stuff at an Alaskan lumberjack event.  Muscular men wielding axes do it for me - when they're using them on wood that is, and not in some nasty  psychopathic murderous way!  Talking of violence I've just watched 'Scum' in the process of researching that forthcoming bestseller.  Jolly useful I have to say although viewing pleasure I'd much rather catch an episode of something far gentler.  Along the lines of the Great British Sewing Bee maybe.

Let's get on with the subject to hand. Today's post is about cleaning.  Nice guess if you;re now thinking that  I'm going to come up with some handy hint about how I'd made my deep fat fryer like new again using a stange concoction made out of something like ketchup and Arm and Hammer.  This could work given the vinegar content of the sauce and the abrasiveness of toothpaste but I don't even own one to try it on.  What I want to talk about is how satisfactory it's been to assign a whole month to spring cleaning slowly rather than forgoing a whole weekend to undertake, what is ultimately, a thankless task.  As I've shown before, using my knicker drawer as a pertinent illustration,  as chaos does indeed reign supreme.  It'll only need doing again in the not too distant future especially as I've got a ten year old in tow.

I'm doing jobs for fifteen or twenty minutes, maybe half  an hour at a push.  And slowly,slowly by chipping away at the dust and the clutter, the house is getting tidy again after a month of neglect when I was working on my future Brixham home.  What it means,at this busy time of the year, is that I haven't had to turn down any of the lovely invites or miss out on festivals, exhibitions or trips just because I'm doing the household equivalent of washing my hair!

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Wire is the New.....Paint!

Let's do a quick-ish one today as I'm bogged down with boring stuff.  I'm on a mission to find a new gas hose for my motorhome but the fitting is about twenty years old and its going to be a toughie.  There's a furniture delivery to be arranged (more on that soon!) and a carpet fitter in Torquay needs a right royal rollicking for not doing his job properly.  Grrr!

None of these thorny problems can be illustrated with pretty pictures so I'm showing you these instead.  They're photos I took at the recent Contemporary Craft Fayre at Bovey Tracey, works by Celia Smith and Helaina Sharpley who've convinced me that as far as wall art goes wire is where it's at.  I might give it a go myself when I'm not sorting out errant tradesmen or sourcing obscure plumbing supplies.  Here's a medium that can pick out detail, can't be spilt and casts beautiful shadows that give the artworks a dynamic quality.


Monday, 17 June 2013

Big Duck or Little Horses?

Here's a little question that got us talking to each other in the office last week.  You also may wish to mull over it with your workmates at tea break.  By the way, I'm not into plagiarism so I'll 'fess up that it's not my one of my own  hare brained ideas.   No,  it comes from an corking article in the Guardian about difficult interview questions that  forms essential reading for anyone recruiting or looking for a job in the near future.

Q:  Would you prefer to fight a horse sized duck or one hundred duck sized horses?

The mental health team's view was pretty much unanimous.  All bar one would  much rather take on that dirty great duck.  Four hundred little hooves kicking around the lower limbs and jubblies just doesn't bear thinking about!

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Fill Those Dimples

I have to say that I've done rather well with the 2013 rule that forbids the purchase of shop bought lunches. Only a couple of dalliances have been recorded.  It's rather a good job that there's no severe punishment involved when there are breaches of my own self enforced legislation.   I'd have lost body parts and been locked up in solitary confinement by now.

The expensive plastic encased sandwiches have been eschewed and replaced by rather more creative fayre.  This does not mean I'm too be found slaving away in the kitchen each morning, whilst bawling fishwife-like at Louis in a vain attempt to get him  to clean his teeth. Lots of my lunches are prepared at the desk.  I keep a big pack of spreadable butter in the fridge, free for the masses to use when they wish.  Supplies are procured from local shops and kept in the fridge.  They often last a few days.  A staple offering is Ryvita, that old 1970s diet favourite, now rebranded to appeal to a wider audience.  Do you remember the debates about whether to put spread on the flatter side of the cracker or let it ooze into the dimples on the other.  Fill your boots with butter I say!

This is my latest invention for a topping.  Take  buttered Dark Rye Ryvita, spread with hummous and top with a smattering of vegetable crisps.  A big bag lasts for ages as a garnish.  This doubly crunchy delight is totally delicious.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Design: Making the World A Better Place

Goodness, I'm still living on the leftovers of last weekend and it's already Saturday again.  Who'd have thought it! The main thing that induced me to visit London last weekend was the Design Museum's  exhibition showcasing the finalists in the Designs of the Year Awards 2013.  If you hurry up and get down there before 7th July you too can catch the show that comes highly recommended by Lovelygrey.  What better endorsement can there be?

A feature on Radio 4 about it whetted my appetite to go. It highlighted the fact that not all design is about style over substance.  There are people out there beavering away to make real improvements to the live of others.  Funnily enough it was this Colalife anti-diarrhoea kit that really caught my imagination when I heard about it.  It cleverly fits between the Coca Cola bottles that are delivered to third world villages, giving much needed medical supplies a free piggy bank to the people with dodgy bottoms that need them.  We're talking about a life threatening disease here, not just a few days of inconvenience after a seafood slap up.

Well what else can I show you? I took loads of photos.  Let's skip the Louis Vuitton and Prada. Instead we'll home in on these Child Vision glasses, another idea aimed to tackle disadvantage.  Many children in the world don't have access to opticians, never mind the funds to pay for specs to correct poor sight.  Distribution partnerships have been set up to get these cheap fluid filled lenses  to those who need them.  The amount  of liquid in the lenses can be easily adjusted by the child themselves until they are able to see.  With kids being kids,  no doubt there'll be some mucking about too.  Hey! let's visit  Blurryworld!

Friday, 14 June 2013

I Won! I Won!

My regular readers must be way used to my  dreams and schemes by now.  Here's yet another one!  The idea of working more flexible hours doing a hotchpotch of things that will bring in a similar income to the one from my NHS job isn't going anyway anytime soon.  I'm going to share with you the latest madcap way I'm trying to make a mint.

I've been during a little experiment for the last couple of months and spending 20-30 minutes a day completing online competitions via the rather excellent Prizefinder site.  My target is to enter about ten a day.  It's usually a few more but occasionally less; only four last Saturday.   A little flurry of activity occurs on the last day of the month as there's way more closing dates then.  I'm only entering competitions for things that I would like personally or could sell on to someone else.  This is supposed to be an income generating exercise after all.   The day that I tried my luck for a rampant rabbit vibrator AND a wilderness experience on some tropical island was an aberration.  Had I have won both, would I have taken my newly acquired sex toy on my travels.  Or would I have passed it onto the anonymous friend who said she'd have it as she'd broken the ear off her own device through overuse!

Now I must now have entered in the region of a thousand competitions and was starting to think the whole thing was a swizz when I received an email saying that I'd won a Burgen breakfast set.  Although artisan seedy bread is way up there on the list of things I like to eat,  I was feeling rather underwhelmed that all my efforts hadn't resulted in something rather more substantial.  A car filled with loaves perhaps?  Then  I  looked up what I'd actually won.  Along with some of the company's products, which sound rather yummy, the prize consists of  a Dualit toaster and kettle which are going to be winging there way to me next week. Yay!  That's posed a bit of  a dilemma.  Do I keep my shiny new appliances?  I've always lusted a bit over those toasters but pooh-poohed the idea of stumping out so much money on a simple kitchen appliance.  Or do I  adhere to my hard hitting business strategy and convert them to cash on Ebay?

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Cuddly Toy Recycling Project?

Oops, I missed a day of blogging yesterday.  It's probably a consequence of the old bonce not being fully on form yet. I'm still being zapped!

Still there's progress made. Yesterday I went back to work and overall, the day turned out to be  jolly productive indeed.  A longstanding motorhome repair was done and dusted;  There was a surprise refund cheque from EDF which means that I must be doing something right on the fuel economy front; The fridge got stocked for a song with loads of healthy marked down food; And I had a chance meeting with someone who is thinking on the same wavelength as me with regards to future ways of working that could lead to big things!

Anyway, for now here's one of my pictures from my lovely weekend when I ended up at the Design Museum in London.  It's not from the main exhibition that I went there to see.  I'll post about that later.  This rather mad piece of furniture tickled me and gave me an idea for all those blooming soft toys that I keep tripping over in Louis' room. Could they be surreptitiously cut up and 'sofarised'?

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Oi! Dumbo Get Off My Holly!

Photo: National Geographic
I promised to share lots of stuff from a truly inspirational weekend and here's the first of these posts.  My first WOW! moment arrived even before I'd set foot in the station to await my early morning London bound train on Saturday.  It struck me in the car on the way to Newton Abbot as good old Radio 4 was airing an episode of Ramblings.

I find this  programme both soothing and thought provoking.  For those who are unfamiliar the format is that Clare Balding, one of our newer natural treasures, is joined for a walk by another famous person or even someone who isn't well-known and is just interesting.  That's an amazing concept in this era when stardom is everything  During this episode she was chatting to the environmentalist George Monbiot.  He came out with an amazing fact that I'll share with you along with this rather gorgeous picture from National Geographic.

In days of old there used to be a breed of elephant known to his mates as palaeoloxodon antiquus that trolled around the British countryside and didn't ever dress up like a cissy.  Now it turns out that elephants aren't particularly light on their feet so they stomped on anything in their wake.  Holly had to evolve to survive these little accidents.  The wood and that of its counterparts can consequently survive being contorted into the hedgerow that are such an integral part of our landscape today.   So, when you're out in the sticks and admiring those field boundaries, spare a thought for the elephants who made them possible!

Monday, 10 June 2013

Warm Turkey Withdrawal

Literally: Now there's an often ill-used word.  If I were to say that my head was literally spinning this morning after everything that's happened over the weekend it would be turning around in an anatomically incorrect fashion last brought to you in the 1970's horror movie The Exorcist.  Of course it's not.  A restricted range of movement within usual norms is thankfully preserved.  What's current going on deep in my headspace though is an entirely different kettle of fish.

Firstly there's a whirl created by lovely stimulating experiences over the last couple of busy days.  So many ideas! Enough material, I reckon, for about a month's worth of blog posts.  However, a more unpleasant inter-cranial buzz is afoot too.  Even though I've adhered to my GP's advice and reduced my anti-depressant slowly I'm experiencing side effects from finally coming off citalopram.  

Head zaps are a common and  potentially debilitating side effect of coming off SSRI medication and I've had them before.  You can read more about them here.   They're one of the reasons why I'm so reluctant to stop taking the tablets.  I thought that I could avoid them this time around by bringing down my drug dose slowly instead of going cold turkey as I've done n the past.  Now, that  doesn't rank as one of my most brilliant ideas of all time. 'You should know better!'  a psychiatrist friend said.  It felt as if my brain was being rewired by a particularly mad scientist and some of his more inept students were helping him out.

Even though I've been Sensible Susan this time the tactic of gradual withdrawal hasn't worked.  Although those shocks caused by getting used to living without mind altering chemicals are less severe,  my sleep is disturbed,  I've a corker of a headache if I move from my pillow and am dizzy to the point where I'm not happy to drive.   So, I'm having a rare day or two  off work until the problem passes.  Let's hope that dozing at whim, some gentle walks and generally looking after myself for a couple of days does the trick and I'm left drug and depression free at the end of the process.  And as I pay for my prescription I should be £7.65 a month better off to boot!

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Picking It Up Where I Left It

Remember that novel that I planned a good nine months ago?   Surprise, surprise, with everything else that's been going on in my life the blueprint was  largely left to molder on a metaphorical shelf situated way towards the back of the old noggin.  Recently though, I've made a bit of progress stirred on by an ever increasing desire for a far more flexible life than working within the NHS can ever give me.   Writing for a living is incorporated into a  much larger and eclectic escape plan.  But it's no good scheming and dreaming without a bit of action so I've given myself a kick up the butt and getting on with it.

After drafting a storyline back in September I seemed to fall at the first hurdle when I realised that a bit of research to develop my main character's background was going to be essential. Googling wasn't coming up with the goods that I needed but a cry for help on my Facebook page has yielded a few leads.  I probably need to veer from my normal film watching preference and, yikes!, sit through Scum.   Yet again,  I've veered away from the 2013 rules and bought an obscure book about young offenders that isn't available in the library.  Furthermore some dodgy geezers might agree to come out of the woodwork and talk to me about their misspent youth. Gulp!  All this is needed to complete chapter 1.  Thankfully after this the plot gets much less harrowing.  I promise that for those with a sensitive disposition that they'll be a fluffy bunny incorporated into the story at some point AND he won't get boiled!

Friday, 7 June 2013

Buying Time

I found myself saying earlier in the week that I would be spending the weekend conducting a massively late spring clean of Lovelygrey Cottage.  Eeek! What is the world coming to when my plans for a sunny Saturday and Sunday consist of wielding a duster?  So, I've given myself a stern talking to and decided to head off to the Big Smoke instead.  There's been something I've been wanting to do there for a while and heck, life is too short to spend precious great lumps of spare time cleaning away dust that's just going to return with a vengeance  in a couple of weeks.

In order to make this trip as pleasurable as possible I haven't gone for the cheapest rail ticket option but have forked out for an off peak day return that doesn't restrict the trains that I travel on.  That way I won't be rushing around like a blue arsed wotsit to get back to Paddington or spending a couple of hours hanging around staring at a sculpture of a favourite childhood bear.  I've gone against the grain and decided to stump up a rather reasonable £3.70 to park all day at Newton Abbot station too rather than doing my usual trick of hunting around for a free spot nearby.  After all I might be back late and don't fancy a trudge through dark streets at stupid o' clock back to the car.

My take on thrifty is around making my money work best for me. Of course, lots of the times this might involve bagging the cheapest or indeed an entirely free option.  But, as in this case, it ain't necessarily so.  Careful thought goes into my spending.  I want a relatively expensive day out to be as pleasant as it can be and don't mind paying a bit extra in this case to make some rare free time as precious as possible.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Duck Eggs Flamenco

The Pirate keeps giving me beautiful duck eggs  bought from  a bloke in his local. Honestly it's like a mini-mart down  there!  Personally, I go to the pub for a pint and not to do my weekly shop.

Beautiful food stuff calls for simple but special treatment.   I thought I'd whip up something in the motorhome last week to use up leftover ingredients from other meals but showcase those yummy eggs that I'd brought with me.

I settled on huevos a la flamenco, a Spanish dish that's not too dissimilar from a frittata except that the eggs remain intact.  It calls for any chopped vegetables and meat My basic mix normally consists of   chopped onion, sliced garlic, cubed carrots and potatoes and chorizo or chopped bacon fried in a bit of olive oil and seasoned with salt, pepper and smoked paprika.  Then I add anything else that looks like it might be tasty and add colour to the dish.  This particular version contained halved cherry tomatoes, green beans, a bit of leftover spinach and parsley but the world is your oyster.  Chicken, chilli, sausage sweetcorn, peas. mushrooms, squash.....all these are worthy additions.  A bit of grated cheese stirred into the mix doesn't go amiss either. Once the onions are softened and the potatoes and carrots are on their way to be cooked, crack eggs into little wells in the mixture and keep on the heat until set.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Question!

Photo: BBC

Do I have dubious sexual proclivities or are there others out there who are more than vaguely turned on by shots of Paul Hollywood scattering flour?

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Alarm Clock on L'Amorique

Evening all!  My life is completely out of synch at the moment. But I suppose that's to be expected after rushing around like a blue arsed fly  for a couple of months and then heading off to lands afar  leaving Lovelygrey Cottage looking like it had been burgled.  It's time to get  my house in order in order but I'm not in a desperate hurry to get things shipshape.  Why waste that relaxed feeling that I've cultivated during a week on the Brittany coastline?

What I'm very excited about sharing today is that I've found the wake up music that they play on L'Armorique, the Brittany Ferries boat that sails between Plymouth and Roscoff.  You'd think that a  few blasts on the ship's horn would be a fitting way to rouse those slumbering in the luxury of a cabin or, for the less lucky,  from their uncomfortable roost under a table in a public space.  No, instead you are lulled into the land of the living by a snippet of gorgeous Celtic music, played on traditional instruments.  The sight of the dramatic  coastline through a porthole with its rocky islands, little boats and lighthouses along with this early morning soundscape is enough to create sensory ecstasy, a fitting start to a holiday, I think you'll agree.

I searched high and low so that I could recreate fond memories of many arrivals on French soil in the comfort of my own home.  Now I've found the track, Troellenn by a Breton band, Dremmwel.  Utterly gorgeous. I hope you'll agree.

Monday, 3 June 2013

Art Education: Lovelygrey Style!


Barbapapa and Barbamama: Post Weightwatchers

Skeleton on Toilet

Wallace and Gromit's New Girlfriends
Who Broke My Rainbow?
Scary Secretary:  Above Her Station
Megablok Man
Meathead and Mallet
A Slice of Lemon with Your G and T Sir?
Hey guys!  My blogging silence is over and Scary Secretary and I are back with the kids from the beautiful Breton coast.  How is it that after a holiday that you can feel both rested and exhausted at the same time?  I've gathered together a few bits and pieces from my time away to share as posts over the next week or so.  Today's offering resul tfrom our little afternoon jaunt to Ploumanac'h Sculpture Park, a short wander from our campsite.  If you ever fancy a visit this place should be easy to find being on the main road from Perros-Guirec to the village.  But then someone said the same about the Super U at nearby Tregastel yet I spent a couple of hours circling on my bike until dehydration set in before  I finally found that.

I love a bit of art and gravitate towards exhibitions especially if they're free like this permanent display of nineteen sculptures most of which seem to have been hewn from the granite local to this spot.  But don't expect any highbrow analysis from me although occasionally I am emotionally stirred by what I see or overwhelmed by a person's artistry or technique.  My main objective is to have fun and with kids in tow,  I devised a game to engage them.  Above are some of our ideas from our 'Name that Statue' game!