Saturday, 31 January 2015

Thrifty Take Off

Photo: Christina Chan
Our August flights to Vancouver are booked and I've excitedly told our friends who live in Washington State to expect us.  Getting them was an exercise in thriftiness and I think that I've been super-successful.  By flying  into Vancouver instead of Seattle that's about 150 miles South we've cut  over £900 of the cost of the equivalent British Airways offering.  That's an awful lot of holiday spending money!

So how was this massive saving achieved?  Not by going via some circuitous route that takes hours longer.  Direct flights from London to that neck of the woods take about 9 hours.  They pop across the North Pole to achieve the time saving. Changing flights at North American hubs add hours to travel time.  I did that once to save a few coppers and learnt my lesson. Hanging around in airports is not how I want to spend my holiday. Nor do I catch flights in the dead of night anymore, ending up back home looking like a sleep deprived dish rag.    This is how I secured directly daytime flights.

  • Firstly, as you might already know, I investigated the costs of flights into  an alternative airport close by to our final destination.  It means we'll have a different place to explore.  Whale watching and cross the hair raising  Capilano Suspension Bridge are  now on the cards.
  • I booked reasonably early.  Flights typically get more expensive the later you book.
  • I used Skyscanner to get some comparison prices.  There I discovered the transatlantic budget airline  Transat  that flies between Gatwick and Canadian cities.  I looked up the fare for the days that we were flying.
  • To shave costs of flying into Seattle we were going to fly out midweek and there was a two figure saving per seat.  Bingo! The price of the Transat flights was the same at weekends adding three extra days to our holiday.
  • Costs of booking on the airline's own site were more expensive than on Skyscanner so back to the comparison website.
After doing all this Salty Dog sent me this link from Thrifty Nomads on Facebook with some extra ideas for cutting flight costs. I think I thought of most things that applied in our own circumstance but some of those other tips might save others with wanderlust an extra penny or two!

Friday, 30 January 2015

Pilot Fish of Pneumonia, I Spurn Thee!

I spoke too soon.   Seemingly minutes after I'd stopped tapping away on the keyboard the other day when I boasted about being in rude health, the tickle in the throat started.  Ha!  Serves me right for having too much faith in all that hocus-pocus.  It's not too bad.  I'm a bit snuffly and when I speak it sounds like I'm just about to enter a Mariella Frostrup or Betty Boothroyd impersonation competition.  I think I could be a contender for first place.

I went onto Wikipedia in search of a pretty picture of the common cold virus but quickly settled on this beautiful piece of 1930s silk screening instead. The advice that is given would strike fear into the modern NHS. Imagine if we all scurried off to the GP every time we had this, the most common of upper respiratory tract infections?  I'd have been living there when Lou was a toddler.  His snuffles were so frequent that I thought that someone had something seriously against me and had deposited a mini germ warfare agent into the house.

Instead of taking to my bed, I'm going to stock up with Lemsips and some of those lovely smelly Olbas tissues.  No doubt I'll get told off for coming into work to spread germs that have already been doing the rounds over the last couple of months.  Taking the lead from male colleagues  I may well try to drum up a little sympathy by moaning about how poorly I am in my new found deep voice that has way more sex appeal than my usual higher pitched estuarine tinged twang.   What's almost 99% certain is that my illness isn't heralding in a bout of pneumonia.  It's just a cold!

Thursday, 29 January 2015

My First Best Mate

Before my family moved to Southend-on-Sea which I still regard as my hometown we lived  for a short time in King's Lynn, Norfolk, not far from where my brother lives now.   At the time he was Chief Enemy No. 1.  I'd been perfectly happy as an only child and one day he turned up.  I was not impressed one bit and told my parents to 'Send him back'!

Possibly in an attempt to distance myself from the vile impostor I spent much of my time in the garden of our house.  In the absence of other children nearby, Rip, the next door neighbour's German Shepherd became my best friend. He became fiercely protective of me, getting cross whenever my mum told me off.   I remember once when the neighbours took me to the beach with him and he wouldn't let me anywhere near the sea, barring my way with his big furry body.  Every morning he'd be waiting at the fence for me and I understand that it took months for him to break the habit when we moved away.  How sad is that!  I missed him too.

What does a toddler do all day with a dog?   Well I remember chatting, showing him my unfortunately tattooed doll, playing ball and, as I could read from about the age of two and a half I told him stories.   As you do.  I came across this book the other day.  It is a bit of a mad tale memories and might have been one that Rip enjoyed.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Reiki Reflections

So how am I doing?  Well, overall I'm good although my sleep is sporadic.  I'm also a wee bit stressed. Work busies up at this time of year. It's because people from places with 'Outer' in the name like Mongolia and the Hebrides come for Christmas to visit their ageing relatives, realise they've seriously deteriorated in the year since they've seen them and then swan off home, barking orders on their way out to the sparsely distributed mental health team who they believe are going to personally provide 24 hour care.   However, even though many around me have succumbed to one lurgy or other during the winter period, I've fought off those bacteria and viruses that do battle among us. Could it be that those sizzling minerals are all they're cracked up to be?  Or is there a big fat dose of coincidence here.  Who knows?  Now I've said that I'll probably be laid low by some triumphant micro-organism in the next day or two.

I've now completed 21 days of Reiki self healing at Level 1 as recommended on the online course that I purchased. I It took 23.  There were two days that I forgot to do it so I tagged an extra couple onto the end. Let's hope that the universe forgives my tardiness and it counts.  Over the time it feels as if the energy that I'm directing into my body at the various hand positions has increased.   Perhaps that's keeping those bugs at bay too.     Lou won't let me have a go on him.  He says it feels well weird but I've persuaded a friend with a dodgy shoulder to let me give her some healing.  She's still in pain but comes back for more as she reckons that the treatment eases it for a bit.  I also  checked she was thinking about analgesia, resting and  recommended that she got advice from a physiotherapist.   After all, I have my reputation as a conventional healthcare professional to maintain. This hocus pocus stuff has to be seen as a adjunct to, rather than a replacement for conventional medicine.

So onto Level 2. By the end of that one might I be the totally chilled individual that sleeps like a log that I want to me.  Let's give it a go and see!

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

One That We Both Like

Lou's back! I know because there's way more laughter, music and chatter. The motorhome was positively rocking to the super positive vibes of Meghan Trainor when I returned from work last night.  We had a little dance and then as it's close to pay day we went out for my son's first ever Indian meal where he seemed to eat his weight in poppadoms.

This co-parenting lark is sometimes hard.  We have a 5:5:2:2 alternating pattern  over a fortnight for looking after Lou and I miss him over the long spell that he spends with his Dad.  Sometimes more than at other times.  I have to tell myself that he's happy and  the time spent along allow me to do thing that  I couldn't with a child in tow.  There's gratefulness involved too for the fact that he does have a father who, in spite of our differences, gives a damn about him.  Many don't.

I forgot to write about the card that his teacher sent him at Christmas. Organising any kid going to senior school for the first time is tricky but Louis' SPLD with the extra inattention and disorganisation that brings has made it all the more difficult.  Let's just say that I'm quite familiar with the after school detention timetable. So these heartfelt words meant the world to me and I keep them in my bag.

Dear Louis - I know its been a big jump but I'm really proud of you.  Keep trying your hardest and being the helpful and kind young man you are. - Miss W :)

Now we have our differences especially about music.  He doesn't like Leonard Cohen and I certainly don't go for some of the boy band pap that he listens to.  But there are areas where we agree. I've introduced him to Passenger, Bob Marley and the Innocence Mission.  And here's a band that we both like that he introduced to me.  In spite of my usual soft rock aversion I like 'The Script'.  Threads of wonderfully uplifting positivity run through their music.

Monday, 26 January 2015

Unsticking From The Mud

2015 promises to be a fabulous year for me and my mini-me in little boy form who's thankfully inherited the wanderlust gene. We're going to our favourite Breton campsite at Perros Guirec for the third year running.  Our tickets for  our umpteenth outing to Chagstock have already been bought complete with a pitch in the motorhome field.  And to top it all we're returning  to my favourite place in the world, Yellowstone National Park, for a summer time visit where I'm hoping to spot some bears and wolves as well as doing a bit of geyser gazing.  How lovely does that lot sound?

However it occurred to me the other day that I'm getting a bit of a stick in the mud when it comes to choosing travel destinations.  I'm revisiting  the same places again and again and again - Brittany, Barcelona, Washington State, Andorra.  Even in the UK I've got a tendency to choose old haunts.  So I've made up my mind to explore further afield.

I haven't got those transatlantic flight tickets yet and it occurred to me that Lou and I could very easily notch up another country on our travellers' bedposts.  So instead of flying into Seattle we'll go another 150 miles North.  That tips us over the US-Canadian border and we'll end up in Vancouver.   I've heard it's a bit good there so we might as well stick around and explore for a few days.  What makes this option even more attractive is that the cost of flights work out a few hundred pounds cheaper.  That's yet another excuse not to stick to the same old places again and again and again!

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Look Where My 'Boat on Wheels' Ended Up!

Really, really late posting today as I was too busy cooking breakfast and making cuppas for the masses this morning. This was the view from the window of the motorhome this morning.  Effortlessly I unplugged Klaus the Knaus and moved  him onto the Barbican at Plymouth for the night with the kind permission of the owners of the function room at the Mayflower Sailing Club. Red Mel, Sugar Plumb and I  then pretended that we were living on a super yacht.  Oh okay, I exaggerate so let's get more realistic. It was like we were wharf side on board some dinky sailing boat.

So what was I up to there seeing that I barely know a sheepshank from a reef knot or what the pointy end of a boat is called?  Well, Salty Dog has been plotting and scheming over the last few months.  Finally, finally her brilliant new business, Sail Power Courses which allows wannabe and experienced sailors and water based motor heads the opportunity to book a wide range of RYA/MCA accredited courses online. Just the right excuse for a nautically themed party.   Here's the canny entrepreneur herself with some of the other revellers.

The venue itself has stunning views around Plymouth Sound and an amazing history.  Ivor, its owner told me that in the 1880s over 600,000 people passed through its doors on the first stage of their journey to a new life in far off lands. With such an interesting story and the added bonus that I can just fall into bed after  partying hard it seems the ideal place to have my 50th birthday do in a couple of month's time.  The deal has been done. I've booked it!

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Message From A Serf

I made space for catching up  with some telly this week. Perhaps I should really stick to  Miranda in future because  rather than having a relaxing night of goggle box watching I got  angry...really angry. So what it that got my goat so much?  It was both episodes 'The Super Rich and Us' that's still available to watch on the BBC i-player.  By the way today's arty offering is 'The Worship of Mammon' by Evelyn de Morgan.

These are words from Lady Bathurst who was interviewed in the programme that I wrote down.  She was asked what she thought about the increasing polarisation of wealth.  This is what she said.

I think that human nature by human nature will always be a little envious of those who have more they do. And I think that there is an element of envy and I think that there is also an element, of shall we say, not realising what it means to be somebody like us.  You know, we do work incredibly hard.  I think that people don't realise what responsibility it is.  They don't realise sometimes what a worry it can be.

Now I've since done some reading about Lady Bathurst and it seems that she's not a bad egg.  Like many of the wealthy people I've met she's one of those who takes the responsibility that goes with having a historic estate to maintain and her fortune seriously.  She also understands the significance of charity at a personal and organisational level.  Yet she got it so seriously wrong here. Most of us are not envious of excessive riches.   We are incensed by the injustice that is brought about when a few line their very deep pockets really thickly.  Just when was it that greed became so perfectly acceptable?   It wasn't  the way that I was brought up. And what makes the rich think that we are all so bloody jealous. Many, like me, count their blessings daily and feel entirely happy with our lot.  Materially I have enough and my greatest riches are the interactions with the good people that count as my friends and family.  Give me a pint in a pub with my mates rather than hob nobbing with 'important people' at a cocktail party at a select venue anyday.  I've done that and didn't find it fun at all.

And guess what!  Lots of us who are not in the super rich class work incredibly hard too.  We are not slacking here.  In order to maintain high levels of service to the people I see in my job in the NHS, I take regularly work home, study for a master's degree in my own time and rarely have a lunch break anymore.  I work harder than ever before.  Yet my pay has not risen with inflation for years, my pension and expenses have been cut and there is no current prospect of promotion for clinical staff.  And I'm one of the lucky ones.  I earn a reasonable wage and have a secure contract.   I also get way more satisfaction out of what I do than when I worked as a tax consultant for the super rich in one of the big accountancy firms.    There's many on the minimum wage that work their socks off in employment that they find meaningless who have way less security than we've ever got and who still struggle to feed themselves and their families.  I'm not sure that she meant it intentionally but what Lady Bathurst said seems to undermine our efforts.  Don't even get me going on that comment about what a worry huge wealth brings!

The programme made me realise is that we need to be much more informed about how inequality is being bolstered by domestic and international policy.  And speak out.  Really I don't give a toss that some people want to adorn themselves in really vulgar two million pound glitzy watches just to show how successful they are.  That's their bag. What really bothers me is that such extremes of wealth present a really severe threat of civil unrest that puts the lives of all of us at risk.  As Nick Hanauer, a stonkingly wealthy entrepreneur said on the programme.

'You show me a highly unequal society, I'll show you either a revolution or a police state'.

Now that, Lady Bathurst, is what bothers me about the polarisation of wealth.  It has the propensity to affect us all.

Friday, 23 January 2015

The Final Frontier

I've been thinking about space recently.  No, not celestial bodies and the vast gaps between them that today's rather pretty picture might suggest. Content in my compact, cosy little home, I've been mulling over why most people, me included when I'm living a conventional life, think that they need vast expanses of living accommodation through which to roam like a furless wildebeest.

I asked around yesterday and two themes emerged.  People say that they need space to put their stuff. Admittedly I miss my paintings and other bits of treasured artiness but that's about all.  There's also something about having somewhere to wander around that's entirely their own.  However I'm no longer worried about the exclusivity of the space that I inhabit. I'm perfectly happy to populate shared places like the moor, a beach a library or sacred building if I need to stretch out beyond the van.

One day I hope to meet someone.  He will be kind, funny, smart,  principled and, no doubt  a tad kooky.   I'll not settle for less.   If it works out we might even have to share a normal home that doesn't have wheels.  A little extra floor area might be needed as I'm a stickler for that personal space stuff.  I'll admit to needing time alone behind a closed door in a little nook or cranny that's my very own.  But for the moment, that  area of around 24 cubic metres that  I share with an eleven year old half the time, now seems perfectly adequate.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Bunnikins at Bedtime

A couple of recent articles in the Guardian caused that part of the brain that's responsible for preserving fond memories to tick over in a rather pleasing fashion.  My mind has been cast back to think about the Ladybird books that were a feature of the childhoods of many Brits of a certain age. Their beautiful illustrations evoke a different era when elves aside, men were more butch, and bunnies covered their modesty with cutesy dresses that would have made Laura Ashley proud.

Here's an illustration from one of my favourite bedtime reads during childhood, Bunnikin's Picnic Party, a story in rhyme that you can readily pick up from pennies on secondhand book sites.  Even though I was mesmerised by the story,   I seem to remember being decidedly disappointed with the picnic fare. If I recall correctly it consisted of bottles of cold tea and hard boiled eggs.  I had been mightily peed off with that al fresco offering at any stage during my childhood or adult life. Where's the pork pies, perfect eggy mayo sarnies or the crisps or chocolate for goodness sake?

Photo: The Guardian
Now you may be wondering what the seemingly random reference to elves above was all about.  Well now you know. Some modern day wit has taken a satirical look at those retro illustrations and added naughty captions.  They made me laugh and have given me an idea for costumes  when two of my dearest men in the world attend their next fancy dress party.    Darlings, you know who you are!

A more serious minded article showcased illustrations from the wide range of books that Ladybird produced in this era.  The titles included something to whet the literary appetite of all but the most lethargic kids even the crafty ones.  What do you know!  I actually made this spinner. I didn't look quite so neat, tidy and demure though.  Mama Lovelygrey if you ever wondered why your envelopes kept disappearing.........!

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

BOGOF - No Way!

It was Greek night in the van on Monday.  We popped to the supermarket and bought calamari, halloumi, olives, flatbread and dips.  Supplemented with some cherry tomatoes and dried French sausage that I already had in the motorhome it made a very easily prepared feast. To create the right atmosphere I popped the music from Zorba the Greek onto Spotify.  Its a tune so reminiscent of past holidays sitting in tavernas by the Mediterranean sea.  Lou wasn't keen at all and accused me of being uncool.  Maybe  I am but am getting to an age where I am past caring!

Yesterday evening I made a fish pie in the halogen cooker  for the first time with one of those supermarket mixes of cod, smoked haddock and salmon.  It was tarted up with a few prawns and topped with a very cheesy mash.  It turned out very okay indeed.

And now aside from a few leftovers that will do for the next couple of lunches and that block of everlasting parmesan, the fridge is darned near bare.  The store cupboards are looking pretty desolate too.  Good!  I like it that way.

For when storage  is limited, shopping habits  just have to change.  I don't do a weekly shop or buy in bulk as I haven't got the physical space to do so. Nor do I have every dried herb and spice known to man lurking in cupboards.  When there's not much on board it also means that I'm far more aware of what food that I already have and can meal plan around using that up more easily.   I shop little and often, buying to supplement what I've already got.   It means that I am much more spontaneous and creative about what  I cook and eat.  No I can't batch cook, take advantage of multibuys or freeze bargains from the chill compartment ahead of when I need them.  But I've got into a routine where I can knock up a delicious meal in minutes.  This new way of operating has taught me lessons that will serve me well when I move back into a conventional home!

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Why Do Care Homes Smell of Wee?

Nigel Slater got me thinking the other day.  I was listening to the Radio 4 dramatisation of his book, Eating for England.  He chose a home for his much loved Aunt Elvie based on the fact that it didn't smell of wee.  If ever I have the horrible task of doing this for my mum or dad, that would be high on my checklist too.

Now some of the homes that I visit wouldn't meet my own or Nigel's criteria.  Even some where you'd think that all that should be making your eyes water is the price of staying there.  But is this somewhat inevitable? One of my colleagues thought that it might intermittently be the case in places where often residents with challenging behaviour are doubly incontinent . Certainly lots of carers on the Internet think that it is too. My favourite Viz-like top tip was to shove a load of Vicks up the nose before going to work so as not to notice the smell.  But is this really the answer?  Even though I thought I knew what the solution might be  I decided to investigate by quizzing a residential home manager.  I've got to know her well over the years.  She has an almost pathological obsession with searching out and eliminating  nasty niffs and her work place which, in spite of being carpeted and soft upholstery, smells as fresh as a daisy.

Surprise, surprise she told me that it's down to good cleaning.   When someone, for instance, has wee-ed on a cushion it isn't just turned over in the chair!  Accidents are dealt with immediately using neutraliser and good cleaning products.   The company that she buys from have trained her staff in their proper use.  What's more, the  residents have regular toileting regimes which means that they're not so likely to have accidents and they're changed quickly when they do by kind, sensitive staff who know the people that they are looking after.  Just one poor lady there is so seriously incontinent that it was difficult to keep up with cleaning the carpet in her bedroom and a decision was made to replace it with lino.

And that's it.  No rocket science or strict residency criteria based on super hot bladder and bowel control needed!   Then again I didn't expect anything different.  I'll be spreading the message far and wide now. And perhaps by writing this it will help others to get the word out there too.  Your relatives don't need to live in stinky care homes.  If you're told otherwise there's likely to be some very poor excuses involved!

Monday, 19 January 2015

A Bloody Great Metaphorical Pea!

Do you know what my worst motorhome chore is?  It's not the overstated horror of emptying the Porta Potti or going to fetch water. I quite like that one unless it's really cold when my fingers are prone to freezing. No, the job I dislike the most is changing my above cab bed.  Fighting a duvet in a conventional home wasn't my idea of bliss but in limited space it's no fun at all.  'Do it outside' I hear the sensible among you cry. Yes, I had thought of that but I always seem to pick a time to do the job when the rain is beating down outside.  I don't fancy soggy bedding.  Putting the sheet on a mattress that's high in the sky adds another dimension of trickiness too.

Once it's all finally done and dusted there's the reward of clean, crisp sheets in the cosy  skybound nook where I read, meditate and  give myself  what seem to be increasingly effective sessions of reiki self healing.  I'm also supposed to sleep like a log up there. Except again it's not happening.  I'm waking at three in the morning.  It would be okay if I was worrying my little head off.  Then I'd have a reason for this nonsense.  But there's nothing major that I'm aware of going on in my normally chilled little mind.

In desperation I turned to a very famous herbal  remedy to try to establish my preferred pattern of sleeping through for six and a half or seven hours.  And what do you know?  It actually worsened the problem.  I lay awake trying to get to sleep at normal bedtime for about two whole hours feeling decidedly edgy.  None of that will be passing my lips ever again.

YouTube has been my friend in regard to steering me back to the land of Nod during those  early morning hours.  Ever the experimenter I've been trying out some lucid dreaming audio sessions. No one of these has emerged as a favourite at the moment but your own Google search will reveal loads if you're interested.  With practice, so I'm told, I will be able to steer my own course through my dreams.    It's certainly increased the night-time cinematic experiences and I'm remembering what I've viewed on that screen behind my eyes though I don't choose the movie as yet.  What I'm seeing is outside my control and whilst not outwardly scary it's mostly weird nonsense.  Does that reflect a deeply disturbed inner psyche?   How the hell am I suppose to know!  I'm only a mere mental health practitioner.   A friend the other day described me as a free spirited essential rather than truly unhinged and my brother told me that I was not flaky in any shape or form.  I liked their kind words which I'll count as evidence in support of my sanity. However if my nocturnal life suggests something else it's probably better out than in!

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Lovers not Users

I won't say much  today because I'm going to share some words that are so stunningly wise they stopped me in their tracks when I came across them the other day.  They stand alone reminding us all of how to live right.

'Love people, use things.  The opposite never works'.   The Minimalists

Now for those of you who haven't heard of the Minimalists, though many might have, I've added this TED talk by them.  They are men after my own heart - especially the buff one with the beard!

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Just a Small Fire!

I came very close to becoming homeless yesterday evening. Oh, okay I exaggerate but there was a small incendiary incident in the motorhome.  Having bitten the bullet and agreed to let Louis have a friend over for a sleepover.  I bought hot dogs and cheesecake for supper. There was a frantic phone call at 4:30.  'Can we have fondue pleeeeeeeeeease?'  So I stopped for a block of cheese and a bottle of wine on the way home.

Now the Co-op in Ashburton is a teeny weeny branch. There was none of the Gruyere or Emmental called for in my recipe.  Nor cornflour either.  I thought I'd improvise.  Here's my recipe for a rather English cheesy fondue made with the ingredients that I could muster up.

1 1/2 glasses of white wine
350g Mature Cheddar grated
50g - ish Parmesan left over from before Christmas when you bought enough to feed a family of rats for a month.
1 clove garlic
A generous shake of paprika
1 tsp English Mustard
A good glug of Worcestershire Sauce
Ditto Balsamic Vinegar

1.Dress in clothes reminiscent of Margot Leadbetter to get in the mood.
2,Cut garlic clove and wipe inside vintage '70s fondue pan.
3.Add a glass and a half of wine to the pan along with paprika, mustard, Worcestershire sauce and balsamic vinegar.
4. Fill burner with methylated spirits generously.  Spill everywhere.  Pop pan on top.
5.Light burner. After  a couple of minutes surrounding area will be alight.   Be mesmerised momentarily as flames lap across the table top. Shit!!!!!!  Swear in front of another person's child who will probably never be allowed to visit again when he tells parents that I am indeed van dwelling low life with a potty mouth.  Take pan off heat.  Throw tea towel over top of burner.  Watch it singe and then check where the air might still be fanning the flame.
6.Once fire is out wash off meths from all surfaces and start again.
7. Repeat stages 4-6.
8. On third occasion use less meths.
9. Get bored with the fact that heating wine on burner could take until 2017 without surrounding radiant heat caused by burning table top.  Move to low gas ring for a serious blast of warmth.
10.  Add cheese gradually and heat sauce until bubbling.
11. Decide that sauce isn't thick enough so add whatever flour you have to hand.  Watch as it congeals into hearty lumps.  Squish these onto the side of the pan.  It will be alright.
12.  Pop back on meths stove.  Serve with dips.  Ours were cooked sausages, saute potatoes, onion baguette, carrot  and cucumber sticks.

And what do you know!  It turned out to be lush. Furthermore the boys learnt a lesson in how to put out a fire by starving it of oxygen.  How valuable might that be in later life? 

Friday, 16 January 2015

Especially for Mama, Papa and Nana Lovelygrey!

'Take a picture and put it on your blog,' instructed Louis when I turned up to collect him from Scouts the other day.  He'd spent a very enjoyable evening indeed at Dartmoor Rescue Group's base at Ashburton.  Best do as I'm told then!  There was  also this one, snapped earlier on in the evening.

What an excellent piece of kit!  I wondered if I could borrow it on evenings when Lou is being particularly fidgetty?

This would have been a great post back along when just the grandparents read my blog. They love keeping up to date with what their boy is up too.  While the rest of you can have a peep as well, this one's especially for them!

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Potti Mouthed Talk

The question about whether I'm freezing my girlie nadders off living in a motorhome is undoubtedly the most popular one that I get asked.  Second on the list comes a cluster of inter-related queries about my toileting arrangements.    Now I've solved the stuck paper problem  emptying the porta potti is very easy indeed.  It's a smelly job but simple.  The cassette is housed underneath the bowl itself in a little cupboard outside the van.  It's unclipped and  carried to the disposal point.  A screw top lid is opened and the whole thing tipped up whilst I look the other way.  I  rinse it out and put a tiny bit of water back in the tank. Then I add the chemicals.  Blue Bio is my toilet fluid of choice partly because its bottle incorporates a nifty measuring device.  A couple of shots go in the tank and one in the flush compartment.  That's then topped up with water and then we're done. The whole job takes less than five minutes.  Even so it's one of those chores that reminds me of the preciousness of water.  It becomes blatantly obvious when you carry every drop that you use.

Lou's porta-potti etiquette has come on a long way since last summer.  Guests have to be 'trained'. The flush mechanism, turning a knob to open a trap and then pushing the button seems to perplex a fair few.  I've ended up with a bowlful of blue water on a number of occasions.   And an overflowing tank that was not a breeze to deal with!  I have to remember not to be a grumpy-grumps when this type of thing happens.  It's a different regime that's not quite as simple as pushing a cistern handle.

A number of keenly thrifty types think I should be using the campsite loos in preference but I disagree.  Klaus the Knaus is my compact little home and being able to 'powder my nose' without a long trek normalises living here.  Some motorhomers, mind you, have other views.  We met a family on holiday who never used theirs.  Liquids went into plastic bottles and were tipped in hedgerows. And get this!  Whenever they passed solids, a phrase that instantly conjures up visions of Royston Vasey. they lined the bowl with a carrier bag and then disposed of the 'brown fish' in the nearest bin. When Louis was invited to use their facilities he scurried back to our own van.  I didn't blame him one little bit!  It's an idea I might adapt when wild camping and mains supplies aren't close to hand.  It'll enable me to stay off grid longer.  But as for it being a permanent arrangement.  Well, there's a big fat resounding no from both me and my boy!

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Stickman Tribute to Adam Hills

I spotted this bloke striding out in Ivybridge on my way from  my 'secret' free parking spot to the weekly team meeting.   He made me laugh. Louis has also rightly pointed out that the badly painted bike looks like a death trap too.   Perhaps that's how my walker lost his leg in the first place?  Anyway he reminded me of Adam Hills, the Australian comedian.  I've only just come across his programme 'Last Leg' and may have to do some catching up to do on YouTube.

I'm well impressed with this rant against Katie Hopkins. The more people who speak out against her the better.  How a person can be comfortable with themselves for earning a shedload of money from spouting toxic rubbish is way beyond me.  It doesn't bode well for her daughter being brought up to be a well rounded, lovely person even if she is kept away from people with names like Charmaine and Tyler.   This woman will only be stopped when TV channels stop paying her to air her provocatively hateful opinions.   Also loving the assertion here that attractiveness isn't based on physical perfection.   It took awhile, maybe more than three quarters of a lifetime, but thankfully I've learnt that now. In our airbrushed world, there's plenty of folk who still need to hear that message loud and clear.

PS:  My favourite episode of The Simpsons?  Series 1: Episode 3.  Homer's Odyssey.  There! I've got one.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Old Leonard

Now here's a revelation from Leonard Cohen's number one fan that may surprise some people.  I'm not really all that keen on some of his early material.   Not entirely sure why that might be.  The lyrics are no less poetic or thought provoking.  Maybe its because they're slightly more morose  or perhaps it's because that younger man's bitterness shines through the words and the wit is more sardonic.  A love of the older geezer's work probably reflects the fact that  I've mellowed over the years too.

Two of Leonard's old songs stand out though.  There's Avalanche, probably my favourite.  It's stunningly clever both lyrically and musically.  And there's this one.   I've was harmonising along with the version from the latest live album from Dublin at the Riverford Road bridge on the way to work during my latest in-car concert performance.  The arrangement is totally sublime.

Monday, 12 January 2015

The Kettle

Here's a little piece of genius advice.  If you don't want to spend money then don't go anywhere near shops - online or in the virtual world I may add.  They're dangerous beasties. Keeping out of temptation's way is the best way to save loads and loads of wonga.

Of course, there's an obvious flaw here.  I need to shop for essentials like food and cleaning materials and those planned one off purchases. I'm looking for a very beautiful fruit bowl at the moment to add a gorgeous splash of colour to the table in the motorhome.  So I nip into the charity shops just in case I spot exactly what I'm after.

I didn't know that I needed a kettle until I saw this gorgeous one in Aldi when I popped in to buy some cooking oil on Saturday.  It's so gloriously chunky and would have looked stunning sitting on my gas burner.    At £14.99 it was an absolute bargain.  Had there been any grey ones left that would have been my first colour choice but the red one would have complemented my van colour scheme very adequately indeed.

But hang on a cotton picking minute!  I've already got a kettle.  You may have seen it before when I showed you around my gaff.  Granted it's not the prettiest utensil in the world but it heats up quickly and whistles in a friendly fashion when my water has boiled.   There was no thought of replacing it until I saw the shiny new contender, just by chance.  It's a want not a need.

Our flights to the USA later in the year will cost £1,500.  By resisting that impulse purchase I've saved 1% towards the cost already.  Not shedloads I know but its a start.  Unlike in previous years, I haven't set any particular spending rules for 2015.  Do I need it? Do I want it?  Just because an item isn't an absolute essential doesn't mean that its completely off the card.  It's just that those type of buys must be thought about very carefully indeed!

Sunday, 11 January 2015

A Good Pub

I was out with Salty Dog in Plymouth last night, on Mutley Plain actually.  Saying that  name is a cue for imitating that doggy snigger but I wasn't sure how to describe it in print.   So here's a link so that you can relive a classic kid's TV moment and have a giggle yourself.

We visited two excellent pubs and imbibed way more alcohol than government guidelines suggest.  It could account for the poorly head this morning.  So much for all my good intentions around a dry January to help the Reiki self healing process.  Anyway,  this is the first, The Hyde Park, a microbrewery and we then moved onto another favourite, The Fortescue.  It got me thinking about what makes a good pub.

  • There has to be good ale, not just that fizzy carbonated stuff.   An artisan cider or two is definitely expected too around these parts.
  • Delicious food to soak up the alcohol is very welcome indeed. It doesn't have to be anything fancy but home cooked is a gigantic plus.  Portions will be on the generous side.
  • Okay, it's acknowledged that the landlord has to make a buck or two but prices will not be eye wateringly expensive.
  • A decent boozer has friendly staff who'll have a chat when they're serving.  Smiles are an essential part of their uniform.
  • There will be a mixture of age groups.  If children are allowed, and  I'm not one of those Nazi mamas who insist they have to be, they should be welcomed with open arms.
  • All sorts of pub environments cut the mustard,  Olde worlde, chintzy, modern.  \No matter. What's important is that the place seems loved.
  • You'll be able to hear youself speak.  Music cannot be ill thought out piped nonsense
Pretty simple isn't it?  Apparently pubs are closing at an unprecendented rate throughout the land. Yet if the simple steps above are followed, it''s hard to see what could go wrong.  The ones we were in last night were packed.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

People Pylons

Time for a little reminiscence today showing   how small children see the wonder in everyday objects that grown ups hardly notice.  When Louis was a baby we used to drive to his nursery via the A38. On one journey he was beside himself with excitement.  For the first time he'd spotted the huge pylons along the edge of the road. 'Back, back!' he cried out. Alas, his use of the few words in his vocabulary  to get me to turn back so that he could have another look was in vain.  People don't respond well to mad mothers doing sudden U-turns and going the wrong way up major A-roads .

I got quite excited myself when I came across 'Land of the Giants', an extraordinarily useful installation that would have crossed the Icelandic landscape.  Now I'd have made a special journey to see those guys.   Sadly the idea was never realised and remained just a design concept,in spite of  winning an unbuilt architecture award for  ingenuity.   Apparently it could be created by making just small adjustments to usual pylon design.  Wouldn't it be lovely to see similar serene figures carrying the main power lines through Devon and on into Cornwall

Friday, 9 January 2015

Slow Cooked Pork Mk 1

Every time I use my slow cooker I feel like alchemy is involved.  Just chuck in a load of uncooked ingredients, leave the unappetising gloop to simmer away whilst I earn a crust and voila!  When I come home there's a feast awaiting me with hardly any effort at all. It's a miracle!

That beautiful organic pork tenderloin that I was gifted by the Second Martha Stewart deserved respectful treatment.   After all a piggy gave its life so we could eat.  So I went in search of a recipe to do it justice and I found this one for Balsamic Pork Tenderloin.

If I was living in the house I would have had most of those ingredients and could have followed the instructions word for word.  In a motorhome though those store cupboard essentials  are very pared down indeed.  I have to be inventive as I don't want my storage space bursting at the seams with stuff I'll rarely use.  Here's my own improvised take on the recipe.

Gather together the following and stick in a slow cooker

  • One pork tenderloin:  If you're feeding more people you could bung in an extra one or two without adapting the other measurements. There's enough juicy liquid to do that.
  • A mugful of chicken stock made with a Kallo stock cube:;  If you're following the way I'm doing it to the letter, make sure that the cube is not properly dissolved and is still stuck in the bottom of the mug when you add the liquid to the slow cooker.
  • 1 teaspoon of English Mustard powder (Colman's of course)
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce (Yep, you guessed it, Lea and Perrins)
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 1/2 mugful of balsamic vinegar
  • 3 cloves of crushed garlic
  • Some good slugs of freshly ground salt and pepper

Give it a good stir, mainly to dissolve that stubborn stock cube.   Then cook on low for nine hours. After that amount of time it fell apart.  As you see I served it in wraps with cucumber sticks and a little dab of mayonnaise.  The 475g tenderloin made seven wraps.

The recipe was lovely and got the thumbs up from me, Louis and the colleagues I shared it with.  I took some of the wraps in for their lunch.   One ingredient, however, dominated the flaviour. The clue was in its name and the amount of balsamic added to the pot.  Mk II will dumb down that vinegary taste but is so easy-peasy and tasty it will definitiely be added to the motorhome meal repertoire.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Why Snowman Never Get Colds

Whilst writing this I'm clutching a bloody great piece of wood really hard!  In the last month I have not succumbed to any of the nasty lurgies that have been laying many of my colleagues low.  Could it be that those sizzling minerals, are working?  The heartily unscientific experiment where I'm taking an extortionately priced supplement continues!

Or could it be that keeping myself warm and toasty is yielding benefits?  I love my winter woollies after all. Follow this link to an article that suggests that the rhinovirus thrives at lower temperatures.  Wearing a warm scarf over the nose might just raise the temperature in the nasal passages enough to stop those little blighters multiplying.  Its probably why you never see a sneezing snowman.  Once our backs are turned they're pulling the wool up, literally, with their twiggy arms over their carroty noses!

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Words from the Bakerloo Line

The girl who has, in the past, professed to dislike poetry, has caved in again.  A particular teacher at school ingrained this rather ridiculous notion into my head over thirty years ago. She had a fondness for the World War I Poets whose work she read  in a dour monotone.   We then picked each line apart until the meaning of the whole was lost.  No wonder I was put off.

'Poems featured in Tube carriages have been a bit hit with the public over 25 years'.  Perhaps it's because they provide respite from endlessly being bombarded by advertising. Who knows?  This one, in my train carriage last week, stopped me in my tracks.  Mrs Simpson would have approved for it's by Edward Thomas who died in action at the Battle of Arras in 1917.  Short and so powerful, it speaks for itself without detailed analysis.

The flowers left thick at nightfall in the wood
This Eastertide call into mind the men,Now far from home, who, with their sweethearts, shouldHave gathered them and will do never again. 

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Problems with My Waterworks

Please don't be alarmed.  There are no euphemisms here! This isn't a post where I'm going to disclose way too much information about a defective urinary system that coughs and splutters well yep, every time that I cough and splutter. That's all fine, thanks very much, in spite of having gone through childbirth which is prone to mucking it up.  To prove it, unlike, one of my mates, I can have a jolly good bounce on a trampoline without incident. No today I'm going to talk about a few hiccups with the motorhome's plumbing rather than my own.

Salty Dog, who's lived on a boat, warned me that things might go wrong rather more often than I'd like living in a small space. And she wasn't half wrong!  There's been a non charging leisure battery and a cutlery drawer impressively spouting  toothpastey water  that I've already told you about.   A shedload of dangerous chemicals sorted out that puppy. But  I didn't mention that I accidentally left the converter on my British gas bottle when I bought a refill and didn't find out until the French one ran out halfway through cooking. Oops! My gas barbecue became my main cooking source for a few days until the hard to find replacement that had to be sourced online came in the post.  I've also found out that you can't be thrifty with toilet paper when it comes to a Porta Potti.  To avoid drama when it comes to emptying them you really do have to buy the disintegrating stuff from the camping shop that costs a pound a roll.  Don't think you're get arse cosseting softness for that kind of money either. It isn't quite Izal,  that scratchy bum wipe beloved of 1970's school caretakers, but its not way off.

Before going away on a little tour of Britain I decided that I'd fill the water tank of my four wheeled home. To save time when I got back.  Hmm!  Famous last words.  On return the van was making a strange rumbling sound.  Further investigation revealed that its water pump was going for England and there was no water left at all.  So much for forethought! Could water pipes have burst in the freezing temperatures because the tank was too full.  Water gushing out from the chassis when I tried to refill the tank wasn't a good sign.   Pound signs started to pass before my eyes as I contemplated the cost of repair.

After a bit of research and a chat with my new 'best friend', the amazingly calm Phil the Motorhome Repairman, it seems that Klaus the Knaus  is way more sensible than me.  He has a special trick up his sleeve when the temperature gets too cold.  He opens a  valve  and dumps all his water before ice forms in his pipes.  Now isn't that nifty!

In sharing stories about life in a motorhome aren't I supposed to be creating a picture of a darn near perfect simple existence?   Well I've certainly blown it here, haven't I?  Let me say that I don't regret taking this particular path in life one little bit and would encourage those who have a similar dream to do the same.  In the main it's lovely.  Just expect the idyll to be shattered now and then by those nubby little problems that are part and parcel of any life.

Monday, 5 January 2015

Permission to Bale

I thought that I'd share the meditation track that's my real favourite at the moment for you to try if you have a spare half hour.   It's not really the one of the whispery man trying to lure me in a bloke. Sometimes you have to take what I say with a very big dose of sea salt, Maldon, of course, seeing as I'm an Essex girl.   No,  'Asking for Nothing and Receiving Everything', the one that I really like, has similarities to the Buddhist Metta or loving-kindness meditation.  This cultivates feelings of benevolence towards self and others, firstly those who it's easy-peasy to feel warm and fluffy towards.  In later stages focus is turned to those tricky sods who are more difficult to love, like you know, murderers, despots, evil bankers and all those people who've personally pee-ed us off in queues and whilst driving.

On my 2011 mindfulness retreat, there was a talk on the subject of Metta before we undertook the practice.  For me a penny dropped when  we was told that fostering an attitude of love didn't mean that we had to put up with ill treatment ourselves.  It is perfectly acceptable to put distance between ourselves and anyone where the relationship is consistently destructive.   Common sense I know, duh!, but it had to be spelt out.  Sometimes for a clever girl I really can be a bit dim!  Now this arrangement  may well have to be permanent but sometimes those leopards do actually change their spots and deserve another chance.  Just make sure you've got real proof of that before getting up closer again.

A friend told me this week about a  situation that they were currently in where they were being undermined and put down. This quote from Daniell Koepke  is for them and anyone else who's going through similar unacceptable circumstances.  It provides reassurance that saying goodbye is sometimes absolutely the most appropriate thing to do.

“Not all toxic people are cruel and uncaring. Some of them love us dearly. Many of them have good intentions. Most are toxic to our being simply because their needs and way of existing in the world force us to compromise ourselves and our happiness. They aren’t inherently bad people, but they aren’t the right people for us. And as hard as it is, we have to let them go. Life is hard enough without being around people who bring you down, and as much as you care, you can’t destroy yourself for the sake of someone else. You have to make your wellbeing a priority. Whether that means breaking up with someone you care about, loving a family member from a distance, letting go of a friend, or removing yourself from a situation that feels painful — you have every right to leave and create a safer space for yourself.” 

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Odd Food and Improvisation

Aaargh!  I've just deleted an entire post by accident.  Best rehash it then!

Even though I enforce a Christmas present embargo I've come back from travels to Essex and Exmouth with a whole shedload of goodies from those kind folk who are part of my life.  It seems my assurances that I'm perfectly warm and snuggly in my alpine insulated motorhome have fallen on deaf eyes.  There's a very cosy snuggly blankie with matching cushion, bed socks and a scented candle, presumably to warm my hands on should both the gas and electricity systems.  Don't they know that I'm not a Skinny Minnie because I've purposefully built up a fat layer to insulate in emergencies.  Oh no, it has nothing to good with being greedy at all!

There's was also a lot of delicious goodies to eat.  As the Second Martha Stewart and her family were flying back to the US the next day she was adamant that I should help clear the fridge and cupboards.  I came home laden with an organic pork tenderloin, smoked salmon (starring here!), marscapone, salted caramel pots from Grand Central Station's food fayre and unbelievably leftover GU desserts.  They didn't last long when they got back to the van I can tell you.

Another gift was a homemade loaf from my dad.  I thought long and hard about whether I brought a toaster along with me on my motorhome adventure.  At the last minute I popped it in storage.  Toast can be made in the halogen cooker, or more easily in a frying pan.  It's kept warm on the lid while the eggs simultaneously steam and cook to perfection with a soft yolk and lacy bottom.

Even though I've got way less gadgets and tools than in my conventional kitchen I can pretty much create anything that I would have done before.  It's just taking a bit of creativity and innovation.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Big Views and Bin Bags

Do you remember that 'Simplify Your Life' angel card that I was constantly drawing when preparing to downsize my living accommodation from a regular three bedroomed house to a six metre motorhome?  Well it still comes up repeatedly, a constant reminder to pare down.  Not that it stops me being a naughty clothes horse; two T-shirts, a rather natty pink sweat top and a lace fringed black jumper have come my way since I last 'fessed up about buying new possessions.  I think that I'm just going to have to accept that this is always going to be a weak point for me. As penitence I will be sending six items of clothing  to the charity shop.  Somehow things still got through the decluttering process that I never wear.

I don't think the process of simplification has just applied to possessions.  It refers to how I spend my time too.   I seem to have lots more of it now.  It doesn't feel that I'm just trying to fit in time for myself and loved ones around  work, looking after a child and squeezing in studying.   These gaps have the potential of allowing me to follow paths that I might not have taken when I felt so time pressured.

After a hectic few days of socialising I'm back at the motorhome and spent the day alone yesterday.  There was time to nap, meditate, cook a bit pot of dal and walk amongst  other things.  Oh, and I caught up with the immensely silly Miranda Christmas Specials, the first telly that I've watched for ages.  I think the van was rocking from all the giggling fits.   Yeah, yeah I know its fictitious but it's lovely to see that there's out there who's even more accident prone than me (and Lou!).  And she got Gary, yay!  I tell you something, if ever someone proposes to be using something like a pickled onion Monster Munch as a ring I'll know I've met my zany old match!  There's no plans for the rest of this weekend either but I reckon I'll seek out some company before I turn into an odd old bird!

I've found a beautiful place to walk around not far from the campsite.  Heathland  with 360 degree vistas from the moor to the sea leads onto wooded paths.   I found this though which saddened me.  It's been created by somebody who hasn't quite grasped the correct way to dispose of their unwanted possessions.  If it's you, though I doubt that you read my blog, can you come and collect your stuff and dump it somewhere more appropriate than the Devon countryside.   You didn't get your decluttering and simplification right the first time around!

Friday, 2 January 2015

Unscientific Studies

Most of my January will be dry. No lovely cider, beer or wine will pass my lips for twenty four days.  Boo hoo! I think coffee might be out as well. Unlike others, I'm not doing it to raise money for alcohol related charities or merely as a panacea to Christmas excess. There's a different reason.  Read on!

To counter all that  evidence based stuff that I have to consider in my master's study I've decided to laugh doggedly rigid academic research in the face in pursuing another interest.  Years ago I had a Level 1 Reiki attunement that would have allowed me to become a licensed practitioner.  For lots of reasons, it never happened. Now after receiving treatments myself  and finding them helpful it feels like the right time to explore the potential of Reiki to heal myself and others systematically, with a bit more depth.

The chap is Dr Mikao Usui who developed this system of energy healing during a 21 day meditation fest on a Japanese mountain.  His story is here.  I've listened to it as part of an online Reiki course that I'm doing to progress me through each of the three levels of training that leads to the title of Reiki Master.   So far I'm really impressed with the material.  It's a lot more comprehensive and reflective than the information that was given to me when I had the face to face training.

So my initial three days of dryness (boo hoo again!) prepares me for re-attunement at Reiki 1.  There follows 21 days of self healing after which I'll need to practice on others until I feel ready to take the higher attunements.  Not sure where this particular journey is leading me.  It just felt like one that I'm supposed to take.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Bee Gees and Beelzebub

There was a man in the West End on Tuesday outside one of the Tube Stations.  He was carrying a placard that said 'You'll go to hell'.  Except it didn't quite say that.  I know that the grammar wasn't right but I don't recall the words that he'd used.  I felt compelled to let him know that I disagreed so went up to him, looked him in the eyes and told him 'No.'  How dare he tar everyone with the same brush!

I'm trying to live a life fostering gratefulness and compassion towards myself and others.  Sometimes I get it well wrong and do my best to make amends.  Like when I called Louis a Nazi for choosing too much of his crappy boy band music in the car on the way back to Devon yesterday when I was sorely in need of some cheesy Bee Gees!  I said sorry and we ended up laughing at my choice of words. My tongue is too quick sometimes.  On other occasions it fails to speak out when it ought.  No-one is perfect but I think that there's a lot of us out there who're trying hard to be decent human beings.  Our best is good enough, I'm certain.

So heartfelt warm wishes  to you for 2015.  May this New Year bring love, meaning and purpose. Here, no goals or resolutions have been chipped away in stone.  My masonry tools are in storage after all.  Unfettered by the ties of a conventional home. I'm looking forward to taking the opportunities that are given to me,  sharing good times and laughter and overcoming probably unavoidable adversity with those who are dear to me. As in previous years  I'll be learning from my mistakes along the way.  Surely that won't condemn to me to an eternity of having my bum licked by flames?