Thursday, 19 September 2019

Is He Is Too Important For Your Party?

The "He" being the chemical symbol for the gas Helium, used to fill party balloons the world over. There is currently a global shortage of helium. In recent months, the price of helium has risen significantly - three times this year, each time going up between eight and ten percent.
That means that you will have to pay more for the balloon you give your grandchild, or take to the hen party, or tie to the hospital bed. The balloon companies complain that rising prices mean people are buying fewer balloons for decorating their party venues.
But my question is - should we be buying these balloons in the first place?
They are 'single use plastic'
They float away - and a high percentage do escape their owners clutches, either accidentally, or as part of a 'balloon race' - and then clog up the oceans and hedges and endanger or kill animals, birds and fishes
Those two reasons alone ought to be enough to make us stop and think 
But my question is - is this a reasonable use of a finite resource?
Helium is used for many other things - it is used in diving apparatus, it is used in rocket launches, it is used in the manufacture of computers, mobile phones, TV screens, in welding, in cryogenics, and for medical purposes.
Yes, Helium is used for a number of significant medical purposes
When I was taken ill in January, I had to have a brain scan. MRI scanners depend on helium, to keep their huge magnets cool. MRI scanners have revolutionised the diagnostic procedures in all branches of medicine.
Heliox is an oxygen/helium mixture which can be used to ventilate babies, children and adults with breathing difficulties. It is significant in the treatment of asthmatic patients.
So my question is - if the global supply of helium is limited, should we be pumping it into rainbow coloured plastic unicorn balloons - or ensuring that we keep more of it to help babies breathe, and to make faster diagnoses of cancer and other conditions? 
David Cole-Hamilton, Emeritus Professor of Chemistry at the University of St Andrews, believes that given its importance in medicine, the use of helium for balloons should be banned. Given than the supply is limited, it is absurd that around 10% of this noble gas is used for party balloons. He says  "If you said to people 'Do you want a helium balloon, or an MRI scan for your daughter?' it's an obvious choice"
I am inclined to agree with him. 
What do you think?

Wednesday, 18 September 2019

I Should Lick The Stamps Myself!

Om Monday evening, I went to see Downton Abbey at the cinema. I knew that Bob wasn't really interested, so asked around at church to see if anyone would like to come with me. I ended up booking TEN tickets. [note to self- next time check seating plan- I was reading it upside down, so we were nearer the front than I'd intended]
It was glorious fun.  There will be no spoilers in this review- but if you didn't like DA on TV, don't bother reading any further. "I don't know the characters, and so I don't really care about the film" said Bob. Which is OK- I slept through his new DVD of Gormenghast last weekend.
All the usual characters from Lord Grantham's household - plus the King and Queen, and their daughter Mary, Princess Royal plus husband, Henry Lascelles [Lord Harewood]. And The Queens chief lady-in-waiting, Maud Bagshaw.
Geraldine James played the Queen- brilliantly. She always looks like she ought to be a Redgrave [The Royal Family of English theatre?], but isn't related. There are strong hints about happiness of  the Harewood marriage [he was 15 years her senior] and there were certainly rumours throughout the 1920s about that.
Maud Bagshaw is an invented character - you can see her in the top picture standing on Lord Grantham's left. Imelda Staunton plays her extremely well, and she brings a good twist to the story.
Carson comes out of retirement for the royal visit. You couldn't really have a Downton film without him. How would Lady Mary cope, for one thing?
He is played by Jim Carter.
And this is the bit that I love- Jim is happily married, in real life, to Imelda Staunton. He's well over 6 feet tall, she just tops 60". I approve of such an arrangement. Marry a man you can lookup to, said my mother. I did, and so did Imelda!
The Dowager Duchess, Maggie Smith, gets some of the best lines. In one discussion about the idea of whether or not two characters should start a correspondence, she clearly does not disapprove. "Dislike it? I should lick the stamps myself!" [note to younger blog readers - in the good old days, stamps were not self-adhesive!]
OK, the plot is ridiculous but it is fun to watch. It will be on TV over Christmas before long, I am sure. The scenery, the costumes, the pomp&ceremony, the bustle of the kitchens, and the swish of the gowns....all the stuff we expect from Julian Fellowes is there.
Only two minor quibbles

  1.  I am not sure that "conspiracy theory" and "government cover-up" were terms in general use in 1923
  2. A gown which does not fit is altered. I know it is a film and therefore there were two separate garments - but I am not convinced that a gown like the first could actually be altered to create one like the second. But I'm just being picky - the costumes were great, on the whole. Do take note of Hugh Bonneville's splendid calves, in his formal knee breeches at the ball!
A great evening with good friends, and a film we all enjoyed *****

Tuesday, 17 September 2019

Cheap Chupney!

There we were, having a sandwich, in BH24, Ringwood the other Tuesday.. This is one of my favourite places for a snack.
"Oh no!" said Bob "not another picture of me eating!" He had a cheese toastie. I had peanut butter and banana on sourdough, drizzled with honey and raisins. It was delicious, if rather sweet!
But they have a bookshelf full of cookbooks on the wall behind the table, and you can read whilst waiting for your food.
I took down "The Modern Preserver" by Kylee Newton. It was so interesting - covering all sorts of preserving methods - from chutney to kimchi, jam to gin! Lots of practical details, clear instructions,and lovely photographs. Having been given so many tomatoes and apples lately, I was interested in the tomato chutney recipe. This is the recipe that started Kylee off [read her 2015 Guardian article here]
I took out my phone and photographed the page!
I did tweak the recipe a little- I was determined to make the chutney with as little outlay as possible. I had the tomatoes and apples already. I bought a bag of onions on the way home.
I didn't have any dark brown sugar - so I substituted with two thirds molasses and one third demerara [I cannot remember which recipe I bought the molasses for last year, but the jar needed using up] 
I had no lime, so just used lemon. And I don't like chilis, but put in ½tsp of garlic&chili salt.
The recipe makes 6-7 350ml jars. So I used half quantities and filled 4 smaller jars.
I had never made tomato chutney before, and the instruction to salt and drain the fruits made a lot of sense, when I realised just how much liquid came out of 500g of toms.
It bubbled away beautifully in my Le Creuset.
Before long I had four jars cooling down happily.
The texture and consistency looks good.
It will be hard to wait four weeks until it has matured!
Kylee says this is a good "Breakfast chutney". I don't usually have chutney at breakfast - its usually brown sauce or ketchup. But then, I have not purchased brown sauce since 2017 - I always make my own now, using Gil Mellor's recipe, The chief ingredient of that is leftover chutney.  So maybe I will try this one in October, when Bob cooks one of his legendary Saturday Morning Breakfasts for me!
Four jars of chutney, and all I had to purchase was a  few onions. Very satisfactory! Thank you to all my gardening friends who continue share their lovely produce.

Monday, 16 September 2019

The Magic Of A Broom.

Do you remember Calamity Jane ? Doris Day, riding shotgun on the Deadwood Stage, dodging those Indian arrows that were 'thicker than porcupine quills' ? The film would probably be frowned on now, for all sorts of reasons, but some of the songs have been stuck in my brain since childhood. The one that irritated me even then was "A Woman's Touch" - which was when Calam changed her fringed buckskin suit for a frilly frock and a pinny, and started cleaning up the cabin. How could anyone give up that exciting lifestyle for bland domesticity, I thought - and why should it be just 50% of the population who did the housework anyway? Look at these lyrics- as un-feminist as you can imagine!
A woman's touch can weave a spell
The kind of hocus pocus that she does so well
With the magic of a broom
She can mesmerize a room

It makes you blink, to stop and think
A woman and a whisk-broom
Can accomplish so darn much
So never under-estimate a woman's touch
That said, I am going to admit to a perverse pleasure in the acquisition of two brushes which have made housecleaning easier of late, especially after marathon sewing bouts. I can't show pictures of my stitching yet, as these items are for other people -but I can tell you that I managed to get the Dining Room back into use for the weekend. 
Although my Sebo vacuum cleaner is brilliant, it doesn't like all the little bits of thread and fabric trimmings which drift onto the carpet [despite my fancy new thread catcher] The beater bar collects lots of strands. I posted about that back in June. But I have solved that one now.
Meet my Wilko Stiff Bassine Brush [bassine is a form of natural fibre which makes very stiff bristles] When I finish my sewing, I crawl round the floor on my hands and knees, firmly sweeping all the threads and trimmings into a heap. I also have a small magnet to hand, to gather up any misplaced pins. It only takes 5 minutes, and then I can quickly vacuum the floor clean, and all the Sebo picks up is dust.
And here's my handy little compact brush&dustpan, made by the OXO company. This gets used for sweeping the table cloth. It is so neat and easy to use - whether I am sweeping up threads, paper trimmings after craft work, or breadcrumbs. My Mum had an ancient 'table dustpan' when I was a child, and this is the modern equivalent.
I found mine going very cheaply in John Lewis, and it lives in the dining room, where it gets plenty of use. Especially after I've been eating croissants.
I can do housework when I want to - the probably is, I do not often want to. Having appropriate tools does make the task easier though.
Here's Doris

Sunday, 15 September 2019

Nifty Fifty

Reading this article in Saturday's Guardian I discovered that it is 50 years this week since the 50p coin appeared in our pockets and purses. No more of those brown "ten bob notes"
It set me thinking about the whole 'fifty years' thing. The Israelites of the Old Testament knew all about the fiftieth year- God had declared it to be the Year of Jubilee [Leviticus 25]
Yes, there was to be jubilation - celebration of God's continuing goodness and provision
- but there were also other things which the people had to do.
Not enough just to celebrate - they had to demonstrate that God had blessed them, and they needed to bless others.
They were commanded to write off any outstanding loans, to offer freedom to the slaves, to restore property to the rightful owners, and to allow the land to lie fallow, and so that it would rest and regain strength, to produce better crops in following years. And they were to take particular care of the poor and the foreigners living among them. Wealth was to be redistributed fairly.
Restitution, restoration, redistribution, rest    - and care for the poor and the stranger. 
Strikes me we could do with some of these Jubilee Principles in our nation right now! 
[the mugs are the ones I designed for our church jubilee in London in 1989]

Saturday, 14 September 2019

Arsenic And Old Lace?

Did you ever see this crazy film? Produced in 1944 by Frank Capra [who did the Christmas Classic "It's a Wonderful Life"] It involves a young writer who falls in love with the minister's daughter who lives next door. They are preparing for their honeymoon, and he returns to the house where he was raised by two elderly aunts and other eccentric relations.
He finds a corpse...and discovers the old dears have a "ministry to end suffering" by helping old bachelors to depart this life. 
They put arsenic, strychnine and "a pinch of cyanide" in the elderberry wine and bump off the old gentleman! It's a rather dark comedy, but during WW2 it helped take people's minds off Hitler, I suppose. I have none of the poisons [nor any elderberry wine] but I do have a lot of old lace.
Much of it was given by friends when we lived in the Midlands, and I am grateful to them for that. Nottingham was once known as the Lace City, and a lot of the garments made in Leicester factories  were lace-trimmed. 
For centuries lace was handmade- then a Midlands inventor developed a machine which would make lace, and in Victorian times, yards and yards were churned out. [Read more here] I have two boxes full of lace trimmings. And I am determined to use it up purposefully.
So...this year's Christmas Tree Festival Project is going to involve lace. I am also using up some felt from the stash, and recycling the decorations from our 2016 tree. That was the year we embroidered doves, and each one hung inside a hoop which had the name of one of the "Fruits of the Spirit" stitched on it. [Love, joy, peace etc]
The hoops, cut from lemonade bottles, have got crushed in storage, so I stripped off the tape, and ironed it out.  We will use these to decorate felt crackers.
Here are two of my prototypes, made yesterday.  But when I unwrapped some ecru coloured machine-made lace from the card, I found some lovely wording underneath.
There was no attempt to persuade you this was hand-made- but a genuine pride in the quality of the product. "ERL" brand Equals Real Lace. "Insist on having it, support an all-British Industry".  In fact, they were so sure of the consistency of the product that the back of the card bears the number of the worker responsible for these 6 yards of trim. Presumably she had to write her number on that label with her pencil! Click on the picture to read the wording.
I do not know how old this lace is - I am not sure which generous member of our congregation passed it on to me. I suspect it is well over 75 years old. But this year the lace made by Worker 37 has finally come off the card, and will be used to adorn a Christmas Tree in Dorset!

Friday, 13 September 2019

Do You Have A Yen To Save?

definition yen -  a strong urge or craving
definition yen -  the Japanese unit of currency
If PanYan is a pickle, is YenYen a savings-craving?
Ideas from The Land of The Rising Sun are certainly trying to have an influence on us lately. First Marie Kondo had us all tidying our homes, then we all went to do shirin yoku [forest bathing] and now, it seems, we need to be mindful about our spending, and adopt the kakeibo philosophy when dealing with domestic finances.
Kakeibo is the Japanese term for a "Domestic Accounts Journal" [pronounced "kah-keh-boh"]
It is a way of managing a weekly/monthly spending plan with a view to meeting savings goals, living within one's means and recognising where the money goes, and developing strategies to spend less and save more.
This journal has recently been published in an English format.
There are five basic steps
1- At the start of each month write down your money goals, and how much you want to save. Review this each week. Are you on track?
2- Calculate how much money is left after essential bills have been paid each month [divide into weekly amounts]
3- Keep a detailed weekly spending log
4-Reflect each week/month on your progress
5- Write down what steps you could take to meet your goals.
"Oh -I never knew that was how you were supposed to do it - we've been going wrong all these years!" laughed Bob. Most people I know who follow a budget use something similar to this - they just don't consider it to be a Japanese Philosophy. Since my teens I have kept a spending journal like this - at first in a notebook, then for my first 5 years of marriage, using the one at the back of the Good Housekeeping Diary, and then for many years on my computer using the "Quicken" programme. Nowadays I am not quite so diligent - mainly because after 40 years of marriage, I've got a pretty good idea of where the money goes each month, and I can access my credit card/bank balance instantly online. Just occasionally I stop and monitor spending carefully for a few weeks to ensure no new spending patterns have crept in. Keeping diligent track of our financial habits has helped us get through 5 years of studying for ministry, an eleven year mortgage [paid off in nine] and now significant monthly car repayments.
I never knew the Japanese had a word for it though. You can buy this book for about £10, and learn all about the Japanese art of saving money. Or you can practice the British way of saving money, and keep your budget records in a pretty note book from Wilko at a fraction of the price!
I know that lots of you in Blogland budget carefully - what would you say was your best tip for good financial management? What has helped you most?