Tuesday 30 November 2021

Remarkably Simple, Surprisingly Useful

I used to do a series of Top Tips posts every year...I thought it was time I did something for 2021. Tips on what to keep in an Age of Minimalism

My aunt has lived in her home for over 50 years - but now her mobility is quite restricted. She used to do lots of baking - now the breadmaker, food processor, baking tins and many other gizmos and gadgets are stacked in the dining room unused. I know that Gillian was planning to have a big sort out next autumn, once she had retired. Staying in her home has caused me to re-evaluate many of my homewares. Which ones do I use enough to merit keeping? 

There are three items, from kitchen, bedroom and bathroom which I am definitely hanging on to. 

In the kitchen, my JarKey. It cost around a fiver. This is only the second one I've bought, they last for years. But they make opening jars of chutney and pickles so much easier. I'm old enough to remember jamjars having a label which said "Pierce with a pin, and push off" which amused me as a child. But this is a much safer way of releasing the vacuum. Or you can try the method Steph taught me- turn the container upside down and bang the lid hard on a folded tea towel on the counter top.
In the bedroom, my nail clippers.
So simple, a lever action, no parts to go wrong, and it packs away nice and flat. Great for trimming nails - but also for snipping those horrid plastic ties you get joining pairs of socks, or holding price tags on new garments. And for pulling away that little plastic strip round the top of some pill bottles.

In the bathroom, my hair turban. I can wrap a towel round my head after washing my hair, but it has to be exactly  the right size. To big and it collapses in a heavy wet mass down my back, too small and it comes untucked and flings itself on the floor. I can towel-dry my hair, and quickly twist on my "turbie" The sustainable bamboo fibres quickly help dry my hair, while I get oin with other jobs, then I can finish off with a brush and quick blowdry when I'm ready.

None of these items costs more than a fiver. I use them all on a regular basis. [and they'd make good stockingfiller gifts too]

Monday 29 November 2021

The Taking Of The School Photo

Back in the last millennium, the annual "School Photo" was a Big Thing. Firstly a letter went home to parents warning them of The Date. Please make sure your child is in correct school uniform. A notice would go up in the staff room, listing what time each class was due to line up outside the school hall. Do not keep the photographer waiting, we need to get every pupil photographed. And then a few weeks later, the 'proofs' were sent home along with instructions about payment.

Somehow this was so important, a record of your presence in that class, in that particular year. But as time has gone by, and cameras are so much cheaper, and it costs nothing to take a picture on your phone, and everybody is posting pictures on Facebook, Instagram and blogs, maybe it isn't the occasion it once was.

In the Hospice the other week, Gill asked me to prepare some family photos for display at the Post Funeral Tea [so they have something to make them smile, she said] 

As I laid the pictures out on a sheet of black card, I was conscious of the 1960s primary school ones all being posed in a similar way. Sat at a table, right arm across the desk, and an open book in front of her, in black and white. We have a similar one of Bob.

But there was very little consideration given to the fact these were being taken 'for posterity'. My mother was desperately upset that my primary school didn't warn parents. So on The Day, I went in wearing a second hand cardi two sizes too large, with the cuffs rolled over like donuts because the sleeve were so long.[I'd had some sort of ketchup related accident the night before, staining my regular cardi] My brother had fallen and cut his head, so the teacher combed his fringe over the wound, and caught the scab, so it was raw and bleeding. You can see the pain on Adrian's face. And as for 'smile please!" when you've just lost your front teeth...

By the 70s and 80s things were colourful. That's my sixth form picture [Dad had that on his desk for years] Backdrops and lighting were much better. Gillian often sent me Julian's school photo. The format always seemed the same, one large and four small copies of the same picture. One for the wall, two for grandparents, and two more to give away.

They have also got more relaxed about photographing siblings together - I always felt that it was unfair if you had three children, and were expected to pay three times as much. In the 'noughties' artistic shots against plain white backgrounds became trendy too.

I have absolutely no idea if there is an official school photo day at Rosie's school. I suspect there may have been a Class Picture taken last summer. But we have so many pictures now, why would we pay our for another?

Nowadays school photographers are very high tech, and everything is downloadable, payments are cashless. So teachers do not have to hand out the envelopes on a Monday, nag children on a Thursday, and count in the money on a Friday.

Did your school do one of those huge panoramic ones with everybody in it - staff seated at the front, classes in rows behind them balanced on forms and benches and the Top Year at the top? 

Do you have school photos of your children or grandchildren [or yourself]? Do they evoke happy memories? or recollections of dreadful teachers and uncomfortable uniforms? 

Sunday 28 November 2021

Pause In Advent #1

Just a little reminder from the Advent Conspiracy group as to what it's all about.

Thank you again to Kirsten for kindly organising the 2021 P in A. You can find more information about this year's bloggers over at her blog, "A Letter From Home"

Saturday 27 November 2021

Post Haste

 I really must get a move on with my Christmas preparations

I did buy some Christmas stamps this week - it being an 'odd numbered' year, they have a Nativity theme [next year will be a secular one- but you can ask for the previous year's ones if you want Jesus on your stamps!]
They are designed by Argentinian artist Jorge Cocco, who describes his style as 'sacro-cubism', blending post-cubist art with sacred events.
I'm not altogether sure I like having the barcode on the side, but this new technology will apparently help the Royal Mail to "count, sort and route the post more efficiently". I looked at my sheet, and yes, the codes appear different - each stamp is unique. I read a few articles online [memo to self; don't read densely printed stuff when tired] and wondered why "the dominatrix will improve our customer services" - then realised it said "The datamatrix"   It is not technically a barcode [bars], nor yet a QR code [Quick Response, black squares on a white square ground] These codes have been trialled since March, in the business sector, but it is the first time they have been on stamps for the general public. There is some concern that people may misunderstand and trim them off [well, yes, I get that - if you buy stamps on a sheet they have codes, but not if you buy them in a book, implying the codes are not 'necessary', and there is a wiggly line dividing the design in two]

 I quite like the actual pictures - in "subtle tones of red and blue" according to RM. Good to see Mary escaping her usual blue outfit. And I like the 2nd class Large Letter [with "Jesus, Joseph, Mary, and the Wee Donkey" - specially for those of us who are fans of Line of Duty]

Bizarrely, on the two airmail stamps, the Queens Head faces right. She usually faces left. I cannot find out why they did this.
Saturday 18th December is last date for posting 2nd Class, Tuesday 21st for 1st Class. [thats in the UK - I don't know about elsewhere in the world]


Friday 26 November 2021

Dear Deer

 Late yesterday afternoon, our Skoda was returned to us. We've been without it since November 8th. On Sunday 7th, we were driving down a country road [at 37mph according to the dashcam recording] when a roe deer jumped through a hedge right in front of the car. It was so close that there was nothing Bob could do to avoid it. Sadly the deer was fatally injured, and Bob put it on the grass by the roadside.

The car was pretty damaged too - the radiator grille was coolant fluid was pushed in, and coolant fluid was leaking out. We were both shaken, but unhurt. We drove home very carefully, and rang the insurance company immediately. The next morning Bob took it to the local VAG garage for assessment. They said it was fixable - the only problems were [a] no courtesy cars available at the moment [b] there's a big delay on delivery of parts right now. "Don't be surprised if it is well into December"

This didn't matter in the short term - we have bicycles, my Toyota and bus passes. But I was anxious about driving to Essex next week for the funeral, as we had stuff to bring back from my aunt's house. The Toyota is rather small, and less comfortable for my tall husband to fit behind the wheel for a long journey. Bob rang the garage earlier this week. They said the parts were just in, they hoped to have it fixed "by the weekend". In fact, we had a phone call at 3pm yesterday saying it was ready.

Thank you East Bilney Coachworks for getting it back to us much sooner than we had expected [and so clean!] and Saga Car Insurance- everything worked really efficiently. It is the first damage we have had to the car in 3½ years. All we've had to pay is the excess. It was indeed a dear deer. In years gone by, I might have been more upset - but it is just a vehicle, and it has been fixed. [I am truly sorry about the poor deer though]

I'm told that here in Norfolk, apart from 'regular' vehicular collisions, the three main repair jobs for the coachworks are deer strikes, collisions with slow moving farm vehicles, and skidding into ditches in bad weather. 

The weather is becoming wintry now - drive carefully my friends, wherever you are!

Thursday 25 November 2021

Pause In Advent

Huge thank you from me to Kirsten, who is taking over the hosting of Pause in Advent this year. Check her blog here for more details. 

She will be listing all participants this Christmastide - so check her sidebar and find some thought provoking, encouraging posts from bloggers all round the globe. And if you feel able, sign up and contribute a post or more yourself!

There is more to Christmas preparation than shopping and decorating

Wednesday 24 November 2021

Seven Weeks To Go...

 ...till January 12th.

that's the birthday of French author Charles Perrault [he wrote Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood etc]

And also the birthday of Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon 

But as far as I am concerned, it is

The Day We See A New Dentist!

Let joy be unconfined! I shall continue stocking my Etsy shop, and let us hope [to quote M. Perrault] that I, and my Handsome Prince will live happily ever after. I'm brushing and flossing diligently, and dreaming of a crown. 


Tuesday 23 November 2021

Fishing For Compliments

Whilst I consider myself a very thrifty and frugal person [bordering on mean and penny-pinching, I admit] I think there are times when it is good to 'push the boat' out, and have a little treat. 
So a "Cream Tea" where the scones are accompanied by two tiny china dishes with a dollop or cream in one, and a spoonful of budget supermarket red jam in the other, does not score as highly as the one with a proper pot of Rodda's Clotted, and a gingham topped jar of Bonne Maman preserve. 

 So I think it is good, if buying a present, to give something attractive and of quality. I'm trying to give more presents which are useful - and 'consumable' as I feel this is better for the planet. I was very excited last year to receive a present from The Tinned Fish Company.

This is a small outfit, based in Manchester. The owner, Patrick, met some men working at the fish canneries near Porto, Portugal. He was on the lookout for small family producers who shared his vision of quality, sustainability, and style.

From this encounter grew a company which sells Tinned Fish [the clue is in the name] 

but not just boring cans of pilchards - these are gloriously colourful, flavoursome celebrations of the harvest of the sea. Just reading through their website is a delight in itself. 

If you are looking for gifts for the 'foodies' among your family and friends, then do consider this site. 

The packaging* is beautiful and recyclable, and the contents are delicious. Yes, it does cost more  - but Bonne Maman strawberry costs more than Lidl basic jam - you get what you pay for. [*as well as the attractive tins, the outer boxes and wrapping are stylish]

Since receiving my present, I have given TFC products as gifts to a few people, and they have been really well received. It's something a little different- and of course, being in tins, does not have to be eaten immediately! You can send them as gifts - or order them all to your address [cheaper] and distribute yourself. And there is even a monthly subscription service.

They've just introduced a "Three" range, which gives a taster of various types of fish in different sauces [twelve options to choose from] but their products can be bought singly, in huge hampers - or in trays or boxes. And because the photography on the website is so well done, they now sell art-prints as well - sales of which help a Manchester Charity, Lifeshare.

Tuna, Mackerel, Anchovies, Sardines, Octopus, Mussels, Clams, Scallops. Cockles, Squid and more [fish in sauce, in soups, in pat├ęs - as well as recipe books and other stuff] Do check them out, you might find just the gift you are looking for.

Monday 22 November 2021

The French Connection...

Two years ago, I went with a group of friends from church to see the first Downton Abbey film. It was indeed, sheer escapism, but if you enjoy DA, then it was a fun film. 

"Next year" I declared at the time, "we must go to Highclere Castle, before we retire. It is only 50 miles from Ferndown, but almost 200 from Cornerstones"

Now I know Bob wasn't that thrilled by the prospect -but I'm sure we would have managed it if it had not been for covid. But never fear, there is a second film coming out. I believe it is due to be released on March 18th, 2022 - and by then I might feel confident enough to go and sit in the cinema again. The plot centres on a villa in France inherited by the Dowager Duchess [aka Dame Maggie Smith]

Bob won't want to go to this one either - maybe I can find a few friends from the church here to come with me! Do you think you will go and see it?

Sunday 21 November 2021


 "Hope" was my #word365 for 2017 - 

On October 25th - we were in Norwich and I bought a Christmas decoration in a charity shop - it was a few days after Bob was declared free of coronary heart disease, and life seemed bright, full of hope. I normally buy [or make] one new decoration this year - and this cutout wooden shape [only 50p!] appealed to me. 

The following morning, we had the phonecall from Julian about Gill's awful diagnosis. 

I was talking to someone this past week who is also recently bereaved. We talked of our hope of heaven. That hope was Gill's anchor- her faith kept her firm and secure, as she faced death. 

Ps 42 says "Why are you cast down my soul? hope in God for I shall praise Him again" I know that the roller coaster of bereavement brings a load of mixed emotions-  the memories bring laughter and tears, gratitude for what we shared, and grief for what we've lost. 

Advent begins soon. This year I am taking a break from organising the Pause in Advent blogfest. I know you will understand. If anyone else wants to take it on, and compile a list of participants, that would be wonderful. 

At the moment, I am finding myself often singing that old hymn, which talks about the great faithfulness of God - and his promise of "Strength for today, and bright hope for tomorrow" - and that is keeping me going right now. 

Saturday 20 November 2021

Splashit And Run

 ...the well known firm of Painters and Decorators, have just turned up in the village. 

Somehow our carefully planned to-do list for the work on Cornerstones fell by the wayside. Life [and sadly death] got in the way. But hard work is a good coping mechanism, when things go awry. Friday was fine, so we decided to put the weatherproofing treatment on the Lathe Palace. Bob has a spray applicator but we couldn't use it without thinning down the product. So we donned our overalls and set to work with brushes...

Pastor Bob did the high bits, and SuperGran did the low bits. Although the interior of the Lathe Palace is not properly fitted out yet, Bob's moved his tools in, and has a workbench, where he had already been able to work on a few projects. He is so happy to have warmth and space, and light - a proper workshop at last!
I'm sure the sunshine and fresh air did me good - I am feeling utterly drained after my time in Essex.

Friday 19 November 2021

Salad Days

The tatsoi in row 5 of the raised bed has been an unmitigated failure. One of the twelve plants has grown. Slightly. The largest of these 4 leaves was slightly bigger than a 2p piece. And tasted of nothing really...I shall try something else in that row [mizuma?] next autumn.

Huw's suggestion of growing microgreens on the window sill is having mixed results. Microgreens are not the same as sprouts I have had an excellent crop of pea shoots and by harvesting them carefully, they produced a second crop. They've added a lovely extra flavour to my salads, and provided a vibrant garnish for soups etc.
This is 'land cress'- I thought it might grow bigger, I have harvested half my crop to make a garnish - this is growing on a silicon 'hydrator sheet' - which is supposed to be cleaner and easier than compost.
I decided to grow just a few radish seeds in a small ready-meals tub. I think I was not generous enough with my seeds- the shoots are small and spindly. All this lot has been harvested and went in a salad yesterday. 
I'm getting a Pyrex bowl full of leaves every day, but I know this will come to an end soon. The spinach and garlic rows have been covered with a leaf mulch now [thanks to Val round the corner] So all in all it has been an excellent autumn in terms of produce. I'm enthused for next year. Kezzie gave me some seeds which she had saved from her crops. 

I'm thrilled to report that even with three days in Essex, eating Julian's superb shepherd's pie, speculoos tarts, and fudge cake, my weight has not gone up at all.
I realised I know nothing about the musical Salad Days. Originally a West End hit in London, with over 2200 performances, it was the longest running show, until overtaken by My Fair Lady in 1956. It has had a few revivals since. Many with rather poor reviews- mainly because of the quite bizarre plot involving two Oxford graduates, an assortment of eccentric uncles, a magic piano and a spaceship. I think it is fair to say it was "of its time" and that time is probably not 2021 in a time of Covid. Please let me know if you have seen it on stage, and if you enjoyed it!

Thursday 18 November 2021

Is Bob A Saboteur?

I've never really considered "Crocs" as the sort of fashion item I wish to wear. But I acknowledge that they are a very functional piece of footwear. Like like workers in a fishmarket, where the floor is often wet, medical personnel who need to be able to clean every garment, children who want to run along a pebbly beach and then paddle...

all these people and more find crocs/plastic clogs extremely practical. I treated myself to some garden clogs - and they have proved brilliant - I can go into the Futility Room, take off my slippers and step into my little purple clogs, and dash outside to move the wheelie bins, or grab a handful of salad leaves or whatever.

Bob had two pairs of wellies - one set in Dorset, one here at Cornerstones. He's cut the 'cuffs' from one pair, and now he has some garden clogs too.

We were taught at school that the word 'saboteur' came from the industrial revolution, when French workers threw their shoes [sabots] into the machinery to stop it working. It seems this may be incorrect, the word sabotage originally meant to do your work badly [clomping along noisily in your sabots] as an alternative to going on strike.

Yes Bob has 'destroyed' a pair of wellies - but in such a way as to make them into something very useful.

As long as he doesn't take up clog dancing, I shan't mind!

Wednesday 17 November 2021

A Busy Day

I spent Tuesday morning helping Julian sort his Mum's clothes. She was a generous person and always eager to support charities and bless those who were less fortunate. We took seven bags of garments to the local CS. Then we returned her uniforms to Wilko. We were very touched to see a Memory Tree in the entrance.  A staff member has already done a sponsored run in Gill's name. The Deputy Manager took time to chat to us in her office. 
She said that on Sunday when they heard the news, her staff were really upset. They delayed opening the store by 1½hours. She anticipates Rob's run, the Staff collection, and the Memory Tree will raise around £1K for Cancer Research. What an amazing tribute.
Later in the day, I went to the station, and met my blogfriend Kezzie from the train. We have never met in person before, although we've corresponded and telephoned a lot over the years. Some time ago, Kezzie was kind enough to visit my Auntie Peggy in hospital for me, when I was unable to get down to Essex. Yesterday she broke her journey home from school so we could share a cuppa together in Romford. 
We had such a good time, and it really helped to lift my spirits. Kezzie is great - I love her blog, and she's just as much fun in real life. Note our matching striped Bretton tops. And she's so fast at folding up her Brompton Bike! She insisted on staying at the Bus Stop with me till my bus came. Thanks Kezzie for your generous spirit and unfailing kindness. 
More busy-ness today, home to Bob tonight. 

Tuesday 16 November 2021

Pick Me Up

In the Treviso dialect, in the Veneto region of Italy, the phrase tireme su means pick me up. Fifty years ago, a restaurateur named Ado Camoeol, along with his wife Alba developed a dish containing mascarpone cheese, eggs, sugar,  coffee soaked biscuits and cocoa powder. He called it tiramisu, claiming it gave diners energy [and maybe had aphrodisiac powers too] Ado's original recipe contained no alcohol, he wanted it to be a family dish. It became popular the world over. Ado died last week aged 93.

I mention this because I received in the post this lovely booklet at the weekend. It came from Jenny and Peter in Ferndown, but is produced by Uckfield Baptist Church in Sussex [where both the Pastor's wife Deborah, and another member, Jill are good friends] 

And it's called Pick Me Up. It came about because one member was ill, and people in the church sent encouraging Bible Verses. I believe his wife collated these into the booklet and added her own illustrations. Here are a few pages. 

I passed it on to Auntie Peggy, who has found it very  comforting. 

Thank you all for your love and kind words. We are getting there, but it's hard. A date for the Thanksgiving has been fixed, and the Pastor is coming to visit before I return to Norfolk tomorrow afternoon. There have been some difficult minutes, and also some laughter - sorting through photos, remembering happy times. 

Julian and I left the sorting, and admin to go to a local tea shop where we shared a humongous piece of fudge cake [diet? What diet?] And I will have a Very Special Treat later today, a bright spot in a dark week. More on that later... 

Monday 15 November 2021

Goodbye Gill

March 2018. I took Liz and Rosie to Romford. Auntie Peggy and cousin Gill were thrilled to see my first grandchild. Julian, Gill's son took the photo of the five of us, aged between 2 and 89. I treasure this picture. 
Sadly early yesterday morning Gillian died - she was at peace, with Julian at her bedside, in the St Francis Hospice. Just 6 days after her 65th birthday - and less than three weeks after the aggressive cancer was diagnosed. 
It is still hard to take in - so suddenly the bright, cheerful, young-at-heart woman, who was like a sister, to me has gone. I'm staying in Romford with my aunt for a few days, to help Julian with all the necessary arrangements. 
I'm trying to focus on the good memories, silly childhood games, giggling teenagers, over-tired young Mums, shared holidays, Christmas family get-togethers. 
I'm typing this at midnight, sitting on a mattress in my aunt's spare bedroom - which is a boxroom, full of odd bits and pieces, electric fans only used in the summer, rolls of Christmas wrapping paper, an old eiderdown, random electrical bits and spare kitchen gadgets - and an absurd "Elf on the Shelf" lying drunkenly on top of a stack of boxes. Gill despaired of ever getting her Mum's stuff sorted out. "When I retire..." she'd say "... perhaps... " But that will never happen now. 
If I close my eyes I can imagine Gill's grin, hear her laugh, teasing me in her strong Essex accent "Oh Ang..." I know she wouldn't want us to be paralysed by grief, she said that quite firmly when she instructed us in her carefully thought out funeral plans. She knew these days would be difficult for her son and her Mum - and in the short time she had to prepare herself for dying, she did all she could to help them through. 
She brought magic and sparkle into so many situations throughout her life, and she will be greatly missed, by family, friends and colleagues. We were blessed to have known her, grateful for the love and joy she dispensed with such generous enthusiasm. 
God bless you Gill - Rest in peace, and rise in glory. 

Sunday 14 November 2021

Justice, Mercy, Humility

I found an envelope containing half a dozen of these- pregummed paper labels which enable you to reuse old envelopes. 

They cover the original address, and fold over to the back. I bought 200 of them for about £2 when I was a student in the early 1970s. I wrote and received lots of letters then, and I liked the idea of recycling, and also of supporting Amnesty, which is a brilliant charity. Only a few labels remain.
This is my Amnesty teaspoon, which I have had for many years. In the bowl, there is a dove - but not with the conventional olive branch - but rather the end of a piece of barbed wire.
Amnesty has been around since the 1960s defending human rights, speaking out for those imprisoned without a fair trial. I fully support their aims. As the OT prophet Micah says, we are called to
"Act justly, love mercy and walk humbly"

Right now, Amnesty are working especially hard to bring two parents home for Christmas - Nazanin Zaghari Ratcliffe, and Anoosheh Ashoori, British Iranians, currently imprisoned in Iran. 
Our government has let these people down terribly. It is four years since Boris Johnson promised Gabriella, Nazanin's daughter, that he would "leave no stone unturned" in efforts to bring that little girl's Mum back to her. 
I was cheering at Victoria Coren-Mitchell on HIGNFY on Friday night, as she spoke out about this hypocrisy. She too has a young daughter, and I'm sure she feels as strongly about this as I do. Her husband, David Mitchell had an excellent piece in the Guardian, pointing out that Liz Truss, the Foreign Secretary, met Richard, Nazinin's husband last week...  She expressed her sympathies but didn’t resolve to do much else. A few hours later, she tweeted merrily, amid a flurry of emoticons, on the subject of international travel opening up, that “family and friends can reunite”, which, as well as being staggeringly insensitive, doesn’t suggest that the Ratcliffes’ horrendous situation had particularly touched her. 

The prophet Isaiah tells us to "learn to do right, seek justice, and defend the oppressed" The Queen has declared her irritation with people who "talk but don't do"

I am praying for Nazanin, Anoosheh and their families - and supporting Amnesty in their efforts to bring them home. Praying too that Prime Minister and the rest of the Government will learn the virtues of Justice, Mercy and Humility. 

[HIGNFY = Have I Got News For You. BBC programme shown on Friday Nights]