Sunday, 25 December 2011

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas to all my readers. I have loved blogging this year and I have loved reading all of your blogs too. Sorry that my posts have been few and far between recently, but I think that you all understand why (still no internet by the way). 2012 is going to bring a lot of change for me and I think that I will have plenty to post about once I start sorting out my house and living on a more strict budget, I am all ready to start and log all the changes on here, so hope that you will continue to share my journey with me.

A big thank you to you all, it is amazing the sort of encouragement I feel from your comments.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Some Pictures.

I have taken a few photos on my phone of the empty rooms of my new house. This can be the starting point, the before pictures as it were. It may take me months, years even, to finish it how I want, but it will be a good reminder of where I started.



The lovely and sunny living room. The patio doors need replacing as they offer no security what so ever and the seal has gone.



The kitchen, pretty basic, don't know if the cookers work yet, but it will have to do for a good while.


The master bedroom


The spare bedroom


The bathroom, not my favourite, but again, perfectly alright to live with until I can afford to change it - never a great fan of a carpeted bathroom!


The garage. One day I hope to convert this to be a part of the house, probably will make it my kitchen, but a lot of saving up before that happens.

So now you have had a tour.

As I was out in the street on my hands and knees reading my water meter earlier today another of my new neighbours drove past waving and with huge smiles on their face. So nice to feel welcomed!

Friday, 9 December 2011

Here we go!

Hello Everyone and welcome to my new followers, the number seems to have gone up significantly since I was last here.
Thank you too to those nominations I was given for a liebster award, I am not ignoring it, just haven't had time to follow it up and post about it yet, will do soon. I am very delighted that people think that my blog is worthy!

Today I got the keys to my new house!

It is a bit later than expected and has been a bit more complicated that you could believe, but I am going to focus now on the one main and important bit - I now own my house in the country!

I won't be moving in just yet for many reasons, but am going to take this opportunity to clean, maybe make a start on some of the (cheap) renovations that I can manage in the freezing cold and make it warm, safe and secure.

The amount of work is so huge and the shear quantity of paperwork that needs dealing with is so long that I can hardly bring myself to begin it, you know when you have so much to do that you can't take it in and it seems easier to just do none of it!

I don't have any internet in there right now, so I am using the internet here at my friends house a couple of miles away when I need to do stuff - the result being that my time on here is limited. Also I am working in Switzerland next week, (very poor timing) followed by Christmas and New Year, so everything is kind of on hold at the moment. I will however take some photos of it in its present empty condition soon as I can and get them up here - then you will all know from where I am starting this journey.
Today I cleaned the kitchen, had a boiler man around to service the boiler which now seems to be running happily and getting the place warm. Tomorrow I will clean the bathroom and change the loo seat (can't bring myself to use one when I don't know who had it before!)

The other delightful thing I did was to knock on the neighbours door and introduce myself (something that never happens in London) Not only was he delightful but he asked me in and gave me a tour of his house so that I could see the changes he made (his house is the same design exactly, but he has completely changed all the interior layout). The first time in my life that I have known been into my neighbours house! How different things are here.

Thank you to everyone for your sharing this with me over the last 8 months or so. Now the fun can really begin. I am very happy.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Why I'm moving to the country.

Hello everyone,
It has been quite a long time since my last post, sorry about that. There has been quite a lot on my plate this last couple of weeks, but we are getting there. Still no definite move date but hoping it won't be too long now.
I am back staying with friends in Lancashire now, they live 2 miles from the house I am buying, so it has been good to begin to learn the area in which I am about to spend my life.



Anyway, yesterday morning I got up early, as I usually do on a Sunday and I took my friends dog for a walk in the nature reserve which is just behind his house. It was foggy and dank but everything was so beautiful to my untrained eyes. I am more used to seeing refuse bags spilled over streets, empty bottles lying in the road outside pubs, fridge freezers in peoples front gardens - such are the delights of the Croydon area of London.


Well this got me thinking about my reasons for moving from the city.
I moved to London exactly half my life ago, when I was 19. At the time it was an exciting move, I was leaving home for the first time, to study there and live with other students in the suburbs as you do. Like everyone else, the travelling and the expense got me down. Other friends of mine who had chosen to study at uni in other cities would tell me about their accommodation being a 10 minute walk away from the campus and that it cost them peanuts compared with my ridiculously priced room, 45 minutes away. But still, I stuck it out, delighting in all the things London had to offer, it is true, it really is a 24 hour city and you can never be bored. As I got my first jobs they automatically tended to be in London and I began to make a life for myself, friends still lived there although arranging to meet was full of hassles, because, unless you are very lucky, no-one lives near you and you always end up leaving an hour to get anywhere, be it by car or by public transport. As the years moved on and the travel card became more expensive and the rents began to increase to an un-manageable level, I began to dream about leaving. I would have visions of a small house in the country, roses around the door, no noise at night. But then in my waking hours I would think about starting again by myself somewhere new, leaving behind the friends I had in London and trying to make it work. Sometimes it seemed impossible.
So now that bring me to a year ago. I was 37, very disillusioned with my life there, the country dream was still haunting me every night. Increasingly I was sickened by the waste and commercialism I was bombarded with everywhere I went, the dirt and the mess. No longer did 24 hour London seem exciting and full of opportunity and entertainment, now it just seemed a place where people could waste huge amounts of money and waste their life in pursuit of attaining more money, more possessions, in short, MORE EXCESS.
So the decision became a simple one, did I want to submerge myself in a city where no-one was interested in you, unless they could part you from your money in one way or another, or did I seriously want to put into practice all those things I had been dreaming of for years? Did I want to spend 2 hours a day on a hideously crowded train and underground or did I want to have miles of open space around me? Did I want to live somewhere that money is all that matters, or did I want to earn much less money but have a hugely increased quality of life?

It's what they call a no-brainer.

Now I am on the brink of moving and walking through the countryside early yesterday morning I could feel the years of London beginning to loosen their hold on me, I felt more relaxed than I have for years and although I know there are tough times to come, I also know that they will be worth it.

I will leave you with photos of my walk yesterday, bear in mind I am no David Bailey and these were taken on my rubbish little phone camera, but you get the idea.....













Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Granny's meat and potato pie.

My granny was a really wonderful woman, running her household like clockwork, making wonderful meals out of very few, cheap ingredients and never wasting anything. She would be knitting in her spare time and was always doing various different night school classes to learn a new skill. I remember her showing me a small bookcase she had made at woodworking class. She painted, did crochet, wonderful embroidery and would never be found being idle.



I would go around there for my tea every Friday evening and while my grandad read the paper my granny would tirelessly play games with me, she loved card games, but would learn anything new, so we added cludo, game of life and ker-plunk to the game repertoire.



Her life ran like clockwork, literally. Lunch was on the table at 12 precisely and would be a hot cooked lunch. Tea would be on the table at 5 and would consist of sandwiches and home made cake with a cup of tea. They would have an apple at 7 and a mug of hot chocolate at 9 before bed. Not many of us nowadays are able to run meals with this much precision because of working hours and commuting (my grandad, when he was working, owned a garage nearby and so was able to come home for his lunch and tea).

She was the original make do and mender.

Now my biggest treat of all when I was growing up was her meat and potato pie. I absolutely loved this, more than any other food and she would make it for me if I was ever able to get there at lunchtime instead of tea, so it was mainly school holidays that I would have it. When I was older I got her to show me how she made it so that I could do it myself and although it was a few years still before I left home and had to start to cook for myself, I stored away the knowledge of exactly how it was made. Now, I think I am the only one left in the family who knew her exact method and this last week when I was visiting my parents I made it for my mum. It is strange that somehow she never had known how to make it and was delighted when I presented it to her.

So now I am back in London and feeling a bit stressed with house moving issues, I decided to make myself one last night and thought that I would share the method. It is cheap and cheerful and real comfort food.

Granny's Meat and Potato Pie

Ingredients:

a pack of mince beef (500g)
450ml beef stock (made from a cube in my case)
1 medium onion (finely chopped)
3 largish potatoes, peeled and chopped to bite sized pieces (the sort that don't collapse too much when cooked)
250g (ish) of frozen mixed veg
Pastry (either home made shortcrust or shop bought shortcrust if you can't be bothered - sometimes I do either depending on how lazy I am feeling)

The pie can be baked in a large casserole dish with the crust covering or sometimes I make 2 or 3 smaller ones which can be frozen.

Method

Chop and fry the onion until soft. Add the mince and fry to colour. add the potatoes, the quantity should look an equal mix of potato to meat so adjust to your own taste.
Add the beef stock and if necessary, top up with some hot water so the potatoes are not sticking out too much. cover and simmer for about 15/20 mins. Season well with salt.
When the potatoes are all but cooked, add the veg and remove the lid, crank up the heat so that most of the liquid can get boiled away, and it should hopefully leave you with a pie filling that is moist, but not wet, thick and lovely. Check the seasoning and add more if you think it needs it.

Place the filling into a dish or two, depending on how many and what size you are making and having rolled out the pastry to accommodate this, place the pastry on top, putting two holes in and brushing with egg or milk. Place in a 200degree oven for about 25 minutes or until the pastry is golden.




This particular recipe and quantity has made enough for 5 portions, so as you can see, it is very economical.

My granny had other wonderful recipes that have been lost in the midst of time, I have never tasted biscuits as nice or a sponge cake as moist. If only they had all been written down.

Monday, 7 November 2011

The cottage in the woods

Hello everyone, and welcome to my new recent subscribers.
OK, I will give you all another hint at my new house, still not tempting fate too much because there have been a couple of problems with the woman buying my flat (fingers crossed it works out), but all seems to sort of be ok now. Anyway, I will give you another taster of what I am buying.



You can see enough to know that the cottage is very small and the location is VERY rural, yet luckily it is still walking distance from shops: butcher, baker and small supermarket. What else could I need?
It needs tons of work, at least 2 new windows, front door, patio doors and that is just for starters. Not sure about the electrics (but my brother can deal with that) or the boiler, the kitchen is awful but I can live with it for as long as I need, same with the bathroom. I am good friends with a builder who is going to help me with the tough stuff for a very good mates rates sort of price, but even so, it will be a few years before I will be able to afford to complete everything - no worries, I am a patient man.

The one downer really is that I have just found out that it is in a smokeless zone and I had set my heart on having a wood burning stove. I have heard that you can get stoves that you are allowed in smokeless zones, but have to look much more into that (anyone know anything?). If not, it will have to be a gas fire - not my first choice but the one concession I will have to make.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Tempting Fate

I am not usually particularly superstitious, but since I have had my offer accepted on the cottage a number of people have asked to see photos. Now it may be ridiculous, but I have refrained from showing anyone because it feels like tempting fate rather, to show it before it is actually mine, everything has gone unbelievably like clockwork until now and I can't really believe house selling/buying is every really this smooth.
So, I have decided to compromise, I will show a couple of photographs of the view from the house but not the house itself. Hopefully that will mean fate will not be tempted! Meanwhile, all is set for the 1st December.


This is a view from the front windows of the house.


A nice woodland for some foraging I think and some great walks. On the other side of that fence is a public footpath into miles of hills and woods.


And this is the view from the back and a bit of my lovely South facing back garden.



Some lovely sunny times here and hopefully not too much of that famous Lancashire wind and rain!

It's all a bit different from where I have lived in London for the last 19 years! Can't begin to imagine how dark and quiet it is going to be at night, probably be spooked for the first few months, especially with all John's (Going Gently) zombie chat! Maybe I'll stop watching the Walking Dead for a while!

Thanks everyone, for all your comments, and welcome to my new followers. It is lovely recording all of this here with you.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Good news part 2



Hi all,

Just to let everyone know that I have had my offer accepted on the cottage I went for a second viewing of in Lancashire. Very excited and very thrilled. Everything is going for completion by 1st December, so it is all happening fast after all those months of waiting.

I had another moment of fear about the enormity of the move a few days ago, but now I am really on top of the world. It will be an exciting adventure, wait til i show you guys the view from my windows!

So now, being frugal and all the practice that I have had is going to become essential. There is an awful lot of work ahead of me and it is a real mess inside for now, but with some real elbow grease I can make is so lovely.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Any ideas?




Hi everyone,

One of the things that I was thinking of making for some of the adults this Christmas is Limoncello. It tastes really good, doesn't cost a fortune and should go down rather well. The process of making this well be a future post.

In general the recipe calls for between 5 or 9 lemons for 1 litre depending on the recipe but you only use the lemon zest. So if I make 2 litres of the stuff, to divide up, I could end up with up to 18 zestless lemons and nothing to do with them.

So, to the question, does anyone have any ideas what I can make from a whole load of zestless lemons? Are there any preserves that just use juice? It would be great if I could make something using them that would also go down well at Christmas.

All ideas welcome.

Paradox of our Age

Some of you may have read this before, I hadn't. I read it for the first time the other day on Gavin's excellent blog which you can find here. Well worth a visit.

It is quite a sad reflection of modern civilization, but oh so true.


The Paradox of Our Age by The 14th Dalai Lama

We have bigger houses but smaller families;
More conveniences, but less time;
We have more degrees, but less sense;
More knowledge, but less judgment;
More experts, but more problems;
More medicines, but less healthiness;
We've been all the way to the moon and back, but have trouble crossing the street to meet the new neighbour.
We build more computers to hold more information to produce more copies than ever but have less communication.
We have become long on quantity, but short on quality.
These are times of fast foods but slow digestion;
Tall men but short character;
Steep profits but shallow relationships.
It's a time when there is much in the window, but nothing in the room.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Bags and bags and bags.



What is it about plastic bags that makes me so annoyed? Don't get me wrong, we all have a few, mostly because we call in a supermarket on the way home, unexpectedly and don't have a bag for life with us. But any that I do have will get re-used for some purpose or other and in 99 times out of 100 I have my own shopping bag for life with me and don't need a plastic bag. No, that is not what annoys me, consumers using free plastic bags doesn't even annoy me. What annoys me is the pathetic, half hearted attempts at supermarkets, shops and the government to take no responsibility at all.
10 billion were given out in the UK alone in 2008, that is on average 400 per household.
Thousands of marine animals and over a million birds die each year as a result of plastic pollution.



Now there have been some good attempts by Marks and Spencer, who started charging 5p for a bag and have, I believe, stuck to that (I wouldn't know for sure as I don't shop there).
But other supermarkets are a bit pathetic. Sainsbury made a half hearted attempts at not having plastic bags out so you had to ask for them, but now, I notice, that has gone and there are just as many as there ever were. If you read there website on the subject it is a pathetic joke. Their reason for providing plastic bags still is:

Unfortunately, it's not possible for us to stop providing free carrier bags for our customers as it’s now considered a trading critical item in our stores.


Sounds like a load of non-words to me.

We did a 'pay-for' trial some years ago where we did charge the cost price for carrier bags to our customers, but our customers where not happy and complained.


Well, of course you are going to get that response if you ask regular joe blogs if he minds paying for something or not..

What does the UK competition law say?  Well, they don’t permit retailers to work together to agree between themselves to charge for carrier bags. Why?  It would be considered to be controlling part of the market for carrier bags, which is worth a lot of money to a number of UK companies.


Now I take this to mean that the basic reasoning is that because the plastic bag industry is making someone, somewhere a lot of money, that an individual company should not upset that. How short-sighted is that? Surely the bigger picture is of more importance.



The thing is, the government go around and around doing a sort of shall we, shan't we on the subject. I mean really, if they just either a, made a ruling that they must be paid for, or b, even better, that they banned them completely then people may complain for a few weeks but soon everyone would just be used to it and deal with it. In the past, supermarkets used to let you pick up their old cardboard boxes to pack stuff into, now they don't do that (except lidl, who seem to have a better policy). everyone would soon remember to take bags with them.
If the government takes this much to persuade and this much procrastination over something as simple as a fairly obvious plastic bag issue, then there is pretty much no hope at all over bigger and more important green issues going on. It is time they stopped worrying about who they will upset and started looking at making the Earth a cleaner, safer and longer lasting place to live.


Friday, 7 October 2011

On my mind






Show you care - give the perfect gift?

Christmas, I am told, is on its way. It is a time to be with family, to enjoy each other's company, especially when there is a distance between you. It is often one of the few times where all of you will sit down together for a meal or for an afternoon, to simply enjoy being together, reminisce and remember people who are not there. Whether you are religious or not, Christmas is a time to think about the year past and the year to come (much more so than New Year for me) and to reflect upon your own life and those who you love.

So why is it that it has also become such a nightmare for a lot of us? It is usually sometime during the next couple of months that various family members will begin to ask me: 'what would you like for Christmas?'. I usually answer, without really giving any thought to the question, 'I don't know'. This is because I really don't like to be asked this question, it seems to represent all that is wrong with the whole gifting business of Christmas. The best gift anyone can ever give you is something from the heart, even when it cost nothing. To receive something you weren't expecting, or something that has been made for you, with you in mind is worth more to me that any amount of expensive gifts. I am quite a simple man and as such there is nothing I really want for. But a couple of years ago when my 9 year old (at the time) nephew bought me a book from a library sale for 10p because it was a subject matter that he knew would interest me, it meant so much that I smile every time I see it. In this way, I try hard with the adults to find or make things that will make them smile, or surprise them. Sometimes I get it right, other times it falls flat, depending on the person. But the one thing that I cannot buy into is how much something is worth in monetary terms. To be smiled at on the surface but know that beneath the surface someone is totting up how much you spent on them and whether or not they spent more than you. When did Christmas turn into that?

My other bugbear with Christmas is children's attitudes. Don't get me wrong, I don't blame them for wanting stuff, because for the most part it is the way they have been taught either by well-meaning or guilt ridden parents, or TV and advertising hand in hand with spoilt school friends. Yes, Christmas is a time for children to be excited, to enjoy some of the magic and I remember my own excitement at what gifts I would receive. The difference between then and now is quantity, both quantity of gifts and quantity of money spent. I would perhaps get one main present and 3 or 4 little things and I was wowed by all that. Perhaps my granny would give me a record, or a book and that would be that. I would be happy with the excitement of it all. Now the children I know are getting hundreds of pounds worth of presents and if that weren't bad enough, not seeming to appreciate what they have been given. Parents are under an enormous amount of pressure, I get that, but I think it is a very short sighted way of being and they are doing their children no favours by allowing them to think they can have so much just by having a tantrum if they don't get it. Time and time again I have seen the children in my extended family receive 5 video games each at £40 a time and yet be in a bad mood because they didn't get the one they wanted. I know that I am considered a Scrooge with them because from me they receive a book or a book token in general, and it mostly goes un-thanked. Rarely a Christmas day goes by without some pointless mood swing or tears over not getting something.

So is there going to be a time when it swings back to the real meaning of Christmas? I imagine a lot of the people reading this have a very good attitude towards it, being a frugal minded bunch, but you all must have observed what I am talking about in someone's household? Is it simply because people work more and so give their children less time, so buying them stuff is to make up for it? I don't really believe this to be an excuse, because there are many hard working parents out there who are not buying into it. Or is it simply the same old media fuelled guff, where we are shown how we should be spending Christmas, like celebrities do, buying lavish gifts, having a new tree decorated with a new style every year, theming the table with brand new John Lewis Christmas table decorations in purple and silver this year - whatever was wrong with going out to collect fir cones, a bit of silver spray and imagination.

So here's to a simple, frugal minded and meaningful Christmas with no debts and no tantrums.


This is a Friday photo feature that anyone with a blog can join. To take part, post a photo on your own blog, write a short caption explaining it, and link it back to here from your blog by saying you're part of "On my mind"
Linked from Down To Earth

Monday, 3 October 2011

Good news



Hello everyone,

Well now my new journey begins because I have accepted an offer on my flat! I had some tough decisions to make because it is quite a lot below the asking price, but after negotiating and doing my sums I am content with selling at that price. When all is said and done the market is shocking and I have only had one viewer in 5 months, so holding out for a better price could take who knows how long. The lady who is buying it is nice and is so excited about it, old softy that I am it really softens the blow.

It is strange because I am looking forward to this next stage in my life so much and am ready for it, but it is certainly coupled with a bit of unexpected sadness in letting go of my home - I know this must be a normal feeling, but getting everything in motion seems a tough task now. Also a bit of fear that what I am doing is now becoming a reality.

Anyway, enough for now, I have stuff to do!

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Melting moments.


Today I really fancied some biscuits! I was trying to decide if I had enough ingredients in my store to make some but was put off because I hadn't got any eggs. Anyway, I remembered my granny used to make some biscuits called Melting Moments so I had a hunt about on the internet for a recipe, turns out there are a lot of different versions, most of which use an egg. Well with a bit of perseverance I found a recipe that didn't require an egg and made 28 biscuits. Very delicious. I don't really like my biscuits too sweet so this appeals to me, but if you have more of a sweet tooth than me you may wish to add a bit more sugar.


  


Ingredients

175g s/r flour 
125g cornflour 
50g icing sugar 
225g butter 
1 tsp vanilla extract




Method

Put flour, cornflour and icing sugar in food processor and mix briefly. Add butter (chopped into small chunks) and vanilla and mix until it comes together into sort of dough (can take a few minutes). 

Roll mixture into small balls size of marble and place on baking tray with a little space in between. 

Dip a fork in cold water and press down on each one to flatten slightly and score. 

Bake for 10-15 mins at 160C fan/325F/gas 3. 

Friday, 30 September 2011

It's because he is a Northerner.



Do people mistake your choice of lifestyle for stinginess?
I have sometimes been judged for my choice in not spending money on things that other people spend money on and have often heard the phrase 'it's because he is from the North'. I am not entirely sure how Northerners ended up with a label of being less forthcoming with their money than others but I am proud of where I come from. Perhaps it is partly why I have never really fitted in living where I do? I have a good friend who is almost the entire opposite of me, spend, spend, spend, and not little purchases, massive ones, is there ever a reason to have more than one car when you are a single person? I respect the way he lives and he respects my choices, but we have such differing views on why we do what we do. I have taken a few years to get to the mindset I now have, but I have never knowingly wasted money in my life and it is only as I have got older that I have now much more care about the impact I, personally have on the World around us. I have wanted to get back to nature for many years and have only really felt totally comfortable and at home when I am wandering in the countryside, quietly, upsetting no-one. Now that I am finally making positive steps towards that I feel more at peace than I have felt for years. I have moments of wondering if I am crazy, moving somewhere that I know very few people, where I have only one real friend and where I am going to cause myself problems with working (a lot of my work will still be in London) but then I think about the countryside, that will be on my doorstep and I know that I am making the right choice. You may wonder why I have not done this earlier? after all, 19 years living somewhere I don't like sounds ridiculous. I always had it in my mind that perhaps it is something I would do with a partner, something we would do together. But one day I woke up and realised that this was just an excuse and if I waited until I met the right person then I could end up never doing it and another 19 years could pass living somewhere I don't like.

Anyway, as ever, my un-concentrated mind has wandered from my original subject.

The other day I listened in to a conversation between two colleagues, one of which had just spent a large amount of money on something completely unnecessary. To hear the justification in the mindset of why such a large amount of money was used was quite amusing. One said to the other that sometimes it is necessary to spend just to make yourself feel good - an all too familiar analysis. Surely if you recognise this in yourself it is easy to undo? I happen to think that it is more that people are addicted to a lifestyle, the lifestyle that they think they ought to have, based on what other people have and want. Once you break that habit everything seems to fall into place and you find other ways of filling your needs, saving becomes your addiction more than shopping.

So yes, some people may think that I am a tight-wad (I'm not), some may think that I am judgemental of the way they live their lives, I certainly am not, we all have a choice and I have chosen a way to be that is different from the crowd, but everyone is free to make their own choices and live with the decisions they make, who am I to say otherwise? I am far from perfect and still have a whole load to learn, mistakes are made every month, but it is a great personal journey and one that hopefully will end up here:

Thursday, 29 September 2011

One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well!

I am on a bit of a frugal overdrive this coming month as September turned out to be a rather expensive one, thanks to my trip up to Lancashire - the price of petrol sort of blew all my budget. Never mind, I will rise to the challenge of eating well and saving money, I am now just £250 off my savings goal of £10,000 to go towards the new house buy, so I feel immensely proud of myself for having saved that, even if it has left me short every month, the challenge has been a fun one in many ways, and I am sure a lot of you out there can appreciate what I mean when I talk about fun in connection with saving money. A lot of people simply wouldn't get that but I know you fellow bloggers do get it. Every month has been a challenge of making the money go a little further so that I can put it into savings, when I move house I will know that it will have been worth it.

Which brings me nicely to the subject of today's blog. I wanted to spend no more money on food until next Tuesday, partly because I am cross with supermarket shopping at the moment, and partly because I am just slightly overdrawn until Tuesday and want to go no more into the red.
So with this in mind I made a list of the stuff I had in my larder, the stuff I had in the freezer and the fridge and decided to come up with a list of food I could make out of it. Now, the freezer is surprisingly empty at the moment because I was purposefully letting it get low so that I could defrost it (it is a bit of a disgrace) but even so I managed to quite easily come up with 10 different meals I could make just out of what I had without setting foot in the supermarket. This includes such delights as spicy pumpkin soup, paella, cauliflower and potato curry, meat and potato pie, Chinese noodles, and more. Yesterday I made a lovely butternut squash and orange bake, this morning I have made the pumpkin soup and a new potato, tomato and egg salad,. The results of which are sitting in my fridge now in all looking welcoming in their Autumn colours, wholesome and bright. It made me reflect on the nutritional excess of being frugal, I have more ready to eat delicious food in my fridge than plenty of people who go to the supermarket and spend hundreds of pounds every week with little to show for it. I feel richer than these people by far because I have found a way of living in a contented fashion on less and without going hungry - far from it.

Other news from me is that my flat viewing went very well, the lady loved it and is coming for a second viewing this evening and bringing her sister to see it too. The cottage I went to see in Lancashire was perfect too and I am trying not to get too excited about it, because a lot can happen in the next couple of months, still, there is hope that it could all work out.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

From the cold North

Hello everyone and welcome to my newest followers, it is nice to know that at least 30 people get something from my musings.

Update on house viewing is just annoying news, the woman didn't turn up on Saturday, but she did postpone until Monday. Now I couldn't be in on Saturday because I am away up North (more of that in a bit) but my estate agent was taking her. I am not one to lay judgement on estate agents usually (although they do make this difficult) but when I get a phone call later in the day telling me that he had 'forgotten to take the keys with him and so couldn't show her' it is hard not to think of appropriate names for him and his kind. The goodish news is that she is keen enough to still want to come (amazingly) and so will be viewing it this Saturday coming.

Now the reason I have not been at home this week is because I am in Lancashire, visiting parents and sister and brother etc. I have also taken this opportunity to view a house tomorrow. Now I know that it is silly to get over-excited about a house I have not seen yet, especially with no offers on my own flat, but this one really does tick all the boxes and is the first house details I have found that does this: large garden, not overlooked, very quiet area, nothing but countryside out to the back. Don't get me wrong, it is no mansion, tiny little 2 bed cottage (can you use the term cottage for something built in the 1980's?) although it does have a garage that can be converted somewhere down the line and coming in at a lower than you would expect price, certainly within my budget. Like I say, hard not to get excited but am trying to keep a reign on that. So that is what tomorrow will bring. Today, I am going to get out into the countryside for a walk around Rivington Pike and gardens with a friend hoping the weather holds out. It is a beautiful area and I am really looking forward to it. Will let you all know how the viewings (house and my flat) go.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

At last

Finally reader, a viewing on my flat today. First one in 3 months. Now obviously I am not going to get my hopes up too much, but what about this, the name of the woman viewing the flat is Hope!

I did indeed drop the price of the flat £5000 earlier this week and I have noticed that since it first went on the market prices seem to have dropped a bit more in general. Strange how annoying estate agents are though, so happy and jolly and full of enthusiasm when you first meet them and sign on the dotted line, and then so full of gloom and doom 3 weeks later when they have your contract.

The pay off is that the price of houses in East Lancashire has also dropped, so really it will make little difference in the long run. I suppose it is just easy to get bogged down on what the flat used to be worth. Can't think like that any more or you drive yourself mad. At least I am still in profit.

So wish me luck.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Small and very nasty beasty.

Hello dear reader, today you find me nursing a blood test hole in my left arm. I am always surprised when I get to the blood test centre at 6.45 in the morning (to avoid the horrendous queues later in the day) to find 13 people already ahead of me with the same idea as myself.

So why, you may ask, a blood test? Well about 8 weeks ago a very strange rash appeared in a very strange place - my bottom, to be precise. Now the first couple of doctors threw around such foul words as ringworm or fungal infections, which always sound rather distasteful. However I was lucky enough to find myself (after a few visits and none of the creams I had been given doing anything at all for the rash) in the presence of a really wonderful doctor who thought a little outside the box and wanted to investigate more than just the most likely cause. Well to cut a long story short it turns out that the rash was a little more serious than was first thought as it seems I had been bitten by a tic and that tic had infected me with lymes disease! For someone unfortunate enough to live in inner city London, this seems unlucky indeed, but on a working trip to Devon in late July, I was aware that there were tics about and one of these little buggers obvious decided to crawl up my leg to find a dark warm spot to have his lunch and try and kill me.



Joking aside, I feel very lucky that my doctor was on the ball, because undiagnosed lymes disease can be very nasty indeed with very long term damage. Fortunately for me I have finished a 4 week course of antibiotics and hopefully the results of this mornings blood test will reveal that I am now free of it. Let's hope.

There are more dangers than I thought living in the country, I was thinking that the worst that could happen would be an occasional sting from a nettle or accidentally stepping in a cow-pat.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Sunday morning



Sunday morning is one of my favourite times of the whole week. It is a time totally and selfishly for me. I am an early riser by nature, regularly up shortly after 6 and at that time on a Sunday morning it feels like everyone else is sleeping. This morning I looked out early to see some fog hanging over my garden (sorry, this is not a photo of what I saw - but rather a photo of what I wished I saw from my window) I brew some coffee and sit by the window looking out at the birds and what a collection of birds there is in my garden at the moment. I see the usual pigeons and magpies, crows and much more interesting, a group of parakeets in the trees, very naughty birds.


This time of peace and tranquillity is important for me, it is a time to reflect on the week past and the week ahead, to reconnect with the nature around me and to enjoy the peace of the world before it rises. Me time.

Some people prefer to stay in bed and who can blame them, for it is a time for us to relax however we can, but for me: I would never give up my Sunday morning ritual and miss seeing the World wake up as I drink my coffee by the window.

I am working later today, so all too soon this wonderful time of the week will be gone - until next Sunday when I can do it again.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Housing update



Well it is a sad fact that until I got first hand involvement, I didn't really appreciate the state of the housing market. My flat has now been up for sale for 13 weeks and the truth is that there have not been any viewers at all, not a one! Now I am faced with a bit of a dilemma. In 2008 before the property crash, the flat above mine (which is identical in every way) sold for £8000 more than mine is even on the market for. Now I am also prepared to take another loss when it comes to negotiating, but where is the cut off point? Should I reduce the price to get rid? When I consider that every month I stay here costs me £450 in mortgage payments (most of which is interest) it makes me wonder if it is important to get the highest price possible if it means 6 months of mortgage paying for a flat I don't want to be in.
Anyway, I am going to take the weekend to think about this and next week go and talk to my estate agent and see what is what.

Meanwhile I now have to pull my socks up and find a way to save a bit more money, I have to work out where more cuts can be made. I have been through my direct debits as a start and there is one decision there which I can't quite get my head around. 5 years ago I (perhaps misguidedly) took out British Gas home plan insurance for my boiler. I say perhaps misguided because my boiler was only about 5 years old at the time, so truly, in the last 5 years I have just paid out and never had anything for my money. I now realise that far more financially sound an idea would have been to put that money into a separate account every month which by my reckoning would have come to approximately £1200, more than enough money to cover any boiler costs. I suppose it is like any insurance, you get worried about not having it, it prays on your fear of something going wrong. Now in the future I would not bother with this boiler insurance, but I would, indeed, put some money into an account every month. My dilemma now is whether or not to stop this insurance for the rest of my time here, it really would be sods law if something happened to it now and I have to sell my flat with the boiler in perfect shape. What would you do?

Another way I can cut back further is my mobile phone. I need a phone for work, but I certainly don't need a new one and I certainly don't need the package I have. I have 1000 minutes a month and I recently checked with them and the most I have ever used in one month is 450 minutes. So for 2 years I have had a minimum of 550 unused minutes which I guess I am paying for. So it is time to change - my contract is up in the next 2 months, so need to start checking out new deals that don't provide a new phone, but do provide value for money.

Where else can I cut back? Any suggestions?

Times are hard, especially for a single man who has no-one else to rely on when things get tough financially. London is a drain on the finances and coupled with how much I loathe being in this city, I am finding it tough to not get very frustrated with my present housing predicament.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Toiletries

Sorry for my lack of posting recently, August was a nightmare work wise, and I have been working away from home and out of the country for the whole month.  My garden (window boxes and pots) is dead, my diet went to pot thanks to having to eat out for a month (all paid for though, so none of my own precious gold was spent) and it has taken me a few days to be used to being home again. Well I am back and I hope I haven't lost my 25 regulars and others who are interested come back and give me a chance with my meagre offerings of badly written words.

Well I have achieved something that I didn't think would be possible 3 months ago, (insert drum roll here!) I have stopped using any commercial toiletries and am making all of my own from scratch with one exception, which is soap, and that is something that I hope to rectify before too long too, by making my first batch before Christmas.

I feel like I should be drinking a beer and watching rugby now to reaffirm my masculinity because, lets be honest, making your own toiletries is not the most macho thing you can think of, well, is it?

So with my masculinity in jeopardy I will take the risk of continuing with my story anyway.

I have been thinking for a long time about chemicals, the long list of things that are not even pronounceable in beauty products and coupled with this, a very close friend of mine was diagnosed with cancer 18 months ago (don't worry, he is completely 100% recovered and well again now I am so happy to say) and because it was a cancer of the lymph nodes he was advised to not wear normal deodorant any more because this could have an effect. Well armed with this determination to become more self-sufficient and to put less and less chemicals in my body, I set out on a mission earlier this summer, to collect ingredients. Some were easy high street stuff, others were readily available on the internet. Most of the things we put on our skin are absorbed into our bodies so would you, for example, eat an unknown chemical? No, of course we wouldn't, yet we blindly put these products on day after day. Now I am not being preachy here, because I hate that: this was my choice and I am sure a lot of the chemicals are harmless and most people will suffer no ill effects at all. But I just no longer want to take that risk or buy into the beauty market.

Now, I won't lie to you, the set up costs, ie, the array of ingredients, was not cheap particular, there have been quite a lot of different essential oils involved, carrier oils etc and these can easily cost up to and beyond £5 for 10ml. Holland and Barrett often have buy one get one free offers and essential oil bargains can be found on ebay too. I have been collecting the ones I thought would be useful for a few months, so £5 here and there has actually amassed me a large quantity over time.

First thing to go was shower gel though, and I went back to good old soap. It takes a little getting used to at first as at first it feels a little dryer than gel, but you know what? it is not even noticeable any more. My skin is happy, soft and clear of blemishes. I went for a very basic and natural olive oil soap from a health food shop, about 65p or something like that and lasts for months. Eventually this will be replaced by home made, but that is something for the future.

Next to go was shampoo. Now I know that a lot of women with longer hair struggle with this one and I can only say trial and error is the order of the day. I have short hair and am prone to a dry, itchy and flaky scalp (don't use the D word!!!) So I have always used head and shoulders. Now word on the street is that shampoos like this do deal with the problem, but don't cure it, as it is not in their best interest for you never to need their product again. I can certainly get on board with that idea, being cynical about big business. my own recipe is based on a liquid soap stew (found in this book https://www.amazon.co.uk/Fragrant-Pharmacy-Valerie-Ann-Worwood/dp/0553403974/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1315386144&sr=1-1) with oils and essential oils added. I will give anyone recipes if they want, for any of the products rather than write each one down here.

It took a while, but my scalp is now very healthy, it is advised to put some jojoba oil on the scalp with some cypress oil and evening primrose oil once a week and it has done the trick. My hair is happy and my scalp is free of any scary white stuff.

Moisturisers have been replaced by home made face oils and body oils, I even have a home made hair wax, which, again, is ok for my short hair, ladies may struggle more than me.

Deodorant was a challenge, but I have been using a rock crystal for years now anyway. I am using that still, in conjunction with a home made spray, which used witch hazel, oil of cloves, vegetable glycerine and other peppermint. Seems to do the trick, at least I haven't lost any friends or seen anyone looking pained and holding their nose and I am a very active man who sweats a lot when I am doing sport.

Shaving foam was replaced by shaving soap some time ago and I am going to make my own when I do the soap anyway. I also use a home made shaving oil with this too now and it works beautifully and I have quite a heavy beard growth to contend with.

All in all it has been an interesting journey and I am feeling great and looking the same, no skin, hair or scalp troubles and a bit of fun making the stuff.

Here are some of the books that helped me:


https://www.amazon.co.uk/Fragrant-Pharmacy-Valerie-Ann-Worwood/dp/0553403974/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1315386144&sr=1-1


https://www.amazon.co.uk/Holistic-Beauty-Book-Natural-Beautiful/dp/1900322277/ref=sr_1_13?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1315386739&sr=1-13


http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/reader/0091922011/ref=sib_dp_pt#reader-link


https://www.amazon.co.uk/Recipes-Natural-Beauty-Neals-Remedies/dp/1902463668/ref=sr_1_6?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1315386848&sr=1-6


So, now I am done. As I say, if you want to know more about any of the recipes, then let me know and I will do my best to give them to you.

Right now, I am going to go out and play some football and drink some beers to reaffirm my manhood!

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

July Spend

Hello all,
This month I did a detailed spending diary for the first time ever, just to get an overview of what is going on. OK, so July is not over yet, but it is pretty close and all I have to do now is put about £20 of petrol in the car to take me to a job I am doing far away over the weekend.

So how did it go? Well I spent £237.48. More than I wanted, but with a couple of unavoidable extras.

Here is the breakdown anyway:

£17 Dentist
£63.90 grocery shopping (pretty damned good, if I say so myself)
£50 Travel expenses (unavoidable)
£19.53 Toiletries (will explain why it is so high)
£2 A coffee at the airport (well sometimes you have to)
£40.90 Books
£2.90 Laundry
£25.85 Luxery items, including one night out
£2.40 Birthday cards
£13 some new kitchen equiptment.

All in all not a bad month, considering that £17 was for the dentist and £50 was for travel. OK, so my weakness is for books (although at least this is money well spent as they were all second hand, all will be read and 2 of them were for presents. The luxery items was not what I considered excessive although it did gall me that £17 of it was for one round of 4 drinks in a London pub, wow, what sort of price is that!

So room for improvement lies in perhaps a little less enthusiastic book shopping and perhaps some visits to the library. I am pretty thrilled to find my grocery shopping bill so low, although, to be fair, I was working away from home for some of this month and food was provided on the job, so that is not necessarily a fair view of how much I would normally spend on food.

It was a bit of bind writing everything in when I spent it but certainly made me realise where my money is going. I won't do it again in August, because I am working away from home for such a lot of the month, but maybe I will repeat the experiment in September when I am home much more.

Oh and the toiletries was high, because I bought some stuff to make my own with, an initial spend, but should last a long long time.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Because you're worth it?

Sorry it's been ages since my last post. I have been working away from home so not had much time to sit down and write.

It has been interesting for me watching how other people live their lives. I was working some of the time in Jersey where, ok, there are many well off people; yet, being well-off doesn't really signify a wasteful nature. In fact, although they live in big houses and drive nice cars and go on holiday, many of them seem to have a fairly frugal attitude towards their needs, particularly where food is concerned. There is definite attitude of not wasting anything, the chicken carcass becomes stock, the left-overs become tomorrow evenings dinner. Perhaps it is how wealthy people remain wealthy?


So why is it that people with less money tend to throw away food, tend to not eat left-overs because it is too boring to have something that they have already eaten this week? Perhaps it is the lack of tradition and the reaching for some pseudo-celebrity life style that is the problem. We are all told over and over again by various media sources what we should be spending our money on and how we should be living our life. We should buy this shampoo because Cheryl Cole uses it (sure she does!),  we should wear designer labels because if we do we will attract the right sort of person and be living the life that our favourite celebrity lives, we should listen to this music because everyone else who watched x-factor thought it was good, if we love our children we will buy them a £700 flat-screen tv for their bedroom. When is the World going to stop listening to what the media tells us we should be doing and start living our own lives in our own way? Celebrity culture is telling us that not only do we need everything, but that we deserve it! 'Because you're worth it' seems to have replaced old-fashioned values. We are no longer striving for a good happy home life, now we are striving for everything, we deserve it all, apparently. It is easy to begin to assume that having all the things that other people have is the secret formula to a happy home life. It is actually of course just the secret formula for accruing what is apparently now the average debt outside of a mortgage or £9700.



I have a friend who is a single parent with 3 children, her mortgage is almost paid off, but she earns less than £11,000 a year. She recently told me that she is now really buying her clothes from shops in the next level up than places like next, she now buys Crew Clothing and tops from small expensive boutiques in town. How and why? She says that it makes her look better than cheap next clothes (cheap?) Of course, the answer is that she is told that a woman in her 40's deserves to look good and the way to do that is by spending more money on herself.

 Going back to all the people I met on Jersey, they are perhaps living an expensive life style in a lot of ways, because they have the money to do so, but they are not in general doing it because Cheryl Cole told them that they are worth it. They are doing it because they have always done it. In the same way they are boiling up chicken bones to make next weeks soup, they are serving beef sandwiches because they had a beef joint at the weekend and sliced it up for use through the week. Tradition and old fashioned values.

It is like a tonic to me to read other peoples blogs, people with the same attitude as me, to get back down to reality, to ground myself and know that there is a movement of people out there that are reacting against the I deserve it and I want it now trend.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Stir-fry and crumble for next to nothing.

This lunchtime I made myself a stir-fry and a crumble pretty much out of nothing. I love the idea of getting a meal out of bits and bobs kicking about the kitchen. I was inspired by my mum who is always stir frying up her home grown veggies.
I started with an old and very tired spring onion which I chopped up (always chop up to the very end of the green bits as well as the white, there is nothing wrong with them, but many people only chop the white and throw away the stalk) added a couple of cloves of chopped garlic. I had some bits of chicken in the freezer from a cooked chicken I had a couple of weeks ago so that came out.


 A quick trip into my garden got me some cabbage leaves, which I am sharing with slugs and snails, but I don't mind the odd tooth mark in there.





 Chopped that up and finally a couple of little plum tomatoes.



Put some noodles on to boil and then stir-fried the lot together. I whipped up a quick sauce with a tablespoon of soy sauce, a teaspoon of peanut butter, some flaked chillies and some lime juice.



 Added the sauce at the end and then mixed in with the noodles. Some chopped parsley finished it off.



 Very delicious and all from a small amount of food that was in the cupboard or freezer already. Would have cost me only a few pence to be honest.

Next I made an apple and fruit crumble. These cooking apples I picked out of the bin at a friends house. I opened up his bin and there they were, he said the were too tired to eat now - not for me! I picked them out of the bin (it was pretty clean, but they are to be peeled anyway)



Cooked them up with some berries I found in the freezer and then quickly rubbed together some flour, butter and sugar and hey presto, a couple of crumbles, one for my dinner tonight and one for the freezer.



I will stick one of them in the oven later to cook for dinner, and the other one can go into the freezer for a treat some time in the future.

There is something immensely satisfying from cooking food that has been 'found' or grown by you, and making delicious meals for so little money and effort.