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


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.


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.