Saturday, December 24, 2011

Bah - humbug!

Christmas Eve – the wonder of a Father Ted evening and the horror of pre-Christmas advertising – too late to buy any of the things they advertise – beautiful fragrant people and far too many pre-sale ads. Now I remember why I don’t watch TV.  Even the joy of Father Ted isn’t worth the vile boredom and fatuous inanity of far too many adverts for worthless trash.  

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Goodbye summer, goodbye.

Everyone I know has complained about this summer but it has been just perfect for me. It hardly rained at all, though that did necessitate some garden and allotment watering and my rain butts ran dry quite early. More importantly, it was often bright and sunny without being hot. In Sheffield anyway. Apparently Scotland didn’t suffer our drought. I acquired a gardener’s tan; my arms and neck are brown, my hands not so much and my legs are fish belly white. Lots of nettles and brambles on the allotment. Summer came to an abrupt end mid last week, the first week of October. It’s really quite cool and damp now.

Ian has been commenting for some time that there has been no blog update since August. I have excuses but I can’t remember them. It really seems too late now to write about our last weekend at the fringe with the kids although it was jolly good fun.

The biggest excitement since then has been getting Sally packed off to the University of Salford. There had been a slow but steady accumulation of stuff to go. Oxfam in Broomhill yielded a decent haul of pans, plates etc, a huge suitcase was purchased from one of the charity shops in Hamilton, I purchased yet another copy of Rose Elliot’s ‘Cheap and Easy’ and her father contributed yet another copy of the ‘Cranks Cookbook’.  She seems to have taken to student life with panache, only complaining a little about the mice already in residence in the kitchen. Unlike the radio silence from Jack I have a regular if perfunctory contact with Sally and already have an idea of who she spends her time with and what she’s doing. I’ve been away so much and so busy that I haven’t really had time to miss her. All I need is a week at home going nowhere to work up to being a bit lonely. I guess I’ll cope.

More sadly we are losing my colleague, Amanda, from work. She is so delightful that I forgive her for her slender and energetic youth. In the time that I have worked at the company I have always warned that times were too unstable to take new people on. In Mandy’s case she is probably better off for having spent the year with us but I will miss her terribly. She has decided, very sensibly, to get a visa and spend six months in Australia, working where she can. I’m hoping she keeps in touch without me having to join Facebook.

I’d write more but I have been stricken with a very time consuming affliction. I’m reading about all the Hugo winners over the years. I rather enjoyed Sam Jordison’s attempt to read and blog about past winners but he keeps going off on Booker winner tangents so that I’ve virtually given up on him. I’ve recently fallen into a Making Light dwam and having read 1002 comments on wearing seatbelts (no really!) I was looking for some light relief and ended up on the Tor site reading Jo Walton’s ‘Revisiting the Hugos’.  Starting in 1953 I have read each year and any linked reviews all the way to 1974. I was only peripherally aware of Jo until recently. I find her to be an excellent reviewer, in that I can pretty much trust her judgement to align with mine. She doesn’t like PK Dick for example. Earlier on today I finally unstacked Ian’s pile of banana boxes filled with SF paperbacks looking for two of the Simak books she wrote favourably about. They have teetered  there for over six years, though the comedy books made it to shelves with days of him moving in. I’ve located ‘Way Station’ but no sign was found of ‘City’.  I’ve got an audit tomorrow, a report writing day on Tuesday and training courses Wednesday and Thursday so on Friday I’m thinking of staying in bed all day and reading ‘Way Station’.

Incidentally, having watched a lot of seatbelt adverts, this is still the very best!    

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Two weeks ago

Augh! It’s all fading away into the stiff mix of tapioca that is my brain.

The surprise in the Robin Ince free show at the Canon’s Gait was Jimeoin. Robin was manic as always, Helen Keen was charmingly enthusiastic about space (probably shouldn’t point out the Archdruid’s latest post) and Helen Arney sang her amazing songs but we’d seen them all before and expected nothing less than a good show from them. I’ve never see Jimeoin live before and I enjoyed his shtick. Being of an age where memory is (obviously) gradually fraying, listening to him talk about thinking and memory was wonderful but perhaps the thing that will stay with me longest is that universal constant for slow movement, the Speed of Cheese. Next year in Edinburgh…

The thing that stood out about Mitch Benn’s performance is how much less there is of him. It was amazingly distracting. I’d thought him rather cute when he was large and I didn’t quite get my head around him being suddenly much more conventionally attractive. To some extent I found the songs less mesmerising because of it. The balance has changed but that is not Mitch’s problem, it’s mine, and I’m sure I will readjust over the years. He is always on my must see list just because of his outstanding musical/satirical talent.

Andy Zaltzman. What can I say? He is embedded in my world, sometimes second hand, through the Bugle to the extent that I’m not sure what was in this show and what I’ve heard over the last year’s podcasts. I think the highlight of the show was that bad boy, Julian, heckling him with a business card. Sigh.
On another note, I am very much enjoying Ian’s downstairs bathroom book, Andy’s credit crunch book that was purchased last year. Andy is excellent.

We finished the day with Milton Jones who was, as always, wonderful and wonderfully weird. The first time I saw him was in the horribly hot and damp Caves. He’s playing the Assembly on the Mound now and deservedly so.

We added in two shows just because Julian wasn’t completely broken by all the stairs, uncomfortable seats and other horrors of the fringe. Both were at the Pleasance Courtyard and so a simple stagger from the convenient (after 6) parking.

I’ve liked David O’Doherty since the first time we saw him and his toy keyboard. Ian thought him a little too whimsical I think but agreed that this year was the best we’d seen him. I guess he’d grown a beard for his other (Arctic Explorer) show but it suited him. It made him look faintly grown up. Whimsicality and charm don’t usually do great things for Ian who prefers quick-fire jokes and wordplay, so I go to see Tim Vine with him and he comes to see David O’Doherty with me. Still, this year Ian seemed to have been mildly converted, perhaps by tales of awful illness. Scatological humour brings us all together.  

Rich Hall was fab. But crikey, I can’t remember the show other than it was great. How sad that an hour of brilliant performance can be reduced to a memory of hilarity with no detail at all. And the shows I saw yesterday are fading already as I try to recall two weeks ago. Sigh…  

(Links provided so that anyone who is interested can get a flavour of the comedians not provided by the rather poor 'reviews'.) Sorry.

Friday, August 26, 2011

What I did on my hols...

This post started in July and just never got any further and I’m starting to forget what I was writing about so I’m just going to do a very brief round-up whilst I still have some memory. The things that got in the way? Work, books, gardening; nothing exciting or worrying, just life.

So, in July we went on holiday, before the Fringe. I took the train down to Falmouth (a substantial journey) and Ian flew down to Exeter and joined me for the last leg of the train journey.

The holiday started with a visit to Christina Lake and Doug Bell in Falmouth. We’ve been meaning to visit them again for ages but it’s not a place to just drop in, it requires a bit of planning and time to travel. It’s always lovely to see them, such good fannish fans, and we seemed to spend the whole weekend gossiping and planning (and eating ice-cream, and drinking cocktails & nice wine and eating) and occasionally talking about books. They have a lovely house with a view of the harbour if you are high enough up. From the attic where we slept you can see a gorgeous panorama but it’s a ladder and a flight of stairs down to the bathroom, which certainly precludes drinking too much or the temptation to make it the main bedroom. I enjoy spending time with Chris and Doug enormously and then never stay in touch in the interim. I guess it’s because it is the gestalt that is so marvellous. Perhaps we ought to set up conference calls with all four of us from our three different locations calling in.

(Splendidly we also saw them in the first week at the Fringe as they were up visiting Doug’s parents in Penicuik. We met for a lovely and memorable lunch at the Missoni Hotel in Edinburgh, adding Lilian and Julian to the mix. Fab!)

We left, somewhat reluctantly, on Monday morning and headed for Bristol to stay at the Mercure, which is very nice and only quite expensive (Laterooms). We’d looked at cheaper options but Trip Advisor advised against. Most of my lovely (if hazy through time, not drink – really) memories from here revolve around meals. Who would have thought? We met Sue Hobson for dinner in the Glass Boat, a floating restaurant of Welsh Back, in view (and Wifi contact) from our room in the hotel. I can’t remember what we ate (although I remember it was lovely), just that we had a fine time chatting. It’s always good to see Sue.
We also met Clarrie and Tim (the celebrated first Harry Potter) Maguire for the splendid Mexican meal and an evening at their flat complete with a life size Lara Croft (of course). Clarrie, like me, is a Daniel Kitson fan. Ian took agin him when, after winning the Perrier, he forsook stand up for whimsical storytelling the next year. I’m just going to have to go see him on my own.
We did things other than eat. We went to Bath and visited the Roman Baths, and stayed a long time to justify the steep admission price. We went from there to the house of the celebrated astronomers, William and Caroline Herschel. The most interesting thing for me was the house itself, kept as far as possible as it would have been when the Herschels lived there.
We also explored Bristol’s St Nicholas Market, a hundred yards or so away from the hotel but that takes us back again to eating. The Source. Eggy bread. Mmm.
I guess other than the food and the chatting, what stood out in this Bristol visit was the plethora of gorillas. If we had had more time we would have sought them all out and captured them. There was a map with all their locations available. I have a vague impression they were to support Gary the Gorilla at the zoo. Personally I’m not keen on keeping gorillas in zoos but I really like having illustrated gorillas infesting a city, providing simian surprises in unexpected places.

From Bristol we caught a train up to Worcester to stay with Chris Donaldson and Paul Oldroyd. Annoyingly they have gafiated so we don’t get to see them automatically twice a year. Even more annoyingly they have retired and spend much of the year gallivanting around France and Spain with their overbred but delightful dog, Guinevere. I miss them.
Chris cooked all our meals and they were wonderful. If Ian hadn’t picked up a few sausages in Source it would have been a vegetarian couple of days for him, poor soul. Chris is one of the best vegetarian cooks I know, and not even veggie herself. Julian Headlong came over for the day on the Thursday so we left the boys at home and Chris and I took a bus into Worcester to go shopping. Window shopping for the most part. I bought a book and a soap from Lush. And a coffee at Costa.
I really enjoyed this final part of the holiday, again more for the sitting around chatting than for anything we actually did.

Compared to the Fringe this was a very low cost holiday, despite a fair amount of eating out and quite some distance travelled. We managed to find cheap deals on the trains and we only stayed in a hotel for two nights. And so much fun!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Fringe 2011

And so we come to Edinburgh again for the fringe. This year, though, we are taking it really easy. Apart from the EICC all venues have horrid uncomfortable seats and Julian can no longer take more than three shows a day. We’ve gone from a programme of five, sometimes six, shows a day because the pathetic sight of Julian in pain is not really fun.

So, Monday (2 for one day) we saw three shows. We took the train as a return is less than £4 at the moment, started with the wonderful Instant Sunshine, moved on to Ed Reardon; A writers burden (fab!) and finally saw Josh Widdicombe in a tiny stiflingly hot hut at the Pleasance. Josh is a young comedian who is both very personable and funny. He made the mistake in fixing on Julian following the inevitable question, ‘Where has everyone come from?’ I guess he thought Swindon was the potentially funniest place. Oops. It wasn’t quite as derailing as when Ian and I got into a question and answer session with John Bishop some years ago but there was always the potential. As Ian points out, a comedian isn’t really interested in hearing a participant’s life story, they want sound bites to be amusing with. I’ve seen much more seasoned performers than Josh flounder when faced with Julian’s answers (Otis Lee Crenshaw found it very difficult to adjust his song ‘Big [Julian]’ to a job maintaining analysers). I was very impressed with the way Josh dealt with Julian’s too much information. He was friendly, professional and managed to wring laughs out of Julian’s contribution without any nastiness emerging. Josh is a thoroughly bright and charming young comedian. I’ve got a bit of a crush.

Tuesday (2 for one) we drove over as we wouldn’t be out of our last show to make the last train. We had intended to go to see Robin Ince’s free show at Canon’s Gait. This free show is non-ticketed. Obviously, though, there needs to be some way of managing the audience so there are queue places allocated. We were too late to obtain a queue place (not a ticket) so we planned to try again on Thursday whilst we trudged up the horribly crowded Royal Mile, gruffly refusing leaflets and avoiding catching the eyes of the bright young things breathlessly inviting us to their shows.

We plunged, with relief, out of leaflet central and headed off to find Transreal, recently relocated. There are so few SF bookshops left these days. I’m sure I’ve said this before but since Andromeda died there is only Transreal where I can go to browse, to discuss books with a knowledgeable owner, to find new authors and books that I would never discover from Amazon. I’ve always had great suggestions from here and, again, I walked away with far more books than I intended to. I think of it as supporting a sanctuary because I could almost certainly get the books cheaper on Amazon but money is not the only consideration here. As Bob Waldrop and others point out, every time you make a buying decision you are changing the world.

Julian and I were only lured out of Transreal by Ian texting us from Under the Stairs to tell us that he had warm pitta bread and dips. Reluctantly we paid and entered the cool haven in the basement of one of the looming grey buildings on Merchant’s Street. We drank our Citrus Punch whilst we waited for our lunch and for June to join us. June is an Edinburgh resident and an accomplished Fringe goer. Although joining us for a few shows she experiences a very different Fringe from us, going to many free events as well. She had come from a Japanese tea ceremony and planned on looking for other shows after she left us.

The first show we saw was Cul-de-sac, a very strange play. It was very well acted and started out as mildly amusing. A new person, Tim, has moved into the cul-de-sac and meets his neighbour, Neville. As Tim is told about what is expected of him we hear of Tony for the first time, the man who, it slowly emerges, controls the neighbourhood. During the hour we see the slow breaking down of Tim by the social controls exerted by Tony, with able assistance in abuse by the doctor. As each episode became more sinister and disturbing fewer and fewer people laughed. Towards the end the absurdity was completely overwhelmed by the horror. It was a very strong piece, professionally performed and I didn’t like it at all. We wondered if it was an allegory for Britain under Blair, with all of us becoming creepily acquiescent and accepting of things that were patently wrong. June suggested that there should have been some sort of warning as there were definite triggers for people who have been abused. Julian says, ‘A cross between 1984 and The Stepford Wives’.

We retired to the Corvoisier Bar for a pint of tap water and some beer for the boys before heading for another sweaty venue, Above at the Pleasance. This was to see Isy Suttee’s show, ‘Pearl & Dave’. This was a lovely tale of unrequited love with songs. Images of loveliness include two girls letting off a penpal request attached to an ordinary balloon from the top of their climbing frame, an accountant with rows of friendship bracelets up his arms, a papier mache penguin called Roy, and a skype romantic dinner for two. At the end there were tears in my eyes. Most of the women leaving were sniffling slightly. Reviews have likened her to a young Victoria Wood but I tend to think this is because if a woman is funny and sings songs that are both funny and poignant there is no one else to compare her too. Isy is, I suggest, incomparable. You really wouldn’t hear her and think she was anyone else. And I completely agree with another reviewer, someone who doesn’t greet the gift of a five foot papier mache penguin, lovingly made for them by their lover over weeks, doesn’t deserve such devotion. I’ve got a bit of a crush.

We trooped down into the blessed coolness and headed for dinner at the Home Bistro. I love this place and the delightful Roland who was devastated yesterday when he didn’t have a place for us, and warmly welcoming today. The salad I had was lovely; pear, beetroot, feta and leaves with a great dressing. I had, of course, had no starter and a light main in order to keep a bit of space for the fabulous ice cream. The toffee was nice, the ginger was splendid and the marmalade was luscious.

Half way through the meal I got a call from Sally. Salford Uni had emailed her to say there would be an induction day on 25th August. 25th is the day the kids and I are travelling up to Scotland on Megabus for our traditional bank holiday weekend fringe binge. Transport tickets booked, show tickets booked, all arrangements made. Of course. I know it’s two weeks away still but most people I know have fairly busy diaries and are booked up at least a month in advance. It would have been useful had they asked us the pencil in the dates several months ago. Oh well. We agree to look at options on Wednesday morning.

At the point I thought we had already reached the highspot of the fringe with Isy. We looked around at the rest of the audience for the next show and worried that they looked quite a serious lot. I guessed that the show would be informative and worthy but probably a little light on laughs. I’ve read Mark Thomas and I’ve been impressed by his politics but I’d never seen him perform before. If I had I wouldn’t have been concerned. His two-hour show about extreme rambling, walking the Israeli wall, was astonishing. A serious subject with potential for bigotry, potential for dull preaching. This is not, of course, what we got. Mark is a consummate performer, a storyteller, a comedian able to wring helpless laughter out of an audience, whilst laying out the enormity of a wrong done to two nations, both Palestine and Israel. He took us on the walk, introduced us to some marvellous characters, crossed the wall backwards and forwards many times, led us to sympathy, anger and understanding. I really had not realised how good he was. I’ve got a bit of a crush.

So here we are, Wednesday morning, having a lazy day off and catching up on gazing at laptop screens. I’ve filled in my Biobank diet questionnaire (the second and both times I have been eating abnormally), caught up on the cartoons (XKCD, Freefall, Bug and Questionable Content) and gazed out at the unrelenting rain while fending off invitations to supermarket shopping. I’m hoping the boys will wander off soon and leave me to browse through my books. Or maybe just finish off ‘One Good Turn’.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Don't panic Mr Mainwaring

Saturday evening we were sat chatting about deep and meaningful (frivolous) topics when Ian announced that Standard & Poor’s have downgraded American debt to AA+. It was a chill down the spine moment. In itself it is not unexpected or significant; it is simply a marker, a label on the downward trend. But, goodness, a downgrade for America!

After wobbling for a little while we inevitably came back to a discussion of what, if any, SF books model this situation for us. We have so many apocalyptical books and so few about living through the dull, anxious days of a slow motion resource led collapse. People tend to be excellent at dealing with big obvious emergencies. In the UK we still look back with nostalgia at the way we dealt with World War II. We are, however, rubbish at even noticing the long emergencies despite the fact that these will have a far more lasting and devastating effect on how we live our lives.

I foresee decades of bickering, occasionally escalating into full-scale fights, as we slowly descend into real poverty with no one in power making any effort to make any of the radical changes needed to ameliorate the distress. Already there is the fear that there will be another generation that will never be able to reach their potential, who will languish on scraps of work, permanently dependent on handouts of one sort or another.  This is not a recipe for a settled world. We’ve seen how this has played out in Saudi Arabia.

At the same time, we older people still in work, will almost certainly not receive the benefits that our parents did. There was a golden age embedded somewhere in the latter half of the 20th Century, though we didn’t notice it at the time. Free healthcare, free education, safe sex, liveable pensions, even, for a short time in the late 60s/early 70s, an optimism that love and peace could actually be achieved here on earth. How those things have decayed.

When I look to what our politicians are doing to lead us out of this difficult situation I see nothing other than a few banal clichés about the Big Society and a refusal to see that we are at a pivotal point where the old solutions of deregulation, growth and controlled inflation will only worsen the situation. Business as usual at any cost appears to be how this government (I include the loyal opposition and the media) fiddles.

One of my least favourite ‘fixes’ that the local council has put in place has been to automate the library. I know people cost money to employ but surely when enough council workers and private sector workers are unemployed the council tax revenues will disappear too. I feel quite strongly that sharing the paid work around so we all have some access to cash would be a better solution. Of course the government has set our system up so that the cost of employing two people part time is much more than the cost of employing one person. This is something that could change. The Netherlands did this some years ago. One of the worst things that could happen to us as a society is polarisation. As the wealth gap increases the safety of us all decreases. All of us being somewhat poorer is much better than a few being wealthy and the rest living off ever decreasing benefits. That way lies tent cities and social unrest. That way lies ‘Shockwave Rider’.

Julian suggested that Bruce Sterling’s ‘Distraction’ was one of the few books that gave us some idea of what might be coming. I suggested Gibbon’s ‘Decline & Fall of the Roman Empire’. This time there’s no outside, no other empires keeping the flame alight.

(The picture of apocalypse is just a storm brewing over Sheffield in July but so evocative I couldn't resist.)

Saturday, August 6, 2011

How did it get so late so soon?

Where has July gone? It seems to have just disappeared. So much to write about, and none of it written. I’m not even sure I can remember enough to write about anything in detail so I’ll just do a quick précis of the rest of June then try to recall July.

I went to see Hobson’s Choice at the Crucible with my sister, Sue, in mid-June. I think this was her O’ level play. Certainly she studied it at school. Wikipedia tells me it was first performed in 1916. It was jolly well done in Sheffield. Mr Hobson was a pitiable monster but Maggie, the strong willed and sensible oldest daughter was, as always, the star of the show. I’d like to go to the theatre more often but with the prices at the Crucible I will not be buying anything in the interval. I used to collect programmes. I used to buy a beer. Someone else can fund the expense of supporting live theatre. All I can afford is the ticket to the play.

The weekend after was Tony Berry’s BBQ which was, as expected rainy, chilly and breezy; typical British BBQ weather. It was, of course, lovely to see Tony, Julian Headlong, the Harveys and Laura Wheatly, Paul and Aiden. I was very grateful to the Lawsons for giving Sally a lift down and for the chance to catch up with Dave Cox and Simon Dearn. I’m sure there is a reason for the propensity of middle-aged men to barbeque but I have never been able to fathom quite what the attraction is. Still, it's lovely to see the fans out of their natural environment of hotel bars.

A week later I went to see Paul Simon at the Armadillo in Glasgow. Take That were playing the same night but I think I got the better deal. Paul Simon seems always to have been in my listening selection, first as part of Simon & Garfunkel then on his own. When I look on iTunes I have 98 songs under Paul Simon. Admittedly one is David Essex singing, ‘For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her’. And one seems to be Jussi Björling and Robert Merrill singing the duet from the Pearl Fishers although it is labelled as 'One Trick Pony'. No idea how that happened. One of the things I have always appreciated, as well as the wonderful lyrics, is the lovely complexity of the music though I speak, of course, as a musical illiterate. Simon had eight fabulously accomplished musicians playing with him who all seemed to play many multiple instruments. I loved every minute of the show and for days afterwards ‘The Only Living Boy In New York’ played through my dreams. The songs seem to have grown over the years and, after the show, listening to the originals is a little pale in comparison.

Gosh, what a gadabout I am. The next weekend we were down in London to see Rita Rudner. Julia and Dougs gave us a lift down and back and we spent Sunday morning with Julian, admiring his new bookcases. We met up with Julian Saturday afternoon in the middle of Leicester Square. He was waiting patiently for us, buffeted but basically unmoved by the colourful and exuberant crowds of Gay Priders. I’ve long admired Rita as one of the finest comedians I’ve seen. The jokes are packed in, terrifically funny and nothing sexist, racist or anything else objectionable. You can see some of her quotable lines here. We had to bring Julian, who is a passionate Rita fan, as it seems unlikely he will ever fly again (due to extreme decrepitude) and she has pretty much taken up residence in Las Vegas while they raise their child. Some years ago, while I was still flying, we (Julia, Ian and I) saw her performing in Vegas without Julian and I have a slight suspicion that he never forgave us. Perhaps the cruel gloating and incessant teasing hasn’t helped. 

Strictly speaking that brings me to the beginning of July. How these months merge together. Sigh 

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Roach Road Carnival

The MetOffice lies. Damn them. The last time I had looked Saturday dsiplayed cheerful little suns all through the day. That’s not how it turned out. To be fair, on the day the MetOff did fess up that there was going to be some fairly heavy rain approximately when we were scheduled to set up.

The lead up to this, our third street party, had involved a few desultory beer soaked chats at the Psalter over the last six months, organised by Laura and Aine. As ever little actually appeared to be happening until quite recently, other than Lydia producing yet another glorious poster. Laura is the centre of the organisation for two reasons, other than her relentless drive and enthusiasm. One is that she has access to four capacious if fragile gazebos, the other is that she has the patience to deal with the council; getting the road closure notice, the requisite insurance and the performing rights licence. This year Aine has abandoned the road to move into her very own house but happily she came back for the meetings, the set up and to bring her own quite terrifying enthusiasm to the event.

Saturday morning dawned, sunny but breezy. It looked good. I’d bought my ingredients at Waitrose on Friday so didn’t feel I had to dash around in my usual disorganised manner, until I measured my cake tins. Augh! I own two seven inch and one 9 inch but no eight inch. I looked at the nearest potential shop, the Aga Shop on Ecclesall Road. Luckily given the huge cost, they didn’t have the size I needed. I called Waitrose but no-one from that department was available. Before setting out on my bike on the off chance of finding a suitable tin somewhere I asked Lydia. Hurrah! She kindly lent me one of her many cake tins to avert the first potential disaster of the day.

I reverted to relaxed cooking, Ian continued reading the internet and Sally gathered her strength for the gazebo raising. She and I had discussed bake-off tactics. The options I was prepared to bake were cherry cake (my choice) or chocolate cake. Sally asked if I wanted to win or just make something for us to eat. She suggested that cherry cake would never win; chocolate was the way to go in competitive baking. We settled on cherry cake.

I made chilled tomato and orange soup then made a start on the cake. I’m a lazy baker. I like to minimise the amount of washing up as I go along so first I weighed out the caster sugar then carefully placed the butter on top of that. I creamed them together, added the beaten eggs, sifted in the flour and then added the quartered glace cherries, which I’d coated in ground almonds. As I put the completed cake into the oven, the top sprinkled with Demerara, I could hear a commotion around the front of the house.

Aine and Laura had listened to my stupid suggestion of the day before and were stringing bunting across the street from their upstairs window to ours and then over to the top of a streetlight higher up the road. The commotion seemed the be generated by a H&S disaster waiting to happen. Ian and Sally were reaching out of the window, over a heavily overloaded desk, trying to catch the end of the bunting that the girls were throwing up to them, somewhat ineffectually. Once that was finally done without anyone falling headfirst into the street we geared up for the great set-up. The last cars were ushered out and the road closed signs erected.

Inevitably the first drops of rain began to fall as we opened the gazebo bags. Last year, very sensibly, the poles had been separated so that each gazebo had its own set. Less sensibly, the instructions had disintegrated and been thrown away. We divided the first lot into different types of poles (1, 1a, 1b, 2, 2a, 2b, 3, 4) and then stood for a comically long time trying to work out what went where. Sally has a fairly good spatial awareness and seemed to grasp the layout quicker than the rest of us. It took ages to get the first one up, almost as long with the second but then the third and fourth went up much quicker. The rain abated just as the last one was put in place. Whilst we struggled with the first one Richard and his friend had strolled along and put their sound-tent up in about five minutes. They filled it with PA stuff and were just hanging the walls on the back when the whole interlinked tent structure tried to take of sending us scurrying for buckets and bricks to weigh the legs down whilst a few doughty chaps served as anchors, stopping the thing kiting off into the stormy sky.

As always after this massive effort there was a quiet time whilst we slowly furnished the place with folding chairs and tables, populated them with plates of food, bottles of drink, & tat and treasures for the free tombola as people started trickling down to see what was going on. The Morris Side had arrived and colonised Laura’s house as they got ready and then suddenly, without any real organisation, it was Party On! Dancing, music, eating, drinking, talking, the usual stuff happened. Julia and Doug turned up with more chairs. Catherine drove up on her motorbike and watched the Morris. The cakes were judged. Mine had burnt slightly whilst we put up the gazabos, it was the only one not iced and, predictably, it didn’t win anything (Lydia’s fabulous carrot cake won) though half of it had already been devoured before I’d got it out of the kitchen to the judging table. Catherine went away. We drank tea/coffee to warm ourselves up. Amanda arrived. A very, very wonderful subset of the Everly Pregnant Brothers played a short but perfect set and had us belting out ‘No Oven, No Pie’ and clamouring for more. And then all the food was gone, it was an hour until we had to reopen the road and the welly whanging competition waited in the wings. We quickly and carefully tore down our lovely structure, packed it away for next year then drew a chalk line on the road.

What can I say about welly whanging? Surely it is the quintessential community game. All it needs is a welly and some enthusiasm. The candidates face away from their throw, bend over and chuck the welly up the road between their legs. Some wellies slithered a few feet, some achieved tremendous trajectories. It was a long a tense hour and at the end somebody had won the coveted rosette. The rosettes were presented, and then we, grudgingly, reopened the road. The festivities didn’t stop for quite some time. Anna and Paul had prepared a lovely game where Paul dropped a ‘rat’ (old sock stuffed with sand with a tail and ears sewn on) down a piece of drain pipe and the player had to hit the rat as it emerged. This turned out to be fairly difficult although a few people did finally manage to squash the rat.

It was getting really quite chilly. Ian, Sally and I went in and watched the young people continue to party for another hour or so, stepping onto the pavement as cars wanted to go past.

Today, sadly, the cars have re-colonised the road. It’s rained so persistently all day that most of the chalk marks from the welly whanging have washed away. Sally and Laura have just reclaimed the bunting. All the remains are some very full recycling bins, a red mug and a bowl of strawberries on the wall next door and the beautiful posters still decorating most of our windows.

The trailer, masterfully produced by Ian Sorensen, is here. 

Friday, June 10, 2011

More bike stuff

Ian is getting quite grumpy with me for no good reason at all. Earlier on today, when I was searching for the article about the shockingly high level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from the Guardian, I came across the bike blog. As I couldn’t find the John Vidal article at the time (last week’s (environment) news and of no importance to the real world) I idly clicked on this article and then spent rather too much time looking at the videos (amusing), the article (sensible) and the comments (hugely diverting). Almost at the bottom of the second page of comments was a link to the Warrington Cycle Campaign’s Cycle Facility of the Month. Finally a reward for working my way through all the trolls. I so excited! There, right in the middle of 2007 is my route home (along Pomona Street). Of course it is nothing compared to some of the others. It made me LOL but not ROFL as some of the others did. I think I’d better stop now. After all, how many bollards, lampposts, bus stops and fences in the middle of cycle paths can you laugh at before you become jaded and just plain grumpy? As grumpy as Ian.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

High Anxiety!

I have found recently that it is taking me ages to read a book. It’s not because I’m not caring about the characters. The books where the characters leave me cold end up on the ‘I’ll finish reading it when I can be arsed’ pile which has expanded remarkably over the years. I really ought to dump them. No, with these recent books it’s because I care so much about the characters and I see so much nastiness rolling towards them that I have to take small sips of the story to keep my anxiety for the characters at a low level. This was the case with The Windup Girl where disaster was obviously hovering, waiting to pounce on all the characters. It was the case with ‘Swordspoint’ where I really cared about Alec and De Vries and wanted them to have a nice comfortable life. How likely is that for a swordsman and his lover? Even worse, I’m currently reading `Blueheart’ which I have to take in a couple of pages at a time. The stakes are high. The characters are working with incomplete information and all trying to do their best within their somewhat compromised ethical frameworks. Once I’ve read the entire book and the tension is resolved I’ll be able to read it again with a level of comfort and probably enjoy it far more.

In this case, ironically, it is the art of the novelist that makes this so difficult to read. If I felt that it would all end happily ever after (as in Doctor Who or any series novel) I would be far less anxious (but it would be far less meaningful). The books that have knocked me sideways and have left me changed have never been the comfortable ones. ‘The Eye of the Heron’, ‘Golden Witchbreed’ and ‘Ancient Light’ (damn you Mary Gentle!) and ‘Woman at the End of Time’, for example, were never easy reading but neither have they disappeared into the morass of ‘books that I have read but can’t clearly recall’. A couple of days in Blackpool with no useful internet connectivity has forced me to get half way through Blueheart. An evening in Reading may well complete it. I’m hoping the denouement will be meaningful without being too searing. I hope Rache, Lisel Teal and Cybele all survive.

What happened to Alison Sinclair anyway? Two excellent SF novels (Legacies and Blueheart), a less stellar book (Cavalcade), a joint SF then three fantasy novels. Why do women end up writing fantasy? Lack of recognition? Lack of sales? I’ll have a look at the new stuff. Perhaps it’s as fab as the SF?

Monday, May 16, 2011

I say farewell to my hopes and dreams

I cried today. I never thought I’d see this; a turning away from our outward urge. From Apollo 8 to this final flight of the Endeavour, I have followed our space exploration for years. In real terms Endeavour has not been the end. The end probably happened years ago when we decided that space exploration should give way to delivery runs to our global communications system. And exploration into space may well continue; reaching out to the future will pass to the developing world, to China and India. It has probably been a mistake to identify our access to space with NASA and the American push.

I sort of assumed I would spend my twenties and thirties in Luna City, moving out to the asteroid belt as my children, Jack and Selene, became independent and moved towards their own entrance into space. Seconds would have become true metric units as I thought in kiloseconds, megaseconds, gigaseconds, divorced from the constraints of planetary life.


When did my dream disappear? Did Star Wars do it?  Maybe. We seemed to become so embedded in our make believe that the reality of the careful, hugely expensive, preparations for each tiny step seemed silly and petty. In my mind’s eye I have journeyed out, swung around the astonishing rings of Saturn, plunged into the cold depths of interstellar space, walked on strange new worlds, gloried in communication with mysterious and beautiful aliens. Except we didn’t and haven’t and now we’re not even moving towards that vision. Why plod through the endless expensive tedium when cgi lets us believe we are the gods themselves?

Perhaps it’s for the best. Potentially we could squander all the wealth of our beautiful world on finally getting out to a cold and sterile place where we lament our loss; a world destroyed by our efforts to escape from it, a paradise where, if we had stayed, we might have flourished in serene joy. What we seem to have achieved is both less and more tragic than that. We have neither seeded the planets and stars nor relaxed into an eco-paradise. We’ve wasted our opportunities and our wealth on producing vast quantities of ugly trash in which we are slowly sinking. Damn! We are a pedestrian race who neither reach for the stars nor build something fine here on Earth. No wonder I weep.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Going Out

I’ve been out for two evenings this week and they’ve both been enlightening and, to different extents, quite entertaining. The first, surprisingly fascinating, was an hour and a half in Lecture Theatre Two in the University of Sheffield’s Hicks Building where One, The Global Poverty Project and Christian Aid presented the case for combating extreme poverty. I hadn’t realised what good progress had been made but I’m well aware of some of the things that still stand in the way. Corruption, inequality, ill health due to malnutrition and preventable diseases, lack of adequate sanitation, rising food and fuel prices and climate change. Many of these issues are ones where we in the developed world are implicated. We accept and sometime encourage corruption because a corrupt government is easier for us to manipulate. We, or at least the richest among us, are the ones benefiting from speculation in commodities, we are the ones primarily causing climate change. We watched the Living Proof roadshow which is full of inspiring stories of what has been achieved so far, then we each sat and wrote a letter to our MP asking them to support the call for investment in diarrhoea and pneumonia vaccinations, major killers of children throughout the world.

My second big evening out was at the EICC in Edinburgh where we saw Monkeys Uncaged. What a fabulous evening! Robin Ince is my hero, both a marvellous (grumpy old) comic and a relentless populariser of science and clear thinking, here holding together a wonderful show comprising entertainment and important insights into the way the world works.

He presented the irresistibly enthusiastic Helen Keen who gave a shortened version of the show we saw at the Fringe some years ago, ‘It Is Rocket Science’, sadly without the puppet show splendid props.

From Helen to Ben Goldacre who was relentlessly entertaining at top speed about the design of clinical trials for drugs. You can get a flavour of his work by reading the Bad Science Blog but for the full-on authentic experience you really should listen to him talk.

The next ‘act’ and the one I was looking forward to least was Professor Brian Cox. I will confess to having a quite pronounced prejudice against his TV programmes. I will not suggest that he doesn’t know his stuff; he seems very knowledgeable. It’s probably more that I don’t like today’s style of science programme, which seems to assume we are all stupid with the attention span ascribed to goldfish. It irritates me so much that I can’t watch. And then the heroic poses; against a lonely seascape, against a range of mountains, against the desolation of a desert, hair blowing, nobly gaze into the distance; make me mildly nauseous. Well this evening was a revelation. Not only is the man amusing and self-deprecating, he has a talent for explaining difficult things clearly without either patronising or sinking into dullness. I was completely won over.

After the break Helen Arney graced the stage with her ukulele and a couple of lovely songs about sex. We really ought to see more of her. She’s bright and funny and produces great songs. Lets make love like animals. Well perhaps not like Angler Fish. I’d sort of not like a pair of genitals left attached to my body for me to use later.

Simon Singh was dependably interesting, with an understandable description of the Doppler effect, a sodium emitting gherkin and proof of the Big Bang. Even though I’d seen the talk before it was worth listening to again.

Perhaps the nicest thing about the evening, along with the gustatory brilliance of the Home Bistro, was the feeling of being part of a crowd of people getting their kicks from learning from and being entertained by some very bright people. I just wish a similar number of people had been drawn to Thursday’s discussion of ending extreme poverty.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Some more thoughts on banks

I mentioned my bank issues in Journey Planet really as a prelude to an appalling pun, however, it’s something that I want to return to after the Global Poverty project I’ve participated in recently.

To put it in context, although I grumble a lot I don’t usually move away from any provider. A mixture of inertia and loyalty. I have used two clearing banks in my life. My father worked for Midland Bank and so I banked with them until I got married, even when they heartlessly made him redundant. I only moved to my current bank because David, my husband, pointed out that if we ever needed to borrow money we would be better asking a bank with which we had a good credit record. I’d had a permanent overdraft with Midland. Until we married David had never been in debt with his bank. So, I closed my Midland account and we had a joint account with Barclays Bank.

I would never have chosen Barclays. The apartheid protests lingered in my awareness but David made a good point and at the time Barclays had divested themselves of the offending interests. So, we had a joint account and I settled into an apathetic relationship with Barclays.

Twenty three years later I am thinking again. I have always found the telephone ‘support’ from Barclays irritating. Some years ago I considered dumping the bank because of their Hard Sell but the branch staff in Kidderminster were really lovely and provided me with a direct dial so I didn’t have to go through the call centre. They told me at the time that they shouldn’t do this but many of their customers had the same problem and so, in order to keep some semblance of personal banking, they were ignoring the dictat.

My dissatisfaction has grown recently. About a year ago someone from Barclays phoned me up at work, ostensibly to check my payments, but actually to try to sell me cheaper house insurance. It wasted half an hour of my time that I then had to make up at the end of the day. Silly things started to irritate me. I now no longer visit a branch; all transactions are online, so there is never a personable teller to interact with, just an impersonal screen. In some ways I like this, but it means I have no loyalty, and the stupid tricks they play really annoy me. The ‘next’ button on each page is always below the visible window. The obvious button, which I occasionally click on inadvertently, is usually to a sales pitch – update your account to one that gives you useless ‘benefits’ and costs more, for example.

So, over recent years, some irritation. I suspect that this would be the case whichever bank I was with. As is regularly pointed out, they are businesses and they need to expand their business all the time (which is a rant for another time) but I am resistant to being sold to when I have no need and I resent having my time wasted, either online or by telephone sales calls.

What finally tipped the balance, some time on from the banking crisis, was Bob Diamond’s bonus, the pitiful amount of corporation tax paid and the news that Barclays is implicated in the further commoditisation of food via agricultural speculation using collateralised commodity obligations. For those living in extreme poverty, increasing food prices driven by financial speculation means starvation. Generally the people benefitting from food speculation have never been hungry in their lives, have never felt concern about their children suffering from malnutrition, have probably never thought of the consequences of one more financial bet. Barclays Capital are just the provider of this ‘service’ but the banks lobbied very hard for deregulation of the commodities markets to make this type of transaction possible and Barclays is the UK’s biggest player in the food commodities market, one of the big three in the world. I don’t want any part in supporting an organisation that is doing this. I am not under any illusion that taking my monthly pay packet away from them is going to make the least bit of difference to Barclays but I am moving my money to a mutual building society where I’m fairly sure my money will be supporting more benign projects.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Day five

It’s the last day and I’ve just eaten my last meal of the five days (chick pea and lovage omelette). I have 300g barley, about 25g quinoa and a dusting of porridge oats left together with 40p. It’s Friday and I really, really want a glass of wine.
It’s been an interesting week. It has been an enlightening experience and the cause of many conversations but I haven’t spent so much time thinking, and talking, about food since I was a dieting teen. I have never been desperately hungry but there has definitely been a peckishness; a desire to eat more, and more varied foods, than I had available. On the other hand I feel quite well. No coffee, tea, wine or sugar, no bread and very reduced amounts of dairy food have left me feeling better than usual. A more equitable sharing of resources would probably benefit the rich world as well as lifting 1.4 billion out of a level of poverty that this week has only given a vague glimpse of.  

Finally I’d like to thank everyone who has (or will) donate money. I really appreciate it.  

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Day four

A whole banana with breakfast this morning. It felt like luxury. For lunch I cooked a cup of quinoa, mixed in chick peas, olive oil and mint from my depleting pot and divided it up for Sally to eat at home (there was a strike at college) and me to take to work. It was surprisingly delicious and very filling but, as I was running a course with lunch provided, I had to explain to the delegates why I was eating this when they were tucking into exotic sarnies and several varieties of cake. The course was about sustainability and, whilst talking about resource issues we’d discussed escalating food prices and their effects on the developing world so it was an interesting talking point. Tonight I used up all the vegetables bar one onion in a soup, which I’ll liquidise for tomorrow’s lunch. I was a bit appalled to find two of my remaining three carrots had gone manky. I salvaged what I could rather than flinging the lot. 
Only one more day!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Live Below the Line, Day Three

Today has been a hunger free day! Before setting off for work I simmered a handful of barley grains, threw in some chopped kale from the back garden and added it to my left over stew to make a fairly decent quantity. I cycled into work again along the canal. It was lovely and I paused to take a few photos. Breakfast was porridge and ½ a banana again with a dash of milk.

I had half a bowl of stew at noon and another half at 2pm. I’ve found that spreading the meal reduces the hunger and gives me something to look forward to.
Cycling back along the Five Weirs Walk, towards the end I was definitely flagging. Also, whilst I adore my bike, the saddle is not comfortable. Tomorrow I’m running a course so I’ll bike down to the station and catch a train in an attempt to arrive feeling less jounced about.

Once home, as it is half way through the five days we had a treat. It’s a meal I used to cook all the time when the kids were little and the Rayburn was always hot. Savoury oat bake is from Rose Elliot’s fab book, ‘Cheap and Easy’, and consists of porridge oats, a tin of tomatoes and 100g grated cheese, layered and baked. Total prep time five minutes, baking time 30 minutes. Comfort food of the best sort, being both cheap and yummy.

Anyway, enough of this thinking about food. I need to read a paper about resource efficiency and then go to sleep. 

To donate please go to my donation page.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Live Below the Line, Day Two

Today has been fine. I've been mildly hungry most of the day and I've really missed my hot drinks, other than the peppermint tea first thing. I've drunk a lot of water which, again, probably wouldn't be sustainable in a real life situation. Clean water is not easily available for people living in extreme poverty.

In an effort to be more realistic I cycled all the way to and from work today. That's about three hours cycling which may well be comparable with the time spent travelling to look for work (or fuel or water etc). Of course my bike is a nice shiny new one with gears so not truly comparable.

Porridge with a bit of my milk and plenty of water together with half a banana was a quite filling breakfast (35g oats) but less than I would normally have. Plenty of nettle soup for lunch so I had half at lunchtime and half before heading off to woodwork. I've just eaten half my dinner and will save the rest for lunch tomorrow so that I'm not reduced to banana and plain barley. The rest of the meals are sorted, it's just tomorrow that I'm short of. Not really short, of course, there are calories left but I'm too tired to cook barley tonight and don't want to get up before 6am to cook it.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Live Below the Line, Day One

I tumbled out of bed this morning feeling distinctly peckish and desperate for a cup of tea. Oh well. I picked a sprig of mint (a perennial planted three years ago and no money spent on it since) and made a mug of mint tea. It was very refreshing and made me wonder why I buy mint tea bags. On the other hand, it’s not that big a pot of mint. It will probably last me the week and then I’ll have to leave it alone for a month. This would definitely not be sustainable long term. Nor is the use of an electric kettle just to make a drink.

To distract myself I got Ian to give me a lift up to the allotment with my fork, rake and watering can. Of course, a convenient lift is another luxury not available to people living in extreme poverty. It took me over two hours to clear a tiny bit of weed engulfed land that I then sowed with wild clover as a holding crop/green manure until I’ve got something more useful to plant there. Once the backbreaking digging was finished I picked a bag full of nettle tops. Another free ingredient but one I wouldn’t have walked over a mile to harvest.

Back at the house I fried the first of my four onions in a dollop of olive oil then went into the garden to dig up a couple of leeks. These are going rapidly to seed. It's amazing they survived my garden being decimated by the builders earlier in the year. I reckon I should put 5p in for my leeks and another 5p for the chard running to seed in a pot in the front that I intend to use. This leaves me with 46p. I chopped my straggly leeks up and added them to the pan. I would not usually use the green leaves but this is not time to throw away food value so the whole lot went in along with three spoonfuls of cooked chick peas, the bag of nettle tops and a fair amount of water.  Five minutes later I liquidised the lot. There’s a decent amount, enough for lunch tomorrow as well. It’s a little thin but tastes delicious. Normally I would have grated nutmeg into it and eaten it with a good tablespoon of yogurt and a hunk of bread. Not today.

I’m already starting to worry about the onions. I’ve only got three left. That’s a worry. I had probably better do a bit of planning.

So, at 6.30pm I’m feeling the sort of peckish you get when you’re on a diet. By no means awful, but noticeable.  We’re just waiting for the 1/3 cup of quinoa to cook. One of the things that is increasing my hunger is that Ian is, very ostentatiously, eating a Chinese takeaway in front of me and drinking a glass of Sauternes. Bad Ian!

Dinner tonight, for Sally and me is chick pea and barley stew with onion, carrot and potato. Two onions, three carrots and three potatoes left. Tomorrow will likey be the same meals again. I’m in the office and then will go straight from work to woodwork at the college. I won’t be home until around 9.30pm so there will be warming up rather than cooking. I’ll have to think about what to eat and when to cook Wednesday lunch. 

It's been a pretty good day. It feels like a very healthy diet so far. I'd just really, really like a glass of wine.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Getting ready for Below the Line

Hm. So not so easy as the Tesco website makes it seem to be. I wandered down early afternoon and there were no loose potatoes, no plum tomatoes, only chopped (2p extra) and the only ‘value’ stock cubes were beef. The non-value vegetable cubes are 78p. On the positive side there were a bag of 7 large bananas for 35p. They looked a little green and slightly bruised but worth the extra cash for a little variety.

Julia Daly asked whether I wanted to move back in with her for the week, which brings me to one of my concerns. It’s a great idea to live for five days to raise awareness of extreme poverty but we shouldn’t forget that we are only eating on £1 a day. People in real need are actually living on that. I have a vague memory of Lady Olga Maitland (con) many years ago proclaiming, after feeding herself for a week on the money given out in benefits (eat liver – it’s very cheap), that it was quite possible to be very comfortable, even if you are on benefits, if you plan well and shop carefully. I am guessing that even at the time her careful shopping would have involved someone else doing all the research and going to a dozen different shops to get the very cheapest of each foodstuff.

I am sure I could have got better value if I had, as I noted yesterday, either the money or the time in my budget to get to the market in the centre of Sheffield but what I would have saved would have been more than lost in either bus fares or time. Similarly, I have bought 500g of dried chick peas which gives a decent amount of food for the money (78p) but require to be soaked overnight, boiled hard in a change of water for a short time then simmered for around an hour. If I were living on the edge of extreme poverty, the fuel to cook the chick peas, if bought, would be expensive and, if gathered as wood, would take a lot of time to collect. I’m also going to cook the full 500g at once but this requires me to own and be able to pay to run a fridge.

So, those 1.4 billion people living in extreme poverty have to find the money (or time) for fuel for cooking and warmth, find the money (or time) to travel to find or do work, find the money (or time) to obtain water for drinking, cooking and washing themselves and their clothes, find the money to clothe themselves and their children, at the very least. They might need to pay for health care, and want to pay for their children’s education. Obviously, on a pound a day they are unlikely to be able to achieve most of the above. Obviously, also, as we’ve already found, having more people working together to bring in money will mean that certain economies of scale can be achieved giving a small amount of flexibility. Extreme poverty encourages big families from a purely economic point of view but will not allow for education; everyone will have to work to keep everyone fed. And there is no chance of working your way out of poverty.

I worked out that currently my outgoings are around £20 per day, before we factor in buying food, buying toiletries and clothes (necessary for work) or any fun at all. I can cut that to around £12 per day by cutting out my charitable donations, all my comms (phone, mobile, broadband, TV licence, email domain etc) and my house & contents insurance. Having no car makes this easier. I can, indeed, get to £4 a day by not contributing to university expenses. Could I survive on £5 per day? Yes. But £1? Well of course I could. It wouldn't be in a house but on the streets. It would be the barest of survival.  And around the world a fifth of all people are living on this extreme edge of despair.

To donate please go to my donation page.

Saturday, April 30, 2011


I have never spent this much time thinking about what I was going to buy to eat for a week. At my best I sit down and plan out menus for the week then write a shopping list, which I take to Waitrose and stick to, pretty much. At my worst I shop when I’m hungry and pile anything that takes my fancy into the trolley. I usually end up with too much stuff, most of which I do eat but after it is past its best, some of which I throw away when I find it mouldering gently in a corner at the back of the fridge. This week, with so little money I have spent quite some time online comparing prices.

The first thing to think about is that I must buy what is available. That is, I can’t buy in bulk and then split the food into smaller lots. If 500g is the smallest size of an ingredient that is sold, that is what I must buy. This, of course, presents the first difficulty of shopping when you are poor. The less you can buy at a time, the more it costs per unit. The economies of scale are just not available. It used to be that there were lots of bin-shops where you could find large numbers of open bins containing dry foods. You scooped out as much as you wanted. What an excellent idea. Unfortunately this fashion seems to have disappeared around here and there are no such shops in walking distance. And that’s the other thing I decided. If I am eating on £1 a day it is cheating to drive half way across Yorkshire to find food that is 20p cheaper per item. Everything must be purchased within walking distance of where I live. That leaves me Tesco, Waitrose, the Co-op a couple of health food shops and a greengrocers. There is a market in Sheffield that would probably be cheaper for fresh vegetables but it is a bus ride away (£2.60 there and back) or an hour and a half walk.
My usual supermarket of choice is Waitrose but I haven’t been able to use them this week because they tended to be up to 10p more expensive than Tescos. The Co-op is my nearest supermarket but is also more expensive for most things and has a very limited dried food section. My eggs and onions come from the Co-op, my cheese from Waitrose and all the rest from Tescos.

Shopping for one person is very difficult. I went for the following:
250ml Tesco extra virgin olive oil, 98p
500g dried chick peas, 78p
4 onions, 60p
4 carrots, 28p
500g pearl barley, 39p
300g quinoa, £1.69
10 Tesco value stock cubes, 10p

As you can see, a week of very boring meals for me! Having cooking oil seems very important to me, the flavour is in the oil, and a lot of the calories. Chick peas are my main protein with either barley (extremely cheap) or quinoa (my most expensive choice but a complete protein source). There are only two vegetables, onions and carrots. Onions are cheap, provide a decent amount of bulk and give a lot of taste. I’ve chosen carrots for the vitamin content and, again, the taste. I can’t afford any spices so the stock cubes are to add some additional taste to the grains. Luckily there’s a bay tree and a little thyme bush in the garden, which I am considering to be free because I haven’t spent anything on them for three years.

Having grumbled to Sally she suggested I reconsider and feed her too. Mm, good idea. That immediately made everything easier. With another five pounds to spend I was able to add the following:
500g Tesco porridge oats, 62p
1pt full fat milk, 48p
6 Co-op free range eggs, mixed size, £1.20
120g Wookey Hole Cheddar cheese, £1.06 (from the cheese counter at Waitrose)
4 new potatoes, 60p
1 tin Tesco value plum tomatoes, 31p

I’ve chosen full fat milk because it is the same cost as skimmed or semi and has more calories and nutrition for the money. The value eggs were much cheaper but I’d rather do without than use eggs from battery hens. The cheese is more a condiment than a major ingredient and was only affordable because at the cheese counter you can get whatever amount you want. The plum tomatoes are 2p cheaper than chopped and, when every penny counts, I can chop my own tinned tomatoes.

What I am doing without is tea, coffee and alcohol because it’s just not affordable on a tight budget. I’ve also decided not to buy any fruit. It’s relatively expensive and it doesn’t give enough calories for my cash. In a few months time I’d be able to eat blackcurrants out of the garden and forage for early blackberries. At the moment all I can forage is leafy vegetables.  There’re nettles, dandelions, and ransomes. I’ve also got the remains of some going to seed kale and chard and I may use the green shoots of one of the garlic plants. This is the equivalent to eating you seed corn as there won’t be a bulb from that plant at the end of the year. What this demonstrates is that anyone with access to land can live much better than those reliant on shops.

I’ve currently got 91p left to play with and I may go looking in the reduced bins. Now I’ve got to plan how to make these ingredients stretch for fifteen meals.