Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Determined concerning having found a solution (8)

I have in the past been reluctant to make - or at least, to publicly announce - new year's resolutions. However, this year I find that some ideas have come to me at around the right time to embark hopefully upon certain causes of self improvement. Resolutions fall into two categories - positive action, and self-denial. I have one in the first category, one and a bit in the sceond, and a bit of each.

1. I will not buy any clothes in 2014. This will probably be the hardest to keep. It began as a pledge to stop browsing and impulsively buying in charity shops, but really, there can't be anything I'll need in the next twelve months that can't wait. I half expect this one to falter, but let's see how long it will last.

2. I will go vegan (diet wise, that is; I'm not chucking out perfectly good clothes and shoes, although of course I won't be buying any either) for January at least. To commit to a whole year might seem too big a step (although I have done it before, for eighteen months, and it was surprisingly easy). The hard part will come when we are boating and have to (!) eat in pubs.

3. In conjunction with 2, I will not drink beer in January (yes, I know most beer isn't vegan anyway, but that along with wine was the one exception I used to allow myself). The idea is that 2 and 3 combined will lead me to becoming svelte, although I don't know why as I managed previously to be the world's only fat vegan. I hesitate to admit to giving up beer, and this one is definitely only temporary, but I have had rather a lot lately. There's no teaching in January, and little socialising forecast, so that shouldn't be too hard.

4. I will read fewer trashy detective novels (mainly because I've run out of authors) and more grown up books with matt finish covers.

5. And - the big positive one - I am resolved that 2014 will be the year I get to grips with the cryptic crossword, and enjoy all its entertaining and brain-rejuvenating benefits. This has been directly inspired by Diamond Geezer's centenary crossword, but is an ambition I can trace back to sixth form, when one of the teachers started a crossword club, and promised to initiate us into the mysteries of the cryptic clue. I don't know why I stopped going after one week - perhaps it all just seemed too hard - but ever since then I've had an awareness that solving these clues is a skill that can be learnt, and that it's something I ought to be good at. So I had a go at the Guardian one yesterday. I got off to a heartening start by identifying and then solving all the anagrams, and surprised myself by completing more than half of it over the next twenty four hours. When I got the answers this morning, I could understand how most of them worked. I have also ordered a couple of books which I hope will be helpful. Today's Guardian one (set by Shed) seems a lot harder and I've not made any progress yet, so thanks to Rufus for getting me off to a good start.

I will provide progress reports of the success or failure of all these ventures.

Meanwhile, it only remains to wish you your heart's desire in 2014.



Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Return to Newhaven

Little has changed since I was last here. Tellingly, the nail bar has become a food bank. I suspect that this is an even worse sign, economically, than a charity shop becoming a church outreach centre. It has rained non stop (apart from the hail) since I arrived on Friday.

I have, as of the present moment, spent slightly more than half my life in Newhaven. I intend to remedy this as soon as possible by spending the best part of the rest of it somewhere else. It seems quite likely, however, that I will never again spend twenty five years living in one place.

It has taken me far too long to realise how much more there is to this country than the expensive, crowded, ironically dirty, smug south east.

Oh dear, that's not a very cheery note for Christmas is it... Of course it is lovely to be back in the company of Sons 1 & 2 and their partners and in the case of No. 1 Son, offspring, and at least all the time it's raining it's not cold, and my goodness, that counts for a great deal.

So a very happy yuletide to everyone.



Monday, 23 December 2013

Christmas tradition number 1: cheese and biscuits

Back in Newhaven for Christmas and chaotic as ever, although thankfully warmer than the last two years, as we settle beck into the garden shed and negotiate the return of cutlery (and flatware!) from Number 2 Son. Shopping as usual is unplanned and ad hoc, until the final making of a list today (milk, cheese, biscuits, pickled onions, food). I was going to have a sandwich for my tea but Jim couldn't get a breadcake, so I broke out the cheese and biscuits instead.



These may be considered a quotidien postprandial treat for many, but for me they are very much a Yuletide indulgence. Especially TUC crackers, for which I have long had an inordinate fondness. As a child, I wondered why Len Murray and his ilk warranted a particularly tasty and crumbly biscuit being produced in their honour (yes, I was that kind of child) and to this day I am a trifle mystified by their name. But never mind. They are still crumbly and indulgent and delicious and somehow greasy.

Cheese and biscuits entails firstly selecting the biscuits. You can butter them, but they have a frustrating tendency to shatter, especially in the winter, so I trust to gravity and balance to keep the topping in place. Next, cut up some cheese into nibble sized pieces, and finally cut some pickled onions - the spiciest you can get - into eighths. The purpose of all this advance preparation is that you can now retire to the sofa and assemble a tasty snack with your right hand whilst holding a book in your left. Each mouthful must consist of a piece of cheese, a portion of onion, and a bite of biscuit. It is this last component which can be unpredictable and thus introduces a slight ait of adventure. The trick is to finish the biscuits, cheese and onions all together with no remainders - and of course, without having counted them out beforehand. If there is cheese left, you need more biscuits, and possibly more onions. After the cheese is gone, you may find yourself left with an excess of onion pieces, requiring the adfition of ,ore cheese. In this way, a light teatime snack can go on for a very long time. Being an old hand, ended with a neat two bits each of cheese and onion, requiring just one further TUC biscuit to finish them off in two neat bites. Merry Christmas!

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Wardrobe mistress




After... Goodness, it looks just like in the books.

It's no secret that I have a bit of a charity shop habit, and this manifests itself mainly in buying clothes. Wherever I am, I take at least a weekly stroll through the local philanthropic emporia, usually coming away with at least one impulse purchase, and frequently more. Despite rising prices and increasing charitable rapaciousness, most items cost only four or five pounds. For years I've convinced myself that I'm a thrifty shopper, spending less on my high class wardrobe than others do on their supermarket sweatshop one.

I'm starting to wonder, however, in the light of the sheer volume of my purchases, whether I'm deluding myself. It all adds up after all... not only in pennies but in the space it consumes. My flat came with two wardrobes, a modest pine one, and a massive classic G-Plan teak one. Of course they were both soon packed so tight that there was hardly any point in ironing anything, and deciding what to wear each day had me frozen like Buridan's ass to the power of seven.

Every six months or so I announce, to assembled groans, that I am going to 'sort out my wardrobe'. This generally entailed getting everything out, looking at it, and putting it back. So many things I'd not yet got round to wearing, but still, they deserved a chance, so back they went. Things I felt duty bound to keep, for sentimental reasons, or because they'd been expensive, even if I didn't really (whisper it) like them very much. A few bits would get recycled back to the charity shop, and more often or not, I'd miss them. I have on at least one occasion bought something back after wondering how I could have been so stupid as to get rid of it.

The internet is full of helpful women, mostly American, telling you how to master your wardrobe. They usually start with sorting everything out by season, and packing away your unseasonal clothes somewhere inaccessible. Well, I don't have anywhere inaccessible, and most of my clothes aren't seasonal. Thick jumpers and thermal vests maybe don't get much of an outing in June, but almost anything else, in the right combination with other things, can be worn all year round. Then they say, sort out all your co-ordinated work outfits. My what? They talk about sorting out things that need washing, or mending, or dry cleaning... Nothing would ever go back in my wardrobe if it needed washing or mending (it would sit in the mending basket for a year instead) and as for dry cleaning... Whatever the label says, if it won't wash, I don't want it, so I stick it in the machine on a woollen cycle and let it take its chances. I've not lost anything yet.

Clearly the conventional approach was not going to work for me - but neither was my old method. So I applied myself to devising a new, effective, system for becoming mistress of one's wardrobe, and I proudly introduce it to you.

I decided that each item would be given a rating from 1 - 5, and allocated a place to stack up the stuff for each category. They were:

1. I hate it. Throw it out (no matter how much it cost or who gave it to me)

2. Seemed like a good idea at the time, but admit it, it doesn't work. Doesn't suit me or is the wrong size, or something I never have the occasion to wear.

3. Boring but useful.

4. It's very useful or I like it - something I wear a lot.

5. I love it and will never part with it.

I took each item out of the wardrobe, had a good look at it, a good think, maybe tried it on, then allocated it to one of these piles. Once the wardrobe was empty I turned my attention to them. Everything rated 4 or 5 went straight back in. Everything rated 1 and very nearly everything rated 2 (one exception, a sparkly blouse that's a bit tight but looks good undone over a vest) got thrown out. I went through the 3's checking for things that duplicated each other. There weren't any, but I could have thrown them out if there had been. This was the hardest category; I had to be strict about things that 'might be useful one day' but hadn't actually been so far. They went. Mostly.


I ended up, after doing both wardrobes, with four bags full for recycling, and then went on to apply the same system to my shoes, which now fit into the available space again. That's a bag shoes at the front.

So, next time you need to have a good sort out, there's yet another new system to try. And my new year's resolution is to stop buying stuff except when I have identified in advance something that I actually need. It will be hard, thinking of the treasures I might be missing, but at least the clothes I've got will have room to breathe.