Not Buying It – food I don’t need

We seem to live in a very unbalanced world. We have food poverty side by side with obesity, a whole industry based on making us feel guilty if we choose full fat of anything and while some spend money on food in order to be thinner, the numbers of families dependent on food banks rises. I struggle to make sense of it.

this is what gets thrown away

this is what gets thrown away

And I see food waste every where. Supermarkets are possibly the biggest culprit of food waste. They encourage customers to buy more than they need with various offers, yet apparently one third of the bread we buy is thrown away! Food retailers need to really need to work out how they can support charities more effectively by donating unsold food and not throwing it into skips. I am already on the case on one chain of bakers who throw bags of bread away each day, to see if they can support SIFA fireside to provide breakfast for homeless people in Birmingham. And I am hoping that the recent case where charges were dropped against the men who raided a skip outside Iceland prompts them to work on a policy of working with charities.

surely some of this ccould be used by food charities such as Foodcycle?

surely some of this could be used by food charities such as Foodcycle?

I like food. I like cooking it and love eating it more. Sometimes I think this blog is more about food than travel. Yet faced with food waste by supermarkets and in the home, I am Not Buying It.

Of course I need food, I need to eat, but how many of us have food that we bought and never use or throw away ? I do, which is why I am not going to buy food I do not need.

One of my very first posts was written at Heathrow Airport for Blog Action Day 2011. I was in the food court, reflecting on how much some of have while others starve. You can read it here.

Food poverty is something that makes me really angry, and the past year or so there have been certain politicians who seem to be in denial that his is happening in a first world country. Ian Duncan Smith can, he told us live on £53 a week ‘if he had to’. I tried to and failed, and again I wrote about it here. In fact I banged on about it quite a bit so feel free to explore my blog to read more.

Then there is the annual Live Below the Line challenge. Five days with only £5 for food. Yes, I had a go at this too.  I would not compromise on nasty value sausages and plastic bread, choosing lentils and other cheaper and healthier ingredients, and some rather good Aldi sausages instead. I was spending slightly over the £1 allowed, but eating very well.

My food hero is A Girl Called Jack. I think she has done so much in the last twelve months to highlight the fact that many of us could end up on benefits and experience food poverty. More than that, she is jolly inventive with cheap food to provide nutritious meals for her and her son. Tinned potatoes and carrots are regularly used in this house now as they are cheaper than fresh. Add a tin of beans, some good sausages and an onion and you have a tasty supper. And the Creamy Salmon Pasta at 27p per portion is lovely. 

Another blog I followed avidly in 2013 was A Year Without Supermarkets. No supermarkets at all for a whole year with a budget of £50 per week to feed two adults and one toddler. And they did it. Indeed the average food bill was less than their budget.

So as part of the whole not buying it in 2014, I decided to really trim my food shopping. I have planned meals around what I had in the freezer, fridge and store cupboards and while I would love to say I have avoided supermarkets, I haven’t. But I will not give the big three (Orange one, Green one and Blue one) my money. They suck you in with the BOGOF deals and you end up buying thing you don’t need.

This month I have hosted a 20 year old French student who is studying English. Like most 20 year old men, he has a big appetite. Annoyingly he seems to be able to eat twice as much as I do and still stay slim as does my 21 year old son. The French student loves pasta and bananas. (only 29p a bag) and I seem to be buying a kilo of bananas a day. Thank goodness for my saviour of cheap food, Aldi. I have visited the open air food market in Birmingham a couple of times, and while it is undeniably cheap, I find by sticking to the Aldi Super Six, is more cost effective for me, as is buying the biggest bag of potatoes. The bargain bananas are 68p a kilo. 

Gateway pie

Gateway pie

So what have we eaten? Despite having those lentils and rice that are destined to haunt me (I know I have to use them) I have been experimenting with new recipes. The Hit and Run Tray Bake has become one of my favourite dinners to make as there is absolutely no faffing. To use up the potatoes I made a student favourite layering slices of potato, onion and bacon bits with a cheese sauce. Back in the 70’s the Gateway supermarket in Clifton had a deli counter where they had all the off cuts of bacon and cheese at silly prices so this was how this recipe got invented, I think. Because I had some spinich lurking in the fridge, that got added too. And I also made the Sweet Pea Fish Pie, another recipe from Jamie Oliver. All of these came to less than £1 per portion and the Gateway pie, as I call it, nearer 50p per person. We have had a roast turkey dinner, using up the half price crown of turkey I bought on Christmas Eve. That £55 has of course been supplemented by food I already had in. I am lucky, I have storecupboard staples and a freezer so that when I do see a bargain I can store it for another day.

Sweet Pea Fish Pie

Sweet Pea Fish Pie

I suppose what I am saying is that yes it is relatively easy to eat well on a small budget, if you have some basic cooking skills and live near a place where you can access cheap, good quality food. Not everyone does, of course and and not everyone can afford to buy in bulk which is often cheaper. That said, I have two elderly neighbours who buy the Aldi Super Six and split the packet and the cost. They can’t get through a big bag of carrots alone yet still want to save money. Excellent planning!

Planning  is the key to saving money on food, I list what I have in the house and cook around it buying only additional ingredients when necessary. I avoid the Big Three. If I go to the Green one I always end up being tempted to buy something I do not need. And this is how all this Not Buying It began.

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Not Buying It – But Borrowing Books

I love books. I really do. My first proper job after graduating was managing a book shop. I have worked in the library service. I love book shops. My favourite one at the moment is Scarthin Books in Derbyshire. If you have never been, you are in for a lovely surprise. Independently owned, it is an Aladdin’s cave of books. It has a lovely cafe and a wonderful view. Even the loo is worth a visit.

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I have all sorts of books, novels, travel books, cookery books. And it is hard to part with them.

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I have spent the last year weeding out my collection of books. I had too many. I need to declutter. I have probably got rid of over half my collection and the Jane Austen and Bronte novels I bought in the 1970’s were the first to go. That was hard. I knew that I would never read these editions again (I will re read the novels again and again) because the print is too small for me to read.

The process of deciding which ones to part with involved a lot of emptying of shelves and stacking of books. And a lot of dusting.

The sorting of the books begins

The sorting of the books begins

My cook book collection

These are in the kitchen and are all cookery books, with one or two gardening grow your own type books (I plan to and never do).

Two bookshelves in the dining room.

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The collection in the sitting room.

Books in the sitting room

Books in the sitting room

The ones I am thinking about donating or maybe not.

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I was tempted by a bargain book at the Green supermarket a couple of weeks back and as documented in a earlier post, I did not fall to the temptation.

I won’t be without my best friends though because I can get all these lovely books, for free at my library.

Currently on loan from Sandwell Libraries

Currently on loan from Sandwell Libraries

Twice a week I got to Make Friends with a Book, a shared reading group, that has four groups in Sandwell Libraries. I love the going, it is so relaxing and everyone is so welcoming and friendly. I am a little bit a lot biased as I was part of the team that sourced the funding, five years ago, to bring shared reading to Sandwell. The groups share short stories, novels and poem, all read aloud. There is always tea of course. The conversations that we have, when reflecting on what we have heard are always interesting. On Monday I admitted to being very much like the young boy in Powder, who, as he always thinks ahead, numbers his coathangers. (I don’t number them, I do have a system though).

As well as meeting to share books, the group have gone on theatre visits too. Most recently to see a Christmas Carol at the Birmingham Rep. they have also been to Stratford to see The Tempest and All’s Well that Ends Well.

Make Friends with a Book go to Stratford

Make Friends with a Book go to Stratford

Many of the short stories we read are from a collection put together by The Reader Organisation, who were the pioneers of shared reading with their Get into Reading groups. The facilitators of Make Friends with a Book in Sandwell were trained by them.

To find out more about shared reading in Sandwell visit the Make Friends with a Book website here.

I am looking for a good home for my collection of feminist novels by Fay Weldon and my Harry Potter books.

The Harry Potter and Fay Weldon books currently seeking a new home

The Harry Potter and Fay Weldon books seeking a new home

Let me know if you can re home them.

All the lonely people, where do they all come from?

I first noticed Gordon standing on the steps of Winchester Library. It was hard to tell his age, older, well dressed, wearing a Trilby. He wore the hat confidently. I was sitting in the Black White Red café opposite, which was filling up with families with young children on this very wet and windy Sunday morning. He glanced at his watch a few times as if not sure about what to do. The library was not yet open and perhaps he thought of returning home as the weather was so dreadful. I was willing him to come to the café and not be alone.

He crossed the road and came into the café. There were just two tables left and he chose the one next to mine. Once he had settled, I asked him if he was waiting for the library to open. It was by then only 10am and the library did not open until 11 he informed me. We chatted, about how few libraries opened on a Sunday and how being in a warm café was preferable to waiting in the cold and wet. It was his first time in this café. My brunch arrived, he said he had already had breakfast. I suggested that maybe this could be his new Sunday routine, brunch before the library, he thought it could be.

The café was busy, dripping umbrellas, soggy Barbours and wellie clad children whose parents in Hunter’s with Cath Kidson changing bags were busy juggling babies with lattes and pancakes and catching up with friends. I was probably the only one who had noticed him standing on the steps earlier. We were at separate tables, Gordon and I chatting with little eye contact as we were next to each other. Always a good way to start a conversation, I find, sitting next to one another, like on a bus. Or when the unexpected question that children ask in the car while you are driving. Lack of eye contact helps the conversation along. 

Silence fell as I ate and he warmed himself with his coffee. Yet we knew this was just a lull in conversation. He had just moved to central Winchester as a stroke just over two years ago meant he could no longer drive. Now everything he needed was within walking distance. He never thought he would move, not after losing his wife to cancer six years ago. He wells up with tears, as so mine. As I am now. A few days back it was the first anniversary of my mother dying and I am reminded of this, as he sits and remembers his wife. We share our grief in silence. I say I am sorry, how sad, it is clear he misses her so very much.

He told me she had been a nurse, but after they lost their second child, she decided to change career as she found it too much to continue to work in a hospital. How dreadful to lose a child and now he has lost his wife I thought. He was a teacher too. I told him that my mom had taught and that it was the anniversary of her death. He knew. He knew.

Somehow the conversation switches to other things, to cheer ourselves up, and I find out he has grandchildren. I talk about my children. We don’t mention names.  Mine had had to do chores from early on and do their own washing from age 15 while his grandchildren still get it all done for them.

I tell him how we left the youngest to cope for 5 months when I went around the world with my husband, back packing. His eyes lit up, what an adventure, he said, they had travelled a lot he said in Europe and in 5 star resorts. His wife liked more luxurious holidays you see, as she reckoned they both worked hard so needed the rest. I said we had just been to Marrakesh. He tells me that they had had to cancel a holiday to Morocco when they found out she was ill. I got the impression that he had not been on holiday for a while. Four years after she had died he had had a stroke. Maybe he goes with his daughter now. He didn’t say.

Yet he was making the best of his new life. Living in a smaller and more manageable house by the river, involving himself with activities in the library and concerts at the cathedral. I told him that he was brave and wise to make the move to the city, and asked if he had made new friends. He had but seemed to be meeting people younger he felt he was like a father figure. Yes I thought. You are the father I wish I had had instead of the one I never had.

He had taught English, oh, I said,  was so lucky to have had inspirational English teachers. I told him what I had studied. I told him about how my last proper day out with my mother was to Stratford to see The Tempest with Make Friends with a Book. I showed him the photos of us all, on my iPad. He had not heard of shared reading groups. I told him what a difference it had made to my mom in her last few months, stories of how it had changed people’s lives. How sad I was that they were under threat due to withdrawal of funding. He read through the website, listened to what we had read. As an English teacher he understood the impact that great literature can have on people. 

I gave him my email details and we said our goodbyes. And I realised that there was so much more he could have shared with me. I was guilty of using the worrds I and me too much, of not listening.

And then I recalled a post I had read a few days ago. About Edith and how TV was her best friend. This is the paragraph that stood out for me.

And be interested in our lives … I may be confined to a chair now but I used to own three motorbikes, you know. Let me share some of my stories – not just so I can talk but so you can get to know who I really am. I know that takes time but all relationships do.

How many older, and younger people live like that? Only seeing carers or not even that, just a neighbour who gets your shopping once a week. Alone in their chair with only Corrie for company.

Like Edith they may have ridden motorbikes when young, what is certain they all have a past. We all do.

I have shoe boxes of photographs and letters that my mother kept, but no one now to ask ‘who is this and when was this?’ Mom had a story to tell, and I have snippets of her life as an usherette, and actress, my dad, and how Michael Caine bought me an ice cream. Yet I don’t know her story, not really. I asked her to start writing it down years ago, she never did. Perhaps I could have had Tuesdays with Sylvia and got her to talk to me about those days and recorded it. Perhaps I needed to listen more. Perhaps we all need to listen more. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.

I took it for granted that she would always be around to share her life story. That there would be another day to listen to them. Today is that day to listen to Edith, or Gordon or to your mom.

And I reflected that one of the great things about a shared reading group is that they give people like Gordon, Edith and Sylvia a safe place to share their stories. Talk about who ‘they used to be’ before they got old and invisible, blind and in a wheelchair.

On Monday we read a short story called Powder by Tobias Wolff. It is a story about an young boy and his father on a ski trip. A dad who is a risk-taker. 

Just before Christmas my father took me skiing at Mount Baker. He’d had to fight for the privilege of my company, because my mother was still angry with him for sneaking me into a nightclub during his last visit, to see Thelonius Monk.

One person in the group said how it reminded her of her husband, who was a confident driver and who had a love for motorcycling. She was in the moment, when her husband was young, seeing him as he was then. Like Gordon had recalled his wife, eyes shining with happiness. He husband  had recently passed after a long illness and she had nursed him, like Gordon looked after his wife, but as she listened to that story all she could remember was the young man she had fell in love with.

And that was what I had told Gordon about, that Make Friends with a Book is that safe place, to share memories and anecdotes, happy and sad. Shared reading is powerful like that.

It reminded me of my father who was an unreliable risk taker. A wall of death cyclist. Who never made me feel safe. I think Gordon made his children and his wife feel safe.

And when the group closes after four and a bit years, where will those people go to share their thoughts and memories, over tea and a good book? Many will go back to their lonely cold houses with the telly as their best friend.

And that makes me sad.

So if you met a Gordon, and Edith or a Sylvia, talk to them. And listen too.

Edith, Gordon and Sylvia, we know some of you are lonely, so talk to us, and share your memories. Don’t close the door and cast your bitterness and your regrets for what may have been, your if onlys over us. Don’t be an Eleanor Rigby who ‘Waits at the window, wearing the face that she keeps in a jar by the door’.

And you, yes you, before you become Edith, and can still see, and hear and walk and talk and travel, and build a life of memories to share, do it. Notice what is around you, gasp at the rainbow and smell those spices and breath that sea air. Paint that picture.  And share it with us.

The last gifts I gave my mother were some audio books. On clearing her stuff I discovered she had listened to only one. Tuesdays with Morrie. I had debated whether to give it to her as it is about the time a man spends with his much admired terminally ill professor. And he puts his life on hold, and gains so much insight to his own life by listening.

Just what Edith, Gordon need and what Sylvia wanted.

We have one mouth and two ears for a reason. To listen twice as much as we talk.

I probably will never meet Gordon again. I was meant to meet him that day, that I know. As it says in The Celestine Prophecy:

“I don’t think that anything happens by coincidence… No one is here by accident… Everyone who crosses our path has a message for us. Otherwise they would have taken another path, or left earlier or later. The fact that these people are here means that they are here for some reason”…”

If I lived in Winchester I would spend every Sunday with Gordon. And listen more.

Is there someone you need to spend more time with? Go visit them while you can.

Not buying it – winter boots

The cat peed on my favourite leather boots.DSCN0356

They are not new boots, possibly 6 or 7 years old. I got them on sale but they were still about £80 or so. They meet nearly all my requirements. Flat but not frumpy, a good grippy sole for when it is icy. Good quality leather. Look good with dresses and jeans.

Now they are a bit stinky. Cat pee is stinky.

What to do?

I reluctantly decided that I may have to buy new boots as my only other boots are these.DSCN2215

Great for camping.

Not so great for an interview, or for a meeting.

My other favourite boots did not survive this weather last year.DSCN3732

I went boot shopping. I hate shopping and I hate shoe shopping. Not a shopper.

I spent three hours looking at boots, trying on boots, long boots, brown boots, and got fed up with shopping and I looked online and I really liked these boots from Toast. Met all my criteria for boots, see above, but not the price, see below.

Then I read this.

In this article Jessica Seaton, director of Toast, replied that her 14-year-old company seeks out women or men “with intelligence and something special about them”. She added that on “a couple of occasions” people of colour had been found who fitted this description. Is she really implying that black models simply aren’t bright enough?

I didn’t buy any boots. Not even those lovely ones even though they are on sale.

I reasoned that if I really want to make travelling my lifestyle and want to be in warm countries most of the time boots were probably not a priority. Heavy and bulky to carry and absolutely not needed in the countries I want to visit.

I was also incredibly shocked by the high cost and low quality of most of the boots in the shops. The average price was £150. The ones I got close to liking were over £200.

No boots. Not buying any boots.

I cleaned my leather boots inside and out. Saddle soap and a bit of Multi Purpose Cleaner and they don’t smell any more. Worried that they may foam in the rain (this has happened to me before).

The cat won’t pee on them again as I now put them away in the shoe cupboard.

And if it snows it will be wellies and socks.

Not buying it – a winter coat

If I had been in need of a winter coat there are some fantastic bargains out there. Not in the sales but in my local charity shops.

Last week I spotted what appeared to be a brand new beautiful camel wool and cashmere Mark and Spencers coat at £15 and an Eastex coat, probably last season, for a tenner. Both of these coats would retail at well over £100 if not more.  I nearly faint at the price of clothes when I go into Birmingham as it has been such a long time that I have bought anything new or not on sale. I cannot understand how people can afford to buy a new winter coat every year or why they would need to.

If I were not, not buying it I would have been tempted by the camel coat as it was such a bargain. But I don’t need one. I have plenty of coats. One for every imaginable occasion.

And for unimaginable ones too. A cyclone in Fiji? No problem, I have my trusty £5 bargain kag in a bag. The most useful item of clothing on my world trip. More about this here.IMG_7742

And I already have one camel coat I never wear as I am afraid it will get dirty. That was my TK Maxx bargain 6 years ago and based on a cost per wear ratio the most expensive at £50. It is a good coat for interviews though, I feel very grown up and sensible in it.

My oldest coat is 21 years old, and is now showing signs of wear. I call it my Scottish Widow coat as it is black wool and cashmere, almost ankle length and has a big hood. I was a pram pusher with another child at primary school when I bought it so needed a coat that would keep me warm and dry as we walked to school. It has now been relegated to being worn only in extreme weather conditions, yet this may be its last year (especially if I move to a warmer country). On the cost per wear ratios a bargain at £30, less than a quid a year.

I inherited a Gloverall Duffle Coat. Warm, practical, and who knew, Duffle Coats are back in fashion this year. Thanks mom, your overspending on and hoarding of high quality clothes will benefit me this winter. However the four Burberry Macs you left me are destined for another home via Vestaire.

I have the more glamourous Chamonix faux fur evening coat, for when I attend red carpet events or a spring lunch in the snow. (The second one has happened last March). This was also a charity shop bargain, £30, for a coat that retails at about £300. Cost per wear ratio not brilliant but it has been loaned out to friends and family. I may also be destined for Vestaire.

For days at antique markets I have the wool Cotswold Collection jacket, again from a charity shop. £10. DSCF1408

I also have one ski type jacket that I bought in a discount store in Cornwall as we were camping and it was raining. And a Jaeger dog-tooth coat, charity shop, not worn for over 8 years, maybe it needs to go?

I make that 7 coats and jackets. Is that too many? I would love to know what you think and share the secrets of your coat closet? And, have I, like mom, got the hoarding habit?

I really this not buying it year will be good for me, my purse and my wardrobe. What are you not buying this year?

This much I know about…why putting your family first matters

For all parents out there. For all my teacher friends and workaholics. For all of us who have parents still with us. . Read the comments too.

johntomsett

I have been a teacher for 25 years, a dad for 17 years, a Headteacher for 10 years and, at the age of 49, this much I know about why putting your family first matters.

To publish this has been a tough call. After a week of talking it through with him, my son Joe agreed to me posting this article. The tipping point came when one of my closest colleagues read it and said, It MUST be published at some point soon because too many of us are working ourselves into the ground. Joe remarked that what happened to him and me probably happens to lots of people…

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An Arthur Miller Life Lesson

“People are much more similar than you think. As I go around the world and ask those I meet what matters most to them, they all say their family comes first.” So said the CEO of Barclays, Antony Jenkins, to…

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Not buying the cook book – step one of not buying it in 2014

Most of us, even those of us who don’t make resolutions at the beginning of the year are looking to find ways to cut back on spending at this time of year. For some of us it is because we spent a lot at Christmas,  for others it is because we are facing higher fuel bill and the last few winters have been very cold.

My cook book collection

I am cutting back for two reasons, I want to save up for more holidays and short breaks, and I want an uncluttered home. I am in the process of re reading Not Buying It and planning to incorporate some of the principles into my life. I am continuing my mission to clear the clutter in my house and mind. I have also been inspired by Team Pugh, the guys behind A Year Without Supermarkets, who plan that 2014 is their Year with Less and will be following their progress with interest. The first rule of decluttering, for me, is to stop bringing more stuff into the house. I am hoping that by not buying things I do not need will not only save me money but also reduce the amount of stuff crap we seem to have accumulated over 30 odd years.

I think I passed my first test of temptation earlier this week when I popped into a local supermarket. Those of you who read my posts will know that I am not a big fan of supermarkets, especially the ones who offer bogofs and other such marketing ploy that tempt you to buy things you really did not plan to buy or more than you need. And it is so easy to get sucked into the lair, with jolly background music, amazing offers at the end of every aisle and heavy discounts on my weakness, books. This week I had to visit the big green supermarket to return an unsuitable Christmas gift, and as I did not have a receipt  I was refunded via their store card. I decided there and then that this was going to be my only visit in 2014 so I would need to spend the £5 today. I was also very keen to avoid making another trip there in the car, hunting for a parking space and negotiating zombie like shoppers mindlessly filling up oversized trolleys with food and bargains and stuff. So I had a mindless wonder around the shelves (a rooky mistake, no list) and then I saw it. It was a cookery book that had been recommended, and it was reduced from £14.99 to £5. Bargain! And somehow it found its way into my basket and before I knew it I was heading to the tills, giddy with the notion that I had bagged myself a bargain.

Just in time I remembered where I was and realised that I had fallen under the retail spell. I then gave myself a good talking to reminding myself that I had reduced my hoard of books at home by about 50% in 2013. And I really did not need another cook book. And I put it back. I did manage to spend the £5 (on some rather good wine from New Zealand) and now I have no reason to shop there again. Later today I am going to the Birmingham Markets, to see if it is cheaper to shop there than the discount supermarket I usually buy most of my food from. The Super Six fruit and veg offers are good value but I am finding it a struggle to get through a kilo of carrots or sprouts (made soup, frozen the sprouts) especially now we don’t have the chickens who used to get a lot of the excess veg.

Join me on the Not Buying It journey and see how I get on.