Thrift is a choice for those who can afford it

to recommend thrift to the poor is both grotesque and insulting

Oscar Wilde. The Soul of Man Under Socialism 1891

He goes on to say :

It is like advising a man who is starving to eat less.

 

Yet isn’t that exactly what this government is telling us? To tighten our belts.

Food writers, TV chefs, glossy magazines, supermarket adverts are bombarding us with family meals on a budget, use cheap cuts of meat, grow your own veg, Save with Jamie and or Cheap and Cheerful recipes from James Martin.

The minimum wage for someone over 25 is £6.31 per hour.If you work a 40 hour week that is just over £252 a week, or £13124 a year, £1093 a month, before tax and other deductions. If you live in a council flat almost a quarter of your income will go on rent. I have checked a local authority for properties to let, and for a one bedroom flat the rent is between £75 and £83 in West Bromwich, Sandwell. If you rent from a private landlord the rent would be an average of £99. And on top of that there are utility bills and Council Tax to pay, about £30 per week depending where you live and time of year. Add to that travelling to work by bus, that is another £12 a week if you have a bus pass or £4 a day if you don’t. Numbeo have a cost of living indicator here on which I have based these figures.

After deducting these from your £252 pay packet you would be left with £135 for everything else. Food, clothes, prescriptions, entertainment, and saving for the spectacles you need, the boiler repair and the phone bill. I haven’t even added in the cost of a TV licence or internet connection or cable.

And then you become ill. Too ill to work. Or you get laid off. And then you have to rely on benefits. From the date of making a claim for Job Seekers Allowance and other benefits, to receiving payment, could take up to three weeks. Sometimes more if you have to be assessed for your fitness to work.

The gas bill is due and you cannot pay it. You cooker stops working and you cannot afford to replace it. To help you ‘budget’ your utility company installs a pre payment meter, which is the most expensive way to pay for gas and electric. Yet it stops you getting into debt by having bills you can’t pay. And then it snows, the temperature plummets and you have £5 to last the next three days.

What would you spend that £5 on?

And this is a scenario for a single person with no dependents. What if there were young children in the family?

Would you tell the young man working in a bar, on a minimum wage to be more thrifty?Could you tell a mom who buys food for her child and lives on tea with sugar to keep her energy levels to eat less?

To work harder?

The Living Wage Foundation work with employers to encourage them to pay a living, not minimum wage. The Joseph Rowntree Association have set a Minimum Income Standard based on what members of the public think is enough money to live on, to maintain a socially-acceptable quality of life. Both organisations agree that the minimum wage is too low.

I heard of a family that only had one lightbulb. Only light the room you are in. They were not practicing thrift, it wasn’t a choice to have one light bulb. They really could not to afford to put money in the meter to pay for the electricity.

And those of us who earn much more than the minimum wage, can make a choice to be thrifty. We can decide to save for a holiday abroad, a new kitchen, a rainy day we hope will never happen. How many of us have made a choice to not eat out or have takeaways for a few months to save for something special? Have you chosen to shop at Aldi instead of Asda?  Did you chose to shop at charity shops and feel triumphant when you got a designer dress for a fiver?

Some of us can afford to be thrifty. Others don’t have that choice, it is thrust upon them. They have already cut back and the cupboard is bare. They hang around supermarkets for when items are reduced and charity shops are not an opportunity to bag a bargain but are the only clothes they can afford. If the boiler breaks they hope the landlord will fix it. In the meantime you have cold washes not showers.

This is a reality for so many people in the UK today. If they are lucky they may get a a job that pays more, that gets them off benefits. If they are not they may get a referral to a foodbank from the Citizens Advice Bureau or Local Authority.

These are the figures from The Trussell Trust. Foodbank is not a lifestyle choice. Foodbank is a life line.

  • 913,138 people received three days’ emergency food from Trussell Trust foodbanks in 2013-14 compared to346,992 in 2012-13

Of course it will never happen to you. You have a good job, a house with a mortgage, a company car and a Final Pension Scheme. Life is good. And you go to Florida on a holiday of a lifetime. On the first day back at work you get a redundancy notice.

Six months later you are still unemployed. You savings have all gone.

Your children get Free School Dinners. A grant for a free school uniform.

Twelve months later you have to attend mandatory job club, with half a dozen other middle managers and directors who, like you, thought it would never happen to them.

Eighteen months later you get a job, on half the salary you were earning before. The bills are the same, the mortgage is in arrears, and so you spend the next one, two, three, ten years paying of the debt you accumulated when unemployed.

No, this could never happen to you.

But if you really want to know how it feels to be hungry, to have a child who was hungry, then read Hunger Hurts by Jack Monroe.

And then make a donation to your local foodbank.

Saga Louts invade the Electric Cinema

For our wedding anniversary I booked a sofa at The Electric Cinema to see The Grand Bucharest Hotel. We went to the Wednesday Matinee as later we were dining at Marco Pierre White’s Steakhouse Bar and Grill. We don’t do gifts we do experiences to celebrate special occasions.

I have written before about how I struggle with cinemas and the behaviour of the people in them, which prompted me to write about why I avoid cinemas. When I do go I choose times that I hope is too early for the yobs to be up, usually the first showing on a Sunday morning. It still doesn’t stop people taking toddlers to see 12A films which I ranted about here in my guide to cinema etiquette.

The Electric is a small independent cinema and the people who tend to go are there to watch ‘intelligent mainstream,independent, foriegn and classic films’. i.e. They don’t go to snog, indulge in heavy petting or throw sweets at the audience. Here I expect to be able to watch a film without anyone talking, texting or fornicating.

Yet on the last two visits, I have been severely let down by the clientele. Last time it was a couple who thought having a sofa would be a chance to indulge in a snog, and, that the film Before Midnight would be erotic as there was some nudity in it. They also seemed to disapprove of anyone over 30 as the looks we got from them were to kill. Not only were there people on the next sofa to them but they were old people. Halfway through they left thank goodness, after spending the first half on Facebook.

This time is was the turn of the Saga Louts to annoy me. Saga Louts with tech. Tech they couldn’t use. Lazy Saga Louts.

Let me explain. If you book certain sofas at The Electric you have the option of ordering food and drinks by text and have it delivered to you. I have mixed feeling about this to be honest. It is a novelty, and is convenient, but IMHO why? If you are on a sofa in Screen 1 you are les than 20 steps to the bar. If you get there early, ie before the film starts, you can order what you want and take it in with you, settle down and not interrupt anyone once the film starts. And, for those that know me, I am the slowest texter on this planet, so by the time I had remembered what sofa I was on, checked the menu and texted the order, the credits would be rolling and I would have missed the film.

This is what the Sage Louts did.

They were on the Harlow sofa and we were on the Baker Sofa.

The Electic Cinema Screen 1 Image from their web site https://www.theelectric.co.uk/booking-info.php

The Electric Cinema Screen 1 Image from their web site https://www.theelectric.co.uk/booking-info.php

You can see how close they were to the exit. The Box Office and bar is located very near to this exit. As they sat down the woman asked her male companion if they were going to get a drink. He told her that there was waiter service. The lights had dimmed and the adverts had started, so to see the menu they had to use one of their smart  phones to read the menu. Then they had a long and loud discussion about what to order. I am surprised the bar staff did not hear them and bring the order through there and then to put them and me out of our misery.

They begin to text hunt and peck the order. He cannot see his keypad so she uses her phone as a torch to help him.

At this stage I am losing the will to live. I can see the funny side. It would make a great comedy sketch.

Here comes the BUT. In bullet points. And it is all about me.

  • I am here to see a film
  • I chose this cinema to see a film with like minded people
  • I paid a lot of money to have a sofa
  • It is our wedding anniversary
  • It is my birthday
  • Get off your fat asses and walk ten paces to the bar and place your bloody order

The film starts, they are still faffing. I am distracted.

Finally they settle, shut up, put phones and spectacles and torch away. Yes she had a bloody torch with her. It wasn’t her phone.

Oh flip, I just realised I carry a torch in my handbag.

Ten minutes later their order hasn’t arrived so he get off his ass, and walks ten paces to the bar to enquire where it is.

Saga Louts.

The Electric Cinema needs a door policy. Here are my suggestions.

  • have you been here before?
  • you do realise it is not longer a porn cinema (yes it used to be)
  • no this is not the lap dancing club (they get asked this all the time)
  • have you booked a sofa?
  • you know the sofas don’t mean you can make out, right?
  • do you know how to text?
  • if the answer is no we have to take your refreshment order now please
  • if the answer is yes, you can use you phone to order food and drink but not to text your mates
  • go to the loo before the film starts
  • we don’t show loads of trailers so take you seat now please (this advice is on their web site)
  • you may be a hipster (really) but old people ie over 55 like films too and they grew up in the sixties and seventies mate so are already way cooler than you will ever be
  • while cooler than a hipster, people over 55 are usually crap at texting so place your order now please
  • put your torch away
  • and don’t talk at all through the film

That is all.

Disclaimer: I am over 55 (just) and lived on the Kings Road in the sixties. I have a Saga insurance policy. I don’t hate young people or hipsters (I dont actually know what a hipster is). I can’t text. I am probably a grumpy old woman. I don’t care, I wear purple, have red shoes instead of a red hat and eat sausages and butter. I have not yet run my stick along the public railings. I am however my mothers daughter so let that be a Warning to you. Yup. I like to offer a poem now and then.

PS The film was very good. Go and see it.

Be a tourist in your own back yard – Up The Cape

Last Sunday my husband and I went ‘Up the Cape’ with Ian Jelf, a Blue Badge Tourist Guide.

Ian Jelf

Ian Jelf

This is an area that my grandparents grew up in. My first Saturday job was in Woolworth’s Cape Hill and it is about a 20 minute walk from where I now live. Much of my childhood was spent around this area, as it had a thriving market and I had a favourite Auntie Renee who in the early 70’s lived in the then, modern, high rise flats. She had been moved from a prefab and considered herself very lucky to have a place with all mod cons including underfloor heating.

Yet I knew very little about the history of the area. A tour of the area was in order.

It would be fair to say that The Cape is not without its social and economic problems. It is an area of low wages, high unemployment and low educational attainment. A high number of the population are immigrants, from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, the Caribbean and more recently from Eastern Europe. The shops on Waterloo Road and Cape Hill reflect this rich diversity, and it is the best place to shop if you want Asian ingredients, quality fruit and veg and wonderfully colourful materials.

Fresh produce

Fresh produce

As ever there will be somewhere that bucks the trend, and throws statistics and predictions out of kilter. One primary school in the heart of this community, has a long reputation of educating young people who eventually go to university.

Two hundred and fify years or so ago, it was an area that was ‘highly desirable’. The Cape was where wealthy industrialists would make their family home, to the west of the city, avoiding pollution, on a hill overlooking Birmingham. It is hard to imagine that this was once pretty much rolling countryside. Yet my Grandad’s first job in the 1920’s was as a farm hand. His father was a highly skilled gilder, hand applying gold leaf to frames, many of which hang in the Birmingham Art Gallery, according to my Nan.

The group met on a very sunny Sunday in March at McDonald’s, at the junction of Dudley and Grove Lane. Not a place where you would normally expect a guide to the history of an area to begin. There was a good reason for this however (in addition to the practicalities of parking, toilets and refreshments) as this was the site of a former public house, The Cape of Good Hope which gave the area ‘The Cape’ its name.

Ian began by explaining that this would be an unusual tour because most of the places he would be talking about no longer existed as they had all been knocked down. DSCN0726

And of course we got some odd looks from passers by, a posse of middle aged white people, following a man with an umbrella, a trade mark of a Blue Badge guide, all wearing sensible shoes, and carrying cameras. In Smethwick on a Sunday. We may as well have had a placard declaring ‘History Geeks R US’. And we would have held it proudly!

The Grove

The Grove

And so we began. The Grove, a beautiful Art Deco Cinema now a bathroom show room.

A road named after Arthur Keen of Guest Keen and Nettlefolds (GKN).

Keen Street

Keen Street

A description of Smethwick Grove, a beautiful home to the Kier/Molliet family that used part of the canal as a boating lake, with swans and grazing cattle. James Kier was a member of The Lunar Society had been a friend of James Watt.

The Grove

The Grove

Then on to a now derelict pub (one of many in this area) The London Works. this pub would have served the workers who made the metal frames for The Crystal Palace for The Great Exhibition. The Glass was made just up the road at Chances of course. Yes, The Crystal Palace. Made in Smethwick.

A meander around a housing estate (more baffled looks from residents) crossing over from the land of Grove House to the estate of The Woodlands. The only remaining evidence of this is a run down Working Mans Club and the name of the street. New housing built in 1968 have one reference to history, the first moon landings.DSCF7964

Smethwick Windmill

Smethwick Windmill

As we go around the back of Asda and the Windmills Shopping Centre, named for the original windmill that once stood nearby, we find yet another beautiful and listed building.

The Gaumont

The Gaumont

It was originally the site of a skating rink built in 1909 which became The Rink Cinema in 1912. Demolished and rebuilt in 1928,i t is now the Victoria Suite having been The Gaumont Cinema and a Mecca bingo hall (frequented by my Aunt Renee).

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The next stop was at the junction of Waterloo Road, Cape Hill and Shireland Road. The Waterloo Pub. It is crowned with wonderful weather vane, in the shape of a Galleon. There are galleon tiles in The Grill Room. This is because the it was originally going to be called The Galleon, changed to The Waterloo due to its location.

It is a tragedy that this building is not being used. It was recently sold for £150k and yet nothing is being done to preserve it despite it being listed. Oh to win the lottery.

We continue along Shireland Road, to the site of the former Shireland Hall, another of the great houses in the area. Now a car park and terraced houses. It was the biggest house in the area as it had seven hearths (recorded due to The Hearth Tax). One of the many taxes invented to obtain revenue from house holders, such as the Window Tax, where the phrase Daylight Robbery is derived from. Oh the things you learn when on an Ian Jelf Guided Tour.

This junction was also a site of a battle in 1643. According to this article about the military history of Birmingham  ‘At the far end of the town at Cape Hill the Roundhead troopers made a stand and successfully checked the Cavaliers between the Royalists’. I think we ought to arrange a re-enactment sometime. That would make the locals look up!


And talking of looking up, above and among the shops and banks there is some amazing architecture.The Victorians made their buildings stand out with turrets and clock towers, even those to meet the needs of the poor such as The Dispensary, a now an “at risk” Grade II Listed Building. Cape Primary school is where my nan was educated over 90 years ago.

We end the tour at the site of the former Mitchells and Butlers Brewery. Now a housing estate. This was such a big site that it had its own fire station, railway network and cricket pitches. Only the fire station building, the war memorial and these gates remain.

Most of the pubs around the area were M&B pubs, my Grandad’s local was The Two Brewers (now demolished and a housing development) and the famous Blue Gates where Christabel Pankhust made a speech when seeking a parliamentary seat in the 1918 election.

Ian covered so much more than this post could do justice to. His knowledge of the area is amazing. His style is eccentric, witty and informative. And never ever boring.

If you want to learn more about where you live, find a Blue Badge Guide. If you live in Smethwick or Birmingham, find out where you can join an Ian Jelf Guided Tour.

And I will book myself on another tour of my back yard soon. Bearwood I think.

California Dreaming – Happy Birthday John Steinbeck

As we headed south toward Monterey on our Californian road trip, we noticed how the landscape seemed to suddenly change. We were driving across a vast dark, almost menacing plain, which was such a contrast to the colourful pumpkin patch

Pumpkin Patch

Pumpkin Patch

rolling hills and vales we had driven through earlier that day. 

Fields around Salinas

Fields around Salinas

Once settled in Monterey we sifted through the leaflets in the motel reception for ideas of what to do in the surrounding area. We thought we would only be staying one night and move on south after visiting Carmel (Phil was convinced we would bump into Clint) but that was not to be. There was so much to do in the area.

I discovered we were not far from where Steinbeck was born and raised and, having recently read Of Mice and Men with my Make Friends with a Book group, I was keen to visit.

We headed back to Salinas, a town surrounded by the dark and never-ending fertile plains we had driven across the day before.IMG_1741

And immediately I understood how this landscape would have influenced Steinbeck’s writing. There were people still toiling in the fields and digging up vegetables by hand just as George and Lennie had. This was a farming system that seemed very labour intensive.

Steinbeck was no stranger to such work himself, he worked on the farms in his summer holidays. I am sure he met people then who would become the basis of some of his characters.

I cannot say I liked Salinas. It was a featureless town built on a grid. The car park was full of big station wagons with number plates like this. IMG_1696It was a gritty place with gritty people. A real contrast after San Francisco with its hills and Bay Area. Yet near to the National Steinbeck Center art was fighting back.

And I discovered that in addition to the gritty novels that he wrote Steinbeck was famous for, he was also a traveller. He had lived in England for a while and had also been on his own road trip of America, documented in the book Travels with Charley. IMG_1710He had a pretty cool vehicle to travel in.

We had lunch in his former home, which I wrote about in this post Lunch with Steinbeck Dinner with Forrest.

The National Steinbeck Center is definitely worth a visit. I just wished I could share the experience with my friends at Bleakhouse Library who I had shared Of Mice and Men with in my Make Friends with a Book group.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

And I definitely agree with this.IMG_1703

Happy birthday John Steinbeck. 112 on February 23rd 2014.

I have just discovered that in two days time it is your birthday, whilst looking up the links for this post. Synchronicity, perhaps?  The Celestine Prophesy, which helped me understand this concept is also about travelling. And it has just occurred to me that I will be looking at camper vans on your birthday. Not planned, only because I have won free tickets to the Caravan and Camping Show. Perhaps it is meant to be? So, that like you, I can go on another road trip. 

Don’t let this happen to you! A cautionary tale arising from poor volunteer management.

Volunteering Counts in Dudley borough

success-failureFlicking through Twitter today, I came across an excellent blog post by Rhonda McClung, talking about how charities use up volunteers’ goodwill and willingness to volunteer by not treating them well or appreciating them properly:

“The compassion and benevolence that generate the goodwill that initially brings volunteers through your door can easily evaporate if your volunteer has even one bad experience.”

This is so true and having spoken to volunteers who have left organisations, one of the biggest reasons is that they don’t feel appreciated/valued or they feel underused.

“How do organizations use up their volunteers’ goodwill? Mismanaging their time.  Asking them to take on roles in which they are not comfortable.  Failing to communicate the importance of the assigned role.  Leaving them without the training necessary to be successful in the tasks for which they are responsible. “

This got me thinking about Volunteer Retention.  Does the above…

View original post 982 more words

California Dreaming – sunshine, seals and death in Santa Cruz

IMG_1677We were searching for the motel we had booked in Santa Cruz and were totally lost. It was called The Bay Front InnIMG_1623which ought to have been clue but we couldn’t find the bay. We were in the middle of residential housing, no map, no Sat Nav just a name of the motel. That is how we pretty much planned our road trip in California.

Then I saw this.

If you are lost ask an librarian

If you are lost ask a librarian

Ask a librarian!

What a lovely guy, not only did he give me directions to the motel, being a friendly Californian (is there any other type?) he also recommended somewhere to eat too.

Santa Cruz pier

Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf

The restaurant he had told us about Oliatas was on the wharf and the food was amazing.

There were lots of birdsIMG_1605and a great vantage point to view Santa Cruz.

Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz boardwalk

Santa Cruz boardwalk

We noticed people staring down under the pier and, being curious, went to see what they all found so fascinating.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

A dorm for seals.

The next day, we took a walk along the cliffs where there were some pretty amazing houses, including this one. I am not quite sure if having a replica of your house, in your house, isn’t a bit spooky though.

Then we saw this.

I have written about meeting the guy who drives around Santa Cruz before in Life Begins after Normal. I wished we could have stuck around longer and got to know him better, as he was a fascinating person. But other events took over the day.

While we were chatting to campervan man a woman ran over and screamed at us to help her. She had returned from her run to find her partner slumped in the drivers seat and apparently unconscious. Campervan man was the calmest there, made the phone call to the emergency services, organised people to get the man out of the car while another guy did CPR. We were helpless except to comfort the poor lady. Of course he was dead, I think we all knew that.

I am sure and hope it was quick and painless. And this was the last thing he saw.IMG_1662

Once the emergency services arrived we went around the surf museum and we spoke with another couple who had also been involved there and had been the last to see him alive. We were all a bit shocked about everything we had seen. To say that we were subdued is a understatement and I don’t really remember much about the museum except that it was in a lighthouse. IMG_1658

Before we left Santa Cruz we went down to a beach side cafe for lunch, reflected on what had happened and realised how lucky we were, and that life is indeed short. Which is why we were making this trip.

Campervan man drove past and honked his horn and we waved.

He says he wants to be president one day. I would love to see that! Mind you right now, I reckon he needs to come over to the UK and take over our government. Life may be a bit more fun then!

Have you been to Santa Cruz and have you met the campervan man?

2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,600 times in 2013. If it were a cable car, it would take about 43 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

TB kills 2000 Africans every day

As an aside, Moxa also got rid of my unsightly warts on my hands I acquired in Fiji.

travellingcoral

At the beginning of Blog Action Day 2012 I truly had no idea what to write about. I had a day meticulously planned, appointments to fulfil and thought perhaps I would go to an indie coffee shop in Birmingham and find inspiration.

Missing a bus made all those plans fall apart. Then my Internet went down at home. I was getting stressed and so decided to see if I could get an appointment for acupuncture….

At the clinic I met an inspirational person, called Merlin. It is his story that gave me subject matter for this blog.

If you have read The Celestine Prophesy you will understand that there is no such thing as coincidence. I was destined to meet Merlin on #BAD12.

I’m going to tell you about a little known charity, Moxafrica, who use moxa on people suffering from TB in Africa and Uganda. Most of these…

View original post 470 more words