If there was a blackout could I survive?

I have pasted below details of a chat on twitter around community and food (two of my favourite subjects) which was prompted by the programme Blackout. Could we survive? Would people really behave like that? What would we do? 

  1. Steph Clarke ‏@Essitam9 Sep
  2. Where’s the scenes of community coming together? Because they would, there’s always people willing to do good #blackout
  3. Karen Strunks ‏@karenstrunks9 Sep
  4. @Essitam that was horrendous! The only hint of community was the old lady staying in the flat downstairs. The rest were animals
  5. Steph Clarke ‏@Essitam9 Sep@karenstrunks it was an awful portrayal of society. We’re not all monsters.
  6. Coral Musgrave ‏@travellingcoral9 Sep
  7. @Essitam @karenstrunks I agree in my terrace we would support each other i am sure. well we all have keys! and veg and lentils and rice.
  8. Karen Strunks ‏@karenstrunks
  9. @travellingcoral @Essitam it would be very interesting to see who helped who. Just remembered a gas camping stove in the cupboard! 🙂
    1. @karenstrunks @travellingcoral in case of #blackout l I’ve already proposed a massive street party to use up all the perishable foods 😀

    2. @karenstrunks @Essitam pretty sure in my terrace we could cobble something together as we have logs and open fire and they have veg
    3. @Essitam If someone hasn’t syphoned my petrol, I’m coming to your street party! 😀 @travellingcoral

This led me to think about the food I have in the house and whether, like Steph I could plan my meals around what I already have.

Coral Musgrave ‏@travellingcoral9 Sep

the irony is that most of us have enough in store cupboard to make a basic meal if there really was a blackout. #blackout

Steph Clarke ‏@Essitam9 Sep

@travellingcoral I’ve done food calender for this week using what I have in the house. All I needed to buy in was mushrooms.

Coral Musgrave ‏@travellingcoral9 Sep

@Essitam wow that is organised! i need to do a food audit

And of course I invited A Girl Called Jack into the conversation.

A Girl Called Jack ‏@MsJackMonroe9 Sep

  1. @travellingcoral tinned toms essential! 🙂
    A Girl Called Jack retweeted you
  2. 9 Sep:

    if i sent @MsJackMonroe a list of my store cupboard she’d feed a family for a month (may need to stock up on tinned toms) #blackout

The food audit has taken me a couple of days to complete and I am sure there is some things I have missed out. I was shocked at just how much I have. I consider myself good at cooking on a budget, shop almost daily for basics like milk and bread and cook low cost meals, stretching the chicken from Sunday dinner to chicken pie on Monday and make stock with the carcass for soup for lunch for the rest of the week. I hate food waste. I have taken up the Live Below the Line Challenge and have writting about surviving on £53 a week.

Yet I am hanging my head in shame. If you are interested the list is here.

Too much food is clutter.  I have written elsewhere about my mission to simplfy my life by getting rid of stuff that I don’t need and why I need to declutter. I am not saying we don’t need food, of course we do, but buying food because it is on offer and then not using it is wrong and wasteful. It is clear to me that I need to plan better and only buy what we need.

I have this week started to plan around the food list.

Yesterday I used up some of the vegetables and passatta left over from when we made pizza on Saturday. I had a half pack of pasta, so all I bought was 500g of mince, used half of it,  and made this. The rest of the mince will be for another meal later this week.

Pasta with leftovers

Today I bought some potatoes and we will have sausage from the freezer, use some of the fresh veg, with mash.

The carrots have been made into a soup for lunches this week, using up stock made with the chicken from Sunday.

Perishables are the priority as the street party isn’t going to happen unless we really do have a national disaster.

And it looks like I need to find ways of using all that pasta, rice and lentils. And buy some tinned tomatoes.

What would you cook?

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The Tesco Footprint

I visited West Bromwich on Tuesday this week and after one very happy bus journey (to be a future post) I met a friend at The Public. This Arts Centre is under threat of closure and I wanted to show my support by actually visiting and not just tweeting about it. I also wanted to show my friend the Central Library as it is a stunning building. We were also taking some photos for the 365 Project. You can see my photos here and my friends here.  The last and certainly least reason for the visit was to see New Square.

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The imaginatively named New Square is in my humble opinion a Tesco vanity we are the big boys and we want that land project, with a massive supermarket, an Odeon Cinema, some other chain stores and the promise of more mixed retail come. It is also adjacent to The Public which when built caused much controversy as it was bringing art to a community who wanted a cinema and a swimming pool.  West Bromwich didn’t want art. It seems the council doesn’t either. Indeed one of my tweets about the matter was

@_the_public @tom_watson sandwell doesn’ t value the arts, it might create aspiration

I may have been a little bit harsh. Or I may have hit the nail on the head. Either way the reaction to the announcement of its closure has made the local MP wade in

News: MP Tom Watson calls on council to find solution for The Public http://bit.ly/148pJG0  #Sandwell

And this from The Leader of the Council http://sandwellleader.org/

After a lot of hard work, a change of management and apparently a 30k subsidy per week (what can that be spent on?) Sandwell Council have now said they will not subsidise The Public after November 2013. The Public struggled to get visitors in the past, and one of the main reasons was that it had very little footfall due to its location. It introduced a range of activities for the whole community, including Tea Dances, a film club, some unique exhibitions and has featured work by Tracy Emin. It has a cafe which on the day I was there was full of people of all ages.

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Footfall is no longer an issue as it is now on New Square opposite the cinema, coffee shops and restaurants. After years of subsidy, it is now the council want to close it and turn it into a sixth form centre. This makes no sense to me and many others, finally The Public is bang in the centre of a well marketed ‘entertainment destination’. A multi million pound investment has been made in West Bromwich for Sandwell College, so why do they need to convert The Public into a sixth form?

That aside, this new development has effectively shifted the town centre to gravitate around New Square which is good for The Public yet look at this Tesco footprint.

Tesco footprint

Like many high streets West Bromwich has its fair share of empty shops. It also has a thriving indoor and outdoor market, most of which are run by independent family businesses. What impact will Tesco and the other multiples have on them? There is some refurbishment work going on in the pedestrianised part of the high street and in one of the older shopping centres, Queens Square. Only time will tell if Tesco rips the heart out of this high street and community too.

I don’t like big supermarkets for a number of reasons, and while I would like to avoid them completely, it is not really a viable option for me when I can only buy what I can carry and within walking distance. I have touched on my shopping preferences here in my April Shopping Challenge post.

Supermarkets appear to be cheap yet with the bogof offers and bulk buys most people are buying more than they really need which leads to food waste. They are designed to tempt the consumer to buy things they don’t really need, and spend money they can ill afford.(Sandwell has high levels of deprivation, unemployment and a high proportion of NEETS).

Talking to the local butcher, who after the last veg shop in Bearwood closed down was forced out by an unscruplious landlord who had their palms crossed by a multiple who sells every thing for a £1, has been very enterprising and started to offer a range of loose fresh veg, I asked him how sales were going. Customers have complained that his prices are too high. They would rather go to Iceland and get a bag of carrots for a quid than buy three from him for 40p. Then he added, ‘what they haven’t thought is that they will end up throwing away most of the bag as they have gone off’. Of course they will. It is false economy buying veg  in bulk if you are not going to cook it in a couple of days. Carrots that have been shipped across the county then wrapped in sweaty plastic bags that will go to landfill, will go off quite quickly so they need to be used within a couple of days.  I do by bags from Aldi as that kilo of carrots will be in at least two meals, a soup and a breakfast juice. If they go past their best, and to be honest when we had the heat wave it was a battle to keep anything fresh, I have a compost heap, so eventually it will go back into the land, and a chicken who will eat most other stuff. New potatoes are dinner one night and potato salad the next. Cabbage and carrots are made into coleslaw and a stirfry.

As Team Pugh at  A Year without Supermarkets have found they have saved huge amounts of money and have almost no waste by only shopping at independents and cooking from scratch. The bulk of my shopping is done at Aldi because it has what I want at the price I can afford. It doesn’t have bogof offers that tempt me to buy more than I need and the quality is good. Each week it has the Super 6, offering seasonal fruit and veg, unlike other chains that seem to have offers on  fizzy drinks and fast food, hardly encouraging healthy choices. I don’t need to buy 2 for £5 scrawny pumped full chemicals chickens from Tesco as I can buy a Free Range chicken from Aldi for £5 and stretch it over 3 meals.

Of course Sandwell Council are over excited at having a shiny New Square in the ‘capital’ of Sandwell. Creating oh so many jobs. Of course most of the jobs will be minimum wage or Zero Hours contracts, and what will happen to the staff who will lose their jobs at the Public? 2000 people applied for the 30 jobs at the cinema. All of the folding t-shirts jobs have gone at Primark and it hasn’t opened yet.

The concerns that New Square will have a negative impact on the rest of the town has not been lost by the media, according to a BBC report there will be investment elsewhere in the town. What about those for whom West Bromwich is £3.90 bus ride away. Where is the investment in the rest of the Borough? New Square for West Bromwich. Old litter bins for the rest of Sandwell.DSCN5591

The £53 test results are in!

At the beginning of April I decided to track our spending for the month. Like many others I was pretty angry after Iain Duncan Smith claimed he could live on £53 per week ‘if he had to’. Lots of other people did the experiment for a week, journos mainly, to sell papers. They boasted how they blagged meals from friends and relatives to make ends meet and how tough it was not to have a pint after work. They didn’t do it for a month, or take into account all the other things most of us have to pay for, such as heat, light, council tax, rent or a mortgage. I did, and I kept a record for 30 days.

I also pledged to buy local for all my groceries. I don’t have access to a car most of the week, I therefore walk to my local high street, buying only what I can carry. I like to support independent traders yet as we do not have a green grocers, I buy most of my vegetables from the Aldi Super 6 to keep down costs.

Sad person that I am I entered everything we spent on food, pet food (we have two cats and two chickens) toiletries, cleaning products, fuel for the car, clothes and incidentals such as the overwhelming need my husband had for a new sat nav!

This was not an experiment to see if it was possible to live on £53 a week. I just wanted to see what we spent and on what.

On food shopping (excluding any eating out but including the traditional Friday chips) I spent £290. That works out at £3.23 per person per day for three adults. I haven’t factored in that I have also been providing half board for the French Student for 16 days, that sometimes The Lodger eats with us (once or twice a week), my daughter was here for a weekend and that the Bulgarian Student joined us in homemade pizza night once this month. I could go back to my spread sheet and do the math but I am not that sad. A guesstimate therefore is that the average spend on food per person is £2.70 per day.

DSCN4240

Our other essentials, such as mortgage, bills, and diesel for the car I calculated at £170. Pet food is £30. There were other bits and bobs I bought such as some pillows, a jug and some weighing scales, the sat nav and some clothes totalling £30. All in all my rounded up figure for April is £510. For 3 people that is just under £170 per week per person. And I have just realised that I haven’t counted the big spend last weekend on going to the cinema, lunch afterwards and the take out curry! 

It seems that this family cannot live on £53 per week. Taking out the spending on luxuries such as the sat nav, clothes and the bits and bobs reduces living costs to £116. We would have to drastically change our eating habits, not have an open fire, turn off the heating and lose the cable and internet if, like IDS, we had to. 

I consider myself lucky, I don’t have to. I hope I never will have to. This blog by A Girl Called Jack was recommended to me. Read it. Have some tissues ready. And count your blessings.

Despair has set in

To tell the truth I don’t know if the £53 figure bandied around is for one person or a family. After my last blog about this when I saw in black and white how much my weekly outgoings were just on what I consider essentials (including cable and internet) I got a bit down. When I saw what our income would be if we were dependent on benefits compared to this figure the truth hit home. And I got a bit depressed because if my husband lost his job tomorrow, we would have to make some drastic changes to our lifestyle. Add to this all the Margaret Thatcher stuff in the media and I was well and truly fighting off the Black Dog. I thought it wise therefore not to attempt to blog (although I did draft some random thoughts about sausages).

Because I was in a grump, I lost the shopping receipt for Wednesday.  I know I bought peppers and some Creme Fraiche and the bill was about £5. No idea what else was purchased (which illustrates how shopping can become a mindless activity and why tracking your spending is a useful if painful exercise). I made fajitas using these ingredients plus items from the freezer and store cupboard. I use a fajita kit which is the nearest we get to a ready meal in this house, yet once you add up the cost of the ingredients it comes to about £8 for feed three people, which is not cheap. This meal may be coming off the meal plan.

Thursday we had a French student arrive to stay with us for three months, who will be sharing some meals with us. This will inevitably add to my overall shopping bill. I am still not sure how to divide the costs, but as I like spreadsheets I may have a play at dividing food, overheads, luxuries and clothing, depending on how I feel of course. You can see that I need a distraction from other more important tasks. Like sorting 30 bags of clothing and filling in tax forms.

This was my Thursday shop:

Water 1.99
broccoli 0.79
oranges 1.49
grapefruit 0.29
tomatoes 1.29
mushrooms 0.85
leeks 0.89
sweetcorn 0.32
single cream 0.69
double cream 0.85
pork steaks 2.69
12.14

I had previously noted that we seemed to be lacking in fruit in our diet and the French Boy said he liked fruit for breakfast so this seemed to be a reason to ensure there was more fruit in the house. As it was his first meal with use I did go a bit overboard with the supper making pork chops with mushrooms and cream (the first thing Delia Smith taught me to cook) with some vegetables and used up some potatoes and onions in a Pan Haggerty recipe I got from The Bearwood Pantry. It was really lovely and there are plenty of leftovers for lunches. Seven meals (as I also used up two pork steaks from the freezer). Total for the ingredients was £8.26 which is £1.18 per portion. Not bad even if I say so myself, as it really was very tasty and seemed luxurious.

What has struck me is that the seemingly luxury meal cost a lot less than the supposedly cheap and cheerful option. A bit more work went into it, I am not sure that double cream is a healthy option for every day, yet no packet was opened in the making of this supper. That is a good thing, yes?

The IDS £53 bandwagon and the legacy of the Thatcher years

Seems I am not the only one blogging or bragging about being able to live on £53 a week. Just read this article in the Express and Star. Hmmm I don’t think he really gets it. Blagging meals from parents and not counting the cost of living on leftovers. Or taking bills etc into account. Ah well, if it sells papers. In the old days they would be tomorrows chip paper, but there are rules about that sort of thing now.

Poor man he had to downshift from Waitrose to Aldi. I feel his pain, I really do.

As I mentioned yesterday I needed to look at how much all my other expenses are and I am shocked. £170 per week. That is with mortgage, gas, electric, water, household insurance and car insurance, cable, phone and internet. I have not even factored in the cost of having a car serviced and MOT’d. I can’t see any way of cutting back except that the cable and internet would have to be considered a luxury. I couldn’t afford to go out to see a film and I couldn’t watch the telly box. If I got rid of the cable service I would have to have a free view box or something to continue to be able to watch any tv. I can get free internet at the library (while we still have them) or at a cafe, although I would have to buy a coffee of course.

That £170 divided by three adults is £56.67 each. so if we were all on Job Seekers Allowance for instance this is what our income would be:

Contribution-based JSA

You can only get contribution-based JSA for 182 days (approximately 6 months). After this, you may be able to get income-based JSA.

Age Weekly amount
16 to 24 £56.80
25 or over £71.70

A household income of just over £200.

or this

Income-based JSA

Status Weekly amount
Single (under 25) £56.80
Single (25 or over) £71.70
Couples (both aged 18 or over) £112.55
Lone parent (18 or over) £71.70
Lone parent (under 18) £56.80

Given those figures the car would have to go and we would have to live on nasty sausages, plastic bread and lentils. I may have to steal from supermarket bins. My only entertainment would be books (thank goodness for the library) and because we couldn’t afford to heat the house it would be bed by 8pm.

How could you even afford clothes? What would happen if you had an interview and didn’t have a suit?

We wouldn’t have to pay council tax, but as we have a mortgage we wouldn’t get housing benefit. There may be other benefits we could claim, yet from this month a Benefit Cap is being introduced:

The level of the cap will be:

  • £500 a week for couples (with or without children living with them)
  • £500 a week for single parents whose children live with them
  • £350 a week for single adults who don’t have children, or whose children don’t live with them

More information about benefits can be found here.

So Iain Duncan Smith, I would love to see you and your wife living on £500 per week, but then you don’t pay a mortgage or rent a house, because you married a rich mans daughter. You get paid much more than the minimum wage and claim more in expenses than most people earn.

What happens if we all eventually get a job and are only offered the minimum wage?

The National Minimum Wage rate per hour depends on your age and whether you’re an apprentice – you must be at least school leaving age to get it.

Year 21 and over 18 to 20 Under 18 Apprentice*
2012 (current rate) £6.19 £4.98 £3.68 £2.65
2011 £6.08 £4.98 £3.68 £2.60
2010 £5.93 £4.92 £3.64 £2.50

How much you really need to live on? If you lost your job tomorrow what would you cut back on? Could you pay your mortgage?

This has been a very humbling and shocking experience. And I am even more cross now that the tax payers are having to pay for an overblown funeral for Margaret Thatcher,  a woman who got us into this mess in the first place. There, I have said it. I won’t watch the funeral of a millionaire who died at the Ritz. Most of us will die, like my mom did, in an NHS Ward or a smelly care home, because we can’t afford a really good one, neglected by those who were paid to care for us. Neglected because the care workers are on a minimum wage, have too many visits to make in a day and worried that they won’t be able to afford to put petrol in the car they need to do their job.

I am sure I have upset some care workers and Thatcherites. Here’s the thing. I don’t care! And neither does this government.

Nevermind the £53 p/w. How would IDS cope with the system?

Scary but this is really how you get treated at Job Centre Plus

One week into the live on £53 a week challenge

After no shopping at all on Monday, which helped to balance the spendy weekend, basics were needed today.

Air freshner  £          2.39
Stain remover  £          2.49
Toilet roll x 6  £          3.50
Cat food  £          2.39
Sausages  £          1.99
Cheese  £          2.29
bread  £          0.99
pizza  £          0.99
Cereal  £          1.09
olive oil  £          2.19
butter  £          0.98
milk  £          2.00
 £        23.29

I have made a mousakka using up the onions and aubergines I got at the market on Saturday and some lamb from the freezer. All other ingredients such as garlic, cinnamon, flour, eggs and milk I already had. I have enough of the the meat mixture for a meal another day and found a pack of puff pastry in the freezer which had been reduced from £1.64 to 41p so it will be Greek pie for supper another day. The total for the ingredients for two suppers feeding 3 adults came to just under £6, factoring in that the eggs are from the chickens I keep. The DS doesn’t like mousakka (sigh) so the sausages are for him, to be served with mash and veg left over from the weekend, all ingredients are including in the costing.

DSCN4070

Today I have eaten one egg, and drank only water. I am still ill hence the small appetite. That will change I am sure but I am enjoying the weight loss, and I am really not hungry. Left over pasta and home made soup has sustained the rest of the family. Foodwise it has been quite a cheap day. I did not have to shop at all to feed us today, just utilised left overs, storecupboard and fridge staples and delved into the freezer. With supper and lunches and breakfast it has cost about £5.50 to feed us all, which is £1.83 per person.

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Cooking mousakka brings back happy memories: of the prize I won, cooking with James Martin for blogging about my favourite holiday food, and my first trip as a student to Greek Islands discovering new food. You never forget your first mousakka. I use  a Delia Smith recipe, which is wonderful, always salting then rinsing the aubergine which removes all bitterness, and gallons of olive oil to cook them in, of course.

It did occur to me today that maybe we are not eating enough fruit and veg. The bananas have gone a bit brown so I will make a cake with those tomorrow.This seems to happen all the time, even though I always buy them as green as I can. I read a tip to stop this happening, which is to put cling film over the stalk bit, to make them last longer. And while we have lots of veg on Sunday, mostly I seem to eat onions, peppers and tinned tomatoes.

I have set myself two targets this week, incorporate more fruit and veg into the diet and workout how much our bills are weekly. I love spreadsheets so this isn’t a chore and I already have a monthly budget plan listing all our expenditure. I just don’t look at it enough and this exercise has made me think I really need to. Eating more fruit and veg may be a bit more of a challenge!

Any tips to incorporate more healthy options for a family that doesn’t like many vegetables and some veggie recipes that carnivores may like are, as ever, very welcome.