Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Free-cycle & 'make-do-and-mend' ideals

The basic concept of free-cycle is simple: to "recycle" items no longer needed, rather than throw them away. The only rule is that things have to be offered free. Free-cycle ettiquette suggests that you should give and take in equal amounts but I cannot imagine that anyone really monitors this.

When we moved into our flat last year we were so pleased to find somewhere we liked and we could 'afford' in an area we liked with a reasonable journey to work that we did not stop and realise that it also has a few irritating flaws. A hard to air bathroom. Windows sealed shut. No storage space. A little persistance on the free-cycle boards followed and we were soon the proud new owners of two chest of drawers. A plea in relation to a suitcase meant that I soon was heading round to a neighbouring flat to pick up one they no longer wanted. It has a squashed wheel but it is still a functioning suitcase, which I did not have to pay for, and which did not end up in landfill.

It therefore seemed sensible to see whether anyone wanted our unwanted things. I posted two lists of possessions which ranged from "bag of assorted mens clothes" to handbags, glasses case, a free flatpacked beach ball still in it's wrapping to an extra edition of Vogue which I was sent in error. Almost immediately responses came flooding in. Someone wanted the un-used LA Fitness water bottle, someone else the LK Bennett flipflops. Within 24 hours I had takers for all of the things I listed. Some have clearly gone to private individuals. One man has said he will take everything that I have left - although it disturbs me that he might be selling it on - at least he is taking it off my hands (and if I was really that bothered about selling it I should have done so myself).

Yesterday I posted a plea for unwanted hanging baskets for the garden. I have experimented with soil in tubs on the back step but pretty soon after filling them they were dug up by something. Today I received an offer of three plus wall brackets. I am hoping to work out where and how to hang the baskets and hopefully by the summer we should have either some flowers or some baskets of salad. Yesterday I spent the evening planting basil seeds and giving them plastic hats, lining them up on the kitchen window sill where I hope they will start germinating. I am also planning a box of some kind of flowers on the outside of the window sill. But I am determined not to spend any money on this exercise. I have asked my parents and grandparents for old or spare gardening equipment and pots. I am re-using the soil/compost from last years tomato grow bag and I may, if I am blessed with the right equipment, dig up the compost bin and use the bottom layers in with the soil. I think I may have to buy some plant food, but I have requested cuttings from my family and any old seeds they do not want or have not yet got round to using. In short, I am returning to make-do-and-mend principles as well as hoping to reduce the food miles of our diets. (I am also hoping to save myself a bit of money)

I have also posted on free-cycle asking if anyone has an old sewing machine they no longer need. No-one has responded so far but I am determined to acquire one from somewhere as I would like to start making a few summer clothes and household embellishments.

Sunday, April 27, 2008


Have spent some of the past few weeks de-cluttering the house and have spent tonight listing a few of the brand new unwanted things on e-bay, trading in some old mobile telephone and then offering the rest on free-cycle. I wonder which one will be the most effective way of getting rid of things and which ones will go the quickest. Supposedly one person's rubbish is another's treasure and I have in the past derived a lot of pleasure from charity shop and jumble sale shopping. My best find was an old-fashioned glass cake stand which I serve cakes on for birthdays and tea parties.

This week the 'credit crunch' has rather started to hit home. In my annual review I asked for a pay rise which was refused so although my wages remain the same, all interest rates have increased, council tax has increased, gas and electricity prices have increased and it is more expensive to shop than it has been. So, I have to make my money go even further and it is at this point that I realise that I am fortunate to not have any children or a mortgage. Times must be hard as I have even counted out and bagged our copper collection ready to take to the bank tomorrow.

Of course, times like this are where the saying 'spend less or earn more' really matters. It is clearly not feasible to have another job (unless I could find some local babysitting, which is something I might try) so it will have to be spend less. Clearly there are a few places that costs can be cut (less drinking, fewer taxis) but these are getting less and less. Most of my expenses are now essential and it is starting to worry me.

UPDATE: I cannot believe how quickly things go on free cycle - within 2 hours of listing 14 items only 4 remain unallocated.

Friday, April 25, 2008


Thanks to Rachel for her tag. She asks me to list six random things about me and then tag six others. If you're really interested in random things about me there are seven more here.

1. I lived in California from 1988 to 1990 which meant I was there for the earthquake of 1989 and I also managed to experience the Teenage Mutant Hero Turtle (or whatever they were called) phenomenon twice. Once in the US and then once back in England.

2. For the 2 years I lived in America I had an American accent. No-one would believe I was English. Now, there is no doubting my nationality.

3. My comfort food is peanut butter and marmite on toast.

4. I am embracing WI cliches and am going on a jam making day in June (which I am really looking forward to, especially as the chutney went down so well at Christmas)

5. I discovered the Apprentice this series having refused to watch it before. I have actually enjoyed watching it although I cannot believe that some people lie despite knowing that they are being filmed.

6. I re-read my favourite books over and over again. (I won't elaborate more as I have a post in the making regarding this)

And now I tag: Echo/Suzi, James at the Ink, Upside Down Annie, Legally Blonde, and any one else who wants to be tagged please make themselves known in the comments box.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

No sympathy for striking

Any sympathy I had for teachers has waned rapidly this week.

I am not a teacher but I come from a family of teachers. My Grandfather taught at a private school and my Grandmother at a prep school. Their son is an English teacher at a state secondary and their daughter at a Montessori school. Her husband was a teacher at a state secondary and is now a driving instructor. My mother didn't go into to teaching. My three closest female friends from university are now teachers; one at a state school in London, one at a private school in Suffolk and the third at a state primary in Cambridge. Other friends from school are teaching in a variety of state primary and secondary schools around the country. Not one has left because they don't get paid enough.

Of all these people, the only one whose salary I know is my friend who teaches in London. She earns £8,000 more than me a year despite us both having degrees from the same university and holding post graduate qualifications in our chosen fields. The others all must earn more than me by at least £3,000 as the starting salary for teachers is £20,133.

My friend who is a London teacher works hard. She is in school by 7.45 every morning and she leaves between 3 and 5pm depending on activities. She does marking and planning at the evenings and some weekends although she manages an active social life as well. She benefits from 2 weeks off at Christmas, 2 at Easter, 3 for half-terms and 6 weeks in the summer. She is using some of her summer holiday to take some children abroad to work on a community project but in return she does not have to pay for her trip. She works during the holidays but she is able to take marking down to Cornwall or away to her parents. She can work outside in the sunshine or can stay up all night working in her pajamas if she chooses. She also benefits from a pension and she had a grant to pay for her postgraduate certificate. I believe she receives some kind of financial payout after she has been working for a few years. Her job is stressful and she must deal with teenagers and their problems each day she is in school. I have no doubt that she works hard.

In comparison I earn the minimum salary for a trainee solicitor in London. I am expected to be in my office 5 days a week and I am frequently still at my desk until 8pm. It is unusual for me to leave before 7pm. I do not think my hours are excessive as I know other trainees who work longer hours still (I quote from someone on their time at Linklaters: "The hours were, frankly, quite ridiculous. I’d be in the office after midnight — often much later — at least two days a week. Even on a quiet day I wouldn’t finish before eight. Having a life became virtually impossible. There was a kind of implied understanding that you’d drop everything if something came up at work. And things were constantly coming up. One of my colleagues actually had to cancel her 30th birthday party a few hours before it was scheduled to start after being drafted onto a deal.") At present I am not required to work weekends although once I change work loads I could well expect to. I know people who work all weekend, including my boss. I have 20 days holiday a year plus bank holidays. I had to open my own pension scheme and pay my own way through my post graduate certificate. The repayments of that loan alone come to almost £500 a month from my salary.

My point is thus: teachers work hard but so does everyone else. I do not believe a teacher's job to be more stressful than any other professional job. Everyone is facing the same financial impact of rising prices, rising taxes and falling houseprices. Teachers are well remunerated for their work and they receive benefits in addition which includes holidays and pensions. They claim that there is unnecessary paper work and regulations in teaching but that is not limited to their profession. In my work complying with money laundering regulations for example take up a disproportionate time allocation. I therefore have no sympathy with their so-called plight and I fundamentally disagree that selfish striking which inconveniences other people, not least letting down the children in their charge, should have any kind of effect. I see striking in line with bullying and I do not think that it is an appropriate message to be sending to children. They are effectively saying that if someone does not agree with you it is reasonable to refuse to participate in the discussion in order to make them listen to your point of view. It is childish.

Sunday, April 20, 2008


Met up last night with a group of people that I used to sail with as a teenager, on national CCF courses at HMS Raleigh & HMS Bristol. We first met aged 14 and 15 and subsequently met up every summer and occasionally at other times of the year each year until we were 18 and left school. We stayed sporadically in written contact throughout university and the remaining years until last night when we finally managed to find a weekend where most of the group was free.

We had a great evening even if the two boats we went to for drinks and dancing would have been viewed sceptically in any other circumstances but were chosen merely for our nautical theme. To be honest apart from the occasional rocking when we were caught in the wash of a passing boat it mattered not a jot where we were. Meeting people again 8 years later is a strange mix of feeling that you know each other well yet at the same time you don't really know each other at all. It was though an enjoyable evening, and pleasing that despite the years of not seeing each other the dynamics were as if it were simply another CCF event only with more drinking and no-one dictating what we should do and how we should be doing it.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Miss Joan Hunter Dunn

An article in the Times today imparts the sad news that John Betjeman's muse, Miss Joan Hunter Dunn died last Friday aged 92. I know that I have written about both Betjeman and this poem before, but as it is the end of their era here it is again.

A Subaltern's Love Song

Miss J. Hunter Dunn, Miss J. Hunter Dunn,
Furnish'd and burnish'd by Aldershot sun,
What strenuous singles we played after tea,
We in the tournament - you against me!

Love-thirty, love-forty, oh! weakness of joy,
The speed of a swallow, the grace of a boy,
With carefullest carelessness, gaily you won,
I am weak from your loveliness, Joan Hunter Dunn.

Miss Joan Hunter Dunn, Miss Joan Hunter Dunn,
How mad I am, sad I am, glad that you won,
The warm-handled racket is back in its press,
But my shock-headed victor, she loves me no less.

Her father's euonymus shines as we walk,
And swing past the summer-house, buried in talk,
And cool the verandah that welcomes us in
To the six-o'clock news and a lime-juice and gin.

The scent of the conifers, sound of the bath,
The view from my bedroom of moss-dappled path,
As I struggle with double-end evening tie,
For we dance at the Golf Club, my victor and I.

On the floor of her bedroom lie blazer and shorts,
And the cream-coloured walls are be-trophied with sports,
And westering, questioning settles the sun,
On your low-leaded window, Miss Joan Hunter Dunn.

The Hillman is waiting, the light's in the hall,
The pictures of Egypt are bright on the wall,
My sweet, I am standing beside the oak stair
And there on the landing's the light on your hair.

By roads "not adopted", by woodlanded ways,
She drove to the club in the late summer haze,
Into nine-o'clock Camberley, heavy with bells
And mushroomy, pine-woody, evergreen smells.

Miss Joan Hunter Dunn, Miss Joan Hunter Dunn,
I can hear from the car park the dance has begun,
Oh! Surrey twilight! importunate band!
Oh! strongly adorable tennis-girl's hand!

Around us are Rovers and Austins afar,
Above us the intimate roof of the car,
And here on my right is the girl of my choice,
With the tilt of her nose and the chime of her voice.

And the scent of her wrap, and the words never said,
And the ominous, ominous dancing ahead.
We sat in the car park till twenty to one
And now I'm engaged to Miss Joan Hunter Dunn.

-- John Betjeman


I have written before about my problems with Orange and British Gas. Yesterday I encountered some (minor) problems with EDF energy. After some discussion with customer services I hope that they are now sorted, but given that I thought that about British Gas and it took another six months to rectify the problem, I am not holding my breath. I therefore felt for Rachel when I read about her problems regarding her kitchen and judging from her comments box she is not alone.

It seems to me that one of the errors that these companies are making is in a lack of communication. Perhaps in an effort to cut costs or perhaps because they just don't think about it, they fail to communicate accurately and mistakes get repeated ad infinitum. I was expounding this theory to M when we sat down to watch the Apprentice last night whilst eating our supper. Now, I hope that all of those candidates have secure jobs to return to in the event they don't win because quite frankly I would be unwilling to employ any of them based on their performances on the show (which I am aware is edited and produced). As far as I could tell, the candidates basic problem seems to be that they are so obsessed with 'winning' and doing each other down that they seem unable to get on with the task in hand, even going so far as to sabotage their team performance in the hope of getting each other fired. The other main problem seems to come back to communication, or lack of it. Yesterday's show involved taking photographs of people and then selling them said photographs. Hardly a difficult task I would have thought seeing as there seemed to be people queuing up to be snapped. Both teams problems lay in their in-ability to produce the photographs. No-one had designed a fail safe system of recording whose photos were which; instead of helping each other with technical failures there was simply shouting and there seemed to be no communication whatsoever between the front and back line teams.

In short it was a complete shambles and the winning team made less than £200 profit. The losing team made a loss. I am sure that if both teams had focused on getting their job done rather than the fact that one of them would lose their job they would have all turned a far higher profit. Incidentally, if I had been managing either of those teams, I would have ensured that as manager I was the link between the two teams and would have moved people as and when it became clear that there were difficulties, i.e. when production had ground to a halt.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Love Is...

Followed a link from a link from a link. And found this poem.

Love Is...

Love is...
Love is feeling cold in the back of vans
Love is a fanclub with only two fans
Love is walking holding paintstained hands
Love is.

Love is fish and chips on winter nights
Love is blankets full of strange delights
Love is when you don't put out the light
Love is

Love is the presents in Christmas shops
Love is when you're feeling Top of the Pops
Love is what happens when the music stops
Love is

Love is white panties lying all forlorn
Love is pink nightdresses still slightly warm
Love is when you have to leave at dawn
Love is

Love is you and love is me
Love is a prison and love is free
Love's what's there when you are away from me
Love is...

Adrian Henri

Friday, April 11, 2008

Ken v Boris

Still undecided about who you should vote for on 1 May 2008? Have a look at this helpful website and actually think about your opinion on some of the issues.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Small World Syndrome example 3

Supper last night with a good friend. Whilst standing in the kitchen, drinking wine and eating chilli prawns which M made as a starter I told them both the story of BestFriend's flatmate being the ex-boyfriend of a school friend. What I didn't expect was a further link. "You know Suitor*", my friend asked, "well, he and BestFriend went for a drink and it turns out that Suitor works with BestFriend's flatmate".

*Suitor is a school friend of the person who came over for supper. Suitor did once rather like BestFriend.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Small World Syndrome example 2

Rushed home last night as M had invited a few friends round to watch the football. I had been keen to avoid going to the pub to watch the game so I had said I would cook. All day my phone kept beeping "X's coming. Hope that's ok sweet" until I ended up cooking spaghetti bolognese for 9. Thankfully I not only had a girlfriend there to keep me sane (who helped with the cooking) but Liverpool won.


Had an e-mail from an old school friend this morning. "Rach" it read, "Do you know someone called X? Because if you don't, your doppelganger is on her fridge!" Turns out, the fridge in question belongs to the girlfriend mentioned above. "I do know her" I replied. " She's my BestFriend. What were you doing at her house?". Turned out that old school friend used to date BestFriend's flatmate whilst they both lived abroad and she had been round to their flat for supper last night whereon she had seen the picture of BestFriend and I together on the fridge.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Playing Detective

Reading the Times AlphaMummy blog has convinced me that I know one of the regular commenters. She has given enough detail about her life (divorce, number of children, some of their ages, high paid job, being back at work after only 2 weeks after the birth of her first child) that I am sure that she is a lawyer with whom I used to sing in the London Lawyers Chorus. If she is, and I am right, it is further proof that it is a small world. The most annoying thing though is that I will never know whether or not I am right.