Thursday, 26 September 2013


Well, DD is.  Massive clearout she had, and as a result our bedroom looks like this:

Much, if not most, of this clutter will be going to charity - but there are things there that will be moving no further than my wardrobe (already snagged a rather fetching hat with ears and braids - and no, I am not too old for silly hats, especially when they keep my ears warm on the long walking commute to work and back), there are things that might be of interest to step-son and one or two friends, and then there are things that might bring in a few quid or Amazon trade in credit - for when she decides that she really does not have enough stuff after this clearout, and starts desperately needing some more.

And it all takes time, and energy - sorting through everything, making decisions, listing, maintaining,  posting.... Which means that our bedroom might well continue to look like this for a little while yet.

Just as well we're in no rush :)

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Payday tomorrow.  And my new contract - which means more hours working, but also more money paid, and crucially, a regular wage packet, same every month, regardless of whether we're talking term or vacation - means that suddenly there is a lot more money hitting the current account than we are used to having in autumn.

Used to be the case that this time of year I'd have had a couple of months of very low pay followed by no pay at all - but now, all of a sudden, there is a tidy little chunk hitting the account on the 25th each month, and I feel ever so rich. 

But this does beg the question now - what are we going to do with all this extra cash ?  Why, save it, of course :)  The savings account have been scoured clean over the last couple of months, there is no money in the annual expenses kitty, and I am fed up of covering everything from cashflow and hoping for the best.  I wanna put coins into little pots and allocate for our needs, and perhaps even a few small wants.  The house needs some money spent on tarting up ready for sale next year; the home education account is bare;  and Christmas, I am reliably informed, is planning to take place once again on the 25th December of this year, and this really should not be coming as a surprise to any of us who happen to celebrate it.

And with the garden giving it all it's got as we've slipped into autumn, and my squirrel stores leaking runner beans and courgettes from every seam already, it's a pretty good time to pull back from spending on food  a little bit, too.

Which is why I will be attempting to do no spending in October.  Oh, I'd love to say that no money will be spent at all whilst we sit tight and eat from the stores.... But we are a long way from that level of frugality.  Instead, not spending on anything but essentials, and keeping those as low as possible, too, should leave us a nice little sum to bung into various savings accounts at the end of the month, so this is what I'm running with. 

And what are the essentials ?  Food - milk and fresh fruit in particular - petrol, any schooling supplies that I have managed to not get in time (hopefully none), and repairs to anything essential to day-to-day living that might break down over the next month (again, hopefully none). 

Now, this really should not be a problem, as we already live in a pretty frugal manner at all times.... But somehow there seem to be this constant little drip-drip-drip of money leaving through all sorts of leaky taps when you're not watching them.  So, this October I will be watching, and trying to prevent  these drips.  And it had better make a difference, else I shall really not be impressed.

In the meantime, let's all have a laff at my compatriots having a go at mangling some English:

And if you are forced to go dry due  to being too jung too drink alchol, you can always visit the fun fun garden.  As opposed to the dull fun garden.  Or indeed the fun dull garden.  Not to mention the dull dull garden.  You'd need plenty of alchol to pull you through that one.   



Monday, 23 September 2013

On Perfection

Despite grasping the fact that there is no such thing as perfection best part of two decades ago - and what a Damascus moment that was for a natural born perfectionist - there are still areas of my life where I  catch myself frozen into inactivity by the certain knowledge that whatever I am capable of producing in the given circumstances will be inadequate..

I have learnt to shove my way through this immobilising frost when it comes to stuff such as  food - else we'd never get fed.  Likewise the other basics of life, the specifics of which escape me right now  as the fog of tiredness takes over.  Sleep ?  A basic indeed, but not really applicable in this instance - I have never sought perfection in zonking out or keeling over.

Do I sound delirious yet ?  I do believe I am not far off, so I expect I better get to the point, if a point I had.... Ah yes.  It would appear that blogging is one of those areas that I referred to above.  So this is me, shoving through it.  No rhyme, no reason, no real point to this post - except for not allowing myself to freeze up because of the belief that action would lead to an inadequate result.

So here, have some photos from our Croatian holiday, and do bear with - because when it comes to blogging, one does
not say it best by saying nothing at all.




.... and could the sea be any clearer ?  When it comes to perfection, Mother Nature has it sussed. 


Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Wrung Out

Sometimes the simple life is anything but.

There is no one single reason that I can identify for life suddenly getting into knots and tangles - perhaps it's really nothing other than the groove that the start of the school year has  worn into our lives over the last 11 years - so despite the fact that we are doing things differently this year, there is this hangover of stress and confusion hanging off the edges of the calendar.

Or maybe it's other people.

Either way, the better half is on his two week holiday now, I am still two weeks away from return to work, and we are off to Croatia (where my parents live) for a week on Thursday.  The cleverly thought-out list of things I wanted done before we left is still pinned to my corkboard, sporting no more than a couple of ticks.  And the Migraine Fairy has been today, and is proving remarkably reluctant to shift.

No matter though.  We have had DD's CAMHS review, and the psychiatrist listened.  As in, properly heard us - attention paid to what we said, rather than to what they assumed we might.  And DD will not be kicked off their lists even though she is "all fine" now - a review should be set in three months time, which is half the time we'd have to wait if the case got closed and we had to go through the GP again.  So that's good.

DD's A Level resources are not quite complete yet, but the bulk of them is there, meaning we can get cracking once back from the holiday.  And there is a most glorious sunset happening right outside my window, and all's well with the world, or will shortly be.

The kitchen floor tiles did not get mended, but so what ?  They will, some time after our return.  The blackberries did not get picked - well, even if it's too late after our return, I have enough in the freezer for a couple of batches of bramble wine at the very least, and that's a couple of batches more than I managed last year.  The tomatoes will not get "sundried" (courtesy of the dehydrator), but distributed among the neighbours, and that is fine - sometimes you have to let go of more than you intended to.  Besides, having so much to give away always makes me feel very rich :)

And all those unfinished posts stuck in my drafts ?  Their time will come, too.  You will be hearing from me on my return - and in the meantime, September can rush on as quickly as it likes.... But we shall be taking it easy, at least for the next ten days or so.

Incidentally, I think our finances will be needing some serious TLC after we return, so I am planning to attempt a "No Spend October".  That is, no spending other than on the essentials - and keeping even those as low as possible.  Anyone wanting to join in.... Start planning now :)

P.S  The photos are from our last visit to Croatia - taken on the island of Krk in April last year.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

They Mess You Up

Or, as Philip Larkin had it:

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.   

    They may not mean to, but they do.   

They fill you with the faults they had

    And add some extra, just for you.
Do I believe this ?  Well, if you want to know, read on.  There is a reason though that this verse has been swirling round and round my chaotic thoughts the last few weeks - and the reason is that, somehow, for some reason, or perhaps at the whim of nothing more than those terrible twins, Randomness and Coincidence, I have been coming across a lot of people who seem to believe it with all their might.  And are not worried about who knows it.  In fact, they are positively evangelical about this belief.... And not at all shy about sharing their unshakeable conviction that, even should there be some exceptions to this rule (like, themselves), you  - the person they are conversing with - are not it, sunshine.
But let's backtrack a little.
My daughter has what is most commonly known as an Autism Spectrum Disorder. It is something that, in an ideal world, really should not matter, to herself or anyone else - but as that is not the world we live in, it does, to a great degree.  She is at what is commonly known as the "high functioning" end of the spectrum - meaning that, in the years prior to the inception of the DSM-V, her diagnosis would probably read "Asperger's Syndrome", as opposed to "ASD".  Same difference.   In practical terms, this means that she has always attended mainstream education and done extremely well academically - but very much at the cost of her mental health. 
Long story short, a few weeks into her final GCSE year she found herself unable to attend school any longer, and after a winter of hell trying to get the black dog of depression the hell away from her, she eventually caught up on her GCSE work, was kindly given the opportunity to sit her exams at home, and came away with two A*, two As and 3Bs - which she was desperately disappointed about at first, because. well, anything less than absolute perfection just isn't good enough, for her - but which everyone else jumped for joy about - and we have got her pretty much to see our point of view by now.
But she is not going back.  She  wants to continue with her education, and do A levels, and if she likes learning at that level, do a degree - but she has asked me to home educate her instead.
So this is what we're going to do.  It's not a decision taken lightly - especially as I am not a stay at home mother, but work part time in an academic library - but it's a decision that's been researched any which way possible, and the one that, hand on heart, I can say is the absolute best thing for my daughter.
You wouldn't think so from the conversations I've had over the last few months, though. Friends, family, strangers on the internet.  And here is where we come back to the start of the post - the overwhelming attitude of the overwhelming majority of people appears to be that home education - a hands-on approach by a loving, caring parent - is the one sure-fire way to mess your child up irretrievably.  Without farming your child out to an institution for a large part of every weekday during termtime, there is no way that they will ever amount to anything.  They will grow up without any social skills - because they are apparently learned from their peers (who by definition must be equally clueless), not their elders - their knowledge will be deficient and full of holes - frankly, they are for the skip.
And a parent who chooses this option ?  Either an abuser after cutting the object of abuse from possible detection, a religious freak, a general nutcase, or all of the above in one convenient package.
It quite takes my breath away - the amount of ill will and hostility directed at home education and home educators is truly something I have not been prepared for.
But the insult to injury part ?  When you introduce the fact of your child's autism.  Suddenly, your decision becomes valid.  A child - or in my case, a young adult - who needs extra care, extra help, and faces multiple extra challenges - apparently, I am deemed capable of looking after their needs without anyone else's help - but I would not be up to the challenges of looking after a neurotypical one.
So tell me then - how does that work ?  Is it because a person with autism is seen as someone destined for the scrapheap anyway, so the attentions of the "proper" educators are wasted in their direction ?  Or is it because they are seen as messed up enough that all my best efforts in that direction are unlikely to do more damage ?
Is it because people who are, in the eyes of the detractors, seen as "other" are also deemed not to matter ?
I don't know, and frankly, I'm too scared of finding out.
One of the people participating in the last online discussion I had on the subject, when conceding that, in my case, I might well not have another option but to home educate, maintained that education for people with ASDs should be a separate discussion altogether, and that any benefits conferred on an ASD person through home education can have no bearing on the benefits or otherwise of the conventional schooling for all the "run of the mill people".
Which is why, I guess, that this discussion could never get any further than a grudging agreement to disagree.  Because, you see, I do not believe in run of the mill people; which is why I will never be content with the run of the mill education.  I believe only in individuals, each one as unique and as special as the next, and each needing an approach slightly different to the rest on order to make the most of their potential.
I do not dispute that there are many schools that do everything in their power to meet the individual needs of each child entrusted into their care.  My daughter went to one of those, which is the one and the only reason that home education hasn't become a part of our lives much, much earlier on. This is not because the system is great, though - it is because some of the individuals working within them are.  What I do dispute is the assertion that no parent - unless their child is for the scrap heap anyway - can educate their child as well if not better than an institution can.
Because, you see, I do not believe that they will necessarily mess you up, your mum and dad, even though they do not mean to.  In fact, I firmly believe that the majority of parents do want what's best for their children - and if that turns out to be home education, that they will, just as I have done, put as much thought, effort and research into providing the best care and achieving the best result for their child as I have done when faced with the decision.  Trust me on this - no degree, no career, no paid job and no client has ever provided as much incentive to provide a five star service than the welfare of my own daughter.
And if that makes me a suffocating parent, then may I humbly offer my heartfelt belief that a few more "suffocating parents" would do the world in general and our society in particular the world of good.



Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Poor Man's Nicoise

Or, a dish I threw together when looking for a way to use up pea shoots.

First, grow your peashoots.  I buy packets of dried peas from my nearest supermarket - 30p last I bought any, 46p on Asda's website today - either way, far cheaper than buying seeds from a garden centre, or indeed anywhere else.

Incidentally, that says steeping tablet, not sleeping tablet.  Just so's you know.  The tablet in question is bicarbonate of soda, and as such can be used whenever you'd normally use bicarb - cleaning, laundry, brushing your teeth, you name it.

Waste not, want not.

Sow your peas quite thickly - a neglected corner of the garden is fine, but a plastic tray on your windowsill is even better, as it can be used the year round - they'll not grow in your garden when the ground is frozen, or covered in snow.

A couple of weeks later - in warm weather, a bit longer if it's cold - give your shoots a haircut, grab some potatoes, an onion, and a tin of tuna.  Peel and quarter the spuds, bring to the boil, then boil for 20 minutes, or until they start falling apart.  Drain, then put the lid back on the pot and give them a good shake - you want them bashed about and falling apart, quite unlike what you'd normally be after for a Nicoise, or indeed any potato salad.

While you are waiting for potatoes to boil, peel and slice a large onion (red is nice, but any will do) - or two medium ones - and saute in a little oil until soft. Mix in the peashoots. Empty out your frying pan into the potatoes. Open your tin of tuna, drain it - then throw the contents in with the potatoes as well.  Season with salt, pepper and a capful of vinegar and mix well.  Scatter a few olives over the top if you have any. Tuck in.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

On Finances and Identity

Some thre years ago or thereabouts - how time flies - I was part of a team that created this website:


Of course, the prices are somewhat out of date now - what isn't though, is the concept of being able to feed the multitudes a healthy diet on not very much money, as long as you were in possession on some wits, some skills, and a lot of enthusiasm.

Because that's what, to me, true poverty is - lack of skills, lack of community support, lack of imagination and lack of hope.  I have been skint many times - but I have never, ever felt poor.

Which is why I believe that it's down to us - each and every one of us who can - individuals, communities, and the society as a whole - to teach those who can't.  I am pleased and proud to be living in a society that, in some ways, looks after its weakest members - in the form of providing financial assistance to the people who are not lucky enough to be able to earn their own keep at a particular point in time - but I do not believe that this is where we should leave it.  Pouring scorn on the people who do not have the skills to make the most of the benefits bestowed on them speaks little of the people the scorn is directed at - but speaks volumes of those who are directing it.

This isn't only about people who are not working and in receipt of benefits, either.  This is about us all - in fact, the above website was created in order to help primarily all those people with decent incomes who have, for whatever reasons, found themselves in reduced circumstances - whether that's a paycut, a loss of wage, or that dreaded cause of most bankruptcies in the United Kingdom, overcommitment.  Because the attitude of "we are worth it" can, and often does, lead to living beyond your means.

And as Charles Dickens said through the mouth of Mr Micawber:

"Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen [pounds] nineteen [shillings] and six [pence], result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery."

Simple enough, right ?

Except it does not seem to be. 

Three years ago, whilst we were working on the Cheap Family Recipes website, Weezl, the creative brain and the web designer behind the site, told us about a crisis of identity that she and her husband were going through because of their conscious decision to live below their means. In fact, they took this decision so far that for a number of months Weezl was feeding herself and hubby on 50 pence a day - healthily, of course.

Now, why would anyone want to do that ?  Why would anyone want to deprive themselves of the things they could afford ?  After all, they worked hard - surely they could go out and spend on playing hard.  It's OK for poor people to be scrimping and saving and picking nettles to make soup - but not for two young professionals bringing in a decent income, now is it ?

Well, they thought otherwise.  They looked at the money they'd be paying to the bank as interest on a mortgage for their dream home; they looked on how many years they would have to work to earn that money;  they looked on their desire to start a family and assessed their priorities, and decided that time spent with their loved ones was, to them, of greater importance than the time spent at work, earning money.

They were after financial freedom - freedom to stay at home with their young kids; freedom to work part-time if they so wished; freedom to volunteer and contribute to the community rather than giving all they had to the daily grind of commuting, and working, and earning.

It can be hard, though, this swimming against the current.  One day, Weezl came online and told us of a conversation she had with her husband:

"Mr Weezl and I had a really interesting conversation the other day about the way that people define themselves and create an identity through spending.

We talked about the different identities our friends have created in this way, and how attractive a lot of those choices seem to us.

We also talked about how 'not spending' is probably perceived as an identity too, and yet it is something we sometimes both feel a little bit lost because of.

DH is a dentist (currently doing a PhD) so frequently meets up with peers from uni who are defining themselves with boats and cars and skiing.

Mostly he feels fine, but sometimes he wonders who he is.

Not really making any point here... just musing "

And this really struck a chord with me. Not even because I identified - but because I used to work in debt collection, and dealt daily with the people who did, and got into trouble because of it.  Besides, there is more than one way to suffer a crisis of identity - yet this is a really common one, and one that can show its debilitating results literally overnight.

How many people would feel they've lost their identity if suddenly their bank took away their overdraft ?  If mortgage rates were to rise ?  If their bills doubled unexpectedly ?  If their job was gone ?  How many of us, in short, know who we really are, not defined by what we do, what we spend or don't spend, what we do for a living ?

And I have always been really uncomfortable with the idea of defining one's identity through something as transient as the distribution of money. It's a point that has already been made - that if you define yourself through your spending on boats and cars - or clothes and shoes, for that matter - then if your income is suddenly reduced and the spending has to be redefined, then you don't just have the material hardship to contend with, but also a serious crisis of identity.

Or worse even -  people like who made a conscious decision to quit spending end up losing their sense of identity as a result.

Now, we all know that some people do define their identities through spending.... But I really do believe, rightly or wrongly, that these people can be divided into two camps - one who is so uncertain of their identity that they hide behind a consumerist construct, so they really define themselves by no more than their spending, and those are the ones that will most struggle when this construct is stripped away by circumstances. Or even if it isn't, because the fact that this is not a true representation of their identity will mean that they will seek to spend more and more in search of satisfaction and contentment that will never come.

The other camp is the people who use this consumerist construct as a convenient shorthand for what their true identity is. So while they might say - and think - that they are people who spend on cars and boats, people who spend on fine dining at Gordon's, people who shop in Waitrose, people who shop for clothes and shoes - in truth they are people who boat and drive fast cars, or people who like good food, people who like pretty things. These are people who will be able to see a slash of their income as an opportunity rather than an identity crisis - people who will find another way to sail and drive, more appropriate to their new circumstances; people who will host OS dinner parties at home or go looking for treasures in charity shops. Because, you see, I believe that for anyone who does know who they really are... It can never really be about money; money is always just means to an end, no more and no less.

Trying to illustrate the point further - I believe that I truly do not feel that my identity has ever been entangled with my spending habits to any extent. True, I will use the label "I am a frugalista" or some such as that convenient shorthand when contributing to a moneysaving forum - but is that who I really am ? By no means.

But who am I ? I did, for many years, define myself through a construct. My identity, I firmly believed, was that of a writer. I wrote all my life - I earn money writing since I was 15 - and that was who I was. Yet when my circumstances changed and I was no longer able to write professionally - inability to meet deadlines pretty much puts a stop to that nonsense - I did not lose myself altogether. I just realised that what I thought was my identity - a writer - was just one facet of it, just one viewpoint of the whole - and that what poured in to fill the gap left by words - the kitchen, the garden - was another aspect of the same. 

So I then thought of myself as someone who creates something new and usable out of very little - new worlds out of a collection of characters as represented by the letters of the alphabet; fruit and vegetables out of seeds; meals and treats out of the fruit and veg.

But even that wasn't quite right. Did I really create ? Or did I just find what was already there, in potentia ? I believe the latter. Because the former not only gives credit where it's not due, leaving aside for now delusions of grandeur, but also leaves out another important part of who I am, a part that always informed whatever I did - and that was the part that liked to help people. I help people in my paid job, and I love it. And the biggest role in my life, and the one that parted me from my identity of a writer - the role of a parent - that is the one that can under no circumstances be stored under the label of a creator. I am not my children's creator - I am their custodian, and their facilitator on their journey to adulthood, independence, and identity of their own.

And that is how I finally found out that this is who I am, my true identity - as a custodian and a facilitator. And once you have that sorted, the rest is smooth sailing no matter how bumpy the road. And no matter how many metaphors you mix.

My thanks to the reader Paula for reminding me of this, because three years have passed, and life has moved on, and there were many non-finance related occasions when I lost sight of who I was....

But more on that on another occasion.  In the meantime, take a good look at your finances, and ask yourself - are they a true representation of who you really are ?  And should they be ? 

And if they're not..... What can you do to change it ?