Friday, 13 May 2016

Living Off Grid

I WAS reading a post from my other blog That's Purrfect written by the genipuss Carlton Cat (I know, I know, a talking cat..... what can I say? All my cynical sensibilities fly out the window when it comes to cats.)

Anyway, it reminded me of a post I wrote for Devon Life magazine back in September. So here it is:

by Maid in Devon (that's me!)

I HAVE been reading a lot lately about living "off grid". As far as I can see this can range from complete self-sufficiency - including sourcing your own water, growing all your own food and producing your own electricity - to living in a cottage with solar power and a vegetable garden.

The latter appeals to me. The former conjures up images of Americans living in the Appalachian Mountains wearing camouflage gear, carrying AK-47 assault rifles to keep the "danged govermint" away and with enough flour, dried beans and canned goods to last a lifetime.

In fact, I spotted a book called The Prepper's Cookbook: 300 Recipes to Turn YourEmergency Food into Nutritious, Delicious, Life-Saving Meals. I'm not kidding.

In my own little corner of Devon I have dispensed with weapons, a well and a barn holding enough food to live out a meltdown in civilisation. I do, however, have room to grow some vegetables.
I have visions of a "grow your own" lifestyle - eating with the seasons, doing all my own baking, making jams and chutneys and storing my turnips in a sand barrel. If only when he'd built our house the better half had thought to include a root cellar I would be well away. No forward thinking; that's his trouble.

I'd keep chickens if I could but the deeds to our house expressly forbid it. Presumably it also precludes keeping a pig for slaughter and a cow for milk. I must look it up. If it doesn't, the neighbours are going to love me.

I am already on the way to being more self-sufficient. A couple of weeks ago I took delivery of a wormery. This, says all the blurb, is "an easy, efficient system of converting ordinary kitchen food waste into liquid feed and rich organic compost". I have set it up in the garden, added the tiger worms, and put some kitchen waste in it.

The Joy of Keeping A Root Cellar
So far all that has happened is that an army of tiger worms has crawled up the sides, presumably in a vain attempt to escape, and the kitchen waste has lain there, undigested and about as far from "liquid feed and rich organic compost" as you can get. But it's early days and all my wormery fanatic friends tell me to be patient and in a few weeks I will have so much fertiliser that I can dig up the field beside the house and grow wheat to make my own bread.  Must look out some plans for a mill.

We already have an efficient multifuel-burner which heats the water and runs the radiators. It's just a pity we don't have our own forest so we can chop down wood. The better half is a cabinet-maker, though, so we have plenty of off-cuts to burn. It’s “multi-fuel” so you can burn just about anything in it. We haven’t experimented as we don’t want to be throwing toxic fumes up into the atmosphere. We have also drawn the line at throwing in dead animals as I have read some farmers do. No - wood, coal, paper and the occasional piece of cardboard have been our limit.   

When I was child, living on a farm in the wilds of North Devon, we had our own generator for many years until we were connected to the mains. It was a pain having to start it up every day. I remember charging the carburettor (I think that’s what it was!) with petrol and turning the handle repeatedly until it decided, reluctantly, to cough, splutter and get going; and it was very noisy. Still, it was worth it to generate enough electricity to watch our new-fangled black and white cabinet TV showing such delights as Dixon of Dock Green, Z-Cars and The Interlude. 

I think these days generators are quieter and easier to get going but even so I can't see myself cranking one up every day.

Solar panels are a better option – not prohibitively expensive and fairly efficient. I decided against going down the wind turbine route - the neighbours having enough trouble with my pig and cow.
It's easy to collect rain in butts to reduce the water rates and to conserve water - not that we don't get plenty of the stuff falling from the skies here in Devon. Even so, I’m told we should all do our bit to use less from our taps.

I have toyed with the idea of composting toilets having read that the flush lavatory uses 30 per cent of the UK's water supply. Even Glastonbury Festival has replaced its chemical loos with smell-free, waterless, composting toilets. Those of a delicate disposition should look away now…the fact is human faeces in the presence of oxygen breaks down into pathogen-free compost and urine is sterile and full of nitrogen - in other words, ideal fertiliser. Although I’m not, as some people do, going to start peeing on my plants, you’ll be pleased to hear – but not half so pleased as those poor long-suffering neighbours.

But all that is for the future. For the moment the pristine, flushable loo in the bathroom will have to suffice. 

I admit I have some way to go before I can in any shape or form claim to be self-sufficient. The few cherry tomatoes and my "cut and come again” lettuces I have managed to grow are hardly going to sustain the household should the country encounter some ecological or man-made catastrophe which cuts off all supplies. 

If we ever get to the stage I might have to reconsider my ban on the AK-47 assault rifle and persuade the better half to start constructing that root cellar.
  • You can subscribe to Devon Life here. There's a big offer on at the moment.

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Monday, 9 May 2016

In Which I Enter A Man's World

Tyre-fitter - or tire-fitter as my American friends write.

Soooo, this is what a man's world looks like, is it? I'm in some kind of tyre-fitting place, sent by the dearly beloved to replace a worn tyre. I'm not used to this car business, having been spoiled for years and years by having a company car. It was all done for me. A nice man came around at work and checked the tread. If a tyre needed replacing, it was replaced.

Since leaving the company, the dearly beloved has sorted out all my vehicle-related needs. Except today. He's too busy.

"But I've got three perfectly good tyres!" I tell  him. He looks at me as if I have crawled out from under a stone wearing a hat with the label BIMBO in the brim.

"Yes, sweetheart, tell that to the nice policeman when he stops you and to the magistrates when they fine you £200 and put three penalty points on your licence." He can be VERY sarcastic when he wants to be.

So I drive into "some kind of tyre-fitting place". I don't want to appear as if I'm a know-nothing woman who they can rip off. Even though I AM a know-nothing woman who they could quite easily rip off.

So I nonchalantly walk up to the desk, put my arm across the counter and look the assistant in the eye. "New tyre, please."

"No problem, madam, what do you want?"

What does he mean, "what do I want"? I've just told him. I want a new tyre. He looks at my puzzled face and reels off a list of options. I still look puzzled and he says he'll send someone to look at my car and see what tyres are already on there, then they can fit the same type.

So that's all sorted and I settle down to wait. But I realise I am losing the "I know what I'm doing" game so I wander over to the coffee machine - then they will know I have some mechanical skills at least. I don't know what I did but the coffee machine resolutely refuses to produce a beverage. Nice man comes over from behind the desk, presses a few buttons and I have my coffee.

I go back to the bench to drink my coffee and read a magazine dated June, 2011.

I'm half way through the quiz, "Are you a tomboy or a girly girl?" when I'm told my car is ready. Now I shall never know whether I should be wearing oil-stained jeans or a flowery, floaty dress.

Man behind counter tells me how much I have to pay - one arm and one leg, it looks like. There are lots of extra things on the bill like balancing, alignment and VAT. I blink, wonder briefly if I should query anything - but it all looks official. There's nothing on there that says "know-nothing woman rates apply", so I pay up.

I leave the tyre-fitting place feeling strangely and misguidedly proud of myself. I have entered a man's world and emerged intact

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Friday, 6 May 2016

Not Always Right

THERE is a website called Not Always Right in which people serving the public list all their gripes about customers.

The ones below made me laugh. I worked in newspapers for more than 30 years and this is typical of the kind of phone call we'd get. I once had a call from a local villain who had come up in court - yet again. He said he was calling to complain because he hadn't given us permission to use his name in the paper. I politely explained that we didn't need permission to name people in court. Unless there was a court order forbidding it, we always named people.

"That's not the f***ing point," he yelled at me. "Don't you realise, I've been trying to keep my name OUT of the papers and now you've ruined it!"

I was going to comment that if he didn't go around burgling people's houses, we wouldn't be reporting his court case, but he hung up.

Not Always Right conversations

Me: *on the phone* “**** Newspaper, can I help you?”

Caller: “Hi, is this the obituaries?”

Me: “Yes ma’am, it is.”

Caller: “I need to place one.”

Me: “OK ma’am. You can send that to me via fax or email.”

Caller: “What do they typically say?”

Me: “They vary, but some good information is where the individual was born, when they passed away–”

Caller: “Oh, he’s not dead yet.”

Me: “I–I’m sorry?”

Caller: “He’s very sick, though. Should be any day.”

Me: “I’m sorry, ma’am, but we can’t run an obituary until the individual has died.”

Caller: *sighs heavily* “Well that’s VERY inconvenient.” *hangs up*

Then there was this one:

(I used to work in a small town newspaper. Most everyone would leave earlier in the afternoon and one person would be left to man the phones for an hour or so in the newsroom. This day, I’m the only staff member on hand, and there’s a guy using our microfilm for research. The phone rings.)

Me: “Hello, this is [Newspaper]. Can I help you?”

Lady: “Yes! I am very upset! I just read an article in your paper about the fire that destroyed our house and everything in it is wrong!”

Me: “Oh, I’m sorry about that… Can you tell me who wrote the article?”

Lady: “It’s [Name I’ve never heard].”

Me: “Uh… I’m not familiar with that name but…”

Lady: “No, wait, it’s [Reporter].”

Me: “Oh! Yes… he isn’t in the office today, but he should be in tomorrow about seven.”

Lady: “I want this taken care of now! You have no idea what we’ve been through! I just now got around to reading the article and I see all this wrong stuff and it’s like it happened all over again! I want him to rewrite the whole thing!”

Me: *thinking I’ll grab a copy of the paper and re-read the article* “Can you tell me when the article was written?”

Lady: “The fire happened in May!”

Me: “But it’s now October…”

Lady: “So?”

Me: “Ma’am, I’m sorry but that happened five months ago. We’re not going to be able to redo the story.”

Lady: “BUT WHY NOT?! He got EVERYTHING wrong!”

Me: “I understand that, but so much time has passed and—”

Me: “It’s [Editor], but she’s going to tell you the same thing.”

(By now the guy at the microfilm machine is watching me with a “WTF?” expression.)

Lady: “I’m going to call her tomorrow! And you’re going to reprint this! You don’t know what I’ve been through!” *hangs up*

(I explain the conversation to the guy at the microfilm.)

Microfilm Guy: “If it was so important, why did she wait five months to read the article?”

Me: “I should have asked her that.”

(When I got to work the next morning my editor asked about the note I left her and then asked the same question. To our knowledge the woman never called back.)

 Finally, there was this one:

(Our newspaper always gets strange calls. After one story I wrote about first aid training at the Red Cross, I get the following call from a reader…)

Me: “Hello, [newspaper]. How may I help you?”

Reader: “Yeah, I’m here at the Red Cross.”

Me: “… okay?”

Reader: “They just told me the first aid class you wrote about is full.”

Me: “Oh, okay.”

Reader: *silence*

Me: “Sir? What’s the problem?”

Reader: “Well, I have a friend who really needs to get into this class, but they said it’s full!”

Me: “I’m so sorry, sir.”

Reader: “Well?”

Me: “I’m sorry?”

 Reader: “Well, what are you going to do about it? Can’t you tell them to add a seat to the class?”

Me: “Umm, no, sir. I’m just a reporter. I can’t tell the Red Cross what to do. I’m sorry your friend can’t get in the class in time.”

Reader: “Well, what is he supposed to do? He needs the training now!”

Me: “Well, I believe the hospital teaches a first aid class.”

Reader: “They do? Can you call them for me?”

Me: “No, sir, I’m afraid I have a tight deadline today. I can’t take the time to look into that. Maybe you could call your friend and tell him?”

Reader: *sarcastically* “Yeah, whatever. Thanks for your help.”

I'm sure lots of my former colleagues have similar stories to tell. The vast majority of customers are lovely but any job in which you are dealing with the public can be frustrating and often hilarious.

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Saturday, 30 April 2016

Z is for Zapper

A to Z Challenge

Here is a picture of a man holding a remote control.
Unfortunately, it's not my man.

The zapper in my house is the remote control for the television. When the dearly beloved is out in the pub regaling anyone who will listen with his views on every subject from aardvarks to  zyzzyva (destructive weevils), I decide what I am going to watch on TV, switch to the channel and leave the zapper close at hand.

When the DB is in charge of the zapper (i.e. whenever he is in the house) it is welded to his hand and he's zipping through the channels faster than a texting teenager on speed.

My head spins as before my very eyes whooshes two seconds each of the news, Coronation Street, a tennis match, Friends, Criminal Minds, a National Geographic programme about lemurs, something about Hitler, Goodfellas…ah, stop. Goodfellas is his favourite film so he watches this for ten minutes, mouthing the words with the actors as he knows it so well. I go and do something different. I know what Joe Pesci is going to do to that poor man and I don't want to see it again.

I rarely see the beginning of a programme because he's so busy zapping about that we miss it. And heaven forbid we should ever see an advert. Come the commercial break and he's off again, as if viewing a two-minute ad extolling the virtues of cornflakes is going to make him go blind.

Sometimes he's on his laptop and the TV is just background noise. There might be something on that I want to watch so I ask him nicely, "Can you pass the zapper, please?"

He looks up, fear in his eyes. "Why? What?"

I tell him I want to watch a different programme. 

"What is it? What channel is it on?

I tell him, "It's OK. I can change the channel if you give me the zapper."

By now he's starting to sweat and grips the zapper until his knuckles go white. "Tell me the channel and I'll do it for you."

In all relationships you must pick your battles and I decide this one is not worth the fight so I tell him what he wants to know. He switches over for me, the sweat beginning to dry on his brow and the twitches calming down.

Sometimes I wish you could zap people.....

  • So that's it for the A to Z Challenge. I have learned that there is an awful lot of good writing in blogs and that I can be self-disciplined enough to post more frequently than I have in the past. I hope, too, that I have made connections with other bloggers that will last for a very long time. See you later in the blogosphere!

Friday, 29 April 2016

Y is for Yummy Mummy

A to Z Challenge

IF there's one phrase guaranteed to set my teeth on edge, it's "yummy mummy".

I'm not sure if my friends across the pond use this description as they have mommies rather than mummies so for anyone who doesn't know what they are here's the simple dictionary definition: "an attractive and fashionably dressed young mother".  But the phrase has taken on a connotation that is so much more than that.

While lots of mums of very young children struggle to find a shirt to put on in the morning that isn't stained with vomit, spit or pureed carrots, these women walk tall and proud dressed in pristine designer gear with not a hair out of place. And they are those celebrities who almost as soon as baby has popped out are photographed with their lithe toned bodies in bikinis.

Yummy mummyism starts even before the baby is born. While the average mum-to-be resorts to wearing Halford's tents in the later stages of pregnancy, yum mum is showing off her perfect little bump in tiny tops, not a stretch mark or excess pound of flesh in sight.

Before giving birth  many young mums aspire to be yummy mummified. They read the articles and fantasise about all the time they will have on their hands once they give up work and become a mum (hah!).  They want to be glamorous and their life to be effortless.

Afterwards the reality of being on call 24 hours a day for a perfectly precious but all-consuming little despot destroys these thoughts in a shower of wee, poo, vomit and talc. So all these yummy mummies do nothing for the rest of the sisterhood except make them feel inadequate.

What aspiring yummy mummies may not realise is that Ms Flick-My-Hair standing beside her with her Gucci accessories and baby in a pram the size of an SUV has an army of help at home - from nannies and au pairs to gardeners and cleaners. You have your mum who pops round to lend a hand if she lives near enough.

So don't despair non-yummy mummy, you're doing a grand job and don't let anyone else tell you any differently. Don't worry if you're not like this:

but more like this:

Thursday, 28 April 2016

X is for Xantippe

A to Z Challenge

Xantippe was the wife of Greek philosopher Socrates and mother of their three sons. She has been portrayed through history as scolding, quarrelsome, nagging and irritable.

She lived with four males so what else did you expect of the poor bloody woman? I expect she was picking up socks and damp towels all day long, the combined smell from four farting men turning her normally sanguine personality incandescent with rage.

But Socrates said he chose her precisely because of her argumentative spirit, which impressed me, although he did go on to spoil it a bit when he added that, she was "the hardest to get along with of all the women there are, "  so he reckoned  if he could get along with her, he could get on with anyone.

He also said, rather ungallantly: "The goose is tolerated because it lays eggs and hatches young ones; so also must it be with his wife, for she bore him children."

There are lots of stories of Xantippe's rages and jealous nature. In one she stamped on a large and beautiful cake sent to Socrates by one Alcibiades.  I had to look up Alcibiades, expecting to find a   description of some trollop who ought to know better - and was more than a little surprised to find Alcibiades was a man.

In another it is said she became so angry with her husband that she poured the contents of a chamber pot over his head. Socrates was "philosophical" about the incident, saying: “After thunder comes the rain.” Ho, ho, ho.

If that was the quality of his "jokes", then I'm not surprised that Xantippe comes over as a little pissed off.

Personally, I like the sound of her. However, I may get a little cross with the dearly beloved occasionally but I have never yet poured wee over his head.

  • That's X done, only two more to go in the A to Z Challenge. How are you all finding it? I was fine until these last few days when I have been working full-time at my former workplace as well as honouring my freelance commitments. Time is running away with me but I have just about managed to keep up. Nearly there! I haven't visited as many blogs as I would like. There are so many now that I really enjoy reading, but I'll soon be back.
I have two blogs in the A to Z Challenge - I'm a glutton for punishment. The other one is called That's Purrfect.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

W is for Handy Hints for Wives

A to Z Challenge

 I PROMISED in my post called H is for Handy Hints for Husbands that I would do a similar one for wives. For those of you who didn't read the original post or have forgotten it, it was about two little books of advice written in 1913.

Don’ts For Husbands included very pertinent advice like: "Don’t sharpen pencils all over the house. It does not improve either the carpets or the servants’ tempers to find pencil sharpenings all over the floors."

Advice for women in Don'ts For Wives largely revolved around keeping house and keeping hubby happy.

This is one piece of advice written in all seriousness: “Don’t let your husband wear a violet tie with grass-green socks. If he is unhappily devoid of the colour sense, he must be forcibly restrained.”

Of course, every wife had to know her way around the kitchen, even it was just to tell the servants what to do. I must get to grips with this one:  "Don’t be afraid of cold meat. A few cookery lessons, or even a good cookery book, with the use of a little intelligence, will make you mistress of delicious ways of serving up leftovers."

And I mustn't forget this: "Don’t omit to pay your husband a compliment. If he looks nice dressed for the opera, tell him so. If he has been successful with his chickens, or his garden, compliment him." Darn it, the last time we went to the opera I clean forgot to tell him he looked nice. I hope he has forgiven me.

This one is going to be harder to keep to:  "Don’t say 'I told you so' to your husband, however much you feel tempted to. It does no good, and he will be grateful to you for not saying it."

I mustn't forget to, “Listen for his latchkey and meet him on the threshold." As he steps through the door I must gauge whether he is ‘nervy'. If he is it could be that his "tea habit is getting too strong in him" and I must keep a watch on him.

I directed this one at the dearly beloved and got a glare in return: “Beauty is only skin-deep and the cleverest men are rarely the handsomest.”

I also referred him to: "Don’t be discontented and think your husband not manly because he happens to be short and thin, and not very strong. Manliness is not a purely physical quality."

He glared at me even more and now he's not talking to me - so that's a bonus.