Thursday, 25 August 2016

#ThrowbackThursday - where we were on this date in Augusts past

Original Theatre Company
Three Men In A Boat
It's been a good August with Torquay feeling properly summery for most days and I love looking out across the valley from our flat to see white and pastel painted Victorian buildings reflecting the sunlight back to me or the stunning sunsets in the evenings. My memories for this date in Augusts gone by start indoors though, unsurprisingly in dark theatres. I can't remember which of two plays I saw closest to the 25th of August 2012, but it was either Original Theatre Company's Three Men In A Boat at the Devonshire Park or Bootcamp Theatre's The History Boys at The Underground, both in Eastbourne. The History Boys is one of my favourite plays ever and I remember Bootcamp making a great job of it. Three Men In A Boat was very funny and inventive too. I wonder if Original Theatre Company ever visit the South West?


August 25th in 2013 was a Sunday and I was harvesting fruit from our Polegate garden. Can you believe this display of blackberries? Our orchard hadn't done so well though - I wonder if the new owners have kept the fruit trees? This year's blackberry crops are apparently not going to be good anywhere in the UK and that's certainly true for the ones I've seen in Torbay. The GBBOers will have to find a different ingredient for their crumbles - here's a recipe they can use! It's such a worry that I even got an email from The Woodland Trust about it last week asking for observant folks to update their Nature Calendar with ripe blackberry sightings so they can track the arrival of autumn.


August 2014 was a strange time as we were selling our house, but by the end of the month the conveyancers still hadn't exchanged contracts as expected and we were getting very frustrated. On the 25th I had a couple of weeks remaining of my temp job at Wealden Council and was getting a lot of reading done, having published two book review trio posts back to back! I gave five stars to a brilliant novel, The Long Song by Andrea Levy, which is set in 1800s colonial Jamaica. It'a powerful and disturbing read which I thought managed to be far more than another novel about slavery and gave a fascinatingly detailed view of the plantations at that time.


On this day last year we were in our caravan in Wales and had (just about) conquered the Llandovery one way system. I loved this sculpture of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd Fychan of Caeo who was hung, drawn and quartered in Llandovery in 1401 for refusing to betray Owain Glyndwr to Henry IV. Llandovery is absolutely crammed full of history so I found it to be a very interesting place - and it had good little shops too. I also remember making a fuss of a small dog who wanted to play - and then getting a lengthy lecture from its owner about what a special dog it was. I forget which rare breed he claimed it to be, but I was assured that this little Scottie-like canine was worth about £800!

As for now - we finished furnishing our new flat yesterday as Half Price Bedz finally managed to deliver our bed. It's taken over four weeks and their communication skills are practically non-existent so we are not happy with them as a business, but fortunately the bed itself is nice.

I'll put together another ThrowbackThursday post for next month. It will be reminiscing about the last four years of the 29th of Septembers!

Monday, 22 August 2016

#TreatYourself - special offers that caught my eye

15% off English Heritage food and drink 
We're heading towards the end of the month yet again and August has really flown past for me! As it is the 22nd, today's post is a TreatYourself instead of my usual SmallSteps. (That series is on a two week break, but will be back in early September.)

Today I've got another five special offers and discount codes for you starting with a nice 15% off all food and drink products at the English Heritage shop until the 31st August. English Heritage stock beautiful wines and meads as well as good quality jams, chutneys and biscuits. And they'll even send a hamper if you suddenly remember you need a luxurious gift for a foodie. To take advantage of the 15% offer, simply use the voucher code EHDF40 at checkout. You will need to spend over £40 for the discount to apply.


Great reductions in the Twinings Summer Sale 
While we're thinking about food and drink, Twinings have got sales and discounts all over the place throughout August. You can get 3 for 2 on Loose Teas until the 31st of August with checkout code LOOSE, or buy 1 get 1 half price on Rooibos Tea from the 23rd to the 29th August with checkout code RED, and free delivery with orders over £10 on the Bank Holiday weekend (25th to 29th August) with checkout code HOLIDAY. Phew! And if that's not enough, the Twinings Super Sale is running until the 29th and there's loads of their beautiful crockery, tea making equipment, teas and hot chocolates at up to 70% off. I love this Jangneus tea towel and dishcloth set, reduced to £8 from £15.


A timely email from Ordnance Survey alerted me to their Summer Sale where you can benefit from up to 30% off technology items such as GPS systems, up to 40% off outdoor clothing and gear, and 10% off maps. They've got great bargains on brands such as Garmin, Craghopper and Vango  and, if you order now, your purchases might just arrive in time for the Bank Holiday weekend. Plus, to celebrate their 225th anniversary, Ordnance Survey are running a competition with 225 great prizes including the chance to go for a ride in their mapping plane!


New lower prices on
The Body Shop skincare 
Skincare just got cheaper at The Body Shop with new lower prices as standard on eighteen skincare products including clay face masks, washes, cleansers and this rather nice camomile butter. With free UK standard delivery on order over £25, it might be worth stocking up!
I noticed a Save £10 When You Spend £25 offer advertised on The Body Shop website homepage too, but 'Terms and Conditions apply' and I couldn't find anywhere explaining what these are. If you want to give the offer a go, the checkout code is 14664.


Large Polka Turkey Dish
at Emma Bridgewater 
By the time this post is published, we should have retrieved all our stored possessions from Sussex and found places for them in our new home. I am hoping all the tableware has survived nearly two years boxed away but, if not, I might well spend an hour or so trawling the Emma Bridgewater website for replace. I am not too fussy about perfection and have discovered fantastic savings to be made in the All Seconds section. This lists pottery which is still completely functional, but isn't quite up to the rigorous Bridgewater standards and so is being sold off cheaper. Discounts differ, presumably depending how Second each item is and the individual listings don't actually mention the problems. As an example of the potential savings though, this Large Polka Turkey Dish is reduced from £45.95 to £30 and a Large Veg Dish was also £30, but reduced from £52.95. There's free standard UK shipping with orders over £25 here too.


That's all my TreatYourself ideas from other companies for August, but I am I am going to add another for you and finish up with a discount code of my own for my Etsy shop. I am offering 10% off all purchases of £5 or more and the checkout code is WELCOME. The code is valid until the end of August. Remember, you only pay one lot of shipping, no matter how many items you buy together, so it makes sense to stock up! There are handmade items that would make fab Christmas gifts and lots of pretty craft supplies too. Enjoy your browse!


Feel welcome to Comment any other offers you know of and I will search out another post's worth for you all for September.

Friday, 19 August 2016

Kevin Foster talks about bees and Torbay’s Buzzing Big Pollinator Survey

Regular readers will have seen my previous blog posts about declining bee and pollinator colonies which is something that greatly concerns me. My former MP, Kerry McCarthy, responded well to queries on this issue, but now we have moved to Torquay I have a new MP and I don't yet know much about his stance on anything! Kevin Foster is a Conservative MP so I wasn't sure I would find much common ground, however he does have very strong connections to Torbay and understands the area's needs, plus I have noticed him campaigning for animal welfare issues.

38 degrees got in touch recently asking members to contact their MPs regarding a new study about neonicotinoids and the decline of bee populations. This is my first email to Kevin and his response, below, is certainly promising.


"Dear Kevin Foster, I wanted to make sure you had seen a government-funded study which confirms that there is a strong link between the use of neonicotinoids and the decline of bee populations.

Post-Brexit we will have to set our own environmental laws. We will need to decide whether to keep the ban on pesticides. The government has been on the fence about this for too long. Please take a stand and write to George Eustice - the farming minister - to ask him to follow the science and keep the ban on neonicotinoids.

I’m worried about our bees being at risk. The government has said they will be led by science on this issue. Now this report has found that these pesticides have a severe effect on our wildlife.

Please take my opinions on board by speaking out on this issue.

Thank you,

More information about the new scientific evidence can be found here. It is receiving international press coverage: http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-bees-pesticides-20160816-snap-story.html http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412015301161 http://www.nature.com/news/controversial-insecticides-linked-to-wild-bee-declines-1.20446"


Kevin's response is as follows:


"Dear Stephanie,

Thank you for contacting me about insecticides and bees.

I entirely agree with you that bees and other pollinators play a vital role in the security of our food supply and the quality of our natural environment. I welcome the work the Government has done over the last few years to understand and protect them, most recently through the National Pollinator Strategy.

Pesticides are tightly regulated, and decisions on the approval of these substances are made at the European level. Since December 2013, three of the five currently approved neonicotinoids are not permitted for use on a wide range of crops considered attractive to bees. The Government has implemented these restrictions in full. They are not time-limited, and will remain in place unless the European Commission decides to change them.

The European Food Safety Authority has begun a review of the science relating to neonicotinoids and bees, which is expected to conclude in the summer. This includes looking at the effects on bees caused by seed treatments, and uses of the restricted pesticides in the form of granules. The Government has said that it will contribute fully to this review, because any decisions must be based on solid evidence.

Rest assured that restrictions on neonicotinoids will not be removed if the evidence shows that they should remain, regardless of our membership with the European Union. Indeed, this year there have been two separate sets of applications for emergency use of neonicotinoids on part of the country's oilseed rape crop, but in each case the Expert Committee on Pesticides advised that the applications did not give sufficient assurances, and the applications were declined by Defra.

In addition, I recently helped to launch the ‘Torbay’s Buzzing Big Pollinator Survey’, a joint project between Buglife and Torbay Council that aims to stop the decline of bees, butterflies and other pollinators in Torbay. More information can be found at https://www.buglife.org.uk/activities-for-you/wildlife-surveys/torbays-buzzing-big-pollinator-survey and I do hope that you will consider taking part.

Yours sincerely,
Kevin Foster MP, Member of Parliament for Torbay"


So now I am looking into Buglife and have downloaded my survey pack. It's a four page document with clear colour photographs of common bees and pollinators to look out for in our garden and on our walks around the local area. I think we will find it an interesting project - as well as a great way to increase my knowledge of the many possible species I might see. If you're also doing the survey, do Comment to let me know!

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

A tipple to celebrate

Gin o'clock! 
Have you seen these new tiny black gin bottles from Hendrick's? We spotted them this week and a Gin and Tonic in the blazing sunshine seemed the perfect way to celebrate finally undertaking the long haul back to Sussex in a hired van to retrieve those of our possessions that have languished in storage for two years. The excellent news, of course, is that both of Dave's cocktail glasses came through the experience unscathed! We shared out the 50ml of Hendrick's gin with another new find, Franklin And Sons tonic water, to create a very good drink. Franklin can easily hold its ground with Fevertree and Schweppes and I did like the gin which has a different taste to others I have tried. I learned that it is infused with rose and cucumber to give its distinctive flavour. And I kept the mini bottle which fits in perfectly next to my opera glasses on a bookshelf.

We hired a Thrifty van from Torquay for the move and spread the venture out over three days, staying with good friends for a couple of nights in Sussex. I can now add driving a large Volkswagen van to my skills list! This was actually a lot easier than I expected - I'd been dreading it! - along main roads and motorways at least. I was less comfortable in town though and now have a new respect for delivery drivers manoeuvring these vehicles all day. I did notice that the accelerator pedal was particularly high even after adjusting the seat as much as possible. I guessed the cab is set up for male drivers with generally larger feet so, if we were to hire such a van again, I would wear my heeled boots to lift my foot a couple of inches off the floor. On returning the van, Thrifty did sting us a £250 excess for obscure damage that we didn't cause so choosing to do the move ourselves didn't actually work out to be such an economical option after all.

My new bread box table 
At least we have all our stuff now and just about everything has been found a new home. My stripy tagine sits on an open display shelf in the kitchen and I'm showing off our fab new Joseph Joseph Prep Nest on another. Thanks Andy and Barbara - we love this! The arrival of the electric drill meant Dave was able to hang our beautiful new mirror and I found this wooden bread box at the Mare And Foal Sanctuary shop in St Marychurch. It's the perfect size to be a side table for my chaise longue! Art is going up, books are on shelves and our vintage floor lamp still works. Now we are just waiting for Half Price Bedz to (finally) deliver the beds to go under our mattresses today. It will be nice to be sleeping higher than the floor again.

Thanks for all your cards 

Monday, 15 August 2016

#SmallSteps week 7 and why pay twice for water?

If you're new to this theme, I am blogging a series of Monday posts about SmallSteps lifestyle changes I think might help our disUnited Kingdom communities to get through the post-Brexit turmoil ahead. You can read the first post here. Let's at least keep our towns and communities afloat and vibrant whatever the politicians decide for the country as a whole.

I've decided to keep a track of my attempts to practice what I preach! My five SmallSteps are:

1) to CheckTheLabel and BuyBritish whenever possible
2) to ShopLocal and spend at least £5 each week in independent local shops
3) to eat healthily and walk or cycle short distances
4) not to use self-service checkouts or Pay At Pump
5) to reduce food waste completely

So how did I do this week?

We bought a huge BuyBritish beanbag chair from Dunelm. It's brown faux leather with a soft suedy-corduroy upper and looks smart amid our moving in chaos - more about that tomorrow! Foodwise, we chose BuyBritish Wookey Hole Cheddar which is fantastically strong so great for grating into sauces, and a Free Range chicken which did initially seem expensive at over £7 but will do for three meals so works out pretty economically.

Muffins cafe, East Hoathly 
My ShopLocal spend this week is about £40, a fiver of which we spent at Drowers, the good hardware shop in St Marychurch, on nails and fixings to hang pictures and on a set of small caster cups. The remaining £35 was actually spent back in Sussex at a lovely little cafe-boutique called Muffins. It's in East Hoathly, near the home of friends who kindly put up with us put us up for a couple of days. Thanks Andy & Barbara! Muffins do good lunches - I thoroughly enjoyed my Deep Fried Brie with a huge green salad - and the cakes looked delicious too although I didn't have any room left to try one.

We have been making sure to go walking for at least 45 minutes everyday except for yesterday when Dave had his first tennis session in Torquay and I went for my first jog in months. Retrieving the bathroom scales from storage is a wonderful fitness incentive!


On a sort of fitness note, this week I want to talk about water, particularly the buying of millions of small bottles of mineral water which we spend a fortune on in Britain every year even though we already pay to have perfectly good water straight from our taps! I've happily bought into the 'wisdom' that I must carry a bottle of water when exercising and walking, but I don't like the idea of buying and discarding a plastic bottle every day or of supporting mega corporations who are effectively making water a luxury commodity instead of a basic right. This video from Story Of Stuff helped to make up my mind:


I was delighted to see a special filtered water tap on the kitchen sink in our new flat although a glance at the works underneath revealed that the filter system might not have been cleaned out in while! I have also rediscovered my old runners' water bottle so I am all set up to never buy bottled water again. If you don't have a long lasting bottle already, shops like Go Outdoors and All Outdoor have wide selections at good prices although I don't know where the products come from. Alternatively, you can BuyBritish and support our struggling steel industry by getting a Glogg bottle from Sheffield. Prices start at £8.50 for an elegant 500ml stainless steel bottle so it won't break the bank! Glogg also produce stainless steel pint cups - as seen at Glastonbury - which are ideal for festivals and picnics. Check out the full range in their video below:



SmallSteps will be taking a two week break, returning in September when I will be looking at where my electricity and gas come from. In the meantime, feel welcome to shout out your favourite / your own BuyBritish and ShopLocal businesses in the Comments. Make sure to say in which town they are so other nearby folks will know to look out for them!

Finally I have made a blog badge from my SmallSteps logo image. If you would like to join in this Monday (or any day) blog theme, feel welcome to display the badge and let me know about your post so we can link up.




Instructions: Select all code above, copy it and paste it inside your blog post as HTML

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Top Five Etsy Finds - somewhere to sit

Ultimate Eco Sofa by FrancesBradleyDesign 
Have you all seen my lovely new-to-me vintage chaise longue? I've bought lots of gorgeous yarn from NeedlesLoomsnHooks on Etsy so I can make a throw for it and I think it looks great in our Victorian lounge. Searching for unusual furniture has inspired this month's Top Five Etsy Finds post.

These are my favourite Etsy artisan made chairs and seats and I would like to begin by showing you the Ultimate Eco Sofa created by FrancesBradleyDesign in Northampton. A one-off creation, this sofa is made entirely of recycled materials. Even the bolts holding it together are reclaimed. I love the chunky, industrial look and its suggested use is in a cafe or bar. I can think of a few quirky coffee shops where it would be perfectly at home.

The Ultimate Eco Sofa is for sale at £495 plus shipping.


Contemporary Bent Wood Seat
by EthanKrukFurniture
 
Also wood, but with an elegant curving design, this Contemporary Bent Wood Seat was made from locally sourced ash wood by EthanKrukFurniture in North Yorkshire. We do have amazingly skilled craftspeople in Britain! I love the flowing lines of this chair and the suede seat is almost incidental. Despite its delicate appearance, the bending method apparently takes advantage of the wood's strength to produce a remarkably sturdy chair that will support a person of up to 22 stone.

The Contemporary Bent Wood Seat is offered at £450 plus shipping.


Upcycled Steamer Trunk by TheRetroStationUK 
A very different style of chair is presented by Sophie Mason and Stephen Hobson at TheRetroStationUK in Manchester. I don't think I have ever seen anything quite like this Upcycled Steamer Trunk before. The listing shows a selection of these one-off creations and I think one would be a fabulous addition to a wanderlust home. This picture is of my favourite and it just needs to be situated by an old-fashioned globe. Original features including chunky brown leather straps and brass locks are retained and the seat is extremely sturdy and very comfy, with a solid wood chunky inner frame and vintage grain sack upholstery.

Bespoke Upcycled Steamer Trunks are for sale at £449 plus shipping.


Pallet Sofa at PalletBrighton 
To Brighton for my fourth choice and, I suppose, the budget option which I think would be ideal for a child's room or for somewhere with limited space because it incorporates two pull-out crates for storage under the seat. The Handmade Pallet Sofa was created by Richard Parkanyi at PalletBrighton and is one model from a range of upcycled pallet designs. I liked its functional simplicity and how easy it would be to tone in with different colour schemes by just changing the mattress and cushion covers, and giving the sofa a quick splash of paint! PalletBrighton do offer the Pallet Sofa in various colours and are happy to deliver within about a seventy mile radius of Brighton.

The Pallet Sofa is for sale at £159 plus shipping.


Steampunk Airframe Chair
by pbrobots
 
Have I saved the best for last? I've certainly saved the most throne-like! This Steampunk Airframe Chair was created by pbrobots in Worcester. It has been CNC cut and finished with a rust-effect patina and the armrests are clad in recycled copper. The seat itself is made from birch and upholstered with dark green leather cloth. I love the whole look of this chair although I am not sure how many households would have an industrial enough space to suit it! I think it should be owned by someone planning world domination - a Victoriana version of a Bond villain!

The Steampunk Airframe Chair is for sale at £2275 plus shipping.


I hope you have enjoyed looking through these stunning designs with me? Maybe you have even been inspired to revamp a room around one of these looks? I'd love to see pics of the finished room if you do - especially if it's a steampunk control centre!

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

The oatcake challenge - finding the best

Nairn's Organic Oatcakes 
I often bake a batch of oatcakes to do two or three lunches, but found myself short of time a couple of weeks ago so thought I would 'treat myself' by buying a pre-made box instead. I chose Nairn's because they have an excellent reputation and picked up a box of their Organic Oatcakes partly because I prefer to buy organic when I can and partly because they were on special offer!

Nairn's Organic Oatcakes were packed in portions of six oatcakes which was plenty for a lunch and they had quite a satisfying crunch when bitten into. However, they were very thin and where the packaging boasted 'no artificial flavours' this turned out to mean very little of any flavour at all! Obviously I don't want the cracker to overwhelm the topping, but these were disappointingly bland. I don't think I would buy them again.

Simple Scottish Oatcakes 
My usual oatcake recipe is this simple concoction which makes about 20 biscuits, depending on the size of your pastry cutter (or convenient alternative!). They are so easy to make and, with a bit of practice at the rolling out, a batch can go from thought to table in about half an hour which is great when I realise there's nothing in the cupboard. The hints of salt and of sugar mean these oatcakes go well with savoury cheeses or with sweet jams, and they have enough flavour in their own right to be eaten just with butter or on their own - especially straight out of the oven. I use basic porridge oats so the oatcakes have a rougher texture than the Nairn's ones, but rolling them out thinly means they have a good crunch. And they're cheaper!

So, I think homemade oatcakes are better than the 'best' shop bought ones, but I recently discovered that my go-to oatcake recipe wasn't actually the best I could do.

Drum roll?

Vegan oatcakes 
I've been playing with reducing the proportion of meat and dairy products in our diet over the past few years, not with a view to becoming vegans, but because I believe less dairy is healthier. It turns out that substituting a non-dairy alternative to butter in an oatcake makes for a better biscuit. I used this Frugal Feeding recipe as a starting point and didn't change absolutely every ingredient!

In lieu of processing the oats - I don't have a food processor - I used 160g oats and 40g strong wholemeal flour. I found I only needed half a tsp each of salt and pepper, but I did need to up the hot water to 5-6 tbsp, probably because of the flour. My BuyBritish kick means we're using rapeseed oil instead of olive oil and Borderfields is perfect! I loved that these oatcakes have just as good a flavour as the butter-made ones, but seemed to have a crispier crunch. Does that make sense? They also, I think, cook slightly quicker so there's a tiny fuel economy too. The only problem is that they are rather too moreish so the three-lunch batch I baked yesterday is now only going to be enough for two lunches. Oh well!