Sunday, 28 February 2010

Mrs Beeton & the Bookbinders

I mentioned having gone into the LitPhil library


to copy some recipes from a cookbook by Mrs. Beeton. It was in fact her squillion-page book on household management, the kind of thing I love to read, mainly because I know I don’t have to do all that stuff.

Anyhow, this was shortly before Christmas and I had a list of errands to run in Newcastle before my car parking ticket ran out. However, after copying the recipe, I took the time to take a couple of photographs of the book cover (just for you...). This got the attention of the two men also sitting at the big table. One of them commented on the state of the book’s spine, it being rather old and worn (it is pictured at the link above). I said I rather liked the shabby look as it did honour to the book’s age. He said they left it that way on purpose when they repaired the bindings, was I interested in seeing how they did the bookbinding? He was treasurer of something or other and could take me next door to where they were working.

I said I needed to check my Christmas shopping list to see where I was with it and he answered ‘Quite right.’ and carried on his conversation with the other man. I think he took that for a ‘No, thank you’. I found, however, I could scratch off all but one or two things by then so, after disappearing to the ladies room where I decided one should always jump on serendipitous opportunities, I came back and found him gone. I spotted him reading over letter before affixing his signature and handing it to one of the library staff. He seemed surprised to see me standing there when he finished but then realized I was in fact interested in his kind offer.

I followed him through a couple of doors which connected the LitPhil to Bolbec Hall next door on the corner. A large grand room


was crammed full of tables and chairs and 20 or so people were all busy stitching, gluing or pressing various books. The man started to introduce me to a few people, then realized we’d not met ourselves. His name was Chris. I’ve no idea the names of the 4 or 5 people I shook hands with, but the fiddly work they were all doing looked fascinating.


Chris showed me how to tell the direction of grain in paper. He said most cheaply published books had the grain going the wrong way (horizontally across the page). He showed me a book he’d been working on for 7 years. It must have been in wretched condition to


take that long, mind I took away the impression that they only do this volunteer work on Thursdays. Also, he struck me as being too hyper and too extroverted to sit and sew for long, though he was obviously very enthusiastic about his subject.


I asked how long it took to learn bookbinding skills. He said the basics could be learned in about 3-6 weeks. I told him I did quite a bit of hand sewing and thought I might be suited to this sort of thing. He mentioned classes and gave me a name and phone number to contact. He gave permission to take photos, so long as I got permission of the people who would be in them, he knew there were a couple who disliked photographs.

Leap forward to here to eavesdrop on the conversation Bill and I had after I contacted Derek, the man who leads the bookbinding group and found that one pays an annual membership of £55, plus £8 per class, plus either £3.80 Metro fare or £2.00 parking and about £2.60 in petrol…. I‘ve been to my second bookbinding class now.

I can now tell you (if allowed to consult my scribbled notes) three different ways to tell which way the grain runs in a large sheet of paper, also how many grams per square metre different types of paper weigh. I am well on the way to finishing 2 A-5* sized booklets, each having 72 pages. I folded the large easel sized paper into quarters using a tool made from bone (I forgot to ask whose). Then I cut the end papers to size and glued a strip of linen onto the folded end papers.

The next week we set up a sewing rack and after making holes in each section of paper and the end papers, I sewed the pages to linen tapes, using linen thread, then glued the next to last section to the last section at the fold (apparently this is a weak point in most books and where they fall apart) and the last section to the end paper so the linen strip wouldn’t show. There are special tricks for joining more thread to a dwindling length, for splitting the thread with the needle to keep it from coming out of the needle and for making a neat job of gluing. Apparently I’m a good sew-er, but (no disrespect) Margaret is the neatest. I plan to watch Margaret sometime.

I know that next week I need to take an old (and therefore thin edged) kitchen knife with a rounded end (so it doesn’t poke through where you don’t want it to), we have a million from the flea market and from Ellen, in order to cut the folded pages apart. It was that or pay £1 each to have them sliced on a machine (I ask you!) I’ve no idea what comes after that, but I’m really looking forward to it.

The majority of people there are mostly in their 50s and 60s, I would guess, and extremely friendly and welcoming. Most have been doing this for years – anywhere from 3 to 30 and they were all pleased to tell me about their current projects. They bind their own books, they bind some for private customers, but mostly they repair books for the LitPhil Library. If I understood correctly, those doing work for the library don’t have to pay the £8.

Derek is the Master Craftsman that everyone gets advice from, even the ones with the most experience. He’s a lovely, cheerful man with funny stories to tell about his apprenticeship and work in the commercial world. The library staff bring in coffee and tea at 3pm and Derek's wife always sends several dozen cupcakes and he says he's not allowed to bring any home. I haven’t taken my camera with me to classes, wanting to settle in a bit first, but I have some photos I took that day back in December and you can be assured you will see my finished booklets.

By the way, I belive Bolbec Hall (the corner building below) is currently for sale, for something like a million pounds. Because it was actually built to be part of the Lit Phil Library (pictured at the top).


and it seems to only consist of a couple of rooms on each of 5 or 6 floors around a winding staircase, I can’t imagine what use someone would put it to. However it is a gorgeous thing, as you can see.

Also, on the floor above the bookbinders is the Northumberland and Durham Family History Society, of which Bill is a member. I believe because he is a member I can join for just £2. They are seeking volunteers for various transcription and other jobs. Must go in early one day before class and check them out. It won’t be anything to do with my family tree, but it might be interesting all the same…


*Re: A5. I've linked you to an explanation, but I'm not sure it helps. Apparently everywhere in Europe uses this paper system instead of 'legal' and 'letter' like in the States. It was part of the new language I had to learn when I came across. The simplest way of explaining it is to tell you that the big pads of paper used on easels for presentations with magic markers, back in in the dark ages, would be sized A1. Fold it in half and you have A2. Fold that in half and you have A3. Do it again and you have A4, which is your standard printer paper, close to letter sized but slightly longer and narrower. Fold that in half and you have a nice little booklet sized A5 that you can tuck into your purse, which is what I'm making.

Saturday, 27 February 2010

Autobiographical Food

Reading the Settlers’ Cookbook got me to thinking about what recipes I might include in an autobiographical work (not that I’m planning to write one, mind). If you love food, and I don’t know many who don’t, it’s rather a fun exercise to think about how your eating habits have changed over your lifetime. Assuming, of course, that they have changed, with new technology, products, learning and maybe even dare one hope… a healthier lifestyle? This is also yet another way to indulge in a bit of nostalgia, remembering what foods have figured large in your life.

As with everyone else, my initial meals were influenced by the culture and creativity of the women who raised me. In my youth cooking was women’s work; it has changed to some extent here, but I’m guessing mothers are still the primary feeders of small children.

Then came the period when I worked full time and attended university classes four nights a week; food was fast and fattening. I can tell you it is possible to become thoroughly ‘fed-up’ with greasy, spicy on-the-run junk.

Then I decided I would learn to cook and entertain. Those meals were straight out of a cookbook, one my Grandmother (a non-cook) gave me as a wedding present, and presented proudly. My second marriage found me feeding a bottomless pit and a small child. This necessitated grabbing the life-raft of frugality. I learned to plan meals around carbohydrates, how to make casseroles and other ‘universal’ dishes to stretch what meat and poultry I bought, also things like white sauce and pancakes from scratch. This was also a time of being introduced to the wonders of tortillas and chili made with spaghetti. This was when I feel I actually learned how to cook, though as many mistakes as I still make, this obviously remains a work in progress.

After my second divorce, as with the first, I had far more money than I needed, but continued in my frugal habits with a view to early retirement through Financial Independence. My move to England was exciting but very stressful and I resorted to comfort food. I discovered salt and vinegar crisps, prawn crackers and Muller’s fruit yogurts (full fat). I even briefly sampled pork pies and corned beef pasties. (That’s not a typo; in the US pAsties – are what strippers put on their nipples. One doesn’t hear about them here in the UK, maybe they don’t bother here or perhaps this is a relic of a quainter(?) time.)

Then I bought a house and had my own kitchen again and I got a grip. Being obsessed with running further and faster made me eat much better again. Whilst today I could still do with better portion control, the vitamin and fibre content of our meals is very good.

So, here are the items I might list in the various chapters of my Autobiographical Cookbook. (Recipes available upon request)

Grandma
  • Beef and potato hash in the grinder (which I have)
  • Meatloaf Pressure cooker stew
  • Door stop Christmas fruitcake (no recipe, sorry, non replicable if we’re lucky)

Grandmother
  • Cherry pie
  • Boiled chicken and ground beef (for the dogs)
  • TV dinners
  • The full whack at Thanksgiving, but as Mom helped cook it may have been more her doing than Grandmother’s…

Mom
  • Gerber’s Baby cereal (I loved this pablum stuff long after I could chew. Weird, I know)
  • Fried chicken that Colonel Sanders could envy
  • Bell pepper & cherry tomato flowers – a fancy garnish she made for fun
  • Rotisserie chicken on the BBQ with potato salad most Sundays with Grandma & Grandpa over and with Chris, our next door neighbour
  • Beans and ham – only for herself at first, but I learned to like it eventually
  • Steak and salad – my Dad’s favourite
  • Fish sticks and fries
  • Chinese food from/at House of China – eaten with chopsticks
  • Steak dinners at Sirloin Stockade – she didn’t like the pictures of cows on the walls
  • Fruit salad
  • Corned beef hash
  • Chipped beef on bread (AKA S.O.S. – S**t on a Shingle, but not in our house)
  • Bread and gravy (for seconds when there wasn’t much else)
  • Garlic frittered chicken, chicken chow main, sweet and sour pork, rice, noodles (an all day cooking project)
  • Chicken fried steak and mashed potatoes with gravy
  • Horse Dovers (my Dad’s humour) and shrimp cocktail for New Years Eve
  • Black-eyed peas on New Years Day for goo luck
  • Cornbread stuffing
  • Hush puppies (fried cornmeal)

First Marriage
Hardees, McDonalds, Del Rancho, every drive-in joint on Broadway in Edmond, OK where I got my undergrad degree: for Quarter Pounders with Cheese, Footlong hotdogs with chili, Chicken fried steak, Hot Ham and Cheese, fries, onion rings…and (of course) Diet Coke

Starting to Cook
  • Canned biscuits with Vienna sausage and cheese
  • Beef stroganoff
  • Chicken & dumplings (made with canned biscuits)
  • Hollandaise sauce (easy version)
  • Chicken Cordon Bleu (once)
  • Roast chicken
  • Fried chicken almost as good as Mom’s, but not quite

Second Marriage
  • Hamburger Helper (pre-Tightwad Gazette)
  • Chili with kidney beans, minced beef and spaghetti
  • Roast chicken pieces with different sauces
  • Fried eggs and rice
  • Universal Rice dish
  • Universal Muffins
  • Universal Casseroles
  • Leftovers wrapped in tortillas
  • Pancakes
  • Popcorn by the bucket (popped in a roasting tin until I learned to over fill a sauce pan and empty it half way)
  • Tuna and pasta in white sauce
  • Learned to do Mom and Grandmother's Thanksgiving meal

Single Again
  • Crackers with cheese and a tin of tuna
  • Tortilla chips (low fat) and salsa (most of the bag and all of the jar)

Life in England
  • Beans, beans, beans:
  • Hummus with veggie and toast sticks
  • African (stir-fry with vegetables and garlic)
  • Soup in crockpot with bacon or ham, tomato and onion
  • Cold pasta or rice salad
  • Vegetarian cassoulet
  • Pease pudding (lentils, actually)
  • Hash (with potato and onion)
  • Tinned, on toast
  • Refried Mexican style, etc.
  • Fruit salads with low fat yogurt
  • Vegetables : steamed, stir-fried or roasted
  • Crust-less quiche and mini-quiches (in muffin tin)
  • Savory muffins
  • Salmon:
  • steaks
  • smoked salmon with crackers
  • salmon puff (tinned)
  • fish patties (tinned)
  • Soft cheeses: cream, boursin, cottage cheese even!
  • White fish:
  • Sweet and sour sauce
  • Kedgeree
  • Fish patties
  • Lettuce-less salads (sometimes with spinach)
  • Fruit salad with low-fat yoghurt
  • Veggie omelettes
  • Homemade pizza, usually with chorizo or salami
  • Tuna and veg with ketchup sauce (sounds crazy but it’s good)
  • Rice dishes (with veg only, with beans and veg, added chicken bits or other meats)
  • Spice cake
  • Beef bourguignon (Bill’s speciality)

So, that's mine. What would be in your Autobiographical Food story?

Friday, 26 February 2010

Famous AND Oklahoman

I don't mean to denigrate my home state, and I know that's how this is going to sound, but I'm always surprised when I find out someone famous comes from Oklahoma. A guy I worked with from the zoonotics branch of CDC, in Colorado, his wife was from Oklahoma. His job caused him to travel widely and he said he met people all over the world who turned out to be from Oklahoma, so I guess we do get out and about.

For example, most people don't realise that Brad Pitt was born in Shawnee, Oklahoma. That's how he did his great accent in Thelma and Louise, I'm sure. I don't think he owns up to being from Oklahoma very much, but that's OK. I'm not a major Pitt fan anyhow, not the way most women seem to be. I just think he's a good actor.

I never had appreciated that the well known and loved John Cleese, of Monty Python fame (sorry, I never did get into that business; too weird for me) and who also happened to have made some excellent employee training films about dealing with difficult people here in England (I attended lots of those courses), was once married to a woman named Alyce Faye Eichelberger, from Frederick, Oklahoma. Following their divorce, Cleese is quoted on Wikipedia has having said,
"I got off lightly. Think what I’d have had to pay Alyce if she had contributed anything to the relationship such as children or a conversation."
Witty, yes, but not very gentlemanly, eh? [Then again, she did get £12 million off of him.]

My latest discovery is Suzy Amis, from Oklahoma City. Like most of my discoveries of this sort, it was by accident, only because she happens to be married to James Cameron, who used to be married to Kathryn Bigelow who won a bunch of BAFTA awards for her film, The Hurt Locker, which I never thought about seeing. I was just looking at the pretty clothes people wore! If you're interested in the other stuff, of course, you can always Google to your heart's content.

Anyhow, about Suzy. You know who she is, though you may not know it. She was Rose Dawson's grand-daughter, Lizzy Calvert, who accompanied her at the beginning of the movie, Titanic. Also, though currently married to Cameron, she used to be married to Jason Robards, ie. Lauren Bacall was her mother-in-law. I know it's silly of me, but I'm still impressed.

I may have to start my own list of famous people from Oklahoma, as others I've found thus far are woefully incomplete. Oh, wait a minute, try this one! You might be surprised by some of the names there.

Still, they didn't know about Alyce.
...

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Food Wealth

We recently emptied the fridge in the garage and turned it off, as we did last year about this time. This required de-frosting and re-organising the contents of the one in the kitchen. In the process I became aware of how much frozen protein – particularly turkey – we actually have. Everything from egg yolks to slabs of beef – and a lot of turkey – not to mention prawns, grated cheese, sausages, frozen yogurt. Not the ice cream-like stuff you can get in the US, but actual yogurt I wasn’t going to use before it went off so I froze it in muffin sized rocks portions.

The egg yolks are from my days of making angel food cake and I tried, but didn’t much care for the complexity or calories involved in, egg yolk-containing sauces. I decided I would add them to rice dish meals a few at a time, for a vaguely Chinese effect.

I’ve not figured out yet what to do with the yogurt when it’s thawed, beyond mixing it with mayonnaise and lemon juice for a delicious vegetable salad dressing, as long as the texture is OK after it's thawed. We don’t really do many salads in winter here, though, so that will have to wait. I might try thawing a portion and mixing it with honey to put over fruit salad, our usual dessert. I don’t really like unsweetened yogurt much, finding it a bit tart, but it is so good for you, I persist in buying it. How stubborn is that?

The wealth of food in the freezer (Did you know they sell insurance cover here, to insure against the failure of your freezer? Nope, I'm not covered.) made me think that with just a little discipline our grocery bills could continue to be quite low. We spent all of £3 in January. At this writing I don’t know how much we spent in February, but I’m betting it’s less than £60. Vegetables, fruit and milk will be our largest expenses for a while.

This all reminded me of an article in the Tightwad Gazette (Issue 49, page 6, if you have her newsletters) where she compared her food budget with that of a USDA report on the cost of food at home. She was quite depressed that she didn’t quite match their figures; she only fit into the 'low cost plan', not the 'thrifty plan'. Then she realized she was comparing their costs by week with hers by month!

This led me to look up the current figures. You can find them here. As you can see, on the Thrifty Plan the monthly cost for two people between 51 and 70 years of age in December 2009 was $327.80, about £201.96. Last year we averaged £104 per month ($168.80) on groceries. I can't tell you what we spent on eating out, because Bill generally pays for this and I don't make him account for where he spends his money unless it is for groceries we eat at home, which I nearly always buy. I'm certain, however, that we don't spend £100 eating out in any month unless perhaps when we are on holiday. Given that last year our two main vacations were spent visiting family, I doubt we spent even this but I'll not go making claims I can't substantiate.

These figures are both an estimate of what it would cost to eat food that met recommended nutritional requirements and of what low-income people, those within 130% of the poverty line, will have spent. I think they did some pretty fancy mathematical modelling to bring those two data sources into line. The costs appear to have increased about 55% since Amy used these USDA figures. Back in 1994 she concluded that either the government was inept or that people were clueless in the supermarket, or perhaps both. Before you decide I'm completely crackers, looking at all these numbers, I do have good reason to be interested in the cost of living in the US as we plan to move there sometime in the next few years. I found the USDA figures both alarming and reassuring.

When I looked up these figures,
I was thinking about aiming to see if we could squeeze into the weekly category for the Thrifty Food Plan the way Amy did (that would give us £46.96 per month, given their $75.70 per week), but then it dawned on me to look at the Liberal Food Plan just for fun.

It's too boring (even to me) to compare the lists line for line, but what I did notice about the 2nd report was that a) the Liberal Food Plan includes more fruit, vegetables and dairy products, but not more sweets, oils or sweets, than in the thrifty plan; also that b) food wastage was factored into each plan: 10% of thrifty, 20% of low and moderate-cost and 30% for the liberal food plan. So, I take it that we could join the liberal plan, spend $628.10 per month on food and throw $207.23 of it away. Sounds awful, doesn't it?

That said, I have to confess to having ditched two of the three turkey carcasses we pulled out of the garage. I'm very sad about that, but I wasn't prepared to run the garage freezer to keep them any longer, they wouldn't fit in the kitchen fridge and one huge pot of turkey stock was all I could cope with given that Bill doesn't much like turkey soup.

The Kitchen Witch just published this incredible recipe that I'm looking forward to using. Given that it is made with beans, it can't cost much. I’m tempted to try it with different kinds of beans, of which we have plenty, both tinned and dried. We have almost as many beans as we do packets of frozen turkey.

My bread maker cookbook has a recipe for pita bread dough which I need to try anyhow, as homemade tortillas prove to be still difficult and that is our staple food for running club nights. I haven’t given up, but fresh pita bread sounds wonderful, too. I’ll let you know how it all goes.

In the meantime, any suggestions for using thawed out yogurt?

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Sarah's Flowers

Continuing on with fabulous Christmas presents, I need to show you the amaryllis flowers Bill's youngest, Sarah, gave me. When I opened it, the plant was just a hideous bulb with a tip of a green leaf sticking out of the top. The nicest thing I could say about it at that moment was that the vase was a lovely deep burgundy colour, one of my favourites, though I did realise it had enormous potential.



We had to go buy some potting soil to get it started and I bowed to Bill's gardening wisdom on how this worked. Once potted, it shot up with astonishing speed. Every time I looked at it I thought 'must photograph this' but of course I didn't, even though Jack's beanstalk would be envious had I captured this thing's rate of growth.



So the least I could do is show you the glorious flowers. There are at least seven going on at once and perhaps more will erupt soon. We have other amaryllis plants around the house, inherited I think from Bill's mom's house moves over the years. They bloom occasionally, but now I can see that they are old has-beens compared with this new plant which is spectacular both in the colour and number of blooms.



Well chosen gift, Sarah. Thank you so much!


Sunday, 21 February 2010

Idi Amin & Princess Anne

Another another book I got for Christmas was The Settlers Cookbook, by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown. Before reading it, I wrote: This was not on my list, but Bill thought I might find it interesting. The first couple of pages are promising, discussing all the useless bits of kitchen cookware she and her mother brought with them, specific to making Indian food, brought from Uganda to Britain. I used to work with a man who traveled a similar route, a consultant doctor who told me that at one time he’d been one of Idi Amin’s personal physicians. I was a bit embarrassed by my ignorance and thought him very patient in providing a few sentences outlining the traumatic historical background of his life. I remember thinking at the time that his difficult past must have contributed toward making him the quiet, kind, rather indecisive person I knew. Flipping through the book there are many Indian recipes that look much simpler than the ones in the cookbook I bought at the flea market one time. I shall look forward to this.

Afterwards: It’s one thing to read about the horrors of medieval life or about the Holocaust, not having been alive then. It’s another altogether to read about events that happened when I was graduating high school and preparing to go to university at 16. I think I’ve been asleep for most of my life, wrapped up in my own small concerns, not knowing what was happening to people elsewhere in the world. I heard the name Idi Amin, of course, and something about Entebbe. I suppose that much of what actually went on in the early 70s in Uganda was not in the public domain, but I wouldn’t have known it even if it had been on the front pages:

“Western Governments Support Murdering, Torturing Psychopath to Protect Business Interests (& save world from Communism)”
I might have paid more attention had it said:

“Idi Amin to Marry Princess Anne”

Well, he did apparently offer...

Not only did this book roll out the fascinating history of a very exotic part of the world, as well as shedding some light on the earlier social situation here in Britain, it reminded me what an incredibly soft and easy life I’ve led. It’s a compelling read, this book, whether you like Indian food or not; go put this on your Amazon wishlist, now!

Saturday, 20 February 2010

How Many Halves Make a Goal?

It is a sad fact that as you get older you tend to run more slowly. It does depend on when you start training, mind. I started at 40 and did my best times a few years later. I might have further PBs in me if I worked harder at it, but I have other priorities just now. I mainly just run for health and for fun these days; anything else is gravy.

As I understand it, the muscles can cope with the stresses and strains of hard training for about 15 years before they lose the ability to incorporate more muscle fibre (or something like that). I must admit to being a bit grey on all the specific physiology. One can still run perfectly well, but just not at appreciably faster speeds. We have 60 year olds in the club that used to crank out 6 minute miles and still easily do 8. At my best a few years ago I never got below 8 minute miles for a ten mile race, so it is more genetic than anything; but age does tell.

The thing is, once you aren’t improving your race times and you accept that you aren’t going to, there has to be another motivation. Most of us need some sense of making progress, of improving in some way. Many people just discard all their PB (personal best) race times before a certain age and start over chasing best times since age 50, or some such. Others go over the top with mileage, plodding on for 2 or 3 hours at a time. One guy, Ron Hill, aged 72, has run every single day for the last 46 years, or something crazy like that. Some runs only have lasted 10 minutes, but he hasn’t missed a day even when practically on his death bed. Impressive, but mental.

Then there are the traveling runners. I mentioned, a little while back, the 100 marathon club. This isn’t so much about mileage, I don’t think, as it is about travel. One marathon, 26.2 miles, a week is nothing for your average road runner if that’s all you do. The point about this, besides wearing the t-shirt to the pub, is getting out and seeing the country with your friends. These folks tend to be retired and whilst they are by all means fit, they are just plodding through the miles.The running part sounds hopelessly boring to me, not to mention really expensive for the quality of travel experience one would have.

Our friend, Bob, recently set himself the goal of running 100 half-marathons. This makes a lot more sense to me as a half generally only takes 2 or 3 hours and if you are fit you can have a shower, a good lunch and go back to normal life. Already having 70 under his belt, this is a very realistic goal. I’m guessing he’s been running about 25 years now.

I got to wondering if a person ran 200 half-marathons, would that be the same as being in the 100 Marathon Club? Halves are my favourite race distance, but Bill remarked the other night that he was beginning to favour 10Ks (6.1 miles). I’ve only done 13 half-marathons so far, so 200 is a long way away! Maybe I could just add up the miles on my race log (986 race miles in 14 years) and aim for 2,610 miles, the equivalent of 100 marathons? That might take a while, too.

We runners can spend endless hours poring over running logs and playing with numbers. We really are a boring lot. Good job we have each other to inflict ourselves on.

Friday, 19 February 2010

Female Detectives

I’ve long been a lover of detective stories. I grew up in a house with stacks of paperbacks and cut my teeth on Erle Stanley Gardner's Perry Mason and (writing as A.A. Fair) Donald Lam stories. Mom introduced me to Dick Francis and I inherited her collection of his books, which I’ve kept topped up ever since; sadly, I've just learned that Francis died only recently, on the 16th of February (yesterday as of this writing).

I’ve mentioned previously that Bill and I both love Peter Wimsey books, particularly the later ones which were incomplete until finished by Jill Paton Walsh, whose other books I keep meaning to hunt. Sadly, while the Campion TV shows starring Peter Davison are quite good, the original books by Margery Allingham were a bit disappointing. I've read her biography; she had quite a difficult life.

It turns out that my friend, Vivien, also likes detective stories, but she has two criteria: they have to have been written by a woman and the detective has to be a woman. She has discovered two series that she quite likes and has generously been loaning me these in installations each time we meet up.

One is a rather daft but amusing series by Elizabeth Peters, an amazingly prolific author whose other titles I've yet to explore. It's about a family of Egyptologists, written from the perspective of the journals of the main character, the wife, Amelia Peabody Emerson. Set in Victorian England (and Egypt), they are written very tongue in cheek and one could not really enjoy these without a wry sense of humour. It took me a while to appreciate this, but once I did I found them quite a good laugh. I’m not too fussed about Egyptian stuff, but the adventures do catch you up in the mysterious foreign-ness of the place and the plots are tricky enough to pull you through. I don’t particularly identify with any of the characters, per se, but neither do I have any trouble finishing once I’ve started.

The other series I’m in danger of having to buy myself, I’m afraid. I re-read these books 2 or 3 times before returning them. Sue Grafton titles her books in alphabetical order; she's up to U and I do hope she doesn't stop at Z! I’ve just finished F and G. Grafton writes about her 30-something year old, twice divorced, California dectective, Kinsey Millhone in a rather terse style that reminds me of my beloved Donald Lam/Bertha Cool books and something else. Never mind that I become Kinsey when I'm reading just as I move into and practically live whatever film I'm watching (Heaven help anyone who interrupts my viewing). Remember the cop-speak of the TV series Dragnet? Sort of like that. She’s even a runner (3 miles every day), how cool is that? The books can be read in any order, you get a precise of the main characters in each, but the stories are sequential and linked, so I recommend that approach.

In return for such rich reading, I have introduced Vivien to Phryne Fisher; I do hope she’ll enjoy them even half as much as I’ve enjoyed Peters and Grafton.

Writing this has reminded me that I also I love the Mrs. Bradley TV series with Diana Rigg. It has just occurred to me to perhaps look into the books it originated from, by Gladys Mitchell! See how useful it is to blog?!

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Organising Time

When I was at work, my time was pretty much organized for me: everything had to fit in around going to work. If you work away from home, I would imagine your situation is much the same, but I’m retired now. I think occasionally about looking for a very part time job, just to have another outside interest and a bit a money trickling in, but nothing comes of it.

One would think that, given all my free time and energy, I would accomplish major feats, but no. I have a long list
of things I would or might like to do. This is 21 pages long, thanks to Getting Things Done which proposes you write down every passing thought onto a list. It probably says more, but I’ve not actually bought the book. The list doesn’t seem to shrink much because new and urgent things pop up daily. I’m not getting to all the things I’d like to. I will freely admit that this is in part due to laziness and the only cure for that of which I am aware is enthusiasm.

I’ve looked for role models in my life, but I’m different to them. Mom could cook for Heaven and she had creativity in every fibre, but the house was a tip. Grandmother kept a large busy household running and ran her own business, but I never saw her crack a book. My Aunt Rita was the queen of sewing and DIY, but frugal was a foreign language. Grandma ran a house where there was a place for everything and that was where it could be found, but she was senile by the time I was 12 so I don’t know what else she could do, other than knit wash cloths.

There are any number ideas about how to organise one's time on the internet. There are the Flylady routines, where one makes the bed upon getting out of it, wipes the bathroom down before leaving it, wears lace up shoes, spends 15 minutes a day uncluttering, some other amount of time finding 27 things to throw away, dresses in PJs after dinner and keeps the sink shining. Some of this is excellent and the ideas are copied widely. The ‘How to Unclutter’ principles are platinum, but I dunno, I’m hoping there is more to retirement than housework. If you really did all those routines to the letter I’m not sure there is.

Pleasantview Schoolhouse has a day for this or that: laundry, baking, kitchen cleaning, etc, etc. She sews a lot and has a great Etsy shop with good turnover, she’s a sometime lawyer, has regular church functions and social events. She’s also got 2 teenaged daughters who are home-schooled and I’m thinking fairly helpful.

The time honoured routine would fall down for me from the first, as we need to do a load of laundry most days to take advantage of our clothes drying rack; we nearly never use the tumble dryer. Home Ec-101 and many other sites have allocated tasks for each day and presumably these are also aimed at women who work full time; we can’t all be lounging around the house all day!

I had a routine before Christmas that sort of worked, except that I tend to run out of steam after Wednesday. In addition to an hour of housework each day, which just kept things picked up, washed and laundered, I aimed to spend at least an hour taking care of other matters:

Mon: Finances, correspondence & office tasks, run 1 hour
Tues: Sewing/crafting, do errands
Wed: Write for blog, ironing, run 1 hour
Thu: Etsy, Amazon, genealogy
Fri: Ebay, work in kitchen, special cooking, run 1.5-2.5 hours
Sat: Work in garden & house, visit museum, etc. with Bill
Sun: Rest, putter, hang out with Bill

Each day has a long list of things under each category. In my former job, I could manage a lot of diverse tasks by just inching each project forward a little each day. Ebay and Etsy don’t inch forward very well, though. They eat time like the dinosaurs in the old movies ate towns and there isn’t much to show for it. Then Christmas crafting took over and I hardly moved from the chair that was surrounded by fabric and sewing tools. The floor looked like an abstract painting and my fingers stayed sore. That was familiar territory again: making lists and chasing deadlines.

I noticed that I didn’t get much dressmaking type sewing done last year and this is something I’ve wanted to learn for a very long time. If I don’t acquire those skills now, when will I? And if I don’t perhaps I should just accept that it’s not my thing and get rid of all that stuff I’ve been collecting for years until I had this time. I decided that I would try to make it a priority to do my sewing for an hour each day, whether I ‘felt like it’ or not. Aiming for every day, I get there maybe 3-4 days a week. A friend remarked that this was ‘terribly disciplined’ but I know she has loads more discipline in her life than I do; it’s just so routine to her now she doesn’t notice it.

That’s what I need: a routine. What’s yours?

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

A Corking Good Gift

Vivien gave me this, partly as a joke, she said. The joke part was the little knitting doll that "Keeps our little ones busy," but then she worried I wouldn't know what to do with the product, so she gave me a booklet for children with a ton of ideas, though many of them involve making larger versions of this loom. I was intrigued to find that the booklet calls it 'corking', which I'd never heard of.

I thought it was brilliant! I did this as a child on a thread spool with little nails in it (as did, apparently, everyone else who sees me doing this), only we called it ‘French knitting’. Once I finally figured out the instructions again, it has been almost compulsive. The box fits neatly in my purse. I French-knitted in the car all the way to Middlewich and back; I sit in boring committee meetings for the running club and knit.

This is a child’s kit and so the tool for moving the yarn is a very blunt piece of wood that doesn’t work very well. I immediately replaced with a small metal crochet hook. I’m thinking that the original stick should make it through airport security in a pinch and I could try other pointy objects – e.g., the tine of a plastic fork – to pass the time on any flights we might take in the coming year. I’m really excited about being able to do crafts on an airplane again. I know that the US TSA allows knitting needles, something I’ve never understood; I wouldn’t try that one on here in Europe.

So, what am I going to do with the first resulting tubes of yarn? Cover hangers, of course.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

My Funny Valentine

Well, Bill went and got a new car; not a new, new car, just new to him. He traded a 2005 Citroen C-4 for a 2008 Citroen Loeb, also a C-4, but a sportier model. The strange thing about this is that it is a diesel sports car. Bill said he’d always laughed at the idea of a diesel sports car until he rode in Simon’s diesel Mini-Cooper. It moves.

I’m not wild about this, I’ll admit; though I’d be the first to say it’s his money and he’s at perfect liberty to do with it exactly as he likes. I just haven’t figured out what was wrong with the last car. I thought Bill was enjoying having an automatic transmission for his hour-or-so commute down to Stockton, on the A-19, a rather nasty highway often with stop-and-start traffic.

However, Bill has changed cars every couple of years since I’ve known him. I can’t begin to list them all. I remember a white Vauxhall when I first met him, which was pretty quick, a big estate car (known in the US as ‘station wagon’), a bouncy Jeep-like thing called a Daihatsu, and the last but one before this, a Citroen C-3 which was very cute but a cross between a standard and an automatic transmission that was weird, maybe even dangerous, to drive.

This car is a funny shape – even Bill says that – and it is fire engine red. I was used to charcoal grey, racing green or a dignified burgundy. I don’t know whether Bill likes it better for the colour or not; I suspect he does as he mentioned to me that it had red seats as well. I notice it also has something like charcoal coloured suede on the upholstery and part of the door panel and it appears that I can choose the temperature of the air that comes out of the vents on my side, which is nifty.

Another of the stranger things about these cars is that they are numbered, like collectable china, and that you can join a club and put a picture of your red Loeb Citroen with its particular number on the internet beside everyone else’s red Loeb Citroens. It’s just about the silliest thing I ever heard of….boys and their toys… mumble… grumble.

All that said, I gather Bill is pleased with his car; he said he was looking around for an ‘interesting’ diesel and these are relatively rare. He will get excellent gas mileage (instead of just really good) for his long commutes. I think the thing that really convinced him that having this car was kismet was finding it mentioned in the Peter Wimsey book he was reading the night before he went to pick it up:

“Well, that’s all, except a fragment consisting of ‘oe’ on one line…”

“Yes, well?...

“Well, I don’t know. Poet, poem , manoeuvre, Loeb edition, Citroen – it might be anything.”

Happy Valentine’s Day, Sweetie!!!

Hope you really enjoy your funny new red car!

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Sunderland Glass Museum

Vivien and I had a day out at the Sunderland Glass Museum (actually, it's called the National Glass Centre, but neither of worked out why). Sadly I forgot my camera, but you all know what glass looks like, right? If not, you can take a tour at the link above.

It was an interesting combination of science and art, this museum. Parts were aimed at children (I got those) and others at scientifically minded adults (Much was over my head. I got my only-ever "D", in junior high physics. I struggle to grasp 3-dimensional ideas, never mind invisible forces).

We visited the featured art exhibit and whilst I mainly thought the artist was having us on – a frequent experience when looking at modern stuff – it did demonstrate the similar qualities of glass and water and that was sort of interesting. I knew it, of course, but hadn’t thought about it like that before. So I guess it qualifies as art, but this art wasn’t useless…you could actually water your horse or your dogs at those metal troughs.

Then there was the science. First of all, glass is made from heating of sand (silica), lime (for stability, else it would melt in water) and soda. There were interesting samples of naturally created glass: obsidian (from volcanos), tektites (from meteoritic impact) and fulgurites (formed when lightning strikes sand).

Glass and time could be said to have a relationship, in that we can measure time in an hourglass, freeze time using a camera lens and see the distant past in space using a telescope.

The science room had many hands-on exhibits to play with. I would love to have had a camera to snap a picture of Vivien and me in the carnival mirror, both about 2 feet tall. We fiddled with some glass and coloured lights; the principles of colour and light are quite different to those of colour and paint. (For an almost comprehensible explanation of this, and a cracking read, see Dick Francis’s book,
Reflex). There were exhibits about how the eye works (We actually see everything upside down, our brains just turn it around for us); about optical correction and how things look through a microscope; about how prisms refract light. There was an exhibit that talked about the speed of light and another about how the brain can read some words backwards and upside down but not others, which was amusing.

There was one exhibit that shows you as others see you, an interesting concept. As an aside, I sometimes look in the mirror and see (sober, even) a likeness to my beautiful mother. Most of the time I see Timothy Spall's older, but slimmer, sister. This mirror showed me the latter, but more importantly it demonstrated how used we are to seeing our reverse in the mirror. I looked in a regular mirror and raised my left hand, then stepped around the corner and was completely confused because it looked like I had my right hand up. It was the kind of confusion where your brain gets a bit dizzy and your stomach flips. I didn’t really understand it until later at the house, Vivien demonstrated this for Bill and I saw that yes, when she sits across from me and raises her left hand, it looks to me as though she has her right hand up because it is on my right hand side. The penny dropped; of course all this paragraph isn’t worth even a penny. We were talking on the way down about how differently our brains seem to work after retirement (more clumsy, less decisive); this was a defining example for me, but I’m not going back to work just now, in spite of it.

Then we made our way to the glass blowing exhibition. We got side-tracked by some students, a boy and a girl, who were working, poking the long metal tube into the orange-hot furnaces and handling the blob of glass either by rolling the tube on two horizontal bars to keep the force of gravity even, or manipulating the blob with huge tweezers, thick gloves or asbestos pads. They were clearly learning as neither seemed to make much progress. Then we heard a voice though a microphone and realized the presentation was in a room at the end.

Between the Mackem accent and the poor acoustics I didn’t understand a great deal of the woman's explanation, but watching the young man work was magic. He had the muscles and the very large glass of drinking water that I expected of a glass blower, having read
Shattered, another Dick Francis book. What I hadn’t read about was that he moved with the elegant confidence of a dancer. I can imagine that working with something so dangerous and potentially disfiguring as mobile, molten glass and the extreme heat of the ovens, this would be a life-saving grace. Thinking back to the students, the girl still moved around like she was any old where, but the young man was beginning to develop his Astaire style.

When we first arrived I would have said the demonstrator was making a vase, but then it was a wide mouthed bowl and finally a lovely fluted plate. It was placed in an annealing oven, just as I expected, as glass that cools too quickly can shatter, and if the Francis book is right, even explode. Even if not, it still made a great story.

After that we browsed in the shop. Some of the glass jewelry there was gorgeous and I read about an exhibit of sea glass jewelry. I only recently heard about sea glass from surfing the net a while back and have collected any suitable pieces (mostly green, white or pale blue) from beaches near and far. Chris, Jane’s husband, now faithfully collects it for me from his beach at Avoca, bless him. According to the artist whose work was in the museum shop, glass workers in this area used to fling their leftover glass into the sea; the glass works around here closed down in the 1930s. She says she finds all her own, so I'm thinking I may need to go beach combing south of the Tyne or around the Wear more often. I find sea glass a fascinating subject all by itself: trash becoming treasure!

In the shop I also saw and recognized this girl’s work. I say girl, I’ve no idea how old she is, only that she is the niece of a friend from the running club. I managed to resist it all. I need more jewelry like I need warts to wear.

Then we had lunch overlooking the River Wear and the Port of Sunderland. We hogged the table long after we finished our food and tea, chattering away. Finally we made our way back to my house and Vivien came in for a cup of coffee until Bill came home from work and she made her way home for dinner.

There is nothing really remarkable about all this to you, I know, but it is to me. For one, we laughed like girls all day. I don’t laugh out loud very often, so this is great fun. We don’t see each other more than once a month on average, if that, so we never run out of what to say. Also, this is a lady who used to be my boss off and on through the vagaries and misery of my employment in the NHS. She was a tough cookie but a good boss, and somewhere along the line we became friends. She, and her husband, retired about a year after I did. That friendship is one of the valued gifts that moving to this soggy island with its complicated culture has given me.

I’m looking forward to our, as yet unplanned, day out!

Friday, 12 February 2010

Saving Photos

The combination of getting a digital camera for my birthday -- gosh, is it two year ago already? -- writing this blog and wanting to illustrate it, and finding distant relatives with whom I want to share family photos has made me conscious of how much easier it is to enjoy computerized photos.

One can share them on a photo website such as Photobucket
, email them individually, put them on a CD or memory stick to wrap as a gift, use them as a slideshow screensaver or just browse them at leisure whilst waiting for the computer to do something else. Whilst I’ll always keep my Mom’s and Grandparent’s tattered leather and ribbon photo albums with their rough black pages and stick on photo corners, I'm not inclined to be doing much with book-like photo albums and my holiday snaps any more.

Not that I ever did. I have a large box full of Kodak envelopes from holidays gone by that never made it into albums. For the first years of living here in England I always tried to take a selection of pictures in a small album to share my most recent adventures with friends and family back in the States; this blog has obviously taken over from that in a big way.

My current big project is to scan all my photos, to discard any that are just scenery and then figure out what to do with the ones I keep. I’m not alone in this. This project got started a long time ago when I was still thinking about albums. I put the photos into big envelopes I collected from the incoming post at work. They were grouped by a) the decades of my life (50’s, 60’s etc), b) before I was born (Mom and Dad were professional photographers and took loads of photos of family members), c) after I came to England in 1995 (my first major travel experiences as well as life in England). That’s as far as I got for ages.

When I first came over, all my stuff was in storage waiting for me to have it shipped. I lived in hospital accommodation provided for foreign doctors. It was a three bed roomed
flat with a sitting room, kitchen, toilet and bathroom. My first flat mate was a man, which was a very odd experience to me, sharing a flat with a stranger and a male. Nikolaos was junior registrar neurosurgeon from Greece. He was married with a small daughter, but his family was still in Athens, as his wife was a psychiatrist and her English was not sufficient to allow her to practice in England. The opportunities to further his career unfortunately did not exist there. He was about my age and rather attractive, always smartly dressed, and friend but in a polite rather than familiar way, if that makes sense.

On the rare occasion when he wasn't on call at the weekend, he would sometimes invite me to accompany him on an excursion. I don't think I took up his offers very often, but on one occasion we ended up taking the Metro to the coast at Tynemouth
. He may have been the one who introduced me to the flea market there, come to think of it. Anyhow, I remember he handed me his camera and asked me to take his picture with the various landmarks (abbey, castle, church) of Tynemouth beach in the background. Nikolaus was full of opinions (being male, Greek and a doctor would apparently incline one in that direction) and one that he shared that day as stayed we me ever since: “A picture without a person is just a postcard.”

So, now anything that is ‘just a postcard’ is scanned and binned. Photos of people I no longer remember don’t even get scanned. Photos of people I remember but don’t like anymore might or might not get scanned depending upon how significant they were or how nice the scenery is. They may get deleted later, I don’t know.

The main question is what to do with the photos I keep? They come in all shapes and sizes, so were I to put them in a photo, it would have to involve those same stick on photo corners, I think. The peel back and cover plastic albums become more permanent than I would wish. So I’m still looking for solutions. I’m inclined towards a shoe box or two and a notebook with pockets for the larger photos, to be honest!

How do you store your photographs? Is it different for family photos than for holiday snaps?

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Cocaine Blues

by Kerry Greenwood. I read this book in a day or two; it would have gone faster but I was dipping in and out of many books at the time.

The protagonist is a youngish flapper girl, Phryne (Fry-knee) Fisher, once poor, but after her father inherited a title and a fortune, she’s wealthy. Her parents live in Britain, but this first mystery takes place in Melbourne, as apparently do the rest (the author is Australian). I was interested because it is set between the wars, a time period with which Bill and I have become quite enamoured. This book ticks the boxes for luxuriant lifestyle, beautiful clothing and likable character, not to mention a sufficiently busy and entertaining plot.

I had been looking at books published in AU, but they are quite expensive even second hand. Nevertheless, it turns out that Bill actually liked this book too, so I have started looking out for reasonably priced copies.

In the meantime, I’m really tempted to download her screen savers. Even if I didn’t enjoy the stories, I think the cover designs could seduce me!

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Being Mean

Believe it or not, I do think there is such a thing as being ‘too frugal’. In the States, the term ‘skinflint’ or ‘tightwad’ would be applied, but as I’ve come to use 'tightwad' (as in Tightwad Gazette) affectionately, I think the UK word is useful, particularly as it inherently has other derogatory connotations. Over here they call it being ‘mean’. It usually refers to someone who doesn’t buy their round at the pub or cheats on paying their part of the bill at a restaurant. These people are not very popular; their friends – if they have any – understandably resent them. There really is no excuse for such behaviour.

Bill called me to task about this recently, about being mean in a different way. Actually, he made a ‘polite comment’ but he has so few negatives (apart from the usual day-to-day grumpiness) to offer that when he comes up with one of these opinions, I pay close attention. [Consider this a hint, if you want your complaints to be heard!] It was about a chance to explore a potential new hobby that I was inclined to let pass because I thought it was rather expensive. He thought it was such a rich opportunity that he disagreed with my assessment. I decided to give it further consideration.

The day after this brief discussion a cousin in Oklahoma City sent me this joke.

Giving Up Wine


I was walking down the street when I

was accosted by a particularly dirty

and shabby-looking homeless woman

who asked me for a couple of dollars

for dinner.


I took out my wallet, got out ten

dollars and asked, 'If I give you this

money, will you buy wine with it

instead of dinner?'


'No, I had to stop drinking years

ago', the homeless woman told me.

'Will you use it to go shopping

instead of buying food?' I asked.

'No, I don't waste time shopping,'

the homeless woman said. 'I need to

spend all my time trying to stay alive.'

'Will you spend this on a beauty salon

instead of food?' I asked.


'Are you NUTS!' replied the homeless

woman. I haven't had my hair done

in 20 years!'

'Well, I said, 'I'm not going to give

you the money. Instead, I'm going

to take you out for dinner with my

husband and me tonight.'

The homeless woman was shocked.

'Won't your husband be furious

with you for doing that? I know

I'm dirty, and I probably smell

pretty disgusting.'

I said, 'That's okay. It's important

for him to see what a woman

looks like after she has given up

shopping, hair appointments, and

wine.'


It seemed to capture something of what Bill was trying to say to me. Not, I hope, about how I smell or look (though I had just decided to go back to having my hair professionally cut -- at least occasionally -- rather than doing it myself or being a student’s practice model); more about how extreme frugality can lead to having an impoverished lifestyle.

Bill is really good about humouring me in most of my daft frugal ideas, in fact he’s a willing convert most of the time. He does seem to worry that I don’t get out enough, even though I have a commitment of some sort that gets me out of the house 4 or 5 days a week. Granted, running isn’t always that sociable; you can talk for a while, but I do like to push myself a bit and that is a solitary activity even in a group. I have tended of late to take needlework to the pub and to drink tea. After a run I’m tired and though I like most of the people there, the conversation isn’t always as much fun as my current project. Sadly, the lady I sit next to at the sewing group has cats for children and what I consider an extremely narrow and predictable set of opinions. As is often the case, the seating arrangements are peculiarly fixed in these kinds of groups. Perhaps Bill sees, better than I have, that I could do with more stimulating conversation.

Another way in which I recognize I have been mean has been in not having my eyes checked recently. I think I see fine with my current contact lenses but as I do occasionally drive, I really ought to have that checked. I have put this off mainly because I am rarely completely satisfied with the results of a visit to an optician. I won’t do further business with SpecSavers or Boots, but there are still others in the area to try, including several independent opticians. Ideally I would like to get new contacts (I’ve been wearing these far beyond their intended use) and new glasses; I might even been seen wearing glasses outside of the house, but don’t hold your breath. I would like to be able to shop for these online. In the U.S. there is a law that the optician must give you your full prescription that will allow you do to this; I don’t know if the same exists here in the UK.

The other way in which I hope to raise my game this year is to dress a bit better. It is too easy to slob about in jeans and trainers when you don’t go out to work. Bill commented once how nice I looked when I got out of jeans. I heard that loud and clear, though it was just a passing observation. I still have most of my work clothes. As they were moving away from suits towards ‘smart casual’, a lot are still useful. I still tend to put together outfits with high heels for social occasions involving a car. The rest of the time I wear flat shoes to walk around in. I don’t think ‘frugal’ and ‘flat shoes’ has to be a recipe for frumpy, but it does take a bit more thought and a lot more editing.

So, I’m thinking that if I want to continue to enjoy being in step with my practically perfect partner and not slide into ‘old bag lady’, I need to be more high-maintenance and less hermit! It will take some effort, but I think it’s he’s / I’m worth it.

Do you sometimes border on being mean?

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Gifts That Keep on Giving - Part I

I said some time back that I would tell you about what I got for Christmas, I'm enjoying my gifts so much:

Cashmere socks / bed socks

If you can have but one real luxury, I recommend cashmere socks. They are of course warm, but everytime you wiggle your toes you will be reminded how soft and snuggly they are. They cause me to renew my determination to learn to knit socks, and then to look for less expensive sources of cashmere wools on eBay. I will gladly wash these socks by hand and mend any holes that develop. I shall let you know how many years they last.

It is an important frugal concept to consider Cost Per Wear, something I didn’t really appreciate until I started choosing clothes items that were more classic in style, in colours that went with ‘everything’. Only then did long term ownership become possible. Before, in my younger spendthrift days, I bought whatever was in fashion that I thought looked cute. A year or two later it was so out of fashion I couldn't bear to be seen wearing it.

For example, when I came over to England, it took me no time at all to learn that wool, as opposed to acrylic, was required if one was to stay warm at all; most of the sweaters I brought with me were useless and I doubted many that were in storage, waiting for me to purchase a house, would be much good either.

I bought a black wool cardigan from a charity shop. In addition to the fibre content and the great price, I liked its silver buttons, neat collar and patch pockets. I got such good use of it -- until it developed some holes and the wrists were unraveling -- that I didn’t hesitate to pay more than I would usually for a new black cardigan to replace it.

I found a lovely, simple cashmere, silk and angora cardigan at Agnes B in Paris; I think I paid about £100 for it; not very much by many people's standards but quite a bit by mine. It is getting very hard wear just like its predecessor. Any time I see a small snag, I take a small crochet hook and repair it and it still looks in very good condition after about 5 years. Thus I have learned that a higher price for better quality is not a bad deal at all.

I hope I will be able to say the same of cashmere socks because I’m afraid they may well be spoiling me against any other kind for winter wear.