Friday, 30 March 2012

Fit for A Monkey

I ran across a curious tea bag the other day.  Being part of British culture, individual tea bags in envelopes seem to collect in this house like those little packets of salt and sugar.  They come in goodie bags for races, samples through the post and from hotel rooms no doubt. 

I was perplexed to read the following on the bag branded PG Tips:

PG tips
3 Steps to brewing the best cup of PG tips tea. 
Brewing methods may vary but we suggest:

Use one bag per 250ml of freshly boiled water
    1.  Allow the tea to brew for 1-2 minutes or to preferred strength, then remove the tea bag.
    2.  Always use fresh milk where possible.  And there you have it, a delicious brew fit for a monkey.

What on earth did they mean by that?  Thank you, Internet, for solving yet another mystery (and are there no bounds of imagination used by advertisers?).  

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Bikes in Belgium

I discovered a photo I snapped of a magazine page at the library about Pashley bicycles. I keep toying with the idea, but no, I already own two bikes I rarely ride and Pashley's are expensive.  I think I might ride more often if I had a step-through (with a cute basket!), but it's not a gamble I'm going to take in the near future.  (But they are pretty.)

In any case, it reminded me that I never showed you photos of all the amazing bikes we saw in Belgium.  In fact, there are a number of things I didn't show you from that trip, which I will do in future.  Travel agents around here advertise 'City Breaks' or 'Short Breaks' which just weekend trips.  Just think of these long-after-the-trip posts as one of those.

Belgium is flat like Holland so cycling is relatively easy, particularly as bicycles have right of way in most places. 

People apparently commute quite a bit by bike and by train. 

Love her hair and her outfit!
There are a lot of cycles to be seen at some British train stations, but neither Bill nor I had ever seen this phenomenal number of parked bicycles in one place.  You see them at station after station in Belgium.

Also, everyone rides, not just youngsters or young men. 

Business men, older women, stylish women in high heels, entire families.  I could have shown you an amazing young woman riding down the street wearing a purple mini-skirt and tall platform heels with bright orange tights on her long legs, but 'someone' elbowed me to point her out just as I was snapping her photo.

The bikes themselves can be quite unusual, with bits welded on or trailing behind in really amazing ways. 

We found an interesting collection just outside of a primary school.

One could haul all sorts in that wheel barrow shaped thing in the front:

This seemed pretty straight-forward, just lift up the wheel of the child's bike, weld it to your bike and away you pedal!

I'm not clear who sits where on this one!

Some of the bikes were motorised, it has to be admitted.   

I guess this young man didn't want to get his smart leather jacket sweaty.

And Bill couldn't help but admire this unusual bike as well. Or is it a trike?

We took stock one evening sitting outside at a pavement cafe at rush hour one evening:  we only saw one or two people who could remotely be considered overweight.   Then again, the cyclists are probably not a representative sample, just the fittest end of the spectrum.   Cycling, along with cafe pavements and wearing scarves! seems to be a major characteristic of the European city life.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Another Tiny Thing

I always find it amusing when I read how one can 'update' one's home by purchasing new throw pillows.  The articles always feature lovely, vibrant coloured modern fabrics, often shiny or with buttons.  I think they are lovely, but I love old fabric prints. 

Like this cabbage rose pillow that belonged to Bill's mom.  It's been a sad, understuffed pillow for some time, but when I re-cycled some pillow covers that came in the motorhome, I found I had some spare fillers.

I knew just where to put a couple of them.  The only hitch was that there was no zipper, but it was only a half hour's work to cut and restitch one side.

Do you prefer 'modern' or 'vintage' when it comes to your throw pillows?

Friday, 23 March 2012

Sunk Costs

This is the last of the MBA Monday posts (via DailyLit) that I'm going to talk about, and this is about Sunk Costs:

Sunk costs are time and money (and other resources) you have already spent on a project, investment or some other effort. They have been sunk into the effort and most likely you cannot get them back.

Of course this doesn't just apply to businesses, but to everyday life.  I just have to look around the house, in my closet, at my bookshelves, my sewing stash (though most of it came to me free) and  my hoard collection of magazines to see prime examples! 

The important thing about sunk costs is when it comes time to make a decision about the project or investment, you should NOT factor in the sunk costs in that decision. You should treat them as gone already and make the decision based on what is in front of you in terms of costs and opportunities.

He goes on with another business example, but I know this whole idea of Sunk Costs haunts people when they think about clearing out their clutter.   They punish themselves for clothing mistakes, hang onto books they feel they 'should' re-read, treat magazines as a source of encyclopedic knowledge to be treasured.  A downside of being interested in re-fashioning is that every lovely piece of fabric looks like it has 'potential'.  (Have you worked out yet that for 'They', read 'Shelley'?).

Several major blessings of late have been that Bill's son and son-in-law have each got interested in running, so I could easily pull out all the Runners World magazines for re-distribution.  The local community centre where I go sewing is having a book sale in a few months.  As all our books had to be boxed up in preparation for Bill's painting project.  The process of re-placing those books in the shelves has presented the perfect opportunity for re-assessing ownership.  Even Bill has been culling his collection.  I have been offering my books to the sewing ladies first, in return for all the nice books and fabrics they have given me, then the rest go to the centre.  The ladies often read their selections and bring them back for donation the following week.

It has just occurred to me that, having decided that I don't do cross-stitch projects any longer, I could go through that drawer and pull out some items that a few of the sewing ladies would enjoy!  I might get over those Sunk Costs yet!

Do you look around and see a lot of Sunk Costs?

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Happy Birthday!

Today is Bill's birthday, so I hope you will join me in wishing him a lovely day!  I've no idea what we'll be doing at this point, but if it turns out to be at all exciting, I will let you know.

And, the answer to this question, Bill, is definitely YES!

Monday, 19 March 2012

A Tale of Two Lists

I said I would write more about how we eat less meat.   I always think it's hard to do less of something without identifying what one will do more. Towards this end, I made up List One and List Two.

List One
beans, poultry, fish, veggie/grain, lentils, FISH

List Two
cheese, eggs, combo, nuts, liver, meat, other treats

My weekly menu includes a fish, a FISH and something from List Two with the other four days filled in with beans, poultry, lentils and vegetarian meals. I don't tend to plan any more detail than the chosen protein. For example I know that tonight I will start with some frozen cooked turkey. Nearly everything I cook starts with dicing an onion and some garlic and whilst I know we are out of tinned tomatoes, I know we have tomato paste...and some vegetables that can be steamed or stir-fried. If I get stuck I can always pull out a recipe book or two for ideas.

Regarding List One
  • It might help to know that 'fish' is tinned fish; FISH is not-tinned fish... I get pretty tired of tuna and salmon out of cans and living nearly next door to a cheap source of fresh and frozen fish, it seems foolish not to use the advantage.
  • I separated lentils from beans because I never remembered to choose lentils on a bean night and there are many delicious lentil recipes.
  • We tend to soak dried beans a cup or two at a time and then cook them in plain water in the crockpot and freeze, but I do keep a few emergency tins in stock in case we get behind.
  • In order to make a veggie night more interesting I thought I'd try to explore more grains: couscous, barley, kasha, quinoa, wild rice on veggie night. It often just ends up with regular old rice dish, but sometimes I get more adventurous.
  • Veggie night might also include roast veg, but this tends to be an exception as I don't know a low fat approach to this.

Regarding List Two

  • These foods aren't quite as healthy as the ones on List One and some of them are quite fattening.
  • I specified liver because we found a bargain price and stocked up on it, but because it's not my first choice of meat we could find ourselves ignoring that supply if left to my own devices (then again, this is my device, isn't it?).
  • Combo refers to any recipe that calls for two proteins, ie 'beans and cheese' or 'chicken and cheese' or 'beans and minced beef'.
  • I do tend to treat small amounts of Parmesan cheese as a condiment rather than as a protein.
  • The biggest challenge to finding new recipes is that so many call for more than one protein.
  • The next biggest challenge was to find an egg dish that Bill thought suitable for dinner instead of breakfast (quiche calls for cheese and so it is a 'combo'). I found over time that ignoring his views on the matter was the best solution for this; I noticed he happily ate the dishes I produced from recipes that were largely fried egg added to stir-fried veggies. It sounds a bit weird, but it actually tastes quite nice.
  • I'm aware that eggs are quite inexpensive as a source of protein and they are in themselves low fat. They might actually belong in List One, but I haven't caught up with the latest position on these re: cholesterol. Also, our most inexpensive source of eggs isn't convenient and so I buy loads when we go and eek them out. We do sometimes have an omelette for lunch instead of soup and I sometimes use an egg to bind together ingredients I want to 'pattify' (a word from The Tightwad Gazette).
  • I don't tend to serve 'white stuff' (potatoes, pasta or white rice) any more than I have to. However, nut sauces work best on pasta (whether white or red pesto sauce or peanut butter sauce). Beans and potatoes or beans and rice are also quite nice occasionally.   We have toast or oatmeal / porridge most days for breakfast.
  • Most nights are either something stir-fried or baked along with a large pot of steamed vegetables. These are my stock-in-trade selections. When Bill takes over the cooking he's more likely to make a casserole in the oven or to roast something, which is usually quite nice.

What are your strategies for reducing the amount of meat in your diet?

Friday, 16 March 2012

Opportunity Costs

This is another idea I gleaned from the MBA Monday posts from A VC via Daily Lit. 

It was about Opportunity Cost, defined as the cost of not being able to do something because you are already doing something else. He gives a business example based on a commitment to building a product that ties up staff who are then unable to respond to a better deal that comes along. This struck me because he quotes Gretchen Rubin, whose Happiness Project blog I read daily. She said,

I also try to ignore opportunity costs. I can become paralyzed if I think that way too much. Someone once told me, of my alma mater, “The curse of Yale Law School is to die with your options open” meaning, if you try to preserve every opportunity, you can’t move forward.

I got this graphic from Wikipedia, but my preferred picture would have
been this one.

I'm thinking I don't properly understand this concept, because it does seem to me that there are many applications of this principle for me, worth giving attention when making choices about my three limited resources: time, money & energy.
  • If I spend all my money on fun stuff, I may have lost the capacity to pay an unexpected bill.
  • If I spend all my time reading blogs, I may have lost the daylight to go for a run.
  • If I go for a very long run, I have to accept that I will likely not have much energy left for much else (at least until long runs are normal again).
Of course, these are all about things in the future that are easily foreseeable.  The unspoken part of the definition of opportunity costs seems to be about things one could never predict would come along, for example, never marrying because a 'better one' might be around the corner, which I think is a great example of Gretchen's idea of never being able to move forward.

I think the opportunity cost concept is looming larger for me of late because of getting older. I'm conscious that there will likely come a time when Bill and I are not up for long haul travel. I'm saving cruises for then, I think, where everything is done for you; assuming, of course, that we will still be able to afford them.

Do you find yourself using or ignoring the concept of "Opportunity Cost" in your everyday life?

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

The Whitley Bay Adventure - The End

I know you'll be sad to read that this will be the conclusion of Vivien's and my tour of Whitley Bay.  Leaving the seafront again, we were directed to turn up Marine Ave.  The seaside end of this street reflect the rather carnival aspect of the town.

This Thai restaurant looked interesting, but it has quite mixed reviews, so perhaps we'll give it a miss.   Vivien loved the elephant trunk...or maybe she was just keen to share it with her sister-in-law in Sydney who has a thing about collecting elephants.

The guide invited us to admire the newly refurbished Whitley Bay Playhouse.   It was once a movie theatre, apparently.  Would that it still was.  I was telling Vivien of its recent financial difficulties.  Personally I'm not convinced that it is viable to have a playhouse in every other village only a couple of miles apart, but I'm sure the people involved in the various playhouses would vehemently disagree with me.  We looked at the posters in the window of the playhouse and I concluded I wouldn't be visiting anytime in the near future.  Vivien, at least, had heard of some of the stars that were billed.  I told her Bill sometimes amuses himself reading what's on at the Newcastle City Hall

Whitley Bay Playhouse

You know, the ones where you are amazed to learn that they are still alive, and aghast that they are still performing?

In researching this, I have learned that the boundary between Whitley Bay and Monkseaton, another historic village is considered to be Ilfracombe Gardens.  We didn't know this at the time, but the difference between the seafront at Whitley Bay and the 'charming villa residences' in Monkseaton is obvious.  There is nothing carnival about these grand houses, which sell starting at about £575,000.  I have also since learned that Marine Avenue used to be called Seaside Lane, as it connected Monkseaton village with the coast.


Does the sight of snowdrops grab your heart?  I know they are among the earliest of the flowering bulbs, but they do give one hope that spring might actually one day appear.

I had no idea there was a park with the name Souter (like the lighthouse in Sunderland).  I'm always impressed with the checkerboard lawns of Britain's bowling greens - and of some residences, for that matter.  That is the roofline of Monkseaton metro station in the distance, another Victorian station. 

Vivien was astounded to realise how close her friend lives to this metro.  She's always visited by car in the past.  We agreed that one sees things very differently from a car.  I know my initial impressions of this area were formed by riding the Metro and bus.  I believed that everything was much further away than it was, owing to the many stops and the length of the journeys.  Many Metro stations are no more than a 10 minute walk apart.

Our guide told us to examine the stained glass art at each end of the Monkseaton metro station and so we dutifully did.  The one titled 'Shipyards' takes a bit of looking to find the prows of the ships lined up at the bottom; the yellow vertical pieces with the triangles above are the cranes used to build the ships.  Having grown up in land-locked Oklahoma, had I not ever seen the actual shipyards at Wallsend, I doubt I would have figured this out.  The silver coloured horizontal and vertical frame for the station structure doesn't help much either.

Add caption

The stain glass work titled 'Beaches' is a bit more straightforward.

Now, if one wished to follow our tour on a map, this is where you would go back to the post about Northumberland Village Homes.   As I said, the guide didn't include snooping wandering all the way down Village Court and back.  The next sight recommended by the guide was

"... the 1864 consecrated St.Paul`s Church, designed by London Architect, A. Salvin. The first vicar of the church was the Rev. R.F. Wheeler who was a founder member of the Cullercoats Volunteer Life Brigade. In his 1957 book `The Buildings of England`, Nikolaus Pevsner thought that this was “not a church of much architectural merit”. Judge for yourself."

St. Paul's parish church yard

We decided we so agreed with Pevsner as to wonder why we were looking at this building.  I took no photos of it.  However, using Google maps to retrace our steps, I realise we were in fact looking at the former Church Hall, and that the guide was referring to this St. Paul's Church, which I did photograph...sort of.***

On your left stands the Fat Ox public house which derived its name from the famous, locally reared animal which, when killed in March 1789, weighed an astounding 216 stones 8lbs. (1375 kg.).*  A large copperplate engraving of the animal by Thomas Bewick** was published the following month. 
  * That's 3,025 pounds in American.
** Thomas Bewick is a big deal around these parts. 


The 'Whitley Bay Clock' was the town's Rotary Club to celebrate their 75th anniversary.  The work was inspired by the coastal location and reflects, in its materials and structure, the engineering traditions of the area.

... the New Coliseum which was opened in 1910 and provided live entertainment until the advent of the `silent movies` in 1919, when the building was extensively altered. The ABC Company introduced the first `talkies` to the cinema in 1929 and these continued to be shown until the very last film was screened on the 1st May 1971.

Not far from this spot, at the top of South Parade, for a short while in the 1960`s the Club A Go-Go reverberated to the music of the day and on the 9th November 1963 a fledgling band played at the club. They were the Rolling Stones and as they say………the rest is history!

Vivien, Bill says these are Starlings - another form of flying rat....

We decided we were more interested in food than in a former discotheque, and so we adjourned to The Fire Station for lunch.   I had to order the superfood salad, as it included 'edamame soy beans', about which I've read but never experienced.  They were pretty good and I now read that one can buy these at Tescos or Sainsburys. 

As we turned to make our way back to the Whitley Bay metro station, I snapped this last photo of the church in the background.  I was thinking, darn, the guide didn't mention this one.  ***Using Bill's map reading skills along with several photos, turns out this is in fact St. Paul's parish church.

No wonder I always get lost in Whitley Bay...Thanks, Vivien, for the guided tour and a great day out!

Monday, 12 March 2012

Continuing Our Whitley Bay Adventure

This is another post about Vivien's and my recent day out in Whitley Bay.   In our guided tour  I learned the names of familiar landmarks I'd never heard before, such as Watts Slope and Panama Dip.

We walked along the lower promenade until we came to Watts Slope.  There were shuttered openings all along the promenade, closing off spaces that extended well under the pavement on the left.  We joked that these were the size of flats in London and with the marvellous sea views (particularly if one had a glass front with shutters for privacy), they ought to be prime real estate. 

Funny enough, I stumbled upon an article about a developer who thinks much the same


The Boardwalk Cafe at Watts' Slope

Our tour guide invited us to admire the dome of the former Spanish City, immortalised by Dire Straits in their song, Tunnel of Love.   I love Dire Straits, but if like me you need help with the lyrics, they are here.

The Dome at Spanish City
Sadly the Spanish City has been largely torn down other than the famous dome; I did see it when the arcades were still going, but was never interested enough to visit.  Spanish City figures large in the childhood memories of many.  Imagine, though, wearing a suit and tie to ride in the bumper cars!

Regeneration plans for the immediate area include "50-bed four-star boutique hotel, 20 apartments, a 1950s diner, and a pleasure garden. The completion date is 2014".  Given all the ructions about this development in the local papers, I have my doubts whether anything is actually decided or if, given the economy, it will actually go forward. 

Yet another war memorial on the seafront.

I learned that the grassy area known as the Links (not sure what the name exactly means)
was during the early part of the 19th century strewn with colliery spoil heaps and ironstone workings. Eventually, work was started to totally transform this area and in 1890 Whitley Bay Golf Club began to use the area.

The Links

The gardens were laid out by the local council in the 1930`s and the Dip was named after the café which had occupied this site since the end of the 19th century.

Vivien said there used to be entertainment put on in this amphitheatre-style garden.

This is Panama skate park, site of the former Panama Dip Cafe.   I've seen it often but never noticed the name.  I think the skateboarding that goes on here is attempted suicide.

I don't even like to watch.

We stopped at the Rendezvous Cafe for a cup of coffee and some respite from the wind. 

I couldn't resist this adorable little dog, a Lakeland terrier with a Schnauzer hair cut. The man told me they only paid £10 for the dog's cut, and he had to pay all of £6 for his own!  When one has a foreign accent, people tell you the oddest things...

After having our chat and enjoying our coffee, we bundled up to go back out and continue our tour, looking over our shoulders and wondering if this storm was going to catch us out.  Vivien predicted it would just blow over, no big deal.

If you can call struggling to stand up in the wind or to walk uphill into it no big deal, she turned out to be right; we got no more than an occasional sprinkle over the rest of our stroll.  We decided to just consider the strong winds as 'resistance training'.

Friday, 9 March 2012

Northumberland Village

I'm going to leave the seaside for a moment and talk about a quaint place we discovered off the track of our tour guide.  I've passed by the entrance to Village Court many times, but never realised what an amazing oasis of quiet and gentility it is just on the edge between busy Whitley Bay and posh Monkseaton. 

The guide informed us that the Village Court was in fact  
"...the former Northumberland Village Homes. Opened in the 1880`s, the Homes were occupied by up to 150 girls who were kitted out in a distinctive uniform of a blue serge dress and a red cape and were given instruction in household duties. The Homes closed in March 1985 and have now been tastefully converted for housing..."

With a little digging I discovered that it was in fact the  "Northumberland Village Homes for homeless and destitute girls unconvicted of crime" and in 1884 the inspector commented that

"Five girls emigrated to Canada in the year, and were judiciously placed out in situations."

This sounds a bit sinister to me, given the tales of supposed orphans who were shipped abroad, when their parents were not dead, only destitute. 

One wanders down a single little street.  On one side are large houses with dates in the late 19th Century.  The are unique in my experience for having been built with rooms over a garage, though it is possible that the re-development, which built blocks of small ground floor flats on the opposite side of the road, included amending each of the large houses in this way.  They back on to large south-ish facing gardens beyond which is a pedestrianised road.    There is an interesting arch at the west entrance and a quaint little gate at the east entrance, leading into Duchess Street. 

It's just opposite from the Monkseaton metro station, another Victorian structure. 

Vivien and I agreed that if we couldn't live where we did, this would be a great choice.   She thought the small apartments would be attractive if she were living on her own.  I have to say I'd still be greedy and want one of the grand houses! 

The one-bedroom flats are listed at about £80K each, but I couldn't find any information about the value of the houses.  It doesn't look as though they change hands very often and I'm not surprised.  Vivien was told that these properties were only sold to persons over 50, which would make it even more attractive to many.  Village Court also appears to be one of the rare streets that Google Maps has overlooked.  There are photos at the entrances, but not inside.

The house at the Duchess Street entrance had an amazing conservatory, this intricate mock Tudor detail and a name: 

Fleming Memorial Lodge AD 1891. 

I've been unable at this writing to find out anymore about the history of this lodge or who were the Flemings, only that there was also a Fleming Memorial Hospital in Newcastle.  That is a mystery that will have to wait until I have time to visit the Local Studies people at the library or the Tyne & Wear archives, which apparently has rules, journal, case records, admission and discharge records and photographs.  I suspect it would remind me a great deal of Owatonna.

There appears to still be a Northumberland Village Homes Trust, registered as a charity in 1963 with a stated aim of 


(Their full accounts make for interesting reading, if you are as nosy as I am.)

If Vivien and I had made this discovery alone, I would have considered our time together that day very well spent!