My life in cars

A Triumph Spitfire and me ~ c1974

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“A computer!” shouted my five and six year old sons when asked to guess what our surprise was. “It’s something we’ll all love,” I’d told them.  Their friend had a computer and they desperately wanted one too. (It was early in 1986 and very few families owned one). Their disappointment on being told that the surprise was actually a baby brother or sister was crushing. “But we really want a computer,” said the eldest.  I knew exactly how they felt – I’d be seven when I too was told to expect a surprise that evening. When my father arrived home from work driving our first ever family car (a dark green Austin A30, registration PAB 86), I sobbed because I’d wanted a rabbit.

But just as the boys got used to the idea of a new sibling (and even rather liked their little sister once she arrived – at least until she became mobile and wrecked their games) , so I began to enjoy the excitement  of ‘going for a spin’ on a Sunday afternoon. The Model Village at Bourton-on-the-water, feeding the swans on the River Severn in Worcester … Evesham, Broadway, Burford -the list of interesting places was endless and they usually had a decent ice-cream shop! Petrol must have been cheap in those days because it was very much later that I remember my Dad saying that if the cost reached a pound, he’d give up driving.

I can’t say exactly when it was that the A30 gave way to a turquoise A40 but I do have clear recall, aged around ten or eleven, of the night we slept in the A40. Until then we had holidayed with my grandparents in Gloucestershire and always spend a few of the days visiting Weston-Super-Mare which was less than an hour’s drive away. Quite what possessed my mother to book a holiday in St. Ives in Cornwall, a journey close to 260 miles away, I have no idea. It was ‘the main holiday fortnight’ and I doubt very much that in those days the A38 ‘Holiday Route’ offered dual carriageways or bypasses. With our parents in the front, my brother and I were squashed into the rear seats alongside our mother’s sister, Aunty B, and various bags which couldn’t be accommodated in the boot or on the borrowed roof-rack. It was not a comfortable trip. As darkness fell we pulled off the road and were told to sleep; it wasn’t a comfortable night either.

After that came more Austins – first a pale blue 1100, and later still a sludgy green (described, not inaccurately, by my younger brother as cat-muck green) 1300. In 1975 the first brand new car appeared outside the house. Yet another Austin – this time it was the latest design – the Austin Allegro. This was the car that took me to my wedding the following year. Eschewing tradition, I chose to have my dad drive me. (I think I’ve mentioned previously my green wedding dress and matching nail polish – I was anything but conventional!)

The Allegro was the one and only brand new car my father ever drove.  There was to have been another and this time a change from the Austin; a VW Golf had been ordered and on 4th August 1981 he was due to pick it up after work at 5.30pm. Shortly after 5pm my lovely Dad suffered a fatal heart attack. He was just 49 years old.

At 18 I had passed my driving test (in a mini which was what pretty much every one learned to drive in back then). My soon-to-be husband and I shared a purple Mk. III Triumph Spitfire and, though hopelessly impractical once my first son arrived in 1979,  we held onto it and bought a six year old mini estate for me. With the back seats down the bulky Silver Cross pram fitted in a treat, complete with baby. It was a few years before baby seats became the norm.   After Dad died and Mum had been persuaded to keep the new VW, I was given the Allegro and drove it until 1984. After that came a bright yellow Ford Capri, a turquoise Capri (which I absolutely loved but it was the most unreliable car in the history of motoring), a white Mini Metro and then a blue one but by then I had three growing children who regularly complained of being squashed so in 1991 I bought a bright red Ford Escort which due to changing home circumstances I kept for nine years.

My next car was  another red escort (I have no idea why I chose the same) followed a year later by what I had longed for – my ‘dream car’. A colleague had a sporty Escort Cabriolet Ghia. It was dark green with a black canvas roof. A throwaway comment one morning, “If you ever want to sell that, I’d love it,” resulted in me buying it from her Just weeks later. It was fast, reliable and with the flick of a switch the roof  retracted. I loved the look of it  but the dream, whilst not quite turning into a nightmare, soon died. It was an incredibly heavy car and the steering lock was awful. We live in a cul-de-sac and when I turn my present car around I can do so in one or two turns. The cabriolet necessitated a minimum four point turn. Parking it in the town centre’s multi-storey car parks was a complete pain and after a summer of knotty hair (headscarves and I have never gone together), I gave up and bought the car that still remains my favourite one ever – a bright red Ford Mondeo. It was a joy to drive. But then I got a promotion at work and with it a company car – a VW Passat at first and very nice it was, but the sale of the Mondeo was a reluctant one. Over the next few years I drove many, many miles in a Toyota Avensis and then a very sporty VW Golf (both black).

And then I didn’t want to drive all those miles any more. The offer of voluntary redundancy came up and I volunteered. In late 2011 I bought the car I still have now – a silvery- blue Vauxhall Astra. I like driving it but quite recently I had to get three new tyres fitted. Though the cost was not as high as the recent £700 repair to my husband’s car, my purchase, alongside ever- increasing insurance premiums, has once again raised the question of ‘going down to one car’. It is something we have talked about periodically.

My husband retired on the same day that I received confirmation of my voluntary redundancy request. We had both driven company cars for years and at the time neither one of use felt ready to relinquish our ‘un-shared’ car status so we each bought our own. We agreed to reconsider in three years time. Nearly six years on, a decision is very overdue.  We each have our own interests and whilst we do enjoy doing things together, we also do a lot of things apart. Much of what we do as individuals requires transport and the public variety simply doesn’t offer the flexibility required. I’ve had my own car and the independence that goes with it for over forty years. I really hate the idea of relying on someone else not needing the car when I might want to use it. However, the irrefutable fact is that, for a large percentage of the time, one or other of the cars is sitting outside the house, unused. Both cars are getting older and with that comes the prospect of more frequent repair bills. Both are depreciating in value but if we sold them now it would give us a half reasonable amount to put towards another one. But this is where we stumble – another ONE.

We talked about it again the other evening and to came to a (wholly unsatisfactory) decision:  we’ll think about it in a month or two!  Which is exactly the decision we came to last time and the time before that….and the time before that…..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Button Box

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Who has a button box nowadays? I haven’t asked but I’ll bet my daughter or daughters-in-law don’t.  I have one but it’s small in comparison to the one my grandmother owned. So far as I’m aware she wasn’t a great one for sewing. Neither was my mother but she too had a considerable stock of buttons. One of my earliest memories is playing with the contents of my grandmother’s button box. I’d sort them into colours and sizes, count them, make patterns in the table and generally stay happily occupied for what seemed like ages.

Lynne Knight’s book The Button Box: The Story of Women in the 20th Century Told Through the Clothes They Wore begins by describing the delights of her own grandmother’s button box.  The book is on my list to order from the library. She writes:

           ‘I used to love the rattle and whoosh of my grandma’s buttons as they scattered from their Quality Street tin’……. [they] reached back into the past with metal-shanked beauties from the nineteenth century and came forward into my childhood with the pale blue waterlily buttons….’

The thing about button boxes is, at least in my experience,  that the contents are rarely used. Rather they are collected ‘just in case’ or because ‘they’re too good to throw out’ when the clothing to which they were once attached is discarded.

My grandmother’s button box was an old biscuit tin, my mother’s a bamboo lidded basket with handles brought back from Japan, and mine is part of a set from Dunelm… it serves the purpose but doesn’t do much in the excitement stakes!

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It’s not often that I investigate the contents of my own button box but I was looking at some old school photos of my children recently. I was reminded of my daughter who, aged about seven, asked if she could have a ‘proper’ school cardigan instead of the hand knitted variety that she had been wearing up until then. My knitting days were all but over.

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The triangular green button was cut from the last school cardigan I made. It was a basket-weave design – the uniform called for a green cardigan but with no stipulation as to the design so, with a love of the non-conventional, I put my own spin on it forgetting that children just want to be the same as their peers! I remember being so thrilled when I found some little peach coloured rabbit buttons for her baby cardigans. There were white rabbits and yellow ducks too but I’ve no idea what happened to them. Flower shapes were a favourite too but although I must have done, I can’t remember using the pink hearts. Babies don’t wear much in the way of hand-knits now, do they?

I’ve lots of metal button salvaged from the 1980s shoulder-padded ‘power’ suits that I loved wearing. I can’t imagine that I’ll ever use these buttons again. I don’t really sew any more apart from the odd replacement shirt button so I suppose the contents of my button box will remain just that.

 

 

 

 

Three lunches and a hot water bottle

It’s been such a busy week and my blog has taken a back seat. On the plus side I had an unexpected, completely free Sunday and used it to work on my novel. I wrote and edited and wrote and edited and…….you get the picture. Writers each have their own way of working. Some choose to write the whole and then go back and edit. Others, like myself, cannot move on until satisfied with each paragraph. The writer Dorothy Parker once said “I cannot write five words but that I change seven.” I can identify with that. I’ve no idea how many I wrote but I ended up with 2,000 satisfactory words and I was very happy with that.

I had three lunch dates this week. I did try to be mindful of my Slimming World membership!  The first was a belated birthday lunch with an old friend i.e. she is a couple of years younger than me but is a Friend of thirty-eight years standing. We went to a pub that I used to visit regularly in the 1970s. In those days they served scampi and chips in a basket for 55p. Isn’t it funny how the little details stay in the memory? It’s undergone many transformations over the years but it must be seven or so since I was last there so I wasn’t sure what to expect. We both decided that a starter and dessert was more appealing than a main meal. My Greek salad was ample with a very generous helping of feta cheese. It was really tasty but totally overshadowed by the ‘white chocolate creme brûlée with raspberry shortbread’. Oh my goodness, it was amazing…the best creme brûlée I have ever tasted. My friend chose the same and agreed wholeheartedly. The shortbread was sprinkled with raspberry sugar. Yum, yum, yum! That reminds me, I still haven’t tried the lavender shortbread again. The first batch I made didn’t quite make the grade.

Lunch number two was to celebrate my husband’s birthday. We visited a pub which always offers several fish dishes. Depending what is available wholesale, the menu varies. When I saw that there was fresh dressed crab on offer, there was no other choice for me. With a sprinkling of black pepper and a dash of vinegar there’s none better. It came with thick slices of soft brown bread and a salad. Two lunches out so far, and salad both times. No pudding today!

My daughter took an afternoon off work today and we met in Bridgnorth. It’s closer to her than to me but is the nicest place between the two of us. Winner of five Britain in Bloom gold medals it is situated on the edge of the River Severn in Shropshire and is split into low town and high town, the latter being reached by means of the cliff railway (or a road…thank goodness). Evidence suggests that this busy market town originated during Saxon times, and certainly the Saxon caves, known now as the Hermitage Caves were in existence then, with King Alfred’s grandson being the first inhabitant, though it wasn’t until the Normans built a castle and that a larger settlement was formed. The town boasts an array of architecturally interesting buildings. I really do have to get more practice at taking photographs. The few I took were very poor so I’ve decided not to include most of them.

 

At The Brasserie I chose a mushroom and melted cheese baguette with chips, onion rings and side salad. Shortly after we’d finished the waitress walked past with a plate of lemon meringue pie. It looked amazing and I can’t pretend that I wasn’t tempted but I did manage to resist.

Bridgenorth is a ‘moochy’ sort of place so we walked the length of the High Street where I bought a hot water bottle (more in a moment) and a couple of OPI nail polishes.   I chose a deep red and a deep purple, both pearlised which I prefer. Daughter bought new pillows and treated me to a notebook that I’d admired and then we had a coffee.

I’ve been suffering from ‘shin splints (severe cramp, not in the calf as usual, but in the shins). Extremely painful, it starts across the instep of my foot and is apparently caused by either excessive exercise (haha) or extreme cold. Now I know the weather has taken a turn for the worse in the past week but this is England in September, not a time of year known for its freezing temperatures. The only way to relieve the pain is vigorous rubbing and heat.  Though it happens during the daytime, it affects me more at night. I like to get into a cold bed but wonder whether if I warm it first, whether it will help, hence the hot water bottle.

Not the most exciting photo but here’s what I came home with:

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Books, books and more books

I am writing this paragraph after completing the rest of the post. I never intended listing so many books; I’d had in mind perhaps a dozen favourites but I just kept on thinking of more. There are, I am certain, many, many others if I could only remember them all. 

I shall be going away a couple of times during October and have begun to think about my reading matter – always an essential part of holiday planning. Since one of those trips involves flying to Ireland with hand luggage only, I shall be making use of the Kindle app on my iPad. You can read about my reluctant conversion to e-books in this earlier post: Real books

I have to confess to not being a great fan of many of the books considered to be classics. For me, the style is often too flowery and I find much of the description unbearably protracted.  I thought I’d share a some of the novels that I have enjoyed with you:

Book D

My absolute favourite book for years now has been William Boyd’s Any Human heart.  Having read it several times, I once recommended this to my book group; it was universally disliked and I just can’t understand why!

It is probably the most involved novel I’ve ever read and by this I mean that it covers such wide-ranging subjects.  The book documents protagonist Logan Mountstuart’s (what a glorious name that is) student years, his literary career, the complexity of his relationships, and his friends and acquaintances – Virginia Woolf, Picasso, James Joyce and Ernest Hemingway. Set amid an ever-changing historical backdrop –  the abdication of Edward  VIII, World War II (when Logan is recruited as a spy by Ian Fleming), The Spanish Civil War and later his unwitting involvement with the West German far left militant group, Baader-Meinhof.  It sounds rather like a ‘Boy’s Own Adventure’ and yet somehow the story seems perfectly plausible. I imagine that a liking for the book might depend on one’s liking for Logan. I did like him, immensely though the character is somewhat self-centred at times, particularly as a young man. There is a marvellous Channel 4 film which, rarely, is as good as the book. Three actors portray Logan at his various ages and the marvellous Jim Broadbent (above) as the old man gives an outstanding and poignant performance.

Book A

Another book which had a great impact is Rohinton Mistry’s   A Fine Balance. Read only once, I doubt I ever shall again. I found it harrowing but ‘unputdownable’. It follows the story of two tailors living in India. It left me sad and appalled at the squalor in their lives.

Memoirs of a Geisha (Arthur Golden), read when newly published and again more recently, tells the story of a young girl in the 1920s who is indentured to the madame of a geisha training house. Her treatment by the jealous Hatsumomo makes for a miserable life.  Eventually she becomes a geisha herself but her idea of what makes for a happy life is very much at odds with western values. It’s one of those books that stays with you for a long time after reading it.

Set during the winter following the Spanish Civil War, CJ Sansome’s Winter in Madrid focuses on Harry Brett, a spy.  Commended for the accuracy of his research, author Sansome pulls no punches and his account  of the living conditions in Madrid at the time and the book contains many examples of real events. If my own book is ever published I would be more than satisfied to be praised for the quality of meticulous research.

Book E

 Margaret Leroy’s  The Collaborator  (more recently marketed under the title The Soldier’s Wife)  is a love story set in occupied Guernsey during WWII. This author is, I believe, very underrated since her name never seems to appear in any list of ‘good books’ or recommendations and yet she has written several cracking good reads. I haven’t yet read A Brief Affair but have it on my ipad ready for holiday reading.

 

 

 

I’m not generally a fan of humorous books but have lately read several with somewhat eccentric protagonists who did make me smile. I absolutely loved The Rosie Project and its sequel, The Rosie Effect. Author Graeme Simison perfectly portrays the social difficulties encountered by an Asperger’s sufferer. If you read and enjoyed The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night time, then these are for you.  Other similarly quirky books include The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out Of The Window and Disappeared and The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. This kind of book seems to be forming a new genre of novel.

Book L

JK Rowling made her name with the Harry Potter books which I confess never to have read though I know many adults who have (including my daughter who, despite being an out and out academic, loves them). However, I did read The Casual Vacancy, her firts book written for adults. I though it superb with excellent characterisation, though the TV adaptation was not that well received. It was indeed a pale imitation of the book. Her latest offerings (written under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith) feature Cormoran Strike, war veteran turned private eye. I’ve not read the books but am enjoying the current TV series.

 

 

Pretty much anything written by Louise Candlish (her latest, The Swimming Pool, was excellent), Monica McInerney,  Anita Shreeve, Catherine Ryan Hyde, Diane Chamberlain, Katherine McMahon, Lisa Jewell, Kate Morton and Maggie O’Farrell (often family sagas) always please too. I found a voucher in yesterday’s Daily Mail for a recent Lisa Jewell book The Girls for just £1 at WH Smith. Husband went to town and got it for me and it’s been put by ready for the non-flight holiday.

 

When I’ve really enjoyed a book I find that I miss the characters once it’s finished so I like writers who continue a running theme which underpins each of their stories. Three authors spring to mind, coincidentally all detective based:

 

Peter James – Roy Grace police series with the running theme of his missing wife. There are around a dozen books so far, beginning with Dead Simple. I’m less keen on James’s other books which focus on the paranormal, not a genre that I enjoy.

Sophie Hannah – Culver Valley series (ten books to date) where the complex relationship between two detectives is the ongoing, underlying story.

The off-beat  Jackson Brodie private eye series were great. There are four books and I recommend Case Histories as an introduction. Brodie’s slightly chaotic life with intermittent visits from his delightful daughter are quirky and engaging.  A short TV series was made with Jason Isaacs cast in the lead role…very successfully, I thought.  Kate Atkinson tells a great tale but of late she has written quite differently (such as  Life after Life which won the Costa Novel Award and the South Bank Sky Arts Literature Prize) but  I thoroughly dislike this change of style and hope that she will bring back Brodie soon.

Back in the eighties and nineties I was a fan of  Anita Burgh and can still remember the opening line in Love, the Bright Foreigner …. ‘Stored deep within her, petrified for all time’ …..I have no recall at all what the story was about but clearly the words made an impact. It’s one I’d like to revisit. Our tastes change and I wonder if I would still enjoy it.Book K

My first ever ‘grown up’ read was Kathleen Winsor’s novel written in 1940s, Forever Amber. What I’d think of it now, I have no idea. Maybe I’ll read it again soon and find out. It was out of print for some years but later reprinted with a foreword by Barbara Taylor Bradford. This alone makes me think that I wouldn’t feel the same about it any more. Her books are certainly popular but having read a couple (due to the urging of friends who are fans) I can say with absolute conviction that I found them to be unremittingly  boring.  Apologies if that offends!

A few other odds and ends: Rose Tremain The Road Home, Lori Lansens Rush Home Road,  Nick Hornby High Fidelity, Liane Moriaty The Husband’s Secret… there are so, so many and I’m sure that as soon as I post this I will think of other books that I wish I’d included.

Who are your favourite authors and why?

POSTSCRIPT: I knew it would happen! How could I have forgotten ……. three more excellent reads

 

Three busy days and a lie-in

“What’s it like being sixty?” my younger friend had asked me last year as the big birthday had just happened. https://thisissixty.blog/2017/04/22/whats-in-a-name/

It was as if she had expected that upon the flick of the ‘sixty-switch’ I would somehow give in and become noticeably older.  I took great pains to assure her that I was no different – perhaps a little different to when I was twenty or thirty, but certainly no different to forty and I named my blog after my reply to her.  Well, I now concede that maybe there is a difference…just a little one but noticeable nevertheless. And that difference is that I get more tired more quickly. I hate admitting to the fact but it’s true.

Thursday is my day for looking after my Two youngest grandsons. The two little boys (aged 26 months and 11 months) are totally adorable but there is a reason why nature prevents us from having babies in our sixties!  Just getting two of them ready to go out and into their car seats has me wanting to lie down and recover. In term time I take them to a playgroup. With travelling time this fills up almost three hours and I never thought I would say this, but I have missed it during the summer holidays.  We tried a holiday group but neither the eldest or I enjoyed it (the baby couldn’t care less) so this week we went to town. We did a few mundane jobs like going to the bank and to Boots where I knew my favourite silver shampoo was on a buy 2 get 1 free offer. Truly, it is quite amazing how excited a grandmother can get when she thinks of things to fill up the baby-care hours!

“Cafe, cafe,” shouted the elder one as we passed Coffee 1 where I’ve taken them a few times before. There were no seats available (at least none with an adjacent space large enough to accommodate my twin pushchair).  He wasn’t happy. I knew this from the vociferous vocal objection he raised but we soon found a comfortable spot in Debenhams and settled down for a rest. The boys had some suitable-for-toddlers wafers, banana and drinks that we had taken with us and I had a large cup of strong coffee.  After lunch back at home we went for a short walk. Daddy returned at 2.30 which was a nice surprise as we had expected him an hour later.

That evening husband and I drove to Warwick (a little over half an hour away) to meet up with my cousin and family who were in the area for a few days to attend a sporting event.  We met up last August for the first time in about thirty years. It was a great success  – good food and good company – and we enjoyed it just as much this time round. However, the drive home was not as much fun.  I drove thousands of miles annually as part of my work for several years and in the winter this often meant motorway driving in the dark.  I never had a problem with it  but for a couple of years now I’ve been finding night driving increasingly difficult. I have begun to feel unnerved by the huge lorries which thunder past and, despite my glasses being the right prescription (I got them checked recently) I just cannot seem to focus properly when night-driving.  By the time we got home I had come to a decision and said that I am no longer prepared to do motorway driving at night. Fortunately we don’t go out a lot at night and when we do it’s local which I’m fine with. We have agreed that when it is necessary, either husband will not have a drink and he will drive (although am a terrible passenger) or we will stay wherever overnight. I feel like a bit of a wimp but the decision is made.

 

 

 

Friday was another grandchildren-focussed day. This time we took the granddaughters (12 and 6) out for the day to The Valley. From its beginnings as a garden centre it has, over a number of years, morphed into country park which has shops (not the high street variety) , cafes and play areas including a temporary summer attraction – ‘The beach’. Having imported fifty tons of sand they have set up a giant sand pit surrounded by deck chairs. There are a few fairground rides, bouncy slide, swings and water based activities. The eldest granddaughter looked around a little disdainfully at first, probably thinking it was all a bit too babyish but, once she realised that there was no-one who knew her (Oh the indignity of being seen to make sandcastles at her age!) she soon got over her reluctance and both girls had a whale of a time. They most enjoyed bobbing around inside a huge plastic bubbles which floats in water. I was invited to join them but used the excuse that I wouldn’t fit through the entrance hole! Later we rode on the mini steam train through the park to the picnic area where we were lucky enough to take possession of one of the picnic tables. After devouring the picnic they played for a while on the large wooden climbing frame in the shape of a fort.  The train then took us back to the little station and we returned to constructing sandcastles and bought fresh, warm, sugary donuts as an afternoon treat.   Grandparent duty done we returned them to their parents and spent the evening collapsed in front of the TV.

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Saturday was a l-o-n-g day, albeit a wonderful one.  First a seventy mile drive to Headington, Oxford where we joined the long queue at the Park & Ride. Then a walk to Oxford Brookes University for my mature student son’s graduation. Lunch was not on the menu as the timing made it very difficult so we bought coffee and chocolate and looked forward to the reception and promised post-ceremony refreshments (Champagne and cake!) The fifteen seconds of fame whilst one’s child (they still are, even at thirty eight, aren’t they?) walks onto the stage to shake hands with the Vice-Chancellor and collect the certificate that is testament to their hard work (and it was – he did it whilst working full time and having a very young family who, on this day of celebration were thankfully being looked after by their other grandparents) is worth every moment of the entire day it takes up. The photograph of the stage is the best I can offer as I consider that this blog should respect the privacy of my family. Post reception we did the walk/bus/drive in reverse and took son and his girlfriend for a meal. The evening was spent similarly to the one before – exhausted.

And now it is Sunday and I had a much needed and appreciated lie-in. After two sunny days when the washing could have gone on the line (Assuming that I had had time to do it), it’s now raining. Thank goodness for tumble dryers. I’ve swapped the lightweight quilt for the warmer one (the story of bedding-weight in my house could fill a post on its own: there are half a dozen different combinations to enable the warmth & weight variations we seem to need), and have dealt with some essential paperwork and sorted unwanted clothing for the charity bag. I am now going to read the Sunday papers and reflect on the fact that, tiring though the past few days may have been, I am extremely fortunate to have my lovely family to take up my time.

 

No other way to slice an egg!

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Some while ago Delicious, a rather nice upmarket foodie magazine ran an article on the most useless kitchen gadgets. I don’t remember what most of them were but I was certainly surprised to find that an egg slicer featured among them. The egg slicer was probably the most exotic piece of kitchen equipment my mother ever owned! You may remember from my past posts that she wasn’t renowned for her culinary prowess. Though to be fair, a look around my kitchen wouldn’t exactly shout ‘domestic goddess’ because I’m not a great one for gadgets. However, the egg slicer was one of the first things I bought for my ‘bottom drawer’ (does this concept still even still exist?) and I’ve never been without one since. A knife doesn’t do the job nearly so well. It’s hard to cut the egg thinly enough to provide enough slices to cover a piece of toast adequately (and I do enjoy a hard boiled egg on a piece of toast that’s been spread with marmite – I’m one of those who loves the stuff). When my daughter left home to go to university I was required to supply various kitchen bits and pieces and top of her list? Yes, an egg slicer.

There are several other small items that I wouldn’t want to be without in my kitchen… like the set of measuring spoons shown in the photograph above. Who would have guessed that the contents of a Christmas cracker would have proved so long-lasting or useful? The rim whisk (sometimes called a spiral whisk) is regularly used for gravy, custard or sauces and must be forty years old. The oldest whisks were made from twigs but although metal versions were available in the 19th century, it wasn’t until a 1963 television cookery programme featured one that they became popular.

So far as modern equipment goes I’m not really bothered beyond my garlic press (why ARE the bowls on these round? I’ve never found a round clove of garlic) and the electric steamer. My first steamer (a stove-top two part saucepan style stainless steel one which I still have) was another item bought for the bottom drawer. I’ve rarely ever boiled a vegetable. It’s so much more practical to cook several different ones using only one piece of equipment and it’s a healthy way to cook.

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The most recent addition to my kitchen is a pair of tongs kindly gifted to me by my son’s girlfriend when I admired her own. Oh what an exciting life, I lead!
And apart from my liquidiser (good for soup) and an electric hand blender, I think that’s about it for gadgets. I borrowed a soup maker from my daughter to see if it was something I’d use but it didn’t impress me enough to make me want one, and I’ve always made cakes by hand, never bothering with an electric mixer/chef type of thing either. It just seems like overkill for jobs that only take a few minutes.
How about you? What kitchen equipment do you consider essential? And does anyone else out there own an egg slicer?

 

Food related bits and pieces

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It was my birthday last week and celebrations included a wonderful Sunday lunch at my son and his girlfriend’s house, lunch out with husband at a pub we particularly like and a ladies’ lunch for four friends  at my house. By 9.30am last Friday morning I had made a strawberry roulade, a raspberry cheesecake and a rhubarb crumble.

The paprika chicken was ready for the oven, the potatoes peeled and the runner beans, carrots, broccoli and cauliflower all prepared. A coffee and walnut cake and date & walnut brownies were in the making. If you’re wondering about the unequal sizes of the brownies, the edges of two stuck to the tin and broke off so I ate them. Now, I could have trimmed the rest so that they were of uniform size but you know where they bits would have ended up, don’t you?  The excess of sweet treats was intentional. There were leftovers of course (my friends aren’t that greedy!) but that’s what freezers are for. I find it useful to portion things up so that we can just use the required amount (and, for a Slimming World member, it is less tempting that having, say, a whole cheesecake in the fridge).

Talk of freezers brings me on to the fact that I have not met my August target of two new recipes a week. This can be partly blamed on a freezer-failure. When I go to my Slimming World group I don’t get in until about 7.30. Husband prefers to eat earlier so I usually leave him a ‘here’s one I made earlier’ kind of meal, often from the freezer which he heats up in the microwave. Just before I was leaving the house I opened the freezer and…..got wet feet!  The fuse had popped in the fuse box. We saved what could be saved and it made for some ‘interesting’ meal combinations. I cooked some of the food into dishes (e.g. chicken pies and casseroles) as it can be re-frozen if cooked. However, some of it inevitably had to be discarded which I was rather upset about as I really hate food waste. I was especially disappointed that some of our home-grown runner beans had to go.  ‘Upset’ and ‘disappointed’ did not, however, adequately describe my feelings when we discovered that our house contents policy has a compulsory £50  excess on freezer-failures.  I’m pretty good at checking out policies at the time we buy, or noting amendments,  but you don’t remember all this kind of detail, do you? In 41 years of buying house contents insurance this would have been my first ever claim but I’d estimated the value of the ruined food at around £50 so the excess wiped it out.

One of my birthday presents from my daughter is a ticket to BBC’s Good Food Show at the NEC  later in the year. We’ve been before a couple of times and it’s great fun. We will undoubtedly come home with some tasty treats.