SPECIAL OFFER! Austerity Housekeeping eBook on Amazon at £1.99

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If you want to download the book version of this blog, so you can wander around with it on your phone or whatever, Amazon are now offering it for £1.99/$2.99. They have a special offer on at the moment so if you buy a Kindle book, you get a voucher to get another one free, so that’s even better value.


You can read it on a Kindle, iPad, iPhone or PC just by downloading the Kindle App, which is free. If you do download the book, it would be great if you could leave a review on the Amazon site. Every review helps to build the Austerity community.


Let the sunshine in

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As the sunshine starts to stream in through your windows, you might start to think of doing some spring cleaning to make sure your house is well maintained. How you do this will depend on the style and layout of your house, but the main areas you will need to concentrate on are probably as follows.

Bookcases – Take out all the books and ornaments, and dust the shelves. Dust the books all over very carefully before replacing.  Take advantage of this process to declutter and rearrange your things.

Carpets – Use a special carpet shampoo or soapy water to remove individual stains. Pull out all the furniture and hoover behind and underneath. Consider using a carpet cleaning machine or wet/dry vacuum cleaner on as many areas as possible.

Furniture – Hoover hidden crevices in sofas and chairs. Feed leather furniture with special leather balm.  Varnished furniture should be cleaned with smear-free silicon polish and brought to a shine with a duster. Polished, unvarnished furniture needs feeding with a beeswax spray polish or a specialist beeswax product.

Switches and sockets – Spray some polish onto a duster (not directly onto the electrical fitting) and wipe away fingerprints. Run cloth along the top to remove dust and dirt.

Walls –Hoover away cobwebs and dust. Then if the wall is painted, wash with a solution of washing up liquid and water, before polishing dry. Or even consider repainting if it’s very tired.

Windows – These can be easily cleaned with a microfibre cloth and a spray bottle of water, and a lot of elbow grease. However if you live near a main road, you may need to tackle outside windows with a solution of washing up liquid and water before rinsing carefully and then polishing to a shine. It’s not usually a good idea to clean windows in sunny weather as they tend to go streaky.

Woodwork – Using a damp cloth, wipe with cream cleanser and then rinse it off, concentrating on any areas with lots of fingermarks. Polish dry.

Stock up your present cupboard

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With a lot of sales on at the moment, it’s a good time to start thinking about autumn birthday presents and parties and stocking up your supplies. This means you won’t end up spending more than you need to on a last minute present in a panic. Here are some gifts for under-fives that hopefully won’t duplicate existing toys and which only cost a couple of quid. Remember to stock up on wrapping paper and cheap cards at the same time!

One-year-olds – Card books, posting and stacking toys, balls, simple bucket and spade set for the local sandpit.

Two-year-olds – Colourful sports drinking bottles, fizzy bath tablets, character bubble bath or bath foam, flap books.

Three-year-olds – Small models of knights, princesses or animals, Lego minifigures, toy cars, bubble blowers.

Four-year-olds – Simple card games, stickers, colouring books and crayons, craft kits.

Five-year-olds – Novelty swimming goggles, fancy dress accessories, character mugs and socks.

Image: jscreationzs / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Making an entrance

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As far as hall furnishings are concerned, you know you want to make something of a statement, but you are often working in a limited space, so between you and me,  the minimum requirement is probably:

  • A peg for each person’s coat(s) – consider having a lower level peg rail as well to encourage young children to hang up their coats and school bags consistently, especially if you shine a light on it (Feng Shui says).
  • A place to put a wet umbrella or store dry ones ready to grab on the way out.
  • A place to put really muddy shoes or boots from those rosy cheeked rambles gathering wild food (see my posts later in the year about this).
  • A place to stand the phone, along with a phone book. It might also be worth having a notice board over the top with a section for each family member so they are encouraged to remember things. An A4 diary is also very useful, to enter events and phone messages, and you can clip notices and invitations to the correct day so they don’t get lost. This last tip has transformed our family life, by the way.
  • A full length mirror so you can check your outfit on the way out. This also makes the area look larger, and oddly enough it will encourage you to keep trim and groomed.
  • A mat to wipe your feet on to save the carpets.  If you want to be really continental, make everyone take their outdoor shoes off and change into slippers when they come into the house.
  • Now here’s a clever one. Possibly have a gadget to assess how much electrical power your house is using, such as a whole house watt meter (various models are already on the market, and in future it may even be possible do this over the internet, with a digital meter). This can encourage the family to think about what their multiple appliances left on standby are costing the family purse, for example, and whether there are more environmentally friendly ways of behaving, which can’t be bad. It can also help you judge on the way out whether you have turned everything off. (While I am on the subject of saving power, I should say here that you probably want to set your central heating thermostat in winter to 18-20 degrees if at all possible, but I have been know to sneak our up to 22 degrees when working from home. Don’t tell, or the eco police will probably drag me off or something).

It’s worth dusting and vacuuming in here once a week, as well as shaking out the doormat (wearing a frilly Cath Kidston apron while doing this is optional, of course). If you have a buggy to consider, think about whether it’s worth foregoing glamorous expensive models (what I might call vanity buggies in a less charitable moment) and just having a cheap stroller in the hall that folds up and can hang on a peg (Silver Cross is my current favourite for value). This is likely to be much better for morale over the three or four years you will be using it than your entire household clambouring over a huge pantechnicon of a thing every time they need to get to the door. The same goes for bicycles – they can be mounted on clever racks that pull up to the ceiling, or folding version can be put away in a cupboard. Love your hall, don’t fight it.

Image: Michelle Meiklejohn / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Vintage Wash House

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Austerity fans near Skipton in Yorkshire may want to pay a visit to the Vintage Wash House, which sells everything you might want to do your washing and cleaning the old-fashioned way. They’re got soda crystals, soap flakes, borax substitute (good for stains and burns), linen scrims, hand knitted dishcloths and all sorts of things. I was impressed to see they had an online shop too.


Crisis diet *plus*

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Organic veg box suppliers are having a tough time at the moment, as people are apparently cutting their orders back as they downsize. So this week I tried to think of a way of factoring in an organic veg box into this week’s crisis diet, while still keeping the total around £35. This proved to be too much of a challenge, so we are looking at £27 at Asda and £14 for a medium organic vegetable box (Abel and Cole), totalling £41 for the week’s shopping.

Breakfast is porridge as usual, lunch is tinned soup and bread plus protein as before.

Dinner ideas are as follows, and recipes are readily available on the internet. The veg box items are in bold. They are tasty, and seasonal.

1. Broccoli and cream cheese bake

2. Chard and salmon quiche

3. White pollack fish with boiled potatoes and fennel

4. Roast gammon, mashed potatoes and peas

5. Baked potatoes with bolognaise sauce

6. Chicory wrapped with ham, tinned chopped tomatoes poured over, and grated cheese on top, baked for 30 minutes.

7. Mushroom omelettes

How to Adapt Your Garden in Periods of Austerity

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I have recently come across a really terrific gardening book from the Second World War period, written by Richard Sudell, and while most of it was fairly predictable, there was a excellent chapter on ‘How to Adapt Your Garden in Wartime’, that has some relevance for this blog. I’m therefore looking at the chapter here to see what we can glean about what they call ‘cropping’ round where I live. The idea of gardening wearing a shirt and tie also appeals to me; this is a phenomenon we see in many early DIY books as well. In those days, clearly Britain Had Standards.

First of all, the garden it appears to be based on is large by modern standards (100ft by 35ft), and unless you live in the middle of nowhere, or are lucky enough to live in a house build before 1960, I doubt you’ll have enough space for most of their ideas. He also regards the average family as having 4-5 people, which again is large for present times. However it is possible to work from the same principles and develop a productive garden that might not meet all your food needs, but which will let you harvest something fresh and tasty to eat most days of the summer and early autumn.

Richard starts by suggesting you allocate half to two-thirds of the garden to the cultivation of fruit and vegetables, leaving an area with flowers and shrubs near where you are planning to sit, and near the bits of the garden you see most closely to the house. He also suggests widening the beds and reducing the size of the lawn so you can also grow flowers for cutting fairly easily (garden flowers rather than shop-bought flowers being a staple of this blog, so obviously we approve of that idea). I would add to his advice that there might be a case for losing the lawn completely, as they are high maintenance and the space might be put to better purpose with other things, but if you have football playing children this will be regarded as sacrilegious.

You then lay out your garden  with gravel paths near the house (I would recommend putting landscape matting underneath gravel to stop weeds poking through, by the way), and grass paths in the vegetable area. In the vegetable patch he recommends growing potatoes, cabbage, beans and so on as staples to last you through the year. In addition he suggests adding fruit trees and bushes, and having a good compost pit. A small greenhouse will allow you to raise seedlings (vegetables being cheapest when they are grown from seed), early vegetables, salads, and also force rhubarb (probably the easiest plant to grown in the country, and when you put a cover over it, you get early tender pale stalks that are delicious in a rhubarb fool (recipe in the Austerity Housekeeping eBook if you need it).

He goes further and suggests your Anderson Air Raid shelter might make a good chicken coop ‘on the intensive system’. Please could any readers of this blog discovering an Anderson shelter in their back garden, and who are planning to try this, get in touch immediately as the television production company I word with will most likely be both flabbergasted and impressed enough to send out a cameraman to record it for posterity. From the way this chapter reads, it appears you would be bedding down with the chickens should Jerry fly overhead, so I wonder if he was implying the chicken stage of development would be better achieved after the war.

Now in relation to the actual vegetable patch, you apparently need to divide it into three portions.

  • Greens (cabbages, sprouts, cauliflowers)
  • Legumes and root crops (peans, beans, carrots)
  • Potatoes

You also need a section for salads such as lettuce, celery, onions, small herbs and so on.

The beds are divided this way as each year you will need to rotate the crops, or in other words, only grow vegetables in the same bed once every three years. This is a method of avoiding pests and diseases, and not exhausting the soil. You’ll also need to feed the soil regularly with good compost from your pit, and he also recommends using an incinerator for burning garden waste to create good potash as extra soil nutrition.

Other additions from the Sudell book – a shallow pond can apparently become a watercress bed. I would never have thought of that. Also growing fruit up trellises and walls/fences is a real option to save space.

Overall it’s lovely to come across gardening books like these, as they take us back to a time when the craft of gardening was done in a more earthy way, working from basics, rather than the present convention of going to a garden centre and filling a massive trolley with expensive seedlings and plants somebody else has reared for you. I have a feeling that in the Sudell garden, growing your own fruit and vegetables might even be economical compared to that, which is presumably how he could afford to garden in a shirt and tie.

Incidentally, if you want a copy of this book for yourself, Ebay has several for sale at the moment.