Building your nest

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At best, decorating your home can be a creative and intellectually rewarding task. At worst, the tyranny of the visual age we inhabit can lead to a great deal of worry about keeping up with your neighbours, and being seen as someone with good taste. I would counsel resisting the temptation to read too many homes and gardens magazines, with their perfect pictures of perfect houses in a perfect world. It’s relatively straightforward to decorate a house so that it is fit for purpose, without being overwhelmed by acquiring masses of new things and spending money you haven’t got, or slavishly copying mass produced trends such as flourishes of twigs and pebbles everywhere. Apart from anything else, the time and effort involved in having a perfect house can be exhausting, and there are surely better ways of spending your life.

The basic minimum furnishing requirement for a modern household might be:

  • A proper cooker and hob in good, clean condition, with a non-stick oven lining sheet at the bottom to catch spills, and a decent cooker hood or extractor fan.
  • A fridge, preferably with a large freezer compartment
  • If you have a young family, a reliable washing machine (the only thing in your house it is probably worth buying a long warranty for).
  • A kettle that is reasonably scale-free, and a toaster relatively free of crumbs and detritus
  • A hoover with crevice nozzle, upholstery attachment and dust attachment, with plenty of spare bags to hand if you need them.
  • A dining table and chairs (to encourage sociable and healthy eating habits, and can also be used as a desk or homework area)
  • A sofa that supports your back, a coffee table and an armchair or two, all grouped together so you can be sociable
  • A bookcase or two, or some shelves in a recess
  • A bed per person, a bedside table and lamp
  • Somewhere for each person to store clothes so they are easy to find and keep tidy (either a wardrobe or a rail in a recess with a curtain in front, plus ideally a chest of drawers or basket for folded things and underwear)
  • Somewhere for each person to store toiletries (a cupboard or pull-out basket on a bathroom trolley)
  • A kitchen starter set (2 or 3 saucepans, frying pan, sieve, baking trays or sheets, ceramic ovenproof serving dishes, knife set, chopping board, mixing bowl, grater, juicer, teapot, coffeepot or cafetiere, jug, sugar bowl, plastic storage containers, corkscrew, cooking tools, garlic press, scissors, tin opener, scales and so on)
  • A dining starter set (plate, bowl, mug and side plate for four or six, along with necessary cutlery, a wine glass and a tumbler each). If you are a few years down the line, you might want to invest in an additional ‘best’ set for dinner parties and big family occasions.
  • A bin for landfill waste and a bin for dry things that can be recycled (to be sorted out the night before the refuse collectors come).
  • A rotary washing line and cover or folding washing stand
  • Large ironing board with both foam and felt padding, good quality steam iron, plenty of pegs and refillable water spray

If you have run your own home for ages, and possess many more wordly goods than this, it may be useful to consider culling your supplies where you can, to free up extra space and to make your home easier to organise.

Image: Ambro /


Dinners for the home – Week 4

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Baked white fish with boiled potatoes, fresh parsley sauce and green beans

Fruit salad and cream


Home-made burgers with baked potatoes, sour cream and chives.

Ice cream and chocolate sauce


Gammon steaks with mashed potatoes and green beans.

Greek yoghurt with honey


Vegetable stew with hidden eggs


Microwaved chocolate cake


Pork stir fry with rice noodles

Mango fool


Chile con carne with rice

Banana split yoghurts


Roast beef with horseradish sauce, Yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes, carrots and peas


Image: Paul /

Shopping list – Week 2

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This list should work out a bit cheaper than last week’s as there’s not quite so much stocking up of basics to be done.


3 lbs/1.5kg lean minced beef

12 best quality sausages

1 lb/500g turkey stir fry strips

4 frozen rainbow trout, sardines or mackerel

1lb/500g cubed lamb

A whole chicken

4 oz/100g cooked ham

4 oz/100g cooked beef


8 oz/200g fresh berries (if not too expensive) or frozen


3 courgettes or a marrow

6oz/150g broccoli

6 onions

2lbs/1kg Bramley cooking apples or rhubarb

6 eating apples

6 bananas

4 oz/100g grapes

Kiwi fruit

Red pepper

Green pepper

4 oz/100g sugar snap peas or mangetouts

4 oz/100g baby sweetcorn

Romaine lettuce


8 oz/200g vine tomatoes

1lb/500g carrots


2 loaves sliced bread


2 tins chopped tomatoes

1 tin kidney beans

Tomato puree

Chocolate chip biscuits

2 lbs/1 kg porridge oats

Stir fry sauce

3 litre cartons value apple juice

3 litre cartons value orange juice

Salad dressing

Chocolate sauce or Mars bar (to be melted to make sauce)


Milk (daily consumption plus 2-3 pints for custard and rice pudding)

Cheese slices for sandwiches

1 lb/500g vegetable spread

12 eggs

5 fl oz/125 ml single cream

5 fl oz/125ml whipping cream

1 pint/500g low fat natural yoghurt

Garlic bread


White toilet rolls

White kitchen rolls





Image: Catherine Hadler /

Handbags at dawn

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Does your handbag weight more than a small child? It doesn’t have to. Hoarding is usually the problem, but if you have a tray to empty the contents onto each evening it makes it easy to transfer a streamlined set of basics into the new one. Be wary of always carrying a huge farthingale of a handbag with most of your worldly goods inside, because it will be do damage to your back in the medium term. Here is a handbag checklist of the basics that you will need, and it is sensible to keep as near to this as possible rather than adding too many extra things:

  • Purse with at least £10-£20, a debit card and a credit card (only to act as emergency alternative payment if your debit card doesn’t work)
  • Driving licence or other photo ID
  • Mobile phone
  • House and car keys
  • Train or bus pass
  • Pocket pack of tissues
  • Tampons and/or panty liner
  • Dose of paracetemol
  • Plaster
  • Safety pin
  • Spare pair of neutral tights
  • Small brush or comb
  • Small umbrella
  • Pen
  • A spare five pound note and one pound coin (emergency parking or supermarket trollies)

Image: Suat Eman /