A lesson for minimalists: it doesn’t mean keeping nothing at all

2012 Nov Norfolk and Lincs trip (9)
The first thing we do when we park up the ‘van is make a brew

‘It will wear in’, is a phrase Mr BOTRA and I often use in our house and in the campervan for anything from a pair of shoes that pinch to a new bed that just feels strange after the old one.  So when the oven door on our small Smev oven on our new Devon Tempest campervan was stiff to close, although we knew this wasn’t right, we thought it would improve over time.  But it didn’t wear in, instead it got stiffer and more difficult to close until [you guessed it] the door refused to close at all [while we were mid-way through cooking some garlic bread since you ask].

Of course, by this time we were outside the Devon Conversion’s twelve month warranty on their conversion so I sought help.  An internet search revealed that Smev is part of the Dometic group and I emailed them asking if they had any advice on how to loosen up the oven door.  They replied promptly  telling us that the warranty on their products is two-years [luckily for us the ‘van has not yet reached its second birthday] and sent a list of local service partners.  One of these was a mobile service engineer we had used before and I arranged an appointment for a few days later.

I thought the problem was as good as solved but our difficulties were not over.  Dometic, in their wisdom, put the model number required to order a replacement door on the side of the oven, meaning the appliance has to be removed to find this.  Working in a small campervan is challenging and even the experienced engineer couldn’t work out how to remove the oven.  A call to Devon Conversions provided some tips on where the necessary screws were tucked away but still neither the engineer nor I had thin and long enough arms to safely reach the required screws and he left us with the unyielding oven door.

That evening, feeling disheartened I decided to check through the pile of stuff we received with the new ‘van and had ‘filed’ at the bottom of an ottoman we call the ‘Treasure Chest’.  I wasn’t really expecting to find anything useful but incredibly, there I found a small plastic bag with a screw in it and a label with the required model number for the oven.  I was amazed we had even kept this and I am grateful that Devon Conversions had passed it on to us.  I am also relieved that despite being minimalists with little spare storage in the flat we occasionally keep things ‘just in case’.

Once the engineer had the model number Dometic quickly provided a new oven door and the engineer fitted it, at no charge.  We now enjoy its smooth action every time we are camping.

Retired and loving it

Party time nibbles

I do like to mark occasions with a celebration and I also love bringing friends from different segments of my life together.  Last night was my retirement party and I had a ball.  Mr BOTRA and I hosted an informal drop in at The Lime Bar at Salford Quays so that those who were already retired and lived further away could come early and leave when it suited them or those more local and still working could come along after work and stay late.  The Lime Bar provided a lovely selection of nibbles and I made a selection of cakes as gifts for everyone to eat or take away [like a party bag], so it wasn’t a party that took a big chunk out of our savings.

By the end of the evening my cheeks ached with laughing and grinning so much; the love and friendship in the room made me feel cherished and really should be bottled – its true to say I am still smiling today and the whole evening was like one very big hug.  I was on my feet all evening, determined not to feel regret at not talking enough to someone after they had left but inevitably there were a few people who I didn’t feel I had caught up with enough.  But I did re-connect with previous colleagues from Preston, many of my NHS Manchester colleagues, who are always game for a party, and mixed these up with local friends; I feel gratified that they were all willing to come out on a Thursday night to celebrate with me.

Despite my instructions for no presents my generous and loving friends bought gifts that were beautiful, useful and interesting.  I received books, flowers, bottles of fizz, useful stuff for the ‘van, smelly stuff, a beautiful scarf and a fantastic mug that sums it up really, it says ‘Retired and Loving it!’

All we need to make us really happy is something to be enthusiastic about

2011 Easter Glen Truim 025 Chanonary Point
The beautiful Chanonry Point on the Moray Firth in Scotland

One of my travel articles from this year included a visit to the pretty village of the Devon village of Clovelly,  Charles Kingley’s [the author of the Water-Babies] childhood home.  While researching his life and work I found this quote from him:

‘All we need to make us really happy is something to be enthusiastic about’.

This got me thinking about my own enthusiasms and how these contribute to my happiness.  I have a fairly wide range of things I am enthusiastic about including walking, being in our campervan, cycling, travelling, reading, spending time with Mr BOTRA and with friends, cooking good [veggie] food, eating excellent ice-cream and drinking red wine, listening to loud rock music, writing, laughing and comedy, foreign TV thrillers, tai chi and learning.  Taking part in all these [and other stuff] enhance my energy levels and feed my spirit.

I am drawn to people who have their own enthusiasms; they might not be enthusiastic about the same things as I am but I admire people who enjoy doing something and clearly get a lot of pleasure from it.  I have friends with enthusiasm for gardening, visiting Iceland [the country], ballet and Shakespeare; none of these are things that fire me up but I love to hear them talk about their own enjoyment of these activities.

I enjoy taking part in some of the above activities with others and I find that enthusiasms shared can more than double the pleasure.  We are part of a book group and the discussion always enhances my understanding of the book; camping trips with friends and walking with other people are sociable occasions that create shared experiences we can all look back on.  Our son and daughter-in-law have an enthusiasm for whale and dolphin watching and the photograph of Chanonry Point reminds me of lovely times when we have joined them on this beautiful beach watching the dolphins.

Considering the force of enthusiasm took me to Patti Smith who considers enthusiasm as a state of radiance:

‘If we walk the victim, we’re perceived as the victim. And if we enter … glowing and receptive … if we maintain our radiance and enter a situation with radiance, often radiance will come our way.’

She goes on to relate this to William Blake’s life.  He was a creative genius who was not appreciated in his lifetime but who held on to his vision and radiance or enthusiasm.  We all have knock backs and stumble and I certainly constantly let myself down; my cooking is often not as perfect as my vision when I start out with the raw ingredients; my writing is never good enough and I often fail to learn to the extent I aim to but I try and stay enthusiastic and carry out activities with love and joy while seeking self-improvement.

PS Iceland looks beautiful and I would love to visit this country but I am waiting for them to discontinue commercial whaling.

Reducing our use of plastic one tiny step at a time

Making hummus in our tiny food processor

We have a long way to go before we are anywhere near a Zero Waste Home.  But, as with everything, when the overall goal is so enormous I feel better if I at least start to make some small steps towards getting there.

Since the 1980s we have taken many tiny steps towards being a low waste house.  We already make our own bread; we don’t buy any sort of microwave meals [we don’t have a microwave] or convenience foods [with the exception of Linda McCartney’s sausages, which come sensibly packaged in just an easily recycled cardboard box].  We gave up laundry liquid for a cardboard box of powder earlier this year and buy as many fruit and vegetables that are both local and come without packaging as we can find.  We have recently moved on to Lush shampoo bars, rather than buying plastic bottles.  We keep leftovers in bowls and containers in the fridge [and then use them] and have a roll of clingfilm we have owned for decades and it just seems a shame to throw it away.

So, it has been a long time in coming but I finally got around to making our own hummus.  This is something I eat lots of and the plastic pots it comes in have been taunting me every time I bought it and spoiling my enjoyment of this wonderful food.

For me the crucial step was buying a jar of tahini [we always have garlic, olive oil and chickpeas in the cupboard] … every time I went shopping I prevaricated because it was just something else to make space for in to our tiny kitchen.  I know that making hummus is really easy to do and takes just a few minutes, after all I made my own back in the eighties when you couldn’t find it in a supermarket.  But last week I got a grip, bought the tahini and whipped up some delicious hummus.

So for a day or two I will enjoy the virtuous feeling of taking a step in the right direction until I read some more and come up with the next thing to tackle … if I can find room for a five litre container of white vinegar it might be cleaning products.

Supermarket shopping by bike: a win-win

Ortlieb panniers can carry a lot of stuff

Isn’t it great when something turns out better than you thought.  Since working from home the only thing I have really missed is the exercise I got walking to work.  Although I make sure I move around a lot during the day, my work is mostly sitting at a laptop and so by the end of the working day I am itching to get moving.

To make sure this idea to take exercise happens I thought I would try stopping the supermarket ‘big’ shop in the ‘van or using home delivery and instead get out on the bike two or three times a week to get all our shopping.

Previously, I have always done a bicycle shopping trip once a week mainly for fresh fruit and vegetables.  In addition about once a month we would do what we call round here a ‘big’ shop to get store cupboard essentials and cleaning materials. We are lucky to have five supermarkets within easy cycling distance of home [no farmers market nearby unfortunately as we don’t live in that sort of an area] and I vary which one I visit to add variety to my trips.

I honestly expected this method of shopping to be more expensive, as I am visiting the shops more; however, the spreadsheet doesn’t lie and I am pleased to say I have found the opposite, it has actually saved us money.  It helps that I do plan meals, make a list and stick to it as I hate to waste food and I mostly use the cheaper supermarkets.  Also, I am limited to how much I can fit in to my [very roomy] Ortlieb pannier which stops some impulse buys.

So … the figures.  For the first four months of 2016 our supermarket shopping [all our food and household items] average was £248 per month. For the last two months, since working at home and shopping by bicycle the average monthly spend in the supermarkets has been £212 per month, a saving of £36 each month.   In May and June we were mostly on holiday, so different rules apply and these months are not featured.

We are saving money and I get out on my bike – a win-win, as they say.


Our camping breakfasts

2013 May Silverdale for Janets birthday (24)
Shared vegetarian breakfasts are a real treat

When we are camping in the ‘van it is breakfast that is my favourite meal of the day.  I particularly love breakfasts when the weather is fine enough to sit outside and I have been known to sit wrapped up in jackets and a hat just so that I can eat my breakfast outdoors and watch the campsite wake up around me.

I think I love eating breakfast on our camping trips because it heralds the start of another day with all sorts of possibilities and adventures spread out before me.  We often don’t know where the day will take us and what our view will be the next morning but for the first hour of the day my priority is sustenance while I excitedly anticipate another day on holiday.

When it is just the two of us we might toast crumpets and eat these with lashings of butter and marmalade, or warm up rolls to dribble honey over or fry soft potato cakes.  When we are on holiday in mainland Europe we will buy fresh local bread and savour this with blackcurrant jam and mugs of tea maybe accompanied by a bowl of creamy yoghurt.

When we are camping with friends our breakfasts become more elaborate and we will share the cooking, producing vegetarian sausages, tomatoes, mushrooms, potato cakes, fresh bread and beans to create a feast that is the vegetarian English breakfast.  These breakfasts set me up for the day and are always co-operative and jolly times, our small camping table heaving under the weight of so many dishes.

I am sure you all have your favourite breakfast when you are camping; is muesli or a bacon butty your breakfast of preference?