For as long as I can remember I have been visiting opticians. I have worn specs since I was a small child and these days I am at the opticians every couple of years to have my eyes checked out. I was born with a right eye that was called a ‘lazy eye’ [amblyopia] something around 1:50 children develop. This right eye never opened fully and despite treatment as a child [a plaster over the ‘good’ eye and drops to encourage the left eye to do a decent day’s work] all I can see through that eye is a blur. Because I really only have one working eye I make sure I take good care of it and I blame it for my inability to play tennis!
These days I love buying new specs. As they are something I wear all the time it is a treat to get new ones and I choose different styles every time in the hope that someone will notice. Over the years I must have worn every style of glasses, rainbow-coloured plastic frames with large lenses in the 1980s, turquoise narrow metal specs and chic black designer frames.
As I was choosing my last new specs [two pairs one for sunglasses and one for cloudy days] I got chatting to the helpful member of staff. I had chosen a pair of metal frames that had round lenses and I asked the assistant, ‘Do they make me look like John Lennon or are you too young to remember John Lennon?’ He laughed and politely said they looked good, adding, ‘John Lennon is one of the most popular spectacle wearers customers mention, along with Harry Potter.’ Slightly put out that I hadn’t been more original, I tried on another pair with large lenses that reminded me of another famous spec wearer, Deirdre Barlow. We are in Salford so despite the assistant’s tender years this was another familiar name; Deirdre was well known for the big glasses she wore in the popular soap, Coronation Street.
As Mr BOTRA and I walked home we mulled over other iconic spectacle wearers, perhaps I could have come up with fresher examples. We considered how Woody Allen would seem undressed without his black Moscot specs. Mahatma Ghandi is familiar in his round metal-rimmed glasses, similar to those of John Lennon and perhaps a more creative suggestion next time I am at the optician. Other famous spec wearers came to mind. It is reported that Elton John owns thousands of pairs of specs in a rainbow of colours; Dame Edna Everage sported stunning ornate frames or ‘face furniture;’ Bono is a man many of you will think of wearing shades; and [even though she changes her glasses frequently] I always picture Billie Jean King in a pair of thick plastic specs.
In the 1970s wearing glasses wasn’t at all cool, although they always made you look more intelligent! As a child I hated being the only one among my friends that had to wear specs and for a short time as a teenager I stopped wearing them at all. I pretty much had little idea what was going on around me during that period as the world went by in a blur but it was a time when I didn’t really care to engage with the world. Contact lenses aren’t really a good idea when you only have the one functioning eye and specs were my only option.
Fortunately, my first job was working in an optician’s shop and the only perk was free specs; at last I could buy something more up-to-date that I was prepared to be seen wearing! My enthusiasm for the variety of spectacle frame design began here. Today I am happy wearing my specs and I am grateful to all these iconic spec wearers for making it fun and even trendy.
Okay, so this won’t be the most trendsetting and smart bit of gear you will ever see me wearing but it is certainly proving to be practical. We both own cagoules, waterproof jackets that are perfect for when the heaven’s open. We live in the north-west of England and have been bought up to carry these cagoules on every walk, even if there isn’t a cloud in the sky, as in our unpredictable climate you just never know.
Cagoules are fantastic in winter but even when made of Gore-tex they can get hot and sticky in a summer shower. Last year at the Upton Blues Festival I noticed lots of people were wearing ponchos in the rain and these looked both practical and comfortable. We don’t buy anything on the spur of the moment but started the process of thinking and researching ponchos.
It seemed the poncho market is broad and we could buy expensive or cheap. Generally with hiking gear I will opt for quality over budget options but as this was a new bit of kit that we were not completely sure would ever be useful we decided to be cautious and frugal. Dipping our toes in to the waterproof poncho market we bought these Trekmate ponchos for £20 each.
After even a short time these ponchos are proving to be perfect for those short sharp summer shower that we often get in the Alps and in UK. In this sort of weather the temperature doesn’t plummet too much and putting on a cagoule, even a breathable one, can be a sweaty experience. We prefer to stay dry and walking in the countryside there isn’t always a bus stop or hut nearby to shelter in. As well as being perfect at a festival these ponchos are now our go-to option on those hiking days when there isn’t a cloud in the sky and but we want to pack a just-in-case waterproof. As the ponchos are lighter and less bulky than our cagoules I am sure we will use them often in our trips to southern Europe. This will mean that our expensive Gore-tex cagoules will last that bit longer.
The Trekmate poncho has a number of other plus points over a cagoule:
They come in one size so if you are as short as me [162 cms] the poncho is long enough to cover your shorts and keep them dry. Mr BOTRA is a bit taller but the poncho would still cover his short shorts!
The poncho’s are big enough to go over your rucksack as well as you and keep that dry
The poncho’s come with a stuff bag so they pack away neatly
This is a light piece of kit that doesn’t take up much room in your pack
These ponchos only come in black and the design is very simple. At the front there is a large pocket that might be useful to keep any map dry during the shower. There is a zip at the neck and a flap and the hood is a generous size. In the body of the poncho there are two holes with Velcro to stick your hands and arms out of if you need to.
The only downside we have found is that if it gets windy the ponchos can billow. I think if it is that windy it will most probably also be cold and we would be carrying cagoules and waterproof trousers anyway.
We decided to buy at the cheaper end of the poncho market for our first purchase in case these proved to be something that we never actually used. We have only had the ponchos a few months but already I am a convert to a different way of keeping dry on the hills, even if I don’t look like the most stylish walker. If you see me please don’t laugh too much!
I bought a RidgeMonkey grill / sandwich toaster after a recommendation from another campervan owner [thanks Andrew Ditton] and what a revelation it has been, almost transforming my campervan cooking overnight. We generally have home-cooked food in our campervan, eat out in restaurants only on special occasions and only buy occasional veggie sausages for a fast food meal, so cooking is an important activity in our campervan. Previously I have struggled, even with a lidded frying pan, to get my cooking really hot when trying to brown or char peppers, aubergines, asparagus and other vegetables. They would cook but the pan never got quite hot enough to get them beyond soft and cooked to that attractive golden brown finish. Making Spanish omelette was problematic too as they took a long time to cook through. All these problems have now been solved by splashing out [£22] on a RidgeMonkey sandwich toaster.
This wonderful item is sold to anglers as a sandwich toaster, enabling them to make a hot meal while on the riverbank but it is so much more than that. I am sure it will make toasted sandwiches but I use it for vegetables, omelettes, warming crumpets, hot cross buns or baking fresh pitta bread and I feel sure over the years I will find so many more uses for this practical and versatile piece of kit. Other people report using their RidgeMonkey to create a full English breakfast and roast potatoes, the list of things you can cook in this wonderful pan is only as long as your imagination.
The RidgeMonkey opens in to two identical halves, both with a non-stick finish and each is just over 2 cms deep. The dimensions of the XL are 20.5 x 18.8 cms, so it isn’t enormous and I would suggest you buy this size as it works well for cooking for one or two. The long handles stay cool and fasten and clip together allowing you to turn it over and cook items such as omelettes or hot cross buns on both sides without turning them over. This mechanism also locks in the heat and means I can enjoy golden brown aubergine [and other veg]. With a non-stick finish the RidgeMonkey is easy to wash and they now come with a selection of utensils that won’t scratch the non-stick finish.
I am a top-class de-clutterer! I will happily give books I have read to friends, send things I no longer use or wear to the charity shop and sell stuff to others via Ebay and yet I am finding parting with these old shoes a real wrench. These Brasher Ntoba shoes have given me around 15-years of comfort and I am pretty sure that no other shoes will ever be the same again. Made for everyday comfort for exploring and travelling I have worn these shoes on walks up small hills and around the countryside, they have taken me to work in wet and snowy weather and out to the shops through the last ten winters; they have never felt uncomfortable and putting them on has always bought me pleasure.
I can still remember the day I bought these wonderful shoes. It was a wet day in the Lake District and not really fit for walking and so we were shopping for shoes in one of the many shops specialising in walking gear in Ambleside. I put these Brasher shoes on and as I walked around the shop trying them out for size and comfort I knew straight away they were special shoes; really I should have bought two pairs [or maybe three] while I was there so I had enough for a lifetime.
I think I am finding parting with these shoes particularly difficult because shoes are perhaps the most important item of clothing I buy. They are my connection with the earth and carry me on the miles I walk every day and being able to do this is so much a part of who I am. As these wonderful old grey shoes were already on their last legs five years ago I bought a replacement pair of Brasher shoes [again in Ambleside]. These brown Ambler GTX shoes are robust and comfortable enough for a few hours and I wear them through the winter but for some reason they are not the same and wearing them all day leaves my feet feeling tired. Consequently I don’t love them in the same way as my old shoes. For the hills I now also have some technical lightweight shoes that are really comfortable to wear and this might be the way to go for the Salford streets too.
I have hung on to these old grey shoes way beyond their reasonable lifespan as I have been unable to part with them but walking in them recently both side seams were gaping wide open where the stitching had come undone, the soles no longer have any tread left and I had to admit that it was time to call it a day. So farewell old shoes, I am not sure walking will ever be quite the same again.
We welcomed in 2018 by receiving a box of 48 toilet rolls from Who Gives A Crap. This company are trying to make the world a better place one toilet roll at a time. Their toilet paper comes wrapped in paper, not plastic and most importantly it does the job [we bought the premium 100% bamboo rolls]. Who Gives A Crap started four-years ago thanks to a crowd funding campaign and I heard about them thanks to blogs written by people who are way ahead of me in their pursuit of giving up plastic. Who Gives A Crap’s toilet rolls are from recycled paper or from sustainable bamboo and they donate 50% of their profits to organisations such as WaterAid to help build toilets and improve sanitation in countries that don’t have access to a toilet.
2. Re-usable bags for fruit and vegetables
Apart from toilet rolls [and I just can’t go there] my current interest is in finding items we can re-use rather than use and bin, as much as it in finding items that are plastic-free. We have invested in six re-usable mesh bags for tomatoes, mushrooms, onions, small oranges and other fruit and vegetables we buy loose. I keep three at home in the bike pannier that is used for shopping trips and three in the campervan. I have come to the conclusion that re-using our own bags is preferable to even using paper bags and so bought these bags and keep them handy so there is no excuse to use anything else. I found the mesh draw-string bags on Ebay [I think they are also sold for separating laundry items]. The staff in our local supermarket were happy to peer in them before weighing and they are light and easy to wash if you need to, so these are a big win.
3. Re-usable alternatives to kitchen roll
We are not big kitchen roll users, we always have a damp cloths [torn up clothes or towels] hanging around the kitchen for small spills. But we always have a roll in the kitchen for things like mopping up bigger spills and drying aubergine that has been salted and rinsed. To prevent even this small usage we now have a basket of dry cloths in the kitchen window [see top photo]. These are a combination of torn up old towels, old face cloths and some miscellaneous new reusable cloths we had in the cupboard. This makes it really easy to grab a dry and clean cloth when ever it is needed and then throw them in the washing machine to be used again.
Emergency kit is a bit of a grand name for our tupperware box full of things we keep in the campervan. This box contains items we think might be useful when we are out walking or cycling and ’emergency kit’ is what we call it when we are checking what to stuff in the rucksacks or pannier for a walk or bike ride. We have recently reviewed what we carry in this kit. We like to have these small essentials in one place so that we feel ready for almost anything and can head off for the day with some confidence.
We have used items in the ’emergency kit’ [for ourselves and other people] and we have added to it when we have had an ’emergency’ and realised there is something essential missing. One summer we ended up on a path heavy with nettles, I was wearing shorts and emerged unable to see my legs under a tapestry of nettle stings and we spent much of the rest of the day looking for a chemist in Cotswold villages to get antihistamine tablets, now we carry these. We use the tick lasso regularly as we are often in areas where these small insects are numerous [we also keep our tick-borne encephalitis jabs up-to-date]. The plasters get used regularly for small injuries but many of the other items are there for a serious emergency, such as the foil emergency blankets and whistle. We previously carried just one small torch but now keep our two head torches in the ’emergency kit’ as if we are returning in the dusk or dark from a walk or cycle ride these are more useful for getting us home safely.
We think we are prepared for anything but what do you think is missing? Our kit comprises:
Since those awful photographs of the beach at Henderson Island covered in millions of pieces of plastic and the news that a dead whale was found off the coast of Norway with 30 plastic bags in its stomach, reducing your use of plastic has become more news worthy and a variety of papers and magazines are giving tips on how to reduce your plastic footprint.
These tips vary from refusing drinking straws in a bar to buying a wooden toothbrush and are all valid and help the planet and got me thinking about toiletries and single-use plastic. I have been aware for some time that this is a major use of plastic in our household. While moving on to solid shampoo has been fairly pain-free, I have failed to persuade Mr BOTRA to use a bar of soap for his shaving and instead he is trialling Lush’s shaving cream which still comes in a plastic tub which they will take back for recycling. We have never used liquid soap, preferring a simple bar of soap at the bathroom sink and have now moved on to a bar of soap, rather than a plastic bottle of shower gel, in the shower.
Spurred on by the top tips, I bought bamboo toothbrushes from an Ebay store and also a wooden wash-up brush. I don’t use much in the way of cosmetics, just lip salve which Lush package in metal tins and body lotion / moisturiser. My favourite body lotion is Le Petit Marseillais olive and amande cream that comes in a metal tin. It isn’t expensive and is available in French supermarkets and I stock up on this every time we are in France.
So far so painless. Reducing our use of single-use plastic is a slow process with small steps.
Moving on to tackling our cleaning products, we were at Port Sunlight on the Wirral recently and came away, as many do, with a cardboard pack of two bars of Sunlight soap. This has proved to be a great soap for all types of cleaning, including general cleaning of work surfaces and laundry.
One of my weaknesses is mints. I can’t really contemplate a journey in our campervan without having mints on hand to suck. These have always been tic-tacs; these tiny mints are perfect for a small treat but they are packaged in a plastic box. This had to change and I began the search for suitable vegetarian replacements. In Treasure Island Sweets I found tins of Barkley’s Mints. The mints taste great, come in a handy tin, wrapped in paper, so far so good but unfortunately each tin arrived wrapped in plastic! The small steps continue.