Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Goldfish Guide to Keeping Warm

I have spent the last week or so running myself into the ground, but I had written most of this before then. Apologies to Seahorse, to whom I had promised this following her advice on Not Dying of Cold.

I'm pleased to say that Friends of the Earth and Help The Aged are attempting to sue the government for their broken promises about fuel poverty. Gordon Brown has attempted to deal with the problem by offering money for home-improvements to help poorer people be more efficient but most poorer people are in rented accommodation and have limited control over such matters. That having been said, AJ and I are getting a free load of insulation from the Warm Front, who also sent us free lightbulbs.

My advice is meant mostly for duffers. Those of us who find ourselves sick and unable to get out much which means (a) we have to stay warm all day at our own expense (b) we don't have much money with which to do so and often, (c) health problems and poor mobility make us suffer from the cold more than most.

Excuse another list of points but I would suggest that there are three important principles to keeping warm against these odds:
  1. Keeping warm is much easier than getting warm once one is cold.
  2. We are much warmer when moving about than when we are staying still – especially if we are lying still for many hours.
  3. The culture we have now is a centrally-heated one.
The last point was difficult to phrase so I shall explain. One example would be that most people (that I know) work on the basis of having just one hot meal a day. This is no problem when you already plenty warm enough. If not, replacing one's cornflakes with porridge and one's sandwich with a bowl of soup can make a significant difference to one's overall comfort.

Similarly we were all brought up never to wear certain clothes indoors - coats, scarves etc. - because we wouldn't feel the benefit of these items when we went outside. However, if you think about the historical costumes of our culture, people always did wear sMy funky thinghawls, cravats, bonnets, headscarves and headpieces and so on indoors, as well as full-length and high-necked clothing. If you feel the cold and/ or you don't want to keep the heating on full for six months of the year, there's nothing wrong with this - you just need to put even more clothes on when you go outside.

I wrote quite a bit about warm clothing before. Indoors, it is important that extra layers are things which it is very easy to get on and off; shirts, shawls, cardigans and so on. Arguably the favourite and most-used item of clothing I have is my thing here on the right which might be called a body-warmer or a gilet or whatever you like. This is much easier to get in and out of and probably more effective than a thick jumper.

Fingerless gloves are a must and ones that most people would only buy for aesthetic purposes – like my lacey Madonna ones – are great. Fingerless glovesThey keep your hands at a reasonable temperature without any risk of sweaty palms. You can also get fishnet ones – fishnet being a wonderful fabric for keeping warm.

Despite my stated feelings on wheelchair blankets, when indoors it is entirely reasonable to use blankets and, if necessary, hot water bottles when you are sitting or lying down. However some tips;
  1. Don't stay in bed all day for the purpose of keeping warm. I have always found that it is much much better for my mood and my long-term mental health, to get dressed every day and camp out in a different room, even if I am dozing a lot.
  2. Be disciplined about moving about. If you've found your warm place, it can be a struggle to motivate yourself to get up, but it is both better for your health and your temperature control to move about every once in a while.
  3. If you are snuggled up most of the day, you don't necessarily need to heat the entire house or flat all the time. Save the fuel for the room(s) you occupy.
  4. Avoid heat sources which are likely to further impair circulation; resist the temptation to sit close to a heater or putting your feet against the hot water bottle. Also avoid having very hot baths.
On the subject of bathing, if you are a idle duffer, you're unlikely to be sweating much and needn't bother with anything like daily bathing. However, when you do bathe, make very sure that you get your self and most especially your hair completely dry as soon as possible.

Thanks again to my friend who gave me this most appropriate hot water bottle a couple of years ago.

Finally, a word about tumble-dryers. Not everyone can afford or has room for one, but even a greeny like myself recommends it for the winter (with dryer balls, of course). Drying clothing or towels on a radiator makes your heating have to work much harder and you are left with a choice between opening the windows and letting all the heat out or else allowing your house to get damp and mouldly, which not only creates work but is not good for your health. Items can also fail to get properly dry and there are few nastier sensations that getting out of a warm bath and wrapping oneself in a cold damp and slightly acrid-smelling towel.

Tumble-dryers, involving as they do an amount of heat and a big motor, use a lot of electricity in one go, but they do get the job done properly. One simply has to be efficient with their usage; don't wash clothes that don't need washing and don't bathe more often than you need to.

Sunday, October 12, 2008


Dalek CakeSometimes, blogging can influence the very traditions of our families, customs and rituals to be passed down from generation to generation. Following the success of my sister's Dalek cake which she made for my mother's birthday last year - inspired by a post by Lady Bracknell where Jess commented, linking to the Dalek Cake pool on Flickr - may I present my own attempt for her birthday this year.

Two years on the trot, we'll be doing this forever now. Probably long after my mother is gone, long after I am gone and maybe even after people have forgotten what the heck a Dalek was, the family Goldfish will be making Dalek Cakes at this time of year.

I seem to be cursed with technology just now and although I took some lovely pictures of my mother with her birthday cake, this was the only one that came off the camera. But you get the general impression. My Mum said it looked like a cat. Charming.

Friday, October 10, 2008

I went to the shops and I bought...

A gorgeous ukelele...a ukelele! Isn't it a thing of beauty? Most importantly, it sounds beautiful and within a matter of weeks, I daresay I should be able to do this sort of thing.

The guy in the music shop tried to sell us a mandolin case to put it in. I suggested that having a ukelele in a mandolin case was a little like keeping your machine gun in a violin case. The guy looked kind of nervous.

We bought it in Cambridge where we also had a look the new clock at Corpus Christi. It is almost five feet wide and has an evil-looking grasshopper on top, which is munching up the time.

A lady who was standing by the clock said, "I'm sure the grasshopper is supposed to do something on the hour, like light up or wave its arm in the air."

To which [...] responded, "It climbs down and bites your leg off. At least that's what happened to her." and he nods towards the wheelchair.

Later I wheeled into a tree, although I was pretty knackered by that point and it was a tree coming out of the floor in a shopping centre. And I lost our parking ticket. And my computer died. But today I am too busy rearranging Linkin Park songs for ukelele to care!

Monday, October 06, 2008

The Goldfish Guide to Domestic Bookeeping

There are a lot of investment bankers and other pinstriped types who are suddenly finding themselves with a lot of time on their hands, and they shall undoubtedly turn to blogs like mine for tips on how to cope with their changed circumstances.

Right now, I feel ever so slightly smug about AJ's and my ability to manage money. Clearly some very clever and important people aren't nearly as good at this as we are. We have been very fortunate in some respects, but we have also worked hard such that we have never owed money and we have always had a small float to cope with unforeseen circumstances.

This post was going to be The Goldfish Guide to Living Within Your Means, but actually the most important thing that we do is proper bookeeping. And since this takes a bit of instruction and if you're not interested then it's going to be unreadably dull, I thought I would give it its own post.

Knowledge is power, and the most important step towards living within one's means is to know exactly how much money you have, how much is coming in, and how much you are spending. I am absolutely amazed that other people don't seem to do this, even when they are worried about money. What's the point in worrying when all the information is available to you, should you be bothered to put it together? Now we've all got computers, you don't even need to do the adding up.

Here is the way I do it, although there are other ways:

I have two spreadsheets; our Budget, our Accounts.

The Budget one involves four columns and two sections. The first column is the name of the item, then weekly amount, monthly amount and yearly amount. The first section is Income, which involves four different items because of our various benefits. The second contains all our Fixed Outgoings (rent or mortgage, utility bills, insurance, Council Tax, annual MOT etc.).

Different items come in or go out at varying frequencies, For example, rent is every month, contents insurance is once a year. To fill the three relevant columns, I enter the known figure and use the following formulae;

weekly sum = monthly x 12 / 52 or yearly / 52
monthly sum = weekly x 52 / 12 or yearly / 52
yearly sum = week x 52 or monthly x 12

At the bottom of each section, I find the total for each collumn and then at the bottom of the spreadsheet I find the differences between these totals. So I know how much money I have left over after my bills are paid each week, each month and each year. I thus know exactly how much I can afford to spend on food, clothes and sundry expenses without going into the read.

These are absolutely crucial figures. For example, if you know you have roughly £50 a week to spend, then you could be overspending if the real figure is £48 and worrying unnecessary if the real figure is £52.

Another very useful feature of having the Budget is to save up for the annual expenses. We pay contents and car insurance in two annual chunks, plus our heating is oil-fired and it is much cheaper to pay for the oil outright when the tank is filled (much cheaper being relative considering how dear the oil is). If the money is tight, one is unlikely to be able to accumulate enough of a float to cope with these.

So instead, I add up these one-off annual items and divide by twelve. I then have a standing order such that this amount goes out of our account each month and into another account (banking on-line this is a doddle to manage). This way, we are paying for everything on a monthly basis.

The other spreadsheet represents my Accounts. I have two accounts because we use a credit card which we pay off every month in full (we get dividend). The sheets for these are the same as one another.

Five columns; Date, Item, In, Out and Running Total. We used to have a column for cheque numbers but we only write cheques once in a blue moon now. You start your Running Total column with the balance at the end of your last bank statement. Then, assuming that you've started at the top left hand corner of the sheet, you put =D1+B2-C2 into D2. If that makes sense. You then drag it down the column.

You then put in everything you know is going to happen for the month, so all your fixed income and all you direct debits and so on, complete with the dates – it is vital to keep all the data in chronological order so that you know how much you'll have throughout the month (if things get messy, you should be able to sort the data by date (ascending) using the spreadsheet program).

Then you add everything else you spend as you spend it. This is a bit of a chore, but it is necessary if you have any concerns about going into the red. When the next bank statement arrives, the new balance should be exactly where you thought it would be. And at any given point in the month, you know exactly what you've got to spend.

This way you learn the pattern of the month, you know when your balance peaks and when it gets ropey. It's also a failsafe against fraud. This may sound melodramatic, but it does happen and if a penny goes out when it shouldn't, you know straight away.*

However, the most important thing is that you know where the money is going. It is very easy to loose track on spending – I'm not talking about excess, but buying a few bits and pieces at one end of the month and then wondering where your money went by the time you get to the other.

* Oddly enough, supermarkets frequently over or under charge us by a penny or two. Not that I'm so petty as to complain about it.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

A happy ending

So I spoke to my folks towards the end of yesterday and managed to worry them. It is rather odd to have one leg so much worse than the other, and to have this level of pain on my current pain pills. My folks thought I might have a clot - and they weren't just being mean about AJ. I thought this unlikely in the extreme and I'm sure it was only in their minds because my sister's father-in-law had exactly that last weekend. Nevertheless, I was coerced into phoning the doctor out of hours.

The doctor diagnosed sciatica, which meant that I had a nerve trapped in my back and happened to be feeling it in my leg. This made me feel better straight away, because it could have been so much worse - pain in leg is much nicer than pain in back. Hooray for my arrangement of nerves! Plus it wasn't going to get any worse and knowledge almost always has a positive effect on pain.

But then this morning it is much much better and amputation has lost all appeal. I have decided to put this down to love-making, as it is the only notable event between then and now. There are other explanations, of course. I did eat a small amount of chocolate, which may have helped. I tend to think that sex and/ or chocolate can account for most positive health outcomes. Medical science can play a supportive role, but only that.

The doctor did suggest that the trapped nerve might have something to do with my barely-functioning bowels and there might have been some change there, but that's just not nice to think about.

Anyway, having had such a moan yesterday, we are still pretty worn out and still worried about AJ, but I am much more comfortable myself.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Oh life.

It has been a kind of crappy week here. It has not been terrible, at one point we struck upon a genius idea, which I can't possibly publish here in case someone nicks it and makes a small fortune (it's not that profitable an idea, but it still a very good one).

However, AJ has been ill. He has chronic digestive problems which were so under control as to be unnoticeable for years and years, but have become increasingly worse over the last ten months. This last week he's been in great pain and vomiting all night on three thankfully non-consecutive occasions. He has more effective medication now, but he has to it investigated. Which starts with an endoscopy. Which is gruesome.

So that's completely wrecked our sleep as well as being most unpleasant. AJ's problem is very unlikely to be anything too sinister, although I'd be lying if I said that all the morbid possibilities hadn't occurred to me. And it is going to be a rather stressful; I think I may be more upset at the thought of someone putting a tube down his throat than he is.

Meanwhile, my pain has edged up whilst I've been moving about more, trying to look after AJ. This is really depressing on the tablets I'm taking, which made me feel invincible over the summer (I acquired both sunburn and nettle-rash and didn't feel more than a tingle). One leg is so bad just now that if it hasn't improved by the afternoon I will cut it off with a bread-knife*. I know it would hurt so much less.

However, all this does read somewhat grimmer than it really is. We remain in good spirits, if rather fragile and weary. And now we're both going back to bed.

* I probably won't though; I don't think I have the strength.