My Dad has the endearing habit of sending friends and family appropriate newspaper cuttings. My son receives all the news on the latest sports car; my husband reports of successful business ventures - and my latest offering? 50 WAYS TO BE MORE FRUGAL. (Daily Telegraph 12/9/07).Nothing personal, he would claim…just thought it would be of interest…so why then do I feel the need to justify my weekly expenditure to him in writing?

So the cutting disappeared to the bottom of a drawer with a mere glance at the contents. I was reminded of it yesterday however, over a cup of tea with a friend, when she admitted being attracted by the idea of giving things up, doing without, rediscovering a more simple lifestyle. Not dissimilar to the pride I still feel at living without a microwave for the last six months.

I sense a bit of a trend in this direction amongst certain groups…a kind of “We’ve done materialism, acquired every gadget imaginable and still don’t feel satisfied. Maybe a return to simple living is the answer” philosophy. In the Guardian Weekend magazine last Saturday, Elspeth Thompson writes in this vein, extolling the virtues of the walk-in larder. With the environmental benefit of a smaller fridge and the stockpiling necessary for flood preparation (!?!), this ‘dream room’ sounds idyllic, although not many modern houses are built with a cupboard appropriate for such a conversion. Where do you salvage marble slabs anyway? And who honestly takes time to make ‘homemade produce’? All part of the dream, I guess.

Anyway, back to frugality. Even the word sounds unattractive. A few random comments.

1. Apparently, conkers make good mothballs. But who suffers from moth damage anyway?

2. Who would risk rubbing the inside of a banana skin on a new pair of patent leather shoes to see if it works?

3. “Tights last longer if you freeze them overnight before you wear them” You’re kidding me. How on earth did they discover that in the first place? How unbearable would that making getting dressed on a wintry morning?

4. Why on earth would anyone brush their teeth with bicarbonate of soda when toothpaste is less than 40p a tube in Asda?

5. Moreover, does anyone really use vinegar dissolved in water as mouthwash, smear honey on shaving cuts, chew beeswax instead of expensive nicotine gum or use egg white as glue?

6. A great one for my coffee addict: baking used coffee grounds in the oven enables you to reuse them. That should curb his addiction!

7. How desperate would you have to be to use an old calendar page as a piece of wrapping paper?

8. And my favourite, word for word: “The best bird-scarer is free, biodegradable and very, very quiet. First, obtain a dead bird. Attach one leg to a branch with a piece of string, letting the wings and head to flap gently in the breeze.” Sick. And very, very minging.

Surely, such tips can do nothing to encourage frugality. Sorry, Dad, I am a million miles away from saving the pennies, if that’s the way to do it.

There are some more sensible ideas mixed amongst the wacky, which I will share with you another time, but this kind of article would lead many to throw the baby out with the bath water and discount it all as complete claptrap.

However, I am about to go and line the salad drawer in my fridge with newspaper to see of it really does make the vegetables last longer. After all, unlike many of the other distasteful suggestions, what harm can it do?


  1. Gadget man was right. Humans are not granted the right to hibernate.
  2. My aquafit teacher was right. Christmas is a-coming and needs some thought (another day).
  3. My daughter’s teacher was right. Walking 40 minutes there and back to the bookshop with a group of kids to hear an author was a worthwhile and fun experience (so why do I not feel inclined to leave my car keys at home everyday?)
  4. I was right. The Remarkable recycled stationery line do make good gifts for boys of a certain age.

Remarkable mouse matMore on that last point…..although I don’t like shops, I do like thinking of unusual gifts. I hate just putting money in an envelope - to my mind, it displays a lack of thought and imagination. Even if that probably means I’m known as the aunty who gives unpredictable presents or the friend with unusual taste!

And of course, I’ve had plenty of practice - with five kids and all the parties they get invited to, inspiration can wear a bit thin. Especially as they get older and the gift starts to reflect on the giver - if I choose a questionable present that I think is really cool, there’s a fair chance my boys will be too embarrassed to give it.

So anyway, I thought a mouse mat made of recycled tyres and pencils made from recycled cups were cool, so I ordered some for my depleted present box. My twelve year old son saw them lying around and miracle of miracles, thought they were cool too. Result: get a stock of pencils, rulers, pencil cases and mouse mats in and they will be great for Christmas and birthday presents for kids and adults alike.

The company is actually called Remarkable Pencils Ltd, because that’s how it started out.

Set up by Edward Douglas Millerin 1996 to look at what could be made from UK recycled materials, he began by experimenting with plastic cups with the aim of trying to turn one plastic cup into a pencil. He wanted to prove to the world that you could take one everyday, throwaway item and turn it into a new product. Judging by the range, the company have succeeded. The items are cool, functional and have a long second life. Santa, check out the website!


Anyone else out there feeling that bed is the most inviting place in the universe and that the compulsion to consume all things carbohydrate is unbeatable?

I blame it on our in-built instinct to hibernate, although gadget man’s retort is that we are not animals and that I should get my human head on!

Suma Classico Pasta sauce from Ethical SuperstoreAnyway, maybe hibernation is the reason for the stockpile of organic items that I have returned from Asda with this morning. Or maybe it’s because Asda seems to have reduced many of its organic lines to a surprisingly reasonable price. Or maybe its because for the first time in years, I didn’t have a little one in the trolley moaning to go home, so I had more time to browse and purchase. Whatever way you look at it, organic saturation will help my case with the kids.

Although, the organic re-education did experience a setback at teatime yesterday. Imagine the scene….tired, irritable, hungry kids…..pasta on the boil, bacon grilled and chopped, salad prepared…. Questions flying through the air - “Can I have a biscuit?” “Will you play the guitar for us?” “Come and play with the Lego with me.”…….and I cannot for the life of me get the lid off the Suma organic tomato pasta sauce. I try and try; my son tries and tries….we get a different jar out, this time with a hint of basil….I try and try, my son tries and tries……stress levels rising….Suma? More like Sumo. Are all organic eaters really that strong? Or is it a ploy to draw strong men into the kitchen?

Well, mine was out, so we ended up with Organico tomato sauce with olives, chilli and garlic. I was ready to cry, fearing that the whole tea would be rejected for being too spicy, too weird, too organic and my re-education would be back at the starting line.

It wasn’t. They ate it all. What a relief. Now I will have to have the forethought to get my He-man to open the jar before he goes out in the morning and keep it in the fridge until I need it. Like that will ever happen.

Back to Asda. Just read the Asda magazine whilst enjoying another pre-hibernation feast and am wondering if there is an ethical supermarket competition going on that I know nothing about, because Asda is definitely out to win it….promoting British food and the concept of food miles; responsible toys ( Forest Stewardship Council wood); Respectful free range eggs; the 5-A-DAY campaign; a clearer nutritional traffic light labelling scheme; fairtrade coffee; authentic foods from around the world; environmentally friendly household products….and even ideas on how to recycle the magazine after reading. Whether or not enough customers care that much, I do not know, but raising awareness of the issues and offering ethical choices must surely be a good thing.

So if I’m right about hibernation, I’ll see you in the Spring. Here’s hoping.

Organic re-education Part Two

Now that I am becoming convinced that organic food will be eaten if put in front of my perverse children, I feel ready to move on to Phase Two. This involves dropping lesser known facts about organic farming into conversation without it looking like I am trying to be persuasive.

Fresh organic fruit and vegetable from Ethical SuperstoreMy two major obstacles in this battle for their young minds:-

  • organic equals minging
  • anything mum believes in is wacky and boring

But the more I think about it, the more I become convinced:-

Growing, buying and eating organic will reduce the release of synthetic pesticides into the environment, the damaging effects of pesticides on the health of farmers and the unknown effects of pesticide residue in the food we eat.

So here goes. Some shocking gross thoughts to get their attention!

  • Do you care if your fruit has been sprayed with chemicals?
  • Do you care if your vegetables grew in human poo or sewage sludge?
  • Do you care if your food has been processed using radiation?
  • Do you care if that cow you are eating was given growth hormones or continuous doses of antibiotics?


And then some facts to assimilate and disseminate……

Did you know…

  • that the Soil Association was founded in 1946 by a group of farmers, scientists and nutritionists?
  • that the Soil Association certification is the best way to tell whether something is truly organic?
  • that the Soil Association is a charity?
  • that the Soil Association symbol is found on more than 70% of all UK organic produce?

You know that game where you have to get as many song titles as possible into a conversation? Well, my mealtimes are going to be like that for the next few days! Let battle commence!

The Great African Scandal

Firstly, just to assure you that Organic Re-education Step One is still progressing: organic chips and organic ketchup went down very well, accompanied by Youngs responsible Pollock nuggets!

I watched The Great African Scandal on Channel Four last night - with the blessed advantage of TVDrive so I could fast forward through all the sections where Robert Beckford proved that he obviously usually uses his brain far more than his muscles!

Robert Beckford in GhanaRobert Beckford was the guy mentioned in Just a spoonful of sugar…who traced his roots back in a previous documentary via the slave trade in the West Indies to Ghana. Who better then to return to Ghana and look at the true cost to human life of the rice, chocolate and gold we all enjoy on a daily basis? Perhaps due to his link to the country, I felt that he was rather emotive and far from objective and yet, the stark reality of the life of the farmers and growers and miners was there for all to see.

It was disappointing that while he repeatedly mentioned fair trade, the Fairtrade mark was not shown once and no clue was given as to how to purchase fair trade products. The most interesting fact in the whole programme was that only 3% of the cocoa beans sold by the Kuapa Kokoo co-operative are sold at the fair trade premium price. So 97% of their produce is grown under fair trade regulations (no child labour, paying fair wages…) without obtaining a fair price. (You’ll find cocoa from Kuapa Kokoo at the heart of all the Divine Chocolate products)
The fair trade produce is out there, but the big manufacturers refuse resolutely to pay a fair trade price. They know their have won our hearts via our stomachs and until we take a stand, the Great African Scandal will continue to unfold.

Organic re-education

I was truly taken aback last week, when my eleven year old son picked up a packet of Fox’s mini Crinkle Crunch biscuits and suddenly threw them down in horror.

“Ugh!” he exclaimed “these are organic. They’ll be minging! (youthspeak for disgusting)”

The words of the market gardener from my strawberry picking expedition rang in my ears. “Children learn from only one person - and that’s their parents.

So maybe the buck stops with me. Have I really indoctrinated my children to believe that all things organic are to be avoided? Or is that they have been taught that organic is better for you and have therefore deduced that it must be less delicious? (cauliflower vs. a bag of crisps? An orange vs. a Mars Bar?)

Whole Earth Maple CornflakesConsequently, I have launched into an organic re-education in earnest. Cereals from Whole Earth (via Ethical Superstore) and a trolley full of Asda own-brand organic items including pasta sauces, spaghetti, curry sauce, nuts and carrots.(interestingly, all this coincided with an article in the Asda instore magazine claiming to now have a range of 700 organic products.)

It seems to me that unless the kids see the packaging, the change has gone largely unnoticed. Step One is going according to plan. No way can I afford to waste money on food that the kids refuse to eat.

Although it’s never a good sign when you check the sell by date on a packet of cereal after only two mouthfuls. The Maple frosted organic flakes obviously have an acquired taste that I have no desire to acquire! Getting out of bed in the morning is hard enough without taking away the lure of a tasty breakfast. (Sorry to the Sams’ brothers - the Red Berry crunch is delicious!!) At least the back of the packet is a more interesting read.

And when I’m sure I’ve won the battle for the stomach, I’ll move onto Step Two, the battle for the mind.

Watch out for the next report from your organic family war correspondent!

Fish in the foreground

I don’t really understand the internet and pathologically resist all attempts by my husband to explain it, so a comment posted on my blog from someone at the Marine Stewardship Council freaked me out. To be honest, I have the wrong personality for a blogger - I care too much what people think; I worry about offending people; I entertain a head full of paranoid thoughts.

Responsible Fish from the Marine Stewardship CouncilAnd all the message said was:-

To find retailers near you selling sustainable seafood with the MSC eco-label visit

I had actually visited the site before, but was overwhelmed by too much information (a pathetic admission, I know). Fish as an issue soon disappeared off my radar.

Don’t you find that when you read articles, you are initially moved by the stories and statistics behind the headlines, but when you are bombarded daily by equally worthy causes, not all can stay in the foreground?

Fish is back in my foreground. In the playground, too. This morning, another mum asked what I was doing today and was surprised to hear I was writing about fish. I happened to say that I had noticed from the MSC website that Youngs appear to have a much greater range of responsible fish (a dodgy definition but the image amuses me) than Birds Eye. I was amazed at her response - “Just you saying that makes me want to buy Youngs instead of Birds Eye.

Scary. I could have said anything. Influence is a powerful thing.

Well, visit the website and see for yourselves.

Generally, it seems that Wild Alaskan salmon, Pacific cod and halibut, line caught herring and mackerel, hoki and South African hake are the safest bet, if you care about sustainable fish stocks and the fate of the bycatch. And obviously, bye bye Birds Eye; hello Youngs.

A bit more info:- after a bit of online research, it seems that Brakes have the largest range of MSC certified fish in the food service sector. Caterers are becoming increasingly aware of the pressure some fish stocks are under and are looking for sustainable alternatives for their menus. Brakes is involved in the ‘Fish and kids’ initiative across the education sector, introducing MSC certified fish fingers to many school dinners across the country. Visit the MSC Fish and kids website for some fun learning with your kids!

Well, what are you waiting for? Off you go!

Material Concerns

For my fortieth birthday, my husband gave me a Bible and a tattoo (not literally, of course - he faints at the sight of needles!). IMHO, the two are not mutually exclusive, although some seem to think so. I have never had Leviticus quoted at me so often as then (”Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves”). In return for Lev19v28, my husband always quotes back the end of v19 “Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material.” That usually silences the critics.

Because haven’t we come a long way since those days? Crimplene, nylon, lycra, spandex….the list goes on and on….fabrics for all purposes and occasions…..

Organic fairtrade t-shirtsHowever, the tide is turning. Fair trade. Organic. Cotton. My new best friend hemp. People are beginning to care about what they wear - where it came from and what environmental impact it has. New companies are being formed daily to surf this new wave of material concerns.

One company that has been raising awareness and offering choice in this area since 1999 is Natural Collection. It promotes products which use modern technology to harness nature’s benefits without exploiting her resources. It explores eco, organic, fair and sustainable trade, natural living and well-being. When organic cotton was expensive and difficult to acquire, it invested in upfront purchases.

Organic cotton has become more mainstream and available as information and education about cotton production has become more widespread. The Natural Collection range was there before the trend.

Maybe we are going full circle and will have to admit that Levitical laws may make sense in this day and age too.

Without costing the earth.

M&S. Fair trade. Organic. All words usually guaranteed to inflate a price tag. And yet this morning, I found their new Tshirt range colourful, extensive and best of all, good value for money! For once, an easy ethical consumer decision. The only difficult question was ‘How many?’!

Hemp Heaven!

During an evening of ethical online retail therapy (the ultimate in guilt free shopping!), I came across an irresistible buy. Writing paper and envelopes sporting what looked like a cannabis leaf. Made of hemp, apparently. Perfect for my offbeat world-wandering niece!

Wanted to mention it here as something a bit wacky, but realised I know absolutely nothing about hemp. Well, that’s not quite true. My son has some hemp NoSweat trainers and I recall coming across some items of hemp clothing in the Natural Collection catalogue, but I wouldn’t know where to start with the Hemp Online Quiz I was confronted with this morning!

To save you a trip to Wikipedia, here are some of the facts I have picked up:-Hemp Stationery Set on Ethical Superstore

1. Hemp is the common name for plants of the genus Cannabis, although the term is often used to refer only to Cannabis strains cultivated for industrial (non-drug) use.

2.The fibre is one of the most valuable parts of the hemp plant. Hemp fibres can be 3 to 15 feet long, running the length of the plant.

3. Before the industrial revolution, hemp was a popular fibre because it is strong and grows quickly; it produces 250% more fibre than cotton when grown on the same land. However, over time, hemp fibre was replaced in most roles - manila for better rope; jute for sacking; wood pulp for paper; wool and nylon for carpets; cotton and synthetics for netting and webbing.

4. It was used to make canvas, and the word canvas itself derives from cannabis.

5. In recent years, hemp has been widely promoted as a crop for the future. This is stimulated by new technologies which make hemp suitable for industrial paper manufacturing, biofuel, clothing, health food and body care products.

So the hemp fan club is growing and the fanaticism leads to impressive claims:-

“Hemp is the number one plant for producing clothing, paper, plastics, building materials, food, beverages, cosmetics, methanol fuel and an impressive array of cleaning and paint products. And we can keep growing it every year.”
Quote from

Wow! What an amazing crop! In a weird way, I love it when the related searches list includes hemp seeds, products, clothing, oil, necklaces, jewellery, rope….oh and by the way, marijuana! And can you believe there’s a hemp university and we are called to “show you support hemp - with style!” (

Can’t wait to see and feel the writing paper.

Now for another go at the quiz…..

6/10.… not bad for a new convert. (How was I supposed to know the female hemp plant was more valuable? Could have made an educated guess, I suppose!!!)


How is it that right now, a week after the start of term, it feels more exhausting the kids being back to school than it did before? Is it assimilating all the new routines - which day is swimming, PE, library….? Is it finding time to take back the new bag with the split seam or the shoes that prove to be too tight? Is it having enough ears to listen to all the details of new timetables, teachers and friends? Is it coming up with reasons why little Jamie can’t come for tea tonight? Is it developing strategies for cajoling and encouraging the completion of homework?

Whatever it is, I am crawling into bed every night, unable to string a sentence together.

And here we are today, remembering the lives of two amazing superwomen, who fought a cause with determination and passion. Jane Tomlinson who battled with cancer for seventeen years, put herself through gruelling physical training and competition and raised £1.5 million for a range of cancer charities. And then there’s Anita Roddick, who had a vision for ethical toiletries long before it became the live issue it is today. A true female pioneer in a men’s world. And whatever the Body Shop has become, it contributed to putting environmental and fair trade concerns on the consumer map thanks to this one woman’s perseverance. Massive contributions. Incredible lives.
Are they a different breed of woman to the likes of me? The kind that struggles to have everyone clothed in their own uniform, let alone what’s it’s made of and who by and what it’s been washed in? The kind that does well to have defrosted bread for sandwiches and the right change for dinner money, without worrying about organic healthy snacks? Am I missing something? Am I doing something wrong? Are there others out there like me?

I do care, I really care. But I am an ordinary woman with a big family, trying to find an ethical way that works. I’m glad these superwomen exist and am more than happy to celebrate their mindblowing achievements. However, I have officially given up aspiring to be one of them. (Although Mel Young of New Consumer says in his tribute to Anita Roddick if we could all just do 1% of what she did the world would be a better place!).
So I’ll speak for those who can’t find a hairbrush in the morning, whose son occasionally has to get his PE kit out of the washing basket and sprays it with deodorant, whose daughter wears footless tights and black socks pretending they are tights, who drops the kids off at school and then deals with last night’s washing up…..!

We can still do something. We will continue to find our way.