Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Cold Fingers, Hot food

I had quite a shock on Monday morning. I don't know what made me do it, I had no real reason to, but as we were coming back in from Hubby's latest visit to the doctor I checked our meters. I'd already looked on Friday and was a little concerned about how fast the electric was going down so I'd topped it up with the last few pounds in my purse; the gas meter had been pretty much where I'd expected it to be and we'd continued to be careful since then. I had no reason to think that either one of them was in any danger of running out, and yet I checked. Something made me hesitate as we hurried to get back indoors and out of the bitter January chill. Something made me spend that extra minute fighting with the swollen door of the outside cupboard that houses meters and recycling box and gardening tools. Something made me press the little button that lights up the digital screen on the gas meter instead of following hubby eagerly up the stairs towards kitchen, kettle and coffee.
Arrrggggghhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! How could it possibly be that low? I'd put the emergency on on Saturday evening, which gives us £5 credit. I'd fully expected that to last through until Wednesday; pension day. Last week I'd used the emergency on the Friday and it'd run out Tuesday evening, so it stood to reason that we could make it from Saturday to Wednesday surely? and yet there we were, Monday morning with only £1.12 on the meter. Oh heck!
This cold snap will be the death of me. On a normal week we don't use the emergency at all. At the moment we are putting extra on the meter, using the emergency, and still running out. I'm not sure how though, we aren't exactly being extravagant with the heating :(
 So our home is a little chilly at the moment! I never put the central heating on first thing in the morning, no matter how cold it is, if I get dressed fast enough I don't notice the shock ;)  besides, it's invigorating, gets the blood pumping! So the last time our heating was on was Sunday evening. We did give in last night and put the little electric fan heater on in the bedroom for ten minutes before we went to bed, but other than that it's been hot water bottles and piling on the layers. We're saving that little bit of gas left on the meter for cooking. We can put up with a bit of cold for a while but not without a hot meal inside us. I'm using the slow cooker as much as I can and saving the gas cooker for making porridge for breakfast, or heating soup for lunch. It may may be that I'm being a bit over cautious as far as that's concerned, but rather that than find we have nothing hot to eat.
Last night was particularly cold, we've had no snow but we did have a hail storm come rolling in about 11pm last night coating everywhere with crunchy white. It looked very pretty. It must be a little milder now though as it rained this afternoon so the white is all gone and we're back to the grey.
The aroma from the kitchen is making me hungry. There are a few sausages, the last couple of potatoes and onions in the slow cooker. I'll add the last of a bag of frozen veg to it soon. Have you ever noticed that the less food you have in your cupboards the hungrier you are? I'm starting to really notice the bite now from this weeks bill paying. I know we did the right thing, paying it off in one go, but I hate to see my cupboards so bare. I'm very glad of course that they were well stocked enough to see us through, but I also know it's going to take me a while to build up those stocks again. It's not like I can afford to just go out and do one big shop and replace it all. Hubby's pension comes in tomorrow but there won't be much of that left for food, there are too many other things that need to be paid out of it.
I had thought we were in for a difficult week, and it has been, but the reality of it is, we're in for several difficult weeks. Especially if the weather stays this cold.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Miscellaneous Meat

About a month before Christmas our neighbour popped round and asked if we'd do him a favour. His car was off the road but he needed to get to see his mum, would we take him? Well of course we would. It's the first time in years that we have lived somewhere without problematic neighbours, we absolutely love that we can just knock on each others doors whenever one or the other of us needs something.
It turned out that his 'bogof' addict mother was having a big clear out of her freezer to make room for her Christmas shopping and was packing her single son off home with all her surplus stocks. We spent a fun afternoon drinking tea with a lovely old lady before squeezing what seemed like enough to restock the local Iceland into our car. I swear the back end actually dipped from all the extra weight! No one thought to question how big our neighbour's freezer was and if he's actually have room for it all. Which is why quite a bit of it ended up in my freezer, kindly donated by our neighbour who just hadn't got the room for it and knew a lot of it he'd probably never eat anyway.
Some of it is the kind of things we'd never normally buy, ready meals and the like, which I'm keeping in reserve, my stand-by, 'emergency' food. However a lot of it is fresh meat that has been bagged up in individual portions. This, very helpfully, has the date it was purchased written on the bag. Less helpful is the fact that there is nothing to identify said meat! I can guess at a lot of it, there are a couple of what are obviously pork chops, and a piece of chicken. From there on in it gets a bit more interesting. There is a bag of what may be bacon, or perhaps gammon, and some breaded things that could be just about anything under those breadcrumbs. Chicken? Fish?
Last night I took out a bag of what looked like diced beef to defrost. This morning when I took it out of the fridge I wasn't so sure, it looked a little pale for beef. Although as I browned it prior to setting the slow cooker going I started to think maybe it was beef after all, stewing steak perhaps? Heck, for all I know it could be horse! although I seriously doubt it ;) It's not chicken, I think I can say that with some certainty, and it's not pork. That narrows it down a bit. I think when my husband asks what's for tea I'm just going to say it's a special recipe...Not-Chicken Casserole. lol
Whatever it is, I don't mind. Tonight when we sit down to a tasty casserole washed down with a glass or two of homemade wine I'm just going to thank my lucky stars for friendly, generous neighbours (and their mothers) and enjoy.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

The Sad Truth

I made it to twenty to five today before I finally gave in and turned the heating on. The backs of my hands felt like ice and I was actually contemplating putting my gloves on, when I realised that, despite several layers of clothing, my teeth were chattering and I thought enough is enough. For maybe a full five minutes I was rather proud of myself for having held out for so long, and then as my fingers defrosted around a mug of coffee it dawned on me how desperately sad the whole situation is.
This is the UK, in the 21st century for heavens sake, no one, and I really mean no one, old or young, rich or poor, employed or not, should ever be in a position where they can't afford to put their heating on in winter. It is a sad state of affairs indeed.
I caught the headline on one of the newspapers earlier when I nipped out to buy milk, about soaring heating costs. I couldn't afford to buy the paper and in all honesty I haven't had the heart to look it up on line yet, but from what I could see it's only going to get worse. As the cold snap bites energy prices are going up. Again.
I've been cold today out of choice. Well, not choice exactly, I would rather have been warm, obviously, but I could have put my heating on if I'd wanted to. I decided not to in order to increase the chances of the credit on my gas meter lasting the week. A little bit each day is better than a few days of being warm only to have to go without completely for a couple of days. What worries me is how many people are there out there today who couldn't put their heating on at all? How many elderly folk are scared to put their fire on for fear of a large bill? How many are shivering because their meters have already run out?
Don't think it happens? Trust me it does.
The problem with having a pre-payment meter and being on a very low income is that you tend to budget for what you expect it to be and most of the time that's probably fine, but every so often we get a week like this one, when the temperature plummets or the snow falls and all your careful budgeting flies out the window. Last week my two year old grandson and his mother spent two days without heating before a neighbour found out and came to their rescue. They had kept warm by spending the days snuggled up under blankets with hot water bottles. Only a few nights ago our own meter ran out and we spent an evening bitterly cold. My brother and his kids are staying with friends this weekend so they can all share the cost of the heating, feeding one meter instead of two. The kids all think it's great of course, sleep overs and snowball fights are the things memories are made of, but for my brother and his single mum friend it's an effort hiding the strain even through the fun times.
We do what we need to get by. For me that means early nights and late mornings, staying in bed until I can bare the feelings of laziness no more. I'm not being lazy of course, this morning I probably got more work done in bed than I would have done if I'd been up and about, I checked emails, wrote letters, darned socks, replaced a zip and several buttons on things that have been sitting in my sewing basket for months, but I felt lazy staying abed until mid morning just to keep warm. Once I was up I kept as busy as I could, I swept and mopped and scrubbed, I went for a brisk walk to the local shop, but sooner or later you have to slow down, do things that require less energy, and that is when the chill settles into your bones.
If you've ever been cold, and I mean really cold, for a long period of time you'll know it effects everything you try to do. You move slower, think slower, you make mistakes. Even conversation becomes difficult after a while. You withdraw into yourself as if by pulling in you can somehow keep warmer. A day without heating in winter can do this, even to a fit and healthy person, two days certainly does. I know because I've done it, beyond that I don't know, thankfully I've never been there and I hope I never will but my heart goes out to those who are cold, truly cold, tonight.  

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Sun, Glorious Sun!

Oh I was so happy to see the sun this morning. I'm sure I wasn't alone in that. After weeks of endless grey I imagine quite a few people were delighted when they threw open their curtains and saw its yellow loveliness blazing down, but for me it wasn't just the sight of it that filled me with joy. It wasn't the brightness of the morning, or all that blue sky or the crisp promise of a winter's day that made my heart sing (well it did a bit, but it wasn't only that ;) ) no, it was the fact that today I won't need to put my heating on!
You see I am lucky enough to have south facing windows and even a cold winter sun streaming through them warms my kitchen and living room delightfully. In fact, sometimes it is actually uncomfortably warm and I'm forced to throw open a window for a while. I had never lived anywhere with south facing windows before we moved into our council flat two years ago, and it still feels like a luxury. It's a novelty, a wonder, and indeed I do wonder at how we ever managed before. The difference it can make to the amount of money we feed into our hungry gas meter is huge. Of course, I need the weather to co-operate in order to reap the benefits (and it hasn't done that much lately) but when it does I am very grateful for our free heating.
Now I just need it to stay this way. The gas meter is already on 'emergency' (something I try to avoid if I can) thanks to a combination of colder weather and my husband's long, lingering chest infection (really need to keep him warm) and I've no way of topping it up until Wednesday. I have to admit I was panicking a bit and I've been sending hubby back to bed and piling on the jumpers and waiting until I couldn't feel my fingers before I gave in and turned the heating on over the last few days. Today has been a welcome relief and gives me a fighting chance of making it through.
Thank you Sun, long may you shine.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

The Story So Far

Leaving London and our relatively well paid jobs was planned.
Moving to a quieter location was planned.
Slowing our lives down and living more simply was planned.
Illness, heart attacks, strokes, no savings and being caught up in the benefit system was definitely not planned.
In retrospect we didn't plan things anywhere near as well as we thought we had although who, in all honesty, plans for sudden declines in health when you feel fine? We should have done, I suppose. My husband's health has thrown us curve balls in the past, but we always came through it and carried on, always kept our heads above water.
I don't think our heads have been above water for about four and a half years now, although we do come up for air occasionally ;)
We live in a small coastal town that attracts many tourists each summer. We know that despite everything we are very lucky. Life may not be the way we planned it but we have much to be grateful for.
We exist (I refuse to say 'live') on my husband's small pension, topped up with ESA. It's only a tiny amount of ESA benefit we get, but it's a benefit all the same and the damage that has done to his pride is enormous. Hence his plan (still in its infancy) to start a small business selling things he can make. The thought of it is keeping him sane, and it means he can work only on the days he's well enough (what employer would put up with that?). We know it's our only option but we'll be doing it on a shoestring -less than a shoe string- with no start up money, no contingency fund.
What could possibly go wrong?
Don't answer that!
We fumble from one week to the next, often robbing Peter to pay Paul. A cold snap forcing us to put more credit on our pre-pay gas and electric metres means not paying the water bill or cutting back the food shop to the bare minimum. A birthday, or worse still Christmas, means eeking out the gas and not putting the heating on. A family crisis, a wedding, or a funeral we need to travel for (our family live hundreds of miles away), means throwing caution to the wind and spending months catching up with payments and fighting to keep the wolves from the door.
It's not a nice way to live and hopefully 2013 will be the year that changes. We don't want much, just to pay our own way, keep a roof over our heads and put food on the table. We are simple people with simple needs and simple pleasures.
We want to be as self suficiant as we can, we want to provide for ourselves and make the most of everything. We want to enjoy life and that starts here, at home, with us.