Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Bad Timing

Kathleen writes:
Unfortunately I had to postpone this summer's service for my Aga (exactly like the one in the photo). Then I found myself at the back of the queue and the engineer is finally coming first thing in the morning. Unfortunately the Aga is my only source of serious heating, and they take an awful long time to cool so it's been off since yesterday evening. Now it's wet, it's windy but most of all it's cold this morning and so am I.

I should have stayed snuggled up under the blankets but I came down so I thought I'd share my misery. Hopefully normal service will resume later on.

Monday, 8 September 2008

Stephen'll be back soon

Kathleen writes:
The blog's been quiet for a little while now, so I thought that I'd better finally put up a post of my own.

The blog hasn't been forgotten. Stephen assures me that he has been keeping up with his housework, and that he will be posting again before too long. He has apparently succumbed to the temptation of that new iron, so maybe he's just spending too much time ironing! He's given his oven a really good clean too, so no doubt he'll have something to say about that.

I'm having a campaign of my own. I want to get Stephen out of that very industrial looking green overall (although it's fine for when he's doing his painting I'm sure) and into a proper pinny, since it will keep him far more in 'housework' mode. Since he likes brown gingham I've made him one; hopefully he'll be wearing it even if we have to give him a bit of encouragement. When that photo changes we'll know we've been successful. So, comments and support please.

Monday, 14 April 2008

More uses for Brasso

I should have said on my earlier post that 'Brasso' is good for more than CDs and their cases. Most hard plastic that has acquired scratches respond well. It is brilliant for example at cleaning up scratched screens on mobile phones. Used with care it can get scratches out of plastic baths - but never polish those any further than absolutely necessary (the hard waterproof layer is not very thick).

Maybe you could even find some brass that needs polishing!

More suggestions, please...

Monday, 31 March 2008

Good buy, bad buy.

The good buy:

For quite a few years now, Shinkansen have made a sharpener for Global kitchen knives (those expensive Japanese kitchen knives with the odd shaped stainless steel handles with black spots). They have ceramic wheels which are set at an angle and run in a small water bath; you gently slide the blade of the knife backwards and forwards a few times and the blade is as sharp as when it was new. It's pretty much foolproof, and perfect for people who find keeping a sharp edge on a knife difficult. I do tend to regard nice knives as good gifts, and always give the recipients one of these sharpeners too; people are always amazed at how well they work. They're not that expensive either, at around £20; a good investment.

I needed one to send to friends, and on Saturday I popped into town. The design has now passed into general use, and I knew that Lakeland (a UK chain of kitchenalia shops) stocked it in the 'Analon' range. It may lack the slight hint of art deco of the original, but few would care about that. So it's on it's way now, and I know it will get a lot of use.

The bad buy:

Lakeland sell a lot of their own products, and some of them are very good. Of course their knife rack had something I hadn't seen before, this time a butter knife which at £2.50 seemed worth a try. "Spread and cut with ease". It looked very sensible, with a sharp edge and a broad spatula-style blade for spreading the butter.

There's a big gap though between looking sensible and actually working. It didn't seem to offer much control when cutting the butter, and was a disaster when it came to the spreading; the butter just seemed to cling to a blade that wouldn't even cover the full width of a piece of toast. So, a big disappointment and a certain amount of annoyance with myself; I already have far too many knives in my kitchen and normally resist acquiring more. But I never quite learn!

Ah well, it's easy enough to use a traditional knife, truth be told.

Saturday, 29 March 2008

Welcome to Summer

Not quite summer, in fact it's scarcely spring yet, but certainly summer time arrives here in just under nine-and-a-half hours. I think it'll always be 'summer time' for me, 'daylight saving time' sounds like something thought up by a bureaucrat (which of course it was).

I have a thing about clocks, proper mechanical ones, so I'll be very busy last thing tonight going round and putting them all forward. And taking the opportunity to dust underneath them; I don't like to disturb them too often.

You'll not find me complaining about the clocks going backwards and forwards. I'd be very sorry if it stopped, it's just one of those things that marks the passage of the years. And I'll be up bright and early tomorrow as always.

A Favourite Apron

This was a birthday present from many years ago now, and brings back many happy memories. It is of course handmade, and such gifts always seem far more personal somehow. The lady who made it for me was strongly of the belief that the amount of time I wore it was the amount of time I was prepared to put into our (fully shared) homemaking.

It's quite large so eminently practical, and entirely matched to my personal aesthetic. There are few materials more traditional than gingham, and brown must have been my favoured colour at the time. I love those sheep!

Friday, 28 March 2008

More housekeeping for my Hi-Fi

My speakers and record deck have both been waxed and polished 'til you can see your face in them, but that is by no means all that is demanded by the wish to enjoy good music.

CDs. Perfect sound forever (huh!), remember that? Sooner or later you will find yourself playing your favourite music and suddenly it starts jumping or sticking. When you take the disc out of the player you may be lucky and find a speck of dirt that is causing the problem; easy to wipe away and the problem is solved. But you may be unlucky; there may be a small scratch in the plastic, or you may have used a spirit-based cleaner to remove that earlier speck and find that the disc itself has turned opaque as a result.

Help though is at hand. Because 'Brasso' ('By appointment to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II) does a wonderful job of polishing out blemishes from the playing surface of the disc. Just use sparingly with a soft clean cloth, and be sure to polish all the residue away.

Then there's the so-called 'jewel' case, a uselessly fragile assembly that acquires scratches almost as a riposte to the most careful handling. It cracks. Or it breaks entirely, most often the hinge for the lid but sometimes the entire case (as per the one in my photo, utterly irrecoverable damage courtesy of her Majesty's Royal Mail). Brasso certainly doesn't fix cracked or broken cases, and you simply have to decide what degree of damage you are comfortable with. But you can get used to taking damaged cases apart, and only discarding the broken parts. The salvage can often be used to repair the next case that would otherwise bite the dust. Scratches and unwanted opacity do respond wonderfully to Brasso though, just as with the discs themselves.

I love the distinctive and traditional tin that Brasso comes in; if only they'd kept the small metal cap rather than switching to the plastic one.

Fridge Cleaning.

Rhonda Jean (see my last post) is drawing up a list of interesting blogs, a list largely donated by her visitors, one of whom was kind enough to mention me! It's only in it's infancy, but it's already drawn me to several new discoveries, and my own list of links will surely grow as a result. Before that, her previous couple of posts have centred around cleaning fridges; a useful reminder to undertake one of those enjoyable jobs that comes round with pleasurable regularity. But not, sadly, for this slave to all tasks domestic. Because I normally keep my fridge unplugged, and have done for some time now. So, beyond the simple pulling of the plug, why and how do I?

The first thing to say is that I live in the UK and that our weather here is distinctly variable and often quite cold. Were it not for that, I would not have been tempted to even try to live without. And secondly that I don't actually live without a fridge; when summer arrives and the weather turns too hot I do turn it on, but for a good part of the year I manage very well without.

It is a few years now since I took stock of the amount of electricity being consumed by my various household appliances, and I found myself slightly surprised by the discovery that over 80% of my electric bill was generated by my fridge and freezer. The freezer was the first to go; it tended to fill with food that I'd bought 'on offer', but the saving at the checkout was more than offset by the subsequent utility bill. Other than with ice-cream and oysters (separately, I've not tried them together yet!) , I didn't miss it either. Nor did I ever have to wonder whether anything I'd found tucked away right at the bottom of the freezer was still entirely safe to eat either.

Once I'd adjusted to the loss of the freezer, it seemed the natural progression to try life without a fridge. Again I surprised myself again with the ease with which I adjusted. No longer the weekly shop at the supermarket; I buy fresh produce on an 'as and when' basis. I tend to find I do 2, occasionally 3 significant shopping expeditions a week, and get the stuff that has a very short shelf life such as milk meat and fish from my local shops daily. I do have cool storage in my kitchen almost regardless of the weather. And I live within easy walking distance of a wonderful butcher, a fishmonger, and a baker, as well as a general grocery.

Last summer I found I only turned my fridge on for a couple of weeks, and that was only because I had guests staying who needed one (or thought they did).

I know that most people simply don't have these options. Having a large family soon renders the weekly shop the only viable option for urban living, and it is difficult to imagine children deprived of a fridge to raid whenever the mood takes them! But for me the fridge and freezer feel like luxuries now.

You would probably think that this deprives me entirely of the pleasure of cleaning the fridge but you'd be wrong. If a fridge sits too long closed and unused, the air inside becomes stale and the fridge feels musty. Happily that's reason enough to give the fridge a thorough wash, I do always like to have it ready in case I want to use it. So when I read Rhonda Jean on the subject I did open the door in hope...

Rhonda Jean

'Down to Earth' is a particular favourite among the blogs I visit, a first call as I do my daily 'round'. It is exceptionally life-affirming in it's gentle championing of conservation against consumerism, of a simpler, slower lifestyle, and of the pleasure that lies in homemaking. But I am not alone; many of other domestic bloggers share the sense of inspiration I draw from my visits.

It is a mark of the reverence and respect that this blog commands that it is normally referred to simply by the name of it's author:

Rhonda Jean

Rhonda Jean, for the inspiration I've found in your willingness to write with such eloquence and from your heart, sharing the things you hold dear, my appreciation and thanks.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Beeswaxing my speakers

I do like using proper old-fashioned beeswax polish; hard wax with just a little turpentine to soften it out (and intensify that wonderful aroma). I always use the Jonelle brand from John Lewis - they carry it in Waitrose too these days, and the real thing is so difficult to find in other ranges. They all seem to prefer those aerosols with a dreadful wet spray and not exactly a lot of wax, just useless.

The key to successful waxing is not to do it too often; it does need to build up slowly over the years. The polish hardens very slowly with warm temperatures and if you rush building up the layers the wax is simply too deep to dry out.

And when you apply the wax, you need to wait some time before buffing it. On a hot summer's day 30 minutes is enough, but a very cool Easter weekend like the one we have just had requires around 3 - 4 hours. But as with so many jobs, the waiting is worth it.

If only I had a houseful of furniture that would take a proper polish but sadly I don't, just a few pieces. Thankfully my hi-fi is all real wood, and as music is very important to me anyway it is always a real pleasure when spring comes around and all that red cherry gets it's annual wash and brush up.

It's getting easier with these speakers; I've had them for a good number of years now and the natural tone of the wood is starting to deepen and intensify. Not that well captured in the photo I'm afraid; it really has gone the most wonderful red. There's only one problem; should I use the speaker grills or not? I prefer to, as they reduce the temptation visitors have to poke the tweeter.

I have a second setup upstairs, far older. But the cabinets for those speakers, and all the boxes too (yes, they used to make those of wood in those days) are all teak, and a quick wipe with teak oil keeps them all looking just so. Far less effort though, and I think that a bit of elbow grease seems more than a fair exchange for such a satisfying end result.

Monday, 25 February 2008

Ironing, wishing, and a new team member

I enjoy ironing, alway have. Particularly as I have a certain penchant for starch, which means everything irons up to a wonderful crisp finish. And it's a leisurely job, or at least it is when I do it. I normally do my ironing over the weekend, it means I can listen to the sport on the wireless.

So this weekend was particularly good as there was the rugby on Saturday evening, and then the Carling cup final on the Sunday. All accompanied by that lovely smell that starch gives off when it's ironed. And both were later in the day, so I could get out beforehand; the weather here was very sunny although it was still quite sharp.

I have to admit that I have a hankering for a new iron. My Tefal is about twenty years old now, and on that basis alone I could just about justify replacing it. But not quite. Because it has been well cared for, and still works perfectly. I'm afraid that like most men I am very seduced by buttons and dials though, and although it was as well equipped as they came when it was new, it pales by comparison with today's high-tech products. So I've got my eye on this iron, which looks like a stealth bomber, and probably has more controls than that plane does. If only I'd make use of all those features. It's rare for me to use the steam function on the Tefal, and I don't think I've ever used the 'shot of steam' function. The Philips is considerably heavier though, and I would get the benefit of that at least.

I'm well aware that we shouldn't buy consumer goods we don't really need, and so I haven't. But I've put it on my Amazon wishlist, just in case someone wants to treat me. I doubt if they will though; I'm not sure I know anyone who'd spend that much on a present, not for me anyway.

If you've scrolled down the page, you may have noticed that I now have a 'team' who will be writing for this blog. Kathleen has sent me a couple of long and interesting emails since I started, so I've signed her up and hope that she'll start posting soon. So welcome! And if you're reading this and think you'd like to join the team too, just email me. Maybe I'll have to change that header...

Saturday, 23 February 2008

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Housework is good for the soul

Mindless, boring, repetitive, unrewarding, that's the lot of 'women's work'.

Well, mindless is as mindless does; it's what you make of it. It's the mindless part of housework that is it's greatest strength. It gives you time and clear space to think, to reflect, to plan, and all the other important components of a balanced and fulfilled existence that get shoved aside amid the pressures of life in the 21st century.

Boring? We're not children are we? Moaning 'I'm bored' and lacking self-motivation, needing others to give us stimulation throughout the day?

Repetitive? Yes, it's repetitive, but less so than most 9 to 5 jobs in my experience. Life is based on repetition, the cycle of the days, the weeks, the months, the seasons, our summer holidays, Christmas, birthdays, and so many pleasurable events that mark our passage through this world. And it's 'never done' but few things are in life.

Unrewarding? Only in the sense that it won't bring monetary reward, unlike that 9 to 5 job you would give up tomorrow if only you had the money. It's sad that so many people these days are only able to ascribe value in financial terms, the products of the Thatcher years where greed was all. But it has other rewards; the opportunity to bring order where there would otherwise be chaos; and to provide an environment where family life is nurtured rather than fragmented. Most major religions set great store by the willing undertaking of humble tasks without remuneration, and they are right to do so.

Women's work. That's the one, isn't it? Men don't want to do it because they think it undermines their masculinity. Women don't want to do it because it was women's work for previous generations, that is 'unliberated' women's work.

But it's there, and it needs to be done; it won't do itself. Do it willingly, and think yourself lucky that you have the opportunity to do so. And think about all those other things that your soul needs more than a healthy bank balance.

Saturday, 26 January 2008

Usually such blogs are written by women

My birthday has long since been and gone now, with my hands seemingly trapped; frozen in time 'inside pink rubber gloves', holding that wine glass 'by the stem and under the bowl'. It's been too long since I posted here, and you'll be thinking my enthusiasm for all things domestic is waning. I'm sorry, although I haven't kept you up-to-date, I have been keeping up with all my housework routines; honestly, it's not as if I've been idle...

I've done the dishes this morning, I always do after a meal. There are only two civilised ways to finish a meal: a large glass of a fine cognac accompanied by a substantial Havana cigar, or a bowl of washing-up. Not much to choose between them as I enjoy both, but after breakfast there's only really one choice, isn't there?

I always do my dishes in a bowl. Although my kitchen is small, and the single sink even smaller, a bowl does economise on water which we tend to forget is a precious resource. I like the water piping hot so gloves are a must, and I fill the bowl before putting any dishes in, with a very small squeeze of Fairy Liquid. I fill any difficult saucepans at the same time, to let them stand for a while. Then I put the plates and bowls in, with the cutlery at one end, before I work my way down. When that lot have found their way to the draining board, I do the glasses, and then the cups. Finally the saucepans, and anything else that's a bit 'gunky' and has needed a soak.

Then a quick wipe over the top of the oven and anywhere else where any debris might have got spilt. The bowl itself needs a good clean out, before I rinse and dry the gloves and then take them off. You can get glove stands which seem like a good idea but they're not; they tend to get stood on the window ledge above the sink and the gloves rot in the sun.

I just put them over the edge of the bowl; it says 'job done'.

Job done? Of course not. There's still the drying to do, a nice Irish linen tea towel, rounds the job off nicely. Who'd just leave it to dry on the draining board?

Next it's the laundry to finish. I have proper linen sheets, so I get them done on a Saturday morning so that I can get my ironing done later on while listening to the sport on the wireless. Most of the washing was done last night, but linen has to be so damp when you iron it that it's a lot easier to do it on the day.

The office is coming along nicely but taking a little time; I want to get the job done properly. I'll fill you in properly and post a few pictures soon, I promise!

For the post title, my thanks to Rebecca Davis Winters; I liked it so much I've put it up on my header.

Monday, 7 January 2008

The Zen of Housework

The Zen of Housework

I look over my own shoulder
down my arms
to where they disappear under water
into hands inside pink rubber gloves
moiling among dinner dishes.
My hands lift a wine glass,
holding it by the stem and under the bowl.
It breaks the surface
like a chalice
rising from a medieval lake.
Full of the grey wine
of domesticity, the glass floats
to the level of my eyes.
Behind it, through the window
above the sink, the sun, among
a ceremony of sparrows and bare branches,
is setting in Western America.
I can see thousands of droplets
of steam -- each a tiny spectrum -- rising
from my goblet of grey wine.
They sway, changing directions
constantly -- like a school of playful fish,
or like the sheer curtain
on the window to another world.
Ah, grey sacrament of the mundane!

~ Al Zolynas ~
(The New Physics)

Posted here to mark my birthday today

Sunday, 6 January 2008

That's it for another year...

Christmas and New Year both behind us, and my birthday will have flicked by tomorrow too; but it'll all come round again far too soon, it always does.

I'm off home tomorrow, and will be getting back into my own routine. First major job is to sort my office, it's been used as a general storage area for far too long now. It's a small office with an awful lot in it, so I'll post up here on progress in due course.

We're off out for a celebration lunch today (a day early, but who's counting?), so I'd better be getting my head down now.

Thursday, 3 January 2008

The Dyson is sorted

It was all too easy. A very heavy wrapping of hair etc. round the brush had minimised its ability to lift dirt from the carpet, as well as partially blocking the suction inlet.

It's easiest to remove all those hairs by taking off the bottom cover. Just lay the Dyson down, upside down, with the foot lowered as if for vacuuming a floor. There are three large slotted screwheads which can be undone by turning anticlockwise a quarter of a turn; the flat edge of a 20p coin is just about perfect for this.

The brush itself will (or should) turn fairly easily. Use a pair of scissors to cut the hairs across the width of the brush, before pulling them out (a bit of winding / unwinding of the brush often helps here). Be careful not to cut any of the bristles of the brush itself, and don't nick the rubber drive belts which are at each end of the brush roller.

The photo shows what it looks like after it had been cleaned. I put this photo up to show where the suction hose runs out from the foot, in the upper right-hand corner as you look at the picture. Turning the Dyson on and checking the suction at the end of that hose is the best way to confirm that there is no blockage higher up inside.

When you've finished, just refit the cover and you're done. I'm going to empty and clean the main dust chamber now, just to get it back to full 100% suction.

It's worth pointing out that if your accessory tube has suction when a Dyson is vertical, then loss of suction at the foot has a simple cause; if the suction has gone on both the problem may well be with the motor, although a careful clean is the first solution to explore.

Starch: the whys and wherefores

I posted this elsewhere sometime ago now, so if you've come through Google you will have found both posts. But I thought it might be of interest here, and have updated it slightly.

Those of us of a certain age surely remember the box of Robin Starch that used to sit in the cupboard at home when we were young. And another blog I've been looking at today waxed quite nostalgic about the starching of the writer's old nursing uniform. So I thought that I'd say a little bit about it here.

Most people these days associate starch with stiffness, which it certainly does provide, but there was a far more important reason for it’s use. Starch absorbs most contaminants, particularly human detritus, that soil clothing, and this then comes away with the starch when the garment is washed. The efficiency with which it does this means people can achieve good results with their laundry without detergent washing powders, just using soap flakes. As we become increasingly environmentally aware, it is quite possible that traditional soap then starch laundering will make something of a comeback, although the use of starch does require a little effort. Because of it’s ability to absorb dirt, starch provides substantial protection for the garment, which will have a considerably extended life as a result.

Starch is only absorbed by natural fibres and is therefore normally used only for cotton or linen material. It will penetrate the cotton component of cotton/polyester blends to a degree. It has no effect whatever if used with man-made fibres

Starch comes in three forms for use with laundry: as a spray that is used when you iron, as a liquid that is added to the last rinse (where you would use fabric conditioner), or as raw powdered starch.

Spray starch doesn’t achieve the penetration of the material that provides the protection that starch offers unless one re-sprays and re-irons the garment several times. It is not possible to spray the garment heavily because of the real downside of spraying – the starch in the spray is raw and is cooked by the heat from the iron. When there is too much starch sitting on the surface of the material it can easily burn, leaving a nasty goo on the sole of the iron which will then transfer itself to anything you iron, generally requiring the item concerned be re-laundered. For the best results with spray starch, apply minimally and then iron at the very lowest temperature appropriate for the material. You can achieve excellent stiffness this way, but the financial cost and environmental impact is considerable.

I have seen Dylon liquid starch for sale in Waitrose, both with and without silicone. I have never used this but presume that it contains raw starch, which produces wonderful stiffness. I would only buy the one without the silicone, as I suspect that over a period of time the silicone would inhibit the absorption of the starch. This has to be the most user-friendly way of starching; you simply put it in the fabric-conditioner drawer if you use an automatic. It is best to let starched clothes hang to dry when they have been starched; if you must use a tumble drier you should use a minimal heat setting to avoid the clothing stiffening in the drier.

Starch powder is normally cooked before use, although it can be used raw if extreme stiffness is what you are after. You should mix 50mls of cold water with an equal volume of the powdered starch, and then stir to form a paste. If you wish to use raw you can now just dilute this to use for your final rinse. But to cook it you should add a litre of boiling water, continue boiling and stir with a wooden spoon until the mixture is thick and creamy with no remaining lumps. This does not take long. You now dilute this to use as your final rinse.

It is difficult to give precise advice on how much starch you should add to a final rinse; a bit of trial and error is necessary at first. I would expect the above mixture to see me through a full weekly wash though. Because starch takes around four wash cycles to completely wash out, you don’t need to use the same concentration when laundering clothes that are already fully starched. The very best results of all are achieved by doing a final hand-rinse with the starch, wringing out (unless it's linen, which shouldn't be wrung) and hanging to dry. You should never re-rinse after starching.

Ideally you iron at precisely the point where there is just enough dampness left to be fully dried by the heat of the iron. As with all starched garments, it is important you don’t over-heat the iron. I always put my clothes on hangers after ironing; by the next day the starch is fully ‘set’ and the clothes will not only be stiff but have a wonderful crease-resistance.

Where do you get powdered starch? Lakeland sell it, although it is relatively expensive. Dri-pak of Ilkeston sell it. Hardware stores often sell their products, and will get it if they don’t already stock it. Dri-pak do mail order too, and can be contacted on 0115 932 5165. I get mine from a Mrs Rachel Davies of Aberaeron. She trades on the internet as, and is happy to supply any amount from the very small to industrial scale quantities. She does mail-order too; you can request an order form through her website. Her prices are very reasonable.

You can make your own starch spray, by adding a tablespoon of starch to 500ml of cold water. In a refillable spray bottle, this will easily match the performance of starch aerosols providing you shake well before each use. You can stiffen moderately starched garments by using the spray of course. And the spray will cost only a few pence to refill.

A tablespoon of borax (get this from a hardware store) added to your diluted starch (about a teaspoonful in your spray) reduces the tendency of starch to burn when ironed too hot. If the clothing is already dry when you want to iron it you should spray it with a little warm water (or just sprinkle the water on) rather than steam ironing.

Whites can be starched hot; colours cold though.

It all sounds like a lot of trouble, but it isn't nearly as bad as it sounds. And you wouldn't believe how easy it makes ironing!

I'll see if I can sort the Dyson today.

Friends have this non-functioning Dyson, and I'm going to see if I can get it sorted today. Dysons have something of a mixed reputation, unfortunately. When they work they work very well indeed, but they are prone to early failure. The last of the UK made DC-04s seemed particularly troublesome, having poor motors.

They are however easy to dismantle, apart from getting into the motor itself, so any other problem should be fixable without involving the repair man. This one sucks through the extension pipe, but not through the main floor section, so it should be very simple, but it'll just take a bit of time.

All too often problematic Dysons simply need the filter washed. But you have to be careful to let them dry fully as Dysons definitely don't like liquid.

I'm pleased to see that someone has posted a comment to an earlier post; it's always nice when you find that you are actually being read, isn't it?

Tuesday, 1 January 2008

Happy New Year!

Is there any other title anyone will use today? But, if you do happen to chance here, a happy New Year to you...

I've had a great time; I'm down staying with friends for the whole festive period and it was a late night last night and then some. A wonderful meal (thanks, Lorna!) and then a large stack of dishes to do, so I was happy. I should have done some vacuuming ahead of time, but their Dyson wasn't working, and there wasn't really enough time to do a stripdown and get it sorted, so I'm having to save that for another day.