Friday, 30 March 2018

Defeated by mud

My West Country holiday has been cut short, and I'm home. Two days ago (on the 28th March) I left North Devon on schedule, and after less than two hours arrived at my second booked site, at Curlew Farm near Lyme Regis. This is another favourite site, and has never before given me the slightest problem. But as I towed the caravan in through the entrance gate, the ground looked uncharacteristically muddy and churned up. Someone else, another caravanner, was in the caravan field before me. He waved frantically at me to stop, a warning to come in no further. He was stuck fast in soft ground. I soon discovered that I was too.

He'd already asked the farmer, Colin, to assist. Colin was coming to rescue them ('them' being he and his wife and their daughter) by towing car and caravan off the site with his tractor, and putting them on a space in front of the farmhouse. They could still have their booked holiday, though without quite the same scenic view. But there was no space for me as well. And nothing else close by. He'd already phoned around the other local sites, but they were all full because the Easter weekend was coming up. It looked as if I had two choices: to find another site in another area entirely; or just go home.

First things first, though. Colin arrived, and towed the other caravan away.

While he did that, I unhitched my own caravan and tried to drive Fiona clear. But to my consternation, all I got was spinning wheels and no significant movement. What was this? I had all-wheel drive - and tyres with winter treads! I tried again, using a manually-chosen higher gear. But still no joy. Getting out, I saw that all I had done was dig Fiona deeper into the boggy ground.

I suppose that when all four wheels lose their grip, there can be no traction and no progress. It was nevertheless hard to accept that mud had stopped Fiona when the recent snow had not. Here are shots of my car coping effortlessly with Sussex snow one month earlier.

Here's a close-up of the tracks left by her Michelin CrossClimate tyres in the compacted snow.

Well, there must be a big difference between mud and snow! 

I suppose a tyre can get a grip on snow, and can shake it out of the tread as the wheel revolves. But clearly not so with sticky, squelchy mud! I was amazed, though, that not one wheel had gained sufficient grip to create forward movement. The ground must be absolutely saturated.

Colin returned. Together, we pulled the front of the caravan sideways, away from the rear of the car - this did my feeble muscles no good at all - and then he hitched up and hauled the caravan away, this time leaving it in the lane, facing the way I had come, so that I could easily get back to the main A35 road. 

I had another go at extricating Fiona from her muddy rut, but it was again no good. Having automatic transmission, she couldn't be towed, but I asked Colin to very gently pull me backwards as I powered her in Reverse gear. This was enough. Once off the site, and in the lane, I was in a position to hitch up again and get off home.

Colin was rather apologetic. He felt he should definitely have warned people not to come. I was however extremely thankful for his help in getting car and caravan out of a bad situation intact, and not inclined to blame him. 

Jackie, his wife, actually handled the caravan bookings. I said I'd like to speak to her about the week I had booked. The site was obviously too soft and wet to use, and I'd have to cancel, but I would prefer to discuss it personally. 

Jackie arrived, and I explained that - for the first time in nine years of coming here - I'd have to cancel a booking at no notice whatever. Though of course not without good reason. Even if the weather improved and the ground dried a bit, the area near the gate would remain a morass; and I'd want to be coming and going twice a day, possibly coming home in the evening after a meal in Lyme Regis. The prospect of slithering around in the dark wasn't pleasant. She entirely understood. I offered her something in recompense - it was an Easter weekend booking, after all - but she wouldn't take even a night's fee. This was very sympathetic and nice of her, although when all was said and done, I'd been deprived of a week I'd been looking forward to. 

We will see each other again in September, hopefully in much drier weather. 

I love Curlew Farm. In most weathers it's idyllic. For instance, in these shots from 2014, 2016 and 2017.

Sometimes it has been surprisingly warm and dry here in March. This is how it was at nearby Sidmouth in March 2012 - it had seemed like a summer's day. I'd worn skimpy tops and was barefoot on the beach.

I hadn't expected it to be quite so sunny and mild in 2018, so soon after a snowy start to the year, but I hadn't reckoned on being thwarted by mud. Car and caravan were spattered with it. It was sad to see. I was sad too, having that week snatched away. Actually, I felt rather upset. I'd planned to do all sorts of things, and now couldn't.

Oh well. I now had a tiring five hour drive ahead, before getting home. I didn't want to try my luck at another site somewhere else. I'd wanted to be here. And as I couldn't be where I wanted to be, home (and its many creature comforts) strongly beckoned! 

I made it back by 6.00pm, and had fully unloaded by 8.30pm. By then I was in need of a hot meal and a good rest. 

Next day I invited my local girl friends to lunch on Good Friday. I would do a soup starter, and a bake for the main course - both of my own invention (I never follow recipes). Jackie, Jo and Valerie could all come. Jo would do a dessert. 

It was lovely to see my vivacious friends again - and a great compensation for a holiday cut short. The bake was somewhat over-cooked - it's hard to judge these things - but otherwise it all turned out well, as these photos show. It was all tasty.

Tomorrow Fiona and caravan get a proper wash. Ordinary rain hasn't got rid of all that mud. 

Saturday, 10 March 2018

No temptation in the supermarket

Did I say 'three weeks more with Slimming World'? Well, today I decided to forego those three weeks, even though I'd paid for them in advance. And just stop. So I won't be attending any more SW meetings locally, nor while on holiday.

I immediately felt very, very liberated. I was back in the driving seat, and not tied to a weekly weigh-in. I could relax. I need not stress over whether to have a nice cup of tea, or make do with a black coffee. I could stop keeping those careful daily records of what I'd consumed. All choices were open to me again.

And yet, having taken back that control, that liberty to indulge myself, and that freedom to buy certain yummy things that definitely wouldn't lead to weigh loss - not even weight maintenance - what did I do? I wrote a shopping list exactly like last week's. And at the supermarket, I bought only things that were SW-compliant. That's right. No bread, crackers, butter, cheese or olives. No sausages or black pudding. None of Waitrose's delicious soups, nor their fruit yoghurts. No KitKats or biscuits as an 'occasional' treat. None of the things that I would have been picking up as a matter of routine back in 2016.

You see, I am deadly serious about keeping what I've achieved. I may be absent from future SW meetings, and eventually off their books, but I think their weight-loss plan works, and I intend to stick with it. After all, it allows me to make all kinds of tasty, attractive and satisfying meals. It would be foolish to abandon such a healthy and sensible approach to eating well.

There's also an element of personal pride. It mattered an awful lot to me to be voted Slimming World Woman of the Year 2017 by my local group. I want to live up to that. In any case, I don't want to grow fat again. I want to be admirably slender in a year's time. And I leave SW with knowledge, official advice, recipes and personal records to support me.

Of course there are a few regrets and downsides. I will miss the people at my local group. I won't be able to use the SW app.

But this is in fact a good moment to bow out. I've done most of what I set out to do, and I don't want to spend time (and more money) edging closer to a goal I may never quite get to. The grind of doing that would tarnish the memory of last year's successes. Best to quit while I still feel very positive about the whole thing, and so much improved from my chubby state in 2016.

Getting weight off has made it easier to contemplate taking a bit more exercise. That will be the background project for 2018, as soon as my toe has fully healed.

Meanwhile, it's good to know that I can go shopping and not give in to old temptations!

And there are other kinds of temptation that need to be resisted. For a compulsive record-keeper like me, maintaining a detailed Food Diary, on a spreadsheet, was a pleasure. But now there's no need. And I have to let these records go. It's hard to do. It feels wrong and unnatural to draw a line, and stop adding to a spreadsheet - indeed a whole family of spreadsheets - that I had become rather proud of. However, it has to be.

(But hey, the prospect of an exercise spreadsheet looms!)

Thursday, 8 March 2018

Time to leave Slimming World

Slimming World has served me very well. I will heartily recommend SW to anyone who hasn't tried it before, if they are serious about losing weight and keeping it off.

It's been challenging, and keeping to the weight-loss plan has required enhanced self-discipline; but there have been plenty of great moments as part of the reward. It's definitely been friendly, welcoming, and sociable. And - particularly when on holiday in some distant place - it's been a chance to meet local men and women, and for an hour or two feel part of the local scene. You might almost say that, when I'm away caravanning, SW has provided a social focus for each week - which can only be a good thing, when you holiday alone.

Ah, those great moments...the certificates, as weight milestones have been passed; the chance to be Slimmer of the Week; and several other accolades. And when I was voted Slimming World Woman of the Year 2017 last August it was one of the proudest moments I've ever had.

Here are the figures. I lost 15kg - that's 35 pounds, or two and half stones - in the eleven months from the start of November 2016 up to the middle of October 2017. My BMI went down to less than 26, when it had been over 31. And although my clothes size stayed at 16, I went from a tight 16 to a loose 16, and I definitely looked thinner. Everybody said so; and my photos bear that out as well.

All this is an achievement to be proud of. The trouble is that in the last six months I have not been able to lose any more weight, even though I have kept rigorously to plan, and not relaxed my efforts in any way.

I have been hovering around 80kg (or twelve and a half stones). I reckon I have achieved a balance, 80kg representing the natural weight appropriate for my body size, age, current physical condition and level of activity, and of course my particular SW-compliant food and drink intake.

There is more I could do to lose more weight, but it would mean a big step change - perhaps curtailing my social life, and giving up alcohol altogether; or introducing a significantly higher level of aerobic activity into my everyday lifestyle. Well, not yet! But unless I make some drastic change of the sort just mentioned, and keep it up forever, I don't think I am going to reduce my weight any further.

And I'm not sure I want to go very much further in any case. A little residual plumpness here and there can be no bad thing where looks (and attractiveness) are concerned. I think I'm on the brink of losing just a bit too much of it. I certainly don't want to lose so much weight that I begin to look unfeminine, or even slightly gaunt.

It currently costs almost £5 a week to attend SW, and that is beginning to feel like money being spent to no purpose. It's time to stop the show. I have three weeks left of a twelve-week batch I paid for in advance. Those three weeks will take me up to the end of March. I'll see what I can do with them, but I really expect a no gain/no loss outcome. I very much doubt whether I'll be able to lose the ten pounds needed to achieve my official weight-loss target. And it's no good starving myself to get there, because I can't possibly keep that up: once I begin to eat normally again, I would revert to my current weight, which is just under 80kg.

So it's shortly going to be farewell to Slimming World.

I don't want to make a dramatic exit. I'd rather leave very quietly. Next week's SW weigh-in is local, but the two after that - the last two I've paid for - are in Devon, while I'm on holiday. I'd like to attend those. But thereafter I might well not attend any more, locally or otherwise. That way I won't have to cope with attempts to persuade me to stay. I'm quite a softy when people say they will miss me, or declare that I have inspired them and they need me there.

After the break, what then?

Well, I absolutely don't want to throw away what I've done, and go back to my former hefty state. So I will carry on:
# applying SW principles when eating at home or elsewhere (which has become my ingrained habit);
# applying SW principles in respect of what I drink in social situations (I never drink by myself);
# weighing myself weekly at home (as I have done continuously since 2008);
# photographing most meals (especially the ones I cook at home).

But I'm dropping the record-keeping. No more spreadsheets to record in detail what I eat and drink daily. I will however keep past spreadsheets as a knowledge resource, something to follow.

So there you are. The decision is taken. Three weeks to go, then my Thursday evenings will be available for something else. More blogging, perhaps?

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

A basket case

Eagle-eyed readers may detect something dangling from my arm in the shot above. Yes, I've bought myself a wicker shopping basket. As you can see, it isn't too big. It's primarily for smaller purchases, though not necessarily lightweight purchases. It's stiff and strong.

Having conceived the notion of buying a shopping basket like this, it was inevitable that I'd do something about it without delay. That's the Melfords for you. We don't dither. We don't mess about. We track down a place to buy what we want, and drive out there in a fast car. In this case, Sussex Willow Baskets in High Salvington, just outside Worthing, a business owned by a man called Stephen Caulfield who makes these things himself. All manner of wicker things really, mainly bespoke orders. He also runs basket-weaving classes.

I phoned him up, and went to his house by appointment this morning. He had a stock of baskets he could show me, and this one was among them. It said 'buy me!' and I obliged. It was one he had made during 2017, but hadn't sold. The cost was £42, which was a fair bit, but then (a) it was genuinely a local Sussex product, skilfully made from the best willow to Mr Caulfield's own design; (b) it was randed (that is, slowly made, weaving in one long willow strand at a time); and (c) it was decorated with two bands of differently-coloured willow. In short, it was a cut above the run-of-the-mill basket.

I had looked at some nice baskets online, in particular those from J Johnson & Sons of Wrexham - take a look at their baskets at That firm's offerings looked very good, and their prices seemed very reasonable, although who knows what the postage might add to the cost. But it was difficult to judge weight and robustness from an online picture. Nor could I decide whether the handle was comfortable enough, or well-enough fixed on. For these reasons, I thought it best to find a Sussex maker/supplier, and inspect the goods personally.

Anyway, Mr Caulfield had what I wanted, and I was happy to pay a bit more to get it.

I could have had a rectangular-shaped basket rather than a round one. But apparently round baskets are stronger. And although a boxy rectangular basket would have held more, it didn't have the charm of a round basket. A round basket definitely looked more pleasing to the eye. This mattered to me.

Back in Fiona, the new wicker basket looked lovely.

I snipped off the label, and drove up to Horsham, parking at John Lewis/Waitrose before trotting off to Waterstones to collect some books I'd ordered online. Then I went into Waitrose with the new basket on my arm. Might as well use it straight away! And it was a success. I used it for the heavier things, if they weren't too large. The rest went into a separate bag. I liked the way the new basket rested solidly against the cold bag in Fiona's boot, stopping it falling over.

Back home now, and about to unpack:

The new basket had immediately proved practical and useful. I set about photographing it properly, to assess it for style and character. 

Yep. Plenty of rustic charm there! With that on my arm, I might well be taken for a local peasant woman down in the village, the sort that lives off the land. 

The new basket looks good in all kinds of settings. In my porch, for instance, it goes extremely well with flowers, wellies, walking sticks and lucky iron horseshoes:

It also looks the business on the back seat of my car:

I'd say it beats an ordinary shopping bag hands down. It's certainly looking cooler than the Cath Kidston shopper in the footwell, although that bag will continue to be used for the things the new basket can't swallow. 

And it has uses around the house too - say for taking multiple small things from room to room. With my small hands, I can't carry all these easily-dropped items from kitchen to lounge in one trip, but the basket has made it easy:

It probably has an infinity of uses. As an improvised sun hat, perhaps?

And if it starts to rain, then an extempore plastic lining gives my basket-hat some serious waterproofing...

I'm surprised nobody ever seems to think of doing this. It's so practical. 

Sunday, 4 March 2018

Brown paper bags are back. Baskets too!

The Plastic Age is over.

Well, of course it isn't - there are many things for which the right kind of plastic is the best material to use - but the days of non-biodegradable bags from shops and supermarkets definitely look numbered. Which means less litter, less buried in landfill sites, or dumped in the sea; and less use of oil for the manufacture of these plastic bags. And back to brown paper.

I was delighted to get my fruit in brown paper bags yesterday. An out-of-town farm shop, but in other respects just like a high-street shop.

Brown paper bags, and other kinds of paper-based bags, or even just newspaper, had been the norm when I was young for nearly all goods, from fruit and veg and cheese and sugar to bacon and fish and eggs and nuts. But at some point, even in street markets, everything was popped into white plastic bags instead. I suppose because they were less inclined to tear, and might even have been cheaper for the retailer or stallholder to buy. But, in the nature of these things, they were too insubstantial to be reused, and many just ended up blowing about in the breeze. One thing about a wet brown paper bag: it does fall apart. It becomes a soggy pulp, and quickly returns to the soil.

There are downsides to paper, of course. I wouldn't want to see the remaining rain forests chopped down so that we can all switch from plastic to paper. But we all recycle now, so that can be avoided. I'd also like to see more general use of 'clever' brown paper, the kind that is moisture-resistant and heat-sealable, so long as it can still be recycled. Mind you, I wouldn't welcome back the notorious Tetrapak milk carton, unless they have managed to improve it, so that it doesn't squirt milk everywhere when you try to open it.

The use of paper seems rather retro. So why not go the whole hog, and start using shopping baskets again? The sort housewives used when popping around the corner to do the morning's local shopping? A wickerwork basket like this?

I'm not sure I can remember Mum ever using one of these herself in the 1950s, but I do recall seeing them about throughout my childhood. Everything in them was on display, one's purse included, and they were an open invitation to theft. On the other hand, as a practical means of carrying a fair amount of stuff in brown paper bags, or sundry loose items, they were unbeatable. And in their own way they had a kind of cool, if you went for the 'country-village' look. Sadly, fashions changed, and they became mere display props in grocery shops, exuding nostalgia, and then the sort of thing elderly female characters in a period drama on TV would have on their arm, or slung between the handlebars of their bicycles.

In a 2018 context, they could easily be popped into a shopping trolley, then loaded up at the till, before carrying them in style to the boot of one's all wheel drive car. A car like mine indeed. If I had such a basket, it would cause a sensation at Waitrose.

Well, why don't I get one?

Thursday, 1 March 2018

Farewell to one bracelet, hello to another

I like jewellery - or rather, I like silver jewellery that tends toward the plain and simple, yet has a special feature or association that makes it special. The associations that a piece might have (from the outset, or garnered during its life) completely override any considerations of beauty or opulence. The little silver ring I wear on my left little finger cost just £2 in July 1994, and it's utterly plain. It weighs only 2g, so there's not a lot of silver here. But it was a spontaneous birthday gift, and I have worn it with fondness for nearly twenty-four years. I never take it off. I intend to wear it until I die.

That's definitely an item of jewellery that I've bonded with! And there are other pieces too, that I wear all the time, or most of the time. It's important to bond with the jewellery that comes into your life. If you don't, the piece will soon get put away, to be worn no longer. Or if you have to wear it - it might be part of your wedding regalia - then you have a constant feeling that it doesn't suit, and that you wish you could wear something different. All this is quite independent of its value. Just imagine how many engagement or wedding rings, or other fancy pieces, have been taken off and put away in little boxes in chests of drawers, too meaningful or valuable to discard, but not loved. It's a pity, but it's what happens.

In my case, I chiefly wear pieces dating from 2009 or 2010, which was an important time in my life, a period of great change. That's not to say that I haven't spent money on newer stuff. In recent years there have been a few purchases, mainly of bracelets, some of them expensive (for silver items, anyway). At the moment of purchase, I really liked what I had seen, tried on, and was now buying. But each time we failed to bond. Mostly it was because there was some design snag with the piece, such as a catch that - on my wrist, doing what I do - would come open too easily, so that the bracelet was in danger of falling off. Or it was a matter of comfort. I don't like bracelets that mark my wrist because of their weight, or some feature that digs in as the bracelet shifts position. Those bracelets were taken off and put away, although two of them subsequently found new homes with my local friends, and in their hands have been much appreciated. There's nothing wrong in my book with giving gifts to friends.

The only bracelet I ever owned in the past that was comfortable to wear, looked great, and became part of my regular jewellery ensemble, was this one, seen here in some photos taken yesterday:

As you can see, it hinges. There's a steel spring inside the hinge that keeps it shut. You simply prise it open against the force of the spring to put it on or take it off. It's not solid silver: it's hollow. But it still feels substantial. It weighs 51g. I have always loved the rippling on the outer surface, which catches the light beautifully. In the shots above it is reflecting the yellow of the top I was wearing.

I didn't wear it 24/7, only when I went out. But it was suitable for almost any occasion, and I wore it proudly nearly every day from September 2009 until August 2014. By then the spring had weakened. Any movement of my wrist would make the thing go 'clack', which was an irritation. And it was clear that if the spring ever gave way from too much metal fatigue, it would open up suddenly and drop off. I put it away, with the installation of a new spring in mind when I could afford it. Meanwhile I looked at new bracelets in the jewellers' shops I regularly visited, usually resisting (with a sigh) the impulse to buy.

The hinged bracelet really had been great to wear. It had become part of my 'look'. And without it, I felt vaguely nude. Alleviating that feeling was one of the things that drove me into looking for a replacement: I wasn't all that confident that it could be repaired at an economical cost.

Pruden & Smith in Ditchling (see were one of the shops within a few miles of home that not only sold upmarket jewellery made on their premises, but undertook repairs and redesigns. My friend Jo went there. The obvious choice! I popped in yesterday afternoon, showed my hinged bracelet to the girl who served me (Cat was her name), and asked what might be done to put in a new spring and restore it to its former glory. We went downstairs to the workshop and had a three-way discussion with one of the craftspeople. The answer: nothing at any reasonable cost. It would be very tricky to put in a new spring and get the tension right, and working with hollow pieces was always difficult. It couldn't be done at a price I'd be happy with.

Well, I can't say I was surprised. But I had been geared up to spend £70 or £80 on a repair (if it could be done at all) and in my heart wanted that bracelet back on my wrist, to ride again. Or a close substitute.

Did they have anything like it in the shop? They did.

Hmm, it looked quite similar. It wasn't hinged, but a one-piece affair - it was what they called a 'cuff'. It looked much the same on me as the hinged bracelet had. It was hammered, and caught the light in much the same attractive way as the hinged bracelet had with its ripples. It cost £99. Of course I bought it. Partly because on the day before the Volvo dealer had told me that my car's annual service was likely to cost £200 less than I'd estimated. So I genuinely had some money available.

Well, here is the new bracelet (cuff, I should say) soon after getting it home.

For comparison, here is the old bracelet being worn in its last days, in June and July 2014:

Gosh, you can see that in July 2014 I was already putting on weight! My face has lost much of that plumped-out look. That said, a little plumpness doesn't look unattractive (and it disguises lines and wrinkles).

The new bracelet isn't so 'chunky' nor as heavy (only 21g); but on the other hand it's solid, not hollow, and hallmarked to boot.

There you are. APRS is the maker's mark - AP stands for Anton Pruden I think, whom I saw when buying a previous item at the shop. The 925 refers to the silver content - 92.5% - which is 'sterling silver'. Then the rose symbol, which means 'assayed and hallmarked in Sheffield'. Then the lion symbol which again says 'sterling silver'. Finally, the lower-case letter 'r', which denotes '2016'.

I started off wearing the new bracelet or cuff on my right wrist, but it quickly migrated to my left wrist. The reason is straightforward. It's out of harm's way there. I'm right-handed, and if I wore the cuff all the time (as I intend to do), then it would be more likely to get knocked and scuffed on my right wrist than on my left. In any case, I think it might be displayed better if placed on my left wrist.

I did look into whether there was any rule about which wrist to wear bracelets on, but it seems not, although most women certainly do seem to prefer wearing watches and bracelets on their right wrist - possibly to 'balance' the rings and the watch on their left hand and wrist. Or maybe most women just copy each other, regardless of any practical considerations. But even if there were a definite rule, I'd flout it. I hate being a slave to social convention!

The new bracelet (or cuff) is very comfortable to wear. This is no doubt due to its width, which spreads the weight and makes it seem unnoticeable. I think I finally have the true successor here to the hinged ring from 2009.

And what is its very first association? Well, it starts off - auspiciously - connected with an important anniversary. Seven years ago, on 28th February 2011, I was enjoying - if that's the right word - my first night in a private hospital room with this on the door...

...and with this tag on my wrist (I have redacted the home address)...

And by this time in the afternoon on 1st March 2011 I was awake, uncomfortable but elated. And utterly relieved to be alive, after a leap into the unknown - it had been the first invasive surgery for fifty years. So, a momentous opening association for my new bracelet (or cuff)!