Thursday, 15 March 2018

The need to explain and apologise

I start writing this at 8.00pm, and had I attended this evening's Slimming World group meeting I would still be there. As it is, I've already cooked and eaten my evening meal, and I'm about to watch BBC1's Shetland drama on iPlayer, as soon as I finish this post and free up the laptop screen. It's rather nice to have my Thursday evenings back!

Although I had told my local girl friends Jackie and Jo that I was bringing my visits to SW to a close, Jackie was surprised this morning when I reminded her that I wouldn't be going tonight. Well, a week ago the cut-off date was going to be the end of March, then three weeks ahead. But that changed.

I put it this way to her in a text: 'I did originally think I'd see out my current Countdown [a block of twelve weigh-ins, paid for in advance] - which would take me neatly to the end of March - but now I just want to finish it at once, and without fuss or formality. I don't want to go along and explain and justify. People drop out all the time, of course. In any case, with departure for Devon so close, and preps to get on with, I can really use this Thursday evening! Lucy XX'.

And I did make good use of the time, cleaning the cooker and fridge in the caravan. And cooking early, not late.

I thought not attending tonight's group meeting wouldn't trouble me, but actually it has. It's odd, isn't it? In a funny way I feel I've joined the ranks of those who join then give up, not being equal to the commitment, and that I ought to be ashamed of myself. It's not a strong feeling: I'm certainly not racked with guilt. But I do think that perhaps I should have gone there tonight, to bring it all to a proper end, an 'official' end, rather than just letting my membership lapse without a word. Even though I've never noticed anybody else make a formal announcement that they are quitting. And despite the fact that, in life generally, a neat and tidy ending is only rarely achievable.

Perhaps I just like to do the right thing, and not the lazy thing, nor the ill-mannered thing. And I'm sure that my upbringing compels me to explain and apologise, when no explanation or apology is expected. I urgently need to get past that, and not worry about what people might think.

I dare say this is really all about wanting to be remembered with affection, and not as somebody who slunk away without saying goodbye. Well, I'll just have to let people decide for themselves what lay behind my sudden departure. Jackie intends to carry on going to SW once a month. She has reached her weight-loss target, and the deal then is that provided you attend a weigh-in at least once every eight weeks, and are no more than three pounds over or under target, then that and future attendances are entirely free. She'll go because she likes SW's recipe booklets, and the low-syn snacks they sell, and will want to buy some of those. Who knows, she may be asked what became of me.

It's a good thing that I'm about to go on holiday! It isn't good to dwell on something not done as well as it could have been done.

Sunday, 11 March 2018

Baby Boomers versus Millennials

Hmm. Class War may be old hat, but Generation War is definitely an issue nowadays. Specifically, between the so-called Baby Boomers and the so-called Millennials. The former being those born in the ten or so years following the Second World War - say anytime up to 1955 - and those born around the year 2000, give or take five years either way - so that they are presently young adults.

These are terrible labels. I resent being tagged a 'baby boomer', although I do qualify as one, being born in 1952, the first product of parents who were young adults during the War and met and married when peace came. The label sounds horribly American. It conjures up an era of post-war prosperity as the economy switched from manufacturing war machines and equipment to consumer goods, creating full employment and a surging standard of living for all. That may have been true in some parts of America. It wasn't true in Britain, which was still burdened with food rationing while I was a toddler. Although Dad had a decent Civil Service job with prospects, I don't remember many luxuries in the home while I was young.

Still, I grew up in a world that, even if it was overshadowed by the constant threat of nuclear war - 'Mutually Assured Destruction', remember? - seemed to get more and more comfortable. My education was completely free, and despite school being a place I hated, I emerged with decent A-Levels in the bag, and they gave me a seamless entry at eighteen into a good job with a good salary, and a so-called 'gold-plated' pension at the end of it. And I now enjoy that pension, and have done for very nearly thirteen years since retiring in 2005, with the State Pension as a handy top-up since the end of 2014. In the last third of my life, it's good to know that I have all these things:

# An adequate income for the rest of my days.
# A nice little home of my own, mortgage-free.
# A touring caravan for lots of holidays.
# A high-spec car to tow it, and run around in.
# Good health and no dependents.

That's the pleasant side of the coin, mind. There's the dark side...

# No fat wad in the bank. That adequate income largely gets spent. I live well, but haven't yet been able to put by much for future medical needs, house maintenance, and a replacement car. I plan to rectify that, but it's only a plan, and all sorts of unexpected things could thwart it.
# I'm on my own. No family to act as a safety net, or to look out for me when I get old and feeble. I absolutely want independence, of course; but the future price of it could be dire.

All said, though, my situation is a happy one - even if it isn't enviable in all respects. A happy and fulfilling life isn't all about having oodles of leisure time, and enough cash for meals out, nice clothes and trinkets. It's also about such things as family, and loving someone, and having distinction in the community. But I think quite a lot of people would be wistful for my particular situation. And I am sure that all over the country there are other Lucy Melfords with an equally rosy life. We are the Baby Boomers. We have economic clout. We have experience and long memories. We have voting power. We rule OK.

And I can perfectly see how the Millennials might look at us and feel that life just isn't fair.

They may have had an even more comfortable upbringing, filled with toys and gadgets and McDonalds and Facebook, and a host of other wonders that I never knew, and a university experience too, but - for most of them - the glittering career isn't there at the end of it, nor is a home of their very own ever likely to be a reality, and it seems that they will never be able to retire. A depressing outlook, not helped in any way by watching the Baby Boomers - at least baby boomers like myself - having a ball. Or if not a ball, then at least lots of merry little gatherings with white wine and nibbles, and no special worries apart from one's weight and clothes size, and the odd sore toe.

In any standoff between Haves and Have-Nots, the Haves look gross and the Have-Nots get sympathy. The labels ensure that individual cases that confound the image get overlooked or ignored, and you simply have a simplistic confrontation between stark stereotypes.  Where does this end? In a country used to turmoil it means eventual revolution. In Britain it just leads to an undercurrent of discontent and grouchy remarks. We don't do violent social upheaval. Or not so far.

It's a smug platitude to say that it's all a matter of chance - your date of birth, home location, and the economic position and attitudes of one's parents all combining to determine the course of your life. And that the Baby Boomers were just lucky, as some other generations have been before them, and will be again. In a sense, that's completely true, but it's not by any means the whole story, and it's no consolation whatever to any Millennial wanting to get on.

What can be done? Well, I do think that my generation enjoys old age benefits that are, in some cases, unnecessarily generous. I'd be content with an annual State Pension increase tied only to the CPI, so that it keeps pace with inflation (which is fair), but doesn't bound ahead as it is apt to do under the current 'Triple Lock' arrangement. I could personally manage without my £200 Winter Fuel Allowance and my £10 Christmas Bonus. I don't regularly use my free Senior Railcard, and wouldn't miss it. I don't really need any of those small age concessions you can get when buying an admission ticket.

I'm speaking of foregoing maybe £500 worth of age-related discounts and benefits each year. It doesn't sound much. But if the twelve million Baby Boomers like me also forewent the same amount, that's £6 billion to use on things that might ease the situation for the hard-pressed Millennials. Why doesn't the Chancellor see to it?

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?