Thursday, 16 May 2019

Bank Holidays and bin days...

I was going to say Bank Holidays are like buses, as in you wait ages for one and then two or three turn up together, but with the current state of bus services in Northamptonshire that expression has lost some of its meaning!

I know the May Day Bank Holiday is a fairly recent addition, but I was wondering if it should perhaps be moved?  We have a long gap between August's and December's, could we perhaps do with one there somewhere?

Or should we all have one to celebrate our Patron Saint's Day?  The Welsh could have 1st March, the Irish the 17th March, the English the 23rd April and the Scottish the 30th November.

You can't beat a Bank Holiday for causing confusion over the bins though, can you?

There's always someone who forgets it's shifted a day, and puts theirs out on what should be the 'right' day.

This then causes bin confusion with the neighbours - who's right?  Do you put yours out just in case?  You can't run the risk of not having the refuse bin collected as it's now done once a fortnight.

So you check up and down the street.  Now one person's done it, other people are getting twitchy too.  There are bins appearing everywhere, as if by magic.

There's also the food caddy - that's done weekly, you've got to get that out there as well.

Then you remember there's been two Bank Holidays over Easter, you've lost the note from the council, now you don't know what to do.

So you err on the side of caution - you're pretty sure you're right, but you don't want to be the only one that doesn't get their bin emptied. 

Then your bins stand there for a day and a half, kerbside, handles out, looking dejected because of course it's shifted a day. 

You remind yourself to double check next time and make a note because the stress of having a Bank Holiday is all too much where the bins are concerned...

Wednesday, 24 April 2019

Education, education, education...

The headline on the Northants Telegraph 28th March made worrying reading - School Places Crisis.

I read Sarah Ward's report - there will be a shortage of secondary school places in Kettering, Corby and Northampton from September, and a deficit in the county as a whole for as long as projections are available.

The reasons given were a baby boom which is now hitting secondary school, migration to the county, the number of new homes being built, and the local education authority's reliance on academy trusts and free schools to provide additional spaces.

Then I read "Education levels are not at the level we would wish them to be", this from Cllr Fiona Baker, the county councillor responsible for education in Northamptonshire.

Shockingly, over a third of secondary schools in the county are ranked by school inspectors as 'requires improvement' or 'inadequate'.

Interestingly, 40 out of 42 schools in Northamptonshire offering mainstream secondary provision are run by academies or have free school status.

Therefore, although the county council is the local education authority and has ultimate responsibility for the education of the county's youngsters, most of the schools aren't actually under its direct control.

Apparently, as a minimum, extensions are needed to six existing schools, and two new secondaries are needed by 2023. 

But into this mix must be highlighted the fact that this crisis will be passed onto the two new proposed unitary authorities once NCC is disbanded in 2020.

Cllr Matt Golby is quoted as saying "Schools are going to be the big question as we move to unitary as well.  Whether we set up two local education authorities and how we are going to provide the infrastructure is a massive, massive ask and so that is another big strategic question that we need to be dealing with on this road to unitary."

As a concerned parent, could I please suggest that all relevant bodies urgently get together and sort this out.  The children of Northamptonshire deserve so much better.  So much for Tony Blair's clarion call of 'Education, education, education' and his legacy of academies.


Now, to anyone who knows me this won't come as much of a shocking revelation, but I don't consider myself much of a housekeeper.

Yes, I do my own cleaning, washing and ironing, but it's not something that I relish and enjoy - I do it because I have to.

So I couldn't quite get my head around the latest social media stars who love cleaning and share pictures of their newly polished sinks, for example.

Don't get me wrong, I love a clean sink as much as the next person, but I wouldn't have dreamed of taking a photo of the areas I've cleaned to post on social media, and not just because my cleaning prowess would be negatively critiqued by all and sundry.  Up until this point, I figured that nobody would be interested, but it appears that my assumption would be wrong.

I read an interview in a Sunday paper with Sophie Hinchliffe, AKA Mrs Hinch, who is a superstar in the world of cleaning.

She has a loyal band of followers - the Hinch Army or Hinchers - the verb 'to Hinch' means to clean, and areas that have been cleaned are dubbed 'Hinched'.

Even as a non-fan of all things domestic, I couldn't help but warm to her, and she imparted some interesting hints, tips and short cuts which I may try out.

She mentions various products, and I do use some of the same stuff, perhaps just not as effectively.

But even I can't deny the joy I get from treating myself to a new dish-washing brush or wave-shaped sponge, which I always thought was a little bit sad to admit!

In the spirit of sharing the knowledge, Helen's Handy Hint to deodorise and clean the inside of your microwave without using harsh chemicals, is place half a lemon in a dish of water, heat on full power for three to five minutes to create some steam, remove very carefully as contents will be hot, and then wipe out the inside of the microwave with a cloth, et voila!

Thursday, 28 March 2019

Baked beans for Brexit

The lady from Bradford being interviewed for BBC Breakfast was adamant - she was stockpiling baked beans for Brexit because, she said, you can live on them if you have to.

I'm not sure that's been scientifically proven, and Doctors probably wouldn't agree that this is a long term dietary solution, but I could relate to what she meant.

They're tinned with a reasonably long shelf-life, you can stack them in the pantry/cupboard/spare bedroom/garage/shed (depending on numbers requiring storage and availability of room), and they are pretty tasty. 

I also hear that they can be consumed cold, but despite the number of years I've walked this planet, I've yet to try this so can't really comment.  My personal recommendation is hot, on buttered toast, perhaps with a side serving of cheese, if you're feeling fancy.

But although I'm quite a fan, I do think that to eat them for breakfast, lunch and dinner over a period of several days would get a little repetitive, and would probably lead to some unfortunate side effects which might add to the climate change crisis if the whole nation followed suit.

It did make me wonder though if we should perhaps be putting a few extra items in the trolley each week, just in case?

I'm not talking about going 'wild in the aisles' Supermarket Sweep-style, but it's probably sensible to make sure that you're not going to run out of loo rolls, particularly if you are planning on partaking in the Brexit baked bean diet, as detailed above.

And tea - never mind the numerous coffee shops and the low-fat, one-shot cappuccino with chocolate sprinkled on the top - we all know that this nation runs on tea, so it might be worth buying another box of your favourite brew to tide you over.

So onto my list goes extra baked beans, loo rolls and tea.  Oh, and cheese - you can never have too much cheese.  Again, this is my own personal opinion, I'm not a Doctor: a medical professional would probably say you could have too much cheese...

Thursday, 21 March 2019

World Book Day 2019

Now, don't get me wrong, I'm a big fan of World Book Day.

Anything that encourages children to read books is something to be applauded, and I think it's fantastic that so many schools get involved with this event.

But I'm sure I'm not the only parent who breathes a sigh of relief once their child reaches secondary school age so no longer has to, or has any desire to, dress up as their favourite book character.

I know, the kids love it, but it's just another thing we parents have to worry about, ensuring a suitable costume is ready, sometimes with short notice because we didn't see it on the newsletter/didn't get the letter/missed it because the dog and/or cat was being sick on the carpet at the time and we were distracted with more pressing matters, and then we just forgot.

Yes, I also appreciate that a lot of people just buy a costume, or let their children wear their favourite superhero outfit on the day - that's ok too.  Life's complicated enough, and trying to shoehorn a reluctant child into an outfit they don't want to wear only ends in tears for all parties concerned.

Speaking from personal experience, if you're not particularly crafty in any sense of the word, creating outfits for dress-up days or school plays is a nightmare.

I remember the time mine announced she had to go to school dressed as a mini-beast, as they were studying bugs for their topic.

Rather unusually for me, I somehow managed to handcraft a spider costume, using one of husband's old black t-shirts and four pairs of my M&S black opaque tights, stuffed with copies of the Northants Telegraph.

This, however, is my one and only triumph at creating a costume for such an occasion.  And yes, I'm pretty sure I disassembled it and gave himself back his t-shirt and continued wearing the tights once the newspaper was removed - 'reduce, reuse, recycle' as Bob the Builder would say, hopefully in a book somewhere!

Thursday, 14 March 2019

Dr Martens

I was so pleased to read in the Northants Telegraph about the £2 million expansion of the Dr Martens' site in Wollaston.

At last, some good news for the county, and indeed the whole country.

I'm going to admit to also being very excited about the new heritage centre and factory tour too - please sign me up!

You see, I love DMs, always have.  I've been working it out, and I've been a proud wearer for over 30 years now.

My DMs have evolved as I've aged though:  my ten-hole black boots, customised with Guinness laces from my tour of St James's Gate Brewery in Dublin - I love a good brewery/factory tour, you see - have long since been replaced by a slightly more demure pair of heeled Doc shoes, still with the proudly distinctive chunky bouncing soles.

I had a 'proud parent' moment too when I bought my daughter her first DM boots - a purple pair from the factory shop in Wollaston, naturally. 

Everywhere she went in them she received compliments.  Sadly now outgrown, I can't bear to part with them.  Not sure I can find her first pair of baby shoes, but I know where her first pair of Docs are!

The new heritage centre will be a boon to the local tourist economy, as visitors are sure to flock to see an iconic brand being produced and learn more about its history to boot (pardon the pun!).

I also found it extremely heartening to read about the success of Dr Martens' 'Made In England' range. 

As somebody who always tries to buy British and support our economy whenever I can, it's good to know that this part of the business is thriving.

Truthfully, we really have so much to be proud of in this county, let's celebrate a great Northamptonshire success story and focus on some good news for a change.

Well done Dr Martens!

Thursday, 28 February 2019


I felt very sorry for the Japanese couple who had seven specimens from their priceless Bonsai tree collection stolen, including a Shimpaku Juniper which was over 400 years old.

In a plea for their return, the couple also gave instructions on how the trees should be properly cared for, and said they were like their children.

Doubtless the thieves have already got buyers lined up for the precious plants, we can but hope that they do some research and care for the trees.  Or even better, do the right thing and return them to their original owners, unharmed.

But as I read this story and marvelled at the age that these tiny trees can get too, it also made me think of every single plant that has crossed my threshold only to reach the end of its lifespan long before its expiration date.

It's not that I don't care about plants - I really do, and I love trees and my garden.

It's just that when they come into the house, sit pride of place on a windowsill in a plant pot, I just forget to water them.

It's become embarrassing though, as any time I'm presented with a plant I tell the kind bestower that of course I'll water it, feed it, talk to it and nurture it.  I tell myself that maybe this time will be different and this one will survive.  Except they never do. 

The one exception is a particularly hardy Aloe Vera which has made it past the ten year mark.  How this has happened is a mystery.  It perhaps needs donating to science to have its DNA sequenced or whatever they do as I may have stumbled across the secret to eternal life, unwittingly and unknowingly.

When my family teases me about the demise of yet another plant in my care, I remind them to be thankful that at least I remember to feed and water each of them, and to please note that the dog is exceptionally well cared for too!