Thrifty Finds

This week’s Thrifty Finds (19-26 June)

 

This Week's Thrifty Finds via secondhandtales.wordpress.com

How was last week? Have you cooled down since our mini heatwave here in the UK?

Here are some of my Thrifty Finds from last week:

  1. The weather was really hot here! It got up to 30C plus which is hard to live in when you don’t have air conditioning and life has to go on as normal. I located our two portable fans from the loft and we got by on closing windows, drawing curtains and staying inside (our stone cottage stays lovely and cool downstairs; upstairs is a different story though). We also did things differently: at the beginning of the week I took the girls to the play park at 7.30pm because it had only just started to cool down then! I also said ‘no’ to a picnic lunch at work because it was too hot to go out.
  2. When the weather cooled down towards the end of the week I did go out on my lunchbreak for some charity shop browsing, which I hadn’t done in a while. While I resisted a couple of dresses (see my Instagram feed) I bought a pile of books (total £4.60)

second hand books, charity shop books

Two of the books are for my holiday reading pile. I thought this one was particularly prescient, given the recent heatwave (and hottest day since June 1976!)

second hand books, charity shop books

3. These two books were for a friend who had a nasty horseriding accident and has suffered a badly broken leg 😦

Shell be immobile for most of the summer; I thought a couple of good books might help her to get through it. I’m just so relieved the accident wasn’t more serious.

4. Friends came round for a meal on Saturday night and we ended up with some leftover pudding (which they kindly made).

5. We survived to payday with very little food in the house and ended up eating the last of the freezer meals on Sunday. However this past month has been rather chaotic, shopping wise. I usually place one large supermarket order to last the  month, and then top up with regular veg box delivery/trips to the greengrocer in Corsham, plus doorstep milk delivery. This past month, however, I did a smaller online delivery and, as a result, we have been spending a small fortune each week on ‘top up shops’ and have gone way over budget! So it’s back to one large monthly shop for July and if we don’t have it, we don’t buy it (apart from fruit and veg).

By the way if you are a UK reader have you been watching the latest series of Eat Well for Less ? It’s a really informative series that tries to help families who are overspending on, and throwing away, a lot of the food they buy. Every episode I find I am picking up some useful tips (and recipes), even if I think I am quite organised when it comes to meal planning and shopping.

What are your tips when it comes to food shopping? I’d love to hear about all your Thrifty Finds. Please  share them on my facebook page, or use #thriftyfinds on Twitter or instagram

Dickens and Domestic Drudgery between the wars: review of ‘One Pair of Hands’

Monica Dickens: One Pair of Hands

Despite our short stay in Swanage we did manage a trip to the secondhand bookshop where I picked up this Penguin edition for £2.

As I have mentioned many times I am a great fan of Persephone Books. One of their re-printed authors is Monica Dickens and I really enjoyed her wartime novel, ‘Mariana’. So I was very excited to come across this edition of her debut autobiographical book, ‘One Pair of Hands’, originally published in 1939.

Monica Dickens, a great grandaughter of Charles Dickens,  grows bored of her debutante life of parties and trips to New York. So, in the mid 1930s she enrolls in cookery classes and starts to work as a cook to a selection of upper and middle class families in London.

Her self deprecating style (she believes she is a bad, clumsy and disorganised cook) and hilarious observations of both below and above stairs life is a far cry from Downton Abbey. While she adopts the persona of an ordinary cook, and never gives away her privileged background, she does hold an irreverent attitude towards her employers, which comes with being upper class herself.

Monica listens at closed doors and pretends she doesn’t understand the French that is spoken by her employers when she is in the room (apparently the language used by the upper classes to talk about private affairs and servants when they are present). Her housework is haphazard, and she often lies about- or exaggerates – her culinary skills.

Yet, despite this, she seems to make a successful, if short-lived, career as a cook-general. Apparently, a cook-general, was a term used in the 1920s and 1930s to describe a domestic servant who undertook both cooking and housekeeping.

Out of the many positions that Monica undertakes, only two are live-in. Most of the time she is employed as a daily cook. She occasionally has the help of a  ‘char woman’ who comes in to clean. Apart from this her only regular company is the daily call of grocers, bakers, milkmen and greengrocers who come to the back door to deliver, and take orders for, provisions.

Reading the book you get the impression that servants were hard to come by in the mid thirties.  By this period, there were more job opportunities for working class women (secretarial, department store sales). By the time the book was published the world was about to change in unimaginable ways which would further break down master and servant boundaries.

With the arrival of technology such as gas powered ranges, frigidairs (or ‘frig’) and even vacuum cleaners, domestic work was supposed to be easier. However the author still seems to struggle with these appliances (don’t we all?).There is an underlying theme throughout the book that employers really have no idea of how hard or time consuming the work is. Having recently re-read Sarah Waters’ ‘The Paying Guests‘ (set in 1922) it is evident how much of a drudge daily life was for any domestic servant, or for those genteel women who could no longer afford them.

It is this daily drudgery and perpetual exhaustion that eventually forces Monica Dickens to give it all up. However, for an upper class deb , this is easily done. My nan (born ten years before Ms Dickens) was employed in domestic work for most of her life because she had few opportunities.

While there are many outdated themes in the book, the one I struggle with most is the idea that people don’t know how to cook. Even the more modest couples who live in London flats seem incapable of boiling an egg. How these people would have survived  without paying other people to cook, clean and wash for them, completely baffles me. Surely one of the most fundamental needs of any human being is to feed themselves, and not one that should be left to rely solely on a particular class or gender?

While the book is perceptive and funny, I can’t quite understand the author’s motive for undertaking this work in the first place. Is it to genuinely find an occupation or is it a source of entertainment? If, however, the experience below stairs was to chronicle a form of domestic servitude, and accompanying class attitudes, that has since  disappeared, then Monica Dickens’ book is an amusing insight.

Second-hand book: The children who lived in a barn

You may remember I picked up a few second-hand books at our village’s May Fair:

secondhand books

One of these was a children’s book written by Eleanor Graham and originally published in 1938.  ‘The Children who lived in a Barn’ had been on my wishlist for a while as it was republished by Persephone Books, a publishing house I really love. (I have blogged about them here)

Persephone Books re-printed ‘The Children who lived in a Barn’ in 2001, with a preface by renowned children’s author, Jacqueline Wilson. It tells the story of the five Dunnet children whose parents disappear on a plane trip and who are left to fend for themselves on the outskirts of a rural village.

The children who lived in a barn

The children move out of their rented house and into a deserted barn, loaned to them by a kindly farmer. The children range in age from 13 to seven and, while dodging the interfering ‘District Visitor’ (DV) and trying to make do on very little money, still manage to be fed, watered and attend school.

In her preface to the Persephone edition, Jacqueline Wilson writes:

‘Back in the fifties the book seemed entirely convincing. Reading it now I’m in my fifties it seems extraordinary.”

And it certainly does! The edition I picked up for 50p dates from 1965 and I’m not sure it would have seemed feasible even then for five children to be left to fend for themselves for months on end. Certainly, reading it as a parent in 2016 (and speaking as one who really does enjoy children’s literature) I find it astonishing.

The children who lived in a barn

The burden of running the new household falls on the shoulders of the eldest child, Sue, who is ‘thirteen and a bit’.   She is the first one to rise in the morning, light the fire, make breakfast (and then wash up),and get the younger children ready for school. One morning a week she even gets up at five to wash all of their clothes – before going onto school herself. She also helps local shopkeepers with their bookkeeping, and the ‘District Visitor’ has plans for her to go into service. Her younger brother, Bob, takes on the role of ‘father’ and they become surrogate parents to the younger siblings.

The irony is that these are fairly well-off middle class children whose parents wouldn’t have dreamed of sending them to the local village school. However when they abruptly leave them all to visit a sick relative in France, the young Dunnets really are left alone.

Some could argue they experience a free-range childhood, without the constraints of parents (don’t all the best children’s books feature absent parents?). However there doesn’t seem to be much playing for the eldest child. As a parent of a 14 year old girl I can’t imagine her possessing half the skills that Sue has. But, in terms of modern day life, she can do the washing and cook tea using all the appliances that now save us time and remove us from the drudgery and sheer hard work of housework. However, if I had sons, I would expect the same of them.

The children’s adventures in the barn come to an end – and just in time before winter sets in and the ‘DV’s plans to separate the children.

I’m not sure I could say that I enjoyed reading this book, and am relieved I only spent 50p rather than £12 on it. However as an insight into pre-war childhood, and the roles and responsibilities of teenage girls, it is quite an eye-opener.

 

 

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World Book Day Finds

Yesterday was World Book Day. By chance I was in Bath for a dentist’s appointment and found I had some spare time on my hands. Whenever I have a little spare time I trawl the city’s charity shops (a route I know inside out!). And I came across these books:

Paddington & The Children of Green Knowe

 

The Children of Green Knowe by Lucy M Boston and Paddington Helps Out by Michael Bond

I’d wanted to get hold of the former for a while (a classic children’s ghost story) but the Paddington was a real find. A couple of years ago we picked up a very battered copy from a quirky bookshop in Morecambe.

Morecambe Bookshop

My youngest has been reading the stories but her copy is so battered that she actually gave up on it earlier this week. So we were both delighted when I found this copy (on the left) for 50p from the British Red Cross Shop.

Paddington Helps Out

It will be a shame to throw away the older copy so I will see what I can do with it. This takes my second-hand book purchases to three in the past week as I also picked up the Laura Ingalls Wilder book, On the Banks of Plum Creek (I am slowly building my Little House collection).

second-hand children's books

I love buying – and reading – second-hand children’s books. Sometimes I pick up the same version I read as a child. I also love the fact that my enjoyment of reading can be passed onto my children and, if they decide it’s not for them, we can just re-donate the books.

Paddington Bear at Paddington Station

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second-hand books: January roundup.

I am still trying to be more thoughtful when I buy books, even when they are second-hand. We now have ten bookshelves in the lounge (upcycled from old floorboards) but the rule is that all our books must fit on them. So, apart from a few scattered in bedrooms, there are no other bookshelves in the house. And if a book doesn’t fit on the shelf then it has to go…

bookshelves, with our cosy reading corner

bookshelves, with our cosy reading corner on the left

I wrote in this post of my love for everything ever published by Persephone Books. These books do come with a hefty price tag (£12) but they are worth every penny. Imagine my delight, then, at coming across one in mint condition at the Oxfam Book Shop in Bath for £3.49

Dorothy Whipple: Someone at a Distance

Someone at a Distance was originally published in 1953, and was the last novel written by Dorothy Whipple I love reading books set in the 1930s-1950s, an era which Persephone Books covers very well. While I haven’t finished this novel I am hooked on this tale of a well to do English family whose lives are turned upside down by the arrival of a French ‘femme fatale’. It’s such a pleasure to become immersed in a book!

 

This week I also picked up a second-hand copy of a David Walliams novel as my middle daughter has been enjoying his writing. Having scoured half a dozen charity shops this was the only David Walliams book I could find. She was delighted.

David Walliams: gangsta granny

As for the ‘one in one out’ rule on books we have a school jumble sale in a few weeks’s time and we shall set to work this weekend stripping down the shelves to make room for our new (to us) purchases.

Christmas Bookshelf

 

A Christmas Bookshelf

It is has become somewhat of a tradition in our house to have a small collection of Christmas books on display at this time of year. It’s really nice to be reunited with familiar tales and remind us all of when the children were really young.

Over the years I have added to this collection and have picked up a few from charity shops:

Books to read at Christmas time

Among the children’s books are these:

Children's books to read at Christmas

The Snow Lady is a lovely tale by the wonderful author, Shirley Hughes. A little girl thinks her elderly neighbour is grumpy and miserable but feels bad when she makes fun of her. There is a classic Charlie and Lola tale (which came with an audio CD): Snow is my favourite and my best. The Christmas Gingerbread is a delightfully illustrated story about badly behaved gingerbread men and women. Of course no home is complete without the classic tale: The Night Before Christmas.

I also wanted to mention two classic books which we bought first hand:

Books to read at Christmas

Fireside Tales is a special collection of winter tales from around the world. Published by Barefoot Books the stories take us through the winter season, from a Scottish tale of mystery set at Halloween to Russian, Canadian and Czech stories meant for Christmas, New Year and the coming of Spring. I also wanted to mention the lovely abbreviated stories, taken from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series (which, even as an adult I still love). We have a couple of picture books, adapted as tales for young readers. Every Christmas we read Christmas in the Big Woods, taken from the first book in the series when Laura, Mary and baby Carrie live in the woods of Wisconsin, and welcome their cousins for Christmas.

I sometimes find myself re-reading excerpts from the other Little House on the Prairie season at this time of year, especially when brave Mr Edwards saves Christmas Day in Little House in the Prairie, or the family welcome old friends and manage to stretch their food and gifts in By the Shores of Silver Lake. For a look at how desperate winters could be for settlers in the American Mid West I would recommend The Long Winter.

I also have a small collection of Christmas and Winter books meant for adults, which I have picked up second-hand:

Winter and Christmas reading Tove Jansson is the creator of the Moomin series for children. I really enjoyed her A Summer Book, set on a small Finnish island. I also picked up second-hand A Winter Book, a collection of her Winter themed short stories.

This week I was fortunate enough to find this book by The Woman in Black author, Susan Hill. I’ve just started to read Lanterns Across the Snow with my middle daughter, and we are really enjoying it. Lanterns Across the Snow by Susan Hill

 

It is the tale of a nine year old girl living in the Dorset countryside with her family (her father is a vicar) and set over a hundred years ago. The illustrations by Kathleen Lindsley are charming and the text (and images) remind me of my childhood favourite: The Country Child by Alison Uttley.

Susan Hill: Lanterns Across the Snow

Finally, for me, no Christmas reading list is complete without the wonderful and  frightening tales by MR James. If you have not read his short ghost stories before you will find them familiar. Over the years they have been adapted for television and radio. Their scenarios are familiar: empty hotel rooms where shapes appear in the bedclothes; a mysterious figure on a desolate beach seen only out of the corner of your eye; a pair of binoculars which, when viewed through, reveal grisly scenes. Although writing in the early 20th Century he is often seen as the father of the modern ghost story. And there is nothing more Christmas-like than a good old scary tale…..

MR James: Collected Ghost Stories

 

Persephone books

Persephone Books

My love for Persephone Press began when I came across one of their books in a charity shop in Swanage. ‘Miss Pettigrew lives for a day’ by Winifred Watson  is a funny, life affirming tale of a ‘middle aged’ governess who becomes swept up in the hedonistic – and dramatic – lifestyle of a nightclub singer in 1930s London. It is certainly of its time  (with casual references to cocaine) but it is also an enjoyable read.

Originally written and published in 1938, Persephone Books reprinted the novel in 2001. The aim of the publishing house is to reprint novels from the mid 20th Century that have been largely forgotten, or out of print. Although they focus on female writers they also feature male authors, such as Leonard Woolf. They include some authors who may be better known for their children’s books, such as Richmal Crompton (creator of the ‘Just William’ series), Barbra Euphan Todd (Worzel Gummidge) and – my favourite – Noel Streatfeild.

When I was a child I loved Streatfeild’s series of ‘Ballet Shoes’ and I have to say that Persephone Books’ reprint of her grown up novel, ‘Saplings’ is one of the best books I have read for ages. Originally published in 1945 it is a heart-breaking story of how war affects the lives of four siblings. The Guardian said of it: “…A book that belongs in the archives of the Imperial War Museum..” and I agree.

Many of the Persephone Press novels that I have read focus on the Second World War and, in particular, women’s experience. I would recommend ‘Marianna’ by Monica Dickens (the novel begins at the start of WW2 then returns to the tale of the protagonist’s childhood); ‘Good Evening, Mrs Craven’, a collection of tales from the homefront. For the period just after the war, when the pre-war social order was trying to re-establish itself and the continent of Europe was still in upheaval I would recommend Marghanita Laski’s novels: ‘Little Boy Lost’ and ‘The Village’.

I rarely buy books, in an attempt to keep control of our bookshelves. I have written before about only keeping those books which I truly love and know I will read again. The books of Persephone Press are my one bibliophilic treat. While they are a hefty price (£9-£14) I have never been disappointed by any that I have read. They also have the most beautiful design and can truly be judged by their covers.

Persephone Books