My pulses are quickening

I had another sleepless night last night. I have identified stress and anxiety as the cause. No surprise, you may think, as we are about to remove all of our hard-earned comfort and  security and render ourselves of no fixed abode – but, no, that is not it. The current anxiety levels relate to whether or no we will get the new van through the gate and the fact that I shall be the one outside the van, keeping an eye on things and issuing driving instructions to the pilot.

Mr L tells me that he has been out with a tape and the measurements are all OK. It’s not that I do not trust him, he is after all a practical man, but I think for my inner sense of well-being I do need him to take me out with said tape measure and illustrate to me how matters are going to work. As for matters of a financial nature, well I simply choose to trust him.

I do not fear a lack of funds. I have been poor, really poor, at several stages of my life and I have always coped. Bills have always been paid on time and tummies have mostly been full. For the purposes of this post I shall choose to ignore the time that two heavies came to my door because the cheque for my wedding ring had bounced. Husband #1 was frankly feckless and is best put aside from memory. All that I really owe him is my thanks for the learning curve: I know how to be poor and still  keep a roof above my head without starving. Those days are best left to the memoirs, should I ever get around to writing them.

Husband #2 was not feckless (though a master of infidelity) we just had to live through some difficult and uncertain times – he was not to blame, all blame falls to That Woman.

By the time that Husband #3 came along, I had sorted out my selection mechanism and Mr L is of course, practically perfect in every way. However, I did have to keep him until his financial matters were sorted out and later we did find ourselves supporting two families on one salary for several years.  In fact, after I quit work to run away to Scotland in 2002, and until very recently, we have been coping with a mortgage and a single income. Now that the mortgage is paid off and my pension has come in, we’re feeling fairly comfortable.

It was not without a few butterflies in my stomach that I heard Mr L say that he wanted to retire early. Just when we were out of the woods, he comes up with a strategy that means we shall not be as well off in our old age as I had hoped. Well, I did suck that one up… but now he wants to buy this very expensive home on wheels and, worse, take out a loan to do so. A sensible woman would take fright at this stage. Me, I pander to his whim 🙂

So, the loan will be short term – when Retirement Day arrives there will be a lump sum that will pay the loan off. In the meantime, with Mr L only working three days a week… we need to cut back. He is doing his bit by cancelling magazines, and wine and chocolate subscriptions.  Overheads have been cut by ridding ourselves of the Land Rover, cutting out the luxury of evening baths and turning down thermostats. Stuff is being sold. There will still be a few months where things are seriously tight. My job is in the kitchen and at the shops. The housekeeping budget needs to be pruned severely. This is the point at which I have to be grateful for all the practice that I put in with not-so-dear-husbands #1 and #2.

Things that I learned from my first marriage: differentiate between wants and needs. Buy only what is needed. Cracked eggs are cheap by the tray but you do need to break them into a cup first to avoid nasty surprises. Pay attention to nutritional requirements and meet them as cheaply as possible. Sometimes you just have to walk four miles to the shops because it’s bus fare or bread. Bread wins. (Yes, I know that I make my own – but then I had no oven. These days substitute “basic foods.”)

Things that  learned from my second marriage: a veggie diet is a cheap diet – pulses are your best friend. You can do a zillion things with a sack of potatoes. If you want the cheapest prices you have to shop around – it cannot all be done in one shop. Soup can be a main meal.

Back then I could buy a sack of spuds from a farm gate for around £4 – and it would last me a month, feeding a family of four on potato soup, homity pie, jacket potatoes, potatoes boulangere, cheese and potato pie… and the inevitable chips, plus so much more  – stretching fish by making fishcakes, pulling off the same trick with a can of corned beef to make a hash… the possibilities are endless. I would also buy pulses very cheaply from the scoop shop and make much of lentils. Lentil burgers are yummy, daal is delicious, and lentils make a good mince substitute – I used to make a corker of a lentil chilli by mixing three different types of lentil to get an interesting texture. The chilli is of course a double triple whammy, with red kidney beans included and some brown rice on the side. Mixing the spuds and the pulses, there’s Red Dragon Pie, a favourite of the former vegetarian in my life.

In short, I never minded being short of money – I found that I enjoyed rising to the challenge and making sure that we were well fed on good tasty and wholesome food for the minimum spend. The lessons that I learned when I was younger have stayed with me and I believe that I have  forgotten few of the tips for doing it well and with style. It may be significantly more difficult up here in Orkney, where food is so expensive, lacks variety and is often poor in quality/freshness. Don’t get me wrong, there is much about Orkney food that is wonderful, especially the meat, but it’s noo cheap. There will be little Orkney beef on our plates for the coming months but I shall embrace the challenge and learn to love the Neep. I hope.

Today we had a soup based on lentils and carrots. Served with yesterday’s homemade bread, it was delicious and satisfying. Eyeing up my lentil jar I see that I shall be needing a new bag of lentils soon – I buy them by the 3 kilo… and that is one thing that I can buy locally that won’t break the bank.

Yesterday’s bread was a triumph – the bread dome/ Aga combo turns out brilliant results. I also put a tray of home made Granola in the oven as it was cooling after I turned it down from the bread session – so I now have plenty of breakfast cereal for our trip. I’m going to make some more bread dough and freeze it after knocking back, in one loaf portions in plastic bags. These will make smashing cold blocks to keep the fridge temperature down and will provide me with bread while we travel – I can make flatbreads in Brunhilde but bake proper loaves in the oven in the new van. Such luxury!

Although the forthcoming trip is essentially this year’s holiday, we have decided to use it to practise normal living on the road – so there will be no Saturday evening steak dinners and no bedtime whisky, no beer snacks and dips… I shall take some ready-cooked meals for the first few nights so that we need to buy very little from Tesco as we set off. When we have the new van it will have more storage space, with the added luxuries of oven, microwave, larger fridge (3-way fuelled, so always on) and a small freezer. We will then do a shopping trip for basic supplies that I can put together much as I do at home, for sensible meals, relying less on convenience as we have to in Brunhilde, with her kitchen limitations.

We have an image of the way that we shall live as full-timers, foraging and buying from farm shops and markets – I learned today that this has a name “Roadside Roulette” and that many travellers do just this, picking up whatever they find and fancy during the day and putting it together as a meal at the end, rather than planning a menu and going out to the shops to furnish any necessary ingredients. I love this notion of Roadside Roulette and it first perfectly with my mental image of eating local, eating seasonal, and eating fresh. When we finally get to France I am expecting to eat more cold meals than we do now, cooking only once or twice a week. Whilst we travel in the UK I think soups will likely take the place of salads, cheese and charcuterie.

The one thing that I must sort out with urgency is a way of making my bread when we are on the road. The new van has a much better kitchen than Brunhilde’s and offers two ovens but lacks work surfaces – and I rather doubt that my Kenwood Chef will be coming with me! (we are in arbitration over the Magimix.)

Today I am investigating  barbecues as travelling cooking solutions. There are two contenders at the moment, both have their aficionados and both are said to cope with bread-baking,  but I fancy neither will become a reality until we have sold the house – and that may take years.

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