2015 Book Challenge – 12 – Birdsong

First post of the 2015 book challenge is here

Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks was recommended to me by a friend with the strict instructions to NOT read Human Traces.

The first part of this book starts off in pre-war France, and for a moment I thought I was back in the Suite Francaise. Lingering descritions of the hot sultry summer, the slight pressure of a foot resting against and ankle. It all sounded stifling, and I was relieved when the war began. While the writing did start out as too atmosphere-based for my taste, I enjoyed little observations such as that the pattern on a teapot showed “small pink roses set, improbably, on trails of honeysuckle”.

Descriptions of the conditions in the trenches were engrossing. The cameraderie of the “pals” who had joined up together, and the sense of loss when their numbers dwindled, was strong without being overly sentimental. Jack Firebrace was particularly worth paying attention to.

Reading about optimism before the Somme – “casualties will be ten per cent” – was excruciating (as I’m sure it was designed to be).

In an introduction I read that there was very little written about the First World War for many decades after it happened – I suppose the interludes in the 70s were designed to highlight this. I was not entirely convinced that I cared much about Elizabeth or her maried lover or her employers, but the descriptions of her “career woman” lifestyle made interesting reading. As well as the war, it seems that the flu epidemic of 1918 (which I’d now consider to be widely heard-of) had also passed out of common knowledge.

The 70s pieces did give my favourite quote

“She had taken a job because she needed to live; she had found an interesting one in reference to a dull one; she had tried to do well rather than baady. She could not see how any of these three logical steps implied a violent rejection of men or children.”

Second favourite quote:

“Stephen had a false eloquence lent by drink; it could have led him to adopt any opinion with fluency.”

2015 Book Challenge – 11 – Whose Body?

First post of the 2015 book challenge is here

This book is interesting in being recommended not by the internet, not by a person I know in real life, but by another fictional character. In To Say Nothing Of The Dog (which I highly recommend) a man time-travelling to the late Victorian era models his behaviour on this series’ protagonist, to reasonably good effect.

Whose Body? by Dorothy L Sayers is the first in a series of books about Lord Peter Wimsey, a gentleman detective. And there is plenty of whimsy.

This is, in essence, a good old Agatha Christie sort of thing, with dead bodies and clues and riddles and butlers and  mispaced pince-nez and a handy this is how I did it at the end to round everything off.

The most interesting part to my mind came at the end. After the denouement, the book had an extra piece that seemed to have been added on in the manner of “a note from the author on reissuing an edited/amended version”. However in this case the note was not from the author, but from the main character’s (fictional, of course) uncle, noting that Miss Sayers had corrected some errors and giving us some back story that was sorely missing from the main part of the book. It feels rather as if this was not intended to be 1 of a series, so little effort was made in telling us precisely why Peter suffers from “shell-shock” – or perhaps at the time this was no so unusual as to require explanation. After a number of books were written, perhaps the author decided that a deper introduction to his past and character was required.

If you like this sort of thing, you’ll like it. If you do not, this will not convince you. Will I read some more? Maybe, if I am feeling in the mood.

2015 book challege – #10B – Far From The Madding Crowd

First post of the 2015 book challenge is here

#10A was a failure – I did not read the book. I’m OK with that though. It would have been worse to force myself to read the book, such was the extent of my non-enjoyment. So this is 10B.

10B is Far From The Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy, because I had seen that a film was coming out and I always prefer to read a book before seeing the film if I possibly can.

The only Hardy I’d read before was Tess of the D’Urbervilles, and I’d written him off as a bit of abastard who hates his characters. Not just because he makes horrible things happen to Tess (I read Geroge R R Martin after all!), but because it seems that at many junctures the narrator muses on what might have happened.

If at this point Tess had done X, all would have been better, but instead she (perfectly reasonably) does Y, and so the rest of her life is shit.

FFTMC is much softer and lighter than Tess, even if our protagonist has a ridiculous name that seems doomed for disaster. I don’t know precisely what “Bathsheba” reminds me of – is it Biblical? – something from Arabian nights? – but it sounds far too dramatic for a calm life. Do not name your daughters Bathsheba. It will not go well.

I enjoyed this book and found Hardy much less of a bastard in his treatment of his characters. We can also feel assured that Jane Austen was not alone in her admonitions to young ladies not to trust a man in a red coat who has the easy art of pleasing with words. That’s not a spoiler, it’s evident (at least to my eyes) from the very beginning.

Dialogue written in dialect usually irritates me, but I found the Wessex accents easy enough to read that they did not interrupt my flow.

Best quote

It is difficult for a woman to define her feelings in a language which is chiefly made by men to express theirs.

Most amusing xenophobia

…the line where sentiment verges on mawkishness, characteristic of the French.

Compliment that now sounds a bit off

She was of the stuff of which great men’s mothers are made


Lunchbox noodle soup

Not quite a complete “lunchbox” – you need access to a kettle and microwave – but a lot cheaper than buying lunch out.

I’ve been trying not to buy £5+ lunches so often, after my live below the line challenge, but I’ve never been a fan of sandwiches.

This is a low-prep lunch that means  get something hot for not too much money.

lunchtime noodle prep

The night before, I chopped up some green beans, some red onion, red pepper, and put a handful of spinach into the tub. Sugarsnap peas are also good. If you use carrot you’ll want to cut it very very finely or use a peeler to get ribbons – carrot is too hard otherwise as none of these veg will get much cooking. Water chestnuts or bamboo shoots (from a tin) would work well too.

I have little individual packets of 50g of rice noodles from the Chinese shop, but you can get some that are just as good in the supermarket (these are a little thicker which is nice to eat, but the nests are not individually wrapped). Wheat egg noodles would be OK too if you get fine ones.

For flavouring the liquid I had a spoon of thai curry paste – I’ve also done it with half a stock cube and a spoonful of ginger (the kind that comes ready-prepped in a jar). A splash of soy sauce always makes liquidy things taste better.

Put everything into a bowl, cover with water from a hot kettle, and microwave on high for 4 mins or so.

noodle bowl

Voila. Lunch. Slurpy slurpy slurp. (Make sure you have some napkins)

I made chapatis and it was easy

A way to pretend to have “cooked” when you are eating leftover curry.

Takes no longer than rice, and maybe nicer (especially if you are particularly bored of rice).

A possible reason to get flour rather than bread in next year’s Live Below The Line challenge.

I thought chapatis might be difficult. Bread is often difficult. Too be honest I don’t know what these are. They’re not pancakes (no egg and milk), but they’re not really bread (no yeast or other raising agent).

I followed this BBC recipe, if you can call it a recipe.  I didn’t have any wholemeal flour so I used plain flour. It was fine. All I need is some carb to dip in my liquid-ish curry.

Per chapati:

30g flour – pinch of salt – add water til you make a dough – roll out as thing as you can. No, thinner than that. Come on, you can roll thinner than that.

Heat up some ooil in a frying pan. Fry your rolled-out flour until it goes bubbly and a bit brown. Dip it into curry.

Chapatis and curry

Live Below The Line 2015 – Day 5

It’s nearly over!

Shopping list here

Link to donate here

I’ll do my “what I’ve learned” post later ater I’ve had time to reflect. For now this’ll be a general “how I feel today” post.

Breakfast – more smoothie. I might make more of this.

breakfast smoothie

The only trouble with the smoothie is that is uses both my banana and my yoghurt, so I have no snack.

Lunch – I saved two eggs so I could have a NICE lunch on my last day.

eggs and mess

Eggs in tomatoes, with toast. Messily assembled using work microwave and toaster. I think my colleagues thought I was a bit bonkers. Two eggs is a treat though so I don’t care.

Dinner – more fauxsotto – made at the same time as the last lot and frozen. I didn’t eat all of this, because I wasn’t starving and it was even claggier after freezing and reheating.


I felt OK today, much more alive than I have the past couple of days, and I’m not sure how much of this is due to

  • Finally being over my no-caffeine headaches
  • Having two eggs at lunchtime and so having some protein
  • Knowing that it’s nearly over.

Food that I have left:

  • Sweetcorn extracted from the mixed veg – never came up with a plan for this
  • Rice – not a surprise!
  • Some bread – frozen just in case, but miraculously the non-frozen portion is not mouldy
  • 3 stock cubes
  • 1/6 of a tub of cream cheese – I calculated that I had 6 cheese-requiring meals, but missed one because I didn’t eat
  • 1 portion of the baby-food/sick soup – I will NOT be eating this and I am profoundly grateful to live in a world where I do not have to

Live Below The Line 2015 – Day 4

I am very glad it’s day 4.

Shopping list here

Link to donate here

This morning I left for work early in order to look round Aldi and see if there was anything I could buy with my remaining 14p. The ONLY thing for 14p or under was “single banana”. The bananas were all green, probably wouldn’t be nice by tomorrow, and I don’t WANT another bloody banana, I want something DIFFERENT. #sulk

Looking around I had a few good ideas for next year’s below the line challenge, but one thing that the discount supermarkets do not do is loose fruit and veg – everything is packaged. I wish we had a superarket where you weigh your own veg and put a sticker on it (as I’ve seen in France) – it would make this kind of thing much easer rather than guessing the weight of an onion and then hoping it adds up at the till (one of the reasons I haven’t bought much fresh produce – it’s too tricky to budget).

Lunch at work, baked beans with toast and cheese spread.beans and toast

I think I got a few extra donations eating this, but actually it was quite enjoyable. I think my expectations of “a nice meal” have gone WAY down.

After work I went to Lidl to see if there was anything there for 14p. On the way, I found 5p on the ground. A quick poll of Twitter said I was alloed to use it, bringing my spendable total up to 19p. I COULD have gone bak to Aldi to spend that on a bit of discounted easter chocolate, but instead I continued to Lidl. Lidl was marginally worse than Aldi for “things under 20p” – if I’d only had my 14p I would have had to go back to Aldi and get that banana, or to Sainsbury’s and guess the weight of a carrot or something (no idea what I’d have done with the carrot, maybe just crunched it raw).

18p noodles

Look up the top – cheap cheap cheap noodles for 18p.


And that magical word – spicy! If you’ve read this blog before you’ll know that I grow chilli plants. I’ve decided that my chillies do not count as “free” because money has gone into them – I’m not raiding store cupboard ingredients at all for this challenge. I love spicy food and until today I’d forgotten how much difference a bit of spice can make to a meal.

noodles and peas

Noodles and peas (extracted from the frozen mixed veg, which is now all used up).

The best thing about that 5p? It saved me from another portion of the looks-like-sick-tastes-like-baby-food soup.

So this day turned out much better than expected!

I’ve also had a lovely treat of a “nice drink” – the first drink of anything except water.

banana milkshake

I didn’t eat my breakfast banana this morning, so I’ve blended it with half of tomorrow’s breakfast yoghurt and a bit of water to make a banana-and-peach milkshake.

I have 2 eggs saved for my last day tomorrow – yippeee.