Sunday, 28 February 2010

In praise of old gadgets

Do you ever think back fondly to an electrical gadget you used to have in the pre-tech age and wish you hadn't sent it to the dump? There was a period when there were electrical gadgets for all kinds of things and our parents had a houseful - then as we got all post-modern and sophisticated we started turning our collective noses up and consigning them to oblivion (or more accurately to landfill).

I was thinking about this as I had my shower this morning: a very laborious process involving the application of plastic carrier bags and bits of elastic to cover the cast on my fractured wrist. A particular challenge is washing my feet - particularly as since falling I'm very unsteady on them. I fondly remember the electric foot bath someone gave me for Christmas but which took up loads of space, then gathered dust in the back of a cupboard till one of my regular clutter-clearing days brought its death sentence. How I wish I had it now.

Another classic, now long gone, is the electric carving knife which my Dad wielded proudly every Sunday lunchtime to make short work of the roast. My MIAMI colleague Clare O'Brien has actually still got one - bequeathed to her by a family friend. It makes a hell of a racket but it cuts meat beautifully and quickly and beats everyone hanging around with cooling plates while someone curses and cuts themselves - or my usual routine of importuning some poor guest to do the honours. No one ever does it willingly - but what man can resist the opportunity to recreate their Texas Chainsaw fantasies on a joint of beef. I had a trawl through the Lakeland catalogue but alas this official rescuer of defunct kitchen tools seems to have eschewed the charms of the electric carver. Doubtless there is now an 'Elf and Safety diktat preventing their sale for fear that child crack gangs will be carving up each other and posting it on Youtube.

As to the once ubiquitous hostess trolley, it was clearly aesthetics rather than function that brought about its demise - and is also causing its rumoured revival - don't tell me all those Retro fashionistas are buying it because they're throwing large dinner parties. My parents swore by theirs - and with five children, it was another stalwart of Sunday lunchtime. Not the most practical use of precious space though - and boy was it ugly. I just came across a website called Hostess Trolley World so someone still loves them!

We never had a teas-made in our house - but my Uncle and Aunt had one - but then they also had beige plastic clip-on trays attached to their armchairs to hold their cups of tea - so a brew was clearly an urgent imperative in their house.

My pressure cooker was one of my favourite pieces of kitchen equipment - but it used to terrify my then flatmates so I stopped using it. I don't know when that found its way to the charity shop? It wasn't to make way for a slow cooker - they passed me by the first time round - although my Mum had one. They are very much back in vogue - but as I work from home anyway I haven't yet seen the point of yet another large piece of kit to find a home for in an already overcrowded kitchen.

What gadgets do you love or wish you could still get your hands on?
Clare F

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Cash for caulis!

If you live in London and want to grow your own veg, you'll be interested to hear about the £75,000 that's on offer for community groups interested in growing their own food in under-used areas of the capital. This dosh comes from the Capital Growth scheme, managed by the London Food Link and supported by the Mayor of London.

Groups can submit an application onlline at Grants between £200 and £1500 are up for grabs to help you turn a neglected plot of land into a veg plot. If you find a concrete plot they'll let you cultivate on it using cotainers or growbags. As well as the money, there's advice and training etc to support your group's efforts.

The cash injection follows an earlier one of £75k last December. It was snapped up to create 95 growing spaces by housing estates, schools,universities and others. Commenting on the success of the scheme the Mayor said
 “Creating lush patches of fruit and veg is catching on, judging by Londoners’ enthusiastic response to Capital Growth. We’ve already helped to create dozens of new growing spaces at schools, housing estates, at homeless schemes and at three of the city’s universities. The scheme is helping to make the urban environment more pleasant and cared for, as well as providing a cheap, fun way to grow grub.”. 
Boris, in conjunction with London in Bloom has also created a competition to encourage primary schools to create food gardens. There are 3 categories 'Bugs and Slugs', 'Collect and Create', and 'Climate Cool'. The top schools in each category wins a visit from a celebrity gardener, £500 cash prizes, plants and wormeries.

Related links:
>> Incredible Edible Todmorden - a whole town goes for sustainability
>> Grow your own veg - you can do it! - top tips for beginners
>> Dig for Victory - see the wartime video - still full of good advice