How To Cook The Perfect Soft Boiled Egg

I've previously been entirely incapable of making a good dippy egg - and as a single Mum to a four year old - this simply won't do. 

I've tried every fool-proof method going, and have either been rewarded with a translucent, gelatinous mess, or a delightfully hard boiled creation, fit only for a salad. 

I have, however, finally perfected the soft boiled egg, spot on every time; silky white and creamy yellow, cooked but still perfectly fresh tasting and fit for dunking. I thought I would share the technique that works for me.

All I need now are some cute new egg cups to replace my rather boring white ones, although this egg-box method of serving boiled egg and soldiers is my little boy's favourite! 

Method

  1. Boil several inches of water in a medium sized saucepan.
  2. Take water off of the heat and immediately lower (room temperature) egg in to the water using a slotted spoon, put the lid on the saucepan and leave for exactly six minutes.
  3. Use the slotted spoon again to remove the egg from the hot water, and run under the cold tap for a minute until you can comfortably handle the egg in a bare hand.

Serve with buttered soldiers.




Buying Eggs

Always source eggs from hens that you know. Even those supermarket eggs labelled "free range" are often far from it - in the UK a hen only has to have the option to move freely from one barn, through an opening in to another barn, to be classed a free range hen - she does not have to go outdoors, or even see daylight, and she does not have to have a natural diet.


The only difference between most British free range hens and their caged counterparts is that one has the option to move between two different confined, unpleasant spaces. Misleading television adverts featuring hillside roaming hens that are taken for a ride around the farm by a friendly tractor driving farmer, have done nothing to make things clearer for customers.


Chances are, with a bit of research, you'll find someone with a small community of chickens in their garden, and enough surplus eggs to keep you in supply, in your own neighbourhood, without needing to support factory farming (they'll be tastier AND cheaper too!)

Five Charities That You Need To Know About In 2015

I passionately back the work of several different charities, large and small, particularly Mind - the mental health charity, for whom I continue to think of lots of new fundraising ideas ahead of my trip to Mongolia in September. 

However, there's certainly not enough space for every single charity that does great work in the dusty folds of my purse - and whilst I'd love to actively, and financially, support all of those charities who I believe are making a difference, it's impossible to dedicate the time and resources to every worthy cause. 

Today I thought I'd share five lesser known charities that I think deserve recognition and support from people around the world in the new year, do let me know which charities you support, and who you think deserves a larger following in 2015.


The Bumblebee Conservation Trust

There are now two species of bumblebee extinct in the UK after a crash in numbers over the past 80 years, and a number of other British bumblebee species are facing serious endangerment.
 
Bumblebees are essential pollinators, and without them our gardens and countryside would be almost unrecognisable. The Bumblebee Conservation Trust undertakes important work to educate, conserve and reintroduce - working towards rescued bumblebee populations across the country. Check out their website for how you can support and help bumblebees in 2015, or find out exactly what they're up to in Winter. 

Photo credit: The Bumblebee Conservation Trust

There are a number of other charities working to help recover bee numbers in the UK and internationally as we face a genuine bee crisis. These include, but are not limited to Give Bees a Chance , International Bee Research Association , and Bees Abroad (who aim to help eliminate human poverty through bee keeping).


The Survivors Trust

Whilst many might feel that support and care for victims of rape and sexual abuse is lacking in the UK, The Survivors Trust is made up of 130 regional service providers who directly help such adults and children, and with greater public support, could continue to grow their resources and bring much needed relief to a huge number of people.

Often rape and sexual violence victims will have a complex range of requirements in terms of appropriate therapy, and helping them can be extremely difficult, which is why it's important to have dedicated services with trained professionals who understand and have experience of the needs of these victims - who often don't seek treatment or support until long after the incident(s), for a number of reasons. 

Living with the effects of rape and sexual violence can be devastating, both for the victim and their families and partners, but The Survivors Trust continue to ensure that people can get advice, treatment, information and support whenever and wherever they need it. 


Winston's Wish

I lost one of my parents to suicide when I was thirteen, and oddly enough, some of my closest friends have also lost a parent during their own childhood. I, and they, know the lasting effects of child bereavement, and also, how easily children's grief can be overlooked, unintentionally, after the death of a parent or close family member. 

Children often display a complex and unfamiliar range of emotions when faced with all-consuming depression. Unlike many adults, their initial grief will often be extremely vocal, aggressive and visible; however, they very quickly adopt seemingly "normal" patterns of behaviour, due predominantly to a child's amazing ability to adapt to change. As such, the adults around them can easily be forgiven for believing that a child is "coping well" with bereavement, as they make no outward show of their distress.

Unfortunately, research would suggest that very few children process and manage bereavement effectively, which is why most develop a variety of odd behaviours in adult life. Winston's Wish are a charity dedicated to providing support to bereaved children, both directly and by educating and supporting the child's family and care professionals including schools, to make sure that children receive appropriate care following a bereavement, rather than being left to "get on with it" because they "seem to be doing OK". 

Anyone who lost a parent during childhood will no doubt recognise how important it is that this charity is able to reach more and more children every year. 


Surfers Against Sewage

You don't have to be a surfer to support the work of SAS - look at me, I'm practically an anti-surfer, but one thing I am passionate about, is the state (and conservation) of British seas and beaches. 

Photo Credit: Surfers Against Sewage

Surfers Against Sewage campaign for cleaner, healthier seas, better for humans, and infinitely better for marine wildlife. From the use of single-use plastic bags that gradually ruin our environment, to what exactly we flush down the toilet - SAS have ideas and principles that everyone really ought to get behind. 

Surfers Against Sewage organise beach cleans all over the country, not just to improve the look and experience of using our beaches, but to catalogue and record the amount of human waste polluting our seas. Get involved in 2015. See what events are coming up near you at the Surfers Against Sewage website here


Food Cycle



I love Food Cycle - the objectives of their charity are so close to my heart that they're probably my "Charity of 2015" - quite simply, they are committed to reducing food waste and reducing food poverty, by taking volunteers and unwanted food, populating spare kitchen spaces across the country, and re-distributing food that would otherwise be thrown away, to people at risk of food poverty and /or social isolation. 

What's not to admire?

There are more than 4 million people at risk of food poverty in the UK, and at the same time, a huge amount of food waste (just this Christmas alone we shall throw away an estimated 5 million Christmas puddings). Getting this food our of landfill and in to hungry bellies is way too important to be ignored. 

Since 2009, Food Cycle have already redistributed over 130,000 kg of "waste" food to people in need, and it's essential that that number keeps on rising.

Find out more about Food Cycle on their website here, and look out for future posts on their work here on my blog.


Tips For a Greener Christmas

Ah, Christmas. We know that I'm all for boycotting huge great big supermarkets, international conglomerates, and of course, the factory farms that supply them, but do you know what I'm entirely sick of? This:

"Christmas is just sooo commercialised. It's all about how much money you can spend on crap and it's just companies making money out of us. Bllleeeeeuuuuuugh."

Now, let's get one thing cleared up. Yes, in some households, Christmas is a great big corporate money making scheme in which the family are, predominantly, one of the many victims. Now let's make something else clear; that is the Christmas that they chose. If that is the Christmas that you're having, year in, year out, and it's getting your down - blooming well change it - it isn't Christmas's fault, hell it isn't even Tesco's fault; unless they're sneaking in in the night, pulling you from your bed, and depositing you in front of the cocktail sausage platters with five Nerf guns and a box of Roses in your trolley, it's your fault.



You can have a Christmas that doesn't involve spending more on every day items than you usually would (how much is a supermarket frozen turkey in June? Anyone know?) and you don't even have to go near a supermarket, you don't have to buy your children expensive presents, and to be quite honest, there's nobody that you're forced to spend the day with either. Have your own frigging Christmas people, and whilst you're at it, make it a little less harsh on our planet with these easy tips.

Shop Local

I bang on about it, I know. You could probably buy your entire Christmas lunch at your local farmer's market though, direct from the producer, I'm talking meat (if applicable) veg, and your dessert as well if you're lucky. If you can't get to a market, use your butcher, greengrocer, bakery, sweet shop, fishmonger etc. It doesn't have to stop with Christmas dinner either, you can shop locally for cards, gifts, wrapping paper, trees, decorations, Christmas jumpers, a new oven and bin bags. Before you buy it from a supermarket, or mega huge shop, stop and ask yourself "could I get this somewhere smaller?" - chances are the answer is "yes".



Local shops offer a healthier, friendlier, more authentic shopping experience, better value for money, and what's more, what you spend will directly improve someone else's Christmas, funding their business for another year. 

Buy Second Hand

Ok, maybe not the turkey carcass, but how much of your Christmas do you need to buy brand new? Decorations? Christmas Day outfits? Gifts? Most can be bought second hand, and many you've probably got left over from last year with loads of life in them yet. This doesn't just save you money, it's kinder to our planet, reusing what's already cost our Earth in materials and production, rather than making it pay again. When it comes to children's toys for example, a young child is entirely unaware of whether something is bought brand new! If you don't want to rely on charity shops, or have something in particular in mind, use Ebay, Gumtree, and similar sites to find exactly what you're after.

Only Cook What's Going To Be Eaten

It's so easy to over-do Christmas lunch, or nibbles at a Christmas drinks party, I know - the last thing you want is to run out of food and for guests to go hungry. What we tend to do though is round everything up the nearest kilo "just to be on the safe side", and end up with an unimaginable amount of food waste.



The Love Food Hate Waste website has loads of helpful information, including recipes for leftovers, and a portion calculator, so that you can double check exactly how many potatoes you actually need to cook for thirteen people.

Don't Leave The Lights On All Night

House decorations are lovely, and decorating the front of your home with fairy lights is, for many, a corner stone of the Christmas preparations. However, all of those lights, buzzing away, often all night, or at least for around six hours per day, leave behind a nasty cost in electricity. Think twice before decorating outdoors, and if you must, then perhaps think about limiting the time that the lights are on for.



Indoors, leaving lights switched on, especially on the Christmas tree, whilst you're not in the room or even in the house, isn't just non-nonsensical (it's costing you, and costing the planet) but it's also downright dangerous. Fires can start easily and without warning, so don't leave lights on a tree for nine hours a night being admired by nobody.

Use Natural Candles

We burn more candles at Christmas than at any other time of the year, but paraffin candles are made from petroleum residue and aren't a particularly green option.

Luckily, there are lots of candles on the market made from natural materials such as soy and beeswax, which are far kinder to your health and the environment.

Go Real

This year I can't afford to buy a real tree, but luckily I have an artificial tree that I can borrow. Buying an artificial tree does mean you won't have to fork out again for approximately six years; but these trees are made from metals and plastics that are harmful to the environment in their production, most are also made in Asia, and so come with the additional environmental fallout associated with their transport.

Most artificial trees are non-biodegradable, meaning that whilst you might get several years use out of one tree, it will lay in landfill for a lot, lot longer.



There are of course problems associated with real trees as well, whilst growing, real trees provide a home for a variety of wildlife, who are forced to move on, or are killed, when the trees are harvested. However, for most, Christmas tree growing is an annual trade and those that are cut down for sale are replaced, maintaining a natural habitat for associated wildlife.

When you buy a real tree, make sure you buy from a small-scale, sustainable grower.

You could even plant a tree this year, and look after it until it's ready for decoration in a few years time.

Don't Throw Away Unwanted Gifts

If you receive gifts that you won't use, don't throw them away. Either hang on to them to re-gift for birthdays during the year (just don't re-gift anything to it's original sender!) or donate to charity shops, or your local hospital. Hospitals. hospices, refuges and care homes are always particularly keen to take unopened toiletries for their clients, and unwanted toys will find a great home on a paediatric ward or in your local women's refuge.

Recycle Your Christmas Cards

It isn't rocket science, but an alarming number of people fail to recycle the Christmas cards that they receive. It takes around 200,000 trees per year to produce the 1.8 billion cards that we receive, and of those, there are still a huge number going un-recycled.

Either do the obvious thing and recycle appropriately where facilities exist, or use cards next year as gift tags, to make decorations, or for children's craft activities.

Think twice before sending cards, is it really necessary? Rather than buy the "To My Husband" card that will be stuck to the wall for a month before either going in the loft, or the bin, think about why you're sending it in the first place. There's actually no obvious sensible answer; if you're not already wishing someone that you live with a merry Christmas anyway, then something's gone wrong, and actually - wouldn't it mean a million times more to tear ten whole pages from a notebook that you already own, and write them a beautiful long letter? If you can describe to me the Christmas card that you received from your partner seven years ago, then great, but most of us probably struggle to remember exactly what last year's looked like, and whilst it's "a nice thing to do", so is cooking them their favourite dinner and telling them it's taking the place of a piece of printed paper - they out to be more than grateful!

The same goes for sending cards to neighbours you don't know, people at work that you hate, or your dog... unnecessary and costly to our planet.

If you do need to send cards this year (the only cards I'll be sending will be to my Nan because I know that she'll be genuinely upset not to receive one from me and one from Seb) then buy recycled cards where you can, from an independent retailer.

Buy Ethical Wrapping Paper

This year, I took part in "Book Advent" with Seb; instead of buying a conventional, or chocolate advent calendar (he has one at his Dad's anyway) I wrapped up 24 different books (all bought from charity shops) - and every night before bed, in the run up to Christmas, Seb gets to choose another book to unwrap and read at bedtime.

So far he hasn't once asked why they're wrapped in The Guardian from 28th November. The point is, it's the excitement of unwrapping a parcel to find out which book he'll be reading that he enjoys, he couldn't care less WHAT they're wrapped in.

For presents under the tree, if you don't want to use newspaper (I do understand, and won't be using it for the main presents!) make sure you buy recycled paper - or brown parcel paper can look really lovely with some pretty ribbon or even just string.

Every year in the UK we throw away enough wrapping paper to double-wrap Guernsey you know.




There are hundreds of other ways that you can make your Christmas greener, and this post only scratches the surface, so I'd love to hear your suggestions!














Why Organised People Have More Money

There's a direct, and easily forgotten, correlation between personal organisation and disposable income, and one which we could all do with bearing in mind at this time of year, when demands on our time, heaving to-do lists, and an all round lack of funding, are crucial causes of stress. 


The formula is very simple; less free time = more money spent to create convenience. Think about how much money you spend, perhaps daily, because you "don't have enough time". The Meal Deal or junk food that you buy in your lunch break because you "don't have enough time to make a packed lunch". The taxi that you fork out for because you missed your bus and to wait for the next one would make you late, or the parking that you pay for because you don't have time to park out of town for free and walk the rest. The extra that you pay for booking trains, hotel rooms, or tickets for days out at the last minute, because you didn't have the time to book them in advance, or the extra that you pay for last minute postage because you were too busy to get that birthday card in the post with plenty of time to spare. The flowers that you send, ordered from the Internet, because you weren't organised enough to buy a present in advance (£20.00 just for delivery when you order two days before Mother's Day? Ouch!) We all do it, whether it's spending out on a microwave meal even though fresh ingredients would be cheaper (and more nourishing) or having to buy a pushchair after turning up for a weekend away with a toddler - and realising that you've left yours at home (me, several years ago) - disorganisation costs us a lot of money. 

Some people are intrinsically less organised that others - I get that - I'm one of them. But I write lists which helps to keep me productive, and less forgetful, and, to be quite blunt, I get up earlier when I need to. Nobody "doesn't have time" to make a packed lunch in the morning, they just choose to have ten minutes more sleep, or to wear make up to work instead. If, like me, you depend on public transport then getting out of the door unreasonably early is essential, and if you end up early for an appointment - plan what you'll do to fill the time. Nothing needs to be booked last minute, unless you literally find out about it last minute, but train tickets can be booked as much as 12 weeks in advance, while hotels can often be booked a year (or more) in advance. If you know you've got a wedding coming up next year, make booking what you can, even buying the gift, a priority early on, or at least put it in your diary with a few months to go - and you'll grab the best rates. 

People who prepare fresh food at home, for themselves and their families where applicable, generally feel more relaxed, fulfilled and have more energy. Relying on expensive "fast" food not only slows down the body and the mind, but really hits you in the pocket too, and with the growing popularity of series like "Jamie's 30 Minute Meals" - it's apparent that real food can be prepared in a flash, so I can't listen to excuses made by those who "don't have time to eat well" - bore off you excuse making monkies (and don't now make an additional excuse for your lack of time which in turn results in your lack of good diet!) 

From now on, I'm going to make personal organisation the key to my money saving success, with lots of forward planning, and more productive use of my time. Do you feel as though you need to do the same? When do you find yourself spending money to save yourself time, or a result of not having enough hours in the day?

10 Facts About Dairy That Aren't On The Label

Not so long ago, in the grand scheme of things, I wrote a post bigging up the consumption of whole milk, albeit comparing blue lids to semi-skimmed and skimmed varieties. I have no intention of taking that post down, and if you want to read it, you'll find it here; but let me be clear, I no longer stand by the previously held belief that cow's milk should make up any part of a balanced, healthy diet.


I recently gave up dairy as a bit of an experiment to see if it would have any effect on my adult acne. I've suffered with bad spots since puberty, and recently they only seemed to be getting worse. A couple of people suggested that they'd seen positive results in terms of a reduced number of blemishes when giving up dairy, so I thought that it was worth a go. 

I tend not to make drastic changes to my diet without doing some research first. I don't really mind what strand of nutritional health you're following, whether you're paleo, 5:2, gluten-free or vegan, as long as you've done some research and your decision is informed rather than irrational, so I always make an effort to read up on as many positive and negative arguments surrounding a way of eating before taking it up. 

What I learned, unintentionally, about dairy, completely turned my previous attitudes towards one of the most significant food groups in my every day diet, on it's head. Since then I've attempted to eat a bowl of cereal with cows milk and found myself physically heaving over the kitchen sink.
 
The good news is, dairy is definitely a trigger for my acne. Hormones also play an obvious part and at certain times during the month I can still expect flare ups, but typically, my skin is a thousand times clearer and healthier looking without dairy products. I don't consider this to be me discovering that I'm milk-intolerant, I'm obviously just slightly sensitive to it. 

The last thing I want to be is one of these crazy PETA types trying to ram horrific images down anybody's throat. If I talk about animal welfare on my blog it will never be accompanied by images of animal cruelty, but I have decided to share the following ten facts about dairy products on my blog, because I wish I'd read this a lot sooner. 
  1. All milk sold in the UK (and the USA) is authorised to contain "an acceptable amount of pus". This is because it's common for our dairy cows to spend a majority of their time suffering from mastitis, an infection in the glands in their udders, which means that pus comes out of the infected udder with the milk. This pus is not removed. Any human female who's suffered from mastitis will know that it is not only horribly painful, but can also cause flu like symptoms and make you feel thoroughly miserable. Dairy cattle are prone to mastitis because they're encouraged to produce a lot more milk than they would naturally to feed a calf (about ten times more in fact) and as a result of being milked using machinery, as opposed to the soft mouth of their baby.
  2. Dairy cattle are stuck in a cycle of pregnancy and birth. A dairy cow who doesn't have a young calf to feed will not produce milk. It is a fallacy that if you keep on milking her she'll keep on producing milk, she needs to keep having a new calf regularly to keep the supply and quality of her milk up. Mating with bulls is an unreliable, time consuming, and dangerous method within the farming environment and so female cows are artificially inseminated, often just days after giving birth. A dairy cow is almost never, ever, not pregnant. It goes without saying that this cycle takes a huge toll on the cows mental and physical health. A cow can live to about twenty five, very easily, but a dairy cow is usually dead within seven. The death of a dairy cow comes about as her entire body fails as a result of constant pregnancy and child birth, she doesn't live a happy life only to be swiftly killed in her prime, she is gradually, painfully, worked in to the ground, worse off than many dogs used for breeding on the puppy farms that we're so quick to condemn. The machinery used to restrain a cow during artificial insemination, by the way, is called a rape rack, that's not a colloquial term, that is it's actual name. It's inventor is also famous for developing a torture device to bring about clinical depression in monkies - called the "Pit Of Despair". Enough said. 
  3. Despite always being pregnant, a dairy cow barely meets her baby. A suckling calf is no good for the milk industry, and so babies are taken from their Mum, often when they're only hours old. Cows, like many animals, are dependent, not just physically, on their Mother's for some time. Just as penguins can recognise their babies call above the cacophony of their penguinery, and Mother sheep are always able to recognise the call of their own lamb, not to mention us human Mother's being able to recognise our own child's cry from the other side of a soft play centre - so cows and their calves share a bond from birth. A Mother cow will search for, and call for, her abducted baby long after he or she has been removed. However, it will always be in vain, as she is hooked up to a machine that will take the precious milk intended for her newborn, and bottle it to feed the same people who took away her child. 
  4. Those babies suffer. Fed on artificial formula milk in the absence of their own Mother, the calves of dairy cattle face a bleak fate. The female calves will be kept, to replace their Mothers, who'll die young. They'll often be kept in sheds with other female calves, and fed from a hole in the wall, rather than by a human hand. They'll be sustained, they'll have nutritional needs met, but they'll spend many weeks calling for their Mother, who would provide more than just food, but she'll never come. Eventually those calves will grow in to adult cows, psychologically damaged somewhat by their unconventional upbringing, but it matters not, because they only have a life of constant pregnancy, birth, and artificial milking to look forward to anyway. Male calves have either a better or worse time of it depending on your outlook. Of no use to the dairy industry, they fetch a pretty price as veal (calf meat). At just hours old, a male calf is transferred to a pen, only a few feet high. The pen is designed to stop him from standing up - it isn't tall enough. He'll try a few times but realising that the roof is only inches above his head, he'll soon give up and lay down. He'll spend the rest of his life (a few months) laying down. A male calf will often never, ever, stand up on the four legs he was born with. This is to keep his meat pale in colour (apparently more appealing to us omnivores) and tender, as he'll never develop much in the way of muscle. If this isn't torture I've no idea what is, but the male calf will be fed through the bars of his cell, laying down on the hard ground for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, in his own filth, until he is old enough for slaughter, where, already insane with fear and confusion, he'll be shot in the head - at least ending his unimaginable suffering. Veal's a delicacy though you see. If you're a vegetarian, but you consume dairy products, it's worth thinking that the veal trade exists almost entirely as a result of the dairy trade.
  5. On the subject of vegetarians, very little cheese is veggie-friendly. Most vegetarians will be all too familiar with the cheese based menu options presented to them, the Margharita pizza, the blue cheese and pear tart, the grilled vegetables topped with feta. What many don't realise is that most cheese contains rennet, a substance taken from the stomach of cows. Rennet plays a key role in the cheese production process, but renders almost every cheese a meat product. This is very unlikely to bother meat eaters, but worth bearing in mind if you're a strict veggie, as the rennet in your cheese is taken from slaughtered animals. Yes, they'd have been slaughtered anyway, but if that's your attitude, you may as well just have the burger. Vegetarian rennet substitutes do exist, but it is very difficult to identify which cheeses are made using what product unless you're buying directly from producers.
  6. Most dairy-cattle aren't eating grass. A cow, with it's complex double-stomach digestive system, is designed to eat grass. Just as it's obscene to expect your cat to eat anything but meat (unless it's my cat, in which case it's partial to anything) it's also unfair to feed a cow anything but the grazing materials that it's put on this planet to consume. However, very few dairy cattle are grass fed, most rely on a diet of cereals and soya, a sort of grainy food that's poured in to troughs for them to gauge themselves on. This isn't the best diet for a cow but it doesn't do them any enormous harm, in comparison to the other ways in which they're treated. However, the growing of crops (cereal and soya) to produce cattle feed uses up more than enough of the land and water required to eliminate world hunger and thirst. If we redirected the water used to irrigate these crop fields, and used the land to grow food for humans, not food for animals who will in turn be food for humans, then we'd effectively save the human race from starvation. But no. It's the least sustainable, or economic, or humane way of raising livestock. Add to this the fact that the crops require large amounts of artificial fertiliser and pesticides, much of which runs in to natural water systems such as streams and rivers, killing off wildlife in massive numbers, and also fails to nurture any land dwelling wildlife at the same time. The production of these chemicals is crap for our planet,  the use of them on our fields is even worse, and when the crops are ready for harvest, we use enormous machines to gather it in, pumping Co2 in to our rural atmosphere, and killing tens of thousands of rodents and reptiles in the process. This is not even to feed ourselves, but to feed the animals that we abuse for milk. This is still the case for Organic milk and even if you manage to find "grass fed" milk (or beef for that matter) it's likely that grass makes up only a small percentage of their feed and most is bulked out with cereal and soya.
  7. You're drinking antibiotics. You shouldn't stay on antibiotics for long. You know this. If anything, suspicious bunch that we are, we'd rather avoid antibiotics if we can, and we worry about our children if they have too many courses of antibiotics in a row. I mean... what must all of those drugs be doing to our insides - it can't be good. Except, most of us have been taking daily antibiotics for most of our lives, as our dairy cattle are pumped full of them, seeing as their lives are so poor and they're therefore prone to illness (and death). An ill, or dead, cow is of no value to the dairy farmer and it works out cheaper to supply them with constant drugs than to risk them falling poorly. As breastfeeding Mothers will be aware, antibiotics are passed in one's milk. It's easy to say "well, I'm OK, it's obviously not doing any harm", but are you? OK, I mean. Oddly, since this became common practice within Western farming, we're suddenly more allergic to everything, more of us have hayfever, more of us have food intolerances, cancer is on the up, we suffer from diabetes, alzeheimers, dementia, and Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Now don't worry, I'm not about to go full on conspiracy theorist, and there are many many explanations for why, as a global community, we are less healthy now than we were a hundred years ago (we just have the medicine to keep ourselves alive through it!) - but could it be, in part, down to the fact that we're never not taking antibiotics? Maybe. 
  8. It'll ruin your milk too. OK this only applies to breastfeeding Mothers, but it's a scary fact in itself, and I'd rather draw attention to the fact that this is not publicised, and is not information made readily available to new Mums. Breastmilk, as we know, contains a lot of what we put in to our bodies in the first place; this is why a breastfeeding Mother should never feed her child after drinking alcohol, as her breast milk is, in theory, alcoholic. So, our poor Mother cow is passing on a lot of what she's consuming, and excreting, to us humans, the consumers of her milk. Just to clarify, we're talking about antibiotics, pesticides, chemical fertilisers, and, of course, pus. The problem here is that when we humans consume the milk, and therefore consume the antibiotics, pesticides, chemical fertilisers and pus, we pass this on in our own milk - if we happen to be producing any. Now, you may think that by the time these compounds have been passed from cow to human Mother to human baby, they're diluted enough to have no effect, you might be interested to learn that studies have shown this could be one sound explanation for colic and reflux in young breastfed babies, as well as the cause of any number of infant stomach complaints.
  9. There's little to no waste in the dairy industry. I don't say this as a positive point. Once a dairy cow is "spent" (i.e she has been subject to so much rape, pregnancy and child birth that she is simply unable to go on), often at less than half her natural life expectancy, she is used for meat. Her body is absolutely f***ed, and as such, the quality of her flesh, in terms of eating her, isn't grea;, you certainly won't get a good looking steak out of her, so once slaughtered, she is ground up and used in the cheapest products, from dog food to fast food burgers - often served, somewhat ironically, with a slab of melting cheese on top - you know when McDonalds make a big deal about their use of British beef? Yum Yum.
  10. We don't need it. Over 95% of the human population are lactose intolerant. There is no other species of animal on this planet that drinks milk beyond infancy, and we're no different. The thought of an adult human still suckling his Mother is grotesque, and yet we, bizarrely, make it socially acceptable to go on drinking breast milk in to adulthood, as long as it comes from a different species to our own. Now, as humans we are an exception to many a rule, and there are a lot of things that we do that no other animal does, but we simply do not have the nutritional need to consume breast milk (of our own kind or that of a cow, whale, goat or sheep) as adults. Most of us respond negatively to dairy, and perhaps don't even realise. It may be days before you notice a subtle response, either slight constipation, cramps and discomfort, lethargy, or, in my case, acne. It's unlikely, if you opt for the cheese board after dinner, and then feel some discomfort going to the toilet two days later, that you'll put the two together, but unless you're part of the less than 5% of the population who're able to digest lactose as an adult, then they're almost certainly linked. Why we continue to consume a product which doesn't sustain us, most of us can't digest, and which is horrific for our planet and directly for the animals that we use to produce it, and their offspring, makes no sense, at all. Ever. 



I know that lots of us like dairy. I know you've been told that you need the calcium* from your dairy and have had those pie charts waved in your face that show dairy as taking up a specific percentage of your daily food intake. I know you get cheese cravings (it's been proven that most cheeses contain addictive ingredients and cheese addiction is a real thing). I like cheese. I really, properly, think cheese is yum. I used to drink milk by the pint glass. Now, though, I think about the pus, about the tortured babies, and about the rape racks - and this isn't sensationalism, this isn't PETA trying to freak you out in to supporting their cause, this is just the honest truth about dairy production for the UK consumer, and it's terrifying. 

*N.B A dairy free diet need not be calcium deficient, there are a LOT of foods which are higher in calcium than dairy.

Interview with Simon Whyatt of Green Pasture Farms

Green Pasture Farms operate online to deliver customers throughout the UK an organic, grass fed meat mail-order service. You can order a fabulous selection box - or even an entire cow, from their website, here
Green Pasture Farms appeared on my radar recently after they followed me on Twitter; prompting me to check out their website. If you read my recent Vegan Dilemma posts, you'll know that I'm struggling at the moment to work out how meat and other animal product consumption fits in with my animal welfare ethics. I was really intrigued by a lot of Green Pasture's ethical policies - and wondered whether I'd found the answer to my troubled conscience. To find out more, I managed to bag an interview with Simon Whyatt at Green Pasture to find out more about what makes them different.
  1. There's been a lot of talk in the news lately of people moving away from supermarkets and large chains, and really embracing the concept of shopping with independent retailers and directly with producers. This is obviously great news for a business like yours, but it does mean that lots of people are jumping on the "ethical animal products bandwagon". How does Green Pasture stand out in this market, and what do you believe you do differently from a lot of so called "ethical" and "organic" food producers?

Firstly, providing they are actually farming in an "ethical" manner, the more people jumping on the bandwagon, the better. There is a bit of a myth that consumer choices don't make a difference, ("why bother boycotting Product X, as 1 person doesn't make a difference.") The appearance of more and more businesses like ours is testament to how and where you spend your £'s making a difference.

Of course, there is always the danger of "greenwashing". In the supermarkets, and online, you'll find "Higher Welfare Meat", "Outdoor Bred", and other types of supposedly "good" meat, and they're really far from it. Even "free-range" actually means very little. We could really benefit from a better labelling system. Much organic meat, while a step in the right direction, is still fed on large amounts of grain, which is not, in our opinion, really a sustainable option, but more on that in a second. 

2. I love that your animals enjoy the freedom to roam, and a natural diet. You speak on your own website about the economic objection that many vegetarians have towards the rearing of animals for meat (use of resources such as land, water and plant based foods). You don't mention Co2 emissions though, is this a worry for you, as a business producing meat?

Industrial meat production is an ethical and ecological nightmare. This is a process far, far removed from what we do. 

It is the farming of cereals and soy beans to be fed to animals that requires large uses of land, water and fossil fuels for fertilizers and pesticides. The extraction of these fossil fuels, tilling and sowing the land, and harvesting the crops, all result in huge amounts of Co2 production. If you are going to produce crops in this manner, it would be much more efficient to feed them directly to humans. 

Our cows and sheep are not fed any cereals or soy, however. They eat only grass, which is not edible by humans. The land on which they graze is not suitable for crop cultivation, and does not require irrigation, chemical fertilisation, or pesticide use. Unlike monocropping, our pastures are rich and diverse ecosystems, shared with a whole host of wild plants and animals. Unlike cows raised on concrete in pens, our cows sequester carbon back in to the soil, and help nurture our planet's fragile skin. 

3. It's wonderful that your farming methods nurture British wildlife - it's something I feel very passionately about. Many vegetarians, and especially vegans, however, have further ethical objections to meat farming, not just on large factory farms, but on smaller farms such as yours. Many would argue that there is nothing ethical about keeping animals purely to feed humans, when we are able to live a healthy life on a plant based diet. These people would argue that animals are sentient beings and don't deserved to be slaughtered, whether in a local abattoir or otherwise, just so that someone can enjoy a great steak. How would you answer these objections? To answer the popular vegan argument, for example, would you find it acceptable to slaughter and serve your own family pets? Dogs and cats perhaps? And if not, why not?

I was vegetarian for 13 years. I've never had a problem with the killing of animals however, but with how they live. 

A bit of shocking news for vegetarians and vegans: if a human doesn't kill an animal, it will die at some point anyway, either from disease, old age, or in the jaws of a less sensitive predator than a human. 

If I had the choice, I'd much rather be a farm animal on a nice farm - a life of luxury, followed by a swift and painful death - than a wild animal - a life of hunger, cold, and fear, followed by a slow and painful death. 

Vegetarians and vegans also kid themselves that there is no death on their plate, when this is far from the case. Many small rodents and reptiles get shredded in the blades of combine harvesters, but perhaps they don't count, as you can't see them on your plate? One steak on your plate doesn't = one dead cow either; it's more like 1/1000th of a cow. If you eat 1000 200g portions of grass fed beef, you've contributed to the death of 1 cow, which has lived well and had minimum impact on the planet. If you've eaten 1000 balanced veggie meals (i.e those that must contain grains and legumes, not just vegetables) how many animal deaths have you contributed to? How much fossil fuel use was involved? Was it/could it all have been produced locally?

Pigs are easily as "cute" (and intelligent) as dogs, they are like family pets, which is why we treat them with love and respect. Personally, I'd eat any animal that had had a good life and hadn't suffered, provided it was tasty of course (which, in my experience, they generally are). 

I'd also argue against the concept that steaks are eaten just for fun. Humans are obligate omnivores - my health suffered whilst I was a veggie. Perhaps some people can cope better for longer than others, but eventually you'll still need some vitamin B12. I don't think it's necessary to eat meat everyday, but it is an important part of the diet, and also the eco-system. Plants eat dead animals. If we don't farm them, we have to rely on animals which died millions of years ago, in the form of fossil fuels. As these fossil fuels dwindle, we are just going to see more wars and exploitation of developing countries. 

4. Your "Cow Share" programme is a fantastic idea! I love it! Does this way of buying meat prove popular with your customers?

We have quite a few customers who go for the cow share option. It works really well for large groups of like minded people - they could be members of a gym or sports club, or simply a group of foodies, or similar.  We can also send each 1/10th of a cow, to different addresses, so it doesn't matter if you're a virtual group, united by ethics, but not location!

5. How many different farmers do you work with? What procedures take place to select those farms who get to produce meat for Green Pasture?

When we first started, we were a collective of 3 farms - one beef, one lamb, and another pork and chicken. As we've grown over the last few years, we've been able to not only grow our own farms, but also other, local, traditional farms, with whom we've had a connection over generations. When demand is high, and we can't meet our orders through our own production, we only ever buy in extra meat from other local farms which we know personally, and have seen with our own eyes how their animals are raised. 

6. I noticed that you have previously sold cow's milk. This is not available on your website at the moment, but is it something that's likely to come back? If so, what do you believe are the advantages of drinking grass fed raw milk over the cow's milk that we can buy in the supermarket?

The laws regarding the sale of raw milk are currently under review by the FSA, up until which point, we are not able to offer it for sale. Whether it will be back will depend on the result of the review.

Personally, I think raw milk tastes better, and demands better farming practices which result in happier animals. The dairy debate (Pasteurised vs. Raw vs. Dairy Free) will most likely rage on and on, but I do believe ultimately that the consumer should have the right to choose. 
7. On a final, festive note, I'm not a huge fan of turkey, what else have you found to be a popular Christmas meat amongst your customers? Is the turkey still riding high, or have you noticed an increased number of customers deciding to buck the trend?

Turkey is still definitely the most popular. As a point of interest, this year, due to previous year's demands, we're not farming the turkeys on our own farm, but have got another local farmer who used to barn raise his turkeys, to convert to pasture raising - another success for consumer buying power! He's been surprised, as his running costs have actually gone down, as his turkeys eat a fraction of the feed that they used to, now that they can forage out in the open. 

Goose is growing in popularity each year, however, and may even catch up this Christmas - we shall have to see!



This interview shed some interesting light on the Omnivore vs. Vegetarian debate, and I hope it interested those on both sides of the fence - I'd love to hear your responses - whatever your eating habits. Do you agree with Simon? Do his attitudes towards farming appeal to you? I definitely think that as an omnivore, I'd rather shop with Green Pastures than elsewhere, although I disagree with some of Simon's ideas, particular in relation to why we eat meat. For me, it's difficult to get behind the idea that without slaughter, animals will die anyway - most farm animals wouldn't exist to begin with if it weren't for meat production, and so this argument can only really apply to wild animals that are shot for food. Would I rather be a wild animal shot in my prime, or lead my full natural life and die of natural causes? It's difficult to say. As a human, I think I'd rather live to old age and die with a poorly functioning body, perhaps of an unpleasant illness, than be murdered at thirty! 
You can find out more about Green Pasture Farms here
Read more about Simon's arguments for an omnivorous diet here
Read more about Simon's thoughts on raw cow's milk here.

British Produce In Season: December

How quickly did November speed by? It was certainly a busy month for me, what with my birthday at the beginning of the month, shaving off my hair, spending lots of time with my friends, and finishing the month by securing a brand spanking new job. 

Like many parents, I go in to December with bucket loads of excitement on behalf of my son. It's magical to be able to see the festive season through a child's eyes, and this year will be my first celebrating Christmas in my flat; the biggest challenge has been (and remains) deciding what to serve for Christmas lunch.

The good news is, there's so much glorious gorgeous food to choose from, because despite the nippy weather, December is great for Great British produce, especially when it comes to roast dinner essentials. Here's a list of what's fresh from the fields this month.




Apples
Beetroot
Brussels Sprouts
Cabbage
Cauliflower
Celeriac
Chestnuts
Clams
Cranberries
Dab
Goose
Grouse
Horse Radish
Jerusalem Artichoke
Kale
Kohlrabi
Leeks
Mussels
Parsnips
Partridge
Pheasant
Pumpkin (still going strong)
Quince
Sage
Swede
Truffles
Turbot
Turkey
Turnips
Venison
Walnuts



Of course, this isn't an exhaustive list - let me know what other seasonal British produce you're enjoying in December, and if you use any of these glorious ingredients in your kitchen over the next few weeks, be sure to share your photographs and recipes with me on Twitter and Instagram (@ashlawrencerye). 

If you're enjoying all of the December goodness why not also play along with my December Bingo, and see how many December must-do's you can tick off, check it out here



December Bingo

Another month already? The good news is, we get to start again with monthly bingo, and here's my list of 30 things that need to happen to ensure you get the very best from December 2014. Tick off as many as you can, and as always - let me know how you do!



  1. Stay in bed until lunch time
  2. Drink champagne
  3. Champion the red lipstick
  4. Write a letter for Santa
  5. Donate at least one festive item to your local food bank
  6. Sing carols 
  7. See a pantomime
  8. Put up the Christmas tree
  9. Sing along to The Fairytale of New York with your friends
  10. Snog on the back row in the cinema
  11. Eat stollen
  12. Go and find an actual Yule log, not a chocolate one
  13. Wear antlers
  14. Worship at the buttery alter of the crumpet 
  15. Buy all of the sprouts
  16. Walk hand in hand
  17. Wrap up a copy of your favourite book, label it "For the person who finds this parcel", and leave it somewhere for a stranger to find
  18. Roast your chestnuts on an open fire
  19. Source a diary for next year
  20. See a nativity (if you have no honest reason to go near a primary school, your local church probably has some Mary & Joseph action going down)
  21. Treat yourself to a good bubble bath
  22. Host a dinner party (Christmas lunch does NOT count)
  23. Walk a different way home
  24. Look up
  25. Forget the New Years Resolutions, write down ten things that you achieved this year, and share those instead
  26. Bring a Poinsettia home (bonus points for interesting varieties)
  27. Ice skate
  28. Mull wine
  29. Laugh at every single Christmas cracker joke (and never, ever, decline the paper crown)
  30. Visit a Christmas market


So You're Thinking Of Getting A Cat?

Three friends have asked on social media over the past few weeks, for advice on getting a pet cat. Both are not previous cat owners, and one is utterly convinced that all cats hate her. I champion anyone who wants to share their home with a cat (or any other furry beast for that matter!) and I hope that as a cat owner, I can provide some pointers for the novice would-be cat keeper. 

Most people already know enough about cats to know whether keeping them would be a sensible decision on their part, so I've put together a few bits that I would suggest anyone think about before they go so far as to bringing home an adult cat or kitten.



  1. Why Rescue Matters - there are quite literally hundreds of thousands of cats and kittens in rescue centres up and down the country, looking for homes. We hear so often that the noble thing to do is to adopt an unwanted pet before we buy from a breeder, so often that I think we've largely become desensitised to the idea - in one ear and out the other, as it were. The reality is that there are more cats given up for adoption than there are spaces in rescue centres. If a rescue centre can accommodate 25 cats, then cat number 26 simply has to be turned away - and the fate that meets these "extra" cats is often not pretty at all. The uncomfortable truth is that every kitten bought privately from a seller or breeder, potentially costs the life of an unwanted pet or baby kitten born to a stray Mum. There is simply no reason to buy over adopting. If you don't meet the criteria that a rescue centre has set for potential adopters, then chances are this is sound advice, and a cat is not the right pet for you. If you're buying a kitten because it's important that your pet has a certain appearance, then a cat is definitely not the right pet for you, in fact, a pet is not the right pet for you. If, for some reason that I am unable to fathom, you can only possibly own a cat if it's a certain breed, then most breeds are represented in dedicated rescue charities. I've listed the most popular here: London Persian Rescue (rehome Persian cats throughout the UK) Ragdoll Rescue, Russian Blue Rescue, Burmese Rehoming, Bengal Cat Rescue.
  2. Once You've Gone Black You'll Never Go Back - I mentioned this when I blogged about my own black cat, The Kitten (over here). Black cats are the least likely to be adopted, for a number of bizarre reasons including possible links to Satan and an inability to look great in selfies. Either way, most black cats can expect to spend months in a rescue centre, whilst other, more in-demand colours, can be rehomed in a couple of days. Black cats have no particular character traits as a result of their fur, neither does any other cat. You may have a wonderful, affectionate ginger cat, you may just as likely have a wonderful, affectionate black cat. Besides, light coloured cats do not live well with anyone who wears black tights. 
  3. A Kitten Might Not Be The Answer - A lot of rescue centres have waiting lists for families looking to adopt kittens. If you've decided that a kitten would be your best option (as was the case for me when I adopted The Kitten) then by all means join said waiting list if it exists, but don't write off older cats. A cat can live for 20 years, but most make it comfortably to about 15 or 16, even so, once a cat is older than 2 years, his or her likelihood of finding an owner in less than 9 months dwindles. There are very few obvious advantages to getting a kitten, other than the cute factor. The advantages of getting an adult cat though? They're usually neutered, microchipped and have had a full course of vaccinations already, as most rescues will do this before rehoming. They're usually very low maintenance and will adjust to life in your home quickly; they're less likely to scratch furniture, climb up curtains, attack your legs etc. and they worked out long ago that human laps are good for sitting on. The best thing you can do, basically, is adopt an adult black cat from a rescue centre. This cat would typically take an average of 10 months to find a loving owner. 10 months in what is effectively a prison cell (albeit a nice, heated one). A ginger kitten however, is usually adopted within his first 3 days in a centre.
  4. You Do Not Need Cat Toys - If you want to buy play things for your cat, go ahead, but if you'd rather spend your hard-earned cash on, oh I don't know, heating your home, then they're really not as fussed about a cat-nip beaver as we think they'll be. I'd recommend investing in a large scratching post. Both indoor and outdoor cats still like to scratch indoors, and it'll save your furniture. You should buy a scratching post which is tall enough that your cat can stretch to his or her full stretchy length, and that isn't so flimsy that it will topple over - if your scratching post doesn't make the grade, the edge of your sofa probably will. Aside from this, cats enjoy chasing a screwed up piece of newspaper, or a piece of string. They do not need plastic balls with bells inside, or a laser pen. As an aside, most app stores have games that you can download on your tablet or smartphone, for free, for your cat. The kitten particularly likes "Cat Alone", which is a free Google download that he urges you to acquire. 
  5. Not All Cats Like Cat Beds - In fact, in my experience, most cats do not like cat beds. The Kitten has a fleecy blanket which I put in his basket to bring him home, which he still sleeps on occasionally, but neither of my boys have a dedicated basket or igloo or anything for sleeping in. Bucket's favourite spot is my footstool (which I've since covered with a small quilt that I can wash, to protect the stool itself) and The Kitten just prefers to jump up on the sofa. Unless I crawled in to a cat bed with my laptop, I doubt either of the cats would pay it any attention. Bring your cat home first, and observe his or her behaviour. If he or she instantly adopts your bed/sofa/beanbag as a resting place then a bed will probably go ignored, but if it turns out that you've got one of those cats who is forever trying to get into things, then they may like a covered, igloo style cat house. Don't waste your money initially though. 
  6. Insure That Thing - There is no sense what so ever in taking the risk with pet insurance. Friends of mine have recently received a bill for thousands of pounds to cover essential, urgent surgery for their pet. Unless you have thousands just sitting in your bank (the average serious operation with anaesthetic on a cat is going to set you back around £1200) then insurance makes all of the sense. Even something small (one of my old cats got bitten in a fight once) can set you back some serious funds (to have the bite mark cleaned up and checked over for infection cost me over £100). Shop around for insurance policies, they do differ in price but you need to look carefully at what you'll be covered for. There's no point in paying £5 per month for cover that only pays out in the event that your cat is struck by lightening on the back right paw on a Tuesday, when £9 per month could have got you lifetime cover for anything including pre-existing conditions. The most commonly recommended pet insurance (by customers and by vets) is PetPlan. You can get a quote, and a 10% discount, on PetPlan policies here.
  7. Don't Get A Cat For a Purpose - The problem with cats, although I consider it one of their many appeals, is that they're all very very different, in character, likes and dislikes, behaviour and attitude towards humans. You have a problem on your hands if you're getting a cat specifically because you want to keep mice at bay, or because you want it to sit on your lap every evening and show you all of the love, or because you need more Instagram followers. Whilst a rescue centre will certainly be able to give you some pointers on a cats personality - they're unlikely to have ever seen that cat in a home environment. A shy, nervous cat in the shelter may quickly settle in to a loving, affectionate lap cat once she has the security of a welcoming home. Equally, an overly friendly, human crazy shelter cat may rediscover his or her independence once they're no longer stuck in a cage. If you aren't adopting a cat simply to save a life, then don't bother, get a humane mouse trap or a teddy bear! The chances of your cat meeting your requirements are, at best, slim. 
  8. Indoor or Outdoor? - Cats can adapt very well to being indoor pets, even those who've previously roamed outdoors. If you are going to keep your cat indoors, make rescue shelter staff aware and they'll be able to advise you on which cats would be suitable. Some may have been indoor cats all along, whilst others may have certain health conditions (deaf cats for example) which means they need an indoor-only home anyway. Alternatively, getting a kitten may be your best option, thus creating a "they've never known any different" scenario. If your cat is going to go outdoors, they'll live a more natural, cat-like life, which is better for the cat in general. They'll be able to get access to natural food such as small animals, grass and even bird's eggs - but be aware, they may eat something which doesn't agree with them and you could have a poorly cat on your hands. An outdoor cat will need a cat flap. Unless you never ever leave your house, you can't be around to let the cat in and out as he pleases, and an outdoor cat may want to pop out in the middle of the night, as well as whilst you've gone to the butchers. They may also want to come back in when you're not around. You can let your cat out whilst you're at home in the morning - but don't expect them to be around to come back in before you need to go to work - oh no, they'll turn up ten minutes after you leave, be unable to get indoors, and will spend the day meowing and pissing off your neighbours. There's also the fact that they may not be able to get to fresh water or shelter whilst you're out. So a cat flap is crucial. If you live in a rented property, your Landlord may not take kindly to your installing a flap, so you may want to consider a) keeping cats indoors or b) buying a house (indoor cat sounds preferable). Outdoor cats do, by definition, cost more in vet's bills, from grass seeds stuck up noses to injuries sustained from defending their patch. My boyfriend's cat recently had surgery after slicing herself open, we're not sure how, but potentially from climbing through an opening in a metal fence. Indoor cats have a lower exposure to disease or opportunity to harm themselves. When keeping a cat indoors though, you'll have a litter tray to contend with, and a bag of the cheapest cat litter will set you back about £1.50. You need to provide your cat with a tray large enough that he or she can turn around in it and bury "their business", if the tray is too small, the cat will find somewhere else to go (probably under your bed or in your handbag). A common sized bag of litter should last around a week, but if you have more than one cat, as I do, you'll probably only get a few days out of the bag, so bear the expense in mind. If you're out at work all day you may come home to some funky odours too. Some cats will not share a litter tray, so if you have more than one cat you may have to provide one tray per cat. Luckily, my two are happy to share and have a hooded tray with a door on the front to allow them a little privacy. I keep my litter tray in the bathroom, where the floor is easy to sweep up if any litter granules escape the tray, and where it isn't near food. Indoor cats also groom themselves more, this means your cat has a wonderful coat, but does make them more prone to furballs (gross). If you're keeping cats indoors, I'd recommend keeping them in multiples. One lone house cat, even with a stay-at-home human, can get bored. There's only so many times you can explore a utility room. Providing feline company means providing constant stimulation and comfort. The added expense is minimal if you're already buying cat food and litter, and to add a second cat to your existing insurance policy is usually about half the price of the first cat. I'll write a separate post some time about introducing a new cat, if you don't get two together. Rescue centres often have cats who've lived together in the past and are looking for a new home together, they may or may not be related.
  9. Off With His Balls - Even if your cats are staying indoors, there are arguments for having your cat neutered. Outdoor cats must be neutered. Male cats can smell a female cat several miles off (no exaggeration) and they will find her. If she's stray, that's a litter of kittens being born on the streets. Equally, if your cat is the female, all of the "intact" boys in yours and surrounding neighbourhoods will be queueing up to get her pregnant. Please don't encourage your cat to get pregnant, either because the kittens will be adorable or will make you a few quid. For every kitten that your cat gives birth to and that you sell on, a cat or kitten elsewhere is denied a space in a rescue centre and may lose their life as a result. If you've got friends, family or neighbours that want a kitten, send them to your local shelter. Male cats who aren't neutered may develop very territorial behaviours, especially scent marking their home by "spraying" - not so desirable if your indoor cat is claiming your favourite armchair. There's also a possibility that neutered cats are a lot more affectionate towards their human companions - probably because their mind isn't elsewhere! You can (and should) get your cat neutered from around 6 months old, and it will typically cost around £60.
  10. Can The PDSA Help? If you're on a low income, find out whether there's a PDSA clinic in your area. The PDSA provide emergency and routine veterinary treatment for the pets of low income families. If you receive housing or council tax benefit then you can probably get free treatment for one family pet, and heavily subsidised treatment for any further animals in your home. Even if you're working, and don't receive housing benefit, those that receive Tax Credits can get heavily subsidised treatment for all of their pets. Check the PDSA website here to see if your new cat would be eligible, and whether you have a clinic nearby.
  11. But What About When I Go Away? Cats are cheaper, and easier, to leave behind whilst you travel, than dogs. If you're only going away for a day or so, perhaps a local friend or family member can call by to spend a little time fussing your cat, topping up their food and water, and cleaning out a litter tray if applicable. My boyfriend is going away for a week shortly and I'll be dividing my time between his house and my own to make sure that all of our cats get some love and are properly looked after, to save him having to use a cattery, it's free, and easy. However, if you're going away for longer and there isn't anyone who can spend a couple of nights at your house and be around for the cat, then a cattery is your best option, these are cheaper than boarding kennels for dogs, and the price per night usually includes all of their food and litter. Have a look around a few local catteries before booking your moggy in, and expect to pay around £6 per 24 hours for one cat. 
  12. I Have Children and a Dog - The great thing about getting a cat from a rescue centre, is that they'll be able to match you to a cat that will suit your home. Many rescue cats will have lived with dogs and/or kids before, or if not, the centre will be able to make a judgement as to how they'd take it. When I adopted Bucket from the RSPCA we already had a dog, and Bucket, as a stray, hadn't told anyone whether or not he liked dogs. As a young, confident cat though, the staff at the shelter were happy that he would probably take it in his stride - and he certainly did. I will do a post another time about introducing a dog and cat who've not previously lived together, but in the meantime, make sure you speak honestly and openly to the staff at your shelter and they'll tell you which cats will fit in to your family. With kids, the one thing that drives me nuts, is when I see pets being rehomed because "my child won't leave her alone/terrorises her/is too rough with her". Education, education, education people. The great thing with bringing children up around family pets is that they learn to respect and empathise with animals. Again, perhaps I'll write a post about how to create a harmonious relationship between small child and feline friend, but for the most part it's common sense. Speak calmly and slowly to children about how they treat the cat, point out what might hurt them, or scare them, and if your child behaves in the wrong way, don't shout at them (thus scaring everyone, cat included) but take them away from the cat quickly and explain why they can not treat the cat in that manner. Simple really. If your child continues to be cruel and abusive towards your cat, rehome your child.

I'd love to hear tips from other cat owners; what do you wish you'd known before you got a cat, or what piece of advice would you pass on to a first time cat owner? Are you thinking of getting a cat for the first time? If so I'd love to know if there's anything worrying you.

Book Review: In The Red - The Diary of a Recovering Shopaholic by Alexis Hall

I recently borrowed this book from the library as I identified so strongly with the author, or so I thought. As someone who's battled with a serious spending addiction in the past, as I wrote about here, I was intrigued and relieved to see someone tackling the same subject in print. Compulsive spending isn't glamorous in the slightest, and it doesn't generally involve designer clothes and expensive shoes, it's an addiction to the physical act of acquiring new property by spending money, and could relate to anything from a Stella McCartney coat to a pen. 

The very opening section of the book summed this up brilliantly, and I saw so much of my own experience, right back to childhood, in Alexis' explanation of her own spending, which had seen her amount credit card debt to the tune of £30,000. You get drawn in to Alexis' easy, often humorous writing very quickly, at first, she is extremely likeable. 

The problems only raise their heads as you get stuck in to Alexis' tale of her 12 month "spending ban", during which, she pledges not to spend any money on anything that isn't absolutely essential, for 12 months. This, she hopes, will allow her the opportunity to pay off some of her crippling debt, and luckily she has the support of her boyfriend, Kevin, and her parents and friends.




However, I hate to say it, Alexis Hall becomes very annoying, very quickly. I don't know whether it's the fact that I associate so much with her that I just can't get over how bizarre her decisions become, but you really do, at times, want to climb in to the book and yell in her face. 

Let me give you an example: Alexis recognises that the car that she runs, which actually belongs to Kevin, is a considerable expense, and Kevin has decided to sell it anyway. Luckily - Alexis owns a bicycle, and on a previous spending expedition, has also purchased all of the swanky cycling gear that she could possibly need. The problem she faces however, is that she owns so many clothes, she can not find her cycling shorts. Now, there are a number of options here: 1) you can ride a bike without owning cycling shorts anyway so who cares? 2) sort through your clothes, you live in a flat, I understand that you own a lot of clothing, but it simply can't be impossible to sort it all out, even if it takes days or 3) if you must wear cycling shorts and you simply can not sort through your clothes and find the ones you already own then fine, break your already imposed spending ban and buy some more. Does Alexis do any of these things? Oh no no, instead, she spends almost £2000 on a motorised scooter. Because she couldn't find a pair of shorts. If you're wondering why she doesn't take the bus it's because the windows often get steamed up and she can't see where she is so worries she'll miss her stop. Obviously.

Throughout the book Alexis lists the insane number of items that she has in her possession, clothes that she has never ever worn, shoes still in their boxes, nine Mulberry handbags; we're not talking Primark spend ups here, we're talking a serious mass of designer clobber, so extensive that she can't locate a pair of cycling shorts amongst it. Does she sell it? Of course not. She just moans that this ridiculous plethora of clothing, most of it brand new, is all she'll have to wear for a year. Now don't get me wrong, I know how difficult it is to go cold turkey on the spending front, and I've done it because I've had to, because I suddenly have no money, Alexis could technically still have spent money, and so she's battling a temptation I don't face, but seriously? Get a grip woman, there are people in the world who don't have a handbag, let alone 9 Mulberry's; the whole thing makes her sound like a whining, actually pretty disgusting, human being. Had she sold off 50% of what she had in her wardrobe, she'd have paid off a nice chunk of her debt, and would still have had more than enough clothes to see her through the year. Easily. She owns, for example, three black, almost identical, brand new evening gowns. At one point she thinks she'll get the opportunity to wear one of them - but it turns out that doesn't happen, so she doesn't wear any of them for the entire 12 month period, but keeps them all anyway.

Then there's the gift buying. Whenever someone's birthday pops up (often a friend she sees twice a year) she relaxes her spending ban because it's fine if you're spending on other people (fine, your year, your rules) but apparently that person has to have a gift purchased from Clarins. Like... right OK. You do find yourself asking what planet the woman lives on. She spends obscene amounts of money, for example, on birthday gifts for her dog and takes him out for a restaurant lunch after his booster vaccinations - but that's OK, because it's spending on someone else. 

In one regard I think it's none of my business, she wanted to pay off her debt (and she does pay off about £9k over the 12 months which is great, well done her) and I can't judge on what she chooses to spend her money on, but at the same time, I can, because she wrote a book about it. 

I wanted to finish this book feeling inspired, feeling like someone had faced up to what I've faced up to, and made radical changes to their life, as I'm doing, and came out the other side. I wanted to get ideas from the book, to be further motivated, to think "ahh I hadn't thought of that, that will save me a fortune". Instead, I felt like slapping her. I did read to the end, but only because I became increasingly infuriated with her "ooooh I just need another cashmere jumper, I am having to live with just seven cashmere jumpers, and all of the my colleagues at work have already seen all seven of them so I probably can't wear them again anyway."

The woman, for example, continues to shop in Marks & Spencer for food. Go to Lidl you imbecile. Maybe the book is not about saving money, it's about not spending it, but the amount that she spends is still ridiculous. My other bug bear is that she moans throughout that her skin is in really bad shape and the only thing that improves it is this particular range of Chanel skincare, but how will she get through the year unable to buy her favourite products? Does she change her diet in order to improve her skin? Or, you know, drink more water? Does she heck. This woman who is on a spending ban and apparently refusing to spend unnecessary money - buys a Boots meal deal every day. Never a mention of a packed lunch. Never. 

Lastly, Alexis contradicts herself at several points during the book and I'm fussy about that sort of thing. They're only little things, but the sort of thing that annoy me none the less. She mentions at one point when she has a bolt-from-the-blue epiphany about how wasteful her lifestyle is, that she is an incredibly diligent recycler, and sorts out every tin can and plastic bottle. Later in the book she writes about Kevin falling ill, and with him laid up in bed, she has to deal with the recycling for once in her life because it's usually his job. She also goes on at length about how her Mother isn't an impulsive spender, and is very careful with her money - then takes delight in wanging on about how the same Mother has seventeen different shampoos in her bathroom. Grrr.

I don't know how to finish this review. I found the reading of the book compulsive, mainly because I was so annoyed with the narrative! If you're looking for an honest account of someone facing up to debt, compulsive spending, and making huge changes to their life, this isn't it. Alexis will tell you until she's blue in the face that her life changed beyond recognition because she only spent £50 on dog toys, and that's fine, but most of you will just want to kick her in to the real world. There are great personal memoirs out there about people who've attacked spending head on and found genuine methods to have fun on next to nothing. Alexis Hall did not write any of them.