I am a top-class de-clutterer! I will happily give books I have read to friends, send things I no longer use or wear to the charity shop and sell stuff to others via Ebay and yet I am finding parting with these old shoes a real wrench. These Brasher Ntoba shoes have given me around 15-years of comfort and I am pretty sure that no other shoes will ever be the same again. Made for everyday comfort for exploring and travelling I have worn these shoes on walks up small hills and around the countryside, they have taken me to work in wet and snowy weather and out to the shops through the last ten winters; they have never felt uncomfortable and putting them on has always bought me pleasure.
I can still remember the day I bought these wonderful shoes. It was a wet day in the Lake District and not really fit for walking and so we were shopping for shoes in one of the many shops specialising in walking gear in Ambleside. I put these Brasher shoes on and as I walked around the shop trying them out for size and comfort I knew straight away they were special shoes; really I should have bought two pairs [or maybe three] while I was there so I had enough for a lifetime.
I think I am finding parting with these shoes particularly difficult because shoes are perhaps the most important item of clothing I buy. They are my connection with the earth and carry me on the miles I walk every day and being able to do this is so much a part of who I am. As these wonderful old grey shoes were already on their last legs five years ago I bought a replacement pair of Brasher shoes [again in Ambleside]. These brown Ambler GTX shoes are robust and comfortable enough for a few hours and I wear them through the winter but for some reason they are not the same and wearing them all day leaves my feet feeling tired. Consequently I don’t love them in the same way as my old shoes. For the hills I now also have some technical lightweight shoes that are really comfortable to wear and this might be the way to go for the Salford streets too.
I have hung on to these old grey shoes way beyond their reasonable lifespan as I have been unable to part with them but walking in them recently both side seams were gaping wide open where the stitching had come undone, the soles no longer have any tread left and I had to admit that it was time to call it a day. So farewell old shoes, I am not sure walking will ever be quite the same again.
We welcomed in 2018 by receiving a box of 48 toilet rolls from Who Gives A Crap. This company are trying to make the world a better place one toilet roll at a time. Their toilet paper comes wrapped in paper, not plastic and most importantly it does the job [we bought the premium 100% bamboo rolls]. Who Gives A Crap started four-years ago thanks to a crowd funding campaign and I heard about them thanks to blogs written by people who are way ahead of me in their pursuit of giving up plastic. Who Gives A Crap’s toilet rolls are from recycled paper or from sustainable bamboo and they donate 50% of their profits to organisations such as WaterAid to help build toilets and improve sanitation in countries that don’t have access to a toilet.
2. Re-usable bags for fruit and vegetables
Apart from toilet rolls [and I just can’t go there] my current interest is in finding items we can re-use rather than use and bin, as much as it in finding items that are plastic-free. We have invested in six re-usable mesh bags for tomatoes, mushrooms, onions, small oranges and other fruit and vegetables we buy loose. I keep three at home in the bike pannier that is used for shopping trips and three in the campervan. I have come to the conclusion that re-using our own bags is preferable to even using paper bags and so bought these bags and keep them handy so there is no excuse to use anything else. I found the mesh draw-string bags on Ebay [I think they are also sold for separating laundry items]. The staff in our local supermarket were happy to peer in them before weighing and they are light and easy to wash if you need to, so these are a big win.
3. Re-usable alternatives to kitchen roll
We are not big kitchen roll users, we always have a damp cloths [torn up clothes or towels] hanging around the kitchen for small spills. But we always have a roll in the kitchen for things like mopping up bigger spills and drying aubergine that has been salted and rinsed. To prevent even this small usage we now have a basket of dry cloths in the kitchen window [see top photo]. These are a combination of torn up old towels, old face cloths and some miscellaneous new reusable cloths we had in the cupboard. This makes it really easy to grab a dry and clean cloth when ever it is needed and then throw them in the washing machine to be used again.
Emergency kit is a bit of a grand name for our tupperware box full of things we keep in the campervan. This box contains items we think might be useful when we are out walking or cycling and ’emergency kit’ is what we call it when we are checking what to stuff in the rucksacks or pannier for a walk or bike ride. We have recently reviewed what we carry in this kit. We like to have these small essentials in one place so that we feel ready for almost anything and can head off for the day with some confidence.
We have used items in the ’emergency kit’ [for ourselves and other people] and we have added to it when we have had an ’emergency’ and realised there is something essential missing. One summer we ended up on a path heavy with nettles, I was wearing shorts and emerged unable to see my legs under a tapestry of nettle stings and we spent much of the rest of the day looking for a chemist in Cotswold villages to get antihistamine tablets, now we carry these. We use the tick lasso regularly as we are often in areas where these small insects are numerous [we also keep our tick-borne encephalitis jabs up-to-date]. The plasters get used regularly for small injuries but many of the other items are there for a serious emergency, such as the foil emergency blankets and whistle. We previously carried just one small torch but now keep our two head torches in the ’emergency kit’ as if we are returning in the dusk or dark from a walk or cycle ride these are more useful for getting us home safely.
We think we are prepared for anything but what do you think is missing? Our kit comprises:
Since those awful photographs of the beach at Henderson Island covered in millions of pieces of plastic and the news that a dead whale was found off the coast of Norway with 30 plastic bags in its stomach, reducing your use of plastic has become more news worthy and a variety of papers and magazines are giving tips on how to reduce your plastic footprint.
These tips vary from refusing drinking straws in a bar to buying a wooden toothbrush and are all valid and help the planet and got me thinking about toiletries and single-use plastic. I have been aware for some time that this is a major use of plastic in our household. While moving on to solid shampoo has been fairly pain-free, I have failed to persuade Mr BOTRA to use a bar of soap for his shaving and instead he is trialling Lush’s shaving cream which still comes in a plastic tub which they will take back for recycling. We have never used liquid soap, preferring a simple bar of soap at the bathroom sink and have now moved on to a bar of soap, rather than a plastic bottle of shower gel, in the shower.
Spurred on by the top tips, I bought bamboo toothbrushes from an Ebay store and also a wooden wash-up brush. I don’t use much in the way of cosmetics, just lip salve which Lush package in metal tins and body lotion / moisturiser. My favourite body lotion is Le Petit Marseillais olive and amande cream that comes in a metal tin. It isn’t expensive and is available in French supermarkets and I stock up on this every time we are in France.
So far so painless. Reducing our use of single-use plastic is a slow process with small steps.
Moving on to tackling our cleaning products, we were at Port Sunlight on the Wirral recently and came away, as many do, with a cardboard pack of two bars of Sunlight soap. This has proved to be a great soap for all types of cleaning, including general cleaning of work surfaces and laundry.
One of my weaknesses is mints. I can’t really contemplate a journey in our campervan without having mints on hand to suck. These have always been tic-tacs; these tiny mints are perfect for a small treat but they are packaged in a plastic box. This had to change and I began the search for suitable vegetarian replacements. In Treasure Island Sweets I found tins of Barkley’s Mints. The mints taste great, come in a handy tin, wrapped in paper, so far so good but unfortunately each tin arrived wrapped in plastic! The small steps continue.
It is a fact of life [in the UK] that our walking shoes get muddy. Cleaning our walking shoes isn’t the favourite job of either of us but it helps if you have the right tools for the job. I recently needed to replace the simple suede brush we had as the bristles were wearing down. I found this Kiwi Suede and Nubuck brush in the supermarket and despite it costing more than I expected I decided to see if it was better than the brush I was replacing, as it claimed to have more and better features.
This Kiwi brush is plastic and retails at around £3. Kiwi recommend that the shorter rubber bristles are used for nubuck, the longer bristles can be used for removing soil in crevices and the shaped plastic edge can clean seams.
I found it didn’t work quite like Kiwi proposed. After walks on sticky chalk soils and the thick clay of the Yorkshire coast our shoes were heavy with mud. After each trip we left them to dry for a few days and then tackled the cleaning. The longer bristles worked the same as any suede brush and got a lot of the dried mud off the shoes, along the seams, the sides of the soul and the top. The difficult bit of cleaning walking shoes and one where I hoped this tool might help is the grip pattern on the sole. For walking shoes to provide good traction a complicated grip pattern is designed by manufacturers, with many narrow crevices that get packed full of mud that dries to almost concrete. In addition small stones lodge in these crevices and need removing. Suede brushes cannot shift this mud easily and I usually end up seeking out a twig or a metal skewer to clean out the sole. Instead I tried using the curved plastic edge of the Kiwi brush. This did tackle these areas quite effectively but after only using the tool twice for our four shoes the plastic edge is showing significant wear; Kiwi don’t claim that this is what the plastic edges are designed for but if the plastic used was tougher it would work well for cleaning the soles of our walking shoes.
As this tool will be worn out very soon I will go back to an ordinary suede brush and a metal skewer to remove the soil from the grip on the soles of our walking shoes, as I really can’t justify the expense and waste of resources involved in buying a new plastic brush every six months.
Shopping has always been a minefield. We have tried to use our buying power [small though it is] as a force for good for a long time, balancing our desire to do as little as possible to damage the environment and workers rights alongside our need for quality and to save money for retirement. Recently we have been constantly reviewing how we can avoid plastic packaging as much as possible and I have blogged before on how we manage all our shopping by bicycle [even through the winter]. The cycling is easy, avoiding plastic packaging is the tougher call. For years we were part of a vegetable box scheme that supported a local organic grower and every week was a ‘Ready Steady Cook’ week as we ate whatever vegetable arrived. This is no longer an option and we have joined the masses trying to find supermarket vegetables that are not wrapped tightly in plastic.
The need to save money had taken me to Lidl and Aldi for all our shopping but these supermarkets lovingly wrap most of their fruit and vegetables in heaps of plastic; even the spring onions come in a plastic bag! Fortunately, I now have time to move around the supermarkets for different items. Our four local supermarkets sell lots of vegetables such as broccoli, carrots, potatoes, peppers and onions loose but only our local Tesco sells large bunches of coriander and parsley that are not in sealed plastic, whereas Booths [a wonderful northern supermarket institution] is where I can fulfil my desire for cherry tomatoes and gorgeous tasty large flat mushrooms. I take a cloth bag on my shopping trips to help carry these items home.
We have now not only given up shop-bought hummus we have also given up all those plastic wrapped meat-free slices for sandwiches and we do without. The only convenience food we buy is Linda McCartney sausages that come in cardboard boxes [no plastic and they taste the best, hurrah!] But there are plenty of things there are no alternative for; Mr BOTRA isn’t able to give up his need for packets of crisps, although he has reduced his consumption and, although we make most of our own bread, so no plastic there, we’re not prepared to do without hot buttered crumpets for occasional breakfasts. We are certainly not perfect; sometimes we splash out on expensive butter wrapped in paper, but sometimes we save the money and throw in to the bin the combination of foil and plastic the budget butter comes in. We don’t have the space or a supplier for bulk pasta and rice [and even in bulk these items come in a plastic bag]. For non-food items we try and keep the cleaning ‘stuff’ to a minimum; it is easy to buy washing powder in a box but washing up liquid still comes in a plastic bottle.
Looking at the spreadsheet, it seems that although we’ve moved away from the cheaper supermarkets for our vegetables, by giving up the [often expensive] convenience foods our food bill hasn’t increased over the last twelve months and so we can stay within budget.
We have a spreadsheet that tracks our savings [of course], where they are and what they are earning. One strand of our savings is a chunk of premium bonds and what this lovely spreadsheet reveals is that the amount of our winnings from these premium bonds has decreased [okay let’s be honest, it has halved] over the last three years. In 2014 and 2015 we received a return of around 1.5% from our winnings on the fluctuating amounts of premium bonds we held but last year our return was only 0.75%.
I was bought up in a rural post office and so have always been a little sentimental about premium bonds as before the internet it was the local post office where you bought your premium bonds. My parents were in a premium bond club, where a handful of neighbours pitched in every week and bought a premium bond for one member of the club, this way they received a premium bond every month or so. I remember the excitement at home when they occasionally won a few pounds. I have also long had a soft spot for ERNIE, the Electronic Random Number Indicator Equipment that chooses the winners each month but it seems ERNIE doesn’t have the same loyalty towards me and it might be time to part company.
And yet, we will miss the excitement of the win. These days we receive an email when one of our premium bonds has been chosen by ERNIE and there is always much heart pounding and nail biting in the BOTRA household until we have checked our account, followed by inevitable disappointment when we find we have not won a life changing amount but just another £25.
In the Money Saving Expert article from October 2016 premium bond winnings are discussed. Apparently premium bonds are the number one saving product in the UK, with over 21 million people having at least one, although no doubt many of these people have forgotten all about the one or two bonds they own. Although any winnings are still tax free, the changes to tax on interest in the UK make this aspect of premium bonds less appealing today. The article describes much better than I can that, although the annual prize rate is currently 1.25%, this does not represent the winnings you are likely to receive and that with £31,000 saved in premium bonds each month one in 240,000 people will win nothing at all.
Premium bonds are really a lottery [after all there is a chance of winning anything between nothing and a whole shed load of money] but at least it is a lottery where you don’t lose your capital. Mr BOTRA and I have agreed that sentimentality is not always the best way to decide where to save and despite my childhood memories of premium bonds the numbers are pushing us to reconsider this aspect of our savings.