Thursday, 7 February 2013

.Keep Calm & Eat Cake

Using the picture of my waste paper bin on my blog last week brought to mind a post I wrote way back when. I thought I'd re-post it, especially as, since then we have also had the excellent BBC TV series 'War Time Farm', which was probably my favourite programme last autumn when it was screened. If you haven't seen it, do yourself a favour and order the DVD - it was marvellous.

As you can see, I think the slogan so apposite, I have added a mug to the collection too.
I use it regularly.

When I bought the bin, there were several slogans to choose from.  I would have preferred 'Keep calm and eat cake', or even better 'Keep calm and have a glass of wine', but sadly neither of those were on offer.

So, as you know, I got this one.

How thrilling is that?

I could have had 'Waste not, want not'. In fact that was the one I picked up first, but when it came to it, I just couldn't do it.

Daft really.

If you are my age, then your parents were either war-youngsters, or actually took an active role in WWII.
If you are a bit younger, then maybe your grandparents lived through the war.
If you are younger still, then you won't have a clue what I'm on about.
But the rest of us know that anyone who lived through the war can't throw away so much as a length of string or a candle stump.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not knocking thrift - even thrift that to the uninitiated smacks of parsimony..
But where thrift is concerned, initiation does help.
Unless you've lived through the war - any war, probably - I don't suppose you can ever understand what chronic shortage really means. I certainly don't.
It's hard to imagine, after the surfeits of our own times, that in Britain, people were allowed just 1 egg, 2oz (not quite 60g) butter and 2oz cheese per person per week - less if it wasn't available. And meat, sugar, flour, jam etc etc etc were all rationed too.

And it wasn't just for the six years of the war - rationing didn't end until 1954!
War Time Farm was a real eye-opener on how people actually managed to 'carry on' - and it was interesting to see how much hard work went into ensuring that bread was never rationed in Britain, although for many countries in Europe, bread was hard - sometimes impossible - to come by.

Watching what did - or, more likely, didn't go into meals make me wonder why I spend a good deal of time scratching my head wondering what to make for dinner.
I just can't imagine trying to feed a family in those days.
And it wasn't only food. Clothes were rationed too. Try telling the average girl today that her clothes are going to be rationed from now on. Seriously rationed. No more Saturday afternoons in the mall.
It was during the war that shorter skirts for women and short trousers for boys were introduced. Boys had to wear shorts until the age of 12. It saved a lot of material.

Not everything was rationed. Some things were simply unobtainable.

So you can't exactly blame the older generation for hanging on to stuff - understandably, waste not, want not was their credo.

I was lucky enough to grow up in an era and environment of plenty, but old habits don't die, so I was brought up with the concept of 'reduce, recycle and reuse' long before the ad men turned it into a slogan to save the world.

It's a great concept. It's even a great slogan and I wholeheartedly support it.
But I don't hang on to every bit of string and candle stump.
Instead I live with a virtual wagging finger, with a shadow of disapproval falling over me every time I chuck a plastic bag, dump a perfectly good paper carrier, scrunch tin foil, scrumple up gift wrap or ditch the fag-end of a bar of soap.

But the greatest sin of all is to throw food away.

I may not be squeaky clean on the tin foil and plastic bag front, but I really baulk at binning food.

Apparently (in the British Isles anyway), - if everyone threw one in three of their carrier bags away as they left the supermarket each week, that is how much of their purchase - on average - they are going to waste.


You don't need to be a war-baby to be utterly appalled by that.
What happened to 'left-overs'?
What happened to 'Ort Pie' - something delicious constructed from whatever happened to be left in the fridge?
(Well, OK, an attempt at something delicious!)
In the name of culinary inventiveness or, failing that, pure unadulterated impecuniosity, it's got to be worth a try.

Nothing - well, practically nothing - well, very little is ever thrown away in our house.
(How's that for self-righteousness?)
Before I fall off my own pedestal, I'd better come clean. I am based at home, so if something is left over from supper, it can be made into lunch the next day.
For another, I have a battery of  back-up options. There is a strict protocol governing anything rejected by humans. First refusal = dogs. Second refusal = cats. Third refusal = hens, and if all else fails, final refusal = the bird table. I have to say, not much makes it that far down the line. Occasionally I by-pass the line and make an outright donation to the hens or the bird-table. Bread, for example, that has turned silently to the texture of old plasterboard. Ends of cheese that have transformed into translucent plastic. (How does cheese do that?)

Second refusal = cats

And then - while I'm still in the confessional - there's the fungus-y stuff. The container in the back of the fridge that you pull out and look at and think - that needs eating. Um - maybe not tonight though...
So you put it back. And back. Until eventually it feels so unloved it grows its own comfort blanket.

There are some things that have to be thrown away.

Speaking of comfort blankets and disposal, I had an interesting experience a while ago. I was away for a week, helping my brother move house. Lovingly - rather virtuously, I thought - I made a large casserole to keep the troops going for a few days in my absence. I left it on top of the oven.. About a week after I got home, I rooted in the cupboard for the casserole dish and fished it out. Gosh, I thought to myself, this iron pot is even heavier than I thought it was.
When I opened it, there was the stew. Or rather, there were the mountains of the moon, comprising several species of fungus hitherto unknown to science.
Don't even ask...(But yes, by some miracle, we are still co-habiting. Acceptance is just one of the many marvels of the human psyche.)

But for all our sins and oversights, there is very little that gets thrown away (or buried in a deep hole, far from the prying noses of rats and foxes).
Something of the make-do and mend of my childhood has lingered in there somewhere.
Probably just as well, with all of us the world over, teetering on the edge of serious shortages of money and food and resources. I can't see anyone in the first world taking very well to rationing though.
Hopefully it won't come to that. But maybe the shadow of it still hangs over us. Like some sort of genetic imprint.
I guess that's why 'Waste not, want not' was just a step too far. A truth too close to the bone.

I'd rather stay calm and eat cake. And look what I found on my trip to Enniskillen last weekend!

But if there isn't any cake, I'll opt for staying calm and carrying on.


  1. Hello Lorely:
    We have what we call the 'war drawer' in a desk here in Budapest which contains all manner of war memorabilia. Included are ration books belonging to our parents and, as you say, one is totally amazed to see how little was allowed as a weekly ration.Today this would sem as very slim pickings indeed.

    And, like you, we hate waste of any kind but food waste we find particularly offensive when one is conscious of so many who go hungry every day in the world.

    Your mug from Enniskillen is wonderful. Do we detect a 'Keep Calm' collection developing?

    1. Your war drawer sounds very interesting. We have a few family things from the Great War, which are very emotive.
      Yes, I think people today would be startled to know how little 'nice' food our parents/grandparents survived on, and I agree with you about waste in the face of world hunger. Though I do remember, when being told once as a child to 'eat up, half the world is starving', rudely replying: 'Well, send it to them, then!'
      I'm not sure about a collection, but it was a very good design, and I'm glad it's made a reappearance!

  2. Wartime Farm was excellent. We learned about the battles and the holocaust but Wartime Farm covered an aspect of the War that was almost forgotten. Have you seen the film 'Land Girls'?
    My parents gave their youth to the war, mother 15 to 21, father 16 to 24. Both were in the City of London working day and night through the Blitz before my mother joined the Land Army to escape the bombing and, my father joined the RAF where he spent several years at Bletchley and then, just as the war was over, shipped out to India for two years to witness the Partition of India.
    I will always be grateful to them for sharing their stories and teaching us how important it is to 'make do and mend' and how to 'make do and mend'; important life skills.

    1. I'm so glad someone else saw War Time Farm and enjoyed it too. It really was such an interesting programme - as you say, all the stuff you never learned in school - ie the social history which is always the most interesting part.
      Yes, I did see Land Girls - it was a great movie.
      My father was in the RAF too. He doesn't talk about it very much, but it is interesting to hear the odd snippet he tells us from time to time. My mother was only 8 when the war began.

  3. Lovely long post, and I missed Wartime Farm so thanks for the hint. Like you i grew up with parents formed by their experiences of the 2WW, but they did not hoard. My mother was a great thrower outer. However, frugality was the order of the day, and some of that remains with me. I cannot do conspicuous spending or waste. I don't mend my socks (and they seem to wear out so quickly these days), but i do turn them into cat or dog toys, or use them for cleaning. as i get odler, and I think this is something common to most people, acquisitions are less attractive. I have what I need. And more than many. I think I might have gone for the Waste Not want Not. But then I don't need a bin. I have the one that my father made in wartime from old parquet and brass, and another from my preteen years...

    1. Love your comment, Isobel - 'I'd have gone for the Waste Not, Want Not. But then I don't need a bin.' The essence of my post!
      Your father's bin sounds beautiful, and how lovely that you still have it, and use it.
      My mother isn't a hoarder either, except in practical things. And she does re-use the stuff she hangs onto!
      Yes, what is it with socks these days?! They aren't WORTH mending. Built in obsolescence I guess.


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