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23rd Jun 2009

Whiffy Books

Jane: We’ve been buying a lot of old books recently, attracted by their funky covers and wacky titles, and by offbeat editions of old classics (new ones can look very dull by comparison). The books are beautiful but sometimes smell a bit musty and I was worried it would put the children off reading them. So I did a bit of research into de-pongifying them and found that bicarbonate of soda does the trick. 

It’s easy-peasy. All you need an airtight container large enough for your book to have at least five centimetres space all around it, a raised tray (or see below) and some bicarb. Liberally sprinkle the bicarb into the bottom of the container (I used one of my plastic cake boxes) to a depth of one centimetre. Then you need a cooling rack or something raised and perforated to place the book on, so it doesn’t touch the bicarb and air can circulate around. Don’t buy something special – I used cookie cutters, and they worked fine.

Rest the book on the rack or cutters, close the lid tightly, making sure it is airtight, and leave. The bicarb will absorb most of the nasty smells within a few days, but particularly pongy books might need longer. (You can reuse the bicarb – just put another stinky book in the box.)

Funny though – when I handed the children the cleaned-up books and explained what I’d done, they said, ‘But mum, we really liked that musty old smell…’

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13th Jun 2009

A Stone's Throw Away

Tamsin: We have been devouring large quantities of deliciously sweet cherries this week, which has meant we've been displaying some very bad table manners as well. We discovered this 'bad-mannered' after-dinner pursuit several years ago while picnicking beside a bubbling stream in

Dartmoor. This is not a game to bring out when you have guests, as it does have its disgusting side – spitting.

 The aim is to see who can spit the cherry stone the furthest. (I should also mention that we have been eating our meals outside over the last few days!) I perfected a technique this week which meant my stone shot past my son's for the first time since the game was invented – a small victory but one which I relish since he has grown so much taller than me.

The technique? I am going to guard it as a well-kept secret so I can savour the glory of my win for a little while longer yet...

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5th Jun 2009

Clouds and Contraband

Tamsin: Once a year I take my family on a so-called ‘walking holiday’. We usually go somewhere mountainous, staying in a remote house and with suitcases packed with waterproof gaiters. I love this one week in the year when it is just us, walking, talking and connecting again. My son now enjoys the adventure while my daughter has a healthy ‘well if I have to’ attitude to the whole expedition, just as I did when I was her age and my parents dragged me up mountainsides wearing the most awful unfashionable outfits. It is such a wonderful feeling to stand on top of a mountain, exhausted and exhilarated from the climb – surveying all that you can see. Sometimes the view looked like this ...

...when we were very pleased that we had a compass to help with the navigation down. Sometimes the view looked like this ...

...at which point we could shelter behind the cairn and savour our sandwiches with the satisfied feeling of knowing that the slog was behind us. 

Evenings were spent in front of an open fire, drying off bog-sodden boots, playing games or flopping exhausted in front of a DVD. I was delighted to find in the games drawer of the house one game I had not seen for years – Contraband. I remember spending hours with my sisters sitting cross-legged on the floor, hoping to get the crown jewels and smuggle them through under the diplomatic bag. The main aim is to blag honestly so as to not arouse the suspicions of the customs officer.

Maturity did not seem to add to my skill at the game and all I managed to do on this holiday was giggle every time it was my go to smuggle something through. I was doomed to lose, especially as each time I tried to declare ‘nylon’ stockings, Joe shouted out ‘silk’, which was what was written down in the instructions.  I held my ground as my card clearly stated the artificial kind of stockings. After some investigation we realised that there were two packs of cards, obviously from different eras - we wondered when the change had been made? When did nylons overtake silk?

Oh, and we even spotted the very rare Irish spotted slug.

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