A note from our Editor, Louise Robinson
A big hello and welcome to all the new members of Saga’s Not Going Out Club.
Scroll down for our latest tips and ideas to make the most of this time spent at home. I’ve loved receiving your emails these past couple of weeks (keep them coming: email@example.com). I particularly loved the suggestion from Maggie Foot to dig out the Christmas fairy lights and display them in your front window to honour our NHS and frontline staff (her own lights twisted into a heart shape are a picture of refinement). This ‘Shine a Light’ movement has really taken off in the past week, and I’ve already sent my teenagers up to the loft to see what they can find.
It seems that many of you are using this enforced time at home to tackle jobs you’ve never quite got around to. I can’t quite match Martin Lisk, who has already painted his summer house and cleaned all windows, as well as sorted out the entire contents of his filing cabinet. But I have been turning my attention to spring cleaning over the past week. Normally I would leave this in the hands of my brilliant cleaner, Karen – before you judge, I work full time and it’s the best money I spend! – but that is obviously not an option at the moment. The wonderful Karen would normally try to get in the Big Clean before Easter, but as the supermarket shelves had been stripped bare of almost all cleaning products on my last trip – and, frankly, I’m in no hurry to return – I’ve had to have a bit of a rethink.
Perhaps it’s time to go back to basics. One of my many clean freak friends suggested I read Spit and Polish by Lucy Lethbridge, examining old-fashioned cleaning techniques. Here are a few of my favourites and I’m very much looking forward to getting my three daughters to try them out while I’m hard at work on the magazine. Well, it’s one way of keeping them away from their phones and online parties!
White vinegar: Use diluted with water to clean windows, rubbing with old newspaper. You can also use it to remove rust, to polish stainless steel and remove limescale from the kettle and that strange black slime from inside the washing machine.
Lemon juice: Removes limescale from granite and is an effective bathroom cleaner, with none of the chemical pong.
Tea leaves: In the early 1900s damp tea leaves were often sprinkled over rugs to catch the dust and remove smells such as cigarette smoke, then swept up when dry – a kind of early Shake n’ Vac. Should not be used on pale carpets/rugs.
Rhubarb: A powerful acidic cleaner, also excellent for getting rust stains off clothes: spread stewed fruit over the stain, leave for a few hours and wash off.
Coca Cola: I know, not an old-fashioned ingredient. But a friend once told me it was a remarkably good loo cleaner. Simply empty a can around the rim and into the bowl, leave for as long as possible (overnight is good) and scrub then flush. Apparently, it really does work. Just don’t use Diet Coke. Which doesn’t.
The house sparrow has long been our most commonly spotted garden bird (even I can recognise that one), although numbers have declined by 53% since 1979 when the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch began. But there’s now some good news, as the RSPB’s Caroline Offord explains.
“Our annual Big Garden Birdwatch is the world’s largest garden wildlife survey with close to half a million people taking part. This year 1.3 million house sparrows were counted in gardens and local green spaces. In fact, over the last decade numbers appear to have increased by 10%, giving us hope that at least a partial recovery may be happening."
"Male and female house sparrows are easily distinguished; males have a grey head and black bib with chestnut sides and white cheeks. The bigger the bib, the more dominant the male will be within its flock. A female sparrow has pale brown feathers all over with a pale stripe behind the eye."
"The house sparrow may be small but it’s a sturdy little bird with a stout beak designed for eating seeds. House sparrows are noisy and gregarious, often going around together in small flocks. They engage in group activities such as dust or water bathing and 'social singing' – in which birds call together in bushes.”
For the full Big Garden Birdwatch results visit: www.rspb.org.uk/birdwatch
The National Theatre is continuing its at-home theatre programme, with Sally Cookson’s adaptation of Jane Eyre showing on its YouTube channel at 7pm on Thursday. It’s free to watch for the whole week and there’s bonus content including question and answer sessions with cast members and post-streaming talks. If you’ve never watched anything on YouTube before, it’s really easy. Just do a Google search for YouTube (or open the app on your tablet or TV), and when you get there type in National Theatre. Click on it (you don’t have to subscribe) and at 7pm on Thursday the online premiere will be added.
On your marks, get set, bake…
It’s the last time we’ll hear those words from Sandi Toksvig tonight [Tues Apr 7] as she appears on her final Great British Bake Off on Channel 4. I’ll miss her rapier wit and slightly ham-fisted attempts to help the contestants (remember when she destroyed Krishnan Guru-Murthy’s cake when turning it out onto the rack?). But then again, I thought Mel and Sue were irreplaceable, so I am sure we’ll get used to the all-new Sandi, comedian Matt Lucas, when GBBO can eventually return – hopefully later this year. Apparently, Matt has already bought larger trousers in anticipation…
This series of Celebrity Bake Off has been the best yet, I think. What is there to match Alison Hammond’s perplexed expression when she ‘lost’ her retractable oven door in the last episode? Tonight’s feast features Carol Vorderman, Kelly Brook, Rob Rinder and Mo Gilligan. Apparently, they have to make a sweet bread, a showstopper which reveals their favourite guilty pleasure and a ‘sandwich biscuit’. That last one has left me about as confused as Alison Hammond. But I guess I like sandwiches and I like biscuits, so what’s not to love?
I am certainly no baker, as you can probably sense from my comment above, but luckily my daughter Daisy has been busy nurturing her sourdough starter since last week, since she couldn’t find any yeast to buy for her standard loaf. She is in good company: Stephen Fry says his starter (the sloppy, bubbling, floury base you use to make sourdough) is expanding so fast he has to keep baking just to give it something to do. Prue Leith put it well on Radio 4 recently: "in tough times, we need that comforting smell of bread, plus the sense of physical release you get from kneading." She confessed she makes bread when technology is driving her mad "so I can beat the hell out of something." Now there’s something I can relate to.
Website of the week
BBC Arts – Culture in Quarantine (bbc.co.uk/arts). There are so many online cultural gems it can be difficult to keep track of them all, which is why BBC Arts is such a great initiative. You’ll find David Hockney’s spring paintings, classical music highlights and DIY creative projects alongside world class music and theatrical performances to play on your tablet, phone or computer. The one I’m most intrigued by is Birmingham Royal Ballet’s ‘living room’ performance of The Swan, on tomorrow [Wed April 8] at 3pm. It will be performed by principal dancer Céline Gittens in her home, accompanied by pianist Jonathan Higgins and cellist Antonio Novais from their homes. Even the director Carlos Acosta admits: “Frankly I don’t know how it’s going to turn out.”
Now it’s your turn
You’re never too (tutu?) old for ballet, according to the Royal Academy of Dance. It’s offering free virtual Silver Swans tutorials aimed at the over 55s on its YouTube Channel (or Facebook or IGTV) every Wednesday at 1pm. There are nine sessions in total and the second one is aired tomorrow; they promise to improve mobility, posture, co-ordination and energy, even if the only barre you have is your kitchen worktop. Beginners welcome.
Who’s seen their first butterfly of the year? I confess I haven’t yet, but The Wildlife Trusts have been inundated in the past week with news of first sightings – and with them the promise of warmer, sunnier days to come. These early butterflies are ones which have hibernated through the winter as adults. A common one is the gorgeous brimstone. Males are a light, bright yellow. Females are a paler colour with a greenish tint. Then there are peacock butterflies with those distinctive false eyes on the wings, perhaps a bit faded after the winter, and the comma butterfly with its scalloped brown wings which camouflages them against predators.
If you want a summer garden brimming with butterflies, now is the time to create the right habitat. That means leaving an unkempt space (luckily, I have plenty of those). “There could already be hundreds of butterfly eggs, pupae and caterpillars in your garden so it’s important not to mow down early-flowering native plants, such as dandelions, which are a good source of nectar,” says Sam Gee, butterfly expert at The Wildlife Trusts. “Leave some stinging nettles now and by May you could see tortoiseshell caterpillars group closely on them in a silk web, where they undulate together. This gives predators the false impression they are one, big creature. An amazing sight!”
If you’re planning a butterfly-friendly patch, let The Wildlife Trusts add you to its online map. Tell them your plans before April 30 and you could win a bundle of goodies from the team behind The Secret Garden film. See www.wildaboutgardens.org.uk
Exercise of the day: neck and shoulder release
1. Sit up straight with your shoulders relaxed, and your tummy and back muscles loosely pulled in to engage your core.
2. Slowly drop your right ear to your right shoulder, as far as comfortable, feeling the stretch on the side of the neck.
3. Push the fingers of your left hand towards the floor, extending the stretch into the top of your shoulder. Hold for 30 seconds.
4. Repeat on the other side.
The latest from our Use it or Lose it team. Answers next week. But of course, you won’t need them.
1. What is the name of the cat that lives at 10 Downing Street?
2. And what is the name of the dog?
3. Which country gifted The Statue of Liberty to the United States of America?
b) Great Britain
4. Stella McCartney made her name as Creative Director at which French fashion house?
5. In which city was the 1997 movie The Full Monty set?
6. In what year was Donald Trump born?
7. Who did England beat in the Final of last year’s Cricket World Cup?
b) New Zealand
c) South Africa
8. Who said: ‘I’m not offended by blonde jokes because I know I’m not dumb… and I also know that I’m not blonde.”
a) Diana Dors
b) Dolly Parton
c) Marilyn Monroe
9. If you face north, how many degrees would you have to turn in an anticlockwise direction to face east?
10. Does the British noble title ‘Marquess’ rank above or below an Earl?
c) They’re the same
Well I never…
On Friday, 10 April it will be 50 years since the Daily Mirror broke the story that Paul McCartney was leaving The Beatles. Under the headline ‘PAUL QUITS THE BEATLES,’ the paper laid bare the simmering tensions in the band as they recorded what would be their final studio album, Let It Be. Later that same day, McCartney also issued a press release announcing his first album as a solo artist, McCartney.
Word of the week
Pogonotrophy (noun): the art of growing and grooming a beard or other facial hair, something many men are doing at the moment.
Paula has 12 black socks and 12 white socks in her drawer. Without looking, how many socks would she need to take out from the drawer to be guaranteed of finding a matching pair. (Answer below)
I’m afraid Paula would be looking a long time in our house, where matching socks are something of a rarity.
Stay safe everyone – here’s to the same time next week.
PS Here are the answers to last week’s quiz:
1. b) Tony Blackburn on 30 September 1967.
2. b) the M25 – Hadrian’s Wall is 84 miles long while the Thames is 215 miles long.
3. a) Rod Stewart. Rod has been married three times and has eight children by five different mothers.
4. c) 11 years. The Iron Lady was resident in number 10 Downing Street from May 1979 to November 1990.
5. c) Hawaii. The flag of Great Britain is emblazoned in the upper left corner to honour Hawaii's friendship with the British.
6. a) Clint Eastwood. He has five Academy Awards.
7. b) 206.
8. c) One World Trade Center. It’s 1,176-feet high.
9. c) Mahatma Gandhi. Nelson Mandela won it in 1993 while Mother Theresa won the award in 1979.
10. b) Boris Becker. The German would go on to win Wimbledon two more times in 1986 and 1989.
Today’s number crunching answer: Three.
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