Blue Witch



   Monday, March 31, 2003  
a candle for peace, a rose for remembrance
Luxury Witch

Some things are totally priceless.

One of my favourite fantasies is to have clean, fresh-air-dried sheets, and starched and ironed pillowcases and duvet cover, every day. I'd have this indulgent luxury every day if I could afford the 'help' to do the chore.

I cannot abide changing the sheets on the bed (even though I never do it on my own, Mr BW always helps, bless him :) So, once every week or so it is.

I must have been brunged up proper, cos even when I was a student, I always changed the bed at least once every fortnight. Actually, I think we won't go there, cos, to be honest, it was probably once per week, out of necessity, but, hey, Mr BW might read this, and he might not like reading any more details ;)

I can remember staying with a friend a couple of years ago who boasted to me that he hadn't changed his bed for several months. Yes, I could tell, even had he not told me that, because the flat smelt. Nastily. And, the worse thing was, he clearly hadn't changed the spare bed for nearly as long, despite several occupants (nice mix of perfumes, male and female). IMHO, that is patently disgusting, sorry.
   posted by Blue Witch at 7:57 pm....  
a candle for peace, a rose for remembrance
Blue Witch is a tart.

(Another in the occasional Piggy Bank - How to Save Loadsa Money series)

It's official, then.
Blue Witch is what is known in serious money-saving circles as a "rate tart".

Yes, I will move any of our financial business transactions anywhere where there is a better deal, better rate, or more freebies, on offer. I am fortunate in that I have time to investigate and then do these things, but I contend that I choose not to work full-time for a tyrant, so need to contribute to the GCP (Gross Coven Product) by being thrifty and economical. Although our income is probably only 60% of what it was when I worked full-time, we have a *much* better standard of living, and quality of life, now. Not least because when Witchy is stressed, the world knows ;)

In the last year, I have paid off more than £5K of our mortgage simply by offsetting savings against mortgage, using credit cards for all purchases over £3 (always paid off in full though) and paying nothing until the due date, so keeping our money in the off-set account for as long as possible.

I have made (or saved) goodness knows how much out of being aware of deals going on all sorts of things (eg buying BOGOF's and 3 for 2's in supermarkets), and by shopping round and negotiating on each and every purchase, of all kinds. Also by spotting errors in bank statements, supermarket bills etc. Probably somewhere between £1-2K in the last year, I'd guess.

In fact, I am known locally as *the* person to ask if you want to know where to get good value on anything within a 20 mile radius. BW, "Never knowingly overcharged."

So, I am always ready to pass on good sources of information. Martin Lewis, the self-styled "Money Saving Expert" seen on BBC Weekend Breakfast and in certain newspapers and magazines, has a weekly email newsletter and linked website, which is full of great info, if a little hard to navigate as there is so much there. He has even added a discussion/question forum recently.

MrBW and I have always had credit cards with rewards schemes. Years ago, my first PC was obtained free using the £1700 of vouchers that we got by using a GM Card for 2 years before qualifying to redeem the points when MrBW got a new Vauxhall company car. Then I played a game where I bounced £5K of expenditure around various 0% credit cards for 3 years while the money sat nicely stashed earning tax-free interest in an ISA (sadly this game came to an end when RBS realised just how many of us were taking advantage of their generosity / stupidity and changed their balance transfer rules). Since their advent, we have been using cash-back cards. Last year we got over £200 cash-back just by putting all our expenditure (including Mr BW's business expenses which are reimbursed by his company) onto cards. Not to be sneezed at.

This year we will be doubling this figure, at least. We are currently using a More Th>n / Accucard which offers 1.6% cashback for the first 6 months. As soon as that finishes in a couple of months, I have a Platinum AmEx 2% cashback lined up to take its place (that one is an invite-only, limited offer (goodness knows why we were selected ;), but the AmEx Blue deal is pretty good too). Just remember to close the card down when you've finished with an offer, then your credit file stays neat, and you can reapply 6 months after shutting the account and take advantage of their latest offer.

Different cards are good for different people with different patterns of expenditure, ability to pay off in full, or need to balance transfer from a high rate card to a 0% one. Money Saving Expert has produced a full guide to which of the 60 credit card reward schemes is best for you. And it's stonking good. Get over there and save / make a few quid!
(NB The comparison tables are at the bottom of the article).

Martin reckons that someone on an average salary can earn £400 a year by playing the cashback game to best advantage. He also tells you how to avoid the credit card pitfalls and how to get the best deal when redeeming loyalty (eg Nectar) points. Other parts of his site show you where you can save money on mobile and landline phone bills (my combined phone bill for 2 landlines (including ISP charge) and a mobile, for personal and business use, is less than £45 in total per month), get cheap consumer electronics, and the best rates on your savings.

Blue Witch will also do personal recommendations if you care to post or email your requirements :)

   posted by Blue Witch at 11:11 am....  
a candle for peace, a rose for remembrance
Thought for the day

Dear Lord,

So far today, am I doing all right. I have not gossiped, lost my temper, been greedy, nasty, selfish, or self-indulgent. I have not whined, complained, cursed, or eaten any chocolate. I have charged nothing on my credit card. But I will be getting out of bed in a minute, and I think that I will really need your help then.

Or, in other words, BW is still feeling off-colour today, so don't have any expectations for today's posts, will you? ;)
   posted by Blue Witch at 8:23 am....

   Sunday, March 30, 2003  
a candle for peace, a rose for remembrance
Did you know?

From today, New York bars, restaurants and jails all became non-smoking.
   posted by Blue Witch at 9:07 pm....  
a candle for peace, a rose for remembrance
Gardening Witch

Today, despite the 19 degrees of glorious sunshine here, I had no energy, no motivation, and no real desire to do anything. Must be those pesky biorhythms again. I didn't dare look.

Luckily for me, at times like this, there is Mr BW. So, while I was sitting down opening seed packets and writing the labels, he was busily scurrying around planting to my instructions. I'm sure I must have been a Lady with a staff of gardeners in a previous life. I'm sure I couldn't have got so used to this so quickly otherwise :)

Anyway, a tip. This one originated from my Dad (a very keen, but thrifty, gardener), but I'd never really tried it before today. Even with a large garden, you rarely need to use the entire contents of a packet of seeds in one go. As soon as you open the foil sachet, the seeds begin to age and, over a few months, lose their original potency, so the germination rate decreases noticeably. So, after sowing what you need, knock the remaining seeds down to one end of the sachet, exclude the air and re-seal the torn edge using a very hot iron. We found today that the new Suttons packets are actually large foil sachets, and, for those it works even better, because you can divide the remaining seed up into several sections. For something like radishes or lettuces that you need to sow successively to get a continuous crop, you just open one division every time you re-sow, and, hey presto, seed as fresh as new every time.

Seed resealed in this way will also keep much better from one season to the next, and, given the price of seed now, that's no bad thing (I spent almost £90 this year on vegetable and flower seeds, and that included 10% discount and a few bargain packets at 10p due to the quantity I ordered - that may sound a lot, but, given we will need to spend virtually nothing on fresh vegetables right through until about November, it is good value for us).

Oh, and don't invite me round to your place for a few weeks, because I will be rummaging in your bin eyeing-up your cast-off plastic containers. Most of them make ideal seed trays...
   posted by Blue Witch at 8:26 pm....  
a candle for peace, a rose for remembrance
I love the ACORN profiles of areas available from the UpMyStreet website.

ACORN stands for 'A Classification Of Residential Neighbourhoods.'

I must say, I am very naughty, and often decide how much I am going to charge someone for a piece of work on the sole basis of how they come across on the 'phone and what the ACORN profile of their postcode says. All's fair in love and business I say, and I know that people do exactly the same to me (that's why I always say that everything is negotiable - you've added on 50% to the true cost of the job I want, on the basis of my postcode, therefore, you're jolly well going to take it off again if you want my business :)

Basically, they say, there are 1.7 million postcodes in the United Kingdom, the average postcode being shared by around 14/15 addresses. The marketing-data firm CACI has produced this classification to include every street in the country, fitting them into 17 distinct Groups, which, in turn, contain 54 'typical' ACORN neighbourhood categories.

The idea is that streets of broadly similar people are grouped together. Your postcode is assigned to the type which is the best match with the unique characteristics of your street. This description is intended to illustrate likely consumer preferences and behaviour and does not describe a specific locality or its residents.

So, let's see how well their descriptive statements about the area around The Coven fit us, shall we?

Type 2: Villages with Wealthy Commuters
(3.2 per cent of the population live in this ACORN Type)

Well, our bit is a hamlet, and there aren't many commuters, even in the village bit, and the "wealth" isn't ostentatiously displayed. Quite the opposite, in fact. This is "old money" territory, not "new money". There is a difference. And if there are 54 ACORN types, we're a bit common, aren't we? Off to a good start then :)

Likely characteristics: These very affluent commuter villages are found all over Britain. They are located neither within the main metropolitan areas nor in the remoter rural areas. They are found in the highest proportions in Somerset, Oxfordshire, Hereford & Worcester and Wiltshire.

One false.

Heavy ITV viewing: Low
Ownership of stocks and shares: High
Microwave purchases: Low
Buying home with a mortgage: Medium
2+ Car Ownership: High
Population Aged 0-14: Medium

5 true, 1 false

Demographics: The age profile of ACORN Type 2 is fairly flat, though there are 20% more than average 45-64 year olds and 20% fewer than average 0-4 year olds. The ethnic profile of these neighbourhoods is very homogeneous - 99% white

Only half true for us.

Socio-Economic Profile: Although these are rural neighbourhoods, only 10% of the working population is employed in agriculture. This is, however, over 5 times the national level. Of the remainder, the majority are employed in services. Levels of employment in the professions and in managerial positions are well above average. Other key features of the Socio-Economic Profile are twice the national level of self-employed people and nearly 3 times the national level of home-based workers.

All true except one false.

Attitudes: People in ACORN Type 2 are very keen to get off the beaten track on their holidays, though they are not driven to seek out new destinations each time. They are happy with their standard of living. They rarely notice advertisements in newspapers and magazines and have a low level of interest in new brands.

All particularly true.

Housing: ACORN Type 2 contains many large homes - 40% have 7 or more rooms. The majority of homes (60%) are detached. However, at 77% the proportion of owner-occupiers is lower than might be expected, given the size and status of homes. This ACORN Type has over 2.3 times the average level of unfurnished, rented housing.

Half true, half false.

Durables: Levels of car ownership are extremely high. Only 10% of households have no car and the proportion with 3 or more cars is 3.2 times higher than average. The proportion of cars costing £20,000 or more is 3.5 times higher than average and there are also above average proportions of new cars and cars with large engine sizes. The proportion of cars which are company owned is 60% above average; this is lower than might be expected given the status of the neighbourhoods, but can be explained by the high level of self-employed people. 2.4 times more people than average buy new dishwashers. Purchase rates for electric cookers and hobs are also above average. The proportion of homes fitting new secondary glazing is 2.8 times higher than average. The proportion of homes using oil-fired central heating is 12 times higher than average; solid fuel heating is also much more common than average.

C'mon, I'm Value Witch. D'you think I'd spend £20K on a car? I want two for that price!! And I buy a new dishwasher only when the old one breaks down. The last one lasted 13 years. And it's much better for us to take the cash equivalent than the company car (as it would be for most people, if only they bothered to do the sums...). And yes, there was solid fuel heating when we moved here, but we now have an oil boiler and a nice oil Aga. It's navy blue (unsurprisingly), in case you are interested. And I love it.

Financial: These are very affluent areas with over twice as many people as average earning in excess of £40,000 per annum. There are above average holdings of most Financial products, in particular National Savings Certificates, stocks and shares and plastic cards. Pension provision levels, however, are only slightly above average, much lower than might be expected given the income profile.

No comment, but we do have a pension, lots of credit cards (but only for the benefits - watch out for a post on this soon) and absolutely no debt other than an ever-decreasing current-account mortgage that will be paid off within the next 8 years (touch wood).

Media: The readership of The Independent is 2.6 times above average and that of The Telegraph is 89% above average. Readership of all the quality Sundays is above average, in particular The Sunday Telegraph is read by 83% more people than average. ITV viewing is below average with 49% of people classified as light viewers. commercial radio listening is also below average.

True, but we don't read The Torygraph. Actually, we don't buy newspapers, except occasionally when we are on holiday. Why buy what you can read on the net for free, without dirtying your hands?

Leisure: Although 14% more people than average take two week holidays, proportions of people taking long holidays, winter holidays and holidays in far-flung destinations are all below average. Camping is very popular, as are European destinations. Ownership of greenhouses is twice the national rate, so horticultural pursuits are certainly popular. Rates of visiting pubs and restaurants are above average, though by no means high. Most outdoor pursuits are popular, in particular shooting, rambling, sailing and windsurfing. People are much more likely than average to visit archaeological sites and stately homes, and to spend time in art galleries.

We have 2 greenhouses. We used to like camping, then we bought a lovely Tempur adjustable bed and couldn't bear the floor any more (actually, we nearly can't bear to go away at all now). We can only go away in winter (due to the bees and garden), and don't go out that much cos one of us then can't drink, and anyway, we can cook better meals at home, for a fraction of the cost, which means we can pay the mortgage off quicker. And yes, we do have a Life membership to the National Trust, but only cos Mummy Witch was feeling generous one day.

Food and Drink: Grocery shopping tends to be done by car and very little is done on a daily basis. Deep freeze ownership is 40% higher than average, although consumption of most types of purchased frozen foods is below average, suggesting that the freezers are often used for storing home-produced foods. Consumption of fresh foods - meat, fish and fruit - is above average. Consumption of most packaged foods is below average, with the exception of dog food. Wines and spirits are more popular than beer, in particular port, sherry, gin and vermouth. Ale is more popular than lager.

Yer, yer, yer, but we don't eat dead animals or have a dog.

I've never managed to find a complete list, in one place, of all the 54 ACORN types, so can't tell you if this is really the most representative one for us, or not. It is quite interesting how they put it all together from a few bits of consumer research and some government-produced, publically available, data, though, isn't it?

   posted by Blue Witch at 1:10 pm....  
a candle for peace, a rose for remembrance
Thought for the day

You don't have to blow out my candle to make yours glow brighter.

   posted by Blue Witch at 12:23 pm....

   Saturday, March 29, 2003  
a candle for peace, a rose for remembrance
ROFL at the latest: "Google search: free witch spells to remove a co-worker."

I can do that, email me the details and it will be my pleasure :)
   posted by Blue Witch at 6:15 pm....  
a candle for peace, a rose for remembrance
Blue Witch gives Mr BW a treat

Well, it's nine years, give or take a few days (I can't do exact counting), since BW last allowed Mr BW to have something he really enjoys. Oh what a cruel Witch I am ;)

I first got the idea when I was walking round Sainsbury's yesterday. Then I saw that the package I'd need was on special offer. Now, Witchy likes a bargain, as you know, and the thought of a bargain, and Mr BW's pleasure, were just too much to resist.

Mr BW got home from work before I'd finished putting the shopping away, largely due to a lengthy war-line consultation session during which I, rather than make enabling suggestions, spent an hour making the right noises while the person on the phone provided me with 3 sides of notes worth of good ideas that will be trotted out ad lib to callers next week. The best thing was, at the end of the conversation, the person said, "Thank you so much BW, you have been very helpful." Would that everyone was so easily pleased.

So, I produced the package from a plastic carrier bag and Mr BW's little face lit up. "Can I do it now?" he said. "Well... I said," doubtfully, "We are going out in about an hour and we do have to have some dinner first...". "Oh go on BW!" he pleaded. "Well, OK - but can you remember how to do it?". He clearly could, and he proceeded to assemble the other things that we needed.

Wooden spoon, tablespoon, whisk, saucepan, glass bowl (not just any glass bowl, a particular glass bowl that Mr BW owned long before he met BW), measuring jug. And he proceeded to open little packets, measure, mix, pour, heat and stir. Finally, the preparations were complete. We had dinner and went out.

On returning from our bee meeting (oh what exciting Friday nights Blue Witches have!) (which reminds me, the local town, as described yesterday, on a Friday night, really is a sight for sore eyes. I always have to stop myself saying something my mother would have said back in the late 70s (she's given up commenting on "the youth of today" now). But I just couldn't help myself saying, of one young lady with the shortest mini-skirt (in gold lurex) I have ever seen, "Bloody hell Mr BW, if she was wearing any knickers, you'd be able to see them!" Luckily I was driving at the time, or we might have gone off the road at this point, as he had been looking at something else when I made this comment.) Anyway, to get back to the matter in hand....

On returning from our bee meeting, Mr BW made the final preparations, and appeared, triumphantly, in the bedroom, looking excited. "Oh BW, it's been sooooo long, I'm really looking forward to this."

So, what do you think it was?
   posted by Blue Witch at 7:52 am....  
a candle for peace, a rose for remembrance
Thought for the day

In the book of life you won't find the answers in the back.
   posted by Blue Witch at 7:18 am....

   Friday, March 28, 2003  
a candle for peace, a rose for remembrance
A Friday afternoon special, brought to you by BW in conjunction with Mr Wiz :)
   posted by Blue Witch at 4:43 pm....  
a candle for peace, a rose for remembrance
Consumer Witch

From Monday, there are new EU regulations governing the sale of goods that will give more power to consumers who are sold faulty items. Current UK legislation in this area is already fairly tight, but these new directives now apply across Europe. So, if you buy an item while in Europe (so avoiding the Rip-Off-Britain prices we are often charged here), you have more rights than previously.

Full details here. Knowing my rights under The Sale of Goods Act 1979 and Supply of Goods and Service Act 1982 has enabled me to get a better outcome than I might otherwise have got in a consumer dispute on many occasions. Most managers in shops have no idea what the regulations say, and it's not difficult to blind them with a little bit of knowledge.

Worth a read now, and store the info up for when you next need it.
   posted by Blue Witch at 3:12 pm....  
a candle for peace, a rose for remembrance
Well, that Value Day yesterday was successful, wasn't it?
Must do another one soon, see if I can elicit fewer comments :)
I was just trying to clear out some of my half-written post store, but I got badly sidetracked by War Line duty. Sigh.

I'm in a bad mood, cos we've run out of my favourite brew, Sainsbury's Assam. No tea for tea-bag Witch is like, erm, no I can't say *that* ;) Never before in the history of The Coven have we run out of anything. I am so upset. I have let myself down.

So, today, I'm going to moan on about the state of my nearest town. Where I will shortly have to go to get the requisite teabags. Some 4 miles from The Coven, and not the most enticing of places these days. it was OK when we moved here, getting on for 8 years ago now, but it has gone downhill, fast. I have two problems with it. The people. And the shops. Not much hope for it then, is there?

Once it was full of good hearted, salt-of-the-earth East Anglians. The sensible ones among them have now died or moved further north. Now my local town is full of two types of people, the obese single mothers with mouths like gutters, and the London overspill moving into the new estates (where prices start at £200,000 for a 2-bed terrace, and go up to £650,000 for a 5-bedroom with a garden just big enough to swing a Manx cat in (not that I would, mind you, being an animal-loving Witch, it's just a turn of phrase, honest), also with mouths like gutters. They'd sooner tell you to "f* off" than say "thank you" for holding a door for them.

And the shops? Well, once people moaned about the family-run businesses closing down and being taken over by estate agents and building societies. Then it moved on to mobile phone shops. Now these are shutting down and turning into tanning parlours, beauty therapists (sadly, no amount of "treatment" could help most of the town's inhabitants, but there's some money to be made here), nail bars and NOW, I noticed earlier in the week, tooth parlours. Jewels for teeth. Pearleese. It's bad enough my (private - you can't get NHS round here) dentist sending out glossy brochures offering me the opportunity to whiten my smile for £650, but teeth jewellery. Is that really necessary?

With apologies to those of you who live in cities, to whom this must all be such old hat.
   posted by Blue Witch at 10:32 am....  
a candle for peace, a rose for remembrance
Thought for the day

"No one can make you feel inferior without your consent"

- Eleanor Roosevelt

   posted by Blue Witch at 8:38 am....

   Thursday, March 27, 2003  
a candle for peace, a rose for remembrance
This Blue and white Value Day is interrupted to bring you a tale of extreme motoring stupidity

It started a week ago when I had to go down to Erith in Kent to collect some honey jars. There was a bloke on a brand new, 03 reg, baby Harley, trying to commit suicide in front of me. Three times I watched him do something really stupid. At some lights I pulled up beside him and calmly but firmly suggested to him that if he wanted to live past the end of the week he should either calm down a bit or book some advanced training. As I expected, he gave me an earful of abuse and asked me what the f--- I knew about it anyway. I was pleased to inform him that actually, I do have a full bike licence. On the way back to the M25 I saw him again, bike pranged into a bollard, sitting on the side of the road. I tooted and waved. Evil, but.... (and I promise, I didn't even need to do any spells).

Just now, heading north up the A12 in slow-moving traffic (in the car broomstick), a motorcyclist was weaving in and out of the traffic, filtering between big lorries, and even riding on the hard shoulder on occasions. He pulled right in front of me, clipping my nearside mirror with his. I hooted him and he made an impolite gesture at me. While his hand was off the handlebar doing this, the traffic backed up and he came within millimetres of going into the back of the people carrier in front of me.

He went on riding in the same way. The traffic suddenly came to a complete standstill, and then, after about 5 minutes, started creeping along. When this happens on this piece of road there is usually an accident blocking one carriageway. It was of little surprise when I eventually got to the scene of the accident, some half hour later, to find that it was said motorcyclist and a white van. By then a police car was in attendance, and I could see a lot of shouting going on.

I couldn't help myself stopping on the hard shoulder behind them. A second police officer got out of the car and came over to me. The conversation went as follows:

Him: Madam, you shouldn't stop here.
Me: [adopting best posh voice] I know, but I have information that might be of assistance in the case of this accident.
Him: Which is?
Me: Well, I saw him riding recklessly further back.
Him: How would you say he was riding madam?
Me: To put it bluntly, like a f*cking lunatic! And I'm a biker myself, so I do feel I'm in a position to judge.
Him: You don't seem like the sort of lady who would usually use a term like that, can you tell me exactly what he was doing?
Me: [said what I've explained above]
Him: [calls over to his colleague] 'ere, [name], this very nice lady here says that the bloke on the bike was "riding like a f*cking lunatic."
White Van Man: See, I told you so!

I gave them my details (3rd set of Blue Witches (as witnesses to accidents / bad driving) details the traffic police in this area have had in the past few weeks - oh what are we doing wrong!) and went on my way.

Then, coming off the A12, I found a lorry and a car with a trailer of motorbikes stopped on the outside lane on a big roundabout (fed by 6 lanes, 5 of which are dual carriageway). Near carnage happening with every vehicle movement, and the rush-hour traffic building fast. Called 999 (using my hands-free, of course). Then came home needing a stiff drink.

I think it's too dangerous to go out any more round here. I need to become a hermit, obviously.
   posted by Blue Witch at 6:15 pm....  
a candle for peace, a rose for remembrance
Value Witch Day, Tip 4

You can get a £30 discount from your water bill if you can show that none of the water from your roof gutters or garden runs into a sewer. For example, if you live in a flat, or a house where the gutters run into rainwater butts (actually, in one year, the savings could pay for the rainwater butts).

The official site about this is here. And this is a site that explains more about it (as it applies in one region).

Apply quickly though, because it is a rebate, and the current year ends on 31st March. So, you could have £30 for this past year, and another £30 from 1st April. £60 for nothing, except 5 minutes to complete the form!
   posted by Blue Witch at 3:16 pm....  
a candle for peace, a rose for remembrance
Value Witch Day, Tip 3

When my mother-in-law first told me about HSA a few years ago now, I thought she was joking, badly informed, or mistaken, about the health-care benefits you could get for a small monthly payment. HSA is not private medical insurance (indeed, it is a useful add-on to that).

For £1.35 per week, a single person can get back, per year (for expenses incurred in the UK or anywhere within the EU) half of everything they spend in the following benefit categories (which are defined here):

Dental: up to £40
Optical: up to £35
Physiotherapy / Osteopathy / Chiropractic / Acupuncture / Homeopathy: up to £120
Chiropody: up to £32
Allergy Testing: up to £29
Consultations: up to £68
Health Screening: up to £50
Hospital stays: £16 per night, up to £320 (20 nights) per year

It gets really good for couples / families, where, for £2.20 per week, the above benefit levels apply to every person in the household.

We have an old version of the current scheme, which allows us both to claim on each other's policies for each benefit, so we get back 100% of the cost of expenditure up to each benefit level, but, they no longer officially offer this to new customers. But, I have just rung them, and they are happy to still put people on this scheme, over the telephone, and on request, only (0800 08 54321). Our scheme is also a bit cheaper than the current one (£1.95 per week - paid monthly by direct debit), but, just to prove what good value the current scheme can be, here are the sums for me and MrBW (using the current rates):

Total annual subscription = £2.20 x 52 = £114.40

Possible benefits = £374 each (using all of each benefit category) + up to £320 each if we are hospitalised for any reason (if we had kids, it would be that much per person).

Usual benefits (if we just use optical + dental + chiropodist, which we always do) = £107 each.

So, even if we just both use the dentist (even check-ups and hygienist qualify), optician (even disposable contact lenses qualify), and chiropody (Mr BW's worst torture, he says, but I make him go once a year anyway, just to get value from HSA!!), we make £214 - £114.40 = £99.60 profit.

There are other similar plans around, and I have looked at all of them. IMHO, HSA remains the best value. HSA is a mutual company (so no money is taken out to pay shareholders and management salaries are kept at sensible levels), and non-profit making, so any excess income at the end of the year is ploughed back into medical charities. They also process claims by return of post (and will now pay directly into your bank account, although I still prefer a cheque as it's easier to keep track of). In 8 years of membership, we have never had a claim even queried, let alone refused, and have made at least a 50% profit on our subscription every year, and, one year, over 500%.

And no, I have no idea how they make the figures add up! I suspect that people paying higher weekly premiums (there are higher levels of benefit for higher premiums) probably don't receive the full value of their subscriptions, as they probably never use enough professional healthcare services to make it worthwhile. However, at the lowest subscription levels, you can't fail to be quids in every time.

Another bonus - usually there is a 6 month qualifying period before you can claim benefits, but if you ring up to join (rather than use the website), and ask about the 6 month period, they will either be magically waiving it on that day, or will be able to tell you when they next will be (so I have just been told while doing my research, like a good journalist!).

Remember two of BW's favourite phrases, "Everything is negotiable" and, "If you don't ask you don't get."

   posted by Blue Witch at 1:08 pm....  
a candle for peace, a rose for remembrance
Value Witch Day, Tip 2

Did you know that the postal regulator, Postcomm, has given the go ahead for the price of first and second class stamps to be raised by one penny? And, the Royal Mail will be given the option to increase the cost of second class postage by another penny next year.

So, the price of a first class stamp will go up to 28p, while the cost of putting a second class letter in the post will go up to 20p, on 17 April. That's a 3.70% increase on 2nd class and 5.26% on 2nd class.

Full details here.

I post a lot of things (some things just can't be emailed!) and always buy the books of 100 self-adhesive stamps which are not marked with a price (ie they say '1st' or '2nd' rather than, currently, 27p or 19p). You can also get books of smaller quantities (from supermarkets etc as well as Post Offices). Stock up now! It may only be 1p per stamp, but it soon mounts up.

"Look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves," as my grandmother would have said.
   posted by Blue Witch at 11:17 am....  
a candle for peace, a rose for remembrance
Value Witch Day, Tip 1

If you use bags of garden compost, and dislike dragging them home from wherever you buy them from, you can get them, at very reasonable prices (at least as cheap as in the DIY sheds and garden centres), delivered free to your home (and stacked anywhere you choose) by CPL distribution. Minimum order value is £20. Coverage is to 80% of UK mainland properties.

CPL distribution have bought up many local coal merchants and now also sell all sorts of garden products in addition to their traditional range of solid fuels. Their website is a total nightmare (if I was doing an e-mystery shop on it, which I do for a couple of research companies from time-to-time, they would get some very handy hints! Ah, that reminds me, apologies to those of you looking at BW with Netscape, I saw it for the first time the other day and it's a nightmare, the promised Coven Makeover will finally happen soon, honest), and I wouldn't use it for ordering. You need to click on "garden products" to see the range they do (including John Innes 1, 2, or 3, bark chips, Levington ericaceous compost, Levington hanging basket compost, Murphy peat-free multi-purpose compost, growbags, Westland multi-purpose compost with added JI, paving, decorative aggregate chippings etc etc). Look out for the good-value multibuys.

If you ring the freephone number (0800 328 6693), they will send you a brochure of all the products they do. Much easier than the website! When you order tell them to note, "Please ring day before delivery," on the order form and you'll know to expect it. They are happy to deliver when you are out.

   posted by Blue Witch at 9:36 am....  
a candle for peace, a rose for remembrance
Right, it's Value Witch Day today, cos I imagine some of you don't want any more war. Just like me then :)

So, I shall be adding white stripes in to my Blue and there'll be a few ways of saving a few quid up here. Most of which will be absolutely no surprise to you. But just a few might.

Depending how many calls I get on the War Line, I may get less posted than I plan. In which case we will have another money-off day soon. And, these offers are open to all ages. Well, some of them are for over-18s only (no, I'm not about to list free porn-sites, cos I have no idea where they are (oops, I'm going to be deluged now, aren't I? :) ), you'll have to wait and see.
   posted by Blue Witch at 8:50 am....  
a candle for peace, a rose for remembrance
Thought for the day

"The greatest use of life is to spend it for something that will outlast it."

- Henry James
   posted by Blue Witch at 8:30 am....

   Wednesday, March 26, 2003  
a candle for peace, a rose for remembrance
So you thought the live pictures from Iraq were subject to editing, eh?

Well, how come the BBC1 News bulletin just now (4.15pm), showing footage of British commandos searching homes in Umm Qasr, included the naughty word beginning with an "f" being uttered by the Royal Marines concerned, four, yes four, times?

Oh, and for anyone in need of A Brief History of Iraq, it's here. Skip the first bit, and scroll down to the bottom. It's only a week behind-the-times. (Thanks to Mr Wiz for the link)
   posted by Blue Witch at 4:23 pm....  
a candle for peace, a rose for remembrance
Keep the Internet Tidy

Just out and about surfing around, it is becoming increasingly obvious that lots of corporate organisations, as well as bloggers, are setting up mirror sites for themselves. Now, of course, the domain name registration companies love them. But, I am left with a concern. Already there are many out-of-date and neglected sites out there. This practice is just doubling the potential number. Those linked to a specific domain name will, of course, vanish if the domain renewal fee is not paid when due, but those hosted by ISPs in 'free space' or by Blogger and the like will carry on existing for very much longer. In the not too distant future, surfing risks becoming a past-time akin to walking through a town centre early on a Sunday morning. You can't help but stumble into piles of last night's [whatever] :(

So, this is a plea to:

1. All those placing material on the net: Please ensure you clean up your rubbish after you.
2. All those hosting sites for free: Please ensure you have a deactivation policy that is known to your users.
   posted by Blue Witch at 4:08 pm....  
a candle for peace, a rose for remembrance
If you think you are beaten, you are;
If you think you dare not, you don't,
If you like to win but think you can't
It's almost certain you won't.
Life's battles don't always go
To the stronger woman or man,
But sooner or later, those who win
Are those who think they can.

   posted by Blue Witch at 2:01 pm....  
a candle for peace, a rose for remembrance
Never one to side-step controversy, and not really content with the response to my fag hag post last week, or with the apparent continuing belief by some of my readers that it's OK to use that term (yes, I know, you can't change people's opinion by writing about it, but, I'm going to anyway. So there :)

Peter wrote yesterday, "As I say, a pleasant time, marred only slightly by Shaz's use of the "poof" word in my direction. I just don't like it, and normally correct people immediately. Then they always say, "Oh, I was just being friendly..." and so on ad infinitum. Yadda.

I took him up on this in his comments,

So Peter, why is it OK for you to use the term "fag hag" but it's not OK for others to use the term "poof" to you? Eh???? ;)

He replied,

The two situations aren't even remotely comparable. You would have to be either a poof or a faghag to understand.
(although, to be fair, he later says that he was about to change his comment when he noticed that I'd got in first).

Steve wrote yesterday about his take on the whole issue, although I think we need to await the promised part 2 before clarity dawns ;)

I'm going to leave you with my previous comment that is at the bottom of the comments against my previous post on this subject:

"So, where did these terms originate, who originated them, and why?

And who chooses to maintain them in our language, and how?

Hmmm, I think I know the answer.

I wonder why it's necessary?"

I'm sorry, it's just not funny. Those of you who use the term, even in jest, need to think about this: a lot of people will pretend something is funny, or outwardly put up with it without comment. A lot of people won't risk confronting you (even if they know you well) because most people prefer what I call 'the quiet life option.'

Just something to be aware of. Please.
   posted by Blue Witch at 9:40 am....  
a candle for peace, a rose for remembrance
The score so far:

Losses to 'friendly' fire/accidents 18, Losses to 'The Enemy' (sic) 2

In the last Gulf War, one quarter of US casualties and one half of British casualties were to 'friendly' fire.
   posted by Blue Witch at 8:42 am....  
a candle for peace, a rose for remembrance
Thought for the day

There's a huge difference between listening to, and actually hearing, what is being said.
   posted by Blue Witch at 8:36 am....

   Tuesday, March 25, 2003  
a candle for peace, a rose for remembrance
Moan time

Why is it that, round here at least, all garden centres, restaurants etc are now offering 10% off to older people, on at least one day a week?

I hate to say it, but...
By and large, that group of people have a lot more disposable income than the rest of us. There are even marketing companies these days specialising in flogging stuff to the grey consumer.

And, let's face it, this is the last generation who will have the benefit of final salary pensions, SERPS, and, during their working lives, had jobs for life.

It's not fair. Not least because my ticket to 10% off is still severely incapacitated and unlikely to be useable in said context this summer :)
   posted by Blue Witch at 9:57 pm....  
a candle for peace, a rose for remembrance
The costs of war

What a weird day.

I started this morning with a day in the garden planned, got sidetracked from my post on gardens into a post on war (again AAARGGGGHHHH!), then got sidetracked from my garden by a request to be involved in a 'planning support for army schools in a different part of the country' video conference. Then, I got in from that in the late afternoon and sat down to catch up on some email and found that Mr Wiz had sent me some super cartoons on the Iraq situation from a down-under correspondent of his. I shall post them over the next few days.

I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to the local army camp. Some nice cute little boys. And they are just kids. Or perhaps I'm getting old. Some of my readers would have been *so* jealous ;) They give you *so* much respect. Even called me 'ma'am'. That's what they call the Queen isn't it? I could quite get used to it. But, I was left thinking of all these kids, just like them, out there in the sandstorms, alone, afraid, dirty, hungry.... Next week some more of those I saw today are due to go out. And then there's the "pram-faced girls" (to quote Darren) left behind with their babies. The ones who need me to co-ordinate their support.

And, as ever with BW, a weird co-incidence:

One of the young soldiers in the guard house was a lad I assessed when I worked with the army schools in the area who are now buying in my services again. 14 years and 230 miles away, geographically, but the same people, the same problem. And he recognised me (as ever with me, I remembered his name, when he told me it, but not his face). Then, over tea and fairy cakes (I know, the country is at war, but the army are still serving butterfly cakes to their civilian guests at home - and very nice they were too) I had to tell the major whose hospitality I was being accorded off for making jokes about his colleagues in Iraq. His little female captain told me that it was gallows humour and his way of coping. I asked her why she put up with it. She told me that to be a woman captain with a future you have to put up with your superiors. I told her it was unacceptable. And him. I think they respected me more after that.

Oh, and I had to sign a bit of paper to say I wouldn't disclose anything I learnt in the course of my work. So I'm going to have to be careful, aren't I? ;)

One of the (many) ideas I've come up with is to get the kids from the army schools (whose dads are serving in Iraq) involved in putting their thoughts onto a website. I'm trying to keep away from the pure blog idea, and hope that the schools websites might be used for the purpose, but already concerns have been raised. Well, I thought it was a good idea. I haven't given up on it yet.

And, on the way home, Johhny Walker's business news tonight was talking about the financial cost of this war:

$45M an hour to the US people.

The US currently has a budget deficit of $300 billion.

The US current annual defence budget equals the total of the annual defence budgets for the next 20 highest-spending countries in the world.

By the end of the decade, the US is seeking a $500 billion annual defence budget.

The cost to Britain is estimated as £3.5 billion. If the war goes on for more than 30-40 days (current budget), it will be more.

Good use of money?

As JW said, "It costs a lot to conquer the world" "America is no longer a super-power, it is the hyper-power."

Let's hope B&B don't fall out....
   posted by Blue Witch at 8:20 pm....  
a candle for peace, a rose for remembrance
Signs in Spring

Always one to believe in signs, given that:

(a) The mains water at The Coven has been coming out of the tap beige in colour for the past couple of hours, and
(b) The electricity at The Coven has been off (albeit momentarily) four times this morning, and
(c) A camoflaged helicopter has been hovering over the field in the distance for about half an hour, and,
(d) Blue tits (come on, I'm Blue Witch ;) have been mobbing the bedroom window for days now, and,
(e) The postman arrived just after 9am this morning,

When my ex-colleague rang with the information she'd gathered for my perusal / information just now, I agreed to assist the army schools support effort. At present, by acting as a consultant / adviser on the end of a phone, to those co-ordinating. How exciting, I'm to have a local rate number patched through to my mobile. But only during office hours, and every third evening. So now I can do something useful. Just off out to an undisclosed local military location for a video conference with the top brass 200 miles away.
   posted by Blue Witch at 11:28 am....  
a candle for peace, a rose for remembrance
I keep trying to finish my "gardens are microcosms of society" post that I mentioned on Saturday. But then I get sidetracked. I've just read Raed from Iraq, which I was unable to get into last night (bloody ntl cache). I just don't have the words. I'd really like to put B&B's families in Baghdad right now.

Someone in blogland mentioned yesterday (sorry, can't remember who) that they felt that the ITV news was less biased, so, waking early this morning, we watched it in bed for about three quarters of an hour. We rarely watch ITV (and when we do, it's on video so we can skip the adverts). I was struck by how different the coverage was. Much softer, looking more at the human angle (an article from Oxfam HQ showing the sort of aid waiting to go in, the video diary of an AW (army wife) whose husband is serving in Iraq and who had a baby 2 weeks ago). The style of the presenters was much softer too. A bit like the BBC used to be.

There's been much made of the 'dumbing down' of BBC news in the past couple of years. Personally, I feel that while the content of the news has become more 'tabloid' in style, the 'authority' of the delivery has been boosted by the style and personal gloss of the anchor wo/men.

Much as the Sophie v Natasha debate seems to be fascinating to several bloggers around and about, I think that it just demonstrates my point. Sophie often showed her soft side. She seemed to care. Once or twice there was a tear in her eye. Natasha, on the other hand often interrupts, is dismissive, hard, and unfeeling. Her tone and manner of delivery and interviewing is hard, hard, hard. I know which of the two I'd sooner spend an evening with.

Going back to Nationwide, with which I grew up, there was Frank and Michael and their jumpers. Things moved on and smartened up, then along came a younger sort of female presenter. Ambitious eye candy, totally committed to their careers and with that cut and thrust and hardness so often found in such a sort of woman (which they would probably call 'professionalism'). It was a great loss when Jill Dando was murdered. Things might have moved in a different direction had she still been around.

I've always liked John Stapleton. Moved to ITV from the BBC when the regime at the beeb changed. He seems so human. His broadcasts from his hotel balcony in Kuwait City show him to have a level of empathy with his interviewees that I'm just not seeing from the younger reporters on the BBC. I watch the non-verbals, how they listen to and encourage those with whom they are interacting. This morning John was interviewing an English woman who'd chosen to stay out there. He listened to what she said, asked questions that showed his understanding, and extended his arm in warmness to her at the end of the article. Perhaps it's an age thing.

I think I'll be consuming a bit more ITV than normal in the next few weeks, to balance things up a bit.
   posted by Blue Witch at 9:18 am....  
a candle for peace, a rose for remembrance
Thought for the day

"When two people love each other, they don't look at each other, they look in the same direction."

- Ginger Rogers
   posted by Blue Witch at 7:18 am....

   Monday, March 24, 2003  
a candle for peace, a rose for remembrance

As a teenager working as an au pair in France, I can remember becoming fascinated by biorhythms. Nicole, the lady I worked for, gave me a book on the subject, and I dutifully read it (translating where necessary from the French), found it fascinating, and drew out the little charts for each of the 3 cycles / dimensions (emotional, intellectual and physical). In fact, I still have the book on my shelf, together with the well-used cardboard draw-round templates.

It may surprise you, given all the Witchy stuff I profess / hide behind, but I'm well-known as a cynic of anything at all non-scientific, and am always hypothesis testing before I am convinced of the validity of anything. So, of course, I tested out biorhythms by rating how I felt on each dimension, at the end of each day for a month. I then compared my observations with the plottings. And wow, were they accurate!

Biorhythms are based on the principle that how we 'feel' in ourselves is influenced by physical, emotional, and intellectual cycles. The physical cycle is 23 days in length, the intellectual cycle is 33 days in length, and the emotional cycle is 28 days long. Many people report that they can improve the quality of their lives by monitoring the highs and lows of these cycles and acting accordingly. For example, by scheduling important exams during intellectual highs, avoiding talking about significant things to their significant other during emotional lows, and arranging an action-packed adventure break around physical highs.

I hadn't thought about biorhythms much in the past few years, but reading a blog's life earlier, I noticed that there was a post on the biorhythm charts for B&B. I played with the link a bit and got back to the part of the site which allows you to plot your own. Before I did this I made a quick estimate of where I'd be on each cycle, from the way I'd been feeling and reacting recently. It nearly blew my mind when I found it was *spot on*.

This site also allows you to plot compatibilities between yourself and anyone else whose birthdate you know. For a bit of fun, I compared myself with Mr BW and with 2 other bloggers whose birthday I happen to know (you know what I'm always saying about not telling BW when your birthday is... ;)

Physical Emotional Intellectual Overall

BW cf Mr BW 37% 51% 44% 44%

BW cf DG 54% 100% 35% 63%

BW cf TD 77% 90% 78% 82%

And I have absolutely "no comment" whatsoever about this :)

Drat! Why can't Blogger display as entered on the screen - I'll sort out the table later, but I've got to go out now!

The next day: Can't be bothered to play with the table now, the moment has passed - but just wanted to stress (as I sense some misunderstanding due to the wording I've used), "compatibility" in biorhythms only refers to the degree to which your cycles mirror another given person's, which has nothing at all to do with how compatible you are to each other. My experiences suggest, as I mentioned in the comments, that the best relationships are often those with someone whose cycles are very dissimilar to your own as you are then able to be more supportive of each other at critical times of high and low.
   posted by Blue Witch at 1:42 pm....  
a candle for peace, a rose for remembrance
I wasn't going to keep going on about the war. I have a couple of nice light jolly posts half-written, but I just can't bring myself to finish them, with what is going on.

So, I'll just say a bit more about the human cost of all of this.

Here's 2 facts to make you think.

The Bush administration has shown that it has a very short attention span on post-conflict humanitarian efforts. The White House didn't request a single dollar for humanitarian aid to Afghanistan in this year's budget. Congress had to take the unusual step of adding in $300 million.

And, much as we may all feel for those people who have been taken hostage, and their families, is it not true that the Americans are still holding people (including, I think, 6 UK nationals) in dog cages in Cuba?

BW says, double standards rule Mr Bush.

   posted by Blue Witch at 8:19 am....  
a candle for peace, a rose for remembrance

Thought for the day

Build your future on high ground. You never know where the next Flood will come from.
   posted by Blue Witch at 7:29 am....

   Sunday, March 23, 2003  
a candle for peace, a rose for remembrance
As you may have noticed, my interest in many things is from a humanitarian, sociological or psychological perspective rather than a factual (or surface) one.

I'm a great believer in looking beyond what is presented to get to the real issues. As I have been commenting around and about recently, I believe that the greatest evil of our age is manufactured information, manufactured 'lifestyle' and covert manipulation of knowledge. That, and the fact that too many people are prepared to blindly consume and take as fact and truth information they read or hear, without checking its validity by referencing other sources.

If the quality and quantity (sometimes too little, sometimes too much) of the information is wrong, I side-step that and look at the human costs, and human coping mechanisms. Much more interesting than trying to make sense out of nonsense. After all, the only real reality is the one that people construe for themselves out of their myriad perceptions. Order out of disorder via neural networks.

There is certainly plenty of manufacturing and manipulation going on in the world at large. This war is as much (if not more) being fought by propaganda and political positioning as by troops and hardware.

Of course, this is usually true of conflict at any level, but, this time, the situation is different, because of the huge advances in technology which are enabling first-hand, unprocessed images to reach the watching world. There may be too much information, but there are real, live pictures, and, it seems to me, many more journalists working at the very front lines this time.

Now, I'll put my cards on the table here. A source very, erm, close to me, heads up a business that develops, manufactures and sells advanced broadcast technology. Part of his sector is satellite communications equipment. If you're watching pictures from Iraq, chances are they will be coming out using technology that his business has manufactured and sold. All that is needed to broadcast live now is a camera, a few bits of electronics (as little as two small boxes I'm told), an amplifier and a satellite dish. The dishes can be as small as 2 feet in diameter and can fold up smaller than this. Fly-away systems can fit in a suitcase, and, indeed, a few months ago, your news came out of Afghanistan using a system that was carried into Kabul in a large suitcase on the back of a donkey (and when I find the cute little picture that is buried somewhere on my hard-drive, I will put it in here). Broadcasting is often done from dishes on the back of trucks or converted landrovers. There are larger SNG (satellite news gathering) vehicles out there too, which contain additional equipment that can edit and process live images on-the-spot. Some images are even sent up mobile phone lines.

Today I have changed the hover-text on my candle from "a candle for peace" to "a candle for peace and a rose for remembrance". I am also thinking of those families who have members out in Iraq, whether they be fighting, newsgathering, or whatever. The news of deaths from accidents, friendly fire, or even (it would seem, less frequently) 'enemy' (sic) engagements is now reaching home almost instantaneously. The families will have to wait for many hours to learn whether their loved one is one of the dead. That waiting time must be unbearable.
   posted by Blue Witch at 11:07 am....  
a candle for peace, a rose for remembrance
Thought for the day

Apparent randomness is all part of a much larger pre-determined picture.
   posted by Blue Witch at 11:06 am....

   Saturday, March 22, 2003  
a candle for peace
I have just realised that gardens are microcosms of society at large.
However, as I have just watched Robert Romano's arm being ripped off by a helicopter's tail rotor while watching ER while eating strawberries with lemon honey and Italian almond biscuits on videotape, I am going to leave it until tomorrow before explaining that...
   posted by Blue Witch at 8:10 pm....  
a candle for peace
The Government have cloned Mr BW

On Wednesday a nasty looking brown envelope arrived at The Coven (actually, at 8.50am, brought by a new postman I hadn't seen before, so the spells are working, but only to a limited extent cos on Thursday the usual late bloke was back). I knew it was a nasty envelope as it said INLAND REVENUE on it.

Now, having worked, years ago, for the DHSS (when they were the DHSS) both in the sickness benefit section, then as a vacation student doing 'social research' in the Elephant and Castle HQ, then as a section leader when they took over housing benefit and had to reprocess everyone in a month (I said it was years ago!), I have the utmost respect contempt for government departments and their errors. And their ability to put right errors when they have been made.

So, I was dismayed to open the envelope and find a notification of a £100 imposed penalty for failing to return Mr BW's self-assessment tax form by the due date, January 31st. Not only had I completed and sent in Mr BW's form last summer (including dong the tax due calculations - well, OK, a nice piece of software did it for me, and worked out they owed us £12 more than my pen-and-paper calculations), but we had received a refund cheque from them in November (after numerous chasing phone calls to determine the reason for the long delay in them making a repayment to us).

With heavy heart I rang the number on the form.
The conversation went like this:

Him: OK, so have you got a copy of the tax return you submitted?
Me: Of course! [thinks: bloody hell, how daft do you think I am, I need to be able to put the same numbers next year, they took me ages to work out ;)
Him: Could you send us in a copy so we can see it?
Me: No.
Him: It would make it much easier.
Me: Perhaps for you.... I'll be helpful here, I can give you the cheque number for the refund cheque, then you can track it back that way.
Him: No, that's a different department, the computer systems aren't accessible from here. By the way, are you sure there aren't two Mr BW's living at your address?
Me: Well, there weren't last time I looked.... Come on, what do you take me for? I don't believe that you want to help get this sorted. And your name is *******. Hmmmm. Right, what's the name of your line manager?
Him: Hold on, I've just thought of a way round this.
Me: [thinks: well, isn't that strange?] Ah good, I was sure there must be a way.
Him: I can see what's happened now. A duplicate record has been set up for him. As there was no return sent in on it, a penalty notice was automatically issued.
Me: If that was the case, then surely a self-assessment form would have been sent out on that record?
Him: No, I can confirm that no record was sent out.
Me: Then how can a penalty notice have been issued when a return wasn't ever sent out?
Him: I see your point. Your guess is as good as mine.
Me: (quietly, but he heard) Probably a damn sight better.....
Him: Right, that's all done for you Mr BW
Me: No, I'm Mrs BW.
Him: Ah yes, of course.
Me: I'd like written confirmation of what you've done here, because I can see this one running and running. Once an error gets in your computer system, it often compounds, doesn't it?
Him: I couldn't possibly comment. But I'll pass your request onto the department that deals with these things.
Me: And they are?
Him: I'm not sure, I'll have to find out.
Me: [runs out of patience] Right *******, I'll leave that one with you. By the way, what's your surname and extension number?
Him: [supplied required information - the fool!]
Me: If I don't have the written confirmation within 10 days, I'll be back in touch with you ******* *******.
Him: Yes, I understand you Mrs BW. I'll make sure you do.

Faites vos jeux dear readers, will I?

   posted by Blue Witch at 7:56 am....  
a candle for peace
Thought for the day

Better to regret something you've done than something you haven't.
   posted by Blue Witch at 7:26 am....

   Friday, March 21, 2003  
a candle for peace
I always knew there was a reason that I can't use jargon, in-phrases and buzz-words without cringing...

This from today's Plain English Campaign weekly email:

"Guardian reader Gareth Richard wrote to the newspaper's Education section this week to condemn management-speak in schools and colleges. He said 'In my staff room days, I had a wonderful little stamp marked 'bull****' which I used to annotate the more incomprehensible educational gobbledygook. Things are 'delivered', not ideas; water 'cascades', not training. The sooner educationalists use accessible and understandable terms, the more sensible their pronouncements will become. Parroting meaningless but long and woody words is the sign of a third-rate mind.'

I will be able to sleep easier tonight now that I know the reason :)

   posted by Blue Witch at 7:27 pm....  
a candle for peace
Jaffa Cake Trifle

Reading around, you're all getting so down about the war, and the shops are all sold out of bottled water, so I thought I'd cheer you all up on a Friday, especially those of you who are, or who should be, on diets, by sharing a BW Special. The secret recipe for JCT. But, shhhhh, don't tell Saddam, cos he'll want some too ;)

You need:

A packet of jaffa cakes
A tin of mandarin oranges (the cheapy broken ones are fine)
Either custard powder and a pint of milk or a tin of custard (DON'T try using instant custard, it's disgusting in this)
A quantity of Cointreau or Grand Marnier (ie orange liqueur) according to 'taste'
Small pot of double cream
Packet of chocolate buttons (optional)


1. Overlap the jaffa cakes, sponge side down, in a serving bowl.
2. Strain off half the juice from the mandarin oranges into a cup (you can drink this later).
3. Pour the rest of the juice and the oranges onto the jaffa cakes.
4. Slop on some orange liqueur (the more the merrier :)
5. Make up the custard and let it cool a bit, or open the tin (made custard gives a more solid finished product, whereas tinned custard is sloppier, depends what you like).
6. Stir a bit more orange liqueur into the finished custard and pour it over the trifle base.
7. Put in the fridge for a couple of hours.
8. Either pour the cream over the trifle as it is, or, if you can be bothered, whip the cream and pipe nice little blobs on top and decorate with chocolate buttons.
9. Save a portion to send over to The Coven, cos we love it :)

You can also make individual portions in small bowls, using mini-jaffa cakes. This is useful if you have a greedy partner :)
   posted by Blue Witch at 2:07 pm....  
a candle for peace
I'm (probably!) not going to keep going on and on about this (and later I'll post the Jaffa Cake Trifle recipe as an escapist treat for the weekend), but, following a link from Mike I discovered a blood-chilling list of the possible ways in which this here war could turn out. Sobering reading. Requisite reading.
   posted by Blue Witch at 12:05 pm....  
a candle for peace
You're not going to believe this, but...
In a apposite gesture (no, Plain English rules) defiant statement against what is going on in the world-at-large, Blanche and Weiss have two beautiful tiny white eggs in their new nest this morning. Good D'Oves.

The book is now open - how many baby D'Oves will there be at The Coven before this war is over?
   posted by Blue Witch at 8:40 am....  
a candle for peace
Thought for the day

Dreams are reality without the nightmares.

   posted by Blue Witch at 8:20 am....

   Thursday, March 20, 2003  
a candle for peace
Now, I just have to say something today. Something that has been annoying me for ages, and which I hadn't actually thought through in toto until yesterday. Indulge me while I whinge, moan and lecture (the warning is in the side-bar, after all ;)

There are several slangy / derogatory expressions in English that I really detest and would never use. There are a couple that I feel are totally uncalled for too. One of these is the term "fag hag". Well-defined by mal Steve (as an aside in his post on the adoption of the term 'fag bangle') yesterday, "'fag hag' is also lingua-franca in Britain, and definitely has taken on more of the negative connotations of the term. Watch the BBC TV series Gimme, Gimme, Gimme! for one particular take on the british fag hag. We use it almost exclusively as a derogatory term these days, or perhaps in a tongue in cheek sense to a female friend we would be being 'play-bitchy' towards."

Now, the last person who used that term within my hearing ended up with his pint over him. And I'm not usually one to waste good drink. Note it was *his* pint though ;) And *he* apologised ;)

I find use of derogatory terms unnecessary. My Mother would love me to find use of swear words unnecessary too. For example, "Oh, Blue Witch, you have a much-better-than-average vocabulary, *why* must you use such crude terms?" Well, it's obvious, innit? To annoy you Mum :) I do wonder how much this mentality applies to those who use the "fh" term. A couple of gay men within my circle of acquaintance delight in use of the term at every opportunity, but, at the same time, moan endlessly about the derogatory words sometimes used against them. Look here people, you can't have it both ways. Treat others as you'd wish to be treated. Show some *respect*.

I've always got on well with gay men.
I have several "pet" ones :)

It probably goes back to my near-miss. When I was 24 I was 3 weeks off marrying someone when I called it off, because there was something about it I knew wasn't right. What it was I didn't know, and nor, I suspect, did he, at the time. After several disastrous liaisons with various married and older women, he eventually worked it out. I'm not in touch with him any more, and no-one understood why I wasn't interested, or surprised, when it was whispered in my ear what a near miss I'd had.

I actually don't give a damn about anything except people *as people*. Read my earlier post here for a bit more insight into this.

I get very bored with men who blah on about the same subjects endlessly.
Particular subjects that annoy me are:

- their kids
- football
- most other sport, especially combined with excessive drinking
- what they'd like to do with that woman over there (show some respect for heaven sake!)
- how many out of 10 she scores (and exactly how does that make *me* feel?)
- what they'd like to do with me given the chance (this one usually reserved to drunks at conferences IME)
- why their wives don't understand them (try considering the above points)
- why they don't need to understand themselves (see point above)
- what was on TV last night (because that is the whole of their life outside of kids and sport)
- their ability to laugh at everyone but themselves
- why they haven't got time for you (due to all of the above factors)

I get very bored with women who blah on about the same subjects endlessly.
Particular subjects that annoy me are:

- their kids
- things their husbands don't/won't do (for goodness sake, get a grip, you married them!)
- bitchiness about the rest of their social circle (subject of knife changes according to who is, or rather isn't, in the room at the time)
- what housework they've got to do and how much they hate it (get a cleaner for heaven sake!)
- why their mothers don't understand them
- why their husbands don't understand them, or themselves
- what was on TV last night (because that is the whole of their life outside of kids and husband)
- their ability to be bitchy to everyone but accept ribbing from no-one
- why they haven't got time for you (due to all of the above factors)

Oh what a great stereotyper I am today!
But, it's fairly obvious isn't it, why I prefer to look outside the "social norm" (media terminology, not mine) - I'm obviously hopelessly beyond it myself :)

I have always preferred male company to female company (my worst nightmare would be working in an all-female environment). However, in the odd extended period of singledom that I've had, I've continually been disappointed to find that some what I'd thought were real friendships (rather than relationships) with straight men usually got to the "I want to get into your knickers" point sooner or later. I hate the way that groups of men ogle women. There is a often a feeling of real imbalance of power (including sexual power) there. I hate the way that many straight men just aren't in touch with themselves and just don't have any desire to develop any insight. Don't get me wrong, I do have some close straight men friends (all of whom know the meaning of the term "respect"), and, you'll be pleased to know that Mr BW is *very* atypical of the stereotype I'm painting.

But, if I was asked to pick who (other than Mr BW) I'd prefer to be stuck on a desert island with: a straight woman, a straight man, a gay woman or a gay man, I'd pick the gay man every time. If that makes me a "fag hag" then so be it. Just don't ever say it within my hearing ;)

   posted by Blue Witch at 10:43 am....  
a candle for peace
Hey, there's an upside to being at war!
The BBC have taken Kilroy off!

- BW, failing miserably to convince herself that there is ever *any* upside to violence -
   posted by Blue Witch at 9:06 am....  
a candle for peace

Until this atrocious war is over, you will find a candle burning in every post here.

It seems safer than lighting a candle in our window at The Coven (knowing my luck the curtains would catch fire) as is being requested here, plus, more people will get to see it.

Please join in, in some way.
   posted by Blue Witch at 8:19 am....  
Just tore off yesterday's calendar page (which, for some reasons I didn't read yesterday).

It says, "I am multitasking when I am talking on the phone, trying to finish some paperwork, and trying to answer with my hands someone who has asked me a question."

BW says, this is a definition of the normal state of affairs at The Coven, not multitasking.

Where am I going wrong?
   posted by Blue Witch at 6:41 am....  
Thought for the day

Everyone is entitled to my opinion ;)
   posted by Blue Witch at 5:48 am....

   Wednesday, March 19, 2003  
What a weird Witch-day

Some highlights:

My hairdresser and I worked out that she has now been cutting my hair for 12 years. She is brilliant. Gave up salon work when she had her kids, but still cuts for those she knows and likes. She could win awards, but has no ambition. Her kids are her life. I don't understand women who are so easily fulfilled.

A lady of a certain age at a coffee morning (even Witches have to network locally, sometimes ;) informed me that it was "an omen" that the moon was so bright and so halo-ey at present as, apparently, the September nights just before the Battle of Britain in 1940 were *exactly the same*.

A reliable source close to some of the top army brass still in this country reported to me that said bods are already talking of the war in the present tense, as if it has started.

An even more reliable source close to the defence industry reported to me that some Iraqi soldiers have already tried to give themselves up to British troops out there. Sadly, as war hasn't officially started, they had to be sent away and told to come back later. More 'evidence' for those who believe it will all be over in a few days.

Having just found out that my MP (a Tory) voted with the government last night, I have just banged out an email to tell him how disappointed I am. He and I are already on email terms, so I shall look forward to his reply. And you dear readers, will be invited to share it, on that you can depend ;)

Oh, and I've just noticed that ER is back on in half an hour. Happy Witch :)
   posted by Blue Witch at 8:33 pm....  
I've written before here about the events that led to my breakdown (over 6 years ago now).

The biggest thing that I lost when I hit the bottom and found there was no further to fall was my belief in my own abilities and skills. When I gave up working full-time in a defined and challenging role within the education system I found that most of my identity had been tied up with my work. It was hard not to be, "Blue Witch the successful professional" and instead be, "Blue Witch who actually doesn't know which way is up most days." Probably because of how I mentally construed events to help me 'cope' and because I told very few people about what I had/was going through, it was tougher than it had to be.

I'd been brought up in an environment where, as Peter put it so brilliantly the other day, "My parents' love and approval had to be earned, and the wages were my intellect." It was never in question. I *was* going to be successful. And I was. I believe now that had it not been for my Mother pushing me, I would never have ended up in the mess I did. On the other hand, I would also not have the armoury of skills, experiences and 'things' to put on my CV that have helped me always to find a way forward (or a way of making a few quid) in the toughest times. It's a thin line. I'll return to this one, soon, because I've thought a lot about it since I read that line of Peter's.

As I've slowly crawled back out of the hole that was the inside of my very being, the hardest thing for me to accept was that when people gave me some positive feedback about something I'd done, they meant it. My experiences and professional work have left me pretty cynical about people's motivations sometimes, and I am extremely adept at picking up insincerity. I know when people are 'buttering me up' because they want something from me. I'm now better at recognsing a genuine compliment when I receive it, and there are people whose opinion matters a lot to me who have recently said positive things that have left me with a little warm glow.

I've also been 'suffering' a lot recently from picking up things from somewhere just before they happen. It's what has become known as my "Witchiness". I know all the reasons it happens, but theories of randomness and the maths of probability don't add up for me. It's not that simple. Yesterday while writing an email I had the realisation that, with the inevitability of war upon us, I had a lot of useful experience of having set up systems to provide support for children, staff and mothers in army schools during the Gulf War that could be called on. Within 2 hours of that I had received an email from someone I worked with at that time. She had thought of me after I'd sent a "remember me to..." message back to her via the ex-colleague I met up with at the training course I mentioned last week.

Now I have a dilemma.
I know I have a lot to offer there (wow - that's big progress to be able to write that!).

I have even got my past notes on the trauma management systems we set up before out of my extensive filing system. I even got excited about the possibilities.

But I also know that working at that level is hard, and doesn't get any easier, well, for me anyway, but that's just me.

If I go with it, it will mean being 200 miles from The Coven (that's not a problem as my parents have a holiday home near there where I could stay), at a time of year when my garden and my bees need me. Not to mention Mr BW.

There are probably other people who could do what I've been asked to do. Probably not people who have my first-hand experience of a similar situation. But probably people who are more stable than I am, and better able to cope with the pressures.

I don't want to end up with my head in a mess again (you see, I'm not 100% convinced that I am up to this, but I can't decide how much of this is my usual self-doubt and how much is likely reality), BUT I would like to contribute something positive to the total and utter mess that this war is going to be. People always forget how hard it is for the families of the people fighting wars, left behind and fed only poor-quality information. No-one gives them strategies to cope, and the permission to express whatever it is they are feeling.

I could help here. But I don't know whether I should?

   posted by Blue Witch at 8:48 am....  
Thought for the day

If at first you don't succeed, re-define success.
   posted by Blue Witch at 7:28 am....

   Tuesday, March 18, 2003  
For the second time today, I find myself asking, "What is the world coming to?"

No, I'm not about to blah on about war. Sorry, but I'm bored with that subject.

I'm going to blah on about fuchsias. Much prettier. BW's favourite flowers. A flower of which one can never have enough. There are zillions of different ones, in all different colourways. Something for everyone. Pure magic, they flower their little socks off non-stop from May until the first frost.

We probably have about 30 or 40 different ones, but, despite keeping them tucked up in a warm greenhouse for the winter, a few somehow never make it through the cold days. So, every year, I buy a few more. Usually as 50p plugs (baby plants) and grow them on. A bit of TLC for a few weeks and you've got a plant that would otherwise cost at least £2.50. I also love making standard fuchsias out of whips (a standard fuchsia is one of those lollipop ones - a round head on a tall stem, and a whip is a 12" cutting that hasn't had the top 'stopped' (ie pinched out), meaning it grows straight and tall, rather than bushing out). A good standard fuchsia will set you back £15-25, but you can buy whips for 80p. OK, so it's a bit of effort, but, it's fun, and very satisfying.

So, off I trolled to the whip shop. That is, to a specialist nursery I know. And a very nice drive out there, through the glorious sunshine, it was too.

But, alas, it wasn't to be. The nursery have changed tack. "There's much more money to be made from selling ready-planted tubs, baskets and garden design services. Sorry, we're not doing plants for people to grow on themselves any more. Everyone's into instant gardening, and you'll find that most of us small nurseries are either going bust or going into more lucrative areas."

Earlier in the day I'd been ringing round local joiners trying to find someone able to make us a new back door (in a quality wood like oak rather than the softwood rubbish which is all you seem to be able to get in the DIY sheds). With one exception (and he's coming out to see me on Monday to give me a quote) I'd been told, "No, we're no longer doing bespoke work, just a standard range of bedrooms/kitchens for new houses now. Loads more money in it."

I dunno, what's a Witch to do?
   posted by Blue Witch at 6:55 pm....  
If you thought you're having a bad day...

So is someone else.

Only he writes for The Guardian, not in his blog...

Wasn't someone round here wanting a job with The Guardian the other day?
There could just be a vacancy soon.
But, it seems like it may not be all it's cracked up to be ;)
(Thanks to Moi for the link)
   posted by Blue Witch at 9:43 am....  
I don't know what it is about me that makes children feel able to do, say and ask the most intimate of things, things they'd never dare do, say or ask round most adults.

A couple of years ago, when Queer as Folk was on TV, a couple of 8 year old boys in a mixed-sex group to whom I was trying to teach the rudiments of the French language were to be found rolling on the floor on top of each other in a rather (what the books would term) 'overtly sexual fashion' during a supposed role-playing-being-in-a-French-café interlude (discipline is everything, I know ;) When I asked them what they were doing, I was informed "Playing 'Queer as Folk' Mrs Witch." I thought quickly. I didn't want to go *there*, so replied, "You know boys, this is a French lesson, and so you call me *Madame* Witch, you really should know that by now! Anyway, which of you is the garçon, and which the customer, eh?" (and I got away with it!!)

Last night my ultra-bright 10 and a half year old grammar-school hopeful (well, he would be if he ever did the carefully-targetted-to-his-assessed-weaknesses homework that I painstakingly set every week, rather than sit in front of his PS2) looked me straight in the face and said, "Can I ask you something Witchy?" (I let him call me by my first name, as he's nearly 11). "I heard my mum and dad talking about something last night, and I just, well, wondered..." "Yes.... go on, ask away..." Said child looked faintly embarrassed, "Witchy, how old were you when you first had sex?"

I looked at him, held his gaze, then laughed. "How old would you like to be when you first have sex?" "Oh, erm, right, OK then Witchy, how do I do number 4 please?"

A few minutes passed. Said child ventured, "Witchy, you won't tell my mum that I asked, will you?"

What is the world coming to? ;)
   posted by Blue Witch at 8:18 am....  
Thought for the day

Don't drive faster than your guardian angel can fly.
   posted by Blue Witch at 8:14 am....

   Monday, March 17, 2003  
Well, Dave, it took us a month after you recommended it, and six weeks after we saw the trailer on the hotel TV at Gatwick as we were about to go away on holiday, but we did finally get round to seeing The Hours on Saturday night. Your review was spot on. A truly brilliant film, goes straight in to my All Time Top Ten Films, if not Top Five. Don't ask me what else is in there, cos I can't remember, apart from Midnight Express (because I remember how shocked I was when I saw it when it first came out, I don't think I'd ever been more shocked by anything, at that stage in my life (serves me right for sneaking into an X-rated film at not-quite-16)), Brazil (because life's like that), and Death Becomes Her (because it was the first film Mr BW and I saw together, and, erm, I'll leave the rest to your imagination ;)

A film that BW managed to stay awake through, a film that BW would watch again this afternoon, a film that BW could find no fault with. They don't make them like that often.

If you like the sort of stuff I write on here, you'll love it. See it if you haven't already done so.
   posted by Blue Witch at 2:26 pm....  
What colour is yours?

My bathroom is white.
All white.
Bath, shower, basins, wall tiles, floor tiles, ceiling, windows, paintwork.
Pure white.
Just like me.
Who am I trying to kid? :)

Anyway, I got to thinking last night, while lying in my nice bubbly Airbath (with the replacement pump that just cost £380 - well, it cost half that, cos Mr BW got his big teeth out cos the original one failed too quickly), under my 7 nice arched windows mirrors (not unlike those over at mal (where, btw, in case you've not seen it, there is a very funny tour of a must-have-been-tidied-up-for-bloggers'-perusal bathrom cabinet). Oops, nearly forgot what I was going to say there...

Anyway, I was thinking, I only buy bottles of products that are blue, or similar toned colours (pale green, pale mauve). That is, blue products, or blue packaging, depending on whether the bottle is see-through or not. Someone gave me a bottle of (very expensive - it came from Harrods - she delighted in telling me) special bubble bath (that's not what it says on the bottle that it is, but it is, none-the-less) at christmas. It was a mustardy colour. It is in the cupboard, and likely to stay there until the next good cause that requires a raffle prize donation.

Sorry, I'm a Blue Witch and I only buy bluey products.
Do you have a favourite colour of bathroom product, or am I alone in this tone game?
   posted by Blue Witch at 9:40 am....  
Thought for the day

A journey of a thousand mile begins with a single step.

- Confucius
   posted by Blue Witch at 8:24 am....

   Sunday, March 16, 2003  
The new grass garden round the dovecote is finished, we are really pleased with it, and it will grow on us, no doubt. In fact, in 6 month's time, I'm sure we'll be digging it all up again to split it up as it's probably too closely planted. Blanche and Weiss approve, and have spent all day cooing to us as we constructed it. We've even had a pair of mallards in the orchard, quacking along. And, unsurprisingly, the drake had a blue head rather than the usual green. You've come to the right place duckies, but, please, no ducks' nest, OK, cos we're a bit tight on space now...

Sadly, we found we had two dead colonies of bees. We tucked up 7 and a nuc (mini-hive) for the winter, and had 5 and a nuc flying today. The first time we have lost any bees for 3 years. They still had plenty of stores (food) so it can only have been the wet that killed them off. So, we have put the nuc into a full-size hive and are crossing our fingers. I love my bees. You just can't hurry, change or hassle them. They do things in their own time, they are their own people. I could watch them forever. Pure relaxation.

Have to go now - have to "Save our Kitchen" - I have a feeling that Mr BW might be in a popcorn mood again tonight - he admitted last night that while Mr Wiz and I were inadvertently creating village gossip a couple of weeks ago, he tried to make popcorn, but, not finding any popping kernels, he tried Ebly Wheat (a great ring-the-differences to rice or pasta, if you've not tried it) in the popcorn machine. Which, of course, didn't pop! I remember coming home and smelling something weird, but he told me it was toast... Blessed are gullible Witches ;)
   posted by Blue Witch at 7:38 pm....  
OK, so I got up early cos I couldn't sleep and needed to get some early morning musings out of my head and into words, and what do I do? I start perusing a link that DG sent me yesterday. He's got it listed in his "Five finger-clicking good links" for Saturday here, but, I'd have missed it had it not been put in front of my nose. Where some people find all these excellent links is beyond me. However.

The link is to Kartoo, a visual search engine. By putting "like:www.yourblogsname" in, it will give you a little map of inner and outer orbit blogs. I've just visited a couple of my outer-orbit ones, and found them a pretty good match. But this had me sniggering quietly (I would have been laughing louder, but my Inner Coven is above our bedroom and I didn't want Mr BW to hear and wake up cos then I'd have to stop surfing and go and drink more tea, or something ;) Ron, you're great, I love your humour (an example - but, by no means the best, go and see for yourself - this, in his faq: "Are you a geek? Yes, but in some circles its a badge to be worn with honour . Also offset by my enjoyment of whiskey and smut"), you'll be joining the elite on my sidebar, when I next get round to updating it. Which will be when I get the New-Look-Coven on-line. That project is now 10 days overdue.... (sorry Mr Wiz, I know I'm a naughty Witch ;)
   posted by Blue Witch at 7:38 am....

...the musings of a SAD psych(ic)

Whinge, moan and lecture are what Blue Witch does best...

email: blue-witch [at]

Philosophy of The Coven:
Wisdom begins with questioning. Sanity begins with "No."

Preoccupations of The Coven:
- Quotes
- Spelling & smiling
- Value
- Education
- Environment
- Memory



Blue Witch

Blue Witch's familiars:

diamond geezer
my ace life
coop blog

the brick
big n juicy
spell cnut
these moments that I've had
those wonderful people

somewhat, muchly
troubled diva
mad musings of me
a blogs life
bacon cheese and oatcakes
burnt toast
invisible stranger

rogue semiotics
santiago dreaming
language hat
rons world

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