Austerity really is ruining my breakfast..!

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I like to see where I can make savings. Small ones mainly but importantly ones where I feel we are not losing out. Take for example fuel. Instead of driving like a man possessed, foot flat to the floor one minute then stamping on the brakes the next. I have modified the way I drive, I cruise more, let the car slow down more and use my brakes less and gently. This simple change has seen my fuel bill go down quite considerably. The household heating also came under scrutiny. Now we do not heat the garage and in areas of the house where we seldom spend any time, we have turned the heating down a couple of notches. It’s taught us to be a bit more considerate, taught the children to turn off the lights and close the bloody door. Overall, it’s been no real hardship and no real effort has been required.

This is nothing new, my parents taught us the value of saving, of not being wasteful. They had come through tougher times, times when it wasn’t the planet or the economy that made them frugal, no it was just being about not wanting to waste things. Food was always eaten, a clean plate was the only way off the table and back to the telly, a brick in the toilet cistern was a simple way to reduce wasting water and as for being driven to school. Forget it. The bike they bought me for Christmas wasn’t supposed to be a toy, it was a mode of transport. Things like this rubbed off and I continue to this day to generally take care with my resources.

But my frugality often tends to backfire on me. Someone somewhere takes pleasure in seeing me spend time and effort in my personal austerity drive, then mucks things up. A brick in our toilet cistern gets discovered by the children and, for whatever strange reasoning they have, they decide to pull it out for a closer look, it slips from their grasp, cracks the cistern and leaves me with the cost of a new loo. My 30 or so litres of water saved over the months amounted to 5 euros, the cost of a new crapper, not including fitting, 350 euros.

I drive to the petrol station, I drive like my Grandma. My economy gauge in the green all the way. Excellent. Well it would have been had I not forgotten my wallet. Now I have to drive all the way back home and do the whole thing over again. The drive home and back the second time is now less considerate as grumpy me is now in a rush so again, any saving has been cancelled out.

I even have one of those ‘a bag for life’ bags they sell at the bigger stores. Now that they charge you for plastic bags, this is handy to have and I for one don’t want a mountain of plastic forever clogging our planet. Mostly though I forget to take it with me when I do the shopping so end up buying their plastic bags anyway, and the last time i did remember it, the handle broke. At the time of writing, I am currently on my 6th bag for life. Quite what they mean by ‘for life’ then is beyond me. Thank you Mr. Marketing man at the supermarket chain for selling me a bag for life that will only last a few weeks and thanks again for realising this problem and solving it by then selling me the plastic bags I will need as a consequence.

Now, one of my less clever plans has been causing some grief in the household recently. I say household but by that I mean only me. Mr. Marketing man at the local supermarket has started offering milk at the ridiculous price of just 56 cents. In the past I have sampled cheap milk and in the past I have ended up throwing the stuff away, nevertheless I am a sucker for a bargain and remembering my past mistakes, I buy just the one carton. If it is awful, I’m hardly out-of-pocket. If it tastes good, I’ll be back later to buy a lorry load. Expecting it to be coloured water, I was surprised that it was actually rather good. Not up there in the taste department with the Cravendale’s of this world but certainly on a par with our current choice and half the price!!!! Sold. I came back that afternoon with enough milk to feed a village. A large village at that.

So far all is well. I’m feeling good and no complaints from the family. But no. That someone up there somewhere just had to throw the boot in. Didn’t let it happen on the trial run did they… No. They waited until I’d made the mother of all milk purchases. What’s the problem..? I will tell you. My son likes apple juice, he would probably bathe in the stuff given half a chance. So he always has a couple of cartons of apple juice in the fridge. And it just so happens that the packaging of my cheap milk is green and white, which is the same colour they have used for his apple juice. Each morning, half asleep me, in desperate need of a cup of coffee before I can even begin to think, talk or do anything, wanders zombie like to the coffee pot, fills it then makes for the fridge, mistakes the apple juice for the milk and only realises the error after I have already stared pouring.

If breakfast cereal comes before coffee, the same thing happens only this time my Cornflakes are now contaminated with juice. My frugal side originally tried disguising the taste of the apple juice by adding more milk than one would normally use. But the juice is the bully in the flavour stakes here and fights it way onto my taste buds. I now just throw away my breakfast or coffee and start again. If I have just used up the last of my Cornflakes, it’s even worse, I am left with no option but to eat the children’s choice of cereal, some awful chocolate rubbish that is purchased for the simple reason that inside is some useless plastic toy they so desperately want.

So thank you again Mr. Marketing man at the supermarket chain. Thank you for the clever idea of producing exceptionally low-priced milk and thank you for approving a packaging design so close to that of your apple juice that I mistake it daily for the milk. Instead of saving my hard-earned cash I am now having to buy twice as much cereal and twice as much apple juice to compensate for the wastage you have caused me. I am also being grumpier in the mornings than usual which in turn is making me irritable during the school run which reverts my driving style back to the man possessed I mentioned earlier which is therefore costing me more in fuel.

If you want to fight fire with fire, cut your grass!

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Now winter is most certainly with us, I’m rather pleased that for once I have organised myself and all the presents I am required to buy have been bought, wrapped up and sit under the tree. There is nothing left for me to do or worry about, all the boxes on my ‘To do before Christmas’ list have been ticked and my luck has been favourable. Nothing bad to report, no mishaps, misunderstandings or mistakes. I’m not used to that to be honest so to maintain my focus and keep things grim, I’d like to take you back to the summer. I didn’t really enjoy the summer. The family packed their bags and spent time on the coast with the grand-parents, leaving me bored and restless. The car got towed by the police, I received two speeding tickets and one large parking fine popped up in the post. But to cap it all… To ruin things some more, the neighbours children took full advantage of their parents leaving them home alone whilst they nipped off for a summer break, by having themselves Friday night parties with all their mates.

Now I know those in their late teens think they’re adults. I remember being their age and felt sure I was more adult than I actually was. But they have the sensibilities of an old boot and, whilst they think they are cool, they are just inconsiderate, generally stupid and painfully juvenile. So I was not surprised they had a few parties planned, I was surprised by their taste in music though. Like they’ve only been exposed to trance rhythms from the Ibiza scene from the mid 90’s. No accounting for taste. My problem was, however, they had it far too loud and played if for far too long. By 3.30am I had finally had enough and called security to ask them to go round and get them to turn it off or at the very least, turn it down. My walls were shaking, plaster was falling from the roof and my bed was slowly hopping towards the patio thanks to the thumping base and deep tones favoured by the William Orbit’s of the world, you get the picture. I don’t mind the odd party I just think parties shouldn’t start at 3pm, be louder than a Metallica concert and go on non-stop all night.

Security never did anything. Not surprising really. A Spanish security guard at 3.30am is probably too busy updating his Facebook page telling everyone what sandwich he’s just eaten, sleeping or watching imported porn on his portable DVD player to want to do any kind of security guard type of work.

Never mind. Saturday. Late afternoon, finally feeling less groggy from no sleep, I figure I should get a little more active. We’d just sacked our gardener. Here’s a handy tip, never employ Polish workers, or more specifically, never employ the Polish worker who worked for me, or, as it turned out, didn’t do any work for me. After breaking the lawnmower, breaking my spade and adjusting the sprinkler system so it watered the swimming pool, we let him go. I managed to fix the lawnmower, sort out the sprinklers and replace the spade. Not having a gardener meant the job of maintaining the garden fell to me. Which if I am honest is a job I quite enjoy doing, It somehow takes my mind off other things, forces me to walk a fair old distance and is rather satisfying when you look at the end result. The end result for me often being a wobbly series of lines with a few ‘missed’ clumps of grass every now and again.

So out came the lawnmower and I merrily began cutting my little patch of the world. I was surprised when security turned up some 20 minutes into things. Even more surprised to hear I wasn’t allowed to mow the lawn in the afternoon on a Saturday. “Why ever not” I asked, “Well it disturbs the peace on a weekend’” he replied. “Now hold on little fella” I remarked. “My neighbours can have a rave in their garden all night keeping everyone else awake, but I can’t cut my grass at 3pm on a Saturday afternoon because Juan Carlos and his family feel like a little nap after lunch!”

I ask if anyone has actually complained. “No” he says. Amazingly it turns out that this was his own little initiative. Driving about on his rounds, he came past our garden, heard the lawnmower and decided to take action on behalf of those who might complain or who may be disturbed by the noise. Where were you last bloody night then when someone, me being that someone, did complain about the noise! Before he left he also told me I could not have a garden fire. Why he told me that I do not know. But he told me.

During the week I spent much of my time plotting revenge. I did other things but will own up to spending far too long devising suitable retribution. The following weekend Pepe the party animal and his Neanderthal knuckle dragging mates swung back into action. Ibiza trance music again. William bloody Orbit again. Anyways. 3am, my bed has made its way to the other side of the room, the paintings have fallen from the wall and the plaster left on the ceiling has hip hopped its way to the floor. However, after a week of careful planning, phase 1 of my plan is in play and I’ve been sleeping like a baby thanks to the purchase of some rather special headphones, the ones airline pilots use. Noise cancelling things they are and cancel noise they most certainly do, Armageddon wouldn’t even have roused me. On the dot at 3.30am I wake up. By 4.15am I am in the garden listening… Silence. The neighbours have given up for the night, the cool dawn approaches with just the sound of nature wiping the sleepy dust from its eyes and there’s a wonderful mistiness to the air. It’s lovely.

My other useful purchase made the day I picked up the headphones was a seriously large, seriously bright torch along with the sackful of batteries required for it to do its job. Turning it on, balancing it on a wall by the pool, it illuminates the garden and it’s time to put phase 2 into action. Two quick pulls on the starter cord and the lawnmower kicks into life. These easy start mowers are such a joy aren’t they. Thank you Briggs and Stratton. Thank you also for a wonderfully engineered two stroke engine easily modified into a howling banshee by simply removing the two screws holding the exhaust pipe and baffles on. The noise as the exhaust gases exited directly from the cylinder head with spits of flames, was quite honestly, ear-splittingly loud. I began to cut the grass with the audio equivalent of a squadron of war-time bomber planes all gunning down the runway for a formation take-off. It was a good job I was wearing my headphones.

30 minutes later the neighbour is at the fence, looking a little worse for wear, rubbing his eyes and waving his arms at me. I wave back. Morning neighbour. 10 minutes pass and he is still waving his arms but now he has some friends with him, also waving their arms. And I must say, they too looked like they really could have done with a few hours extra sleep. “What’s the matter?” I ask. “The noise, they say.” “What noise?” I shouted. “Your noise!” they say. I shut down the engine and wander over to the fence… “We are trying to sleep but the noise you are making is stopping us” one of them said. I lean on the fence post, casual like “Well, you see, you decided you didn’t give a shit about me trying to sleep, so I have decided I don’t give a shit about you trying to sleep. Looks like it’s going to be a lovely day…” I said, as I fired the engine back into life, gave it a few big squirts of throttle to get it barking angrily and did a wheel spin as I walked away. Okay. I lied about the wheel spin, I’ve never been able to wheel spin the lawnmower in any way, or wheelie it come to think of it, but I exited with the equivalent sort of style.

Some 3 hours later I’m finished. 7.30am. Obviously after mowing the lawn I had to get the strimmer out to do the edges, so it all took a bit longer than planned (and removing the exhaust on the strimmer was a lot more complicated than I imagined). They were lucky though, they were saved from the annoying tones of the chainsaw as it had a gummed up spark plug and I don’t keep a spare. It’ll be ready for their next party though. Now the thing that makes this all the sweeter for me was that during this whole noisy period, security never once came around. It would seem that gardening on a Saturday at 3pm in the afternoon is a big no no, but at 5am or so, not a problem. Thus, from now on, garden duties during the summer months, at least until the spotty little teenagers parents return, or stop their annoying little parties, or we find a halfway competent gardener, are to be performed at 4.30am.

I am also preparing the ground for a small bonfire I plan to start.