Thursday, 10 November 2011

Where have all the toilets gone?

There are certain times in your life when you are pressingly aware of needing a public toilet immediately. When you are pregnant (although it is apparently still legal to pee in the street when enciente, although I believe the bit about a policeman havign to offer you his hat is made up), when you are elderly, when you are in the company of any child under the age of 6, and when you have had children and your pelvic floor is in the basement. So, for a woman, pretty much 85% of your entire life is spent saying to yourself or a child "just hold on! Let's look for a John Lewis!"

Because there are no public toilets anymore. When living in London, this did not affect me, as public toilets were for drugs and sex, and there were a lot of John Lewis and cafes. Now I am rural, the lack of loos is much more obvious, because there are no shops open on the high street, none with loos you'd use, anyway (although I suspect the man in the hardware shop with the large array of knives in would let you use his, i'm just not sure he'd let you out again), and the library isn't open when you need a pee (although they are most obliging when they are). Luckily for me, I live in a small town (no, really, it is. A Town. It has a library, and a charity shop. See, town) which is richly endowed with 2 public toilets. They both have those utterly horrible metal contraptions that pretend to be seats (and the kids hate: "It's COLD! MY BUM IS COLD NOW!"), but they are there. I am grateful to them at least 4 times a week. And whilst they may suggest that some girls in town are of loose morals and one boy, too, they are clean and the graffitti is so badly written as to be unreadable phonetically by my 4 year old.

However, these little rooms of ease are under threat. Fenland District Council, in its' infinite wisdom, has decided to cut the budget by closing down a large percentage of them (reported here). Now, I appreciate that cuts are being made. But I also appreciate that this is a council that recently approved of a 25% hike in pay for themselves (although it's been stopped: apparently the manner in which they approved it was unethical, so it's been shelved, temporarily, until they can presumably decide on how to do it ethically, but nar nar anyway), and, hilariously, has also been in the news, yet again, for the Peegate scandal.

If you are going to cut public toilet provison, please do make sure that your council members, and crucially, Mayor, are not elderly, with pea sized bladders.  Or your Mayor and two councillors might get reported in the Daily Fail for weeing behind bushes and exposing themselves.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Big Price Drop: use your market!

(Note,: this was written and saved prior to posting, hence the weird time lapse thingy)
I noticed that Tesco, and indeed, all supermarkets, are in the news for the wrong reasons. Now, i'm no fan of Tesco, but people are always telling me that they are so much cheaper than local shops, so it's better the devil that is a large conglomerate. It's something that deeply concerns me, as planning permission has recently been given for an out-of-town large scale Tesco where I live. This would mean 16 Tesco within a 20 mile radius, alongside one small Sainsbury's and one Co-Op. I use the Co-Op and local market. The local market is twice weekly, Tuesdays and Fridays. Otherwise, there's a market in the neighbouring town on Saturdays, and chaps selling stuff from their front gardens. I worry intensely that when the Tesco comes, the market will go. Along with the hardware shop, bakers, and corner shop. And then, I will be at the mercy of Tesco, only Tesco. The Co-op have already stated they will close, along with the other shop that I use attached to the petrol station, which has released a statement saying they will close.
So what difference will it make to me, if my weekly shop has to be done at Tesco? Fisrtly, let's look at why their "Big Price Drop" is in the news this week. The naughty buggers have been, get this, raising prices on products, then dropping them, so they can say they've dropped prices, but actually, secretly, have not. Now, "Supermarkets in huge profit at expense of shopper" is not headline news to me, and I am the sort of person who works out the price ratio in BOGOF's, but yes, it's sneaky. And a lie. But my real concern is that, once there is nothing but a swathe of Tesco from end to end of the country, what then? Where will my choice be once the one in my town is open? I won't have one. I will be at the mercy of the remaining supermarket, my garden being mainly taken up by chickens, and as any fule kno, chickens and veg growing do not go hand in hand. Although I could, of course, eat the chickens.
So, this week, here is my weekly shop, price compared with Tesco.
This week, we'll be eating:
Sunday: Roast chicken, broccoli, carrots, parsnips, and potatoes.
Monday: Lunch: sweetcorn fritters Dinner:Leftover Chicken pie and veg
Tuesday: Lunch: Tuna melts and salad Dinner: Cottage pie and peas
Wednesday: Lunch: homemade pizza with salami and salad, Dinner:Toad-in the hole, onion gravy, mash and peas
Thursday: Lunch: Jacket spuds and cheesy spinach and mushroom Dinner: Pork Stroganoff and rice
Fri: Lunch: homemade falafel, hummus,and pitta Dinner:Kedgeree
Snacks: flapjacks and fruit.
My shopping list is this:
Chocolate milk powder (I know, I know.....), Tinned sweetcorn, Plain crisps, Rice,Self Raising flour
Cheddar cheese, Feta cheese,tinned chickpeas,plain yoghurt,potatoes,carrots,spinach,parsnip,celery
2 courgette, 2 peppers, mushrooms,apples,pears,tangerines,cucumber,lettuce, 10 fat sausages, 1 chicken, 500g beef mince, 500g pork loin, 1 smoked kipper, butter,  .

I will use from my storecupboard the eggs from the chooks, frozen peas, oats, doings for flapjacks, salami, tuna, lentils for the cottage pie (mixed with mince, makes it stretch, I can make 2 and freeze 1),and bread/ pizza dough, which I make myself.

I'll buy the veg, fish and meat from the market and everything else from the Co-Op. Of course, this shop does not include cleaning products and tea, coffee, etc. Those I buy from a wholesalers in bulk. I can't be arsed to work out whether homemade bread works out cheaper, I suspect not, but is IS nicer and therefore we eat a lot of it. You can see the evidence on my arse.

So how does it all add up?

Chicken: From Dave the Butcher, (at March Quality Meats) the chicken is sourced by him, it's fat and juicy, it's 4.99. I know they roast beautifully, I love his quality. There's never anything like that "meat tray" smell you get in supermarket chickens. And it's big. I reckoned that it equates to the Tesco "Fresh Whole Chicken 1.60kg" at 4 quid, which is their least battery like offering that isn't "finest". My chicken is bigger, at 2kg, so I reckon that's about odds even.
Sausages: Now, I won't eat crap sausages. I eat good meat content sausages. So I reckon Tesco "finest" are about equal to Daves. Tescos' are £2.28 for 6. 6 is no good in this household, we need 10. Dave wins, with his 10 prize winning sausages at £2.70.  And they are nicer.
500g beef mince: Again, i'm going to compare Tesco Finest with Dave. Because I know, from experience, the difference between Tesco cheap and "finest". It's about a pint of fat. And I know that Dave basically minces a bit of beef. I've seen him do it. Tesco charge £2.90. Dave charges £2.98 for mince i've seen being made.
Pork Loin: Tesco is £4.50 per 500g. Dave is £4.20.
Smoked kipper: Tesco:£2.50 per 500g. Fish counter at the market is £3.20.
Meat and fish can be slightly more expensive. But the quality is amazingly different. In Tesco, you get what is packed. Even at the counter. At the butchers, you get what you ask for. That fatty bit for long stewing, that nice marbled bit for roasting. And they know their meat, where it comes from, how to cook it. And you can get chops with kidneys on, as extra, for nowt.

Tinned goods and dry goods are much of a muchness. The Nisa and Co-op are pretty much the same on sweetcorn, chickpeas and feta. In fact the corner shop, which is a Nisa, is by far and away the winner on plain yoghurt, beating Tesco by 25p.
Cheese I get from the butchers. Again, a slab of cheddar is 10p cheaper than Tesco and equivalent in make up.
But by far and away the winner in  terms of quality AND price is the market. Every single veg I buy from the market is both cheaper, fresher, and of better quality than any I have ever purchased from Tesco. Not only that, but it is far and away greener. It's sourced locally, and in some cases, grown by the bloke with the stall. It has no plastic shrinkwrap on it (Tesco: does your broccoli need that? Really?), it is not packaged. It is handed to you in brown paper bags. You can buy bulk (sacks of potatoes and carrots) or tiny. You buy what you need, so you save yourself money and landfill. If you buy from a market, you don't buy excess vegetables or fruit because they are in the bag. there's less to sit in your salad crisper going off. You buy to need: only what you will cook. Plus, the market ladies and gents can tell you where the stuff came from and whether it's been treated with anything. Usually, the answer is no. Of course, the peppers from Tesco last longer. But frankly, there's something frightening about a pepper that lasts for 4 months. What shit has that been sprayed with? I actively want my veg to decompose when it is not fresh. If you are only buying what you need, you don't need to worry about things melting into brown goo in your fridge. Market veg work out at an astonishing 41 % cheaper.

In summary, the Tesco website shows me that for battery, intensively farmed, lower quality produce, my weekly shop comes in at 70 odd quid, whereas my market shop comes in at around 60, purely on the basis that vegetables are actually really cheap.  It also has significantly less packing, less air and road miles, and more "green" points. It's greener because there is less waste, you buy what you need. It's economic for the same reasons. It's better because you shop locally, support jobs locally, support local producers without screwing them over for profit, and you get the added bonus of actually talking to people who live where you live, maybe having a chat while you feel up the broccoli. You get to tell the butcher what you want next week. He'll buy you in some bits. I've asked him for some chicken livers next week, he'll get them.  You get bones for your dog or stock, free. You get a chat and recipes, maybe a freebie asking you to test his barbecue rub. You get to be part of a community.

And that's the rub. Shopping where you live, supporting local businesses is key to keeping where you live a NICE place to live. Of course i'm aware that not everyone has time to shop at markets in the week. But rather than moan that that is why we need Tesco et al, why not moan that that is why we need more weekend markets? They ARE cheaper. You buy into a lie when you think otherwise. Their only stranglehold is "convinience", and that is why they pay premium rates for real estate in towns and villages where there ARE thriving small stores and markets. Look! The shop is bright at night and shiny! It MUST be more convinient! No, not really. Which is nicer, spending 2 hours driving to and trawling round a huge Tesco express and ending up paying over the odds for poor quality produce and loads of shit you don't need, or spending an hour at a market on a Saturday morning teaching your kids how to shop, then going and doing something else?

I know what I want. A shame our town council take the silver for the opposite, instead of investing in the town they already have.

And sadly, so did the people of Somersham. But they still got  a Tesco. Thanks to their council.  And so will we.

I urge anyone who is facing the supermarketisation of their village or town to visit this website, Tescopoly.  There is hope: communities CAN stop Tesco, and other supermarkets from killing their towns. (It helps if you don't live in Fenland: the developers paradise). Supermarkets are developing exponentially, abusing the planning system (and this is going to get worse) and wiping out competition.  Use your market.