Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Dear Essex and Suffolk Water

Dear Essex and Suffolk Water

I'm sorry that I didn't have the foresight to predict the outcome of our last encounter and understand fully that circumstances experienced were not covered in my previously published terms of engagement.

How were we both to know that your engineer would turn up with all of the requisite equipment to enable water pressure and flow measurement but find it impossible due to the inept installation of a water meter by other Essex and Suffolk Water some years prior?

I have now been waiting almost two weeks for the correct installation of a new water meter as recommended by your representative which, I was assured, would be accompanied by the requested pressure and flow tests.

I would request that you attend to this matter with some urgency because my patience is always thin but, on this particular issue, is somewhat threadbare.

Currently to draw hot water from any tap in the house we need to turn the tap on and then walk to the boiler cupboard, restart the boiler a few times until the hot water light is illuminated and then check that the bath/sink etc doesn't overflow. It is helpful, to ensure continued supply of hot water, to monitor the boiler to ensure it doesn't switch itself off. This is difficult when in the shower but if this has happened the issue does, rather quickly and uncomfortably, become apparent.

My calm demeanour about this state of affairs cannot last and I politely suggest that you get a move on.

Yours with increasing blood pressure

Ann Cardus (Mrs)

Friday, 25 March 2011

Lemon and poppy seed muffins

I needed to make something for a school cake sale and I happened to have over ordered lemons last week so I dug out this recipe for lemon and poppy seed muffins.
  • 250g plain flour
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • pinch salt
  • 85g granulated sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 240ml milk
  • 1 tsp grated lemon rind – preferably unwaxed
  • 90ml corn oil
  • 1/2 tsp lemon extract (can be substituted with more lemon rind)
  • 85g icing sugar
  • 4 tsp lemon juice
  • 1/4 tsp grated lemon rind
  • Prepare muffin tins and preheat oven to 160°C for a fan oven.
  • Put flour, baking powder, salt and sugar in a large bowl and stir with a fork.
  • In a separate bowl beat egg and stir in milk, lemon rind, oil and lemon extract.
  • Pour wet ingredients into dry and stir until no flour is visible.
  • Spoon into muffin cases and bake for 20 mins or until lightly browned.
  • While muffins are in the oven make the glaze by combining glaze ingredients.
  • While muffins are hot, spoon over the glaze and leave to cool slightly.
These muffins freeze really well. Defrosting takes about three hours or a quick 30-40 second blast on top power in the microwave.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Hannah’s cupcakes

Makes 12 but the mixture only needs to fill the bottom third of each muffin case and the mixture takes up so little space in a bowl that doubling the mixture would be easy.


  • 125g butter (softened at room temperature)
  • 125g sugar (caster or granulated)
  • 2 eggs beaten
  • 125g self raising flour
  • 2tbsp milk


  • 225g icing sugar
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp warm water
  • Food colouring as required
  • Decorations as required (sweets, chocolate buttons, hundreds and thousands, glace cherries)


  • Preheat fan oven to 160°C (or 190°C for regular oven). 
  • Put muffin cases into a muffin tin.
  • In a bowl beat sugar and butter until light and fluffy.  If doing by hand this can be quite hard work.
  • Add eggs a little at a time beating well after each addition. (You could add food colouring at this point if you wanted a coloured sponge)
  • Add flour and fold in carefully.
  • Mix in milk and stir until mixture is smooth and drops off spoon easily.
  • Spoon mixture into cases and bake fro 15-20 mins until cakes are risen and golden brown.
  • While cakes are cooking make the icing by adding all of the icing ingredients to a bowl and mix until thick and smooth.
  • When cakes are cooked put them on a cooling rack.
  • Spoon icing onto cakes and spread to the edges with the back of a spoon.  Add decorations as required.

Triple chocolate muffins

The three chocolates come from the cocoa, the dark chocolate chips and the white chocolate chips.  These are not my favourite muffins but I’m fussy when it comes to chocolate.  They do seem to be popular with others though and when we did the cake sale for Tsunami relief these were one of the first cakes to sell out.  People buy with their eyes as well as their wallets.

Makes 12 muffins (or 36 tiny mini muffins)


  • 280g plain flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 bicarb of soda
  • pinch salt
  • 5 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 140g granulated (or caster) sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 290ml milk
  • 1tsp vanilla extract (not essence)
  • 90ml corn oil
  • 50g white choc chips
  • 50g dark choc chips


  • Put muffin cases in muffin tin and turn oven on to 160°C (for fan oven, for regular oven turn on to 190°C).
  • In a large bowl add flour, baking powder, bicarb, salt, cocoa powder, choc chips and sugar and stir with a fork.
  • In another bowl beat egg and stir in milk, corn oil, vanilla and oil.
  • Do not use any form of electric mixer! Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients and stir until no flour is visible.  The batter will be lumpy but this is fine.
  • Spoon into tins.  A heaped dessert spoon per muffin case is roughly the right amount.
  • Bake for 20-25 minutes or until tops spring back when pressed gently.
  • These muffins freeze very well and take about 2 hours to defrost or, if you’re in a hurry, then, from frozen, 30-40 seconds in a microwave on full power will make one ready to eat.

Lemon drizzle loaf

I made this for the first time to sell during the half marathon and it was rather yummy.  I made a double quantity and the Kenwood Chef was a bit overwhelmed with the volume of the mix so, if you’re planning to do the same, you have been warned.

You’ll need a loaf tin, roughly 23cm by 13cm and the deeper the better.  Grease this and dust well with flour, shaking off any excess.  You need to do this properly because when you’ve poured over the drizzle and allowed it to cool then it can be tricky to get out of the tin.


  • 320g sugar (caster or granulated)
  • 3 eggs
  • grated zest of 2 unwaxed lemons (or more if you want and be careful not to grate the bitter white pith)
  • 250g plain flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • pinch salt
  • 250ml milk (skimmed, semi-skimmed or full fat)
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract (always buy extract not essence)
  • 200g unsalted butter, melted

Lemon Syrup

  • freshly squeezed juice and zest of one lemon
  • 50g sugar (caster or granulated)


  • Preheat the oven to 170°C or 140°C for a fan oven (aren’t all ovens fan ovens these days?)
  • Put sugar, eggs and lemon zest in a bowl and beat until well mixed.
  • Add flour (sifted if you can be bothered), baking powder and salt to a separate bowl. And combine milk and vanilla in yet another bowl. (This recipe creates a fair bit of washing up.)
  • Add a third of the flour mixture to the sugar mixture and beat well.  Add a third of the milk mixture and beat well. 
  • Do the flour followed by milk thing again, twice.
  • Beat very well until everything is light and fluffy.
  • Add melted butter and beat until well incorporated.
  • Pour into prepared loaf tin and then bake for about 1 1/4  hours or until golden brown and it passes the skewer test (when a skewer is inserted into the centre of the cake and removed it remains clean.)

Lemon syrup

  • While the cake is baking put lemon zest, juice, sugar and 100ml water in a small saucepan.  Bring to boil over a low heat.  Raise heat and boil until it has reduced by half or until it is a thin syrup.
  • Put a cooling rack over a shallow baking tray and when the cake is cooked put it on the cooling rack.  Use the skewer to make lots of holes in the top of the loaf and then carefully pour syrup over the loaf.  The syrup is likely to spill into the baking tray and then you can tip what’s in the baking tray back over the loaf.  This process can get very messy and sticky.
  • When loaf has cooled completely you can remove it from the tin.  I put the tin in a freezer bag and then turn the loaf out.  This also handily prepares the loaf for the freezer.  This cake freezes very well.  Take out of the freezer the night before you need it. 

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Targeted marketing

Never, in the history of marketing, has a campaign been more aptly targeted.  If you see the post preceding this one you’ll understand why.

I received an e-mail from Mumsnet which included information on their book club.  I clicked on the link and noted it was sponsored by Radox.

This is taken from the campaign microsite landing page:

Why have we called the campaign 'Be Selfish'?

The idea for the Be Selfish campaign actually came from a group of Mums. Back in 2009 we asked our customers (who happened to be Mums), what they would like more of, and the answer was universally 'more time to ourselves please', not because they were unhappy being a Mum, or a wife, or a colleague but because like all of us Mums really benefit from spending time out focussing just on them, you know where you shut the door, and have a bit of peace and quiet, with no interruptions.

However, we also discovered that simply 'taking time out' was easier said than done. We commissioned a survey that found the average British women spent 21 years of her life looking after other people, and only three years on herself; statistics like these highlight the reasons why:

Running errands, looking after the house and shopping for the family took up 19 years, three months, and four days in the average women's lifetime.

  • Looking after children and the daily ferrying to after school clubs and swimming lessons accounted for a further one year, nine months and eight days.
  • 11 hours were spent cooking for the family each week, equating to almost four years of a women's life spent up close and personal to her cooker.
  • Not that Mums were complaining BUT the effects of all this running about were not pretty with 63% of Mums reporting regular 'boiling over' outbursts (normally at the nearest family member).

Radox coined a phrase for these little eruptions - Vesuvius Syndrome - where everyday stresses built up and up to the point where it all boiled over. Radox wanted to help Mums beat this by facilitating 'time out', and so the 'Be Selfish' campaign was born.

Over the last two years we've teamed up with Kathy Lette to write a waterproof book that Mums could read in the bath, we built a Selfish Sanctuary that Mums could win for a bit of selfish pampering - and in October 2010 we teamed up with Mumsnet to sponsor the book club giving away free books to enjoy.

I’m off to pour myself a glass of wine, run a hot bath, and take a book, and not my phone, with me.


No, not the Japanese nuclear reactors.  Me.

It was the tiniest of things that sent me over the edge.  A parents evening appointment that “couldn’t be moved” that clashed with a meeting at work.  And everything came tumbling down.

Everything that I try and do, and fail to achieve, was suddenly brought into sharp focus and I just felt like a complete failure; always letting people down.

Does this happen to other people?  Or should I be making an appointment with the doctor for those little green pills I took when I had post natal depression?

I’ve been crying on and off for about two hours now and it doesn’t matter how many reassuring hugs I get from Hannah, Ethan and Dave, I can’t stop.

I know you don’t really want to read about this but I’m wondering whether putting it into words might help me.  It’s very self-indulgent but right now I think I could do with looking after myself.

Next time you see me I’ll be fine, I promise.  Because bouncing back and keeping a lid on the madness is what it’s all about.  But in the short term Dave has suggested we open a bottle of wine.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

My terms of engagement

Dear Essex and Suffolk Water

Thank you very much for promising to come out on Friday between 7:00am and 1:00pm to check the water flow and pressure for our property which British Gas advises is insufficient to operate our boiler.

I have accepted that should no fault be found you will charge us £48.  You have promised to provide a full report explaining exactly what flow and pressure you are delivering.

I estimate that it will take no more than 10 minutes for you to asses the service that you provide to us which, at £48 per visit, is quite a lucrative business.

Clearly I am investing more time in this process than you.  I shall be at home between 7:00am and 1:00pm, investing exactly 36 times more time.  If fault is found, I think it is entirely reasonable that I charge you and whilst we’re being fair and reasonable, and even though my perception is that my time is more valuable than yours, I will agree to use the same hourly rate.  So that’s 36 x £48, which will net me £1728.

Payment can only be accepted in cash.  Cheques and credit and debit cards will not be accepted.  Also, this cash must be paid immediately upon delivery of the information that you have not been delivering the service to which I am entitled.

Additionally, should your evaluation of the inbound water flow prove to be unsatisfactory, there will be some additional charges due:

  • There will be the “naked running around the house to restart the boiler to avoid a cold shower” charge which amounts to £500.
  • Additionally there’s the “running downstairs from the bathroom to ensure hot water by restarting the boiler” charge which is £750.
  • Lastly there’s the “dripping water across the kitchen floor mid washing up so that the washing up does clean things properly” charge at a reduced £350.

None of these charges guarantee that we will not pursue you for additional compensation at a later date.

We will offer a refreshments service during your visit.  Freshly brewed tea and freshly ground coffee will be offered for a modest charge of £2.70 per beverage.

Finally I will be levying a Monopoly charge.  As the only supplier available to me you will be subject to the Monopoly charge of £1000 per annum.

Payment for all charges must be made in cash on the day of the visit prior to departure.

I look forward to your visit on Friday.

Love and kisses,


Monday, 14 March 2011

How to challenge a planning application

I’ve just had to go through this and I’ve learnt a few things.  I can’t promise that any of these things will work for you but I think they have improved my chances of successfully challenging a planning application.

First things first, you need to look at the plans.  Spend a long time doing this and make notes as you’re doing it.  It’s OK to view the plans online but sometimes you really need to see them full size laid out on a big table, so make time to visit your local planning office.

When you do visit the local planning office make sure you ask to have the duty planning officer explain the plans to you.  Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Find a copy of your council’s adopted plan.  This is effectively the Council rule book for assessing planning applications.  Talk to the duty planning officer to help understand the adopted plan.  It’s a little like trying to understand a legal document; a bit of a challenge if you’re not used to the terminology.  Also ask the planning officer if there any other documents or policies that aren’t in the local plan but are official adopted policies.  I’ve found it difficult to navigate easily to all of the relevant information so it’s useful having an expert guide you through.  Town planners aren’t web designers and the usability of the site and the logical layout of information can be somewhat lacking.

When you’ve had time, in a quiet room, to evaluate the plans together with the local adopted plan, then go back for another chat with the duty planning officer with a list of questions.  Ask them about the things that you think aren’t in line with the local planning guidelines and get some feedback from an expert.

Contact your local Councillor and, if they aren’t on the Planning Committee, maybe contact a Councillor who is on the Planning Committee.

Your Councillor can provide advice and guidance but if they are on the Planning Committee they must remain impartial and cannot express an opinion on the application.  This doesn’t mean they can’t offer advice and you should take advantage of their expertise.

Talk to your neighbours about the application to see if there are other people that would support an objection.  Help people by sharing everything that you’ve learned from the town planners and Councillors and give them the key points to include in an objection.  Encourage them to get involved by viewing the plans and talking to planners and Councillors.

When you write your objection letter try to reference back to the policies in the local adopted plan.  This makes it look like you’ve done your homework and that you know what you’re talking about.  Copy as many Councillors as you can with your objection letter because if the decision goes to Committee then they only see objections if they ask for them. 

Friday, 4 March 2011

An upside

You know about the plans to demolish our neighbour’s house and build ten flats don’t you?  That’s more of a rhetorical question than anything because I’ve not been bleating about anything else except that for the last few weeks.

It’s tough and stressful because there’s a lot to do and organise and there’s the added complexity of uncertainty.  We don’t know what we’ll be living next to next year.  We could be living next to a house with planning permission, a building site or a shiny new block of hideously out of proportion flats.  But I don’t want you to think it’s all bad.

Since the plans have been made public I’ve had local residents knocking on my door wanting to help me with the campaign to prevent the flats achieving planning permission.  I’ve knocked on lots of local residents doors and spoken to many kind and lovely people (and a few less kind and less lovely) and made connections with people with whom I’d normally just exchange a cheery hello (except the less kind and lovely ones because they’re not very good at eye contact.)

I’ve even taken to approaching complete strangers in the street and asking them if they knew about the plans and telling them how to find out more and how to object.  I actually enjoy doing this.  This may seem strange because it’s something that many people aren’t comfortable with.

It almost makes me feel that perhaps I was born to sell double glazing or preach the Lord’s word because I enjoy cold calling. 

I blame my Mum, she started it.  We used to go door to door collecting money for the RNLI and the Royal British Legion in the run up to Poppy Day or as it should be known Remembrance Sunday.  It was a great way to catch up with people and discover the latest gossip.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

An update

We’ve decided to stay and fight the neighbour’s plans to replace their lovely old detached house with a block of cramped and tiny flats with barely any greenery and hardly any parking.

To this end I’ve done several things to move things forward:

  • I’ve met with several neighbours, most of whom insist on plying me with wine.  I’ve not met anyone yet who isn’t bothered.
  • I’ve agreed to go petitioning tomorrow, if such a thing exists, so I might knock on your door.  You have been warned.
  • I’ve spoken with a councillor and the editor of the Gazette.
  • I’ve set up a Facebook protest page which I’m actually very proud of as it’s my first one and it has had 36 “Likes” in less than a day.
  • I’ve arranged a gathering of interested parties at our house, next week to encourage opposition.
  • And thanks to some advice from Tony, I’ve contacted these guys: AHA Planning. AHA Planning have lots of experts in Town Planning who, for a modest sum (£36), will evaluate plans and construct a letter of objection.  If they don’t believe you have a leg to stand on they will refund your money.  Sounds like a win win to me.

I’ll let you know how we get on but in the meantime, why don’t you go to my Facebook protest page and “Like” it, and spread the word.

Oh, and the house that they want to knock down looks like this:

image of Fairgolme from front