Tuesday 21 December 2010
Friday 17 December 2010
This is a sponsored post...
Here's something I can bet you didn't know about me; my dad grew up living above a Cooperative shop in a small Northern town, which his father managed and which provided a community hub for the locals when supermarkets as we know them today were the stuff of fantasy or tales brought back from across the Atlantic by tourists. I don't know this for certain but I imagine grandad knew all his customers by name - because, back then, that's how things worked in small towns - and that he exchanged pleasantries with them whilst carving them the requisite slices of ham or slicing them the right weight of crumbly Wensleydale.
Dad left that small Northern town more years ago than he might care to think about, but my grandparents stayed on and some of my earliest memories are of visiting that flat with it's icy concrete steps in winter, feeling the heat from the bars of the electric fire burn my chilblains, and huddling under nylon-topped quilts, sheets and blankets... (Why is it always cold up North in my memories, I wonder?)
Since then, the Cooperative has become more than a store and a savings scheme (remember the stamps?); it's now also a mainstream bank that punches above it's weight not only in terms of customers but in terms of ethical codes of practice, holding true to it's name and remaining a body run for the benefit of all it's members than just for a small handful of share-holders.
I was particularly interested to learn about their initiative The Cooperative Community Fund. This is a charitable foundation which receives donations from a group of public-spirited members who chose to give a percentage of their twice yearly share of profits to be used for the benefit of the larger community in their area. This year's total was £1.2 million and is to be allocated within the geographical area that money is received from.
Projects are allocated by postcode, and grants vary from a minimum of £100 to £2000. That may not seem a lot in today's world of high finance and telephone number mortgages, but even that much can make a positive difference if spent wisely.
Why was I asked to write about this? Because they are looking for applicants. I was tasked with thinking about an example; something that money could be spent on in my local area that would have a positive long-term benefit on the community (note: a group does not need to have charitable status to apply for one of these grants), will address a local issue, support co-operative values and principles, and ideally be innovative in it's approach.
Hmmm. I live in Russia, remember. 'Co-operative' is not a word that get's bandied around very often here; it smacks too much of pre-1991 and communism. 'Every man for himself' is more like it, if I'm honest. You only have to travel on the metro in rush-hour to see that. Unless of course you're talking about in a family environment, where everything is shared equally and one person's trouble is the problem of all. The problems arise, however, when a person has no family, for whatever reason that might be. I've recently become involved with - in a very minor way - a charity that helps with that, giving orphaned children not a home or care, because that is already - to a point - provided by the state, but which helps to give them the tools to deal with the outside world once the umbrella organisation looking after them moves them out of their institutions into a semblance of every-day life.
Now unfortunately, £2000 isn't going to provide much tuition for these children (teachers need to be paid, overheads need to be funded), but what it could do is provide them with some interactive tools to help them practice budgeting - even in gaming form, for example - and which might simulate some of the real-world decisions they could be called upon to make once they leave their 'home'. I read recently about a new computer game which simulates the effects on the world of certain environmental policies; make the wrong one, for instance, and India is flooded or Spain becomes a waste-land. I'm not a gamer, but I'm sure there must be similar games out there which do the same job but with real life situations.
And whilst it may not seem like a very worthy way of spending this type of grant, anything that could stop the young people I'm writing of being persuaded to swap their government-funded flat for a new wii, for example (and this does happen), and then finding themselves homeless as a result because they had no proper understanding of the ramifications of their decision, can't help but have a positive effect on the local environment, surely?
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Thursday 16 December 2010
Wednesday 15 December 2010
Monday 13 December 2010
Friday 10 December 2010
- Hair lightening cream for moisturiser (realised after the first smear that this was not going to deal with my dry skin - or indeed make any difference to my freshly shaved legs..)
- Spicy tomato ketchup for normal (Boy #2 was NOT impressed)
- Potato starch for corn flour (the former does not make good shortbread)
- Tuna in oil for tuna in salt water (yeuch - Russian tinned tuna is not the best quality to start with, so throw in cup of oil as well and...)
- Salted salmon steak for normal (just too horrible to even begin to describe. Christ knows how the Russians cook it, but there must be some secret way to use it or it wouldn't be everywhere masquerading as an edible foodstuff)
- Russian hard cheese for non-Russian. (Because - and apologies to anyone who likes the local version here - Russian hard cheese is rubbish. Think; the blandest edam you ever tasted, take away the flavour, and bob's your uncle).
- Sweetened fruit juice for non-sweetened (Kids on a sugar high just before bed, anyone?)
Wednesday 8 December 2010
Tuesday 7 December 2010
- Swimsuits are not required. Nerves of steel, a devil-may care attitude, and previous form as a hockey player used to nakedness in an all-female changing room are good substitutes if you have them. Otherwise, just grin and bare it (boom boom).
- A fading mark from your g-string bikini suntan is acceptable, however (note: this badge of honour is unrelated to size of the woman concerned).
- Take your own towel. In fact, bring two. Especially bearing in mind my previous comment about swimsuits not being required. You have to sit somewhere in the sauna, and I didn't notice the attendant sluicing down the wooden steps after each new shift of customers came in... (Plus, that bright red spot on your buttocks from sitting on a too-hot step is not attractive, really).
- Listen out for the warning call that they are about to lock the door of the sauna from the inside. (yes, you can get out). If you don't then race into the industrial-sized facility and secure a spot you will end up having to wait another half hour to do so. And if you don't get there early enough you will end up having to sit next to the furnace (ow), or on the step below a lady with - how can I put this - rather less inhibitions than you. Should that happen, do not UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES turn around to glance behind you.
- Make sure you have your own very attractive felt flower pot hat to wear whilst in the sauna to protect your hair from the heat. (These can be purchased in a range of fetching pastel colours and with appliqued motifs from the check-in desk at the entrance). I know, it's counter-intuitive to sit there naked in god knows how many degrees whilst wearing a hat - and obviously, it looks hilarious - but trust me, it works. I still have hair.
- Said hat also gives you some degree of protection when the sauna attendant (invariably rather impressively muscled in the upper arm region for reasons which shall become apparent by the end of this post) flicks water over the assembled masses inside. Well, I say water; it also contains some kind of pine-scented herbal brew that helps to 'cleanse', but which also stings like crxp when you misunderstand her instruction to close your eyes just before she throws the mixture about in a manner worthy of the pope at high mass.
- Try not to sit too close to the sauna attendant, both for the reason mentioned above but also because, when she whirls a damp towel around to move the hot air around the room (hence the upper arms worthy of Madonna), that thing goes at quite a pace.
- When one of the friends you are with dares you to stand under the cold water splash situated outside of the sauna, just say no. That's all. If you do take her up on her dare, however, make sure you have firm hold of her wrist so she can't step away as she pulls the cord...
- When another friend suggests it would be a good idea to have a body scrub, and you decide 'in for a penny, in for a pound' and go for it, do try not to act all surprised when you realise that the lady giving you the all-over scrub will also be unclad (see how I'm trying to avoid using the 'n' word here?). Apart, of course, from her gloves, which feel as if they're made from a slightly less abrasive version of wire wool - but only slightly.
- And when she walks towards you holding a hose trickling warm water, keep calm. It's not what you think... (unless you're thinking soap doesn't work without water. In that case, you're spot on).
- Do not laugh as she scrubs your feet and your toes tickle - remember, you still have to roll over so she can do your front. All of it. (Like I said - never been so clean).
- And finally, do not speculate with the friend lying on the next table who is also having a scrub about just how unlikely the 'naked client, naked scrubber' situation would be to happen back home. The ensuing giggles are not dignified. Although, of course, neither is lying starkers on a table whilst being scrubbed all over by a naked woman wearing gloves made of wire wool.