This week’s Thrifty Finds: third week of March 2019


My Thrifty Finds for last week included:

1. I went back to work after a week off BUT I was very good and just bought in food from home, rather than being tempted by the many food shops just a stone’s throw from work. One day I even bought in a can of soup as I had run out of time to make sandwiches. Fortunately we have a kitchen with microwave which makes lunchtimes so much easier.

2. I had a free eye test on Tuesday. I get a free eye test on the NHS as my Dad has glaucoma. I was pleased to hear I don’t need new glasses this year.

3. My best Thrifty Find of the week was trading in some old bus tickets for a new one. I regularly buy an eleven journey ticket and, until the end of this month, I can trade in ten old tickets for a free one – saving me £34.50!

4. The weather gradually got dryer and warmer last week so I was able to line dry. The tumble dryer is not working at the moment but I haven’t looked at fixing it as it encourages me to hang the washing out and save energy (and money).

IMG_82215. I picked up a secondhand book for my husband by an author that had been recommended to me.

Thrifty Finds : third week November 2018

I did manage some Thrifty Finds last week:

1. If you read last week’s post about my Christmas budgeting you would have seen that I use my Nectar loyalty points to buy Christmas items from Sainsbury’s. Last week was their ‘double up’ promotion and I was able to turn £25 worth of points into £50 to spend on selected wines. So now we have bought our Christmas alcohol- just have to try not to drink it!

2. Last Friday I had a training course in a town I don’t normally visit. I had time to browse the charity shops there which are significantly cheaper than Bath. I bought a good quality Christmas jumper for £4.99 (originally from Next) for my husband:

3. I also bought this Christmasey jumper for myself for £4.50. I like that it’s not overtly Christmas and that I could probably wear it for most of the winter:

4. I also went to the school’s Nearly New Sale on Saturday and bought a long sleeved navy t-shirt for 50p, a dress for £2 and this game for 50p. Phase 10 is an UNO-type game and has been on my wish list for ages. I was so excited to buy it!

5. On Sunday we took a trip to Bristol and parked in the free car park that  my husband can use through work.

Second-hand book haul and ‘Les Parisiennes’ book review: June 2018

[note: I really thought I had posted this a few months ago but it’s actually been in my ‘Drafts’!]


If you have been reading my recent posts you will know that I picked up a few books while on a trip around the charity shops in Marlborough, Wiltshire.

It’s only been a week but I’ve already devoured the first book, Les Parisiennes by Anne Sebba.

This had been on my wish list for about a year and I was delighted to spot it in the Oxfam Bookshop. Anne Sebba writes a balanced and very readable account of what it was like to be a woman living in wartime Paris. Her careful research has identified scores of Parisiennes, from very different backgrounds, who chose to either get on with life (as much as was possible), resist the invasion, or collaborate with the German occupiers and Vichy government.

Sebba writes about those women who chose to resist the occupying forces through simple acts (refusing to socialise with German soldiers) or violent and clandestine actions (often leading to arrest, torture and internment at a concentration camp). She also attempts to write sympathetically about those women who, through naivety or a sheltered life, or out of desperation, chose to collaborate with the Germans, or supported the puppet French government of Petain.

The author also examines the post war legacy of women who were affected by World War Two. She calls out the immediate post war treatment of those women accused of ‘collaboration horizontale’ i.e. sleeping with the enemy. Approximately 20,000 women were publicly humiliated, sometimes on the basis of flimsy evidence. She also talks about the length of time it has taken for France to recognise the heroic actions of those women who resisted (because they were not ‘soldiers’ in the traditional sense), and the disparity in the post war treatment between Jewish survivors of concentration camps and those from the Resistance.

Les Parisiennes, is such a well written, researched and enthralling read. By focusing on women in Paris in the Second World War, it allows a new voice to be heard and, as a female reader, makes me ask the question “what would I have done?”

This question is asked again in ‘Resistance’, another book from my recent haul. I have read this book before, based on an alternative history where the Germans did invade Britain during World War Two. The author, Owen Sheers, is also a poet and what struck me at the time was how beautiful his writing was. It is quite a few years since I read it- and saw the film-so I’m looking forward to discovering it again.

Finally, I picked up another Nancy Mitford novel, ‘Love in a Cold Climate’. Last year I found ‘The Pursuit of Love‘ at a charity stall and really enjoyed it. I’m looking forward to reading the follow-up.


What’s in your reading pile at the moment? Have you got a summer reading list?

charity shops secondhand books

Second-hand books: Autumn Roundup

charity shops secondhand books

Wow! It wasn’t until I piled up all the recently bought second-hand books  that I realised how many I had! I realise it’s been a while since I did a second-hand book haul post but I think I’m in need of one 🙂

In September I bought this from the Oxfam bookshop in Bath for £2.49:

It’s a wonderful collection of women’s writing from World War Two: letters, diaries, essays. It follows the course of the war from the outbreak, the Blitz and through to the end of conflict. The women whose works are featured range from established authors and war journalists to those ‘ordinary’ women who volunteered in both homefront and military services, or whose sons and husbands were away fighting. (By the way I don’t think there was anything ‘ordinary’ about the women who endured air raids, bombings and the exhausting work of caring for others on the homefront). While based mostly on the experiences of women living in Britain it does also feature overseas perspectives, such as the evacuation of France and the liberation of concentration camps. I am slowly reading through this book still as it’s ideal for dipping in and out of.

In October I picked up these two:

I really enjoyed re-reading The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole (which I don’t think I’d read since I was 13 in the mid eighties). To be re-united with characters like Burt and Queenie, Pandora and Sabre the dog was so enjoyable!

As well as the Judy Moody book (above) bought for my youngest daughter, I also bought this pile of children’s books from Oxfam:

We haven’t read any of them yet, but I’m looking forward to introducing Party Shoes to the girls and reading – for the first time – The Woolpack.

In November I went slightly overboard and bought this collection from the village’s Saturday Market:

If you’ve never read the FE Benson Mapp and Lucia books I heartily recommend them. Written in the 1920s they feature two hilarious characters: Lucia and Miss Mapp. Both are snobs and schemers. While they don’t cross over in every book, theyindividually plot to become top dog in their respective communities. When they do meet in the later books (Mapp and Lucia, Lucia’s Progress, Trouble for Lucia) there are hilarious consequences, with both of them getting their just desserts. The latter three books were dramatised by the BBC a couple of years ago:


My final book haul for this season took place earlier this week when I bought these three Christmas books for £3 from the Oxfam Bookshop:

We have a small collection of Christmas books which I get out every year and put in a dedicated book basket. I think this year I will have to go through it and sort through any books that are too young for the girls. I thought I would give The Snow Sister book to my youngest as an extra Christmas present (yes I do buy some of my Christmas presents second-hand!)

Now that I have piled up all my recent book finds I know that I must sort through our existing bookshelves to make way for them!

What are you reading this summer? (And where do you get your books from?)


If you’ve read some of the recent Thrifty Finds you’ll know I’ve already found a few secondhand books for my summer holiday reading.

Do you have a list of books you plan to read this summer- whether you are going away or hanging out at home? I’ve made a note of a few books I’d like and started to scour the charity shops. I’ve also picked up a few more that I plan to take on holiday next month.

second hand books, charity shop books

My husband has reserved some of his reading list from the local library. We are very lucky being members of two library services: Wiltshire Libraries and Libraries West (which covers Bath, Bristol, Somerset and South Gloucestershire- you can order books from any of their branches). My husband also has access to the university library where he works. He’s also lucky enough to have a birthday next week so a few more books may be coming his way…..

As for the little readers in our house I’ve been looking out for activity books and novels in charity shops as an alternative to comic books to take on holiday.

Over to you- where do you get your books from? Libraries, charity shops, friends or from free sites such as Freegle? And do you have any reading recommendations? I’d love to hear from you 🙂

Dickens and Domestic Drudgery between the wars: review of ‘One Pair of Hands’

Monica Dickens: One Pair of Hands

Despite our short stay in Swanage we did manage a trip to the secondhand bookshop where I picked up this Penguin edition for £2.

As I have mentioned many times I am a great fan of Persephone Books. One of their re-printed authors is Monica Dickens and I really enjoyed her wartime novel, ‘Mariana’. So I was very excited to come across this edition of her debut autobiographical book, ‘One Pair of Hands’, originally published in 1939.

Monica Dickens, a great grandaughter of Charles Dickens,  grows bored of her debutante life of parties and trips to New York. So, in the mid 1930s she enrolls in cookery classes and starts to work as a cook to a selection of upper and middle class families in London.

Her self deprecating style (she believes she is a bad, clumsy and disorganised cook) and hilarious observations of both below and above stairs life is a far cry from Downton Abbey. While she adopts the persona of an ordinary cook, and never gives away her privileged background, she does hold an irreverent attitude towards her employers, which comes with being upper class herself.

Monica listens at closed doors and pretends she doesn’t understand the French that is spoken by her employers when she is in the room (apparently the language used by the upper classes to talk about private affairs and servants when they are present). Her housework is haphazard, and she often lies about- or exaggerates – her culinary skills.

Yet, despite this, she seems to make a successful, if short-lived, career as a cook-general. Apparently, a cook-general, was a term used in the 1920s and 1930s to describe a domestic servant who undertook both cooking and housekeeping.

Out of the many positions that Monica undertakes, only two are live-in. Most of the time she is employed as a daily cook. She occasionally has the help of a  ‘char woman’ who comes in to clean. Apart from this her only regular company is the daily call of grocers, bakers, milkmen and greengrocers who come to the back door to deliver, and take orders for, provisions.

Reading the book you get the impression that servants were hard to come by in the mid thirties.  By this period, there were more job opportunities for working class women (secretarial, department store sales). By the time the book was published the world was about to change in unimaginable ways which would further break down master and servant boundaries.

With the arrival of technology such as gas powered ranges, frigidairs (or ‘frig’) and even vacuum cleaners, domestic work was supposed to be easier. However the author still seems to struggle with these appliances (don’t we all?).There is an underlying theme throughout the book that employers really have no idea of how hard or time consuming the work is. Having recently re-read Sarah Waters’ ‘The Paying Guests‘ (set in 1922) it is evident how much of a drudge daily life was for any domestic servant, or for those genteel women who could no longer afford them.

It is this daily drudgery and perpetual exhaustion that eventually forces Monica Dickens to give it all up. However, for an upper class deb , this is easily done. My nan (born ten years before Ms Dickens) was employed in domestic work for most of her life because she had few opportunities.

While there are many outdated themes in the book, the one I struggle with most is the idea that people don’t know how to cook. Even the more modest couples who live in London flats seem incapable of boiling an egg. How these people would have survived  without paying other people to cook, clean and wash for them, completely baffles me. Surely one of the most fundamental needs of any human being is to feed themselves, and not one that should be left to rely solely on a particular class or gender?

While the book is perceptive and funny, I can’t quite understand the author’s motive for undertaking this work in the first place. Is it to genuinely find an occupation or is it a source of entertainment? If, however, the experience below stairs was to chronicle a form of domestic servitude, and accompanying class attitudes, that has since  disappeared, then Monica Dickens’ book is an amusing insight.

Second-hand book: The children who lived in a barn

You may remember I picked up a few second-hand books at our village’s May Fair:

secondhand books

One of these was a children’s book written by Eleanor Graham and originally published in 1938.  ‘The Children who lived in a Barn’ had been on my wishlist for a while as it was republished by Persephone Books, a publishing house I really love. (I have blogged about them here)

Persephone Books re-printed ‘The Children who lived in a Barn’ in 2001, with a preface by renowned children’s author, Jacqueline Wilson. It tells the story of the five Dunnet children whose parents disappear on a plane trip and who are left to fend for themselves on the outskirts of a rural village.

The children who lived in a barn

The children move out of their rented house and into a deserted barn, loaned to them by a kindly farmer. The children range in age from 13 to seven and, while dodging the interfering ‘District Visitor’ (DV) and trying to make do on very little money, still manage to be fed, watered and attend school.

In her preface to the Persephone edition, Jacqueline Wilson writes:

‘Back in the fifties the book seemed entirely convincing. Reading it now I’m in my fifties it seems extraordinary.”

And it certainly does! The edition I picked up for 50p dates from 1965 and I’m not sure it would have seemed feasible even then for five children to be left to fend for themselves for months on end. Certainly, reading it as a parent in 2016 (and speaking as one who really does enjoy children’s literature) I find it astonishing.

The children who lived in a barn

The burden of running the new household falls on the shoulders of the eldest child, Sue, who is ‘thirteen and a bit’.   She is the first one to rise in the morning, light the fire, make breakfast (and then wash up),and get the younger children ready for school. One morning a week she even gets up at five to wash all of their clothes – before going onto school herself. She also helps local shopkeepers with their bookkeeping, and the ‘District Visitor’ has plans for her to go into service. Her younger brother, Bob, takes on the role of ‘father’ and they become surrogate parents to the younger siblings.

The irony is that these are fairly well-off middle class children whose parents wouldn’t have dreamed of sending them to the local village school. However when they abruptly leave them all to visit a sick relative in France, the young Dunnets really are left alone.

Some could argue they experience a free-range childhood, without the constraints of parents (don’t all the best children’s books feature absent parents?). However there doesn’t seem to be much playing for the eldest child. As a parent of a 14 year old girl I can’t imagine her possessing half the skills that Sue has. But, in terms of modern day life, she can do the washing and cook tea using all the appliances that now save us time and remove us from the drudgery and sheer hard work of housework. However, if I had sons, I would expect the same of them.

The children’s adventures in the barn come to an end – and just in time before winter sets in and the ‘DV’s plans to separate the children.

I’m not sure I could say that I enjoyed reading this book, and am relieved I only spent 50p rather than £12 on it. However as an insight into pre-war childhood, and the roles and responsibilities of teenage girls, it is quite an eye-opener.



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World Book Day Finds

Yesterday was World Book Day. By chance I was in Bath for a dentist’s appointment and found I had some spare time on my hands. Whenever I have a little spare time I trawl the city’s charity shops (a route I know inside out!). And I came across these books:

Paddington & The Children of Green Knowe


The Children of Green Knowe by Lucy M Boston and Paddington Helps Out by Michael Bond

I’d wanted to get hold of the former for a while (a classic children’s ghost story) but the Paddington was a real find. A couple of years ago we picked up a very battered copy from a quirky bookshop in Morecambe.

Morecambe Bookshop

My youngest has been reading the stories but her copy is so battered that she actually gave up on it earlier this week. So we were both delighted when I found this copy (on the left) for 50p from the British Red Cross Shop.

Paddington Helps Out

It will be a shame to throw away the older copy so I will see what I can do with it. This takes my second-hand book purchases to three in the past week as I also picked up the Laura Ingalls Wilder book, On the Banks of Plum Creek (I am slowly building my Little House collection).

second-hand children's books

I love buying – and reading – second-hand children’s books. Sometimes I pick up the same version I read as a child. I also love the fact that my enjoyment of reading can be passed onto my children and, if they decide it’s not for them, we can just re-donate the books.

Paddington Bear at Paddington Station

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second-hand books: January roundup.

I am still trying to be more thoughtful when I buy books, even when they are second-hand. We now have ten bookshelves in the lounge (upcycled from old floorboards) but the rule is that all our books must fit on them. So, apart from a few scattered in bedrooms, there are no other bookshelves in the house. And if a book doesn’t fit on the shelf then it has to go…

bookshelves, with our cosy reading corner

bookshelves, with our cosy reading corner on the left

I wrote in this post of my love for everything ever published by Persephone Books. These books do come with a hefty price tag (£12) but they are worth every penny. Imagine my delight, then, at coming across one in mint condition at the Oxfam Book Shop in Bath for £3.49

Dorothy Whipple: Someone at a Distance

Someone at a Distance was originally published in 1953, and was the last novel written by Dorothy Whipple I love reading books set in the 1930s-1950s, an era which Persephone Books covers very well. While I haven’t finished this novel I am hooked on this tale of a well to do English family whose lives are turned upside down by the arrival of a French ‘femme fatale’. It’s such a pleasure to become immersed in a book!


This week I also picked up a second-hand copy of a David Walliams novel as my middle daughter has been enjoying his writing. Having scoured half a dozen charity shops this was the only David Walliams book I could find. She was delighted.

David Walliams: gangsta granny

As for the ‘one in one out’ rule on books we have a school jumble sale in a few weeks’s time and we shall set to work this weekend stripping down the shelves to make room for our new (to us) purchases.

Christmas Bookshelf


A Christmas Bookshelf

It is has become somewhat of a tradition in our house to have a small collection of Christmas books on display at this time of year. It’s really nice to be reunited with familiar tales and remind us all of when the children were really young.

Over the years I have added to this collection and have picked up a few from charity shops:

Books to read at Christmas time

Among the children’s books are these:

Children's books to read at Christmas

The Snow Lady is a lovely tale by the wonderful author, Shirley Hughes. A little girl thinks her elderly neighbour is grumpy and miserable but feels bad when she makes fun of her. There is a classic Charlie and Lola tale (which came with an audio CD): Snow is my favourite and my best. The Christmas Gingerbread is a delightfully illustrated story about badly behaved gingerbread men and women. Of course no home is complete without the classic tale: The Night Before Christmas.

I also wanted to mention two classic books which we bought first hand:

Books to read at Christmas

Fireside Tales is a special collection of winter tales from around the world. Published by Barefoot Books the stories take us through the winter season, from a Scottish tale of mystery set at Halloween to Russian, Canadian and Czech stories meant for Christmas, New Year and the coming of Spring. I also wanted to mention the lovely abbreviated stories, taken from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series (which, even as an adult I still love). We have a couple of picture books, adapted as tales for young readers. Every Christmas we read Christmas in the Big Woods, taken from the first book in the series when Laura, Mary and baby Carrie live in the woods of Wisconsin, and welcome their cousins for Christmas.

I sometimes find myself re-reading excerpts from the other Little House on the Prairie season at this time of year, especially when brave Mr Edwards saves Christmas Day in Little House in the Prairie, or the family welcome old friends and manage to stretch their food and gifts in By the Shores of Silver Lake. For a look at how desperate winters could be for settlers in the American Mid West I would recommend The Long Winter.

I also have a small collection of Christmas and Winter books meant for adults, which I have picked up second-hand:

Winter and Christmas reading Tove Jansson is the creator of the Moomin series for children. I really enjoyed her A Summer Book, set on a small Finnish island. I also picked up second-hand A Winter Book, a collection of her Winter themed short stories.

This week I was fortunate enough to find this book by The Woman in Black author, Susan Hill. I’ve just started to read Lanterns Across the Snow with my middle daughter, and we are really enjoying it. Lanterns Across the Snow by Susan Hill


It is the tale of a nine year old girl living in the Dorset countryside with her family (her father is a vicar) and set over a hundred years ago. The illustrations by Kathleen Lindsley are charming and the text (and images) remind me of my childhood favourite: The Country Child by Alison Uttley.

Susan Hill: Lanterns Across the Snow

Finally, for me, no Christmas reading list is complete without the wonderful and  frightening tales by MR James. If you have not read his short ghost stories before you will find them familiar. Over the years they have been adapted for television and radio. Their scenarios are familiar: empty hotel rooms where shapes appear in the bedclothes; a mysterious figure on a desolate beach seen only out of the corner of your eye; a pair of binoculars which, when viewed through, reveal grisly scenes. Although writing in the early 20th Century he is often seen as the father of the modern ghost story. And there is nothing more Christmas-like than a good old scary tale…..

MR James: Collected Ghost Stories