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My Money: ‘I eat biscuits like a naughty schoolboy’

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Mark Bauwens

My Money is a series looking at how people spend their money – and the sometimes tough decisions they have to make. Here, Mark Bauwens from Gaillac in France takes us through a week in his life during the coronavirus pandemic.

Mark, 64, is retired, “sadly single” and lives in south-west France. He has a vegetarian house cat, a yard cat and five horses. He shops at Lidl as well as French chain supermarkets together with open-air markets.

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Over to Mark…

Variety might be the spice of life but buying in quantity, thus having a repetitious diet, is more cost and time-effective.

Each day this week, I will broadly eat and drink similarly although the variety of meat, cheese and biscuits (!) alters.

Breakfast. Two slices of wholemeal bread with a slice of ham and cheese each and fresh fruit. Washed down by real coffee.

Lunch. 10 min boil in the bag rice with fresh fish (a treat in the summer season), paté and bread with home-grown tomatoes and salad. Followed by fresh fruit. If I am still hungry then up to half a packet of chocolate biscuits (as I lose control), with the remainder for dinner, like a naughty, guilty schoolboy. Chocolate is good for morale I’ve read and it’s true!

Dinner. Charcuterie (slices of cold meats) and cheese. Oh, and more fresh fruit. Finally, a few beers whilst watching TV.

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Mark Bauwens

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Mindful that Covid-19 has no known cure, effective treatment nor protection by vaccination, I continue my somewhat monastic diet, albeit a very healthy one. Since starting, I’ve gone from over 85kg down to just under 70kg to maximise my chances in the unlikely event I catch the virus, as all the government, medical and scientific advice as well as BBC News coverage indicates that being lean, active and fit is critical to survival and best recovery.

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Mark Bauwens

Each morning is spent riding, looking after the horses and afternoons looking after the fields in which the horses live in summer. Manure for the fruits and vegetables I grow is not in short supply! I wish it was possible to barter manure for bread, tractor diesel and car petrol.

A car-free life is totally impractical as although the supermarket is within riding distance a modern town is too dangerous for a horse and rider. In a rural world, electric cars are impractical due to long distances, the paucity of charging points and their lack of range. Country people drive in fields and tow heavy trailers which will never be compatible with electric cars. It’s why economic diesel 4x4s proliferate.

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Mark Bauwens

I suppose, in years to come, if things really become much worse, people might revert to a horse and cart in towns. Working people might move and work from a new, country home.

Blackberries are in season this week as are red plums on the public rights of way. Foraged the surplus to stew and freeze for winter.

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Mark Bauwens

The idyllic life in rural, south western France is breathtakingly wonderful and I never forget how lucky I am. But the worst thing about the hen/cock, egg/chick facts of life is that today my diary indicates that one of the older hens is due for the chop.

Barbecued chicken breast is one of my weekend favourites. But one of the advantages of an iPhone diary is that entries are so easy to delete. Hen reprieved for another week, I decide to buy a steak instead tomorrow.

Barbers were closed by law in France too and I bought an electric trimmer and in the evening I cut my own hair and beard. I doubt that I’ll return to the barber again. Saving €20 (£18.06) plus 2€ tip each fortnight.

Weekly shopping day.

James the vegetarian house cat eats nearly as much as I do, his bag of feed is always top of my list.

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Mark Bauwens

Specialist greengrocers to buy large trays of whatever is in season is not necessary this week (it’s nectarines, peaches, green gauges, apricots, strawberries and melons, so quite a choice) as I have blackberries and plums. Total saved €18 for the next week.

The supermarket one-way system is still a challenge and I’ve had to go around again, just too many times, never seem to learn from my mistakes. In fact, I think I’ve learnt the mistake.

Ominously, I’m left next to the boulangerie section with pain aux raisins, pain au chocolat and chocolate gâteau shouting at me: “Buy me, buy me, you know you want to!” but just as I’m about to succumb, the trolleys move forwards. Gone but not forgotten.

Living on my own sadly, this is cleaning day. I take a peculiar delight and pride in economising on my labour and cleaning materials. The septic tank is sensitive to disinfectant and bleach which will kill that chemical process so I have good reason.

No invitation tonight to friends, so I’ll barbecue the steak treat. That hen still looks confident. Giving them names might be my mistake, perhaps numbers might work better? Or would that just remind me of how many “awful deeds” I perpetrated?

Admin day.

To renew my annual hunting licence is one of my annual costs. But it allows me to provide both small game (pheasant and hare etc) and a share of large game (red deer and boar) for the winter kitchen usually as a heartwarming stew with foraged mushrooms, herbs, apples and supermarket fine pasta €1/1kg so it is especially cost-effective and welcome. Cost €159.60 for the season with insurance.

Also have to order and pay for firewood for the woodburners, my only form of heating. Cost €1,300. Stacking has become an art form in itself.

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Mark Bauwens

Total spent this week:

Eggs, tomatoes, other salads, blackberries and plums: €0

Friskies: €2.96

Coffee 2 x 250g: €2.86

Bread 3 x €1.73: €5.19

Ham 2 x €4.60: €9.20

Emmental: €2.12

Brie: €4.65

Goat cheese: €1.80

Pate Foie x 3: €1.78

Pate Campagne x 3: €1.89

Steak: €4.63

Tuna 4 x 120g: €7.68

Rice 5 x 200g: €2.39

Saucisse sèche 2 x 250g: €6.39

Saucisson 250g: €3.01

Choc biscuits 4 x 2: €4.56

Beer 12 x 33cc: €10.02

Toiletries, cleaning materials, fuel not required this week.

Total for seven days: €71.13 (£64.51)

Total cost per day: €10.16 (£9.22)

How does Mark feel about his week?

Summer weeks are always full of sweet breeze perfumed by fruit with the sound of wasps keen to share.

Spend this week was typical of both summer and winter seasons. My diet is always healthy and bio.

Summer salads last as they are not washed unlike the supermarket produce.

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Mark Bauwens

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