Hints that are almost helpful

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IN ICELAND, to help to while away the long, dark winter months, they are very fond of amusing themselves by devising household hints that are almost, but not quite, useful. By arrangement with the Bumper Icelandic Book of Old Wives' Hints, I am pleased to be able to bring you a selection of the best.

Don't throw away the water from your hot water bottle. In these days of recycling, keep it for heating up again in the next bottle.

When putting in a new light bulb to replace one that has just expired, mark the date of insertion on the glass of the new one in felt-tip pen. That way you will be able to tell how long it lasted when you have to replace it again.

When going to sleep at night and marking the place in your book, briefly jot down on the bookmark what has just happened in the plot so that you won't waste a lot of time back- tracking the next evening.

On the birthday of one member of the family, keep that day's newspaper and use it for lining drawers so that many years later, as you get to the bottom of your old socks or outmoded jeans for the first time, you can say: 'Oh, look what was happening on your birthday in 1986]'

Keep a bicycle pump handy in the kitchen for blowing away crumbs in those otherwise inaccessible places.

Ever have trouble with a sink plug that has lost its chain? Do you find yourself having to lever it up with your fingernails? And do you one day find yourself unable to do this because you have just cut your fingernails and they are now too short for the job? That's why you must always keep your nail scissors handy. Not for cutting your nails but for inserting into sink plugs and getting them out. (A travel tip - this applies especially abroad, in those continental hotels where they have plugs that are pushed up and down from underneath by a series of levers and pulleys. Which always become disconnected from the handle. And can then only be shifted by nail scissors, or the very best-quality fingernails.)

If you have an electric blanket, it's a good idea to get up an hour or two before dawn, switch on the blanket on a chair and fold into it the clothes you are going to wear next day, then nip back into bed, so that those clothes are nice and warm when you finally get up.

As soon as you buy eggs, you probably mark the date on them. But do you write the date on and then find it gets rubbed off, or comes off in the cooking water? Much better to use those sticky numbers that come with blank video tapes and are never used otherwise.

If you have a portable radio (or television) for use indoors, put a small toy flag on the end of the aerial so that you can see it and avoid getting it in your eye as you walk past.

At a cocktail or wine'n' cheese party, save all the little sticks and bring them back for reuse at home as toothpicks.

When you buy toys, telephones, radios, batteries, etc, don't throw away the instructions that come with them, however incomprehensible and unhelpful they may be. Keep them in a drawer to produce at Christmas time - by shuffling and dealing them, you can make a splendid party game in which the players read out selected bits from their instruction leaflets and the others have to guess what the instructions are for]

When you bring home holiday snaps from being developed, don't write just the names of the people in them on the back. Write down what you thought at the time about whether the photos were a faithful reflection of the holiday or not.

If you have flowers in pots in your kitchen, stand them underneath the plate rack at washing-up time. That way, you'll never have to water them.

Don't pour away those half-finished bottles of tonic or soda water that have gone flat. Use the liquid for making ice cubes.

Always keep pips from grapefruit, oranges, satsumas and so on. Dried out, they make very good kindling.

If you run out of candles and can't think where to get some in a hurry, Roman Catholic churches often have a very good, reasonably priced supply.

When you lose two or three cards from a playing-card pack, don't abandon the rest. Use them as bookmarks, window scrapers on icy mornings, etc. And it's a great idea to keep a few in your wallet or handbag, so that when someone gives you their card, you can say, 'Here, have one of mine', and hand them the seven of clubs]