Thursday, 31 December 2009

To sum up

How was your Christmas? Ours was quiet. There were no shocks, no bad news, and no drama. We spent the actual day watching DVDs and then playing games with a friend who came over in the evening. We've visited friends and played "elf delivery service" to their children.

I've spent the last few days feeling grateful for the good things in my life. 2009 has been a hard year for many people. We haven't come through it unscathed, but I don't care. A bad year doesn't define who we are. So what if I'm still not pregnant, or that DH is unemployed? I can still count my blessings. I have a wonderful husband, a loving family and good friends who are almost family. I have a job that pays the bills, a car that works, a roof over my head, hundreds of books to read and a stash of yarn. What more could a girl want?

OK, ok, there are a few things (including the 2 I've already mentioned), but they aren't things that necessarily cost money. And most are within my ability to deliver to myself. They are things that cost time and effort. I'd still like to be able to converse with the Client's staff in their own language (French). I'd like my top C-sharp back ([cough] even B-flat would be nice [cough]). And I'd like to be fit enough to run a half marathon. Maybe that should be my list of New Year's Resolutions?

In an average year, at about this time, I'd have a list of New Year's Resolutions as long as your arm. I think in my best (worst?) year I had a list of 35 Resolutions. This year, I really only have one: to act thoughtfully throughout 2010. That way, if I'm going to be a b*tch about something, then at least I'll have worked out the consequences first. :o)

Seriously, though, "acting thoughtfully" encompasses working towards my goals, being kind to people and being conscientious about my commitments. If I do that, then I will be a better person than I am now, and I will be happier with my life (not that I'm unhappy now, but you know what I mean, don't you?). And I will achieve the things I want to achieve. May the same be true for you.

Happy New Year my friends. During the Havdalah ceremony to close the Sabbath each week, Jews wish each other "Shavu'a Tov: 'a good week, a week of peace, may gladness reign and joy increase.'" For 2010, I would like to wish us all A Good Year. A year of peace. May gladness reign in your hearts and joy in your lives.

- Pam

Monday, 21 December 2009

An open letter

To Wokingham District Council AND Reading Borough Council,

Why the F*** didn't you grit the roads?????

Why did it take me two and a half hours to go the 600 metres from the office car park to the bypass? It didn't need to. It wouldn't have if you had done the sensible thing and gritted the roads. It's not as if you didn't have sufficient time before rush hour - it has been snowing steadily since 11am this morning. And you were told this morning that snow would fall.

You didn't even grit the Bypass! Or the King's Road. These are the major roads in your area. Thousands of people travel on them every hour. I'm just grateful that the motorways are maintained by the Highways Agency, so that when I finally got to the M4, I could actually drive at more than 10 miles an hour.

Honestly, you are both a disgrace. The local ambulance service has publicly chastised Reading for not gritting the pavements in the Town Centre; they have had a huge number of call outs due to slips and falls on the ice.


- Pam

Friday, 18 December 2009

Geek humour

I heard this on Lime & Violet and thought it was just too good not to share:-


- Pam

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Something turned up yesterday

DH was reading my blog last night while I was getting ready for choir practice. "Click on the link," I said, "so you'll know what the book looks like".

So he did. "Oh! That book."

"What do you mean: 'That book'?" I demanded.

"Nothing," innocent voice. "It looks familiar, that's all."

I go upstairs to brush my teeth. Three minutes later, I return to the lounge and a certain book is lying innocently on the couch. Guess who had "tidied" it away?

- Pam

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Missing: One Book

Where the hell is it? I've been through the house THREE times and I can't find my copy of Knitting Classic Style by Veronik Avery. I haven't a clue where it's gone. Nor can I find my working copy (a photocopy) of the pattern I want to make from it. I've looked everywhere!

I'm sure there is a black hole in this house where books I want to read go to hide. Considering that this is a house full of books, at any given moment tracking down the one I want isn't easy, but I've checked all the usual places. It isn't in the "library" (our book-shelf lined third bedroom); it isn't on the coffee table; it isn't under the coffee table; it hasn't hidden itself in one of the three stacks of knitting magazines; it isn't hiding on or behind the stash (I've checked there too, just in case that's where the working copy is hiding); it isn't on the piano pretending to be music, or on the kitchen bookshelf pretending to be a recipe book. It isn't ANYWHERE!

I need this book. More to the point, I need a copy of the Beret Basque pattern if I am to make my MIL another one for Christmas.


How do you tempt a book out from it's hiding place when it is clear it doesn't want to be found?

- Pam (exasperated)

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

It's my "birthday" and I'll blog if I want to

Hello, my name is Toy and I'm borrowing PipneyJane's blog. She's one of my humans. We've been together for 9 years now: me, her and the Boy (her DH). He's a nice boy - drives me quite gently, not one of those boy-racer types.

PipneyJane looks after me very well. Every 10,000 miles, she takes me to the doctors' for my checkup and servicing. When I've had bumps and bruises, she gets me repaired as quickly as possible. She's very loyal, too. We've travelled thousands of miles together and she never looks at another car. Not that way. No lusting after Porches or Fords (spit!). I'm hers and that's the way it's meant to be.

When you're a car, you don't really have birthdays - instead, you have milestones. I know PipneyJane has shown you a few of mine. Well, I've just passed a big milestone and I'd like to share it with you myself. So here you are:

200,000 miles as of 12.45am on Saturday 28th November 2009.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Playing engineer

I've told you, haven't I, that I work for a firm of engineers? A couple of months ago, I finally did the health and safety course that would allow me to walk the building site at Site. I've walked the site a couple of times since then. It's interesting seeing where all the money has gone and identifying those components for which I actually remember the vendor invoices. (Not many - we've had almost 6000 invoices since we started.)

Last time, I went out with two of the cost engineers - one is an accountant by training, the other a quantity surveyor. We wandered around and pretended we knew what we were looking at, playing engineer.

- Pam

Monday, 16 November 2009

Giving thanks where thanks is due

A big thank you to:
Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo (Hello Jason Isaacs!)
Lime & Violet
Never Not Knitting
for keeping me sane on my 230+mile drive to Site this evening. Your podcasting efforts are much appreciated. It was a very long and boring trip, which would have been much worse without you to keep me company. How long and boring? Well, suffice to say that I got through THREE episodes of Lime & Violet after I turned onto the M1 and they run to almost an hour and a half.

- Pam (who had to spend the morning at her regular office and didn't escape until 3pm)

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Touching base

For the first time in what feels like weeks, I've got the house to myself. DH has gone up to Town* to meet up with a friend. I had been looking forward to my alone time immensely, but when it finally arrived, I didn't know what to do with myself. There is nothing to watch on the telly. I don't want to watch the downloads on the laptop without DH in case there is something he'd like to see. And it's taken me two hours to drag myself out of my inertia and start blogging.

So, what has been happening? Last week can be summarised as two concerts, an NFL match, two deaths and a funeral. It was a busy, draining and highly emotional week. I'll write about the football later - there are photos to post, when I can find the camera - and much fun to describe, but I did want to say "Amy, got your email; I'm glad the program I posted to you arrived so quickly".

The concerts were Spandau Ballet at the NEC in Birmingham, and Fleetwood Mac at Wembley Arena. Again, I'll talk about them later. It is difficult to create a coherent post that ties together, when I really want to talk about the other things that happened last week.

I got a text message on Monday morning: P's mum finally passed away on Sunday after a years of battling with osteoporosis and, more recently, "chronic" breast cancer. She was 89 and, I think, had lived a long happy life, although the last few years had been filled with pain and disability from the osteoporosis. Nancy broke her hip last December and never quite recovered. P nursed her at home for the last few months, providing round-the-clock care. She did her mum proud.

The other news on Monday had me in tears sitting at my desk at lunchtime. Thank God I face the window when I look at my computer screen. Andy, the husband of one my net-friends, Dianakalt, fitted and died in hospital on Sunday afternoon. (Some of you may remember Diana from the Motley Fool.) They'd only been married a couple years. He was 40 and had recently been diagnosed with a brain tumour. No one had been expecting this; not yet. His diagnosis was recent - they were evaluating him for treatment - but he was well enough to be moved from a high-dependency unit to a physical rehabilitation unit to aid his recovery from the small stroke that led to his diagnosis.

How do you comfort a friend when your only medium of contact is words on a screen? What can you say? Losing a life partner is far more devastating than almost any other death - not only do you lose the person but all of your hopes, dreams and plans for the future as well. At least in real life, you can reach out and hug. And cry together.

I have something on my needles for Diana. It'll be finished soon. That is the best I can do - a gift, made with love, to hug her when I cannot.

At Nancy's funeral on Thursday, I said a quiet prayer for Andy. I don't think Nancy would have minded. And I hugged P and shared her grief.

- Pam

* Note the capital "T" on "Town"; a hangover from an earlier era which denotes London. All other towns in this country were once referred to with a small "t"; London was the Town. (Blame my mother.)

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Still here

It's been a busy couple of weeks and I haven't had sufficient time to myself to put together any coherent thought, let alone write the posts that are floating around my brain. I think, at last count, I had six topics on my "to write about" list; I've just been too brain dead after work to string a sentence together.

On the upside (or downside, if you are our client), my work project is still growing strong and doesn't appear to have got any closer to completion than four months ago. It's entered the construction version of the "knitting black hole" (where you knit and knit and the piece your are knitting on never seems to get any longer). The current estimated completion date is nearly a year after the original one. Oops!

On the downside, DH is now officially unemployed. He was made redundant nearly two weeks ago. The parsimonious so-and-so's made him work his notice period (3 months), gave him the statutory minimum redundancy payment (£380 per year of service), and made it as difficult as possible for him to hunt for a new job. He's had more leads in the last week than he had in the preceding 3 months.

Oh, and I went to the Knit & Stitch Show at Alexandra Palace two weeks ago with BBAW* and was very restrained. I somehow managed to fritter away the money in my purse, but I came away with almost no new yarn. I did buy a skein of Buffalo Gold #4 directly from Ron Miskin (who's family owns the firm), and picked up 3 mill-end skeins of Colinette's Jitterbug from a basket on the Colinette stand. For £2 a skein, instead of the usual £9.74, I got enough for a three pairs of socks (the skeins weigh in at between 65g and 95g instead of the usual 100g). The colourways are Moss, Adonis and, I think, Turquoise, but they weren't labelled so I'm guessing a bit.

- Pam

* BBAW = Best Buddy at (former) Work. Neither of us work there now but, for four years, I got to work with one of my best and closest friends.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Autumn has started

It's cold here. The weather turned on the weekend. Yesterday was particularly brutal, with cold radiating through the office walls. Here is this morning's message from the Facilities Manager:

Just a quick note to let you know that the heating system has failed due to a defective pressure switch and we are urgently attempting to source a replacement part. As soon as we have it the engineer will be back to fix it.
Hopefully this will be today.


I really have tried to switch the heating on. It's not my fault that it isn't working - it's broken. STOP NAGGING ME!

- Pam

Sunday, 27 September 2009

This gardening lark is harder than it looks

If it was 1942 and we were reliant on the produce from our garden to get through the lean rationing years, then I think we'd starve. This has been a far from successful year for my gardening. I'm not sure what I did wrong, although I'll make some guesses. Feel free to contribute.

The onions and the garlic

At the start of March, I bought a bag of 100 onion sets. I planted out 50 in April, which was a bit late but it was the first weekend when it wasn't raining. By mid August, the "flags" (the onion leaves) had fallen over and died off, so I unearthed them. Out of 50, less than half survived. Of those that survived, the majority were smaller than a golf ball. I really don't know what I did wrong - they were watered every night that it didn't rain.

The garlic were cursed from the start. I bought three starter-bulbs (what do you call them?) at the same time as I bought the onion sets. I had to bin most of the cloves before I planting out - they were covered in mould. Instead, I planted out some sprouting garlic that I had in the veggie basket. From 12 cloves, I have just unearthed 5 marble sized bulbs of garlic.

Did I plant the onions and garlic out too late? Was that the problem? Or didn't they get enough water, even though they got 2-3 watering cans worth every night?

Broad Beans

I know I planted the broad beans out too late. From the first batch of seeds in April, I got one seedling. The seeds were old. So in early May, I started again and planted them out 3 weeks later. In early June, we got the big invasion of black fly - at the first sign, I got online and ordered ladybird larvae.

The larvae arrived over a week later. From the look of things, most were dead before they got here. We carefully decanted them onto the broad beans, but the damage had been done. We got maybe a dozen beans from the crop. (Two years ago, I planted out the same number of bean plants and got a couple of pounds of beans.)

I'm going to try potting up some broad bean seeds now and over-wintering them covered in fleece. Maybe that will work and beat the black fly?

The courgettes

I mentioned earlier in the year that only one courgette survived (the other was snipped off at ground level by some nasty bug). For a long time, I thought the plant wouldn't survive. It just sat there for weeks with two or three small leaves and didn't get any bigger. Finally, it came good but unlike the first time I grew courgettes when they started cropping in June, this one didn't commence cropping until the start of August!

The sweetcorn

Eight corn survived planting out and grew. Six of them formed cobs. I managed to harvest three. I caught a fox eating the rest!

The potatoes

I had high hopes for these. We finished earthing up at the end of June and they had a healthy crop of leaves growing until a couple of weeks ago, when they started dying back. Tonight, DH and I unearthed our crop. Twenty potatoes. None larger than the palm of my hand and most of them smaller than a golf ball. What did I do wrong?

Fennel and pumpkin

I thought I got the timing for the fennel spot on, since I planted it out the day after they told me to on Gardeners' World. From two 18-inch drills of seeds, I got two seedlings and, nearly three months later, neither is more than three inches high.

The pumpkin is even worse, so doesn't deserve a section on its own. [sigh]

- Pam (So what did I do wrong?)

Friday, 25 September 2009

Showing off the shopping from I-Knit London Weekender

There is a new love in my life - Blacker Designs Blue Faced Leicester 4-ply. Isn't it pretty?

OK, this is the True Confessions Time where I 'fess up about what I bought at the I-Knit-London Weekender.

I didn't set out to buy yarn, really I didn't. My shopping list was a copy of Alice Starmore's new book, a swift and a ball-winder, if I could find one. (I succeeded.) I was quite happy wandering around looking, touching and not buying. And then I stumbled upon the Blacker Designs booth. Blacker Designs are also known as The Natural Fibre Company (when they spin yarns for others). Earlier this year, they very kindly sent me 20-or-so 2-gallon ziplock bags, which are virtually unobtainable here. So when I saw the stall, I popped over to say "Thank You" in person.

I was chatting when the Blue Faced Leicester caught my eye and wheedled its way into my stash. Earlier, when I was queuing to get in, I'd been chatting with a staffer from The Knitter Magazine, who showed me a preview copy of Issue 10. The Blue Faced Leicester spoke to me and told me that it would be perfect for the cover sweater.

I dashed off to find the girl from The Knitter and begged her to tell me the yarn requirements for the cover sweater (called Virginia (rav-link)). The pattern said 10 x 50g balls plus 2 for the beret. Back at Blacker Designs, I told my contact "I'll take 14 balls. The pattern calls for 12, so I'll have two insurance skeins". The yarn diet was broken.

Of course, once you've broken a diet, you binge. Don't you? I was enchanted by Angel Lace by It was soft and silky and they had a beautiful stole on display made from it. Next thing I knew, it made its way into my stash together with a copy of the Jessica Stole pattern.

My final purchase is all Annie Modesitt's fault. I know she didn't deliberately do it, but Annie is a Yarn Pusher. In class, we had to do a provisional crochet cast on. Annie provided the scrap yarn, a yard or so of Fiberspates' Scrumptious in a gorgeous charcoal colour. Yarn lust gripped me. I had to have some.

I left the show soon afterwards, before any more damage could be done.

- Pam

Saturday, 19 September 2009


It's all Ted Egan's fault.

Or maybe you could blame Howard. He gave me a copy of The Dish for my birthday, which I watched with DH and was stunned when I discovered that DH had never heard Russell Morris sing "On the Wings of An Eagle" before. That lead to me buying the movie's soundtrack as a download off Amazon, which lead to a further "I wonder if I can find...." session, where I looked for more obscure tracks. It was then that I purchased Ted Egan's A Town Like Alice album.

Maybe you can lay the blame further back, on the shoulders of the coach driver who played A Town Like Alice constantly on the school Central Australia trip, all the way from Port Augusta to Ayers Rock and then on to Alice Springs.

Me? I'll stick with blaming Ted.

Anyway, there I was driving back from Site a couple of weeks ago, when Ted Egan began singing about John McDouall Stuart dying at his sister's house in London, a few miles from where I sat stuck in traffic. Stuart is one of Australia's greatest explorers, the man who successfully mapped the route south to north across the heart of Australia, from Port Augusta in South Australia to what is now Darwin. Apart from the highway named after him, I knew nothing about him until I sat listening to Ted. If you asked most Australian school kids of my generation who mapped the route for the telegraph, they'd tell you, wrongly, that it was Burke & Wills. In fact, it was John McDouall Stuart.

Consumed with a sense of sadness that Stuart died unappreciated and forgotten, miles from his beloved Australia, I decided that the only thing to do was to mount a pilgrimage to his grave. On Saturday, I dragged DH down to Kensal Rise Cemetery to lay a branch from a gum tree on Stuart's grave.

It was the best that I could do. You can't get wattle, or Sturt's desert pea, or bottle-bush around here, and a European flower just wouldn't have been fitting.

We stood there silently for a couple of minutes, paying our respects. I hope, somewhere, Stuart knows.

- Pam

PS: When doing my research to find Stuart's grave, I was pleased to discover that some people haven't forgotten him. The John McDouall Stuart Society ensures that he isn't forgotten.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

I-Knit London Weekend

How do you distill two busy days into a single post? I've been asking myself that since Sunday. Friday and Saturday, I spent at the I-Knit London Weekend at the Royal Horticultural Hall in central London. Since Sunday, I've tried to make sense of it all.

In summary: I did 5 classes; met a couple of very nice teachers; spoke to several very nice knitters; walked across St James' Park in the dark; blew my budget; fondled a lot of yarn; purchased a ball winder and swift; blew my budget; bought a couple of books; broke my yarn diet; bought a multi-size pack of Knitpicks DPNs; and (did I tell you?) blew my budget. So, where to start?


I did 5 classes: two with Annie Modesitt, two with Alice Starmore and one with Marjan Hammink a.k.a. Yarnissima.

Alice Starmore is a lovely, soft spoken, gracious Scottish lady, with an innate sense of colour and an appreciation of the history of her craft and her people. Alice's first class was about fair-isle knitting techniques, but it was far more than just learning how to knit two colours in the same row. We talked about fair-isle garment construction, changing colours, using both your right hand and your left to hold different colours of yarn. Alice showed us steeking and discussed techniques for setting a steek, picking up stitches from the steek, and finishing off the cut edges. The choice of yarn is one key to success - the traditional wool is soft, springy and felts a little when it is first washed.

Alice's second class was about her design influences. She talked about the history of the Isle of Lewis, including her own family history, and her love for her island and her craft. She talked about her own design history, the patterns and the yarn line that she now runs (both of which can be brought directly from her website). Next birthday, I want my present to be one of her kits.

There is a core of steel to Alice Starmore - she is a fierce defender of her land, fighting to protect the ecology of the island from developers. However, she was very gracious to me and to the rest of my class, signing copies of her books (including my pre-publication copy of her Book of Fair-Isle Knitting) and posing for photos.

(Me and Alice Starmore.)

Thanks to the Yarn Thing podcast, I've listened to Annie Modesitt talk about designing and book publishing several times. each time, I've found myself nodding along in agreement, so I was curious to meet the person behind the voice. I am very impressed. Annie is lovely: warm, friendly and very welcoming. After six hours of teaching, she was still as interested in her subject and her students as she was at the beginning.

I learned so many techniques, I'm not sure I could list them all. Annie is an amazing teacher and a thinking knitter's knitter. She didn't tell us to "do X because that gives you Y", Annie explained why X works and what would happen if you chose to do Z or T instead.

My world is richer for the six hours I spent in her class; I hope that I get the opportunity to take another Annie Modesitt class one day.

(Me and Annie Modesitt.)

The final class I did was Socks from the toe up, with the sock designer Marjan Hammink/Yarnissima. To put it bluntly, if you get the opportunity to take one of her classes, don't bother. After Alice and Annie, I was so disappointed. Yarnissima didn't teach us anything; she just handed us a worksheet to knit through. She barely spoke to us as a class and never spoke to me in person. There were no explanations of why you do something or tips and tricks to make toe-up socks better. We weren't even taught a cast-on for toe-up socks - I had to rely on the knitter next to me to cast on for me.

In 3 hours, I learned nothing from Yarnissima that I wouldn't have picked up from following a randomly chosen toe-up-sock knitting pattern. It was so bad that I've written to Gerrard and Craig, the guys behind I-Knit London, and told them exactly what I've just told you. (I also thanked them for a lovely weekend and raved about Annie and Alice.)

I haven't got time to talk about the rest of the weekend, right now. It's after 11pm here, I'm really tired and I need to go to bed. Can I leave you with a one word summary? It was brilliant!

- Pam

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Football, meat pies, kangaroos and Holden cars

Well, not quite, but that was one of the more memorable advertising jingles from my childhood.

Being an Australian, life is all about sport. I love this time of year: the cricket season is not quite over; the English Premier League (soccer) season started a month ago; the NFL season starts tomorrow (go Pats!); and the Aussie Rules season has reached the semi-finals (Come On the Bulldogs!). All my favourite sports are being played and I'm lapping them up.

Today, I used the BBC's website to follow the progress of the One Day International cricket match, England vs Australia at the Rose Bowl in Southampton. The Aussies outclassed the English at our "national religion" and are now 3:0 up in the series. Revenge for the English winning the Ashes at the end of last month.

Tonight, I watched England qualify for the World Cup in South Africa next year. They beat Croatia, 5:1, in a match at Wembley. They played better than I have seen them in a long time (until recently, England played as a collection of prima-donnas; tonight they played as a cohesive team). The Aussies have already qualified, so look out world! When we take a game seriously, we don't stop until we are world champions.

Also tonight, DH and I finished picking our teams for a fantasy NFL game. I've chosen several New England Patriots players so that I have someone to yell abuse at when they play at Wembley next month. That's the entire logic of my team.

Heaven! Now, if only I could find out the date for the annual Australian Rules Exhibition Football Match at the Oval, I'd be really happy.

- Pam

PS: The guys I work with can't quite believe that this girly-girl who knits is a sports fan.

Apologies if you're eating, but...

I needed to get this rant off my chest.

I work with one of the most disgusting women alive. I don't know who she is, but she regularly blocks one of the toilets in the main Ladies Loo in this building. It's been going on for years. We call her "The Phantom Toilet Stuffer". Of course, she doesn't report the problem to Establishment so the first they know about it is when someone finds it and phones them. (We aren't sure if she's the same woman who used to leave the toilet seat layered in toilet paper, or not. That phase only lasted a month or so.)

She isn't subtle about it, either. Frequently, there is "debris" left in the toilet bowl. Today was the worst yet. Faeces everywhere. EEWWWW!!!!

How can someone live like that? Surely she must know the mess that she's leaving behind? AARRGGGHHHH!

- Pam (Used to work on the Bowel Ward and never saw anything as disgusting as this.)

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Hobby versus Activity

What defines whether an activity is a hobby or just "something you do"? I was musing on that this morning, when I was writing up my latest sock on Ravelry. Knitting is my hobby, but so is crochet, needlepoint, cross-stitch, gardening, cooking, singing, and most recently candle-making and jam-making. Or are they? What makes a hobby a hobby? Where is the dividing line?

Is it when you cross the line from focussing on the outcome to enjoying the process? I love to cook. I enjoy the process as well as (usually) the product that results. Sometimes, though, cooking is just a chore, particularly after work: I'm hungry, I'm tired, and I want to eat something now. At other times, I potter in the kitchen, chopping and stirring, experimenting with flavours. Then I'm enjoying the process as well as the product. It amuses me, the men who list "cooking" as a hobby - after a hard day at work, their wives are probably standing in a dirty kitchen contemplating the washing up AND trying to figure out what for dinner in as rapid a fashion as possible. Do they view cooking as hobby? In those circumstances, probably not.

I think, earlier this year, gardening crossed the line from something I had to do (to tame the wilderness around here), through something I wanted to do (I've always wanted a vegetable garden), to something where I enjoy the process for the process's stake. Surely that is what makes it a hobby?

There are some hobbies that I haven't done in years. I haven't deliberately ignored them, more "bad light stopped play" and circumstances intervened. If the tidiness gremlins could tell me where I can find the needlepoint of Simpson's Gap, I'd appreciate it. I have the correct green for the gum tree now.

My most recent additions to the hobby repertoire are jam making and candle making. (My jam adventures will get their own post shortly.) I started making candles after trying fruitlessly to find citronella candles to burn in the kitchen to deter flies coming in while I cooked. I've made 3 citronella candles so far. I'd make more and different colours, etc, but I've had to rely on microwave soy wax - I've been searching charity shops for the last year for a double-boiler without success. Double-boilers virtually do not exist in this country, whether brand new or second hand. Yes, I started candle-making out of necessity but I enjoy the process as well as the product. I think that's another score for Hobby!

- Pam

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

It always makes me cry

Virtually every week, the people of Wootton Bassett stop what they are doing and line their main street, in order to pay their respects to the latest British soldiers to die in Afghanistan and be repatriated home. They are the closest town to the air force base where the bodies are flown.

(If the video link doesn't work, it is here on the BBC website.)

It started with one man, an ex-soldier who noticed a military funeral cortege passing through the village, walked to the curb and stood to attention. It has grown to encompass the whole village and any visitors. The BBC cover it faithfully. And it always makes me cry.

Lest we forget.

- Pam

Friday, 14 August 2009

A Not So Frugal Confession for Frugal Friday

"Hello. My name is Pam and I am addicted to Yarn."

No, I'm not out of control yet. My love of all things wool-related doesn't mean that we can't afford food (but don't count on it if I go near the Quiviut…..). And we can still pay the bills. It's just that I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that I have stash issues. Over the last few months, I've been photographing and logging my stash in Ravelry. It's brought home just how much yarn I really have. The problem is not so much that I'm a hoarder, I think it's that my knitting ambitions far outstrip my abilities!

I thought I had it all pretty much under control: a handful of skeins of sock yarn; some alpaca I'd purchased at a show; the Heathland Hebridean kit DH gave me for Christmas; the white Corrodale I bought to make him a sweater; some leftovers from other projects; a couple of projects-worth for summer tops I'd planned to make this year.

Then, a couple of months ago, I decided to get serious and use Ravelry for the purpose for which it was designed: as a tool to log my stash, my patterns and my projects. The results are a revelation. And a shock!


I have 55 different yarns in my stash. FIFTY FIVE YARNS! And there are one or two yarns that haven't made it onto Ravelry yet. OK, 25 are sock yarns and, usually, 1 skein each, but still.... That is one hell of a lot of yarn.

It started with shows. I've spent most of my knitting time in isolation, without a yarn shop for miles, so for a while I'd keep a list of the projects I wanted to knit and their yarn requirements and buy when I got to a shop or went to a show. (All reasonable behaviour.) Then a couple of years ago, the list ran out, so I started buying projects-worth of yarn when I saw something I fancied that I could afford at a show (the 700g of DK alpaca that in total cost less than £35 falls into this category). At each show, I'd buy something: a bargain; a rare wool; something I wouldn't see in a regular yarn shop. Even so, I thought I could handle it.

I was given gift vouchers to an on-line yarn shop. Problem: you could only use one voucher per purchase and I had been given 5 x £10. Generally, I prefer to buy yarn that I've fondled in real life. The exception is sock yarn, because it isn't a total disaster if one skein turns out to be not what I was expecting. Result: I spent them all on skeins of sock yarn.

Things snowballed a bit, so last year at the I-Knit-London Day, I came home with a haul of yarn: the 20 balls of Corrodale, the sweater kit that DH bought (and immediately hid from me until Christmas), 100g/1000 yards of heavy lace-weight cashmere (a lace cardigan's worth, hopefully), two skeins of Wagtail Mohair. That's 4 sweater's worth of yarn in my book.

Then in March, I got a bit carried away when Black Sheep Wools had a sale of Sublime's Angora DK. I ended up buying 3 sweater's worth in 3 different colourways (blue, pink and white). A bit extreme, but it was less than £2 a ball and sooo soft! I tell myself that if the first colour (giggle pink) I'd bought had been exactly what I wanted, I may have stopped with one, but I couldn't decide....

That was followed in June, when I got an email from Australia: Morris & Sons were having a sale. The lovely Cleckheaton Country 12-ply I'd bought to finish off the Must Have Cardigan was going for £14 a bag! Two bags of black were in my shopping cart and purchased before you could sing "Advance Australia Fair". It's currently on a ship, somewhere between here and Sydney, hopefully with the packet of Arnott's Mint Slices I requested.

No wonder I can't shut the stash!

I've already decided that this has to stop. I can't continue buying yarn and not using it up. So I hereby vow the following:-

With the exception of the Rowan Cocoon for which I have a project planned, I, Pipney-Jane, will not buy any more yarn until August 2010. I will only buy the Cocoon if I can find it for less than £6 a ball AND I have finished DH's sweater (not yet cast on).

This will be hard. I have two yarn shows on the horizon this autumn: the I-Knit London Day and the Knit & Stitch Show at Alexandra Palace. Wish me luck.

- Pam

PS: Yes, sock yarn counts.

PPS: It's not all in Ravelry - I'm about 98% done, but so far, the grand totals are:-

24 Different Sock Yarns, inc:
5 leftovers from socks
2 "fillers" for socks (used for feet)
21 sweaters' worth, inc
2 WIPs
6 destined for tanks/t-shirts/tops
1 sweater for DH

And quite a few odd balls, potential scarves, leftovers, etc.

Monday, 3 August 2009

An Opera was Attended

Yesterday evening, DH and I went to the opera at Glyndebourne, as guests of some old friends who are members of the Festival Society, which guarantees them access to the much sort after tickets. It was a magical evening.

is the original country house opera - a privately funded opera house built in the grounds of a country mansion. The audience picnic in the gardens before the production and/or during interval (interval length depends on the number of acts in the opera. Last night, our interval lasted over an hour). Everyone is in black tie - the men wear tuxedos and the women cocktail dresses.

Paul and Shelagh provided the food and we provided the drinks (Pimms, chardonnay, Schloer for the drivers). No other drink typifies an English summer more than Pimms!

Here is a shot of our hosts:

And one of me and DH:

Yes, it was cold after the sun went down.

Last night's production was Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore. The story line is pretty basic: boy loves girl above his social station; girl doesn't care for him but teases him unmercifully; boy decides to give girl cold shoulder; girl get engaged to someone else to teach boy a lesson; eventually girl declares her love for boy and all live happily ever after. The plot doesn't really matter, though - the music is beautiful. Glyndebourne updated the staging to the 1940's, with the hero acting as an electrician.

I haven't been to the opera for at least 4 years (since the last time Paul and Shelagh invited us to Glyndebourne). This time, we enjoyed it so much that I've put my name down on the waiting list for associate membership. I wish I'd done it earlier - only 15 years to wait. :o)

- Pam

Monday, 27 July 2009

All done bar the shouting

Congratulate me. I've finally sewn up the Refined Aran Jacket and sewn on the buttons. Now to block it and photograph it.

- Pam (Procrastinators'r'Us)

Tuesday, 21 July 2009


I'm still lusting after the moussaka I cooked for dinner last night and had again for lunch today. It was scrummy(!!!) so I thought I'd share.

My recipe is based on one from the Greek Cookbook by Tess Mallos, which I bought in a secondhand bookshop in Melbourne in 1997. I've modified it a little - the original uses a white sauce, whereas mine uses plain yoghurt.

Lamb Moussaka - serves 4-6


2-3 Aubergines/eggplants, sliced 1/4 inch thick
500g/1lb minced/ground lamb
1 large onion, chopped
2 large cloves of garlic, crushed
150-200g/6-8oz mushrooms, sliced (optional)
1 x 400g/14oz can chopped tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato puree/paste
1/2 cup of red wine
1/4 teaspoon cinamon
1 teaspoon sugar
300ml (approx half a pint) of plain yoghurt
2oz/50g freshly grated parmisan cheese or very strong cheddar
2 eggs
Olive oil

  1. Pre-heat the grill/broiler. Lightly grease a large baking tray and cover it with aubergine slices. If possible, try to keep it to a single layer. Brush the top of each slice with olive oil. Grill/broil for 30 minutes, turning at half time. The aubergine should be soft and browned.
  2. Meanwhile, prepare the other ingredients.
  3. Heat a frying pan or large pot. Crumble in the lamb and dry fry until browned. Stir in the garlic, onion and mushrooms, if using, and fry in the lamb fat until the onions have gone clear and the mushroom "water" has evaporated.
  4. Stir in the chopped tomatoes, tomato puree, cinnamon, sugar and wine. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 30-45 minutes or until the sauce is thick.
  5. When the sauce and aubergine are ready, preheat the oven to 180C.
  6. Line a lasagne dish with a layer of aubergine. Check out how much you have left - is it half or two-thirds? If it is half, pour all the sauce over the first layer and cover with the remaining aubergine. If it is two-thirds, pour half the sauce over the first layer of aubergine, cover with a second, pour over the rest of the sauce and cover with a final layer.
  7. In a bowl or jug, beat the eggs together then stir in the yoghurt until thoroughly combined. Grate over some nutmeg - 5 rubs of the nutmeg over the grater should do. Stir it in.
  8. Carefully pour the yoghurt mixture over the contents of the lasagne dish (it tends to run off the sides!). Try to get an even coverage. Sprinkle over the cheese.
  9. Bake for an hour, then let sit for 10 minutes before serving to firm up.

  • If you keep Kosher, use a soy-based fake yoghurt instead of the plain yoghurt and forget about the cheese. That works well.
  • Jewish cookery writer, Evelyn Rose, in the Jewish Cronicle, suggested using coconut milk mixed with eggs as a non-dairy substitute for the traditional white sauce I've not tried this variation, but she said it made a rich topping which brought out the sweetness of the lamb.
  • The recipe book suggests using courgettes/zucchini instead of aubergine. Yet another way of using up a glut of zukes.
- Pam

Sunday, 19 July 2009

On the cusp

I'm on the cusp of a new project but I'm out of knitting bags. The Refined Aran Cardigan is essentially finished; the Must Have Cardigan is essentially finished; both are in pieces and just need to be sewn up. I'm refusing myself permission to cast on until I've got both of those sewn up. They're taking up valuable knitting bag space. I can't even start the swatch until they're out of the way.

I used to be a product knitter. Although I loved the process, knitting was essentially about the garments I wanted to wear. When I finished something, I couldn't wait to sew it up so that I could wear it. It was Rule One: don't cast on something else until the current project is sewn up.

Not any more. Sometime in 2006, it all changed. I blame the Yarn Harlot. Until I started reading her blog, I used to only ever have one project on the needles at a time. Somehow, she gave me "permission" to have multiple projects and, from then on, it was all about the process. I still want to knit specific garments, but once Rule One was broken, there was no going back. I now have a stock pile of "Waiting to Sew Up" garments.

I have to reinstate Rule One. I can't go on like this. Besides.... I don't have any more knitting bags!

- Pam

(This isn't to say that I don't have any knitting I can do. There is always my handbag sock-in-progress, and my "travel knitting" project. What? I haven't told you about that one? Later...)

Tuesday, 14 July 2009


I've "lost" Ravelry. Has anyone else had this problem, recently?

I'd just finished writing up one of my current projects, complete with notes on gauge and sizing, went to save it and lost the whole thing! Then I clicked on the other Ravelry tab I had open, to see if I'd saved anything and that crashed too. Tried again, off and on for the next hour without success.

It's back now but only intermittently. Naturally, I'VE LOST EVERYTHING!

- Pam (Not best pleased)

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Dear Costco

Please tell me why the bag of garlic I purchased came all the way from China. Why didn't it come from Evesham, or somewhere in Europe? Even Gilroy is closer to here than China. Surely you've heard of food miles? Is the cheapness of the product worth the additional cost to the environment of shipping it in from so far away?

If you have to ship stuff in from the far side of the world, couldn't you ship in stuff we can't get easily get here like Nutrageous or cinamon toothpaste or Violet Crumbles? At least there'd be some justification for those.

- Pam (doubt I'll renew my membership)

Tuesday, 7 July 2009


A couple of weeks ago, we scored 6 x 100g balls of organic buffalo mozzarella cheese for 70p a ball, approximately half price. My first thought was "pizza!" followed by "lasagna". Four of the balls went straight into the freezer. The other two languished in the fridge until the Friday, when I made my first pizza for nearly 6 years.

That's right. I haven't made a pizza since we moved into this house, mainly because my gas-hob-electric-ovens stove isn't wired in. Our only working oven is a combination microwave-convection oven and I'd never considered it as a pizza oven. With DH's encouragement, though, I thought I'd have a go. After all, what's the worst that could happen? We could always phone out for a takeaway.

Turns out, the dough recipe is engraved on my brain (just as well - I don't have the magazine I got it from). So was the tomato sauce recipe. Even more surprising, the ancient freeze-dried instant yeast still worked (use by date October 2001).


Make the tomato sauce while the pizza dough is rising. It needs to be cool before you dress the pizza.

Pizza Dough Recipe (makes sufficient for two pizzas)


2.5 cups strong flour (I used wholemeal)
1 cup of tap water
1 sachet instant yeast
Pinch of salt
Olive oil


  1. In a food processor, combine the flour, the salt and the yeast granules.
  2. Through the feeding tube, gradually add the water until the dough forms a ball. Note: you may not need all the water - it depends on the ambient humidity.
  3. Flour a pastry board or the kitchen worktop. Turn the dough out onto the board and knead by hand for a minute or so.
  4. Oil a large bowl. You can use spray oil or pour in a teaspoon or so of oil and swish it round.
  5. Place the dough in the bowl, turning it over until it is covered in oil (this stops it getting hard on top). Cover with a tea-towel and place somewhere warm and draft free to rise.
  6. When the dough has doubled in size (in approximately an hour), "knock it back": punch the middle of the dough to release the accumulated gasses and knead it for a minute.
  7. Cover again with the tea-towel and set the dough aside for its second rising.
  8. Repeat step 6. This time, though, after kneading the dough divide it into two and form into balls. If you are only making one pizza, pop the second ball into an oiled plastic bag and freeze.
  9. Flour your pastry board again and a rolling pin. Roll out the dough until it fits your designated pizza dish (I used to use a rectangular cookie sheet with a small lip, now I have a round one). Gently ease the dough into the pizza dish and leave it to rise for 20 minutes or so.
The dough freezes well. Defrost it in the fridge, then follow step 9 above.

Pizza sauce (makes enough for two pizzas)


1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, finally chopped
2-3 cloves of garlic, crushed
2 x 400g/14 oz cans of chopped tomatoes
1 bay leaf
2-3 black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon of sugar
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1 tablespoon tomato puree/paste


  1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Gently fry the onion and garlic until the onion is transparent but not coloured.
  2. Add the remaining ingredients. Bring to the boil and simmer for at least half an hour or until thick.
  3. Remove the bay leaf, switch off the hob and allow the sauce to cool.
  4. If the sauce is too chunky for your liking, liquidize it to suit.
The sauce freezes well and can be used for pasta.

Assembling the Pizza

While the dough is rising in the pizza dish, prepare your other ingredients. We usually use a drained can of tuna, some salted anchovy fillets, sliced peppers and an equal mix of grated cheddar and shredded mozzarella cheeses.

If you like mushrooms on your pizza, you'll need to prepare them a day or two in advance. Slice the mushrooms thinly and let them dry out as much as possible, otherwise your pizza will drown in the liquid they release.

Preheat the oven to 250C.

Thinly spread the pizza sauce on the freshly risen dough in the pizza dish. Layer over your other ingredients.

Place the pizza on the top shelf in the hot oven and bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until cooked.

Serve. Yum!

- Pam

Monday, 6 July 2009

A small victory

The other place I went to on Friday was Ikea. It was a long overdue visit in search of storage containers.

In the corner of my bedroom was a corner of shame. A corner of clothes piled high because there was nowhere else to put them, in front of a wardrobe bursting at the seams. I could only open one wardrobe door because of the clothes. Not any more. Behold the corner of my bedroom:

The boxes are Sortera by Ikea. I spent several hours on Saturday morning sorting out the mess, unearthing clothes I'd forgotten about, folding and organising them. I delved into the bottom of the wardrobe, unearthed and paired up shoes I haven't worn in months. The bottom box is shoes, the middle two are sweaters (casual on the bottom, work wearable above) and the top one holds jeans, shorts and my tracksuit.

DH helped me move the bureau slightly, to create a little more space. Result: for the first time in years, I can open both the wardrobe doors and access its deepest recesses.

Part of my long term plan is to sort out our wardrobe space (DH's is on the other side of the chimney). We're still using the built-ins that a previous owner installed. They aren't deep enough - you can't slide coat-hangers past the upright between the doors. My wardrobe is deceptively small, about two-thirds the size of its exterior - the outside is 40 inches wide but the inside loses 12 inches to the chimney. In theory it's floor-to-ceiling, but the top section contains a decorative arch, depriving me of even more space assuming I could actually reach up there. (I can't.) That needs lowering.

At the moment, the chimney holds a shelf and a mirror. I'd like to put a shoe cupboard in front of it, flush with the wardrobe doors, something along the lines of these cabinets from Ikea. And I'd like it to appear integrated into one unit with the revamped wardrobes. However, the wardrobe is another problem for another day.

For today, I'll bask in my small victory over a corner of mess.

- Pam

Friday, 3 July 2009

A Not-Quite-Shopping Day

Today, I ventured into the lion's den: I visited the shops in Oxford Street in the middle of the summer sales. I wasn't there to go shopping. I hoped to get away without spending any money. My main purpose was to collect my boots from the RM Williams shop in New Bond Street.

I'd had to send them back to Australia to be reheeled and resoled. They've come back looking brand new. I reckon they're good for another 3 years of constant wear. (The picture comes from their website. )

After RM Williams, I ventured into dangerous territory - the yarn department at John Lewis. My motive was mainly pilgrimage; for many years, John Lewis was the only place you could buy yarn in Central London. There was no-where else. Back when I worked nearby, I was a regular customer. Back then, I didn't have a stash - I didn't need one - I used to buy per project because I could always pop into John Lewis for some more.

<- cough ->

I wasn't shopping; really, I wasn't.

<- cough ->

I wanted some sock yarn in pink/blue/lavender to make some socks as a thank you for a colleague in the States who does loads of work for me. Those are her favourite colours. But I wasn't planning to buy anything else.


I found the perfect colourway in Wendy's Happy; it's called Aquarius. And then something else fell into my shopping bag. (Honest!)

Two hanks each of Mirasol's Chirapa Crystal in Spearmint and Hacho in Verde Ripple. The Mirasol was half-price in the sales. I should get a pair of socks out of each colourway. The Happy will make at least 3 pairs of socks: 2 pairs to give away and 1 pair for me.

Next, I ventured into Debenhams to replace a belt I'd received as a gift and returned (it was far too big for me). Walked in, found the belts hanging in the accessories department, picked the only one in my size, paid for it with the gift voucher I'd received for the last one and walked out within 10 minutes.

Finally, I wandered into Boots, in a vain attempt to find their clearance shelves. I've found some wonderful bargains on their clearance shelves: makeup base in my shade at 50p a bottle (bought 6); cleanser at 50p a bottle (ditto) and body lotion at 40p (bought 2). But not today. Instead, I got ambushed by an Estee Lauder saleswoman determined to sell me lipstick. I resisted, then sent her on a futile attempt to find the elusive shade of dark-red I've been tracking for years. Defeated, she let me escape.

Even with my little yarn slip-up, I think I did very well resisting the siren call of the Sales. No browsing through the sale racks. No "little purchases". No lipstick in a shade that I'd never wear.

The first law of saving money is Don't Spend It. The second law is If You Have To Spend It, Make Sure It's In Your Budget. At least, with my yarn slip-up, there was money in my Sanity fund to pay for it.

- Pam

Monday, 29 June 2009


Roll on 200,000 miles.

- Pam

Saturday, 27 June 2009

Good-bye Michael Jackson

Maybe, I'm a cynic; when the news came through on Thursday evening that Michael Jackson had been rushed to hospital with a suspected heart attack, I turned to DH and said "I wonder which drug?". Later, DH woke me at 4am to tell me that Michael died - my first thought was that his biggest mourner would be the promoter of his concert tour.

While I feel sorry for his family, friends and fans, his death leaves me pretty much indifferent and that puzzles me. I've been wondering ever since when it was that I stopped being a fan or if I ever was...

I think he lost me in the mid-1980s. It's not the music; it's never been about the music, although I was more of a rock-and-roll girl than a dance-music girl. Michael's earlier albums were full of great tunes. Maybe it was the stories circulated by the media; the image of "Wacko Jacko" has a long history. Certainly something made my skin creep and I turned against him. Perhaps it was the serial nose jobs: he was a really good-looking young man and the second nose job was totally unnecessary (I'm not really sure he needed the first).

Anyway, he's gone. And I am sorry he never had the chance to live a normal life. I'm sorry his self-image was so distorted that he resorted to the surgeon's knife in an attempt to feel better about himself. More importantly, since it's too late to save Michael, I hope whatever warped him has not warped his children. I hope they know they are loved for themselves and that they get to live a normal life.

Good-bye Michael Jackson. May you rest in peace.

- Pam


The Toy passed the 190,000 mile barrier yesterday.

It took 19 months to do the 40,000 miles since the last photo was posted. I think we'll hit 200,000 in October.

- Pam

Friday, 26 June 2009

Frugal Friday - Make Do And Mend

I was listening to episode 81 of Cast-On yesterday when Brenda Dayne read out a listener's email about the MakeDoAndMend tag in Ravelry and I thought I'd check it out. (If you have never heard of Ravelry, it's an online community/resource for knitters, crocheters and spinners. There facilities for loading pictures of projects, details of yarn stashes and needles/hooks, discussion groups, etc. Members can message knitwear designers to ask questions if they don't understand a pattern. It is an amazing resource.)

Anyway, I was stunned!

If you are looking for low-cost/frugal sources of inspiration check it out! There are links to patterns for making spiral socks out of the remnants of multi-coloured sock yarns, together with photos of dozens of examples; bags made out of recycled felted sweaters (check out Wynter's First Sweater Tote (rav link)); various rugs; and baby clothes. My favourite item is Manisha's "To Stand On Whilst Brushing Teeth Carpet" (rav link), a rug she crocheted out of strips ripped from an old duvet and some pillowslips.

Manisha was kind enough to answer some questions about the rug. The fabric was ripped into 1.5cm strips, which she zig-zagged together on the sewing machine, until she had a big pile of yarn. then she single crocheted the yarn into a rug.

I'm really tempted to make one of these. I have a couple of old sheets that are on their last legs; they're threadbare and it won't take much for them to wear through.

- Pam

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

A day out of time

6.30pm Tuesday - Arrive home. All I want to do is write. Dinner preparation gets in the way - including the inevitable "What the hell am I going to cook today?". Decide on White Fish Curry sans courgettes (they haven't grown yet). Three-quarters of an hour later, I finally get to sit down and pour out the words inside me. So, what have I got to write about?

What I did on my holiday

In his Discworld novel, Interesting Times, Terry Pratchett's character, Two Flower, causes a revolution by publishing a book about his travels in foreign lands called "What I Did On My Holidays". Mine is much less dramatic and could just as easily be titled: What I did on my anniversary, since I spent that day on holiday, three weeks ago. Only, it wasn't about celebrating the anniversary - that was coincidental - for me the day was about yarn and gardening, a long lunch with DH and a friend, and a whole lot of laughs.

I got YARN!:

More skeins of Lisa Souza's Sock! in Wild Things, Ecru and Black Purple. I collected these from the local Royal Mail Sorting Office first thing in the morning. The postman had tried to deliver them on the Tuesday but couldn't get the parcel into our letterbox.

And two bright green PRESENTS!:

I bought the blue Cascade Heritage Paints yarn from Tama via Ravelry and she surprised me by putting two skeins of her hand dyed sock yarn in the package. The colours are stunning. I was in the garden, earthing up the potatoes, when DH brought the package out. My hands were covered in dirt so I demanded he open it for me and then gawped at the yarn as it glowed. It took ages to scrub the soil off before I could touch it.

DH and I took the day off because we had audience tickets to the filming of QI. Filming started at 7pm but to guarantee our admission, we had to be queued up by 5.30pm. That would have meant leaving work mid-afternoon, so we decided to take the lazy option and stay home for the day. We met a friend for lunch on the Southbank near the studios. There are dozens of restaurants along the river bank near Royal Festival Hall, each sharing a view like this:

QI is like no other comedy program on television. The focus is not on telling jokes; QI is a quiz show hosted by Stephen Fry where the aim is not necessarily to give the right answer but to give the most interesting answer. (QI = Quite Interesting.) The four competitors are all well known actors or comedians. We had Alan Davies, Graham Norton, Dara O'Briain and David Mitchell.

It was like eavesdropping on a group of friends chatting in the pub. They talked, cracked jokes and topped each other's stories for nearly three hours.
The comedy was very gentle and affectionate. They were incredibly funny and very knowledgeable, answering questions on the theme of genius. They really enjoyed themselves and the audience. It was a brilliant end to a memorable day.

- Pam

Saturday, 13 June 2009

All gardened out

I have come to the conclusion that the purpose of gardening is the journey, not the arrival. That it was better to view the physical effort of gardening as an end in itself and to enjoy it for itself, because what gets delivered at the other end can be so damn frustrating!

Earlier this week, I planted out the broad beans. Yesterday, I earthed up the potatoes for the fourth and final time.
And today, we've spent the afternoon extending the vegetable patch.

DH did most of the hard labour: lifting turf, breaking up the hard soil below and loads of digging. Amazingly, since it's right next door, the new patch is less like heavy clay and more like real soil (I have a theory: I reckon the new patch is where the Anderson shelter was during WW2 so they shipped in soil when they filled it in, whereas the old patch is unimproved clay.)

We dug in a bag of compost, in an effort to improve things further, before planting out the sweetcorn and butternut squash I've been growing in the kitchen. Behold my cornfield, with onions behind.

The newspaper is a weed-suppression trick I read about in The Lazy Kitchen Gardener by John Yeoman. Take 3 or 4 editions of a multi-sectional newspaper, fold each section into half or into thirds then dump into a bucket of water for at least 5 minutes or until sodden. (You are making papier mache.) Lay out to form a lattice. Plant your seedlings in uncovered areas and water in well.

The newspaper eventually rots down into the soil.

The first time I attempted the newspaper-trick, I laid the newspaper down in sheets and then discovered that it is really quite tough so planting the onions through it was really quite hard. Then a couple of weeks later, I looked outside to find that some of the sheets had shifted and torn. Couldn't figure out what had happened - once dry, it forms quite a hard shell on the ground and it didn't lift up in the wind.

The cause was squirrels! About a month ago, I looked out the kitchen window one morning to see a squirrel shredding the newspaper and whisking it off to form bedding for its nest. They stole about half the newspaper I'd used to cover the old veggie patch.

- Pam

Friday, 12 June 2009

Frugal Friday - It's all in the planning

What do you think when you hear the word "frugal"? For many people, it conjures up visions of hard work: growing vegetables, making bread, patching clothes, servicing the car, building your own home etc. After all, isn't that the way frugality is portrayed in the media?

It makes good photo opportunities, but there is more to frugality (and less effort involved) than that. The Frugal Zealot, Amy Dacyczyn, split frugality into two camps: active and passive. The things I listed in the first paragraph are all examples of active frugality. Passive frugality is about not doing things: not shopping, or not upgrading your mobile phone just because a new model is on the market. I'd like to add a third category (although I'm struggling to come up with a name): semi-passive frugality. (See what I mean? Still struggling.)

Most of the time, being frugal doesn't take any more effort than not being frugal, but it does take more planning. And that is why I call it semi-passive frugality: apply a bit of forethought now and save money in the long run.
For example: imagine you are tired and late home from work. You're hungry and "Want dinner now!". Doesn't it seem so much easier to order a take-away than cook a meal from scratch? Now, imagine you had planned for this scenario and, last time you cooked a chilli you made a double batch and froze half. Instead of spending £15 on a takeaway (and having to wait 45 minutes for it to be delivered), dinner is waiting the freezer and just needs zapping in the microwave. That is semi-passive frugality.

It takes very little effort to cook a triple batch of dried beans / frying up 3 or 4 extra onions when you cook a curry and freezing them as base / preparing a double quantity of shepherd's pie/lasagne/meatloaf/nut roast, having one now and freezing the second for later on. But you have to plan for these activities so that you can take advantage of the opportunity when it arises.

Tonight, I prepared a double batch of Parsnip & Cashew Nut Roast. It took 2 minutes to peel the extra 2 parsnips and 3 seconds to select a larger onion. In a month's time, when I'm struggling to come up with dinner, I'll have it in the freezer waiting to fall back on. No more Chinese takeaway on speed-dial for me.

- Pam

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Sing as you mean to go on

Guess what I just found? A clip of a choral concert I sang in last year at the Cadogan Hall. We're singing Handel's Messiah. Enjoy.

Did you spot me? I'm third from the left at the back. You can just see a blond head behind me.

Saturday was our latest concert, Orff's Carmina Burana. The performance was amazing and I had a ball. Sadly, no recordings have come to light so far but, if I can find one, I'll post it.

- Pam

Friday, 5 June 2009

Frugal Friday - Frugal Gardening and Horse Manure

For the past three years, I've attempted to grow a vegetable garden. Last year, it was potatoes and tomatoes with a couple of pak choi and one purple sprouting broccoli; the year before, it was courgettes/zucchini, broad beans, two sweet corn, and bell peppers. My success rate has been pretty dismal - I did get broad beans but the sweet corn were still born (I didn't know, then, about how they pollinate). Something ate the leaves off the bell peppers before they'd been in the ground five minutes. The tomatoes were doing well and I was looking forward to bottling some home-made tomato sauce, until the night I came home from work to find the vines had turned black. (Like everyone-else's crops last year, they'd got blight.) Even my success-story courgettes have a one-in-three plant survival rate.

This year, I'm growing potatoes, approximately 50 onions (bought as "sets"), 12 garlic, six broad bean plants (only two planted out so far), one courgette (I planted out three), 8 or 9 sweet corn (not planted out yet - I think the 9th won't survive), and 3 butternut squash. It's raining, so no photos of the garden, but here is a shot of the "nursery" beside the big kitchen window:

Corn to the left; broad beans and butternut squash in the middle; just planted sunflower seeds to the right. The blue trays are the ones the supermarket sells mushrooms in. The clear plastic, 3-inch pots are yoghurt pots.

So far, I haven't spent a huge amount of money on this year's vegetables: I've purchased fresh corn, courgette, sunflower and broad bean seeds. (Around here, packets of seeds cost between 69p and £2.) The other seeds are survivors from last year. The onion sets were £1.95 for a bag of 100 from the shop in Kew Gardens. Whilst I was there, I spent another £1.90 on three supposedly "disease free" garlic bulbs, only to find them riddled with that grey mould when I went to plant them out. Therefore, my garlic comes from a couple of bulbs bought for cooking, which sprouted whilst I stored them in the shed. The butternut seeds were rescued from the innards of a butternut squash I used in a stew.

My main expense comes in the form of organic peat-free grow bags, which I buy for the compost they contain. At £2.46 each, they are the cheapest way I can buy a peat-free growing medium for the pots/potato tyres and they're the largest bags I can lift at the garden centre (I think each grow bag holds 40 litres of compost). On Wednesday, I lugged home four. Grow bag compost is what that seedlings are growing in.

Also on Wednesday, I purchased a packet of seeds of a variety of late summer sprouting broccoli. When the corn gets planted out on Sunday, I'll fill their blue tray with compost and try growing them. I could have bought seedlings, but they weren't that healthy.

Our soil is my biggest problem. In some places it is impregnable. (I planted a couple of lavender once, only to have one die because its roots couldn't penetrate out of the hole in which it was planted.) One of the gardening books I read suggested growing giant sunflowers because they have really tough roots which break up hard soil - sort of nature's rotavators. Hence the sunflowers I'm attempting to grow.

My other great-white-hope for our soil is our compost bin, a.k.a. The Dalek. And that is the source of today's Frugal Friday tip:

Locate your nearest stables and collect some free horse manure to compost.

Two weekends ago, we took a couple of flexi-tubs, the big fork and spade, and popped into the local stables. For a "Please Ma'am, may we raid your manure heap?", we collected enough horse manure and discarded bedding (wood shavings as well as straw) to half fill the Dalek. It cost us 15 minutes and a smile. I'm tempted to do it again, to fill the Dalek up completely, and then get a second compost bin. Heaven knows, we need the stuff!

- Pam