Thursday, 29 April 2010

And the answer is...

£64.  That's the net amount in my pocket of my pay rise each month.  Better than I thought, although not as good as it would have been if personal allowances weren't frozen this tax year (i.e. frozen at last year's level).

No, it's not going on yarn.  It's going to the joint account where it'll probably get spent on bills or builders.

- Pam (may spend a little bit on an Audible subscription, though)

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Update on BIL

I haven't told you what happened to my BIL after he was marooned in Germany due to the volcano.  The short answer is that he didn't make it to London.  He'd bought a ticket on Eurostar to travel last Wednesday, but German airspace reopened so he flew home instead.

Am I disappointed?  Yes.  I'd have loved to see him.  But I'm glad he got home safe.

- Pam


It's two days to the end of the month and I'm impatient to get paid. This month's paypacket is the first after I was told I'd received a small raise and I want to see how much that translates to after tax and NI. I know it won't be much - somewhere around £60 extra a month in my pocket. But it'd be nice to know for sure - the perfectionist in me wants precision and my old rule of thumb, that each £500 translates to £25 net a month, has been complicated by changes to the NI rates and deductions for pension contributions, the employee share scheme and me buying an extra week's holiday (won't need to do that next year - at the rate I'm not using my vacation time, I'll have 2-3 weeks' leave to roll over in September). .

If the truth be told, I'm always impatient at this time of the month. It used to be a feast-famine reaction: Payday = Money to spend. (Yay!!! Just think of the possibilities! Oops, it's all gone!) Two days before Payday = No money left = Almost broke. (Booo! Must. Have. Cash. Now!) However, over the last few months, since I got serious about micro-managing my money, I've become impatient for Payday so that I can do my accounts and work out how much further my overdraft should decrease next month. I want the virtuous reward of watching that balance go down.

In theory, I could work out my tax position and take-home-pay position for the next year, but I'm too lazy. Instead, I'm impatiently checking our electronic payslip system every morning to see if the data's been posted yet. (Also, once it's there on the screen and in my bank account, I'll know the b*stards have followed through with their promise.) Only two days to go.

- Pam

Saturday, 24 April 2010

It pays to listen.

Sometimes Fate comes along and whispers in your ear.   If you don't listen, she goes away and, occasionally, comes back and belts you round the head with a rubber hammer until you pay attention.  That's what she's done to us today.  In our case, it was to do with the back door.

Our "back door" is a full height sliding window.  To my eyes, it's inside out - the sliding window runs along the outside moving from left to right, whilst the fixed window on the right is on the inside.  In Oz, the sliding window would run on the inside; on the outside, you'd have a sliding fly-wire screen door.  (I have to confess, I have fantasised about replacing what we have with a Australian-style one, complete with screen door.  Oh, how I'd love a fly-wire screen door to keep the bugs out.)

It has two locks.  For the last year (ish), I've struggled closing the top lock.  It was stiff, so I sprayed it with WD40.  Strangely, the lock moved fine when it was away from the door jamb.  After a couple of months, I think (the timeline is a bit hazy now), I worked out that the door needed to be slammed hard shut for that lock to work.  At least once, earlier this week, I gave up fighting with the top lock and just locked the lower one.

Yesterday, we had a mid afternoon appointment so the builders had to lock up.   Strangely, they left the top-lock's key in the lock, whereas the other one was hung up on its hook.  This morning, I discovered why.  They couldn't actually get the key disengaged from the lock.  It was dark when we got back yesterday, so at 7am this morning I decided to water the vegetable garden.  Only, I couldn't unlock the back door.  Nor could I get the keys out. An hour or so later, DH succeeded.  When we went out later, he locked up with a little bit of a struggle.

Obviously, at that stage, we weren't paying sufficient attention to Fate so she decided to step it up a gear.  I noticed that the top of the door wasn't as closed as the bottom.  Thus was born my first theory - that the door is hung inside out and the sliding door track is deteriorating in the weather.  We covered the track in WD40 and hoped it'd be enough to keep the door working until we could get the builders to take a look at it.  Wrong.

When the neighbour's BBQ smoke started drifting in this evening, we tried to close the door.  And failed.  Multiple times.  Sometimes, it was as if a stop had been placed in the door maybe half an inch before the jamb.  At other times, the door closed to within a millimetre or so of it's correct position - it looked closed  but the lower lock wouldn't engage (we didn't bother to try the top lock).  Overall, it was getting worse each time we tried shutting the door.  We began to get a little panicky.  We'd slam the door and it'd hit this invisible brake each time.

I watched DH as he absent mindedly bent down and tucked the outside rubber seal back against the glass.  And that's when it hit me.  The problem was caused by the inside rubber seal(!) at the point where the two windows are always crossed.  I took a good look at it and it wasn't just sticking out of it's housing, it was dangling.  D'oh!  The seal was getting caught between the two windows and preventing the door moving further forward.   (At this point, Fate put down her hammer.)

The challenge was to get the seal back between the window frame and the glass.  15 minutes of poking it with a ruler later, DH decided the only thing to do was to remove it.  Problem.  The seal was sticking out the other side of the door but, if he opened the door, it'd slip back behind the glass and be unreachable again.  He climbed over the 6ft tall garden gate to get to it.  It took another 10 minutes of poking and prodding before the seal was out and the door moving freely.

Right now,  I'm sure Fate is polishing her hammer.  The door is locked but the top lock still can't engage properly.  We aren't sure what she's still trying to tell us.  Do we need to rebuild the sill?  Does the window need to be re-sealed professionally, rehung and rebalanced?  Please don't tell us we need to replace the whole damn unit!

We'll throw ourselves on the mercy of the builders on Monday and hope they can work out what's wrong and how to fix it.  I'm all out of inspiration.

- Pam

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Dear Blogger or the reason I've switched the comments to moderation

Dear Blogger

I am at my wits end.  My blog keeps getting spammed via the comments.  I have the word verification set up but that is not effective against manual spammers.  I've repeatedly reported these spammers to you but they're like a hydra, cut off one and another takes its place.  And there is no way to send you examples of what they're posting.

The format of the spam comments is always the same.  A user ID in Chinese characters, followed by a nonsensical comment of, maybe, 20 words, followed by a hyperlink.  Click on the hyperlink and you get a porn site.  Here is the latest example:
王妍妮 has left a new comment on your post "Damn volcano":

Knowledge is power...................................
I've cut off the links, so don't bother clicking on them (no point giving them any more publicity).  If you get comments like these, click on the user ID and the Blogger blog that they list there and then click on Report Abuse and follow the instructions.  It doesn't allow you to report what is actually posted on your blog, but it is all you can do.

Anyway, this is why I've changed my comments set up to "moderate comments".

- Pam

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Damn volcano

My favourite headline from the last couple of days is one from yesterday's Daily Express:  "Britain is Shut to the World".  To me, it ranks up there with a classic from The Times "Fog in Channel.  Europe Isolated" (apparently published on 22nd October 1957 according to a quick search).  Neither are true, of course.

The eruption of the Eyjafjallajoekull volcano has thrown a huge spanner in many people's plans for the weekend:  three people from Site have had their holidays cancelled.  My Dutch colleagues can't get home.  My client's French staff can't go home.  And my brother-in-law is marooned in Dusseldorf. 

When it all kicked off on Thursday morning, it didn't occur to me that BIL would be affected.  Surely the ash cloud would dissipate by mid-afternoon, or get washed out of the sky (this is Britain after all.  It rains almost daily).  But no.  By the time I got back to my hotel on Thursday evening, having sat in an office full of Dutchmen and Frenchmen all day, I knew that all the ferries were booked out and Eurostar was probably fully booked, too.  (One of my colleagues even contemplated driving the 750km home to Rotterdam, but couldn't secure a ticket on le Shuttle. )  I could only hope that BIL had managed to secure the Eurostar tickets we'd talked about on the phone on Thursday afternoon.

Sadly, he hadn't.  And flights haven't resumed.  Slowly, my plans for this weekend went up the Swannee.  Since we're currently living in our bedroom and the kitchen, BIL couldn't stay with us, but we'd planned to spend all day today with him.  The plan was to go to Portsmouth and tour the Royal Dockyard, hopefully getting there in time to secure a boat trip in the harbour this afternoon.

It's a bloody great shame.  I was really looking forward to catching up with BIL.  He's a lovely guy and we don't see him that often.  We probably won't see him at all now - they've booked him a backup flight direct from Germany to Australia, for when flying resumes in Germany.  He's holding out hope that if the flight to London goes first, he'll come here instead, but he's risking getting stuck here instead of having a guaranteed flight home.

Yah-boo-sucks you damn volcano!

- Pam (shaking an impotent fist at a clear-looking sky)

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

The heart of the project

Deep in the centre of our construction project, my colleague Bernard took this photo.  Behold, the heart of the refinery:

- Pam (photo used with permission)

Saturday, 10 April 2010

At last the phoney war is over

In case you haven't heard, the date of the British General Election was announced on Tuesday, after Gordon Brown went to the Queen to request that she disolve parliament.  The big day will be Thursday 6th May.  And I can't wait.  For the last six months or so, the political parties have been indulging in a "phoney war" - the political campaign you have when you can't call it an election campaign.  (In Britain, the moment you call it an election campaign is the day the clock starts on the electoral expenses and each candidate has a legal maximum spending limit.  The clock also starts if the candidates call themselves candidates or "parliamentary candidates" so they are known as "prospective parliamentary candidates" or "PPCs".)

Anyway, the phoney war has gone on so long that I am totally bored by it.  Because of the rules regarding the life of a parliament, the election had to be held before mid-June.  I don't know how the Americans put up with a year's worth of campaigning prior to their Presidential Elections.  Don't you get fed up with it all?

It's not as if I'm a disinterested party, either.  I think this is the first General Election when I haven't been involved in the campaign, one way or another.  Once upon a time, I was a Young Conservative and a Conservative Party activist.  My politics are a bit more confused than that, though.  If you have to categorise me in terms of British politics, I'm a left-wing Tory or possibly a Lib-Dem.  Back in the '80's, I voted for Bob Hawke, Australia's most successful Labor Prime Minister.  If I was an American, I'd be a card carrying Democrat. 

I joined the Tories when I came to the UK because my friends were Thatcherite Revolutionaries and it gave me an instant social life.  Politics was fun and exciting as a YC:  lots of intrigue against the "wets" in our own party; plenty of political debates about the big issues of the day (irony of ironies, in my day, the Tories didn't "do" political debates in the senior party); we put in the hours knocking on doors and delivering envelopes/magazines.

Many of my friends date from that time and very few of them are politically active today.  What happened?  We grew up.   We got disilusioned and burned out.  We got fed up campaigning for someone/some policy that we didn't believe in.  There is nothing worse than the dying days of a government and our dying days lasted five years longer than expected (nobody had been more surprised than we were when John Major won the 1992 election.  I remember being in a state of shock).

These days, I'm an interested outsider.  The only times I've campaigned for anyone in the last 10 years is when I've supported one friend or another who has stood for their local council or for Parliament.  Unless the phone rings, I think this will be the first General Election I haven't campaigned in since I came to Britain.  (Note:  I'd been here a week when I first went canvasing for the 1989 Euro elections, so I have a long history.)

Who do I think will be occupying 10 Downing Street in mid-May?  Not Gordon Brown.  He pissed off his natural electorate about two years ago, with his clumsily placed tax rises.  He's been fighting a losing battle ever since.  Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats, is putting up a credible campaign but it'd take a miracle for his party to win sufficient seats for them to even form Her Majesty's Opposition.  So it's David Cameron's for the losing.

It's interesting to note that the Lib-Dems think Cameron will win.  That's obvious from their arguments in various debates on BBC Newnight.  They are only attacking the Tories; they aren't attacking policy announcements, etc, from the Government. 

- Pam (don't think you'll get off lightly with me, David Cameron.  I think your latest "tax break" of £3 a week for some married couples is risible, condescending and stupid.)

Sunday, 4 April 2010

And finally

Yes, we now have central heating!  The new boiler was connected on Thursday and the house is MUCH warmer.

- Pam

To the man who built the wardrobe in our back bedroom

Why?  What were you thinking?  Was it your first ever carpentry project?

Oh, and why did you use so many screws to fix it together?  Were you bollocked last time you built something - did it fall down(?) - so that you were afraid your missus would nag you to death if the wardrobe wasn't stable?  Either that, or were you on a promise that if you used up every screw in the packet, you might be on to a "winner"?  What else can explain the gazillion screws you used, whether suitable or not?  Why else were there masonry screws holding two bits of wood together?  Have a look at your handy work*:

Seriously, what were you thinking?  Even on the fascias you used three screws of varying sizes and types, plus the odd nail and wood glue!  And you fastened it to the floor, the brick wall, and the plasterboard ceiling.   

It took us** two days to demolish this!

- Pam

* This photo was taken after the "easy" part of the wardrobe was demolished.  Before we started, there were two long cupboards, plus the connecting cupboards across the top and assorted pine panels arranged on the wall between them all (the black marks are the screw holes for those).  If you look closely at the remaining wardrobe, you can see the chicken-pox of plastic covers he used to cover up all the screws.  There is no logic to the number of screws he used or the varieties he used - some were Philips-head, some were flat-head, some were masonry screws screwing two bits of wood together (huh?), some were wood screws (including wood screws anchoring panels into the wall, with and without rawlplugs) and a few were plasterboard screws fixing the wardrobe to the ceiling and to the floor.  Sometimes he used two screws on the same joint.  He also smothered virtually every join with wood-glue just in case.  And threw in the odd nail for good measure.

**  DH did most of the hard work.  I did a lot of unscrewing and plenty of fetching and carrying.

Sit-Rep 2010 - March

STASH: Maintained cold sheep. Did virtually no knitting however this month, so estimate less than half a skein (i.e. less than 50g) used up, for a total of 6.5-ish skeins. Knitting time was minimal and compromised by lack of light. Not sure how much longer we will be without overhead lighting - am considering getting some sort of headlamp to aid working on the Brown Cable Cardigan (the current lighting is too dim to see what I'm doing when I'm cabling - may need to resort to using a cable needle again). Any suggestions?

GARDEN: Planted out 6 of the 7 broad bean plants, as well as the earliest of the seed potatoes. Have also planted out 50+ onion sets, shallot sets and loads of garlic cloves. Will sow chill seeds, sweet/bell pepper seeds, butternut pumpkin seeds and courgette seeds this weekend, as well as another variety of potato. Bought a propagator. Had to obtain extra tyres for the potatoes because 7 of last year's 8 tyres are holding down a tarpaulin on the kitchen roof (to prevent leaks).

OVERDRAFT: £108.83 repaid, for a total repaid of £355.38.

FITNESS: Five sessions of Pilates and three sessions of yoga attended. Rejoined Weight Watchers - walked to meeting once.  4 meetings attended.  No miles run. Pounds lost = 4lb for a total of 6lb.

SOCKS: 3/4 of one sock completed for DH in Weird Science pattern from Yarn Forward. Next month should be better - BIL is coming to UK mid-April, so decided to whip up a pair of DK-weight socks for Eldest Sis (his wife) for him to deliver to her on her birthday at end of April. Have chosen simple pattern, the Zig-Zag Socks pattern by Jocelyn Sertich.  Using stash yarn: Cherry Tree Hills Superwash Merino DK in the Cabin Fever colourway.  Photos to follow.

- Pam