Friday, 25 March 2011

Shameless Plug

Please sponsor me to do the Lincoln 10K next weekend, Sunday 3rd April 2011.  I'll be raising money for the Shooting Star Children's hospice.

When one of my oldest friends said he wanted to do some fundraising to mark his 25th year in London, I said "Sure, why not?".  When he asked for suggestions, I came up with his home-town's 10K race and then uttered the fatal words:  "Do it in drag.  If you like, I'll even walk it with you".  (He's not a runner.)   Thus was born The Mrs Slocombe Academy for Young Ladies:  Scarlet (Howard), Dorothy (David), Sheila (Chris F) and Fifi (me) their French maid.  We won't be fast.  We will be funny.  And we will surely burn the retinas from your eyes:

Here's Dorothy and Scarlet posing for the camera.  Aren't they fine strapping young gels, as our headmistress Mrs Slocombe would say?

- Pam (I must be mad.  But please sponsor us.)

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Thanks George

Yesterday was Budget Day for the UK.  At  12.30pm, George Osborne stood up in the House of Commons and delivered his budget speech.  All the tax changes and personal allowance rises, etc, that have been hinted at by the press became real (by "hinted" I mean embargoed until 12.30 but they couldn't keep their mouths shut).  In the UK, the new tax year starts on 6th April so the effects won't be long in coming.  On a personal tax front, this is what will affect me directly:-

  1. Fuel duty went down by a penny.  
  2. Employees' National Insurance went up - that's the "con" tax which pretends it's our social security tax but actually just goes into the general tax pool.  The chancellor announced he is going to consult on merging NI with income tax.  About bloody time too.
  3. The tax free personal allowances goes up by £1,000 from 6th April BUT the band where you start to pay higher rate (40%) tax drops by £2,400, so anyone earning over £42,475 is immediately worse off.

I feel most aggrieved about the drop in the banding for higher rate tax.  When you think about it in context,  £42.5k isn't that high a salary: the average salary in London is £31k;  the average house price in the UK is £180k; the average council tax on that house is £1.5k;  the average car costs more than £10k; and an outer London zone 5 annual travelcard is £1,880.  This isn't the first time games have been played with the 40% tax band - when I started working in tax, the higher rate kicked in at about £37k; 20 years later, while average salaries have more than doubled, it has barely moved.  If it had risen at the same rate as inflation (which is what the bands were meant to do), then it would be over £50k.

As for me,  I expect to be £20/month or £230.93 per annum worse off. That's what the BBC's budget calculator  tells me

- Pam (more belt tightening)

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Stitch & Craft Show, Olympia

Errr.... How do I put this?  "Forgive me Father for I have sinned...?"  No, I'm not Catholic.  How about "I've solved the dilemma about whether to buy a 16GB or a 32GB iPhone4.  It'll have to be the 16GB one because I've spent the rest of my money on yarn"?

Yes, I think that works.

Today, I took the day off work to go to the Stitch & Craft Show at Olympia, the little sister to the big Knit & Stitch Show held at Alexandra Palace every October.  This is the second or third time I've been to this particular show and I may not have gone if it wasn't that one of the magazines I subscribe to offered discounted tickets at £5.

I told myself:   it'll be a cheap day out.  I can take my lunch and some coffee and save my money for yarn.

I told myself:   no stash enhancement unless I find something amazing or an amazing bargain (and, preferably, aran/worsted weight).

I told myself:  I don't need any more yarn.   I'd just buy some tools, maybe some KnitPro/KnitPicks crochet hooks.

I told myself:  I'll set the budget at £30 and stick to that.

I lied.

I'd barely walked in the door when I encountered the Black Sheep Yarns booth.  (They were directly in front of the door.)  I've mentioned them before.  Every show, they bring along thousands of skeins of yarn, which they sell by the bag at half-price or less.  The owners dump all the sealed bags  into a big heap and the knitters just dive in.  It resembles a rugby scrum.  Would you believe me if I said I was sucked into the vortex and barely made it out of there alive, clinging to bags of yarn to escape?

No.  I didn't think you would.  

My haul from Black Sheep includes:
  • 30 skeins of Sublime Cashmere Merino Silk Aran, in the coast colourway (light blue).  Sufficient yarn to make a sweater for DH.  (I've probably bought far too much but that was the quantity recommended by Carole from Black Sheep for a man his size.) I was thinking of making the Inishturk Sweater from Lionbrand for him.  If he doesn't like the yarn, I'll make it for me.   Total price:  £68.97.
  • 20 skeins of an unknown brand pure-wool 4-ply, in a really pretty baby-pink.  Given their size, I assumed the skeins were 25 grams each - I've just weighed a bag and I was right. Knitting destination - something vintage. Total price:  £19.98.
At this point, I escaped Black Sheep and wandered around the show.  However, I had to pass them as I was leaving and the only way to get out of the vortex was to buy:-
  • 10 skeins of Sublime Soya Cotton DK in shade 085, Noodle, bought to make the pattern, Souk, from the book shown, The Luxuriously Exotic Soya Cotton Hand Knit Book also by Sublime.  Cost including the book:  £23.98.
(I  really like the cover pattern, Passionflower, and the colour it's in (shade 088, pomegranate) which is why I returned to the yarn heap.  However, they didn't have any pomegranate and it does occur to me that it would work well in the Sublime Angora Merino in Giggle Pink, that I already have stashed.)
The other place I dropped money on yarn was the Lang booth, home of Addi Turbo knitting needles, and Jawoll sock yarn.

The Jawoll Magic is for a pair of socks for DH; the other two are self-patterning and we may fight for them.  Total cost:  £19.

So much for self control.  [sigh]

I did buy some tools: stitch holders and the like, spending £9.45 in the process, but not the KnitPro hooks - the available sets didn't appeal to me.

Anyway, I've just added up the cost of today's haul and I'm not proud of myself:  £141.38. 

Yes, I have the money in the bank to cover it.  Yes, I won't get into debt over it.  Yes, I will use it all... Eventually.  But I'm not pleased with myself for walking in the door at the show and diving straight into the Black Sheep yarn pile, going "Aran!  Aran!  Must have Aran!  What can I make with it now I've found it?".  (The light blue wasn't even a colour on my list - it was the only shade they had that appealed to me that both DH and I can wear.)


This was meant to be the year when the stash decreased NOT increased.  If I knit for an hour a day, every day, until Christmas, do you think it'll make a difference?  (Like I don't do that already?  [sigh])

- Pam

PS:  The show wasn't just about yarn.  One of the stands was manned by Corum, the charity that was originally the Foundling Hospital.    They were displaying some of the thousands of foundling tokens left with the children by their mothers (in an age of illiteracy and before fingerprints, the tokens were a means of identifying a child should the mother come back to claim them later).  Most of the tokens are cloth, sometimes embroidered, sometimes just a piece of ribbon onto which was written a name.  (Many mothers tried to name their babies even though they knew they'd be renamed once they were admitted.)  The token was attached to the child's record of admittance.  They form a valuable textile archive, which is why they are being displayed a this show.   Someone commented to me that they found it fascinating. "It's heartbreaking," I replied and started to cry.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

A Diagnosis (and a car review)

The garage finally called me today.  The Toy didn't have a broken clutch or a damaged gearbox; it was a broken drive shaft.  Cost to repair £400.  He'll be ready tomorrow.  I'll collect him on Saturday, which is the first chance I'll get.

In the meantime, I've driven to Site in a hire car, a Honda Civic.  So far, I've done over 260 miles in it.  On the one hand, it's not a model I've driven before, so I'm quite happy to give it a test drive; on the other, the designer seems to have swallowed some of the same rubbish that Renault feed their designers:  all style and no function.   Take a look at the rear end; can you see what I mean?  (Pictures courtesy of Honda.)

See that spoiler, half way across the rear window?  Not only does it put a thick band of (?) metal across the window cutting the view in two, it almost obscures the headlights of any vehicle behind you until, that is, said vehicle hits a bump in the road which creates the optical illusion that it is flashing you.  Add to that the fact that the car doesn't have a rear wiper or washer, throw in a total inability to demist the lower half of the window (the top window has an electric demister) and the whole design of the hatch seams totally stupid.

(Interior shot of a left hand drive, automatic Civic.)

Another gripe (I have three, in total), is to do with the central console between the two front seats.   Like most cars in Britain, this one has a manual gear box.  The position of the gear lever is, probably, fine in an automatic (see above), but it is awkward for a manual driver.  In addition, having the only cup holder directly in front of the gear lever is insane because you have to reach over your travel mug, holding your elbow at right angles, to avoid knocking the cup over (see below).

My final gripe is minor.  I'm having problems coming to grips with the high beam on the headlights.  It seams that on virtually every other car I have ever driven, you pull the indicator lever towards you to put on high beam and push it away from you if you just want to flash your headlights.  In this car, it's the opposite.   (In some older cars, you pushed a button on the floor with your toe.)

OK, so those are all the bad things.  On the plus side, it handles well and is fairly nippy.   On the motorway, it was a comfortable drive so long as I didn't have to change gear.  It was easy to set up the mirrors, seat, etc, to suit me.  It has good wing mirrors which made reverse parking at work easy.  The interior is versatile, with the rear seats folding up as well as folding down flat to create a large rear space for transporting goods.  The driver's seat can be raised or lowered using a pump-action lever at the side and it's something you can do while you are driving, when you discover you can't see the speedo because the steering wheel is in the way.  The instrument display is clear and sensibly laid out.  Visibility is good to the front and sides of the vehicle.  It doesn't have a electronic demister for the front window but that window defrosted fairly quickly this morning in -2C.

Over all, I can't give it a higher score than 6 out of 10.   If it was an automatic, I'd give it a 7.

- Pam

(edited later to add:  that rear window thing is REALLY ANNOYING!!!  You can't see a damn thing out of it if it's raining and, of course, you can't clear off the rain drops because THERE IS NO WIPER!!!  After driving in the rain this morning, the score just dropped to 5.)

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Not a good evening

Ever heard a tale about how bad things come in threes? Well this is one of those.

The only thing I had on my mind, when I left work on Thursday, was whether I should buy a 16GB iPhone4 or hold out for another month so that I could afford to buy the 32GB version.  My inner geek says "get the one with bigger storage", but I am about £40 short.  I drove home scheming:  the arguments in my head running along the lines of "if I take £40 from this account, I could get the phone now and pay it back next month" or "why don't I just charge it and finish paying it off next month?".  (I quickly shushed the latter argument.)  Another part of my brain was arguing:  "Why not settle for the 16GB? Do I really need 32GB of storage?".  It lost. 

Holding of purchasing for another month was still winning later on my way to a pub quiz, when I turned the car around outside the pub.  Then I heard it.  A metallic crunching noise, followed by "clatter, clatter".  I quickly parked the car up.  I first thought I'd damaged the steering (I'd had it on full lock); no, that felt fine.  Wheels, then?  They were still turning.  I decided it had to be a wheel bearing.  First thing wrong.

I went to the quiz, knowing that I could drive home with a broken wheel bearing, even if it wasn't safe to drive on the motorway to work.  We won.  And promptly donated our winnings to charity.  (You have to if you're known to be a friend of the quiz master.) 

Afterwards, S offered to shadow my drive home, in case something happened on the way.  Turned out, he didn't need to.  The Toy rolled about 2 feet before something seized up and he stopped.  So I phoned the RAC, switched off the engine, switched on the hazard lights and settled down to a long-ish wait.  When he arrived, the RAC mechanic determined it wasn't a wheel bearing.  It was the clutch.  The self-same clutch I'd had replaced 6 weeks ago.

(Incidentally, the most bizarre thing happened while I was waiting. A car pulled up beside me to ask directions.  Given that the only way to identify that my car was possibly occupied were its flashing hazards, I was a bit surprised to say the least.  Still don't know why they didn't walk into the pub and ask them.  It was fully lit.)

Watching as the mechanic hitched the Toy up to tow home, I noticed a long scratch on the passenger side.  Some bastard had keyed the Toy while I was in the pub.  Second thing wrong.

Got home well after midnight.  DH greeted me with a hot drink.  Then noticed a puddle of water on the oak floor in the hall.  Underneath the radiator.  A radiator that had suspicious looking rust marks down one edge.  It was obviously leaking from a seal near the valve you'd use to bleed it of air.  We could see the water drops forming.  I switched the radiator's thermostat to "off" and positioned a tupperware container under the drips.  Third thing wrong.

Definitely not a good evening.

In the morning, the RAC towed me to the garage, while DH followed and then drove me into work.  All I know is that the Toy will take several days to fix, so I've arranged a hire car for my trip to Site next week.  And we'll get the plumber in to fix the radiator next week.  It's still dripping a little, but not enough to get close to filling the Tupperware box.

- Pam