Tuesday, 18 July 2023

NASA, Cocoa Beach and points north

Last Wednesday, this happened:

We dusted off the passports and headed to Miami, to stay with our friend “The Lost American”.  Thursday was a recovery day and then, on Friday, we headed off on a road trip through the South.  

First stop was Cocoa Beach, where we stayed at a hotel that was originally owned by seven of the Mercury astronauts.

Saturday, started with watching the sun rise over Cocoa Beach, ended with watching a rocket launch from the same spot, and was mainly spent at NASA’s Kennedy Space Centre.  It can be summed up in one word: WOW!!!

NASA was a long day but worth every penny of the $75 admission fee.  Seriously, I have a gazillion photos but nothing can sum up the awe you experience when you’re face to face with a space shuttle or walking beside a Saturn V rocket or standing in the viewing gallery of Mission Control, watching footage of the team going through the checklist before an Apollo mission blasted off, using the consoles that are directly in front of you. 

We got lucky with the rocket launch.  Weather had delayed SpaceX from launching earlier in the week, so it got rescheduled for 2350 on Saturday night.  Standing on Cocoa Beach in the dark, looking towards Cape Canaveral, we had to hope that it wouldn’t get delayed again.  Suddenly, there was a bright light to our left:

All was silent until the rocket flew overhead, trailing its launch sound, like a cloak behind it:


- Pam

Sunday, 12 February 2023

It was such an unusual cold

I spent most of this week in our Glastonbury office.  This was my first visit since the first week of December 2019, back in pre-Pandemic times.  Ironically, it had many echos of the first:  on both occasions, i met up with the same colleagues, but, this time, I was travelling alone, whereas on the previous trip, I’d brought “The Stray Australian” with me, a colleague from Sydney.  We stayed in the same hotel, as did the Regional Finance Business Partner, who I had dinner with on both Tuesday evenings.  Last time,  on the Wednesday afternoon, I developed a tickle in my throat so wandered over to the nearest supermarket after dinner, to buy some whisky to kill the cough.  This time, ditto.  Last time, I drove back to London on the Thursday afternoon, feeling more and more ill, dropped the Stray Australian back at the office, then went home to bed.  This time, I drove home on Friday, my tonsils making their presence felt..

Last time, by the Saturday, I had a sore throat.  It didn’t help that that was the day of my choir’s carol concert but I soldiered through, my voice cracking on some of the high notes.  I also soldiered through at work. I had a lot to learn from the Stray Australian before he went home on the Thursday, so couldn’t stay home.  Then while I was feeling like death warmed up on the Monday, I got asked to take on a role in our Huntingdon office: someone had resigned, timing it with holidays to give less than 2 weeks’ notice.  (Seriously, I was sitting in the office contemplating asking to go home to bed, when I got called into a meeting room.) 

Symptoms appeared in stages.   I developed a drippy, runny nose; watery, like a dripping tap.  The scratchy, swollen throat went on and on.  My larynx was on fire for days.   A week later, I could have drawn the cartilages within it, it was that sore.  Christmas came and went, and we spent the week of New Year in Normandy.  I was cooking dinner on the Tuesday (New Year’s Eve) when I realised that everything was tasteless.  On the Thursday, I woke up in the middle of the night, feeling crackles in my chest.  A couple of slow, deep breaths and they went, not to return. That was the last symptom, to appear.   It took a couple of weeks for my sense of taste to return - now I have to salt everything, (where I never did before) - and it took months for my vocal cords to recover.  

 I am 100% certain, now that it was Covid.  We know now that the first official variant ulcerated the vocal cords of those who were intubated, hence the damage to my own vocal cords, and all the other symptoms tally.  I know who I caught it from: a colleague in a meeting on the Friday before I went to Glastonbury.   It swept through her office and through ours, before Christmas 2019.  When Covid began getting publicity, we sat there ticking off the symptoms.   Of course, there was no testing then, so it can’t be proved now..  (By the time I did have antibody testing, I’d been vaccinated twice, and tested positive once, via a PCR test in October 2020.)

This time around, well, yesterday’s lateral flow test was negative for Covid.  The tickly cough has declined a lot and my nose is snotty, not dripping water.  I think we’re safe to say that it isn’t Covid this time, but I doubt I’ll be at rehearsal tomorrow evening.  I’ll take another test on Tuesday, before I go to the office.

 My name is Pam and I had Covid before it was famous.

Sunday, 1 January 2023

Today is the start of the rest of our lives

Happy New Year!

All over the world, people woke up this morning full of resolutions and good intentions.  Within a few weeks, they’ll feel let down and discouraged.  All the hoped for miracles/changes of behaviour will have vanished.  Why do we imbue January 1st with so much importance?  Given that our time on earth is finite, every morning offers the same promise: 24 hours in which to make a difference.

I reckon it’s just a point in time to focus the mind.  So what will I endeavour to do this year, to change or make a difference?  Here are my resolutions.  It’s 2023 so I am aiming to complete 23 Challenges:-

  1. Read 23 books.
  2. Use up at least 23 balls of yarn by knitting or crocheting them into items.
  3. Use 23 new-to-me recipes and make dishes that I’ve never attempted before.
  4. Go to the cinema at least 6 times.  (I get "free" tickets via my bank.  Might as well use them.)
  5. Go to the theatre 4 times.
  6. Restart my running and run in an organised 5k race.
  7.  Continue with my 15 minutes a day Duolingo.  (I'm currently on day 943.  Started in 2020.)
  8. 23 sessions of weight training.
  9. Socialise 23 times.  This doesn't include the weekly pub quiz, RPG sessions, etc, that are already in my calendar.
  10. Blog at least 23 times.
  11. Spend an hour per week for 23 weeks, writing that book.  
  12. Do 23 singing lessons/practice sessions resulting therefrom.  (My voice and breathing haven't recovered from Covid in December 2019.  Yes, I had it before it was famous.)
  13. Make 23 phone calls to family and friends, just to catch up and chat.
  14. Replace Lucky Car.  I have no choice.  At the end of August, the border of London’s ULEZ - ultra low emission zone - will be extended to include all of the outer-London suburbs.  He’s diesel, 13 years old and does not comply.
  15. Go on a “proper” holiday, overseas.  We haven’t had one since the start of the Pandemic.  Destination TBA.
  16. Continue doing the Fashion on the Ration Challenge on MSE.
  17. Not buy any yarn in 2023.  This excludes the one skein that was ordered before Christmas, but won’t be delivered until next week.
  18. Finish and sew up all my knitting and crochet WIPs or frog them.   I think there are 8 in the queue, including a couple of cardigans that just need buttons sewn on.  (This excludes the jumper and two pairs of socks currently on the needles.)
  19. Dust off my sewing machine and sew a suit.
  20. Complete at least one embroidery.  
  21. Have 23 gardening sessions, where I do more than look at the weeds and lament.
  22. For 23 weeks, spend at least an hour tidying up.  I am not one of your naturally tidy people, I want to change that. (I can put a pen on an empty table and, 10 seconds later, it’ll look like a bomb has hit it.)
  23. TBA
Yes, that’s right.  I haven’t got a 23rd challenge yet.  I’ll come up with something….

Got it!  Number 23 is to reduce my Podcast queue from 639 to under 200!  God knows how it got to be so high.

- Pip

In which PipneyJane goes pattern shopping

In John Lewis, I fell victim to some pale grey yarn:  Manos Del Uruguay Fino, in the colourway “Silver Teaset”.   It’s 4-ply, 70% Merino wool, 30% silk, in a 100g (450m) hank.  Three hanks purchased, which will be enough for a jumper.  Not cheap (£70.50 in total) but I’ve saved money all year for a blow out like this.  6 coupons spent.

My reason for being there was to browse the pattern books for a suit pattern, so that I can make a suit from the wool fabric I picked up at that charity fabric sale in ?July. OMG was I disappointed!  The last time I did a serious browse for patterns was a decade ago.  Do you remember back then, when there were several different pattern books laid out on the counter, one for each pattern company?  Well, now, there is one book.  I always knew that Vogue and Butterick patterns were owned by the same publisher, apparently they also own Simplicity and McCalls.  No New Look pattern book.  No Burda, just that one pattern book to look through.

I flipped through it in growing disappointment.  Virtually no suit patterns - I can recall only one (didn’t appeal) - no capsule wardrobes, and only one picture per pattern to display the garments.  (How the hell am I going to know what the top of that dress looks like, if you only display it with the jacket on?).   Seriously, there was NOTHING suitable for the office and nothing I would want to make.  Did I miss the memo saying that nobody has to dress professionally for work anymore?

John Lewis Oxford Street also had virtually no fabric.  (No suiting.  What a surprise?)  Last time I was in there was pre-Pandemic.  The Haberdashery Department is only 1/3 of the size it was then, and about a tenth of the size it was in the 1990’s, when I worked around the corner.   The lady who rang up my yarn sale told me that “nobody makes a summer dress anymore”.

It looks like I’m going to have to find the bag of paper patterns I purchased in the 1990’s.  Hopefully, there will be a suitable suit pattern in there that I haven’t cut out - since I’m a totally different size now - which I can use/adapt to my current style.  There may be a possibility that I’ll find something at the Knit & Stitch Show at Ally Pally next month, but unlikely.  (I had my arm twisted by a friend to go to the show; the same friend who was too sick to come along yesterday.)

Anyway, the above yarn purchase brings my total spend to 69 coupons, leaving 7 for the rest of the year.  

Wish me luck.

- Pip

Monday, 3 October 2022

Fair well Ma’am

After my last post, I gave up on the idea of going to HMQ’s Lying in State.  Instead, I moped around the house like a sulky teenager for a few days, before hatching a plan.  DH and I would go sit on the side of the A4, watch the Funeral on BBC iPlayer via my iPad and then pay our respects to the Funeral Cortège.  We knew the route for the cortège because TFL had published a list of road closures.

It all went off like clockwork.  We packed our picnic chairs, travel mugs of coffee, a hot lunch in wide mouthed thermoses, the iPad, etc, and drove to a side-street near the A4, arriving just as the Funeral was starting, and set up.  The road was lined with police officers, airmen and solders. When the officer-in-charge gave the signal for the 2 minutes silence, followed by the National Anthem, we stood to attention, too.  More and more people came to line the road and, eventually, this happened:

We even made it - fleetingly - onto the television. If you look very carefully at the next photo, you may just be able to spot my yellow chair and DH’s purple one, in the top left-hand corner, with us standing in front and our friend, Howard, standing behind my chair.

(Yes, I photographed the television.)

The following Saturday (24th), I went to Green Park to see the tributes that the general public had left.  There were thousands.  I wandered around, reading the messages and I cried.  Some were incredibly moving:

While others were just beautiful:

- Pam

Saturday, 17 September 2022

The Queen is Dead. God Save the King!

How do you describe the last ten days?

We were at the cricket last Thursday, when the Queen died.  Well, I say “at the cricket”, but rain stopped play before it started that morning and as soon as the news broke late morning that the Queen was “under medical supervision”, the umpires made every excuse they could to delay their pitch inspection, despite several hours of sunshine mid-afternoon.  From the moment they announced that several members of the Royal Family were travelling to Balmoral, we all knew that she’d died.  We also knew that there would be no cricket that day.  (There was none on the Friday, either. The England vs South Africa Test Match was eventually reduced to three days.)

Poor King Charles.  On Friday, when he made his first address to the Nation as King, he looked both shattered and close to tears.  Also, oddly defiant when he announced that he’d made Camilla his Queen Consort, and William and Kate Prince and Princess of Wales.  It was almost as if he was expecting to be criticised by the Daily Wail, the Daily Excess and the $un, newspapers that only exist to make money from their coverage of his family.  I can only imagine what he and his family are going through.  It is hard enough to grieve for the loss of a parent, without the eyes of the world being turned on you 24-7.  Couple that with a new job, as Head of State… Poor man.

Yesterday, I was planning on joining the Queue for the Lying in State.  I’d booked the afternoon off work, made my sandwiches, chilled my water bottle and packed multiple phone rechargers in my handbag.  At 8am, the queue was nearly 9 hours long.  When I logged out at 12.30, this had happened:

A few minutes later, I heard that there was a queue to join the Queue(!) jokingly referred to as the “QE2”.  By 4pm, they were talking about the queue being over 24 hours long, which is when I gave up on the idea entirely.  I know I can spend 12 hours on my feet, but not 24.  I don’t have the stamina for that.

Since her last journey will be from Westminster to Windsor, my plan now is to get up on Monday morning, take chairs and go sit on the side of the A4 with DH,  and wait for her to pass by.  I’ll bring my iPad and we’ll watch the Funeral via BBC iPlayer.

- Pip

Friday, 24 September 2021

My favourite toy

No, it’s not Lucky Car.  (He’s far too important to be considered “a toy”.). It’s my 2016 iPhone SE.  

Why is my phone my favourite toy?  Besides being a phone, it’s  an entertainment device full of books, podcasts and audio-books, a digital radio and a portable TV (thanks to BBC iPlayer).  It’s my camera.  I can use it to talk to my sisters and friends in Australia for free via certain apps.  It’s my backup wallet; forgot my purse?  No problem, so long as the internet is accessible.  It gives me access to my bank, reliable news sources (the BBC and the ABC), my emails and my health records.  It’s the SatNav for the car.  It’s my tutor.  (I learn languages with it via Duolingo.)  It’s the loyalty card and shopping voucher holder for the supermarkets I use.  When I travel, it’s my ticket and my boarding pass, as well as my alarm clock.  I use it for research.  It fits into the front pocket of my jeans and into most of my suit-jacket pockets.  It’s the handiest piece of kit that I own and it’s always with me.

Last night, I was overjoyed to discover that my phone will run on IOS 15, so I can put off purchasing a new one for another year or so.  When I do, it’ll probably be the latest model SE, the one with the “home” button and 126gb of storage.  (I always go for the largest data storage available, since it’s so easy to fill up.  My current phone is 64gb and bursting at the seams with podcasts.)

What’s holding me back from upgrading now?  Well, if you read my last post, you’ll know that I won’t upgrade until I absolutely have to, because it’s a waste of resources.  Also, the new SE doesn’t have an audio jack, while Lucky Car doesn’t have Bluetooth.  Yes, there is a converter/jack you can buy, which will enable you to plug headphones/audio cables into the fire-wire slot but that means I can either charge the phone or plug it into Lucky’s radio, not both.  Not useful when I’m using it as my SatNav and it’s draining the battery.  I hope to find a Bluetooth converter for the radio, which will enable me to do both.   (With the current phone, I can charge it while I drive and listen via the radio at the same time, so don’t risk being stranded somewhere with a dead phone battery.) 

- Pam 

PS:  My second favourite toy is my 6-year-old iPad Mini 3 together with its Bluetooth keyboard, upon which this is being typed.  I’ll probably replace “Paddy” first because his IOS stopped at 12.8.something, so apps will eventually get more unstable/problematic to use.

Thursday, 23 September 2021

Channelling my inner Greta Thunberg

Beyond the Pandemic, one of the biggest themes of the last two years has been Climate Change.  On the one hand, it’s not surprising.  The rising temperatures are finally impacting weather systems, so that politicians and the general public are beginning to notice.  On the other hand, NONE OF THIS IS NEW!  Before I left Australia in 1989, I attended the public session of a conference about the impacts of global warming and pollution.  Yes, 1989!  

A word about that conference.  I don’t remember who sponsored it - my flat mate got the tickets - but the session I attended was in the Dallas Brooke’s Hall in Melbourne and it was packed.  The speakers were from multiple universities and research organisations across Australia and the whole thing was conducted via video conferencing from conference halls in the various state capitals.  The items I remember:  the hole in the Ozone Layer; global warming and its impacts; plastic pollution; the damage done by the pollution from bleaching paper pulp with (?) dioxins; power generation - the big issue in Australia at the time was the flooding of the Franklin River for a hydroelectric power plant - and whether nuclear power was worth the risks.  The other thing that I remember being mentioned was how rubbish bins in Scandinavian countries were divided into into sections for recycling.  (When I landed in Denmark in May 1989 - my first stop in Europe - I remember being very impressed. It was 20+ years before Britain caught up.)

Fast forward to 2019 and, somehow, the wonderful Greta Thunberg captured the world’s attention with her School Strike For Climate Change.  All I can say is “good on you girl!  You rock!”.  What bothers me is that, in the intervening 30 years, so many things have got worse not better.  Why are more plastic bottles thrown away now than in 1989?  (Why did sales of bottled water skyrocket in those 30 years and why do people throw away the bottles instead of reusing/recycling them?) Why has the wild bee population declined, when we know how important they are?  Why is 25% of all food purchased by British households thrown away?  Why is it more difficult now to buy toilet paper made from recycled paper than it was in 1989?   Why is there so much litter in Britain and why hasn’t this situation improved in the last 2 years, when everybody was in Lockdown?  (Seriously, you can’t walk down a street now without seeing a discarded face mask.)

On the political side, I guess it all boils down to expediency.  Most politicians don’t think beyond their next election and their desire to be re-elected. Changing “business as usual” practices won’t get them headlines, whereas being seen to respond to disasters will. Sadly, changing “Business as Usual” is what needs to be done to save the planet but it needs some political will.  At the moment, the Government is a follower; it needs to lead and to put its money where it’s mouth is.  Here are simple things the Government could do:-

  1. Change building regulations so that all new builds have the latest version of  photovoltaic cells on their roof (which are 3x more efficient than the originals).  Every new house should also be built with a small S-shaped wind turbine, while blocks of flats/offices and business parks should have at least one large wind turbine.  All new builds need to have off-street parking - say, one space per bedroom - with vehicle recharging points incorporated therein.
  2. All Government paper products should be made from recycled paper, whether it’s toilet paper purchased for use in a hospital or a leaflet to be distributed to the general population.  Lead by example.
  3. Government procurement has long been driven by price.  Instead, the first factor to consider should be carbon footprint.  If xx costs a few pence more but is made locally, then that should be purchased instead of shipping it in from China.
  4. Ban the use of insecticides on state-owned land.  Organic practices only.  (I will permit weed-killers because some invasive species of weed just won’t die without them.)
  5. Invest in hydrogen technology and have all Government vehicles hydrogen powered.  Batteries can’t power everything and their creation/recycling generates a massive amount of pollution.  Battery powered lorries/trucks are impractical (very heavy) and battery powered vehicles can’t tow.
  6. Ban the shipping of recycling abroad.  Specifically plastics should be recycled “in country”.  Many British councils ship their plastic recycling abroad, where it is found years later, breaking down on a rubbish dump somewhere and hasn’t been recycled. This is a waste of resources, waste of shipping miles and creates another type of pollution problem..

The above is OK for the Government but what about the rest of us?  What can we do?  In an interview last year, Sir David Attenborough was asked “What is the most important lesson you have learned?”  His answer was “Don’t waste.”  Don’t waste resources.  Reduce.  Reuse.  Recycle.  I’ve been putting my money where my mouth is for years, in an attempt to lower my footprint on the planet:-

  1. Where available, I buy recycled paper products (toilet paper, kitchen towel).  Everyone should.  Save virgin paper for books. 
  2. I’ll wash and re-use the plastic bags that bread/bagels comes in, before eventually recycling them.  
  3. Most of my clothes are bought to last, making me a follower of “slow fashion” and they get worn to death.  I look for classic designs, made from natural fibres.   (Today, I’m wearing hand knitted socks, a pair of jeans bought in 2018, a t-shirt purchased in 2003 and a cashmere cardigan purchased in 2019.  My bra is 5 or 6 years old and my knickers about the same.)
  4. When I can buy clothing secondhand, I will.  Three of my work suits come from charity shops, as do several t-shirts and my sheepskin jacket.  (I nearly bought another suit from a charity shop yesterday but the jacket was too tight.)
  5. When I do buy new clothes, where possible I buy natural fibres and wear those clothes until they die.  (I’d rather be considered classic than fashionable.)
  6. Make the best of what I have for as long as it lasts.  For example, my iPhone is 5 years old.  I won’t consider changing it until Apple stop updating the IOS.  Why should I?  It does everything that I want it to do and, last night, updated to IOS 15, guaranteeing me at least another year of use.
  7. Buy smart.  I don’t buy something because it’s the latest widget; I buy it because it fulfils multiple purposes and does exactly what I want.  This saves money as well as resources.  It doesn’t matter if it’s clothes, a kitchen widgets or IT kit.  If it doesn’t do what you want it to do, you’ll never use it and/or you end up replacing it three times.
  8. Years before electric vehicles were readily available, I went for a car that was fuel efficient, had good build quality and a low carbon footprint.  (When Lucky dies, he’ll probably be replaced by a hybrid.  Meanwhile, I’ll keep him running for as long as possible.  Pollution isn’t just about carbon; it’s about the other components he’s made from, too.)
  9. With the exception of weed killer, I garden organically.  (I’ll only use weed killer if the weed burner fails.)
  10. Buy local.  Consider where something is grown and/or where it’s made.  Most of the yarn I’ve purchased over the last 10 years was grown and spun in the UK.  Prior to the Pandemic, my veg came from a local farmer’s farm shop.  He also sold me eggs from his mate’s farm, about 5 miles away.      (Sadly, they closed due to the Pandemic.)
  11. Grow/make your own.  Not only will you appreciate it more, it cuts the carbon footprint.  There is nothing nicer than a just-harvested potato.
  12. Avoid buying food that is heavily processed.  Not only will your body thank you; all those “e-numbers” are chemical additives that have to be manufactured.
  13. If you eat meat, then eat the whole animal, offal included.  Anything less is wasteful.  There is more to a chicken than just chicken breast fillets!  Don’t like liver?  Do you eat pate?  Well, that’s liver.  Get over it.  Personally, I love Haggis but many people shy away from it because it’s made from offal.  They’ll eat that offal when it’s in boring, supermarket sausages, but not in something as nice as Haggis.
  14. Do the passive things that will cut your carbon footprint. Compost your vegetable peelings and grass cuttings. Wash your laundry in cold water and air dry it.  (We do.  We don’t own a dryer.). Walk to the shops, instead of driving.  (We walk the 1.5 miles to our local Lidl and lug our shopping home in backpacks.).  Use public transport where practical.  (Nobody in their right mind would drive into central London.)
I guess my message is:  do what you can, when you can, and try to mitigate the consequences.  Don’t waste.  If there is waste, recycle it responsibly.

- Pam

Tuesday, 21 September 2021

Finished Frankensocks

As promised in my last post, here are the original grey socks that I finished knitting back in January 2013:

And here are the finished Frankensocks:-

You can see that they’re related.  The third sock yarn, used on the feet, was from these socks:

It’s James C. Brett’s Funny Feetz.  (I bought 2x100g balls, back in 2019, and have knitted 3 pairs of socks with it plus this pair.  Their quality control is appalling - one ball was full of flaws.).  On the second sock, I ran out of both colours of the Lang Super Soxx, so ended up working in the end of a fourth ball of yarn, alternating with it for about 10 rows.  No idea from which pair of socks it originated.

-  Pip

Monday, 30 August 2021


  I’m currently knitting “frankensocks” for myself.  Years ago, I bought two 100g balls of Lang Super Soxx, one in blue shades and one in grey.  The blue became a pair of socks for DH and the grey a pair for me.  Beyond size, the only difference in their appearance is the colour.  (Sadly, today, I can’t load the photo directly to this thread.  I’m on an iPad and it’s always hit and miss for photos on the MSE Forums.)

Anyway, I had 20g left of the blue and 35g of the grey.  I’ve been itching to use it up.  My standard socks use 63g-65g of 4-ply.  Since I only had 55g, I thought that, if I shortened the leg by 15 rows, did the cuffs, heels and toes in the grey, then alternated between the two colours row-by-row, I should have enough to make another pair of socks.  I’ve just started the toe of the first sock.  It’s not gone according to plan. I began getting worried about the quantity of the blue, so stopped using it 15 rows into the gusset. (There’s 10g left.)  Ten rows into the foot, I started panicking about the grey...

Rummaging through the stash, I found the unlabelled end of another grey/black/white shaded sock yarn - maybe 5g - and alternated rows with that for 24 rounds.  I think I’ve got enough to do the same on the second sock, but I won’t know for certain until I finish the toe on the first one and can weigh everything.

Wish me luck.

- Pip (Hopefully I’ll be able to share photos at some point.)

Tuesday, 27 April 2021

Pumpkin Bread

I keep telling myself that I must write down this recipe before I forget it or lose it, so here goes...

When we visited Miami in 2006, one of the things I brought home in my luggage  was a packet of Williams-Sonoma cake mix for “Pumpkin Bread”.  I made it; it was scrumptious, and for several years afterwards I tried to find a recipe to duplicate it.  The only recipe I remember  had “pumpkin pie spice mix” listed as an ingredient.  Fast forward to our next trip to Miami in 2014 and, this time, I fly back to the UK with several jars of “pumpkin pie spice”.

Do you think that I could find the recipe mentioned earlier?  No.  These jars remained unopened, in the pantry, for years.  Fast forward to the end of last year when, in a fit of inspiration, I decided to search the internet again for a pumpkin bread recipe.  On someone’s blog, I found a picture of a recipe, cut from an ancient magazine.  Oddly, they didn’t give directions, just the photo.

(Sadly, while I saved a copy of the photo, I didn’t make a note of whose blog or I’d credit them.)

We don’t get canned pumpkin here, but a month or two ago, I bought a couple of large butternut squash in L!dl and decided to have a go making it with them.  After three attempts, I think I’ve nailed it.  I’ve also swapped in oil for the butter.  You need to bake the pumpkin/squash the day before you make the loaves.  It freezes well, so don’t be put off by having to make two loaves:

Pumpkin Bread (makes 2 loaves)


1 medium sized butternut squash
2 cups plain flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (aka baking soda)
1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 cups castor sugar
2 eggs
Either use 
1 teaspoon ground cloves, 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon and 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
or use:
1 tablespoon Pumpkin Pie Spice

  1. The day before, prepare your butternut squash:-
    • Preheat the oven to 200C.
    • Cut it in half lengthwise.  DO NOT PEEL.
    • Scoop out the seeds and discard them.
    • Place the squash, cut side down, onto a baking tray and bake for an hour.
    • Allow to cool before removing from the tray.
    • Once cold, use a spoon to scoop out the pulp.  Deposit it into a bowl and weigh it.  The original recipe requires a 440g can, but I’ve made it with 450g, 350g and with 530g of pulp.  All three versions have been successful.
  2. Preheat the oven to 180C.  Line two loaf pans with baking paper..
  3. In a food processor or blender, combine the sugar, the oil and the eggs.  Blend.
  4. Add the pumpkin pulp and process until combined.  (It may be a bit grainy.  That’s OK.)
  5. Finally, add the remaining ingredients and process until smooth.
  6. Divide the mixture evenly between two lined loaf pans and bake for 65-75 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean.
  7. Once cooked, remove the two loaves from the loaf pans and cool on a cake rack.
  8. If you are freezing a loaf, leave it in its baking paper, slide it into a freezer bag, seal and freeze. 


- Pam


Saturday, 20 March 2021

Lockdown 2020 - a year on....

 It's a year on Tuesday (23rd March), since Britain first went into full Lockdown in the fight against COVID-19.   The television is full of it this morning, which got me thinking... What have I done differently, since we went into Lockdown?  There are a lot of things that I did before, that many people have adopted during this time (cooking from scratch, baking, knitting, etc), but here are a few things that I do now, that I didn't habitually do before Lockdown:-

  1. Regularly walking to L!dl.  Our local branch is 1.5 miles away and it's become our primary grocery shop.  We walk there about once a week to buy toiletries, dairy products and fresh veg. (Prior to Lockdown, we bought our fresh veg and eggs from a farm shop 5 miles away and split our supermarket shopping between MrT's and L!dl, driving to both.  The first casualty of Lockdown was the farm shop - they are in the  middle of a National Trust property and were forced to close when the "big house" closed.  They haven't reopened.)
  2. Buy the Sunday paper from the local branch of the C0-0p.  Again, this is a walk, whereas previously we'd drive to MrT's.
  3. Going for a walk "after work" every evening.  We've both been working from home since Lockdown started.  This is the only way to get that mental space between work-life and home-life, which we'd normally get from a commute.  Another plus side is that, unlike many people, I haven't put on weight. 
  4. As you may have gathered, I'm not doing a lot of driving now.  The money that I've saved by not buying a tank of diesel every week is going into the "Car Account" instead, to be spent on services, insurance, road tax and the inevitable replacement car.
  5. Use my "morning commute" time to exercise.  Rather than get up later, now that I'm working from home - which might upset DH's daily routine - I use that time to exercise.  I've done the Couch-to-5K and now run 3 times a week.  On the other 2 mornings, I do some yoga stretches and I've started doing a bit of weight training.
  6. Learned French via Duolingo. (It's free.)  Today is day 296 of my current streak of lessons.  I'm spending less than 10 minutes a day and have learned considerably more words than I did in four years of French at high school.  I'm not sure I can string a sentence together and I doubt I'd understand if my French colleagues started talking in their native tongue, but I know far more than I did. 

What about you?  What are you doing differently since you went into Lockdown?

- Pip

Sunday, 7 February 2021

It’s all about getting the biggest bang for your buck

How’re is your February going?  Are you coping with the bad weather, the never-ending Lockdown and the inevitable tightening of belts?  I’ve always found February to be a tougher month, financially, than January.  In January, you run out of cash early because you were paid before Christmas and end up in debt/overdue on payments; February is when those debts have to be paid back.   (You may remember me mentioning that tough February 30 years ago, when Dumbo left me with little more £20 to get through the month. It was the inspiration for several years of the “£50 February Challenge”.)

We  went to the Butchers’ yesterday, spending £55.70 from the Meat Fund.  Since our meat shopping is all about getting the biggest bang for our buck, I thought I’d share what we bought, what the plans are for it and how many portions we’ll get.  The butcher doesn’t do an itemised bill, so I’m only recording prices where I saw them and can remember them.  Remember, there’s only two of us in this household.

  • 1 large roasting chicken - £7.99 - dinner tonight (we’ll eat the legs), chicken fajitas on Tuesday and chicken risotto on Wednesday.  That’s at least 10 portions, plus stock.  
  • 1kg minced beef - at least 16 portions when padded out with veg, lentils/beans, etc
  • 1 rolled, stuffed, boned breast of lamb 1.2kg - £13.60 - minimum of 4 portions of roast lamb.  The butcher cut it in half for us, so we have two roasts.
  • 8 chicken breasts, average weight 200g each - between 16 to 32 portions, depending on whether I double up in a recipe.   I usually only use one in a stir fry or chicken pasta dish that serves 4.
  • 8 large chicken thighs - 8 portions of chicken tray bake.  
  • 4 pork chops - two will definitely be served as chops, while the other two may get chopped up to make pork-and-beans and a stir-fry.  Either 4 or 10 portions, depending on the outcome.

That’s between 54 and 80 portions of meat-based meals.  As I said, it’s all about getting the biggest bang for our meat-buck.

With the exception of tonight’s roasting chicken, I have just finished shoehorning it all into the freezer.  Everything has been “bagged and tagged”.  I had to do it in stages to maximise space/freeze things in shapes that will stack and fit together, especially since the freezer was pretty full already with lunchboxes, tubs of soup/cooked pulses/homemade ready meals and sauces, not to mention the haggis that threatens to leap out at you... The mince was divided into 4 and carefully stuffed into freezer box to form 4 rectangles.  The chicken breasts and chops were bagged separately and frozen to be as flat as possible.  The chicken thighs were bagged in fours, while the lamb was stood on its end, to freeze upright.  

As you can see, once again, I win at freezer Tetris.

- Pam

Thursday, 31 December 2020

SitRep 2020: Review of the Year

What a strange year was 2020.  It started normally, then was sideswiped by Covid-19.  It feels like we spend a good six months in Lockdown.  We’re back there now, although it’s called “Tier 4” instead.   There were so many things planned that fell by the wayside because of Lockdown: concerts, international cricket matches at Lords and the Oval, a trip to Rome in June, Normandy in April, multiple football matches (including 2 at the Euros), a day at Wimbledon, the Proms...  Some events were postponed; others cancelled completely.  

There were some good things.  We didn’t get sick.  We managed a few days in Gloucester, before going back into Lockdown.  I’m still employed.  Treasured but fleeting visits with friends, when we were allowed to meet up.  I got my sewing machine repaired just before the first Lockdown.  I have plenty of yarn.  My choir started meeting through Zoom - rehearsing is pretty awful but it’s great to see people. Duolingo tells me I’m on a 219 day streak of learning French.  I started running again on 13th July, doing the Couch-to-5K; a week ago, I ran for 18 minutes. 

Regarding my 20-in-2020 Goals, here’s the Sit-Rep.  I reckon I achieved 9 out of the 20:-

  1. Knit 20 balls of yarn (that's between 3 & 5 jumpers worth). 41/20 - I finished the jumper I was knitting (5 balls), completed the next one (finished on 13 balls), finished the third (8 balls), fourth (9 balls) and fifth (9 balls).  Also completed are three pairs of socks.   
  2. 20 minutes a day learning French (via Duolingo and TinyCards) for 20 weeks. 31/20 weeks.  Absolutely smashed this, thanks to Duolingo.
  3. 20 minutes exercise a day for 20 weeks. Walking 30 weeks, weight training 5 weeks, running 20 weeks.
  4. Read 20 books. 6/20.  These are listed In the sidebar on the right..
  5. Try 20 new dinner recipes.  5/20.  I am a cook!  How can this be so difficult to achieve?  I’ve made Chicken a la King, a chicken tray bake from New Idea and Lidl’s Mediterranean Meatball Bake, Slow-cooker barbecued pork, Lamb Moussaka. 
  6. 20 gardening sessions.   14 proper ones plus a couple of minutes mucking around with seeds.
  7. Explore 20 new places 7/20 - the cathedral at Bayeux, Gloucester Cathedral, Gloucester city centre, Cheltenham city centre, Great Witcombe Roman Villa, Painswick Rococo Garden, some of the back streets near home.
  8. Attend 20 "shows" (concerts/plays/films/BBC recordings/exhibitions) 3/20 - Frank Skinner’s “Showbiz”.  The News Quiz.  The Troy exhibition at the British Museum, Chelsea vs Leeds (after Lockdown).
  9. Do the 2020 Fashion On The Ration Challenge and keep within the coupon count. 60/66 coupons used.  These are listed in the sidebar on the right.
  10. Phone family/friends to chat 20 times (I'm hopeless on the phone). 20/20.
  11. Lose 20lbs.  10/20.  (To be honest, I’m just glad I haven’t put any weight on given the “Covid Calories” everyone is eating.)
  12. Mend 20 items of clothing (yes, that includes sewing on buttons and taking up hems) 3/20 - hemmed trousers from a suit purchased in 2018 (I’d only worn the skirt and jacket, not the trousers).  Mended the pockets of a different suit jacket, bringing that suit back into rotation.  Repaired the pockets on DH’s shorts.
  13. Declutter 20 items.
  14. Run 20 miles (but not all at once) 20 miles (started running again on 13.7.20 - doing couch-to-5K).
  15. Save 20 x £20 out of my “allowance”(£400) £400/£400
  16. Make 20 site visits for work, earning mileage 20 times (it goes to the car fund).  29/20.  
  17. Write 20 blog posts.  25/20 
  18. Log 10,000 steps on my Fitbit on 20 or more days (harder to do than it sounds).  37/20:  11.1.20 10505 steps, 22.2.20 10603 steps, 7.3.20 13527 steps, 21.4.20 10524 steps, 3.5.20 11,196 steps, 4.5.20 13,956 steps, 17.5.20 14,066 steps, 18.5.20 15,046 steps, 19.5.20 11,567 steps, 30.5.10 10,079 steps, 31.5.20 11,160 steps, 13.7.20 11.287 steps, 18.7.20 15,001 steps, 20.7.20 10,005 steps,  22.7.20 14,830 steps, 16.8.20 10,954 steps, 17.8.20 10,952 steps, 24.8.20 11,823 steps, 26.8.20 11,402 steps, 2.9.20 10,757 steps,  7.9.20 10,714 steps, 13.9.20 10,604 steps, 18.9.20 10,946 steps, 20/9/20 11,653 steps, 21/9/20 11,374 steps, 23/9/20 10,069 steps, t5.10.20 10,355 steps, 6.10.20 13,074 steps,  9.10.20 11,012 steps, 11.10.20 10,301 steps, 18.10.20 16,786 steps, 20.10.20 16,212 steps, 21.10.20 10,341 steps, 22.10.20 11,729 steps, 23.10.20 10,298 steps, 6.11.20 10,366 steps, 11.11.20 10,100 steps, 12.12.20 11,181 steps, 30.12.20 10,061 steps.
  19. Have a party in the summer and invite at least 20 friends.  Do singing exercises for 20 weeks to rebuild my voice. 2/20.
  20. Watch at least 20 programs that have been on the DVR since 2018.  14/20.
How about you?  What did you achieve during 2020?

- Pam

Friday, 16 October 2020


Guess what one of the highlights has been for this week? 
Any ideas?  I bet you won’t guess it.
We had to change a lightbulb on Tuesday.  These days, it’s a big event.  Seriously.  It’s the first time in forever.  I can’t remember the last time a lightbulb went.  They all have low-energy bulbs that last for years.  This one has (probably) been in place for 5 or 6 years.  I’m trying to remember when we bought the light fitting it’s in.  It was bought specially for it.  (The light fitting only takes screw bulbs, instead of the more usual bayonet fastening.)

Unlike some of the older low-energy lightbulbs, it didn’t gradually brown out, getting slower and slower to obtain full brightness. It’s always stayed bright.  Instead, when I switched it on in the morning,  it started flickering really fast.   Naturally, I turned it off and put on a side light. (It’s dark when I get up.).  Tuesday evening when DH tested it, it flickered for a few seconds and then stabilised for an hour or so, before flickering again.  That was enough for him to dig out the spare lightbulbs and swap a new one for it.

When I think of how often we used to change the old, incandescent lightbulbs, this one was worth its money.  In six years, we’d have probably used 6 incandescent bulbs at £1-ish each, so this one has saved us at least as much money as it cost to purchase (£3-ish), as well as whatever it has saved in electricity.

The old one is now sitting in a box in the hall, along with other things that need to go to the local “recycling centre” (otherwise known as the tip or dump).  It’s going to be there a while.  Thanks to Lockdown, you can’t just drop in there on you way to somewhere else.  You have to book a slot in advance and each slot is only 10 minutes long.  When one of my colleagues booked her slot, she had a two week wait!  Imagine if you had a car full of stuff?

- Pam