Monday 27 August 2007

Snowflake Sweater Update

It's about time I wrote something about my knitting. I'm about 97% done on the Snowflake Sweater - just need to sew on the sleeves and sew up the remaining seams.
The bands posed a bit of a problem. Since separately knitted bands weren't in the 1940's pattern I'd based this on, I didn't have a suggested length to go on. Also, by the time I'd done an 15 inches or so of the first band, my carefully blocked edges had curled back up on themselves, making it impossible to use them as a measure. In the end, I decided that I had to stitch the bands on as I knitted.

The next problem was how to join the bands at the back. I didn't cast off when I finished the first band, just put the stitches on hold on a safety-pin.

I settled on grafting the two ends together. Good in theory, not so pretty in practice. How do you graft ribbing? I couldn't figure out how to do the purls. Here is the join - not as pretty as I'd like, but hopefully not that noticeable.

Sewing on the sleeves poses another set of problems. I'm not 100% sure that I won't unpick the first sleeve and do it again. Firstly, it has "ears", which result in it making a puffed sleeve-head. I hadn't planned on that.

I'm not sure if I've made a mistake or if both sleeves will turn out the same. The sleeve head on the other doesn't seem to be quite so stepped, but I'll only know once I sew it on.

In the meantime, I've finally stopped procrastinating and blocked the waistband on the Reynold's sweater from this post. Picked up the stitches for the back yesterday and have knitted just over 6 inches. The Reynold's cotton is a dream to knit, the pattern is simple and at this rate, I'll have it finished by the end of September.

- Pam

Thursday 23 August 2007

My Hip Pocket Nerve is Hurting


Tonight is another Prom Concert, this time Handel, Purcell and Telemann. Unfortunately, my planning let me down and there was nothing in the house that could be turned into a picnic supper in the time available to me last night/this morning. (Also, inspiration failed.)

So, at lunchtime, I hot-footed it down to the only food shop near work - the local garage, which contains a Marks & Spencer "Simply Food" franchise. Three sandwiches and two bottles of water later and my wallet is £10.35 lighter. As I packed the food into the cool-bag in the boot of the car, a thought sent me reeling: "That's an aweful lot to spend on a couple of sandwiches. Some people do this every day!".

It occured to me that it's been a long time since I regularly bought my lunch. My mind rebels at the thought of paying £3 to £5 a day for a dull sandwich and a piece of fruit to eat at my desk. And yet, once upon a time, I did it and thought nothing of it. Now, it seems like throwing money away. I can eat better at a fraction of the cost if I make it myself. How far have I come?

- Pam

Monday 20 August 2007


I have a long mental list of things to blog about: the trip to Paris last month (PipneyJane Knits on Paris Metro!), the football, my knitting (I'm finally knitting/sewing on the bands of the snowflake sweater), several Prom Concerts, etc. However, it's all gone out the window - today I'm distracted by pain.

I've mentioned before that I'm getting my gall bladder out on 1st October. That won't be a day too soon. The pain is now almost a daily occurance. I've had episodes without a trigger; I've eaten triggers without subsequent pain; there is no logic to it now. Today the trigger was lunch.

So apologies whilst I curl up into a ball and grunt occasionally. Normal blogging activity will be resumed eventually.

- Pam

Thursday 16 August 2007

Lunch anybody?

Sometimes people at work take the biscuit!

We only get half an hour for lunch at work, but there is some flexibility. You can take longer, so long as you make up your hours.

Yesterday, I went out to lunch with the two girls I sit with at work. We were joined by another Project Accountant. This is the second time I've been out to lunch since I started there that hasn't been manager imposed. The first time we went, about 4 months ago, there was dead silence when we picked up our bags and walked out together. You could detect the whispering starting the moment we walked out of the room. It was like we'd declared anarchy!

This time, lunch lasted about an hour and a half. We had a lovely chat and a laugh and discovered that this is the first social lunch the other PA had been to in over two years. Our only mistake was probably not telling the waitress that we only had an hour. But it didn't matter, since we'd be making up the time.

Anyway, got back to the office and received an email from the tax accountant: "Hope you had a nice lunch. You will make up the two hours you were gone, won't you?"

My first reaction was "What's it to you?"!

But I thought I'd be charitable - maybe she hadn't meant to come across as nasty and it was actually meant tongue-in-cheek in a wistful, I-wish-I'd-been-invited way. English isn't her first language. So I wrote an email back along the lines of "Would you like to come along next time? Maybe you could speed up the waitress." Silence.

The others were furious when they opened their emails. We'd all got the same message. None of us report to her or do any work with her. And yet she took it upon herself to tick us off for taking a real lunch break.

I found out later that she'd had a discussion with the Project Accounts Manager about it (he told the other PA that we'd been told off). So it had been meant in a nasty, laying-down-the-law kind of way.

No wonder nobody is sociable in this place. I'm still shaking my head at her nerve.

- Pam (My boss had been sitting two tables away throughout our lunch. If he'd had a problem, he'd have said something when he left.)

Tuesday 14 August 2007

Courgette Cake

Another entry in my continuing saga of how to use up courgettes. :o)

I first had this cake at a team meeting in 2003, when Nikki presented it as her "mystery cake". It was unadorned with icing or filling, green flecked, delicious and totally mystifying. We couldn't guess the main ingredient.

This is my version. The original is in Nigella Lawson's, How to Be a Domestic Goddess. I make it as a loaf cake and serve it unadorned. This way, it is perfect for lunch boxes. The recipe makes 12 large slices or 24 half-slices at 2 WW points for each half-slice.


2 medium sized courgettes (zucchini), grated using course side of box grater
2 large eggs
125ml vegetable oil
150g caster sugar (I use vanilla sugar)
225g self-raising flour
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder


1) Preheat oven to 180C/350F.

2) Combine eggs, oil and sugar in bowl. (I do this in the food processor.)

3) Sieve in flour, bicarb and baking powder and beat until well combined. Mixture is quite stiff.

4) Stir in grated courgettes (if using food processor, process for minimum time until combined).

5) Pour into lined loaf pan and bake for 60 minutes until slightly browned and firm to touch.

6) Allow to partially cool in loaf pan before turning out.

7) Fight DH off so that you can get a piece! LOL!


- Pam

Six Impossible Things to Do Before Breakfast

"If you've done six impossible things this morning, why not round it off with breakfast at Milliway's—the Restaurant at the End of the Universe!"

Part of what drove me to start the
WonderWoman Project was an attempt to conquer whole "do six impossible things before breakfast" thing. You know, where you accomplish as many challenges as possible before getting on with the drudge of your normal working day. My reality: if I don't do it before breakfast, it won't get done.

Since six is much too daunting a number of things to tackle at 6am, I settled on starting with three, then aiming for five. I can't always manage three. They aren't always the same three, either. Oh, and I've extended the definition of "breakfast" to include all the time before I leave for work at (theoretically) 7.15am. The full list is somewhat longer:-

Pam's List Of Impossible Things To Do Before Breakfast

- Exercise for half an hour
- Get up at 5.25am so that I can exercise instead of staying in bed until 6 (no wonder I don't exercise more often!)
- Conquer the 5 minute shower barrier (including washing/conditioning hair, regular shaving of legs, etc)
- Conquer the 5 minute after-shower dry/moisturise, etc, barrier
- Spend 15 minutes learning a language
- Floss teeth as well as brushing them
- Put away last night's dishes (assuming I was motivated enough to wash them up)
- Wash up my breakfast things (and last night's dishes if there are any)
- Water the garden (not much of a requirement this summer)
- All the temperature taking and charting malarkey that come with trying to get pregnant
- Watch the 6.30am morning headlines on BBC Breakfast
- Prepare either crockpot dinner (for a busy evening/WW night) or picnic meal (for Prom Concerts/football nights)

Throw in a resolution never to leave my DH in the morning without a cuddle, add the facts that I wear somewhat formal office attire (suit and makeup), always eat breakfast and can't survive without my morning coffee, and you're looking at a rather crowded morning.

Probably the biggest challenges are the shower ones and the exercise one. The shower ones are crucial. I can easily lose half an hour between staggering out of bed and stepping out of the shower. I've been working on the 5 minute shower since I started my new job in January, so I'm much better at it now, but I still can't seem to crack the 10 minutes total showering experience (5 minutes shower, 5 minutes dry). .<<<< Whine! >>>> Why is it that some people can manage it and I can't? Hey, I'd be happy with a fifteen minute shower-and-dry session!

It's not what I do. I've got the mechanics down to a fine art: switch shower on; apply cleanser; step under spray; wet hair and wash off cleanser at the same time; apply shampoo; wash off; apply hair conditioner then scrub body (using exfoliating sponge and moisture-wash), shave legs, etc, whilst it goes to work; comb through hair conditioner and wash everything off; switch off shower; apply crystal deodorant to wet armpits; towel dry hair and body; apply moisturising lotion to (at least legs) body; tone and moisturise face; comb and part hair (the joy of wash'n'wear curls); leave bathroom. Every part of this routine is designed to achieve the maximum whilst taking the minimum time: I shave my legs Mondays and Fridays, and use an exfoliating soap-based scrub on my face Wednesdays and Sundays instead of the cleanser. It's all balanced so I take the same amount of time each morning. So where on earth does the time go???

I blame the whole problem on the mystery time-thief, who steals minutes every time you turn your back. I can't hear him because I've stepped under the shower jets. My DH calls this "getting lost in shower time". He's wrong. It's a time-thief.

- Pam

PS: Today's three things: exercise session (yay!) doing Cindy Crawford's Total Body Workout number 2, made picnic salad for supper at tonight's Prom Concert, and a 5.23am start (DH set the alarm clock a little earlier - I am not complaining).

Friday 10 August 2007

The congestion charge <<<< Rant >>>>>

Stephanie asked me to explain London's congestion charge. Where do I begin? I'll try not to rant too much, but I warn you this will be long. :o)

The charge was introduced about 4 years ago, first in Central London (in the area that would correspond to most cities' Central Business District or "downtown") and then, in February of this year, it was extended westwards to cover the mainly residential area of the London Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (K&C). The original charge was £5/day; once the extension was put in place it rose to £8. Wikipedia carries a useful summary. The hours are currently 7am to 6pm, Monday to Friday.

The charge works because London has the world's largest network of CC-TV cameras*. If your vehicle is spotted within the Zone, during the hours of operation, you are required to pay the charge or be fined. However, it doesn't matter if you enter the Zone once or twenty times in that day, you only pay one charge.

The whole thing was devised by our car-hating mayor. The publicly espoused theory is that it will get cars off the road in Central London, thus improving air quality. In reality, it is an extra tax on drivers and residents of the zone:-
  1. The majority of vehicles in Central London are there because they have to be and can't avoid it. That has been the case since the 1960's. Only very wealthy people EVER drive into Central London to go to work, shop or visit the theatre. Nobody else could afford to park. Parking is limited and prohibitively expensive. I once paid £40 for an afternoon, when public transport problems meant driving in after work was my only option to meet my friend.
  2. I did used to drive across Central London to go to work, back in the days when I lived in Catford and worked in Ealing. I drove because it was my least stressful option - if I took the train, I would have to change trains at least twice, and deal with up to 5 rail companies. The biggest stress was that I couldn't rely on my connections actually connecting with each other. The drive across London was the quickest, least congested route. This is my vested interest.
  3. There is an oft-spouted statistic that London's congestion increased by 16% in the 5 years prior to the Zone. What isn't usually mentioned is that actual vehicle numbers DID NOT increase. The increase in congestion is down to a) poor phasing of traffic lights; b) bus and cycle lane schemes that make at least one lane of the road in question unusable to cars and trucks; and c) various "traffic calming" measures, which remove part or all of one lane's-worth of road thus narrowing a not-wide road still further.
  4. Prior to the extension of the Zone westwards, traffic in Central London had returned to it's pre-Zone levels. Air pollution has increased.
  5. There was no call to extend the Zone westwards. In fact, many local residents strongly protested against it. The Mayor did a "consultation exercise" and announced before it was over that he was going to ignore the results and go ahead anyway. With the exception of a few major roads like the A4 (the Great West Road), drivers in K&C are usually local residents. This wasn't even the most congested borough in London (I think that title goes to mayor-loving Islington). What K&C is, though, is packed to the rafters with wealthy people who don't support the mayor. (Can anyone spell vindictive?)
  6. Residents of the Zone get a 90% discount. Given that there is little off-street parking, this means that they are forced to pay an extra tax of at least £200 per year if they own a car even if they don't drive it every day (plus an admin charge for buying their season pass). If they don't buy a season pass, they don't get the discount. Call me stupid, but wouldn't this encourage Zone residents to drive so that they could get their money's worth?
  7. You can't run an account. It's not like the e-tolls they have in Australia, where your account is debited every time you, say, cross the bridge over the Brisbane River. If you pay the Charge and don't use it, it's your loss.
  8. As usual, the Charge has hit the poorest the most: cleaners, workers at Smithfield Meat Market, tradesmen. Take the workers at the meat market: most start work at 3am, finishing around 9am. At 3am, their transport choices are walk to work or drive. Few have the option of catching a night bus (which run hourly, take forever, don't connect up with other night buses and don't have full London coverage). Traditionally, they drove and parked in the car-park under the Market. At £5 a day, many struggled to make ends meet. At £8, who knows?
  9. The Mayor is currently threatening to increase the Charge to £25 for drivers of 4-wheel drives, high performance vehicles and larger engined vehicles. Given that they log into the DVLA records to identify the car when you pay the charge, I'm assuming that this will hit drivers of all 4-wheel drives, not just SUVs. So, if you drive a Subaru sedan in London, look out!!! (All Subaru vehicles are 4-wheel drive; even their smallest compact car.)

The biggest irony of the whole thing is that Central London is not the site of the most congestion in London and never has been. I think the award for most congested road is still held by the South Circular, closely followed by the North Circular (in my book, the South Circ wins as it isn't a real road - it is a series of roads signposted into a route and joined at intersections). There is one point on/near the South Circ at Forest Hill where, if you close the road, you can gridlock all of south London.

That's enough ranting from me. I warned you it would be long.

- Pam

* One quarter of all the world's CC-TV cameras are in Britain. Half of those are in London.

Tuesday 7 August 2007

English Flapjack

Today's recipe is dedicated to a couple of posters at the Motley Fool, who requested it.

Until I came to Britain, I thought "flapjack" was an American style pancake made with buttermilk - a bit like an overgrown pikelet. Here, however, "flapjack" means an oat-based bar, welded together with sugar and butter. It's my absolute favourite sweet thing.

This is a really easy recipe to double or triple. For portion control reasons, I tend to make mine in muffin pans. Traditionally, they're made in a square or rectangular cake tin and sliced when warm (see Note A below). Each flapjack is 2.9 Weight Watchers points.


6oz/175g Oats
4oz/100g butter
6 level tablespoons soft, dark muscovado/molasses sugar
1 tablespoon Golden Syrup or Maple Syrup


1) Preheat oven to 180 C /350 F.

2) Melt butter in saucepan, add sugar and Golden/Maple Syrup and stir until dissolved. Remove from heat and stir in oats.

3) Spoon evenly into 12 greased muffin pans and bake for 8 minutes.

4) Allow to cool in pans until they start to harden. Turn out and allow to go cold before serving. (Note, if you allow them to get too hard in the pans, they'll stick. But if they're turned out when too soft, they'll crumble!)

5) Store in fridge


A) You can also bake them together in a well greased, non-stick, rectangular cake pan for 20 minutes, remove from oven and score into 12-15 bars. Allow to cool and then turn out. I've found that they are harder to turn out without breaking or sticking to the pan this way

B) If you can't get Golden Syrup, use pure Maple Syrup. They'd work well with honey or molasses ("treacle") too.

C) Do NOT use margarine. These taste so much better with real butter.

- Pam

Monday 6 August 2007

Cheap beef, big social cost

Foot & Mouth has been found at a farm 30-odd miles from home. There have been no other outbreaks and it's probable that someone at a nearby research facility is the cause. I feel sorry for the farmers involved; it must be devastating.

The EU have banned all imports of British meat, dairy products and livestock: My first thought was "Oh, great. Cheaper meat for me!", but facetiousness aside, it's going to cause a lot of hardship here. British farmers are already struggling. The various government marketing boards (Wool Marketing Board, Milk Marketing Board*) no longer look after the interests of the farmers and, instead of supporting prices, have driven them down below cost. In the wool industry, farmers are burning or composting fleeces since the price offered by the Wool Board is a pittance and they aren't allowed to sell their fleeces elsewhere.

- Pam

* I know I have the names wrong, but you get the idea.

Friday 3 August 2007

Resolutions anyone?

It's my birthday tomorrow. I'll be 42. I don't feel 42. I don't feel middle-aged. In my head, I'm perpetually 34 (and why I've fixed on that age, I have no idea). I'm not afraid of getting older and I've never been particularly bothered by it until now.

Now, though, I'm in denial - I can't be 42. There are so many things on my life-long to do list which should have been achieved by now: the dreams unfulfilled; the books not written; the songs not sung. If you'd asked me when I was 20, I'd have predicted my 40-something self to be happily married (tick, tick), and living the sort of nice, middle-class life my friends' mothers* led at the same age: part-time nursing job, 2 to 4 school-aged children**, dog, stylish house, lots of craft-work completed and on display, gourmet cook (tick), landscaped garden, classical concerts (tick), golf (semi-tick, not often enough), singing in a semi-pro choir, bridge nights and dinner parties (tick). Oh, yes, and fit and skinny.

What happened? I wasted 9 years of my life married to the wrong man. I changed countries and careers. I spent 7 years in night-school studying to further my new career. I didn't apply myself to write that book or that cookbook. I stopped singing for 15 years and don't live/work anywhere near the rehearsal venues of the best choirs in London. I've spent years working long hours at jobs which have long commutes. For some things, lets face it: laziness one.

OK, time to stop feeling sorry for myself. These are my goals for my 43rd year:-
  1. I will get pregnant or go broke paying for IVF.
  2. I will lose the last 17 lb.
  3. I will change my job to one which keeps me busy, makes me happy and is 37.5 hours or less (the extra 2.5 hours/week are killing me with boredom). It will also pay more and have a shorter commute.
  4. I will finish my UFO's.
  5. I will sell my flat instead of procrastinating over it.
  6. The house will finally get re-decorated.
  7. I will to learn a language. I just have to decide what.
  8. I will to landscape the garden.
  9. I will get fit, exercise every morning and comfortably run five miles.
  10. I will find a serious choir and work on my voice.
  11. We will buy a dog.
  12. I will learn to play the piano.
- Pam (there are more things but this is for starters)

* Since my mother was 47 when I was born, I can't use her life as comparison.

** Depended on the day; definitely 2 kids, sometimes 4.

Wednesday 1 August 2007


I ache. Everywhere aches. I even have a sore muscle just below my rib cage, at the point where the bottom right rib curves up to join it's sisters. It's a 1 inch square of sharp pain every time I move.

It's all self inflicted. After months of procrastinating (and the instigation of a higher daily dose of thyroxin), I'm back working on the exercise goals for the
WonderWoman Project. Amy and I are doing the Windsor 8k race on 28th September, so I finally started training for it on Monday.

Yesterday, I started work on toning my body. I decided I needed something more challenging than my usual weights work-out (who knows if I was doing that correctly/effectively?), something that addressed my laziness at warming up and gave me a whole range of stretches to do. So I dug out Cindy Crawford's
Total Body Workout. I really enjoyed it. Most of it wasn’t too difficult and I didn't need a large space to move around in (always important in tiny British houses). I didn't manage to do all the sets of every exercise - tried to do two out of the three - but it was a start and that gives me something to aim for. Can't do a press-up or a sit-up to save my life, though.

- Pam

PS: Got a call from the hospital yesterday. My surgeon forgot that he was on holiday on 10th September, so the op has been put back until 1st October. Hope the weather is still good then - I'm looking forward to lazing in the garden.