Thursday 29 May 2008

To the man with whom I share my life

I miss you, Lover. Working away from you, at Site, sucks. Can't wait to get home tonight.

- Pam

Sunday 25 May 2008

Indiana Jones & the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

We went to see the new Indiana Jones film last night. I really enjoyed it. It is true to it's B-movie Genre. Without giving away too much of the plot (I hope), I'd really, really like some answers to the following:-
  1. Why kill off Henry Jones Snr? I can understand killing off Marcus Brody - it's hard to maintain an iconic character when the actor is dead (Denholm Elliot died in 1992) - but "the King of Scotland" aka Sean Connery is still alive. He might have added some gravitas to the proceedings. (Wikipedia says that Connery turned down the chance, saying he was enjoying his retirement too much. I wonder if it was the script. It would have been great if he'd walked in on the last scene, towing some piece of treasure with him.)
  2. What nationality was Alan Dale's character? He was probably meant to be an American Army General, but a) I couldn't see the US flashes on his shoulders, and b) his accent was appalling that that was the reason I looked. He didn't quite sound his native Australian, but he certainly didn't sound like any American I've ever heard.
  3. Whoever thought up the comb fetish for Shia LaBeouf deserves to be shot. Throughout the first half of the movie, he combs and re-combs his hair in a "look at me, I'm cool like Fonzi" action, at the most inopportune times. It is really irritating. And irrelevant. He looked far better once he'd been doused in water.
  4. Kate Blanchett's Russian accent is just not convincing. It almost works but then she says something with a long "ay" sound (as in "say") and the way she says it sounds totally wrong.
  5. What is it with the gophers? And the monkeys?
  6. Anyone who has seen The Mummy will remember the scarab beetle scene. So why repeat it twice with the big ants? Definite overkill. On the other hand, it had the desired effect of making me want to curl into a ball and hide from creepy crawlies.
If you want to hear a really entertaining review of the film, track down Mark Kermode's review from Friday on BBC Radio Five Live (you can download it via the latest podcast but get in quick - you've only got to May 30th before that gets overwritten).

- Pam

Friday 23 May 2008

Dieter's block

Someone once told me that the best way to get over writer's block is to just sit there and write rubbish for as long as it takes until something inside "clicks", the light comes on and the story starts to unfold itself again.

I'm that way with my weight at the moment. One day, I'm counting points and "good"; the next day, I blow it all on chocolate. Or cheese. For what seems like forever, I've been treading water: up a pound one week, down a pound the next. It's not what a I want to do - I'd like to get to my "real" goal weight please - but wanting and doing are two separate things. (Oh, and while we're at it, I'd like a flat stomach, please, and a waist.)

I said as much at Weight Watchers on Wednesday night. My head isn't in the right place. I can almost cope at home, when I'm in charge of the cooking, but let me loose in the outside world and it's as if the Eating Olympics have started and I'm representing Australia. My social life seems to revolve around food - either in restaurants or a takeaway eaten on someone's sofa or a meal cooked by a friend keen to show off her culinary skills. Oh, and those days when I'm too tired to cook? Please someone, keep me away from the takeaway menu!

Throw into the mix that it's a fact of life that I travel for work. At least one week in four, I drive to Site for 3 days/2 nights. Excluding the last time, every single trip I have made left me feeling that I was at the mercy of restaurant chefs. If there was something healthy on the menu, it was bound to involve prawns (and I'm allergic to prawns). And of course the menu item that caught my eye (or smelt so good wafting from the kitchen) was bound to involve a zillion points.

Why, when I'm eating in a restaurant do I feel compelled to order something I wouldn't cook at home, usually covered in cheese or cream sauce or laden with pastry? Actually, maybe that is my problem: I'm a damn good cook. We eat such a varied-but-WW diet at home, that the list of things I don't make is quite small and skewed to the things I don't cook because they're too high in points. My brain rebels, demanding "why restrict my order to pan fried fillet of salmon with a side of vegetables, when I came home with 14 fillets last time I did my supermarket shop? I could make that at home. What haven't I had lately?". (The healthy choice in a restaurant is nearly always salmon. Why are British chefs so narrow minded?)

After three days away, I normally return home feeling as if I'd applied a layer of lard to the inside of my gut and smeared my belly with double cream.

On the face of it, the trip last week was very little different. Since us contractors have been banned from the Refinery's canteen, I stopped at Marks & Spencer on the way up to buy lunch for the three days. Maybe I was earlier than usual so they had some stock, or maybe they've expanded their range, but their Count on Us sandwiches caught my eye and for the first time they had choices I would eat. So I bought two chicken wraps and a chicken sandwich and pointed them when I got to work - 4.5 points each and I'd solved the problem of lunch for three days.

That night, in the hotel, I ordered dinner the way I normally do: choosing whatever menu items that caught my fancy. This hotel was a new one for me, but the Programme Director is a regular and raives about the food. For my starter I had scallops, pan fried with lardons of bacon and served over a mixed leaf salad. My main course was grilled duck breast on a bed of vegetables, lightly dressed with plum sauce. My major impression of the lovely meal I had? The chef is Weight Watcher. Dinner was beautifully prepared and presented. There was plenty of food. It tasted delicious. But it was lightly done. I began to feel like, maybe, just maybe, I can cope with this lifestyle after all.

Of course, I managed to blow the whole thing out of the water again when I got home. I've eaten takeaway food at least four times in the last week (or is that six, if you include the leftovers in my lunchbox on two separate days?). [sigh]

So there I was sitting at Weight Watchers on Wednesday, shaking my head when Denise asked "Did you have a good week?". "No. My brain isn't right. I can't get my thinking straight." I'm not going to stop attending meetings. I need this. It's just that I'm fumbling for the switch to turn it around; I haven't managed to make it click just yet.

- Pam

Saturday 17 May 2008

What Gordon did next

Or should that be "How Alistair fixed it for Gordon"?

On Tuesday, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Alistair Darling, dug the Prime Minister out of a hole and announced the equivalent of a u-turn over the abolition of the 10p tax band. In an "emergency budget", it was announced that personal allowances would be increased by £600 for all taxpayers whilst the starting level for 40% tax band was lowered by £600, so that the net benefit would only be felt by the UK's 25 million basic rate taxpayers who will get an extra £120 per annum in their pockets.

(Cue much dancing and rejoicing in the streets by worried Labour politicians).

So what does this mean? Is it a good thing or not? The devil, as usual, is in the detail.

Firstly, it doesn't take effect until September, so the poorest taxpayers must struggle through until then. They'll get a £60 "bonus" in their September pay packets, followed by £10 a month there-after. Bad thing.

Secondly, does it alleviate the extra tax they will still have to pay? The answer is MAYBE. It depends how you look at it. If you are comparing last year with this year, it can be argued that your taxpayer is better off because the main tax band, the "basic rate" band, has also decreased from 22% to 20%. And then you have to factor in the annual inflation-linked increase in personal allowances...

Let's use a hypothetical low income earner, who earns £11,000 per year and call her Jo Broke . Click on the image to make it bigger.

Jo paid £1,003 in tax last year. If Tuesday hadn't happened, she'd be paying £1,113 in tax this year, an increase of £113. However, because the abolition of the 10p tax band was kept so quiet, Jo would have been expecting to only pay the £890 of scenario 2. Thanks to Tuesday, she's still paying £113 more than she expected, but it's less than last year. I think I'll leave you to draw your own conclusions on whether she has got fair treatment.

And what about the people who earn enough to pay 40% tax? Thanks to Tuesday, they'll be paying an extra £120 in tax this year. Since anyone earning £40,835* or more pays 40% tax on their earnings over that sum, that is a hell of a lot of people who will feel aggrieved come September. Me? I feel aggrieved now.

- Pam

* Let's put a salary of £40,835 into context: it's about 1/6 of the average house price in the UK. In most industries, it's a starting salary for bottom level management.

Sunday 11 May 2008


I've been a bit quiet for the last week or so, basically because I've been sick. A cold triggered my shingles to re-emerge, leaving me feeling shattered. (I was actually wondering why I felt like I hadn't had my thyroxin for a week, when the rash emerged on my abdomen. Zombies'r'us.)

It doesn't mean I haven't wanted to blog, rather I haven't had the energy. I'd drag myself into work, yawn my way home and collapse on the couch. Fortunately, work has been more about process and less about brain-power, so I've been able to plod through.

Normal service will be resumed in a few days.

- Pam