Sunday 25 January 2009

Putting a marker in the flour

Two weeks ago, I phoned Vina: "Is £4.99 for 10kg a good price for Atta Flour?", I asked. Atta flour is wholemeal Asian bread flour and Tesco's had a special offer.

Vina is used to my stranger culinary questions; I've regularly picked her brain about Asian food and the best places to buy it. (She knows my love for her native cuisine.) This time she filled me on the best grade of Atta flour to buy (Vina uses medium to make chapatis) and that her regular price was closer to £13.

Tonight, DH and I decanted a 10kg sack of fine, medium-wholemeal Atta flour into my largest tupperware container. Plus two other mid-sized ones. (Despite my best efforts, I didn't have a container large enough.) The flour is finely milled and the bran-wheatgerm bits have been ground to a fine powder. It should make light, fluffy baked goods. I'm wondering how it will go in a regular bread recipe.

I reckon that I have enough flour to last most of the year. I'll let you know how it goes.

- Pam

Saturday 24 January 2009


Why does Envy cross into jealous spite?

When I was a child, I envied all the children in my class who could draw. And had neat handwriting. Kids who could do things that I patently couldn't - my handwriting was never "good" (I was probably the last child in my class to be allowed to use a pen). My best drawings weren't even fit to line the rubbish bin. I dreaded "Craft" lessons and hated going into the art classroom.

At about the same time, I envied the girls with long, slightly wavy hair. Mine was short, curly and frizzed when brushed. For some years, I wished my hair was blond, too. And that I didn't wear glasses. As I got older, I envied the skinny girls (I was fat). And the ones with real waists (I'm short-waisted). Eventually, I got contact lenses, learned how to manage my hair from a hairdresser who "cut it curly" and told me never to brush it, and dabbled with hair dye. I grew up, lost weight and learned that looks are secondary to confidence and self-esteem when making friends or attracting a life-mate.

As an adult, I've envied the well organised and the neat*. I've worked hard to be organised, but people who have time management down to a fine art still trigger flashes of the green-eyed monster in me. I know time management is a matter of prioritising what is important and pursuing those things instead of watching television. It's about achieving small, daily or weekly targets on the way to the big goal. I still haven't figured out how to fit into a day everything I want to do or achieve, but I'm working on it.

I've learned how to harness the power of envy and now use it to determine my priorities, goals and dreams.

Sometimes, though, people broadside you with their jealousy, and in the most unlikely settings. How many times have you received a backhand insult? When someone compliments your knitting or your cooking and then says "I could never find the time to do what you do. I wish I had all your spare time!", implying with their tone that you are tethered to the kitchen or your knitting basket and have no other life. (When I was a student, a girl I despised once attempted to insult me by disparagingly remarking, "How terribly domestic of you" after I cooked dinner in the Nurses Home. I laughed at her.)

My friend, Fluff, was recently the recipient of some unbridled jealous spite, when she showed off her latest project at her knitting group. The needling started almost immediately afterwards, "Where do you find the time?". "I wish I had all your spare time!" and on and on and on. All delivered in a spiteful tone.

I've wondered why these people were so nasty to Fluff. And why so many people deliver veiled backhand insults. All I can come up with is that the bitterness they're expressing is really directed at themselves. The thing they're disparaging in you is actually something they dislike about themselves. They wish they could knit a sweater and are angry at themselves for not achieving it. They like good food but despise themselves because they can't cook. They want a career, but can't be bothered to put in the hours of study, so disparage the people who do rather than admit their own failings and laziness.

Of course, you win no Brownie Points for pointing any of this out, but at least you can use it to neutralise their venom.

- Pam

* I've figured how "neat" works. It's the next step beyond tidy. It's to do with proportion and getting things in alignment with the major planes of say the table on which they are sitting.

Friday 23 January 2009


I took my new toy with me when I went to Site this week, so that I could surf the internet in the evenings. It is small enough that it fits into a large handbag. I did a bit of surfing, but mainly I downloaded some programs I'd missed on the BBC and watched those. I'm a big fan of the BBC, so I was very happy when the leader in my breakfast copy of The Times was a message to the TV regulator telling him to back off and leave the BBC (and its funding) alone.

Thank you Mr Editor; for once we are in total agreement.


When I was driving back today, it struck me that I never explained why I'm feeling so broke this month. I didn't really have an explanation ("Gone mad on wool" isn't strictly true - the Sanity Fund covers that). This afternoon, the penny dropped. I've fallen foul of No Pay Day. For seven years, December's salary was paid on the 31st December, but I changed jobs two years ago. And this company does its December payroll on the last Friday before Christmas; this time that was nearly two weeks before the end of the month.


In one respect, driving home was a bit of a white knuckle ride. The Toy is just a handful of miles off passing another milestone: 180,000 miles in just over 8 years. A milestone I'd like to record. I didn't take a camera with me when I went to Site. My nearly-seven-years-old mobile phone doesn't have one built in, either. Fortunately, I got home with 179,980 miles on the clock. We'll hit the milestone tomorrow.


I've mentioned before about the British media's latest obsession, the new frugality. Last night, I caught the last 10 minutes of a Dispatches program, The True Cost of Cheap Food. They had several axes to grind, but the bit that I picked up on was that they'd challenged two families in Leeds to change their shopping habits. Both were classic nuclear families: two parents, two school-aged children. One family had to buy only supermarket budget lines; the other family had to only shop at small, local stores: the green grocer, the butcher, the delicatessen, the street market.

The results were interesting: both families saved significant amounts of money. The Budget Lines family cut their spending to approximately £250; the Small Shops people cut theirs to £350-ish. God knows what they were living on before - they both regularly spent over £500 a month on groceries. How??? That's practically a mortgage payment!


Speaking of mortgage payments..... Thanks to the latest Bank of England base-rate cut to 1.5%, the tracker mortgage I have on the flat has fallen by two-thirds in less than a year.

Thanks, Gordon.

- Pam

Wednesday 21 January 2009

On this day

Today is the first real day of a new era. This morning, in the White House, Barak Obama woke up as President of the United States of America. A man with lots of labels, but with whom the stereotypes fail. President. Democrat. A real African-American - son of an American woman and a Kenyan man - half African, half American. A black man who does not share the heritage of most black Americans, he is not the decendent of slaves. A politician who fought his campaign without playing the race card (much to the disgust of the Reverend Jesse Jackson, who was reported to be accusing Obama of not being black enough). The world will never be quite the same place again.

While most of the rest of the planet are just grateful to be rid of Dubya and his cronies, we did not have a vote. We are only the indirect recipients of whatever actions President Obama makes. The hopes and dreams he has to satisfy are those of the American people. I don't envy him this responsibility. If he can go even halfway to tackling the problems listed in his speech, then he will have achieved more than the last half-dozen presidents put together.

Prior to the election, much was said in the press about the reaction of Americans to Obama's ethnicity. Please, God, that this Presidency will demonstrate the fulfilment of Martin Luther King's dream, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Does his colour matter? No. Does his religion matter? No. What really matters is whether he is a man of principle and conviction who thinks through the consequences of his decisions and choses the least bad option, not the most expedient. It is doing what is right that matters, not what is easy.

Good luck, Mr President.

- Pam

Thursday 15 January 2009


On Boxing Day, we went for a walk round Rochester Castle in Kent. It was sunny, but the wind was bitingly cold, cutting through coats and hats and gloves. We took refuge in the warmth of the Cathedral. Even after stopping in a cafe for a hot drink, I was still cold. The temperature never got above freezing. There was ice on the ground at midday.

A couple of days later and further down the coast, we walked from my SIL's house to the local pub for lunch. On the way down, one of the neighbours was washing his car. Later, his driveway was coated in ice where the water had pooled. It had frozen where it landed.

Last Sunday, we visited my FIL's grave, only to find the flowers frozen in their vase.

Excluding a few days of this week, it has been seriously cold in Britain for the best part of a month. The BBC reports that it hasn't been this cold since 1995! Last Thursday, the local weather station registered -9 Celsius. I think my prediction from September is coming true. This year, Britain is having a respectable winter instead of just a rainy, grey one. (And how is that different from our summers? Not much.)

Interestingly, when it gets that cold, instead of ice/frost forming on cars and pavements, we're getting a sort of snow frosting. It looks like snow flakes, but it hasn't fallen from the sky. (We've had almost no snow falling.) It's fluffy, too, and the wipers just brush it off the windscreen.

Several times, the Toy's screenwash has frozen in its jets. On Saturday, I was horrified to discover that the regular brand is only for temperatures down to -5C. Even when used neat. I've replaced it with some heavy duty stuff that is guaranteed down to -20C. My biggest fear is that I'll be driving down the M4, use the screenwash and it'll just freeze on the windscreen, leaving me blind. I've had it freeze when the car is cold, when I've been stuck at the traffic lights, but we'd only just started up then.

The weather reports suggest the cold weather will return at the weekend, when these islands will be hit by a front that has crossed the Atlantic. I wonder if it will snow.

- Pam

Thursday 8 January 2009

New toy to play with

Having umm'd and ahhh'd for about a week, I bit the bullet on Sunday and purchased a new laptop: an Acer 2930 laptop with a 12.1 inch screen, 2GB RAM, 250GB hard drive, DVD writer, webcam, bluetooth.....

I could go on and on. This is the PC I'd hoped to get 3 years ago, when I purchased that rather expensive doorstop I rebuilt last month. It's small, almost small enough to fit into a regular sized handbag. It's light, weighing in at 2.2kg/4.6lb.

I got a good price, too. PC World were selling it "on special" for £449.99, down £50 from it's non-sale price of £499.99. (Today, they have it listed for £479.) A web-search turned up an additional 2.5% discount if I bought it from their sibling company, Dixons. So I did and got the lowest price I could find on/off the internet, £438.74. Ordered it online and it was delivered yesterday.

Now it's time to have some fun!

- Pam (DH has comandeered the doorstop)

Sunday 4 January 2009

Christmas knitting 2008

Did you get all of your knitted/crochetted gifts finished in time for Christmas? Since work consumed so much of my life last year, I set myself a very modest total of two pairs of socks and a pair of slocks (crochetted, slipper socks). The slocks never made it.

I didn't get a photo of the first pair of socks, which I gave to my SIL. However, they are from the same yarn as the sock that I was knitting half-way down this post. Here is another shot of that photo.

Yarn: Regia 6-Faedig a.k.a. Regia Crazy Colors 6 ply in the colourway Passion. 2 x 50g balls (I used approximately 80g).
Sticks: 3.5mm Addi Bamboo dpns.
Pattern: none, really. I just applied the Yarn Harlot's generic sock recipe.

The second pair of socks seemed to take forever to knit. I bought the yarn at the start of December, when I visited Barons in Uxbridge. Despite the down-beat start to our relationship, the Elle Machine Washable Sock Wool was actually a pleasure to knit. Which is just as well really - because the first sock took over two weeks, I was frantically knitting the second sock at midnight on December 23rd. My wrists were killing me!

They were for DH's best friend. I think he likes them. He modelled them for me.

Yarn: Elle Machine Washable 4-ply Sock Yarn in brown. 2 x 50g balls (5g left over.)
Sticks: 2.5mm Addi dpns.
Pattern: "retro-rib" pattern from Interweave Knits Winter 2004. Here's a link to the pattern on Ravelry, if you're curious. I made larger socks than those in the pattern, by increasing it to 72 stitches and working the heel flap over 36 stitches. The final result is perfect for a plain yarn since it allows the texture of the stitches to take centre stage, but the rib pattern does make it slow going. It was easy to memorise but almost impossible to knit without paying attention because it changes every few stitches. It was a relief to get to the foot so that I could do some plain knitting on the sole.

In a fit of inspiration/madness two weeks before Christmas, I added a hat to the mix. I'd gone into John Lewis to buy a wedding present and, as usual, wandered through the yarn department. In the clearance bin, I found two balls of Rowan's Biggy Print and thought: "That'd make the perfect hat for Kim". (It did, too.) It was only when I got home that I discovered the recommended needle size is 20mm! And I needed dpns to knit a hat. DH was sceptical that I would find needles for it, let alone get it done in time.

Tuesday 23rd December found me trekking into I Knit London to see if they had needles I could use. I ended up with a 15mm Addi Turbo circular and good luck wishes from Craig.

I cast on on Christmas Day and was finished within two hours. Lets just say that it was interesting doing the magic loop on a circular as thick as my thumb.

I made up the pattern, trying it on as I went.

Final view:

Rowan's Biggy Print in Thunder. 1 ball per hat.
Sticks: 15mm Addi Turbos.
Pattern: Made up by me. Cast on 28 sts and join careful not to twist. Work in K1 P1 rib for 10 rows. On next row, decrease every 4th stitch either by K2 tog or P2 tog. Then work two rows decreasing every third stitch. Work 1 row of K2 tog P1. On the final row, K2 tog and repeat to end. Thread a paper-clip with the tale end of the yarn and, using that as a needle, thread it through the remaining stitches, drawing them tightly together. Weave in the ends using the paperclip as if it was a needle.

I liked it so much that I made one for me, too.

- Pam

Saturday 3 January 2009

Thank heaven for the Sanity Fund

Yesterday, I informed DH (and the blogsphere) that I'm broker than broke and had resolved to give up spending for January. Then I promptly went shopping for a pair of boots (black, knee high stretch with 2" heels - £34.25 in the M&S sale). Sounds contradictory, no?

The money for the boots came from my Sanity Fund, a concept I've borrowed shamelessly from Anita Bell, the author of "Your Mortgage and how to pay it off in 5 years - by someone who did it in 3". I've been a big fan of Anita's ever since I bought her first three books in Melbourne Airport six years ago. I read them back-to-back on the flight back to the UK.

After they purchased their first home, Anita and her husband lived off one salary whilst using the other to pay off their mortgage. The first salary paid all of their basic living costs as well as a full mortgage payment. One of the strategies that stopped them both feeling deprived, going mad and having a big blow out was the Sanity Fund. Each of them got a certain amount of money each fortnight to do with whatever they wanted (Aussies usually get paid fortnightly). Anita kept track of her Sanity Fund on a wallet card (a home made index card she kept folded in her wallet). On it, she listed items she really really wanted to purchase, portioning out her Sanity Fund each pay day until she'd saved up enough money to buy whatever it was. She'd take the Wallet Card out every time she felt tempted by something, to remind her of her goals.

The Sanity Fund and Wallet Card concepts struck a chord in my mind that has reverberated ever since. How many items were on my wish list but when I came across them, I never had the money to buy them? Things that didn't really justify becoming line items in a real budget but that I lusted after in a vague "Oh! I wish I could buy one of those!" way? They weren't mega-major purchases, just things like an expensive pair of leather boots. So I borrowed Anita's ideas and made them my own.

Initially, I started with £60 a month which was automatically transferred to a deposit account at my bank. Gradually, I've upped the money and split it between three accounts at two different banks, based on my goals. Over the years, I've used my Sanity Fund to buy those expensive boots (target £120, actual cost £95), a second-hand piano, lots of yarn (from the "Craft" budget) and to save for a very expensive mobile phone (that's the money I'm going to blow on my new laptop instead). Here's a copy of my Wallet Card from the middle of last year (apologies for the poor quality of the scan).

Sure, I could have just saved the money in the bank, but I've found carrying around a Wallet Card concentrates the mind. It's daily, sometimes hourly, reinforcement of my mini-goals. If I'm tempted by something, I know immediately how much money is available. If it costs more than the money accrued, then I either work out a trade off ("I can take £xx from Clothing and put it back next month") or I'll decide it isn't worth spending my money on. That's what I'm doing with the laptop. There won't be much money left in the fund after I buy it, maybe £100, but that's OK. I know I can save up again for a new phone and, as for the knitting software I wanted, maybe I don't want it as much as I thought when I began saving for it (the money has been there for nearly a year).

- Pam (no longer needs boots)

Friday 2 January 2009

Joining the new frugality

Dear Diary,

2nd January 2009:
Have just observed the ruin of my finances at the bank and (excluding new laptop, already saved up for), I'm broke. I'm broker than broke. I have £200 left in the world - or at least until pay day on the 31st - which will cover fuel for the car for the month but not much else. I can't keep going on like this. It's ridiculous. I earn a good living but it vanishes on bills.

So.... Along with half the country, have decided to join the new frugality. Everywhere you look are articles, TV and radio programs about cutting spending and saving money. Have brushed the dust off the cash diet. Am virtually giving up spending for January. Have even avoided the sales! Fortunately all the regular bills are paid and I've already contributed my share to the grocery kitty. And my knitting needs are insulated as there's plenty of yarn in the stash. Pity about my work suits needing dry cleaning. [ sigh ]

Am now waiting for roof to leak, appliances to suicide and car to break down. (What else happens when you have no money?)

- Pam