Monday 29 June 2009


Roll on 200,000 miles.

- Pam

Saturday 27 June 2009

Good-bye Michael Jackson

Maybe, I'm a cynic; when the news came through on Thursday evening that Michael Jackson had been rushed to hospital with a suspected heart attack, I turned to DH and said "I wonder which drug?". Later, DH woke me at 4am to tell me that Michael died - my first thought was that his biggest mourner would be the promoter of his concert tour.

While I feel sorry for his family, friends and fans, his death leaves me pretty much indifferent and that puzzles me. I've been wondering ever since when it was that I stopped being a fan or if I ever was...

I think he lost me in the mid-1980s. It's not the music; it's never been about the music, although I was more of a rock-and-roll girl than a dance-music girl. Michael's earlier albums were full of great tunes. Maybe it was the stories circulated by the media; the image of "Wacko Jacko" has a long history. Certainly something made my skin creep and I turned against him. Perhaps it was the serial nose jobs: he was a really good-looking young man and the second nose job was totally unnecessary (I'm not really sure he needed the first).

Anyway, he's gone. And I am sorry he never had the chance to live a normal life. I'm sorry his self-image was so distorted that he resorted to the surgeon's knife in an attempt to feel better about himself. More importantly, since it's too late to save Michael, I hope whatever warped him has not warped his children. I hope they know they are loved for themselves and that they get to live a normal life.

Good-bye Michael Jackson. May you rest in peace.

- Pam


The Toy passed the 190,000 mile barrier yesterday.

It took 19 months to do the 40,000 miles since the last photo was posted. I think we'll hit 200,000 in October.

- Pam

Friday 26 June 2009

Frugal Friday - Make Do And Mend

I was listening to episode 81 of Cast-On yesterday when Brenda Dayne read out a listener's email about the MakeDoAndMend tag in Ravelry and I thought I'd check it out. (If you have never heard of Ravelry, it's an online community/resource for knitters, crocheters and spinners. There facilities for loading pictures of projects, details of yarn stashes and needles/hooks, discussion groups, etc. Members can message knitwear designers to ask questions if they don't understand a pattern. It is an amazing resource.)

Anyway, I was stunned!

If you are looking for low-cost/frugal sources of inspiration check it out! There are links to patterns for making spiral socks out of the remnants of multi-coloured sock yarns, together with photos of dozens of examples; bags made out of recycled felted sweaters (check out Wynter's First Sweater Tote (rav link)); various rugs; and baby clothes. My favourite item is Manisha's "To Stand On Whilst Brushing Teeth Carpet" (rav link), a rug she crocheted out of strips ripped from an old duvet and some pillowslips.

Manisha was kind enough to answer some questions about the rug. The fabric was ripped into 1.5cm strips, which she zig-zagged together on the sewing machine, until she had a big pile of yarn. then she single crocheted the yarn into a rug.

I'm really tempted to make one of these. I have a couple of old sheets that are on their last legs; they're threadbare and it won't take much for them to wear through.

- Pam

Tuesday 23 June 2009

A day out of time

6.30pm Tuesday - Arrive home. All I want to do is write. Dinner preparation gets in the way - including the inevitable "What the hell am I going to cook today?". Decide on White Fish Curry sans courgettes (they haven't grown yet). Three-quarters of an hour later, I finally get to sit down and pour out the words inside me. So, what have I got to write about?

What I did on my holiday

In his Discworld novel, Interesting Times, Terry Pratchett's character, Two Flower, causes a revolution by publishing a book about his travels in foreign lands called "What I Did On My Holidays". Mine is much less dramatic and could just as easily be titled: What I did on my anniversary, since I spent that day on holiday, three weeks ago. Only, it wasn't about celebrating the anniversary - that was coincidental - for me the day was about yarn and gardening, a long lunch with DH and a friend, and a whole lot of laughs.

I got YARN!:

More skeins of Lisa Souza's Sock! in Wild Things, Ecru and Black Purple. I collected these from the local Royal Mail Sorting Office first thing in the morning. The postman had tried to deliver them on the Tuesday but couldn't get the parcel into our letterbox.

And two bright green PRESENTS!:

I bought the blue Cascade Heritage Paints yarn from Tama via Ravelry and she surprised me by putting two skeins of her hand dyed sock yarn in the package. The colours are stunning. I was in the garden, earthing up the potatoes, when DH brought the package out. My hands were covered in dirt so I demanded he open it for me and then gawped at the yarn as it glowed. It took ages to scrub the soil off before I could touch it.

DH and I took the day off because we had audience tickets to the filming of QI. Filming started at 7pm but to guarantee our admission, we had to be queued up by 5.30pm. That would have meant leaving work mid-afternoon, so we decided to take the lazy option and stay home for the day. We met a friend for lunch on the Southbank near the studios. There are dozens of restaurants along the river bank near Royal Festival Hall, each sharing a view like this:

QI is like no other comedy program on television. The focus is not on telling jokes; QI is a quiz show hosted by Stephen Fry where the aim is not necessarily to give the right answer but to give the most interesting answer. (QI = Quite Interesting.) The four competitors are all well known actors or comedians. We had Alan Davies, Graham Norton, Dara O'Briain and David Mitchell.

It was like eavesdropping on a group of friends chatting in the pub. They talked, cracked jokes and topped each other's stories for nearly three hours.
The comedy was very gentle and affectionate. They were incredibly funny and very knowledgeable, answering questions on the theme of genius. They really enjoyed themselves and the audience. It was a brilliant end to a memorable day.

- Pam

Saturday 13 June 2009

All gardened out

I have come to the conclusion that the purpose of gardening is the journey, not the arrival. That it was better to view the physical effort of gardening as an end in itself and to enjoy it for itself, because what gets delivered at the other end can be so damn frustrating!

Earlier this week, I planted out the broad beans. Yesterday, I earthed up the potatoes for the fourth and final time.
And today, we've spent the afternoon extending the vegetable patch.

DH did most of the hard labour: lifting turf, breaking up the hard soil below and loads of digging. Amazingly, since it's right next door, the new patch is less like heavy clay and more like real soil (I have a theory: I reckon the new patch is where the Anderson shelter was during WW2 so they shipped in soil when they filled it in, whereas the old patch is unimproved clay.)

We dug in a bag of compost, in an effort to improve things further, before planting out the sweetcorn and butternut squash I've been growing in the kitchen. Behold my cornfield, with onions behind.

The newspaper is a weed-suppression trick I read about in The Lazy Kitchen Gardener by John Yeoman. Take 3 or 4 editions of a multi-sectional newspaper, fold each section into half or into thirds then dump into a bucket of water for at least 5 minutes or until sodden. (You are making papier mache.) Lay out to form a lattice. Plant your seedlings in uncovered areas and water in well.

The newspaper eventually rots down into the soil.

The first time I attempted the newspaper-trick, I laid the newspaper down in sheets and then discovered that it is really quite tough so planting the onions through it was really quite hard. Then a couple of weeks later, I looked outside to find that some of the sheets had shifted and torn. Couldn't figure out what had happened - once dry, it forms quite a hard shell on the ground and it didn't lift up in the wind.

The cause was squirrels! About a month ago, I looked out the kitchen window one morning to see a squirrel shredding the newspaper and whisking it off to form bedding for its nest. They stole about half the newspaper I'd used to cover the old veggie patch.

- Pam

Friday 12 June 2009

Frugal Friday - It's all in the planning

What do you think when you hear the word "frugal"? For many people, it conjures up visions of hard work: growing vegetables, making bread, patching clothes, servicing the car, building your own home etc. After all, isn't that the way frugality is portrayed in the media?

It makes good photo opportunities, but there is more to frugality (and less effort involved) than that. The Frugal Zealot, Amy Dacyczyn, split frugality into two camps: active and passive. The things I listed in the first paragraph are all examples of active frugality. Passive frugality is about not doing things: not shopping, or not upgrading your mobile phone just because a new model is on the market. I'd like to add a third category (although I'm struggling to come up with a name): semi-passive frugality. (See what I mean? Still struggling.)

Most of the time, being frugal doesn't take any more effort than not being frugal, but it does take more planning. And that is why I call it semi-passive frugality: apply a bit of forethought now and save money in the long run.
For example: imagine you are tired and late home from work. You're hungry and "Want dinner now!". Doesn't it seem so much easier to order a take-away than cook a meal from scratch? Now, imagine you had planned for this scenario and, last time you cooked a chilli you made a double batch and froze half. Instead of spending £15 on a takeaway (and having to wait 45 minutes for it to be delivered), dinner is waiting the freezer and just needs zapping in the microwave. That is semi-passive frugality.

It takes very little effort to cook a triple batch of dried beans / frying up 3 or 4 extra onions when you cook a curry and freezing them as base / preparing a double quantity of shepherd's pie/lasagne/meatloaf/nut roast, having one now and freezing the second for later on. But you have to plan for these activities so that you can take advantage of the opportunity when it arises.

Tonight, I prepared a double batch of Parsnip & Cashew Nut Roast. It took 2 minutes to peel the extra 2 parsnips and 3 seconds to select a larger onion. In a month's time, when I'm struggling to come up with dinner, I'll have it in the freezer waiting to fall back on. No more Chinese takeaway on speed-dial for me.

- Pam

Wednesday 10 June 2009

Sing as you mean to go on

Guess what I just found? A clip of a choral concert I sang in last year at the Cadogan Hall. We're singing Handel's Messiah. Enjoy.

Did you spot me? I'm third from the left at the back. You can just see a blond head behind me.

Saturday was our latest concert, Orff's Carmina Burana. The performance was amazing and I had a ball. Sadly, no recordings have come to light so far but, if I can find one, I'll post it.

- Pam

Friday 5 June 2009

Frugal Friday - Frugal Gardening and Horse Manure

For the past three years, I've attempted to grow a vegetable garden. Last year, it was potatoes and tomatoes with a couple of pak choi and one purple sprouting broccoli; the year before, it was courgettes/zucchini, broad beans, two sweet corn, and bell peppers. My success rate has been pretty dismal - I did get broad beans but the sweet corn were still born (I didn't know, then, about how they pollinate). Something ate the leaves off the bell peppers before they'd been in the ground five minutes. The tomatoes were doing well and I was looking forward to bottling some home-made tomato sauce, until the night I came home from work to find the vines had turned black. (Like everyone-else's crops last year, they'd got blight.) Even my success-story courgettes have a one-in-three plant survival rate.

This year, I'm growing potatoes, approximately 50 onions (bought as "sets"), 12 garlic, six broad bean plants (only two planted out so far), one courgette (I planted out three), 8 or 9 sweet corn (not planted out yet - I think the 9th won't survive), and 3 butternut squash. It's raining, so no photos of the garden, but here is a shot of the "nursery" beside the big kitchen window:

Corn to the left; broad beans and butternut squash in the middle; just planted sunflower seeds to the right. The blue trays are the ones the supermarket sells mushrooms in. The clear plastic, 3-inch pots are yoghurt pots.

So far, I haven't spent a huge amount of money on this year's vegetables: I've purchased fresh corn, courgette, sunflower and broad bean seeds. (Around here, packets of seeds cost between 69p and £2.) The other seeds are survivors from last year. The onion sets were £1.95 for a bag of 100 from the shop in Kew Gardens. Whilst I was there, I spent another £1.90 on three supposedly "disease free" garlic bulbs, only to find them riddled with that grey mould when I went to plant them out. Therefore, my garlic comes from a couple of bulbs bought for cooking, which sprouted whilst I stored them in the shed. The butternut seeds were rescued from the innards of a butternut squash I used in a stew.

My main expense comes in the form of organic peat-free grow bags, which I buy for the compost they contain. At £2.46 each, they are the cheapest way I can buy a peat-free growing medium for the pots/potato tyres and they're the largest bags I can lift at the garden centre (I think each grow bag holds 40 litres of compost). On Wednesday, I lugged home four. Grow bag compost is what that seedlings are growing in.

Also on Wednesday, I purchased a packet of seeds of a variety of late summer sprouting broccoli. When the corn gets planted out on Sunday, I'll fill their blue tray with compost and try growing them. I could have bought seedlings, but they weren't that healthy.

Our soil is my biggest problem. In some places it is impregnable. (I planted a couple of lavender once, only to have one die because its roots couldn't penetrate out of the hole in which it was planted.) One of the gardening books I read suggested growing giant sunflowers because they have really tough roots which break up hard soil - sort of nature's rotavators. Hence the sunflowers I'm attempting to grow.

My other great-white-hope for our soil is our compost bin, a.k.a. The Dalek. And that is the source of today's Frugal Friday tip:

Locate your nearest stables and collect some free horse manure to compost.

Two weekends ago, we took a couple of flexi-tubs, the big fork and spade, and popped into the local stables. For a "Please Ma'am, may we raid your manure heap?", we collected enough horse manure and discarded bedding (wood shavings as well as straw) to half fill the Dalek. It cost us 15 minutes and a smile. I'm tempted to do it again, to fill the Dalek up completely, and then get a second compost bin. Heaven knows, we need the stuff!

- Pam

Thursday 4 June 2009

Twenty Years

Twenty years ago today, I landed in the UK for the first time. I was on a working holiday visa and my plans were simple: work, travel, train as a midwife, get some experience then go home. I expected to stay maybe 3 years, 5 years tops. I had dreams.

I was a nurse who wanted to work at one of the legendary London hospitals: St Bartholomew's, Guy's or St Thomas' ("Bart's", Guy's or "Tommy's"), before increasing my skills and qualifying as a midwife. British midwifery training was sold to us as being the best in the world, a step up from the training I would have had in Australia. Unlike in Oz and the US, pregnancy and childbirth are almost entirely midwife-managed events in Britain. During a normal pregnancy and delivery, the mother never encounters an obstetrician. Since my ultimate plan was to go work in a remote hospital in the Bush, I needed the best skills possible. I wanted to study midwifery at Tommy's or at Queen Charlotte's (Charlie's). I'd tried applying from Australia, but all the hospitals wanted you to be in the UK first - they wouldn't even schedule an interview - so here I was.

The midwifery dream collapsed with the nursing dream. Within a year of arriving, a bad job at a certain south London hospital killed my confidence and removed me of the desire to ever nurse again. I ended up as a secretary until the firm I worked for trained me as an accountant.

I'm not sure what I expected when I got here. I certainly wasn't prepared for what I found: a country where the cost of living was double what it was in Australia, even before you factored in the exchange rate (if a loaf of bread was $1 in Australia, it was £2 here); a job that barely paid a living wage and certainly paid less to a qualified nurse than what I'd earned as a first year student nurse; a banking system 50 years behind ours (Aussies could walk into the London branch of Westpac and check the balance of their accounts in Australia, move money around, make withdrawals, all within a few clicks on the computer; I couldn't withdraw money from a different branch of Barclays without them phoning my branch to check my balance! And then charging me £10 for the privilege). The $1,000 I'd brought over in traveller's cheques vanished in the blink of an eye. I was instantaneously broke.

Looking back, I wonder if I was naive. I was certainly a romantic fool. If I could take a husband back home with me to Australia, so much the better. Posh Englishmen had a certain cache - blame Brideshead Revisited - and my mum would have loved it if I'd married a Jewish doctor. Add to that the fact that life had yet to cure me of the reactive response: the deeply embedded one that says you have to date someone just because they fancy you, because it's better to have someone than no-one in your life even if they treat you like dirt. (Pretty, popular teenage girls recover from that one early.) I tried not to believe I was capable of such a thing, but it is how I ended up dating Dumbo (also, I think I was blinded by his Oxford MA). I was such an idiot!

Even the travel dream didn't come off. I'd flown into the UK after spending 5 days sightseeing in Copenhagen. Apart from a weekend in Paris with some girlfriends to attend a Eurythmics concert, I didn't leave the country again until I flew home for my mum's funeral. I didn't see that much of Britain, either. Dumbo's idea of a holiday was the Conservative Party Conference each year (which I inevitably paid for) and I couldn't afford to go off on my own.

Gradually, painfully I grew up. I'd have sworn, 20 years ago, that I was an adult, but in reality I wasn't. I was a fledgling, just emerging into independence. It wasn't until I chose to walk towards the light at the end of the tunnel of my relationship with Dumbo that I think I came into myself. The life I'd settled for wasn't the life I wanted. It forced me to give up so much of the essential me: my love of travel; my crafts; my music. Oh, how I mourned the music - I didn't sing for 15 years and Dumbo's idea of music omitted everything between Bach and Blue Oyster Cult, so I didn't listen to classical, rock or pop music either during the years we were together. I even gave up knitting.

One hot summer's day in 1998 I decided enough was enough. My world had crashed down around me and I saw what my life was really like. That was the day I decided to divorce Dumbo. Slowly, gradually I began to reclaim myself and build the life that I wanted.

I think I'm lucky now. All the essential bits of me are back: I knit. I sing. I've built a new career. I've met and married the love of my life. We travel, go to concerts, listen to music as diverse as Nickelback and Mozart. He shares my dreams and I share his.

I wonder what the next 20 years will bring.

- Pam