Saturday 25 December 2010


I didn't mean to be silent for so long.  The job is hell as usual.  Nothing personal, just too much work and not enough me.  As well as the usual shutdown between Christmas and New Year, I took the week off before Christmas and have spent the time winding down.

Saturday morning, I sat drinking coffee, watching the snow fall and listening to the cricket live from the WACA in Perth, Western Australia:  England versus Australia.  In my head, I could see a hot summer's day bathed in that glorious golden Australian light. What a contrast.   Britain has been caught out again by winter.  You'd think they'd learn. It snowed for three hours causing chaos as usual:  the second runway at Heathrow was closed for days; Eurostar trains were cancelled; roads closed.  We've had snow on the ground ever since, with the odd flurry to top it up. 

We did "Polish" Christmas last night:  roast goose with chestnut stuffing, roast potatoes, roast onion, honey glazed parsnips, broccoli, and orange sauce; then the presents and then Christmas Pudding.  It was just the two of us this year and that was perfect.   Guess what DH gave me for Christmas?  The complete series of The Good Life .  I didn't even know it had been re-released!  I feel thoroughly spoilt. 

The goose was an interesting cooking challenge since it was too long for the baking dish, even diagonally.

It ended up getting roasted with its feet in the air, wrapped in foil and propped up on the side of the oven.  (Note to self:  next time 30 minutes a kilo at 170C, draining of fat every half hour.)   Although DH had picked up a turkey on a visit to the butcher earlier in the month, I really wanted a goose*.  The butcher said he could get one but it'd "cost an arm and a leg".  We collected him on Tuesday and I hate to break it to our kosher butcher, but at £46, his goose was cheaper than the non-kosher one I bought two years ago for Christmas at Peter's (£70-odd, IIRC).   The turkey is in the freezer for later in the year.
Today, we're off to friends to have another Christmas.  I'll leave you with one other lasting memory:  my husband insisting he wasn't cold, clearing snow from the cloches in the veggie patch.

 Eat your heart out, Crocodile Dundee.  You aren't as hard as DH.  :o)

Merry Christmas everyone.

- Pam

*  This is the first year since we moved into the house that the stove has been wired in and I could use its electric ovens.  Except for last year when I did a duck in the microwave-convection oven, every other year I'd prep the turkey but it'd get roasted in my MIL's oven before being brought back here for dinner.  I wanted to celebrate having a proper working stove by cooking something I haven't been able to cook, so enter the goose.

Sunday 5 December 2010

Football rant

Could someone in the Chelsea hierachy please explain to me:  what is the point of Salomon Kalou? You play him as a foward but, lets face it, he can't score goals.  In four years, he's scored what?  34 goals?    Even your prize defender, John Terry, has a better goal scoring record than that.

Kalou just isn't up to the job you're giving him.  Do you know his nickname on the terraces?  Forest.  As in "Forest Gump".  He'll run forever, but he can't tackle and he can't score.  Why did you get rid of decent players, like Joe Cole and keep Kalou?


And you wonder why we're struggling.

- Pam

Saturday 4 December 2010

Frugal Friday on Saturday - introducing Herdy

This is Herdy.  Herdy, is a sheepy-bank.

Herdy was a Christmas present, last year or the year before.

Every evening, Herdy gets fed with 1p, 2p, 5p and £2 coins.  DH and I have been collecting them since 1999.  We have larger containers for them than Herdy but they were put into storage when we started the building work in March so Herdy came into play.  Today, we emptied a very full Herdy.

It took quite a bit of shaking.

And the £2 coins kept getting in the way.

 Eventually, Herdy was empty.

As you can see from the picture with DH's hand, Herdy is not huge.  Even so, he contained:

£94 x £2 coins
£3.50 x 5p coins
£2.28 x 1p and 2p coins

A grand total of £99.78p, which has now been added to these:

When full, we'll bag them, tag them and take them to the bank.  The coppers jar holds about £22 when full.  The 5p jar has never been emptied, was last counted at 3/4 full and held around £90 then. (Oh, and it weighed in at 20lb today.)  The Maltesers money box holds £600 and is known as the "running away fund" (it goes towards holidays).

Because we fill these in tiny increments, this is money we don't miss.  We do have one rule we (almost always) apply - if you get one of these coins, don't spend it; take it home to feed Herdy.  When we started the collection, I was inspired by a story told by the Australian finance guru, Noel Whittaker, about a client of his, a single mum living on benefits who saved enough for a deposit on a home for her family.  She did it by applying one rule:  never spend a $5 bill.*  When the £2 coin came out, I decided to do the same with that.  It's a good rule - we've saved well over £2,000 of holiday money that way.

- Pam

* When my sister was a mortgage broker, she had a client in almost identical circumstances who did something similar.  In her client's case, she'd realised that every time she went shopping and decided to buy a "little treat" for herself, it cost about $5.  One day, she had a lightbulb moment and realised that if she saved all those $5 treats, she could save enough for a down payment on a home.  And so she did.

Saturday 27 November 2010

OK, phone, you win

The phone charger broke this morning.  Don't think you get away with  it that easily though - I still have the in-car charger AND I ordered a replacement from Amazon.

Just because I'd like an iPhone doesn't mean I'm ready to give up on you just yet.  If you're going to die on me, you'll have to suicide another way.  After 8 years, I've reached the "engineering state" of wanting to find out how much longer you'll last.  Thanks to Lance, owner of your cousin phone, I know your model has longevity and that there are plenty of spare parts available.

You aren't getting away with it that easily.

- Pam

Wednesday 24 November 2010

An open letter

To my mobile phone,

You gave me quite a scare last week, when you wouldn't charge.  I know you and the phone charger have been together a long time and, no doubt, in such a long relationship, you've put up with quite a lot but did you have to chose Monday to have a spat?  After more than eight years of happy cohabiting , you chose Monday to sulk and refuse to charge.  Why?  At first I thought it was me, talking about my lust for an iPhone which triggered your sulking (you know it's only window shopping and I wouldn't desert you, don't you?). Then I realised it was the phone charger.  What did the phone charger do to upset you?

I'm glad to see that you kissed and make-up on Tuesday.

- Pam

Saturday 6 November 2010

To the woman who taught me horticulture in year 9

I wish I could remember your name.

Our weekly 1 hour sessions seemed a bit like a waste of time - we suspected that we were really cheap labour for the school (remember all the times you had us digging in the kindergarten garden?  I do. That soil was root-bound and rock yard).  You really didn't inspire us to become gardeners.  However, you did teach me some useful things: how to graft roses; how to grow plants from seed, prick them out and pot them on; how to prune. 

Now, I wish you'd taught us more of the useful stuff and used us less as a workforce.  Soil improvement would have been useful.  Composting would have been useful.  Pest control would have been useful.  We learned none of those things. 

Why didn't you teach us about growing vegetables and maintaining a vegetable plot?

- Pam (OK, I'll concede your attempts at getting us to dig did help this morning when I turned over the plot)

Friday 5 November 2010

Sit Rep Sept/Oct 2010

I didn't write a SitRep for September mainly because October slipped by so fast that it was the middle of the month before I knew it.   August's report is here.
SOCKS  My September socks were a pair of "use-em-ups" in some leftover self-patterning Harry Potter/Opal yarn.  The colourway was Slitherin, chosen for the blues (I didn't notice the name until days later).  As usual the feet were made in Lisa Souza's Sock! in Ecru.

For October's socks, I chose the Hibiscus for Hope pattern I received in 2008 after sponsoring the designer after the Yarn Harlot brought it to my attention (  I'm using the darker shade of green Jitterbug I purchased last year at the Knit & Stitch Show.  

 Unfortunately, I still haven't finished the first sock - I'm half way up the leg having re-done the heel twice (I don't like the way the short row heel looks - too many holes at the end of the rows - but, from the pictures in the above post, it looks as if the Yarn Harlot got the same results I did).  
It's a lovely pattern, not difficult, but you do have to keep track of where you are.  (Thank heaven for highlighter tape!)  It would have been too difficult to follow at Sunday's NFL game (yes, I was at Wembley), so I started some top-down simple socks in a self-patterning yarn about 15 minutes before we left the house ...........
For the record, except for the opening 4 rows,this is how much you can knit during an NFL game and the pre-match entertainment (20 minutes).  I've already started the heel flap.
STASH  The second weekend in September was iKnit London Weekend, where I did two classes:  Lopapeysa with Ragga from Knitting Iceland and Knitting Sideways with Woolly Wormhead (check out her amazing hats).  Lopapeysa are the classic Icelandic sweaters, knitted in Lopi, with the plain body and decorative bands around the wrists, waist and neck. We played with Lopi and Lopi-Lite and I now I have a tiny sweater with which to decorate my Christmas tree.  Luckily for the stash, Ragga didn't have any Lopi to sell at her booth or I would have been sorely tempted - it was lovely to handle AND I have the perfect pattern in mind to make with it.  I did buy two more skeins of the Artesano Aran to ensure I now have a sweater's worth; it wasn't in either of the dye lots I already have so I will alternate it with the others.  My remaining stash-cash went on several varieties of roving and a spindle since I've decided to learn to spin.

<--cough-->Artesano Aran <--cough-->
October brought the Knit & Stitch Show at Alexandra Palace, which totally blew away the stash diet.  I claim that I was taken prisoner by those horrible, nasty people at Black Sheep Yarns and not allowed out until I purchased a sweater's worth of Sublime Organic Merino DK (13 balls) in grey and a pattern, Sublime's "Willow" sweater. 

(I'm only kidding:  Black Sheep are the UK's equivalent to Webs and very nice people.  Every year, they bring container loads of close-outs with them, at massively discounted prices. Sometimes their stall resembles a rugby scrum as women dive bodily into the yarn pile in order to find the yarn they want/need.)  
I also failed to resist the Colinette stall:  no mill ends this year but they did have 150g skeins of Jitterbug for the price of the more usual 100g ones.  Three skeins wormed their way into the stash.  So did 3 balls of self-patterning sock yarn at other stalls, including the one I'm knitting above.  (For the record, I purchased 4 but gave a ball of Opal - plus 2.5mm dpns and a pattern - to my friend's mum in an attempt to corrupt her into a sock knitter.)  My final purchase was a skein of Madeleine Tosh cashmere - yum!
In other knitting news:  I finished the Brown Cabled Cardigan last weekend, with only a couple of metres of the Heathland Hebridean to spare, so that's two more skeins finished.  I've also finished the first skein of the Artesano Aran (I'm making Mr Greenjeans from Knitty) and half the second.  Photos to follow when I've got someone to take me modelling the garments.

I have completely lost track of how many skeins that adds up to, but I must be nearing 30 for the year.

OVERDRAFT  September was a bad month.  The holiday, coupled with the typical "I'm on holiday... To hell with it!", meant that my overdraft repayment efforts went backwards by £86.25.  However, I did well in October (£212.55) and made up that ground and then some for a net repayment over the two months of £126.30.  That brings my total repayment for the year to £1,222.60.

GARDEN I harvested all the tomatoes in a mad attempt to get to them before they were overcome by blight. It only took a few minutes to realise that some were already overcome and were rotting inside their skins (the blight seems to liquefy them from the inside out).  The ripe ones were made into two tubs of tomato sauce and then frozen.  The green ones went into boxes with a couple of apples in an attempt to ripen them.  Some did ripen and have been used, others developed a dry white mould and have been binned.

Bought garlic, shallots and broad beans to plant out this weekend.

- Pam (I think this post is long enough now)

Saturday 16 October 2010

Be careful what you wish for (or the reason I haven't been blogging)

For at least a year, my Boss has been wondering what to do with me when my project finishes.  Since we're over a year behind schedule, there have been numerous plans made and abandoned.  However, the end is in sight (we are deep into commissioning and have officially handed over control of the plant to the owners).   His more recent plan was to give me a financial reporting/internal audit role, expanding a reporting role that already exists into something more major.  The current incumbent ("M") was a contractor who we'd keep until Christmas.

At the start of September, Boss calls me into a meeting room and says "Be careful what you wish for.  M has resigned.  Unless we can persuade him to stay a little long, he's leaving on Thursday".  [Gulp!]  My work on the project hadn't diminished but I could take over the basic weekly and monthly reports and, in the meantime, Boss would shoulder anything major.  The budgets for next financial year had already been completed and the next big thing on the horizon wasn't until mid-November when, hopefully, the project would have wound down a bit.

 Two weeks go by.  I get a handover. Although the reports have to be run on a timetable, they won't severely impact the "day job".   M extends his stay to cover for me when I'm in Normandy. 

The Tuesday before I go on holiday, I go into the office and get as far as making my first coffee for the day when Boss calls me into another meeting room.  "Sorry, but we have to switch to Plan B.  "S" has resigned.  I need you to take over Buildings Group!". Initially, that meant billing and financial maintenance of two large framework projects; eventually, it'll mean managing three staff and creating a management accounting role to support the operations director. Since S is staff, this time I'd have a month's handover.  The original new job would be downgraded and parcelled out, probably to disappear.

I sat there for a minute doing some rapid thinking.  If the truth be told, while the other job had a great job title (Finance and Reporting Manager) and would have been a good career move, I'd doubted its longevity.  I'd given it a 50:50 chance of being axed in the next round of budget cuts.  And I hadn't asked for more money because I knew there wouldn't be any.

"OK, the answer's "yes".  Can I have a car allowance, please?"

So now I have two jobs - both of them full time - and 40 official hours a week in which to do them.  And part of a third that won't disappear for at least a couple more weeks (or until Boss hires his new hybrid Project Accountant/Reporting Assistant).   To say that I'm brain dead by 6pm each night is an understatement. I'm hoping that is just due to the stress of not being in charge of my own time for three weeks, while I was getting my second handover.  We shall see.

Learning curves. I have them.

- Pam

Wednesday 22 September 2010


I have spent much of the last few days close to tears.  Nothing bad has happened to me - no family disasters or work related nightmares - and I am not depressed about anything.  It's just that we took a long weekend and spent it in Normandy, in the middle of the American section of the D-Day Landings just outside St Mere Eglise.  We were only a few miles from Utah Beach.

I suppose it is possible to avoid reminders of D-Day when one goes to Normandy, but we couldn't.  St Mere Eglise was probably the first town captured by the Americans after the landings began, when paratroopers were dropped on the village and surrounding countryside.  Their casualty rate was about 50%. 
One lucky man (it does depend on how you look at it), John Steele, got caught on the church steeple during his landing and had to play dead while watching his unit being shot to pieces in the square below.  Steele survived.  Today, a permanent reminder hangs from the church tower.

And the museum is dedicated to the 82nd Airborne.

We hadn't planned the trip to be a tour around the memorials but how could we ignore them? The idea was to spend a long weekend staying with a friend in the farmhouse his parents partially own.  Thursday morning, we caught the early ferry from Portsmouth to Cherbourg.

The only "site" on my list was Bayeux - I wanted to visit the Tapestry.  Apart from that, I planned to sleep, laze around, visit a market or two and possibly cook a meal with the results.   Oh, and find a yarn shop (I succeeded and failed at that - the only one I found was closed on Monday afternoon when we visited).

We made it to Bayeux on Friday, saw the Tapestry, and drove to Arromanches afterwards for a picnic lunch.  I was sitting on the sea wall, looking out over the remains of the Mulberry Harbour when it hit me that this is where it all happened.  Gold Beach.  We were at the heart of D-Day and couldn't avoid it.  For much of the battle in France, Arromanches was the Allies only real harbour, towed in pieces across the Channel hours after the landings began (40% of the components were lost at sea); its sister harbour at Omaha Beach destroyed by bad weather days after it was built.

(I wish I had DH's camera handy to raid.  Among the pictures he took at Arromanches is a plaque commemorating the engineering companies involved in designing/building the harbour.  I've worked for two of them.  We used a couple more on my Project, including one of the fabrication companies.)

Once I started looking, I couldn't stop.  We visited the museum at Arromanche and back in St Mere Eglise.  I learned about the markers at the side of the road.  There are two types:  the D-Day Route markers which are numbered, start in St Mere Eglise and follow the route the troups took to liberate France.

Far sadder are the memorial markers which name a stretch of road after a soldier who died nearby.  In some places, so many men died that they're lined up side by side.

I went round the museums with tears in my eyes but didn't truly break down until we went to Utah Beach.  The beach was empty and windswept.

Behind the dunes on the left are the remains of a gun emplacement captured from the Germans.  These days it is the hub of one of the memorials.  Upstairs are flagpoles and monuments.  Downstairs, is a corridor leading to a bunker.  In the corridor a simple plaque said "in memory of our fallen comrades" and listed the names of the men from the unit who died during its capture.  It had been placed there by the survivors; it was personal.  That's when I lost it completely. I went outside and sobbed my heart out.

I cried for all the men who died before their time; for their family members whose hearts were broken as a result; and for the men who survived but were injured and had to suffer in agonised silence so as to not give their position away.  Such a waste.

I'm crying now, as I type this.  I can barely see the screen.   

- Pam

Sunday 5 September 2010

Sock FO's

I've been promising some of these for months.

DH's Weird Science Socks

 These are from Yarn Forward, in a yarn called "Aurora" from Angel Yarns.  When I bought it off their website, the yarn shown was in jewel shades; I was disappointed to find it was the above muted/muddy colours, but I left it too long to send it back.  Anyway, DH said it would be OK for a pair of socks for him, so I made these.   I still have to take a photo of the back pattern, which was not shown in the magazine and was not related to the pattern shown on the front of the legs.

Jacquard self-patterning socks

 Yarn:  Regia.
Colourway:  Jacquard
Needles:  2.5mm DPNs

I enjoyed doing these so much that I promptly knitted a pair of use-em-up socks to finish off the yarn.

Jacquard Use-em-up Socks

They're a little shorter than my usual socks and, unlike other Ues-em-ups don't have the patterned heel - I'd finished the first one and got half way down the second leg when I realised that I didn't have enough patterned yarn do do the heel and the toe so had to rip back the first sock to make a semi matching pair.

I just love the toes.

In the end, I had a metre left of the Regia.  The other yarn is Lisa Souza Sock! in Ecru.

Zig-Zag Socks

One pair for Eldest Sis for her birthday, last April:

Yarn:  Cherry Tree Hill DK
Colourway:  Cabin Fever
Needles:  3.25mm DPNs
Pattern:  Zig-Zag Socks by Jocelyn Sertich

And one pair for me.

Yarn:  Mirasole Chirapa
Colourway:  Spearmint

Here is a close-up of the pattern, which is based on multiples of six stitches and is easy to remember.

As I mentioned in this month's SitRep, my pair knitted up shorter than the pair for my sister.  Also, I don't know how her pair are wearing but I've worn mine twice and the soles are felting:

- Pam

Sit-Rep 2010 - August

What happened to August???  I'd swear that the last time I turned around it was July.  Anyway, here is my Sit-Rep for August: 

STASH  Maintained cold sheep.  Even went into the lion's den today(the yarn department at John Lewis) and avoided buying anything.  Do not expect September to be as good - I-Knit London is on at the end of next week and I'm bound to get ambushed.  Have finished another skein of the Heathland Hebridean (am now half way up the first sleeve), as well as one and a half skeins of sock yarn (Mirasole's Chirapa in the spearmint colourway) so that's 2.5 skeins for a total of 18 skeins used up. 

OVERDRAFT  Another £126.12 paid back for a total of £1,096.30 paid back this year.  That is far better than I feared it would be - I fell quite heavily off the wagon and didn't track my spending at all in August. 

GARDEN  Not a lot to report:  the butternut pumpkin is taking over the world and has to be discouraged from climbing through the fence into the next door neighbour's back garden;  one of the runner bean plants has finally flowered (very pretty flowers) but the others are still just sitting there doing nothing; and some of the onions are probably ready for harvesting.  The courgettes died.  We've had a few sprouts from one of the sprouting broccoli (the other will sprout in early spring).   The tomatoes have run wild and needed staking (some are supported on bricks); there are dozens of green tomatoes appearing but it's been so wet recently that I'm beginning to worry about blight.    I've reused one of the potato tyres to grow pak-choi; they're about an inch high at present.   There are about a dozen chillies visible now, spread over three plants and, on Tuesday night, we cooked with and ate our very first jalapeno chilli.  Yum!  

I'm beginning to plan for next year's garden.  I want to try over-wintering broad beans, which means planting them out in October. Ditto garlic and shallots.  I'd also like to try growing beetroot, having finally overcome a beetroot-canned-in-vinegar-induced aversion to them.  Not sure what else to grow.

And finally, we're part way through this year's attempt to make rosehip jelly, having harvested 5kg (11lb) of rosehips from the rose bush in the front garden. 

SOCKS  Completed another pair of the zig-zag socks, this time for me.  The Mirasole yarn didn't knit to the same tension as the pair I made for my sister, which I found out the hard way (I grafted the toe shut on the first one, tried it on and discovered that they were far too short in the foot).  Hands up any frequent sock knitter who does a gauge swatch on a pair of socks for themselves.  <--stands on toes to look at the back of the room-->  No, can't see anyone. <--shakes head--> Since the yarn can pass as DK, this pair were meant to be my catch-up pair, with another pair to follow.  However, the subsequent pair were only 40 rows long at month end. 

- Pam

Tuesday 24 August 2010

I am a numpty

I am a numpty - part 1

I'm at Site this week.  Yesterday, during my drive up, I reached into my handbag to check my phone and realised, with a cold sick feeling, that I'd left it at home.  Stopped at the Services, where I normally text/phone DH to tell him "I'm OK and have got this far";  tore my bag apart.  No phone.  Dashed to a phone booth to call home:  yes, said DH, my phone was were I'd left it, dangling from the bedside table while it was recharging.

Damn. Damn.  Damn!  I need my phone when I'm travelling:  it's my link with home; my alarm clock; and the main way people can contact me.

Solution:  stopped at the supermarket and picked up the cheapest pay-as-you-go mobile phone I could find.  £19 plus £10 for the top-up.  I'd rather not have spent the money but it'll do for the week and will work as a backup phone/guest phone for overseas visitors.  And the top up doesn't expire.

I am a numpty - part 2

As you know, I travel to Site a lot, every second week at the moment.  That involves hotel bills, meal bills; mileage claims and buying my lunch, etc.  I put the vast majority of my spending on a credit card, while I'm here, so that I don't have to fund my expenses (I claim them back from work and pay before the due date).  I've been doing this journey at least once a month for the last three years.  The Project has about three months left to run.

About two thirds of my regular grocery shopping is at Tesco, together with 99% of the fuel we purchase for the car.  Tesco has a "Clubcard" which enables you to collect points that give you vouchers quarterly of £0.01 for every £1 you spend in store.  They also have a Clubcard credit card that gives you points on all your spending over £4 plus double points when you shop "in store".  I've had a Tesco credit card for over two years.  Got it for a 0% balance transfer and never used it since.

It only occurred to me a week ago that maybe, just maybe, I should be using my Tesco credit card during my trips to Site because (well, d'uh!) I could be getting a free penny for every Pound I spend.  Mental head slap time.  At an average of £500 a trip, that's an free £5 each time I come to Site.


- Pam (better late than ever)

Sunday 15 August 2010

Sit-Rep 2010 - June & July

Apologies for the lateness of this Sit-Rep update.   It's not my fault!  In the last week of July, DH put a tank of diesel in the Toy for me and I've waited two weeks for him to tell me by how much I needed to reimburse him.  (Proof that nagging doesn't work - I must have asked a dozen times.)  Anyway, here is my update.  My last update is here.

STASH  Maintained cold sheep up until the day that I visited KnitNation on 31st July, when the lovely Sarah at Brownberry Yarns sold me 6 beautiful skeins of Artesano Alpaca Aran in a denim blue (photo to follow - I have a KnitNation Report to post).  I bought their last six skeins in that colour, right out from under the nose of another knitter.  At the time, I wanted 8 skeins because I'm a bit worried about the yardage (6 skeins = only 864 yards/790 metres), so I've ordered 2 more from Brownberry but couldn't get the same dye lot.

In other Stash/Kniting news, I've knitted another skein of Heathland Hebridean into the Brown Cable Cardigan (almost finished the second front).  I didn't mention, last time that I started the second skein of the Wagtail Mohair half way up the back of the Mohair cardigan, which is now almost complete - I've got less than half of one front to go, plus the edging.  Two skeins of Phildar Shoot went into a 5 Hour Baby Sweater for a colleague, which left me with 3/4 of a skein - that yarn was a charity shop find in 2009.  The leftover Cherry Tree Hill yarn from my sister's Zig-Zag socks went into a pair of fingerless mittens using the same zig-zag pattern.    And I've finished off another skein of sock yarn.  So that's 5.5 skeins for a total of 15.5 skeins.   Doesn't seem like a lot, given the amount of knitting involved.

GARDEN  Guess what my birthday present from was this year?  A terracotta strawberry planter filled with compost and three strawberry plants!  The plants are thriving and have given us a handful of strawberries (it is very late in the season).  One of them has already put out a runner, so we anchored it in a spare hole in the planter and now I have four plants.

On to the rest of the garden.  Didn't get a huge number of broad beans - while I was a dedicated squisher of blackfly, they won several battles.  The butternut squash is taking over the world, as are the tomatoes.  Most of the onions are doing well and the two broccolis which survived from last year have thrived (they were last year's failure-to-thrives that somehow survived being neglected in pots over the winter).   Some of the peppers and chillies are doing well but a couple of the jalapenos are just sitting there 3 inches high and sulking - in their case, I'm wondering if they were getting waterlogged in their grow-bags.  The rocket did well, then bolted and now is setting seed.    We've harvested two of the three potatoes and they were heavenly.

On the failure side:  I planted out some pak-choi and it died in the sun.  I doubt the garlic harvest will be that good but at least, now, I know what I've done wrong - garlic needs a freeze early on to prosper.  The courgettes failed to thrive, as did the runner beans; the plants didn't die; they just didn't grow any bigger.  I think watering may have been an issue, since June and July were both dry months and, although we watered every night, I don't think they got enough.  About 3 weeks ago, I invested in a soaker hose, which seems to be helping.

As well as buying and planting out my garlic before Christmas next time, the other thing I need to do is to get some fresh seeds.  The broad beans were grown from old seed, which may have been a factor in their not growing many beans.

FITNESS  Weight Watchers?  What's Weight Watchers?   Let's not go there, shall we?  I'm still attending Pilates and Yoga classes, but I need to add some aerobic exercise pronto.  At least I've located my new running shoes (bought at Christmas).

OVERDRAFT Paid back a combined total of £233.02 for June (£127.76) and July (£105.26) which gives a total pay back of £970.18 for the year.  Although I'm glad to see the balance is decreasing, I know is has slowed down a lot.  There are two main reasons for the slow down:  I've set a couple of new savings goals (next year, I will pay cash for my Chelsea season ticket for the first time ever); and I've increased the amount of money that goes into our joint account, in order to cover more of the shortfall from DH's unemployment.  I already know August will be a bad month for paying back the overdraft:  KnitNation fell into August's spending (it was after payday) and I've already run through my entire "Money To Live Off" budget.  The only hope for August is that I won't spend so much money on diesel for the car*, so the balance of the diesel accrual can be offset against the overrun.

SOCKS  As suspected, I didn't knit a complete pair of socks in June; instead, I did the Zig-Zag Fingerless Mittens and about half of one sock.  I finished those socks in July - they're my typical Use It Up Socks made from the leftovers of the self-patterning sock yarn and some Lisa Souza Sock! in ecru.  Hopefully, I can catch up in August.

- Pam (photos to follow)

* For my trips to Site, I habitually offset one tank of fuel against the money from my mileage claim since I use approximately one tank extra that week.  Since I'm going to site more often at the moment, it's possible I won't spend as much of my diesel accrual as I would in a more typical month.

Friday 13 August 2010


It all came out of Junior (my small suitcase), so why won't it all go back?

- Pam (at Site)

Thursday 5 August 2010

Something you don't see every day.

I think they got their fuel prices confused at the Tesco petrol station in Scunthorpe, when I was there last week. Diesel is never cheaper than unleaded petrol....  until now, that is.  Me thinks someone at Tesco made a mistake.

That's the 'per litre' price, so the diesel was about £4.40 per US gallon.

I double checked the prices shown on the bowser, before I filled up the Toy.  Yes, the diesel was 4p cheaper per litre. 

- Pam 

Sunday 25 July 2010


One of my favourite sights of the English summer is when the poppies appear in the fields.  If you have ever browsed a copy of the Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady or the spin-off craft and knitting books, you will be familiar with Edith Holden's water colours of English poppies. 

Although I loved the pictures that appeared in the books, I must have been in England for 12 years before I saw the real thing in the flesh.  They only appear in uncultivated fields or in the margins on the side of country roads and, until that summer, I'd pretty much always lived and worked in the city.  Then, one June, I spotted something orange at the side of the road and realised it was a poppy!

A month ago, when I was driving home from Site, I was treated to the tripple bill of poppies on the side of the road and wild roses growing through hedges rich in elderflowers.  Unfortunately, it was tipping it down with rain and I kept missing the best parking places from which to take photos.  Eventually, I gave up.

Two weeks later, I was back at Site and, on the way home, I tried again.  It was too late in the season for the roses and the elderflowers, but I managed to find some late poppies.


Aren't they pretty?

When I sort out our garden for good (as opposed to the annual temporary measures), poppies are one of the plants that are definitely going in.

- Pam

Saturday 24 July 2010

The Code

There is a code amongst women.  I don't know where or when we get inducted, but it seems to pass from one generation to another, almost telepathically.  No one talks about it.  Not every woman has it.  Do men get inducted?  I haven't a clue.   It is:  no idle hands (or "don't just sit there.  Do something!").  It's there when I can't sit down until after the dishes are done and lunches prepared for tomorrow.  It's there every time I sit watching TV, or travelling on a train/in a car/on a plane.  I can see my mother reaching for her crochet, for something to do in those snatched moments of time, and then see myself doing it too.

I keep remembering a woman I encountered on a train once.  Christmas 1996, Dumbo and I caught the night train from Sydney to Melbourne.  Sitting on the other side of the aisle was the stereotypical Aussie Battler and his wife together with their three children:  an 8 year old girl, a 5 year old boy and a toddler.  I watched them covertly, facinated.  The Aussie Battler* and his wife are mythical country people, fighting against the odds, battling drought and floods to raise their cattle, farm their land and breed their sheep.  And here they were in front of me.

They looked to be old parents, probably in their 50's, their faces weathered by the sun.  In their dress, it could have been the 1950's:  he wore proper trousers and an open-necked short sleeved shirt (I'm sure there was a tie tucked away somewhere); she wore a floral shirt-waister.  From snatches of their conversation, I worked out that they were farmers who'd been to Sydney for the day - they'd visited the bank and a medical specialist.  Why?  I didn't hear.  They were making a long round trip to/from Dubbo, so the visits must have been important.  (Dubbo has a big hospital and plenty of banks)     Whatever had happened in Sydney, they were worried and relieved to be heading home.  It hadn't been the best of days.  Through much of that long evening, until 2.30am when they left the train, she knitted away her worries.   She said as much, once, to her husband when he asked her why she didn't have a nap.

To that Aussie Battler's Wife, from one member of the Code to another, I salute you.

- Pam

*If you ever get the chance, read Henry Lawson's "Joe Wilson's Mates".  Joe is the embodiment of the Aussie Battler.

Friday 23 July 2010

Frugal Friday - to save or not to save, that is the question

As I struggled out of the office today (lugging my laptop, my handbag, an envelope full of invoices and a lidded plastic bucket that had just been emptied of the last of the office's dishwasher tablets), I started thinking about CrazyAuntPurl's recent post about clutter and obsessively collecting stuff for the sake of having stuff. 

(First though, a diversion: why the plastic bucket?  To make a nettle "stew" to feed my tomatoes next year.  Stuff the bucket with young nettles, chop them if you want.  Cover with water and a lid and allow to rot down for at least a month. Use as a liquid feed, pouring undiluted around the tomatoes.  You can dump the residual gunk around them too - apparently, they love it (it's rich in nitrogen).  It stinks, hence the lid. You can do the same thing to comfrey to make a more nutritious "tea", but I don't have that growing whereas nettles are free and not hard to find.  I just stalked a suitable bucket and purloined it when it was almost empty.)

CrazyAuntPurl talks occasionally about how too much stuff becomes oppressive and that you end up feeling like the stuff owns you, instead of the other way around.  It takes over your home, preventing you from relaxing because a) you have to clean it all, and b) you can't readily find whatever-it-is you were looking for because there is too much stuff in the way so you end up buying a new one.  And, eventually, you end up living like a bag lady in your own home because there is so much junk hoarded there that it takes over.

As I struggled with the door to the office car park, I looked at the bucket in my hand and I wondered if that is the slippery slope I'm heading down.   I don't need it "right now" - I won't be able to make nettle stew until next spring - so will have to store it.  Will it turn into just another thing to find a home for/get in the way/forget about?

I don't think of myself as a big collector of things.  When we put the house back together, I won't need a wall of display cases to show off my collections.  I don't collect Royal Doulton figurines or stamps. Nor do I clutter up the spare bed with stuffed toys*.  But I do collect books.  And knitting magazines.  And yarn.  And embroidery stuff...

...And bread bags.  And the tubs from Innocent Veg Pots.  And small plastic containers. And soup containers. And Douwe Egbert jars. And Yeo Valley yoghurt pots.....

Hmm.... Maybe I could have a problem?  My kitchen has the potential to be a hoarder's paradise.   At least one of the letters published in the Tightwad Gazette laments:  I've saved bread ties and egg cartons and orange juice lids, etc, but what do I do with all this stuff?  Amy's response boils down to "only collect what you need.  If it doesn't have a use, don't collect it".

It's a balancing act.  One of the hard parts of frugally acquiring things that are useful is that they don't usually appear just when you need them.  I've learned to snap up free/cheap items with potential because they won't be there when I go back looking of them.  (I'm still lamenting not buying that double-boiler from the charity shop when candle making was only a vague idea in the back of my mind.  I had to buy the more expensive microwave wax and sacrifice a glass jug because it's safer than heating wax directly on the stove top.)  

I've only collect the bread bags, etc, because I have a use for them.  I use the bread bags instead of freezer bags, particularly for meat and fish.  I give the Veg Pot tubs away filled with coconut rough.   The soup containers fit the freezer door's shelves so I freeze them full of stock, and smalz, and leftover stew.  I store my spices in the Douwe Egbert jars.  I use the yoghurt pots as starter pots when gardening.  And they can also be used as plastic glasses for parties (we found this one out by accident when hosting a BBQ.  People helped themselves to the tower of clear plastic "pint glasses" in the kitchen).

However, I don't need 100 yoghurt pots.  And I recognise that there is a point where you have to call "stop" and just bin the excess however useful they may be in the future (for instance:  I store the bread bags in an old tissue box; when it's full, I bin any excess).   Hopefully there won't be an episode of Life Laundry for me.

- Pam

* I think I still own four soft toys:  two rabbits made by my mother, a tiny teddy bear acquired from somewhere and Bearjing, a 12-inch white teddy bear that I picked up in Beijing in 1986.

Tuesday 20 July 2010

accidental hiatus

It seems as if everyone is taking a bit of a hiatus in the blogosphere.  Me included. I don't know if it's the lazy, hazy days of summer or the pressure of work.  In my case, it's a combination of everything and sheer exhaustion.  The bite on my ankle turned nasty, which probably hasn't helped.  I'm on my second course of antibiotics for it.  Cellulitis - I haven't seen it for 20+ years, but boy is it recognisable.

I have a week's leave booked for the first week of August and I'm really looking forward to it.  We aren't going anywhere; it's just a chance to rest and recuperate. 
In the meantime, I'm running on coffee.
- Pam

Thursday 1 July 2010

Why do insects keep taking chunks out of me?

I am getting seriously pissed off at whatever it is that keeps biting me. Why am I such a bug magnet?  I know that if there is a mosquito anywhere within two miles, it'll find me, but these are something else. What is making me so tasty?  Whatever it is, I need to work it out soon, before I start looking like I've got chicken pox.  (No, I don't have chicken pox for a third time.  I have clear memories of last time and these bites aren't it.)

And I don't even think it is all the same type of bug.  This is my arm, a week after I noticed the first bite appeared:

It wasn't itchy.  Then something else munched me around the elbow, and boy did THAT itch.  Then, on Tuesday evening as I parked up at my hotel, something took a bite out of my ankle.  Again, I didn't feel the bite.  I caught my ankle with my suitcase as I unloaded it and suddenly it was massively itchy and swollen.  Yesterday evening, it had a deep red ring around a white spot.  Today, not so much.

(Also, why is it when you wait for better light to take a photo bite marks go down?  It was furiously angry 8 hours ago.)

I haven't got a clue what bugs are doing the biting - I've reached the point of longing for the days when the enemy was just honest to goodness mosquitoes. 

- Pam

Wednesday 30 June 2010

The best birthday present ever?

If you had a sporting fantasy, what would it be?  For many of my friends, it'd be to score the winning goal for England in the final of the World Cup.  For  a few others, it'd be to score a century in an Ashes test match and then take five wickets.  For me, it'd be horse related:  riding at Hickstead or show jumping at the Horse of the Year Show or doing a National Velvet and riding the winner of the Grand National. 

When I was trying to figure out what to buy DH for his 40th birthday last year, I wondered what his would be and whether I could give him a gift that would fulfil it.  I don't know what his was, but I can make a good guess what it is now.

On Sunday, DH "spent" his 40th Birthday Present:  a Formula Silverstone single-seater "driving experience":  20 minutes driving a racing car around one of the circuits at Silverstone, the home of the British Grand Prix.  He had a ball!  I lost count of the number of laps he did, but he loved every minute of it.   You can't see the smile on his face in the photo above, but I assure you it was there.

There were 18 drivers in DH's group.  His session started with a short (20 minute) briefing about how to drive the track:  when to brake, when to change gear, what is the best line to take through the bends.  That was followed by a short "how to operate the car" briefing session in the pit lanes and then he was helped into his vehicle by a member of staff, who also went over the vehicle's controls.  The cars were led out in groups of 6; each group had its own safety car.  The safety car led them round the track at ever increasing speeds, before setting them free to race each other around the track for 10 minutes.

I'm really glad he loved it.  I chose it for two reasons:  it had the longest driving time of all the Red Letter Day driving experiences on offer, and it's something that appeals to me, which I thought would appeal to him too. Score 2:0 to me.

- Pam

Thursday 24 June 2010

Random. Just Random.

In the things I wish I could remember department:

I wish I could remember how to reset the clock on the stove.  (Or, alternatively, what we did with the manual.)  I'm sure I used to know but it isn't intuitive and it's been 7 years since there was power to the clock and ovens.  (We used the gas hob.)  The electrician has wired it up temporarily for us and I've used both ovens, but I'd really, really like to set the clock to the correct time.  I've emailed the manufacturer - fingers crossed they can help me.



Have you been watching the World Cup?  Yesterday was a rather nail-biting day for me.  I'm cursed with having two national teams to follow:  Australia and England.  England needed to win to progress to the knock-out stages.  If Australia were to progress, they needed both a big win (with a goal difference of 3 or more) AND either Germany or Ghana to win the other match in their group. 

The canteen at work has been showing all the daytime matches on their big TV.  The England match was at 3pm so a group of us went down to watch.  (By the end of the match, there was 200 people in there.)  It was nerve-wracking!  I think I swore more in those 90+ minutes than I have ever sworn in the office.  Fortunately, England played like a team, defended well and won by a goal to nil. It was the best they've played in this competition - their match against the USA was OK but they looked nervous, while their game against Nigeria was dire.

Australia's game was at 7.30pm and not broadcast on terrestrial TV, so I watched the German game.  It was so frustrating!  I have only managed to watch one out of the three Australian matches and I was hoping to watch this one.  No dice.  We won, with two good goals, but it wasn't enough to go through.

Congratulations to the American team for getting through to the last 16.


In Other News...

Can't remember if I've told you but DH is working a temporary job and has been since the second week of May. It's for a contractor for London Transport, which means that every day is in a different location. It's shift work. The hours are awful.   And he has to get there by public transport so an 8 hour shift is really a minimum of an 11 hour day.  It's not in his field.  But any job is better than no job and he's happy to be earning some money.

- Pam

Tuesday 15 June 2010

Sit-Rep 2010 - April/May

Hi everyone!  I'm still here.  Life's been interfering a bit in my plans and I haven't been on-line as much as usual, hence the lack of blogging.  Something similar happened last month, which is why I didn't post a Sit-Rep for April.  However, I decided I couldn't let two months go past without comment, even though it's now the middle of June.  (Hell, if BostonGal can do her monthly updates late, then so can I.)  So here goes....

STASH  Maintained 100% cold sheep, however I feel like I'm cheating since I rarely buy yarn on-line and haven't been near either a yarn shop or a show, so I haven't been tempted.  Knitted a reasonable amount, however, completing the left front of the Brown Cabled Cardigan (Rav link) as well as 2.5 pairs of socks AND ripping out and reknitting the back of the Mohair Cardigan (Rav link) from Verena Knitting.  The socks didn't use up complete skeins - even on the pair for DH I have 20g or so left over - so I estimate that I've used two skeins of sock yarn plus one skein of the Heathland Hebridean (in the cardi) and 1/3 of a skein of the mohair in the last two months. Also DH extracted the stash basket from storage so I've been able to give P's mum the two balls of Artesano Alpaca DK.    That's 5.3 skeins of yarn, for a total of 10.5 skeins.

GARDEN  The garden is a bit of a war zone, with me on one side and the weeds + black-fly on the other.  Since the last update, I've sown/planted out courgettes, jalapeno chillis, tomatoes, yellow bell peppers, runner beans, butternut squash and rocket. Most of them are in containers or grow bags beside the back door.   I'm currently raising five pak choi seedlings, which I hope to plant out in a week or so.  Harvested the first broad-beans on Sunday.  I'll freeze the rest, when they're large enough.  I watched Alys Fowler's Edible Garden on the BBC and was impressed enough to buy the book.  It's well written, detailed and answers the sort of questions that aren't covered in other gardening books, things novice gardeners (like me) need to know but can't find the answer to.

FITNESS  Very little to report.  I'm attending yoga and pilates classes when I'm in the office.   Haven't been near Weight Watchers and don't know if I've lost any more weight.  Oh, and I still haven't run a step.

OVERDRAFT  The debt pay down is going well:  £153.54 in April and £228.24 in May, for a total repaid of  £737.16 since the start of the year.

SOCKS  Completed DH's Weird Science socks.  I don't have photos yet, but when I do I promise to include one showing the pattern on the back of the leg - it's different to the front of the leg and was not shown in the pattern.  (I don't think he's worn them yet, although he says he likes them.)  The Zig-Zag socks were a big hit with Eldest Sis and I completed a pair of self-striping socks for myself.  Don't think I'll be able to produce a pair of socks in June - it's half way through the month and I haven't started any yet.   I'll do a separate FO show-and-tell post this weekend.

- Pam

Thursday 27 May 2010

Frugal Friday - Cheap Make-up Review: Tesco's All About Face range

Tuesday morning, I was a mile from Site when I brushed some dried mascara from my eye and realised that I'd forgotten to pack my make-up.  I had a lipstick but nothing else so, after work, I headed into the nearest major town and went to the supermarket.

It's ages since I've bought make-up base, so ago long that I'm not even sure what is on offer now.  Several years ago, I struck gold on the clearance shelf at Boots The Chemist - 6 bottles of their "17" brand make-up base, in my shade, at 50p a bottle.  I thought they'd last, maybe, a total of two years.  Instead, each bottle lasts about 10 months (and I've still got one left!).  Also in my stockpile at home are a couple of containers of Max Factor Pan Cake (perfect for hot, humid weather when regular make-up vanishes in your sweat), and a tube of Pan Stick*.

On Tuesday, my goal was to find the cheapest suitable products in colours that suit me.  I wandered up and down the make-up aisle in Tesco and checked out the special offers.   As a minimum, I needed make-up base, powder, blusher and mascara.  Oh, and a make-up sponge, possibly brushes too. 

After a couple of minutes, I noticed a small range of make-up that wasn't in the glossy display cases: Tesco's All About Face range.  At £1.49 a product or £3 for three products, it was the cheapest too.  They only had a couple of shades to choose from and no testers.  However, I figured the worst thing that could happen was that I'd waste £3 and be back there the next night buying products from a "known" range.  So I purchased a base in Ivory, a powder blusher in Rose, and translucent compressed powder (no shade specified).

They had a black mascara, too, but it isn't waterproof so I opted to buy my regular Maybelline mascara (£4.99) instead.  And I bought some own-brand make-up sponges (£1.50) and a Tesco make-up brush set (£4.79).

So how good it is?  Well, the make-up base is light and a good match for my skin.  I didn't use a massive amount, just dotted it on my cheeks, nose, forehead, and blended with a sponge. The powder covers well and is the same shade as the base.  The blusher goes on lightly with a brush, spreads out well and blends in.  The make-up holds up well to daily wear and tear.  And doesn't look cheap and nasty.  I asked a friend for her opinion and she thought  the colours were great on me and that it still looked fresh at 3 in the afternoon.  She was surprised when I told her how little they'd cost.

So, if you don't have much money and are looking for some decent make-up, do consider Tesco's All About Face range.  It's very good value for money and I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.

- Pam  (the brushes are very nice, too)

(Edited later to add: Skip the makeup base. It beads on the skin and isn't easily absorbed. When it does dry, it dries blotchy. The product that does all the work to get a good finish is the powder, so just buy that.)

* To use Pan Stick and not feel like you've applied a heavy layer of lard to your face or have it come off, apply as follows:
  • Draw a cross on your forehead.
  • With the angle pointing towards your nose, draw a ">" on one cheek and a "<" on the other.
  • Put a one inch line across your chin.
  • Dot once on each side of the tip of your nose.
Using a make-up sponge, spread the Pan Stick over your face.  Dust with loose translucent powder to "fix".