Thursday 21 January 2010


I don't know about you, but I seem to go through periods of obsession with one hobby or another or one facet of a hobby. At one time, it was cooking - the hundreds of cookbooks I own date from then. That obsession wove its way from ethnic cooking through to the search for a decent banana bread recipe (one which didn't involve cinnamon), and finally to low calorie and low fat recipes. Now, I only buy cookbooks written by Nigella Lawson, or where the Weight Watchers' points have been calculated, or where they fit into my 1940's obsession (ration book cookery, anyone?).

Craft-wise, I've been obsessed by knitting pretty much exclusively since the year 2000. Occasionally crochet butts in, but my other needlecrafts (dressmaking, cross stitch, needlepoint, tatting) don't get much of a look-in. I'm not even sure I could read a tatting pattern at this point.
My current knitting obsession is creating a pair of toe-up socks in Buffalo Gold #4. Remember, I'd bought a skein at the Knit & Stitch Show at Ally Pally last year?  Well, as my Christmas present to myself, I bought a second skein so that I could get a pair of socks and a pair of gloves out of it. (Buffalo's reputation for warmth won out in the snow.)

The Buffalo Gold #4 retails for £38 a "50 gram" skein at I Knit London (the skein measurements are rather generous.  I've yet to find anyone on Ravelry who has had a skein weigh less than 60g, mine are 75g and 65g).  I'm using the 75g skein for the socks and I don't want to waste an inch.  Ravelry lists it as worsted weight, although my original thought was that it was DK.  On 3.5mm needles, I get a soft, dense fabric.

I've only ever made one pair of toe up socks (the Baudelaire socks I showed off finished earlier this month) and I liked the heel they had. Do you think I could find a free pattern for toe-up worsted weight socks? No.  I'm improvising and measuring as I go.  Getting to the start of the gusset easy - even calculating the gusset was simple, but the heel?  Knitty's Universal Toe-Up Sock Formula was for a short row heel, which isn't what I want.

I spent Sunday obsessing about how to turn the heel to create a "flap" on a toe-up pair of socks knitted in worsted-weight yarn. I tried to figure it out from the Baudelaires and couldn't.  I stared at them for what felt like hours.  Finally, I resorted to a search engine.  Six or seven entries down, I found Knot Another Hat's toe-up sock formula.  Result!

I haven't got much further than where I was on Sunday night - I'm about 4 rows into the heel, but suddenly I understand how this works.  Reading the worksheet was a true light-bulb moment.  Thank you, Knot Another Hat.

- Pam (now, if you'll excuse me, I have some knitting to do)

Sunday 10 January 2010

Time for some FO's and WIPs

You may have noticed that the What's on my needles box in the sidebar didn't change for ages. Sorry. Sheer laziness on my part. The Refined Aran was finished in the summer. Tonight, I finally got around to getting a photo taken.

Pattern: Pam Allen's Refined Aran from Interweave Knits, Winter 2007.
: Jamie Possum's Possum+ , DK weight yarn in the Denim colourway. The yarn is 80% merino, 20% possum fibre. It's very soft and warm, but has quite a halo and sheds/pills a lot.
Modifications: None.
If I make this again, I'd take the buttons further up the band and make the sleeves shorter.

Finished Object number 2:

Pattern: Baudelaire socks by Cookie A, from Knitty, Summer 2006.
Yarn: UK Alpaca's Alpaca Sock Yarn in Charcoal. I had 75g and used almost all of it. Have about 1.5m left.
Needles: Started on 2.75mm circulars, because I couldn't find my 2.5mm one. Once the toe was large enough, I swapped to 2.75mm DPNs. This made them slightly larger than usual.
Modifications: I cast on 24 stitches instead of 16. The leg is only 39 rows high before the ribbing, which I knitted in parallel (knitted the first sock to the ribbing, then the second to the ribbing, then joined the first sock to the other end of the ball and ribbed a row on one, then a row on the other until I was almost out of yarn, before casting off).

Tips and tricks:
  1. Dangle a row counter from you needles to act as your row marker.
  2. I determined the leg length by weighing the first sock. When it weighed 35g, I noted the row number and started the second sock.
  3. I used highlighter tape to keep track of the chart. I bought my highlighter tape from Knit Foundry. It's great stuff - you can reuse the same piece hundreds of time without damaging the page.
  4. When it got to the cable sections on the leg, I marked the cable rows with an asterix.

Now for some works in progress:

The travel knitting project. I started this one in the summer. It's lace-weight and small enough to fit into a make-up purse. Ideal for travelling. I've done both sleeves and most of the back.

Pattern: Bolero Cardigan from the Summer 2008 issue of Verena Knitting .
Wagtail Yarns Kid Mohair 4 Ply in Charcoal. I have two skeins. It is soft and silky, not like any other mohair I have handled.
Problems:: The only problem is that the yarn is so fine that it is easy to knit into the stitch below the one you should be working (think Fisherman's Rib). I don't know how many times I've fixed that error.
It will look like this, when it's finished:
(picture from Verena.)

My current main project is a cardigan:

Pattern: Brown Cabled Cardigan from Heathland Hebridean.

Picture from their website.
Yarn: Heathland Hebridean's DK, bought in a kit with the pattern. The yarn is very springy and probably felts like a dream. It may be itchy if worn directly against the skin.

And, finally, I'm making a hat for DH:

Pattern: Montreal Tuque, by Veronik Avery from her book, Knitting Classic Style.
Wensleydale Longwool Sheepshop DK in blue. This is a nice yarn to knit with - it feels a bit like knitting with Alpaca.
Modifications: I tried the tubular cast-on specified in the pattern, following Veronik's instructions from the back of the book. It went OK until I unpicked the waste yarn after I was about an inch into the project. Don't know what I did wrong, but the result was awful. Ripped out the whole thing and started again with my regular, cable cast-on.

- Pam (now to change the sidebar)

Saturday 9 January 2010

Snow Day Mark 3

I made it into work yesterday. The roads were clear until I got to Reading, where it rapidly became obvious that the Council hadn't gritted. I am not impressed.

Seriously. The road "in" from the M4 is the A329; it is motorway for about a mile, until the first junction. Motorways are managed by the Highways Agency. "A" roads are managed by councils. The A329 is 4 lanes, 2 each way. Within 400 metres of the first junction, our two lanes were reduced to one almost clear lane showing two tyre marks with snow in the middle. And it got worse the further I drove. It was obvious that the road was only clear because of volume of traffic. (NB, it snowed Wednesday. This was Friday.)

Parking at work was an adventure, since the snow was at least 6 inches (15cm) deep. Four staff were supervising traffic, whilst a digger cleared half the car park. Then the email came out to move our cars and we all swapped to the other side of the car park.

Thought you'd like to see some snow photos. Here is the view from our kitchen window, taken on Wednesday.

And the view from the back door. Pretty.

Also, here is the front step, which we salted on Wednesday.

Noticed yesterday that part of it was obviously being held together by the moss. Oops! No mortar:

We're now out of dishwasher salt. So was the supermarket yesterday; it appears I'm not the only person who had that idea.

On the work front: this time, I bought home the work laptop. We have more snow predicted for Sunday, but I think I'll be able to get to the office on Monday. They're talking about this weather lasting another 10 days, so I'm debating whether to ask for an SUV to be hired for my trip to Site the week after next. On the plus side, the off-road function should make it drivable on bad roads. On the downside, a) there is no guarantee its tyres will be better than the ones I have already (as I've said before, they don't do winter tyres around here); b) there is a high possibility, I won't get an SUV even though I've asked for it; and, c) I won't earn the £200+ mileage allowance I get for driving my own car (it costs me about £50 per Site visit, so I make a profit each trip). Any thoughts?

- Pam

Thursday 7 January 2010

Snow Day Mark 2

I didn't go to work today. it was a combination of things: the garage didn't finish working on the Toy yesterday (they'd had to order a part); DH was already committed to collecting his mum from the airport and driving her home; and due to the weather, the rail service has been operating an emergency timetable, which I can't rely on. (I checked the rail company's website last night before I went to bed and again this morning - it was impossible to work out when our trains were running. We may or may not have had one train an hour.) I emailed my boss at 6.30 this morning to tell him I wasn't coming in and that I'd take the day as leave. For a while, I kicked myself that I didn't bring home the company laptop on Tuesday night when I knew the weather would be bad - I'd looked at it, commented about it to my assistant, and then packed it away as normal.

Eventually I gave up worrying about work, logged out of the company webmail and got down to some serious day-time TV watching. Oh, and knitting. I've almost finished a pair of Baudelaire socks in UK Alpaca's Alpaca Sock Yarn (colour: charcoal). They're my first toe-up socks. I hope to wear them to work tomorrow (who needs to block socks?) so will photograph them when done.

It snowed yesterday until mid-afternoon. My poor MIL has suffered a temperature shock, flying in from the Gulf to sub-zero temperatures. Yesterday, she was sunbathing; today, she's sitting by the fire, wearing her warmest clothes to keep warm.

We've scattered dishwasher salt on the front step in an attempt to stop it icing up. Amazingly, it worked, dissolving the layer of snow that covered the step and the snow that landed after we salted. It's also killing off the resident moss and weeds that have colonized the mortar between the bricks that make up the step.

The Toy was ready for collection at 3pm today. The cause of his knocking noise? One of the rear tyre has worn badly on the inside and distorted. I was lucky it didn't blow out. The mechanics don't know why this has happened. Whatever caused it has happened since the start of August, when he was last serviced and they rotated the tyres. I asked about wheel alignment and camber (tilt) and they say that it isn't possible for the rear wheels to go off "true". The joints aren't built that way.

Sadly, with the Toy fixed, I have no excuses. It's back to work for me tomorrow.

- Pam

Wednesday 6 January 2010

Snow Day

If you look at the news today, you'll see that Britain is in the grip of yet another snowfall. Work-wise, it doesn't affect me. I'd booked today off in order to get Toy fixed ASAP; since he has a problem with his wheels, I didn't want to drive one mile further than was necessary. On Monday, sacrificing a day off to get him fixed seemed the best option - today was the first day they could fit him in, they couldn't give me a loan car and whilst DH is currently driving his sister's car, that was also booked in for a service today so he couldn't drive me to work. Bad weather didn't rear its ugly head until yesterday, when the weather warnings came through. It snowed overnight; this morning, we dropped both cars off and walked back through virgin snow.

The first time I drove in snow, it was the week before Christmas 1999. I was sitting in the Metro (Toy's predecessor) at a set of traffic lights in Selsdon, south of London, when I realised the stuff making the strange wet blotches on the windscreen wasn't rain. It was snow! Further along, the Epsom Downs wore a nice snowy blanket. I remember feeling excited, like I'd finally made it as a driver, "Hello, world! I've driven in Snow!!!!".

When I got to work that morning, I quizzed everyone about how to drive in snow. I got fairly general advice: stay in second gear, brake slowly, double or treble the distance between the car and the one ahead, etc.

The next time I recall driving in snow was January 2003, when it started falling as I drove into the office car park on the morning I was due to fly to Australia for my sister's wedding (the flight was at 10pm). I sat in the office that day watching it fall, watching it settle, until 2pm when I turned to my then boss (PVC) and said I was leaving - I had a plane to catch and I couldn't risk staying any longer. PVC is Canadian. He responded with, "You're Australian. What do you know about driving in snow?" and proceeded to give me a driving lecture. It's thanks to him that I carry a bag of kitty litter in the boot during winter (for grip on the ice).

Fast forward to December 2009 and our current bout of snowy weather. You know about my journey home on the Monday before Christmas, but I haven't mentioned Friday 18th December. I was at Site. Thursday, it was snowing as I drove to the hotel - a dry snow, almost hail, that blew over the road like a dust storm, complete with swirls and eddies.

Thursday night was the Site Christmas Party at a big hotel so I stayed at the venue; Friday lunchtime was the Reading Finance Christmas Wake (we'd organised it and paid for it ourselves, without company support). The plan was that I'd claim driving time for once, leave the hotel before 8am, drive home as quickly as possible, collect DH who'd drop me at the station then get the express train into Reading for our party at 1pm. No drinking and driving for me.

Friday morning's news was full of talk about the overnight snowfalls and an impending "Big One" that was due to start "any minute now" and would be focused over Lincolnshire. Since there were clear skies when I left Scunthorpe, I thought it was safe to take my usual route instead of heading out to the M1 and adding an hour to the journey (usual route is country roads to Lincoln, go round the Lincoln bypass, then join the A1 near Newark. That'd take me to the M25 and home).

I was about a third of the way down the A1 when the Big One hit. Gradually, over the next 20 miles, we slowed down into a single file convoy of traffic, travelling at approximately 40 miles an hour. The snowfall got heavier and settled on the road. Every now and again, an idiot would wiz down the fast lane at 60 mph; that stopped after one of them spun out of control and ended up sideways with their nose across the central reservation.

We plodded on. The snow got heavier. The vehicles got slower. The road surface disappeared; even the tyre marks were filling up. At 10.30am I pulled into Colsterworth Services and considered my options. By this point, the A1 was practically stationary. There was no way I'd get to Reading for 1pm. It was time to admit defeat. I phoned the office and told them I wasn't going to make it. I phoned DH and told him where I was, then bought a coffee and sat in the Little Chef for an hour, reading, until the snow plough/gritter went through and the traffic started moving.

I gritted my teeth, got back in the Toy and set off again. The reason we'd ground to a stop became clear - there had been an accident closing the fast lane and the emergency vehicles were still clearing up when I drove past. The snowstorm eased. The road surface cleared. Driving got faster.

It was 3pm when I got home that day. I'd had a long scary drive. Sometimes, I'd been really frightened but mainly about getting stuck. I wasn't scared (most of the time) about crashing, only when those idiots went flying past at 60. I have never been more grateful to see the road works on the M25 near Watford.

- Pam

Sunday 3 January 2010

Dear Twitter Users

Who are you and why are you "following" me? Since I have never posted a tweet and never will, you must be very bored.

The only reason I joined was to read Mark Kermode's Oscar predictions last year. Kermode ran out of time during his regular, Friday afternoon radio slot so promised to list them on Twitter. Which he did about 5 minutes after the Drive program had kicked him off the airwaves.

I really don't see the point of Twitter, nor do I see how it will ever be able to turn a profit. Facebook sells advertising space. Google sells advertising space. Yahoo sells advertising space. That's how they make a profit. Twitter doesn't sell anything and it relies on the ability of users to send/receive text messages from the most basic of mobile phones, which won't support advertising.

Is Twitter the next big Dot.Bomb????

- Pam (bemused)

Friday 1 January 2010

Frugal Friday: And so it begins

What did you do for New Year's? We spent New Year's Eve at friends, watching fire works, playing party games and playing with their cats. It was fun, silly and stress free. And cold (I woke up this morning to a hard frost).

To me, new years are like other new beginnings: a time of optimism, promise and hope; a time of renewal. I'm the kid who always looked forward to the start of the school year, wondering what I'd achieve and who I would become during the year. And that is the way I felt when I woke up this morning. Since I've already discussed New Year's Resolutions, I'm not going to put up a long list of resolutions or goals for 2010. I've decided to keep anything more detailed private for now. However, check back occasionally and you might find a monthly Sit.Rep. making an appearance.

In the meantime, we have "a situation". During the last week, the Toy has developed a knocking noise and vibration when traveling at high speeds (60+ mph). His steering feels sloppy. If it was another car, I'd say a front wheel bearing has gone but I'm not sure the Toy has them - he doesn't have a conventional front axle. He will be due for his 200,000+ mile service in a week or so anyway, so a visit to the car-doctor was already on the cards. My priority numero-uno is to get him fixed, but I have to face the possibility that sometime in the next year or so fixing him will become uneconomic. DH and I've decided that £2k a year in repairs is the limit.

Now is the time to do the planning for when Toy becomes uneconomic to repair. Over the next few months, DH and I'll do the work to define what we want in a new car and what make/model we'll target. (My main requirements are four/five doors, reliable, a good radio, a cup holder and a fuel allergy. Oh, and I'd like air-conditioning, but not if it costs more.) And then we'll have to save for it. I don't want a car payment but if I have to have one then I want one at 0% interest, which means a large deposit.

That was one lesson I learned from buying the Toy, nine years ago: loans are commitments where you sell your future cash-flow for something you want now. It doesn't matter if it is a car loan or a shopping spree on your credit card, you are committing your future salary to buy something you want now. And you limit your future spending choices because you won't have as much money available to spend from next month's pay packet as you had from today's. What cripples many people is not their ability/inability to borrow or the amount of money they do/don't earn, it is their ability to service their loans whilst still having a life. I don't want to be caught in the dreadful situation where you have to choose whether to buy food or to fund your transport to work*.

So, my first Frugal Friday Resolution is to end 2010 with less debt than I have now and a healthy "Toy Replacement Fund".

- Pam

* In my particular situation, driving is the cheapest option. Throw in a car payment of the size I had with the Toy (£183/month), and it still comes out as the cheapest option.