Wednesday 31 August 2011

Tightening My Belt

For most of my working life, the last working day of the month has been Pay Day.  This morning, as usual, I did my accounts.  Using the cash book pages in my Filofax, I listed my income and my outgoings.  While I do this every month, today I had a bigger incentive - having watched the numbers closely in June and July, I made the decision in August to save and invest more money.  And now, I wanted to see what the effect would be on my bank account.  (Yes, that's right, while I can run scenarios in Excel until the cows come home for work, I never seem to get around to doing it for myself.  Wishful thinking numbers, yes [e.g. daydream scenarios of lottery wins].  Real numbers, no.)

So, this morning, I added my salary payment to the balance in my bank account, deducted money for the joint account, my savings accounts, Weight Watchers, Audible, the Housekeeping money, my share ISA, £180 to the Petrol/Diesel Accrual, and £180 to my Money to Live Off.  I went to write down the next line:, "credit card repay", and stopped. Staring me in the face was a brutal truth:  I'd been too cocky with my calculations when I changed the savings and investment numbers.  No matter how many times I added up the numbers - and most of them are the same each month - there was no way I could avoid what I was seeing.  If I was to maintain my debt pay down levels something would have to give.  I had a shortfall of £35.

£35.  Not a huge some of money.  There have been times when I've spent that much on a meal out.  But it was £35 more than I earn.  £35 I don't have.

I stared at the numbers. I started arguing with myself. I baulked at cutting the debt pay-down money.  It made me nauseous to think about it.  I also rebelled at cutting my savings and investments.  Just couldn't do it - that money is needed for future things, important things, for which I have plans.  That left little else to choose from:  my Sanity Fund? No! Everyone needs a Sanity Fund and mine is only £60/month (earmarked for a pressure canner, clothes and craft supplies).  Cut out Weight Watchers?  No, even though I don't go to meetings any more, I need access to their website to track my points.


In the end, I decided it'd have to be split equally between my Money To Live Off and the Petrol/Diesel Accrual, which is money I allocate to pay for fuel for the car during the month.  £17.50 off each.  It's not going to be easy.  I'd already cut my Money to Live Off back so that I could save more money.  Now it's £162.50 a month to pay for everything I might need and/or want:  birthday presents, social events, music for choir, hair cuts, clothes, software, books, DVDs, dental visits, etc, etc.  Seems like a lot of money until you realise that a round of four drinks at the pub quiz can cost over £12.

The effects on the Petrol/Diesel Accrual will be even harsher. At current prices, it's down to little more than 4 tanks-worth of diesel a month.  I usually go through one tank a week in a normal-commute-to-work-week.  As long as a tank of diesel stays below £40, then I should have a little time to save up for the next 5-week month.  That will be March; September won't qualify because we're taking a holiday and December includes work's Christmas shut down.

Fingers crossed I get a salary increase when the pay reviews are done in December.  I'd like my £35 spending money back, please.

- Pam

Saturday 27 August 2011

The Fruits of my Labours

Two weekends ago, DH's best friend sent me a text message:  would I like some sloes for sloe gin?  "Yes, please," I replied.  Monday night, he arrived at our door with 2kg of sloes and a further 3.5kg of crab apples.  Unfortunately, he picked one of my busier weeks.  I would only have Saturday with which to make anything.

On Saturday, I started the process of making crab apple jelly: washed, chopped and boiled the fruit, then drained it through a jelly bag.   (Note:  copying an idea from the Cottage Small Holder, I added dried chillies to the fruit before I boiled it, in order to add a bit of zing.)

Saturday night while the apple juice dripped, we made sloe gin, pricking the sloes while sitting on the couch watching the football highlights from Match of the Day.  The recipe is from a wonderful website, (In case you've never encountered them, sloes are small, very sour members of the plum family, native to Britain.)  The sloes will macerate in the gin for another three months before I attempt to decant them and make sloe gin chocolates .

Sunday, I only had time to put the drained juice into the fridge, dump the pulp into a bowl and refrigerate that too.   Fast forward to this morning, when I finally had time to make jelly.

The above was two hours hard work, plus several hours tracking down jars.  Hopefully the condensation won't be a problem in the clip-lid jars.  The others are sealed with wax circles and cellophane.

Tonight, I'll rub the pulp through a sieve and make Crab Apple Chilli Cheese, another Cottage Small Holder recipe.  Hopefully, I can rustle up enough jars.

- Pam

Friday 26 August 2011

How this Child of the Sun keeps warm in the cold

(Thanks to sheep, basically.)

A couple of weeks ago, my darling older sister sent me a white woollen cowl for my birthday.  It's lovely and snuggly and came with an unspoken message, "This is to keep you warm in that cold country where you live".  (That's OK.  We both feel the cold. I knit her socks. She moved to Queensland to keep warm; inexplicably to her, I moved to Britain and revel when it snows.)

The week before my birthday, it was warm - really warm, the sort of summer days we don't see very often in Britain, when your limbs are bathed in warm air and the sun shines.  It reminded me that I am a child of the Sun; I was born at the beginning of spring in a land where spring last a month and summer goes on and on and on.  (Melbourne's spring is August, remember.)  My favourite Greek god is Apollo.  When I feel sunshine on my face, it makes me smile.  Sunshine always lifts my mood. 

Thursday of last week, London was colder than Melbourne.  Today, it rained again.  Our summer has deteriorated into a stereotypical British one.

My love affair with wool began when I was a child.  Although winter is short in Oz, it is relatively cold in the southern states and it does snow on high ground. We have excellent ski fields.  Growing up, it was very rare for houses to have central heating.  Schools did.  Offices and public buildings did.  But most homes relied on a single heater in the lounge.  If temperature was considered at all when they were built, it was with a view to keeping the house cool in summer.  Winter wasn't usually a consideration.

My grade 2 teacher, Mrs Cooper, taught all our class to knit, both girls and boys.  It enchanted me.  Begging yarn from my mum, I created something that, in theory, was meant to become a scarf but turned into some weird trapezoid shape instead.  Two years later, I knitted my first jumper, something mustard coloured in acrylic.  It was probably Red Heart.   Three or four projects later, I graduated to pure wool.  I've knitted dozens of projects since and wool is always my first choice fibre.

During my first 10 years in the UK, I mainly lived in properties that didn't have central heating.  In winter, I had a recurring dream.  I'd dream of merino sheep about to be sheared.  The shearer would turn the sheep onto its back and, instead of being sheared, the sheep would wriggle out of a sheepskin coat.  Once free of the coat, it looked the same as if it had been sheared. I wanted that coat.  I craved that coat.  But there was nowhere to buy one in Britain and I probably couldn't afford it anyway if I did find one.  In Oz, I could buy sheepskin moccasins at the market but I was told "Skinny's" had gone bankrupt and with that went the only source of sheepskin coats I knew.  (On every visit to Melbourne, I go to the Queen Victoria Market and buy another pair of moccasins;  it is almost a ritual.)

 I'd acquired my first sheepskin mittens a.k.a. ugg gloves, when I was 10.   It was the mid-1970's and sheepskin gloves, mittens, coats and boots were all the rage.  (There were ugg boots and gloves long before Brian Smith trade marked the name in the USA.).    We always had sheepskin moccasin slippers

Throughout my early British winters, I wished for those mittens.  When I went home for my mum's funeral in 1994, they were one of the things I brought back in my hand luggage.  In winter, my hands were always cold.  The mittens were fine, but you had to take them off to do anything dexterous, such as turn the pages of a book or dig out your train pass. Inevitably, I spent a fortune on gloves, trying to find the magical pair that would keep my hands warm.  Finally, in about 1997, I scored a pair of sheepskin gloves.  They were (and are) wonderful.  I wore them until the stitching around the thumb gave out, then put them away until I could fix them, which I did last winter.

I also worked my way through multiple coats; always trying to find one warmer than the last.  It's really hard finding a cloth coat that the wind can't penetrate.  That took forever to achieve; eventually, I found a cashmere and wool blend, Cossack-style coat in a shop in Ealing.  Sadly, after 13 winters of being worn to work, it's beginning to die.  At the very least, the pure silk lining needs to be replaced.

The advent of the internet was a godsend for my cold feet.  I found a British company that made sheepskin products, Celtic Sheepskin.  I can't speak more highly of this company.  DH gave me a pair of their "Celt boots" for Christmas 4 or 5 years ago.  Another present was a pair of sheepskin slippers, which he gave me when my last pair of Aussie moccasins gave out.  Last year, I treated myself to a pair of their sheepskin lined walking boots; perfect for going to the football on cold winters days.  These are all my "sheep feet"; a wardrobe of sheepskin footwear, wonderful on cold winter's days when I need to go out or indoors when I don't want to turn up the central heating.

While I lust after their coats, in particular their toscana ones, I'd need to win the lottery to afford one.  Instead, I've had lucky charity shop finds.  Seven years ago, I found a cream, hooded, sheepskin car-coat.  Asking price, £12. The zip was broken and the pockets were full of rubbish. I pointed out the broken zip; they sold it to me for half price.  A replacement zip cost £5 and several hours of swearing.  Dry-cleaning was £35 (and I got complements for my zip replacement job from the drycleaner).  This is "the sheep", which I wear to football and for other freezing-cold-but-casual occasions.

Winter 2009, I scored another sheepskin coat in another charity shop!  This time, it was a slim-fitting, 3/4 length chocolate brown toscana coat. My hands shook as I paid them the £15 asking price, since I knew it'd retail for closer to £800 (I didn't tell them that).  It's shorter than I'd like (my legs get cold), but the only major downside is no pockets.   It's my other "wear to work" coat.

I've always had a daydream that, one day, I'd keep my own sheep.  Looking at the list of sheepskin products I have above, I think I've already got 2 or 3.  And these ones don't need feeding.  Or shearing.   :o)

- Pam (got 10 or 20 more sheep in the stash, but we won't go there today)

Thursday 18 August 2011

Proms were attended

Thursday night, DH and I went to the Proms, where we saw the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra perform together with Dejan Lazic play Brahms' 'Piano Concerto No. 3' in D major (reworked from the violin concerto), and Julian Lloyd-Webber play Holst's Invocation.  The music was beautiful but, seriously, Julian, you're 62 - get a decent haircut!

The highlight was Elgar's Enigma Variations, glorious as always. Nimrod was over far too fast. My other favourite movement is the one describing Dan the dog falling into the river and barking when he got out (see the program notes available on the above link).  It is very evocative.

Friday night was another Prom, the Film Music Prom performed by the BBC Concert Orchestra.  It started life as part of a celebration of ten years of Wittertainment a.k.a. Mark Kermode's and Simon Mayo's film reviews (available on BBC Radio 5 and as podcasts on i-Tunes. Well worth a listen).  A couple of weeks ago, I caught up with the podcast episode where Mark, Simon, Keith Lockhart (the conductor) and some guests debated what music to include.  It was a pleasure to finally hear it all performed live.

Highlights?  Star Wars, of course.  And the theme music from Murder on the Orient Express has been playing in my head for the last few days.  Also, having not seen the film, I didn't realise that the shower scene in Psycho went on for so long or that the knife was wielded quite so many times.  

Finally, on Saturday, we went to the Comedy Prom which was lead by Tim Minchin.  Lots of comic songs and very funny guests (Kit and the Widow are brilliant.  So are the Mongrels, I'd like to catch their BBC TV series now).  It'll be broadcast on BBC2 on August 27th and I'll be taping it to watch again.

  - Pam

PS:  Prom Socks were knitted throughout these events.  When you sit in the gods (a.k.a. the Circle) the performers can't see you, so knitting quietly on wooden needles (no clack-clack) is fine.