Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Get a Life

Some people (usually women) would consider it a sad fact of my life, that gossip magazines bore me to tears. I've just flipped through someone's copy of OK magazine and neither know nor care about 99% of the people covered. The remaining 1% tempts me to protest: "Leave them alone!", as blatant speculation about members of the Royal Family's private lives kick off another round of unfounded rumours.

Why do gossip magazines sell? What drives our celeb-mad culture? It can't all be down to teenage girls searching for their identity, finding someone to idolise and emulate. My theory is that it is similar to the appeal of soap operas: women living life vicariously instead of going out and seizing it in both hands. To me, an obsession with the soaps/gossip mags speaks volumes about living in a fantasy world, waiting for Prince Charming to sweep them away from their dull, boring existence. When will they grow up?

I reckon I'd grown out of all that before my 21st birthday. I was a nurse and a singer in a semi-professional choir. Life was full and busy. There were days when it felt as if we were living in a soap opera; so much drama was occurring. Dealing with the ill and their families during the day, then living the university chorister life by night. Going to parties after finishing a late shift, getting 3 hours sleep and working the early shift the next day (even then, I wasn't much of a drinker so I was inevitably sober). Singing with major orchestras, well known conductors and soloists.

It was intense. It was fun. It was living life to the full. And it taught me that living life second hand, through a tv soap or reality tv program is not living life at all. Live life first hand, in the now, experiencing every minute. Seize it with both hands and chase your dreams. Live your adventures don't just watch them.

Friday, 7 December 2012


Cheers.  Such a simple word to say but one with so many meanings.  The British use it as a toast when they clink their wine glasses together, presumably derived from the old toast "be of good cheer".  They use it to say thank you, ("Cheers!" I said to the man who held the door open for me in Glasgow today).  They use it to informally sign off emails when "Kind regards" is too formal to convey the level of friendship involved.

Today, at lunch, we used "Cheers" to say "Thank God that's over and didn't it go well?" when we clinked our wine glasses together.  We'd survived our first quarterly forecast review with our new Bigger Boss and it was far less traumatic than we'd expected.  Seriously, at 10.30am, we were expecting the worst:  some unexpected, unprepared-for question that knocks you sideways and results in a Sir-Alex-Ferguson-hairdryer blasting from the Bigger Boss. 

It didn't happen.  No difficult question.  No hairdryer moment.  Instead the meeting was relatively convivial and reasonably relaxed. I doubt all these meetings will go that way, but it was a good start.


Saturday, 1 December 2012

All change, please. All change...

Work-wise, the last month has been a bit of a whirlwind.   At the end of October, I had an email from my Commercial Director, "In view of the recent announcement....[blah, blah, blah]...".

"What announcement?" I replied, ignoring the rest of the email.  (Curiosity should really be my middle name.)

He phoned me.  One of the PTB's* was about to announce that our Business was moving from one of the non-geographic UK regions to the other.  Since Finance sits outside the businesses we look after, that could have all sorts of consequences, ranging from business-as-usual to redundancy for me and the members of my team.  While he certainly didn't want the latter to occur, not belonging to the business means that our fate was completely out of his hands and he couldn't control it.

Hanging up, I turned around to see if my boss was at his desk then went over and dragged him into a meeting room, demanding if he knew what was going on. "I'd heard a rumour this was going to happen..." he told me but, as far as he knew, nothing had been finalised.  He'd take it up with his boss (who's responsible for the finance teams of both regions).  Big Boss was due in our office tomorrow.

The next day, I stalked Big Boss's usual desk.  When he hadn't arrived by 10am, I asked Boss whether he was actually coming in.

Errr.... No.... Boss had got his days mixed up. 

However, this wasn't something I could leave alone. It wasn't just about my job or future - I have four people reporting to me who needed to know whether or not they had jobs, preferably before any official announcement was made or any gossip had reached their ears.  Had Boss and Big Boss discussed it? 


Big Boss's response could be summarised as "if it ain't broke, don't change it".  So business-as-usual, then. We'd be moving to the other finance team and I'd have to report to another financial controller.  We broke the news to my team. Two days later, I spoke to my new boss on the phone.  Definitely business as usual.  I'd keep my team, keep the projects that I look after, and keep my management accounting responsibilities.  (Actually, I'm not sure even now that New Boss knows about my projects.)  On top of that, I get a shiny new job title:  Finance Manager.

I broke the news to my (relieved) Commercial Director, "Sorry - you're stuck with me", and we set about determining how life would work in our new world.  Tuesday's business trip was about that:  meeting the new management; working out who are the influencers; going over the budget and other numbers with my new boss and trying to figure out whether we're providing all the information they want from us in the format they need.

Our next big hurdle is Friday.  Friday morning, we'll be back in Glasgow and up before the new region's management for our rolling forecast review.  Keep your fingers crossed for us, please.

- Pam   (Oh, yes.  And that announcement?  It was finally made this week, over a month after the whole process started.)

* Powers that Be

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Another Opening, Another Show

Or, in my case, "Another suitcase, another hotel".

I'm in Glasgow tonight, staying in a new-to-me hotel around the corner from the office. It's a nice place. My most pressing desire, right now, is to figure out how to switch off the air-conditioning. Yea gods! Is it noisy!

I have two more weeks of flights and hotels. It isn't like the "old days", when I'd turn the Toy right at the end of our street, then head west or north for a hundred miles or so. Air travel has certain constraints: the two items of cabin luggage rule (which means packing my handbag in my case); the 100ml liquids rule (which leaves me hoping the hotel has decent shampoo, since I left mine at home); and the take-your-laptop-out-of-your-bag-at-security rule (which inevitably means juggling multiple belongings like an apprentice octopus).

This definitely isn't the glamorous side of business travel. Certainly, it's more fun when you aren't travelling alone (this trip, I'm travelling with my commercial director), but glamorous it isn't. Nothing is glamorous about being up at 4am to get to the airport before 6. Nothing glamorous about never seeing the city outside the office you are visiting. (Although you know when you've done a flight too regularly when the cabin crew know you by name. (Ahem. Boss.)) Still, I had a friendly greeting from several colleagues and that is worth it's weight in gold. It is nice to know you're liked by people you only see a couple of times a year.

Now, if I can only figure out how to switch off that damn fan....

- Pam

Writing as therapy

A girl sat opposite me on the Tube. She's unremarkable - thin, long dark hair, pale skin. Cold. From her bag, she produced an A5 notebook and started to write. Glancing furtively at the lefthand page, I see she's writing a list. I can read the first item: "my apparently awful ability to remember experiences".  From my distance of 4 feet away, I can tell that the rest of her list is consists of additional "faults" and/or a written rebutal to them.  Someone has been snarkily chipping away at her and now she was quietly fighting back.

Writing as therapy. 

Memories flowed:  I remember doing it too, back in the dim-and-distant past, when Dumbo was playing his mind-games:  start a list, leave some space,  change pens and write a rebuttal in the space you left.  Counter the negative with something positive. List the nastiness, the petty cruelties, the times (s)he hurt you and didn't notice or care. On a different page, or at the other end of the notebook, write a list of positive things about yourself.  Doesn't matter if it is something simple like "I've got good teeth" - anything to strengthen your sense of self and ensure that someone-else's perverted view of you doesn't engulf your entire life. Make a list of goals and plans: how you'll escape; who you want to be in 6 months, a year, two years time.  Hide the notebook where it can't be found and your rebellion exposed - in your bag, probably.

I watched the girl furtively over my knitting.  I wanted to tell her that she isn't alone; that others have been there too and survived.  And that she is far more worthy than the person who hurt her.  To do that, though, would have been to admit to invading her privacy and to possibly hurt/embarrass her further.  It would also have meant popping the bubble that is travelling on the London Underground, where everyone is in a privacy bubble, travelling in a world of their own.  I could not do that to her.  All I could do was sit and silently wish her well, when she got off the train.

I hope she is OK and that her writing gives her the strength she needs to stand her ground and protect herself.

- Pam

Monday, 26 November 2012

In which the Toy gets a new "pacemaker"

The Toy has had starter motor problems since the summer. When I got him serviced in September, I told the mechanic that he was getting slow to start and was advised to wait until it got really bad, once winter started, and then get a new starter motor fitted: "No point doing it now. Might not get worse for months. Might as well save your money until then." (This is a local garage not a dealership.) Last Monday morning, I switched on the engine and all Toy could manage was a single, asthmatic wheeze. Waited a few seconds and tried again: the coil light for the glow plugs came on followed by a bit more wheezing. On the third attempt, he started. (Toy is a diesel. Once the fuel is warm enough to ignite, he'll run forever. I bought him new, 12 years and 263,000 miles ago.)

I drove into work, phoned the garage and booked him in for his new starter motor, which was done on Wednesday. He also got two new tyres (they needed replacing) and a set of new wipers (the old ones squeaked even in the past week's heavy downpours). The last time he had his starter motor replaced, 6 years ago, was back when I regularly him to a dealership for servicing and repairs so I was expecting a bill for at least £600 plus the cost of the tyres (say £750 in total). I was pleasantly surprised when I got the bill - £287.17 for everything, including VAT.   My bank balance was much relieved.

Oh, and guess who now eager to get going on these dark wintery mornings and starts first pop?   Makes me wonder exactly how long the starter motor had been going.  

- Pam

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Knitting to the foreground

For a knitting blog, I haven't talked much about knitting at all this year, let alone added to the list of finished objects over there ----> on the right.  Time to remedy that a little.  So how am I going towards my goal of knitting six sweaters this year?

Sweater 1 - Norwegian Sweater

Firstly, the Norwegian Sweater that's been lurking in the "What's On My Needles" box is well and truly finished.  I finished the knitting in April eventually wove in the ends in August and gave it to my mother-in-law for her birthday present.  The lavender suits her colouring far better than it suits mine. The only photos I have of it completed do not do the colours justice so here's three, one of it complete, one of a partial jumper and a close up of the yoke, which is the one photo that does show the colours correctly.

Pattern:  Norwegian Sweater
Source:  Knitting In Vogue 2, by Christine Probert, published October 1983 (pattern dates from the 1960's)
Yarn:  Sublime Organic Merino DK in Tuile (main colour) and Felt (contrast)
Mods:  Knitted in the round.  Also, since the yarn is discontinued, I knitted the sleeves first, then the yoke (casting on using the crochet provisional cast on), before knitting the body downwards.  I ran out of yarn at the waist but managed to find some more from McAree Brothers in Scotland. Finally, I did the collar in the contrast colour, back when I was still hopeful it would "lift" the lavender enough to enable me to wear the sweater.

Sweaters 2 and 3 - 2012 the Year of the Four Babies

And four babies means four Five Hour Baby Sweaters.  After the first one took two weeks, I decided that two baby sweaters would equal one adult sweater.  I use Courtney Filner's version for a 6-12 month old (the link will take you to it), but in a fit of stash busting I modified it a little to make stripy sweaters when I knew whether the baby would be a boy or a girl.

Each one takes about 125g of yarn.

Sweater 4 - A Frogged Garden Sweater

One of the forums I participate in on Ravelry is the Ankh Morpork Knitters Guild.  We have a Guild Wars competition and, as part of the third round, I whipped out Veera Välimäki's Modern Garden Sweater.  It's lovely; it's quick; it ate up some left-over chunky yarn from my stash....

But it didn't fit me.  And it didn't fit my sister-in-law.  So I've frogged the body to knit it again.  I'd picked the size to knit on the basis that I only had 450g of the yarn (Zettl Alina, bought from Lidl on the rare occasion they sell yarn).  I was lucky enough to have about 75g yarn left over so will knit two sizes up this time and see where that gets me.  Should take a week or two to do the body (I did stay it was fast).

Sweater 5 - Pretty in Pink

The final sweater I've knitted so far is another vintage Vogue pattern.  This time it's the Cotton Sweater with a Ribbed Yoke from Kntting in Vogue by Christine Probert published in December 1982.  The pattern dates from 1936.

I only have photos of the body, but it is virtually finished.  All that's left to do is to attach the sleeves, weave in the ends and give it a damn good wash.  (Somehow, I've managed to get sweet-n-sour sauce on it from a Chinese takeaway.)

Again, I modified this by knitting it in the round and doing the sleeves 2 at a time using magic loop.  The other thing I always do is finish the shoulder seams using a three needle bind off.

Sweater 6

No idea what I'm going to do for sweater 6.  I have a few patterns lined up in my queue, but they'll all take longer than 6 weeks.  Might finish the Moth Wing Shrug I started in March.  Yes, I know it's crochet, but that counts too.

- Pam

Saturday, 3 November 2012

First casualty

I have been knitting socks since 2006 and, in all that time, I have never holed my socks. Until a moment ago. These were knitted in 2007 or 2008, using left over Opal silk-blend sock yarn for the legs, heels and toes, with the feet in Lisa Souza's Sock!. As you can see, it is the Opal that failed - put my toenail straight through it, getting out of the car.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012



 I'm so tired.  I'm carrying some sort of cold bug that just won't go beyond the first few, throaty symptoms.  I'll feel rough for a few hours and then it eases back for a while.   This has been going on for over a week.

Last Monday, my throat was so swollen, I skipped rehearsal and went to bed early.  Gradually felt better on Tuesday, rough on Wednesday and OK by Friday.  This Monday, I spent most of the day with a splitting headache, partially masked by painkillers.  Couldn't miss another rehearsal, but felt more and more knackered as the evening wore on.  I yawned my way home, went to bed fairly quickly and promptly woke up at 4am.  Couldn't get back to sleep.   Felt like a zombie for a large part of yesterday then, at 3pm, my Commercial Director bought me a cappacino.  The caffeine kicked in around 5 and didn't wear off until  midnight.  Today, I was woken by the rain but felt human until just before I left work.

Right now, I'm peering at the computer, feeling slightly feverish with a sore throat.  I haven't had an on-off, dragged-out illness-in-stages like this since the winter before I got diagnosed with hypothyroidism.  I just wish the damn thing would either develop or go.  I'm sick of it.

Channel 4

Last night, I watched 27 Dresses on E4 (one of the TV stations controlled by Channel 4).  Good film.  Very funny. Cute leading man, James Marsden.  Almost totally ruined by Channel 4's insistence that they insert 5 advertisements every 10 minutes, cutting scenes in the middle, without sensitivity to the story line.  They do it by the clock.  You can set your watch by it.

I hate Channel 4 for this!  I remember the night they totally ruined The Elephant Man.   They don't care about the film or their audience, just about their advertising revenue.  I rarely watch programs on Channel 4 - wonder why?

Eye Candy

 Talking about James Marsden, I spent a considerable part of the film thinking he looks a lot like the poster-boy of English cricket, Alistair Cook.

 Alistair, when you cricket career finishes, I hope Hollywood comes calling.


Toying with an idea - PipneyJane's Wartime Experiment

World War 2 is back on our screens in the form of the Wartime Farm on the BBC.  The thread discussing it on MSE got me thinking.  Five years ago, Thriftlady did a ration book challenge - feeding her family for (I think) 2 weeks on the same quantity of rations they'd have got in 1942.  Could we do something similar?  Who would be willing to pretend it's September 1939 again? War has just been declared and rationing is imminent.

These are the ration quantities per person, per week:-
Meat –this was rationed in money not by weight but it was roughly equivalent to 12 oz mince/stewing steak. Chicken was scarce. Offal and sausages were not rationed but hard to get. Wild game such as rabbit was not rationed.
Milk - 3 pints
Sugar ½ lb
Butter – 2 oz
Margarine – 4 oz (for this challenge can up the butter ration to 6 oz instead of using margarine)
Cooking fat (dripping/lard) – 3 oz (for this challenge can substitute up to 3 fl oz oil)
Cheese (English hard cheese) – 3 oz
Bacon and ham - 4 oz (or have an extra 4oz of meat instead)
Eggs - 1 Dried egg -¼ packet (equivalent to 3 eggs so use 3 eggs)
Sweets and chocolate - 2 oz
Jam- 3 oz Tea - 2 oz (18 teabags) (need an equivalent for coffee)
There was a points system - 16 per person per month – which allowed you to buy tinned goods, orange juice, cereals, rice and pulses. Off ration were: bread (finally rationed in 1947), potatoes, oats, fresh fish, and homegrown fruit and veg.

As to the rules for the game, so far, I've come up with these:-
  • All mod-cons are allowed if you already own them (freezers, food processors, microwaves, etc). 
  • You don't have to buy a whole week's ration every week.  If you routinely only shop once a month, then buy a month's worth then.
  • You can eat out of the freezer or the pantry but limit your weekly quantities to those of the ration.
  • You can stockpile a week's ration, but you can't spend one in advance, i.e. you can save up your chocolate ration for several weeks in order to purchase the chocolate needed to make coconut rough for Easter.
  • You don't have to eat wartime recipes, just adapt what you normally eat to fit the restrictions of the rations.  (However, the various recipe collections such as Marguerite Patten's Victory Cookbook are a very good resource if you need ideas.)
  • Petrol/gasoline rations.  Since I'm dependent on a car for work, I was thinking 1 tank of fuel per car per week.
  • Clothing rations.  How about throwing in a Fashion on the Ration challenge as well?  The 1941 clothing ration was 66 coupons. (Yarn and fabric already owned doesn't count towards your ration.) This is what your coupons could buy according to Fashion Era:-
Item Of ClothingWomenGirls
Lined mackintosh or coat over 28"1411
Under 28" short coat or jacket118
Frock, gown or dress of wool118
Frock, gown or dress of other fabric75
Bodice with girls skirt or gym tunic86
Divided skirt or skirt75
Dungarees or overalls64
Blouse, shirt, sports top, cardigan or jumper53
Pair of slippers, boots or shoes53
Other garments including corsets52
Petticoat or slip, cami knickers or combinations43
Apron or pinafore32
Scarf, gloves, mittens or muff22
Stockings per pair21
Ankle socks per pair11
1 yard wool cloth 36"wide33
2 ounces of wool knitting yarn11

I'm still not sure I'll go through with this.

- Pam

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Mean Girls

(I have been stewing over this for the best part of 10 months.  I think sufficient time has elapsed, now, to tell you all about it.)

Just before Christmas, I met up with a group of girlfriends for our annual Christmas Night Out. We are a group of five successful women in our forties. I was late and flustered (got held up in traffic) but within five minutes of my arriving, it turned into the female equivalent of a pissing contest. One woman (I'll call her TopDog) had to be better/a bigger martyre/a saint/more successful/bigger-spender than the rest of us. Whatever it was about TopDog had to win the comparison contest. My favourite episode from that evening was not long after I arrived, when the others were commisserating with me about my journey: TopDog announced that she'd had the furthest to travel to get to the restaurant, which was blatently untrue. "No you haven't", I responded, "I've just driven in from Reading, which is 40 miles away. You've only come 20 miles". If looks could kill, I'd be pushing up daisies.

The evening deteriorated from that point onwards, with TopDog demanding admiration and to be the centre of attention at every turn, making more and more outlandish comments just to get a rise out of people. (Seriously? Why else declare that your latest, uncircumcised partner was so much more sexually stimulating than your previous circumcised one simply because he has a foreskin? Who cares?) At one point, late in the evening, she even started a sentence irrelevantly with "Well, speaking as the only mother here....", which was designed to be a dig at me (several rounds of infertility treatment) and at another friend (I'll call her Placator) who is also not childless by choice. I demanded to know "And that means what exactly? What are you really saying?" and got no answer.

The worst part of the evening, though, was the half an hour TopDog laid into Placator bullying her, criticising her for her lack of love-life and for not wanting to date anything in sight. The rest of us sat there speachless. It was a horrible, nasty thing to do. We tried to change the subject and it kept coming back, time and again. I couldn't think of a thing to say to stop her. Eventually, one of the others said, "Friends don't try to "fix" friends," to which we all agreed and that finally changed the subject. (Honestly, I nearly accosted a total stranger in the Ladies Toilet to ask her what to do. I was at my wits end.)

I drove home that night fuming with anger. Still feel it now. In the morning, I sent Placator a text message apologising that I hadn't stood up to TopDog on her behalf. When TopDog sent out an email saying "That was fun! Must do it again!", I replied that I hadn't enjoyed the evening and that I though she owed Placator an apology for laying into her for half an hour. My exact words were:

Personally, I didn't have a good night. I didn't enjoy what I witnessed. You obviously have no idea how hurtful you were being last night. You laid into xxxx for nearly half an hour. In that entire time, I'm surprised she only came back at you with one snarky remark. And she immediately apologised for it. Sorry, but I think you owe her an apology. You need to learn when to stop.
The response can be summarised as: "F.... Off. And don't bother to contact me again.". At which point I congratulated myself for saving myself a Christmas card. When I talked to the others, the response I got was largely positive. It needed to be said. And I'm glad I won't have her in my life any longer. You know when someone is a good person and a good friend when go to their wedding/birthday/family celebrations and see how many of the people there have known them for years - looking back at the time I've known TopDog, she has virtually no long term friends other than the girls who were at that meal. Says a lot really.
My only regret is that I didn't tell TopDog to stop. I was brought up to believe that I should stand up for the defenceless and shouldn't stand by when someone-else is in trouble. And that includes standing up to bullies like TopDog.

Life is too short to worry about the TopDogs unless one is unfortunate enough to be on the receiving end of their attentions. I hope you have managed to escape such nastiness.

- Pam

Wednesday, 19 September 2012


It is not often that the sight of something reduces me to tears.  This did.

I haven't told you about the Paralympics.  We went for four sessions on four consecutive days:  Friday 31st August to Monday 3rd September.  Cycling, athletics, rowing and equestrian (dressage).  Four amazing days. Four fantastic venues. Several medal ceremonies.

It was the women's tandem cycling medal ceremony that did me in.  Earlier, we'd watched the final and the race-off for third place, and cheered and yelled and (probably) deafened the cyclists.  


 The results were put on the board.
The girls were presented with their medals.  We all stood to attention and faced the flags.

As one of the small contingent of Aussies in the audience, I sang my national anthem and, then, it happened. There I was, in the middle of singing Advance Australia Fair, tears streaming down my cheeks, trying not to sob.

We witnessed all sorts of greatness that day.  And on the next three days.  The triumph of the human spirit over adversity.  While the Olympic athletes are correctly feted as amazing, talented individuals; it's the Paralympians who are a step beyond.  They are the true heroes. 

In the Olympic Stadium on the Saturday night, we witnessed four world records fall and several Paralympic records, including Oscar Pistorius breaking his own world record in the T44 200m heats.

 The stadium was amazing, but there were so many events going on that it was hard to keep up.

Is it enough to say that we were there?  We were their witnesses?  

This was taken  at the rowing, when it was cold and wet, with that horizontal, floaty rain that only seems to exist in these islands and which the Irish call "soft weather".

We witnessed the heartbreak of a Spanish rower who, paralysed from the waist down and strapped into his boat, was leading his race by several lengths when the velcro on his strapping gave way, less than 100m from the finish.   Following frantic efforts to re-strap himself in, he came in third.

If the audience had had a choice, we would have given him a special gold medal for his heroism and courage.

How can I adequately describe the Paralympic Dressage?  We witnessed the Individuals Competition at the "Costa del Greenwich".  (It was so hot and sunny, my legs actually took on colour!) 

Against the most amazing backdrop, we witnessed miracles.  Men and women, often with limited - or no - muscle control below their waists, controlling huge horses by the touch of their fingers.  And making them dance.

Seriously, there were horsemen/horsewomen who were only upright because they used special saddles - bouncing around like a sack of potatoes whenever their horses trotted - often with limited movement in their hands and arms, and they made their horses dance by the sheer force of their willpower.  

They are the true heroes.  We, their audience, are not worthy to breath the same air.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Another Milestone

The Toy has something to show you.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Frugal Friday - Procrastination Costs Money

If there is one lesson to learn from watching athletes at the Olympics, it's to get off your behind and do rather than sit there and think about things, then over think about things, or put off thinking about them all together.  I am sure that every single competitor and potential competitor has had moments when the last thing they wanted to do was to go and train.  Whether it was having to get out of bed early and go out into the pouring rain, or having to go home early from a party so that they could compete in an event, every athlete will have had a moment when they gritted their teeth and did what they had to do rather than what they wanted to do.

That's the thing that sets them aside from the rest of us. The rest of us go "it'll keep" and put fun before obligation, usually to our detriment.  Or we procrastinate, trying to avoid the inevitable, possibly putting things off until just before a deadline or even missing the deadline completely.  Sound familiar?  Are you remembering essays left unwritten until the night before they were due to be handed in?  (Who hasn't done that?  Seriously, don't lie?)

So what does this have to do with frugality?  Our current house-and-contents insurance policy expires later this month so, on Wednesday, DH and I went online to Comparethemeerkat to find a replacement (and score another meerkat toy).   Last year, I'd thought about using a comparison website, but procrastinated and let the renewal date slip past.  To be honest, I saw the insurance renewal notice envelope, thought "must deal with that" then put it in a drawer and forgot about it. I'd never even looked to see what the payments would be.  (We paid monthly.)  When the first direct debit came out, I went ouch(!) because the payments had gone up by over 22%. 

Fast forward to this year.  This year, I opened the renewal notice and read the letter.  Another huge leap in insurance premiums.  The monthly payment was increasing by 30%.  We've never ever made a claim, not even when the kitchen roof was leaking.  A few minutes of our time - a few questions answered - and we've found a comparable policy for a much more reasonable price.  By acting, instead of procrastinating, our new insurance policy is £233.02 for the year instead of £1,100.74!  Yes, you saw that right.  The new policy cost 21% of the price of the renewal.

The moral of the story is:  be like an Olympian.  Don't procrastinate when renewal time comes around.  Don't assume that the insurance companies will act in your best interest and keep the price reasonable.  They've already got your business and consider you a captive audience to be milked.

- Pam

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Recipe Tuesday - Chocolate Brownies

(Yes, I know the date stamp below says "Wednesday", but as I type this on Wednesday morning it is still Tuesday evening in California, so I figure this squeaks under the wire.)

Everywhere I've worked in the UK, it's traditional for the birthday girl/boy to bring cakes into the office to celebrate their birthday.  Breaking with the shop-bought norm, a couple of weeks ago I decided I'd bake chocolate brownies, which is what I took into the office on Monday.  They went down a treat!

In the end, I had to make two batches on Sunday.The first batch  were too gooey - our combi oven is on its last legs (we've ordered a replacement) and didn't hold its temperature well, so I got the timing wrong for it.   For the second batch, I used a proper oven - the fan oven on the stove - and they turned out perfectly.

Chocolate Brownie Recipe - makes 16 - 20
110g dark chocolate  (I used 50% stuff from Lidl)
110g butter
225g self-raising flour (or 225g plain flour plus 2 teaspoons baking powder)
40g cocoa powder
275g soft dark muscovardo sugar
4 eggs, beaten
  1. Preheat the oven to 180C.
  2. Melt the chocolate and the butter together in a medium sized saucepan, over a low heat.  (Or use a large bowl suspended over a saucepan filled with boiling water.)
  3. Stir in the sugar and keep stirring until combined.
  4. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the eggs.
  5. Add the cocoa and flour (plus baking powder if using).  Whisk until all ingredients are combined and there are no lumps.
  6. Line a large rectangular baking dish with silicon baking paper (I think mine is 30cm by 20cm and 2cm deep).  Pour in the mixture.  It may not spread all the way to the edge.  Don't worry about that.
  7. Bake at 180C for 15-20 minutes.  If you stick it with a knitting needle, the needle should be slightly sticky but not covered in goo.  Turn out onto a cake rack and allow to cool.
  8. Once cool, cut into 16 or 20 squares.  Store in an airtight container.
Mixing - I mixed this by hand using a balloon whisk.
Flour - I used what I have in stock, which is wholemeal chapatti-bread flour and added baking powder.
Eggs - The second time I made this yesterday, I only had 3 eggs.  Turned out slightly stiffer and a fraction smaller but otherwise fine.
Time - takes 5 minutes to measure all the ingredients.  Another 5-10 minutes to melt the chocolate and butter and combine everything into a batter.
Doubling up - The first time I made this recipe, four months ago, I made a double quantity.  It works well but you get a lot of brownies.  
- Pam

Friday, 3 August 2012

Yarn Lust

Do you know something? I think the yarn-lust has finally worn off. I think I've finally reached saturation point. With the stash all in one place, where I can see it in all its glory, yarn shops don't have quite the pull on me that they used to. If I'm near one, I'll still have a browse but there isn't that "Got to buy wool" that there was. Maybe it's because I have virtually all the yarn I need to make the projects in my mental To Knit List? That's not the same as my Ravelry Queue - a lot of my Ravelry Queue is taken up with trying to find patterns to fit the yarns that I already have in stock, not the other way around. In fact, there are only two projects on my To Knit List for which I don't currently have yarn. The first is a Rowan Kid Silk Creation scarf (photo lifted from their website):

To be honest, while I'm still tossing up between the grey ("smoke") or the cream, I'm gradually going off the idea of knitting one at all.

The other item on my list is this big cosy winter jumper from the Australian Women's Weekly Best Ever Knitting Book, published in 1977:

I've wanted to make this one forever. It requires 1300 metres of 12-ply/chunky/bulky yarn to make the tunic and the hat. This is the pattern for which I wanted the Rowan Cocoon a couple of yarn diets years ago, but there's no rush. And there are readily available alternatives. Besides the Rowan, I could use Brown Sheep Lamb's Pride Bulky or Valley Yarns' Berkshire Bulky, both of which I can buy on-line from Webb's. Or I could use some of the Cleckheaton Country 12-ply, in black, that's already marinating in my stash. However, I don't think it'd give the right texture (the original yarn was an 8-ply/DK wool/mohair blend used double) and I'd envisaged the jumper in charcoal grey with the odd fleck of white mohair showing.

Oh, I felt a momentary stab, earlier in the week, when I heard that Reynolds Yarns had ceased trading due to the death of the owner - bye-bye Reynolds' Saucy cotton, Reynolds' Lopi and Lopi Lite - but it wore off pretty quickly.  There will be other yarns. Anyway, a quick browse of the Yarn Barn of Kansas website revealed that they've found an alternative supplier for Lopi and Lopi Lite - it appears they're buying it directly from the mill - so if I want those yarns, I can still get them.  How sad that a yarn company can fold because there is nobody to take over from its driving force.
It's possible, too, that setting this year's yarn budget up front has had an effect. As I mentioned in an earlier post, £60 is not a lot of money yarn-wise and I didn't want to fritter it away. It's all gone now: £8.44 on acrylic for baby jackets; £7 on sock wool; £15.95 on 3 extra balls of the Sublime Organic DK in Tuille because I was running out; £37.45 on Ethical Twist from EBay and £4.70 (inc P&P) on some Robin Paintbox DK in "Patriot" (red, white and blue) that I used to crochet a patriotic tea cosy in honour of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee:

The mathematically inclined will have worked out that the above totals more than £60 - it comes to £73.54. It was the Ethical Twist that pushed me over, but that was a case of "act now or never get to knit with it" (it's discontinued) and I purchased enough for a decent sized jumper. Just don't know what yet.

While I won't say "no" to gift yarn (it is my birthday tomorrow, after all), I'm really not fussed if I don't buy any more yarn this year. I have enough.

- Pam

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Five Frugal Things

We've had guests staying, who were a bit surprised by some of the things I do automatically - not taken aback or grossed out, but surprised in the "Oooohhhh! That's a good idea! I never thought of doing that!" sense. These aren't big, headline frugal activities; rather, they're the little, every day things that save a penny here or a penny there and only cost a few seconds of time.
Since the internet is full of these things anyway, I thought I'd create a new meme: Five Frugal Things.  Feel free to copy the idea in your own blog.

Five Frugal Things I do Automatically
  1. Set Asides. When I'm serving up dinner, I'll dish up our lunch-boxes at the same time as I do our meals. That way, lunch is taken care of and I can ensure that there is sufficient food for lunch if someone wants seconds.
  2. Batch soaking and cooking dried beans and chickpeas. I have a pressure cooker; it takes virtually no more time to cook 1kg of kidney beans than it takes to cook 200g. I'll then bag, tag and freeze the excess.
  3. Decant shampoo, conditioner, body wash and body lotion into pump action soap dispensers, so that you get standardised quantities each time you wash. This extended the life of a bottle of shampoo by more than double.
  4. Using the bread-maker to bake bread. It takes 5 minutes to weigh out all the ingredients and costs less than 25p for a loaf of wholemeal bread. When I set up the bread-maker before going to bed on Monday night, my guests were a little stunned at how quick, easy and cheap it is. The bread was ready when we got up in the morning.
  5. Washing and re-using bread bags/freezer bags. It takes me less than 30 seconds to wash out a bread bag when I'm doing the dishes (turn inside out, give a quick swish through clean-ish washing up water - scrubbing any sticky bits - and position over the cutlery drainer to dry). Re-using a plastic bag only saves me a fraction of a penny a time but they all add up. For food safety's sake, I do not re-use bags that have held raw meat or fish, although I do put those into a previously recycled bag that's looking like it's seen better days (that way, I can bin the bag afterwards with a clean conscience).
 What about you? What are your Five Frugal Things?

- Pam

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Standing on the hallowed turf at Lords

It wasn't for cricket - let's face it, I'll never bat for Middlesex - but here's proof that I've stood on the outfield at the home of cricket.

Archery photos


Ever the optimist: at the Olympic Archery at Lords, wearing sandals, trousers that convert to shorts, a strappy top, cardigan, leather jacket and a rain poncho.

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Knitting at the Olympics

Tonight, my knitting witnessed Senegal beat Uruguay 2:0 at Wembley. In a few minutes we'll see Great Britain play the UAE - a great evening of football at the Olympics.

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Olympic Fever

Did you watch the Opening Ceremony last night? We watched it from the start at 9pm to the finish at 1am.  What did you think?  Didn't Danny Boyle do us proud?  I thought it was brilliant!  Absolutely brilliant!  Nothing twee or cringe-making.  The segment when the LSO played Chariots Of Fire and Rowan Atkinson did Mr Bean had me in stitches.  (And I don't like Mr Bean.)  I also loved the sketch where "James Bond" turned up to escort the Queen to the Opening Ceremony.  It proves HMQ has a sense of fun.

When you think that most of the performers were volunteers, they should be really, really proud of themselves.  Professionals could not have done better.  The team of staff and patients(!) from Great Ormond Street Hospital were just amazing. Most of those children have chronic, long-term illnesses and here they were, centre stage at the biggest show on earth.  Their faces lit up the television screen.

Danny Boyle didn't shy away, either, from being subtly political.  The message "Hands off!  Leave our NHS alone!" came through loud and clear.  As did the statement about honouring our armed forces and our war dead.  And the tribute to the victims of 7/7.  What other opening ceremony has had the Secretary General of the United Nations as an active participant?    Messages received loud and clear, Mr Boyle.  Well done!  And thank you for making them.

My first Olympic event was actually on Tuesday, when I sang in the Torch Ceremony in Ealing.  The choir had to be there from 2pm for the sound check.  It was stiflingly hot. We were lucky, though - they gave us a spot under the trees, right beside the path for the torch.


 About two minutes later the cauldron was lit and we sang the closing number, appropriately called "Olympic Torch".  It was a medley of pop songs that finished, naturally, with "We are the Champions!".

 Sadly, the cauldron was extinguished within a couple of minutes of the end of the show, so I couldn't get a close up of it aflame.  Within 15 minutes, the crew had started to dismantle the stage, in order to move it to the venue for Wednesday night's show.  This is the best I could do:

My next Olympic event is tomorrow.  We have tickets to the men's football at Wembley.  As luck would have it, we get to see Team GB play.  Hope they do better than their opening match.  Tuesday, we will be at Lords for the archery and next Saturday (4th), we're back at Wembley for the men's football semi-final.  Sadly, we don't get to the Olympic Park proper until the para-Olympics, for which we have tickets to the athletics, cycling, equestrian events and the rowing.

- Pam

Monday, 23 July 2012

Sorry, Interweave Knits, but you lost me

Dear Interweave Knits

I am writing to tell you why, after a period of 6 years, I will not be renewing my subscription to Interweave Knits. It's definitely you, not me. The "new" layout that you've been using for the last couple of years is a total turn off. I lose the will to live while flipping through the pages to find your patterns and, when I do find them, they just look like more advertising. The patterns don't register in my mind. I can't remember a single occasion over the last year when I opened your magazine, saw something I liked, and thought "I want to knit that". More commonly I'll see something on Ravelry, look at the details and then be surprised that I didn't recognise it since it came from one of your recent editions.

This is the third layout you've had in the time I've been a subscriber. I cannot understand why you think regularly changing the layout is a good idea. You had a layout that worked just fine but you just couldn't stop messing with it, could you? Is it because, each time you get a new editor they have to put their own "branding" on the magazine, like CEOs who rebrand companies to make their mark? It makes no sense to me. If it ain't broke, don't fix it! As well as your magazine, I've been a subscriber to Vogue Knitting for well over a decade and have copies dating back to the 1980's. Throughout that time, their layout has remained constant: advertisements and editorial at the front; followed by pattern stories; and then the pattern instructions. If consistency works for Vogue Knitting, why doesn't it work for you? It works for your sister magazines, Knitscene and Interweave Crochet, who have had the same layout for as long as I've known them.

The other thing I find annoying with you is that you do not include your regular "special issues" in your subscription price. Every year, you publish Interweave Knits Accessories and Interweave Knits Holiday Knitting - don't you think your regular, overseas subscribers would like to purchase them too? If we want a copy, we have to pay DOUBLE the cover price in P&P. It's not as if you don't know you're going to produce several special issues a year - given your lead times, you'd have to schedule them at least a year in advance - so why don't you include them in your subscription? (You used to do this with Knitscene but finally saw sense and created a separate subscription-type scheme.)

It's reached the point where I dread opening your magazines and your emails (Knitting Daily). That is not good.


- Pam

Sunday, 22 July 2012


Silence.  Did I ever tell you how much I appreciate odd moments of silence?  There is so much noise in our lives:  radio, television, the neighbours, traffic, stuff on MP3 players.  Sometimes, it is only when the noise stops that you can hear yourself think or listen to the wind in the trees or the birds in the garden.

Silence, is also relative.  In the background, right now, I can hear our new washing machine whooshing away quietly.  The last one shredded a bearing back in March and gradually got louder and louder on the spin cycle.  When I called him out, our marvelous washing-machine-repair-man told me that it wasn't worth fixing because the parts would cost almost as much as a new machine, but that we could run it until it died, which might take several months and be a bit messy at the end.  His solution to the noise was "Close the kitchen door".  (For his honesty and that call out, I paid £15.)

A week ago, we decided that enough was enough.  While it still worked, the old machine was deafeningly loud.  A quick trawl on the internet and two shop visits later, we'd bought an almost-like-for-like new machine:  7kg capacity; separate temperature control (so that you can run every wash on cold water - as we do - if you want that facility); handwash woolens cycle; everything mechanical, with no mother-board to go expensively wrong.

It arrived on Friday and was immediately plumbed in and tested.  It is so quiet.  For the first time in months, I can be in the kitchen during a spin cycle without risking hearing damage.  In fact, when a wash finished a few minutes ago, it took me a while to realise it had stopped!  It is that quiet.  Near silence is indeed appreciated.

- Pam

Friday, 29 June 2012

Catching Up

What on earth happened to the last month?  I've been horrendously busy and it obviously shows with my neglect of the blog.  To summarise what's been happening in my life (and in order of appearance):-

June Week 1
  • We put on a very successful RPG/games convention during the first weekend of the month.  I even got to play two games.  Fortunately, it was the Queen's Jubilee Bank Holiday weekend (a 4-day-er) and we needed the extra two days off to recover.
  • HMQ celebrated her Diamond Jubilee.  We recorded the river pageant and watched it on the Monday. (The Guardian has good photos, here.)  I am glad we didn't try to go and watch.  Not only wouldn't we have seen anything with 1 million people lining the Thames, the rain was torrential!  I think I spotted an old friend, Mark Nixon, in amongst the rowers on the Gloriana.  However, try as I might, I can't find a full list of the rowers so can't confirm it.  Mark is certainly qualified to be there - he's an Olympic rowing medalist.
  • Watched the concert at Buckingham Palace, live on the telly.  Please can someone tell Sir Cliff Richard that his voice has reached the embarrassingly bad stage and he should hang up his microphone.   HMQ had the good sense not to arrive until after his set.  That was planned, although I didn't know it until later and was worrying that there was bad news about Phil-the-Greek (i.e. that "bladder infection" was being used as a euphemism for something far more serious).   Spotted Prince Charles looking drawn and wiping his eyes at the back of the royal box.  Told DH,  "Uh-oh, looks like bad news" and then the Queen walked out all smiles.  Charlie's tears must have been from relief!  (Or from suffering from Cliff.)
  • Had an out-of-schedule rehearsal for the ECS concert on 16th June.   We spent most of the evening practising the new commission, Sea and Stars, composed by Julian Phillips with libretto by Simon Christmas.  Oh my God, did we need it. We were still a bit lost - really needed to rehearse with the orchestra but that never happens until the orchestral rehearsal on the day of the concert, which means that the first time we hear all our cues is less than 4 hours before we sing it in concert.  The balance of the concert is Brahm's Deutsche Requiem (sang it for the first time in May and absolutely adore it).
June Week 2
  • This week can best be described as one big sing.  It started with choir rehearsals and finished with the concert.  We rehearsed on Monday, Friday and the afternoon before the concert.  We had been doubly cursed:  concert hall scheduling means this concert was only 6 weeks after our last; and Julian was very ill at the end of last year when we'd had free time to work on the new composition, with the knock-on effect that we didn't get our scores until that window had passed.  By Friday night, Jonny, our conductor looked exhausted.
  • In the middle of all that, we bought a new car.  No, not to replace Toy.  It's for DH.  "Frank" is a top of the range Skoda Fabia diesel, complete with climate control, lots of cup holders, a chiller cabinet in the lower glove box and an allergy to fuel that rivals Toy's.  He is the latest model but was registered in 2011 and had just over 10,000 miles on the clock, which meant we paid one third less than the current list price. I abused my Tesco credit card - bought Frank on it to get maximum clubcard points - then abused another credit card by transferring this payment at 0% balance for 11 months. With a 3.5% fee, it's far cheaper than a car loan and he'll be almost paid off by the time it expires.
  • My sister arrived from Australia just in time to come to my concert!  I walked onto the stage at the Cadogan Hall on the Saturday to see Eldest, BIL, DH and two friends doing a Mexican wave in the balcony.  After the interval, they spelt out my name using the gestures from Village People's YMCA.
  • The New Commission:  Sea and Stars went well, especially considering we'd only had one rehearsal with the orchestra and soloists.  I must say, while the orchestra did a really good job, they looked as confused as we frequently did when they rehearsed the ending.  Oddly enough, I found that rather reassuring. The performance went well, which is the main thing. Not much "cat scratch music"; plenty of melodic orchestra (think Dr Zhivago meets English Patient).  I do think, though, that we missed a trick:  this isn't a piece that'll go into the general choral repertoire; it's more a piece for soloists and orchestra with choral backing vocals.  And that is unfortunate.  I thought the idea was that we'd commission a piece that other choral societies would want to sing but this isn't it.  The choir's part doesn't have a tune to reel you in.  Pity.
  • The Brahms was beautiful as always. I do love it.  Twice, the altos sing a phrase that is so beauitful it brings tears to my eyes.
  • Sunday, we had some friends around for a BBQ, in order to introduce them to Eldest and BIL.  Most had met BIL before, since he visits us every couple of years and was over at Easter.  It was a sunny, warm afternoon - the first for almost a month.
June Week 3
  • Took Monday off to spend some time with Eldest and BIL.  Went to the butcher in the morning and finally lost at freezer tetris.  Couldn't fit a shoulder of lamb in the freezer, no matter what I tried.  Shoe-horned in all the other meat.
  • Tuesday, we all went to Royal Ascot. Here's the Australian contingent, all dressed up:
  • Saw the Queen in the distance:
  • As usual at Ascot, failed to back any winners.  Maintained my perfect score of "Nil Points" (say it in French, to match Britain's Eurovision score).  I can't even win a raffle at Ascot. The first time I went to the racing at Ascot, I was a guest in one of the boxes.  My hosts had numerous "prizes" for the guests during the day.  I didn't win one.  (There were 12 guests.)
  • Did I tell you how great it is to have Eldest and BIL stay?  I love them both to bits.
June Week 4
  • Monday night was my re-audition for the choir.  This is the first one I've done.  I was incredibly nervous.  Fortunately, we now re-audition in small groups, so I could pitch off the others.  Unfortunately, one of the altos in my group has a vibrato that irritates the hell out of me.  (She's a nice lady; I just don't like her voice.)  Jonny was smiling encouragingly, but I had no idea how I did on the night.  (I found out today that I was successful.)
  • Eldest and BIL hired a car on Sunday and went down the south coast for a few days, returning on Wednesday.  I worked from home on Wednesday morning so that I could collect them from the drop-off point at Heathrow.  Managed to get quite a bit done, even though I didn't have that much on the to-do list (it's the quiet end of the month).
  • Wednesday night, we went for dinner at the Hinds Head in Bray.  It's one of Heston Blumenthal's establishments; a country pub which offers a silver-service dining experience. The food was wonderful.; the staff were friendly and attentive.  I will definitely be going back.
  • Thursday we all took the day off and went to Oxford.  Wandered around Christ Church, took photos of the Great Hall (reproduced in the Harry Potter films), and generally wished I was 17 again and smart enough to get selected to be an undergraduate there.  I'll stick a photo or two of the hall below this post so you can see it is real (they're still on my phone).
  • Eldest and BIL left this morning to fly to New York.   We drove them to the airport before heading on to work.  I didn't cry, because that would have set us all off, but I really wanted to.  I miss them so much.  It was great having them here and being able to sit and chat for hours.
- Pam

Friday, 1 June 2012

A pact with myself

Let's start with a touch of cynicism.  At one point earlier this week, I found myself uttering, "to become what you want to be, you have to model the behaviours of that person".  At which point, I cringed, buried my head in my hands, apologised to my colleagues and groaned, "Oh, God!  I sound like a psychologist!".

For two days, I was on a safety leadership course at work.  When you strip away the cringe-making jargon and the trainer-speak ("Let's begin a conversation about safety"), it was an interesting, thought provoking two days.  Being me, a lot of the thoughts it provoked had little to do with safety, something to do with work and a lot to do with my own personal goals.  I kept that train of thought simmering underneath, returning time and again to those fateful words, "to become what you want to be, you have to model the behaviours of that person".  What person do I want to be?  How do I get there?

What do those words mean, anyway?  "To become what you want to be, you have to model the behaviours of that person."  I decided it meant that, if you wanted to be a successful student, you had to do what successful students do, i.e. schedule and keep study sessions even when you didn't want to.  If you want to be a fit, healthy person, then you had to make exercise a priority.  To be a success at anything, you have to work out what the successful people do and then copy that behaviour - it's not enough to coast along or to expect others to carry you with them.  To be the best you can be, you have to do what the best do.  It doesn't mean a 46 year old couch potato will become an Olympic marathon runner, but it does mean that she'll become the best running version of herself that she can be.

Eventually, I decided to make a pact with myself.  I have neither the time nor the energy to tackle all my daydreams goals at once, so I have picked three.  For June only, I will focus on my singing (as well as a concert on 16th June, I have my re-audition in four weeks), learning French and the so-called "Nebulous Fitness Goal".  So, starting Monday here is what I'll do:-
  1. I will rehearse for 30 minutes a day, focussing on the concert pieces (Brahm's German Requiem and Phillips' Sea and Stars), since not only do I need to know them very well for the concert BUT they'll form the basis of my reaudition.  Official choir rehearsals will count as a singing session.
  2. Spend 10 minutes a day using the French flash-cards app on my phone to learn some vocabulary.  I'll write a review once I've played with it a bit.
  3. Every morning before work, I'll do the 20-minutes Move More workout.  That will entail getting up at 5.30am but as I'm usually awake by then, I'll just need to move my butt out of bed.
- Pam

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Excuse me, I'm lost.

Somewhere in Paris near the Sorbonne, 10.35pm.

Sounds so glamorous, doesn't it?

Telling your business unit management, "Sorry, can't make your meeting. I'm going to Paris for a training course" has a certain ring to it. It conjures up the Eiffel Tower, the Seine and the Isle de la Cite. Just shut your eyes for a second and picture it. Beautiful, elegant women in chic clothes; handsome, charming men.


The reality is so different.

Paris, like other large cities, has its posh, glamorous bits (where the tourists go), and its hard working, commercial centres (where visitors only go if they have to for work). Just as I wouldn't expect a tourist to go to Dandenong or Slough, you won't find them anywhere near our Paris office. Unless they were lost.

The office is out by the Peripherique, miles from anywhere that you may have seen in the movies. It could be anywhere in the western world - you wouldn't know until someone spoke. I've spent most of today in a sub-basement meeting room. No window. No view.

Welcome to the real Paris. About as far from glamour as you can get.


PS: On the bright side, I have some great colleagues and I've enjoyed catching up with them. We're voting to have a project accounts meeting in Barcelona (no chance of that but one can dream).

Monday, 21 May 2012

Update on the Use-It-Up Challenge


The panstick is long gone and I'm now using up the final bottle of the famous Boots score from 2004. When I first started using it, it seemed a little watery but after 2 or 3 days it is back to the consistency that I remember. Since I started using it in March, I expect it to run out some time in December. Not bad for 50p.

On the blusher front, I finally chucked out the dregs of the Clinique powder blusher. There was a little bit left but it would not load onto the blusher brush. I'm now using up the Estee Lauder free-bees. The darker of the two shades has already been partially used (it looks good with a tan).


(Note: All my main toiletries get poured into 500ml recycled, pump-action soap dispensers. That way, I can get a consistent quantity every day, which makes it last longer. 3 pumps of shampoo. 6 pumps of hair conditioner. 2 pumps of body lotion, etc.)

I have a huge stockpile of those little sample-sized bottles you get in hotels: shampoo, conditioner, body wash and body lotion. They were all piled onto the lid of the plastic box we used to use to house towels in the bathroom. In March, in an effort to tidy them up and to organise them, I sorted them all into separate boxes/drawer inserts using the punnet-type boxes that mushrooms come in. They're now stored in our "new" bathroom cupboard (a cupboard I paid £10 for in a charity shop, which DH refinished).

So far, I've completely conquered the hair conditioner stockpile. Admittedly, it was one of the smallest since most hotels don't provide hair conditioner. We had 7 plus two Dove samples I scored elsewhere. One bottle went to Oman with me, while the others were drained into the hair conditioner dispenser. Since they were so thick, I added water to increase the volume by about a third and shook the dispenser like mad. The result was a thick and creamy hair conditioner that lasted me 6 weeks of daily hair washings.

My litre bottle of Value shampoo ran out on Saturday (it lasted 7 months), so I refilled that dispenser with hotel samples, which took hours. In the end, the easiest way was to balance each bottle in the neck of the dispenser and let gravity do its stuff. Seventeen bottles later and the dispenser was full. (There are at least 10 more.) I'd been a bit worried about the smell because I knew some of the samples were scented, however I gave it a good shake to blend and, so far, it doesn't smell of very much at all, just some sort of clean shampoo smell. It's quite thick, too, but spreads well which is a bonus. (The Value stuff was quite gloopy.)

I'm almost out of body lotion, so that is the next stockpile to use up. Then it will be the turn of the shower gel.

- Pam