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

Friday 11 May 2012

Windscreen Number Five, Please

At least that's all it is.  It could have been a lot worse.

Thursday of last week, just after 7pm, I was driving home on the M4.  There wasn't a huge amount of traffic.  It was dull and overcast. No rain for once. I was in the middle lane, having just overtaken a lorry, doing around 70 mph.  Maybe a little higher than that, but not by much.  I remember the view from my rear vision mirror and I don't recall seeing any cars behind me, just the lorry over towards my left.  I debated pulling in to the left hand lane, like a good driver.

Suddenly, out of nowhere (so it must have been going fast), a black Fiat (possibly a Punto) sped past me on my right.  A car length or two ahead of me,  it cut the bend a bit fine and went over the rumble strip onto the central reservation.  Over-corrected and swerved into my lane.  Over-corrected again and, in slow motion, went into the central reservation, hit the barrier, spun and bounced to a stop. 

Self preservation kicked in somewhere between the second over-correction and the car hitting the barrier, and I was already moving over to my left before the car spun and a cloud of debris went flying over the road and over the Toy.  For a few seconds, I braced myself for the impact of the car hitting the side of the Toy. Or possibly its front bumper.  But the only things that landed were large pebbles about 2 inches across.  The lorry behind me pulled over onto the hard shoulder.  I pulled over onto the hard shoulder.  And stopped. Hazards on. Hands shaking.  Grabbed my phone and dialled 999.

"Emergency.  Which service do you require?"

"There's been an accident on the M4, east bound near Junction 8-9.  Car drove into the central barrier," I gabbled.

"Which service do you require?  Police?  Fire?  Ambulance?  I can only put you through."

 "Police," I replied.  A bit calmer.  Got put through to the police and repeated what I'd told the operator.  Then told the officer what had happened.

"Are there any other vehicles involved?"

"No.  But there's bound to be a shunt at the far end of the queue shortly." 

The lorry drove off.

Got out of the car and started walking back down the road to the nearest mile-marker, in order to give the police a more accurate location.  Told the officer what I could see.  A couple of men had stopped their cars and stopped the traffic. They got the driver out of the car and on to the hard shoulder.  As I got closer, I could see it was a woman. 

I was still talking to the police when one of the men came up to me and told me to move my car.  They were going to direct the traffic onto the left hand lane and the hard shoulder, effectively creating two lanes so that cars could get passed.  I told him I was talking to the police and was told, "Someone has already done that", I was told bossily.  So, I reported to the police officer that one of her colleagues was also or had also logged a call about the same accident.  Then told her what the men were doing.

Walked back to the Toy.  The others who'd stopped, moved their cars into the centre of the road, in front of the smashed up car.  Traffic started moving around it and the debris field.  There was no way I could get the Toy safely back towards the accident to wait for the police to arrive.  And it wasn't safe to stay where we were.  I asked the officer for permission to leave the scene of the accident.  Permission granted.  They have my details, if they need me, and I have a case number if I need them.

My phone tells me that the call lasted 6 minutes.

I drove off with my hands shaking.  Got home and checked the Toy.  A couple of chips in his paintwork, that's all.  It wasn't until I got to work on Friday morning that I noticed a crack in the bottom right hand corner of his windscreen. That windscreen was replaced today.  He's now on his 5th.

A very lucky escape.

- Pam

Sunday 6 May 2012

The Concert

Just realised that I didn't post about the concert. What can I say? Wow! Just "Wow!" sums it up pretty well. :). DH took some photos for me from the audience - I'll put one or two up tomorrow when I can liberate them from his camera.

For a start, it was an ambitious program. Both Poulenc's Gloria and Walton's Belshazzar's Feast are BIG pieces. Big sings. Most choirs would only tackle one in a concert. We did both successfully.

The Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra were fabulous. Sixty-odd musicians who actually followed the conductor. (In my experience, not a common occurrence with professional musicians and a guest conductor.)

The concert hall gives back a very different sound quality when occupied by an audience. Much less rich. Moe dead. As a result, we struggled with the Poulenc - the third movement was harder to pitch so we went flat. Per our conductor, we recovered well and went back on key. It is such a beautiful piece of music and deserves to be better known. Have a look for the University of Utah's production on YouTube - well worth a listen.

Belshazzar's Feast was wonderful. The best we'd ever sung it. It was actually quite disappointing to get to the end and realise it was over. It finished much too fast for my liking - I'd have enjoyed going on for longer.

Our next concert is the Brahm's German Requiem at the Cadogan Hall in June. Same orchestra. Can't wait!

- Pam

Wednesday 2 May 2012

New Month Resolutions

Last week I decided in a fit of new month resolutions, that I should once again become a keeper of lists. I have all sorts of lists in mind: some aimed at chalking up achievements (miles walked, "road kill" coins found); others aimed at becoming more organised (a pantry stocktake, cataloguing my books). I think the idea was inspired by the signature blocks of the people on Moneysavingexpert.com, where people track absolutely everything they think relevant in order to meet their goals.

I've started with counting Weight Watchers points (again), micro-budgeting and counting up my road kill coins. Am also watching my accounts like a hawk. I'll start recording my miles walked when I actually do some.

I guess my main motivation is the thought that how can you tell how far you have come, if you don't know/remember where you were when you started?

How about you? How and what do you track?

- Pam (spreadsheet queen)