Saturday 4 November 2017

My Turn

Lucky here.  I have an announcement to make.  Look:

Wait for it.

Don’t believe it?

Yes!  I’m over 100,000 miles old!

This happened last month but, as you’re aware, Pam and I weren’t getting along very well, so I couldn’t ask her for access to the Blog.  I’m sorry I was grumpy.  The deer hurt my nose - my Skoda badge is depressed by at least 5 degrees.  

As for the tyre.....  At least we found a new garage to look after me, as the result of that incident.  Since Pam changed jobs, I can no longer get to MOT City to be serviced and the replacements weren’t that good.  (MOT City looked after me, Frank and the Toy.  They are award winning for good reason: excellent service and good value for money.  Pam used to walk to work from there.).   These new people were recommended by the RAC man who came to change my wheel.  He said that they service his wife’s car.  They’re about 2 miles away from home.  So far, they’ve replace the locking-wheel-nut on all my wheels (it was missing, which is why we phoned the RAC), done my big service and glued down Frank’s loose trim.  I will see them again.

- Lucky

Tuesday 10 October 2017

Slow Cooker Cuban Black Beans

We were introduced to Cuban-style black beans by The Lost American.  It's classic peasant food:  slow cooking cheap meat (smoked ham hock) with dried beans, to feed as many as possible.  Ham hock is hard to find here, so generally speaking I use bacon off-cuts aka "cooking bacon" which I can buy for 60p for 500g.  Once or twice, I've used lumps of ham.  When I have found ham hock, it was sold from the hot-meat counter at the supermarket for several Pounds each.

This is one of those meals which you suddenly find yourself craving.  I think that's down to its smokey flavour.  The only downside to cooking it in a slow cooker/crockpot is that everything comes out a dark brown  colour.  Please read the notes section before you proceed. 

The cost is between £2 and £3 depending on how much bacon you use and assuming 10p for the cheapest herbs and spices.  This makes at least 5 portions of soupy stew, more if you serve it over rice.


500g black turtle beans, soaked overnight and drained (£1.10)
1 onion chopped (12p)
6 cloves garlic, crushed (10p)
2 green peppers, roughly cubed (40p)
150g-500g  cooking bacon, roughly chopped (or use leftover ham, see notes below) (18p-60p)
2 chilies, chopped (or 1 heaped teaspoon ground chilli)
1 smoked dried pepper (if you are lucky enough to find them) (say 50p)
1 bay leaf 
1 tablespoon oregano 
1 tablespoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons white vinegar
1/2 teaspooon liquid smoke (2p)
Boiling water to cover


  1. Combine all the ingredients in the slow cooker.  Ensure that there is at least a 2.5cm (1 inch) covering of boiling water, more if your slow cooker lid doesn’t seal well.
  2. Put the lid on, set the cooker to high and cook for a minimum of 8 hours.  
  3. If it gets a bit dry, add more boiling water (cold water will cause the pot to crack).
  4. If it turns out soupy, serve with lots of fresh bread.  Otherwise, serve over rice.

See what I mean by brown?


  • Slow cookers/crockpots are meant to have well-fitting lids that seal so you need less liquid.  I’m on my third and, as far as I’m concerned, that’s a bit of a myth.  The original crockpot has a rubber gasket around the lid and that does seal.  For all the others, you’re dependent upon how well the lid fits the rim.  My current one has certainly boiled dry.  
  • You need to cook this on high for the beans to go soft.  (It should be possible to mush them with a spoon.)  The first time I cooked this, I used  “automatic”, which starts off as high and then swaps to low after 2 hours.  We got home 12 hours after it started cooking and the beans were still hard.
  • I can only find black beans, aka black turtle beans, in Waitrose.
  • Where do you get the Liquid Smoke?  Ocado sell a 148ml bottle of Stubbs Liquid Smoke for £1.89, so I based the cost on that.  My bottle is years old.

- Pam

Saturday 2 September 2017

In which Lucky exacts his revenge

(This is a true conversation that happened yesterday afternoon.)


How did that happen?  We've only gone 6 miles from the golf club and I'd swear there was 65 miles range when we started up!  I haven't a clue where we are - this is a new route home to me, but Madam Google said it was the quickest.   Google Maps, where is the nearest petrol station, please?  3/4 of a mile?  

<Start praying.>

Get to petrol station.  All the pumps are busy or out of diesel.  Hurry up, people!  Don't you know we're running on fumes here?

< grrrr >

Finally someone moves.

<. Fills up with diesel >

37.42 litres!  You lying, cheating b*st*rd, Lucky!  You have a 44 litre tank and you swore you were empty!  At your normal MPG, that's at least another 60 mile range so why were you lying?  

Why???  Are you getting revenge on me?  

Is this about the deer two weeks ago?  The deer was NOT my fault!  The damn thing leapt out of the hedge on the far side of the country lane we were driving down and ran in front of you.  I slammed on your brakes as fast as my reflexes would work.  I didn't want to hit the deer.  I didn't want to hurt it or you!  Anyway, it ran off so we can't have done it much damage.  It bounced.  You were left with a slightly buckled, black plastic grill-thingy, but that got snapped back into position by your new mechanic.  Seriously, I was left as shaken as you were.  We've done that drive to the Winchester office a couple of times since then and I'm constantly looking out for deer.

Or is it about the tyre last Friday?  Yes, that was my fault.  It's a drive we do every day on the way to work so I should have known better.  OK, I'm guilty of hurting you.  My brain misjudged the turn onto Dunham Roundabout from the A40 and hit a curb.  I'll give you that, but at least I've worked out why - someone took out the bollard on the central reservation and it looked like a flat, sandy pot-hole from the A40 slip road, not like the raised divider it really is.  So I gave you a flat tyre.  So what?  I'm sorry.  But at least there are two silver linings from that incident:  we discovered that your locking wheel-nut thingy was missing AND you've now got a nice, friendly, local garage to do your services instead of that badly organised, money-grubbing dealership we'd been forced to take you to after I stopped working in Reading.  A garage as good as MOT City.  A garage that replaced all your locking wheel-nuts,  gave you a service on Wednesday and a valet and  didn't cost the earth.  And they replaced your broken left wing mirror, which I'd accidentally caught on the electricity pole the morning before we hit the deer.

I'm sorry.  OK?

Please, can we kiss and make up now??

- Pam

Friday 11 August 2017


Is anyone looking?  Sssshhhh...... Don't say anything!  This is Lucky, Pam's car.  Pam left her iPad in my glove box while she went to a job interview, so I'm borrowing it to share a story about my friend, Frank.  This is Frank:

As you can see, he's a Skoda Fabia, like me.  He's the Boy's car.  He's been around a while - he knew the Toy.  They were friends.  (I never met Toy, but when I arrived, Frank made me feel welcome so I know he doesn't blame me for Toy's demise.)

Frank can be quite grumpy in the evenings.  I think it's to do with all the motorway driving he does.  When I do motorway driving, Pam and I just potter along, enjoying the speed, the wind in my vents and our latest podcast or the cricket or the football. (I love sport!).  I'm not one of those cars who get competitive.  You've seen them!  The must-drive-faster-to-the-next-junction-than-anyone-else brigade, weaving in and out of innocent vehicles just to get 2 metres further ahead.  (If it gets a bit snarly, I just think of it as an excuse that gives me time to listen to more cricket.)

I don't think Frank is massively competitive either, but he does get really grumpy about those cars.  He rants about them to me when he gets home.  This is his really grumpy face:

(To be fair, he'd had a shunt.  He was furious about it for a week.) 

Two weeks ago, Frank sent me this photo.  He was so proud of himself and wanted to show off to the world!  Look in the bottom left corner:

Yes, I'm 3 years older, but Frank has beaten me to 100,000 miles!  Happy "birthday" Frank!

Tuesday 6 June 2017

Recipe Tuesday: Not quite Mr Julian's Dhal

There are a thousand recipes for dhal.  I like dhal.  For me, it's an ideal comfort food: tasty, filling, healthy/nutritious, cheap and kind to my irritable-bowel-syndrome-gallbladder-free-long-suffering gut.  

To me, the smell of yellow dhal cooking is the smell of the Middle East.   In 2012, when we were visiting Oman, we dropped in on my brother-in-law for lunch and "Mr Julian", the chef in the officers' mess fed us yellow dhal and roti for lunch.  It's what BIL and his colleagues ate every day.  I begged "Mr Julian" for his recipe, which he kindly and bemusedly wrote down for me.    He seemed quite taken aback that I would want something that simple but we explained that it was something most Brits didn't know how to cook.  (Incidentally, I am using parentheses because I'm fairly certain that "Mr Julian" isn't his real name, but instead is an anglicanisation.  I think he was Bangladeshi.)

When I got back to the UK, I attempted to make Mr Julian's Dhal.  The first stumbling block was that he'd written "curry powder" on the spice list, which left me mystified until BIL explained it was Garam Marsala.  (I don't use commercial curry powder and didn't have a clue what blends are available in Oman.) Once that mystery was solved, I made a couple of batches then added the recipe to that precious pile of paper and plastic where all loose recipes ended up, on the corner of the bookcase in the old, pre-renovated kitchen. 

 A few months ago, I thought I'd have another go.  I really fancied eating dhal for lunch.  Sadly, I hunted high and low and couldn't find the precious slip of paper with the recipe.  I went through the cookbooks; it wasn't tucked inside.  I tried a couple of recipes from the Curry Club cookbooks but they weren't the same (one required so many whole peppercorns that even my spice tolerant stomach complained).  In the end, I resorted to the recipe that was on the back of the Natco Chana Dal packet, adding garam marsala and veg at salient points and hoping for an approximation of Mr Julian's Dhal.  I remember his boiled the dhal with turmeric and a tablespoon of garam marsala, but I can't remember what other spices he used, if any.  This, though, was nearly as good and I made a pot of it for my lunches for work this week:-

(Almost) Mr Julian's Dhal

Makes 7 portions.  Total cost £1.97, assuming 5p for the cost of the bulk-bought spices



300g yellow split peas/Chana dhal. (67.5p)

1tsp turmeric

1tblsp garam marsala

1/2 tsp salt

Boiling water


The Tarka

1 tbsp. oil (3p)

1 onion sliced (12p)

100-150g mushrooms, sliced (25p)

1 large clove garlic, crushed (5p)

1 tsp ground chilli 

2 cups frozen mixed veg (30p)

1 x 400g can chopped tomatoes (25p)

Optional:  A handful of fresh spinach leaves or leftover rocket from a bag of salad leaves. (25p)

Optional:  a tblsp or so of fresh coriander leaves, chopped 


The Rice

1.5 cups basmati rice (12p)

3 cups boiling water




1.       Pour the dhal into a sieve and rinse well in fresh water.  It doesn't need soaking..

2.       Boil the kettle.  Meanwhile, measure the dhal in a jug, make a note of the volume measurement and pour into a saucepan.  Add twice as much boiling water.  (The packet said to use 1 litre of water for 300g of dhal but that took considerable simmering to be absorbed..)

3.       Stir in the turmeric, salt and the garam marsala, bring back to the boil and simmer until the dhal is soft and most of the liquid is absorbed.  Stir regularly.   The dhal will be cooked after 20-25 minutes but it takes a while until the liquid is almost gone.  (Note:  when it reaches the point where it starts to stick to the bottom of the pan, that’s when it’s ready.)

4.       Meanwhile, make your Tarka:

a.       Heat the oil in a frying pan and fry the onion until soft. 

b.      Add the mushrooms and continue frying until most of the water they make has evaporated.  Then stir in the crushed garlic.

c.       Have your frozen mixed veg ready on the side.    Sprinkle the chilli over the contents of your frying pan and stir fry until the aroma rises.  Stir in the frozen veg and fry until all their water has evaporated.

d.      Add the tomatoes and fry until most of their liquid is gone, stirring occasionally.  Stir in the spinach and coriander if using and cook until wilted.  Switch off until the dhal is ready.

5.       To make the rice using the absorption method:-

a.       Boil the kettle again.

b.      Measure out your rice and put in a saucepan with a tight fitting lid.

c.       Cover with twice as much boiling water.

d.      Bring back to the boil and boil for 2 minutes.  (Use a timer.)

e.      Switch off the heat.  Cover the saucepan with its lid and leave to sit for at least 12 minutes.

f.        It is now ready to serve.

6.       When your dhal is ready, stir in the tarka.  Taste and season as necessary.  Serve over rice.



  • As you can see from the photo, this is great for lunch boxes for work.  It freezes well.  Defrost and then zap for 2 minutes in the microwave or until piping hot.
  • Instead of using frozen mixed veg, you can use any leftover cooked vegetables you have to hand.  This works well with grilled peppers or roasted mix veg (e.g. Sliced onions, mushrooms, peppers, courgettes tossed in oil and herbs and roasted for half an hour or so in a hot oven).

Tuesday 30 May 2017

Recipe Tuesday: Middle-Eastern Chicken Livers

This past weekend, was one of those which you look forward to for weeks, involving lots of planning when you think everything is coming together really well and then it all falls apart spectacularly.  Saturday was the FA Cup Final, Chelsea vs Arsenal. Being season ticket holders at Chelsea, DH and I managed to secure tickets so went to Wembley.  We lost.  The final score of 2:1 to Arsenal does not do justice to how terrible Chelsea played.  Without some miracle defending in the first half, the score would have been 5:1.

Sunday, the RPG I play in nearly got derailed by a certain participant's sense of humour.  One of our party is schizophrenic.  This person thought it would be funny to wind him up.  It isn't.  It is nasty.  And the GM let him know in no uncertain terms that such behaviour was not tolerable.  But it led us down a rabbit hole, we'd rather have avoided.

Yesterday, was a quiet, pottering around sort of day.  Monday was a bank holiday in the UK, so we slept in and watched far too much pre-recorded TV.   Any hope of attacking the lawn - in desperate need of a mow - or planting out the courgettes was derailed by rain.   Then along came dinner.  Recipe below.  I'd reached the final stage, where you stir in the yoghurt, when I opened the tub that had been lurking in the fridge for a few weeks and realised it was furry.  Definitely growing some sort of white fungi or bacteria.   Help!

DH came to the rescue, popping to the shops at the end of the street, while I switched everything off and stirred like mad to prevent the chicken livers over-cooking while we waited.  

Years ago, I wrote a blog post about chicken livers and I was quite surprised to discover that I hadn't included this recipe in it.  This is the first, non-pate chicken liver dish that I learned to cook.  It originally came from one of those week-by-week compendiums, collect all the parts and build yourself an amazing recipe collection, etc...  (You know the type.).  This is my version:

Middle-Eastern Chicken Livers

Serves 4


2 tablespoons oil/schmaltz 
350g-500g Chicken Livers
1 large onion chopped
150g mushrooms, sliced
1 large clove garlic, crushed
2 peppers/capsicum sliced (green or red are best for colour contrast)
2 carrots, sliced
1 teaspoon Worcestershire Sauce
400ml plain yoghurt
A tablespoon of chopped coriander 

1 teaspoon curry powder (see note below)
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground paprika
1 teaspoon flour (plain, self-raising or cornflour will do)

1.5 cups Basmati rice
3 cups boiling water

  1. Put the kettle on to boil for your rice.  Meanwhile, prep all your veg.  When the kettle has boiled, measure your rice into a saucepan with a tight fitting lid, add twice as much volume of boiling water, cover and boil for 2 minutes.  Switch off and leave undisturbed for 15 minutes.
  2. Combine the spices in a small ramekin dish.  Stir in a tablespoon or two of water to form a thick paste.
  3. Heat the cooking fat in a deep frying pan.  Fry the onion until it is soft and clear.
  4. Add the mushrooms.   Fry, stirring occasionally, until the mushroom water is almost evaporated then add the garlic and the peppers, stirring occasionally until the peppers have softened.
  5. Decant the veggies into a bowl.  Return the frying pan to the heat, add a little more oil if necessary.  Turn the heat down.  Spread the chicken livers over the hot surface.  Fry until browned on all sides and the livers are firm.  (Be gentle with the heat or they will toughen.)
  6. Return the veggies to the pan.  Add your spices and fry until the aroma rises.  Stir in the yoghurt, Worcestershire sauce and the carrots.  Bring to a gentle simmer and simmer for five minutes, stirring occasionally.  
  7. Scatter over the coriander and serve.  Enjoy


  • If you keep kosher, this works with soy-based non-dairy "yoghurt".
  • If you keep kosher and kosher your livers with flame before cooking with them, skip step 5.  Add your spices to the frying vegetables, then stir in the livers and proceed as per step 6 above.
  • I use home made curry powder, aka "Curry Powder Number 1".  In a small spice jar mix:  1 teaspoon of ground chilli, 2 teaspoons ground cumin, 2 teaspoons paprika, 1 teaspoon ground turmeric and the seeds from 6 green cardamom pods.  Put the lid on tight and shake vigorously to blend.  This is Curry Powder Number 1.

Tuesday 23 May 2017

Recipe Tuesday: Pilchard Madras

In case you've never come across the term before, "pilchard" is the Cornish name for a large sardine.  In Britain, while fresh sardines are sold as "sardines", "pilchards" are sold canned, usually in a tomato sauce but sometimes in brine.  Like regular cans of sardines - the small flat tins you can buy the world over -  the taste and smell is quite strongly fishy.  Despite this, they're a useful storecupboard item.  They're sold in 14oz/400g tins, currently for £1.09 each.   One can should feed four.

I like to cook them in a Madras curry, which mitigates the fishy flavour.  The original was made in a moment of pure inspiration, several years ago, and now I make it once in the blue moon, when I haven't preplanned dinner and fancy a curry.  That was the case a couple of weeks ago, so I thought I'd share the recipe with you.

Like all my curries, it's a one pot meal, padded with veggies (in this case, the last of the carrots which were half dead in the fridge).  Just add rice (which I have done, below).  For instructions on cooking a "regular" meat Madras, see the notes below the recipe.

Pilchard Madras

Makes 4 generous portions.  Total cost, including rice, £2.41.

1 large onion, chopped (12p)
1-2 cloves of garlic, crushed (5p)
100g-200g  mushrooms, sliced. (35p)
(Or, instead of the above, use a portion of base)
1x400g tin Pilchards in tomato sauce. (£1.09) 
1x400g tin chopped tomatoes (25p)
Additional veg:  e.g. 2-3 large carrots sliced or 1-2 peppers/capsicum, cubed, or a cup of frozen mixed veg (whatever is available) (15p)
1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil (I use rapeseed). (3p)
2 tablespoons lemon or lime juice (from a bottle). (5p)

Spices 1 (20p)
1 teaspoon ground chilli (more if you like heat)
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground fenugreek
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 whole green cardamom

Spices 2  
1 desertspoon garam marsala
1 desertspoon chopped fenugreek leaves (optional)

1.5 cups basmati rice or white, long grain rice (12p)
3 cups Boiling water

  1. Combine spices 1 in a small ramekin dish.  Add a tablespoon or two of water to form a thick paste and set aside.  (This will help stop the spices burning.)
  2. Heat your oil in a deep saucepan or large, deep frying pan.  Fry the onion until soft and glassy, stirring occasionally.  Add the mushrooms and, when they have made water and most of their water has evaporated, add the crushed garlic.  Continue frying for 1-2 more minutes.
  3. Make sure you have your tins of tomatoes and pilchards open.  Stir Spice 1 into the onion mix and fry until the aroma rises. 
  4. Quickly add your tins of tomatoes and pilchards, breaking up the pilchards with your wooden spoon/spatula as they land in the pan.  Stir in well.
  5. Add your optional veggies.  Bring to the boil, stirring all the time, then turn down to a simmer.  Stir occasionally.
  6. At this point, put the kettle on to boil for the rice.  When the kettle has boiled, measure out your rice and pour it into a saucepan with a tight-fitting lid.  Cover the rice with twice the volume of boiling water.  Bring the saucepan back to the boil, cover with the lid and boil for 2 minutes.  Switch off the power and leave it to situndisturbed for 15 minutes, or until the rice is cooked and all the water is absorbed.
  7. Immediately after you have switched off the rice, stir Spices 2 into your curry.  Simmer until the rice is done, stir in the lemon or lime juice and  serve.

  • To cook a regular meat Madras, add a step between step 1 and step 1 above. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil/cooking fat and brown 1lb/500g of cubed beef/lamb/chicken/pork.  Remove the browned meat to a plate, then proceed with steps 2, 3 and 4, returning the meat to the pan at step 4.  In step 5, simmer the meat mixture for an hour or until it is cooked and can be cut with a fork, stirring occasionally and adding extra water if it gets too dry.  Once the meat is tender, proceed with the remainder of the recipe  
  • I buy my spices in 500g bags from the Asian section of the supermarket or from Asian shops like Wing Yip and store them in old Douwe Egberts coffee jars. This is the cheapest way to buy them. Given how long they last, etc, I reckon 20p is a fair assessment of the cost of all the spices listed.
  • When you are feeling flush, buy big bunches of fresh fenugreek and coriander.  Wash them, chop them and freeze them loosely packed into the largest ziplock bags you can find. (You want to be able to break up the herbs when frozen.).  When you need fresh herbs to finish off a curry, add a spoonful/lump or two straight from the freezer. 
  • All the prices above are based on the cheapest option from Tesco.  Yes, you can get tins of chopped tomatoes for 25p, but only when they're on a 4 for £1 offer, when I usually stock up.

Saturday 22 April 2017

New Blogger App

This is the first post/first attempt at a post from a new Blogger app.  Google appear to have abandoned their IOS blog users and haven't updated their app for several years.  After much reading of reviews, I settled on Blog Touch Pro.  It wasn't free and, at £4.99, it wasn't cheap, but it does look much more like the Blogger web interface than the Blogger app did.   And I can add photos, etc, which I can't do using the the Blogger web interface via Safari.   Here's one from Lucky, taken a couple of weeks back when I was commuting out to the far reaches of Oxfordshire:


I think he was being a little optimistic with his range estimate - he usually does about 500 miles before screaming "Thirsty!".  (After 120.8 miles, I'd expect him to claim a range of about 400 miles.)

- Pam (Now to see how this posts.)

Tuesday 18 April 2017

Recipe Tuesday: Bread and Cheese Pudding

One of the websites I frequent is MoneySavingExpert.  A couple of weeks ago, their weekly newsletter had a give-away/competition:  win a copy of somebody's new cookbook full of £1 meals.  Sounds great!  Just the sort of cookbook that I'd enjoy reading and stealing ideas from.  Until I read the small print on the blurb at the back of the book....  Each portion of food costs £1.  Then I saw red.

Let me spell it out to you.  Since your average recipe makes four portions of a meal, that means each recipe actually cost £4.  Not £1.

It was a book of £4 dinners, not £1 dinners.  On the basis of this book, any fool can make a beef chilli, using supermarket standard ingredients and have spent less than £1 per portion.  Hell, I can do it using beef from my (expensive) Kosher butcher and have cash left over.  Talk about misleading marketing!  Some poor person, who is struggling to make ends meet, will buy that book based on the title and the fact that it was mentioned in MSE's newsletter.  Instead of getting something that will actually help them save money, they'll just get a cookbook full of all the recipes that don't involve roast dinners.

So in the spirt of "beat them at their own game", I have decided to publish a series of very cheap-to-cook recipes, tagging them as <£2dinners.   Here is the first.  The cost of each item is in brackets after its listing. All items are supermarket cheapest, "value" own-brand.

Bread and Cheese Pudding.

Serves 4.  Total cost £1.89


Four slices of bread, cut in half diagonally (5p)
325g can sweet corn kernels, drained (35p)
200g can tuna, drained (65p)
2 eggs (12p each = 24p)
250ml milk (25p)
75g mature cheddar cheese, grated (35p)


  1. Preheat oven to 200C.
  2. Layer the bread, tuna and sweet corn  in a lasagne dish, so that the bread points stick up and each slice of bread has some tuna and corn between it and the next one.
  3. Scatter over the grated cheese.
  4. In a measuring jug, combine the eggs and the milk and whisk until well combined.  Add a grind or two of black pepper.
  5. Pour the egg mixture over the bread.
  6. Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and the egg mixture has set.


(As an aside, Blogger's reluctance to update their App is really beginning to wind me up.   I'm writing this on my iPad, via the web browser.  Uploading the photo for today's post was a nightmare.)

Monday 10 April 2017

I am a LUCKY car!

It's Pam's car here, Lucky, borrowing the blog.  I've been trying to get onto it for ages  but the Blogger app no longer works on iPads or iPhones and Pam hasn't gone anywhere near Blogger on a PC for ages.

Anyway, I just wanted to share why I'm a Lucky car.  It's not just that Pam calls me "Lucky" (a play on the first two digits of my registration number), or that she takes good care of me - she even pats my "nose" (the Skoda badge on the top of my grill) - it's because of this:

Yes, that's right:  all the eights.  A very lucky number to the Chinese.  Having made it to 88,888 miles, that makes me a very lucky car!

- Lucky

Sunday 9 April 2017

Update on the last post

It turns out that a production company were filming in the next street:  Philip K Dick's Electric Dreams.  (On the second night of filming, DH and I went and had a nosy.)

- Pam

Tuesday 14 March 2017

Lit up like daylight

I am trying to figure out why my backgarden is lit up like daylight at 7pm in early spring.  Just take a look.

Love the forsythia.

Someone down the street has an industrial light up.  One of those big, spotlight things...

It can't be the crane hire place round the corner - the angle is wrong.  Meanwhile, the neighbours over the back fence have this dangling above them.  Why???

I'm completely bemused.

- Pam

Sunday 12 March 2017

Spilling the Secret Sauce - Knitting in the Round

You may have noticed that I've updated the right sidebar.  At some point soon, I'll do a show and tell of my latest knitting but, right now, I'm about a third of my way through knitting the body of, Young And Pretty, from A Stitich in Time - Vol 1, Jane Waller's and Susan Crawford's amazing compendium of vintage patterns*.

Here's a link to the pattern's Ravelry page:   I'm probably going to leave off the ruffle, which is knitted separately and sewn on afterwards.  It's too girly.  This project wasn't even on my radar but the next-in-queue didn't get gauge (I couldn't face the maths that night) and the yarn for the one behind that bled everywhere**.

Not only did I get blue hands, it stained the rug on the couch!

I haven't quite figured out how to get that off.... (I'm hoping it'll just wash out but have been procrastinating, so haven't thrust the rug into the washer.)

Anyway, in the end, I pulled 6 balls of Lidl's finest Crelando Anika sock yarn out of the stash and sifted through my pattern collection - and Ravelry queue -  wondering what to do with it.  I settled on Young and Pretty because I had enough yarn, it didn't need charting - unlike one of my other vintage choices - I hadn't knitted it before and, without the ruffle, it fits into my aesthetic.

As is usual these days, I'm knitting in the round.  No, the pattern wasn't written that way.  It doesn't need to be.  Like many knitters, I hate sewing up seams.  However, it wasn't until early 2011 when I had the "lightbulb" moment, "Why not knit it in the round and skip the seaming?".  (Well, d'uh!)  I don't remember exactly when the penny dropped but I think you can blame Jasmine from the Knitmore Girls podcast for that moment of inspiration.  Ravelry tells me that the first sweater I knitted in this manner is the grey Willow, which I started in March 2011.  (Thank heavens for Ravelry's project pages.).

What amazes me about knitting in the round is that more people don't do it. It's so simple.  I was gobsmacked to discover that someone has written a book(!) detailing the technique like it's rocket science.  No, I don't remember who or the title of the book - it was referenced in a podcast.  It got me angry and I've been stewing over it for ages. I was incensed that something so simple was being presented as "here's MY big idea; MY secret discovery" when it patently isn't.  The thing is:  you don't need to spend good money on a book full of mediocre patterns in order to learn this technique when it could be summed up in five steps. Here is all you need to know.

How to knit a sweater in the round whatever pattern you're knitting

1. Swatch to check your knitting tension against the pattern's quoted gauge, both in the round and flat.

  • Knit a long, half-n-half swatch. Using a circular needle, cast on 20 stitches more than the target gauge.  Work flat in garter stitch for five rows, then knitting in garter stitch for the first 5 and last 5 stitches, commence whatever stitch pattern is quoted in the gauge section of the pattern.  (If it says "25 stitches and 36 rows measured over lace pattern" then work the lace pattern.  If no pattern quoted, work stocking stitch). At the end of your first row, slide the the swatch back to the other end of the needle and work the second row, leaving a large loop of yarn dangling behind your swatch. Repeat for 5 inches, then swap to knitting flat and knit another 4 inches before finishing with 5 rows of garter stitch and casting off.
  • Wash your swatch and let it dry before counting your rows and stitches, firstly over 4 inches of the knitted-in-the-round section and then over the knitted flat section.
  • You may be lucky and discover that both tension sections are the same.  Or you may discover that your tension is very different when you knit in the round to when you knitting flat.  THIS IS IMPORTANT.  Many people have a different tension when they purl to when they knit.  If the latter is true for you, then you will need to use a different needle size for the upper back and upper front of your sweater, because they are worked flat.

2. Read your pattern's instructions thoroughly.  Does it include an extra stitch at either end of the body to give a selvage/space for sewing up? If so, then omit those stitches from your knitting.

3. To start your sweater:
  • Using a circular needle, cast on the stitches for the back, place a marker and then cast on the stitches for the front.  Work 2 rows flat, following the pattern's instructions.
  • Turn and work your third row.  When you get to the last stitch, check your knitting and ensure it isn't twisted.
  • Place a marker and join your knitting, working in the round from this point.  I like to use a dangling row counter for this marker.  It will signify the start of each round, while the other marker gives you the side seam.

4. To divide for the armholes:

  • If you haven't decided which side is the front and which side is the back, do so now.
  • Pattern instructions usually tell you to cast off nn stitches at the start of the first row, work to end, turn, cast off the same number of stitches and work back.  Ignore them.
  • On your first armhole row, do not start by casting off stitches.  Instead, work to nn stitches before the side seam marker, cast off nn-1 stitches.  Swap your seam marker for a length of thread (2-3 inches long) and, over it, cast off that final stitch, by slipping it over the first stitch of the other side and your thread marker.  Tie your thread marker in a loop.  Cast off a further nn stitches.  This forms the base of your first armhole and you have the side seam marked, which will help with placing the sleeve.
  • Work to nn stitches before the end of this side and repeat the above step.
  • Work flat from here on, following the pattern as instructed.  Remember to swap your needle size if necessary to keep your gauge even.
5. Knit your sleeves. 

  • Using magic loop, knit your sleeves two-at-a-time in the round. On a long needle, cast on the first sleeve with one ball of yarn, then cast on the second, using a second ball of yarn. Again, work the first three rows flat before joining and working in the round.  
  • When the time comes to knit the armhole shaping, follow the instructions in the pattern (i.e. cast off nn stitches, work to end, turn cast off nn stitches, work back). To make your life easier later, mark each arm's "seam" with a safety-pin.

And there you have it.  If you use a three-needle bind off for your shoulder seams, then the only sewing you'll need to do is setting in the sleeve caps.  Much easier.

- Pam

* Having dealt with both over the years, I think that while the collection of patterns is Jane's - and comes from her original 1970's edition of the book - all the work involved in the reissued book (resizing, knitting up, layout, etc) was done by Susan.

** Luckily, all is not lost.  The Knitmore Girls also have a solution to this problem, a citric acid bath. I just have to reskein the yarn, having balled it all up and then follow Jasmine's instructions.  I'm kicking myself that I didn't do this beforehand as a matter of course, but I didn't have any citric acid, didn't contemplate that the 15L of vinegar I have lying around the house could do the same job and thought "it'll be fine". (Famous last words.). Hopefully, I won't felt the 100% hand-dyed Gotland in the process.  (In the end, I bought citric acid off Amazon.)

Friday 10 February 2017

Money talks

I seem to be obsessed by money at the moment.  It's partially because I'm still finding my feet as a contractor - I'm still trying to work out how much money I need to leave in the company to pay the taxman and stay afloat if my contract with the Swedes ends.  Salary-wise, I'm paying myself £12k less than I was earning before BUT my take-home pay has only dropped £200/month. With a bit of rejigging and lower commuting costs, it's doable and leaves me with the same money-to-live-off each month.  (No, I don't understand it either.  While I used to contribute 9% to the corporate pension scheme, that was out of pretax income and doesn't explain the entire change.)

The other reason, I think, is that team I'm in at the moment are all contractors and they're obsessed by investing in shares and in property.   We had quite a discussion yesterday about the economics of rental properties.  I was surprised to discover that, in a group of accountants, I'm the only one who knew that mortgage interest will no longer be tax deductible on a privately owned rental property, thanks to George Osborne's misguided 2015 budget.  (He thought it'd force buy-to-let property owners out of the market, freeing housing stock for owner occupiers.  He is wrong.  The solution is to incorporate and own your rental properties through a company.  Interest will still be tax deductible and the company will pay 20% corporation tax instead of 40% income tax.  Those people who don't incorporate, will just put up the rents they charge, in order to compensate for the decrease in income.)

One topic that hasn't come up yet, is how people are saving.  Not the amount they save*, but the mechanics.  We've talked about car loans and leasing, but not saving.  Well, not yet. At least, for this I have an answer...Oddly, in the last six months, I have been put on the spot twice about the same thing.  Both times by bank people who wanted to know why I have so many savings accounts.  The first time, I was moving my savings operations to a new bank after the UK operations of ING were finally absorbed into Barclays.  (I can't abide Barclay's Bank.  They treated me like dirt when I was a customer of their's when I first came to the UK.).  The second was when I was setting up my business bank account.

Each time, the answer is the same:  "I micro-budget".  The response is usually a puzzled expression, so I elaborate:  "Each account has a purpose and is used for saving for something specific, so if I want to know how much money I've got set aside for my football season ticket, I can just check the account balance".

Usually, that's enough of an explanation and it's as if a lightbulb has light up.  Suddenly, they get it and want to know more. "What sort of thing are you saving for?", they ask.   I tell them that I've got accounts for the car's services and insurance, holidays, Christmas presents, the garden fund, clothing, crafting, etc, etc.

It's like a formalised version of the Sanity Fund, without the wallet card.  Partially, you can blame Anita Bell - the Sanity Fund is all her idea - and partially you can blame a poster on the Motley Fool years ago, who mentioned that they could have up to 10 sub-accounts when you opened an account at ING, which lead to a wider discussion about how people could use their sub-accounts.   Most people used theirs for saving for annual or irregular recurring expenses (such as car maintenance bills), and called the whole ING thing thneir "Freedom Fund".  "I've got $xxx in my Freedom Fund" is not an uncommon statement on the Fool.  (ING used to facilitate this by showing you the total balance of all your accounts, when you logged in.)

Eventually, I discovered that ING had a UK operation and signed up as fast as the pixels would carry me.  They paid the Bank of England base rate of interest, which was better than the majority of instant access accounts at the time.  Sadly, ING was one of the banks caught in the middle of 2008's credit crunch and their international operations were sold off.  I don't remember who bought them in the States, but Barclays bought the British branch and, about 2 years ago, moved all the accounts to their own online platform, which requires a card and card reader and is a pain because you can't just spontaneously check your account balances while at work.  The final straw in my relationship with Barclays this time, was when they reduced the rate on their accounts to below 0.1%, which in no way compensates for the hassle of dealing with their online portal.

Bye-bye Barclays.  The new bank is paying above the Bank of England base rate of 0.25% on an instant access savings account.  They have an easy to access on-line portal.  Their website is logical and easy to navigate (unlike yours).  Sod off.

- Pam

* This being England, you don't discuss salaries or day rates.  We know virtually everything else - what someone paid for the house, the size of the mortgage, etc, -  but not that.  (For once, I can't get this information from the finance system.  The Swedes aren't time-sheet-costed!)

Friday 13 January 2017

Frugal Friday - five frugal tips that I've used in the last year

Happy New Year!  Did you have a good one?

In an effort to get blogging more frequently,   I thought I'd kick off 2017 with an injection of frugality:-
  1. The cheapest liquid soap on the market is Tesco's Everyday Value (own brand) Foam Bath at 50p/litre.  (It was 40p until recently.)  Chemically, it's the same as body wash or liquid soap and virtually the same as shampoo, but it doesn't smell as fancy.  Use it to refill liquid soap dispensers and as a body wash.  You can even use it as a shampoo, if desperate, but it may be a bit harsh on your hair.  One litre goes a long way.
  2.  Love to read and have a smart phone, tablet or Kindle?  There are thousands of free or very cheap books on Amazon.  Join the Bookbub mailing list to receive a daily email of books in your favourite categories, all on sale for £1.99 or less.
  3. My local library has a scheme where you can "borrow" audiobooks for free via an app.  You get access to each book for two weeks.  You do have to prove that you live in the borough first, though.
  4. They have a similar scheme with an online magazine platform that looks similar to Zinio.  Unlike the audiobooks, I haven't tested it.  (I'm drowning in free Kindle books thanks to Bookbub.)
  5. Travelling for work and staying for several days in hotels that provide decent toiletries but only taking carry-on luggage?  Want to save all the free bottles of shampoo/hair conditioner/body wash/lotion?  Get around the airport security rules limiting you to no more than 10 bottles of liquid of less than 100ml each by taking empty 100ml bottles with you and filling them up with the unused contents of the sample-sized bottles provided by the hotel
- Pam