Friday 24 September 2021

My favourite toy

No, it’s not Lucky Car.  (He’s far too important to be considered “a toy”.). It’s my 2016 iPhone SE.  

Why is my phone my favourite toy?  Besides being a phone, it’s  an entertainment device full of books, podcasts and audio-books, a digital radio and a portable TV (thanks to BBC iPlayer).  It’s my camera.  I can use it to talk to my sisters and friends in Australia for free via certain apps.  It’s my backup wallet; forgot my purse?  No problem, so long as the internet is accessible.  It gives me access to my bank, reliable news sources (the BBC and the ABC), my emails and my health records.  It’s the SatNav for the car.  It’s my tutor.  (I learn languages with it via Duolingo.)  It’s the loyalty card and shopping voucher holder for the supermarkets I use.  When I travel, it’s my ticket and my boarding pass, as well as my alarm clock.  I use it for research.  It fits into the front pocket of my jeans and into most of my suit-jacket pockets.  It’s the handiest piece of kit that I own and it’s always with me.

Last night, I was overjoyed to discover that my phone will run on IOS 15, so I can put off purchasing a new one for another year or so.  When I do, it’ll probably be the latest model SE, the one with the “home” button and 126gb of storage.  (I always go for the largest data storage available, since it’s so easy to fill up.  My current phone is 64gb and bursting at the seams with podcasts.)

What’s holding me back from upgrading now?  Well, if you read my last post, you’ll know that I won’t upgrade until I absolutely have to, because it’s a waste of resources.  Also, the new SE doesn’t have an audio jack, while Lucky Car doesn’t have Bluetooth.  Yes, there is a converter/jack you can buy, which will enable you to plug headphones/audio cables into the fire-wire slot but that means I can either charge the phone or plug it into Lucky’s radio, not both.  Not useful when I’m using it as my SatNav and it’s draining the battery.  I hope to find a Bluetooth converter for the radio, which will enable me to do both.   (With the current phone, I can charge it while I drive and listen via the radio at the same time, so don’t risk being stranded somewhere with a dead phone battery.) 

- Pam 

PS:  My second favourite toy is my 6-year-old iPad Mini 3 together with its Bluetooth keyboard, upon which this is being typed.  I’ll probably replace “Paddy” first because his IOS stopped at 12.8.something, so apps will eventually get more unstable/problematic to use.

Thursday 23 September 2021

Channelling my inner Greta Thunberg

Beyond the Pandemic, one of the biggest themes of the last two years has been Climate Change.  On the one hand, it’s not surprising.  The rising temperatures are finally impacting weather systems, so that politicians and the general public are beginning to notice.  On the other hand, NONE OF THIS IS NEW!  Before I left Australia in 1989, I attended the public session of a conference about the impacts of global warming and pollution.  Yes, 1989!  

A word about that conference.  I don’t remember who sponsored it - my flat mate got the tickets - but the session I attended was in the Dallas Brooke’s Hall in Melbourne and it was packed.  The speakers were from multiple universities and research organisations across Australia and the whole thing was conducted via video conferencing from conference halls in the various state capitals.  The items I remember:  the hole in the Ozone Layer; global warming and its impacts; plastic pollution; the damage done by the pollution from bleaching paper pulp with (?) dioxins; power generation - the big issue in Australia at the time was the flooding of the Franklin River for a hydroelectric power plant - and whether nuclear power was worth the risks.  The other thing that I remember being mentioned was how rubbish bins in Scandinavian countries were divided into into sections for recycling.  (When I landed in Denmark in May 1989 - my first stop in Europe - I remember being very impressed. It was 20+ years before Britain caught up.)

Fast forward to 2019 and, somehow, the wonderful Greta Thunberg captured the world’s attention with her School Strike For Climate Change.  All I can say is “good on you girl!  You rock!”.  What bothers me is that, in the intervening 30 years, so many things have got worse not better.  Why are more plastic bottles thrown away now than in 1989?  (Why did sales of bottled water skyrocket in those 30 years and why do people throw away the bottles instead of reusing/recycling them?) Why has the wild bee population declined, when we know how important they are?  Why is 25% of all food purchased by British households thrown away?  Why is it more difficult now to buy toilet paper made from recycled paper than it was in 1989?   Why is there so much litter in Britain and why hasn’t this situation improved in the last 2 years, when everybody was in Lockdown?  (Seriously, you can’t walk down a street now without seeing a discarded face mask.)

On the political side, I guess it all boils down to expediency.  Most politicians don’t think beyond their next election and their desire to be re-elected. Changing “business as usual” practices won’t get them headlines, whereas being seen to respond to disasters will. Sadly, changing “Business as Usual” is what needs to be done to save the planet but it needs some political will.  At the moment, the Government is a follower; it needs to lead and to put its money where it’s mouth is.  Here are simple things the Government could do:-

  1. Change building regulations so that all new builds have the latest version of  photovoltaic cells on their roof (which are 3x more efficient than the originals).  Every new house should also be built with a small S-shaped wind turbine, while blocks of flats/offices and business parks should have at least one large wind turbine.  All new builds need to have off-street parking - say, one space per bedroom - with vehicle recharging points incorporated therein.
  2. All Government paper products should be made from recycled paper, whether it’s toilet paper purchased for use in a hospital or a leaflet to be distributed to the general population.  Lead by example.
  3. Government procurement has long been driven by price.  Instead, the first factor to consider should be carbon footprint.  If xx costs a few pence more but is made locally, then that should be purchased instead of shipping it in from China.
  4. Ban the use of insecticides on state-owned land.  Organic practices only.  (I will permit weed-killers because some invasive species of weed just won’t die without them.)
  5. Invest in hydrogen technology and have all Government vehicles hydrogen powered.  Batteries can’t power everything and their creation/recycling generates a massive amount of pollution.  Battery powered lorries/trucks are impractical (very heavy) and battery powered vehicles can’t tow.
  6. Ban the shipping of recycling abroad.  Specifically plastics should be recycled “in country”.  Many British councils ship their plastic recycling abroad, where it is found years later, breaking down on a rubbish dump somewhere and hasn’t been recycled. This is a waste of resources, waste of shipping miles and creates another type of pollution problem..

The above is OK for the Government but what about the rest of us?  What can we do?  In an interview last year, Sir David Attenborough was asked “What is the most important lesson you have learned?”  His answer was “Don’t waste.”  Don’t waste resources.  Reduce.  Reuse.  Recycle.  I’ve been putting my money where my mouth is for years, in an attempt to lower my footprint on the planet:-

  1. Where available, I buy recycled paper products (toilet paper, kitchen towel).  Everyone should.  Save virgin paper for books. 
  2. I’ll wash and re-use the plastic bags that bread/bagels comes in, before eventually recycling them.  
  3. Most of my clothes are bought to last, making me a follower of “slow fashion” and they get worn to death.  I look for classic designs, made from natural fibres.   (Today, I’m wearing hand knitted socks, a pair of jeans bought in 2018, a t-shirt purchased in 2003 and a cashmere cardigan purchased in 2019.  My bra is 5 or 6 years old and my knickers about the same.)
  4. When I can buy clothing secondhand, I will.  Three of my work suits come from charity shops, as do several t-shirts and my sheepskin jacket.  (I nearly bought another suit from a charity shop yesterday but the jacket was too tight.)
  5. When I do buy new clothes, where possible I buy natural fibres and wear those clothes until they die.  (I’d rather be considered classic than fashionable.)
  6. Make the best of what I have for as long as it lasts.  For example, my iPhone is 5 years old.  I won’t consider changing it until Apple stop updating the IOS.  Why should I?  It does everything that I want it to do and, last night, updated to IOS 15, guaranteeing me at least another year of use.
  7. Buy smart.  I don’t buy something because it’s the latest widget; I buy it because it fulfils multiple purposes and does exactly what I want.  This saves money as well as resources.  It doesn’t matter if it’s clothes, a kitchen widgets or IT kit.  If it doesn’t do what you want it to do, you’ll never use it and/or you end up replacing it three times.
  8. Years before electric vehicles were readily available, I went for a car that was fuel efficient, had good build quality and a low carbon footprint.  (When Lucky dies, he’ll probably be replaced by a hybrid.  Meanwhile, I’ll keep him running for as long as possible.  Pollution isn’t just about carbon; it’s about the other components he’s made from, too.)
  9. With the exception of weed killer, I garden organically.  (I’ll only use weed killer if the weed burner fails.)
  10. Buy local.  Consider where something is grown and/or where it’s made.  Most of the yarn I’ve purchased over the last 10 years was grown and spun in the UK.  Prior to the Pandemic, my veg came from a local farmer’s farm shop.  He also sold me eggs from his mate’s farm, about 5 miles away.      (Sadly, they closed due to the Pandemic.)
  11. Grow/make your own.  Not only will you appreciate it more, it cuts the carbon footprint.  There is nothing nicer than a just-harvested potato.
  12. Avoid buying food that is heavily processed.  Not only will your body thank you; all those “e-numbers” are chemical additives that have to be manufactured.
  13. If you eat meat, then eat the whole animal, offal included.  Anything less is wasteful.  There is more to a chicken than just chicken breast fillets!  Don’t like liver?  Do you eat pate?  Well, that’s liver.  Get over it.  Personally, I love Haggis but many people shy away from it because it’s made from offal.  They’ll eat that offal when it’s in boring, supermarket sausages, but not in something as nice as Haggis.
  14. Do the passive things that will cut your carbon footprint. Compost your vegetable peelings and grass cuttings. Wash your laundry in cold water and air dry it.  (We do.  We don’t own a dryer.). Walk to the shops, instead of driving.  (We walk the 1.5 miles to our local Lidl and lug our shopping home in backpacks.).  Use public transport where practical.  (Nobody in their right mind would drive into central London.)
I guess my message is:  do what you can, when you can, and try to mitigate the consequences.  Don’t waste.  If there is waste, recycle it responsibly.

- Pam

Tuesday 21 September 2021

Finished Frankensocks

As promised in my last post, here are the original grey socks that I finished knitting back in January 2013:

And here are the finished Frankensocks:-

You can see that they’re related.  The third sock yarn, used on the feet, was from these socks:

It’s James C. Brett’s Funny Feetz.  (I bought 2x100g balls, back in 2019, and have knitted 3 pairs of socks with it plus this pair.  Their quality control is appalling - one ball was full of flaws.).  On the second sock, I ran out of both colours of the Lang Super Soxx, so ended up working in the end of a fourth ball of yarn, alternating with it for about 10 rows.  No idea from which pair of socks it originated.

-  Pip

Monday 30 August 2021


  I’m currently knitting “frankensocks” for myself.  Years ago, I bought two 100g balls of Lang Super Soxx, one in blue shades and one in grey.  The blue became a pair of socks for DH and the grey a pair for me.  Beyond size, the only difference in their appearance is the colour.  (Sadly, today, I can’t load the photo directly to this thread.  I’m on an iPad and it’s always hit and miss for photos on the MSE Forums.)

Anyway, I had 20g left of the blue and 35g of the grey.  I’ve been itching to use it up.  My standard socks use 63g-65g of 4-ply.  Since I only had 55g, I thought that, if I shortened the leg by 15 rows, did the cuffs, heels and toes in the grey, then alternated between the two colours row-by-row, I should have enough to make another pair of socks.  I’ve just started the toe of the first sock.  It’s not gone according to plan. I began getting worried about the quantity of the blue, so stopped using it 15 rows into the gusset. (There’s 10g left.)  Ten rows into the foot, I started panicking about the grey...

Rummaging through the stash, I found the unlabelled end of another grey/black/white shaded sock yarn - maybe 5g - and alternated rows with that for 24 rounds.  I think I’ve got enough to do the same on the second sock, but I won’t know for certain until I finish the toe on the first one and can weigh everything.

Wish me luck.

- Pip (Hopefully I’ll be able to share photos at some point.)

Tuesday 27 April 2021

Pumpkin Bread

I keep telling myself that I must write down this recipe before I forget it or lose it, so here goes...

When we visited Miami in 2006, one of the things I brought home in my luggage  was a packet of Williams-Sonoma cake mix for “Pumpkin Bread”.  I made it; it was scrumptious, and for several years afterwards I tried to find a recipe to duplicate it.  The only recipe I remember  had “pumpkin pie spice mix” listed as an ingredient.  Fast forward to our next trip to Miami in 2014 and, this time, I fly back to the UK with several jars of “pumpkin pie spice”.

Do you think that I could find the recipe mentioned earlier?  No.  These jars remained unopened, in the pantry, for years.  Fast forward to the end of last year when, in a fit of inspiration, I decided to search the internet again for a pumpkin bread recipe.  On someone’s blog, I found a picture of a recipe, cut from an ancient magazine.  Oddly, they didn’t give directions, just the photo.

(Sadly, while I saved a copy of the photo, I didn’t make a note of whose blog or I’d credit them.)

We don’t get canned pumpkin here, but a month or two ago, I bought a couple of large butternut squash in L!dl and decided to have a go making it with them.  After three attempts, I think I’ve nailed it.  I’ve also swapped in oil for the butter.  You need to bake the pumpkin/squash the day before you make the loaves.  It freezes well, so don’t be put off by having to make two loaves:

Pumpkin Bread (makes 2 loaves)


1 medium sized butternut squash
2 cups plain flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (aka baking soda)
1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 cups castor sugar
2 eggs
Either use 
1 teaspoon ground cloves, 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon and 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
or use:
1 tablespoon Pumpkin Pie Spice

  1. The day before, prepare your butternut squash:-
    • Preheat the oven to 200C.
    • Cut it in half lengthwise.  DO NOT PEEL.
    • Scoop out the seeds and discard them.
    • Place the squash, cut side down, onto a baking tray and bake for an hour.
    • Allow to cool before removing from the tray.
    • Once cold, use a spoon to scoop out the pulp.  Deposit it into a bowl and weigh it.  The original recipe requires a 440g can, but I’ve made it with 450g, 350g and with 530g of pulp.  All three versions have been successful.
  2. Preheat the oven to 180C.  Line two loaf pans with baking paper..
  3. In a food processor or blender, combine the sugar, the oil and the eggs.  Blend.
  4. Add the pumpkin pulp and process until combined.  (It may be a bit grainy.  That’s OK.)
  5. Finally, add the remaining ingredients and process until smooth.
  6. Divide the mixture evenly between two lined loaf pans and bake for 65-75 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean.
  7. Once cooked, remove the two loaves from the loaf pans and cool on a cake rack.
  8. If you are freezing a loaf, leave it in its baking paper, slide it into a freezer bag, seal and freeze. 


- Pam


Saturday 20 March 2021

Lockdown 2020 - a year on....

 It's a year on Tuesday (23rd March), since Britain first went into full Lockdown in the fight against COVID-19.   The television is full of it this morning, which got me thinking... What have I done differently, since we went into Lockdown?  There are a lot of things that I did before, that many people have adopted during this time (cooking from scratch, baking, knitting, etc), but here are a few things that I do now, that I didn't habitually do before Lockdown:-

  1. Regularly walking to L!dl.  Our local branch is 1.5 miles away and it's become our primary grocery shop.  We walk there about once a week to buy toiletries, dairy products and fresh veg. (Prior to Lockdown, we bought our fresh veg and eggs from a farm shop 5 miles away and split our supermarket shopping between MrT's and L!dl, driving to both.  The first casualty of Lockdown was the farm shop - they are in the  middle of a National Trust property and were forced to close when the "big house" closed.  They haven't reopened.)
  2. Buy the Sunday paper from the local branch of the C0-0p.  Again, this is a walk, whereas previously we'd drive to MrT's.
  3. Going for a walk "after work" every evening.  We've both been working from home since Lockdown started.  This is the only way to get that mental space between work-life and home-life, which we'd normally get from a commute.  Another plus side is that, unlike many people, I haven't put on weight. 
  4. As you may have gathered, I'm not doing a lot of driving now.  The money that I've saved by not buying a tank of diesel every week is going into the "Car Account" instead, to be spent on services, insurance, road tax and the inevitable replacement car.
  5. Use my "morning commute" time to exercise.  Rather than get up later, now that I'm working from home - which might upset DH's daily routine - I use that time to exercise.  I've done the Couch-to-5K and now run 3 times a week.  On the other 2 mornings, I do some yoga stretches and I've started doing a bit of weight training.
  6. Learned French via Duolingo. (It's free.)  Today is day 296 of my current streak of lessons.  I'm spending less than 10 minutes a day and have learned considerably more words than I did in four years of French at high school.  I'm not sure I can string a sentence together and I doubt I'd understand if my French colleagues started talking in their native tongue, but I know far more than I did. 

What about you?  What are you doing differently since you went into Lockdown?

- Pip

Sunday 7 February 2021

It’s all about getting the biggest bang for your buck

How’re is your February going?  Are you coping with the bad weather, the never-ending Lockdown and the inevitable tightening of belts?  I’ve always found February to be a tougher month, financially, than January.  In January, you run out of cash early because you were paid before Christmas and end up in debt/overdue on payments; February is when those debts have to be paid back.   (You may remember me mentioning that tough February 30 years ago, when Dumbo left me with little more £20 to get through the month. It was the inspiration for several years of the “£50 February Challenge”.)

We  went to the Butchers’ yesterday, spending £55.70 from the Meat Fund.  Since our meat shopping is all about getting the biggest bang for our buck, I thought I’d share what we bought, what the plans are for it and how many portions we’ll get.  The butcher doesn’t do an itemised bill, so I’m only recording prices where I saw them and can remember them.  Remember, there’s only two of us in this household.

  • 1 large roasting chicken - £7.99 - dinner tonight (we’ll eat the legs), chicken fajitas on Tuesday and chicken risotto on Wednesday.  That’s at least 10 portions, plus stock.  
  • 1kg minced beef - at least 16 portions when padded out with veg, lentils/beans, etc
  • 1 rolled, stuffed, boned breast of lamb 1.2kg - £13.60 - minimum of 4 portions of roast lamb.  The butcher cut it in half for us, so we have two roasts.
  • 8 chicken breasts, average weight 200g each - between 16 to 32 portions, depending on whether I double up in a recipe.   I usually only use one in a stir fry or chicken pasta dish that serves 4.
  • 8 large chicken thighs - 8 portions of chicken tray bake.  
  • 4 pork chops - two will definitely be served as chops, while the other two may get chopped up to make pork-and-beans and a stir-fry.  Either 4 or 10 portions, depending on the outcome.

That’s between 54 and 80 portions of meat-based meals.  As I said, it’s all about getting the biggest bang for our meat-buck.

With the exception of tonight’s roasting chicken, I have just finished shoehorning it all into the freezer.  Everything has been “bagged and tagged”.  I had to do it in stages to maximise space/freeze things in shapes that will stack and fit together, especially since the freezer was pretty full already with lunchboxes, tubs of soup/cooked pulses/homemade ready meals and sauces, not to mention the haggis that threatens to leap out at you... The mince was divided into 4 and carefully stuffed into freezer box to form 4 rectangles.  The chicken breasts and chops were bagged separately and frozen to be as flat as possible.  The chicken thighs were bagged in fours, while the lamb was stood on its end, to freeze upright.  

As you can see, once again, I win at freezer Tetris.

- Pam