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

Saturday, 31 December 2016

Housing, slums and other problems

I mentioned in my last post that the kitchen is the workroom of the home.  The thought occurs to me that, maybe, I should explain how I came to that conclusion.  It seems obvious once mentioned, but I only realised when I was watching the BBCs documentary series, The Victorian Slum.

Let me explain... Using a group of volunteers, the BBC recreated life in an East End slum covering the period from 1860 to 1914.  The building they used is derelict, originally part of a fire station. It was the closest they could get to a Victorian "court house", the original type of slum dwelling.  Court houses wrap around a courtyard, hugging the perimeter of the land, with shops and workshops on the ground floor and living spaces on the upper floors.  (There is a surviving example in Liverpool which has been preserved as part of the Museum of Liverpool.)

In Victorian times, families were lucky if they could afford one room to call home.  Housing costs consumed two-thirds of the average weekly wage, with food taking up the other third.  Everyone worked:  the man tramping down to the docks or to the factories, hoping he'd get picked for a day's hard labour; the wife and children doing piecework at home, often making matchboxes or artificial flowers.  Piecework brought with it a double burden since not only did you have to make enough units of sufficient quality to get paid, but you frequently had to purchase the raw materials first. Heaven help you if you were a widow or a single mum, since there were few jobs for women and having children automatically disqualified you from those.  Life was hard.  People frequently went hungry because the first priority was paying the rent.  You were only ever a few days hard work from being out on the street.

The series caught my imagination for a few reasons.  This was the life lived by my great-grandparents and where my grandmother spent part of her childhood.  (My great-aunt was born in the East End.)

The second reason is more telling.  In today's "zero hour contract" world, many people are back to that same hand-to-mouth existence.   The Guardian recently highlighted that there are thousands living in the UK who are technically "in work" so cannot claim benefit but without a guaranteed income who cannot afford to pay for housing.  Worse, they are not alone.  I turned on BBC2 a month ago, catching the tail end of a documentary about the current generation of hidden homeless - the small part of the documentary I watched showed a young mum "sofa surfing" with the father of her child.  She is a student teacher, desperately trying to finish her degree and get a proper job.  He works in maintenance on the London Underground but his monthly take home pay isn't enough to pay for even a modest home and they do not qualify for any state assistance, so rely on the goodwill of family and friends to home them for a few days at a time.

How can this be happening now, fifty years after Cathy Come Home and fifty years after the founding of the housing charity, Shelter?  This should not be happening now! These stories are not unique.  In London, the demand for housing has passed breaking point and property prices are obscene - the average price of a flat is10 times the average salary, while rents have doubled in the 27 years I've been in London.  (Rents were always obscenely high but haven't risen as fast, with a studio flat in Ealing going for £650 per month in 1999.  Now, it'd be around £900 to £1000.).  I cannot find the article to link to, but I remember reading that five out of six recipients of housing benefit is employed.

Salaries have not kept pace with inflation, especially house-price inflation so people cannot afford to buy nor can they now afford to rent.  As far as I can tell, the causes are three fold:-

  1. House building failing to keep up with demand.  This is partially due to difficulties with planning laws/green belt legislation and partially due to nimbyism.
  2. The Right-to-Buy legislation which penalised councils replacing the housing stock they sold with new properties.   The penalties were horrendous.  They were also "encouraged" to pass their remaining council properties to Housing Associations.
  3. When new properties are built, they are often sold off-plan to foreign buyers who are not purchasing them to live in or rent out, but as "investments" to sell later.
I am writing this as a marker in the sand, on the last day of 2016.  I don't have a solution.  Beyond massive wage rises and a huge, state sponsored building program, I can't foresee a way out.

- Pam

Monday, 26 December 2016

Sloe gin truffles and other chocolates

The kitchen really is the workroom of the house.  Nothing brings that home to me more than the last week, where I seem to have been on a production line of chocolate goodies and other meals.  I started the week making chocolate brownies for the choir's Christmas Social, went on to make sloe gin truffles and finished with another round of coconut rough.   Everything smells of chocolate!  With the exception of a few brownies, I haven't been able to face eating any of them.

My sloe gin recipe and sloe gin truffle recipes come from a wonderful website called Sloe.biz.  I've mentioned them before.  Unfortunately, when I went to give the link to some friends earlier in the week - and again, today - I got a 508 error message, "Resource Limit is Reached".  I am not trying to plagiarise someone-else's recipe, but in order to preserve them for posterity, here are my versions of  SloeRanger's Sloe Gin Truffle recipe and Sloe.biz's Sloe Gin recipe.  You have to start with the gin:

Sloe Gin

Buy a litre bottle of gin.  Drink half.  To the remainder in the bottle, add a wine-glass full of castor sugar (approximately 5oz or 150g).  Then add sloes - see note - until the liquid is back to the neck of the bottle.  Put the lid back on and shake violently.  Place bottle in a cool dark place, shake daily for a week then weekly for 3 months.  Gin is ready to drink in 3-4 months but can stay steeping for up to 9 months.  (Apparently it gets musty after that.). When ready, tip the gin into a large jug or bowl - something with a pouring spout, ensuring you get all the sloes out of the bottle.  Recant the gin liquid back into the bottle, straining it and saving the sloes.  It's now ready to drink but will keep for months.

Note - for best effect, the sloes need to be pierced before use.  Alternatively, freeze them overnight because that will split the skins.  You can put them in the gin frozen.

Sloe Gin Truffles

This is best made with sloes that have steeped for 3-4 months, no longer.  To "stone" your sloes, peel them with a knife.  I've tried a cherry stoner and they're usually too small to fit.   Once stoned, the sloe flesh can be frozen for months until you are ready to make truffles. Also, I make multiples of the recipe, since I usually make multiple litres of sloe gin at a time.

Ingredients

25g butter
75ml double cream
225g 70% dark chocolate, broken into pieces
75g stoned sloes, chopped up (I use the blender)
2 tablespoons sloe gin

To finish:  100g 70% dark chocolate

Method

  1. Place the butter and cream in an appropriately sized saucepan, over gentle heat.  Bring slowly to the boil, stirring constantly.  Boil for 1 minute then remove from heat.
  2. Add the chocolate and stir until melted.
  3. Mix in the sloes and the sloe gin.  Be careful with the gin - melted chocolate will seize when exposed to water, so add the gin gradually to stop the mixture splitting and stir like mad.
  4. Tip the mixture into a swiss roll tin and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or until solid.
  5. Line cookie sheets with cling film.
  6. Using a teaspoon, break off pieces of the filling and roll into balls with your hands. (Wear gloves.) Arrange on the cookie sheet and put back in the fridge to chill again for half an hour, minimum.
  7. Suspend a bowl over a saucepan of  water and bring to the boil.  Melt the coating chocolate in that.
  8. Using two desert spoons, roll/dip the truffle balls in the melted chocolate.  Place the coated balls back on the lined cookie sheets and chill.
  9. With any leftover chocolate coating, make coconut rough.
The original recipe says that it makes 40 truffles. 

- Pam

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Stop Catastrophising

I was watching Sylvester have a meltdown in an episode of  Scorpion today, when the thought occurred to me that one of most important life skills to learn is to stop the thought process of catastrophising.  Www.psychcentral.com defines catastrophising as

Catastrophizing is an irrational thought a lot of us have in believing that something is far worse than it actually is. Catastrophizing can generally can take two forms.  The first of these is making a catastrophe out of a situation...  This kind of catastrophizing takes a current situation and gives it a truly negative “spin.”

The second kind of...Catastrophizing occurs when we look to the future and anticipate all the things that are going to go wrong. We then create a reality around those thoughts...Because we believe something will go wrong, we make it go wrong.

In other words, it's the thought process that blows something out of all proportion in your mind until you're thought processes are so consumed by the "disaster" that you cannot think your way through any alternative paths to get to your real desired outcome.   I'll give you an example:  imagine you're in high school and you want to be a doctor.  You get to your final exams, open the chemistry paper and the first question you see is about something you don't know.  What do you do?  You need to average over 80% in each subject in order to get into med school.

Once the initial panic subsides, you may decide to attempt all the questions you can answer.  "Take the easy cans off the shelf, ladies and gents," as one of my lecturers used to say.  (Best piece of exam advice I was every given.  Thank you, David.).  Who knows?  You may salvage enough marks by taking this approach.  Or you can figure out a different way to get into med school, perhaps by starting a science degree first and transferring...

Or you can burst into tears, run screaming out of the exam and throw everything away.  "My life is ruined!  I'm useless!  I'll never be a doctor!  My father will kill me!".   Catastrophising? Absolutely.  And self destructive, since you've guaranteed that you will definitely fail.  And then where will you be?  Labelling yourself as a failure forever?  (Seriously?  This happened.  One of my school teachers tried desperately to calm the girl down and quarantine her so that she could sit the exam paper once she was calm.  Worse - one friend witnessed a classmate commit suicide in similar circumstances.  He stuck pencils up his nose and slammed them down on the desk...).
 
How do you break the cycle?  Psychcentral give some guidance in the link above, but the best advice I've come across was on a blog, here.    It boils down to breaking the cycle.

- Pam

Saturday, 26 November 2016

I'm a contractor - get me out of here

It's two months since I started my new job.  On the plus side:  it's closer to home so my mileage/fuel consumption is considerably less, they're paying me a reasonable rate, the job is (finally) keeping me busy and they are really nice people.  It's also very obvious that the Big-Boss-In-Charge-Of-Everything is not an absolute bastard.  There is considerably less stress floating around than in my previous company.  No stress puppies here.

On the downside, I'm a contractor.  I have no job security and I don't really have a role.  I'm picking up the pieces of things that others in the team haven't had time to do.  It took weeks for me to get busy and I don't know how long it will last.  I have also been battling a series of almost-colds - mainly sore throats - for the last six weeks, which makes me paranoid about getting something more serious because the job could evaporate if I got really ill.  (Yes, I have had this year's flu jab.).  At least my company now has money in it.

Yes, I now own a company.  In the UK, you have to contract through a company - either your own or an employment agency's.  It's the law.  Setting up a company is easy and cheap. The Companies House website will guide you through the process and charge you £12 for the privilege.  (We used to charge £200 for a company when I was in practice.)  Registering the company for corporation tax can be done at the same time.  Even registering the company for payroll taxes is a piece of cake (although I'm still waiting - a month later - for the payment docs so that I can actually pay said taxes).  HMRC even offer free payroll software that reports your numbers automatically to them.  

Setting up a company bank account, on the other hand was a a palaver that I would never want to relive.  It took over a month.  And that was to open an account at a bank with which I have had a 25 year relationship.  (I even own their shares!)   In the old days, you'd rock up to the bank with your company's Certificate of Registration, some ID, have an interview with the manager and that'd be it.  These days, everything is handled  online and by a call centre.  Nowhere on the paperwork is anything that asks you about your prior relationship with the bank; as a result, I had to prove my identity and my residency status twice.  To do that, I had to go into a branch and get them to photocopy my docs before they send them off via their internal post - a process that surprised at least one branch employee.  Why the hell they couldn't just do the vetting and the forms in the first place is beyond me.  It would have saved so much time and effort.

I finally got the bank account set up in time to pay myself my first salary at the end of October, and I'll pay myself again next week.  The payroll docs situation is equally frustrating, because I'm currently relying on guesstimating how much my take home pay should be, with a bit of help from the folks at https://listentotaxman.com .  Included in my calculations is an employee contribution to a pension fund* that equals what I paid in my old job and I'd like to bring that up to £1,000 a month, with the employer's contributions, but until I can run a draft payroll and test everything, I won't know for certain whether that is too much.  As well has having enough left over to actually pay the Taxman, I have to leave sufficient cash in the company to pay myself holiday pay and sick leave (if necessary).  And, of course, keep paying me after the job ends. Yes,  I can't claim unemployment benefits if the job ends, because I'm still an employee of my company.  (Grrr..... I can only go "on the dole" if the company winds up.).

The other reason I'm undecided about whether I like being a contractor is IR35.  IR35 is the Inland Revenue regulation governing "personal service companies" like mine.  The basic principle behind it is that directors of these companies are effectively employees of the companies with which they have a contract so, therefore, they should pay payroll taxes to the same level as if they were directly employed, instead of paying out their earnings via dividends at much lower taxes.  This is my first close contact with IR35 -  it was implemented in the year 2000, so post-dates my time working in the contractor unit at SL.  (Twenty years ago,  I spent a year doing the VAT and accounts for 300-odd computer and engineering contractors.  This was my first job as a trainee accountant.).   I think the rules are quite straightforward but, we'll see if I get tripped up.

In the meantime, I must be the only person in the country who is looking forward to a letter from the Taxman.  Come on HMRC.

- Pam








* UK equivalent of an American 401K or Australian Superannuation.

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

I have a job!

(Greetings from God's own county, Yorkshire, where I'm on holiday and visiting friends.  I may publish some photos with comentary later but, firstly, some good news!)

I have a job and will be starting on Monday.  At least three agencies mentioned one particular engineering company to me, saying they were expanding.  It was serendipity.  Not only had they purchased the highway's maintenance division of one of my earlier employers (WSA) in 2013 but, in a twist of fate, my new boss very nearly became my boss at WSA 10 years ago.  I left WSA in December 2006.  My old boss resigned in April 2007 and my new boss (NB) took that job, working there until he was made redundant.

Actually, I think that is why I got an interview.  NB didn't have a vacancy to fill but he wanted to meet the woman who was responsible for implementing a certain billing system in his old business when he saw it on my CV.  In fact, it was one of the first things he mentioned.  I jokingly apologised, saying "Yes, it was all my fault" before mentioning that while I'd scoped out the parameters, tested the system and parallel run the system, it was RD who had tailored it for us from the original system he'd built for a rail joint venture.  I gave credit where credit was due, which seemed to impress him.

In most respects, it was more of a chat than an interview.  This was a sounding out, similar in many ways with the first interview I had at my most recent employer.  (When they first saw me, they didn't have a job to fill either but they liked me so found me a project.).  I was asked questions about what I'd done and my skills, along the lines of "We may need to do xxx.  Can you do that?".  We also discussed the business and the UK divisions.   We talked about their safety culture and how it intermeshed with the one I'd worked in for nearly 10 years.  I asked about their performance metrics (Yay!  They don't use billability.).  By the time I left their offices, I was sure I had a job if they could figure out how to justify it.  (In fact, as he showed me out, the second interviewer told me that if it was down to him, he'd offer me one on the spot.).

The job offer, when it came through, was for an initial three month contract.  Given that they didn't really have a vacancy, just a lot of tasks that need doing, this makes some sense.  They really want to secure my services for something.  I don't know my job title or what I'll be doing.  They actually wanted me to start on the 12th - even though I had holidays booked for this week (last week of September) - but I had to get my permanent residency visa updated to a biometric one, thanks to new legislation, so my start has been delayed.

Wish me luck on Monday.

- Pam

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Tales of the Unemployed

If we aren't connected on Facebook then, chances are, you won't have heard my latest news.  My job finished on 5th August.  I was "restructured" out of the company.  It wasn't my choice;  I wasn't given much notice; and the business I looked after didn't have any say in the matter.  In fact, I had to break the news to their senior management.  (Being Finance, the line management that determines your fate and the people for whom you are actually working are frequently totally disconnected.)

Dark, God bless him, came down from Manchester to ensure I wasn't alone on my last day, took me out to lunch and made sure my sense of self didn't feel too battered. He is the most wonderful friend.  With his unerring sense of timing, he'd phoned me just after I'd got home on the day my boss broke the news to me and I cried all over him.  

It was the end of a brutal couple of weeks.  Definitely, the hardest part about leaving was saying goodbye to people.    Because I'm me (and conscientious), I wrote handover notes for whomever will pick up the work afterwards, and I made sure my business boss (Our Man in the Middle East) has copies.  I handed over my projects to someone I can trust to look after them properly.  I couldn't just walk out the door, leaving people who depended on me in the lurch.  (My line manager, on the other hand....)

Since then, I've spent the last two weeks licking my wounds and trying to figure out a way forward.  I have never not worked.  The plan of attack has been:-

  1.  Update my CV, which I hadn't done since 2011.  It's been drafted and redrafted, and then summarised.  (The latter was the hardest part, so I enlisting the help of a friend who writes CV's for the National Careers' Service. Thanks Eva.)  
  2. Updated LinkedIn.  At some point over the last few years, they deleted the job details I'd laboriously put up in ?2012, leaving only the headline job titles.
  3. Signed on with the DWP/Job Centre.  No, I don't need the derisory £73 per week they'll be paying me as contribution based Job Seeker's Allowance but this was a point of principle.  I've paid into the system for 27 years, I'm entitled to the money.  Also, I want the NI "stamps" that come with it, which will go towards my state pension.  (I will probably rant about this in another post, later.)
  4. Contacting agencies.  I have contacts at several so have been gradually dropping them all emails.   Two are putting me forward for jobs as I type;  a third, I shall see next week. I spent Friday morning meeting with three recruiters at the one agency, who were really positive about the job market for accountants in the Thames Valley.
  5. Working out how to eek out my payoff.  I've got savings and a reasonable payoff coming to me a the end of the month, but my "hope for the best, plan for the worst" conscience tells me it could take considerably longer than I expect to find a new job that will pay me what I think I'm worth.  I've shut down everything I can think of:  the ISA savings; the share investments; the money being set aside for holidays; Audible subscription, etc.   The only things I'm committed to contributing to are the joint account for the mortgage/household bills and the housekeeping.  I reckon I can eek the payoff out to last a year without having to sell off any shares or raid my existing savings.
  6. Working out what do with the money.   Beyond picking a savings account into which to shove it all for now, this is still at the daydream stage.  Each month, I'll transfer back the minimum I need to pay my share of the household expenses.  As to whatever is left after I get a new job, well, at the moment, I'm tempted to put it all into an FTSE100 tracker.
  7. Spending my profits from the Employee Share Save Scheme.  Under the rules of the scheme, I had to either sell or transfer my shares from the scheme manager when I left the company. I'm currently sitting on a 44% profit so have decided to sell.  As agreed with DH, this profit will be my "mad" money, to spend without inhibition on whatever I fancy.  I'm thinking of spending it on a multi-fuel stove for the lounge, a new "fake Aga" for the kitchen (my beloved stove is 16 and showing its age), and getting my sewing machine serviced.  Probably not what he had in mind, when he suggested I have some mad money, but hey...
  8. Figuring out what to do with my days.  This is actually quite hard.  I don't know how to be "a housewife".   I have never been unemployed.   I've been in continuous employment since 1992.   Even when I didn't have a job before then, I did agency nursing.  Without the Olympics or the European Football Championships to keep me entertained (as they did when I was stuck at home with my foot), day time television is mindblowingly boring.   I've started a daily To Do List, just so that I don't become completely zombified by TV and, instead, actually achieve some things.
- Pam

Saturday, 9 July 2016

What would I do if....

As you know, I'm working from home while waiting for my foot to heal.  Since I find myself sitting and staring at the inevitable "save" icon on the work laptop for what feels like forever, multiple times during the work day, my thoughts wander off to more interesting topics like knitting.  (It's better than thinking about food and recipes - that inevitably just makes me hungry.)  

One of the mental games I play runs, "What would I do if....", the knitting version of which is "How and what would I knit if I were broke?".  Now, in reality, I have a large stash and if I were broke, I could knit from it for about a decade and (possibly) with the exception of sock yarn, still have multiple-garments-worth of yarn left at the end of it.  I have more than enough yarn.  I am seriously contemplating selling some of it to make some space and because it is highly unlikely I will ever knit with it (the pink and the blue Sublime Angora Merino DK if you are interested).  So let's wind the clock back ten-or-so years, before the stash grew large and contemplate how and what I'd knit if I were broke and didn't have much of a stash.

(This version of the game started because ages ago, on a frugality discussion board somewhere - not TMF - someone remarked that she couldn't afford to knit with "real wool" only with acrylic.  Her next comment, which was aimed squarely at me, was that since I could "afford" wool, I obviously didn't need to be on a frugality discussion board.  I think I replied that it was precisely because of the tips and tricks I'd picked up that I could afford to knit with wool, that most of my yarn was purchased at a deep discount from the likes of Black Sheep Yarns and that I saved £5/month for my knitting.  Anyhow, I digress. Let's play the game...)

How and what would I knit if I were broke?  

For a start, I'd knit whatever yarn I had in the house, until it ran out. I'd dig it all out, pile it on the bed and work out what I could do with it.  Even when I only shopped for the next garment to be knitted and not for the stash, there were always balls and ends of balls of yarn left over after whatever was knitted was finished.  There would probably be enough for at least a couple of hats, some fingerless mitts and a pair or two of my use-em-up socks.  Any short lengths could be crocheted into granny squares - it's about time I learned to do one.  (No, even though I've been crocheting all my life, I've never made one.)

In the meantime, while I was busy knitting up the odds and ends, I'd try to save for the next garment.  Surely I could squeeze £2 a week out of the budget?    Three 100g balls of 4-ply sock yarn is approximately 1200 metres, which  is more than enough to make a vintage sweater like the Jan Sweater, which is at least a month's knitting (http://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/the-jan-sweater).  There are plenty of free patterns out there, which you can find via Ravelry.  Since I'm using 4-ply, I'd start by searching the library for patterns listed on Trove (the National Library of Australia online archive of vintage knitting patterns). Www.knitty.com is another place I'd look.

Then onto the yarn.  King Cole Zig Zag is reasonable to knit, consists of 75% wool:25% nylon, would give you 420m a ball and is currently on sale via Amazon for £4.79 plus £2.49 p&p, so £16.86 for yarn for an entire sweater.  You may even be able to get a short sleeved sweater out of two balls.  http://tinyurl.com/jgxb7n7  The hardest part will be trying to find a source that sells plain colours.

Alternatively, if I'd saved up just a little more, I could get three balls of West Yorkshire Spinners Signature 4-ply, 75% wool:25% nylon, quality British grown and spun yarn, direct from the spinners for £7.20 a ball plus £2.60 p&p, a total of  £24.20.  That is a premium product with 30% BFL for less than £25, including p&p.  http://tinyurl.com/ozzvaof. I know which one I'd prefer.  

Problem solved, yes?

- Pam

Friday, 1 July 2016

Headless chicken syndrome

In the quiet moments during the day while I'm working from home, when it takes 5 minutes to open or save a file, I've been listening to podcasts.  Always, after they download, the BBC money ones - and Kermode* - get queued to "Play next"**.   The money podcasts I listen to are:  Money Box, Money Box Live (a phone in mid-week edition of the show) and 5 Live Consumer Team with Martin Lewis.  

Over the last week, the on-going theme for all three of them has been Brexit and what on earth happens to our personal finances now.  The headless chicken appears to have taken over, with the most frequently asked questions boiling down to:-

1).  I was going to buy a house or remortgage but, with Brexit, should I wait?  What happens if I don't wait?  Will I lose all my money?  (Answer:  don't wait.  You need a roof over your head.  If your personal economics were right two weeks ago, ie you could afford the mortgage and you were sensibly fixing it for a few years, then nothing has changed.)

2).  I have money in the stock market, either directly invested, through a unit trust or a pension scheme.  The stock market fell after Brexit.  What do I do now?  I've lost "money".  Do I sell up?   (Answer:  the stock market moves all the time and is now back to the level it was at two months ago.  You haven't lost any money unless you sell, which is when you crystallise your paper losses.  (Incidentally, the market promptly bounced up again, that afternoon.))

Frankly, if the headless chicken continues, people will talk Britain into a recession, long before we even start the process of leaving the EU.  It will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.  It's a vicious cycle  People will sell their shares, causing a run on the stock market, crystallising their losses.  They'll then stop shopping and stop eating out because they feel poor, which in turn will mean less money coming in to local businesses, which in turn means they'll have to start laying people off and eventually may have to shut up shop, potentially defaulting on loans in the process.  That, in turn, will lead to landlords going bust, which means more loan defaults.  The banks will get stressed out and stop loaning money.  More unemployment leads to more people on benefits which also leads to less money being spent in the economy, which means more businesses going out of business.... And so on, and so on.

As things stand, we don't know what will happen re Europe.  My bet is on us joining the European Economic Area, a la Norway, which means that we have to sign up to almost everything except shared sovereignty, the common agricultural policy, the common fisheries policy and certain VAT, tax and tariff regimes.   All that is in the future, however, because the one BIG problem with Brexit is that no credible alternative policies were put forward by the Leave campaign, even by those who technically are still in the government. 

Into the void has stepped an awful lot of speculation and panic.  Last weekend, the only person talking any sense was Martin Lewis:  http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p03znfs9 , with whom I totally agree.

If the headless chicken comes anywhere near me, he's soup!

- Pam



* The Kermode and Mayo Film Review, which is a download of the live, BBC Radio 5 program with anything up to another 45 minutes of them wittering on before and after the show.  I started listening to them broadcasting live on a Friday back in 2008, on my long 200+ mile drives home from Site.  Now, even when I catch part of the live show, I will also download and listen to the Podcast in order to hear all the extras.

**The Podcast App on the iPhone has this wonderful, on going ability to build a playlist.  You can queue "Play next" - and it will play immediately after the current podcast finishes - or "Add to up next", which puts whatever you are queuing to the back of your playlist.  

Sunday, 26 June 2016

The aftermath

The best thing to happen to me in the last week, is that I went to Fracture Clinic on Wednesday and they gave me a boot!


I can now stand and walk without crutches!  I am mobile again.  Yay!  Can't drive until after my next Fracture Clinic appointment on 20th July, though.

The worst thing that happened?  Well, unless you've been living under a media blackout, you can probably guess what it is: Britain voted to leave the EU.  

Brexit.  What an absolute economic disaster. My fellow residents of the U.K. voted for a recession.  They voted for the Pound to tank against other currencies.  They voted for the price of petrol to increase.  They voted for inward investment to cease.  They voted for jobs and manufacturing to transfer to other parts of Europe.  They voted for food prices to double.  

Woah there!  I can hear my Australian and American friends going "Hang on.... Food prices to double?"  It doesn't sound comprehensible, does it?  The fact of the matter is that Britain has not been self-sufficient in food since before the First World War.  And I'm not talking grain.  Prior to WW2, Britain imported 60% of its fresh produce.  It still does. The vast majority of what goes on most people's tables comes from other parts of the EU.  Another slab comes from as far afield as Kenya (strawberries) or Egypt (potatoes).  Go food shopping in a supermarket in France or Spain or the Netherlands and you'll be hard pressed to find any produce that wasn't grown "in country" - the reverse is true here. 

Well, say the Brexitiers, at least we won't be wasting money on the Common Agricultural Policy, subsidising farmers to produce butter mountains.  It's an expensive waste of money, isn't it? Throughout the years I have lived in the UK, I have heard stories/complaints about the Common Agricultural policy:  the butter mountains; the inefficiencies (keeping small farms alive instead of allowing them to go to the wall and be absorbed into agribusiness conglomerations); the abuses (Italy claiming to have more land producing tomatoes than its entire landmass); paying farmers to leave land fallow (so that biodiversity is preserved), etc...  

I have always thought that they missed the point: the reason the Common Agricultural Policy exists in the first place is food security.  It was devised when the memories of the famines and food shortages that followed WW2 were fresh in people's minds.  People remembered starving. They starved before and during the War too.  Germany remembered the great inflation of the 1920's, when the price of bread could double within an hour.  France, Belgium and the Netherlands remembered starving during the War too, when the occupying Nazis employed the policy of feeding their war machine first, Der Vaterland second and the plebs third.  With starvation fresh in your memory, wouldn't you subsidise farming to ensure food security?

I fully expect food prices to double in the next two years. Mark my words.  It won't just be due to the Pound falling in value against the Euro, either.   Britain is dependent on Europe for most of its foodstuffs.  Right now, the other nations in the EU sell food to us on the same basis as they sell it internally - no tariffs; no additional taxes.  Now, they will have a choice:  sell internally to the other 26 countries, or put a tariff on and sell to the UK, who desperately want your food and are ripe to be milked...

Britain needs the EU far more than the EU needs Britain. 

- Pam




Friday, 17 June 2016

I broke it.

I am a stubborn sod. Ten days ago, I slipped in the ground floor lift foyer at work, twisting my right ankle and wrenched my foot. I can’t walk on it. I spent a large portion of that evening sitting with my foot elevated, sporting a bag of peas while stubbornly thinking “It will be better in the morning”. It wasn’t so I went to A&E in morning. It turns out that I have a footballer’s injury – I have an avulsion fracture of the fifth tarsal (basically my foot muscles pulled a chip off the ankle end of the long bone on the outside of the foot).

The thing is: I knew that I'd broken something within about a minute but I didn't want to admit it. The Thursday  was meant to be a day working in London followed by the T20 cricket at the Oval, and I didn't want to miss that. I was on my way out to dinner with a really good friend who I don't see often enough and didn't want to waste a precious evening in the Royal Berks. (Also, where would I park?). I kept telling myself that it'd wear off; it was only when I put weight on it that it hurt. It didn't hurt to drive; it didn't hurt when I was sitting; surely it would wear off? 


Only it didn't. I knew I wouldn't get to the cricket before I left Reading. Walking from my parked car to the house nearly had me in tears - the deciding vote for A&E. I left it until the morning only because I have worked in A&E and know that mornings are quiet, so you get seen relatively quickly.

While it doesn't hurt much unless I lose my balance and stand on it, the past ten days have been exercises in frustration.  I have crutches but am about as manoeuvrable as a lump of coal with them.   I can’t use them and carry anything.  This turns everything into a production number, when I’m home alone.  Every step has to be thought out.  For example, to make a cup of coffee I have to hop with my crutches to the kitchen cupboard to get a coffee cup, propping one crutch up nearby to free up one hand;  stretch to put it down on the kitchen table; hop with crutches to the other side of the table, where I can reach the kettle without stretching and the coffee;  reach over to get the cup so that I can pour in the water, etc;  push it back to the other side of the kitchen table then hop back round to reach the fridge to get the milk, etc.  All the while, trying to balance on one foot and one crutch because I’ve had to put the other down so that I can hold whatever-it-is while in transit before I can put it on the table.

I'm lucky that a) I have a  portable office (laptop) and can work from home, and b) that I managed to break my foot just at the start of the Euro2016 football championships.  Both have helped me stay sane!  I would die of boredom if my days were just me and the television, waiting for Gerald to get home.  Beyond "Homes Under the Hammer", there is nothing worth watching on daytime TV.  (I have a few things stashed on the DVR but not enough to last me.)  

My ears shut off when i concentrate, so there's no point having anything on in the background while I'm working but when I'm not and there's no football, I'm mainly listening to podcasts from the BBC:  Moneybox; Kermode and Mayo's Film Review; Costing the Earth; Ramblings; Open Book; WS More or Less (who are doing a fascinating series on how statistics are used and abused during the Euro Referendum).  The knitting podcasts I'm listening to include:  Knitmore Girls; Knit British; Caithness Craft Collective; iMake (back-episodes only since she's stopped recording); Shineybees; Stash and Burn; CogKnitive.

I have a fracture clinic appointment on Wednesday.  Hopefully, they will give me some idea how much longer this will go on. 

Saturday, 4 June 2016

Enough is enough

This is the story of a pair of socks....

You may remember the craze for Jaywalkers, at one point it seemed that every knitting blogger/podcaster on the planet were making a pair. (http://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/jaywalker). Ravelry tells me that I knitted my Jaywalker Socks in 2011.  They were pretty:



I remember casting on the 76 stitches and thinking, this is an awful lot of stitches for someone like me with a size five foot (size 7 US/Australian), but the pattern mentioned that there was very little give in the fabric and that someone "with a high arch" (not me) might struggle to get the socks on over their heels.    Little did I realise then that putting the damn things on would be a battle every single time that I wore them.  Since I wear hand-knitted socks to work virtually every day, they became the last-choice-in-the-drawer socks.  Still, I reckon I must have worn them once a month for the last five years, battling to put them on and take them off 60+ times, until this happened last week:



A hole just below the cuff.  A hole that didn't run, even after I threw the socks in the washing machine. (I'd worn them to work that day.).  A hole that, frankly, I've been expecting ever since the first day I wore these socks back in 2011.   You can't blame the yarn, Supergarne Relax Sport Und Strumpfgarn, it knows how to take a beating.  It put up with an awful lot of hauling and stretching over the years, as well as the usual wear and tear from walking and shoes.  

I looked at the hole, today, and did something I should have done back in 2011.  I gave in to the inevitable, and frogged them.  I cut the toe, wriggling the thread through a few stitches



then ripped and ripped.  The yarn has stood up to wear and tear beautifully.  I hadn't realised just how tight the stitches were - it made quite a noise ripping out - and it's definitely more of a 3-ply now than a four.  Am contemplating giving it a gentle soak in warm water before re-balling it up and knitting it into a nicer pair of socks.



Any pattern suggestions?

- Pam

Sunday, 14 February 2016

Knitting as the wild side


It's been a long time since I've written a knitting post.  You may have noticed that the picture has finally changed in the right side-bar - the previous jumper shown was finished in October 2013!  I've actually knitted three jumpers and a cardigan since then, several hats, multiple pairs of socks, several pairs of fingerless mitts and two Five Hour Baby Sweaters.

I am currently knitting totally off piste.  Oh, I have years of adapting old patterns to fit me but this is different.  The pattern Entertain in This was impossible to adapt. Initially I was astonished to discover that it didn't quote gauge - no mention of a knitting tension at all.  When I read through it, I realised that the reason no gauge was quoted was because all the shaping was done via changing needle sizes, so they'd have to quote at least five different gauges!  Seriously, the needles used range from 2.75mm for the welt to 5mm for the majority of the body.  There is no way on this earth that the Drops Alpaca I'm using would cope with 5mm needles.

Anyway, at that point, I gave up trying to adapt the pattern and decided to just copy the design features:  the frilled collar and cuffs, and the nobbles.  However, when I knitted the nobbles - purl 5 into the stitch on one row, knit 5 together on the next - they didn't show up.  The alpaca halo overwhelmed them.  Time to grit my teeth and try something I've never done before:  knitting in beads.  

(There are two ways to knit with beads:  the first involves threading dozens of the fiddly things onto your knitting yarn and sliding them down it periodically as you knit.  It really only works on small items, or when you have one beaded section, since all the yarn you will knit with will be pulled through the unused beads.  Completely not feasible for a garment or for anything knitted with a halo, upon which the yarn may catch.  I did this method for the first time at a class in October, at the Knit & Stitch Show at Ally Pally.   The second method is something I knew about by repute but I'd never seen it until I looked it up on YouTube:  using a tiny (1mm) crochet hook to pull your next-to-be-knitted stitch through your bead, so that the bead forms a shank on it.  That's what I mean when I say "knitting in beads".)

Much to my surprise, given how beaded knitting is one of the holy grails of knitting, it is easy!  A little fiddly certainly, particularly as the hole in the beads aren't uniform, but really easy.   Pretty, too!  Take a look:


Believe me, it is harder to take a photo that accurately reflects the colour of the yarn than it is to knit in beads!  It's meant to be a dark blue with purple tones.



Neither of these photos are blue enough, although the latter is closer.

- Pam (only one scary knitting technique left to try - entrelac.)

Friday, 1 January 2016

Today is the first day of the rest of your life

Every day is a new start.  The past is prologue - you can't change it but you can change what happens now.  I think that is why we imbue this day, 1st January, with so much importance.  Why else do we make New Year's Resolutions?

Sometimes, I think that is part of the problem.  We give the New Year so much baggage:  "this year, I will be thin"; "this year, I will get straight A's in all my subjects"; "this year, I will get out of debt/earn a fabulous salary/save £100,000" (all while netting £2.50/hour or something similar); "this year, I will meet the man of my dreams", etc.  Frankly the expectation for virtually all New Year's Resolutions is  "this year, I will turn my life around and it will be wonderful from New Year's Day onwards...",  Of course, change can't happen that quickly but, when we get to the second or third week of January and wonderful things haven't happened, we feel like a failure.  Failure is built into the equation from the beginning.
One of my friends posted on Facebook earlier today "Best part of 2016 so far??  Reminding everyone that we have 366 days to make a difference instead of 365.  Make a difference!!!"   This is what I've been pondering all day:  how can I make a difference in 2016, both to my life and to others?  I have decided to set some very specific goals, rather than woolly resolutions, in order to make a difference.

16 Challenges for 2016
1). Run the Sports Relief Mile in Osterley on 20th March.  I've already signed up and Howard has agreed to run it with me.  We've set a modest fund raising target and hope to exceed it.  (I'll post a link closer to the time.). Since I can barely run 100m, this will involve training every workday morning - getting up at 5am - except when I'm travelling.  I will use the www.mapmyrun.com app to track my progress, as well as my Fitbit.
2).  £50 February.  Yes, I've decided to try again.  Will you join me?
3).  The weight challenge.  I want my UK size 12 clothes fit me, comfortably.  Right now, some do, some don't. I reckon ending the year weighing 9st10lb or less will do the trick
4).  The strength challenge.  Every workday morning I will do the 7 Minute Workout, which is a free app available for iPhone and iPad (not sure about Android).  I should be able to fit this into my routine after my new daily run.
5). The language challenge.  Resume my daily sessions on Duolingo to learn French.  (I took a break over Christmas.)  It takes about 10 minutes to work my way through the requisite 2 modules a day.
6).  Knit From Stash 2016.  This year, I will not go totally "cold sheep", instead I will limit my purchases to 10 balls of yarn for a sweater and 4 balls of yarn for socks/other presents.
7).  The other knitting challenge: to knit - and finish - four sweaters in 2016.  (This is theoretically possible.  In my most productive year, I knit six.). This will be on top of my regular production of six pairs of socks per annum.
8).  Fashion on the Ration.  Yes, once again, I will try to stick to 66 coupons as dictated by the 1941 clothing regulations.  This covers yarn purchases, too, but not items bought for household use.
9). To get my sewing machine serviced and to use it to make an outfit from my fabric stash.  (Yes, of course, I have a fabric stash.  What were you thinking?)
10).  To read 16 books in 2016.  Should be doable.
11).  The vegetable garden challenge.  I hereby commit to planting seeds in February, for planting out at the end of March.  If that doesn't happen, then I will call this challenge a failure then and be done with it.
12).  To move into the back bedroom and sort out the wardrobe issue.  
13).  To audition for a solo in the ECS 2016 carol concert.   I am a lazy musician.  This will help me be a better one.
14).  The friendship challenge.  I have lots of friends, some of whom I do not see or communicate with very often.  The challenge is to write a personal email to a different friend each month
15).  The entertaining challenge.  In conjunction with challenge 14 above, I want to have friends over for a meal 12 times in 2016.  I am not going to aim for once a month because some months this won't be possible, whereas in others it will be possible to entertain twice.
16).  To blog 16 times in 2016.
What will you do to make a difference in 2016?
- Pam

Thursday, 31 December 2015

SitRep2015: How did I do?

At the end of 2014, in this post, I set myself 15 goals for 2015.  Here is a quick summary of how I did.  (Challenge first then result):-


  1. £50 February.  We nearly made it.  As detailed here, we spent £58.83.  I will definitely try this challenge again.
  2. January is for finishing Projects/WIPS.  This is more difficult to measure because I didn't list the unfinished projects in the original post.  I think they included my Deco cardigan - still needs buttons - and the Woolly Nanette Tee - finished but the ends still need weaving in.   Let's just call this goal a fail and be done with it.
  3. Lose 15lb in 2015.  As detailed here, I succeeded in losing 7lb almost permanently, but I reckon I lost at least 5 of those pounds on 3 separate occasions.  Partial win.
  4. The 2015 Fitness Challenge.  Fail.  I'm still a slug.
  5. The Feed Me Gardening Challenge.  Almost total fail.  Gardening got away from me this year.  The only thing I managed to grow were courgettes and they were from two plants donated by DH's boss.  Maybe next year will be better.
  6. The 2015 Knit from Stash Challenge.  Almost a complete success.  I say almost because I had to buy two extra balls of 4-ply Blue Faced Leicester in order to complete my latest project, It Cannot Fail to Please from A Stitch In Time.  I was really good until October, when  I slipped at the Knit & Stitch Show and purchased two balls of Toft Alpaca Sock, 8 balls of Drops Alpaca and two balls of Jamieson's Soft Shetland.  Only the last has been knitted to date; I used it to make a hat for Dark for Christmas.
  7. The Fashion on the Ration Challenge.  To be honest, while I know I blew this one out in July when I bought a load of lingerie, I stopped tracking before then and don't know how many points I really spent.
  8. Learn French.  I have worked my way through 2 lessons of Duolingo every morning this year and, according to to the app, am now 7% fluent in French.  While I am far from being able to sustain a conversation, I know more French now than I did after four years of classes in high school.  I'll continue with Duolingo in the new year.
  9. To Throw a Fabulous 50th Birthday Party.  Big win.  I had a great party.
  10. To Read and Finish 15 Books in 2015.  Not quite a win.  I read 13 books, not 15.  Virtually every book I've read this year was on the Kindle app on my phone or iPad and a lot of them were free or cheap, thanks to joining the BookBub mailing list.  (I now have hundreds of books thanks to BookBub.)  Please, Amazon, update the app so that we can tag the books we've read and easily find them.   
  11. To move into the back bedroom.  Fail.
  12. The wardrobe challenge.  Fail.  I'm still waiting to make the big trip to IKEA to buy new wardrobes so that we can outfit the back bedroom and move.
  13. To make something of my new job.  Success.  I'm not quite back to the same point as I was with the previous role, but I'm close.  I've made friends with two of the business's senior people and, as of tomorrow, I will have a team of project accountants reporting to me again.
  14. To blog 26 times in 2015.  Fail.  Somehow, though, I remembered the target as 15 times not 26.  Once I post this, it'll be 15 times.
  15. To write that book.  Fail.  Although I have started.  Twice.
So that's a quick review of my 2015.  How did you do with your 2015 resolutions/challenges?  Do tell!

Wishing you a fantastic 2016.

- Pam