Friday, 15 August 2014

A Summer of Culture and Sport

This is my summer - a summer of culture and sport.  I’ve fulfilled one long-term ambition (seeing Rick Wakeman perform Journey to the Centre of the Earth), enjoyed the football World Cup, the Commonwealth Games, an opera (La Traviata), a rock festival in Hyde Park (watching Black Sabbath, Faith No More, Motorhead and Sound Garden), several Proms (with 7 to go plus Proms-in-the-Park), the tennis (I went to Queens for the day and watched Wimbledon on the telly), and the cricket (two series:  England vs Sri Lanka and now England vs India).

Monday of last week was my birthday.  After two weeks in which I saw Simple Minds perform at Kew-the-Music, drove from London to Scotland, went to four events at the Commonwealth Games (the opening ceremony, Rugby 7’s semi-finals, hockey and the athletics on 100m finals night), delivered the FY15 Plan (budget) to the Powers That Be in Glasgow, re-enacted the Battle of Bannockburn, attended a 60th birthday party, attended three Prom concerts (a Greek-themed one, Mozart’s Requiem and the War Horse Prom) and went to the Ballet (Swan Lake),  I took a much needed day off work on my birthday and crashed out.

It took me the best part of a week to recover from the Scotland trip plus the weekends that bookended it.  Scotland was a mixture of holiday to attend the Commonwealth Games and work, both coupled with little sleep – I trekked into the Glasgow office on 4 days including on the morning after the Opening Ceremony, when we’d got home at 2.30am and I had to be up at 6am in order to get the one-and-only direct train into Glasgow from Inverkeithing.  

 Somewhere in there, I've also managed two overnight trips to Manchester - it doesn't feel like work when you're spending the time at work with friends - plus several days working in the Tower Bridge office.   After one of those days at Tower Bridge, I even managed to extend my birthday celebrations by going for drinks/dinner with Dark.  (We were surprised at 9pm when there was a gun salute at the Tower.  I can't find out why there was a salute at that time so I've assumed it was to commemorate the start of the Siege of Lierge in WW1.)

The weather has been glorious, too – long, hot sunny days for most of the last two months.  I managed to get sunburnt at Queens and again at the Commonwealth Games (I never thought I’d ever get sunburnt in Glasgow!).  

As an August baby, I'm a child of the Sun - I was born in the week that Spring habitually returns to Melbourne.  Long, hot, sunny summer days feel like my birthright.  Bring them on Apollo.  Bring them on.

- Pam

Monday, 4 August 2014

A light in the darkness

One hundred years ago today, the Great War started.  "The lights are going out all over Europe.  We shall not see their like again," said Sir Edward Gray, the Foreign Secretary.  Tonight, like hundreds of thousands of others in Britain, our home is lit by a single candle in memory of those who lost their lives.

Everywhere you go in Britain, the councils have planted great swaithes of poppies...

 Ninety-nine years ago this week, at the Battle of Lone Pine two young men died - my mother's uncle and my father's uncle.  They died fighting the Turks, throwing their grenades back.  A third boy, a cousin, survived and was awarded the Victoria Cross.

Lest we forget.


Sunday, 6 July 2014


I never did tell you that I've identified That Man from the Television, mentioned in an earlier post.  He's John Inverdale the tennis broadcaster.  Why I'm forever stumbling across him at Heathrow, God only knows, but at least I now remember his name.

- Pam

Thank you Hector

In case you've never seen him before, here is Hector the Tax Inspector, the image of HM Revenue and Customs.

Although I think Hector has never uttered it, he is permanently associated in my mind with a catch-phrase from earlier tax-self-assessment ads, "Tax doesn't have to be taxing"...

So... Why am I introducing you to Hector?  This afternoon, I broke the procrastinator's habit of a lifetime and completed and submitted electronically my 2013/2014* tax return**, over six months before the due date (31 January 2015).  Thanks to several midnight dramas while I was in Australia at Christmas, Hector tellls me I'm due a refund, having paid too much tax in advance via my tax code***. 

What happened at Christmas?  You may remember that I rent out my flat (we didn't sell it when we bought this house 11 years ago).  Well, I don't think I ever told you about being 13,000 miles away and having to replace the boiler when it broke just before Christmas.  Nor do I think I told you about being woken up at 3am Australian time on Christmas Day (!) by a phone call from the tenant downstairs, when water was cascading through her bathroom ceiling four days after the new boiler was installed and frantically trying to get hold of the rental agents on Christmas Eve UK time.  (Thank God I had their mobile numbers.)

Anyway, I knew that the costs would have a knock on effect on this year's tax and had been eagerly collecting the relevant paperwork****.  For once, I wanted to get my tax returned filed as soon as possible.  This afternoon, with DH out of the house and the Wimbledon final on the telly, I sat down to do the necessary.... And got a pleasant surprise.  Just between you and I, it never occured to me that I might be due a refund for the last tax year - shocking, I know for an ex-tax professional - but because I pay estimated-in-advance-tax on my rental income via my tax code, I was hoping it would increase for this year and, with it, my monthly take-home pay*****.

The question now is what to do with the refund.  While, it's not an earth-shattering amount - several hundred Pounds not several thousand - I don't want to fritter it away.  Since I spent a large proportion of my "F-You Boss" money on rebuilding the kitchen, I think I'll put the refund into my cash ISA to boost that up.

- Pam

* The British tax year runs April to March.

** Not everyone in the UK has to file a tax return.  If you're a basic rate tax payer and only have employment income, chances are you will never have to file one. You'll pay all your tax via the PAYE system (pay-as-you-earn).

*** Every UK employee has a tax code, which tells their employer how much of their salary should be tax free.  For most people, it is their tax-free personal allowance (currently £10,000 per annum), but if you fill out a tax return, you can elect to pay any tax owed via your tax code.  Additionally, since our tax system requires payments-on-account if you've got rental income or self-employment income above a certain level, if  you're also an employee then you can opt to pay that via your tax code, which is what I do.

**** My P60 arrived promptly in April, but my P11D (benefits in kind statement) seemed to take forever and only arrived on Wednesday.  (The deadline for issuing them to employees was today.)    A P60 is the equivalent of an Australian "Group Certificate" or an American W2.

***** I am still expecting that to happen, but only by £10-£20/month because the 2014/2015 tax year estimate will be based on this latest tax return.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Someone at Virgin Trains has a sense of humour

When the toilet door closed behind me on the Manchester train this morning, a voice announced  the following:-

(I just had to photograph it.)

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Thinking in Bullet Points

This morning, I came to the conclusion that I think in bullet points.  If you receive an email from me, chances are it'll started off with a small paragraph along the lines of "Please find enclosed the ..blah..blah... Please note the following:-...." followed by numbered bullet points.  There might be a table or two thrown in there for illustrative/explanatory purposes, but the majority of the email will be in bullet points.

Even when I'm trying to identify a problem or work out a solution, I'll end up with a list of bullet points.  Often, I'll start writing down whatever-the-problem-is in a blank email, work my way through the issues, and suddenly there'll be half a dozen bullet points on the screen, possibly being arranged and rearranged until they make sense.

Frequently, my bullet points have their own bullet points....

It's got to the point that, this morning, I was driving into work, making a mental list about things that needed to get done today and realised that the list in my head (which I was mentally projecting onto the windscreen) consisted of a load of bullet points, with sub-bullet points and the odd arrow thrown in for good measure.  And this was all going on in my head!

I need to get out more!

- Pam

Sunday, 25 May 2014

I am not superwoman

Please, can people remind me that I am not Superwoman.  I'm just an ordinary, forty-mumble woman who works long hours, hates housework, loves cooking, gets far too little sleep, knits whenever she can and gardens far to infrequently to call herself a gardener...

Seriously, I'm having problems remembering that I have limitations.  You'd think, given this is me I'm talking about, that I'd know that I have limited time, limited energy and numerous calls on my time.  But no.  It seems I have a severe blind spot.  Today, I took myself to the garden centre to buy veg plants* to grow in our two metre-square raised beds.  Within 10 minutes had to talk myself out of several purchases, because a) I have no where to put them, and b) in order to make somewhere to put them, I'll need to put in in several days work of work in that wilderness I call a garden.  Not a chance right now, Pamela, not a chance!

But... But.... BUT!!!

No.  Walk away from the Eglu... You haven't got time to keep chickens.  But it's cute!  No.  But we could save loads of money on eggs... And feed the chickens on sunflower seed-heads so they don't cost a lot of money.... NO!!! 

In my head, I obviously think I'm Barbara Good from The Good Life

- Pam

PS:  The only way to resolve the Podcast app problem was to delete the app and reinstall it.

*  Since I obviously didn't have time or the inclination to start any seeds from scratch this year, the only way those beds were going to get plants into them was to buy partially grown ones.  I bought tomatoes, peppers, a cougette (zucchini), onions and bok-choi.

Friday, 23 May 2014

Apple have broken my favourite App

That's right.  Following an update installed on Monday, the Podcast App refuses to load on my phone. [ pout ]

A quick scan of the reviews on iTunes tells me that I'm not the only one.

I feel deprived, damn you!!!  Fix it Apple!


Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Another Airport; Another Trip

Heathrow.  6.30am.

I'm heading "up north" for my seventh Forecast Review.  No travelling companion this time - my business Head of Operations is flying from a different airport and Tall hasn't been invited to play.  (Dark has never been on the invite list.). While there are friendly faces in the office up there, my favourite Cheeky Chap had his job terminated a week ago.    For this three day trip, I am berift of playmates.

Bored, I am left pondering the inexplicable:-

1). Why had the flight time moved again? I'm catching exactly the same flight as on all other trips, but the departure time has changed for the third time.

2). When did businessmen stop wearing ties as standard?  I can see one man in a tie on this plane.

3). Why is that man on the same flight as me, again?  Must be the third time I've travelled with him.  I'm 99% certain he is a journalist (or some political talking head), which is why I recognise him.  Can't remember his name - think he's from ITN, which we rarely watch.

4). And, finally, the most inexplicable:  why do I always get one tiny drop of make-up on my tee shirt whenever I wear a white one?  Also, why do I never notice until it is far too late, even when I've checked immediately after making up?

- Pam

PS:  half way into my flight and I have another question:  why do BA's insist on teasing me by showing destinations in Africa and Europe as part of the cycle on the inflight map?  I'm only flying 300 miles north. [ pout ]

Friday, 9 May 2014

Dear snail

Whatever made you think climbing up the picture window in our kitchen was a good idea?

I admire your bravery....

- Pam 

Sunday, 4 May 2014

The Force is Strong in This One

Up early to watch Match of the Day.  Got to love the BBC's announcer, who said "Good morning.  May the Fourth be with you!"

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Is this thing on?

[ cough ]

Hello?  Is there anyone out there?

OMG!  There is!  [ Jumps up and down ]

Hello, how are you?  What's been happening in your life?  How is work for you?  And the family????

Errr.... The Blog?  Well...err... I didn't mean to go silent...Um....I lost my mojo.  It's not that I didn't want to blog - I just couldn't put one word in front of the other and...well.... time just got away with me.  (What do you mean it's April?  Surely, we're still in February?)

Sooo.... What has been happening?  When I look back over the last few months, all I seem to do is work, eat, sleep, go to the odd football match and occasionally knit.

The kitchen is finished.  And I love it.  And I need to take some photos to show you.  It is a joy to cook in.  Seriously, even washing up is a pleasure.  Did I tell you that it's got underfloor heating?  Sheer bliss to walk on at 6am.  As part of the work on the kitchen, we've installed an outside light on a movement sensor.  I walked into the kitchen one morning in February and saw a local black cat get the shock of his life.  He was walking across the patio and must have seen movement in the kitchen, so walked towards the picture window and triggered the movement sensor.  Poor cat look stunned when the light came on.  (Very funny though.)

What else? I'm still singing every Monday. My choir had a very successful performance of Bach's B-Minor Mass at the Cadogan Hall back in March.  It was so intense that I didn't register we'd finished when we sang the last movement and was expecting more music.  Our next concert is on 14th June, a mixture of Tippett and Benjamin Brittain.

As to everything else... I've played a couple of rounds of golf with my good friend, AJ - we're managing to get in a round a month.  That's probably the most frequently I've played in years.   I do think I need at least a couple of lessons - my swing is dreadful and my grip is all over the place but I don't mind playing embarrassingly bad in front of AJ - we don't keep score and really just use the golf game as an excuse for a chat.  (It's lunch, followed by a walk with golf clubs, followed by coffee...)

On the work front, well.... I joke that it is "all about the social life, really..." but it isn't.  I'm averaging 50 hour weeks.  During February and the first half of March, there were a few that were 55 hours.  My pregnant colleague's maternity cover lasted a week before he jumped ship and I had to throw my toys out of the pram before the situation was sorted.  I was still not allowed to hire anyone, but there is now someone responsible for her work in Glasgow, who I actually trust to do the job.

On the work social-life front, I did get to play in Glasgow with Tall when I was last up there for the quarterly forecast review.  Surprisingly, he got an invite to the meeting, too. (It was just like old times.)  We travelled up together, went out for drinks and a meal afterwards and talked until 2am.  A couple of weeks later, we teamed up with Dark and had another late night drinking chatting session, followed by meetings the next day.  We are a great team; we work really well together and we're friends.  If only the three of us could come up with a viable business idea....

- Pam

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Don't Brood

If I have rules that I live by, then one of them is "Don't brood on the might-have-beens".  I have never seen the point of constantly re-hashing events in your mind, wishing the outcome was different to reality, while just reopening old wounds in the process.  After the first or second time - when you might possibly identify any mistakes made and figure out how to correct them in future - it seems to me that brooding becomes more about reinflicting pain upon oneself than a learning process.  Ultimately, it gets to the point where you think so little of yourself that you consider yourself such a loser, such a failure, that reinflicting old pain is deemed appropriate. (Or so it seems to me.)

So what has triggered my rant?  One of my team is starting maternity leave shortly and two weeks ago, I conducted interviews for her maternity cover.  Three interviews in, I found the perfect project accountant - absolutely wonderful, would hire her in a heartbeat.  Then my line-management pulls the plug.  Can't be done - we have spare capacity in Glasgow that has to be utilised first, etc, etc... 

I argue.  I lose.  I speak to the boss's boss.  I still lose.  I wander around furious for a few hours.  The implications to me are clear:  ever since we moved regions there has been a looming power struggle over my project accounting team, because we aren't based in Glasgow and not part of their project accounting hierarchy.  I know this.  I have always known this.  (I also know that regardless of what happens to my project accounting team, my job is safe because my business will still need a Finance Manager and that role is outside the power struggle.)

Reluctantly, I break the news to my team and deal with the fallout.  Suddenly, I have three people worried about their jobs and a battle of attrition as work drifts north.  If I have any say in the matter, that won't happen, but I know it is a battle I won't be able to win if the bosses decide it is to happen.

Firmly, I remind myself that there is no point brooding.  Brooding over whether I will eventually lose the team is just counterproductive - it won't help me stop it.  I can't control what will happen; I can only ensure that I do my best to demonstrate why it is important to keep my team together, by providing the best support for our business.  With that in mind, I consciously turned my thoughts firmly to how to best maintain business as usual.  The job goes on...

You can't always control what happens to you, but you can control how you think about it and how you deal with it.

- Pam

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Going walkabout

Good morning (I think - although it might be another 24 hours before I post this).  Greetings from somewhere over Asia.  No idea where as the in flight map isn't working.  I think we have an hour to go before we land in China, en route to Oz.

I've just spent the most uncomfortable night I've ever had on a plane.  The seats on this one are hard, rock hard.  Had some difficulty over our seating at check-in (I worked out that we had not been seated together on the flight plan, so surprised the staff when we said we are travelling together. This airline gave no choice of seats).  Anyway we scored a rank of three seats between the two of us, so could stretch out, but it doesn't mitigate feeling like you're sitting on/snuggling into concrete.  My head has obviously been in a weird position because my neck is complaining. 

So far the airline is scoring (out of 10):

Cleanliness 10
Service 5 (OK but don't collect dirty cups or towels)
Comfort 4 
Food 9.5 (would have been 10 except for the sabotage prawn in the dim sum)

There were no passenger comfort bags, ie with ear plugs, eye mask and tooth brush.  I'm desperate for a toothbrush - my teeth are furry and horrible.

The crew are a bit unenthusiastic.  Better on the second flight than the first, but they remind me a bit of theChinese  crew on the last Qantas flight out of Beijing in April 1986, which coincided with my only trip to Beijing.  (There was some deal and China Airways took over manning the route.). Anyway the Chinese crew were rather obnoxious and demanding and did not endear themselves to the Qantas crew (one of the Qantas stewards grumbled to me about them).  It was obvious that they weren't air crew because they liked helping people.

I hate being at the mercy of people like that!

Anyway, we'll be landing in Melbourne soon.  Can't wait.

-Pam (written Saturday night)

Friday, 6 December 2013

Doing the laundry

Probably the most annoying thing about having the kitchen gutted is not being able to use the washing machine.  Currently, it has no waste pipe.  Although we'd done two loads last week, before the builders started on Saturday, it's amazing how quickly the dirty laundry builds up again.  This afternoon, I loaded up the laundry trug and headed out to find the nearest laundromat, 3 miles away.  They've almost disappeared - we had to find this one on Google - and when I set out, I'd never been near this one before.  Drove passed it twice before I spotted it.  

Once inside, I was gobsmacked to discover the price of a wash. The last time I paid to do laundry was 1990, when it was a couple of Pounds to do a wash AND dry.  Guess how much it is now?  £5 for a small machine.  £6.60 for a large.  Talk about expensive!  At that rate, a family doing two washes a week could pay for their own machine in four to five months.  

Both large and small machines only took £1 coins or 20p pieces.  I'd planned to do a light wash and a dark, but ended up shoving everything into the one large machine - I didn't have the change for two.  (DH - aka "Keeper of the Laundry" - will go spare when I tell him.  Mixed washes are one thing he doesn't tolerate.). Reviewing my resources, I had 6 x £1 coins, 4 x 50p and 3 x 20p. (I'd already had to pay 60p to park.  Thank heaven I hadn't used all the 20 pences.)

Settled down to read my latest book, leaning against a dryer.  The wash was surprisingly fast, just over half an hour including prewash.  

It was only when I emptied the washing machine that I remembered how laundromats make their big money: from the dryers.  The dryer is 50p for 5 minutes and only takes 50p pieces.  However, even after it had been through the industrial spin, my wash was very wet - not sopping but more like twice as wet as it would have been at the end of a cycle in a domestic washer.  I split the load into 2 and put 2x50p into each machine.  I'd thought I'd had more but it wasn't the case.  I sat there praying the big industrial dryers dried really fast because I was out of 50p's and there was nowhere to get more (I tried buying something at both local shops but they were out of 50p's).

10 minutes later, they both ground to a holt.  Gingerly I opened the closest door. Inside was a pile of hot, streaming laundry.  The other dryer, with the sheets, faired better. The sheets were almost dry.  

With no other option, I bundled the wet washing back into the trug, put the almost dry stuff in a bag, and headed home. Every radiator now has it's garland of washing carefully positioned thereon and the house smells like an old-fashioned laundry.

Unless our washer is workable, I'm not doing any more laundry until I get to Melbourne next weekend.  I'd rather turn up at my sister's house with a suitcase full of dirty clothes than pay those exorbitant prices again.

- Pam (did I mention we're spending Christmas in Oz?)