Friday 30 January 2009

Good buys Bad buys

Having promised myself not to spend money unnecessarily or add to the wool stash, I have failed on both counts.
Lets get the bad bit over first. I was in Glasgow on Monday afternoon, Mr FF had a meeting in the centre of town so I went with him and had an hour to kill. I intended to spend my time in a book shop but instead wandered into Frasers, a nice big department store. First of all I came upon a new walk in Brows Bar that uses a threading technique. That was fair enough, I'd been planning to get my eyebrows shaped so I didn't object to parting with £10 and I was pleased with the results. Feeling inspired I then wandered into the cosmetics department, which is large and expensive. As usual one of the glamorous assistants offered to 'add a little colour' to my make up, just as well I'd managed to put some on before I came out. She was very flattering (obviously) and spent quite a while applying make up, after which I found myself selecting a variety of products that I really didn't need, in colours hardly appropriate for a 60 year old. I don't want to admit to this but I spent £75, I even bought a foundation primer and I don't wear foundation. I sneaked the bag home and now await the backlash when Mr FF reads this.
I slightly redeemed myself yesterday when I went out with Pam to help her select some curtain material for her newly decorated guest bedroom. We found a beautiful fabric that fits the bill perfectly and Pam has a healthy attitude to money, she spends it. We stopped for a coffee in our local town on the way home and a quick look in the charity shop.
What joy I found 4 balls of pure new wool in a nice tweedy fleck at 50p each and this jumper for Mr FF, it was less than £5, its pure cashmere and its perfect.On balance I probably came out about even retail wise, but I'm still cross with myself - can do better, must try harder.

Monday 26 January 2009

I've always been a saver

On 08 January 1949, a couple of months after I was born my parents opened a savings account for me at our local bank. 60 years later I still have my pass book though the account has been closed for a long time. When I was born it was customary on meeting a new baby for the first time to 'cross its palm with silver' which usually meant slipping a half crown (just over 12p in today's money) briefly into the baby's fist before handing it to the parents. My account was opened with £8.10s.0d (that's eight pounds ten shillings or £8.50) which was actually quite a lot of money in those days so I did quite well.
There is a pattern of money being paid into my account around New Year, I imagine that was money given to me both for my birthday in November and for Christmas. My brother had an account too and neither of us was allowed to keep our bank book, it lived in my father's desk where all the bills and business papers went.
When I started work at 18 I was given my book and I started saving regularly. In 1966 my first wage just over £8 per week, paid fortnightly and despite having to pay bus fares and a contribution at home towards my upkeep I started putting money into my account after each pay day. This meant a Saturday morning trip into the local town where I'd queue to hand over my cash and have the teller enter the money neatly into my book, always with a fountain pen. I must have had a rise because a year after starting work I was regularly saving £5 every other week.
I was never going to make my fortune putting money away like this and there was never any intention to draw cash out for things I 'needed' but it gave me a great sense of security to have something put by and established a life long saving pattern.
I stopped paying into the savings bank in 1970 when I got married, Mr FF and I opened a joint building society account, though my old account remained open and a couple of pounds of interest was added each year until eventually the bank was taken over by TSB in the early 80s. I asked if I could have my pass book back and have kept it ever since, I treasure it as a record of my life and I love the picture of the actual branch inside the front cover.I was reminded of my book recently when I transferred some money from one of the failed Icelandic accounts into the Halifax. I sent off a cheque with two ISA certificates in December, approximately 50% of the cheque was paid into my Halifax account before Christmas, the other half didn't appear until mid January. I received three different certificates from the Halifax confirming the amount in my account, only one was correct in fact one showed about £3,500 more than I actually had. During this time I telephoned regularly as my money seemed to be somewhere in the ether, went through the usual frustrations of call centre waiting, explaining everything to a new person each time and getting fobbed off with nonsense. Eventually I made a complaint in writing and whilst I received £20 compensation for the phone calls they still don't seem to have grasped what the problem was and I am now waiting to hear back, my phone call from last Friday still hasn't been returned. I can't help thinking (call me old fashioned) that my lovely pass book, meeting the cashier face to face and handing over money was a much more satisfactory method of banking. In those days the bank was a revered institution, how times have changed.

Thursday 22 January 2009

Cake at the Castle

A day out for me yesterday. Mr FF had a meeting in Edinburgh at lunch time, so I hitched a lift and had a wander round the city which was bitterly cold but bathed in sunshine. We arranged to meet at 3 pm at the Castle Esplanade as he had to drop off some technical papers with a colleague who lives in the wonderful Ramsay Gardens a complex of flats situated above Princes Street and right beside Edinburgh Castle at the top of the Royal Mile. Visitors are allowed by arrangement with the flat owners to park their cars on the esplanade, when Mr FF arrived the guard already had his name and waved him in.
Ramsay Gardens is part of the Edinburgh old town, there have probably been houses here well over 1,000 years but the present buildings were redeveloped in the 18th century. Its a charming complex with connections to Edinburgh's great and good, like the poet Allan Ramsay who built the octagonal 'Goose pie' house and there is a spacious flat with panoramic views designed by Sir Patrick Geddes, the father of town planning.
John's flat looks directly onto the Castle, we sat in his beautiful kitchen drinking good coffee, eating Christmas cake and chatting until the light began to fade and the floodlights came on . He showed us the magnificent view from his lounge, a huge picture window completely filled by the Castle. He has lived in his flat for over 40 years and it was obvious how much he loves it. We left just as it became dark, the few winter tourists had gone and the atmosphere was magical. Its certainly an amazing place to live, convenient for all the attractions of town but a private and historic little enclave, though I imagine during the three weeks of the Edinburgh Tattoo the sound of bagpipes and the crack of fireworks could become a little trying. I'm sorry the photographs are not good, I didn't take my camera and had to use my phone, apart from this one that I downloaded from the net just to show you what we could see as we got back into the car.
I had such a good time I couldn't sleep last night. I said it was because it was the first intelligent conversation I'd had for a week and my head was buzzing, Mr FF said I just got over stimulated by the outside world and that next time he's only letting me out for a couple of hours.

Tuesday 20 January 2009

Kiddy knits

This is how the garden has looked for the last few days, so no apologies for spending lots of time knitting. I've posted off this little sweater to Phoebe, my virtual niece, together with a pair of socks from the leftover department. The jumper pattern is Active from Pipsqueaks by Kim Hargreaves in Sirdar Superwash pure wool dk, I found 8 balls in a charity shop and used slightly more half of them, the socks an Opal kids pattern I found on the net.
I've knitted a few more pairs of children's socks all based on the same pattern, some with ribbed cuffs some plain. They are so quick and easy that I'm beginning to think about something a bit more challenging but there's plenty left in that bag of odd balls and since I'm being really virtuous about my stash I'll keep going. If I don't find homes for them all they can go to the charity shop, how good am I, but I would make some little labels with washing instructions and probably put my name on them, good but not that altruistic.

Sunday 18 January 2009


I really don't mind if my indoor bulbs don't flower until after Christmas. In fact I'd rather have a good display in January and February when cheer is in short supply than over the holidays when there is plenty of sparkle and glitter around. Worst of all, I really hate it when the bulbs flower before Christmas and I have to try to delay them. I should make a bigger effort to get the timing right, maybe I will, but for now I'm pleased to see that the paperwhites are opening up, especially today which started off bright and sunny but soon turned grey and we've had some snow. The stove is burning brightly, the needles are clacking and the temperature is around zero, nothing to do but be cozy.

Friday 16 January 2009


Its that time again, I have a pan of Seville oranges simmering on the cooker and the house smells deliciously citrusy. I asked Mr FF to pick up the fruit when he was in town, I haven't ventured very far this year and there is nothing as exotic as bitter oranges locally. He bought them on his way home, they were outside in the gloom and he didn't really check them over so I received a rather motley selection. I should have briefed him, but I'm sure they will be fine and we'll get enough marmalade for the coming year with some to give away too.
As usual, I have a pair of appropriately matching socks on the needles.

Maybe next year I'll try knitting marmalade and boil up some socks.

Tuesday 13 January 2009

There there, don't worry

After some heated discussions we sent off an email to our architect in Puglia, Andrea, explaining that we were disappointed with the plans and concerned about the project. He replied quickly with reassurances that the boss of the Comune, the local authority, had suggested that the plans be submitted in this way but that we would get what we wanted. Andrea confirmed that the outside oven would indeed be a bathroom and summed it all up by saying You can be calm and you must understand that in Italy it is this way. I will follow and assist you! So thats alright then, though the prophet of doom that I live with is not convinced. I feel fine about the whole thing, when in Rome I say.
So I'm getting on with my life. Spent two good afternoons in the garden, its bitterly cold and frozen in places but there has been some sunshine too. I've been cutting back some of the garden thugs, alchemilla, geraniums and bamboo that won't take any harm if there is more frost, in fact it will help me curb their enthusiasm and I do like to get things tidy as the spring bulbs appear.
And, Steel Kitten take note, I've had a look in my stash and in the spirit of downturn Britain and not buying things have decided to use up all this left over wool to make children's socks. I'm impressed that a 100g ball of Opal is sufficient for a pair of adult and a pair of kids socks, all the littlies I know can expect a parcel soon. I won't go into detail about how Mr FF decided to sit on my knitting and broke one of my bamboo dp needles, he feels bad enough already fretting about the trullo.

Saturday 10 January 2009

Trouble at Trullo

We were so excited yesterday morning when the postie rang the bell and asked us to sign for a package from Italy. It was the long awaited final plans for the trullo that our architect had submitted to the local authority for approval. Lots of pretty bound pages with photographs of the house, copies of our purchase documents etc, all in Italian so we didn't look at them for long and quickly opened up the drawings. We were devastated to find that the submitted plans bore little resemblance to those we had agreed to last year. The room spaces are much smaller, ugly and awkward, we now have a utility/laundry room that is only accessible from the outside instead of being off the kitchen, the separate guest room with en suite has become a store with an outside oven and many more changes. We know that Italian planning law is tricky, we accept that we cannot increase the footprint of the building but we have had no contact from our architect about these major changes. We can only assume that the planners are reluctant for us to increase the internal space to any extent and want the incredibly thick walls and tiny rooms to remain. We had discussed this with our architect, Mr FF is a chartered structural engineer unlikely to accept any alterations to the fabric of the building that wouldn't stand for a million years at least. We also talked about keeping the spirit of the building and its quirky features, we want a beautiful and sympathetically restored trullo not a sterile new structure, so we have no idea why things have changed and will need to start sorting them out next week.
Meantime Mr FF has taken it very well, the old drama queen says we are ruined, that its pointless putting any money into a house that isn't what we want, that the property is worthless if it can't be developed into something decent, I could go on. I don't give up that easily. I am reading Half of a Yellow Sun a stunning novel about civil war in Nigeria in the 60s, I just watched The Diary of Anne Frank on BBC1. These are heartbreaking, life destroying experiences, not getting planning permission for what we want is just a blip and we know from our battles with the Italian bank that we can get there in the end.

Thursday 8 January 2009

Repeat Performance

I spent a chilly but enjoyable afternoon in the garden today. Not much to do apart from sweep and tidy but its encouraging to see that bulbs are emerging from the frozen ground, a reminder that everything has its season.
This renewal of life makes me think about all the Christmas houseplants that fill the shops in December. I imagine most of them given as gifts or used to decorate homes are dead and disposed of by now. Sometimes they are so neglected in the shops that they never even find a home though I've been known to rescue sick specimens from the bargain bucket and try to revive them. I can't treat plants as short term purchases and make every effort to keep them going with a bit of attention and some organic feed. The displays I achieve may not match the first flush of chemically induced growth but I still get flowers from houseplants I've had for years.
I have about seven amaryllis, only one is flowering at the moment but I don't give up hope. They are such beautiful blooms its worth the effort, this one currently sits at the side of the kitchen sink, I love it. I was quite surprised that last year's azaleas are flowering again, they've been on the floor of the greenhouse all summer and have repaid me by producing several flowers with quite a few buds yet to open.
And this Christmas cactus never fails, it sits in the front room all year and always flowers well. It must be at least 20 years old, I know I brought it from England when we moved here.House plants should carry a warning that like pets they aren't just for Christmas.

Monday 5 January 2009

Fish and Fowl

Now for our slightly out of the ordinary sale purchases. On Saturday we went to the Nomads Tent in Edinburgh, a wonderful gallery selling fairly traded goods from Asia. I had hoped to find some throws, cushions and maybe a bit of silver jewellery, we came away with this.
A metre high arrangement of tin fish incorporating six tea light holders, we thought it would be ideal to have beside the swimming pool at our trullo in Puglia. Admittedly we need to provide water to the site and completely renovate the building first, but one day, besides it only cost £7 and has already provided that much value in laughs. The fish are balanced from the top bar and swing gently, brilliant.
Then we got these two
Again made of tin and slightly smaller than the fish thing, these were £5 each and I think they are delightful. I know two flamingos aren't going to sit well in our Scottish garden, today white with frost, but again how cool will they be in Puglia.
We are waiting for the final plans for the trullo that our architect tells us have been submitted to the local authority for permissions and are coming to us in the post. At the moment our bargains are sitting in the dining room, I wonder how on earth we are going to get them all out to Italy and when.

Saturday 3 January 2009

New Year New Things

We are not great ones for battling to the sales or for impulse buying but we did go out to look for a new reclining chair for Mr FF, the stuffing is starting to come out of the one he has and although he says he doesn't mind that, I do. We didn't find one but we did get this brown leather club chair. It isn't to replace the recliner so perhaps it was bought on a whim, but we both like it lots and it makes a big difference to the room. I ordered on the net some John Lewis hotel quality towels at half price, I'd been lusting after these for a while, 2 hand towels in stone and 2 bath size in a brick red. They were delivered free and I was delighted to find they are first quality and not seconds as I'd expected. We also bought a collection of rather whacky items in the sales that I haven't photographed yet, I will, they make us both smile.
Meantime, new socks for Mr FF, knitted over the holidays in Lana Grossa
and finally not so new but resurrected, I've got the patchwork out again and completed quite a bit more, could 2009 be the year its finished. Joanne you must be so proud of me.

Thursday 1 January 2009

01 January 2009

Happy New Year
My first full year as a pensioner, our first full year without Cleo and who knows where the economy is going. I hope this year is everything you want it to be and not half as gloomy as the predictions. I have my health, my home and a good stock of wool, many people in the world have none of these things so I'm very grateful and ready to ride the storm.