Friday, 29 February 2008

My heart *leap*s up

Sometime last year, my sister and I met in London to have lunch with one of our oldest friends and his wife and son. The conversation turned to son Jack and his girlfriend Natasha. They have been together for some years, but he is a struggling musician and actor, and he doesn't feel he can marry her until he can earn on at least equal terms to her and feel he's offering her a future. But they both want to spend their whole lives together, and marriage is very important to her, not least for cultural reasons (she comes from a traditionally-minded Asian country).

They hadn't been together long when 29th February came around, and her proposal of marriage was half-joking. But it wasn't a joke four years ago and he still turned her down. Last summer, Jack was thinking ahead and worrying about it. He still can't provide for them both reliably, but a third refusal might really upset her. We asked if he wants to marry her, and he does, but he doesn't feel he's got the right to ask her, as things stand.

I suggested that he prepare for the day. He should buy a ring in secret. Then, when Natasha asks him again, he can answer by kneeling at her feet with the ring ready to put on her finger.

He thought this was a romantic idea, but will he do it? Come to that, will she?

If I hear nothing, then the answer is no.

Thursday, 28 February 2008

Where Z goes, others follow

I'm glad I finally wrote that shopping bag post when I did, or it would look as if I was responding to the news that M&S is going to charge for plastic bags again. They used to, you know, until about 30 years ago. It's a relatively recent thing that they've been given away and it was in response to consumer pressure "I've spent £20 and you are charging 4p a time for plastic bags?" And indeed, they were quite expensive. It wasn't just a nominal penny or so. A charge of 5p now, while making a sizeable profit (which M&S will give to environmental charities), is not really enough to notice.

You might wonder why the focus on plastic carrier bags? The point is that they are 100% unnecessary and that it's something that, with only a small degree of care on our part, we can do without. It's like turning off the tap while cleaning your teeth, or not filling the kettle to the brim for a mugful or two - if you do it, it becomes normal. Yes indeed, sometimes in the home a plastic bag is useful, for messy rubbish, cleaning up after your dog or whatever - but most of us acquire far more than we really need for that.

But there again, we can all get caught out. I keep bags in my coat pocket, in the car and often have one in my handbag, but a couple of weeks ago I was moved to call into Waitrose, and bought more than could fit in the two bags I'd brought. So the larger items went back into the trolley and then the car, unwrapped, and the rest went into one extra bag. If I'd not had a car, it would have been too much to carry actually, so I'd have bought less (when on foot, never use a trolley...).

It's like a diet (don't worry, I've another place to bore people about my diet). If you eat something you *shouldn't* it's better to accept it and work out why you did it and how you'll make sure it doesn't happen very often than to say that this proves that you are unable to diet and spend the rest of the day filling your face. Similarly, use as few bags as possible, make sure you reuse them - and for shopping if possible. When they are about to fall apart, then use them as bin bags.

It's oddly satisfying, you know, refusing carrier bags. Al's customers boast about remembering their own, but no one nags if they haven't got one. They are offered a box (I also remember that supermarkets used to have a stack of boxes near the checkout for customers' use) or an onion sack, free, or a cornstarch bag at cost price - which is 10p for a standard carrier bag size. I'm sure the cost comes down if they're bought in huge quantity, but Al could buy plastic bags for a tenth of the price. If your local shop starts to give away cornstarch bags, remember that the cost will be reflected in higher prices.

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Z was asleep

Indeed, unlike every other blogger on this side of the country, I slept through the earthquake. We turned the light off sometime after 12.30 and I was in that first deep sleep - takes more than an earthquake, it seems, to wake me and the only way the earth moves for me is at the Sage's touch.

Ro was quite disconcerted by the tremor, and he says that the mice in the attic went frantic.

The main event in this household, this week, was Pugsley moving from a cot into a bed - or at least, we expected it to be. Squiffany moved into a bed when she was about 15 months old, as her parents wanted her to have forgotten about it by the time the expected baby arrived, so that she wouldn't feel supplanted. Pugsley was as relaxed about it as she had been and just went straight to sleep, and he called out, but didn't get out of the bed, in the morning.

Pugsley's vocabulary is expanding. I've heard him say 'butterfly,' 'dinosaur' and 'elephant', but he's moved on to four syllables. Today's word is 'Incredible'. I believe he was thinking about the film rather than the earthquake.

And by the way... the Daily Mail has been quick to follow on from my post of yesterday - today's edition devotes the first ten pages to an anti-plastic bag campaign.

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

The Way to Z's heart...

...A friend rang with a message for the Sage, who was out, and we had a chat. He's a charming chap (and a regular on the Antiques Roadshow; keep an eye out and see if you can spot him). In the course of conversation, I mentioned that I shall always hold him in the highest esteem, since the occasion when he put his cup of tea on the floor by his chair, our (late lamented) setter, Chester went to greet him, put his snout in the cup and had a good slurp. Friend C. airily drank the rest of his tea without a qualm.

That's the sort of man I respect. And I said so...

An argument against plastic bags. Especially free ones.

I don't often climb on a bandwagon and, as you know, this blog is normally for general cheerful waffle,. However, a post has been brewing for a while, prompted initially by one that Blue Witch wrote (BW, if you send me the link I'll put it up), saying that she felt too much fuss was being made about plastic bags, and it's here now because of Diamond Geezer's grumble today. Blue Witch is concerned that supermarkets will make yet more profit - well indeed, but none of us is naive enough to think that we're not being charged for our 'free' plastic bags in higher prices already.

This is a pamphlet that Al wrote, having done a good deal of research, most of it on the internet and, although it's long, I reproduce it in full. I appreciate that most of you won't have time to read it all, but please do take away the message and try to take your own bags when you go shopping.

Over 95% of Britain’s plastic carrier bags are imported from China, Malaysia or Thailand. Once picked up by a shopper each carrier bag is used, on average, for only 12 minutes.

Approximately 90% are then discarded and buried in landfill sites.

Of the 10% which are not immediately thrown away, the vast majority are used just once more as a bin liner and so are thrown away on their next use.

The few that are recycled (approximately 0.5%) can only be made into such low-grade plastic that they are almost exclusively made into new bin liners, so end up in the landfill anyway.

So-called “degradable” plastic bags have been introduced by many supermarkets implying that they will be less damaging to the environment. In fact it has now been proven that these bags can actually do more harm than good.


What’s wrong with these “degradable” bags? Don’t they break down in landfill?

The “degradable” bags are identical to the original carrier bags but with extra additives, the toxic metal compound cobalt being one of them. These make the bag more brittle causing it to fragment into small pieces. The extent of the damage these fragments cause to marine life has become increasingly evident. It has been discovered that there are six times more plastic fragments floating in parts of the Pacific Ocean than there is plankton.

Isn’t this a bit pointless? After all, it’s only a carrier bag.

The problem has arisen because of the vast scale of the situation. Around 1.3 trillion are manufactured annually and it takes an estimated 2%* of the world’s oil production to make them. The fact that all this effort and waste is going into making something that is actually “only a carrier bag” is the whole point of this campaign.

So why ban them completely? It seems a bit drastic.

The fact is that plastic bags are actually not necessary at all. They are easily replaced by simple solutions that have always existed. People have only become dependent on plastic bags in the last few years and in many ways the disposable carrier bag is symbolic of our modern throwaway culture.

If the problem is so serious why doesn’t the government do something about it?

Many governments around the world are doing something about it. To name a few, Australia has banned plastic bags from all superstores, Bangladesh has banned them entirely. Ireland has had a “plastic bag tax” for several years and France has given intention to enforce an outright ban in 2010. The British government is reluctant to act. As ever, their policy is to allow market forces to dictate progress. Unfortunately the four supermarkets which control over 80% of Britain’s grocery market have stated that they are not obliged to consider environmental damage in their decision to supply plastic bags.

So what’s the alternative? I can’t put everything in my pockets.

Shops participating in this campaign will stock alternatives for customers who don’t bring their own carriers. These are usually recycled boxes, paper bags, reuseable fabric or string bags and 100% biodegradeable cornstarch bags.

What are these new 100% biodegradeable cornstarch bags? Are they really flimsy?

Cornstarch bags look like plastic, feel like plastic and retain water and meat juices like plastic. However, unlike plastic they are completely compostable and leave no toxic residue after they have broken down

If these cornstarch bags are so environmentally friendly why don’t all shops just switch to giving those away instead?

The fact is that, although cornstarch bags are very environmentally friendly for disposal, they use more fossil fuels to manufacture than a standard plastic bag. For this reason, simply swapping from one bag to another may help solve one problem but would create a whole different crisis of a similar scale. For this reason one of the main principles of this campaign is that all shoppers are charged a small price for every new bag as an incentive not to use them.

With those reuseable cotton carriers, isn’t the cotton industry even more environmentally unfriendly because of the intensive farming and child labour involved?

This is a worry, but is avoidable if shoppers ask questions before buying cotton bags. Fair Trade organic cotton from sustainable plantations is available and unfortunately this is always reflected in the cost. Cheap cotton bags are often seen but are usually from countries like China which have none of the expensive overheads caused by standard pollution controls and providing even the most basic human rights for its citizens.

If I spend £20 or more in a shop, surely I can expect the retailer to at least pay for the bag?

The intention of this campaign is to focus the public’s attention on the carrier bag and the environmental cost of them. A situation like this makes it no less relevant.
The actual purchase of a carrier bag is intended to stand out in a shopper’s mind so as to provide more incentive to plan ahead and be prepared.

Isn’t this just an excuse for retailers to cash in on the new fashion for ‘going green’ by making money out of bags which used to be given away?

Retailers in the campaign are advised to sell all basic bags, both fabric and cornstarch, at cost price. The argument for this is that they never used to make a profit from supplying the plastic bags so it would appear rather unscrupulous to try to make money via the environmentally friendly bags.

What’s the big deal? Banning a few bags is pretty meaningless when you consider the scale of pollution worldwide.

This is not a broad campaign covering all aspects of global pollution. Banning plastic bags will not stop pollution any more than saving a polar bear will stop global warming. This is a campaign about one problem with a simple solution. Disposable plastic bags are a shocking waste of resources and a simple change of habits is all that is required to make a drastic difference.


If you have read this far and want to know more, I recommend you start with Modbury's website. This is the Devon town that was the first in the country to go plastic bag free.
Another link to a New York Times article on the Irish ban on free bags.
Here's BW’s views on the same subject. Scroll down to December 19th (though read all the rest on the way, because she's always worth reading). She has linked to a commercial website which completely disagrees with what I say, although notice what it's called, and you'll appreciate it's to be read with caution.

For example, it says that 80% of people reuse plastic bags in the home. Two things - first, that's 80% of people reusing some bags. It does not say 80% of bags are reused. Second, that nearly always means using them to put rubbish in, before putting it in the bin. I wrap rubbish in newspaper, because that's biodegradable. It's rarely (Al would say 'never) actually necessary to use a plastic bag at all.

Another link -'paper or plastic?' - well, I agree with the article, which says ‘neither’.

If you have a related link, let me know in the comments or by email and I'll add it. Of course, I'm willing to link to posts on both sides of the argument, as long as they're not abusive.

*This includes all plastic wrapping, not just carrier bags.

Monday, 25 February 2008

Mystery illness

You know I told you a few weeks ago about Val, the owner of the pet shop, who collapsed in agony and was taken to hospital with abdominal pains? It's most odd - she had all sorts of tests and nothing came to light at all. The preliminary diagnosis was either a kidney stone or pancreatitis, but it was neither of those. She was in enough pain to be given morphine for several days.

She was in hospital for a fortnight but eventually was better enough to come home. All the doctors can suggest is 'a virus', and that she should get over it. She didn't eat for a couple of weeks and had to be put on a drip, and is still not well at all. Very odd. Poor Val.

Sunday, 24 February 2008

Don't Call Me Madame

Thanks to Gert for this one.

You Are Upper Class

Class isn't always about money, and you've at least got the brains, manners, and interests of an upper class person.

You don't have a trashy bone in your body, and you don't pretend to be someone you're not.

You're comfortable with your station in life, and class issues don't really bother you.

The finest things in life are within your reach, and you're comfortable enjoying them.

You may end up: A business leader, corporate lawyer, or philanthropist

Other people who share your class: Bill Gates, Oprah, former world leaders like Bill Clinton, and those reclusive billionaires no one ever talks about.

Of course, the only classy thing to be is classless - but the final sentence made me laugh.

Saturday, 23 February 2008

Almost time for Z to earn her keep

The Sage has spent the last week or two gathering together china for our next sale in May, and we'll be putting the catalogue together in the next fortnight. It's early, but so is Easter and we want it done before then.

There's one piece in particular that I really love. I'll tell you once the catalogue is out, but it's a trade secret until then. No question that we'll buy it - a similar piece sold at auction for more than we could pay a year or two ago, and this won't fetch less.

We enjoy everything about an auction, whether as buyers, sellers or, in the Sage's case, as auctioneer. It's exciting - as you know, if you've had any dealings with eBay; and a live auction is far better again. Even if you're not buying, looking at and handling beautiful objects, maybe that you could never afford to buy or wish to, is a pleasure in itself.

Friday, 22 February 2008

Legs 900

The sheep were on the Ups and Downs again this morning. This is a field of ancient grassland, grazed by cows in the summer and otherwise left as it has been for centuries. That is, at times in the last few hundred years, some gravel has been dug out, which is why it is up-and-down rather than flat, but it's never been cultivated. In maps, it is labelled as 'Saxon earthworks' or 'Saxon burial ground' - no one really knows.

It's poor land, sand over gravel, and it's grazed by a few cows in the summer until it browns off in July or August - not that it did last year, as it rained for weeks and the grass never did go dormant. But it it were overgrazed, it would take some time to recover. That's why we weren't best pleased to see a couple of hundred sheep relaxedly chomping again this morning. The Sage rang the owner of the sheep - the field they had been on didn't have enough grass, so they'd explored a bit. He said he'd be along later in the day. We went out to ask the sheep to go across the stream, into our other field which is rather more robust.

Sheep are so lovely. They were quite docile and good-natured. The other day, the Sage had moved them alone, apart from the assistance of Tilly who, asked politely, stood near the gate where we didn't want them to go. This time, I strolled to the further end of the field and then walked towards them; they moved away from me and gathered in a flock and then paused to see where we wanted them to go next. The Sage indicated, and they went. They waited courteously at the ford for their turn.

Later, indoors, Tilly barked. I went out to see why, and found young Jack, whose parents run the village pub, at the door looking embarrassed, with his two dogs on leads. Unfortunately, one of them, while running loose, had dashed across the field, torn at a chicken coop and killed our cockerel. He came at once to tell us and apologise. What can you say? - we thanked him for coming over. It took some courage. Easy for a lad to call the dog, act as if he hadn't seen what happened and go home. I know the dogs are well behaved normally.

Thursday, 21 February 2008

These are a few of...

The rules of the tag are:
1. Obviously, indicate the source that tagged you.
2. Write out 7 of your favorite things, that are dear to you, but are not "popular choice" any more. Categories could include, but are not limited to:
a. All time favorite book ever read.
b. All time favorite movie.
c. Best memory from the first 12 years of your life.
d. All time favorite teacher.
e. All time favorite tea time snack.
f. All time favorite piece of jewelry/family heirloom.
g. The one possession you would never part from...

How Do We Know tagged me more than a month ago - I’ve found this really hard, which is the reason it’s taken me so long to finish it. I hedge my bets, it seems, and don’t have a single favourite of anything.

All time favourite book. I don’t know how to choose. Book from my childhood that I still love most would probably be The Secret Garden. The favourite books on my profile: Pride and Prejudice, War and Peace and Crime and Punishment aren’t just there because the titles read well together – I think they are all superb. All three of them are books I first read in my teens, but would still reread now, with pleasure. Indeed, I reread War and Peace last year, for probably the fifth or sixth time but the first in a couple of decades. In an idle few minutes, I’ll still pick up one of Saki’s short stories – witty and sardonic and I love them. I wrote a whole post-ful of books here and have deleted most of it – no, I can’t choose one single book. It’d be like choosing one man to spend my life with – ah. Right. Well, it’ll have to be the Complete Works of Shakespeare then. I suspect this is cheating.

The one possession I’d never part from. People are more important than possessions. There isn’t anything. The things that mean most are those that belonged to someone I loved, or were made for me by the Sage, but there’s nothing I couldn’t walk away from. I couldn’t live without books, however, and be entirely happy.

Tea-time snack. Ooh, snacks. Now we’re talking. A crumpet, spread with Gentleman’s Relish. Or toast, made on a toasting fork by the fire, with butter and Marmite. Home-made scones and home-made jam. I’m not thinking about this one any more, as I don’t eat most of these things just now. Well, not butter or scones. Nothing wrong with Marmite. Or toast.

Family heirloom – One of these days I’m going to haul Bobby the leopard down from his perch in the rafters of the garage and see if he’s been eaten by worms. If he hasn’t, he’ll be made into a table and I’ll tell you the proud story of Great Uncle Ronan. If he has, he will be ceremoniously burned.

Memory. I don’t know about best, but the most remarkable is the sight of ice so thick on Oulton Broad that cars could be driven on it. This was in the winter of 1963, when I was nine. I wonder if we’ll ever have a winter like that again, but I doubt it.

Teacher. I adored my first teacher. She had soft brown hair and a perfect complexion. I remember standing by her and wanting to kiss her cheek as it looked so soft. I can’t remember her name though.
Mr Lamb, my Latin teacher of 35 years ago, who is now in his late 80s and still wonderful. When comprehensive schools came to Lowestoft and the teaching of classics was destroyed, he retired early to become an antiquarian book dealer. Once, he showed me an incunabula (the earliest printed book) dating from 1485, the same year as the Battle of Bosworth Field, when Richard III was killed and the Tudors took the English throne. I’ve never held anything I revered so much.

Films – they are on my profile. Music then? No, too wide-ranging. I listen to too much variety to compare one type with another. But a musical composer, that I can pick. Mozart’s musical genius needs no recommendation and his operas show a clear-sighted, unsentimental acceptance of human frailties that I find wonderful.

I've still got a meme outstanding from Badgerdaddy. I haven't forgotten...

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Z is cuddled

It must have clouded over in the course of the evening. A couple of hours ago, the full moon was straight ahead of me out of the window and now it's not visible at all. I think there's a lunar eclipse tonight, but not for a few hours yet.

Having my desk facing the window is a pleasure, but it has its disadvantages; notably that the sun shines straight into my eyes in the mornings. It's worth the squinting though, to watch the birds in the garden.

I babysat Pugsley this afternoon as usual while Dilly took Squiffany to dancing class. He's a remarkably easy child. He was almost ready for an afternoon nap and sat on my lap to be read to for a while. Abruptly, he started to rub his eyes and yawn, I carried him into his bedroom, lay him down and left him until he shouted for me after an hour. I had time to read various documents, write out some music for Sunday, read the daily paper and fit in a short nap for myself. He was still sleepy when I fetched him back so we cuddled as I read another book. When Squiffany came in, she wanted to join us on the sofa and we all hugged together. All most enjoyable.

I've just been booking a train ticket for the Sage's next journey to London - I won't be going with him that time. He was wondering whether to buy a railcard, but it works out cheaper to buy two cut-price single tickets (£24 against £24.40, not including the cost of the railcard) so he won't bother. I am supposed to be going to a meeting in Liverpool in May - I really must get on with booking a hotel and all that. I could do with an assistant for that sort of thing, which I have an unwise tendency to leave until the last moment. I've never been to Liverpool; I might stay an extra day to look around. If the Sage can manage without me, that is.*

Our friend in hospital wants me to clear out her little freezer. I suspect that she has been shoving everything in there that she hasn't got around to eating for the last few months - she realises, now that she's getting better, how poorly she's been coping. When I looked in her fridge, some things had been there for months, including vacuum packs of meat. She can stay in the lovely cottage hospital for another fortnight - I'll cook and freeze some meals for her, so that we can stock up her supplies and she'll not have to cook for a while. She admits to having lived on tinned soup for a few weeks. She kept buying fruit and vegetables, but we now realise that this was to have an excuse to ask the Sage to deliver, so that he'd call for a chat.

*This is a slightly edgy remark, as he never goes away and I have to holiday without him

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Click on the link and go

By the way, if you haven't already, hot-foot it to Mike's, where he's running his 'Which Decade is Tops for Pops?' poll. As ever, highly entertaining nostalgia-fest, where you discover which tunes have lasted and which once-loved music is completely embarrassing to listen to again.

Start at Number 10 of course, which was on Monday.

I appreciate Mike.

Z Connects with the Son

"hi" "hi". "What did you see?" "Juno." "Good?" "Yeah." "Have you eaten?" "yup." "I've just made some coffee, would you like some?" "Yes please, half a mug is fine." "That's enough for me too, we'll share the small pot."

"By the way, the new Mountain Goats album arrived today." "Oh yes, it's out today. Have you listened to it yet? Lyrics are bleak, aren't they." "Yes, and yes they are, but I haven't got them all yet. Would you like to borrow it?" "I've listened to it online, it's really good. Yes please."

I feel all happening and where it's at, whatever I might mean by that.

I also bought an 'Old 97's' (sic) album, because the track 'designs on you', which Julie sent me, entertains me every time I hear it. I didn't think I'd ever buy anything which iTunes labels 'country', but it is pleasing me mightily.

Monday, 18 February 2008

Z appreciates a Man who Barks

You see? The title is so much more interesting than the post will ever be.

It was really foggy this morning, and very cold. I was struck by the beauty of the frozen cobwebs draped on the bushes and car mirrors. Al tried to start his van, but the battery became less and less willing to respond and eventually, with an apologetic cough, it expired.

He had to go to Norwich this morning. He wondered, hopefully, if he's insured to drive my car? Unfortunately not. I used to have fully comprehensive insurance, but now only three named drivers are permitted, which is inconvenient when I've got six people I'd like to insure. So I offered to drive him. We don't spend much time together, it'd be a pleasure.

The reason for the trip is the new bank charges he was going to have to pay. With his tiny shop, he'd be paying £800 in a year for nothing much. He's always in credit, and the bulk of it is to pay over cash, which he has counted already. So he rang his wholesalers and asked if it would be all right to pay his monthly bills in cash. They didn't mind. So, clutching two bags of money, he enjoyed the luxury of my nice car instead of his Postman Pat van and I took him over. After a while, he got out his phone and worked a few figures out. "You know, I'm saving £45 in bank charges today" he remarked. I was astonished. The last month has been one of the least busy of the year (this is normal for January, February and November) and it seemed a lot of money.

The fog lasted for the first five miles, and then the sun started to break through. We went to deliver the two lots of cash, and then picked up a new bed for Pugsley - yes, he's going to leave his cot and have a big boy's bed. He's not 18 months old yet, he is so little...

The sun was shining so brightly that I was dazzled and had to put on sunglasses. But then, in the space of about 50 yards, it all changed. We were back into thick fog. I took off my glasses and turned on the car's headlights. Thia change happened several times more in the next half hour and we arrived home in fog again, after 12.30 pm.

The Sage was interested in something on eBay, but he's a little excitable on the computer, so I tap the keys for him. He'd already put on what I thought was a high price, and I had to leave before the sale would end. What would his final bid be? He hedged and didn't say. Finally, I had to go. "Put on another £100" he said. "Another £100?" "Oh, I won't have to pay it." "You're barking, darling," I said, tapping at the keys. "Oh" he said, in a hurt voice. He had momentarily forgotten that, from me, that is by no means an insult.

He bought the item, but had to pay full whack. After returning from my appointment, I went to Harleston and bought three pairs of shoes. I spend almost exactly half the cost of his frippery. However, I wasn't in competition. And I like a little exuberant extravagance in a chap, once in a while. Frivolity is what matters.

Sunday, 17 February 2008

It was suggested that Z is bossy

Some years ago, an extension was built onto the back of the church, which houses a hallway, a loo (big enough to take a wheelchair and baby's nappy-changing stuff), a kitchen/meeting room (at present a kitchen/office) and another room, which will seat 50 or so. Coffee is served after, and sometimes before (no rule here, if someone wants it they put the kettle on and make a potful, because the aroma draws everyone else) services and we stand around chatting for a while before wending our way home. Or wherever.

We've always tended to stay in the hallway, but someone mentioned at a PCC meeting that it would be more friendly to go into the main room, because it's more comfortable, there are chairs and it's where visitors tend to go, so it would be better if we all were in there rather than a couple of people going in to make sure newcomers don't feel left out. We decided to use the room in future. But no-one did. So last week I chivvied a bit and this week I asked Judy, who was making coffee, not to open the hatchway into the hall but to direct people straight into the main room. I put out chairs, put on the heaters - and was accused of being a control freak. Largely because I was asked whether the hallway radiator should go on, and I said no.

Yeah, but they did it AND agreed that it was much more comfortable.

As we left, my good friend John said that he was going out for lunch and would I like to join him. Well, I had got plans for the afternoon - but "yes please". I biked home and he drove to pick me up. Later, when pondering whether to have coffee, he asked if I had time. I said that the company of a friend was more important than odd jobs - which was the right thing to say, for it pleased him; and it's true, too.

I'm happy to say that this evening's dinner is as locally sourced as I'm likely to find at this time of the year. The leeks in the soup come from the garden, the lamb was reared in the field 300 yards away, the potatoes, carrots and cauliflower travelled 6 miles, the parsnips less than 2. Wine would let the side down - I shall drink beer from St Peter's brewery, which is 5 miles away.

It's all prepared, and the meat and potatoes are cooking. Another hour and they'll all be done.

Saturday, 16 February 2008

The Sage takes his foot out of his mouth

The Sage arrived home, having been to feed and let out our hospitalised friend's chickens and do a delivery for Al. "That wind is cold" he said cheerfully. "I just saw John and Betty arm in arm to keep each other upright." I intimated that perhaps that put the kybosh on my cycle ride to get the weekend veggies. He paused. He realised he'd made a tactical mistake, for it is his mission in life to keep me pedalling. "The wind's dropped now. D'you see, the sun's come out?" "You're just saying that. I'd better go in the car." I was teasing. I knew I wasn't going to get away with it.

He held the bike while I scrambled on. It was an east wind again, so in my face on the way in. I came home with potatoes, sprouting broccoli, a parsnip, turnip, swede, some beetroot, a cauliflower, a large mushroom, two small butternut squashes, four bananas, eight juicing oranges and four stalks of forced rhubarb. And two garlic bulbs and eight shallots. The Sage dug up some leeks from the garden. I made a venison casserole and a pot of leek and potato soup, and am planning roast lamb with the vegetables we haven't eaten yet, and beetroot risotto which, though good, is not the most very delicious risotto but is the most startling colour. I will poach the rhubarb, cool it and then sprinkle it with sugar and blowtorch it, in a bruléeish sort of manner to impress the Sage and Ro into not noticing the absence of cream or crumble.

I've nearly finished preparing the propagators, and may sow some lettuce seeds tomorrow - not in heat, but in trays in the greenhouse. Assuming no one takes me out for lunch.

Friday, 15 February 2008


So, I've had two offers to help organise the festival and the same two people, plus one more, offered to help with church sidesman duties. No one has yet offered to take on the flower rota and I'm not holding my breath. All I do is write up a chart for the year (starting at Easter) and leave it for people to put their names down. If no one puts their name down, there will be no flowers (I would clear away dead ones, of course). This hasn't happened yet, but I said from the start that I'll not remind people nor ask them.

There are six long-tailed tits in the garden. I love to see them. The other day, they were all on the broom (the shrub that is, not a brush) a few yards away from the window, and four of them are hopping about in Al and Dilly's garden now. A blackbird is building a nest in the ivy covering the fence outside the other window. I must clear surplus weed from the pond so that the frogspawn, when it comes, isn't sitting on it and tadpoles will have room to swim. The first daffodils are just out in the drive.

The other thing that marks the end of winter is the Denton Pantomime. This has been an annual event from 1984 and the same people arrange it, with most of the village joining in one way or another. This year they did a panto version of Midsummer's Night Dream, which was duly hilarious. The acting ranges from slightly wooden to very good and the script is excellent. Gill, the scriptwriter and director, was despairing on Sunday as no one knew their lines, but most of that had been ironed out by the first night - though a particularly funny moment came when someone paused, the prompter prompted and the actor said "what?" There wasn't much left of Shakespeare - though "Ill met by moonlight, proud Titania" proved too good a line to leave out - but the plot was all there and then some.

There's a cold east wind today, but the sun is out (rather belatedly; I had a cold ride to Yagnub this morning). I've said to Dilly and the children that I'll go swimming with them this afternoon, but if it's still sunny afterwards I'll do a bit in the greenhouse. I'm not ready to sow seeds yet, but maybe this weekend.

Thursday, 14 February 2008

Z is respectful

I want to tell you about one of the doctors in our local practice. He was my mother's doctor, and very kind to her. His compassion goes way beyond its professional requirements. He visited her the Friday before she died and came again on the Saturday, even though he was not on call that weekend. He called again to see me the next day, as she had died in the night.

He's the doctor of the Sage's friend in hospital. She had been in for three weeks and had been moved from the Cardiac ward to a general geriatric ward, where she was very unhappy. There is, a couple of miles from here, a wonderful cottage hospital, which is owned by the local Anglican convent but affiliated to the NHS and this would be an ideal place to recuperate, but places are at a premium.

The Sage rang the surgery and asked for the doctor to phone him, which he did. He hadn't known that his patient was in hospital and immediately said he'd go to visit her. The hospital is 19 miles away - he went in the evening. The Sage happened to arrive when he was still there.

He made an appointment with the hospital administrator and asked the Sage to go too, to add weight to his request for a bed to be made available. Together, they arranged it on Monday and she moved in on Tuesday. She is eating more than she has for weeks and is keen to walk and have physiotherapy to prepare her for the move home. She can stay for 2 weeks on the NHS and a third week if she pays - by that time, she'll either be able to manage, with help, or it will be evident that she will need more care.

This doctor still manages somehow to think of his patients as, individually, his responsibility, which is an attitude that the Powers That Be has been steadily discouraging. We've got a very good medical practice here; I like my doctor who knows me surprisingly well, considering that I generally see him every five years or so; you can see a nurse whenever you want to and a doctor within a day. In praising one, I'm not disparaging the others. But I think he is great.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Z is outmanoeuvred

I stayed in bed late this morning, still being in holiday mood. I was contemplating a leisurely bath when the phone rang. The Sage called upstairs that it was for me. The upstairs phone is several decades old (really, it has a dial) and quite crackly, so I dusted a dressing-gown and went downstairs. Then I had breakfast. It seemed a bit late for a bath, so I dressed, pottered a bit and eventually roamed back upstairs to wash my hair.

I got myself all ready to do some work, thought 'stuff that', prepared for a lazy day ... and then something made me get out my diary. A meeting in the village at 10.30, which I'd said I go to and take notes for. Unfortunately, it was already 10.45.

Towel still round wet hair, I rang to apologise and said I'd be another 15 minutes. I don't know how, but I'd dried my hair, put in my contact lens, applied make-up and printed out the notes from the last meeting within 5 minutes. The Sage had kindly put my handbag in a pannier and attached it to the bike, so I was all set to shoot off down the drive.

The meeting was to plan the Village Festival in July. Diana had asked, at the last PCC meeting, if someone other than her could take notes, as she's done it for several years. I said I would - seemed to be quite a reasonable sort of job. Sue introduced me as the new organiser of the church's contribution to the festival. "Er?" I said - "well, co-ordinator" she amended. Clever. A nice shuffle of a job. I was too lost in admiration to protest, so I seem to have found a new role - which, for a start, involves me in getting together a group of people to decide what the church is actually doing. Oh well. I don't do all that much in the village at present, it's fair enough and I like all the people on the committee, one of whom did me a favour last week with kind heart and good will.

Another lovely day, but there has been a change in the weather. As I pedalled into Yagnub, an easterly wind blew in my face and I could feel the mist rolling in, and this in the early afternoon. I had put a big silk scarf on, which I'd started by tossing flamboyantly over my left shoulder, but it made me feel too much like Isadora Duncan and unnerved me, so I wrapped it a couple of times more round my neck and tucked it in. When I was ready to leave, I put it over my head and then round my neck and peered at my reflection in the shop door. "Does it look just too odd?" I asked Al. "No, it's fine" he said insincerely. "A bit of a refugee from a bandage factory, but in a good way." "I'd been aiming for Jemima Khan, but I think it's more Lawrence of Arabia" I said dismally.

I left it in place. I didn't look behind me, so I don't care if people laughed and pointed.

Tomorrow, I'm going to the Denton Panto!!(!)

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Naughty pictures

I phoned Martin. "You'll get piles if you sit on that cold wall" he advised me. I looked about - I'm sure I've mentioned that I am the least observant person I know, and he had to tell me I was looking the wrong way. He and the divine Wendy were approaching from my left. They swept me into the rather smart restaurant at the Wallace Collection so that I could have breakfast - yes, I know it was nearly 11 am, but the freezing fog had necessitated an earlier start than I had expected and I was far too lazy to walk the length of the train to the cafeteria. I munched a croissant as they drank coffee - but, darlings, despite a tempting pat of French butter and two whole jars of jam, I ate it neat.

We admired the less ornate furniture and some of the china, and many of the pictures, particularly the Laughing Cavalier. Martin seemed slightly embarrassed that quite so many of the painted ladies had their tits out, and rather wished to avert our gazes. He was shocked when I pointed out the extreme rudeness of the Fragonard The Swing, pretty though it is. They were both splendid company and I had a lovely time - thank you both. Pity we didn't know Boy was on the spot at lunchtime, as he could have joined us. I expect I'd still have been the only one drinking alcohol, though.

I'd intended to go to another gallery in the afternoon, but it was such a lovely day that I didn't want to go indoors again. I walked across Westminster Bridge, along the south bank for a bit, meandered across the river, walked along the Embankment, crossed again, just so I could back over the footbridge to St Pauls. I'd bought a couple of books on the way and read for a bit, and now bought a cup of tea and read some more.

I'd be bound to catch a bus to Islington, I thought, if I headed north, but Islington buses didn't seem to stop at any of the bus stops. By the time I reached the Clerkenwell Road, I decided that I was more than half way and my quid would stay in my pocket and I'd carry on walking.

I reached the Angel and a young foreign woman asked me for directions to the British Design Centre. I directed her along Upper Street and, at the next junction, was engaged in conversation by a slender lady, older than I, who was bouncing a multi-coloured rubber ball.

All is well with El and Phil and the next morning I visited the From Russia exhibition at the Royal Academy. Fabulous - do go if you have a chance. It was pretty busy, so I'd suggest getting there soon after its opening at 10 am if you can, or maybe later in the afternoon.

I met the Sage at the auctioneers and we were shown the items we wanted to see. The Sage will go up for the sale in March; not necessarily to buy anything, but it'll be interesting [though an auction is so much more fun if you're bidding ;-)].

And we spent the evening with Al and Dilly and the family. I've hardly glanced at your blogs, and will have to spend the rest of the week catching up.

À bientôt.

Sunday, 10 February 2008

Au revoir

I'm off to London tomorrow for a couple of days. It's no use going with the Sage - he works out his appointments and books a ticket home at the earliest opportunity. So he will go up on Tuesday for his morning appointment, meet me at 1 o'clock to view a sale and then we'll come home on the 2.30 train. I, on the other hand, will hope (this is British Rail, hope is the operative word) to get in at 10.24 on Monday, meet Martin and Wendz at the Wallace collection - I haven't been there for years and years and there is, in addition, a loan exhibition from the Louvre at present. On Tuesday morning, I hope to go to the Russian loan exhibition at the Royal Academy. I'll spend the night with El and Phil. I am prepared to be delighted.

With all the Tales of Yore I've been telling, you know nothing about the events of the week. One of the highlights was seeing two barn owls, within a minute of each other, flying in front of my car. Barn owls are so beautiful and one doesn't see them that often - largely, of course, because they are nocturnal. This was at about 4.30 and the day was just drifting towards dusk.

At the time, I was on my way to Norwich to meet Ro and go to the cinema. We saw No Country for Old Men, the current Coen brothers' film. We thought it was very good indeed, with some excellent performances and no duds, and some cracking dialogue. We were falling about with laughter (though it was very understated and dry, don't expect wisecracks) between bloodbaths, and there was a truly disturbing villain, who started off appearing to be a psycopath and then turned out to be more complex than that, and with a worrying charm, on occasion. If you like the Coen brothers and you don't mind a lot of nasty deaths, you'll be fine. If you are a gentler soul, don't go there. There was one scene (bullet being extracted from self) which I couldn't watch, and I am not that squeamish.

Ooh, I'm watching television and Javier Bardem (the villain) just won a BAFTA. Well deserved, and I'd have said the same if Tommy Lee Jones (the sheriff) had won it.

We duly celebrated our 35th engagement anniversary last night, with fillet steak, spinach, fried potatoes, sprouting broccoli, parsnips, mushrooms and tomatoes, followed by pineapple (this being a pudding-free zone). I asked the butcher if he had fillet steak - "yes, but you might need a mortgage" he replied. "Money no object" I declared expansively. He's waiting for our actual anniversary in May, as he hopes to retire on the proceeds.

Today, I ate cake. Jo was on coffee rota and she'd make one specially - what's a girl to do? It was only polite - and delicious to boot. Afterwards, I couldn't manage lunch (three months without cake and even a small slice is surprisingly filling), and ate rice cakes and plain yoghurt and only felt moderately wicked.

Last episode - the honeymoon

It was drizzling when we set off for Yorkshire, but the sun came out as we headed North and at some time we stopped for a while and canoodled in a field. We stayed in Settle, I think, that night. The next day, the Sage wanted to explore the local antique shops and he was pleased to find two Victorian vesta boxes - Americans might know them better as matchsafes - which he bought. He said I was bringing him luck already.

We'd got married on Thursday. On Saturday, he wondered, casually, if it'd be all right to go home by way of Bristol. Bristol is not, by any stretch of the imagination, on the way home to Lowestoft from Yorkshire. There was a picture he wanted to look at...

We set off, arrived in the area by late afternoon and started to look for a hotel. Late May, we didn't think there would be a problem, but there wasn't a room to be had. It seemed that the local Cider Festival was on and throngs of merry scrumpy-drinkers had converged on the West Country. However, as always, our luck was in. We stopped at a pretty little hotel by a stream and went in, rather hopelessly, to ask. The proprietor was dialling a number (phones still had dials then, it was before the era of keypads) and put the telephone receiver (phones still had receivers then, it was before the era of all-in-one telephone/keypads) down to speak to us. "I was just ringing the Tourist Board" he said. "I've got a single and a double room left - they were booked but the people haven't turned up." We took the double, of course, and were grateful - he reckoned that they were probably the last rooms left in the area as everywhere had been booked out for weeks.

Later, in the bar, an elderly chap was engaging people in conversation. He had a settled air to him, and it turned out that he was a permanent resident. We gained the impression from the hotelier that this was a mixed blessing...

The next day, we found the house where the elderly couple were selling the picture. The Sage wanted to buy it, and a price was agreed. They were very anxious to sell us another rather odd oil painting. It was of a sharp-faced old man sitting at a table, counting his piles of money. We didn't really want it, but they were insistent, and the Sage offered a fiver. He was a bit embarrassed when they accepted it, but afterwards told me that he had hardly enough money left for petrol and couldn't offer more (this was before the era of cashpoints and it was a Sunday when banks are closed).

We still had our wedding celebration party in August, and our Seychelles honeymoon afterwards. There were thirteen rupees to the pound, I remember, and the easiest way to convert was to think in units of one shilling and sixpence.

Saturday, 9 February 2008

A belle on her toes (you knew that was coming, didn't you?)

The only fly in the ointment was the prospect of this big wedding. It was so boring, having to plan guest lists, choose the invitation cards (engraved, obviously, darlings), think about a dress when I really wasn't bothered about any of it. I wanted to be married, not to get married.

On a practical level, there wasn't too much else to fuss about. The Sprout already had a house and my mother and I busied ourselves buying new towels and saucepans and the like. He and I chose a bed and a washing machine. We had enough money for what we needed - perfectly happy with passed-on part dinner services from family and that sort of thing, although my in-laws bought us a 'best' dinner service as a wedding present. My mother bought, from the Sprout (who was an auctioneer) a Victorian silver set of cutlery, which fortuitously came up for sale at the right time.

My heart was still not in this wedding nonsense. I wasn't fussed about a church wedding, even a small private one would be too much for me. I really was very shy, but it's not just that. I just hate a ceremony that revolves around me. I still do. I was looking forward to the party, just so long as it wasn't called a wedding reception.

My mother was completely sympathetic. She said that, if we wanted to elope, she'd hold the ladder.

By the time three months had passed, the Sprout could see what we had meant. Every day there seemed to be more decisions to make. And now that he'd got his gorgeous new fiancée, he didn't want to wait. Finally, he suggested we call off the wedding - and surprise everyone by turning up married. His parents were going on holiday to Scotland - wouldn't it be fun to get married the day after they left and turn up at their hotel as a surprise.

No, I said, it wouldn't. I was not going to start married life by upsetting my mother-in-law like that. We'd get married the day before they left and invite them.

And that's just what we did. The Sprout got a licence - I had to show my birth certificate to prove I was over 18. I don't know what his parents thought about the whole thing, but they turned up, smiling cheerfully. My mother came too of course, and they took her out to lunch afterwards. I apologised to my sister for not inviting her, but then I'd have had to ask the Sprout's sister and family, and they would have made a fuss with confetti and photos and such nonsense, and I wasn't having that.

I'd been to London, looking for clothes, but I couldn't find a thing I liked. Then my mother and I went over to Great Yarmouth in search of something to wear. I bought a yellow and white mini-dress, with a big white collar, and a light coat - I wonder what colour écru is? It was not cream or beige or white, maybe it was écru. Both were very useful and I wore them for years. I suppose they are still in the attic somewhere, but probably rather eaten by mice. The dress, by the way, cost £5, which was cheap even for 1973.

After the wedding, the Sage* and I left for a weekend honeymoon in Yorkshire.

*You see, he earned his new title the moment he married me...

Friday, 8 February 2008

Ring on her finger

My mother took it well, although she would have been justified in asking us to wait. There had been a thirteen year age gap between her and my father, so she was not shocked by that, but I was only nineteen and we'd had an odd and unhappy three years since my father's death, so it could well be thought that I was not in a good position to know my mind, let alone decide my entire future. However, she said how pleased she was, and the next morning, which was a Saturday, I went off to work at the town library.

I didn't tell anyone. At lunchtime, the Sprout and I had arranged to meet in his office, which was five minutes walk away. He had been over to his parents' house (which was here, where we now live) to tell them. He mentioned an engagement ring - would I like to choose one, or would I like a family ring? I said a family ring, and he produced a box from his pocket. In it was a beautiful diamond and sapphire ring, set in platinum. He placed it on my finger, and it fitted.

Afterwards, I went back to work. I didn't say anything, but it wasn't long before someone noticed and I became the centre of attention.

When we discussed a wedding date, I wanted to make it soon, and a small occasion. The Sprout was unsure. He thought it would be expected that we'd make a bit of a splash; his brother had got married in Australia a year or so earlier and not told anyone until afterwards, and he knew his mother had been disappointed. In the end, it was decided that we'd get married in August, with a reception at the Yacht Club and a honeymoon in the Seychelles.

Most of you will probably wonder why I did so blithely tumble into matrimony. I hadn't had it on my mind at all, up until then. I'd have been quite horrified at the idea, in fact. But I hadn't hesitated for a moment, and in the weeks that followed I had no doubts at all.

I'm sure my father's death and subsequent disasters did have something to do with it - not that I was looking for a father-figure; I really don't think that was it at all. It was more that it had jolted me out of my age group and I was quite impatient with adolescent interests. A Latin teacher, a year earlier, had said (regarding a Roman writer) "I've always liked Horace. They say that you have to be middle-aged to appreciate him, but I think I was born middle-aged." I've blogged about this before - it gave me a shock of recognition, that your mental age group doesn't necessarily reflect your age, and I found this reassuring and comforting when I felt out of kilter with people.

I've always made the most important decisions in life quickly and instinctively. As I said before, I knew the Sprout as a friend already. I'd had casual relationships - and knew that they were; there had been one chap I'd rather fallen for, but it was leading nowhere and I didn't expect it to - and one more serious one; but I knew in my heart that we were only playing, as it were. When that finished (he finished it; his mother thought that I wasn't a good influence, heh heh*) I wasn't actually too bothered. Although he was four years older than me, he was a boy and I wasn't a girl. The Sage was different. He was interesting, well-rounded, he knew a lot about a wide range of subjects, and could talk to anyone about anything. He wasn't after a casual relationship and neither of us was the sort to waste time. We're not impulsive, but we are both decisive when it matters, and cautious the rest of the time.

Marriage, though - you might wonder why we didn't live together. Well, this was out of the question, for one thing. My mother and his parents would both have been horrified. My mother, for a start, would ask how much he actually loved me, if he didn't want to marry me? And I would have too. I have high expectations. I want and expect to be adored, and that includes total commitment. And I'd found the man who met my expectations and I saw no point at all in waiting.

*Actually, she had a point. I was a bit reckless. A bit of an Ado Annie at heart - though don't read too much into that. Head ruled heart, even if I was impulsive.

I'm jist a girl who cain't say no,
I'm in a turrible fix.
I always say "come on, le's go"
Jist when I orta say nix!
When a person tries to kiss a girl,
I know she orta give his face a smack.
But as soon as someone kisses me,
I somehow, sorta, wanta kiss him back!
I'm jist a fool when lights are low
I cain't be prissy and quaint
I ain't the type that can faint
How c'n I be whut I ain't?
I cain't say no!
Whut you goin' to do when a feller gits flirty, and starts to talk purty?
Whut you goin' to do?
S'posin' 'at he says 'at yer lips're like cherries, er roses, er berries?
Whut you goin' to do?
S'posin' 'at he says 'at you're sweeter 'n cream,
And he's gotta have cream er die?
Whut you goin' to do when he talks that way,
Spit in his eye?


By the way, I don't have an Oklahoma accent. Read this, please, in Received Pronunciation.

PS - I've changed this post several times, so if you get a previous one via a RSS feed, bear with me. And if you didn't, don't worry - you haven't missed any spectacular revelations.

Thursday, 7 February 2008

Z Wallows in Sentiment

Righto. I've looked it up. And the magical evening was on Friday, 9th February, 1973.

It was awfully romantic*. There had been an exhibition on at Christie's, the auctioneers, called Fanfare into Europe, in the middle of January. The Sage was going, with his friend Arthur, and asked if I'd like to go along too. The Sage (he was, at this stage, the Sprout) had become good friends with our family over the past three years - we met him very shortly after my father died. His father was our family solicitor and the Sprout had asked my father to propose him for membership of the Yacht Club, which he'd done. When daddy died, he called round to say how sorry he was, and we all took to each other. I was only sixteen at this point, and the Sprout was over thirty, so romance was not in the air.

But we went to the exhibition, and we hit it off. So, a couple of days later, the Sprout rang and asked if I'd like to go to London again. We did whatever he was there to do - probably viewed an auction - and called in at the shop of his lovely friends Norman and Barbara, in the Old Brompton Road. Norman was also a professional musician - apart from other things, he was Morecambe and Wise's pianist, and he also played at the Ritz. Barbara told me afterwards that the Sprout had never brought a woman to meet them before, and they were very intrigued.

We still got on well, and the next thing, we went out for dinner. He held my hand in the car on the way home. I was enchanted. I soon realised that I was being wooed. Now, even in 1973, wooing didn't really happen. He was older than former boyfriends and entirely more charming.

But I'm romantic with instinctive limits, you see. I'd not have taken this very seriously if I hadn't already known, liked and trusted him.

So, this Friday night. There was an art gallery at Long Melford and an exhibition was being held and there was a picture he was interested in - not for himself, actually, for a friend, but the friend decided against the picture so we've still got it. We had dinner afterwards, and then drove home. We *cough* stopped in a layby to talk for a while, and the atmosphere became rather heady. We both knew what he was going to say, but he was very nervous.

He came to the point. "Will you..."


"Will you..."


"Will you marry me?"

Indeed, I said it a third time. He drove me home. I told my mother - it was well after midnight by this time, but she never went to sleep until I was back.

Okay, the rest tomorrow.

*well, no it wasn't really

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Z hasn't given up blogging for Lent

Sometime around now is the 35th anniversary of the Sage and my engagement. One of these years I really will work out the date. It'd be easy enough with an online everlasting calendar.

Val's husband says they still haven't diagnosed what's wrong with her. She's a little better but still in hospital. There are no staff holidays booked for the next six weeks so they're all right in the shop at present, but he knows that the Sage is willing to help with deliveries, and I in the shop and he's welcome to call on us. I don't know whole lots about pet food, but it can't be that hard and I can do tills and convert weights from pounds to kilos and that sort of thing.

Interviewing at the high school this morning, and it was one of those happy occasions when we looked at each other at the end and knew who was streets ahead of the rest. We'd hoped to make a second appointment (it was an internal appointment and her job wil be vacant), but no one was quite right to slot in, so at least the most important one was filled. When I went out to the car park, she was getting something out of her car and she thanked me - I assured her that it was absolutely on merit. In fact, after she answered one question, there was a pause until I realised everyone was looking at me to ask the next question - I was still pondering her excellent answer and had quite lost the thread.

After that, I babysat all day. Lunch and tea. And a visit to the playground, and a bounce on my bed and other childish pursuits. Most enjoyable. The children are fabulous. Squiffany says that I'm her favourite girl and when she's grown up (bigger than mummy or daddy or grandpa) and I'm little (it seems that I'm due to be a shrunken old lady) she will look after me.

Ro and I are meeting in Norwich after he finishes work tomorrow to go to the cinema. This hardly seems worthy of note, but I haven't been to see a film for about six months. The local theatre shows two films, each on one night, every week, and I must start going there. If I just start, I'd soon get into the habit.

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Z sits on the Sage's shoulder...

It was a very windy night. The wind yowled down the bedroom chimney behind our bed. I couldn't sleep. I dozed fitfully for a couple of hours, but then lay awake for a long time. By 4.30, I felt restless - and so did the Sage. The wind was keeping him awake too.

Restlessness is not a bad thing when you're in bed with someone you're rather keen on, with time to spare. We used it well. A good game of scrabble *cough* is splendid when you can't sleep, and afterwards we relaxed and napped soundly for a couple of hours.

I admitted defeat at this morning's meeting and didn't even wait to be asked, but offered to carry on as chairman for another year. I really can't bear to be coy and don't play hard to get for the sake of it. This afternoon's meeting was school governors and this evening's (at least it's social and not a committee) is the WI.

Of course, this means I'll be out on Pancake Day. I offered to leave the batter for the Sage and Ro to make their pancakes, but they say it won't be the same without me, and they'll wait until tomorrow. We all take our share of cooking and tossing, so it's not that they expect me to do the work. I think that's rather sweet. It's a good job we don't observe Lent in a giving-up sort of way.

I went to a Roman Catholic school, you see, and I've always associated this sort of thing, like being marked on the forehead with ash on Ash Wednesday, with over-the-top, heart-on-sleeve religiosity. I'm not saying it is, please understand, it's just an instinctive prejudice that results from 13 years in a convent school. I don't see the point in giving something up just for the sake of it - I mean, if you give up chocolate and then are pleased that you've lost weight, it's a benefit not a sacrifice. One year I did make the effort to do some positive 'good' thing every day, which was arguably worthwhile - but then, if it's so good, why wait for Lent? And I've already given up chocolate, biscuits, cake etc and frankly it hasn't hurt.

Mind you, today I thought I'd have to give up lunch, and that did hurt. I had put a packet of rice cakes and a banana in a bag, but then left it at home. Fortunately, the governors had had a sandwich lunch because they were being shown round the Skills Centre before the meeting (I'd already had a conducted tour) and there were a few left. There's always splendid nosh at WI, so I have left fish for the Sage and Ro and just had a glass of wine myself. And a couple of rice cakes, of course.

Apologies to all for the vulgarity of this post's title. But hey, would you have resisted?

Monday, 4 February 2008

The downside of self-employment

Last week, Val from the pet shop collapsed at work - a considerate employer, she warned her assistant that she suddenly had an awful pain and might faint, and promptly did so. She's been in hospital ever since and she's on morphine for the pain. The Sage went in to ask her husband how she is, and he's very anxious. For her right now of course, but also about the shop. She's been told she won't be able to come back to work for three months.

They have two shops and run one each, and she does all the paperwork for both.

He has no idea how he'll manage. I suspect that Val will have to start paperwork as soon as she's able to sit up. No rest for the self-employed - even if they are insured against sickness, it's the books and the ordering that only she knows how to do.

You'll notice that there's a suitably dull title for the post. I have taken Dave's just criticism to heart.

Sunday, 3 February 2008

Z is chicken, but at least I didn't sit on the Sage's shoulder

It was cold and windy this morning and i didn't cycle in for the papers. I wonder if this demonstrates simple common sense or a slip into laziness. I don't care a lot, I only wonder. In the 15 minutes I saved - no, I drove in instead, so I only saved about 8 minutes - I wrote up some notes I had said I'd take along to the church this morning, so I didn't waste time in fun or jollities. Fool.

A friend gave me a present. A rather attractive rosewood pen in a matching box. Isn't that adorable of him? It is the friend I went out with last Sunday, when he bought late Christmas presents for all his grandchildren. He said he had enjoyed the day so much and his new stick was his memento and this is mine. I'm a bit embarrassed - after all, he took me out, which was my treat - but charmed too, of course.

I think I mentioned that the Sage has been visiting a friend in hospital. Yesterday, he asked me to go with him to her house, as he was concerned that stuff in her fridge was going off after more than a week. Indeed, a lot of it had and I chucked it. Assuming she becomes well enough to return in the near future, it'll be more help to her to replace it with some home-cooked meals to save her having to think about food for a bit. She has a couple of cats which come in and out of the house but sleep in the barn - Dolly, the tamer one, came in and was very anxious to be cuddled. I really rather fell for her and was reluctant to leave her. Of course, if it were a dog, someone would have had to take her in at once, but it's not so easy with a cat. Tilly would be all right (vastly jealous, but she's well-mannered), but she'd not know her way around and might stray and, being used to being outside most of the time, she'd hate to be kept in. Neighbours go in night and morning and so does the Sage, and they make a fuss of her then. The Sage is also looking after the chickens. He takes them warm oatmeal porridge on these cold mornings. They love it. One fluttered up onto his shoulder this morning.

The cottage is in a lovely location, but it's really off the road. There's a shared drive, which then divides into two leading to her neighbour and her own house. Very quiet, with fields all around - and three miles of rather poor road into town. Easy to be cut off in poor weather and she knows she'll have to give up driving soon - she was planning that before she became ill. She's lived in that house for 60 years, since she married. She never had children - she loved her dairy cows and said the calves were her children. They lived a natural life-span, up to thirty years as she cared for them so well. Very different from dairy farms nowadays.

Saturday, 2 February 2008

It was a Saturday night like JonnyB's!!(!)

The phone rang! Ring, ring, ring!!(!)

No one had remembered to tell us until this morning that tonight was to be the Denton Annual Quiz. We were not in the least deterred by the realisation (hmm) that we had been completely overlooked, but acknowledged that, as it's a Saturday night, obviously we were all free and said we'd go.

I went to ask Ro if he would like to come. He was working on his computer. It was actual techie sort of stuff, I didn't understand anything written on the screen. He said he had work to do so he wouldn't come. In that case, I said, would he babysit? I outsmarted him there, I think...

We didn't do as well as usual, coming about half-way down the field, but maybe they have been practising. Last year we came second. Mind you, we were the only other team of four, the others all had at least six. We found we didn't mind. The drinks are splendidly cheap there. A pint of lager, a pint of proper beer, a J2O and a Bacardi Breezer came to £5.50.

Is in and out in or out?

I knew I was edging towards the controversial when I mentioned waist size - I wasn't actually referring to the way belts are more often worn now, at about pelvis level. I assume that a waist measurement still means the smallest part of the middle. And the fact is that a much larger size is the norm than it used to be.

For example, a while ago I read a quote from Fergie (the Duchess, not the Black Eyed Pea) saying that she'd worked hard to get a 29" waist and she was proud of it. And only a week or two ago, I read that Victoria Beckham has an unhealthily tiny 24" waist. But my own waist measures 28" and is not small so that's obviously nonsense as she is very thin indeed.

I'm not remarking on what a woman's waist 'should' measure, or what is fat, thin or just right. This really isn't my point at all, and being a quarter of the way into my intended weight loss, I may be quite pleased about myself right now, but I still wish I hadn't spent my forties putting on two bloody stone that now need to be shed and which are responsible for the pain I now am in when I walk (though not for the arthritis, which simply happened, as stuff does).

No, what takes my attention, and the Chairwoman, my contemporary, feels the same, is the speed with which 'normal' body shapes have changed and that pundits seem to have forgotten that. That's what's odd, not what size or shape anyone is but that our shapes seem to have changed to fit the fashion. This is understandable, I suppose, in some respects because, whether or not we wore panty-girdles or whatever you wish to call them, we had waistbands. Not elasticated either. You had a firm band of cloth around your middle and you did hold your tummy in, so it constricted your waist. The girdle wouldn't actually hold in the waist, because that was where it finished - if anything, it would leave a little roll of flesh above - it was tightening of the bottom and holding in the tum that was its purpose. But those of us in our teens and twenties 40 years ago didn't want to wear the constricting underwear that our mothers did, but we still thought that having a waist and a fairly flat stomach were desirable.

There's another thing - back when I was a girl, big busts were out. Or rather, they were not 'in'. I was spot on there, and never had more than an A cup, but not many people did - A or B was the norm. Even 20 years ago, I often didn't wear a bra in hot weather, and I am sure no one noticed (girls, don't believe a word anyone says about breastfeeding making you sag, it isn't true). But now, we want bigger breasts and, looking around, lots of us seem to have obliged. We can't all have had enlargements? I haven't, and I've been various sizes at different times in my life, but it's only been in the past few years that I've burgeoned in that respect. There's one of the girls, for example, at the hairdresser. She's fit and sporty and works out regularly. I'll guess her hips measure 34". But she hasn't a waist, she's straight as a boy. Not in the chest area though, where she's well endowed.

I said in yesterday's comments that, as a teenager, I thought I was fat. Small bust, slim waist, where did I think I was going wrong? Ah, but everyone had those. I had hips. Just natural, curvy ones, but certainly hips. And I thought my legs were fat. They just weren't thin. I'd have been too self-conscious to have my photo taken, but maybe if I had I'd have realised. Sad, isn't it? Just as well that I now know it doesn't really matter anyway...pity I didn't then.

Friday, 1 February 2008

Z removes her clothes in public

It should have snowed, and Ro said that it was snowing in Norwich when he left work, but it's a cold, bleak rain here tonight. If it freezes, as is forecast, the roads will be treacherous. The Sage went to visit his friend in hospital and I asked him not to be too long as the roads could be nasty - he was dismissive at the time, but arrived home in good time, as he had found that he agreed with me after all.

Dilly and I took the children swimming this afternoon, after a morning in Norwich. They both enjoyed it. Pugsley hasn't been often before as it's not that easy managing two together. I have suggested (blimey, I'm a fool) that I might take him along on Wednesday afternoons when I'm looking after him during Squiffany's dancing lesson. I don't like swimming pools much, but I can do it. And after all, then I can pretend I'm taking exercise. I'm considering going along on my own account, but the pool's at the top of a hill - okay, a Suffolk hill, which is not exactly exacting, but it's a bit much for me as yet.

Elizabeth, a sporty friend of mine, was giving a lesson in a roped-off length of the pool. I shuddered at the sight of these vigorous little children, all getting their hair wet and everything. They seemed to like it.

I wanted to buy a belt as my clothes are settling a few inches lower than usual. It's remarkable how big most belts are. I'm not exactly small, but many of them would go round me twice. In the end, I found some on the market, labelled 24"-30", £3 each or two for £5. I put one on, it fitted, I bought two. A lifetime's supply, unless my waist diminishes below 24". Which seems to be considered tiny now, but was par for the course in my young day.