Sunday 30 April 2006

And now I've told you too, I can't back out

I’ve caught up with the work in the greenhouse; that is, there’s still a good deal to do as the tomatoes need potting on any day now and once seedlings emerge they will need things doing to them; but I’ve potted up everything that is ready and sown all seeds for now. Since I was so late starting, everything will be a little late for a while, but it all catches up in the end.

The soil in the garden dries out very quickly, being sand on gravel and therefore I can’t just sow seeds and expect them to come up. Unless I get them in early enough while there’s still moisture in the ground, they just don’t germinate. So that is why I now have about 375 peas sown in the greenhouse. As well as beans, spinach and all the rest. I know this seems absurd, but I’ve learned from 30 years of vegetable growing what works and what doesn’t. In fact, this garden is not as dry as my last, which was about 50 yards from the beach in Lowestoft and was really sandy.

The kitchen garden looks extremely untidy in parts just now and I can’t see that improving much for some time. In the long run it will be larger and better, but we aren’t very quick to finish things. We keep getting sidetracked by the necessities of living everyday life.

It all started with a whim on my part, about 18 months ago. I decided, and I can’t quite remember why now, that I wanted to try my hand at bricklaying. Since the Sage and I egg each other on in daft plans, this idea was kept in a dark warm place all winter and by last spring it was sprouting all over the place. The upshot of it was that we decided to build a wall for the vegetable garden. My veg garden is a splendid creation; it has 6 beds, each 4 feet wide by 38 feet long with 2 feet wide concrete paths between them. Then there is another squarish bit for artichokes (Jerusalem and Globe) and runner beans. On two sides, opposite each other, at right angles to the long beds (with me so far?) are greenhouses. One is 30 feet long and, the other side of the garden, the other two are 30 feet and 40 feet long. On one of the other two sides is a fruit garden, then a stream; on the other are the compost heaps and the drive.

The wall will go down the drive side and then round the corner towards the single greenhouse. About 100 feet long and 5 feet high. This will enlarge the veg garden somewhat as we might as well make use of the space available. We employed a bricklayer to lay the first few courses of masonry bricks so that we’d have a sound start and I’m to do the rest. I was telling a couple of friends about the plans, in the pub last summer. One of them said “let’s see your hands then” – they looked at my small and tender hands, looked at each other and their lips twitched…..but they are supportive really (that is, if they laugh it is behind my back). Indeed, one of them helpfully gave me some gloves and has lent me a spirit level and bricklayer’s trowel. Which he won’t get back anytime soon, I’m sorry to say.

There is just one thing stopping me thinking about getting started: we haven’t chosen the bricks yet. We found some that meet my unexacting standards, but not the Sage’s. It may still take some time; he is very patient.

The good thing is that we complement each other. He is careful and painstaking at the start of a project, but tends to lose interest before the end and, when it’s 85% completed, say “that’ll do for now, I’ll finish it later” and of course he never does. I leap in cheerily, all unprepared and make mistakes at the start because, well, too much preparation is boring, isn’t it; but I am then quite tenacious and complete the job. But when that will be is another matter. I think two years, but I really don’t know if that makes me wildly optimistic or ludicrously underambitious. It’ll have to be done though, I’ve told too many people.

Humbled, yet proud

On the telephone -
"Greavsie left a remark in your comments box"
"Mm, a sarcastic one though"
"Sure, but GREAVSIE left a remark in your comments box"
"Yes, I was thrilled"

Saturday 29 April 2006

Lucky no one was sunbathing

Taken from a church tower. When I took this photo it was of the rooftops. I didn't notice the roofgarden until later.

Rabbit fool and spinach

I was rabbiting on, which isn't unusual, at a party. I like to give good value at a social occasion; I think it is only polite, when a host has gone to trouble and been kind enough to invite me, to not let conversation flag. Although listening and responding to others' bon mots is important too. Goodness, I hope I don't monopolise the conversation *moment of agonised introspection* because, after all, I am doing that here rather. Maybe it's time I reoffered that guest spot to my chum Ab.

Anyway, the friend to whom I rabbited said, in admiring sort of way "I should think you don't suffer fools gladly." I was mortified. He did mean it as a compliment, from the way he said it, but I was upset to think that a. I'd looked like a smartarse and b. like an intolerant one to boot. "No, no," I said, " I love fools, I feel warmly drawn to them." And it's true, not least because I'm one of them myself and I really hope that people will be tolerant of me too.

I think, on an entirely different subject (lucky this isn't one of those organised sort of blogs, with categories) that I am starting to feel reinthused about the vegetables. This morning, I've picked and taken to the shop, a whole box of spinach and am now proudly imagining the pleasure it is giving to Al's happy customers. 'Ooh, your own spinach, picked this morning, how lovely'. It is last years (spinach beet, not true spinach which goes to seed in no time and has to be continually re-sown, which does not suit my style of gardening at all) and, having overwintered, will, in a few weeks, go to seed. By that time the new season's crop should be ready.

I feel all keen and nurturing and will go and work in the garden. Have a good weekend.

Friday 28 April 2006

Memento mori

One of my occasional duties is to play the organ at funerals in the village church. Today's funeral was that of the aged aunt of a friend of mine. She was, it appears, a brilliant and feisty woman who led a dashing and quite unusual life.

By the nature of funerals, most of them are for old people and, even if you have known them, you often don't realise just how interesting their lives have been and how notable have been their accomplishments. There may have been a particular event that stands out - like Violet, who received a medal for running down the railway track to successfully stop a train before it crashed into the car accident at the crossing gate. It might be a whole life story, like Doreen, who lived all her eighty years on the same farm, and in whose memory Flixton church was packed yesterday. There have been people I did not know in their lifetime, but by the end of whose funeral I have felt a sense of loss, that I have forever missed the opportunity to meet them.

I was chatting, a while ago, to the wife of our former Rector and we admitted that we had both, ages ago, chosen our funeral hymns. But neither of us has told anyone what they are. It seems a bit premature and maybe too self-absorbed. But I was quite cheered - she seems quite normal really, but she is actually as illogical as I am.

Thursday 27 April 2006

But it's only a bit of rust ---

Oh dear. Son's car has failed its MOT, for several reasons - i.e. it's not worth having the repairs done.

He bought it last summer on Ebay. He also bought it from a friend and near neighbour who, if she had known Ro was looking for a car, would undoubtedly have given him first refusal. It was an elderly Metro, whose most interesting feature was the leather Saab seats; friend's son had written off her very nice car a couple of years back and they were salvaged.

So, Ro is in the market for a car, fairly promptly; at present he's borrowing his father's, who's borrowing mine. But it needs to be smallish and oldish, so that the insurance isn't horrendous. Correction: it will be horrendous in any case: so that it isn't unaffordable.

But I'm not sure that one can blame the insurance companies. A friend was lamenting to me that her son has just been caught drink driving and banned for 26 months. Ouch. Idiot. He's only 21 and has already, when sober, wrapped a car round a lamp-post because he misjudged a bend. He has lost his job 10 miles away and, although he has got another, his parents are refusing to give him a lift and making him walk.

Can't say he doesn't deserve it. I do not suggest his mother was upset because he was caught, but because he did it. However, he didn't hurt anyone and was not hurt himself; it was a spot check coming out of the pub car park. So he's lucky really, even if he feels hard done by at present.

Churchyard chickens

I'm always talking about the chickens, so here is their history.

About 16 years ago someone dumped a flock of bantams in the churchyard. Maybe they thought the birds could fend for themselves; they were reasonably safe as it's enclosed by railings, a wall and hedges (no, no, it's not Colditz, I mean one or another on each boundary). However, it was November and both food and shelter were another matter.

So my husband, a hind-hearted man and a bird lover, started to feed them. But winter approached and one day we found a dead chicken, killed by the cold. So the next week or two was spent sneaking out at night catching chickens which were roosting in the trees and bushes. My teenagers found this great fun. We built a henhouse and a run and they settled down.

Of course, once the spring came, they started to get broody and before long we had our first hatching of chicks. The run was extended. And again.

They are particularly sweet-natured birds - they never peck - and very good mothers. Sometimes, a friend with some smart pedigree birds which are a bit clueless about sitting on eggs or looking after chicks asks us to hatch a clutch of eggs for them. One puzzled bird found herself sitting on a pair of goose eggs - only one hatched but she must have been most impressed to land up with a chick almost as big as she was. I inherited Goosey from my mother (and promptly passed him on to my son) and he now lives in a run next to the bantams, but they visit him.

Sometimes a newly hatched chick is frail and exhausted and comes and spends a few hours in a box on the Aga (the traditional bottom oven is too warm) or inside my bra - well, it likes to hear my heartbeat. And if a bantam is a bit poorly she is brought into the house each evening for a morsel of cheese.

We started with about 15 birds and the number we have now fluctuates between about 30 and 40. Sometimes we are visited by a fox but otherwise we keep them until they die of old age. The eggs are lovely, small - if the recipe says 2 eggs I'd use 3 - with beautiful deep yellow yolks. They mostly live on wheat and household scraps and whatever they find in the garden. They are free-range; they do have a large wire run to give them some protection from dogs and to keep most of them together, but they wander round the garden too.

Wednesday 26 April 2006

Undignified collapse of chugger

Just got back from my fifth meeting in two days, having done homework from last and preparation for next in the meantime. I can do efficient after all. I found myself chairing the last, unexpectedly, which was good as it meant we finished half an hour early and were back in the hall swigging wine and scoffing cheese while there was still plenty there (we look after ourselves in Norfolk villages) rather than finishing late and only finding a couple of cream crackers and dregs.

I'm being Granny tomorrow. And so looking forward to it. Although I realise I haven't thought about anything for lunch, so it'll be an egg again. My babies almost lived on egg, banana and avocado as they were quick, easy and available.

I don't know what's up with Hotmail, but I can't access emails. Ho hum. I can get on to MSN and I can sign in to my business email account, but not my personal one. I don't suppose there's anything vital. Although, isn't it dreary when you don't check emails for a few days and find you've got dozens to trawl through. Most of which are junk or trivial.

At least you know who they are from, so have some idea if they are worth reading. Not like innocently answering the phone and finding that it is a poor cold caller on minimum wage who you don't want to be rude to but will on no account buy from.

My mother, at the end of her life, finally found the perfect answer to cold callers. She had returned home from hospital, having received what she called her Death Sentence (and it was, but she said it in CAPITALS). My sister and I were sitting in her bedroom, drinking tea and keeping each other's spirits up when the phone rang. She answered. It was a charity caller wanting her to sell raffle tickets. My mum explained politely that she was just out of hospital, she was really quite ill and it was not possible for her to sell tickets, however good the cause was. "There's no hurry" said the lass brightly, "we've got to December 17th." "Unfortunately," said my mother with great dignity, "I may not have until December 17th." Apologies and confusion from caller, who rapidly said goodbye. My sister, my mum and I collapsed with laughter. At last, the perfect response. And it was true (far too bad taste to say if it were not). What had been, moments before, a tragedy, was suddenly the best line ever to put off chuggers (charity muggers, has the phrase spread beyond England?). The phone rang again. Mummy answered. Said hello, then, kindly, please don't worry, goodbye.

The lass had accidentally rung the same number again. We fell off our chairs. Tears of laughter flowed.

When the going gets tough, black humour is the best medicine.

Tuesday 25 April 2006

Hatched this morning

Fill the cup and don't say when

I'm having great difficulty in finding the drive to catch up with work in the garden this spring. Gardening, to me, is growing vegetables, as I expect flowers and girly stuff like that to be able to manage on its own - also I have been discouraged by 20 years of living with ground elder and, as it can't be got rid of - not when it's among shrubs - I ignore it except to notice that the flowers are actually quite pretty.

But vegetable growing is my passion. So what, strictly in gardening terms of course, has happened to my libido?

I have thought of several reasons, such as the cold spring which has made everything late, the succession of colds I've had which make me wheeze if I exert myself (well, unless it's something I really want to do, in which case I seem to find the breath and the energy) and the fact that, now I grow veg for the shop it's turned into a job instead of a hobby. I've even wondered if, now there's a baby in the family I am directing all my caring and nurturing side to her and no longer need to raise plants - but that seems a bit fanciful.

I think, perhaps, it's a reflection of the rest of my life. Gardening used to be how I relaxed. I longed to get out into the greenhouse, to pot up seedlings and tend the plants, to check, eagerly, how each radish and lettuce was growing and anticipate, dribblingly, the day when I could pick the first of the new harvest. A whole meal would be planned around baby broad beans, asparagus, tiny new potatoes. And I'm sure that, when that time comes in a few weeks, I will be just as excited (look, I lead a dull enough life for that to be how I get my kicks).

When my children were little and squabbled, the greenhouse was my refuge. Anyone was welcome to come and join me, to work or chat or just watch, but tranquillity was insisted upon. It was no use to come and complain about little brother or big sister, it was not allowed. And later there were other tensions and stresses. Now, these don't exist. Middle age is rather an enjoyable place to be. My children are grown up and lovely and no longer dependent on me, I no longer have aged parents to be responsible for (yes, this is two-edged, but being a 'carer' is a burden, even if willingly shouldered) and my husband and I run our business in a low-key way that we can easily manage. We're both busy with our various interests, but we can afford to be quite disorganised about it all as we know we can catch up when it matters.

I think I've just said that I've become so lazy that I can't be bothered to pot up the tomatoes. Maybe I should sharpen the razor-blade. Or, as the song concludes, go for the six parts of gin to one part vermouth.

Half past six. Time for a glass of something, certainly. And time to water the greenhouse.

Monday 24 April 2006

If I don't do it, who will?

I’ve just been writing a note to a friend, V, sympathising on the death of her mother. She (mother, not my friend) celebrated her hundredth birthday on 15th April and died on 21st April. Ill though she had been, she managed to hang on for her big day and, considerate in the way we mums are, had no intention of either missing or spoiling the party.

I hope V will, now, be able to learn to relax again. She is always so busy, practically runs her village church single-handed and has been coping by taking on more and more, unable to delegate or accept help, efficiently dealing with all crises and believing that if she takes any time at all off, all those spinning plates will just crash to the ground and with them will go her ability to cope.

Does that sound a bit heart-felt? It’s okay, I got over it.

Sunday 23 April 2006


By the way, forgot to mention that I heard the cuckoo on Friday. And again today. The chap who was talking at the time looked a little startled when I exclaimed "cuckoo!" and I had to explain that I was not expressing an opinion about his state of mind.

I asked the Sage what he would like for dinner and gave him a choice of three dishes which I prepared earlier. "They all sound good" he said hopefully. I assured him he will eat them all in due course and he has selected the minestrone soup and cheese scones.

That's what I'd have chosen too.

Young Daniel is coming to help in the garden tomorrow. Thank goodness. He did sterling work for us last summer when he was supposed to be studying for his GCSEs.

Post in haste .......

There are some people who hone their writing to perfection. There are others who type rapidly and merrily post an entry that makes it look as if they behaved like drunken loons all evening.

I'd like to make it clear that I was not a drunken loon last night. Didn't even behave like one. I sat on the floor, drank whisky and chuckled, it's true, but it was much more restrained than it sounds. My floor-squatting habit dates from childhood, when the chairs were mostly full of dogs, which conveniently left the floor clear for people to sit on, I didn't drink much and only chortled at amusing moments of the film.

Glad to have set the record straight.

Even gladder, this morning, to discover seven bottles of white wine in the fridge that I'd forgotten about. I haven't room in the kitchen for a large enough fridge, so I have a second one in the back lobby where I keep milk, champagne and anything else there isn't room for in Fridge 1. I also, for the last few months, have been housing a third fridge in the porch, little used but in need of a good home. This morning I discovered that Fridge 2 was no longer working. So it will be (safely and legally of course) disposed of and Fridge 3 is happily settling down in its place. But I put bottles of wine in every chilly place at the time of the Rector's leaving party. We mostly drank red on that occasion and I forgot just how much was stashed.

Saturday 22 April 2006


I've spent the last couple of hours being entertained by a film on BBC4 called 'Le Goût Des Autres'. I always have a slight difficulty watching foreign films on television because I habitually read as I half-watch, when it needs all my concentration either to understand the language (if spoken s-l-o-w-l-y and clearly and French) and/or to read the subtitles. So it takes me a while to get into it. However, this one was worth it. Not the most subtle humour; fairly easy targets were chosen, but done gently and good-humouredly.

I might not have noticed it was on, but a friend, who also likes foreign films (I do, but I concentrate better at the cinema), recommended it. But now I've just found an email - it was not the one he thought it was. Well, thanks anyway, Ab, I sat on the floor drinking whisky and chuckling and it was a good way to finish the evening.

The programme has arrived for the Snape Proms in August. It comes hard for an impetuous and disorganised person like me to have to book for concerts over three months ahead. I was busy when the Aldeburgh Festival programme (same venue, same organisation but the Festival in June is the upmarket event - came in February and didn't get around to booking anything. I'll have to look it out and ring to see what's available.

For a long time it was not possible to go away on holiday because of commitments at home and so I regarded the Festival and the Proms as my holiday substitutes and cheerily booked all the concerts I fancied. Now I can go away if I wish, I still enjoy them but don't, as it were, 'need' them and find the 45 minute drive there more offputting than I used to. Well, no, it's not the drive there that is the problem, it's the return journey that can seem an effort.

I usually go on my own, but I don't mind that, nor the cinema. I am less willing to go to the theatre alone, though I'm not quite sure why. Maybe it's a little more formal? And that it's a more sociable occasion? Maybe I should take a book to read in the interval?

No, maybe not.

Friday 21 April 2006

A moment of modest drama

Not a particularly good photo and his distinctive colour doesn't show too well, but it's the best I can do for now.

As I've said, there are pheasants in the fields round the house and the gorgeous golden pheasant is a regular visitor (his colour is a variation on the usual cock pheasant's, he's not a different species). We see four or five cock birds, but never more than one hen.

When I drove home at lunchtime, Golden Pheasant was being followed across the field by the hen bird. And just now, I saw Golden Pheasant and Common or Garden Cock Pheasant looking really cross. I suspect that CoGPh had been making overtures to GoPh's girlfriend. I thought there was going to be a fight and almost stood up (well, don't want to overreact). However, after a minute CogPh capitulated and drooped away, followed by the golden boy looking triumphant.

He's discovered we keep chicken food in the porch so has taken to coming in and helping himself, so now he's been given his own dish.

We spoil that bird? Well yes, but that's good isn't it? You'd do it too, wouldn't you.

Seventh in the queen dorgies stakes

I was told the other day, so of course checked it for myself, that if you enter queen dorgies into Yahoo Search, my comments on designer cross-breeds comes up 7th. This is hardly fame, but I was surprised nevertheless.

It may have been superseded by now by much more important articles on our monarch, in view of this being her Happy Day. I'm not going to check as I've a feeling I would be slightly disappointed if I'd been dropped to the second page. It would be very uncool to be disappointed by something that I'm already embarrassed by feeling a bit gratified about, so it's better not to know.

I was nowhere to be found on Google. Unless you know different.

I'm supposed to be cooking and gardening today; so far I've been shopping, blogging and eating chocolate. My self-motivational skills are slipping.

I bought a new watering can (and other, more fun things, of course). I have plenty of them already, but I don't know what has happened to their roses (the end bit that sprinkles the water gently rather than all 2 gallons deluging the seedlings in one go). I went to the garden centre to buy a new rose and found a whole range. Unfortunately, they all had similar fittings, which said 'fit most watering cans' and I knew, because I'd been caught this way before, that it really meant 'fit most watering cans, except the ones that we actually sell, so if you lose the rose of a watering can that you have bought from us, no good looking here as you have to buy another watering can. From us.'

I suppose they couldn't fit all that on the label.

Wheel they or won't they?

There are plans afoot to have a Big Wheel in Norwich. Like the London Eye, but much smaller, and instead of panoramic views of the Thames and our capital city's great buildings from above, the sightlines will be blocked by the Forum (the grandiose name for the library), St Peter Mancroft Church and City Hall. All fine buildings of course, but you can see them from the ground. It would only be for a few minutes halfway through the ride that you could actually see the view. And the tops of the aforementioned fine buildings.

There are so many flaws in the plan that it surely will not go ahead. It's a busy area already and a popular meeting place. Once most of it is taken up by a wheel, it's not easy to see where the queues of happy holidaymakers, who don't yet know they are in for an anticlimax, will wait.

One wonders why it was even suggested. It so often seems to be the way. Instead of looking for flaws in an idea, amending plans and coming up with a coherent strategy to put forward, councils (and the government, come to that) rush forward with the first half-baked plan that has been suggested and wait for the general public to point out that it won't work.

In fact, the idea of a wheel has gone down quite well, if it were put in a suitable location. What the locals do is go to the top of a multi-storey car park and gaze out admiringly at the array of churches scattered across the city, but you can hardly expect that to be advertised in the tourist brochures. It would seem unsophisticated and disorganised, and we already have Norfolk's 'system' of main roads to display those qualities.

Thursday 20 April 2006

What the baby said

In response to requests. Well, request, but you all want to know don't you.

The usual: mama, dada, animal noises (my daughter was big on animal noises too, she could say moo and baa long before she could enunciate actual words), yes (the s is usually silent), no. Useful phrases are 'oh dear', 'oh no' and 'wow!' Shoes is a new word, because she hasn't had them long and is very proud of them. Milk (silent k) is also new; now she is over a year old she has it (cows' milk, that is), from a cup, night and morning and loves it. She asks for more occasionally in the daytime, usually if she is tired. She also says 'bye' and waves - there may be more words but I'd have to ask her parents. She understands a good many more and replies to questions if you have the good sense to ask in a form she can say yes, no, shoes, whatever, to. When I suggested we visit Daddy, the reply was 'yeh, yeh, dadada', which to my fond ear almost qualifies as a SENTENCE (except it doesn't have a verb).

She was very good all day, but when Mummy arrived home at 5.30 her face lit up, she kissed her over and over and then smiled at me, waved and said 'bye' - well that's all right, I know my limits and my limitations.

Typing with all fingers

Back in business, the new keyboard has arrived. I have rather a quantity of work to catch up on: it was not impossible to send emails, double-clicking painstakingly on each letter, but not having a working space bar made them almost as hard to read as they were to write and business letters were out of the question.

Babysitting today, Grandbaby is having a nap at present. She was tucking enthusiastically into lunch when I realised I hadn't put a bib on her. I took her into the shop to visit her father, who said, "Ah, egg for lunch I see."

He minded her while I went across the road to buy a bib. She sorted out the onions and then put the apples into variety packs. A pity really as he prefers to sell each sort separately, but he can amuse himself this afternoon sorting out the Granny Smiths from the Pink Ladies.

I'm feeling a little distracted at present as I may not have long before I'm back on grandmotherly duties, so I will add more later. Luckily, Gb can say quite a few words now and understand more, so I don't have to guess what I'm expected to do. I can ask and she tells me.

So we're both happy.

Wednesday 19 April 2006



Sunday 16 April 2006

Friday 14 April 2006






Wednesday 12 April 2006

More shopping, sadly.

The keyboard seems to be kaput. I can use half of it, so that's all right if the only vowels I need are a and e. The biggest nuisance is that the space bar doesn't work, so letters sound breathlessly rushed, unless I type one word per line. Or put a full stop between each word, which makes me sound like a robot.

Time to buy a new (waterproof) keyboard, I suppose.

The bishop came tonight. He prefers tea to coffee, is a splendid chap and all went well. I had no idea how many would turn up to the service and provided 70 communion wafers and counted the congregation anxiously in case I would have to scuttle up with reinforcements. 52 present, so, for once, no need to make a fool of myself.

I'm using my son's spare computer at present. Yes, that's the sort of son I have, and I'm grateful for it.

Sorry, this is dreadfully dull and once I'm back in business on a keyboard that doesn't click, I'll probably delete it and write something frightfully witty and entertaining instead. In the meantime, I'm trying to take a photo of the amazing golden pheasant, but he is a modest bird and turns his back on me when I approach, nonchalently clutching my camera and assuring him that all I want is to give him a handful of corn.

Tuesday 11 April 2006





Monday 10 April 2006

Covering up

I had a letter from Norfolk County council this morning, notifying me that the cost of Meals on Wheels was going up, as from today. Unreasonably short notice, which they had tried to cover up by dating the letter 30th March. Unfortunately for them, their franking machine has a clear date of 7th April, last Friday.

Now, instead of putting a false date down, if they had simply said they were sorry for the short notice, I wouldn’t mind it. They don’t even need to give a reason or an excuse.

One thing I’ve learned over the years is that people are tolerant and forgiving on the whole (except newspaper journalists, who, professionally, are self-righteous and vindictive. Though I’m sure that in their private lives they are entirely charming and kind)) and if you tell them when there is a problem or you have made a mistake, they don’t mind at all and usually offer to help put it right.

This has the added advantage of giving you the reputation of honesty, so when you do need to cover up, you are more likely to get away with it.

I organise the meals on wheels delivery in the village by the way, I don’t receive it.

Sunday 9 April 2006

Shopping and, um, going to the pub.

A quiet day. Church, the pub and some internet shopping. A new printer, as after 8 years and some ill-use (I dropped a pin in a couple of years ago and it wasn't good for it) I decided it was time to indulge my affection for a new gadget.

Of course, when it arrives, I will curse it for a couple of weeks and wonder why I was foolish enough to rid myself of a machine which, while elderly in electrical years, was still working. In a month, I will love it.

I used to be a technophile, but then technology outpaced me so badly that I became nervous of anything new. Doesn't stop me getting it, I just need a son or daughter on hand to hold my hand while I bewail instructions that, while making sense in that I understand each individual word, completely intimidate me because they do not actually mean anything unless you know just a bit more than I do.

So, as I've nothing to write about, I've put up a picture of some spring flowers. The tub is resting on a trolley as it's too heavy to take off it. It will have to remain there until I empty it entirely, which won't be for some years.

I take the long view and am patient. Until the credit card starts to twitch and I start online shopping........

Saturday 8 April 2006

Pictures from Venice -2.

1. Rooftops as seen from St Mark's. I like roofgardens.

2. Considering how famous Venice is for its glass, it's surprising how hideous a lot of it is. This is on Murano, the island where the glass is made.

3. Quite a flotilla of gondolas, we were sitting on the steps at Salute at the time

4. Nice chimney. I like chimneys too.

5. A backstreet. And a bridge. And the campanile is on the huh, as we say in Norfolk.

Pictures from Venice -1.

1. The lions reminded me of the sketch with John Cleese, Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett, 'I look down on him........'

2. On a windowsill. I like to think that this was kindness and not, "mm, squab pie......"

3. Me in the foreground - that's the only reason for this one

4. Just don't open the window, put something on the sill and then absent mindedly knock it off.

5. Multi-coloured houses on Burano, the island where they make lace. And biscuits. And paint their houses brightly.

By special request (I get emails, you know, ones saying 'please'). More to follow, but if you read this on Monday you'll see the others first. Not my fault, Blogger would only accept 5 pictures at a time.

Too shy? Maybe not quite shy enough

An article in today’s Times reports that shyness is now classified as a ‘syndrome’ and some experts believe that half the population suffer from it. Surely, half the population being shy means it’s just as normal as not being shy? Is there anyone who has never felt shy, ever – if so, he or she is surely the oddity.

It’s a carefully balanced article, which questions whether medicalisation of a personality trait is a good idea, whilst acknowledging the considerable difficulties shyness can cause.

I was the shyest child I have ever known. My life was paralysed by my inability to behave normally with other people. I never volunteered information or opinions at school and, although I did have friends, was never able to relax as I felt that there was a secret social code that I’d never learned and at any time I might make a frightful error that would make everyone despise and laugh at me. I never referred to anyone as a friend as they might not see me that way. I avoided calling people by their name but the reason for this is just too embarrassing to write. Parties were a nightmare. I did not use the telephone unless unavoidable - phoning people was just so intrusive.

Now I’m not shy. It took a while but I got over it.

I looked for the reasons for my shyness and realised that a lot of it was, not a lack of self-esteem, but too much of it. I didn’t try so that I would not fail but neither, of course, would I succeed. I realised that it didn’t matter if I made a fool of myself – this was a revelation. Even if I was embarrassed, even if everyone laughed, if I could see that it was indeed ridiculous and laugh too then I would feel closer to them, not more distant. If I concentrated on other people rather than myself, I might be kinder and more thoughtful.

I don’t necessarily suggest telling a shy person that he or she is self-centred, proud and arrogant, and I’m sure that many of them aren’t. But I wonder now if, instead of giving in to me or else trying to jolly or embarrass me out of it, someone might have had better results by pointing out that everyone feels shy, no one likes to get things wrong, but that’s the way it is. Cope with it. Who am I, to think that I matter? No one is really looking at me, after all. It might have worked, could have been surprisingly reassuring.

In the paper there was a shyness test from the Shyness Research Institute at Indiana University (yes, really). Imagining myself 30 years ago, I scored maximum marks of 21 'shyness is preventing you from reaching your full potential.' Now I’d score 9 (minimum score 7 as you have to give yourself a point even if the question does not apply to you at all) and ‘shyness does not seem to be a problem’. Of course, I now classify any feeling of shyness in myself as pride, cowardice or understandable nervousness that I can overcome.

On the other hand, the last paragraph includes a quote from Jerome K. Jerome, who, shy himself, advises against finding a cure “Your attempt to put on any other disposition than your own will infallibly result in your becoming ridiculously gushing and offensively familiar. Be your own natural self, and then you will only be thought surly and stupid.”

Ridiculously gushing? – oh dear, I recognise myself. Nowadays it’s the surly and stupid part I try to hide.

You will notice that I’ve avoided mentioning offensively familiar.

Friday 7 April 2006


Not a wonderful picture of the tadpoles a couple of days ago, but it was sunny and there was a lot of reflection; it was the best I could do. And the netting reflected too. That's necessary because we have a harnser who is fond of tadpoles. For breakfast, that is, herons' beaks aren't made for kissing.

A proper child-proof pond net will be constructed soon.

A friend handed me a book to read on holiday. I thanked him, enjoyed reading it and gave it back with renewed thanks. I’ve just discovered it was intended as a gift. Oh I do feel gauche. And ungrateful. I’ll have to explain to him that I am a simple woman who needs clear explanations.

It would have been worse if I’d hung on to the book when it was a favourite he really didn’t want to lose.

At least he can read it himself now. And then the decision will be his, whether to treat it as a loan or my (rather ungenerous) gift to him.

Anyway, peach, if you read this, I know you better than to suggest you might have taken offence, but sorry anyway.

Biosecurity. Hm.

According to today’s Eastern Daily Press, a Norfolk farmer has stepped up biosecurity at his farm, where he has 24,000 free-range laying hens. Laying eggs that is, not lying down. Whatever could that mean?

He feeds them indoors.

My desk faces the window. This is not altogether a good thing, as it faces east and so the morning sun shines in my eyes, but an advantage is that I can see the garden and part of the drive (so can run away from visitors if I have been foolish enough to start work before dressing). There was a cock pheasant strolling around this morning outside the window.

The house and garden are surrounded by fields so we do have a fair amount of wildlife coming to call. When we moved here there were lots of rabbits and I had to put rabbit-proof netting around the vegetable garden, but myxomatosis (yes, that is spelled right although it doesn’t look it; Word has never heard of the word so I had to stand up – yes, Stand Up; exercise for the morning done – and check the dictionary. It comes from the Greek for mucus apparently. Nice.) put paid to most of them and if numbers go up, foxes move in.

The Sage is very fond of birds. Parent songbirds watch complacently as he goes to their nest to chat to their babies; although in theory they should desert the nest, they relax comfortably while he acts as nanny and gives the chicks aphids and, on hot days, sprinkles droplets of water into their gaping mouths. He has in the past hand-reared baby pheasants – they are not intelligent birds and once he found a brood cheeping dispiritedly by the road, the mother having hopped over a low wall where they couldn’t follow.

This is a particularly handsome pheasant, being lighter in colour than the usual, with a beautiful golden tail. He kept going into the greenhouse last summer; to eat cucumbers I suppose, so I had to be very careful on my approach, as he would career, panic-stricken, into the glass when he saw me. After one particularly terrified charge, he limped for days. He recovered sufficiently to spend the autumn eating acorns that had fallen on the drive and the winter eating the grains of wheat that we helpfully left for him. I wonder if he’ll find a wife this spring. It would be good to have a little flock of golden-tailed pheasants.

Thursday 6 April 2006

Springtime and Stuff

A surprise this morning – went out to the pond to admire the frogspawn and found that the tadpoles are hatching. Seething mass of wriggling darlings basking in the sun. Some years, if the mood takes me and I have time, I spend a day by the pond just watching tadpoles hatch, but I’ve missed most of the occasion this time. There are some surplus pond plants that I must remove as there won’t be enough clear water for them to swim in as they grow, and if I leave it a few weeks I will have to take ages frisking each chunk of plant for tadpoles, as well as snails etc. I’m a bit softhearted…….

When I was a child we had a big rock-garden; really it was huge, about ¼ of an acre. My grandfather had it constructed in the 1930s to help provide employment. There was a system of ponds and waterfalls and my favourite pond was well stocked with newts. I loved them dearly and spent hours watching them and catching them – I never used a net, it was a point of pride to use nothing but a swift hand. They were then kissed and examined and released again.

I still catch frogs if I can; not in the water as my reactions aren’t up to it (and besides, I’ve grown up) but if I move a log or something and there is a frog crouching, I pick it up and, um, give it a kiss (perhaps not grown up that far). People ask if I expect it to turn into a prince – ‘well, it’s only happened once so far ---‘, I reply brightly.

The postman brought me a parcel and I was quite excited. I couldn’t remember ordering anything but a surprise is Good. Not that good in this case however, just a new cartridge for the water filter, together with an invoice helpfully telling me that £26.79 has been taken from my bank account. Oh. Very useful.

I’ve put the photos on the computer, with a few I took at the weekend there are 300 of them. Blimey. Whatever does anyone want with 300 photos? And even the rubbish ones, if they include a family member, I find hard to delete. Unless they are unflattering of course, I'm not unkind.

Emails from friends and family are kept, however brief and businesslike; it seems uncaring to throw them away. And personal, hand-written letters are a rare pleasure that particularly touch and hold me - partly because of their rarity perhaps.

Softhearted and sentimental. I flounder in a sea of Stuff and I don't even mind. Except that I can never find the Stuff I need.

Wednesday 5 April 2006

To blog or not etc.

Driving back from Norwich this lunchtime, I listened to a programme about political diaries. At one point they were discussing why one writes/publishes a diary and what to put in it.

It made me muse, why am I writing this?

I have never kept a diary as it seemed absurdly self-conscious of me. Is one writing to someone or not? If it’s for yourself, there is no need to explain what you already know, so that sort of detail implies that it’s really for ‘posterity’ – and that’s not for me. But to write purely for yourself seems just too navel-gazing for me. Occasionally, years ago, I tried; usually of course when I’d been given a new diary – the ‘journal’ type rather than the appointment one that rules my life, or at any rate gives some order to it. But it generally petered out when I reread what I’d written a few weeks later and became hugely self-conscious about it. Or, come to that, bored.

This blog, though I only started in January, has continued longer than any journal I’ve ever written.

It is, I think, partly because it is not a real document; it would only become one if I printed it out.
It’s typed. Which is not an effort as handwriting has become – as one doesn’t do it a great deal.
I’m writing to no-one or to anyone; that is, it’s in the public domain (sorry, sounds pretentious) but it’s not addressed to anyone and those who know about it, or come across it, are free to read it or not and I won’t even know.
It’s in a nice limbo between ephemeral and permanent, being both and neither.

When I started, I was not going to tell anyone. I have now (most of my family and one friend) and I know two people read it regularly because they have told me. I thought it would be anonymous so I could say anything I wanted – but I soon realised that I was giving a good many clues about myself and could be easily identified. So that’s when I relaxed and told people. But not many; I’m not angling to gain readers and certainly not ones who know me.

The radio presenter acknowledged that sometimes he said and did things to be able to spice up his diary; but then it was always intended for publication. I don’t do that but I sometimes react to events by thinking how I could write about them. Having had the mental composition exercise, that’s usually enough for me however and I either forget about it or can’t be bothered to go through it twice, once in my head and once through my fingers. Usually, I sit here not knowing what I’m going to write about and a whim comes to mind and I just write it down. Very unfocused; more or less a combination of present events, memories and just thoughts as they pass. Though not necessarily all in one epistle.

But as for the question, why am I writing this, I haven’t answered it at all. Self-indulgent? Too much time on my hands? Or too many things on my mind, so a way to relax?

Or is it another whimsy that will pass.

I quite like the fact that it doesn’t matter, whatever the answers are.

Tuesday 4 April 2006

Camera shy

A month or two ago I bought a camera. I have never owned one before and hardly ever used one. I always felt it created a barrier between me and what was going on. Of course, those who, like me, hate having their picture taken are often the keenest snappers; photo or be photoed (that can't be how you spell it, my own fault for being too lazy to write photographed), but it's never appealed to me.

Digital cameras seem different, mainly because they show a bigger picture and I don't have to put my eye to a little viewfinder but can see what is actually going on. And I need to take photos of stuff we're selling for our website. Selling at a real auction of course, not online. And of course there is Grandbaby.

However, the downside is that it's so easy to take loads of pictures that I can see they are going to build up, filed under vague categories and not properly labelled, for years to come. I've got about 200 of them from the past week and I can't even bring myself to load them on the computer yet. It's not that I don't want to see them, but it's all fresh in my memory and I don't need them yet. By the time I finally get round to it, I'll have forgotten why I took the pictures. And where they are of.

I should have gone to the WI tonight but cried off as I had work to do. Half regret it though; the subject of the talk was to be 'canopies' and now I shall never know if I would have received sound advice about sunshades or about tasty nibbles to go with drinks. I rather suspect the latter.

Monday 3 April 2006

Holiday memories

Venice was, of course, wonderful and I have nothing to add to everything that people have said over hundreds of years.

Other observations instead. They are very fond of dogs there and, to my pleasure, most of those we saw were mongrels. Not even designer cross-breeds. I suppose if you are Venetian you have absolutely nothing to prove about your status in life and don’t need a pedigree animal to demonstrate your poshness. Charming dogs anyway, and I really rather wanted to bring one home. Not a kindness of course, even if it were possible, as many of them would never have seen a car and would be frightened. I only saw one cat during the week.

I stayed so clean. Usually one gets awfully grimy in cities but when there’s no road traffic there’s nothing to make you dirty.

Easy to find your way about; equally easy to get lost in a small way; that is, you can always find your way to St Mark’s, the Rialto etc as there are signs, but the glove shop 50 metres away could be down any number of little lanes and it’s very hard to find again. And it would be useful to have cul de sacs marked as by the time you have ambled down a few blind alleys and back again you have completely lost your sense of direction. Fortunately it doesn’t matter. It was extremely funny, however, on the last evening, to find ourselves walking by the restaurant we had left 10 minutes earlier and be greeted by the startled waiters again. In fact, I was laughing so much that I was obliged to pop in and use the loo, which must have given the other diners quite the wrong impression of me ‘how rude, she just came in off the street, went to the lavatory and strolled out again’.

It’s so entertaining, just watching people. Not just for what they do, but for what they wear too. There are two who particularly stand out in my mind and I will remember them fondly.

The Pixie
I watched her in the Doge’s Palace. She was on her own and went round with a guidebook in her hands, which she read intently. She was small and slim, with neat features and long curly hair and the most retroussé little nose I’ve ever seen.
But what made her noticeable was her jacket. It was knitted, multi-coloured, patchwork; unusual but not remarkable. Until you noticed the long pointed hood extending all the way down the back with a tassel at the end, which made it look like a garment straight out of the Brothers Grimm. Why, I wondered, if you are born looking like a pixie, would you emphasise the point by dressing like a pixie too? Quite sweet for a little girl I suppose, but don’t ever expect to be treated like a grown woman.

The Raccoon
Oh now he was wonderful. I noticed him the first morning at breakfast. His appearance was unexceptional and so were his clothes except for his astonishing spectacles. The lenses were quite small and oval; the rims were black and thick and close-fitting. The followed the curve of his face exactly, like goggles. He looked exactly like a raccoon. We watched for him keenly every day and one night we were truly blessed; we were going to a concert so dined quite early. As I opened the door of the restaurant to leave, there was the Raccoon preparing to enter. I stood aside for him, he said ‘grazie’ and I smiled at him. And turned to my sister with joy on my face.

There is a third person who was considerably less entertaining and I remember him with no affection at all. We went to the concert, which was held in an upper room in the prison next to the Doge’s Palace. Behind us sat an elderly French couple and unfortunately he suffered audibly from catarrh. Well this happens and one should be tolerant. But he seemed unusually attached to it and regularly honked and snorted the viscous matter through his facial passages, when surely he could have expelled it into a handkerchief. Or spat or swallowed, indeed, I am a broad-minded woman and could have borne either eventuality if done discreetly. He did, fortunately, stop when the music started, although that removed a faint doubt that he had either been unaware of his behaviour or been unable to help it.

The string quintet entertained us for an hour. One piece they played was Pachelbel’s Canon. I was slightly surprised when they started it at a speed I don’t usually work up to for nearly a page and a half, but I consoled myself with the thought that it took all five of them to play the notes I manage solo. Tho slo.

Sunday 2 April 2006

Home again

Well, how relaxing. I'm having Sunday lunch cooked for me and the family by my daughter and my presence in the kitchen is unneccessary. A quick enquiry was made regarding cooking time for the leg of lamb and instruction was sought on how to make mint sauce but otherwise my contribution has been to get out a bottle of wine that has been gently maturing for the last decade and a half for a special occasion.

If you are a purist who is horrified at the prospect of mint sauce being served at all, let alone at the same table as a bottle of good wine, be reassured; proper mint sauce is delicious but never touch the bought versions which are uniformly nasty in taste, texture and colour.

While I was away the daffodils came into flower, 12 chicks hatched and the pond filled with frogspawn; safe to say that spring has arrived.

Today is Al's birthday and Tuesday will be El's so jollity reigns.

And while I was away my husband got my car MOTd (it being its 3rd birthday yesterday), filled Ro's car with petrol and bought him a new spare tyre. How helpful a way of demonstrating that he missed us.