Wednesday 31 May 2006

The hedge pig.

Perhaps three pictures of the same hedgehog are a little more than actually necessary, but it was very sweet and Squiffany was highly impressed. After eating the plate of meat (dogfood) he trundled off, towards the hedge, appropriately.

Tuesday 30 May 2006

Nearly June and it is really cold.

Just to cheer us up in this chilly English summer, this is sunset at Alleppey Beach, Kerala, India.

*Sigh wistfully*

Sharp, this razor-blade

Every so often, on my slide down the razor-blade, I happen upon one of those little tricks of life that I daresay most of you (both of you? You? Who reads this?) know already.

Yesterday I was chatting to my MSN virtual friend. He had worked most of the holiday weekend and was celebrating his arrival home, at 9 pm on Bank Holiday Monday, with a snifter. I made a teasing comment, referring to how much work he had got done over the holiday. “Are you being sarcastic?” he asked. “No, just gently ironic” – “that’s all right then.”

I have another friend who declares he never uses sarcasm, only irony. And evidently that is how he gets away with it too.

MSN friend does indeed work long hours. There is, in his company, a designated maximum number of monthly hours you are allowed to work and, for the second month running, he has exceeded it. I asked what happens, compulsory time off? No, you are given an appointment to have a psychiatric assessment. If you are not deemed to have suffered mental health issues because of your overwork, then carry on, no harm done. Obviously, you do not want to fail the medical and so you make every effort to pass the test.

Like so many quotas and targets, very easily circumvented.

Monday 29 May 2006

The Sage has done it again

So, how does he manage it? He lands on his feet every time. I had threatened him with a party. A celebration, no less, as he celebrates a Significant Birthday in a few weeks time - and on a Saturday night, it seemed as if it was meant to be.

He does not care for a fuss. Especially if it reminds him of his scaringly advancing years (he is significantly older than me, natch). So, I hadn't done anything about it, but had relied on my usual enthusiastic puppyish 'ooh, lets, it'll be fun' and last-minute invitations sent out before he had time to realise he had been suckered again.

But he has been lucky again. We have been invited to a party the next day, Sunday lunchtime. By friends whom he has known over 40 years, who are about to retire to France. Of course, we want to go. And, preferably, not with hangovers and mounds of washing-up to do. I think I need to scale down preparations for this party. Maybe a couple of friends and the family for supper? Maybe a little something just for the two of us? And oh goodness, now I will have to major on a present.

He's the worst person in the world to buy presents for. I did really well two Christmases ago, but since then I can't actually remember what I have given him (except the gift of my smile of course) so presents have presumably been okay but not remarkable. But I am clueless this time. Bricks for the wall? A special breed of chicken? Jelly babies?

Why is it that women are so easy to buy the perfect present for and men are so difficult?


Yes indeed, 69. A good and goodly number. Of tomato plants, fitted into one greenhouse. I've finally finished planting out all three greenhouses; you will be agog to know what is in them.

108 tomato plants: 23 Sungold, 55 Idyll, 10 Green Zebra, 14 Black Russian, 6 White Potato-leaved (or possibly, Potato-leaved White, it is a variety that is licenced to be sold by only one firm but Al was given the plants on condition they are for our own consumption. Apparently it is an old Beefsteak variety).

17 Jalapeno peppers

20 Sweet peppers (Capsicum)

11 cucumbers

21 aubergines

22 Cape Gooseberries (Physalis)

12 pots of lemongrass

Additionally, the greenhouses contain 2 Black Hamburg grape vines and a passion flower.

Now all I have to do is spend the summer feeding, watering and picking the produce. Yay.

I'm about to plant out the pumpkins. After lunch. Don't you just love Bank Holidays, plenty of time to get some work done.

Sunday 28 May 2006

India – Part 1, roads part 3

You might care to glance at India - Part 1, roads part 1 and Part 1, roads part 2

Other bits and pieces about Chennai’s roads and then I’ll move on.

The living-vehicular highlight of our first trip was near the end of the visit, when we saw an elephant looking in a hardware shop. My sister and I squeaked excitedly and she fumbled with her camera, so the driver good-naturedly stopped in the middle of the road – hey, a photo opportunity, that beats the rule of the road doesn’t it? – so that she could focus.

On my second visit my daughter and I went to her school-friend’s wedding (friend and fiancé both lived/live in London but went home for the wedding). At last we travelled in auto-rickshaws. Overcrowded auto-rickshaws. All saried up, overloaded vehicle, save the children, so sit on the edge with silken bum hanging out.

It was not as unsafe, in my experience, as my friend K had suggested. I never had my bottom pinched once. Unlike Paris. Hm. Paris. Dodgy blokes on tubes.

India – Part 1, roads part 2

You might care to glance at India - Part 1, roads part 1

Ever felt worryingly that you’re in for an epic? Like when someone gets up to make a speech and you see the sheaf of papers he is about to read out?

Once I became slightly more used to the sheer busyness of the roads, I started noticing things. For example, how everyone walked at the side of the road rather than the pavement. This was for various reasons; partly because the pavements were quite uneven, partly because there is usually someone asleep on them, whatever time of day and sometimes there are street vendors, sweepers, various people in ones path and it’s easier, presumably, to take your chance with the traffic.

In Britain, it has for many years been compulsory to wear a motorcycle helmet (no, don’t be silly, not everywhere, just when you are riding or a passenger on a motorbike), which caused some consternation for Sikhs as they, of course, wear a turban. I’m sorry to say that I can’t remember how that particular problem was resolved, can you?

It was startling and alarming to see a whole family on a motorbike. Father driving, behind him a small child, then mother perched side-saddle on the back with a baby on her knees. She would be wearing a sari and her sandal hung from her toes, never, apparently, falling off. I’m sure Indian babies learn very quickly not to wriggle.
When I first visited Chennai, 6 years ago, I didn’t see any women riding motorbikes themselves, only as passengers. The most recent time, it was quite a regular sight, either alone or with another girl riding pillion. Many of the younger men and women wear helmets, but almost no older people.

I don’t know if, seen objectively, the roads are busier than here. There are fewer traffic jams (in Chennai, that is, not in Bangalore, where I felt quite at home in the stationary traffic) and even more jockeying for position than here. I never did understand the traffic light system, sometimes traffic went through a red light and sometimes not; maybe it’s that you are allowed to turn left (of course the traffic drives on the left as in Britain) through a red light? I also did not understand how anyone ever finds their way around. There are hardly any street signs and when I asked my hosts about road maps they looked slightly puzzled and were not sure they existed (someone tried to sell me one, again in Bangalore, but was it likely I was going anywhere unless with someone who knew the way? Not a chance!).

I fancied going in an auto-rickshaw. But my hosts advised against it, on the grounds that it was too dangerous. They, being rather posh, had two drivers and so there was usually a car available to take us where we needed to go – I do not know anyone in this country with one chauffeur, let alone two.

Scary as the roads were, I only saw one accident, and that was an overturned auto-rickshaw, with the driver standing by it trying to pull it upright again and his unhurt passengers standing disconsolately by, stuck in the middle of the road and waiting for a gap in the traffic. If accidents do happen, however, they can be very serious and I read on a couple of occasions that a whole family on a motorbike had been killed.

I don’t know how people learn to drive in India. I never saw a car with L plates on, do they learn off-road? I would certainly never dare to try. It’s not that people drive badly, but they are so fast and so impatient – so they are here, but in a different way. We are more regulated, but less alert and so we tend to react slower as we don’t expect cars to change lanes suddenly or a bike suddenly to weave in front of our car.

Well, blow me down

Things do have a way of following on. I suppose that, once you have something in your mind, you will take up a potential opportunity that might otherwise slip past unnoticed.

A few weeks ago, I played my clarinet as part of a music group for a service at a local (but not my village) church. Afterwards someone said to me that she had learned the instrument as a child and would love to take it up again; could I tell her the name of a teacher? I couldn't at the time but promised to look into it.

Then, the other day, I wrote that I want to start playing the clarinet properly again. When I have time to give to it - as in, this year, next year, sometime..........

Today, the bloke who came to take the church service talked to me about his music lessons (we are without a Rector at present as he has moved to another parish. This man is a Lay Reader, which means he is not fully ordained but is licensed to take services, though not to marry, bury or baptise people, nor to give Communion. Lay Readers are volunteers). He is learning the saxophone and has reached a stage where it is becoming very difficult. I know just what he means, first you learn to blow and get notes out and when you can play all the low notes you feel you are getting somewhere. Then you try the upper register and you squeak and parp and it is very hard, especially to move smoothly from one register to the other. He asked for tips.
In short, I said practise a lot, but not for too long at a time or your mouth will get tired and you will start to puff your cheeks out which is a Bad Thing. Skill will come, and gradually it will become second nature to you. He said, it's such a bother getting it out and set up every time, but I have to clean it as it accumulates so much wetness. Take it apart, I said, dry it and then put it straight back together. You will have to rewet the reed, but otherwise it will not be a bother and, with practice, setting the reed will not be awkward either.

Um, in short, I just set him a lot of work, didn't I. But said that he can do it and it's worth it. So I think it encouraged him.

Anyway, it reminded me of Jo's request, so he is going to phone me with his teacher's name and telephone number. It might be a good opportunity for me too, I don't believe in letting opportunities slip and, if I don't really have time for lessons then perhaps I need to make time.

I'll let you know what happens.

By another complete coincidence, I bought some earplugs at the chemist yesterday. I had a feeling they might come in handy, but I had no reason then to think that. A present for the patient Sage perhaps?

Saturday 27 May 2006

Fight or flight? - will it make any difference?

I’m turning into my mother. I keep noticing it, sometimes in ways that no one else would see, except possibly my sister. I just caught myself at it, scuttling down to the greenhouse in the rain; I was hurrying with just her gait. When I get my purse out to pay for something in a shop and then pause to put the change away and then fumble to shut my bag, I’m starting to do it as she did.

Will other women recognise the anxiety I feel at this? At the age I am now, I don’t mind being like her at the same age (to an extent). But I don’t want to turn into the person she became in her 70s. I’m not suggesting that she became an unpleasant person, but she did become an unhappy one and, as she fought against the aging process that she dreaded, it became impossible for her to keep the events of life in perspective. I do not blame her at all, she had an illness that was, for a long time, undiagnosed and, as she became increasingly agitated that she was not being taken seriously by the medical profession, she was all the more labelled as attention-seeking; which she was not. But she was not canny about it; she was an idealist whereas I’m a pragmatist and I know how to give those in authority the answers they want, so I really don’t believe I would fall into the same situations she did.

At present, and for some time, my main consolation has been that, as a family, we are not particularly long-lived and so maybe I, and my children, will be spared my increasingly unreasonable behaviour. That seems a bit negative, but I don’t see another way round it. “Cheer up” people say if they see one looking anxious “It might never happen” – “ oh good, you mean I might die first?” seems an inappropriate response. Especially if you were actually just a little pensive and not unhappy or worried at all at the time.

Oscar Wilde wrote “All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That’s his.” There is no need to take these words too seriously, he was a man who spoke and wrote for effect and this was a line in a play in any case, but there is enough truth in them to give many women pause for thought.

Friday 26 May 2006

A new friend

I went on a visit to Kent the other day. On a coach, with a society where I'm a committee member. I was unaccompanied, which is always interesting because I don't know who will sit next to me; usually another unaccompanied female because, I have observed, men do not have the confidence to travel alone unless it is an all-male thing.

I knew the elderly lady who sat with me, but not very well. We exchanged greetings and some desultory conversation, but, I'm sorry to say, I slept quite a lot on the way down - I don't sleep much at night so a coach soon sends me off. When I woke up she was reading the local paper, which I eyed surreptitiously, rather wishing I had my own copy.

During the day I chatted to a variety of friends and also spent some time alone, which is what I usually do. I cautiously prefer not to feel like a hanger-on and also like being on my own, at least part of the time.

On the way home, we had all enjoyed the day and my neighbour and I chatted. To be accurate, for some time she spoke and I rambled. Even if this is your first visit here, you might sense that I am rarely lost for words and often talk rather too much. But we got on very well. She is a lady in, I suppose, her late 70s; widowed, living alone, childless. After a while, she started to talk to me in a more confiding way and I, for once, mostly shut up and listened.

I don't mean to say that she confided matters that she wouldn't tell others, just that, maybe, she said things one doesn't feel the confidence to say often. She spoke of her late but very happy marriage, the ways in which she felt she had changed over the years and her feelings about her present and her future. Simply but movingly, and I did appreciate knowing that she felt able to tell me these things.

English people have always had a reputation for reticence and for not expressing their feelings. That has certainly changed in the last few years and, although it makes for a less polite and respectful society, it also means that we feel able to talk about things that matter to us. Of course, sometimes one can talk to a person one hardly knows more freely than to a close friend. But she turned from a pleasant old lady who tended to be almost the last on the coach and regularly got lost, to a friend, and I enjoyed and appreciated her company. At the end of the journey, she thanked me for my company and I thanked her for hers and kissed her goodbye.

I'd had to do the vote of thanks for the organiser as we neared Norwich; at least I have learned now not to stand at the front when we go round a roundabout. The first time, I fell down the steps and was deservedly laughed at; I was grateful not to have broken my neck.

India - Part 1, roads part 1

The first time I arrived in India at Madras/Chennai * airport, my sister and I were met by her friend K. They had known each other since 1968 when K spent a year in England and they shared a room in London, where my sister was studying. K had married, had two daughters and visited England several times, but my sister had never been to India. But now K’s elder daughter was getting married and we were invited to the wedding.

Oh no, this was meant to be about Indian roads but I’ve digressed already. Honestly, how my family cope I have no idea, because when I digress I never actually lose the thread, I retrace and go on from where I left the path and you can see them aging before your eyes and they all love me too much (are too scared of/used to/what makes me think they are listening in the first place?) to say ‘shut up’ so I go on my merry way to the end of the story, several hours later.

Indian roads. I’ll tell you about the rest another time; we’ve got the rest of our lives, right? ☺.

If you have been there, you will understand. First, there was the wonderful spicy smell. It was not like any I had experienced before. I’ve been to the Tropics, but that was humid and, um, tropical (lack of vocabulary here?) and this was different, exciting. K was waiting, her driver pushing a trolley, and our luggage was loaded up and taken to the car.

I suppose the Ambassador’s days are numbered, but I hope by a very long series of digits. My parents had a Morris Oxford, which I understand is much the same car, in the 1950s which I DO NOT REMEMBER (those who say, if you remember the ‘60s you weren’t there forget the ones who were at school and too young to be ‘out of it’). The airport is some way from the city centre, but it didn’t take long for the traffic to build up.

Indian traffic is not like British traffic. It’s the variety. Sure, we have cars, motorbikes and bicycles. But we don’t have auto-rickshaws, the occasional oxcart, a few cycle rickshaws. All weaving across the road in, it seemed, perfect confidence that everyone else was such a good driver that they were, themselves, in no personal danger.

We arrived home (and wow, their home, a story in itself). K had arranged that we should go and look round the museum after lunch. Another bewildering ride. But that evening, we were going to a concert of traditional dancing. Now I discovered the roads at night. Why did no one have their lights on? By the time we returned at 10.30 or so (remember, India is 5 ½ hours later than England so this was very late for me and I was culture-shocked – but loving it – and jetlagged too, I shut my eyes. I was beyond coping.

* It must be great fun if you live in India, teasing non-Indians. If I say ‘Madras’ you can correct me to Chennai. So next time I say Chennai you can refer airily to Madras. Huh! – but in a good-natured way.

PS - I know that some Indians will find this picture quite old-fashioned. But it was more than 6 years ago, the changes since have been considerable and this is south India which is quite traditional anyway. So forgive me please, it's genuine memories.

PPS - I said I was done with memories for now. I was wrong, it seems.

Thursday 25 May 2006

Sorry, I didn't see you

The wisteria is still not fully out, but is gorgeous this year so I've taken pictures now while I think of it.
I'm sure you admire the splendid Tudor chimney.

Right, enough memories for a while.

Yesterday I went to Kent on a coach trip, to Knole and Ightham Mote. I'd visited neither National Trust property before and they were both wonderful houses. I've threatened the Sage that I will take him there on a day out sometime, we have friends in Kent so could fit in a rare social call too.

The two ladies behind me were talking about driving. "Reversing is what I find hardest" said one. "I'm not as good a driver as I used to be," said the other, "I don't see very well nowadays."

Er. in your late 80s with bad eyesight, is it perhaps time to stop driving? Does her doctor know? The driver licensing authority?

Wednesday 24 May 2006

17 years ago

Lowestoft, about 1780. It pours well but I don't make tea in it. 18th Century glaze isn't really up to boiling water any more. Not a good photo I'm afraid, I should have removed the gap by the background, also there could have been a more flattering colour. Oh well.

I've been remembering again. Not something I usually do much of, reminiscing. But this was another wedding anniversary back in 1989. We spent the weekend in London. We stayed with our nephew in Hackney and, on the Sunday, went to the church of St Martin In the Fields in Trafalgar Square for the baptism of my goddaughter, the baby of my schoolfriend L. At the end of the service, the Rector held the 3-month-old girl high in the air above his head and carried her down the aisle. She played her part magnificently, gazing fascinated at the lights and showing no fear or uneasiness.

Afterwards we, with the baby's family and the other godparents, went to a Chinese restaurant for lunch. After that, we went to Sotheby's auction house to view a sale that was to be held the next day. The Sage and I fell for a teapot, decorated in pencil and gilt. He also mentioned that he had been commissioned by clients to bid for some other lots.

The next day we returned to the sale itself. It was only then that he decided it would be best if I did some of the bidding. I had never bid in a London saleroom before and I was alarmed to say the least. He wrote down the lot numbers and prices and warned me not to go above what he said.

The first of 'my' lots came up. I waved my catalogue anxiously at the auctioneer. Once you catch his (in this case) attention, he glances your way to see if you are still bidding, but no need to worry, he knows that scratching your ear is scratching your ear and you will not find you have bought a Ming vase without realising it. I bought a couple of lots, then was outbid on the next and shook my head. "Keep bidding" hissed the Sage. I waved again. And bought the item.

Our teapot came up. It soon exceeded the guide price but ---- that was too low anyway, salerooms are often rubbish at getting the estimate right.

After the sale, we paid for the china and it was packed up for us. We went off to Liverpool Street station, the Sage to catch a train home and I to go back to Hackney. My visit wasn't over yet.

Nephew S. gave me trout, salad and white wine for dinner. The next day I went off, first to John Lewis in Oxford Street where I bought a very pretty straw hat which I still have, though I only wear it in the garden now as it's a bit battered, and then to the Chelsea Flower Show. It was a blistering hot day, but I was all right because I had a floaty cool dress on, my hat to shelter my head, talcum powder to sprinkle in my sandals so that they wouldn't rub my feet and, um, I didn't put on any underwear. Well, I was young and slim then and it was not a dress that made the fact evident, I got away with it. And, as always, Chelsea was wonderful.

And then I went home. The next day was our anniversary, but I can't remember anything about it except that we were very happy with our teapot.

Tuesday 23 May 2006


Once my children reached their late teens, I wondered what I’d have thought if one of them announced an engagement to someone in their thirties. My mother didn’t turn a hair, and if she had misgivings she kept them to herself. I certainly didn’t; I remember reading that it was quite usual to have doubts and nerves before the wedding day and wondering if that meant I was unwisely complacent.

I went shopping for a wedding dress. I chose a yellow and white mini with a large white collar, large white splashy flowers on a yellow background. It cost £5, which was pretty cheap even for 1973 and I continued to wear it for years. I also wore a light oatmeal-coloured summer coat and a gold brooch in the shape of a dragonfly, which my mother-in-law gave me.

We got married on a Thursday and my new in-laws took us and my mum out to lunch before they left on their holiday. Sage and I drove to Yorkshire for a brief honeymoon.

The next morning we went out to explore the town, which was probably Settle. He dived into an antique shop and was pleased to find two Victorian vesta cases (little match boxes, often made of silver, sometimes other materials in ‘novelty’ shapes). In another shop he found a third and was delighted. He said I brought him luck.

The next day he said, would I mind going home (to Lowestoft, the most easterly town in Britain) by way of Bristol (in the south-west). There was a picture he wanted to look at……
So on Saturday afternoon we drove towards Bristol and as evening fell, started to look for a hotel. We were surprised to find no vacancies anywhere, until we were told there was a cider festival that weekend; everywhere had been booked up for weeks. Finally, we stopped at a charming little hotel and, almost without hope, walked in. The proprietor was dialling the telephone and politely replaced the receiver. We asked for a room. He had had a single and a double room booked by a family who hadn’t turned up; he was just ringing the local Tourist Board to let them know he had vacancies.

The Sage is quite astonishingly lucky. He always has been. I used to find it infuriating sometimes, when he left something until the last moment and then a completely unexpected happy chance meant that there was no need to panic after all, but nowadays I rely on it too.

He bought the picture the next day, a Tom Smythe (a Victorian landscape painter who lived in Ipswich), and we travelled home. And told friends and workmates that we were married.


I've added several pictures today that I've taken within the last month. Not the ones of Squiffany as I haven't asked her parents. Of the garden mostly, and one of Tilly looking a bit shifty. But merely following a bantam and not at all chasing it.

But I was just a child

- if not a chick. These are the latest members of the family; there is a fifth but it was left with Mum so that she wouldn't be worried. They skidded about on the dining table and the black one at the back has an anxious look in her eye. They were taken straight back after a cuddle and a photo.

My mind is drifting back in time today, trying to remember the 19-year-old Z, preparing for her wedding day. It’s not easy actually; as Sam Goldwyn (I think) said, we’ve all passed a lot of water since then.

I was not seen, even by myself, as a decisive girl. It took me years to realise that I was not indecisive, just not that bothered. Do this, do that? I don’t mind, you choose, you care, I don’t. Even now, I’m often the last to give an opinion and then it’s usually to agree. But in important decisions, there is no hesitation and no looking back.

I’d known him for three years, but simply as a family friend. It was not until January 1973 that when he was going, with a friend, to a big art exhibition in London to commemorate Britain joining the EEC, the Common Market (now the European Community) he asked if I’d like to join them and we got on very well. Things progressed fairly rapidly and before the end of February we were engaged.

My position was, we were going to get married, what’s stopping us. Just do it. But my hitherto more conventional fiancé wanted to go down the usual route with lots of guests and flowers in church. Okay, I’d go along with it, although I dreaded it, hating to be the centre of attention. Plans went ahead and bookings were made for a date in August.

But he felt the pressure too. In mid May he said “You were right. Let’s elope. Your mum can hold the ladder.” His parents were going on holiday on the 24th and he suggested we get married on the 25th and drive up to their hotel in Scotland to surprise them.

In a moment of surprising maturity, I refused. I was not going to start life as a daughter-in-law by giving them a horrible shock, and I made him go to see his parents and tell them, and book the marriage (by special licence) for the 24th.

So, I had just three people attend my wedding, apart from the Sage and the registrar: my mother, my mother-in-law and my father-in-law; my father had died three years before. I apologised to my sister (I’m ruthless but fair) because I did not intend to invite the Sage’s sister and family as they would make too much fuss with confetti and nonsense.

We retained the booking for the reception and honeymoon in August though, always up for a jolly.

It was a long time before it dawned on me that people assumed we had brought the wedding forward because I was pregnant. I wasn’t, so it was a good thing I turned up for the party three months later looking cheerfully svelte. But, looking at the photos of the occasion, absurdly young.

Monday 22 May 2006

Efficient time management

- which means, in my case, extreme laziness. Blogger Help is terribly informative, but it'll be much better use of my time to wait until Ro is looking relaxed and ask him to do the stuff I can't be bothered to learn to understand. In the meantime, sorry there's a long and rambling piece on the right all about Me And My Family, but new paragraphs don't show and I don't know how to hide part of it either.

'how do we know' gave a list of things he wants to do, to make his life very happy. What's your list, he asked (not just me, of course, everybody). I thought about it. And realised that even thinking about writing a wish-list made me feel anxious and pressured as, if I really want something, I need to get on and do it, as time, while not as yet an implacable enemy, could not be said to be altogether on my side. So, instead of the 101 things suggested or even the 13 he gave, I've got 2 for now. Play the clarinet as well as I could 10 years ago. And build my brick wall.

I used to take clarinet lessons, having decided, at the age of about 37, to learn a new instrument. I loved it, became quite good and discovered it is wonderful exercise for a healthy chest (yeah, read that how you will). But, you know how it is, after a few years I let things drift and stopped the lessons and now my embouchure is not what it was and nor is the health of my chest. I need to practise for 2 hours a day for a month and then join a band/orchestra/small musical group - whoever will have me, to force myself to stick at it. I really want to do this but it's the 2 hours a day that is holding me back right now. Even a daily commitment is beyond me now, but it is something I will do.

But maybe not before building the wall. I've written about this before, but to save you (or me) looking it up, will briefly explain that I want to have a partly walled vegetable garden and, never having laid a brick until now, intend to build one 5 foot high and 100 foot long. This is also an entirely achievable ambition which I expect to take me two years (I could get a brickie in and he'd do it in a few days but that isn't the point of it) and I will start when the Sage, who is a perfectionist, has selected the bricks.

I have, in fact, a third ambition; that is, a 5-year plan to come off all committees. This plan is now in its fifth year and I'm about to come off the first of them, which shows I'm not too good at this. But it's a start. The rest of the committee want to have a party to commemorate my leaving after 18 years. I say commemorate and not celebrate, but maybe it's just as well I'm going before I'm pushed.

Sunday 21 May 2006

Good cess to natural drainage, bad cess to pesky wildlife

It's raining. Since we are apparently in the grip of a drought, this is nothing to grumble about and besides, English weather is fascinating in its variety. We do not really enjoy steady, settled weather, whatever it is as, although we still discuss it all the time, there is nothing new to say.

We are still considering what to do to conserve water and I am extremely pleased because the Sage has decided that the old well shall be put back to use. It used, many years ago, to provide all the household water but, though the remnants of the pump are still there, it has not been used for a few decades. However, plans are afoot to pump water to a storage container by the kitchen garden so that I will be able to water the greenhouses. I trust that I will not have to pump the water by hand.

At least we do not waste used household water as we are not on mains drainage. It depends on where you live and your natural drainage, but I puzzle, as we don't have enough water in the south-east of this country, that it is still all piped away and not returned to the soil. A good septic tank is a wonderful self-regulating thing. Ours has never needed to be emptied in the 20 years we have lived here. It was, in fact, last emptied in 1981 or 1982 and has caused no problem at all; we check it periodically and it is never more than half full. It quietly digests its contents and the water drains away through gravel (well, I presume through gravel).

Al is annoyed because he sowed grass seed a few weeks ago and since then his new lawn has been visited by a hungry bantam and a pheasant, tunnelled by a mole and, now it's growing nicely, being nibbled by a baby rabbit. None of them is particularly afraid of him although the bantam took the hint and went home when he stopped supplementing its diet with worms. He caught the mole, alive, and took it to the other side of the river (over three bridges) where he hoped it could not return, but now another mole has taken its place. He was talking darkly about borrowing an air rifle last night. He is - or was a few years ago - a very good shot, but I doubt it will get further than muttering.

Al's problems may be over! In the unlikely event that this MOLE CATCHER works. And the link too come to that.

Saturday 20 May 2006

In the glasshouse, but throwing no stones

Last night I visited the next-village Friday evening market which I mentioned on Monday. There was a grocer with a van, a Fairtrade stall (yes of course I stocked up on chocolate), Al with his veg and three meat stalls. Three, no less; but each of them was a specialist selling its own farm's produce, so one had lamb, one rare-breed pork and one had free-range chickens and turkeys, and beef. There were some other stands too, one for any donations to go to the village hall; cakes and suchlike. We went, and left, fairly early as we had Squiffany with us and bedtime approached, but they were doing good business and I hope it keeps going. A good deal of thought and work has gone into it all and it relies on both shoppers and stallholders being willing to keep up the effort.

Nearby Yagnub has its tri-annual street market tomorrow. Another home-grown effort that started, roughly 20 years ago, with an evening Christmas street fair, there are now three all-day markets, each with its own theme. In May it is plants, in August it's antiques and in December it is a Christmas, of course, craft fair. it's well supported. Everyone goes. Unfortunately, the weather forecast is not good. But hey, plants are the things to sell in the rain, just so long as all the pots don't get blown over.

I spent most of the day working in the greenhouses and pleasant it was indeed. The weather was changeable - when the sun was out it quickly became too warm but not unbearably so, and when it rained it felt pleasantly cosy. Like driving on your own in the dark and the rain, where you feel (deceptively) safe and strangely comforted by the blustery weather outside.
I have never been this late before, I've been potting up plants but have only just planted many of them out; indeed I still haven't finished. This year, I've half-buried pots in the earth and planted into them so that the roots can go through but I can target the watering; this is to make life easier if there is a hosepipe ban here. I don't, in any case, care to feed and water heavily as I think that vegetables have more flavour if they are not over-forced. I've also mulched with a thick layer of straw; the case against that is that unrotted materials take nutrients out of the soil as they decompose but I did it last year and found that the straw did not start to rot during the summer and it did keep moisture in and suppress weeds. The greenhouse now smells lovely and barny and I can see that I will invent reasons to go and dawdle in there, just to inhale gently.

One 30-foot long greenhouse, the Sage has decreed, will have to be dismantled after the summer. I'm sorry about it but can see he is right (which is why he is a sage). It is old, well over 50 years; the parents of a friend let us have it when they moved house about 15 years ago. It was dismantled in Sussex, a site levelled and prepared, with concrete foundations, here, it was re-erected, glazed, painted with wood preservative, all in the space of a couple of weeks - because I mentioned politely that, if it were not done quickly I would miss a growing season. Now it is buckled and rotting and panes of glass slip periodically; it has been mended over the years but it's now past it. We have a polytunnel that was going begging a couple of years ago but have not put up and I suppose that will have to do instead, but it won't be the same.

Friday 19 May 2006

Glad to sit down

I do not feel the need to have an opinion about whether a woman past her natural childbearing years should conceive a baby with medical assistance. But blimey, it wouldn't be for me. Two days with Squiffany and I ache in back and hip and I'm not even arthritic. We have had a most enjoyable couple of days but I'm not sure I'd be up to it full time.

We went to Beccles this morning and shopped - fun things for her and useful ones for me. I meant to take her to the local very nice (albeit rather expensive) café, but as it can be quite crowded there I decided to take the pushchair and bags back to the car first. I couldn't fold up the pushchair. The baby started to cry. I got agitated. I had to ring Al and be talked through the knack of pushchair folding. I've been quite disappointed that the design of babies' hardware, as it were, has become trickier and more annoying to operate in the last couple of decades. So many things are really good; non-spill lidded beakers, easy to fasten clothes, real nappies - the modern ones are really excellent and the pants too, goodness, when I think of the hoo-haa of folding those bloody things, and hoping the pin didn't come undone and skewer the baby and knowing that it would leak because it simply didn't all fit in the plastic pants; that you would think that being able to disassemble a pushchair one-handed, put car seats in and out of cars, fasten the baby in simply even if it squirmed, would have been thought about by now.

We did get to the café in the end; she had apple juice, I had coffee and we shared a toasted teacake which was extremely good. She was very happy. She rarely is offered juice, though she eats lots of fruit; she just has water, plus milk night and morning, so it was a treat. And she really likes her toy tractor and shows it to the dog and goes vroom vroom as she pushes it along the table.

I hope we don't get gales as the forecasters suggest. The wisteria is just coming out and it should look wonderful by next week. Though if we do get the extremes of weather they were muttering about a couple of days ago, I suppose I'll be more worried about the roof than whether flowers are spoilt.

Thursday 18 May 2006

Squiffany rules ---- yes, okay, whatever you say

I looked after Grandbaby Squiffany today and will, unusually, tomorrow as Other Grandparents are on holiday. She was adorable as ever and beautifully behaved (well, would you expect me to see anything else in her? But it's true). Last week was quite hard work. Having discovered joined-up walking, that is, not going from safe hand-hold to safe hand-hold, even if it was the other side of the room, but striking out on her own, she was thrilled with it and kept wanting to explore, especially the garden.

Ours is not so much a garden as an adventure wilderness. Fabulous for a self-reliant 8-year-old but not so good for a nearly 14-month-old toddler (ooh, not a Grandbaby after all, she's now a Grandtoddler!). So I had to go with her - well of course, but you have to accept I am desperately lazy and really like sitting and reading books to little children. But I do like The Outdoors too, you in the smoky city would - it's quiet, it's verdant, there is lots to see if you find wild flowers and cows and sky and hedges enthralling........okay, I see what you mean, well, I LIKE IT.

Anyway, back to Squiffany. Today she was quite happy to explore the house. She doesn't know we have stairs, as there is a (shut) door through to the hall, so the sitting room, chaotic study, dining room and kitchen are all she knows about as yet, plus the door that leads outside. She toddled {[and a silently onomatopœic word that is too (yes, silent onomatopœia is indeed a contradition in terms but I got it from the fabulous website and it works)] ... you know, for a truly pedantic person, using double brackets gives me the linguistic equivalent of a caffeine buzz or a sugar rush; oh goodness I've just realised I need a triple bracket and that is the first time ever} from one room to the other quite happily on her own and I was able to read quite half of the daily paper.

Lunch was bantam egg, bread-and-butter, peas (yeah, frozen, I know). tomato and yoghurt (bought,okay, I know) and tea was fish fingers (all right, I KNOW ALREADY), kiwi fruit and banana and cheesy biscuits and more bread-and-butter because I don't have much imagination. I offered a small chunk of banana. She mashed it with her fingers and gave it to the dog, who would accept such an offering from no one else. I gave her a sliver. She flashed it a contemptuous look and didn't touch it. I gave her the rest of the peeled banana in one piece. She ate it. She smiled.

I'd say 'who's in charge here?' But I know the answer already.

Wednesday 17 May 2006

I am not worthy - but I do tease

It's a bit humbling, blogging. When people are friendly and interested enough to leave a comment, you find out that they are nicer and kinder people than you are. Apart from the weird ones, that is. Not long ago, a comment was left pointing out that paying a lot of money for a damaged piece of china was a bit pointless really. And so it is, unless you love the china in question and see why a person is that enthusiastic (more on a related subject sometime, I'm trying not to digress).

And a virtual friend in India said 'wow' when I mentioned, almost in passing, being a church warden. I think of it as a voluntary job, done wholeheartedly but entered into reluctantly as it involves work and responsibility I'd sooner not have taken on. But thank you for 'wow' howdoweknow, it has encouraged me to remember that I should appreciate the responsibility and not think about how quickly I can find another person to take over from me.

Another comment is one of mine in another blog. About flirting. Yes, now I'm in my 50s I reckon it's okay to give in to the enjoyment - kept strictly within flirting not attempted seduction (eek!) bounds of course - while I'm obviously not worryingly up for it, past it but not embarrassingly so, and safe. And married men of my own age are entertained by it too, the unmarried ones are looking at and for women far younger, and young men, no I don't go there, except, teasingly, in a comment box - and I received the reply that I was a tinker.

And I was. It's all about the language of written kisses, that is, 'x's. I said (it was relevant) that it's x x x that you need to look out for - and it is, it's high-level flirtation. It is, of course, quite different from xxx from a friend, which is friendly; affectionate but like a warm hug. But I signed this comment
xx z
and that was certainly the action of a rascal. Or a tinker. Though not a femme fatale.

Win some, lose some - I prefer winning on the whole

We did, admittedly make a mistake. But we hatched a plan to get round it without anyone actually having to admit that. We very much doubted if more than a handful of people would even notice the error, in black and white though it is.

And we'd have got away with it too, if it hadn't been for that pesky Treasurer.

The Secretary and the Chairman (S & Z) politely vie with each other to take responsibility....she was forgetful and later unobservant; I was careless and unobservant. But it was Mr T's fault really, because he gave the paper to the secretary to give to the chairman and then told the chairman that she already had it. So she had 400 copies made of the wrong piece of paper.

I will have 400 copies made of the right piece of paper and a covering letter and we will spend a couple of hours on Monday stuffing envelopes.

Having worked hard this morning, though feeling somewhat dispirited by the end of it, I was pleased to remember the Emergency Russians* I bought in only two days ago. So I cheered myself (and husband) with smoked salmon and melon for lunch.

Last night I arrived home from the service where the Archdeacon made me officially a churchwarden. It has to be done properly as it is a post with legal status, so we all have to Affirm various things, like being faithful and um, diligent or something (in relationship to churchwardenship, no obligation placed as to ones behaviour in other walks of life).

I had left food for Sage and Ro. Leftovers, which was convenient for all. I arrived back to find that they had saved me some, which I hadn't expected but was glad to have. "Would you like some of that soup too, I heated some up and it was nice" enquired the Sage. I was startled. I had assumed it had all been eaten some time ago. I sniffed cautiously and took it outside to the compost heap. I didn't like to tell my beloved how old it actually was, but it had been there over a fortnight, I haven't made soup for a while. It had had something put in front of it in the fridge and been lost to view. It smelled funny, not actually bad but frankly not good either.
I expected us to have a broken night's sleep and for him to be cancelling all engagements today. But no, he's fine. Quite all right. I'm astonished and relieved.

Like many people, I'm a bit casual about sell-by dates. I assume they give a few days in hand, and when you find use-bys on things like Marmite, which keep forever, it rather undermines their credibility. Not having a cat, who is the best judge of food freshness (dogs are useless, they like stinky food), I sniff, taste and err on the cautious side.
I am rigorous about food hygiene, however, and always wash my hands after touching raw meat or fish, never mixing hot food or cold unless it's going to be cooked or eaten at once, being careful about knives and chopping boards - all the things that can spread nasties without you being able to detect them. But mould on cheese or jam? Pff - not for the baby, but how do you build up your immune system unless you test it a bit?

*Emergency Russians = Emergency Rations, as I'm sure you realise. Family saying. I've mentioned it before, 'search this blog' at the top if you want to see that in context, though I'm afraid I didn't explain it, or any other family expression, there.

Tuesday 16 May 2006

In and Out in the garden world

Apparently, this year, herbs are in fashion. And vegetables are out. If you want your garden to be Where It’s At, according to this year’s Chelsea Flower Show entrants.

I can see why veggies are not for the undedicated gardener, in the long-term. A few years ago, a decorative parterre was all the rage. And you were advised to put veggies in the flowerbeds. You saw photos in the glossies of cabbages among the roses and carrots in the petunias. And, if the right vegetables are chosen, this can work if they are the cut-and-come-again type, like courgettes and beans. But take a lettuce or a cauliflower out and you are left with a big gap in your border.

My mother tried dotting asparagus around, because she had nowhere for a dedicated bed. But she forgot (because you couldn’t see them) where they were, until the spears had grown too big to cut anyway. The ferny leaves looked pretty, which was the eventual intention; but in the end asparagus beetles found them. I remove these annoying, but not unattractive beetles every day and kill them, because their repellently sluggy little offspring eat the leaves and the stalks die off. I don’t usually kill anything as my garden is full of hedgehogs, frogs, ladybirds and birds and they deal with most bugs, but they don’t like the flavour of gooseberry sawfly or asparagus beetle.

Oh no, I’ve digressed. Sorry. I’ve been given a bar of fabulous-looking chocolate (‘extra fine dark chocolate with a fruity touch of lemon and spices) and I am using all my willpower not to eat it yet, and none is left to force me to keep to the point.

So. Gaps in the flowerbeds. So you have to have a little bed or a series of pots of half-grown lettuces etc. to fill in the spaces when you want to eat anything. I sometimes do it the other way round, however, and plant a few flowers in the kitchen garden: there’s the companion planting theory, that some plants grow well together, there’s the hope that strong-smelling plants like marigolds keep away aphids and scented flowers particularly attract bees and pollinating insects. And they are pretty which is enough justification for anyone.

But horticultural fashionistas will soon find that a herb garden is not that easy an option either. It is not hard to grow herbs for use in the kitchen. But you can’t set out an elaborate bed, with each type in its own little section, and expect them all to stay there. A few, like rosemary and sage, grow large, whether as a bush or a clump. Some, like French tarragon (never bother to grow the Russian sort) hardly grow at all. And mint, given half a chance, will send out its underground runners and take over the garden, never mind the bed. Then there are the annuals. Herbs such as basil are tender and need to be started off indoors. But the annuals (basil, chervil, coriander etc) run quickly to seed, so you have to keep sowing more for succession.

It’s a great pleasure to use herbs you have grown and have nipped out to pick as you need them, and they are easy to grow. But if, as they will at Chelsea, you try making a feature of a whole range of them, it will not be as trouble-free as it looks. You could, of course, simply put a variety of different thymes in the driest and stoniest part of the garden where nothing else will grow. They will look and smell lovely and be no effort at all.

Monday 15 May 2006

Making friends, selling vegetables, buying at the market

So, I didn't do that link yesterday, nor check specific facts. Sorry, but if it really gets to you, you are more than welcome to tell me so and spur me into action. If not, I'll remain complacently sure that a. no one has read it (apart from Benedict) or b. you have keenly looked up the information yourself.

You know how it is, when a small mistake or omission causes, not only extra work for yourself, but makes you feel foolish too? Mm, well, I forgot to sign a letter before taking it to have 400 copies made. So I spent an hour (ish, I wasn't counting) signing them individually. Fortunately, I had the company of two friends who were folding papers and putting them into envelopes and so, once they had stopped laughing at me, we chatted animatedly and amicably.

Last Friday, greengrocer son Al added another string to his bow. The next village, which is the best place in the world to live if you want friends, has set up a Friday evening market. It is a place that is small in population and wide-ranging in area, which has lost, over the years, its school, pub and shop (all of them gone at least 15 years) but still has a fabulous community spirit, due to the work put in by the people who live there. They are not at all insular, newcomers or non-inhabitants are as welcome as those who have always lived there, and they have a Friday evening social club at the village hall, which has a bar and people licensed to run it.

So, on Friday evening, Dilly went to the shop, with the baby, while Al did his deliveries. He then went back, loaded his van, shut the shop and drove to the next-village hall. As it was a fine evening, they held the market outside, which had the advantage that he didn't need to unload, and everyone enjoyed their shopping, with plants, cakes, excellent meat from the village farm shop and Al's fruit & veg. And the bar, and a free barbecue to celebrate the occasion.

Al enjoyed it very much, and financially it was well worth while. But, by the time he had returned to the shop, unloaded, phoned in his order for the next day and returned home, he had put in a 14-hour day, with the busiest day of the week to follow in a few hours. He has committed himself to a month's trial, but in how many places can you burn a candle before it starts to disintegrate? He already works over 50 hours every week at the shop, without taking paperwork or free home deliveries into account.

And, when English strawberries ripen next month, his busiest season of the year will start. He loves his job, isn't that fortunate.

Sunday 14 May 2006

weather, or not

But here, not a cloud in the sky.

Just a lilac hedge and apple blossom.

I've been hearing about the Cloud Appreciation Society recently and, having read an article in today's paper about it, have looked up the website, excuse me putting a proper link, I might get around to it later), and I look forward to a spare half hour to browse through the Clouds That Look Like Things and the Cloud of the Month. Apparently cloudspotters prefer to be called nephologists or, more informally, nimbomaniacs, both of which are just asking to be misunderstood, a fact that I'm sure is not lost on the members of the society, which does not seem to take itself too seriously. The founder, Gavin Pretor-Pinney, says that clouds are the most "egalitarian of all of nature's works" which invites the response "Huh?" Isn't all weather pretty egalitarian?" A view only partially refuted by 'the rain, it raineth on the just and also on the unjust fella, but more on just than unjust for the unjust hath the just's umbrella.'

British people love British weather. It's always good for a grumble. There was a lot of comment, a few years ago, on the fact that Inuits or Icelanders (sorry again about the lack of research, it's Sunday and I've relaxed) have a surprisingly large numbers of words for snow. We have far more than that (whatever it is) for rain. Any Brit knows exactly what is meant by drizzle, pouring, cloudburst, showery, teeming, pelting. We have figures of speech: raining cats and dogs, pissing down, bucketing down (a subtle difference between them), fine weather for ducks. Nowadays, it doesn't rain enough, on the whole. So, when the sun has shone for more than a day or two, we can say, gloomily, "well, the farmers need the rain" or "this'll end in a thunderstorm, mark my words."

We love sunshine on holiday. But hot weather, when we have to work, soon makes us ratty. We long for an end to a hot spell, although we want the sun to shine at weekends. We really want rain every night and sun every day, but with a pleasantly refreshing breeze, because we call anything over 21 degrees celsius 'unbearably hot.' British weather can be lovely, but it is unpredictable, especially on holiday weekends. We have fewer Bank Holidays than any other country in Europe, and several of them are strangely grouped within a few weeks. Between Easter, which can be any time between late March and late April, but is usually within the middle fortnight of April, and the end of May, there are four Bank Holidays. Since this is also the time schools are trying hard to cram the last nuggets of knowledge into exam-takers heads, they really want all the time they can get, but hey, I like the Spring and enjoy those leisurely Sundays, knowing that Monday will also be a day to relax.

LATER ---- And another thing, we are bilingual in temperature. Cold weather is referred to in Celsius - minus 4 last night, brrr. Hot weather is Farenheit - 'England's Sizzling in the Seventies!' proclaim the hopeful headlines.

Saturday 13 May 2006

The violin had curves too

I see that the teenage violinist Nicola Benedetti has just released her second CD, of the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto, plus some Mozart and Schubert. She won the BBC Young Musician of the Year competition in 2004 and I went to hear her at Snape Maltings last year. And she was well worth hearing, she has a fine talent and I was impressed by her interpretation of the music.

She was also more than worth seeing. She wore a peach-coloured, clinging, full length gown, which was not revealing of flesh but showed her figure to its maximum advantage. And, slenderly voluptuous, this was indeed shown when she turned to the orchestra to check the tuning of the instruments. She is a mobile violinist and we could only speculate on the impression the view of her wriggling bottom was making on the male violinist who sat immediately behind her. I went to the concert by myself, but I say 'we' because, during the interval, I heard several people comment on this aspect of her appearance, including staid-looking elderly women, all of whom were vastly impressed. I spent my time wondering whether or not she was wearing knickers and, if so, whether it was such a minuscule thong that no line of it was visible, or whether it was a body stocking that had no lines to show. I never did decide.

I'm finally about to book for this August's series of concerts. I'm thinking that I will go to the sort of performances that I might otherwise never see, such as the Tibetan Monks of Tashi Lhunpo, as well as the orchestral music and jazz which I know I'll enjoy.

But less eye candy. Humphrey Lyttelton, perhaps?

Friday 12 May 2006

Starting, but rarely finishing

I've just finished reading 'Never let me go' by Kazuo Ishiguru. It was shortlisted for the Booker prize last year but I didn't read it then and I can't remember how it was received by the critics; of course there are quotes at the front of the paperback of favourable ones. It isn't a book to like, the subject matter is too creepy for that (and is gradually unveiled, so it would be unfair of me to explain further) but, even in 'The Unconsoled', which I can't remember making head nor tail of, he never writes anything but well.

It's written in the voice of Kathy, a 31-year-old woman, and set in the late 1990s; it becomes apparent that it is placed in an 'alternate' 1990s and that it is, in fact, science fiction. Since it is written by a woman with a limited viewpoint and one sees nothing except through her eyes, it is impossible to criticise the viewpoint he chooses to show us. The quoted Evening Standard review says, at the end "It is peculiarly pure fiction in this way, abstract, uncluttered by reference, claiming no great knowledge other than that of the heart" - which ending sounds a bit schmaltzy but isn't, it's true in a distorted way. It is the oddest book I've read for a while, but worth having read.

I've been finding it hard to finish books recently. I always have more than one on the go, partly so that, wherever I am in the house, I don't need to be without a book. But I haven't had time to read for long stretches at a time, and I haven't been so stressed that reading has been vital - books are my security blanket; I can be calmed by their presence and soothed by rereading an old favourite. When, as they say, the going gets tough, I up my speed and my eyes flick across the pages, devouring words greedily - which is to be recommended as an alternative to quantities of chocolate or ice cream. Anyway, I've been mildly anxious about busy-ness, which has affected my concentration, whilst not actually being worried or unhappy about it, so I've been reading a little, but superficially.

Books and candles mark my subliminal moods. If I want to know how I really feel, I think how many lit candles surround my night-time bath, and how and what I am reading. I think that's a bit pathetic, but who am I to judge?

Wednesday 10 May 2006

Unlikely stories?

Headlines in today's Eastern Daily Press

'Eco-firm to face pollution charges' - embarrassing.

'Outrage over the export of gallows' - a Suffolk farmer has been selling execution equipment to African countries.

'Hoodie heroes commended' - astonishment to find that lads had helped a man who had collapsed. The ambulanceman assumed they were mugging him until he realised they were using their hoodies to keep him warm. Hope he's ashamed.

And my favourite -
'Axeman tries to chop his way into Norwich prison'

Things could be worse

I was chatting to a friend (on MSN, one only has time for virtual friends nowadays) about workload. I said that I'd had a spate of meetings and had a bad build-up of follow-up work from them. He agreed gloomily. The trouble is, he said, that when your workload is being planned, they allow for the meetings but not for the preparation or the follow-up.

You will notice, pedantically, that I didn't put in quotation marks there, even though I wrote 'I said' (single q mark: doesn't count). You will then have realised that is because he didn't say it, he wrote it. But if I had put 'he wrote' it would have looked just a touch fussy, wouldn't it.

Anyway, after this morning's meeting I have, not only an alarming amount of work to do but a week's tighter deadline than I had appreciated.

Otherwise, all is sunny and cheerful, literally and figuratively. It's a gorgeous day, cloudless sky, warm but with a fresh breeze so that it doesn't seem airless. My friend Ab is on holiday this week, out of the country. I hope he's having a delightful time but I'll remind him next year, May is the best time to be in England. Still spring but feels like summer, the lilac is in flower and, best of all, asparagus is on the menu.

And my house is clean and there are enough leftovers for me not to have to cook tomorrow. For a melancholy and pessimistic person (for then I am rarely disappointed), I feel quite chipper.

And I've just noticed this is my hundredth post. Woo-hoo. Who'd have thought it. It took me rather more than 100 days to get here, but we're all allowed a day off now and again.

Tuesday 9 May 2006

"Tiddly, widdly, widdly,

Mrs Tittlemouse," said the smiling Mr Jackson (The Tale of Mrs Tittlemouse, Beatrix Potter).

I have been just like Mrs Tittlemouse today. She was a most terribly tidy particular little mouse, always sweeping and dusting. After a event involving Mr Jackson the toad and a nest of bumblebees, she was obliged to spring clean. She swept, and scrubbed, and dusted; and she rubbed up the furniture with beeswax, and polished her little tin spoons.

Then she had a party. Good on you, Mrs Tittlemouse, that's what I shall do.

Squiffany came to call. 'Hello' I said joyfully. Tilly came rushing through. We had a visitor and she hadn't heard. Bark, bark bark. Ah, it's family, sorry, I'll go back to eating dinner, was Tilly's demeanour.

"Uh" went an amused baby, "Uh, uh, uh" - "what did Tilly say?" I asked. "Uh, uh, uh" said Squiffany, laughing.

Try it, it sounds more like a dog's bark than 'woof' any day.

Monday 8 May 2006

Monday, and there's work to be done. Later.

Tilly in the wilderness. She's sticking her tongue out, but not in anticipation of catching the hen and chicks. She was happy.

Tilly, my dog, had a wonderful afternoon. She found a mouse in a pile of wood and, although it escaped quickly, it took her a couple of hours to be quite sure of that. She snuffled through the wood and everything else nearby, enjoying the feeling of being a hunter and, it seemed, quite unbothered to end up with nothing at all. When I finally called her back to the house she was proud and joyful and obviously very happy. She lay asleep in her favourite chair most of the evening (yeah, we spoil that dog), legs twitching in dreamy memory.

I’ve got a meeting here (in my house, not in my office, which is in my house but not available for meetings as it would involve too much tidying up first) in a couple of hours. So I’m here to get together all the papers and stuff. You will observe that I’m not actually doing that, because it is not very interesting, but it is there to be done. I also have to clear up and hoover the room where we will hold the meeting. Having had a jolly family weekend, the house is neither clean nor tidy. These are not interesting jobs either (especially as I’ve noticed that something unidentifiable has been spilled on the carpet, right by the door where I can’t move a rug to, so I will have to clean it). Unfortunately, my housekeeping standards are so much lower than everyone else’s that I am satisfied and stop tidying at about the point that everyone else would think, gosh, this place is a tip, time for a good clear-out.

The thought of this is by no means as worrying as Wednesday, when 10 people will be coming here for an all-morning meeting, after which I have invited them for lunch. Now, this will be a pleasure (assuming today’s efforts will not have undone themselves by the day after tomorrow), as all the committee are friends, but I am rather aware that the only part of my garden which is not a complete wilderness of weeds and overgrown undergrowth is the kitchen garden, and the committee member who would be most likely to go and have a look there is on holiday and therefore not coming. It does me good to have to face up to my shortcomings however, and at least the field looks pretty as you come down the drive.

This morning was spent at the local high school, interviewing prospective admin assistants. Very good applicants, hard to choose between the final two. There is quite a gulf, in schools, between the rates of pay of teaching and non-teaching staff, because the non-teaching staff are paid only for the hours they work (plus statutory holiday pay), whereas the teachers are paid for school holidays. The person we appointed, who is my age (but looks younger, dammit, what has she got that I haven’t?) doesn’t work in a school at present, so may well be taking a pay cut. I don’t think the government is likely to do anything about it as it would cost so much; the extra payment would have to go from everyone to the cleaners and cooks to the office staff and teaching assistants. This does not seem to affect the quality of applicants to the jobs however, which is usually very high.

Half an hour gone. Dear oh dear.

A LITTLE LATER - oh, no, I've wasted another few minutes on - no, I'm not linking it because, if you haven't been there before, you will spend hours chuckling and I will have led you astray. I already have a daughter to lead astray and must not tempt you to stop working too.

Sunday 7 May 2006

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.


Comment by Stitchwort
“The teapot's quite pretty, and the 18th century script is beautiful, but to pay that much money for a teapot with no knob on the lid... How are you going to make tea in it? I bet the spout dribbles too.
I hope the purchaser gives at least the same amount of money to the Darfur appeal (as they obviously have more money than they need).”

I read this and then went to church, where I did the Epistle reading; Johns’ first letter, chapter 3, verses 16 – 24.
Verses 17 and 18 say this:
‘How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.’

Indeed, Stitchwort, point taken. I think the modest little teapot is a bit of an innocent target, in truth. £8,800 is not a huge amount of money. A piece of similar age from Chelsea, Sevres or Meissen would cost many times that, and what about the art market; Picasso, Van Gogh, Vermeer and others go for millions. If I had a few thousand pounds to spend, I’d rather buy something I loved, that would give me a great deal of pleasure, than have my hair done every day during an election campaign.

But it is true that, in this country, most of us have more money than we really need to live on and, whether we buy a cup of coffee and a cake in a café, a breadmaker when we could knead our own, an M&S ready meal which we could cook or a decorative object, just because it’s pretty and we like it – whether we can easily afford it or have to save up is beside the point, if we chose to live more simply and gave away the surplus, it is possible that the world overall would be a kinder, better, even, place.

One can say that, by buying consumer goods we are providing employment, in this country and abroad. Yes, and deepening our consumer footprints too, using resources and adding to pollution and climate change. I bought two pairs of shoes (as it happens, having mentioned metaphorical footprints) the other day – I needed shoes, mine were worn out (literally). But I could have managed with one, and given the rest of the money away. Even less justifiable is my recent trip to Venice; there is little worse, ecologically, than an aeroplane trip and I was spending money simply on my own amusement that could have been donated to a worthwhile cause.

I don’t have answers. We each have our own small extravagances and carefulnesses, our own generosities and meannesses. I don’t know if I’m more or less culpable than you are. Thanks, Stitchwort, for food for thought. I’ll try to do better in future. Though I stand by our auctions. Yes, 18th century china may not be used, except for decoration, nowadays but the items we sold on Friday were made and painted by hand, by people who would be unremembered if it were not for those who love and buy their work. I can’t think that is a bad thing.

Saturday 6 May 2006

Normal for Norfolk?

1661: An illustration - walking past la Fenice, Venice.

I pondered on clothes, as I toddled around Norwich the other day. Not something I do often; well, not other people’s, as I am terminally unobservant, but my eye was caught, twice, in the space of an hour or so, which is sufficiently unusual to remark on.

The first was a woman in a singularly unattractive coat. A shapeless, washed-25-too-many-times, greenery-bluery fleece with an uneven hem, which had been all right for walking the dog when it was new, but now was not good enough for mucking out the pigs. I thought, what a pity, attractive woman: but then I saw the skirt underneath. Oh it was pretty. Silk, patterned, just the right length, the right amount of movement, just right. Why cover it with the first nasty coat that came to hand, just because it might rain? Haven’t you got a suitable jacket? Go on, anything reasonably tailored will do, doesn’t have to be perfect, just not beastly.

The second was another woman. Mid-forties, with husband and a couple of just pre-teen children. Oh, she was perfectly turned-out (a lot of hyphenated words this evening, n’est pas?). Her hair was short and permed and perfectly formed, her slim figure looked as if she exercised rigorously every evening – or, shockingly, before work in the morning – she was, dreadful word, well-preserved. She wore skin-tight jeans and a little embroidered jacket that, together, looked as if she was just trying too hard. And she had on blue eyeliner. Honestly, this is true. Bright blue eyeliner. Aged 43, 45. She looked like a 55-year-old stuck in a timewarp, and yet she could have been really attractive if she had relaxed, taken a little less care and worn less make-up and hairspray.

Do I sound judgmental? I hope not. I’m not so well dressed myself; I hardly bought any clothes for years as it was so much more pleasant to buy things for my children and anything left over went towards books. I’m not much more structured, clothes-wise, now, although I do take more care. But if I got it as wrong as they did, I do hope I’d have the sense to look in the mirror and not go out that day.

All over until October

Gaff of the day was made by me. I greeted a couple, gave them a catalogue and said I’d put them on the mailing list. “Mr & Mrs ----” - I paused. He looked startled. “Oh, ah, no” he said “This is my daughter.” Well, he was considerably more flattered by the mistake than she was.

It was a family affair, which gives us all huge pleasure. Both sons and Dilly came along after work and El and her husband took the afternoon off work and came from London. Our cousin also came along after work to take the money at the end – I don’t do money, I can add up but I can’t count notes under stressful conditions, especially after 8 hours on my feet, smiling constantly. I’m all smiled out today. We know most of the customers; we’ve been holding these specialist sales for over 20 years and some people have come to every one. Others have had their interest kindled by us. If someone comes in and says “I’m interested, but I don’t know anything about it and I don’t know what I like yet” then I’ll offer to bring them everything, a couple of pieces at a time, so that they can learn the characteristics of the china and what type of things they are drawn too. They can make notes of the pieces they like and then I’ll bring those to them again. We give a pretty accurate guide price (unless there are keen bidders who drive the prices up) which takes into account any damage or repairs done, so that they know roughly how much they will have to spend. It’s a pleasure, a year or two later, to see how those people have grown in knowledge and enthusiasm – and sometimes they have developed rather expensive tastes, which is, well, it’s good for business.

The sale itself was excellent. Prices were buoyant (though nothing sells itself; the Sage has been an auctioneer for a very long time and knows what he’s doing) and the last lot, a darling little inscribed teapot, had so many people after it, including two telephone bidders, that the price went up by £1,000 in between me saying to my phone bidder ‘do you want to bid again?’ and him saying ‘yes’. He got it though in the end. The knop on top of the lid, which has been broken off a long time ago, would have been shaped like a little open flower. The pot itself is completely undamaged and it fetched £8,800. It was particularly valuable because it was inscribed both with names and a date.

An auction is great. Addictive though EBay is, there’s nothing quite like being there, handling the pieces, seeing how the bidding is going, watching people’s faces and hoping for them to look down or shake their heads (if you’re bidding), or keep their eyes on the auctioneer and nod (if you are selling). Having a personal interest in the outcome turns it from an interesting, but not personally engaging, affair into an exciting strategic wrangle and of course to be the auctioneer is the best job of all, albeit the most stressful.

I rarely buy, myself. We’ve got too much stuff already and I’m not a collector; we have one in the family and that is plenty. But I love it when I do; I am a determined bidder and think (yeah, okay, I delude myself) that, if I am quick and decisive, I will intimidate my more hesitant opponents. I wave my catalogue or numbered paddle to attract the auctioneer’s attention and then nod firmly the moment he has taken another bid. Then, when I win, I beam happily at him – or her – and show my paddle again for the number to be taken.

So, today, not much work. I will probably put together the price list for the website and, if I get around to it, write a sale report. But the family is all together for the first time in a month, so I won’t spend all day on the computer.

Friday 5 May 2006

Finished work

Excellent sale, I do enjoy a good auction.

I have come home and relaxed on Laphroaig, coffee and Green & Black. Why no name to the coffee? I'll go and see what it was.

Douwe Egberts dark roast.

I just might enthuse tomorrow.

Thursday 4 May 2006

Going, going .................

It's our big specialist auction tomorrow night. We're going all computerised. This is a first; the Sage has resisted up until now, but all his children have persuaded him.

Luckily, I had the prescience to stock up with Green & Black's chocolate earlier today (although the baby nibbled the corner as we went round the shop together).

But it will all be fine. And highly successful.

Mother's (and father's) boy (and girl)

Dilly, my daughter-in-law, was slightly apprehensive about the prospect of having a boy. She only has sisters and, although she now has two little nephews, she felt that there might not be the close sibling bond that she enjoyed when she was growing up, between a boy and a girl. She was also not sure that a little boy would be as cuddly and willing to be loved as a girl. Everyone has been reassuring her, and telling her that boys are very close to their mothers. And pointing out that, after the hell of Squiffany’s teenage years, having a boy will be tranquillity itself. “That’s true” she pondered “I was really mean to my mother for years.”

Al is very pleased. He doesn’t know how his father-in-law managed to retain any sort of control at all as the only male in a houseful of women. He sees the new baby-to-be as a natural ally – although, seeing the close relationship he has with the baby he has, particularly since he started looking after her every Wednesday, makes me suspect it is fear of hormones rather than absence of a father/daughter bond that concerns him.

I won a little power struggle today at least. Squiffany kept trying to pull a lead out of the television which was plugged into Ro’s Xbox. I said no and took her hand away several times. In the end I put a box in front of the tv and, when she sidled round and touched it again, I said no once more, gave her a Look and moved her. She cried briefly, eyeing me from between her fingers, and stomped out of the room (I followed her and we went to feed the bantams instead). But later, when she ventured towards the television and put her fingers near the lead, looking to see what I would do, I said nothing but Looked at her (but with a half smile instead of an edge). She left it and cheerfully came for a cuddle instead. And later, when I said she couldn’t have a second biscuit, she accepted it without a murmer.

On the other hand, when she said no to the salmon I’d cooked for her tea, I cooked her an egg instead. But at least it was proper food – and I didn’t want to start a battle I was destined to lose. And Dilly says she will give her dad the salmon tomorrow for Squiffany’s lunch, so it will not be wasted.

Wednesday 3 May 2006

Being sentimental. Ignore me.

Another jolly morning. Al left Grandbaby Squiffany with me for half an hour while he went to help E. open the shop. In that time, she cuddled the dog, the chicks and a chicken, waved carrots hopefully at the cows, who were too busy ruminating to bother to walk across the field, and had a ride in K’s nim cart (electric buggy, so called because they don’t go vroom vroom, they go nim nim). She then was tired and we turned on CBeebies; of course that was the instant her father arrived home and caught us.

But that isn’t the particularly jolly part, that’s just setting the scene. It was time for Dilly’s 20-week scan and they invited me to accompany them to the hospital. Squiffany and I amused ourselves for half an hour in the waiting room while the scan was being done – they do measurements of bones, check vital organs etc at this stage. All is well, they have a 6 inch long baby, plus legs (two of them), and we know its sex and, oh, no reason to boast as it’s no accomplishment, but I can’t help being pleased that I was the first person they told. So we went out for lunch to celebrate (just a sandwich and cake as D. had to get back to work).

I am usually a remarkably unobservant person, but at this time of year I am particularly aware of the countryside. I love to see the new growth of leaves on the trees and hedgerows and the blossoming of the blackthorn and may would make me quite lyrical, if I were the poetic type. Even the weeds in the flowerbeds (for I don’t spend time weeding flowerbeds) look fresh and attractive now. I enjoy driving along Norwich’s southern bypass, the A47, at this time of the year because a bright person had the idea, when it was constructed, of planting cowslips along the embankment. These have spread over the years and look so pretty just now. The meadow saxifrage is just coming into flower on the field and along our drive and, soon, it will be joined by buttercups and I will sigh sentimentally to see the cows lounging artistically, being only too well aware, I suspect, that the flowers set off their black and white colouring rather well. The farmer sends his friendliest dry cows (from his milking herd) over here for the last few weeks before their calves are due, so that we can stroke them and feed them leftover veg from the shop.

Tuesday 2 May 2006

Suspicious mind

The Sage brought me a glass of red wine and a piece of cheese at half past six. How kind.

At quarter to seven, he refilled my glass. And gave me another piece of cheese. My suspicious mind was alerted.

"Thank you" I said (be polite first, always a sensible move) "But have you something to tell me? Am I going to be cross?"

"I think the sale will be pretty busy on Friday. I think you need building up beforehand. It will be frantic from 3 until 4 when all our helpers arrive."

So, he thinks it's a good idea to make me really relaxed and cheerful now? Shouldn't he be sending me out for cross-country runs and building-up exercises like that? Or setting me really hard sums so that my mind, at any rate, will be agile? On balance, I prefer the red wine and nice mature cheddar (I'd call it Cheddar if it came from there, but I doubt it) but I am an instant-gratification girl at heart.

He'll expect a gourmet dinner in half an hour.

Hah, no problem. As long as the other half of the bottle is MINE.

(25 minutes later) The men are saying yum yum and filling their plates. And they don't want any wine. Whoopee, happy family.


Another funeral this morning and the church was full. We had to get out more chairs as all the pews were full and there were still people standing. He had lived within 6 miles of his birthplace all his 61 years and he has been buried, in the churchyard,200 yards from the house he was born in.

He was born with a hole in his heart and was not expected to survive childhood, but, after an operation, was able to live a cautiously normal life. As he could not join in the sports he loved, he helped. He drove the minibus, he helped on the sidelines, he raised money and served on committees. And his wife and family loved him.

Monday 1 May 2006

Once I was awake.....

I had an excellent day. We went to Norwich and, after a small setback when I discovered that Jarrolds was shut for the bank holiday (you can get everything in Jarrolds, it's just like Underwoods in The Archers - what do you mean, you don't listen to Radio 4 and don't know what I'm talking about?), I went elsewhere and bought two pairs of shoes and four books. I know it was Ro who was supposed to be shopping, but what's a woman to do in her spare time? Then Ro and I met to have lunch before the cinema.

He started his job in late October and was surprised when he received two books of Luncheon Vouchers at Christmastime. He was impressed that, in addition, he was given a day's extra pay as a Christmas bonus as he didn't expect anything at all, having been there for such a short time. He hadn't actually used any of the vouchers yet as they is nowhere to spend them here, so we ventured into a JD Witherspoons, which takes them and he bought me lunch......a free lunch, but the thought is all. It took him 10 minutes to queue and order and another 17 minutes for the food to arrive, which left us 12 minutes to eat, drink and steam up Elm Hill and down St George's Street to the Playhouse.

Of course we got there in time. In time for the trailers, furthermore, although sometimes they don't show them and start straight in with the film so we didn't want to risk it.

I noticed that he left the last inch of his beer and ate all his chips, whilst I drank all my beer and left some chips. It figures.

A very enjoyable film, 'The World's Fastest Indian' - the Indian is a motorbike - with Anthony Hopkins as Burt Munro, a New Zealander whose dream it was to travel to Utah and take part in the Annual Speed Week. Of course, he had no money, a heart condition and the bike was 40-something years old. But he got there, or there wouldn't have been much story. Burt was something of a hero in NZ and it's the sort of tale that had to be based on a true story or you wouldn't have believed it.

We drove home, wishing we'd brought the shop keys so that we could have stocked up on fruit and salad for Ro's lunch tomorrow - and the Sage had remembered and been there already. Fortunately, it was the first thing we mentioned when we arrived home, so he was very pleased to say it was a Job Done and even more pleased to receive much praise. It's a small oddity of life to say that he was praised for remembering, whereas I would have been kindly forgiven had I forgotten, but that's the way it is in many houses.

And then I went into the garden and cut 12 spears of asparagus. The first of the season. There is nothing better (some things are as good, but none better) than freshly cut asparagus, cooked just long enough and eaten with your fingers.

I'm salivating and don't want to flood another keyboard, so I'll go and start cooking.

Not just z, but zzzzzz

I got up late this morning. I kept going back to sleep. Must have been all that strenuous gardening yesterday. It is raining, which I heard when I first woke just before 7 o'clock and so there seemed no great incentive to leap out of bed and do anything. However, Ro and I are planning to go into Norwich in a while as he has shopping to do and then we are going to the cinema. I've said he can borrow my car if he wants to go alone but he's a bit wary of it as it's long and looks a bit unmanœuvrable (not sure if I should have left the e in there before the able but at least I put in the diphthong).

I've had the car a couple of months now and like it, and there are still plenty of switches and buttons that I haven't investigated yet. Of course I could read the manual and find it all out, but it's like a marriage/close personal relationship, quite fun finding out something new once in a while. Whether or not that involves switches and buttons........