Monday 31 July 2006

Waiting by the phone, until I gave up and did something better

I had occasion to ring a department at Islington Borough Council this morning (for those of you who do not know London personally, it is where Tony and the rest of the Blairs - except the youngest - lived before he became prime minister). I phoned at 9.30 and heard a recorded message, asking for my name and phone number - say name, key in number - and I would be phoned back.

Somehow, I imagined that I would be phoned back today. I waited until noon. Then I had to go out. The saintly Sage stayed until 2 pm. Then he wrote a letter to Islington Council and has sent it by recorded delivery, with a self-addressed, stamped envelope enclosed. Just to see if that works.

Anyway, I had to go to Norwich and, after I'd transacted necessary business, decided to stroll around for a bit and maybe investigate the tail end of the sales - as it has been far too hot to want to buy anything for weeks and so I have not done my necessary civic duty of maintaining the economic prosperity of Norfolk's shops. I was successful for remarkably little money and came home feeling cheerful.

And not just because of my purchases. It was a pleasure to see everyone in the streets - i happened to meet several people I know but that, delightful as it was, is not what I mean. You know this obesity epidemic you read about all the time? Norfolk is several decades behind the times in many ways, and in this one too, or so it seemed. Streetfuls of slender people, both men and women attractively and flatteringly dressed, with flesh only discreetly bared if it enhanced a woman's appearance and the few chubbier people were equally well clothed and attractive too. I was charmed. There were very few exceptions, stylewise and most of them were teenage lads, who were still of an age to dress to be scruffily unnoticeable (and, sentimental that I am, I find quite sweet). And everyone was smiling too.

I had to get some keys cut at the market. Norwich market has had a major refurbishment over the last couple of years and some shifting around of stalls resulted during that time as, while each section was being done, those stalls had to move into temporary ones. The key-cutting and shoe-mending stall had evidently not been there for a while and has just reopened. Several customers came and went while I was waiting for my keys and each had some friendly and welcoming words for the stallholders.

It was slightly less hot today and, although still sunny, a better day for getting things done. I still had an afternoon nap though after I arrived home. So now I must go and water the greenhouses. Bye!

I've got ten minutes to spare

You Are a Centaur

In general, you are a very cautious and reserved person.
However, you are also warm hearted, and you enjoy helping others in practical ways.
You are a great teacher, and you are really good at helping people get their lives in order.
You are very intuitive, and you go with your gut. You make good decisions easily.

Your Quirk Factor: 44%

You're a pretty quirky person, but you're just normal enough to hide it.
Congratulations - you've fooled other people into thinking you're just like them!

Pfft, who knows - except me and I'm not saying. Thanks Geena for these, but I didn't do the meme - too many answers were a boring "no" or a prim "I'm not telling - my family might read this blog."

Sunday 30 July 2006


Another chapter in my saga. When I last wrote, my father-in-law (Pa) had recently died, my mother-in-law (Ma) had decided to move out of the family home where all their surviving children had been born, the Sage and I had agreed to move there and we were having a baby.

Ma started to look for a house. She didn't want to move far and preferably, to stay in the village where she had lived for 55 years. But there were hardly any properties on the market and she could not find anything she liked at all. So she came back to us and asked if we would mind her building a house in the garden.
This was obviously a reasonable suggestion and I could hardly object. But I did have doubts. I had an affectionate relationship with Ma, but to live in 'her' house, with her next door might be difficult for both of us. And she was approaching 80 years old - very fit and active now, but when the time came for her to need more care, would that change our relationship for better or worse? However, I kept quiet about it. It was not long since her husband had died and I would not hurt her.

We made enquiries about planning. There is plenty of room here, but it is outside the area of the village where planning permission would readily be given. After considerable negotiation, we were given permission for an attached granny annex, with the proviso that only a close family member would be allowed to live there. And, in due course, the bungalow was built and Ma moved in there. Initially, she rather assumed that we would move in to the house straight away, but we had to explain that this was not possible - the roof tiles badly needed replacing and other work needed to be done (my priority was to get rid of the orange and stainless steel 60s fitted kitchen, though I didn't say that!). She took the news good-naturedly and her old 'retainer', Hilda, who had gone there as a mother's help when the Sage was a year old and stayed ever since, agreed to postpone her retirement until we had moved.

Ma entered into the spirit of the thing cheerfully. We have photos of her climbing a ladder and clambering onto the roof. When I expressed a hankering for an Aga, she said that it would be her welcoming present to me. I still was not entirely sure that the house would ever feel like my own home, but I could not feel anything but loved and welcomed.

And then one morning, Hilda took her in an early-morning pot of tea as usual and said 'good morning'. An hour or so later, she was a little worried as Ma had not got up. She went to consult K who helped in the garden - maybe she was ill? K went and rattled dustbins loudly outside the window in case Ma was asleep: but eventually they realised there was no option but to go into the bedroom and poor Hilda ventured in, with K hovering outside in the hall.

Ma had poured her tea and put down the teapot, but then her heart had failed her and she had lain back and died in her bed. A good death, who would fear an end such as that? Her fourteen months of widowhood must have been hard for her, but she never complained and was brave and resolute. We were so sorry that the work had not been completed and that we didn't move in while she was still alive, she had so looked forward to that, but there had been no inkling. We carried on with the work, but the urgency had been removed and so we didn't move in for another nine months.

Saturday 29 July 2006

Vegging busily

What a tired z I am - soon to be a zzz I am sure. I went out this morning just before 8 to pick vegetables, took 15 minutes or so to encourage several chickens back into their run - they just climb over the wire, but they never climb back so I had to open the gate and then chivvy them towards it, only to find a few other inquisitive birds wandering out in their turn. Then I took an hour to pick 3 varieties of french bean, courgettes, spinach, swiss chard, 10 cucumbers and broad beans. As the broad beans are nearly finished, I cut off some plants to give to the cows, which are getting very bored with brown grass, Some of them are not fond of broad bean plants however, so I had to search the compost heap for cabbages and carrots from the shop for them.
When all was picked, I went back towards the house, stopping to let some more chickens in again. By that time, and it was only 9.30, it was hot and humid and so was I, so I showered and dressed again and was just going to slap in contact lenses and slap on slap when Squiffany arrived for a visit.
An hour later I finished making myself human for the day, nicely in time to spend 11 - 6 in the shop.

My daughter and son-in-law are up for the weekend, so they came to call at the shop during the afternoon. And the pub was mentioned. Now, can you imagine the temptation? 4.15 pm, nothing to drink all day but a mug of coffee at 10 o'clock, and the pub was mentioned.
By 4.30 I was happily quaffing a pint of the landlord's best - still at work in the shop of course, and really impressing the male, at any rate, customers, who seemed not to be accustomed to the sight.

By the time we finally sat down to dinner, sometime after 8, I was really quite ready to take a break. And tomorrow I'll try to write something interesting!

Friday 28 July 2006

Have a good weekend

Just a few pictures to end the week. We acquired a few posh pedigree bantams last year and some of their chicks, whose father is a common or garden bantam, have comical topknots. Some are black and some are a rather lovely ginger. They are nice-natured, tame little birds; unlike the males which are true fighting cocks and which we didn't keep.

Figs - should be a good crop this year, as long as I remember to pick them before the birds have a go.

And in close-up

Last year the datura had lots of sweet-scented flowers in August when I bought the plant (adding showy colour to tubs to put around the wedding marquee). These are this year's first two. I had quite a job keeping it alive during the winter as the house was too dry - I don't have a conservatory so it ended up in the porch where I kept forgetting to water it.

Funnily enough, end on, the flower looks like a giant petunia. But not in the flesh, as it were. That peachy tint, I think, is suntan as they were cream last year when the sun hardly shone.

At my village school governor leaving party, they gave me this rose bush. 'Simply the best' is the variety - aah, aren't they sweet.

Thursday 27 July 2006

Another chapter in the Life of Z

So, the decision was made to move to the Sage's family home. This would have been in the middle of September, 1983 - I know that we were on holiday over my birthday, as he bought me a gold necklace in Jersey (no VAT, good move). It could well have been 17th September when we had that momentous conversation over our sandwiches and glass of wine. A week later, we had another conversation, even more momentous and this one was initiated by my husband.

I should just set the scene a bit first. I was 19 when we married, 20 when our daughter was born and, two years almost to the day later, I had a baby son. And this was so wonderful, my children were so precious, that I wanted the experience again. When Al was about two years old, I said to the Sage that, if we were thinking about having a third, maybe this was about the right gap? He didn't answer.
This sounds unfriendly but isn't really. One just has to understand his way of thinking. He hates an argument and he can't bear to say no to me. So he avoids a situation he doesn't want to deal with. So I left him to think about it. And, in the intervening five years, I didn't raise the subject again. It didn't go away, for me, but I knew this had to be a whole-heartedly two-way decision and I wasn't going to put him under pressure by telling him how strongly I felt.

Back to 24th September 1983. In bed. "Would you like?" asked the Sage, "to have another baby? New beginnings and all that?" No need to consider, important decisions are the easy ones to make. "Yes. However," I added, "I don't want another April baby. Another April birthday will be too expensive. And not around Christmas either. Um, July next year is the earliest we could manage it, let's give it from now until February (which would make it early November) and if I'm not pregnant then, hold you hard* until August or so."
I may not be organised, but I am efficient and practical.

Anyway, the next morning (excuse me, squeamish/male/celibate people) I didn't take a pill. A week later, when if I was going to, I should, I asked if he was sure. He said he was, so we started to work quite hard on modelling the perfect baby. Needs quite a bit of practice, doesn't it.
We didn't take all that long however; I said I am efficient and so is he; and our third child was born on 24th July 1984.

*This is not some deviant form of birth control, just a bit of Norfolk-speak

Just pick up the phone

At some point I need to make an appointment to visit the doctor. No urgency, so easy to procrastinate. Part of my reluctance to ring up and just make that damn appointment is the system that has been in place for the last few years, that all appointments are for the same or the next day. So I can't say, oh no hurry, if there's a fairly unbusy time anywhen in the next fortnight that'll be fine - I'm treated as someone who actually needs a 'here and now' appointment which makes me feel as if I'm making a fuss or, worse, as if I think I'm iller than I actually am (which I'm not, it's just an appointment, really).

I was quite impressed when the system was brought in; guaranteed appointment within 48 hours, wow*. Until I actually wanted to make one for the next week and wasn't allowed to. Especially if you are relying on a friend for a lift, this seems silly - I understand about artificial targets and all that, I'm not blaming them. And then, of course, if you ring and there are no next-day appointments left, apart from urgent cases, you are not allowed to book, and have to ring back the next day, constantly hitting redial at 8.30 in the morning when everyone else is doing the same thing.

So, I've put it off all week and I wouldn't ring on Thursday anyway as Friday is always busy, and Monday mornings are busy too so I won't ring then, and probably I'll forget for the next few days and - well, you see what I mean.

I know the underlying reason for this reluctance of course. I ignore all letters suggesting I make an appointment for any sort of check-up. So I don't want to just drop in, just in case he says 'Ha! Got you here at last - let me check your blood pressure and cholesterol and do all the tests we do just in case.' And I'd be too polite to say no. So I stay away.

You know why I've written this? So that now I have demonstrated, in print, that I am just being silly, I've no excuse any more.

*Geena is bemused, and well she might be.
The government is very keen on targets. It sets targets for everything, except of course for ministerial competence and rectitude. In schools, in the health service, in anything it can get its hands on. And these have to be measurable. It was decided - in some medical practices, correctly - that it took too long to obtain an appointment to see your doctor. Sometimes, if you admitted it was not an emergency, it could take a fortnight. So surgeries were given a 48-hour target for doctors' appointments. So they shrugged their shoulders and gave the government what they wanted.

The obsession with target setting and league tables does nothing to raise standards in itself of course and it can mask real problems. And it's made us all extremely cynical. But hey, *we* voted for them and so are reaping what we sowed.

Wednesday 26 July 2006

Thinking, as usual, about food

The radio is on in the kitchen next door, and Anna Del Conte is on Woman's Hour talking about her new cookery book. I only have one of her books, 'Entertaining all'Italiana' but it is a favourite. I doubt if I am unusual, in that I have lots of cookery books, most of which I use for browsing through and usually just use one or two recipes from each. Indeed, some books read really well, but somehow I just never cook from them.

Nigel Slater is one of those. He really makes food sound good, but his slathers of butter and cream just don't accord with what most of us eat so I take his ideas and adapt. And I have two books by Annie Bell, which are lovely to read, her 'A Feast of Flavours' is one of the most appealing vegetarian books I have but, I don't know why, I don't use it much. The other book of hers, co-written, I own is 'Living and Eating' which is just so prescriptive. They tell you just what is 'good taste', to the extent that they choose your plates and cutlery, which is a bit off-putting.

I've had Josceline Dimbleby's 'Favourite Food' for over 20 years - I bought it (reduced!) in hardback but, like many books of the 1980s it is falling apart because it was not bound properly but the spine was just stuck together. I used one of my favourite recipes from that book just the other night*, and it's probably one of my most cooked-from books. However, although I have several other of her books I don't often use them - sometimes, I suspect, a cookery writer starts to get a bit too anxious for new ideas to fill a book he or she is contracted to produce and aims for over-complicated recipes or a more outré combination of ingredients to fill the pages. This happened to Nigella Lawson; 'How to Eat' is not only a really useful and entertainly practical book to read but has excellent recipes too, but some of her later 'TV personality' books don't have nearly as much to recommend them.

I borrowed the Australian restauranteur Bill Granger's book 'Bill's open kitchen' from the library and liked it enough to ask Ro for it for Christmas. Very simple, delicious recipes which encourage you to use your imagination.

Can't miss out Delia. Is there anyone in this country who doesn't have one of her books? I have several and they are so useful. I do know one person, actually, my friend Caroline Young. For decades, whenever she admitted to being a cookery writer, she was greeted by a brightening face "Ooh, do you know Delia?" and she developed a bit of a 'thing' about it (although not about the lady herself who is apparently charming). Caroline wrote some excellent books. One, written with Katie Stewart, 'Simply Good Food' has several quick standbys and many good things. One recipe, for chicken in a tomato, pesto and crème frâiche sauce (I've just given all the ingredients) is one of the most useful (ie quick and tastes as if it's more trouble than it is) I've ever had, and her strawberry icecream takes 5 minutes to put together, 20 minutes to freeze, which means you have got home-made icecream ready for the table in the time it takes you to eat your first course.

I don't think I should have started this - how can I leave out Elizabeth David (French Provincial Cooking is my favourite of hers), Jane Grigson and Sophie Grigson - I love Sophie Grigson's puckish smile, dangly earrrings and sloping shoulders and the recipes are good too, and all the others whose books I appreciate, but I only sat down to write this on a brief whim and I think I've kept you long enough already.

*But this fabulous marinaded chicken is what we barbecued on Ro's birthday this week.

1 small onion
Piece of fresh ginger, peeled
6-8 cloves of garlic
3 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoons ground cardamon
half teaspoon ground cloves
half teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons oil
1 tablespoon tomato purée
1 teaspoon salt.
Put the lot (chopped a bit if appropriate) in the food processor, whizz, coat chicken pieces with the aromatic mess, leave for several hours, grill or barbecue until blackening. Don't fry, somehow the flavours vanish. It's aromatic, not hot and the garlic doesn't overwhelm as its pungency is balanced by the other flavours so that none stands out.

A suggestion and a decision

I first visited this house in 1970, but it was not until three years later that the son of the family and I became closer than simple friendship. After we married in May 1973, we visited his home regularly; we were both close to our families and lived half an hour's drive away from here. Once we had children we fell into the habit of usually visiting my mother (and in due course my stepfather too) for Sunday lunch (unless they came to us) and the Sage's parents for tea.

The house was warm and friendly and unpretentious, but it was very different to any other I knew. It was older, for a start, with large rooms made dark by windows enclosed by dark curtains with pelmets, and with low ceilings - the drawing room ceiling was particularly low, being only 6 foot 6 inches (2 metres) high with a beam across the middle that my husband and his father ducked under without noticing. The kitchen was a bit startling, all stainless steel and orange melamine - very 1960s, which didn't seem to suit the house. I liked the house but could never imagine myself living here.

Years went by. The children visited frequently and loved spending weekends with Granny and Grandpa but in 1983, after a short illness, my father-in-law died. We had booked a family holiday in Jersey only a few weeks later and felt bad about leaving Ma, but she was insistent that we should go. On our return we visited her of course and a few days later my husband went over again for a long talk.

We were members (and still are) of the Royal Norfolk and Suffolk yacht Club in Lowestoft and used to meet a couple of times a week there for lunch. On this day, and I remember exactly where we were sitting and what we ate (we shared a round of cheese and a round of ham sandwiches and a salad), the Sage told me that his mother had decided that the house was too large and impractical for her to manage on her own and that she would sell it and move.

Several thoughts whipped through my mind. The Sage still had loads of stuff in the outbuildings, from his early engineering days. What on earth would we do with it? He loved the house and so did our children as, I realised, did I. He would hate to see it go. I opened my mouth to speak.

You know when you are as surprised with what you say as is the person you speak to?

"Would you like us to move there?

The Sage was astonished. He knew how much I loved our home. He was also thrilled and tried hard not to sound too keen, so we talked about the possibilities for a little while and we decided that it would be best for him to talk to Ma alone - she might not be keen on the idea and frankness would be easier just between mother and son.

In the event, she was thrilled too. She told me that she and Pa always wished that one of their three children would eventually come and take over the house, but never suggested it as they didn't want to put anyone under undue pressure. She never, she said, thought that I would consider living there.

This story will come in several episodes - I feel it is something of an imposition on you, but you tell me that you enjoy my reminiscences, so you're going to get 'em. It seems odd to consider writing some of it down, memories are so personal - but I'll see how it goes.

Tuesday 25 July 2006

All ironed out

No relaxing done this afternoon after all as I decided that catching up on some ironing was a higher priority than relaxing in the shade with a book. I am, of course, a fool, but at least, now, an uncreased one, I mentioned this intention in an email to a friend and he replied "Must-be-ironed items surely minimal these days." I mused on these words as I carried 45 or so freshly ironed garments upstairs and consigned 4 ink-stained shirts to the rag-bag. And then counted the unironed items; 66 dinner napkins, a really awkward white shirt of mine and a woollen sweater of the Sage's, all of which can wait. And decided that his idea of minimalism is not quite the same as mine.

A churchwardens' meeting this evening. And I discovered that I was not the only one to be miffed by the Church system. Some major grumbles by people who had not got their ear to the ground as I had, so had been in the dark until the official announcement. But, such was their annoyance, that their complaints sounded as if they were directed at the interviewing panel which was not intended, but sounded a bit personal. So I chipped in and said measured things and added that complaints should be directed to the bishop, not to the panel who were acting under directions from him. Fortunately it all calmed down quite soon. Another interview is set up next month. Pfft, we'll get a priest sooner or later and if the bishop wants us to lose interest he's going the right way about it.

The opinion of the ignorant can still be worth knowing (if it's mine, of course)

There's another reminiscence in my head all ready to transfer to my fingers, but Nostalgiopolis is not my city of residence and you can always skip the boring present-day stuff and pop back in a day or two. Or later on today indeed, depends how hard I relax this afternoon (the morning went well).

I'm chuckling just now, in fact. Last night I took part in Day One of Mike's "Part Four of our collaborative annual quest to establish the Greatest Decade For Pop Music Ever" as he eloquently puts it - and only now has it occurred to me that he might possibly check out the people who have voted and if he does so he just might - but he's a busy man, surely he has better things to do? - look at my profile and see my appreciative mention of the Singing Postman.
If the man does not instantly delete my comments then he is a true, come-what-may, democrat and I salute him (he hasn't deleted them in fact and he quotes one of the most opinionated, which I wasn't quite expecting).

I hadn't knowingly heard any of the songs before; I listened three times and then cast my vote, with reasons. Well, I might not have taken much notice of 'the charts' for the last few decades, but arguably that just makes me more open-minded and disinterested. I gave up on them in the early 70s with the advent of music designed to appeal to children. Or 'teenyboppers' as the newly coined term put it (when even that wasn't childish enough they called them 'weenyboppers'). I've dipped in and out since, but hardly enough to sully the perfect plummy bloom of ignorance.

Monday 24 July 2006

Memories........since you ask

We lived for ten years in that house – the Edwardian former Rectory. It had been built to replace an 18th century rectory, which had fallen into the sea…..coastal erosion in East Anglia is nothing new. In the 1960s and 70s, the Church of England started to group parishes together under the stewardship of one vicar or rector, and so found themselves with more houses than they had priests to put in them. And the rest were large and old-fashioned and expensive to maintain, so most of them were replaced by modern houses and the old ones sold.

My husband was a full-time auctioneer at that time; that is, his firm held one full-day sale of antiques, pictures, jewellery etc and general household effects per month. It was also an estate agency and sometimes held property auctions too.

It was only a week or so after my son was born and we were still staying with my mother. The Sage came home for lunch and said casually “The sale of the old rectory is coming up next week, why don’t you come and have a look at it while it’s empty.” Seemed a good idea to me and I left the baby with my mother and off we went.

I had grown up in a big Edwardian house with its light, airy (= draughty), large rooms and the Sage and I, with our daughter, lived in a house built in the same period, although it was much smaller and the garden had been sold off and houses built in it. We parked in the drive of the Old Rectory, I walked in through the front door, and liked the hall with its parquet floor. My husband opened the drawing room door and stood back for me to go in.

It was a sunny afternoon in April. I went into a square room with a large octagonal bay in the further corner, which made the whole room bright and full of light. I don’t exaggerate when I say that my knees, for a moment, buckled. “Can we buy it? It’s wonderful, I want to live here.”

So we did.

I loved living there. We had the big drawing room which, with its octagonal bay with five windows plus another double window, caught the sun at all times of the day without it ever being too hot, and a sitting room and dining room which both faced south-west. The kitchen was huge and had a separate larder and utility room and the former Rector’s study was used as a playroom for the children. Upstairs there were six large bedrooms and I made a second bathroom out of part of the landing – for unknown reasons the back stairs had been done away with, so that area led nowhere. There were two more bedrooms and another unnamed room on the next floor, but we didn’t ever use them much, though they made a good den for the children when they were older and I stored apples up there too.

There were downsides to living in that house, notably the east wind straight off the North Sea. We used to lie in bed watching the curtains flutter in the draught. Downsides? – no, just that one. Everything else was perfect.

Sunday 23 July 2006

Moving day

Moving day. Mostly, it's blended into the ripples of time, but a few memories linger. It was Prince Andrew and Fergie's wedding day and I sat on the old house's study floor packing the last of the china and other things that had to wait until the last minute, watching it, while the Sage supervised things at the other end. We had been moving stuff for several weeks into the garage over here, as we had far too many possessions to contemplate doing it all in a day.

We had sold our house to people we knew in fact and had agreed a price and shaken hands on it months previously. We then hadn't heard from them for ages and started to wonder about it - we had entirely trusted their word; they had taken us equally seriously? Eventually we had a phone call and, yes, they had - their house was being sold to a family member so all was being done in trust and goodwill. We agreed a completion date of 1st August but, in the same friendly vein, offered to move out a week earlier and let them have the keys so that they could take their time too.

We chose 23rd July because the next day was our youngest's second birthday. We still had workmen in the new home and no electricity supply, and we had ordered a new bed for us and one for our daughter which, they told us at the last minute, couldn't be delivered until the next day. And a sofa and armchairs, we had never bought anything much new before but always frugally gone for second-hand - somehow, spending so much on necessary work on the house made us throw caution to the winds and empty the bank account entirely.

The truth is, people don't believe a deadline. They always think there's just a little more leeway. The Sage and I had to explain quite forcefully that we would move, come what may, and after all these months, we did want an electric light. The Aga was working, so we could cook and we had hot water. They rigged up a lead from the granny annex next door and at least we had a light in the kitchen and we could use lamps and torches upstairs. And we had mattresses that the older children could sleep on and Ro had his own small bed. We slept on the spare room bed from the old house, which was going to be Al's in the future (we'd had an antique half-tester bed, which we had to sell as the ceilings were too low).

Eventually, I packed up the car and drove over to our new home. Which was surprisingly empty, considering we'd moved the contents of a large 6 bedroom house over there. "I wasn't sure where you wanted everything to go" said the Sage seriously, "so I thought it could all go in the outbuildings until you decided." This was not altogether welcome news, as I had a worried feeling that we would move in the bare minimum and take ages to start shifting the rest (which, of course, was what happened), but there was nothing to be done then as I had three children and a husband to feed - no idea on what, but I remember cooking by the illumination of a lightbulb on a long extension lead hung on a hook on a kitchen beam, so I did prepare something, and it must have been quite late in the evening, for it to have been dark in July.

Saturday 22 July 2006

Summertime, and the lunchtime is boozy

It's been four years now since my youngest child left school, but my year is still marked out in my mind in school terms. The antiques world quietens down in the summer and we have just two auctions a year, May and late October, so our own business is slack now, and all the other things I'm involved in slow down or stop in the summer too. I don't usually go away on holiday at this time (except to visit friends or family for a few days perhaps) but I like having time to enjoy the garden, read, not watch the clock all the time.

And a lunchtime drink is so nice........
A second beer at 4pm is just a little self-indulgent though, I realise, even for a Saturday. But, do you know, I don't care.

Tomorrow is the 20th anniversary of our moving to this house. Have I told you that my husband was born here? His parents were married in 1927 and bought it the next year; they lived here for the rest of their lives. It's no wonder that he feels such a deep connection to the place.

A few years ago, I met, through friends, people who lived in the house I grew up in. Or in half of it anyway, as it had been divided in two (it was not unreasonably large but, at the time it was divided, large houses were unfashionable and it was situated in a very expensive area). They asked us round for lunch and afterwards showed me round the house.

I'd been looking round, recognising but not feeling a connection to things, as there were just so many changes. I decided that the windows were new as they fitted so well! They were large sash windows and rattled in the wind, but these fitted beautifully. Then I noticed the curved brass fittings, shaped to rest your fingers under as you lifted the sash - the original ones after all. Later, we went upstairs. It's a three-storey house and I and my sister used to sleep on the top floor. As I came back downstairs, my hand slipped behind and under the banister rail and my host noticed and laughed - "It's still there" - there was a long, smooth sliver of wood missing which had left an area flattened. I had forgotten, but my hand hadn't.

A couple of years ago, the house we sold to move here was on the market. It was empty and being sold at auction, so we didn't feel intrusive at asking for a look round. Now that was a lovely house too, an Edwardian old rectory, which we bought when large houses were unfashionable and sold when they were the coming thing. It was really odd, though a pleasure in most ways, to go back. Someone asked if I would like to live there again - but no, this is home.

When I sat down, I had no idea at all that I was going to write all this. Must be the beer.

Friday 21 July 2006

Four little letters

As regular readers will know (well, did I ever think I'd write these words, wherever tongue might be lurking), Greengrocer Son Al has a market stall in the neighbouring village on a Friday evening. Tonight, at about 6.30, I received a text.
"Hi. Can your get paper bags to us? We forgot to bring them and can't get through to anyone........"*
I texted back "Sure"
A couple of minutes later
"And pens too. Sorry! Xxx"

I pondered. I don't have a shop key. The Sage does, but he was out. Should I drive to Denton, fetch a key, go back to the shop, back to Denton. Or might Dilly have a key. She didn't have, but times move on.
I went next door.
We have a cautiously informal arrangement. One doesn't want to barge in uninvited but, on the other hand, around tea/bath/bed (for the baby) time, loud knocking and waiting for invitation to go in is not necessarily helpful. So I tapped the knocker and went in, calling at medium pitch. It was all right, they were in the kitchen and, furthermore, Dilly has a key which she lent me.

I drove to the shop, fetched bags and pens and left again.
Drove two miles down the road, to the turning to Denton. Received text.
"Is it too late to ask you to pick up new potatoes too? Don't worry if it is."
"Sure" I texted.
And drove back, unlocked, loaded up the local, the Essex and the washed new potatoes (as I didn't know which, or if all, he wanted), locked the door, drove to Denton.
I arrived on the dot of 7, which wasn't bad, just in time for the first customer.

I hadn't actually been planning to visit the market tonight, as I hadn't done the watering yet because it was too hot to want to spend time in the greenhouses. But, since I was there, I bought a granary loaf, some rolls, fillet steak for dinner and a free-range oven-ready chicken. Didn't wait for the bar to open, came home, watered, cooked dinner, ate dinner, drank wine throughout.

Received another text
"Can you ask Dad to get another 8 trays of strawberries for sat please. Xxx"

*You will observe, throughout these exchanges that, not only are we all extremely polite to each other, but that none of us uses 'txt'. As a mother, I did my job well (which words are the happiest in any mum's vocabulary). As adults, my children are a credit to themselves (as I didn't teach them anything at all about texting - they taught me).

Thursday 20 July 2006

News for the Pews

I've mentioned before that I am currently a churchwarden and that, since our Rector moved away in February, we have been advertising for a new priest for our church and the other five in the benefice. A fortnight ago, two people were interviewed for the post. Entirely reasonably, the interviewing panel was asked not to disclose the result, as it is customary for priests planning to leave their parishes not to tell their parishioners they are job-hunting; therefore the news is given to both sets of churchgoers on the same day.

I have just received an email authorising me to tell the congregation, on Sunday, the result of the interviews.
Now, this has been an open secret from the outset because, in fact, it was decided not to appoint any of the candidates.

So what I ask myself, you, or anyone who listens to me, why have we had to wait two weeks and a day to let the news out? It was proper and courteous to tell the candidates first, but that was done the same day. It is surely a different situation from one where a candidate had to decide whether to accept, discuss it with his/her family, talk to the bishop, then choose the most appropriate time to release the news, which could possibly take a couple of weeks.

I have a feeling that it is a symptom of the general self-regard and 'we know best' attitude of the church, or rather 'the Church' that keeps so many pews empty all over the country. Keeping it secret for the sake of it, pointlessly.

I'll tell the congregation on Sunday, but I'll only say what I think if anyone asks me directly - 'for lying, she knew, was a sin' as Tom Lehrer put it.

Wednesday 19 July 2006

Blue sky and brown lawn

I was asked for pictures. I took pictures.

The soil in my garden is sand on gravel and it's a dry part of the country anyway, so I've always taken this into account with planting. In this exceptional heat, however, even good-natured shrubs like hebe and potentilla are shrivelling up, although they have have been there for years and are well established. The gravel area is doing pretty well; not much is flowering any more but I allowed for that with variations in leaf colour.

The grass is almost completely brown. The ragwort manages to stay alive, but it will be pulled up of course, it's poisonous to grazing animals (the poison is stored in the liver and will kill them over time if they eat enough). However, the cinnabar moth caterpillar lives on it and is impervious to the toxin.

The trees are still green, though they will lose their leaves early this autumn.

Masonry bees have lived in this ancient wall for years.
Goosey and the chickens manage to find some shade.

There are still some flowers in bloom however. Some of these are in tubs. I grow most flowers in tubs as they are more manageable to water.

And the greenhouses are cropping well. The jalapeño peppers are not hot yet, I ate one yesterday that didn't have a hint of heat, but in a few weeks they will smart nicely on the tongue.

And, just to finish with, the chimneys. The Tudor and the Victorian ones.

A balanced diet (warning, contains nuts)

I shocked my son Ro yesterday, when I admitted to conduct unbecoming in an elderly mother. It's hard to feel like eating much in this heat, but on the other hand one has to keep the nutrition levels up with regular nourishment. He does this by making himself a splendid packed lunch; two salads, one green or mixed, the other with something like beans, couscous or pasta, a sandwich (wholemeal bread of course) containing something protein-rich, five items of fruit and, usually, yoghurt.
Yesterday at lunchtime, I was alone, mildly hungry and nothing in the fridge appealed. I didn't want to cook. "Icecream" I thought, "there's the thing .......... mm, Magnum. Seems to deal with most of the major food groups, chocolate is a vegetable, milk, carbohydrate. Is there sufficient nutrition for a full meal? Ah!" I pounced. "Almond Magnum. That'll do it."
Ro thinks I'm decadent.
I'm wondering what to have for lunch today.

Tuesday 18 July 2006

Summertime, and the - ah, I've been here before, nearly

This summer weather is wonderful if you don't work 9 to 5. I've been waking early, but not going to sleep any earlier than usual, which has meant 4 - 6 hours sleep most nights. That's fine, daylight is good and I like getting up early in the summer (just don't disturb me once we are on to GMT) but the lacking sleep-hours catch up every so often. And so they did today - after I'd done all my daytime work of course (of course!). Oh it was lovely. The best part of 2 hours napping.
I didn't go to bed. If I had, I'd still be asleep now. But a comfy armchair, feet up, book, cup of tea, bowl of cherries, home-made (though not by me) lemon cake by my side, and I was very happy. I finished the food - well, did you expect anything less - and then I was away.
Still a bit zonked when I stood up, unsteady, at 6 o'clock; but since then I've watered the greenhouses and the tubs, picked the vegetables (courgettes, french beans, the first green peppers, tomatoes) and cooked dinner (all of the above plus a neighbour's - given - potatoes and some salmon) and have read the papers.

And people complain about the weather? But this is England, it could change tomorrow and each day could be the last of summer. It's the delicious uncertainty that gives it its enjoyment. Of course the gardens/the farmers need rain. But, although my delicate skin cannot spend time in it, I love the sun. We're all happier: more short-tempered, it's true: but in the summer people smile more, we chat more, we enjoy life. Relax, go slower, there seem to be more hours in the day so you still have time to get everything done.
We'd be so miserable if it rained every weekend.

A child can be rude, but do you have to boast about it?

I was more than startled to read this article in today's Times. If any of my children, at the age of 12, had come to give me a 'good morning' kiss and then, unprovoked, told me that "I’m fat, my hair needs cutting, that the bags under my eyes are the size of suitcases and that my breath stinks," I'd have told her that sort of gratuitous offensiveness is unkind and not acceptable (I'd have been awfully hurt too, whether it was true or not). Kate Figes seems quite proud that she has brought up her daughter to be rude (or, as she calls it, 'outspoken'). Sure, in the heat of an argument, an adolescent says hurtful things, but unless Kate is exaggerating wildly - and in that case she is being offensive to Grace - she seems to have taught her nothing about tact, thoughtfulness or respect.

I was completely out of my depth during my daughter's teenage years and if I'd had another girl, I hope I'd have done better; adolescent boys are quite different. Even when we did have rows though, there were several things about all my children that I only became aware of when I talked to other mothers.

They never scored points off each other. If one was arguing with me, the others kept out of it.
None of them ever sulked. They would walk away (whether slamming the door or not) and on their return the matter would be over, or we would talk it through.
They were not unkind. Occasionally there was a hard personal truth, but that was rare and it was never gratuitous.

Anyway, sorry Kate, I won't be buying your books. If I were your daughter I wouldn't want you to be writing about me as a teenager or yourself as a menopausal mother, and I don't want to read about it either.

Monday 17 July 2006

Ha ha

What Your Underwear Says About You

You tend to buy new underwear instead of doing laundry.

You're sexy, in that pinup girl, tease sort of way.

No, I'm too old and too married.
Unless my husband is a very lucky man of course ;-)

Update next day - I tried again with the knickers du jour -
"You like to think of yourself as innocent, even though you're not!
You're a closet exhibitionist who gets a thrill from being secretly naughty."
Sad to say, this is nearer the truth. All part of my cheerful mid-life crisis.

I'm only here for the beer

At the village festival* my daughter El won, on the tombola, a jar of frankfurters, a jar of pickled sliced cucumbers and a tin of spaghetti hoops. She was not impressed and they did not travel back to London with her on the train.
Ro spotted them tonight and enquired. I explained that there was no danger that any of them would be on the family menu any time soon. "But what are you going to do with them?" "Put them on the next bring & buy stall." "What, and be seen?"
He's right, I'll have to sneak them on anonymously. Call me a food snob, but the first on a depressing list of ingredients on the frankfurter label is mechanically recovered chicken.
Call Ro a food snob too - he said that El had won another tin of spaghetti and had given it to the raffle. "Mind you, at least it was edible. Well, barely - wasn't even Heinz."

*She asked me what was the difference between a village fête and a festival. I explained, it was the presence of the beer tent.

Result of the scarecrow competition

And the winner is............

The scare-crow!

Sunday 16 July 2006

Warning, picture of frog (lovely frog, however)

Al and the Sage sold nearly 400 punnets of strawberries in a couple of hours this morning at Bungay's Street Market, which meant they were able to come home early and have the afternoon off. I went in for an hour, but that was enough for me (noon was the most convenient time, but the hottest, of course, too).

I have the prospect of counting the votes for the scarecrow competition. We have gone for a complicated method of counting, to make it fair for the entrants, so it may take me some time. Unless I bung it all on a spreadsheet and let my good friend Mac do all the hard work. Which, of course, I will. But maybe not tonight. I am, I'm sorry to say, completely drunk on only two glasses of wine. I have been next door, chatting to Al and Dilly and Dilly's parents - D's dad managed to cut the tip of his finger off this morning, which has left him with a large throbbing bandage. He is being manfully brave about it though.

A frog has taken up residence in a plant tub in their garden, by a clump of moss. He is very beautiful and posed nicely for a photo................

And my favourite entries from the village scarecrow competition
Ho, shadow of Z visible.

And the bit of the river Waveney as you cross from Norfolk to Suffolk. Please excuse my presumption, owner of bridge and willow tree, if you read this and object, of course it will be deleted. But you have a lovely garden.

The Sage has fallen for another piece of china. He is consulting me before buying it though, we'll look at it tomorrow afternoon. Well, I'm a complete sucker for early Lowestoft, he's on pretty safe ground. I appreciate the delicacy though - my choice, woo-hoo.


I'm making quiches. Oh dear, not my strong point. For one thing, I can't make shortcrust pastry. Every other form of pastry is fine, including trickier and more pretentious ones, but regular shortcrust and I just don't gell. So I bought it, no problem there. Then of course there's the business of blind baking. Oh, there's a tedious extra step - a pastry case, so good they cooked it twice? Huh.

I was asked to make them in foil cases. Beastly little shallow things they are, although I've left extra pastry sticking up at the sides and all that sort of tedious gubbins they are still only about half an inch deep when they come out of the oven and there will be hardly any room for the delicious filling.

I think that I'll leave them at home, saying they are too hot to bring and I need to let them cool down, and hope that they aren't actually needed. Then I can foist them on my unfortunate family tonight, who will be too busy comforting my lamentations that I can't cook, to realise they are giving themselves indigestion. If the lunch turns out to be unexpectedly busy, the latecomers will have to make do with my sad efforts after all.

Maybe I'll just pop down to the supermarket and see if they have any ready-made pastry cases.

ps - actually, quiches tasted fine. In the end, one went to the lunch and one was cooked later for us. Ro praised it, which has mollified me entirely. Maybe my quiche-making days are not altogether over.


I love the honeysuckle on the fence by the door for its wonderful scent, particularly on a summer evening.

Friday 14 July 2006

This chicken chat will finish soon, honestly

It is giving me such pleasure, having the chickens where I see them every time I go to the kitchen garden. Usually they are in an area that needs a special visit as it's not on the way anywhere else, and that's where the Sage is usually to be found. Chickens have the same soothing effect on him that seedlings have on me. But they love the new site as it is full of plant and insect life and happily cluck all day - it's a soft and happy sound like a cat's purr, used to keep in contact and to assure each other that all is well. We shut the bedroom window on that side of the house last night, so I slept through cockcrow.
Of course, the downside is that a hen run is the first thing that visitors see, but hey, this is Norfolk and we hold our heads high - as Maudie Littlehampton* said "If it's me, it's U."**

I've had a busy and tiring day and it may be a measure of both these things that I have not glanced at one blog today. I might, this evening, but actually I quite want to go to bed. I probably won't, as early to bed, early to wake up is one thing, but 3 a.m. is another, and only too likely if I sleep before midnight. I couldn't be arsed to do the watering tonight, which I will regret tomorrow but, after all, life is full of regrets and it is character-building to learn to cope with them manfully.
You'll be awfully pleased to know that I have recovered from my strop of yesterday, although it lasted well into this afternoon and I am being civil and pleasant this evening.

*She is a character from the cartoons of Osbert Lancaster. And do click on the link, a most entertaining potted biography by Chris Stamatakis.
**The Mitfords - quite a family

Thursday 13 July 2006

Little Miss Grumpy

I'm afraid I had a bit of a strop this evening. There's a village festival this weekend on the village green, which is all good and lovely and the weather forecast is fine, so it should go well. There will also be displays of various crafts and things like that in the church, and I'll help quite a bit with one thing and another. On Sunday there will be a service at 5 o'clock. This evening I had a cheerful email saying that there will be a music group rather than the organ (which I'd arranged for someone else to play as I'll have too many other things to think about), so will I play the clarinet.

I've written back to say no. And had a cheerfully sarcastic reply saying, never mind, you do have such a busy social life, have a relaxing weekend.
My son has chuckled at my rantings to the extent that I've almost regained my good humour.

I went out to dinner this evening; it's a monthly occasion with a group of friends. It takes me about 45 minutes to get there, but we eat quite early as most of us have quite a long way to go. There was an accident on the Norwich ring road (a lorry hit a tree, shot across the road and hit another, so there were bits of lorry and tree all over the road and a bridge had to be checked for structural damage. Driver not badly hurt though.) so a section of it was closed and long queues were diverted, so my journey time was doubled. As I approached the ring road junction from another direction, I glanced at the Honda CR-V in the next lane. The driver was reading a newspaper spread out over the steering wheel. We were approaching traffic lights, so were slow-moving and sometimes stationary, but if you see this Honda, HD55EVP, do give him a wide berth as he may not be looking out for you.

This is the cock that crowed in the morn

That waked the z all sleepy at dawn. The new hen-pen is nearer the house than the old one and he certainly sounded cheerful first thing this morning. I did doze off again, but then woke up when a fly landed on my mouth which was, fortunately, closed. Extremely unpleasant though.

The mother has her head down and tail up as she is scratching vigorously at the grass. The baby has seen something that looks promisingly edible, so she has her head down too.

She just looks handsome and posed so proudly.
The dirty white object behind her is one of the feet of the LPG tank. It might seem a little odd to have a large gas tank in the kitchen garden, but I'll get used to it.