Thursday 31 August 2006

I'm not very good about birthdays. Or on them.

Frankly, I tend to forget them. People look in vain for a card or a prettily wrapped parcel. I may have done the shopping, but wrapping and posting on time is an afterthought too far for me.

My children-in-law's birthdays are only three days apart. So that is some incentive to remember. And I have sorted their presents out this afternoon. All I have to forget now are the cards. Whew.

I asked Dilly if she has plans for Saturday, a meal out or something while they have a chance before the baby arrives. "No, shouldn't think so" she said. "We're not big on celebrating birthdays in my family." Well, she married the right bloke then. Al takes after his mother somewhat in the last-minute preparation department. Except when it's something hand-made, when he will spend weeks in loving preparation.

It's my own birthday next month too. It falls on a Sunday and I am rather stunned to discover that I will attend church three times that morning. Once as sidesman, once as organist and once as churchwarden. Multi-tasking at just one service isn't an option. I take the view that I can, therefore, sin outrageously the rest of the day.

But that is looking well ahead. Tomorrow is far enough for me, just now. It is the day when we will switch the Aga back on. I am looking forward to that very, very much.

Wednesday 30 August 2006

Anything Geena can post......

............. I can post later. Not smart French mushrooms like hers, but they are home-grown. And very yummy, in a sauce with shallots, wine and crème frâiche.

The mouse is there to indicate that they were remarkably large mushrooms. Ro said "What's the point of that? It isn't even a real mouse." I explained. "Why didn't you at least use your Mac mouse then? Or your iPod?"

He's still being very cheeky.

Breaking down a barrier

I came to motherhood fairly early and unprepared - I've never been one for thinking things through in advance, I go for the important decisions on impulse and take it as it comes. My daughter, my eldest child, always was the one I learned on - that is, I tried not to make the same mistake next time. Fortunately, I don't think this has scarred her soul too much, she is certainly a lovely person now.

My first two children were born just two years apart. For the first year or so, this was fine. She was an adorable toddler, he was a sweet-natured, if time-consuming (he needed to be fed every two hours, day and night, but on the other hand he never cried) baby. Things started to go awry when he was a toddler and she was three.

She didn't show jealousy towards the baby as such, but she started to be more and more naughty. He never was. I became conscious that he received all the praise and she got the blame - but it was hard to know what to do to change that. She really was too badly behaved to ignore and he was very easy-going and affectionate, I didn't want to push him away just to make her feel better about it. And remember, this was nearly thirty years ago and we weren't given much advice. Not that I was one to ask for it, to be fair. I did try to praise her and cuddle her, but she was becoming more and more unhappy, and when she started to push me away, saying she did not want to be loved or kissed, I was desperate.

I sat down and thought about it. Well, actually, I spent a sleepless night thinking about it. I realised that it was up to me to change my reaction to her behaviour, as she was a very little girl who could not be expected to change of her own accord. She misbehaved because she was unhappy, not because she was naughty and I had to put things right as it must have been my actions that had caused the problem.

The next day, she glanced to make sure I was watching, and started to misbehave (can't remember what she did, but it was something that could not be ignored). I, in my kind but firm voice, told her to stop. She carried on. "Hey!" I said. "You'd better stop doing that, or I'm going to have to tickle you." And I wiggled my fingers. She still carried on, though with a startled look. I went over to her, grabbed her and started to tickle. She tried to wriggle away, but then squirmed to the floor, giggling. I carried on tickling until she was helpless with laughter and kissed her all over her face.

And that was all it took to mend our relationship.

Tuesday 29 August 2006


You remember, a week or two ago, I mentioned our good friend K, who has helped us in the garden for so long. He has told us that the daily potter around is getting to be too much for him. At present he is still coming to feed Goosey every morning, but I'm not sure for how long he means to do that.

It won't be the same without him. I'll have to go round to his house and tease him there instead.

Silver threads among the gold? No and no.

Yesterday morning I sat drying my hair and glanced in the mirror. And stared again at the silver glinting in the sunlight (this was before the hailstorm). "I hadn't noticed how grey I'm getting," I lamented. "I see no grey hairs," said the Sage stoutly. "No, they aren't normally this visible, but look, as my hair is blown by the hairdryer and the sun catches it, it's shocking." "I see no grey hairs," denied the Sage.

I related this to my escort at the performance last night. "I can't see any grey hairs either," he said. So it's official. I may have grey hairs, but they are invisible except to me.

Before the concert, I became aware of someone looking at me. When I glanced round, he smiled cheerily. It was my piano tuner. Not that I have a piano at present, he has it. He has had it for the last 18 months. I enquired after its health. "It's fine, safely wrapped up just as I took it." I suppose I'll get it back eventually.

It is, in fact, a pianola, which was my mother's; it is also a very good piano and it's the one I learned to play on. I also spent many hours as a child playing the music of the many rolls, which we still have. I know all the music from such shows as 'No, No, Nanette' and many other songs from rather before my era. It must have been the equivalent of miles of hill walking I should think, pumping those pedals for hours on end. Anyway, after many years, it needs a thorough overhaul and the piano tuner knows an excellent bloke to do it. Unfortunately, he is very old and can't take on too many projects at a time, so I must be patient. And I assured him that I will be, but that I miss my piano enormously, so such patience is absolutely saintly.

Monday 28 August 2006

My normal, sulky self

I opened a bottle of wine last night. A sparkling pink Pinot Grigio ('blush' they called it which sets my teeth on edge somewhat, except that it was a very pale pink and so I can see that they have a faint justification). I asked the chaps if they would like some.

The Sage occasionally does, but often drinks cider. Ro doesn't drink much, and when he does, it might be wine or lager. But everyone cheers up at the thought of a sparkle, even if they were perfectly happy before. So they both said yes.

By the time I'd cooked dinner I was ready for a refill. Offered the bottle around. Both said no.

Please and thank you can be assumed, as you know we are nothing if not polite.

So I said "oh, you mean I'm going to have to finish the bottle then."

"Well," said the cheeky 22-year-old whippersnapper Ro "no one says you have to."

Later, I waved the bottle again. "Sure you don't want any more?" "Yeah, okay," said Ro, with a challenging look.

I went away for less than a week. He has become entirely cheeky. I am the butt of all jokes again. Even beloved daughter was in on the act, pretending to agree with me after losing an argument (just a difference of opinion, not a quarrel) so that she could save face. Hah! She couldn't win, so she had to lose while pretending to humour me.

I'm out again tonight. The last Snape prom concert I'm going to this year. One of the more unusual, furthermore. It's the Tibetan monks of Tashi Lhunpo and I don't know quite what to expect.

I'm going with a gentleman friend............

2.12 pm.
ps. Now it's hailing. And thundering and lightninging. I put washing on the line when it was sunny. Don't you love an English summer? I expected nothing less, it is August Bank Holiday after all.

Sunday 27 August 2006

Where there's Z there's hope

After this weekend, I can't hold on to the summer any longer. I must get back to work. But for me, it has been a lovely summer. The weather was wonderful in June and July and I am glad that I was able to enjoy it. And I rediscovered myself.

Things were difficult in my family for quite some time, largely, I'm sad to say, because my mother, who lived here, was ill for several years and it rubbed off on all of us. I might write a little about it at some time, or it might be best left. In any event, even after she died (after a wonderful last six months, no depression about that), it took a long time to recover fully.

For some time, knowledge that everything could, and probably would, go belly-up at any moment, has been my guard against disappointment. When you hope, you become vulnerable, you let your guard down. And I was not a miserable pessimist. I knew that, as things are bound to go wrong, they will, in due course, right themselves again. On the whole, everything balances out. I am not alone in this by any means. A few months ago, there was an article in the paper about ‘pragmatic pessimism’ – I think it was called – which expounded just this philosophy.

But, you know, hopeful happiness feels better, if it is more risky. And it doesn’t always come just when you want it, so it has to be enjoyed when it is here.

And, as How Do We Know just reminded me, my name means 'life'. Therefore the title of this post.

Fear not, I'm not going sentimental on you and I will be back to my normal sulky self tomorrow.

Saturday 26 August 2006

Another YOA player!

Another message, this time from Catie, a trombonist. Thank you very much Catie and I'll look forward to seeing the pictures when you can post them. I suspect Blogger doesn't like to be neglected and demands regular posts, sulking if you let a few weeks go by without keeping him satisfied.

Friday 25 August 2006

in the country of the blind........

the one-eyed z is king.

I've just taken out my right contact lens. Safely stowed in its holder, I dabbed at my left eye. There is nothing (nothing manufactured, that is) there. This means I've driven 250 miles today, entirely unaware that I had one short-sighted eye.

Fortunately, it's not the eye I look with.

Anyway, I'm home darlings. Did you miss me terribly? I missed you. Another Youth Orchestra musician has written to me, which has made me terribly excited, but I have not replied to anyone yet as I am tired after a lengthy stint on the A303 and the M25 - other roads, but they were the ones with the hold-ups, in traffic terms that is, I met no highwaymen (just as well, I was transporting Valuable China that doesn't belong to me but is destined for our next sale). I arrived back to find my dinner hotly waiting for me and hugs and kisses from Sage, son and dog. Actually, the first greeting was from the dog, but if I put her first you might have thought I'd got my priorities wrong.

I wonder what happened to that contact lens. I certainly thought it had gone in this morning. Fortunately I have a spare.

Saturday 19 August 2006

More earwigging

Well, I've charged the camera and updated the iPod. I've chosen the books and washed the car. The Sage has checked the oil, water and tyres and filled the car with petrol (yes he is sweet. What do you mean, I don't deserve him? Am I not sweet?). All I have to do is pack, and I always do that at the last moment.

Another excellent concert tonight and another delightful next-door neighbour. I simply said hello and, seeing he didn't have a programme, offered him mine to read. It turned out that his granddaughter was playing in the orchestra. She is still at music college, but the Britten-Pears Orchestra offers opportunities for promising students to play. There were 600 auditioning for 6 places and she was offered one, and for 3 concerts too, which the others weren't, so it was a great compliment to her ability. I was so glad I'd spoken to him and given him the opportunity to tell me about her. A nice signet ring on the little finger of his left hand - I tried, discreetly, to eye the crest but couldn't see it.

Ro came with me tonight, so we had supper before the performance and enjoyed listening to our neighbours. First there were two men, talking mostly about zoos, but I never did know why. There was a couple on our other side, he with a broken arm, who nevertheless courteously offered to go and fetch the chocolate cake. She cheerfully pointed out that he'd have to wave for her to go and carry the tray, so she'd go - would he like some more wine? They beamed happily at each other. The later neighbours on the other side were slightly odd. In their 80s I should think, he with a very pale head as if he always wears a hat. She suddenly noticed she had three, not two tickets and remembered she had got the other in case 'Alison' wanted to come, but had then omitted to ask her. Maybe they would take it back at the box office? "A bit late, it's after 7" I muttered. "Just imagining the ticket touts outside the door" returned Ro.

In the interval, I heard a woman say to her husband "Imagine you forgetting to turn off your phone." "Hmm" he agreed. "You should have been more careful. Just think, how awful it would have been if it had rung." "Quite amusing though, I should think" he replied, refusing to be drawn. "I should have died of, of shame and embarrassment," she declared. "What, again?" he replied gently.

After the interval, I looked for them - I'd seen him but not her. He looked good-natured, she, although attractive and well dressed, less so. He clutched his jacket. She reached for it. He, for an instant, resisted, then relaxed and let her take it. She pointedly smoothed it out, refolded it so that it would not crease, then returned it to him.

Honestly, it was all a lesson in how not to be happily married. From both of them.

A bit melancholy, I'm afraid

I've mentioned before that my father died suddenly when I was 16 years old. This left my mother as a young widow of 46, with daughters aged 21 and 16. It was awful, as you might imagine, but we pulled together and coped.

Six years later, my mother remarried. We very much liked our stepfather. He had parted from his first wife many years before and, in addition to their happiness together, he was thrilled to be welcomed into our family. When they married, I had one child and was expecting my second, and my sister married not long afterwards too.

My mother and Wilf were married for 10 years before he, like my father, died suddenly from a heart attack. This was the year after we moved here; he'd had heart trouble and had been advised to move to a bungalow to avoid stairs. We offered them our granny annex, which had been empty since my mother-in-law's death. My mother wanted some alterations made - her four-poster bed, for example, would not fit in either of the bedrooms - and it was while we were waiting for planning permission to be granted, that Wilf died.

The alterations were done, she spent vast sums on decorating the bungalow, she sold her house and, eventually, was ready to move in. I'll not forget moving day. Her two dogs came over to spend the day with me. Bruce, a nervous big black labrador (obtained via the RSPCA, he had not had a good start in life and it took years for him to recover his confidence fully), and Isobel, a smaller labrador cross, who had been blind since birth. I went upstairs and Izzy followed, without my knowledge. When I went down again, I called her and she blundered out of the bathroom, across the narrow landing and straight through the banisters, which were wider apart than was safe. I heard a thump in the hall and rushed in, to find an inert body. It was not that big a drop, not much over 7 feet, but straight on to a brick floor. I gazed at her, horrified, wondering if she was dead, I spoke her name - and she raised her head and wagged her tail.

I took her straight to the vet, who examined her and said that, amazingly, she was just winded and completely uninjured. We supposed that, as she had not known what was happening, she relaxed and didn't try to save herself, and that had saved her. When I told the vet (who was a good friend, my little boy was friends with his children) what had happened, I said I'd rung my mum to tell her. She had been very nice about it. "Was she," he said dryly, "too nice?"

I was able to assure him that she had been genuinely sympathetic to me and not over-polite.

Funnily enough, when Izzy died, several years later, my mother wasn't there either. She had gone to visit my sister and I had to phone, say the old dog was very ill and, if the vet said there was nothing to be done, should I agree to have her put down. The poor old lass, I left her in the back of the car and T, the same vet, came out to examine her there, and did the deed straight away. I brought her home so she could be buried in the garden.

The good life

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about our move here. I called it 'a new life', which indicates more how it felt to me than how it actually was. I'd only moved a half-hour's drive away, still the same family unit, a bit more money in hand, but not enough to make a difference to our lifestyle, except that this house's upkeep would be a little more expensive.

The differences were that we had moved from the town to the country, and that I was pushed to make a whole new circle of friends.

It was so enjoyable and relaxing here. We came at the start of the school holidays, which was ideal for El and Al, then aged 12 and 10. We had a little dinghy, which we took out on the very small river near the old mill. The water was clear and shallow and you could see the fish darting in and out of the weeds on the riverbed. We would tie the boat up to a tree overhanging the water and have a picnic. I'd expected us to miss living by the sea, but we made up for it by driving over to Southwold and using the beach there. Sometimes we would go crabbing. Have you tried crabbing? It is the greatest fun. We always do it when we have friends with children to stay, as everyone, of whatever age, enjoys it.

The couple who had bought our house, who had a two year old daughter, invited us back for tea. I wondered how it would feel to go back, but it was fine. They had covered the parquet floor in the hall with carpet, and they were planning an expensive new kitchen. They had also gone in for elaborate paint techniques, which were then just coming into fashion, and they obviously loved the house.

Back at home, I had help in the house. A few years older than me, she became a good friend and was my cleaner for 7 years until she took a full-time job. P loved my 2-year-old and he followed her around the house, 'helping' her with the housework and usually, at some time, persuading her to sit down and read or play with him for a while. We also had K in the garden.

K had retired from work at about the time my mother-in-law's garden-helper had retired. He agreed to come and help out in the mornings, and again agreed to stay on and keep an eye on the place while it was empty before we moved here. He is still with us. He is now 87 and comes down the drive every morning on his electric wheelchair, then to feed the goose and potter around doing odd jobs for an hour or two before trundling home again.

My husband and I had discussed our future; whether, in short, to aim for a simple, fairly frugal life or whether to go for a higher income and more conventional lifestyle. We decided to go for simplicity, to have time together, to earn just as much as we needed and be satisfied with that. It would mean few holidays and elderly cars, but that was the only sacrifice....we renewed the conversation a few years later when Ro was a bit older and I could have taken a 'proper' job, but we still felt we were on the right track and decided to continue as we were. And that's how we have continued ever since. I was a bit startled, one day, to have a friend whom I didn't know very well ask me if my husband was still looking for a job. I had to explain that he was actually self-employed and, although he didn't work 9-5, he did work. I realised that we were probably thought either to be filthy rich or scraping the pennies. We were neither, but we felt we didn't have to prove ourselves and had the luxury of choice.

Friday 18 August 2006

Dashing away with the smoothing iron.........

You remember, a couple of weeks ago, I wrote a highly thrilling post about doing the ironing? Of course you do. How could anyone forget. If I'm wrong and you have something else to do with your time than remember this sort of thing (and in this case, what are you doing here on a Friday evening, huh?), I mentioned that I was left with the 66ish dinner napkins that I couldn't face. Someone pointed out in the comments that I must be a pretty messy eater, and she was right.

Anyway, I've tackled them. The number had risen to 85 (and how sad is that, that I counted) but they are done and, since there is no danger that the menfolk will use any during the next week, I will have only one or two waiting for me when I return from my hols. All my pretty babies ....... in one fell swoop, as Shakespeare nearly said in much less fortunate circumstances, dramatically speaking (Macbeth? Um...... I think so. Macduff? ....... er, could be).

I ironed for the best part of two hours last night, in front of an Audrey Hepburn DVD. And tonight, I type next to Taggart. Which has never, of course, been the same since the eponymous Mark McManus shuffled off, nor since they reduced the title music to an abbreviated nothing - could anyone resist joining in with 'this town is so MEAN?'
Which will mean nothing to most of you.

Have you noticed? I'm winding down. I'm in holiday mood.

I had my actual, in a hotel, went by aeroplane, paid for, holiday way back at the end of March, when I went to Venice, but on Sunday I am going to visit my lovely sister, who lives in Wiltshire, about half an hour past Stonehenge*. Just for a few days, but lots of visits to friends are planned. She is house+dog-sitting for a friend, so I doubt I will have an internet connection, so unless I use her library card or a café, I will not post. Sorry. Also apologies that I will put on that irritating typing in letters, but otherwise any comments (and if there are no comments, how will I be made happy on my return?) would have to wait, which would be quite frightful.

My husband just came in the room and ate all my raspberries! Well!**

*a clue for my stalker(s)
**I went and decanted another punnet of raspberries. My son is a greengrocer, remember? Pfft.

Thursday 17 August 2006

How to ride a rhino. Or shift a white elephant.

Stop me if I've told you this before (I see, now, the point of doing categories of one's posts so that it's easy to check back and see what I've said before; but after all these months, is it likely I'm going back to do some sort of sensible index? Me?) but, after my mother died and I had to clear her house, nearly all her books came to me.

The idea had been to have a good clear-out and get rid of the ones I didn't actually want. But when it came to it, that was not possible. I started well, putting into boxes my mother's self-help books (she was clutching at straws, the last few years) and some Readers Digest Condensed Books from the 60s (call me a literary snob and I'll agree), but soon I started to find books I remembered from childhood, whether from having read or simply from their familiarity on the shelves. Al, who was helping, started to encourage me. He picked up a book at random. "Look at this" he said "'Ride a Rhino'. The only possible interest in this could be if someone actually was riding a rhino, ha ha." I took it from him. "But it's Michaela Denis!" I exclaimed, opening the book, fortuitously, at the very page where she was pictured doing just that. "She and her husband Armand used to do wildlife conservation safari-type programmes back in the 60s. He had a moustache and looked years older than she was - she was a babe, and even as a child I used to wonder what she saw in him. Even more so were the nautical equivalents, Hans and Lotte Hess, she was gorgeous and he was an old man."

I said all these things from my childhood memories, of course, and there may be little truth in any of them, except that Lotte and Michaela were, assuredly, babes.

Al said "I see what you mean. Keep the books." A little later, Ro came in and started, briskly, to encourage me as well. "It's all right," said Al kindly. "She's done all she can." I felt all understood and cared for - even if they thought I was barking mad, they knew how I felt.

So instead, we lined two rooms with bookshelves and fitted several more bookcases in bedrooms and on the landing, and I have the security blanket of far more books than I can ever read, but which give me comfort and pleasure to see and touch and browse through. And now, I am starting to read them. Some of them, of course, I read years ago, particularly the ones that date from the 60s - I had a wide-ranging taste in books even as a child and ploughed through everything that caught my eye, not caring whether it was a child's book or not. But many of them, I've never looked in.

I should, of course, read them and then give away all but the best. But I'm not sure I can. Or, at any rate, that I will.

Wednesday 16 August 2006

Nothing happening. Which is good.

A quiet morning, spent mostly at the computer. There are several things I need to get sorted before I go away on Sunday. I also printed off maps, as I'm visiting a few friends while I'm away, whom I haven't called on before.

An extremely pleasing post box this morning, furthermore.

Written confirmation that I owe Islington Council Tax department no money at all - I expect I'll get the money back that I've paid and didn't owe.

Two books and a DVD from Amazon.

A letter and a CD from friends who came to lunch on Saturday. Which I should have put first really. But I am, of course, one of those trusting souls who saves the best until last.
I will take the letter with me to read at the hairdressers this afternoon.

I was charmed, this morning, to find that the chickens ran towards me as I approached. I went to fetch them some melon seeds and rind as a reward. They are my husband's pets and not mine, and it's only since we moved their run to beside the veg garden that I've spent a lot of time with them.

I studiously ignored the cows, although only one is guilty. We have only two left here at present as the others, including Stumpy my favourite (we reached the cuddly stage of hugs - that is, I hugged her; being hugged by a ton of cow is not necessarily to be recommended; though being kissed by one is quite an experience) have gone back to the farm to prepare for calving.

Tuesday 15 August 2006

Where's Little Boy Blue when you need him?

I went to water the greenhouses. I hadn't picked the vegetables today as I had to go to Norwich fairly early for a dental appointment (just routine, no problems, thank you for wondering). I'm out again tomorrow morning, so I decided to pick the cucumbers and courgettes this evening. And courgettes can turn into marrows overnight, so it would be a good move in any case.

Cheerily cutting the last few courgettes, I noticed that something was different. I straightened up. Where was the sweetcorn? There was nothing there except a few uprooted stumps. I followed the trail back through the asparagus, now grown into tall (if flattened) fern.

I went indoors. "Darling! The cows have been over the beck and into the kitchen garden."

Probably Foster, we decided. She is the boldest. We followed the footprints, and she had broken through the wire and walked along the bank of the stream, eaten all the corn, half of the swiss chard and then strolled innocently back. There was one cob left. I picked it up and stripped back the husk. It was not yet ripe and the end was slightly bruised. I took one mouthful near the base, where it was untrampled and ripest. It was delicious. I tossed it over the fence into the chicken run.

Have you seen a chicken checking out something unfamiliar? It is adorable. She approaches it, stopping at a safe distance, and regards it. Then she turns her head to give it a good stare with one eye. Then the other. Then she watches again. Then another chicken approaches. She might be reassured by her sister's apparent safety, and go closer. Eventually, one of them tries a hasty peck. Then of course, they realise it is good to eat and hurry in to peck at it.

Alex arrived home and I told him the tale and showed him the desecrated veg patch. And - well, what do you do? - we both laughed. At least no cow had been hurt. We've had them all these years and we have never had all this sort of trouble before.

Little Boy Blue, come blow your horn. As the rhyme goes.

A second opinion

"Am I," I asked the Sage, "very bossy?"
"Er ...... no," he replied. "Someone has to keep them organised."
"Thank you. That 'no' might have been said with no great conviction, but you said it and I'm grateful."

I am not indispensible. But when I wasn't there, it didn't get done.

I missed a meeting the other evening. I had told everyone in good time and made sure that various people had notes about items that I would have mentioned if I had been there; I'd copied them to the chairman and the secretary and spoken to a sensible person who could be trusted to make sure that a few specific decisions were made.

Nothing was time-consuming as far as the discussion and decision-making was concerned - 10 minutes at most out of a 2 hour meeting. But I discovered on Sunday (5 days later, and only because I checked) that it had all been held over to the next meeting. The meeting in October. The first decision needs to be implemented this Thursday.

Now, there were two quite important matters to discuss at the meeting, and I can quite see that not everything could be dealt with. Which was why I'd done a report, for discussion if there was time, plus an 'action' column, for essentials if there was not. So why did no one remember?

Stuff democracy, I'll do what I intended people to agree to, and tell them afterwards.

Monday 14 August 2006


It's lucky I looked at my ticket for tonight before going to dress. The clothes I was going to put on are not at all suitable for sitting on a cushion in a restricted area for a couple of hours. Yup, tonight is the night I'll be a proper promenader, and so will dress accordingly. And warmly.

The weather has been awful over most of the weekend, cold and becoming increasingly windy, with sharp downpours of rain. The forecast had said showery, which was an understatement. It had suggested that most of the rainfall would be close to the East coast; Yorkshire, Lincolnshire and Norfolk and we speculated whether Ro's tent in Leicester would be washed or blown away. In fact, the weatherman was right and he wondered why I sounded solicitous, when I went to Norwich to pick him up from the station.

I babysat last night, and put Squiffany to bed, which I haven't done since she moved into a bed from her cot. It was, actually, a great deal better than the previous occasion, as in the cot she used to cry when left, though usually only for a few minutes. But she was very tired, went willingly to bed, wanted three books (Fox in Socks, nursery rhymes and the Very Hungry Caterpillar) and then I set off her musical apple, kissed her and left. And, a few minutes later, when I looked again, silence and sleep. Half an hour later I found her quiet but awake and fumbling for a book, and she went to sleep cuddling it, and that was that. I ate a sandwich and some cheese, drank half a bottle of wine and read the papers until her parents came home.

Sunday 13 August 2006

Youth Orchestra of the Americas - again

The other day I wrote about my visit to the concert at Snape to hear Youth Orchestra of the Americas. I suggested that, if any member of the orchestra found my blog that they might say hello - and didn't expect to hear anything further. But Leslie, one of the flautists, found me and I'm so thrilled. This is her blog.

Thanks again, Leslie.

Saturday 12 August 2006

Scratching the surface

Our dog Tilly is normally very well behaved. The other evening, I couldn't find her. Eventually, I looked in the last possible place, which was the cloakroom, and let her out. The next morning, when she didn't greet me as usual. I checked the cloakroom door and couldn't open it. She had got shut in, scratched the door and rucked up the carpet. Eventually I managed to open it just enough, first to let her out, then me in, and it took me some minutes to persuade the carpet to lie flat enough to open and shut the door freely.

Since then, we've propped the door open each night. But because of that one time, the paint has been scratched off the door and marks gouged in the wood. Stupid dog.

My old dog Chester, still much missed, often used to sleep in there. Sometimes, he would lie against the door and refuse to move and you had to push hard, he resisting all the way, until you finally burst in. He used to lie along the wall, with the result that the wallpaper is quite grubby there - I like that wallpaper, which goes really well with the painted Edwardian washbasin which we bought from neighbours who bought a nice Edwardian house and proceeded to take out all the attractive original features and sell them - since we were about to move here, we shrugged and took advantage of it as they were going to do it anyway. I don't want to redecorate, but I can see the time approaching - it's coming up to two years since Chester died and marked wallpaper is less and less excusable.

Chester liked the cloakroom because it was cool in summer and there was a constant supply of delicious toilet water. How is it that male dogs love drinking from the toilet? I've never known a female to do so, but all dogs, as soon as their legs are long enough, love a refreshing slurp. I've never been a very girly girl, and felt left out in girly pursuits, but that sort of thing makes me realise that blokes, of whatever species, are something of a closed book to me too.

I'm playing the organ in church tomorrow. No one has told me the hymns. Pfft. If I'm not given warning of what to play, it's not my fault if I play a succession of random notes in the wrong rhythm is it.

Blimey, it is tipping down. England in August, huh.

I think about food and drink just a little more than I really should

So, last night I filled the spare fridge with wine, ready for lunch today, but came down this morning to be met by a disconsolate Sage, holding a quantity of ice (not for long, ow, frostbite in August is not a good outlook except in the Antipodes) and regarding a large puddle on the floor. Everything was still cold, so the only problem was fitting everything into the usual fridge. Mind you, it's so damn cold that food hardly needs refrigeration. It's just the wine that needed to be chilled.

Our friends enquired if I really should be decorating the nursery next door, rather than chatting with them over after-lunch coffee. "Please stay" I begged - I had absolutely no intention of helping today, though I'll be happy to during the week, and I rather wanted an excuse to stay comfortably in my own drawing room. In fact, later, I was offered a job, but backed away hastily and went to read the papers and have another glass of wine.

That's it really, nice lazy day - apart, of course, from the time spent slaving over a hot stove this morning. It feels like autumn, the first ratatouille using vegetables from the garden. Dear little aubergines, striped purple and cream, and there is a very good crop of peppers this year too. I hope the chillies hot up soon though, they are crunchy to eat from the plant, but there is still no bite until you reach the stem, not even from the seeds.

A disjointed effort today? Yeah, but it's the weekend, innit.

Have a good one.

xx z

ps - oh, and I discovered that Mrs Friend as well as Mr Friend reads (or has read, anyway) this blog. Momentarily bashful, then charmed. Love to you both, sweeties - xxx

Friday 11 August 2006

Too much stuff

We have a fairly large, ugly, useful porch. It is a small room really ... my in-laws used to call it 'the loggia' and sit in it on sunny days and have afternoon tea there. But we turned the back porch into half of the study, so we need somewhere to keep the wellies and the chicken food, and a word like 'loggia' is too high-falutin' for me anyway, so the porch it is, and it is usually full of stuff.

That is, a large cupboard, a large chest freezer, a small upright freezer, the aforementioned wellies and chicken feed, and other general stuff.

Plus, today, a quantity of assorted furniture, several black bags full of curtains, cushions and things like that, boxes of books, several mirrors, tables and other furnishing-type stuff. And two banjos which belonged to my grandfather.

We're finally clearing the last of my mother's possessions from Al and Dilly's house. They have kindly housed them for the last few years, but now need the space. And El and son-in-law Phil are coming for the weekend to decorate the room, so it must be empty. I've cleared as much as I can for now, but there still is a corner cupboard, a gate-legged dining table, an antique commode, a chest of drawers, a large armchair, a ditto clock and a couple of other things I can't quite remember, which Al this evening or Phil tomorrow will have to help with because the Sage and I are old and weak and need our children to look after us.

So this afternoon will be spent in finding places for all this furniture etc, as I know what we are like - if we leave it there for more than a day, we will believe it belongs there and it'll never be moved. I have also just counted up and realised that there will be ten of us for lunch tomorrow (including the baby), which is wonderful as I like nothing more than a full table, but I need to start wondering what we are going to eat, and doing something about it.

So, what's the first thing to do? I'm a busy woman, how can I best use my time?

Spend 15 minutes blogging about being busy of course.

Thursday 10 August 2006

Can you say you're home alone if there are two of you?

I've just returned home, having dropped my son off at the station to catch his train to Leicester - he's going to the Summer Sundae festival at de Montfort university.

Odd, isn't it, how different home feels when someone has left and will not return for a while. At this time of the day he would normally be at work. And he's often out in the evenings. But it feels emptier here without him.

It looks emptier too, in a good way. I went shopping yesterday for food for him - he'll buy there of course, but he likes to do some of his own cooking. So the kitchen table has been full of stuff that is quick to do on a camping stove, mainly based on quick-cook noodles and couscous, plus nuts, seeds, dried fruits. He probably won't be able to keep up his usual intake of fresh fruit and vegetables, but that doesn't mean he intends to come home too much unhealthier than he left. I did provide some Pringles (the boxes won't be easily crushed) and a box of red wine as I think that some bad habits are essential in life.

Anyway, a rare couple of nights alone for the Sage and I, before another family influx at the weekend. And to think, four years ago, that we were resolutely preparing for empty-nestdom.

Wednesday 9 August 2006

Fond Granny

Tilly tried to take a piece of toast from Squiffany a week or so ago. "Naughty girl" said Squiffany, pulling her hand away.

When her mother came home, I told her. "I've never called her naughty girl, have you?" said Dilly. I denied it - we agreed, we know well the maxim 'blame the behaviour, not the chid.' "My friend says 'naughty boy' to Bodger (her two and a half year old); since the baby was born he's been really difficult. And I say 'good girl' quite often," Dilly said. I agreed, so do I, both to Squiffany and Tilly.

So she constructed a whole phrase from scratch. One never remembers this sort of thing unless it is written down - so now I have.

Whew, I won't be franked up in hold* after all

I've just had a phone call from Islington Council. I was very annoyed when they didn't ring back, after three calls - there was no way of leaving a message, except your name. They did reply to the recorded letter, but simply to send a receipt. However, after the fourth call I was phoned back within minutes but a helpful bloke, following which, on his advice, I emailed (he gave me the right department to go to). And I've just had another phone call.

So, the good news is that the summons has been withdrawn. And the other good news is that they are refunding me money. And the third good news is that really helpful and intelligent people work for Islington Council, if you can only get hold of them.

I'd like to mention too, that it was a lack of complete information that caused the problem. No one's fault.

*(from title) Shakespeare. Richard III I think.

Snape Proms - Youth Orchestra of the Americas

Last night I experienced the most magnificent, moving concert of a lifetime. I went to Snape Maltings to hear the Youth Orchestra of the Americas , on the final night of their inaugural European tour.

It was an impressive sight from the start. Snape is not a large concert hall, with 830 seats - for the Proms, the middle front section of seats is removed for the Promenaders, who pay £5 to sit on the floor. This is the best bargain in concert-going. My own seat cost £23 (with a pound discount as I had booked a number of tickets together). I was greeted politely by neighbours on both sides as I arrived – Snape is a very friendly concert hall. And on the stage were over 100 young musicians from all over North, South and Central America – some 20 countries were represented altogether. There were several flashes as the musicians themselves took photographs of the full concert hall from the stage.

The programme started rousingly, with Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man. I was amused to see the couple in front of me do huge double-takes and stare at each other questioningly – evidently they had not read their programmes properly and had expected something else. Ravel’s Rapsodie Espagnole followed, then Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, with the wonderful young Venezuelan pianist Gabriela Montero. Afterwards, when we applauded long and vigorously and would not let her go, she demonstrated her enjoyment of improvisation, by asking for a snatch of a tune, on which she played a series of variations. The skill and wit of this was hugely enjoyed by us all, on stage and off, and we left for the interval feeling invigorated.

The conductor was Benjamin Zander. Between each item he chatted to the audience. He started with his memories of Aldeburgh in the early 1950s when, for 3 years he and his family had spent their summer holidays in a caravan so that he could receive music lessons from Benjamin Britten and Imogen Holst. Mr Zander is an accomplished speaker and, as the evening went on, worked us skilfully; we listened with pleasure and indulgence to his anecdotes and reminiscences, he charmed us with his enthusiasm, he reminded us of the fear and oppression that artists such as Shostakovich had lived with in Russia – he sat each evening with his coat on and his bag packed, such was his conviction (held with good reason) that, at any time, the secret police might arrive to arrest him, and he did not want his children woken up and terrified. And Mr Zander drew a lesson from that, that not all of the countries these lovely young people come from are peaceful and free or seen as such; indeed four members of the orchestra, from Colombia and Cuba, were unable to obtain visas for this country and had to return home early. He read out a note he had received from one of the cellists present, David Estoban Escovar, from Colombia, who said that, with all the troubles and wars in the world, he had wondered if becoming a musician was a trivial pursuit, but his experiences in this tour have convinced him of the worth and value of his profession.

And then, after the interval, they played Shostakovich’s 5th Symphony. With the conductor’s words fresh in our minds it had a particular resonance. Shostakovich had written one movement in a sort of code; played at full speed it is rousing and designed to appeal to the authorities, but at half-speed it is a lament for his country, and that is how it was played last night.

Afterwards the conductor spoke to us all again, about the unifying and inspiring effect of this tour on these young players. And it moved us all, many of the orchestra were in tears and we were not immune either. The applause went on and on – there were calls for an encore which I felt was a little greedy – had they not given us enough? But they were ready for us – with one further anecdote about the nature of Englishness, which made us all laugh, they played ‘Nimrod’ from Elgar’s Enigma Variations; and I can truly say I’ve never heard a more beautiful and expressive version of that well-known piece.

And after that? We hadn’t finished with them yet, nor they with us. We were indeed a reserved, if enthusiastic English audience, but we were on our feet by then, clapping on and on. And then the conductor returned to the stage and put his finger to his lips and we stopped. He shrugged; he didn’t know what was going to happen either. The drums started beating, the double-bass players twirled their instruments, several musicians came to the front of the stage and started dancing, and they went into an exuberant celebration of Latin American dance. For, I don’t know, 10 minutes? we stood, clapping while they danced and played. Some of the audience joined in the dancing onstage. And when they finally finished with José Gomes de Abreu 's Tico Tico and stood, hugging each other, we filed out, past Benjamin Zander who had come to shake hands and say goodbye. “Pleased to meet you” he said, courteously to me – he, too, was a little spaced out by then too. “Amazing, isn’t it,” I heard one man say to his wife, “that we were all in tears a few minutes ago, and now we’re all laughing.”

The orchestra has been in Europe for a month, for rehearsals and preparation for a 3-week tour in Belgium, Italy, France, Germany and England. And today they are flying home again. Few of them have visited Europe before and, wherever their lives take them, this has been an unforgettable episode. And if any member of the orchestra find this on Google at some time (unlikely perhaps, but it could happen, I’ve often been surprised to find myself so easily, rambling on about sheer trivia), then do, please, say hello – it was a privilege to share a moment of it with you.

And sorry, everyone, that this has been so long and so inept – it’s clear that I am no sort of a reviewer and no real musician either – you’ll notice that I have kept well clear of technicalities, and even of a description of the music. If you can’t do justice to something, don’t do it at all. But, sorry you weren’t there – you’d have loved it too.

Tuesday 8 August 2006

Letters to the Editor

My word. I saw that one of the letters in today's Times was written by a friend of ours. Excitedly, I read it out to the Sage. Then I noticed that another letter, on a different subject, was written by another friend.

Such synchronicity - I'm deeply impressed.

Monday 7 August 2006

Not so much a fly, as a walk

I poured myself a glass of red wine, took a sip and sat back down at the computer. Minutes later, I picked up the glass and found a fruit fly struggling to swim, so I fished it out with a pencil, which I put down on my desk. It wobbled its way unsteadily along the pencil - well, by now I had such fellow-feeling with the little beastie that I couldn't kill it. I angled the pencil so that it could walk along the desk.

Just now, I noticed that it had dried out and was walking more briskly - towards the curve of the edge of the desk ......... and it fell off, with an audible plop, onto an envelope on the floor (yes, those four words speak volumes about the tidiness of my study). It staggered under my handbag to sleep it off. I giggled.

A new life

The time after we moved here was, you might say, the start of the rest of my life. I had remained ambivalent about our decision - I had always lived near the water, either the sea or Oulton Broad, and I thought I would miss this badly. I expected to feel homesick.

In fact, I never glanced back and loved it here straightaway. Although we had had a large garden before, we had been very overlooked - our big square garden was edged on two sides by other houses' long narrow strip, and on the third side was the Rectory. We had about 8 next-door neighbours. I'd not been bothered about this, but here we were alone. A field on every side, but with houses only a couple of hundred yards away, so we were not isolated. But I can't say this was the reason, it was, simply and instantly, home.

A few days after moving in, my husband said, on the Sunday morning, that he was going to church. Better show his face.....
I was gardening and didn't want to stop and change, so I said I'd carry on and he could go without me. An hour later he reappeared. "We're invited to coffee at the Rectory" he said. "I can't go" I said, startled, "I didn't go to church." "Yes, they particularly invited you, come on." I felt shy and embarrassed, but it would have been worse to refuse, so off we went together.

There had been a christening that morning and the young couple and their baby* were there, with the rest of the congregation. Everyone was cheerful and friendly and when it was seen that I had a toddler (Ro was just 2), a young woman with two small boys came over and invited me to her house, where she was giving a coffee morning to raise funds for the about-to-be-started Mothers and Toddlers group. "Next Tuesday" she said cheerfully, describing where her house was.

On Tuesday I plucked up all my courage (I was still quite shy in those days) and set off. It was not for years that I told her that I'd taken her to mean that Tuesday, when she'd meant Tuesday week!
The next week, off I went again, and found out that there was a group of women of about my age with children of Ro's age, all wanting to be friends with me. This was quite a heady sensation in itself, as I wasn't the most outgoing person and had expected it to take some time to know any one. We met for a morning each week in the village hall or, in the summer, in each other's houses or gardens. We used to go off to the seaside, the zoo or a similarly child-friendly but fairly inexpensive attraction once in a while. We had all taken a work break to bring up our children until at least school age, so we didn't have much money but had time to spare for our own and our children's friendships.

*This baby girl has just completed her second year at Cambridge University, reading Law.

Sunday 6 August 2006

Summery summary

If there are too many summer weekends like this, there is a distinct risk that my usual cautious pessimism will vanish altogether. Already, I find myself grinning happily for no reason at all. Not only is the 'glass half full' but it's rather near brimming.

I blame the weather. It's like SAD - seasonal affective disorder, but with the opposite effect to the usual depression caused by wintry lack of daylight - hardly a disorder however in this particular instance: SAO (for order) perhaps?

Anyway, I went to a lovely concert at Snape Maltings the other night. It was the Britten Sinfonia, playing music by Ravel, Sibelius, Vaughan Williams and Mozart, plus the world premiere of Michael Zev Gordon's oboe concerto, which has been commissioned by the BBC - because of this the concert was being recorded by Radio 3. After the concerto was played, the composer joined the soloist, orchestra and conductor on the stage - how wonderful it must be, to hear your piece played in public for the first time in such a fabulous setting.

I went on my own, which allows time and opportunity to watch one's fellow concert-goers. My neighbour was alone too, a man in his fifties or sixties - he had an almost unlined face but snow-white hair. His hands caught my eye, initially because of his rings. Unusually, he wore a ring on each forefinger, but on no other finger. He had very lovely hands, quite small with slender fingers and particularly well-manicured nails. It was because of the shapliness of his forefingers that he could get away with the rings, which I admired; both gold, one a slender triple coil ending in a rounded, flattened oval, and the other a plain band, decorated only by an intricate, though understated, knot. I arrived after him and he had to stand up for me. The seats are firm and I always take two cushions "You're well padded" he said, smiling, then "Oh! I mean, um to sit down, er...." I assured him I'd taken it in the least personal sense possible and we both laughed.

Saturday 5 August 2006

Saturday is meant to be like this

My daughter has come home for the weekend. Today has been spent in painting fences. This evening has been spent eating a Thai takeaway and drinking wine; 1 bottle shared between 3 and 1 bottle shared between 2. I participated in both bottles. Therefore I cannot write a coherent entry tonight.
So, cheerfully, do enjoy Sunday, and goodnight.

Friday 4 August 2006

Bovine bother

I received a phone call. It was my friend and neighbour J, from across the field. "Sorry to tell you this, but there's a cow in the lane. Make that two cows." I sighed. "Do they have numbers on their rumps?" "Yes, can't quite read them though from here - oh, there's another one. And a fourth." "Stop it," I said, "you're attracting them. They're ours, we'll come and round them up."

I had just been reading Pat’s latest episode in her wonderful story and had been poised to leave a comment, so I logged out (so she wouldn't have to wonder why I'd been reading her for hours) and went and told the Sage. We set off across the field, pausing only to pick up a couple of posts and a sledgehammer.

Two cows were on the footpath, one outside the cottages and one had disappeared. "Where's Foster?" I asked J and her neighbour M, who had also come out to help. "Off down the lane" - fortunately not towards the road. The Sage and I persuaded the cottage cow back onto the footpath, then he followed her to find out where they had broken down the wire and I, armed with apples supplied by J, went after Foster. "Here, Foster, good girl, chk, chk, come and have an apple." I was highly impressed to find that this worked - she trotted towards me at a pace that made me hope she would slow down before I was knocked over. She did, gently taking an apple from my outstretched hand.

Not quite so easy to persuade her back to the path, but she went in the end. I went after her, to find my way blocked by Stumpy (I did not name her; she had an accident to her tail) who was very happily eating hop shoots from the undergrowth. I exhorted her to move, but she wasn't impressed. I pondered. Can cows kick backwards? I was a bit wary of the huge rump, and reluctant to go close enough to pat it. I pulled some hop shoots and timidly tapped her with them. She moved a couple of steps, but preferred her meal, so I unwimped and gave her a firm tap on the bottom. I also lowered the timbre of my voice to a more manly sounding level. It did the trick and she, leisurely browsing on the way, went to the place where the fence was down and strolled back on to the field.

Another 10 minutes and repairs were effected, I went to pull up the last of the broad bean plants for them - and a cucumber or two for Foster, who is not fond of broad beans - and the Sage went to ring the farmer who owns the cows, to suggest that a bale or two of hay would be appreciated - they are good cows who have never tried to get out before, even when neighbouring beasts have pushed their way in, so they must be feeling the lack of fresh grass. There is enough for them to eat, but it's dry and dreary old stuff and each of them is eating for two, after all.

Half an hour later, the phone rang again. It was M, across the field. "I meant to mention," she said. "One of your chickens is way across the field. She's quite happy, but you'll be missing her later."

Thursday 3 August 2006

Elisabeth Schwartzkopf

I heard on the radio that Elisabeth Schwartzkopf, the singer, has died at the age of 90. I will always hold a particular affection for her, because she, unknowingly, helped me and my mother through a dreadful year.

1970 - in brief, my father died suddenly in January, all his possessions were valued for death duties* and a few weeks later a company he had invested many thousands of pounds in lost its entire value (tax still payable), then my sister was involved in a serious and agonising accident, which nearly killed her. And then my mother was badly scalded. Me? Oh, I was fine, accidents never happen to me.

*Inheritance tax is still charged - at 40% - but nowadays you are not expected to pay tax on your spouse's effects. In those days, furthermore, a house and capital was often in the husband's name - so he was deemed to own everything.

On an impulse, my mother bought a record called 'Elisabeth Schwartzkopf Sings Operetta' - I knew nothing about opera, or the operatic style of singing .. it seemed a bit screechy to me. Growing up in the town of Benjamin Britten's birth - his father was my father's dentist and my dad used to hear young Ben practising the fiddle during the school holidays - this seems wrong, but hey, it was the 60s, think of the music. I didn't need opera.

But this record struck a chord (as it were) with us both. We played it over and over, daily, more than daily - when it ended we would lift the needle and start it again. It kept us going, uplifted us and somehow enabled us to carry on. The music was quite light - late 19th Century Viennese operetta; Lehar, that sort of thing. It was very low-brow for her, but it was just what we needed then and, for the future, provided me with a light introduction to the sort of sung classical music that I have loved since.

When my mother was terminally ill I couldn't listen to music that challenged me. The three CDs I listened to most were Prokofiev (particularly the Lieutenant Kije suite), Hoagy Carmichael and Bix Beiderbecke. Don't know why. But they helped me through a difficult time too.

Music is an arrow straight into one's memory. Like a scent, it goes beyond conscious remembering and takes you back, vividly, to a time or a place. And it hits your emotions, where words and deeds can't always reach.

Bookless in the evenings

I wrote, a few weeks ago, that I was not reading books at the moment. Since then, I've read a few, but I've not been engrossed in reading several each week as usual. At the time, I couldn't work out why but now, maybe, I have.

Four months ago, I read 'Human Traces' by Sebastian Faulks. He's a good writer and it was not a bad book, but it left me oddly unsatisfied - it just seemed a bit too contrived.
For example, one character went on an expedition to Africa and found prehistoric footprints, of a family of a man, woman and child, fossilised in volcanic ash. He cut one out to bring back to Europe but, surprise, surprise, it was lost forever when a mule fell to its death in a gorge. It had to be lost, because if he'd brought it back then it would have had to have happened then. These footprints exist, but that character didn't bring them back.
A baby boy was born, after years of his mother's barrenness. I counted up the years - yep, I bet that infant is due to die in the prime of early manhood in the First World War. And so he did. Dying didn't add anything to the story, it was just done because that happened a lot in the 1914-18 war and he was far too much beloved to be allowed to live. The requisite poignant twist - oh puh-leeze Mr Faulks.

It was not a bad book by any means - too long, Mr Faulks became too engrossed in his characters and turned it into a life-long biographical tome, when shorter and to the point would have been better. But - and this would have been so much more forgivable in a lesser writer - he made me aware of the plot devices. And I've lost my suspension of disbelief and I look for the contrived episodes in every book and can't be bothered to read them.

Maybe I should reread 'Birdsong' and then I will forgive him.

Wednesday 2 August 2006

No joy

I was booked to play the organ at a funeral in the village church this afternoon. I was rather sorry that the family had asked for 'Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring' to be played before the service. It's never been a favourite of mine.

Many years ago, I was invited to the wedding, with my family, of the son of friends' of my parents. After the marriage, the couple went to sign the register and the organist started to play. I was a patient child and normally didn't mind waiting, but this went on for an awfully long time, and this drearily repetitive (or so it seemed to me) little tune tinkled on and on. I don't know if my memory exaggerates (it was the best part of 40 years ago), but I can only think it was played two or three times, as it isn't really that long. I timed myself yesterday, five minutes. But, ever since that time, I've had a mild antipathy to 'Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring'.

I've been practising for the last few days (it's not that hard to play, but I'm a poor organist and have become, over the years, too used to a bit of improvising during the hymns, to cover up the fact that I'm constantly surprising myself with new mistakes), and I've especially practised the page turning - there are absolutely no breaks, so you just have to play one handed and hope the page stays where you put it. And I left the church at 1 o'clock, meaning to return at 2, have another good session and be confident and ready for 3, when the service was due to start.

And then the sidesman turned up here at 5 to 2. "What's the matter, have you forgotten?" I'd evidently written down the wrong time and the funeral was at 2. Oh bugger. I drove down to the church (it's only 250 yards, but needs must), shot in, apologising, and launched into Jesu Joy. And then, once the service started, realised that I didn't know how many verses the second hymn had. Sometimes this particular hymn has three, sometimes four - and I hadn't picked up a service sheet. Should I rely on hearing the words (it would be the third verse, if any, missed out) - but they sang the first hymn quite quietly, I might not be able to make them out. So, embarrassed, I asked.

I'm not sure if I earned my fee in sheer mortification or should have given a refund on the grounds of awful disorganisation.

And then I arrived home to find myself locked out. I'd left in a rush without my bag and my husband had no reason to know that. Fortunately, Al was home next door and had a key, because it is tipping down with rain now and I would have had to sit in the car. So all those people who complained bitterly that we were actually having a summer with sun for a change have their wish.

Update, 8 pm. So it's funny is it? First diamondweeza, now Geena, my daughter El, Al and Dilly - all saying, well you must admit, it's quite amusing. Al said "Dilly said it's the sort of thing that was in the Vicar of Dibley." "Well," I replied grumpily, "if it had been in a sitcom, it wouldn't have been in a very good one, it wasn't exactly hilarious." We looked at each other. Neither of us has ever seen the V of D, so how would we know? Sub-Vicar of Dibley, that's my life!

And I've spent the last 15 minutes picking courgettes in the rain, because I didn't do it this morning and they would all be marrows by tomorrow. I'm a saintly woman, I tell you.

The reason I didn't do it this morning was because I looked after Squiffany - for half an hour or so, supposedly, but she fell asleep on me after 20 minutes and didn't wake up for two whole hours. "Were you regaling her with tales of NADFAS lectures?" enquired Al.

The butt of all the jokes, that's me.


Tuesday 1 August 2006

Going digital

I was listening to a programme on Radio 4 yesterday and the slump in sale of photographic film was referred to. There was a conversation with a representative of one of the big photo development firms, who said that this is now a small part of their business - they had realised the writing was, not just on the wall, but on a large neon signboard in their path (this is my linguistic flight of fancy, he spoke sensible English) when one of the directors was in a fairly rural part of China a couple of years back and watched an elderly man clad in traditional clothes start to fish, using a traditional bamboo pole. He caught a large fish. Smiling broadly, he held it up with one hand, took a picture with his mobile phone with the other and sent it to a friend (or maybe his wife - 'no need to go to the market, sweetie, I'm bringing dinner'). And the onlooking director realised that the whole world had truly changed.

This reminded me of a conversation with my late mother about five years ago. "What is this 'digital' stuff they keep talking about now?" she asked me. I wondered how to put my basic and scanty knowledge into a form that would not completely confuse her. "Well, you input data using, for example, binary numbers" I started. "Ah" she interrupted, "I know all about binary numbers, I understand now. Thank you darling."

It was true too, that she had been on a course about 30 years before and come home talking with great interest about binary code - and that was enough. She was completely happy that now she understood digital technology. And furthermore, she thought that I did too.