Saturday 30 September 2006

Friday 29 September 2006


"He's amazing," said Al of his new son. "All he does is eat and sleep." Squiffany's birth hadn't been all that easy, and by the time she was born she had inhaled a lot of stuff she shouldn't have, and it took her and her parents a while to get over it. This time, it was simple and happy.

I will call him Pugsley. No one else will, but it is my small tribute to Charles Addams, whose cartoons I loved as a very small child (I have a feeling that this explains something about me) and to Carolyn Jones, the original television Morticia, who was gorgeous and who died young. An odd connection perhaps, but why not.

Squiffany has been so good today. Her parents woke her at 5.30 as they wanted to be able to say goodbye at 6, so that she knew they had left the house and wouldn't look for them all day. Her face lit up with pleasure in a gratifying way when I went in at 6 and she kissed them and waved goodbye cheerily. Her aunt came at 9 so that I could spend the morning in the shop, then I took over for the rest of the day. I finished reading 'Fox in Socks' at 7.10 and was finally able to cook dinner, glass of champagne in one hand, after that. Proud daddy of two came home about an hour later, with photographs. Squiffany did ask for her mother a couple of times - "Mummy, mummy" excitedly at 5 o'clock as the front door opened. "Sorry, only me," said Ro - but she was not upset and, on being shown a mobile phone photo of her brother, repeated "Baby brother" in an interested sort of way before going to cuddle her doll. If only I thought it could be as easy as that all the time........


Dilly and Al's baby boy was born at 9.30 this morning by Caesarean section. He weighs 8 lbs and he and his mum are well. He was alert and keen to feed and, when I last heard, he was asleep and Dilly was having lunch.

Thanks for your good wishes.

More later.

Thursday 28 September 2006

The waiting game

I spent a few hours serving in the shop today, to get my hand in before spending most of next week there. I do enjoy it. His customers are lovely and even the odder ones are entertaining.

The charming man who pinched my bottom in the village pub a couple of years ago came in to buy some walnuts. He always reminds me of the occasion, which he remembers with considerable pleasure because I laughed instead of slapping him. And the chap who dresses all in Lycra as he is a keen cyclist, and who always buys bananas. Sally from the about-to-reopen after many years Fisher Theatre came in, asking for cob nuts. Fresh cobs are finished - "not even a few at the bottom of a box?" "Well, I've got a few at home, but they are drying out." "That's all right, as long as they've got their leaves on, I only need 3 or 4 for a stage prop." I've put them in the car already as I'm bound to forget in the morning. As it is, I must remember to pick some spinach for an order.

Simple, undemanding busyness is a pleasure sometimes. I often spend whole days at home without seeing anyone except the family, unlike the Sage, who is very sociable, so just chatting, being friendly, is a change for me.

I've also taken the photos for our website. And the catalogues are printed and will be posted in a couple of days. Someone phoned, wanting a valuation done.

Thanks for kind messages. I'll keep you posted.


Wednesday 27 September 2006

Spinning plates, my spinning head

Think tact, love, kindness. Think it until I completely mean it, and then write appropriate letters to people who feel upset.

I'm almost there now, but it took a day or two. My place in life is to soothe, because I can't bear that people should feel uncared for, unappreciated, unloved. I do get indignant, upset, myself, on occasion, and there my husband is wonderful because he listens to it all, often doesn't say anything except generally sympathetic murmurs, and lets me get over it and regain my balance and good humour. It is tempting to feel that the matters that other people become upset about are more trivial than one's own affairs, but it is not so.

Music tonight - Mozart, Cosi Fan Tutte and Billie Holiday. And I have given up hope of finding my copy of War and Peace and have bought a new one. A brief browse and I was engrossed anew. But I won't read it yet. Not until the weekend is over.

Dilly has one more day to persuade her recalcitrant son to make an appearance, or then she is due at the Norfolk and Norwich hospital first thing on Friday morning (honestly, at larkfart, she is expected to be there by 7 a.m. and we live quite 40 minutes away). So I'll be babysitting from 6 and then in the shop from 9 - 2, then babysitting again.

Grannies are marvellous, aren't they!

Later. I'm still plugging away at the music Ro has provided me with. He doesn't go for stuff that is instantly likeable, on the whole, but it's worth persevering, or else I'm just getting more tolerant. Tonight it's Neutral Milk Hotel's 'In the Aeroplane over the Sea', for the third time of playing and I'm coming to appreciate it, after a startled first listen.

Tuesday 26 September 2006

Another pot of coffee on the go

I didn't get the photos done after all. Tomorrow. The ones for the catalogue have been taken, of which there are only a few, but everything is illustrated on the website and I've another day or two in hand for that. I've typed up, though not properly set out, the catalogue, all but a few more pieces which are arriving tomorrow and which I'll add before it goes off to be printed at the High School. The reprographics department is self-financing and so can do outside work at very reasonable rates, school commitments permitting. There is also a very good printers in Yagnub which I use for other work, and which well undercuts Norwich rates.

We are very fortunate, in that we have a business that we love and in that we are semi-retired (my husband receives a pension) and so have time for other things. Though, having got back from a churchwardens' meeting at half past nine, I discovered emails that had to be dealt with straight away and it is only now, an hour later, that I can get back to the catalogue. I am out tomorrow morning and so have to do it now.

Squiffany is convinced she talks in sentences. Indeed, she does; it is our loss that we don't always understand them. Individual words are clear, but more than two strung together are unintelligible to us and so need tactful questioning, so that she can answer 'yes' or 'no.' Dilly has an appointment at the hospital tomorrow morning, and will probably be booked in then, whether for Thursday, Friday or next Monday. She is really hoping that she goes into labour naturally and so has been for a drive in Al's bumpy trade van tonight. Keep your fingers crossed. You will, I promise, be among the first to know.

Monday 25 September 2006

The rain, it raineth on the just....but not on the Z

I hope none of the Norfolk people who were flooded out read this, but today's heavy rain might be partly my fault. I said, yesterday, that I intended to spend some time taking photographs - weather permitting. Well, it was lovely yesterday and I didn't switch on the television or the radio, so I don't know if it was forecast. Anyway, shops, houses, schools, all flooded when 2 inches of rain fell in quite a short time.

It didn't rain that much here. Quite hard, on and off, but it had time to run off/soak in in between downpours. And, since I am blessed with timing, it was never raining when I had to go out.

I listened to the weather forecast this evening (as I still need to take the photos) but I didn't hear it. There is nothing so hard to take in as a weather forecast. I cannot concentrate. If I do, I forget what has been said before the weatherperson has finished saying it. They keep trying to make it sound interesting, but all that means is that they waffle too much and I stop listening altogether. At least one can look it up online. According to the BBC website, sunny intervals. I'll just have to take photos during sunny intervals then, won't I.

Sunday 24 September 2006

Lazy Sunday afternoon

This afternoon, I've taken it easy. I slept for an hour (all this waiting for the baby is getting to me, and I'm lucky if I get more than five hours a night's sleep). Since then, I have been reading the paper and listening to music.

Bix Beiderbecke
The Mountain Goats
Jimi Hendrix

I wonder why I picked them. Bix, sure, I always listen to him. The Mountain Goats 'Get Lonely' - I love it, but don't listen to it if you feel the least bit depressed or you may end up crying into your wineglass. Jimi Hendrix - gosh he was good, but I don't often listen to him. I wonder what will appeal to the wandering fingers next.*

Tomorrow, also an easy day. I have to take my car to be serviced in the morning and pick it up at lunchtime. I am having my hair cut at 4 o'clock. I'm babysitting for a friend in the evening (she is chairman of governors at the school where I've just left the governing body. Her children are delightful and it will be a pleasure).

The rest of the time, weather permitting, I will be photographing the china for our next auction. I will enjoy that; I like taking pictures of inanimate objects. I am no artist and can't capture the 'soul' but I can do observation and stuff like that.

I hope you have had a good weekend too.

* Cole Porter

The family story – part 5 – the Forties

Power-boat racing must have been my father’s main activity during the years after he left Oxford. He would have raced as an amateur, but this would have referred to his non-professional status, not his level of ability or commitment. Once he grew too old for the sport he would probably returned to Oxford for an academic career.

The war stopped all that of course, and he entered the army. He was very short-sighted and therefore did not pass the medical tests for combat duty – not to be trusted with a loaded weapon, it seems. He therefore went into the Medical Corps. I don’t think he was posted to Europe at all, but he was, at various times, in Nigeria, India and Burma. He was promoted to Sergeant Major.

I know very little about his army days, he never mentioned them – all I remember is my mother telling me that he discovered at one point that he was being underpaid by a trifling amount, claimed the extra and was turned down. In protest, he grew a moustache (yes, I know!) and declared he would not shave his upper lip until the matter was put right. It was, in the end, and he received his back pay. This odd episode – he didn’t care about the money as such, only the principle - demonstrates something about his character that I can see in Al, who is incredibly easy-going almost all the time, usually laughs off incompetence, but occasionally becomes incredibly stubborn if he is right, but treated dismissively.

He had visited Germany regularly to race in the 30s and saw at first hand the political climate there. However, it was a relief to him that he was not allowed to fight and was in the business of saving lives and not taking them. He believed that the dropping of the atomic bombs saved his life – he had been about to go to the Far East and was sure that would mean his death at the hands of the Japanese.

He returned to England weighing eight-and-a-half stone – he was not tall; about five foot eight; but that was still incredibly thin. I’m not sure in what way he had been ill – he certainly was the only person in his platoon who was never ill in India, which he said was because he drank tea black and didn’t risk the milk. I suppose that others drank their tea in the English manner, with cold milk added, rather than boiled with the tea as chai. My sophisticated Madras friends add the milk to the tea at the table, but the milk has been boiled. I drink tea black myself usually, but I love roadside chai.

In the meantime, the Major, in Lowestoft, was still Mayor – he served thirteen years in total, including all the war years. Lowestoft was bombed heavily and, it was said, ‘he never missed a bomb’ – that is, he visited every location to help both practically and with sympathy and support. He was a burly man with dark hair and an auburn beard and moustache and his figure and booming voice were well known in the district.

And so, in 1946, Malcolm came home. “Glad to see you, my boy” said his father. “You’ll be wanting a job. I’ve got a hotel in Weymouth. Manager just upped and gone and left me in the lurch. You’d better go down and take over as managing director.”

Saturday 23 September 2006

Just to destroy your mental image of me......

A year ago, I decided to go away, all by myself, for a few days. Of course, if the Sage did holidays, I'd have taken him too, but there's no place like home to a wise man and he elected to stay behind.

A family asked me to take a picture of them - with their camera of course. And then insisted on returning the favour. Of course, I'm not really this toothy, nor is my nose so enormous - it was the angle and the smirk -, but my hair was really that untidy because no one was going to see me.

A necessary question, to which the answer is always 'Yes'

The food is almost done. I've just got to make the fruit salad and cook the bread and butter pudding and risotto, both of which are prepared.

The menu is....

Spiced lamb casserole
Chicken with tomato and pesto sauce
Green pea risotto
Baked potatoes
Green salad (which someone else is bringing)

Lemon syllabub
Chocolate mousse
Raspberry bread and butter pudding
Fruit salad; pineapple, strawberries and passion fruit

I looked at it. I asked myself 'Is there enough food?' I answered 'Yes, you fool, there is at least twice as much as we need.'

A consoling thought struck me. It is entirely appropriate, for a Harvest Festival supper at the church rooms, that there should be way too much food. Jesus overcatered, after all - when he fed the five thousand with five loaves and two fishes, they gathered up the leftovers in basketfuls.

Friday 22 September 2006

talking on the telephone

"Hello, darling. It's now twenty-five to ........umm....... something, I'm back at Notcutts in Norwich and I'll see you at ......errr....8 o'clock. 'bye darling."

I rang home. The line was engaged. I did this several times in the next quarter of an hour. Finally, I left a message (see above).

Ten minutes later (the line was still busy) I rang Ro's mobile and asked him to pass on the word of my homecoming to his father. I was hoping that dinner would await.

It did. Happy Z.

The Sage listened to the message. Chuckling, he pressed replay. And again.

If he wants a fluffy -sounding wife, all he really needs to do is engage me in conversation, anytime.

I had a good day out, interesting sights, excellent company and splendid guides.

Back to the kitchen now, harvest supper to prepare.

Thursday 21 September 2006

Tribute to my patient and long-suffering credit card

As I said the other day, I don't have the eBay gene. But I am developing a bad Amazon habit. If there was a book/music/DVD shop locally, I'd go there, but browsing online is a happy substitute. Not so much for books, for handling them is a large part of the pleasure, but there's not much interest in a plastic case covered with cellophane. And then there is the 'ooh, a parcel, for ME and it's not even my birthday' factor.

Surely I've got enough Bix Beiderbecke discs already? The lad died at only 28 and, prolific as he had been during the 1920s, there aren't that many recordings from him. But a few tracks I haven't got, or different recordings of those I have, so into the collection it has to go.

I had a bank statement this morning. More there than I expected, which is a relief considering the bills to come in this month......

Z is awake

I did know better, but I was tired. And I was in bed, asleep, by eleven o'clock.

Half past one and I was awake again. An hour later I came downstairs, made tea and started reading.

A friend, in a letter, enthusiastically suggested that I should take up singing. I am puzzled. He hasn't heard me, or he would not have proposed it. I can hold a tune, mostly, especially if I sing in a key of my own choosing, but that no more makes me a singer than the ability to rule a line makes me able to draw. Isn't it funny, the impression one gives of oneself.

Singing seems as if it should come naturally. You know you have to learn to play an instrument, but you use your voice all the time, and all children like to sing. Self-consciousness creeps in sooner or later, and in my case has never left. I couldn't play the piano in front of anyone but my music teacher either and piano exams were torture. I flew through the theory exams with full marks and scraped past the practicals with a point or two to spare.

Another friend's daughter plays the flute, and has just started the saxophone. In just a few months, her teacher assesses her at approaching Grade 5 level. He (the friend) wanted her to take flute exams but she is unwilling. I applauded her for sticking to her guns; I think the imposition of music exams, and the months of dull preparation for them, destroys for many children the enjoyment of making music. One can always catch up on the grades later if one wishes. He said that he wants her to do it so that he can frame the certificate and point it out to people, to make him proud. I do understand; he did not receive much praise in his childhood and in compensation lavishes it onto his children. But that doesn't mean I agree.

Oh, by the way, the Sage went to the auction yesterday. He was outbid, but we weren't surprised. The estimate was £700-£1,000, we were willing to go to £2,800 but it fetched £4,800, plus 20% commission plus VAT on the commission. A nice pair of spoons, but that was too much for us. It shows that the major auction houses haven't much clue about estimating what some items are worth. When you see in the paper that something fetched far more than the estimate, it might mean keen bidding or it might just mean that it was undervalued and the dealers and collectors know more than the auctioneer.

"I nearly came home with a set of silver plates," he said. "Ten of them were going for a couple of thousand pounds and I didn't think that was dear. But I didn't quite know what we'd do with them." "Oh, okay," I replied non-commitally. I knew what he meant though, I'm sure they would look lovely, but what would you do with them? You couldn't use them or they'd get scratched. And putting them under china plates on the table would look pretentious. A pair or two on the dresser would be handsome, but ten is a bit OTT. Anyway, it didn't happen.

Quarter past four. Still too early to stay up. I might as well have another couple of hours in bed and hope to sleep a bit more - of course, I'll probably roll out of bed sluggishly at nine o'clock.

Good morning.

Wednesday 20 September 2006

Z is moody

I looked in the fridge, for something for lunch. It has not been a fun morning - in fact the whole week seems at this jaundiced moment to be a bit shitty, though no doubt my opinion will be transformed when Dilly has the baby. She is still labourless right now, two days late, thank you for asking.

I found my hand curling round the bottle of rosé that was started last night. I hesitated. I remembered the funeral I am playing the organ for this afternoon. "Just the one glass then," I said aloud.

Nothing I fancied to eat. I went to the freezer. No pizza. Plenty of raw (and frozen) ingredients, but nothing I wanted.

I am eating pretzels and drinking wine. I feel better. This is a little worrying. The only consolation here is that I ate three figs while I was thinking about it.

My usual comfort food is risotto. I love making risotto. The slow and patient cooking of it soothes me, even as I wait to taste its creamy texture. I like it a bit loose and sloppy, but just al dente - I rarely order it in a restaurant as I am ready to be critical of someone else's taste; too much or too little cooked and I am disappointed.

However, today I am cooking other dishes (for Saturday, I've no other opportunity) and have not time to relax. Tasty, chewy and yet indulgent. Nothing fits the bill. Salami would do it, but I haven't got any. Olives, ditto. I sigh. I want another glass of wine. I'd better start cooking again.

Tuesday 19 September 2006

A bookish meme

I was tagged by Gordon. And it was very hard.

This probably is not what the question means, but it is a Ladybird early reader called The Farm, which was the very first book I could read on my own. I remember, still, the wonder of knowing what those black marks meant. I read it over and over. There was one sentence on each page, along the lines of ‘The farm. This is the farm. A cow. This is a cow.” But it was incredibly exciting and truly did change my life.

If that won’t do, then Milton’s Paradise Lost. Because of his wonderful use of language, which triggered a new appreciation of Latin as well as English when I was sixteen years old.

I’ve read so many books more than once. I do not reread nearly so many now. Time was, I thought there was all the time in the world. Now there are just all the books in the world and I’m never going to read them all, even the good ones.

A book that I still reread (and have this year) is The Big Sleep, by Raymond Chandler. I adore it. “She was small and delicately put together, but she looked durable.” This is from memory, I hope it’s right. It’s a wonderful line.
Also, Philip Marlowe is Humphrey Bogart in my mind and he is my all-time film heartthrob. I think it was the sight of him falling in love with Lauren Bacall during To Have and Have Not.

That probably depends whether I get the Bible and Shakespeare too, because if I did, I’d certainly want some light relief.

I think I’ll go for the short stories of Saki (H.H.Munro) because I have enjoyed them for 40 years and they haven’t palled yet.

I have been known to snort helplessly with laughter, usually in an inappropriate place, with quite a few books. Bill Bryson comes to mind as a culprit.

However, I’ll nominate Life of Pi, by Yann Martel, because I only laughed once, but it was in sheer pleasure. It was near the end, when Pi was nearing the American coast and I was wondering how on earth a plausible conclusion could be reached – and then, in one bound, it did. It made sense, in a nonsensical way, of the whole book and was clever and enjoyable.

You either get this book or you don’t, I suspect.

I don’t really appreciate manipulatively weepy books or films and a tearjerker, even if it works, can be quite annoying. But, like Gordon, I will say The Time-Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. I don’t even know if it was really that moving (except in a fourth dimensionally sort of way) or well written, because it gripped me so much that I lost my critical senses, but I cried an awful lot.

Anything by Jane Austen. I have to choose? Persuasion.

Oh goodness, if I read a book that was as unpleasant as that, I would have tried to forget it as quickly as possible.

I will say the Reader’s Digest Book of Look Up Your Symptoms And Diagnose Your Own Illness (whatever it was actually called), because it worried my mother a great deal, but she couldn’t resist reading it. I really wanted to burn that book.

Will and Me – how Shakespeare took over my life, by Dominic Dromgoole. Ro gave it to me for my birthday. I saved it for a week to enhance the pleasure of starting it (and, too, I was reading another birthday book, slowly and with great pleasure), so I’ve only just begun.

I haven’t read War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy, for years and it’s a book I love and I am intending to reread soon. I have lost my copy though and have to buy a new one.

This probably, however, means a book I haven’t read yet. And not one of those classic 'should have read but will I ever?' So, in that case, John Peel's autobiography, Margrave of the Marshes. Wonderful John Peel; I and all my children, all three decades of us, were devastated when he died. "Well" said Ro gloomily, "I don't suppose I'll ever have a reason to listen to Radio 1 again." I would have read the book already, but two of the kids own it and I was thinking they might, no, you're right, I should buy my own copy.

Oh, this is the hardest, I think. I hate to ask, it seems an imposition. But there we go, treat it as an invitation and you are welcome to say no.

I’ll say:
How do we know – because she tagged me and we feel a friendly closeness, although we haven’t met.
Life of a Banana – because I guessed hairdresser, when some people were prepared to be shocked – or said they were.
Geena – because she is a darling, although she might not have time for this and so mustn’t think I’ll mind if she says no.
Diamond Weeza – because I’m the only person who comments on her blog and I can’t think why, unless it’s that she doesn’t update often enough.

And Al B., a pal who lurks daily and hasn’t a blog as far as I know. I offered him, a long time ago, a guest slot – this is it, honey. Email me and I’ll post the answers.

Monday 18 September 2006

Z is tired, but still blogging.

Doesn't miss a day? Always in the mood? If not in the mood, gets in the mood, by doing it and, ooh, that's rather good, isn't it?

It's working already.

"HEYYO" shouted Squiffany, running towards me and planting several air kisses "MWAH, MWAH, MWAH!" "We're going down to the playground," said her mother. "Exercise might have some effect."

The baby was due today. He will be late. Dilly feels that she has already waited quite long enough.

I am glad, in almost all ways, that I will never be pregnant again, that I will never go through the waiting, the childbirth, the exhaustion and the sleepless nights. But even as I write that, I find that it's not true. We decided, when Ro was a month old, that he would be our last child (it sounds really insulting to him to say that, until he was born, we had meant to have a fourth, but he wasn't an easy baby and we were not so young then as when the first two were born) and we never changed our minds, but a bit of me has wanted another baby for the last 30 years (and had my wish once, 22 years ago). If you are a man or haven't borne a child, I'm sorry, and if you don't intend to be a parent, this is not aimed at you, it is simply personal and probably brought on by sheer emotion, at the imminent prospect of the birth of my second grandchild.

There is nothing like feeling your baby kick inside you. Or the first contractions, or the later ones, unwelcome as they are - "Oh bugger, this is the time I wish I'd just said 'no'." Or that slithery feeling as all your baby is born, followed by that first cry, that primitive instinct to sniff, when what you smell is yourself, the essence of yourself. And breastfeeding (especially at first, when you feel your womb contract and think, satisfyingly, that your stomach is going down every time the baby sucks), the knowledge that this infant is totally yours and that although you are separate, you are still entirely one.

Yup. I miss it. I didn't regret the decision not to have a fourth baby, but there is some little bit of me that will be, forever, broody.

And I had no idea that I was going to write that. If you read it, I even posted it. Well, well.

Oh, and having a baby and feeding it yourself is the best diet in the world. You can eat forever and lose weight. It is impossible to keep it. You can stuff chocolate cake and be a size 8, with a natural D cup*.

Yay. Lucky Dilly. Despite labour and the sleepless nights, I envy her.

*Still got the D cup. But not the size 8.

Sunday 17 September 2006

Are we nearly there yet?

This is something I've been avoiding for a long time. Getting an account on eBay. The Sage loves an auction - so do I come to that, but I have no particular urge to buy things just for the sake of it - and he is an inveterate collector. But, looking for something, nosily, that someone we know is selling, I noticed a teabowl and mentioned it - he was excited to see that he has a matching saucer. So I admitted that it is not hard to set up an account, and we put in a bid.

The close of the auction was 5 o'clock this evening. He was highly excited all afternoon, getting me to check continually to see if he had been outbid - and then, with half an hour to go, he fell asleep, exhausted with nervous tension, in an armchair, the saucer still clutched between his fingers.

He bought it. For less than his maximum bid. Some mean so-and-so put in a higher bid with 5 seconds to go, but not high enough. He is a happy Sage. But what have I started?

There is one good thing. He is completely disconcerted by the computer and doesn't even know how to check his emails. So I have control. But I am just so easily cajoled........

Saturday 16 September 2006

Z is feeling neglected

So. Where is everybody? I went out at about half past three, saying I'd not be home until five, and no one said anything about going out. But I returned to an empty house. Now, at nearly seven, there is still no one here.

Hmph. I bet they will burst through the door in ten minutes, demanding to know when dinner will be ready and what is it?

Corn on the cob. Roast duck and roast potatoes. Whatever other vegetable there is enough of to pick. Twenty to eight precisely.

And, being home and alone, what am I doing? Drinking red wine, eating pretzels, reading blogs, reading the paper, listening to Troubled Diva's podcast* (which I downloaded days ago and haven't had an hour free for until now). How about a little stimulating conversation here?

I sigh. I pour another glass of wine. I eat a fig. I sigh.

*Should I have put a link to that? Surely you all read and love Troubled Diva already.

No comment

I am a fireman's carry!
Find your own pose!

I have Irreverentmama to thank for this one.

Friday 15 September 2006

I do enjoy an auction

An evening out at Shrublands. This has been a well-known health clinic for the last 40 years, beloved by those who visited for their annual pick-me-up, but which has now been closed and sold, and of which the contents, family silver, furniture and china, is being sold by Sotheby's next week.

We had an invitation for the private view. As did most of the poshenista of Suffolk. Lots of 'Darlings!!' of greeting to be heard. "Do you know D.? He and L. have only just got engaged." "Oh! That is the best thing, the very best!!" We arrived early and hung around for a while before the doors opened. A delightful lady engaged me in conversation. She was most upset at Shrublands closing so abruptly, depriving her of her annual visits after 20 years. We met lots of people we knew. Lots of mwahs - though I am oikish enough to actually kiss those I like. I'm not much of an air-kisser.

We were parted for some time. Then met by chance, going in opposite directions. "See you at the top of the stairs in a few minutes." Yeah, right. We did meet again, eventually. I overheard one lady "Oh, I've lost my husband! ............. Oh, there he is!" "You're luckier than I" I remarked, "I haven't seen mine for half an hour." "Could be, you're luckier than me." The Sotheby's girl and I laughed. Later, I passed her again - "Found him!" I said.

There was one woman wearing a covetable suit. Brown, discreetly checked, the jacket's checks going straight and the skirt's diagonal. Just right. But so was she, half my age and slenderer - I was that size ten years ago. Won't be again. Don't aim to be, everything would droop horribly.

Wine flowed. I drove there. We accepted second glasses of wine. "Who will drive home?" I asked. "I will, you finish mine." And so I did. And a very nice canapé, fillet steak on a bit of toast.

I'm too busy to go back next week for the sale. But the Sage isn't, and we've registered. There is one lot we are really interested in, and a couple more that I would frivolously like, but we won't really go for. Keep your fingers crossed. We have decided on a price to go up to.

Thursday 14 September 2006

the Family story, Part 4 - The Thirties

After leaving school, my father went to Oxford, where he read Natural Sciences at University College. Apparently, he was one of the first group to study Biochemistry. He loved academic life - my mother always said that, if it hadn't been for the war, he would probably have returned to Oxford and ended up as a don. He also enjoyed the social life of a wealthy young man.

He had the sort of well-rounded education and interests that are less common now than then, and the money to practise them. He was a scientist and mathematician who also read widely on all sorts of subjects, both factual and fictional. He enjoyed music, jazz and classical. He loved the cinema and had, at home, his own purpose-built cinema, where he hired films and, acting as projectionist, showed them for his friends. There was a separate projectionist's room, though it was just used for storage when I was a child. It was, overall, a large building and would have easily seated 80 or more people, though I don't know how many came - it could have been that part of it was used for dancing or eating and drinking. Why does one never think to ask these things when there's someone alive who would know? Although my father died relatively young, he had lifelong friends who lived into their 80s and they would have told me, if only I'd asked. He must have been much wealthier than them, but I'm sure that was never an issue - we were still comparatively rich when I was a small child (though death duties had already made large inroads), but I was completely unaware of that and my father would certainly have spoken in exactly the same way to anyone, whatever their background or income, and treated them the same too.
He also enjoyed speedboat racing and we have several pewter, stoneware and silver tankards which he won as prizes. The large stoneware steins were won in Germany. His own boat was called OverWeGo - I have seen one photograph of him racing in it, but that was a long time ago. It must be around somewhere, probably tucked into a book. His enjoyment of speed extended to his cars too and once he was summonsed for speeding. His father was a magistrate and it was Malcolm's fate to appear before him in court. He was fined half a crown, which his father paid on the way out. Indulged? Well.......could be.

But the family didn't entirely live for pleasure. The Major had become a town councillor and then Mayor of Lowestoft, as well as a magistrate and a member of Suffolk County Council. He was extremely concerned about the high level of unemployment and he arranged for elaborate gardens to be laid out in South Lowestoft near the seafront. If ever you visit Kensington Gardens (the Lowestoft version!), my grandfather was responsible for its construction, with its many little beds and elaborately intertwining paths, which gave the dignity of a job to a good many men. We still have the gold key he was presented with when he performed the opening ceremony. I have the feeling, though I don't know for sure, that he helped pay for it - maybe by providing the Westmorland stone of its construction, possibly through helping to pay the building costs; it seems an extravagance for a town in an age of recession. At home, he had a similarly designed rock garden laid out, on a smaller scale although it was still a quarter of an acre in size, with a waterfall at one end and little streams running through a succession of ponds, finally ending at a large round pond with a fountain.

Helen, my grandmother, supported the Major in his public works, although she suffered, at some stage, from cancer in her cheekbone. The early radiotherapy of the time cured her, but she was left with a wound in her face and she unselfconsiously wore a scarf tied round her head. Not a beautiful, draped scarf, just any old scarf tied like a bandage. She still drank a lot and was certainly an alcoholic by this time. She had an acid wit, I'm told, but I've never gained much inkling of her as a person. My father was never close to her, probably because she had left him as a small child, and he didn't speak of her much.

When I was growing up, on hearing my surname people would say to me hopefully "any relation of the Major?" and usually there was a story to be told. He certainly accepted the social order and his place in it (quite a long way up it) but with it came responsibilities. One story was of a man who heckled him as he left the council chamber, ready to get into his chauffeur-driven car "You rich bugger! All right for some, what about those of us who can't get a job" "What's your name, my man?" boomed the Major. Unafraid and aggressive, the man told him. And the next day, a ton of coal was delivered to his house, with a letter offering him a job. This man told the tale to my mother thirty years later. The Major was respected and loved, and he certainly loved Lowestoft and its people.

Wednesday 13 September 2006

Life as a granny

We were on grandparent duty this afternoon. Since Dilly finished work in late July, we haven't looked after Squiffany regularly and so it was a particular treat.

And we've had a lovely afternoon. She did some colouring and a jigsaw, and then we went outside to pull grass for the chickens. They have scratched up all the grass in their pen and they do love having greenery to peck. Then Squiffany asked to go on the field with the cows.

The cows looked at us in a friendly sort of fashion, but didn't approach and we pottered around on the grass. I pointed out a cowpat to her and explained what it was, and that she shouldn't walk on it. I described how it was produced; "ppthreow." We came upon another cowpat. "Ppthreow" said Squiffany, pointing. Then we bent to examine rabbit droppings. I explained about those. "Yuck" said Squiffany. Later, we found a molehill. That needed no sound effects, I'm glad to say.

The field is called the Ups and Downs, because that describes it. There is one particular Down, where a good deal of gravel was once extracted. She hadn't been there before and found it very exciting to totter unsteadily down the steep incline and then toil up again. There was a blackberry bush at the bottom and we went back for containers and Grandpa, and picked a pound and a half in a few minutes.

Later, she spent a considerable time going up and down stairs. She and her parents live in a bungalow, and our front door, hall and stairs are divided from the downstairs rooms by a door. In country fashion, we rarely use the front door and she has hardly seen our stairs. She likes them. She also found bouncing on our bed was excellent sport.

Eventually, after sharing a biscuit with the dog and being read several stories, she tired. And cried. I sometimes take her out in the car to get her to sleep, but this time, encouraged by Mary P,, decided she should fall asleep naturally. It didn't take long, though I stayed with her until she stuck her thumb in her mouth and nodded off, still hiccoughing through the last of her tears, as she can get back on her bed but ours is too high.

That was two hours ago. It's her teatime now, but she's still asleep.
Update at 8.30

Her mother came and carried her home, still asleep, at 5.45. She did wake up and have tea eventually.

The day deteriorated after that.
Al had a flat tyre (a nail, we suspect foul play (cf Top Boy's event related yesterday) but I will say no more as it can't be proved. It was an absolute bugger to change the wheel though.

And Tilly (that's the dog) decided to roll in a cow pat. But why? Why? General joie de vivre I suppose. I'll give her joie de vivre. In fact, I gave her a bath. Daft dog.

Fortunately, I was given some really good chocolate for my birthday. And a blackberry crumble is in the oven, and crème frâiche is in the fridge. And half a bottle of rosé is in me.

Tuesday 12 September 2006

Today, I'm mostly......

gardening. Hacking away at the weeds with a scythe. I like using a scythe, but the Sage doesn't trust me not to cut my feet off so I'm only allowed to use it if he's within shrieking distance.

It is very hot. But there are satisfying swathes of recumbent greenery where there had been malevolently threatening nettles (previously left, I pretend, for the sake of the caterpillars).

And I picked the morning's crop of figs. The highest-up ones are being left for the birds; there are enough to share.

I'd wanted to plant a fig tree for ages, but didn't have anywhere suitable. Then my husband built a new workshop and it gave me a south-facing wall. We dug out a 2 foot cube and lined it with 5 x 2 foot paving slabs. The reason for this is that a fig tree is vigorous and you need to restrict the roots, otherwise it will grow huge, take longer to fruit and the figs will be too high up to reach. We refilled with lots of manure and compost and firmed down the soil hard after replanting. We do water it once in a while, but it's pretty good-natured and needs no work at all. Though I might have to prune it eventually and I'd have to look up what to do.

It's a Brown Turkey fig and it's been there about 6 years I should think. It started fruiting within a year or two and now has loads, although it depends on the season. It isn't actually in full sun as there is an ash tree a few yards away. The figs are gorgeous, juicy and delicious.

Monday 11 September 2006

the family story, Part 3 - Remarriage

To round off this part of the story, I should describe my paternal grandfather. But I realise that I know practically nothing about him at this stage of his life - about 1910-1920.

His name was Selwyn, poor chap, and he was about 20 at the turn of the century. He was educated at Glenalmond College in Perthshire (his mother was Scottish, his father English, and so the elder son went to Winchester (I think) and the younger to Glenalmond) and then Oxford. He became an electrical engineer.

During the course of the Great War he became a major, and that became the name he was called by for the rest of his life. One can hardly blame him; Selwyn does not trip off the tongue.

At the time of my grandparents' separation, a divorce was not that easy to obtain. There had to be a guilty and an innocent party, usually of adultery. Sometimes, the husband offered to 'provide the evidence' so as not to blacken his wife's name by an accusation of unfaithfulness, but there had to be no hint of collusion, nor an indication of guilt on both sides as the one cancelled out the other and a divorce was not granted.

However, in this case, I imagine that it was a clear case as Helen had run away with her lover and the Major divorced Helen. She went on to marry Colonel Wake and had two more sons, William and John. She was, of course, cut off from her considerable inheritance by her horrified parents and so, when the Colonel became ill with cancer and died, she was left very poor - presumably the Colonel didn't have much money himself.

The Major was a gentleman and could not see his former wife destitute. He and Helen had kept in touch for their son's sake - how much affection was still there I don't know, but forgiveness there must have been. They remarried and he brought up her sons as his own.

This morning I've mostly been ........

.... flirting with my husband.

But then I went and spoiled it all by having jellied eels for lunch and he rather thought that they looked gross. I'll have to do all that work again this afternoon.

Have a Happy Monday.

Sunday 10 September 2006

the Family Story, Part 2 - The Bolter's Child

Oh crikey, I have a decision to make. Run with Helen or stay with the little boy?

The child wins it. It’ll save backtracking.

Malcolm was just 4 years old when the First World War broke out, and a year or two later, his mother left him for her lover, Colonel Wake. His father (who, from now on, I will call the Major) was still away in the war, so Malcolm was sent to boarding school in Oxfordshire when he was only 6.

During the holidays he either went to stay with his grandparents in London or Lowestoft, or with his godparents in Wallingford. They had two daughters who were a little older than he and so at least he had playmates and a family life there. I used to visit the house when I was a child, it had a lovely garden running down to the River Thames. The sisters used to call him by the nickname of Coney (a country name for rabbit).

I wonder how he reacted to the loss of his mother. Like most children of his social class at that time, he would have been brought up by his nanny; maybe he didn’t miss his mother too much on a day-to-day level. The only little snippets of tales I have from that period, however, seem to me to indicate a withdrawn, but strong-willed little boy, but then I don't know other stories to counterbalance that.

Once, at his godparents' house, he locked himself in the loo. But he didn’t know how to unlock the door and refused to answer to the calls of the anxious family outside, who tried to explain how to work the latch. Eventually, the gardener climbed a ladder to the window. Malcolm has spent the past hour or so whittling away at the windowsill with his pocket knife. There wasn’t much left of it……
Their own faults I reckon, for giving a little boy a knife.

On another occasion, when newly at school, he was unable to eat his pudding with a spoon and fork. Just out of the nursery, he was accustomed to using a spoon only. He was not allowed to leave the table until he had eaten his bowlful with a fork. It took a long time. I have no idea how long. But, for the rest of his life, he never used a pudding spoon; he could only use a fork.

My mother once found a copy of a letter, among old papers. It was from his father (who had a secretary, who kept copies of letters) and said that his mother asked to know what present he would like for his birthday. The reply was “please tell my mother I want nothing from her for my birthday.”

In London he spent most of his time with the servants and returned to school speaking broad Cockney, which was soon put a stop to by the ridicule of the other pupils. He played with a splendid methylated spirits-powered steam engine, which his grandfather remembered playing with as a little boy in the drawing-room of the Mansion House, when his own grandfather was Lord Mayor of London.

Saturday 9 September 2006

Birth days

Al and Dilly's baby is due the week after next. We have said that we will take care of Squiffany while she is in hospital, as Al will want to be there of course. He has put up a sign in the shop, to apologise in advance if he has to close at short notice - he has staff in the morning but is alone in the afternoon. The sign has a photo of the baby scan; infant is curled up in the usual foetal position. In its little hand it clutches a banana.

Poor Dilly, I don't know how she puts up with Al.

I have just checked my diary for that week. It is rather full, mostly of social commitments, which I can, of course, cancel but which I certainly can't take a toddler to. It would be much more convenient if the grandbaby arrives next week instead. Or not until after the 24th.

Tomorrow it is my own birthday. Ooh, that's exciting. Squiffany can sing 'Happy Birthday'. None of the other words, but she can manage the essential ones.

I do appreciate an interesting number. A square is particularly good. I'm not due for another of those for some time but then, of course, it will be both a square and a cube. This year's number is not particularly noteworthy except for one detail; that is, my age will be the same number as the final two digits of the year in which I was born.

I'm always following Geena......

she's my favourite girl, and so is How Do We Know? .

You Are 15% Angry

You're so laid back, no one could ever accuse you of getting angry.
While there are a few little things that may annoy you, you generally play it cool.
In fact, your calm attitude tends to provoke people with anger problems.
They may think you're screwing with them, but that's just the way you are!

I'm so sorry if I have ever annoyed anyone by not losing my temper. I don't do it to irritate.
Actually, I'm not that calm, I'm quite excitable. Just not in an angry way. Usually.
You Are From Mercury

You are talkative, clever, and knowledgeable - and it shows.
You probably never leave home without your cell phone!
You're witty, expressive, and aware of everything going on around you.
You love learning, playing, and taking in all of what life has to offer.
Be careful not to talk your friends' ears off, and temper your need to know everything.

Ah. Lessons to be learned there. I'm a loud-mouthed, smart-arsed, show-off. Though mind you, I put £20 on my mobile phone around Christmas and I haven't used it up yet.
You Should Drive a Saturn Sky

You're sleek and smooth, and you need a car to match your hot persona.
Besides, sometimes you want your top up - and sometimes you want it down.

I like this one so much that I am going to claim that it is true.

Friday 8 September 2006

Writer's blocked

I think I've been blocked. I've tried a few times to leave a comment on someone's blog and it won't go through. Was it something I said? I can't think of anything. But if I have, tell me - (email address on my profile) and I'll see if I can put it right.

No, not all of you. Blimey. This is not an open invitation to the world to point out my faults.

Of course you (you know who you are) might just have had enough of me. Fair enough. Thanks for all the fish.

p.s. - Problem solved. Such as it was.

The family story, Part 1 - The Bolter

I don’t know a great deal about either of my grandmothers. All I know of my mother’s mother can be put in a few sentences. Her name was Janet Farmer, she was the 9th of 10 children, born when her mother was about 44 years old – apparently there was a child every three years, starting at the age of 20 – and my grandfather was her first and only sweetheart. They married and then she died, leaving an 18-month-old baby, my mother. A short 25 years of life and there are only two more personal snippets I know. She had her appendix out at the age of 21 and she was a church organist.

I have no entry into the heart or mind of my other grandmother, but there are more anecdotes about her. I don’t know if I’d have liked her but she would have been interesting to know and I’d have loved to hear her reminisce. No question of that, she died 50 years ago when I was a little child.

She was only 16 when she married, in 1909. Rich and spoilt I suspect, she was already something of a drinking girl. Family history relates that, on their return from honeymoon, they called on friends of his parents. “Come in and sit down,” welcomed the lady of the house hospitably. “You must be tired out and longing for a cup of tea” – it was about 4.30 in the afternoon. “Actually,” drawled Helen, “I usually have a gin and tonic about now.”

Champagne for breakfast was her preference too, apparently. This was Edwardian England, it must have been outrageous behaviour in a provincial town.

Both she and my grandfather came from wealthy families. Her family money came from beer. A Norwich brewery called Youngs, Crawshay and Youngs. Her parents lived at Alpington House, a large house on Lowestoft seafront that later became a convent – and I went to the convent school next door. The chapel, the library and the dining hall were in my grandmother’s parents’ house.

Maybe the marriage would have worked if it hadn’t been for the First World War. My father was born in 1910 and a couple of years later, they moved to their newly built house by Oulton Broad. It was a large, three-storey house in a couple of acres – the building materials were brought down the river by barge.

Then my grandfather joined up and went off to the war. Helen was left with a small son, whose care was in the hands of a nanny, a houseful of servants, time on her hands……. She was still only just in her 20s. She met another man and she bolted.

I do not know if she gave warning to anyone or simply vanished. I don’t know if she had been found out. Nor what pangs she felt, to leave her little boy. Times were quite different 100 years ago. A ‘fallen woman’ was despised and vilified and there would have been no question that she would have been allowed to take her son. The law would not have permitted it.

Thursday 7 September 2006

A puffed and reckless libertine? Um, no.

I am destined, I realise, never to have an illicit extramarital affair. I would be found out in no time. A couple of weeks ago I went with a male friend to a concert. I bumped into my piano tuner. Today, a different male friend took me to lunch in Bury St Edmunds. An acquaintance of his spotted us and came over to say hello; when he was introduced to me it transpired that he knows another member of the family.

It has always amazed me, the coincidental meeting of friends in odd places. My husband always has had a knack of finding old friends by chance. I upstaged him entirely on our honeymoon however; he will never surpass my feat of random synchronicity.

We were driving along a deserted country road on Mahé, the main island of the Seychelles. Rounding a corner, we saw a woman walking alone in the sunshine and we stopped to offer her a lift. She and I stared at each other, too surprised to speak. Not only had I known her all my life, but so had my father.

Her parents were my father's godparents. When he was a little boy, towards the end of the First World War, he often spent his holidays with them and their two daughters, in their home by the river Thames at Wallingford. He was, at that time, more or less parentless - his father was away in the army and his mother was what Nancy Mitford called a 'Bolter' - she had skipped with a Colonel, leaving her home and little son. So Molly and her sister were the nearest he had to siblings.

Since my father died, we had lost touch somewhat and she didn't know I was married, let alone honeymooning in the Seychelles. Not only at the same time, in the same place but even in the same random road, and we just happened to stop to speak to her.

Wednesday 6 September 2006

In at the deep end and sinking like a stone

It seems that I have surpassed all my previous records in digging the biggest hole I can and jumping straight into it.

I've said I'll do the sermon* for the Harvest Festival service later this month.

Yes, I'm not only mad, but also a fool. I have no idea how to set about writing, let alone delivering, a sermon. But I came up with the plan for the theme, which will tie in with the village schoolchildren being there, so it seemed appropriate to put my foot where my mouth is and follow through.
Also, it enabled me to ask Dave, lovely fellow churchwarden, to deal with the prayers. I am not up for leading prayers. I can't contemplate that.

I'll also be playing the clarinet to lead the hymns. It was either that or play the organ and it will be better to get up and just pick up a clarinet than come all the way back from the organ stool. And it's easier to play the clarinet than it is to play the organ.

Oh dear. I really don't want to do this badly. I don't mind being a fool, or that everyone will know that I am; that's par for the course, but I will let people down if I am embarrassing. And god too, but he will forgive me...c'est son metier as Catherine the Great** said. But will anyone else? And will I?

I haven't mentioned this to the Sage yet. I'm waiting to pick my moment***.

*It's not strictly a 'sermon' as I'm not licensed to preach, but effectively that's what it will be.
**it's been credited to various people, but the Oxford dictionary of quotations gives it to her - "Moi, je serai autocrate: c'est mon metier. Et le bon Dieu me pardonnera: c'est son metier."
***My well-read daughter just sent me this. Thank you El darling, that is extremely helpful. Though I'm sorry for the mental pictures that now are flashing before you.

Tuesday 5 September 2006

The smoother

Actually, things are pulling together quite nicely. People are so helpful and friendly (Well no, I do appreciate that not everyone is. But the majority, by far). Every person I've needed to speak to today has been positive and constructive in their comments (even if a bit long-winded, some of them.....) and although I felt, a couple of hours ago, a little overwhelmed, now I've had a chance to regroup my attacking forces (I've calmed down and cheered up), it won't take much to get things working nicely.

Yes, okay, you might indeed suggest that I live in Cloud Cuckoo Land (and how many of you have actually seen a production of Aristophanes' 'The Birds'? I have, In Greek furthermore. Ancient Greek. I didn't understand one bloody word). But this is the start of the email I've just received - "You're an absolute delight & always make me feel better!"

Now that was not a flirtatious comment (he's not like that* and he's nearly 20 years younger than I am), but he wrote to me a couple of hours ago feeling hurt (not at me), and if only I had thought things through I could have prevented that happening. I've done my best to soothe him, and evidently it's worked. And what a nice reaction, to repay the compliment, and cheer and soothe in his turn. But it does show that the summer is over, it's time to take work seriously. As if I'd done my job, he never would have been upset.

The smoother. It's what I'm best at. I prefer to say 'problem-solver' but I'm not really as useful as that.

* did you notice I didn't say 'neither of us is like that'?

what a way to make a living

It's just as well that I don't have a proper job. Although I have a suspicion that the orderliness of a 9-5 office desk would simplify my life, I also suspect that I am simply too lazy to get myself out of the house, with lenses in, hair brushed and underwear the right way round*, first thing each day. I've got to do it tomorrow (9 am appointment at the High School, where I'm a governor) and then be back here for a 10 o'clock meeting and somehow I feel it will need double strength coffee to kickstart me. Everyone else seems to have come back from the summer holidays keen and reinvigorated. I'm the only one who still hangs on wistfully to lazy days.

I arrived home so late for lunch that the Sage and our guests had already reached cheese and biscuits, so I skipped the rest of the meal and scoffed that hungrily. You might think arranging a lunch party for the same day as a meeting I couldn't miss was bad planning, but our friends are leaving for Canada on Thursday, permanently. They left at 3, but three hours later I don't seem to have done anything more than answer emails and I haven't done any real work yet. And now I'm starting to think about cooking dinner instead.

I think I need a boss. Someone whom I'll obey.

(Pause, while I give this due consideration)

I'm unemployable.

*I'm not being fanciful here, I discovered the other evening that I'd been wearing my knickers inside out all day. I hadn't felt very comfortable, but not so pained as to investigate the reason.

Monday 4 September 2006

Misplaced persons

My sister and I only had a couple of days by ourself in Delhi. When we arrived, our friend from Chennai took us to see her sister, who taught at a local school. She was just finishing some office work, and then took us home for dinner. She was a fabulous cook, I remember the best chicken soup I've ever eaten.

The next day we hired a car to take us round Delhi and the day after, we went on a tourist bus to Agra to visit the Taj Mahal. On our way back, I looked out of the window. There was a fabulous crescent moon, lying on its back in an attitude I'd never seen before. I squeaked and tugged at my sister's arm to show her. She woke from her doze and was completely unimpressed. How could that be? It was marvellous.

However close you are to someone, there can still be a gulf of incomprehension over the oddest things.

We got back to the city and the driver dropped people off in various convenient sites. We were the last, and tried to describe the situation of the hotel, which we couldn't remember the exact name of....... Finally, we saw a landmark and told him that we were very close and would get out, and thanked him.

We had been wrong. The hotel was not just around the corner. It was after 11 at night and we hadn't a clue where we were, and we had hardly any money on us. Slight anxiety. We couldn't even ask as we were not sure what to ask for - and there was no one around anyway. We did know we were close to the hotel as we recognised the general area, but had no notion of which way to walk.

An auto-rickshaw stopped. Luckily, the driver spoke reasonable English. We explained the situation and asked if he could cruise around a bit until we found the big landmark building near the hotel. Unfortunately, we had only 30 Rupees between us (we had no idea how much he'd charge as our friends in Chennai always lent us one of their cars and drivers).

He was willing. And we hadn't been driving for long when we spotted a building we recognised. And this time we were right.

We really wished we had been able to give him more than 30 Rupees, which is about 50 pence.

The next day we caught the train to Dehradun for more wedding celebrations.

Sunday 3 September 2006

Peaceful. And green.

We went to the local Greenpeace fest today. In the circumstances, an awful lot of cars (ours included) - but it was thoroughly out in the sticks (our local sticks are called 'The Saints' and they are rather too widespread to march around) so a car was actually the most practical way of getting there.

a few fairly random pictures......

This chap was a bit freaky. He was costumed as a bald hunchback with a musical pram with a doll in it. He was kind enough to give a baby a cuddly toy, but Al was careful to keep Squiffany well away. She would have loved it, but it might have given Al nightmares.

What I particularly liked about this splendid penny-farthing bicycle was the cycle helmet hanging from the handlebars. I do not know the chap in the background, apologies to him for his unintentional inclusion.

A lovely day, sunny and warm, though very windy (more power cuts this morning). I bought lovely hand-made soap. We had some delicious icecream.My sons scoffed at me for searching out guaranteed salmonella-free ice cream, but I remember 1969, I have better hippy credentials than they do.

Actually, there are an awful lot of hippies around. I was impressed. Peace, man. Yeah. Groovy.

Look, this is authentic hippyness, not a pastiche. I was there. I am that old.

Saturday 2 September 2006

We Have(n't) The Power

This evening, a power cut. Of course, I was in the process of writing an email. A couple of minutes later, the power came on again. I waited a few minutes, to be sure it was not going off again, then turned on the computer, rewrote - pff - off went the electricity.

It stayed off.

A neighbour rang. She had phoned the electricity board; apparently it was a major power failure in the Waveney Valley. Yagnub and surrounding villages were off.

I was glad I'd turned on the (gas) Aga yesterday. I went round, gathering together candles and matches. In for the long haul here. I took matches upstairs to the bathroom, where there were already candles.

Not much over an hour later, the power came on again. Boo! I'd been looking forward to an evening of making our own entertainment (mm, yes). It wasn't even dark enough to light the candles yet. Nor to provocatively blow them out again.

But the computer sulked for ages. It's my own fault for having a Mac. I always choose a mongrel dog as I don't want to be intimidated by having a dog with a smarter pedigree than my own. So why do I buy a pedigree computer?

Friday 1 September 2006

Not waving but swallowing rather a lot of water

Back in January 2004, my daughter and I had a week in hand after a friend's wedding in Chennai. She suggested we went to Kerala.

Goodness, Kerala is gorgeous. If you haven't been there, do go. I didn't spend any time in any of the main cities, but it is the only place in India that I've visited where no one seemed hungry and there were no beggars - although children still ask for pens. Actually, South India is better in that respect (in my limited experience*) than the North; I suspect it is because the climate is kinder and because they are less accustomed to tourists in the places I've been.

A friend of mine had spent Christmas in Kerala; her daughter, then training to be a doctor, had been doing some work experience in a hospital out there, and Anna and her son had flown out to visit. They were the first guests at a wonderful hotel, the Raheem Residency at Alleppey Beach. Their own website doesn't tell you much, so it's worth Googling too**. So we used it as our base. And, as well as a splendid bookcase in the hall (my all-time record was reading four books in a day), it had a delightful swimming pool***.

I'm the worst swimmer you will ever see. I'm becoming worse still, as I get older and more nervous. I'd told El this, but she didn't entirely believe me, especially when she saw me splashing around quite cheerfully. It was apparent that I always found something to hold on to and never risked floating out of my depth, but she accepted my explanation of poor co-ordination when needing to use all four limbs simultaneously. This means that I have almost no control of which direction I'm swimming in. I also mentioned my astonishingly overdeveloped buoyancy which meant that, once I was afloat, it was almost impossible for me to stand upright again.

But I seemed to be managing to flounder around happily. Until the time I tried to stand up and had nothing to hold on to.

I couldn't put my feet down. I had to fold at the waist. I sank helplessly. El splashed towards me and grabbed and we both rose, chokingly. I found a foothold.

"Blimey, Ma" said El, "I knew you were a bad swimmer, but I never expected you to drown in the shallow end of a swimming pool." We nearly went under again, laughing.

I've never let go since. Maybe I need a lucky piece of wood to hold on to? Please let it not be ebony.

*I judge prosperity, in any country, by the dogs trotting around the street. If they look well fed and uncowed, it seems that poverty hasn't bitten too hard.

**such as this one - - I tried linking it, but it wouldn't work. So, sorry, I'm a dreadful hostess, but please copy and paste it yourself.

***I should mention that I don't always stay in such luxury. We really fancied some pampering just then. It cost about £60 per night (without food) for the two of us - the previous week we had been in a hotel that was £60 for two for the whole week.