Saturday 30 December 2006

Z feels frivolous

And, most secretly and subtly, for no one knows this but you and I, demonstrates the fact by wearing a suspender belt and stockings.

And by eating a Hot Cross Bun for breakfast.

Oh yes, life in the Z household is a blast!

Friday 29 December 2006

Still sleeping the day away

Today, I intended to do hearty and useful jobs in the garden, using my New Tools. However, it has rained and in any case I fell asleep. I woke up to find Tilly lying still with an uncomfortable expression on her face; she was relieved that I moved as it meant she could. She is a polite little dog and did not wish to disturb me.

I didn't mention, yesterday, that I spent some time last night, with a certain déja vu, making holly wreaths again. A late order. Someone who has been in hospital and is now just well enough to go out and about and wishes to place Christmas wreaths on his parents' and late wife's graves. Well, what can you say. Naturally, Al said "Yes" and then tentatively asked his father if he thought that Mum would mind...
When Mum heard that the gentleman concerned is Gordon, best known locally for feeding the poultry at the famous roundabout, she agreed with quite good grace. I'm afraid that the song is not quite up to the quality of Jonny B's Post Office one but, on the other hand, the campaign to keep the chooks worked; they were decided not to be a traffic hazard and are still there. The number of hens fluctuates, but is certainly exceeded by that of cocks.

I wonder what to cook for dinner. I have beetroot. It might be risotto. Beetroot, although good, is not my very favourite risotto, but is worth making for the startling colour, as well as the frisson of nervousness the next morning when you wonder what has gone wrong with your insides.

Thursday 28 December 2006

Whatever 'normal' is ...

... I'm not back there yet. Largely because of the lengthy afternoon naps I have, which may last anything up to an hour and which are making Tilly very happy because we are having Quality Time stretched out on the sofa under a blanket together.

I am awake in the mornings and evenings however, and today we went to a Special Party. This is held annually to celebrate the birthday of Lord Bruin, who has been her constant companion since her first Christmas, 90 years ago. It is always a splendid party. She is an artist, she lives in about the most beautiful setting you could imagine, in an old water mill. Her studio is on the top floor from which she has wonderful views of the Waveney Valley. The real guests are the bears but one is invited to accompany them; they have their own party upstairs, with competitions. Ro's bear Edboes won the Most Loved Bear prize a few years ago. The rest of us have delicious food and lots to drink downstairs, except for the awarding of the prizes.

You think I'm making this up? I swear I'm not. It is all true. She invites all her friends including all the people whom she knows and who help her, such as her local butcher, greengrocer (Al), windowcleaner, gardener etc. Al couldn't go as the shop was open, but Dilly, the children, the Sage and I went. Squiffany behaved beautifully, chatting politely to people (mainly to introduce her brother and her teddy bear, whom she thought a little young to go upstairs). Afterwards, I popped in to the shop for some veggies. Al was looking a bit tired. "It's been frantic" he said, "like the week before Christmas. I didn't think I'd be very busy."

My present, which so excited me, was - were - a splendid folding pruning saw (600, on the left) with a vicious blade and matching secateurs for small hands furthermore, which I thought was a particularly nice touch. My sister, hearing me enthuse, said that she would not have welcomed such a practical and outdoorsy gift. Of course, this is the point - if you are going to give a useful gift, it has to be absolutely spot-on or it is dull at best, insulting at worst. "He didn't blunt the edges" observed Ro. "He must think you are growing up." And indeed, he has been known to remove new knives from my bloody fingers and dull the blade because he can't bear the sight any longer.

The other present, with which I was also just too thrilled, was half of a pair of L*w*s*o*t cutlery; that is, a fork. He bought the knife for himself. Now, do not think for one moment that this was a selfish act of retention, it was more significant than any eternity ring - it was a Sign. "We can never split up now" I said. "We can't divide the knife and fork after 240 years."

I should perhaps explain, by the way, that the handles are made from L't porcelain and the blade and prongs from steel. They were made about 1765, which is fairly early in the life of the factory. They are not undamaged and have been repaired, but we don't care at all about this as they are very rare and lovely.

My sister went home today and El and Phil left to visit his parents. So it will be quiet here tonight. Except from my usual carousing, of course.

Wednesday 27 December 2006

So, how well does my husband know me?

I squealed with surprised delight. The Sage had got it so right. He had chosen a perfect present and given me no clue.
Then he gave me another parcel. I squeaked higher and louder with renewed excitement.

Glasses shattered. Children cowered in the corner, hands over their ears. The dog howled, bats rose, flapping, from the eaves and mice crawled from their holes, paws risen in supplication and surrender.

I am, it must be said, a pleasure to buy presents for.

This evening, we were making coffee. He added milk to my sister's mug and waved the bottle in my direction. "Do you take milk?" he asked.

Saturday 23 December 2006

Jesus is back!!(!)

I called on a friend to wish him a happy Christmas. I gave him a hug. "Whoo, have you missed me?" he asked, as I leaned and didn't let go for a while. Yes, I had, he's a sweetheart and I hadn't seen him for some time, but he was also very nice and comfortable to lean on. It was 9 in the morning, 5 hours after starting work.

Al got a bit frantic at one point during the afternoon as it was extremely busy, not helped by me disappearing for a while in an unscheduled sort of way. We caught up eventually and he put in his order before 5 o'clock - hoping that there will, in fact, be a delivery tomorrow. Back at 6 tomorrow morning, and I hope that by 4 pm I'll be ready to leave to get ready for the carol service at 6. I have not practised the clarinet, which is a bit of a shame as I am accompanying the pre-carol service carol singing for half an hour - it's not the notes I'm worried about getting wrong, but that my lip muscles will be tired and wobbly by the end of it, and since there was a bright idea of me leading two carols during the service too (as being more appropriate than the organ for 'Silent Night' and 'Away in a Manger'), I want enough puff and embouchure to take me through that without inappropriate dribbling. Too late now to be any use, however. It'll be fine. The worst thing that'll happen is that I'll look a fool and that is a given fact at the best of times.

Oh, and baby Jesus from the church crib suddenly turned up, a year after being discovered to be missing. He is a very naughty boy. I must remember to take a photo of the other crib, which is fabulous. The children from the village school made it last year from papier maché. Everyone has fabulous pop eyes and we can't tell which animal is which. Last year, we turned the altar into a stable, which was most effective, and this year they are positioned at the back and the nice old plaster crib is at the front of the church, with Jesus about to be reinstated. Last year he was replaced by a Plasticene understudy.

Happy Christmas, darlings.

Friday 22 December 2006

The razor-blade is too sharp to hurt much

Kenny, our 87-year-old gardener, who doesn't actually garden any longer but just comes round on a Friday for old time's sake, came in for a cup of coffee this morning, so I didn't get the presents wrapped. No matter, plenty of time. I was back at the shop by noon and have just got home. Al hasn't; he was about to do his order for tomorrow. He says he'll have to go in earlier tomorrow, to get everything done. I said, whenever it is, I'll go with him.

I have a brace of partridges in the fridge which, wrapped in streaky bacon and roasted, will make an easy meal. Ro is not fond of game so he will have chicken, similarly wrapped.

And an early night, perhaps.

Update, 7.30 pm. Al has just called in, on his way back to the shop to phone through his orders. He says he is going to start work at 4 o'clock tomorrow morning. I assured him resolutely that I will be ready. Furthermore, that he is right, as it will mean less pressure later in the day.

When he left, I poured a large glass of Cabernet Sauvignon.

'Bum', I thought. 'BUM.'

197 years and 8 months

At some point yesterday evening there were six women chatting in one room. The brother of one of us had been told by his wife, a couple of months ago, that their marriage was ended - his business had gone bankrupt and she didn't intend to stand by him. "How long have they been married?" asked someone. "Twenty-eight years." We were silent for a bit. "We're a bit unusual, all six of us have grown-up children and we're still with our husbands." I asked each of them how long they had been married, and totted it up. Thirty-seven, thirty-five, thirty-three, thirty-two, thirty-one and twenty-six. And all of us still in our fifties...though not all of our husbands. "By July we'll have two hundred years between us, we'd better have a party."

We left around 11.30, but I still had wreaths to finish so it was half-past one by the time I was in bed, and I was up again four hours later to help Al put together his orders. By the time his three staff came in at 8.30, they were done except for the few items waiting for the Mr Fru1ty delivery.

I've had breakfast - bacon, eggs and tomato - and I've got some clearing up to do, bits of holly all over the floor. Then I'll wrap the rest of the presents. It all seems very calm and organised, I wonder what I've forgotten.

Thursday 21 December 2006

Z catches up with the rest of the country

Today is the day that our Christmas tree will go up. Not for a few hours yet, first I have to make more wreaths and clear up afterwards. Then - and this is several days early - I might wrap some presents, simply because they are in bags behind the sofa and rather too accessible to an inquisitive toddler.

I saw Dilly running down the drive an hour ago. I assumed - correctly - that she was chasing Squiffany with the intention of strapping her in her car seat, so I put on my coat (my mother never did learn that it was not a bad idea to put on her coat before going out on a cold day, rather than getting thoroughly chilled and taking the next hour to warm up again) and hurried out. When she heard my voice, Squiffany called from the car "Hello Granny" - this is said with such charm, it melts me every time. I stayed with her while her mum went to fetch Pugsley. We chatted about her new gloves, each finger of which is a different colour. She correctly told me pink, green and orange, hesitated over yellow, got blue right, but I had to tell her purple*.

They will be back at about 4, so will come in to help do the tree then.

Tonight, we are going to a party with particularly darling friends; she is also cousin to the Sage. You might not be able to choose your relations, but if I could, I'd pick her.

So, I'm writing now in case I'm a bit incoherent later.

*yes, there is a logical explanation if you think about it.

Wednesday 20 December 2006

Are you being served?

Al made his fruit baskets today. Four at £15 and three at £10. They are popular as presents for the Person Who Has Everything And Hasn't Space For Anything More, as they have the virtue of being used up and just leaving you a nice basket to play with at the end. Each of them takes about half an hour to do (time not included in the price) and so he needed a shop assistant so that he could get on with the job and be finished by noon.

I like being a shop assistant so much. His customers are lovely. One chap came in with two presents, one for the shop and one for the shop down the road which makes no concession to the season but shuts on Wednesday regardless. They were from Freda, who can't get out much but rings all the local shops to put in her orders for delivery on a Friday. Val at the pet shop mentioned that she delivers to Freda - Al said, he goes every Friday, he'd be happy to take her order too. That's all right, said Val, Freda likes a selection of cat toys taken round so that she and the cat can choose a new one. It's not a delivery that can be delegated.

Chestnuts are particularly good this year. The English crop was good, but now the French ones are being sold. Walnuts are also really delicious. Al rather fell out with one of his wholesalers - once the local suppliers were sold out, he bought a bag (these are not cheap, over £50 wholesale) but thought they were a bit lacking in flavour. Upon enquiry, it transpired that they were last year's stock. Crossly, he sent them back, knocked them off the bill and bought fresh ones from his other wholesaler. Very naughty, and the way to lose customers. And if Al loses a customer over one detail, he may be gone forever.

Until the last couple of days, it has been very mild, so there have been plenty of local cauliflowers and calabrese, which may be frosted by now. There has been freezing fog; a still, cold day today. Going into town, we drove through a patch of fog, and straight out again. It was like going through the smoke of a bonfire, it was so patchy. The land is very low-lying around us, it's on the flood plain of the River Waveney, used for grazing cattle most of the year and left to become waterlogged in the winter. The Sage remembers, as a boy, ice-skating on the frozen waterways, but they don't freeze hard enough for that now.

Tuesday 19 December 2006

Guilt kicked in

Al sold out of wreaths again today. So I've been making a new batch. The Sage went out to pick fir and holly (all our friends have bare bushes - ooh, chilly - by Christmas time) and I started work. Ouch. The fir was prickly. He hadn't realised, because he had worn gloves.

I started work, and by the time I went to cook dinner, I'd done seven bases and completed four of them - I do a base of fir on the wire framework and top it with berried holly. Those people who like artificial flowers can have them, but only red or white.

I started again after dinner, 'ouch'ing as I went. When half-way through the fifth, I held up my hands. They were bleeding. The Sage was stricken with remorse - he'd been able to ignore the 'ouch'es, but physical evidence of my pain was something else.

We did the last few together.

Tomorrow morning, Al has seven fruit baskets to make up. He doesn't have extra staff in the shop on a Wednesday, which used to be his half day until he discovered how much business he was losing in the afternoon. So I will be wrapping up very warmly and being his glamorous assistant for the morning, or however long it takes.

This evening, he thanked me. I was really embarrassed. You don't want your children to be grateful for their parents' help - appreciative is nice, but grateful is unnecessary.

Until January, that is, when he and his family are going on holiday and I will be left in charge of the shop!!(!) Then he will owe me big time.

Eight yards of silk and a glass of beer

Well, since Jen, Martina and Stitchwort mention it - the sari in the pub. No photo however, I'm afraid as it doesn't exist.

I went to a party a few days before Christmas - this would be five years ago. My friends Bob and Di were the hosts; charming and hospitable as always. We all ate and drank rather a lot over several hours - they live in the village, within walking distance for most of us, so we were were able to relax and not count the units.

At some point, Bob told us about a fancy dress party they had been to, before moving to Mahsrae (I'm imitating BD and using backspeak, to save myself from the Power of Google). He went as Gandhi. This was not an obvious choice; he is slim but well built, with a head of thick white hair and a white beard and moustache (he does not look in the least like Father Christmas) and it was a little hard to imagine, but apparently he managed to make himself look convincing by means of a home-made dhoti - the turban was less authentic. Someone, knowing I'd worn a sari at a wedding I had been to in Madras earlier that year, said we'd make an attractive pair.

We had already all agreed to meet up at the village pub on Christmas Day for a quick drink before the family festivities. I'm not sure who first suggested it - it could even have been me - but at some point I did say that I'd wear my sari if he'd wear his dhoti. He agreed. I'm afraid he was one over the eight at the time.

On Christmas Day there is a church service at ten in the morning, at which I always play the organ. A sari-wearing blonde organist is an unlikely sight in an English country church, but not an unwelcome one, I hope. Afterwards I walked the half-mile to church. There was Bob. In trousers, a shirt and a jacket. Pfft.

Anyway, they were pleased to see me and quite impressed, not least for my sari-folding skills - secure with no pins. Furthermore, not many middle-aged women go around, even now, in this country with a bare midriff and no one had ever seen mine before. It is a simple sari, in plain dark red, fine georgette silk, and the short tight blouse is decorated with gold thread. I stood chatting, clutching my half pint, and I felt something cold at my waist. I turned. Bob, giggling, was pressing his pint mug to my exposed flesh. Really, he's such a boy.

Monday 18 December 2006

Is it too early to mention Christmas?

There will be a Trustees meeting here at 6 o'clock this evening. Having made yet more wreaths this morning (58 so far, so the Sage tells me), I have just hoovered up the debris and put a rug over the stains. I looked around. There is no sign of Christmas in the room at all.

Is there anyone else who decorates the house for Christmas, rather than for the whole of December? I think that you have three weeks for preparation and the festivities start on Christmas Eve and go on until 6th January (Epiphany). That's a fortnight; Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and the Twelve Days of Christmas. But this relaxed, albeit expectant, attitude seems at odd with the rest of the country. I can understand shops, offices and schools decorating early, but does one not get fed up with dusty old cards and greenery by the New Year, if they've already been dangling around for a month?

I won't deny that there is a certain degree of procrastination in my attitude. And when my children was young, we were persuaded to put the tree up a week or so in advance. In those days, we used to make elaborate decorations, most of which have fallen apart now. One year we made Father Christmases, using golf balls as heads. These bowed the tree branches down considerably and if I do the same thing in future with the grandbabies I will learn from it and use ping pong balls.

The smartest decorations for the tree date from the time Al and El took stained glass classes. Al made lots of glass decorations; angels, Father Christmases, bells, Christmas trees etc. These are also heavy, but we just make sure we buy a sturdy tree.

I bought some Fairtrade tree ornaments. These include little wooden dolls, wearing saris. How multicultural. Have I told you about the time I wore a sari to the village pub? It doesn't take much in this village to cause a sensation.

Sunday 17 December 2006

Imperfect memories

I've been trying to remember what we used to have in our Christmas order from Fortnum & Mason. I should think we ordered the stilton from there. We used to have a whole stilton; we had a round cheesedish with a big cover. The top crust of the cheese was cut off and we scooped out helpings with a cheese scoop. There was, apparently, a tradition of pouring port into the cheese, but we never did that - sounds like a good way of ruining both stilton and wine to me.

Then there were the sweets. I remember we had griottes en cognac - hope I've got the name right. Brandied cherries in dark chocolate. We also used to have butterscotch rolled in flaked almonds; I can't remember their name. *Something* amandine, logically enough, but the missing word is the one that matters. They were gorgeous and I haven't been able to get them for years - I've asked but haven't tracked them down. We used to buy tea and coffee from F&M all year round; we drank Earl Grey tea and you couldn't get that locally in those days. We sent for it and coffee beans every month or so.

I can't remember what else we bought. Things like tinned anchovies, olives and olive oil, avocado pears ... in the 1950s and early 1960s few people used these things, but my parents were early devotees of Elizabeth David and were adventurous cooks. My mother went to a great deal of trouble with food and my father was a keen vegetable gardener. We had a full-time gardener, but Daddy had an extra greenhouse too, where he grew the things he fancied. I remember one year he grew loofahs and had his picture in the local paper. We used them for years and the black seeds used to drop out in the bath. I've grown them myself, they are like cucumbers to grow, but you have to leave the fruit to dry out, until only the skeleton is left. If it starts to blacken at all, the whole thing will rot, so that needs care. I hung them above the Aga to dry out slowly.

Anyway, yesterday my sister and I pottered happily around F&M food hall for some time, and I bought a Christmas pudding. She says her contribution to Christmas dinner will be champagne and smoked salmon. I think I'm all sorted.

Friday 15 December 2006

A veggie weekend

A friend of Ro's is coming to stay for the weekend. I've met him briefly a couple of times, delightful lad, but it's at times like this that I notice how odd we are and how people might be a bit puzzled by the way we live. However, no point in glossing over this sort of thing, this is how we are and we just have to be matter-of-fact about it.

I was a little more taxed about feeding the boy. He is Muslim and only eats Halal meat. In effect, that means that he eats no meat when away from home. He is also teetotal. I have been asking Ro, anxiously, what other things I have to take into account. Fortunately, that's about it. Apart from vegetarian cheese. And he does eat fish. And he is extremely polite, said Ro helpfully, so he will eat whatever you give him anyway. As long as it hasn't touched meat. We had spaghetti carbonara last night, to use up the bacon and, apart from a jugful of stock, the fridge is now a meat-free zone.

I'm going to London tomorrow to spend the day with my sister, who lives in Wiltshire. She will come to Waterloo by train, I'll go to Liverpool Street, and we are going to meet at the National Gallery and decide what to do. We're meeting other friends, who are up from Somerset for the weekend to visit their son, for lunch and so, apart from the sheer stupidity of visiting London a week before Christmas, it should be fun, as long as we can move for the frenetically shopping crowds. My sister suggests visiting Fortnum & Mason for old times' sake - she used to work in the Millinery department back in the late 60s, but I have been there at holiday times before and it heaves with humanity.

She sold hats to all sorts of people; she served the Aga Khan (she tied his helpful finger into the bow fixing the hat box), Michael Caine (he gave her peppermints), Dame Flora Robson (she was her favourite assistant and Dame Flora always asked for her). Awfully low pay, but there was commission and it was fun. In those days, my parents always used to have a big order sent from Fortnum & Mason for Christmas. A few years ago, my mother said, wistfully, "we used to spend about £25. What would that be now?" We though about it, and decided that it would be at least £600, after inflation. Actually, I suspect it would be more.

Thursday 14 December 2006

The two year birthday and other ponders

A friend of mine will be 89 in January. So she has decided that 2007, being her 90th year, will be for her an all-year-round celebration, just in case she doesn't make the big day. She is planning holidays, parties and general fun. Furthermore, if she does get to the Big Day in as fine form as she is now, she will be able to celebrate being 90 for another whole year. I think this is a great idea and certainly one to follow when I next approach a significant date.

After fine words yesterday about writing cards, it didn't happen. I spent two hours making wreaths and the Sage, after a strenuous day in London, read the papers. There are more wreaths to make this evening, unhappily. The drawing room carpet is stained with crushed holly berries, although I have put down a sheet. I will not do it in another room, I want to be somewhere where there is a lighted fire and company and television and a place to put a wine glass.

Mail order stuff is piling up, and I do hope it is all right as I haven't got around to opening it yet to check it. Some stuff still to come, but nothing too important. I have ordered the beef for Christmas day but have done nothing else foodwise. A friend makes us a cake - I would make one, but as she kindly gives us one and it lasts all through January, another would be redundant. I no longer make a pudding as we eat so little of it, so will buy one. I'm not sure if this makes for a minimalist Christmas, but I don't see the point of buying loads of food when we won't eat much more than usual.

When I was a child, my mother used to work for hours and hours in the kitchen and I'm not sure what she was doing. She did make two stuffings for the turkey and we had a whole ham, but these are easy enough to cook. A big starter would have been too much to eat, so we had consommé (tinned) with added sherry, and followed with Christmas pudding of course. We had a dishwasher, even when I was a small child, so whatever took so long?

When I had children, I knew that their parents' time was what they really wanted, because that's what I would have liked to have had, and so I did all the preparations I could in advance and made time plans, with regular stops scheduled for fun with the family. If preparations fell behind, things would be simplified or left out, I never wanted to say I was too busy to enjoy Christmas day with my children.

Wednesday 13 December 2006

Coos and bills

I took a break to open some of the post. A credit card bill. Several Christmas cards - I'll leave them til later, when the Sage is home from London. An electricity bill, for the Sage's workshop, so not for me. Tickets I'd sent for and wasn't at all sure I'd be able to get. Unmistakably, a dividend cheque! I opened the tickets envelope first, happily, then the divi, expectantly. £4.30. Ah.

I've got a load to do from the meeting last night. For once, housework is a welcome distraction from the computer instead of the other way round.

The Sage is home, so we opened the cards. A party invitation! Whee!! To celebrate a 40th wedding anniversary. These friends give extremely enjoyable and lavish parties, so I will send polite apologies to the next churchwardens' meeting and go and have fun instead.

There was also a round robin letter in one card. I can see the point of these if, for instance, you have moved away from a circle of close friends and want to keep in touch, but these are people we have known for many years, but not that well and their children not at all. I duly read the whole, small fonted A4 sheet and it confirmed my intention never to write such a letter. Entertaining though it was in its way.

Tuesday 12 December 2006

GRR - in a good-humoured way, of course

Oh dear. I look at Bloglines and there are 124 posts to read (mind you, sometimes someone has 25 and I've read all of them, what? What? Is that what happens when you republish?), not counting the ones that aren't Bloglined, like those who post every day. But I have been a bit busy for the last couple of days.

Largely making sodding holly wreaths. Grr. GRR. I so don't enjoy it. But Al keeps selling the buggers and the Sage took Hard Cash for another 3 today - one of them obscenely overpriced as the person concerned has London Ways (not my daughter, she isn't daft) - I won't see a penny of it, I'll just get prickled by the splendidly-berried holly - and promised a Particularly Splendid 'Nother One in return for some lovely greenery. I made 2 last night and 5 this morning, and Al sold them all, so I made another 8 this afternoon - before going to a meeting where I multi-tasked to the extent that a darling friend took me privately aside and told me I looked tired and should take care of myself, honestly, I nearly cried at the kindness before assuring him that I was fine. Which I am. In fact, I've been leaving honeyed comments on blogs which are, actually, sincerely meant, in case any of you were recipients.

I'll be acid tomorrow. The Sage is going to be in London ALL DAY on business (which means coming home with money) and I am planning the pre-Christmas house clean. Housework is not my favourite job, but if I don't do it, no bugger will.

Did I say GRR?

PS. I just checked the business emails. Just the titles. There are three. Two, from Lawence01, say PAYMENT OVERDUE. The third, from Online lottery winne says BRITISH LOTTERY CERTIFIED WINNER'S CLAIM. At least the apostrophe is in the right place. It is five to twelve. I will delete them tomorrow. Is anyone, please tell me, anyone? still taken in by these?

Monday 11 December 2006

I thought I'd be a Daimler Dart, but this'll do

Taken from the fabulous and, happily, newly returned BD.

I'm a Porsche 911!

You have a classic style, but you're up-to-date with the latest technology. You're ambitious, competitive, and you love to win. Performance, precision, and prestige - you're one of the elite,and you know it.

Take the Which Sports Car Are You? quiz.

I looked at his second quiz but I couldn't answer the questions - for example, it asked you to choose between three films and I'd not heard of any of them. And 'would you work for a startup company?' - I'd only work for my own company, pigheaded lass that I am.

Of booze and hips and healing whacks, of adjectives and fillings

I puzzled the osteopath a bit. He doesn't think that bursitis should keep coming back like this (third time in fourish years) and wonders if it could be something else. He had me bending over and touching my toes and suchlike agilities and seemed to decide that my back and hip are all right. So I received an extremely painful massage and he hopes that will do the trick. I wanted some more of that nice ultrasound, which hurts but really works - the massage works too, but was more painful than I really wanted to have to deal with. At one point I silently gabbles the seventeen times table, which is normally my refuge at the dentist (it really works, soothes me no end).

Probably, regular gentle exercise would help, but I'm never going to do it. Far too much once in a while is more my way. On the way home, I wondered if I should investigate a Pilates or yoga class, but I'd talked myself out of it, to my relief, by the time I'd driven the couple of miles to my house. I simply wouldn't bother and there's no point pretending I would.

Getting dressed, I contemplated a drawerful of underwear. One has to get the knickers right on this sort of occasion. Too frivolous or - eek - too revealing and it would be embarrassing, but hopelessly sensible would be just dispiriting. And ancient and falling apart has no place in my bedroom, unless it's me or the Sage.

I spent the morning at the High School, with the teacher who deals with remedial reading. I sat in - and joined in - on various lessons and afterwards talked to him. He's a lovely bloke, had some years in industry and earned a lot of money before deciding that teaching would fulfil him more (I didn't discover this today, I interviewed him for his original job as a teaching assistant). I asked about liaison with feeder schools and it seems to me that this is an area rather ripe for development - he has spent quite a lot of time at one of the middle schools, but I think that time, when available, spent on some analysis could be worthwhile. I am sure that a pupil who comes along at the age of 13 not knowing the difference between a noun and a verb has already received some learning support, but it doesn't seem to have worked very well and it would be helpful to see the sort of remedial teaching in each of the dozen or more primary schools that feed the two middle schools, and their relative worth. Schools are supposed to 'share best practice' nowadays and if comparisons could be made, it might be found that one or two schools stand out either before or behind the rest. One has to be immensely tactful, however, as schools do not necessarily appreciate 'helpful' comments from outsiders, even other schools.

When I arrived home, the Sage and Ro had just got back from the dentist. Ro had not been for three years and was rather dreading it - extremely chuffed with a clean bill of dental health. The Sage was not quite so lucky and had had a tooth extracted - it could have been crowned but it was right at the back and the dentist felt it would not be missed. No alcohol tonight, apparently - ow, poor does one do that?

Sunday 10 December 2006

The family that drinks together links together

I rootled through the cupboard in search of a little something. I'd already eaten chocolate - it is Superb Chocolate and therefore limited to one piece per evening. I found some Cadbury's Snaps (chocolates shaped like tuile biscuits) and some jelly babies, but they are reserved for the PCC meeting on Tuesday. I wondered if I had any icecream, but I knew I did not.

I nearly gave up and made tea. But, after all, I found an unopened packet of Plain Chocolate Digestives. Hah! Unopened no longer!

The day started early, around midnight, when the Sage arrived home after a jolly evening out (without me, hmph) and I politely asked if he had called at the church to turn on the heating. Forgotten, he was apologetic and said he'd go and do it - I heard the faint reluctance and said I'd go. Brightening, he offered to accompany me. I pointed out - look, I was good-humoured, can you tell me you would have been? - that there wasn't a lot of point in both of us going and off I toddled with Tilly. There was a hard frost and I was very careful at the end of the road where a regular wintry entertainment is watching the pedestrians go feet in air and bum on ground.

Back in church at 7.30 to get ready for the 8 o'clock service; I am truly adorable (and if there is, after all, no heaven, I will be mightily pissed off - unless I find Belial in hell, as - according to Milton anyway - he is quite hot) for which there were only seven people, including me, the Rector and her husband.

Back again at 10.00 for the 11 o'clock service, when I was playing the organ - had I practised? Is it likely? I had by 10.30. And then, Sue taught me how to programme the boiler so that I don't have to go down at all hours in future, but can warm up the church for little children's events automatically. It is the Nativity Play on Wednesday evening.

I came home and completed making delicious soup which we had for lunch.

This afternoon, went to Norwich to see Casino Royale. On the way home, Ro and I debated whether Daniel Craig's eyes really are that blue. I, pathetically, want them to be; Ro thinks he may have been wearing contact lenses. Do you know?

We arrived home to find the Sage dishing up dinner. Well, not a bad day. We shared, the three of us, a bottle of wine. The Sage and Ro don't always drink wine - though never say no to champagne or similarly jolly fizz - so it always feels like a moment of togetherness.

Saturday 9 December 2006

Z is sentimental

"There's a fruit fly by your glass" observed the Sage. "I know, bless it," I replied. "I've never seen fruit flies in December before, poor little thing, I'm not going to deprive it of its last few days of life."

Saturday morning ramble across the keyboard

All the stuff I ordered online last week having arrived, I started ordering the frivolous stuff. Except that one thing, whilst in stock, did not come up on the order form, not even when I cried and begged. Strange, how impervious most websites are to threats and pleas. Anyway, it's all done now as I telephoned. Nice girl. When I gave my postcode, she confirmed one letter -"F for Freddie?" Indeed, it is, and it is noticeable that, although the correct identification word for the letter F is 'Foxtrot', nearly everyone says 'Freddie?'

I didn't write yesterday as I had nothing to say. You are thinking, as I am, that it is a wonder that I ever write, in that case. A mistress of small talk as I normally am, I'd been out for lunch (again...) and was all chatted out.

I owe Jen a post for her Mad wedding day. Jen you will, I know, understand that, as it must be heartfelt, it doesn't come quite to my command. It is one for a wakeful night, it will happen and I'll let you know when that is - sorry I'm late.

At this point, a little dispirited, I broke off to read the paper. And was highly entertained to read this article, describing how church congregations are cowed by bullies and that vicars are stressed by the need to be nice. Apparently, 'troublemakers' 'indulge' in 'church hopping', trying out different styles of service and going to the ones they are happiest with. Yes, and so? The person quoted says that these people suffer from neurotic personality disorders bordering on the psychotic. That is the rudest thing she says, but by no means is it the only insult. She also says that one of the most stressful features of ministry is the effort to be nice to difficult people. Well, maybe she should chat to shop assistants, they might say the same thing; and they have rather less job security, no pension and no free house to live in. I'm not fulminating against the clergy, nor against the Church of England, only commenting on an academic who is being most oddly offensive. Maybe she hopes to provoke debate? Not here, I'm just laughing at her.

Thursday 7 December 2006

New school

Tonight, there was an open meeting at the village school to display the plans for a new school, on a new site, that we have been working for (with the full support of the Local Authority, some people there I regard with Deep Respect as, with all regard to their dispassionate professionalism, they have been very helpful and really wonderful) for several years, having been through the throes of PFI (don't ask, it's a way the government have of disguising the amount of money they borrow; they are willing to pay through the nose for this deceit) and beyond, and the plans are, finally, going to be submitted tomorrow.

The site of the proposed new school is part of a large field, owned by the Church (Norwich, not the village) which is willing to sell for a Good Reason if it comes within the remit of a carefully drawn up Trust.

This is fair enough, I am a Trustee for two Trusts myself and understand the obligations.

There are several houses that back on to the aforementioned field and the owners, naturally, want to be sure that the value of their properties and their own lifestyles will not be adversely affected.

All reasonable. Yet, I cannot abide Nimbyism. I have, tolerant as I am, a fair degree of idealism within me and I think you have to look beyond yourself to the greater good.

Anyway, people had a chance to have a look at the plans and then the Headteacher introduced the various people from the local authority who had come along, and then they explained the plans and took questions. At the end, the Head asked if there were any more points .... I found my hand raised - it was possessed, I didn't do it......

I reminded everyone that twenty years ago, the government had wanted to close down small schools and the whole village had united to keep this one open, although there were only 19 pupils. When I became a governor there were 24 pupils and my son became the 25th; five years later there were 56. A couple of years later, 76 and, with fluctuation, that is the number there are now. The new site is still in the heart of the village; the choice is to have a school or not, as the present site is completely unsatisfactory for modern times (true, it is tiny; no hall, no playing field, one out of three classes in a mobile classroom and they have to run round the whole building to get to the loo. Staff room, what's that? Dining room, 2 classrooms with a dividing door between transformed while the children go outside, whatever the weather).

I said, I am partisan and, if you have concerns, do object, but also do try to consider the bigger picture. I was a governor there for 18 years and, when the new school was first mooted, we offered a bit of our field for access if that would help, we were happy to have the school right by our garden. I really want a school in the village for my own grandchildren to come to, I cannot be disinterested, and I care very much for the future of the children of the village.....time to shut up and stop ranting.

That was the gist. I shut up, went into the kitchen and did the washing up.

And, on the way, asked the LA chappie to let me know if there were many letters of objection because, if there are, I'll write in favour.

It's no wonder I've a bit of a reputation as a passionate woman. Hah!

Sodding Blogger

Not too long ago, I complained that I didn't receive notification of any comments. I dealt with it by logging on to Blogger by Firefox instead of Safari and putting in my gmail address instead of hotmail. Since then, it has been all right, except that I'm not that enamoured of the gmail inbox. So, today, using Firefox, I put in my hotmail address, which I nearly always use. It didn't sodding work, I've just found a comment that has patiently waited for approval for sod knows how long because I didn't get an email. I don't use word verification because I have to type in the sodding wv myself and I do it wrong as often as not, sometimes several times, and I haven't even the excuse of being dyslexic - I think it is discriminatory to put in random letters that can easily be misread.

Please excuse multiple uses of 'sodding' but it could have been worse, after all. This is not today's post, this is a mere rant and will be followed by a proper post quam celerrime (if that's how you spell it, it's been a long time since 6th form Latin)

Wednesday 6 December 2006

Strutting their Stuff

At last night's dinner, I sat obliquely opposite *Dawn*, whom I've known slightly for several years but not got to know very well. She seemed to know about me, however, within minutes she was teasingly remarking on my liking for a drink or two...look, really, I don't get this, I really have never fallen over or become truly embarrassing through drink. I am a regular moderate drinker (okay, those awfully tightlaced types who think that anything over 10 units per week is a bit dodgy might call it more than moderate, but they all weigh less than 110 pounds and are thinking of what is appropriate for themselves) and I am also a person who is only truly awake in the evenings - those of you who have only met me during the day have not received the full esprit de Z - (so help me, this sentence is becoming truly convoluted, are you losing the thread yet?) but that is no reason for the reputation I seem to have as a frightful tippler who is never happy without a drink in her hand. The only consolation is that everyone feels able to tease me about it, so I must be spoken of as a sot, but a good-natured one.

Anyway, I had a chance to chat to *Dawn*. She is lovely and I love to hear people talking about their enthusiasms. She mentioned she is going to Stafford for a big chicken competition so I encouraged her to tell me about them. It transpired that she has, this year, started entering her chickens into shows and has done extremely well. She said that it had taken her years to work up to first prizes with her goats, but she is already winning trophies with the chooks. Apparently, they particularly enjoy their pre-show bath; she uses a maximum-shine shampoo she buys from her hairdresser (she has lovely hair herself) and puts them on a wheat and corn mix for a week after the bath, to stiffen up their droppings so that they don't dirty themselves before their big day.

I wonder if she has to lead them round the showground, like they do at Crufts.

Tuesday 5 December 2006

Praising older women - and younger men - and older men - get the picture

Having stayed up late to get all preparations ready for the meeting, I was rewriting by 8 this morning. I knew I would, I always rewrite, but you have to do the writing first to be able to see what could be improved. Meeting was cheerful and lunch afterwards was jolly. Ladies in their 70s were complaining that men in their 80s only want them for their potential nursing qualities, which I agreed was a complete bummer and have recommended non-commital relationships with younger men. Men are absolutely adorable but quite a lot of work, which an independent woman can't necessarily be doing with.

I drove a darling friend home afterwards; I haven't known her very long, less than a year, but I absolutely love her. She is funny and upbeat and stalwart - she's actually very ill but shrugs it off and enjoys life regardless. She fell badly the other day and her son scolded her for wearing high heels when she is so frail. She said 'pfft' and sent him on his way, but admitted that he is absolutely right, her heel caught on something and down she went and she says she's rainbow-hued all down one side. Her husband was ill earlier in the year; when he returned from hospital he was quite emotional; he said that he thought she would not be able to look after him and have to put him in an old peoples' home. She and I both nearly cried too at that. They are a pair of beautiful cracked pieces of porcelain, who are happy as long as they have each other and they make the most of every day.

Many of my friends are older than I am, some by thirty or more years, and they are so wonderful. Most of them have been through some degree of hell but they don't let themselves dwell on that and just get on with living.

Z is about to light the other end of the candle

It is now eleven minutes past midnight and I have not completed the preparations for the meeting that I need to leave the house for at 8.45 in the morning, which counts as early for me as I only get up in the dark for vital reasons, such as ... I'll insert one if I can think of one...

The reason is that I could not find the book in which I had written vital information. I had it this morning and so looked in the kitchen and the study and then in the car. Goodness, it is mild tonight, positively balmy. I went out without a coat on and did not care at all. It was not in the car, so I looked in all the places I had previously looked and checked under the dog too.

Finally, I remembered checking answerphone messages as soon as I had arrived home, so looked in the drawing room and, eventually, found it on the windowsill, behind the drawn curtain.

But that had disconcerted me and so I needed to do frivolous things for a bit to settle my nerves.

Right-oh, back to work.

Monday 4 December 2006

Z is becoming a new woman

It's odd. 4th December and I've done quite half of the family Christmas present shopping. Both grandchildren, husband and two children pretty well sorted. Three children and one sister to go. This is unprecedented - added to my Extreme Accountancy of yesterday and I'm almost tempted to believe that I'm starting to become sensible. Surely not. It is not the way I want to be ... or maybe it is .... I don't know, it doesn't fit in with my mental image of the 'free child'*, who has no need to plan ahead because it's far more fun to wing it on the day; on the other hand December is a fearfully busy month, try as I do to catch up with things so that I can take time off with a clear conscience, fit in as many jollies as possible, fill remaining evenings with making up holly wreaths for Al to sell (this is my most hated job and I do it purely from selfless maternal duty) and help him in the shop as we near the Final Shopping Day as the week before Christmas is the busiest in the year for a greengrocer - and so, each year, I bemoan the fact that I still have all the shopping to do in mid-December. So, if I can keep this going, I will be pleased with myself, but I will feel as if a little bit of carefreeness has vanished from the Z personality.

I also, sensibly, took myself to the osteopath to get my hip ultrasounded. He was a bit surprised to see me as he said bursitis shouldn't really come back - I explained that it had never quite gone away as my patience did not return me enough times for a complete cure. Nevertheless, once it's better he intends to check that the joint is all right. Which it is. As long as I can still switch on the light, at shoulder level, with my foot (which I can, I just went to check), my joints are fine.

I also booked train tickets to London. I have been explaining the use of the Oyster card to the Sage, who is concerned that its intricacies might be beyond him, as he has to go on business (and also a bit of pleasure, as he bid successfully for a vesta (Victorian matchcase) at a London saleroom and he needs to pick it up) on Wednesday of next week - ooh, what will I do all by myself for a whole day? - and I am meeting my sister for a Day Out on the Saturday. This is probably not a good idea at all, because it will be vastly crowded, but we intend to do Cultural Things at museums and stuff, so maybe we'll be all right. A long and boozy lunch is indicated, for sure.

A meeting tomorrow morning, for which I have prepared rather less than half the things I promised. An evening's work ahead of me, I fear; or, rather, a night's, as I'm going out for a drink with a friend in a couple of hours.

*Those of you who actually know me are, I appreciate, laughing like drains right now. Look, I never quite got over 1969, all right? Not that I was ever a hippy.

Sunday 3 December 2006

Called to account

Well, this has been a useful evening, if only because it demonstrated Forethought and extremely sound Common Sense.

Yes, I've been thinking about my tax returns. Furthermore, I have put together papers for the accountant and can confidently ring him to make an appointment, knowing there won't be a last-minute panic AND (this is getting good), making sure that all the current years bits of paper so far are all together and accounted for so that I will not have to panic in a year's time.

Ooh, I wouldn't be an accountant, not for the world. I would come home crying every night because yet another anxious-looking person had come in clutching tumbling armfuls of paper and hopefully thrust them at me in the hope that I could magically sort them out. I can cope with my own things, but anyone else's would give me nightmares.

Rather more jollities to come this week than I know what to do with. Including the WI Christmas dinner. Whoo-hoo, dancing on the tables before the week is out.

Have fun, darlings

Saturday 2 December 2006

Candling and eggs

My little girl and her husband are coming home for the weekend, and so I am happy. Although I won't spend all that much time with them, as the Sage and I are going to a party this evening, to celebrate friends' Golden Wedding anniversary. So my children are going to spend the evening together.

First, I have to put together the Advent ring. There are five candles, one to be lit every Sunday in Advent and the fifth for Christmas Day. That is, each week you light the previously lit candles plus one more. They symbolise stuff, but don't ask me to remember what. I'm not really sure about all these ritual symbolic thingys. It's the sort of thing that really alienates people who aren't involved.

After that, I must go and buy wine. I was startled, the other night, to discover that, apart from the Good Wine, I only had a couple of bottles left. I've been busy recently and haven't done much shopping, except for fresh food. I don't keep much convenience food in, except for the odd frozen pizza, and usually prepare meals from scratch.

The Sage went to pick up some hens yesterday. Not for us, but for several friends who needed to replenish stocks. A local egg farm was due to get in new stock and so wanted to sell the 18-month-old birds. It is a splendid place, as free range as you can imagine. There are big barns for the chickens to sleep and shelter in, but they are free to roam over large fields too, which are kept safe from foxes by electric fences. Al used to get supplies of eggs from there, but when the lion stamp was brought back in a year or so back, they decided to sell all the eggs to a large supplier as the equipment was expensive and the individual stamping made an extra job they didn't have time for. Al can sell our bantam eggs unstamped as you may sell your own stuff, but if bought in, it has to go through 'the system'. He had to find another source of free-range eggs as he never sells anything else. Anyway, the Sage went and chose the hens, they were put into boxes and he went off to deliver them (no charge, he's just nice like that). When he looked, there were quite an array of new-laid eggs, the girls weren't wasting any time.

Friday 1 December 2006


For no particular reason, I've been thinking about the year that Arthur moved to the village. Not the whole year as such, but particularly the Harvest Supper. He'd been to church two or three times, but no one had really got to know him much as he arrived late and was the first to leave.

Unexpectedly, he arrived at the supper. C, who was organising the affair, hastily sent someone to lay an extra place and went to greet him. She smilingly asked his name. "Utter Fisk" he replied. I am quite good with an impenetrable North Suffolk accent so I understood him, but C came from Sussex. "Good evening, Mr Utterfisk, and may I know your first name?" she enquired fruitily.

Arthur looked completely confused. "Utter Fisk," he repeated. Poor C, I've never seen anyone look quite so taken aback and embarrassed. She is not the sort of person who would amusedly shrug off a mistake, so I retreated behind the font and wept quietly with laughter.

Mind you, Arthur has confused me too. Not long after this, we found ourselves in the pub together (now, how did that happen? Me, in a pub?) and I bought him a drink. He chatted for some time. He is not that easy to understand and there was quite a bit of background noise, so I nodded and smiled a lot and picked up nearly half of what he said. And then, suddenly, I realised that he had changed from making general conversation and was telling me about the death of his wife. I just managed to alter my expression in time.

He also told me that his next birthday would be his 80th. I painstakingly committed this to memory and when, a few days before the event, another friend mentioned that it was his 70th, I said "Arthur, it's your birthday too next week, isn't it? A special one, I think?" "I'll be 78" said Arthur. I still don't know whether he exaggerated up or down.