Wednesday 31 January 2007

Today, rather serious-minded

Wendz’s post today decided me. For various reasons, not least Dandelion's question as to whether I think young people now have it harder than in the past (still a post in draft Dandelion, sorry, I should just post it and be damned), this incident has been in my mind. I haven't told anyone until now and still know that I'm breaking a confidence and hope that, by changing a few unimportant details, anonymity is preserved.

It was just before Christmas, two years ago. My young friend, the daughter of friends too, was thirteen. We chatted sometimes online, and for the couple of days, I had known that something was on her mind. Delicately, I asked what was the matter. A pause. "Oh, nothing really. Just a stupid pregnancy scare, it's all right now."

Thirteen, remember. We 'talked' for probably a couple of hours. I asked if she was sure she wasn't pregnant, no she wasn't, but had convinced herself she couldn't be. I asked what had happened.

She had visited a friend's house, and a number of other teenagers were there. The parents were out and the kids were drinking. She had got off with a sixteen-year-old boy from school, lots of them were kissing, it got heavier... I was asking personal questions I wasn't comfortable with, with a child who was not my own, but she wanted to confide and I wanted her to face it, acknowledge it to herself and (I hoped) practice telling an adult. He was putting his fingers inside her, then he got semen on his fingers and put them back in her.

I did wonder if she was letting imagination take her here, so asked some specific questions. The answers rang true. Simple, descriptive, how it felt.

I told her that it was not likely she was pregnant from what she had said, but if she was anxious then it was not too late for the morning-after pill. I asked her to talk to her parents or, if she felt she couldn't, to go to the school nurse. A weekly drop-in clinic had recently started, for advice, chat or whatever was needed for students who did not want to go to the doctor. She said that she had been able to cope with writing it down, but talking, face to face, was impossible.

I felt in a real quandary. I knew that I should not keep it secret, but it was such a delicate position that telling her parents could do more harm than good. Breaking her trust would be seen as a betrayal and I hoped that telling me would be the first step to taking responsibility for her actions.

I advised her again to tell a nurse and to talk to her parents. I told her that she must not risk drinking alcohol away from home. With her parents' permission, it was all right at home as she would learn how it affects her. It alters judgement, so that one does not realise one is going too far until it is really hard to stop, and this goes for the boy as well as the girl. Boys are obsessed with sex, I told her, they can't help it. He knew well that he should stop, and it was appalling that he hadn't - and illegal, too, he was guilty of assault, at least - but her judgment was impaired too. She hadn't asked him to stop. I asked if she felt she loved him? No, she liked him but that was all. Afterwards, he'd walked her home, held her hand, been really sweet to her.

I still don't know if I should have done more. She did promise to take my advice, and also to consider talking to her parents. I was going away in a week's time, to spend three weeks in India, and Christmas was in between - at least, I knew, she would be busy with family things for the holidays and she promised to email me if she needed to talk. What I did not do was raise the subject of contraception at all. I strongly felt that this could encourage her to think that it was all right, that I might be condoning this happening again.

So, why did this happen to this child, with loving, united parents, who was cared for and treasured? I'm afraid that I think that it was because she had been encouraged to grow up too fast. She takes acting and dancing classes, she is poised, attractive and outgoing but, actually, it's a cover for quite low self-esteem, common to most teenage girls. She is smiling, charming, eager to please. She wears, and wore even then, very short skirts, low-cut cropped tops, makeup, had an expensive haircut - you might know she was thirteen, but you would still take her for sixteen or more. She does not dress tartily, but quite provocatively. Her mother, as far as I'd ever seen, wanted to be her friend and encouraged her. She loved having an attractive, popular daughter. Her father, a kind man, imposed the household rules but assumed that if his wife approved the clothes, they must be all right.

A while later, I asked if things were okay. She told me they were, but didn't take it further. Later again, her father and I had a chat. She had confided in him and his wife. They had talked it through and (he wasn't specific) agreed some sort of ground rules - largely, this seems to consist of her being honest. Also, she has stopped drinking, even at home. She still dresses the same way, but I guess this becomes less outrageous as she gets older. She has, at present, an elaborately dyed and layered hairstyle that is, actually, very attractive but must have cost a fortune and is way OTT for a fifteen-year-old.

I think it is a shame that she was encouraged, in various ways, to behave beyond her years or her capability to control. Her nice, polite, middle class background made it harder - if she was tougher, streetwise, assertive, she would have been more able, perhaps, to tell the boy to shove off and not abuse her. She is not alone, I know other girls like her. She has so many material things and, thank goodness, she seems to be coping with things reasonably well now, for which I credit her father. But the modern age does these children no favours at all.

Tuesday 30 January 2007

I've sent a get well soon car card

Talking to a friend. We had planned to meet. "I got the day off work wrong," he said. "Next week. Sorry." I reminded him that I am, officially, the Most Disorganised Person in East Anglia and so say "Pfft" if not "Pshaw" to such small misremembers.

Furthermore, his car is in for repair. The garage has lent him a car. It is a Banger. Ooh, actually Banger sounds quite fun. No, it is an old and decrepit banger. A jalopy.

"No power steering" he said. "It's a fight round every roundabout." I sympathised. "It was only four years ago that I first got power steering" I said (I don't do new cars and that). "A year ago, I didn't have climate control. Alarming how quickly that seems normal." "The only climate control I have is the window," he lamented. "And that sticks."

Look, darling heart, if you really want sympathy, don't make me laugh like that. Hope the car is back in fighting trim soon. xx(x)

Dunno about death, but taxes really hurt

Al and Dilly felt a bit punch-drunk by the end of last week. What with Al's wisdom tooth extraction - he was on jelly and ice-cream and chicken soup for a day or two there - the resulting bill and, cruellest of all, his tax demand.

If you are self-employed, you have to pay on anticipated earnings*. This balances out, as you don't pay twice - the tax on the anticipated earnings for one year are, as it were, absorbed by what you paid the year before. However, when you start up a business, obviously you don't know what the earnings are likely to be, so this is not done for the first couple of years. This time was the first occasion Al had had to pay on anticipated earnings. It just so happened that, nearly two years ago (that is, at the start of the tax year in question), Yagnub's largest - though still small - supermarket moved a mile or so out of the town centre and, as a result, Al's takings rocketed. Since then, he has done pretty well. However, it has meant that he had a vast tax bill, three-quarters of it to be paid now. The total works out at 43% of his year's earnings. Since he is a basic-rate taxpayer, this means he was, in effect, taxed at double rate, with no tax-free allowance.

It hurt.

In addition, Dilly is not earning and is not receiving maternity pay. Right now, the shop wages and bills are being paid out of the week's takings - that is, the eggs that are delivered and paid for on Tuesday are enough to cause a cash-flow problem.

They are remarkably cheerful, in the circumstances. At least, they say, they didn't have to borrow the money. Just strip their savings account. And, right now, that was what it was there for.

*Bear in mind, as you read what follows, that I don't quite understand it myself, so this is my interpretation of the rules.

Monday 29 January 2007

While waiting for potatoes to cook...

Drafting isn't Me, you know. One has been deleted and the other is getting out of hand and needs shortening drastically. Ho hum. Inconsequential ramblings are much simpler. If I work on it, I get all impassioned and I use too many words.

Al and I are thinking about spring planting. Yes, I know, it's still January. It's the greenhouse we're thinking about - we want to grow early lettuces and suchlike, for the shop. I haven't got around to it for a couple of years, but it works well if you start early enough as they have been harvested by the time you want to put in cucumbers and tomatoes.

I've got seeds from last year that never got sown. Inefficiency reigned. I have put in my main seed order, but still have one catalogue to choose from, mostly pumpkins and chilli peppers. I want to have fun in the garden this year and, thanks to the chickens' grass-clearing efficiency, I intend to enlarge the veg patch. They have, by the way, been pecking keenly at the globe artichokes and I hope the plants will recover.

Halibut for dinner - I hope it's not one of the endangered species we aren't supposed to eat any more. It is so good to eat... I also couldn't resist some early forced rhubarb and I decided to make pumpkin (still a few home-grown ones) soup. The soup can wait until tomorrow; as I said to Ro, if I start serving three courses, he and his father will up their expectations of me unrealistically. That would never do. I have already promised young Al a day and a half in the shop weekly for a while. I'm concerned that he has been working too hard and so has Dilly - not easy, having two children under two.

Time to cook the halibut. TTFN, as they said. A long time ago.

Sunday 28 January 2007

A name may not matter, but it feels as if it does

I've been amusing myself for the last few minutes by looking up family names on this website, as commended by Robert Crampton in yesterday's Times magazine. Very interesting, especially to see how some names were restricted to specific areas of the country in 1881 and have, since then, migrated all over the place. My own maiden name was well represented in the South-East then and now is not recorded - they need at least 100 people with that surname on the electoral register to be in their database. I suspected this, but it caused me a surprising pang to have it confirmed.

So I googled the name to cheer myself up and, to my surprise, found that there is a portrait of my great-great-great grandfather in the National Portrait Gallery. This is not as interesting as it sounds, as he is just one of the sitters for The House of Commons, 1833
by Sir George Hayter, along with several hundred other MPs of the time...I started to count the list of names but got bored at about 150 and gave up. I don't expect g-g-g-grandad will be easy to pick out in that crowd, so I don't suppose I'll look the picture out when I next visit.

Saturday 27 January 2007

Spoilsports in NZ

I'm on my way to bed, but I just have to share this with you. Particularly with the Boy, who affirmed his intention to get up to just this sort of escapade (although, of course, with his wife because he is not that sort of boy) a few decades from now.

Tonight's exciting installment. Who says Z doesn't do irony?

I'm drafting. I don't do drafting - what you poor bewildered darlings usually get are the Thoughts of Chairman Z in true rambling and random form - but I have several postsworth running concurrently and the least I can do is split them up a bit to make them coherent.

If you are lucky, I might get bored and delete the lot. If you are luckier still, you might be treated to a trio or more of deathless prose, wittily insightful and charmingly lighthearted. The most likely option of all is that I'll put up something rambling and marginally argumentative and you will be both indulgent and mildly irritated.

I don't do cliffhangers as well as Pi does, do I. Hmm. Do you do Hanging-by-your-Fingertip classes, Pi?

Friday 26 January 2007

An extract in the life of Al

I've had another couple of days in the shop as Al has been visiting the dentist. Trouble with a wisdom tooth. The dentist advised extraction and had had a cancellation for this morning, so Al decided to bite the bullet. Ow.

He thought he'd be back for the afternoon. I said I'd keep the whole day available, just in case. I was not at all surprised when he didn't feel up to the afternoon shift. Quite apart from the lopsided mouth and the mumbled speech, he felt quite woozy and sore.

Someone brought in some splendid homegrown parsnips, freshly dug and still spattered with authentic mud, which I promptly snapped up, offering £1.00 per kilo, which is about what Al pays the wholesaler. He was very pleased and said he has more to dig up. Al doesn't try to pay local growers less than the wholesaler, although of course it is a pure bonus for anyone who grows their own veg as they have no overheads to pay, except insofar as they would be spending money on their garden anyway. But the more people who think of him when they have a surplus, especially at this time of year when he has less local stuff to offer, the happier he is. So are the customers. I was putting the parsnips into a box and writing a large label for it when a customer, being served by Eileen, saw them. "Ooh, they look lovely. May I swap the ones I have just bought?"

Robert came in, a day early. Usually, he visits his parents on a Saturday and he buys a week's worth of fruit and veg, but he is moving house tomorrow. He told me he and his partner have also been choosing the day of their civil partnership ceremony. They had planned a very small do, but his mum says she would love them to have a big party and will make all the arrangements and foot the bill. So, happiness all round, and Al was pleased too, when he heard. Nothing like a wedding to make everyone smile.

I came home to be told that Tilly the dog was not well and had demonstrated the fact by chundering in several rooms. She quivered and looked scared, but this might have been because she thought she was in trouble. However, her eyes looked small and pained. She seems better now, and accepted a small piece of my potato at dinner. Let's hope she had only found something unspeakable to eat in the garden.

Back to the shop tomorrow. Neither Jean not Eileen can come in, and two people (Al and Sarah, the Saturday girl) really can't manage on a Saturday morning. I am becoming absurdly fit and healthy. Well, not fit for much but, you know, comparatively. I think I've been accepted as a 'flying' member of staff. Kit Kat Connie brought me a kit-kat as well as Eileen, this morning. I haven't eaten it yet. I bought a Chelsea bun from the bakery and scoffed that in the afternoon. But I will tomorrow.

Thursday 25 January 2007

Z never wants to turn into a Grumpy Old Woman

Darling Wendz, today, expressed her views on the annoying use of over-elaborate language that is used, not only in blogs - which were where her arrows were directed - but in daily conversation and, particularly, in writing. I wrote a draft of a post, that wasn't finished or posted, a week or two ago, which actually [although I entirely agree with Wendz in virtually everything she says, except for some of her linguistic bêtes noires (what on earth is wrong with 'pad' for walking softly over a carpeted floor in bare feet or slippers?)], came to almost exactly the opposite conclusion.

I am becoming more tolerant. I feel happier for it. I do not mind how people express themselves, especially in blogs, which they set up for their own self-expression and I need only read if I wish to.

I first ruminated on this (you know, after what Wendz said, I'm a little wary of using any long word when a short one would do, but self-confidence reigns on this blog) when I had watched an episode of the television programme 'Grumpy Old Women', an equal opportunities spin-off from 'Grumpy Old Men.' I could relate to everything they said but, and no doubt the outrage was emphasised for its entertainment value, I rejected almost all of it. I do not want to rejoice in grumpiness and intolerence.

The future doesn't belong to me. My values are old fashioned, but who am I to say they are better? Language is there to communicate (although, as Wendz suggests, jargon and cliché and polysyllables can get in the way of communication) - and I no longer care if someone confuses different spellings of the same word. If it was good enough for Shakespeare, I would be stuffy and pedantic to mind. If the meaning is clear, that is what matters. I will draw a line of differentiation here between formal and informal writing. I hate it when I receive an official letter with misspellings and bad grammar. Especially when it comes from the Education Department, as is not unknown. If I'm paying your wages, either through taxes or by buying your products, I expect you to write correctly.

Some years ago, I was on a train, coming home from London, when a woman of about 60 got on. She proceeded to peel and eat an orange. A few minutes later, a man lit up a cigarette - it was a non-smoking carriage. She protested. He pointed out that he hated the smell of orange, but he hadn't said anything to her. Now, of course, the point was that it was, indeed, a non-smoking carriage, so he was breaking the rules and she wasn't, but his point, that they were equal in terms of nuisance value, had a specious persuasiveness. There was a silence, while everyone watched with interest. She got to her feet and stormed out of the carriage. She was a Grumpy Old Woman*, he was an Awkward Young Man. They were both Inconsiderate. Neither was better than the other. None of us was better either, because she was 'right' and we should have spoken up but we did see his point as we hadn't liked her zest any more than his smoke.

I don't mind incoherent and awkward young people. I think David Cameron was a twit even to associate himself with the phrase 'hug a hoodie' but I see what he meant. Young people are awkward and frustrated, and who can blame them. They are nagged and pressurised at school, expected to rein in their natural energies, told their exams are worthless and far too easy to pass, allowed too little freedom until their teens, when suddenly they are given too much, and then watched with suspicion by everyone who assumes that they are up to no good. There are huge problems, largely with drugs. There are disaffected and aggressive thugs. But they are not going to improve by being disapproved of by old bats like me.

What I know, I think everyone should know. Dates. Geography. Literature. History. What used to be general knowledge, but has been squeezed out by the National Curriculum. But I break the very rules I was taught - by, for example, starting a sentence with 'but' or 'and'. Using the words 'a lot of' or 'got' - a pang goes through me, it's true, but my feeling is now that if it works, do it. Not in an official letter, but in a colloquial blog, it is not unacceptable. Furthermore, my general knowledge, recognised by my parents and grandparents, has gone. I do not necessarily care about the things my children's generation do and I don't think it matters. But if I shrug 'same difference, so what?', why shouldn't they? Why should niceties of behaviour or language matter to them? Or the date of Agincourt? Some ignorance is shocking, but I am no better. Before I complain about the speck of dust in their eye, I should fish the bloomin' great plank of wood out of mine, as the bible neatly puts it.

I don't want to try to ape them. That would be embarrassing. But I'll be a great deal happier if I can find a note of concord and live peaceably, rather than complain about the good old days.

*I do not mean to suggest that 60 is old, but that GOW'hood is a frame of mind that can strike at any time.

Wednesday 24 January 2007

I could have talked all night...

... as usual. ( Updated, Thurdsay, at the end)

Thank you again for being so encouraging, and I am happy to report that my clothes were suitable. Do not underestimate the satisfaction this word brings. I was not overdressed compared to the others, but neither did I feel like Cinderella after midnight.

We did start off a little poorly by not reading our invitation properly. We turned up at our friends' house, just as his son and wife walked out of the front door. "Um" he said politely, for he is a most charming young man, "the party's not here, it's at Mahsrae Llah." We turned the car and embarrassedly drove back the way we'd come. The Hall was, until about 1930, the family home of our host, but some of the estate was sold off and, after a few changes of ownership, a family bought it about 25 years ago and have been restoring the original features ever since, running a business from there too. For the last three or four years, they have been doing weddings and similar jollies as well, although they do not do catering and so the restauranteurs where I mentioned having lunch the other day with Squiffany were in to provide dinner. Two daughters of a friend of mine, each of whom in turn was the restaurant manager until they moved on, were there as waitresses and it was good to see them again although they were, of course, too busy to chat. There were huge fires in every grate and I was quite warm, although bare-armed.

Delicious dinner, splendid company, we had a lovely time. I flirted decorously with my left-hand neighbour, who has been friends with our host from prep school days, over 60 years ago. Our opposite neighbour, an elderly lady I have known for years but in daytime situations, was slightly perturbed by this and wondered, by the look in her eye, if I was being carried away by unaccustomed wine, but I assured her that I'm always like this in the evenings, with or without the booze. I was a touch disconcerted, admittedly, by my wine glass being refilled after almost every sip; as I was chatting in the animated way that makes Z Good Value at a gathering, I did not always notice the stealthily pouring hand. Not that I drank too much, would I do that?

It was, although relaxed and happy, a slightly formal do: for example, the ladies retired after dinner, leaving the gentlemen to their port and racy anecdotes (I'm happy to say that port had been brought round with some highly yummy cheeses and totally delicious biscuits, which I must buy; fortunately the restaurant has a deli) and I sat next to someone whom I hadn't met for at least 15 years; she had been the rather posh secretary at my daughter's school. On my other hand was an elegant lady who had the rangy and handsome look of a racehorse.

I also had a happy opportunity to chat to friends who moved away from the village about 18 months ago, whom I haven't seen since. A great pleasure. I have promised to call, when I'm going down the A11 (or do I mean the M11?) as it is not a long detour.

Snowing when I left, snowing again at 8.30 this morning. Not enough to make a snowman, however, so my winter is not yet complete.

Tomorrow, I will take a photograph of my necklace for the Chairwoman and Stegbeetle - who might have meant photos of Me but, charming as he is to suggest it, I'm afraid that any taken are in the possession of the family and, don't you always find, pictures taken at a party always find you with your mouth full of food or open in raucous laughter and are not fit to be shown in mixed company.

And today's the day that was tomorrow yesterday.

The more observant among you may notice that the background on which the necklace lies is the velvet skirt.

Z gets wrong* with her children

I went next door to return Dilly's glasses to her, which she had left in the drawing room. She only wears them to drive, so had not realised they were missing.

"Granny's in trouble" observed Al. Dilly laughed. "I gave Squiffany some orange juice out of a carton, which I diluted. She took one taste and handed it back, saying 'Me don't like this orange juice'."

Mine is freshly squeezed. I have turned my granddaughter into an orange juice snob.

On the other hand, it was a nicely constructed sentence; one grammatical error, but not an uncommon one in small children.

*An excellent Norfolkism. Pronounced 'gits raahng'.

Z does not have a hangover, which is just as well

Dilly needed to go shopping, but Squiffany didn't feel like going out. So she visited Granny. We did some painting. Then we decided to make cakes.

Butter and sugar are effectively mixed by hand

The bantams were keen to help and donated three eggs

Fingers were made before thumbs, as my father used to say, obscurely

Mm, cakes

Mmm, cakes and orange juice.

Tuesday 23 January 2007

Ro is cooking sausages for himself, for Z and the Sage are partying!!(!)

Not knowing what to wear brought forth many sympathetic and encouraging comments, for which thank you.

I am wearing a rather old, but not that often worn (it is so elderly that, who knows, it may even be fashionable again soon), long, midnight-blue velvet skirt and a (I've been searching my brain for the colour, for purple, mauve and violet would not do, and I have it at last!) heliotrope silk top, which is sort of ruched so that it fits without being tight. It is sleeveless and has a sequined border. As you can see, I do not really have the vocabulary to describe clothes, they are not my forte.

I have gone rather more overboard on my jewellery, which is all gilden and diamondy, and am wearing my necklace and earrings that I bought in Chennai, which is alternate ruby and sapphire five-pointed flowers on a gold necklace. They are Sri Lanken rubies and sapphires and not good ones, it was not expensive, but it is pretty. I am sporting Perfume, which I rarely do, I usually sport the aroma of unadulterated Z.

Time to go, darlings.

Monday 22 January 2007

Z has nothing to wear

We are going to a Party tomorrow night. The Sage is required to wear his dinner jacket. I started mentioning this gently some while back, and became slightly more insistent a week ago as, I pointed out, there was still time to send it to the cleaners/darn the moth holes/buy a new one (this last is not to be taken seriously). Much to my surprise, he sprung to his feet and said "I will go and check on it NOW, as you have kindly reminded me." He returned a couple of minutes later, looking highly smug, saying that it is still in its dry cleaner wrapper, he having sent it after the last wearing.

I was vastly impressed. I should also like to point out that, when I married him, the Sage (who was not yet so named as he had not earned the title) believed that it was up to a mother or a wife to deal with all matters of clothing. For a few years I did, indeed, buy shirts and socks and underwear and send clothes to the cleaners. But then I realised that, whilst it may be up to the mother of a small boy to do these things, a Man can do it on his own account. And I didn't want to be the mother to my husband, for we have no Oedipusish leanings round here. It took quite some time for him to adjust, during which he went round with holes in his socks and only three working shirts, but we got there.

So, the Sage is sorted. Isn't it easy for a man? He will put on his dinner suit and a smart white shirt and swear at his bow tie for a bit and he will look wonderful and suitable, and I don't know what to wear at all. I don't know where to pitch it. And I haven't bought anything dressy for evenings for years and years. It is a party in our friends' house to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary. They are considerable landowners but wear their wealth lightly and understatedly. They have a beautiful house but not a smart one. They give great parties but not, usually, very formal ones. She is quite an informal dresser normally, but their parties do not normally mention DJs, so I think they must be upping the stakes someone for the momentousness of the occasion.

I was browsing through my wardrobe the other day, amongst clothes I haven't worn for ages, and I came across a very nice black tailored short-sleeved top - a little jacket, but not the sort you wear anything underneath. I was highly pleased and put it on. I could not do up the buttons! It is not a matter of weight gain, it is, um, Development. That is, of course, another matter. I have a cleavage now, which I used hardly to have and one has to wear different clothes. More fitting and lower cut, which sounds as though it Should Not Be, but loose clothes make you look as if you are actually that big all the way down and around, and high necks make you look all puffed out. It is not, I hasten to add, that I am exactly busty. It is all, furthermore, home grown. But why? It all started when I took up the clarinet, all that good breathing and chest muscle development. But it must have carried on since then, because this little black top is not that old - five years perhaps? Which, in my terms, is practically Brand New (I'm not big on clothes shopping).

There's nothing for it. I'm going to have to brave the cold of my bedroom (we like a warm bed and a cold room and don't heat the bedroom) and check out the wardrobe.

Sunday 21 January 2007

The Sage is getting intense

He's bought another ebay piece. Half an hour to go on a third, and he's interested.

He's just kissed me.


Well, it is Sunday and I have time on my hands

You Are a Cinnamon Jelly Bean

Sassy and bold, your behavior is often shocking - even to those who know you well. And while you're too hot to handle, people still are addicted to you.

Sassy? Er, no, I is a Good and Quiet Girl

Your Personality Profile

You are dependable, popular, and observant.
Deep and thoughtful, you are prone to moodiness.
In fact, your emotions tend to influence everything you do.

You are unique, creative, and expressive.
You don't mind waving your freak flag every once and a while.
And lucky for you, most people find your weird ways charming!

Some of this.

Your Career Personality: Original, Devoted, and Service Oriented

Your Ideal Careers:

Art director
Book editor
College professor
Film director
Graphic designer
Stage actor

I quite like these, though.

Thanks to DodderyOldFart, who so obviously isn't.

ABC tag. I don't know what happened to UVWXYZ. I think it is blatant letterism

A- Available or single? Neither
B- Best Friend? I’m not sure that I’ve ever had one, really. I’m closest to my family. I have a few friends from childhood, but I don’t see them often as we don’t live close to each other. I have good friends now, but not one ‘best’ friend
C- Cake or Pie? You want me to choose? Can’t I have both? Fish pie then
D- Drink of Choice? Strong black coffee, weak black tea (preferably Lapsang Souchong), red wine. Or mint tea, white wine, Lady Grey tea. Or gin and tonic, champagne, beer. Or draught Guinness, root ginger and honey in hot water, ice-cold water with a squeeze of lime juice. Or malt whisky – Laphroaig, or whiskey – Bushmills.
Right now, I’m drinking Lady Grey

E- Essential Item? My handbag. That makes me feel so middle-aged
F- Favorite Colour? I wanted an emerald. So the Sage bought me one. But my engagement ring is sapphire. Um. Blue
G- Gummi Bears or Worms? What, real worms? Or are they an alternative sweet? I like gummi bears, I have childish habits. I also like real worms, but would not care to eat one. Both chewy and gritty, I should think
H- Hometown? I live in mahsraE, a village near yagnuB (excuse the backspeak). I grew up in Lowestoft
I- Indulgence? A winter’s evening by the fire, with music and candles
J- January or February? January, so long as we have snow. If we don’t get snow until February, I reserve the right to change
K- Kids? Three, grown up
L- Life is incomplete without? Books, music and Radio 4. But if I had to choose, books
M- Marriage Date? 24th May 1973
N- Number of Siblings? One elder sister. She lives in Wiltshire and we visit each other when we can. Sometimes we meet in London. Sometimes, we even go on holiday together, which I think is a pretty Good Sign
O- Oranges or apples? Today, oranges. I squeezed two for breakfast
P- Phobias/Fears? Deep water. I am afraid of drowning. I’m not too good even in shallow water as I have to hold on to something if I’m out of my depth
Q- Favourite Quote? “She was small and delicately put together, but she looked durable.” The Big Sleep. Raymond Chandler
R- Reason to Smile? The sun shone today, the birds sang and I used my pruning saw
S- Season? I like all the seasons. I love to see things growing in spring, the new growth on the trees and the longer days. I love the English summer sun, which is just hot enough for me as long as I keep out of it directly, I love the smells of autumn and the ripeness. I enjoy crisp wintry weather and long evenings by the fire, dog on my lap
T- Tag three people! Ah. I need to check who hasn’t done this. Back later

I suspect this is meant more to encourage than to describe

My Inner Hero - Paladin!

I'm a Paladin!

I strive to help others, and to bring truth and harmony to the world however I can*. Whether times are good or bad, you can always count on me**. I'm a shoulder to cry on, a champion for the helpless, and an all around nice person***.

How about you? Click here to find your own inner hero

*Can't you just see my tongue curling into my cheek here?
**Preferably good.
***Not all around, you should just see my other side.

Character Stats:

Rogue (14)
Warrior (6)
Wizard (12)
Paladin (15)

I think it's Rogue, almost equal with Paladin (what's a paladin, anyway?) that really describes me.

I did this a few days ago and have forgotten whose blog I got it from. Sorry.

Saturday 20 January 2007

I spoil the Sage

He's had fun this evening.

You wouldn't think a stand-up real-life auctioneer-for-forty-years would like eBay so much, would you.

I even paid.

The family story – part 11 – the Land Army, part 1

If the farmer had expected a landgirl who would feed the hens and not know a cow from a bull, he received a pleasant surprise. Not only was Jane a knowledgeable countrywoman, she was determined to earn the respect of the men by working hard and well and expected no concessions. She was of medium height, slender, with curly brown hair ... I have no photos of her when young, but she was told she looked like Deanna Durbin. She loved horse riding and enjoyed working with the horses - there were cart horses and an ex-polo pony. Nearly all the farm work was done with horses or by hand, rather than with tractors or other machinery. It was a family farm run by two brothers and the other workers were older men, beyond the age to be called up. Other Land Girls did come along, but they were all from the city and were teased - not unkindly - for example someone would rub his arms, comment on the draught and ask the girl to run and shut the five-barred gate.

Jane prided herself on her skill with horses. She could judge to an inch how to take a load of hay through a gateway and, small as she was, she could manage the biggest cart horse. The cows liked to be milked by her as she was more gentle than some of the men and took into account their personalities. However, she told of one time when a particularly cussed-natured cow, known as a kicker, waited until the pail was almost full before lashing out, tipping out all the milk and knocking Jane flat on her back. "You sod" she exclaimed, to the great amusement of the men, who had never heard her swear.

She found aspects of farming hard. There was one pig kept for the farm each year, which was bought in as a weaner and fed all the household scraps, boiled into swill, the leftover buttermilk and grain as required, and then slaughtered in the autumn to feed the household during the winter. She avoided the pig, as she felt she could not eat any animal she had looked in the eye - but one summer day, it was standing in its sty, front trotters on the gate, and looked hopefully at her. She went to greet it, scratched its head, talked to it...she said she went very hungry that winter. She couldn't touch a mouthful of the meat and the farmer's mother, who thought she was ridiculously sentimental, would not give her any alternative food. You would think she would have been allowed to fill up on potatoes and bread; it was a farm after all, but she was strictly rationed.

My mother was passionately opposed to identity cards as a result of her Land Army experiences. She said that they were more nuisance to the law-abiding than anyone else and - well, quite a lot else that this place is irrelevant to put. She told one tale of a blistering hot day, when she, on her own with the sheepdog, had to move a flock of sheep from one field to another a mile down the road. This was going well until PC Jobsworth stopped her and asked to see her ID card. She hadn't got it. She hadn't thought of herself as going off the farm and she was in her lightest summer clothes. She pointed out that a) he knew her and b) it would take an unusually determined spy to drive a flock of sheep to disguise her tracks. Constable Jobsworth gave her a lecture on 'there's a war on, you know', which she had to listen to as, in despair, she saw the sheep wandering off in all directions. It took a long time to round them all up again.

The worst job was pulling up the various beets - sugarbeet, mangle wurzels, turnips and the like. You had to pull them up, chop off the leaves and toss them to the side to be loaded onto a cart. This was an autumn job and muddy beets are hard to get a grip on, for pulling and for chopping. It was often cold and wet and standing at one corner of a field, seeing acres of beet stretching ahead of you, is a daunting prospect. On the other hand, she enjoyed hoeing carrots. She had a short hoe that she had to bend to use - the men had all rejected it. She found that she could put her back into the job and work quicker than any of them.

This is too long to go in one post, more another time

Z should be working, but has found an excuse to blog instead

I lurched out of bed late this morning. I woke up, dozed and woke again more zonked than before. I lay supine for another half hour before I was able to stir myself.

When I arrived downstairs, I discovered that there had been a message from our chainsaw-wielding chum, to say that he had to work this morning so can't come to help with the trees - we have a large ash tree down and a scrubbier hawthorn. They are both on the field, but the roots of the ash have come up, leaving a hole by the beck and the thorn has fallen over the beck itself. They will both need sorting out; let's hope that, once cut, the ash stump will just drop back into place. The beck has a gravel base and disturbance isn't good for it.

Squiffany and I did have our happy day yesterday. We went for a walk round the village. I'd thought to walk into Yagnub, but Tilly the dog looked so hopeful that I changed my mind. A dog on an extending lead and a child in a pushchair are not easy to manage on the main road to Yagnub, which has a narrow footpath. Tilly feels very self-important when she is responsible for Squffany. It is the only time when she is not nervous of other dogs. She even goes into territory-marking - stopping to pee every few minutes and, hilariously, trying to lift her leg against a wall or lamppost like a dog. She gave a hard stare at a cat, surprised behind a parked car, but they both moved in in a dignified way.

When we arrived home, the Sage's car was missing. My bag was in the house and we were locked out. Fortunately, I'd fetched something out of my car before going out and left the key in the ignition. So the three of us went in to Yagnub to ask Al if his father was around. He had, it seemed, received a phone call from an Elderly Friend in Distress, whose electricity was off after the gale and who was worried about the contents of her freezer. Sage forgiven for forgetting us, I borrowed money from Al and we went out to lunch here.*

Dilly arrived home while Squiffany was eating tea - scrambled eggs on toast followed by a satsuma ... I'd gone for the simple option that I knew she'd eat. Sqiffany wielded a spoon in one hand and a fork in the other skilfully and didn't notice her mother for a few minutes. Then "oh, hello, Mummy, hello Pugsley," she said and kept on eating. Halfway through the satsuma, she suddenly looked at me. "Thank you, thank you, Granny" she said. "Hug." And I received a juicy orange hug and kiss.

*This is more child-friendly than the review sounds as you can have anything from a teacake or sandwich to a full meal.

Friday 19 January 2007

Today, I'm mostly being Granny

Dilly is planning a day with her sisters. They would like to have a good chat and to enjoy each other's company. Toddlers take most of the attention, especially if they are very happy to see their aunties.

No power cuts, some branches and part of a fence down, some broken glass in the greenhouses but the structures have survived. One ash tree has fallen on the field, but harmlessly.

The sun is shining today. I think we'll go for a walk. Maybe we'll call on friends. Perhaps we'll go on the swings. Go to see Daddy in the shop and maybe call at the café for a snack or lunch.

It'll all be delightful and relaxing and by this evening I will be entirely exhausted.

Thursday 18 January 2007

The wind is blowing. However, the snow is not snowing and the cattle are not lowing.

A hasty post in case the phone line goes off again. It is being rubbed lovingly by a tall and gangly broom (shrub, not besom; an explanation I've already given to a friend - sorry to bore you, AB, if you look in) and might go. I have heard two creaks and crashes, which sounded like branches rather than whole trees. One of the greenhouses is badly bowed; let it go if it will, there's nothing to be done about it. I have lit a nightlight so that we will not be left scrambling for matches if the lights go out. Nothing more to do, as long as the tall pine that is due to be cut down (after our experience of a couple of weeks ago) doesn't fall on the house.

I'm watching television as I write, with tears in my eyes, at the lives lost during this storm. In the usual English way, it is not a dreadful gale by global standards, but we like our undemonstrative weather and this is quite bad enough in its unpredictable devastation.

Wednesday 17 January 2007

The Family story – part 10 – the War

My mother, Jane, and her father had moved to a village near Weymouth. Jane was disappointed to find that her new school was not a patch on the previous one. However, home life was much happier. Her father, proud and angry, had left his wife with virtually everything he owned and money was tight, although he owned his bungalow and a car, so he can't have been too badly off. Perhaps he had inherited money when his mother had died. I don't know, this was one amongst many questions I never thought to ask my mother.

He gave housekeeping money to Jane and she kept house. I don't know if she did all the housework or if they had a daily; she never mentioned one. Grandad lived in the bungalow for the rest of his life. It isn't there now; there was a large garden and the house has been pulled down and new houses built - this is in the Coombe (hope I've spelt it right, it's a long time since I wrote it down) Valley in beautiful scenery.

My grandfather was not an easy man to live with - he had left his wife with everything impulsively and rather regretted it, and he had had much unhappiness and disappointment in his life. However, I think it was a happy time. They regularly went to the cinema and belonged to a rambling club. They were both musical - Grandad, at that time, had an oboe, which he later sold in exchange for a clarinet; a Boosey & Hawkes Regent, dating from the early 1950s (he bought it second-hand), which I still play*. Jane played the piano, which she loved. She was self-taught - she always rather resented the fact that her father had refused to pay for lessons - and her most treasured possession was her grandmother's grand piano. They used to hold musical evenings with friends who brought their violin, flute or other instruments.

A year or so later, the War broke out. It seems odd that Weymouth, on the South Coast of England, was used as a refuge, but London children were sent there for safety from the Blitz. It was decided that the local children should go to school in the mornings and the London ones in the afternoon. Books had to be left at school for the others to use. The Headmistress was obsessed with drill and held practices several times a week, when an alarm would ring and all the children had to run out to the air-raid shelter. Jane was receiving no useful education at all, and left school in the summer of 1940, when she was 16.

She went to a secretarial school in Weymouth near the harbour. By this time, there were regular sorties by German war planes and they were intercepted by the British planes. These 'dogfights', as they were called, took place in sight of the school and the girls excitedly ran up on to the flat roof to get the best view. The Principal of the school, a rather dainty, prissy man whose name I have forgotten, hurried up after them, wringing his hands. If they were lucky, a German plane was shot down, the pilots ejected into the water and were rescued and arrested. The girls ran back downstairs again and outside in time to see them being walked dejectedly along the road to the police station. They had always lost their boots and trooped along in socks. This fun came to an abrupt end one day when it was a British plane that was shot down in flames and there were no survivors. The girls never watched the dogfights again. They were also upset when a German plane came down in a field a couple of miles away and was not found until a week later, when it was too late to rescue the pilots who had survived but were trapped.

After she had gained her secretarial qualifications, Jane went to work as Almoner's Assistant at Weymouth Hospital. She enjoyed this job as she loved to meet people. She greeted everyone as they came for their appointments and took records of their health insurance. This was, of course, before the days of the National Health Service, but she said that it worked well and no one (in this hospital) went untreated. They used to pay a penny, or a few pence, a week, depending on their circumstances and this qualified them for full treatment. She prided herself on remembering each person's name and ailment and asked after their family - she contrasted this with my father's treatment ten years later when he had a broken arm. He visited the hospital weekly for a couple of months, and on the last visit the receptionist, who had seen him each time, snapped "Name?" just as abruptly as she had on the first.

The only fly in that particular ointment was that, although she was entitled to a free lunch, she found herself unable to eat it and had to take a packed lunch. She could not take the gruesome conversation of the nurses who chatted about their day's work.

She also discovered that her father, as her share of the expenses, expected her to buy all food, cleaning materials and other household essentials. He paid the bills, but she had no money to spend on herself. She had one weekday dress for each season and bought two removable white collars, so that she could wash one each evening and iron it the next, washing the dress each week.

Once she reached 18, she knew that, sooner or later, she would be called up to one of the services. She did not want this at all. For one thing, she did not want to wear a uniform, for another, she did not want to be sent who knows where, and she was also shyly disconcerted by the notion of the required medical examination. So she decided to volunteer to join the Land Army.

* Some years ago I took it to be tuned to an old man who was pleased to see it. "I must have tuned this before it left the factory," he said. "I worked for Boosey & Hawkes in the 50s and I tuned all the clarinets."

What's in a job?

Dandelion put me on the spot by challenging my assertion that "I never ask about jobs as I do not evaluate people by what they do for a living."

I don't of course *never* find out what someone's job is or *never* express an interest in it - some very interesting conversations are with people who have decided to take on a challenging and unusual job, or who love their job. However, a great many people draw conclusions simply by what your job is and, more tellingly, what you earn from it and what prestige it gives you. It can get in the way of making your own mind up about what someone 'is' as a person. Finding out what his interests are tells you much more. I had a friend who was a carpenter working for a local builder, skilled at what he did, but it wasn't his greatest interest; he had a huge passion for and knowledge of Lowestoft porcelain and classical music. I love to hear about a person's enthusiasms, even if I don't share them. Once, years ago, at a party, a very shy man was completely tongue-tied until he found an opening to start talking about bees. Although, in his keenness, he talked for too long about bees, it was endearing as well as interesting to hear him. I don't know what his job was, but I suspect I'd have simply found out his approximate income and social standing by asking, and I have no interest in that at all - which was what I meant by 'I don't evaluate...'

Of course, if someone loves their job and is glad to tell you about it, that is part of getting to know them. You would not talk to the Sage for long without finding out about his work, nor to Al. My other two children, whilst being happy in their jobs, probably would not bother to chat about them in a social situation. Ro's job, for instance, is in IT. You ask what he does. "I work in the IT department of a local factory that makes ***." What is there to follow up? Does he enjoy it, has he been there long, is it a field he wishes to stay in - if you had a similar job you might ask a technical question or two, but you wouldn't know more about his personality from it, unless you have a 'mind's eye' view of IT technicians that could cloud, one way or another, your view of him. On the other hand, ask me about porcelain and I'll still be enthusing quite some time later. You would, indeed, be taught quite a bit about me, if only never to bring up the subject again.

Once, someone said to me - and he meant it in quite a complimentary way -"I should think you don't suffer fools gladly." "I love fools," I replied, hurt, "I'm a fool myself." When I meet someone, I try not to prejudge them. I am predisposed to like them and sometimes, of course, there is an instant rapport. But I don't feel a wish to judge or decide about them, I would want to accept them on their own terms and receive the message they wish to give. I draw some conclusions from that, of course, but I still keep my mind open.

I take on board Dandelion's comment (about herself) I'm sometimes too self-absorbed to really care enough for it to occur to me to ask as that certainly used to apply to me. I was far too shy and self-conscious for many years to wonder about the person I was speaking to, I was more concerned with worrying about the impression I was giving. I don't think that's the case now, if anything I'm slightly under-concerned about my own self-portrayal.

I wrote, a few weeks ago, about going to see someone on business, whom we'd known for years and who had always disregarded me, but that, on that occasion, he started to see me as a more interesting and likeable person. I did put some effort into charming him, but what I didn't mention at the time was that (after the initial spark of friendship had been lit, for we'd got on to more personal conversation by then) I referred to the place where I grew up, which was the poshest part of Oulton Broad. He asked if I'd known a couple of families and I did; they were close friends of my parents. He asked what my father did for a living - I was slightly startled by this and replied "Er, nothing ... he just 'lived'." An odd way of putting it, but he was, indeed, a man of independent means and this came across in my confused words. The businessman was impressed. And that, to me, was a little offputting - except that I know, for another friend had told me, that his own father had built up his business from very humble beginnings; they had adopted a different way of life and left their roots behind. Whilst this is not the way people go now, they would be proud, if anything, of both their achievements and their origins, it was not often the case 50 years ago. And so, whilst not liking the hint of snobbery, I understood its origins and did not 'mark him down' for it.

Darling Dandelion, I bet you wish you hadn't asked. Have I explained? I don't expect to be agreed with and I like to be challenged, thank you for your comment.

Tuesday 16 January 2007

And if one green bottle...

should accidentally fall, you'll get pale brown lager all around the hall. This was unfortunate, but when, later, I knocked over the bottle I was drinking from (not at the moment I was drinking, you understand, I'd put it down) and spilled it on the carpet, it seemed more like carelessness.

On the other hand, my luck was in and I won a bag of seed potatoes at the Gardening Club raffle. I sat next to a woman I hadn't seen before and who, it transpired, has just joined. She grows lots of vegetables and sells some of them at the Friday evening market and I said that, if she still has a surplus, to offer them to Al. I even asked her name and have remembered it!!(!). This may not appear remarkable to you sophisticated yet friendly people, but I am remarkably bad at that. When meeting someone new, I always tell them my name. Generally, if there seems any doubt in their eyes, I tell them again on the second and third meetings as I do not expect to be remembered - this is not humility but an acceptance that this is the way life is, most people are not brilliant at remembering names. However, when I say "Hello, I'm Z, I am *something pertinent about me*", quite often I simply get "Hello Z" back, when I'm hoping for "Hello Z, I'm X."

Sometimes, I know someone for quite some time before I find out their name or their job. I never ask about jobs as I do not evaluate people by what they do for a living. But it means that I'm always the last person to find out anything.

Tomorrow night, it's the Car Club Christmas dinner. They always have it in mid-January, which I think is a very good idea. We're all Christmas-dinnered-out in December. I always find it slightly sticky, actually, as I hardly know most of the members, but I'll put on my party manners and scintillate as much as decorum suggests.

Monday 15 January 2007

Hello, and welcome to the school. I'm Z, one of the governors...

It is one of the perquisites of the post of school governor that one is asked to sit on interviewing panels. I do enjoy this. It is particularly interesting when one is interviewing support staff, such as Learning Support/Teaching Assistants, Librarians or Clerical staff, because one has quite a deal of scope.

This was the situation today. It is a temporary post, for maternity cover. I interviewed the person who currently holds the job, a year or two ago and liked her immensely. Her enthusiasm and aptitude shone through in a strong field. I spoke to her today, to congratulate her on the impending birth of her baby and, as we chatted, I realised I knew her via her husband, who comes into the shop periodically. Al delivers a £15 fruit box to them each week. It is one of those surnames that is neither common nor uncommon and I'd not connected.

We interviewed four people, all of whom were interesting and really pleasant people. Again, a strong field, but it came down to two. I was inclined towards one, because of the enthusiasm she had shown ... I'm a sucker for genuine enthusiasm, I think it is inspirational, particularly for children*, and she will be dealing with teenagers. She started nervously but, when questioned (and I don't believe in aggressive** interviewing, I think you can get more out of people by asking for their strengths; their weaknesses come through unconsciously), she blossomed. The other two on the panel had been slightly more drawn towards another candidate but, being reasonable people, agreed with me in the end.

Heh heh, no, it was not I who convinced them, but a careful evaluation of strengths, weaknesses and the need for someone who could slot into a temporary position at once. In fact, I would have been happy with the other person too, but she would have needed some training and support in the short term.

I was in the shop all morning and finished at 1.30. I feel a bit bereft. I reluctantly handed over to Al and went back at 5 o'clock to help him pack up.

*and me, who has never entirely grown up

**probing, perhaps, a gentle but thorough probe is always a good idea and can be a pleasure

Regarding moderation...

...I'll drink to that!

No, no, I'm not to be distracted by such frivolity. I have taken your comments on board, as they say, and - as I am a Reasonable Woman and believe in making the first move (wouldn't you have guessed it, heh heh?) - I have turned off comment moderation. Under no circumstances will I go back to WV, however, so it may have to be haloscan or similar if I get spammed to total frustration.

If even one of you is inspired to turn off wv, my gesture will not have been in vain.

Sunday 14 January 2007

Z is peeved. Then, having let it all out, Z is cheerful

No one has taken on board my suggestion that they abandon word verification. If I weren't so fond of the sight of my own voice, I would boycott comments on all sites that used it*. It almost always rejects my first attempt and takes the second, which is extremely annoying when I know I got it right first time.

Moderate comments instead. It is the way to go. Unless days go by without checking your email.

Ah, while I'm being peeved, Blogger has it in for Mac users. First, they didn't email comments to my email address, I now have to have them sent to my gmail address which, in cussedness, I therefore use for nothing else. Now they won't let me post photos using Safari. Sodding Microsoft, as I fondly call it, doesn't let Mac users use Internet Express any more (not that I ever did if I could help it) and the only alternative is Firefox, which is not only both slower and more temperamental than Safari, but also asks me silly questions.

That's it, off my capacious chest. No need to be peeved any more.

*I still might. I wonder if anyone would notice.

Just time to relax

It's a lovely day, cold but bright and sunny. The seed heads of the clematis in Al and Dilly's garden are outside my study window and look very pretty against the blue sky.

It's the Sunday when I go twice to church (this just works out that way, it is no excess of devotion), and I've just returned home, having left the house at 7.30, attended a service, driven to Norwich and back to deliver some papers, played the organ at another service, cleaned several months build-up of wax off the brass candlesticks, drunk two cups of coffee and eaten a ginger nut. Breakfast, by the way, was a small, round Communion wafer and a good swig of port. I feel cheerful and peaceful, apart from still worrying about my friend of yesterday. I'll go back into Yagnub later and, while I'm there, keep an eye out for him.

The family is recovering and Al still hasn't succumbed, so I've said that I'll deal with tomorrow's order and go into the shop tomorrow morning and, all being well, he can take over after lunch for me to go and do my interviews. If he is ill, the Sage will take over instead, but Al is confident. I've tried the 'I won't be ill' technique many times and it can work for some things but not, in my experience, a gastric bug - however, let's hope he's right. Because I don't want it either. The one we all caught last year (except Ro, who kept well out of our way) was Most Unpleasant.

Ooh, I've just had an email from Amazon to say my book order is on the way. Yay! I checked back through the 20 emails I haven't got around to opening yet (personal and business ones have been read of course) and my CD was posted on Friday. If only I could find the lead to recharge my iPod.

Time for some food.

Saturday 13 January 2007

Talking backwards

A man pulled up outside the shop at twenty past five and hurried to the door. "Are you still open, I wanted a stalk of brussels sprouts?" I welcomed him in. I had started to bring everything in from outside ... I say 'everything', but so much has been sold today that my display of produce was considerably diminished.

He bought several things and chatted for a while. He lives in the next town, nine miles away, and doesn't often come to Yagnub, but always calls in at the shop when he can. It's the welcome, he said, the quality of the food and the care in the display, Al's friendliness and interest in his job.

Actually, you could say that of many of the shops here, I'm sure it's because so many of them are run by their owners. But I was happy to hear it.

Not long before, I had been considerably cheered by a woman and her daughter who came in and spent over thirty pounds - what a nice thing to happen at the end of a Saturday afternoon. The teenage girl enthused over the fruit - she loves fruit, she said. I'm not sure how many there are in the family, but a lot, I imagine - they bought 20 satsumas, 5 mangos, 10 apples --- whole lots more, plus a sack of potatoes. They said that all the fruit would be gone by Monday.

A little before that (I'm sorry, I am ending the day on a 'Memento' note, although I haven't tattooed its events over my body) a man had come in and, after a minute or two's conversation, I suspected he was newly out of prison and so it proved. I was in the middle of serving someone else; I wish I had done more to help him.

He simply asked how I priced the fruit; by item or weight, and how much a banana, for example, cost. I weighed a few of different sizes to give him an idea. He said that where he had been, they served very small pieces of fruit that didn't taste of much, which is a pity as he loves fruit. He said he would come back and buy some after the weekend. He was newly released and money should have been available for him today but it hadn't arrived so he would have to manage without for the weekend. His solicitor would contact the authorities for him on Monday. "It isn't supposed to happen like that, for someone charged under the Mental Health Act" he said. He raised his trouser leg and showed me the tracking device. "They keep track of me, but don't tell people I have shown you, I don't want everyone to know" he said.

He left and I called him back to offer him a box of various fruit that had marked skin - it was quite all right, but I'd put it on one side to take home. I gave him a few bananas too, and said I hoped he would not be offended - not at all, he said.

He went out quickly, before I realised I should have checked if he could cook food where he lives - a couple of pounds worth of vegetables such as potatoes, carrots and greens would see him through the weekend and my fruit won't take him past the night. I'll drive through the town tomorrow and see if he's about. I hesitated because I didn't want to land Al with someone who might be a bother to him - I was friendly at any rate and, at least, did something, but really not enough. He seemed a nice man, very polite, and quite simple.

Unfortunately, although the family had a lovely time away, in the night Dilly became ill and today both the babies did too. Nothing they've eaten, it's a stomach bug. Al is fine but nervous as he suspects he will be next. I've said I'll go in the shop on Monday morning, but I'm doing staff interviews at the High School in the afternoon and can't be there all day. I have something on on Tuesday too, but I can ditch it if necessary.

Friday 12 January 2007

Here it is, Betty

I was tagged by Betty, for five things most people don't know about me. This is awfully difficult, as I am such a blabbermouth that anything not generally known is probably a dark and deep secret which I will not tell even you.

1. If I had been born a boy, I would have inherited a baronetcy. Yep, Sir Z. My grandfather was the heir of his uncle, and he and my father debated the matter. You do not inherit a title as a matter of course, you have to claim it. They agreed that they were not bothered about a pointless title and would only claim it if there were a further heir, my sister being an only child at the time.

2. I always eat the pith of oranges. I love it. I peel the peel, then I peel the pith, then I have, alternately, segments of orange and pieces of pith. I really don't know why. It's not exactly that it tastes good. I also love to eat the peel of lemons and of the various types of mandarin orange. I really hope that wax they put on to stop the fruit drying out is not carcinogenic or something, as I've taken in a fair bit over the years.

3. I am absolutely, if silently, evangelical about the importance of sex within marriage*. I am confident that it should become more important, as well as better*, the longer you are married. I was, some years ago, shocked speechless when a long-married friend, then probably about the age I am now, said confidentially and confidentally, that of course, at our age ('OUR'? - I am about ten years younger than her, and hadn't realised she thought of us as similarly aged), thank goodness we don't have to bother with that sort of thing any longer. I asked another mutual, and older friend what she thought and I'm glad to say that she, too, was open-mouthed with horror.

4. When I was a child, I was hopelessly in love with Bamber Gascoigne. University Challenge was my favourite programme and I played along and kept score.*** Jeremy Paxman is not the same at all.

5. Once, I saw a spectacularly striped snake swimming in our garden pond. It was multi-coloured and quite large, about three inches in diameter and maybe three feet long. It, and this is the odd thing, was several decades before I realised that I must have been dreaming as such a snake does not exist in this country.

*this is with a bow to Betty. I could not respond to a tag from her without mentioning sex.

**sorry everyone, I know you, knowing my age, are going 'ew'. Especially any of my family reading this.

***I feel quite embarrassed writing this - about the keeping score, that is.

Midnight conversation

Ro went to bed. Fifteen minutes later he returned. "Has Tilly been upstairs today?" "I was out all day, no idea. Why?" "There's a big poo in the middle of Alex's old room carpet." "Well, I didn't do it." "I know it was none of us," (with dignity) "that is why I asked about Tilly."

The design of Tudor houses is for the rooms to lead one into the next, rather than via corridors. There have been alterations in this house and a landing was put in, but Ro still gets from the bathroom to his room through a spare bedroom, formerly his brother's.

Tilly is a well-behaved, clean little dog and must have been desperate. She doesn't often go upstairs and, if she does, it's usually to have a Saturday morning bedtime cuddle. I suggested that the spare bedroom, being hardly ever visited, did not seem part of her indoor territory and, therefore, not a 'taboo' place to use.

"I couldn't believe it, when I went through after my bath" bemoaned Ro. "I just stood there looking at it, thinking 'this can't be right' ". I fell about, laughing. "Can it be picked up?" "I don't know," he said, "I haven't tried." I snorted with laughter. "Where should I put it?" "Down the loo?" I suggested.

When I went upstairs, there was no sign of anything amiss in the spare bedroom. But "this can't be right" still cracks me up.

Thursday 11 January 2007

Z's brain has gone

with the wind.

It was a difficult morning. I went in half an hour early as I had a lot to do, and decided not to put the full display outside as it was, by a long way, the windiest day yet. The nice man with the fish stall on Market Day came to help me put up the heavy wooden shelf.

From the start, I felt tired and confused, bewildered from the strength of the wind. At least I was indoors. The Egg Man (he merely sells them, don't imagine Humpty Dumpty) gave up and packed up by 9.30. As the gusty wind strengthened, the veg market stall took down their awning. I hadn't even put mine up, although it is sturdy wrought iron.

I changed my mind when it started to rain. I brought in the nuts, the soft fruit and the cauliflowers (beautiful local ones), put the boxes of cabbages, leeks and 'carrots on stalks' as Eileen calls them on the shelf and the pineapples and mangoes, which I had bought cheaply and really wanted to sell, on the lower staging, and pulled out the awning. A few minutes later, I was glad I had. The rain was torrential, lashed by a strong and gusty wind.

The market started to pack up.

I forgot to mention that I'd ordered apricots for my big order. I asked how much 20 would weigh. About a kilo? No, said Jason-the-wholesaler, about a pound. Send a kilo and I'll sell the rest, I said.

A kilo was 19 fruits. Thank goodness for the market, I nipped out and bought a couple more apricots for 38p. Belt, braces and baler twine girl, me, and I was allowing for one being soft. When I checked, indeed one was - worse, it had a bruise. So I ate it.

Anyway, the shop certainly filled up when it started raining, customers, dogs, the lot. If the rain had lasted a few more minutes, I'd have made tea.

It all got better later, I did the order, including 60 equal-sized shallots (I like this lady, she likes to get it right and so do I) and I added four extra free, in case one pinged to the floor and under the fridge, another was soft, another got burned and one more was irresistible once roasted and had to be eaten immediately. I had a fruit basket to do in the afternoon, but it took me until nearly 5 o'clock as I was busy.

I mastered the tills and got the totals right.

I remembered an errand on the way home, although I hadn't written it down.

My hair is a total mess.

My back aches. I have taken a pill and would be lying flat on my back, except that then I'd have to get up.

I am going to cook dinner. Pork chops and lots of vegetables, followed by a mango. I don't want anything clever or complicated and want simple comfort food.

Do you know, I feel fine now. Must be the ibuprofen mixed with wine.

I'll be over all this in a couple of days and will write about something else. You must have had enough about vegetables by now.

Congratulations to Pat on all her visitors. And Betty tagged me (I've linked to neither as you all know them both and love them as I do), which I will deal with soon.

Wednesday 10 January 2007

Psst - Never mind the apples and pears, 'ere's a lovely lot of mangoes going cheap

I have just poured my third glass of wine*. I know that I've already drunk a comfortable amount, given that I'm quite tired.

I am going to drink the third glass. Fortunately, such an amount will make me splendidly relaxed, but will not have any morning-after effects.

Today went fine, except that I monumentally cocked up the till at the end of the day. I had to correct an error (a really silly one; I'd put in £1.09 and 85p without pressing the 'enter' button between, so a poor chap looked as if he had to pay a total of £114-something) and do a 'pay-out' of Eileen's wages. I thought I knew what to do, but I was wrong and everything just kept adding on...Al will take it in his stride, just uttering a shrugging 'Bof' or 'Pfft' as he perambulates.

I have also had my hair cut. The Sage minded** the shop while I was gone. He does not trust the till at all, so had all his takings written down for me to put in to the till. Have I ever mentioned that he is older than me***, and even more set in his ways?****

Jason from one of the wholesalers rang this morning. I was quite excited, for he had Special Offers to proffer. I said 'Yes!', for that is the kind of girl I am. I really hope there are a lot of people around in Yagnub tomorrow, as I have bought all sorts of things. I've not taken a chance on everything though: most of them are extremely good value and I will reduce prices and still make a Fat Profit. I am mindful that, this week, I need to pay for Al's holiday.

There were quite a lot of lovely ripe plum tomatoes that were going a bit at the stalk end - good but unsaleable. I cooked red onions, red pepper, red chilli, red tomatoes and (green) parsley and served it with lamb chops, baked potatoes and purple sprouting broccoli. And, as I might have mentioned before, red wine.

Finished the wine, time to get to work*****

*I don't mention the size of the glass

**that looks wrong but isn't - 'mound' is another word entirely

***Whole lots, for he is a Pensioner

****I am not set in my ways at all, and he hardly is, except that he will not go on holiday so I have to go alone

*****Looking up stuff on Bonhams (the auctioneers) website, Lot 12. This counts as work in our business

Tuesday 9 January 2007

The Crop Shop

It was so windy today. I put the shelf out this morning and started to arrange the crates underneath, on which go various veggie goodies to attract the customers. I had to chase them down the road. I found it was simplest to have baskets of vegetables ready to weight them down until I was ready to arrange the display.

I made an early start, so that Eileen didn't have all the fresh produce to put out before the customers started to come, as I had a meeting to go to and had to leave her alone for the morning. I was a little concerned that she would be rushed off her feet, but she said it had been all right; she was constantly busy but "the line of customers didn't reach the door". Most people take a basket (real ones, not wire) and wander round helping themselves until it is their turn to be served.

An uneventful day. We sold lots of root vegetables and cabbages. The weather made everyone think of stews and soups. We also sold salad stuff, as people want crunchy and colourful food too. I am always fond of young people and am vastly cheered when 20-somethings come and buy 'real' veg; swedes and carrots and sprouting broccoli. I have never known English purple sprouting to be this early - one can get a bit in the autumn for a week or two when plants that have gone early to seed are picked over before being rooted out, but normally it's a March/April delicacy.

Old Ron hovered around as usual in the afternoon, hoping for a lift home. He hobbles up on his walking frame to each car that parks in the road outside the shop and asks if the driver is going his way. He doesn't have too many takers; unfortunately he smells of wee, rather. Sooner or later, someone usually takes pity and good-naturedly takes him home. He occasionally buys a banana, but otherwise only comes into the shop to ask for a tissue. Yesterday, he needed help with the zip on his anorak.

The photo was not taken today; it was an autumnal scene, as you have probably noticed. You might also have observed that the doorway is not shown. The reason is that Al was standing in it and he is too modest to show his face to the Public.

Monday 8 January 2007

Z turns an Honest Penny

I was cooking dinner this evening when Ro came into the kitchen and stood behind me. After a minute I turned, having a sense that he didn't just happen to be standing there.

"Hug" he said. And we did. "I'm tired," he said "and I didn't work nearly such a long day as you."

I meant to close the shop at 5, but I was still busy and the last customer left at 5.40. By the time I'd taken the display in, cashed up, worked out tomorrow's order and phoned it in, a further hour had passed.

I had a great day. I have been given a recipe for Seville orange gin, given one out for marmalade*, explained why you cannot make pineapple jelly with uncooked pineapple, made a £10 fruit gift box, flirted delicately, made friends with several dogs, including a terrier who licked all over my face while my hands were full, carried a 25 kilo (55 pound) bag of potatoes to a customer's car, taken a huge order for Friday (the receipts will be impressive on Friday and not had time to read a word of any of the three books I had taken in to occupy my afternoon. I also ate a maple and pecan Danish pastry in the afternoon, to keep my strength up.

Tonight, I cooked a simple and encouraging supper of bangers and mash, with tomatoes and (close your eyes, Wendz) lots of small green fart-bombs. Followed by a few chocolates.

Tomorrow morning I will go in early to set up as I have a Meeting to go to in Norwich. I hope Eileen isn't as busy as we were today, as she will be alone from 9-1, although the Sage will go in to offer encouragement. He will also deliver Meals on Wheels for me.

*to a young man who made his first pots of strawberry jam in the summer and, fired with zeal, wishes to repeat the feat with marmalade now.

I waited until after midnight and thwarted Blogger!

Hah! Pictures!

At last I took photos of the papier maché crib figures made for the village church by Year 4 at the village school. They are quite large - the standing figures are about knee high. They can stay up until Candlemas, whatever and whenever that is. I've a feeling it is sometime in February.

I particularly like the shepherd (middle figure, right of the angel). He looks as if he has swigged a few deep draughts from his hipflask. Jesus also has a beatific smile on his face. Joseph (bottom right) has amazing boggle eyes that come just above his head band.

These animals are an ox, an ass and a sheep. They are almost identical, but the clue is in the ears.

Yesterday was the Feast of the Epiphany, when the Magi turned up with their highly symbolic but useless presents. Well, apart from the gold. That would have come in handy on the Flight Into Egypt

Jesus did have a manger, but he broke it so he has to sleep in a box lid. He is not at all tired at present and nor is Mary, who looks wide eyed and startled. It is a wonderful and funny crib and makes me smile every time I see it.

Sunday 7 January 2007

I tried to catch the last post, but Blogger would not oblige

I wrote you a nice little post this afternoon, with pictures and Blogger wouldn't take them. Not directly, not via Photobucket, not even one at a time. It still won't tonight. Maybe tomorrow.

This evening, Ro and I went to the cinema! To Pan's Labyrinth, (el Laberinto del Fauno) a Spanish film set in 1944, after Franco's victory and directed by Guillermo del Toro. It was well done, but I'd check it out on iMDb or something before seeing it as it was a trifle unusual. Brutal Fascist captain, guerilla fighters, little girl in a strange labyrinth on a quest. The monster with eyes in his hands was splendid.

From tomorrow, I'll be running Al's shop for him as he and the family will be on holiday for a week. It will be a great pleasure and absolutely knackering. He has left a note for his deliverers, asking them not to put the heaviest boxes, of oranges and bananas and the like, on the top shelf as I am not very big.

Saturday 6 January 2007

If music be the food ...

It's always a pleasure to hear the correct use of the subjunctive tense and the Bard does not often disappoint.

It is, of course, Twelfth Night. The decorations have been tenderly put in their boxes. The blowsy fairy, which originally belonged to the Sage's grandmother, received particular care. Her face is, though highly coloured, not unattractive but her hair is just a mess and her dress, made by my mother-in-law several decades ago, is a particularly unattractive green. I feel she deserves a new one, but will forget about it for the next 49 weeks and I won't have time then.

Squiffany wanted to call in this morning. We had been out in the garden, watching the tractor with a fork-lift shifting the root of the fallen pine tree. The lad driving the tractor is only 18; he has worked for the farmer for a year since leaving school, but we were impressed by his skill and care. The previous boy had been a disappointment as an employee - he didn't appreciate the early start to the day that is required on a dairy farm and was often late or absent. Young O is another matter and he's already trusted to do skilled work.

Dilly was going to take the children shopping in Norwich, so there wasn't time to visit, so an invitation was issued for later on. Instead, I took her to see the impressive gap in the hedge that will be cut to a row of stumps and allowed to regrow. Good friend Jamie was startled to see my handiwork and teased me about my vigour with a saw. I didn't mind, as long as he kept removing the debris. The hedge had been about 15 feet tall and there were large branches to drag away.

By noon, it was raining steadily so I went grocery shopping while the chaps started to clear the greenhouse which the chickens will be invited to ramble through for the next couple of months. I was talkng to my friend Mark the Butcher as he cut me some cheese and weighed the meat when his boss, John the Butcher came up. "When you've finished chatting to Z" he said "we need to talk about where you are putting sausage skins. And how much water you're putting them in." Mark had put the skins in a tub, filled it with water and put in on a high shelf. John, reaching for them, had tipped them over himself. He was wet and unhappy. I offered a hug. He said he really needed a shower and a change of clothes. My offer had not extended further than a hug, however, so I paid and left.

Later, Dilly and Squiffany turned up. "She didn't forget, she's been saying 'call at Granny's house' all the way home." Squiffany's face lit up when she saw the Pooping Reindeer. He is small and plastic and contains 10 brown jelly beans, which he excretes when you press his back. This entertained her for a good half hour. "Poo-poo!, hah hah hah" is a good joke which bears much repetition. "RoRo, poo-poo, hah hah hah" "Granny, poo-poo, hah hah hah." RoRo and I were surprisingly entertained too, there really is nothing quite like a baby's laughter.

Who else?

Your results:
You are Supergirl

Iron Man
Wonder Woman
Green Lantern
The Flash
Lean, muscular and feminine.
Honest and a defender of the innocent.

Click here to take the "Which Superhero am I?" quiz...

Lean is way out, by a good ten years. I'm a bit concerned that I'm 45% Hulk* so no work will be done on the Muscular.

Thanks to BD for pointing me in the right direction and so encouraging me to fritter away my time. This is not a complaint. Frittering is what I dedicate my life to.

*Funnily enough, I'm quite pleased by 65% Iron Man.

Friday 5 January 2007

Z wields her new pruning saw

I've spent an energetic and productive couple of hours in the garden. The sycamore sapling is no more! I counted the rings, it was nine years old, which just shows how long it took me to get around to the job. Although, to be kind (and whom should one be kind to, if not oneself?), it spent quite some time hiding among other shrubs before it was noticed.

I have cut back quite a lot of the boring laurel hedge. It was immensely tall when we moved here and we had it cut to ground level. It has been cut back many times since, but I can't keep up with it and it is never a pruning with secateurs sort of job, or even with loppers, but needs a saw. It is too useful a screen to do away with entirely.

After all this, I returned to the house and finally finished the Christmas food. Well, apart from three-quarters of the Christmas cake, which will linger for weeks. The last of the meat. We finished the beef on Monday and the remains of the Boxing Day lamb became Scotch Broth and Shepherd's Pie. So, lunchtime today was leftovers of these. Whew. A clear fridge. Ah. That means it's time to buy more food.

It was a particularly excellent Scotch broth, in fact. I took a packet of wholegrain barley out of the cupboard and saw that the use-by date was Feb 06. I wasn't sure how stale barley actually goes, but cooked it for the chickens and bought fresh. In fact, when cooked, it was fine and I could have used it, but the chickens certainly enjoyed it, especially as it was still warm. I made the stock for the soup with vegetables and the lamb bone, which still had quite a deal of meat on, and the chickens had that to peck clean too. Of course, Scotch broth should really be made with neck of lamb, but I always find that you get little bits of bone left, and you have to eat it cautiously. Lots of onion, turnip, carrot, leek and cabbage; it was almost more stew than soup.

Back to the garden. More pruning to be done. Joy!!

And first, I'm going to cut down that sycamore sapling

I have spent the last hour reading blogs. This is not a sensible use of my time when there is work to do, but a week spent not nosying into your lives has left me feeling that I've been left out of all the fun.

Several of you have been making New Year Resolutions. Or have resolved not to. There's only one resolution I'd really appreciate all Blogger bloggers making, and that is to moderate your comments before publishing, rather than go for word verification. WV is the most annoying thing imaginable, because, however carefully and accurately you type and check the letters, they are usually refused the first time.

As for me, I don't do resolutions because I don't set myself up to fail. But I will this time, because I think I'll do them all. Except possibly the last.

I. I will start building my wall. When the Sage has chosen the bricks at last, I will make a start. In fact, I'll have a friendly chat on the subject today.

2. I will take clarinet lessons again. The other day, I was listening to a Mozart trio and knew that, ten years ago, I could play that really well and now I could not attempt it. I didn't realise, although my teacher told me, that actually I became pretty good, especially if I was playing jazz or blues and Mozart. I also fancy playing the tenor saxophone (I can play Ro's alto sax, but it's heavy on my neck, whereas you can rest the tenor on your hip), but first things first.

3. I will carry on with broadening my musical range. I started last summer when I persuaded Ro to let me have some of the stuff he listens to - excitingly, my iTunes list now contains categories such as 'Alternative and Punk' and 'Electronic', which makes a good addition to the usual 'Classical' and 'Jazz'. Tom Lehrer is categorised as 'Folk', which would probably piss him off mightily.
I really will get to the Aldeburgh Festival this year. I've missed the last few years as I have to go on my own. The people I sometimes go to concerts with prefer more accessible music than is sometimes on offer at the Festival. I will go to hear a couple of pieces that I don't know at all (see 3) and may not like. I often find that music, of whatever type, that is hard to listen to at first is, in the end, the most worth getting to know.

4. I will (all being well) continue to be frivolous. People like me when I'm happy. I have noticed (and I'm sure it's the same for you too) that my mood affects my family. If I'm cheerful, it lightens them too.

5. This is more of a wish than a resolution... I'll get to London more. Again, it'll have to be on my own - unless I'm meeting my sister or daughter which is always a delight, of course. But I get more done on my own, I go to museums, exhibitions, and explore unknown streets. I love to walk in cities, it's the only way to get to know them. One is never lost for too long, there's always a clue to your whereabouts.

Thursday 4 January 2007


Friend of Gustav was shocked but unhurt.

He had thrown himself facedown to the ground to protect his hibernating little chums

The Sage and Ro measured the trunk. 48 foot long.

We reckon the tree was at least 75 years old. Probably, Pa and Ma (my in-laws) planted it when they first moved here - they bought the house in 1928 and moved in about a year later while work was still being done.

Spare tiles are kept outside so they have weathered and you'd hardly know which are the replacements. It's a temporary repair but it's weatherproof for now.

If you know of a better 'ole...

... go to it. A picture of the Sage!!(!)