Wednesday 28 February 2007

Z feels harassed

It's an odd week. I have a whole row of meetings and am spending half the days getting ready for them or doing stuff arising from them. I'm vastly intimidated by writing down everything I eat and today it's been inconvenient to eat anything much at all, which gives a very bad example to someone with an eating disorder.

I made a particularly nice dishful of kedgeree for the blokes this evening, ate a couple of forkfuls and planned to have a proper meal when I got home at 9 o'clock. They ate it all. Shovelled the lot in. Gannets*. I ate a yoghurt and an orange and drank red wine and whisky. I do not deserve to sleep at all.

However, some considerable satisfaction this morning. Two varieties of tomato are up - Black Russian and Green Zebra, all three of lettuce and a tray of coleus. And Squiffany expressed considerable interest in the whole growing thing, so she sowed more seeds herself. Red cabbage, sweet peas, courgettes and globe artichokes. I have some globe artichokes I grew last year, but the chickens have pecked them badly and most of them haven't survived. If I end up with too many, Al can sell the plants or they can go at the Village Festival in July (they'll be in pretty big pots by then, mind you).

A couple of days ago, when the sun was shining, I walked through a whole cloud of midges. There was a housefly in the greenhouse on Monday and I just swatted away a fruit fly. I've never known this in February before. Absurd.

Tomorrow I'm visiting Windsor Castle. As a tourist, not a guest. Though a Guest of Her Majesty does not necessarily mean that one has been invited to dine at the royal table.

*As you gather, I grew up in the Tony Hancock era

Tuesday 27 February 2007

The family story – part 12 – the Land Army, part 2

When I said "more another time", I didn't mean "in six weeks." Sorry. For anyone who hasn't been following the story, Jane was my mother.

I don't think Jane ever had any romantic attachments at this time. She liked Bobby, who owned the farm, but just as a friend. He sometimes found it hard to be one of the few young men around who was not fighting for his country, but he had very poor eyesight and farming was certainly part of the war effort. There was one very sad story involving Bobby, though.

A young woman was visiting the farm and wanted to go for a ride. She was an experienced horsewoman and she and Bobby went off across the fields. When they were some distance from home, her horse, galloping, was startled by a rabbit, shied and she fell. Bobby went to help her and wanted to walk her home, but she laughed off the fall, saying she was fine, and insisted on remounting. Bobby did, at least insist that they walked the horses and made for home. But after a while, she paled suddenly and fell off her horse. "I do feel ill now" she said and fainted.

Bobby had no choice but to leave her and gallop back for help. She was taken to hospital, but she died. Her skull had been fractured in the first fall.

At the inquest, the coroner was critical of Bobby, saying that he should not have let her remount. He felt dreadful, remorseful and blamed himself - but, as Mummy said, what else could he do? It was too far for her to walk and she would have collapsed anyway. Of course, in hindsight, he could have ridden with her on his horse, holding her in front of him, but she was insistent that she was fine. If anything could have made it worse, she was an only child and her parents were bereft.

No riding hats in those days of course.

In the 1940s there were a succession of hot summers. Jane must have found that hard as she hated the sun. She had a fair skin and burned easily. She was strong, but she was not robust. She never gave in or complained of physical pain or fatigue, but she found the farm work pretty hard. She suffered badly all her life from migraines, but a 'sick headache,' in those days, didn't gain you much sympathy. On the other hand, she liked the country life and would not have been suited to the hierarchy of the forces or the wearing of a uniform.

There was a good social life. They used to hold dances ('hops') in the local village halls. There were plenty of young men, many of them from the American Air Force stationed nearby. My mum always felt sorry for the local lads as they didn't have much money, whereas the American boys had plenty and they could get treats like silk stockings, cigarettes and chocolate too. Jane didn't care for the sort of girl who was tempted by that sort of thing - we all know the disgruntled description of American servicemen at that time "Overpaid, over-sexed and over here!" Poor lads. Still ready to die, thousands of miles from home.

One evening a young black man asked her for a dance. She was embarrassed and refused - she knew that her reputation would be in big trouble, even with just a dance. It was on her conscience all her life though. She really regretted it.

I suppose the lads had a few beers, but she never drank at all. They all had a whale of a time though and would walk back across the ploughed field, her dance shoes swinging from her hand, one foot on the ridge and the other in the furrow, giggling helplessly.

This all came to an end suddenly. She had been suffering from serious abdominal pain but, typically, said nothing about it for some time. When, finally, she went to the doctor, he told her she had acute appendicitis and sent her straight to hospital. The appendix was on the point of bursting and she was very ill for some time afterwards. It was decided that she could not return to her farm work and she was sent home to her father for recuperation.

Not long after that, she came down with measles. She was already quite run down and she was extremely ill and delerious. She went blind for several days. The doctor visited night and morning and ordered that she be kept in a darkened room. How lucky she was, however - and how thankful her father must have been; again, she was an only child and he was otherwise all alone - because, in the end, she made a full recovery. Her eyesight was superb (far better than mine!) and she didn't even need reading glasses until she was into her sixties.

The measles came when she was twenty-one, so that must have been in 1945. So, by the time she recovered, the war was coming to an end and she was able to think about her future.

Monday 26 February 2007

Battle of the Bloggers

Leesa has left me a comment to say her 'Battle of the Bloggers'has kicked off. Do take a look, there are lots of blogs to look at, competing in pairs so you really do have to read them all to take part!

Thank you, Pat and Murph, for joining in. Don't, please, feel you have to vote for me, I'm not mentioning it for that. It's just for fun and to publicise some blogs you might not come upon otherwise.

By the way, at present Leesa's links to the different groups don't work, so here they are -
Eastern bracket
Western bracket. I'm in this one and so is Murph.
Northern bracket
Southern bracket. You'll find Pi here.

You have a week to read them all and vote.

Monday morning.

This food diary is a bit of a thing. I'm out of bread so haven't bothered to eat breakfast this morning and have just squeezed a couple of oranges and eaten a plum. I feel I should be a better example.

The Sage has letters for me to write, but he has gone out. Someone called round to see him, so I've said call back in a few minutes. Then the Sage will talk to him instead of telling me about the letters.

I feel that it is not going to be a very productive morning.

I will do housework until he's ready for me to start. How dull and yet how useful. I will be glad of it later, I daresay.

Tilly, the dog with Two Tales

Following on from yesterday's post...

We went back with Ro, who was back from school by then. I took a sheet. The dog was not very clean, the house was smelly and there probably were fleas. The poor little thing was frightened and trembled when we took her. Miss P warned us that she had only been in a car once and had been sick. I said she was welcome to phone to know how she was getting on. She was obviously fond of the little dog and reluctant to part with her.

When Chester, our Irish setter/bearded collie cross saw her, he was thrilled. He sniffed her all over, while she cowered, terrified. We put him in the house and fetched her some food, which she wolfed down. Then I got a bucket of warm water, gave her a bath and dried her. I decided to walk both dogs round the village, so that they could get used to each other.

It was quite embarrassing as she was so thin, it looked as if I was the one neglecting her. However, by the time we'd been round the block, Chester was less curious about her and she was not trembling so much. When we arrived home, it was time for Chester to eat and I gave Kilda another small meal. It vanished in no time and she eyed his bowlful enviously. She couldn't resist. She darted in to steal a mouthful.

Darling Chester stepped back and let her.

You could see the thought going through her head. "The huge dog is letting me eat his meal? He's not a threat! He's - he's a pushover!!"

It was as easy as that. From then on, they adored each other. He never licked his bowl clean again, but left a little for her to finish. She deferred to him, but was unafraid. He did fancy her rotten and she flirted with him, wafting herself past when he was lying down and then scurrying away as soon as he started sniffing her. For this reason, we had her spayed as soon as the vet said it was time. Afterwards, however, she couldn't understand why she had lost her power to attract and this made her rather miserable. I felt bad that we'd taken away her femininity, but it was too late and we'd had no real choice anyway.

The first time we let her out of the house, she ran straight to the chickens and started to chase them. I called her back and told her to stop. The next day, I saw her rushing joyfully, feathers in mouth, chasing an indignant and frightened bantam. I shouted at her and, when she came, grabbed her and told her she must never do that again. She was very upset and never did.

For a long time, we had to be very gentle with her. She was afraid of children and I always wondered if the local kids at her previous home had made fun of her owner, maybe chased or thrown things. It was never necessary to say anything if she misbehaved - a look would do. She liked to curl up with me in an armchair, but she always wanted to sit behind me. I still tend to perch at the front of chairs, although she usually stretches out on the sofa nowadays.

Her name was changed within a day, when Ro called her "Kill" for short. We decided to choose a name that sounded almost the same as Kilda, not to confuse her. It came down to Hilda or Mathilda, so Tilly it is.

Oh - and Sage was besotted with her in no time. He's given up arguing with me altogether. As I've pointed out, I'm a very reasonable woman. I'm always going to agree that he's right - unless I am. And in that case, he might as well agree with me.

Sunday 25 February 2007


We're watching a piece on eBay. The price is pretty high already - we haven't bid and there's half an hour to go.

"Will you bid?" I asked. "I ought not to," he replied. "But will you?" "That's why I said 'ought' not to," he said with a grin.

"We're two of a kind," I said.

Tilly's Tale

I thought I'd tell you how Tilly joined our family, nine years ago.

My mother and I went to a small town a few miles away, to buy some curtain track. While we were in the shop, a young woman came in with a small dog on a big chain. It was the sort of choke-chain more usually used to keep a Rottweiler under control. My mother and I looked at the dog and then at each other in horror. She was stick-thin, you could see her ribs, her hip-bones and her spine sticking out. Her tail was between her legs and she was shaking. Her teats were swollen with milk. However, her black coat was surprisingly glossy and she had huge dark eyes in her pinched little face.

Her owner looked poor. She had on a shabby overcoat, her red hands were chapped and she looked nervous. My mother spoke to her politely. "What a dear little dog" she said. "Has she had puppies?"

In the next few minutes, we were told that the dog was only fifteen months old and the puppies were six weeks; nearly weaned and the pet shop had agreed to take them, but the woman was moving to a council flat and she had been told she could keep her two cats but not take a dog. She had put a card offering her free to a good home, in the local supermarket, but to no avail.

Mummy and I looked at each other again. We completed our purchases and went outside with the young woman to talk on the pavement. "I know she's a bit thin" she said. "I've doubled the amount I feed her, but she hasn't put much weight on." She, herself, looked as if she could do with a good meal. Her top teeth were worn to blackened stumps and the bottom ones were discoloured. She was quite simple and, it transpired, was moving to sheltered housing as she could hardly manage to look after herself alone. She wasn't on the phone, so I gave her my number and asked her to phone in an hour.

Mummy and I talked on the way home. Her first thought was to take her, but her health was not very good and she already had a very large greyhound in her bungalow. She wondered if she should offer to pay a dog sanctuary to look after her, have her spayed and a new home found. I said I'd talk to the Sage.

It had taken me a long time to persuade him that we should have a dog. After our old dog Simon died, it took over three years to talk him round. Finally, he agreed, whereupon it took me nearly another year to find the perfect puppy...and that's another story. I knew he would not be willing to have a second. I also knew me.

I told him all about it and asked him to look at the dog. "She's timid and cowed," I said, "but you can see what a sweet nature she has. I've got a really strong feeling about this and it's not often I say that." It was true and he agreed to come over to H@rleston with me, once the woman, Miss P, rang back.

She lived in a little flat behind an Indian takeaway. The kitchen was filthy, with gravy stains running down the cooker and a dirty floor. We told her that we had some shopping to do and would come back in a little while. In fact, we walked round the corner and talked.

I put my case. Miss P had said that the dog, Kilda, was obedient, housetrained and gentle. I could see that our dog Chester would not welcome another dog, but a gentle little bitch was a different matter. She needed a home, she had had a dreadful start in life and whatever would become of her? However, I said, you have the last word.

The Sage carefully evaluated what I'd said. He agreed, but he felt that it was too much of a commitment. We had only her word that the dog had a good nature. She might be sickly. He was sorry, but he voted no. I sighed. I went through my arguments again. I mentioned how well she would fit in the family. But you have the last word. "No," said the Sage. I explained it all over again, reminded him of how rarely I made demands and how I always deferred to him in important decisions. "No," he said again, with kindly face and furrowed brow. I explained once more about how much I wanted this dog. On the other hand, I was not looking for trouble. If she was difficult, sickly, bad-tempered, I'd be willing to look for another home for her, but in the meantime I would have nursed her back to health. However, I was sure that we'd want to keep her. But you have the final word. The Sage still demurred.

This discussion lasted a full hour. In the end, the Sage realised that, in this case, 'the final word' was "Yes" and I wouldn't let go until he said it. Once he'd grasped that, he said "Yes" and we went back, told Miss P we'd take Kilda but that we needed to go home, buy a basket and a collar and lead and we'd be back later in the afternoon.

More to follow...

Flowers in the rain

The first few daffodils opened yesterday.

I know that many people think of the flowering currant as a weed, but I've always liked it. I don't dislike the smell, which I think is quite blackcurranty, but some say reminds them of tomcats.

This is self-seeded. I had some little violas in the tub above this last year. My justification for not weeding very often.

The first lettuce seeds are starting to come up - just the beginnings of the stalks, not even a leaf yet. But I only sowed the seeds on Wednesday. For the last few years it has been an effort to make a start in the garden but this year it is a pleasure again. It may be because the weather has been so mild this month. Working outside has been enjoyable, not a chore. I decided, also, to think less about growing for sale and more about growing for fun. I've always grown vegetables. Even when I was a child and given a little patch in the garden, I put in beans, radishes and cress. When I was first married and had a pocket-handkerchief garden I grew cabbages and runner beans. I love flowers but, mostly, I plant shrubs and let them take care of themselves, and just put a few flowers in between. I used to do more. I used to grow all sorts of flowers for cutting and (this is hard to believe) do flower arrangements in every room. Simple summer flowers, like cornflowers and sweet peas. They only lasted a day or two. However did I find time?

To change the subject, back in October I wrote about a friend. She stayed in hospital for a long time, even over Christmas. She came to church this morning for the first time in nearly six months.

I was glad to see her, but shocked by how ill she looks. I also, as I hugged her in greeting, thought how brave she is, to come along, knowing that we've all been talking about her. It's not easy for a modest person to face. But of course, we all greeted her in a normal and unfussy way and included her in our conversation.

She is still painfully thin and looks pale and shaky, but for the first time I think she might be starting to accept her condition and be willing to do something about it. Revd S, who was taking the service with her husband Revd B (yes, really) asked for people who would be willing to take part in a food survey as our friend, C, is researching how people eat. We will have to record all we eat over a week. I signed up, as did several others ... that'll make us think, won't it. C. isn't the only one who needs to understand what we eat and why, if not necessarily for the same reasons.

I wonder if we'll have to put down what we drink too. Oh dear. I owe it to C. not to lie. If she's going to face herself, I must let her see me too. How embarrassing that will be. Fortunately, I'm not too bad just now. I won't quite say that a bottle of wine lasts me three nights, but two bottles lasts five.

That's good, isn't it? Huh? Why are you all looking at me that way?

Saturday 24 February 2007

If a post rambles, is it a walking stick?

A quiet Saturday at home. I came downstairs and opened the post. I was excited to discover the seeds I ordered from Pl@nts of D1st1nct1ion had arrived, only four days after I ordered them. It is a splendid small Suffolk company which offers lots of different pepper (capsicum) varieties and pages and pages of old-fashioned tomatoes, as well as the usual stuff. It was hard to know where to start with my choices and I was late with the order.

I was taken aback when I opened the next envelope. "Are you" it enquired boldly "over 65 and looking to broaden your social circle?" The envelope was hand-addressed, which made it all seem a bit pointed. "No" I said in a small voice.

When I had another look in the envelope, it transpires that this is a service being set up by the County Council and was sent to me as local WRVS organiser. It's a sort of telephone-based friendship club for more-or-less housebound people - "phone-in coffee mornings" are among the delights offered. It's an interesting* idea, I wonder if it will take off. I can't think it would appeal to me, but if I was alone with no one to talk to, I might feel differently.

We've forked over about half of the vegetable garden and I've sowed more seeds in the greenhouse. Not outdoors yet, I'll let the soil warm up a little more first. I looked at one pepper variety. 'Georgia Flame'. Sweet pepper or chilli? I wondered. I put a seed in my mouth to taste. Mm, pretty hot... I took it out again and sowed it. I've looked at the catalogue since and the variety is from the Republic of Georgia rather than the American state.

Dilly and the children have had a sociable day. First her parents arrived. I bobbed out from the greenhouse to say hello and inveigled them in to see my little nursery. Later, her sister arrived with her two small children. They decided to go to the village playing field. "Hello Granny," shouted Squiffany, excitedly. "We going to the SWINGS."

A friend called in, to pick up a pair of Meissen figurines which the Sage's china restorer had mended for them. While they were on holiday, a pigeon came down their drawing-room chimney and, poor creature, made a terrible mess of things before dying of thirst on the floor. What a sight to come home to. Horrible.

They have been beautifully mended and he was very pleased with them. He and his wife moved from the village about a year ago; not too far away but I haven't seen them much since. He is one of the most good-looking men I've ever known. He's frankly gorgeous. He and his wife - who is tiny, slim and very pretty - are a couple of years older than I am and he's going grey now, but this takes nothing from his appearance. Not that I'm knocking the Sage, who looks good himself (even if bald!), but I couldn't be married to a man who was so much more attractive than I am. I'd be eternally intimidated.

Tilly has got off the armchair and I can feel her looking at me. She is too polite to speak, but she would like her dinner please, as soon as I'm ready. I will go straightaway.

*'Interesting' is one of those words to use when you don't want to damn it but really can think of nothing to enthuse about.

Friday 23 February 2007

Did they find what they wanted?

I've just been looking at my statcounter, to see what keywords people have used to find me. Usually people gleefully or disconcertedly report that worryingly anatomical phrases have been used, which I would not dream of quoting for obvious reasons. I, however, found this - what should i do today to cheer myself up but still feel like i've achieved something. Now, that's the sort of cheering, positive message I'd like to give out in this blog!

I didn't find what I was looking for, I'm happy to say. It's not that I am secretive about my identity, but a few bloggers I know (virtually speaking) have been dismayed to be told they are discovered. "Can't go to that pub again" said one of them. I know what he means. It'd be one thing for a friend to tell you and you'd appreciate their openness, but for an acquaintance to laugh about it, pass it round and make you feel as if you'd been caught out, would be disconcerting at least.

I told my family about it early on, which I'm glad of. I'd really not like them to hear from a third party, to find I'd been keeping secrets. My sister and daughter, whom I don't see everyday, read it, but the rest of the family don't bother, as they do. I suspect they have more than enough of my thoughts and opinions as it is. I do show bits to my husband, who cannot use a computer at all, so that, whilst he'd be welcome to read it, he never will. I read out comments, show him photos I've put up, to make sure he is not kept out of a part of my life which really matters to me. I find that quite an odd thing to say, but bloggers will understand me. It's been unexpected. I like it.

Thursday 22 February 2007

Nothing as tough to eat as my own words

It was only a few days ago that I wrote on Wendz's comments that I don't really go for blog competitions. But then B@dgerd@ddy nominated me for one. It is very charming of him and within the spirit of the competition, which is not for the big worldwide categories but for ... oh blimey, the more modest I sound, the more those I nominated will feel put down and, obviously, I'm meaning to compliment them

Anyway, I am, charmed, accepting the invitation to be nominated and have myself nominated Pat and Murph and hope that they don't mind, whether or not they join in. I rather like that fact that the blogs will be voted for in pairs so that voters will read them all and not just automatically go for the one they usually read.

Here's the link -

This is not spam. Well, this is not bad spam. Leesa
is having a little contest called
"Battle of the Bloggers." Please visit her
blog to see the details.
So if you want to nominate a blog for
this competition, please do so.

If you would like to nominate someone, please do so pdq as nominations close tomorrow.

Z likes it hot

While restocking the shelves in the shop cooler, my eye was caught by some fine red chillies (this was not at all painful as I merely looked at them). I was seized, unexpectedly, by a great craving and brought one home. I chopped it, with a small red onion and a handful of parsley (suppose it should be coriander, but I didn't have any), fried them and added eggs for an omelette for lunch. I did taste the chilli, to check just how eye-watering it was, and it was fairly gentle at the end. I knew, of course, that it would be hotter at the stalk and took the precaution of removing the seeds.

I was given a clue when my eyes started to twitch, and then I sneezed. And this was just from the vapour.

Ooh, that was a good omelette. Even my teeth feel hot. I am very happy. Now, I'm munching oatcakes to cool my mouth down. I wonder what I will do this afternoon. I could do the ironing. Or potter in the greenhouse (this is what I am most inclined to do, except that it's a bit chilly and dull and I like sun, even when I'm indoors. I could curl up with a book and a good dog. I could work of course, but ... well ...

Coffee first. I drank no coffee yesterday, nor yet today. I must keep practising my vices, or else I will become sweet and lovely, and it's far better to keep 'em all guessing.

Wednesday 21 February 2007

Ooh, pictures and everything

Right. I've made and eaten shepherd's pie. I've made and eaten pancakes. Five pancakes. More were made, but that is the number I ate, myself. Now I can write again the rather over-explanatory post I nearly put up this afternoon.

It all came about because one photo was taken on its side, so I had to open iPhoto/Photobucket to swivel it. Both obligingly did it, but then posted it on its side again. I think the computer was overwhelmed by the twinkling of my touch-typing fingers, because it crashed and lost my post.

Right. This afternoon, after the rain stopped, the sun shone as if it was April. It was delightful. I went out to the greenhouse to prepare the propagators.

I can't say it all again. Here are pictures.
The lighting units, used by the Sage to make propagators. He added the horizontal wooden bars. The trays, minus light fittings and wirings, hold the soil-warming cables.

I have tried all the alternatives but a peat-based compost is best. This compost uses alternative materials as well as peat and is supposed to be sustainable. I've tried other media to put the cables in, but the advantage of this is that, when the heaters are no longer needed, I can pot up plants using the compost. Once I used newspaper. Big mistake. It went slimy.

I cover over the cables. This is a very economical way of heating the greenhouse. Two double propagators hold 32 9" x 12" seed trays (30 cm x 22.5cm) or the equivalent in pots. I use two soil-warming cables, one uses 150 watts and the other 75 watts. I cover the framework with polythene to keep it warm and humid. One propagator is, of course, warmer than the other, which makes them suitable for a range of plants.

After I've covered the cables and watered the compost, to aid humidity, I cover it all with polythene, kept in place with sheets of perspex. I can't remember where we got the perspex but it is, of course, recycled. We were given a big roll of polythene by a builder friend (he owned the business, he didn't nick it) some years ago and it has lasted ages.

I do the potting here and this is where the plants that do not need heat will go. The Sage was given this staging by a woman whose husband has died - he had a big collection of cacti that, thank goodness, the Sage did not bring home - she found someone who does not dislike the spiky things. There are 3 sets, each 8 ft x 2 ft. The greenhouse is 10ft x 8 ft - they fit exactly. I plan to put chilli peppers in here, later.

I put seed trays of compost in the propagator to warm up, to sow in tomorrow or Friday (I'm in the shop tomorrow and I'm not yet sure if it's half or the whole day). I also sowed lettuce seeds, but didn't switch on the unit I put them in as they don't need heat. I will, later, plant some of those in the other greenhouse and some outside - I'll cut the indoor ones for the shop and when they are finished put in cucumbers; by then the outdoor ones will be ready and I'll have sown more for succession.

I've just touched my chin. It is all sugary. Heh heh. Pancakes are soooo good. Once in a while...

Woe, woe for England, not a whit for me (Richard III)*

Oh damn. I wrote a lengthy post, with pictures and everything.

And then I did too many things at once and the computer threw a wobbly.

All to do again. If I can be arsed. But you need pictures of my propagator. Don't you?

*This is entirely irrelevant and may be inaccurate as I haven't read the play since I was 15.

Tuesday 20 February 2007

Pancake Day

Oh blimey. So it is. It's really not very convenient tonight, but surely it rather goes against the spirit of the season, to have Pancake Day pancakes on the wrong day. I mean, you can have them at any time but I never do make them - I used to make savoury pancakes sometimes, but they could be cooked ahead and then rolled or layered with a filling and baked. The sort you toss and eat with lemon juice and sugar are not that much trouble really, but they involve hordes of hopeful family standing around with plates, wanting their turn with the frying pan but not at the expense of eating time.

I went to a Roman Catholic school and, as you might imagine, they were very keen on the whole Lent experience. Smearing their foreheads with ash on Ash Wednesday and keenly Giving Up *Something* for Lent. We Church of Englanders found the whole thing a bit ritualistic and bemusing (yeah, I know, as is any religion) and I've never done it. I don't see the point.

So it's with no orthodoxical anxiety that I rather wish I could get away with transferring Pancake Day to tomorrow, just a feeling that my little boys will be disappointed if they don't get their treat.

I'll tell them that if they want them they can have them, but it'll have to be early and as a first course as I'm going out at 7.15. I've made a pie that can go in the oven and they can eat after that.

I did remember to buy* the lemons.

*pick up from the shop. I do put money in the till sometimes, but I estimate.

UPDATE The Sage is in favour of procrastination

Turning like a ploughing ox

My word of the day - boustrophedon. Marvellous. It means writing alternate lines left to right and right to left, so that your pen - and your eye - doesn't have to keep darting across to the next line but simply drops down.

It looks rather like this: Today
erutcel doog yrev a ot tnew I
all about the Queen of Sheba
tuoba nwonk yllaer si gnihtoN*
her specifically, except what you read in the Bible, the Koran and in Jewish history, but the speaker put together a very interesting lecture about the history and geography of the Sheban region (more or less, modern Yemen) as well as her visit to King Solomon** and her almost mythical place in art and literature since. Nothing remains of the ancient Sheban palaces and very little of the temples or dams (they had a clever system of irrigation) but I suspect that there is a great deal of buried history that archaeologists have hardly started to find.

A couple of weeks ago I bemoaned the loss of my note book. I got a new one. And, unbelievably, I've left it behind, a calendar month after I lost the first. Fortunately, I realised at once rather than weeks later and I've phoned and they've rescued it for me.
I've never done such a thing before, I must be cracking up altogether. It's age, darlings, I'm falling apart mentally and physically.

*it is really tricky to type and to read, hence very short lines; I'm not surprised it isn't used any more.
Here's a fuller explanation
**Legend has it that some malicious types wanted to portray her as a demon and so they tricked her into revealing her hairy legs. Solomon was not deterred and in his turn he tricked her into agreeing to sleeping with him.

Monday 19 February 2007


I looked at the bedside clock last night, shortly before falling asleep. It read 00:45. When I next opened my eyes, some time after waking up, it said 02.10. The last thing I heard before falling asleep again was the milkman arriving, just after 6.

Unsurprisingly, I slept late this morning and found it hard to get up at all. Then the electricity went off. Too late, I remembered the letter received from the electricity maintenance company to say that the power would be switched off today whilst trees close to cables were cut back.

My day was entirely topsy-turvy, a perfectly acceptable state of affairs. I put on a dressing-gown (I never do this) and trotted downstairs to read the papers, then back up for a bath - the shower is electric. It was nearly 10 o'clock by the time I emerged, smooth and scented, recovered from sleeplessness.

It's been a useful day, overall. Several panes of glass in the greenhouse had been broken in the gales and we have replaced them and put back others that had slipped. I finished cutting back the tall laurel hedge and once again resolved that it must never grow so tall again - how many times must I cut the beastly thing back to stumps before it takes the hint and just dies? I started cutting Al and Dilly's privet hedge, which is about 8 feet tall, to waist height.

There's a line between informal and neglected and we had crossed it. All I can say is that in the last three years we have had two family weddings (parties held here) and two babies, our gardener has finally become too old to work and I've concentrated on vegetable growing. But there are no more excuses and I must start to pull it all back together again. Unfortunately, it's too much for us and it's hard to know what to do about it. The sort of work we need done isn't suitable for a jobbing gardener, what he'd do is what I can do myself.

Never mind. It's after 6 o'clock and time for a drink before cooking dinner.

Sunday 18 February 2007

Z looks forward to sowing seeds

It's been a quiet and fairly lazy day - which I think is a Good Thing.

The Sage and I sorted out the greenhouse staging. Two of the greenhouses have none, as plants are put straight into the soil, or in pots on the soil (this is actually the best way as it contains their roots somewhat - for early crops and not too rampant growth), but the third is where I raise all the seedlings.

It is, in fact, three 10 foot x 8 foot greenhouses end to end, with interconnecting doors. The middle greenhouse has electricity laid on, where I plug in soil-warming cables. These are buried in shallow trays - the sort you can put a growbag in - and the pots and seedtrays are laid on top, then I have a framework above, on which I drape clear polythene to keep the air warm and humid. It is makeshift and there is no temperature control - if it's hot I take off the plastic and if it's cold I leave the heat day as well as night - but it is the cheapest and easiest way to raise the number of seedlings that I do, using Economy 7 (cheap overnight rate) electricity.

The staging used to be wooden and homemade, but a few years ago the Sage found that a local business was going to throw away a lighting system, the framework of which he could see could be converted. I'll have to take a picture of this, which will be easier than a description. And recently he was able to get hold of some staging that someone had used for their greenhouse-full of cacti, so at last all our slightly rotting wooden stuff has been disposed of. Well, no. I suggested we don't break it up yet, just in case I can use it elsewhere. Blimey, I'm turning into a clone of the Sage. But, like many converts, worse, for he would have taken it apart. And used the wood as fuel, I expect. I think I remember N1gella L@wson once saying of herself, that she is extravagant but not wasteful. I rather appreciated the description.

Tonight, a simple meal. Lamb raised on our field: progeny of a few sheep, a hobby for the farmer, we don't charge him grazing rent as they keep the ground in good heart, but it's beautiful, slowly and naturally reared meat - we butchered it ourselves a while ago, as you may remember (no idea how much you take what I write to heart, I tend to remember this sort of thing once read). This is a loin of lamb, with which we'll eat roasted pumpkin, garlic, shallot and red pepper and Egyptian new potatoes. Yes, I know. Zero food miles for the lamb* and the homegrown pumpkin**, whole lots for the spuds. Then we'll have rhubarb, cooked with marmalade and topped with a flapjack*** mixture.

Tomorrow, back to a very pleasant grindstone. DV***, of course.

*There is an abattoir on the edge of the village.
**Only two pumpkins left. One butternut squash and one large Blue Hubbard. Time to cook them, tonight's was just going a little soft inside.
***I only discovered today that flapjacks are pancakes in America. Here they are flat chewy biscuits made of rolled oats, sugar, syrup and butter, melted, mixed and baked.
****DV - Deo Volente - God Willing.

Saturday 17 February 2007

Spr1ng 1s here! Spr1ng is here! Life is sk1ttles and

L1fe is beer!

No, I haven't been drinking; I'm just quoting. And today the pictures can tell the story, or most of it.

Yellow crocus

Well, I like snowdrops!

Won't be long before the daffodils on the drive are out.

When I was a little girl, wild primroses were my favourite flower. I used to pick them and arrange them in a dish of water with moss to make it look as if they were still growing, for my mother.

Another crocus

I'm a fair-weather gardener, and today was perfect

The hawthorn is coming into leaf

This is the laurel still to be cut back. From this height... this

Friday 16 February 2007

It is true! I am a Monkey!

What animal would best suit your personality?


You are the class clown. The happy, friendly member of your group of friends. You are very much a sociable person and enjoy spending time with both friends and family alike. You maintain a well balanced diet and maintain yourself regularly. People around you lighten up as soon as you walk into the room. You bring a warm glow with you that is hard to ignore. You are the Monkey!

Personality Test Results

Click Here to Take This Quiz
Brought to you by quizzes and personality tests.

Actually, when doing this quiz, I was a bit concerned lest I should turn out to be a Two-Toed Sloth.

The butt of wine jokes

Today was the first time that I've babysat both the children together. I have Squiffany regularly, but if Dilly is going out for more than an hour or two, she will probably need to feed the baby so she'd rather take him than have to hurry back. This morning, however, she had an appointment and wanted me to hold the fort for an hour or so.

It was remarkably easy. Pugsley lay on his back playing with toys for a while, then sat on my knee. Then he sat on his sister's lap while she sat on mine. We read a book (The Three Little Pigs, in French, a little to my bemusement) and tickled each other a bit.

Later, Dilly and Pugsley went out for lunch and Squiffany and I had a good day together. She demonstrated her ability to count to ten - this is a new development, she was only reliable to five last week. Dilly credits Al with their daughter's large vocabulary; he is a born teacher. When his brother was about two, ten-year-old Al taught him addition and subtraction in the conservatory, using flowerpots.

She had tomato soup, pasta, scrambled eggs and a clementine for lunch. She shared the pasta with Tilly the dog. "Here you are, Tilly, nice and warm, not too hot," she said, putting a piece on the chair next to her for me to flick on the floor.

After lunch, we went shopping. First to see Daddy, then to the chemist to buy cream to make Granny beautiful (never too late, hey) and make-up for disguise in case it didn't work. Then off to the Co-op. I'd told Squiffany that I hadn't any wine and "If I don't drink wine, what will I be able to drink?" "Whisky," she replied helpfully.

I told her father. "Will Granny need a little wine, or lots and lots?" he asked her. "Lots and lots," she confirmed. "Does Granny drink a little wine or too much?" "Too much wine" she replied predictably.

I'm getting clues here about what my family say about me behind my back. They tease, of course. I do not drink too much. Ever.

Thursday 15 February 2007

Which is Dum and which is Dee?

I was waiting at traffic lights in Norwich this afternoon when my eye was caught by two figures ahead of me, dressed in red coats. They were little old ladies, backs bent with osteoporosis and for a moment I thought they were walking hand in hand, until I realised they each held one handle of their shopping bag. Then I noticed they were wearing matching headscarves, decorated with bright flowers on a white background and that their coats were not just similar but identical. Feeling a bit spooked, I looked them up and down. Indeed, their shoes were exactly the same too.

The lights changed. I looked as I drove past, trying to see their faces, but their heads were lowered and partly obscured by their scarves, so that all I could see were similar beaky noses.

Surely they are sisters, maybe twins? I imagine them as spinsters, who have lived together all their lives, doing everything together. Now, similarly affected by crumpling bones, they support and rely on each other, so close that they even choose to dress exactly the same.

I told Al. He thinks it is rather lovely. I find it a bit creepy. Yes, comforting for them in a way, for they have never been lonely, but unsettling too and more than a little unnatural.


Is it a natural male/female divide? Or a mother/anyone else one? Or maybe it's just me.

I'm untidy. By inclination and by choice, I live in more-or-less chaos. I'd find it quite unsettling to have everything in exactly its proper place, every cushion plumped and each surface clear.

On the other hand, I have a inbuilt clutterometer that starts to sound an alarm when a certain degree of overload is reached. For example, let's say that a member if the family is doing some paperwork. I think that it's entirely reasonable to leave it out to finish the next day, even if it spreads all over the table and seeps onto the floor. A half-done jigsaw or Lego edifice was treated with similar tolerance when my children were younger. However, if it's still there weeks later, untouched, gathering dust, it's going to get cleared away - by its owner if he's there or by me if it's in my way. Naturally, if I do the clearing, however festooned it had become with grimy cobwebs, that would be the day it would be required and lamentations would assuredly follow.

Whatever housework is done around here is normally done by me. When my children lived at home they and the Sage helped, but nowadays if I don't do it it isn't likely to get done at all. The exception is the dishwasher, which is filled or emptied by whoever is around, and recently, as I've been busy, the Sage has emptied it most often.

Today, I fetched a glass and cut open a couple of oranges. "Would you like some orange juice?" I asked Ro. He said yes please, so I squeezed the juice, poured it into the glass and gave it to him. The Sage didn't want any juice, but he was by the cupboard. "Would you get me another glass, please?" He took out a pint tumbler. "Sorry, there aren't any smaller glasses."

Now, I'm not a fussy person, but that was all wrong. I couldn't put the juice of two oranges into a pint pot. I couldn't (at an appropriate time of day) have drunk wine out of it, either. I went to the cupboard, reached (no need to move them) behind the pint glasses and took out a wine glass.

To return to my question at the start. Is it a male thing or what? First, why could he not see that there were smaller glasses behind the big one? Second, and I have explained this now, when I put glasses away, I automatically group them. A front-to-back row of similar type. I am emphatically untidy, disorganised, casual, but this seems normal to me.

The Sage was impressed by my reasoning and has assured me he will follow my example in future. But I've always done it and quietly tidied up after him, for to mention it except when the moment presents itself as it did today, would be the action of a bore and a nag. And in nearly 34 years, he had never noticed.


Wednesday 14 February 2007

The Small Day

I'm at a loss to make today sound interesting.

I'd planned to work all morning, but when Dilly rang up for advice, as a bird had fallen down the chimney in Squiffany's room and was trapped in the covered-up fireplace, I was quick to leave my desk and go to help. I played with the children while the Sage and Dilly released the starling from its prison.

Some time later, after tea and more play, I went back and did a bit of work. Haircut this afternoon, followed by a meeting with the Health and Safety inspector, who was relaxed and helpful.

And that's about it.

Two more items gave me pleasure. I have been happily browsing through the Aldeburgh Festival programme, deciding which concerts to go to. I'll be going on my own I expect, but in June, so at least it'll be light and summery (well, it was last June).

And I received a cheque from the Inland Revenue. £132.94. Champagne tonight, oh yes.

If you are waiting for news of Valentine Day events, bear in mind that every day here is filled with romance and such fluffiness does not wait for a special day.

Tuesday 13 February 2007

Z approaches the evening

I spent the afternoon and evening making marmalade. Three batches, twenty-one pots. I feel quite steamy, yet tired. What a pity I don't like early nights. The thought of a lazy hour or two reading in bed sounds so good, yet never works for me. Lying uncomfortably on one side, one eye closed to keep the book in focus, or else on my back, bearing the weight of a hefty hardback in my chilly fingers - neither quite works.

Nor does going to sleep. Two hours early to bed means nervous wakefulness by 3 am. Too early to get up, but sufficiently rested to be unable to doze off again until a glance at the clock tells me it is not absurdly early to start the day. That sends me off all right. Into a heavy and dreamless slumber, until woken by Radio 4 into bleariness that lasts the whole morning.

No. I will rouse myself and enter into bright and witty conversation with my husband. Heh heh. Poor man. He's probably just winding down for the evening. He hasn't a chance...

Up with Skool Part 2

Comments from yesterday's post - "15 minute lessons? How can children learn anything if they have to stop every fifteen minutes? And how's that going to prepare them for the real world out there?"
I also think that less able pupils will be equally less able to understand interest rates as they are to understand integration and differentiation. Though I guess it will be harder for them to argue that they don't see the point of it in the former case.

I'll start by saying that I saw a half-hour presentation which précised a considerable amount of preliminary work which, at this stage, is a possible way for this school to go forward. The specific ideas he had for the planning process, which are clever and, I believe, potentially very usable, are his intellectual property and I was told them in confidence at this stage. The newspaper article I linked to yesterday is on a similar theme, but was written by a journalist not an educationalist and I haven't received specific information about what the DfES* is actually planning. However, I'll explain a bit more from what I do know and can say.

Short lessons would not and should not be given in every subject but there are some things that could be taught, not necessarily by a specialist teacher, in short bursts. And not every 15 minutes, maybe one 15 minute lesson slipped in during the day, either as a brief reminder of a longer lesson the day before or as a quick stimulating introduction to a minority subject. For example (and this is only my example, not one being actually suggested), B@dgerd@ddy said that there is a petition going the rounds to have sign language taught in every school. Now, that would be inappropriate, I think, to have on the National Curriculum, but how about 15 minutes once or twice a week for half a term, with the option of following it up if you are interested? Or, for a group of pupils who have difficulty in reading, a 15 minute reading aloud session? Maybe in pairs, taking it in turns to read to each other. Perhaps the teacher spending a few minutes reading a chapter of a really eye-opening book that is beyond the pupils' capabilities to read but not their ability to understand? It will not, of course, be possible for a whole school to keep shifting round to different rooms every few minutes, but focusing on that and ridiculing it risks ignoring real potential in an idea.

I didn't suggest teaching the minutiae of interest rates (and it was, again, my example, not the school's), the whole principle of how you can end up paying for something over and over again, which people can't understand or they wouldn't do it. How the 'easier' the payment, the longer you will keep paying it.
There is an article in todays E@stern Da1ly Pre$$, which I would link to if I could but it seems that I'll have to subscribe to their website to do so (silly buggers), saying that teenagers are building up worrying levels of debt. People in their first jobs are being granted loans from banks that would entail them paying back more than their monthly salary each month. "Most young people do not budget ... and have no idea ...good financial habits are not something that are talked about at school" said the spokesman from the C1t1zens' Adv1ce Bure@u debtl1ne (I do hope these annoying twiddles keep Google away from me here, does anyone know?).

Just because someone is not an academic high flier does not mean that he or she is not capable of learning to run their own life and understanding practicalities. But they need to be taught them. When I was young, I would not have been able to borrow more money than I could pay back. The first thing this government did was to charge fees to university students, while simultaneously taking away their grants, which caused much of the problem and is just one of the many crimes of a so-called 'Labour' administration which has spent the last ten years screwing the poor.

Dandelion also asked "What was wrong with the old education system anyway?"

Which old education system do you mean? The one when you were at school? When I was? The fact is that there are an awful lot of kids who spend 12 years in school and have nothing to show for it. If, instead of starting with a rigid curriculum to follow, you can start with a range of options that cater for the aptitude of each pupil and, as far as practicable, to tailor the education to the child. There is a good deal of it happening already, with the amount of vocational education going on. Pupils who are simply not going to get good marks in a wide range of GCSE subjects can focus on a few, and learn a trade at the same time, such as hairdressing, building or catering. They can take exams which give them GCSE-equivalent qualifications and take the core subjects too. Disaffected students can do work placements for part of the week; an 'alternative curriculum' that keeps them out of school some of the time, which can be, frankly, a benefit for everyone, but which is useful and does not simply lose them from education altogether.

And there is a lot wrong with education for more academically able children too. Back in the 1970s when comprehensive education was brought in, so much was thrown out as elitist and highbrow. The opportunity to broaden and enhance education for all children was wilfully thrown away in favour of 'dumbing down'. This hit poorer, disadvantaged but intelligent pupils and drove wealthier ones to the private and selective sector. I'm not meaning to be political here, but successive governments have each followed their own idealogical agenda in education rather than actually looked at the people - pupils and teachers - involved, and it is taking years to put right.

But it is getting better. There are possibilities and I'm hopeful about them. There are going to be blind alleys and daft ideas, but that's the way with something new. If all we look for are the things that can go wrong, we will not see the opportunities. I reiterate, the DfES must let go and trust the schools. Not dictate everything that goes on, not make it relate to league tables, let schools go the traditional way if it is working well and they do not want to have a shake-up forced upon them. Give their attention to the schools that are failing and struggling and let the others, such as mine (while we've got some bloody good staff with ideas, ideals and practical, pragmatic enthusiasm) have a go.

*Department for Education and Science

PS. I'll get back off the soapbox and back into the kitchen now. Time to make marmalade.

Monday 12 February 2007

Up with Skool

At a committee meeting a fortnight ago, we were treated to an explanation by one of the senior teachers of the preliminary planning he has been doing, regarding the way he would like the school curriculum to go in the future. It was fascinating, daunting and quite exciting (if you're the sort of person who gets excited by school curriculums. Or curricula. It seems that I am). He also told us about other educational changes likely to be in the pipeline; since the school is just coming through an entire reorganisation of its staffing structure - superbly planned and executed, I will say, it's working well - and S*ff*lk is likely to be going from a 3-tier system to a 2-tier one (changing schools at 11 rather than 9 and 13), I was, ultimately, more daunted than enthused, although it was quite a close contest.

But since then, I have become enthused again. However, HOWEVER, this all depends on how the government decides to play it.

You may have seen this in the papers last week. Skip through all the bumph about Mandarin, I have no idea where that is coming from so suddenly - the Times has given a 'teach yourself Mandarin CD' and is blathering on about it constantly. The last time they got this sort of bee in their bonnet, they pretended all their readers were writing in begging them to make the newspaper sodding tabloid so that they could make it an annoyingly titchy paper and lied IN THEIR TEETH saying that it was responding to reader pressure when it had never been mentioned before, so maybe it will be printed in Mandarin any day now and I will have to read another paper instead. Um, don't worry, I may digress but I never lose the thread, even if my listeners (or readers) are old and grey by the time I've finished - the key words (back to this article I've linked to) are 'give teachers more flexibility' and 'interest and enthuse their pupils'.

The preliminary plans he showed us were his own interpretation of a curriculum that would, ideally, cater for each pupil, whatever his or her aptitude or ability. His view is - and it is certainly one I share - that many pupils are completely turned off school in their teens, if not before. And I've said this for years - I don't blame the poor little buggers - if you are destined not to be one of life's academic achievers, you will spend many years at school feeling not good enough. Destined to fail. In your vulnerable teens, to be put in the bottom set of everything. Knowing that, however hard you tried, you would still be in the bottom set - how surprising is it that many of them play the fool or worse? How much better would it be to offer a curriculum that teaches you what you really need, whether it's understanding how interest rates can rip you off or working out the best get-out score in darts (and how many "underachievers" can do that? - lots of them) and prepares them for working life, with basic 3Rs and general knowledge, plus useful vocational training.

On the other side of the same coin, too many bright students in middle-ranking schools have little chance of reaching their full academic potential. I know about that, I went to a nice traditional girls' school where we were taught nice traditional girls' subjects and no chance of much science or languages. I went to the just-turned-comprehensive former Grammar School to take Latin and French A levels; I'd already taken English and History but that was about all they could do, except Art which I couldn't and Biology, where I'd have been the only one in the class. I was stunned by the education I could have had, and which has now almost vanished from state schools.

The plans outlined could put this right. Cater for the aptitude of each child. It could be so good. However, it is also vastly complex - it's all very well, talking about focusing on obscure subjects for a term at a time, or having 15 minute lessons, but where are the teachers? How do you timetable? Move a thousand children to a different room for 15 minutes? It all needs to be thought through.

There are a few things to watch out for. One is not to make it 'topic based'. They tried that in primary schools a few years ago. The idea was that you linked history, geography, maths, literacy, all in one lesson - yes there was some merit in the theory, but the result was that nothing was taught properly.

Another is to offer it to the schools and let them run with it. Don't dictate. If a school does not want to go that way, don't make them. Of course, there are still the areas of the core curriculum and these probably will still go in the league tables (because we have a government that thinks you make a pig put on weight by weighing it) but trust them to know their strengths and get it right.

Nothing this government has yet done gives me a great deal of hope about that, but some pretty imaginative people have managed to get the plans to the drawing board, at any rate. My school is looking to press on, to a greater or lesser degree, with its plans. I don't know what the result will be, but I still need to decide whether to become really engaged in it, or to get out while I haven't had to do any work.

Sunday 11 February 2007

The food enthusiast

"What are we having for dinner tonight?" asked Ro. "The pumpkin soup I made the other day," I told him "and a pizza. I was going to make some cheese scones, but your father and I agreed, let's make life easy and see what's in the freezer." "We're not having that cabbage then?"

There is half a small Savoy cabbage left; the other half went in the minestrone soup. "We could," I suggested without meaning it at all, "shred and deep fry the cabbage to sprinkle over the soup." "That might be nice" said the lad, keenly.

Well yes, it might be, if he's going to do it. If he thinks I am, he might be a little less than appointed.

At present, he's making himself a substantial salad sandwich for his lunch tomorrow. I am drinking wine. A pleasant pink Pinot Grigio. I am going to spend the evening reading the papers - skipping the news and heading for the articles - and mellowing nicely.

Rodding and Godding

Ooh dear. The Sage told me this morning that, coincidentally, both our and next door's drains blocked yesterday. I may not have mentioned before (for why should I?) that we are not on mains drainage, but that each house has a septic tank. Ours is a splendid large brick underground affair whilst Al and Dilly's is the smaller modern plastic sort - still buried safely out of sight, of course. They both last for some years without needing to be emptied (ours was last emptied at least 23 years ago, it digests its own contents) but occasionally the drains block, as drains do. Sometimes tree roots get into ours, which are very old. Once a poor rabbit crawled into the pipe at the further end and got stuck - that was a nasty one.

So yesterday and this morning, the Sage and a helper (a friend y'day and Al today) have been glumly struggling with the drain rods.


I am the only regular churchgoer in the family. Maybe drawing conclusions from this is simple superstition, but I rather like to think that I have a guardian with a sense of humour.

A young couple came to church today whom I didn't know; from their air of uncertainty I assumed that they were the pair whose banns of marriage are currently being read out at the services, and so it proved. I said 'hello' to them, and when the banns were being read I looked their way (seated on the organ stool, I am in front of and sideways on to the congregation). They looked so happy, and I gave them a big grin. They stayed for coffee afterwards - we serve very good coffee and it is not an ordeal - and chatted to people. I like it when this happens as churchgoers are always portrayed as such freaks. This isn't surprising when you read what some representatives of some churches say, but we're not all bigoted narrow-minded unpleasant types stuck somewhere in one of the more ignorant eras in history with a refusal to accept that another's point of view may be valid even if we don't share it. Just some self-styled Christians are. And I suspect that makes Jesus quite cross.

Saturday 10 February 2007

"One"'s Fine Day

I cannot fault British Rail! Or, at any rate, the version we have in East Anglia, which is called "One".

There is work on the line between Norwich and Diss and so the Norwich people have to be bused in. Diss is my nearest station (well, actually, it isn't quite, but the nearest is on a very slow line where you have to change at Ipswich so I don't use it). I picked up my pre-ordered ticket and spoke to the conductor as I toodled along the platform.

"This is the London train?" "This train is going to London, yes," he replied, more correctly. We grinned at each other. He was extremely handsome and a pleasure to grin at. Later, he came round to check tickets. I eyed him surreptitiously - he is a good fifteen years younger than I and I had no unwholesome thoughts. His name is Errol.

As I neared Liverpool Street, I went to the lavatory. I was rather dismayed to find a long, thin anaemic-looking turd floating in the bowl. Not that I haven't seen worse, but the next person in might think I'd done it - I could see it was a confirmed floater. Indeed, two more flushes didn't eliminate it. Fortunately, no one was waiting at the door when I left to lurch back to my seat. The train was going very fast and we arrived five minutes early.

Furthermore, the bus took less than fifteen minutes to get to Trafalgar Square, instead of the thirty-three suggested by the website.

The two painting that, for today, pleased me particularly were this and this. Neither reproduction is very clear, I'm afraid and you may have to go and see for yourself.

The monochrome one of the girl at the window - there is also a boy looking through the telescope but he is not easy to see - is beautiful and has been painted with great charm. I could spend a long time looking at it. There is a great deal of detail and I love the unassuming skill of the artist.

The children were enchanting. The cherubic one at the back looks so proud of his splendid uniform whilst the eldest has a more confident air of familiarity with his fine clothes. The little boy at the front is, regrettably, clutching a bird so hard that I'm afraid he is hurting it, but I adore his badly cut fringe that looks as if he hacked away at it himself with a penknife.

I hadn't seen El, Phil or my sister M since Christmas, and we were glad to see each other. An hour or two in the National Gallery, a good lunch and a wander round Covent Garden, then I came home. Again, the train was on time - a pity one has to remark on it when it should be unremarkable, but at least it can be said.

And dinner waiting for me. Mind you, I'd cooked all but the vegetables myself yesterday, but I was glad of the foresight.

It's my holier than thou Sunday tomorrow, to church at 7.30 to set up for the early service and then back at 10 to play the organ at 11. Have I practised? The answer, as ever, is no.

Friday 9 February 2007

Cooking and remembering

I've spent the last three hours cooking. I am making squash soup, minestrone soup, game stock, beef casserole and braised red cabbage. I also have some rhubarb awaiting inspiration and a mango that I had forgotten and which is now perfectly ripe, but if I leave much longer will be past it. I had a similar avocado, but Ro and I shared that and now I'm sitting down with some brie, oatcakes and olives. I know that eating at ones desk is a dreadful example to the little ones, but this has rarely stopped me doing anything.

I had so many vegetables to prepare that I just put a box on the floor near me for the peelings, rather than spilling bits all over the floor while repeatedly opening the compost bin. I cut the cabbage in quarters, cut out the core and chucked it in the box. Tilly keenly rescued it and crunched it up, quarter by quarter. Very healthy, no doubt, but it may be necessary to encourage her to sit in another room this evening, for her digestion may be affected.

I haven't started on the marmalade and I'm not likely to now. Not today, that is, nor tomorrow, for I am going to the Dark Metropolis. My sister, El, Phil and I are having lunch together. It may not be the highly cultural outing that I said I'd be doing, but we are meeting up at the National Gallery, so it will count. Looking at that list, I've not got far yet, but I am buying unexpected music and liking it too (cheers, BD and Julie).

Looking up old posts reminded me of this one. Since I wrote it, I have had several occasions when I've remembered someone who didn't know me, or had forgotten my name, anyway. I wonder if this means that I'm getting better or whether I had been so worried about myself that I hadn't realised how many other people are the same.

I could be improving, you know. I phoned to book my train tickets yesterday (for those of you who don't live here, pre-booked tickets are cheaper) and, as often happens now, the person at the call centre said his name when he answered the phone. He was very helpful and found me the cheapest ticket - unfortunately it was two hours earlier than I wished to leave so I decided to spring the extra tenner for the later train but, since the difference was negligible, go First Class. El cheapo fare coming home, so I'm in the usual cattle truck.

He was friendly and sensible and at the end I (of course) thanked him. "Goodbye, Jason," I added. And realised that I've done this several times recently, remembering the names of people on helplines.

Is it possible, do you think, that writing about the problem I had with names has, by making me focus, cured it?

Thursday 8 February 2007

Confession time

I've just sent this email to the PCC. There was nothing else to do.

I'm awfully sorry. I have left undone those things that I ought to have done (I draw a veil over the rest of the confession) and cannot put it right as I have lost my vital notebook.

I have written most of the minutes but I have no notes. So they are more of a draft than you usually receive.

The things that you need to check are your names - if you were not at the meeting, please tell me and I'll shift you from 'present' to 'apologies'.
Proposers and seconders - corrections appreciated.
Dates - I'd just written '4th Tuesdays except Dec.' which was limited help.
Reports - that was where I'd finished altogether so I wrote down what I'd said and ... look, I'm embarrassed enough.

Help? Please? And *usual secretary* , you are laughing at me. I can hear it from here.

love Z*

Does this sound mortified enough?

Well, it wasn't. I then sent the email without attaching the minutes. My reputation for efficiency is entirely shot and no one will ever trust me with any job ever again.

Hey, look on the bright side!

Winter came, but it didn't take its coat off

I woke to a grey day, but it started snowing not long after. It was all quite cheering and I looked forward to building a snowman with Squiffany.

But later, even as snow was falling, the trees started to drip with melting ice and it was cold and damp and cheerless. My meeting had been cancelled as the forecast was bad, so I bought Seville oranges from Al and came home to make marmalade.

Unfortunately, it has been one of those afternoons when annoying things have cropped up and have had to be dealt with and I haven't done it after all.

And I have had occasion to reprimand* my husband, who is not, at present, sagacious at all. He is very apologetic, now that the damage is done, but I don't become offended without good reason and the atmosphere is cool.

Very cold outside and the roads will be treacherous as soon as it freezes. I'd rather have had a good cheering snowfall.

*we didn't quarrel, exactly.

Wednesday 7 February 2007

Youth of Today

I was asked in a comment not long ago if I think that life is harder for young people now than it was in earlier decades. Listening to the Today Programme on Radio 4 this morning, I realised that the post I have spent some time drafting is made redundant by the superb and moving explanation, by two young lads of 15 and 16, of their life in Peckham. This takes you to Radio 4 and Today, and right now it's under 'teenagers in the area'. After tonight, I hope you will be able to find it in the 'listen again' archives for at least the next week. it's also a podcast, which I hope you can find here

These were two articulate and sensible young men talking about the difficulty of staying safe and gaining an education in their area of London today. They are disgusted about the conditions that prevail at school, where couples have sex in the school toilets, where drug pushers have more influence and power than any authority and where many youngsters join in, as to stand aside leaves you in fear for your life. One of them saw his first stabbing, blood and guts hanging out, when he was nine. He was afraid to leave his home for days. He points out that most fathers are long gone and many mothers cannot be relied on, being addicted to drugs themselves.

Afterwards, there was an interview with the director of a youth charity. He said that a great deal had been done in the last few years. Unfortunately, by locking up the drug pushers in their twenties, the teenagers had taken over - the average age of these was now nearer seventeen than twenty-seven and these kids were more ruthless and vicious than their older counterparts.

I grieve for those boys. I don't think that things have been so bad for at least a hundred years. There was, in the years between the two world wars, poverty and hardship, but anything like this was , if it existed, a small and isolated problem. Being treated harshly by an unfeeling boss or being beaten by a cruel headteacher; even unemployment, conscription, hunger, was not like this.

Even those youngsters who live in safer areas and have more money are not much better off. Those prostitutes who were murdered in Ipswich last year - they were pretty young girls, mostly from 'respectable' homes - I'm not giving a value judgement here, just saying that prostitution was not in their family background. They had, or so their families said, gone the way they had because they had become addicted to drugs. It was noticeable that, much as the reporters wanted them too, most locals, even in the local villages, were sympathetic and sad and they didn't condemn them for their lifestyle.

I became a teenager in the late 1960s, when we were all pretty relaxed about drugs. Pot and LSD were pretty well all that were available and the worst thing that could happen (pretty bad, it was agreed) was a 'bad trip'. I never took drugs and didn't even smoke - peer pressure sent me the other way and I never intended to do anything I might become addicted to. But the late 60s, early 70s, were halcyon times if you were young, in this country. Even cynics like me (no hippy, me, I didn't believe that if you love each other things would be all right. Well, correct that, they would be, but it ain't never going to happen and I thought that hippyness was sadly delusional) were pretty cheerful. It has been downhill all the way since then, for the young. Well, so I think. I do love young people*, they try really hard in spite of everything and I hate those middle aged bastards like me (not me, people of my age) who are ruining the world.

Oh damn. You can see why drafting doesn't work for me, if I didn't post this at once, I'd be back to the drawing board in the morning.

*you count as 'young people' if you are young enough to be my child, that is, 36 and under. Anything older, sorry darlings, you're my generation. You are still my generation unless you are older than my mother, who would now be 83. Or my father, who'd be 97 in July.

Talking about food, mostly

I realised that I have not eaten much today. I had the juice of two oranges and a slice of dry bread for breakfast, and at lunchtime the Sage needed me and my car to tow Al's van to the garage. Al was relieved that it made it home last night. It started to make an odd chugging sound when he was delivering a box of veg and he didn't really want to have to walk home at the end of a day on his feet. This morning he meant to take it to the garage, but it wouldn't start at all.

So the time reserved for lunch was spent pushing the van to a place it was attachable to the car and driving very slowly through Yagnub to the garage. When we reached the roundabout (only one roundabout in this town), fortunately there was no traffic for a minute so I simply turned right instead of going all the way round and risking wrapping the tow rope round the Black Dog. After this, I didn't have time to eat and just grabbed half a slice of ham and an olive.

As a result, I was hungry by 6 and made a little bowlful of olives - black with chillies and green with lemon, flavoursome cheddar cheese and a few mini oatcakes. The pleasured anticipation, as I poured a glass of red wine too, made me realise that I really haven't been giving myself enough edible treats, recently. Although delicious, it was not quite exciting enough for the degree of happiness I felt.

My book has still not turned up, but I have made a reasonable fist of the minutes and sent them to the Chairman with a confession. I hope he will be able to fill in any gaps. He is a dear man and I have tested his patience twice within a week. I feel very embarrassed. I have suggested that, either I resign and bother the Catholics or Quakers instead of the Church of England, or that he gives me a great deal of annoying work to do at once, for I will not protest. But he probably would not trust me with it any longer.

I called on Dilly and the children. Dilly was giving Pugsley some puréed pear. He mumbled it around his mouth for a while and some was returned to his chin. "I'm not sure how much he actually swallows," she said. "When he has sweet potato, he makes an awful mess and you can see how much - or little - has gone down his throat." When he had had most of it spooned in his mouth, his face crumpled and he shut his mouth. Dilly tried another spoonful, but he put his bib over his face. As soon as she put down the dish and took off his bib, he smiled again. I'm not sure that this baby will need to learn to speak.

PS. The Sage has just handed me a letter from Norfolk County Council about risks from Avian Flu. It is, I am happy to say, well written, sensible and reassuring without resorting to 'we know best' platitudes. I congratulate the writer.

It says, sensibly and realistically, keep poultry indoors if you can, but if this is impractical, keep their food and water where wild birds can't get to it. It explains that meat and eggs aren't going to spread the illness even if it is there to be spread, but wash your hands - you do wash your hands after touching raw poultry anyway, don't you (yes, obsessively). It gives relaxedly useful advice, but no threats or scaremongering.

Might the BBC learn from them? Might pigs fly?

Too much money

I've just checked my diary and have a meeting tomorrow. Marmalade making is off.

On the other hand, several inches of snow are forecast for tomorrow. The meeting might be off.

The chickens are becoming used to their new home in the greenhouse. They may be glad of it by tomorrow.

I was chatting to the WI treasurer last night. She asked my if I'd like to claim for expenses for the four polyanthus I'd taken for the table flowers. "Goodness, no," I said. "They only cost 50p each." She explained that, with the increase in subscriptions, our branch is expecting to have a £500 surplus and so they are offering people who do the food and flowers the cost of them.

I had forgotten that the subscription is imposed by Head Office. They want to have a big increase in the sum paid for affiliation to the national group and are justifying it by sending out a glossy magazine to each member - there always has been a magazine, but it has been paid for separately if you want it. I suppose that they don't want to be seen to be taking a higher percentage of the sub, so the sub has been raised enough to maintain a tactful proportion. Our expenses are not high, however, as it is, so we will probably have to spend our surplus on parties. One can resign from the National Federation and just become a friendly group, and some WIs have, but they have to hand back anything they have with the WI name, even if it was made and paid for by the group. For example, we have two tablecloths, embroidered by members, one to commemorate the 80th anniversary and the other to celebrate the different elements of Denton village life as lived by WI members. Heavy handed? Feels like it. I haven't been on the committee for years though, I only go because I see friends there, some of whom I don't see anywhere else.

I must dry my hair and put on my face, I'm playing the organ for a funeral this morning. I am still not sure what it says about me, that I've planned my own funeral already. Not that I expect it to happen any time soon. But I've chosen the hymns, the reading and the coffin. So long as I overcome diffidence and tell my family what they all are, it will be excellent.

And I gave one of the polyanthus to the treasurer, one to the friend who gave me a lift and will give one to Dilly. The other is for me.

Tuesday 6 February 2007

Even if it's freezing, it must be spring

I was driving back from Norwich when my eye was caught by an odd-shaped bird atop a bush. The sun was behind it, so I couldn't see what sort it was for a moment.

Then I realised. It was two birds and they were At It. Having It Off.

In public too. Shameless, they were.

Apparently, we will have snow on Thursday. That's all right, I'll have time to build a snowman on Thursday. I also hope I might have time to make marmalade. Al still has a couple of cratesful unopened, but he thinks that will be the last of the Seville oranges.

I haven't had much sleep the last couple of night, I've been waking up at 3 or 4 am and staying awake (worrying about that bloody notebook, isn't it stupid. It's not as if it helps). I hope WI is worth turning out for.

Monday 5 February 2007

Z asks awkward questions

It's now around 10.45 pm and I'm just sitting down with some cheese and biscuits and a dram of Scotch, having just got back from a governors' training meeting. One of the best presented and most interesting I've been to in a long time, in fact. The last one I attended, the Local Authority person presenting the session started it by saying "I hope you all know that this is no longer to explain the new system, as the Government has put back its implementation by a year." No, I hadn't known, I had done this training twice in the previous few years and it would have been nice to have been told in advance.

I amused myself by asking tricky questions, based on my in-depth knowledge of the subject. You can catch 'em out, you know.

This one was on behaviour and anti-bullying matters. There is a new Education Act, being implemented in April and he was telling us about the new jollities within.

I drove through Lowestoft. I lived in Lowestoft from the age of 3 or 4 to 32 and now can hardly find my way about the town now. New roads all over the place. It's good, actually, they haven't dealt with all the congestion caused by having a town that is cut in half by a bridge, but they have improved it considerably. However, I did find myself driving down a road I hadn't known existed. I didn't lose my bearings, so I wasn't very late...

I was bored stiff within the first three minutes. He asked for the general principles one should be considering when drawing up a school's Behavioural Policy. The usual jargon was mentioned. 'Whole-school ethos.' 'Respect, not only from pupil to teacher, but from pupil to pupil, pupil for him- or herself, teacher for pupil.' 'Work ethic' .. and all the rest. Worthy and true, but we've been there before, so many times. But, skilful instructor that we had, he spotted instantly that we'd all been there, done ...... I'll spare you the cliché. He had his Powerpoint presentation, but skimmed over whole pages - "don't need to tell you about that, it's in the hand-out. Let's talk about what it really means."

Two and a quarter hours (no one minded that it overran) well spent. I found myself asking lots of questions and stating quite a lot of opinions/facts (hey, with me, aren't they the same thing? heh heh), some of which were really quite pertinent. I also asked my nasty question, which was ducked the last time I asked it (which I mentioned).

"If a pupil has been excluded from one school and you have a place available, the Local Authority can compel you to accept him/her. However, what is the legal position if the exclusion has been for physical violence against another pupil or member of staff, and the Governing Body fears that it could happen again?" He replied that the LA can still oblige the school to take the pupil. "What if it happens again, the parent or teacher finds that there was a demonstrable risk and sues? Whose is the liability." He did a bit of sensible fudging. "So, if the Head and the Governors refuse to take the pupil, but are overruled, they are in the clear? It will be the LA that will be sued?"

He said, for a definitive answer, that it would be necessary to consult the legal department of the LA. I apologised for asking a mean question, said that my school has been well supported by the LA and they only do what the Government tells them.

My speciality is in being absolutely horrible and then being awfully nice. Wrong-foots people. I'm good cop, bad cop, all on my own.

At the end, I gave him a top-notch evaluation (we have a Sheet of Judgment to fill in), except that he didn't give out the hand-outs until the end. I said that I can see why, he doesn't want us to read rather than listen, but it means your notes are on a separate piece of paper, rather than against the item they are relevant to. I also said the room was too hot, but that was on a different evaluation.

Another full day tomorrow, a meeting all morning, shop all afternoon and Women's Institute in the evening. I'm doing the table flowers. I'm sorry to say that I will probably buy four pretty flowering pot plants, rather than spend an hour arranging flowers.

More Yagnub news

The bakery was broken into last night. They prised open a sash window at the side of the shop. They took the float and the charity box. What did they expect to find? Sticky buns?

Al supposes he'll have to take the float home out of the tills every night. He has always said that at least he doesn't need to worry about burglary, not unless the local ne'er-do-wells are anxious about their 5-a-day, but if they are after a few pounds in small change, he'll have to change his mind.

And the town has been thick with reporters*, wanting a new angle on bird flu. I was sorry for the butcher opposite - a bloke with a camera was filming his shop from just outside the window, a couple of yards away and then from the other side of the marketplace. Poor Adrian had to stand there, nowhere to hide. And his 'free-range chickens' sign in the window. I'm not sure why they are here, Halesworth, 9 miles away, is next to the turkey farm.

It was confirmed that the Ch1cken Round@bout birds (I did a link a while back, here is another one) are officially wild birds, so they will not need to be rounded up, even if poultry have to be kept indoors. If ours do, they can go in the biggest greehouse, which is about 40 feet by 14 feet and they will be fine until the weather heats up. And then we will have to think again, unless we want them to lay hard-boiled eggs.

*ooer. Natasha Kaplinsky has made a special trip Herself to Holton. And the BBC is most anxious about the Ch1cken Round@bout.
I think, am I a cynic, that a little bit of each reporter rather hopes that the outbreak hasn't been entirely contained.

Sunday 4 February 2007

Snowdrops, aconites and irises

Nothing out-of-season blooming that I can see, but it's such a delight to have the first flowers of the year in the garden.

You can click on them to enlarge - that little iris is a gorgeous colour.

Another lovely little iris.