Thursday 31 May 2007

I appreciate my optician

I'll say it again - I appreciate my optician. I wrote a few weeks ago an explanation of my eyesight that quite bewildered some of you. Today, I explained my theory to my optician, who checked my record, said 'fair enough' and gave me the trial lens that I suggested.

I am so impressed. Obviously, if she had advised me to take a different course, I'd have taken her advice, although I'd have wanted to talk it through with her. But she listened. And she took account of the fact that I know what my eyes are like.

I appreciate her, and I like her.

And is it awfully bad form of me to note that all these trial lenses give me a good month free eyesight? Contact lenses aren't cheap, you know.

Roll Up, roll up!

What a lovely day, and unexpected. The forecast said showers and it didn't even mention hot! I started with a couple of hours work in the greenhouse, which made me very hot even before 10 o'clock. However, with great cunning and foresight, I delayed a shower until after the grubbing around in earth job, so I was all neat and spruce (except for the hair of course, which is tidy on one day a month, when I've been to have it cut) when I went out.

High excitement today in Yagnub! The new Factory Shop has opened, where the old Co-op used to be. When their smart new supermarket was built, the old shop lay empty for ages - it must be a couple of years since the move. They put in a clause that new owners couldn't sell foodstuffs and it's quite a big shop to fill. It's the other end of the main street from Al, and the shops around there have noticed the difference in passing trade. It did nothing but good for him, as people who used to pop out at lunchtime for their shopping started to come to him instead, and the same after office hours - it was then that he started to be open from 8.30 - 5.30 instead of 9 - 5.

Anyway, all the locals hurried in to see what was on offer and by the time I went in there were queues of people waiting to pay. Children went trotting down the road, clutching their blue and white 'Factory Shop' balloons and sticks of rock. I accepted a flier, with highly entertaining photos of homely people wearing cheap clothes. I quite badly wanted a new and impressive alarm clock, but reflected that more than one is not really necessary, unless you are a particularly heavy sleeper. I bought nothing, tempted though I was amid the general fluster of excitement.

In the afternoon, I spent a few hours working for Al, so that he could get on with painting the shop exterior woodwork. It needed it, it must be said. Trouble is, there's only Sundays unless he closes the shop, for someone to work, so he decided to do it in bits himself. But all these pesky customers would come and bother him by handing him money!

He isn't spending as much time as he'd like with his family. I can only help on odd days during June, but I said I can keep the first two weeks in July free and he can have a holiday. The thought worries him. It's a very busy time of the year, and he thinks it might be too much for me. This is, I'm sure, simply polite consideration that is due from a loving son to his elderly and feeble mother, and I am confident that I can convince him that his concern is, though welcome, overstated.

Wednesday 30 May 2007

The Family story – part 16 – the hotel Part 2 - the upside

My mother, afterwards, declared that there hadn't been an upside. She said it was the worst job she could imagine, running a large family hotel in the 1940s and 50s. But I don't think it was all bad by any means. I think that over the years she became exhausted and, in the end, that was all she remembered.

Although it was a big hotel, they still kept a personal touch. They made a point of chatting to guests every evening and those whom they got on well with were invited to dinner on a Friday evening in their flat. Many people made return visits, year after year and they remained friends even after the hotel was sold. There were all sorts of parties - I've got a photo, one of very few from those days, of my mother, sprawled in a pile with several others on the floor, dressed in a strapless evening dress and laughing.

My sister was born in April of the year after they were married and a nursemaid was employed to look after her during the busy summer season. This was one advantage of 'living over the shop', for Mummy could pop upstairs to the flat to feed the baby and play with her at less busy moments. She always made sure she put her to bed and read her stories every night. My sister remembers the hotel much more than I do. She used to go to the children's parties that were held and made friends with some of the children.

The nursemaid's name was Violet and she had a little boy. Unusually for those days, she and her partner were not married - I suppose one of them was waiting for a divorce, because the day came for their wedding. Afterwards, she showed my parents the photos, including one of the little boy clutching a poster saying "Happy Wedding Day, Mummy and Daddy". This lack of embarrassment was unusual in the late 40s!

My father drove a motor bike and one day my mother had a go. She always said that co-ordination wasn't her strong point - she had never been able to play a wind instrument, as she couldn't move her fingers and breathe in as well as out, all at the same time! So it was decided that she shouldn't be let loose on the road, but have a go in the ballroom. She was given careful instruction on how to twist the handlebars to control the speed. She shot straight into a large pile of chairs at the far end of the room...safer in her car, it was decided.

My father's father did not have good health by this time. As soon as Malcolm and Jane got married, he signed over all his possessions to Malcolm, to save death duties. He had to live for seven years to escape them. The dearest wish of his son and daughter-in-law was to sell the hotel and move back home to Oulton Broad to look after him. He used, they found later, to check with his solicitor how long he had to hang on, to save his son's inheritance. He did live that long, indeed, and a few weeks later he died of a heart attack. My mother remembered Malcolm receiving the phone call and his silence afterwards. He put on a black tie in mourning, and never wore a coloured one again.

I was born in 1953. I missed the Coronation, but I was present at the celebrations, although I couldn't see a thing, which was a bit frustrating. My father's cousin was married to the Lord Mayor of London and they were invited to a couple of grand dinners. My mother hired an evening gown - I'm sure that she told me it cost £25 to hire, which is incredible for 1953. Whatever must it have been like? She was one of these people who doesn't change shape in pregnancy and never needed maternity clothes. She was, in fact, sick through both her pregnancies, constantly, and ended up a lot thinner after the birth than she had been before she'd been pregnant. This had no effect on the babies, my sister weighed 8.5 pounds and I was a stalwart 9 pounder, and long with it. The midwife confidently predicted I'd grow up to be a 6-footer. It didn't happen. I didn't quite make 5 foot 3...

When I was born, their marriage was going through a bit of a difficult patch. I think they had been working too hard for too long, with few holidays and no money for most of the time. They had been so poor that, for example, they could not afford toothpaste and cleaned their teeth with salt. My mother did buy furniture at local auctions - Victorian furniture was deeply unpopular at the time, and she used to put down £5 a week for flowers, pick the flowers from the gardens and save the money. Neither of them drew a salary. My mother adored me and said that I'd meant everything to her at that time.

It was temporary - not her love, the marital blip - and in any case, there was at last some interest in the hotel. Fred P0nt1n, who was starting up his chain of holiday camps, came to have a look round and made an offer. He suggested, instead of paying the full price, giving part of it in shares in his company, but my parents, seeing his overweight and wheezy frame, decided it wasn't a good bet and declined. P0nt1ns went from strength to strength and Fred himself outlived my father - not the luckiest decision, financially speaking, that they ever made. In fact, neither was the deal. Seaside holidays were taking off in the mid-fifties and they received other, better offers for the hotel. Not that my father would contemplate them - he'd shaken hands and a gentleman's word was his bond.

Tuesday 29 May 2007

Anticipatory Cheeriness

I felt a little glum. You could tell, couldn't you. I have taken myself in hand and booked a train ticket to London for the day - you know I said, ages ago, that I always intend to come up for minor yet highly cultural jollities, but I rarely get around to it. I have found a chink in the diary on 11th June.

What fun I will have.

I don't know what I'll be doing yet. I'll probably go the Surrealism exhibition at the V&A and shudder at the disturbing fur cup and saucer, and I am sure to walk a lot. But I have no plans.

Last time I looked on the train company booking website, I found there was a fee to book online, so I didn't and, having found the trains and prices I wanted, I phoned instead. Now it's a new system and there's no charge. How sensible.

That reminds me, when the Sage came back from the surgery, he said that there is a new checking-in system, with a touch-screen. First you put in whether you are male or female, then enter your date of birth. Then it tells you who you are (how useful! I always wondered) and lets the doctor or, in this case the nurse, know you've arrived.

You still have to watch the screen high on the wall to know when it's your turn, though. There are no announcements. I wonder how you manage if you can't see. Or can't read. Or are really unobservant. None of these problems applies to the Sage, so it may be some time before I find out.

Z is affected by the weather

It's cold, it's raining, my eyes hurt (I don't get sneezy hayfever, I get dry and prickly eyes and blocked ears with gentle tinnitus. No, I don't see any pollen wafting about in the rain either, but my eyes and ears never hurt except at this time of the year) and I'm spending a couple of hours on my most boring job, which is the rota for readings, coffee-making etc at church services for the next three months. This is the dreariest quarter of all to do, because anyone with children or who works at a school doesn't want to do any job during August and so I have to land it on the others. In practice, I put myself down most weeks.

The baby bluetits are very noisy in their nest above me and their parents are working hard to feed them. They are most entertaining, scooting along the fence with a beakful of caterpillars before flying up to the eaves.

The Sage saw two rabbits in the kitchen garden, nibbling beans and peas. They will not live long if they do that, I'm sorry to say.

Although it is cold, the weeds are growing visibly. I leave weeds to grow, mostly. I am unperturbed, nowadays, by nettles, docks and ground elder and call our patch a 'wildlife garden'. The kitchen garden can't be left to its own devices, however, and there is a nasty infestation of thistles in the asparagus bed, which will have to be dealt with again before long. The grass down the drive needs to be mown now that the daffodils have died down. I'd intended to scythe it, but not in this weather, and before long it will be too tough for scything and have to be strimmed.

The Sage has dutifully trotted along to the doctor for his annual blood test. I make sure I'm tested for nothing as, frankly, I don't want to know, but he is officially Old (and will be a year older next month) and so, rightly, he gets checked and takes the consequent tablets. He is, generally speaking, in Fighting Trim, however as he has excellent genes and I look after him with Tenderness and Care.

I am completely bereft of willpower to work. I shall curl up with early Louis Armstrong and a book and, probably, take a siesta.

BD's tag

This is what Badgerdaddy told me to do

1. Add a direct link to your post below the name of the person who tagged you. Include the city/state and country you’re in.

Nicole (Sydney, Australia)
velverse (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia)
LB (San Giovanni in Marignano, Italy)
Selba (Jakarta, Indonesia)
Olivia (London, England)
ML (Utah, USA)
Lotus (Toronto, Canada)
tanabata (Saitama, Japan)
Andi (Dallas [ish], Texas, United States)
Todd (Louisville, Kentucky, United States)
miss kendra (los angeles, california, u.s.a)
Jiggs Casey (Berkeley, CA, USA! USA! USA!)
Tits McGee (New England, USA)
Kat (Ontario, Canada)
badgerdaddy (Ludlow, Shropshire, England)
Z (South of Norwich, Norfolk, England)

Badgerdaddy linked to everyone, but I don't have time right now to do 15 links, so I've linked to his post and we can all ride on his manly back.

2. List out your top 5 favourite places to eat at your location.

As he pointed out, I live in a small place. And, as I mentioned, I don't get out much. However, for what it's worth, here's where I've been recently.

1. Earsham Street Café, Yagnub. I was there last week and ate a slice of good homemade cake. Coffee and walnut, I think. I also pop in for lunch sometimes if I feel a bit self-indulgent. Then, I'd probably have a salad with chicken liver or scallops and bacon, or crab and pea risotto.
They serve really good, interesting food with local and seasonal ingredients. Steve and Rebecca opened it some years ago and decided from the start not to overreach themselves and risk losing their own personal touch. So it's open for coffee, lunch and tea every day, but only for dinner one weekend of each month. However, they also do outside catering, whether for a dinner party or a big bash, and you can book the whole place for your own party. We did that on the evening of El and Phil's wedding day for a family party (their big hoo-ha was the next day and we did the food) and it was friendly and fun and delicious. Steve and Rebecca are expecting their second child in July and are wondering why they thought this was a good idea, at their busiest time of year.

2. Buttercross Cafe, Bungay. A traditional greasy spoon, but a good one. This is where the Sage will drop in for a meal, often shepherd's pie. It's just round the corner from Al's shop, so we also go in for a sausage or bacon roll (I mean a bread roll rather than a pastry one) to take away. They do fry-ups, home-made quiches and pies, traditional roasts, salads, with good ingredients and they don't overcook the veg.

3. Earsham Hall Tearoom. I was taken here on Sunday by a gentleman friend. Earsham Hall is the splendid 18th century site of the Earsham Hall Pine showrooms and workshops. The showrooms are great, and you can wander around for ages looking at the range of furniture and stuff they do, including kitchens and the like, but also small gifty sort of things. For the past few years, they have also used the house for functions, such as weddings. Our friends (he being the one I lunched with on Sunday) held their 40th wedding anniversary party there earlier this year. The aforementioned Earsham St Café did the food and it was all elegant and gracious, and highly enjoyable.
On Sunday, I had a roasted pepper and feta cheese tart with salad.

4. Queen's Head, Bramfield, Suffolk. This is about 20 minutes drive from us, between Halesworth and the A12 (turn off just past the Lowestoft side of Darsham and meander for three or four miles). We haven't been there for a while, but often used to drop in, in the days when we had time for this sort of jollity. They specialised in local rare breed meat and other local ingredients before it became fashionable and the food is always good. We often used to go there for Sunday lunch. Maybe it's about time to start again.

5. St Benedicts Restaurant, Norwich. We take our N@DF@S lecturers there for lunch as it's just round the corner from the theatre. The food is delicious, interesting without being tricksy and the staff are lovely. We usually have the set lunch menu, which gives about 3 choices and is very good value, but I've not been there in the evening to eat à la carte because, as I said, we don't go out much.

Not at all local, but I'll also mention 2, Fore Street, Mousehole, which only opened in April. I went there a week or so later and had the best scallops I've ever eaten. Served on the shell (and still attached), with butter, garlic and red chilli, it was simple and delicious. My friend Judy had eaten the same dish a couple of days before. "They didn't bring bread though," she said. "It was a shame to waste those lovely juices." "I picked up the shells and slurped them," I said, a bit dismayed at the thought that I'd brought my oikish East Angular ways to Classy Cornwall.

I should tag 5 people. I know some people have done this already, any offers? Please?

Monday 28 May 2007

Z babysits

Dilly and Al are having a rare evening out. They had meant to go to the cinema, but they know they'd only sleep through the film, so they are going out for a meal instead.

In a few weeks, they are going to a George Michael concert at Carrow Road in Norwich. Dilly's choice. Al is truly demonstrating his love. He never listens to music in any case, but if he did, I don't think GM would be his gig of choice. It will be interesting to see how long it takes me to get Pugsley to sleep without his night-time feed of mother's milk. Like all of my children, he rejects a bottle.

I've done nothing today. The excuse was the rain (Al and family went to Cromer and walked resolutely down the prom, dressed in sou'westers and wellies), but I did no more than some necessary greenhouse stuff and a visit to the local supermarket. Oh, and I picked a lettuce.

Sorry to be boring. I'm going to eat sausage and mash and then, armed with a bottle of wine and a book, go next door to do Granny-duty.

Granny-pleasure is when the children are awake, of course.

Games should be played for fun

"The truth is that a sedentary, middle-aged office worker who watches Wimbledon from his sofa with a glass of red wine in his hand is less likely to need the attentions of an orthopaedic surgeon, a sports doctor or a cardiologist than is the keen athlete who plays a devastating game of tennis once or twice a week." I feel vindicated

Everyone I know, of about my age or younger, who has dodgy knees, an arthritic hip or shoulder or severe muscular damage is or has been a keen sportsman (I do not consider this word gender specific). I'm not, of course, including people with a chronic illness or who have been in bad accidents. One friend of my age, for instance, has had an operation on her elbow already and she's just told me that she's now awaiting one to reattach her left bicep (skiing) and her surgeon has told her that she has distinct signs of arthritis in her shoulder. She was a keen competitive squash player, among other sports, and always pushes herself to her limit.

I have several friends who damaged their Achilles tendons or their knee cartilege, and every one of them had been playing sports at the time.

I'm not against sport or exercise, of course, but I am not at all sure about the wisdom of pushing yourself or your children too hard, particularly in competition. I had one dear friend who used to jog hard once a week, and he worried me. I told him, frankly, that he was too old for it (this was when he was in his late fifties) - that either he should run more gently several times a week, or that he should walk briskly instead. I was devastated to be proved right when he dropped dead, jogging, at the age of 62.

The local gym is less than two miles from my village. The number of people I know who drive there rather than walk. Who never really walk anywhere, even if it's feasible, who take the lift or the escalator, and then solemnly monitor the exercise they take in the formality of a gym.

I should move about more, perhaps - if given the chance, I'm bone idle. But, though I enjoy a game of tennis (haven't played for ages, mind you), on the whole I prefer exercise to be useful. I'll go for a walk through lovely scenery or to get somewhere, but doing it just for the sake of the exercise doesn't come naturally to me. I lift 40 pound boxes of bananas and 25 kilo sacks of potatoes, but I wouldn't dream of weight training.

I'm no role model at all, I'm podgy and unfit and, as I said, very lazy too. On the other hand, I have never injured myself (except when unwisely crawling through Squiffany's play tunnel, learned my lesson there) and I can still touch my toes (yes, without bending my knees, what do you mean am I sitting down at the time?) I think a lifetime of dedicated inaction might serve me well in my old age.

Sunday 27 May 2007

Z delegates and is sitting still

I said yesterday that I wasn't complaining, but now I look again, I certainly came very close to it. I didn't intend to sound martyrish, and I apologise. I was very tired, however. Today, I took a break.

It was the informal church service where I play the clarinet instead of the organ. I hadn't got around to transposing the music, so had to do it in my head (only up by one tone, which is do-able). Until I looked at the third and fourth hymns. They were both in A major (3 sharps) which would transpose to B major (5 sharps). Eek. On the piano, yes, but not on the clarinet, not in my head. The charming guitar players who were playing with me offered to transpose down instead. Having practised, they went off for coffee. One asked if I'd like one brought the length of the church to me, rather than fetching it myself. He meant it, he wasn't being sarcastic. I said yes please. Then Dave the Fellow* came to ask me something and I fished out the new battery I'd remembered to buy(!) and to bring(!!) and bossily asked him to put it in the radio mic.

Ooh, both cheeky and bossy, not the side of me that I really wish to display in public. Fabulous coffee, by the way, good and strong without quite hurting.

Then I spent the next several minutes practising a tricky bit - D sharp, B, C sharp, D sharp. I hardly play the clarinet any more, I know I've said I'm going to take lessons again but it hasn't happened yet.

Afterwards, a friend (not the same one whom I went with to Kew, I have a few gentlemen friends) asked if I'd like to go out with him to lunch. It was just exactly what I would like, and so I've relaxed ever since.

It's a good thing that I have reached the age of the Invisible Old Bag** and so I can do this sort of thing, for I like the company of my men friends and am glad that it doesn't excite either gossip or inappropriate suggestions.***

I've got two memes to write and a whole lot of work to do, but not today. I'll cook dinner and read the papers and that'll be it. It's raining, anyway. Every reason to slump.

*Fellow churchwarden
**I know, darlings, I'm still gorgeous really and I'm not asking for reassurance
***and if you believe that...

Saturday 26 May 2007

Z doesn't grumble!!(!)

I worked in the greenhouse for an hour and then went to the shop at 7.30. 6 hours later I crawled home. Al, however, will be working until 6 o'clock tonight, so I am not going to grumble.

The new shop layout is working well, but poor Eileen was taken aback when she arrived to find everything in a different place. Lots of prices have changed too, most of them down. We shouldn't both have been in the shop this morning, but Sarah rang in yesterday afternoon to say she wasn't well. Three people are needed on a Saturday morning, and particularly a Bank Holiday weekend.

It had started raining by the time I arrived home, so I hurriedly took in the washing. I cooked eggs and ate them in front of the computer, reading and replying to emails. I ate a square of chocolate and drank a glass of wine. I want to do nothing but relax this afternoon, but I have lots to do in the greenhouse still, the kitchen is chaotic and I have flower arrangements to dismantle and replace in the church.

The Sage announced yesterday evening (and only when I asked him if he had plans for the day) that he had decided to drive up to his old school in Derbyshire, where they're having an Old Boys' reunion. He hadn't booked in, but hey, they can always squeeze in one more for lunch... He'll have taken his Old Boys' blazer, which is gaudily striped and which he can still fit into, after several decades.

My school in Lowestoft closed down a year after I left and there is no society to belong to. One schoolfriend is a regular customer and came in today. In the course of conversation (and I can't remember the context) she announced to a shopful that I'd always been barking mad. I hadn't realised that, I thought it had come upon me gradually over the years.

Now, what shall I do next? Garden, clean, flowers, read the paper, have a nap?

What do you think I'll do?

Update at 8.20

Hands up who said 'she'll work her arse off for the next five hours"?

Hm. So you're all wrong then. For that's just what I did do. Now, I await the imminent return of my man, when he will be greeted with the aroma of Spag Bol. With home-grown lettuce, new season broad beans and peas (lovingly shelled by the Fair Hand of Z) and a glass of wine. Or two.

Until then I will sit and listen to Thelonious Monk. For he seems to fit the mood. As could Isaac Hayes. But tonight, my mouse clicked on the Monk.

PS - When I arrived home again at 7, I discovered Ro cleaning up the kitchen. Unasked. Oh, thank you Ro. It's the 'unasked' that warms the cockles.

Friday 25 May 2007


went to

and saw lots of

I took most pictures of

so here's a little quiz for you. Please identify the trees by their bark.










Extra Quality Bonus points to anyone who can recognise them just from the pictures, but I think some of them are quite hard, so I'll put up the names later for you to match them up. Some pictures are of tropical trees. Some are of trees that were planted when the gardens were first established in 1759 - I think there are three of these, f,g & h

Later - answers, not in order, but I've put in the Latin name if I know it

a bamboo (don't know variety)
b banyan (ficus benghalensis)
c silver birch (betula candida)
d Japanese banana (inedible, apparently)
e pond cypress (taxodium ascendens 'nutans')
f locust tree (robinia pseudoacacia)
g maidenhair tree (gingko biloba)
h pagoda tree (sophora japonica)
i ebony (diospyrus ebenum)
j spindle palm (Hyophorbe verschaffeltii)

Thursday 24 May 2007

Thirty-four today!!(!)

On 24th May, 1973, I didn't think ahead to an anniversary when I'd be 53 and the Sage (though he was simply the Sprout then) would be, gosh, well, we don't talk much about that. However, I never doubted that we'd get there.

And we have.

So what did I do? I went out for a jolly, of course. I didn't take the Sage, but I did take Another Man, Darling Friend S.

When I arrived home, steak was sizzling and champagne was cooling. And, would you believe it (for I hardly did), a present was on my desk from lovely Stegbeetle. I've written, of course, but thank you Steg - I'll enjoy listening to it so much.

I got up when I woke, at 5.30. Now, I know you hard-working types ... er ... Boy, anyway ... think that this is half way through the day, but I am not accustomed to hanging out my washing at twenty past six in the morning, and I am a little sleepy and more than a little drunk. So the little Q Quiz I might have for you on my camera must wait until tomorrow.


Wednesday 23 May 2007

Z's day

The study was created from a little ante-room off a passageway, opposite the dining room, which used to contain cupboards for china, plus a small lean-to conservatory/back porch. Small birds can get into the roof space, and I often hear them scratching away. At present, there is at least one nest of bluetits, and I hear them cheeping all day. It's one of life's small pleasures.

On the other hand, when I went outside this morning, I was sorry to find a young fledgling thrush dead outside the porch. It must have misjudged and crashed into the window.

By the time Al left the house at 7.30, I was ready for some company, so joined him at the shop for an hour. The first customer arrived at 8, so it's just as well he was early. There is such a demand for plants that I decided to sell some of the ones I'd reserved for ourselves - I think 12 sweet and 22 hot pepper plants is more than enough, to be honest (4 each of 7 varieties and 6 of another, which doesn't seem to be popular, being a milder chilli).

After lunch, with which I drank a glass of wine with soporific intent (works better than lettuce, I find), I went and potted up chilli plants in a very hot greenhouse. After an hour of this, I was able to fall asleep with no trouble. I lay back in Tilly's armchair in the study, put my feet on the piano stool I use to sit at the computer and slept for an hour and a half.

I have a churchwardens' meeting tonight. The Rector is hosting it at the Rectory, which is very hospitable of her, and which means I don't need to spend half an hour setting it up. I will go and buy more cucumber seeds (I was able to save 3 plants, but haven't got around to sowing any more yet) and then spend another hour or two in the garden.

As soon as I've finished my tea and cake.

Wide-eyed and staring

I've lost the knack of sleeping. I've been waking around half past five or six for a while and since I'm rarely asleep before midnight and often up much later, it's not quite enough. This morning, I woke at half past three. It was quite pleasant, watching the sky lighten and hearing the dawn chorus from the start - a pheasant was the first bird to wake - but I've had less than three hours sleep and I love to sleep.

I've eaten breakfast, tidied up a bit and I suppose there's no reason not to paint on a cheerful face and start the day.

Tuesday 22 May 2007


Al's shop gets busier all the time. This morning, we found it hard to put the new stock on the shelves, there were so many customers. Working conditions are still a bit awkward, as we're continuing to rearrange things and we're just glad that Eileen is still on holiday - she hates anything being out of order and it'll be enough shock to her to find everything in a different place and if it's untidy too, she'll be quite distressed.

I'd been going to stay all day to give Al an afternoon off, but he decided he'd rather stay, so I babysat Pugsley instead. This turned out to be an easy and enjoyable job. He happily sat in his pushchair watching me scythe long grass and then, when it became too hot (what a glorious day), we went and sat on the lawn in his garden. He ate a biscuit, showed me how well he can clap and posted shapes in his shape-sorter (he knows the blocks go through the holes, but getting the shape to match the hole is a bit random).

I thought it was time to change his nappy, so fetched a new one and took the old one off. He lay back gazing at the little weeping tree that shaded us and a huge grin spread over his face. The remains of his chickenpox spots have left his skin dry and a little sore, and it must have felt so good. I spread the nappy (a cloth one) under him (he was on a blanket I didn't really want to get wet) and he lay there cheerfully chatting to me for the next half hour, until his mother and sister arrived home.

I don't think I'll be needed tomorrow, so I'm planning to do some pleasurable gardening. On Thursday, I'll be at Kew. No Chelsea for me this year - I used to go for many years, but it's so crowded and so hyped I haven't been for a while. The last few times I did go, I arrived mid-afternoon. Much more pleasant. Noontime at Chelsea is intolerable to someone who finds it hard to breathe in a crowd.

Time for me to water the greenhouse. Ro is going to babysit and Al and Dilly are going to bunch asparagus, as there's no time during the day. Dilly offered to go, as it'll be her only opportunity to spend some time with her husband, and they are going to the pub afterwards. The Sage is also going to the shop, to put up shelving to display the honey.

I might potter gently in the garden after watering. It's a lovely, tranquil evening.

Monday 21 May 2007

Krakow - pictures 6 - finis

The Barbican was at one end of our square. It contains the remnants of the city wall, although it's so carefully restored that you don't get any feeling of age about it.

St Florian's gate led from the barbican to the basilica and the main square and cloth hall.

I can't remember what battle this dramatic scene commemorated - it was in the middle of the square

And the church was at the far end (I might remember the saint it's dedicated to at some point),

opposite our hotel.

Just down the road, and past the Pearl Jam poster, was a startlingly modern shopping precinct. I bought chocolate there, and presents for the babies. Funnily enough, I saw no places to buy children's clothes and toys - I found a chemist that had a small toy section.

Most of Poland is given over to agriculture - a poor photo taken from the coach on the way to the airport.

It was raining when we arrived at Luton Airport. I didn't take a picture.

Sunday 20 May 2007

Krakow - pictures 5 - the opera

On our last evening, we went to the opera. It was a Polish opera called 'The H@unted M@n0r' by Stanislaw M0n1uskzk0 and it was splendid. We all enjoyed it immensely, although I was quite glad to have seen a synopsis of the rather complicated plot.

The cast was very good, and vast. Photographs weren't allowed during the opera, which was fair enough, but I touristly snapped the theatre itself. The size of the cast was really rather impressive, especially when some fabulous dancers came on at the end - including the 30-strong orchestra, there must have been 100 people giving their all for my entertainment.

Apart from the stalls, all the seating was in boxes, which was immensely cool. If I lived there, I would have a season ticket. Wine was included, brought to your box in the interval. It was all wonderful.

Afterwards, we all started to walk back to the hotel until some friends called to me that they were going to have a drink - would I care to join them? The alacrity with which I exclaimed "yes!!(!)" and shot forward will, I fear, cloud my third (and last) year as chairman of the society.

My reputation is ruined.*

*heh heh, you know me too well. You know I really mean 'enhanced'...

The Street Market

My local town holds three street markets a year. The May one is for plants, there's one in the summer for antiques (well...muck'n'tat 'n' stuff) and a Christmas market. One of the main streets is closed off for the day. It always goes really well, especially if the weather is good, and today it certainly was. The sun shone warmly all day, but there was enough freshness in the breeze for it not to be stifling.

Not that I had time to enjoy it - though I did have a splendid bacon roll from the local butcher and caterer, who can always be relied upon for tasty food.

Not good photos, but I was in a hurry. A jazz band, lots of stalls and a queue for icecream

Al had decided to give the shop its spring clean. I happened to be up at 5.15 this morning, so I went in at 8 for a couple of hours to help.

The reason I was up at 5.15 is that the Sage snored. He rarely snores, and if he does, I kick him (as gently as possible, of course). But this snoring was extraordinary. He started gently and quietly and crescendoed to the sound of a car revving. Honestly, just like - vroom, vroom. Having the car in neutral and putting your foot on the accelerator. He's never done it before and it was too interesting to stop. But after a few minutes, I knew I wouldn't sleep again this Sunday, so I got up and make a nice breakfast of toast, butter, pineapple and ginger jam and Lady Grey tea (I only really like poncy teas).

I left Al at 10 o''clock to go to church. I was making coffee, so I bought milk & biscuits. When I arrived, I remembered I should have done the flowers yesterday. Bum! Ah, joy!! The flowers from the wedding last week were in pretty good nick, and how nice of the family to have left them. I watered, deadheaded, judiciously refilled from one container to another and no one knew I'd forgotten the job.

I made a cafetiereful of coffee and ate a biscuit. Now, this turned out to be a good move, because a nice young couple turned up to hear their marriage banns being read, and I was able to demonstrate how welcoming and unstuffy we are by giving them coffee and assuring them it was fine to take it into the pew. I was startled to be greeted by name by a chap I didn't know - fortunately, I later worked out that he and his wife (whom I also didn't recognise) had moved away about 12 years ago and have just come back to the next village. I greeted them by name after the service and remembered their daughters' names too, which is not bad going for an old girl.

I'd finished by 1 o'clock (3 hours in church, no wonder life is so good to me, God thinks I need a treat after that) and went straight back to Al, on the way taking the photos above. He had been (considering he wasn't open for the purpose of greengrocery) amazingly busy. He had plants to sell, surplus peppers, aubergines and courgettes, as well as the usual herbs etc, but sold lots of fruit & veg too. I should think he took at least £300. The last customers came at 5.40. They were a couple just on their way home from Jersey, who were happy to find a shop open, and a man who bought 100g of mushrooms (he put a couple of handfuls in a bag and that was the exact weight). We were not finished however, and I left at 20 past 6, abandoning Al to the final clearing up.

I poured a half litre of St Peter's Brewery Organic Ale. I quaffed a quarter of it thirstily and went to greet Dilly and the children, who were blowing bubbles on the tennis court. Al arrived home, looking knackered. I passed my beer to him and went to find another bottle.

I've finished that. Now I'm on Sauvignon Blanc. I asked Ro to cook dinner. He has put a pizza in the oven. Al has come through to say they are ordering a Thai takeaway. I've said I'll be ready for that after the pizza. Joy.

Al had queues too

And unsuspectingly happy to be photographed customers. Sorry, I should have said you were to be immortalised on the internet, on Z's internationally read blog. Thank you, and if you want to be taken down, do tell me, but I think you were lovely and I'd like to keep you here if I may.

While I'm about it, I'd also like to thank the lovely lady who thought I was Al's wife not his mum.

Krakow - pictures 4

I hoped that, when I enlarged it, the bugle player would show up, but you can't really see him. However, trust me, he's there. The open window, right below the elaborate spire. As soon as the clock has chimed the hour, he opens the window, plays a jolly tune, waves, closes it, opens the next-but-one window, plays the same tune and repeats until he has covered all four directions. This happens round the clock and is, apparently, in commemoration of a buglar who saved the city from invasion many centuries ago by sounding the alarm.

Nowadays, two buglars climb the tower and stay there for 24 hours - it's a long way up and, I suppose, that's better for them than more frequent changes of watch.

The main square is enormous but is divided by the Cloth Hall. Which had some repair work going on around it.

Scaffolding all over the place, but it's repair and not replacement - although there is new building outside the old part of the city.

The university courtyard.

Another hourly ceremony. Ro asked why I didn't film it rather than take a lot of still pictures. Good question.

The city used to be surrounded by a city wall and moat, but when this fell into disrepair and stagnation, it was decided to replace it with a green belt around the city centre. It's a pity that virtually none of the wall was kept, but what a good idea, to keep a band of cool greenery safe from development.

It was also useful for helping you in keeping your bearings...