Saturday 30 June 2007

z has a question

Does any of you know the going rate of pay for an under-sixteen shop assistant? Obviously, not covered by the minimum wage, but Al has plucked a figure out of the air and would be glad to know if he's about right.

Update - Al is happy to discover that, if anything, he's slightly overpaying. Since it's still less than he'd pay an over-22-year-old, and what he paid previously (which is more than minimum wage), this seems win/win.

Z is perturbed

Today, again, I have had little to do. And I have been bored. I have checked for new emails and replied to them at once. I have emptied the dishwasher and refilled it. I have done the washing...I drew the line at ironing, I was not that bored. I have read the papers. I have read the news online. I have read blogs, and rechecked to see if new comments had been added. I have picked vegetables and taken them to the shop to be sold. I have hung around in the shop to chat to customers. I have returned to the shop to restock the shelves. I have been to the church, to practise hymns for tomorrow.

It's a bit worrying. Usually, I welcome idleness. I lounge around, satisfied. I indulge myself in lazy frivolity. I relax.

So, what's happened? Have I suddenly discovered a work ethic? Energy? A compulsion to keep busy? Surely not. I'm a little old to change my skin, or even my spots.

Tomorrow morning, I'll be rather busier than I want to be, and yet I know I will cope. I'll go out in the afternoon, but I'll be in company so I won't be bored by myself.

Normally, I'm slightly busier than I want to be. I have, in the past, longed for August when the appointments dry up and I can wind down for a while. In the last few years, I haven't even had that though - two family wedding parties here in successive Augusts took a lot of work, although they were a huge pleasure of course. Maybe it's a lack of worry? I'm so tranquil that I don't need to wind down?

I'm alarmed to think that this might be so. Don't, dear hearts, let me take on something else. I want to give up things, not add to them. Remind me to stop, if I sound keen, and lie down until the feeling goes away. I recognise the signs, and I don't want to do it.

Z is sociable, and remembers the time when she Listened to Gossip

I have, remarkably, a highly sociable few days coming up. Tomorrow we are going here with 'Delightful Next Village' Gardening Club and on Tuesday evening we are visiting this nursery at Attleborough, with the 'DNV' WI. These are fabulous roses and we've always bought from him.

Years ago - oh, nearly twenty years, it was when my mother had just come to live next door - we drove over there to choose climbing roses to go over her garden fence. We had a lovely hour or two looking round the nursery and choosing plants and then got back in her car to go home.

As we drove along, she offered to tell me a Great Secret. Keenly - for it was obviously a good one - I promised that the word would be Mum. She told me that her best friend had told her that, while walking the dogs, she had spotted two people kissing each other passionately the other side of the hedge. These were two well-known locals, both married to other people, he with a slightly roving pair of hands but no known reputation, the other squeaky clean and both Pillars of the Community.

I 'oohed' and 'aahed' in a most satisfactory way, and we were having a lovely time dishing the dirt, when we noticed a couple of policemen waving at us. Well, hello! But no, one of them had a speed gun in his hand.

One one side of the road was a hedge and on the other, set well back, was a row of council houses with their own slip road. There were, however, street lights. Mummy rolled down the window. "Was I driving too fast?" she asked anxiously. "I'm afraid you were," answered the policeman. She looked stricken and explained. "I'm so sorry. We don't live here and we've just been shopping at PB roses, and we've been having such a nice chat and I'm afraid I didn't realise we were still in the village. Is it a 30 limit? How fast was I going?"

"It is, and I'm afraid that you were driving at nearly 40 mph." We both apologised again and Mummy steeled herself for her first ever driving ticket. "You won't ever do that again," added the policeman, "will you?" "No, I never will," she said humbly.

He straightened up. We glanced sidelong at each other, not sure what to say. Were we to wait? We waited. Nothing happened. "Er, thank you," said my mother. "Er, goodbye." "Goodbye, madame," said the policeman.

We waited until we were well down the road before bursting into peals of girlish laughter.

Oh, and I didn't tell a soul about the gossip. Not for about ten years, and then I told the Sage. "She told me that too," he said. "And swore me to secrecy."

Friday 29 June 2007


Why did this make me rather want to chunder? Check it out now, as I think it will be removed soon by YouTube.

Z is wanted again!!(!)

You know I said, the other day, that I was being made redundant? This has lasted no time at all. Sarah, his Saturday girl, gave in her notice last week (Al has only just mentioned it) and this Saturday will not only be Sarah 2's first week but Sarah 1's last. Next week, Eileen will not be in as she is busy, so I'm back in business again.

There is hope on the horizon, however. Sarah 2 has a sister of a similar age. Usually, they choose not to do the same things, because they don't want, understandably, to be lumped together as 'the twins'. But they might make an exception. And if not, I have another friend with a teenage daughter, whom I could approach. If neither of these opportunities comes to anything, I'll look for a likely boy. It's harder for boys to earn extra money, largely because most of the babysitting market is filled by girls.

Nothing else to say. I've done little today. I even managed to be quite bored. Not bored enough to do the ironing or extra-curricular tidying, but there are no immediate deadlines looming and I simply lounged about. Obviously, this state of affairs must not last.

Thursday 28 June 2007

Hello, Blackbird

A few weeks ago, when the hen blackbird was sitting on the nest, her mate used to come to Al for grapes. He would take a proffered grape, fly away over Badgerdaddy's former flat to the churchyard, give it (presumably) to 'er indoors, return for another one and then go away to eat it. He became tame enough to take the grapes from Al's hand and I spent some time trying to photograph it. It wasn't easy to catch the instant when he took the grape and so I didn't post the pictures.

You see what I mean.

Whilst the babies were growing up, he and she spent most of their time foraging for food for them, but since the family has left the nest, he's been able to indulge again. And now cherries are in season, which are even more delicious, and he has time to stay and eat them.

When I first saw him, I tossed a cherry on the ground. He hopped into the alleyway next to the shop, to make sure I was not dangerous with a few minutes' observation. Soon afterwards, another male blackbird landed, tail well up and it darted in and grabbed the cherry. Al's indignant blackbird came rushing out, but it was too late. I threw another cherry and he wasted no more time in checking me out, but took it straight away, over to a doorway, and ate it.

So, with you ever in my mind, I took pictures.

Click on the question mark.

Wednesday 27 June 2007

Z is ready for bed

I looked after the shop this afternoon because Al and co. went to the Norfolk Show. They had a marvellous time and came back with cheeses and seeds and toasted stuff, which all looks yummy. I will eat it tomorrow!

I was allowed to Cash Up at the end of the day, which is a great privilege. I am, as a result of all this excitement, very tired. I got to the shop at 12.15, dumped my assortment of extra clothes for if it got chilly, went to the bakers to buy a ham and salad roll and then hung around for a few minutes until Tim left. Then Eileen passed on various messages, then she left and, at 1 o'clock, I was left to my own devices.

Several busy hours later, feeling a little fatigued, I looked at my watch. It was 2 o'clock!!(!)

How could this be? It should have been at least half past 3!

It was not busy for the next while - the occasional customer but many others were visiting the Show, which is the highlight of the Norfolk calendar. I read the paper so thoroughly that, after doing the crossword, I even scanned the sports pages, including the exploits of the Hen Man.

I was disappointed. I always hope he will lose in the first round, for it saves time. Every year, he snatches defeat from the jaws of victory, relinquishes it a few times, grabs it back again and then, just when you get used to him winning absurdly hard-fought matches, he pussily wimps out again. So just lose, honey - spare us all.

Anyway, things picked up and I was still serving customers after 5.30, when I should have been bringing stuff in. I did take photos of the blackbird, who visits for grapes, and cherries in season. I'll put one up tomorrow ... did I mention that I'm a tiredy Z?

A couple of friends called. M is a cousin of the Sage's, a bit distantly so, and his father is Ro's godfather (dogdaddy, as Ro put it as a very small child). A group of friends hires a cottage in Walberswick (t'other side of the river from Southwold, all quite posh. On the coast.) every couple of years and, though he needn't, he kindly visits the Old Folk. This includes us and his granny, whom he is escorting to a Grand Ball in Sheffield (assuming the rain eases) next week. Granny - Gaga, as she is known, although she isn't - is 93 and well up for a ball.

Anyway, I didn't make strawberry shortcake, but I did make scones and leave them with strawberry jam. M and D ate most, but not all of them (for they are supremely polite) and then came to call at the shop. They were charming, and after they left, I packed up, counted the Cash, came home, picked lots of (ordered) gooseberries, staunched the blood, dug potatoes, picked beans, prepared dinner and ate it. "Did you water the greenhouses?" asked the Sage. "No." "Because I opened the doors." "Pfft. Let them stay open. Another glass of wine, anyone?"

Oh, the Sage prepared the vegetables. And poured the wine. He Pulled his Weight.

Nearly finished

It is midnight. A preserving-panful of jam is cooling. A wok-ful, poured there some time ago, is nearly cool enough to be potted. The third panful (in either direction) was potted slightly too early and now there is beautiful clear jelly at the bottom of the pots and plump strawberries at the top. I almost hope this batch will not quite set, so forcing me to reboil it and pot it again properly.

Otherwise, all is done for the night. Behind me, Tilly is breathing, not quite snorily but quite loud. Tomorrow (or is it today? I suppose so), Al & family, with Ro, are going to the Norfolk Show. Eileen and Tim are running the shop in the morning and I'll take over at 12.30.

Some excitement, or what passes for it in Yagnub. One shopkeeper was heard, the other day, having a blazing row with his wife. Shrieks from her, shouts of "I'm not going to discuss it!" from him. He demanded that she leave and eventually dumped her shopping bags on the pavement. She stormed off. Al went in, a little later - "I couldn't help hearing...?" "Oh, we've split up." "Oh dear, I'm sorry." "Nah, I walked out a fortnight ago. Should have done it a long time ago." Ouch.

Over the road, the bargain shop remained closed on Monday, its windows whitewashed over, although all the goods were still there. He only took it over from his parents, who were retiring, at the beginning of the year. Rumour has it that he has gone out and got a job. *Shrug* I dunno. It always seemed pretty busy to me, although probably not so much since the discount store opened a few weeks ago. I'm sorry, because he was a good bloke and it was a useful shop.

There was some huffing in the local paper last week, because said discount store had posters in the window. It was felt that such blatant advertising was not really for Yagnub.

Overheard, Al to friend "What did you say to that lady, when she asked you how is your lovely wife?" "I said, I don't really know. I haven't seen much of her since she went off with another man." "Ah." "She was so embarrassed she nearly cried. I had to give her a hug to comfort her."

Tuesday 26 June 2007

Jamming at midnight

The Sage came home with 20 pounds of strawberries last night. Al's local grower had been desperate to sell them, so Al dropped the price and is doing a promotion. However, with the dodgy weather, they would not keep overnight, so he'd asked me if I'd 'like' to make jam.

I was out last night, so I hulled half of the fruit and left the rest to the Sage and Ro. When I got home, I measured out the sugar and added it (all my biggest bowls were put to use, as there would be 5 batches) and left it to do this morning.

This morning, at 8 o'clock, the phone rang. Al said that Eileen had been delayed, and might not be able to come in at all...any chance I was free? So it was that by half past 8, I was stacking shelves. Eileen arrived though, an hour later, so I have made a couple of batches of jam this morning after all. I should have made a third, but there was an hour-long stage when I just sat, staring blankly, doing nothing. I'll pay for that later, because I've got to do the rest of the jam-making later today.

Now I am sitting with a towel round my wet hair, and I'm supposed to be leaving for a meeting in 20 minutes. We had notification, a couple of weeks ago, that work is being done on the water main today and the water may be cut off and may run brown for a while. Do not use electric water heaters. So I washed my hair over the bath instead of in the shower. While I was potting the last batch of jam and then ironing my skirt (these are quite unrelated), the phone rang, 4 times. I was highly annoyed at the interruptions and shouted "bejasus" and similar profanities, but all of them were necessary calls, so I achieved a polite telephone manner.

I've just remembered that, for tonight's meeting, I have to set up the room, which involves water, coffee and bowls of chocolates as well as tables and chairs. So I won't have time to make jam beforehand. I'll have to start it when I get home, about 10 o'clock.

I'm barking, darlings. Absolutely bonkers.

Monday 25 June 2007

Z drinks

I just left a frightfully drunken-sounding comment on Badgerdaddy's blog. Heh heh. Well...

Yesterday afternoon, I was really tired. I hadn't slept much all week, but that wasn't all of it - I think it was the damp and dismal weather. I thought longingly of hot buttered scones and a nice log fire. I allowed my little darling to cook me lunch, and reclined on the sofa with the Sunday papers, with the purpose of having a long nap. I slept. Five minutes later, I woke, to my great disappointment - my mind thought it was the mid-week power nap, not the weekend zizz.

I did feel better, but not that energetic. Today, I was woken at 4.45 by cats and dogs streaming down from the sky and piddling through the open window. I got up (I later found that the Sage had gone on a similar errand at 3.30) to check that water wasn't also leaking through the unopened windows. Several bits of roof slope towards the study and the gutters can be overwhelmed. There was a little water, which I mopped up, and then I made lots of toast and ate it with lots of tea.

Since then, it has stopped raining, the sun has been shining and I am all twitchy and energetic. I was also hungry by noon. Mm, snacks...

I got out a packet of salted peanuts. Unwisely, I checked the calories. *sigh* return to cupboard. Pretzels! They're low fat! Check the label. Fuck me, more calories per 100g than the peanuts - how can that be? Muesli bars, gummi bears, double chocolate chip muffins ... okay, maybe I was pushing my luck there. Darlings, I ate none of them. I picked a cucumber and three tomatoes and made a butterless sandwich. And used the saved calories on the last of a bottle of white wine which happened to be in the fridge (which didn't fill a standard glass).

Then I drank it. Then I poured the last of last night's bottle of red, which I had shared with Ro (which did). Then I left that comment.

That's the thing to do with surplus energy. Sit down until it goes away. I feel quite pleasantly relaxed now. Still a bit frisky, but unfortunately the Sage is visiting the dentist this afternoon, in Norwich, so I should be doing the ironing or something to use the surplus energy.

Well, there's always Wimbledon.

Ah. It's raining at Wimbledon.


Update - 1.45 - would you believe it? We have hailstones! Yes, dudes (heh heh, Jen, that's your influence), Norfolk has sleet in Flaming June!

Christians may be odd, but some people are even odder

There was quite a large congregation in church yesterday. As well as the usual suspects, there was a christening party, two couples hearing their banns read and a man, accompanied by two friends, whose late wife's funeral was held here a couple of weeks ago.

Before the service, we served coffee to all comers. Most people clustered in the church rooms, later arrivals took their mugs into their pew (which they are welcome to do. I do it myself. I drink coffee during the sermon.).

The banns were read at the start of the service and the baptism, of two small children, came next. One of the betrothed couples used the opportunity to slip out. After the service, I counted the collection. There were some unfamiliar items: small denomination coins of French francs, Italian lira and Russian roubles. You will observe that some of these are obsolete and have been for some time.

We don't take a collection. There is a plate at the back of the church. This is done, in part, so as not to embarrass non-regular churchgoers who might be caught out by a bag being passed round for money to be brought in. It should be, we think, freely given and not expected.

Now, I can see that someone might not want to put any money in the plate, but also not want to be seen not to, and therefore might put in something valueless. It's pretty cheap - better to just pass the plate on - but I can see it. But this person actually put obsolete coins in his or her pocket - you don't just happen to have a few lira in your bag, the Euro has been around too long for that - and, when he/she found that a collection was not taken, dumped them in any case. I suppose it was a deliberate insult, but for the life of me, I can't see who the person was trying to insult, or why.

Sunday 24 June 2007

Z asks the right question

We went to a party last night. A housewarming, thrown by friends who left the village nearly 15 years ago and have now returned to the area. Chatting to other friends, I remembered to ask if Rebecca had received her results yet.

Good question. Modest mum had not volunteered the information, but her face lit up. "She got them today. A First!"

My other friend's daughter, also reading Law at Cambridge, got a 2:1. Well done, Rachel and Rebecca.

Saturday 23 June 2007


Oh, and I meant to say, it was already light at 3 am today. I was tempted to get up and enjoy it, but the prospect of babysitting after an hour and a half's sleep deterred me. I regret it. If I wake again at that hour, I'll rise and appreciate the dawn.

Pouring cold water gently down the stream

Dilly hadn't mentioned it before, but their boiler has been out of action for several days and they have had no hot water. The plumber came this morning to check it. I had already said I'd take the children for a couple of hours so that she could catch up on housework.

After a while, Squiffany bumped her head and cried - she wasn't really hurt, but was inconsolably 'I want my mummy'. So I rang her, for over-the-phone comfort. Dilly said, gloomily, that a new part is needed for the boiler that will take a few days to arrive.

Upshot was, she was on the doorstep a few minutes later, clutching shampoo and towel and spent a happy half hour having a good hot bath.

I'm not sure if I ever told you Squiffany's first words. Not the traditional "mama", "dada" or "good Lord, is that a third glass of wine in your hand, Granny?". No, they were "oh dear." Her mother was quite taken aback, to think how often she must have said it. For the past week or two, Pugsley has been saying his first deliberate words too. "Row, row." As in 'row the boat, gently down the stream.'

Squiffany has also been learning letters. She can write T for Squiffany, M for Pugsley and (I'm told but haven't seen) E for Ellie. She is very proud of herself.

Friday 22 June 2007

Blind Light

Prompted by I, like the View's comment to the post about my London trip, I thought that I would, after all, say a little more about my impression of the Blind Light installation itself.

I'd wondered if the vapour would be cold and clammy or warm and steamy. It was neither. It felt the same temperature as the outside air, or maybe it felt the same temperature as I was. However, when I left, it seemed slightly chillier outside for a second or two. I guess that it needed to be just a little warmer than the room temperature, not to feel cold. I watched from outside for a while - which is half of the experience. Some people plunged straight in, others (all female) sidled in cautiously, reluctant to lose sight of the wall. I decided to walk forward boldly... the woman I talked to later asked me if that would have been my natural reaction, if it hadn't been a conscious decision. A perceptive question, I thought, and I pondered for a moment, before deciding that yes, it would have been. I might have decided not to go in but, if I was going in, I'd not hover at the edge.

To start with, I found myself automatically retaining an awareness of where I was in relation to the entrance, and I had to deliberately switch off and let myself get lost. The first thing I noticed was the swirling pattern like smoke in my vision. Not the mist, but the pattern seen but not noticed in my eyes. Like 'floaters' which, after a while, your brain doesn't notice, but this was something I'd never been aware of before. The fog was thick and, if I breathed in sharply, made me cough. After a few minutes, my nose started to run. To start with, I couldn't help putting my hands ahead of me, but when I discovered that I did see the wall before I hit it, I didn't need to do that any more. Every so often, a shape loomed ahead of me and both of us gasped, or laughed, or said "hello" and veered away. I saw one tall man wearing a pink sweater a few times. He was with a woman in black trousers and they spoke to each other before parting, occasionally saying a word or two to keep in contact. I was content to be quiet. I stopped and held my arms out. I could see my hands. I could see the edge of my knee-length skirt and my legs below, but not my feet. I paddled my feet gently and it was quite splashy. I liked the silence. If the room had been larger, I might have felt lost but I knew it wasn't far to the edge and I liked the sensation of being alone in the company of other people.

After ten minutes or so, I found my way to the exit and left. My hair and eyelashes were damp. I went up to the next level. Like I, Like The View, I loved 'Matrices and Expansions'. I almost gasped with pleasure when I went in the room and wandered happily around for some time.

When I went downstairs again, I went back into Blind Light. This time, there was a group of teenagers and they talked to each other to keep in contact. I found another couple, and the man was flapping his hands ahead of himself to improve visibility. I didn't really think either of these was the way to get the most out of the experience, but every man for himself I suppose. In one corner, a blonde girl was feeling a bit overwhelmed and wondered where the exit was. Her companion said that they could always call for help. She said that it wouldn't feel polite, and would be too dramatic. He chuckled, saying that he supposed she would collapse and die rather than be rude...he said it affectionately, it wasn't an insult. When I went a few steps further, I found that we were, after all, right by the entrance. I left and went back out into the sunshine.

The weekend beckons

Unusually, every morning this week, not only have I been up before the Sage, but out of the house before he's even come downstairs. He's usually a fairly early riser, but he has been very busy recently and we've both slept heavily. Slightly cooler nights have helped in this respect, but I have woken before the alarm (which was set for between 5 or 6 o'clock) every day.

This afternoon, it caught up with me. I worked for Al between 8.30 and 1.30, came home, caught up on emails and blogs, then curled up in an armchair and slept for more than an hour. I feel a bit spaced out and distant just now.

This evening, Ro and I will be paying our last visit to this year's Aldeburgh Festival. Gerald Barry (a piece written in 2005), Mozart, Britten and Beethoven. Should be good.

Snape is a fabulous venue and I'm lucky to live just 25 miles away, within 40 minutes drive. And the tickets are so reasonable. Mine was £12 and Ro's was only £6, because under-27s get in half price (not many of them at the concerts I've been to nonetheless). These were the cheapest prices, but having tried sitting in all parts of the concert hall over a number of years, I concluded that there is no such thing as a bad seat.

We'll have supper there first, the Sage is being abandoned to his fate, which might be last night's roast chicken with salad, or might be fish and chips, whichever he fancies. Ah. I've asked. He said he has "bought himself a little piece of meat." No need to ask more.

Life of luxury around here. Even the expected rain didn't happen. I shall go and dress in understated elegance* and put on a quietly flashy ring.

*Yay! It works! Thank you, Wendz, darling. Isn't she clever?

Thursday 21 June 2007


I do love London, you know. I like both the friendliness and the anonymity. We may not catch each other's eye, but that's not malevolence, it's just busyness and respect for the other person's space. If you do have occasion to speak to anyone, you receive a civil reply. London looks good nowadays. It looks more prosperous, though rarely in a flashy way, than it used to. It's cleaner. There's litter, true, but the air is, on the whole, cleaner than it was in the past. It feels like home to me. I could live there.

Forty years ago, you wouldn't have let your dog splash in the Thames, by Hungerford Bridge (just up from Waterloo Bridge, by the South Bank Centre).

The fountain was most entertaining. The four girls pictured here were clutching each other and giggling, and passers-by were entertained too. Each wall starts to spurt at random - once the girls were in there, all twelve walls of water kept their flow going for a good couple of minutes, making them wonder whether to make a break for it - then one stopped, so they ran into that box. Of course, it started again at once and then the outside walls beyond (the wrong side for the girls) stopped next, so they were as stranded as before.

Diamond Geezer (Sunday 10th June), I, like the View, and Lettuce(Saturday 16th June) have told us about Blind Light, Anthony Gormley's exhibition, which is on here.

I loved it too. It is a most engaging display, both in the sense of being likeable, and of drawing you in to it.

Read their posts. They have put it so well, I don't need to describe it again. Just a few more pictures.

My train arrived a few minutes late, because they had had trouble closing the doors after the Chelmsford stop. I hopped on the Tube (we provincials get a little frisson of pleasure just by using our Oyster cards, we don't even pretend to be cool about it) and, from South Kensington, trotted along to the V&A. As I expected, I adored 'Surreal Things'. Afterwards, I spent some time looking for the door to the courtyard. Wonderlandily, I could see it but not reach it. Eventually, having walked all the way round, I discovered that the only opening door was so close to the exhibition exit that I hadn't noticed it. I fetched a glass of 'home-made' lemonade (all right, but not as good as mine) and a chicken roll (nice, chewy bread) and sat down. So benevolently was I feeling that I surreptitiously fed bits of bread to the pigeons.

Afterwards, down to the Thames and the other exhibition. A woman talked to me while waiting to go into the 'Hatch' room, and we both talked to a couple of young American men. When we came out of the room, in unusually expansive mood, I assured the patient queue that they should wait, it's worth it. Only two allowed in at a time, I can see the queue getting awfully long as the summer continues.

A cup of coffee and a gooey chocolate brownie, and a stroll along the South Bank. I showed the Millennium Bridge to a group of American visitors and said, regretfully, that it doesn't wobble any more. They should have left it, shouldn't they - it would have been such fun. I had, at one time, thought of visiting Tate Modern, but my mind was full enough and I walked over the bridge myself. On the other side, I bought a Big Issue and had a friendly few words to the seller - he asked if I'd had a good day. A very good day, I told him and wished him one too. He thanked me and called me 'lady'. Well, he wasn't English (didn't recognise the accent though).

I had intended to walk through the city, but my legs were tired, so I hopped on a No. 11 bus and travelled back to Liverpool Street Station. I had a while to wait and found a seat, and did the Independent crossword until my train arrived.

Wednesday 20 June 2007

Z said 'Phooey'

I didn't take an umbrella. Well, it would indicate a dreary degree of maturity, wouldn't it? It was a lovely day anyway and I'd have been annoyed to have had to cart it around.

I've had a fabulous day. Everyone who says the Gormley exhibition is great is absolutely right. Do go, if you can.

I must go to have a bath. I am hot and tired and I need to get to bed and cuddle a husband. I think mine is available, if I act now.

See you tomorrow, darlings. xx

Tuesday 19 June 2007

Flashes of brilliance

My desk is in front of the window, which faces east so I squint to see the screen on sunny mornings, unless I draw the curtain which always seems a waste. Tonight, however, it's lightning that makes me blink. It was a fine evening until a couple of hours ago, but since then the rain has varied between steady and torrential, with rolling peals of thunder and sheet lightning.

I was babysitting, as Al and Dilly were on their beekeeping course. Tonight, they were putting together beehives. They are enjoying the course, though I don't know how ready they might be to take the plunge into apiary. I told them Blue Witch's suggestion, that they help a beekeeper for a year and learn the ropes that way, which they thought was a very good idea.

At seven o'clock, Pugsley was in his cot, asleep, but Squiffany had had a long sleep this afternoon and was in her pyjamas, washed and ready for bed except that she had not had her nighttime cup of warm milk, nor had she put on her nappy. We chatted and played for half an hour, then I suggested that it was bedtime. She drank the milk, used the potty, fetched the nappy and lay on it while I emptied the potty, I read her a story, took her to bed, read another story, put on Pugsley's musical box, turned out the light, kissed her and left.

Never heard another sound.

I was up early this morning and will be again tomorrow, as I have to leave the house by 7.30 (yes, I know you commuters are well on your way by then, but I'm not) to catch the 8.17 from D1ss. My daughter assures me that it's not likely I'll have the same problem on a Wednesday as I did last Monday. "They kill themselves on a Sunday evening or a Monday morning, depending on whether their problems are at home or at work," she explained. I felt depressed.

Fortunately, the forecast is pretty good for tomorrow. Warm and mainly dry, although there is the possibility of showers. I have put a brolly in my bag, for I have recently reached the dawn of a sensible age. Time was, I'd have said 'phooey' and chanced being rained upon.

Monday 18 June 2007

Z is redundant but reminisces

The visit with my chum last Friday had another good result. In the course of conversation, we realised that Al needs another Saturday staff member, and he has teenage daughters. A word from me to Al, from chum to daughters, and one of them called in this afternoon to enquire, and the job is hers.

I'd be happy to go in on alternate Saturdays indefinitely, but I'm not really a substitute for a paid member of staff. I think of myself as a filler-in for holidays, illness or to give Al time off. In addition, his regular Saturday girl, who started when she was at school, has now finished college and has a job, but likes the shop work enough to continue with it (and it is a lovely place to work, I adore it) - but the day will come when she needs a full weekend for other things, and although she has promised to give Al decent notice, she is under no obligation at all.

All his staff are lovely, in fact. Jean, who retired in the spring, has been suffering from arthritis in her hands and feet, and asked him a while ago to look for someone else, as she didn't want to have to quit suddenly and leave him in the lurch. it's the new member of staff who has young children and can't work on a Saturday

When Al took over the shop, and that will be five years ago in September, he took over the existing staff. The daughter of the proprietor was very ill and he and his wife decided to give up their businesses to look after her. To start with, the staff worked full-time to give him time to cope, but then he decided to shut up shop. This was hard for him, but the right decision and no one doubted it. I'm not sure if I've told you about this before and apologies to any long-time readers who may have read this already.

Five years ago, Al was working and living in Norwich. Then his landlady decided to sell his flat and he couldn't find anything as nice for the same price, so he came home to live and commuted. One Tuesday in early September, I heard that Derek was going to close the shop, permanently, on Saturday. I told the Sage. He went to see the owners of the shop (not that he told me then). He came home and said that there were a couple of rooms above the shop, maybe Al could live there and let out the shop itself? He'd got the key, would I like to look round?

Off we went. We went upstairs. Pretty quickly, I said no. It would be far too small - possible, but would cost far too much to convert and it could never be rented to anyone else, as the only access was via the front or back door of the shop. But, I noticed, the site of the shop is the best in Yagnub. And Al loves the retail business. And he likes selling real things, that people want - not luxury goods that they might occasionally treat themselves to, but to provide a genuine service. Would he, I wondered, be interested in becoming a greengrocer?

You see why I call him the Sage? He was way ahead of me, but he had not given me a hint. He showed me the shop and that was all. If I had said no and nothing more, that would have been it, because he trusts me to be quite quick on the uptake, excitable, and imaginative if I'm given a starting point.

Al was working late that night. It was 11.30 when he got home. We sat down with him and told him the situation. The Sage took him in to see the shop.

Midnight. Al was interested. "How long do I have to decide?" he asked. I swear this is true...THE SAGE AND I LOOKED AT OUR WATCHES. Simultaneously. Unrehearsed. "Ah" said Al. ... ... ... "Right. I'll go for it."

At 9 the next morning, he went to see the shop owners, with his father. They negotiated a price. Al bought the shop outright (we have a real problem with renting in our family, so we save up).

Next day, Derek was told. I went to visit him. Now, this was an odd experience. For ten years, I'd been shopping with him, and we had a very friendly relationship, but it was that of shopkeeper and customer, you know? Suddenly, we were hugging and kissing and crying with each other, for his emotions were everywhere and I felt for him, and, well, you know.

Al gave in his notice. We told the staff and asked them to stay on. A notice was put in the window, saying that the shop would be shut for a week. During that week, it was repainted and changed around a bit - well, you have to make your mark, don't you. It reopened - Al was still working out his notice and I can't remember how it worked out, as I had another matter on my mind, which I'll tell you about in another post.

You can see why our attachment to that place is more than just a way to make a living, and why we love people, don't you?

By the way, the first order Al put in to stock an empty shop cost £250. Not many other shops could be done on that shoestring, could they?

Z is assumed to be a Fool

The phone rang. A message for the Sage. There are some people moving into the area and they and the Sage would like to meet, and this chap is acting as the go-between. Last evening, he said that they would be visiting today and he thought that teatime would be a good time to call. However, he was phoning to alter the arrangements.

"They're not coming up until tomorrow. So will you tell him to call tomorrow and not today?"

I agreed, repeating the message. "You see," he explained carefully, "I said 'tomorrow', but I said that yesterday, so tomorrow is now today. But they aren't going to be here today, which was tomorrow yesterday. They will be here tomorrow."

"Right," I said. "Not Monday, but Tuesday. About teatime."

I didn't discuss what time he considers teatime. Anything from four until about half past six, depending on whom you ask.

Sunday 17 June 2007

Happy Birthday, Sage - continued

The Sage turned down all offers of jollifications, but we did sing Happy Birthday to him this afternoon when the family came through with presents.

And I had been hoping to dig up the first potatoes of the season from the garden today. We hardly needed to add the steak and champagne to this home-grown feast.

These, from a couple of days ago, are of the Artist At Work

Happy birthday, Sage

And here's a Norfolk song for you.


Who thought inventing this product was a good idea? The same person who thought of the name?

Double Take, indeed.

Saturday 16 June 2007

Z contemplates the past year

I need to write a speech for Tuesday. At the AGM, the chairman sums up the year, thanks the committee and other useful people, says the right things in the right way - you know the sort of thing. It doesn't give much scope for scintillation, but needs to be the right side of soporific, for we will have an interesting lecture afterwards on The Danse Macabre in Art, which no one wants to miss because z made them zzz.

Reading a speech is hard to do without sounding deadly dull, isn't it. Even if I have notes, I prefer not to look at them. But, in this instance, there are details not to be got wrong and not to be left out, so reading most of it is necessary. But,as you may have noticed, I occasionally play to an audience and I do like to raise the occasional chuckle ... but ponderously reading a written funny is just awful so I'll just have to wing that bit.

Fortunately, I have a limited range of facial expressions. Mostly, they are bigly grinning or worried/frightened. I'll go for the sympathy-inducing angle, I think.

Anyway, I'm sitting at my desk on a Saturday afternoon for the purpose of writing said speech. No, that sounds tautologous (or should that be tautological?). For the purpose of writing aforementioned speech. I have made my preparations. I have just eaten an omelette containing a shallot and a small but vicious red chilli, drunk a glass of white wine and put Okkervil River's Black Sheep Boy on (I can't thank Julie in Athens enough for introducing them to me. They are so good). This has put me in such a good mood that writing boring stuff seems almost a pleasure.

Friday 15 June 2007

Fine Weather for Ducks-ford

I had a really good time at the engineering day. As ever, I was the least qualified and most ignorant helper there, but from blog to blag is an easy step and, whilst I told the fellow-helpers on my task the situation, I fooled most of the students all of the time, I think. They were an enjoyable bunch, and less hard work than the younger ones I've been with on previous years. Aged about 12-14, they were old enough to be relied on to understand what you wanted them to do, while being not too old to accept a bossy woman telling them and teasing just a little when it was evident that they hadn't actually read the instruction sheet before going ahead with the task.

The structures were made from tightly rolled tubes of A3 acetate sheets bolted together, first into triangles, then into either 3D pentagons or 2D hexagons, then joined to make the structure, which was about 2 metres across. Good Friend took a photo - if he sends it to me, I'll post it (hint, hint, angel ;-D). At one point, I went to a group who had wound masking tape round one tube which was already fastened with clear sticky tape. "Why did you do just one like that?" I asked. "It's not necessary." They looked at each other and hesitated ... "that was the one our teacher did." "Ah." I added a few sympathetic words about putting up with teachers, which I'd better not repeat as some of my best friends are teachers.

Afterwards, GF and I wandered around Duxford for a while, until rain threatened, when we drove home. It had poured when we left home and some of the fields were flooded. More rain is forecast for the weekend, but I hope it's dry tomorrow as there's a wedding at the village church in the afternoon.

Thursday 14 June 2007

Z plays to an audience

This evening I went out to eat. A group of us meet at a fairly local restaurant once a month from April to November and have dinner together. This has been running for about ten years, though the membership has varied somewhat, and was set up by a friend who is the retired headmistress of a girls' private school in Surrey. She is a born organiser and everything is planned to the nth degree.

She was not there tonight, as she only returned today from a holiday, so she had delegated the organisation to one of our number, who is a near neighbour of hers. On several previous occasions I've deputised, and in this event I promptly chuck the rules out of the window and allow modest middle-age/class mayhem. But the new deputy was flattered and impressed by the immensity of the responsibility, and we toed the line. To an extent.

I watched myself, as if from a height, playing to an audience. I made 'em laugh. I made 'em wonder what I was on (sober as a sober person, m'lud). I teased and flattered. I never know quite what comes over me when that happens. Although we are a sociable lot, my end of the table was more reserved and I know that I start just to get the conversation going, to relax people. But some of them don't know me very well (we've recently changed restaurants, which changed the geographic circle of members somewhat) and, I can't help wondering, do they think I'm really like that? For, as you know, I am really very well behaved and a modest little thing.

It's pouring tonight. Raining Pugsleypuss and Oz.

Wednesday 13 June 2007

The rest of Z's week has suddenly got busy

You may remember, though if you do it might be worth considering if you have too little else to occupy your mind, that I go every year to Duxford. This evening, he cheerily reminded me "still all right for Friday?'

Yes, this Friday. I wonder why he'd told me the 29th when I last saw him. "Oops" he fluttered when I reminded him. Fortunately, Friday is okay. It does mean I'll have to get going early tomorrow though, for I am looking after the children all day, so that Dilly can look after Pugsley the cat while her sister is at work. Poor little cat is a bit traumatised and, if left alone, worries at his stitches. He has a plastic collar, but wriggles out of it.

I picked up my new contact lenses today. Now I have a single focus lens in one eye (multi focus in the other) the cost has come down considerably. However, Val from the pet shop tells me she gets hers by mail order, which halves the cost again. I am not untempted ... but I'm also taking into account the service I've had. I paid for the eye test, but since then, I've been given three trial lenses, two small bottles of cleaning solution as I'd run out and several extra consultations, all at no extra charge. They deserve the custom, surely.

I went to another concert tonight - an amazing virtuoso performance by Thomas Zehetmair, who achieved violin effects I've never heard before. Ysaÿe, Paganini and Berio.

I must away to my bed. I have ten flower arrangements to dismantle before 9 tomorrow morning.

Thursday morning. Correction. Fourteen before 7.45.

Z is thrilled!!(!)

No, really, with good cause this time. We were weeding the greenhouse and this is what we found -

I think he lives under the paving slabs of the greenhouse path - they are laid on bricks and there is quite a gap. I saw him (or her of course) a couple of years ago in the greenhouse and he slid unhurriedly underground then. I went in excitedly, describing a grass snake over two feet long and people were politely pleased for me, but I suspect they thought I might be exaggerating. Now I have proof however, for this skin is fully three feet.

The full-length photo isn't great, I'm afraid, but you get the idea.

Sausages or a seaside golf course?

I refer to links, as you will have guessed.

I decided not to link quite early. How should I choose with whom to link? There seemed to be several options. I could put a link to everyone I read, if only once in a while, or just favourites, whom I never miss. If I linked only to friends who comment, regularly or occasionally, or places I leave comments, I could feel that I was excluding people who happen to drop in, or rarely comment at all.

I remember, when I started reading blogs, it was some time before I made comments - I felt that I was intruding into a society I knew nothing about, and I wasn't sure of the etiquette, nor if a 'new girl' might be thought a bit pushy to join in conversations, let alone link to a well-known blogger. Now, of course, I know that the blogging community - or this area of it at any rate - is the most friendly society imaginable, that most of us love to receive comments and many of us don't mind being disagreed with, that we genuinely care about each other and offer advice and support - even going to considerable trouble to look up information, if that might help a virtual friend.

I think most of you have found this too, and maybe it was as unexpected to you as it was to me. And I have, several times, re-examined my choice not to link. But, now I've left it so long, it would seem significant to make a selection and what if I left someone out?

I know, I worry too much. For myself, I feel complimented if I notice that someone has linked to me, but I don't feel hurt if they haven't, so I'm not sure why I think it matters.

I do, however, quite often put in a link within a post. I refer to friends by their blog name - sometimes I rather assume that you'll know whom I'm talking about, especially if they do comment regularly or I know you read them, so don't bother to link, but I suppose I should be more doesn't take much effort to look up a URL. I think I always acknowledge a referral to a site, and link to someone who has tagged me when I complete a meme.

And if you have put a link to me, thank you very much and I do appreciate it. And I am not leaving you out at all - I appreciate every one of you and, if I did link, you'd be there on the sidebar.

This post was prompted by a gentle tease from the topping Boy.

Tuesday 12 June 2007


...The last time I tried this, it was worth nothing.

My blog is worth $9,032.64.
How much is your blog worth?

Look, $9,032.64 might not sound like much to you. But for me, it's very nearly an armful.

It seemed a long day

I'd phoned Al from the train, wanting sympathy, for there was no real reason to explain what was going on. Most people on the train were good-humoured and philosophical about the incident, and sorry for the people involved. The announcement had said "a fatality on the line" and that was what most of them reported to the people they rang. I avoided the impersonal and said to Al "someone has died, hit by a train."

One woman was hoping to meet a friend, whom she'd not seen for a while, and phoned to alter arrangements. She was pretty grumpy about the whole thing, but she was the only one. She was younger than me, blonde and fleshy, wearing a strappy top. I stood behind her when we were leaving the train and there was a blob of sun cream on her back. There was also a mark, not quite a mole, deeper pink than her skin, which I didn't quite like the look of, though I don't know if I had any reason to be concerned. She shot off as soon as the door opened and I couldn't have said anything if I'd wanted to.

I took the bus into the town and walked down to the castle.

There were parties of schoolchildren milling about, which made it a bit noisy, but after all it is a museum aimed at children. It was well laid out in the modern manner - that is, to be 'accessible', and focused on the ancient history of the town, with walk-in models of bronze age round huts, Roman rooms and reproduction helmets, shoes and hats to try on. It gave a clear history of the town, including the Roman occupation - it was the capital of Roman Britain until the rebellion under Queen Boudica, when the town was burnt to the ground and the Roman inhabitants massacred. The short film explaining the circumstances of this was well done, although I didn't care for the final bit where an injured Roman soldier was calling out to his fellow - "Don't leave me, Marcus, help me". Roman soldiers had more gumption than that.

I rather liked the Roman glass and ornaments, although the items in the third picture look purposeful as well. But there was no indication of their likely use.

It gave a social history and didn't go further than mediaeval times, except for the dungeon, which was used as a prison until 1835, and the dramatised voiceover there was set in the period of Mary I, who reigned bloodily from 1553-1558.

There was a guided tour, which I didn't join, of the Roman vaults and the castle roof, maybe that would have given more depth to the experience. It was all well done, interesting and clear, but it exemplified the treatment being given to museums now. In making a fun learning experience for children (and I'm not faulting it at all for that), there is limited scope for repeated visits for adults. I felt, after an hour, that I'd taken it pretty well all in.
I'm always a sucker for good brickwork though. This was a fireplace I think.

There was also a Georgian house, Hollytrees, in the same park which extended the social history to Victorian times. Charmingly done but again, entirely child-orientated. The house was bought and given to the town by a benefactor in, I think, 1923, but the top floor was quite bare and I was surprised that there were no 'museum quality' artefacts. Toys and child-centred objects and household implements; a few uninteresting portraits, but no good furniture, china or paintings.

There was another museum, the Clock museum, but it is closed on Mondays. The Natural History museum is in a redundant church, but I didn't visit -with a crawl-through badger sett (which they spelled 'set') and a family trail, it wasn't likely to be aimed at me.

I sound as if I'm damning with faint praise, I'm afraid, but in fact it is a fabulous place for families. The castle is not free, but the other museums are and it was beautifully laid out, interesting and informative. But directed at children, not at me.

One crocodile of children crossed ahead of me. A small, neat, blond-haired boy was saying pompously to a classmate "You have to take responsibility for your personal possessions." He was so pleased with himself that he turned, still walking, and repeated it. Had I had the chance, I'd have pointed out that "You're supposed to look after your own stuff" is better spoken English, and it would have been more useful and kind to help than to sneer, but I'd probably have been reprimanded by his teachers. On the other hand, they would probably have quietly cheered, to hear such a self-righteous little boy being told that he was not as perfect as he thought.

I set off to look for a pub. In Norwich, every other building is a church or a pub, but here a little searching was necessary. I rejected cafés without a licence, or smart wine bars, and eventually paused outside a place called The Purple... and here, I forget. Dog? I think so. It wasn't Pig, I know. While reading the menu, my ear was caught by the patter of a Big Issue seller, which was so good-humoured and amusing that I went to tell him so and buy the paper. A brief chat, I refused the change and I went in for lunch with a smile on my face.

Big squashy leather sofas drew me, and I ordered pâté and beer and sat down to read the magazine. The pâté was good, home-made and unusual and I had a leisurely lunch. Down the lane, there was a splendid greengrocer. It really was excellent, lots of local produce and remarkably cheap. Some items cheaper than Al, and he easily undercuts the supermarkets for most things. It was called Humphrey's and is in Eld Lane, if you visit.

The town is full of small independent shops, which is a real pleasure to see. Considering it is such an old town, there weren't that many fine buildings and the whole place had a slightly old-fashioned (in a 70s way, which is not altogether good) feel to it. There was supposed to be a new 'minories' (I suppose it was a misprint for 'minorities') art gallery in the temporary bus station, opening 2007 but there was no sign of it, not even as a forthcoming attraction. I went to look at the Arts Centre, in another redundant church, but it seemed to be only a booking office.

I went to the top floor of the Co-op to use the loo. A pretty blonde woman in her 60s was ahead of me. Her hand was marked with vitiligo and shook. We caught each other's eye, and smiled. Later, I caught up with her on the stairs and she apologised for walking slowly. I agreed that it would be easy to slip and she said that she was awkward because of her nerves. I asked if she had visited the doctor - she was stressed, she said, because of physical and mental abuse at home. She raised her trouser leg to show me bruises. I asked if she was receiving any help, she said she was and was booked to enter a refuge the next day. I felt helpless, but put my hand on her arm, said she was brave to take action, wished her well.

I walked back to the station, which was only a mile or so. I went to the enquiry office, to ask if I might use my train ticket early. The woman looked puzzled "but there isn't a 4.30 train to Norwich!" I explained that it left London at 4.30, please might I catch the 4.17 from Colchester? She said I could. I didn't see a ticket inspector on the train anyway.

I laid into the red wine as soon as I got back at 5.30, with some olives, cheese and little biscuits. The Sage cooked dinner, lamb chops (the lambs and their mothers are kept on one of our fields, naturally raised on an unfertilised meadow, the meat is fabulous), the first broad beans from the garden, new Suffolk potatoes. Followed by a Magnum. I found it hard to resist bed at 8 o'clock, but I was in it before 10. This was, no doubt, the reason I woke up before 4 am, dreaming that my back hurt. It did. It's all right now.

Monday 11 June 2007

Well, Colchester is a nice town...

The day started uneventfully and I caught the train, which was only six minutes late and that was because of a trespasser on the line just before Diss. Should it have been a warning?

Saxmundham, Ipswich, Manningtree, Colchester, Chelmsford - and then a stop at Shenfield, where an announcement came through that there was a delay, but no information as to the cause.

A few minutes later, it was a serious incident at Harold Wood*.

After that, a fatality on the line, and emergency services were in attendance.

Then, the train was terminating here - please leave the train or go back to Norwich. Hesitantly, I left the train and the station, gazed up and down Shenfield and went back in.

I spent the next half hour concentrating on feeling only sorrow and regret for a life lost, deep sympathy for the train driver who had, through no fault of his or her own, taken it, and fellow feeling for the passengers on that train, while being very glad I wasn't one of them. Maybe that six minutes made the difference? Or maybe, six minutes earlier and we'd have been the last train through. Anyway, I think that was the thoughts of most of us, we were subdued and sorry, except for one woman who moaned quite a lot on the phone to her friend.

When the last train on the platform was going back, I decided to take it. By the time I got to Chelmsford, the announcement was that trains were going through to London Liverpool Street, albeit an hour and a half late, but I'd already decided to check out Colchester, a historic town I did not know at all.

Yeah, a couple of photos, but I'm tired, darlings - tomorrow.

I have checked my diary and Wednesday of next week is free. I will not be thwarted, I will rebook my ticket. I picked up a claim form and will be interested to see with what sum I am recompensed. Not that it was British Rail**'s fault, and they dealt with the situation absolutely correctly.

Still, thank you for your good wishes, and I'll hold on to them, if I may, for another nine days.

*I assume that's how you spell it? I'd never heard of the place.
**Our local train company is called 'One' but I can't bring myself to call it that, any more than I can say 'McChicken Sandwich'.

Sunday 10 June 2007

Z has polished her shoes and removed her credit cards from her bag, for she is visiting London!!(!)

Right. Barely 8 o'clock, yet I am all ready. I have put my train ticket in my bag, ascertained that my Oyster card is there too, checked that I have a small bucketload of change for the car park and planned my trip. Oh, and I am, even now, charging the iPod, so that I can listen to the Shaggy Blog Stories podcast. I had not, I admit, bought it. I'd got the book, of course. But Mike persuaded me - or rather, he moaned to such effect that he awakened my maternally caring feelings and I shelled out for the download. I listened, at the time, to the start but had no time for more than the first five minutes. It takes more than an hour and a half to get to London from Diss however and I will discreetly arrange my hair around the earpieces so that I do not look too desperately sad, for I am too old, I know, for an iPod.

So, you want to know all about my visit to London? It is planned with the most casual precision, darlings. I still want to go to the Surrealism exhibition at the V&A - and I expect I'll look in on Kylie, just to tell Martin. And I am going to the Anthony Gormley 'Blind Light' exhibition at the Hayward Gallery, as visited by Diamond Geezer (don't know how to link to that particular post, but it's today's) and I, like the View, and recommended to me by Dandelion, too.

I have a feeling that there was something else I intended to visit, but I can't now remember. I might not have time anyway. It all depends on whether I have lunch or not, probably. I don't eat much, on my own, as it seems to use valuable time, although lunch with a friend turns it into an Event and worth skipping other things for.

PS - by the way, I haven't told you the sad story of Dilly's parents' cat. They are away on holiday, so Dilly's sister D (everyone in the family's name starts with the same letter, so this may become confusing) is cat-sitting for them. *Pugsley* the younger cat (the baby, though younger, is not named after the cat, although they share the same name by coincidence) came hobbling home the other night, and D took him to the vet. It turned out that he had been hit by a car and he had to have his leg amputated. D texted her parents with the news, saying clearly that Pugsley the cat had had the injury.

"Oh no," said Mother D. "Pugsley has had his leg amputated!" "Oh my God, that's awful" exclaimed Father D. "Poor little boy, he's only 8 months old, whatever happened?"

To know it was *only* the cat came as something of a relief.

Pugsley-Puss is doing well and getting about quite agilely. Pugsley-Baby is very well too, can clap and wave and tries to talk; he cannot crawl but can swivel around on his stomach and stand for quite a long time, if his hands are held. He also, for the last week, has had two teeth.

Good morning?

It didn't feel like one at 1 o'clock when, having just switched the light off, I remembered it was the week of the 8 a.m. service, when I, being sidesman, need to arrive at 7.30. With an apology to the Sage, I switched the light back on and altered the alarm clock.

So the day restarted at 6.30. Two people arrived for the service (sidesman, read both lessons too), as well as Revd Sue. "Did you find my message on your answering machine last night?" she asked. I admitted that when I got in at 11, I hadn't listened to it. She was sorry to have to ask, but could I play the clarinet for the baptism at 12.30 please? Yes, I could.

Home at 9, breakfast and a look at the paper, back to church at 10, service at 11 (played the organ), service at 12.30 - can't complain, because Sue fitted in a 9.30 service in another parish. And she's a non-stipendiary (that means unpaid) member of the clergy, so she's not even doing what she's paid to.

Yes, barking mad. All of us.

Oh, did I mention the funeral service that she took and I played for, on Friday?

This afternoon, I will do bugger all. And I might just swear a lot. At present, the halo is shining a bit too bright and I'm even boring myself.

Saturday 9 June 2007

Good night

This evening, Ro and I sped the 25 or so miles to Snape Maltings to a piano recital by Alfred Brendel. I've been listening to a good deal of piano music recently, which is something I hadn't done for a long time, and it feels like a homecoming.

We had supper beforehand and amused ourselves watching and listening to the other concert-goers. We both sat in our own little worlds for a while before catching each other's eye and realising that we were each thinking the same thing, so after that we exchanged views on dress-sense, cut-glass accents and clichés. Ro looked around, wondering if there was anyone else under the age of 27, but we couldn't spot a likely suspect. He was amused and impressed that his ticket, being in that age group, was half the price of mine.

I bumped into friends who were unsurprised to see the Sage had not accompanied me. I explained that he is coming to a concert next week and I suspect he won't enjoy it all (possibly not 'at' all), but that makes it all the more friendly that he is going to join me.

I had yet another Saturday morning in the shop, and we were very busy. It always happens that the shop fills, we scurry around serving for a while (most customers help themselves, but there are always some who appreciate service) and adding bills, and then the shop completely empties for a few minutes. This is a Good Thing, as you get a chance to fill shelves, but I can never work out how it happens - it seems to be random, but what makes 4 or 5 come in at one time rather than a few minutes apart?
Next week, I will not be on duty as I am going to have coffee with the group that went to Krakow, which will be a pleasure.

That's about it. A quiet weekend. The first tomatoes are ripe and I'll pick them tomorrow, I'll play the organ for the church service and I'll do as little as possible otherwise. Then, London on Monday.

Have a good Sunday, all of you.

I did this - I am smarter than 99.02% of the rest of the world.
Find out how smart you are. - having got it from Lionel d'Lion. Well, there you go.

Friday 8 June 2007


My daughter and I went to K & R's wedding in Madras/Chennai 3 years ago (they live in London but went 'home' to get married and with the gorgeousness of an Indian wedding, who wouldn't?) My daughter has just emailed to say that they've had their first baby.

Very happy for them, just wanted to share the good news...

The Sage is entering his Prime

I'm not sure whether to carry on with the family story. Up til now, I've been writing down what I remember my mother telling me, but from here on it would be bound to become my own recollections, and I never intended it to be about me.

Today, I woke just after 5.30 and lay listening to the rain for a while. Since then the thunder has rolled around gently and i've lost my internet connection intermittently, although there hasn't been a power cut. Al ordered a lot of strawberries for today, let's hope they were picked last evening.

I was pleased to find, on Amazon, a book for the Sage's birthday, which is next weekend. He usually ignores his birthday, more or less - he's never let me do a party, not even for significant numerals. This year's isn't even that: indeed for the next three months we will both be prime numbers.

It's still raining. We are to expect 2 inches, or 5 centimetres, today. This sounds quite a lot. East Angular gardeners don't complain about rain though. Especially if they garden on sandy gravel.

Thursday 7 June 2007

The Family story – part 17 – leaving Weymouth

A few scrappy recollections to wind this part of the story up...

The roadway to the hotel was about half a mile long and unpaved, so it was quite bumpy. My father came off his motorbike one day and broke his arm in several places. By this time, the National Health Service had been founded, giving free-at-the-point-of-service health care for all. Jane, you may remember, had been Weymouth Hospital's Almoner's Assistant a few years before, and one of her duties was taking care of the payment arrangements for the patients. She said that it worked very well, everyone paid a small amount into an insurance policy and, in practice, paid little or nothing for treatment. She and the almoner ran it all themselves and she was the receptionist as well.

When they returned to Out-Patients, they found things had changed somewhat. Instead of two people in the reception area, there were several. The receptionist, unsmiling, barked "Name?" and ticked Malcolm off on her list. They returned weekly for a couple of months or more. The last time, the same receptionist who had dealt with them throughout barked "Name?".

The hotel pastrychef, Mr Dyke, was nearing retirement age and was a particularly valued member of staff. It was normal, in the old-fashioned paternalistic society that my father belonged to, and which no longer exists, to provide for the future of your staff, and so a guest house was bought for him, given to him outright. He ran it for years and we often stayed with him when we went back to visit Grandad. He also took one of our dogs.

We had three dogs, Bobby, more formally known as Robert John after one of the waiters, who had belonged to my mother before she married. He was a fox terrier and a keen hunter. I only remember him in old age, by which time he was blind. He lost the sight of one eye when he cornered a cat and, with more fierceness than sense, did not turn away whistling cheerily until the danger was past; and the other when he chased a rabbit through a thicket of brambles.

The second dog was a bull terrier called Shoolie. She looked immensely belligerent, but was sweet-natured and adored me and my sister. I was unafraid of dogs, for I'd no reason to be anything else. My mother once heard me, as a 2-year-old, screaming angrily "Give it back! Give it back!" She discovered that Shoolie had taken my biscuit and I was yelling at her and trying to prise open her jaws.

Goggie ("Oh, what a lovely goggie," said my sister when the pup first appeared on the scene) was smallish and black. She looked not unlike Tilly now. Short smooth hair, a bit of terrier, a bit of who knows what - bit like me, really, except for the colour hair.

When we were planning to move, it was decided that uprooting all three dogs was a bit much. Mr Dyke took Goggie, another member of staff took Shoolie and we had Bobby. He lived to be 16 or more, and died when I was 5.

I don't remember much about living at the hotel. We often visited, afterwards, an old couple who lived in the row of houses opposite the hotel entrance. He was Mr Carter (Tom) and I called her Auntie Carter. She had, as a child, lived near Thomas Hardy and sometimes met him in the lanes, walking with her mother. She was a tall child, and Thomas Hardy always had the same joke "You're a bad, disrespectful daughter, looking down on your mother like that." Mr Carter was a retired policeman and they had, on the wall, a print of the picture "Nine Pints of the Law" by Lawson Wood.

I remember trying to ride my tricycle outside the main entrance and finding that the wheels spun on the large gravel stones. I remember walking down a passageway and seeing my parents' four-poster bed being taken apart, which was intriguing as I had never imagined that such a thing could happen. But, considering that I was four years old when we left, I must have been an unobservant child even then, because they are the only specific memories I have. I remember the first book I could read by myself "The Farm", a Ladybird book, because it was the most exciting thing I had ever achieved, but I'm not sure whether that was before or after we moved.

My sister says, for I can't remember, that we moved in the summer of 1958, when I was 4 and she was 10. I'm not sure why, nor is she, but she stayed on for the next school term, living with friends with three daughters, the oldest the same age as she was, during the school week and with Grandad at weekends.

That reminds me that my sister was born in 1948, the same year as Prince Charles. At this time, rationing and restrictions were still very much in operation and it wasn't easy to get all the clothes and paraphernalia you want for a baby. The other family's daughter, Roseanne, had the great good fortune to be born on the very same day as Prince Charles. All babies born on that day were sent, by the King and Queen, a full layette of beautiful clothes and other necessities in celebration of the birth of their grandson.

Wednesday 6 June 2007

To bee?

I babysat last night so that Dilly and Al could go to the first in a course of classes about beekeeping. Al in particular has come back full of enthusiasm. Next week, they will have a chance to be dressed up in beekeeper's kit and do whatever you do with a hive. They asked if we'd mind if they want to start a hive - not at all, of course, I'd be interested too. There is plenty of room and we've fields all around, the nearest house is a couple of hundred yards away so we wouldn't scare the neighbours either.

While I was cooking, the Sage went to babysit for a few minutes. Squiffany appeared at the bedroom door (she can turn the handle, so there is a child gate in the doorway) and called out. The Sage went and firmly told her to go to bed and stay there - she was so startled that she went, and not another sound was heard. This morning, her mother asked her if she remembered it. "Yes" she said, "I wanted Pugsley's music to be turned on." Mm, yes, and a few minutes later she would have wanted her potty or a drink of water. Grandpa will be asked to babysit again, I suspect, whether or not Al and Dilly are going out.

I offered to take over the shop for a week or two in June, but Al has (entirely politely) decided against it. He points out that this is a time when lots of home-grown produce is being brought into the shop and he really needs to be there, to negotiate prices etc. Today, broad beans and gooseberries came in. One of the boxes of gooseberries was sold within minutes, to someone wanting to make jam. My mother-in-law used to make quantities of gooseberry jelly, which was delicious and the most beautiful colour. I usually make strawberry jam, quince jelly and marmalade; sometimes blackberry jelly. I like pips, so I'd be happy to make jam of the blackberries, but I'm in a family minority. One year, I made hedgerow jam - blackberries, sloes, crab apples and elderberries - which was lovely, but I ate most of it. The family, while liking the flavour, didn't appreciate the pips.

Anyway, they asked if I'd have any time in September so I checked my diary and gave them a choice of dates. Dilly didn't waste time and has booked a holiday the last week of the month. I asked Al where they will be going. "Up North," he said, "near Cromer."

Imagine, if you will, the map of Great Britain. Norfolk and Suffolk share the Easternmost bulge that looks like a pig's bum, without a tail (is the shape of Britain still commonly described as 'an old woman with a pig?). We are in the middle, though towards the coast. Cromer is on the top north-east corner of the bulge. Only a complete East Anglian could call Cromer 'up north'!

Z is still cooking

I adore this so much that I've given it to quite a few people, so it was already typed out. Although there seems to be a lot of garlic in there, it blends in so well with the various spices that no one flavour predominates. It is good hot or cold and can be grilled or barbecued, but don't fry it, as somehow all the flavours vanish. It is aromatically spicy rather than hot and so people who are wary of curries (like my husband) like it, as do children. It is also very, very easy.

Grilled Chicken marinated with Indian spices (from J0scel1ine D1mbleby, Fav0ur1te F00d)

2 – 2.5 lb of small chicken pieces, eg drumsticks OR
1.5 lb boneless chicken, skinned and cut in pieces

1 small onion, roughly sliced
1” fresh ginger, peeled & chopped
6 – 8 cloves garlic, peeled
3 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cardamon
1/2 teaspoons ground cloves
1/2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons sunflower oil
1 tablespoon tomato purée
1 rounded teaspoons salt

Liquidize marinade ingredients to a smooth paste. Mix in bowl with chicken pieces, cover & refrigerate for 4 hours or more.

Heat grill or griddle until very hot. Cook for 8 – 15 minutes, depending on size of chicken pieces until almost black in patches.

While I'm on to not-very-hot food with Indian-type flavours, I got this out of the newspaper a year or two back. I like this so much that I'll eat it on its own.

Spicy Masala potatoes

800 grams potatoes
3 tbsp veg oil
1 tbsp mustard seeds
10 curry leaves (if available. If not add 1 teasp of garam masala at the end to taste. Or add the garam masala anyway. I do.)
1 finely sliced green chilli
1 onion, halved & finely sliced
1 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground coriander
Piece of fresh ginger, grated
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp salt
300 ml water
2 tbsp fresh coriander, chopped

Peel potatoes, cut into chunks, simmer in salted water until just cooked. Drain, cut into 2 cm dice.
Heat oil, add mustard seeds, when they start to pop add curry leaves & chilli, stir, add onion, cook gently until soft, about 10 mins. Add spices, potato & water, stir well, simmer for 5 – 10 mins until the sauce thickens to coat the potatoes. Stir in the fresh coriander & serve.

Tuesday 5 June 2007

Z's toad is In a Hole

The Boy asks for the recipe I use. I just chuck everything in, really, until it's about the right consistency. Sometimes I add onions, fried first. T in the H made with bacon wrapped around cheddar is nice, but I'd give the bacon a few seconds in the microwave first, to release some of the liquid as otherwise the batter gets soggy.

Roughly, this is the basic method I use.
1 lb butcher's sausages
6 oz plain flour
6 fluid oz milk
4 fluid oz water
2 large eggs (I weigh bantams' eggs to get about 5 - 6 oz)

Put the oven on to Gas mark 7, 425 F. Put a roasting tin in to heat, with a spoonful of dripping if you've got it, or oil if you haven't. Brown the sausages all round in a frying pan. While they are frying, make the batter with the flour, milk, water, eggs and season with a little salt and rather more pepper. When the fat is sizzling, take out the tin, put in the sausages and put on the hob on a fairly high heat while you pour in the batter. Bung it back in the oven until it's cooked, about 40 minutes.

It's hardly a recipe, really - I think having everything really hot when you put in the batter makes it crisp and I use a metal tin for that reason.

I'd better go and brown those sossies. I'm babysitting tonight, so I'll get the food ready, put Squiffany to bed (I hope Pugsley is already there), then the Sage will stay with her while I get the toad in the oven, as he can't be relied upon to have everything hot enough (not a control freak at all, what do you mean?). Then we'll swap places again and he can bring me my dinner when it's ready (I do trust him to take it out of the oven).

PS - if you're in a mood for any more recipes, there are several in the same book that I cook often. Grilled chicken marinated with Indian spices, for example. Green noodles with cream of red pepper sauce. Tarragon chicken and mushroom pancake roulade. Monkfish salad with exotic sauce (it's not that exotic, remember she was writing nearly 25 years ago). I use her recipe for ceviche too. And I like her way of cooking basmati rice. Don't feel obliged to ask for any to humour me, but if you fancy anything, let me know.

Z is going to sit in a comfy chair and read the paper

Is life just a series of events ticked off? One deadline after another? It seems so to me. But I've got it easy the rest of the week. A funeral to play for (as organist) on Friday and I'm working in the shop on Saturday, organ again on Sunday, none of which really count as work at all, but one of which I'm actually paid for. Gosh.

The stuffed chicken rolls, which the Boy would like the recipe for. Yes, it is very good. It comes from a J0scel1ne D1mbleby book called 'Fav0ur1te F00d' which, I see from the publication date, I have had since 1983. It is a very good book and I use several of the recipes regularly, after all these years. I give the recipe as printed, but I usually substitute bacon for some of the pork and I don't usually thicken the sauce, and rarely remember the parsley. If you have someone on a very low fat diet, dry-fry the lean pork and it's about as near fat-free as a meat recipe can be.

8 oz (225 g) lean minced pork
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 level teaspoons chopped rosemary
salt, pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 large skinned chicken breast fillets
1 egg, whisked
1/4 pint (150 ml) dry white wine
1/2 teasp. cornflour
small handful parsley, finely chopped

Mix the chopped pork with the chopped garlic and rosemary and season well with salt and black pepper (if you do use bacon, hold you hard* with the salt) Heat the olive oil and fry the pork, stirring to separate, for about 5 minutes. Leave to cool.

Put the chicken breasts between two sheets of greaseproof paper and bash with a meat mallet or rolling pin or whatever until they are spread out and fairly thin (I often cut them to half thickness and bash them a bit, as two small rolls can look better on a plate - in any case, one little one is enough for me, who packs away vast amounts of food, but a bit at a time). Sprinkle them lightly with salt.

Mix the egg into the port mixture and put a good spoonful of the stuffing on each flattened fillet. Roll the fillets carefully over the filling and place, join side down, in a fairly shallow ovenproof dish into which the rolls will fit fairly closely. Don't worry if bits of stuffing fall out of the rolls, just tuck in any leftover mince around the rolls.

Pour over the white wine and cover the dish with foil or a lid. Cook at Gas 5/375F/190C for 30-35 minutes until white and just lightly cooked.

Pour the juices into a saucepan. In a small bowl, mix the cornflour with a spoonful of water until smooth, and stir into the juices. Bring to the boil, stirring and simmer, still stirring, for 2-3 minutes. Check for seasoning, add the chopped parsley and spoon the sauce over the chicken rolls.

*be cautious. One thinks in Norfolk, once in a while.

Anyway, the meeting went well - it did overrun by 5 minutes (they have seen my true bossy colours recently, and I am strict with time) but that wasn't too bad. I'd got lunch ready beforehand, and had delegated hulling the strawberries to the Sage, who was splendidly helpful throughout and very hospitable at lunchtime. There were ten of us for lunch in the end, which is comfortable round the table - it can seat twelve but that's a bit of a scrum and one can find oneself drinking out of a neighbour's glass.

By the way, one salad came out of a book called 'Cooking without Fuss'. Indeed, it wasn't a fuss, exactly, but it took an awful lot of time. First, I shelled a pile of broad beans. Then I cooked them and refreshed them quickly under cold water. Then I peeled them. Then I cooked and cooled some asparagus. Then I peeled and cut up red onions and garlic and roasted them. Meanwhile, I prepared couscous, added lemon zest, garlic, chilli powder, ground cumin and ground coriander to hot olive oil, stirred and added to the couscous. Then, when the onions were ready, stirred them into the couscous.

When this was cool, I added the juice of the lemon, the asparagus and the broad beans, and some cubed feta cheese. I served it on a bed of Cos lettuce.

It took ages. It tasted good, but I'm not sure I'll get around to doing it again. It was the shelling of each broad bean that clinched it.

The Sage just rang. He had asked what would be for dinner. I said, something with eggs as I hadn't shopped. He phoned to say, keenly, that the butcher was still open - if he bought some sausages, could we have toad in the hole? Could we, could we, pleeeease? I said yes. Bless him. How can he still eat after all that lunch?

Monday 4 June 2007

Z shows Rare Wisdom

This afternoon, I gave my apologies for the governors' training meeting tonight. I don't think I've ever done that before - in fact, it annoys me to see the number of no-shows at these meetings. We get busy and tired, of course, but a phone call to say you aren't going to make is is simple courtesy and very little trouble.

Anyway, this means that I have the gift of three extra hours to get ready for tomorrow.

It's my own fault. I could have booked lunch at Earsham Street Cafe, but I willingly said I'd give the committee lunch, as it's the last meeting of the season. And I did lunch last year - on that occasion, we had asparagus, then chicken fillets stuffed with pork, then pineapple and passion fruit. Tomorrow's will be considerably simpler, ie cold - salmon and various salads, strawberries, cheese. Can't get easier than that.

Except, why did I think opening a bottle of prosecco would be a good idea? That is, opening the bottle was a splendid idea, as it always is. But finishing the second glass before I'd had dinner was, maybe, misguided. Dinner, by the way, was pizza. Pfft. It's been a busy day and I had no time to shop, not while the butcher was open anyway. The Co-op was open, but I forgot to buy biscuits.

So, do I leap out at the moment the shop opens to get biscuits, or do I make them tonight, at the same time that I am gently poaching salmon and making a start on a range of interesting salads? Not that I've watered the greenhouses yet. That might take priority.

Damn. It was the third glass of wine that did it. I am assailed by uncertainty.

This morning's thingy was all right, thank you and I pretended well. I can't say anything about the situation, but it's been dealt with now and I hope it won't arise again in any form. The local school has a really good headteacher, that I will say.

Water the greenhouses. Yes. Then cook the salmon, Then blanch the asparagus, pod, cook and peel the broad beans and cook and spice the couscous. Then think about other salads. Yes. Scrub new potatoes. Make mayonnaise. Having thought, do advance preparations for other (having been thought about and decided upon) salads.

The silver is all cleaned and shines amazingly. It's beautiful. It had looked decidedly copperish. The table is laid, including proper linen napkins that are beautifully ironed (by me, natch) but unstarched. Pi and I agree on this, napkins that lie stiffly on your lap are not as nice as those that drape. I have got out the 100-year-old cups for coffee.

Oh damn. I've got to write a piece for the newsletter too, and the deadline is tomorrow. Never mind, by the time I come to do that, I'll be sober.

Sorted. Hah.