Tuesday 31 July 2007

Z was embarrassed - but later won her case

We have a lecture every month and I have to give the vote of thanks at the end. This means that for the whole of the hour-long lecture, I'm busy committing to memory entertaining snippets, most of which I forget when I have to stand on the stage at the end. Before the lecture, I also have to give out notices and introduce the speaker, which is all right. On the way home from visits, I thank the person who organised it, and the coach driver (Keith is our usual driver and we like him very much).

I go for the informal approach. "You are so spontaneous!" people say - which is, of course, a kind way of saying 'totally unprepared'. I take the view that people will forgive me if I'm fluffy, as long as they like me and I make them laugh. So that's the angle I go for. It does not mean that I don't mind when I am more than usually inept.

A few years ago, we had a splendid chap called J0hn B3njam1n coming to give us a lecture on jewellery (you may have seen him on Ant1ques R0adsh0w). Before he arrived, several people (who had not checked their programme) asked me who was lecturing. " J0hn B3njam1n" I replied. Without exception, each of them said "Eh? J0hn Betjamen?" Was it any surprise, therefore, when I introduced the fellow, that I said it too?

Another time, we were approaching Norwich on the A11 after a visit to London. There are several roundabouts, and I was standing at the front of the coach with my back to the windscreen. Round the roundabout we went (for that's what you do when you approach those useful traffic aids) and I fell straight down the steps towards the door. The driver (not Keith) might have warned me, but it was, admittedly, more fun that way. And indeed, all 49 people in the coach laughed at me.

The third time was when we had another well-known antiques expert, D@v1d B@tt1e, for a study day. Nothing too awful about the vote of thanks that time, except that the Sage was in the audience. He isn't normally. I felt very self-conscious. I like to keep compartments in my life separate.

Though - and I'd forgotten about this until now when I wrote about it - the matter was raised in a disagreement a few weeks later. I suggested to the Sage that he often didn't show much support for me and he had never even noticed it. It is not easy to win an argument with me, because I cite Evidence. I reminded him of the occasion and told him that, nervous as I'd been, he hadn't said anything to encourage me beforehand, nor to reassure me afterwards. He was startled, because it genuinely hadn't occurred to him (although I always go through the whole supportive thing every time he does an auction or gives a lecture, even though it's been his job for decades) and said "But I didn't say anything to discourage you!"

He kept digging. "I clapped!"

"Everyone bloody clapped. It would have been a bit pointed if you hadn't. Anyway, they weren't clapping me, they were clapping the speaker."

Poor darling was quite contrite.

Z hates to disappoint people

A society* I belong to applied, a couple of years ago, for a visit to the Prince of Wales' home - not the house itself, but a tour of the gardens. We've recently been offered a date in September. The letter arrived while the society takes its summer break, so some of the committee have had to get off their deckchairs** and do some extra work.

We have three or four visits every year, to exhibitions, interesting houses etc - this autumn, for example, we will go to the Terracotta Army exhibition at the British Museum and to the Mansion House - and there is one committee member whose responsibility is to make all the arrangements. However, for this particular trip, both people who have done this job have already visited H1ghgr0ve and so can't go again, so I've got to deal with applications.

I discover that I am not temperamentally suited to dealing with an oversubscribed trip.

We decided, since people may be on holiday or the post may take longer in some places than others, to go for a ballot rather than first come, first served, and the date for this is Monday 13th. There are only 25 places available - since expenses are the same whether the coach is full or half-full and this is a long way and so needs two drivers, this makes it a relatively expensive excursion and it will be a long day into the bargain, as we are going to leave at 6.30 am and don't expect to return until 9.30 pm - and I'd hoped (knowing I wasn't being realistic) for 25 applicants.

In the first two days, I've had 32. That already means disappointing 7 people, and many of the applicants are friends which makes it even worse

I can't sway the outcome as it wouldn't be the Thing to Do***, and to make sure I'm not tempted, I've asked the Rector to do the draw with me - not just because she will be above suspicion, but also because she won't know any of the people concerned so won't mind.

There is just one upside. On the day, I'll get to boss everyone about.

*There are over 300 different branches, which are run independently but all affiliated to the National Association.

**With thanks to Dandelion for the improvement.

***With an acknowledgment to Dave that, by claiming a place that could go to a more deserving person, I am a liar.

Monday 30 July 2007

Unrealistic Expectations

I should remember that if an expected (though not overdue) business email has not arrived by 11.30 on Sunday night, it's unlikely to be here at 7.30 on Monday morning.

Sad to say, the computer and the camera are not at present on speaking terms. I took the precaution of restarting the computer before plugging in the camera in the hope of preventing a problem and it was when I tried to look at the photos that the computer crashed, so I've lost my photos. At least I'd shown my daughter the film I"d taken at the station, when we suddenly found out that Pugsley could say her name.

When a baby starts using words, it isn't always that obvious what they are - that is, whether it's really words or just sounds. My daughter reminded me when Squiffany was a baby and they went out of the back door of a café and she looked at the grass and said "garden". But she didn't say the word again for months.

Dilly and the children drove me to the station and Dilly asked Squiffany if she knew where I was going - whom do they usually bring here? "El and Phil", realised Squiffany. "Last syllable of El's name" piped up Pugsley. Startled, we asked him to repeat it. He did, several times, until I got the camera out and then he needed some persuasion. But he did in the end.

I'm sorry, also, to have lost the picture of El and Phil stranded in the fountain - and the artistic one of the rainbow seen in the fountain. I rudely snapped (without his knowledge) a young man with the worst hairstyle I've ever seen. I was looking forward to showing you that. He had very red hair and he had decided to shave it off all around the sides and leave it sticking up like a bog brush on top. The contrast between pale bristly head and red topknot was ugly, not in an aggressive "you thinking of messing with me, mate?" way but a "yeah, I know it was a really dismal mistake but I really feel those summer evening draughts and I'm too cold to cut it all off" one.

We arrived at the restaurant at 6 o'clock, just as the market had finished for the day, so we watched all the barrowboys pack up. As they were stacking the boxes on top of the barrows, an elderly Indian lady in a sari, clutching a couple of shopping bags, came along, eyes darting. She put down her bags and dived towards a fallen onion. Then a slightly dented cabbage. There was a turnip, but she rejected the green pepper, which must have been too soft. I rather applauded her - I don't like waste either, and she punctiliously waited until there was no question that the stallholder was going to pick them up himself.

A man came along, wearing a cheap suit and eating fish and chips. The bits of batter he didn't want were chucked on the ground with the vegetable debris. "Nice," said El. "I expect he feeds the rats in his own backyard, too." Fortunately, there are always London pigeons on hand and they cleared most of it up before the council refuse collectors came along. We wondered if all the stallholders pay equal amounts for rubbish clearing - some of the stalls left little or no rubbish, whereas the greengrocers made a real mess.

We know a barrowboy in Portobello Road. He says that local people are too posh to do their greengrocery shopping with him any more - round there they all go to the supermarkets, or maybe they buy their organic vegetable boxes and have them driven in from the countryside. He sells fruit to people scurrying out at lunchtime, or simple veg and salads to those hurrying home at the end of the day who have run out of tomatoes or need a stick of celery. Chapel Market is still busy though. A tough life - only shut on Mondays, El tells me, but each other day they are there for long hours in all weathers.

Sunday 29 July 2007

:-D ... well, it's not hard, is it?

My sister, her young man and I are planning a visit to the Loire in October. He has been doing all the research, which I heartily approve of, because I have a short attention span - I usually don't mind, and can't be doing with more that a choice of three at best. I'm a nightmare in a travel agency and worse online because there is Too Much Choice.

Having, between us, agreed all the details (well, he suggested, I said yes), he emailed to say that the booking was confirmed. Yay!

I emailed back, cc-ing my sister


Z x

Now, doesn't that say it all to you? I thought it did. But I had a phone call this evening from my sister, whom I shall call Wink.

Wink - Bod and I had a most peculiar email from you.

Z - What?

Wink - it was all signs and symbols and we didn't understand it.

Z (who had forgotten all about the email, having received another one from Bod in the meantime) - oh my god, don't say that I''ve been spammed and you are getting dodgy stuff in my name!

Wink - I don't know - it didn't send us anywhere, but it didn't make sense.

Z (starting to have an inkling) - what was it?

Wink - well, there was a colon and then..

Interrupting Z - haven't you come across emoticons?

Explanations ensued. I felt a little silly. I expect she felt sillier. I mean, really.


For dinner, on Friday night, we went to the Clerkenwell Dining Room. If you book via Top Table, you get a 50% reduction in the prices of the food at present, which makes it astonishingly reasonable for what we had, which was gorgeous food, charming staff and a good atmosphere.

We started with a freebie gazpacho. Oh, no, that came after the really good bread. Then El and I had tempura and Phil had pâté (there was some fois gras in there, but there was also chicken so his conscience was only moderately troubled). We all ate bits of each others' plates throughout in a relaxed yet keen fashion. Afterwards, Phil and I both had smoked duck breast, which was served at exactly the right stage of rareness on Puy lentils with little shallots, small beetroots and pommes dauphinoise. El had slow-cooked belly of pork with scallops, served with tiny apple cubes, the pommes d. and I'm not sure what else. We shared the chocolate terrine with pistachio icecream served in a most fabulous little biscuit, sort of tuile-ish, but with a brandysnap lacyness and, praline-like, studded with chopped nuts. It was heavenly. Even though we didn't have coffee, they brought sweets - nice little crisp sweet Melba toasty bits, tiny home-made marshmallows and rich little truffles. The bill would have been £115 including service, but the half-price offer brought it down to only £40 for all the food and £35 for the very nice bottle of wine, fizzy water and tip.

On Saturday night, we went to one of El and Phil's current favourites and within a few minutes' walk of their flat, in Islington's Chapel Market. We were there early as I had a train to catch. We shared a couple of starters, had monkfish, lamb curry, Chicken Tikka, red vegetables, yellow rice, Tiger beer - really good, delicious fresh food. Again, nice staff. I'd happily go again. There was a special 60th Independence anniversary, but we weren't quite up to all the food on it at that time of the evening. I don't know the cost as my lovely children paid, but it was very good value, especially as, again, we'd booked with Top Table. The name, you are anxious to know, is Rooburoo.

The day was excellent. Starting with El and Phil's splendid breakfast, which I did not help to cook as their kitchen fits two snugly. I had, however, contributed eggs. Just as we were leaving for the station, I went to fetch the half-dozen eggs that had been nestling in the kitchen --- but two were missing! - Ro had had breakfast already! Nothing daunted, the Sage went and squeezed a couple of bantams and returned with two more eggs, still warm. Mm, nice.

I'm glad to say that I liked the Gormley exhibition just as much the second time round. Afterwards, I took El and Phil to see the fountain with sheets of water that trap giggling tourists. El said that I'd be a good guide, as I am so enthusiastic. Such keenness did I instil in her that she chirruped "shall we go in?" I, being a reticent type, was startled but, being a jolly type, was game. We became trapped in watery cubes and it was really quite a windy morning. I was all right, but their jeans rather soaked the water up, especially as I was let out several minutes before they were. I amused myself taking lots of photos.

Afterwards, we went to the Cartoon Museum*, which I mentioned the other day. It was fabulous, do go. It's only been open for 18 months, doesn't receive government funding and is a joy. I love cartoons, from Hogarth and Gilray to Searle, Addams, Scarfe, Calman, Heath Robinson, whose work is being commemorated in their current exhibition. Looking at them reminded me how the more sardonic cartoonists shaped my early life.

It seems to be largely run by volunteers, and the woman on duty was a friendly, welcoming enthusiast. The little gift shop was a joy, with lots of books of cartoons and about cartoonists, well-chosen gifts for children keen on drawing, and very amusing cards. I bought the book of the exhibition and El bought a highly amusing mug.

Afterwards, we spent a cheerful hour or so in the British Museum - the 'or so' part sitting people-watching: my word, there are some oddities about. Then we went back to the flat for a Nice Cup of Tea and a Sit Down (you do know this website, don't you? I'm such a fan that I even bought the book last year. I read it in Venice) before venturing out for our Indian dinner. We hadn't had lunch, as breakfast had lasted all day.

There were Scouts on the train from Chelmsford, which was a bit disconcerting if you didn't know about the Jamboree. Which I didn't. But they were cheerfully well-behaved, as you would expect of such future Establishment Pillars.

*admission is £4 for adults, not £3 as stated here. Still Value.

Saturday 28 July 2007


London was bright and delightful and we had a splendid day. I was very glad that I was getting off the train at Diss anyway, because the train terminated there and passengers were bused to Norwich. It was raining and it's a much longer trip by road than by rail.

I hope you have all written lots of posts to entertain me, and I will read them all tomorrow. But now I'm going to bed.

Friday 27 July 2007

London awaits the arrival of Z!!(!)

I'm off in a few minutes. Dilly is taking me to the station. I have packed exceedingly light, which always gives me a tiny frisson of pleasure, because my young brain was scarred by my mother taking everything on every occasion. For me, packing for all eventualities means an extra pair of knickers, just in case.

You will not miss me at all, darlings, however fond you are, for I shall be back tomorrow night.

Have a lovely weekend.

Food memories (vegetarians, please read no further)

When I was a child, my mother must have spent most of her days planning meals and cooking them. No quick bowl of muesli in the morning or lunchtime sandwiches. We had three square meals a day.

A proper breakfast, of course. We didn't start the meal with cereal in our family. Straight into the bacon and eggs. Sometimes kedgeree or sausages. Grilled tomatoes and mushrooms. Or just eggs, poached, scrambled or boiled. A piece of toast perhaps, but my mother watched her figure and didn't eat much bread. My father made fantastic marmalade, so he might have that on toast. At Christmas, we had a turkey and a whole ham, so breakfast for a week afterwards might be cold ham. Then there were kippers, of course, always served in pairs. Or bloaters, which she served whole (nowadays, I gut bloaters before cooking them).

That kept us going for the morning. My mother made coffee for herself, the gardener, the daily and anyone else around at 11 o'clock, but nothing to eat. I might have had a glass of milk - there was certainly milk at school, little bottles containing one third of a pint. No one liked it, as it wasn't refrigerated during the morning and was slightly warm and, in the summer, borderline off, but we had to drink it.

School lunch was ghastly, on the whole. Stews were strangely gelatinous, gristly and had no vegetables in them at all. I was used to plenty of vegetables and longed for a bit of onion and carrot to give it some interest. The pies made with minced beef were all right - good pastry - but the scrambled eggs were horrible. They were served out of great stainless steel vats and the top half was dry and crumbly and the rest damp curds scooped out of water with a slotted spoon. We believed they were made from powdered egg and we may have been right. Sausages were mostly fat and gristle and the cheese and potato pie was disgusting. Lumpy mash with sour cheese mixed in and baked. On Friday, it being a Catholic school, we had fish. My mind has blanked a description of the pieces of fish we were served and we hoped for fish fingers instead, although one day a boarder told us that she had lifted the breadcrumbs off her fish finger and found mould underneath. Vegetables were overcooked, of course. There was always soup, though I never took it. It was made from a packet and I didn't see much point in it.

At home, my mother might have made a shepherd's pie with the leftovers from the Sunday roast. Or fishcakes, a casserole, an omelette, cold meat and salad with a baked potato, lamb chops - quite straightforward dishes, but always beautifully cooked and served with several (never overcooked) vegetables. We had more than our daily five fruit and veg in those days, there were always lots of home-grown vegetables on the table. She made wonderful vegetable soups with home-made stock.

Our main meal was normally in the evening, except on Sundays, when we had a traditional roast, usually beef. Sirloin, on the bone, with the undercut (fillet) left on. My mother made wonderful Yorkshire pudding and roast potatoes. The beef was served rare. In the evening, we had it cold, as well as any other cold meat left from a previous day, with several different salads and pickles - she pickled red cabbage and walnuts and made chutney. We also had cheese - Cheddar, Stilton, Brie, Camembert, Edam - and biscuits. It was served on a trolley in the drawing room - all other meals were eaten in the dining room.

Dinner during the week was usually meaty. We had at least one other roast and often a chicken. We sometimes had a mixed grill - does anyone eat mixed grill now? So much food on the plate - a small piece of steak, a lamb chop, a sausage, some liver, a kidney, tomatoes, mushrooms, fried potatoes, sometimes an egg or a rasher of bacon too. We often ate fish - grilled usually, sole or turbot or trout - or baked cod with onion and tomato, or fish pie with mashed potato. Our next door neighbours owned a fishing fleet and almost lived on fish - my mother was a bit taken aback to find that they considered kippers suitable for an evening meal, when to her they were, however delicious, certainly a breakfast or lunch dish.

At the weekend, they often had dinner parties and went to a lot of trouble with the food. They were followers of Elizabeth David and made cassoulet, ratatouille, daubes and carbonades. My mother had no interest at all in sweet food and, apart from lemon syllabub (I use her recipe still, except that I have changed it*), puddings were simple in the extreme. For example, a bought coffee icecream, smothered in whipped cream and sprinkled with a crumbled Flake chocolate bar was, she considered, perfectly acceptable for a dinner party pudding. A starter might be oeuf en cocotte (cooked perfectly so that the white was set but the yolk runny) or home-made pâté. In the 60s, they were always the first with the new foods, which they had sent up from London if necessary - avocado, for example. They grew aubergines, okra, melons - we had eight greenhouses, two of them hothouses.

Once in a while, my father fried fish and chips. He started by filleting the fish, which would have been cod, plaice or haddock. Then he peeled the potatoes, sliced them, soaked them, dried them, fried them to cook through. He made the batter and battered the fish. Then he gave the chips their final fry and fried the fish. They were served with frozen peas and home-made tartare sauce and lemon. He used almost all the dishes and pans in the kitchen and my mother would spend the afternoon cleaning up. He was a marvellous cook, but each meal he prepared was an Event and he used every utensil he could find and never even thought about the clearing away.

At home, unless there were guests, we never had puddings. My mother didn't encourage a sweet tooth, though she did not disapprove of ice cream. This was the only shining light of school meals. The school cooks made lovely puddings, jam or chocolate sponges, rice pudding served with a dob of dark brown sugar, apple pies. In the summer, sometimes, jelly and ice cream, which was all right but not as nice as the dairy ice cream my mother bought.

Wine was always on the table. Everyday wine was bought in half-gallons. I can't remember at what age I was first allowed to drink it but after that I always could if I wished. I rarely did, maybe the occasional half-glass when I was in my teens. Because it was not forbidden or 'special', I didn't think of drinking alcohol as something to aspire to or hide from my parents. Sometimes we went to Sunday pre-lunch drinks parties. From the age of about 14, I was given sherry and, looking back, I must have sometimes become pretty drunk. Sherry is a fairly heavy drink for a youngster and I was freely offered refills.

We didn't eat between meals, although fruit was not counted as snacking and was always available in large quantities. My mother did not bake cakes or biscuits, though we might have a biscuit at (afternoon) tea time. Lunch was at 1 and dinner 7.30 - later at a party of course. From a fairly early age, we ate dinner with our parents rather than early high tea.

Remarkably enough, I was tiny. I had a very small appetite, although I was not fussy about food at all. My mother was sympathetic, as she knew I simply could not eat much. "Try to finish the meat," she would say. "It's expensive and it's protein." I would be asked what vegetables I wanted with my sliver of meat and small potato. "Five peas and half a sprout, please" I would say, and that's what I'd be given. My parents understood how discouraging it was to be confronted with a plateful I couldn't finish.

*Less sugar, more alcohol. She did the juice of a lemon and half the grated rind, 4 ounces of sugar, a glass of sherry and half a pint of cream. I use the juice and all the rind, 2 ounces of sugar (a little more if needed), a glass of sherry and a slug of brandy, to a half-pint of cream.

Thursday 26 July 2007

The appeal of the Full English...

I spoke, this morning, of all the (pretty light but culturally above reproach and thoroughly entertaining) delights planned for Saturday. What did most of you home in on?

The cooked breakfast.

You know, I'm old enough to have grown up with bacon and eggs for breakfast every day. I had no idea what a privilege it was.

Making plans

I mentioned that I'm having a day in London, with El and Phil. I'm taking the 4.17 train tomorrow afternoon, which will arrive about 6 and then we will meet for a drink before going out for dinner. On Saturday, we're going to the Gormley exhibition - back there, in my case, but I really want to go again.

Until yesterday, we hadn't planned the rest of the day, but I'd had my eye on the Heath Robinson exhibition here, for I have found his drawings most entertaining all my life. My father was a fan, so I grew up with them. I'm not sure if my daughter even knows this, but I arrived home last night to find an email from her suggesting the very same exhibition. Isn't that splendid?

Then, we'll toddle down to the British Museum and take a gander at this.

Later, we'll have an early meal at an Indian restaurant they like which is not far from their flat, and I'll take the 8.30 train home. I have nothing at all to do on Sunday, for once, but maybe Ro will let me play with him on his Wii...

Wednesday 25 July 2007

Z sees the Nobs, as well as Silver Threads

Today, Dilly and the children and I went to the Sandringham Flower Show. This part of Norfolk is where the smart people live (Nobs, not Knobs, of course). Indeed, Charles and Camilla (as we Yobs familiarly refer to them) were driven in their horse-drawn carriage a mere three yards from us. They looked very fine.

Despite a couple of rainy spells, it was a most jolly day and we had fun. I particularly appreciated the fact that the flower and produce was of usual local growers' standard and not absolutely professional - this splendid effort notwithstanding. It was a little windy by the time we were ready to leave. As Squiffany was climbing into the car, she suddenly decided a final visit to the lavatory was necessary. While they were gone, I looked in the mirror.

Something of a mistake. But worse was to come, when I combed my hair and looked closer

Oh, bum.

I'm worth more alive

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Mind you, my less than perfect sight is only slight myopia. I can see everything, only a bit fuzzy. That's quite nice, I think.

Thanks to Badgerdaddy (yes, I should link, but you all read Badgerdaddy already, I trust).

Tuesday 24 July 2007

Doesn't 'holiday' suggest 'fun'?

I went to buy a couple of cards - birthday card for Ro and congratulatory card to friends who've recently had a baby - and in came a tall thin well-spoken woman, loudly apologising for her noisy child. She had a quiet little girl with her. As I left, the same woman had gone outside and was telling her daughter, who looked scared and shocked, to "Stay THERE and be GOOD and keep an eye on HIM." By the wall was a small boy with vivid red hair, straight and rather long with a pelmet fringe. His mouth was wide open in a soundless wail and both front teeth were missing.

I felt sorry for the whole family. The summer holidays have only just started and the tether is already stretched to its endurance. Still six weeks to go.

Z has wheels

Mark was, in person, as helpful as he'd been on the phone. We went in and the Sage said "We're the ones whose car had all the problems." You might think, in a garage, that this was not quite enough clue, but he knew us at once, greeted us and fetched the car key - which he gave to me - and the invoice, which he took us through and explained to us (we'd had them do a full service while they were about it). He still pitched his manner at the right level of friendliness without familiarity or subservience. I managed not to put my foot in it this time, though I suspect he already had my measure.

Ro came with us (he's got some time off work) and he and I went to the cinema afterwards. As we arrived home, the Sage greeted us with "Excellent timing. Dinner's just ready."

Today, it's Ro's birthday. His present should arrive - I bought him a Wii, as I think that no one should be too old for toys. Also, I rather want to play with it myself. Squiffany is planning a party for him this afternoon. We suspect there will be balloons and pass the parcel as well as a gaudily iced cake.

The postman has just arrived (he won't be bringing the Wii, which is coming by courier). I heard him say, to Tilly, "Morning, sweetheart, good girl." I heard her crunch a biscuit.

Monday 23 July 2007

Z was too familiar

Oh dear, I've just embarrassed myself. Again.

Mark from the garage just rang to say my car will be ready today. As we'd asked, they have given it a full service as well as the head gasket repair. I asked the price. £1,235.81. "Actually," I told him, "I'd steeled myself for more."

I then thanked him for his helpfulness throughout all this - praise is more important than blame, I think, when it's due - and then I said "Right then, see you later, love." I bit my tongue in dismay. It was a business conversation, dammit. I don't even know the lad. I may call you all by (richly merited, you lovely people) endearments, but this is entirely different. And I don't have the sort of voice that sounds as if I call everyone "luv" or "darlin'"

At least I didn't say 'dear heart.'

I will dress in a business suit and look sensible and proper when I go in, and perhaps he will think he misheard me.

Sunday 22 July 2007

Just Another Sunday

I had a phone call at 8 o’clock this morning to say that G wouldn't be able to do coffee this morning (which was fine, I took milk and biscuits, set it up and then nobbled a helpful person to take over) as she was over at the hospital with her mother.

This is a lady in her late seventies, who has been waiting for an exploratory operation since November. She still hadn't been given a date, but was increasingly in pain. Following a fall when she broke her hip a year or two back, she is a bit frail anyway. Last week, G rang to ask if there was any way of bringing the op. forward. "Well, she could go privately..." "How much?" "About £1,500." They decided to go for it, and on Tuesday were invited to come in this Sunday at 7.30 am.

In the event, G's mum was in such pain at 5 o'clock that she took her in early, which was the reason she felt that her stint on the coffee rota was just one job too much, and she was right.

Of course, they made the right decision for her mother's health - and, in addition, she knows that they value her sufficiently to make it. But I thought that waiting lists were supposed to have come way down. Now the operation has taken place, will it be counted as a target that has been met? Or will it disappear altogether from NHS figures? I know a good many people who have given up waiting and paid out for procedures that should have been carried out on the NHS - I would not be at all surprised if they were included in the 'success' figures.

The reason I don't like these targets is that they encourage fudging and fiddling. I see it too often.

Food to prepare, this afternoon, for a 'do' at one of the neighbouring parishes. Little canapé-ish stuff. I always think that, if you make it look pretty (and taste nice, of course), you can get away with really simple stuff.

Later - Sadly, having taken the photos, I plugged the camera into the computer, which promptly crashed. I unwisely unplugged the camera before turning it off, which means I have lost all the photos (including some from the festival which I hadn't got around to downloading). Sorry. The canapés were very nice, though, and so was the do.

Saturday 21 July 2007

Z never learns...well, she forgot the lesson again

There came a day, when I was 38 years old, when I looked in the mirror and realised that I was too old to go without make-up, unless I cared to risk being handed a bell and a sign saying 'unclean' by someone who thought I had a dreaded disease, rather than just looking like this naturally. So, ever since, my mornings have started with a few minutes being spent putting on some slap - usually in quite a casual fashion, for I'm content with a general cover-up and don't expect miracles.

Occasionally, however, this transformation from scary to mere old bag doesn't happen first thing, and this always proves to be a mistake.

Today, for instance, I did this and that, read a few blogs, answered an email and wrote another, wrote the last post (migraine gone, by the way, thank the Lord- and the chemists, of course - for M1gr@leve) and finally, around 10.30, went to wash my hair. I was just smearing moisturiser on the boat race when a car drew up.

That's it. Whenever I don't present a reasonable face to the world, someone calls. I dragged a hasty comb through the wet hair and went to answer the door. My friends recoiled in horror momentarily, but recovered their poise quickly, and Tilly came to my aid by playing in a most friendly fashion with their two little children.

After they left, I went straight to rectify matters and now have painted on a smile and a complexion. My hair is a bit beyond redemption, having half-dried pointing the wrong way, but no matter. It's the face that frightens people the most.

Not much happening

Unwisely, I started the day with some intricate work* on the computer, forgetting I hadn't put in my contact lenses ad so had to squint myopically and it gave me a migraine. I used to get them quite often and tried all sorts of ways of staving them off - I knew when I'd been overdoing it and so didn't eat citrus fruit, chocolate, drank no alcohol, tried to get more sleep but not too much - avoided the traditional triggers, sometimes with success and sometimes not. Now, I know that most of the cause, for me, was tension and tiredness and I'm very laid-back at this stage of my life, so they rarely happen. Patterns of moving objects can do it though (I have to be careful around water and sunlight) and this is the cause this morning. Best to just pop a couple of pink pills and keep going, so I'll ignore it and it will go away.

I sat down to write last night and realised that nothing interesting had happened. Still hasn't. We're not flooded, and now the sky is blue, though it looks a bit breezy. My sister was supposed to come to visit this weekend, but couldn't make it in the end - just as well, yesterday was not the best day to travel. The Sage's sister arrived home by train on Thursday evening - the same train line she had been on was impassable by last night.

Next weekend, I'm going to London - just for the Friday night. Visiting my little girl and her lovely husband. We'll have a nice meal at wherever they have booked (no trouble finding good places to eat in their neck of the woods) and spend Saturday together.

And, before then, we have an anniversary and a birthday. On Monday, it'll be the 21st anniversary of moving here - coming home, as far as the Sage is concerned. Have I ever told you that this is the house he was born in? His parents bought it the year after they were married, in 1928, and lived here for the rest of their lives.

On Tuesday, my younger son Ro will be 23. Which is why I remember the day we moved - I'm not big on commemorating dates, but we can't forget that one.

My eyesight has cleared and no headache has started yet. Maybe I'll get away with it.

*You are so polite. I put 'word' this morning and no one has mentioned it. How intricate does a word have to be, to bring on a 'pattern of moving objects'-caused migraine.
Maybe you are as unobservant as I'm a bad typist?

Thursday 19 July 2007

Credit where it's due - even if you want to pay up

I phoned the car recovery service at 7.30 this morning and, as promised, a breakdown lorry arrived within the hour to take my car the 20 miles to the garage. Cheers to the Co-operative Insurance Service and their Road Rescue Plus cover, where the call centre people are helpful and friendly and, usually, have lovely Manchester accents, and where the service is prompt and efficient.

Unfortunately, the car is a bit buggered and will be very expensive to fix. However, that is not to fault Holden Motors in Norwich, where Mark has phoned back when he promised and they are instilling confidence in me, as well as a new gasket and other things in the car.

I am being philosophical. The car did not break down in the middle of heavy traffic, nor miles from anywhere. No one is injured and the money is in the bank, even if we would prefer to spend it on other things. Apart from a few phone calls, it has required no effort from me or the Sage. Everyone has been helpful.

This evening, the Sage rang the local strawberry grower to order tomorrow's strawberries. "I've got a pocketful of money for you from Al" he said. "Will you be there tomorrow morning?" "No", replied Tim. "I'll be too busy. No problem, it's as good as money in the bank." Al owes him nearly £1,000 already and it will be well over that by the time Tim is available to be paid. A reputation like that is not easy to win and I feel a mother's pride...

Wednesday 18 July 2007

*Vroom, vroom, cough, cough, pfffftt*

Have I mentioned? - I don't think I've mentioned that my car has been giving a little cause for concern recently. My daughter and son-in-law borrowed it, the Sunday before last, to go to Norwich. When they arrived home, they said that it had overheated and had cut out on the Chicken Roundabout, a mile from home.

We let it cool, put in a few pints of water and have been keeping an eye on it. It seemed okay.

Yesterday, we put in a litre of water. Today, I went to Norwich and, when I came home, it took two litres. Hmm.

We phoned the garage (in Norwich) and booked it in for tomorrow morning. I rang a friend and arranged for her to pick me up to take me to my lunch engagement afterwards. As I put the phone down, the Sage came in. "I've just put in another three pints. I'm not sure it should be driven. Whatever the problem is, another twenty miles could do a lot of damage."

We rang the garage again and asked how much they would charge to pick it up. £100. But did we have breakdown cover? Yes! I had forgotten, but I have. But was it for roadside breakdowns only? I rang to ask. Lord love them, for a mere £54 per year, it includes picking the car up from my home. Arrangements have been made (including ringing another friend to fetch me from home) and all people I have spoken to have been lovely and helpful and, if actions are as good as words, I will give full credit tomorrow.

Oh, and on another subject entirely, I told you about the assembly I went to yesterday - one of the teachers referred to a sponsored run he and his wife (who is the SENCO* at the same school) did on Sunday for the Stroke Association. He was proud, not so much that he ran the marathon, but that his wife Mickey actually ran it twice. She just kept on running and went on for 52 miles and *however many* yards.

Today, I had a meeting in the Learning Support Department (for I am SEN governor). After my meeting, I said to Mickey "What did you do at the weekend?" She said "Oh, I, er, did a run." I made her tell me about it. And asked if she was accepting sponsorship (she'll have found out from Clinton this evening how I knew). And I asked her to accept my contribution.

But, though she was pleased to receive it, I had intended to give her a tenner. But, when I looked in my bag, I'd got 3 pound coins and a £20 note. I thought about it. I even thought of giving her a cheque. Better nature took over, I'm glad to say.

52 miles. Blimey. I still run lopsided - indeed, sometimes I walk lopsided. Not as badly as if I had a stroke, however. Good for you, Mickey and Clint.

*Special Educational Needs Co-Ordinator

Tuesday 17 July 2007

Ever hopeful

This morning, I went to a special Year 10 assembly at the High School, where certificates were being handed out to those pupils who had received particularly good reports from their work experience placings. Two representatives from one firm that had taken several students were there to hand out some certificates and the rest, fifty or so, were read out and were to be given out at afternoon registration, as well as chocolates to each class. Each child had written a work experience diary and the best of these were given £15 gift vouchers. There were also chocolates and cards for the form tutors and extra presents for staff who had helped the Work Experience co-ordinator. Overall, it was a very jolly occasion with a good atmosphere.

The Deputy Head remarked that not everyone had enjoyed their placement, but that most of them had made the best of it and that some of the award-winners were people who had not found it the most interesting but had worked cheerfully and capably anyway.

You know, Year 10 is the only year in the High School where there are no public exams (unless anyone is taking a couple of GCSEs early). Maybe that was the reason the kids all looked so cheerful? I also couldn't help noticing that no one was either too fat or too thin - that is, there was a wide variety of sizes and a couple of them were slightly on the chunky side, and lots were very slender as young teenagers often are, but they were all well within a healthy range.

Could it be that something is going rather right here?

Monday 16 July 2007

Midnight feasting

The Sage turned off the light and stood, hesitatingly, by the window. "It's hot" he said, "but I don't want to let in the mosquitoes". "At least they won't be drawn by the light" I answered. "Just by the scent of our warmly trembling bodies."

"I'll just open it a couple of inches," he decided. "Good call," I said approvingly. "That'll keep out all those three-inch mosquitoes."

He moved into my waiting arms. Later, I woke and looked at the clock. It was 20 minutes after I last looked. I had been woken by a whining drone. Not a bee, nor Bertie Wooster, but a marauding mozzie. Too tired to get up and look for it, I huddled the duvet round me, only letting my face take its chances.

Within minutes, I had to throw it off entirely before I slid wetly out of bed in a pool of my own moisture.

The mozzie fed well last night.

Who is reading this?

I was exchanging emails with a friend last night - she commented on my quick reply and I said I'd been at the computer already, reading blogs, so had answered straight away. I got this back (the subject was a question of law).

Did you never think of using your quick wit in the court room for...........money?
Its razor sharp! do you have your own blog then? Can't keep up!!

I've been wondering ever since if there was a part-hidden meaning. Indeed, I wrote back er, is there a hint there? Has someone outed me?
Not that it's a secret.

But I got a delivery failure notification, which was just as well, because if she hadn't read the blog already she would be by now, because she'd have asked what on earth I meant and, of course, Z doesn't lie.

I don't (although this has taken a certain effort of will) mind who knows about this blog, or whether they read it. My family all know about it, and I've told two friends its name, and a few others that it exists (only two actually asked where to find it). I feel just a little twitchy at the thought of people who know me reading it and not mentioning it though. It would, absolutely, be delicacy and not secrecy on their part - but I'd just like to mention that it's all right to tell me you read it, if you know me. You can laugh at me, or say I'm dull or that I completely misrepresent myself and everyone around me, or (slightly less likely), say it is the most wonderful prose since Diary of a N0b0dy.

'Course, you don't have to say anything at all.

*wanders off to get some breakfast*

Sunday 15 July 2007

Hands off...

my body, Sir Liam Donaldson.

The Chief Medical Officer wants everyone to be treated as organ donors after their death, unless they explicitly opt out of the scheme.

Sorry, Sir Liam. If I die, those who need it are welcome to any part of my body which might be useful. But it is my body to give (by permission of my family), not yours to take. If this proposal is adopted, I will opt out.

I am a gentle and mild-mannered person. However, I do not think I would be the only one. I do not accept that the state owns my body.

Z thinks ahead

It would be better for me to just stop for a while, but no, once an idea comes one just blunders on enthusiastically.

Yesterday, someone from a neighbouring parish rang to ask if I'd play a few Harvest hymns before their Harvest Festival supper in September. I said I'd be happy to, as long as we aren't having anything on the same night. So I emailed around, suggesting a Harvest lunch on the Sunday instead.

Usually, we either do a cold meal or casseroles, baked potatoes etc. But it seems a bit hackneyed as we've done the same sort of thing several times. So I started to think about it, and I decided that, for a lot of people, Sunday lunch is the only time everyone in a family sits down at a table and eats a 'proper' home-cooked meal. Home-made vegetable soup perhaps, followed by roast chicken and then old-fashioned English puddings.

A couple of difficulties, of course. There will be a church service from 11 o'clock to 12. And there's one standard oven - fine for 12 guests, but we might have 40.

This sort of problem is not at all insurmountable, however. I am, as ever, completely overconfident. I'll have to see what the PCC think. They might decide I'm an idiot. Some people think so, you know.

And what delicious traditionally English vegetarian dish shall I serve? Stitchwort, Blue Witch, any ideas please?

Saturday 14 July 2007

Kitchen garden blues

It's turning out to be a pretty unsuccessful summer in the vegetable garden. Although we had no late frosts, the weather, which had been unusually warm in April, became cold and sunless in May, and everything newly planted or waiting in the greenhouse to be planted just languished without growing for a few weeks. Most of the cucumber plants died and I had to resow them.

Now, the greenhouses are doing very well. The cucumbers are late, but growing strongly and I'm picking every day, enough to send a few to the shop (though usually I'd have a dozen or more a day). The tomatoes were early and delicious - the varieties are Stupice, Red Brandywine, Black Russian, Minnesota Midget, Czech's Excellent Yellow, Green Zebra (haven't had any of those yet), Golden Sunrise and Gardener's Delight (most of these are outside and so were sown late, and aren't ripe yet).

There are several varieties of pepper, both hot and sweet. I haven't picked any Jalapeno yet, not Tobago Sweet Seasoning (those took some time to germinate), but Georgia Flame, Spanish Spice and Hungarian Hot Wax (which is my favourite variety name ever) have cropped well and Al has been selling them. So have the sweet peppers: King of the North, Orange Bell and a yellow pepper whose seeds I brought back from Venice last year. Okra is all right, but with nine plants I only get a few fruits at a time, not enough to do much with. The physalis (Cape Gooseberry) plants are huge and full of fruit, but some of them are dropping - they taste fine unripe actually, but are pale greeny orange at present. I'm sure there will still be plenty to ripen.

The not-so-good news is outside. Peas didn't grow very tall, but at least they are cropping well, unlike the Sugar Snap peas which (admittedly a short variety but they should still be 2 - 3 feet) only grew to about 6 inches, produced a few flowers and peas and then got overwhelmed by very small weeds. Broad bean plants grew well enough, but there has not been a good set, neither in the first sowing nor the second - a reasonable crop, but only because I grew a lot. However, I wonder if this is connected with the fact that I didn't get around to pinching out the tops this year? We had a few blackfly, but ladybirds moved in keenly and they were gone within days. Sweetcorn is a disaster. Only a couple of feet tall and few cobs. Usually, one gets three or so cobs to a plant, but most have one, some not even that. Another sowing did better, but this was a free pack of popping corn seeds, and of limited use.

French beans are lacklustre. The pencil-podded ones have hardly grown and don't look like climbers at all (they are not bushing out either, so it's not that I got the variety wrong). The purple beans and flat podded ones look better, but aren't cropping much yet - some of the flat bean plants died so I won't get many. The runner beans have finally, in the last couple of days, started to set.

The cabbages look open and not likely to heart up, but maybe they'll be all right. The Swiss Chard is all right, but the spinach (leaf beet, perpetual spinach) is starting to bolt, which is very unusual at this time of year. The early leaves looked scorched and yellowed by the sun and were not usable. I think I'll make another sowing for the autumn.

The early potatoes (all I grew) didn't grow very big, but they are an ideal size for new potatoes. The tops have mostly died down now, but we've still got plenty to dig as we need them and they are lovely, although the crop is not heavy. The courgettes are finally coming on, rather late, but will be fine now. Some of the squash plants didn't survive and it doesn't look as if many fruits are coming yet.

And, after all that rain in June, the soil has dried right out and I will have to start watering soon unless it pours again. I'd rather do that and have the sunshine, but the forecast is not good for tomorrow.

Sorry to those of you who are still with me but are stultified with boredom. I realise this post is of limited appeal!

Friday 13 July 2007

Z is made an Honest Woman by the Rural Dean

I've just had the oddest telephone conversation. The Rural Dean phoned. I've not had the pleasure of meeting him; the last RD was a woman, so I'm sure of it.

You may know I'm churchwarden at the village church. One is sworn in every year at a quite solemn service, where lots of clergy and potential churchwardens stand up, in their benefice groups, and plight their troth. This year, I couldn't make the service, nor any of the alternate ones. They were all evenings when I was busy or on holiday.

He explained that this should be done at a service, but in the circumstances it would be permissible to do it on the telephone. So he read out a long sentence asking me if I would carry out the duties and do them properly and in a reverential fashion and all this, and then, as instructed, I solemnly said "I do so declare". So now I'm legal, if not quite decent, honest and truthful.

Waiting by the phone

A morning spent mostly on the phone, or waiting for return calls. I don't like the telephone much, so I feel a little edgy now, but I will trot off to the supermarket soon and carefully spend £40 so that I get a reduced petrol price for Ro and, no doubt, that will soothe me.

I do bless the internet phone. I make calls on that, so ensuring that the landline is free for the incoming call I expect. Juggling two conversations is far less annoying than finding you've missed a call, ringing back, getting the answerphone ...

I hate our cordless phone. It was expensive, but it cannot cope with the thick walls of our house, and does not have a decent reception in most rooms. I soon got tired of resetting the time whenever we had a powercut, so now when people leave a message I have no idea what time they did so. It doesn't work out of doors - the old analogue cordless phone wasn't at all bad, but the digital one is useless. Worst of all, it warbles. The handset in the office beeps faux-melodiously at intervals, presumably to keep contact with the one plugged into the phone line. It makes me swear. And shout.

Did I tell you, a few weeks ago, how I shocked Al and Sarah? I was helping in the shop one Saturday, and in came the Sage. I can't remember what we talked about, but he offered to do something helpful, so I thanked him prettily and said nice things and he left the shop.

At that moment, Travis came on the radio (Al has dreadful taste in radio stations and I hate the wallpaper music it has on) whinging, as for years, "Why does it always rain on meeee?" "Oh shut up and go away, you dreadful boring whining man" I snapped. Sarah's head whipped round and she stared in dismay. "Well, it's so annoying!" I said, slightly abashed, and then noticed Al looking startled too. "I hate that song" I explained. "We thought", said Al gently, "that you were talking about Dad."

"Oh no, how could you, nooo, I've never spoken about him like that, surely you wouldn't? Oh dear. Anyway, he isn't" I spluttered incoherently. Or words to that effect.

Wednesday 11 July 2007

Molier than thou

Oh indeed, I don't know anyone with more moles than I have, with the possible exception of my sister. Oddly, neither of our parents had any to speak of. I've never liked them, but I don't think anything of them (although it took me ages to recover from the trauma of my sister singing "I am a mole and I live in a hole" to the one in my armpit, when we were children. I mean, by ages, several decades) and whoever would think of researching their health benefits?

Someone did - it's the penultimate item, if you scroll down. It's not often that a random health 'discovery' (for I don't know how in-depth the study was) confers a health benefit on me. The other side of the coin, that I'm more likely to develop a malignant melanoma, is no surprise, of course and I do peer at bits of me, wondering which bits I recognise, which are likely to be spatters of mud and which, although new, are probably fine - for if I toddled off to the doctor for every new mole, he would soon become tired of the sight of me - but I'm more resigned than anxious.

I don't exaggerate their number, by the way. I've just counted 22 on my left forearm and 11 on the right one. But an inbuilt protection against heart disease and osteoporosis, that's given me a new respect for the blobs.

Z is going to do the Ironing

I've been to the shop and laid in supplies of fruit. I've been to Thr3shers and bought some chilled wine. I've visited the bakery and bought some particularly nice bread, which I've eaten with cheese and home-grown tomatoes and cucumber. I've drunk a glass of said chilled wine.

These are my preparations for doing the ironing.

Does it occur to any of you that I've spent the last half-century in working out ways of making the best of things? Darling, you'd be right. I don't like ironing at all, but I don't much like wearing creased clothes either. I will sit in the drawing room, fruit dish to the side and board in front, television on (it'll be a miracle if there's anything watchable on, but hey, I'm easily amused) and I will feel, at the end, that the aftenoon has not been badly spent.

Tonight, babysitting. It's bee night again.

Keen but ignorant

I worked in the shop yesterday morning. A man came in and asked where the bananas came from. "Colombia" I said. "A long way to travel" he pointed out. I agreed, but said that they come by boat not plane. Besides, bananas can't be grown commercially here - they have to cross the ocean, whether from the Americas, Africa or India. He then asked about avocados. And lemons.

As you know, I'm all in favour of eating food in season and grown locally. But really, if you want to eat citrus fruit, you have to accept that it will not be grown here. It is technically possible, but not on a commercial scale and only by using generated heat. What would be green about erecting vast hothouses to grow banana trees, when they can be easily grown in vast quantities in their native (or suitable adopted) environment?

After the man had left (having bought his bananas, as well as English fruit and veg), Al said that most people have little idea about the practicalities of food production. Not long ago, he had a young couple asking for English apples - "why do your apples come from New Zealand, the USA, Chile, South Africa?" Al had to explain that there are no ripe English apples yet and the stored ones have all finished except for the cookers. Another month and the new season apples will be coming in; the Spartan, Discovery and all the other crisp, fresh summer apples - though customers will still not want to wait for October for the Cox's Orange Pippins to start to ripen and so he will still buy New Zealand Cox's until then, as well as South African Granny Smith's and French Golden Delicious.

People still want infinite choice, but they want it locally grown and do not understand about seasons. Nor do they understand about farming.

There has been renewed discussion about the amount of methane produced by cows, and a suggestion that if alternative fodder crops were grown, they might burp and fart less (excuse this rare descent into vulgarity). On the Today programme they had a keen vegetarian in to suggest that we should stop eating beef instead, so that the cattle need not exist to produce all this methane. As usual, the interviewer was hopeless and did not point out any of the flaws in the argument.

I'm not, of course, knocking vegetarianism, nor am I saying one word in favour of intensive animal farming. I'm not saying we need to eat meat. But she was not talking about the ethics of the matter, so that is not the relevant factor here.

She said that you need more land to graze animals than you do to grow crops. This is true, but she was not asked about the land that is not suitable for cultivation. What about the Yorkshire Dales, the Welsh hill farms, the Sussex Downs, Romney Marsh? - all grassland that needs to be grazed and are ideal for sheep. Around here, what about the water meadows and winter-flooded marshes, that are grazed by cows or mown for hay or silage?

Just around my house, there are several fields. One is part of the flood plain. If the river overflows, it floods onto the field and the water can gradually soak in to the ground, helping to top up the underground aquifers from which Norfolk gets its water supply (although this is the area of the country with the lowest rainfall, we have never had a hosepipe ban). If it were ploughed for crops, a drainage system would have to be put in and this water would be channelled away and wasted.

The next field is marked on the Ordnance Survey* maps as Anglo Saxon earthworks. It is ancient grassland and has never been ploughed, although gravel has been extracted in the past. It is full of bumps and hollows and has a wide range of wild flowers and grasses that have taken centuries to establish themselves. It is never artificially fertilised, only by the dung of the cows that graze it. It would not be permitted to plough it up and it would, being light sand over gravel, be poor land anyway.

The next field, though flat, is also sand on gravel. It makes a good hay meadow. It could be ploughed, as the fourth field is, but it is not very fertile and does not hold moisture well. The best way of improving its fertility is by adding whole lots of farmyard manure. Cow muck. Or pig muck. Just like I dig into my vegetable garden. Yes, I make compost, but this improves soil structure more than fertility.

So it's by no means as simple as all of us converting to vegetarianism even, as she suggested, if it were done over several years. But the thing that I couldn't believe the interviewer didn't mention, when all she went on about was not eating beef, was that many, and I should think most, of the cattle are not primarily raised for beef. They are dairy cows.

Now, veganism wasn't even mentioned. I don't know if she is vegan. If you are, from planet-saving or animal-welfare motives, a vegetarian, I'm not sure that there is a place for commercial dairy farming. Certainly, for reducing methane production there isn't. So why didn't the idiot interviewer (I think I know which one it was, but they are pretty all as bad as each other, so I won't single one out) even ask whether she thinks we should eat and drink dairy products?

*I had to fill in a form from the Diocese the other day - that's the Church area administered by the Bishop, of Norwich, in this case. I was amused that they asked for the village church's Ordinance Survey number.

Tuesday 10 July 2007


I told you how Tilly joined the family here and here. As you will see, I argued strongly to have her. This isn't something I do often - not that I don't bicker, quarrel, row, even - but I don't argue. If someone feels more strongly than I do, I give in. Often, I don't mind, so I let the other person have his or her way. Maybe I see that I'm on a losing wicket, so I may bat like a Boycott, stonewalling all day, but I won't resent the inevitable winner.

But occasionally, I am right. And then my way will prevail and I don't care if I make myself unpopular in the process, because the result will prove my case. And Tilly proved this, as I was sure she would.

Chester came to us differently. I went to have coffee with a friend, who was raising money for a charity - can't remember which, but the thing was to invite 8 people for coffee and ask them to pay *whatever*, each of them asked 4, each of them asked 2. I was one of 4. Bridget was another. And she mentioned that the chap who delivered horse feed to them had a bitch which had recently pupped. This was at a time when I was on the lookout for a puppy. I asked about the parents. The father was Rusty, the Irish setter that belonged to friends of mine (I knew her from WI and he was our milkman). The mother, Mindy, was a bearded collie, more or less. This sounded good. I asked Bridget to pass on my phone number and, a day or two later, Zoë rang me and invited me to see the pups.

On the way, the Sage and I talked. That is, I talked. Well...

I said that I'd like a boy, A blond boy. He was happy with that. When we arrived, it transpired that there were three blond boys, but they were keeping the biggest and palest and would call him Morph. There were also two black boys and two black girls. They were three weeks old and we were the first visitors and could have first pick. I looked at the two blond boys, who were identical except for a few white hairs on the head of one pup. My pup. "Which one do you think?" I asked the Sage. "This one" he said. Our pup was the same as my pup. Well, of course he was.

They were born on the 17th October, so they would be ready to leave their mother a few days before Christmas. We talked to the children and all agreed that a new puppy was worth a quiet Christmas. We visited once a week - Zoë is a sweet woman and always welcomed us, but I didn't like to call every day. When we brought him home, we boxed him in for the night in part of the kitchen and I spent most of the next few nights downstairs settling him when he cried. Then I let him have the run of the kitchen and he didn't cry again.

I'm not good at choosing names, very indecisive. I suggested Zebedee, as he was so very bouncy. My daughter said that Zeb would be fine. I didn't like Zeb, I wanted Zebedee. Blokes, sensibly, kept out of all this. Then El suggested Chester. I liked it, as did we all.

Monday 9 July 2007

The Sage and Z in Harmony

Things are a bit busy just now. All stuff that was put on one side until the festival was over now have to be caught up with, and the rain having stopped, some vital weeding has been done, as well as cutting back bits of hedge that were making the drive hard to navigate. It was a bit like Sleeping Beauty's castle round here, except I played the Handsome Prince rôle, chopping my way through the brambles. The farmer declared his intention of, finally, cutting the grass on the front field - it seems to have bypassed turning into hay altogether this year, having started to seed and then just continued growing; however, it will be all right for silage. Anyway, we quartered all four acres questingly, armed with a garden fork and a couple of bin bags, and pulled up a moderate quantity of ragwort, which is a nastily pernicious poison and which, though ignored by livestock while growing, will be eaten in hay or silage.

Later, we chatted in a thinking ahead manner, and discovered that we are in complete accord with one another, which filled us both with great pleasure. A couple of them are in the nature of dreams that may come true - hey, why not? - but one is, with luck, not far beyond the horizon.

When we went on our WI outing last week, a friend was telling us that her dog and another friend's bitch had had an (arranged) assignation, and it is hoped that puppies will result. I was immediately interested, as they are both mongrels of a labradorish sort, come from lovely and friendly families, and our darling late setter cross Chester was the brother of P & B's (the bitch's owners) dog Harvey.

The Sage kept quiet.

Over the next few days, I told the family, at various times, about this, and still the Sage said nothing. Now, he's a tender-hearted chap who finds it hard to say "no" to me, but knows that in a matter like this, I wouldn't go ahead without an actual "yes".

Finally, this evening, since we were having such a jolly conversation, I asked him directly what he thought.

He Say Yes!!(!)

'Course, we don't know yet if puppies are on the way, or how many are spoken for already. But these seem minor details.

Saturday 7 July 2007


I said, apologetically to Brenda, who was running the cake stall, that I hadn't and wouldn't have time to make her any cakes. She is polite and kind and said she quite understood. I wondered if she'd like jam instead? So I went to the fête bearing four pots of strawberry jam and four of marmalade, and they all sold quite quickly, so I had not let the side down too badly.

And the weather! The sun always shines for the festival, so none of us had been too dismayed by the filthy weather we've been having for weeks, but today's was far better than we'd expected. It was so windy yesterday, it would have been quite hard to manage to put up the stalls and bunting (no, I didn't help, I was in the shop this morning), but it has been sunny and warm all day, with a light breeze.

I pigged out, a bit literally, on sausages. I didn't have breakfast before I left so when, around 11, Al went to the cafe to get a sausage bap, I rather keenly asked for one too. I didn't eat much of the bread, but the two (not very large) sausages went down well. At about three o'clock, with a pint and a half of good beer under my belt (well, I'd not drunk anything at all and I was thirsty), I thought i'd head for the food van. El recommended the hot dogs - proper sausages, she said, not canned frankfurters - so, what the hell - and the chips beckoned too. Though I did share them...

This evening, you will be astonished to learn, I drank water. Only water.

Just going next door to babysit. If I get around to it, I'll finish later. With pictures!!(!)

Later - it'll be tomorrow after all, darlings.

Friday 6 July 2007

Two dinners Tilly

Our little dog has some way to go before she manages to blag her way towards emulating the magnificent Four Dinners, but she's making a start.

It's our village festival weekend. Tonight, there is a disco in the village hall and tomorrow is the beer festival and fête. On Sunday, there is coffee, lunch and tea in the church rooms. Throughout, there is an exhibition of wedding dresses and accompanying
paraphernalia. I had said I would do a flower arrangement for the font and help set up the exhibition.

I went early to do the flowers, intending to pop home for a Nice Cup of Tea. I fed Tilly a bit early, to her great pleasure. I mean, food - it's what it's all about, really, isn't it?

I had hardly started when several people came in, asking if it was all right to look round the church. I welcomed them and we chatted - one of them had been evacuated from London to here at the age of four, his family then moved to Kings Lynn and he was revisiting old haunts. After they left, I did my flowers ... but then helpers started arriving early, and we all mucked in.

A couple of hours later, I received a phone call from the Sage. He was going out, but wanted me to know that he had fed Tilly. "But I fed Tilly" I replied. "Oh. She looked very thin and hungry and I was sure she hadn't been fed..."

She doesn't look so thin now. She does, however, look pretty pleased with herself.

Since I was asked -

This is the anti-bullying charity that the profits from 'Lies' (Tuesday's post) is going to.

Thursday 5 July 2007

A success, it seems

I wasn't enthusiastic when the head of English told us that, last year, the Year 9 intake had been put in mixed-ability groups. I had reckoned that it was a big improvement when the totally comprehensive, treat 'em all alike regardless of intelligence or behaviour ideas had been relaxed, and schools had been able to put pupils into sets according to ability. However, what she said made sense and has made me look at the question from a different perspective.

The least able children, who would previously have been put in sets 4 & 5, were no longer labelled (in their own eyes) as 'thick'. They no longer had low expectations of themselves and, she said, instead of regularly being marked at E or F, were handing in C and D grade work. It was a startling change.

The groupings were not done randomly, but they were (taking information from the Middle School) grouped according to aptitude, using these categories. Of course, we all use elements of all of them, but some people have strong preferences one way or another. Many, though not all, of the children who had previously not engaged with their schoolwork, were told they were kinaesthetic learners and that the lessons would be geared towards their most effective learnng style, with strategies worked out to help them with other learning methods. This encouragement transformed them. No longer were they bewildered by not understanding something their classmates picked up in a few minutes - there was a reason, and it wasn't their fault. It would be worth putting in the effort and they need no longer be easily satisfied with mediocrity. A teaching assistant (a qualified English teacher, recently retired - what luck!) took small groups of slower pupils to help with their Shakespeare and they were able to engage with literature in a way they hadn't managed before.

Some of the teachers found the kinaesthetic groups quite hard - it was going against their own inclinations - but they all remained enthusiastic, because it was so evidently working. It was necessary to have some extension activities for the quicker pupils - these were not just to fill in the time, but were geared to the syllabus and both interesting and useful, and were available for pupils to take and complete when they had finished the initial assignment. The lesson objectives, which are explained at the start of the lesson, were that "all of you will learn ***. Most of you will learn ****. Some of you will learn *****."

The department also decided to follow a new syllabus last year. Each teacher researched a different one and did an evaluation, so that it could be agreed by all which was the best. The current one is much less prescriptive and gives each teacher more scope to follow his or her own preferences and those of the class being taught.

You may wonder, as I did, how the brighter children got on. Were they held back or given time to become bored? Apparently not, it was said. The more studious ones tended to be in the auditory or visual groups, for one thing, and because the teachers were so enthused, this was transmitted to the students. There was no slacking in their effort or results. The smartest 20 pupils were put in a class of their own and will be given the opportunity to take their English GCSE a year early and then take English Literature and Media Studies GCSE in Year 11, so enabling them to take two further GCSEs of their choice.

After she had left, we talked about it - the other people present were all teachers, two of them science staff at the school. They were not sure if it would work in all subjects - "You have to have a decent level of intelligence to access Physics". We wonder if the effect will come across in the SATs that these pupils sat in May.

I noticed one of them had a booklet about learning Latin and asked him about it. It's an online course, apparently, for schools that don't have a Latin teacher. I brightened. I love Latin, but I've forgotten most of it. He said that if they offer it at GCSE, maybe I should go back to school...

Wednesday 4 July 2007

I smiled -

- and appreciated you lovely people all the more

Shrinking Self Esteem

Oh, that's all right

48%How Addicted to Blogging Are You?
I was relieved not to get a higher score

Tuesday 3 July 2007

They haven't asked me to say this, but

you wouldn't, I suppose, consider glancing here? - http://www.myspace.com/bloodonthemind - I ask because young Jonathan and James are friends of mine. Jonathan and his father are good farmers, who take care of their dairy herd and give their sweetest-natured dry cows a summer holiday on our field. J can, furthermore, sing. He is the pride of Yagnub Choral Society.

Don't feel obliged to download, but profits are going to an anti-bullying charity.

Monday 2 July 2007

Sunshine and showers. And downpours and hailstones.

I went to a very interesting committee meeting at the high school today. I found myself offering to take the minutes and when I've written them up I'll tell you about a presentation given by the Head of English. It made me think again about some deep-rooted ideas I have. Whatever your opinion is of comprehensive-style education, if you are in a position of any responsibility, you can't only consider the children you might feel yourself most in tune with. And thinking about things from a new perspective is both interesting and broadening.

During the meeting, which I arrived at wearing sunglasses, it started to rain hard, and then torrentially. Someone got up to close the skylights (the room has no outside walls). Later, I found the reason for the loudness of the downpour - "hailstones as big as peas" said Al.

The meeting didn't close until 5.40, when it was still pouring. Hovering in the lobby, waiting for a gap between cats and dogs, I phoned Al to ask him to bring home a bag of veg for me, as I would not be picking them from the garden. He said it would be a while before he got home, because he hadn't started to bring in his outside display yet. "Five minutes," I said. "I'll help." It was a miserable job, poor lad. He had to put everything out the back because it was streaming wet and he didn't want it over the shop floor. He has had to go back this evening to put it all back in the shop, or there wouldn't be space in the back room for tomorrow's deliveries.

I had, by the way, arrived early for the meeting as I needed to speak to the people in Reprographics to have some printing done (all above board, they are glad to earn extra money for the department from outside work). Afterwards, I went to the library, asking the librarian if I might sit and read my papers while waiting. After a few minutes, my phone rang, most embarrassingly. It was the Sage. "You locked me out!" he said. "I was only in the greenhouse, weeding." I said I'd come straight home, as I was still 20 minutes early.

He had walked down the drive and was waiting in the road. I had been ready to apologise, but he got in first. "I feel such a lemon," he said. "I usually have my keys in my pocket. Sorry to drag you back." "Lucky you had your phone with you," I said, kissing his hand.

Sunday 1 July 2007

Day of unrest

If Sundays were any busier, I might as well join the clergy. No, really, I have been about God's work for the whole morning, 8.30 until 12.45, and then again for half an hour this evening. Of course, I neither begrudge it nor expect a reward, here or in a possible afterlife.*

A delightful afternoon, at the gardens I mentioned a couple of days ago (sorry, it's grandbabies that make me too tired to link). The weather, though windy, was warm and sunny: not at all what was forecast. The gardens themselves were sheltered and Squiffany was enchanted with low box hedges, whether to make an arrangement that an imaginative toddler can call a maze, or a knot garden. Box hedges it will be, then. And a lovely vegetable garden, with lots of flowers and fruit on the walls. Now my family know what I'm driving at. I have got my daughter-in-law onside.

My darling girlie and her lovely husband are safely home from their holiday, and visiting next weekend. When they come, we will, we hope, arrange for me to visit them so that we can spend a Saturday together - I have warmly recommended Gormley and we hope to go together.

All, in fact, is entirely well. But it's too early to go to bed, so I must be hearty for at least another two hours. Bemuse or enchant my beloved family. Have a second glass of wine.

*Though 'here' would be most acceptable.