Friday 30 November 2007


I haven't changed the comments setting - anyone can comment, including Anonymous. I don't know why anyone should have any difficulty but, if you do, helpless apologies and email your comment for me to publish.

Thursday 29 November 2007

I may be alone in this, but I think Ms Gibbons has behaved foolishly

Last spring, Dilly invited several small children and their mothers to come and play. One little girl was clutching her favourite doll. Someone asked its name. "Jesus" she said. The mother was embarrassed. "Sorry, I know it's wrong" she said, "but it was a Christmas present and, of course, we'd been talking about Baby Jesus for weeks, and then she had a baby doll given to her and we couldn't talk her out of it."

No one thought it was blasphemous, but they agreed that it jarred - and none of those young women is a churchgoer, though they had all been brought up in a broadly Christian tradition, if with little or no religious faith.

I think there's general agreement that the teacher who agreed to call a teddybear 'Mohammed' meant no harm, and neither insult nor blasphemy. But what sort of idiot thought it could be appropriate? She was newly in the country, new to the school - didn't it occur to her to run it past the headteacher? She's supposed to be an experienced teacher - I'm not a teacher, but I've spent enough time in schools to know the way one should think. So I'd not say "you are bad" but "you have behaved badly" - not "you have failed" but "this is not an acceptable standard". If it's not up to scratch, there's "room for improvement." And one never uses an absolute about expectations in ways of life, for one always considers the effect on a pupil whose parents may have a lifestyle about which one needs to speak tactfully. Of course, you are constantly aware of people of a different religious or cultural background from yourself, because that is polite as well as sensible and politically correct.

If there were a class teddybear at the village school, I am sure the teacher would think twice before naming it Jesus, Moses, Buddha, Shiva or any other name with a similarly strong religious connotation. And this woman is in a rather unstable Muslim country. I trust that the judiciary will realise that she is stupid (for which, of course, please read the euphemism "naïve") rather than anything else, and let her go, but when she's chucked out of the country, she may not find it that easy to get another job. I think she will need to go on a couple of training courses first.

Wednesday 28 November 2007

The cobwebs are reprieved

A committee member rang this morning to ask if the meeting could be at his house as his wife will be at work and he needs to babysit. Fine by me.

One of the committee is, in her day job, a funeral director. Today, she was discussing a funeral with a vicar (not one I know). He's a little concerned about it, partly because it will be a service conducted at the graveside rather than in the church and December weather doesn't really lend itself to open-air events, and partly because the dead man's partner is also a man. "I really want to be supportive to the bereaved chap" he said plaintively, "but I'm rather more comfortable with Adam and Eve than Adam and Steve."

Tonight's host provided wine, coffee and mince pies. Everyone had two out of three of these treats. You already know the two I chose.

Tuesday 27 November 2007

Z ate early, so as not to be tempted by sweets

Now I have reports or minutes to write up from five different meetings and two more meetings to prepare for, as well as work to do. And the church quinquennial inspection report has arrived, which mentions £10,000 to be spent on repair work within 18 months or so and another £25,000 in five years. It is my job to explain this to the PCC, who are expecting to fund a benefice project next year as well.

Right. Now I'm off to get the room ready for the churchwardens' meeting. Tables, chairs, glasses and jugs of water and bowls of sweets. I have brought in the tables from the bier shed already, which was very smart of me, and there isn't coffee tonight.

I prepared for this deficit with a glass of cabernet sauvignon, am I not a sensible woman?

Update, 4 1/2 hours later

Now, am I not a daft woman? It transpired that the secretary had had to give her apologies at the last, for it is her birthday and her husband had arranged a Surprise Night Out. Would someone else take minutes, please? ... Well, I'd already noted who was present and who had sent apologies and no one else offered. The PA would type them up, added the Rector, helpfully. So I spent a page or more writing neatly, concisely and, too, precisely. Then I had to speak (I get compelled that way) and started to have to scribble odd notes.

There's a committee meeting here tomorrow night. Yesterday, I noticed a cobweb draped prettily along the drawing room ceiling. Maybe some preliminary housework would be in order.

I set out six bowls of sweets and I didn't touch a single one. I came home and drank some more wine and ate a clementine. I shall now read the paper and feel slightly lonely.

Monday 26 November 2007

Z is free, but absurdly expensive

Oh dear. Planning time for the event to come in four weeks and one day. At least I haven't done anything foolish like buying presents or writing cards, but the Carol Service preparations are under way.

In the post today I received an interesting padded envelope from the company that insures the church which, amongst other useful information, included a small phial of liquid which is meant for security-marking valuable items. It is visible under UV light, but the interesting thing to me, who did not know such a thing was possible, is that it is postcode specific. So one only needs to dot it on one's valuables and their provenance can instantly be proved - assuming the item is recovered at all, of course. But isn't it clever? I'm not sure, since it referred to 'your' - ie my - postcode, whether this is un petit cadeau for me, or whether I should dance merrily round the church, dotting it on useful items. Since the church is always unlocked, most things are put away, but the fine eagle lectern and such things are not movable, of course.

It's all meetings for the rest of the week, which is a bit of a bugger. Sometimes, I think I should have got a proper job years ago. In fact, I'm a bit late. We talked about it when I was rising 40 and decided to carry on as we were. I regretted that decision later, but by then circumstances didn't allow - whatever the status quo was, it had to stay. Anyway, I value my time too highly. I'll give it, but it's ludicrously expensive to buy.

Sunday 25 November 2007


London was nice. I walked everywhere on Friday, which was vastly pleasing. I trotted along to the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery, the British Museum and Sir John Soane's museum, which I'd never visited before. The Boy charmed me entirely and bought me tea. Then I met El and Phil and we had dinner in a splendid restaurant which I think is called The Chancery ... hang on, I'll look it up ... yes, here you are. We keep an eye on Top Table for the half-price offers, being frugal types. We'd been to their 'sister' restaurant, the Clerkenwell Dining Room, so thought it was worth trying, and had an excellent meal with very good service. I'd sensibly (oh lord, stop making me sensible) skipped lunch to allow for three courses.

My daughter had suggested it to a friend, and she had been the night before. Her party had to wait for half an hour to be served, so they were sat down in the bar with a free bottle of champagne. I think she will be recommending it too...

On Saturday, we went to the current exhibition at the Hayward Gallery and then walked and talked. El lent me a coat, as I was slightly underdressed for the cold. I am an obsessively light traveller as I can't bear to be cluttered. I realise that it's a reaction against the overpacking of my mother who, equally but oppositely, hated to be caught wanting something. Spare underwear and a toothbrush will do me nicely - it's a waste that I've never been a girl for the one-night stand, as I would always be quite comfortably equipped, and since I always look slightly scruffy, my next-day appearance would receive no second glance at all.

Saturday 24 November 2007

From Town to country

I'm home, darlings, having had an entirely jolly time. I'm going to bed now, though.

Thank you, E & P, for looking after me so well.

Do you know, they charmingly escorted me back to the station. And, since a bus came promptly and we were early, bought me half a pint to send me cheerily on my way.

Thursday 22 November 2007

The town celebrates

Tonight was Bungay's late-night shopping evening, with the switching-on of festive lights. Last year, Al opened just to join in with the spirit of things, but this year Dilly has been making some jewellery - just necklaces and suchlike with beads and things - and so he transformed half the shop into a showroom for her, and the Sage borrowed some turned wooden bowls from a couple of his wood club friends, and they joined in that way.

My meeting went on until 4.40. I'd forgotten how early it becomes dark, and it was. I rather long for Scottish independence, in part because then there could be a genuinely free vote in Parliament about sticking to Summer Time all year round. I found it needed a certain hardiness to brave the late afternoon traffic on a bike in the dark, although I was gratified to find myself treated with consideration, in that cars didn't pass me if the road was narrow and, once I was out of town, oncoming cars dipped their headlights.

I gave the babies tea and then their other granny and their aunt arrived, so I left them to deal with bedtime. I went into town.

There were loads of people, the Town Reeve in her robe and chain and the Mayor in his, various other people dressed up and all the shops decorated and lit. Lots of people, who were having a lovely time. There was a dance display under the Buttercross and an announcement that there would be live music on the Castle hill, where there was also a hog roast and beer tent. There were other amusements too, and shopkeepers were sending out trays of wine, mulled cider, mince pies and other goodies. It was sheer old-fashioned pleasure.

Now I must check out what's on in London - being a dull sort of fart at heart, I mean of a cultural rather than festive nature. I have a day to enjoy tomorrow - particularly because I hope to meet, at last, the Boy. I've emailed the other people who said they might be around, but haven't had replies yet, which is my fault for leaving things so late...I explain to those people who say "You're splendid, you're so spontaneous" that this is only a polite way of saying 'disorganised and unprepared'. Not too late, however, I'll be here until 8 tomorrow morning and would, with a blithe heart, ditch the best of exhibitions.

Wednesday 21 November 2007

Functions and dysfunctions

I was double-booked again today - I'd said I'd work for Al in the morning, but then the meeting I'd expected to be in the afternoon was set for 10 am. So, being endlessly good-natured, Al agreed that we could go in early so that the main work would be done in time for me to set off for the high school.

The meeting, which was the head's performance management, was productive and finished by 12.30. It was, in the end, as well that it was a morning meeting as Dilly had asked me to babysit Pugsley (the baby, a boy) while she took Squiffany (the toddler, a girl) to her dance class. Tilly (the dog, female) did not require a babysitter.

When I arrived, Dilly was cleaning the carpet. "We've had a bit of an accident. I took his nappy off, but he hadn't quite finished." I was glad I hadn't been any earlier.

The Sage offered to mind the baby while I cycled into town. I'd only just come from there, but the rule is that I shop by bike. When I got back, half an hour later, Pugsley was spread-eagled asleep on top of the Sage. He slept until his mother arrived home.

Before the meeting, one of the governors told me that his wife had had a visit to hospital yesterday. She had suddenly felt ill and breathless at work and, realising it was an allergic reaction, drove herself (yes, not the wisest thing, but the quickest) to hospital. She was treated quickly but went into anaphylactic shock - my friend said that it was very frightening, especially when the consultant was evidently concerned. The odd thing was that she had not eaten anything she was allergic to. She'd had a banana and felt that it didn't taste right, but she might already have been affected by something else. Two other people in the office were eating nuts, but not near her.

The consultant wanted to keep her in for observation, but there were no beds. I see on the news tonight that that hospital has declared a state of emergency, because there are more casualties arriving than there are places to treat them. People were being treated in the ambulances as there were no beds, even for emergency admissions, which meant that people dialling 999 were having to wait, however ill they were. This hospital is only a few years old and was deliberately built with fewer beds than the one it replaced. Furthermore, the Primary Care Trust is closing beds in the local cottage hospitals, which means that people who do not need to be in the Norfolk & Norwich but still need nursing care can't leave and so block beds for new admissions.

Last night, I was out with friends when the Sage rang, at about 10 o'clock. "Didn't want you to worry," he said, "but I'm going round to the H's - they've a bit of a problem. I'll take your car." He arrived home at about half past midnight. The husband has a kidney or bladder (didn't ask for details, but I know he's had it for some while) problem and is very prone to infections. He'd started to pass blood and rang the doctor, and was told to come to the medical centre some 10 miles away for antibiotics. He and his wife are nearer 80 than 70, she doesn't drive and he was in no condition to. No one was available to come out. Just what has been done to our National Health Service?

Tuesday 20 November 2007

Hair today - but gone tomorrow?

Today's lecture was about modern art and artists - as usual, it fell to me to give the vote of thanks. I'd spent the first few minutes of the talk feeling quite anxious - what on earth was I going to say on a subject I had studied so little? However, it was an enthralling lecture with wonderful pictures, and I found I had to condense my enthusiastic reactions to fit the customary couple of minutes.

But there was one question that I had to pose - and the lecturer didn't know the answer. Check, if you please, this link, scroll down to 'Divided Self' and, if you wish, click on that to enlarge. It is a still photo from a ten-minute film of the artist, D0uglas G0rd0n, wrestling one arm with another. He has shaved one of his arms - if you saw the film without realising that, you would think it was two people fighting - maybe a man assaulting a woman and she fighting back.

So, what I want to know is - after filming, did the artist shave his other arm, or did he go around like that for months? I really need to know. He'd be a fabulous living art exhibit with arms like that, but creepy, dreadfully creepy. Quite difficult to cope with I should think, making every shop assistant, waiter, passing stranger, squeak and recoil with horror whenever they saw his hands. And the grow-back, ew, stubbly.

Monday 19 November 2007


El rang tonight, having just got back from a long weekend in Derbyshire. Apparently, there was snow - two inches of it. Gosh.

She has booked a table for Friday evening at a restaurant not far from St Pauls, so we'll meet there I should think - her office is in Mayfair and Phil's is in Islington. I get into London at half past ten in the morning, so I'm fancy-free for the day.

I babysat this evening, which was very quiet. I arrived while the children were having their nighttime beakers of milk and once they were in bed they fell asleep and didn't make another sound. I read, watched television, and fell asleep myself in the middle of Nigella. I was a bit underwhelmed by her crumbling bought cake, pouring ginger wine over it, whipping a lot of cream and dumping it on the cake, cutting up underripe passion fruits and scraping them on top and calling it a trifle that all her friends thought she had slaved for days over. They were being polite, darling. I'm sure it tasted good, but they all knew what you had done.

Sunday 18 November 2007

Telephone calls

It is something that only becomes apparent as time passes, but having children is not about bringing up babies. It's about the people that they become. Now that mine are all adults, I appreciate them all the more and love who they are - what they have made themselves.

But then, we've all been lucky. Not everyone is. We had two phone calls yesterday, with bad news.

The first one was the Sage's sister, who rang to tell us that her daughter Sarah's husband had died suddenly of a heart attack. Their 5 year old son was with him when he collapsed and they have a 9 year old daughter too. Jonathan was 68, considerably older than Sarah and had not been too well for some time, largely with circulatory problems caused, they were told, by his lifetime of heavy smoking, but this was completely unexpected.

Later, the Sage rang a family friend to tell her, but the information was overshadowed by her own family problem and he didn't say anything. She was almost too upset to speak, but it seems that her son is in prison. We don't know what for, and we don't know if he's been charged, whether bail was refused or even what he's supposed to have done - the Sage said he simply couldn't ask her questions as she wasn't fit to answer them. I'll ring her in a little while, she might be able to talk to me. Although he is, in many ways, a likable young man, he has been the reason for anxiety and grief to his mother and late father since they adopted him at the age of 3. He had been badly treated and it wasn't surprising that he found it hard to trust and be trustworthy but, again, this is right out of the blue.

Saturday 17 November 2007

Maybe it's because..

...I'm a Londoner!
You Belong in London

You belong in London, but you belong in many cities... Hong Kong, San Francisco, Sidney. You fit in almost anywhere.
And London is diverse and international enough to satisfy many of your tastes. From curry to Shakespeare, London (almost) has it all!

This will surprise no one.

Thanks, lovely Orangeblossoms.

Well played, Sharon

Our friend Jamie called round this morning, to say he has found a possible new gardener for us - someone newly retired, who has just moved here from London. Jamie was driving a car considerably smarter than we've ever seen him in. It's an 18 month old VW Passat. "Nice car?" we enquired...

His wife goes to Bingo twice a week with a friend - the two of them have been having these girls' nights out for years, and always share their winnings. A few weeks ago, she won the jackpot - £45,000. She didn't hesitate. A cheque for £22,500 was given straight to her friend.

They've never had this sort of money in their lives before, they've always lived in rented houses and have brought up their four children on something of a shoestring. Jamie's always worked hard and will always help a friend without a moment's thought. I think more of him than almost anyone I know, though I've only ever known Sharon to pass the time of day with. But isn't she lovely?

She won the mid-week jackpot. "It'd be a pang to let half the Saturday jackpot go," said Jamie ruefully. "With £100,000, we could have got a mortgage."

Z would like to get her hands dirty

I went to see the newly-built Skills Centre in the next town, which will serve three local high schools and teach them 'vocational' qualifications, such as building, hairdressing, car mechanics and engineering. The pupils who opt to go there are, on the whole, the less academically able and would do one of these subjects as the equivalent of two GCSEs, as well as the core subjects of English, Maths and Science. They go one day per week and do the written part of the course at school as well as their other lessons.

It's very well designed and equipped and the pupils are mostly very keen. I rather wished I could have joined them there. I'd not be interested in the cookery (I can cook already) and hairdressing, but I'd have loved to have a go at the bricklaying, carpentry and car maintenance.

Thursday 15 November 2007

Z is wreathed in fir

One of my most disliked jobs of the year is making holly wreaths for Al to sell. There are some very gorgeous ones out there, which I don't make - a wire double ring, a base of fir and well-berried holly wired on is as much as I can put up with. At that, I spend a couple of hours most evenings from late November onwards working on them.

Apart from the rings and wire, the rest is pretty well free, as friends are willing to let the Sage prune their holly and conifer bushes, and we give them a wreath as thank-you. So it's a good earner for Al, but he hasn't possibly got time to make them himself. When he started the shop, in September five years ago, I declared that it was one job I would never help with, but the next year I just got on with it.

I've got going early this year with the bases and made the first eight this evening. I want to have some ready for him for late-night opening next Thursday.

Tomorrow, I'm off to the high school to the music department for the first lesson. There may be a frost, apparently, but I hope it will have gone by 8.45ish, when I wobble off on two wheels. I actually didn't mind the trip to town and back this afternoon, which is slightly worrying, as I don't want to enjoy this cycling nonsense. Pleasure won't last, surely, with winter still to come.

When we had our sort-out of the church last weekend, I banished a rather horrid (in both the modern and the Latin sense) carpet from the vestry. I've been meaning to look for a new rug, but haven't got around to it yet. Dilly offered to lend one, which she took up in their living room a while ago as the children kept tripping on it. Squiffany was taken aback. "But it's mine, I want it!" I explained how much it would help me and that it was a short-term loan and she was half-way placated. A suggestion that she should come with me to the church to put it in place, and that she could ride in the wheelbarrow settled it and she was cheerful again.

Wednesday 14 November 2007

A weight is off in Z's mind

I was vastly encouraged yesterday, when I stepped on the bathroom scales for the first time for several years. I had received something of an unpleasant surprise when, against my protests, the doctor weighed me and I was several pounds heavier than I'd expected. Ro appropriated the scales some years ago and, since they only depressed me, I didn't miss them. But I thought I'd check - and I was about where I had thought I would be before I was forced into a position of complete embarrassment. Now, I appreciate that the doctor's scales are more likely to be accurate than mine, but that's not the point; it's that I hadn't put on, unexpectedly, the worst part of an extra half stone.

Having faffed around fluffily on Monday, I am well behind with the week's work, and I'll be out most of tomorrow. I'll catch up, of course, because I have deadlines next week and time expands most helpfully just before a deadline, usually into the early hours of the morning, but how easy life would be if one just got on with the bloody work and then went out and enjoyed oneself, rather than wasting time and feeling no satisfaction at all. I'd completely screwed things up today in any case, by saying I'd babysit in the morning and then realising I'd be out at a lecture I couldn't miss. Fortunately, by going in early with Al to set up the shop, he was able to leave at 8.30 to babysit and I waited for Tim and then left at 9.

When I arrived home in the evening, I went to see Dilly and the children and was met by Pugsley walking across the room. Until today, he hasn't managed more than a few steps without holding on to something, but now he can do corners and everything. Squiffany wanted to turn somersaults, and I put the cushions from ths sofa on the floor for her. As I put the last one down she said "Good, now we've got a rectangle." I was impressed. "Do you know the difference between a square and any other rectangle?" asked her mother. Squiffany drew shapes with her fingers to try to show the difference. I picked up another cushion. "What shape is this?" "It's a square", she said, correctly.

When her father arrived home, we told him. He wasn't surprised. I suppose I shouldn't have been either. When he was ten and his little brother was two, Al used to teach him addition and subtraction, in the greenhouse, using flowerpots.

Tuesday 13 November 2007

On the buses - and off again

When Ro started his new job, he intended to travel to Norwich by bus each day. There's a service every hour. Within the first couple of days, he knew he wouldn't be able to stick to it.

This morning, he left the house at 7.12, for a brisk 15-minute walk to the bus stop, which is 1 1/4 miles away. The bus will have left at 8.30 and reached the bus station in Norwich at 8.25 for him to reach his desk at 8.30.

Tonight, he'll finish around 4.30, catch the bus at 5, and get home about 6.30 - it often leaves late, though there's never an explanation.

Contrast this with the car. Leave home 7.55, be at his desk, after walking from the car park, at 8.30. Leave work at 4.30, be home, allowing for traffic, before 5.15. That's a difference of two hours per day...ten hours every week of time wasted.

He quite appreciates that the bus has to take longer, but what he can't understand is why every bus meanders through the villages, where it neither takes on nor drops off any passengers. It comes from Halesworth, and almost all people get on in Yagnub and in Poringland - all on the main road. Why, he wonders, is there not a commuter bus that goes direct?

At least, I'd said before he started, he wouldn't have the stress of driving in rush-hour traffic. But he says that the buses are cold and uncomfortable and he can't relax anyway. Yesterday, the company sent a coach, and it was quite a pleasant contrast.

It isn't even cheap. Buying a daily ticket is £4, and a season ticket would work out at £2.80. He reckons the petrol would cost £3 per day, even at over £1 per litre, which is what it costs now. At present, he's looking for someone to carshare with, but otherwise his employers will let him have a parking permit and he'll drive himself.

It seems to me that those in charge, while extolling the benefits and virtues of public transport, actually don't have much regard for the people who use it. They think that it's only for pensioners (who don't pay), children and the poor, none of whom, they think, matters. The only thing they can think of is to impose congestion charges and higher car park charges, while not addressing the actual reason people don't want to use the bus.

I have long believed that all people who are in charge of running the country should be obliged to use public transport. Not just in the major cities, where buses, trams, the underground, are the obvious ways to get around (not, I suspect, that they do), but everywhere. No chauffeur-driven car to pick them up from the railway station. No allowances made for the amount of stuff they have to carry, nor for any disabilities that do not qualify them for a disabled parking badge. We'd soon have an excellent public transport system which people would actually use.

Monday 12 November 2007

Z is a Noisy Noise

Sorry, darlings, three posts in day is absolutely too many, but bear in mind that one is simply a link and another is unreadably long, and take this as the daily doings of Z.

I learned something new this evening - and how does one learn, except by doing it? Paul the Fish calls on a Monday, and today he had oysters. It occurred to me that Ro likes oysters and the Sage likes unidentifiable roes, and neither likes what the other does, so dinner could be arranged in two easy stages. I like and eat everything, of course - albeit not much at a time, but nevertheless it has evidently caused my present problem.

Anyway, I bought half a dozen oysters for Ro, never having opened any before and not owning an oyster knife. How hard could it be?

Well, I broke the tip off my shortest thickest knife on the first oyster. After that, I realised that the hinge has to be broken before you prise, and after the second, it went quite well. I stole an oyster, and we companionably spat bits of shell out together (yes, I could have cleaned them more efficiently) as we chomped our salad...mine undressed.

We discussed the killing of the poor creatures beforehand, and Ro said that it's easier when someone else has done the deed. I think one should face up to that sort of thing, though molluscs are easier than mammals, and I hardened my heart.

In other news, turkeys fifteen miles away have bird flu. This time, they are free range so the cause may not be the lack of hygiene that there was at the Bernie Matthewman (almost) plant down the road from here, which was disgracefully not properly examined for fear of upsetting new EU members. I will get the biggest greenhouse ready for our chickens tomorrow. They were very happy in there last winter and they can settle in there, where they will be sheltered and, I hope, safe.


Blue Witch is marvellous. She searches out things for our education and edification and has come up with this.

Rice is sent to people in third world countries when you play - I'm not sure how long you have to keep going to make a square meal, as it is counted in grains.

You can get up to level fifty - in theory. I couldn't.

The Family Story - part 18 - Seaview (1)

It's been months since I wrote the last piece in this series. I had reached the time when we moved from Weymouth to Oulton Broad, to my father's family home. I'd meant to stop there, as I was writing about my family's story and not mine. Now I've changed my mind. I'm not sure how much I'll remember though.

I'm not sure why, but although we moved house in the summer and in time for the start of the school year, it was decided that my sister, who is five years older than I am, would remain at her school in Weymouth until Christmas. She lived during the week with friends, whose daughters were much the same age as she (this is the family I mentioned before, whose daughter Roseanne was born the same day as Prince Charles and who received a fabulous layette from Buckingham Palace) and, at weekends, with Grandad. She enjoyed this time in many ways, but did feel cut off from us, and found it very hard when she started a new school in the middle of the year.

This must have been the start of a happy time for my parents. My mother adored the house - it was she who had been desperate to move there. My father was considerablymore ambivalent. He had not had a happy childhood and I think he must have felt that the weight of being 'the Major's son' would be hard to shake off. However, he had many friends from childhood days and it was a lovely place to live.

The house was called Seaview. Sounds like a seaside boarding house, but it was Grandpa's idea of a joke. It was three miles from the sea by road but, being three stories with a copper dome on top, one could see the sea from the topmost room. All we were ever able to see was a grey-blue haze, but this was the theory.

Six years ago, we were invited to lunch by the people who now live in half of the house. It was a strange feeling, revisiting. We were shown over and I found myself looking for features that I didn't know I still remembered.

Can I describe the house? I don't know. It's completely clear in my mind and I could walk every inch blindfold. This may take a few posts and I apologise. I'm being self-indulgent. I absolutely understand if you skip.

The house was built in 1912, so my father was not born there but moved in as a toddler. It was the first house to be built in the road, and my grandfather bought the prime sight, with a wide river frontage on to the broad. Building materials were brought to the house by river on barges - from Norwich, I suppose. It was typically Edwardian, with big windows and airy rooms with high ceilings.

A wide yellow front door led into a lobby, which we called the 'airlock'. On the left was a cloakroom and washbasin, which led to the downstairs loo. It was always cold. Back into the airlock and into the hall. This was huge. Well, large. On the left, a short passage led into the gunroom, which was lined with cupboards, wooden doors below and glass ones above. My father did not shoot, so the upper ones were used for books and the lower ones for stuff that never saw the light of day. At the end was a desk and on that stood the telephone. In front of the telephone was a dogbasket. We stood in the basket to make phone calls. In retrospect, this seems odd, but it was quite natural at the time, and of course no one had more than one telephone in the house, which was always kept in the hall.

Going clockwise round the hall, the doors then led to the drawing room, the passage (it led outside but was used as another glory hole), the study, the dining room, the kitchen area, then, the other side of the stairs, the cupboard under the stairs. This was sizable, and was known as the beer cupboard, but all the drinks were kept there. Now, it's a spacious cloakroom.

The rooms were not all that large, in fact, though I thought they were at the time. I suppose about 16 foot by 14. There was a large bay, the width of the room, in both the drawing and dining rooms, with big sash windows. The central panes must have been 6 foot wide and 5 foot high at least - one above the other, of course. The side windows, which were the same height of course but narrower, were the ones we used to go in and out to the garden. The dogs used to queue up to go in and out and there were always paw and breath marks, however often they were washed. When our pony roamed about on the lawn during the summer, she used to come up onto the terrace and knock at the window too, hoping for a treat. I was awfully glad to see, when I returned a few years ago, that the brass fingergrips were still the original ones, as so much else had changed. It was a pity that, although the fireplace was still there, the cast iron fittings weren't. The doors closed, which kept draughts down when the fire wasn't in use, and really drew it up when it was. You lay and lit the fire, closed the doors for a few minutes and it was ablaze. The wall the fireplace was on was angled to throw maximum heat into the room. There was a rather ugly, massive wooden chimneypiece which, some years later, was simplified so that only the mantelpiece itself remained.

If you can't picture it, then obviously I haven't explained fully enough ;-)

Sunday 11 November 2007


Remembering particularly today, my grandfather, who spent the First World War serving in France, in the trenches and his two brothers, who both were fatally wounded there, my father's half brother and my husband's cousin, who were killed fighting in the Second World War. John, my dear friend throughout my teens, who died serving in the army in Northern Ireland in 1975. My father, who was proud to say that he had never aimed a gun at a person in his life, but served in the Medical Corps throughout the war and was prepared to die for his country.

Recalling the memorial tablet I saw in a church in France last month, to a man and his three sons who were all killed in the Napoleonic wars, and of his wife and their mother, who was left to outlive them.

Praying particularly today, that the leaders whose ambition, beliefs or self-justification lead to conflict will talk and listen instead.

Remembering, with affection, Kit, who died yesterday.

And thinking of my beloved mother, whose birthday is today. She died in March 03, and in our last six months together we put behind us the difficulties of the previous fifteen years. When we were told the diagnosis of untreatable cancer, that time fell away and we both felt the pure love and unity of my childhood years.

Saturday 10 November 2007

Z is surprised in the Buff

It has struck me (notwithstanding that I said a few days ago that I kept crying - resilient woman that I am) that I feel remarkably well at present. All cheerful and energetic. Is it this startlingly healthy diet that I eat? Is it that I am biking keenly, as long as there is no undulation in the road, for miles and a bit? Maybe it is simply that I've reached the high point of my life, and it will be downhill all the way from now on - and I don't mean in a 'whoopee' cycling sort of way.

I will find out in due course.

Night are a bit difficult, however. I go to sleep and wake, needing to turn over, but I find that the joints have locked and it is agony. This happens about every hour. It's boring. Also, I realise that the Sage has the habit of leaving a hand on or under a hip (either hip, they both fucking hurt), at times when it is really not conducive to marital happiness to say 'ow'. I need to explain this politely at a neutral sort of time, when passion will not be killed. I haven't just realised this, but it is getting harder not to say 'ow' instead of 'wow'.

Otherwise, things are exceptionally good. I oversaw the autumnclean (very like a springclean) at the church and people kept coming to ask, meekly, what to do next, and I told them. I noted Useful Information in my big black book to do things about. I remembered things that need to be planned for.

The day had started slightly oddly, as I had woken early and not got up, for why would I? At 8.15, I heard a vehicle and saw, through the window, a flashing amber light. I creaked lightly from the bed to peer outside and found, at little lower than window level (Tudor house, low ceilings), a JCB with friend Alan in the cab. I do not wear nightclothes. I dropped to the floor and crawled out of the room...I don't know if he had seen me, for he is too polite to have said.

Anyway, the laurel hedge is now a pile of upended bushes, which will be moved to the bonfire in the next few days. I'm a bit perturbed that the Sage did not have Alan move them, but see his point, that it would have churned up the gravel and the grass to have the JCB go back and forth. They are big chunks of laurel, though.

Tomorrow is my Holier than Thou (unless thou art Dave, which thou art not as he is away) Sunday, as I will be up early and in church by 7.30, and again by 10. In between, I will cycle in to town for the paper. Unless it is raining. I may be a saint, but I'm not a martyr.

Friday 9 November 2007

Z applies for a new job and is accepted!!(!)

Indeed, I have a job. 50 minutes per week and, of course, unpaid, but I am to be a teaching assistant in the music department.

Today, I had a meeting with the head of music and we talked about the department and the work she does, based on her self-evaluation form (SEFs are all the rage at present), my observations and what she wanted to tell me. At the end, having noted various things, I asked if there was anything else practical I could do...she said, humorously, that if I could provide a general I offered. It is something that has been discussed with the Head and will happen, when someone is available with some time to be allocated, but the teaching assistants are in the Special Needs department and so those children come first of course.

We decided that I should go in and help with one Year 9 class, for the one lesson a week that she has them. After a while, we'll evaluate it to see if she feels it's made a difference, and if it helps then that would strengthen her point, that she needs a paid assistant regularly. I am looking forward to it - I used to help at the village school for years and only stopped when I became chairman of governors and needed to step back and take a more management-based and less personal role. I also helped as a parent when Ro was at the Middle school.

I thought I'd better run it past the Head, to make sure he approved, so I told and asked him - and also pointed out that I would be likely to come back to him next term requesting an assistant for all the year 9 classes, for if I have a devious plan, I make sure the victim knows about it. He is quite happy with it all - and I am confident I'll get my way here, because I'm not easy to say no to, for I look so disappointed or else so happy that people love to please me. I asked if he wants me to update my Criminal Record Bureau check (yes, we all have to be CRB-checked if we want to talk to a child) but he says he is satisfied with my credentials. Ooer, cheeky lad.

In other news, the church boiler is all right but the radiators needed to be bled, and we are not flooded, but it was a damn'd close-run thing on the coast and some people have been flooded out. A few more inches and it would have caused real problems - the Environment Agency were right to give the warnings and take action. It's been a bitterly cold day for all the people directing traffic, helping with the sandbags and the evacuations etc.

I rode my bike all of a quarter of a mile. It was windy. And cold. I should like some credit, if you please, for riding to the church and back.

And I have booked my train ticket for London on the 23rd. I shall stay with El and Phil on Friday night and spend Saturday with them, but am footloose on Friday.

Thursday 8 November 2007

Z's homework is building up

I did bike in today, as I expected to be home before dusk. I didn't quite make it up the hill to the High School and ... er... got off and pushed. I went into town at lunchtime as I had some free time afterwards, was told by the Sage that my lights had arrived and dropped the bike off on the way back to have them fitted (the front light is easily removable, Badgerdaddy, and I will not leave it on the bike). During the afternoon it absolutely bucketed down and I felt a bit dismayed at the thought of the ride home. But of course it stopped for me, because even the weather can be kind, though it was a murky afternoon and I was glad I had the lights - not to see, but be seen.

A worrying weather forecast for the East coast. Any Lowestoft person is aware of the dreadful 1953 floods, which swept down the coast and caused huge amounts of damage and killed many people. As it hit each area, everyone was too busy with their own problem to think to warn people further south, so each town was unprepared. If all goes as badly as it could, the surge could reach similar levels, but flood defences are better and they know the situation.

I had a lovely day in the music department and thoroughly enjoyed it. There was a Year 9 class, which split into five groups to practise music they were working on. I rambled between them, asked a few questions and made constructive (I hope) comments - for example, one girl was having trouble working out a note on the saxophone. I was able to explain that B sharp is the same as C (it was a high note, above the stave and she hasn't been learning long). She got it right next time and glanced at me to make sure - that felt nice. Then there was a Year 10 GCSE class and later an Upper 6th A level class. They were talking about the classical style of music (classical rather than baroque or romantic, for example, I mean) and discussing a Beethoven string quartet and a Mozart piano concerto. Tomorrow, I'm going in again to talk to the head of music and have lunch with the department heads and that'll be all until next week, when I'm visiting the new skills centre in the next town, which serves three local high schools for vocational study. Sadly, then I'll have to write it all up.

Wednesday 7 November 2007

Z works 9-5

Well, not exactly 'work' - more 'watch other people work and write it down'. It was the first of three days observing lessons and stuff at school. Then there was a meeting. More of the same tomorrow, but I start a little later and finish a little earlier, which is just as well as I must do some washing soon or run out of clean knickers - except the sensible ones, and we don't want to resort to that, do we?

I had planned to cycle in, until it dawned on me that I would be coming home in the dark and I haven't got any lights yet. They may arrive tomorrow, in which case I could get them on the way home. It would be foolish to attempt it at lunchtime, as it's uphill to the high school from the cycle shop and I will already have made the amazing effort once. It remains to be seen how I will get on on a bike in a skirt suit. Not a short skirt, I think. But if I leave soon after 3.30 I'll be home before dark in any case, especially as it's downhill all the way.

The Sage has been to see his engineer and car buff friend, Mike, who reckons he can repair the car. It will cost far less than the garage would charge, and since the Sage took to the chap because he jumped straight from his car, apologising and saying he would stump up without question, he naturally wants to keep the cost as low as possible.

I haven't started work yet. I put blogging first...well, second, after food. Moussaka. Of course I didn't fry the aubergines, what do you take me for?

Tuesday 6 November 2007

The Sage acquires a daughter

I had a meeting in Norwich this morning, and in the afternoon the Sage had an appointment in Wildest Suffolk and I went with him for the pleasure of his company. Apart from the fact that the people we went to see got it in their heads that I was his daughter, they having spoken to El on the phone last week, all went well. After trying to explain a couple of times, we accepted the situation and went along with it - though not to the extent of calling my husband "Dad".

We came home by the scenic route, and very lovely it was. My unscheduled taxi ride through Essex last month showed me some delightful villages, and so there are in Suffolk too. Lots of old cottages, sympathetically looked after without being too neatened up, with trees and hedgerows around the fields. It was a pleasure.

It's getting a bit nippy though.

Only a week ago I was saying complacently that I had caught up with most of my work. I've fallen behind again now, and I'll be out every day for the rest of the week. There won't be much time for blogging, I don't think. Unless I get up early, of course.

Monday 5 November 2007

Z sees friends

A flying visit to London today, to see friends over from Madras for a few days. It's nearly three years since I last met them, when I was last over there. They had a business appointment in the middle of the day and this was the only day my sister and I could manage, but at least we had a good hour together. Afterwards, Wink and I met El and briefly visited her office to have a discreet gawp before having lunch together. Then we trotted into Fortnums, reminisced for a few minutes about the griottes en cognac (brandied cherries in chocolate) that we always had at Christmas time, and that I'd break my diet and she would break her non-chocolate eating resolve for one (though we didn't) before we went off to browse round the bookshop.

Outside, there were whole lots of people in a good-natured queue. Upstairs, there were several dozen more, most of them sitting on the floor leaning on the bookshelves. It seems that young L*w*s H@m1lt0n, having 'written' a rather precocious autobiography, was turning up at 4.30 for a booksigning. Two hours earlier than that, there were about 150 people keenly waiting.

I was vastly happy, when we parted, to find myself hopping on a Routemaster bus, complete with helpful conductor. I thought they'd all gone. It finished the day nicely.

I keep saying that when I come to London I'll see if any of you lovely friends are free to meet up, but there wasn't time - this was arranged at short notice and I had to give my Indian friends priority as it is such a flying visit. The only day I have free for the rest of the month is the 23rd, which is a Friday. Any good to anyone? If you'd care to form a disorderly queue, I'd be thrilled.

Sunday 4 November 2007

The Sage uses his gavel

The Sage was taking great care of me. He slipped one of the kitchen staff a fiver to move all the tables into position, because they are solid oak and, he decided, too heavy for my feeble old body. For once, we also had time to have a nice cup of tea before people came crowding in at the start of the view (they always start to arrive well before the advertised time).

There are always newcomers, too. Some of our buyers have been coming ever since the start of our specialist china sales in November 1983, but a few more turn up every time - this does not mean it's a complete crush of course, because others have fallen by the wayside in one way or another in the meantime. With twenty different vendors and nearly fifty different buyers, as well as lookers and unsuccessful bidders, it makes for a good many interested people.

I'll put the prices up and, if I get around to it, write a sale report and put them on our website in the next week and put in a link. The two pieces I liked best, an early saucer and a beautifully painted coffee pot, went for higher prices than I'd have been able to pay, so it's just as well I wasn't bidding. I'm glad they were appreciated.

I find that driving in Lowestoft is very confusing now. They have reorganised the whole traffic system recently, pedestrianising some roads and making others that have been one-way for the last few decades two-way again. When you're used to getting into the right-hand lane and you realise that there are oncoming cars in it, it's disconcerting, as is driving the wrong way down the street.

During the sale, it occurred to me that El, Phil and Ro had all arrived by train and we needed the back seat of the car, or most of it, for all the stuff to take home - about twenty lots had been bought by absent bidders who had given their bids to the Sage beforehand or bid on the phone, and we had to take them back with us. Then there were all the fitted boxes the china had been brought in, the computer and printer, the chiller for our food...this could be quite a problem. Luckily, lovely Charmian was with us and after the sale I asked her if she could help out. She drove El and Phil the extra three miles from her house to ours. We hadn't expected any difficulty as Al had hoped to join us, but wasn't able to in the end.

We've all had a really good couple of days since, chatting and catching up with news. Back to the grindstone now - I'm out all day tomorrow, so will do tomorrow's work tonight.

Saturday 3 November 2007

Z rides her new bike!!(!)

El and Phil were going to borrow my car for the day, so they took me to the bicycle shop first. It all took some time, as I wanted to order a whole range of useful accessories, such as lights and panniers and stuff. It was all most ... I was going to say exciting, then I thought better of it and nearly put interesting, as I have never looked through bicycle accessory catalogues before, but actually that's not the word either. Insert your own word, if you will.

The Sage had, indeed, announced that it was to be his present to me, which was very sweet of him and, with his usual delicacy, he slipped a wodge of banknotes into El's hand, so as not to sully mine with the touch of Filthy Lucre. She, I believe, was buying the accesories, but I became a little confused. I paid for nothing, just pointed and squeaked "I'll have that one!" several times.

And yes, I've ordered a helmet too. I'll look a complete plank, but with any luck one made of growing rather than dead wood.

I got on the bike, got off again and asked him to lower the seat as much as possible, reascended and wobbled purposefully to the corner. I rode to the bike parking places thingies near the bus shelter and went to buy food, left my bags with Al and fetched the bike for him to admire. We put the shopping bags one each side of the shelfy thingy at the back, each dangling from its handles and I set off home. As I swept down the hill down castle lane, I reflected that I'd never be able to cycle up it again. I reparked outside the post office, carefully setting the combination lock, and went into the wholefood shop and then started to pedal the final mile home.

So cycling a couple of miles is within my capabilities. I hadn't been sure. And I did look on the keenly watchful traffic warden with a detached and lofty air.

However, later, there was an accident. Fortunately, it did not result in any injury - indeed, it didn't involve me at all. The Sage drove into town for some chicken food and parked outside the pet shop. While he was in there, he heard a crash and went out again to find a 4x4 with its muzzle thrust hard into the rear of his little car. Although it is still driveable, he suspects it will be a write-off, but the chap concerned says he will pay, whatever.

I will tell you about the auction sale tomorrow. Pip-pip, darlings.

Thursday 1 November 2007

Al makes a Profit

I had a few errands to run in Norwich today. I trotted around happily - I hardly seem to have visited Norwich entirely for pleasure and without engagements (for lunch with Dave was certainly a pleasure) all this year. It's been a beautifully sunny day. Al said the shop has been busy. He was busy yesterday too, but the supply of pumpkins held up until a quarter to five. Anxious little children and their sheepish fathers continued to ask until Al shut up shop, however. He shut early, to get rid of them. Actually, for the first time ever, he put up the price in the afternoon. He said to Tim that if any regular customers came in to sell them at the lower price, but someone who was only giving Al custom because the supermarket had sold out could pay for the privilege. He made an extra £25 and received no complaints...

I then went to shop at Waitrose. To my surprise, the Sage loves the rose-petal tea I bought there, so I went shopping for everything I needed. That included some cheese, because one of our helpers doesn't eat wheat, so can't eat sandwiches with the rest of us. I bought a piece of Stilton and a piece of Wensleydale - and found myself salivating uncontrollably. I'd also promised her crisps - and nearly picked up a bag of Twiglets. I didn't, but I've certainly found my Achilles' heels.

Since my unexpectedly emotional encounter with the doctor, to his surprise and mine (I should add that I didn't actually blub all over him, but was unable to speak for a few minutes and was then a bit wobbly), I've found myself tearful several times. Only when alone, fortunately, but it's something I need to work out and through. It's every time I think about my mother, and it seems that I am not quite as sorted as I thought I was. I believe I've worked out why I'm unhappy, specifically, but that's only the start of it. I've always found it better, on the whole, not to look back too much - if past times were better than the present it makes you wistful and if the old days were not good then it only depresses you to think about it - but in this instance I hope it might do me good. So I'll continue with my 'family story', which I had meant to abandon once it might become 'the story of me'. It'll take a day or two to start, though, as it's our auction tomorrow and we're then having a jolly family weekend.