Wednesday 31 December 2008

Z feels warm and affectionate

A short post, because I'm thinking ahead and have done with this year already.

I have used the last of the Christmas joint, with a shepherd's pie (I suppose it should be lamb, but this is a beef shepherd's pie) and a casserole, and there is a panful of lovely beef stock from the bones in the fridge which must be used for something really delicious. I don't know what yet.

I laboured heavily into town - the coming of winter has made me realise I'm actually no fitter for a year's cycling and I was unable to get up the little (but awkward) hill to the post office, but had to get off and walk for the first time in many months. Although I've been home for two hours, I still haven't taken off my scarf and I feel like Rupert Bear, but without the checked trousers. Tilly is stretched out contentedly in front of the fire, which needs more coal put on soon. It will disturb her so I'll leave it for a few more minutes.

I am honing and polishing (that is, vaguely starting to contemplate) New Year Resolutions. I never had them before having a blog, but I do now. They will be small and achievable, but definite extras. I will be inspired by last autumn's learning of countries and their capitals. It gives me pleasure and satisfaction, when an African (for instance) country is mentioned, to place it, with its capital city, on a mental map, with the countries that surround it. I am vastly pleased to have learned the US state capitals, which I had thought was impossible.

I hope you have a wonderful evening, whether you see in the New Year (and remember the Leap Second) or are long asleep and I hope that 2009 will bring you everything you wish for. And thank you.

Tuesday 30 December 2008

Z stops thinking about one year and anticipates the next

Today is one deadline, tomorrow is another. So I'm doing all the paperwork today. Is that not impressive? Are you not, even now, thinking, 'ooh, that Z, never leaving it all until the last minute. How impressive is that'?

No, it's not truly splendid, is it.

The year always tails off somewhat for me. The couple of days when Christmas feels well over is a bit dull, when there's no excuse not to get on and tidy everything up and start getting back to the usual sort of routine, but I'm still a bit tired and lacking in verve. I always get up late, which means I have to go to bed late, and i waste a lot of time.

Tomorrow night will be spent with Al and Dilly. Her parents are coming over too, but I'm not sure how long they're staying. On Thursday, we'll go to friends for a walk and a party. We will be given a map and told that soup and cheese will await us on our return. There's usually a choice of two or three routes of varying lengths between two or three miles and ten or so. Until last year, I always did the longest walk but I've admitted defeat now and will do the shortest one, which is 2.8 miles this time. Several people make different soups, which are all fabulous. I think they spend the year trying out new recipes.

I must get back to work. I have to email out all the papers while it's still Tuesday.

Z succumbs to post-Christmas lassitude

I got up late.

I'm going to have a nap now.

Monday 29 December 2008

Z snuggles up with Tilly on the sofa

It's very quiet around here, as Wink has gone back home to Wiltshire and Weeza and Phil are visiting his parents in the Midlands. I thought you might like to see Zerlina enjoying her Christmas dinner.

I went over to buy the dishwasher and it'll be delivered on Friday afternoon (that was a non sequitur, by the way).

I shall be very busy next week when Al and family are on holiday, so I'll do as little as possible before then. Yes, I know it would be sensible to do lots of housework and cooking in advance. Not quite 'me' though, is it? - sensible, that is. I do have some things to do first, but they can wait until this evening at least.

That's about it. The Sage has just brought me a cup of tea. I shall cuddle my dog and read for an hour or so.

Sunday 28 December 2008

Z thanks her Dishwasher

I've been trying to work out how long I've had this dishwasher. I assumed it must have been the third one in 22 1/2 years, but I've found a guarantee going back to the 90s and have worked out that it's only the second.

When we moved here, I bought a Hotpoint. It cost in the region of £250 and I paid for a 5 year guarantee. In that time, it had repairs which would have cost about £280. It lurched on for another year or two before it packed in completely (one time, it broke down, full, on Christmas Day) but it was certainly enough to put me off that brand for life.

That means that the current Bosch dishwasher has lasted me, with very little problem at all, for about 16 years. It's only in the last few days that I've had to rinse cups etc before putting them in, normally it is fine, though recently not quite as good as it was. I remember buying it on the recommendation of friends who had been bemused to see how little I could put in the old one without washing quality going way down. I use it pretty well every day, sometimes twice.

So this one owes me nothing at all, and I'd be perfectly happy to buy one again, but Blue Witch, who does her research SO THAT I DON'T HAVE TO (thanks ever so, BW, xxx) says that Bosch and Siemens are owned by the same company but the latter is now better made.

I have been looking, so far, at models at the price I'm willing to pay (the JL website is useful for that because it gives a lot of information) and there seems to be little if anything to choose between them for energy and water consumption, noise and the various features.

If you've come here doing your own research, don't rely on me, I know nothin' about nothin' (it works better in a Norfolk accent). Go to one of the websites that does this sort of thing properly. Except, that I've been looking myself and what they don't mention, because they're reviewing current models, is longevity and that matters quite a lot to me.

Z is Going Shopping

Today is the obligatory quiet day when all the clearing up gets done. I said, more than a year ago, that I needed to buy a new dishwasher and intended to do so before Christmas. I didn't and it has kept going valiantly. Now, however - that is, over the last week - it is washing markedly less well, and everything has to be rinsed before going in. It's done very well but the time has come and the Sage and I will troop into Norwich tomorrow and inspect new dishwashers.

I'm doing a bit of online research beforehand. Some people enjoy this. I don't. I find it extremely boring. Like buying a car, there are certain features I want and some I don't, but otherwise I don't much care. I am inclined towards Siemens (which I think Blue Witch recommended) or Bosch (which I have). My present one has done well mechanically, but the interior fittings have not done so well and I'd want to be sure that they're durable now. However, they seem to have good reports for reliability. Looking at the descriptions, there seems to be little to differentiate between them, whatever the price. I assume that the cheaper ones are noisier and are not built to last so well.

Then there's the matter of whether to buy from a shop or online? I want to see the interior fittings before I choose, so I need to visit a shop, and it's morally unsound to use a shop and then not buy there. But there is a financial point at which one can feel ripped off, which can send one towards the internet. But then, what if there's something the matter with it? One knows one can trust John Lewis to put it right quickly.

Any recommendations gratefully received. I'm happy to balance service given against money spent; I don't want to be responsible for more shops going to the wall. But if I'm to deal with them, they have to be worth saving. Likewise the manufacturers.

Which reminds me, if the government has been trying to force us to buy smaller and more economical cars, why are they now contemplating financially baling out Jaguars and Range Rovers?

Saturday 27 December 2008

Oh yes, they are

Still on the Lord of the Rings, we played LOTR Trivial Pursuit this evening. Ro's had it for several years - he and his housemates got it when they were at university and he was the one who ended up with it. One really has to be quite au fait with the films, and most of us aren't. Most amusing.

There were 12 of us for lunch as Susie joined us. Haven't seen her since Weeza and Phil's wedding, so it was excellent. Our families have known each other forever - my father was best man at her grandfather's wedding. She was telling us that recently she and the girl she shares a house with came out of their house to find a dead man on the doorstep - literally. She said that they nearly slammed the door shut and pretended it hadn't happened. Then, he was right against her car door so she had to climb in through the passenger side. I said "But didn't you call an ambulance or anything?" I'd come in on the conversation part way through. It transpired that the paramedics were already there. It was a gruesome tale, and really, it's just the sort of thing that would happen to Susie and practically no one else. She said that it wasn't in the paper and she didn't know what had happened, whether it was a heart attack, overdose, mugging - they hadn't heard anything.

Zerlina was trying some baby rice and enjoying the experience. She sat happily in her high chair, while the other two were at the other end of the table, in dining chairs with arms, on two cushions. I hadn't got more vegetables in than I'd planned for when I thought there would be 4 adults and a baby rather than 9 adults, 2 toddlers and a baby, except for doing a whole lot more roast potatoes and so there were not loads of leftovers. I was glad of the little table-top cooker I usually only use during the summer when the Aga's off, as it was such a huge piece of beef that it took up the whole height of the oven and there was no room for the spuds. I'd have had to juggle between top and bottom ovens (top is hot, bottom is warm), but as it was, the joint rested while I cooked the Yorkshire pudding and all was fine.

Tomorrow, one of Al's customers is throwing her big annual Christmas/birthday/teddy bear's party. She and the bear will be 92 years old. Usually it's on a Saturday and Al can't go, but this time he's able to, so I've said I'll stay home and look after the children. Although we'd all be welcome, and the Sage, Dilly and Ro will go, it'll be simpler for the children to stay at home and they haven't had much time to play with their presents yet. Later, they are going to the pantomime in Norwich.

Friday 26 December 2008

Z is Sixteen, but not at all Sweet

I didn't get anything done this morning, and then Wink arrived so I didn't even start on the paperwork. Pfft. It'll be done. But I'm sorry if you've emailed me and I haven't replied yet. I haven't replied to anyone, but not because I don't appreciate the letters, and thank you.

What I have done is prepare vegetables for tomorrow's lunch. I'd meant to lay the table, but the last light bulb blew, and the ones in that room are the screw-in sort which we never remember to buy more of. So the Sage will be despatched into town tomorrow to get some. Our dining room is on the north end of the house and the windows face west, so it's a bit subdued-lightingish in there. We had dinner in the kitchen tonight. As we did last week when the lovely Dave came for lunch, as the dining room fire decided not to draw properly and it was too damn cold. He had to gaze upon my untidy shelves and piles of cookbooks, but was far too polite to notice.

Ah yes, Wink said something earlier and I said "I'll blog that!" and then I forgot, but luckily Ro didn't - and filled with the Christmas (and whisky) spirit, he kindly reminded me when I asked.

We were talking about films and books and stuff, and she reminded me of her affection for Harry Potter films. I confessed that I've never stayed awake through the Christmas showing of one and that they are not my cup of tea. She said that she likes the Lord of the Rings films too. I agreed there, but I've always liked the books. She said she hadn't got further than the first 20 pages. We debated this generally for a bit, and she said that she's not very grown-up. Reminding her of my taste in humour (such as Harry Hill's TV Burp, far too unsophisticated for her) and music, I puzzled our relative childishnesses.

"The difference is," she said, "my mind is about 12, while yours has stuck at the age of 16."

Thursday 25 December 2008

Z only drank three glasses of wine all day

I got up a bit late this morning, feeling very relaxed as there was no cooking to be done. Actually, there was in the end as I decided to make a Proper Pudding (not the Christmas one as we'll have it on Saturday)., but the rest was just assembling. I strolled downstairs sometime around 9 o'clock, and then remembered the church service at 10, for which I planned to do the setting up. I worked extremely fast for a bit, bossing the poor Sage around ruthlessly - it's not often that I properly get my arse in gear, but I can be very efficient - and I left him still wrapping the last of the presents which I hadn't done last night. Or rather, this morning. I've found as I get old and frivolous that I need time to wind down in the evening and I can't go straight to bed when I get home late any more, so it was 2 o'clock when I finally shambled bathwards.

All was under control by the time Zerlina and family arrived - Phil was well enough to come and improved during the day, though still somewhat snuffly. Zerlina had a great time, sitting in her high chair at lunch time, playing with her new toys and enjoying her baby bouncer for the first time. Weeza was thrilled to read Miff Heehog to her, as well as put her in the baby bouncer. There is a hook in the beam in the drawing room ceiling and has been for 34 years, when she was a baby herself and had a similar bouncer, which she loved.

Squiffany and Pugsley and their parents came in for an hour or so, before going off for lunch with Dilly's parents, so there was a big present-opening session. They are staying in Norwich overnight with Al's in-laws, so they'll have time to look at them all and play with them. Then they're going over to Weeza's house and they'll all spend the day together. Wink has spent Christmas with the Bod and his mum and she'll arrive some time tomorrow.

I've got a lot of emails to reply to tomorrow, and some paperwork to start on - it's got to be done by Tuesday but I want a free weekend. If I have the sense to get on with it promptly, two good sessions will see it through. More likely, I'll faff around a bit at a time for days.

Z has more holes than she did have

3 Communion services and a carol service in 6 hours. Gosh. I can't go to bed yet, I need to recover a bit first.

Have fun, everyone, and a lovely Christmas.

Wednesday 24 December 2008

Z is Even Calmer, now that she's Postponed Christmas

I've just been talking to Weeza on the phone. Phil has come down with a bad cold that may be 'flu. He went in to work for the morning and should be home soon - he felt able to make the 4+ mile bike ride, which he probably wouldn't be up to if it is 'flu, so let's hope for the best.

He's going to spend the rest of the day in bed and see how it goes. If he's not feeling up to much, he won't come over with Weeza and Zerlina tomorrow - also, he doesn't want to pass on nasty germs to us.

So, I pondered briefly. It was just going to be the six of us, the Sage, me, Ro, Weeza, Phil and Zerlina. However, on Friday, Wink is due to arrive and on Saturday Al, Dilly, Squiffany and Pugsley are coming for lunch.

"How would it be if we postponed Christmas dinner until Saturday?" I suggested. "Hopefully, Phil will be better by then and we could all be together. I've got all sorts of things, which I was planning to do for a relaxed Saturday meal, like pâté, smoked salmon, cheeses, salads and things, and we could have them for lunch tomorrow instead."

Weeza thought it was a fine idea. They will have to leave by 2.15 as they're going to a party, and a friend of hers may be coming over, but she can come here (we've known her forever and she won't feel out of place with us all) and our 12lb rib of beef will stretch for us all. I think it'll be 9 adults and 3 children, one a baby, if Susie comes, and the table seats 12 and I have polished all the cutlery already. It'll be just as easy to feed 12 as 6. It isn't like having turkey again, they won't have had beef so it will still be special. We can be really relaxed all day here tomorrow, and chilling, opening presents, relaxing and having fun can be the focus of the day rather than the big meal. On Saturday, I'll aim to serve up at about 12.30 so we don't rush the meal.

Oh, and I don't think I've mentioned that Al has decided to shut the shop for 4 whole days. This has never happened before, and he wishes Christmas could be on Thursday every year. He doesn't think he'd be selling much on Saturday and he's warned all his customers so they won't come in and be frustrated.

The tree is up. I'll get out the decorations and leave it for Ro to decorate.

Z is Surprisingly Calm

I've had two breakfasts four hours apart, worked in between times and had a good nap. Next, I'll call round to elderly friends and (if they're in) be given sherry and a mince pie. After that, if the Sage is home, we'll put up the Christmas tree and if not I'll wrap the presents. Phil's has arrived; some books for Zerlina haven't but there's still time for a last delivery, if that's what the Post Office does nowadays and if not, a 4-month-old won't mind if she hasn't got quite enough to read. Her mother can always read her Miff Heehog in any case.

I hope you have a lovely Christmas and thank you all for being there.

Z xx

In a nutshell

"The deep, deep longing that people have for hope." Bishop Desmond Tutu on the Today programme on Radio 4 this morning.

Tuesday 23 December 2008

Z is Cheery

I was just getting up at 5 o'clock this morning when I heard Al's van start. I dressed and breakfasted and joined him in the shop half an hour later. We stacked shelves and got things ready until 8, when the second delivery van turned up and we started all over again. I had to leave to be ready to babysit in time for Dilly's 9 o'clock hair appointment. This afternoon, I went into town again and Al was making up a fruit basket, so I took over serving to help out. I went back at 5 to help him pack up. There are people in the town who have assumed I spent the whole day working there, but it's only Al who can cope with that. He's back there now, making up orders for the morning, with the salad, grapes and other more perishable items to be added from tomorrow's new stock. Tim is helping tonight, which is good.

I trotted along and bought the last of the presents, but the Sage and I have both admitted that we haven't found what we wanted for each other, so we'll have to hit the shops sometime together and mutually spoil ourselves. We're not bothered. I am waiting for one more postal delivery - it's not overdue, I ordered it at the last minute - and Phil's presents will be a bit meagre if it doesn't turn up. I hope Dilly likes what I've bought her, as I quite badly wanted to keep it for myself. I did buy a pair of trousers though. I said to the shop owner that I will probably have to take them up a bit and she suggested I wash them before wearing them in case they shrink a little. I agreed, but frankly do I look the sort of woman who washes clean clothes? I'll just wear them a bit long until they need washing and then see. I'll probably wear them tomorrow for my organ-fest. Did I tell you about that? Probably. I'm playing simultaneous organ and clarinet for our own carol service at 6, then whipping down the road for a service at 10 and then another in the next village at 11.30. I am going to schedule a nap in the afternoon, I may be a fool but I'm not an idiot.

Anyhoo, all seems to be sorted. I haven't wrapped anything yet, but that's more fun done at the last minute. We haven't got the tree up yet come to that, but plenty of time for that tomorrow. We keep the tree up throughout Christmas until Twelfth Night, so there will be a whole fortnight to get the pleasure or possibly have had enough of it. Actually, it might come down a couple of days early on Sunday 4th, as I'll be too busy after that as Al and his family will be on holiday.

I've made a final three wreaths - one was ordered and I might as well do a couple more. I expect Al will sell them and if not I'll find a home for them.

I got all high and happy this afternoon. It entertained the customers mightily.

Monday 22 December 2008

Z displays rather more self-assurance than is warranted

Oh darlings, two posts in a day, and you can hardly believe your luck. Or can you?

i realise that I've relaxed into Christmas, which is all well and good but I've done it a couple of days early. You see, I've always had it as a rule that the deadline is the end of the day before Christmas Eve. CE counts as Christmas and besides, it leaves space for sorting out problems. A secondary deadline, if you see what I mean.

Of course, this rule applied long before Al had his shop, when CE (excuse the familiarity; I know I could copy'n'paste Christmas Eve but the repetition would pall on us all) became his busiest day of the year, but business is excluded. So is church-related stuff. Gradually, CE has become a very busy day for me too, but still a relaxed one, as all should be under control and it's too late to do much about it anyway.

Today, I got up far too early, as you know, and actually had got a lot done by mid-morning. I went into town after lunch and first of all (flouting a whole raft of traffic rules - oh, the joys of being on a bike and going the wrong way round the roundabout and the wrong way down a one-way street) visited Al for veggies. He was serving a customer. When said customer left, he wondered if I had a few minutes? He had a lot of orders to write in his book. Well, this was no problem as I wanted to talk to him about the demands of customers' orders anyway. We talked. I served. He listed. It all took an hour or so. It was a good job I'd brought a light for my bike.

Finally I left, and didn't do the shopping I'd intended except to go to the hardware shop and buy a new tea infuser to tide me over until I find the one I've mislaid. *Sigh* It'll turn up. Then I freewheeled down the hill and had to stop at the junction and then go uphill again to the Little Green Shop. I didn't half wobble. I don't usually take that hill from halfway up with a couple of stone of veggies in my panniers. Still, I made it and went and stocked up on Highly Desirable chocolate, some of which might even be reserved for myself, hem hem.

You can tell how relaxed I am. I had dinner in the bag already; or at any rate in a handsome blue-enamelled Le Creuset casserole dish. But I haven't wrapped anything and a couple of family members haven't actually got much in the way of presents yet. I'm confident it'll all work out.

Oh, and my charming lunch companion from Thursday brought wine. As it was a special occasion - the Eating of the Lost Venison - the bottle has been broached. It's very good. I've drunk two glassfuls already.

Z finds the Venison

The five o'clock bulletin - I just opened the fridge to put in the soup from last night, which had still been warm so had been left in the cold larder. There was the missing venison. Right there in plain view.

I'd checked the fridge three times for it, moving everything to make sure it wasn't lurking. I've opened the fridge innumerable times since to get things out or put them in. That venison was not there. Now it is. Well, it isn't any more. I've taken it out and if it's still fit to be eaten, I'll make a casserole and if it isn't, I'll throw it away.

It wasn't there. I looked properly. Then it was. I have no explanation.


It is now 5.50am. The venison was fine. No apparent deterioration took place during its period of dematerialisation. I made a casserole with the vegetables I had - I'd used some of the ones I'd planned to add during the past couple of days. So it has in it onions, shallots, carrots and a tin of tomatoes, as well as red wine. Now it reposes, cooking gently, in the bottom oven where it will stay for the next couple of hours or more.

I'm eating porridge now. I had a most restful afternoon and evening. I made soup, from onions, celeriac and a stray turnip and decided to watch a film whilst making wreaths. In the mood for amusement, I picked The Hudsucker Proxy, which screwball comedy bears re-watching every so often. I started wreathing and finished as the film ended, having used up all my materials and made five wreaths.

After dinner, I turned the lights off and lit some candles. No, I lit a candle first, then turned the lights off, then lit the other candles. It was very relaxing. I listened to music, chatted to the Sage, read blogs - I've caught up with feed-reader saved posts - and read the paper; this last a bit slowly as I could only see a bit of the page at a time. In between whiles, the Sage was making phone calls. I think he must have flagged on the card writing, and was ringing friends instead. As good if not better, to speak to people whom we rarely see.

I was in bed by 11.30, asleep an hour later and awake two hours after that. At 5 o'clock, I gave up on attempting to sleep and got dressed. After breakfast, I'll polish the cutlery. It can do with it, and I'd be pushed to have another opportunity.

It is 3 minutes past 6. This will be a long day. At least we're past the shortest, so more of it will be light than yesterday was.

Sunday 21 December 2008

Z gives peace a chance

I realised, when I arrived home, how tense and overwrought I felt. I poured a glass of wine, scrambled some eggs, which I ate with virtuously unbuttered toast, and am looking forward to a nice glass of buttermilk. The diet continues but is tempered with sensible nutritious enjoyment of food. Fourteen months ago, I'd have hit the chocolate biscuits. Not that I've a thing against chocolate, but nowadays it would be a single square of extremely good dark chocolate which would satisfy without increasing the craving. I don't have chocolate or biscuits in the house at present anyway, so it doesn't arise.

Particularly since several other bloggers have referred to it too, I've been particularly looking forward to today's Winter Solstice. I've always found December difficult and I know many others do too. It's an incredibly busy month when we're at our physically lowest ebb, with dark days and the bugs and viruses of winter kicking in. It only slowly improves - after all, January is as dark as December - but it's looking forward to the light so it feels better. And if we're lucky enough to have snow, the reflection of light doubles its effect. I don't become depressed in the winter, but I do have very little energy.

I love the idea of Candle Night and I'll be following it this evening. It's come at exactly the right time for me, when an evening of candle-lit tranquillity will, I hope, prepare me for a busy week. Thank you, Blue Witch, for drawing it to my attention.

I'll spend the afternoon making holly wreaths, and I hope that there won't be too many of them to do after that. The Sage has been writing Christmas cards. I agree that they matter in one sense, but not in another. It's like money - it's not important, or shouldn't be, unless you don't have any at all. I hope that those people who don't get a card from us, or receive it late, will have had so many that we won't be missed.

There's been a degree of negativity around me (not in the family, and not among my blogging friends) that I've been finding it hard to rise above*, of late. As I see myself as a peacemaker and calmer-down of agitation, I try to absorb the stress of others, in an endeavour to help them cope**. Trouble shared is a trouble halved and all that. Whilst I'm not near the stage of being unable to do that, I'm finding it harder than usual to absorb and dissipate negative feelings, especially if I can't actually do anything to help in a practical sense.

So, today, I'll take an emotional break. I'll tranquilly make the holly wreaths in front of an unnecessary fire (for it's a mild day) and hug my Sage and my dog (not together, Chester loved group hugs but Tilly is less outgoing) and then enjoy a candle-lit evening.

*Ooh, dodgy grammar alert!
**This does not necessarily apply in my immediate family, where I reserve the right to be a drama queen and the centre of needy attention.

Saturday 20 December 2008

Z, at sixes and sevens, contemplates going one over the eight

It was all going well. I'd taken Ro to the station, which was only open until 3.15 - the ticket office, that is. He wanted to renew his railcard as well so couldn't get the ticket on the train. I went home via the town, as I wanted to buy ricecakes and plain yoghurt. I eat a lot of those.

I arrived home, gave Tilly her dinner and went to get the venison out of the fridge to make a casserole. It wasn't there. I pondered. I'd bought it the other day at the same time as some sausages. We'd eaten the sausages, so I'd brought them home. I went and checked the car. I looked in the cupboards. I peered in the freezer. I went back to the fridge and then looked in all my shopping bags. It was nowhere to be seen.

I'm still rather anxious. That venison isn't getting any fresher and I'm concerned that we'll eventually track it down by the smell.

I went to the freezer and got out a couple of sirloin steaks and put them to defrost. I went to empty the dishwasher. Something had fallen partly over the drain filter and nothing was very clean. I emptied the dishwasher, scrubbed the filter and decided to clean the whole thing. I'd got a tablet of cleaner, so read the instructions - put it in the cutlery container and put on a mimimum 40 degree wash with nothing else in the machine. I did that. I put all the china in the sink and poured hot water on. I cleaned all the tannin marks off the mugs. There was something awry with the water softener a few weeks ago, so we turned the controls to bypass it, but the dishwasher is gradually becoming less efficient with the harder water, even though we use softener. I decided to give the water softener unit another chance and went to fetch the salt blocks. I knelt at the cupboard beneath the sink and opened the salt blocks, which were stuck together and needed throwing round the kitchen a bit. Eventually, they divided and I inserted them and turned the three taps to make water go through the unit. Unfortunately, in so doing, I knocked over a bottle of hand-washing liquid (for clothes) which splashed on my jeans. I sponged my knee, leaving a 9"x6" wet patch with an artificially flowery smell. I couldn't be bothered to change. Now that it's dry, I only notice the smell when I bend over and sniff.

Later, I went to restack the dishwasher as the programme had finished. I discovered that I should have unwrapped the cleansing tablet, which was therefore still intact. Still, at least it's all had a good rinse.

I can't remember what else went awry, but there were a few things. Still, I'm not dismayed. Well, I am, but not by that.

I had a letter a couple of days ago from someone resigning from a committee. I wrote back, saying how sorry I was and hoping she might reconsider. I had her emailed reply today (I'd said I'd phone her to talk it over after the weekend unless she emailed to say she'd rather I didn't), which went into more details about why she is quitting.

There has been a lack of tact and a lack of kindness; the heavy-handedness by more than one party; the snappiness was not unprovoked but was unnecessary. I'm pretty keen on politeness, myself. I can be forthright, but when I am I try to be kind with it, especially if I don't know the person or their sensitivities very well. You may have noticed that I attempt to smooth over disagreements, even in my comment box. I think there's little lasting joy in scoring points and it's better to respond to what someone should have said (and surely, in their heart, meant) rather than to words that could hurt or offend at first reaction. I've learnt this lesson, of course, by making mistakes.

This is not the matter I referred to earlier.

I'm going to read all evening and have an early night. Well, before midnight. At least, i'll go up for a bath before midnight, or soon after.

The Sage dealt splendidly with his steak, by the way. He's still a bit sore, but making no fuss.

Z is chauffeuse

I spent the morning in the church, where several of us were doing the decorations and I was getting things ready for the service tomorrow as well. There were some people I haven't seen for a while, so I stopped for a chat with each of them - this sounds as if I've got an inflated sense of self-importance and I can only apologise, acknowledge it, but explain that it's not all self-imposed - and praised and thanked them for what they were doing. It's not me as me, it's me in the role I have accepted.

One lovely friend stayed until the end and we were able to chat too about some local matters that we're somewhat concerned about, and it's good to have someone you can speak freely to, when you are both on the same wavelength and both know it'll go no further. There are things sometimes that I'd love to talk about here but can't as they involve other people and it wouldn't be right.

In a few minutes, I'm taking Ro to the station as he's spending a couple of days in London with friends. It feels quiet already. Weeza is also going to London tomorrow; in fact they all are but Phil will spend one night and then go in to work on Monday from there, whilst Weeza and Zerlina are staying on for another night.

Time to go.

Friday 19 December 2008

Z welcomes a Guest (part 2)

I had no doubt that I'd enjoy the day. It was to be only the third time I'd met our guest, but on the first occasion the waitress dropped the heavy hint of putting chairs on tables before we left the restaurant, and the second time of meeting, I outstayed the duration of a 'cup of tea' visit by some time.

It did all turn out to be a bit of a rush though. When I sent the invitation, I had a completely free day, but the whole week filled up - in fact, I received an invitation myself for lunch on Thursday.

Then the Sage had an appointment with the dentist on Wednesday too. I had to drive him, it was only kind.

So I decided on a simple menu which nevertheless included a proper pudding.

It was a pity I hadn't had time to cut back the brambles that sneak their way through the gates at the end of the drive, nor clear away the grass growing through the drain in the tarmac.

My guest, as expected, was charm personified. Every time I've met a fellow blogger, I've found that we slip into an easy conversation. If we like each other enough to want to meet, we've already got the advantage of not needing to go through polite preliminary conversational skirmishes, as we've probably let enough be known about our personal lives - possibly more than we've told some close friends - to move into a comfortable conversation.

There's still some of the pudding left. I suspect Ro will polish it off later, however.

A slightly early seasonal picture. Jesus doesn't look at all like a potato. Though he's being shy. You must click on the picture for him to appear.

Thursday 18 December 2008

If you didn't care for Goofy and the teeth

maybe you'll prefer this...

Z welcomes a Guest (part 1)

The house is very quiet suddenly. And, though the casual visitor might be surprised to learn it, unnaturally tidy (my tidiness stops at the point where most people's starts).

Actually, someone I know says she's looking for a cleaning job at the moment. I like her and might consider taking her up on it.

I digress.

The interviews went very well this morning, in that there were very good and capable candidates and we had real difficulty choosing. They overran somewhat, but I shot out of the door at five to twelve, only to find that someone had parked badly and I couldn't get past, which meant I had to back down a narrow road with cars parked on one side. Again, one car was slightly away from the kerb and I had to go on the shrubbery and push the shrubs away from the wing mirror as I went past. I don't think I got too badly scratched.

I arrived home, to find a lugubrious note from the Sage, out rounding up cows. He arrived back as I did, job well done, and apologised that he hadn't been able to persuade the dining room fire to draw. It being chilly in there, we decided to have lunch in the kitchen.

I opened the tin of baked beans, sliced the bread ready for toasting and all was ready for our guest.

Wednesday 17 December 2008

All I want for Christmas...

No, I haven't sung it to the Sage. I'm being very kind and sweet. But it's running through my head.

He was ages in the dentist. I offered to drive him in, in case he didn't feel too good when he came out, and yesterday he poo-pooed the idea, but changed his mind this morning. He told me 45 minutes, I thought that was pushing it but was back within the hour, with a boot full of Tesco booze (I know, I know, not such a woman of principle as I like to think) and still had to wait more than half an hour for him. I stayed in the car, because it's very much a bedsit area of Norwich and I was a bit worried that the car should not be broken in to, but as time went by, I got more and more anxious that he was having a rotten time.

He managed a plateful of scrambled eggs for lunch, very bravely. I've assured him that he needs plenty of protein to keep up his strength.

Would you care to sing along with me? Silently, of course

Tuesday 16 December 2008

Z worries a bit

I've got a lot on at the moment. I'm helping the chairman of governors at the school - effectively taking over for practical purposes. I'm winding down the year, while planning for January. This is fine, in itself, as I am quite good at thinking ahead. I'm rubbish at actually doing ahead, but I hang on to the thought that looking for the pitfalls is as good as actually avoiding them. But it's meant, among other things, that I'm now the link governor for four areas - Special Needs, Music, Languages and Vocational learning. It's quite a lot, if you do them all properly. The worrying thing is that if I do, I get really interested and involved, which takes more time.

Dilly's brother-in-law's mother is very ill at present. Do send healing thoughts her way. I've never met her, actually. I can't remember if I've ever given Dilly's family names, so I'll simply call them Paula and Matt, because that's who they are. They've not been very lucky at Christmas. Their cat went missing last year, and never turned up, and Matt's dad died at Christmas a few years ago. Mum has had an operation, during which cancer was discovered, and now she has an infection. It's touch and go.

The Sage is being very brave, but he got an infection too, resulting in a gum abscess and he's having a couple of teeth out tomorrow.

Tender food for a few days, methinks.

I've decided on a menu for Thursday. I won't tell you now, in case I change my mind. Actually, the food is no problem. If you all turned up for a meal, I'd feed you all a proper home-cooked dinner within the hour - 40 minutes if someone else laid the table. But I sort of need to get the hoover out. Pine needles everywhere from all those blessed holly wreaths.

Al and I made 6 last night, and 8 the night before. Both sessions lasted an hour and the difference was that last night's holly was very prickly, because that's what he'd been asked for. He sells them for £5 and, other than the wire base and the wire to hold the greenery, the materials cost nothing (we make wreaths in exchange for holly and fir). But we don't count our time. Do we (as Nelson would have put it) we'd be reckoning on £3-£4 per wreath just for time at minimum wage.

Tonight was Prizegiving. Fortunately, the chairman was able to come for that, so I didn't have to give a speech. It was lovely that two retired headteachers (one of whom came over from Wales) and several retired teachers joined us for the occasion.

I'm slightly drunk. I got home at quarter past nine and went to poach a couple of eggs, as I hadn't eaten and was very hungry. As I was eating, I checked emails and found one from Dilly. I rang her. "I heard you singing", she said "while I was at the computer and you were putting stuff in the washing machine." I can't remember singing. I know I put stuff in the washing machine, and in the tumble drier, but I don't remember singing.

I remember drinking. I still am, actually, but I've had enough now. I'm going to make coffee and listen to more music. I've got Benny Goodman on at present. It's not really my style of music, swing and that sort of thing, but I love the way he plays. If I could play my clarinet well, I'd model myself on Benny Goodman. You know, apparently effortless but bloody marvellous. I don't want the seams or the effort to show.

Oh gosh. I've just thought of my ideal epitaph. "She didn't let the seams show". Sadly, it's more likely to be "She didn't do that much harm."

Monday 15 December 2008

Z is fortunate

I called on a friend this afternoon and I'm feeling very fortunate, at this moment, not to be in her situation.

I don't want to say too much as it's not fair to talk about someone behind their back - all I can say is that her mother-in-law had a nasty accident a few weeks back and, after a period in hospital, she's staying with her son and his wife (who is my friend: the son, while charming, is not someone I know very well) and needs someone on hand all the time. This is my friend (whom I think I'll call MF from now on). She's had to give up her two part-time jobs and her voluntary work and is devoting herself entirely to her dear ma-in-law. However dear, you can imagine how draining this is.

To add to this, her husband is working on a really important project that means a lot to his company and he needs both her support and complete peace and tranquillity when he's at home.

He has a sister, but she seems a bit casual about the whole thing. I don't think anyone in her family has a clue how exhausting and draining the whole thing is for MF. She is normally very sociable and energetic and she's stuck at home all the time with the company of one elderly lady, and she's not sure, at present, what the future holds.

I was at the shop, making up a fruit basket as a small present for the invalid, when my mobile rang. It was B, asking me to help with interviews on Thursday morning. "I've got someone coming for lunch, I'd have to be home by noon at the latest". "Oh, that's all right," said B airily,"the last interview is scheduled for 11 o'clock and if you make up your minds quite quickly you'll be fine."

Slight change of menu plan might be needed, and I'll spend Wednesday slaving over the hot stove instead of Thursday morning. It'll be fine. Interviews are fun (except those for headteachers, which are gruelling) and a fine friend is coming for lunch, so I have much to look forward to.

Sunday 14 December 2008

Z links!

Oh, do read this. Wonderful.

Z plans to make a porcino of herself

I'd set the alarm for 6.45, but I woke just before 3 o'clock. A wakeful hour later, I gave up and switched a little torch on and read for another hour. After that I dozed on and off until 6.30, when I woke, realised I was going to go to sleep properly at last and was deep in a dream when the alarm went.

The weather was quite mild but drizzly. I put on a coat and hat and cycled down to the church. As I was setting up all the stuff, I realised I'd left the flowers at home. The minister had arrived so I left him in charge while I went home, and then arranged flowers in two vases to go on the windowsill.

After the service, I cycled damply into town for the Sunday paper. I went home, put my hat and gloves to dry on the Aga and made porridge and tea for breakfast, adding a second bowl with yoghurt in because why just have one dull thing to eat when you can have two and feel really healthy?

Half an hour later, I packed my clarinet into a pannier and fetched my coat. I put on my hat and chortled loudly with pleasure at its warmth. As I cycled down the drive, I planned with silent glee to put the hat on a radiator at the church to relive that pleasure in a couple of hours time.

And now I'm home again. I've put some dried mushrooms to soak and am wondering what to do with them. Risotto or soup? I have a small problem in that the Sage doesn't care for mushrooms, so whatever I do, I'll have to do something else for him. And it'll have to be at least as much trouble as the mushroom dish, so that he doesn't feel disappointed. It would be awful if Ro and I were happily chomping on something lovely while he's eating less interesting food.

Saturday 13 December 2008

Z gets ready

I've been cradling a hot cup of tea in my hands, but I can't warm up. I spent an hour down at the church rearranging things. We've got a very useful extension built behind the church with a meeting room, hallway, cloakroom and large kitchen/meeting room, half of which has been in use as an office for the last three years. It will be cleared just before or after Christmas, however, as a new office has just been built by the Rectory.

For the last few years, we've occasionally held a service in the church room if the weather has been particularly cold, but at the last PCC meeting it was decided to move there altogether during December and January unless there was some reason to expect a congregation of more than 30 or so. So today, I've been setting it up. Of course, it can't all be left in place during the week as the room is used for other purposes too, but the larger pieces of furniture can just be pushed back against the wall.
I don't know how acceptable it'll be for people, I hope they'll like it and not feel it's not 'right' not being in the church. There's a lovely stone arched window and we've set up an altar in front of that, and I'll put the large candlesticks and the cross on the windowsill, with smaller brass candlesticks that I've lent on the altar. We can have coffee in there afterwards or in the hall and, once the office furniture is out, we can use that area of the kitchen.

It's the early 8 o'clock Prayer Book (that is, the traditional 1662 service) Communion tomorrow and the dozen people who come to that will be the ones to test it. If they like it, we're winning.

I rather hope the weather is as cold tomorrow as it has been the past few days. A cold, nearly freezing rain and a sharp wind today. Leaded church windows let in a lot of draughts and the church room will be a lot more comfortable than the main building. Mind you, we're not saving on heating. The village school uses the church a lot at this time of the year as they hold their Christingle service and school play there, so I spent some time setting the time clock for the heating to come on to warm the place. It has to go on 5 or 6 hours in advance of the time it's being used to make it warm enough.

Now I need to do a sign to put on the door to let people know where to go.

Ooh! Weeza, Phil and Zerlina have just arrived!

Friday 12 December 2008

Don't let me forget to take the casserole out of the oven before I go to bed. Please.

I started reading blogs and then Bloglines updated and suddenly the number of unread posts went from 200-and-something to 1200, which was a bit startling. Whole lots of blogs suddenly had 200 very old posts quoted. I got rid of all those, but I've still got 251 real ones to read, so please excuse me if I don't comment much for a few days.

I have started Christmas shopping, which I know is a bit early for me, but I'm feeling terribly well organised. I have also posted one card, which is really impressive. I wonder when the last posting date is. We usually just miss it.

I put a beef casserole in the oven some 3 hours ago. I wonder if I'll remember to take it out before I go to bed. I hope so. It has half a can of Guinness in it, which obliged me to drink the other half.

This room is chaotic. It was all right a couple of days ago, I wonder what's happened? Weeza and family arrived when I was clearing up last Saturday and I kept on having to do it around them as everything was piled in the middle of the room. They're coming over again tomorrow, so I hope I get going a bit earlier then than I did this morning. I meant to leave at 10.30 but it was nearly 10.50 by the time I was ready, having had people call at the door and on the phone (different people did each).

I cycled in to the school, but I've become woefully unfit or maybe just weak. The cold and damp make me ache badly which doesn't help and I wussed out of cycling up the little, but steeper than it looks, hill towards the post office. I went around the back way (longer but less steep slope) instead and was out of breath by the top. I didn't even try the school hill, but walked it. It was still very frosty at 11 o'clock.

However, the music lesson was entertaining. The pupils' work was being recorded this morning and it took ages. Fortunately, two groups had elected to record their arrangements directly on to the computer, but the three others had a load of small problems and the final one was finished barely a minute before the bell went. However, the one that took longest was because the four boys involved so badly wanted to get it just right. I said to them that I'd been really impressed with the level of communication and support they'd given each other (I phrased it less stiltedly than that, of course. What do you take me for?). It was a real collaborative effort - two of them are pretty musical but the others, who don't know a lot about playing, were included and one, who'd been a bit disengaged at the start of the lesson, was as involved as the others by the end, and praised the singer's voice which was encouraging of him, because it's hard to sing while a small group of people are watching you. Well, in my case, it's impossible, but then no one would be stupid enough, if they'd heard me sing once, to ask me again. I considered, at this point, inserting a short clip of me singing to Zerlina but I rejected the idea. Really, I'm sparing you.

Thursday 11 December 2008


I gave friends a lift to Norwich for lunch. I mentioned it a while ago, when I did the same thing - they live about 9 miles away, and about the same distance from Norwich as I do, so the extra distance involved is just from me to them.

They are sisters, now in their late 70/early 80s. A couple of years back, one of them was due a hip replacement and was all set to go and awaiting an appointment, when the government decided that the hospital, which had made great efforts to reduce its waiting lists, was becoming too efficient to be economic and so decreed that non-urgent cases should be held back, thus creating waiting lists again. In the extra three or four months, J complained of great pain in her hip.

When she was finally called in and was being operated on, it was discovered that she'd developed an infection in the bone. She had the bone that needed to be replaced removed and was placed in traction, while the infection was being treated. This was at a time when MRSA was in the news and in that hospital, so it was an anxious period. J and her sister set up home together 16 years ago in the centre of the small town and decided to give up their cars, so it was very difficult for L to get over to see J daily, but with buses and help from friends, she managed. J did not catch a superbug, her infection healed and she had a new hip joint fitted and she spent a long time recuperating. She still uses one or two elbow crutches, but they are both cheerful and uncomplaining, and L looks after her, to the extent it's needed, most lovingly.

To get to the lunch takes two buses and I can't imagine how long. I've known them a long time - 16 years, in fact, since they moved house, but never very well. But now I've started to give them lifts, I've become awfully fond of them. They have invited another friend, who otherwise would be alone over Christmas, to spend a week with them and they are always thinking of others.

So, I told them how much I admired them. Well, we don't say it often enough, do we? Maybe we should.

It was they who made and decorated the anniversary cake I showed you here.

Wednesday 10 December 2008


It was all very jolly. We all converged upon John Lewis in Norwich at noon. The Sage and I left home after Dilly and the children, but their car was behind ours in the car park queue. The Sage got out to go and meet his sister, Juniper, and I went to park. I thought I'd try the lower ground level first, as sometimes there's a space which people don't spot as one has to go there specially. A woman was just stowing her purchases in her car, so I waited. And as I waited, along came Ro, on his lunch break. I parked and we went upstairs, and on the first floor (this is the second floor as far as you're concerned, dear TransAtlanticeans) we met Dilly, Squiffany and Pugsley. Up the escalator and there were the Sage and Juniper and, as we pushed together three tables to sit together, along came Weeza and Zerlina. Juniper hadn't expected quite such a gathering of the clan and sat down on the Stilton which was her Christmas present.

We had a lovely time. Juniper cuddled Zerlina and was rewarded with smiles and Squiffany chatted to her in a friendly manner. She has two grandchildren herself, aged 11 and 6 and she always rents a cottage near her daughter, where her son and his partner stay too over the holiday.

Our niece's husband died suddenly in November last year, and then she and her brother were both ill at Christmas (in a D&V way) so they had an entirely miserable time. On the anniversary of Jonathan's death, she and the children wrote messages on helium balloons, took them to the cemetery and sent them aloft for Daddy, which cheered up the children a great deal. One of the daughter's schoolfriends lost her father this year suddenly, at the age of only 41, so young E feels for him, but is comforted somewhat, though no less sympathetic, by knowing that she no longer stands out as the only one to be pitied.

Tuesday 9 December 2008

This post is brought to you by the letter R

This, I requested from Liz Sara and this is how it goes -

You write about ten things you love that begin with your assigned letter, and post it on your blog.
Then people leave comments on your post and you assign them letters and the cycle begins once more.

Letter R.

1. The Sage. As you will know if you've ever followed the Day Job link, his name is Russell. And as you know if you've read this blog for any length of time, I love him.

Um. After a start like that, anything else is a descent into bathos. Still, here goes. In no particular order -

2. Raspberries. The fruit, that is. Absolutely delicious. The best of all the soft fruit, as far as I'm concerned. Autumn raspberries are even better than the summer ones. I don't mind the pips. I like pips. And if you put them through a sieve, there's still some body to the purée, unlike a strawberry purée, which is just juice (I've nothing against strawberries, mind you).

3. Rivers. There's nothing, absolutely nothing half as much worthwhile as simply messing about in boats. That's probably a misquote, because I haven't checked, but I do love being out on the river in a rowing boat. There's so much to see - the birds and other wildlife, interesting eddies and currents, the fish and weeds in the shallows - and yet it's quite peaceful. I feel as if I'm away from any cares of the world. I find rowing satisfying - I like it better than sailing because you can (assuming you're not in training or racing) watch what's going on or else go into your own little reverie.

4. Reading. I get anxious if I don't have a book or other reading matter on hand at all times. I've been hooked on reading for a full half-century. I still remember the first book I was able to read by myself and the thrill it gave me for those formerly random letters to make actual words and sentences. I read the book over and over again. It was a Ladybird book, The Farm.

5. Roses. A perfect flower. However much used, not hackneyed. Nothing beats the scent of a rose garden, nor the cool soft touch of the petals.

6. Resourcefulness. I do like people who rise to the occasion, who cope.

7. Ripping Yarns. I enjoy a shaggy dog story, don't you? Life of Pi by Yann Martell is a case in point. The ending made me laugh out loud.

8. Remembering. As you know, I often do write about memories, and there's nothing like shared memories to bring you close to someone. Like me and Weeza with Miff Heehog the other day.

9. Rings. I sometimes don't wear jewellery at all, except for my wedding ring which has worn such a deep groove in my finger that I look odd with it off, but when I do it starts with rings. Usually, my engagement ring (sapphires and diamonds), my 50th birthday pale blue sapphire ring and my mother's rose quartz ring, which is not at all valuable but which she nearly always wore.

10. Romance. I'm an old softy.

Ten is quite hard, but it's been a pleasure to drift along. Let me know if you'd like a go and I'll give you a letter.

Z is Resurfaced

I went through to Al's house at 8 o'clock this morning carrying a tray with a bowl of porridge, a mug of Rose Pouchong (we call it Rose PooPong of course) tea, my contact lens, my make-up bag, a comb, a mirror and the papers. The children were awfully pleased. The Putting On of Granny's Face is an important ritual.

They waited while I ate breakfast. Then, Pugsley unzipped the bag and started to lay out the makings of the Face.

First, I put in my Seeing Eye. Then I asked for the eye cream. Pugsley passed to Squiffany, who passed to me, a small tube and they watched as I applied the cream. Then the moisturiser. They marvelled to see wrinkles melt away. Next came foundation, then powder and the brush it's lightly applied with. Next came eyeshadows, in two colours, applied with a sponge and blended with another brush. The first brush wafts under the eyes to deal with stray specks of eyeshadow. Blusher is put on if I remember. Then mascara. Lipstick. Hair is combed. As each item is finished with, Squiffany hands it back to Pugsley to put in the bag.

Young and lovely again, I read until the time comes to take Squiffany to nursery school.

Christingle this evening at the church. Squiffany sat next to me and was angelic; Pugsley, next to his mother, was excited and noisy but this was not noticeable over the sound of the Brownies and the Beavers (I think they're called Beavers; they're what Cub Scouts used to be, I believe. Their leader is Akela at any rate). Squiffany held her orange with the lit candle at the end, her face lit up, enthralled. After she blew out the candle, I said she could eat her sweets and raisins if she liked. She slowly and carefully took them off three of the sticks and ate them. "I'll save the rest until I get home" she decided. "All for you" I said, "Pugsley's eaten his."

Pugsley had done well today in any case. The nice lady at the shop in Ditchingham gave him a (wrapped) chocolate, having asked me if it was okay. He was very pleased.

Monday 8 December 2008

Z asks a question. The cue for no comments at all, I suppose.

The morning went fine, thank you, and that's another thing ticked off. The chap who took pictures didn't want to email them to me as you lose some picture quality (not that I'm fussy). "I could put them on a memory stick and send them to you" he said. I fished in my handbag, got one out and passed it over. People seemed surprised. But it's useful to have such a thing about one's person at all times, like a corkscrew and a screwdriver. I'm sure that at least some of you do the same.

Actually, I'd love to know of there's anything you carry around with you, apart from the obvious necessities, that seems normal to you but others might think a bit obsessive. For example, I have the aforementioned pen drive, a Swiss army knife, a contact lens container that has two Migraleve tablets in one side and two ibuprofen tablets in the other (and I have handed both these out in the past to strangers in pain), a couple of paperclips, safety pins and rubber bands, three badges with my name on, as well as the normal wallet, comb, lipstick, diary etc. I don't think any of this is particularly out of the way and when I'm using a larger handbag, I've got a whole lot more. Any thoughts?

Z is going to Give a Speech

Waah. Think of me in two and a half hours. It's one of those 'ain't what you say it's how you say it' ones. And then I'll have my picture took. Nerves have suddenly kicked in and I am feeling all trembly.

Off to Norwich. I may be gone for some time.

Sunday 7 December 2008

My Word, it's Miff Heehog

Overcome by nostalgia, I have ordered a second-hand copy of a compilation of the five 'My Word' story books.

That isn't the only manifestation of nostalgia. I've bought a present for my daughter as well.

Every child has, I suppose, an absolute favourite first book, toy or game which is remembered (and maybe treasured) forever. Each of my children did. Al's was Dr Seuss's Fox in Socks, which he knew all through, tongue-twisters and all, and pretty well learned to read by, when he was 4. Ro's earliest favourite was Janet and Allen Ahlberg's Each Peach, Pear, Plum, which we still have and I read to my grandchildren. Weeza's first literary love was a book by Althea Braithwaite called Smith the Lonely Hedgehog.

She knew this book by heart well before she could speak in sentences. When she was not much more than a year old, she started to join in as I read it to her, and by the time she was about a year and a half (now, if blogging had been invented then I'd be able to tell you exactly when, as I'd have written about it) she could interject any word when I paused. I'd start "Smith was a heehog. He lived all by himself under a flowering bush near the edge of a wood" (words in italic were Weeza's of course). 'Miff Heehog' was asked for repeatedly every day. It was a narrow book - if you fold a sheet of A4 paper in half, top to bottom and then fold it the same way again, that was it, long and narrow. New, it cost 20p. It had the poor binding of most books in the 70s - several of my cookery books of that vintage have pretty well fallen apart - and was well read and loved. It didn't occur to me to buy another copy while I could. I've looked for it since, but it's out of print long ago and second hand copies, when available, are in poor condition and silly expensive.

But Weeza has tracked it down, reprinted. She's searched before without success on Lulu, but at last it's appeared. As you'll see, it's now printed in a squarer edition, but I seem to remember that range of books by Althea and various other authors did appear in that format after the narrow one.

I've bought from Lulu before; Shaggy Blog Stories and a couple of others, and I even remembered my password; they already had my address and credit card, so it took me less than a minute to order. I've bought two copies. Weeza will have such a happy Christmas. I don't think she'd care if she didn't have any other present.

Saturday 6 December 2008

Is a Labrador cross a shaggy dog?

I had occasion to remember the radio show My Word which starred Frank Muir and Denis Norden many years ago - in particular the shaggy dog stories they told at the end of the show which finished with a given punch line. One, which I quoted on Dave's blog, was about someone who grew ferns in his garden and no flowers at all. The punch line was 'with fronds like these, who needs anemones?'

Then there was the Inuit who lit a fire in his canoe to keep warm and it caught fire, proving that you can't have your kayak and heat it. And the tribal chief who stacked all his ceremonial chairs in a traditional hut until it collapsed, which just showed that people who live in grass houses shouldn't stow thrones.

I grew up on this sort of fare. Maybe that's the reason I appreciate Murph.

Friday 5 December 2008

Universal Granny

Funny that there isn't time for housework, but there always is for cooking. And eating.

Zerlina has started to laugh this week. I was lucky enough to be the recipient of her chuckles yesterday, while Weeza was out at the hairdressers. Later, I sang to her and she started to smile again - she is a remarkably smily baby - and Weeza got out the camera and started to film us as Phil gets home too late to see much of her in the evening. It was woefully embarrassing, being filmed singing nursery rhymes, but I carried on as if not deeply mortified.

Today, went into school for a Year 9 music lesson again. I do like the children. Not having to put up with them for more than 100 minutes a week, and not having any direct responsibility for them (except as a governor), I can remain cheerful even when they're cheeky or misbehave. It was interesting, a couple of weeks ago, seeing them with another person in a position of authority whom they appeared not to respect. They were a bit difficult and not at all how they behave with the music teacher - nor even with me. But then I'm old enough to be their grandmother and I'd not hesitate to play the assertive card if necessary, although I'm normally gentle and jokey with them. If I see someone doing something that a teacher would have to tell them to stop, but which is no big deal, I just grin. Or make a point of not noticing. In fact, I behave like an indulgent grandmother who has Boundaries, now I come to think of it.

Other people's teenagers are much easier than one's own. It's a wonder my children and I all talk to each other, really.

Thursday 4 December 2008

No time

Sorry, I haven't read emails except business ones and hardly any blogs. All getting a bit on top. I'll catch up soon.

Tonight, I went to the high school's music concert, which I greatly enjoy each year. It made me think of a class concert that a girl organised when I was at school. She came up with the idea in a 'hey! let's put on the show Right Here!' sort of manner, so I agreed to join in, never thinking it was going to happen.

I learned several things that day. Well, I learned one and had my instincts confirmed about two others (I did the right thing, was not wise after the event).

One. I may have taken part in the school play with confidence and even have enjoyed it, but playing the piano is a bit different, as nerves go straight to the fingertips.

Two. There's no point in stopping. It only draws attention to your mistakes and your nerves. Keep going, but play as fast as possible. You may bluff them.

Three. It is always wise not to tell your parents about times you're likely to make a tit of yourself. Then your kind mother will not try to console you, which would destroy the faint hope that *two* had worked.

Wednesday 3 December 2008

Z is not very polite about the Sage

I was highly annoyed. I was looking after the children, but had a hair appointment at 10 o'clock so was going to drop them off with Al in the shop for a while. One car seat is usually kept fixed in the car, but the other only goes in when it's needed. It's a bit awkward to fix in place, but not that much trouble. The Sage said he'd take it to the car for me and put it in if he could. We all went out and I stared in dismay. Somehow, he'd put it in upside-down. That is, the seat back was horizontal and the seat cushion was vertical. He'd threaded the seatbelt through where it was supposed to go, I've no idea how as it should be tilted up to give room, and fixed it firmly with the clips, which were well stuck down as it was all done at the wrong angle. I can't imagine how he didn't see that the fixing for the belt was, in the place he'd put it, right in the middle of the child's back.

It took me ten minutes to get it out and put it in again and I hadn't allowed that much time. I had to carry Pugsley, who is a sturdy toddler, as there wasn't time to let him walk and I was limping heavily in no time.

The Sage was abashed when I told him. Fortunately, I didn't see him for an hour or so, so at least I didn't shout. I did describe him to his grandchildren as an 'idiot' however.

Z should go to bed, but she's having fun

Just Jane sent me here.

After a suspiciously short time, it came up with this for me.

ESFP - The Performers

The entertaining and friendly type. They are especially attuned to pleasure and beauty and like to fill their surroundings with soft fabrics, bright colors and sweet smells. They live in the present moment and don´t like to plan ahead - they are always in risk of exhausting themselves.

They enjoy work that makes them able to help other people in a concrete and visible way. They tend to avoid conflicts and rarely initiate confrontation - qualities that can make it hard for them in management positions.

What do you think? Is this me?

Tuesday 2 December 2008

Frosty reception

I went next door to give Squiffany back a toy she'd left in my car this morning (rather than take it into nursery school and risk losing it) and to give her parents a couple of messages, and Al said that he'd got back late this evening. "I'd had to park a long way from the shop," he said, "and when I got to the van, I found that the door had frozen shut. Not the lock, the door itself. It had rained, then frozen hard and the door was stuck. I couldn't quite face trudging back to the shop for water to de-ice it with, so I had to just keep pulling until it unstuck."

Dosia drove me and Yvonne to the next village for WI Christmas dinner. I helped with the washing up (we had caterers; it was an in-house do this year) but we said we'd wash the coffee cups and glasses ourselves. When I emerged from the kitchen - which is lovely, they've had it really well fitted up as a commercial kitchen for functions; they're a very sociable village - Yvonne was talking to the new treasurer, who is just taking over from her. "Where's Dosia?" I wondered, hoping she hadn't gone home without us. She was de-icing the car again. I went and helped, scraping off the ice with a flexible friend. It is another hard frost tonight. A beautiful starlit one, with a new moon and clear sky.

I've had a lovely sociable day and received my second Christmas card. I've not written any yet myself but I must get started this weekend, spurred on by darling Martina in Seattle (whose comments you might sometimes read here), who has been thoughtful enough to send me one.

Monday 1 December 2008

Z should be working

It's after 11 pm and I've got several things still to do. Boo. I've finally caught up with most of today's essential stuff, and now can turn my attention to the meeting I'm going to tomorrow. On the way, I've got to pick up some papers that the local printers will (I hope) have ready for me - I was charmed that John rang me at 5 o'clock this evening to apologise that they won't all be ready as the machine has been playing up today, but to promise that enough will be done to take to the committee, if at all possible. He'll ring again at 8.30 to confirm tomorrow morning, so that I don't risk a wasted journey. The Sage is taking me into Norwich (I'm entrusting him with my new car for the first time) and on the way we'll drop Squiffany at nursery school and pick up another committee member. He will drop us both at the meeting venue, go and do whatever Sages do when they have 3 hours to kill and then meet us all, with our other halves, at a local pub for lunch.

It is not fabulous planning, that I'm then going out in the evening for the WI christmas dinner. However.

I've got a horribly full diary for the next couple of weeks. Nothing is in itself horrible and some things are actively to be looked forward to, but there's so much on. I think I'll have to make a list soon. I keep remembering I haven't got around to phoning various people. I'm not good at remembering to make phone calls at an acceptable time of day.

I suppose I'll have to allow time to do some Christmas shopping, too. Almost everything is bought in Yagnub or online. It takes a good deal of the stress out of it all, although there's still the frisson of excitement as I wait to see if the goods I've ordered actually turn up on time.

Sunday 30 November 2008

A Busted Flush

Today turned out to be better for me than for the Sage. The flush in Al's shop loo had finally packed in and so his father offered to sort it out. First, he had to turn off the water, which took some effort as the stopcock hadn't been turned for a long time and, of course, you have to be careful not to force it and break something vital (in a flood-prevention sense). Then he went and got the necessary small part and was going to take an hour or so finishing the job this morning. It all turned out to be more fiddly and time consuming than he'd hoped. The worst part was putting his hand in to siphon the water out. 'It was clean though, right?' said Weeza when we were chatting online a while ago. 'I forbore to ask' I said. I'm so glad I'm incapable of doing plumbing work and I have no intention of learning. I did offer to go and help, but the Sage said that there was not enough room for two people in the lavatory, so there wasn't any point.

All done now, and Al owes his dad a drink or several.

And while we're on the subject of a drink or several, the six churches in our benefice had a joint Advent Sunday service at 9.30, so I was footloose later when I'd normally have been churchwardening. So I pedalled happily down to the pub. B and S were there having a drink, having booked lunch as their kitchen is being redone at present and cooking Sunday lunch isn't very possible. They charmingly invited me to join them. I rolled home repletedly and happily some two hours later.

That's it, really. A nice leisurely afternoon, when I might just have closed my eyes to rest them for half an hour or so. Tilly needed cuddling, you see. She's recently adopted the habit of licking the furniture. I hadn't really noticed (there's normally a throw or rug chucked on the sofa for her to lie on and that's what she licks) but it annoyed Ro. So he looked up likely causes, and it's apparently anxiety or attention-seeking. I don't think it's either, but it's true that I haven't been spending so much time on the sofa with her since moving my computer in the drawing room. I sit in a comfy armchair instead and peer over it towards the television if there's anything I want to watch. I always have read while watching television, so there's no difference. So Ro has resolved to give her attention when she's not licking the sofa and ignore her when she is, and I've said I'll snuggle up to her more. I still don't think she's anxious though. She's very relaxed.

Saturday 29 November 2008

Z chuckles unsophisticatedly

It's on Saturday nights that I chortle with glee as I watch television. No, I don't watch Strictly Come Dancing. I've still never seen it. But I was recently introduced to the delights of Hole in the Wall with Dale Winton. I know, darlings, you didn't think such mindless nonsense would appeal to a sophisticate such as I. And it does get better. What is more entertaining than Harry Hill's TV Burp?

No, I don't get out much.

Friday 28 November 2008

When I was three...

These all came out in the mid-fifties and I adored all these three songs when I was a little girl. I thought that Eartha Kitt was fabulously witty and beautiful and I loved the lyrics of 'Old fashioned girl'. I was just old enough to comprehend the tongue-in-cheekedness; the 'old fashioned house, with an old fashioned fence and an old fashioned millionaire' cynicism with its humorous twist.

And here it is, with the lyrics too, for full enjoyment.

I think it was even earlier that I listened to Anne Shelton. It was my first inkling of a double meaning, of playing with the English language. I can't remember the name of the figure of speech, but I'm sure one of you will tell me. 'Lay down your arms and surrender to mine' was the height of wit. I thought it was very very clever, and I loved the marching beat. Here you are ... Anne Shelton, and the words.

And I fell for Perry Como in a big way. He was my first hearththrob - as a singer, at any rate. I feel absolutely uncool here, but it meant a lot to me (I was only three, remember. I grew out of it). I kept the record for many years and then, when Weeza was a toddler, I played it to her...and, all unknowing, she picked it up and chucked it on the floor and it broke. Years later, she gave me a Perry Como tape to make up for it. I don't think I ever listened to it all through, actually. It was Catch a Falling Star and (if lesserly) Magic Moments that had won my heart. And here it is. I think it was the voice and the imagery of 'Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket, save it for a rainy day' that appealed to the romantic core hidden deep in my heart.

And LOM has tempted me again. And actually, this is exactly right. isn't it?

You Are Prancer

You are the perfect reindeer, with perfect hooves and perfect flying form.

Why You're Naughty: Because you're Santa's pet, and you won't let anyone show you up.

Why You're Nice: You have the softest fur and the sweetest carrot breath.

Thursday 27 November 2008

Four weeks - WHAT? (which I twice typed as waht *sigh*)

You Should Have a Blue C******** Tree

For you, the holidays represent a time of calm, understanding, and peace.

You avoid family fights, and you don't get too stressed out - even when things are crazy!

You like to make C******** about making everyone's life a little bit better.

You don't get caught up in greed or commercialism. You're too sincere for that.

Your blue tree would look great with: Lots of silver tinsel

You should spend C******** Eve watching: It's a Wonderful Life

What you should bake for Father C********: Chocolate chip cookies

Thanks to Little Old Me. And yeah. I mean, take out the sincere shit, I mean really. But otherwise, I love a happy day with no tension and I plan for that.

I schedule in family time. I do a time plan for the morning, and that includes doing nothing, at least three times; that is, being with the family, ignoring the kitchen, acting as if I've all the time in the world. You see, when I was a child, I hardly saw my parents on the day. I remember little about the morning, except that my mother was busy in the kitchen. At some time, my father went to fetch the various people who spent the day with us, who would otherwise have been alone. This sounds laudable and it was, except that it only worked in theory, not in practice. My sister and I longed to open the tempting parcels under the tree, but it wasn't allowed until there was space in the cooking schedule. Wild excitement when we did, then our mother went back into the kitchen and my father disappeared, no idea where, and we watched television and read our new books or started our new jigsaw puzzles while the dear visitors squabbled over who had the nicer presents and our grandfather, being the only man (as father had vanished) was gallant all round. Dinner was served in the evening, rather late for everyone's digestion.

Instead, I schedule in family time. We open presents together, eat lunch at 1.30 or 2 (this is planned and kept to. We have beef and it has to be perfectly cooked). Everything is simple, so that I am relaxed and happy and don't think that the food is the most important thing because I've spent time on it. Although I want it to be perfect, because - oh blimey, darlings, I don't have to explain that. It's like the school swot who's cool too, I want to swan in effortlessly on schedule to a laden tableful of perfect food, having spent all morning playing with new toys...apparently. Which can be done. Mind you, some time in the afternoon, I fall asleep.

Anyway, sorry to mention the subject before December, but at least I didn't mention the word. Regarding the tree, however, blue isn't quite my colour for the season (though it is at other times). I would love to watch It's a Wonderful Life but I'll be too busy playing the organ and Father C receives mince pies and sherry. Just an old fashioned girl, you see (remember Eartha Kitt? I loved that song when I was a little girl).

Wednesday 26 November 2008

No turn unstoned

Regarding those Somalian pirates, the chaps on Channel 4 news had a fine time. In the space of a few minutes, they referred excitedly to the pirates' lair, their booty, a motley crew, their ill-gotten gains, having blasted pirates out of the water and hot pursuit. The only cliché unuttered was Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum and you could see they were terribly tempted.

Tuesday 25 November 2008

Z does not blame the mail and appreciates the male

That tax disc finally arrived this morning. If it hadn't, I'd have phoned again and arranged to pick it up in Norwich tomorrow. it was correctly addressed and there was no earthly reason for two to have gone astray and a third to have arrived by registered post on Tuesday instead of Saturday. I can't think that it's the mail's fault. Anyway, it'll go straight back to the post office so that I can get a refund for the next ten months.

I finally got notes written up from a meeting a month ago, just in time (30 minutes before) for the next meeting tonight. At least it made me do it. It is bitterly cold tonight again. I hadn't taken gloves or a hat and I was extremely cold cycling home at 10 o'clock. The Sage had arrived home first and was making me a cup of tea. I resisted the impulse to add a slug of whisky.

Did I tell you that I opened my mouth and was surprised to hear me offering to play the organ for two extra services on Christmas Eve? Ours (when I'll play the clarinet) is at 6 pm, the next is at 10 pm and the third is at 11.30. I have asked Andy to play for out morning service the next day, though. I know when I'll have had enough.

I bought a couple of brace of partridges for Saturday's dinner. I roasted them, but the legs are too fiddly to deal with, so I only served the breasts and put the rest in the stockpot with onion, carrots and celery and the next day I made lovely game soup, pints of it. We had it for supper on Sunday, followed by baked potatoes with cheese (I virtuously added plain yoghurt to my potato instead) and again for lunch today. There's still plenty left for tomorrow. They cost - can't quite remember - about £3.50 a brace (the three of us had them, but they would have done for four), the vegetables were cheap and it was not an expensive treat.

I'm going to visit Weeza and Zerlina tomorrow.

Time for a little Something

Julie’s account of disposing of her honey-coated rat is hilarious.

Monday 24 November 2008

Z has become a princess without even noticing

I drove my new (to me, it's ten years old) car to Norwich today, a long way round as I went to fetch two friends who live 9 miles away first. It made a triangle of the journey. And I realise how much the Rover has spoiled me.

I mean, it's a Mercedes. How much can you complain? But. Hm. I can't help comparing and it keeps falling short.

Start with the positive, it's a pleasure to drive, very comfortable smooth ride and the clutch and brake are nice to use. The accelerator needs a heavier foot to start with than I'm used to, but I won't notice that after a few days. The engine is quiet and smooth, you wouldn't know it's done nearly 100,000 miles. It's slightly smaller than the Rover, which is noticeable in the smaller boot space and a little less legroom in the back, but that's fine.

And two points over the Rover - I've never known a car whose passenger seat goes so far back. This will be a help if ever I need to give a lift to anyone with a leg in plaster or who has limited mobility; not as unlikely as it sounds. And it has a nice little compartment for loose change. I couldn't understand why my old car didn't, when the previous Rover did. It's so useful.

Almost everything I miss is, essentially trivial. But they are things I actively enjoyed and which made driving a pleasure. I should add, at this point, that I am supremely uninterested in cars. Apart from the uneconomonousness (I lost track of the syllables there) of buying a brand new car, I'd be bored with too much choice to make one at all. So if at any point you think "but my last three cars had that as standard" I'm hardly to know that.

What I miss. Sensors so that the windscreen is wiped when it needs to be without you touching anything. Sensors that beep when you're reversing and getting near something. Being told your average speed, mpg and how far you can go on the petrol in your tank. Climate control. A really good CD player. A steering wheel with alterable height (no point in being able to raise and lower the driver's seat unless you can get the height of the wheel right too).

What I'd have settled for. A CD player. Air con. The one and only thing I actually specified was air conditioning. And Mike rang me shamefacedly on Saturday to admit that it doesn't seem to have it after all. And there's no sodding CD player at all, and the radio is only okay.

Okay, let's call me a spoilt princess and let it go, at least it's November and not June But there is one thing I actively dislike and think could cause accidents and that's that there is no sodding handbrake. A friend bought a car last year and didn't realise it until too late - he still dislikes it. Instead of a nice reachable lever that you can pull on and let out gradually as you make a hill start, there's a fourth foot-pedal to brake and a hand-operated catch that you pull to let the brake off. Apart from the awkwardness of trying to juggle accelerator and brake with the right foot at the same time as the clutch and brake with the left and the gear lever with the left hand, when you're stopped in traffic on a hill, there's the business of gauging exactly the moment to let the brake off completely as you set off again. I suspect this gizmo was invented with an automatic gearbox in mind, and it would work fine then (although if you were used to a clutch, I can see you accidentally applying it while driving along) but it's awkward at the least with a clutch. And I've known two people who had a heart attack at the wheel of their cars. One was, unfortunately, stopped by running into a flock of sheep, but the other was saved from causing an accident by the passenger grabbing the wheel and steering, while gradually applying the handbrake. And if you forget to put the brake on and start to get out of the car, no quick grab to save it as it starts to roll forward. It's an awkward leg manouevre at the best.

I know I'm being grumpy. Weeza, yesterday, flicked the Mercedes sticky-up bonnet thingy (must have a name, can't think of it) in an approving manner "you can look at it as you're driving along." "Pretentious nonsense" I grumbled, "who do they think they are, Rolls Bloody Royce?" "Mercedes Bloody Benz," she said acidly and that's fair enough.

Oh, and you will never in the world catch me calling it a Merc. Any more than you'll find me referring to a seat of learning as a 'uni'.

I'll get used to it (except the lack of air con) and there's much to like. But I so resent bloody Rover for building beautiful to drive cars that are so badly designed that they keep going expensively wrong. They deserved to go out of business.

Attack of the Snowgnomes

We had quite a shock when we went outside. The cars had been hijacked by brooding Snowgnomes. Mine (the first photo is the last I'll take of the Rover, which will leave for the last time tomorrow), Weeza and Phil's, Ro's and the Sage's were all affected. We wondered why Al's van and Dilly's car had not been attacked, until we ventured into their garden.

The Snowgnomes had grown and were approaching the house. Fortunately, it transpired that they were not, after all, unfriendly, as Squiffany demonstrates.

Sunday 23 November 2008

Happy Halloween (Z is running late)

The nice person sent me the photos - not everything in detail but you get the idea. Please don't make *funny* phone calls to him - though really funny ones would be fine.

I'm well behind on blog-reading, but the first two I read when I came home from church entertained me enough to tell you about. Peter is always great, if sometimes lugubrious to say the least. His hill-walking puts me to shame, I can't do hills any more. Even Norfolk hills tax me. I chortled mightily at the Three-legged Cat, particularly her Thursday and Friday posts (yeah, I get behind in my reading). And not today, but in the past week, my friend LZM has been telling us about her recent hip operation, using a photo from the meme I gave her as a starting point. Scroll down to Chapter One and work up.

All these, I felt as if I was there being told the anecdotes in person. Great. I hardly bother reading fiction books now, after a lifetime of addiction. I start so many and finish so few. You are all better than most books published these days. With the advantage that I now have friends and acquaintances all over the place.

Saturday 22 November 2008


Yes, I know it's not December yet and I apologise. Far too early for nativity photos. They're not even very good pictures, either. Out of focus and too much reflection, including that of the camera itself. But look on the bright side - this gives you inspiration to get veggie-carving in time to make your own decorations.

The tableau

The Magi

with their camel

The donkey deserves a rest. The pigs would not normally be allowed near a Jewish stable, but it was a special occasion

When Alex dismantles it all, I'll take another picture of the angel as it decided to fly a bit sideways and I couldn't get a good angle.

One of the shepherds had to stay on the hillside to mind the sheep, but he could still watch from a distance

The sheep came right up to the Holy Family

Don't they look proud?

The cat and the dog forgot their differences and came to join the donkey

And the star shone over

The Baby

And today, it has mostly --- snowed.