Thursday 31 January 2008


I woke to the sound of the wind howling down the chimney and came downstairs to see the trees swaying perilously. I was glad there are none that are too close to the house and dodgy. We had a power cut, just when I was happily engaged in reading blogs. It didn't last long, but I left it a while before turning anything back on as it gets boring - it always blacks out just before you were intending to save your work, doesn't it?

I went into town, bought fish from the market - Matt said it had been the quitetest morning for trade that he could remember; I bought sea bass and mussels, so at least he took £9 he might not have otherwise. I fetched 4 lbs of Seville oranges and some vegetables from Al and then I picked up the meals on wheels box and delivered lunches to our customers. It was a good excuse to drive and not to cycle. I saw a few people pushing their bikes, but no one was riding, because it wouldn't have been safe. At one stage, I don't think it was safe to drive either.

Shortly afterwards, we had a hailstorm, and then the wind died down abruptly.

I'd had a WRVS newsletter in the post, addressed to me as 'Project Manager'. This annoys me mightily - I'm not a Project Manager, I simply do the rota for a village Meals on Wheels delivery. I don't want a silly title that doesn't reflect the small job I do. When I started doing this, there was a small honorarium, which I accepted and put in a charity box - a few years later it was decided that my National Insurance number was required, it would be paid direct to my bank account and called a 'wage'. I wrote to say I was a volunteer and not an employee and I haven't accepted it since. The thought of taking it, having to mention it on my tax return and then filling in a gift aid form is just too annoying. And frankly, if I was doing it for the money, I'd not be paid enough. I'll happily work for nothing, but not for money if it's less than I'm worth.*

I had the mussels for lunch. I scrubbed them and left them to lounge bewildered in a bowl of water for a while. I looked for the bottle of nice Chablis that Ro and I had started a couple of nights ago, but I couldn't find it and had to make do with the Argentinian Chardonnay in the fridge. Tilly hovered hopefully, until I explained that mussels are much like crab, in that they'd make her go 'Roo, Roo', honkily. Then she drifted over to the Sage. He thought she needed to go out, but I translated her bodylanguage for him. She was asking him to tell me to get out of her chair, because she wanted to lie down. As I explained, she writhed expressively - I was saying what she would say, if only she had opposable thumbs. She could do and say anything, she tells me, if only she had opposable thumbs.

This afternoon and evening, I've made my third and fourth batches of marmalade. That may be enough for the year - or I may have one more effort. I enjoy making marmalade. I haven't been eating it on toast, but I do lick the spoon...

*'arrogant little tit', you're thinking? That's quite an accurate description and I won't argue.

Wednesday 30 January 2008

No post today, Z's been busy

Fortunately, as Dandelion said, yesterday's post was quite long enough to keep us all busy for a few days, because today turned out to be busier than expected and I want to go to bed. I had to work this morning (yes I know, your heart bleeds), then an appointment, then babysat, then straight off to a meeting.

This meeting was flagged as starting at 3.45 for 4, as if it was a rather precise soirée. I arrived at 3.45 and no one else was there, so I went off to the other side of the building, signed in, came back, put the kettle on and it was only as I was making tea that everyone else started to arrive. At 6, the Sage rang to see where I was. At 6.20, we decided that next time we'd start earlier - it wasn't such a long meeting, it only seemed so because of the in-between time of starting, neither after lunch nor evening.

When I arrived home, the phone was ringing. "any chance of a babysitter this evening - er, in 10 minutes?" asked Al. Spuds pierced and shoved into oven, whole lots of sensible-and-healthy snacks plus a bottle of wine grabbed, a newspaper and a book picked up and I was there in time to read bedtime stories. When the Sage arrived home, we swapped places for five minutes while I cooked eggs and vegetables, then we ate together.

Oh, and I weighed myself today.

Monday 28 January 2008

Z approves

Fwengebola (just how proud am I to be one of his 'Blogroll Babes? Good question*.) has tagged me to come up with seven things I approve of. And it's taken me a little while to come up with a disconcertingly long reply, but here we go.

I started with some diffidence with the word ‘approve’. It suggests a lofty disengagement … then I realised that this is mere inverted pomposity and that I was being a bit of a twit. Not that I disapprove of twits of course – sometimes you don’t know you are making a fool of yourself until you already have.

I seem to have led myself towards this then, to start with - I approve of people who are not ashamed of themselves, who will open up and take risks. I don’t mean those who have no inhibitions at all, who seem to be on the road to self-destruction or who are uncaring about the effect they have, but to those who have a go and take it in good part if it doesn’t quite work out. I used not to know how to do this at all and wonder how anyone could put himself in such a vulnerable position, but when you try you'll find either that you can actually acquit yourself pretty well or else that it’s not that awful if you don’t do as well as you had wanted everyone to think you could. Sometimes it is awful actually – but even then … no, still better to have tried, I think.

Bloggers are pretty good at doing that in fact, and I obviously approve of blogging. It’s quite perturbing, if you let yourself think about it, how trustingly we tell each other extremely personal things (and few people are better at that than Fwengebola himself). It didn’t, at first, dawn on me that I might actually meet anyone via blogging and when I discovered that such things happened, I really didn’t want to. It seemed to be a very peculiar relationship, to meet someone about whom you might know quite intimate details, that you might not find out in years of friendship. Worse, they know similar confidences about me. But of course, as I discovered, it’s fine. It’s great in fact.

I approve of mutts and moggies. I don’t, of course, in the least disapprove of an animal with a fine pedigree, but it’s not really my thing. I like an element of chance – all my children look quite different from me and from each other, although there are family resemblances, some of them quite subtle ones (such as my left ear, which has been passed down the family – or rather its slight peculiarity has) – so why would I want a dog that is almost impossible to distinguish, not only from its siblings, but from every other black Labrador or cocker spaniel? Appearance isn’t everything of course, and there are advantages in knowing the likely temperament and characteristics about a pet, but on the other hand there are inbred defects in behaviour as well as in the health of pets. I’ve never bothered with pet health insurance for my mongrels, but – horribly expensive though it is – I’d think it a necessity for a pedigree dog.

I approve of teenagers. They are so endearing. I went to a year 9 (age 13-24) Parents’ Meeting at the high school last week, just so there was a governor there and was charmed by these youngsters. They vary so, yet they are all the same. Several were in agonies of anxiety in case their parents let them down by behaving embarrassingly. There was a parental survey I was handing out and one lad hissed ‘mum, you’re putting the same reply for every question’ - bless him, you can be embarrassed about anything if you're expecting to be. I was at school before Parents’ Meetings had been invented, fortunately. My parents and my school were better kept well apart and I never gave them any information about social or fundraising events, in case they actually turned up and found out anything about me.
Teenagers are so well turned out nowadays. They all brush their hair and wash. Some of them are rather alarmingly pierced, out of school, but the harder they try to appear hard, the younger they tend to look. I remember a few years ago – must have been, because it was before he was married – Al and I went to the cinema at the Rlverside in Norwich, where there are various nightclubs, a bowling alley, restaurants and the like. We hadn’t taken into account that it was a weekend and were very casually dressed, and we were abashed at all these dolled—up boys and girls. A group of them poured out of the car opposite us, and one young lass – she might have been sixteen, you really couldn’t tell – was wearing a little band of cloth as a skirt. It started on her hips and finished on her hips and she spent some while pulling it up and down, trying to preserve a little modesty above and below. So sweet. And there is such a brief age when you can get away with it too, without looking dreadful. While I hope she didn’t end the evening completely rat-arsed, and there are all too many who do, let ‘em have fun. It’s hardly skipping in the playground, but there’s not half enough fun around and far too many people looking on disapprovingly.
Of course, some kids are scarily feral and I worry about them and have no answers, but most of them are fabulous in their awkwardness and streetwise insecurities. They have had a lifetime already of being groomed constantly for exams – from the baseline assessment in their first term of school right through to NVQs, A levels or whatever they are best able to do – of knowing that they will spend years of their lives in debt if they want to go to university or buy a house, and are constantly told that they are taking worthless exams that, nevertheless, are completely essential if they are to get anywhere in life. I think they – and indeed the generation up, now in their thirties – have had a much tougher deal in life than I did. Children of the Sixties, my lot won the lottery of life, really. Of course, we squandered most of it, but that’s the way it is. You don’t know at the time and there’s not much you could have done about it anyway. We’re all been teenagers, unless some of you readers are rather younger than I think you are, and we’re all marvellous, let’s face it.

I approve of food that you prepare yourself. I enjoy eating out, and I even like the occasional takeaway, but I am increasingly coming to loathe the whole thing of what is marketed as home cooking. Cook-in sauces, ready-prepared meals, hidden rubbish ingredients, expensive e-numbers … I think they are a cheat and a health hazard. I can't buy 'em any more. I read the label and if there's anything I wouldn't put in myself, I don't buy it. Fresh ingredients, simply cooked taste a whole lot better, cost far less and are good for you.
People say they haven’t time to cook, but it’s not so, you know. I can rustle up a meal in twenty minutes from scratch and so can anyone. Only five minutes? Make an omelette, cut a wedge of cheese, put a potato in the microwave or cut a hunk of bread, chop a cucumber and a tomato, tear some basil onto it. No need to buy salad dressings – a splash of olive oil and a squeeze of lime, lemon or vinegar is fresher and tastier. There’s no mystique to it, although if cooking is a pleasure and a hobby, it can take enjoyable hours. But it doesn’t have to. And of course, if you spend an extra hour one day, you can make the basis of several meals and cover yourself for the rest of the week.

I approve of taking responsibility for yourself. Awfully tempting to blame someone else, or life, or the past, and we can spend years working out just why we have so many hang-ups, but by the time you get to my age, you have to accept the situation and make the best of it. No need to beat yourself up, every good reason to look at yourself with compassion, love, amusement, wincingly, but to forgive the mistakes you have made and keep making – but don’t just explain yourself, try to make some improvements too.

I approve of taking the present time as a pretty good one. I hope I don’t start to live in the past and say that everything is worse nowadays. Of course, it’s natural to look back with a rosy glow, but people have been saying that everything’s gone to the dogs since their day from time immemorial. I’m quite glad that, so far, I get more tolerant and good-humoured as time goes by.
I remember once reading out loud a passage to my mother from a Bill Bryson book. He had taken his children to some tourist attraction that he and his sister had adored when they were little, and he and they were quite underwhelmed. He pondered – there had been so little stimulation in his life as a child that anything different was wildly exciting, but for his children it was the opposite – they had so much to entertain and excite them that they tended to be blasé. He wondered which was better. I said there wasn’t an answer, was there? You could argue it equally both ways and be as wrong as you were right in either instance. My mother disagreed. Of course, it had been better before. But the point of the piece, I said, was that there wasn’t an answer. I know that’s what you’re saying, she replied, but it was better before. Because it was and that was that.
No it wasn’t. It was just different. And in a few years, we’ll be looking back nostalgically to now. From a place that, if only we could see it now, would look amazing and rather wonderful.

Having said all that, HDWK has also tagged me - and that meme encourages me to look back with nostalgia. I see no contradiction in that at all...

*Hugely, of course

The Sage forgets, but is still impressive

We're really not very good with dates and anniversaries, the Sage and I. It took us years to remember our wedding anniversary - we knew we had a choice of two dates but, on looking it up, found we'd always plumped for the wrong one. Now, we don't even particularly celebrate it - after all, every day is a celebration in this house already, particularly of our marriage, hem hem. A bunch of flowers, a bottle of champagne, is as far as it goes - though the forthcoming one in May will be the 35th, which is a pretty good number. We know our children's birthdays, although I always have taken the precaution of mentioning my own forthcoming one, because it's far better to remind than to be miffed or disappointed. We don't know when was our first date, nor even the date of our engagement, though I could work it out because I know it was a Friday night in the first half of February 1973, about three weeks after that first date. I know it was the first half of February because I received a wonderful Valentine's Day card from him a few days later - it was an original Victorian one and he'd written in it, thus destroying its monetary value...even then, I knew the significance of that.

I am good at pinpointing events approximately, because of associations with events. I am often believed to have a wonderful memory, because of this, but I don't have at all - it's the whole chain that I need, to remember any one link in it. Similarly, the Sage will astonish people because, twenty or more years after previously speaking to someone, he'll say "oh yes, I remember you, do you still live at number 20 in the High Street?" He also remembers phone numbers, which I rarely do. That is, I know a whole bunch of phone numbers, but not necessarily to whom they belong.

This morning, Al and Dilly were going out to the car when Pugsley made a break for it. He waddled hastily round to our door and the Sage scooped him up as he was about to make himself at home and march straight in. He (Pugsley) bellowed, but they were invited round to visit a friend (Jean, who used to work for Al) and didn't have time to call on us too. "It's Squiffany's birthday soon, isn't it?" remarked the Sage after they'd left. "20th April?" I applauded the accuracy of the day, but he was a month out. It'll be in March. He tried again. "Pugsley was a year old at the end of October, though, wasn't he?" "End of September, darling, good try."

I have to work out how old he is by remembering the year he was born and counting up, but he doesn't know that, so don't tell him, will you? I don't know if he realises how old I am, but he can't possibly complain because, of course, I only improve with age. Hem hem.

Sunday 27 January 2008

Festina lente

Today, I was invited out by a friend. We sometimes have Sunday lunch together, as his wife often goes to visit friends on a Sunday and he can be at a loose end. Today, he wanted to buy a new walking stick. It was one of those occasions when he picked one up, it was fine (it was a walking stick and it fitted, that's about it really) and he bought it. We had lunch and then shopped some more.

He is a slow eater. I am not. I am purposeful about food. Put it in front of me and it vanishes into the gaping maw in short order. I mean, I can trifle with it politely so that I don't finish way before everyone else, and I often don't finish it at all - I've not a large appetite at the best, and nowadays I deliberately eat less anyway - but I like to eat it before it gets cold.

So on this occasion, I'd finished mine in ten slow minutes, because I was hanging back politely, by which time he'd had three mouthfuls. Then I ate most of his salad. Eventually, we both had carrot cake (I ate two-thirds of mine) and coffee and went shopping again. He had to do his Christmas shopping. "Goodness, you're planning early" I said, rather bemused but impressed in spite of myself. " depends on which Christmas you're talking about..." Two of his children, and nine of his grandchildren live abroad. Last year, he relied on internet shopping, but deliveries aren't always that reliable, apparently, to Moscow, and some didn't arrive until April or not at all (there may be some exaggeration here, I don't know, but that's what he said). He needed to crack on and get it done, so that they had their Christmas presents sometime before Easter.

We did it all in a rather nifty shop selling wooden crafts. He bought wooden pens, some turned and some carved, wooden keyrings, windchimes (he thought they would be fine as mobiles for the babies), unannoyingish musical intruments, a wooden hedgehog and that sort of thing. It took quite a long time, and I suspect the shopkeeper had to stay open late for us - he didn't mind, we were surely his best customers of the day. Eventually, we left for home, but my friend wondered if I'd time for tea. Well, hey, why not, if I could ring the Sage to let him know - my mobile* was at home, charging.

I left a message on the answerphone, asking him to put some potatoes to bake in the oven. I finally got home well after 7 o'clock, scooted in ... and the Sage was out too, visiting a friend in hospital, so hadn't got my call. It was lucky I made soup yesterday - added the tomatoes, a chopped courgette and a handful of pasta, simmered for ten minutes, toasted some crumpets, put cheese on a board (not for me, I'd eaten cake) and dinner was on the table in 15 minutes, just after the Sage came home.

So, I didn't get much work done today. I did bike in for the papers and I did play the clarinet for the hymns, including one in five sharps. Oh, and I've finally managed to cycle up the hill to the Post Office. Twice. I'm pretty pleased with myself. It's a short hill, but has a funny camber, a side road with poor visibility (my uncle-in-law was knocked down crossing that junction, broke his femur and died) and is steeper than it looks. I have also, on three consecutive days, cycled up the hill on the back lane towards the castle and, on Friday, nearly managed the hill to the high school - I walked the steepest bit, but I didn't think I'd ever manage that one at all.

Come the spring, I'll contemplate the awful prospect of swimming, too. But in a pool, not on the fields, which are still quite flooded.

*telephone, not the one dangling over my cot

Saturday 26 January 2008

Jimmy and Ruby

When my mother and stepfather moved to a village a few miles from Lowestoft, they soon met Jimmy and Ruby. Ruby worked at Southwold Hospital and Jimmy was a retired carpenter. He was a good craftsman, who had started his working life on a local estate - you should know that when someone of his age and background refers to an 'estate' he meant the country estate of one of the landed gentry. He was proud of his aristocratic connection.

They became good friends when Ruby had to have a mastectomy and, afterwards, my mother had her to stay for several weeks to recuperate. After that, they were devoted to her and would do anything to help. They were an odd couple and quite mismatched - she was entirely down-to-earth while he liked to talk about music and philosophy.

They live on in this family, for their names are still used.

You know how horrid it is when someone sneaks up behind you and suddenly grabs your waist and tickles you? Ruby did that all the time and has given her name to the action. Indeed, we had the expression 'Ruby, Ruby, Ruby' long before it became a most annoying song. She stopped doing it to me eventually when, finally, I cried. Yes, I know - I must have been a bit more nervy in those days, but it was awfully unsettling.

And Jimmy would never just look for something, but always go for a 'look-see'. "Do you know if the postman has been?" the Sage enquired this morning. "Don't know, I'll have a jim*" I answered. And then if someone says something solemnly, which sounds weighty, but isn't - say, "The sun is shining, but winter is not yet over" then the answer is always "Yes Jane," intoned with a serious look. And then the first speaker is expected to laugh at himself.

*short for 'Jimmy-look-see'. Nothing to do with Jimmy Riddle.

Friday 25 January 2008

Dave, can I check this with you please?

Beatae sunt quae ab ipsis occultare sapiunt.

They are happy who know how to conceal (or cover) themselves - is that right?

And I'm assuming this is meant to insult, so can you please help me with a non-insulting but appropriate rejoinder*, because you are so much more clever than I am.

I'd said, at the end of my letter, that I hadn't meant to upset her, I thought she was making too much of it and that my reasons for not joining her class were reasonable ones. I'm sorry, I know this is stupid and I hadn't meant to reply to whatever she said back, but I am indeed that petty.

Love and respect


*cough cough - with the translation, please ;-)

And I promise I'll drop this now and be frivolous tomorrow. Um. Right, I've got it...

Fathers and brothers

Yes, the second funeral this week. Both ladies whom I'd known for many years, although Monday's was the closer friend, both aged 79, both died of natural causes after some years of failing health. Margaret, who was buried on Monday, was the only person outside the family that the Sage told about the baby, until this week.

There were two elderly priests at Mary's funeral today, whom I didn't recognise until I noticed a family resemblance. I knew that her late father and late husband had both been clerics, but I didn't know that both her brothers were too. They, with one of our local ministers, conducted the funeral service, which must have been unimaginably hard for them. I was startled when a family member went to the lectern to read the prayers - and he too was wearing a dog-collar. Rather Higher Church than us, I suspect - one of the brothers referred to our minister as 'Father', which many Anglicans don't do. As he said the final blessing I could hear the strain in his voice, and his eyes were filled with pain, though not with tears.

It's cold here today - I'd planned to cycle the three miles or so to the church, but changed my mind when I heard the whistle of the north wind down my bedroom chimney. I'm making minestrone soup this afternoon, and would like to add some tomatoes. I have none, fresh or tinned, and was going to cycle in - but I'm wearing a skirt and it takes an awful lot to get me to change during the day. I'm far too lazy. And cold. Upstairs is cold. I put on a coat when I go to clean the bedrooms, and I belt across the landing at top speed between bath and bed. The Sage strolls. I have to warm him every night. He is too polite to put his cold hands on me, but I insist. I tuck them between my elbow and waist to warm him. If I wake in the night, it's I who am cold, and then he takes my feet and brings them back to life.

If Z had a hammer

Oh dear, oh dear - now my Latin wannabe says I have dealt her a sledge-hammer blow. I think she's taking this too much to heart and have told her so. She says she hopes I feel uncomfortable, but I said I don't, although I'm sincerely sorry for disappointing her.

I think she's a little odd. Thank goodness she will never want to talk to me again.

I'll be back later, I'm just off to a funeral. The second this week - doesn't it always happen like that?

Thursday 24 January 2008

Z gets a Dusty Answer

Thankyou, but I don't know if the class will run now. I had been counting on a minimum of four. I had not expected that anuone, having given their word, would make alternative committments.
I am sure you would not expect your members of NADFAS to do that,since they would perhaps find this unethical.

I finally wrote about the Latin lessons and this is the reply I received. I've written again, explaining that an interest shown (I was really surprisingly polite, considering she'd absolutely buttonholed me) in a casual conversation isn't actually giving my word. I listed my regular commitments (not all of them, only those that actually involve work) and explained that the extra ones that have come up have to take precedence over things I do simply for my own amusement. I am, I confess, meanly pleased that she can't spell 'commitment'. Not that I am prejudiced in any way against misspellings; as long as they aren't in business letters, I rather like them. The typo I forgive, we all do them in emails (though if I were insulting someone, I'd make sure I hadn't made any).

This does show, however, that my instinct was right. I didn't like her, and that was one reason I didn't want to join her class.

Wednesday 23 January 2008


We've been on babysitting duty again today. Last night's lecture on organic gardening was very interesting, apparently, and I was again sorry to have missed it. The speaker, and his family, have had an organic smallholding for more than twenty years and now are completely self-sufficient in vegetables and eggs, and put on the garden only what is generated by the garden - that is, compost, chicken manure and leaf mould, with the addition of comfrey which is made into liquid manure and used as a mulch. Al said that the whole thing could only work if you dedicated your life to it; it was evidently hard work and constant endeavour, but is obviously very satisfying and effective. I asked if seed and potting compost had been mentioned. They have big builders' 1-tonne containers which they fill with leaf mould and leave it to rot - the reason for the containers is to minimise seed infiltration - this is used as seed compost and is very similar in texture to peat; and then they add comfrey fertiliser for potting on.

Anyway, Squiffany had her dancing class this afternoon, so Pugsley came to visit, then we all went to bounce on my bed, then I went through in time to watch In The Night Garden, which is a great treat for me, before I left Ro and Grandpa reading bedtime stories. "Ro" confided Squiffany to me "is my favourite boy."

And the real news of the day, which I am now allowed to mention, is that our daughter El and son-in-law Phil are expecting their first baby in August. They emailed us the scan today - it made us go all peculiar, in an exceptionally happy way.

Tuesday 22 January 2008

The Sage is Reliable, again and again

There was a PCC meeting this evening, but it's also the night of the Gardening Club. I'd have rather gone to the latter, but duty called - however, Al and Dilly were going so needed a babysitter. I volunteered Ro, which was not very bright, as he's away on a business trip and I hadn't actually checked when to expect him back.

In the event, the Sage missed the PCC meeting, which he didn't mind at all.

I returned from the town at lunchtime to find a note saying that he was babysitting Pugsley. When I'd eaten, I went to say hello, and give him a break. Later, the Sage returned and took over again.

Tonight, Dilly asked if I'd changed Pugsley's nappy. I said I had. "Ah", she said. "*The Sage* said his nappy had been changed - I didn't think that necessarily meant he had done the changing..."

Actually, he did his share of babycare when ours were little. He was splendid with nappies and even better on night-time illness duty.

He cheered me yet again this afternoon, coming in with a copy of the Sunday paper (the newsagent had sent ours back as we hadn't picked it up on Sunday morning). He had asked Jack, who delivers the papers, who else in the village takes it - three people had it delivered, one couple are friends, and they had finished with it but not yet put it in the bin. Splendid.

To change the subject completely, this end of January holds a few anniversaries. I won't say the actual days as I choose not to mark unhappy dates, but this week it's 38 years since my father died and 21 years since my stepfather died.

And, going from pathos to bathos, as Dave elegantly put it, my second blog-anniversary fast approaches. I can't quite be bothered to look up the date of that, but it's in a few days. Marvellous.

Monday 21 January 2008

Z will require a Bindi

Today, my daughter emailed me to say that we're all invited to the wedding of her friend's K's sister - she and I went to K's own wedding in Madras four years ago, and she and her husband, sister and aunt came to El and Phil's two summers ago. This time round, the wedding, or the Indian part of it anyway, will be in Lowestoft - I suppose they have to have a registry office wedding as well as a Hindu one - but I'm looking forward to it very much. I'll have to get out my saris and decide which to wear...

I was on governor duty at the Year 9 parents' evening at the high school. I positioned myself at the signing-in table, so managed to speak to everyone. Didn't quiz about governor-related issues, as I think going to see teachers is quite stressful enough already, but I chatted and was generally friendly and pointed people in the right direction. I heard, yesterday, that the village school was to receive its Ofsted inspection today. Just a one-day inspection with two people - I think these short-notice inspections are much better for a quick check that all's going well, but the solemnity of the evaluation between categories is a bit tough - if you take a snapshot, you will get a slightly hit-and-miss result. I think they will come over well, though, and I certainly hope so. I haven't heard yet if the result of the planning application for a new school comes through; if it's a 'yes' they may start building very soon.

The paper shop had sent back our paper unsold, as we hadn't picked it up. I pointed out politely that we'd expected it to be there as it would be on our bill and it would be our problem if we hadn't fetched it. She made a note to remove it and apologised, but it wasn't her fault and I said so. It wasn't anyone's, in fact, but another time we'd put a note through the door asking them to hold on to it for us.

It must be the damp weather - I've been finding it quite painful to use my hands much, recently. I'll mention it to the doctor when I next visit, but it'll either be rheumatism or arthritis and I'm a tad pissed off, whichever. All the more important for me to get going with the clarinet. I need to twiddle those fingers while I can.

I've replied nicely to my committee friend, but I'm still putting off the Latin one. I've been out most of the day, but I've really been sleeping on it to be quite sure I know my mind.

Clarior Usta Rogo, as they say in Yagnub

Sunday 20 January 2008

The Sage impresses - and then forgets

I was out all day yesterday, at a training day about church maintenance. Much of it was about guttering and drainpipes. It was absolutely fascinating - no, it was. I do love to hear a practically-minded chap talking about his enthusiasms, and I am now as keen on drainage as he is.

I went home via the Co-op, and then the shop, where I stopped to lend Al a hand. The phone rang, and it was the Sage. "I know you've got to take along a plateful of food for tomorrow" he said, "and you won't have time. So I've bought an extra loaf of bread and some smoked salmon, and I'll make the sandwiches." I gasped. I was unable to speak for a moment. Then, "I love you" I stammered, breathily.

This morning, we didn't get up that early, because I still loved him. When I was ready to go out, I didn't have time to go in and fetch the papers, so I asked him to. We finally arrived home from our after-church lunch and meeting, at 3 o'clock. "Where are the papers?" he asked. "Er..." "Sorry" he said.

Oh well, they'll keep them for us I suppose, as they are on the bill. Tomorrow will do.

Now, another bit of a quandary tonight. You know the society I'm chairman of - the constitution says that the chairman steps down after three years - that's coming up this June. But no one wants to take over. The reason is that everyone else is doing a damn good job and enjoying it. There is someone who says she's willing to be chairman - but she wants to do another job first, and that seems fair. Another had a pretty rough time looking after a relation, who died after a long illness. She hasn't said no, but she needed time to get over things - I let it drop for a while, but in the meantime she's really got her teeth into another, rather tricky, job that she's making work better than anyone ever has before. So it's been suggested that I carry on. I've been reluctant, but a decision will have to be made in a couple of weeks.

This evening, I've had two emails from one person -

"I fear we put poor J under pressure, seeing that her Ely visit isn't until June. She managed to get it sorted pronto and brought it in today. I had envelopes stamped and labelled, and put in the newsletter and J's contribution, and will hand them in tomorrow at the post office second class.

I much admire J's contribution. In fact, on contemplation, I reckon all your committee are highly efficient. People comment on the high quality of the talks, the visits and the holidays away in such complimentary terms. I should add, Z, how much they like you as Chairman, in that you don't make them feel artistically inadequate, but give a happy human touch. No wonder we have such a huge waiting list.

Best wishes, P"

Names abbreviated to protect the innocent, of course.

Second email, shortly afterwards -

"Come on, Z: In Norfolk we "Do Different". Why the hell must we all listen to "Three years etc"? Why can't YOU go on for six years, and all your committee continue in the jobs they do so very adequately? If it works, why mend it? Our Nadfas will never have a better team, so why not hang on for another few sessions? I hate bureaucracy dictating, and suggest all who are able and willing keep on for the good of our Nadfas.

Love P"

I haven't replied yet - I think it's permissible not to have read emails and answered them on a Sunday evening. But it's been apparent for a while that I haven't much alternative. As I said the other day, if things are not going the way I choose and I can see it, why waste the powder?

The thing is, I've been a good chairman in the past. But I've been at my best in a crisis. When things aren't going too well, I am pretty good at focusing on the best way to go and making things happen. I found it quite difficult when I started to chair this committee, and the society, because it was all fine and I didn't feel I had much area of focus. It took me a year or two to get going, but I've found my feet now.

But if I say yes, I've got to put this across to the members so that they, er, vote me in. I'm not much of one for electioneering. At least I'll be standing unopposed - but they still might vote me out.

And people do like me - but I'm not like the other chairmen they've had. I have gone down the route of being warm and informal - yeah, I want them to like me and smile, I go for laughs and the 'human touch', rather than the 'professional' one. I try to put some substance into what I say, but also to be personal. Complete ignorance helps, of course, because as P says, no one feels inadequate to me. All in all, I probably drive some people quietly mad, because they feel I'm just too dumb for the job.

Saturday 19 January 2008

Z tried to remember her classical education, but is vague

Pliny was a most erudite chap, who used to publish his letters, which ranged in subject considerably - for example the most famous one was the account of his uncle, Pliny the Elder, visiting Pompeii when the volcano erupted and dying there; another was the account of the murder of a vicious and cruel master by his slave at a visit to the baths. My favourite, because it made me laugh, was the letter of reproach to a young man whom he had invited for dinner, but who had not arrived

I can't find my copy of the letters, so I'll have to give the gist. Maybe Dave or Dandelion can help out.

He told him the culinary delights on offer, such as an egg and a whole lettuce [each!!(!)]. He described the evening's entertainments - after dinner, Pliny himself would have regaled him with readings from his own oeuvre. Instead, Pliny scornfully said, he evidently preferred another party, with honeyed larks' tongues and figs*, followed by singing and performances by dancing girls.

*maybe, look, I took Latin A level in 1972

Anyway, the recipe I use for rice.

8 ounces (225 g) basmati rice
a little oil and butter
cardamon pods. I use about a dozen, but the recipe says 5 - 8
A piece of stick cinnamon - about 2 inches (5 cm)
A little more than 1/2 pint (300 ml) water

Soak the rice for at least 30 minutes, drain and rinse several times (Zain says that it's a good idea to rinse it alternately in hot and cold water). Drain it finally, while you heat the oil and butter (I use very little of both, but the recipe says a tablespoon of each), add the cardamon pods and cinnamon stick, swish around, add the rice, water and salt. Bring to the boil, covered tightly, and cook on a low heat for 12-15 minutes until the rice is tender but still has a bite. Leave off the heat for a couple of minutes before turning it into a serving dish. I remove the cinnamon, but love to squeeze the cardamon seeds out of the pods and eat them.

Z receives a compliment

"Don't think I'm being racist or anything" he said, "but for a white country-woman, you cook really good rice". There were snorts of laughter from his girlfriend and my son. "No, really," he emphasised, "that rice you cooked last time I came was as good as my granny's."

Well, thanks, Zain.

Friday 18 January 2008

Z put her foot on a tussock and found herself in a deep and boggy hole

It was A's fault. He called me over cheerily and introduced me to her, saying we had an interest in Latin in common. I replied with an enthusiastic agreement, although adding that I hadn't studied it for 35 years and had forgotten most of it. Within moments, I realised that A's cheerfulness had been at the thought of getting himself out of a situation - that it was at the expense at getting me into it was an unfortunate, but ultimately unimportant, detail.

She said that she was gathering together a group of people with a view to taking Latin classes and was glad of my interest, because I could join them ... what day would suit me? It was almost too late to back-pedal, at least to someone who won't easily take 'no' for an answer.

She's now sent me an application form for the U3A and says that the classes will start in March. Now, it's true that I like Latin and I'm sorry that I hardly know anything of the language now, but I'm not in tune with her ideas anyway. She said dismissively that she's not interested in poetry or any other literature, but that grammar is the thing and that's what we'll study. Of course, grammar is fundamental to Latin and you won't get far without it, but it's a means to an end, surely, not the end in itself.

I want to take clarinet lessons and I've started to help in the music department at the high school since I saw her. In fact, I'm doing more altogether at the school now - I've reached a stage where I either quit as a governor or do more, because I've been coasting for a year or two. I just don't think I can take on something else, especially not just out of good-nature. She has only got a few people involved, and if one drops out the whole plan may fold - but I can't help that. In fact, one of the teachers at the school is looking into an online Latin GCSE course, and I'd be more interested in offering to get involved with that if it were to happen.

Maybe I'm being too negative? But I feel pushed and I don't like that. Oh dear. I'll have to compose a letter of extrication and explanation.

Thursday 17 January 2008


Forgive me, please, if I sound in any way complacent, because I don't feel it, but I do feel very glad.

I spent yesterday building myself up nervously to phone Miss B, and then was out all morning and lunchtime today, so hadn't before, this afternoon, she phoned me. To thank me for my help and kindness, and to apologise for 'being nasty' to me.

I asked her, of course, if she had been satisfied with the place where she had been sitting and if she had enjoyed the lecture (which was splendid, actually) and we had quite a long chat. She is quite reconciled to sitting in the designated place, which is actually a good one, and I was sympathetic to her situation, at being obliged to use a wheelchair and the adjustment in personal perspective (I don't mean physically) that this entails.

I really do feel for her, it is hard for someone, especially one who has been used to, and proud of, her independence, to have to go out looking frail and needing help. When she apologised, I said that she is right to fight her corner and to challenge what she sees as unfair (oh dear, am I a bad person, to say that when I've won my point? Well, it's the impression you give as much as the words, isn't it?).

It's not the first time that I've stood up to someone who has afterwards looked upon me as a trusted friend. I'm not sure how I do it, but it is a knack I possess. I think it's that I stand my ground, but don't look pleased to win, and am conciliatory afterwards and aim to concede a way to save face. I do sound self-congratulatory. Sorry. I'm not, really. I'm just glad that she doesn't look on me as a bully, and that she has said that, having made the effort, she feels able to come to the lectures again - where, of course, I'll make sure I stop and chat to her for a while.

By the way, I'm a good loser too. I give in very quickly, unless I'm right. Then - I'm pragmatic. I win if I can, but if not I don't waste the powder.

Wednesday 16 January 2008

Z's not old, she's Classic

The girl sitting next to me at dinner looked about nineteen, and a complete throwback to 1967. She was very slender and wore a turquoise and white mini-dress in a geometric print. Most time-specific of all, she wore knee-length white boots which, if they aren't made of PVC (does anything get made of PVC now?) certainly looked like it. They had chunky high heels. She had nicely bleached blonde hair and a heavy fringe, and was very pretty.

In the course of conversation, she mentioned her daughters, aged fifteen and eleven. I tried to mentally double her age, but she still didn't look it. Her husband looked almost as young, certainly less than thirty.

It's a post-Christmas dinner rather than one that pre-empts the December rush. The Sage and I were talking to one chap about his 1962 Wolseley. "Not exactly old" he said. "Classic, rather" agreed the Sage. I shall adopt the term. I'm not middle-aged, I'm classic.

You are slowly shaking your head, aren't you?

You wait until we get old Rover out next summer in time for his birthday. He's Vintage.

Tuesday 15 January 2008

Z's new leaf goes too far

I heard Al leave for work at 8.20 this morning. It was raining. I felt for him, having to set up shop in the wet - but I was very glad it wasn't me. On the other hand, Dilly, this evening, said that they'd been thinking with complacent pity of the holidaymakers, newly arrived at Center Parcs, who had been greeted with rain and wind.

Now I'm released from my duties, I'm starting to catch up with paperwork again. 'Starting' is certainly the operative word - I've got a succession of mini-deadlines and I'm working to them. One tomorrow morning - that's done; one tomorrow afternoon - that's for the morning. The one on Thursday is a bit of a bummer as it will take quite some time and we're out tomorrow evening - the Classic Car Club has its Christmas dinner in mid-January and we're committed. But it's just typing, I don't need to think, so I can always get up early and do it then. Of course, if I had any application and backbone, I'd be starting now.

I was going to say 'pfft', but actually, I think I'll just get on and do it.

I apologise for being sensible.

Monday 14 January 2008

of course, in my case, it's more 'life's a bitch and then you diet'. Hm

I received a phone call at the shop this morning. "I'd like to order two pounds of parsnips and some sprouts" said a voice. "Hello, Bette," I replied - the Sage had put her up to it of course.

She told me that she had explained to our unhappy member that I had confirmed that we could not arrange things as she wanted, but that the lady concerned - let us call her Miss B. - would not accept the situation. Would I phone her, please? Yes, as soon as I'd checked the prices of aubergines and avocados and written up the new (lower) price of tomatoes.

Miss B was really quite difficult. She tried very hard to intimidate me, and accused me several times of discrimination. I was vastly polite, didn't rise to anything she said, was very regretful - this is true, I'd rather help than hinder any time and I honestly don't like anyone to be disadvantaged. I am a peacemaker at heart and would rather give in than make trouble on almost every occasion - but I didn't give an inch.

She changed tack several times, in fact, sometimes saying she could walk and climb steps and sometimes not. She also said she was deaf, and so needed to sit at the front. I said that there is a loop system - but she says she doesn't care to wear a hearing aid. She heard every word I said, but of course she may have equipment to amplify her telephone receiver.

The theatre in question is a very old building, and there have to be some concessions to that in the facilities that they offer, as it's a listed building. However, there is wheelchair access, with an automatic door, the controls of which are easily reachable from a wheelchair. It is possible to reach the auditorium without changing levels, there is a disabled lavatory and I think that it complies with regulations. There are six seats that can be removed and two, at least, wheelchairs can be placed there. Obviously, one would have to book them in advance.

Now, the theatre trustees also allow one wheelchair to be taken nearer the front. When we had to evacuate the theatre during a lecture because of a false alarm, we realised that, not only did our member cause a safety hazard because she couldn't vacate her seat, but that she needed a completely clear aisle to get out of the theatre. Furthermore, the place where there was room for a chair, in front of the side rows of seats, partly blocked the view of the stage if filled by a person in a wheelchair; the chair being higher than a theatre seat - this might not be too bad when there were actors moving about, but would be a considerable annoyance if you were looking at slides on a fixed screen. For those two reasons, our committee decided that, whatever the theatre policy was, we would insist that wheelchair users should use the designated area with removed seats. This would not put people at a disadvantage, as the views and acoustics are good throughout this small theatre, and in fact the back seats fill up far quicker than the unpopular front seats, because you don't get a crick in your neck (and you can make a quick getaway, important when you are paying £1.30 an hour for parking).

I explained this. She accused me of discrimination. I refuted this and explained the safety hazard. She accused me of discrimination. I refuted it and explained that we want to welcome her to the theatre and are very happy to accept her carer free of charge, but that we have to consider the comfort and safety of other members too.

Then she said that, in an emergency, she could leave by the door at the front of the auditorium. I said that it was too steep for a ramp. She said that she could walk down the stairs. I asked her if she could walk up them too - she said yes. I said that, in that case, we would be very happy for her to sit in the seat of her choice. If she was able to leave her wheelchair at the door, whichever door, and walk in, we would give her any additional help she needed and would be very glad that she could come and enjoy the lecture. She wanted to know why, in that case, we were discriminating against her by not allowing her to bring in her wheelchair.

You think I'm going on a bit here? This is nothing. I promise, nothing. I spent nearly three-quarters of an hour discussing it. I said that I'd raise the matter at committee, if she'd write to me outlining her case; I was telling her the decision made at committee following a similar situation. She said that isn't much good, when the lecture is tomorrow. I said that she could have asked before, rather than interrupting a committee member's Sunday lunchtime. This was the only time I sounded a note of criticism.

She said she would resign and wanted her subscription back. I refused. She said we'd taken her money under false pretences. We went through the whole discrimination thing again. I said that, in any case, we'd already paid her capitation fee to the head office. "You'll just have to be out of pocket, then, won't you?" she said. I said that we would discuss her individual situation in committee, but that we feel that we have made sufficient arrangements for each member to see and hear the lecture and so that there was no justification for returning her subscription.

In the end, she said she'd like the seats to be taken out, but that she may not come to the lecture, depending on the weather. I said that we would welcome her, and quite understand if she was not able to come - furthermore, if she felt able to walk to her seat then she would be welcome to do that, regardless of the removed seats. I added that I hoped to meet her tomorrow and that I hoped that she would decide to remain a member.

I haven't mentioned that she said she was going to report me to Head Office - I said that she was more than welcome to, but that each Society is autonomous, that I'd already checked the legality of the situation, and that she would be referred back to me.

I felt annoyed and harrassed at the end. She had wanted to bully me by calling me discriminatory and thought I'd be scared. I am quite indignant at this.

Anyway, afterwards I rang to make arrangements, and then went to have a lovely lunch at Mahsrae Teerts Efac. I had mussels, in a wine, cream and tarragon sauce and a very large glass of wine. Then I went to a music lesson at the High School - I was assisting at rather than participating in the lesson. Then I went back to the shop.

Now, Al and family are home and they have had a lovely time. My shopkeeping duties are over for now, and nothing went wrong. And my sister and I have spent the last hour on the phone together, resulting in near-hysterical laughter, largely because that's better than crying. Not that we felt like crying, it was more a 'life's a bitch and then you die' scenario.

Goodnight, sweeties
xx z

Sunday 13 January 2008

It's déjà vu all over again, as they say tautologically

You know this society wot I'm chairman of? - a year or so ago, we had a member who resigned in a huff. Thing is, she is disabled and uses a wheelchair. She asked if her carer could accompany her free of charge, which we agreed. She used to get out of her wheelchair and sit in a seat where there was extra legroom. Then the fire alarm went off in the middle of a lecture. The carer started to lift her, a committee member fetched the electric wheelchair - which she didn't know how to control, so the disabled lady started to get angry with her - and meantime the rest of the row were blocked from leaving the theatre. It was a false alarm, but after that we explained that it was not safe for her to use a seat that she could not get up from, and asked her to remain in her wheelchair. There are two rows of three seats at the back of the theatre that can be removed, and we arranged that this should be done.

The next month, she sat at the back, but in a seat at the end of the central row rather than in the side rows we'd cleared for her. Of course, the other people in the row were stuck again. We explained that this was no help and just made the blockage at the back of the theatre rather than the front. We refrained from saying that one paying person was taking up six seats, because that wasn't her fault, but we did feel that she wasn't really co-operating. The theatre is a very old building and, whilst it has full disabled access, it can't give full accommodation to everyone's wishes.

After several letters, phone calls and a couple of meetings, she resigned and asked for her money back. We refused, as we'd already paid her capitation fee to the main society and it was her choice not to take up the offer we'd made.

I've just had a phone call to say that we've another member who wants to do exactly the same thing. Additionally, she wants a ramp to be put at the theatre entrance to the front rows, and seemed unable to understand when it was explained that it wasn't possible because the steps are too steep. She says she has to sit at the front or she can't hear. There's a sound system with an induction loop, however, for people with hearing aids - and the angle from the front row means she can't see to lipread if the lecturer is behind the lectern, and if not, he or she would be in the dark as only the lectern is lit up - so I think she's making an excuse there.

Maybe if I had to use a wheelchair it would make me stroppy. I know that disabled access is still limited and that simple, helpful measures are usually not taken. I think that it's a pity people have to fight for something that should be done without question. But I also think that there are circumstances where one has to make concessions, particularly where other people are affected. I hope she will accept the situation, but if not I'll do my politely unhelpful thing, because she is not being reasonable.

Saturday 12 January 2008

Z plans two days ahead!!(!)

I've spent the last half-hour lying in a hot bath. No one, surely, can claim that a shower is as relaxing and soothing as a bath. I suspect that showers only started to become really popular once people heated their bathrooms and, of course, we are resolutely old-fashioned and do not. Though a concession to decadence caused us to install a heated towel rail.

It's the early service tomorrow, so I'll have to get up in time to arrive at church by 7.30 to set things up. Then, if it isn't raining (I don't feel quite that stalwart right now), bike in for the paper, home for breakfast and then back to church to practise playing hymns for the 11 o'clock service. I say practise - in one case, learn also. After that, a meeting of the Admin group. I've just drafted a brief agenda - it is sketchy enough to include, as Item 6, "whatever I've forgotten to put down". Whatever I have, I hope I will remember, or I'll have to call another meeting. I have offered to take along a bottle of wine, as reward for our dutiful attendance.

In the afternoon - - - whatever I want.

In the evening, write up accounts from today (I had Important Things to do so didn't take time on that) and work out the order for Monday.

Monday will be my last day at the shop, and I won't have to be there all the time, as Tim stays until 4.30. I am planning to go out for lunch, and then go to help out at a music lesson at the high school before going back to work out the next day's order, close the shop and ... go home and relax. And greet my grandbabies.

Friday 11 January 2008

Z runs late

I was really tired last night, and would have liked to go to bed right after dinner. But I knew that I'd have woken up in the early hours, so I hung on and was in bed by 11 and asleep soon after. Half an hour after that, the Sage woke me...we'll draw, I suggest, a polite veil over the next interlude, but if you have ever read my rules for marriage, the third was called upon, and I fell into another heavy sleep around midnight.

The alarm racketed at 6.15. I turned it off and went back to sleep. The second alarm told me the News According To Radio 4 at 7.15 and I got up. I was still tired afterwards, and I think it was that fact that led me to eat all day.

7.30, porridge. Now, this is no delicious and indulgent oatmeal dish; it is made with a teacup half-full of porridge oats, the same cup half-filled with milk and topped up with water and a pinch of salt. This is boiled strenuously until it thickens and then eaten. No sugar, milk or additional salt, let alone syrup, cream or even yoghurt.

But by 10, I craved a bacon sandwich. I mentioned it to Tim, who salivated, so I toddled down to the caff - they deliver, bless their lovely hearts. I thought I might not need much lunch, but found myself in the bakery buying a large granary turkey and salad roll and a cup of home-made vegetable soup.

Mind you, I couldn't manage all the roll. But I still ate more than usual ... well, by one bacon roll and possibly the soup. I've a feeling that the diet is stuffed for the day, though. There was still enough of yesterday's chicken and ham dish to last for tonight, though that was, at last, the finish of the Christmas ham.

Ooh, very unpleasant. The fire in the dining room hadn't been lit and so supper was eaten in the drawing room - yes, darlings, a TV dinner. I've shocked you, I know. Ro had on a programme about people who only eat raw food, and within moments one was subjected to the sight of a colonic irrigation. I addressed myself resolutely to my plate and advised the Sage to do the same. But then we heard a couple whose regime involved veggie juice and enemas - as they put it, Juice and Sluice. The bloke said that, when he smells coffee, he thinks of his intestine rather than his tastebuds (well, I can't remember what he said, but that was the gist). As well as coffee enemas, they use lemon enemas - or, they said, 'lenemas'.

Quite often, when someone has written a humorous blogpost, a commenter remarks that he or she has spat coffee, or possibly breakfast cereal, over the keyboard. I don't know if this is literally true very often. But in this case, my mouthful absolutely did get ejected onto my wineglass (the outside) and the newspaper (waiting to be read when I'd finished eating). And not because I was laughing.

Thursday 10 January 2008

Z leaves late

Couldn't last. It was quarter to seven by the time I left the shop tonight.

The Best Landlord in the World According To Badgerdaddy came in today. We chatted, and he confided that tonight he plans to make his first ever steak and kidney pudding, with proper suet pastry. I promptly invited myself to dinner, and he agreed, if I came with a bottle of wine...we both knew I didn't mean it, but on the other hand I rather did.

However, when I did get back, dinner was in the oven already, thanks to the Sage. Not just to him, for I had done some forward planning at the weekend (it involved the final bit of the Christmas ham) and all was needed was the addition of mashed potato and half an hour in the oven. But the Sage had accomplished that bit and, furthermore, had filled and switched on the dishwasher. This is not unimpressive and I was appreciative - not that I thanked him, for that would imply it was my job, but I did say 'jolly good' or some such hearty expression of approbation.

I haven't slept much in the past few nights, as I've gone to bed late, not slept much and arisen early. So I think I'll have an early night.

By the way, my Christmastime credit card bill arrived yesterday and I didn't open it...I did today of course, I was only busy - but it was a lot less than I'd rather anticipated. I waved it in the Sage's general direction for him to deal with - we have a clear demarcation of responsibilities in this household. I use the credit card, he pays the resulting bill. Of course, his own present was paid for in cash from my own bank account, I am entirely reasonable in this sort of regard.

Wednesday 9 January 2008

Z closed early

It was so quiet this afternoon that, at about 4 o'clock, I decided to start packing up. There is a big outside display, which fills most of the shop, so once you've brought everything in you fairly well have to close up. I did it slowly, occasionally stopping to serve a customer.

After a while, the Sage turned up to lend a hand. I went to phone in tomorrow's orders and counted out the change for the tills for tomorrow. I kept a little pile of change in case I had a final customer. I suppose it was inevitable that, between 4.30 and 5, I had about a dozen final customers.

One of them usually arrives at 5.15 and stays for a chat, which is very nice and friendly, but does rather hold me up as I'm trying to bring everything in and count the takings at that time, and have to wait politely. But he came a bit early, and there were other people there too so he didn't stay long. Another 5 o'clock customer, who comes along after finishing work, turned up too, and they are the two latish regulars whom I'd not want to disappoint, so after that I shut up shop half an hour early with a clear conscience.

It was a churchwardens' meeting tonight, and I remembered to take along grapes and satsumas as well as jelly babies, wine gums, chocolate Minstrels* and Maltesers to keep the meeting cheerful. I really wanted a jelly baby, but I didn't have one.

*Minstrels are not at all like M&Ms. For a start, they are much bigger, so more chocolately, and they are not multi-coloured.

Tuesday 8 January 2008

Z rose early

I was eating virtuous porridge at 6.30, ready to start work in good time. But first I had to speak to the milkman. He limped, rather more than I usually do. He broke his ankle in November, apparently, but continued working as there was no one to take over his job. Just before Christmas, he turned his foot and damaged some ligaments. Ow.

The Indian chap who runs a little shop near the high school called at 8 o'clock, which I could have done without as I wanted to get on. He asked for five cabbages; when I charged £3.50, he offered 60p apiece. I refused and he asked why. I said that I only worked there and it was up to Al, if he wished, to give a discount. Then he took £1.53-worth of bananas - just as well I said he could have them for £1.50, as that was all he offered me. Fair enough, I dutifully bargain, as expected, when I'm in India, if appropriate.

We were more-or-less set up by 9, when I had to leave. I was, I must say, a little annoyed on my return to find that Eileen had cut the outside leaves off all the cauliflowers when I had said to leave some, as they would keep better for tomorrow. They are locally grown and delivered every other day. Eileen hates to have anything on a shelf that could possibly be displayed, but you can't sell all your stock every day and it keeps better in a cool dark box. I'd not have minded if I'd said nothing, but I had.

The meeting was fine. We were vastly entertained by D, who had been asked to discuss some concerns regarding the venue of our lectures. The administrator arrives for work at 10 am and is, soon afterwards, found eating her breakfast. When D met her for an 11 o'clock appointment, the lass was eating toast. She explained the conversation - she has a wonderfully tactful, yet forthright turn of phrase. Someone wondered if she had spoken to other members of staff. "I am placing my liaison through her - and her piece of toast" clarified D. I cracked up.

This afternoon, I realised that, at half-past three, I had been too busy to eat lunch. In the next few minutes I started to become slightly incoherent and talk backwards, but was still too busy to eat for a while. This is just as well. I have rigourised my diet as I suspect I have regained a lb or two of those shed before Christmas.

Z is Splashed with Energy!!(!)

The Recipe For Z

3 parts Dignity
2 parts Vigour
1 part Ambition

Splash of Energy

Limit yourself to one serving. This cocktail is strong!

I'm a bit puzzled about the dignity, actually.

Thanks to Dave for this one.

Monday 7 January 2008

Z takes heed of advice

AFC 30K helpfully suggested I take a nap. So I did. I didn't get my work done, but it was far more useful than that - though not quite so enjoyable for Tilly (the dog, Dave, the dog). She was curled up on the armchair next to my desk, when I went and sat next to her...she was pleased at first at the attention, but when I removed her collar, the better to put my head down and lean on her, she became visibly patient for a few minutes, before sloping off to the sofa in the other room instead.

So, I had 15 minutes sleep and then stayed curled up for a little longer until the Sage told me (as I'd asked him to) that it was time to go back and take over from Tim.

Earlier in the day, I'd bumped into an old friend - his son was at primary school with Ro. He became very ill with a brain tumour a couple of years ago, and his prognosis was poor. But he responded well to treatment and, a few months ago, received the news that scans show no signs of cancer, and they still don't. He looks great and very happy. His son and he were pushing shopping, taking it in turns to look after their niece/granddaughter and we chatted cheerfully for a few minutes. He has been given early retirement from a demanding job on grounds of ill health - "I feel so well now, I'm almost guilty" - "Yes, but if you went back to it, you'd be ill again" - "It'd see me off."

The Sage came in, kindly, to help me pack up the shop. I don't think he'd quite bargained on the length of time it takes to count the takings, reckon the order for the next day, phone it in and do the paperwork. He couldn't leave, as he usually does, because he was giving me a lift. I'd said how strong the wind was - just after I'd got back to the shop, at about 4.20, it suddenly poured with rain for a few minutes, and the wind died right away. Isn't that odd?

Z is irresolute

Your New Year's Resolutions

1) Get a pet parrot

2) Eat less garlic

3) Travel to Greece

4) Study animal behavior

5) Get in shape with pilates

Thanks to Cinn for this one. I think I'm doomed to fail, however - I want a puppy not a parrot, I think you can't eat too much garlic, I'm going to Spain, not Greece (although come to that my friends who have a holiday home in Corfu might sweep me up one day - they would have last September if I'd had time). I do continue to study animal behaviour, however, and possibly pilates isn't out of the question, though I'm still banking on cycling.

Talking of cycling, the wind was so strong today that at one point I had to get off and walk as I was having to stand up on the pedals to make any progress at all. It was equally windy this week last year. I've a couple of hours off, as both Eileen and Tim are in the shop today. Just as well, for I have to get ready for my meeting tomorrow morning and my brain is disengaged at present.

Sunday 6 January 2008


Seville oranges are in the shops - it's time to make marmalade!!(!)

It's a far more sensible time of year to make preserves than the summer, when the kitchen is likely to be too hot already and the last thing you want is to fill it with steam. We don't use a lot of marmalade - I eat toast dry mostly, although I will extract a thick chunk of peel from the jar and nibble it. Fortunately, the Sage and I fit nicely together, in that he likes the jelly best and I prefer the bitter peel.

My father was the marmalade maker - and eater - when I was a child. I remember him standing in the kitchen cutting up the oranges. He used to bottle it into glasses, and add whole almonds and glacé cherries for added prettiness. Sometimes, he added a thin slice of orange too - I suppose he cooked those separately so that they kept their shape.

Saturday 5 January 2008

Z practises loin-girding

It was one of those nights when I didn't sleep. An hour, only, and then I lay awake for ages, and eventually got up and did this'n'that for a few hours and crept back into bed at six o'clock - I may have been quiet, but that isn't to say I didn't disturb the Sage, because I was very cold and he sweetly wrapped himself about me to warm me up - I turned over like a sausage every so often so that he could warm the next bit, but then neither of us slept because we were rather enjoying it - anyway, we finally slept for a while and then had to hurry to catch up with the morning.

Tonight, I went to talk about arrangements for the shop for next week with Al, because he and family are going to be on holiday and I get to feed my megalomania by being In Charge!!(!). I haven't heard a weather forecast yet - last year, it blew a gale all week and I was particularly stiff and achy ... when I knelt down to fill the potato and onion boxes, I had to crawl to the counter to haul myself up again, because my joints weren't working too well. I'm better than that now, but I hope the weather is dry and not too windy, because the outside display goes up come what may and it's an hour of hard work at the best.

The Sage has just read in the local paper notice of an auction in a couple of weeks time. Unfortunately, it appears that Al's strawberry supplier is selling up. This could be something of a blow unless we can find another grower of equal quality locally. There is one, in Yagnub, but he only has strawberries for a few weeks, whereas the other one grows different varieties to crop all summer long. We aren't going to tell Al before he goes away - the Sage will ferret around and see if the problem can be resolved before Al gets home again.

Friday 4 January 2008

Z drifts

The thing is, a good snowfall cuts us off completely. It's marvellous. We have a long drive with fields on both sides and a bank and hedge on the northwestern side. If there is any wind at all when it snows, the snow hits the hedge and falls on the drive. Always. Sometimes, there is an inch or so of snow on the road and a foot or more in our drive. Indeed, on occasion, a drift can be higher than my head. On one occasion, five or six years ago, the wind blew so strongly that the roads and even the gardens were completely clear. Not our drive. I have a memory of our friends Stuart and Caroline walking down the road, stopping at the end of the drive and falling about with laughter at the sight of us shovelling three feet of snow to the side. They literally had to hold each other up.

Now, you might think that this would put me off snow, but it's exactly the opposite. I love it. I enjoy knowing that, until we get out shovels and dig our way down 100 yards to the road, we are stuck with Shanks' Pony. We fetch out the sledge and trudge into town, load up our shopping onto the sledge and plod home again. One year, we delivered Meals on Wheels by sledge - although the council-run old people's home in the village was still open then and provided the meals; we couldn't have brought them back from Yagnub as they would have got cold. We wrapped, in any case, the insulated box in blankets to keep it as warm as we could.

My late lamented red setter, Chester, loved snow. He used to dig tunnels and almost disappear in them. When he emerged, the hair between his toes and the feathers on his legs were clagged with balls of ice and I had to tease them out, so that he wouldn't pull them off himself to melt on the fireside rug or the sofa.

Our garden is almost entirely flat, but there is one large dip on one field, where gravel was extracted some time in the past. This is quite satisfactory for sledging if you don't know better, and we find it vastly entertaining. And then, of course, there's the snowman. No winter can be complete if I have not built a snowman. Sometimes, there's a whole snowfamily, including the snowdog, but usually it's just one chap, his height determined by the depth of snow to call on. For we rarely receive much, and it usually only stays a day or two, nowadays. For the last two years I haven't built a snowman at all.

There is another reason to enjoy snow, and that is the extra light it gives on a winter's day. I don't suffer from SAD, I don't think - that is, I don't become depressed or exhausted. But I do want a lot more sleep when the days are short: since I don't go to bed any earlier, this means that I tend to get up a bit late if I can get away with it. However, when it has snowed all night and the sun is shining on a clear cold morning, I'm full of energy. Those of you accustomed to seeing me with my feet up, or at least leaning on the nearest wall would hardly know me. I run around, pinkly vigorous in my woolly layers, chortling happily at my lack of aim with snowballs, energetically scooping up shovelfuls of snow to clear a track for the postman to call, not heeding the twinges of a startled back as I heave a great armful of snow for the snowman's head.

Thursday 3 January 2008

Z is disappointed

It didn't snow. I waited all day, but it didn't snow.

Wednesday 2 January 2008

Z tries something new

So, tonight was WI night, and I trotted along confidently. When I was confronted by Tricia, unpacking arty sort of stuff, I backed away with an alarmed expression on my face. "Are we doing something hands-on?" I wondered aloud. "Pastels". Tricia doesn't waste words. She saw my expression. "You'd have stayed at home if you'd realised, wouldn't you?". I certainly would have.

She spent some time explaining techniques - every time I began to feel encouraged, determined, even, she started to get a bit too detailed and I lost confidence again. However, although I had been one of those grumbling at the back, I went at it in my usual shake-em-by-the-neck fashion - I see no point in being tentative. I drew an iris. If I could remember how to use the scanner, I'd show it to you. It is very free in style, but one can tell it is an iris, however poorly executed.

"I made a few pencil marks, just as a guide, but I didn't draw it, because I can't draw either" I explained. "Oh yes, you can draw", she said. "You've got a good eye, you knew how to look at it and you made a good start" (it was decidedly unfinished, because better to quit while you look as if you had some idea what you were driving at). I thanked her, sincerely. No one has ever suggested I could draw before, and for good reason.

I was, because I got my paper almost last, the last to start. I was the first to finish. I don't know if I'll ever do it again; I enjoyed it more than I expected. Just because of the novelty, I suspect.

Tuesday 1 January 2008

Is it January already?

A convivial evening finished at 11.45, when it occurred to us that midnight really is quite an arbitrary time to kiss and wish each other well, and we could actually do it at any time. 2008 arrived with me reading quite uninteresting emails and not replying to them.

I took the short walk this morning, only 2.5 miles. Sterner folks than I went 4.5 or 8 miles, but I had already downed mugs of red pepper and of celery soup by the time they came back. It was a fine party and we finally roamed home - I drove, I'd only had a glass and a half of wine and that had been more than two hours previously - just as Tilly was wondering if her dinner would be served late. She had some tasty snippets of ham sprinkled on top as recompense for her momentary anxiety.

I looked back on last January's posts, for I remembered that, for the first time in my life, I had Made Resolutions. I was under the impression that they hadn't been fulfilled, so I am pleased to find that there were more of them than I had expected. They were -
I. I will start building my wall.
2. I will take clarinet lessons again.
3. I will carry on with broadening my musical range...I really will get to the Aldeburgh Festival this year.
4. I will (all being well) continue to be frivolous.
5. I'll get to London more.

1. It took until October before the Sage decided on what bricks to buy. So, whilst the footings are in, and some of the paths are built in the kitchen garden extension, the wall itself isn't built.
2. This was my own fault. I felt that I should practise, so as not to be hopelessly bad, before arranging lessons. But without a deadline, there was no incentive. However, the delay has had a sensible outcome, because I have realised that going to a tutor some 15 or more miles away would be foolish, and I'm going to investigate the possibilities more locally. Indeed, I will email the High School head of music this week and ask her advice - though I won't have time to start for a few weeks.
3. Oh yes, I've certainly been doing this. I have a quite confusing range of music now. And I did indeed go to three concerts at the Festival last June.
4. Frivolous. I think so. I am quite as frivolous as is appropriate for a woman of my age.
5. Yup, did that too. I didn't do any shopping, but was nicely sociable and visited some excellent exhibitions.

Right, so 1 and 2 will be renewed, and I rather like the others, so would like to continue with them too...but maybe that doesn't count as Making Resolutions, for it would simply be Carrying On as Before. And I've already started the cycling, so that can't be declared as an intention either, nor the weight loss, as it didn't all go back on over Christmas.

It'll have to be this then.

3. Severely weed my shelves of once-read paperbacks, that I bought many years ago, in the days when I bought several books a week (yeah, eventually I saw sense and rejoined the library), and will never look at again.

Actually, that would be quite an achievement.