Saturday 31 May 2008

Z takes control. Ish.

Yes, well, I've sort of taken control. The coffee morning is over and it went well - I explained about the missing half of the present and there's another fortnight and a bit before the next deadline, so we'll see how that goes. And I took along my computer (yes, it was vastly admired - a Mac knows how to show itself off [it has a brighter display than a PC, which is highly impressive]) and there was a small crowd, which changed so that everyone saw it, of people to see my pictures of Madrid, Segovia and the rest - I hadn't actually planned on that or I'd have taken out the duff ones - and then they noticed the L'toft, so i showed them those (from the last sale) as well, which was Good Advertising. So I came through that all right.

I went home via Waitrose and bought, not only splendid biscuits for Tuesday, but also a couple of fine tarts, which - what the hell? - can form the basis for Tuesday's puddings with strawberries and, if I get around to it, meringues and (less likely) crème brulée. I've an abundance of slightly overgrown asparagus, so it'll probably be soup for a first course, although I'd like to do a risotto, but I've never tried the sort where you part cook it and then leave it for a while before finishing and I wouldn't want to balls it up. I haven't decided on the main course yet; it rather depends on Monday's weather forecast. Actually, the fishmonger calls on a Monday morning - I wonder if he'll have a salmon? That could work. Easy to cook in the bottom oven and can do for indoors or out. Anyway, it'll be fine (do you know, if your right hand is slightly misplaced when you touchtype, fine turns into fube?). Having decided to cheat on puds, I had to buy lemons from Al for Proper Lemonade, because - well, you know, just because (several people will be driving, so will be circumspect with the wine).

The clarinet practise is doing well, except that the inside of my bottom lip is awfully sore. The accepted treatment is padding it with cigarette paper, but it still hurts after a few minutes; never mind. I've tomorrow to get through (when I'm discussing what to play with the bride and groom) and then I can pace myself for Saturday. I've admitted my complete unpreparedness to several people (not including my family ... oh, hi, Wink and Weeza) and they assured me I'll get through. Well, they had to, didn't they? They are good friends and i trust them to be right.

Still having a difficulty eating. A proper breakfast - yes, dry toast and plain yoghurt is my normal breakfast, but lunch was 6 corncakes - like ricecakes but made, believe it or not, out of maize. Like squashed crisp salty popcorn. 22 calories each. Dinner I got put off, abruptly (look, I'm not criticising the Sage, but it was his fault), and so have not eaten much of, but one makes up with plenty of Chianti. Yes.

Friday 30 May 2008

Z is bluffing and has been called

Yes, all those plates are all wobbling and one of them has dropped, but that's not actually my fault because it was mail order and was supposed to arrive two days ago. Tomorrow morning is the deadline and I don't think it'll arrive before I have to leave. Fortunately, it wasn't the only present and I'll get flowers as well - and oh blimey, I wonder where I put the card we all signed? I may know - that'll be the next thing to check.

The other plate that's teetering isn't my fault either. You see, we're having a get-together, those of us who went to Madrid last month, and one keen photographer has a film of the whole thing to show us. I only discovered yesterday that he has no apparatus on which to show it. Oh, well done; if he'd said so last week I could have done something about it. I can take along a lap-top, but I certainly don't have a digital projector. The chap who did it last year brought all his own stuff and I assumed he would too. I could take along my computer, I suppose (I presume he has it on disk) as at least that has a decent-sized screen.

Everything else in the next week that's wobbling is my own fault. I airily agreed when my friend asked me to play the music at her wedding - this was months back - and it was decided that I'd play hymns on the organ and the rest of the music on the clarinet. She called in about a month ago, and it was only then that I discovered there are 100 guests. As it's a second wedding for them both and she's a modest sort of lass, I'd sort of thought there wouldn't be many in the congregation. Furthermore, she wanted to leave the choice of music to me, though we agreed something stately but not traditionally bride-like for the start, some Mozart or similar for the signing of the register and something jazzy as they left. Unfortunately, I've been too busy to make as good preparations as I'd have liked and it's only been in the last few days that it's been coming together.

She's coming round on Sunday to approve the choices. I've chosen a trumpet voluntary for her entrance, which I can play on the clarinet or organ and I'll have to discuss the Mozart with her. You see, classical music was rarely written for solo clarinet and so there are always bits where you're accompanying the rest of the instruments rather than taking the main part; though I have music scored for clarinet and piano, which at least cuts out the orchestra or quintet or whatever. I might play a piano sonata instead, (the Andante from the 15th Sonata) which sounds all right with just the treble part being played. For their exit, I've gone with a rumba and a samba, and have a few jazz and blues numbers to finish. But I've not practised as much as I should have - it's not the notes, it's the lip muscles and stamina that need building up.

And then on Tuesday I've got a committee meeting here, and as it's the last before September, I've said I'll do lunch; only trouble is I'm chairing the meeting and so can't keep nipping out to the kitchen to do things. There will be 12 of us - yes, you might say, do cold, with salads; and I might, but I've still got to prepare the food. And do a pudding. I think they'll rather anticipate three courses, actually. It's pushing it to get 12 round the dining table, so I'd hoped to have lunch in the garden, but the forecast is rain - though who knows, those who decide these things might change their minds and decide there will be summer after all.

I've also got a couple of reports for the newsletter and the rota for the church to do before Sunday. And I'm helping at the school on Monday afternoon and then have the children as Dilly is working, and the rest of the week is normal stuff on the whole - there will be time to practise the music which is the only thing that really matters. I can't dampen a wedding, it's got to be good.

I've still got loads to plant out in the kitchen garden. As there was a frost a couple of weeks ago - it caught 4 courgette plants and a few french beans, I held back a bit but now I've got a load of stuff that must go in very soon. Preferably before Tuesday. One person will check out the garden - I have pinched out all the side shoots on the tomatoes in preparation - so it has to be a whole lot readier than it is. Last year, another one opened the door to my study, just to see if it's as undisciplined as I say it is. It was. He chuckled. I called him a bastard. I never swear at people usually (I swear, but not at people) but I thought it was rude.

None of it is out of the way really, but unfortunately I seem to have sort of stopped eating and sleeping a bit, which is making me tenser than usual.

Oh damn. Coffee and the best biscuits on Tuesday as well. I'll have to come home via Waitrose tomorrow.

Update, dinner having been eaten
Okay, it was a Chinese whisper thing, the person with the pictures had never expected to run a slideshow, so it isn't his fault, and the person who thought he was is Perfect and I'm not blaming her because I love her. I'll take along a laptop *cough*, I'll have to borrow Dilly's as Ro is away tonight - Dilly is out for the evening so I'll ask Al instead, because Dilly is the sort of lovely person who won't mind, because someone else has got a slideshow but I knew in the first place that she didn't have equipment.

It's amazing, how talking to people and getting things straight makes one feel less tense. Also, eating dinner. I only had a slice of dry toast and a few - half a dozen - cashew nuts all day, and it wasn't enough but I couldn't eat. Fillet steak, pasta, carrots, broccoli and asparagus, and a forbidden Chelsea bun, and a couple of glasses of wine; maybe a nectarine in a while and I feel slightly as if I shouldn't have had all that, but I'd be hungry later if not.

Okay, back to work. And then I'll play the clarinet again. Apparently, I bewildered Al and Dilly last night. They thought one of the children's musical toys must have been left on and were kept awake as I played until midnight!

Thursday 29 May 2008

Love and all our good wishes to Jonathan

Back last July, I mentioned pals of mine, Jonathan and James, and pointed you in their direction on MySpace - as then, I won't do it as a link as I don't want to be tracked back. It's here -

I mention it because Johnny had a horrible accident on his farm last week and is in hospital. Bailer twine caught both round his foot and around the wheel of the tractor he was driving. No, I'm not sure exactly how it happened either, but he's not the sort to be careless. He stopped instantly, but had to reverse the tractor to release himself before phoning for help. An air ambulance arrived and he was at the N&N hospital five minutes after they took off again.

They - his parents and the three boys - are a lovely family and he's a great bloke. The Sage and I haven't been sleeping too well for the past few nights, thinking about him. His foot was sliced off, virtually, at the instep - every bone was broken and it was only held on by a couple of tendons. They've kept his little toe, as long as there isn't any infection, but the rest couldn't be saved.

Anyway, why I'm writing this is because I had a bit of a go at aspects of medical practice last week and, though it wasn't directed against the NHS at all, I thought it only fair to give another side of the matter, which is that this is where the Health Service absolutely shines. Money simply couldn't buy better care than he will receive.

Update, Friday
We've left messages, but not spoken to the family until now, but the Sage spoke to his mother this morning. He's still in great pain and has to be in isolation because of the risk of infection. His parents and girlfriend are allowed to visit, but no one else. As you can imagine, they are distraught and exhausted - it's a 50 mile round trip to the hospital every day. There's still the dairy farm to run and this is the busiest time of the year on the land too - at least all the cows are out of doors and there's plenty of grass, so they don't need feeding, but they do need to be milked. Three other men work for them and they are rallying round, and one of them is doing the driving to and from the hospital to spare them as much as possible.

Johnny is longing to be out of isolation and in a ward, for some company, but it won't be possible for a while. He has various gigs booked for the summer and is still hoping to be able to do some of them - don't know how likely that is, but the thought is encouraging him anyway.

Thank you all for your messages - when he's better and I see him again, I'll tell him.

Z is nice?

Just when I become all ponderous - HDWK gives me this! Thank you, dearest.

Or possibly a precursor to regular power cuts

So it wasn't the weather. It was the power stations. S1zewe11 tripped out and then so did various others. Good old Blair - he didn't want to risk his early popularity by making decisions about building power stations to replace old ones, so he didn't decide at all, until he was left without a choice. I'm not sure if anything has actually been built yet, though announcements have been made; and replacements take about a decade to complete and in the meantime our old stations are gradually becoming less able to cope. Still within capacity, but there's not much spare and a breakdown can have wide-ranging consequences - that is, a knock-on effect.

Wind turbines? - well, we're not exactly cracking on with building them either, and few people want them anywhere near. Besides, the amount of electricity they generate in practice is always less than is forecast, the weather has to be just right - no wind and they don't turn, too much and they have to be switched off - and they are quite high-maintenance. Building them offshore seems to be a good idea, but they are more expensive to build and maintain - oh, did I mention that wind-generated electricity is more expensive than that generated by power stations? You wouldn't think it, would you? And, of course, you can't store the energy. It's for immediate use; which takes pressure off the power stations at the time, but they have to be on standby for when they're needed.

We may say that we are careful about the electricity we use as individuals, but that's only in comparison with what we used a few years ago. Do you remember the days of round-pin plugs? Your house was probably rewired sometime in the 1960s to replace them. Before that, we could only have a few appliances on at a time - you might be able to listen to the radio while doing the ironing, but if someone turned on a hairdrier upstairs, the fuse would go and you'd have to go and mend it. And most houses weren't heated upstairs. And rooms had one light dangling from the middle of the ceiling. None of this ambient lighting, with or without low energy bulbs. We all used to cluster together in one room in the evenings, but now we wander off to our various rooms, watching television, playing on games consoles, using computers; often all at the same time. Everyone has fridges and freezers; so we should, but forty years ago most people had a small frozen-food compartment at the top of the fridge, and twenty years before that, few houses even had a refrigerator. Energy efficient appliances still use more than none at all.

Not that I'm knocking the individual. What about shops and offices? All lit up, they are. You're met by a wall of heat in winter and air-con in summer. Everyone can wear light sleeveless clothes all year round and be comfortable. Supermarkets have whole rows of open fridges and freezers. Computers may be turned off now in offices at night, but every one is going all day.

I suspect we'll muddle through, most of the time, and have no real idea what a close call it will have been, and the power stations will be renewed in time. And in the meantime, those of us who carefully boil just enough water at a time and don't leave appliances on standby at night and turn down the heating by a degree or two might make an iota of difference - who knows, that might be the final straw that won't break the camel's back? Or we can buy in electricity from the Continent. Mm, that'll be expensive. They've not been quite so squeamish about how to generate power in the past though, so at least they'll have it to sell.

Wednesday 28 May 2008

A pre-emptive power cut

I see it now. There are psychics at the electricity company and they decided to get some of the power cuts over and done with before the bad weather came. I am awfully impressed. Mind you, the storm came in the middle of the night, when a power cut wouldn't have mattered much, whereas it was quite inconvenient yesterday, but I am too struck by the efficiency to complain.

It was an impressive storm, too. There was no wind and torrential rain fell straight down, the thunder rolled on and on and the lightning hurt my eyes, even when they were shut. I knew I should get up and check that there was no water coming in the house, but the storm had woken me from a deep 3.30 sleep and I hadn't the willpower. It all seems all right now, although I haven't investigated outside much.

Tuesday 27 May 2008

Rings on his fingers?

"What are we having for dinner?" enquired Ro, coming to have a look. "Ah, fish fingers." "Goujons" I intoned nasally. "That's right, thick fish fingers" "Goujons" I insisted. "I haven't spent half an hour grating bread and egg-and-breadcrumbing fillets of fish for them to be called fish fingers." "Yeah, but they are," he said, wandering out of the room.

Ten minutes later, eating dinner, he said "What's the fish?" "Sea bass". "Hm, could tell they were a cut above. Very fine texture and flavour." "Line caught" I insised. "Bit of a waste to make fish fingers, but they're very good."

We had a power cut this morning and I rang the electricity board to find out what the fault was. The recorded voice told me that there were numerous faults in the area because of the extreme weather conditions. I stared out at the warm, humid, still air, wondering what exactly constituted an extreme weather condition. Haze just doesn't seem to do it.

When I was in town, I greeted the mother of an old school friend of Ro's and asked after the family. "Chris is getting married next year," she said brightly. Blimey. He's only a year older than Ro. I told him, later. His reaction was much the same. Mind you, one of his school friends, James, got married a couple of years ago.

Monday 26 May 2008

Getting over it

I blame the Huge Lorry. This one. It was the interview he gave when he said that he first realised that he was depressed when he was spending a day stock-car racing and realised that, while everyone else was excited, he was bored. He also said that he didn't look forward to the future. Having a medical background, he recognised the symptoms and promptly checked himself in with a psychotherapist.

'Nonsense', I thought. 'Stock-car racing, how pointless, I'd be bored too and I can't even bear to contemplate the future, and I'm not depressed.... Oh."

I worried about it after that. My mind dwelt on it, and I wished I hadn't read the article. I concluded that I didn't know whether I would be diagnosed as depressed or not (looking back, I would have been, but that doesn't mean I'd have been any the better for such a description), but I didn't see that it mattered, as I was quite happy in my pessimism, I felt safer if I lived in the present, neither looking forward nor back, and I couldn't be bothered to talk about it with a stranger. I'd talked things through with family and friends and I'd rather just get on with what I had to do and not make a fuss, because the thought of that was stressful in itself.

What I did do was make sure I enjoyed every little thing that I could. Although I didn't, for quite some years, care at all if I lived or died, I might as well take pleasure in things while I was here. And I made every effort not to become upset by small problems, although I found this very hard for a long time. Anything at all - or sometimes nothing at all - might send me into a feeling of misery and despair that would last for several days. I never told anyone as I could function quite well and the men I lived with were not particularly observant or intuitive and were not likely to notice if I was quiet and distant for a bit.

What put me right was time and being very kind to myself. Now, my feelings were caused by events and general stress. I'm not depressive by nature and I don't suffer from a depressive illness. I'm not suggesting for one minute that other people, necessarily, would or should cope as I did. I'm talking about me and me only and, as I said yesterday, I had a lot of support and a generally happy family life which gave me every opportunity to recover from the feelings that had taken quite some years to build up.

What I would not have done, by the way, was take on an acting role as a depressed maverick, addicted to painkillers, with an abrasive personality. That would have made me worse. Being frivolous, cheerful and hooting with laughter every time a chap pinched my bum did me much more good in the long run. So, also, was doing quite a lot of voluntary work. It made me focus on others and not feel sorry for myself.

I've been fine for nearly two years. I can contemplate old age and no longer want to not reach it. I can be upset, indignant, angry, though I'm none of these things all that often because I am so ... oh gosh, hostage to fortune alert ... happy. I know of course that all good things could come to an end this very minute, but that makes me all the keener to appreciate them while I have them.

This was meant to be a precursor to another post, but it became too long. I also think I've said too much about myself, but there we go.

Z is not depressed - but has friends who are

I have a friend who is strong, capable, a successful business-woman who, in partnership with her husband, runs a stressful business which, by its nature, means that one or other of them is on call at all times. Whatever the occasion, they might have to leave or make a phone call to ensure that someone deals with a situation that has arisen. On top of this, she has an elderly, frail and demanding mother, to whom she is devoted, but who can infuriate her. She also does voluntary work that involves her in heavy responsibilities, both for people and for finance.

What annoyed me last Sunday was when she told me that she just can't kick the heavy dose of anti-depressants that her doctor put her on last autumn.

I know too many people in this situation. What they should be told is that they are wonderful. Fabulous. They have coped with pressure that many people would find unendurable. They may have had traumas in their past that many of us cannot imagine having to deal with. They reach the end of their tether and this is not only understandable, but inevitable. The mind and body are not supposed to be able to endure the unendurable; sometimes we crack but, because of the nature of the pressures we are under today, this cannot be admitted. So they go to the doctor, say that they can't sleep, they cry, they lose their temper, they are losing (or gaining) weight, they have a constant headache, irritable bowels, aches and pains, stiff jaws through constant teeth-grinding, and what are they told? They are depressed and the way to deal with this is with anti-depressants.

These can help, in the short term. But they deal with the symptoms, not the problems. And, a few months later, they say that the sleepless nights and all the other problems are still there, the pills don't really help any more, but they can't do without them. If they try, in less tense times, to cut down, the anxieties kick in again.

My friend has taken steps to lessen her and her husband's work-loads, although the effects of this will not really come through for a few more months - and they acted more because of the physical effect on his health than the mental ones on hers - but in the meantime, she thinks she is a failure because she still feels that she can't cope and now she's hooked on powerful mind-altering drugs to boot.

I met a friend in town a while ago and we went for coffee. She moved house last year and she told me how much she is enjoying life in her retirement with her daughters nearby and with her grandchildren in close contact. "Still on the happy pills, mind you," she said. "One day I'll manage to get off them." Now, I know when she started taking them. It was years ago, when her last marriage broke up. Since then, she has put her life together and done it very well. But she can't kick the pills, even though she is happy and has a tranquil life now.

I know any number of people in this situation, and some of those are you, whose blogs I read, and whom I admire hugely. And I don't blame you if you need help, and I truly sympathise if you suffer from depression or mental illness, and I know that sometimes there is too much to bear and you can't offload work, anxiety and grief, and that drugs, properly prescribed for good reasons, can help.

1 - I believe that doctors are still too ready to prescribe them. Some people need to be told, in the first instance, that their health should come first and that they need to cut down and slow down. They are not depressed because they are ill, but they are ill and depressed because they are overworked and overstressed. They might need some medicinal help in the short term, but it is more important to treat the cause than the symptoms.
2 - I become very upset when these people, however hard they try to cope with the shit that hits them at every point, bewail their inability to do so. Of course they can't. They are not meant to. They are not inadequate, they are normal. What sort of fool sleeps calmly through their bankruptcy, or their parent's terminal illness or impossible demands on their capabilities and emotions? When you are going through an awful time, your body reacts, however hard your brain tries to compensate.
3 - We expect and are expected to 'get over it' far too quickly. I think part of the blame lies with the soaps and similar fiction. A few weeks at most after a traumatic death or disaster, the community "comes to terms" with the losses, because the pressures of the storyline dictates that it can't keep harking back. And so we think we should be the same. We're not allowed to mourn, we're given a few weeks and then expected to snap back to normal. Life isn't like that. I remember a friend of mine, whose husband died at the age of 48, telling me that the second year was worse than the first and that she only started to cautiously regain her equilibrium towards the end of the third year. I know that it took me (in retrospect) three years and three months to recover from the strain of looking after my mother, her death and a very difficult situation in one of my voluntary jobs that I had dealt with very capably at the time. And I had a supportive family, enough money and fundamental security, which many people don't have.

I'm not saying that depression is not real - it is. And I'm not saying that no one should need medical assistance if it's caused by 'events' rather than a mental ailment. Actually, I've lost track of a conclusion and I don't think I know enough to come to one - just that doctors should look for causes, not just symptoms, and that we should all look at ourselves without judgment and with kindness. And I'm not criticising anyone who can't cope or who takes pills, just saying that one shouldn't look to them to make things better if they aren't.

Sunday 25 May 2008

From 10 to 3

It's very quiet. Weeza and Phil were due to catch the 4.17 train from Diss, so Wink dropped them off on her way back home. They all need some weekend time for home-based stuff, so decided not to stay for the Bank Holiday Monday. Still, we've had fun and it was lovely that we were all able to spend some time together. Glad also that we took full advantage of the sunshine yesterday, as it's back to normal English bank holiday weather today; chilly and wet.

Taking photos has been a recent enthusiasm for me; we have never bothered much about recording events in words or pictures and so, although there are photographs of the day we got married, they were only in an album of my mother-in-law's and loose in a drawer belonging to my mother, and I've rarely seen them. We did look at them when sorting out my mother's stuff after she died, and I think they've dated rather less than many wedding photos, largely because we made no attempt to be modish in the first place. The Sage has worn exactly the same clothes all his life, so he doesn't date and is occasionally in fashion, and I looked young in my yellow and white dress, discreetly mini, which I bought for £5 for our wedding, and the long, black and white checked, simple cotton frock I wore for the party three months later - which cost more, probably £15 or so. The Sage has never owned a kipper tie in his life, nor any garment made of velvet, corduroy or denim. Nor suede shoes, nor trainers, nor a Barbour (waxed jacket). He does carry a man-bag, but it is a leather Gladstone bag, as used by a Victorian doctor, He has two in fact, one of them half-sized. I envy him this one, and have often suggested that he give it to me but, since he never says 'no' to me but has no intention of relinquishing it, he simply doesn't hear me.

Saturday 24 May 2008

Thirty-five years!!(!)

Today is our wedding anniversary.

Off to buy more champagne... laters, darlings.

You know, my sister only arrived home from Italy last night and she leapt straight in her car this morning to get here, from the far side of Stonehenge, in time for lunch. Weeza (El seems to have changed her name) and Phil came by train and Dilly was teaching this morning in Diss, so was able to pick them up from the station. Al didn't arrive home until 7 pm after the busiest day of the year so far and then had to go back after dinner to finish tidying the shop.

The Sage and Phil cooked (on the barbecue), Dilly made the salads and I made Queen of Puddings for old times' sake (the Sage's mother used to make it and Weeza particularly liked it as a child). Squiffany and Pugsley were charming and exuberant and went to bed late, after choosing several books to have read to them; Squiffany's by Weeza and Pugsley by me. Squiff has discovered Beatrix Potter and Pugsley's choices included Julia Donaldson and Alan Ahlberg.

The Sage and I didn't exchange presents - we have each other already.

I'd send him my love, but he won't read this, so I'll go and tell him instead. Goodnight.

Friday 23 May 2008

Doctors and nurses

I've always been pretty lucky and haven't had to spend much time in hospital, so I haven't had much experience, but a fair bit of what I've observed or experienced has been quite negative. Most, of course, is more or less neutral, and I'm not getting at people in a demanding job, but actually I think that one's behaviour influences how one reacts, so if a person behaves pleasantly and politely they will feel better about themself and what they do.

When I had El, I had a private obstetrician. Nothing too good for his darling, said the Sage. Mr B, the Obs, was charming. Far too ready to intervene, but couldn't have been more kind or considerate. Ten years later, blimey, NHS is quite good enough, I had the same consultant. I was a slab of meat as far as he was concerned. He'd forgotten me, of course, and he couldn't care less.

I said the other day that I woke up in the early hours with contractions, that continued for the rest of the night. It so happened that I was due a routine check-up that morning, so I asked the Sage to take me and took a suitcase, in case I was packed off to hospital. We waited ages, don't know why, no one explained or apologised to all us heavily pregnant women, some of us trying to placate toddlers. Finally, I went in, greeted Mr B, who didn't bother to greet me, told him I reckoned I was in labour as, although it was still fairly early, I'd never had a false alarm before. He grunted and said he'd examine me. It hurt. He didn't reply to what I'd said but told me to make an appointment for a fortnight hence. When, later the same day, I was in hospital I wondered if he'd remember me if he made his rounds ... but he didn't. I had two lovely midwives and mercifully didn't see a doctor.

Back in those days, the whole thing about birth plans was just coming in and I was asked if I had any particular wishes when I went for my first hospital appointment. I asked if I could keep the baby in the ward with me, as my first one had been bottle-fed against my wishes that first night. I was assured that was fine and it was noted. So, back in the ward and the Sage had left and I was settling down for the night. The nurse started to wheel out the cot and I told her that I wanted to keep him. She said that was out of the question. I said that I'd asked particularly and was told there would be no problem. It was July, there was no question that he needed a warmer room. She said that he'd make a noise and keep everyone awake. I looked round the empty room. She said that it wouldn't be later (indeed it wasn't. Squeaky beds were wheeled in all night and some of the new mothers were just coming off their birth drugs and groaning loudly; I literally didn't sleep a wink). I said, however, that it was a fair point and if we were too noisy then he could be taken away (new born babies are pretty tired and just want to sleep). Then she said "I can just take him away, you know, and you can't stop me." "Indeed I can't," I said, "all I can do is phone my husband first thing tomorrow morning and ask him to fetch me and tell him why." She snuffled bad-temperedly and stalked away, which rather disgusted me, as it proved what a bully she was, but without any backbone. Anyway, I didn't let him out of my sight and we left the next day anyway.

My mother had several stays in hospital because, after a successful hip replacement, she had a bad fall and it dislocated. Over the next seven years, it spontaneously dislocated six more times. It was made clear that it was assumed that she had been careless or even attention-seeking and was rather wasting medical time in demanding so much attention by not being able to get out of bed for a couple of days after it had been reset. As time went on and her health deteriorated, in part because of the stress of constant fear of a dislocated hip, she became quite difficult and I saw her being treated more and more as a nuisance. Furthermore, the consultant who had been delightful, charming and considerate when she saw him privately (she was entitled to her hip operation under her insurance) couldn't care less when she was an emergency patient under the NHS. Finally, several years after I said I reckoned her hip was damaged and should be pinned, she agreed with me and the same man X-rayed her from a different angle. Ah. Her replacement hip had been damaged in the original fall and was cracked; it didn't show in an X-ray from the side, which was all he'd done after each dislocation. He'd never questioned why it dislocated, but assumed it was her fault. No question of an explanation or apology of course, but at least she got a new hip, which gave no trouble in the final two years of her life. However, the only kindness she ever received in hospital under the NHS was when her cancer was diagnosed; those nurses (mostly Filipinos) and young doctors were lovely.

A few years ago, I took an old friend to visit her husband in hospital. He had had a stroke some years before and had completely lost the use of his left arm and hand. He was in bed and couldn't move much. We chatted for a while, and then he said that he needed a bedpan urgently. A nurse was with a patient across the room and we asked her for a bedpan and help. I saw her lips tighten as she said that she'd come when she had finished. She tucked the patient in, slowly. I saw her slow down. "I need to pee!" said Frank anxiously, "I can't wait". "When he needs to go, he can't wait," agreed his wife. The nurse looked irritated. "It's too late, I've done it," said poor Frank. So, for her petty meanness - she was doing nothing that couldn't wait for a couple of minutes - she had to wash him, change him, change the bed - again, I was disgusted.

A few weeks ago, I met a friend in town. She is nursing her father through the final stages of cancer, and he has been on morphine for months. He had to spend a night in hospital to have a stent replaced. She ensured it was on his notes that his morphine must be renewed and told the nurses in hospital. The next day, he was returned to the local hospital in great pain and vomiting from morphine deprivation, because he is, of course, addicted as well as dependent. They hadn't bothered to replace his morphine patch.

I could go on - although, as I say, I haven't spent much time in hospitals. This is not lack of money or equipment (though don't get me started on lack of cleanliness, I've seen too many nurses and doctors not wash their hands or remonstrate with dirty visitors; I trust there is considerable improvement in this regard over the last year or two) and it isn't even an indication of low morale, judging by the chat and laughter often coming from the nurses' station. Most nurses are fine - the ones who behave professionally and kindly are the norm of course - but how are the others allowed to get away with it? They must so hate their jobs, but I am convinced that if they behaved better then they would have more self-respect and enjoy their work more. And the trouble is that one bad experience colours your whole view. You remember the outstandingly good and the bad, not the unremarkably competent.

Thursday 22 May 2008

First Baby

Well, the first shall be last and the last shall be first, or something - is that a quotation? And El is my first child and only daughter. She's admitted that, when I was expecting the third, that she was hoping for another keep her status! That's my girl - I'd have been rather horrified if my mother had had another child to supplant me. As it is, Ro was a most loved little boy by both his older siblings. I asked him, a couple of years ago, if he remembered ever having a row with either of them; and he couldn't.

Anyway, I was not all that well during my first pregnancy. Nowadays, the fashion is against offering iron supplements routinely; then we were all dished out an iron and a folic acid tablet daily. It wasn't enough for me, and I became more and more anaemic. This made me exhausted and depressed - the Sage must have reckoned that married life wasn't all he had hoped for. Eventually, after my iron rations (see what I did there?) had been upped, it was decided that I should have iron injections. Straight into the buttock, darlings, alternative side each week and, hard as the nurse rubbed it in, after a few weeks I had brown stains each side of my bum, which lasted for several years. I had 20 of these injections, after which I felt considerably better.

The fashion for starting babies off varies as time goes by; my obstetrician was rather keen on intervention and decreed that the baby should be induced at a week over the expected date. Now, of course, I'd question that, but I was only 20 and had been pregnant for 41 weeks, which seemed rather a long time, and I didn't object. I was put on a hormone drip and not allowed to move. Now, in labour, the most painful thing to do is to lie on your back and it's boring and uncomfortable in any case after a few hours. When, unable to resist, I shifted slightly, the needle did too and labour started to subside until they realised and reinserted it. Eventually, they broke the waters, and that started things off extremely abruptly and painfully. Unasked, I was given a pethidine injection, which made me woozy without diminishing the pain by much.

Eventually, the obstetrician decided that I was all right for a couple of hours and left for his dinner. Shortly afterwards, El (that's my girl!) decided that the time was right to put in an appearance and he was sent for and returned. I rather wish he hadn't, because he, obviously concerned that he was not demonstrating sufficient professional expertise to earn his fat fee, performed an episiotomy - just in case I tore, he explained. It's since been decided that most tears heal better than most cuts. I didn't tear or need a cut in subsequent births, incidently.

Anyway, El was born at 8.30, weighing 6 1/2 lbs. She was not very large, but then nor was I - I'd only gained a stone and a half and weighed 10 stone, even though I had a 40 inch waist!

She was washed, given briefly to me and then whisked away to the nursery. I'd been asked 'breast or bottle?' and they seemed pleased that I wanted to feed her myself, but this was so rare that none of the nurses actually knew anything about it, so her first meal, before I saw her the next morning, was a bottle feed. She wasn't that bothered about suckling, so I was given bottles of supplementary feed. I can't remember how long I was in hospital, but it was far longer than was good for us. I felt quite helpless; I loved her but was afraid to do much for her myself in case I did it wrong. When my milk suddenly came in, I cried with the pain and discomfort and the baby bounced off these hard and unresponsive protuberances.

Finally, we went home. Now, you may have noticed that I am stubborn and bloody-minded. I did not have bottles or formula; it did not occur to me that we might have to give up on breastfeeding. We had a tearful and uncomfortable day, both of us, but by the end we had both learned how to do it, and we didn't look back.

No, that's not entirely true. They didn't know, either, that breast milk doesn't necessarily keep a baby satisfied for as long as a bottle, so when she cried it didn't occur to me that she might be hungry, only an hour or two after feeding. She and I both were less happy than we could have been in those first weeks. But she was such a darling little girl. Before we decided on a name for her, we called her 'Rosebud' because of her dear little lips. I used to hold her for ages when she was asleep, because I couldn't bear to put her in her cot.

Is it apparent that I don't always think that much of the medical world? I've observed it so many times, that both nurses and doctors think that you have to be ill to be in hospital. They want to intervene, even if you are having a healthy normal birth and simply need encouragement, kindness and some space. It's still the same; I saw it with Dilly after her first baby was born, when they kept making her try to feed the baby, not believing her when she said that Squiffany had already been fed; just because they hadn't seen it for themselves.

Sorry to sound so negative here, but honestly, it's a good job that El and I are both tough. We went through a lot together, in those early days!

Wednesday 21 May 2008

Back in time again, to 1976

Okay, back in time a few more years, while I'm in the mood. Al was born at home: that is, the family home where I grew up. I'd had a chat with my family doctor, whom I'd known for years, and he was up for it - in the 1970s, not many women went for home births and I think he was really pleased.

My mother remarried in February; my sister and I were very fond of our stepfather and welcomed him into the family. His name was Wilf Edwards; he was Technical Director of Brooke Marine, a highly-respected shipbuilding firm in Oulton Broad. He was a talented and able engineer, capable of designing a ship from scratch. I'll say more about him one day, but I won't digress further now, except to say that he was thrilled to have married into a family who loved him.

The baby was due on 8th April. On the 2nd, I felt some twinges. I've never felt those preparatory, Braxton Hicks, contractions. Every time I've had a contraction, it has been the precursor to labour and birth. I drove over to my mum's house with my suitcase and my daughter, who was a couple of days short of her second birthday, and invited ourselves to stay. The room she had prepared had been my father's night nursery (yes, there was a day nursery too, it was that kind of house) and had a single bed, convenient for attendants to a home birth.

During the afternoon, the local chemist's van drew up. "Here's the oxygen cylinder Dr L ordered" said the assistant cheerfully. I attempted to help her wheel it in. "Better not," she chortled, "You're not due for another week, don't want to bring the baby on early!" I didn't tell her I'd been in labour for a few hours.

At some point during the day, my mother decided to bang in a stray nail in the passageway right outside my bedroom (the Sage, of course, was given the best guest bedroom) and it hit a water pipe. I have no idea how that was resolved, I had other fish to fry.

My midwife was married to the local Methodist minister. She was sweet and very capable. She arrived later in the afternoon, not long before the doctor.

I kept trotting around as long as possible - honestly, the worst thing to do is to lie on your back in bed. If you're tired, lie on your side. Walk if you can. When, eventually, I had to lie down, they produced a cylinder of gas and air. I hated it. It was cold and distracting; I wasn't enjoying the whole experience but I was coping and I pretended to breathe it in (for I am a polite Z) but I kept the nose-and-mouthpiece slightly away from me so that I didn't take anything in. It wasn't that long after that Al was born. It was the best thing I've ever experienced and, if I say that it gave me a bond with him that I've never had with anyone else, a) that's a fact; b) he doesn't know it for I've never told him c) it doesn't mean I love him more than the others and d) I consciously have diminished its memory. He's Dilly's now, and I don't want my love for any of my children to make me possessive.

He wanted to suckle at once, and I knew at once that I didn't want this to be my final baby, which is an odd thing to decide within ten minutes of giving birth.

The Sage was on hand (I told Honey I wouldn't mention this, but hey, it's just to revolt the blokes) with a bucket to receive the afterbirth. I don't know what he did with it; I've never asked.

Al was born about 10.30 pm. The doctor (whom I called Uncle Kit; I'd known him since childhood), having done his part, went home - he only lived a couple of roads away; it would have been quicker to come by boat. After everything had been cleared up and sorted out, at midnight, I confessed to hunger. "There's a cold leg of lamb in the fridge" said my ever-reliable mother. "Ooh, yum!" I replied. A few minutes, we were all tucking into sandwiches. I'm not sure that it isn't the best meal I've ever eaten.

During the night, I visited the loo across the landing. I felt very naughty (you're not supposed to get out of bed for 12 hours) but both impressed and surprised that there was no constipation at all, considering the pre-birth enema every woman has the indignity of receiving.

The next morning, I changed El's nappy and kissed her all around her face as usual. I couldn't believe how big she was, compared to her 7 1/2 lb brother. She chuckled and laughed and I loved her and was sad for her, that life would never be quite the same again. It was the day before her second birthday.

Tuesday 20 May 2008

Z looks back

I've been sitting here, drinking wine, eating a late supper which mostly is bread and fruit and reading blogs, when it occurred to me that midnight approaches and I've told you nothing about myself. Not today, that is.

I've been thinking about having a baby. Yes, mine...but not now, that'd be a bit icky. It'd be weird. No, about when Ro was born, which is nearly 24 years ago, when I was a youthful 30.

I'd been quietly in labour since about 2 am, so I didn't get much sleep, but it was all right until about 3 in the afternoon, when it changed gear and we rang the hospital half an hour's drive away, called my mum, who came to look after El and Al and drove off. I can still see their little faces gazing after me as we drove away; I wonder if they remember, and what they were thinking?

The roundabout just the other side of Yarmouth Harbour bridge had just been resurfaced, badly, and the car made a strange noise as we drove over it - we thought for a minute we'd got a flat tyre. I was writhing silently in the front seat and the Sage was calm and relaxed, damn him. We arrived and checked in.

"See you later" he said. "I'd better go home and feed the dog."


Okay, I had a bath and all that sort of stuff, and was put in a room on my own. Two midwives came and chatted a bit, but I was fine; done all this before, didn't do pain relief or anything as I really don't like not being in full control of my thoughts....I'd tried pethidine once and I hated it; didn't help and I couldn't concentrate.

Anyway, time went by and as long as I didn't lie on my back, I was fine. After a couple of hours, it changed gear again, so I rang the bell and they decided to take me to the delivery room. I asked if my husband was coming back - they'd rung home, but had no reply. I felt a bit upset, it was hurting and I wanted him.

I was just being helped - lifted, I think - I weighed 10 1/2 stone, several pounds more than in my previous pregnancies, so I was sorry for the nice midwives - onto a trolley when the Sage burst in and put his arms around me.

It didn't hurt any more. Honestly. I felt the pain drain away, and it never got to me again. Ro was born at 8.30 and the midwife said his weight was 3.25 kilograms. "What's that mean?" he said. "Just over 7 lbs," I said. "7 lbs, 2 oz" said the midwife, a few seconds later. Honestly, that was one of the best moments, doing that conversion minutes after giving birth.

A couple of years ago, I found some photos of El and Al, with me and the baby in hospital the next day. They looked so proud. I was all choked up.

Anyway, the point is that it really is mind over matter sometimes. I think this hypnobirthing stuff might work. And if they aren't sure if it'll be enough, then Phil needs to leave the hospital for a couple of hours, saying he'll not be long, get stuck in traffic and get back just in time.

Monday 19 May 2008

Hypno, hypno, hypno...

On Friday, I had an email from El (also known as Weeza), entitled No jokes about 'opening like a flower'!

I've won a course in hypnobirthing through a - website Good grief!, she said, excitedly. "Oh fabulous - shall we call the baby Omlet?" I wrote back, and there was a pause while I read the website. I was typing again when I had her next email Splendid! The tutor's called Helianthe... !. "I was just that very moment about to email you and say that! Even more spookily, I've just bought some sunflowers* from Al to take to friends tonight" I said. Cosmic & spooky indeed! Or as Pugsley would say, Scary!

My reply was obvious "Can I blog about it? ;-)"

Weeza girlie, she say Yes! Although, apparently, Phil is quite concerned to think it's become public knowledge; that is, in the family. What he would say if he knew I was telling you, I don't like to think. Until now, I've had a good relationship with my son-in-law.

El added My yoga guy tries to get us chanting occasionally and baby flipps out at his Yammmmm mantra. I can't bring myself to do it outloud but I make suitable vibrations in my throat instead and baby goes flippy! Perhaps omlet's the name after all?

Regarding the website, the bit that puzzles me slightly is this - "Returns childbirth to the beautiful, peaceful experience that nature intended". Um, I'm not sure it really ever did. I was woken early on Sunday morning by an awful screeching sound. It was a bird in torment and I leapt to the window and peered out to see if a cat or fox had caught a chicken or pheasant. Then came the cackle of triumphant relief - the egg had been successfully laid.

Anyway, I rather want to try hypnobirthing, but there's an obvious 'however'. Maybe I should learn the techniques in case of a tricky session at the dentist?

*Helianthus is the botanical name for sunflower, from the Greek helios, meaning sun. I rather hope that Helianthe has a sister called Phoebe, which is the moon.

Sunday 18 May 2008

It gets better...

..."Oh!" said the Sage. "I forgot to pick some asparagus. Is it too late?" "Not if you run" I replied. "I'll run!" he said.

That's what he's doing Right Now.

I've just put some photos on the computer. I'll show them to you later.

Baksun*, darlings.

*Hope I've spelled that right.

I'm back, with photos of what I saw in the garden this afternoon

Feeling cheerful because the sun was shining, I went out with my camera. Tilly was trotting across the field, quite some way away. She looked at me and started to trot in my direction. I could see the moment that she was sure it was me, because her ears changed shape and she started to run. When she reached the fence, she lay down. I love the buttercups on the meadow too. It's ancient grassland and, although we take out nettles, thistles and ragwort, it's fertilised only by the cows who graze in the summer and kept as natural as it can be.

Wisteria on the house. The photo's rather dark; it looks better enlarged


Lilac, which is actually lilac, not white. Photography isn't my strong suit

The wall will be built one day

I like wild flowers too



The first globe artichoke

The stream separates the garden from the other meadow

May - hawthorn, if you prefer

Friend of Gustav (no need to explain, you all read Greavsie). I don't remember ever seeing him before; he was contemplating life the other side of the fig tree

You can't have him, he's mine

"Oh, sorry," said the Sage. "I just poured you a glass of wine." "Line 'em up!" I said cheerfully, having poured my own ten minutes ago. "I don't suppose," I added hopefully "that you would scrub the potatoes? Mwah mwah?" "Done them already," he replied in a completely unsmug tone. He left the room. He came back in and kissed me. "I saw them languishing in the sink, so I thought they were probably for this evening."

He's just come in again. "Shall I move your car for you?" I'd brought some plants home from the shop for Al and had parked near the vegetable garden and then forgotten to move the car back out of the way. I'm a bit torn, you know. After thinking oh bugger the sodding car I'm selling it after all it's cost me and I don't need one so big, I keep finding that I do.

Anyway, it was the Street Market today. For those of you who do not know my little town, there are three of these in the year; one in December for festive stuff, an Antiques Fair in the summer and, in mid-May, a Gardeners' Market. One of the streets is closed off and stalls line it on both sides. If the weather isn't awful, it's always a jolly occasion and people love it - the town is full. Because of church, I didn't get there until about 1.30, well after the peak, but it still took me ten minutes to weave through all the crowds, wheeling my bike. A woman trying to come the other way, pushing a child in a wheelchair, grinned ruefully at me - I'd said "after you," but she couldn't move either.

Al had set up the shop, which is across the roundabout from the closed street, and had been very busy. He sold loads of plants and a surprising amount of fruit, vegetables and flowers. Some of the vegetable plants had been grown by us - no need to worry on his behalf about the profit margin, Dandelion; he did very well.

I biked home an hour later, enjoying the lightness of the bike. Usually, I cycle in easily and slog home. I had bought nothing except a cabbage and a lettuce, and Al had given me some broad bean tops because they won't keep for Monday (cook and eat them as spinach; they're delicious - if you like spinach and the scent of broad bean flowers, that is), whereas usually I have 15 - 25 lbs weight of shopping in my panniers. No, I don't know how we use that much stuff every day either, except that sometimes it contains bottles.

I was tired at the end of last week, so I've deliberately relaxed this weekend. I feel so much better now. I could have pushed myself and done what I *needed* to do but, you know, nearly all of it could wait. I've just got to send a couple of emails to meet other people's deadlines and the rest will still be there tomorrow. I think that it'll be more important to feed my Sage a delicious meal and devote the rest of the evening to reading the paper, being amused by my son and cuddling my husband. And Tilly, of course.

Saturday 17 May 2008

Z has a Day of Rest

Well, a morning at any rate, as I'm babysitting this afternoon.

I had plans for this morning, but I've not done a thing. I'm tired. Not in a depressed or exhausted sort of way, I just want to do nothing for a few hours. So I have, or haven't, whichever makes more sense.

I should, even now, be cycling into town to do my weekend shopping, but it's still raining and I am rather hoping it'll clear up.

If you remember the photos I posted a little while ago of the sitting hen, her eggs have now hatched and she has 9 chicks. There were still 3 eggs, so the Sage has put them under another broody bantam to give them a chance. We went out for dinner with friends last night, and put mother and babies into a coop for safety when we returned home at 11.30. She was not too thrilled, but she soon settled down.

Since Dave has not posted any holiday photos today, I will show you a few Spanish dogs.

We couldn't help noticing that, although there were quite a number of dogs, there was no dog-mess. Indeed, Madrid was noticeably litter-free. The dogs were charming and most of them were either mongrels or breeds unknown to me.

Friday 16 May 2008

Z is annoyed by phones

I phoned and got an answerphone, saying that if I left my number they'd ring back. I did and they didn't.

It's one of those things, isn't it? As soon as you're trying to keep the line free, either you have overwhelming urges to make other phone calls or you receive whole strings of them from friends. Two people did ring, overlapping each other of course, so one had to leave a message, but keeping the Sage off the phone for an hour or two is an impossibility. Before Broadband came to the village and using the internet meant that people couldn't ring you and if you picked up the phone you cut off the internet, to the fury of the one using it, I had an extra phone line put on for Ro. We paid the rental, he paid the calls. It meant no friction between him and his father; one learns things after years of having teenage children. Of course, the Sage and I snapped at each other periodically; usually I at him because I always remembered to ask him if he wanted to use the phone before going online, and he rarely checked if I was before picking up the receiver. Then he'd slam the phone down, say "Sorry", but it was too late. The internet could have destroyed our marriage, but broadband saved it.

Anyway, now of course one can use the phone through the internet, so that's the one I directed the Sage to this morning, although he has lost one of the receivers; the one that plays a jolly tune. I phoned it, but evidently the battery is flat as it didn't ring. The Sage is looking hangdog. Two blunders. He's running errands for me now, to demonstrate his usefulness and indispensability.

So, eventually I rang back and it was answered straight away. "Oh, I don't think calls are returned until after noon." Fine, why doesn't their message say so, then?

I've sent some of my more interesting tomato plants to the shop for Al - that is, the varieties are interesting, with names like Black Russian, Czech's Excellent Yellow and Brandywine. It rained all morning and I thought I'd have an excuse to drive to the school, as I have to arrive tidy this afternoon as I'm helping interview. But it's stopped. I hope I don't get too splashed on the way.

Thursday 15 May 2008

Z is teacher's pet

Really, I should be ashamed of myself. When I was at school, I was always the one skulking at the back of the class, never offering an opinion, never volunteering, not joining in group discussions (if I had a good idea, I'd keep it for myself, put it in an essay and get marks for it - why offer it free to the whole class?) and generally remaining as disengaged as possible from the whole thing. Now, it's a different story. I volunteer, I show my work, I offer to take over while teacher's on holiday - heh heh, the rest of 'em can't even hate me for it, because they are grateful not to be nobbled.

Enough of luncheon club. Tonight, I had to go out at 5.30 for a meeting, the Sage was leaving at 7 for his and we wouldn't meet for dinner. So I bought pizzas and left them for him to choose and cook his own, leaving me and Ro to eat when we were ready. I phoned home to tell Ro I'd be 10 minutes; could he put mine in the oven please? He sounded hesitant. When I got back, I discovered the reason.

The Sage had cut a pizza in half and put it in the oven, not noticing that it sat on a polystyrene base. Ro came down after he had left, went to put his half in the oven, and found a noxious aroma and melting plastic on the oven floor. He took the grid out and dumped it outside and shut the oven door - at least, with the hot oven of the Aga, it should all char itself away, wafting the awful and unhealthy stink out of the flue. He used the little summertime oven to cook our pizzas, being rather more practically minded than his father.

When the Sage (should I call him that tonight, in view of the blunder?) came home, I asked him if he'd actually eaten the pizza? He was blissfully unaware that there had been a problem. I can only think that the polystyrene had melted away from the pizza so quickly that it didn't stick at all - lucky he used the grid shelf instead of a baking sheet. But surely he noticed the smell? No. He was in a hurry.

I've just realised that I've two things on next Thursday, neither of which did I put in my diary. Everything always goes in the diary, I can't believe how careless I was. I'll have to phone tomorrow and change the blood donor appointment by a couple of hours. Good job I noticed, if belatedly.

Wednesday 14 May 2008

Z holds the line

The main news of the day is that Dave's back. He has photos to show us, but he says we won't see them all - just one for every comment that we left while he was away, I expect.

I've spent some of the day making phone calls. I don't like making phone calls very much. When I was a little girl, I once curiously picked up the phone - in those days, telephones were always in the hallway. No one had one in the living room and certainly not in the bedroom. Ours was in the gun room; not that guns had been kept there for years. A dog bed was at the end of the room in front of the desk, so you stood in the dog bed to make a phone call. Anyway, I picked up the phone and a voice said "Number, please." I slammed the phone down and ran away.

The phobia lasted for years. I didn't mind answering a call, but I hated making one. It wasn't just that barely-remembered memory; I was always sure that I'd ring at an inconvenient time and that the person at the other end would be irritated but too polite to say so. I found business calls much easier than personal ones, so I'm sure that was much of the reason. It was no better if I was going to invite someone for dinner or a similar jolly. I was convinced that they wouldn't want to come and would be too polite to say so. The Sage issued all invitations for years.

I've got over it now. But I still find the whole thing about evening calls is difficult. How do you know when people have their evening meal? We eat around 7.30 - 8 ish usually, unless we're early or late, but any time between 5.30 and 9.30 might catch people cooking or eating. Emails are so much simpler.

Anyway, I don't have hang-ups (hee hee) about the phone now, but I still don't much like it. So, this morning, I stopped thinking about the calls I needed to make and had done for a couple of weeks, and just made them. And now I feel quite free.

Did you know, you young people, that you used not to buy your own phone? They were all rented out by British Telecommunications (or was it always Telecom before it was BT?) and you had to pay a quarterly rent. When we moved house in 1976, we found one in a bedroom that, evidently, had been forgotten. We rigged up a line - we couldn't get in the phone engineers as we shouldn't have had it, and had the rare luxury of a phone in the bedroom. We still use that phone. It's a bit crackly, but splendidly retro. We only answer calls though. However did we manage to dial numbers all those years? My finger always slips and I keep having to start again. Mind you, numbers are longer now and there's more scope for mistakes. When I was a child, our number was Oulton Broad 40.

Tuesday 13 May 2008

Don't mention the war?

A meeting to organise the Village Festival today. It's almost as thrilling here as in JonnyB's village, except that we're not quite so excited about chickens; having Chicken Roundabout only a mile away makes us blasé and sophisticated.

Anyway, the posters will be marvellous. We all liked them. There is a fine portrait of a beer glass full of amber home brew (no, I'm not taking the piss (d'you see what I did there?), the village publican has a micro-brewery in his garage) with a jolly flower on a long stem poking out of the top. It really does set the scene for our village fête. It'll be interesting to see if the primary school puts a poster up and, if they do, if anyone complains.

There is to be a hanging basket and flower tub competition, a treasure hunt and a display in the church on the subject of 'childhood memories'. I have asked the Sage to write about the war. No, really, he may only have been a little boy, but he remembers a bomb landing, bouncing him off his tricycle and saying to his mother "I hope Hitler doesn't do that again!" He also remembers the American airman having bountiful supplies of Smith's Crisps (with the little blue twist of salt in every pack) and similar goodies, unobtainable by the Brits. He also has a model aeroplane, carved by airmen on their way home from a raid; it is a prized possession. As are the (empty) butterfly bombs collected by his father.

Before the meeting, I said 'hello' to the children. I confirmed that Squiffany could come and spend the afternoon with me, while Pugsley and his mother went to a singalong in the library (no signs saying 'Silence' nowadays). When I left, Pugsley cried. "Granny, Granny," he wailed. I was intensely gratified. "Want bed" he added. "What, are you tired?" I asked ... "Ah. You want to bounce on my bed. Okay."

Mind you, that afternoon he thanked me for reading to him and giving him biscuits, and gave me a kiss. Grandchildren are awfully good for one's wellbeing.

Monday 12 May 2008

Late for his own funeral

I've just got back from the church, where I was organist at the funeral of a man who had lived in the village for nearly 30 years. He had been involved with many village interests, such as the bowls club. The church was full, everyone had known and liked him.

The family had asked me to play Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring as a voluntary. I'd timed myself; 5 minutes, and worked out a couple of places to go back and play from again if I finished a little early. it's tricky, that last voluntary as the coffin comes in. Ideally, you want the music to go on softly as the priest leads in the funeral cortège and finish about the same time he ends his introduction - 10 seconds either way is as much leeway as you have. The trouble is, you don't know he's approaching until he comes into the church; not if your organ is at the front (altar end) of the church at any rate (if it's in a side room or loft, you can have a gofer to keep you informed) so you have to go by the time and hope that the hearse turns up on time too.

It didn't. It was 15 minutes late.

The funeral cars were going to pick up the family from the house. This is a small village, but the driver had been given the wrong directions - left, left and left again was correct, but it's where the first left is taken that matters. So when he was already running late, to drive worriedly past the church where the minister and the Sage (who had been directing mourners into the car park) were standing waiting, was disconcerting, especially as the crematorium was booked after the service and that's quite some way away.

But that's their problem. I didn't know anything about the delay, so I played my bit and then repeated the last three lines, then went back to half way and played again, and then I started from the beginning, and then I played the last few lines and ... well, yes, I suspect the congregation was as bored as I was. Although pretty, it is quite a repetitive tune.

At last the trestles the coffin was to stand on arrived. Considerably late, I might add; normally they are brought in before the congregation arrives. So I launched into the last page. And played the last three lines twice. Still no coffin. I started from the beginning all over again and was half way through when, at last, I heard the opening words of the funeral service. I switched seamlessly *cough* to the end again and finished at the same time as the opening address. I felt harassed. Fortunately, the first hymn was The Lord's My Shepherd, which I could play with my eyes closed.

It was a lovely service. Near the end, waiting to play my closing piece, I glanced at the family in the front pew. The grandson, a lad in his early twenties, looked smart in his dark suit. As I looked, he took out his handkerchief and wiped his eyes. Tears came into mine, too, and I had to look away.

Afterwards, Sybil the verger and Mrs B were talking about the man who'd died and his late wife. "Of course, no one made sandwiches like Eileen", said one of them. "Lovely, they were." "I remember," said Sybil, "the first time Ivan made me a cup of tea. He asked how I'd like it and I said 'weak', so he poured my cup first. Always afterwards, he'd remember to pour my cup first so that it would be just as I like it. He always remembered that sort of thing about everyone."

A simple fond memory that demonstrates how people thought of him, I think. But then, I'm sentimental that way.

Sunday 11 May 2008

How to keep in business

An explanation of what I said yesterday, or part of it at any rate.

Of course, one has to make a profit to keep in business and there is a normal mark-up on wholesale prices to cover costs and leave some profit too. But there are some things that people want to buy, but that are so expensive or so quickly perishable that you're never going to make money on them. So, do you refuse to stock them? One reason that a local shopkeeper is in business is a genuine wish - and it's good policy too, for customer loyalty - to provide the best possible service. One example of this is that Al delivers, free of charge. Most of the people he delivers to are elderly ladies who either are more-or-less housebound or who can get out but can't carry their heavy shopping home. A few are working people who can't shop during the week but still want to support independent shops.

The best way of making money from a shop is by attracting customers - obvious, indeed, but maybe in a less obvious manner than the one you first think of. Take cherries. They are expensive and spoil quickly. You must sell them in two days, one if the weather is very hot. Al's first summer, he bought a box of cherries, sold half and had to throw away the rest - which meant that he lost money on cherries. By the time he'd built up the business for a couple of years, he could sell the whole box of cherries in a day - which meant that he not only made the profit on the second half of the box as well as the first, but he also didn't make that loss on the second half; win-win, you see.

Regarding the peppers. If you went to the greengrocer and asked for a pepper and there wasn't one, you'd have to go to the supermarket - and next time, you might go there in the first place rather than risk finding yourself unable to buy an item you wanted and wasting your time going to two shops. One can run out of things of course, especially if there's a sudden change in the weather (everyone wanted salad yesterday and we ran out of cucumbers), but there's a difference between "I've just sold the last one" at 3 o'clock and "We're not stocking them until the price goes down" at 9 am. You try to gauge demand and buy in what you need, to create as little waste as possible while not turning away customers. If Al put his mark-up on the peppers, that might put the customer off buying; a pepper that had cost 65p suddenly going up to £1.20 or whatever could make you decide to do without; and then half the box would end up being thrown away and wasted. Better to make and lose nothing than lose more than you make through wastage. Chuck-outs are put in boxes and go to an animal sanctuary, by the way; anything unsuitable is composted, and our chickens eat cabbage and lettuce leaves. And grapes. They like grapes. Pigs are very partial to a pineapple, you know - they play football with it until it falls apart, then eat it.

Back to the explanation.

So, you take the rough with the smooth. It's having customers and giving them a good product that matters most. Al decided early on to specialise in local and seasonal produce, as far as possible. Yes, there are many exceptions here - peppers for one - and not everyone on the green bandwagon understands that. I wrote sometime last year about the person who was perturbed at the distance bananas had travelled...I explained that bananas are not grown commercially anywhere in Europe, let alone Britain. Al was early in making this policy and it's paid off. He supports local growers, and one of his Norwich wholesalers is making great progress in sourcing all sorts of products in East Anglia now, including, at present, flowers (many of those sold by the two excellent local florists are Dutch) and vegetable plants. He also cheerily buys from people who have a glut in their garden - if you think of doing this with produce from your allotment, check your rental terms first, it may not be allowed.

Ooh, stop press! Al's website is up and running. Here is the link.

Saturday 10 May 2008

Here I sit all broken-hearted...

Can't remember what I was going to tell you. I'll burble for a bit, then I'll remember.

Al's splendid home-made paper bags are the hit of Yagnub! People offer to buy them and can hardly believe that he gives them away. Ro and Dilly were dubious when he started to make them, as the time he takes is out of proportion, they think, to their usefulness. I was enchanted from the start. I became all is true that I am noted for my enthusiasm about quite small matters. I won't post pictures and that, as his website will be up within the next week and I will then abandon the habit of a lunchtime and actually put up a permanent link. By the way, if anyone is ever hurt that I don't link to them when they link to me, I did explain it a while ago; I don't link because I like you all too much to choose. I read everyone's blog who comments on mine - even if I don't often comment, I read you - and I read a fair few who have never commented, or replied to my comments.

I've remembered, and how could I have forgotten the Talk of Yagnub! In the wee small hours of last night, a car drove along Mahsrae Street, failed to make the bend and, over-correcting, thwacked itself into the pub on said bend. The local constabulary were called out and found that the passenger had got out and legged it, but the driver was trapped. He had to be cut out and the rest of the night and the whole morning was spent in contemplating, measuring, gathering evidence (chalk marks on the road to prove it!!(!) ), working out what had happened (daft bloke drove too fast, crashed) and clearing up. Lots of sand on the road to mop up fuel and oil and the aforementioned, albeit in parenthesis, chalk marks dotted across to show the car's trajectory. The corner of the pub looks a bit bruised. It has been worked out that the car was travelling at something like 70 mph, which is quite unheard of in Norfolk; this is Suffolk which is only slightly racier.

I worked in the shop this afternoon, as Al and Dilly were doing something bee-related. The sunshine has made bees blissfully happy and they are calm and purposeful. Al and Dilly are deciding on the final siting for their hive - I've told them the best place, as BW and Mr BW have eyed up the land and told me (with reasons. Splendid). Many prices have gone up startlingly. Lemons, for example - what is it with lemons? Nine months ago, Al sold them at 6 for £1, or 20 pence each. They were the only item where the price had not changed in the five years he had owned the shop. He kept that price until he would have been selling at a loss, but now he has to sell lemons at 38p. Limes, which once were 35p, are now 25p, on the other hand. There is no sense in this that I can see. A few weeks ago, he sold peppers at £3.30 per kilo and made a profit. Suddenly, the wholesale price went up to £5.40, so that's what he's selling at. He makes no profit, he looks on it as part of the service until the price goes down again. A lady came in and asked for a green pepper; I apologised for the high price and told her 94p. "That's all right," she said, "Tesco's have got them at £1"

We sold out of lettuces, cucumbers, salad potatoes and Cornish new potatoes, though. And green peppers, as it happens.

Friday 9 May 2008

Toadying, brooding and toddling

I've loaded on the photos, but haven't had time to look at them yet. However, I suggested that you might have PICTURES, so pictures you will have. One of them moves!!(!)

When the Sage found a fine young toad in the garden, I took it straight through to show the children. "Look at this" I squeaked excitedly. Dilly turned round with an interested expression ... "Wooah!" she said and stepped back, startled. "You should know by now what makes me excited enough to show Squiffany and Pugsley" I said. "Yes", resignedly, "last time you were this happy, you brought a snake skin in to show us."

"Frog, frog" observed Pugsley. I explained. "Toad, toad", he corrected himself and stroked the dear little chap's head. We looked at him carefully. His skin was dry and he crawled slowly over our hands. He had clear brown eyes, unexpectedly beautiful.
Afterwards, we put the toad under the box hedge. He had been remarkably good-natured about the whole episode which I appreciated, as it can't have been a great pleasure, except when I kissed him ... well, it works with frogs, it was done in a spirit of scientific curiosity. Nothing happened, though.

While we were all outside, I showed the children where a bantam had laid a clutch of eggs. We were shifting the pile of branches from the dodgy fir tree that had been cut down before it fell on the house, a few weeks ago, when we saw a beady eye - she didn't stir, just looked at us.

She's still there now, patiently sitting. Fortunately, we don't have skulking foxes here at present, as indicated by the numerous rabbits frolicking in the kitchen garden eating everything that puts its leaves above the ground.

And, just for the 'aah' factor, here's Pugsley.

Thursday 8 May 2008

No winks...

...let alone forty.

The chap involved in the emails rang today - he's quite oblivious that his manner comes close to insulting and is hurt because someone else was frosty with him yesterday over the matter. How fortunate that I chose to reply to what he should have said rather than what he actually said.

Gorgeous day again. I wonder if this is all the summer we'll get? Last year, we had summer in April - that was when I was in Cornwall cooling my toes in the sea - rather than in May, June, July or August. That it's hot now has no bearing at all on what it will be like for the rest of the summer.

Later, I'll get out my camera and put up the photos from Madrid. I didn't take many, actually, but I'll see if there's anything you would be delighted to look at.

Wednesday 7 May 2008

Z sleeps again

Another one-and-a-half hours. A pity that it was between 1.30 and 3 am, and that this was my total night's sleep. I woke because I'd been lying on my hand, which had gone dead, and by the time it was revived I was wide awake. Ho hum.

The Sage has gone off to the dentist to have a new crown fitted. He's a bit gloomy.

I am too, as I had a sniffy reply to my mollifying (I'd hoped) email of yesterday, which included the phrase 'my principles will not accept the wool being pulled over the Committees eyes.' It wasn't. I've written again, setting out details that I, fortunately, jotted down yesterday and evidently he didn't, taken full responsibility, given a fuller explanation and apologised again, and asked what more he'd like me to do -politely, not aggressively. I'm slightly pissed off, but I won't show it at all because that won't help. The whole thing is trivial in itself, but his feelings aren't so I'm continuing to respect them

Damn bloody voluntary jobs. I wouldn't do this sort of thing for money, you know.

However, as always, there is good news, and excuse me going on about me, me, me (whoops, this is what I do anyway, isn't it?). My hip doesn't hurt at all and I put my trousers on effortlessly standing up (yeah, laugh, you'll be old one day) and didn't have to think about the height I drew my leg up to. I'm not sure what's gone right, and I'm not assuming it'll stay like that, but I'm certainly going to appreciate it while it lasts.

A bit of work in the greenhouse before it's too hot, then back to the computer, then babysitting Pugsley this afternoon. I must fit in a visit to the town for veggies and exercise, too. And maybe forty winks, later?

Tuesday 6 May 2008

Z is taller!!(!)

I ventured into heels today. They weren't high, two inches or less, but I haven't been able to wear even that height for months and it was such a pleasure. I didn't limp more than usual and it didn't hurt and I felt like me again. I'm short enough as it is, and wearing flat shoes all the time makes me feel glum. It's like - well. whatever your regular finishing touch is; perfume or mascara or, I don't know, trimming your beard or wearing pants or something. I may pay for it tomorrow, but I don't care.

At the committee meeting wot I chair, this morning, there was a matter that I did, admittedly, push through - not going to go into it all for the protection of the innocent, but it was for good reasons. The person who had raised the matter has written to me (cc-ing the secretary) saying that I was hostile. Oh dear. I thought I was merely forceful. I have, of course, apologised profusely, said I didn't feel in the least hostile and am upset (I am) to find he found me so, and explained why I acted as I did. I hope he's mollified - I didn't retract what I said, but accepted that he felt overridden. I like to be told though - if he hadn't said anything, I wouldn't have known how he felt, so it's better that he did. I must remember to tone down, however - I know I can be overemphatic on occasion, but usually people are amused rather than upset by that and I merely embarrass myself rather than others.

Oh well. At least I have my luggage back. As I went on into London on the way home from Madrid, friends took my suitcase home with them and, not having a car, I didn't go and fetch it and S brought it to today's meeting. Almost afraid to open it - a couple of weeks for used clothes to stew isn't a jolly thought.

I went to have my hair cut today, and mused on names. There were four staff members there; and it occurred to me that each of their names was absolutely typical for their age - Susan, in her 50s, Deborah, in her 40s, Joanne, just 30 and Laura, 20-something. Not that any of those names are not used at any time, but that some names reach a peak of popularity over a few years - when I was at school there were 4 Andrews out of a dozen or so boys, and as many Elizabeths*; though as we were all born in the year of the Queen's accession or coronation, that is not surprising.

* Among the girls, need I state?

Monday 5 May 2008

Z sleeps

Oh, dear. Old age has surely arrived when a Bank Holiday gives an excuse for an afternoon nap. Is it worth giving an excuse? I had been out in the hot sun and we're not used to much heat at this time of the year. More than two hours of sunshine exhausts us.

Worse, it was more than the 10-minute catnap that refreshes without taking time out of the day. I had my head down for the best part of an hour and a half. When I woke up, Ro was still working on his computer - the frightening thing is that he was actually working; day job sort of thing. Not work that he would have been doing in the office, but improving his website-writing technique. Actually, he's been spending a fair bit of the weekend working on a website for his brother - Al, who was so sniffy about my blog a couple of weeks ago, has decided to go public for the sake of greenness. I'll put up a link when the website is up and then both my sons will be outed. After all the lengths I've gone to, to keep their identities private. Hah!

Still well behind with the veg garden. I can't plant anything out unless it's netted, and I haven't enough netting. It's been too hot to work in the greenhouse, so I didn't do any work there until 6.30 this evening. The Sage, darling man, took care of dinner and brought me chilled wine, which has upped his Merit score considerably. When he reaches the end of the column, he will receive his due reward. He's quite excited already.

The good news is that I've finally caught up on the 1000-plus posts waiting for me when I came home with my new computer a week ago. You will have my full attention from now on.

I've finished the first book of the Book Binge month. It was a re-read, actually, but I haven't read it for almost forty years. Bury me in my Boots, by Sally Trench, made quite an impression on me when I read it in the late '60s. In her teens, she decided to live and work among down-and-outs in London and did so by simply joining them, in the first place. When I was a teenager, beggars simply did not exist outside London and other large cities and, although I was certainly aware of drop-outs, I hadn't, at the age of fifteen, ever met any. Sally was and is a remarkable woman and this is still a powerful, although enigmatic (for she doesn't tell you anything about the other side of her life), book, with a shocking and dramatic ending.

Oh, update (10 pm) TV continuity announcer "is your sexual behaviour normal?" I, who was innocently waiting to watch QI, said "Ew!", startled. Ro said "But this is the BBC, isn't it?" indignantly.

Sunday 4 May 2008

Pride comes...

...etc, etc, yeah, yeah.

I only received the hymns for this morning at 6 o'clock last evening. I hadn't been due to play at all, but the first Sunday organist's wife is just out of hospital, so of course he doesn't want to leave her. It was also my turn on the coffee rota.

I had a phone call at 9 o'clock this morning that added to my worry level somewhat, and I didn't leave for the papers until 9.45. Quickly whipped into Londis for some milk (for the coffee), into the papershop and I was in church just after 10. I didn't know one of the hymns, but I sightread - that was all right. Practised them all, went and filled the urn, put out tables and chairs, spooned coffee into the cafétères, fetched mugs and plates, put out biscuits, unlocked back door (fire exit), then did various bits of churchwardenish duty and looked out music for the voluntaries (the music played at the start and end of the service and during Communion). It was ten to eleven. John arrived. He looked puzzled to be the first in the congregation - the sidesman had arrived, but that was all. However, by 10.59, there were 19 people there.

I played good*, you know? The first hymn, the one I'd had to learn, had eight verses. Eight!!(!) I counted and sang "One one one one one one one one. One-one oneone one one one one-on-one" etc (imagine the repeats until eight, when I stopped counting). Second hymn, a favourite tune, though tricky, went with aplomb. Another good one for the third. A slurp of wine and a wafer and lo! My sins were forgiven (because, of course, I truly repented) and then the fourth. I played, and it was a long one, with six verses of eight lines. I finished with a flourish ... but the congregation didn't. Bugger. I'd relaxed a verse too early.

Oh well. The coffee was good, and strong. I didn't eat any biscuits - would I? I have eschewed biscuits. I'll tell you when the first stone has gone, but not quite yet. Maybe next month.

Bank Holiday tomorrow. Have a splendid one.

*No, to be grammatically correct and say 'well' would give the wrong impression. I bluffed well, but I'm not a good organist - so I played good.