Sunday 30 November 2008

A Busted Flush

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

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

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

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

Saturday 29 November 2008

Z chuckles unsophisticatedly

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

No, I don't get out much.

Friday 28 November 2008

When I was three...

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

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

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

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

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

You Are Prancer

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

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

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

Thursday 27 November 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday 26 November 2008

No turn unstoned

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

Tuesday 25 November 2008

Z does not blame the mail and appreciates the male

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

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

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

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

I'm going to visit Weeza and Zerlina tomorrow.

Time for a little Something

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

Monday 24 November 2008

Z has become a princess without even noticing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Attack of the Snowgnomes

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

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

Sunday 23 November 2008

Happy Halloween (Z is running late)

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

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

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

Saturday 22 November 2008


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

The tableau

The Magi

with their camel

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

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

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

The sheep came right up to the Holy Family

Don't they look proud?

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

And the star shone over

The Baby

And today, it has mostly --- snowed.

Friday 21 November 2008

Z makes a Complaint and finds herself in a Procession

The post arrived. Still no tax disc for the car, and I can't sell the blighter until I have one. I phoned the DVLC in some annoyance. In their favour, I will allow that the phone is answered on the first ring by a person, once you've been routed correctly by pressing a couple of buttons. The woman at the other end of the phone was puzzled, assuring me that it had been posted both times, and asked me for my address. It accorded with their records. "You are living there at present?" she asked in a 'let's confirm the obvious and check the kettle's actually plugged in' sort of way. I confirmed that and said grumpily that I can't use the car without a valid tax disc. She said I could pick it up today at my nearest DVLC office or she could send it by registered post. I opted for the latter, because I'm not catching the bus to Norwich, then catching another bus to the station before walking up the road to the office. I mean, after all, because I can't drive there as it's illegal to drive without a valid tax disc.

So I should have it tomorrow or Monday.

By this time, I was due to leave for the school music lesson. I asked the Sage if it was still raining. No, and the wind had dropped from the half-gale that had been blowing. Still cold though. He asked me what time I had to be there, and when I'd return - if he'd offered a lift I'd have accepted, but he didn't and a vestige of pride stopped me asking.

At the school, a cover supervisor was there looking a bit worried. "We've just got to fill 15 minutes before the assembly" she said. The pupils didn't behave all that well, but they were all right. She had a quiet voice and she didn't have much for them to do - when we left for the hall, I was nobbled by the Deputy Head. "Are you here as Chairman?" she asked. "Er, I suppose I am, yes." She sent me out (I know, darlings, like a naughty girl (well, not really)) to find the Head.

So it was that the Head and I stalked into the hall, in front of our most senior and best beloved governor, the Head Girl and Deputy Head Boy and a whole procession of Old Boys and Old Girls, for the Founder's Day assembly. Fortunately, I didn't have to give a speech - although extempore public speaking is not one of my weaker areas in fact, as you can probably guess. It was rather splendid. Bill, the senior and best beloved governor, who is a former pupil of the school, a teacher there for many years and since then a governor, and who has the distinction of having a room named after him (people are often surprised that he is still alive; that is, it sounds like a memorial but isn't) spoke about the history of the school, which was founded in 1565. Actually, that date rings a bell. I think it's the same date as the Norwich assay office was started - Norwich silver is very rare and I've never handled any dating from 1565, but I do know of a 1567 piece (not belonging to us).

Then the Head Girl gave a speech and then the Deputy Head Boy and then the Headteacher. In between, there was music; a piano solo, a performance of Blurs Girls & Boys, Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah, which the music teacher had altered the lyrics of (ooh, don't you love grammar?) for the Remembrance Day assembly last week, which was rather lovely, and then a piece from We will rock you which is the next drama production next term. All very fine and some of it really rather moving. I could have done without being sat out in the front, but fortunately I'd happened to put on some smarter than usual clothes; a very nice grey flannel skirt and a cashmere polo-neck and I didn't look caught out.

And then we processed out and I went back to the music lesson for the final ten minutes. Not that it was particularly productive, but I went round each group asking them what instruments they were playing in the arrangement of Word Up and how they were getting along with it. Next lesson, they will be recorded playing.

I took the photos of the shop window and will put them up later or tomorrow.

Oh, and it's absolutely perishing now. Cold north wind. No sign of snow though, as yet.

Thursday 20 November 2008

Al seems to have too much time on his hands

It wasn't until I didn't receive any comments on yesterday's post that I realised I didn't write one. So many things have a surprisingly simple explanation.

Al has done a fabulous Nativity scene for the shop window, for tonight's Switching On of the Lights. There will be a lantern procession and dancing and the town crier and all sorts of jollities. I won't be going, I'm afraid, as I have a meeting tonight (actually, I've got two and I could make them both but someone else has kindly said he will represent me at one of them, which means I'll have time for a meal this evening) but I will try to nip in after he closes, to take a picture. His outside display means that I can't get a good angle and it will look better lit up anyway.

His shallot and onion skin angel is something to behold. He said he looked through a whole bag of shallots to find one with the perfect skin. And his dumpy little Aubergine Mary is marvellous, as are the cauliflower sheep ... no, I won't describe any more. I'll show you. If I get in to take the photos.

The children spent the day with me yesterday. They were charming. I gave them breakfast, supervised their dressing themselves, then they helped me put on make-up, played politely together while I had my breakfast, then we did this'n'that for a while, before deciding to make cakes. It got quite annoying when I took the cakes out of the oven. I'd just started to put them on the rack when the phone rang. When I finished with that call, the cakes weren't so easy to get out of the bun tins, but I was managing reasonably well without losing many bits, when the phone rang again. When that call was finished with, the rest of the cakes had cooled and came out in pieces. Still, they needed sampling as a quality test, so it wasn't too much bother. I cooked their lunch (fish fingers, chips and sweetcorn - yes I know, darlings, not even a pretence at goujons. Plain Birds Eye fish fingers. They ate two each. Squiffany had a couple of chips and some corn, but Pugsley didn't. They both tend to go for the protein part of the meal first, which is useful as at least you know they'll have eaten something reasonably nutritious. Then they ate yoghurt. For tea, they had pasta with cheese sauce, and fruit. The phone kept ringing all day. A dozen calls at least. I wished people would email me instead. I'm expecting a call now, in fact, but it hasn't come yet, so I can't do much but have to hang around for it.

Tuesday 18 November 2008

Z is proud of the Sage

I got up before 6.30 this morning, to be ready to leave with Ro an hour later. Blimey, such an hour should not be counted part of the day at this time of year.

This morning I spent at a lecture on Lowestoft china (very good and interesting), then had lunch with the lecturer and after that friend Alan dropped me off at Weeza's house. He came in to say 'hello' and Zerlina politely gave him a lovely smile. She is very happy and smiley at present, sleeping awfully well (the more she sleeps, the better she sleeps and the more active she is when awake) and very responsive, particularly to her mother. You may have noticed, in the picture I posted a few weeks ago, how adoringly she looks at Weeza.

Then they dropped me off in the city centre, where I met Ro, we went to see the Bond film and came home, to a jubilant Sage. He has had a double-page write up in the Ant1ques Tr@de G@2ette, with 10 photos - my photos. I'm proud. I'm a professionally published photograper! Unpaid and uncredited, obviously, but hey. The appreciative and detailed article is a real credit to him and I'm far prouder of him than of my pictures, of course. He seems to have committed himself to three sales next year, instead of two - he certainly has enough entries. He already has enough confirmed for the April sale and promises of china for one in July as well as the usual autumn one.

Oh, and Zerlina Buttercup is three months old today. Congratulations, little darling! You'd like pictures, wouldn't you?

Monday 17 November 2008

Z pretends to be busy when she is actually just Playing

I phoned the insurance company today, and my new car is insured. I haven't got it yet, but I need the certificate to get the tax disc. I know I could get that online, but bearing in mind I still don't have the tax disc for the old car, which I renewed nearly two months ago (oh, and it was only a few days ago I was writing about that, and now I'll not be driving the car again), I'd rather trust my insurance company (which I choose for the lovely Manchester accents of their phone operatives) than the DVLC.

Ro will give me a lift tomorrow to Norwich, Alan will drop me at Weeza's and she (I hope) will take me back into Norwich later, where I'll go to the cinema with Ro and then he'll drive me home. I don't need a car again for a fortnight (I'm not saying I wouldn't use one, but that I don't have another appointment not in cycling distance) so now I'm all right.

I'm still assiduously learning places. I've cracked the USA, and know all the states and their capitals. I have brushed up on Canada, Central and South America. I've nailed all 53 countries of Africa including surrounding islands of Madagascar, Cape Verde, the Seychelles (where we honeymooned, *sentimental sigh*), São Tomé and Príncipe, and Comoros, and their 52 capitals. Western Sahara doesn't appear to have a capital - maybe it's a region, not a country? Anyway, I know where it is.

I know the countries (& capitals) of the Middle East and Asia. The capitals of the islands of Oceania are beyond me - frankly, it's hard to care, but at least I know my French Polynesia from my Solomon Islands now. I know the countries of Europe, but am a bit shocked to find out how hazy I am on some of the Eastern European capitals, and that I'd never heard of Vaduz, the capital of Liechtenstein.

Next, I will tackle the Caribbean. I expect to embarrass myself. I still haven't found myself a decent GB quiz map. And of those I have found, some use county names (such as Rutland) and some go by administrative areas (such as Avon).

This is where I get my daily entertainment. Usually, it's for 10 minutes or so before I go to bed, but some afternoons, well...

Sunday 16 November 2008

It seems that Z has another car

Not that I've seen it yet. The Sage and Mike went to Norwich today to look at it, have approved and bought it and Mike has taken it back to his workshop as the electric windows need some attention.

I asked about it - it's a Mercedes, a very dark blue, started the Sage, and went on to describe more fully the colour. I explained that I don't really care about colour. Nor make. Actually, that it works goes a long way for me.

So, it's 11 years old (age is not a factor either), an estate (which I wanted) and 2000 cc (1600-2500 was my generous range, with a preference for the lower to middle end). I didn't care whether petrol or diesel and had a slight preference for manual over automatic. I need enough leg room in the back for friends who aren't that flexible. I want air con (this is a factor in older cars) and power steering (ditto), which Mike took some convincing of.

So, I probably won't have it for Tuesday, but may get a lift with Ro and have breakfast in Norwich or may take the bus.

For those interested, I didn't note the full details, but it's something like C200*insert letter or two* Elegance. Not a word that has ever described me, but a woman can aspire. Looking it up on this website, I said to the Sage "does it have leather seats?" He said it does. I wonder if that means it will smell like a Morris Minor? A point in its favour if so.

Oh, I should add that I gave full decision-making powers to the Sage. I suggested that I only needed to look at it if he was not quite sure, otherwise I'd be happy to entrust him and Mike with the decision. I can delegate, you see.

Saturday 15 November 2008

Z would rather be Mary than Martha

Oh, this is interesting. I received the hymn numbers for tomorrow morning at 4 pm, which is a bit later than I can be bothered to go down to the church to practise. You may (or may not) know that my piano is living away from home at present. Four hymns, three of them unfamiliar to me - but then, that doesn't necessarily mean that the tunes are. I couldn't find my music copy, so looked up the words. One by Graham Kendrick. Okay. I don't know it then (that is, anything by GK that I know, I know I know). Another dates from 1978. Don't know that one. Another is mid-Victorian - well, at least I'll be able to sight-read it then. The fourth is Make me a channel of your peace and I'm on sure ground there.

Pondering over this and other church-related things while I was heating soup, I remembered that I'd turned off the heating after the 8am service last week, as the Remembrance Sunday service was elsewhere, and I'd not turned it on again. So, after dinner, I left my final [unless I change my mind ;-) ] glass of wine unfinished after dinner and pedalled busily off to turn it on again. Whilst there, I fetched the hymn book. So, Even As I Write, I am about to look at these unfamiliar hymns and see if there's a hope in heaven of playing them. (Live Blogging!!(!))

1 The GK looks okay. 3/4 time always runs the risk of namby-pambiness, but at least it makes the rhythm easy.
2 The one I know
3 Broken for me looks deceptively tricky. It's one of those ones with a flowing left hand and long pauses in the right, so I'l have to play it quite briskly so that we don't all go to sleep. May be as easy as it looks.
4 Looks traditional and straightforward.

Only one other problem. If I don't know them, the congregation won't either. We don't have a choir. Oh joy.

And so I'll come back to this Communion what-have-you. There are two things. One is more personal, that is, I feel weird about the thought of it. I agree, it is deeply meaningful and spiritual and fundamental (if you happen to be a Christian, that is - if not, it's just deeply creepy) but that means it isn't something to do casually, without preparation, and I really shy away from that. I'm *cough cough* not worthy, if you like to put it that way. I don't know how else to. I feel I shouldn't. Mind you, I've received Communion from lay people who may be no worthier than I, but that's not the point. I'm not comfortable with leading prayers either. When, a couple of years ago, the Fellow and I had to take a service, I rapidly volunteered to do the sermon so that he'd do the prayers. I was all right with that (and I did write notes; bullet points, that is, but I didn't need to look at them), but it hasn't made me want to do it again.

The second thing is that I'm busy already in most services. Last week, I was sidesman. Tomorrow, I will be organist. The week after, I'll be playing the clarinet and making coffee (with my left foot, I'll be cracking walnuts). Always, I'm on duty as churchwarden - and I'm not complaining, it's part of the job. But I get nothing out of a church service, and haven't for years. Where's the still small voice? Drowned out by busy-ness, usually. If I take on yet another thing, even occasionally, it will be in addition to the rest, and I know how these things work, "oh, you're deaconing, will you do the prayers tomorrow?"

There's another thing, actually. I don't actually go for the whole transubstantiation thingy. As far as I'm concerned, that's for Catholics. It's symbolic, that's all. So I can't say the words. I don't go as far as the Nonconformists, mind you, with their individual glasses of juice. The symbolism of one shared chalice of wine is, for me, the point. Unfortunately, we do have individual wafers - I'd prefer a torn bread roll, for the same reason.

Friday 14 November 2008

Z receives Permission

I don't think I mentioned last week that Squiffany has learned left and right. She was taught it at her nursery school. I am quite impressed. I know an awful lot of school-age children who don't know that. She knows that my left or right is diagonally opposite hers, too.

I was extremely surprised by a letter I received this morning from the Bishop. He says I can administer Holy Communion, and I hadn't even asked to. I can't do the consecrating of course, but I can dish out the bread and wine. Thing is, I don't want to. I would feel most uncomfortable. Also, what if one dropped the chalice? So embarrassing. I'm going to have to try and dodge that particular bullet for the next three years.

Mike has decided that the car he'd been considering for me won't do, so now he's considering another one. I've told him what does matter to me and what doesn't and I'll leave it to him and the Sage. If I don't have one here and insured by Tuesday morning, I've the dismal prospect of getting to Norwich by 9.30 on the bus, though I'd be able to come home with Ro. Things take a lot longer out in the sticks by public transport - I'd have to leave home an hour earlier than if I go by car.

Actually, that was mentioned at a meeting at the high school yesterday. There are several school buses and one of them takes 50 minutes to go all round the villages, dropping the final passengers off only about 8 miles away. The school gets the grumbles, but school buses are booked and paid for by the county council. It's assumed that only the old, the young (school age) and the poor use buses in the country and as they matter least, the level of service isn't important.

Thursday 13 November 2008

Z eyes an Iron Steak

Having put off the decision to choose another car - I'm not really indecisive, unless I don't care much except that it matters if I go for the wrong thing - the little bugger has gone wrong again. That's it, I'm getting another one and will worry about the present one being pretty well worthless afterwards. It'll have to be a cheapie, as I don't happen to have any money. The Sage will rescue me. C'est son metier. Friend Mike is on the case and at present it seems likely to be a Peugeot. The brother of a friend has a splendid-sounding Mercedes he's about to sell, which the Sage was rather tempted to buy me (it's 12 years old, but in excellent nick) until I pointed out the 3 litre engine.

Talking about having no money, I didn't have to check my bank balance today. A cheque arrived for the Sage. *Sigh*. Although he made initial enquiries with the agents, we explained the flat is mine, and my name and signature are on the lease. I sent them my bank details for the payments to be made directly into my account. I'll email the person I sent that info to in the first instance, and follow up if I'm not happy with her reply.

And I went to the blood donor clinic and my blood wasn't good enough. I'm slightly anaemic. I'm going to go and get a supplement and give myself a boost. And eat steak. Lots and lots of steak.

Wednesday 12 November 2008

People are better than wardens

Things continued to go not quite to plan. I cycled in to town and found the cashpoint was out of commission. No problem, I'd go to the one outside Barclays. I got veggies and fruit from Al and cycled round to the other bank, and found that the pavementworks which had left a path to it no longer did for the time being. So I went in the bank and enquired. The money is not in my account.

I got on my bike, rehearsing in my mind what I'd say in my politely assertive phone call, which I would just have time to make before babysitting. A few yards out of town, however, I saw two black labradors trotting, with 'tee hee, aren't we naughty?' expressions on their faces and bodies, towards the town. I stopped and went up to them and told them to sit. They did, but then a car came along so the younger dog (not much more than a pup) went into the road. I hope the driver didn't think they were mine. A jogger approached and joined me. Neither of us had a phone with us and the dogs only had phone numbers on their collars, not a name or address. I suggested that I walk holding a dog with one hand and my bike with the other, if he would manage the other dog - they were too skittish both to be managed by one.

So we set off. After a while (for I had the younger, more nervy dog), I looped the strap of my bag through my dog's collar as a makeshift lead. When halfway to the village, a woman came along. She had seen them too and had gone home for leads and come back to help. We thanked the man and let him go, and proceeded to her house. Fortunately, she lives in the first house in the village.

She doesn't have dogs now, but had kept the leads, luckily. We spoke sympathetically of the anxiety of the owner, who'd be searching for them. Both dogs were wet, they'd evidently enjoyed a swim (the river and streams are full to overflowing onto the watermeadows) but she cheerfully let them in through her front door. I read out the phone number and she wrote it down, and I thanked her and left her to it.

I was home in time to babysit but not to ring. It doesn't matter; it's the protest that matters and the lateness of the payment will not be altered by my irate call.

And the children were lovely and all's well, really. Nice people, weren't they? None of us was self-righteous - we've all had dogs go missing and we're just grateful if someone helps, rather than complains.

Which reminds me, a dog was running loose round the town centre on Saturday. Someone caught it and took it into the pet shop. They gave it water and biscuits and tied it to the Buttercross, in the hope that the owner would find it. No one did. So they rang the dog warden. "Well, you can let it go or take it home. I'm not on duty. Not good enough? Pfft. Phone the police then." So they did and the police have been able to return it to its owner.

A little naughtiness

It's a day when little things keep happening. Nothing major, just annoyances. For example, having retaxed my car in good time before it ran out at the end of September, it only just occurred to me that, having done it online, I'd never received the disc. So I've rung and reported it, and am now heartily relieved that I haven't been stopped in the meantime. Not displaying the disc is an offence in itself and I don't know to what extent my explanation would be accepted. At least now it's reported I should be all right between now and when it arrives. I'd rather not find out though.

I'm just about to go into town to check if the letting agent has paid this month's rent into my account. If not, I'll have to make a complaint. As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I owed most of it in fees to them anyway. Last Friday I had a statement which showed that they'd removed it and paid the rest into my account. On Monday pm it wasn't there and I think it's about damn time as the tenant paid it on 29th October. If it's there now, I'll have to check again next month to make sure the delay was because they were taking the money I owed them out, because there's no reason at all why they can't simply pass it straight on. If it isn't, I'll have to ask why not.

Mind you, I'm not uncheerful. I turned off my phone yesterday as I was at a study day (social history of art 1850-2000 in Paris and New York) and when I turned it on here there wasn't a signal, so I only just received a lovely message from a friend. Thanks, lovely friend xx.

Feeling a little dispirited (this was before I got the message) I put a pizza into the oven for lunch. It was that or resort to alcohol and alcohol must remain a pleasure and never be something to turn to - but I fancied a little naughtiness. Now I feel a little too-fullness, so I'll cycle into town to work it off. And to check my bank balance.

Tuesday 11 November 2008


I'm sorry about the quality of this photo. It was not possible to get to the inside of the window to wipe off the condensation and I didn't have time to go back and retake it later. But this was Al's Remembrance Day tribute.

Monday 10 November 2008

A tag!

A very palpable tag!

Little Old Me wants me to do this -

1. Go to your sixth picture folder then pick your sixth picture.
2. Pray that you remember the details.
3. Tag 5 others, leave a comment to let them know they’ve been tagged.

I've gone for my iPhoto file, that I have started to use since my computer failed me back in the Spring and worried me that I'd lost all my pictures. And here is the sixth picture of the sixth folder.

It's one I took during my visit to Spain. On our last day we had an excursion to Toledo and, on the approach to the town, the coach stopped for us to look at the view and take pictures.

I'd rather expected Toledo to be very touristy, but it was lovely. Narrow streets - they really should ban cars altogether from many of them - and although there were a lot of shops aimed at tourists, it was not brashly done. Most of those shops had displays of knives, Toledo being well known for making knives, swords and suchlike. I can't imagine they do any trade with people who have travelled by air nowadays. Other shops had models made of marzipan, the other local product. I bought a little cuddly toy for each of my grandchildren in yet another shop, including one for Zerlina. Since this was several months before she was born and it was the first thing I bought for her, it was rather exciting to include her in my souvenir shopping. We had lunch there and then all wandered back to the main square before rejoining the coach. It was a lovely sunny day and most of us sat on walls or benches eating ice-cream.

Ooh, don't know who to tag. I'll come back later, but in the meantime, if anyone would like to volunteer...

Here we go - I think you're all people I haven't previously tagged. Of course, no obligation, but actually it's a particularly easy one and rather enjoyable.

Id Entity

I haven't time to link now, but I will, and tell you lucky people too that you've been tagged.

Sunday 9 November 2008

It's not that Ro's got a big nose, just that he can't always see what's under it

"Have we got any washing machine liquid for colours?" asked Ro. "I thought so," I said, getting up. "So did I," he said. "I bought it in Waitrose the other week, their own brand" I added helpfully - always good to know what you're looking for.

When we moved here, beyond the kitchen was a larder, boiler room and a downstairs bathroom for Hilda, my in-laws' live-in maid (she'd started out as the Sage's nursemaid and stayed). When my mother moved in next door, her four-poster bed didn't fit in either of the bedrooms, so we demolished the boiler room and bathroom and built a new bedroom and, since the terms of planning permission included a link between the two dwellings, a small laundry room rather than just a corridor. My mother and I shared it and there is a drain in the floor in case of flooding (a few times bitten in the past).

So I trotted to the other end of the house behind Ro. He picked up a box of sachets. "You see, for whites. I'll use them if necessary though," he said. He followed my gaze towards the washing machine. On top was another box. "Oh. Ah. I owe you one. Anything I can do to make up for it?" "I'll think about it. Maybe let you stew for a bit." He apologised again. "Happens to us all, no problem."

He followed me back into the drawing room, with him still talking about how one can not see something right under one's nose, and went over to the fire. I stood up, having sat down at the computer, and went to shut the door. "Oops," he said apologetically.

It's all right. I don't mind. He's no trouble really.

Not my memory, but one handed down

The men lost in my village to two wars



It never ceases to affect me. This is a small village, even now - there are about 400 houses. A century ago, there were probably half as many and, although families were larger, only grown men (albeit teenagers, some of them) would have gone off to war. But twenty-five of them died.

Not often that one uses the word 'decimated' literally. But in this case, one can.

Saturday 8 November 2008

Z Girds her Loins

---in a metaphorical sort of way, of course. I'm not sure quite how to take it literally. No, my point is that I am going to have to do some work. The chairman of governors is having to take some time out to look after a member of her family who has had an accident, so will not be able to come into school for the rest of the term. I'd already agreed to chair the next meeting as she was going to be away then anyway, but there's going to be a lot more than that, as well as what I usually do, which I don't want to neglect.

So far, I've written two emails asking for meetings, written three other letters and another email and decided not to type out an inventory yet.

In Other News ... oh, I'm not sure that there is much. It's cold and wet today, but the Sage has just lit the fire, so we'll snuggle down nicely, each doing our own thing (Ro on one computer, me on another and the Sage reading the paper. Tilly is relaxing full-length on the sofa). Tonight, I'll be babysitting as Al and Dilly are going out, so I need to start making the lasagne for dinner in good time as I won't be here this evening. Someone can bring me through my dinner next door once the children are in bed.

Okay. If you don't read blogs on a Saturday, you haven't missed much here.

Friday 7 November 2008


Back to India for the second time within a year. We were leaving on the 27th December, but that was the year of the tsunami on the 26th, so there was still an air of shock in Chennai (Madras). We spent a week with our friends and then left for a tour of Rajasthan, flew back, had a few days in Mysore and Bangalore and then a couple more nights in Chennai. We were staying at the Madras Cricket Club and I have our temporary membership card somewhere.

Because of the time difference, it was never convenient to phone home, although I'd rung to say we'd arrived safely, so I was emailing as often as I could. This wasn't that convenient, either - there was an IT room at the club which I could use, but in Rajasthan we decided to let our driver have his evenings free. He assured us we could call on him any time, but we didn't think it was reasonable. There was an internet facility at most hotels, but it was slow and expensive and quite frustrating to use. So it was disappointing not ever to receive any replies from the family. I was, because of the awkwardness, writing one letter and sending it to all family members - Ro went back to university while I was away and I knew the Sage wouldn't look at the computer, so I asked the children to give him my news, but I had nothing in response and I felt quite guilty. Bad enough to swan off for three weeks holiday immediately after Christmas without him thinking I was not getting in touch. Eventually, we decided to hang the expense and use Wink's mobile phone. MIdnight in Madras was early evening at home (5 1/2 hours ahead, if I remember right) so he was in.

Happy greetings, and I asked how everyone was and why no one had been in touch. The Sage hesitated. *Here follows how not to give bad news.*

"I'm afraid we've lost Khan."

"Oh, no, have you found him?"

"Yes, we found him."

"Oh, thank goodness."

"He'd had an accident."

"Oh no, is he all right?"

An awkward silence. It occurred to me that 'lost' might have meant more than lost.

"Khan isn't dead, is he?"

My poor sister who, as you will recall, loved Khan, was sitting on the other bed with a stricken face while I tried to extract the story from the Sage.

Khan and Tilly used to go off together. They'd have a run and a nose round the fields and come back together. But on this occasion, Tilly came back alone and subdued. They went out searching for Khan, but it didn't occur to the Sage until more than an hour had passed to go out on the road. He must have gone out through the hedge, been hit by a car and killed. The driver didn't come and tell us, although he can't have not known and we'd have been at fault. Khan didn't normally go on the road and the two of them were so well behaved we didn't think we had to worry about them.

I've never asked the Sage for all the details, it was all too upsetting to rake over. I did, however, explain that 'lost' may indeed be a euphemism for 'died', but not with dogs. Dogs do go missing once in a while, so 'the dog's lost' gives quite a different message to 'We've lost Aunt Agnes,' unless auntie is quite gaga and tends to wander.

So, poor Khan. He didn't have much luck really. And since then, Tilly has been an only dog and I think that now it would be unfair to bring a puppy into the household, so it seems she'll remain so.

It's all right, nothing about dogs here

Weeza and Zerlina are very well. Zerlina now weighs 10 lbs 5 oz, which is still on the small side but now just above the curve for her birthweight - more importantly, she's fine, very responsive, smiles broadly at you and enjoys playing with the hanging toys over her play mat (whatever you call these things). She's also happy to sleep in her cot, which means that Weeza and Phil get some time for conversation and general relaxation in the evenings. She's a pretty and dainty little girl and very sweet.

They're coming over tomorrow afternoon - you know the valuation I mentioned? Weeza's going to help me set up the spreadsheet for maximum efficiency. She's slightly missing her indispensable high-powered Senior PA-ness and keen to help. I appreciate it.

When I arrived home, 8 or 10 half-grown bantams scurried away from the house door. I like having animals all around. Earlier on, the Sage had helped Al move the beehive. It must have been extremely heavy as it's full of honey to keep them through the winter. A couple of days ago, when it was warm (for November) and sunny, the bees were very active, but none of them came out today, rather to the Sage's relief. It was the limit of his courage, lifting the beehive unprotected from possible stings.

Off to help with a music lesson this morning. I haven't been able to go for several weeks, so all the pupils will be way ahead of me.

Oh. I seem to have an Adolescent Zit on my chin. What's all that about then?

Thursday 6 November 2008

We don't sing Jerusalem

In case you'd prefer not to read about the tribulations of Khan and my mother's death, an extra post Just For You.

Al asked me if I could provide 12 globe artichokes for a customer. I was very pleased. What discerning taste, I thought, to serve artichokes for her party. "She's planning to dry and spray them for decoration," he said lugubriously. I was affronted. What a waste! We've sold them to her though. Her call. Another customer has asked for 20 butternut squashes. The variety I grew this year had lots of little fruit, which is quite good as the ones the wholesaler sends are very large. I just hope this customer is going to cook them and not display them as gourds.

WI was extremely jolly and all the food was eaten. Ro was very helpful and decorated all the cakes, chocolate and meringues. A disc of chocolate makes a very good base, by the way; in this case for spoonsful of chocolate mousse, but you could use other things, such as half a walnut, some fruit purée or mousse or some coffee cream, for example. Extremely gratifying were the cries of "You're so thin!" which I was greeted with - I haven't been much this year and it's in the next village so not many people have seen me.

By the way, we don't sing Jerusalem. Yes, most WIs do. We don't.

You might remember, some weeks ago, I mentioned that a rather large valuation is in the offing for us, though we'll be doing it at a reduced price because we're nice that way. We've now discovered that the organisation (the collection is not in private hands) has lost the inventory. It will be a huge amount of work. We're not thrilled - it's not the work but the complete inefficiency that gets us. Well, me. The Sage hasn't said much, because he's patient.

Today, I'm off to visit my girlies, Weeza and Zerlina.

Saga Khantinued

I arrived home to find the nurse with my mother, who had decided to get up. After she'd left, I phoned Weeza, but then couldn't speak. She was anxiously asking me what had happened and I was too choked to say a word. Eventually, I explained and she offered to come up. I politely demurred, she asked if I'd like her to and I said "Yes please". She was on the next train.

Afterwards, she thanked me for that. "You never ask" she said. I hadn't realised I took independence to a shutting-out stage and took note for the future (never offer me help unless you mean it darlings, as I now accept all offers going).

The Sage stayed with my mother while I drove to the station and she was drowsy but awake when we returned and she was able to greet and kiss us. Then she went to sleep and didn't wake again, but died in the early hours of the next morning. It was a lovely and merciful death, so quickly after becoming ill, in her own bed. A shock, as the doctor had told me she would last a week or two, and so I had put my sister off rushing up and she was due the next morning. I had to ring and tell her.

For my part, I'd done my grieving six months before and now I felt that I'd done what I said I would and was glad I'd been able to. The one good thing about Khan's accident was that he wasn't there to be upset. I did get a bit OTT over the food for her funeral though, and was found cooking at 5 in the morning, suddenly anxious that there wouldn't be enough.

A week or so later, I went back to fetch him home. He had a metal plate bolted through his lower leg, as a plaster would be too heavy and he was to be encouraged to walk on the leg (he didn't though, for weeks). I had to bathe it twice a day - if it had been infected it would have meant amputation.

It didn't, all went well, and his recovery was steady. It cost a fortune, I forget how much but I think it was in the region of £3,000, plus our own vet's bills, but we were covered for everything except the first £50. The most worrying thing was when the metal plate was taken off - the bone was still not completely strong, especially where the bolts had been removed, and I was afraid he'd break it again.

Khan lived with us, of course, and he was fine. I'm afraid I made him sleep in the porch, though. His housetraining was still unreliable and his stomach sensitive and it was safer that way.

By this time, the other problems I was involved with (not family ones) were getting sorted out and although my family were still anxious about me (I think I was a bit hyper-everything and had been so long that I thought it was normal). The next January, Weeza took me to India with her to her friend's wedding (the sister of the girl whose wedding I went to in August). After a hectic and exciting week in Madras, we flew to Kerala (the south-west corner of India, just below Goa) and spent a wonderfully relaxing week. I'd never lounged by a swimming pool on a holiday before! We had a cruise on the beautiful backwaters, rode an elephant and ate, drank and read. My reading went into overdrive that week - one day, I read five books. I ran out of books, though the lovely hotel we stayed in for a few of those days had a plentiful supply, and I went shopping. I bought Lord of the Rings and read it, all three volumes-worth, in two days. That holiday started to heal me. It had been a difficult 15 years.

The next year, I visited India again, this time with my sister, leaving the three dogs with the Sage as usual.

Wednesday 5 November 2008

Saga Khan

I've not told you about the events of six years ago, and I'm not going into it all now. It was a difficult year, that will do, and in September, my mother was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer, a stent was fitted (that is, a little tube was inserted via her throat under general anaesthetic to keep her bile duct open) and she was sent home with a 'few weeks to six months' assessment of her possible life span.

So, nearly six months later she was doing fine. She had become well enough to drive again and was enjoying life. But suddenly, she had become unwell. On Friday, the doctor had visited and then took me aside, told me that the stent had failed and that she had only a week or two left to live. Since she was in some discomfort, he said that he'd arrange for a Macmillan nurse to bring a morphine drip the next day, and in the meantime he left me with a prescription for morphine to give her by mouth.

Later, Kenny called to walk the dogs. Tilly decided not to go. I told Kenny the news.

He was gone, walking on the marshes, for some time and I was a bit concerned, but he returned just before 5.30 with both dogs, Khan on three legs. "He'd had his little run and was just trotting along by my side, but then he suddenly yelped and he couldn't put his foot to the ground. We waited for some time, but it's no better." I looked at Khan's left foreleg. "He's broken it," I said. Kenny thought it was only sprained, but I rang the vet and they said I could go in straight away. Kenny came too.

It was indeed broken. He must just have dropped his foot into a hole, maybe a rabbit hole, maybe one made by a cow's hoof in the soft ground, and the tibia and fibula had snapped. The vet looked serious. "It's a bad break. We can set it, but it won't be an easy job and it's touch and go whether we'll save his leg. I don't suppose he's insured? There's a specialist orthopaedic vet in Fakenham, but they'd cost thousands." I told him that Khan was insured and he looked relieved. He rang straight away and came back to say that if I could get Khan over there by 10 o'clock the next morning, they could attend to him in the afternoon. For his part, they would bandage his leg to keep it in place, sedate him and keep him overnight, and I could pick him up at 8.30 the next morning. It takes about 1 hour 20 minutes to get from my house to Fakenham.

I had to go back and tell my mum what had happened. She was in bed, quite sensible but not at all well, and wondering where Khan was. I broke the news.

That night, she had little rest and I had none. She tried the morphine syrup, but she hated sweet things and said it would make her sick. I didn't stay all night - her bedroom chairs were pretty but uncomfortable and somehow it didn't occur to me to go into her own drawing room, but went home in between times. I wrote up the events of the night - I went through every quarter of an hour, even if I was with her for 10 minutes of that. I don't know why I came away, especially as, every time I went through, she was trying to get out of bed. She wasn't in pain but in discomfort and was restless. She was a bit more settled by the morning and the Sage said he'd sit with her. But he had to go out later, so I asked him to ring our friend Jeni, who also cleaned for my mother, and ask her to sit with her later in the morning. I got dressed and went off to the vet.

Khan's leg was bandaged but he was not in pain. I lifted him into the car (it would be harder now to lift several stones of gangly dog) but greyhounds don't sit and he wouldn't lie down. I'd have to drive very carefully, not to jar him or to risk him falling into the seat well.

We arrived before 10 and were checked in. We had to wait for some time (I needn't have hurried) but were eventually seen. I signed various consent forms - I explained that my mother was too ill and I was her representative - and left poor Khan, trusting as ever, to be dealt with.

Sorry, darlings, more episodes to come. Too much for one post.

Far Kennel! (sorry everyone and sorry Murph, I couldn't resist)

I read an article, several years ago, which was an interview with the actress Annette Crosbie (probably best known nowadays for One Foot in the Grave). She is a great greyhound enthusiast, has several herself and works and lobbies hard for their welfare. She said that once you'd had a greyhound as a pet, you'd never choose another type of dog. My children and I looked at each other, rather dismayed. Did that mean, we wondered, that we were condemned, willy-nilly, to having greyhounds?

I grew up with dogs. At the time I married and left home, my mother had 7 of them - the number later rose to 11 which was crazy and she couldn't control them, but 7 was fine. When I took them for walks (after dark only, we had a big garden for daytime exercise) I'd have 4 on a lead and the others, in our quiet back streets, could be allowed to run free. There was a clear pack leader and they were well-behaved. That is, well-behaved in the way our relaxed attitude found acceptable. They all lay on the sofas and slept on the beds, for example - in my teens, I shared my bed with 3 big dogs. Obviously, I was closer to some dogs than others. Susie was my pet as she had come to us in unfortunate circumstances - one day, I saw a car draw up with an anxious-looking black dog in the back and I knew at once she would come to live with us. A man got out and went to the door and indeed, when he left, Susie stayed. His wife had cancer, they had 3 young children and he couldn't cope with everything. It was the start of the summer holidays and Susie and I spent hours together. The other dog I adored most was Huckleberry. He had, simply, the sweetest nature of any dog I've ever known. We called him (sorry *slush alert*) Laughing Boy. He was a superb climber, jumper and swimmer and it was impossible to keep him in the garden. He used to spend hours with the roadsweeper, strolling round the local roads and sharing his sandwiches. He was extremely beautiful and knew it and spent hours grooming himself. He loved the water and happily wallowed in the river or the muckiest pond, afterwards licking off every scrap of black mud. I blame that filth for the stomach cancer that eventually killed him.

I won't start on Chester, whom I first saw and chose (it was mutual) as a 3 week old puppy and whom I held as he died 13 years later, except to say that he taught me to be fluent in Dog, which is mainly spoken with the eyes (also from the throat and in the curl of the lip).

This is meant to be about greyhounds. What I'm trying to say is that, whilst each dog has its own personality, greyhounds are not like other dogs at all. I don't know if it's nature or nurture - my mother always wished she could have had one from a puppy. Khan's lack of instinctive communication with either people or dogs may well have been as a result of being kept in a kennel for his first 18 months. Because he'd failed as a racer he didn't build up a relationship with a trainer and afterwards he was with too many other dogs in the rescue centre (but I think he had his own quarters and was exercised but didn't live in the same kennel as them) to receive much individual attention. He was always treated kindly, but it would have been far better for him to be rehomed straight away. I think that the reason they don't is to be sure that every dog and bitch will be neutered, but (with my mum's example, I know this from experience) it's easy for animal lovers to be unable to resist giving every pet that needs one a home, whereas I now think that it's better to do the best for a few than a lesser amount of care for many. I think that one can lost track of the fact that the care being given is less than the best - in this case, not materially but in terms of the individual development of the young dog. I'm not wanting to be anthropomorphic about this and I'm not saying a dog is the same as a child - this is an imperfect analogy - but compare it with having several children, all close together, and not having time to read to any of them or teach them to put on their own clothes, and only giving the troublemaker or the sickly one any individual attention. You're not going to expect the same personal development as if you have taught and guided each child and helped them to learn how to get on with each other and yourself.

So, a greyhound will either have been a racer or unsuited to be one, and will have to learn to be part of a family, to be housetrained, to be alone, to be obedient. They can learn all these things but, while they will be eager to please you, they might not now how to go about it. And if they have an annoying personal habit - like constant whining, or gyrating on their back, or darting in small circles, or running until they've forgotten where you are - it can be incredibly difficult to train them out of it because, while they know you are not pleased, they can't necessarily marry up their behaviour with your reaction.

So I think Annette Crosbie has a point, that if you can get on a greyhound's wavelength and learn to appreciate them, they make lovely pets. But they're not my sort of dog and they're not everyone's, and I think that it is not helpful for their admirers only to focus on their good points and not to acknowledge their weaker ones. Nevertheless, as I said a couple of days ago when I'd stroked the customer's greyhound (which prompted this series of posts), I was surprised at the affectionate recognition of its sweetness that I felt.

Tuesday 4 November 2008

Khans and Khants

There are various little things to know about greyhounds, which will be explained to you if you go to a 'proper' greyhound rescue centre, rather than the RSPCA which just lets you find out. One is that they will not know their name. They've just been given a random name and so if you don't care for the name it comes with, simply change it. Another is that they may well be untrained, although ex-racers will have been taught to walk to heel. Fortunately, this is not too much of a problem, especially once they have learned their new name, as they are eager to please and very biddable. In addition, they have never lived in a house so are not housetrained.

Again, this is often not too much of a problem as they quickly learn. Usually. Most of them. Khan was a rather slow learner. He realised that he shouldn't misbehave in his living quarters, but my mother had two sitting rooms and used one much more than the other. So if he was caught short, he tended to go in the drawing room and lift his leg on the sofa. This did not go down well at all. Also, like Henry, he had wobbly bowels, so my unfortunate mother found that she still had to get out of bed two or three times a night or else she found heaps of ordure in the hall the next morning.

In other respects, he was fine. But I found it hard to become really attached to him. He was most undoglike. It's my theory that dogs either think of their owners as honorary dogs, or themselves as honorary humans. Khan didn't understand either. He was eager to please, but he didn't quite know how.

For example, he was the only dog I've ever known who would tread on another dog. If Chester, who ruled the roost (except for me) was lying in his path he would blunder over him. Chester was not aggressive, unless he disagreed with the Sage or Ro (who booted him out of the room, to much mutual growling) so he did not snap, but he was quite aggrieved; rightly so. It's just not what dogs do. It's not dog etiquette, whereas bottom sniffing, for instance, is.

Once in a while, he would be overcome by nervous energy and rush a couple of paces, wheel round, rush again, turn again - he was oblivious to anything you said and had to be physically stopped. He only ever did it indoors and it was really irrritating, especially as his long slender claws did no good for the carpet. Once, I was busy and couldn't get up, so chucked a cushion at him. It was small and light and I didn't throw it hard, but he stopped and yelped and stood trembling with confused eyes. He also used to writhe on his back happily, in a back-scratching sort of way - the sexlessness of it (as Weeza just put it, 'frog legs and neuticles') was strangely repellent. I just couldn't get on his wavelength. I'm good with dogs, cats and horses, but I didn't understand him. He got on well enough with Tilly and Chester, but he didn't quite gel with them either.

The people who loved him most were my mother and my sister. My mum felt protective to him and Wink really did love him. His sweet nature appealed to her and she didn't mind that he wasn't very doglike.

I'll conclude about greyhounds tomorrow and then I might continue with Khan's saga, but I'm not sure whether to. Poor dog, things went a bit awry, and some of it was at the time my mum died and the stories are all intertwined. Shall I go there, is the question. I'm not sure. I sort of want to, but I sort of feel it's all so involved, and the endings, of two episodes, are neither of them happy because one time my mother died and one time Khan did. Your call I think - if you'd like to know tell me, if the summary (see above) is enough say nothing and nor will I.

Monday 3 November 2008


Henry had been lovely, but he was never easy. We weren't at all pleased that the RSPCA had pushed my mother into having a totally unsuitable dog - she was frail and he was enormous - and they knew all about the running away problem, as he had, we eventually discovered, been returned from several people who hadn't been able to cope with him. In addition, she was told that all greyhounds had robust health and would eat anything. Indeed, he would. Unfortunately, his digestion couldn't cope with it and she sometimes had to get up several times in the night to let him out or had to clean her carpets in the morning. In the end, she fed him a diet of rice and chicken, which he didn't much like but which kept his stomach settled. He also spent quite a lot of time at the vet. For the first time ever, it turned out to be cost-effective to have dog health insurance - we'd never needed to bother with our robust mongrels.

He had a thick coat of sandy-coloured hair - unfortunately he attracted fleas rather badly, which my mum never noticed until Chester caught them, whereupon she complained bitterly that my dog gave her dogs fleas. His coat was so thick that it was hard to rub in enough flea powder to get rid of them. He got on well with my dogs - as I've said, he had a lovely friendly nature and Tilly, who has some whippet in her, loved to run too. They would gallop along the drive, one inside the field and one on the drive itself. He was a different dog when running and completely forgot everything except the chase. If they were together, when he caught up with her she stopped and rolled onto her back. You could see in his eyes that she was, for a minute, nothing but his quarry. She knew that if he caught her he would instinctively nip the back of her neck and was afraid, though only of that. She understood that it was only instinct and not aggression.

After he died, my mother was doubtful whether to have another dog. Her health had been poor for some time. I pointed out that we'd been through the same conversation when her previous dog had died five or so years previously and asked if she could really contemplate being without a dog? Well no, she couldn't, but she was worried what would happen to it if she died. I reminded her that we'd always promised to look after it and she knew we'd never turn a dog away. We were a bit dismayed when she decided to have another greyhound, though. This time, equally disenchanted with the RSPCA, she approached a greyhound rescue charity, they came to visit and to ensure that she was able to give the dog a good home, and so she acquired Khan.

He was much smaller and had never raced. He was only about 18 months old and it had been discovered at an early age that he wouldn't run. He really wouldn't. Completely uninterested. He wouldn't even chase a ball, never mind an electric hare. He could have been a different breed from Henry - even his hair, a handsome browny-grey colour apparently known as 'blue' in the trade was fine and quite thin, with no undercoat at all. He'd been with the charity over 6 months, which puzzled us - why not house him straight away? - but it seems that they keep the dogs until they are physically mature so that they can be neutered. Lying on his back, legs akimbo, he looked like a frog.

So, no problem with him running away then. But there's always something, isn't there?

Sunday 2 November 2008

By the way

Greyhounds again tomorrow, but just while it's on my mind...

I have spoken to the other two people doing the food with me for WI on Tuesday evening. One looked slightly alarmed as she doesn't really cook. So she's bringing the tea, coffee and milk. I said, hopefully, that she can bring either instant or real coffee as there are cafétières there and she said that's all right, she's got instant. I gritted my teeth as I said that'd be fine. Then this evening, I rang the other person. She said that unfortunately she's got an art class on Tuesday so she can't come, but she'll make some sandwiches and send them along. "Fine," I said airily. "I'll do something else savoury and a cake or something and that will be ... fine."

It's not the first time I've found myself doing most (occasionally all) of the food. Pity I've got a meeting all morning, but there we go. I wonder what will be in the sandwiches.

I'm thinking I'll do some bite-size crôutes and top them with various things, such as mushroom in cream and wine, a tomato/onion mixture, scrambled egg or things like that, some cucumber slices topped with salmon pâté and some tiny cheese scones topped with cheese. Then I'll do some discs of chocolate and top them with chocolate mousse and some mini meringues filled with cream and fruit - half grape or blueberry, and some tiny bite-sized iced cakes.

Yes, it's chi-chi, but as long as it tastes good, I don't think it matters. And it's pretty and not much work and I can do quite a lot of it tomorrow. But I'm open to suggestions.

Feeling hounded

A customer brought her greyhound into the shop on Friday - dogs are more than welcome in there. As is usual with the breed, it was very friendly and came over to me to be stroked several times while the lady was filling her basket. I quite surprised myself with the warmth I felt towards it.

There's a great deal of affection, in the dog rescue world, for greyhounds and it's understandable. There are a great many dogs bred for the racing business, some of which obviously won't make the grade, and those that do finish their racing careers with several years of healthy life in them. It's inevitable that many will be put down and many others are available as pets.

My mother always went to the RSPCA when she wanted to give a dog a home, but they let her down the last time. They said the only dog available was a particular greyhound, and put a lot of pressure on her to take him. She agreed, and he turned out to be enormous, the biggest greyhound I've ever seen. He was, as they always are, very sweet-natured, friendly and affectionate. He was an ex-racer and (we weren't told this at the time but by someone who recognised the type of scar on his side) his career had been ended by an injury gained on the racetrack when he sped out of the trap so fast that he caught his side against it. The trouble with him was that he loved running so much.

One is always told how little exercise a greyhound needs, and that a couple of gentle walks on the lead are quite enough. Well, some maybe. Henry needed to run though. Not that far, five minutes flat out were sufficient, but if he didn't get that every day or two he used to pace the floor, whimpering for hours on end. But he needed fields to run in - one, fenced, wasn't enough and when he got out you couldn't follow him, so we took him to the wide-open spaces. There are plenty round here, but he wasn't very bright. If he couldn't see you, he wouldn't be able to return to you. So, he got lost and each of us in turn spent our free time taking him for walks, having a successful outcome after a stressful outing several times, then losing him, finally finding him, coming home and saying "never again" and passing him on to the next sucker. Kenny, our gardener, who never gave up on anything, ended up as the only one who would let him off the lead.

Even Kenny, however, couldn't keep him under control. One afternoon Henry ran off and Kenny, after a long time searching, came back dogless. We went out in the car, phoned the police and the RSPCA and had a very anxious evening. Finally, we had a phone call from someone who had found him on their doorstep. We went to fetch him; he was very frightened with sore paws and (we were able to piece this together from various sightings) had run several miles along a busy road first one way and then the other. He had never received any unkind treatment from anyone and so when he finally chanced into someone's back garden, he simply knocked on the door for help.

This did at least temper his wanderlust and he started to take some notice of where he was and return after his run. My mother had him for the rest of his life and she loved him dearly. So, when he died, she decided to have another greyhound.

Khan was quite different.

Saturday 1 November 2008


It's between Halloween and Guy Fawkes, but more importantly it's still half term, so Dilly and Al threw a party. Aimed at children and their families, so it started at 5.30 and the menu was simple - hot dogs, bought cakes (and Party Rings, woo hoo) and the like. Even the fireworks were colour more than noise. It all went down a storm, except that it rained. Darlings, were we daunted? We were not! The bonfire has been postponed until real Guy Fawkes (Remember, remember the 5th of November, gunpowder, treason and plot. I see no reason why gunpowder treason should ever be forgot - for those dear souls who are Foreigners and who can hardly be expected to understand) but we all watched through the windows while the Sage, Phil and Al busied themselves in the rain letting off fireworks. We had the windows open so that the real gunpowderish aromas would waft through.

Ro's first party was a Bonfire Night party when he was 3 months old, and he loved every minute of it and stayed awake all evening until well after 11 o'clock. Zerlina is not quite 11 weeks and she was quite as entranced, although the fireworks were gentler. Squiffany was as interested in her reactions as in the fireworks themselves, and kissed little z between fireworks. All the children were lovely and played happily together; even the boisterousness was good-humoured and without tears. Afterwards, I fetched more beer and wine and we got cheerfully mellow together (noo, not the children, what do you think I'm like? not like that, at any rate).

What is most worthy of remark is that Zerlina has blown her first deliberate raspberry. She has been interested and has copied the mouth movements for a while, but tonight, after much practise, she finally managed a brief but deliberate 'pfft'. We are immensely proud.