Sunday 31 May 2009

Z co-hosts a Party

It was a good party today. Our lovely friends Dave and Deb are leaving the village - she is to be ordained next month and is taking up a post in Norwich. Dave is the Fellow whom I've often mentioned; my former fellow churchwarden, who I love dearly in a rare and valued friendship. We've not seen so much of Deb in the last three years as, during her training, she's been affiliated with a neighbouring benefice.

I thought we'd have about 40 for lunch, maybe 50, so still erred on the generous side, which was just as well as rather more than that number turned up. No one had mentioned wine, so I brought 8 bottles and someone else brought 1 more - again, just as well, as most of it was drunk, quite a lot by me. The lunch was of the sort dearly beloved by the church; "bring and share" - as hosts, we provided the etceteras; mustard, salad dressing, that sort of thing, as well as our share of food - and we also prepared the rooms. Fortunately, as the weather was lovely, we were able to lay up 3 tables outside which meant there was room to move indoors.

Being devious, I bought plants to decorate the tables, with a view to taking them home afterwards and sticking them in tubs to brighten the place up for my lunch on Tuesday. I've also been potting up some tomatoes for Al - the unsold ones are getting leggy and he sold so many plants on Saturday that he hasn't got much left for tomorrow. He can take in some aubergines, chilli and sweet peppers, tomatoes and a couple more courgette plants.

The Sage is so busy that we've had to tell Dave that there's no time to brick-lay tomorrow. Disappointing, but I know how he feels. He's very busy on several different things at the moment and he needs to concentrate on completing them. Indeed, there's something else I need him to help me with (to do with the Village Festival in July) that I'm not even going to mention for a week or so.

Dilly and Al will also need some back-up next month. She is working some extra days and Al will be short-staffed while Eileen is on holiday. It will all get much easier once we're into July. And positively relaxed at the end of the summer holidays, because Dilly has decided to take a break from teaching for a year or two. Apart from tutoring, which she can do in the evenings.

Saturday 30 May 2009

Will the weather hold?

I've bought several packets of flower seeds, most of which need to be sown in the next few weeks for flowering next spring and summer. Biennials mostly and a few perennials. Ever with an eye to Al's business, I'm thinking that I can keep the few plants I need and he can sell the rest. He's done well this spring from the foxgloves he grew last year, which have been coming into flower in the last few weeks.

Very hot again today, although again there is a fresh wind. I still would like to serve lunch out of doors on Tuesday, because our dining room, facing west as it does, is not at its best for a summer lunchtime - not unless it's so hot outside that we're grateful for its dim coolness. Usually we're sun-starved and want to grab all we can, even at risk of pink ears and freckled nose. However, I suspect that we'll shiver if I do. There will be twelve of us, and we can just fit around the dining table, but it's a squeeze.

That's still a slight niggle in the relationship between the Sage and me, actually. He wanted a refectory table, and found some lovely old oak planks, 8 foot long. We discussed the matter, and agreed that the table would be 8 feet long and 4 feet wide, so that it could comfortably seat 4 people at each side and 2 at each end. When the table was ready, it turned out to be 3 foot 6 wide. "I thought the proportions would be better," he explained. I reminded him of what we'd agreed. It was obvious that he hadn't actually been listening. He was quite unaware that there was a reason for the decision, so he saw no need to consult me on the change. As a result, family meals have often been quite awkward.

The legs of that table were made from an oak tree that fell down about 20 years ago. It had been in the middle of our orchard; now an ex-orchard. Nearly all the trees fell down in the 'hurricane' of 1987, knocking each other down like dominos. The oak tree, apparently strong, firm and in its prime, fell over a year or two later. Without its protective surround of apple trees, it couldn't withstand the next strong wind.

Friday 29 May 2009

Z is grateful

I'm considerably luckier than I ever deserve to be.

I had a phone call this evening from someone who's been given a huge flower arrangement, won in a raffle, which is too big for her house so she has given it to her village church. But there's no service in that church this Sunday, so she asked if we'd like it in ours. Oh, yes please. I haven't got anyone to do flowers this week and it's a special service this week as the Fellow and his wife are leaving and we love them and are saying goodbye (they're only moving to Norwich, but that's another world to the countryfolk in the villages). Yet again, I'm saved from last-minute panic.

I nearly flew into a strop with the Sage this morning as I assumed that he was going to let someone down, but I enquired gently and politely instead, and he's got it sorted after all. So all is love and tranquillity and I didn't put myself in the sour-faced wrong.

I've re-remembered in time that I need to buy a present for the person leaving the committee (as well as me. It's just occurred to me that they'll give me a card and flowers and stuff. I don't think they should. It's been a pleasure. I know they will, so I'll just be pleased) and I've remembered in time to do it without last-minute panic (see above).

Hayfever has gone. I sleep soundly.

My new lawnmower has arrived. I never need nag the Sage to cut the lawn again, I'll just do it myself. And I daresay that sometimes he will. Either way, no irritation for anyone.

I wrote a letter to someone and he came to visit me this afternoon, straight away upon receiving it. Can't explain more, but I did the right thing by writing, because he wanted to talk to someone and it made him feel able to do so.

We've got more than half the photos done for the catalogue and are double-checking the text and condition report. Several alterations made, so it's worth the extra time which will be repaid in total tranquillity on sale day.

The Sage bought a piece of china for our mutual anniversary present last week that both of us have coveted for a couple of decades.

Tilly had a flea yesterday, but I turned the search for more (none found) into a cuddle and a back-scratch, so she was happy and felt loved instead of accused. Dear little dog. She let Zerlina crawl all over her today and pull her tail and poke her face, and she wagged her tail throughout.

The Sage just brought me a cup of delicious coffee. I feel so cheerful that I might just have a small glass of limoncello, a bottle of which just happens to be sitting in the fridge.

Bringing on the wall, Day 7 - pictures of Dave

The Sage suggested that Dave work on the next pillar today while I built up the straight bit of wall. It was a beautiful day, hot and sunny but with a cooling breeze, so it was very pleasant to work outside. We all wore hats and sunscreen, in case you are feeling concerned and protective of our well-being.

I've said that I don't weed and, indeed, it was not I who pulled up this bramble from the garden in front of the house. I hope it's reasonably clear; I took another one with the family holding it up, but it showed faces, so I'm not allowed to post it.

We decided that the umbrella pine tree near the wall would have to come down. We're very sorry about this - the Sage's late brother brought back seeds from North Africa 50 or 60 years ago. There are still two left, but most of them have had to be felled as they were getting unsafe. This one wasn't yet, but it was quite close to the wall. An oak sapling was growing next to it; originally we'd left it to take over when the pine died, but it's too close to the drive and to the wall, so that came out too.

The photo was taken after a couple of branches were removed.

Not much left now.

And this is the result of today's labours. We put in a short morning today as the Sage, Weeza and I had work to do this afternoon, so we didn't add a great deal, but now it's a definite wall and, with the beginning of another pillar, there's a defined future gateway.

The next few photos are a sort of flip-book. If you look from one to the next very quickly, you'll almost see the movement of Dave's hands as he expertly laid the final brick of the day.

You'll notice that he is smiling. We're still all having fun.

Thursday 28 May 2009

Z loves the moon

I've done a whole lot of work this evening, though not in my own house. Good Deed for the day done however. They'll be reasonably ready for the removal men in the morning.

Otherwise, not a lot to report. We're looking forward to bricklaying tomorrow and the weather should be good. Have you noticed the beautiful new moon? - it was new last night in fact, but still a perfect crescent. I enjoy the moon in all its phases. When I used to walk dogs late at night, I was very aware of the phases of the moon and the alignment of the planets. Do you remember the comet Hale-Bopp a few years ago? I loved that. Its position in the sky was a little different every night.

We never took a torch - well, once I did, for no reason, when I was on my own and a lucky thing it was, because I nearly trod on a large hedgehog. I think we'd both have been rather hurt. But usually we enjoyed the darkness. That is, as much darkness as one is allowed nowadays. I wish street lights were still switched off for the early hours.

Work to do in the morning, I'm going to bed. Goodnight.

Wednesday 27 May 2009

Z cocks up

I'm such a fool. I knew that Weeza's appointment was at 11 o'clock, but somehow I put it in my mind that she had to leave the house at 11 o'clock. I realised on my way to Norwich, pulled over and phoned her (at least I'd remembered to remove my phone from its charger and bring it). "I've screwed up" I announced. "Oh shit" she replied. Weeza and I, at least, speak the same language.

Anyway (has anyone ever counted the sentences I start with Anyway? Whole lots, I bet) I suggested we meet at the dentist and she agreed. I arrived just after her - the traffic was awful - and, rather than take Zerlina home, I decided to wait, as Weeza had sensibly brought some Marmite and cream cheese sandwiches. That baby was adorable. She happily ate, in little cubes, most of her sandwiches, and then waved her feet around for a bit until she was bored, then sat on my lap looking at books. Eventually, she became a little bored but was prepared, graciously, to be amused, and by then it was time for Weeza to come out. I also made an appointment for myself - somehow, I forgot to make another appointment after my last check-up, which was in April last year. Whoops.

The boiler in the flat will cost a couple of hundred pounds to repair. My lovely tenant must not be without hot water a moment longer than he must. I've given the go-ahead and thanked him for saving me a trip to London. He has also said how much he likes the new tenants upstairs. Aren't people lovely?

Tomorrow, the Sage will be out all day. I must do lots of housework. Don't let me slack, will you? I have things to do and I must be busy. If you catch me blogging any time before 10 o'clock tomorrow night, Stern Words will be in order.

Z packs up

I think, don't you, that one of the hardest things to do is to ask for help. People usually hate to feel that they're taking advantage, even if a friend has offered, and one feels one should be self-reliant and able to cope. Time was when I never asked for help, however much I could have done with it.

For example, many years ago, the Sage had an operation and, on his arrival home, would have to sleep downstairs for a week or so. This meant bringing a bed downstairs. Now, our only single spare bed was (this was indeed a long time ago) an old metal-framed one. A new mattress but a very old and heavy base. I had to carry it downstairs. Why didn't I phone a friend and ask for help? I was too shy. I even knew who I wanted to ask, but I couldn't. Years later, I told him about it and was roundly told I was an idiot. True. Knew it at the time. Didn't help.

Anyway, now I ask for help and offer it too. I've made good friends that way in fact. A long time ago, someone I didn't know very well was telling a few of us at WI that her parents' new house, in the process of being renovated, had been flooded because of a burst pipe (a breakdown in communication between the person doing the pipework and the one doing the insulation, followed closely by a hard frost). The place was in a total mess and she was having to clear it up in haste before her poor mum and dad saw it. "I'll come and help," I said, and I did, and we've been great friends ever since. We muck in together.

Last year, I was gloomily painting my flat in London and I texted Dandelion to cheer myself up, and she offered to come and help. Now, I was being completely selfish because I knew she was busy, but I accepted her offer. I hope she felt complimented by that, because it is a compliment to have an offer accepted - that is, that it's assumed that you mean what you say and are not being simply polite in a "we must do lunch" way, and that the recipient trusts you enough to ask or accept.

Anyway, the Fellow and his wife are moving house, and on Saturday I offered to help with the packing up. This morning, she rang and took me up on it. That's all really, but I'm so glad they've asked.

Tuesday 26 May 2009

Z seems to have said 'yes' again

It's a good thing that we did so well yesterday, because our planned 4 days of wall-building has rather fallen apart this week. First, the Sage has decided to go to the funeral of his friend, whose death I mentioned the other day. It's 4 hours drive away, so it's quite a commitment for him, but he'd known her and her family for nearer 50 years than 40 and he's not that likely to keep in touch with her son and daughter in future, so he feels he'd like to.

And today it rained, so bricklaying was off the agenda. Instead, I did the paperwork that I've been ignoring. D'you know, it was really difficult to get stuck into it. I worked for a long time, but kept allowing myself to be distracted. It had to be done though, wall or no wall. One part was for a meeting this evening, and the other was for the agenda of next Tuesday's. In addition of course, I had a load of emails that had to be replied to and phone calls to make - they were not part of the distraction, they were necessary but time-consuming. One was from my tenant saying that the boiler is on the blink - he is, lovely chap that he is, dealing with it himself, but I replied under the complete misapprehension that it was the other tenant. Coincidentally, he (Tenant Number 2, whose name might be James) rang up this evening, wanting to okay a couple of small alterations he'd like to make in the flat, so he put me right. I had to send another email to Tenant Number 1 (shall we simply call him Andrew?) apologising that I'd got things all wrong.

This afternoon, I played the organ for the funeral of an old man I used to deliver Meals on Wheels to. 87 years old, he was born in the village and died here, although he lived in Luton for a few of the decades in between.

Now, just after 11 pm, I'm still eating dinner. Damn these evening meetings.

Apart from the fact that I'd much rather have been outside, the other reason I couldn't concentrate this morning - in fact, I felt quite dull and lethargic - was that I was awake for over an hour coughing in the night. I woke before 2, and although I could, after a while, control the impulse to cough, it took enough effort that, as I relaxed into sleep, the cough reflex kicked in again and woke me up. I drank water, I sucked a peppermint that has been sitting by the bath for the last few weeks (no, it wasn't dusty, it was wrapped) and nothing seemed to help. I contemplated going downstairs for some honey, which does seem to have an effect, but it was just that bit more effort than I was prepared to go to. Let's hope the rain has laid the pollen low.

Oh, I seem to have joined another committee. Well, a working party. Hang on, and another one too. Fortunately, the day that one meets next is on a day I'm at Hampton Court. So I just agreed to go along with whatever they decided.

Monday 25 May 2009

Bringing on the wall, Day 6 - Ro joins in

The morning has gone really well. Ro soon got the hang of bricklaying and the three of us together, with the Sage keeping us supplied with mortar, bricks and tea, worked steadily until after 1 o'clock. Then we sat and ate pizza on the lawn.

Dave completed the second pillar.

My hands went a bit funny.

So did Ro's to a lesser extent.

And this is how we've left it. Note also, if you please, that I have cleared away some of the nettles and replaced them with carpet.

This afternoon, I have plants to pot up for Al, more scything to do and a couple of trees to fell. I also need to plant out the rest of the squashes and other things.

I'm having a lovely time. This is as much fun as I ever wanted it to be, and exactly what I hoped for when I first thought of the idea, with the splendid bonus of having Dave to help us.

Sunday 24 May 2009


I woke up coughing at 4 o'clock this morning. I suppose it's because I'd had a chest infection a few weeks ago that hay fever is making me cough rather than sneeze this year; that is, it's affecting the weakest area. The Sage is far more patient with me than I would be with him and sympathises rather than sighs. I lay waiting to go back to sleep and then remembered the bacon and rolls I'd forgotten to take out of the freezer last night. Tilly was quite surprised when I padded downstairs, out to the porch and then back into the kitchen with a box of food. She waited at her bowl for breakfast but I pointed out the time and she went back to her armchair. And then I forgot to take them with me when I went to fetch the papers and go to church. The Sage kindly brought them down the drive so that I didn't have to come home again.

We went for a drive to the depths of Suffolk later to fetch a painting we were buying. The old lady who is moving house is charming and so is her daughter, who is a farmer and breeds Suffolk Punches (which are heavy horses). One of the mares foaled yesterday and is not too impressed with her baby. It was necessary to get up four times in the night to make sure she fed the foal.

It's very pleasant, driving through the Suffolk countryside. It seems more substantial and prosperous than Norfolk. Now, with the trees in full leaf but with wild flowers still blooming and grass fresh and green, it seems comfortable and well cared for. As we drove past a stretch of verge that had recently been mowed, we noticed a clump of blooming poppies. The mower had deliberately left them to flower, which we thought was a nice touch. The may (hawthorn) blossom going over but the horse chestnuts are in flower. It's so enjoyable, the countryside in spring and early summer. Later in the year one forgets to remark the subtlety of the different colours, but in March and April one looks for each change as the leaves unfurl and first the blackthorn and then the hawthorn come into flower, and the different flowers bloom in the meadows and verges.

Al's bees are now calm and happier. After his queen swarmed, they were anxious and bad-tempered until a new queen hatched - two, in fact, as he split the colony again. He's keeping his fingers crossed for their successful maiden flights so that eggs will be laid and numbers will build up again.

Bricklaying again tomorrow. Dave says the weather forecast is more doubtful for Tuesday. I'm enjoying the hot weather and in no hurry for it to rain, but I've had to start watering the garden.

A friend asked how many years we'd been married. I told her - "you're a year behind us then" she said. She and her husband were both born the same year as I was, but are several months older so, although they married at 19, it was in the year previous to my wedding. Nowadays, maybe young love often doesn't last because it's not expected to? I know many parents who don't mind at all when their sons and daughters live with a partner, but would be horrified if the young couple said they were getting married. I'm not saying that the couple themselves don't take their relationship seriously and wholeheartedly, but that if their friends and families don't expect it to last, maybe they're more easily discouraged when, inevitably, some troubles creep in and they can be less likely to persevere and work through them. I'm glad I married young, and gladder still that we are still together.

Saturday 23 May 2009

Vote early, vote often, but who for? (or for whom, if you prefer)

When Ro went to university, he registered for a postal vote and he hasn't altered the arrangement. This year, we have county council elections and the Euro elections on the same day. The candidates for the local election were in the paper a couple of weeks ago, but I still haven't read anything about the EU poll or its candidates. I wasn't too pleased when the system changed to a single transferable vote last time - you vote for a party and the votes each have received determine how many of their candidates, in a pre-determined order, are elected. In this part of the country there are seven seats so each party can field a maximum of seven candidates, but the electorate cannot vote for their person of choice or split their vote; they vote for a party with its list of candidates.

I was interested to see his ballot paper, as I don't know the name of our Euro MP and I've never seen anything in the newspaper about him or her. Ro held up a long piece of paper. There were candidates for 16 or 17 parties on it, many of which I'd never heard of. One was called 'Animals Count'. Another was a Christian party. Several proclaimed their patriotism. One candidate is an Independent. The usual parties are fielding seven aspirants but some of the minor ones have fewer. I have never heard of any of the candidates. This gives little impetus to people to exercise their democratic right and obligation - yes, I will vote, but I have little idea, at present, to which bunch of idiots I will give that vote.

Anyway, that's still a couple of weeks away. This morning, I woke up at quarter to five and couldn't sleep again. I didn't want to get up that early, so read for a while and got up an hour or so later. I went out in the garden with my scythe again. I've got a good deal done today. In the end, I didn't have time to get any planting done but plenty of weeds will be smothered this summer.

Oh, and Ro is looking forward to trying his hand at bricklaying on Monday.

Friday 22 May 2009

Three squares, and a prime twice

Okay, it was more confusing than I expected it to be ( I should have mentioned from the start that the Sage hasn't had a birthday yet this year), and a few of you muddied the waters even more, mischievously. He was born in June 36, so was 36 when we married, 36 years ago on Sunday in May 73, and he'll be 73 next month. It's all a pleasant linking of numbers - well, so I think anyway, although numbers don't appeal to everyone as they do to me. Also, 36 is a square number and I'm particularly fond of those. As I am of prime numbers.

I've been planting squash plants today. 40-something done, which is about one-third of the total. They cover the ground and are no trouble and although Al can get plenty of traditional Hallowe'en pumpkins and butternut squashes, other varieties are harder and more expensive to come by, and he can sell all I can grow. I just hope that people don't use my lovely fruits only for decoration rather than eating.

I noticed, when moving the tomato plants that are due to be planted outdoors, that the first fruit has set. They are a bush variety that I haven't grown before. It was nearly 7.30 before I finished working in the garden (I'd also been scything, which deeply impressed and rather scared the friends who called round) so it was decreed that fish and chips would be the order of the day. Ro was quite relieved, as he'd been steeling himself to eat bloaters.

Thursday 21 May 2009

Z and the Sage's Special Day

In a few days it'll be our wedding anniversary. I know, again. We seem to have been married forever. However, this year is a special one, numerically speaking. I celebrated being married for longer than I was single many years ago, and am heading for the two-thirds mark before too long, but now at last the Sage will have been married for as many years as he was a bachelor.

Some of you will know the answer and the rest of you can work it out quite easily, but if I tell you that the Sage was the age of the year of his birth (in the sense that Dave, last September, pointed out that he was born in '54 and he was 54 years old and, a year earlier I, born in '53, was 53) when he got married and on Sunday he'll have been married for half his age in years...

What year were we married?

Wednesday 20 May 2009

Bringing on the wall, Day 5 - Z learns from her mistakes

We've done about half of the first section, and so have built nearly one-tenth of the wall. Approximately. You can see what we did today because the fresh mortar is darker than the rest. I was a bit slower than I should have been because I'd made mistakes last week. I hadn't been careful with my joins, so had occasionally made them too wide. Not by much, but these mistakes had to be corrected or else the final brick wouldn't fit in the available gap in each row where it had happened. I started by making tight joints, but then decided to rub two bricks together (they are very soft bricks) end to end to make them minutely shorter and gradually correct the problem that way. Then the Sage helpfully filed a bit off the occasional brick and that made all the difference. You probably can't tell, but the final brick in the course that's completed; that is, the one in the middle of the gap, has rather a lot of mortar holding it in place because I'd been over-correcting for some time. Oh well, never mind. This short section is our first attempt, and I hope that by the end my workmanship will have considerably improved.

The other thing to observe, apart from my lovely husband, is that for the first time I was able to remove my sweater and work in my teeshirt. The forecast showers did not materialise and the sun shone most of the morning.

This was the second and last morning I had free this week, but we hope to crack on well next.

The Sage was upset today, to hear that an old friend had died. He had been the neighbour of a young family back in the '60s when he lived in Ipswich and their young children had rather taken to him. They were much the ages of his niece and nephew, and he'd often been invited in for meals. Later, they moved to Melton Mowbray and he moved to Lowestoft but they always kept in touch. Ken had a debilitating stroke quite young, in his 50s, and Katie looked after him for many years, until he died a few years ago. She rang a few weeks ago to say she wasn't too well and was out of hospital for a weekend, and today their daughter rang to say she'd died. She was only in her early 70s and it's so sad that she and Ken weren't able to enjoy their life together once their children had grown up.

Tilly was rather pleased with herself this afternoon. She asked for dinner so I gave it to her; later the Sage mentioned that he'd fed her (before I had). I don't know why he hadn't told me, as usually I feed her if I'm at home, but she got two full meals in the space of half an hour. Little rascal.

Tuesday 19 May 2009

I swear

I have indeed sweared and been sworn in. Specifically, I've solemnly and sincerely declared that I will faithfully and diligently discharge my duties. As churchwarden, that is. I realised that I was saying it all for the last time, which was almost poignant, except that I've been saying for a long time that I'm looking forward to giving it up.

But this morning I went to a remarkable lecture. It was given by Ant0ny P3nr0se, who is the son of the surrealist artist Roland P and his wife, L33 M1ll3r, the photographer. it was not so much a fine-art lecture, although it included some fascinating photos and some awful (in the shocking sense, fine as they were) ones and some interesting art, as a memoir of his parents and the people they knew, who included all the well-known modern artists who were prominent in the 1930s. Tony knew nothing of his mother's work as a photographer until after her death, when he and his wife found an attic full of boxes of negatives, and it was as a result of that that she has become so famous again. If you ever get a chance to hear him, do so. It will bring you near tears, but there are some stories that should be heard. At the end, getting up to give the vote of thanks, for the first time in four years I made no attempt to talk about the lecture or to describe my reaction to it. I simply said that the visual and verbal images said all that was needed and thanked him for a magnificent lecture.

Afterwards, I went to get some keys cut and then went and bought a pair of shoes. One of the pairs I bought a month ago is so wonderfully comfortable and good-looking too that I have bought it in a different colour. If it had come in several colours, I'd have bought them all.

Then I went to see Weeza, and babysat while she was at the dentist. A highly amusing thing happened, in a slightly shocking way. Zerlina, who was nine months old yesterday, had a temper tantrum. She was furious with me. She'd had a nap and I'd given her some fromage frais (I think that has a circumflex accent somewhere, just add it mentally if so, will you?) and we'd played for a bit, but then she started to get edgy so I realised she was still hungry. Weeza had left her tea, which was a concoction of potato, chicken, peas and sweetcorn to judge from the lumpy bits, and I heated it up and gave it to her. She had a feeding cup of water which she helped herself too when she wanted it. But halfway through the meal, she picked it up back to front, so the water tipped away from the spout and she wasn't getting a drink. So I removed it from her hands and offered it to her the right way. Well, she bawled. Tears of fury appeared and she shouted at me angrily. It was quite startling, because she clearly wasn't just unhappy or frustrated, but furious with me for taking her drink. It didn't last long and she ate the rest of her tea, but when Weeza came home I told her the story. "She did that with me yesterday," said Weeza. "I read the same book twice and it's her current favourite so she wanted it again, but I was bored with that one so got another, and she lost her temper with me. It's not as if I exactly pander to her every whim, but she's mostly good-tempered, so it was quite a surprise."

She seems to have reached the Terrible Twos some fifteen months early.

Oh, I forgot to mention the Archdeacon's Charge. That was something to behold.

Monday 18 May 2009

Bringing on the wall, Day 4 - only 1 picture though

It's so useful having a clergyman and a churchwarden on the bricklaying . Not that we have a hotline or anything, but it hasn't rained all day, although yesterday showers were forecast. The first course of bricks has been laid, the second only lacks a couple of bricks because we ran out of mortar (making another batch would have meant lunch being late - no brainer, don't you agree?) and the second pillar has been started.

It's overgrown and weedy on the left of the picture because that was where one of the three compost heaps used to be and, just out of sight, is a greenhouse. Against that stretch of wall a potting shed will, if we get around to it, be constructed. We're hoping to get the whole wall (this is only the first and smallest stretch) constructed by the autumn if all goes well, though sense goes before sensibility here and if it doesn't get finished we'll just do what we can and finish next year. Still, although I'm only free on Wednesday this week, I'm free every morning but Tuesday next, so we'll see how it goes.

I bought some lovely sea bass from Paul the Travelling Fishmonger, this morning, at fairly vast expense, and didn't go shopping otherwise so I had to scout around. Fortunately, I had some broccoli and some potatoes, with which I decided to make a favourite dish: Spicy Masala Potatoes. I checked the recipe. Hm. It was already well after 6 pm, but worth a try... I phoned the shop. Al was still there. "I need a few more things, can you bring them please?" He was relaxed about this. Well, this is the lad who, at just before 9am, rang his father and asked him to go to the mushroom farm any time such as right now. "A chili, an onion, some ginger and some fresh coriander, please." I had the other ingredients, but I somehow feel that without those a certain something would have been lost. Well, I'd have improvised, of course.

Anyway, Dave has met the whole family now, except my sister. We have plans for the children each to take on a course of bricks in order of their height. Tilly can carry the bricks on her back (she's the dog, BTW) and the wall will be built in No Time.

Sunday 17 May 2009

Z cooks (but not for Monday lunch, which will be cheese again)

I described dinner to Ro - lamb, pot-roasted on a bed of tomato, onion, carrot and aubergine, roast potatoes, roast parsnips, cauliflower and his face brightened. "You'll miss us when you're gone" I said, "tee hee". He's a good cook, I know from his photos of the meals he cooked at university, but he's never cooked a meal for us in the four years he's been home again, I don't think. He helps me occasionally and, when I was away once and Dilly suggested everyone took it in turns to cook for everyone else, he co-ordinated the arrangements, which apparently let him off the hook.

I didn't go to the street market as I was looking after the children in the afternoon. The weather was windy and showery - bright sunshine interspersed with brief downpours of rain. Al was very busy apparently. Dilly was too - it's Maths GCSE time tomorrow and some last minute tutoring, frankly, is probably too late, so she spent her time consolidating things that were (or should be) known and raising confidence rather than trying to teach anything extra.

The weather forecast for tomorrow and Wednesday is sunny intervals - fine, but it all depends what comes in between. I suppose, unless Dave has a better guess now than I do, we'll have to wait for the morning and see how it looks. I've only got two spare mornings this coming week, and if it rains I can't put off my other engagements. Dave and I are both keen to get on, so we'll be disappointed if it does rain.

We also have to write up the catalogue for our next sale this week. Weeza is coming over again to help with this. She was here on Friday for the same purpose, but ended up looking after me as I languished on the sofa recovering from the vapours.

Saturday 16 May 2009

You should see the other fellah...

I've realised that I must have fainted twice, as I'm unaware of having hit my face on the pavement and the second time I was being held by Al. But this is what I woke up to this morning.

Eye closed

Eye open

Fortunately, as you see, most of it is hidden when the eye is open.

I rang Al to ask if he wanted the rest of the broad bean plants - he did, and he also wondered if I had any more tomato plants as they're going quite fast. I sorted out the final couple of dozen, and runner beans, aubergines and chilli peppers as well. I've been potting up and sorting out the rest of the plants I'm keeping to plant outside, and all I have to send in now are some more courgettes that I've potted up - Al has discovered that if the plants are big enough to have baby fruits on, he can get double the price for them. Tomorrow is Street Market day - one of the town's streets closes and is full of market stalls for the day. This happens three times a year and the May one is for plants and garden-related stuff. Al wants to be open - he's not far from and in sight of the street - but Dilly is tutoring all day, with people anxious about forthcoming GCSEs who want a spot of extra help, so he'll be looking after the children too. I'm sure that the Sage will lend a hand. I can go in later, but I'm busy all morning at the church. I can't take the morning off as I'm playing the organ, and I can't swap as the other organist is on holiday in Portugal.

Oh, and those baskets. They're made in Kenya. They're great, and they smell all haylike and lovely. I've bought two of them from Al and I will get more as you can use them for all sorts of things as well as shopping. I think several people will be receiving them as presents. Rather than take pictures, I'll show you the website. When Al's arrived, he put Squiffany in it and carried her around town to test its strength. So, although the sizes of them vary a bit, they're big and strong enough to carry a 4-year-old.

Friday 15 May 2009

Drama at the Buttercross

I'd spent the morning at the school at a music lesson in the usual way. One lad, who isn't very confident and whom I couldn't get to do what was asked of him a few weeks ago, particularly shone. He had to be persuaded and encouraged to perform his part - really nice that the other lads in the group showed kindness and understanding - but afterwards he was happy and friendly to me. At one point, chatting, I made a silly mistake and apologised and he grinned in a moment's real friendship .

Some time later, I called at the library, paid the fine from some while back, when I forgot the week my books were due and took them back a whole 7 days late, which cost me £6.30, took out more books and cycled down to Al. I talked to him, and admired the lovely new woven shopping bags he has. Someone rang him the other day and asked to send a sample, and Dilly and I both said immediately that he must stock them. They're made in Uganda, or the palm leaves are grown in Uganda and they're made in Kenya - I"ll have to get back to you on that. Anyway, after a few minutes chat, I said I must go to the cashpoint and then I'd come back for my vegetables.

I put my card in the cashpoint, keyed in the PIN and the amount I wanted, and then started to feel woozy. I would have liked to sit down at once, but both card and money were locked in, so I had to wait. As soon as I had them both, I went to sit down, but couldn't quite control my legs and banged my forehead (not hard) on the wall. A woman came up and asked if I needed help. "I feel a bit faint" I explained. "I just want to sit down for a few minutes." Actually, I wanted to lie down and close my eyes. Al appeared looking worried as she offered to get me a glass of water. I accepted with thanks.

I shut my eyes and was startled, on opening them, to find several people clustered round. I was helped into the bank and given a chair - offered the office, but I said I was all right. I drank some water and rested my head on the desk - and heard someone say an ambulance had been called for. "I'm all right," I said, "really, I don't need an ambulance." I explained and was as coherent as I ever am, so they phoned again and it was decided that a paramedic would come. A friend came into the bank and offered me a lift home, which I accepted, but then I was told my husband was on the way, so when she returned, having transacted her business, I thanked her again and said I had a lift. A few minutes later, the Sage, Weeza and Zerlina appeared. Yes, it was embarrassing. I also had to ask to go into the office after all, so that I could lie flat. The manager had to vacate it.

I started to feel better when I was lying down, and then the paramedic, Neil, arrived, took my blood pressure - it was low, wouldn't you have guessed and then I sat up and he took it again, and then he wrote down all my details - the Sage started to intervene helpfully, but I suggested that perhaps checking that I knew my name and age and all was part of the checking procedure. Then I decided to lie down for another little rest before I fell over, so he checked my blood pressure again, which had dropped further, and then he checked my blood sugar level, which was fine. It was agreed that I'd simply fainted and I needed to rest.

Actually, I didn't realise I had fainted. I thought I'd just closed my eyes. But Al said that when he arrived and sat down and put his arm around me, I leant into it and my eyes rolled back and I went limp. He was awfully worried, until I started to snore gently. Mm, yes, that's what I wanted to hear, isn't it?

Finally, I said I was ready to go home and I tottered out of the bank, remembering to thank everyone. "Take it slowly" said Al kindly. "Actually, I need to go as fast as I can so I'm in the car before I fall over again," I explained. My head was thoroughly swimming. But by the time I got home I started to feel better, and went from being too hot to chilly. Weeza got me some lunch, because it was getting on for 3 o'clock and I knew I should eat even if I didn't feel like it, and I spent the afternoon on the sofa.

When I went out to get dinner ready, I found that the assortment of veg that Weeza had provided was new potatoes (Cornish), calabrese and, puzzlingly, two bunches of watercress. I realised that she was feeding me iron. I made soup, it took less than 25 minutes, and we had the potatoes and the calabrese with smoked mackerel, which I filleted while the soup cooked. I'd meant to have salad, but the message didn't quite get across.

Anyway, I'm all right now, but I've discovered that not only do I have a scrape on the right side of my forehead where I hit the wall on the way down, but a bump on my left eyebrow and a scrape on my left cheek, where evidently I hit the pavement.

I've done about the most embarrassing thing I shall ever do in public with my clothes on - or I hope so, at any rate. I've found, yet again, that people are kind and helpful and anxious to lessen my embarrassment as much as possible, while doing all that they can to look after me and, perhaps most important of all, that however slowly you take it, you should never get on your bike straight after giving blood. It's the car in future, even if it's only 2 miles from home. I'm not sure that my half-litre of O Rh+ is quite worth all the drama.

Thursday 14 May 2009

Z outsmarts the rabbits

We've got a lot of rabbits in the fields around us. The numbers have been building up in the last few years. Last year, they ate all my french and runner bean plants; I had none left although I sowed twice and put plastic netting around. Al thought we might as well not bother this year, but I'm a stubborn and persistent type and it's an odd thing, that although Al gets in locally grown runner beans from the wholesaler, as well as ones that local people bring in from their gardens for him to sell, french beans seem to come from Kenya or a similar far-flung place all year round.

By next year of course, all will be well, because the wall and greenhouses will surround three sides of the kitchen garden, and we'll put wire along the fourth side.

I told you in the post I put a link to yesterday, that I've 6 beds, 38 feet x 4 feet with concrete paths in between. In the last couple of years we've constructed several more beds, shorter and wider, in the new space I described. So yesterday the Sage went and bought a roll of wire netting and we've wired off two beds together, so there's a path in between. Another two will be done separately.

I'm growing a very limited range of vegetables this year; broad, runner and two varieties of french beans, swiss chard, spinach and courgettes and, in the greenhouse, tomatoes - 8 different varieties, bell and chilli peppers and two sorts of aubergines, purple and white, and cucumbers. Some of the tomato and aubergine plants can go outside too. The rest of the space will be used for squash plants. Loads of squashes. I just put them in the ground and leave them until autumn, and then I pick them up, we eat some and Al sells the rest. I've also got globe and jerusalem artichokes and asparagus. Oh, and I've just remembered I've got some cavolo nero plants which I grew from seeds I bought in France. I must plant those out. Suitably protected against pigeons of course. I'm also going to grow some white sprouting broccoli because you can hardly ever buy that and, much as I like purple sprouting, the white is lovely.

When I have more time, another year (not necessarily next year you understand) I'll go back to growing a wider range of veg, but for now I go for easily grown, trouble- and pest-free things, where Al will take the surplus off my hands. If I aimed for more, I'd fail, and doing your best and it not being quite good enough is one thing but being a bit inadequate is another.

Still, for now, at least the rabbits are thwarted. Dear little things. It's lovely, coming down the drive on my bike, when bunnies, bantams, pheasants and pigeons scatter before me. They don't need to, but few are brave enough to stand aside and not scamper.

Wednesday 13 May 2009

Bringing on the wall, Day 3 - foolishness is splendid

It seems that I told you about our plans to build this wall more than 3 years ago, and the footings were already in by then. It seems that, if we have it done by the end of the autumn, that the whole plan will have taken 5 years from conception to completion. I'm tremendously pleased that we have finally made a start on it, that I can actually - slowly, carefully and not to a professional standard notwithstanding - lay bricks and that we're all enjoying it. I love working with the Sage, and we've been so busy over quite some years that we don't do things together any more. And Dave, as well as being the spur and the help to getting it done at all, is good company and we are all getting on well and working well together.

Fabulously and wonderfully, the Sage is already talking about the next project he has in mind - rebuilding our boathouse, which hasn't been used for several decades. I adore this man (don't tell him that, I prefer to play it cool) - he's as much of a fool as I am. But we're fools with feet on the ground, because we plan things that are achievable*. I don't know if Dave is a fool? - oh go on, you must be, Dave. I'd only met you once when you offered to help with this project and now it's taking up half your life for several months. The kindness is terrific (ah, we're sorted into 'old enough to know where that comes from' and not, I suspect).

*I'm not entirely sure about the achievableness of the boathouse project, since it stands in the river and I'm not good around water. But I'll don the old Mae West and brave the element.

Anyway, today the first pillar was completed - that is, to the eventual height of the wall, which will be about 5 foot. Dave is leaning heavily on the wall, which makes it look as if it's bowed out slightly. It isn't.

As you can more clearly see here.

Tuesday 12 May 2009

Bringing on the wall, Day 2

Dave had brought along a dear little girly's trowel. Since I am, myself, a dear little girly, I found that this was much easier to use and I happily built wall along with him. We had to make it a short morning, as I was babysitting in the afternoon, but we have agreed that we both want to have fun building this wall at our leisure and neither of us want to over-exert ourself, for health and fitness reasons.

I have realised that I can't manage the labouring part of the job - mixing the mortar in the cement mixer - as I'm too short to get a shovelful in the machine without spilling half of it. Fortunately, the Sage doesn't mind. I've told the whole family that they are all welcome to lay some of the bricks too - and I mean it, you can too if you like. Liberty Hall and all that here, and you'll get lunch, although Dave has found it to be bread and cheese so far. We only work in the mornings so that we can return to Real Life after lunch.

BW suggested that the men are rather well-dressed for bricklaying. Dave's jeans do, indeed, look rather smart until you look closer -

If she'd seen my jeans, she'd have made no such suggestion

These were Weeza's, some 20 years ago. When she tired of them I adopted them until they went into holes and since then I've only used them (when they fit, hem hem) for painting and suchlike jobs.

The Sage wore what he usually wears. He would wear it for shovelling cement or for dining with the Queen. Smartness doesn't , therefore, come into it.

The results of today's endeavours. I had difficulty in getting far enough back to get it all in; the wall is not on the huh*, it's the camera.

*Norfolk for wonky

Z counts pollen

I coughed lightly throughout the governors' meeting. The last item under AGM was the guidelines received from the government about what to do in the event of Mexican flu. "Er, sorry," I said.

Apparently, now, they don't put up what the pollen count is, but instead what plants are in flower that are likely to cause hay fever. Until a few years ago - well, until my 40s - I never had hay fever. Partly, no doubt, this was because I lived in a seaside town. I thought I'd tracked it down to a rye grass, but we've had rain at the time that flowers the last few years so it hasn't affected me. But the flower they're warning of at the moment is the oak tree. We have a couple of large oaks on the drive, so it could be that. I took an anti-histamine pill this morning and was fine all day, though I'm a bit affected tonight, so hay fever seems the likely culprit.

This afternoon, I looked after Zerlina while her mother was at the dentist. She's still employed so still covered by BUPA health insurance, so might as well use it while she can. In the last week, Zerlina has learned to stand upright and, while holding on, take a few steps. She's an agile crawler and climbs things. She'll be 9 months old next week - Weeza is already having to watch her constantly.

Al has been taking a lot of plants to the shop to sell. Some of the courgette plants in large pots have quite decent-sized fruit. I'd meant him to take the slightly smaller ones and leave those for me, but he's taken them and put a fancy price on them. Hm. He's also taken beans and tomatoes - I grew 8 different varieties and people love to try out the unusual ones - as do I. I'm going to plant out the ones I'm keeping for myself tomorrow, as they're flowering now. French and runner beans are in need of being planted, but they'll have to be thoroughly wired off against rabbits. So that's a job for tomorrow afternoon, I hope (if the weather's okay) after Dave's visit to Bring On The Wall.

Just a couple of pics today, to follow - don't want to bore you.

Monday 11 May 2009

Bringing on the wall, at last. The first day.

Lots of pictures. Here we go.

The bricks have been here a while.

This is the long side.

This is the short side. You might notice that the corner isn't a right angle.

This is what just under a tonne of sand looks like.

Cement. In case you can't read. Wait, if you can't read, what are you doing here?

Z's tiny hand is ringless. Because I'm delicate and get blisters and callouses and such painful blemishes. Z thinks ahead, she does.

Dave inspects the area that I've been scything. The cement mixer keenly anticipates some action.

Dave had just mentioned that a real brickie can halve a brick with a single blow. He halves a brick with a single blow. He glows, gently. It's rather sweet.

The Sage is entrusted with the Adding of the Water, this being a very important job.

The cement mixer in action. I was sure I'd filmed this, because a still photo doesn't quite show the full picture, but it seems not.

The first trowelful!

The first brick!!




Oh I say. Didn't he do well?

Sunday 10 May 2009

Two swallows make a summer, but made Z cry

We're all still receiving congratulations - that is, Ro the Sage and I - on his leaving home. I'm a bit puzzled - it sounds as if people think that either we've been keeping him here and that he's been wanting to leave, or that he's been a nuisance to us. I don't think either is the case, but observers can know best.

I was really upset this morning. Having gone to the church at 7.30 to get ready for the early service, I found all the doors open. I mentioned some months ago that we suspected someone was sleeping in there, and was certainly turning the heating on, until I put a stop to that by turning the boiler off altogether. But there are all sorts of things, just little items that make it clear that someone is still going in and wants us to know he is, and that he is proprietorial about the place. That this is done in slightly disturbing and yet harmless and quite childish ways (putting the number 666 on the hymn board, but leaving it on the floor propped in its usual weekday place rather than hanging it up, for example, or turning all the fuse switches off on the power board) - but working out how to bypass the lock to the church rooms, which was how he was able to turn the heating on, was another matter. A new bolt has finally been fitted, after a few teething problems. Leaving the doors open seems harmless, but then birds come in at dusk to roost and they can't find their way out again. It's impossible to catch them, and they inevitably die.

This morning, a pair of swallows was flying from one end of the church to the other, calling to each other. It was terribly upsetting. I think I was more upset than anyone, because most people didn't realise that they will die. It's made me very angry with the arrogance of the complete dickhead who thinks that he's proving some sort of stupid point, in staking his claim to the church (which isn't an argument, it's for all and always has been as far as I'm concerned, and you don't have to be a Christian or a believer for your village church to be yours if you care for it to be) and as part of the fallout, in a way he doesn't understand - because he doesn't deign to come and treat us as reasonable human beings - he kills birds that have flown to Africa and back, and will die of thirst looking out of a church window. Over the top reaction? Sure. Sodding dickhead. I will go while he's there one day, and I'll explain reasonably. Indeed, I have put a note on the door (I hate notices because they are officious, but what to do?) This is it, please excuse the capitals -



Later, I watched a blackbird pecking over a patch of ground that has been newly dug and watered, ready to have black membrane put over (I don't weed) and squashes grown on it. He is quite tame and didn't fly away when I approached. When I went back to the house, I heard a songthrush. I looked up and he was singing on the apex of the roof.

In other news, the Sage has cooked dinner again tonight. I am astonished. And awfully pleased, that he can surprise me after all these years.

And I've been coughing all day. I think it's hayfever, because my eyes were prickly earlier in the day. I never had hayfever when we lived by the coast, but it grew on me in my 40s. It hasn't been a problem in the last few years, but the weather has been very dry. We've hardly had any rain for weeks and weeks. A little on Friday, but it's been a lovely day today. However, the garden needs to be watered from now on. Our sand on gravel soil, once dried out, would need rain all summer to keep the vegetables from dying of drought.

Saturday 9 May 2009

Things to come, shapewise?

Ro tells me that his sister and his friend Zain have both texted him, congratulating him on his decision to move out (congratulating? Like I'm an Old Man of the Sea he has to break away from? Sheesh). Weeza knew because the Sage had told both of us, but he knows that Zain must have read it here. He now thinks that one advantage of moving out will be that I won't write about him any more. He's flattering himself of course, I don't think I mention him, except in passing, that often. "I'm not that interesting of course" when I told him that. "If I were like *startlingly badly-behaved son of a friend* you'd have more to say."

I don't think I would though. I'd be more likely to mention the good times. Dirty washing would stay out of sight.

This reminds me, when I said, earlier this afternoon, that I needed to buy food for the weekend, the Sage volunteered to do the shopping. Awfully good of him, so I reminded him that we needed food for two days and off he went. A few minutes ago, he came in the room. "Dinner in about half an hour, all right?" "Oh, okay, that's a bit early," I said, preparing to get up. It was made clear that the Sage is doing the cooking. I don't mind at all. Especially as he came in carrying a glass of wine for me. I hid the glass I'd already poured and thanked him prettily.

I wonder if he'll cook dinner often, once it's just the two of us? Ro lived away for 3 years of course, when he was at university, but that was at the time when first I was looking after my mum who dramatically told Phil upon meeting him for the first (only) time at Christmas "I've received my death sentence, you know" and, at about the same time, Al had moved back here, having just spent all he had on buying and starting the shop. So we were never actually alone at all. Once Al moved out, I suppose we were during term time, but I can't remember much about it. Gosh, that was nearly 6 years ago, how could I be expected to?

Friday 8 May 2009

Bringing on the wall, soon.

"Next we go to Papua New Guinea, where there are scenes describing women who were put to death, having been accused of being witches. Some viewers may find this disturbing" I paraphrase, I'm not actually quoting in spite of the quotation marks. But this is a quote (unless the relevant word is distressing, am I likely to remember?)

"Ro - "Find it disturbing? Who wouldn't?" and he changed the channel. Indeed.

Apparently, while I was out yesterday, he had a talk with his father. If I'd been there I'd not have been excluded, but I've given him openings this evening ... anyway, he's been talking about buying a house, but now he's likely to be moving out in any case, into a room in someone's house, as a half-way measure. I'm not surprised, nor dismayed, but neither am I relieved - he's getting on for 25 and, although always enjoyable company, he's been quite disengaged - that is, more than a friendly lodger than a close family member - in the time he's lived here since he left university. We've plenty of space and he's been able to save for a deposit, it's been fine.

Weeza thinks I should make him feel guilty by being awfully upset. I think he'd think I was being odd, if he believed me at all.

I expect he'll buy in the next 6 months, unless property prices enter freefall, which isn't that likely.

Oh, there was just one meal I put on to my credit card in Italy, for 2 of us. I just got the bill in pounds. It was less than I expected. The exchange rate improved during the week then.

Oh. the sand and cement have arrived. I didn't have the nous to photograph the lorry, but I have taken pictures of nearly a ton of sand and several bags of cement. How exciting. I must post them. Will it be all right to report on the Wall's Progress here, or does it need a whole blog to itself? It hardly seems necessary, although it would mean that all you lovely people who flock here to lend a hand (possibly by just issuing admiring encouragement) could post their own thoughts and possibly photos of Dave's and my Builder's Bottoms. Hm. The camera is on top of a box of chocolates I'm not going to eat, so I may not put them up tonight.

Update - about 10 pm - Ro has told me himself, good lad. Boys can be concerned that their mothers will fuss. I've no idea if he thought I would, but still a job not to be shirked, so that's good.

Z procrastinates, isn't a blog useful?

Yes, I'm better now, thanks. I had reached the point of tiredness and lack of food (I must remember to apologise to the headteacher) where I wasn't thinking straight. The evening meeting really didn't help - it was quite confusing and we didn't actually get through the whole presentation as a couple of people asked questions, after which it turned into an opinion-giving session, without enough knowledge yet given out for informed opinion. I didn't say a word during the meeting, except to murmur a couple of facts that I did know to the chairman of governors next to me.

I ate a couple of sausages and some asparagus that the Sage had kept from dinner for me, drank a couple of glasses of wine and still felt drained. Later, I went to find more food, ate the rest of the bolognese sauce from the night before, on a piece of toast (it was more than I needed but I ate it anyway), took a bottle of wine from the fridge, couldn't find a corkscrew - we have four corkscrews - and, rather than looking for one properly, shoved it back and found a screw-top bottle of wine instead. I was beyond being sensible. I drank another glass of wine, went for an early night, but when I'd turned the light out found that all that food and wine made me unable to sleep. So, not to disturb the Sage who had just come to bed, I went and sat on the bathroom floor and read the newspaper. Inevitably, I fell asleep and woke with a crick in my neck, went to bed and slept mercifully soundly.

No more than a slight state of confusion today. The phone keeps ringing and the Sage is out - he loves answering the phone so I don't expect to have to.

Loads of work, not doing it. Damn. Must get on.

Thursday 7 May 2009

Z is a bit overwhelmed

The meeting in London was fine, but at the time when the floor was given to open questions and no one raised a hand, our hearts rose, briefly, until someone did. And it turned out to be a point about digital presentation of lectures. I'm sure that nearly everyone's heart sank. This has dominated (hee hee, I wrote donimated first time) questions for several years. It's here, people. In a couple of years, hardly anyone will use slides and a projector. Most of us are there already. Believe it and deal with it and stop bitching.

Pah. Sorry. I've been too long without food and a hastily swallowed few bites, accompanied by a badly needed couple of glasses of wine, in the last few minutes, hasn't yet improved my state of mind.

When I got home, I found emails asking for more meetings and asking me to babysit. I replied, accepting, then went off for this evening's meeting, which raised more questions than answers. I got home, complained to the Sage about things that hadn't happened while I was away last week (he's all gingered up and ready to please, darling boy that he is, gosh, I think he might need a Toothy Smile of Consolation before long).

Next week has filled up. I'm keeping mornings free, because I'm otherwise engaged, apart from Friday. Yes, the time has done come. Dave and I are going to mend fences. No, what am I talking about? That's nonsense. I mean, Dave and I (and the Sage) are going to build a wall. Give us a day or two, and then you can come and help if you like. No, really, it would be a pleasure. We'd love to see you. We're awfully sociable and friendly, and I'll do lunch and all (sandwiches, I daresay, but who doesn't like a sandwich?) but Dave will be in charge and I'll be glowering in the background, and, frivolous though we normally are, we're also terribly focused.

The Sage didn't quite believe it. He hasn't ordered the sand and cement yet, though I gave him plenty of notice. He's doing it tomorrow. First thing.

I need more food.

Wednesday 6 May 2009

Brer Z

Oh, it's so sweet, the way people overestimate me. You know the way I assume, of appearing slightly daffy but giving the impression there are hidden depths? In fact, what's there is almost all shallows. I tell you that honestly, but I am sure that a few of you think that I'm still hiding a Mariana Trench in there somewhere, because that's the impression I can, on occasion, give.

Anyway, I went to a meeting this evening at the school, where I am frankly a spare part. I'm happy to go, because I simply sit and listen and marvel at how bloody good everyone else is. It's an impressive committee, and I'm the token non-participant. I spoke twice in an hour and a half, once to make a pertinent point (my only chance) and once to make a sarcastic, but entirely sound, observation about the Local Authority. We're rather a long way from Ipswich and mere lip-service is paid, in the form of occasional sucking-up, to the fact we're very effective. Pity they keep forgetting to mention what we do in letters, conferences, and on their website.

At the end, when confirming the date of the next meeting, a chairman was looked around for. We take it in turns. It was adjudged to be my turn. "Fine," I said, " but you know I know nothing. I'll just refer each agenda item to the person who does." And this will be fine, it'll work - we've got three headteachers there for a start, we hardly need calling to order. Anyway, ahem, I could do that.

But 'my' headmaster said, earnestly, that I mustn't keep underestimating myself, that I know more than I give myself credit for. So I told him what I said to you at the top of the page. He quite got it, and told me a tale about a chairman of governors at a school where he was a mere Senior Teacher (no, really, he's awfully good, I'd not have given him the job otherwise), who bumbled a bit but turned out to be mustard (well, it was a Norfolk school) when put to the test. I mentioned that he was doing it again, and to lower his thoughts. I like to keep something in reserve, but for no-one to be sure what that is, in the hope that they believe that it's more than it is. But I don't disguise that.

I'm off to London tomorrow, on the 8 o'clock train, for a highly dutiful meeting. Home again on the 4 o'clock, so that I can be at the next meeting at 7. No time to see anyone, therefore. Sorry, darlings. Next time.

Ooh, news on the garden - I've planted 9 cucumber plants in the greenhouse. First, I barrowed quantities of cow muck for them to grow in. Splendid stuff, well-rotted cow manure. Full of worms.

Tuesday 5 May 2009

From the side, they looked like mermaids. Who knew?

The statue in the main square was quite impressive.

At second glance, it was amazingly rude.

Monday 4 May 2009

Photos to come

It hardly seems possible, within a day of returning home, that one has been on holiday at all. We all have to snap straight back into everyday life. I've done a lot in the greenhouses today, moving, labelling and potting up, and I've also weeded the big greenhouse and had the sprinkler on all afternoon, ready for cucumbers to go out there. I'll wait to plant tomatoes until the plants are in flower, so that they put their energy into fruit production as well as growth.

I haven't visited that part of Italy before - we were staying in Bologna and also visited Ferrara, Mantua and Ravenna, with guided tours of each place and its art galleries and main churches. Marching along with my walking pole, I wondered if it was actually useful or a placebo. When I went out the first evening for dinner and walked for 15 minutes, briskly (for it was raining) without it, I realised that it had indeed been a helpful aid, and one I relied on more as the week went on.

The weather was a bit iffy to start with - mostly dry and not cold, but a sharp shower one evening and a downpour with thunderstorm another. It also rained, and was chilly, in Mantua, which is quite a bit north of where we were based. However as I said, it was still warm enough for early-evening open-air jacuzzi-bathing on the second night; the third we were too late back and by Friday it was hot and delicious weather. We were back at the hotel by 4.30 (our tour guide offered another stop but we were fully cultured up for the day) and I, with a few others, hot-footed it up to the roof.

I enjoyed the visit very much, and the outstanding part was the friendship. I had a lovely time. The group of us dining together increased each night and we completely relaxed and had fun. Couples tended to stay together, so it was single women (I was not the only one to have left a husband at home, but there were spinsters and widows too) who went out in groups. Great friendships can be made among people who are not 'on the pull' or in a couple - I'm not excluding men from this, although there happened to be no unattached men in our party - and middle-aged and plus women can be fine company and support together. We made sure that no one ever felt alone. There were 30 of us in all, which is a good number as we could all get to know each other within the week - last year's party of 40 meant that it was not quite so easy.

Another good thing was our lovely tour manager, Nathalie. She went out with us each day and made the local arrangements. We had guides in each place too - Christina and Marie-Angela in Mantua, Laura in Ferrara and Luciana in Ravenna. I mention them particularly to demonstrate how much better than I used to be with names. Boasting, and stretching the point, our driver was usually Mirco, once Luca and, to the airport, Mirco's father, who was not introduced by name. Nathalie is a tiny, slender woman in her thirties, who is French but has lived near Bologna for fourteen years. She's married to a local man and has two daughters. She was delightful, cheerful, informative and charmed us all. I suspect that the envelope which went round on the last day was generously filled.

The food was also a pleasure. I was circumspect at breakfast, sticking to fruit (bemusingly, and this is the only criticism I have of the hotel - although I found the same in Venice a couple of years ago - all the prepared fruit and juices were tinned and I resorted to grapefruit juice and prunes of all things, as the least unpleasant), a dry roll and plain yoghurt, although I sometimes added a piece of cheese or salami. I took an apple to eat later, a whole large apple was more than I could cope with at breakfast time. For the rest of the day, I relaxed my careful eating plan and am resigned, although I haven't checked, to having put on a pound or two. The food was very good though. Some highlights were the wild strawberries and home-made ice-cream, the spaghetti with seafood (squid, vongole (clams), shrimps, mussels and languoustine [I know that's French, what's the Italian for langoustine?]) and an entirely delicious concoction, made of nuts, one of those flour-free mousse/cake with the egg yolk beaten in, the whisked egg white folded in and the whole baked, topped with a nutty ice-cream. I didn't normally eat pudding, just one course, but occasionally it's worth it.

The return journey was also notable for its smoothness. Going was fine, although one poor lady's luggage went to Bermuda and took a couple of days to follow her to its due destination. For the return, I checked in online, chose the aisle seat at the front, hung back when boarding, swept in among the last and was first out again. The plane was less than half full, I went through a quiet Gatwick, found that the luggage was on the carousel before I arrived there, quickly found my case and abandoned it to a friend's tender care while i sought the loo. On my return, we were ready to board the coach. The plane was 15 minutes early landing, by the way, so we set off about 45 minutes earlier than we'd expected. I napped thoroughly on the way home, having prudently taken the mic and thanked Margaret, the organiser of the whole caboodle, right at the start, and we arrived at the car park at 11 pm. The Sage awaited me with a mug of tea when I arrived home. He said he'd missed me. I was pleased but not at all surprised. Of course he missed me.

Weeza and Phil invited us for lunch yesterday. Zerlina has certainly grown within the week, and her agility at crawling, pulling herself up and doing a 'look, one hand' stand-up turn has improved considerably. She accepts her place in the bicycle-pulling-along-behind-thingy (sorry, I'm hungry and I can smell the dinner that the Sage is cooking, most beautifully) with good grace and the family set off at the weekend for a thirteen-mile ride. Gosh.

So, that was my week. I hope yours was as good.

Sunday 3 May 2009

Z is home again

It was all lovely and I relaxed and laughed a whole lot. I've also seen a whole lot of culchure. I don't know what you mean about lovely weather here, it's a whole lot colder than Italy.

I've a load of photos, and I may put a few here, but what I thought would be good would be to put them on a website for other people in our party to see, and add their own if they've taken any. Any suggestions on whether Photobucket, Picasa or Flickr are best? I've got accounts with two of them, Weeza uses the other and it may be that all are fine. What I want is to have a username so that anyone entrusted with it can add photos, and a password so that anyone given that can see the pictures. All the potential users are older than I and ability on the computer varies, so straightforwardness and simplicity are best.

The jacuzzi in the roof garden was rather a highlight. Pity it hadn't occurred to me to take my swimsuit. The first day, I rolled up my trousers and sat on the edge. Invited to remove them, I had to confess that I was wearing too revealing underwear. Next time I was better prepared - pretty and decent - and kept my teeshirt on. Sadly, the bubbles made it ride up and complications ensued. It was better removed, until Victor appeared with his camera. I cowered under the bubbles.

My walking boots and pole are fabulous. Thank you again, Badgerdaddy, and I'll write another thank-you to the chap who sent me the poles.