Thursday 31 December 2009

Z, not being two-faced, looks forward

No review of the year here, I resolutely move ahead. Not that it has been anything but a good year. I've had a lovely time. The best has certainly been Bringing On The Wall, which has been great. I loved it. Thank you, Dave, for all your time and good humour and for deciding not to mind when we inadvertently crinkle-crankled a bit.

I'm mostly looking forward to being cut open and having a bit of leg cut out. And, lucky as I am, that will put me right for the next decade or two, so in a few months I'll be ready for all the walks anyone would like to join me on (bad grammar alert).

Our hostess yesterday had a hip replacement operation some years ago. I've been told that she asked for the bone as a souvenir and (she's not the sort of lady it's easy to say no to) bore it home. Apparently, she cooked it and offered it to her dog,* and was quite upset when he wouldn't eat it. I'm not surprised - I'm sure he was Shocked and Appalled. I don't know if it's her current dog, who is a Bedlington Terrier, appropriately named Larry (they look like lambs).

*If this story isn't true, I apologise unreservedly.

I went over to visit Weeza today - Zerlina had her flu jab yesterday and was a bit sleepy, though in a gently good-humoured way. They are clearing out the spare room to turn into a bedroom for her, as their third bedroom is really too small for the description. They bought a new bed when they moved to Norwich, so decided to throw away the (12 years old and at the end of its days) spare bed, so they put it in and on my estate car, filled their car with other rubbish (rubble from the building of the conservatory, empty bottles, general Stuff) and we drove to the tip. I mean, recycling site. They were really pleased to get it all done in one trip, as it would have meant four in their car and getting the mattress in would have been a puzzle.

Tonight, I'm mostly downloading apps.

I hope that 2010 will be a good year for all of us, and much health and happiness to you all.

Happy New Year, darlings.

Wednesday 30 December 2009

Lord Bruin and Lady Rosie entertain

Our hostess lives in an old watermill. This is the view from her conservatory. She is an artist and her studio is on the second floor (that's the third floor to Americans). It's beautiful and very peaceful.

I thought you'd like a picture of the teddies. Edbos and Ted aren't in this picture I'm afraid.

The family will all be here for lunch on Sunday again. Isn't that lovely? Wink is driving up from Wiltshire on Saturday for a week, so no doubt we will get up to some girlish escapades together.

Tomorrow, I'm going to go and see Weeza and family. It is all go and jollity around here. I've bought some new headphones for iPhone listening for, as is well known, the earpieces supplied with iPods and iPhones are pretty rubbish.

At present, not through headphones, I'm listening to Carl Stamitz's Clarinet Concerto No. 1, as mentioned by Vicus. Never heard it before. I'm really quite ignorant.

Tuesday 29 December 2009

Z gets ready to party

It's party season at last. Not that we haven't been thoroughly entertained over the last week, but in a family setting. Tomorrow, it's Lord Bruin's 24th Annual Christmas Party, to which bears of all ages and denominations will be welcome, together with their human staff. Rabbits are not allowed under any circumstances.

Edbos and Ted are looking forward to it no end. Some bears dress up, for there are prizes to be won - indeed, the first year Edbos went, he won the prize for Most Loved Bear, because Ro, who was then about eighteen, wouldn't leave him on the table with the rest of the teddy bears but carried him around (not at all in a Sebastian Flyte way) for the whole party.

I'm sounding arch, but it isn't - it's fun in a slightly off-beat very English way. And the food is extremely good and not at all hunny-related.

We have no plans for New Year's Eve, which is a bit lame of us but we don't normally bother, but on Friday we're going to our Great Green friends' New Year's Day walk - there's a choice of routes and we can walk between two and seven miles. I will walk about fifty yards, the length of the friends' drive. I have regretfully cried off from the walk proper. Usually, I've done the longest one but last year I chose the shortest and that was a plod by the end (muddy fields were involved at this stage), though I still enjoyed it. This year, the Sage will go (there's a whole crowd, he won't be lonely) and I'll stay at the house with the other disinclined or unables.

Monday 28 December 2009

No, sorry, it's still Christmas

I'm not doing much. And I'm not even thinking much. I've mentally written a post or two, but when I do that it doesn't seem necessary to write them in the flesh (as in, it's the thought that counts).

I got up promptly this morning, as Dilly was tutoring and had asked me to babysit at 8.30. However, she'd changed it to tomorrow, which I should have checked on really, as I knew that Al wasn't opening the shop today. I presume that means I need to babysit tomorrow. I shall go through clutching my breakfast in one hand, my face in another and the papers in a third, on the assumption that the children will be willing to watch CBeebies for a bit until I'm awake.

By the way, if you haven't listened to "The News At Bedtime" on Radio 4, do. I'm not a lol girl every day, but I chortled happily. Turned out Ian Hislop was one of the writers. Figures.

What I'd like, by the way, is if the tv listings said if a programme is to be repeated in the next week. Number of times I've recorded one thing, watched another, regretfully missed a third, only to find out that one of the first two is on again at a convenient time. Why? Just tell us. Or maybe they do and I don't know where?

The Sage is getting so au fait with looking for things on eBay, by the way. He's even finding useful stuff now, and is also discovering that things he has and doesn't really need will fetch Ready Money. Mind you, if he starts selling as well as buying it will quadruple the agony for me. I just pay the bill when he buys something.

Having my hair cut tomorrow afternoon. That means I'll get on my bike for more than 500 yards for the first time in at least 10 days. Oh dear. I might have put on a pound or two.

That reminds me. Still a bit of yesterday's pudding left. Too much for one. I think the Sage will have to share.

Or maybe I'll be virtuous and abstain.

Or maybe I'll not mention it and we can eat it tomorrow.

Maybe the bantams would like my share.

Actually, I'm genuinely undecided. I don't know which way I'll go. Although, come to think of it, if pudding is involved, the Sage would rather eat a double helping than give it to the bantams.

Sunday 27 December 2009

Z is still mellow

Which seems to have inhibited my conversational trigger.

I couldn't get to sleep last night, which was puzzling - usually, I fall asleep and then wake an hour later or at 4 o'clock and twitch wakefully for a long time then. But it was nearly 4 by the time I dropped off, and then I only dozed.

I spent the morning cooking, as the family was all here for lunch. Yet more presents exchanged hands, this time between El's family and Al's family. We gave Squiffany and Pugsley a camera as our main present - I was hesitant about giving them a joint present as it's asking for trouble, but fortunately they are remarkably good-natured about sharing and, also fortunately, it is a real hit. I'd only got fairly small things otherwise, books, a puzzle and a game each, and I reckoned in the end that rivalry about whose turn it was would be better than jealousy about one getting a better present than the other. It's a robust little Lego camera and they're having fun - thank goodness for digital cameras, wouldn't make their parents fork out repeatedly for films, or for development. Only thing is, they snap away when you're not expecting it and, since they come in a bit close, the flash is giving us spots before our eyes.

Saturday 26 December 2009

Z likes Christmas

I'm having a very good time. Fortunately, the company is excellent so the fact that there's sod all on television doesn't matter.

Lovely to have Ro home, had a most entertaining chat with him a couple of nights ago. Just catching up, you know, but he's really good company and I haven't seen much of him in the seven months since he moved to Norwich.

Now, since there's still nothing on television and Ro is engrossed in a jigsaw, I am (with a glass raised to my Secret Santa via ILTV) going to watch M. Hulot's Holiday, which has been one of my favourite films for about 45 years.

Friday 25 December 2009

The dark night wakes, the glory breaks,

And Christmas comes once more.

I hope you have a wonderful time, but if that's not what you find from Christmas, I hope you have some pleasure and tranquillity. Or get drunk, or write your first blog-post in a fortnight. Or your first blog-post ever.

Thanks for being such good company. I can't describe, without being mawkish, how much I appreciate you all.

Here are some photos of the crib that the village schoolchildren made for us a few years ago -

Mary was, perhaps, a little unprepared for the experience of childbirth. The donkey was a bit startled, too.

Jesus finds a bed of hay very comfortable

Merry Christmas, darlings.

Thursday 24 December 2009

Z is sad, grateful and ready

My thoughts are with DG this Christmas. I met a friend in town this morning and she said that, her father having died earlier this year, it's bringing home to her all the more how much she misses her mother too. I've been feeling the same, with the 40th anniversary of my father's death coming up, I've been missing both my parents very much. I said as much to her, though I haven't mentioned it to my family - only my sister would understand. And a lot of you do too. It doesn't matter how long ago it was, you never forget and you still feel the loss. *Cough* - group hug?

Right. Moving on.

Just while I'm here, I'd like to thank people who have been working their socks off this last week in the freezing weather and very difficult conditions, many of whom have received a lot of criticism when actually they could not have done more.
Specifically -
The people - nearly all men, I'm sure - who've been out restoring power. They're done their best. Miserable to be cold and have no electricity, but they were colder.
Those who drive gritting lorries and clear roads who've kept our main roads as passable as they could - they're not going to get down the side roads. They never did, in fact, I've never lived in a road that has been gritted. Can't be afforded and most years it isn't necessary. If we regularly had temperatures well below zero for several days and night after night of snow, it would be worth the investment. We don't so it isn't. As a result, we'll come to a halt sometimes. If it might snow, keep a shovel, a few sacks, a rug, some water and some chocolate, and some stout boots and a stick in case you end up walking, in your car. The main roads should be gritted, but don't blame the people in the lorries, blame the ones in the comfortable offices who didn't get their act together. And sometimes, during a snowstorm, gritting doesn't help or the amount of stuck traffic on the roads stops the lorries getting through.
Delivery people - yesterday, Al was in a pickle because his big order didn't arrive until after 9 o'clock, when the shop was full, he had still got orders to complete (he does them on the day ordered) and he had to stack everything outside and spend the day sorting things out. However, he didn't complain. The order arrived in full and as soon as the van could get there. By the way, if the supermarket or farm shop sells brussels sprouts stalks at well over £2 each, as I've seen them, they are robbing their customers. Al has put the price up to £1 this year (90p last) and he makes a satisfactory profit at that.
Everyone I've ordered anything from over the internet - all despatched promptly, thank you.
The Royal Mail - realising I couldn't get out to do any shopping as the pavements were more treacherous than the roads, I did a final last-minute order from Amazon on Monday afternoon. Two out of three packages have arrived, although they said they couldn't guarantee it. I think that's damn good - the only things I haven't got are some books for Zerlina and she'll be pleased with more parcels to arrive next week so it doesn't matter.

And an apology to anyone who thought they might get a Christmas card from us this year. Er, yes. Sorry about that. I think my Christmas card writing days are over.

It's thawing now, but that means that the ridges in iced-over roads and paths have smoothed to a glassy surface and actually it's more difficult to walk anywhere that isn't completely clear. I went out to the Co-op this morning and had to carefully pick my way around the drive to avoid the worse bits. A stick didn't help as it slipped and didn't hold. It isn't very busy in town - Al says he expects to be (and was) far busier the day before Christmas Eve, and this year, CE is also market day so he didn't get more in than he needed for his orders and for a usual weekend. So he's pretty relaxed. He's got Eileen and Reese in, and they are managing fine, so he's taking the view that what he doesn't get in takings aren't paying out another person's wages, so it'll balance.

Time to start wrapping presents before long, I think. Always more fun at the last minute.

Zeating Christmas Dinner

For years, my mother and I took it in turns to cook Christmas dinner, until I took over the job every year when her health and nerves weren't really up to it any more. My in-laws always invited the Sage's sister and family for Christmas Day and we went there on Boxing Day. When it was my turn, I was very organised and made a time plan for the day. I decided when I needed everything ready by and worked out the timings accordingly. Christmas dinner was served on time, unless flexibility was planned in - if you're having roast beef, for example, you eat it when the Yorkshire pudding is cooked because it won't wait but, knowing it will take half an hour, you can adjust other things around it.

What we ate varied - sometimes I did cook turkey - free-range Norfolk Black was our choice, sometimes beef and sometimes goose. One year, my niece asked me to teach her how to bone a chicken. I had a hasty lesson from our butcher, showed her (that is, I boned half and let her do the other half) and then, that Christmas, I boned the turkey and stuffed it with a piece of gammon which I'd pre-cooked. I put other things in there too, can't remember what. I did that a second time before deciding that it was quite a lot of effort. Nice, tasted good, easy to carve but it looked like a well-browned thigh.

I became a bit ambitious over the years and incorporated various different starters which usually had to be prepared, or at any rate cooked, at the last minute. Blini were particularly popular, I remember and so were some little filo pastry things. I was always careful to put in time to leave the kitchen and come and spend time with the family. It was scheduled, but it was always there. Several times. Each time, the children opened a present or two and then we played or whatever for half an hour. This was what I'd have liked as a child, which I still remember as a time when I'd have liked my parents' time and didn't have it. At 12 or 12.30, by which time things should be well under control, I stopped for champagne and canapés (this was quire often the first course, which was easier and nicer eaten an hour or two earlier than the rest of the meal) and we opened the rest of the presents, or most of them. This caused some difficulty when my sister became a Catholic and went to Christmas Day mass, which went on forever and really screwed up my timings, because I always forgot. I'd already been to church (and played the organ - usually carol requests) for the C of E 20-minute service. Anglican clergy being married, they knew better than to expect women and children to drop everything for 2 hours, and that you'll feel a whole lot kinder disposed to Baby Jesus if you're not worrying about the roast drying out. Wink tends to slum it with us in the C of E nowadays when she's here on Christmas Day.

For years, I used to make Christmas puddings. I'd make three, we'd eat one that year, one the next and the last was two years old when it was served. My daughter was working in a hotel in Brussels one year and was the only English member of staff. No one could quite believe that the English kept their Christmas puddings for two years and still considered it fit to eat. Eventually, I bought a pudding at the local deli one year when I was busy and hadn't made one and, when everyone said how good it was, thought soddit and have never made one since. No one is that fond of pudding, so I often have something else as well. The year Delia's last Christmas book came out was brilliant - it had loads of stuff, such as cinnamon icecream, an orange trifle, chocolate torte, sticky toffee pudding - I worked through her puds for years and they were all Christmas gold.

My time plan is limited to noting how long the main dish takes to cook nowadays. But this year, I'm not cooking at all until Sunday. Dilly and Al have invited us for Christmas Day and Weeza and Phil for Boxing Day. Weather permitting, of course.

Wednesday 23 December 2009

Deck Oration

When my children were little it was still quite usual for mothers of little ones not to go out to work, not full-time at any rate, until the children started school. I was very hands-on with my children, and we did lots of crafts and cooking and playing together. We started preparing for Christmas in late November, by making the Advent calendars.

I've said before that I'm not in the least artistic, so we had to keep it simple in design, but they took quite a lot of time to do. We started by taking out the previous year's cards and cutting out small pictures, such as a bell, a snowman, a robin. Ideally, they wouldn't be much more than a centimetre square, but a few could be larger. Then, on a large sheet of paper, we'd draw and paint our picture. One year this was a Christmas tree, once it was a house, with Father Christmas coming out of the chimney, once it was a snowman, another time it was just Father Christmas and once he was on his sleigh. There must have been others, because I don't remember that we ever repeated ourselves and by the time Weeza and Al were growing out of doing it, Ro was growing in.

After that, we set out our little pictures on the big one and lightly drew around them, then I cut out a flap on three sides for each. Next, we stuck the big picture lightly onto another sheet of paper, carefully glued each small picture in place under the flap, then reglued the whole securely. Last thing was to draw on the numbers. It was fairly unsophisticated, but we enjoyed ourselves and were more than satisfied with the finished artwork.

Once December started, we decided on our tree decoration project. We made new decorations every year, not instead of the old ones but in addition. I can't remember all these - I know that one year we made Father Christmases with a cardboard tube for the body, a golf ball for the head (yeah, a ping pong ball would have been better) and a paper hat, another year we made snowmen, we did the usual angels out of doilies - home-made doilies of course, we made snowflakes. We had room for everything because we had a huge tree. We lived in a large Edwardian former Rectory for ten years and, as in the house I grew up in, there was a big hall with a stairwell suitable for a tree.

That reminds me, once, we were all in the study, having spent the afternoon doing the decorations, when we heard a falling sound. We had great difficulty getting out of the door - the tree hadn't been attached securely enough to the banisters and had fallen - must have been at least 15 foot tall and it followed us into the room.

While we were making our decorations, we sang Christmas carols. We had a Rupert Bear book - I don't know where it is unfortunately, although I have seen it in the last few years. I'll have to have a search. The story was that one of the character's granny (might have been Pong Ping's) was poorly and all the chums felt sorry for her and wanted to buy her a Christmas present. So they went carol singing round Nutwood to raise money, and everywhere they went they asked the person for their favourite carol, made them all into a book and then gave it to her with the present they'd bought, and she was feeling much better by then and everyone had a lovely Christmas. We had this book out every December for years, which is the reason I remember it so well. Apart from whose granny was involved.

By the time Ro was growing up, we did less of this sort of thing, although we still made an Advent calendar, but he and Al enjoyed making things out of card. Once, I bought a book full of decorations to cut out, fold and glue and we still have a few of those. I've hung this one on the tree this year.

For a couple of years, my mother went to evening classes in stained glass work. They were in Norwich, so Weeza went with her the first year - she loved it and would like to take it up again. Al, who was then fourteen, went with her the second winter. He took to it too, and afterwards, when my mother equipped herself with the necessities for carrying on with it, he made decorations for the tree.

I also love these fragile clear glass baubles. I bought them, fifteen or more years ago, from a local shop for £1 each - most of them have been broken but I cherish the ones that are left, hanging them myself at the top of the tree.

I bought this from the Christmas market in the Grande Place in Brussells. I also bought a glass treble clef which I loved, but I haven't been able to find it for the last few years. I'm afraid I may have not checked carefully enough when the tree was taken down, and it been left on.

The fairy - or, as I call her, the floozie, is very old. She has adorned the Christmas tree every year of the Sage's life and earlier. I threaten to make her a new dress - the present one is not original - but I haven't quite got the heart. I do rather love her, homely as she is (such a kinder word than plug-ugly, don't you think?) and she's all the decoration that the Sage really thinks a tree needs.

Tuesday 22 December 2009

Christmas 1969, 1970 and 1973

- which I'll skip through briefly as there's a whole year I still can't bear to revisit. Christmas 1969 we all were really ill with Hong Kong flu. We tried to celebrate Christmas but we were all too ill. I can't think why we felt it would cheer us to cook the usual Christmas dinner, but it went uneaten. A couple of weeks later, I carried the turkey and ham down to the Broad (a good couple of hundred yards, I had to do it twice, why on earth didn't I use a wheelbarrow?) and chucked in the bad meat. We had an obscure feeling it would be too disgusting to ask the binmen to take away. We'd been unable to face dissecting and freezing the meat.

This would all be one of those "oh blimey, d'you remember?" occasions for cheerful reminiscence if it hadn't been for the fact that, a month later, my father had a heart attack and died. Undoubtedly, the flu had been a strain on his heart. None of us was better by then. I'm not being peculiar in saying that the year only got worse after that. Repeatedly. When the Queen spoke of her "annus horribilis", I'm afraid I thought "pah, you don't know what horribilis is".

Anyway, please let us not dwell on this any more - I'm only putting things in context, not wanting to depress you or me. The next Christmas, we decided to break with tradition, not because we couldn't bear to do things in the old way any more, but because it meant we didn't have to slog our way through a 20lb turkey for weeks - though doing different was probably a good thing too. We had beef instead, far more delicious, and had it at lunchtime. My mother mentioned (she really was quite a saint, I didn't know she hated having to cook - and wash up - Christmas dinner in the evening) that it would be rather nicer to eat at lunchtime like most normal people did.

The thing is, ever since, I've felt free to dump a tradition if there isn't a reason we want to keep it. It didn't stop us forming our own of course, when the Sage and I had our own family, but nearly all of those have gone now. We used to spend the whole of December preparing, not in a frenzy of buying but in a very calm and happy way. I think that deserves its own post actually, because it was lovely. I wonder how much of it El and Al remember.

I'll skip on a few years, to Christmas 1973. The Sage and I had been married since May, and Weeza was to be born the next April. I volunteered to cook Christmas dinner for the two of us, my mother and Wink. I can't remember if Miss Fitt came too - probably, she was alone, aged 90 by then and was normally invited for Christmas.

The Sage, when I married him, lived in a large, 3-storeyed terraced house in Lowestoft, not on the seafront but only a couple of hundred yards from the beach. It was one of those houses that went back a long way and the kitchen was a long room with a scullery behind. The Sage had put in fairly basic units and a small second-hand electric cooker.

I decided to cook a goose. I was a pretty confident cook - my mother had always been a hospitable party-giver and food was pretty well the be-all and end-all of life. I made a Christmas pudding and cake as well, I think. I ordered the goose and went and bought a new roasting tin to put it in. I worked out my timings and prepared the vegetables. I pre-heated the oven and put the goose, pricked to let the fat run and on a wire rack so it wouldn't sit in the fat, in its tin.

Which wouldn't fit in the oven. Hmm.

Was I downhearted? Well, no, actually. I was quite resourceful when I was 20, remarkably enough. I cut two big sheets of aluminium foil, made a tray the size of the oven floor and an inch or so deep to catch the fat and put the goose on the rack. Halfway through cooking, I carefully folded down a corner to drain off some of the fat into a bowl, and all worked very well.

The Sage did the washing up. He was splendid.

I can't remember what we gave each other for Christmas.

Monday 21 December 2009

Z's Presents

We were a small family - just my mother and father, Wink and me, and I only had one living grandparent. As I said yesterday, he sometimes visited for Christmas. But my parents had lots of friends and quite a few people gave us presents, most of them small ones as you'd expect.

You'd also expect me to remember more about what they were. Hmm.

I remember once receiving some paints, and the next evening, getting out paper, the paints and a pot of water and setting them up on Grandmother's slipper-box (just a useful low square oak box on little turned feet) in the drawing room. I promptly knocked over the water. My mother helped me mop up and I fetched more water. I knocked it over. Remarkably, I distinctly remember her not being in the least annoyed or critical as she cleared up again. I fetched more water.

Yes. As you expected. I was a clumsy child.

At this point, my still-patient mother noticed that they were oil paints and I didn't need water anyway.

Another present I remember, because I liked it very much, was a set of variously-coloured beads, each about the side of a pea, which came in a box with a board with holes in it that the beads rested in, so that you could make patterns and pictures with them. I spent a lot of time playing with them. They were less popular with my mother because they were made of red clay, and when one was trodden on it was quite some trouble to clear up. Again, I never remember being criticised for this and only know it because, in later years, my mother remembered them too as being a blessed nuisance. She was extraordinarily kind and patient with me and I was a dearly-loved child. But she was no pushover. Apparently, she retaliated the next year by giving musical presents to the donor's children. Drums and a xylophone.

The presents I liked best were books, jigsaws, board games and sweets and chocolates. We hardly ever had sweets so they were a great treat. There was one selection called Weekend - it was a bit of a disappointment if I received that, as there were several in it that I didn't like. I wasn't too fond of plain chocolate either unless it had nuts in it, although I prefer it now, and I positively disliked the "creme" chocolates. I succeeded, in due course, in passing this dislike on to my own children, and these sorts of fillings are known as "slimes" to this day. Real fruit purée and cream fillings are a different matter, of course. I probably liked Dairy Box best because of the preponderance of hard centres, but Milk Tray was pretty good. I liked nuts, fudge, toffee and just chocolate. Oh, and Turkish Delight.

I liked painting and embroidery, but hadn't an artistic bone in my body so was quite happy with painting-by-numbers, and I'm too much of a Philistine quite to appreciate how much this will make you shudder. I was completely uninterested in dolls and anything condemned as "girly". I always received the latest Paddington Bear book. Oh gosh, books may make another post sometime. I was more than happy to get a book token. When I spent the token, there always seemed to be 6d over (that is, six real pence, a tanner, worth 2 1/2 New Pee, as they were called for some years in the 70s) and, since change was not given for book tokens, either a parent had to fork out for another book or you were given a Highway Code as that was the only book that cost 6d.

My parents weren't into games at all, but my sister and I played (she must have been pretty tolerant of her much younger sister actually) board games a lot, and we played them with au pairs when we had them, and visiting children - my mother's godson visited for several weeks in the summer. But I was always happy enough on my own as long as I had books.

Presents that didn't go down so well included handkerchiefs - why give a little girl a box of hankies? Why? - and bath stuff when I wasn't old enough to appreciate it. I liked cuddly animal toys as a small child. I'm finding it really hard to remember specific "major" Christmas presents from my parents. Maybe there were lots of small things?

Last night, I went to the carol service that I nearly got landed with playing with - it seemed the least I could do, to actually attend it (deliberate split infinitive there, btw, and I'm feeling pretty relaxed about the dodgy grammar too). It was lovely and, usefully, has also given me the title of my Christmas Day post, with the final lines of a little-known verse of a well-known carol.

Still very snowy and cold here - very unusual for snow to linger more than a couple of days in December. -4ºC at 3 o'clock yesterday afternoon. Don't know what it was overnight. I've resorted to pyjamas. If it carries on much longer, I'll be putting on the radiator in the bedroom which rarely happens.

Sunday 20 December 2009

Z's Christmas

Have I ever told you about my childhood Christmases? Desperately anticipated, the day itself was always a bit less than it could have been. We had a large hall where the tree was put up. It usually reached the height of the banisters on the landing. It was put up sometime in the week before Christmas - my mother told us that, when she was a child the tree was decorated on the evening of Christmas Eve after she'd gone to bed so it looked surprising and wonderful the next morning. I thought that the pleasure of actually trimming it yourself was more than half of the enjoyment of it; she didn't agree as everything that happened to her when she was a very small child was set in her memory as the best thing that could happen (her later childhood was by no means as pleasant, so it's no wonder) - nevertheless, this was a tradition that didn't carry on, probably because she would have been far too busy on Christmas Eve to decorate the tree.

I loved those decorations, but unfortunately, and I don't know how it happened, they all got lost, broken or thrown away over the years and I haven't got any of them. I wish I did, they'd mean a lot to me. I think that possibly when my mother remarried she thought that it wouldn't be tactful to use them and remind my (beloved) stepfather of a time before he was part of the family.

We always had a massive turkey and a whole gammon, which were both cooked for Christmas Day. We had our main meal in the evening. I can't remember what we ate the rest of the day. It took my mother the whole day to prepare the meal, even though the table had been laid several days previously and we'd eaten meals elsewhere - no, I can't remember that either. Off our laps in the drawing room, on a small table in the study? The dining table was decorated with red and green satin.

When my parents' hotel in Weymouth had been sold, they had bought Mr Dyke, the pastry cook, a guesthouse to give him a livelihood for the rest of his life. It was an outright gift, and in appreciation he used to send us a huge Christmas pudding and a beautifully decorated Christmas cake each year. It has to be said that these rich, yet strangely dry splendours were received with more politeness than enthusiasm. They were just so big, we could never finish them. The last of the cake was occasionally retrieved from its tin in December to make room for the next one, the rock-hard royal icing chipped off and the cake given to the birds.

There were four of us, my parents, Wink my sister and me, but we were never alone for Christmas. My mother gathered together several ladies who would otherwise be alone. There was Miss Fitt (honestly) and her sister Mrs Dare, who was blind, and Gwen Jago and possibly others. Sometimes, my grandfather came to stay too, from Weymouth - my father did a Father Christmas run, as we called it, to deliver presents and pick up the cake and pudding the week before Christmas

Presents were opened at noon - of course, everyone had had their stocking on waking up - although sometimes noon came late, depending on how busy Mummy was. After lunch, whatever that turned out to be, Mummy disappeared into the kitchen again for many more hours of cooking. I don't know what took all that time. I've no idea. Surely, the turkey and ham pretty well took care of themselves for hours. I suspect she didn't want to have to entertain the guests. My father certainly didn't want to and took himself off, I don't know where. But Mummy certainly was always working, she didn't take the opportunity to nip upstairs and sit down with a book for an hour or two. The old ladies scored points off each other, each wanting to demonstrate that she had the best presents and was therefore favourite. My grandfather was gallant and polite to them all. My sister and I sat and watched Disney Time and whatever else was on television on Christmas afternoon. We never watched the Queen's Speech. I've never seen it in my life. We tried not to hear the polite bickering going on the other side of the room.

At four o'clock, tea was brought in, and the cake was cut. Mr Dyke also made us a chocolate Yule Log, I've just remembered. That was nice, although I usually left most of the icing because I prefer cake to icing.

I seem to remember that, with practicality to the fore, the first course was simply consommé - tinned, with sherry added (this was not unsophisticated in the 60s). Entirely sensible, we all liked it, it was little trouble and it was light and didn't spoil your appetite for the rest of the meal. Then came this turkey. It had sausagemeat stuffing in the neck end and chestnut stuffing in the cavity. There were bacon-wrapped chipolata sausages and all the usual vegetables. The gammon had been boiled in a huge pan and then taken out, the skin removed, the fat underneath scored in a diamond pattern , rubbed with brown sugar and mustard powder and studded with cloves and then it was baked for a final half hour or so. There were all the usual vegetables of course, and redcurrant jelly and freshly-made mustard, but no bread sauce. I liked the ham best. I ate a little of everything though - I was terribly good and always tried everything, though I was rarely able to clear my plate.

I say, I can make this last the whole week. Splendid. Believe it or not, I have rarely if ever reminisced to my children about much of my own life - it's so jolly to have people who are willing to be victims of my vague memories

Saturday 19 December 2009

Z puts her feet up before they slip from under her

We've been decorating the church this morning. I walked home with a barrowful of clippings from the greenery that decorates the windowsills. Well, I walked home but I gave up on the barrow at the further end of the drive. The road was so slippery that I was tired with the effort of keeping upright at the same time as lifting the barrow handles. So I reckoned someone else could do the last bit.

In fact, though I had some shopping to do, I've decided I'm not going out again while it's icy. The Sage has brought home veggies and most other things can wait - it's rare for freezing temperatures to last more than a few days and I reckon that there's plenty of time. So, having had the usual disturbed night, I'm going to put my feet up for a bit. Nothing to do? There's loads to do. Don't care. It will still be there when I've read the papers and maybe had a little nap.

Friday 18 December 2009

Z relies on her iPhone

Well, things didn't quite go as planned. I woke in the night - I assume it was about 3 or 4 o'clock, as it's usually the time my hip wakes me, and there was a power cut. I dozed on and off until it started to get light, then slept until a bit before 8. The electricity was still off.

Not long after, Al rang from work to say that he had passed men working at the junction box, and hoped the electricity would come on soon. We live in the same road as the school - Dilly was sorry for Squiffany, as it would be the Christmas party day today, and if the power (therefore the heating) wasn't on, the school would have to be closed. And so it proved. However, at least there was snow, if only a measly quantity. It was bitterly cold, although the sun was shining.

At least I could still read emails, so I dealt with them and then went off for a meeting at school. I'd had a phone call to say my hospital appointment was cancelled so I decided to go along to the end-of-term Pop Mime in the afternoon to take my mind off it. It was very jolly. Most entertaining. And 1000 pupils sat there applauding, cheering, singing along, no one got up, no one misbehaved, no one got out of hand. It was good-natured and all done in a good spirit.

I'd plugged my phone in at the shop so as to be sure I didn't run low on battery power if the electricity was off all evening. I'd had to fish out radio batteries this morning - I'd had some of them so long in the drawer that they didn't work. And when we did arrive home, it was still cold and dark. I started to prepare dinner while there was still some natural light, with the additional aid of a candle. And then, just as I was starting off the casserole, the lights came back on again. I'd filled the dishwasher - I had no intention of washing up in the dark, so was going to hide it all overnight and wash up if I had to in the morning - but I was glad I hadn't bothered. I don't care for unnecessary effort, not if it resembles housework.

Oh, and the Sage had his computer switched on before I did mine. After dinner, Ro phoned. The Sage picked up. "Are you still eating?" asked Ro politely. "No, I'm at the 'pooter, of course," replied his once-technophobe father.

I'm not teaching him how to blog. Not even for ready money.

What I would like, though, is to thank those splendid Electricity Board chaps who spend the whole of a freezing day clearing a fallen tree on the marshes off from the power lines and then working to reinstate the supply. They do a great job, whatever the weather. I remember once on Christmas Day we saw a couple of chaps in the garden - they were looking for the Old Rectory, where Alan and Sophie's electricity had gone off halfway through the cooking of lunch, and they came straight out to put things right, never mind their own Christmas Day.

Thursday 17 December 2009

Z skips

I couldn't take the pressure any more. I've "marked all read" - over 500 posts that I shall never read. Sorry, really I am, but as I kept trying to keep up with them, more came in. So many excellent blogs, you either have to delete one every time you find a new one or accept that you can't take too many days off from reading them. I hope you didn't write any of the deleted posts, I didn't check whose they were.

Not that I'm anything but relaxed and cheerful, I just want to keep that way. We're promised snow here - friends South of here say that it's arrived with them, but we'll see if we receive more than a sprinkling. I do appreciate a good snow, but it's a little inconvenient. We have a long drive, with a bank and a hedge on one side, and usually the snow all gathers on the drive in a big, 100-yard-long drift. Many's the time we've had to dig ourselves out. One year, there was a snowfall with a strong wind attached. All the snow in the village congregated in our drive. Friends walking past on the barely-whitened road stopped and had to hold each other up, they were laughing so hard at the sight of us with our shovels when everywhere else was clear. Chester (my late and still much-lamented dog) adored snow and used to dig tunnels through it. He ended up with clods of it, frozen hard, on his leg "feathers" and between his pads. If I didn't clear it quickly, he melted into the carpet and left puddles on the floors.

Which reminds me. Tilly disgraced herself yesterday. I went to sit on the sofa after dinner to make more holly wreaths and something was wrong. I felt cold and clammy. At some point in the day, Tilly had been caught short and had not bothered to make a bolt for the door, as they say, and had Done It Right There. Fortunately, there was both a throw and a rug which had caught most of it (there for frequent washing, as the covers are so old that they can't be washed too many more times without disintegrating entirely). There's no excuse for her. She hadn't been left alone for long at any time, she doesn't normally have problems of continence and in any case, if an accident had been inevitable, I'd rather it had been on the floor, frankly. At least then I wouldn't have sat on it.

I'm sitting looking at a pile of ordered stuff that's been turning up over the last couple of weeks, that I haven't got around to opening. It always seems a trial, this bit, checking it all against the orders, making sure it's all there, then being responsible for ensuring I don't forget where I've put it between now and Christmas. Yes, I know it has to be done. Of course it will be. Any time today. Well, not between quarter to two and half past five.

I've got a bit of spare time now, haven't I?

Ah, saved by the incoming email.

Oh. It seems that a meeting I've committed myself to is on 19th March. In Bury St Edmunds, which is nearly an hour's drive from here. This is fine, except I don't know if I'll be driving on 19th March.

Do you know, I don't believe I'm going to think about it for a while yet. I shall prioritise.

Right. Still only quarter past one. I shall open parcels.

Ooh, update at 20 to 2. How interesting. I'm not at all sure whom I've ordered some of those for. I really should have made a note. And I managed to order two copies of the same book in one parcel.

Still, at least I know I have something for everyone now, even if some of the family are going to be more surprised than they expected.

Wednesday 16 December 2009

The day improved - or, Christmas has come early for the Sage

I had a rotten night. I was woken every half-hour or so by the soreness of my hip. There was no reason that I could think of. At about 4 am, I found I couldn't get to sleep at all any more and shifted uneasily. Eventually, I found a pillow to put between my knees, which made me more comfortable, but by then I was wide awake. So was the unfortunate Sage.

I may have mentioned before that my husband is absolutely saintly. He assured me I hadn't woken him up (not true) and that he couldn't sleep either (true, but only because I'd thoroughly woken him). He cuddled me affectionately, which rather woke up both of us (ahem) and I finally went to sleep half an hour before the alarm went off.

You'd think, wouldn't you, that my hip would have given me gyp today? It's been fine. I've strode like a Colossus, sort of. I went out to a lecture plus coffee morning and saw lots of friends, which was lovely, and then went to Ro's office - well, I stopped outside Ro's office in an "it's not illegal if you're picking up or dropping off" way to fetch the Sage's Christmas present. Then I went to visit Weeza and Zerlina. I haven't seen them for a little while, as they have been visiting Phil's family.

So the day went in a very jolly manner. The Sage is already getting proficient in using eBay on his new laptop. Since I pay his bills (I didn't plan this very well) I am glad that he is happy. I have sent his new email address - actually, it's an old email address that he's never used - to our children so that they can distract him from buying more stuff by writing to him. I'm not sure it's working so far. However, his happiness is my sole aim and ambition. And mine is his, when it comes down to it.

Things are improving, regarding Sunday. I was firm about not being able to learn the accompaniment for the singer, but also for it being a priority, and someone else, a very excellent organist (I am not, I am rubbish, honestly, I can hammer out a tune and nothing more. I am not being modest. I usually can't even be arsed to use my feet, mostly because then I tend to forget my left hand) has agreed to come straight on from another service and play for her. I wrote to thank her and she's said she doesn't mind playing for the whole service. Not being one to go above the head of the person taking the service, I've run the offer past her and am awaiting a reply, but I an so grateful. People are so lovely. Never, as some do, prefer pets to people because a pet won't let you down. Pets, which I would not willingly live without, know no better. People choose to help. Sometimes, because they are diffident, you have to show that you are vulnerable and need help. This is the main lesson I have learned in the past few years.

'Course, it helps that anyone can see I'm pretty useless and that this makes them itch to put me out of my misery.

The headmaster would call that a display of my dry sense of humour. Heh. We know otherwise.

Tuesday 15 December 2009

Nobly, nobly

On Thursday, we headed west. We stopped first at Lagos (short a, and s at the end of a word is pronounced sh). Mostly, we walked up a steep hill and then walked down again. And when we were up, we were up ... you get the picture. When we reached shore level again, we stopped for coffee. All the strong black coffees I was drinking gave me a permanent caffeine buzz.

We continued to the fort at Sagres. This is built on the spot where Henry the Navigator had his school of navigation back in the 15th century, and where he died. Wink and the Bod left me near the entrance while they went to park the car. I was so enchanted by the view that I forgot to be limpy and scampered over the rocks to the cliff edge.

It's a wonderful place. I loved it. We went into the fort, which doesn't contain much, which suited me quite nicely. We went into the chapel and the inevitable gift shop, and to a room where there was a DVD showing about Henry. He was a self-contained man with no apparent vices but an immense curiosity about places he couldn't see. I took him to be brave, uncomplaining and stoical, with no reason to know if this is true, but as they are qualities I respect (well, what's not to?) and I liked the bleak place he chose as his home so much, I wanted to admire him.

My photos are all a bit samey, I'm afraid. I wasn't making a record of the visit, just snapping away at the view. If you've been there you'll know what I mean. If not, do go. It's not crowded at the beginning or end of winter, but I think the atmosphere would hold even in the main tourist season. There was a red beetle I rather liked on the sandstone step, but I can't see it now. But it's nice stone, so let it stand.

Then we drove to Cape St Vincent. Until quite recently, you could walk around the lighthouse, but now it's all barred off by a stern gate. It wasn't as memorable a place as Sagres, therefore, but incredibly moving to know that it was the tip of Europe, that when I looked one way there was nothing before America and nothing the other way until Morocco. And the cliffs were spectacular. There were fishermen below, on ledges in the cliff.

It was windy but not cold - there's a cliff-top path between the Cape and Sagres, but I have to say I'd not fancy it, even in less blustery weather. But I am a timorous and lazy Z.

Monday 14 December 2009

Z has a better day

Whoops. Sorry darlings, I found a whole lot of junk comments and a couple of real ones in Blogger dashboard and I accidentally pressed publish instead of delete. I'm such a fool. Actually, I was quite impressed that Blogger had picked up so many. Now they're all in my inbox. And in yours, if you commented on that post. I apologise. It won't happen again. I did like the person who enquired where a unicorn might be bought. I've explained that buying unicorns isn't possible, they just happen.

You were most kind today, and especially for being quite robust and recognising that I was just reacting to momentary pressure. Someone asked me tonight if I'd been nervous delivering my speech - I said that I hadn't been, but had had a bit of a moment the previous night - being notoriously efficient, I even get my nerves over and done with in good time.

It was the fault of Word though. I went through it carefully again today, and I was doing the right thing, it just wasn't recognising it. So in the end, I changed the default to A5, which worked, and then back again to A4. Which has broken the deadlock. It had been telling me A4 but not showing it.

I came to my senses and decided that the speech was more-or-less okay, read it out loud a few times, tweaked and then printed. Any other changes were ad libs. I do love an ad lib or two, but you have to be careful if the talk is otherwise written out. It was okay, I think it was pitched as it should have been, and I got a spontaneous chuckle out of the headmaster (who says I have a dry sense of humour; actually I just tell the truth and he doesn't quite believe it) and a few friendly ripples from the audience. I addressed much of it to the students, because it was their night, The guest speaker, who is a young man who is a former pupil, was absolutely brilliant and he's been snapped up to give a presentation at an assembly next term. I wish he lived locally, I'd make him be a governor. He'd be hard work (to keep up with, I mean) but completely inspirational.

This afternoon, I had a phone call from the hospital offering me an appointment with the consultant on Friday afternoon. I accepted of course - I've been told that the wait for a private hip isn't much shorter than an NHS one. I will hope that they will appreciate someone who is willing to stump up Hard Cash rather than go through private insurance (which surely pays up slower? Cash On Delivery is fine by me, we've been saving up) and not keep me waiting too long. I need to be right by 30th April, otherwise I'm going to have to wait until I've got time again, which won't be until late July. Life isn't easy for a control freak, however relaxed she is.

Oh, that reminds me, the Headteacher put on his reading glasses and found that he couldn't see properly. After a panicked few moments (I understand this, it happened once to me with my driving glasses before I had a contact lens and your eyesight goes all blurred, worse than wearing no glasses at all) he realised a lens had dropped out. Unperturbed, he promptly fished out a spare pair. I respect that, as a belt, braces and good old Norfolk bailer twine girl.

Haven't quite got the carol service thing sorted, but I've made a few Useful Suggestions and I hope things will be cobbled together, whether I play or not. I've made it clear that I haven't time to learn the accompaniment to the soloist and do her justice. I really could have done without some of the emails and phone calls, but it was better got out of the way.

I need to crack on with Christmas shopping. I haven't written a single card yet either. Mostly, I won't. Thank you for the cards I've received, I will respond but your card might be late. Sorry, if so. Ideally, I'll do it on Thursday, but this might be a bit too late.

Tomorrow, you might well get photos of Cape St Vincent. Unless I'm a bit wired or something. Maybe a glass of wine would help?

Sunday 13 December 2009

Z isn't having a good day

Oh dear. Something of a breakdown in arrangement for one of the villages' carol service and they seem to have lost their guest organist and choir. I agreed to stand in, but then discovered there is a young and talented singer who has agreed to sing a solo. Her mother has just sent me the music and there's no possibility of me learning it this week. I would wing it if I could, but there are limits even to my bravado. I've emailed the mother and the Rector, separately, to tell them so, and I hope the difficulties with the organist can be ironed out.

I've been spending most of the evening cursing Word, which refuses to do what it normally does and is cheerily putting up new documents that are the usual width but only 3 inches deep, or long, or whatever you want me to call it. It assures me it's A4, but it isn't. Someone emailed me a document that was a peculiar size and now it's taken it as the norm and I can't find out how to change it.

I've decided I don't like the speech I've written and now I'm too tired to rewrite it. I'm going to bed now (I'll backdate this as it's still Sunday until I've gone to bed, but actually it's half past midnight. I'll go to sleep and then wake an hour or two later and worry for the rest of the night, because that's the unhelpful thing one does, isn't it?

I'm playing the organ for a funeral on Tuesday. I rather hope I'll be told what the hymns are tomorrow. Not that I expect to have time to practise them tomorrow. I trust that they will, at least, be ones I know. I rather hope they won't be any of the ones I hate (All Things B & B, in particular) but at least, if they are, I can rattle them out with my eyes shut.

Saturday 12 December 2009

Z breakfasts in Portugal and lunches in Spain

On the Wednesday, we decided to drive east. It was a fine day, although rain had been forecast, so we wanted to make the most of it. We drove to the imposingly-named Vila Real de Santo Antonio and went to have coffee while waiting for the ferry. Boating is, not surprisingly, a popular pastime.

Afterwards, we went to buy our tickets and found that Bod had misread the sign and we had missed the ferry so we had a while still to wait. He and Wink went for a walk while I rested and watched the fish by the river bank and the *fish-eating bird* (meant to check what it was, I'm a bit ignorant) that was diving out in the open water. I chatted with a pleasant couple from Nottingham.

The weather was still fine and we sat on the upper deck for the 20-minute trip across the river to Ayamonte. The modern road bridge was slightly upriver, but who'd drive when you could float?

The dock wasn't all that interesting. The Bod was amused to notice that the information sign was blank on the side you could safely see it and all the writing was on the side facing the road, where a car couldn't stop and it would be dangerous to stand.

We walked past one square

to the main square

where we had lunch.
I had paella. The sun was almost, but not quite, too hot for me. I usually choose to sit in the shade, but I was enjoying the heat.

We didn't stay long after lunch as it was clouding over, but walked to look at the little marina.

On the way back, the upper decks were closed because of the increasing wind, though the waves weren't enough to disturb.
We got back in the car and within five minutes it started to rain. This was only the second rainfall that had been seen in the Algarve for months, the first having been the week before we arrived.


Dilly and Squiffany took me to the theatre in Yagnub this afternoon (I whimsically reverse the town's name). It was "Annie" done by the youngest members of their youth theatre group. They were very good and some were exceptionally good singers- they are very young, most of them, and I was impressed.

During the interval, we heard that one of the Thai restaurants in town was on fire. Desperately sorry for them, we were also anxious for the safety of surrounding buildings, which are old and timber-framed. However, when we came out, although the road was closed off there was no sign of fire so the fire brigade had stopped it spreading.

The Sage looked after Pugsley. All was tranquil on our return.

This post was brought to you by Z's iPhone. The Sage is using my computer. It's slightly slower because of the small keypad, but otherwise very do-able. Photos of Portugal later.

Friday 11 December 2009

Short and thick

I've been out all day and busy all evening - I can't quite face sorting out photos at present. I think I've got as far as the Wednesday, when we went to Spain for lunch and I'll tell you about it tomorrow. All these photos are a bit of a cop-out, I know - saves me writing much!

This is the time of year when I spend every spare evening making holly wreaths. Those of you who've known me at least a year will be aware that I really dislike the job, but some poor fool has to do it. If I valued my time, it wouldn't be worthwhile. I have done 6 or 7 to add to the 3 Al already has in the shop, and he'll probably sell them all tomorrow. He has sold a lot of trees which isn't surprising - he charges less than other places for exactly the same Nordmann trees. They are literally the same, bought from the same grower. He charges his normal mark-up, which is much less than a garden centre's would be, but he doesn't have the overheads.

The Sage's laptop has arrived and I've taken it over to Ro to set up. I offered to pick him up from work so he took the opportunity, as he needed to go food shopping anyway, to buy more than usual. He has nearly a two mile walk to and from work, which is a long way to carry more than a bagful. There is a little corner shop at the end of his road, but it's a long road and he lives at number 120 or so. He only bought £20-worth even so - he hasn't got a lot of spare space; there's a decent-sized kitchen but he shares it with two others.

I've been writing my speech for Monday evening. Sigh. Fortunately, it doesn't have to be long or clever. Like me. That is, I'm not either.

It is one minute to midnight. I'm off to bed.

Thursday 10 December 2009

Z hears music

On the way back to the car, we passed several cats. They ignored us politely. When we were walking back to the car, the Bod noticed the baby stork in the river. Its mother was flying overhead. I might not have noticed the stork, but I stopped to admire the flower beds. Rosemary and lavender were in flower and so was honeysuckle, rambling across the bed.

As we drove back to the hotel we stopped by a headland where there's a little fishermen's chapel (chapel is small, can't speak for the fishermen). Seagulls were sunbathing to the left but the bay on the right was rather more exposed.

This evening, I went to the annual concert at the high school. As ever, it was superb. Really, there are some fine musicians at the school and they put such energy and enjoyment into their work. New this term is a male choir - there were 16 on stage but there are 22 altogether who meet on a Friday lunchtime.
There's a wide variety of music - jazz band, wind band, orchestra, rock band, instrumental soloists and we also had the great treat of solos by two of the teachers, the violinist and the guitar teacher, which were truly impressive - and the concert went on, including an interval, for three hours. I'd left a fish pie for the Sage but he politely waited for me - it was 10.30 by the time we had dinner.

I sent off an email agreeing to join another committee in April. I also sent an email to someone who is interested in being a governor and will write to someone else on the same lines tomorrow. I should have written another email but it's late and I'm going to bed. Tomorrow will do.

Wednesday 9 December 2009

Z climbs a hill

I suppose it makes sense to put the castle or fort at the highest point, but walking uphill isn't really what I like to do, as a Norfolk girl. However, it's generally worth it when you get to the top and see the view.

I've forgotten the name of the town. You may recognise it and tell me, otherwise I'm going to have to resort to looking at a map. We parked by the river and walked up to the castle. I hadn't realised how far the earthquake of 1755 had reached- it's always called the Lisbon earthquake, and that's where the majority of lives were lost, but the Algarve was very badly affected too. Many castles only have their perimeter walls left.

We strolled around, enjoying the views. I discovered that I seem to have lost the mild vertigo that has affected me for the past few decades, which is a pleasant surprise.

The entrance

Random mixture of old and new. Very odd. At least it was all made of the same red sandstone

Orange grove in the distance

Are those banana trees?

From below

Looking down

An ant carrying something far too big for it.

I particularly like roofs

Especially when a house is being renovated and you can see right in

In other news ... I've indulged myself and bought an iPhone. I am having a very enjoyable time. I particularly like the double tap to enlarge a web page. I've been playing most of the evening. I still have my old mobile, by the way, in case any of you have the number and feel the urge to ring me (thanks for your text, Dandelion) but I've got a new number too. A strange sort of parsimony, but I had over £12 credit on the old one and I didn't really see why I should lose it. I can lend my old phone to the Sage and he can use the credit up.