Monday 31 January 2011

Mug Shot

All the staff now have those dangly plastic identification things with their photos on, and it has been decreed that the governors must too.  I'm rather regretful at this.  Partly for the obvious reason that it meant having my picture taken, partly because it means me giving up wearing my name badge (also dangly, but from a metal chain rather than a ribbon) that has a green smiley face sticker that my friend Caroline in Learning Support gave me.  However, I dutifully got my picture taken after the committee meeting last Thursday and picked the badge up on Friday ... and put it, unlooked at, in my bag.  I didn't look at it the next day either.  I finally hauled it out on Saturday at the quiz and passed it round the table.  I look strangely thin-lipped, which I'm not, but otherwise, though not flattering at all, I have to admit that's probably much what I look like.  A bit depressing, that.  Anyway, I asked for, and got, the dots on my name.

Today, I have a vital day for getting stuff done at home.  No housework will be involved, past the daily stuff. If I do well, I'll make marmalade this afternoon, however.  I bought enough oranges for two more batches, and that will certainly be enough for the year.  It might well be more than the the jars I have.  I remember one year my father, who was the marmalade maker in our family, used glasses when he ran out of jars.  We had loads of glasses, it didn't matter, and the marmalade did look very pretty, especially as he added a few almonds and cherries at the last for cosmetic purposes.

One of the things that the Sage was happily showing Mike yesterday was the ugly mug I gave him for Christmas.  He's so pleased with it.  I saw last night that he hadn't put it safely away, and I've just spotted it now where he left, it, on an armchair.  Although there's no reason to think it won't be safe there, I've had to move it.  Too many years of having dogs and children plonking themselves onto chairs without looking, I can't overcome my inbuilt caution and I was feeling extremely uncomfortable.

The fishmonger calls on a Monday morning.  I have bought kippers, especially for Christopher.  I shall open the window and waft the aroma in a southerly direction tonight.  I've just made coffee, but I'm tactfully not wafting that Roses' way in case she's still not permitted caffeine.

Sunday 30 January 2011

Z the lightweight

Last night, three of us polished off three bottles of wine.  I matched the other two glass for glass for a while, but had to admit defeat after the first glass of the third bottle.

This morning, I decided not to go to the pub, but give my liver a chance to recover a bit, and cycled in for the papers instead.  I've spent most of the day reading, actually, books and newspapers.  All that busyness and sociability had taken its toll and I'd reached my limit.  I was quite happy to be on my own.

At about three o'clock the Sage mentioned that he'd invited a friend round.  So I said, quite pleasantly, that I'd make them some tea and retire to the kitchen to read. The Sage was awfully disappointed and I think he thinks I wasn't quite polite - he said I could sit reading while they were talking.  I felt that would be really offhand, and in the event I did greet the friend and explain cheerfully that I'd leave them to it.  Mike didn't mind a bit, but the Sage was a bit twitchy.

The thing is, though, that he doesn't do anything with me if he doesn't want to.  For example, the quiz last night - he doesn't really enjoy them and I do, so he was quite happy to back out, and I go with Al and Dilly, and another friend of theirs.  But he is a bit disappointed if I do the same thing although, conversely, he doesn't necessarily feel the need to include me if it's something he wants to do on his own.

He's used to my independence and occasional solitude, but also to me backing him up and he doesn't expect me to want to be backed up.  This is fair enough, and mostly suits us both.  For instance, this morning he vanished for three hours, visiting a friend and it certainly didn't occur to him to ask me if I'd like to go.  But this afternoon's visit was in respect of a couple of things that I've heard about over and over, and I just didn't want to have to be falsely interested yet again.  But to say that, he'd be hurt that I'm not interested any more (I am in a sense, I just don't want to talk about it any more).

I should say, we haven't fallen out and we're not going to.  He's just brought me coffee and all is cosy and friendly in the Zage household.  And Dilly and Al asked us in for dinner, and we've just got back.

Saturday 29 January 2011

Out and about

Ro was moving house today, and a few things were surplus to requirements for now, although not necessarily in the future, so we've brought them back here.  We have stalwartly resisted using his bedroom to put our stuff in, but it's a huge room so there is plenty of room to keep whatever he wants.  As I said yesterday, I suggested going out for lunch and, in the event, the Sage decided to come too.  I was rather glad of that, as it means I don't have to feel guilty at not having got in anything for him for tonight, when I'm out and he's babysitting - although, in fact, there are still sausage casserole and smoked fish risotto leftovers in the fridge, so he won't have to forage too far.

In the afternoon, we called on Andy and John.  We each visited one and then swapped over!  Both are doing very well.  Andy is actually getting really excited at the thought of retirement - it's pretty brave of him really, he still can only walk a few steps in a shuffle using a frame, and may never walk independently again, but he's choosing to take a completely positive attitude.  His son-in-law, who is paraplegic, has offered him a spare electric wheelchair and he's looking forward to whizzing around the village.  He's looking forward to playing music again - don't think he'll manage his guitar for a while, but he can play his keyboard once he leaves hospital on Monday week.  He has various plans to do voluntary work.

A digression - there is no doubt that a strong religious faith helps people get through such times, and accept what's happening to them.  That is, what went wrong "just happened, one of those things", whereas the things that are going really well now are God-led and he's thankful for them.  The point is, it doesn't matter in the least whether you think he's deluded or what, but that it's taking him out of a possible self-pity, for which no one could blame him, and helping his recovery and well-being.  And if you think it's a delusion, please don't sneer, or not here - he still is choosing his positive attitude, and if he's being buoyed by faith, then good for him.  

Since they've been home, things have gone remarkably well.  They put their house on the market - photos were taken and particulars put out by the agent on Monday.  On Wednesday, a couple came to see the house, put in an offer very near the asking price, which they accepted.  They put in an offer on a bungalow in this village, which was accepted.  The couple have sold their house, are living in a rented house and have all the money in the bank, waiting.  This could be the fastest transaction it's possible to have.  Andy is now waiting to hear about his disability allowances, and to be released from his employment contract.  I said to him, "well, you're not a lot of use to them at present, are you?"

Friday 28 January 2011


I came up with a suggestion today that, momentarily, silenced the Head, until he pointed out a fatal flaw - though with a certain regret, because he recognised the brilliance (not saying it was good, but it was brilliant).  I've just realised, and emailed him to say, that the flaw is not necessarily fatal, having done a bit of remembering from yesterday's meeting - I had actually made a note of the relevant point, having no idea of its relevance at the time.  However, I think it's too radical a plan - though it'd be fun and would completely wrong-foot certain unhelpful people.

You know sometimes, when there's a problem, you suddenly have a brilliant idea which doesn't quite hold water, but which opens up other pathways (waterways?), either in your brain or the other person's, that might float all the boats, though?*  The Sage is excellent for bouncing ideas off - I rattle away excitedly and he listens with an indulgent air.  Usually, by the time I've talked through it, I've noticed the impracticalities myself.  But sometimes, the project takes off (this is how the wall idea started, with me saying "Wouldn't it be fun if...").    I do appreciate people who don't dampen enthusiasm.

I'm writing early this evening, because I'm going out.  In fact, Dilly and I are both going to visit a friend, and being picked up by another.  We're also, with three other of Dilly and Al's friends, going to the next village to a quiz and supper tomorrow night.  This is terribly unusual for me.  I might celebrate by going to the pub on Sunday.  I haven't had a pint of Lightweight for ages.

A few minutes passes...  Goodness, this is getting to be a social whirl.  Ro just phoned and I've suggested I take him and Dora out to lunch tomorrow.  I'm awfully excited.  This is lovely.  I do enjoy this sort of thing, I wonder why I don't do it more often?

*terribly sorry for that laboured and slightly implausible metaphor

Thursday 27 January 2011

Marmalade recipe, using whole oranges

I'll put the link to the recipe using a pressure cooker at the end.

Prep: 40 min, Cook: 90 min
10 Seville oranges (weighs about 3 lbs, 1.5 kg)
 2 lemons 
1.5 litres water 
2 kg sugar
Put some saucers in the freezer.  Simmer the whole oranges and lemons, covered, in the given water until the skin is very soft; this takes about 40 minutes depending on the fruit.  Use a smaller upturned saucepan lid that fits comfortably inside the pan or a plate weighed down with a tin, to keep the fruit immersed. Piercing the oranges after about 20 minutes encourages sinking, and rotate the fruit if not fully immersed.  A large saucepan makes this easier than using a preserving pan at this stage.
Lift the soft fruit into a colander over a bowl and leave to cool. You can speed this up by cutting each fruit in half and putting them onto a plate. Quarter the soft, cooled fruit. Use your fingers or a teaspoon to pinch out the seeds and hard membrane into a bowl. Slice or chop the peel in your preferred thickness. Do not worry about the thick pith as this will melt to thicken the marmalade.
At this point there is a choice.  If you are quite sure the peel is cooked through, add the sugar to the liquid in the pan and stir, heating gently, until it’s completely dissolved.  If it boils before it dissolves, it will become granular. 
Or, if any of the peel shows a white layer, cook very gently for a few more minutes in the liquid until it’s cooked through.  Once the sugar is added, the peel won’t soften any more.
Put the seeds into a sieve and push with a potato masher, The purée will come through, leaving the seeds behind.  Put the purée in the pan (any odd seeds will float to the top later and can be skimmed off). If you haven’t a masher, just chuck in any purée you can isolate from the pips and abandon the rest.
Bring the marmalade to simmer over your largest burner stirring thoroughly and constantly with a long wooden spoon to avoid sticking points. Once the marmalade begins to simmer, increase the heat and boil hard, stirring occasionally, until setting point is reached. This varies depending on the fruit and previous evaporation and takes about 5 – 15 minutes. purée
Once it begins to look syrupy, test by placing a teaspoonful on an icy saucer. Cool, then push with your finger. If it wrinkles, it’s done. Leave the marmalade to settle for 5 minutes. Stir again and pour or ladle into hot, sterilised jam jars. Leave for 5 minutes, then cover and cool. Wipe any spillages off the jars while they’re still warm and it’ll come off easily.  Label and leave for 24 hours to set before storing. Ready to eat immediately.

I have a preserving pan so would use that for boiling the marmalade.  If using a saucepan, it must be large enough – the boiling mixture will more than double in volume.  If it’s too much, halve the quantity (you could do the initial cooking, then halve for the final boil).

Link to Cottage Smallholder's recipe for marmalade using a pressure cooker

Analgesic Sage

I should have been writing about something quite different, but I was reminded, by means of Facebook, about the birth of Ro.  By the way, his girlfriend Dora has just received news of a new baby nephew, so congratulations to her and the happy parents.  So maybe this is appropriate after all.

Ro was due in August, but in the early hours of 24th July, I woke feeling uncomfortable.  This continued for the rest of the night.  I didn't get 'false alarms' so I reckoned that things were happening.  It so happened that I was due a check-up with the gynaecologist that day, so I packed a bag, asked the Sage to drive me and arrived at the local hospital, and waited for my appointment.  Waited, my left foot.  I was left apologising to the Sage for giving up an entire morning.  No idea what went wrong, but it was hours before I was called in.  A few women had young children with them, they were in despair and the children inconsolable at being kept in a crowded waiting room.  Anyway, eventually my name was called and I went in.

When Weeza was born, this chap had delivered her.  Al was born at home under the care of the family doctor.  This was lovely, but he'd retired.  I asked my doctor if he did home deliveries, but he didn't and I really liked him and didn't want to change, so opted for the consultant I'd known ten years before (who didn't remember me, but then he sees a lot of rear ends and I don't suppose one stands out more than another).

I said to him, I was having labour pains and had had for eight hours.  He didn't reply, but said he'd have a look.  A painful few minutes later, he said he'd see me in a fortnight.  That still rankles, twenty-six and a half years later, that he didn't actually address a word in answer to anything I said.  I've favoured non-white/female/non-posh-voiced consultants ever since. (Any combination of)

I stalked out, we went home, I felt uncomfortable.  At 3 o'clock, it moved up a gear, I phoned my mum who came straight over.  I remember waving to Weeza and Al, standing looking anxious in the drive.  We drove ten miles to the hospital.  On the roundabout in Yarmouth, the car sounded as if there was a flat tyre. I was wriggling uncomfortably, the Sage was annoyingly calm.  We discussed it and decided it was the road surface, which it was.

We got to the hospital and the Sage said that the dog needed to be fed (that was Simon, you don't know him) and buggered off, leaving me feeling a bit ... left.

Anyway, things progressed, I'll get to the point eventually.  I was assigned two lovely midwives and taken to a room and they popped in regularly, but basically I was left.  Which was fine, I'm better on my own.  Eventually, I said politely that I would like my husband to be phoned.  They did so, but there was no answer.  I started to feel a bit desperate, I really wanted my Sage with me.  It was rush hour, they said he was probably stuck in traffic. Finally, we couldn't wait, they started to help me on to a trolley to get me in to the delivery room.  I was very uncomfortable.

The Sage arrived and put his arms round me.  And as he put his arms around me, the pain vanished.  I promise you, this is literally true.  I felt all pain drain away - not vanishing in a moment, but steadily leaving me and draining away.  And, although the contractions carried on happening, and I suppose it must have been quite a strong feeling, they never hurt again as they had.

I'd have made a good Scientologist mother, you know, I used to bear childbirth in silence.  I cope better by focussing than letting it out.  All the same, it was the Sage who brought me through that so easily.  And I was quite looking forward to waving my new son at that rude obstetrician, but he didn't appear again.  No great loss, we didn't need him.

Wednesday 26 January 2011

Burned out

My three half-days in Learning Support are done.  I've been in such lessons before of course (SEN governor) but it was more concentrated than usual and, in addition, I was asked to fill in an observation sheet for each lesson as well as the sheet for the governors' records.  If you've noticed a certain distraction the past couple of nights, it's been because that has taken ages, and much thought.

I sent a cheerily friendly email to a friend yesterday whom I haven't seen for months.  He and I are really good friends but rarely bump into each other and, now not being on the same committee (we've both left it), we haven't got any particular reason to phone or email each other.  I had a short reply (saying 'to be continued', however) describing the Burns Night party he and his wife went to last night.  Everyone was expected to sing or recite something appropriate.  I do know some Burns by heart, but I'd so not do that.  Really.  Goodness.  What for?  A few would enjoy it, the rest would find it an ordeal at best, totally appalling at worst.  I'd be in the "what for" brigade of refuseniks.

No, actually, I've just thought, I wouldn't.  I'd quote Rudyard Kipling's brief, twelve line poem about James I/VI.  Which I should know.  Not googling, so may not have it word perfect -

"The child of Mary Queen of Scots
A shifty mother's shiftless son
Bred up amid intrigue and plots
Learnèd in all things, wise in none.  
Ungainly, babbling, wasteful, weak,
Shrewd, clever, cowardly, pedantic.
The sight of steel would blanch his cheek,
The smell of baccy drive him frantic.
He was the author of his line.
He wrote that witches should be burnt.
He wrote that monarchs were divine,
And left a son who - proved they weren't."*

Yup, a good antidote to all things Scottish.  Not that I've a thing against them.  My middle name is Buchanan.

Regrettably, that's true.  If I'd been a boy, I'd have gone to school at Glenalmond.

* I learned this, years ago, while the Sage drove me to Wells Next The Sea.  It was the year I decided to learn a poem.  It was the shortest I could find.

Tuesday 25 January 2011

Zedtective work

I've spent the last couple of hours searching emails for the Sage.  He is a friendly sort, you see, and likes to keep in touch.  Sometime last year, he called on someone (who lives in the same village as Ziggi, as it happens) and he wanted this chap's phone number.  They had got in touch with each other via eBay, said the Sage.

The Sage said he'd called on him during the autumn, but I knew that couldn't be right - I'd visited Ziggi in August, after the Sage had called on his friend.  By a great feat of memory, the Sage remembered his name, *John Smith*, but that wouldn't be given in the title of an eBay email.  I spent some time looking, without success.  I finally tore the Sage away from his computer and he went to look for last year's diary.  That gave a date, and finally he remembered the item he'd gone to look at.  I searched every damn email for six months and finally had to say I couldn't find it.  I looked on for the chap's phone number, but he's ex-directory.

"What do you want to speak to him about?" I asked.  "Oh, you know, just for a chat."

The Sage dozed off.  I thought about it a bit further.  And thought, maybe he contacted us direct, it was nothing to do with eBay.

Two minutes later, I was waking the Sage up with the news that I had the full correspondence, including address, email and phone number.

He couldn't cope without me.  No one else would do it for him.  Lucky he's worth it.

Zycling again

I'm waiting for the train website to process my ticket order.  I suspect it isn't going to happen tonight and I'll have to do it again tomorrow afternoon - very little chance that I'll do it in the morning.  I've got to leave here by 8.30, which isn't what I've been used to recently.

The tickets aren't for me, the Sage is going to London in a couple of weeks to sort out a few odd jobs in the flat, and also evaluate the getting out of the washing machine.  It's on the first floor, the stairs have a bend and the passageway is very narrow at one point.  Weeza, who used to live there, frankly doubts that it will come out.  I didn't see it going in, but it must have, unless the builders got it in through the window ... surely not.  Anyway, after more than 11 years without so much as a service, it's done well.  Of course, then there will be the getting in of a new one...

The website, which moved quickly through the booking form, isn't going through to process the order.  I'll give it until I've finished this post.

I cycled in to the school this afternoon, and was not surprised, though quite shocked, by my unfitness.  It's only a couple of miles each way, but I really struggled on the hill.  Thinking about it, I went on holiday in early November, only cycled into town once or twice on my return, then the bad weather started and I am fairly sure I haven't done it since.  It was colder than it seemed when I left, I was wearing a hat but my ears were bare and when I returned home, I had various whistles and bells in there for a while.  Not sure if I can face it both tomorrow and the next day, and yet I'm going to have to get myself cycling again, because I don't want to use the car and I do want to be a bit more active.  Not that I enjoy it.  I don't get any pleasure from exercise, as such.  Phil, my son-in-law, cycles 23 miles every day as part of his journey to and from work - sometimes, on a Friday afternoon, he cycles all the way home instead of taking the train, which adds about another 15 miles.  He loves it.  He also loves not having to watch what he eats - he reckons that 100 miles a week is enough to keep him trim.  I'd be satisfied to get up to 20 again.

The aconites are in flower, by the way, I meant to mention it before.  It's silly to think that winter is nearly over when it isn't even February yet, but it's hard not to, in view of the snow we had last month.I didn't get around to sending in a seed order with the gardening club, so I must get on and do it soon.  I'm not sure what to grow this year, now I don't have to grow for the shop.  It'll be smaller amounts, but I can grow a wider variety of things if I want to - I'd simplified it way down.  On the other hand, I might give myself an easy year and grow mostly potatoes!

Sunday 23 January 2011

Z gets set

I made marmalade this afternoon.  Other bloggers have been saying that for a couple of weeks ago, but Tim only had Seville oranges in for the first time yesterday.  I know I'll be busy next week, so I thought I'd get a batch in at once.  I used the method I tried for the first time last year, which means cooking the oranges whole - it's Lindsay Bareham's recipe from The Times last year (well, I think so) but I've made a couple of changes, just because I don't think she always explained it in full, so if anyone would like it, let me know.  A couple of people have excellent recipes using a pressure cooker (I can do a link to one of them), and the traditional method I used to use is also very reliable - but takes longer and is more work.

I've been thinking about anniversaries again, but this isn't one of them, deliberately.  I only mark good anniversaries, and my stepfather and father both died in the second half of January - not on the same day but not many days, although a good many years, apart.  24 for my stepfather, 41 for my father.  I feel the loss of both of them.  Whether you believe in an afterlife, in whatever form, or not, there is surely some sort of after-life in being remembered and missed by people who knew you.

Next week, I'll mostly be at school.  It's a governors' link week, which means that the governors linked to a department go in to lessons, meet the head of faculty, talk to pupils, that sort of thing.  The music teacher has been ill with flu, and I will not bother her with visits - I'll send her an email shortly, suggesting we leave it a couple of weeks until she's back into her stride - but I'm also Special Needs governor, so I'm going into a Lexia class, an Asdan class and an Outdoor Education class.  Then I've got a morning being educated by the Local Authority on the pros and cons of being an Academy, a committee meeting, a meeting with the Head, another committee meeting and a lunch with governors and heads of faculty.  So that'll be how I spend my week.  Housework has to be done on Monday morning, when all the business emails come in (so, lucky the Sage has learned how to reply to them) and then there will be no time, not if I want to visit friends in hospital too.  This is otherwise known as not having a job.  Oh, and a friend is holding a Bodyshop party on Friday night, so Dilly and I are going to that.

I've just realised that I've mentioned everything I might have blogged about next week.  Bugger.  What shall I talk about, then?  Or maybe I should take a week off.

I don't think it's likely.  It's bad enough not having anything on the radio just after 7 o'clock to get used to.  I don't want to listen to The Archers, I genuinely don't care and actively want not to get involved again, but I'm always cooking at 7 o'clock - well, normally - and now I do it in silence.  I always listened to Front Row until dinner was cooked, and now I don't listen to that too.  So it's quiet around here nowadays.

Saturday 22 January 2011

Hippy Anniversary

It's been a whole year.  I've been looking back at the post I wrote as soon as I was back in my room after the operation.  It's short, but worth reading for the lovely comments, for which, thank you again.  I was so damn chirpy, wasn't I.  I'd built myself up into quite a high, having managed to go, in a week or two, from extreme reluctance to have the operation to a gung-ho state that might be more usually associated with a bungee jumper (that is forbidden to me, by the way, as is parachuting).

The coffee morning was very jolly.  I got up late and so didn't make a cake, so took marmalade instead.  Tim has finally got Seville oranges in and I'll make a batch tomorrow.  Sally, our hostess, had made cakes, rock buns, flapjacks and biscuits, so it was as well that I'd not eaten any breakfast in preparation.  I don't usually not eat breakfast, I hasten to add.  I've gone off porridge a bit for now, so usually have a poached egg on virtuously unbuttered toast.  Buttered toast would be nicer, but I'm showing the lack of recent cycling with a gain in weight.  I'm wary of cycling if the weather is cold, just now, as I keep getting a blocked feeling in my ears (as I mentioned two or three weeks ago), which then shifts and makes me dizzy.  It's not bad, and it's the equivalent of blocked sinuses and I know that the doctor will just recommend a decongestant, so I just leave it.

I feel that it's the anniversary of getting my life back.  I'm very grateful.  I feel for those people whose implants have not been successful.  Manufacturers are always on the look-out for new and better ones, but sometimes they turn out to be potentially unsafe, particularly the all-metal ones.  I hope my other hip doesn't start to go, but there's no point fussing about it, it will or it won't.  If I get a few active years before the downward lurch to another op, then I'll be happy.  It's not the new hip, it's the gradual deterioration that's the downer - but the main thing is, it's completely treatable.  I'm absolutely fine now, and - well - I'm glad and grateful.  I'll go back for a checkup and another x-ray with Mr C in a few weeks, and I'll tell him.

Friday 21 January 2011

Z eats breakfast at lunchtime - you'd think there would be a word for that

I saw both John and Andy today in hospital and they're both looking loads better.  Each has their own room, with a bathroom, with charming staff who pop in to make sure there are enough clean towels and that sort of thing.  John's radio didn't work very well, and by the time one was found that did, three different people, including the top brass, had been onto the case.  The hospital does have voluntary support, but is still largely funded by the NHS - mind you, the government tried to close it down about ten years ago, in the interests of "efficiency" and it was only a concerted local effort, which included pressure from the doctors' surgery, that saved it.  There would be even more of a problem with "bed-blockers' as those who aren't fit to return home but can't find interim care are insultingly named, if such places had all closed.

Other than that, not a lot.  I've brought my paperwork up to date and paid bills.  I got up extremely late, having slept on and off until 11 o'clock this morning.  I've not slept well since the nights turned mild a few weeks ago and it finally caught up with me yesterday, when I really didn't feel too sharp.

Tomorrow, I'm going to a coffee morning.  I haven't been to one of those for years, I hardly knew they still existed.  I think there's a bring and buy stall too.  I have no idea what to take.  Should I make cake?

Thursday 20 January 2011

Kind Sage

Today, I've mostly been babysitting. Weeza had an appointment over lunchtime and in to the early afternoon, so I extricated myself from my lunch engagement and a couple of meetings. It all went fine, I picked up a couple of friends and took them to the lunch as promised, and gave them papers to be handed out - I'm secretary of this lunch club, which is very little work.

Zerlina wanted to go to sleep soon after Weeza left, so babysitting didn't involve any actual childcare. When I arrived home, the Sage said that Al and Dilly has to go to Norwich, so I've spent the evening here babysitting too, except while I was cooking dinner and the Sage took over.

He has had a day of looking after people too. John is now in the local cottage hospital, the Sage having organised it. That is, he would have had to wait longer or maybe gone to a different hospital, but the Sage helped. Then he went to see Andy, who is also in the same hospital. And then he went to visit the wife of a dear friend of his, who died a few days ago. So he has excelled even his usual lovely self in kindness today.

Wednesday 19 January 2011

Z dines out

We were going out this evening, and I was a bit reluctant.  Not for the being out so much as for the going up and getting changed into something not as warm and venturing outside.  It was the Classic Car Club Christmas dinner.  It's always held well into January.

I'm quite happy to go, although I find the conversation a bit sticky.  I'm not uninterested in old cars, but I haven't the passion for them that most members have.  Usually, when someone starts talking about a particular interest, you can just listen and, by interjecting the odd reasonably unstupid comment or question, you can turn it into a one-sided conversation rather than a monologue.  It's more difficult when you should reasonably be expected to know a bit about the subject.

The talk wasn't all about old cars, of course, and everyone was very jolly.  I have eaten rather more than usual, I have to admit.

Years ago, I remember, I was at a party, a get-together for parents at Weeza and Al's prep schools.  It was held at a very nice local hotel owned by one of the boys' parents.  It was in the summer and we all sat around tables outside to eat.  One man was very tongue-tied and shy and hardly said a word throughout the meal.  Chatting afterwards, somehow the subject of honey bees came up.  This chap's face lit up.  Seems he was an enthusiast, and at last he could join in the conversation.  Not having good social skills, however, he didn't know how to make it a conversation and, half an hour later, he and I were still talking about bees and everyone else had quietly melted away, including his wife.  She was a sociable woman and was off chatting happily, having seen her husband in safe hands.  I hadn't actually got stuck, although I had had enough of the bee talk, to be honest. I was in one of my rare moods of kindness.  The man knew a lot and talked well, it was just his awkwardness that didn't let him join in general conversation.  It was, admittedly boring - I came up with every single think I knew about bees and thought of various questions too, and couldn't find a way out of the hive talk.  He had a good evening though, and so did his wife, so I didn't mind, just for once.

More recently, although still a while ago, we went to dinner with friends.  Another couple was there, who had moved into the village not long ago, and one got the impression that they didn't really go to dinner parties, or whatever you might choose them to disguise the fact that the best glasses actually had been got out.  The hostess warmly welcomed us and was chatting away, and then excused herself to see to the dinner.  A silence fell.  I suddenly became aware that everyone was looking hopefully at me.

I was quite tired that evening, in fact.  I was not unhappy about going out, but I'd quite have liked to sit back and be entertained and not do much talking.  But, I realised, there was an expectation that I'd start the conversation off and be sparkling.  So, I took the proffered glass of wine from our host, took a gulp from it and started chatting.  I hadn't been mistaken, faces lit up into a "Z's off!" expression and it all went fine.  And, of course, once you pretend to be in a mood, you become it, so I wasn't tired any more. I was uncomfortably aware that everyone assumed it was the first glug of wine that did it to me, however, whereas it was, in fact, an effort of will.

I'm not so good at a general party, however, the sort where people stand around in little groups with glasses of wine.  The business of circulating, not spending too long with anyone but extricating yourself without leaving them flat - or being the one left alone, looking for a conversation or a lone person to join - having lots of small talk that is entertaining without being too involving, eating the occasional canapé without spilling it down your front or getting tomato stuck between your front teeth is something I've never really mastered.  How many people have, I wonder?  You rarely get anyone who admits to enjoying it.

Mind you, I did well the other month.  Back last summer, we went to London to view an auction - we'd viewed it in the daytime, and then there was an official view, with wine and canapés, in the evening, to which we'd been invited.  It went quite well, because there was always the china to talk about, and to look at if you were alone for a few minutes.  The Sage always abandons me instantly on these occasions.  There's no question of us looking after each other.  However, after an hour or so, we found ourselves together, talking to a very nice chap, whom we offered to send a catalogue of our next sale, and he came to the sale.  When he turned up to the sale, four or five months after this meeting, I greeted him by name.  It was a rare triumph, and he was duly flattered.

Tuesday 18 January 2011

Roach for the shy

I am alone.  Just for the evening, that is, the Sage is at a meeting.  I feel more pleasure than is warranted by his absence, because he's at a PCC meeting, and I'm no longer on the PCC (this is, I should explain, the committee that runs the church.  I used to be secretary and then, for six years, churchwarden).  I have been asked if I'd be willing to rejoin at the AGM in April and I've said no.  I was forewarned that the present secretary is standing down, and I have to admit to myself that I don't want to be secretary of anything again, partly because I'd have no one to delegate to.  But I'd not do it anyway.  If anything proves to me that I made the right decision, it's the glee I feel when there's a meeting on and I don't have to go to it.

The Sage's sister gave us a tin of chocolate biscuits for Christmas.  We're quite matter-of-fact about this, we give her Stilton and she gives us chocolate biscuits.  When the Sage opened the tin, he offered it to me and I took one.  Just now, I thought that maybe I'd have another.  I've just looked and there are three left.  Hmm.  Not that I've any objection to his eating of good quality chocolate biscuits, but I've only seen him munching two or three of them, and the tin has been in this room the whole time.  He's a secret muncher!

Anyway, I thought I might watch television.  Nothing appealed.  The least tempting offer was on Channel Four - sorry, Channel 4 - Grimefighters, A Dagenham flat overrun by cockroaches.  So I'm listening to a CD of Round the Horne, instead.

I am quite relaxed around all sorts of creepy crawlies.  I'm the one in the family who's called on to lift spiders out of the bath, centipedes out of the artichoke and bishy barnabies (not that anyone dislikes them, of course, except the Harlequin variety on principle) from the rosebud.  I did have quite a thing about cockroaches, however.  We once had a load of coal delivered, when I was a child, into the cellar and it must have contained eggs, because during that winter a great many of the little beasts emerged into the kitchen.  They're terribly difficult to kill, being almost impervious to insecticide.  Stamping on them is the best option, and my mother used to sneak out into the kitchen, snap on the light and lunge on to as many as possible as they scurried for cover.  It was most unpleasant.  Eventually they were vanquished and I never saw one again until, in a fairly basic hotel in India, they were always to be found in the bathroom.  To my surprise, they didn't bother me at all.  They were quite small, for one thing, and they weren't in a kitchen (my poor ma, how horrible for her).  I was relieved that what I'd thought was a lifetime phobia had resolved itself into matter-of-factness.  I still don't want to see a television programme about them, however.

As I say, they're almost impossible to kill except by a direct blow, and there are various creatures and plants like that, and I always wonder, why haven't they completely taken over?  In my garden, it's a constant battle - well, it would be if I hadn't given in long ago - against ground elder, thistles, nettles, brambles and bindweed.  So how come they don't cover the entire ground?  And sycamore trees! - A large example blew down in 1986 and we were getting seedlings sprouting up for years afterwards.  I was really pleased when it blew down, even though it landed across the drive (no harm done) because of those damn seedlings, and there are still a few saplings that, however often they're cut down, keep sprouting again.  Then there's hawthorn, which self-seeds everywhere, elder bushes,  all sorts of things.  Is there something self-limiting about them, so that they kill themselves after a few years' proliferation?

Monday 17 January 2011

Wet newspaper

I woke up early, having had another disturbed night.  I don't care for these mild nights.  It's January and supposed to be cold, and I keep waking up.  I've reached the stage of tiredness that I soon fall asleep again, and it all adds up.  I do love a good sleep however, and I think I'll soon be due for one.

When I did wake for good (well, not quite as it turned out), the Sage was still asleep so I played cards and so on, until I started to receive emails, and answered them - some people do get going early in the day, I'm sure they weren't all on their iPhones.  I faffed about on Facebook for a while too, and generally was mildly sociable.  Then the Sage woke up, wrapped his arms around me, we hugged and both fell asleep.

And so, by the time we got up, it was raining and the newspapers were soaked.  I put them on the Aga to dry out and they are thoroughly crinkly.  We spent the morning on the computers and the phones, a good three hours.  I was surprised at how busy we were.  One call after another, on various subjects.  I'm awaiting some replies, but have dealt with most things, which was not bad.  I haven't written up the notes from Friday's meeting, mind you.

This afternoon, I went to visit John in hospital.  It's actually the very top of the humerus that he broke - "the ball broke right off - not in the sense that it was rolling round the room though," as he cheerfully put it.  He had been hoping to come home very soon, but is becoming aware that he is finding it hard to get up and move around.  He may come to the local cottage hospital, which would be ideal.  I've said, I'll keep in touch with his wife and visit him again soon, wherever he is.  He's rather wishing he'd bought the iPad when we went to Norwich, as he could do with it now.  I've said, if he wants me to go and buy it for him, I'll be very happy to do so.  Indeed, I'd enjoy it.

I started to write a post about school finance, but I have found myself giving a lecture.  I don't suppose you all want to know about the Age Related Pupil Allowance and the Standards Fund.  I shall have to start again.

Tomorrow, Year 9 Music.  I'm looking forward to it, including the school lunch.

Sunday 16 January 2011

Shouldering the burden

My friend John, the one I went with to look at iPads, has broken his shoulder.  Apparently he fell in his bedroom.  It happened on Friday and he's in hospital in Norwich.  They intend to pin it, but haven't yet.  He has rheumatoid arthritis and, because of the steroids he takes for that, has a compromised immune system, so any operation gives cause for concern.

On the other hand, Andy has moved to the local hospital where there's a brilliant physiotherapy department and much more one-to-one care, and he's managing to walk across the room on a walking frame and with help.  Gill says it's starting to hit her, the long-term implications of all this and how much of the burden will be on her shoulders for the next few years.  And yet, I am sure she will cope.  She and Andy love each other dearly and there will be no sense in which he's a burden on her.  They will both give up their stressful jobs, she's looking for a new one, part-time and unstressful (she's brilliant, if I wanted a PA/bookkeeper/administrator I'd not advertise, I'd ask her) and I think that, once there is real progress in Andy's condition, she will focus on looking after him.  He will need her time, and she needs to slow down and get off the treadmill.

As I typed that, I thought, I could do with some music and opened up Spotify and looked up 'What's New'.  On a whim, I clicked on 'The Essential Tony Bennett'.  Blimey, that's soothing.  Gosh, one track and I'm so relaxed that my muscles aren't working and I've started to drool.  In a good way, honestly I'm so mellow now, and I'm sure that the wine glass in front of me hasn't a thing to do with it.  Anyway, relaxing is good, as long as you're in a position to accept it.  I can see that something so easy-listening might drive me nuts on a brisker day - and usually does.  In fact, I'm not sure that this mellowness indicates the real me.  Wouldn't it be worrying if people liked Zzzz better than Zizz?

I thought of Gill, and the one-time me, when I was reading yesterday's Times.  Sorry, can't link as The Times online is now subscription-only, but The University of Queensland has done studies that indicate that the more stress you're under, the more you crave.  When we're under stress, the body releases painkilling opiates to compensate, apparently, and you can get hooked on that.  I don't know about that, I think that it depends on whether you have power with the responsibility.  I think that the stress connected with being in control is - I don't like to use the word 'addictive' unless it's literally so - irresistible and feeds on itself.

The next bit of the article, quoting, from British psychologist Guy Claxton, came home to me much more.  When we're under pressure, we do 'fast thinking'.  It is rational, analytical, linear and logical.  But for strategic, creative ideas, only relaxed 'slow thinking' will be really effective.  I absolutely go along with that.  When really pushed, I feel myself in a different gear.  I whip around, twice as fast as everyone else, knowing exactly what needs to be done and automatically slotting everything into its most efficient place.  No danger of realising that something should have been started an hour ago or it won't be ready in time - I'll have done it.  I know what takes longer, what relies on someone else getting back to me, what to hold in reserve as 'desirable but not essential', that can be dropped if necessary.  But I can't do that all the time.

What Gill is and I was in thrall to is an inability to let go.  When barely in control, you can't bear to let anything go.  You know that you can cope, but if you pass on something to another person and they don't do it, or don't do it well, you know you'll have to pick up the pieces.  If you do it from the start, you know you can rely on yourself.  This feeling escalates, and the more you do, the more 'fast thinking' you do and other people are intimidated out of offering, and you start to feel indispensable.  Which you're not.  No one is, and thankfully Andy's body has put him out of action in a manner that he can recover from, more or less (no one's sure of the extent of his recovery yet, but there's a lot of hope).

I learned that lesson by the sudden death of a dear friend.  It was nine years ago,- that is, it will  be in June.  This friend had a heart attack and, in seconds, he was no more.  That was how I became chairman of governors at the village school, because I had been his Vice (ahem).  He'd been chairman or treasurer of everything in the village, and a most beloved friend, husband, father and grandfather too.  He is still greatly missed.  But, in practical terms, he who had looked after everything was gone, and the rest of us had to pick up the pieces - at the school, it was the worst possible time, and I genuinely was the only one who knew enough to take over.  So, I will always have a team.  If in charge, I'll not keep it to myself and I will prepare my exit strategy, almost from the start.  If not, I'll support the person who is, so that they aren't driven to the brink and don't feel isolated.

I didn't know I was going to write all that when I sat down.  Gosh.  Sorry.  I'll tell you more about school finances later, or maybe tomorrow.  The Sage has just got home, he's been to visit Big Pinkie.

Saturday 15 January 2011

Marking benches

I've been geekily looking through figures this afternoon.  The benchmarking figures, which are now in the public domain, give the income and expenditure of every state-run school, also the proportion of income spent in various categories, such as teachers and other staff, heating, learning resources, and the expenditure per pupil.  It also gives the position in the league tables.  I've got a list of all the Suffolk schools.  It's very interesting to see that, on the whole, the schools that spend most per pupil tend to be in the lower half of the results table.  This doesn't in the least stop the Local Authority pumping more money into failing schools, at the expense of succeeding ones, even though it doesn't, in itself, improve results.

I had a phone call from Weeza, asking me to babysit next Thursday.  It's not terribly convenient, actually, as it'll mean me missing my lunch club (you did know I'm a Lady Who Lunches?) and a school committee meeting, but I said I'd rather help her out, so I'll send apologies for both.  In fact, it doesn't suit her very well either, so she'll see if she can alter the appointment, but as she works three days a week she hasn't got much flexibility in her timings.

I'm reluctant to admit it, but I've almost had enough of faffing about and relaxing.  I'm completely unstressed and it's a bit dull.  Back in that week between Christmas and the New Year, I enjoyed being able to do whatever I wanted, or not do anything at all, but I've almost reached the limit of pleasure in that.  I'd like to make it clear that I have stayed strong and not succumbed to anything dreadfully worthy and sensible like turning out the linen cupboard or sorting out the kitchen cupboards, but I can see such a fate beckoning unless I rapidly become too busy to consider doing any such thing.

Friday 14 January 2011


I went to see the Headteacher this morning.  We usually have a weekly meeting, unless he's too busy or not a lot is happening  and that can be easily communicated by email.  Last week's was about a particular topic, so this was the first time we'd got together over school events.  One little moment for rejoicing was the confirmation, with the publishing of school league tables this week, that our school is sixth in Suffolk, including private schools.  We allowed ourselves a moment of satisfaction, before discussing how we could do better this year.  I don't have much to say for league tables, they reflect rather than guide what we do, and we don't play to them, but we might as well be pleased when they show how well the pupils and teachers do.

Anyway, at one point we were talking about Krakow (relevant to school matters, but in a personal moment, because we'd both been there) and we agreed how much we'd loved it and want to go again.  I mentioned the food - look, if you ever think of going to Poland, be hungry.  Gosh, they can cook.  He told me in detail about a soup/stew, served in a hollowed out loaf of bread, that he ate slower and slower because he didn't want the meal to end.  "We tried to cook it at home, but it wasn't the same," he said.

Anyway, it was just a two-minute digression and we got back to school matters, but it made me think, what wonderful meals I've had in other countries, particularly ones where short-cuts haven't yet become the norm.  So, all those fabulous soups started with home-made stock.  The best chicken stew I've ever eaten was in Delhi.  Not the meatiest, but absolutely the tastiest.

Which reminds me, the Sage is cooking dinner tonight.  I arrived home at quarter past five (not from the school, I went from there to a meeting at Bury St Edmunds) and made a cup of tea for both of us.  I also had a piece of toast and Marmite.  I was really hungry.  Since then, I've had an apple and a satsuma and I'm still hungry.  I had a poached egg on toast for breakfast, with the result that I wasn't hungry at noon, when I had to have a quick lunch before leaving for Bury.  So, toast and Marmite (all those B vitamins are very good for you) and some plain yoghurt, but it wasn't quite sustaining enough to last me all afternoon.  Andy's jelly babies are still in the car, and it took some willpower not to eat some of them on the way home.  I did use the willpower however, because if I'd opened the box, I'd probably have eaten half a pound of them. Better not start.

Anyway, i made tea and, as we were drinking it, asked the Sage what he'd bought for dinner tonight - he had offered to do the shopping today as I was going out.  "Lamb chops," he said.  "I'm cooking them."

Readers, darling, I married him.  And I *totally* would again.

Thursday 13 January 2011

Z the unwinder

I didn't go to visit Andy today, but this was good news.  Gill sent me a text mid-morning to say that he was going to be taken to the local cottage hospital this afternoon.  I haven't heard more since, but I presume all has gone as planned, and it will be lovely for both of them.  It's a more relaxed, less hospital-like atmosphere and only a couple of miles from their house, so she can pop in and out much more easily.  No car parking charges and more relaxed visiting times.  The physiotherapy department is excellent, I went there a couple of years ago and had several ultrasound treatments and massages, and was given exercises to do (I must get those out again, I suspect they would do me good.  I remember several of them, but not all).

Now I have a box of jelly babies in the car, which call to me.  It only now occurs to me that I could have dropped them in at the hospital as a little welcome present to him.

I was out early this morning - not early by the standards of many of you, but it was unusual for me - because I had an appointment for a haircut at 8.30.  I thought I'd be the first customer, but my friend Carol was just being finished when I arrived.  "I'll show you the back," said Jo.  "No, don't bother, it'll be fine," said Carol. I asked if Jo had ever been told it wasn't fine, and she acknowledged that once, when she was a trainee, the customer had spoken out.  It was awful, she (Jo) had cried.  I didn't probe.  Because that's a pretty horrid word (in its Latin sense, yay!) and I didn't want to pile on the remembered agony.  Anyway, my hair was fine, and I was told I looked particularly smart and attractive (by the lady of the shop, not her husband) when I went into the sweet shop afterwards to buy the jelly babies.

A friend is on holiday with her family, all of them having had a really difficult few months.  Their difficult time (a bereavement) is more recent than the death of my mother, and other horrible things, that had happened when Weeza and I went to India for the wedding of her friend Kavitha seven years ago - almost exactly seven years, I think we left at the end of January.  I hope that they are finding it as healing a process as I did.  After an enjoyable, but very busy week of wedding parties, Weeza and I flew to Kerala for a second week, of relaxation and calm.  We spent as much per night in the hotels as we'd spent in a week in Madras (that is, £60 per night for two instead of £60 per week) and pottered around seeing sights and having a wonderful time.  We rode elephants, bareback (elephants' backs) and fed them bananas, we had a wonderful trip on the backwaters and pottered about and sunbathed.  It was the only holiday in my whole life when I did nothing that wasn't relaxing.  I'm not a sunbathing person (actually, I never moved out from the shade of an umbrella, come to think of it, I sunshadebathed).  I told Weeza, that week healed me.

Not quite actually, it took another two and a half years, but it certainly started the process.  It was the most deliberately relaxing week of my life, and was a revelation.  I've been able to wind down more quickly and completely ever since.  All down to Weeza.  She's brilliant.

Wednesday 12 January 2011

Trying to keep up standards

I called on Gill's mum this afternoon. Andy is feeling rather better, and looking forward to coming to our local cottage hospital as soon as there is a bed for him.  He has been home for the day several times, which has really cheered him and Gill.  I'm going to visit him tomorrow.  Gill's mum is delightful.  She loves to chat and there is never a silent moment.  She is happy for it to be a conversation rather than a monologue and she's always interesting, but there is certainly never an awkward pause.

Dilly went for a scan today, which has established that all is well with the baby.  She and Al were surprised at the equipment, which is more impressive even than it was five years ago.  Well, than three years ago, when Weeza was expecting Zerlina.  Al said that the detail was amazing, the doctor could zoom in on every heart valve, everything.

Tonight, I was looking for something to do with leftover chicken.  I ended up with a spaghetti, chicken and spinach number.  Nigel Slater said it was plenty for four, so I halved the recipe ...  and ended up with enough for four.  It's apparent what we'll be having for lunch tomorrow.  It's pretty well the Turkey Tetrazzini that, if you're my age, you might remember from the 60s, but with a few alterations.  The spinach, for a start.

You were so sweet about the little hen, though I'm sure some of you also thought - 'but it's only a chicken and these people aren't even vegetarians' - and indeed, as I said, we ate chicken tonight.  But it's different with a pet.  Anyway, the Sage brought her home and has buried her.  We really are going to have to get a cockerel this year I think, she was one of the youngest, the cock having been killed by a dog two and a half years ago.  It'll put the cock pheasant's beak out of joint, but we can't help that.  We've had these chickens over twenty years and we don't want them gradually dying of old age with no young ones to replace them.

None of these are twenty years old, obviously.  I mean, we first got our little flock that long ago.  Did I tell the story, I wonder?  I'd better look back.  Because if not, I've got a whole day with no need to think of a theme.

*checks*  Oh.  I did.  Here you go.  It's a long time ago, I could probably have got away with writing it all again.  April 2006

Tuesday 11 January 2011


An even better date to come in ten months' time.  Won't we bloggers rejoice?

The vets became fond of Dotty in the short time she was there.  A trusting little hen, and Angela the vet thinks it was her breathing rather than her heart that gave out.  It was a stressful experience for her, after all.  She was in some pain from her foot, we couldn't have left it.  Angela said that her assistant cried when Dotty died, which I found quite upsetting.

I've been to a three-hour long training session on Safeguarding this afternoon.  The number of these that I've been to over the years, and heard about the same tragic, though rare, occurrences when a child is treated so badly that its death results in an official enquiry and new rules or guidelines.  But, however rarely, it still can happen again.  Still, it was a very good lesson of its sort and I'm better informed (although, as ever, none the wiser).

That's been about it today, I don't think I've anything else to tell you.

I arrived home to find an answerphone message cancelling a meeting this afternoon that no one had told me was on.  Just as well, I'd not have felt able to give apologies so would not have done the training, and then would have been quite miffed at its cancellation.  I've become completely hopeless again, I've turned down a social engagement because of a school one next week, and the next one isn't until next month.  Well, there's the Car Club Christmas dinner next week, but I hardly know the people who go, I only go because the Sage is.

It's not, of course, that I can't arrange anything for fun, I'm not that busy, just that other things take priority. I notice it once in a while and take myself in hand, but sometimes it's too much effort.  Must be that January feeling.

Oh, and the other news item is that the Sage is having his annual 24 hours blood pressure monitoring.  He whirrs and bleeps every 15 minutes.  He's offered to sleep in the spare room, but I'd rather sleep with him, even whirring and bleeping.

Sad news

Sorry, folks, to be the bearer of bad news, but the little bantam didn't come round after the operation.  Thanks for your good wishes, the Sage is very touched that you care.

Monday 10 January 2011

Pullet and see

The Sage was worried.  One of his favourite chickens had a problem.

I should mention that he has thirty chickens.  Every one of them he has known since egghood.  Some of them, he delivered.

You see, a chick in the shell has a little sticky-out bit on its beak called an egg-tooth, but sometimes the eggshell is a bit too hard or dry and the tooth wears away before the chick has broken through the shell. It is very tricky, being midwife to a bird, because it is very likely that you will crack through the wrong part of the egg and damage the unhatched chick.  What you do, you put the egg in water, and the end that is on top when it bobs up is where the air-sac is.  You can, very carefully, scratch away with a scalpel and ease through that part without damaging the main part of the egg, and so, continuing to be terribly careful, remove fragments of shell until the chick is able to help itself.  The Sage has this delicacy of fingerwork and the patience needed to do this midwifery successfully.

Anyway, back to Bantam Chicken, Female, 2 Years Old, as she is registered at the local vet, the Very Wets.  She had been limping for a few days, and finally the Sage managed to persuade her to be picked up, and he found that one toe had been bleeding and the end of it was angled wrongly.  It looked as if she'd caught it in some netting, whether wire or plastic, and it had been partly cut through and the bone broken.  The Sage was terribly upset and, trustingly, brought her to me for a cure.  I took one look, it was well past my abilities.  I phoned the vet.

The Sage put her in a box, which had contained trays of eggs from Happy Hens of Hoxne, and she went to sleep until we took her out at the vet's.  It was one of the principal vets we saw, impressively, and she cleaned the toe and said that she was afraid it needed to be amputated.  We knew that, we'd thought maybe she'd just whip it off with sharp clippers (chickens aren't big on feeling pain), but no.  Bantam Chicken Female, or Dotty for short, will have to have an anaesthetic.  "It'll be done tomorrow morning," said Angela, "you can leave her here overnight or bring her back in the morning."

I spared the Sage from looking overanxious and took on that rôle myself.  "Will she be operated on first thing?" I asked.  "I wouldn't want her to have to wait, with other animals around, she'd be frightened."  The operation won't be done before 11 o'clock.  Dotty (which is actually short for Dot and Carry One) is asleep in her box in the porch right now.  The Sage will take her in tomorrow and pace the floor until he knows that she has survived the operation, and then she will have the run of the greenhouse for a few days until she has healed.

What I liked, neither the receptionist nor the vet acted as if we were making too much fuss at all.  Because we weren't.  And even if we were, she's worth it.

Sunday 9 January 2011

Last night, Z couldn't get to sleep at all...

I was in bed well before midnight, too.  Very boring.  I read, I played games.  Scored 122 in one move on iPhone Scrabble, but I can't remember either of the words involved.  I finally fell asleep some time after 4.15 and was woken three hours or so later by Radio 4 playing Boney M, which was annoying.  I hate it when Radio 4 plays music in the morning, I like to wake up to the droning of voices.  It was the early service, but my good friend Sybil had kindly said she'd do my sidesman duties, as I'd be going to the 11 o'clock service, so I went back to sleep for another hour.  It's a funny thing, that however much I can't sleep at night, I always can when it would be a reasonable hour to get up.  I have, at least, resolutely not had a daytime nap today, in the hope of being thoroughly exhausted tonight.

When I woke the second time, I heard Zerlina talking in her bedroom.  Her father went to fetch her and I heard her cheerfully piping voice chatting to him about the rocking horse in his and Weeza's room.  I did poached eggs for breakfast, two of them new-laid this morning.  The Sage went out to fetch the eggs from the nest boxes.  It was a crisply frosty morning, but the sun shone and it was a beautiful day.  Much more invigorating than the dreary rain we had on Friday.

Weeza and co left mid-morning, so that Zerlina could have her lunch and her nap at home and they'd get some weekend stuff done, and Wink left after lunch.  She was going to call on her step-son and his wife on her way home, north of London.  She hasn't phoned yet to say she's safely home, but we're expecting a call in the next half-hour.  Interestingly, she has also, indignantly, decided to boycott The Archers from now on.  She didn't know I'd said the same thing as she rarely has a chance to read the blog any more - she spends the day largely at the computer at work, so has given up her home Broadband as she doesn't really want to look at a screen in the evening too.  She says she's been listening for 45 years, but this has done it for her - why, she asked dramatically, does one 'celebrate' 60 years of a programme by killing off the most delightful character?  Why kill anyone?

Mind you, I was thinking of 45 years ago.  A teenager in the mid-sixties.  The Swinging Sixties.  "I know," thought Wink. "I'll start listening to a radio soap on the Home Service."  We were rarely cutting edge, Wink and me.

Saturday 8 January 2011

Land of Poo

I've had a really busy evening.  It's only 11 o'clock and I'm tired out.  I had the bright idea of feeding the children at 5.30, with nibbles and wine for us, and then we having dinner at 7.30 when Zerlina was in bed. A good idea, but it needed a lot of rushing about.  It had all gone so well during the day too, because I'd got everything prepared, it was just a matter of putting things in the oven at the right times and keeping an eye on them.

And it did work.  Everyone started to arrive at 5, and in due course we opened Christmas presents, the children ate (I'd gone for easy options, sausages and baked beans, ice cream and cake) and I served the smoked salmon and little cheesy numbers.  Soon after 7, Zerlina asked to go to bed.  I know, it's true though, Weeza has a child who knows when she's tired, rather than getting irritable but denying it, and asks for her bed.  Dinner was on the table at exactly 7.30, by which time Squiffany and Pugsley were sitting together in an armchair watching a Nanny McPhee DVD on my computer (the DVD player is on the blink, I'll have to replace it).  But I'd been scurrying about in frenzied fashion getting it all ready by then.

Wink brought some splendid cheeses with her from her local deli, and Ro and I, in particular, tried each of them and compared notes.  One of them was splendidly smelly.  Unfortunately, Wink couldn't remember its name.  There was a ripe local (to her) camembert (Phil described it as "suppurating," and indeed it was oozing over the cheeseboard), a semi-soft goat's cheese, a Cheddar from Cheddar and a couple of others.  I am not sure how I'm going to finish them while they're still at their best, the Sage won't eat much of them.  She also brought a magnum bottle of Crozes Hermitage, which she'd won in a raffle, it having been donated by the local wine merchants.  It was on its way, past its best, but still a fine wine.

Everyone has gone to bed now except the Sage and me.  Ro and Dora went back to Norwich, but all the same, it's not often that six people sleep in this house now.

You have to have seen the film to 'get' the title of the post, but it could relate to the cheese too.

Friday 7 January 2011

Baby mama

I had my first baby when I was 20.  Physically, this was a very good age.  Emotionally, I was too young.  I'd thought I was not, but it certainly tested my patience, which failed the test and I spent quite a lot of Weeza's first few months in tears, as did she.  Fortunately, the Sage could also be called the Rock.  He looked after us both and I gradually improved.

Nothing daunted, Al was born exactly two years later, their birthdays are two days apart.  This was a different story.  I had got into the swing of things by then, Weeza was an adorable toddler - she was such a dear little girl - and, although we'd just bought a fairly huge house (anyone who has visited here might think this house is not small.  It's so much smaller than our last house, I call this a cottage), I did have a cleaner a couple of mornings a week by then and everything went swimmingly.

Physically, I bounced right back in no time.  Apart from being rather thin - within the acceptable BMI range, but only just - I was extremely healthy and had loads of energy.  In fact, I probably had more energy at that time than I ever had before or since.  I wonder what I was doing right.  My only small problem, because of being so slim, was a tendency to low blood pressure or blood sugar or some such, and if I stood up quickly I sometimes had to sit down again before I fell down, and sometimes I lay flat on the floor to save myself from fainting.

Just as an aside, I don't know how these 'size zero' women live.  I weighed more than 7 1/2 stone and had a tendency to faint, and I was a size 10, which would be an American 6.  Much smaller and I'd have been ill.  I had an extremely healthy diet.

Anyway, after a year or two I put on a few pounds and continued to be fit, healthy and have plenty of energy.  Ro was born when I was 30.  I sailed through pregnancy and birth, but was very surprised to find that having a small baby was far more tiring than last time round.  We'd intended, as there was quite a large gap, to have a fourth child, but changed our minds within weeks.  Like Rog's holiday of a lifetime, never again.  We were too old.

Both Weeza and Dilly were in their thirties when their babies were born.  I don't think they bounced back with as much energy as I did physically, although I'm sure they were a lot more prepared emotionally than I was at the age of twenty.  All three of us were in stable married relationships with supportive partners and families, which must have helped vastly.

Obviously, I'm not going to come to a conclusion here, it depends on so many things.  Being mother to a small child really does take it out of you though, I wonder if one can really prepare for it as we simply don't know what it's like until it happens.  I can tell you, though, being a grandparent is pure pleasure.  Worth having children for, I promise you.

Thursday 6 January 2011

Pearly queens

I met the mother of a schoolfriend of Ro's at the donor clinic this afternoon.  Almost the first thing she said, when we'd said hello, was "I'm going to be a Nanny!"  Her son Chris married a year or eighteen months ago and he and his wife are expecting their first baby.  I've promised to tell Ro, and passed on good wishes from us all - I expect Ro will be a bit startled.  Chris is a year older than he is, but even so, Ro isn't thinking of starting a family any time soon.

Mind you, I've a feeling that the next generation after my children's may be having their babies earlier.  For one thing, I think that all these women who have left it until their mid-thirties to forties before starting a family, and some of them finding it no easy matter, will want, perversely, their grandchildren to be born before they themselves are ancient, and will encourage their children to start families.  It could go the other way, of course, with girls all freezing eggs so that they can have their children late but without the problems of later conception, but I suspect that, when it comes to it, most people instinctively prefer the natural approach.

Anyway, the news of the day is that Wink has arrived, bearing Epiphany gifts.  It being Twelfth Night (twelve days after Christmas, Christmas Day doesn't count), I left the tree.  The family is coming over on Saturday and, as I'm not superstitious, I'd leave the decorations until then, as we'll be opening presents then, but my mother would be cross.  The one time our tree was left, because we were all too ill with Hong Kong flu, was New Year 1970, and my father died later the same month, enough to make anyone superstitious.  I still don't believe the bad luck, but I do believe in the wrath of my mother, so I shall compromise.  I'll take the decorations down tonight and leave the tree, and on Saturday hang chocolate coins from it for the children.  Unless I get fed up in the meantime and haul it out, a girl can always change her mind, of course.

Tomorrow, Wink and I will probably go out for lunch.  We haven't decided where yet.  The county is our oyster.

Wednesday 5 January 2011

Z plans to drink a litre of water (a pint and three-quarters, darlings)

I'd reassured myself that my own (left, that is - the Sage owns my right one) hip was fine, by standing on my right leg and drawing my foot up - when it touched my bottom and I felt no pain (apart from kicking myself in the butt), I stopped worrying.  Until last night, when I remembered that tests my knee, not my hip.  So, I've just done the hip test.

Well, the good news is that it made me notice the cobweb on the ceiling, which I have now removed.  The less than good news is that I reckon I will be getting a new left hip in a few years.  Do excuse me while the cyber-air turns blue for a few minutes.  Having had one done, I know that the operation isn't the problem, it's the years in the meantime while it deteriorates enough to be operated on.  And last year was so lovely, I appreciated every little thing that I was able to do again, and the thought of gradual decline is a really unhappy one.

Having said that, it isn't stopping me doing anything yet, I wear heels, I walk fast, I can put my legs pretty well anywhere I want to.  Still, I'll start to save for my 65th birthday or so.  Maybe earlier.

Though, there is other good news.  It seems that my knees are fine.

Anyway, I'll continue to focus on good news.  Winkie is arriving tomorrow, and all the family will be here for Saturday evening.  I have thought of a genuine reason why buying an iPad would be a fine idea (will hang on for the new improved one in the spring, however) and it isn't even self-centred - that is, the Sage would love it for eBay.  Not having to fiddle around with a laptop's control pad or a mouse would be a joy to him.  Even he can manage my phone effortlessly, and my friend John said that he was surprised how easy it was to use.  He especially loved the pinch movement to zoom in and out.

Irritations did happen today, I confess.  I went on a Safeguarding training thingy in November, where I and the Safeguarding (I keep writing Sageguarding!) governor asked about accredited training, and were met with blank stare and told that was it.  Now I've had an email to suggest she and I go on a half-day course next Tuesday, which will cost the school £60 for each of us.  I can, other governor can't.  Well, I can, but I'll have to tell the music teacher I can't go to her lessons, which disappoints both of us.  I think that's enough about being irritated, I've got over the rest...well, I wasn't exactly dismayed about that, it's just that I'm thoroughly disorganised and even I would have got that right, and I'm not paid for competence.

Tomorrow - well, as I said, Wink will arrive, sometime in the afternoon.  In the early afternoon, I'll go to the blood donor clinic.  Indeed, darlings, to give rather than to receive, because 'tis better, unless unavoidable.  I shall remember not to drink wine at lunchtime, but to have lots of water instead.

Tuesday 4 January 2011

Evening edition

You'll all be terribly pleased to hear (because you've been worrying all day, thank you darlings) that my balance is fine and my ears are better. I was dizzy because the blockage has shifted, but now it's gone.  I don't know where, I'm not going to think about that too much.

It was quite a long afternoon, but John and I had a very jolly time, having a good old heart-to-heart over lunch and then playing with iPads for a good hour and a half.  He did a bit of his other shopping, but he's not very quick getting about so we didn't do much else.

The Sage spent the afternoon doing an odd job (odd in the odd-job sense, not in any other) and now lights work that didn't, so I have absolutely nothing - nothing, I promise - to grumble about.  He's being totally adorable, I'll have to drop a kind word sometime in the next few days ... ooh, I hear the coffee grinder!  He doesn't even like coffee, so learning to make it as I like it is kindness indeed.

Um...that's about it today.  I don't think I'll keep up this twice-daily thing any longer.  It takes it out of a woman.

The Times crossword is going well.  Half done by ten o'clock this morning (That is, in a few minutes, it took me until 9.30 to prise my eyes open reliably, and longer to get dressed and have breakfast).  Better get back to it.

Will Z ever stop?

Sorry, it's do some housework or blog.


It was too cloudy to see the eclipse, so I went back to bed and slept late.  I have to get back to everyday life tomorrow, but not today.  I am going out today, however.  My friend John and I are going to Norwich, for lunch and shopping.  It takes him a while to get going in the morning, he having rheumatoid arthritis, so we're not leaving until 1 o'clock.

I reminded the Sage that I was going to pick John up, and started to say that I'd back down his drive, as if his and his wife's cars are in the garage, it would be impossible to turn my estate car.  He interrupted, to say that I'd better drive, there wasn't room to manoeuvre backwards.  I said that in that case I'd have to come out backwards, and I'd rather back in - and then realised he thought I was going to say I'd back down the lane, not just the drive.  The Sage indignantly replied that that's what I'd said.

Poor chap.  There are times when I can and do quote a conversation in its entirety.  He 'backed down'* and apologised.

I confess, my temper is slightly short at present.  The ear thing has been a nuisance, and now the blockage has shifted, I feel a bit dizzy.  I'm okay, but being careful not to move my head too quickly.

Wink is due to arrive here on Thursday afternoon, so the clan will gather to celebrate - it'll still be the Christmas season and presents will be exchanged.  I suppose keeping a tree up for that long would be out of the question.  It looks a bit incongruous already.  Anyway, Weeza and co will stay the night, Ro and Do will come for the evening and Al and family will come from next door.  I'll feed the children early so that Zerlina can be put to bed, and then snuggle Squiffany and Pugsley with a DVD while we eat.  I have no idea yet what I am going to cook.

I expect Norwich to be less busy today, it being the day VAT is due to rise.  I suspect a lot of shops will, however, carry the extra themselves while the sales are on, so I don't think the impact will be noticeable for a little while, except on services.  I can understand people buying what they need before it happens, that makes sense, unless they're going to pay for it by credit card and not pay that at the end of the month - the interest will soon outweigh the VAT, and there isn't even the gloomy satisfaction of helping pay off the national debt, but the more dismaying knowledge that one is putting yet more money into bankers' bonuses.

*ooh darlings, will the wit ever start?

Monday 3 January 2011

Z keeps writing

Maybe this will be the way to go; two posts every other day.  Or maybe not.

We had the card one has every year, we didn't know whom it was from.  There was an affectionate message, three xs and it seemed to be signed Susie and Ian.  Ian was a bit of a squiggle, but the Susies I know aren't married to Ians, nor are the Sues or Susans.  Back in the 50s, lots of girls were called Susan.  I had a few clues, the envelope had been hand-delivered and the tricksy little drawing and message gave a religious air.  I had a vague feeling I'd brought it home from church.  Where I hadn't met Susie.  Or Ian.

It took a long time for the Sage, finally, to think of someone called Ian (apart from the Ian who's married to Caroline).  He said the surname - I replied "Ah.  Could it be Angie, do you think?"  It was.  Still looked like Susie, really.

Yesterday and today, I've felt my age and more so.  The walk on Saturday, it was neither very cold nor windy, but my ears feel as if I've been out in a gale or to a party or gig with loud music.  They feel muffled.  Or rather, sound is muffled.  It had almost worn off by yesterday evening, but was back again this morning.  And, on Saturday night, some of the reason I didn't sleep was that my hips were sore.  Yes, both of them, but differently.  My replaced hip, I could feel both places where my bone was cut off - pain is too strong a word, it's a slightly achy sore feeling.  The other hip, it's exactly where the arthritis started in the first one.  There's a spot, if you press, you can feel it if it's there to feel. I'm not having to press.

I'm not going to take it as a big deal.  The terrain was wet and, in some places, muddy, and I was glad of the support of a walking pole, but I probably held myself stiffly.  I'm going to see the surgeon again and have another x-ray in the next couple of months, I'll mention it.  The worst that happens, I'll have another new hip in five to ten years.  But it may be that I just don't do a lot of walking and, although it was only 3 miles (5 kilometres if you're that way inclined), it was more than usual, in wellies and on wet ground.

Simon, he of the 2.Sox, and a pal of his and I did the Times crossword by text today.  It was most jolly, and I doubt any of the three of us would have completed it alone.  The Christmas/New Year holidays are over from now, it's been restful and enjoyable.  I almost got bored at one or two points, having had enough of a break.  But not quite.

Z stops listening

That didn't work very well, did it?  Two posts on 1st January and none on the second.  I'm not sure what happened there, I thought I'd written one.

It seems that I'm going to quit the habit of thirty-five years.  The radio soap, The Archers, reached its sixtieth anniversary at the weekend, and so a dramatic plot development was promised.  The likely problem was a deeply annoying character named Helen, who was pregnant and obviously riding for a fall - the thing was though that her brother died in a farming accident some years ago and there is already a child in the family whose mother has died, so this made it unlikely they'd be able to bump her off.  So instead, she was rushed to hospital for an emergency Caesarean, immediately following which she's fine and the baby is fine.  Oh.  So instead, they seem to have killed off the most engaging character in the whole programme.  The one with a markedly happy marriage, who is daft but not irritating, who would genuinely be missed by listeners; unlike almost everyone else.  It is possible that falling off a roof might have crippled rather than killed him, but do you know, I don't care.  I'm not listening tonight to find out.

It's been apparent to me for some time that I'm fed up with plot devices.  I've almost given up reading fiction - new fiction, that is.  I'm still rereading classics with pleasure, but I've been disappointed too many times by too many new books.  I don't mind the fairly throwaway novels without pretensions, but the 'literary' sort are too often lazily plotted and either have random plot twists, obvious manipulations or else just end.  A book has to be really good to get away without an ending.  Not necessarily all the loose ends tied up - it can work, to have you wondering what happens afterwards and life isn't neat - but there usually has to have been some point to the whole thing or else it's a waste of time.  And you've got to care about the characters.  Not necessarily to like them, but to find them believable and to be engaged in what happens to them.

I'm really sad about this.  I've been an obsessive reader all my life, and now I'm almost entirely reading non-fiction, and much less of that.  And I'm not unusual in any other way, so I suspect I'm not alone.  And authors won't blame themselves, they'll say that readers are failing them.  But if a book is good enough, I'll be as gripped as ever.  Ebooks are doing people a favour - because out-of-copyright fiction is free to download, there's been a big surge of interest in the classics.   I'm reading my way through Dickens at the moment.  Usually, under the bedclothes in the middle of the night.  It's excellent, not having to have the light on or arms out of bed on a winter's night.

And, as far as The Archers is concerned, it's not a fit of pique.  It's that there are too few people now that I give a damn about.  Most of the older characters are boring and most of the young ones are annoying.  The ones I like have been almost written out and the new main ones don't engage me.  A cliffhanger with Helen might have kept me listening - pre-eclampsia isn't always immediately resolved by the baby's delivery, the baby is six weeks premature and she was warned a few weeks ago that it wasn't developing properly because of her overworking.  But they went down the cosily reassuring route there, to the disappointment of many people who are as irked by Helen as I am.  So, it's easy.  I am not going to be manipulated, I've just switched off.

Saturday 1 January 2011

A sight of an old friend

I've been reading a few of my early blog posts.  Not many, just in the first couple of months.  I haven't that much patience.  Remarkably, I haven't changed the way I write much - well, I didn't say 'darling' in those days, but that was because I didn't know if anyone was reading it.  I signed up with StatCounter after a while, but only after I started getting comments, didn't occur to me to start with.  I never expected anyone to read it.

The reason for this sudden interest in myself - well, I'm always wildly interested in myself, of course, someone has to be - is that I noticed that, although I wrote fewer posts than I have in previous years, I still averaged more than one a day.  I thought I'd finally managed to restrict myself to a single daily epistle in 2010, but evidently not.  And I haven't started this year too well, have I?

There were three routes on offer today, 2.9 miles, 5.5 miles and 8.something miles.  I opted for the short walk, but most people walked further.  I made the right choice, for me, much of it was over sodden ground and, although it wasn't hard going, it was enough for me.  My hip has ached a bit this evening.  Not the ache of arthritis, of course, the soreness of feeling the join.  It was a good walk and a good party though.

I rarely watch television nowadays, but I really enjoyed Eric and Ernie, the dramatisation of Morecambe and Wise's early years.  Worth catching on iPlayer, if you didn't see it.  And now, there's a documentary about them, and the Sage and I were so happy to see our friend Norman Percival, who used to be their pianist.  Once - just once - they had a piano on stage and brought him on as part of the act for a couple of minutes, and they showed that bit a few minutes ago.  Norman died some years ago, it was just lovely to see him again.  The Sage phoned his wife Barbara for a chat just before Christmas.

Z circles

It was freezing, this day last year.  I remember finding it hard to keep my balance in my friends' farmyard, especially when an exuberant dog dashed past and caught my leg.  Today, it's unusually mild.  I opened the bedroom window to check the weather, and so decide what to wear, and there was no difference in temperature between outside and in.

Last year was brilliant, in a lot of ways.  Starting with my own rejuvenation, by means of a new hip, ending with the announcement of another grandchild on the way, and along the way Ro and Dora found happiness together, Weeza and Phil both got new jobs, Al left his and Dilly moved hers slightly sideways in a direction she's enjoying.  The garden wall was completed, but not a lot more was.  The Sage is full of promises, as always, but keener to start on new projects than ever to complete anything.  This is also normal, but we don't fall out over it.  Better to remember what we love and enjoy about each other than to dwell on the bits that try our patience.  His love and care for me when I had my operation are what matter far more than anything else, as they showed his real nature and his real feelings.  And blimey, I'm not sure that I'd manage to live with me all these years if I had an alternative.

The greatest sadness of the year was the death of our dog Tilly, of course.  I have been thinking about death a lot this year.  In January, it was the fortieth anniversary of my father's death, when I was 16 and he was 59, and I've been remembering those lost to us ever since, more sharply than I have for some time.

However, I've always found that a good way of feeling cheerful is to behave cheerfully and, in particular, to write a cheerful blog - I may rant on occasion but, since the early days of this blog, I made a deliberate decision to keep it mainly happy and upbeat.

Of course, when I finally receive the comeuppance that I thoroughly deserve, this may become rather more difficult.  But for now, I remain hopeful.  And I hope that all of us receive what we would most like this year (as long as it doesn't involve unpleasantness to a third party, obv).

And now I'm off for a long country walk with friends.  The same friends I partied with last year, although I couldn't do the walking then.