Thursday 30 June 2011

Don't read if you're feeling sad already

It has really been a very sad week, and today was the most distressing of all. At the end of last week, one of the school caretakers had a severe stroke and he died on Tuesday. His wife also works at the school, so it was more personally upsetting for many of the staff. I interviewed him for the job, he was a really nice man and we always greeted each other in a friendly way.

Worse, however, was the news today. The head teacher phoned me this morning to say that a student had been found dead at his home by his father. He was 16, went to the Norfolk Show yesterday with his family and went for a shower when they arrived home.  When he didn't come down again, his dad went looking for him.  I knew him from early childhood, though hadn't spoken to him for years, he was a pupil at the village school. I always greeted his mother in the town, a very sweet woman. One cannot begin to imagine what it could be like. I will write to Aaron's parents of course, but there is no comfort for them from me or anyone.

What is worst? Early miscarriage or late, death of a baby or a child or a young person? Being widowed young or very old? The death of a child or of a parent? Each is devastating, you cannot quantify it and yet, in some ways, surely this must be one of the worst things to happen, a young person who should have so much ahead of him, who dies so suddenly, from no illness or accident.

Wednesday 29 June 2011

Brooding and ruminating

The brown hen has been coming into the porch for the last couple of weeks to lay her eggs.  The other day, the Sage went outside and shut the door, not realising she was in there and I found her a while later, pacing anxiously.  Today,  I heard a sound at the door and thought it was the postman.  I went out to discover that she was tapping from the outside, wanting to come in.  Later, I needed to go out myself and checked, and was rather dismayed to find her sitting, blissed out, in the straw-lined box that the Sage had kindly left for her.  I didn't want to leave her, and I don't want her going broody in such an inconvenient place (it gets very hot in there in the morning) so I picked her up, plonked her outside and left a handful of corn.  Fortunately, she stood up after a couple of minutes and began to eat it.  I've warned the Sage to keep an eye on her, but sometimes you can't stop a chicken getting broody.  I feel so sorry for them, sitting on eggs that will never hatch.

In other animal news, I didn't mention that Big Pinkie came to stay yesterday.  No. 400 is still here and they settled down together at once, both being placid and friendly.  Pinkie comes to the gate to be fed apples, as she always used to.  The grass has started to grow nicely after the rain, and the two of them wander round the field finding good grazing spots together.  It's all very comfortable and bucolic.

Tuesday 28 June 2011

All night long

The forecast rain arrived around half past three.  A few minutes earlier, the Sage used my phone to try to ring the auctioneers in Woodbridge and came through here to say the damn phone didn't work.  I tried the number and I couldn't get through either, but it didn't seem to be the phone.  All the same, I suggested he use the landline and there was a ringing tone and the receptionist answered.  Asked if there was a fault, she explained that there had been a power cut during a storm.  A couple of minutes later, as they were still talking, the storm reached here and our own electricity was cut off.  And a few minutes later Weeza, with whom I'd been exchanging emails, said that she was saving her work in case there was a power cut when the oncoming storm hit.  So I can confidently say that it was moving south to north.

As usual when there is heavy rain, it leaked in above the window near my desk. I keep a towel on the windowsill, but had to get a couple more to deal with all the drips.  And then the phone rang.  People do choose their moments.

I grumbled to the Sage and he explained what needed to be done to stop the leaks happening again.  "So you know?  Couldn't it have been done already, we've lived here 25 years," I rather tactlessly enquired.  It is quite heartrending, watching the Sage appearing abashed.  He has promised to do it, or get it done, I'm not sure which.

Most dismayingly, I've been quite off alcohol in this humid weather.  One night, I just drank water, and other nights a single glass of wine has been enough.  I trust that this state of affairs doesn't last too long.  The evenings seem to drag on forever.

Monday 27 June 2011

Making a start

Weeza's entry into the world of antiques came rather younger than Ro's.  When she was six or seven weeks old, the Sage helped his friends Norman and Barbara, about whom I wrote last week, with their stall at an antiques fair at Earls Court for two or three days.  We took down our Victorian mahogany swinging cradle for her to sleep in, because six week old babies sleep mostly, don't they - well, we were young and naive and knew no better.

She did sleep some of the time, but it was rather exhausting for me, nowhere to sit comfortably and I can't remember where I retreated to when I needed to feed her.  However, she was very popular with the visitors, and quite a draw for our stand.

You know how it is, that people always say the same witticism as each other?  Like, when you're seen kneeling, it's "say one for me while you're down there."  If you are working in your garden, you are cordially invited to tackle the speaker's flowerbed when you have done.  On that occasion, most people asked, if they bought the cradle, did the baby come free?  There were two or three other jovial remarks that were repeated rather a lot of times, can't remember what they were at the moment.  You may have some ideas yourself.  One actually did make me laugh, however.  A man peered into the cot and observed "That's not an antique.  It's a reproduction."

Sunday 26 June 2011

Bid for Fivedom

I was reminded, by reading Mike and Ann's blog today, of the first time that I bid at one of the major auction houses and that, in turn, reminded me of when Ro started his buying career.  I told Mike that he was three or four, but I have checked the details with the Sage now, who looked up the sale and Ro was actually five, and the sale was in May 1990 at Sotheby's.  Hug0 M0rley-F1etcher was the auctioneer (he still appears as an expert on Ant1ques R0adsh0w).  The Sage and Ro sat at the front and, when the desired item came up, the Sage touched Ro's elbow and up went his hand. The bidding went up and up - they nearly got the piece quite cheaply, but then a fresh bidder came in and the price doubled in a few minutes.  It was a sparrowbeak jug in a Mandarin pattern, we still have it.  Finally, the auctioneer's hammer went down.  "Sold!" he said, pointing, "to this young gentleman."  Ro held up the card with the bidder number.  After the auction was over, the Sage told Ro to go and thank the auctioneer ... and ask for a catalogue - the charge should have been £12 but he was given it.

Ro often went with his father to view sales in London.  At that time, we used to buy a family railcard and could take the children for £1 each.  We used to blithely let Ro handle the china, when he was very little this caused some anxiety once in a while, as he was reluctant to let go and had to be distracted - though it rarely happened, he was very good.  I remember once, I showed him a life-size china greyhound when he wasn't quite ready to give me an item.

There was another sale that we viewed in Woodbridge in 1986, when he was not yet two years old.  There was a Lowestoft birth tablet in that sale and he was very tickled with it.  He picked it up and held it to his chest.  "Badge!" he said.  That was a rather worried moment before I was able to remove it from his hand.  It later sold, not to us, for £4,200 (this was a quarter of a century ago, remember, it has probably quadrupled in value now).

Ro never dropped or damaged anything and, remarkably now I look back, none of the staff ever suggested that it was the least unwise, letting him handle valuable china.  It would have been our responsibility if anything had been broken, of course.  He was, genuinely, extremely careful and trustworthy.  All our children handled china, almost from babyhood, and nothing was ever dropped.

Oddly enough, now he of our children has least to do with the china at our auctions.  He is in charge of the computer, registering the potential bidders, filling in the prices realised and printing the invoices.  Weeza helps at the view, taking china to be looked at and handled, and Al holds up each piece during the auction for people to be sure what they are bidding for.  None of them collects art or antiques, although Weeza, in particular, is pretty knowledgeable about Lowestoft china.

*I really hoped that he was three years old, and had the post title planned.  Still, wouldn't want to waste it.

Saturday 25 June 2011

Z and the Sage dance

It's really warm tonight, I think I shall have to make some alternative bedclothes arrangements or we will spend the night throwing off the duvet and panting.  And not in a good way.

We have just got home from a party, a joint 70th wedding anniversary.  That is, 40 years for one couple and 30 for the other.  We have known all four of them for a very long time and saw a lot of friends, including our last Rector and his wife and daughter.  They are really good friends, the sort that you just catch up with at once, however long ago that you saw them.

And yes, we did dance.  Energetically (barn dancing, with a caller) and I am shockingly puffed out.  Still, my hips are fine, so I am more than happy.

In fact, the release of tension has made me so relaxed and cheerful that I keep finding myself with a big grin on my face.  It's too soon though really, I have a lot to do in the next month.

That reminds me, and will bring me right down to earth again, it's Ro's birthday in a month's time.  No idea what he might like as a present.  I'll go off and worry for a while before bedtime.

Friday 24 June 2011

Looking back

Today has been quieter.  I've been catching up with emails and typing.  I went in to the school at lunchtime, walked around the field with the Head (he does the rounds every day and he happened to be going out as I arrived) and I saw the people I wanted to.  Hugs and chats and so on, and then I called in at the village school on the way home.  It had an inspection the week before we did, and now the news is official, that they have received 'good with outstanding features," which is marvellous.  I love that school, I was a governor there for 18 years and it will always be dear to me, although I left five years ago.  Don't feel obliged, but if you want to read the report, it's here.  This is an evaluation under the current framework and ours is under the new one, we're one of 150 schools in the pilot.

We are having a piece of ground paved over, it's on the east side of the house, open to the south but shaded from mid-afternoon.  The chickens having taken over the lawn, we tend not to sit and eat out there any more, so I suggested using this sheltered area instead.  I suspect we will use it during the day and, if we want to sit out, will go round the other side of the house in the evening, but we haven't time for that at present anyway.

We had some sharp sand delivered and the Sage took the driver out a cup of tea and chatted for a few minutes.  The tray is one that my mother-in-law had made for us when Weeza and Al were little, with photos set in - nearly all of Weeza, actually.  In one of them, the Sage's father, Pa, was holding her and the driver recognised him.  The Sage was really pleased to share memories.

It was one of our better decisions, moving here to the Sage's childhood home.

Thursday 23 June 2011

Pulling teeth and drawing blood

A dentist appointment* and a blood donation session in the days when Ofsted visited has become my metaphor for the experience.

So, yesterday I, with other governors, had the Interview, and I've been in this afternoon to hear the verdict - which I am not at liberty to tell you, at present, so please don't ask or speculate, because it really is confidential for the next few days.

And today, to take my mind off things, I helped clear by the hedge on the front field.  The brambles have built up badly for several years and, now that the partridges and pheasants have nested, it seemed a good time to get rid of them and let light and air through to the mostly hawthorn hedge.  In the afternoon, they moved on to the other hedge, along by the road (although still the field side, the road side is kept tidy).

About 10 or 12 feet of rubbish has been taken out.  We will, of course, still encourage wildlife, and birds to nest.  But the grass is in poor condition and will be improved by grazing, so we are going to fence the field, provide water (there is a stand pipe nearby) and have some cows or sheep on there for a while.

An oak that the Sage planted as a small sapling some years ago is doing well, and a self-seeded oak, only about three feet high, is down in the corner near the road end, but far enough away from the wall, the hedge and the road that it is never going to be in the way, so we will protect it from the animals and leave it to grow.

*No teeth were drawn or even filled, it was just a check-up - I couldn't have given blood if I'd had work done of course.

Wednesday 22 June 2011

Sweeping clean

The day never starts well with a dental appointment ... still, just a check-up and nothing needs to be done. If it had been, I'd have had to cancel tomorrow's blood-letting.  Dear oh dear, feels like a draining week.

I arrived home to find Al's old Morris Minor (it is old, although not as old as I am) out of its garage.  Mike was taking it away to have a look at it.  Al has decided to sell it.  This is a big decision, it was his 17th birthday present and gosh, that is over half his lifetime ago.

*sits and ponders*

Anyway, it still has its original number plate, it's quite possible that it is more valuable than the car is.

It's a bit dusty.

Tuesday 21 June 2011

An old broom

I'm looking out of the window at a broom in flower - not the sort you sweep the floor with, the plant broom, obviously.  I grew it from seed about 20 years ago.  I grew several, in fact, and I think this is the last one left.  It has grown into a small tree, which was rather unexpected as the rest stayed bushy and not very tall.  This one is 15 or 20 feet high.

If I had known it would grow so tall, I wouldn't have planted it there.  It's not in the way, exactly, but now it overhangs the phone line.  And, when it was windy a couple of weeks ago, a branch (that did not overhang the phone line) broke.  The wood split so it is still attached, and we can see, at the join, that there is a small amount of rot.  We haven't cut it off yet, it was in bud at the time so I thought it might as well flower.  It's looking rather pretty - the rest of the tree, that is - with a rather mimosa-esque air.  However, I think that we have had a warning and I'm afraid that severe pruning is in order.  It will sprout again; it has where we removed one branch that showered Dilly with rain regularly, as it was just above where she parks her car.  However, it will look fairly unattractive for quite some time.

I haven't reported progress on the drive project for some time.  It's all been rather bitty.  We need to get everything done as far as possible to the same extent before the whole thing is completed.  However, progress is being made and yesterday, the Sage and I walked around the garden deciding on priorities for the next jobs.  Richard is coming with his digger tomorrow, and both he and Jamie will be along on Thursday and Friday, so we can get a lot done.

It is indeed costing a lot, but we've not spent much here for years, so it's about time.  Once the last of one's children grow up, leave home and become financially independent, one realises how much they used to cost.  The garden can receive the benefit this year.

The whole garden, never mind the drive project, is rather bitty and so will never be a thing of great beauty.  It will be reasonably pretty, in parts, and enjoyable for children to play in because there are nice little hidden-away areas plus open spaces, it will still attract wildlife because there are large parts that we will leave as much as possible, and the chickens will still be free to roam anywhere but the vegetable garden.  I will, no doubt, be very frustrated when they eat my flowers, but I'd rather have happy chickens than flowers.  The new border will, if necessary, have shrubs rather than herbacious perennials in it.  I can grow them in the vegetable garden.  That is bigger than we need, now I don't grow anything for Al to sell.

Oh, and there is a low wall for me to build.  I'm looking forward to that.  It won't be a decorative one, or even a barrier.  It's just to stop the lawn falling on to the drive and will be no more than a foot high.

Monday 20 June 2011


I can't remember if I said, a few weeks ago, there was a programme about Morecambe and Wise and we were really pleased when they showed a short clip of an episode in which a friend of ours appeared.  It prompted me to Google his name and, on IMDB, I found out which episode it was.  I promptly ordered that series from Amazon and squirrelled it away for a suitable occasion.  When Ro was at a loss for a birthday present for his father, I offered it to him.

Norman and Barbara were dear friends of the Sage's.  They had an antique shop in London and often did business together; the Sage was a full-time auctioneer at that time and they bought a good deal of stuff from him.  Norman's day, or rather evening, job was musician; he was a pianist and a composer and played at all sorts of events, night clubs, variety shows, the Ritz - he was the pianist there too, although I don't think he ever overshadowed the soup and annoyed the chef to the point of violence*, he was far too considerate for that.

The year before I married the Sage, Norman and Barbara's daughter Carole had her 21st birthday party at the Ritz and the Sprig** was a guest.  One of the highlights of his social life, that was, it was fabulous.  And the first time he took me to London on my own (we had gone there with his friend Arthur the week before to an art exhibition), sort of our first date, he took me to their shop to introduce me to them.  They were highly intrigued, he had never been seen by them with a woman before, and along he came with an extremely young girl (well, compared to him, that is) who hardly said a word, and no explanation!

Anyway, Norman died some years ago and Barbara is in her 80s now and has recently moved house to live near Carole, and we phone each other a couple of times a year.  The 60s and 70s were the best years, I suppose, he was earning and spending a lot of money and having plenty of fun.  He was absolutely lovely and we remember him with great affection.

I've just checked the DVD to find the episode with Norman in - if you happen to have the programmes, it's Series 9, Episode 5, very near the start.  It was absolutely lovely to see him again, and I'd forgotten that the sketch lasted several minutes.  I shall put it on the Sage's laptop later, he will love it too.

*Saki reference

**I have momentarily forgotten whether, immediately before marrying me, he was the Sprout or the Sprig.  In any case, he achieved Sagacity on marriage.

Sunday 19 June 2011

The Sage talks about the past

The Sage is such an enthusiast.  He has been reminiscing, rather beyond my capacity, I must confess.  I don't have a bad memory, but to remember when something happened, it's best if there's something to hang it on, as it were.  For example, I know exactly when Miss Fitt died, because it was the year that Ro was born (she was thrilled to be able to hold and cuddle him, she loved children) and she lived to 101 years and 6 months, to the day.  Since I remember her birthday and how old Ro is, I can work it out.  But then he was asking me other dates and I have only a vague idea.

He started to talk about Mrs Dare, Miss Fitt's blind sister.  He spoke of her with such warmth that I was puzzled.  "Did you meet her?'  "Oh yes," he said, "I remember her well."  Since I don't, not very well, and he could only possibly know the family through us, I was more puzzled, and pondered for a while.  I finally  pointed out that she died well before he moved to Lowestoft, when I was still a child.  He tried to argue for a bit, but I had my facts marshalled by then, and so he had to agree that he never actually knew her at all.  He and I met when I was 16, in early February 1970 (I'm afraid I cannot give you the exact date in this instance).  "I heard all about her," he protested.  "I feel as if I knew her."

He does that, you know, and I've so often seen the look of bewilderment on someone's face when he talks about someone as though about a friend, and it turns out to be someone who lived at least 80 years ago.  Most people are far too polite to challenge him, even when he starts to ask if they knew him or her too?  It's very amusing to watch, though it drives me nuts when he does it to me.  I am boringly precise about verifiable details and uninterested in speculating on ones that cannot be checked, and he is rather the opposite.  Weeza can hardly bear to watch us when we have that sort of conversation, though the boys find it quite entertaining.

Saturday 18 June 2011

Socially whirling

The Sage has had a very jolly birthday.  All his children and grandchildren came to his party and, after lunch, he and his friends spent an hour or two looking at and talking about china, which is enough to make any auctioneer happy.

Looking at my diary, I see that we are going to another party next Saturday.  This is turning out to be the most sociable year we have had for a very long time.  I'm rather awkwardly aware that those to whom we 'owe' hospitality are not, in the main, the ones who have been here, so I'd better get going and find some free weekends to ask them over.  Although it has to be said, it's rather safer to get near the time and phone on the chance they're free - those things planned weeks ahead can become inconvenient in the end.  I don't suppose that we're in any way unusual, in that a free week can suddenly get booked up and the event at the end of it becomes difficult to fit in at all.

Our friend Daphne, who was unable to come today, has suggested that we have a party to celebrate the car's 82nd birthday on 3rd August.  She has known the Sage for about 60 years and remembers when he bought the car.  I shall soon exhaust my pudding repertoire at this rate.

Wink has to leave very early tomorrow morning to get back for the Bod's birthday celebrations.  She says that she will not wake us - although one or other of us is usually awake very early, even if we don't get up straight away.

There was torrential rain today, by the way.  First a hailstorm, which was a bit of a surprise, and then several downpours, with a thunderstorm.  Rain is traditional at this time of the year, of course, but we don't often get hail in mid-June.  Quite impressive.

Friday 17 June 2011


I woke up early again, around 5.30 and listened, but there was no sound from the fireplace so I played Angry Birds for a while on my phone.  The sound an hour later was from a desperate, rather than an angry bird.  The Sage was still asleep, so I got up, moved the chest of drawers and uncovered the fireplace.  The dove was flopped in the grate, but it fluttered strongly enough when I picked it up and flew away when I released it through the open window.  I hope it found water quickly and has survived.  I wasn't surprised; in my experience they do not leave the apparent safety of the fireplace unless you chivvy them.

Wink has arrived and brought pouring rain from the West Country with her.  I have made three meat dishes for tomorrow and will do two vegetable ones in the morning.  I have also made two of the three puddings.  I am quite agitated, however, in case there is not enough food.  This does not, you understand, indicate that there is not enough food, just that I am never entirely comfortable unless I have overcatered.

Thursday 16 June 2011

Dove dive

Rather splendidly, the major fuss I made here the other day has got it out of my system and I've been feeling better since then..  In part because there is too much else to do - once I took in that I haven't time to hang about, there's so much to be getting on with, I stopped dwelling on the frustration that the thing that we are waiting for has not happened.  And so I'm still burning the candles (just at one end) but I'm listening to music too in the evenings.

This morning, I had just woken up when, at around 6 o'clock, I heard the sound of a dove falling down the bedroom chimney.  I knew it was a dove because I could hear that it was a large bird, but pigeons never do fall down.  Maybe they just have a better sense of balance.  There is a board in front of the fireplace and a chest of drawers in front of that.  When we got up, we moved them and left the windows open and the door shut.  I don't know if it got out as I went out for lunch; the Sage shut them later on the assumption that it had probably gone.  I hope so.  We will find out at first light tomorrow; if it is still there it will start to flutter again and I will get up straight away and let it go.  There are ledges in the old chimney where it was sitting when I looked for it this morning.  As you can tell, I've dealt with this regularly over the past 25 years.

We do occasionally have birds come down the drawing room chimney, but less frequently, and they are smaller birds.  This chimney is lined so there are no ledges.  Once, my cleaning lady came to tell me, in some agitation, that there were two black and white birds flying around the room.  A pair of swallows had fallen down.  We were able to get them out of the window, but there was a fair amount of clearing up to do.  At least, since we never light a fire in the bedroom, there is no soot.

Wednesday 15 June 2011

Rambling Zos

I spent some more time this evening looking at photos.  Some of the few in existence of my grandmother, who died when I was two and whom I don't remember at all.  She was holding my sister as a baby or standing by my grandfather and he was holding her.  It's indistinct and I can't really see what she looked like, but I don't think she was bothered in the least about her appearance.  It was just as well, she had had cancer in her face and and radiation treatment, which I think must have been fairly haphazard at that time (I think it was the 1930s) had destroyed some of the bone, which periodically worked its way out, and she wore a scarf or bandage round her head to hide the damage.  Just a casual knotted piece of material.  It looked quaint, but I don't suppose she cared, from what I have heard of her.

Although I've done a fair amount of reminiscing here over the years, I don't look back much.  My mother told me a lot of stories about her and my father's past, but I don't think I have done as much to my children. It's a bit late to start now, they'd think it was the ramblings of an old woman.  Er...

Anyway, I have succeeded in buying a birthday present for the Sage, which is rather a relief, as his birthday is on Friday.  It is a saucer.  He will love it.  Soon, I must start to think about his party on Saturday.  There will be 21 or 22 of us - though that does include the children, and I don't suppose that Hadrian will take much part in the festivities.  I'm going out tomorrow, but I'd better allow time to do some shopping, and then cook on Friday.  I could have planned ahead really, couldn't I.  Bit late now.

Tuesday 14 June 2011

Pictures of Z!!(!)

Darlings, I know that there is nothing in the world that you want more at this moment than pictures of the young Z, is there.  Is there?  Oh.  Well, you're getting them anyway.

As I said, I'm doing some turning out of my mother's things and I was awfully pleased to come across her Christmas crib - she and my father bought it in Woolworth's in 1947, the year they were married, when just about everything was in short supply or rationed and they didn't have much money anyway.  No doubt, you will be shown it in six months' time.  There was also the fairy for the tree, who isn't very pretty, to be honest, and the last of the bird tree decorations that I loved so much as a child.  I didn't know that she had kept one.

I also found several packs of photos.  Also, in a walnut box with some odds and ends I was surprised to find a lock of my hair.  I vaguely remember promising to bring it back from the hairdresser's when I finally had my long hair cut, which I think was sometime in my late 20s.

Anyway, I have made you wait quite long enough, and here goes...
This is certainly me, but I don't recognise the background or the dress and it isn't a typical photo - I'm usually looking shy and winsome or else wild-haired and tomboyish in childhood pictures.

These are all of me in my twenties.  The first is me and my mother, at her house - not the house I grew up in, she and my stepfather moved house in the late 1970s.  It was before The Haircut.  The second was taken in 1981, when Joepie, our childhood au pair visited.  In the third, I'm with Miss Fitt (sadly, her real name).  She died in 1984 at the age of 101 and this was her 100th birthday party, so it must have been June 1983.  The next time is the same party, although the colour of my jacket is quite different - the truth is probably somewhere in between.  The last of these pictures was taken in our lovely Edwardian house in Lowestoft and my stepfather, Wilf, is in the foreground.

That's all of me, but this picture of Wink is so lovely that I want to show it to you.  Isn't she pretty?  That's during the same visit made by Joepie (Dutch, short for Johanna, pronounced Yoopi).

Finally, Al with the Sage's Ma at Miss Fitt's birthday and Weeza and Al in 1981.  They must have been 7 and 5 at the time.  Sorry about the mark on Al's face, I didn't notice before I scanned the pic and I can't be arsed to do it again.  Sentiment can only go so far.  Sheesh.
It just occurred to me that you might like the most recent photo of me, for comparison.  So here it is.

Monday 13 June 2011

Z paces the floor and worries

This evening, I cannot find music to fit my mood, or else soothe it.  I've tried a range of stuff, and it all irritates me.  I have turned it off and lit a candle instead.

Usually, I don't give it a great deal of thought, but let my choice just happen.  I listen on Spotify, mostly, largely because I want to get my money's worth from my subscription, but also because, even if I've bought the disc, the artist might as well get the small sum from it being played.

I'm becoming a nervous wreck.  Time was, you got a longish period of notice of a school inspection, but you knew when it would be.  Then you got short notice (at one time, it could be no notice at all, they might just walk in, but I don't think this happened to many schools).  This time, they told us that we're in the pilot group, but not when they would come.  I am not consciously worrying, but my shoulders hurt because they are so tense, my face aches because I'm grinding my teeth and I wake every hour or so at night.  Even the Sage is irritating me, because he's so cheerful.  Well, not just that.  Someone called in for a school business conversation and he monopolised the conversation throughout, with the result that we weren't able to have our discussion.

I'm sorry.  It's just that there's so much to do, and this is holding us up.  I'm also attempting to do some turning-out, things belonging to my mother.  Yes, she died eight years ago, but this is stuff that stayed in a cupboard in Al and Dilly's house for some time, so it's only been in a spare room for five years or so and it just got left.  Now, I'm being a good example to the Sage.  He has a room to turn out, and he needs somewhere to put his things.  There's no point in nagging, I've got to have a practical solution or the work will never get done.  Anyway, much of my mother's stuff has turned out to be old papers, not interesting ones but newspaper cuttings and bank and tax papers, so it can all be burned.  But every half hour or so, someone calls or the phone rings and then I don't get back to it.  I can see that this will take me quite some time.  So far, one boxful to keep, four to get rid of.

I cannot see that we will ever be in a position to downsize.  Having said that, Ro's room is as he left it when he moved out, and it's a huge room.  Lined with cupboards and shelves, it could solve all our storage space issues.  I wonder if he'd mind.

Sunday 12 June 2011


Now it's raining properly, at last.  Showers were forecast yesterday - I went to London with a waterproof jacket and sunglasses in my bag, though only needed the sunspecs, because it was dry all day and sunny for an appreciable part of it.  It was lovely at 7.30 this morning when I first went out, not a cloud in the sky.

We had lunch with Weeza and co.  Zerlina does enjoy food.  She ate the sausage first, then the carrot and asked for more.  She cleared her plate (chicken, roast potato, chipolata, carrot, asparagus), picking up the asparagus neatly with her fingers, although eating the stalk first rather than the tip.  Then she ate ice cream.  After that, she wanted to have a go on her swing, so I pushed her for rather a long time.  Swings are rather more fun when you're swinging than when you're pushing.  Please read each part of that sentence entirely in its context, btw.  She is a tall and slender little girl with a lot of energy, but she also needs plenty of sleep.  Her mother ensures that she still has an afternoon nap, which is quite unusual in a child of her age (Weeza herself was impossible to keep in bed for a nap after 18 months or so) but I'm sure that it's good for her.

I took a present for each of them; Adnam's bitter for Phil, grape juice for Weeza and a book for Zerlina.  It is a book written by my friend Charlotte, who stayed with us a few months ago.  She only wrote and illustrated three books, as she had bad RSI and couldn't draw any more; we bought the first one when Ro was young and we still have it, but the others were for younger children and I didn't get it at the time.

I haven't yet given any thought to the Sage's birthday present.  He is terribly difficult to buy for.

I noticed, the other day, that I've driven 16,000 miles in my car since I bought it, 32 months ago.  How neat.  I still do not particularly warm to it, but it has to be said that Mercedes make good cars, or they did 13 years ago, anyway.  Well over 100,000 miles and it's (regrettably) still going strong and I have no excuse to trade it in.  The Sage is working on his old Rover at present, almost everything is wrong with it.  He and his friend Mike (the *other* Mike and Ann, if you came to the party) spent all day on it, and got it working in the end.  It didn't help that a mouse had made its home there.  The electrics are still to be done, but the plan is to have it on the road for August in time for its 83rd birthday.

Saturday 11 June 2011

To London, and home again

The day went very well, no delays at all and I walked from Knightsbridge tube station to meet Wink, who had arrived before me and was having coffee.  I have walked quite a long way, I suppose - well, it feels like it, though I don't suppose it's more than a couple of miles.

The tube back, it was about 5.30 and, although a Saturday, was very crowded.  We were jammed in and some people had to stay on the platform and wait for the next train.  A lot of tourists, who found the crowds good fun and were smiling.  There was a group of Spanish people and one of them was talking loudly to another, a few yards away.  Her voice was not only loud, but piercing and I tried to keep my head turned for her voice not to blast right into my ear.

I didn't actually mind the crush, I'd found it more of a nuisance outside the Albert Hall where people who'd just exited with us were milling round getting in the way.  On the tube, we were all being good-humoured and considerate (apart from the Spanish lady, who wasn't doing it on purpose, she didn't know her voice could shatter glass*).

Standing there strap-hanging, I pondered - if asked, I'd say I don't like crowds at all and I feel oppressed if there are too many people around me, but the only discomfort I felt was because I was too hot and wished I'd taken my jacket off.  I tried to think it through - I think it was the patience that made the difference.   There was physical consideration, people were trying not to touch, but being good-humoured if it was unavoidable.  Because we were all standing still - that is, swaying about a bit but not moving along - I wasn't nervous of being knocked over.   Um.  Still doesn't entirely add up.

Tomorrow, we are having lunch with Weeza and family.  She and Phil want to go and check out dishwashers without Zerlina, so the Sage and I will babysit after lunch (she still has a nap, so I must remember to take the papers to read, or a book).

* I doubt you should take this literally

Friday 10 June 2011

Z doesn't look an idiot (or at much else)

Irony, irony, they've all got it in for ...wait, that isn't right.

It isn't indeed.  We've been awaiting the Ofsted call for an inspection for the last three weeks and have still not received it.  The village school, Al says, has.  They are to be inspected next Tuesday and Wednesday.

They will do well, it's a jolly good little school and has been for at least the last 23 years - I became a governor there in September 1988 and Ro started there as a pupil in April 1989.  18 years, I retired in 2006, and I still refer to myself as part of it; that is, I say "we" rather than "I." I probably always will.  I'm ludicrously tenacious.  Interestingly, though it'll be the first inspection in the new school buildings and there isn't a permanent Head at present.  The excellent Head left in February and they interviewed for a replacement, but no one came nearly up to scratch.  One of the teachers was asked to be acting head for the time being, rather than bring in someone temporary, a mark of how well the staff all work together.

Tomorrow, I'm going to London to meet my sister.  We're meeting for lunch and then going to the Albert Hall to see this - which, actually, I've only just looked up, I wasn't at all sure what we were going to.  She rang a few weeks ago to suggest it, I'm happy to go and will enjoy it, though I'm not big on dance in particular.  Probably because I'm not the most 'visual' person, unless it's printed - for example, I forgot to put in my contact lens this morning and I only noticed a few minutes ago that things were a bit soft-focus.

The other day, I was at a lecture (about Goldsmiths Hall, it's brilliant, do go to one of their exhibitions or to the Fair in September/October if you have an opportunity) and the person in front of me was partly obscuring the speaker some of the time.  I was looking at the pictures on the screen and then at her and so was he, and I realised that, depending on whether I was able to see her with both eyes or just my left one, she was clear or fuzzy, and yet I was quite unable to tell when the right eye was taking over except by that.

This afternoon, I unpacked the dishwasher and started to remove the filter at the bottom to rinse it clean, but not all the water had drained.  I checked that the programme had finished (not entirely daft, darlings) and then that the drainage hose hadn't kinked, and then put on a rinse programme to see if it was a one-off.  It wasn't.  I phoned John Lewis where we bought it from, and got a call-out number to give the service people.  I was in a queue when I rang that number so decided to do it online - but while I was looking at the website, I noticed instruction manuals.  On that, it said that the pump might have just blocked and to try resetting it.  Well whoopee.  Glad I did, and so saved myself from looking an idiot with a service engineer call-out.  I've got the instruction book here somewhere, of course, but I've put it away very, very securely.

Thursday 9 June 2011

Z totters

Last night's was a short post, because I was completely distracted by the news I'd had at around 6 o'clock.  I had been making minestrone soup - how is it, by the way, that I never seem to be able to make a small amount of minestrone?  Nearly 8 pints, and I've added more stock to the leftovers today.  I should say, that we packed away a lot of it last night and had more for lunch today.  I left the soup to cook in the bottom oven for a final half hour, poured a glass of wine and came in here to check emails, and found one from the school business manager.  The title was Fwd: Academy Order approval (*name of school*).

Do you know, I almost cried.  A huge smile on my face, I had a swig of wine and read the message.  From her, it just said 'Sent from my iPhone'.  Beneath,  it started "Dear Lynn, I am delighted to tell you that the Secretary of State and Lord Hill have approved your application to convert to academy status."  It was a warm and friendly letter and, I must say, that our project lead at the Department of Education is very helpful and reassuring whenever we get in touch with him.

We are on track, having done a great deal of preliminary work (engaged solicitors, obtaining land deeds, engaged financial, pension and HR services, obtained quotes for insurance, accountants and so on, but there's still a lot to do.  Ironically, the least to do is in school.  The thing is, the school is great.  We have excellent staff who work together really well, an exceptional Head and governors are shrewd and knowledgeable managers who monitor what's going on.  The students are great, and I know that because I go into lessons regularly and get to know them.  We have a very wide curriculum; being in a rural and not a wealthy area, we need to provide both sound academic education as well as arts and vocational courses.  We want to protect this against the push to narrow the curriculum in schools.  We will transfer all the terms and conditions of all the staff (as we're required to do) but, although we could change them afterwards, we do not intend to.  Why would we?

Tonight, I went out for dinner and wore stilettos, for the first time in ages.  Since having my hip done, I've been able to wear heels, though best not everyday, but they've mostly been reasonably substantial; wedges or, at least, chunky.  But I put on my pale pink stilettos, that I bought for Weeza's wedding six years ago (so are practically new, especially as they haven't been worn for three or four years) and they felt comfortable, if I was a little tottery.

All we need now is Ofsted.  Ahem.

Wednesday 8 June 2011

Z gets out the recipe books

The Sage and I went out together today.  It was largely a business meeting, but the person has a china collection which the Sage was invited to see, and he asked if I might come too, which was thoughtful of him.  However, it indicates an alarming degree of togetherness.  This is the third time in five days that he has included me in something he's doing and it's quite uncommon.  Not sure if it's good for us.  How am I to surprise and delight him in the evening if we have spent the day in each other's company?

It's his birthday next week, and my sister announced her intention of coming to visit for the celebrations.  The Sage has never particularly celebrated his birthday and has never encouraged me to arrange anything beyond an invitation to the immediate family.  However, this time, I thought that something should be done, and Weeza had the smart notion that I suggest we celebrate his fifty years as an auctioneer, and that we invite some of his oldest friends and also his fellow-collectors.  Remarkably, this worked and he's quite keen.  So, on Saturday week, we shall have a party.  Another party, that is.  And we have two invitations pending.  We've not had such a social whirl for a long time - whirl being a relative term, of course.  More like a slow twist than a dizzying twirl, but at this rate we might get back to the old days, when we had a circle of friends whom we often saw.  I'd love it.  I like cooking for a lot of people.

Tuesday 7 June 2011

Common did or mean

I should make it very clear, there were some excellent teachers at that school, though there were also some poor and indifferent ones.  I may go back to the topic - in fact I'd like to, if only to think it through for myself.  I was quite happy there, and if I was unstimulated I didn't mind, I preferred to be left alone. My sister, however, was not happy at all and, looking back, it's hard to understand why our parents didn't move her to another school.

Today, I spent at the high school, first with a meeting between me, the head and the financial manager.  There's a lot happening, in preparation for becoming independent of the local authority.  We've not had our application accepted yet, but have been told that we've passed the preliminary stages.

After that, I spent the rest of the day in Year 9 music.  It's at the limit of what I can help with, sometimes a bit beyond, as it involves composition and I don't have the knowledge.  I was better with the afternoon group than the morning one, having picked up some useful tips.  In addition, the afternoon group are very friendly, if, on occasion, slightly too much so.  I'm too old and experienced to get myself into difficulties, and they are fine.  Teenagers are great, and it's interesting to see how a tricky personality can get drawn into a lesson and do some really good work.

This evening, I went round the Common on a trailer, drawn by a tractor.  There is an annual inspection, where a couple of dozen owners see what's going on and how it's being maintained.  It is a privately-owned common, where 400 acres are owned in 300 shares, known as 'goings', mainly by private individuals, but also by charities and the town council.  The Sage, who is a Common Reeve (voluntary management committee member) owns 10 goings; I went as a representative for his cousin.

A large part of the common is rented by the golf club, much of the rest is let for cattle grazing, and the rest is open to the public for walking on.  More management is required than you'd think; a lot of birch and oak saplings grow from seed and have to be cut down, as does gorse and various wild flowers, when in the wrong place.  At present, the main problem is dog-walkers on the golf course, who seem oblivious to the danger of beetling into the line of fire of a driven ball.  There's plenty of space for them to walk, it seems perverse to trot along the fairways.

Afterwards, we went for a drink at the golf club.  It was a lovely sociable atmosphere and I rather wished I played, or had the least inclination to, for the pleasure of going there.  When we finally rolled home, I couldn't be bothered to cook.  I put a frozen pizza in the oven.

Monday 6 June 2011


The school I went to was pretty poor, frankly.  It was a nice little school for nice girls, especially Catholic ones, which I wasn't.  The reasons for us going there were - well, it's easy to come up with a theory, but how am I to know whether it's accurate?  My sister, who is five years older than I, was down to go to Sherborne, but my mother reckoned that Lowestoft was better for her health (she had sinus problems and still suffers from severe hay fever;  Lowestoft was reckoned to be good for lungs and there had been a TB hospital on the sea front) so cancelled that.  Then she met a girl who went to the local private school, in Southwold, and didn't find her manners up to scratch, so decided that she'd rather we went to day school.

The local one was okay, but not great, at primary level and fairly rubbish later on.  I suggested, really quite politely, in later years that my parents weren't too bothered about education for girls, it would have been different if we were boys.  My mother was affronted, but it was true.  It was a different world, half a century ago.  I have additional thoughts on the subject, but they are better kept to myself.  I am frank, but rarely disloyal.

Having said that, I didn't mind my school, and was perfectly content there.  I wasn't stretched, but I read a lot - I read encyclopaedias for pleasure, which I'm sure some of you did, but I doubt that many do now - and I did okay.  Science was almost non-existent, which confirms my view that my parents didn't think that education for girls mattered (my father studied science at university and was a mathematician too - in fact, he was that person that may not exist any more, a polymath, as his knowledge of literature and the arts was wide-ranging too) and the maths teachers were rubbish.  Anything I knew was learned from my father.  I remember one Geometry lesson where the teacher got stuck in the middle of a problem and, finally, a kind and clever girl (not me) finally got up and solved it on the blackboard.  We were such nice girls (I'm not kidding, my class had the reputation of being the least trouble in the whole school) that we didn't even hold it against the teacher - not so much through kindness as because we didn't really care.

I'm talking about the late 1960s.  It wasn't cool to be too enthusiastic, and we must have not been easy to teach.  Well, I wasn't, at any rate.  I was dreadfully shy, but I was also pretty arrogant, and not a team player in the least.  I listened and thought, but I didn't join in.  Actually, the Head of the high school says of me now that I listen without saying much, and then come in with a killer comment at the end.  I dunno about that, but I am better joining in with a small group than a large one, and I do like to think around the subject.  However, the reason, in those days - and this is a confession, darlings, one that will be the despair of the teachers among you - that I thought that it was daft to give away a good idea.  Listen to the others, think of a different angle and then put it in an essay.  No one else would get the credit.  Hah!  But also, a lack of pushiness came in.  Even if I'd wanted to say something, I'd have been talked down by someone else.  Maybe (this refers back to an earlier post, asking what would have brought out the best in Z), if a teacher had cultivated me slowly and carefully, giving me confidence and not letting me get away with silence, it might have worked.  What I said to the Head was, get me to write it down.  I think better through my fingers, though nowadays it's typing rather than via a pen.

PS - A rival for Woolydogs? - double take

Sunday 5 June 2011

Let them eat lettuce

In today's post, Christopher refers to the Latin writer Horace, whose Odes he studied for Latin A Level.  I read Ars Poetica for mine, and loved it.  I still mutter quotations from it at pertinent moments, although it's better not to do so out loud, because that would be very irritating.

Another writer we studied was Pliny, who wrote a lot of letters and then published them.  I've forgotten most of the ones we read and translated, but there are a few that still stand out in my memory.

Pliny the younger was the nephew of the elder Pliny, who died in the eruption of Vesuvius.  He wasn't there when the volcano erupted, but dutifully went to see what was going on, and also to attempt to rescue people in his boat, and was overcome by fumes. Pliny wrote a very interesting account of what went on, brought back to him by survivors.

I joined the class in its second year, having left school with two A levels (English and History) because my school, on the verge of closing down, had a severely limited range of subjects to choose from.  I had flunked Latin and chosen to learn to type instead of taking French, but in the Upper Sixth I changed my mind, took up both of them again and passed, and then decided I wanted to take A levels in both subjects.  I had, years earlier, skipped a year so I was not quite 18 at the start of the school year and went to the local high school for an extra crack at exam-taking.

I struggled to keep up, I have to confess, especially in Latin where there were several very clever girls specialising in languages - how anyone can learn Russian and Ancient Greek at the same time beats me, I couldn't have attempted it - but when you don't know your limitations, you are less daunted by them and I persevered.

At the start of one lesson, I observed some chuckling going on.  The teacher was going round the class and each girl (it was a co-ed school, but it so happened that Latin, that year, was only being taken by girls) had to translate a couple of lines.  Since I always sat near the back, I'd only bothered to prepare the second half of the epistle - well, I say bothered, but I was being pragmatic.  It took me longer than everyone else to do half the work - so I didn't know why, but they'd worked out that the embarrassing line was going to be translated by the most unsophisticated girl in the class.  I'd had to make an effort to be less shy, joining a new school, and I had reasonable social skills in any case, which were the reasons that was not me.

The subject of the epistle was a shocking incident that had happened at the baths.  There was a rich, elderly Roman who was notoriously cruel to his slaves and some of them attacked and tried to kill him. It described how one slave seized him while others hit him in his face and private parts.  I can't remember the Latin for private parts, but that's the direct translation.  Poor Elaine stammered and stopped when she got to that bit and couldn't carry on.  "Groin, translate it as groin," said the teacher, kindly.

As I remember, for I'm sure you will want to know, the Roman survived the attack for a few days, but then died and the slaves were put to death horribly, although some of them escaped.  Interestingly, the rich Roman's father had been a freed slave (as was Horace's father) and it's perhaps surprising that he was so unpleasant to his own slaves.

The third epistle that I remember was unintentionally hilarious if meant solemnly, but still entertaining if written as a tease (which it probably was, no one could be that pompous and not mean to be).  He had invited a friend to dinner, but the friend didn't show up.  Pliny wrote to reprimand him, saying that he had to pay up the not inconsiderable value of the feast - which included a whole lettuce.  Each!  As well as three snails and two eggs!  Presumably, the no-show had preferred to watch dancing girls and eat sea-urchins than have intelligent conversation and listen to a poetry recital, scolded Pliny.

No wonder one's schooldays are remembered with such fondness, hem hem.  I did scrape through the exams, but with no glory at all, getting Es.

Saturday 4 June 2011


I'm spending the weekend catching up on work, so that Monday won't catch me unawares.  I'm up with most of it now, but have run out of steam.  Still have a rousing hymn to choose for tomorrow,  Once I've got my piano back, I'll have no excuse not to practise.  Choosing hymns, I look at the type of service, the time of church year, the theme of the service, I look up the readings - I'm very conscientious.

I should have been going to a funeral on Monday, but I found out that I've been included in a lunch for 24 people, which will be on 3 tables and I'm supposed to be hosting one of the tables.  The organiser had forgotten to give me the date - it had been cancelled because of a power cut and rearranged, but I wasn't there when the others were told.  I feel badly about missing the funeral, but I did have a long chat with her son today and the Sage will go, you can't fit in everything and I don't want to disappoint my friend.

I also had a chat with my doctor, at the same social event.  He told me that he is retiring in November - he'd already told the Sage a while ago, but is politely telling each person that he can individually.  He's been my doctor for 25 years and I'll be sorry to see him go.  I like him very much, we understand each other.  He has high standards, which might seem an odd thing to say - that is, if I went along for a vague whinge, he'd be slightly disappointed, because he'd expect something more specific from me.  If I were needy or frail, he'd amend his expectations.  He said, if all his patients visited him as often as I did, he'd not have been very busy.  Once every five years is about the norm, which shows how fortunate I am with my health.  I did go more often for a couple of years about my hip, and it was actually quite hard not to whinge then, so I always made sure that I had something practical to suggest.  He has arthritis in his knees and was limping slightly but noticeably.  I'm glad I've got hips rather than knees - though would rather not have it at all, of course.  Bloody arthritis.  He asked me how my hip is (doctors usually avoid asking after one's health when off duty, I took it as a compliment, that he knew I wouldn't turn it into a consultation!) and I said it's fine.  "Glad you had it done?"  "Yes, I am,"  I said, simply.

I slept thoroughly last night and caught up on the previous night's insomnia.  It's a nuisance, though.  I'm drinking strong black coffee right now.  I hope that coffee doesn't start to affect me.  I don't mind decaff, but one doesn't normally have a choice of blend or roast and, although I don't have the number of coffees that I do of teas, I do like to choose what sort I feel like drinking.

I heard birds calling in a warning tone, looked out and there was a cat in the garden.  I went out to tell it to leave, and there was a branch of a broom lying on the ground, though still attached to the trunk.  I grew it from seed over 20 years ago and it grew unexpectedly tall, small tree sized rather than bushy.  I think that some major lopping will be needed.

Friday 3 June 2011

Last night,,,

No really, I didn't sleep.  Ten minutes, sometime between 1.40 and 2.00 am.  I got up at 3.20 and roamed around the house disgustedly until the blackbirds started to sing.  I've nearly fallen asleep a couple of times today, but I'd rather not, now it's this late, and hope I'll sleep tonight.

Enough about a singularly boring subject.  I did get a cuddle with Hadrian today, he was awake and tranquil - he doesn't really cry, which is just like his father was as a baby.  Last night, he didn't go to sleep until 1, but only woke once during the night so they felt they'd had a good night's rest.

I phoned Charlotte this evening - you may remember, she's my half-Dutch friend who visited a couple of months ago.  She was very over-stressed at the time, which I didn't say, and she's been in hospital, recovering.  She's fine now, and has decided to live in England again, which will be good.  I rang to tell her about Hadrian.

The front field was cut for hay yesterday and baled today.  Those huge, 6 foot diameter bales.  The grass was short, but full of good seed so will be nutritious.  However, hay will be in short supply, the bales are worth £80 each, but Graham needs them for winter feed, he won't be selling them.  Mind you, that small amount of rain we had has made the grass green up surprisingly.  Big Pinkie, the friendly and elderly cow, will not join us yet.  She is in with a field of heifers, teaching them to take life slow.  400 is quite happy on her own, Jonny phoned earlier, and suggested bringing 77 back now she had settled down.  We said no...frankly, if she wanted to leave again, I'd not stand in her way.

Thursday 2 June 2011


What a beautiful day.  The showers of the last week have made me appreciate sunny days again.  Richard brought his mini-digger and has been widening the drive again; the gravelled area, for those of you who have been here.  The big heap of aggregate is nearly gone and we will have as much parking area as we want in another day or two.

That isn't to say that the drive is nearly finished.  That's going to take ages.  The Sage loves a project, but he's not so good at finishing one.  Planning and putting into action is what he's good at, but then he gets bored and wants to move on to the next thing.  I'm more of a plodder.  I am not spectacular, but I stick at it, once I've started.

Dilly is feeling quite well, but she hasn't had the easiest time.  In medicine, as in so many spheres, things go in fashions and in cycles.  The latest anxiety is clots.  Since her first two babies were born by Caesarean section, the third had to be, and this time she has had to have blood-thinning injections for a week afterwards, which Al has administered.  However, she's had quite a lot of bleeding from the wound.  It transpires that this is not at all unusual, if you have blood-thinning medication, but no one warned her, so it was very worrying when it first happened and they called a paramedic in to check her.  It builds up in a sort of blister and then pops - you can imagine how scary that is.  It is still happening, though less, and her final injection is tomorrow, so hopefully it will clear up after that.

Luckily, everything is absolutely fine with Hadrian and he is a tranquil and cheery baby.  I've only seen him awake but not feeding a couple of times, and hardly held him at all, which is a bit tough on a doting granny, but my time will come, no doubt, probably when I should be busy with other things.  Squiffany and Pugsley have gone to spend the night with their other grandparents, which they were very excited about.

I listened to A Good Read on Radio 4 the other day, I turned on the radio on the way home from Dave's and it was part-way through the programme.  One of the selected books was A High Wind In Jamaica, by Richard Hughes.  I read that, some 45 years ago, because it was a set book at school, and I hated it.  But I've always remembered it fairly clearly, which means it must have been ... well, memorable.  I suppose I should read it again and see if I admire it after all, these many years later.

What I remember is, there was a group of children and a great storm.  I remember a description of a short fat black woman losing her footing and being bowled over and over by the wind.  I remember the children having a discussion about sorting clothes for the wash and someone saying they could be sorted by each person's smell (and Emily thinking, dur, of course), and a mention that you should never ride a horse bareback for fear of catching ringworm (this was in Jamaica, then, not necessarily now or anywhere else).  They were all sent back to England for safety and were captured by pirates - who had not expected to find themselves saddled with children.  John, a boy I liked, leaned over too far (they had landed somewhere and gone to a theatrical show of some kind) and he fell and was killed.  Emily was the main character and I didn't like her at all.  The pirates caught another ship and a man - the captain - Dutch, perhaps? - was in a cabin with her and he spoke to her in a foreign and gutteral tongue and she was so frightened that she hit or stabbed him and killed him.  Shocked, the pirate captain dropped her overboard, but she was rescued.  Later, they were captured and brought to justice, and she was asked about the death of the man, and she remembered the incident and cried, and it was assumed that she had witnessed his murder.  The pirates were sentenced to death.  At the end of the book, Emily, with the surviving children, went back to England and, if a group of little girls was watched playing, it would not be possible to pick out Emily, who was just like all the others.

That's as I remember it, anyway.  Odd, that I recall all that, and didn't like the book or the story.  Of course, my memory may be at fault - there were a couple of incidents mentioned in the radio programme that I haven't said, although they did trigger my recollection when I was reminded.  Can anyone tell me whether I should remain with a memory of a book I didn't like, or else return to it and appreciate it after all these years?

Other books I had to read at school and didn't like were Redgauntlet, by Sir Walter Scott, and Nada, the Lily, by H. Rider Haggard.  I remember nothing, not a word, of the former.  I thought the latter was horrid.  There, the narrator was obliged to put his hand into fire as a test of his honesty.  He was lying, but endured the torture and so was assumed to be telling the truth, but he had a withered hand for the rest of his life.  At the end, Nada was walled up in a cave and Umslopogaas, her lover, was too injured to move the stone and they died there together, touching hands.  I have never read any Rider Haggard since, I thought it was horrid and gruesome.  This is slightly awkward, as I know his granddaughter (whose name is Nada) and some of her family, and can hardly say so. However, since I remember the book, it was evidently better written than Redgauntlet.  I've never read any other Scott either, not even Ivanhoe, although I enjoyed the dramatisation as a Sunday evening serial when I was a child.

Wednesday 1 June 2011


The afternoon was not what I'd hoped for.  I arrived home from the hairdresser to find bantams clustered around the door and, as I unlocked it, I heard the phone ringing.  It was a neighbour the other side of the field saying that the two cows that were brought here this morning were out.  I left a note for the Sage and went to find them.

They were in a field where some men were working, painting an old tractor and cutting some grass.  I said I'd see if I could find where the cows had got out, mend it and come back to drive them back to the field.  I phoned Jonny to tell him and he said that it was the second time they'd got out, he'd been over once already, so I said that I'd get them back in.  The Sage wasn't home, so I asked Al to help me.  They were reasonably biddable, we got them back, fastened up the wire and then chivvied them onto the Ups and Downs where, I knew, the fencing was very secure and there were no weak spots.  And yet, I was mistrustful, so I went back out again - sure enough, one of the cows was about to barge down the barrier across the stream which divides the fields.  I spoke sharply to her and they both moved away.

The next forty minutes was frankly not very nice at all.  No. 77 was, I soon realised, the breaker-out.  She was very annoyed about being thwarted and set off round the field to find a weak spot.  No. 400 followed for a while, but then settled down to chew the cud.  77 came towards me, trying to go around towards the stream, but I headed her off.  Every few minutes she approached again, each time getting bolder and I had to wave my arms and shout, whereas to start with just a stern word was enough.  Finally, the Sage arrived home and came to find out what was going on.  I said that we had to tie up the gate to make it more secure and he said he'd go for rope - at that moment, 77 ran at me.  Half a ton of pregnant dairy cow coming at you is scary, I can tell you.  I shouted loudly and waved my arms and she veered away and ... the Sage saw that I wasn't exaggerating when I had told him what was going on.

Anyway, he tied up the gate and we left, but she has still barged it down again.  We've phoned Graham, the farmer and Jonny's dad, and he said that she's very attached to her friends and misses them.  There's a very narrow bridge back towards the farm and if she dares brave that, she may arrive home of her own accord.  The Sage has gone to see if he can find her, and asked me to stay by the phone.  I know that he actually doesn't want to see me having another run-in with 77, I suspect it was just as scary for him to watch as it was for me, but I'm anxious about him.  I've given him my phone, as I know it'll get a signal down there, in case he needs any help.

Ah.  He's just got back and says he's driven her on to another field.  She might find her own way home, in any case, they will find her in the morning.  No. 400 seems quite relieved to have our field to herself for a while.  Hopefully, they'll bring Big Pinkie tomorrow and the two of them can settle down together.