Monday 31 December 2012

Z draws up a plan

Right, here's a rough floor plan of the bungalow.  Not at all to scale, the drawing room isn't as huge as that so the proportions are out somewhere, but it should give you an idea.  Ah, I've just noticed - the laundry room, dressing room, cloakroom, hall and drawing room outer walls should all be one line and the porch be an addition.

Originally, the sitting room was two bedrooms and the bungalow ended after that.  The cupboards plus cloakroom were where the bathroom was.  Where the bedroom, bathroom, dressing room and laundry room are now used to be my in-laws' little extension which housed Hilda's bathroom, the boiler room and the warm room which was used to dry clothes etc and had cupboards to store bedlinen and towels. The lobby is a little hallway which the other rooms lead off from.

We paid for the alterations of course, the house belongs to the Sage so we had the structural work done.  My mother spent almost as much (some £17,000) on decorations and furnishing.  It was ludicrous really, on a new house, but we went along with it.  My stepfather had died, you see, in January 1997.  She never did have the new conservatory, which should have been along the right hand, as you see it, drawing room wall, because she'd wanted it for him, but the rest was all done.  The council, having tried hard to make us restrict the size of the extension to 800 square feet (we argued it up because Ma had lived in a large house and her furniture was in proportion), passed the alterations and extension without comment.

Sunday 30 December 2012

The building of the bungalow

I have written about the time we moved here before, but I don't think I've said much about the following year or so.  Just to set the scene for those of you who don't know our background in this house, we live in the house where the Sage was born and where his parents spent nearly all their married life.  They married in 1927, bought it in 1928 - at the time, it had been divided into cottages, so they spent some months returning it to one house and making various alterations to make it more convenient for family life.

Their first babies were twin boys, but they did not survive.  What a shock and a tragedy - they didn't know that there were two babies, let alone that there was a problem.  But it meant that when their first surviving child was born, the Sage's elder brother, they had already moved in here, and their other two children were born here too.

It's not at all surprising that the Sage was thrilled when I offered to come and live here after his father's death, when his mother decided that the place was too big for her and that she would have to move out.    She looked for a house in the village but there was nothing suitable, so she asked if we minded if she built in the garden.  We had great difficulty in getting planning permission but it was eventually granted, with the conditions that the two houses must adjoin and have a connecting door, and that only members of our family could live there.

Ma moved in once the bungalow was built, but she didn't have long to live and died suddenly in October 1985.  We were having some renovations done and hadn't moved ourselves yet.  It wasn't until the next summer that we moved in.  Ro was just two then, Al was ten and Weeza was twelve.

I have written before about my determination to be outgoing and make new friends (I'd been quite the opposite before, I waited for people to come to me, being quite shy and uncertain), because the people I knew were left back in Lowestoft.  Having a toddler helped of course, because there were other young mums with babies the same age who wanted friends for themselves and their children.  In those days, it was still usual for most mums to take a few years out from paid work until their children started school.

I've also mentioned that I settled in unexpectedly quickly.  I really enjoyed living here, rather to my surprise.  I loved my old house, an Edwardian former Rectory, and it had taken me years to overcome a feeling of claustrophobia in this Tudor house with its low ceilings. Also, I'd never lived so far from the sea and I thought I'd miss it.  Maybe I would, if I hadn't liked it here so much.

My stepfather had a heart attack at the end of 1985 and his doctor recommended that he avoid stairs as much as possible and spare himself over-exertion.  And so, it was proposed that they sell their house and come to live in the bungalow.  Newly built and hardly lived it, you'd have thought it wouldn't have needed much doing to it, but actually my mother wanted everything changed.  For a start, her four-poster bed didn't fit in either of the bedrooms.  She didn't like the kitchen, the bathroom (she was right there, Ma had chosen a hideous deep pink suite in a small and darkish room), the carpets, curtains or colour scheme.  And she needed a dressing room, of course.  And a porch and conservatory.

So plans were drawn up.  Between the old house and the bungalow was a flat-roofed extension, which housed the larder, the boiler room, the airing room and Hilda's bathroom.  Hilda had come to the family as a nursemaid when the Sage (then known as Sprig) was a baby and she had never left.  It was decided that if most of it was knocked down, a new bedroom, bathroom, dressing room and laundry room could be built, leaving our larder and a lobby big enough to house our chest freezer and provide a new back door, as we'd done away with our old one when we built the room that is now my study.

I'm digressing again here.  I was going to talk about me.  Oh well, another day. 

Saturday 29 December 2012

Z gets to grips

Okay, I've made a start and turned out the laundry room and started on the lobby.  The lobby is where the freezer is going to go again, having been moved out to the porch several years ago to make room for shelving to put the things I couldn't throw away when my mother died - I told you it would become boring.  I've been throwing things away.  I don't want to talk about it.

It'll be excellent when it's done, though, and worth it.  Close the door, don't look back - I've always been good at moving on, though if ones life flashes before the eyes just before one (*one* is a wretched word when used as an impersonal whassisface, innit?) pegs out, it'll be a symphony of repressed memories.  I'm not traumatised, that would be silly.  Just that my childhood was - well, rather lovely, actually, and I don't like to let it go.

The Sage, Elle and I are all at our respective computers.  Modern living, hey.

Elle is off to London tomorrow, to see a friend who's staying in Bristol - it's a good halfway spot.  She's returning on the train that gets in at 11.10 pm, so I'll drive over to Diss to fetch her.  She acknowledged last night that she's quite nervous of the dark.  Of course, when I was growing up street lights went off at midnight but, though I lived in towns until I was over thirty, I mostly had very large gardens and I adjusted to village-in-the-country living very quickly.  It isn't for everyone though.

When we moved here, which was at the end of July, many years ago, the rain set in in September and hardly seemed to stop for the next eighteen months.  It may not have been a record-breaking year as this has been but, since I don't remember flooding in the West Country, maybe East Angular was wetter than other places for once.  Ro, who was a toddler at the time, became known in the village for being always in wellies.  However, I loved it from the start.  I've known other people who have moved here and whose first question has been "Where's Tesco?" (or Sainsbury's or Waitrose, depending on, um, personal preference).  But, not only did I love it, but I had thought it through - because that's what I do, loves, I act on instinct but there are surprisingly sound reasons when I think about it - and I didn't overdo the discomfort, whilst embracing the good parts of living here.

Ooh, as so often, I sat down not knowing what I was going to write and now I have something for tomorrow too.  Splendid.  A bit of my past that I don't think I've ever blogged about before.

Toodle-pip, dear hearts.  Until tomorrow - don't get your hopes up, mind you.  Nothing especially revealing, unless you're interested in the minutiae of Zhistory.

Friday 28 December 2012

If Z relaxes any more, I'll slide under the table dribbling gently

Back to the cinema this evening, this time to see Life of Pi.  I enjoyed it very much and it's made me want to reread the book, which isn't always the case.  The sight of Indian food made Elle and I want to eat some, so I quickly phoned Ro to find out a nearby restaurant he could recommend, and the Sage to let him know we'd be an hour late.

The least likely film for me to watch is the one about the family caught up in the tsunami, who survived.  It's all far too fresh in the memory, even the trailer was too upsetting to watch.  Elle and I both turned away.

The week has been slipping away and I haven't started on any of the things I meant to do.  But I've been watching DVDs, reading, cooking - all very pleasant but I'd saved a few days specially.  I'm so foolish, darlings.

Anyway, the consequence is that I haven't done anything much to tell you about.  Though I wouldn't have anyway.  Turning out the larder and laundry room ...... hm, doesn't quite thrill, does it?

Still, my total inaction reminds me of a day of interviews I did last year.  It was for a temporary internal promotion at school but was likely, if successfully completed, to lead to a different permanent promotion.  The person we ended up appointing already led a major academic department.  Near the end of the interview, we asked her about her capacity for taking on extra responsibilities, quite time-consuming ones, when she was already so busy.  She looked surprised that we needed to ask.  "Well, the more there is to do, the more efficient you become, don't you?"  She was right, of course.  And so, pleasant as it is to have a break, it's a good job it's a short one.  I need deadlines and obligations or I get bored.  And a bored Z is a boring Z.  

Thursday 27 December 2012

Z lives for the present

We had to go to Lowestoft today and picked up Elle from her friend's house, where she'd spent Christmas, on the way back.  I asked about the planned party for New Year's Eve.  It was still on, but they hadn't found a venue yet.  There was one possibility, but it was quite a way for most of the guests to go.  I thought for a couple of minutes before speaking, for once (my sister calls our usual leaping-in "mouth overtaking brain"), so I can only blame myself if anything goes awry (Elle didn't ask, or even hint), and offered the use of the bungalow.

So there will be quite a number of teenagers around here on Monday night.  We'll stay out of the way unless things seem to be going awry, but I don't expect them to.  They're all a good bunch of kids and Elle has been to a couple of parties already, with no ill effects to the venue.  A number of them will sleep over, I daresay, there's one double bed that Al and Dilly left behind but otherwise they will doss down on the floor.

Elle's mum (who is French, though she lives in Germany), sent a parcel of some splendid French delicacies for Christmas for us, which is so kind.  I can't remember if I've mentioned that she, with Elle's father and brother, will be coming here for a few days in February before Elle returns home again.  This has not gone at all as planned, I thought we'd just be providing the introduction to the school and a host family would be found and we'd just meet her a couple of times, but how glad I am that this wasn't what happened.  She has been to several friends already and stayed a while with each, so she hasn't been stuck with us the whole time - and we've had time to recover from the effects of having a teenager in the house again - but while she is here, she's really part of the family.  It's a preview of having teenage grandchildren - I love them being the age they are, but I'm going to enjoy their growing up too.  I've always thought how lovely it will be, to have an open house where my grandchildren can stay, invite their friends, feel that they can relax and have a (mutual) parent/offspring break and, whether this happens or not, depending on geography, health, closeness and so on, it's a foretaste of a dream come true.  I sometimes feel that, at my age, I've not a lot to hope for (this isn't meant to sound depressed but we've had a few foretastes of old age recently) but, though I've blogged a lot about the past recently, this doesn't mean I'm going to hanker after it.  I'm going to take what now has to offer, and offer what I can as well.

Wednesday 26 December 2012

Z feels fat and sleepy

We did have a good time yesterday and ate far too much.  I rarely overeat nowadays, but restraint went out of the window, largely because we were in no hurry at all to finish the meal and had long gaps between courses, so regained appetite.  Even later in the evening after Ro and Dora had gone, the Sage managed some smoked salmon and I ate Stilton.

I didn't feel over-full when I went to bed, but we were too warm.  Not realising the mildness of the night, we'd put on the electric blanket for a few minutes and we both lay there whinging gently about the heat.  The Sage went to sleep in the end but I didn't, and after a few hours I gave up, went downstairs and cleaned and tidied the kitchen.  Then I went and watched a DVD, then tidied the dining room before shambling back up to bed at nearly 6 o'clock.  I still didn't sleep for another hour though before falling into a brief doze before the radio woke me again.  And if this has been long and dull to read (I know, there's no 'if' about it) then I hope you've skipped most of it.

But at least the housework had been done, so mustn't grumble, hey.  And we spent today with Al and co at their new house, where they are settling in happily.

Tuesday 25 December 2012

happy Christmas

The joy that is Z for you : - D

Travels next year are likely to be confined to this country however so, much as I'd like to visit far-flung friends (I won't be able to say that three times after I've drunk the champagne we're about to open), that will be a treat for the future.

Love from all at the Zedary

Monday 24 December 2012

Z nearly ran out of puff

Darlings, I'm not going to get around to wish each of you a wonderful Christmas, so please accept my apologies, lots of love and very best wishes.

This evening, the Carol Service was held in the church and it was a bit - well, we made the best of things.  I arrived and had a quick run through the carols I was playing on the organ - "Ah," said Andy, "Could you play O Come All Ye Faithful in a different key?  Um, A flat?"  That's four flats.  I'd expected to play it in G.  One sharp.   The arrangement was quite different, to boot.  I - oh, I winged it.  I mean, JFDI, OK?  But worse was to come, dear hearts.  There should have been a bit of nifty switching around of instruments and the electronic organ, the proper organ, the guitar and the clarinet come together in various duetty combinations, but none of them was quite in tune with each other and in the event we did nearly everything as solos, one or the other of us.  I was left with the more swingy numbers, plus Away in a Manger.  Candles were lit whilst that was being sung and the next carol, which was Andy's, was sung by candlelight - or, since I'd missed out on the candles, by the light of an iPhone candle app.

We spent last night with Weeza and family, which was absolutely lovely and a great treat.  I couldn't say anything about it last night of course, because the house was going to be empty, though a friend called in a few times, to feed and shut up the chickens and let them out again this morning.  And talking about this morning, I was woken rather early, about 4 o'clock, by the rain and couldn't sleep again.  We've not had that much in comparison to the rest of the country so no grumbles at all.

The word 'merry' is such a splendid one, isn't it? A pity it's rarely used except in one particular context.

Merry Christmas, lovely internet friends.  Thank you for another year and if you do, please carry on blogging.  If you will, I will.  

Sunday 23 December 2012

The Sage is impossible to please

In truth, I'm a lot easier to buy presents for than the Sage.  There are plenty of safe options if inspiration doesn't strike - I'm quite feminine enough to like jewellery, perfume and really nice toiletries, I always wear attractive underwear and the size is easy enough to check, I'd be quite open to being taken shopping for shoes and clothes and anyone who has known me for over forty years should know that I love books, music and films and might be able to guess what I'd like. I also love tools and don't think it's at all peculiar to be given them, and I love pens and stationery in general.  So it shows a distinct lack of imagination that the Sage has, more often than not, been completely clueless about a possible present and has, several times, effectively given me nothing at all.

Mind you, he's just at bad at receiving presents.  It is not unusual for him not to bother to open them at all, if he thinks he knows what they are, or just to tear the paper enough to look.  Several weeks later, there will still be a small stack by his chair until I lay the law down and make him move them.  And I think there are few things more boring than a wife who is houseproud and nags a husband about his stuff, which he has every right to leave just where he wants because it's his house too.  I don't want to be pushed into it, but honestly his stuff stays where he dumps it until the cobwebs grow dusty, he'd literally never bother to put it away.  I've tried leaving things and always am the first to crack, though sometimes it's taken a couple of years.

But even if a lot of thought has been given into a present, it'll probably not be appreciated.  For example, a couple of years ago I thought I'd had a brainwave.  We had a very dear friend, Norman, who was a professional musician, a pianist.  He played regularly in the restaurant at the Ritz, in nightclubs and variety shows, in orchestras in the theatre and on television, that sort of thing.  And once he was on the Morecambe and Wise Show.  He played for them regularly, but didn't appear on stage except that once, when he was mentioned on the credits.  And I was thinking of him (he died several years ago) and looked him up on IMDB and found the episode, tracked it down on Amazon and bought the series for the Sage.  It took quite a bit of time to do.  I'd already got the Sage's present, a peculiarly unattractive antique mug that he wanted, so gave it to Ro to give his father.

It seemed to tick all the boxes.  The only visual record of one of the Sage's oldest and most-loved friends, the Sage loves nostalgia and, though he's not that interested in television, even he enjoyed Morecambe and Wise and might reasonably be expected to watch the whole DVD, not just the bit with Norman in it.  I thought it was a brilliant idea.

But. He's never bothered to watch it.  I reminded him after a few weeks and again after a few months, when I asked if he maybe didn't care to watch a video of someone who had died, which he said wasn't the case.  I watched it myself in the end and it was lovely to see darling Norman again.  But the Sage has never seen it.  So, pfft.  I won't be imaginative again.

It's only fair to redress the balance a bit and I'll write about some of the excellent presents he's given me.    But it's proved to be safer by far to lower my expectations way down.  I don't care for disappointment.

Saturday 22 December 2012


Those bottles are far too handsome to hide away in the fridge, so I've bought some extra.  Here are a couple of them.

Oh.  The photo gizmo isn't working.  I'll put the picture in later.

I've got to email round the family and find out what we're doing about presents.  We're seeing Weeza and co tomorrow, Ro and Dora on Tuesday, Al and family on Wednesday, and the next Tuesday everyone is coming here for lunch.  So are we keeping the family ones until we're all together, opening them when we're with each of them or just handing them out for everyone to open on the Day?  I don't mind, but we'd better agree.  Actually, I'll do that now.  Back in a minute.

I made a big pot of minestrone this afternoon.  I like making soup when the weather is gloomy.  Cheers me up.  We had some of it (oh yes, it'll last a couple of times more) with some cheese scones this evening.

It seems that most wives buy their own presents and hand them over to their husbands.  I think it's a poor do, frankly, bearing in mind that most of us also buy everyone else's and wrap them too.  You'd think that they'd at least be on the alert for the hint sophisticated, clear enough to tip the wink yet subtle enough to make them feel clever about it.  But no.  Although I suppose a man who gets it horribly wrong is worse.  Difficult, isn't it?

Here is the picture, above.  When it finally decided to work, it inserted itself randomly.  Sugar in one, coffee beans in the other.  Others contain raisins and beans and so on. The bottles are a nice useful size with a wide top and comfortable to hold and pour from, I like them very much.  I forgive them for not being pint size because they're more useful this way.

Friday 21 December 2012

Chin chin!

I was going to say that not a lot has happened today, but now I've thought about it I've changed my mind. Momentously, I moved every stick of furniture in the drawing room (not counting the TV) and hoovered the whole room to bugge... - well, it's cobweb free.  And the reason for this enthusiasm is that I was planning to bring in the Christmas tree.  It's only little, I can't take it seriously, but it's sitting in its pot on the revolving bookcase.  Not decorated, obv.  Far too early.

I remembered last night that I'd been phoned a couple of days ago by someone wanting me to write to someone else (yes, that's the sort of thing I do) and I'd written down the name and address but actually it wasn't the most convenient time.  So I left it until *later* and totes forgot, darlings.  Fortunately, I remembered again, because I hadn't yet emptied the waste paper baskets.  So, while filling them with odds and sods, I warned the Sage against binning anything before I'd found this wretched piece of paper.

Turned out I'd put it in a sensible place and not in the waste paper basket at all.  I wasn't a bit surprised, honestly, but there's never any harm in taking precautions.

It's worryingly clean and tidy in here at the moment, apart from my computer and one - yes, darlings, only one so it's quite all right - of the printers.  And the Sage's stuff, but he's impossible so has to be shown every indulgence.  And, talking of every indulgence - well, the Sage occasionally gives a brilliant present but usually it's rubbish.  Last year, for instance, he paid the bill for my iPhone, £140.  It was just a credit card bill, I'd already bought it and over the year I pay rather more in monthly fees.  I spent £500 on him.  And I wrapped the present and gave it to him.  He gave me nothing on the day.  Bitter?  Well, frankly yes, but I'm also sensible, so I went out and bought some clothes and told him how much I'd spent and he gave me the money.  He also suggested I might wrap them, but I - no loves, I was perfectly polite.  I just gave him wrapping paper and sticky tape.

Oh, and the Sage looked out to show my friend Mary, who took me out to lunch today, a picture of me from 1963.  It's also got my good friend Lynn, who is the only person I've never lost touch with (a few more I've regained touch with, but Lynn and I have been stalwart and I'm godmother to her daughter) and other erstwhile good friend, but with whom I'm not in touch, Angela.  And after that, I'll have to scan and post it.  Watch out for the Z chin.  It's remarkable!  

Thursday 20 December 2012

Z counts blessings if not pennies

I'm way ahead of myself.  In the event, which seems most unlikely, that we all die tomorrow, I shall have the satisfaction of knowing that I'm out of debt six weeks before I need to be: I have paid the taxman.  I know, it's usual to wait until the last possible moment but actually I think the country needs the money, paltry sum as it is, more than Barclays does and it's only sitting in my current account at present.

So, having been to the accountant first thing, I dropped the Sage off with Weeza as she was bringing him home again, then toddled off to the hospital.  Encouraged by being seen by a nurse for a completely unnecessary check on my eyesight, some five minutes before my appointment time, I was disappointed to wait a whole hour before being called to be seen by the surgeon.  Not the one who sliced into my eyelid, but a nice chap.  I was there all of two minutes, was given a clean bill of health - I hadn't expected anything else but am glad to know for sure I didn't have any malignancy in my eyelid - and came out again.  At least I finished a whole level of iAssociate while I was waiting.

I'm luckier than a small boy I know, whose parents have just been told that an operation that, it would hoped, would save the sight in one eye has failed.  He's hardly aware of a problem himself as yet, as he's never seen much with it - at least his other eye is all right.  But goodness, poor little chap.  He's only five.

Small pleasure of the day - writing a cheque with the date 20/12/2012.  Easily pleased, hey.  Other pleasure was having Weeza and Gus over here for lunch, and Dilly, Squiffany and Hay for tea.  I made scones.  Squiffany was very complimentary about them.  Charming girl.

Wednesday 19 December 2012

Z accepts the inev

I've wrapped the presents.  I'm vaguely disappointed as it's usually done somewhere near midnight on Christmas Eve whilst I eye the whisky left by the fire for Father Christmas, wondering if he'd mind if I had a swig.  But everything has been bought so they might as well be wrapped.

We are organising a whole-family get-together, which at present seems to be likely to be on the 1st January.  We're waiting to hear from Ro and Dora, who are the only ones going to have a jolly on New Year's Eve so may be disconcerted to find they are asked to be out of the house and on the road by noon or so the next day.

Talking of Father Christmas, I realise that the contest is lost, he's irredeemably Santa.  Not even Santa Claus.  I can't bring myself to say it myself, but I've given in.  In the same way, it's Thomas the Tank, uni ... look, I've nothing against abbreviations in principle* obv, but I like them to make sense.  So, whilst While Shepherds Watched is okay, In the Bleak and Once in Royal are not.  Anyway, Santa - children think it's his name, so it is.

The other thing I did today was to turn out the main food cupboard in the kitchen.  I found all sorts of things.  I threw away some of them.  I have resolved to buy no more pasta until I've at least used up the opened packets.  It's slightly unfortunate that it was only yesterday that I bought some spaghetti and penne, but never mind.  I won't need to buy coffee for a while either.  On the other hand, I was a bit dismayed to discover that there's not a chocolate biscuit in the house.  It's not that I eat chocolate biscuits, but it's good to know that they're there in case of emergency.

*waves at AQ

Tuesday 18 December 2012

Land ho

Watching the programme Wartime Farm Christmas on BBC2 reminds me of something my mother used to say after her experience working as a Land Girl during the war.  "The hedger and ditcher is the most important man on the farm!"  Good to see the job being marked as vital on the programme too.

Squiffany and Pugsley had, respectively, Brownies and karate tonight so, after Pugsley's nativity play in the church (he was a shepherd) they came here for tea.  I got back at 3.15 and it dawned on me that I'd made no preparations at all.  Their mother had said I needn't worry as they'd had school dinner so only needed a snack.  All the same...

Eggs on to boil, sugar, more eggs, flour, butter, baking powder and vanilla essence in a bowl, beaten, put into paper cases and in the oven.  Squiff and Pugs arrived in time to help with that bit.  Into the oven, shell and mash the eggs, make sandwiches, also cheese sandwiches, remove cakes from oven, make glacé icing (icing sugar, water, slightly too much cochineal), spread on top, add sugar sprinkles.  Make drinks for children, tea for the rest of us, open pack of Hula Hoops.

4 o'clock.  Serve tea.

4.10.  Make more egg sandwiches (I had reserved surplus eggs for tonight's fish pie, but we did without), as Dilly and the Sage were scoffing them too.  Open more packs of Hula Hoops.

4.20.  Make more tea.

It all seemed to go quite well.  Dilly said that I make the best cakes, which rather surprised me (and pleased me no end) as I don't do a lot of baking any more.

I was just remembering (again, as a response to the same programme) the time when my mother took pottery evening classes at L'toft college.  Some 40 years ago, evening classes were very popular.  Wink and I did motor maintenance, being of a practical bent.   The Sage started to reminisce about the College Principal, but I didn't know the one he spoke of, except by name.  I said he must have retired by the time my mother was on the town council, the one I knew slightly had a surname beginning with B but there was no hope of my remembering it.

And then I did.  Alan Boddy.  I've always thought that no one will notice when I lose my marbles because I've got such an abysmal memory already.  But maybe they will.

Monday 17 December 2012

Z ticks boxes

The speech has been delivered, having been written last week, rewritten last night and again this morning.  I might just as well have left it to the deadline and got it right first time.

I had to open an account with German Amazon today, to send a present from Elle to her father.  It's a long story and let's not bother with it.  I thought I could bluff my way through reading a number of languages - well no, I can, just not German. Or Dutch or Flemish come to that, and I think I detect a linguistic theme.  I remember visiting Weeza when she was working in Brussels and we went out for dinner and I couldn't read the menu at all.  I had rather expected it to be written in at least two languages but it was only in Flemish and I couldn't decipher anything to speak of.  Well, to speak of, blimey, I wasn't going to even try to pronounce any of it.  I pointed and hoped I wasn't ordering horse.  It was very nice actually and not a bit horsey.

Anyway, I had great difficulty in getting started because, although I was able to work out that I needed to fill in my name, address and phone number, I couldn't quite cope with my country.  Look, how was I to guess the German for United Kingdom?  You may know it's Vereinigtes Königreich but I saw no clue in the name at all at the time, although now, with the benefit of hindsight, it seems quite a bit more obvious.   And then I had to work out how to put in another delivery address from my own.  I got quite agitated.  By the time it was finally done, I had little time to scuttle upstairs and put on the Smart yet Appropriate Frock for the Prizegiving, and it was a jolly good job I'd already printed out the speech and put it in my handbag, or I'd have had to ad lib. I'm slightly concerned that I might have signed up for a trial of Amazon Prime in German, but I hope not.  I'll ask Elle to check it out when I see her.

I seem to have done most of my Christmas shopping, almost without noticing.  I spent five minutes in a shop in the town and cleared up the last three people - well, apart from the Sage and he's impossible so doesn't count.  There are only three options for him: clothes, china or vesta cases.  I've given him china for the last two years and I think I'll buy him a new coat.  He doesn't wear enough and it makes me feel cold.

Sunday 16 December 2012

Z thanks the Bishop

I shouldn't be grumbly, so you'll have the pleasure, hem hem, of another post tonight.

The Bishop called.  Not here, at the church.  There are suffragan bishops and diocesan bishops, the latter being senior in rank - to the extent there's a hierarchy, I don't understand it.  It was confusing enough at my Catholic primary school when they tried to explain the difference between seraph, cherub  and angel.   It didn't sink in, I thought for some time that a seraph was different from *a* seraphim.

Anyway, Bishop Alan turned out to be a jolly good sort (he's been in post a couple of years or more but I hadn't met him before) and he understood how to programme the church boiler.  The churchwarden had tried to do it yesterday but had somehow managed to convince the system that today was Monday and I couldn't change it back.  He could.  Good man.  He was, quite rightly, impressed with the quality of refreshments - proper coffee and really nice home-made food.

I have no idea why anyone serves poor tea and coffee.  Stewed tea and the cheapest instant coffee made too weak are nasty.  The Fellow (my former fellow-churchwarden, neither of us being in that position now) used to say "Good coffee is part of Mission!"  I'm not really into mission, but I am into decent coffee.

Tonight, I cooked dinner rather early.  Butternut squash risotto and sausages.  Once the three and a half remaining squashes are eaten, that's the rest of this year's food crop apart from the Jerusalem artichokes.    Al, with Dilly's brothers-in-law, took out the rest of the furniture from the bungalow tonight.  There must be more stuff left as they haven't returned the keys yet, but I think the big stuff has gone.  The bungalow is too far from us to hear them, so we won't really be aware of their absence.  Still, end of an era.  

Z might as well get the Christmas grumble out of the way early

My mother used to go to a huge amount of trouble with the Christmas meal.  As a result, I simplified things down ... well no, I didn't really, it just seemed less fuss than when I was a child.

It started several days before Christmas Day with the Decorating of the Table.  She always used an elaborate layout with red and green satin, lots of flowers and candles and it was very pretty.  Afterwards we ate at a small table in the study or on our knees in the sitting room because the dining room was out of bounds.  And on the day itself, she spent the entire day in the kitchen getting hot and flustered, except for the brief moments she allowed herself to eat or when, much later in the day than Wink and I wanted, presents were opened.

I've said in previous years that people were always invited for the day, elderly people who lived alone and did not have relations to go to, and usually my grandfather came to stay too.  So in the morning, our father went off to fetch them whilst Wink and I helped prepare vegetables and so on.  By this time, the massive turkey had been in the oven for some time, while a whole ham on the bone was simmering and so was the Christmas pudding that had been made for us by our cook from Weymouth hotel days, Mr Dyke.

The thing is, a roast is the easiest meal to prepare for a lot of people.  You shove it in the oven, having weighed it and written down the cooking time.  You've prepared and inserted the stuffings already of course, and there's plenty of time to parboil the potatoes if it wasn't done the day before, get the bacon and chipolatas ready to go in the oven and so on.  It's all a matter of having a time-plan and remembering to put everything on it.  And if something was forgotten, then forget it altogether.  There's too much food anyway, who cares?

My ma did.  Looking back, I can see why the food took a long time to cook, but not why she had to spend the whole day in the kitchen.  The first course was tinned consommé, for goodness sake, with a generous slosh of sherry (this counted as sophisticated in the mid-1960s).  It was quite sensible actually, the vegetables could cook while you were eating it but it didn't fill you up at all.  Then the turkey (which had a dreadfully dry breast, she was an excellent cook normally so I don't understand) and ham (gorgeous) and everything else, and then a pudding that had looked after itself for about three hours, then a Stilton.

It was quite boring for Wink and me, because Daddy kept out of the way of the bevy of old ladies and we weren't allowed to open presents.  So we sat there being polite for several hours while they drank sherry and bickered gently.  After we'd eaten, they bickered again as they compared presents while we watched Disney Time.

So, when I had children, I wanted it to be different and I wrote a time plan that scheduled in break times to be with the family.  I accepted help if the Sage offered, which was usually peeling potatoes (yay!) and otherwise just checked the oven at appointed times. I'd prepared veg the day before, it was simple.  For a few years, Weeza didn't eat meat so I made a separate meal for her.  The first course might be wontons or blini or something like that, which were made on Christmas morning.  And for the past 20-something years, I've scheduled in playing the organ for the service at 10 o'clock too.  And none of us wanted more than a mouthful of the pudding, so I always made another dessert to go with it.  But there was always a couple of hours, in chunks, to stop work and be with the family, because that was what we all wanted.

I can only assume, however, that it wasn't what she wanted.  Otherwise, why would a superb hostess be red-faced and flustered in the kitchen for hours when I, admittedly efficient but much less practised, could spare hours of my time to be with my children?

I have to say, however, that Weeza's memories aren't the same as mine.  Because when I had my half-hour breaks, we'd open a couple of presents and I reckoned that would enable them to appreciate what they had, and I'd not miss out on the fun.  But what she remembers is the pile of presents that was not opened until noon, when champagne was opened and the blini or whatever served.

The last few years, we've been invited to the family, either Weeza's or Al's.  This year, I'm doing it again, but there will only be four of us, me and the Sage and Ro and Dora.  We've decided on roast pork, because Dora, who had never eaten crackling until I served it to her (her family background is Muslim, though she has no particular religion), adores it.  We'll have the proper Christmas roast beef (turkey, pah!) another day when we're all together.

Saturday 15 December 2012

Z goes from dairy to diary

I'm afraid I'm stealing an idea again, this time from Tim's post about diaries.  Thank you, Tim.  You thought so that I didn't have to.

I have always been quite specific about my requirement in a diary.  A week to view with 4 days on one side of the page, three on the other (every day has the same amount of space) and the last section for notes.  Slim enough to go in a handbag but big enough to be able to get several appointments in per day.  It's not necessarily that I have lots of appointments every day, but that it's so easy to forget details. My mother, for example, regularly used to say something like "Have I told you what I'm supposed to be doing on Thursday darling, because I've got EL, Norwich, 10.30 and I have no idea what it's about."  So whole names and specific places and a reminder of what I had to take or do, which takes a fair bit of space.

This wasn't necessarily that difficult to find, but it wasn't the only requirement.  I plan ahead, sometimes by several months.  So a diary that started in January and ended in December was useless, I needed overlap.  Ideally, a diary should include the whole of December, so that I could do the changeover early, and finish at the end of January or later, because I'd have quite a bit to write in by then.  I've got engagements on 19 days in January so far, for example, and 12 in February, and I'm not as busy as people with a proper job.  I never managed to find a diary that gave that much scope, though.

It wasn't bad when my mother had an account with Coutts.  They had jolly good diaries, and actually she had two accounts so received two diaries and gave the spare to me.  It came as close as I ever found to my requirements and was the right size and thickness.  But it all became too expensive in the end, it's a sad day when you can't afford your banker any more - and it wasn't the same when they'd been taken over by Nat West, in any case.

So I used to spend ages leafing through all the diaries in the shop and what I bought was always a compromise.

Buying an iPhone and discovering the diary was a happy day.  Not only could I set it up to repeat regular events so that I didn't have to write them all in individually, but it all backed up on to the computer so that, in the event that my handbag was stolen (this happened once about 20 years ago: fortunately in October so that my year wasn't a complete bewilderment, only a couple of months of it), I didn't lose a single appointment.  To a belt, braces and bailer twine woman like me, this was immensely reassuring.

For the first year, I carried a paper diary too, because I have to acknowledge that it's quicker to jot something down than type it in, on a phone's keypad at any rate.  But I couldn't be bothered to fill it in very often, so it was never up to date, and I haven't bought one since.  Life is so much simpler now.

Friday 14 December 2012

Ho, ho, oh

Wink has arrived on her Father Christmas run.  She's just here for one night, with Weeza and co tomorrow and then home again.  She's marvellous, such a darling to go to the effort, she had a dreadful journey in the rain.

Elle has been away for a couple of weeks and called in to pick up and wrap some presents for her family that she had ordered over the internet.  We're planning to go to Norwich tomorrow to see The Hobbit.

The Sage has been off on the train today visiting old and close friends and distributing presents.

I've done housework and not a lot else.  What else I have done was mostly chillin'.

Al and Dilly's house purchase has gone through and they are moving over the weekend.  The Sage and I will rattle around like marbles in a steel drum.  Still, we're both the solitary types.  He has already declared that my piano can go through into the bungalow so that I won't bother him - politely, he didn't say the last bit, but that was what he meant.  I offered to move through there entirely, but he didn't quite want me to do that.

I have picked up a milk bottle for Blue Witch.  If anyone else would like one, let me know.  I think they would make attractive storage containers, I will acquire a few more.

Very sadly, a calf was stillborn here today, a breech birth that was unexpectedly early, though this seems to have been a mistake in terms of dates (not the farmer's mistake, what he was told) rather than prematurity.  The mother seems okay, she had a rough time though.  When I went to the farm to tell Jonny about the cow in trouble, I managed to wade through some slurry and I think my trainers will be whiffy forever more.  I don't mind the smell of cow myself, but I might not make friends.  Still, dogs will like me.

Chuffed! Granny's grin of triumph...

...when she got the baby to sleep, when everyone else had failed.
Yes, it's dark.  It was past his bedtime, we were on our way home from York on a steam train.

Now drinking whisky and Lapsang Souchong and eating Stilton and oatcakes.  Will I sleep afterwards?  It's *maybe* every night, so it makes little difference what I eat and drink.

I may be back later, darlings, but Wink is arriving at lunchtime, so jollity overload could happen and short-circuit blogging until tomorrow.

Thursday 13 December 2012

New from the farm

Jonny has had these bottles commissioned for the sale of milk fresh from the farm.  Very cool.

Wednesday 12 December 2012

Tuning in

Pixie Mum was talking about a change in her listening habits, and I could say much the same, although this change happened quite some time ago.  When my children were little and the Sage worked full time, I didn't listen to the radio all that much because I prefer the speaking voice to music channels on the whole, and was far too polite to listen to Radio 4 when I should be giving my attention to my babies.  But I did listen while I was cooking in the evenings, and once Al and Weeza went to school I listened to the radio much of the day.  There were a couple of programmes on Radio Norfolk I liked too, but then the presenters went to jobs in television and their replacements weren't nearly as good, so I didn't bother with the station after that.

When I was in my teens, it was the pirate radio stations and Radio 1 much of the time, when I was in my room at any rate.  Like many teenagers, I reckoned that I couldn't concentrate on my homework if the place was silent, so it was music all the way.  Downstairs - goodness, when did Radio 4 start?  I remember the Home and the Light stations, though I'm not sure what programmes were on which. But the radio was on a lot of the time.  All the stuff that's still being repeated on Radio 4 Extra, from the Goons to the Archers, My Word to the Navy Lark.  And music - I suppose a lot of people of my age remember Sing Something Simple and suchlike.  H'm.  I don't remember thinking much of it then, have no idea whether it was as dreary as my memory recalls - it carried on for years so it can't have been all bad?  It must have been my father's choice, because after he died the radio was played rather less, though my mother liked the comedy and quiz shows at lunchtime and early evening.

My father was the Archers fan, not she, though I listened to it from soon after I got married to a couple of years ago, nearly, when Nigel was arbitrarily killed off and I stopped - not because it was ruined without him as because the producer rather cynically killing off a favourite character to mark an anniversary of the show made me think, Alice-like, "But they're nothing but a pack of cards."  Not that I'd 'believed' in them, but the courtesy of illusion and the suspense of disbelief was broken.  I catch a bit of it sometimes, but it doesn't engage me any longer and if any of the drearier characters is on, I switch straight off.

So, while the Sage was at work and I was a housewife at home - this is about 30 years ago - I had the radio on all day more or less and I really enjoyed it.  But then he sold his partnership in his full-time auctioneering business and struck out entirely on his own, and then we moved here and we decided that he'd semi-retire and work as much as he needed to for enjoyment and income, but to have a simple lifestyle that didn't need much of the latter.  And I'll come back to that another day, but stick to the point here, which is the radio.

Because, that almost finished off my radio-listening, except while I was cooking dinner in the evenings, because the Sage was mostly about - which also made me a much less efficient housewife, by the way, but that would also be a digression.  Again, it didn't seem polite to be engrossed in a radio programme (he wasn't interested in it) when he was with me.  In addition, and I wonder if anyone else has noticed this too, people don't think it matters if they interrupt your listening.  So, if I was cooking or ironing or whatever and listening to a programme, and the Sage or maybe my mother (who lived next door by this time) came in, they would start talking straight away - and how is it that this always happens at a crucial point? If the television is on, it is more of a presence in the room and people look to see if it's a good time to speak, but music or radio is disregarded.

I could carry on about the peculiar things that happen in the name of 'comedy' on Radio 4 now, but I'll only depress us all.  

Tuesday 11 December 2012

Jane leaves the Land Army

I'm trying to remember if there were other stories about working on the farm, but I can't think of them.  A few anecdotes, perhaps - like the time she went to visit an old chap who gave her a glass of his cowslip wine.  As I said yesterday, she didn't drink alcohol normally but this tasted quite innocuous and she accepted a glass or two more - and went home rolling drunk!

Then there was the time she and the men were sitting down in the field for lunch.  "What you got, Fred?" someone asked an old codger (who was probably younger than I am, come to think of it).  Fred inspected the meagre contents of his sandwich sourly.  "Piece of bread, cut with a hammy knife," he said - which entered the family phrase book.

I'm not even sure how long she was in the Land Army, now I come to think about it.  It's a funny thing, she had so many stories about her early life, but they were always the same ones and it's only been in the last few years - since she hasn't been about to ask - that I've realised how many gaps there are.

Hang on, I can work some of it out.  She'd have been 18 when she went in, I suppose, if she was coming up to 16 when the war started, left school the next summer because education had just about come to a dead halt and went to secretarial college for another year, and then volunteered before she was called up.  So it must have been two or three years, because I do know what happened next.

As I said, she was stoical about pain, and sympathy for ailments wasn't forthcoming in any case, so she endured the pain she was in until it became unbearable.  As a result of that, by the time she was taken to hospital, her appendix was in a bad state and it was a tricky operation that she took some while to recover from.

And it wasn't long after that when she caught measles, and I know she was aged 21 then.  She was living back with her father then, which was just as well because she was terribly ill.  She said she was blind for three days, delirious and very ill indeed, and the doctor called twice a day.  Though I'm not sure what good that did, it must have reassured her father.  Remarkably, her sight recovered completely - she had excellent sight, far better than mine ever was, and she was well into middle age before she needed reading glasses and never needed them for distance.

This must have been in 1945, if she was born in November 1923.  The doctor said that she had to take a long break from farm work while she convalesced, and then the war ended anyway, so she never went back.  I suppose her things were packed up for her and sent on - she was surprised to be told to send all her uniform back to *wherever* - the Ministry of ... look, I don't know, this isn't a carefully researched article, it's just me waffling as usual.  Anyway, I'm not waffling at random, the point is that her badge was missing, and when she'd sent off her rather worn out breeches and belt and shirt and so on, they pointed out that, if she couldn't produce it, she had to pay for it.  She wasn't entirely thrilled about that, but she refused to pay and they didn't press the point.

I wish I had some photos of her when she was a girl, but I'm afraid not.  In later years, my grandfather lost his sight and he decided to get rid of all ephemera.  My mother, who was about forty by this time, was very upset when his housekeeper told her that he'd had a bonfire and burned all the photos and other papers from her childhood and pre-marriage youth, including pictures of her grandparents and parents.  I know what her grandmother - her father's mother - looked like because I have her portrait (one of those portrait-sized photographs, coloured up) but all I know of her beloved grandfather is that his blue eyes twinkled when he was about to tell a joke.

Monday 10 December 2012

Young Jane, the Land Army, over here

I said that Jane would have nothing to do with the black market and she wasn't tempted either by the American servicemen who seemed to be able to offer everything a girl might be tempted by - stockings, chocolate, a good time.  The English boys didn't have much money to spare and no access to those sort of treats.  But in any case, she didn't ever mention any romantic attachments at that time and I'm fairly sure there weren't any.  She used to go to the village hops (dances) but she was careful of her reputation, she neither smoked nor drank and she wouldn't have let any of the lads 'go too far,' she was never that sort of woman all her life.

All the same, they were great fun and she reminisced with pleasure about the social life at the weekends.  If it gives a flavour of the innocence, she said they particularly enjoyed walking home through a ploughed field, one foot in the furrow and the other on the ridge, bobbing up and down until they almost fell over with laughter.

The farmer was a young man called Bobby, who had inherited the farm from his father - mother was still fit and well and ran the house and farmyard.  Bobby would have volunteered, but had poor sight and was more use to the war effort where he was.  Jane and Bobby were good friends,  but there was nothing else between them and I don't think that she would have got on with his mother, who was tough and unsentimental - it was she who wouldn't give her an alternative to bacon.

There was a dreadful accident once, when there was a young woman staying on the farm.  I can't remember why, because I seem to recollect she was American and I can't think how she'd have come to be in England at that time.  She was lovely apparently, a pretty, laughing girl, and she loved riding.  But one day, out for a ride with Bobby, she fell off her horse.  She landed hard and Bobby was concerned and said they should turn back and wanted to walk back with her, but she laughed and remounted and said she was fine.  But she wasn't.  She fell again.  "I have hurt myself this time", she said, and she fainted.  Bobby had to leave her on the ground and galloped back for help.  She died in hospital later.

The coroner was critical of Bobby, who blamed himself too, but there wasn't much he could have done.  He could have left her after the first fall and gone for help, but she insisted she was fine.  I'm not sure whether it was a fractured skull or a subarachnoid haemorrhage, but it's quite likely it would have killed her, whatever he'd done.  To make things as much worse as they could possibly be, she had been an only child.

Although Jane was strong, she wasn't that robust, because she suffered badly from migraines.  She wouldn't often have been given time off for a 'sick headache' though, she remembered being literally sick with pain and then carrying on with her work again.  There were several hot summers in the 1940s and she wasn't good in the sun, she had a fair skin and didn't do well in the heat.  But she was immensely stoical and had a high pain threshold, so just kept going.

Sunday 9 December 2012


I forgot to add this photo that I took a couple of days ago.  Artificial light, poor quality, but the point is, look into my eyes, darlings.  They match!  Well, better than they have for years, anyway.  No blob on my eyelid!  No makeup either then, but I'm wearing the facepaint again now, thank goodness.  I had several caring enquiries about why was I looking so tired?  I need artificial aid.

Z and the Sage look forward

I've spent the weekend looking after the Sage.  Which means feeding him, in truth, because that's how a lot of men feel cared for.  And let's face it, to the majority of men, that means pudding.  So he got steamed jam pudding and custard last night and scones for tea today.  And, having just finished a very delicious (sorry, is that boasting?) beef stew, I've got some lovely raspberry pavlova ice cream in the freezer.

There's a bit of judgement about a sweet tooth, don't you think?  Those who like savoury foods best tend to look down, so often, on those who love sweets.  I think it's a matter of perceived sophistication, and I haven't a vast amount of patience with anyone who thinks their taste is better than someone else's.  Some of my family are glad that I quietly add a little lemonade to their glass of champagne because they think it makes it taste better, and that seems fine with me.

The other thing that people are a bit judgemental about is the lark and owl thing.  It's a fact that some love to get up early and others are best at night, so like to sleep in.  So?

I wish I was better in the morning, I love the dawn, but I wake up in the evenings, those who see me only during the day don't see me at my most enthusiastic.  And if given the choice, I'll choose savoury, but that doesn't mean I haven't got a sweet tooth too.  So I'll sit right on the fence and I like what you like.  I know, what a creep.

Anyway, the other thing I was going to mention was that I said to the Sage last night, shall we have another blog party next year?  And he said he'd like to.  So - well, I hope so, and I hope you can come. I love having made friends through blogging, it's a completely unexpected benefit.  

Saturday 8 December 2012

Young Jane - the Land Army - pig

The hardest job was harvesting the roots.  This happened in the autumn, of course, when it was chilly and the earth had turned wet and slippery.  You had to pull them up, chop off the leaves and toss them aside to be loaded.  After that was done, the work on the field lessened for the winter.  On the other hand, the livestock took more time.  I remember a while ago that a farmer friend of mine told me that it takes an extra minute per cow to wash her udders for milking when she's muddy.

The autumn was also the time for the pig to be slaughtered for the winter.  Jane was very soft-hearted and loved animals, but bacon was the mainstay of the winter diet on the farm, so she simply avoided the pig.  But one summer day, she went past its sty and it was standing on hind legs, front trotters on the gate, and she couldn't resist.  She went over and scratched it behind the ears, gave it something to eat, talked to it ... and she was scuppered.  She couldn't eat a mouthful of pork or bacon that winter.  She said that she was starving, resorting to searching for berries and crabapples in the hedgerows.  The farmer's mother thought she was silly to be so sentimental, wouldn't let her have anything as an alternative (I have no idea, you'd think that she'd be given extra potato and they'd be glad she wasn't eating the meat as it'd be more for everyone else) and she went hungry.

She despised the black market, by the way.  She swapped coupons - did you get coupons for cigarettes, or would it have been sweets? - with an old man for his clothing coupons, but she never had an illicit pair of stockings or even food.  The Sage's mother, with three young children, had a telephone code with a farmer friend when there was a little extra butter or a few eggs, but Jane wouldn't have dreamed of it.  

Thursday 6 December 2012

100 sheep and a cow

Some years ago, one of the subjects up for debate at the WI AGM was the introduction of compulsory identity cards.  I was on the committee of the local branch at the time and I said 'My mum will tell the story of the sheep and the policeman."  And so she did.

I should explain that societies discuss the motions chosen for debate, vote and their delegates go to the AGM, which I think are held in the Albert Hall, but if I'm wrong someone will correct me.  It takes up the whole of the May meeting, so we don't have a lecture or whatever that day.  I say 'we' but I haven't been a member for several years, though I'll start going again some time, I daresay.

To set the scene - it was high summer and a blistering hot day.  Jane had to move a flock of sheep from one field to another some way down the road.  The sheepdog rounded them up and they set off.  Along came PC Jobsworth, wanting to see her identity card.  She was wearing - well, I don't know, but it can't have been her breeches, must have been a skirt because she didn't have pockets and so she couldn't produce her card.  It was the local copper, he knew her and, as she said, even the most determined spy wouldn't be likely to round up 100 sheep with a dog and drive them down the road.  But he wouldn't listen, and bent her ear for a considerable time, while she had to watch the sheep wandering in all directions.

The point was, of course, that the person most inconvenience by id cards is the honest citizen.

She was good with animals.  I've already mentioned the horses and that she took particular, justified pride in driving a cartload of hay through a gateway where any error would mean disaster.  The cows liked being milked by her too.  Hand-milking, of course.  She was gentle and knew the personality of each cow.  One was knows as a kicker though, timing her kick to when the pail was nearly full for maximum disaster.  And it was inevitable, Jane was caught one day.  Over went the pail and over went Jane, flat on her back.  "You sod!" she exclaimed - which went all over the neighbourhood, no one had ever heard her swear before.

Wednesday 5 December 2012

Young Jane - I've lost count - the Land Army part 1

Jane was determined that she would do anything the men could do, and just as well.  She was not a beefy girl, but she was strong and never gave up.  She was, I'm afraid, a bit contemptuous about Landgirls from towns, who came along expecting to feed chickens and collect eggs and didn't realise what hard work farming was.  They were teased by the men, these girls, but not unkindly - a typical joke would be to send one to shut the five-barred gate to keep the draught out.

Being small and wiry, she was sometimes at an advantage.  Most of the labourers were too old to be called up, but they were all experienced farm hands.  One tip she soon learned was, when hoeing rows of vegetables or harvesting crops individually (such as turnips), don't compete with your neighbours but find your own rhythm.  So let your neighbour carry on while you stand erect to ease your back, or take a drink of water, and then don't try to catch up.  You'll both work more efficiently, though there's no harm in being near enough to carry on a conversation.

There was a tractor and various mechanical aids, but a lot of the work was done by hand or with a horse.  One early mistake was in sowing corn one spring.  Being careful to keep the rows straight (you fix your eye on something in the hedge at the end of the row, a splash of colour or a distinctive branch), she didn't leave the final row uncovered and so the next morning, though she knew roughly where it was, she couldn't start parallel to it.  Of course, it happened to be on a slope visible from the main road and her shame was on show for the whole year - the farmer was teased more than she was, however.

She used to choose a short-handled hoe which the men scorned to try.  It was a convenient height and she was able to speed along the rows faster than anyone else.

She used to talk about the harvest, when the dust and chaff got into everything.  Even tying a scarf around her face didn't keep it out of her nose and everyone would sneeze in the evenings.  It was a dirty, dusty job, but the satisfaction of adding to the war effort - far more than she would have as a pen-pusher in an office - and helping to keep the country fed was consolation for that.

Tuesday 4 December 2012

Jane, but still not the Land Army

I'm slightly perturbed by the fact that I'm ticking off meetings but building up follow-up work, and not sure why the latter doesn't bother me.  Still, all work will get done soon, I'm not behind schedule yet.  And tomorrow afternoon we're going to see Al and co's new house, which the present owners have already left so it's empty waiting for them to move in.

I was fairly lucky regarding morning sickness.  I felt pretty rough for the first few months when I was expecting Weeza and lost half a stone, so my final weight of 10 stone was actually only a gain of about 20 pounds.  I ended up at the same weight when I was pregnant with Al, but gained an extra half stone in my 'practice makes perfect' pregnancy with Ro.  However, it shifted quickly enough, I never had any difficulty in snapping right back to a slim waistline.

My mother had a different experience, and would have a great deal of sympathy with Katie Kambridge.  She was dreadfully sick through much of her pregnancies.  If she'd had babies a few years later, she'd certainly have been offered thalidomide - but she'd not have taken it.  Like me, she was ultra-cautious regarding any drugs.

Remarkably, few people knew she was even pregnant.  She and my father ran a hotel in Weymouth at the time Wink and I were born, so of course sales reps used to call regularly.  She told us of one, who called every three months and was surprised to see a baby in a pram.  "Looking after it for a friend?" "No, she's mine."  "Oh, you've adopted, congratulations."  "Thank you, but she's really my own baby!"  She was worst affected by her first pregnancy and hardly put on any weight at all, remarkable as Wink weighed 9 lbs 8 oz.  She did need to go up a size, from 12 to 14 when I was on the way, but then I was a hulking 10-pounder.  Re-markable.  Everyone thought I'd be a six-footer.

I've been distinctly ashamed of having weighed more during my mid-forties to mid-fifties than when I was 9 months pregnant with Ro.  But it's gone.  It mustn't come back.  Nag me, loves, if necessary, won't you?  Thanks.

Monday 3 December 2012

The pat test

Tim Footman gave a link to this splendid website, and it's impossible to resist trying everything on it.  I've got a marvellously appalling letter from someone at the county council - it wasn't actually written to me but forwarded: unfortunately it's a PDF that can't be copied and pasted, because I'm quite sure it would almost go off the bullshit scale.  I could type it in, I suppose, but it hardly seems worth it.  I tried a rather more innocuous letter from one of his colleagues and it came up with a score of 85 and a comment "This reeks."

Today, I wore my contact lens for the first time in a fortnight.  I also ventured to apply makeup, though not mascara.  I seem to have managed being barefaced and bespectacled without feeling too self-conscious, though I have been asked a couple of times if I'm particularly tired, so it seems that the face-paint is an improvement.  Liberating for once in a way, not caring what I look like.  Not that I'm particularly vain, or I don't think I am -  that's probably not true.  We all have our vanities.

Squiffany spent much of the day here.  She caught the sickness bug that's been going around, but Al and Dilly had an appointment with their solicitor about the buying of their house.   She lay palely in an armchair all morning, but revived by lunchtime and felt well enough to eat, and afterwards to play card and board games with me.  It was really lovely to have her to myself for a while ... once she felt better of course, poor little love.  It's a short-lived bug, only 12 hours - assuming she didn't succumb again this evening, of course.  Some of Elle's friends have caught it too, so I hope she doesn't, nor the Sage and I. She's due to go and stay with another family on Thursday and we won't see much of her for the rest of the year.  It'll be far too quiet, just the Sage and me.

15.  Only a few examples of bullshit English.  I wonder what they are?

Sunday 2 December 2012

Where seldom is heard a disparaging* word...

I was going to talk about Jane in the Land Army, but I'm distracted today by hearing about the daughter of friends, a girl about Ro's age who got married a year or so ago, who is heavily pregnant and quite ill.  The baby is due at Christmas, but the mother-to-be has a thrombosis which can't be treated fully until the baby has been delivered, but they're reluctant to operate because of the extra risk incurred with the DVT.  But she's feeling so exhausted and unwell that her mother hardly feels she's capable of going through labour.  I can only begin to imagine how anxious they must all be and I'm so sorry for them.

I did my normal ineffectual-blue-arsed-fly impression this morning, though all started well.  Elle was planning to go to Norwich with a friend, but Sie (you see, Elle's name starts with L and Sie's with C.  Clever, eh?) has been ill with a stomach bug the last few days so it seemed unlikely to happen.  So I said I'd take Elle and she could get the bus back.  But we were just about to leave when we got the message that Sie was better and would come after all.  So I relaxed and didn't do anything for a bit.  I was just about to leave for church when another phone call came.  Sie couldn't find her way through Yagnub, because the road was closed for the annual Christmas Fair.  It was simpler to take Elle into town than describe how to get through it (round the roundabout, down Bridge Street, left into Nethergate Street, left into Broad Street, right into Popson Street, across the junction into Scale Street, left into Outney Road and turn right over the bridge).  We went out and I locked up.  Oh!  I'd forgotten the milk and biscuits.  I unlocked and went back for them.  Driving into town, I remembered I'd forgotten my clarinet too.  So I had to go back after dropping Elle off and fetch it.  Arriving at the church (the adjoining church rooms are used in the winter to save on heating costs) at 10.55 for an 11 o'clock service when you've coffee to prepare for and music to set up is cutting it fine, but people always help, don't they?  And one of the hymns had a tune I wasn't expecting and had never played (I was mixing it up with another one), so it might have been a good idea to look at the music in advance.  Still, no matter.  I may not be much of a clarinettist these days, but I can sight-read a hymn.  Aberystwyth, if you're wondering.  I'd rather play it than spell it, in truth.

And then I made coffee and someone else washed up while I dried and we debated whether anyone would come to the 8 o'clock service next week and whether to cancel it.  Enquiries will be made and I'll be told.

We said goodbye to Anthony and Sally, who are moving to Devon.  They are lovely friends and we'll miss them a lot.  I know few people as kind and can't imagine anyone kinder.  I've never heard them say a disparaging word about anyone.

*I know, it's not a quote.

Saturday 1 December 2012

Z the man-pleaser.

It was very cold this morning and we had two men working outside the house.  Hourly mugs of tea seemed to be in order.  The Sage was going to Norwich with friend-with-a-chainsaw to remove some trees from Ro's garden - planted too close to the house, they were not very attractive and darkened the house.  As he left, he suggested sausages for lunch might be in order - for the workers, that is.

I'd had an egg for breakfast, perfectly poached.  It's easy to get good results with a new-laid egg, difficult otherwise, impossible if it's more than a few days old.  Elle came down a bit later and I cooked her egg and bacon.  Then I went out and offered to cook sausages.  They demurred a bit until they saw I meant it, and then accepted.  Four sausages each and a stack of fried potatoes later, they took their fourth mugs of tea outside with them.

During the course of the day, six mugfuls each.

We went out for supper with Al, Dilly and the children.  All very jolly and the children were perfectly behaved.  Well, all of us were, not just the juniors.  They're due to move house in less than three weeks so we want to spend some time together.  They're planning to buy new beds and various things which is useful, as we're going to furnish the bungalow and can use what they leave, or most of it.

Friday 30 November 2012

There are times when Z becomes introspective and is better ignored until the feeling passes

It was a lovely party and I saw several old friends whom I hadn't spoken to for a long time.  I sat between Betty, who is 91 and Mary, who's aged 90.  They both looked very well, but I know they're not.  They put a brave face above their painfully ageing bodies.  A couple of friends (there were over 50 of us there) had changed and looked very old.  I've known most of these people for over 20 years, we've all got older together, though I'm the youngest of this group of friends, and because we've all aged we don't see it in each other.  But...well, Florence, whom I hadn't seen since her 100th birthday party in August last year, hadn't changed.  A couple of others, who I saw a few months ago, didn't look the same women.  So, whilst it was a delight in so many ways, and it was enormously thoughtful of Marian, whose birthday it will be in 5 weeks, to get us all together, there was a valedictory air (I had an attack of imagination, something I can normally avoid).  Some of us will not be alive this time next year, I know it.

Of course, that could be said of any one of us anyway.  Ho hum.  Ignore me, darlings, I did have a great time this afternoon but it's left me feeling a little melancholy.

I do rather love old people, though.  I feel a great warmth towards them - well, that is, I don't think that age really matters all that much, old or young, or it shouldn't.  And if you're with someone who is old, especially who lives alone, do touch them.  Nothing inappropriate of course, but so many people miss the warmth of affectionate human contact.  There was a lovely old man to whom I used to deliver Meals on Wheels, who always wanted a hug.  I remember once, he didn't want to let me go, and I heard him mutter "this is what I want, this is what I want."  He didn't do anything to make me feel awkward, he was a kind old man who missed being hugged.

I don't mind getting old.  I do hope that I never become argumentative or feel the need always to be right, or become grouchy.  But I might, sometimes you can't help it.

Thursday 29 November 2012

Z is musselbound

I suppose it was inevitable, having mentioned it - I've eaten more bread today than I have for weeks, though it was only a couple of slices.  I just couldn't face plain yoghurt for breakfast this morning, so ate a slice of dry toast instead.  And, since the Sage was out and I visited the market today where there is a splendid fish stall (a different fishmonger calls on Mondays), I was tempted by mussels.  I also bought trout and squid, come to that, something is going to have to go in the freezer as I went to the butcher too.  I got a bit carried away.

Anyway, mussels.  The Sage is a moulefree zone, so I generally eat them when he's out.  In fact, I deliberately plan nice meals when he's away because I don't react to being lonely by being sorry for myself, which is just silly.  I buy something I like and he doesn't, so it works out for the best.  Sometimes, I cook a new recipe, especially if it's spicy, so that I can gauge whether it needs toning down for him.

It was quite a trayful in the end, a dish of moules marinières, a separate dish of the liquid because I'd strained it in case I hadn't scrubbed every grain of sand off the mussels, and it was easier to sip separately, a plate, a dish for the shells, a glass of wine, a spoon and a plate for the bread.  Because a rice cake just doesn't go with the dish.  I sat in the sitting room - oh yes, dear hearts, I'm not one to avoid the obvious, and I read the paper and I watched daytime tv.  Though I can't remember what was on, come to think of it, so I must have mostly scooped mussels out of their shells and afterwards read the papers.

As Blue Witch says, a lot of people find they feel healthier without bread.  I've got several friends who had IBS, diverticulitis and suchlike, who cured themselves by cutting out wheat.  One had had to give up all raw fruit and vegetables, to her great disappointment, but now is fine - she's still cautious about raw veg which is noticeably heavy on a delicate digestive system, but she's good with salads again - and a couple of others who just feel generally better.  In my case, I'm already surprisingly healthy, which I put down to eating a little bit of absolutely everything and - let's face it - being extremely lucky.  But, though I don't feel any different, I have got that little fat round tummy this evening.

Tomorrow, I will have it again.  Because we're going to a tea party to celebrate a friend's 95th birthday.  I suspect we'll have the full monty, sandwiches, scones, cakes and all.  It'll be great and I will not consider the diet at all.

What to have for breakfast is the problem, though.  It's not quite porridge weather yet.  I've bought some muesli, although I'm not that keen on the way any cereal goes soggy the moment milk touches it.  Maybe an egg, otherwise.  Or a banana.  *Sigh*.  I get bored with anything that I eat daily, I have to ring the changes.

Wednesday 28 November 2012

Z muses rather than amuses

It really is great having Elle here.  We've been to the cinema again tonight, with another school friend of hers, and I'm not going to let this go again after she leaves.  I've been far too solitary, not going to concerts, theatre, cinema, because I'd be going on my own.  The Sage has never enjoyed it, though he's patient about music if it sounds pleasant.  I'm not meaning to be rude, he's quite close to tone deaf and doesn't feel music in the way he does tangible things and it isn't his fault.

I've also been busy rewriting and updating the induction pack for governors.  This is quite dull - well, it was while I was just updating, though it was the easy part.  I inherited a couple of letters, quite formal, welcoming new governors and saying a bit about what we do - but it isn't me, it doesn't give the right feel.  So I'm going to write a new one tomorrow, which should be a lot more fun to do and will give a more inspiring introduction, I hope.

The Sage is going to visit friends in Manningtree, which is near Ipswich.  He's known them for many years, longer than he's known me.  They're both in their 80s now, both have dementia and we sometimes get rather confused phone calls from the husband.  It's very sad, but the Sage is never one to turn his back on old friends.  And he's not as sharp as he was himself come to that, he's seemed ageless all these years until recently and now he isn't.

But there's another thing entirely that I've been meaning to talk about, and it should be on my other blog really - and I'll update that in a day or two - and that is ... oh, I hate having to say this because it seems faddy and I can't put up with that - but I'm still losing weight, very slowly (but I always do and that's good and healthy) and yet I'm not dieting.  I'm not overeating, but the key is bread.  Sorry loves, I like bread and I haven't cut it out, but I've cut wheat down to a minimum without being fanatical about it, and that's what makes the difference.

Ever since my mother, desperate for a cure for an illness that the hospital couldn't diagnose (my friend Sophie said to me, once cancer was finally diagnosed, that the digestive system is huge and a small tumour can't always be found), slipped into the hands of alternative *medical* therapists, some of whom, whether well-meaning or not, were charlatans, I've had considerable reservations about alternative medicine.  Yet I am a balanced Z and don't dismiss them all equally.  Similarly, although I have utmost respect for food intolerances, preferences, allergies, dislikes (you have only to mention it to me once and I will remember and respect it), I don't want (and hope that medical necessity doesn't make me have) to avoid any food.  But modern wheat doesn't really suit me.  When I've eaten more than a slice of bread or a spoonful of pasta, I get a fat round tum, and when I avoid it I lose weight.  Simples.  At least the fat round tum doesn't presage flatulence, that'd be a real bugger.  But I often eat cheese for lunch, and at one time I'd have avoided it and simply gone for salad (I love salad, that's no hardship, but not eating cheese is), but it isn't necessary.  Woo hoo.  I'm sure it's modern varieties of wheat and methods of breadmaking, by the way, and not all countries use them.

I'd have had more respect for her therapists, you know, if one of them had ever said, please go back to your doctor because something is plainly wrong that I can't help with.  But, although I saw in the faces of a couple of them that they'd have liked to say that, they never did.  They just kept taking her money. Which made them all charlatans, though not as bad as those who spouted mumbo jumbo and didn't give a....well, there we go. One has to forgive, though it's a damn sight easier to forgive wrongs to oneself than wrongs to those we loved.

Rambling?  Yes, sorry.  This is why I blog, loves.  I tell you what I'm thinking about.

And now I'm going to bed.  Goodnight.  Thank you.

Tuesday 27 November 2012

Endings and a fresh start

It's been hanging in the balance for a few years, and last Friday I received a letter confirming that WRVS Meals on Wheels would finish altogether in Norfolk.  I've told all the helpers (I'm the village co-ordinator) and today I told our customers that their last delivery will be on Thursday.  I asked if they need help, if they can manage, and that the local cottage hospital does a similar service, but daily instead of twice weekly - unfortunately, at about double the cost, but it's extremely good.

I've delivered MoW for much of my life.  As a child, I used to help my mother and once I learned to drive I did her deliveries when she was laid low by three-day migraines.  I took a few years off once Al was born - you can manage with one baby but not with two - and have delivered them in this village for the last 25 years.

Al and Dilly have been house-hunting and, a few weeks ago, put in an offer on a house in a village just this side of the Norwich/Ipswich road which was accepted.  They've been waiting to hear and today were told that the completion date is, as they hoped, this side of Christmas (sorry, BW, but I'm using it in the sense of a deadline).  The Sage and I will really rattle around in the house once it's all turned back into one (the bungalow was originally a granny annexe).  The children will move schools, it'll all be quite a change.

There's a covenant on the bungalow to say it is an annexe to this house and can only be lived in long-term by a relative, so letting it out isn't an option at this stage.  We're in no hurry to do anything yet, we'll think about it for a while.  There's no reason why we can't have guests to stay, of course, so we may (if we buy more beds) be able to have more of you to stay over at the next blog party.

This evening, I've spent quite a lot of time updating governor information, because we've had two newcomers and some changes on committees and so on.  We're in the process of having a parent governor election at present, at the end of which there will be a full governing body, and I do always hold that as one of my aims (we held two places free to offer to governors of the middle schools when they closed), as long as everyone is really good and committed to helping the school.  And they're very good.  We've got a wonderful set of governors, everyone works hard and supports the school but isn't afraid to ask awkward questions.

Al and family are doing the right thing and I'm very pleased for them, but of course we'll miss them.  It's been great having them living next door all this time and a privilege to see so much of the children during their earliest years.  They're not going far though and we will spend quite as much time together in future, the main difference being that we'll have to plan it rather more than we do now.

Monday 26 November 2012

Young Jane - 4

So Jane joined the Land Army.  She was keen not to be looked on as a girlie, but as someone who could keep up with the men.  Land girls had the reputation of being afraid of cows, seeing every one as a potential bull, of squeaking at the sight of a carthorse or a bale of hay (heavier than straw, as I'm sure you know) and thinking that the job entailed the carefree scattering of corn to the chickens.  My mother (darlings, think me and you get my mother, only I don't have the hang-ups ... no, I'm quite normal and have no hang-ups .......... oi.  Shove it, darling) was pretty tough, in a charmingly feminine way and took a lot of pride in accomplishing anything that was thrown at her.

There were three horses on the farm she was sent to.  One was a carthorse, and I'm sorry to say that I can't remember his name.  Wink might know and, if she tells me, I'll let you know.  One was a regular horse.  The third was an ex-polo pony called Monsieur de Talleyrand, who could turn on the proverbial sixpence.  What he thought about farm work he kept to himself.  Jane could work with all of them.  The carthorse (I'm ashamed that I can't remember his name: I want to say it's Boxer, but of course that's another story entirely) could pull a big cart of hay and my mother took pride in being able to steer him at speed through a gateway, only a few inches to spare either side.

She found it a tough life, for several reasons.  One was, of course, the physical hard work.  She was just under 5 foot 6 inches in height (appreciably taller than I have ever been) and slender, but took on as much as the men did.  Not that there were many men about at that time, most of them had been called up.

I've got several stories to tell you about her time in the Land Army and she did a good job, I don't want to hurry it.  I've talked to women who were in the ATS and the - oh blimey, I don't really do initials.  Women's army, navy and air force.  Few of them worked as hard as my mother did, none of them as hard physically.  I admire her - but then I admire people who put their back into a job.  

Sunday 25 November 2012

Custard, anyone?

Actually, if you want to see me with really green eyes, not just in a photograph, make me cry.  Green against red is intense.

Mig commented on how cruel it was to make my mother cycle home for such a meagre lunch, and that maybe shutting her in a dark cupboard was seen as less unkind than hitting her.  In fact it's true that my mother never mentioned that her stepmother hit her.  But I think that the psychological bullying was intended to break her spirit, as they used to say, to make her give in and become malleable.  Jane was more stubborn and more clever than her stepmother and wouldn't give in.  Terrified as she was of that cupboard, she never showed it at the time, though the effects lasted all her life.

My father was the same.  He never gave in over anything, once he'd made a stand, although he very rarely argued.  There were a few childhood stories - the most pertinent one being the tale of the pudding fork.  After his parents divorced, he often spent school holidays (having been sent to boarding school at the age of six) with his godparents, who were loving but quite strict.  He'd never used a spoon and fork to eat his pudding, he was only a little boy, but he was required to.  He just sat there.  The spoon was taken away.  He was told he'd sit there until he'd eaten his pudding with a fork.  He just sat there.  I don't know how long this lasted, but I suspect that they begged him to eat the damn pudding and he just sat there.  I doubt he ever gave in.  I don't know the end of that story, I just know that the consequence was that he never ate pudding with a spoon and fork in his life.  He'd only use a fork, however inconvenient it was.

Saturday 24 November 2012

Z does not show herself in a good light

I'm not sure why my skin is so strangely yellow, but that isn't the point of the photo.  Nor is showing you my wrinkles.  If you look at that tiny mark on my eyelid just above the right edge of my iris (as you look at it) that, with a faint residual bruise, is all I have to show for the operation on Monday.  I couldn't be more pleased, relieved or grateful.

Friday 23 November 2012

Young Jane - 3

I skipped through her childhood far too quickly - actually, it was because it wasn't happy, not at home, but I suppose I shouldn't shy away from that.  I have had a quick look back through old posts, most of which were in the 'family story' series if you did want to search back, in 2006 and 2007, and I'll only repeat things if they're relevant to a story I'm telling.  I don't feel inclined to repost anything, I like writing to you.

Jane was very conscious of being the only child at her school without a mother.  She remembered another small girl telling her that her mother had smacked her.  Jane was shocked, she knew this woman and she was a loving, kind mother with apparently endless patience, so she asked what happened.  The child had behaved badly and kept doing it when told to stop until mother snapped.  This was 80 years ago, that sort of behaviour just didn't happen!  So Jane asked why on earth she'd behaved that way.  "I was seeing how far I could go," wept the girl - which I still think is funny and I know just what she meant.

Jane couldn't go far at all with her stepmother.  It was all such a shame.  I don't for a minute suppose that she embarked on that marriage without hope, even though there wasn't a romance involved.  Mummy said that it wasn't too bad to begin with, but then she inherited a lot of money, over £40,000 - a fortune in those days.  I suppose the irony of marrying for security and then getting it through a legacy, so she was unnecessarily saddled with a husband and stepchild she didn't care for, embittered her and she took some of it out on the child.  My mother was quite claustrophobic, as a result of having been shut in a cupboard as a punishment.  The stepmother, whose name I don't know, became very mean.  Although she had adequate housekeeping money, she wouldn't pay for Jane to have school lunches and she had to cycle three miles home and then back again every lunchtime (as well as the same at the start and end of the day of course) to eat a lunch which, typically, would be a small bowl of cornflakes and half a banana.  School never shut for bad weather by the way, and Mummy remembered sometimes having to carry her bike through snowdrifts.  Occasionally, she couldn't tell where the edge of the road was if the fence or hedge was entirely covered with snow.

She was immensely proud of her bike, by the way, which was new and a very good one.  It had been a present from her father on passing the exam and interview into the high school at the age of 9 instead of 11.

Mummy remembered one time when her stepmother and she laughed together.  They decided to make lardy cake, which is a traditional West Country pastry.  They followed the recipe carefully, cooked it - and it was so tough that, when they tried to cut it, both knife and cake ended up on the floor.  It might have infuriated the mother, but it was so ridiculous after all their work that they looked at each other and burst out laughing.  Even the birds wouldn't touch it.

As an aside, I'm so sorry about the dreadful weather that you've been having in that part of the country. It hasn't touched us in East Angular, but I've been thinking about you and hope none of you have been flooded out or otherwise affected.