Tuesday 31 January 2012

When Z became invisible

I was reminded by this post from Chris (and how lovely to see a new post from him again) of the time when I was unable to speak and had to communicate through writing notes.

I say unable, but it would be more accurate to say forbidden.  And maybe I'd better set the scene first.

In the winter of 1985 (I know, darlings, I'm good with dates and stuff), I developed a bad cough and it left me with a husky voice.  I spent months expecting it to clear up, and in the meantime I received a good deal of gratifying attention from men who found my deep and breathy voice alluring.  Quite staid and well-behaved gentlemen, whom I'd known for years and who had never made any sort of advance would say "I say, what a sexy voice you have" and such things as that.  No one tried to take things any further, I should add, so it was just the voice.

Still, once it reached July, it finally occurred to me that I couldn't blame the state of affairs on a chesty cold six months earlier and I went to the doctor.  He promptly referred me to a consultant.  Well, I say promptly - I was given an appointment in six weeks time, which was pretty prompt for 1985.  The consultant decided I had nodules on my vocal cords and that they should be removed and I duly received a date for admittance into  hospital another six weeks later.  I only discovered that I'd been fast-tracked when I arrived at the hospital and found how long other people had been waiting for operations far more urgent, I'd have thought, than mine.  So evidently, although I was young, had never smoked and had good health generally, there was a suspicion that I had rather more wrong with me than nodules.

I didn't though and they were removed uneventfully - and this is the only time, apart from a childhood removal of teeth from an overcrowded jaw - that I've ever had a general anaesthetic.  I disliked the feeling intensely.  Not that I had ill effects from the anaesthetic, that is, but when I woke up I heard myself saying how cold my feet were.  It was all I could think to talk about - except that I couldn't control what I was saying at all.  I went back to sleep and rather hoped I'd dreamed it, until I woke again and found a whole stack of blankets at the foot of the bed.  That, apart from general interest and excitement about the whole thing, gives the clue to why I didn't want sedation for my hip op.  Z is a control freak, it seems - who knew?

After the operation, I was told that I must not speak until the stitches had healed.  The less I spoke, the better the chances were that I would have minimal scarring and my voice would recover well.

Those of you who know me must be wondering at the remarkable prospect of silence for me for a couple of weeks.  I spoke a lot less then, I was still quite shy, but it was not easy, certainly, because of what happened while I was in hospital.  That is, my mother-in-law died suddenly, which was a great shock to all.  At her funeral the next week, there I was with my little notebook and pencil, trying to engage in conversation with nice people who wanted to speak to me.

I had already discovered something about the nature of disability, however, within a few days.  It is quite true that one becomes invisible.  Because of Ma's death, a lot of people had called round, and when I wanted to join in a conversation, I'd write down my comment ... and not once did anyone wait to read it before carrying on talking.  In the end, I was writing down what I thought of the situation, in quite irritated manner, but that didn't matter because no one was reading it anyway.  In one to one conversations it was all right, of course, but it was impossible to join in a small group.

I must mention our nephew Simon, by the way.  A young man in his early twenties then, he took the trouble to sit down with me and have a lovely conversation.  He was kinder to me than anyone else at that time, it was all a strain for everyone but I couldn't help feeling a bit sorry for myself.  I couldn't even cry as a sob would have been bad for my throat.  Simon was the only person who noticed and did anything about it.

I said 'disability' - I don't mean that I had one of course, it was no such thing, being simply a temporary and minor restriction.  What was telling, though, was the non-person aspect.  It taught me a lot, I'd like to think it made me a little more thoughtful.

Anyway, that's it.  Not much of a story, Chris's was much better.  And a whole lot shorter.  My voice recovered completely in the end, though it took ages for the higher register in my singing voice to return (not that I ever sing, a little gentle warbling to the grandchildren or when doing the housework is it).  And it turned out not to be nodules, but polyps - the former is caused by straining your voice, the latter just pop up.

I always regretted a bit having that operation, mind you.  I liked my husky voice too.

Monday 30 January 2012

Sometimes, there is no right answer

My mother asked me what I'd like especially of hers after she died.  I wasn't going to be caught that way.  I said I couldn't possibly think about it.  She tried several times to persuade me, but I refused.  Not too long afterwards, Wink and her husband came to stay.  After they'd gone home, she was a bit indignant.  Apparently, she'd asked the same question and they assumed she meant it and earnestly suggested a few items.  I pointed out that she had asked and said she'd meant it - but people don't always mean what they say.

On another occasion, she asked what I thought each of the children would like as a memento.  Caught on the hop and hoping to please, I suggested that Weeza might like her (my mother's) grandmother's glove box.  "Oh.  I thought you'd want that."  Impossible to get these things right.

Anyway, when she did die, no one wanted to think about that sort of thing.  Ro was newly at university, Weeza had a tiny flat, Al moved into her place anyway so was surrounded by quite a few of her possessions, and we packed a lot of stuff away.  Nearly nine years on, I'm finally dealing with them.  And so it was lovely that we were able to look on with a fresh eye.

The Sage, having done a lot of box-shifting (no turning out as yet) had found some things that he brought out to show.  "All these years that I've known him," said Phil, "and he's only just showing me his train set?"  At one point, while I was cooking, Weeza came to ask me for some methylated spirits.  I went straight to the cupboard under the back stairs and fetched it, which impressed everyone mightily with its unexpectedness.  This is what the Sage had found -

And here it is in action -

Sunday 29 January 2012

Six dishwasherfuls later...

That has all gone well.  As I said yesterday, the new dining room is a complete success and it ties the house together - rather than it being a purposeless room at the end of the house, it now is a lovely room which suits its use very well.  In fact, everyone spent the morning in there (except me, I was in the kitchen) and didn't want to leave.  The children spent their time in the sitting (ex-dining) room and upstairs in their 'den'.

I seem to have prepared a lot of food.  After last night's meal, I cooked sausages, bacon, eggs, tomatoes, mushrooms and a lot of toast for breakfast today, and then cooked pot-roast shoulder of lamb Provençal with pommes boulangère, carrots and courgettes for lunch.  I was nearly undone with the potatoes.  Stupidly, I forgot that tinfoil seems to completely exclude all heat in the Aga and left it on top of the dish, with the result that it barely warmed up after half an hour.  The dish was too big for the microwave, so I hastily split the quantity in two and gave each a ten-minute blast, then a couple of minutes under the grill and lunch was only ten minutes late (this so goes against the grain, I tend to produce a meal at the minute I say I will).  We had eaten all the eggs, so I was slightly stuck for a pudding until it occurred to me that I had all the ingredients for trifle (yes, bought sponge, you got a problem, darlings?) and that was quick and easy.

To fill the ten minute delay, I hastily got out champagne from the fridge and I don't think anyone minded...

After lunch, the family looked at some of the things I've fetched out that had belonged to my mother.  Several items have either been borne away happily or else left with us for safekeeping, to be fetched at another time.  Other things will be sold or given away.  So a start has been made, at any rate.

Saturday 28 January 2012

Z cooks Christmas dinner

It's been brilliant.  I cooked the roast beef, Yorkshire pudding and so on that I would have cooked for Christmas if we'd all been together then and we've had a very entertaining evening.  Everyone loves the new dining room, and it's great to have so much space.  It's a big room, 24 feet by 18, so the 8 foot-something table looks quite small in there.  Another table is added to make it long enough for all of us to eat at, and there's still plenty of room.  It's really warm as a bonus.

Afterwards, Al and Dilly produced a pack of indoor fireworks.  I was thrilled!  We used to love them when Weeza and Al were little, they were hilarious, especially the one that expanded like a snake across the table, giving off noxious sulphurous fumes.  They still have that one, but overall they don't seem quite as smelly and smoky as we remember - although members of the family who left the room for one reason or another during the display didn't return.  In the end, it was just Al, Dilly, Wink, me and the children who stayed, loving every minute until the end.  Everyone else said that it was too smelly and smoky.  Hah!  They don't know what's good.  I've requested some for my birthday celebrations.

Al and co live next door so they went home, of course, but everyone else is staying over, so that's brilliant too.  No rush home to put children to bed, everyone can have as much as they want to drink - not that it's been much, actually.  We all seem to have been quite abstemious.  We ate early because of the children, so no pre-dinner drinks.  And I got a big enough joint of meat for Sunday lunch for everyone, in case they could stay, so it seems that we'll do it all again tomorrow.  Excellent.  Nothing I like better than cooking for lots of people.

Friday 27 January 2012

Z is upbeat

Today has gone well.  I arrived in Bury St Edmunds in good time, found the car park without difficulty, having finally managed to secure a mental map of the area (which is not the part of Bury that I usually go to) and parked.  Last time I had a meeting there, I got out of the car to get the ticket, then realised I'd lost my bearings and had no idea of the direction to walk to the building I was aiming at.  I walked a few yards and the heavens opened.  I had to accost a woman (who, unlike me, had an umbrella) and ask, and arrived at my meeting a few minutes late and soaking wet.  They had started without me, so I had to begin taking notes at once, dripping messily into my notebook.

Anyway, I sensibly (have you ever noticed how sensible I am?  Yeah, thought so) looked about to get my bearings before I left, and noted the distinctive colour of the building, so was able to find my way back today.

I hadn't been home long before Wink arrived, so all is well there too.  The two flies in the cheerful ointment are that my laser printer has gone on the blink (it's still under guarantee, if I can't resurrect it) and that the cordless phones have unaccountably stopped working.  I used one at noon before I left, and we received an answerphone message since, but there is no ringing or dial tone and nothing happens when you pick up.  There is one corded phone which works, so I'm not fussing for now.

Actually, it would be a long time before I missed the landline.  It always rings when the Sage and I are talking about something that matters, he can't resist rushing to answer it and it completely interrupts our train of thought.  I'd give it up if not for the Sage, honestly.

Further good news is that I checked app downloads a few minutes ago and there are two new levels out in iAssociate 2.  Jolly good.  I shall enjoy them.

Thursday 26 January 2012

Z is cheerful

Lovely music lesson today, I had chats with several of the children who are quite interested, in a bemused sort of way, about me going in to help as a volunteer.  And then, waiting to see the Head after school, a girl whom I'd got on with well last year came past and stopped for a chat.  I do enjoy going in to the school regularly, it makes all the difference when I start to get to know individuals, both staff and students.

Most of the furniture has been moved about now and we'll see how it works out.  Of course, we may not like it and change it all back after a while.  I don't mind, I love moving furniture.  My mother's furniture stayed in one place throughout my childhood - well, afterwards too, in both of her next two houses.  Once she'd decided where something was going, there it stayed.  I like to ring the changes, which is something I've got in common with Dilly.

Wink phoned this morning to say that various things had cropped up and so she's coming up tomorrow instead of today.  I was upstairs changing beds at the time and didn't hear the phone so rang back.  Later, changing our bedclothes, I got the reminder on my phone that it was time for Meals on Wheels - just as well, I'd have forgotten (mind you, of course, that's why I set an alert) and hurried out.  It wasn't until about 6.30 this evening that I remembered that I hadn't remade the bed.  I'm so glad I did remember then, mind you, not the most fun job to have to do that when you're rather hoping to get straight in the bed.

I've got a lot done today, but it doesn't really feel as though I've made much progress.  I could do with another day before the weekend.  There is one, of course, but I've got to leave at noon for a meeting in Bury St Edmunds and I'll have to get ready for that first, which will take at least an hour.  I haven't had time to read the newspapers all week.  Still, I daresay they'd only depress or annoy me.  Maybe it's the absence of 'news' that is making me feel so cheerful.

Wednesday 25 January 2012

Z does her looking back and forwards thing

I always feel a little thoughtful in the last week in January, because it contains both the anniversary of my father's death and of my stepfather.  I don't do anything to mark or commemorate this, because I don't believe in marking bad events.  Anniversaries should be happy ones.  One cannot help remembering, but that's all.

I am conscious, however, that my age is approaching that of my father when he died.  I remember working out when I'd be thirty-three and a third (conveniently, it was a leap year), when I'd been married half, and two thirds of my life and so on.  Another fourteen months to go before I outlive him in terms of our ages.

Rather more cheerfully, this week will mark the sixth birthday of the Razorblade.  Not today, I have never commemorated its blogday and I won't be starting that either.  Although if it's still around in four years time, I might bake it a cake.

My sister Wink is arriving tomorrow afternoon for the weekend.  The whole family is coming here for supper on Saturday, so we'll need a usable dining table by then (the dining room is chaotic and I'm keeping out of the way) as there will be fourteen of us, including the babies.  It'll be brilliant.  Weeza and co are staying overnight, so all the bedrooms will be full.  I love that.  I always have.  Nothing better than a full house of people I love.

Update  I was just publishing this when Jamie, who dropped in to help move the heavy furniture, came in to ask me to come.  I was apparently needed to direct operations.

The Sage has cut chunks out of the door frame.  He's so resourceful.  I'm lost in admiration.  Don't worry, it's not ancient oak, it only dates (in situ, that is) from 1928.  And now it's part of the house's history.

Z runs late

Just realised how late it is.  Whoops.

I spent all day in school and had a lot to catch up on this evening.  Admittedly, however, I've spent quite some time reading the papers when it probably would have been better to get the typing done first.  All finished now though, except one document stubbornly refuses to save when I set it out as I want it - I had to combine several reports and just wanted to put a page break between each.  Won't let me.  Or rather, it lets me, just then won't save it.  I've got to email the document out, but I'll work it out tomorrow, I've had enough of it for tonight.  I had a similar problem a while ago, can't remember how I resolved it.  I suspect I had to retype the document rather than copy and paste it.

Trying to move our dining table from one room into another, it's been discovered that it's 1/4 inch too high (tipped on its side, that is, it's certainly too wide).  The Sage is blithely going to saw a bit off.  I'm going to make sure I'm out of the house when that happens, the whole business is too nerve-wracking for me.  Having said that, I'm sure he'll be successful, he usually gets away with things.  The other day, mind you, a table wouldn't go through the same passageway.  "It came in here all right, how about taking the door off?"  The door was lifted off, but it still wouldn't fit.  "How about the window?"  The Sage was perfectly sure it wouldn't work, but every other method had failed so he tried in the end.  And that was it.  I tried and failed not to look smug.

Not sure if we'll like the dining table in there, mind you, it'll be a bit embarrassing if I have to ask them to take it out again.  I'd forgotten how low the ceiling is in that room and it's rather dark.  Still, I daresay it'll be fine.  At least the room is cleared now.  Well, nearly.

Monday 23 January 2012

A Z and her marbles are soon parted

There was the sweetest little girl in church yesterday.  Her name is Toni, she's ten months old and a clever little thing.  She was crawling around in a good humour, making those sounds that just precede speech, very interested in her surroundings, could stand confidently and walk with one hand held.  Her parents were lovely too, kept a close eye on her without interfering unless they thought she might be bothering someone or getting too near to something she shouldn't touch.

Weeza and Phil spent the weekend in London with the children.  They stayed in a friend's flat - the friend actually moved out to give them space! and had a get-together with friends in the evening and went to the Natural History Museum during the day.  Zerlina was very impressed although she didn't believe the dinosaur skeletons were real.  Quite understandable.  They took her shopping for clothes and she fell in love with a really gaudy Barbie-pink bag.  Not Weeza's style at all, but they relented because she was so besotted and Zerlina is extremely happy.

I seem to have slightly screwed up.  I received the draft minutes from the last governors' meeting when on the way to London back in November.  I thought I'd been through them, made any necessary changes and sent them back ... it seems not.  The deadline is tomorrow.  The job has been done in some haste - fortunately, the only sections where there were queries were bits I remember - it had been an extremely long day, one meeting after another from first thing until after 6, ending with a pupil exclusion, and I felt quite ill by the end.  So details were a touch hazy in my memory, I must admit.

Now to think about the agenda for the next meeting.  I'm not with it at all tonight.  If I was confident of my usual three wakeful hours in the night, I'd leave it until the early hours, but I can't bank on that and I've got to be out of the house by 8.30 tomorrow morning so can't leave it until I'd normally get up.  My brain seems to be a bit too relaxed for a Monday.

Sunday 22 January 2012

Z prepares to learn her lesson

I've sort of bitten the bullet.  I've emailed the school music teacher to ask her to let me have the name of a local clarinet tutor.  I don't know anyone, if anyone does she will.  It rather commits me.  I'm not quite wholehearted about it, admittedly, and feel quite anxious.  I feel as though I'm setting myself up, if not actually for failure, for something less than success.

However, I know what I'm like.  I'll turn the feelings around.  Flight will turn into fight, as it were.  I may be indecisive (or I may not be, who knows?) but once I've made my mind up, I go for it.  Well, I hope I will, anyway.

This week, it\s Governors' Link week.  Most of us - the ones who are able to get into school during the school day -  are linked to at least one department and periodically go to meet the staff, see what's going on and, at least once during the year (could be any number of times) go into lessons to see for ourselves.  Talking to the pupils is a big part of that, it's no good sitting back and just being theoretical about things.

If your own family has long grown up, it can be quite daunting going in and talking to teenagers, hitting the right tone, but once you're used to it, it's great.  Since I've been involved with the school for years and going weekly to music lessons there for about four years, I'm reasonably confident about it and I'm looking forward to it.  I'm the Special Needs governor, but I'm not going into classes concerning that this time round, I'll do that another time.  I've got meetings instead.  I am, however, going into several music lessons and that'll be brilliant.  I learn a lot in those lessons and I love to see the enthusiasm and enjoyment  shown by the students.

Having said that, I haven't got any lessons tomorrow, now I come to think about it.  I suppose I should have written this post tomorrow.  Um.  A day in hand.  What shall I write about tomorrow, I wonder?  Any ideas?

Saturday 21 January 2012

Awesome genius?

Laugh out loud moment today was prompted by the last line of a report in the paper which said that Paul Daniels, the magician, had cut off the tips of two fingers when making a new prop for his forthcoming show.  I didn't laugh at that, of course, no laughing matter at all.  The report ended by saying that, after surgery, he's been back working in his shed, where he makes many of his own props.  "Next week he will be making a guillotine," it finished drily.

Speaking of crossword puzzles, as I was yesterday, reminded me of an anecdote told me many years ago by Captain Sheppard.  He was a great friend of mine when I was in my late teens and early twenties.  My mother's gardener died suddenly and, in a spirit of great kindness, he turned up on the doorstep and offered to help out.  He was an elderly bachelor who lived in a caravan a couple of miles away, one of those men who had never quite achieved the knack of looking after himself and so looked - well, frankly, a bit of a tramp.  He was immensely intelligent and cultured, but I rather think he had, or had had, a drinking problem.  He certainly lived a very simple life.  I liked him a lot and we had long conversations.

We shared an enthusiasm for cryptic crosswords, although he was way more intelligent and clever than I, but he was very kind to me and never showed any indication that he was aware of that.  And he told me of his favourite crossword clue.

Torquemada was the pen name of a compiler of fiendishly difficult crossword puzzles back in the 1920s and 30s, for The Observer.  Puzzles of this sort were ones I rarely attempted and never could solve.  I can't remember the name of the compiler in my young day, my father could do them but they were horribly difficult.  Anyway, Captain Sheppard taught in a boys' boarding school and all the masters lived in.  One night, no one could solve the final clue - For the alleviation of the labour of childbearing (4).

And I'll say no more about that until tomorrow, because you might see it straight away or you might not.  There were scientists, linguists, classicists, no one could get the answer.

Rog has given Chris a prize for solving a very nice clue, but he deserves one from me too.  Chris dear heart, what is your favourite pudding?  It shall be served on 26th May and you will receive the first helping.  Assuming you make it to the party, that is.

Friday 20 January 2012

Nod and Wink

On Granny-duty with young Hadrian this morning.  He was slightly alarmed at first, having seen me in action (inaction?  That's better) at the pub last night.  He enjoyed it there, actually.  He chewed Diana's spectacles case and didn't drink my beer, wise child.  I showed him The Cat In The Hat on my iPad, which seemed to go down quite well, but he was tired by the time his mother showed up.  

One good thing about my lazy week is that I've got back to doing the Times crossword.  I always used to, but now I've got out of the habit, it's a whole lot more difficult to get started.  Mind you, I have to do the cryptic one.  I can't understand so-called 'easy' crosswords.  My vocabulary isn't up to them.  I have to have sufficient clues to check that all the letters fit, once the flash of insight into a possible word strikes.

It's been a busy day, actually.  I fell asleep after dinner, which I hate doing.  I don't mind an afternoon nap if that strikes, but anything after 5 pm is likely to keep me awake at night.  Still, done now, I couldn't help it and, unfortunately, I was asleep for the better part of an hour.  

I had a chat with my sister earlier on.  Not sure if I mentioned a few weeks ago that her office closed down, which was a bit disconcerting as she'd worked there a long time.  However, she has got a good redundancy payout and has been offered relief work at a neighbouring office of the same company.  She's feeling pretty good about things, and will have more free time which won't be unwelcome.  We're hoping to have a holiday together in the summer.

Thursday 19 January 2012

Z drinks a pint

I went along to the meeting, which was to start organising the various events on in the village this summer.  The good thing was that it was in the village pub, and I don't get along there half often enough.  The rather depressing thing was that so many events will be sports related.  And honestly, I couldn't be less interested.  I'm trying to be good-natured about it, interested even, but I'm not.  And the more there is on, the harder it will be to pretend.  Also, I'm supposed to be secretary for this committee and I've been failing miserably for months.  The couple of hours a month required seems to have just gone past my tipping point recently, and the chairman, a very good friend fortunately, has been sending out information instead.  I apologised and she brushed it off; I said that I know the reason - that if she acknowledges I'm not keeping up to scratch, I shall stand down and she'd rather keep me on board, even if I'm a bit flakily unreliable for a while.

But what I'm wondering is, do you use the internet as a reward for having done work or as something to stave off the moment when you have to start it?  I daresay many of us would admit to a bit of both, but I do generally set myself targets, if the work is boring enough.  'When I've written that letter and those minutes (or at least the first page) then I can spend ten minutes reading blogs.'

The phone and iPad do keep me off the computer to some degree, as I can read emails there as they come in without logging on to check if I've received them.  I've not really missed the computer much, in fact - although actually, I've just staved off work that now I'm going to have to do in haste rather than spending all week on it.  I've quite missed Facebook Scrabble, but not much else.

Frankly, I've never much been one for surfing the net.  I find it quite annoying.  However carefully one puts in the words for a search, there always seems to be a load of stuff that is well off-topic.  Oh for the days of an encyclopaedia and a reference book.  And yes, I know the advantages of having the WWW at ones fingertips, but there can be too much information.  Norfolk isn't known for too many dual carriageways, never mind super-highways.

Wednesday 18 January 2012

Not blogging makes the Z forgetful

Sorry, loves, I didn't give blogging a moment's thought yesterday. That is, not until I was already in bed and, since I've stopped using the phone in bed at night for now, I didn't want to get back into bad habits quite yet.

It'll all change soon though, I've got a meeting tomorrow evening and another one on Friday afternoon so I'll have to get ready for those. I didn't tonight though, because I came over to Weeza's house to babysit this evening and I'm staying overnight, then out to lunch tomorrow in Norwich.

It has been interesting, though, to realise how much good switching off can do. Not just switching off the computer, because I don't think that was causing the problem and I've still dealt with emails in any case. But taking evenings off, reading books rather than documents, going for walks.
It looks as though 26th May is the definite date for the party, because no one has said they can't make it and all the other possibilities do not suit at least a couple of people. So, although it's far too early to make firm arrangements at your end (ends, indeed), please put the date in your diary if you would like to join us. There will certainly be some people who haven't yet met any of us, and at least a couple of non-bloggers, as well as partners of bloggers, so don't let that deter you. And you're very welcome to stay over, as long as there are enough bedrooms.

Monday 16 January 2012

Zleeping zoundly

I took the weekend off. I suddenly realised how tired I was, so have just been relaxing, computer switched off, going for walks and not doing much at all. I've not got a lot on this week - well, not until the end of the week, anyway, and then I'm going to be fairly occupied for some time, so this is a chance I wanted to take.

And last night, finally, I slept really well. It was lovely. Although I woke three or four times, I was able to drop off again without needing to distract my mind from too much thought by reading or playing games on my phone.

It had taken an effort to unwind that much, though. A few nights ago, I lay for hours and, every time I started to drift off to sleep, a random thought popped into my mind, within moments it had led to a whole train of thoughts and a minute later I was wide awake. And then, the only way I could distract myself was to start reading a book and half an hour later, when I put down the phone again and settled to sleep, the same happened again. And so, being the sensible Z that I am, I decided to clear my mind completely so that there wouldn't really be anything to think of.

I have to acknowledge, mind you, that I have been checking emails on the phone, but only a couple of times a day and I've only replied to those that couldn't wait. Otherwise, I'd have worried that something might crop up that I should know about.

Anyway, it's worked. I will cook a nice, soothing meal tonight, probably risotto, because just the gradual adding of the stock and stirring of the rice is a pleasure, I'll have an early night and hope that I'll sleep again, and then I'll be able to get back to my normal self. If normal and Z are words that sit well together, that is.

Saturday 14 January 2012


You know I said how I wasn't doing any clothes shopping this winter? I went to the dentist and then on into Norwich, just because I was nearly there already and there was something I did need to buy.

I no longer lack new clothes. Of thirteen garments tried on in three shops (one of the shops was back in Yagnub, mind you, I was on a roll by then), I bought eight of them. And that doesn't include my venture into the underwear department. Mind you, I didn't mean to include underwear in my complaint about clothes shopping in any case, because I rather like buying that.

I remember a while ago reading a complaint on someone's blog about the difficulty of buying cheap bras in larger sizes in the country where she lived, which I think was Spain. And I was a bit puzzled, although I didn't comment. The comments seemed mostly to be from people who refused to pay more than a fiver for a bra, and I didn't get it. I'm not saying that you have to pay whole lots for one designed or endorsed by a *name*, but surely every woman needs to get fitted properly and be prepared to spend enough to get something that'll do its job? Preferably, that's pretty enough to make her feel good about herself, of course.

Friday 13 January 2012

Breaking the silence

Phil's reference to falling asleep in front of his guests (not sure whether he was joking or not) reminded me of our friend Peter, who has always had a tendency to doze off after dinner, wherever he is.

It was a long time ago, before we moved here - probably getting on for 30 years, so he must have only been in his 30s, but he did it even then. On one particular occasion I remember us all sitting chatting after the meal and noticed him, elbow in table, leaning more and more heavily on the hand under his chin. What I didn't notice was the table buckling under the strain.

It was a very nice gateleg table, large enough to seat 8 people easily, oval but only just so (nearly round, I mean) and the flaps were each in two parts. And he was leaning hard on the very end.

Yes, it broke. A sudden snap, Pete and the remains of dinner on the floor. I had cleared away, I don't remember a pile of crockery, but a nice Victorian cranberry wine glass met its doom. We didn't use them often. Don't think we've used them at all since, those that remain.

Since then, we've always repaired rapidly to the sitting room after dinner so that any sleepy guests can nap in peace.

That's not the only piece of furniture that's come a cropper from the weight of a guest. The first time our friend Daphne brought her new husband to visit us comes to mind. At that time (again, in our Lowestoft house) we had a Victorian chaise longue in the drawing room. He went to sit down and pushed it back as he sat. Now, what he didn't know - and indeed, there was no reason to - was that the back leg was not very strong, so we had it bolstered up with a couple of stout logs. These, he'd pushed out of the way. So again, a loud crack and our guest on the floor.

Oh, how we laughed.

Thursday 12 January 2012

Z is a little rusty-fingered from lack of blogging

Ah.  Having missed two days blogging this year so far, I am already losing my blog-voice.  Not sure what to write about.

It doesn't help that by far the most interesting and gossip-worthy thing that has happened to me in a long time is completely unshareable.  Both cheering and startling, it drove me to the bottle last night.  I can't deny it, I had one too many.  I fell asleep on the sofa.  This must indeed be a sign of age, hitting the cooking sherry (and I'll never do that again, own-brand Amontillado doesn't greatly agree with me) before drinking the normal quantity of wine simply sends me to sleep.

However, today was good, and no after-effects.  My friend Mary came over in the morning.  She, who is terribly busy and has an ill mother-in-law to look after, is always concerned that I'm doing too much.  I do about a tenth of what she does, and with much worse grace, but she is so kind.  I told her about the blog party and she was quite encouraged - huzzah, Z has friends! ...  even if most of them have never actually met me.

"What's the name of your blog, again?" she asked.  Several of my real life friends have asked me that, but it's rare that any of them actually checks it out.  Anyway, it's at this point that I always feel a bit embarrassed that I chose a damn fool name for my blog.  "razorbladeoflife," I muttered awkwardly.  She wanted to know how much I write every (mostly) day.  I showed her, on my phone, a few posts and she was struck by quite how much it is.  After all, she knows me as reticent and a good listener.

Hang on, that's not true.  But she was silenced for a few minutes.

Anyway, I am finally catching up with work, because I'm determined to take this weekend off.  And the weekend is starting sometime tomorrow morning, because I'm going over to see Weeza and the children for lunch.

Tuesday 10 January 2012

Customer disservice

We've got several bank accounts, the Sage and me.  There's our personal accounts, the joint one we pay household bills from, the business one (we recently opened another of those, for reasons I'll come on to) which is also a joint account, my family trust one (which is less interesting than it sounds) and the Sage has a few others, I don't keep tabs on it all.  But only one of them annoys me.

It's the one that we used for business, held with a building society that has been taken over from Santander.  It goes for a few months without being used, all the sale proceeds are paid into it and out to clients, and the profit is used occasionally, in this case to pay the Sage's tax bill.  And this morning, I received a phone call from Santander to confirm that the cheque recently made out was a legitimate one.

Well, it was soon after 8 am, I was upstairs in the bathroom, the Sage was outside giving the chickens breakfast and I didn't have the information to hand so put the phone down (it's an automated call) and, no doubt, they will phone back later.  But this happens every damn time a payment is made from this account.  To start with, I assumed it was because, after a long period of it not being used, several large cheques were paid out, and this was reasonable.  But after a phone call regarding a cheque for well under £100, and not in a fallow period, I did get rather more annoyed.  The thing is, if the account is used fraudulently and it's not our fault, the bank is liable.  So this is not customer service, it's just putting the onus on us.  And if one day I had a phone call, knew that cheques had been made out and authorised one too many (with no prior warning and no cheque book to hand), they'd get out of their obligation because it would be my fault.

Anyway, we haven't closed that account but will wind it down, and have opened a new account with another bank entirely.  But what I'm wondering is, does Santander contact everyone every time a cheque is made out on one of their accounts?  And does any other bank?

Monday 9 January 2012

Z is not the snappiest dresser

I meant to consider buying some new clothes this winter.  It hasn't happened.  I don't enjoy shopping and I'm quite uninterested in what I wear.  My mother and I had an air of mutual bemusement about this, because she loved clothes.  Mind you, I suspect that this didn't help me at all because, rather than involve me in what suited me and what I might want to buy, she took the path of least resistance for years and chose most of my clothes herself.  I suppose she had to or I'd have kept wearing the same things until I grew out of them or they wore out.

Now, if I'm in the mood for shopping and find anything I like and fits, I buy it at once, whether I need it at the time or not.  I might buy whole lots in a day - but then I won't shop again for the rest of the year, very likely.  The autumn before last, I bought two pairs of shoes and two of boots at the same time.  None since.  My coat was my mother's, actually.  She bought it about three months before she died and it was expensive (she knew she was dying, but she was feeling pretty well and cheerfully defiant, so went ahead).  Anyway, it seemed a pity to waste it.  So it's nine years old now (I have had another coat in the meantime, I haven't worn the same one relentlessly all that time, I give it a couple of years' rest and then haul it out again) and still going strong.

When Weeza and Al were little, I didn't have much spare money.  So, when I did go shopping, it seemed a waste to spend what I had on clothes for me.  I bought books instead.  My mother, in despair, used to give me her cast-offs.  When Weeza entered her teens, I wore what she chucked out.

Now, I do have to buy myself things to wear.  But it's so dispiriting.  Rows of stuff I don't like, then I find something I do and I have to go and take my clothes off and try the damn thing on.  And if it doesn't fit and I want to go up or down a size, the assistant has always vanished so I have to get dressed again and go and find it - because I never go shopping with anyone.  That's an even worse penance, for them as well as me.

Once, I had a suit made.  Never again.  Apart from having to make choices, when I didn't really know what I wanted and having to act as if I cared, I then became pregnant, so the project was put on hold, then I had the baby and became really thin (rake thin I always was within months of having a baby) and it had to be taken in.  And the cost.  Blimey.  Mind you, I got my money's worth.  Wore it for decades.  Unfortunately, the moth got it in the end or I'd be wearing it yet.

Anyway, I had to go to Norwich this morning for a meeting, so I thought that afterwards I'd go and have a delve and see if either there was anything remaining at the tail end of the sales or if there was anything new in.  But I couldn't be bothered in the end.  There's wear in what I've got yet.  Maybe next year.

Sunday 8 January 2012

The Sage hears and eBays

Today, the Sage and I have been doing some sorting out.  We haven't got that far, but there is progress of a sort, in that there is now a pile of items to show to the family and, unless anyone wants to keep them, we shall sell them.

Both of us are finding that our despair at having too much stuff is overriding a wish to keep what belonged to family members.  And so, unless one of my children or my sister wants it, my grandfather's barograph will go.  So will (so far) two boxfuls of Victorian silver plate.  On the Sage's part, his mother's collection of Victorian Christmas and other cards will go unless anyone objects.  We found a pair of spats - huh? - and various other oddments.  Things that I couldn't have let go when my mother died, nearly nine years ago, I'm willing to say goodbye to now, and even the Sage is letting go some of his tight grasp on memorabilia - although I'll believe it when I see it happen.

At present, since Phil and Lisa can't make the August date, it looks as though we may be coming back to the last Saturday in May for the party.  Is there anyone who would like to come but definitely can't manage that date?  I know it isn't first choice for a couple of people - oh, and I took off the 30th June because Chris and J can't come then, but they're not sure if they will be able to come at all (such lovely people even to consider basing a visit from the South of France on our party) and they assure me that they will not be offended if that's the chosen date.  So how would that be as an alternative for everyone else? Though I'd rather not choose a day that rules out anyone, I felt bad enough about Roses last year.

But thinking about it, the 26th May could be a good time.  Just a couple of days after our wedding anniversary, you could all come and drink a toast to the next 39 years.

Saturday 7 January 2012

Young at heart Sage

The phone is ringing.  I take no notice because the Sage will answer it (he has).  I can be right by the phone and he'll rush to get there first.  Similarly, he adores the arrival of the post.  Yesterday, the postman tapped on the door because something had to be signed for.  Before I had a chance to get there, the Sage, still on the phone, had rushed out and had to tuck the phone under his chin, carry on two conversations simultaneously and take in the letters.

The signed-for letter was for me, by the way.

Oh, and it seems that the phone call is for me too.

Later, having finished the phone conversation

It seems to me to indicate a great optimism, when one still looks forward to the post, even after many decades of being a householder, when most of the correspondence - especially nowadays when letters are usually sent by email - comprises bills and other business stuff.  In fact, yesterday we had the accountant's bills and invoices from the Inland Revenue.  We've paid both already.  Why wait?  I've come to the conclusion that waiting for the last minute before paying a bill is a bit pointless (obviously, all local tradesmen have always been paid by return anyway) and the pleasure of being out of debt outweighs any satisfaction in keeping the bastards waiting.  But this is about the Sage ... yes, he's still so enthusiastic.  I do enjoy that.

His enthusiasms carry him away sometimes, which can cause problems.  I don't quite know why he never talks to me first before getting into scrapes.  Well, I do - if he thinks I might take the sensible route, he doesn't ask me what I think.  He'll only tell me about what he is fairly sure I'll approve.  And I'm quite wacky enough, so there's a whole lot of leeway, but there is a point at which I'll say, in proper Norfolk fashion, "hold you hard, bor," and that's what he doesn't mention and I'm generally left to sort out later in a way to embarrass him as little as possible.

On balance, though ... a life more ordinary or one that can drive me up the wall?

Can one compromise?

Thursday 5 January 2012


It was extremely windy in the night and the chickens were making a lot of noise this morning, telling the Sage how little sleep they had had.  I didn't have so very much myself, but lay for a long time listening to the wind whooping down the chimney and battering the windows.  At least the windows are well fitting.  In our last house, the Edwardian sash windows rattled and the curtains billowed gently.

I'm so pleased that so many of you would like to come to the bloggers' party.  There is no need to decide on a date yet, but I'll tell you the weekends we're free (as things stand now) and if you have any preference, let me know and we'll try to find a date to suit everyone.  Since some of you will be coming from quite a distance a Saturday might be better, to allow for an overnight stay.

Here are the most likely options -

May 26
June 2 (this is a Bank Holiday weekend, the Spring Bank Holiday having been put back by a week because the Queen's Jubilee holiday is on the Tuesday)
June 30
July 21
August 4

If you've a long way to travel, we do have spare rooms and you're welcome to stay overnight.  Staying here requires a very relaxed attitude because this is a Tudor house and the rooms all lead into each other.  So either you're going through someone's bedroom to get to the bathroom and stairs or someone is coming through yours.  We've got four spare rooms, two with double beds, one has a single bed and the other a slightly lumpy sofa bed in a very warm room (it's right above the Aga).   We are quite remarkably informal and it's wise not to have expectations of luxury accommodation, mind you.

Wednesday 4 January 2012

Z's favourite card

I was sitting here typing this afternoon and noticed a hen outside.  After a minute, I realised it was the new chicken - who's a jolly good layer, by the way, we've had at least half a dozen eggs from her since she arrived here on Christmas Eve.  I went out and gave her some corn - I hadn't given the chickens their lunch, so she was soon joined by others.  We've been keeping her separate from them, in case they go for her, until they all get used to each other.  Now we've got the bantam cocks too, we've put them all in a run with a dog kennel for shelter.

Then I went to feed the cocks, and found that one of them was out too.  I gave him some corn, then fed the other two - there was a loose bit of wire and a big enough hole for a small bantam to get through.  So I covered it and then went and picked up the hen and put her through the door and then fetched the cock and put him in too.  They're very tame, dear little birds.  I haven't taken any pictures yet, I'll do that soon and show you.

I was quite surprised when I saw them in fact, they're black and white and very small.  James has hand-reared them and they are quite tame.   Apparently they're pedigree bantams.  That'll raise the tone around here, then.

Tuesday 3 January 2012

Z recaps

Reading my way round blogs over the last week, the general feeling seems to be that 2011 was a fairly tough year and most people are glad that it's over.  That wasn't my experience at all, so please excuse me if I take a few minutes to look back on a jolly good year.

Not just good for me, but for the family, in fact.  In January, Ro moved in with Dora.  They are still in the same very small place, but are making plans for the future which includes buying a house this year.

Dilly and Al's third baby, Hadrian Swallow, named (by me, that is) in honour of the Wall, was born in May, and Weeza and Phil's baby, Augustus Bufo, was born two days after his sister's third birthday in August.  The other day, we stood the two babies up (they both like standing) to face one another.  They have recently started to eye each other with interest, but they were reaching out to touch this time, particularly Hay, the elder.

The Sage had a splendid year.  He had two very successful sales and was thrilled that the water bottle and basin in his last auction at the end of October made a record auction price for Lowestoft china, at £34,500.  In April, he celebrated 50 years as an auctioneer and in June his 75th birthday.  On the strength of that, I was allowed, for the first time, to hold a birthday party for him.  Encouraged by that, he held another birthday party for his old car, which was 78 in August.

It was a summer of parties - not that summery was quite the weather for the Great Wall Party in May.  I foolishly planned a barbecue, and ended up doing all the cooking in the kitchen instead which meant I wasn't half as sociable myself as I'd have liked to be, but it was wonderful to meet so many of you.  I'd already met Rog and knew Dave well, of course, but it was brilliant also to meet Mike and Ann, Chris and J., Mrs Rine, Lily and Oz, Bill and Mrs Bill, Sarah, Sir Bruin and Liz, the Small Bear, and you all follow each others' blogs now too.  I've never met so many bloggers as this year - Blue Witch, with Mr BW, was my first ever blog meet and she called in again in the summer, and I was able to meet Fwengebola, PixieMum and her husband and Chris again in London in the autumn.  We'd also been to Roses' birthday party earlier in the year which was a great do.  Thank you all, I enjoyed seeing you so much.

I now have accepted my fate, that my main occupation seems to be school governor - I certainly take it more seriously than anything else I do - and it was quite a year.  The long discussions about applying for academy status, the decision to go ahead, the Ofsted inspection that judged us an outstanding school and the preparations to take in two extra year groups - and, at the same time, keeping up the quality of education - took so much work for all the staff, especially the Head, who is quite remarkable.  It has all paid off so far, still worrying times financially (though under control and in budget), but going wonderfully well otherwise.

At home, we did get the drive widening and resurfacing completed in the end.  It was at the expense of other things to an extent, I grew no vegetables and the kitchen garden is a wilderness.  Weather permitting, we need to start getting that back in order soon.

No resolutions as such this year, simply an intention to feel able to blog a bit less.  Having set myself the goal of a daily blog, it has occasionally turned into a duty, with me sitting at the computer late of night with nothing to write about, churning out something, anything ... I've shown I can manage the commitment, but it's not really necessary.  So if I don't write for a day or two, it'll because I'm short of time or haven't got anything to say.  If I decide to take a week off, I'll tell you.

A hope more than necessarily an intention is that I'll continue to play the clarinet.  I'm still undecided whether to take lessons.  I have been enjoying it, but am finding it frustrating that I play so much more poorly than I did a few years ago - though 'a few' is probably getting on for fifteen.

A definite plan is to hold another blog party.  When I mentioned it a couple of weeks ago, several of you said you'd like to come here again, and we'd love it too.  I'm thinking of sometime during late May to mid July probably.  If anyone has other commitments but would like to join us, let me know dates when you either can only come or can't come, and we'll see if there's something that suits as many as possible.  Saturday or Sunday, I don't mind, but I've got a few weekends booked myself already.

Monday 2 January 2012

Baby what-chin

Indeed, that is one heck of a chin.  It looks exactly the same now.  I remember my parents were once given a wooden nutcracker in the shape of a head, the body being the handle.  The articulated jaw was very much like mine in this photo, now I come to think of it.
 Baby Z
 And the beautiful baby Wink
 Z the bridesmaid, demonstrating the strength of The Chin
Z the schoolgirl, showing both Chin and a fair bit of cheek

That's enough old photos, I won't inflict more on you - not that this is necessarily a lifetime guarantee, but no more for now, at any rate.

Someone asked for the chicken recipe.  It's from Josceline Dimbleby's Favourite Food, a wonderful book first published in 1983, which I've cooked more recipes from than almost any other.  I usually serve it with her rice dish, which Ro's friend Zain kindly still praises whenever I speak to him.  Which isn't all that often, to be fair.  

Grilled Chicken marinated with Indian spices

2 – 2.5 lb of small chicken pieces on the bone, eg drumsticks OR
1.5 lb boneless chicken, skinned and cut in pieces

1 small onion, roughly sliced
1” fresh ginger, peeled & chopped
6 – 8 cloves garlic, peeled
3 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cardamon
1/2 teaspoons ground cloves
1/2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons sunflower oil
1 tablespoon tomato purée
1 rounded teaspoon salt

Liquidize marinade ingredients to a smooth paste (if you don’t have or don’t like some of the spices, add more of the ones you do, keeping a balance of heat and aroma).  Mix in bowl with chicken pieces, cover & refrigerate for 4 hours or more.

Heat grill or griddle until very hot.  Cook for 8 – 15 minutes, depending on size of chicken pieces until almost black in patches. 

I tried frying it once and it didn't work.  Seemed to cancel out most of the spice, inexplicably.  But this isn't an overly spicy dish, though it may look it and no single flavour dominates.  For small children you could cut out the cayenne pepper or just put in a pinch, but my lot all like it.

Basmati Rice with whole spices

8 ox/225 g basmati rice
1 tablespoon sunflower oil
1 oz/25 g butter
8 or so whole cardamon pods
2-3 inches/5-8 cm cinnamon stick
A little more than 1/2 pint/300 ml water
1 level teaspoon salt

Rinse the rice well.  Put in a bowl, cover with salted water and soak for 30 minutes.  Drain.  Heat the oil and butter in a saucepan (JD does love her butter, I tend to use less than this - it does taste good, but I use a lot less butter and oil) add the cardamon and cinnamon, then the rice.  Stir, add water and salt, bring to boil, cover tightly and cook on a low heat for 12-15 minutes only until the rice is tender with a slight bite. 

Sometimes, I am to be seen picking out the cardamon pods, squeezing out the seeds and eating them.  I love cardamon.

I may be chinny and cheeky, but I'm not cute - and I usually avoid links.  However, I seemed to find this hard to resist.  It was, of course, the dog pictures that I liked best.

Sunday 1 January 2012

Z makes a choice

It was brilliant yesterday.  The only pity was that Dilly and Al had to leave at the children's bedtime - not only were we not quite geared up to having them all to stay, though that could have been managed, but Al had been up since 4 am and was pretty exhausted.  But my plan of lots of small amounts of food all through the evening went fine.  We started with blini, served with crème frâiche, smoked salmon and smoked eel (I know, eels are fewer in number now and probably should not be eaten.  But I do adore them.  Smoked eel takes me right back to childhood).  Then salad niçoise (I started with foods containing lots of different accents.  No three-digit numbers on a Mac, oh no.  Just option and the logical letter).  Then my favourite marinated chicken, which most of you who came to the Wall Party have already tasted, and fried potatoes.  We took a break then.  Ro and Dora went off to the pub and the rest of us looked at old photos, and a couple of hours passed quite rapidly.  When they texted to say they were on their way back, I shoved a tray of tiny sausage rolls in the oven (a pound of sausage meat made 31, they were quite small) and cooked the lamb koftas and, though we hadn't thought we needed more food, we ate them too.

By 11 o'clock, I admitted defeat and moved on to fizzy water.  We did not see the new year in with the champagne in the fridge.  BTW, prosecco corks are jolly hard to remove.  We also didn't manage any pudding.

The Sage asked me to set an alarm for 6 am, dammit.  He was due to open the Village Hall at 7.  I didn't sleep after the alarm, Zerlina woke at 8 so I gave her breakfast and CBeebies while I cleared and washed up.  When, gradually, the rest of the family emerged I cooked breakfast and made lots of coffee.  Everyone was having a good time.  I offered cheese and biscuits for lunch.  "Won't make the walk, the party won't start until 3 or so," I said.

Around 3.30, I made tea.  Everyone left by 5.  Next thing to do, after writing this, is to email my friends with apologies for not getting to the party.  They'll understand.

Now I think of it, everyone left before 5, because I started cooking again at 5.  Ham that didn't get used over Christmas.  Gotta feed the Sage, after all.  I also cracked a bottle (in the opening sense, darlings, I'm not accustomed to dropping them) at 5 o'clock.  After all, I saw the new year in sober, so have every justification to get mildly pickled tonight.  And there's still a bottle of champagne in the fridge.  Whoopie.

Darlings, I found baby photos of me.  I knew they were me and not Wink because of The Chin.  My mother (who loved me and was being truthful, not rude) said "You were a bonny baby.  Wink was beautiful."  Tomorrow, my friends.  I haven't scanned them in yet.