Tuesday 31 July 2012

The doghouse - Simon and Huck

I am being self-indulgent and it will probably end in tears.  I don't often look back.  If times were bad, why relive them?  And if times were better, then it causes regrets.  But some of my happiest childhood memories, now I think about them, are about the dogs and I'm going to let myself take out my mental snapshots, however it makes me feel.

The dogs loved to go for walks, especially on a lead, because it was a great treat.  However, although legs were lifted on every lamppost and tree, they would never lose their dignity by defaecating where anyone could see them.  I can't possibly use the modern parlance "do a poo" because it would be completely unsuitable.  I never saw Simon, nor Huck past puppyhood, do such a thing.  It was done in private in the shrubbery and then buried.

There was no question of walking to heel.  They led, I followed.  Simon hated cats with a passion and would yank me over if he saw one while being walked.  But the fun started at the end of the evening when it was time to come in.  If they didn't want to, they didn't come, and we never left them outside for the night.  I had to catch them.  It was a game.  I'd chase, they'd run - much faster than me, of course - and I had to try to outwit them.  I still remember a time when Huck disappeared into the opposite neighbour's garden and I correctly deduced that he would skim along the hedge on top of a low brick wall and reappear at the corner.  I hid, his face popped out, I grabbed his collar - and I still remember the look of surprise, it was brilliant!  I had no chance of ever catching him again the same way of course.

When we had seven dogs (yes, there are quite a lot of stories to come) I couldn't manage them all on leads at the same time, so three ran free and I walked the other four.  Most of the day, they ran free in the garden of course, with Simon and Huck being able to get out and go wherever they wanted.

I've mentioned Simon's prowess as a womaniser ... erm, *bitcheniser*?  Hmm, I think not.  He was regularly arrested and we received calls from the police station.  "Simon was found assaulting a bicycle" was a memorable message.  Another time, I picked up the phone - "do you have a Pyrenean Mountain Dog, by any chance?" I said we did not.  "Pity, one's just been brought in and we thought of you."  Half the pups in the area must have been created by him.

We had Dutch au pairs, first Cobie and then her sister Joepie, and later a Finnish girl, Malle.  They used to take English classes at the local college and also visited friends they made there, travelling by bus.  Simon soon learned that if he followed at a discreet distance, he could hop on the bus and go several miles without effort, find a few new girlfriends and then walk home.  He could always find his way.

The house had big sash windows and the side ones were used by the dogs.  It was so much easier than going to a door.  We never locked doors or windows in those days, but it would have been a brave burglar who tried to break in.  Once, very good friends offered to call in to pick something up that we'd forgotten on the way to a party.  The dogs knew them of course, they were totally loving and friendly.  Yet, when they opened the front door they were met by hostile eyes.  They greeted the dogs by name, but they would have none of it.  One step over the threshold and the dogs' hackles rose.  Our friends backed off and reported failure.  Next time they met, of course the dogs were all friendliness.

I must tell you next time about Simon's prowess with languages.  Not that he spoke them of course.  He was a dog.  But his understanding was remarkable.

Monday 30 July 2012

Toby a Gardner

At last I can stop pacing the floor.  Congratulations to the Gardner family on the birth of a new son, brother, grandson and nephew.  And probably cousin and all the other relations that apply in most families as well.  Anyway, Lisa and Phil are lovely people and jolly good friends too.  Welcome Toby, whose every move and motion will be documented in Mulled Whines.

The doghouse - Kipper Catchpole

Huckleberry's brother went to live next door.  He was a big, jolly dog with a rough coat and a boisterous manner, as unlike Huck as you could imagine in a brother.  His family was in the fishing business and yes, their surname was Catchpole.  We're still friends with the family, by the way.

Kipper adored my mother and spent a lot of time at our place.  He spent a lot of time going all over the village too - I'm talking about the 1960s, it was not at all unusual for dogs to wander about freely.  In fact, when I'm in other countries I still often see dogs out and about on their own, although it is generally frowned upon here nowadays, certainly in towns.

He was very strong.  When I was a child, I used to take a sack out on to the lawn to sit on so that he could pull me about on it.  There's a photo somewhere, though I haven't come across it for years.  He was incredibly good-natured and let me sit on his back or play tug-of war with a bone - my hand, his mouth in case you were wondering.  Come to think of it, this was a game all the dogs enjoyed playing. One of us would try to take the bone and the dog holding it would clench his jaws and growl.  We'd end up eyeball to eyeball, both growling, each pulling as hard as we could until one of us let the grip slip.  However loud and fierce the growling, there was no anger or danger in it, it was a pretend fight and everyone knew it.  I was more dog than child, the main difference being that I spent my spare time reading.  And there's the opposable thumbs, of course.

At our house, the dogs ruled, but it was a benign dictatorship.  My father generally managed to hold on to his place, but the rest of us usually ended up sitting on the floor while the dogs took over the sofas and armchairs.  If we did keep our place, it was with a dog sitting on us.  Kipper always sat on my mother's lap.  He was, as I said, a big dog, labrador-sized, and there wasn't much chance of her doing anything else while he was on her lap.

And here he is, bone in mouth, cuddled up to my mother - a typical Kipper pose.

Friday 27 July 2012

The doghouse - Huckleberry

Huck was the sweetest-natured dog I have ever known.  There was something special about this time in our lives, I'm going to have to dwell on it a bit once I've introduced all the characters - the dog characters, that is.

Simon was the leader and that was fine with Huckleberry.  He loved everybody and everything except birds.  If you offered him a piece of dry bread in the house, he'd curl his lip and not touch it, but if you threw crusts out for the birds he'd rush out and gobble them up.  My mother stuck a half-loaf in the crook of a tree and he sat barking every time a bird came near to peck it.  I don't remember that he ever caught one, he just didn't want them fed.

His father Simon was always out looking for a bitch in heat.  He'd go outside in the morning and sniff the air to see which direction to take off.  Huck was sexless.  Totally uninterested.  He was affectionate though and loved to be stroked, he was quite vain - a very good-looking dog and he knew it.

He was a very fast runner.  We did not demand obedience from our dogs.  When we went out in the car, they expected to come too, but they didn't just get in.  They wanted a race first.  They'd follow the car to a long, straight road and race it the half-mile to the end.  Then the driver would turn and drive back, 5 mph slower.  Then back and forth until the dog, Simon or Huckleberry, would indicate he'd had enough and get in.  Simon could reach 35 mph but Huck would get to 40.

His best friend was the roadsweeper.  He'd go off in the morning and be by his side all day, sharing his lunchtime sandwiches.

His mucky habit was an affection for sordid smells and tastes.  You had to watch out with the dirty linen basket or he'd empty it, sniffing luxuriantly.  He used to wade into garden ponds, coming out covered in smelly mud and spend the next hour or two licking himself clean until his lovely golden hair was silky again.

Our drawing room had a doorknob on the right hand side as you went out, and the dining room door's knob was on the left.  Conveniently, Simon was right-pawed and Huck left-pawed, so one of them could open each door - coming into the room from the hall, they only had to push, of course.

Disobedient isn't quite the word.  I mean, would you call yourself obedient?  Good-natured, biddable, co-operative perhaps, but jumping to the word of command isn't quite what is expected of an adult person, except in a few situations or jobs.  That was how it was with Simon and Huck.  "Would you like to come over here, please?" might get a positive result, but "Here, boy" would be met with a raised eyebrow and the command ignored.  An offer to shake hands would be greeted with enthusiasm, however, as long as a treat was the result.

He was a keen jumper and climber.  There was a five-foot chain link fence against the road - there were two gates and a drive in between in front of the house.  Huck could scale it, paw over paw.  There was a white picket fence between the drive and the kitchen garden and Huck jumped it daily.  He was particularly fond of raspberries and used to pick them off the canes delicately between his lips.  Once, I was in my parents' bedroom ( a lovely room, we spent a lot of time there) and heard a terrible screaming.  I looked out and Huck had misjudged the jump and landed with his back legs between the uprights of the fence and couldn't get out.  We rushed out and released him, he could barely reach the ground with his front paws and must have been in great pain.  He was quite careful after that.

Here is Huckleberry.  He was quite perfect.  I love him still and my hand remembers the shape of his head as I stroked it and the softness of his ears.  I miss him to this day.

HobbsZown Choice

I removed the Olympic (am I allowed to say the word or will I be sued by the sponsors?) commemorative cover from today's paper and looked at the front page.  "Hang on," I said aloud, 'She's wearing my dress."

It was true.  Katie Kambridge was wearing the dress I bought for Tim's party.  But I wore it twelve days before she did, so I didn't copy.  I like my deep rose pink belt better than her white one.  And I wore my pale pink stilettos that I had re-heeled specially.  I also wore a necklace of rubies and sapphires (not good ones, darlings) that I bought in India on my first visit there.  It was slightly fussy for the dress but I rarely have a chance to wear it and I'm very fond of it.

I'm back on another committee.  I know, I know, sorry darlings, but needs must.  Two Trustees are leaving the area and, whilst one of them is an ex-officio position, the other must be filled, and I used to be a Trustee, so I'm the obvious person.  Only two meetings a year - admittedly I'll be the secretary, but it'll take 6 or 8 hours a year, tops.  Of course, I've got a lot of reading to do before the first meeting to find out what's been going on, but that meeting is in December, so it'll be fine.  Fine, honestly.  Bum.

Preparations are well under way for tomorrow's wedding, the marquee is up on the field and all.  I took sandwiches to the bride's father, who was waiting for a generator to arrive.  The bar turned up, not instead but as a bonus. I've had my hair cut and I'm contemplating which dress to wear.  I'm well turned out for dresses at present, I've got a choice of three.  I'll probably choose the shoes first and the dress after.

I'll write a post about darling Huckleberry later, I expect, because I won't write tomorrow.  I might set it to publish tomorrow, but it'll turn up in feed readers at once, so there's not a lot of point.

This evening, to the pub.  I probably won't stay long enough to watch the opening ceremony there but, rather to my surprise, I find I rather do want to see it.  

Thursday 26 July 2012

The doghouse - Bess

Bess was the only pedigree dog we ever had when I was a girl.  She was a black labrador, bred as a gundog - but she was terrified of loud noises.  Gunshy, they call it.  She'd have been put down as a failure, yet she was a beautiful, healthy dog.  My mother took her in.

She didn't live in the house,  She had been born and brought up in a kennel and it took quite some time before she would enter the house at all.  It makes me wonder how harshly she had been treated.  After a while, she would come in during the day, but that was all.  Accommodation had to be built for her outside.

A while after she came to us, in the summer holidays, my mother came to me and told me that Bess had to stay in her run for a while.  "Don't let her out," she said.  Her godson Pearson, who spent several weeks during the summer with us for a number of years, was there too.  And a day or two later, we were outside the kennel looking at Bess.  So was Simon.  The two of them were running up and down, desperate to be together.  I don't know which of us said it, but it was quite logical.  My mother said we weren't to let Bess out, so we didn't.  But there seemed to be no good reason not to let Simon in..........

After watching what went on, we were quite anxious, so went to tell my mother.

Look, darlings, we were children.  No one had told us anything.  How were we to know?

There were seven puppies, two blond boys and the rest black, a mixture of dogs and bitches.  The two blonds were Huckleberry and Kipper, and Huck will have his own chapter ... no, Kipper must have his too, although he was given to our next-door neighbours.  Bess was an excellent, if slightly over-anxious mother.  I remember an occasion when the puppies were brought indoors - they didn't live in the kennel, I think they were in the conservatory, which was outside the dining room.  I remember the plumbago and the nectarine tree which were in there for years (I could write reams about my childhood home, too). Bess watched, proud yet anxious.  One of the puppies made a mess on the dining room carpet.  Bess was horrified and embarrassed.  My mother went for paper and a cloth.  Bess looked wildly around - and licked up the little turd.  No, the literal little turd, darlings, she cleared it up.

She had the saddest of ends.  She absolutely adored my mother, who had shown her the first kindness and love she had ever known.  She was a big, powerful dog, very well trained although her love sometimes literally overwhelmed, she could knock my mother over without meaning to.  We went on holiday and Bess was sent to kennels ... I don't think that Simon and Huckleberry were, perhaps Bess was too difficult to look after and besides, she was used to a kennel.  However, she was frantic to return home.  She was shut up and escaped, she was tied up and escaped.  She was chained up.  The next morning, she was found dead.  She had turned round and round until the chain had strangled her.  Miss Coppithorne, the kennel owner, was distraught and apologetic, but no dog of ours has ever been sent to a kennel since then.

This is the only photo I have of Bess.  I'm with her, as if you didn't recognise me.

Wednesday 25 July 2012

The doghouse - Simon

I've never known a dog like Simon.  More character in his little claw than in the whole of any other dog.  But I'll start at the beginning.

His owners took him as a puppy, but they couldn't cope with him.  He chewed everything, he couldn't be kept in, he was one jump ahead at every turn.  I think he was about 13 weeks old when he came to us.  I'm quite sure he was fully housetrained, he had more dignity than most people and wouldn't deign to make a puddle.  He was black and tan, with some white, a thorough mongrel, it was impossible to pick out any breed for certain.  Oulton Broad Terrier, we called it.

He chewed, especially towels.  Most of our towels had a hole chewed out of its centre and patched, when I was a child.  Nothing was safe from him.  My parents had a four poster bed and he took refuge underneath and took anything he found there.  In later years, it was called 'The Club' because it was where the male dogs hung out.

He came to us in the Spring, which I know because we were going away for three weeks over the Easter holiday.  I suppose our gardener looked after him or maybe a friend moved in - I was only five, I didn't know the arrangements.  I remember an incident that summer though, when he fell into the Broad (it's where the river opens into a lake, Oulton Broad is the only Norfolk Broad in Suffolk and the part where we lived is probably the most formalised, with most of it surrounded by quay heading rather than riverbank).  Someone managed to haul him out and he was rushed up to the house, not before he had been quite sick with river water.  I remember seeing him lolling on the sofa, being fed brandy and milk from a spoon.  He lay on his back, a soppy smile on his face, drunk as a skunk, between Cobie our Dutch au pair and my mother.

We had a large garden, but it was impossible to keep him in it.  He was slim and slight and could find his way through the smallest space in a fence or hedge.  If there was no other option, he'd jump in the water and swim round to a neighbouring slipway.  You remember three-quarter lights in cars?  If you don't, the front side windows used to be rectangular, and there was a small triangular window which opened out sideways.  It was very small.  One day, my mother drove our gardener into Lowestoft, with Simon in the back of the car.  They went to do their shopping and on their return the car was empty and the 3/4 light surround twisted.  Simon had squeezed out, we couldn't work out how, and ruined the window while he was about it.  He turned up a few hours later, having spent the intervening time pleasuring a bitch or two, no doubt.  Because he was quite the randiest dog we ever knew.

And I'll have to come back to Tales of Simon, because now we get on to an embarrassing tale - embarrassing to me, that is.  Or rather, we will in the next post, because that will be about Bess, the gun-shy gundog.

And here is his picture -

Dignified, indeed.

Z boasts, but not about myself

Just a quickie, the post about Simon is coming up later.  I can't resist showing you this -
This may give some explanation of why I have such a commitment to the school.  It's worth it.  Blotchy editing, sorry.  My tool is a bit rudimentary.

BTW, I'm not a Sir, the letter was received by the Head.  I've scanned it in and sent it on to the governors.

Tuesday 24 July 2012

The doghouse - Bobby

Bobby was my mother's dog.  She had him before she was married.  She always said that she took to her marriage a dog and her grandmother's grand piano - which had a wooden frame, went out of tune constantly and eventually was broken up because she couldn't bear to get rid of it, nor to have my father  putting a load of papers and stuff on it for another minute.

In due course, Bobby was joined, at the hotel in Weymouth, by Shulie (I don't know how it was spelt) and Goggy (named because the small Wink couldn't say doggy).  Shulie was a bull terrier and all I know about her is an anecdote about the time my mother heard a tiny Z voice crying "Give it back! Give it back!" and went into the room to find me, aged two or three, trying to pull open her jaws and retrieve the biscuit she had stolen.  Ever greedy, you see, no wonder I struggle with my weight (lost all I put on in Corfu and another two pounds mind you, hah!).  Goggy was a smallish black mongrel terrier.  When my parents left Weymouth, they bought their much-loved and respected pastry-cook, Mr Dyke, a guesthouse in appreciation of his years of service, and gave him Goggy as well.  We always stayed there when we visited my grandfather.

So, we brought Bobby to Oulton Broad.  He was very old and feeble by that time.  He was a wire-haired fox terrier and had been a great rabbiter in his early days.  Sadly, he came a cropper through running about on the cliff-top chasing bunnies, because he twice had dreadful mishaps and lost the sight in both eyes.  One was scratched by brambles, I'm not sure about the other.  Did a rabbit fight back?  I can't remember what I was told - Wink, are you reading this?  My parents married in 1947 and he died in 1959, less than a year after we moved house - I think he was about 15 years old, maybe more.

And here he is in his younger days.  He was very much my mother's dog, she adored him.  I don't remember him taking much notice of me.  When he died, we were due to go on holiday within weeks and my parents decided to get another dog on their return.  However, the silence was soon too much for them, they rang the RSPCA and they heard of a puppy whose elderly owners were struggling to cope and who wanted him rehomed.  Their name was Mr & Mrs Bagshaw and they lived at 19, Moyes Road.

I know, darlings, what a memory.  Ree-markable.

Monday 23 July 2012

Z is going to reminisce about dogs, but hasn't yet

Sorry that yesterday's post didn't happen.  I spent so long planning it that I forgot to write it.  I shall tell you all the same, that my latest whim is to tell you about all the dogs in my life.  Not in a daily series, but an ongoing one.  I shall start tomorrow, with all that I know (not a lot) about Bobby, aka Robert John, the dog after whom our leopard was called.

Things are not going swimmingly at the Zedery at present, I'm afraid.  I've just discovered that my husband (I'm afraid that I'm going to have to find a new name to him, because Sage is now quite wrong) has had a whole lot of speeding tickets (that he never mentioned to me) and, as a result, is going to be off-road for a bit, as well as out of favour.  It may be a while before I'm able to talk about things, and I may be asking for some kind thoughts to come this way.

Cheery-pip, darlings.  You've got to keep carrying on, n'est-ce-pas? - or innit? as we say at the Zedery.

Saturday 21 July 2012

Z the wedding caterer

I've mentioned that our ex-neighbour's wedding reception will be held on our front field. Over the last few days, the Sage has been mowing a substantial part of it, ready for the marquee.

It was a surprise in a way when I realised that our two family weddings took place before I started blogging and I can't remember what, if anything, I ever said about them. The receptions for both Al's and Weeza's weddings took place on the field and were quite similar - hog roast and ceilidh band both times. I did more of the food for the second wedding though. First time round, we got a caterer to provide for vegetarians and do the puddings, but Weeza wanted me to when it was her and Phil's turn.

I can't remember what I cooked for the veggies, though I think one of the dishes was stuffed peppers, but the dessert was straightforward. With the number of guests coming, I had to start cooking well in advance, and Weeza chose something simple: meringues, poached fruit and ice cream. Since I bought the ice cream (I did offer to make it, but Weeza was adamant that it was too much work) I have no idea what I did with all the excess egg yolks, I simply don't remember, but meringues do have the advantage of keeping well in tins. I poached twenty or so peaches or pears at a time and froze them.
I cooked the vegetarian dishes on the afternoon of the reception and had a working party to make salads in the morning.

The more astute of you might wonder what I was doing, cooking on the day of the reception - thing is, it wasn't the same day as the wedding but the day after. We are all meek and modest people of course, and neither Dilly nor Weeza wanted a big occasion with lots of guests, though they did want a big celebration afterwards with all their friends. But what Weeza did want instead of a wedding cake was a croquembouche.

I'm not sure if I've ever told you about my first experience of making a croquembouche, which was when I was about fourteen years old. It's easy enough of course, being numerous choux pastry buns which you can fill with cream or mousse or whatever you want, but they are supposed to be stuck together into a conical shape with caramel. You can buy moulds for them, I've seen them, but I think that's cheating a bit - though it's quite understandable if you've ever tried to make one in the classic way.

You make the caramel in the usual way of course, and then you dip each choux bun in it and construct this cone. It's a lot easier said than done. I tried it with the bun on a fork, held in tongs and then, disastrously, in my fingers. It was inevitable, I suppose, that after a few of these I dipped my finger in the caramel. It wasn't boiling in terms of caramel, but it was way, way above the temperature of boiling water and, although I was too busy at the time to take much notice, it turned out to be the most painful burn by far that I've ever had. And it wasn't much good anyway, I found that the caramel hardened far too quickly in the pan, that the buns didn't stick together very well at all and in the end I admitted defeat. We had made some raspberry mousse to serve with it, and we piled that in the dish and constructed the cone of buns around it. It was fine, although it was a bit spready by the time it was served.

So this time, I copped out. I decided that the bloomin' buns would be stuck together with a dab of cream and that I'd drizzle the caramel over the whole. And then I'd make spun sugar to go on top. Not that I'd ever made spun sugar, of course, but I'm nothing if not over-confident.

I had a to-do list, natch, and I got through it all over the weeks leading up to the wedding, all except one item - that is, practising the spun sugar. I think I knew all along that it wasn't going to happen.

So it was that we returned to our house - just the two families, none of the other guests was going to arrive until the party the next day - and I went out to the kitchen, looked up how to make spun sugar, made it, spun it and piled it on the croquembouche.

Darlings, bring it on. It was fine. It wasn't ... well, obviously it wasn't professional standard, it wasn't even gifted amateur, but it looked pretty good and I was quite satisfied. And it tasted good, obv.

Friday 20 July 2012

In print

The catalogue was finished and sent off to the printers yesterday which is a relief, really - that is, if there are any mistakes (and we all proof-read) it's too late to do anything about it. We have two sales this autumn, because the Sage is so much in demand. It does seem a pity that he's so busy now, at a time of life when he might be winding down a bit, when at one time he worried that he wouldn't be able to put on a sale of china at all. It always came good, however.

I will finish the series about the village school - it's occurred to me that I was the only person involved throughout all the time I'm writing about and it might be a good idea to get it all down. Though there is quite a lot that I can't write about for one reason and another,discretion and all that, can't write about people. Anyway, I feel like a break from that for a few days and I daresay you do too. I'll think of something quite different for tomorrow.

Thursday 19 July 2012

The Village School 3

The school soon gained a very good reputation under its new Head and numbers started to rise - it was at a time when the then Conservative government was advocating parental choice rather than the assumption that children would attend their nearest school. There were various changes in education coming in - Ro's year was the first to sit SATs in Year 2 (age 6-7), for instance. These were brought in to measure children's attainment, but the original idea was simply that - it was explained that exams mostly demonstrated limits in a child's ability or knowledge, whereas the SATs showed what he or she could do. Similarly, the National Curriculum, just being brought in, was initially going to set down some basic stipulations of expectation. They soon got out of hand and started to rule schools' lives.

As Local Management of Schools got under way, there was a lot of consultation by the Local Authority (I'm going to use initials from now on, if you don't mind). Consultation documents came out on the extent and manner of delegation to schools, and it was in those days a genuine process. The LA took the results, looked at them and worked things out accordingly. We got our first computer, and the secretary decided to step aside, though she stayed in her job as a teaching assistant. The secretary appointed was, as it happened, the Sage's cousin, a great friend. Interestingly, the LA chose Apple Macs for their computers, though they changed their minds a few years later when Apple nearly hit the buffers. I bought my first computer around that time too. Not having much idea what to buy, I talked to a friend who said he had bought a computer, couldn't get to grips with it at all, bought a Mac and hadn't looked back. So that's what I did too and nor have I.

There were three classes, but five year groups, Reception and Years 1,2,3 and 4. The middle class, therefore, had some of three of the years. It was such a small school that there was a real family atmosphere and this was no disadvantage. I used to go in weekly to help, as did some other mothers. The Sage helped too, with woodwork, and years later a young man stopped him in the town, introduced himself and thanked the Sage for his help.

One of the governors, who was Chairman for a time, knew our local MP quite well. He was, at the time, the Secretary of State for Education and I rated him highly. He visited the school on occasion and always took trouble to ask for opinions. I can't remember the topic he asked my views on once, but the next week he repeated them in the House of Commons. I don't think for a moment that I was the only person who said the same thing, but he listened and learnt from the people actually in schools.

I had always been rather doubtful of middle schools. I felt that it would be easy for them not to have a great stake in a child's education, not starting or finishing it. However, I knew that the school that Al went to (an academically selective private school in Norwich) would not suit Ro - not that he wouldn't pass the exam but that he would not be happy there and we decided to send him to the middle school and see how it went. However, I was midway through my second term of appointment as a governor and didn't really want to stand down, so carried on with my jobs, governor, clerk and voluntary teaching assistant.

The Sage and I did have a discussion, however, because it would have been quite a good point for me to start looking for a paid job. But we were happy as we were. In fact, I was as happy as I'd ever been, those first years in our house. At one time very shy, something I disguised with effective social skills and therefore gaining a reputation, I suspect, for standoffishness, I had had to make an effort to make friends and had also gained confidence as a governor and other things I'd taken on in the village. So we decided that we would rather be content and happy than look for a bigger income and that we would carry on in the same way as before.

Wednesday 18 July 2012

The village school 2

I need to explain more about the school. It was a traditional late Victorian village school, financed by the Church of England to enable village children to learn to read and write, get a basic education, which would not have been available otherwise. Those people who oppose the concept of Church schools may not consider their origins. Not that I'm arguing in favour of teaching dogma or excluding families who don't toe your line. I am not in favour of schools' admission criteria demanding that the children attend church or sign up to anything at all and I think that a range of views should be presented.

Anyway, back to the building work. As I said, the piece of land being looked at for sale was partly a small field and partly the village allotments, but it was situated right in the middle of the village, opposite the pub and shop and next to the village hall. The local landowner was and is a very good and fair man and, although it was not unreasonable that he should be willing to make some money out of an opportunity, he wouldn't try to do it at anyone's expense. He offered as an alternative another piece of land taken out of a field about 100 yards away and, when it was accepted, fenced it, manured the ground and left it in good order for the allotment holders. That land is still the site of the village allotments.

One of the reasons that the Local Authority wanted to close the school was that it was quite old-fashioned - that is, the school building was out of date. There were no indoor children's toilets, which was the main problem, a large classroom and a small one and a small office. There was a rudimentary kitchen, but meals were brought in from another school. There was also a staff lavatory. In addition to the lack of facilities, pupil numbers were very low and there was a temporary Headteacher and just one other part-time teacher. In the afternoons, the Head took the whole school (age range 5-8) with the help of a teaching assistant who, in the morning, acted as the school secretary. That this wasn't terribly satisfactory explained the low pupil numbers. And then the children went on to another school a 25-minute bus ride away, whilst the Yagnub middle and high schools were only two miles away.

So the landowner, the Rector and a small group of parents got together to make a plan, for the land to be sold, the village church to finance the updating of the buildings and a small new housing estate to be built which would help to bring in more young people who would be pupils. At that time, this village had the largest proportion of over 65-year-olds in the whole of Norfolk.

An extension was built to house a cloakroom and lavatories and the classrooms were altered so that there was one large room divided by a folding screen. This made two classrooms that could be turned into one hall for lunch, assembly and PE. The Headteacher was given a new office which was to be shared with the secretary. There was already a mobile classroom in the playground which was the third classroom when there were enough pupils to warrant it. The alterations cost around £48,000. And a new Headteacher was appointed on a permanent contract. The other agreement made was that the age range be increased to 5-9 (the Suffolk first school age, 5-8 was Norfolk's) and our pupils go on to Yagnub schools - Yagnub being in Suffolk and our village being in Norfolk.

At the point when I became a governor, the indoor toilets had just been built and the new Head had been appointed. I was pretty green and clueless, but the Church Education Board (which is not its actual title) had as its director a lovely man called John N. who was immensely kind and helpful to me. Every time I needed to know anything, I phoned him and he would advise. I only realised several years later that this was not really his job at all and just how kind he had been.

Tuesday 17 July 2012

The Village School 1

I've been meeting prospective governors recently (we retained two places for governors of the middle schools which are closing, having already offered places to two more last year) and one of them asked me how long I'd been a school governor and how it came about. And then someone else, I can't remember at the moment who, asked the same thing. When a third friend asked what motivated me in that respect and how my own schooldays influenced what I did, I thought that maybe I should give the matter a bit of thought. So I did.

The third question was easy - or, that is, its second part. I don't think I'm in the least influenced by my own schooldays. I do wish I'd been to a better school - it wouldn't have been hard - but I was quite happy there, if rather disengaged. And as for motivation, now it's simply that I've become quite good at it and will keep trying my best until I stop altogether and resign. Motivation in the first place - look, I'm really sorry to be so flaky, but there wasn't any. It was chance, in that I was asked.

Back in 1988, the then Rector phoned me and asked if I'd be willing to be proposed as a governor for the village school. Ro had just had his fourth birthday, though he wouldn't start school until Easter the next year (now most schools take children in the September after they're four, but then it was in the term they were five). And, naïve little creature that I was, I was quite flattered to be asked and I agreed straight away. Then he asked if I'd be Clerk to the Governors. Now, I have to give him credit - if I'd said no, he would still have had to honour the offer to make me a governor ... on the other hand, if he'd started by asking me about the clerkship, I might well have turned it down. But anyway, I agreed. Nowadays governors are not allowed to be clerk, but it was different then.

At that time a new system of school management was starting (and quite a number of long-term governors standing down as a result) called Local Management of Schools. That is, schools would run themselves rather than Local Authorities - gradually, more of the budget would be handed over, schools would appoint their own staff and so on.

Our village school had become very small over the years in terms of its pupil numbers. When Ro joined it, he was the 25th. It had been scheduled for closure, like a number of other small Norfolk schools, but there was a campaign by local parents to keep it open. It was and is a Church school - that is, the building belonged to the Church of England but it was run by the state and free to its pupils. The village church happened to own a bit of land in the middle of the village and a local landowner owned the adjacent allotments. It was at the time of a housing boom and the land was sold with planning permission for 40 houses for a lot of money. It wasn't just the money, it was the fact that family houses were to be built, thus providing more pupils for the school. But the church was able to pay for improvements to the school buildings, its future was secured as a going concern and, well, it worked. Under a very good Head, the school went in Ro's time there from 25 pupils to 76.

Monday 16 July 2012


No, really, this is a bit much. I take the weather as I find it normally, but the temperature has taken quite a dip in the past week and now I'm back in jeans and jumpers. At least June was warm and wet. I really rather wish I was back in Corfu.

It's a funny thing, and I'm very lucky, that my tolerance for heat has actually got better over the years. My mother was the opposite and suffered both in the heat and the cold. It was quite irritating, I have to say, when a lovely summer's day led to grumbles from her over the awful weather. She could never say "I don't like this weather," it had to be that the weather was faulty and everyone else should feel the same about it. So I suppose I shouldn't say that a cold, wet July is bad in itself. Just that I'm not enjoying it at all. The only good thing is that we haven't had to water the garden at all this year, or not since I planted out the new flower bed, anyway. And I only bother to say that because I have a great need to find a positive spin to everything.

Back in my teenage years, I developed a sort of allergy to sunshine. I had to be very careful and spend only a short time with my arms uncovered until I'd become acclimatised or else I'd get a rash, a sort of prickly heat thing. This was no great fun at all and quite unattractive, but luckily it only lasted for a few years and I have never had it since. Mind you, I've never had much of a suntan in my life. I get back from a holiday - "oh," people say, "you're not very brown." It's true, I don't go brown. And I have to head for the shade anyway after a few minutes because otherwise I burn. But I love the heat of the sun. And I love snow. A cold, wet July, not so much.

Sunday 15 July 2012

Z takes a taxi

What a brilliant party. I had such a good time, met Tim's friends and family who were all very friendly and it was so good to see Tim and Mig again and meet Barney. Thank you so much, Tim, and thanks for pouring me into the cab sometime after midnight.

This morning I shall walk back and retrieve my car before breakfast - I know, I'm so hearty - and later I'm visiting friends for lunch. Remarkably enough, these are friends whom I met years ago, long before I started blogging. This year, I've seen more of my blog friends than of most of my conventionally met ones - though of course, the last time old friends came to supper, I was off to Corfu with them a couple of days later. Whoever would have thought that sensible Z was so impulsive?

I'm staying in a guest house which has obviously been recently refurbished. My room is not only very clean, but the furniture and fittings have the air of brand newness. I picked it for its proximity to Tim's house, when I said the name of the road to him he said "ah" in a manner that makes me think that it's perhaps not the most salubrious of addresses, but I certainly can't fault this place. And excellent quality sheets and towels, which always give a good impression, don't you think?

Darlings, I must get out of bed and start the day. The sun is shining, it's almost as if this was summer. Or rather, the sort of summer where one has hopes of a whole day without rain.

Saturday 14 July 2012

Z realises I am quite silly, really

I was changing the bedclothes this morning when it occurred to me that I don't usually do this on a Saturday. Then it occurred to me that I don't have a regular day for changing the bedclothes anyway, so Saturday is as good a day as any.

While I was having occurrences, I started to muse. I realised that I deliberately avoid doing routine jobs on a set day. Of course, there are lots of things that happen on the same day or every week or month, that's not quite what I mean, and when I had a cleaner she, or the two of us together, usually changed the beds and that was perforce on one of the days she came, but I try slightly too hard not to get into any sort of comfortable routine.

The Sage, for example, is quite happy to have the same thing for breakfast every day. I might do that for a week or so, but after that I'm terribly bored with toast or porridge or poached egg or whatever, even if it's something I like. Well, of course it's something I like, I wouldn't be eating a breakfast I didn't like.

The Headteacher was saying a few weeks ago that what he likes so much about his job is the variety. He said this when our meeting had been interrupted by several different urgent matters, each requiring his attention within a short time. After each interruption, he effortlessly returned to our discussion, not having lost his thread in the least. I suppose it's a bit the same with me.

Not that I'm saying it's a good thing - I mean, it's one thing to have a job with plenty of variety but I rather think it's a fault, or at least a weakness, to be so fixed on change that I can't bear to do a routine job on the same day each week in case I get into a rut. Frankly, I think it's silly. I can't think of any reason for it either, it's not as if my mother was either too rigid or too undisciplined so I'm not rebelling, nor do I know nothing different.

When my children were very young, I avoided a routine for them too. But now, having observed a lot of parents and babies, I realise that babies actually like routine. Maybe life would have been easier for us all if they'd known what to expect day after day. I'd have found it hopelessly dull to start with, but perhaps I'd have preferred it myself after a while. I think I'm a bit old to change my way of thinking.

Friday 13 July 2012

Z's nervous tick. Yes, I can spell.

Well . . . I think I've caught up with myself.  I've emailed off the list of lots and condition report, uploaded the photos and made the changes that the Sage suddenly thought of after I thought I'd finished.  Grr.  He thinks the sales are fun, I think of them as work, I get the bits that aren't fun and I don't get paid, so I tend to feel that the least he could be is considerate.  But there we go, it's a bit late to wish he'd change.  And he went out for fish and chips and has just made me a pot of coffee.

Apart from having unwisely bought a summer frock for Tim's party, all is in hand for my weekend away.  I should say that Tim invited the Sage too, but he's otherwise engaged, unfortunately.  But there's something rather nice about a bed to oneself and being able to read all night without disturbing someone if one wants to (saying 'one' only works *one-ce* - after that, it becomes horribly artificial, doesn't it).

The Sage had his mid-year tax demand a couple of days ago.  Since I'd completely forgotten that a second payment is due at the end of July and I hadn't budgeted for it, I was slightly alarmed.  Not *that* alarmed because my habit of not overspending is deeply engrained.

In fact, I shall explain it.  I never spend more than half the money I have available.  I never have - when I first had a Saturday job at the local library when I was 16, I was paid monthly by cheque - I had to open a bank account specially.  I'd never received pocket money as a child - I was always grateful for book tokens or cash as presents because it was the only time I ever got my hands on any money.  Books were bought for myself, but I saved the money for presents.  But this monthly paycheque was awfully exciting.  My father had died not long previously, and I felt I had to contribute to the family budget, so I bought a treat each month.  A nice meal, some grapes or olives or something like that - my mother wouldn't have thanked me for chocolate.  The rest was mine, but I never spent it all.  I made an arbitrary rule that I never spent more than half on any one thing.  But I really didn't earn much, so I didn't fritter it on cheap stuff either.  I usually had to save for two or three months to buy anything - by which time, I usually didn't need or want it any more.  But the thing is, it worked, whether I had a fiver or five shillings - I'd only ever be down to my last penny if I'd only had tuppence in the first place.

Anyway, I can't remember how much I owe the taxman.  I'll get a bill, but I must look up the papers, just as soon as I remember where I put them.  And it was a going to be a case of frisking the back of the sofa and long-neglected handbags in the hope of finding lost change or the odd forgotten tenner, until I opened today's post.  A company I'd forgotten I had shares in has been bought out and I've been bought out too.  Pity to spend it nearly all on a tax bill, but I'm not too bothered about that.  The main thing is, I've got the money.  Whew.  And my to-do list is almost fully ticked, for this week anyway.  Not that I wrote it, it's all in my mind and on my nerves.  Sort of a nervous tick-list.

Thursday 12 July 2012

Zcalded Catz

It's been such a muddled day and I still have a lot of work to do, so this'll be a quickie, darlings.  I was going to do the condition report, and the Sage would have done the fetching and carrying, but a friend of his died a couple of days ago and his wife wanted some help, so of course he put her first, which was entirely the right thing to do.  So I got myself set up, laptop, tray of china, list of lots - and then got an urgent call into the high school.  So everything got locked away again and off I went.  On my way home, actually turning into the drive, I got an alert that it was time for Meals on Wheels, so I swung round the drive and went straight back out again.  Then when I got home, the phone kept ringing, and I finally got started and then Dilly called in, so it seemed a good excuse to stop for coffee.  And then an email that needed answering straight away and some typing led from that - I felt quite harassed by the time the Sage came home - and then I wanted to talk to him but a friend who can't drive any more phoned asking to be taken to the post office, and then someone called for the Sage and I had to talk politely until he came home again and couldn't carry on with any work.  It took until 4 o'clock to do a job that should have taken about three hours.

Then I had to go to Beccles because there isn't a cobbler in town any longer and the shoes I want to wear on Saturday needed to be reheeled, and I'll have to pick them up tomorrow.  And the Sage's phone shows the wrong number and I am past bothering to try to sort it out myself but will go to the shop and ask them to do it, but that's another trip to Norwich.  Frazzled, darlings?  Just a bit.  I've not sent out the minutes from the meeting the other night yet, nor sorted out the Meals on Wheels rota - two of my helpers are having operations and won't be able to drive for the next couple of months.  And that's before Nadfas - Friday is another deadline because we've got a meeting in a fortnight.  I'm all ready except I'm waiting for someone to send me their address before giving out an up-to-date list.

So, let's say something positive...well, I did do the condition report, so that's good.  And we had our first courgettes tonight, and tiny and delicious they were.  Rather late this year, but no matter.  And I've got another picture of a partridge chick for you.
Too sweet for words.  The mother didn't mind me going close at all.

Back to work now.  Hang on, the Sage offered me coffee half an hour ago - better go and check whether he forgot to make it or forgot to bring it through.  Or just switched the kettle on, which is frankly the most likely.

Wednesday 11 July 2012

Z waves her arms

The new assistant in the Finance office grinned.  I stopped waving my arms and grinned back.  "I get over-excited so that you don't have to," I explained.  Yes, we may be bypassing the local authority as an academy, but we're still at risk of being scuppered by bureaucracy, and one's personal government financial assistant going on holiday for three weeks (out of email contact), returning to work for two days and then taking another two weeks' leave is really not very helpful.  "Most contracts don't allow that, my daughter's didn't when she worked full-time," I pointed out.  The financial director agreed.  She's not allowed more than two weeks of holiday at a time either.  Actually, she works so hard that it's rare for her to take more than a few days off.  And she took a whole morning, using the Head's office so that she wouldn't be disturbed, to track back a year through all the information that she had already given, the acknowledgements and reassurances that she had received, just to establish something that should have been scheduled already.  When she was finally replied to, she emailed me asking for approval, which I gave at once and then drove back from Norwich to the school to sign the agreement so it could be posted as well as emailed.  The deadline is Friday.  Thanks to Lynn, we caught it.

In other news ... I've started a new phone contract for the Sage, using my old iPhone.  He is very happy.  It kicks in tomorrow.  And while I was about it, I asked about the amount of data my phone has suddenly started using.  The other assistant agreed, a friend of his has complained about TMobile, just recently, notifying him after a week or so that he's used 80% of his paid-for data, with no additional use.  No one knew why this has happened, but the very helpful assistant showed me how to turn off yet more background data users.

Sorry if this doesn't apply to you, but it may be helpful to some so I'll write about it - go to Settings - Location Services.  You may be surprised at who is tracking your location.  I turned off Audioboo, Camera, Google, Homer (yes, as in Iliad and Odyssey, it's a book app), Photos and Waitrose, just leaving on the weather, maps and Siri.  I'd already, via Settings, turned off Notifications for various apps and turned off, under Store, the use of cellular data to download purchases made on other devices, though I don't know if that was necessary.  I'll keep an eye on it for the next few days and see if it helps - just checking emails, which is what I mostly do, shouldn't use the amount of data that it has been - the thing is that it's a sudden change, since March, when there has been no change in my usage.  I sometimes surf, sometimes use maps and weather, but I always have.

I was just starting to cook dinner when the Sage put his head round the kitchen door, a hopeful grin plastered on his face.  "Um, is it all right if I meet M in 15 minutes?"  I took the dinner off the stove and said yes, of course, no problem.  And it wasn't.  Just as well he hadn't said that 15 minutes later though.  I'd still have said no problem, but his chops would have been hard and dry by the time he got back.  But now it's time to start cooking again.  

Z eats school dinner

Things seem to be getting busier, oddly enough, at a time when I'd expect to be winding down towards August.  In theory, I take August off.  But that relies on me having got everything done in July.

When I was at the school a couple of days ago, the Head showed me a letter he had received from a bus driver.  About a dozen buses have come to the school every day (this has now risen to twenty-two, as I'll explain) bringing pupils from the outlying villages - within a school's catchment area, if a student lives more than three miles (I think it is) from the school then he/she is entitled to free transport.  In addition, we have some pupils from out of catchment and they either catch a regular bus or come in one the school has laid on.

The Local Authority put the bus contract out to tender and took the cheapest bid and that means a change of contract, which is a pity as the previous firm had done the job for years and were very good. This bus driver wrote to say how well-behaved his passengers had been, never rowdy or rude and it shows what a good school this must be and he'll miss driving our route.  And then I was in school yesterday and a teacher, who retired last year but still does a bit of part-time work and joined a geography field trip last week as minibus driver, gave me a letter saying how well-organised and executed that was.  "It makes me wish I was just starting" - as a teacher at the school, that is.

The changeover that has been in preparation for the last four years has finally taken place and the school now takes pupils from Year 6 - that is, from age 11, although the youngest children who have now joined us are still 10 years old - it was decided that it would be less nerve-wracking for the children if they came now rather than at the start of a new school year, and it would also give the school time to iron out any little problems thrown up.  The Middle Schools have closed, apart from the few pupils who are joining the new Free Schools in September (one of them has an uptake of 37 rather than the 120 they said would flock to them - rumour has it that they're being funded for the first year as if they were full, but I don't know if that's true) and we have several hundred very small but cheerful youngsters holding maps of the school and looking puzzled.  After lunch, I was on my way back to the exit when I was asked for directions and spent the next few minutes pointing out the new second Music room, formerly the Careers room. "How are you doing?" I asked a teacher friend.  "Fine," she said, "but the voices are all so squeaky!  And they're so small, I hope I don't trip over them."

For next term, we will be altering the car park at the front of the school to allow for the extra buses bringing in these younger pupils (and we do have high demand from out of catchment, whence we draw nearly a third of our students).  And yes, it does mean that we're now a very large school, 1,350 pupils instead of just under 1,000.  But we have made preparations for that and I daresay I'll tell you about that another day.

It's splendid that school governors have finally been given the Gove tongue-lashing.  We were feeling so left out.  Now that it's clear that we local worthies are in it for our own ends, to feed our egos and discuss trivia, we feel - well, we feel proud.  We'll still carry on as normal of course, claiming no expenses even when we're entitled to, taking time off work, unpaid in some instances, to do our duties, helping to draft innumerable policy documents as required by the government and being interviewed by Ofsted who will judge our management skills.  But we'll do it with a new spring in our step.

Oh, I did receive a benefit in kind yesterday.  I had a school lunch (vegetable curry, salad and apple crumble) and I didn't pay.  

Monday 9 July 2012

Out of the pear tree

The Sage called to me to come quickly.  One of the hen partridges had come to show us her babies.  I'd thrown some crushed maize for the chickens and their chicks a little while ago and this mother and babies were tucking into the remains.  I took some photos but they're so well camouflaged that they are too hard to see.  Later however, Dilly called us out for the same reason, and this time I took more photos and - well, they're not that easy to spot, but at least it's possible.

The mother had gone under the car.  Can you see the babies?

This might make it easier.

"I didn't think there could be anything cuter than a day-old chick," I said, 'but partridge chicks are the sweetest little things you could see."  Dilly agreed.  The mother wasn't a bit concerned about us being closer to her babies than she was, but a few minutes later one of them followed her and the other got lost.  It started to give piping little alarm calls and she whizzed back, calling out reassuringly, to fetch it. Reunited, the three of them went through a hole in the barn door to safety.

I have no idea how many chickens we have now, including the chicks of various ages, but it must be at least fifty, and the Sage says that there are more eggs due to hatch in a few days.  We hope for females of course, but there will be more than we can cope with - or rather, more eggs in a few months' time than we'll know what to do with - and we will have to find homes for some of them.  And then there are the partridges and pheasants, who cluster with the others to be fed.  And the Sage says there are kingfishers by the beck.  

Sunday 8 July 2012

Precipitation within sight

The forecast rain finally arrived sometime during the night and I woke to the sound of water streaming down instead of chickens clucking as I usually do. I lay there for a while thinking again how lucky we had been yesterday. When I went downstairs, the Sage reminded me that today was the Street Fair in Yagnub, so I stopped gloating and felt sorry for the people who had antique stalls there instead. It cleared up for a while in fact, but then absolutely tipped down.

How many words are the Inuits supposed to have for snow? They're surely eclipsed by the ways we describe our rain. From spitting, spotting, drizzle, mizzle, shower, fine rain, steady rain, downpour or cloudburst to more colourful expressions such as tipping it down, pissing down, raining cats and dogs, teeming with rain, pouring with rain, coming down in bucketfuls, and descriptions of the weather conditions such as thunderstorm, sleet, squally shower, blustery shower and monsoon (we do like to exaggerate) or the effects, such as a flood or deluge, we've got a description for all our weather and we know just what we mean. You'd not call that gentle, fine penetrating rain a downpour, however steady it is and however wet it makes you, but 'nice weather for ducks' can describe almost any sort of rain.

When the sun shines for more than a day or two, it's turned out nice again. We don't have much to say about the sun. It might be pleasant, but after a couple of days it's a scorcher and soon after that we've had enough. The garden, or the farmer, needs the rain we say and most of us can't wait to have something to complain about again.

When we lived in Lowestoft, the private roadway leading to our house, the Rectory and the church had a drain just by our gate which tended to block after heavy rain, leaving a large puddle. Once I looked out to see Weeza and Al, who had gone out in raincoats and wellies, wading into the puddle up to their knees. They had taken off their wellies and, roaring with laughter, they were filling them with water and emptying them out again. I didn't stop them. For one thing, there wasn't much point. They were as wet as they could possibly be and it was far too late to do anything about that. And they were having such fun that I couldn't bear to be a spoilsport.

Saturday 7 July 2012

Mi-nute detail

As John G. points out, it's a lizard not a newt.  He's right that a newt's tail is not so long, but the clincher is, as any ful kno, that a newt has only four toes on each foot and a lizard has five, and this fool didn't count them.  I'm just as happy, mind you, as happy as when I found a slow worm - which is also a lizard, of course.

Today has been jolly good fun.  It was the village festival - that is, fête and beer festival.  Last year, for the first time ever, it was rained off and the forecast wasn't good this time.  But we decided to plug ahead,  not believing the forecast and deciding that the worst would be a brief shower that we would cook a snook at and carry on regardless.  And, in the event, it didn't rain at all and was a beautiful afternoon.  It rained five miles down the road, mind you, but the village micro-climate kept us dry and warm.

And there seemed to be an especially cheerful atmosphere this afternoon for some reason.  Well, this morning too, while we were setting up, come to that.  I went to the church at 10 to help get out some tables to bring, and when I arrived at the green, two men were mowing grass, several people were erecting stalls and gazebos and someone else was shinning up a tree to put up bunting.  I helped put up one of the gazebos, for the children's crafts, and was the one crawling around putting all the bits in place while other women held it up.  Which is why my once-clean jeans now have grass stains on the knees.  I was glad I'd worn old jeans rather than anything smarter.  Not that I'm very fussy about clothes I have to admit.

We'd always booked an attraction such as a bouncy castle in previous years, but last year we were let down because the people we'd booked didn't turn up for the rescheduled date, even though they'd confirmed only the day before.  So we decided to go without and see if it was missed.  We don't think it was, and we hope it meant that people spent the same money but on the games and other attractions.  We've got a follow-up meeting on Tuesday and will see what the feedback has been.

I joined in with goodwill not to mention gusto myself, having a go on all the games, participating in the djembe drum workshop and even the calisthenics done by the village schoolchildren.  That is, they did a display first and then all-comers were invited to join in.  Remarkable, I know.  This is not the Z you know and love, being one to observe and applaud normally, not display my physical ineptitude.   But what the hell.  It was fun and after all these years I finally seem to be able to let my hair down.  Probably be a one-off, mind you.

In the course of the day, I also drank beer, had a cheeseburger, drank beer, had an ice cream, had a home-made biscuit, drank beer, munched a home-made (by me) flapjack and ate a cherry cake.  The last was a slight mistake, I've been too full ever since.  But the Sage has bought steaks for dinner, so I daresay I'll manage to eat something.  Right now, I'm going to see how the men's doubles final is doing.  

Friday 6 July 2012

My newt

Yesterday, I spent some time scything the wild flower patch near the side door.  It looked good until a week ago, but when the poppies and saxifrage finished flowering, suddenly it was a mess.  I scythed about a third of it, which wasn't all that much but it was hot work and the mother hen with three chicks kept wandering across, probably looking for seeds fallen from the newly-cut plants.  And then I *didn't get around to* (otherwise known as 'was too lazy to') clearing away the debris.  And then it rained heavily in the night and this morning, so it wasn't until about 5 o'clock when I finally got the barrow and tidied up.

At this point I must insert a warning for those of you who are inexplicably concerned at the sight of pictures of small creatures, because I saw a newt running out of the weeds and towards the house.  Newts, at this time of the year, do not live in water but move onto land.  Unlike frogs, they then have dry skins and they look like little lizards.  I am extremely fond of newts as we had them in the garden of the house where I grew up.  I took photos, which is what I'm warning you of.

The newt hid behind a plant pot by the house and I took its picture before clearing up the rest of the mess, but then it occurred to me that a chicken might kill it, so I went and picked it up and took it to the kitchen garden.  It was quite docile and didn't try to get away.

Later, Hannah, whose wedding reception is being held on our front field, came with the firework chap and her inlaws-to-be and her dad, to check on the layout of the arrangements.  So all is well there.  There's plenty of room - there may be anything up to 300 people coming, so we're really hoping for a fine day.

The Sage took the firework guy (not in a Guy Fawkes sense) and father-in-law across the field to say where he suggested everything went and the rest of us talked about the arrangements.  They wondered what the Sage was saying.  I quoted Mig's marvellous summing up of him "...on the ball. But only the ball he was playing" and Ian, Hannah's father and our former neighbour, who knows him very well, thought that was very astute.  And indeed, when Tim the firework guy came back, he sketched what had been suggested and we all agreed that would work splendidly.  "How will the marquee guy know where to erect it?" wondered Hannah.  But it's all right, that's the bit of the field that we'll mow.

Thursday 5 July 2012

Spoil the child?

While with Weeza the other day, we were talking about what her children like to eat.  To put it in context, I'd said that it's a good job that Gus isn't at all fussy and enjoys his meals, because he's a naturally skinny little boy and has been ill a couple of times recently and if he didn't eat properly then he could become too thin.  Weeza mentioned that they were having fish pie for supper and that was a particular favourite of Zerlina's.

Their childminder makes it too, sometimes.  However, a week or two ago, z was disappointed when she was given her helping and found that it was missing a vital ingredient.  "There aren't many ways in which you spoil your daughter," Weeza was told.  "But you do put prawns in your fish pie!"

There's a little boy whose parents take him on holiday several times a year.  He seems to have been everywhere, that four-year-old, skiing, on safari, across the Atlantic - but his mum and dad don't put prawns in his fish pie.

Wednesday 4 July 2012

Z enunciates

I've been using my phone to dictate emails and texts recently and have found this useful, although of course one has to keep an eye on what is typed in because it can go a bit haywire on occasion.  Just now, I was signing off with 'Regards' - and it put Guards.  I deleted and said "regards" with the accent on the re.  It put Re-guards.  I pronounced it properly and clearly the third time and it was printed correctly.  I am duly chastened.  I shall work harder on the proper pronunciation of the English language.  I'm also quite impressed, to tell the truth, that it differentiates so accurately in such small ways.

Having said that, I thought that I do speak rather loud and clear.  I haven't always, but Kenny was quite deaf and I soon learned to speak up so that he could hear me.  And my mother suffered from tinnitus - she had acute hearing in fact (and any time anything was said behind her back, quietly, she picked it up word for word) but its clarity was masked by white noise.

I find it sad that clarity of hearing diminishes as I get older.  I'm in reasonably good nick but there's no climbing back up the slope, though it isn't yet relentlessly slippery.  I've always taken care of my hearing, keeping out of too much noise and I've been known to take earplugs along if I expect a concert to be particularly loud.  I do listen to music with headphones but not for too long at a time and I keep the volume low.  All the same, although I don't have tinnitus thank goodness, I don't have the keen hearing that I used to appreciate.  I'll never hear another bat, that's for sure.  Though the bluebottle flying around in the room right now is quite annoying.

Tuesday 3 July 2012

Hospital corners

I almost started to write an earnest post this morning, but fortunately I came to my senses and did no such thing.  You come here for sweetness and light and ha-ha-ha-ha after all - or I do, at any rate.  Things in the news rarely insert themselves.

Having got up very early this morning, about 4.30 (and I'd been awake for ages), I was tired enough to go back to bed a couple of hours later and then slept in - it was after 9 when I got up.  As I came in here clutching my breakfast (dry toast and black tea, darlings, I'm so dull), I muttered "I'm all behind!" and found myself thinking "like a cow's tail."  And that reminded me of a conversation I had with Pam and Peter about expressions that used to be in common use and now are rarely if ever heard.  Old saws, clichés, common expressions - I think that many of them have been forgotten or at least not passed on to younger people, in some cases superseded by jargon that lasts a few years and vanishes again.

Advice to take your coat off indoors, or else when you leave you "won't feel the benefit," for example. Isn't that a brilliant one?  It always did amuse me, but I hardly ever hear it now.  When was the last time we referred to a baker's dozen?  I wonder if children now have any idea what that is.  We mostly use teabags, so 'one for each person and one for the pot" has gone by the board - well, teapots have too, come to that.  Although mind you, now many of us make coffee rather than use instant, I suppose the expression could cross over to that, not that it has.  Interesting that we can be bothered to dispose of coffee grounds but that tea leaves are too much trouble....having said which, I've several tins with loose tea in, but that's because I like different sorts of tea.  I'm afraid I don't bother when it comes to straightforward builders' tea.  And when it's just for me, I only occasionally use a pot, even though it tastes better poured from a pot because the leaves have swirled around and released more flavour, I usually put them in a one-cup infuser.

Then there are words and phrases that come from books, have been used through several generations but probably have pretty well vanished.  Most of those from the reliable old-stagers, the Bible and Shakespeare come into that, despite Mr Gove's efforts to rekindle reading of the Authorised Version by having one put in every school.  But there are also everyday words with a literary background, such as gamp for an umbrella, which you never hear now (well, I wouldn't put it past the Sage.  He still calls a coach a charabanc).  Or words from history - my mother's grandfather referred to a policeman as a peeler, she herself said bobby.  Apart from the occasional reference in a harking-back newspaper to 'bobbies on the beat,' that's about gone unless you're well over 50.

Oh darlings, help me out here.  I could think of loads of examples earlier on, but now my mind is quite empty of thought.  What do you think?

Monday 2 July 2012

Z goes shopping

I've got several postsworth to write and am almost too tired to write at all - but I'll switch my brain down to standby and let my fingers do the work.  I'll come back to most of it and just tell you about today.  I assume you want every minute detail of my life?  Darlings, I love you and I don't expect you to read it, I find it remarkable that anyone does.

I sent a text to Weeza asking how they all were - Phil after his bike ride and Gus with his croup.  Phil had a great time.  He cycled to St Ives (Cambridgeshire, not Cornwall!) on Friday, via Norwich to see the doctor with Weeza and Gus, and then cycled to London the next day.  Then to London, Dunwich, home.  He was tired out last night, but that seems to have been lack of sleep rather than bike-tiredness, and they went to bed at the same time as the children.  Back on his bike this morning, of course - no, I've no idea how he does it.  He has never had any sports injury from it, let's hope his knees last out.

I offered to help if wanted, and Weeza suggested I come over to look after Gus (who was expected to be napping) while she fetched Zerlina from school - it's the first of two induction half-days at the village school.  Zerlina won't be four until mid-August, but will start full-time school in September.  So little!  Still, she's looking forward to it.  I said I'd got shopping to do in Norwich, and would do it in the afternoon.  In the event, Weeza and the children came too, and a good thing that was.

We parked at the Chapelfield mall, which I rather like, not least because it's where the Apple store is - though I didn't even glance in its direction today.  I wanted a dress for the party on the 14th - I did buy a dress this year, but I wore it for my own do so it won't cut the mustard next time because some of the guests will be the same (it's so easy for men, innit?).  It was agreed that we'd deal with that first while the children weren't tired.  It was Weeza who took control, noticing two possible dresses and, while I was trying them on, going to find others.  She's a brilliant personal shopper and I'll take her again.  I bought two dresses and a belt and was very happy.  Then we went to get something for Zerlina - I asked her if she'd like clothes, toys or books, or sweets and she chose the last option - sweets are rarely on offer in her house.  Mummy gave the nod and I took her into Boots to choose.  We bought Rowntrees Fruit Pastilles, largely because she likes fruit and they're round - not spherical, you know what I mean although I can't think of the word at the moment.  She opened the tube and put one in her mouth.  She loved it.  Well, hardly surprising - Rowntrees Fruit Pastilles, darlings, what's not to like?

We went and found a jacket for Weeza and dungarees and t-shirts for Gus, and then noticed some bracelets as a surprise extra for z (65psworth didn't seem that generous a present) and went home.  All jolly successful, the children were delightful and Gus hardly coughed.  As I strapped z into her car seat, I said "you like your sweets, don't you?"  "They're delicious, Granny," she declared, and kissed me.  On the way back, she suggested that she should keep the rest for later, "for snacks," but then decided to give Weeza and me one each, which was very generous as no one had suggested she should.  "Natural good manners," I complimented her mother.

I was suddenly tired on the way back here and, a couple of miles from home, opened the windows wide for cold fresh air as I was quite concerned that I might nod off.  It'll have to be an early night and I'll tell you about other things tomorrow.  The penalty for an early night is being wakeful in the early hours, but I usually am anyway so it's better to sleep while I can.   

Sunday 1 July 2012

All too short

I'm afraid I'm going to have to turn on word verification for a few weeks, in the hope that the spammers will lose interest in me.  I've had 12 spam comments already this morning as well as notifications from other blogs - none of them gets published, but it's now irritating even me, and I've got a notably long fuse.  I don't know why they bother really, they're all so obviously false, they're all anonymous and they're all picked up by Blogger and most of the links say they're for porn, fake handbags or medication, they don't even try to pull the wool over one's eyes except in the extraordinarily complimentary comments that some of them leave.

I'm off to London this afternoon to meet Wink for dinner and a concert, coming back on the late train tonight.  We've been seeing a lot of each other this year, which is great.  She has visited here a couple of times already, most notably for the blog party, we have been to India together and we're having a few days together later this month as well.  I'm a bit daunted by the realisation that it's July already.  A lot has happened, one way and another this year, but time always seems to run away with me past midsummer and then it's my birthday and that means that summer is really over.

I sent Weeza a text yesterday and in her reply she mentioned that Augustus has croup, poor child.  Whoever heard of a baby getting croup in the middle of summer?  He was all right when we saw him on Wednesday, but started getting wheezy and unwell the next day, so she took him to the doctor.  Wasn't the best timing, with Phil going off on his bike ride and he offered to stay, but Weeza said she'd be all right.  I hope they had a good night.