Sunday 30 June 2013

Bloggers are Brilliant!

Thanks so much to everyone who came to the party, brought gorgeous food and lovely gifts and were such fun to be with.  There's less food left over than you might think, we scoffed a lot of it for supper last night and it's surprising, the inroads 31* people can make into a 20lb ham.

A few of you had not met, so I promised to put up links to all the bloggers who came.  So here's the guest list, starting with those who'd travelled furthest -



Mig and Barney

PixieMum and Ian

Blue Witch (or, if that link doesn't work, try this one) and Mr BW

Mike and Ann

Indigo Roth

Sir Bruin and Liz, the Small Bear


Rog and Mrs Rine, with Lily and Holly

Roses and Lawrence

as well as most of the family, ie

our daughter, Weeza, her husband Phil and their children, Zerlina, nearly 5 and Augustus, nearly 2

our elder son Al, his wife Dilly and their children, Squiffany, 8, Pugsley, 6 3/4 and Hadrian, 2.

We acquired two more guests, in fact, another Mike and Ann, who happened to call in and were promptly given drinks and invited to stay for lunch. Luckily, the children didn't mind sharing seats and cutlery and I didn't have to scout around for more.

However, this is an old house and the walls are pretty elastic, so those of you who could not make it this year will be most welcome next time.

Di, Zig, Mig and Barney stayed for a couple of nights and therefore did a great deal of the work and many thanks to them, especially at the last when they remembered when to take things out of the oven on time, and afterwards when sterling duty was done at the kitchen sink.  The dishwasher was put into service six times yesterday, but there was still a lot of hand washing-up.

There were many highlights of the day and watching (and listening to) you all getting on so well was the most rewarding part.  I must especially mention Indigo, who only visited my blog for the first time a couple of weeks ago (I'd been lurking a bit longer on his) but came a long way to meet us, and Jane, who isn't even a blogger but was willing to make friends with lots of them!  Di came all the way from Australia, via Wiltshire where she's staying with Zig.  All the others were here last year (except Holly, a feisty little lass who explained to Ben that she may be smaller than him but she's in charge).

The personal highlight for me - and, I suspect Weeza, who watched gleefully, was my first ever ride on a motorbike.  I was highly gratified to be able to squeeze into Liz's jacket and relieved that I was able to swing my leg very high indeed (I'm only little) to climb on board.  It was great.  Sir B was very gentle with me and slowed right down for the bends, and I took great care to lean as far as he did and no further.  Here is the proof -

Not that you can exactly see it's me, but I assure you it is.  And you can see that the wall is still standing and that the flower bed is doing nicely.

There are more photos to surface in the next few days, I'm sure, not that I took any but I spotted several cameras.  Here's an example, of me opening a bottle that had defeated both Russell and Zig -

Yup.  As I explained, I've never met a bottle I couldn't open.  What is quite odd is that the kitchen is way on the huh but I'm pretty well upright.  No, I can't explain that at all.

The most memorable event for those who stayed on was the sight of Blue Witch having to remove her trousers, which were soaked in wee.  Not that she took them off in front of us, of course.  It would have been good if, being already wet, she'd kept the tortoise on her lap and not let it widdle on my carpet, but she did bear the brunt of it.  Those who witnessed the event (I was just out of the room and just heard the cry of "Don't drop the tortoise!" [she didn't]) said that they had no idea a tortoise of that size contained that much liquid, estimated at half a mugful.

Ben isn't particularly well behaved, admittedly, though I thought he acquitted himself pretty well under the exciting circumstances, but it'll be the last time a tortoise is invited to my house.  Unless it's a blogging tortoise, of course.

*After my faux pas yesterday, I felt I had to count the vegetarians, but of course they didn't eat the ham.  So it was 29.

Z paces the floor worrying about Rog

Saturday 29 June 2013

Z didn't make a list, so this will do instead

Jobs to do this morning...

Write name labels

Do food

Look helplessly at the fridge, wondering how to keep food cold and also fit in drinks

Iron dress. Or possibly reconsider what I'm going to wear

Panic and decide to fetch table from the church after all, in case I've miscounted guests

I think that's about it, really. See you later, darlings.

Love from


Sent from my iPhone

Thursday 27 June 2013

Z paints the letter red

The first guests will arrive tomorrow afternoon, so I'm afraid they will probably be allowed to help.  Including children, I think we'll number 28 on Saturday and I'm still pondering whether to trot down to the church and fetch another table or whether we will all cuddle up, and I haven't totted up chairs yet.  It'll be fine... and I'm so looking forward to seeing you all.

A committee meeting at school today, where we had described how one now evaluates whether a pupil is likely to receive the exam results expected from the Key Stage 2 SATS.  It's quite complicated.  It's deemed that a child should make at least three stages of progress by the time of GCSEs and a good school should beat the national average, whereas an outstanding school should beat the national average at doing better than expected (so, if the pupil seems capable of it, they are encouraged to aim for four levels of progress).  It's all data driven and I can follow it and, given time, could even explain it, but I couldn't enter all the data into the system.  It does take a very good school to look beyond the statistics and think of the pupils as people.  Ofsted is governed by statistics first and foremost, for the time being.

A new development this year is dialogic marking (which has a hard G, though it doesn't look as if it has).  Once a pupil writes an essay, he or she writes an evaluation of it, the teacher marks it and replies to the comments and the pupil can write back.  It's proving very interesting and helpful and really engages the children.  Some examples were passed round and it was rather sweet that they all wrote 'thank you' after the teacher's comments.  Of course, it isn't possible to do that with every piece of work, it would take far too long, but once in a while is very rewarding.

I've become a director of another company.  Isn't that absurd?  It's a subsidiary company of the academy, so it's just another extension of being a governor.   I never expected this sort of thing twenty-five years ago, though, when I first took on the job.  It seems that this is a year of significant anniversaries of one sort and another, but I have little regard for them.  Just another day, as far as I can see.  A party is another matter entirely.  That really is a red letter day.

By the way, Janerowena, you don't know how to get here yet, do you?  I haven't any contact details for you, so do send an email.

Tuesday 25 June 2013


It was my mother who taught me to cook, though I can't remember it.  I was always involved, even if it was just making salad dressing.  It was normal for me and Wink to help with preparations for a meal and to use the correct terms - not that I know now.  If you told me to cut the vegetables into Julienne strips or into allumettes - they're very similar, the latter is matchsticks but I can't remember the difference, assuming there is one.  However, I still know that Creçy refers to carrots, Lyonnaise to onions, Dubarry to cauliflower and so on.  And I still know my mother's recipe for lemon syllabub (from an old English cookbook), although I adapt it to be less sweet and more alcoholic, because tastes have changed over half a century (though there is no more delicious end to a meal, and I think I'll make it for Saturday for old time's sake).

When there was a dinner party, the main effort was certainly towards the main course.  The starter might be oeufs en cocotte - baked eggs, that is, in little dishes.  You put something savoury in the bottom of the ramekin, then broke the egg on top and baked it.  When the white was set but the yolk still runny, you took it out of the oven (possibly, it had been baked in a bain marie) and added cream, which heated through by the time it was brought to the table.  You seasoned the cream, you may even have baked it.  I can't remember.  I do know that the yolk must be runny, though.  The starter might be prawn cocktail or avocado vinaigrette - we were the first people in Oulton Broad to serve avocados, back in the early '60s, my parents were ahead of the game then, being frequent visitors to London, which few of their friends were.  A more time-consuming dish was pâté, made from scratch - you had to mince the liver twice, for goodness' sake, mix it with various things including juniper berries, put it in a terrine lined with bacon and bake it, again in a bain marie and then press it so that it would firm up enough to slice.  Simpler starters might be smoked salmon or caviare, or potted shrimps or eggs mayonnaise - the mayo was always home-made in those days of course, Hellman's hadn't been heard of.

If pâté was the starter then fish might be the main course.  Living next to Lowestoft, the fish was always superb.  Prime fish, such as sole, turbot or salmon (not farmed), cooked simply but perfectly to show off its quality.  Or there might be a casserole or grilled meat - my mother was a really good cook and the ingredients were top quality.  I can't remember the specifics of food served to the family or to guests.  Before I was about 14, I'd not have eaten with the guests as I'd have been considered too young.  However, even as a child, wine was always on the table, both at lunch and dinner, and I was allowed to drink it from an early age.  No concessions to my youth of course, and it was too dry for my young taste, so I rarely touched more than a few sips.

I do remember once, when I was too young to stay up, eyeing the cheeseboard and asking if I might eat some.  "Help yourself!" said my mother, unwisely as it turned out, as I sliced into a piece of cheese, leaving little but the rind behind.  "But you said I could help myself!" I protested, when she wailed - and she didn't say another word.

Puddings were her weakest spot because she wasn't interested in them and nor was my father.  We had trifle twice a year, on his birthday in July and sometime around Christmas.  Otherwise, he rarely touched them.  I've mentioned lemon syllabub, and we might have fruit from the garden with ice cream.  She often took a bought icecream and piped whipped cream over it.  If the icecream was coffee, a Flake bar was crumbled over it, but if it was raspberry ripple or strawberry, it would be served with fresh fruit.  Her heart wasn't in it.

Bemusingly, nor was the preparation of the cream, and that was my job.  I was given a pint of cream, a bowl and a fork.  Yes, darlings, a fork.  No, I've no idea.  She had a Kenwood mixer as well as a hand-held rotating whisk.  But I had to spend at least an hour whisking the bloody cream with a damn fork.  I didn't know there was another way, how could I?  And she only died ten years ago, yet I never asked her.  But she'd have taken it as criticism, so probably better not.  All the same, I'm sure we used the electric mixer for the syllabub, so ... well, it was a long time ago.

The butter was Rose of Torridge.  I don't think it's still available.  It was Cornish (I think, I'm a bit hazy on geography) butter, very prettily shaped in a double scroll, and we sliced it thinly to show off the swirls.  We never used margarine, but used Anchor butter from New Zealand for cooking.  We had Channel Island (gold top) milk for drinking and ordinary silver top for cooking - skimmed was unheard of.  The top of the milk was poured off and kept for coffee.

As so often, the more I write the more I remember, so this might keep on running for a bit.

Monday 24 June 2013

Family cooking

My sister and I can't remember a time when we didn't cook.  My mother did most of the cooking, though my father was a brilliant cook too.  He liked to do complicated dishes and would spend hours reading cookery books and choosing what to make.  Nothing was too much trouble when he was in the mood for it. I don't remember, I was too young, but we used to have a few small silk napkins with Chinese lettering embroidered in red in one corner.  When my parents ran a hotel in Weymouth, there was one occasion when they decided to put on a Chinese meal (this was back in the 1950s, quite an unusual thing to do).  I suppose the cooks did much of the work under the watchful eye of my parents, but my mother had recently bought an electric sewing machine with all the gizmos - it was his choice, she'd have preferred something simpler - and he looked up the Chinese equivalent of 'bon appetit' (I don't know where, but he knew everything), worked out how to use the machine and made 100 napkins.

On one occasion, we'd been to London for the day, leaving him at home and he spent the day cooking. I don't remember the first two courses, to be honest, but the pudding has lingered in my memory for well over forty years.  He peeled and cored pears, made puff pastry, encased the pears in the pastry and baked them.  The cavity of the pears was stuffed with jam - redcurrant jelly, I think - and the pastry was cut in strips and carefully wrapped around, like a bandage.  It must have been incredibly fiddly on slippery, peeled pears but it was absolutely delicious.

He was the marmalade maker in the family.  My mother avoided bread, on the whole - way before the Atkins diet, her method of keeping her weight in check was to avoid starch (as carbohydrates were known in those days) and sugar. And since she didn't eat marmalade, she didn't see much point in making it.  But it was the sort of occasional great deal of effort that he thoroughly enjoyed.  He made loads and, once he'd run out of jam jars, used glasses and attractive dishes.  To add to the visual appeal, he'd thinly slice some of the oranges and put a slice or two in each jar, and add glacé cherries and whole blanched and peeled almonds for the last few minutes of cooking.

He was also the one who made fish and chips, once in a while.  Again, it wasn't something my mother would have bothered with, she wasn't big on potatoes (starchy, again, too fattening).  I never set foot in a chippy until I was 16 years old, after my father died.  If we wanted chips, we started by digging up the potatoes.  They were peeled, washed to remove the excess starch, cooked twice.

You can see, perhaps, why I believe I'm lazy.  Possibly I'm not, but it's all comparative.

You'd think that my mother would have welcomed his cooking, but she had her reservations.  He left the clearing up to her and was a messy cook.  She used to say that he wasn't happy if there was a single utensil or pan left unused.  And he wouldn't have enjoyed the obligation of everyday cooking, a meal that he prepared was always an event.

I think this post is going to be at least a three-parter.  But I may be distracted for the rest of the week and have to come back to it.

Sunday 23 June 2013

The Young Persons' Day

We had a picnic at Dunwich - slight misunderstanding in that half of us headed for the heath and the others for the village, so phoned and agreed to eat separately and meet at Snape.  Between getting out of the car and arriving at the concert hall, I managed to lose our tickets, so had to go to the box office and get them reprinted.  Since that's the second time I've turned up ticketless, I was glad it was a different person on duty today.

The hall was full of families, most of the children being quite small.  Squiffany, at eight, was one of the older ones.  As the orchestra tuned up, I said to Weeza that I'd rarely felt quite so middle class, with all these keen parents and grandparents wanting to introduce their tots to the orchestra.  However, I was way out.  The conductor gave a warm welcome and introduction and they played their first, unscheduled, piece which was a short extract from the Prince of the Pagodas (a Britten ballet, which I have to admit I don't know at all).  And then he said that the children in the front dozen or so rows couldn't see all the instruments and were at a disadvantage, and invited them onto the stage - all the tickets were the same price, it was down to speed of ordering.  Squiffany and Pugsley hung back, but Zerlina wanted to go and made her mother take her, whereupon Gus wanted to follow and I had to trail along too.  Once on the stage, she went and sat down on the floor among the first violins (small children were dotted all over the place) but he stood, looking a bit uncertain and I hovered too by the wall, in case I had to fetch him.

The piece started with Tallis's theme (sorry, I should have said, it was Britten's Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra) and I thought Gus was going to be all right, and then suddenly he wailed.  I grabbed him and swept him away, as the conductor wryly, but with complete good humour, observed that we obviously had a critic who knew how the piece should be played.  A burst of laughter from the audience, and I took a seat that had been vacated by a child on the stage for the performance, which was a delight.  Zerlina was interested but composed throughout, but when the castanets were played she became animated, waving her hands in imitation of the action.  And looking at all these small children, perfectly behaved in the midst of the Hallé Orchestra, all engaged in the music and enjoying their moment in the spotlight of musical culture, that was the most middle class, in the nicest possible way, that I could imagine.

Later, since the weather was iffy, we went for a drink at the pub down the road, taking over their dining room for an hour or so while we chatted, and then went our separate ways.  And Dilly thinks she and the children will be able to come to the party for a while after all, as the other event they're going to isn't  until the evening.  So that's excellent.

One more thing - Mike and Ann spotted this shrub in their local churchyard and need help in identifying it.  Can anyone tell us what it is?

Saturday 22 June 2013

Midsummer fire

Back to the blog party - still not sure of final numbers as it seems less likely that Al & co can come and Eddie Two-Sox and his son Sam don't know yet.  Otherwise, we've got ...
Mig and Barney
PixieMum and Ian
Blue Witch and Mr BW
Mike and Ann
Sir Bruin and Liz
Rog and Mrs Rine
Roses and Lawrence
Weeza, Phil, Zerlina and Augustus
Russell & Zoë ...
which will make 23 at least.  I'll cater for 30, which means I'll probably have enough food for at least 40.  Ro is deeply distressed to be missing the occasion, partly because he enjoys meeting you so much and also because he always goes away with enough leftover food to feed him and Dora for days.  And since I'm planning to cook a whole ham, amongst other things of course, there will be plenty of leftovers.

Taking Blue Witch's advice, I've decided on cold food after all.  So if the weather suddenly turns freezing again (I arrived home to find a fire burning in the grate - "I was chilly, so why not?") I might spend Saturday morning making soup to warm us up.  On the other hand, it may be marvellous weather.  I've lost my nerve and am not checking the long-range forecast yet.  Anyway, Dilly is kindly coming to lend a hand with the last-minute things on Saturday morning while Squiffany is at gymnastics, so everything will be supremely organised and I'll have nothing to do once you're here.  In theory.  

My mother was a great party giver and often decorated the house too - she had a great sense of occasion and nothing was too much trouble.  I can't hope to match that, mainly because I have a much greater sense of self-preservation than she ever did.  She'd work until she dropped rather than compromise.  When I get tired, I consider the jobs still on the list and see what won't be missed if it isn't done.  In fact, I put a few down that I know in advance can be left out.  

It always amazes me, how much food was put on the table in those days.  I'm afraid I've written about this before, so if you've known me for at least six years or if you've had the dedication to read this blog from the start (Janerowena, I salute you again) then you'll know I'm repeating myself, but breakfast alone was enough to make a main meal nowadays.  I serve kedgeree for supper, but in those days it was a breakfast dish, and the same goes for kippers, which were always served in pairs.  Sausages were sometimes served later in the day, but were generally breakfast food, and of course eggs, bacon, tomatoes, mushrooms, fried bread (fried bread!  Who eats fried bread now?  Haven't seen it for years, except as croûtons), fried potatoes and so on were all standards in various combinations.  My mother had tall egg cups which were double-ended, the bottom end much larger than the top, so you could put your second egg to keep warm in the base.  Or you could have boiled duck egg, I suppose, to fit, but we never did.  It was believed, probably with good reason, that duck egg should always be thoroughly cooked or there would be a risk of food poisoning, because they were laid near water that might not be clean.  And in the week between Christmas and the New Year, we had cold ham carved off the bone or fried ham and eggs. 

A lot of people ate much more than we did, mind you.  We never started with cereal, though there was toast on the table.  I can't remember whether my parents drank tea or coffee for breakfast, funnily enough - maybe it was whichever they felt like, I seem to have no strong feelings either way.  Tea was always drunk black in any case and was Earl Grey.  

Friday 21 June 2013

Jane's kitchen

I've told you about the house where I grew up, but I don't think I said anything about the kitchen.  When we first moved there, the kitchen was a smallish room just inside the back door, but that was a makeshift affair, and I can't say I remember much about its set-up.  In 1960 or 1961, my parents forewent a holiday to install the kitchen they really wanted in the bigger room next door.

The layout was very practical.  My mother stood mixing an imaginary cake, stirring imaginary pots, washing-up make-believe pans.  The intention was to be as ergonomically efficient as possible, yet allowing for more than one person to work, and to reckon on a lot of cooking taking place.

So, the cooking arrangements.  There was an eye-level oven, because that was far more back-friendly than crouching down to the cooker.  It incorporated a grill of course, but that was never used because it wasn't very convenient (awkward to look at, couldn't use grill and oven together, it wasn't hot enough) and another eye-level grill was put under the air extractor.  She never reckoned that four hot plates were enough, so eight were put in a purpose-built alcove, along with the grill, and an extractor fan was installed too.

Opposite them, she had a peninsula unit fitted (this was unheard-of then, she was way ahead of the times) with a sink and a work surface and cupboards underneath.  The sink included a waste disposal unit, which we used a lot and loved but I'm not sure why.  Surely a small bucket under the sink where the peelings could have been chucked to go on the compost heap would have worked just as well, and all our teaspoons wouldn't have ended up mangled because they'd fallen down unnoticed.  It was awfully dangerous actually, there was a rubber cover but nothing to stop you putting your hand down while it was running.  None of us ever did, obv.  Anyway, into the work surface was incorporated the motor of a liquidiser - it had a cover to protect it from water, but was really convenient, you just got the liquidiser and twisted it on, nothing to plug in.  There was a socket next to it, into which you could plug the Kenwood mixer.  The peninsula and the housing of the cooker opposite was made of brick, another innovation.  No-one had ever imagined such a thing in our neck of the woods, fifty years ago.

The cupboards held pots and pans, baking tins and so on, but there was another room next door for glass and china, so cooking and eating utensils were separate.  There were two dressers in the room, a dark oak Welsh dresser which held various china cooking dishes, and the white dresser, which was a piece of built-in (at the time the house was built in 1913, I daresay) furniture which held food - packets and tins and so on, and in the drawers were herbs and spices.  In its centre was a hatchway through to the dining room.

It must have been very expensive, the oven was imported and everything was very modern, though housed in a traditional style (she was ahead of the trend there too) and all the latest gadgets were included, including a timer for the oven.  Sad to say, the first time it was used it was a disaster.  The thermostat didn't kick in, the oven overheated and we came home to a ruined oven and a kitchen filled with smoke.  The company had to pay for the kitchen to be cleaned and redecorated, down to the carpet.

Lino wasn't good enough for my mother, of course,  There was a pink fitted carpet except in front of the hob, where there were quarry tiles, and the room was wallpapered.  If you've been here, you'll know that the only rooms in the house with wallpaper are the kitchen, bathroom and cloakroom - the least impractical ones, you'd think.  Pfft.  I like it that way, as she did.  Though she did have wallpaper in other rooms too in those days.

This wasn't what I set out to tell you about, I'm just setting the scene.  I'll save the rest for another day.

Thursday 20 June 2013

Music lesson

Really enjoyable music lesson this afternoon.  The class has several lively boys in it, who aren't that easy to keep in hand - it's all right when they're under the teacher's eye, but when they go off into small groups to do practical work, their focus can wander.  Now, I like rascals and get on pretty well with young lads  - they're no pushover, but they're young enough to rather appreciate being helped, maybe even slightly mothered - no way for a teacher to teach, but I'm not one.  I had a breakthrough a few weeks ago with one boy who said, with an air of slight surprise, that he'd really enjoyed the lesson and if you work hard you get a lot out of it.  And today again, I spent some time coaching him and he did really well.  His partner (they were working in pairs) took a bit more effort, but he mastered the work too.  Then I went on to a couple of girls, then another boy, took a few minutes to listen to and praise yet another boy, who can never resist acting to an audience but had been put on his own and did very well - it was nothing spectacular, but the lesson went well, they were praised by the teacher and I felt I'd helped.  I'm always patient and good humoured, very ready to praise but extremely persistent and insist on it being done right.

I've been thinking about domesticity, particularly in view of Blue Witch's comments.  I agree that both parties in a marriage should be able to cook - and housekeep, pay bills and so on - but I'm not sure that it's the wife's fault if she doesn't teach her husband - it may be that he simply doesn't want to learn.  One tends to have a general division of labour and, even if they start doing things together it's likely that, as time goes by, the one with greater aptitude takes over.  Although I know a number of young women who aren't good at cooking and say in explanation that, because their mother was a good cook, they never learnt.  This seems odd to me.  It was because my parents were good cooks that they wanted to teach me, and I think this was general at the time.  It was absolutely normal for me and my sister to be given jobs in preparation for meals, even if it was just podding peas.

When my children were young, I did most of the day-to-day housework, but once every few weeks I decided the whole house needed a good clean and made a list.  This was produced on a Saturday morning and everyone was expected to devote two hours to cleaning.  Each person chose a job, did it, ticked it off and picked another one until time was up.

Ro always chose to clean the bathroom and loos, even as a small boy.  In later years I asked him about that and he said that no one else ever did and he thought it would be fair to me, who normally did the job.  Al always took on the kitchen and spent the entire two hours scrubbing it meticulously.  Their father normally cleared up the mess he'd made, which took quite a while, but was also good at polishing wood floors.  Weeza did general cleaning, sitting room, bedrooms and so on, and I did what no one else chose.

Then the cooking - my children have always been good cooks.  One summer - I'm sure I've blogged this before, sorry - I decreed that, for the school holidays, we'd have a five-day rota and each of us take it in turn to cook.  Ro was only about five at the time but he took his turn, with a bit of help (though scrambled egg on toast was well within his capabilities and perfectly acceptable, with vegetables or a salad) and it was a really pleasant change for me, even though I did the shopping and helped out where required and it wasn't much less work.  Ro now does most of the cooking at home, by the way.  Everyone else did very well - the older two were in their early teens so well able to manage and the Sage probably chose to barbecue steaks and sausages, which went down well.

Anyway, tomorrow I'll be babysitting Gus and we'll meet up with Dilly and Hay.  We're hoping for fine weather, but will go to Norwich Castle if it's wet.

Wednesday 19 June 2013

Three days of pictures

Monday, I cleaned and made beds
Tuesday, I went to Snape
 First evening it's been warm enough for people to sit outside
 I was on the huh, not the marshes
 Barbara Hepworth.  The statues, not the lady on the left
This is made of plastic milk cartons and mackerel tins.  The man just happened to be standing there
This evening, I suddenly wanted pudding.  It takes a minute to whizz together and 4 1/2 in the microwave, during which time I made the sauce.  Gentlemen, don't listen to excuses (unless they're on medical grounds). And if your wife is obdurate, can't cook or doesn't care, make it yourself.  Medium power so that the baking powder has time to work.  1 egg, its weight in butter, SR flour & sugar, a teaspoonful of cocoa powder and a dash of milk, beat together, cook.  A few squares of chocolate, a splash of cream and milk, warm gently.  

Tuesday 18 June 2013

Z takes time off

And so today, I took the day off.  A Nadfas lecture, then a long, chatty lunch with a friend which lasted for several hours.  After that, Russell and I took ourselves off to Snape for supper and a piano recital.  I should have done some school stuff, but that can wait until tomorrow.  Time to recharge batteries makes one able to be more productive when one does have work to do.

The cleaners did everything except hoover two bedrooms, so I've got a lovely clean house - that is, just surface cleaned, you'll have to excuse me moving the furniture (though I have in the annexe.  Well, not the piano, the rest of it).

I've discovered that, when I'm awake in the night, putting a radio programme on iPlayer sends me back to sleep.  I've not heard the end of a half-hour programme yet.  I don't listen live because, sooner or later it'll wake me up again, but an episode of something quietly comes to an end without waking me.

Now taking the papers to bed, knowing I don't have to hurry in the morning - we had a meeting planned, but have been able to do all the business by email.  Two cancelled in a week for that reason, such efficiency!

Monday 17 June 2013

Maximum efficienZy

I say, I've done jolly well today.  I've changed all the beds, put furniture in the annexe and tidied the kitchen.  I've also taken four bin-bags-full of rubbish that Russell left casually in the spare room (and that I had to move hastily last Friday when we had an unexpected guest) down to the bonfire, tipped the contents out of the bags and burned (too much for the wheely bin) and done at least six, possibly more, loads of washing and dried most of them on the line.  The last two aren't dry and one is in the washing machine, about done now.  I've still one to go.  Four bedsworth, plus towels and a couple of weeksworth of clothes, because I leave it until there's enough to separate whites and coloureds.

And now you know all my clothes washing habits.  Oh good.

Tomorrow, the cleaners are coming, two of them for a couple of hours.  Since I've done all the sorting out, I don't see why they can't hoover and dust throughout the house in the time,  I could in a morning.  I won't be here, unfortunately, but that's because of a small misunderstanding between 'every fourth Tuesday (of the month)' and 'every fourth Tuesday' which is entirely understandable when you think about it.  And, since the third Tuesday isn't good for me, it's fortunate that it'll only be this month and next, after which it'll be the second Tuesday - yes, I know, this is getting both boring and bewildering.  If you're still interested, check out the calendar, otherwise just nod and pass it by.  Anyhoo, the point is that the housework will be basically done, I'll just have to waft a duster next week.  And you'll take me as you find me, innit?  Clean sheets and good kitchen hygiene are all that matter, when it comes down to it, though a ringless bath is a bonus.

Russell has some sorting out to do tomorrow.  I've let him off the eighteen - yes, truly - boxes he dumped in Ro's room, along with leaving the four black bags because he couldn't be arsed to take them downstairs, but have stipulated other things, because the cleaners need a clear run for maximum efficiency.

I've just had a phone call from Weeza.  Little Zerlina isn't very well - unfortunately, the commitments I have tomorrow aren't easy to get out of at this late stage, but I'm free Friday, so Weeza will take tomorrow off and I'll come and babysit Gus on Friday so that she can make up the day then.  She works Monday to Wednesday normally, though is always available on phone or email - she and her boss are pretty relaxed and confident and as long as the work is done, all's fine.

And so to bed, dear hearts.  I haven't looked at today's papers and I have yet to walk the dog.  But I have put the clean and dry washing away and emptied the dishwasher.  Oh yes.

Sunday 16 June 2013

Z still thinks about the party

This is starting to work and thanks to those who have replied so far - and thanks also to Blue Witch for telling me to suggesting that I ask for offers of food.  I'm very willing to do it all but, being practical, I won't turn anyone down either and would be grateful. But don't feel obliged in any way please, I do enjoy preparing food for lots of people and I also love preparing for a party.  I'll do a header post in the next day or two - I'll just say now that, if you haven't been here before or have forgotten the way, drop me an email and I'll send you my address.  My email is on my profile.  And, as I've said before, do stay over if you've a way to come - I bought a new mattress for one bed specially!  We do have some friends staying in the annexe as our guests for a few weeks later in the year, but one of you can christen it.  Or two, of course.

Another lovely concert last night, and the composer of the Horn Concerto played, Colin Matthews, was present and was called on to the stage to be applauded, and he looked very proud and pleased, as well he might be.  A wonderful piece of work, beautifully performed.  Weeza and I had a really good evening.  I forgot to take our tickets and went to the box office to own up - of course, the chap could look them up and reprint them, but he jovially reprimanded me and I was duly humble - all in jest, of course.  Once, years ago, I managed to throw away all my tickets to all the concerts and was able to get another set, so it wasn't my daftest action.

I'm way behind in my letter-writing - it's all this blogging that takes my time - and am going to write to Martina now.  If only Seattle were not so far away - she is one of so many lovely people I've met here whom I'd love to meet.

Saturday 15 June 2013

Z is looking forward

It's a fortnight to the blog party, so please can we start to confirm who's coming and who would like to stay over?  I have looked back to when it was first mooted and who said they hoped to come then, but that was months ago, so plans may have changed - I know that Tim can't come any more.

If I've left your name out it's because I am fundamentally a bit hopeless, so please just tell me you're coming, and if you haven't told me yet then you're certainly invited.  There's room to stay but there might be a slight bed shortage, so it'll be good (but not essential) to have time to think things through.  I've certainly got three double beds and a single and more spare rooms without beds in them yet, but have options.  It'll be fine, don't let a question of accommodation concern you.

The list I have, and apologies for anyone I've left off -

PixieMum and Ian
Compostwoman, if her back is up to the journey
Wendz and Martin
Mike and Ann
Sir Bruin and Liz
Blue Witch and Mr BW
Rog and Mrs Rine (with Holly and Lily)
Mig and Barney
Roses and Lawrence
Macy, who's been silent of late
Mago, possibly
Janerowena, possibly

Family - Ro and Dora will be in Paris but the rest hope to come.  That is -

The Sage and Z (well, obv)
Weeza, Phil, Zerlina and Augustus
Al, Dilly, Squiffany, Pugsley and Hadrian

There's no limit to numbers, we have plenty of room and I'll just borrow more tables and crockery if we run out.  I haven't started to think about food yet, but let me know if there's anything you don't eat if I don't already know it.  And don't be concerned about not knowing people, everyone is so friendly and welcoming that you soon will.

Friday 14 June 2013

Z listens

Tonight, I'm mostly winding down.  A week ago, we were halfway through the Sage's final auction, but we've been so busy since then that, when I had a query this afternoon, I had to refresh my memory about a bid made by phone that I'd dealt with.

I'd rather put it all behind me, I've managed to clear the decks for the weekend pretty well and I'm not going to call myself lazy for at least a week as a consequence.  Tomorrow, I'm having a new mattress delivered, which was only ordered this afternoon - the local shop is fabulous.  Al and Dilly bought a new bed when they moved and left their wooden bedstead behind, telling us that it could do with a new mattress and, since the room will probably be called into use over the blog party weekend, I knew I had to deal with it.  But there were a number of more pressing matters and it's a mark of my getting on with things that I can look a whole fortnight ahead now.  And it was easy.  I walked in, was taken up to the top floor where they keep the stock, I chose a mattress and agreed a delivery time of 8.30 tomorrow morning, paid and walked out, all within ten minutes.  It's the best shop in the world.  You can buy a reel of cotton, a ball of wool or a pair of gloves, or else a glamourous nightie or some old-fashioned big knickers, you can carpet your house and go some way towards furnishing it and you can buy your bed, duvet and pillows there and have a reasonable choice of linen for it, as well as a range of materials for the curtains.  Which they will make for you if you aren't that sort of needleperson.  And it's all done at a fair price, promptly.  Yagnub is a lucky town.

But I'm a pretty lucky Z too, as far as customer service goes.  I've had to deal with a good many firms by phone  yesterday and today and they have all been fabulous.  It's turned a dreary and tedious amount of work into something that has given me satisfaction for a job that's been well completed, even if it's left me drained.

Tonight, I'm listening to Radio 3 iPlayer, the recording of Peter Grimes.  When I went on Sunday, they were recording for the beach performances, but on Friday it was being played live on Radio 3 and that's what I've got on.  Lovely, brings back the feel of five nights ago.

Last night, after an hour's sleep, I woke and couldn't sleep again.  At 1.30 there was the ping of an email from a member of staff.  A few minutes later, another and then a third.  I was being copied into emails, they weren't addressed to me, but all the same, I emailed back ... "M, shouldn't you get some sleep?" I asked mildly.  I received the reply at 7.24.  H'm.  A work/life balance slippage there.

This evening, I combed Ben.  I filled the wastepaper basket with hair.  At least the carpet (which is Ben-coloured) should be spared for the next couple of days.  The Sage has been splendid, doing most of the dog-walking, but Ben and I had a lovely cuddle and a frolic this afternoon and he knows I still love him, however busy I am.  A bit earlier, the Sage had called me.  "Ben's got something in his mouth."  He picks up all sorts of things he shouldn't, so I addressed him sternly.  "Give, Ben, give," and prised his mouth open.  Staring him in the eye made him submit.  On his tongue was one of his own dog biscuits, uneaten.  He'd have let me take it, too.  Of course, I let him go and said he could eat it.  But I'm not sure there has ever been a sweeter-natured dog, ever.

Thursday 13 June 2013

Z prefers anonymity

Janerowena pointed out that I perform in public regularly - yes, but that's not what I mean.  Although I was very nervous for some time when I started playing the organ in church, I never have considered it a 'performance' as such, because no one is coming to hear me.  I'm accompanying the service, it isn't about me.  I must do it adequately, but I don't matter unless I make a complete hash of it.  Of course, I've been to a church or cathedral service and noted how well (or, occasionally, poorly) the organ has been played and a fine organist might well be a draw - but it's not the point of the occasion.  And when there were lessons at the village school on a Saturday - the teachers hired the school as a convenient venue - there was an end-of-term concert.  I played the alto recorder in a children's recorder group to help out and I played a clarinet solo or two, because as one of the pupils I was setting a good example to them all by joining in - but no one came to hear me anyway, you only go to that sort of thing to listen to your own child.  I think the Sage might have come once or twice because Ro was playing too (he played saxophone) - anyway, I did it because I had to, not because I wanted to.

My teacher could never understand why I flatly refused to take clarinet exams.  "You've got Grade 5 Theory, you could go straight in at 5, you play at diploma level already," she said.  But I loathed piano exams when I was a child and they certainly spoiled my enjoyment of playing the piano.  Having to thump out the same dreary tunes for ages in preparation for an exam, the dreadful fear (for an acutely self-conscious child) of being watched as I played, by a judgemental stranger - I hated every minute and only ever scraped though the exams (though getting full marks for the written theory exams, which I enjoyed) and all for something that was of no importance at all, as far as I could see.  I said to her, I didn't feel the need to prove anything.  I didn't want to measure myself, I just wanted to learn the clarinet for pleasure and play as well as I could for my own satisfaction and sense of fulfilment.

Years ago, I'd have not played in public out of fear, and that was largely a hang-over from those beastly exams, but I've been playing in church (and played in those little end of term concerts) enough times to have got that well out of my system - although, of course, one is always nervous before a special occasion and so one should be.  So now I know for sure that I simply don't want to do it, I don't want to be the focus of attention, I don't like showing off, which is what it feels like to me.

Many people who are good at singing or playing want to show other people how well they can do it, to give them pleasure, to make them happy, and I'm very glad they do.  And it can complete the learning of a piece and give their efforts a purpose.  However, I have no comprehension of that desire. I don't need or like applause and I know I'm not so good that that it would be worth overcoming my reluctance to perform.

Wednesday 12 June 2013

Piano sex

Here is one of the more unusual piano pieces that was played last night.  It might take a minute or two to work out how it was played.  

They were both marvellous concerts, and if you're in possible distance of the Aldeburgh Festival, start hunting for return tickets, do, because you're missing a great treat.  It doesn't matter if you don't already know and love the specific music of the programme, soak up the atmosphere, learn and let yourself grow.

In the afternoon, I was quite close to the clarinettist, and I watched his score and his fingering, and I realised that I could, at one time, have played the Schubert piece.  Not for the first time, I regretted having let slip a pretty good level of ability.  I had worked hard, but then I was too busy and stressed and let it go.  I might have carried on if I'd ever joined an orchestra or a small music group at the least, but ... oh, I don't know,  I thought about it and if I'd ever received a specific invitation I might have acted on it, but it was the awful inevitability of a performance that put me off.  I just don't like it.  My mother brought me up not to show off, and it still lingers, the feeling that it's vanity that makes an amateur want to play in public, whether for money or praise.

There is no logic in this, in that I have often attended and enjoyed performances from amateur musicians, but - oh, it feels all wrong for me.  So I never joined any sort of group and now I would need a year's practice to get anywhere near the standard I used to be at.  

The evening concert was a delight.  The pianist, who is also the Festival's artistic director, said a few words about each piece before playing it.  He is French, speaks English with a slight accent and was entirely charming.  After the interval, which seemed to be on time, he spoke at greater length.  The Cage, 4'33", he explained at some length - it's in three movements apparently, who knew?  As he said, they're remarkably similar to each other.  He concluded by saying that there are many different ways to perform this piece, by letting it speak for itself, for example, or maybe by playing another piece at the same time, whether by John Cage or by another composer - or, you could explain the piece to the audience.  Most of us had twigged by this time, but when he glanced down at his watch, the hall erupted into applause and laughter.

After that, he became really expansive, responding to an audience who clearly loved him, with the result that the concert overran by 45 minutes.  Not that anyone cared.  

A revelation to me was the realisation, when The Banshee was played, how feminine a grand piano is.  Seeing him delve into the innards of the wide-open grand piano was a surprisingly intimate experience.  I don't say erotic, but it was certainly sensual - well, that's what I found, anyway.  

Tuesday 11 June 2013

Z looks at reed beds

I'm at Snape, having eaten a plateful of very good fish stew and not yet finished a bottle of the beer that Adnams brewed especially for Britten's centenary: Native Britten, made from Suffolk ingredients and flavoured with honey and thyme. It's a beautiful, peaceful sight from the window, reed beds and the river, one of my favourite places in Suffolk.

It took a while to relax, having had a 9 o'clock meeting that went on for nearly three hours, after which I had to do some follow-up work straight away and it was just as well I had an afternoon concert to go to (Britten, Janáček and Schubert [I'm dead impressed, the iPhone autofilled in Janáček, accents and all] ) which was lovely, at Blythburgh church and I came straight on over. I phoned the Sage, all is well at home.

Tonight, it's piano music from the last hundred years. I know very little of it, though I'm sure that John Cage's 4'33" will not sound unfamiliar (the last word is hardly required).

The sun has come out again. This year's Aldeburgh Festival is just what I need, I've felt jagged for too long. Not that I can relax for a bit, but a little respite is allowed and very much appreciated.

Sent from Z's iPhone

Monday 10 June 2013

Z tips PG

What a weekend - hardly know where to start.  As I said, I brought our client home and spent much of Saturday morning on the phone sorting out his insurance and replacement car.  After cooking bacon and eggs for breakfast and clearing up, that is.  Having just two guests trebles the cooking and washing up, don't you find?  Not that I mind, I love a houseful of people and I love to provide plenty of food and drink and see them relax and be cheerful, especially poor M when he'd had a rotten time getting here.  His car is a classic, a 1980 MG and he's going to have to negotiate with the insurance company, who are trying to call it an old banger worth a few hundred pounds and get it written off.  Still, we've got advice on what to do next and he's going to ask for an assessor, get in touch with his specialist garage and so on - no longer my problem.

Usually, on the day after the sale, we'd contact everyone to tell them what they'd bought or not bought (if they'd left us bids) and what their pieces made in the case of the vendors, but there was no time and it'll have to be done today.  A few people rang or emailed and we've answered them.  I can't remember what happened on Saturday afternoon, it's a blank, though I know we sat down for a while with the papers (I didn't read them, I was too busy and I wonder what I was doing) because I felt that M should rest. Oh, in the morning I phoned the Snape box office and was lucky, getting a returned ticket for our other friend Daphne who was staying with us.

Sunday, I was up early for the 8 o'clock service, and Daphne took us out to lunch at a local pub, and jolly good it was.  We went early, because I was taking M to Norwich to pick up his replacement car.  Then home and off to Snape, where we had supper.  And that was really delicious.  I didn't make it there at all last year, but for a few years it's been a bit disappointing - perfectly nice but not anywhere near as good as it used to be.  I had a butternut squash dish in a creamy sauce with a walnut crumble topping - they called it a fricassée and it would be jolly good if I had the faintest idea how to spell that, it's come up underlined in red but I can't be bothered to look it up.  Anyway, it was lovely.  M had a crab salad and there was some samphire garnishing the dish of crabs.  I asked the chef if I could take any or it was just a garnish, and he said help myself (it obviously was the garnish but he was being nice).  Just lightly blanched, still crunchy - I said, it was the first I'd seen this year and he said it was French, but actually I've just bought some from the fishmonger and that was Israeli and it looked just the same, so I suspect that it was too.  I only buy English asparagus, but I'm not a samphire purist in the same way.

Anyway, Peter Grimes.  Darlings, if any of you were there last night or on Friday, you will know how lucky you and I, were.  If not, I'm so sorry for you.  You missed the most wonderful performance, brilliant in every way.  I keep typing a few words, deleting them and starting again, I can't do it justice.  

They had extended the stage to make room for everyone and the chorus was at the back, then the orchestra with the soloists sitting in a row at the front, the conductor on his rostrum in the middle of them.  They stood up to sing, then sat down again and had only facial expressions and hand gestures, as well as the voice, to act with.  And this made it so condensed and they projected the feeling and drama of the opera to increase its intensity.  I really feel that having costumes, props and moving about the stage to act out the story would have lessened its effectiveness.

The orchestra was wonderful and having them on the stage with the singers really worked, the balance between singers and players was perfect.  You could hear every instrument individually within the ensemble playing.  My friend Lorna, who went to the Friday performance and is extremely knowledgeable, far more than I am, said that she's been to many productions of PG and this was the best ever.  I said, some time into the evening I realised that I could physically feel the music, its sound waves, and she agreed and knew just what I meant.  The singers were all wonderful and Ellen, the schoolmistress, and Peter himself, as the principal characters, projected the understated yet powerful emotion of the piece superbly.  The young apprentice, John, was an invisible presence - it is not a singing part and he never says a word and they did not have someone standing there as a pathetic young victim of circumstance, which made it all the more poignant.

Here's a synopsis of the story if you don't know it.  It was Britten's first and greatest opera and I feel so lucky to have seen such a wonderful production, in his own concert hall in his centenary year.  If you have a ticket for the beach performances, it was being recorded last night so you will hear what I heard, but the cast will perform the action of the opera on the beach itself.  It'll be wonderful I know, and I still half wish I'd booked for both as I first thought I would - it was the thought of sitting on a shingle beach for three hours that finally decided me not to - but I'd not have missed last night for anything.  

Friday 7 June 2013


The sale went well and the Sage was great.  We've acquired a weekend guest - that is, we already had one whom we'd invited, but one poor chap had a car accident on the way here from Gloucester and he was a bit stranded, so I brought him home, cooked him sausage, bacon and egg, fried potato and tomato ("oh, that's far too much for me,"he said, just before polishing it all off) and have sent him to bed.  He was anxious because he has a ticket for Peter Grimes at the Aldeburgh Festival on Sunday - but so have I, so I can take him.  We can sort out his hire car over the weekend in time for him to go home on Monday.

It was a busy and stressful afternoon, a lot of phone calls and minor glitches, but it all came good and people are so lovely.  Darlings, if ever you consider becoming disillusioned, just let yourself be open to the kindness and friendship there is in everyday life and let people help you, and if that sounds twee or cutesie, then just take me at face value instead and let it stand.

I'm a bit tired right now, though I don't know whether I'll sleep or not - I really want a cup of coffee, but am not sure that strong black coffee is the way to go right now.  I may compromise with strong black decaff.  Anyway, I'll walk Benny the Bean and go to bed.

Thursday 6 June 2013


Tomorrow is the Sage's final auction and I don't think I've a lot to say about it.  My feelings are very mixed and it's going to be an ordeal.  I hope it does well.

I haven't done all my preparation work, though most of it, and I've done the food for tomorrow.  Lots of straightforward food is vital, when you're handling valuable china you have to keep up your blood sugar level.  We've got a housesitter for the day, too many people know we'll be out  to leave the place empty, and of course there's Ben to be considered too.

I've been wondering for a long time, but never sure how to put it - do other people feel they've done what they needed to do in life?  I know the 'bucket list' thing is popular, but I've never had any notion of such a thing.  Years ago, as my youngest child approached his 18th birthday, I had a feeling of relief - job done, I'd completed the upbringing of my family and didn't have any more obligations in that respect.  Similarly, I looked after my mother until she died in her own bed, as she wanted.  And after this is over, I've supported the Sage to the completion of his career.  Not that he intends to retire altogether, but he won't particularly need my help.

It's hard to describe what I mean, because you're going to take it the wrong way whatever I say.  But I see no particular long-term purpose in life except to complete the tasks I start, particularly in relation to my family and I felt I'd ticked off the important jobs years ago - well, the only important job, raising each child to adulthood.  I'm not suggesting there's nothing left to live for - sorry, you either get what I mean or you don't, I'm just wondering if anyone does?

Anyway, I've had a contact lens in my eye since Tuesday, which is a nuisance.  It's stuck there at the back and won't come out.  It's only slightly uncomfortable except when I wake at night, when it's quite scratchy.  I haven't time to get it sorted out, it'll have to happen in its own time.  Actually, I'm a bit fearful of anyone messing about with my eye, I don't want to go to the optician about it.

Wednesday 5 June 2013

Z's week so far in pictures

A bit short of time tonight, so here are some fairly random pictures -

 This is my idea of what to do with the wall (it's not curved, it's a panoramic view)
This is the Sage's.  You can see, perhaps, what I battle against.

 Fishmongers' Hall from the garden
And the garden from the Hall
 As JaneRowena says, there used to be a choir school here and a famous recording was made in the Temple Church.
A couple of names I recognise, Walford Davies in particular, and I see that there was a woman organist at the end of the 18th Century
 The chickens tried to hide their eggs.  We found them.  With the ones in the nestbox, that made 35 found in one day.  H'mm
She's rather a bully, but she follows me around, so I'm fond of her.

Tuesday 4 June 2013

Fishmongers and a Temple

Yesterday's London visit was to the Fishmongers' Hall - this may sound unlikely, but the Livery Companies used to be of immense importance in the City of London and the Fishmongers' Guild was ranked fourth in order of precedence.  Can't remember the second or third, but the Mercers were first and the Goldsmiths were fifth - which shows the huge importance of the fishing industry in mediaeval times and afterwards.  A fabulous building containing many treasures, including the famous Annigoni portrait of the Queen soon after her coronation, which was originally commissioned by the Fishmongers - who knew?  Also who knew? there was a pair to it, a youthful Prince Philip looking frankly quite pissed off.  Apparently, rumour has it, that he and the artist didn't particularly get on.  Anyway, although the Fs own it, they don't hold the rights to reproductions, which are held by A's estate.

Then we went off to the Inns of Court for lunch.  We sat in the massive dining hall of the Middle Temple, some 101 feet long by 41 feet wide at the High Table, which easily seated the thirty of us, being made from four 29 feet planks of wood from a single oak tree, given by Elizabeth I.  Amazing, really was.  Good lunch, too.  And then I went to look at the Temple Church, built by the Knights Templar and modelled on the Temple in Jerusalem.

None of them the most obvious tourist attractions, but indicative of the wealth of fascinating historical buildings and artefacts in London.  And it was a gorgeous day.  I had a bit of time to stroll round the gardens and went along to look down on a sunken garden.  At eye level there was a wisteria in bloom, planted in the garden beneath, and it had the most gorgeous scent.  Ours has a slight scent, but nothing like that.  I wonder what variety it is - it was a deeper colour than ours, which still isn't in full bloom.  I've never known it so late.

While waiting for the coach to pick us up, Pip and I stood on the Embankment looking at the Thames.  We noticed the tide was just on the turn, you could see that the water was flowing strongly downstream and then, a few minutes later, there were eddies and swirls when the incoming tide started to fight against it.  A couple of balloons tied together drifted downriver, and a few minutes later came back again, only to pause and bob about in the river in front of us, held by the turning tide.

Monday 3 June 2013

Z says the wrong thing

Friends called round this evening and I've run out of steam.  I'm Zedded out, having been hostessy and enthusiastic for the past couple of hours.  Luckily, they're dog lovers, because Ben had been left alone a fair bit of the day and wanted a lot of cuddles.

This week is going to be hard work for several reasons and I'm not looking forward to any of it.  But it'll all get dealt with, one way and another.

London was very good, though not without its mini-crisis at the start of the day.  Jill, who has organised these visits for several years, is stepping down now and I hope the next person will be as good, it is certainly something I'd never offer to do.  I'll tell you about it tomorrow, I'm going to take the dog for a walk and go to bed now.  

Oh, I will tell you one thing, a bit of a faux pas I made this morning.  A friend was telling me about a dreadful mishap.  Her daughter's dog was paralysed in the back legs, I suppose it was hip dysplasia, but the family loved him very much and couldn't bear for him to be put down, so helped him about the place.  But he fell in the swimming pool and died - they think he had a heart attack and are not sure if that or the water killed him.  When she and her husband arrived to commiserate, the son-in-law had rather hit the bottle in his distress, but the dog was loaded into the car and taken to another family member, who has plenty of land where a grave was dug and a burial was performed.  Then they went home, where s-i-l got out the brandy bottle.  "He was drunk,' she said, "I've never seen him like it.  He really loved that dog and was terribly upset."  "Drowning his sor.... oh, sorry," I said, foot-in-mouthedly.  

Sunday 2 June 2013

Dear reader...

I've just finished addressing ten envelopes and it's not often that happens, not hand-written.  The sale catalogues go out to hundreds of people, of course, but I print the labels.  I could have this time, but ten labels on a sheet of 21 seems a bit wasteful.

I've never got around to typing up my entire address list so that - er, can't mention it when it's more than six months ahead, but *you know what* card addresses can be printed out.  Sensible, can't be argued with, but it does seem a bit impersonal.  On the other hand, when I get around to it, I do print out address labels for postcards before I go on holiday.

I was struck today by Lyle's remark that it's not surprising that a laptop bought in September 2009 had just about had it.  I looked up the age of the Sage's (on here, you might expect it because it's better than any other records I've ever kept) and it was bought only two months later, yet I think of it as nearly new.  My present Mac is a year and a half older than that.  Again, I don't think of that as very old.  But that's probably because I am and I've always been used to having things that last.

Today, it was too hot to do all the heavy lifting that we'd planned, so I planted up/out everything that I've been raising in pots.  Much more satisfying than cutting things down and I was quite happy.  We also turned out the porch again.  Each time, I explain to the Sage that it's to be kept clear apart from one designated area for my bike, wellies, regularly used bits of kit such as bike pump, metal detector, battery charger - and each time he starts dumping stuff.  Some of it is, literally, rubbish and has gone straight in the bin or on the bonfire.  I'm afraid that he's getting worse, and he was pretty bad to start with.  However, it's clear again now, I sat in there and listened to BBC iPlayer this afternoon, Ben between me and the Sage on the bench, playing On Your Farm, broadcast at larkfart this morning, because Jonathan and Dulcie were being interviewed about their new cheesemaking enterprise.  And then I came in and made a nice little plateful of cheese-topped oatcake, cucumber, pepper and olives to nibble along with my gin and tonic, because I hadn't eaten much all day and was going to have a sudden energy dip before dinner if I didn't watch out.  As it was, I relaxed and read the paper for a bit before going to start cooking.

Which is why I had to write all those letters so late this evening.  I'm off early tomorrow, soon after 6 o'clock, because I'm going to London for the day.  

Saturday 1 June 2013

Z is cautiously optimistic

...which is silly of course, but the latest round of grass cutting seems to indicate that there might be an end in sight.  This is not because we've cut nearly all the grass but because we found a pheasant's nest and, not far away, a hen pheasant with ten chicks, and we've decided to leave most of the rest as cover for them, because there are magpies, crows and hawkish birds about (I'm a bit vague about details in that respect, even if I do know a hawk from a harnser) and they'll have 'em if they get the chance.  We've got four hen pheasants about, so if they all have a successful brood, the Sage will be in his element.  He adores baby birds and they respond remarkably well to him.

The baby blackbirds nesting in the eaves of Kenny's shed have fledged too and were following me about as I cut the grass, looking for insects.  We've agreed that Ben can't be allowed off the lead in the garden, we're not having birds scared by him.  He'll have to learn to leave them alone in the long run, but I don't feel quite up to the risk of it all yet.

Anyway, we're nearly on schedule for May's work - that is, another good go tomorrow and it'll be done, I hope, apart from taking down the summer house, which I always reckoned would wait for June, so only a slippage of a couple of days, the list having been labelled Spring 2013.   I've added a few more jobs - five, in fact, three of which are to be done this month.

Enough about that?  I agree. Erm, let's see - oh yes, I know.  I've been wondering, do people still bother with their reader statistics?  I get an email every week saying how many each day and that sort of thing, but it's usually pretty consistent and I don't take much notice.

In fact, when I do delve into the details, I find that the majority of you are regular visitors.  I always reckon this place is like a soap or daily serial.  Read it once or twice and it's pretty uninteresting, but keep going for a week or two and it grows on you, though you may not know why (I don't either).  Fairly consistently, about 65% of hits are from this country and another 25% from the US and Canada, but the rest are from all over.  Mostly Australia, New Zealand, Germany, France and Ireland, but the final few can be from anywhere.  In the last five days there was someone in Budapest and another in Brasilia, for example.  I had a visitor from Dubai a week or two back, though that might have been a friend who was there on business. Among French readers,  I have a fairly regular visitor from Paris, but I've never had a comment from that part of France - you're most welcome of course, I don't expect you to comment.  The German visitor is, I presume, Mago, because there's usually only one but it's a regular and there's no referring link (for those who don't know, that suggests you've got it bookmarked so come straight here).  Other friends click through from blog to blog, eg via Tim or Rog, and one-off visitors arriving hopefully in search of information type something about razor-blades or plastic bags in their search engine and find that I'm no help at all.