Z catches up

Weeza is coming over first thing tomorrow and we’re going to paint the drawing room.  It’s so kind, she wants particularly to paint the ceiling to spare our old arms.  First thing isn’t too early, in fact, as she has an hour’s drive and she’ll send a text as she leaves home, so we’ve got time to get ourselves sorted out.  We have taken out all the furniture that needs to be removed and we’ve taken the pictures off the walls, but we are leaving the curtains until the morning for overnight warmth retention, because it’ll be frosty again.

I had a message on the local email network to say that a friend was having a sale of her sister’s jewellery.  Her sister died last month of breast cancer, she was a successful jewellery designer and and there were a lot of her pieces.  I’ve still got some of the earrings I bought from her more than 20 years ago, when she was starting out.  My friend has had a pretty tough year, with two operations herself, one of which was only partly successful and the other was shockingly sudden, though it cured a problem she hadn’t known she had.  And her brother in law is currently paralysed with Guillain-Barré syndrome, though there are hopes of a good recovery, not to mention the illness and death of her younger sister.  As soon as I heard, I went straight over and have bought a number of pieces, as presents and for myself.  So little one can do.

Before that, I’d  been to visit the high school, to see the alterations they’ve done over the summer – and are still doing.  When the school became an academy several years ago, it was left with a backlog of years of repairs because the local authority was only really interested in big town schools.  They put millions into those, nothing to rural schools.  But finally most of the major repairs have been done – new roofs, new windows and doors, as well as other improvements.  Still lots to do, but it’s structurally a lot more secure now.

Yesterday, we went to a tour round the puppet theatre in Norwich, which was a lot of fun.  It’s housed in a redundant church and has been there for nearly 40 years.  The puppets hanging up all over the place are rather creepy, frankly, but impressive in action and the enthusiasm of the people who run is it a joy.

Cheerful music tonight and early to bed, I think.  Have a good weekend.

The Sprig – Part 2 – mod cons

Russell remembered the days before there was a mains water supply to the house, when the family relied on the well for water.  I think he told me it is 30 feet deep, not quite sure.  It’s got a very solid, cast iron manhole cover over it but it’s completely open when you remove that – circular, brick-lined and the water down there looks quite forbidding.  There used to be the remnants of the original hand pump on the wall, but it must have fallen apart and I can’t remember when it was taken away.

Sprig didn’t remember when electricity was brought to the house but his elder sister did.  She was born in August 1932 and he was born in June 1936, so odds are that it was in 1937 or 38.  This seems quite late, but wires had to be brought across the fields from Yagnub.  My mother, who was born at the end of 1923 remembered when electricity was laid on at her house, which she left at the age of 7, so that was done sometime in the 20s.

What both sister June and my mother remembered about electricity was how cold the house was that first winter, compared to the old gas lights.  I remember gas lighting myself – back in the 1960s and early ’70s, I delivered Meals on Wheels with my mother and one old lady, a Mrs Cockerton in Nelson Road, Pakefield, still used gas.  She had a gas cooker, fridge, lamps, everything.  In fact, friends of Sprig’s family, who will be mentioned again, lived in a farmhouse half a mile from the road and they didn’t have mains electricity to the ends of their lives, though they did have a generator.

When Sprig was a little boy, the hand pump was used to fill the large water tanks in the attic, which must have been a strenuous job.  I suspect the gardener did it.  I grew up in a house with a well myself, it was a wonderful thing and I’d never have gone on to mains water if I lived there.  We had four tanks, each holding 250 gallons and the pump worked automatically twice a day to fill them.  I very much doubt the tanks here were anywhere near that size, the water supply ddn’t warrant it.  My mother-in-law told me that they had to be careful in summer or the well ran dry – it filled again, it wasn’t a serious problem but a nuisance for a few hours.  Once the electricity supply had been brought, an electric pump was installed at The Close too, but it must have been later, maybe about 1940.   I don’t know when the mains water came, but mains drainage never has and the big brick septic tank is still in splendid condition, though – as I wrote about at the time – we had a problem with the pipework the other side of it, the year before last.   The water supply comes across the Ups and Downs, there’s a stopcock (just in case anyone ever needs to know) a few yards into that field and another by the road, between the churchyard and the old mill yard.

Russell always had a sneaking ambition to put in a new pump, so that we could use well water for the garden, but we never got around to it, which is a pity.  Still, just one more thing to look after.


If Z knows of a better ‘ole…

LT’s phone dropped out of his pocket, the other day.  I rang it and it had just fallen in a bag by the sofa, but I took it as a prompt to set up family sharing on our respective accounts.  I often use the “Find my phone” app but he doesn’t have any other Apple products, except an elderly iPod.  It gives various options, which we haven’t taken up but, of course, to be able to find each other’s devices means that we can each look up where the other is.  Which we usually know, of course.  But oh, how we laughed.

It seems to be completely impossible to keep rats out of the hen house.  Earlier in the year, after the fox disaster (when they’d got in through the adjoining barn), we upped our defences considerably.  Unfortunately, since the old rat runs had been blocked off, they tunnelled instead and made great mounds of earth.  We’ve paved part of the run, put wire down, rubble … they just dig through.  It wouldn’t really matter, i suppose, except that it looks such a mess and they eat the chickens’ food.  I don’t go out to let them into the greenhouse until about 9 and they can’t wait to eat until then.  I don’t leave food in the greenhouse any more, they were really munching their way through the layer pellets – indeed, they like them a lot more than the chickens do (and they’re moulting anyway, so we’re only getting an egg every other day at present).

I can’t put poison down because of the cats and I can’t put traps down because of the chickens and I’m rather afraid of rat traps anyway.  I guess I can pave the whole of the hen run, though it will take another 28 paving slabs – which I probably have – and a fair bit of work for Wince.  It’s a nuisance, certainly.

I pre-empted another blocked drain, having noticed the kitchen sink plughole was a bit slow to empty the other day.  It wasn’t bad but, having cleared the pipe between that and the first manhole, I put the rods down the next section and it was starting to back up a bit there.  So we lifted the next one, which was clear, so I rodded between the two, lifted the other cover which leads from the bathroom and cloakroom and was relieved to find that was entirely clear.  Actually, I lifted the wrong one first, and we gazed down into the well.

I don’t think I’ve told you about the well.  And that reminds me that I was going to write down tales from the Sprig’s childhood and I’ve hardly started.  So I should continue with that, too.

Z loads half a tonne and what does she get?

Hmm.  The title doesn’t have a very impressive ring, innit?  But that is what we did – not me on my own, of course.  Rose, Lawrence and I went down to the local fuel merchant, while LT got the coal shed ready and we fetched half a tonne of smokeless fuel in 25 kg bags.  Then they had to be put in wheelbarrows, wheeled to the shed, unloaded and stacked.  With three wheelbarrows, this turned into a straightforward production line and LT lifted each bag into a barrow, Lawrence or Rose wheeled it, I wheeled it in and tipped it out and lifted it into position.

Halfway through, my arms started to give out but, fortunately, Rose’s Boy arrived at that point so we stood him in the shed and my job was reduced to wheeling each barrow into place once it was brought to the door.  I volunteered for that particular job as the doorway is very low, though there’s room to stand once inside, and I’m the shortest so have to bend least.

And it’s done, so our respective stoves will be stoked for some weeks to come.  We have loads of wood but you get more heat and it lasts longer with coal.

We’ve been having a few cat issues recently.  Since Lawrence and Rose have been visiting London regularly for his medical treatment, his cat Chip was finding life a bit stressful.  He spent time in a cattery and the occasional night alone, but it didn’t suit him and he’s come to live here for a while.  This isn’t too easy for Rose’s cat Rummy, who is reasonably sociable – as is Chip – but found it an intrusion.  Eloise cat isn’t sociable at all and was quite put out.

While Rose is here, it’s okay.  Rummy is very much her cat and only tolerates other people, though he’s getting more friendly.  But he has not been at all well behaved with the outdoor cats.  For quite some time, he has had the habit of joining them when I feed them – appearing nearby and asking for food, which I give to him separately.  Sometimes, as I walk down to their barn, I see him clock me from Rose’s garden and sprint along, often round via the field, to join us.  However, for the last week or two, he’s been attacking the other cats.  He and RasPutin have always hated each other but they mostly hold a truce – RasPutin used to be the winner in a squabble but he’s old and less capable now.  I’ve seen his tabby son Zain stand and not let Rummy past, to protect his father.  The three other siblings are much more timid though, especially the two black boys and, frankly, Rummy has been bullying them.  The other day, as Barney cautiously approached, Rummy appeared from a hiding place to dash at him – RasPutin went to the rescue and there was a standoff.  I have to have two feeding places in case they’re too afraid to come to the usual one.

However, the good thing is that, now Rose is back again, Rummy is much happier and today he just came along and waited for food in the normal way while RasPutin, Betty, Fred and Barney were fed first.  Zain hasn’t been seen all week.  I do worry somewhat but they are feral cats and sometimes vanish for a while.  I haven’t seen their mother since February but, in the absence of any evidence, I assume she has adopted a family and moved territory.

Z has a turn out

We are nearing the end of the joint of beef.  I have made a cottage pie for tomorrow and LT has volunteered to cook a stir-fry this evening, using the last whole slice of meat.  We have frozen two pints of stock and have two ramekins of dripping in the fridge.  I’d melted and strained that and some meat juices and bits were in the bottom of the pan, so I mixed some oatmeal and water with that and the chickens will enjoy it in the morning.  And there’s a bit of gravy left and that really is it.

I’m looking forward to getting the room painted and the new carpet laid.  As I said, the biggest pieces of furniture have been taken out and we’ll do the rest when the time comes – the sofa and chairs can just be moved over, I should think.  But taking everything out will make us think about whether each piece will go back in the same place – or, indeed, whether it comes back in here at all (the only trouble with that being that, if it doesn’t, we have to find another place for it).  The same with pictures, I think we take them for granted and stop really looking at them, if they’re always hung in the same position.

I’m also in the process of turning the larder out – though it isn’t really a larder any more as little food is kept in there.  Mostly, it’s big pieces of equipment that aren’t used very often, such as preserving pans and fish kettles, as well as empty jam jars, storage containers … and several dozen squashes that we harvested a few weeks ago.  I think I can manage things a bit better, if I put my mind to it.  And maybe at least some of the jars of jam and pickles that are on top of kitchen cupboards will find a home in there.

Z is a Laydee what Lunches

I’m still a board member at the local high school where I was a governor for 18 years and today was the Trustees’ AGM, so I duly trotted along – and it was so nice to see everyone and I do still feel part of the place.  I notice, when talking about it (which I don’t think I do all that often) I still say ‘we.”

After that – I had to leave before the end as I was running late – I scooted over to fetch my elderly friends in the town 9 miles away before heading to Norwich for lunch.  They were waiting patiently in the hall.  I’m very fond of them both – L is 90 and her sister J is 94.  Some years ago, J had a hip replacement but, when they started the operation, they discovered an infection in the bone and she had to be in traction, without a hip bone, for three months while she healed before they could complete the operation.  if that were not hideous enough, they gave her a powerful antibiotic and it made her feel dizzy after the first couple of doses.  She reported this and the side effects were checked.  It had actually seriously damaged her balance, permanently and she’s had to use crutches ever since.  So, though it’s in the wrong direction and they could take a bus and a taxi, going to pick them up seems the least I can do to help.

When I sat down randomly (we pick random numbers and sit in the place allocated) I was next to my friend Rosemary, who was nice enough to look delighted and say that I told such entertaining stories about my life.  And we did chat very enthusiastically, because she’s a lot of fun and holds a very good conversation.  And then, with my other neighbour, the subject somehow got on to schools, though I’d said nothing on the subject, and she (other neighbour) wondered why being strapped for cash made any difference, surely it’s the quality of the teaching that counts far more.  And so it does, but there’s a point when efficiency savings become real cuts, I said.  And she wanted examples.

Hah.  She got them.  For a start, I mentioned class sizes.  One of the other people on the table was the widow of an independent school headmaster, so she nodded at what I said there.  I also mentioned the amount of data recording that is expected nowadays.  Why couldn’t a clerical member of staff do that?  Well, they could but they still need to be given the information and have the training and knowledge to use it, and the teacher has to correlate and record the information whether they then information-crunch or not.  And then it turned out that Rosemary’s daughter teaches in a London borough that had such an improvement, a few years ago, that they started giving training session on the subject – and she had done the videos for that very training.  I explained that teachers of provincial schools were disheartened when it turned out that the per-pupil funding was treble what they were getting.  They simply couldn’t afford all the things that had led to the improvement.  Also, because I was getting into my stride by now, it is actually very time-consuming and not at all easy – quite rightly – to prove a teacher is under-performing longterm.  I don’t think I lectured, but I was fairly vivid, I suppose.  Just for a few minutes, we got on to another subject quite soon.

At the end, Rosemary called me a breath of fresh air.  Which is a lot kinder than I deserve, but very sweet of her.  I am not, it seems, averse to a bit of flattery once in a while.  Which clearly says nothing good about me at all!

Z is keen

I made some mustard for the beef casserole yesterday and, at the end of the meal, LT observed that the Colman family would be doing well out of his efforts.

If you don’t know the saying, here it is in my great-grandfather’s words.  “Mr Colman did not make his money out of the mustard that people ate.  He made his money out of the mustard that people left on their plates.”

LT has a lot to put up with.  Our families shared the same saying, but it took me on quite a journey, involving the age of my great-great-grandparents and how sayings spread about the country and whether they were now completely lost to anyone much younger than we are.  He joins in patiently where he can, recognising that, actually, I’m blogging in spoken words rather than on the virtual page – but without any attempt to edit.  Bonus for me, quite a lot to have to live with for him.

I’ve written before that my mother, because of the early death of her own mother when Mummy was only 18 months old, was brought up by two of her grandparents until she was 7.  Her father, my Grandad, had to travel to work, back in the 1920s as a civil engineer, a small Wiltshire town couldn’t provide him with employment.

My mother referred to her grandfather being in his eighties – he was her mother’s father.  Her parents were cousins; both widowed, her maternal grandfather and paternal grandmother, who were brother and sister, set up home together in their old age.  Her mother was born at the end of the 19th century, the 9th of 10 children and her mother was then about 45 years old: her first child was born in about 1873.  So I suspect her grandfather was born around 1840, give or take a year or two.

His name was John Farmer and he was a farmer in Melksham, Wiltshire.  My mother loved him very dearly and used to describe his blue eyes which twinkled when he was telling one of his yarns.  He called policemen “Peelers” and, if the hardy-gurdy man were heard playing, he’d send young Jane to “give him a penny to play in the next street.”  If every job were done for the day, he’d have “finished the game of bowls and beaten the Spaniards too” – which Sir Francis Drake was supposed to have said was going to happen as the Spanish Armada approached as he was on the bowling green.

And Colman’s mustard came from Norfolk and this was Wiltshire and Tim lived in Bournemouth several decades later.  So a meme went around long before the days of the internet.

Z sorts out

I couldn’t write a blog post last night because Eloise cat was lying on my chair again.  Of course, it’s out of the question that she be moved for my convenience.  At one time, LT might have moved her for his, but she has been training him, quite gently, but effectively.

I mentioned, last week, that the clock in the hall had gone haywire, gaining ten or so minutes every hour, but that I’d managed to adjust it so that it’s keeping time again.  The other day, my computer mouse became almost impossible to use.  I normally just put it on my leg, whether skirt, trouser or bare, and it’s fine – everyone else who tries to use it finds it difficult but I don’t, so I can’t tell the reason.  But it just didn’t work.  I was wearing tights under a skirt and it just about worked on the tights, but the next day I wore jeans and it was impossible.  I adjusted all the mouse settings (using it on my hand, which was just about manageable) but it didn’t help.  I turned the mouse off and on again and the computer off and on again and wondered if I needed to buy another mouse.

Then, yesterday (before Eloise cat took my place), it worked again.  It’s fine, just as normal.  I have no idea at all.  We think there are technology elves who enjoy playing tricks.

Without the three largest pieces of furniture apart from chairs and sofa, the room looks very big.  It is quite big in fact but, because it’s nearly square, chairs have to be brought some way into the room and so you aren’t particularly aware of its size.  Weeza used to say that her whole London flat would have fitted in this room, and it almost would if you disregarded stairs and landings, but now her sitting room is two and a half times the area of this room.  Quite a turnaround.

I spent some time dealing with the leftovers from Sunday.  There were not that many in fact, as we’d eaten all the vegetables except a tablespoon of cauliflower, which I didn’t keep.  There was mostly beef, which I took off the bone, making stock out of the bones.  The scraps were later put aside for the chickens and outdoor cats, of course.  And I’ve sorted it out into sliceable, chunkable and minceable meat today and have made a casserole using the rest of the gravy and the remains of a pheasant casserole, from the chunks for this evening.  In fact, pretty well nothing is wasted.  It was reported, the other day, that half of the potatoes bought from supermarkets and greengrocers are thrown away, not even having been cooked, because they’d gone green or sprouted or – well, I don’t know why.  I also don’t know how they know.  Because no one ever asked me and any remains I leave of vegetables, if they’re not suitable for the chickens, go on the compost heap.  But there aren’t many.  I spend a good deal on food, but I’m also quite frugal because I use up leftovers.  Indeed, while LT was away last week, I took single portions out of the freezer – squirrelled away for just such an occasion – and ate them, along with the remains of the marvellous curry goat.  Not all at the same meal though, obvs.

Sunday at the Zedary

The whole family came for lunch, which meant fourteen at the table, one of us in a high chair.  We had the full Sunday works – roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes, vegetables; followed by proper puddings – Queen of puddings and sticky toffee.  When considering everything that had to go in the Aga, this morning, I realised it wouldn’t, not at the right times, so went into the larder and hauled out the little Baby Belling (two electric rings and a half-sized oven) that usually is only brought into play in the summer if I turn the Aga off, or for this sort of occasion.

And it all went very well and there were fourteen paid-up members of the Clean Plate Gang, some of whom had more than one helping.

Since they were all going to be here and we’d got a few jobs that needed doing, I asked for some help.  So, Al’s shed where he keeps his beehives (he isn’t able to have bees again at present but would like to sometime in the future) has been shifted and refilled, furniture has been moved to the hall or the dining room, ready for redecorating and recarpeting this room and several reels of barbed wire, which had been shoved in the coal shed because there was space, a couple of years ago, have been put somewhere more suitable.  It was all highly satisfactory.  Squiffany is now taller than Dora by some way (Squiff is twelve) but Zerlina still has a little way to go.  Her ambition is, however, to be the tallest in the family, so she will have to top six foot.

I’d got a couple of paint samples and Weeza put dabs on the walls in several places and we think we’ve decided which to have, and we’ve set a date, later in the month, for the painting to be done.

I encouraged the family to help themselves to squashes – we have a lot of them in the larder.  And jalapeño peppers too.  And, with immense generosity, I gave away two jars of our lovely jalapeño relish.  Ro and Dora tried it with toasted cheese tonight.  “It’s the best!” he said.  Yes indeed, it is.  None of us wanted much to eat, but LT and I sampled the new bacon, with mushrooms on toast.

Z inadvertently buys a teapot

I had a phone call yesterday, when I was just sitting down to lunch.  I answered it anyway because it was from one of my auction clients.  Except, it wasn’t him on the phone, it was his daughter.

This chap had contacted me much earlier in the year and sent over a whole folder of photos and information about his pieces of L’toft china – not all of which was accurate: ie, not all the china was indeed L’toft.  I told him the pieces that weren’t and it was arranged that he’d send the rest.  However, when it came, he’d omitted one bowl and sent two Chelsea ewers instead, and sent some of the pieces I’d told him weren’t right.  In addition, some of those I’d taken as being right, weren’t.  So we sorted it all out by email and on the phone and it was agreed that I’d send the rest of the stuff back after the auction.  All his pieces but one sold and he asked me to hold that over until next year.  The, after the sale, there were two  very nice floral teapots that hadn’t found buyers and I asked him if he might be interested, as he’d said he was on the lookout for such a piece.

In the end, he made an offer below the reserve and I asked the owner if he’d like to accept it.  I said, I thought it was low and that his teapot had been unlucky not to sell and was worth more.  But he decided to go for it.  And I phoned my client again and we agreed that I’d deduct the cost and send the rest of his money.

We had such a pleasant chat that I really warmed to him.  He’d actually caused me hours of work, I’d spent ages researching the pieces that I couldn’t even sell, but had managed to find buyers for two of them, taking no commission at all but just passing on the money.  Which is what Russell would have done, I know his standards and aim to match them.  He had said he was going to be away for a week or so and it was agreed that I’d hold on to his china and his money until he was home again.

Back to yesterday.  I’d had the impression he was going on holiday, but he wasn’t.  He was going into hospital for an operation and it must have been a major one because he’d expected not to be home for ten days.  But it went wrong, or at any rate wasn’t successful and his daughter had phoned to say she’d found our correspondence on his computer, so had phoned to put me in the picture.  She couldn’t deal with more china arriving so please hold on to what I had, and cancel the sale of the teapot.  I’d already paid the owner the money, of course.

And I said of course, the vendor would quite understand and it would be all right and anyway, I wouldn’t hold her to it.  Did she think that her father might like it at some time in the future?  With some difficulty, she explained that he is unlikely to survive.  In fact, I think that is certain and she was trying not to be too blunt.  Poor woman, I’m so sorry for her and, though I’d not met him, I’d liked her dad and I’m really sorry about the situation.

A couple of years ago, I was sitting next to an elderly friend at lunch and she told me that she was going into hospital the next week for a major heart operation, and was very anxious about it.  She’d been told it was her only chance as she had such a weak heart and it would fail soon.  We were all encouraging, of course, and said we’d look forward to seeing her when she recovered.  But she never did, she lived for several more months but never came out of hospital.  We assume that an operation will put things right but sometimes, even if there’s no failure on the part of the surgeon, it just doesn’t work.

Anyway, on reflection, i’ve decided to keep the teapot myself.  When I next see the vendor I’ll tell him about it, but I really don’t want the embarrassment of asking for the money back.  And it’s a very nice teapot and I’ll enjoy it and it’ll remind me of poor Brian, in quite a good way.