Do or Di

Tim is home, bringing fresh stocks of Soan Papdi but having been bewildered by the choice of chillies at the Exotic Supermarket, so we’ll have to manage with the last half jar of chilli relish for a while – I sympathise, I’d have been the same.  He has brought cumin seeds though, which is jolly good as I use a lot of them.  They were in tonight’s kedgeree, for example.

In the meantime, I ventured out in the driving seat for the first time.  It was always going to be fine, I’m completely over the operation and can stand on the operated leg without hesitation – I could hop on it, I’m sure.  I had some cheques to pay into the bank on the way, and that proved interesting.

They pass each cheque through a machine that reads it, nowadays, as you’ll know.  And, if you ask, give you a receipt.  I had three cheques and two of them were reasonably sizeable, so the teller offered to itemise them on the receipt.  “Oh!” she said.  “This cheque is for £2,000 but the scanner has read it as £200.”

Well, it was all right of course, she cancelled it and put them through again, but it was a bit alarming all the same.  If I’d been in a hurry and said not to worry about the receipt… I told LT about it this evening.  “Jesus wept!” he said blasphemously, though not as blasphemously as my father who added a few words to that quotation that were funny but unrepeatable.  “And they’re planning to eliminate human error by giving us driverless cars.”

And then I drove to Norwich for lunch with my friends, which included Roses on this occasion, and I had gammon and bread-and-butter pudding, and it was good.  My elderly friends whom I usually pick up were unwell – that is, the 93 year old sister was unwell and Lilian didn’t want to leave her, so I drove alone.  That was not entirely a disadvantage.  Lilian is one of those who gives a running diatribe about how much better things were in the Good Old Days.  I’ve written about her before, probably here, certainly on Facebook.  Two Christmases ago, I asked what they were planning to do over the holiday.  “We’re going to die,’ said Lilian. “Say that again, darling?” said the startled Z.  “We’re going to Di.”  “Oh, lovely, do give her my love.”

Dreaming of summer

I meant to get so much done while LT was away and yesterday it didn’t happen at all.  I had slept fitfully and, after he left, I slouched around for an hour and then went back to bed.  Only to be woken a few minutes later by a recorded cold call on the phone.  I left it off the hook after that, finally slept again and so at least was in better shape during the afternoon and evening.  And this morning I made a fruit cake and another batch of marmalade so, whilst I could hardly be described as a domestic goddess, one of the minor nymphs might fit the bill.

I received the programme for the Aldeburgh Festival on Monday.  Last year, we said we’d go and then nothing was chosen to go to.  Since the perk of my Friendship is early booking, we might as well take advantage of it.  The opera this year is Britten’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, which I have never seen and, I realised, I don’t know the music at all.  So two and a half hours were spent listening to it – good old Spotify, how did we do without it?  I will say that I still do buy music if it’s something I’m going to listen to regularly: I know the royalty is very small per play – in fact, sometimes I listen on Spotify if I own the album too, so the musicians win twice.  There are several concerts this year that I’d happily listen to.   We don’t get out enough.

The other thing we must do is order any seeds we want.  Seed catalogues are always a pleasure.

 

 

Z unsubscribes

Since I grumbled about it a month or two ago, it so happens that I have had very few spam comments sent for approval, most of them having been caught by the filter.  However, what I have had is a vast number of the wretched things from the same sender, in Arabic, to a long-term blogger whose posts I often used to comment on.  She still blogs once in a while, but not very regularly.  The thing is, I subscribed to comments on each post at the time and therefore I get the unfiltered spam and have to delete it and unsubscribe from the post.  You might think this isn’t a big issue but there are sometimes dozens in a day.  I had over two hundred in four days last week – two hundred posts I unsubscribed from, that is, some had several comments each.  Some of the posts concerned went back six years or more.  I have left a comment on a recent post asking her to do something about it – on Blogger, you can have posts sent for moderation after however many days you choose.  I suspect she doesn’t have notification of comments herself, though, as there’s been no response and she has blogged since.

I check most of my mail on my phone, because it’s simple and efficient – I can either send a brief, swift answer, delete or file it or make a mental note to visit the computer: it means I spend less time at the computer (where nowadays I’m mostly to be found just for blogging purposes, I don’t have the amount of paperwork to deal with that I used to).  So finally I went there and started marking all these as spam.  It didn’t seem to have got through when I did so on the phone, but finally they’ve got the message.  But now, all Blogger blogs that I’ve subscribed to comments on have them marked as spam.

*Sigh* – still, at least I can check them there, delete the rest en bloc and spam isn’t pinging into my inbox in the early hours any more.

I check my own spam folder once in a while before clearing it, just in case anything genuine has slipped through – the first time anyone comments it comes to me for moderation, otherwise it only does if it has a link that the filter is anxious about.  And they range from nonsense to nasty-looking links to fulsome compliments, non sequiturs or insults.  And, in two of those categories, these were my favourites of the recent ones –

For the insult – and  non sequitur too, it has nothing to do with the post it’s commenting on:-

Clot – I think you could start a quite successful business, writing and selling anti-greeting cards to be sent to people that someone despises. You have a gift for dark tidings. I would buy a bunch to send to just about every politician.All true on Long Island unfortunately. We moved there for a job opportunity and the best I can say in its defense is that the traffic is second worst on the planet (Los Angeles). You forgot to add that it has the crappiest collection of overpriced homes known to mankind. NJ is paradise compared to L.I.

I laughed at being roundly called a clot, I admit.

For the flattery:-

This design is wicked! You definitely know how to keep a reader entertained. Between your wit and your videos, I was almost moved to start my own blog (well, al8Hts&#m230;oaHa!) Excellent job. I really loved what you had to say, and more than that, how you presented it. Too cool!

Though our hearts are yearning…

Having tried smokeless fuel on our new stove last night, we were very pleased to come down this morning and find the embers still glowing.  Tim put a few sticks on and it was blazing in no time.  So if the winter changes course and gets really cold, we’ll be all right for quite easy heat (easy for me as I’m not yet carrying anything heavy).  The coal merchant is only a mile down the road and I know the owners, who are really nice people – their daughter was at school with Ro … which is by the way really, but it’s good to go in and address the person in the office by name and introduce my husband to her.  Although I use the internet a fair bit for shopping, I do shop locally when I can.  I just don’t often go further afield than Yagnub.  We only bought a couple of bags this time but will have a load delivered at some time.  The price goes down in the summer – well, unless the pound keeps heading downwards.  Predictions aren’t really on nowadays.

The second batch of marmalade was made this morning.  I’ll get more oranges next week.  Tomorrow, now I think about it – LT is off again on Tuesday and we’ll each be on our own for a couple of days again.  So we’ll go shopping and I’ll get stocked up so that I want for nothing.  ‘Cept him, obvs, but that’s just the way it is.

I might make a cake while he’s away, too.  But don’t tell him, obvs.  I want it to be a surprise.

 

Plucky Bantam

Last year, I had to give up on my bantams being allowed to roam around the garden completely free range.  I couldn’t take it any more, having had four clutches of chicks during the previous summer – when one turned up on 1st February with eleven more chicks, I was utterly dismayed.  I’d been planning to do something about a big enclosed run for them by the spring, but this caught me out.  I shut them in the hen house – which is sizeable and has an open run – while I thought about it.  As I said at the time, Wince constructed a tunnel between their run and the bigger greenhouse, which is 40 feet by 14 feet and they’ve been free to go back and forth ever since, but not to go out in the garden.  We covered missing panes with netting for ventilation and they were all right in the summer – they could always retreat to shade if they were hot but they didn’t seem to mind.  I grew my vegetables in the other greenhouse, which was fine – all I didn’t have room for, which I would have liked, were cucumbers and I just grew some outdoor ridge ones instead.

As there is a very bad outbreak of avian flu on the Continent, this situation has been very lucky for me.  Restrictions were brought in just before I was due to have my operation and it would have been quite a problem if I’d had outdoor chickens then.  However, the netting hasn’t been ideal – partridges keep blundering into it and managed to get into the greenhouse several times last year and the cats enjoyed climbing it and occasionally Zain, the resourceful tabby, found his way in.  So, the other day, LT and Wince added some thicker green mesh that I had – I think it would have been the shading from the poly tunnel we were given some years ago that never got put up – and the chickens are now very happy.  There’s still good airflow but it’s a windbreak and they’re appreciably warmer.  It’ll be more shady in the summer too.  Today, I spread a new bale of straw in a couple of places for them and they were very pleased.  I stood watching them, just for pleasure, for some time.  Some were having dust baths in the earth, some were scratching in the straw, others were pecking at corn that had come to light when I raked over the ground as I cleared it.  And there was that contented crooning sound that happy chickens make.

The only chicken that is less than happy is the one that had lost most of her feathers – I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned her, but we think that she must have quarrelled and come off worst.  She lost all her back and tail feathers and some from her wings.  They’re growing back all right but are just quills, they haven’t grown long enough to feather yet.  She’s in a coop on her own in the greenhouse and it’s only the last couple of days that she’s been cheerful enough to come out and look around, mostly she’s been bedded down in the hay in the covered part.  I’d been quite doubtful that she’d make it, but I think now that perhaps she will.  I’ve named her Plucky, which is rather horrid of me but (in the original Latin derivation of the word – horridus means bristling) she’s quite horrid herself.

We have also, to change the subject, been making marmalade.  Just one batch so far, but there will be more.  We had some at breakfast this morning.  The last batch I made, with frozen oranges back in the autumn, was stickier than it was meant to be as I’d overboiled it, just by a few minutes – not enough to affect the taste, only the texture – and I’ve been roundly teased about it ever since as LT manfully chewed his way through his breakfast toast, but this lot is much better.  I ate it instead of the Marmite or Gentleman’s Relish that I usually have with toast, to make sure.

Must try harder

Various memes go round on Facebook, in the way they used to on blogs, and one that’s been doing the rounds in the last week or two has trivial facts about oneself – from whether you have tattoos or piercings to whether you’ve ridden a horse or donated blood.  My daughter acknowledged that she’d never skipped school, which had a surprised reaction.  I left a comment “I did.”

Of course, everyone who knows me would be astonished at that, because you only have to look at me.  I’m clearly good.  In the squeaky clean sense, as well as gooood, that is.  But a friend and I used to stroll out quite regularly, if we had a free period, either to go for a walk or a drive, once I’d passed my test, and then I skipped school altogether once.

It was when I was at the High School I attended for one year, when i was 18.  I’d already got two A Levels at my previous school but it was rather rubbish, actually, and I couldn’t do the subjects I wanted to.  So I went to the other school to take French and Latin.  I was pretty taken aback to find that I was expected to take part in games lessons and play team games, which i’d been very glad to leave behind several years previously.  I utterly despised them, having no competitive instinct, little team spirit and loathing the whole favouritism culture of the thing anyway.  I skulked around at the back and did as little as possible, not caring if I were picked last because I didn’t want to be picked at all.  I can honestly say that, at neither school, was I ever given any encouragement or coaching to improve unless it was something I’d already shown an aptitude for.

One day, one of the dogs was due to be taken to the vet’s for an operation.  I can’t remember what, it wasn’t an emergency and had been booked for a week or two.  But my mother woke up with one of her crippling migraines and was unable to drive.  So I helpfully assured her that I could come back after the first lesson because I didn’t have anything that mattered then until the afternoon.

I could have asked leave to miss the lesson, of course, but there was a fairly high risk it would be refused.  And I wasn’t going to phone in sick because that would mean missing real lessons.  So I just walked out.  Unfortunately – and inexplicably – I was missed and, next lesson, the teacher took me to task.  So I explained – not the reason for not asking, I wasn’t that tactless, but about the vet and my mother being ill.  And the teacher snapped at me and told me not to make excuses.

“I’m not making excuses,” I answered reasonably, “I’m telling you the reason.”

I was a teacher’s quiet nightmare, I’m sure.  If I didn’t care, there was nothing you could do to make me.  But I usually kept so far in the background that quite a lot of them didn’t even know, or maybe they sensed it and left me alone.

Anyway, there were no repercussions.  What could she have done?  Detention wouldn’t have mattered as I could have read or done homework, and extra games would have hurt her more than me.  So she huffed and puffed a bit and let it go.

Though now I think about it, bunking off one lesson to do a good turn to someone isn’t the worst sort of rebellion, I suppose.  I’m sure I did far worse on occasion.  I’ll have to think about it.

 

Not a bald oak

I’m finally back to reading books, thank goodness – it’s not that I’ve been reading no books at all, but nowhere near as many, over several years, as I used to.  There are various reasons – ageing eyesight means it’s not quite as easy to read by artificial light as it used to be; disappointment with a few too many prizewinning and highly reviewed novels; tiredness and lack of concentration.  I don’t think blogging can be blamed as I read just as much for several years after I started blogging, but t’internets and social media in general did, very likely, not help.

A corner has certainly been turned, not least because of the enforced rest over the past few weeks since I had the operation.  I’m still not as likely to be engrossed by a book as I used to be, but that will either come back or it won’t, that can’t happen by simple intention.

I was given the volumes so far of Peter Ackroyd’s History of England and am on the first of these – third book of the year, woo hoo! and he’s just told me something that (not that he could know it) I’ve known for the best part of half a century: that is, that the town of Baldock in Buckinghamshire* was originally named Baghdad – though I’m not sure that was the original spelling.

I have always been very fond of the writings of Adrian Bell* – if you ever come across any of his books, do pick them up.  His first trilogy, the memoirs (somewhat fictionalised, I believe, in its details of individuals) of a young man starting out in farming in Suffolk in the 1920s is wonderful and his later books are enjoyable too.  My mother gave me an account of his family growing up, called Apple Acre, which i still have somewhere, written in the early 1960s.  As time went by, they became straightforward memoirs rather than semi-fiction and, as he wrote a weekly column in the local newspaper, they became compiled into books too.

Funny how things stick in your mind – one anecdote was about a talk he went to in his local village hall about the origin of place names.  It was explained that Copdock, near Ipswich, was named after a large oak tree that had been pollarded and was a local landmark – the copped oak.  Baldock was not a bald oak, however: it was founded and named by Knights Templar returning from the Crusades.  The original pronunciation, I seem to remember he said, was more like Baldag.

My anecdotage.  No other possible explanation.  Back to my book now.

*Among his claims to fame are that he was the first compiler of crosswords for The Times; that he was the father of Martin Bell, the news correspondent and one-time MP; and that he was also the father of Anthea Bell, renowned translator of, among many other things, the Asterix books.

*Blue Witch says that Baldock is in Hertfordshire and, since I’m a bit hazy about what counties are where, let alone what towns are in them, I’m sure she’s right.  Maybe county boundaries have shifted over the past thousand years, otherwise the great Peter Ackroyd has made a mistake and I foolishly didn’t check before passing it on.  Sorry, whatever is the case.

When Z was bookish

LT is doing his famous Christmas Card Audit, so I’ve removed the one I’d been using as a bookmark and put a receipt in its place.

When I used to work at Lowestoft Library, back in the 70s – the old library in Suffolk Road, that is, not the present one in Clapham Road – we used to find all sorts of things used as bookmarks.  I was never sure which were wild exaggerations or entirely made up, but one of the older members of staff assured us she’d once found a kipper and another laid claim to a rasher of bacon: whether raw or cooked wasn’t part of the story. The worst thing I ever found was a suppository wrapper, which is hardly enough to make into an anecdote.

In those days, the borrowers’ name tickets weren’t generally used and coloured plastic tokens were handed out instead in exchange for the returned books.  The borrower gave them back on taking out the new books.  Twice a year, we spent several weeks checking everyone’s tickets, which was a laborious job.  Someone brought his books back, we asked his name, looked in the file for his tickets, kept in a little pouch, gave them to him, he went to choose his books and we stamped them in a different colour ink, so that we’d know not to ask again next time (when they’d be given that colour token), and put the tickets with their pouch back in a different file, to show they’d been checked.  Books could be borrowed for three weeks so, after a month, most people had been checked out.  If they didn’t want to borrow books that day, they were supposed to ask for their tickets anyway, so we checked through all the pouches and transferred empty ones.  In due course, after a few more weeks, those people who hadn’t brought books back were contacted, to be reminded that the fines were building up.  Huge queues used to build up when these checks were being done, which showed why we didn’t check names all the time, as some smaller libraries did.

I had a number of favourite customers, though I rarely knew their names – if I happened to be told it once every six months at most, that wasn’t too easy to remember.  On the few occasions I did, however, the pleasure at being remembered was a delight and it spurred me on to try to remember more names.

I started it as a Saturday job when I was at school, sixteen years old.  We worked from 8.45 to 5.30 with a 15 minute break morning and afternoon and an hour for lunch, which was taken in two shifts.  We received paid Bank Holidays (the library was closed on the Saturday before a Bank Holiday Monday) and two weeks paid holiday a year.  And we got the Civil Service increment annually and the youngest members of staff got an age-related increase every year too.  Though, when I started, I got about a pound a day, we’re not talking big bucks here.  All the same, I was obsessed with books and reading and it was my dream job.

Food, inglorious food

We have been talking, over dinner, about bad recipes.  LT remembered a competition in the Guardian some years ago, to come up with the worst published recipe.  The winner was, essentially, mashed potatoes in a dish, hollows made, an egg cracked into each and then more mashed potato piled on top.  The reason it was a bad recipe rather than just a rather dull one was that there was no way of knowing when it was ready to be served.

I remembered a WI recipe book belonging to my mother.  I had a set of three rather good ones, but this was pretty unappetising – the set-up was that members sent in recipes for the books and this was, I suspect, based on wartime food.  Sadly, I must have got rid of all these books when I had a turn-out some 18 months ago, but I do remember the one which the book always fell open to, though I can’t imagine anyone except the originator ever cooked it.  It was Offal Pudding.

One of LT’s specialities is his marvellous leek quiche with wholemeal pastry.  He fed it to me the first time I called on him, on my way down to visit Linda (Zig) more than four years ago (it wasn’t the first time I’d been to his house: that was for his birthday party that Mig and Barney came to too) and I was mightily impressed.  Not only was his shortcrust pastry better than mine, it was the notoriously tricky wholemeal pastry too.  Anyway, he said he’d got it from the Cranks recipe book some years previously and, in the end, he’d ditched the book because there wasn’t much else that appealed to him.  Not long ago, I suddenly remembered seeing that very book among my mother’s library and went and found it.  Browsing through it this evening, I came upon this gem of whatonearth?ness.

Sava – a soya-based alternative to dairy cheese.  4 oz margarine, 4 oz soya flour, 1 crushed garlic clove, 1 teaspoon yeast extract.  Melt the margarine, stir in the flour and cook until slightly thickened, remove from heat and add the garlic and yeast extract.  Chill until set.

I cannot think it’s anything like cheese and, were I vegan, I’d rather do without than even try that.

In the absence of my WI books, I remembered the original Delia book on convenience foods, which was published in the early 70s and fished out my mum’s copy – I can’t think she actually cooked from it much, but it does show the ‘open tins and shove it all together’ mentality that typified the time.  I’ve opened it at random to page 78.

Chicken casserole – you put a jointed, cooked chicken, a can of carrots, a can of mushrooms, a packet of frozen peas, some dried tarragon, a can of condensed chicken soup, some water and some instant onion flakes into a saucepan and heat it all up.  Then serve with frozen broccoli – (cooked of course) – as she helpfully added.

I have no qualms about putting in some frozen or tinned stuff, but everything?  Seems a bit casual.  Remarkably, again opening the book at random, she gives a recipe for Baked fish fingers.  Now, fish fingers are fine.  I’d not turn up my nose at them, I rather like them.  But sprinkled with lemon juice, topped with tinned tomatoes and (fresh!) sliced onions, canned mushrooms and cheese then baked …actually, no.

Am I wrong?  Anyone made any of these and can tell me they’re lovely after all?  Or can you come up with something far, far worse that is actually in a published book?

 

The everyday ramblings of Z

I’m glad to be feeding the barn cats again, I’ve missed them.  I’m rather proud of them, in fact … well, I have to admit, I’m rather proud of what we’ve been able to do with them.  The four of them are in beautiful condition, with thick, glossy, soft fur and, when stroked, they are healthily plump – not fat I mean, but in good condition to withstand winter out of doors.  They were already unafraid of Rose and now they’re comfortable with Tim too.  They’re all clustered by the kitchen garden gate when I go to feed them and Zain and Fred come forward to be stroked while Betty and Barney trot off, tails held high, to the barn where they hang out.  It’s not particularly cold at present so their parents are not coming to be fed, but if there’s a cold snap then the six of them will be along.  Seeing them after a break of four weeks has made me appreciate their health, as they don’t look in the least as you’d think feral cats would look, all over again.

At this time of the year,  I have a craving for lots of vegetables and colourful food.  I made three batches of soup to welcome Tim home on Thursday and we’re having it for lunch each day – one feed of leek (home grown) and potato to go.  We bought fennel and red pepper with our other vegetables today and will roast them with garlic, shallots and so on, for dinner.

I hadn’t been outside the garden all week, not since we went to the supermarket on Monday to get a few provisions for me and the children while Tim was away.  So it was rather a pleasure to go into the town this morning.  We just went to the greengrocer, the whole food shop and the deli, and then I bought a primrose from the florist – all these shops are next to or opposite each other.  On the way back to the car park, for there were no on-street spaces, I asked Tim if I was limping or had a rolling gait, and he said I hadn’t – this was without a stick, and I’m very pleased. I use a stick if it seems like a good idea, but I can walk without noticing: that is, I do not have a jarring or aching awareness of every step.  And that is, fundamentally, what I wanted out of the operation.  I was, just, able to do up the zips on my boots but I had to ask Tim to just undo the last couple of inches of the left one.  I can sleep on my side, though I have a pillow to support my operated leg and I can’t say it’s completely comfortable yet.  But it’s near enough.  Complete success, I’d say.

I’m going to go out to the kitchen and admire vegetables for a bit.  And then cook them.