Z is relatively young

I’ve belonged to a lunch club in Norwich for the best part of thirty years and I’m still the youngest person there. We’ve all got old together. I’ve never taken age as any factor in friendship; though I first started going to keep my mother company on the way.

Two friends live in the next town, some nine miles away. Sisters, both in their nineties, they gave up driving many years ago when they moved into a town house together after their husbands died, and used to get to the society by bus – two buses, in fact. But I’ve been driving over to them and picking them up for quite a long time. They haven’t been able to come for a while – Jo, the elder sister, broke her femur back in the autumn. They wanted to join us but, when I went to fetch them, they were clearly a bit anxious and Jo suggested crying off at the last. Fortunately, Lilian was firm with her and the day was a success. They feel some ice has been broken, as it were, and now their social life can start again. They had a rather dismal Christmas as their oven went wrong on Christmas Day and they had to have cold ham out of a packet, and they hadn’t got any presents to give each other as they hadn’t been able to go shopping. Of course, someone would have shopped for them but for some reason (probably that they hadn’t asked and no one realised) it hadn’t happened. So I’ve said I’ll pick them up one day, whenever they choose, and drive them into Norwich and carry their parcels and they can shop until we all drop, to make up for lost time. It’ll be fun.

We were also remembering our friend Marian, who started up the club and who died four years ago, at the age of 96. She bought herself an iPad and learned how to use it in her 90s, which I cite as an example to anyone in, let’s say, their 70s, who says they’re too old to learn. It’s about time I learned something new, now I think about it. It’s been a while since I took up a new interest – apart from LT, of course, hem hem.

Vines. Not vomen or songs, though

I went to the gardening club last night – LT didn’t join me as he was washing his hair – and the local winemaker chap was giving the talk. He has done seriously well in the three and a bit years they’ve been operational, and has got a great reputation in the English wine world. He now has 42,000 vines to look after, which is a daunting amount of work. He described the year’s work in caring for them, which made me realise I don’t look after my indoor vine properly at all. I’ve wanted an outdoor vine for several years and I think I might succumb any minute.

It was a very enjoyably sociable evening, and I even won a raffle prize – a set of three pairs of gardening gloves, which I chose over the aloe vera and the chocolates – actually, they were very nice chocolates but we still have some left from Christmas and I was being high-minded.

We went to a Nadfas lecture today about sculpture in the landscape, which made us both want to visit some of the parks and so on – we are very likely to make it down to Cornwall this year, we reckon, to go to St Ives and see Barbara Hepworth’s garden and its sculptures. I’ve been there before, about ten years ago, and Tim hasn’t, though he knows parts of Cornwall much better than I do. We also want to revisit our childhood stamping grounds; though I have to admit I hardly remember living in Weymouth and Tim has very fond memories of the 50s and 60s in Bournemouth. My sister doesn’t yet know it, but we’re planning to use her house as a base…

Oh, and I picked up my seed order. So I’m completely happy now.

Z is extravagant, in an unsatisfying way

Life gets expensive at this time of the year. I paid my tax bill – yes, I know it’s a fortnight early, but it’s out of the way now – the calor gas bill, post-Christmas credit card, electricity and so on and so on, and then I paid the down-payment for the work to be done on the flat. Let it suffice to say that I transferred money from a savings account. But hey. Oh, and the boiler in the annexe needs a Part, as well.

Achievements for the day – apart from shelling out quantities of moolah – I’ve bought Seville oranges and sugar to make marmalade. That is scheduled for tomorrow, along with making French onion soup, which might be my job or LT’s, not quite sure as yet. He has mentioned making roasted squash and tomato soup as well. We like soup at this time of the year.

The other main achievements are having booked the whole family to come for Sunday lunch, as I mentioned – everyone can make it – and using up all but half a dozen of the egg mountain, though admittedly Roses had to help with that. After decades of having only bantams, having four chickens of actual laying breeds is impressive. They still lay throughout their moult! When I say I’ve used all but half a dozen eggs, that’s the ones in the kitchen. When I put the chooks to bed, I noticed that there are six more in the nesting box, which I didn’t bother to pick up. If I got my act together and arose from the downy couch when I woke up, rather than falling asleep just at the time that Tim gets out of bed, we could have lovely freshly-laid eggs for breakfast and I wouldn’t have such an egg mountain. But there. It’s January, I don’t sleep a lot, it’s chilly when it’s still dark (and even when it isn’t) and I don’t have huge reserves of will power. No problem with my won’t power, obvs.

Z sees double

I’ve just come off the phone after a long chat with Weeza, which is the first time we’ve spoken to each other in person since Christmas. There have been a few messages, but neither of us – in fact, no one in the family – is very inclined to make regular phone calls, though we all enjoy a chat when someone can actually get around to picking up the phone.

Anyway, I suggested that everyone come here for Sunday lunch one day, because either her house or ours is the best for a get-together of 14 people. The only weekend date we can both manage in the next two months is 3rd February. So I’ll email round the rest of the family and see if that’s convenient for everyone else, because otherwise it won’t be until mid-March at the earliest.

In other news … not a lot, actually. Just that red cabbage takes an awfully long time to cook and, somehow, a very small cabbage somehow expands to feed at least 8 people, even though Delia’s recipe says that double the quantity actually feeds 4. No, Delia. You are wrong. And an hour and a half to two hours is wrong too. Double that as well.

Appearances deceive Z

I’ve been puzzling for some time about how apps are funded. I have a smart phone and I have quite a lot of apps. I’ve always played games and done trivial sorts of things, since childhood. On the infrequent occasions that we watch TV, Tim looks askance at me playing a card game or some such on my phone, or reading the paper online, because he can’t see how I manage to follow the plot as well. I tell him, I used to read a book but he prefers a fairly dim light and it’s easier to use the phone.

Apps are often free to download and then they might be funded by advertisements, sometimes by a one-off payment, or else one is offered inducements to buy hints, upgrades and so on and, more recently, subscriptions have been offered, usually for a ridiculous weekly price just so one can get a daily quiz or something. The thing is, the free-to-play apps advertise other apps … that are also free to play. So everyone is going round in a circle, paying each other to advertise their goods, with no guarantee that anyone will ever give them any money? How does that work? Indeed, it’s clearly understood by the developers that users find the ads boring and intrusive, because sometimes one can pay a pound or two to have them removed. If ever you do think an advertisement looks quite good, actually, and you download the game, I suppose the site gets paid a bit more, but it doesn’t stop the advert being played, I don’t think – hard to tell, as one can never remember where one found a site and it may just be that it turns up somewhere else. It just seems to be an illusion of busyness, with no sureness of real money being paid in. I’ve no idea how many people do buy hints and so on; I don’t unless a one-off small payment will stop the ads. I do usually pay for something if I can, because if I like an app and use it, it’s only fair. But then, there are the ones that are totally free to use with no option to pay. How on earth does that work? I’m thinking of useful things, like weather apps, recipes, scanners (before that was included with the phone) and so on. The developers all need to earn a living, obviously, and regular updates are necessary, because the app has to be compatible with all phones, all updated systems, everything and it’s complex. This is all way over my head. I know one’s data is being collected, but my phone tells me if any of them is tracking me, which they don’t without permission and only when I’m using the app, and I check the privacy details to be sure there’s nothing creepy on there, quite regularly. Maybe other people are less careful or more interesting than I am? Which wouldn’t be hard, at least in the latter respect.

Z hits the shops

We’ve had another visit to Reading, where we got everything done that we’d planned, including a trip to London to meet a builder at the flat where I’ve still got an ongoing problem. He, being a bricklayer himself, observed what none of the others had – that the new work on the pub next door is, in parts, of such poor quality that water is able to get in between the adjoining walls. So when I get his report, I’ll have to take it up with the owner. The chap reckons that, whatever I have done, it won’t cure the problem unless it’s rectified next door too. But that’s a problem for another day and I’m going to talk to my insurance broker again – it’s not actually his job, of course, but he will advise me again, I know.

The retail clothes market is, indeed, in a parlous state. While Tim went to get his hair cut, I wandered into Hobbs, where the sale had just had an extra 10% knocked off. I’ve been looking for a new coat for a year now and haven’t found anything I like and nor did I now. But I did try on some clothes and there were a couple of skirts I liked but were too big for me. ‘We can order them,” said the saleswoman hopefully. I explained that I didn’t live locally, but she said that they could be posted to me at no extra charge. These skirts were well under their original price of course. I asked if they had something in a similar style in the size I wanted, to be sure they’d fit, and they did (I liked the navy one, but it wasn’t in the sale and was nearly £100 for a simple skirt, so wasn’t too tempted) and I ordered them both, and they arrived yesterday. It all took ages as the shop had suddenly filled up and, though there were two assistants, there was only one till and the lady in front of me was doing a similar thing – ordering in goods – and tapping all her details out on a tablet was a lot slower than writing it down by hand. Still, Tim was patient and eventually we left. We went along to Smelly Alley, where the excellent fish stall is, but that also seemed a lot less busy than it used to be, mainly I suspect because the greengrocery next door and the butcher opposite have gone. Town centres are really struggling. I have to acknowledge that I don’t shop in Norwich as I used to and so am part of the problem. But, as I said, I’ve been looking for a coat for ages and can’t find what I want, especially in the large shops where every make has its own area and it’s just so damn boring to search every part of the huge store. My three year old coat is still good and next winter I’ll probably haul out the one that my mother bought and only wore a couple of times, which I’ve been wearing, with breaks of a couple of years here and there, ever since. It’ll be 17 years old by then … my green credentials are better than my retail support ones.

We cleared out the greenhouse yesterday and pruned the grape vine. In theory, I could set up the propagator and get started with sowing seeds soon and there was a time when I might have done. I used to be keen enough to start vegetable plants off really early. Not now though – I may get some of the early outdoor ones going in a few weeks, but I’ve had enough of worrying about early morning sun after a frosty night, on plants that have outgrown the propagator by the beginning of March.

Present Imperfect

A friend on Facebook asked about the worst Christmas presents we had ever had. I couldn’t really go worse than disappointing – and should one be disappointed, when someone has been kind enough to think of you and send you something? It’s a moot point (known to me as a moveable feast, but that’s another story). Passing on a present is fair game, I think, if it’s something you won’t use but is, actually, a nice thing. I once was stuck for an emergency present and gave away a really lovely Jo Malone candle, which I would much rather have kept and used, but I don’t very often re-gift. If something is really unwanted, it’s more likely to go to a charity shop or a raffle.

The most disappointing thing, because you feel bad for them, is when someone has clearly spent quite a lot of money but it’s so badly missed the mark that it’s hard to thank them with any degree of sincerity. My sister was once given a really twee porcelain figurine by friends who clearly believed it was to her taste, as they described enthusiastically their pleasure at finding just the right thing. She had to keep it on display for when they visited, but fortunately they’ve moved away now and it’s relegated to the back bedroom.

Wink wasn’t always the luckiest when it came to Christmas. She was fourteen when she suffered the Year of the Headscarves. You know, the fake silk printed squares that were folded into a triangle and tied round the head – think The Queen on horseback. In those days, friends of the family gave us presents; something that has rather died out. I only have one non-family offspring that I still give a present to, and that’s money nowadays, and has been since he and his late sister were about ten. That Christmas, these similar small, flat, soft parcels turned up and Wink’s face grew longer and sadder as she opened each of them. It was in the early 60s and she was of an age to be unconfident of her appearance and, whilst she’d have appreciated something that wasn’t childish, some nice bath oil or a pair of stockings (this was pre-tights) wouldn’t have reduced her to holding back tears. The same people probably gave me boxed sets of embroidered handkerchiefs. Remember boxed sets of embroidered hankies? Actually, I wouldn’t mind some nice hankies now, but they aren’t given any more. Nor do I mind scarves, though they’re usually real silk or wool nowadays, rather than rayon. The other standard present was writing paper or notelets, usually given as a hint that the donor wanted a letter of thanks toot sweet.

Having no expectation of non-family knowing what I’d be likely to like, I was always happy to get chocolates or a book token, unless the candies were a particularly revolting box called Weekend, or were marzipan or an abomination called Edinburgh Rock. I hadn’t the sweetest of tooths, but any sort of sweet was a rare treat, so it was doubly and triply disappointing if they were inedible.

My mother-in-law once brought me back a little plaid woollen cape from Scotland. I never wore it, it was out of the question. Another of those quite expensive things that was just plain wrong. My sister-in-law once gave me a huge jar of Mellow Birds instant coffee, which wasn’t meant to be insulting but actually was. We always gave them half a Stilton, which was a brilliant present. Anyone – though preferably only one per year – is welcome to give me half a Stilton or, indeed, pretty well any cheese.

Nowadays, with my grandchildren, I just ask their parents, though that’s not really the kindest of tricks to play when the parents have been racking their brains to come up with ideas for themselves. My older grandchildren have reached the age where money is very acceptable, though I’m attached to the idea of a real present at Christmas. Something to unwrap, to add to a satisfying pile of stuff, to read or play with or try on, seems absolutely required. I still always give Ronan a jigsaw, whatever else he has. And he normally completes it by the time he goes back to work in the new year – though he hasn’t sent his customary photo yet, so either it was especially tricky or else young Rufus takes up too much of his time and he flakes out once the boy is in bed. He started it on Christmas evening while we were still at Weeza’s, with every appearance of enjoyment, so either it’s still an acceptable mum-present or else he’s really, really kind. Or both, of course.

Z reads the newspaper

Life dealt me a young fallow deer, hit by a car and killed instantly.  So it was dealt with and I don’t think I need to go into details.  It’s been interesting….

On a totally different tack, Tim and I both take a daily newspaper and I also have the apps for both of them on my phone.  We read out bits to each other, but rarely read the other’s actual newspaper – but this morning, Tim read me out a piece about Spotify (as it happens) and I wanted to follow up on it.  I have been totally unable to find it on the app.  There is no search function; I’ve looked in the main paper, the comment section, the arts section, the music section and at least one other – I’ve lost track – and I simply can’t find it.  Which is my problem with online newspapers – the experience is not as good as reading the newspaper.  I’d like it laid out as the newspaper is, page by page, with the ability to click on each article to read it fully.  That’s a bit more achievable on a tablet app, but it certainly isn’t on a phone.  So I’m not changing, any time soon, away from my daily paper, even though domestic news is so indicative of  lamentable incompetence by pretty well everyone that I can’t do more than skim through it.

Venison fillet for dinner was very good.

New Year’s Irresolution

We started the evening with champagne and will finish with it too, but it’s already 2019 in much of the world, so we’ll count it as midnight as soon as we want to go to bed.  It’s past midnight in Moscow already, so I sang the tune when it came to the hour – because that’s the sort of thing I do and, whether or not LT quite realised it when we got married, he deals with it manfully.  The cat looks horrified, but Tim suggests that is her normal expression and nothing to take any notice of.

You see that I have no regard for grammar any more.  I apologise but make no promise to change.

I have no idea what the next year holds, but nor does anyone else – of course, we never did have, but we had an illusion of a degree of certainly, which has dissipated and left us confused.  But in our personal lives and here, we’ve still got a community and we value each other.  So here’s to us, darlings.  Let’s be steady.

Z was never very observant

We’ve been talking about the past, though really it ended up about our blogs and what we’ve written in the past.  We’ve blogged for an awfully long time, I even longer than Tim, and I’m still friends with some of the even earlier bloggers, such as Blue Witch, Zoe, Anxious and Katy Newton et al; though BW is the only one of those mentioned who still blogs.  Of those who started about the same time as I did, very few stalwarts remain.  I know, we’ve had our day and it’s changed a lot, but I still seem to care about the old Razorblade.

I’ve been reminiscing about Hilda, my in-laws’ housekeeper, whose story I briefly told here. She was great, my children and I still remember her with a lot of love and humour.  Telling stories used to be quite a thing, in these parts.  Maybe it’s where I got it from.  Tim said that some of my better posts were those where I told the tale.  If only I’d taken more notice, I could tell more of them, perhaps.