Childhood is made up of sights and sounds and smells, as Betjeman put it. I think. Might be misquoting.

I’m not sure what made me mention it, but over lunch today, I started talking about gripe water.  LT thought it sounded rather horrid – oh, I’ve remembered, I’ll start again.

Tim took me out to lunch, to a jolly good local restaurant which received a rave review from AA Gill in The Times a few weeks ago – he rarely praises anything outside London so this was quite a coup.  When our pints arrived, I sank a good draught of it and spoke in praise of good English beer.  “A couple of hundred years ago, they gave children small beer to drink, of course.  Likely to be safer than water.”  We debated how much alcohol there was in small beer and decided it must have very little, but they were more relaxed about alcohol for children anyway in those days.  And this was why I said that I was quite sure that gripe water used to be spirit based.

That made us think about other things that we hadn’t tasted or thought about for years, but were very distinctive.  I can’t remember the flavour of gripe water, actually.  Fennel?  Dill?  My mother bought it when Weeza was a rather colicky baby for a while and she loved it, though I’m not sure whether it helped her digestion.

Virol was the first thing I thought of.  LT hadn’t come across it.  A thick brown paste, much the consistency of Marmite, though not so dark, it was a malt extract.  I was given a spoonful a day at one time, it was such a distinctive taste, but I can’t describe it.  I’d recognise it instantly, though.

Tim mentioned Bemax.  He was given it sprinkled on breakfast cereal.  We didn’t normally eat cereal when I was a child, but I remember my father-in-law used to put it on All Bran, which presumably made the stuff more palatable.

We drifted a bit after that, on to the highly distinctive smells of TCP and Dettol.  Later, in the supermarket, someone stopped abruptly in front of me and, braking and swerving, I stubbed my toe painfully on my trolley.  I realised when my toe felt damp later that I was rather bloody.  So I’ve made use of TCP myself, as well as there-there cream (the ointment that has a local anaesthetic in, though that’s worn off now and I throb rather).  But now that’s reminded me of the tubs of pink Germolene.  Surely, dipping a finger in wasn’t very hygienic?

The Close connection – part 13 – the hedge

We went for a walk this afternoon, LT, Zerlina, Gus and me and on the way home I started telling LT about the hedge.  It runs all along the road frontage and round the corner down to the start of the field, it’s probably around 400 yards in all.

It was an old hedge in poor condition.  Thirty years later, I can’t tell you if it could have been resuscitated – Russell didn’t think it could be, he said that there was too much rotten wood in there.  And we got a grant towards the cost of grubbing it out.  We also got a grant towards the cost of planting a new hedge.  I don’t think one was dependant on the other, but it’s lost in time now.  Anyway, we had the hedge taken out and burned it all up on the front field.  It was a fairly massive job.  Then we had our friend Alan – not that I knew him as a friend at that time – take out a trench with his JCB and then we had tons and tons of muck delivered.  As far as possible, it was put in the trench but there was a lot of manual shifting done by me and Russell.  It was a lot of effort and we worked very hard indeed.  Then, there was the planting of the new hedge, which we also did.  We had hawthorn, blackthorn, field maple, holly and some oak and ash trees.  A neighbour pinched some of the holly bushes soon afterwards to sell, but we didn’t challenge him.  A nice man when sober, he was impossible when drunk.  He said to me once that it was his downfall that he never had a hangover and, once he started to drink, he couldn’t stop.  He knew it had ruined his life.

The year after we planted the hedge was a dry one and Russell took water down in a water cart and bucketed it onto the roots.  That and the manure we’d spread saved it.  It’s a fine hedge and I’m rather proud of it, actually.  It needs trimming back now, it not having been done for three or four years.  We used to have it flailed when a neighbour was having his hedge done, but it was never done as we wanted it.  There’s nothing wrong with a flail as long as it doesn’t go into mature wood, which gets split and splintered.  We just asked for that year’s growth to be tidied up but it was always cut back too far.  It really does need cutting again now, though.  I’d like to get it done by hand, but it’s too big a job.  I’ll wait until people have had a chance to pick the sloes though.

Except, LT noticed that you can’t see the sign with the name of the road any longer.  So we’re going to go down and trim it back there ourselves.

It’s after 10 and Z has only just finished working. I’m supposed to be past that sort of nonsense

I haven’t taken the photo of the stick, I forget and it’s dark again.  Sorry.

Putting together the catalogue is a lot of work, not just done by me, not by any means but I’m very tired.  I slept absurdly soundly and long last night as a result of TAKING LOTS OF PHOTOS.  And today, I’ve been cropping and so on and I’m actually even tireder.  I don’t like this part of the work at all.  Awfully tedious.

Still, nearly all done now, just the cover to do.  And Zerlina and Gus are here again for the next couple of days and nights, so no question of thinking of anything else.

Right now, canoodling with my lovely, drinking a glass of wine and reading the papers, in no particular order.  Goodnight, darlings.

The Close connection part 12 – the stick

I’ve been meaning to tell you about the walking stick and it obviously needs a picture, but it’s the wrong end of the day, I’ll take it tomorrow in the daylight and add it then.

I think I mentioned that we had new hardwood windows put in to replace the 1950s metal-framed windows that my in-laws inexplicably thought would be a good replacement for oak.  Over the decades, as some of you may know from experience, these windows warped and let in draughts and couldn’t be opened because then they were almost impossible to close again.  So we applied for planning permission (this is a listed building so everything structural needs planning permission) to put in new ones and that was granted.  In fact, we also asked to put in slightly bigger ones so as to let in more light and that was allowed too.

The house is made of wattles – sticks – and daub, then brick faced.  The builder, on removing the old windows and cutting away the extra few inches of wall, found that many of the wattles were quite worm-eaten – they’d been there for over 400 years, after all.  But one that he drew out was intact, strong and looked as good as the day it was first used.

It so happened that my sister-in-law’s husband had recently taken up a new hobby, that of carving walking sticks.  So we gave him the stick and, in due course, it was returned, with the top shaped and the bark removed so that it was smooth, and the length of the stick polished and varnished.

I love that stick and I use it regularly.  You’ll see why when I show you the photo.

Z likes it hot

The reason I didn’t write yesterday – of course, I know I don’t need to have one, but there is a reason – was that I’d moved the computer into another room and the wifi didn’t reach that far.

It’s only a couple of months or so until my next auction and I spent a couple of days writing the details of the lots.  There will be ten more pieces of china than there were last year, a bit to our surprise.  All we need are the buyers.

I was glad to have a reason to be busy today.  I heard yesterday that Russell’s sister died on Wednesday, having been diagnosed with cancer in January of last year.  She was both forward-looking and stoical, I loved her dearly and she will be much missed.

It was two years ago today that Russell died and it was impossible not to be aware of every passing minute, though I tried not to be.  I’m not keen at all on anniversaries, but will only mark good ones.  Today is Gus’s birthday, Wednesday was Zerlina’s.  That will be the significance of the dates, memories will be marked with love but not misery.

Weeza is coming over tomorrow, which will be lovely.  I have made soup from a couple of pounds of the many, many tomatoes that are merrily ripening in the garden and greenhouse.  It’s rather a year for the greenhouse.  I’ve got a couple of cayenne pepper plants that are very productive and very hot; that is, the fruits are.  The jalapeño peppers are less so, as yet, but there are still an awful lot of chillies.  Still, some like it hot.

Mostly photos and a couple of birthdays

It’s weeks since we saw young Rufus and his parents, there wasn’t an opportunity before we went on holiday.  LT and I drove over to Norwich today so that I could get my fill of granny/baby contact.

It’s such a truism that it’s absurd to say so, but he’s really grown.

And here are a couple of photos.IMG_4607 IMG_4605
Today is Zerlina’s eighth birthday and in a couple of days time, it will be her brother Augustus’ fifth.  Here they are perched on some of the splendidly climbable rocks on the beach.

Version 2
It is also Eloise cat’s second birthday (and, as it happens, the birthday of Zig’s younger daughter, Baby Doc.  For those who don’t know, Eloise used to belong to Zig but Baby Doc was allergic to her hair and so she came to live with me).  Here she is, with one of LT’s guitars.  She had her favourite treat for lunch today, dressed crab.  Just the brown meat, she doesn’t like the white.


Happy birthday to all of them.

The Close connection – Part 11 – in front of the house

When Russell was a Sprig, during the war, the front garden was taken up by an Anderson shelter but afterwards, his parents reshaped the area with crazy paving around three circular flower beds.  Beyond those, there were long narrow raised beds, faced with flint and, behind those two, there was an elm hedge, with a big elm tree in the middle.  This all died of course, in the first sweep of Dutch elm disease and had all been removed by the time I first came to the house.  There wasn’t a hedge or a tree there at all and there still isn’t, for a reason I’ll come to later.

When Russell and his older brother and sister were in their teens, Pa and Ma had a tennis court put in – this would have been around 1950.  The land was taken out of the four acre field between the garden and the road and a privet hedge was planted on two sides against the field.  On the other short side, there was a small lawn and the ‘tennis court hut’, a summer house where all the equipment was kept and where people could sit to watch others play.  Pa and Ma would have been in their mid fifties themselves, quite sporty and active and I wouldn’t be surprised if they’d had tennis parties with their friends, though I don’t know for sure.

By the time we moved in, the court was long disused and grown over, but the bricks around the edge were still in good condition and the upright irons that had supported the fence were still there.  The fence itself was gone.  After a year or so, we had the court relaid, but we couldn’t also afford new surrounding netting, so we just chased a lot of balls into the field.  Then we had the bright idea of buying fruit cage netting, which was a cheap substitute until we had a dog who kept running into it and breaking it.  In the end, we had to bite the bullet and get proper mesh, which we put up ourselves.

Pa and Ma had roses in those three circular beds, but they were old and sickly by the time we moved in.  It’s a very sunny, dry spot and gets all the south and western sun.  The soil is sand over gravel.  We took out all the roses (and planted them elsewhere, we didn’t have the heart to throw them away) and I got the Bressingham Gardens catalogue, which was fabulous.  The nursery is nothing now, it used to be owned by the Bloom family, who raised a lot of plants and bred many new varieties.  Eventually, it was bought out and nothing is grown there now, it’s all bought in and it’s like any other place to buy plants and expensive garden stuff – no better or worse than any other, but nothing like the old days.  Anyway, I spent a week or two choosing what to buy.  My criteria were, interesting foliage, mostly evergreen, thriving in hot, sunny conditions and poor soil and no more than 4 feet tall in maturity.  Much of what I planted in one bed is still there, though the other bed was finally taken over by eryngium after everything else finally died and the central bed never thrived – I discovered in the end that a seam of almost straight gravel runs through that, it’s hard to get anything going without lots of watering.

Some years later, we got fed up with weeding the crazy paving, took it all up and laid several inches of gravel over sheets of black plastic, though we cut holes to plant things.  Now, the area is quite neglected and one of the projects for next year is to enliven it.  It’s okay, but there’s a lot of vetch that keeps cropping up, ground elder and, unfortunately, brambles.

Regarding the hedge, Russell and I wanted to replace it and we agreed on a beech hedge.  But I wanted green beech and he wanted copper beech and we never could agree on which.  So it was never planted.  I’m glad though, actually, it would have darkened the house unless cut quite low.

Gardening leave

I’m having to be relatively organised this week.  The time has come to put together the catalogue for the next auction in October.  Yes, it’s a bit early, but it takes a while and I have more spare capacity in August than any other month, so it’s the best time to concentrate on the sort of job that takes several days.

We’re getting all sorts of other things done though.  LT is quite wonderful and assures me he enjoys all the work entailed in keeping this place from total bedlam.  It should be said that Wince, who helps in the garden, is pretty fine too.  When we go away, he calls in every morning to water the greenhouse and keep an eye on things, and Roses looks after everything else.

Since we got home on Saturday, we’ve weeded the whole vegetable garden, apart from the disaster areas of an old herb bed and a nearly defunct asparagus bed.  Both need starting again and I’m going to cut them to the ground and lay old carpet down to kill off perennial weeds before replanting.  For the last five years, I’ve been gradually bringing more bits of the garden under control – I couldn’t do it when my hip was too disabling, and I’m going in that direction again but I won’t be starting from the same place this time.

It’s a nuisance, actually, having a part of the body that’s slowly packing in but can, once it has got bad enough, be completely cured.  I don’t want an operation any earlier than I need it, but I’m sort of impatient to need it because I’m a bit limited in what I can do in the meantime.  I have to evaluate – can I walk that far?  With a stick?  But I mustn’t give in, it is good to push myself and I volunteer to go up ladders and, I discovered, all the extra walking I did on holiday has made me more resilient.

I hope I’m not moaning, I don’t mean to.  I feel very lucky to feel healthy and only to have a dodgy hip that can be cut out and replaced.

Anyway, tomorrow will mostly be spent typing.  Apart from a clarinet lesson.  I’m terribly rusty, I’ve hardly played for the last two months.  This evening, LT and I have been playing about on clarinet, piano and guitar.  I don’t mind playing badly for him to hear, I don’t have any pretences to keep up.  We just laugh about it.

We did like to be beside the seaside part 2

We bought more buckets and spades and built sandcastles.  The tide washes the whole beach twice daily, so it’s always clean and fresh.  It worked rather well for us old ‘uns, tide came in during the morning and turned in the middle of the day, so we didn’t have to hurry down to the beach but had the whole afternoon and as much evening as we wanted there.  Crabbing and shrimping didn’t happen, there weren’t enough days, but the days passed happily.  They were in bed by 8, a bit later than at home, but that’s what holidays are for – and they chatted together for a good hour most nights, which we turned deaf ears to.

Meanwhile, Weeza and Phil took the opportunity for a few days away too and they went to Amsterdam.  They had a good time, they said, and were away from the children long enough – actually, I suspect it only took a few days – to miss them thoroughly.  They’ve been working very hard on their house and Phil’s father is very ill with a brain tumour, so there has been a lot of tension and anxiety in the family.  Time off from that is healing, of course, as we all know.  Phil went to spend the weekend with his mum after they returned home.

We quickly learned that the children needed food at regular intervals – so do most of us, but not necessarily hourly…  They are both tall and thin and we don’t know where they put it all.  They are no trouble to feed, plenty of prosciutto, salami, chorizo (yes, the pig looms large, I’m afraid), Marmite, vegetables, fruit, tortilla wraps with peanut butter or chocolate spread, pasta with pesto, cheese – I’d made it clear from the start that pancakes were off the menu, I was on holiday too, which was accepted with good grace.  Thank goodness, they never asked for a dish and then changed their mind once it arrived.  On the way home, we were astonishingly highly charged for soft drinks and sandwiches at a motorway Costa, but even those were eaten cheerily.

We’re already talking about next year.