Birthdays

Over six weeks, between 18th August and 30th September, there are seven family birthdays, including mine, and four wedding anniversaries, also including mine.  My school chum Lynn’s birthday is this month too, as well as several other friends, though I only give a present to Lynn.  It’s all quite a lot to get organised, present-wise.  However, this year I’m sorted.  Lynn’s present was posted today, for Monday and the rest of them are bought and ready to be wrapped.  And I’ve got cards and paper and everything.

I feel so sensible and mature and so on.  I suppose that I should be by now, though.

My mother’s birthday was 11th November and birthdays mattered very much to her.  She’d never been cosseted much as a child, so really loved a fuss being made of her in later life.  I always used to put a lot of effort into her birthday presents, though that didn’t always pay off.  We found some of our gifts still in their wrapping, after she died, though we really thought they were things she’d like.  I suspect, in retrospect, that visits to the theatre and concerts would have been better.  Anyway, I was never able to think about the December thingy until her birthday was over.  And I still can’t, not really.  I’m not an early shopper, mostly because, if I’ve bought a present, I want to give it, not hang on to it for a couple of months.  But at least I’ve got a month or two before I need to worry any more about what to buy anyone because, after the celebration it’s too early to mention yet, the next family birthday will be 20th March and that’s six whole months away.

Focussing

We went to a NADFAS lecture today, on the birth of Italian opera – and learned that the very first opera ever was performed on 6th October, 1600; a performance of Giulio Caccini’s Euridice – and, though it was interesting and entertainingly delivered by a very knowledgeable musician, its focus was so very narrow that we came away feeling that we hadn’t really learned much more than that first fact.  He played extracts from CDs of several pieces of music from about that time and, really, about two would have been enough.  It would have been better if he’d taken a broader scope than just the forerunner to opera, Caccini’s work and a bit of Monteverdi.  It sounded like the first in a series of lectures rather than one to give enough information to engage the amateur’s interest.  I did like him and he knew a lot about his subject, but it could have been brilliant rather than just good.

I’d suggested we park at John Lewis and that afterwards, I’d do a bit of clothes shopping.  I’ve been looking for a jacket for the last two or three years without success, but I’d also quite like a new coat as mine is nearly three years old (I don’t want to get rid of it, just have another one too) and a dress, skirt, whatever else took my eye, was not at all out of the question.  Perhaps some shoes, too.  I’ve not been very fortunate in buying new shoes in the last year or two either (I’m not the most enthusiastic shopper) and tend to go straight from sandals  to boots, rarely wearing actual shoes.

I was reminded of why I hardly ever buy clothes in Norwich John Lewis.  The department is so big, jumbled and unfocussed that I can’t find anything.  It used to be a very nice shop – originally a family-owned department store; the name was kept for some years after it was bought out, so I’m not sure who owned it when it was enlarged about 30 years ago and had a big multi-storey car park added (the worst designed car park you can imagine), but it ruined the clothes shop for me.  And, like all department stores now, lots of different makes have their stock in separate sections, so there’s nowhere to go for a coat, you have to look at all the brands.  Because of the spread-out layout, there’s no cohesion, no focus, and we wandered around for a while without finding anything we liked at a glance, and felt discouraged from searching further.  I might have gone and looked at shoes, but discovered that they’d put them down on the ground floor, and couldn’t be bothered to go and look for them.

So we left without spending any money at all and I’d had it in mind that, if I’d found enough things I liked, I’d have been willing to spend a few hundred pounds.  I was feeling some sympathy for John Lewis, whose profits this year have been cut to the bone.  Some of the reason for that is that, when House of Fraser was trying to stave off insolvency, they kept discounting stock and JL, “never knowingly undersold” had to follow suit.  And then the chap who doesn’t have the best reputation, who’s taken over HoF, first said he’d honour orders paid for before insolvency and then changed his mind, I resolved that I’ll never shop in HoF again and would go out of my way to buy from JL.  Oh well.  I’ll go into the little clothes shop in Yagnub and see what they’ve got – not coats or jackets, though.

As we walked towards the Nadfas venue, I mentioned reports that people who live on busy roads are more likely to suffer from dementia in old age; which follow hard on reports that babies and children are of less intelligence if they are affected by pollution.  Though I don’t dispute the findings, though what the statistics actually mean is probably not as clear-cut as the reports suggest, this information suddenly being plugged by news media sounds to me as if it’s an agenda being pushed.  I’d be quite interested in an electric car, actually, and may well look into it next year, but only for local driving, I don’t think they’ve sorted out charging batteries on journeys at all as yet.  But it’s starting to sound to me as if spin doctors are driving the reports and that’s not conducive to good news gathering.

Having just said that to Tim, we sat and listened to the chairman’s introduction.  She said that, with the change of name from the National Association of Decorative and Fine Arts Societies to, simply, The Arts Society, that gave more scope for having lectures from all branches of the arts, not just furniture, pictures and so on.  And then, another committee member, giving the vote of thanks, said much the same thing.  I was irritated.  It’s balderdash, for one thing.  We’ve been having lectures on music for as long as I’ve been a member, over 30 years.  And we’ve had lectures on garden design, archaeology, all sorts of things that widen the scope considerably from Fine Arts.  It seems clear to me that Head Office has received flak from changing the name from the distinctive, memorable one it used to have to an anodyne, inaccurate one (it’s an association of many affiliated societies, not a single society) that blurs, in pronunciation, a distinction between Art and Arts; and so they’ve told the societies’ committees to emphasise a spurious advantage of the new name.  Which is treating us as if we’re quite stupid, really.

But to end on a cheery note, we went into the butcher on the way home and found that they’d got shin of beef with the bone in, which is a rare find.  So Tim volunteered to make osso buco for dinner.  It’s something I’ve never cooked, but it’s one of his specialities, since his days in Milan.  So we’re in for a treat tonight.

Z digresses, as ever

We’ve been away in Pembrokeshire for the last week, which was lovely as it always is.  We won’t get over there again this season, so have shut up the caravan for the winter.  I ran out of books, unfortunately, as I’d only taken four with me, but at least the weekend newspapers are bulky enough to take a while to read.

Rose has had to deal with various things while we were away – nothing she couldn’t handle and she trimmed Crow the Cock’s claws while she was about it, which i’ve been putting off doing.  I do have a proper pet nail clipper, at least, which I used when we had Tilly.  She never did anything to wear her claws down, whereas Chester used to dig out rabbit holes and keep his claws short that way.

Tim is, I suspect, both amused and bemused by my kitchen habits, which do not include wastefulness.  Having chickens helps, of course, because it doesn’t count as waste if I can feed leftovers to them, but we did seem to manage on very little bought food while we were there.  We’d taken half a dozen eggs and some cheese and vegetables, and bought four chicken thighs which managed to turn into two meals and a starter, but otherwise we just bought, for a treat, a rather large whole brill, which is a flatfish that hadn’t been seen in the shops for years.  It’s noticeable that, though the EU fishing policy is certainly flawed and could have been improved, it has worked.  Fish stocks have improved and we can buy fish now that had been overfished to a worrying extent and had been banned from being caught; or at any rate sold.  But anyway, the brill was bigger than the roasting tin I’d planned to bake it in.  So I used foil lined with baking paper to make a parcel, which worked fine.  And it lasted for two meals and a starter for a third, so the rather startling price was brought down to practically a bargain.

I’m an amateur when it comes down to not wasting food, though.  When staying with my friend who’d had a hip replacement, earlier in the year, I found her fridge absolutely stuffed with leftovers.  I used what I could but threw away a scrap of Stilton which was all rind and dried-up scraping of cheese.  Next day, she was searching for it.  Fortunately, I found another one, even drier, and didn’t own up, though she probably suspected.  It didn’t help that a friend, trying to help and absolutely not succeeding in the least, had bought a huge pack of uncooked chicken portions for her.  If she’d then cooked them, maybe made up three or four different dishes, it would still have been too much chicken, but at least it would have been useful.  As it was, frankly it was less helpful than doing nothing at all, not that one say so, of course, and my friend is too kind even to think so, though it taxed even her charitable nature.

Anyway, I don’t know how I got onto that.  Tim is still getting used to the way I talk – you’d think he’d have been more prepared, having read my blog for years, but I suppose it’s different when it’s inflicted on someone all the time.  I know he has a point.  I give an unnecessary amount of detail when I’m explaining something.  I digress to give the background of a person or incident, I sometimes break into an entirely different anecdote as a consequence, yet I don’t forget the original story and I go back to it and sometimes – I maintain that it’s quite often – the digressions are relevant to the ultimate point of the story.  Indeed, when I don’t do it, for the sake of brevity and not wishing to bore someone, I see an expression of puzzlement on their face, because I haven’t explained enough.  Horace put it nicely, “I strive to be brief and so become obscure*.”  I explained, I think I’m not likely to change at this stage in my life – which is, of course, a whole year older than I was in my previous post – and we don’t want to change ourselves or each other, why would we?   But in regard to my ramblings, there seem to be three options.  He listens to the whole thing and bears it with amusement, he learns to put in the gaps which I leave out, or I keep quiet and don’t tell stories.  I’m not sure if he came up with a preference, now I come to think about it..maybe the fourth is, I could write them down for him?  But I’m sure he enjoys it really.

One of the weekend papers had a recipe for duck with figs, so we brought that supplement home.  If we have that many figs next year too, we will be very anxious for ways to use them.  I can’t waste them, not lovely fresh figs, but there’s a limit to how much jam. relish and poached figs one can use with the ones I can’t eat raw; which is itself rather a lot.

* brevis esse laboro, obscurus fio, I think, but my Latin relies on a very dodgy memory now, I can’t translate it accurately any longer.

Amazing Gracenotes

I was playing the hymns for tomorrow’s service on the piano, when LT passed the comment that gave rise to the title of this post.  It’s true.  I did fluff a few notes.  It’ll be all right on the morning…

He’s working hard on the catalogue for the next auction, because he’s marvellous.  I haven’t done much today.  It’s all been Tim.  I’m slightly struggling to think what kept me so busy yesterday, apart from making cheese soufflé for dinner, but I’m sure there was something.  Tim arrived home in time for lunch and I spent the rest of the day being happy as a consequence and that’s all that matters, really.  Unless I’m making an excuse for myself not having done much.

 

Z is frustrated

Having done very little during the early part of the day, I stirred myself to make naan bread later.  I also went out to pick figs, thinking there would be ten or a dozen – there were over two and a half kilos again, I didn’t count but it must have been at least fifty.  So I decided to make some more of the spiced fig jam, which is delicious with cheese.  I went out and bought some walnuts, but had everything else.  However, I had hardly started the cooking when the electricity went off.  I went and reset the fuse box, and it went off again.  I unplugged the baby Belling and the induction hob, went back, the power stayed on.  So I tested the hob and it didn’t come on at all; changed the fuse, nothing.  Just having an oven and no hob is no good, so I had to turn on the Aga.

The pilot light came on okay – you press a button, then the spark button, and keep the first one down for a minute until it’ll stay alight.  Then you can turn on the main gas tap and get it going.  But the pilot light wouldn’t stay on.  I spent about twenty minutes, keeping my finger on that rather awkward little button for minutes at a time, but it kept going out.  Eventually, I left a plaintive message on the Aga guy’s answerphone, asking for advice.  And then, of course, I tried one last time and the damn thing worked, so I had to phone back saying not to worry.

So I’ve made the jam and potted it and made the naan bread and cooked corn on the cob and an omelette for dinner.  And that will be that for this evening.  I am putting my feet up.  And LT is coming home tomorrow, so I’ll be happy again then.  Except that we’ve got to get on to John Lewis and tell them that the hob has packed in within a few months, so we’d like our money back, please, and that’s a bit tedious.

Z makes cakes – or rather, Z supervises the making of cakes

Squiffany, Pugsley and Hadrian came to spend the day with me as both their parents were at work.  This was an immense treat for me, as I’m not very often lucky enough to have them to myself any more – Dilly is a teacher, so is at home in the holidays and now Weeza works termtime only as well.  It’s not that we don’t all get together but, when we do, all the little cousins tend to vanish together or in groups, and I hardly see them.

We made cakes.  That’s what happens with granny, it’s a long-standing tradition.  They all are very good together, I’m appreciative of the excellent parenting that’s taken place, knowing well how hard it is.  Weeza and Al used to fight awfully as children, though they have got on very well for years.  But there was co-operation and good humour all round, and various games were played too – in all, it was a lovely, relaxed day and I enjoyed it very much.

I’m tired now though.  I had a long chat with LT and another with Phil, whose birthday it is, and that makes me pretty well talked out, what with entertaining young children and all.  I used to have most energy in the evenings, I reckoned that was when I was most awake.  Not now, though.  Possibly, I pace myself better during the day, but I can only do the “woo-hoo, this is the real Z!” thing every so often at night, nowadays.  I feel most dreadfully boring, darlings.  I rather miss the old Z – but that was, actually, the young Z.  One has to adjust.

Z winds down

Having resolved to take the day off, I had to find something enjoyable to do with it.  So, having had an open invitation for months, I went to visit our old blog friend – and my fellow wall builder – Dave, to go and see his wood.  He bought a hectare of woodland at the end of last year, and has been visiting frequently ever since.  It’s pretty well his favourite place, and I can see why.

The rules on woodland are reasonable, when one recognises that one can’t do whatever one wants without planning permission.  So you can sleep overnight for up to 28 nights a year, you can put an edifice on wheels there but not a permanent building, and so on.  Dave wants to be able to spend time there for much of the year, to keep its wild woodland character and to enhance its appeal for wildlife, and obviously he wants to do it all within the law.  He had several small grandchildren who love it there, so he wants it to be suitable for them.  And he’s done a huge amount so far and has plans for the future.  it’s genuinely lovely there and I enjoyed my visit.  I’d brought a picnic, so we had lunch and then strolled around while he explained what he’d done and plans for the future.  It was just what my tired mind wanted.

Tomorrow, Dilly has a PD day at school and her three children aren’t starting school until Thursday.  So lucky Granny is stepping in to have them for the day.  They want to make cake, it seems.  That’s fine, I’m pretty big on cake.  And I haz decorations.

Z gets old

Today, out of the blue, I remembered a recurring dream I used to have.  I was having a heart attack – this was after Russell died, and I lived alone.  I was able to function, so phoned for an ambulance, then rang my daughter, explained what was happening and said that I needed her to do a list of things – I was due to chair a meeting that afternoon, so she needed to ring the school and the vice chairman to explain, then she needed to cancel the rest of the week’s appointments, which I itemised, then please contact the boys and various other people, not least those who’d have to be asked to care for the cat and chickens.

Clearly, I didn’t think being in the throes of a heart attack would stop me thinking clearly.  Nor did I think it would release me from obligations without explanation.  I was still responsible for them but acknowledged I had to delegate.

I also knew, once I was awake, that all this was ludicrous, in a number of ways. Oh, I should mention that I apologised to Weeza profusely, both for being ill and for bothering her with all these necessities.  Anyway, I don’t have any of them now, not in the same way and I never will have again.  I’ve never told her about this dream, which used to happen every month or so, and it’s probably better that I don’t.  I’m not sure that she’d appreciate it…

All the same, I’ve got on with the job I did have, and now the information for the catalogue has all been collated and I’ve given it to LT, who is the man with the know-how.  I’ve got people to contact tomorrow or the next day, but that’s just a matter of a couple of emails and a letter and I can do those in my own time.  I just said tomorrow, but that’s not right.  Actually, tomorrow is a day off.  I worked all weekend and I was so tired that I seriously contemplated going to bed at 6.30 this evening.  I didn’t, I had a bath instead and then cooked dinner, which revived me; both the cooking and the eating of it.  But it reminds me that I am exhausted by things that I used to just get on with and it’s partly that it’s all my responsibility now, but it’s also that I’m well on the way to old age.  That’s fine, I just need to adjust and remember it.

Z resolves to have a good night

I’ve been working assiduously on the catalogue for the next sale, which has given me no opportunity for blogging.  Specifically, I moved the computer and so, once I finished work for the day, I moved out of the room the computer was in.  I can write on my phone or iPad, but I mostly read rather than write there.  So, apologies if I owe you an email, I will certainly write tomorrow.

The china is all catalogued and photographed, and I’m more than halfway through the condition report.  By this time tomorrow, it will be finished and I will have cropped the photos, ready for the catalogue: over to LT, who is wonderful and lovely – tautology there, darlings, because LT already means Lovely Tim – and he will magically compile a catalogue for me.

A few days ago, I finally saw one of the hens tapping the feeder.  I knew they were, but I’d never witnessed it.  I did throw down feed for them every morning – actually, I still do.  I had taken nearly all the food out, so that I could see if the level had gone down.  But it wasn’t easy to be confident – with one very elderly chicken and one very small one, I couldn’t risk either of them going without food.  If I hadn’t put down food and then the old hen had died, I’d have blamed myself for starving her.  I really don’t need that sort of worry.  But anyway, it’s all fine now.  I do throw a bit of food out, as I said, because they all come along hungrily and there is no need to be tough.  I watched them, when they didn’t know how to use the feeder, and they looked quite desperate, pecking at each other to get what food there was.  Once I relented and fed them, all was tranquility again.  And tranquil pottering around is the pleasure of keeping chickens, I would rather be soothed than worried.

I picked another kilo and a half of figs yesterday.  I gave some to Rose, we have some and there’s still another batch of jam to make.  I’ll use preserving sugar this time, so that it has a chance of setting a bit better, but the taste is superb and I don’t mind runny jam; it’s just that it doesn’t keep so well.  I can’t remember if I said, the dried tomatoes are a triumph.  I’ve got one jar in olive oil and another just as they are, I’m not sure which is best.  They are absolutely delicious.  I stuffed mushrooms for lunch – big open ones, the ‘Portobello’ sort.  I had some leftover rice, which I’d cooked in my favourite way, with a cinnamon stick and some cardamom seeds, and I added some spring onions and the mushroom stalks, parsley and dried tomatoes, and loaded all that into the mushrooms, cut a red pepper in half, dripped on more olive oil, added a couple of chopped garlic cloves, and then walked away and relaxed in the sunshine for half an hour while it cooked.  It was pretty good.

And soon I’m going to bed, because I’m not sleeping much while I’ve got the catalogue to think about.  I believe I’m relaxed and calm and so on, but waking at midnight for the next four hours and then catnapping isn’t very calm at all.  However, I’m pleased with progress so there’s no reason not to sleep tonight.  And that is a message for my subconscious.  There is no reason not to sleep tonight for at least nine hours.  Twelve wouldn’t be any sort of a problem.  Six is a minimum.

Goodnight, darlings

Updates

The first one is that the bantam didn’t make it through the night. I put her in a nestbox yesterday evening and, this morning, she was dead on the floor.  I did think she’d have another day or two, but it was simple old age and that was that.  Only the other day, she was giving one of the big hens what for, for eating food she fancied.  So, though there’d been a gradual long-term decline, she hadn’t been ill. But all the same, I’m really upset.  Poor little chicken, the last of our bantams.  Rose has three hens and a cock, fortunately, but they hatched the year after Russell died, this was the last of his.

The baby Belling oven is fine, it’s just the rings.  So we haven’t turned the Aga on yet, though we will soon, I’m sure.  I’ve been drying more tomatoes today – some of them are still in there, in fact.  I’ve taken them out as they’re done, but some were very juicy.

I’ve typed up nearly half the lots for the catalogue, but I completely lost heart around half past five.  I was tired and headachy and rather cold.  But I had a cup of tea and a bath and lovely Tim cooked dinner and I’ll do the rest tomorrow.

Other news – you may remember my lovely friend and colleague Mary, whom I’ve mentioned before.  She and her husband moved to Llangollen last autumn, to be nearer their children, both of whom were based Manchester way.  Her daughter had her first baby yesterday and darling Mary is so happy.  She found it hard to leave this area and it’s taken her a long time, not so much to adjust to their new home but to reconcile herself with leaving their old one; but obviously this changes everything.  The new arrival is a little girl called Elspeth.

I think that’s about it, darlings.  More figs to pick tomorrow, the catalogue to be worked on and … oh, I’ve just remembered.  I was very pleased with my latest loaf, which had risen really well.  And then Tim sliced it up for the freezer.  There was a socking great hollow part in the middle, which was why it looked so stupendous.  Hmm. Back to the kneading board.