Monthly Archives: May 2006

The hedge pig.

Perhaps three pictures of the same hedgehog are a little more than actually necessary, but it was very sweet and Squiffany was highly impressed. After eating the plate of meat (dogfood) he trundled off, towards the hedge, appropriately.

Sharp, this razor-blade

Every so often, on my slide down the razor-blade, I happen upon one of those little tricks of life that I daresay most of you (both of you? You? Who reads this?) know already.

Yesterday I was chatting to my MSN virtual friend. He had worked most of the holiday weekend and was celebrating his arrival home, at 9 pm on Bank Holiday Monday, with a snifter. I made a teasing comment, referring to how much work he had got done over the holiday. “Are you being sarcastic?” he asked. “No, just gently ironic” – “that’s all right then.”

I have another friend who declares he never uses sarcasm, only irony. And evidently that is how he gets away with it too.

MSN friend does indeed work long hours. There is, in his company, a designated maximum number of monthly hours you are allowed to work and, for the second month running, he has exceeded it. I asked what happens, compulsory time off? No, you are given an appointment to have a psychiatric assessment. If you are not deemed to have suffered mental health issues because of your overwork, then carry on, no harm done. Obviously, you do not want to fail the medical and so you make every effort to pass the test.

Like so many quotas and targets, very easily circumvented.

The Sage has done it again

So, how does he manage it? He lands on his feet every time. I had threatened him with a party. A celebration, no less, as he celebrates a Significant Birthday in a few weeks time – and on a Saturday night, it seemed as if it was meant to be.

He does not care for a fuss. Especially if it reminds him of his scaringly advancing years (he is significantly older than me, natch). So, I hadn’t done anything about it, but had relied on my usual enthusiastic puppyish ‘ooh, lets, it’ll be fun’ and last-minute invitations sent out before he had time to realise he had been suckered again.

But he has been lucky again. We have been invited to a party the next day, Sunday lunchtime. By friends whom he has known over 40 years, who are about to retire to France. Of course, we want to go. And, preferably, not with hangovers and mounds of washing-up to do. I think I need to scale down preparations for this party. Maybe a couple of friends and the family for supper? Maybe a little something just for the two of us? And oh goodness, now I will have to major on a present.

He’s the worst person in the world to buy presents for. I did really well two Christmases ago, but since then I can’t actually remember what I have given him (except the gift of my smile of course) so presents have presumably been okay but not remarkable. But I am clueless this time. Bricks for the wall? A special breed of chicken? Jelly babies?

Why is it that women are so easy to buy the perfect present for and men are so difficult?


Yes indeed, 69. A good and goodly number. Of tomato plants, fitted into one greenhouse. I’ve finally finished planting out all three greenhouses; you will be agog to know what is in them.

108 tomato plants: 23 Sungold, 55 Idyll, 10 Green Zebra, 14 Black Russian, 6 White Potato-leaved (or possibly, Potato-leaved White, it is a variety that is licenced to be sold by only one firm but Al was given the plants on condition they are for our own consumption. Apparently it is an old Beefsteak variety).

17 Jalapeno peppers

20 Sweet peppers (Capsicum)

11 cucumbers

21 aubergines

22 Cape Gooseberries (Physalis)

12 pots of lemongrass

Additionally, the greenhouses contain 2 Black Hamburg grape vines and a passion flower.

Now all I have to do is spend the summer feeding, watering and picking the produce. Yay.

I’m about to plant out the pumpkins. After lunch. Don’t you just love Bank Holidays, plenty of time to get some work done.

India – Part 1, roads part 3

You might care to glance at India – Part 1, roads part 1 and Part 1, roads part 2

Other bits and pieces about Chennai’s roads and then I’ll move on.

The living-vehicular highlight of our first trip was near the end of the visit, when we saw an elephant looking in a hardware shop. My sister and I squeaked excitedly and she fumbled with her camera, so the driver good-naturedly stopped in the middle of the road – hey, a photo opportunity, that beats the rule of the road doesn’t it? – so that she could focus.

On my second visit my daughter and I went to her school-friend’s wedding (friend and fiancé both lived/live in London but went home for the wedding). At last we travelled in auto-rickshaws. Overcrowded auto-rickshaws. All saried up, overloaded vehicle, save the children, so sit on the edge with silken bum hanging out.

It was not as unsafe, in my experience, as my friend K had suggested. I never had my bottom pinched once. Unlike Paris. Hm. Paris. Dodgy blokes on tubes.

India – Part 1, roads part 2

You might care to glance at India – Part 1, roads part 1

Ever felt worryingly that you’re in for an epic? Like when someone gets up to make a speech and you see the sheaf of papers he is about to read out?

Once I became slightly more used to the sheer busyness of the roads, I started noticing things. For example, how everyone walked at the side of the road rather than the pavement. This was for various reasons; partly because the pavements were quite uneven, partly because there is usually someone asleep on them, whatever time of day and sometimes there are street vendors, sweepers, various people in ones path and it’s easier, presumably, to take your chance with the traffic.

In Britain, it has for many years been compulsory to wear a motorcycle helmet (no, don’t be silly, not everywhere, just when you are riding or a passenger on a motorbike), which caused some consternation for Sikhs as they, of course, wear a turban. I’m sorry to say that I can’t remember how that particular problem was resolved, can you?

It was startling and alarming to see a whole family on a motorbike. Father driving, behind him a small child, then mother perched side-saddle on the back with a baby on her knees. She would be wearing a sari and her sandal hung from her toes, never, apparently, falling off. I’m sure Indian babies learn very quickly not to wriggle.
When I first visited Chennai, 6 years ago, I didn’t see any women riding motorbikes themselves, only as passengers. The most recent time, it was quite a regular sight, either alone or with another girl riding pillion. Many of the younger men and women wear helmets, but almost no older people.

I don’t know if, seen objectively, the roads are busier than here. There are fewer traffic jams (in Chennai, that is, not in Bangalore, where I felt quite at home in the stationary traffic) and even more jockeying for position than here. I never did understand the traffic light system, sometimes traffic went through a red light and sometimes not; maybe it’s that you are allowed to turn left (of course the traffic drives on the left as in Britain) through a red light? I also did not understand how anyone ever finds their way around. There are hardly any street signs and when I asked my hosts about road maps they looked slightly puzzled and were not sure they existed (someone tried to sell me one, again in Bangalore, but was it likely I was going anywhere unless with someone who knew the way? Not a chance!).

I fancied going in an auto-rickshaw. But my hosts advised against it, on the grounds that it was too dangerous. They, being rather posh, had two drivers and so there was usually a car available to take us where we needed to go – I do not know anyone in this country with one chauffeur, let alone two.

Scary as the roads were, I only saw one accident, and that was an overturned auto-rickshaw, with the driver standing by it trying to pull it upright again and his unhurt passengers standing disconsolately by, stuck in the middle of the road and waiting for a gap in the traffic. If accidents do happen, however, they can be very serious and I read on a couple of occasions that a whole family on a motorbike had been killed.

I don’t know how people learn to drive in India. I never saw a car with L plates on, do they learn off-road? I would certainly never dare to try. It’s not that people drive badly, but they are so fast and so impatient – so they are here, but in a different way. We are more regulated, but less alert and so we tend to react slower as we don’t expect cars to change lanes suddenly or a bike suddenly to weave in front of our car.

Well, blow me down

Things do have a way of following on. I suppose that, once you have something in your mind, you will take up a potential opportunity that might otherwise slip past unnoticed.

A few weeks ago, I played my clarinet as part of a music group for a service at a local (but not my village) church. Afterwards someone said to me that she had learned the instrument as a child and would love to take it up again; could I tell her the name of a teacher? I couldn’t at the time but promised to look into it.

Then, the other day, I wrote that I want to start playing the clarinet properly again. When I have time to give to it – as in, this year, next year, sometime……….

Today, the bloke who came to take the church service talked to me about his music lessons (we are without a Rector at present as he has moved to another parish. This man is a Lay Reader, which means he is not fully ordained but is licensed to take services, though not to marry, bury or baptise people, nor to give Communion. Lay Readers are volunteers). He is learning the saxophone and has reached a stage where it is becoming very difficult. I know just what he means, first you learn to blow and get notes out and when you can play all the low notes you feel you are getting somewhere. Then you try the upper register and you squeak and parp and it is very hard, especially to move smoothly from one register to the other. He asked for tips.
In short, I said practise a lot, but not for too long at a time or your mouth will get tired and you will start to puff your cheeks out which is a Bad Thing. Skill will come, and gradually it will become second nature to you. He said, it’s such a bother getting it out and set up every time, but I have to clean it as it accumulates so much wetness. Take it apart, I said, dry it and then put it straight back together. You will have to rewet the reed, but otherwise it will not be a bother and, with practice, setting the reed will not be awkward either.

Um, in short, I just set him a lot of work, didn’t I. But said that he can do it and it’s worth it. So I think it encouraged him.

Anyway, it reminded me of Jo’s request, so he is going to phone me with his teacher’s name and telephone number. It might be a good opportunity for me too, I don’t believe in letting opportunities slip and, if I don’t really have time for lessons then perhaps I need to make time.

I’ll let you know what happens.

By another complete coincidence, I bought some earplugs at the chemist yesterday. I had a feeling they might come in handy, but I had no reason then to think that. A present for the patient Sage perhaps?

Fight or flight? – will it make any difference?

I’m turning into my mother. I keep noticing it, sometimes in ways that no one else would see, except possibly my sister. I just caught myself at it, scuttling down to the greenhouse in the rain; I was hurrying with just her gait. When I get my purse out to pay for something in a shop and then pause to put the change away and then fumble to shut my bag, I’m starting to do it as she did.

Will other women recognise the anxiety I feel at this? At the age I am now, I don’t mind being like her at the same age (to an extent). But I don’t want to turn into the person she became in her 70s. I’m not suggesting that she became an unpleasant person, but she did become an unhappy one and, as she fought against the aging process that she dreaded, it became impossible for her to keep the events of life in perspective. I do not blame her at all, she had an illness that was, for a long time, undiagnosed and, as she became increasingly agitated that she was not being taken seriously by the medical profession, she was all the more labelled as attention-seeking; which she was not. But she was not canny about it; she was an idealist whereas I’m a pragmatist and I know how to give those in authority the answers they want, so I really don’t believe I would fall into the same situations she did.

At present, and for some time, my main consolation has been that, as a family, we are not particularly long-lived and so maybe I, and my children, will be spared my increasingly unreasonable behaviour. That seems a bit negative, but I don’t see another way round it. “Cheer up” people say if they see one looking anxious “It might never happen” – “ oh good, you mean I might die first?” seems an inappropriate response. Especially if you were actually just a little pensive and not unhappy or worried at all at the time.

Oscar Wilde wrote “All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That’s his.” There is no need to take these words too seriously, he was a man who spoke and wrote for effect and this was a line in a play in any case, but there is enough truth in them to give many women pause for thought.

A new friend

I went on a visit to Kent the other day. On a coach, with a society where I’m a committee member. I was unaccompanied, which is always interesting because I don’t know who will sit next to me; usually another unaccompanied female because, I have observed, men do not have the confidence to travel alone unless it is an all-male thing.

I knew the elderly lady who sat with me, but not very well. We exchanged greetings and some desultory conversation, but, I’m sorry to say, I slept quite a lot on the way down – I don’t sleep much at night so a coach soon sends me off. When I woke up she was reading the local paper, which I eyed surreptitiously, rather wishing I had my own copy.

During the day I chatted to a variety of friends and also spent some time alone, which is what I usually do. I cautiously prefer not to feel like a hanger-on and also like being on my own, at least part of the time.

On the way home, we had all enjoyed the day and my neighbour and I chatted. To be accurate, for some time she spoke and I rambled. Even if this is your first visit here, you might sense that I am rarely lost for words and often talk rather too much. But we got on very well. She is a lady in, I suppose, her late 70s; widowed, living alone, childless. After a while, she started to talk to me in a more confiding way and I, for once, mostly shut up and listened.

I don’t mean to say that she confided matters that she wouldn’t tell others, just that, maybe, she said things one doesn’t feel the confidence to say often. She spoke of her late but very happy marriage, the ways in which she felt she had changed over the years and her feelings about her present and her future. Simply but movingly, and I did appreciate knowing that she felt able to tell me these things.

English people have always had a reputation for reticence and for not expressing their feelings. That has certainly changed in the last few years and, although it makes for a less polite and respectful society, it also means that we feel able to talk about things that matter to us. Of course, sometimes one can talk to a person one hardly knows more freely than to a close friend. But she turned from a pleasant old lady who tended to be almost the last on the coach and regularly got lost, to a friend, and I enjoyed and appreciated her company. At the end of the journey, she thanked me for my company and I thanked her for hers and kissed her goodbye.

I’d had to do the vote of thanks for the organiser as we neared Norwich; at least I have learned now not to stand at the front when we go round a roundabout. The first time, I fell down the steps and was deservedly laughed at; I was grateful not to have broken my neck.