Monthly Archives: May 2006

India – Part 1, roads part 1

The first time I arrived in India at Madras/Chennai * airport, my sister and I were met by her friend K. They had known each other since 1968 when K spent a year in England and they shared a room in London, where my sister was studying. K had married, had two daughters and visited England several times, but my sister had never been to India. But now K’s elder daughter was getting married and we were invited to the wedding.

Oh no, this was meant to be about Indian roads but I’ve digressed already. Honestly, how my family cope I have no idea, because when I digress I never actually lose the thread, I retrace and go on from where I left the path and you can see them aging before your eyes and they all love me too much (are too scared of/used to/what makes me think they are listening in the first place?) to say ‘shut up’ so I go on my merry way to the end of the story, several hours later.

Indian roads. I’ll tell you about the rest another time; we’ve got the rest of our lives, right? ☺.

If you have been there, you will understand. First, there was the wonderful spicy smell. It was not like any I had experienced before. I’ve been to the Tropics, but that was humid and, um, tropical (lack of vocabulary here?) and this was different, exciting. K was waiting, her driver pushing a trolley, and our luggage was loaded up and taken to the car.

I suppose the Ambassador’s days are numbered, but I hope by a very long series of digits. My parents had a Morris Oxford, which I understand is much the same car, in the 1950s which I DO NOT REMEMBER (those who say, if you remember the ‘60s you weren’t there forget the ones who were at school and too young to be ‘out of it’). The airport is some way from the city centre, but it didn’t take long for the traffic to build up.

Indian traffic is not like British traffic. It’s the variety. Sure, we have cars, motorbikes and bicycles. But we don’t have auto-rickshaws, the occasional oxcart, a few cycle rickshaws. All weaving across the road in, it seemed, perfect confidence that everyone else was such a good driver that they were, themselves, in no personal danger.

We arrived home (and wow, their home, a story in itself). K had arranged that we should go and look round the museum after lunch. Another bewildering ride. But that evening, we were going to a concert of traditional dancing. Now I discovered the roads at night. Why did no one have their lights on? By the time we returned at 10.30 or so (remember, India is 5 ½ hours later than England so this was very late for me and I was culture-shocked – but loving it – and jetlagged too, I shut my eyes. I was beyond coping.

* It must be great fun if you live in India, teasing non-Indians. If I say ‘Madras’ you can correct me to Chennai. So next time I say Chennai you can refer airily to Madras. Huh! – but in a good-natured way.

PS – I know that some Indians will find this picture quite old-fashioned. But it was more than 6 years ago, the changes since have been considerable and this is south India which is quite traditional anyway. So forgive me please, it’s genuine memories.

PPS – I said I was done with memories for now. I was wrong, it seems.

Sorry, I didn’t see you

The wisteria is still not fully out, but is gorgeous this year so I’ve taken pictures now while I think of it.
I’m sure you admire the splendid Tudor chimney.

Right, enough memories for a while.

Yesterday I went to Kent on a coach trip, to Knole and Ightham Mote. I’d visited neither National Trust property before and they were both wonderful houses. I’ve threatened the Sage that I will take him there on a day out sometime, we have friends in Kent so could fit in a rare social call too.

The two ladies behind me were talking about driving. “Reversing is what I find hardest” said one. “I’m not as good a driver as I used to be,” said the other, “I don’t see very well nowadays.”

Er. in your late 80s with bad eyesight, is it perhaps time to stop driving? Does her doctor know? The driver licensing authority?

17 years ago

Lowestoft, about 1780. It pours well but I don’t make tea in it. 18th Century glaze isn’t really up to boiling water any more. Not a good photo I’m afraid, I should have removed the gap by the background, also there could have been a more flattering colour. Oh well.

I’ve been remembering again. Not something I usually do much of, reminiscing. But this was another wedding anniversary back in 1989. We spent the weekend in London. We stayed with our nephew in Hackney and, on the Sunday, went to the church of St Martin In the Fields in Trafalgar Square for the baptism of my goddaughter, the baby of my schoolfriend L. At the end of the service, the Rector held the 3-month-old girl high in the air above his head and carried her down the aisle. She played her part magnificently, gazing fascinated at the lights and showing no fear or uneasiness.

Afterwards we, with the baby’s family and the other godparents, went to a Chinese restaurant for lunch. After that, we went to Sotheby’s auction house to view a sale that was to be held the next day. The Sage and I fell for a teapot, decorated in pencil and gilt. He also mentioned that he had been commissioned by clients to bid for some other lots.

The next day we returned to the sale itself. It was only then that he decided it would be best if I did some of the bidding. I had never bid in a London saleroom before and I was alarmed to say the least. He wrote down the lot numbers and prices and warned me not to go above what he said.

The first of ‘my’ lots came up. I waved my catalogue anxiously at the auctioneer. Once you catch his (in this case) attention, he glances your way to see if you are still bidding, but no need to worry, he knows that scratching your ear is scratching your ear and you will not find you have bought a Ming vase without realising it. I bought a couple of lots, then was outbid on the next and shook my head. “Keep bidding” hissed the Sage. I waved again. And bought the item.

Our teapot came up. It soon exceeded the guide price but —- that was too low anyway, salerooms are often rubbish at getting the estimate right.

After the sale, we paid for the china and it was packed up for us. We went off to Liverpool Street station, the Sage to catch a train home and I to go back to Hackney. My visit wasn’t over yet.

Nephew S. gave me trout, salad and white wine for dinner. The next day I went off, first to John Lewis in Oxford Street where I bought a very pretty straw hat which I still have, though I only wear it in the garden now as it’s a bit battered, and then to the Chelsea Flower Show. It was a blistering hot day, but I was all right because I had a floaty cool dress on, my hat to shelter my head, talcum powder to sprinkle in my sandals so that they wouldn’t rub my feet and, um, I didn’t put on any underwear. Well, I was young and slim then and it was not a dress that made the fact evident, I got away with it. And, as always, Chelsea was wonderful.

And then I went home. The next day was our anniversary, but I can’t remember anything about it except that we were very happy with our teapot.


Once my children reached their late teens, I wondered what I’d have thought if one of them announced an engagement to someone in their thirties. My mother didn’t turn a hair, and if she had misgivings she kept them to herself. I certainly didn’t; I remember reading that it was quite usual to have doubts and nerves before the wedding day and wondering if that meant I was unwisely complacent.

I went shopping for a wedding dress. I chose a yellow and white mini with a large white collar, large white splashy flowers on a yellow background. It cost £5, which was pretty cheap even for 1973 and I continued to wear it for years. I also wore a light oatmeal-coloured summer coat and a gold brooch in the shape of a dragonfly, which my mother-in-law gave me.

We got married on a Thursday and my new in-laws took us and my mum out to lunch before they left on their holiday. Sage and I drove to Yorkshire for a brief honeymoon.

The next morning we went out to explore the town, which was probably Settle. He dived into an antique shop and was pleased to find two Victorian vesta cases (little match boxes, often made of silver, sometimes other materials in ‘novelty’ shapes). In another shop he found a third and was delighted. He said I brought him luck.

The next day he said, would I mind going home (to Lowestoft, the most easterly town in Britain) by way of Bristol (in the south-west). There was a picture he wanted to look at……
So on Saturday afternoon we drove towards Bristol and as evening fell, started to look for a hotel. We were surprised to find no vacancies anywhere, until we were told there was a cider festival that weekend; everywhere had been booked up for weeks. Finally, we stopped at a charming little hotel and, almost without hope, walked in. The proprietor was dialling the telephone and politely replaced the receiver. We asked for a room. He had had a single and a double room booked by a family who hadn’t turned up; he was just ringing the local Tourist Board to let them know he had vacancies.

The Sage is quite astonishingly lucky. He always has been. I used to find it infuriating sometimes, when he left something until the last moment and then a completely unexpected happy chance meant that there was no need to panic after all, but nowadays I rely on it too.

He bought the picture the next day, a Tom Smythe (a Victorian landscape painter who lived in Ipswich), and we travelled home. And told friends and workmates that we were married.


I’ve added several pictures today that I’ve taken within the last month. Not the ones of Squiffany as I haven’t asked her parents. Of the garden mostly, and one of Tilly looking a bit shifty. But merely following a bantam and not at all chasing it.

But I was just a child

– if not a chick. These are the latest members of the family; there is a fifth but it was left with Mum so that she wouldn’t be worried. They skidded about on the dining table and the black one at the back has an anxious look in her eye. They were taken straight back after a cuddle and a photo.

My mind is drifting back in time today, trying to remember the 19-year-old Z, preparing for her wedding day. It’s not easy actually; as Sam Goldwyn (I think) said, we’ve all passed a lot of water since then.

I was not seen, even by myself, as a decisive girl. It took me years to realise that I was not indecisive, just not that bothered. Do this, do that? I don’t mind, you choose, you care, I don’t. Even now, I’m often the last to give an opinion and then it’s usually to agree. But in important decisions, there is no hesitation and no looking back.

I’d known him for three years, but simply as a family friend. It was not until January 1973 that when he was going, with a friend, to a big art exhibition in London to commemorate Britain joining the EEC, the Common Market (now the European Community) he asked if I’d like to join them and we got on very well. Things progressed fairly rapidly and before the end of February we were engaged.

My position was, we were going to get married, what’s stopping us. Just do it. But my hitherto more conventional fiancé wanted to go down the usual route with lots of guests and flowers in church. Okay, I’d go along with it, although I dreaded it, hating to be the centre of attention. Plans went ahead and bookings were made for a date in August.

But he felt the pressure too. In mid May he said “You were right. Let’s elope. Your mum can hold the ladder.” His parents were going on holiday on the 24th and he suggested we get married on the 25th and drive up to their hotel in Scotland to surprise them.

In a moment of surprising maturity, I refused. I was not going to start life as a daughter-in-law by giving them a horrible shock, and I made him go to see his parents and tell them, and book the marriage (by special licence) for the 24th.

So, I had just three people attend my wedding, apart from the Sage and the registrar: my mother, my mother-in-law and my father-in-law; my father had died three years before. I apologised to my sister (I’m ruthless but fair) because I did not intend to invite the Sage’s sister and family as they would make too much fuss with confetti and nonsense.

We retained the booking for the reception and honeymoon in August though, always up for a jolly.

It was a long time before it dawned on me that people assumed we had brought the wedding forward because I was pregnant. I wasn’t, so it was a good thing I turned up for the party three months later looking cheerfully svelte. But, looking at the photos of the occasion, absurdly young.

Efficient time management

– which means, in my case, extreme laziness. Blogger Help is terribly informative, but it’ll be much better use of my time to wait until Ro is looking relaxed and ask him to do the stuff I can’t be bothered to learn to understand. In the meantime, sorry there’s a long and rambling piece on the right all about Me And My Family, but new paragraphs don’t show and I don’t know how to hide part of it either.

‘how do we know’ gave a list of things he wants to do, to make his life very happy. What’s your list, he asked (not just me, of course, everybody). I thought about it. And realised that even thinking about writing a wish-list made me feel anxious and pressured as, if I really want something, I need to get on and do it, as time, while not as yet an implacable enemy, could not be said to be altogether on my side. So, instead of the 101 things suggested or even the 13 he gave, I’ve got 2 for now. Play the clarinet as well as I could 10 years ago. And build my brick wall.

I used to take clarinet lessons, having decided, at the age of about 37, to learn a new instrument. I loved it, became quite good and discovered it is wonderful exercise for a healthy chest (yeah, read that how you will). But, you know how it is, after a few years I let things drift and stopped the lessons and now my embouchure is not what it was and nor is the health of my chest. I need to practise for 2 hours a day for a month and then join a band/orchestra/small musical group – whoever will have me, to force myself to stick at it. I really want to do this but it’s the 2 hours a day that is holding me back right now. Even a daily commitment is beyond me now, but it is something I will do.

But maybe not before building the wall. I’ve written about this before, but to save you (or me) looking it up, will briefly explain that I want to have a partly walled vegetable garden and, never having laid a brick until now, intend to build one 5 foot high and 100 foot long. This is also an entirely achievable ambition which I expect to take me two years (I could get a brickie in and he’d do it in a few days but that isn’t the point of it) and I will start when the Sage, who is a perfectionist, has selected the bricks.

I have, in fact, a third ambition; that is, a 5-year plan to come off all committees. This plan is now in its fifth year and I’m about to come off the first of them, which shows I’m not too good at this. But it’s a start. The rest of the committee want to have a party to commemorate my leaving after 18 years. I say commemorate and not celebrate, but maybe it’s just as well I’m going before I’m pushed.

Good cess to natural drainage, bad cess to pesky wildlife

It’s raining. Since we are apparently in the grip of a drought, this is nothing to grumble about and besides, English weather is fascinating in its variety. We do not really enjoy steady, settled weather, whatever it is as, although we still discuss it all the time, there is nothing new to say.

We are still considering what to do to conserve water and I am extremely pleased because the Sage has decided that the old well shall be put back to use. It used, many years ago, to provide all the household water but, though the remnants of the pump are still there, it has not been used for a few decades. However, plans are afoot to pump water to a storage container by the kitchen garden so that I will be able to water the greenhouses. I trust that I will not have to pump the water by hand.

At least we do not waste used household water as we are not on mains drainage. It depends on where you live and your natural drainage, but I puzzle, as we don’t have enough water in the south-east of this country, that it is still all piped away and not returned to the soil. A good septic tank is a wonderful self-regulating thing. Ours has never needed to be emptied in the 20 years we have lived here. It was, in fact, last emptied in 1981 or 1982 and has caused no problem at all; we check it periodically and it is never more than half full. It quietly digests its contents and the water drains away through gravel (well, I presume through gravel).

Al is annoyed because he sowed grass seed a few weeks ago and since then his new lawn has been visited by a hungry bantam and a pheasant, tunnelled by a mole and, now it’s growing nicely, being nibbled by a baby rabbit. None of them is particularly afraid of him although the bantam took the hint and went home when he stopped supplementing its diet with worms. He caught the mole, alive, and took it to the other side of the river (over three bridges) where he hoped it could not return, but now another mole has taken its place. He was talking darkly about borrowing an air rifle last night. He is – or was a few years ago – a very good shot, but I doubt it will get further than muttering.

Al’s problems may be over! In the unlikely event that this MOLE CATCHER works. And the link too come to that.

In the glasshouse, but throwing no stones

Last night I visited the next-village Friday evening market which I mentioned on Monday. There was a grocer with a van, a Fairtrade stall (yes of course I stocked up on chocolate), Al with his veg and three meat stalls. Three, no less; but each of them was a specialist selling its own farm’s produce, so one had lamb, one rare-breed pork and one had free-range chickens and turkeys, and beef. There were some other stands too, one for any donations to go to the village hall; cakes and suchlike. We went, and left, fairly early as we had Squiffany with us and bedtime approached, but they were doing good business and I hope it keeps going. A good deal of thought and work has gone into it all and it relies on both shoppers and stallholders being willing to keep up the effort.

Nearby Yagnub has its tri-annual street market tomorrow. Another home-grown effort that started, roughly 20 years ago, with an evening Christmas street fair, there are now three all-day markets, each with its own theme. In May it is plants, in August it’s antiques and in December it is a Christmas, of course, craft fair. it’s well supported. Everyone goes. Unfortunately, the weather forecast is not good. But hey, plants are the things to sell in the rain, just so long as all the pots don’t get blown over.

I spent most of the day working in the greenhouses and pleasant it was indeed. The weather was changeable – when the sun was out it quickly became too warm but not unbearably so, and when it rained it felt pleasantly cosy. Like driving on your own in the dark and the rain, where you feel (deceptively) safe and strangely comforted by the blustery weather outside.
I have never been this late before, I’ve been potting up plants but have only just planted many of them out; indeed I still haven’t finished. This year, I’ve half-buried pots in the earth and planted into them so that the roots can go through but I can target the watering; this is to make life easier if there is a hosepipe ban here. I don’t, in any case, care to feed and water heavily as I think that vegetables have more flavour if they are not over-forced. I’ve also mulched with a thick layer of straw; the case against that is that unrotted materials take nutrients out of the soil as they decompose but I did it last year and found that the straw did not start to rot during the summer and it did keep moisture in and suppress weeds. The greenhouse now smells lovely and barny and I can see that I will invent reasons to go and dawdle in there, just to inhale gently.

One 30-foot long greenhouse, the Sage has decreed, will have to be dismantled after the summer. I’m sorry about it but can see he is right (which is why he is a sage). It is old, well over 50 years; the parents of a friend let us have it when they moved house about 15 years ago. It was dismantled in Sussex, a site levelled and prepared, with concrete foundations, here, it was re-erected, glazed, painted with wood preservative, all in the space of a couple of weeks – because I mentioned politely that, if it were not done quickly I would miss a growing season. Now it is buckled and rotting and panes of glass slip periodically; it has been mended over the years but it’s now past it. We have a polytunnel that was going begging a couple of years ago but have not put up and I suppose that will have to do instead, but it won’t be the same.

Glad to sit down

I do not feel the need to have an opinion about whether a woman past her natural childbearing years should conceive a baby with medical assistance. But blimey, it wouldn’t be for me. Two days with Squiffany and I ache in back and hip and I’m not even arthritic. We have had a most enjoyable couple of days but I’m not sure I’d be up to it full time.

We went to Beccles this morning and shopped – fun things for her and useful ones for me. I meant to take her to the local very nice (albeit rather expensive) café, but as it can be quite crowded there I decided to take the pushchair and bags back to the car first. I couldn’t fold up the pushchair. The baby started to cry. I got agitated. I had to ring Al and be talked through the knack of pushchair folding. I’ve been quite disappointed that the design of babies’ hardware, as it were, has become trickier and more annoying to operate in the last couple of decades. So many things are really good; non-spill lidded beakers, easy to fasten clothes, real nappies – the modern ones are really excellent and the pants too, goodness, when I think of the hoo-haa of folding those bloody things, and hoping the pin didn’t come undone and skewer the baby and knowing that it would leak because it simply didn’t all fit in the plastic pants; that you would think that being able to disassemble a pushchair one-handed, put car seats in and out of cars, fasten the baby in simply even if it squirmed, would have been thought about by now.

We did get to the café in the end; she had apple juice, I had coffee and we shared a toasted teacake which was extremely good. She was very happy. She rarely is offered juice, though she eats lots of fruit; she just has water, plus milk night and morning, so it was a treat. And she really likes her toy tractor and shows it to the dog and goes vroom vroom as she pushes it along the table.

I hope we don’t get gales as the forecasters suggest. The wisteria is just coming out and it should look wonderful by next week. Though if we do get the extremes of weather they were muttering about a couple of days ago, I suppose I’ll be more worried about the roof than whether flowers are spoilt.

Squiffany rules —- yes, okay, whatever you say

I looked after Grandbaby Squiffany today and will, unusually, tomorrow as Other Grandparents are on holiday. She was adorable as ever and beautifully behaved (well, would you expect me to see anything else in her? But it’s true). Last week was quite hard work. Having discovered joined-up walking, that is, not going from safe hand-hold to safe hand-hold, even if it was the other side of the room, but striking out on her own, she was thrilled with it and kept wanting to explore, especially the garden.

Ours is not so much a garden as an adventure wilderness. Fabulous for a self-reliant 8-year-old but not so good for a nearly 14-month-old toddler (ooh, not a Grandbaby after all, she’s now a Grandtoddler!). So I had to go with her – well of course, but you have to accept I am desperately lazy and really like sitting and reading books to little children. But I do like The Outdoors too, you in the smoky city would – it’s quiet, it’s verdant, there is lots to see if you find wild flowers and cows and sky and hedges enthralling……..okay, I see what you mean, well, I LIKE IT.

Anyway, back to Squiffany. Today she was quite happy to explore the house. She doesn’t know we have stairs, as there is a (shut) door through to the hall, so the sitting room, chaotic study, dining room and kitchen are all she knows about as yet, plus the door that leads outside. She toddled {[and a silently onomatopœic word that is too (yes, silent onomatopœia is indeed a contradition in terms but I got it from the fabulous website and it works)] … you know, for a truly pedantic person, using double brackets gives me the linguistic equivalent of a caffeine buzz or a sugar rush; oh goodness I’ve just realised I need a triple bracket and that is the first time ever} from one room to the other quite happily on her own and I was able to read quite half of the daily paper.

Lunch was bantam egg, bread-and-butter, peas (yeah, frozen, I know). tomato and yoghurt (bought,okay, I know) and tea was fish fingers (all right, I KNOW ALREADY), kiwi fruit and banana and cheesy biscuits and more bread-and-butter because I don’t have much imagination. I offered a small chunk of banana. She mashed it with her fingers and gave it to the dog, who would accept such an offering from no one else. I gave her a sliver. She flashed it a contemptuous look and didn’t touch it. I gave her the rest of the peeled banana in one piece. She ate it. She smiled.

I’d say ‘who’s in charge here?’ But I know the answer already.