Monthly Archives: June 2006

Playing granny

Dilly remarked that Squiffany is quite badly behaved by the end of the week. I admitted that it could well be my fault, as I am quite indulgent on the Fridays when I look after her. She took the confession kindly, agreeing that Al has much the same effect on his baby’s behaviour.

I don’t let her get away with bad manners and she is expected to say please and thank you, and to wave bye-bye to friends whom I’ve chatted to for 10 minutes in the supermarket while she sits patiently in the trolley seat. But when she waves imperiously towards the garden and expects to be let out to scrabble in the gravel, and spreads toys all over the drawing room and leaves them for me to clear up, I don’t raise a murmur. I’m so pleased to see her face light up when I come in the room, to see her enthusiastically tucking into a meal I’ve cooked and to hear her repeat a word I’ve taught her, I disregard any minor naughtiness as ‘sweet’ and let her get away with nearly anything.
Mind you, she is better behaved with me than with her mum at nappy-changing time. I have suggested playing ‘up … down.’ She enjoys this and does not try to escape, as she does with Dilly.
She is well behaved on the whole, I think. She knows she must not pick flowers, for example, so puts her hands behind her back to remove temptation while sniffing loudly at the scent and exclaiming at their prettiness.

I have escaped early alcohol-related disease. Apparently (and dreadfully) people in their 20s and 30s are seriously affected, by liver disease and binge-drinking. I have long been affected by the awful death of Bix Beiderbecke, who died, with horrible DTs at the age of 26, after several years of alcoholism. It seems particularly poignant when someone had such talent and, it appeared, so much to live for.
It’s all right to fall apart in your 50s though, isn’t it?

Goodbye to all that

It feels a little odd. I’ve been a governor at the village school for eighteen years and have just been to my last governors’ meeting. Things are going very well there, so I decided to quit, before the next crisis comes along.

I joined as a parent governor, a couple of terms before my son started his education there (this was all right, it’s allowed for in the eligibility rules). The then Rector rang me up and asked me if I would consider being a governor – rather flattered (for I was young and naive in those days), I said yes. And then he asked if I would be clerk as well. I felt i could hardly say no. So, the first meeting I attended, I took the minutes for.

At that time, there were 24 pupils, aged 4 – 9, at the school. My son became the 25th. By the time he left, there were 56 children there, and a couple of years later there were 76. It is a tiny school on a very small site and, in a couple of years, a new school will be built on the field opposite – nicely in time for Squiffany to attend.

We’ve had our ups and downs. Four years ago the chairman of governors died suddenly. At the time we were going through considerable problems, with governor and staff resignations, a temporary headteacher and dwindling pupil numbers. I became chairman, I knew what to do (I’m good in an emergency, if at no other time) and, with support from parents, staff and the Local Education Authority and the Diocesan Board of Education, we pulled things round pretty quickly. I never want to go through a time like that again though, and that is why I’m going now. But I really don’t know whether to be relieved or sorry.

I’m putting a brave face on it though, we’re having parties!


I should like to make it clear to all enquirers that I kiss frogs, not toads.
Kissing a toad would be weird. I am not weird. Kissing a frog has royal precedence and is a not-unpleasant undertaking.
I have not kissed a newt for quite forty years.

And apologies for rather over-purple prose yesterday, I’m not sure what came over me. I’ll leave it as it is, to teach me a lesson.

Further clarification
I have now received a suggestion that I am unfair to toads. This is not so. There are many animals I do not kiss. I am deeply attached to pigs, elephants and ducks, to take but three examples. I am fond of spiders and elephants, to suggest two more. I have never kissed any of these creatures. The animals I do, on occasion, kiss include dogs, cats, horses, very small lambs and chicks and, if invited, chimpanzees.
I also kiss people. Not all. Mostly ones whom I like, but occasonally, politely, I will include those whom I hardly know but who expectantly pucker up and dart towards my face.
Now that they know where my lips have been, they may not be so keen to kiss them again.

A further email has explained it all. Although couched in stern, almost aggressive, language (I have been accused of institutionalised speciesism), its anxiously unconfident undertone is only too clear. Through his specious accusation, my dear friend has simply displayed that he is jealous. Of a frog.

Walter dear, I kiss frogs because it’s traditional. And I am ever curious, and ever optimistic of metamorphosisication. And frogs are adorable. They do not, I confess, particularly enjoy being kissed; not by me at any rate, but they are stoical little creatures and bear the ordeal bravely.

If I were faced with a sweet-faced frog and a hunky Wally and only one kiss to spare, it is only too evident where that kiss would go. Isn’t it.


Beautifully blue

It is only eight days since I last took the Yagnub to Norwich road, but in that time two fields of flax have flowered. Is there a prettier flower for a farmer to grow? I hardly think so. It makes me as happy as does the sight of a rainbow. It’s not a common sight around here; maybe, if it were, it would become hackneyed, but I don’t think I could ever dislike it as I do oilseed rape. When that was uncommon (or when it was more likely to be a field of mustard which looks, in flower, the same), I quite liked to see the bright yellow splash. Now I am annoyed by its pungent smell and its brashness.

But flax will always be a pleasure I’m sure. And I’m going to Norwich again tomorrow, so can enjoy it afresh.

Many thanks to any witches, and warlocks (or are you wizards?) who influenced the weather imps. It was perfect. Sunny, but not too hot, except occasionally, which was pleasurable enough to make one stretch like a cat.

I bought a hat, some bacon and a wooden jigsaw for Squiffany. Alone, I’d probably have prowled more expensively around the food tent, but as it was, I enjoyed the company and the sights.

One of which was a display of tomato plants grown (I think) by the inmates of Norwich prison; of old and rare tomatoes. Old and rare tomatoes are delicious fruits which have only gone out of commercial use because they are odd in colour or shape, rarely because they lack flavour. I picked up the seed brochure of Simply Vegetables, from Suffolk-based Plants of Distinction. It is wonderful, with many unusual and colourful varieties and I will certainly order from them. It’s a small company with five staff; their website is nothing yet except a picture of the catalogues and a request for a catalogue, but it can better to work within your means and grow than to be overambitious and fail.

When i was watering the tomatoes this evening, a tiny black froglet jumped out of a pot and hopped away. From now on there will be dozens of them in the greenhouse. I’ll catch one sooner or later and take a picture for you. And kiss it, of course, before I let it go – no frog, however small, escapes a cuddle from me.


The dragonfly had just hatched from the pond and was still drying its wings. It flew away before I could take a better photo. There was a beautiful one in the greenhouse the other day – I had to catch it in my hands to let it out. Needed both hands to hold it, so I couldn’t take a picture then.

Squiffany likes stones and will happily sit on the gravel playing with them for ages. We have to watch her though – she keeps wanting to sneak one into her mouth. She hasn’t swallowed one yet, but I suspect that it’s only a matter of time – like Petite’s Tadpole did yesterday. You expect to watch a baby hawkishly, but as they grow up, you become more unwisely trusting.

PS. These pictures took all day, on and off, to load – I’m uneasily aware that they were hardly worth it. It’s been like having to explain a joke, and then still getting a puzzled stare. I’m almost – almost – ready to resort to alcohol for comfort. The dragonfly shows up well when enlarged though, just click on it.

Blogger is having a few technical problems.

I took some photos this morning that I have, ever since been trying to upload. No luck. Maybe later.

Tomorrow, the Sage and I are going to the Norfolk Show. We will pick up his sister from the station at 9.20 and have a day out together. So please, any witches reading this, I would be most obliged for a Good Weather spell – you know what I want, no rain (or possibly the lightest shower while I’m in the food tent) but not blazing sun which will turn z into a sleepy zzz, and possibly a sunburned one too, were I foolish enough to let it touch my unwary shoulders.

Samphire, Sage and Duty

I meant to do lots today, but it didn’t quite happen. No real reason, laziness took over; the sort of faffing around that means you are never actually idle but you are only too aware that you will finish with very little accomplished, which will be regretted in a day or two when you are truly busy.

Never mind, nice to chill a bit. And the fishman did indeed have samphire on his van (see yesterday, you don’t need a link) and it was lovely. If you ever cook it, ignore the trendy anything-but-steaming-is-anathema school of thought, as it is really salty and needs plenty of water to tone it down. But it only needs a few minutes to cook. And then, hold it by the stalk end and suck off the flesh, leaving the stalky bit behind.
It’s the finger food element; I don’t know if it’s more childish or sensual – they being, of course, somewhat self-contradictory. Well yes, I do know which.

I discussed a matter with the Sage last night, and he agreed, with remarkably little persuasion, that I was right (!) and duly sorted it this evening. And then earnestly told me the good reasons why he’d done that. “Er,” I said, “I know. That was what I said yesterday.”

He is adorable.

The difference between us is that I have impractical ideas and tell him about them with great enthusiasm. He usually enters into the spirit of the thing and, if it’s really stupid, then does nothing about it. Or, if it’s wacky but possible, we get on with it. Like my wall, which has still not been started as his job is to choose the bricks. This is fine, as mine is to build the wall and it suits me right now not to have to begin.
He, on the other hand, has an idea and acts upon it, with no exit strategy at all, a bit like Bush/Blair in Iraq but less damaging (no further comment, this is not a political blog). Sometimes this works magnificently, it rarely completely fucks up, but sometimes it fizzles out and never comes to a proper conclusion, and this is one of those situations.
I tell him that he still thinks like a bachelor and it’s true. He sometimes talks to me first, but only if he wants to put a situation forward, knowing I will be bound to come up with the *brilliant idea* that he had in the first place.

I had a phone call from the High School this afternoon. They have a special tea party in July, where people who have won an award for effort, achievement, whatever – the sort of thing that won’t get a Speech Day prize but is worth celebrating – receive prizes, mostly sponsored by local businesses or the PTA. Unfortunately, the governor who usually hands these out is not available. Nor is the chairman of governors. You probably have already worked out who is the vice-chairman (don’t hold with chairwoman/person or Chair sort of nonsense, chairman is not gender specific). It’s the afternoon of the lunch I’m doing for the Bishop and the Rectorship candidates. “You will say a few words? Just a short speech, saying how proud the governors are and that sort of thing.” I sounded enthusiastic and pleased to step in. I lied.

But anyone can see he was born

Husband has an appointment with a financial advisor this week, who rang to ask him to bring in identity documents for him to photocopy. I passed the message on. “You’ll need your birth certificate,” I said. He looked gloomy. “It used to be in the *designated place for such things*,” I said helpfully. “It isn’t now, I looked.” “When you take things like that out, why on earth don’t you put them straight back again?” I grumbled.
“Good question” said he.
“Good answer” said I.

Vegging again

Lovely home produce for dinner tonight. Tiny new potatoes, the first courgettes and the first broad bean tops with tarragon flavoured omelettes, all vegetables had been growing less than half an hour before and the eggs were from our own bantams. Just delicious.

I can’t remember where I first got the idea from of cooking broad bean tops like spinach, but I’ve been doing it for years. Elizabeth Jane Howard, who is one of Al’s customers and knows a great deal, told him that it is a very old-fashioned country food, but I think I just tried it out one day and liked it.
Blackfly love broad beans, but if you pick off the tops before they get a hold, they just don’t attack the lower parts of the plant. If you leave the tops on, the aphids smother the whole thing and the pods are stunted and distorted.
I’ve probably left it too late to tell you this year, because if you grow broad beans you may have already discarded the tops, but you cook them just like spinach; that is, rinse them and steam or simmer them with no added water in a pan. They do not reduce in bulk as much as spinach and have a similar taste, but with an elusive extra flavour of broad bean flower, which is one of my favourite flower scents. When driving through the countryside at this time of the year I will suddenly start to sniff – “Broad beans, I smell broad beans, open the window, where are they?” and everyone is expected to crane their heads around to find the field and point it out to me so that I can enthuse.
Used to drive my daughter to distinct irritation and, now that I’ve written this, I can see why.

Another favourite seasonal food coming up soon – samphire. Pronounced ‘sampher’ locally, it is usually sold by fishmongers. It grows along the East Anglian coast, but most of it is harvested in North Norfolk. I first tasted it in 1970 (I have a good and specific memory for important things, as you see) and, rather irritatingly, it has been discovered by smart restaurants in the last few years, which has put the price up and somewhat endangered its sustainability. It can only be picked for a few weeks, before it starts to coarsen and then flower.
The fishmonger visits us on a Monday morning; I hope he’ll have some on his van tomorrow.

My obsession with food sometimes reaches ridiculous proportions.


When the Aga is turned off, I miss toast. Toast from a toaster is all right under a poached egg or a big black mushroom, but on its own, maybe lightly buttered, Marmited or marmaladed, Aga toast is the best.
I don’t own a toaster any more, most of the year I don’t need one and in high summer, when Agaless, it hardly seems worth finding room for another appliance for a disappointing gustatory experience. Bread toasted under a hot grill is all right, but it hardly seems worth pre-heating, and slow-cooked toast just doesn’t cut the mustard. And, inevitable, one burns most of it too.
I have an Aga-toast-making implement, but only use it when I need to make eight slices at a time; normally I just put a slice or two straight on to the warm (simmering) plate. The useful thing about that is that, if I were to wander away and forget it, it doesn’t burn. If left, it simply curls up and dries out, so the kitchen – the whole house, indeed – does not fill with the unmistakeable smell.

There are some smells that can’t be anything else. Burned toast and boiled-over milk are two that fill the house for ages. The least whiff of TCP – I understand that you aren’t allowed to have it in hospital as it is so pervasive that it upsets some people. We each have our own particular favourites or pet hates, but others, good or bad, are instantly recognisable.

I’ve got music to transcribe for the clarinet, then off to church, then off to the pub. This afternoon, I’ll lounge on the lawn reading the papers if the sun shines or on the sofa indoors if not.

Have a lovely Sunday.

x z