Monthly Archives: July 2006

The opinion of the ignorant can still be worth knowing (if it’s mine, of course)

There’s another reminiscence in my head all ready to transfer to my fingers, but Nostalgiopolis is not my city of residence and you can always skip the boring present-day stuff and pop back in a day or two. Or later on today indeed, depends how hard I relax this afternoon (the morning went well).

I’m chuckling just now, in fact. Last night I took part in Day One of Mike’s “Part Four of our collaborative annual quest to establish the Greatest Decade For Pop Music Ever” as he eloquently puts it – and only now has it occurred to me that he might possibly check out the people who have voted and if he does so he just might – but he’s a busy man, surely he has better things to do? – look at my profile and see my appreciative mention of the Singing Postman.
If the man does not instantly delete my comments then he is a true, come-what-may, democrat and I salute him (he hasn’t deleted them in fact and he quotes one of the most opinionated, which I wasn’t quite expecting).

I hadn’t knowingly heard any of the songs before; I listened three times and then cast my vote, with reasons. Well, I might not have taken much notice of ‘the charts’ for the last few decades, but arguably that just makes me more open-minded and disinterested. I gave up on them in the early 70s with the advent of music designed to appeal to children. Or ‘teenyboppers’ as the newly coined term put it (when even that wasn’t childish enough they called them ‘weenyboppers’). I’ve dipped in and out since, but hardly enough to sully the perfect plummy bloom of ignorance.

Memories……..since you ask

We lived for ten years in that house – the Edwardian former Rectory. It had been built to replace an 18th century rectory, which had fallen into the sea…..coastal erosion in East Anglia is nothing new. In the 1960s and 70s, the Church of England started to group parishes together under the stewardship of one vicar or rector, and so found themselves with more houses than they had priests to put in them. And the rest were large and old-fashioned and expensive to maintain, so most of them were replaced by modern houses and the old ones sold.

My husband was a full-time auctioneer at that time; that is, his firm held one full-day sale of antiques, pictures, jewellery etc and general household effects per month. It was also an estate agency and sometimes held property auctions too.

It was only a week or so after my son was born and we were still staying with my mother. The Sage came home for lunch and said casually “The sale of the old rectory is coming up next week, why don’t you come and have a look at it while it’s empty.” Seemed a good idea to me and I left the baby with my mother and off we went.

I had grown up in a big Edwardian house with its light, airy (= draughty), large rooms and the Sage and I, with our daughter, lived in a house built in the same period, although it was much smaller and the garden had been sold off and houses built in it. We parked in the drive of the Old Rectory, I walked in through the front door, and liked the hall with its parquet floor. My husband opened the drawing room door and stood back for me to go in.

It was a sunny afternoon in April. I went into a square room with a large octagonal bay in the further corner, which made the whole room bright and full of light. I don’t exaggerate when I say that my knees, for a moment, buckled. “Can we buy it? It’s wonderful, I want to live here.”

So we did.

I loved living there. We had the big drawing room which, with its octagonal bay with five windows plus another double window, caught the sun at all times of the day without it ever being too hot, and a sitting room and dining room which both faced south-west. The kitchen was huge and had a separate larder and utility room and the former Rector’s study was used as a playroom for the children. Upstairs there were six large bedrooms and I made a second bathroom out of part of the landing – for unknown reasons the back stairs had been done away with, so that area led nowhere. There were two more bedrooms and another unnamed room on the next floor, but we didn’t ever use them much, though they made a good den for the children when they were older and I stored apples up there too.

There were downsides to living in that house, notably the east wind straight off the North Sea. We used to lie in bed watching the curtains flutter in the draught. Downsides? – no, just that one. Everything else was perfect.

Moving day

Moving day. Mostly, it’s blended into the ripples of time, but a few memories linger. It was Prince Andrew and Fergie’s wedding day and I sat on the old house’s study floor packing the last of the china and other things that had to wait until the last minute, watching it, while the Sage supervised things at the other end. We had been moving stuff for several weeks into the garage over here, as we had far too many possessions to contemplate doing it all in a day.

We had sold our house to people we knew in fact and had agreed a price and shaken hands on it months previously. We then hadn’t heard from them for ages and started to wonder about it – we had entirely trusted their word; they had taken us equally seriously? Eventually we had a phone call and, yes, they had – their house was being sold to a family member so all was being done in trust and goodwill. We agreed a completion date of 1st August but, in the same friendly vein, offered to move out a week earlier and let them have the keys so that they could take their time too.

We chose 23rd July because the next day was our youngest’s second birthday. We still had workmen in the new home and no electricity supply, and we had ordered a new bed for us and one for our daughter which, they told us at the last minute, couldn’t be delivered until the next day. And a sofa and armchairs, we had never bought anything much new before but always frugally gone for second-hand – somehow, spending so much on necessary work on the house made us throw caution to the winds and empty the bank account entirely.

The truth is, people don’t believe a deadline. They always think there’s just a little more leeway. The Sage and I had to explain quite forcefully that we would move, come what may, and after all these months, we did want an electric light. The Aga was working, so we could cook and we had hot water. They rigged up a lead from the granny annex next door and at least we had a light in the kitchen and we could use lamps and torches upstairs. And we had mattresses that the older children could sleep on and Ro had his own small bed. We slept on the spare room bed from the old house, which was going to be Al’s in the future (we’d had an antique half-tester bed, which we had to sell as the ceilings were too low).

Eventually, I packed up the car and drove over to our new home. Which was surprisingly empty, considering we’d moved the contents of a large 6 bedroom house over there. “I wasn’t sure where you wanted everything to go” said the Sage seriously, “so I thought it could all go in the outbuildings until you decided.” This was not altogether welcome news, as I had a worried feeling that we would move in the bare minimum and take ages to start shifting the rest (which, of course, was what happened), but there was nothing to be done then as I had three children and a husband to feed – no idea on what, but I remember cooking by the illumination of a lightbulb on a long extension lead hung on a hook on a kitchen beam, so I did prepare something, and it must have been quite late in the evening, for it to have been dark in July.

Summertime, and the lunchtime is boozy

It’s been four years now since my youngest child left school, but my year is still marked out in my mind in school terms. The antiques world quietens down in the summer and we have just two auctions a year, May and late October, so our own business is slack now, and all the other things I’m involved in slow down or stop in the summer too. I don’t usually go away on holiday at this time (except to visit friends or family for a few days perhaps) but I like having time to enjoy the garden, read, not watch the clock all the time.

And a lunchtime drink is so nice……..
A second beer at 4pm is just a little self-indulgent though, I realise, even for a Saturday. But, do you know, I don’t care.

Tomorrow is the 20th anniversary of our moving to this house. Have I told you that my husband was born here? His parents were married in 1927 and bought it the next year; they lived here for the rest of their lives. It’s no wonder that he feels such a deep connection to the place.

A few years ago, I met, through friends, people who lived in the house I grew up in. Or in half of it anyway, as it had been divided in two (it was not unreasonably large but, at the time it was divided, large houses were unfashionable and it was situated in a very expensive area). They asked us round for lunch and afterwards showed me round the house.

I’d been looking round, recognising but not feeling a connection to things, as there were just so many changes. I decided that the windows were new as they fitted so well! They were large sash windows and rattled in the wind, but these fitted beautifully. Then I noticed the curved brass fittings, shaped to rest your fingers under as you lifted the sash – the original ones after all. Later, we went upstairs. It’s a three-storey house and I and my sister used to sleep on the top floor. As I came back downstairs, my hand slipped behind and under the banister rail and my host noticed and laughed – “It’s still there” – there was a long, smooth sliver of wood missing which had left an area flattened. I had forgotten, but my hand hadn’t.

A couple of years ago, the house we sold to move here was on the market. It was empty and being sold at auction, so we didn’t feel intrusive at asking for a look round. Now that was a lovely house too, an Edwardian old rectory, which we bought when large houses were unfashionable and sold when they were the coming thing. It was really odd, though a pleasure in most ways, to go back. Someone asked if I would like to live there again – but no, this is home.

When I sat down, I had no idea at all that I was going to write all this. Must be the beer.

Four little letters

As regular readers will know (well, did I ever think I’d write these words, wherever tongue might be lurking), Greengrocer Son Al has a market stall in the neighbouring village on a Friday evening. Tonight, at about 6.30, I received a text.
“Hi. Can your get paper bags to us? We forgot to bring them and can’t get through to anyone……..”*
I texted back “Sure”
A couple of minutes later
“And pens too. Sorry! Xxx”

I pondered. I don’t have a shop key. The Sage does, but he was out. Should I drive to Denton, fetch a key, go back to the shop, back to Denton. Or might Dilly have a key. She didn’t have, but times move on.
I went next door.
We have a cautiously informal arrangement. One doesn’t want to barge in uninvited but, on the other hand, around tea/bath/bed (for the baby) time, loud knocking and waiting for invitation to go in is not necessarily helpful. So I tapped the knocker and went in, calling at medium pitch. It was all right, they were in the kitchen and, furthermore, Dilly has a key which she lent me.

I drove to the shop, fetched bags and pens and left again.
Drove two miles down the road, to the turning to Denton. Received text.
“Is it too late to ask you to pick up new potatoes too? Don’t worry if it is.”
“Sure” I texted.
And drove back, unlocked, loaded up the local, the Essex and the washed new potatoes (as I didn’t know which, or if all, he wanted), locked the door, drove to Denton.
I arrived on the dot of 7, which wasn’t bad, just in time for the first customer.

I hadn’t actually been planning to visit the market tonight, as I hadn’t done the watering yet because it was too hot to want to spend time in the greenhouses. But, since I was there, I bought a granary loaf, some rolls, fillet steak for dinner and a free-range oven-ready chicken. Didn’t wait for the bar to open, came home, watered, cooked dinner, ate dinner, drank wine throughout.

Received another text
“Can you ask Dad to get another 8 trays of strawberries for sat please. Xxx”

*You will observe, throughout these exchanges that, not only are we all extremely polite to each other, but that none of us uses ‘txt’. As a mother, I did my job well (which words are the happiest in any mum’s vocabulary). As adults, my children are a credit to themselves (as I didn’t teach them anything at all about texting – they taught me).

News for the Pews

I’ve mentioned before that I am currently a churchwarden and that, since our Rector moved away in February, we have been advertising for a new priest for our church and the other five in the benefice. A fortnight ago, two people were interviewed for the post. Entirely reasonably, the interviewing panel was asked not to disclose the result, as it is customary for priests planning to leave their parishes not to tell their parishioners they are job-hunting; therefore the news is given to both sets of churchgoers on the same day.

I have just received an email authorising me to tell the congregation, on Sunday, the result of the interviews.
Now, this has been an open secret from the outset because, in fact, it was decided not to appoint any of the candidates.

So what I ask myself, you, or anyone who listens to me, why have we had to wait two weeks and a day to let the news out? It was proper and courteous to tell the candidates first, but that was done the same day. It is surely a different situation from one where a candidate had to decide whether to accept, discuss it with his/her family, talk to the bishop, then choose the most appropriate time to release the news, which could possibly take a couple of weeks.

I have a feeling that it is a symptom of the general self-regard and ‘we know best’ attitude of the church, or rather ‘the Church’ that keeps so many pews empty all over the country. Keeping it secret for the sake of it, pointlessly.

I’ll tell the congregation on Sunday, but I’ll only say what I think if anyone asks me directly – ‘for lying, she knew, was a sin’ as Tom Lehrer put it.

Blue sky and brown lawn

I was asked for pictures. I took pictures.

The soil in my garden is sand on gravel and it’s a dry part of the country anyway, so I’ve always taken this into account with planting. In this exceptional heat, however, even good-natured shrubs like hebe and potentilla are shrivelling up, although they have have been there for years and are well established. The gravel area is doing pretty well; not much is flowering any more but I allowed for that with variations in leaf colour.

The grass is almost completely brown. The ragwort manages to stay alive, but it will be pulled up of course, it’s poisonous to grazing animals (the poison is stored in the liver and will kill them over time if they eat enough). However, the cinnabar moth caterpillar lives on it and is impervious to the toxin.

The trees are still green, though they will lose their leaves early this autumn.

Masonry bees have lived in this ancient wall for years.
Goosey and the chickens manage to find some shade.

There are still some flowers in bloom however. Some of these are in tubs. I grow most flowers in tubs as they are more manageable to water.

And the greenhouses are cropping well. The jalapeño peppers are not hot yet, I ate one yesterday that didn’t have a hint of heat, but in a few weeks they will smart nicely on the tongue.

And, just to finish with, the chimneys. The Tudor and the Victorian ones.

A balanced diet (warning, contains nuts)

I shocked my son Ro yesterday, when I admitted to conduct unbecoming in an elderly mother. It’s hard to feel like eating much in this heat, but on the other hand one has to keep the nutrition levels up with regular nourishment. He does this by making himself a splendid packed lunch; two salads, one green or mixed, the other with something like beans, couscous or pasta, a sandwich (wholemeal bread of course) containing something protein-rich, five items of fruit and, usually, yoghurt.
Yesterday at lunchtime, I was alone, mildly hungry and nothing in the fridge appealed. I didn’t want to cook. “Icecream” I thought, “there’s the thing ………. mm, Magnum. Seems to deal with most of the major food groups, chocolate is a vegetable, milk, carbohydrate. Is there sufficient nutrition for a full meal? Ah!” I pounced. “Almond Magnum. That’ll do it.”
Ro thinks I’m decadent.
I’m wondering what to have for lunch today.

Summertime, and the – ah, I’ve been here before, nearly

This summer weather is wonderful if you don’t work 9 to 5. I’ve been waking early, but not going to sleep any earlier than usual, which has meant 4 – 6 hours sleep most nights. That’s fine, daylight is good and I like getting up early in the summer (just don’t disturb me once we are on to GMT) but the lacking sleep-hours catch up every so often. And so they did today – after I’d done all my daytime work of course (of course!). Oh it was lovely. The best part of 2 hours napping.
I didn’t go to bed. If I had, I’d still be asleep now. But a comfy armchair, feet up, book, cup of tea, bowl of cherries, home-made (though not by me) lemon cake by my side, and I was very happy. I finished the food – well, did you expect anything less – and then I was away.
Still a bit zonked when I stood up, unsteady, at 6 o’clock; but since then I’ve watered the greenhouses and the tubs, picked the vegetables (courgettes, french beans, the first green peppers, tomatoes) and cooked dinner (all of the above plus a neighbour’s – given – potatoes and some salmon) and have read the papers.

And people complain about the weather? But this is England, it could change tomorrow and each day could be the last of summer. It’s the delicious uncertainty that gives it its enjoyment. Of course the gardens/the farmers need rain. But, although my delicate skin cannot spend time in it, I love the sun. We’re all happier: more short-tempered, it’s true: but in the summer people smile more, we chat more, we enjoy life. Relax, go slower, there seem to be more hours in the day so you still have time to get everything done.
We’d be so miserable if it rained every weekend.

A child can be rude, but do you have to boast about it?

I was more than startled to read this article in today’s Times. If any of my children, at the age of 12, had come to give me a ‘good morning’ kiss and then, unprovoked, told me that “I’m fat, my hair needs cutting, that the bags under my eyes are the size of suitcases and that my breath stinks,” I’d have told her that sort of gratuitous offensiveness is unkind and not acceptable (I’d have been awfully hurt too, whether it was true or not). Kate Figes seems quite proud that she has brought up her daughter to be rude (or, as she calls it, ‘outspoken’). Sure, in the heat of an argument, an adolescent says hurtful things, but unless Kate is exaggerating wildly – and in that case she is being offensive to Grace – she seems to have taught her nothing about tact, thoughtfulness or respect.

I was completely out of my depth during my daughter’s teenage years and if I’d had another girl, I hope I’d have done better; adolescent boys are quite different. Even when we did have rows though, there were several things about all my children that I only became aware of when I talked to other mothers.

They never scored points off each other. If one was arguing with me, the others kept out of it.
None of them ever sulked. They would walk away (whether slamming the door or not) and on their return the matter would be over, or we would talk it through.
They were not unkind. Occasionally there was a hard personal truth, but that was rare and it was never gratuitous.

Anyway, sorry Kate, I won’t be buying your books. If I were your daughter I wouldn’t want you to be writing about me as a teenager or yourself as a menopausal mother, and I don’t want to read about it either.