Monthly Archives: August 2006

A bit melancholy, I’m afraid

I’ve mentioned before that my father died suddenly when I was 16 years old. This left my mother as a young widow of 46, with daughters aged 21 and 16. It was awful, as you might imagine, but we pulled together and coped.

Six years later, my mother remarried. We very much liked our stepfather. He had parted from his first wife many years before and, in addition to their happiness together, he was thrilled to be welcomed into our family. When they married, I had one child and was expecting my second, and my sister married not long afterwards too.

My mother and Wilf were married for 10 years before he, like my father, died suddenly from a heart attack. This was the year after we moved here; he’d had heart trouble and had been advised to move to a bungalow to avoid stairs. We offered them our granny annex, which had been empty since my mother-in-law’s death. My mother wanted some alterations made – her four-poster bed, for example, would not fit in either of the bedrooms – and it was while we were waiting for planning permission to be granted, that Wilf died.

The alterations were done, she spent vast sums on decorating the bungalow, she sold her house and, eventually, was ready to move in. I’ll not forget moving day. Her two dogs came over to spend the day with me. Bruce, a nervous big black labrador (obtained via the RSPCA, he had not had a good start in life and it took years for him to recover his confidence fully), and Isobel, a smaller labrador cross, who had been blind since birth. I went upstairs and Izzy followed, without my knowledge. When I went down again, I called her and she blundered out of the bathroom, across the narrow landing and straight through the banisters, which were wider apart than was safe. I heard a thump in the hall and rushed in, to find an inert body. It was not that big a drop, not much over 7 feet, but straight on to a brick floor. I gazed at her, horrified, wondering if she was dead, I spoke her name – and she raised her head and wagged her tail.

I took her straight to the vet, who examined her and said that, amazingly, she was just winded and completely uninjured. We supposed that, as she had not known what was happening, she relaxed and didn’t try to save herself, and that had saved her. When I told the vet (who was a good friend, my little boy was friends with his children) what had happened, I said I’d rung my mum to tell her. She had been very nice about it. “Was she,” he said dryly, “too nice?”

I was able to assure him that she had been genuinely sympathetic to me and not over-polite.

Funnily enough, when Izzy died, several years later, my mother wasn’t there either. She had gone to visit my sister and I had to phone, say the old dog was very ill and, if the vet said there was nothing to be done, should I agree to have her put down. The poor old lass, I left her in the back of the car and T, the same vet, came out to examine her there, and did the deed straight away. I brought her home so she could be buried in the garden.

The good life

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about our move here. I called it ‘a new life’, which indicates more how it felt to me than how it actually was. I’d only moved a half-hour’s drive away, still the same family unit, a bit more money in hand, but not enough to make a difference to our lifestyle, except that this house’s upkeep would be a little more expensive.

The differences were that we had moved from the town to the country, and that I was pushed to make a whole new circle of friends.

It was so enjoyable and relaxing here. We came at the start of the school holidays, which was ideal for El and Al, then aged 12 and 10. We had a little dinghy, which we took out on the very small river near the old mill. The water was clear and shallow and you could see the fish darting in and out of the weeds on the riverbed. We would tie the boat up to a tree overhanging the water and have a picnic. I’d expected us to miss living by the sea, but we made up for it by driving over to Southwold and using the beach there. Sometimes we would go crabbing. Have you tried crabbing? It is the greatest fun. We always do it when we have friends with children to stay, as everyone, of whatever age, enjoys it.

The couple who had bought our house, who had a two year old daughter, invited us back for tea. I wondered how it would feel to go back, but it was fine. They had covered the parquet floor in the hall with carpet, and they were planning an expensive new kitchen. They had also gone in for elaborate paint techniques, which were then just coming into fashion, and they obviously loved the house.

Back at home, I had help in the house. A few years older than me, she became a good friend and was my cleaner for 7 years until she took a full-time job. P loved my 2-year-old and he followed her around the house, ‘helping’ her with the housework and usually, at some time, persuading her to sit down and read or play with him for a while. We also had K in the garden.

K had retired from work at about the time my mother-in-law’s garden-helper had retired. He agreed to come and help out in the mornings, and again agreed to stay on and keep an eye on the place while it was empty before we moved here. He is still with us. He is now 87 and comes down the drive every morning on his electric wheelchair, then to feed the goose and potter around doing odd jobs for an hour or two before trundling home again.

My husband and I had discussed our future; whether, in short, to aim for a simple, fairly frugal life or whether to go for a higher income and more conventional lifestyle. We decided to go for simplicity, to have time together, to earn just as much as we needed and be satisfied with that. It would mean few holidays and elderly cars, but that was the only sacrifice….we renewed the conversation a few years later when Ro was a bit older and I could have taken a ‘proper’ job, but we still felt we were on the right track and decided to continue as we were. And that’s how we have continued ever since. I was a bit startled, one day, to have a friend whom I didn’t know very well ask me if my husband was still looking for a job. I had to explain that he was actually self-employed and, although he didn’t work 9-5, he did work. I realised that we were probably thought either to be filthy rich or scraping the pennies. We were neither, but we felt we didn’t have to prove ourselves and had the luxury of choice.

Dashing away with the smoothing iron………

You remember, a couple of weeks ago, I wrote a highly thrilling post about doing the ironing? Of course you do. How could anyone forget. If I’m wrong and you have something else to do with your time than remember this sort of thing (and in this case, what are you doing here on a Friday evening, huh?), I mentioned that I was left with the 66ish dinner napkins that I couldn’t face. Someone pointed out in the comments that I must be a pretty messy eater, and she was right.

Anyway, I’ve tackled them. The number had risen to 85 (and how sad is that, that I counted) but they are done and, since there is no danger that the menfolk will use any during the next week, I will have only one or two waiting for me when I return from my hols. All my pretty babies ……. in one fell swoop, as Shakespeare nearly said in much less fortunate circumstances, dramatically speaking (Macbeth? Um…… I think so. Macduff? ……. er, could be).

I ironed for the best part of two hours last night, in front of an Audrey Hepburn DVD. And tonight, I type next to Taggart. Which has never, of course, been the same since the eponymous Mark McManus shuffled off, nor since they reduced the title music to an abbreviated nothing – could anyone resist joining in with ‘this town is so MEAN?’
Which will mean nothing to most of you.

Have you noticed? I’m winding down. I’m in holiday mood.

I had my actual, in a hotel, went by aeroplane, paid for, holiday way back at the end of March, when I went to Venice, but on Sunday I am going to visit my lovely sister, who lives in Wiltshire, about half an hour past Stonehenge*. Just for a few days, but lots of visits to friends are planned. She is house+dog-sitting for a friend, so I doubt I will have an internet connection, so unless I use her library card or a café, I will not post. Sorry. Also apologies that I will put on that irritating typing in letters, but otherwise any comments (and if there are no comments, how will I be made happy on my return?) would have to wait, which would be quite frightful.

My husband just came in the room and ate all my raspberries! Well!**

*a clue for my stalker(s)
**I went and decanted another punnet of raspberries. My son is a greengrocer, remember? Pfft.

How to ride a rhino. Or shift a white elephant.

Stop me if I’ve told you this before (I see, now, the point of doing categories of one’s posts so that it’s easy to check back and see what I’ve said before; but after all these months, is it likely I’m going back to do some sort of sensible index? Me?) but, after my mother died and I had to clear her house, nearly all her books came to me.

The idea had been to have a good clear-out and get rid of the ones I didn’t actually want. But when it came to it, that was not possible. I started well, putting into boxes my mother’s self-help books (she was clutching at straws, the last few years) and some Readers Digest Condensed Books from the 60s (call me a literary snob and I’ll agree), but soon I started to find books I remembered from childhood, whether from having read or simply from their familiarity on the shelves. Al, who was helping, started to encourage me. He picked up a book at random. “Look at this” he said “‘Ride a Rhino’. The only possible interest in this could be if someone actually was riding a rhino, ha ha.” I took it from him. “But it’s Michaela Denis!” I exclaimed, opening the book, fortuitously, at the very page where she was pictured doing just that. “She and her husband Armand used to do wildlife conservation safari-type programmes back in the 60s. He had a moustache and looked years older than she was – she was a babe, and even as a child I used to wonder what she saw in him. Even more so were the nautical equivalents, Hans and Lotte Hess, she was gorgeous and he was an old man.”

I said all these things from my childhood memories, of course, and there may be little truth in any of them, except that Lotte and Michaela were, assuredly, babes.

Al said “I see what you mean. Keep the books.” A little later, Ro came in and started, briskly, to encourage me as well. “It’s all right,” said Al kindly. “She’s done all she can.” I felt all understood and cared for – even if they thought I was barking mad, they knew how I felt.

So instead, we lined two rooms with bookshelves and fitted several more bookcases in bedrooms and on the landing, and I have the security blanket of far more books than I can ever read, but which give me comfort and pleasure to see and touch and browse through. And now, I am starting to read them. Some of them, of course, I read years ago, particularly the ones that date from the 60s – I had a wide-ranging taste in books even as a child and ploughed through everything that caught my eye, not caring whether it was a child’s book or not. But many of them, I’ve never looked in.

I should, of course, read them and then give away all but the best. But I’m not sure I can. Or, at any rate, that I will.

Nothing happening. Which is good.

A quiet morning, spent mostly at the computer. There are several things I need to get sorted before I go away on Sunday. I also printed off maps, as I’m visiting a few friends while I’m away, whom I haven’t called on before.

An extremely pleasing post box this morning, furthermore.

Written confirmation that I owe Islington Council Tax department no money at all – I expect I’ll get the money back that I’ve paid and didn’t owe.

Two books and a DVD from Amazon.

A letter and a CD from friends who came to lunch on Saturday. Which I should have put first really. But I am, of course, one of those trusting souls who saves the best until last.
I will take the letter with me to read at the hairdressers this afternoon.

I was charmed, this morning, to find that the chickens ran towards me as I approached. I went to fetch them some melon seeds and rind as a reward. They are my husband’s pets and not mine, and it’s only since we moved their run to beside the veg garden that I’ve spent a lot of time with them.

I studiously ignored the cows, although only one is guilty. We have only two left here at present as the others, including Stumpy my favourite (we reached the cuddly stage of hugs – that is, I hugged her; being hugged by a ton of cow is not necessarily to be recommended; though being kissed by one is quite an experience) have gone back to the farm to prepare for calving.

Where’s Little Boy Blue when you need him?

I went to water the greenhouses. I hadn’t picked the vegetables today as I had to go to Norwich fairly early for a dental appointment (just routine, no problems, thank you for wondering). I’m out again tomorrow morning, so I decided to pick the cucumbers and courgettes this evening. And courgettes can turn into marrows overnight, so it would be a good move in any case.

Cheerily cutting the last few courgettes, I noticed that something was different. I straightened up. Where was the sweetcorn? There was nothing there except a few uprooted stumps. I followed the trail back through the asparagus, now grown into tall (if flattened) fern.

I went indoors. “Darling! The cows have been over the beck and into the kitchen garden.”

Probably Foster, we decided. She is the boldest. We followed the footprints, and she had broken through the wire and walked along the bank of the stream, eaten all the corn, half of the swiss chard and then strolled innocently back. There was one cob left. I picked it up and stripped back the husk. It was not yet ripe and the end was slightly bruised. I took one mouthful near the base, where it was untrampled and ripest. It was delicious. I tossed it over the fence into the chicken run.

Have you seen a chicken checking out something unfamiliar? It is adorable. She approaches it, stopping at a safe distance, and regards it. Then she turns her head to give it a good stare with one eye. Then the other. Then she watches again. Then another chicken approaches. She might be reassured by her sister’s apparent safety, and go closer. Eventually, one of them tries a hasty peck. Then of course, they realise it is good to eat and hurry in to peck at it.

Alex arrived home and I told him the tale and showed him the desecrated veg patch. And – well, what do you do? – we both laughed. At least no cow had been hurt. We’ve had them all these years and we have never had all this sort of trouble before.

Little Boy Blue, come blow your horn. As the rhyme goes.

A second opinion

“Am I,” I asked the Sage, “very bossy?”
“Er …… no,” he replied. “Someone has to keep them organised.”
“Thank you. That ‘no’ might have been said with no great conviction, but you said it and I’m grateful.”

I am not indispensible. But when I wasn’t there, it didn’t get done.

I missed a meeting the other evening. I had told everyone in good time and made sure that various people had notes about items that I would have mentioned if I had been there; I’d copied them to the chairman and the secretary and spoken to a sensible person who could be trusted to make sure that a few specific decisions were made.

Nothing was time-consuming as far as the discussion and decision-making was concerned – 10 minutes at most out of a 2 hour meeting. But I discovered on Sunday (5 days later, and only because I checked) that it had all been held over to the next meeting. The meeting in October. The first decision needs to be implemented this Thursday.

Now, there were two quite important matters to discuss at the meeting, and I can quite see that not everything could be dealt with. Which was why I’d done a report, for discussion if there was time, plus an ‘action’ column, for essentials if there was not. So why did no one remember?

Stuff democracy, I’ll do what I intended people to agree to, and tell them afterwards.


It’s lucky I looked at my ticket for tonight before going to dress. The clothes I was going to put on are not at all suitable for sitting on a cushion in a restricted area for a couple of hours. Yup, tonight is the night I’ll be a proper promenader, and so will dress accordingly. And warmly.

The weather has been awful over most of the weekend, cold and becoming increasingly windy, with sharp downpours of rain. The forecast had said showery, which was an understatement. It had suggested that most of the rainfall would be close to the East coast; Yorkshire, Lincolnshire and Norfolk and we speculated whether Ro’s tent in Leicester would be washed or blown away. In fact, the weatherman was right and he wondered why I sounded solicitous, when I went to Norwich to pick him up from the station.

I babysat last night, and put Squiffany to bed, which I haven’t done since she moved into a bed from her cot. It was, actually, a great deal better than the previous occasion, as in the cot she used to cry when left, though usually only for a few minutes. But she was very tired, went willingly to bed, wanted three books (Fox in Socks, nursery rhymes and the Very Hungry Caterpillar) and then I set off her musical apple, kissed her and left. And, a few minutes later, when I looked again, silence and sleep. Half an hour later I found her quiet but awake and fumbling for a book, and she went to sleep cuddling it, and that was that. I ate a sandwich and some cheese, drank half a bottle of wine and read the papers until her parents came home.