Monthly Archives: October 2006

To post or not? yeah, go on.

I haven’t really anything to write about. I seem to write more over the weekend, unlike many people who take the weekend off. And, although quite a lot has happened today, not much of it is bloggable.

I will have more precious sweet time from now on. Al says that Dilly is quite able to manage the children, most of the time, so he will go back to work. I was in the shop this afternoon as she blithely accepted an invitation to visit a friend in Norwich before remembering that she can’t drive yet. And, even if she finds driving all right (she was told to avoid it for six weeks and is now a little over halfway there, but six weeks? Just what can one keep up for six weeks? Jeez) she still has two children to lift and strap into their car seats. So Al went with her.

Precious sweet time, I said. But it’s still redundancy. Woe.

Well, not that much woe. I can do the housework tomorrow! Yay!! (Ooh, one more ! and I’ll emulate JonnyB).

The shop was very busy today. Lots of happy children choosing pumpkins to carve for Hallowe’en. Children are just so endearing. Sure, they can be a pain, but there aren’t many I don’t like – they are, usually, so straightforward and responsive. There aren’t many of them, unless, perhaps, those with particular handicaps or illnesses, who do not respond to the way they are treated. There was one little girl with both her parents. She made a great fuss of her father, maybe he works hard and is not often there during the day. The mother smiled, enjoying the happiness. Another girl was with Granny. She didn’t want a bag for her pumpkin, she wanted to carry it proudly, for everyone to see. One young woman has three boys, the eldest about 8 and twins a couple of years younger. They are lovely children, who carry a basket round the shop and take turns to put things in it. Another mother was a bit impatient with her daughter in a pushchair. I was sorry for her and the little girl, as the older son was just so annoying. He went and looked at the back of the shop, where supplies are stored. Then he came by the counter and looked at me. Most children, I’d have greeted in a friendly way. But somehow, he gave me the creeps. Funny, isn’t it. I ignored him.

Oh, Bananaman. He comes in for a few vegetables, sometimes a lemon, but always a banana. He annoys Al and all his staff. Mm (preening) – he likes me. I am entirely sympathetic to his wish to check every price several times and to add the bill in his head at the end, because you can’t really trust an electronic till. Al asked if I felt insulted, that he doubts what I ask him to pay. Not really, it’s his foible, he can’t help it. “You’re happy” said Bananaman. I agreed that I was. “I can tell,” he said, “you’re always smiling.”

I come home and snarl, of course. You can only smile for so long.

The family story – part 6– the distaff side

If you want to catch up, go to Search This Blog and put in family story, and you will find parts 1-5.

I left my father going to Weymouth in 1946. There, he would meet and marry my mother. So it seems a good point to stop and start again with the other side of my family.

I have already said, right at the beginning, how little I know about my maternal grandmother, Janet. So this is about my grandfather, David. I don’t know much, but at least I knew him, which is more than I can claim for any of my other grandparents.

He was born on Trafalgar Day, so his first name was Nelson, although it was never used. He had two brothers, and they all joined the army soon after the outbreak of the Great War in 1914. His two brothers were strapping lads, topping 6 foot, but young David was only 5 foot 5. He was a superb horseman, however, and specialised in stunts, such as galloping, lance in hand, and picking up a small quoit on the end of the lance. And leaning from his horse, again at full gallop, to pick up a lady’s handkerchief from where it lay on the ground. He paid for this agility in later years with acute arthritis in one hip. By the time hip replacement operations came in, it was too late for him and he walked with a pronounced limp, in spite of a built-up shoe, and was in constant pain.

He spent all the war years in Europe, in the trenches. He survived the war. His two tall brothers did not, mown down as so many were of that generation.

A few years ago, the details of those killed was put up on the internet, and my sister looked up our great-uncles. She discovered that they had not been killed outright, but that one had survived to be brought back to England and the other, too gravely injured to be moved had, nevertheless, been visited by his mother, who was with him when he died. To watch two sons die is beyond the imagination of any mother, but she was not alone and, somehow, she survived.

David and Janet were second cousins. In the way that things were done in those days, they courted for several years before they were married. Their first and only surviving child was born on Remembrance Day, 1923. In 1925, Janet died. Putting two and two together, I believe that she died of septicaemia, following a miscarriage. My mother was only eighteen months old at the time and, as her father was not able to look after her by himself, she went to live with her grandparents.

David’s mother and Janet’s father had both been widowed and, having known each other as cousins all their lives, it was a friendly and practical arrangement for her to go and live in his house and help to run it. It was not thought scandalous or immoral, nor was it. They were both over seventy (Janet was the ninth of ten children, born when her mother was well into her forties) and it was an acceptable arrangement to the society of the day.

My mother lived there for more than five years. They were the happiest of her childhood. It was an ideal home for a small motherless child, calm and loving, and she idolised and idealised her grandparents for her whole life. Her grandfather was a retired farmer, called John Farmer – try to get more English than that! – and they lived in what was then a small town (now much larger) in North Wiltshire.

A second slice of meme

How do we know tagged me. The first 4 random Z-facts went up yesterday and here are 4 more.

* I am not a perfectionist. I think somewhere between 80% and 95% is ample and if 70% will do, that’s good enough for me. There is always an exception, however, and any sort of handiwork should be as near perfect as possible because, as long as the work is actually completed, there is very little more work in getting it exactly right than in just wrong enough to annoy you forever.

* My special talent is in keeping small children quiet in restaurants while waiting for a meal to arrive. This does not mean I go round the tables entertaining them, god forbid, I refer only to children who are at my table. I teach them napkin folding – from Mrs Beeton. The two I do are fairly intricate, but attractive. One is a slipper and the other I call a waterlily, although I have a feeling Mrs B. called it a rose and crown or something. The other thing I do is teach them, from The Walrus and the Carpenter,

“The time has come,” the Walrus said
“To talk of many things.
Of shoes – and ships – and sealing-wax,
Of cabbages – and kings.
And why the sea is boiling hot-
And whether pigs have wings.”

Which takes them ages to learn and entertains them mightily. You might not find these much fun, but small children do and a number of parents have been very grateful to me. As have whole restaurantfuls of customers who are glad to find they are not being disturbed by bored 5-year-olds

* I am not squeamish in regard to creepy crawlies. I will pick up any insect, arachnid, or scuttling creature except cockroaches, which receive no mercy from me and are exterminated at sight. I have not, in fact, seen a cockroach in this country for years (little ones in a hotel bathroom in Chennai didn’t bother me and I didn’t kill them – I was the intruder not they) but one year we had a delivery of coal to my parents’ house which must have contained cockroach eggs, which hatched in the warmth of the coal cellar where the boiler was also situated. They came up the pipes into the kitchen and were the devil to eliminate.

Nothing else bothers me, I’ll pick up slugs, spiders, blackbeetles and mice which I have pursued round the room and trapped under a cushion, anything that, if it bites me, will not cause any particular injury, because that would be unwise. When I was a little girl, I deeply resented the nursery rhyme

‘What are little boys made of?
What are little boys made of?
Frogs and snails and puppy-dogs’ tails,
That’s what little boys are made of

What are little girls made of?
What are little girls made of?
Sugar and spice and all things nice,
That’s what little girls are made of.’

I wondered why boys got the fun things and girls just had to be ‘nice’.

* I miss my long hair. I loved it. I used to hold it against my face and snuggle into it. As a child, I had long, blonde hair and it wasn’t until my mid-twenties that I had it cut to somewhere just below my shoulders. When I was pregnant with Ro, I couldn’t bear the thought of that backward lean into the basin, so I avoided going to the hairdresser and it grew very long again. Eventually I had it cut into a bob and, in variations of style and with the addition, a couple of years back, of a fringe, there it has stayed.

I miss being properly blonde. If I had all my hair, it would be, but it needs a few months of growth to make its mind to go to its real colour and so it’s the sort of blonde that looks brown to someone who doesn’t know what they are looking for. I did have highlights put in for a year or two, some while back, but two hours and quite a lot of money to have something done so subtly that my husband didn’t even notice for six months seemed a bit pointless.

Because my hair was so long and I hardly ever had it cut, I was a virtual stranger to the hairdresser for many years. When I did go, I used to fall asleep. The massaging sensation, the stroking and combing, the repetitive snipping sound of the scissors was very soporific. I had to fight an overwhelming urge to go to sleep.

I seem to have ended on a slightly melancholy note, but there we are. Maybe when I am old and have silver hair, I’ll let it grow again and twine it up in a chignon, and brush it out each night lovingly. Until then, it’ll look better short.

I started by thinking that this was impossibly hard. But – or is it just me? – it’s quite easy to write about oneself. I won’t tag you by name, but I have several people in mind* ———-** so, if you have a go, please let me know.

*Yup, you 😉

**yes, you too, sweetie

Bear with me, real life breaks in occasionally

A young friend of mine, C. is in hospital and I am extremely anxious about her. Her weight has dropped to a dangerous level. She (and I don’t often see her and get this information from a mutual friend, S.) denies that she is anorexic, however, as she knows she is too thin and says she wants to eat, but she gets stomach cramps after eating most foods and so is afraid to eat – she associates anorexia with a mistaken body image. She has been tested for many allergies and illnesses, with negative results.

It seems to me that accepting her assertion that she is not anorexic is not helping her at all. It seems self-evident to me that she is suffering from an eating disorder, however you categorise it. She was in hospital a few months ago, but only because she collapsed; until then she had never been to the doctor at all about this problem. S. is much more comfortable with calling it a food allergy than anorexia, but I don’t see why. It is an illness, there is no shame in it. If I had a nervous breakdown or suffered from bi-polar disorder, I should not be shunned because my illness was more of the mind than the body.

C’s mother has tried to take the pragmatic route, which would be the way my mind works too – look, you may feel pain after food, but it is still nourishing you, just eat little and often and it will be doing you some good. But she can’t, won’t – and weighs about 4 stone. Which is 56 pounds. 25 kilos. If it drops more, she will die.

She is on a drip in hospital now, as she is so low in various vitamins, and on a fairly strict regime, told she has to eat 1500 calories a day and then build up from that. But until she understands the problem, she is not capable of breaking away from it.

My mother developed anxieties about foods and all I could do was try to accommodate her wishes as much as I could, while making sure she took in as much nutrition as possible. But she was in her seventies, and physically ill too.

C. is only thirty, strong willed, intelligent and independent. Can you help someone who denies that she needs help?

Saturday evening, and Z has been drafting.

I’m continuing with my family story, on my mother’s side, and I know this is going to be difficult. I intend to say something that my mother kept secret all her life for one thing, and she was a strong-minded person, so I’m not doing it lightly. But I think it will release her from something which she blamed herself for, but which was so trivial – and so unkind – that it will sadden you that it meant a lot to her.

That’s for another day. Tonight, we have had more lamb for dinner, This was a casserole of the tough bits, the neck and the shanks. I cooked them with onions and tomatoes until tender the other evening, and then took them off the bone, tiddled up the gravy a bit, and served them with gorgeous, newly dug turnips and curly kale, and, um, oven chips*. Well. I’d been busy, and didn’t have any more time. And chips are tasty. Especially when sprinkled with Maldon Sea Salt. My parents used to buy this from Fortnum and Mason in the ’60s, and I still have never tasted a better salt, nor seen a prettier. Little pyramids, they are. Sweet**.

*For non-British readers, of course I mean French fries, not potato chips, which are crisps. Oh, American English. It’s all right when it’s pavement = sidewalk, as there’s no room for misunderstanding. But the chips/fries/crisps hoo-hah, the pants/vest (which are, to us, underwear), shorts, suspenders kerfuffle, they could give rise to serious misunderstanding. If we were not all so sympathetic and intelligent.

**Sweet meaning adorable. They are, of course, salty.

8 Random Things About Me. A tag from How do we know

This is like being twelve years old at school and the teacher says you can write an essay on any subject you like and your mind promptly goes blank. I write fairly randomly in any case, about whatever comes into my mind as I sit here, and apart from a few pictures, taken to be posted, I rarely plan in advance.

Several refer to childhood, several contain verse, this wasn’t expected but has simply happened.

* When I am upset or emotional, my eyes become intensely green like a cat’s. This happens even if I don’t cry (where the contrast of green and red is unpleasantly startling) but, although I have seen it in the mirror many times (yes, when upset I am sometimes looking in the mirror, cause and effect might be cited here), no one else has ever mentioned it to me.

* When I was a child of 4 or 5, there was a song. My sister used to sing it to me. And not in a nice way. She teased, because that’s what big sisters do.

“I’m not a bat or a rat or a cat,

I’m not a gnu or a kangaroo,
I’m not a goose or a moose on the loose,
I am a mole and I live in a hole.”

My mole (one of many, I am considerably molier than thou) has been with me from earliest childhood and is situated in my armpit. I was deeply embarrassed by it as a child and never raised my right arm unless I was wearing long sleeves. Now it hardly makes me self-conscious at all, as I have so many other bodyparts to be embarrassed by.

* When I was a child, strangers called me Alice. Which is not my name. I was a dear little long-blonde-haired child with a winsome expression. Even when I was in my late 20s, the village shopkeeper decided to name me Alice. Yet, when there was a school production of Alice in Wonderland when I was 10, I was given the role of the Walrus. I wore baggy trousers with braces, a striped red and white teeshirt and, of course, I had to grow a droopy moustache. Or maybe I wore a stick-on one, I can’t quite remember. My friend Angela played the Carpenter, as her father was the school caretaker and had a splendid carpenter’s bench.

* When I am at the dentist, I do mental arithmetic to distract myself. Or practise times tables. My favourite times table is 17. I was pleased to be 51 as that is 17×3 which is excellent. 52 was good as it is a pack of cards. 53 is all right because, as I have mentioned before, I am now the age of the year I was born in, if you take the century for granted. I haven’t thought of anything good about any future year until 64, which, being both a square and a cube, is a very cool number.

When I’ve had enough of numbers, I turn to poetry. I learned this Shakespeare sonnet when I was 14. I decided to learn a sonnet and not one of the best known.

Those lips, that love’s own hand did make
Breathed forth the sound that said “I hate.”
To me, who languished for her sake.
But, when she saw my woeful state
Straight in her heart did mercy come,
Chiding that tongue which, ever sweet
Was used in giving gentle doom
And taught it thus anew to greet.
“I hate” she altered with a word
That followed it as gentle day
Doth follow night, who, like a fiend,
From Heaven to Hell is flown away
“I hate” from hate away she threw
And saved my life, saying “not you.”

Some years ago, I borrowed a slim volume of poetry from the library, which was called ‘poems to learn by heart’ or something like that. I only learned one, and it was about the shortest. It was by Rudyard Kipling, I think and was, of course, about James I (or James VI if you are a Scot).

The child of Mary, Queen of Scots
A shifty mother’s shiftless son.
Bred up among intrigues and plots
Learned in all things, wise in none.
Ungainly, babbling, wasteful, weak,
Shrewd, clever, cowardly, pedantic.
The sight of steel would blanch his cheek
The smell of baccy drive him frantic.
He was the author of his line –
He wrote that witches should be burnt.
He wrote that monarchs were divine
And left a son who – proved they weren’t!

Otherwise I recite bits of Milton and rather a lot of the poets I studied for English A Level in 1970, Keats, Coleridge, Wordsworth and the like.

This, you might have observantly noticed, is only 4 things. It is the length of the post that deters me from putting them all up at once, I feel that I have intruded onto your time enough for now. The rest tomorrow.


Last weekend I harvested pumpkins, squashes and suchlike. These are most of them.

Including the sax

They have been digging up the pavement in the middle of town for weeks. I wouldn’t be too happy if it was my shop right next to them while they are cutting up the concrete.

It is rare, in this country – or in this part of it anyway – for jerusalem artichokes to flower. Not spectacular flowers, but rather appealing, 10 feet above the ground. Or 3 metres if you prefer.

The butt

That is what I am. The butt of all the jokes. My meeting today in Bury St Edmunds is a case in point. The chairman of each society (for I am a chair of men as well as a chair of vice) was given three minutes for a verbal report. I might have overrun slightly, but I did have two extra Useful Points to raise, for which I was thanked by the Chairman (this is the overall chairman; the Chairman of chairmen, and if you are thinking that there might be more chiefs than braves here, you might have a point) and was also delayed slightly by an inexplicable outbreak of hilarity.

I had asked if other societies expected their members to sign in at meetings. At ours, about 250 people at a time turn up so it isn’t really possible to ask them nicely, individually to tick their name off on a sheet, although we make it as easy as possible. And quite a few of them don’t bother. The bright idea was that it would help, in the case of a fire alarm, to ensure that everyone had left safely and gathered at the Assembly Point to be counted. Unfortunately, I explained, when just this eventuality happened (it was a false alarm, I’m glad to report), quite a few members wandered off to go shopping and never returned.

I wasn’t trying to be funny, not even in the hope of ready money, but everyone laughed. Rather loudly in fact. Now, I’m more than happy to provide amusement, but was this so funny?

Afterwards, I set myself behind the tea trolley and poured tea for everyone, so now they all know me. And will be charming to me in future as they believe me to be both amusing and helpful and, as a bonus, to be someone who says sensible things and gets thanked by the Chairman.


Today, I did stuff that needed to be caught up on. Like paying bills. One day soon, I hope to pay cheques into the bank. But one has to prioritise. And there is one cheque I haven’t seen since half an hour after I was given it a month or two back, so I really should look for it again.

I went shopping. The butcher and the supermarket – just the little local supermarket, to keep within my comfort zone for shopping. And I visited a friend, who had sawed up some fence posts and was giving them to us for firewood. Together, we loaded them into the car, ‘nng’ing at their heaviness. I arrived home and told the Sage. He went and got the barrow and casually heaved them on it by himself. Hmm. Picking up from the ground is quite different from sliding on the level. Anyway, maybe even now he is wincing from the incipient hernia.

This afternoon, off to the High School for the governors’ meeting. You know, the important one where my part in it didn’t really matter. I had forgotten that it was election time. Or, for the chairman and vice-chairman, re-election time. Which am I? Well, the word ‘vice’ is the clue here, darlings. As you probably expected. In fact, the chairman is superb and I hope she will stay in post forever, or at least until I have a legitimate reason to quit altogether as I really don’t want to make the time and effort commitment that she does. I come into my own when there is a problem. I am, actually, quite good at throwing myself into a tricky situation and playing a worthwhile part in putting it right. Then I rather want to relax for a bit, which would not be a good idea in this job. Having said that, I’ve been a school governor for eighteen years and, although I don’t have any children at school any more, it seems a bit of a waste of all that effort to quit.

I have pictures to post, but I’m too tired, or possibly lazy, to go through the palaver of finding the lead, putting them on the computer, etc, etc, etc (crikey, I must be tired, can’t be bothered to rabbit). Tomorrow.

Also tomorrow, Bury St Edmunds. That is a place, not a plan of action. I don’t indulge in that sort of vice.

A day or so in the life.

I have a morning off! I thought I’d be needed in the shop tomorrow, but Al says that, unless the weather improves markedly, Jean can manage on her own. A friend is coming to keep Dilly company in the afternoon, so Al can take over the shop. I can’t as I have an Important Meeting. Well, the meeting is important but my part in it isn’t and I’d have been willing to cry off if necessary.

We went to Gardening Club last night, in the next, and lovely, village. A most entertaining young man, Ben from Blacksmiths Cottage Nursery in south Norfolk, not far from Diss. ‘We’ were Al, Dilly, Pugsley and me; the Sage was at a picture exhibition and Ro was babysitting Squiffany. Everyone was enchanted to see the baby, who behaved beautifully. He squeaked for a minute, until he was fed, half-way through the evening and everyone looked at me, assuming that I’d made an unseemly noise. I grinned, mouthed a burp and excuse me. Well……… Anyway, he was, in due course, ceremoniously introduced as the Youngest Member so everyone (I trust) knew I had been joking. Joking, all right?

I haven’t mentioned the play I saw on Saturday. ‘A Voyage Round my Father’ by John Mortimer. It started as a book and a radio play I think, and was dramatised on television. BBC, natch. Laurence Olivier played the father, we think. This time, it was Derek Jacobi, who was excellent. It is a tragi-comedy in its truest sense, we laughed out loud but the underlying sadness of the situation was not far away and the final scene was almost unbearable. It was not until then that I even thought of ‘I Claudius’ by the way, just for an instant. Just in one phrase.

That was a marvellous series. Do you remember it? It was on BBC4 (or one of those extra numbers, whatever) very recently, and has been repeated over the years. Sian Phillips as Livia, BRIAN BLESSED as Augustus, John Hurt as Caligula, and half the acting fraternity and sorority of Great Britain, who were all just superb. I have it on DVD, about time I watched it again. And reread the books. They are in the downstairs loo, no excuse that I can’t find them. Maybe after War and Peace. Which is just so good. The battle of Borodino, oh goodness, painful to read. Still closing in on Moscow, but any day now. And Pierre’s wife is such a bad girl. But then I’ve loved Pierre all my life. Although, on rereading, he’d have had to be a bit more coherent. Really, well-meaning but not exactly sharp.

A customer just rang. A regular at our sales, who travels all the way from Northumberland. He was phoning to apologise that they can’t make it this year, as his wife has to have a major operation next week. Aren’t our clients lovely, bless him. I hope all goes well, they expect to make the next sale in May.

Another chap rang. He was a little miffed. His catalogue had arrived, but there was a mistake! The website gave the May sale details. I sympathised, said it hadn’t gone up until a few days after the catalogues were posted, but when had he checked it? Monday, he affirmed. Hm, last Monday week, I suspect. Anyway, I advised him to check again and ring back if there was a problem. Really, wouldn’t you look before you complained?

This bit is unashamedly taken from the comments, but I did write it ……… The lamb was extremely delicious and tender. More fatty, it must be said, than would be acceptable to a supermarket, but it does add flavour and you don’t have to eat it. Roast potatoes, cooked in the lamb fat which I had rendered down; locally grown, though not by me, cauliflower and beetroot, mushrooms from our field cooked with shallots, white wine and a dash of cream.
The last, probably, of the local raspberries. There may be a few more at the weekend, but the rain may spoil them. We ate most of them last night, but there are a few left.

No wonder I don’t lose those few pounds. Well, several, potentially, but it’s the first that are the hardest.