Monthly Archives: November 2006

Z spends Quality Time

This evening, Ro and I have been talking. I will not call him taciturn, though he is not the most chatty of individuals, but he does open out if the opportunity arises and he is good company. Really, I had quite a lot of work to do which I had foolishly neglected during the day – that which I did do was deeply boring and so I deserved some entertainment, as I am a flibbertigibbet and a dilettante, but I have also a dutiful and puritan streak that means I feel obliged to catch up eventually. But Quality Time with a family member is far more important.

So I am, as they say, All Behind Like A Cow’s Tail.

I’m going to be careful in the future about posting a half-story. You all picked up on what I’d left out and quizzed me about it. That is fair enough and I enjoy not being allowed to get away with things, but maybe it should be a lesson learned. The thing is, I can say anything about myself, but I do try not to say things about others that I’d be sorry if they read. I slip from that sometimes, but I do bear it in mind.

Only half past nine, so I will finally get to work.

Laters, darlings.

Z turns on the charm

A Business Call this morning on someone whom we’ve known for years but who has always rather disregarded me. This hasn’t ever bothered me in the least as his business is with the Sage, not me, but today I decided to charm him. In an understated and unflirtatious way, but just sufficiently overt for him to know I was taking the trouble, you know?

Yeah, he really likes me now.

A germ of an idea

Towards the end of the meeting tonight, my left-hand neighbour looked thoughtful. “I’ve just thought,” he murmured. “Tonight, or around this time sixty years ago, I was conceived.”

The new Rector was impressed by the part I took towards the meeting. Bowls of sweets, one between two people (so you don’t have far to reach). “I’ve never been to a meeting where there are sweets before,” she said. I resisted the temptation to say “Darling, you’ve never lived” and explained that there used to be biscuits, but either people had had their evening meal or were going home for it later and in neither event would they wish to chomp on biscuits. Jelly babies and Maltesers are different, however.

Lunch in Bury was good. We didn’t go to the Angel, in the end. We went to a pub called the Fox. As we approached the door, I was confused by a sign that said ‘Up your Sunday afternoon’ and then quite relieved to see, after a few more steps, the almost-hidden word above it, that read ‘Free’. Another sign offered ‘Al a carte’ menu. In fact, once we went in, my spirits rose, partly because it declared itself to be a smoke-free pub and partly because there was an appealing menu chalked on the board. They rose again when I asked for a glass of red wine and was handed a wine list. I had a good mixed mushroom stroganoff (would have been excellent had they been all wild mushrooms and not a good half ordinary button ones) and my chum had red snapper on a bed of crushed new potatoes with fennel.

Afterwards I pottered around while he went to try on trousers, and found how I’d managed to get completely lost last time I’d been there. I must say, Bury St Edmunds is not well signposted for pedestrians. A sign says ‘Town Centre’ so, slightly puzzled (for I’d thought it was another way), I followed it. A few minutes, it turned me right and then (this time I used my brain – at last – for there was no sign at all) right again. Ah, where I thought it was in the first place, I wonder why I’d been sent an unnecessary half mile. But I discovered that one shop faced the other direction than I’d thought, so when I came out last time, I had walked the wrong way.

The Rector and her husband met Ro, Dilly and Al the other night at the Quiz Night. She said how much they had liked them. “Your daughter in law is lovely” she said. “We said how much like you she is, anyone might think she is your daughter.” I thanked them for the implied compliment and agreed that we do have a lot in common.

Time for an early night, I was just thinking. I looked at the time. Ten past eleven. By the time I’m ready, it’ll be nearly midnight. Not so early after all, but not late anyway.

Dinner is cooking

It smells good. Timatar wali macchi and Tahiri. And cabbage. If your Hindi is no better than mine, that’s fish baked in a spicy tomato sauce and rice and peas cooked with onions flavoured with cumin. And cabbage.

I wrote whole lots at the weekend and I have been awake since 3 o’clock this morning, so I will give you and me the evening off.

See you tomorrow. Tomorrow, I will have lunched in Bury St Edmunds.

PS it was all most yummy. Even the Sage liked it, and he is wary when I cook Indian dishes, but I aim for Aromatic rather than Hot, so he enjoys the food really.

The family story – part 9 – the stepmother

My mother’s stepmother is a shadowy figure to me. I don’t even know her name. It is a sad story for all concerned.

My grandfather needed someone to look after his little girl. He had been shattered by the early death of his wife, and glad to have his mother and father-in-law to take in Jane and care for her. He adored his mother. When she died, he could not bear to have her hands stripped of the jewels she always wore and instructed that she should be buried with her rings on her fingers.

He always told Jane that he had remarried to make sure she was looked after. That is, if not for her he would not have saddled himself with a wife whom he did not love and who cared neither for him or Jane.

I suppose it seemed a sensible arrangement. She would have security and the status of marriage, and a pretty little daughter as ready-made family. He had a housekeeper and someone to care for him and his little girl. But it didn’t work out. For one thing, Jane was unhappy and difficult. They did not make a good start, by dragging her away from her beloved grandparents, and she was not a sweet, biddable little thing. She was clever, independent and stubborn and she preferred books to dolls.

But it was not too bad for a time. Then, the stepmother, out of the blue, was left a large sum of money in a relation’s will. The effect was to make her mean, resentful and positively unkind to Jane. I presume that this was because she was very angry at the realisation that she had married too soon, for security. If she had known and waited, she would have had plenty of money and not needed to marry at all – or could have married for love instead. Sadly, she took it out on Jane as well as her husband.

Mummy was always slightly claustrophobic. She said it was because her stepmother’s favourite punishment was to shut her in a dark cupboard. She had to cycle to school every morning, whatever the weather, and remembered carrying her bike over snowdrifts – this was not unusual, in those days schools did not close for rough weather as they do now. But Jane had to bike home for lunch too, as her stepmother would not pay for a school meal, although ample housekeeping money was provided for her. A typical lunch was a small bowl of cornflakes and half a banana.

She used to lie in bed and hear them quarrelling. She used to analyse it. “Now, if he hadn’t said anything when she said that, or if she had then said something neutral instead of shouting, the quarrel would never have happened.” When I was grown up, I pointed out to her that the reason they quarrelled was that they wanted to, they were looking for an opening to pick a fight. She was surprised, she still saw it all with a child’s eyes and had not realised that, but agreed I was right.

My grandfather was still away from home a good deal and Jane just had to put up with it. I suspect that she did so by despising her stepmother. By preferring intellectual pursuits and showing that she was cleverer and more sophisticated. It was the only way she could fight back.

She could only remember one occasion when they had laughed together. They had decided to make a lardy cake, a traditional Wiltshire delicacy made of bread dough enriched with lard, sugar and dried fruit. They spent a great deal of time and care on it, put it in the oven to cook and eagerly took it out and put it on a plate. Stepmother tried to cut it. She tried to chop it. She managed to saw it. It was rock hard and impossible to eat. They looked at each other and burst out laughing.

Stepmother’s sister Elsie was a different person altogether, affectionate and welcoming. She lived on a farm in Devon and Jane went to visit during the summer holidays. She was fed on lots of good rich, if simple, food, and used to help with the dairy deliveries. Each customer had cream at the weekend and sent in her own jug with a muslin cover, weighed down with a decorative border of coloured glass beads. They knew which customer owned which jug and delivered it, full, with the milk which was ladled from a churn. The surplus cream was made into clotted cream, made by heating cream on a very low heat until it thickened, and sold in little pots.

Mummy, not surprisingly, idealised ‘real’ mothers. She felt, keenly, her unlucky status as the only child she knew without one. She was shocked when any of her friends misbehaved at home – how could they upset the person who loved them best? She didn’t dare misbehave and mischief wasn’t an option. Her father and she had a good relationship and they went walking and cycling together and had a shared love of music. She played the piano (self-taught, her parents would not pay for lessons) and he could play any wood-wind instrument. However, home life was not bearable for anyone and, after seven years of marriage, her father and she left to make a new home for themselves in Weymouth.

Z looks in the mirror

Why are they called ‘laughter lines?’ Nothing is that funny.

I was quite amused though. The door to the vestry* has a doorknob and a latch, and also a lock. The latch is wedged so that it isn’t needed, or else you need to twiddle three items at the same time to get in. A couple of weeks ago, the knob stopped catching and, so that the door would stay shut when unlocked, I unwedged the latch.

A couple of days later, someone came to me anxiously, to say that the door wouldn’t open. I told her to try the latch and she blushed at having given up so easily.

Today, I had an email from someone else who assured me that someone had locked the door with an extra key, could she have it please. I emailed back to explain. She emailed again to say that, of course, she had tried all the latches and knobs and the door WAS DOUBLE-LOCKED.

I have told her that it really wasn’t and I unlocked it yesterday and today with no trouble. I have also mended the catch so that she can use the knob again. I said, how puzzling that it didn’t work for her and I couldn’t work out what the problem had been.

I thought it was quite funny that she could not accept that she hadn’t done it right, there had to be another explanation.

We cleared the guttering at the right time. It poured this morning. Fellow Churchwarden and I feel quite smug.

I’m listening to Django Reinhardt at present. Most cheering for a wet afternoon.

*That’s the room in a church where the vicar puts on his/her churchy clothes – the vestments. It is also where you keep record books, wine for communion, that sort of thing.

Hold the front page!

I forgot to tell you – the Sage and I were highly gratified to find that his sale report made the front page of the Ant1ques Tr@de G@zette, the must-have weekly paper for those in the way-beyond-second-hand business. Two photos and an article. He rang the editor to thank him. “I hope you don’t mind me describing you as an ‘enthusiast'” said the editor. “You sound like one.”

No, the Sage didn’t mind. He was chuffed, very.

On a totally different subject, I just opened to door to find a young starling hopping around outside. I can’t remember the last time I saw a starling. There used, periodically, to be whole flocks of them, like something out of Daphne du Maurier, but not for some while. Or is it just that I am not very observant?

The family story – part 8– the motherless child

After her mother died, Jane lived with her grandparents, her mother’s father and her father’s mother, until she was seven. She loved them dearly and was very happy there. I don’t know where her father lived – he was away a good deal on business; the late 1920s were a time of high unemployment and you obtained work where you could. It doesn’t seem likely that he stayed with his father-in-law except for the odd night or two, but my mother never mentioned going to visit him, although he was obviously part of her life. It’s the sort of question you don’t think to ask until it’s too late to find out the answer.

Her grandparents were getting old and infirm and could not look after little Jane forever. Her father remarried. In those days, little heed was paid to the feelings of small children, and it seems that there was little attempt to prepare her for her new life. She remembered being pulled away, screaming, from her grandma’s arms. It was not deliberate cruelty; she was dearly loved, but it was believed that ‘a clean break’ was kindest in the long run. She went to live with her father and stepmother in North Bradley.

She ran away. She rode her bicycle all the way back home to Melksham. I’ve just looked at the map; it is a long way for a little girl to cycle, especially on her own. Her grandmother and she hugged each other and cried together, and then she was taken back to her new life.

She was a clever, hard-working child and when she was nine she took the entrance exam for Trowbridge Girls’ High School. The normal age for entrance was eleven and therefore, when she passed the both the exam and the interview with the headmistress and was offered a place, her father was very proud of her. He bought her the latest, most expensive bike as a reward and she used it to cycle to school each day.

It was an excellent school and although she was, by far, the youngest pupil, she loved it there. She was ambitious, academically, and intended to go to university. Home life was not happy and school was her refuge.

Z gushes a bit too much

I’ve been on the phone to my daughter for the last hour. We don’t have girly chats every week, but always enjoy them. We can ooh and aah indignantly, have a giggle and ask each other for advice – we both value, and feel free to ignore, each others’ opinions and don’t usually butt in where not wanted. She is, quite honestly, perfect and I adore her.

Look, do forgive me for gushing, I’ve had a good day. All my children have been so lovely. Dilly and I and the children went shopping in Norwich this morning, Ro and I painted his bedroom (all done, rah rah rah) this afternoon, I rang Al at the shop to bring home veggies for a stir-fry this evening and he tucked in a hunk of ginger in case I wanted it – “Ooh, there’s ginger in it” said Ro. “I love ginger in a stir-fry” and then I chatted happily to El. I didn’t speak to Phil, but he was spoken lovingly of.

Tomorrow, I’d better do some typing. I’ve been too busy this week and I’m all behind.

And I must be sensible for a week or two. Not that I will be really, but I’ll be sorry if I am not. I have bursitis in my hips and it has been particularly painful recently, largely thanks to crawling multiple times through Squiffany’s play tunnel a few weeks ago. I’ve been rushing around in unsuitable shoes ever since and I can see a visit to the osteopath (no, it’s nothing to do with bones but he is the Bizz!) for some ultrasound treatment at vast expense will be needed before long unless I behave myself.