Monthly Archives: December 2006

Z feels frivolous

And, most secretly and subtly, for no one knows this but you and I, demonstrates the fact by wearing a suspender belt and stockings.

And by eating a Hot Cross Bun for breakfast.

Oh yes, life in the Z household is a blast!

Still sleeping the day away

Today, I intended to do hearty and useful jobs in the garden, using my New Tools. However, it has rained and in any case I fell asleep. I woke up to find Tilly lying still with an uncomfortable expression on her face; she was relieved that I moved as it meant she could. She is a polite little dog and did not wish to disturb me.

I didn’t mention, yesterday, that I spent some time last night, with a certain déja vu, making holly wreaths again. A late order. Someone who has been in hospital and is now just well enough to go out and about and wishes to place Christmas wreaths on his parents’ and late wife’s graves. Well, what can you say. Naturally, Al said “Yes” and then tentatively asked his father if he thought that Mum would mind…
When Mum heard that the gentleman concerned is Gordon, best known locally for feeding the poultry at the famous roundabout, she agreed with quite good grace. I’m afraid that the song is not quite up to the quality of Jonny B’s Post Office one but, on the other hand, the campaign to keep the chooks worked; they were decided not to be a traffic hazard and are still there. The number of hens fluctuates, but is certainly exceeded by that of cocks.

I wonder what to cook for dinner. I have beetroot. It might be risotto. Beetroot, although good, is not my very favourite risotto, but is worth making for the startling colour, as well as the frisson of nervousness the next morning when you wonder what has gone wrong with your insides.

Whatever ‘normal’ is …

… I’m not back there yet. Largely because of the lengthy afternoon naps I have, which may last anything up to an hour and which are making Tilly very happy because we are having Quality Time stretched out on the sofa under a blanket together.

I am awake in the mornings and evenings however, and today we went to a Special Party. This is held annually to celebrate the birthday of Lord Bruin, who has been her constant companion since her first Christmas, 90 years ago. It is always a splendid party. She is an artist, she lives in about the most beautiful setting you could imagine, in an old water mill. Her studio is on the top floor from which she has wonderful views of the Waveney Valley. The real guests are the bears but one is invited to accompany them; they have their own party upstairs, with competitions. Ro’s bear Edboes won the Most Loved Bear prize a few years ago. The rest of us have delicious food and lots to drink downstairs, except for the awarding of the prizes.

You think I’m making this up? I swear I’m not. It is all true. She invites all her friends including all the people whom she knows and who help her, such as her local butcher, greengrocer (Al), windowcleaner, gardener etc. Al couldn’t go as the shop was open, but Dilly, the children, the Sage and I went. Squiffany behaved beautifully, chatting politely to people (mainly to introduce her brother and her teddy bear, whom she thought a little young to go upstairs). Afterwards, I popped in to the shop for some veggies. Al was looking a bit tired. “It’s been frantic” he said, “like the week before Christmas. I didn’t think I’d be very busy.”

My present, which so excited me, was – were – a splendid folding pruning saw (600, on the left) with a vicious blade and matching secateurs for small hands furthermore, which I thought was a particularly nice touch. My sister, hearing me enthuse, said that she would not have welcomed such a practical and outdoorsy gift. Of course, this is the point – if you are going to give a useful gift, it has to be absolutely spot-on or it is dull at best, insulting at worst. “He didn’t blunt the edges” observed Ro. “He must think you are growing up.” And indeed, he has been known to remove new knives from my bloody fingers and dull the blade because he can’t bear the sight any longer.

The other present, with which I was also just too thrilled, was half of a pair of L*w*s*o*t cutlery; that is, a fork. He bought the knife for himself. Now, do not think for one moment that this was a selfish act of retention, it was more significant than any eternity ring – it was a Sign. “We can never split up now” I said. “We can’t divide the knife and fork after 240 years.”

I should perhaps explain, by the way, that the handles are made from L’t porcelain and the blade and prongs from steel. They were made about 1765, which is fairly early in the life of the factory. They are not undamaged and have been repaired, but we don’t care at all about this as they are very rare and lovely.

My sister went home today and El and Phil left to visit his parents. So it will be quiet here tonight. Except from my usual carousing, of course.

So, how well does my husband know me?

I squealed with surprised delight. The Sage had got it so right. He had chosen a perfect present and given me no clue.
Then he gave me another parcel. I squeaked higher and louder with renewed excitement.

Glasses shattered. Children cowered in the corner, hands over their ears. The dog howled, bats rose, flapping, from the eaves and mice crawled from their holes, paws risen in supplication and surrender.

I am, it must be said, a pleasure to buy presents for.

This evening, we were making coffee. He added milk to my sister’s mug and waved the bottle in my direction. “Do you take milk?” he asked.

Jesus is back!!(!)

I called on a friend to wish him a happy Christmas. I gave him a hug. “Whoo, have you missed me?” he asked, as I leaned and didn’t let go for a while. Yes, I had, he’s a sweetheart and I hadn’t seen him for some time, but he was also very nice and comfortable to lean on. It was 9 in the morning, 5 hours after starting work.

Al got a bit frantic at one point during the afternoon as it was extremely busy, not helped by me disappearing for a while in an unscheduled sort of way. We caught up eventually and he put in his order before 5 o’clock – hoping that there will, in fact, be a delivery tomorrow. Back at 6 tomorrow morning, and I hope that by 4 pm I’ll be ready to leave to get ready for the carol service at 6. I have not practised the clarinet, which is a bit of a shame as I am accompanying the pre-carol service carol singing for half an hour – it’s not the notes I’m worried about getting wrong, but that my lip muscles will be tired and wobbly by the end of it, and since there was a bright idea of me leading two carols during the service too (as being more appropriate than the organ for ‘Silent Night’ and ‘Away in a Manger’), I want enough puff and embouchure to take me through that without inappropriate dribbling. Too late now to be any use, however. It’ll be fine. The worst thing that’ll happen is that I’ll look a fool and that is a given fact at the best of times.

Oh, and baby Jesus from the church crib suddenly turned up, a year after being discovered to be missing. He is a very naughty boy. I must remember to take a photo of the other crib, which is fabulous. The children from the village school made it last year from papier maché. Everyone has fabulous pop eyes and we can’t tell which animal is which. Last year, we turned the altar into a stable, which was most effective, and this year they are positioned at the back and the nice old plaster crib is at the front of the church, with Jesus about to be reinstated. Last year he was replaced by a Plasticene understudy.

Happy Christmas, darlings.

The razor-blade is too sharp to hurt much

Kenny, our 87-year-old gardener, who doesn’t actually garden any longer but just comes round on a Friday for old time’s sake, came in for a cup of coffee this morning, so I didn’t get the presents wrapped. No matter, plenty of time. I was back at the shop by noon and have just got home. Al hasn’t; he was about to do his order for tomorrow. He says he’ll have to go in earlier tomorrow, to get everything done. I said, whenever it is, I’ll go with him.

I have a brace of partridges in the fridge which, wrapped in streaky bacon and roasted, will make an easy meal. Ro is not fond of game so he will have chicken, similarly wrapped.

And an early night, perhaps.

Update, 7.30 pm. Al has just called in, on his way back to the shop to phone through his orders. He says he is going to start work at 4 o’clock tomorrow morning. I assured him resolutely that I will be ready. Furthermore, that he is right, as it will mean less pressure later in the day.

When he left, I poured a large glass of Cabernet Sauvignon.

‘Bum’, I thought. ‘BUM.’

197 years and 8 months

At some point yesterday evening there were six women chatting in one room. The brother of one of us had been told by his wife, a couple of months ago, that their marriage was ended – his business had gone bankrupt and she didn’t intend to stand by him. “How long have they been married?” asked someone. “Twenty-eight years.” We were silent for a bit. “We’re a bit unusual, all six of us have grown-up children and we’re still with our husbands.” I asked each of them how long they had been married, and totted it up. Thirty-seven, thirty-five, thirty-three, thirty-two, thirty-one and twenty-six. And all of us still in our fifties…though not all of our husbands. “By July we’ll have two hundred years between us, we’d better have a party.”

We left around 11.30, but I still had wreaths to finish so it was half-past one by the time I was in bed, and I was up again four hours later to help Al put together his orders. By the time his three staff came in at 8.30, they were done except for the few items waiting for the Mr Fru1ty delivery.

I’ve had breakfast – bacon, eggs and tomato – and I’ve got some clearing up to do, bits of holly all over the floor. Then I’ll wrap the rest of the presents. It all seems very calm and organised, I wonder what I’ve forgotten.

Z catches up with the rest of the country

Today is the day that our Christmas tree will go up. Not for a few hours yet, first I have to make more wreaths and clear up afterwards. Then – and this is several days early – I might wrap some presents, simply because they are in bags behind the sofa and rather too accessible to an inquisitive toddler.

I saw Dilly running down the drive an hour ago. I assumed – correctly – that she was chasing Squiffany with the intention of strapping her in her car seat, so I put on my coat (my mother never did learn that it was not a bad idea to put on her coat before going out on a cold day, rather than getting thoroughly chilled and taking the next hour to warm up again) and hurried out. When she heard my voice, Squiffany called from the car “Hello Granny” – this is said with such charm, it melts me every time. I stayed with her while her mum went to fetch Pugsley. We chatted about her new gloves, each finger of which is a different colour. She correctly told me pink, green and orange, hesitated over yellow, got blue right, but I had to tell her purple*.

They will be back at about 4, so will come in to help do the tree then.

Tonight, we are going to a party with particularly darling friends; she is also cousin to the Sage. You might not be able to choose your relations, but if I could, I’d pick her.

So, I’m writing now in case I’m a bit incoherent later.

*yes, there is a logical explanation if you think about it.

Are you being served?

Al made his fruit baskets today. Four at £15 and three at £10. They are popular as presents for the Person Who Has Everything And Hasn’t Space For Anything More, as they have the virtue of being used up and just leaving you a nice basket to play with at the end. Each of them takes about half an hour to do (time not included in the price) and so he needed a shop assistant so that he could get on with the job and be finished by noon.

I like being a shop assistant so much. His customers are lovely. One chap came in with two presents, one for the shop and one for the shop down the road which makes no concession to the season but shuts on Wednesday regardless. They were from Freda, who can’t get out much but rings all the local shops to put in her orders for delivery on a Friday. Val at the pet shop mentioned that she delivers to Freda – Al said, he goes every Friday, he’d be happy to take her order too. That’s all right, said Val, Freda likes a selection of cat toys taken round so that she and the cat can choose a new one. It’s not a delivery that can be delegated.

Chestnuts are particularly good this year. The English crop was good, but now the French ones are being sold. Walnuts are also really delicious. Al rather fell out with one of his wholesalers – once the local suppliers were sold out, he bought a bag (these are not cheap, over £50 wholesale) but thought they were a bit lacking in flavour. Upon enquiry, it transpired that they were last year’s stock. Crossly, he sent them back, knocked them off the bill and bought fresh ones from his other wholesaler. Very naughty, and the way to lose customers. And if Al loses a customer over one detail, he may be gone forever.

Until the last couple of days, it has been very mild, so there have been plenty of local cauliflowers and calabrese, which may be frosted by now. There has been freezing fog; a still, cold day today. Going into town, we drove through a patch of fog, and straight out again. It was like going through the smoke of a bonfire, it was so patchy. The land is very low-lying around us, it’s on the flood plain of the River Waveney, used for grazing cattle most of the year and left to become waterlogged in the winter. The Sage remembers, as a boy, ice-skating on the frozen waterways, but they don’t freeze hard enough for that now.

Guilt kicked in

Al sold out of wreaths again today. So I’ve been making a new batch. The Sage went out to pick fir and holly (all our friends have bare bushes – ooh, chilly – by Christmas time) and I started work. Ouch. The fir was prickly. He hadn’t realised, because he had worn gloves.

I started work, and by the time I went to cook dinner, I’d done seven bases and completed four of them – I do a base of fir on the wire framework and top it with berried holly. Those people who like artificial flowers can have them, but only red or white.

I started again after dinner, ‘ouch’ing as I went. When half-way through the fifth, I held up my hands. They were bleeding. The Sage was stricken with remorse – he’d been able to ignore the ‘ouch’es, but physical evidence of my pain was something else.

We did the last few together.

Tomorrow morning, Al has seven fruit baskets to make up. He doesn’t have extra staff in the shop on a Wednesday, which used to be his half day until he discovered how much business he was losing in the afternoon. So I will be wrapping up very warmly and being his glamorous assistant for the morning, or however long it takes.

This evening, he thanked me. I was really embarrassed. You don’t want your children to be grateful for their parents’ help – appreciative is nice, but grateful is unnecessary.

Until January, that is, when he and his family are going on holiday and I will be left in charge of the shop!!(!) Then he will owe me big time.