Monthly Archives: January 2007

Today, rather serious-minded

Wendz’s post today decided me. For various reasons, not least Dandelion’s question as to whether I think young people now have it harder than in the past (still a post in draft Dandelion, sorry, I should just post it and be damned), this incident has been in my mind. I haven’t told anyone until now and still know that I’m breaking a confidence and hope that, by changing a few unimportant details, anonymity is preserved.

It was just before Christmas, two years ago. My young friend, the daughter of friends too, was thirteen. We chatted sometimes online, and for the couple of days, I had known that something was on her mind. Delicately, I asked what was the matter. A pause. “Oh, nothing really. Just a stupid pregnancy scare, it’s all right now.”

Thirteen, remember. We ‘talked’ for probably a couple of hours. I asked if she was sure she wasn’t pregnant, no she wasn’t, but had convinced herself she couldn’t be. I asked what had happened.

She had visited a friend’s house, and a number of other teenagers were there. The parents were out and the kids were drinking. She had got off with a sixteen-year-old boy from school, lots of them were kissing, it got heavier… I was asking personal questions I wasn’t comfortable with, with a child who was not my own, but she wanted to confide and I wanted her to face it, acknowledge it to herself and (I hoped) practice telling an adult. He was putting his fingers inside her, then he got semen on his fingers and put them back in her.

I did wonder if she was letting imagination take her here, so asked some specific questions. The answers rang true. Simple, descriptive, how it felt.

I told her that it was not likely she was pregnant from what she had said, but if she was anxious then it was not too late for the morning-after pill. I asked her to talk to her parents or, if she felt she couldn’t, to go to the school nurse. A weekly drop-in clinic had recently started, for advice, chat or whatever was needed for students who did not want to go to the doctor. She said that she had been able to cope with writing it down, but talking, face to face, was impossible.

I felt in a real quandary. I knew that I should not keep it secret, but it was such a delicate position that telling her parents could do more harm than good. Breaking her trust would be seen as a betrayal and I hoped that telling me would be the first step to taking responsibility for her actions.

I advised her again to tell a nurse and to talk to her parents. I told her that she must not risk drinking alcohol away from home. With her parents’ permission, it was all right at home as she would learn how it affects her. It alters judgement, so that one does not realise one is going too far until it is really hard to stop, and this goes for the boy as well as the girl. Boys are obsessed with sex, I told her, they can’t help it. He knew well that he should stop, and it was appalling that he hadn’t – and illegal, too, he was guilty of assault, at least – but her judgment was impaired too. She hadn’t asked him to stop. I asked if she felt she loved him? No, she liked him but that was all. Afterwards, he’d walked her home, held her hand, been really sweet to her.

I still don’t know if I should have done more. She did promise to take my advice, and also to consider talking to her parents. I was going away in a week’s time, to spend three weeks in India, and Christmas was in between – at least, I knew, she would be busy with family things for the holidays and she promised to email me if she needed to talk. What I did not do was raise the subject of contraception at all. I strongly felt that this could encourage her to think that it was all right, that I might be condoning this happening again.

So, why did this happen to this child, with loving, united parents, who was cared for and treasured? I’m afraid that I think that it was because she had been encouraged to grow up too fast. She takes acting and dancing classes, she is poised, attractive and outgoing but, actually, it’s a cover for quite low self-esteem, common to most teenage girls. She is smiling, charming, eager to please. She wears, and wore even then, very short skirts, low-cut cropped tops, makeup, had an expensive haircut – you might know she was thirteen, but you would still take her for sixteen or more. She does not dress tartily, but quite provocatively. Her mother, as far as I’d ever seen, wanted to be her friend and encouraged her. She loved having an attractive, popular daughter. Her father, a kind man, imposed the household rules but assumed that if his wife approved the clothes, they must be all right.

A while later, I asked if things were okay. She told me they were, but didn’t take it further. Later again, her father and I had a chat. She had confided in him and his wife. They had talked it through and (he wasn’t specific) agreed some sort of ground rules – largely, this seems to consist of her being honest. Also, she has stopped drinking, even at home. She still dresses the same way, but I guess this becomes less outrageous as she gets older. She has, at present, an elaborately dyed and layered hairstyle that is, actually, very attractive but must have cost a fortune and is way OTT for a fifteen-year-old.

I think it is a shame that she was encouraged, in various ways, to behave beyond her years or her capability to control. Her nice, polite, middle class background made it harder – if she was tougher, streetwise, assertive, she would have been more able, perhaps, to tell the boy to shove off and not abuse her. She is not alone, I know other girls like her. She has so many material things and, thank goodness, she seems to be coping with things reasonably well now, for which I credit her father. But the modern age does these children no favours at all.

I’ve sent a get well soon car card

Talking to a friend. We had planned to meet. “I got the day off work wrong,” he said. “Next week. Sorry.” I reminded him that I am, officially, the Most Disorganised Person in East Anglia and so say “Pfft” if not “Pshaw” to such small misremembers.

Furthermore, his car is in for repair. The garage has lent him a car. It is a Banger. Ooh, actually Banger sounds quite fun. No, it is an old and decrepit banger. A jalopy.

“No power steering” he said. “It’s a fight round every roundabout.” I sympathised. “It was only four years ago that I first got power steering” I said (I don’t do new cars and that). “A year ago, I didn’t have climate control. Alarming how quickly that seems normal.” “The only climate control I have is the window,” he lamented. “And that sticks.”

Look, darling heart, if you really want sympathy, don’t make me laugh like that. Hope the car is back in fighting trim soon. xx(x)

Dunno about death, but taxes really hurt

Al and Dilly felt a bit punch-drunk by the end of last week. What with Al’s wisdom tooth extraction – he was on jelly and ice-cream and chicken soup for a day or two there – the resulting bill and, cruellest of all, his tax demand.

If you are self-employed, you have to pay on anticipated earnings*. This balances out, as you don’t pay twice – the tax on the anticipated earnings for one year are, as it were, absorbed by what you paid the year before. However, when you start up a business, obviously you don’t know what the earnings are likely to be, so this is not done for the first couple of years. This time was the first occasion Al had had to pay on anticipated earnings. It just so happened that, nearly two years ago (that is, at the start of the tax year in question), Yagnub’s largest – though still small – supermarket moved a mile or so out of the town centre and, as a result, Al’s takings rocketed. Since then, he has done pretty well. However, it has meant that he had a vast tax bill, three-quarters of it to be paid now. The total works out at 43% of his year’s earnings. Since he is a basic-rate taxpayer, this means he was, in effect, taxed at double rate, with no tax-free allowance.

It hurt.

In addition, Dilly is not earning and is not receiving maternity pay. Right now, the shop wages and bills are being paid out of the week’s takings – that is, the eggs that are delivered and paid for on Tuesday are enough to cause a cash-flow problem.

They are remarkably cheerful, in the circumstances. At least, they say, they didn’t have to borrow the money. Just strip their savings account. And, right now, that was what it was there for.

*Bear in mind, as you read what follows, that I don’t quite understand it myself, so this is my interpretation of the rules.

While waiting for potatoes to cook…

Drafting isn’t Me, you know. One has been deleted and the other is getting out of hand and needs shortening drastically. Ho hum. Inconsequential ramblings are much simpler. If I work on it, I get all impassioned and I use too many words.

Al and I are thinking about spring planting. Yes, I know, it’s still January. It’s the greenhouse we’re thinking about – we want to grow early lettuces and suchlike, for the shop. I haven’t got around to it for a couple of years, but it works well if you start early enough as they have been harvested by the time you want to put in cucumbers and tomatoes.

I’ve got seeds from last year that never got sown. Inefficiency reigned. I have put in my main seed order, but still have one catalogue to choose from, mostly pumpkins and chilli peppers. I want to have fun in the garden this year and, thanks to the chickens’ grass-clearing efficiency, I intend to enlarge the veg patch. They have, by the way, been pecking keenly at the globe artichokes and I hope the plants will recover.

Halibut for dinner – I hope it’s not one of the endangered species we aren’t supposed to eat any more. It is so good to eat… I also couldn’t resist some early forced rhubarb and I decided to make pumpkin (still a few home-grown ones) soup. The soup can wait until tomorrow; as I said to Ro, if I start serving three courses, he and his father will up their expectations of me unrealistically. That would never do. I have already promised young Al a day and a half in the shop weekly for a while. I’m concerned that he has been working too hard and so has Dilly – not easy, having two children under two.

Time to cook the halibut. TTFN, as they said. A long time ago.

A name may not matter, but it feels as if it does

I’ve been amusing myself for the last few minutes by looking up family names on this website, as commended by Robert Crampton in yesterday’s Times magazine. Very interesting, especially to see how some names were restricted to specific areas of the country in 1881 and have, since then, migrated all over the place. My own maiden name was well represented in the South-East then and now is not recorded – they need at least 100 people with that surname on the electoral register to be in their database. I suspected this, but it caused me a surprising pang to have it confirmed.

So I googled the name to cheer myself up and, to my surprise, found that there is a portrait of my great-great-great grandfather in the National Portrait Gallery. This is not as interesting as it sounds, as he is just one of the sitters for The House of Commons, 1833
by Sir George Hayter, along with several hundred other MPs of the time…I started to count the list of names but got bored at about 150 and gave up. I don’t expect g-g-g-grandad will be easy to pick out in that crowd, so I don’t suppose I’ll look the picture out when I next visit.

Spoilsports in NZ

I’m on my way to bed, but I just have to share this with you. Particularly with the Boy, who affirmed his intention to get up to just this sort of escapade (although, of course, with his wife because he is not that sort of boy) a few decades from now.

Tonight’s exciting installment. Who says Z doesn’t do irony?

I’m drafting. I don’t do drafting – what you poor bewildered darlings usually get are the Thoughts of Chairman Z in true rambling and random form – but I have several postsworth running concurrently and the least I can do is split them up a bit to make them coherent.

If you are lucky, I might get bored and delete the lot. If you are luckier still, you might be treated to a trio or more of deathless prose, wittily insightful and charmingly lighthearted. The most likely option of all is that I’ll put up something rambling and marginally argumentative and you will be both indulgent and mildly irritated.

I don’t do cliffhangers as well as Pi does, do I. Hmm. Do you do Hanging-by-your-Fingertip classes, Pi?

An extract in the life of Al

I’ve had another couple of days in the shop as Al has been visiting the dentist. Trouble with a wisdom tooth. The dentist advised extraction and had had a cancellation for this morning, so Al decided to bite the bullet. Ow.

He thought he’d be back for the afternoon. I said I’d keep the whole day available, just in case. I was not at all surprised when he didn’t feel up to the afternoon shift. Quite apart from the lopsided mouth and the mumbled speech, he felt quite woozy and sore.

Someone brought in some splendid homegrown parsnips, freshly dug and still spattered with authentic mud, which I promptly snapped up, offering £1.00 per kilo, which is about what Al pays the wholesaler. He was very pleased and said he has more to dig up. Al doesn’t try to pay local growers less than the wholesaler, although of course it is a pure bonus for anyone who grows their own veg as they have no overheads to pay, except insofar as they would be spending money on their garden anyway. But the more people who think of him when they have a surplus, especially at this time of year when he has less local stuff to offer, the happier he is. So are the customers. I was putting the parsnips into a box and writing a large label for it when a customer, being served by Eileen, saw them. “Ooh, they look lovely. May I swap the ones I have just bought?”

Robert came in, a day early. Usually, he visits his parents on a Saturday and he buys a week’s worth of fruit and veg, but he is moving house tomorrow. He told me he and his partner have also been choosing the day of their civil partnership ceremony. They had planned a very small do, but his mum says she would love them to have a big party and will make all the arrangements and foot the bill. So, happiness all round, and Al was pleased too, when he heard. Nothing like a wedding to make everyone smile.

I came home to be told that Tilly the dog was not well and had demonstrated the fact by chundering in several rooms. She quivered and looked scared, but this might have been because she thought she was in trouble. However, her eyes looked small and pained. She seems better now, and accepted a small piece of my potato at dinner. Let’s hope she had only found something unspeakable to eat in the garden.

Back to the shop tomorrow. Neither Jean not Eileen can come in, and two people (Al and Sarah, the Saturday girl) really can’t manage on a Saturday morning. I am becoming absurdly fit and healthy. Well, not fit for much but, you know, comparatively. I think I’ve been accepted as a ‘flying’ member of staff. Kit Kat Connie brought me a kit-kat as well as Eileen, this morning. I haven’t eaten it yet. I bought a Chelsea bun from the bakery and scoffed that in the afternoon. But I will tomorrow.

Z never wants to turn into a Grumpy Old Woman

Darling Wendz, today, expressed her views on the annoying use of over-elaborate language that is used, not only in blogs – which were where her arrows were directed – but in daily conversation and, particularly, in writing. I wrote a draft of a post, that wasn’t finished or posted, a week or two ago, which actually [although I entirely agree with Wendz in virtually everything she says, except for some of her linguistic bêtes noires (what on earth is wrong with ‘pad’ for walking softly over a carpeted floor in bare feet or slippers?)], came to almost exactly the opposite conclusion.

I am becoming more tolerant. I feel happier for it. I do not mind how people express themselves, especially in blogs, which they set up for their own self-expression and I need only read if I wish to.

I first ruminated on this (you know, after what Wendz said, I’m a little wary of using any long word when a short one would do, but self-confidence reigns on this blog) when I had watched an episode of the television programme ‘Grumpy Old Women’, an equal opportunities spin-off from ‘Grumpy Old Men.’ I could relate to everything they said but, and no doubt the outrage was emphasised for its entertainment value, I rejected almost all of it. I do not want to rejoice in grumpiness and intolerence.

The future doesn’t belong to me. My values are old fashioned, but who am I to say they are better? Language is there to communicate (although, as Wendz suggests, jargon and cliché and polysyllables can get in the way of communication) – and I no longer care if someone confuses different spellings of the same word. If it was good enough for Shakespeare, I would be stuffy and pedantic to mind. If the meaning is clear, that is what matters. I will draw a line of differentiation here between formal and informal writing. I hate it when I receive an official letter with misspellings and bad grammar. Especially when it comes from the Education Department, as is not unknown. If I’m paying your wages, either through taxes or by buying your products, I expect you to write correctly.

Some years ago, I was on a train, coming home from London, when a woman of about 60 got on. She proceeded to peel and eat an orange. A few minutes later, a man lit up a cigarette – it was a non-smoking carriage. She protested. He pointed out that he hated the smell of orange, but he hadn’t said anything to her. Now, of course, the point was that it was, indeed, a non-smoking carriage, so he was breaking the rules and she wasn’t, but his point, that they were equal in terms of nuisance value, had a specious persuasiveness. There was a silence, while everyone watched with interest. She got to her feet and stormed out of the carriage. She was a Grumpy Old Woman*, he was an Awkward Young Man. They were both Inconsiderate. Neither was better than the other. None of us was better either, because she was ‘right’ and we should have spoken up but we did see his point as we hadn’t liked her zest any more than his smoke.

I don’t mind incoherent and awkward young people. I think David Cameron was a twit even to associate himself with the phrase ‘hug a hoodie’ but I see what he meant. Young people are awkward and frustrated, and who can blame them. They are nagged and pressurised at school, expected to rein in their natural energies, told their exams are worthless and far too easy to pass, allowed too little freedom until their teens, when suddenly they are given too much, and then watched with suspicion by everyone who assumes that they are up to no good. There are huge problems, largely with drugs. There are disaffected and aggressive thugs. But they are not going to improve by being disapproved of by old bats like me.

What I know, I think everyone should know. Dates. Geography. Literature. History. What used to be general knowledge, but has been squeezed out by the National Curriculum. But I break the very rules I was taught – by, for example, starting a sentence with ‘but’ or ‘and’. Using the words ‘a lot of’ or ‘got’ – a pang goes through me, it’s true, but my feeling is now that if it works, do it. Not in an official letter, but in a colloquial blog, it is not unacceptable. Furthermore, my general knowledge, recognised by my parents and grandparents, has gone. I do not necessarily care about the things my children’s generation do and I don’t think it matters. But if I shrug ‘same difference, so what?’, why shouldn’t they? Why should niceties of behaviour or language matter to them? Or the date of Agincourt? Some ignorance is shocking, but I am no better. Before I complain about the speck of dust in their eye, I should fish the bloomin’ great plank of wood out of mine, as the bible neatly puts it.

I don’t want to try to ape them. That would be embarrassing. But I’ll be a great deal happier if I can find a note of concord and live peaceably, rather than complain about the good old days.

*I do not mean to suggest that 60 is old, but that GOW’hood is a frame of mind that can strike at any time.

I could have talked all night…

… as usual. ( Updated, Thurdsay, at the end)

Thank you again for being so encouraging, and I am happy to report that my clothes were suitable. Do not underestimate the satisfaction this word brings. I was not overdressed compared to the others, but neither did I feel like Cinderella after midnight.

We did start off a little poorly by not reading our invitation properly. We turned up at our friends’ house, just as his son and wife walked out of the front door. “Um” he said politely, for he is a most charming young man, “the party’s not here, it’s at Mahsrae Llah.” We turned the car and embarrassedly drove back the way we’d come. The Hall was, until about 1930, the family home of our host, but some of the estate was sold off and, after a few changes of ownership, a family bought it about 25 years ago and have been restoring the original features ever since, running a business from there too. For the last three or four years, they have been doing weddings and similar jollies as well, although they do not do catering and so the restauranteurs where I mentioned having lunch the other day with Squiffany were in to provide dinner. Two daughters of a friend of mine, each of whom in turn was the restaurant manager until they moved on, were there as waitresses and it was good to see them again although they were, of course, too busy to chat. There were huge fires in every grate and I was quite warm, although bare-armed.

Delicious dinner, splendid company, we had a lovely time. I flirted decorously with my left-hand neighbour, who has been friends with our host from prep school days, over 60 years ago. Our opposite neighbour, an elderly lady I have known for years but in daytime situations, was slightly perturbed by this and wondered, by the look in her eye, if I was being carried away by unaccustomed wine, but I assured her that I’m always like this in the evenings, with or without the booze. I was a touch disconcerted, admittedly, by my wine glass being refilled after almost every sip; as I was chatting in the animated way that makes Z Good Value at a gathering, I did not always notice the stealthily pouring hand. Not that I drank too much, would I do that?

It was, although relaxed and happy, a slightly formal do: for example, the ladies retired after dinner, leaving the gentlemen to their port and racy anecdotes (I’m happy to say that port had been brought round with some highly yummy cheeses and totally delicious biscuits, which I must buy; fortunately the restaurant has a deli) and I sat next to someone whom I hadn’t met for at least 15 years; she had been the rather posh secretary at my daughter’s school. On my other hand was an elegant lady who had the rangy and handsome look of a racehorse.

I also had a happy opportunity to chat to friends who moved away from the village about 18 months ago, whom I haven’t seen since. A great pleasure. I have promised to call, when I’m going down the A11 (or do I mean the M11?) as it is not a long detour.

Snowing when I left, snowing again at 8.30 this morning. Not enough to make a snowman, however, so my winter is not yet complete.

Tomorrow, I will take a photograph of my necklace for the Chairwoman and Stegbeetle – who might have meant photos of Me but, charming as he is to suggest it, I’m afraid that any taken are in the possession of the family and, don’t you always find, pictures taken at a party always find you with your mouth full of food or open in raucous laughter and are not fit to be shown in mixed company.

And today’s the day that was tomorrow yesterday.

The more observant among you may notice that the background on which the necklace lies is the velvet skirt.