Monthly Archives: September 2007

Z is cuddled

We canoodled enjoyably for a couple of hours before getting up around nine o’clock. I was still in no hurry to start the day and ran a bath and lay back in it for a while. We have a six-foot bath, which is excellent if I want to lie down, but no good at all if I just want to relax without getting my hair wet, as I have to stretch out my toes to keep from slipping under the water and it isn’t as relaxing as I’d like it to be.

Lying there reminded me of when I was a child, and I would lie full length in the bath, with just my face out of the water and my body gently floating. I think I must have been propped on my elbows. It was very restful.

We had a service at a neighbouring church, to celebrate the ordination of one of its parishioners yesterday. In a benefice of six churches, we now have a rector, a retired clergyman and four OLMs (Ordained Local Ministers), as well as several Lay Readers or trainees and another trainee OLM. Someone mentioned gently at the churchwardens’ meeting last night that, splendid as it is to have so many able and dedicated people to preside at services, we’re a bit low on helpers to do the actual boring spadework, like cleaning churches, being treasurers and suchlike.

It was a delightful service, with a big congregation. Reg is very popular. I felt a little croaky – I have a cold – and became tired, so I did everyone a favour by not joining in the hymns. I reflected, seeing the rapt faces of some people during the last hymn, that maybe the mark of being ‘born again’ is actually seeing the point of ‘Shine Jesus Shine. I don’t get it at all, merely finding it tedious to play, but those who do absolutely love it and unselfconsciously put their faces up and hold their arms out. Afterwards, there was a lunch at the village school. I left quite early, warning a friend that I might not get to the piano recital that afternoon.

I didn’t. I slept instead. I lay on the sofa and zonked for an hour and a half and then still lay stupefied for half an hour. When I opened my eyes, Tilly was sitting on a chair where she could see my face. It isn’t a chair she normally sits on. I made space and she jumped on the sofa and wriggled up towards me for a cuddle.

I wrote up all the shop takings for the week, with the till totals. This was doing fine until Friday, when evidently someone (I’m pretty sure it wasn’t me) had made a fairly substantial error and not noted it. One of the Saturday girls had done a similar thing too. She had called me over at one point, saying that the till was playing up – I put it right that time, but it must have happened again. It’s easy to do – usually, one keys in the figure and forgets to enter it, presses the next figure, enters that, and it looks like a bigger figure. Let’s say 89p, then £1.25 – it would show up as £891.25. What is supposed to happen is that one prints out the receipt, puts it in the till and does the transaction again, then Al corrects it at the end of the day.

Next week, I must catch up on things because I’m off on holiday on Friday. This will include I, Like the View’s meme, which is half-written, and a couple of other posts I seem to have said I’ll write. I’m in London on Wednesday, visiting the Mansion House and the Goldsmiths’ Fair.

I’m pondering again whether to resign (or rather, not ask to be reappointed) as a school governor next summer. I’m presently vice-chairman and, as we’re expecting an Ofsted inspection, the Head would like me to carry on. I’m also Special Educational Needs governor. I do a fair bit for that, but I am uncomfortably aware that I’ve been coasting for a couple of years. I think it’s time to go, but it’s quite hard to let go. 18 years at one school and 8 at another (with overlap, that totals 20 years) is a lot to relinquish. I’ve promised to write to the chairman, and tell her what I’m thinking and why.

I’m going to bed to wake my husband again.

But before I do, a wave to Mike, who has written a comment for every post this month. He needs no introduction from me, as he is so well know already but, although I already knew he was interesting, likeable and very readable, I now also know that he is quite the most charming bloke I have ever met. Not that I’ve actually met him, but whatever. Thanks, Mike, and congratulations on your endurance.

Pugsley’s Birthday!!(!)

I finished my week’s stint in the shop today. I found it quite tiring, and it was hard to get going this morning. It wasn’t helped by my wakefulness at 4 am, wondering if it had been wise not to order peaches and nectarines – they are past their best and losing a juicy texture, although they taste good, and I had decided the leftover trays from yesterday were enough. I was happy about it at midnight when I went to bed, so why did it dwell on my mind when it was too late to do anything about it?

Anyway, I got up and did whatever you do at 4.45 when you can’t sleep. I can’t remember. I do remember picking spinach at 7.30.

Today is Pugsley’s first birthday. They arrived home just before 5 (pm) and Al wondered if he should come and help me pack up. His father, rightly, said no. He’s on holiday until tomorrow night when he phones in his orders.

When Squiffany was one, we bought her a train set. For Pugsley, we bought … wait for it … a train set. Unimaginative? Us? I Think Not. It is the same sort, so they can build a big track or each build their own. Our own children waited until they were a little older and then received 50s clockwork trains.

When I was a child, I’d have loved to have received boys’ toys. I didn’t like dolls and things and mostly read, played board games and did jigsaws. I did a lot outdoors too, in case you are dismissing me as a complete dull thing, just so long as it wasn’t labelled Sport. I’m afraid that team games and other hearty things were seen, by the lofty and appallingly arrogant Z, as things done by unappealingly hearty people who sucked up to Games mistresses. Anyway, I never had a train set, so I had to rectify matters with my own daughter. I didn’t encourage any Sindy or Barbie nonsense either, although proper dolls would have been permitted if El had shown any interest.

Anyway, I still maintain that boys’ toys are more fun than girls’ toys.

Our house

It’s been altered a lot over the centuries. We’re not sure of its original use, although we know it was affiliated to the church. When the Sage’s parents bought it in 1928, it was divided into three farmworkers cottages and two of them were still occupied. Alternative accommodation was found – but even a few years ago, people told us that they had been born at our house. Ten or twelve children in a family was not unusual.

Pa and Ma, once the house was empty, altered it considerably to turn it into one house. They moved the front door and porch, although it was rebuilt with the same materials only a few feet along. They tried to use the inglenook fireplace in the drawing room, but found that drawing was one thing that did not happen unless all windows and doors were open, so filled it in to make a smaller brick fireplace. They put in suspended wooden floors and (which I regret) they did away with most of the cupboard staircases and sacrificed a room to make a hall and ‘proper’ wooden staircase. Pa carved the banisters himself, and I do approve of them. Ma said that they tried to keep all 8 staircases, but it was just too draughty. Now there are three original ones, the one Pa built and the one we put up to the attic in the extension.

They also put up a fair lot of studwork, to Tudorise it even more. Not in every room: the dining room, one bedroom and one wall in the hall. The central beams are original though. The one in the drawing room is cracked (the master bedroom is above, but it happened before we moved in, okay?). There was an old iron bar to strengthen it, but we used an RSJ to jack up the ceiling, then had holes drilled (if you haven’t heard the sound of 400-year-old oak being drilled, you don’t know the meaning of toothache) and iron bars bolted together. The ceiling is still only 2 metres high and I can touch it (I’m short) and the beam lower than that.

I love the plaster on the walls. It’s old and uneven, and the walls themselves go all ways – the bathroom, particularly, which has a floor sloping one way and a ceiling sloping another. It’s wallpapered, by me, and that’s an interesting experience which requires some skill (yup) and ingenuity (phooey).

The doors were all made by Pa, out of floorboards and iron studs. They look good and old. You pull a rope to open on one side or lift a latch on the other. Occasionally, a rope breaks and you are stuck in the room. You can climb out of the window, so long as the outside door isn’t locked. We bear the anxiety with amusement when it happens.

There is still an inglenook in the dining room, although the mantelpiece is not that old. The Sage make the shutters, which are closed in my photo put up a few days ago, but we have never got around to matching up the colour of the new oak with the old.

There is one upstairs door that we all have to bend double to go through. The wall is surprisingly thick, and it’s awfully easy to straighten up too soon and give oneself a migraine-inducing clonk. The only quicker way is sunlight dancing on waves.

Before we moved here, we did some renovations and received permission (it’s a listed building) to enlarge a couple of windows – the then window frames dated from the 30s and were not nice. We took out one hazel pole that was part of the original construction and our bro’-in-law carved a walking-stick from it.

Music has charms

It’s been a day when I’ve hurried from one thing to another, and I didn’t stop working until 10.30 pm, having started at 8 am. I say stop, not finish, and I’m very grateful to the Sage for saying that I’ve got all weekend to type out a big valuation. It’s mostly an update, but unfortunately when I transferred stuff from my old computer to this one, several years ago, some of it got corrupted or some nonsense like that (corrupted? what are they saying I made it do? Watch me in the shower? Look at pictures of naked men? Smoke small cheroots while drinking several tumblers of single malt? Pshaw.) This isn’t too awful when it’s only three pages to retype, but in a few weeks I’ve got a massive one to do, and that will have full descriptions of several hundreds of items, including where and when bought and listing damage. And the Sage appears to have promised to keep the cost to a minimum, so it’s a good job I’ll work for free (I am incapable of working for less than I’m worth, which is an absurdly vast sum, so I don’t normally charge anything at all, which makes me bloody popular, I can tell you).

Anyway, music was required. I’m spending the week discreetly turning down the radio in the shop whenever Eileen’s back is turned, and she quietly turns it back up at every opportunity. I find it hard to tune music out, so really nasty stuff hurts and even the innocuous stuff grates badly after a while, and Radio Broadland seems to go from one to the other with irritating regularity. I am mercifully alone in the afternoons and I take in my own music then, because Al has conditioned customers not to expect silence,

First, I needed soothing and Hoagy Carmichael did it nicely. I’ve adored him since the first time, decades ago, I saw To Have and Have Not. Bogie falling for Bacall, she having to hold her head on one side to stop from shaking and Hoagy singing about opium addiction. Don’t bother with the book, by the way. Bleak.

Now, I am listening to Okkervil River. They are so damn good.

Little town, kind people

I was talking to Penny this morning. Until three weeks ago she worked at one of the nicest shops in the town. If you needed a present or some ornament for yourself or your home, that’s where you looked first. It had been run for more than twenty years by Tony, with initial input from his brother. Last summer, Tony and his wife Mary were involved in a road accident with a Ministry of Defence vehicle, and Tony did not survive.

Mary decided to sell the business, and the new people took over about a month ago. It so happened that the Sage was their first customer, buying wedding anniversary cards for our children.

Penny always used to call into Al’s shop early, on her way into work, so I’d missed seeing her since her retirement, but she came in today. She says she’s finding it hard to adjust, but her house is very clean… And she still can’t bear to go into the shop, although she wishes the new owners well.

She had heard, however, about the warm welcome they have received. Steve, at the restaurant next door, went in the first lunchtime bearing welcoming glasses of wine. People have called with cards and messages of goodwill. They were deeply touched. The town they used to live in, only a few miles away, isn’t like Yagnub*.

Penny was not at all surprised. In the week of the anniversary of Tony’s death, many people took the trouble to call in, just to say that they remembered, and were thinking of him.

No, I wasn’t one of them. I’m not that thoughtful, and I’m from a larger town. It wouldn’t come naturally.

I have been in to welcome the new owners though. It was my friend Lynn’s birthday this week and I bought a wooden pestle and mortar from Bali and a carved wooden horse from the Philippines for her – both of which I rather wanted to keep…

*As always, credit Badgerdaddy with the reversing of the name

On being indispensable

I’m thinking back a few years…

I was vice-chairman of governors at the village school, and there were a few problems. In the January, the headteacher went on leave and a temporary replacement was appointed. At Easter, the head resigned and an acting head took over. I can’t say more, except to make it clear that there is no blot on the record of the head, because I signed a confidentiality document and, effectively, accepted responsibility on behalf of the governors.

At this time, my mother was very unwell and very unhappy, and I was bearing the burden of that, which meant my family were too. And then, in early June, the chairman of governors died suddenly.

He was not only chairman of governors but chairman of the village hall committee, lay vice-chairman of the parish church committee, treasurer of same, and held a couple of other posts too (including another chairmanship). Apart from our shock at losing a dear friend, we were all up shit creek, as most of the village organisations were left without a chairman – and he was a damn good one. The only thing I can say is that he had been very efficient, so all the paperwork was up to date. And, as far as the school was concerned, I’d had as much (in some ways more) involvement as he.

At the time, and partly because of the difficulties, we were a little short of governors and most of them were quite new. It was essential for me to take over as chairman. I haven’t mentioned that, in addition, we were expecting an OFSTED inspection at any time and we didn’t have time for anyone who couldn’t, as they say, hit the ground running.

In the autumn, some changes were made which I pushed forward against some opposition (fuck me, that was traumatic), my mother was diagnosed with cancer [at last (for she’d had it for some time but tests had not found anything)], Ro went to university, Al took over the shop at a moment’s notice (I may have told this tale, does anyone remember?) and my daughter changed jobs and (no connection) met The Man.

By the end of that school year we’d had a good OFSTED report, the new Head was doing fine, the school roll was rising remarkably, my mother had died (in March) and I had done my job well. I worked hard the next year too. The year after, I set myself the task of bowing out. I had learned from Stuart’s death and, useful though I’d been, I didn’t matter. The position I held did, but its responsibilities should be shared as much as possible. I found someone ideal – indeed, better than I – to be the next chairman, stayed one more year and then resigned, knowing I’d not be missed.

It’s natural to want to be missed. Most of us would secretly love to be remembered by more than their nearest loved ones. But, having considered dispassionately whether that is just vanity or whether it would be for my fine achievements or qualities, I have had to admit that vanity ruled.

For a while too, I did too much, at a time when I was… oh blimey, probably halfway out of it most of the time. I don’t know how I came over, but I know people were quite anxious about me. I was all right really, but I was a bit intense.

Anyway, my point is, I learned that it’s best to spread the load, for the sake of other people as well as yourself.

A one-bathroom family

The house we live in is Tudor, basically, although it’s been altered a lot over the years, not least by my in-laws after they bought it in 1928, the year after they were married. It is timber-framed and, we’re told, originally displayed its half-timbered exterior before being brick-faced a couple of hundred years ago. There is also some Tudor brickwork and chimneys, and here is a very unseasonal photo (which I originally posted nearly a year and a half ago, so if you saw it then, gosh, haven’t we been friends for a long time?)

You will see, on the left of the picture, some new brickwork – they haven’t really weathered as much as we hoped although they are hand-made and will, I expect, blend in better in a few more decades. We built this extension because we were told by an expert in this sort of dwelling that the chimneys would never have been built at the end of the house and that there must have been a wing of it pulled down at some time, perhaps when the brick facing was done. This explained why the dining room was always slightly damp.

To create an extra bedroom, the Sage’s parents had divided a large bedroom into two plus a passageway and we decided to remove the partitions. It meant we’d only have four bedrooms instead of five, but it’s a lovely room and it was spoiled by being split up. Al agreed that he would sleep on his brother’s bedroom floor when we had guests. When we built the new part, we offered El the new bedroom. It would be reached through her old one, because the back stairs led into that, and then through Al’s room. It would be a big room, about 18 foot by 20 foot, plus built-in cupboards, so we suggested dividing it into a bedroom, a bathroom and a studio – at the time they both did stained glass work, Al was good at carpentry and El at art. And El would have her own ensuite bathroom.

Once the room was built, El came to us. “Why do I have to have a bathroom?” she asked. We said we thought she would like it. She pointed out what a beautiful room it was, and wasn’t it a shame to break it up? It was, and it was, and as long as she was happy to share the bathroom (because we didn’t want to lose a fifth bedroom before we had had a chance to use it) then that was fine with us.

Now that is Ro’s bedroom as El has long since left home. We have to have pretty easy-going overnight guests, as he has to go through the spare bedroom to get to bed.

It’s a funny thing though. The Sage and I leave the bathroom door open when one of us is in the bath, but our children don’t. And we always have our bedroom door open, but when they stay, they shut theirs. I have no idea if there is any significance at all in this.

Z has nothing to say, which does not stop me saying it

I started to write, completely lost the thread and deleted it. However, I’ve got to post something now. Otherwise, my half-written and barely half-witted words will appear on RSS feeds and you will think I’m a fool.

I probably will regale you all week with funny stories about vegetables. I apologise.

Our lovely friend Daphne has been staying for the weekend. The only problem about having friends to stay is that you spend so many hours talking that you go to bed very late. And you politely let her use the bathroom first (there is a shower in the bedroom, but a shower is so stimulating that I’d be awake all night) so go to bed even later.

I chose Mark Haddon’s A Spot of Bother on the strength of the line at the top of the page opened at random ‘He’d tried celibacy. The only problem was the lack of sex.’ I’m easily amused, admittedly, and it’s not a new joke, but still worth hearing again. I enjoyed the book and it lasted me most of the journey down to Gloucestershire on Thursday. I passed it on to a friend for her to read on the way back, and started on a biography of Mark Twain. I haven’t finished that yet though.

Did I ever tell you that, as a child, I used to have a dog called Huckleberry? He was lovely. My next dog (if it arrives with me unnamed) will be called Huckleberry.

Right. I think the bathroom is free. It’s Monday morning. I know the time on the post says Sunday night, but that’s because I can’t be bothered to change it.

Harvest Festival

Al and his family have gone on holiday, leaving me to run the shop. This is a heady responsibility and I am tremendously excited. I finished in something of a rush today, as I was playing the organ at a neighbouring church at 6 o’clock and usually we don’t start to pack up until 5.30. I started, instead, at 4.55 and still didn’t leave until nearly 20 to 6.

The organ playing went well enough, although it would have been easier if I had been able to see the music. The church is in the middle of a field and has no electricity. There is a gas lamp by the organ, but it doesn’t cast all that much light. Still, I didn’t mind, all part of the experience. It wasn’t, of course, dark at six, but I played again at 7.45.

Yesterday, I went to put stuff in my village church for Harvest Festival tomorrow. I’d had an email to say that four people had done most of the decorations (including the windowsill I said I’d do…), and it just needed my baskets of fruit and veg. I was somewhat horrified when I saw the ‘decorations’ On three windowsills, they had covered an array of different size boxes with gaudily shiny gold material, arranging the odd cabbage and cucumber on each surface, where you can hardly see them because the gold cloth reflects the light so much. Except for one windowsill, which is advertising Fairtrade produce. The fourth windowsill had a few flowers stuck in oasis with a line of tomatoes and apples in front, which would have been quite sweet if done by children. There were also a few vases filled with random bunches of flowers. I’ve a feeling someone thought it was artistic. I know there are some who do not approve entirely of my fruit and veg, as they think it would be more useful to bring tins and packets (the stuff is distributed to pensioners in the village by the village schoolchildren). I don’t object to the tins, although I do hope that when I’m old I will still choose to eat vegetables rather than open a can, but they really don’t add beauty to the display. And a jar of coffee or a tin of baked beans has little to do with the English harvest.

If anyone ever says again to me that tins are useful because they can be given to the poor or old, I might be tempted to quote the Bible. When Jesus was having his feet anointed with oil and Judas said sniffily that the oil was valuable and could have been sold and the money given to the poor, Jesus put him in his place.

Al gives the produce (he says it’s his insurance that ensures he never has to set foot in church), which fills six big open baskets and I give the flowers. I did two arrangements with big dahlias. Artistic, no. Celebratory, hell yes.