Monthly Archives: November 2007


El rang tonight, having just got back from a long weekend in Derbyshire. Apparently, there was snow – two inches of it. Gosh.

She has booked a table for Friday evening at a restaurant not far from St Pauls, so we’ll meet there I should think – her office is in Mayfair and Phil’s is in Islington. I get into London at half past ten in the morning, so I’m fancy-free for the day.

I babysat this evening, which was very quiet. I arrived while the children were having their nighttime beakers of milk and once they were in bed they fell asleep and didn’t make another sound. I read, watched television, and fell asleep myself in the middle of Nigella. I was a bit underwhelmed by her crumbling bought cake, pouring ginger wine over it, whipping a lot of cream and dumping it on the cake, cutting up underripe passion fruits and scraping them on top and calling it a trifle that all her friends thought she had slaved for days over. They were being polite, darling. I’m sure it tasted good, but they all knew what you had done.

Telephone calls

It is something that only becomes apparent as time passes, but having children is not about bringing up babies. It’s about the people that they become. Now that mine are all adults, I appreciate them all the more and love who they are – what they have made themselves.

But then, we’ve all been lucky. Not everyone is. We had two phone calls yesterday, with bad news.

The first one was the Sage’s sister, who rang to tell us that her daughter Sarah’s husband had died suddenly of a heart attack. Their 5 year old son was with him when he collapsed and they have a 9 year old daughter too. Jonathan was 68, considerably older than Sarah and had not been too well for some time, largely with circulatory problems caused, they were told, by his lifetime of heavy smoking, but this was completely unexpected.

Later, the Sage rang a family friend to tell her, but the information was overshadowed by her own family problem and he didn’t say anything. She was almost too upset to speak, but it seems that her son is in prison. We don’t know what for, and we don’t know if he’s been charged, whether bail was refused or even what he’s supposed to have done – the Sage said he simply couldn’t ask her questions as she wasn’t fit to answer them. I’ll ring her in a little while, she might be able to talk to me. Although he is, in many ways, a likable young man, he has been the reason for anxiety and grief to his mother and late father since they adopted him at the age of 3. He had been badly treated and it wasn’t surprising that he found it hard to trust and be trustworthy but, again, this is right out of the blue.

Well played, Sharon

Our friend Jamie called round this morning, to say he has found a possible new gardener for us – someone newly retired, who has just moved here from London. Jamie was driving a car considerably smarter than we’ve ever seen him in. It’s an 18 month old VW Passat. “Nice car?” we enquired…

His wife goes to Bingo twice a week with a friend – the two of them have been having these girls’ nights out for years, and always share their winnings. A few weeks ago, she won the jackpot – £45,000. She didn’t hesitate. A cheque for £22,500 was given straight to her friend.

They’ve never had this sort of money in their lives before, they’ve always lived in rented houses and have brought up their four children on something of a shoestring. Jamie’s always worked hard and will always help a friend without a moment’s thought. I think more of him than almost anyone I know, though I’ve only ever known Sharon to pass the time of day with. But isn’t she lovely?

She won the mid-week jackpot. “It’d be a pang to let half the Saturday jackpot go,” said Jamie ruefully. “With £100,000, we could have got a mortgage.”

Z would like to get her hands dirty

I went to see the newly-built Skills Centre in the next town, which will serve three local high schools and teach them ‘vocational’ qualifications, such as building, hairdressing, car mechanics and engineering. The pupils who opt to go there are, on the whole, the less academically able and would do one of these subjects as the equivalent of two GCSEs, as well as the core subjects of English, Maths and Science. They go one day per week and do the written part of the course at school as well as their other lessons.

It’s very well designed and equipped and the pupils are mostly very keen. I rather wished I could have joined them there. I’d not be interested in the cookery (I can cook already) and hairdressing, but I’d have loved to have a go at the bricklaying, carpentry and car maintenance.

Z is wreathed in fir

One of my most disliked jobs of the year is making holly wreaths for Al to sell. There are some very gorgeous ones out there, which I don’t make – a wire double ring, a base of fir and well-berried holly wired on is as much as I can put up with. At that, I spend a couple of hours most evenings from late November onwards working on them.

Apart from the rings and wire, the rest is pretty well free, as friends are willing to let the Sage prune their holly and conifer bushes, and we give them a wreath as thank-you. So it’s a good earner for Al, but he hasn’t possibly got time to make them himself. When he started the shop, in September five years ago, I declared that it was one job I would never help with, but the next year I just got on with it.

I’ve got going early this year with the bases and made the first eight this evening. I want to have some ready for him for late-night opening next Thursday.

Tomorrow, I’m off to the high school to the music department for the first lesson. There may be a frost, apparently, but I hope it will have gone by 8.45ish, when I wobble off on two wheels. I actually didn’t mind the trip to town and back this afternoon, which is slightly worrying, as I don’t want to enjoy this cycling nonsense. Pleasure won’t last, surely, with winter still to come.

When we had our sort-out of the church last weekend, I banished a rather horrid (in both the modern and the Latin sense) carpet from the vestry. I’ve been meaning to look for a new rug, but haven’t got around to it yet. Dilly offered to lend one, which she took up in their living room a while ago as the children kept tripping on it. Squiffany was taken aback. “But it’s mine, I want it!” I explained how much it would help me and that it was a short-term loan and she was half-way placated. A suggestion that she should come with me to the church to put it in place, and that she could ride in the wheelbarrow settled it and she was cheerful again.

A weight is off in Z’s mind

I was vastly encouraged yesterday, when I stepped on the bathroom scales for the first time for several years. I had received something of an unpleasant surprise when, against my protests, the doctor weighed me and I was several pounds heavier than I’d expected. Ro appropriated the scales some years ago and, since they only depressed me, I didn’t miss them. But I thought I’d check – and I was about where I had thought I would be before I was forced into a position of complete embarrassment. Now, I appreciate that the doctor’s scales are more likely to be accurate than mine, but that’s not the point; it’s that I hadn’t put on, unexpectedly, the worst part of an extra half stone.

Having faffed around fluffily on Monday, I am well behind with the week’s work, and I’ll be out most of tomorrow. I’ll catch up, of course, because I have deadlines next week and time expands most helpfully just before a deadline, usually into the early hours of the morning, but how easy life would be if one just got on with the bloody work and then went out and enjoyed oneself, rather than wasting time and feeling no satisfaction at all. I’d completely screwed things up today in any case, by saying I’d babysit in the morning and then realising I’d be out at a lecture I couldn’t miss. Fortunately, by going in early with Al to set up the shop, he was able to leave at 8.30 to babysit and I waited for Tim and then left at 9.

When I arrived home in the evening, I went to see Dilly and the children and was met by Pugsley walking across the room. Until today, he hasn’t managed more than a few steps without holding on to something, but now he can do corners and everything. Squiffany wanted to turn somersaults, and I put the cushions from ths sofa on the floor for her. As I put the last one down she said “Good, now we’ve got a rectangle.” I was impressed. “Do you know the difference between a square and any other rectangle?” asked her mother. Squiffany drew shapes with her fingers to try to show the difference. I picked up another cushion. “What shape is this?” “It’s a square”, she said, correctly.

When her father arrived home, we told him. He wasn’t surprised. I suppose I shouldn’t have been either. When he was ten and his little brother was two, Al used to teach him addition and subtraction, in the greenhouse, using flowerpots.

On the buses – and off again

When Ro started his new job, he intended to travel to Norwich by bus each day. There’s a service every hour. Within the first couple of days, he knew he wouldn’t be able to stick to it.

This morning, he left the house at 7.12, for a brisk 15-minute walk to the bus stop, which is 1 1/4 miles away. The bus will have left at 8.30 and reached the bus station in Norwich at 8.25 for him to reach his desk at 8.30.

Tonight, he’ll finish around 4.30, catch the bus at 5, and get home about 6.30 – it often leaves late, though there’s never an explanation.

Contrast this with the car. Leave home 7.55, be at his desk, after walking from the car park, at 8.30. Leave work at 4.30, be home, allowing for traffic, before 5.15. That’s a difference of two hours per day…ten hours every week of time wasted.

He quite appreciates that the bus has to take longer, but what he can’t understand is why every bus meanders through the villages, where it neither takes on nor drops off any passengers. It comes from Halesworth, and almost all people get on in Yagnub and in Poringland – all on the main road. Why, he wonders, is there not a commuter bus that goes direct?

At least, I’d said before he started, he wouldn’t have the stress of driving in rush-hour traffic. But he says that the buses are cold and uncomfortable and he can’t relax anyway. Yesterday, the company sent a coach, and it was quite a pleasant contrast.

It isn’t even cheap. Buying a daily ticket is £4, and a season ticket would work out at £2.80. He reckons the petrol would cost £3 per day, even at over £1 per litre, which is what it costs now. At present, he’s looking for someone to carshare with, but otherwise his employers will let him have a parking permit and he’ll drive himself.

It seems to me that those in charge, while extolling the benefits and virtues of public transport, actually don’t have much regard for the people who use it. They think that it’s only for pensioners (who don’t pay), children and the poor, none of whom, they think, matters. The only thing they can think of is to impose congestion charges and higher car park charges, while not addressing the actual reason people don’t want to use the bus.

I have long believed that all people who are in charge of running the country should be obliged to use public transport. Not just in the major cities, where buses, trams, the underground, are the obvious ways to get around (not, I suspect, that they do), but everywhere. No chauffeur-driven car to pick them up from the railway station. No allowances made for the amount of stuff they have to carry, nor for any disabilities that do not qualify them for a disabled parking badge. We’d soon have an excellent public transport system which people would actually use.

Z is a Noisy Noise

Sorry, darlings, three posts in day is absolutely too many, but bear in mind that one is simply a link and another is unreadably long, and take this as the daily doings of Z.

I learned something new this evening – and how does one learn, except by doing it? Paul the Fish calls on a Monday, and today he had oysters. It occurred to me that Ro likes oysters and the Sage likes unidentifiable roes, and neither likes what the other does, so dinner could be arranged in two easy stages. I like and eat everything, of course – albeit not much at a time, but nevertheless it has evidently caused my present problem.

Anyway, I bought half a dozen oysters for Ro, never having opened any before and not owning an oyster knife. How hard could it be?

Well, I broke the tip off my shortest thickest knife on the first oyster. After that, I realised that the hinge has to be broken before you prise, and after the second, it went quite well. I stole an oyster, and we companionably spat bits of shell out together (yes, I could have cleaned them more efficiently) as we chomped our salad…mine undressed.

We discussed the killing of the poor creatures beforehand, and Ro said that it’s easier when someone else has done the deed. I think one should face up to that sort of thing, though molluscs are easier than mammals, and I hardened my heart.

In other news, turkeys fifteen miles away have bird flu. This time, they are free range so the cause may not be the lack of hygiene that there was at the Bernie Matthewman (almost) plant down the road from here, which was disgracefully not properly examined for fear of upsetting new EU members. I will get the biggest greenhouse ready for our chickens tomorrow. They were very happy in there last winter and they can settle in there, where they will be sheltered and, I hope, safe.


Blue Witch is marvellous. She searches out things for our education and edification and has come up with this.

Rice is sent to people in third world countries when you play – I’m not sure how long you have to keep going to make a square meal, as it is counted in grains.

You can get up to level fifty – in theory. I couldn’t.