Monthly Archives: December 2007


I’ve just eaten the last disc of salty Dutch licorice, that my daughter brought back from her weekend in Amsterdam for me two or three months ago. *sigh*

I’m very partial to Dutch goodies altogether. When I was little, I had Dutch au pairs – two of them, one after the other. They were sisters and my mother thought of them as extra daughters. They used to send a box of goodies for St Nicholas day – yes, I should have written this post a couple of weeks ago. I loved the gingerbread and the chocolate formed in the shape of letters or wrapped as Delft tiles. I also learned, at an early age, to enjoy smoked eel.

I rewarded myself with that precious piece of licorice because I remembered – in time– to do next year’s Meals on Wheels rota. All this efficiency worries me. It’ll be all the harder when the forgetfulness of age strikes (which, as Dave knows, is already putting out teasing feelers), because people will be puzzled and then pitying when they realise. Until quite recently, I consoled myself with the thought that I could be well into dementia before anyone even noticed.

Tomorrow, I will cycle round the village delivering the rotas. And no one will have to ring and remind me. Not for at least another year.

Z expects…

Norwich was quiet again today – that is, there were people about, but it was hardly a pre-Christmas frenzy. I had to go to pick up some papers, so I also went into John Lewis, which has the worst-designed multi-story carpark I’ve ever come across. It was still an independent family-owned shop when it was built – many’s the time I’ve been stuck for up to half an hour trying to get out of the place, and the parking bays are absurdly narrow. The mother and baby spaces are on the top floor where the lifts don’t reach, so you have to take a pushchair down the car ramp.

As I drove in, my phone rang and then subsided. I checked it after I parked, and Al had tried to ring from the shop. The battery completely gave up, so I trotted down the hill to the phone box. Did you realise it now costs 40p to make a phone call? Blimey. The Sage and Al, it turned out, were concerned that I might not be back in time to see the fishmonger, and were offering to go to buy my salmon for me. I gesticulated to show the size I wanted and then had to estimate how far apart my hands were.

Not cooking Christmas dinner for the first time in 15ish years has left me with little to do. I’ve decided on salmon for Boxing day, when there will be 6 of us, and a ham for the next day, when there will be 10. I tried quite hard to order half a ham, because, with two small children, that would do, but I couldn’t. Nor could I order a boned one. It has to be full size, on the bone, boiled then glazed and baked or it just won’t do.

I was the only person in the Co-op with my own shopping bags, everyone else was filling their trollies with ‘degradable’ (don’t think these are eco-friendly, they are worse than ordinary plastic bags) plastic bags. I had accepted a bag from Boots for a too-large (for my bag) item – I noticed that it was poked through from the corner of the box by the time I got back to the car, so that’s one that won’t be reused. I drove home, played with the children and then cycled in again. That was not in the least for ‘green’ reasons, but simply for the exercise. It was bloody cold. I was wearing a shirt, a cardigan and a quilted coat and I could still feel the wind against my skin.

Al was making fruit baskets, so was glad when I offered to stand in for a bit to fend off importunate customers. One asked if he’d be open on Sunday. Well, he’ll be working in the shop all day Sunday, but he won’t be open. I cycled home about 4 o’clock. It’s now 7.30 and I’m still cold. I have fish and potatoes baking in the oven, and sprouting broccoli and carrots waiting to be cooked. I am still on my first glass of wine. I will make my husband and son entertain me with idle, possibly scurrilous, banter. I intend to giggle tonight.

Z keeps a promise, at last

I’m afraid I will bore you, because I have nothing to say. I’ll say it at length of course, because that is what a mistress of small talk does, but it’ll be as satisfying as eating candy floss – which I believe our Transatlantic cousins call cotton candy, but I know not why; except, of course, that this is also its name.

Anyway, I pedalled into Yagnub this morning and was extremely warm by the time I arrived, for the wind had dropped and the sun shone. I shopped for food and this and that and, as usual, could hardly cram everything into the panniers, nor lift the bike upright to mount it for the return journey.

I had, steaming gently along St Mary’s Street, observed a large banner attached to the railings next to the highly dangerous zebra crossing … there is nothing dangerous about the zebra itself, but the placing of the crossing is generally agreed to be wildly infelicitous for various reasons, mainly its proximity to junctions and the poor visibility it affords drivers, of people waiting to cross, which is made worse at this time of the year by the low morning sun which blinds those driving in the Halesworth direction. Poor David stopped to let one person across last week, then moved off, not seeing another woman already on the crossing – she wasn’t badly hurt but everyone was very upset, she – naturally – most of all. Fixing an advertising banner to the railings (which are designed to stop small children from the primary school right beside from lurching heedlessly into the road) only hampers visibility more, which might be the reason for putting that particular item right there.

It prompted me, at last, to keep a promise I made to Stegbeetle some time ago, and after lunch I trotted off to the temporary blood donor clinic at the convent in the next village. I was slightly disconcerted to be invited to make my next appointment before even finishing the purpose of this visit, but there we go, I suppose I will be useful at last.

Afterwards, I drank some water and ate a ginger nut and discovered that the last of my sweet tooth has completely disappeared. It was only politeness that kept me from discarding most of it. I brought the other two from the pack home and gave them to the Sage.

Ding Dong!

Tonight was the school prizegiving and Martin Bell was the guest speaker. It was a good evening; the chairman of governors and headmaster gave fairly short (huzzah!) but eloquent speeches and there were a couple of superb musical interludes with, in turn, performances on the saxophone, violin and tuba. There’s a wide variety of prizes, which are not all for academic excellence or sport, although of course the majority are.

Martin Bell gave the prizegiving speech I’ve been quietly rehearsing for many a year now – that is, he focused on the ones who didn’t win prizes, who may not toe the school line, who will go off in their own direction or else, perhaps, plough a quietly straight furrow and who might find their strengths after school. He said quite a bit more (in a very few minutes, he kept it brief too), and spoke easily and fluently, with considerable humour, though no jokes, and there was prolonged applause at the end.

You know (unless you are Phil or Zahid) that I mentioned, the other day, the fair hair colour of young English children, which most of them lose as they grow up? I said that I’d noticed that boys, in that class at least, had darkened younger than girls. This evening, most of the prizewinners were aged 17-19, and there was no difference, proportionally, between the sexes for darkness of hair.

I did a useful bit of networking too, with local influential people and came home all cheerful. I’d gone cheerful too, by the way, as Dilly heard that I was pushed to have time to cook dinner, let alone eat it, and said that she had plenty of Bolognese sauce for all of us. Bless her, she had to cook four lots of spaghetti as we had to eat at different times, too.

Z finds it feels good to be wanted

The society with which I went to Krakow last spring is organising another trip, this time to Madrid. As ever, the Sage declined my invitation to accompany me – delightful as he finds my company, a chap does need a few days break once in a while, if only to appreciate me the more on my return. There was a rather swingeing single room surcharge, so I asked if anyone was looking for someone to share with, and there was.

I know her, and she is friendly and delightful, but we’ve never had more than the briefest chat and I dithered all weekend about ringing her; for two reasons – one, did I want to share with her and two, did she want to share with me, and might I be putting her badly on the spot by asking? In the end I thought, sod it, it’s a saving of over a hundred pounds for four nights and I like her, and so I rang her.

J was really pleased I’d phoned and will be delighted to share with me. We’ve both promised not to snore. It feels slightly weird, but then I shared a room with Wink and the Bod on the ferry to France in October and none of my bedroom arrangements will ever seem odder than that.

J’s husband died earlier this year and she has been on holiday with friends since and she said the loneliest part was going back to the bedroom alone, at the end of the day to dress for dinner. This hadn’t put her off another trip, but she’ll be glad of my company.

Z is randomly weird

HDWK has tagged me.

1.Link to the person that tagged you, and post the rules on your blog.
2.Share 7 random and/or weird facts about yourself.
3.Tag 7 random people at the end of your post, and include links to their blogs.
4.Let each person know that they’ve been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.

A good deal of what I write on this blog contains random facts about me – in the past couple of years I’ve said more about myself than I’d inflict on anyone if they were actually with me to hear it. But there’s always something more if one thinks about it.

1 As a child, I had an incredibly small appetite. I thought of this when I wrote about how much Squiffany and Pugsley ate the other day. As the Boy says, where do they put it? With me, the remarkable thing is that body and soul stayed together. A sample meal – roast chicken. Mother, passing me a plate on which reposed a small thin slice of chicken and half a roast potato – “What vegetables would you like?” Z “Three peas and half a brussels sprout, please.” And that would be the meal, for we never had a pudding. It still bemuses me, how much people can pack away and stay slim, when I rarely finish a plateful.

2 I have unmatching feet and hands. I know that everyone is asymmetrical, but while my left foot is larger than my right, my right hand is larger than my left.

3 My middle initial is B. My second Christian name is possibly the oddest, and certainly one of the most useless, that my parents could have thought of, whilst actually having a valid reason for choosing it. Both my sister and I have first names which, while very unusual at the time, are now quite popular. I didn’t meet anyone else called Zoë until I was about 15, and then I met a girl called Zoe, short for Zohshka (I’ve no idea how she spelt it, but it’s pronounced with a long o).

4 I have only stayed in hospital three times. Once when my daughter was born, when my second son was born (the first was born at home) and once to have a nodule removed from my vocal cords. If this gives you any suggestion that I am disgustingly healthy, it’s true.

5 I am also absurdly lucky. More so than anyone deserves. I have an efficient and conscientious guardian angel who repeatedly saves me from myself and everything else.

6 I make my most important decisions purely on instinct. For example, and I think I’ve told you about this before too, there was the time we walked into a house, a couple of weeks after Al was born, and I said “I want to live here, can we buy it?”, and we did, at the auction a couple of days later. When I said that, I hadn’t gone further than the drawing room. And, eight years later, when I suggested we leave there and come to live here, I didn’t know I was going to say that until I already had. My husband’s response was, later the same day, to suggest we had another baby, and Ro was born 10 months later (it would have been nine months I daresay, but I was on the pill at the time of the conversation)

7 I have no hang-ups about food. For someone who likes pretty well everything, including olives, Marmite and brussels sprouts, who is unperturbed by raw meat and fish, who eats vegetables straight out of the soil (yes, I know this isn’t a good idea, but it doesn’t stop me), who loves the stinkiest of cheeses, the most flavoursome curries (this doesn’t necessarily mean the hottest, it’s the blend of spices, including the hot ones, that I like) as well as a subtle mousse or a gentle soup, for someone who will tuck into a Big Mac or fish and chips just as cheerily as the haughtiest of cuisines, there is no food I crave if I don’t eat it. For the last few weeks I’ve been conscientiously dieting, and it’s no problem at all to watch other people eat food, however much I like it, and not eat it myself. Or, to be polite, I’ll have a small amount and leave the rest. I am gratified to discover that, if need be, I’ll stop drinking and not really care, though I hope I won’t have to.

I’m really hopeless about tagging people in case they don’t like it – although I like memes myself, both doing and reading. So please feel tagged if you care to, but I won’t tell you so that you don’t feel obligated.

Al the green grocer

I went to the weekly music lesson at school this morning, and on this occasion they were all in the classroom together. As I looked at them, a thought struck me.

Most English children have blond(e) hair, which usually darkens as they get older. This class of 13/14-year olds were two-thirds boys, one-third girls. Of the boys, one had ginger hair, one light blonde, four were blondish to light brown and the rest had dark brown or black hair. Of the nine girls, one had dark brown hair and all the others had fair or light brown hair. I scrutinised them, and one might have some highlights and another two might have lightened their hair, but (going by their eyebrows) only from mouse to blonde. No one was black or Asian.

Does anyone else know anything about this? Does boys’ hair tend to darken more, or at any rate earlier, than girls? It’s difficult to tell when they are older as so many women change their hair colour.

This afternoon I was most pleased, for I achieved a hill on my bike that I’ve never ridden up more than about a quarter of (ooh, grammar alert) until now.

And the other news of the day is that Al has put up notices in the shop, saying that from 28th January next he is not going to supply any plastic bags, even second-hand ones any more. He has agreed to blaze the Yagnub trail, because he is already known for nagging his customers to bring their own shopping baskets, as the whole town is planning to go plastic bag free in due course. He will have cloth bags for sale, at cost price, which will be £1, or bags made of cornstarch, which is biodegradable (plastic bags labelled ‘degradable’ only break down to fragments, they do not rot) for which he will charge, I think, 10p-20p depending on size. Apparently these bags are not particularly green to produce, so it’s no good simply substituting them for free plastic bags.

I think it’ll drive us all slightly nuts, but people will get used to it. I said that I appreciate him not starting this initiative at the beginning of January, as that’s when I’ll be looking after the shop while he’s on holiday. He said that he had borne that in mind.

My cycle lamp is not really intended for cycling in the dark. It has a very narrow point of light. I like the dark and wish we had fewer street lights altogether, and that they were not on all night, but I nearly ended up in the grass several times.

By the way, there is an apology from Blogger for having altered their comments settings prematurely on accounts that were not testing the new system. In response, I suspect, to complaints and requests that we should, if we wish, still allow completely free and open commenting, there is now an option that a non-blogger can use ‘anonymous’ or a nickname, but someone with a non-Blogger blog can now use any open ID. Since that is what I’d asked for, I’m happy with it, but do tell me if there’s a problem.

Who do you think was saved?

I went to Norwich for lunch today, so left home an hour early to do a spot of shopping first. I normally avoid the place throughout December, but it had to be done.

As I drove in, the electronic notice boards said there were spaces in all the major car parks, and I drove straight into the park underneath the library – I didn’t have time to walk far. I visited several shops, largely because I couldn’t find all I wanted, and not one of them was busy. Several were almost deserted. I don’t know if this means that people shopped early for Christmas, will shop late or not at all, or if it’s all been bought on the internet, but it really didn’t have the buzz that you expect half way through December.

We were out again tonight, for the Sage’s wood-turning club Christmas dinner. There is a competition, where people bring in the work they have done, and Linda and I went to have a look at the entries. I wasn’t bending over the table, really I wasn’t, and I was modestly dressed, but that didn’t prevent me getting my bottom pinched by a (very) strange (indeed) chap I didn’t know. When I turned round, he indicated another man and said he’d been bet…

Do you know, that’s the third time this has happened to me. I genuinely don’t understand it. I appeal to those of you who have met me – do you think I’m the sort of woman to get her bum pinched? And if I am, in what way do you suggest I change?

Z stands her ground

This evening’s meeting was the fourth in a series, one leading to another. I was the only person on all four committees, and at this one I was taxed exhaustively about certain decisions.

Although they were committee decisions and I was a mere-smear representative, we all knew that I’d played my part in the decision-making – though I will argue a case, once decided democratically, with due vigour even if I didn’t actually agree with its conclusion. Nevertheless, my good and respected friend Dino made me explain and justify every aspect – and in some regards my ground was, if not shaky, not exactly rock-like either.

At the end, I suggested an alternative proposal from the one put by the committee, and this was agreed. When the meeting was over, I told Dino how greatly I’d appreciated his rôle as Devil’s Advocate. I like someone who will challenge a point when it would be easier, and possibly more popular, to let it go. I appreciated his quick, in-depth appraisal and understanding of a complex matter – I can read a balance sheet too, but not understand its nuances as quickly as he does. His term of appointment is ending and he has offered to stand down – I said I would very much like him to carry on (possibly with a sideways shift to represent a different body where there may soon be a vacancy) as his experience and willingness to challenge is absolutely necessary and appreciated.

Afterwards, he invited us to his party in three weeks time.

I’m not actually argumentative, in fact. But I can, if pressed, and I am pretty damn good, and I love to find someone who can do it as well as I do. He argues in the same way as I do, tenaciously, logically, from the high ground and sticks to the point until it is addressed. No shifting of ground or digressing – or at any rate, we both return to the point if there is a drift down a byroad.

Anyway, yes, he was unnecessarily dogmatic – which he acknowledged – but his point was valid and worth debate, and I’ve agreed to take it back to the other committee (committee no.3, that is) for further deliberation.

When I returned outside, my bicycle saddle was covered in ice.

The mills of parenthood grind slowly, but they grind exceeding well

I wasn’t as solitary as I’d expected this morning, because Dilly rang up to ask if I had an hour or two spare to look after Squiffany…

If I’m too busy, I do say and Dilly strikes just the right balance, in that she feels free to ask but doesn’t impose. Today, she had to visit the garage to have a new front light bulb fitted and then take Pugsley to the doctor for a vaccination.

Squiffany was quite happy to sit at the kitchen table painting, while I cleaned the kitchen. Then she bounced exuberantly on my bed while I tidied the bedroom. This took a while. I’m untidy.

I’ve rather concluded, as many grandparents must have, that while there are many pleasures and rewards to being a mother or father, the real dividends are paid when your own child becomes a parent. Grannydom is all pleasure. You can give little treats – mindful, if you have any sense, not to undermine parental rules – and have complete patience and good nature for you will give the lovely little creature back at the end of the day or the next morning.

They are easy children, I will admit. At one point, out of the blue, Squiffany started to say “I want…” she pulled herself up before she added Mummy. “Mummy won’t be long, will she?” she said, in a self-reassuring tone rather than an anxious one. She is sensible and self-controlled, and Pugsley is happy-go-lucky.

I had them for several hours on Friday, which involved giving them tea. “Mummy has left some tuna and salad,” I said, “Or I could do something for you?” “You please, granny,” said Squiffany. I hadn’t got very prepared. “I could cook eggs, or pasta…” “Yes please, I’d like spaghetti!” “I’ve got cheese, or I could do a meat sauce…” “Cheese and meat, please” I went and cooked.

They were both happy. “Delicious pasta, Granny, lovely tea” said Squiffany, several times. They had pasta bows, a slightly inauthentic Bolognese sauce, grated cheese, sweet potato chips and Romanesco broccoli. Then they each had a banana. They polished off a remarkable amount of food. Squiffany uses a knife and fork and sometimes a spoon and Pugsley aims with a spoon but mainly uses his fingers. I have become more relaxed about mess. I find food mess a little hard to watch, though I’m comfortable with paint and mud. However, they are so good about feeding themselves that it’s worth the effort of not feeling slightly nauseous when they poke around in the pocket of their bib for the lump of dropped banana amid the pasta/broccoli slop.