Monthly Archives: January 2008


I woke to the sound of the wind howling down the chimney and came downstairs to see the trees swaying perilously. I was glad there are none that are too close to the house and dodgy. We had a power cut, just when I was happily engaged in reading blogs. It didn’t last long, but I left it a while before turning anything back on as it gets boring – it always blacks out just before you were intending to save your work, doesn’t it?

I went into town, bought fish from the market – Matt said it had been the quitetest morning for trade that he could remember; I bought sea bass and mussels, so at least he took £9 he might not have otherwise. I fetched 4 lbs of Seville oranges and some vegetables from Al and then I picked up the meals on wheels box and delivered lunches to our customers. It was a good excuse to drive and not to cycle. I saw a few people pushing their bikes, but no one was riding, because it wouldn’t have been safe. At one stage, I don’t think it was safe to drive either.

Shortly afterwards, we had a hailstorm, and then the wind died down abruptly.

I’d had a WRVS newsletter in the post, addressed to me as ‘Project Manager’. This annoys me mightily – I’m not a Project Manager, I simply do the rota for a village Meals on Wheels delivery. I don’t want a silly title that doesn’t reflect the small job I do. When I started doing this, there was a small honorarium, which I accepted and put in a charity box – a few years later it was decided that my National Insurance number was required, it would be paid direct to my bank account and called a ‘wage’. I wrote to say I was a volunteer and not an employee and I haven’t accepted it since. The thought of taking it, having to mention it on my tax return and then filling in a gift aid form is just too annoying. And frankly, if I was doing it for the money, I’d not be paid enough. I’ll happily work for nothing, but not for money if it’s less than I’m worth.*

I had the mussels for lunch. I scrubbed them and left them to lounge bewildered in a bowl of water for a while. I looked for the bottle of nice Chablis that Ro and I had started a couple of nights ago, but I couldn’t find it and had to make do with the Argentinian Chardonnay in the fridge. Tilly hovered hopefully, until I explained that mussels are much like crab, in that they’d make her go ‘Roo, Roo’, honkily. Then she drifted over to the Sage. He thought she needed to go out, but I translated her bodylanguage for him. She was asking him to tell me to get out of her chair, because she wanted to lie down. As I explained, she writhed expressively – I was saying what she would say, if only she had opposable thumbs. She could do and say anything, she tells me, if only she had opposable thumbs.

This afternoon and evening, I’ve made my third and fourth batches of marmalade. That may be enough for the year – or I may have one more effort. I enjoy making marmalade. I haven’t been eating it on toast, but I do lick the spoon…

*’arrogant little tit’, you’re thinking? That’s quite an accurate description and I won’t argue.

No post today, Z’s been busy

Fortunately, as Dandelion said, yesterday’s post was quite long enough to keep us all busy for a few days, because today turned out to be busier than expected and I want to go to bed. I had to work this morning (yes I know, your heart bleeds), then an appointment, then babysat, then straight off to a meeting.

This meeting was flagged as starting at 3.45 for 4, as if it was a rather precise soirée. I arrived at 3.45 and no one else was there, so I went off to the other side of the building, signed in, came back, put the kettle on and it was only as I was making tea that everyone else started to arrive. At 6, the Sage rang to see where I was. At 6.20, we decided that next time we’d start earlier – it wasn’t such a long meeting, it only seemed so because of the in-between time of starting, neither after lunch nor evening.

When I arrived home, the phone was ringing. “any chance of a babysitter this evening – er, in 10 minutes?” asked Al. Spuds pierced and shoved into oven, whole lots of sensible-and-healthy snacks plus a bottle of wine grabbed, a newspaper and a book picked up and I was there in time to read bedtime stories. When the Sage arrived home, we swapped places for five minutes while I cooked eggs and vegetables, then we ate together.

Oh, and I weighed myself today.

Z approves

Fwengebola (just how proud am I to be one of his ‘Blogroll Babes? Good question*.) has tagged me to come up with seven things I approve of. And it’s taken me a little while to come up with a disconcertingly long reply, but here we go.

I started with some diffidence with the word ‘approve’. It suggests a lofty disengagement … then I realised that this is mere inverted pomposity and that I was being a bit of a twit. Not that I disapprove of twits of course – sometimes you don’t know you are making a fool of yourself until you already have.

I seem to have led myself towards this then, to start with – I approve of people who are not ashamed of themselves, who will open up and take risks. I don’t mean those who have no inhibitions at all, who seem to be on the road to self-destruction or who are uncaring about the effect they have, but to those who have a go and take it in good part if it doesn’t quite work out. I used not to know how to do this at all and wonder how anyone could put himself in such a vulnerable position, but when you try you’ll find either that you can actually acquit yourself pretty well or else that it’s not that awful if you don’t do as well as you had wanted everyone to think you could. Sometimes it is awful actually – but even then … no, still better to have tried, I think.

Bloggers are pretty good at doing that in fact, and I obviously approve of blogging. It’s quite perturbing, if you let yourself think about it, how trustingly we tell each other extremely personal things (and few people are better at that than Fwengebola himself). It didn’t, at first, dawn on me that I might actually meet anyone via blogging and when I discovered that such things happened, I really didn’t want to. It seemed to be a very peculiar relationship, to meet someone about whom you might know quite intimate details, that you might not find out in years of friendship. Worse, they know similar confidences about me. But of course, as I discovered, it’s fine. It’s great in fact.

I approve of mutts and moggies. I don’t, of course, in the least disapprove of an animal with a fine pedigree, but it’s not really my thing. I like an element of chance – all my children look quite different from me and from each other, although there are family resemblances, some of them quite subtle ones (such as my left ear, which has been passed down the family – or rather its slight peculiarity has) – so why would I want a dog that is almost impossible to distinguish, not only from its siblings, but from every other black Labrador or cocker spaniel? Appearance isn’t everything of course, and there are advantages in knowing the likely temperament and characteristics about a pet, but on the other hand there are inbred defects in behaviour as well as in the health of pets. I’ve never bothered with pet health insurance for my mongrels, but – horribly expensive though it is – I’d think it a necessity for a pedigree dog.

I approve of teenagers. They are so endearing. I went to a year 9 (age 13-24) Parents’ Meeting at the high school last week, just so there was a governor there and was charmed by these youngsters. They vary so, yet they are all the same. Several were in agonies of anxiety in case their parents let them down by behaving embarrassingly. There was a parental survey I was handing out and one lad hissed ‘mum, you’re putting the same reply for every question’ – bless him, you can be embarrassed about anything if you’re expecting to be. I was at school before Parents’ Meetings had been invented, fortunately. My parents and my school were better kept well apart and I never gave them any information about social or fundraising events, in case they actually turned up and found out anything about me.
Teenagers are so well turned out nowadays. They all brush their hair and wash. Some of them are rather alarmingly pierced, out of school, but the harder they try to appear hard, the younger they tend to look. I remember a few years ago – must have been, because it was before he was married – Al and I went to the cinema at the Rlverside in Norwich, where there are various nightclubs, a bowling alley, restaurants and the like. We hadn’t taken into account that it was a weekend and were very casually dressed, and we were abashed at all these dolled—up boys and girls. A group of them poured out of the car opposite us, and one young lass – she might have been sixteen, you really couldn’t tell – was wearing a little band of cloth as a skirt. It started on her hips and finished on her hips and she spent some while pulling it up and down, trying to preserve a little modesty above and below. So sweet. And there is such a brief age when you can get away with it too, without looking dreadful. While I hope she didn’t end the evening completely rat-arsed, and there are all too many who do, let ‘em have fun. It’s hardly skipping in the playground, but there’s not half enough fun around and far too many people looking on disapprovingly.
Of course, some kids are scarily feral and I worry about them and have no answers, but most of them are fabulous in their awkwardness and streetwise insecurities. They have had a lifetime already of being groomed constantly for exams – from the baseline assessment in their first term of school right through to NVQs, A levels or whatever they are best able to do – of knowing that they will spend years of their lives in debt if they want to go to university or buy a house, and are constantly told that they are taking worthless exams that, nevertheless, are completely essential if they are to get anywhere in life. I think they – and indeed the generation up, now in their thirties – have had a much tougher deal in life than I did. Children of the Sixties, my lot won the lottery of life, really. Of course, we squandered most of it, but that’s the way it is. You don’t know at the time and there’s not much you could have done about it anyway. We’re all been teenagers, unless some of you readers are rather younger than I think you are, and we’re all marvellous, let’s face it.

I approve of food that you prepare yourself. I enjoy eating out, and I even like the occasional takeaway, but I am increasingly coming to loathe the whole thing of what is marketed as home cooking. Cook-in sauces, ready-prepared meals, hidden rubbish ingredients, expensive e-numbers … I think they are a cheat and a health hazard. I can’t buy ’em any more. I read the label and if there’s anything I wouldn’t put in myself, I don’t buy it. Fresh ingredients, simply cooked taste a whole lot better, cost far less and are good for you.
People say they haven’t time to cook, but it’s not so, you know. I can rustle up a meal in twenty minutes from scratch and so can anyone. Only five minutes? Make an omelette, cut a wedge of cheese, put a potato in the microwave or cut a hunk of bread, chop a cucumber and a tomato, tear some basil onto it. No need to buy salad dressings – a splash of olive oil and a squeeze of lime, lemon or vinegar is fresher and tastier. There’s no mystique to it, although if cooking is a pleasure and a hobby, it can take enjoyable hours. But it doesn’t have to. And of course, if you spend an extra hour one day, you can make the basis of several meals and cover yourself for the rest of the week.

I approve of taking responsibility for yourself. Awfully tempting to blame someone else, or life, or the past, and we can spend years working out just why we have so many hang-ups, but by the time you get to my age, you have to accept the situation and make the best of it. No need to beat yourself up, every good reason to look at yourself with compassion, love, amusement, wincingly, but to forgive the mistakes you have made and keep making – but don’t just explain yourself, try to make some improvements too.

I approve of taking the present time as a pretty good one. I hope I don’t start to live in the past and say that everything is worse nowadays. Of course, it’s natural to look back with a rosy glow, but people have been saying that everything’s gone to the dogs since their day from time immemorial. I’m quite glad that, so far, I get more tolerant and good-humoured as time goes by.
I remember once reading out loud a passage to my mother from a Bill Bryson book. He had taken his children to some tourist attraction that he and his sister had adored when they were little, and he and they were quite underwhelmed. He pondered – there had been so little stimulation in his life as a child that anything different was wildly exciting, but for his children it was the opposite – they had so much to entertain and excite them that they tended to be blasé. He wondered which was better. I said there wasn’t an answer, was there? You could argue it equally both ways and be as wrong as you were right in either instance. My mother disagreed. Of course, it had been better before. But the point of the piece, I said, was that there wasn’t an answer. I know that’s what you’re saying, she replied, but it was better before. Because it was and that was that.
No it wasn’t. It was just different. And in a few years, we’ll be looking back nostalgically to now. From a place that, if only we could see it now, would look amazing and rather wonderful.

Having said all that, HDWK has also tagged me – and that meme encourages me to look back with nostalgia. I see no contradiction in that at all…

*Hugely, of course

The Sage forgets, but is still impressive

We’re really not very good with dates and anniversaries, the Sage and I. It took us years to remember our wedding anniversary – we knew we had a choice of two dates but, on looking it up, found we’d always plumped for the wrong one. Now, we don’t even particularly celebrate it – after all, every day is a celebration in this house already, particularly of our marriage, hem hem. A bunch of flowers, a bottle of champagne, is as far as it goes – though the forthcoming one in May will be the 35th, which is a pretty good number. We know our children’s birthdays, although I always have taken the precaution of mentioning my own forthcoming one, because it’s far better to remind than to be miffed or disappointed. We don’t know when was our first date, nor even the date of our engagement, though I could work it out because I know it was a Friday night in the first half of February 1973, about three weeks after that first date. I know it was the first half of February because I received a wonderful Valentine’s Day card from him a few days later – it was an original Victorian one and he’d written in it, thus destroying its monetary value…even then, I knew the significance of that.

I am good at pinpointing events approximately, because of associations with events. I am often believed to have a wonderful memory, because of this, but I don’t have at all – it’s the whole chain that I need, to remember any one link in it. Similarly, the Sage will astonish people because, twenty or more years after previously speaking to someone, he’ll say “oh yes, I remember you, do you still live at number 20 in the High Street?” He also remembers phone numbers, which I rarely do. That is, I know a whole bunch of phone numbers, but not necessarily to whom they belong.

This morning, Al and Dilly were going out to the car when Pugsley made a break for it. He waddled hastily round to our door and the Sage scooped him up as he was about to make himself at home and march straight in. He (Pugsley) bellowed, but they were invited round to visit a friend (Jean, who used to work for Al) and didn’t have time to call on us too. “It’s Squiffany’s birthday soon, isn’t it?” remarked the Sage after they’d left. “20th April?” I applauded the accuracy of the day, but he was a month out. It’ll be in March. He tried again. “Pugsley was a year old at the end of October, though, wasn’t he?” “End of September, darling, good try.”

I have to work out how old he is by remembering the year he was born and counting up, but he doesn’t know that, so don’t tell him, will you? I don’t know if he realises how old I am, but he can’t possibly complain because, of course, I only improve with age. Hem hem.

Festina lente

Today, I was invited out by a friend. We sometimes have Sunday lunch together, as his wife often goes to visit friends on a Sunday and he can be at a loose end. Today, he wanted to buy a new walking stick. It was one of those occasions when he picked one up, it was fine (it was a walking stick and it fitted, that’s about it really) and he bought it. We had lunch and then shopped some more.

He is a slow eater. I am not. I am purposeful about food. Put it in front of me and it vanishes into the gaping maw in short order. I mean, I can trifle with it politely so that I don’t finish way before everyone else, and I often don’t finish it at all – I’ve not a large appetite at the best, and nowadays I deliberately eat less anyway – but I like to eat it before it gets cold.

So on this occasion, I’d finished mine in ten slow minutes, because I was hanging back politely, by which time he’d had three mouthfuls. Then I ate most of his salad. Eventually, we both had carrot cake (I ate two-thirds of mine) and coffee and went shopping again. He had to do his Christmas shopping. “Goodness, you’re planning early” I said, rather bemused but impressed in spite of myself. “Well…it depends on which Christmas you’re talking about…” Two of his children, and nine of his grandchildren live abroad. Last year, he relied on internet shopping, but deliveries aren’t always that reliable, apparently, to Moscow, and some didn’t arrive until April or not at all (there may be some exaggeration here, I don’t know, but that’s what he said). He needed to crack on and get it done, so that they had their Christmas presents sometime before Easter.

We did it all in a rather nifty shop selling wooden crafts. He bought wooden pens, some turned and some carved, wooden keyrings, windchimes (he thought they would be fine as mobiles for the babies), unannoyingish musical intruments, a wooden hedgehog and that sort of thing. It took quite a long time, and I suspect the shopkeeper had to stay open late for us – he didn’t mind, we were surely his best customers of the day. Eventually, we left for home, but my friend wondered if I’d time for tea. Well, hey, why not, if I could ring the Sage to let him know – my mobile* was at home, charging.

I left a message on the answerphone, asking him to put some potatoes to bake in the oven. I finally got home well after 7 o’clock, scooted in … and the Sage was out too, visiting a friend in hospital, so hadn’t got my call. It was lucky I made soup yesterday – added the tomatoes, a chopped courgette and a handful of pasta, simmered for ten minutes, toasted some crumpets, put cheese on a board (not for me, I’d eaten cake) and dinner was on the table in 15 minutes, just after the Sage came home.

So, I didn’t get much work done today. I did bike in for the papers and I did play the clarinet for the hymns, including one in five sharps. Oh, and I’ve finally managed to cycle up the hill to the Post Office. Twice. I’m pretty pleased with myself. It’s a short hill, but has a funny camber, a side road with poor visibility (my uncle-in-law was knocked down crossing that junction, broke his femur and died) and is steeper than it looks. I have also, on three consecutive days, cycled up the hill on the back lane towards the castle and, on Friday, nearly managed the hill to the high school – I walked the steepest bit, but I didn’t think I’d ever manage that one at all.

Come the spring, I’ll contemplate the awful prospect of swimming, too. But in a pool, not on the fields, which are still quite flooded.

*telephone, not the one dangling over my cot

Jimmy and Ruby

When my mother and stepfather moved to a village a few miles from Lowestoft, they soon met Jimmy and Ruby. Ruby worked at Southwold Hospital and Jimmy was a retired carpenter. He was a good craftsman, who had started his working life on a local estate – you should know that when someone of his age and background refers to an ‘estate’ he meant the country estate of one of the landed gentry. He was proud of his aristocratic connection.

They became good friends when Ruby had to have a mastectomy and, afterwards, my mother had her to stay for several weeks to recuperate. After that, they were devoted to her and would do anything to help. They were an odd couple and quite mismatched – she was entirely down-to-earth while he liked to talk about music and philosophy.

They live on in this family, for their names are still used.

You know how horrid it is when someone sneaks up behind you and suddenly grabs your waist and tickles you? Ruby did that all the time and has given her name to the action. Indeed, we had the expression ‘Ruby, Ruby, Ruby’ long before it became a most annoying song. She stopped doing it to me eventually when, finally, I cried. Yes, I know – I must have been a bit more nervy in those days, but it was awfully unsettling.

And Jimmy would never just look for something, but always go for a ‘look-see’. “Do you know if the postman has been?” the Sage enquired this morning. “Don’t know, I’ll have a jim*” I answered. And then if someone says something solemnly, which sounds weighty, but isn’t – say, “The sun is shining, but winter is not yet over” then the answer is always “Yes Jane,” intoned with a serious look. And then the first speaker is expected to laugh at himself.

*short for ‘Jimmy-look-see’. Nothing to do with Jimmy Riddle.

Dave, can I check this with you please?

Beatae sunt quae ab ipsis occultare sapiunt.

They are happy who know how to conceal (or cover) themselves – is that right?

And I’m assuming this is meant to insult, so can you please help me with a non-insulting but appropriate rejoinder*, because you are so much more clever than I am.

I’d said, at the end of my letter, that I hadn’t meant to upset her, I thought she was making too much of it and that my reasons for not joining her class were reasonable ones. I’m sorry, I know this is stupid and I hadn’t meant to reply to whatever she said back, but I am indeed that petty.

Love and respect


*cough cough – with the translation, please 😉

And I promise I’ll drop this now and be frivolous tomorrow. Um. Right, I’ve got it…

Fathers and brothers

Yes, the second funeral this week. Both ladies whom I’d known for many years, although Monday’s was the closer friend, both aged 79, both died of natural causes after some years of failing health. Margaret, who was buried on Monday, was the only person outside the family that the Sage told about the baby, until this week.

There were two elderly priests at Mary’s funeral today, whom I didn’t recognise until I noticed a family resemblance. I knew that her late father and late husband had both been clerics, but I didn’t know that both her brothers were too. They, with one of our local ministers, conducted the funeral service, which must have been unimaginably hard for them. I was startled when a family member went to the lectern to read the prayers – and he too was wearing a dog-collar. Rather Higher Church than us, I suspect – one of the brothers referred to our minister as ‘Father’, which many Anglicans don’t do. As he said the final blessing I could hear the strain in his voice, and his eyes were filled with pain, though not with tears.

It’s cold here today – I’d planned to cycle the three miles or so to the church, but changed my mind when I heard the whistle of the north wind down my bedroom chimney. I’m making minestrone soup this afternoon, and would like to add some tomatoes. I have none, fresh or tinned, and was going to cycle in – but I’m wearing a skirt and it takes an awful lot to get me to change during the day. I’m far too lazy. And cold. Upstairs is cold. I put on a coat when I go to clean the bedrooms, and I belt across the landing at top speed between bath and bed. The Sage strolls. I have to warm him every night. He is too polite to put his cold hands on me, but I insist. I tuck them between my elbow and waist to warm him. If I wake in the night, it’s I who am cold, and then he takes my feet and brings them back to life.

If Z had a hammer

Oh dear, oh dear – now my Latin wannabe says I have dealt her a sledge-hammer blow. I think she’s taking this too much to heart and have told her so. She says she hopes I feel uncomfortable, but I said I don’t, although I’m sincerely sorry for disappointing her.

I think she’s a little odd. Thank goodness she will never want to talk to me again.

I’ll be back later, I’m just off to a funeral. The second this week – doesn’t it always happen like that?

Z gets a Dusty Answer

Thankyou, but I don’t know if the class will run now. I had been counting on a minimum of four. I had not expected that anuone, having given their word, would make alternative committments.
I am sure you would not expect your members of NADFAS to do that,since they would perhaps find this unethical.

I finally wrote about the Latin lessons and this is the reply I received. I’ve written again, explaining that an interest shown (I was really surprisingly polite, considering she’d absolutely buttonholed me) in a casual conversation isn’t actually giving my word. I listed my regular commitments (not all of them, only those that actually involve work) and explained that the extra ones that have come up have to take precedence over things I do simply for my own amusement. I am, I confess, meanly pleased that she can’t spell ‘commitment’. Not that I am prejudiced in any way against misspellings; as long as they aren’t in business letters, I rather like them. The typo I forgive, we all do them in emails (though if I were insulting someone, I’d make sure I hadn’t made any).

This does show, however, that my instinct was right. I didn’t like her, and that was one reason I didn’t want to join her class.