Monthly Archives: January 2008


We’ve been on babysitting duty again today. Last night’s lecture on organic gardening was very interesting, apparently, and I was again sorry to have missed it. The speaker, and his family, have had an organic smallholding for more than twenty years and now are completely self-sufficient in vegetables and eggs, and put on the garden only what is generated by the garden – that is, compost, chicken manure and leaf mould, with the addition of comfrey which is made into liquid manure and used as a mulch. Al said that the whole thing could only work if you dedicated your life to it; it was evidently hard work and constant endeavour, but is obviously very satisfying and effective. I asked if seed and potting compost had been mentioned. They have big builders’ 1-tonne containers which they fill with leaf mould and leave it to rot – the reason for the containers is to minimise seed infiltration – this is used as seed compost and is very similar in texture to peat; and then they add comfrey fertiliser for potting on.

Anyway, Squiffany had her dancing class this afternoon, so Pugsley came to visit, then we all went to bounce on my bed, then I went through in time to watch In The Night Garden, which is a great treat for me, before I left Ro and Grandpa reading bedtime stories. “Ro” confided Squiffany to me “is my favourite boy.”

And the real news of the day, which I am now allowed to mention, is that our daughter El and son-in-law Phil are expecting their first baby in August. They emailed us the scan today – it made us go all peculiar, in an exceptionally happy way.

The Sage is Reliable, again and again

There was a PCC meeting this evening, but it’s also the night of the Gardening Club. I’d have rather gone to the latter, but duty called – however, Al and Dilly were going so needed a babysitter. I volunteered Ro, which was not very bright, as he’s away on a business trip and I hadn’t actually checked when to expect him back.

In the event, the Sage missed the PCC meeting, which he didn’t mind at all.

I returned from the town at lunchtime to find a note saying that he was babysitting Pugsley. When I’d eaten, I went to say hello, and give him a break. Later, the Sage returned and took over again.

Tonight, Dilly asked if I’d changed Pugsley’s nappy. I said I had. “Ah”, she said. “*The Sage* said his nappy had been changed – I didn’t think that necessarily meant he had done the changing…”

Actually, he did his share of babycare when ours were little. He was splendid with nappies and even better on night-time illness duty.

He cheered me yet again this afternoon, coming in with a copy of the Sunday paper (the newsagent had sent ours back as we hadn’t picked it up on Sunday morning). He had asked Jack, who delivers the papers, who else in the village takes it – three people had it delivered, one couple are friends, and they had finished with it but not yet put it in the bin. Splendid.

To change the subject completely, this end of January holds a few anniversaries. I won’t say the actual days as I choose not to mark unhappy dates, but this week it’s 38 years since my father died and 21 years since my stepfather died.

And, going from pathos to bathos, as Dave elegantly put it, my second blog-anniversary fast approaches. I can’t quite be bothered to look up the date of that, but it’s in a few days. Marvellous.

Z will require a Bindi

Today, my daughter emailed me to say that we’re all invited to the wedding of her friend’s K’s sister – she and I went to K’s own wedding in Madras four years ago, and she and her husband, sister and aunt came to El and Phil’s two summers ago. This time round, the wedding, or the Indian part of it anyway, will be in Lowestoft – I suppose they have to have a registry office wedding as well as a Hindu one – but I’m looking forward to it very much. I’ll have to get out my saris and decide which to wear…

I was on governor duty at the Year 9 parents’ evening at the high school. I positioned myself at the signing-in table, so managed to speak to everyone. Didn’t quiz about governor-related issues, as I think going to see teachers is quite stressful enough already, but I chatted and was generally friendly and pointed people in the right direction. I heard, yesterday, that the village school was to receive its Ofsted inspection today. Just a one-day inspection with two people – I think these short-notice inspections are much better for a quick check that all’s going well, but the solemnity of the evaluation between categories is a bit tough – if you take a snapshot, you will get a slightly hit-and-miss result. I think they will come over well, though, and I certainly hope so. I haven’t heard yet if the result of the planning application for a new school comes through; if it’s a ‘yes’ they may start building very soon.

The paper shop had sent back our paper unsold, as we hadn’t picked it up. I pointed out politely that we’d expected it to be there as it would be on our bill and it would be our problem if we hadn’t fetched it. She made a note to remove it and apologised, but it wasn’t her fault and I said so. It wasn’t anyone’s, in fact, but another time we’d put a note through the door asking them to hold on to it for us.

It must be the damp weather – I’ve been finding it quite painful to use my hands much, recently. I’ll mention it to the doctor when I next visit, but it’ll either be rheumatism or arthritis and I’m a tad pissed off, whichever. All the more important for me to get going with the clarinet. I need to twiddle those fingers while I can.

I’ve replied nicely to my committee friend, but I’m still putting off the Latin one. I’ve been out most of the day, but I’ve really been sleeping on it to be quite sure I know my mind.

Clarior Usta Rogo, as they say in Yagnub

The Sage impresses – and then forgets

I was out all day yesterday, at a training day about church maintenance. Much of it was about guttering and drainpipes. It was absolutely fascinating – no, it was. I do love to hear a practically-minded chap talking about his enthusiasms, and I am now as keen on drainage as he is.

I went home via the Co-op, and then the shop, where I stopped to lend Al a hand. The phone rang, and it was the Sage. “I know you’ve got to take along a plateful of food for tomorrow” he said, “and you won’t have time. So I’ve bought an extra loaf of bread and some smoked salmon, and I’ll make the sandwiches.” I gasped. I was unable to speak for a moment. Then, “I love you” I stammered, breathily.

This morning, we didn’t get up that early, because I still loved him. When I was ready to go out, I didn’t have time to go in and fetch the papers, so I asked him to. We finally arrived home from our after-church lunch and meeting, at 3 o’clock. “Where are the papers?” he asked. “Er…” “Sorry” he said.

Oh well, they’ll keep them for us I suppose, as they are on the bill. Tomorrow will do.

Now, another bit of a quandary tonight. You know the society I’m chairman of – the constitution says that the chairman steps down after three years – that’s coming up this June. But no one wants to take over. The reason is that everyone else is doing a damn good job and enjoying it. There is someone who says she’s willing to be chairman – but she wants to do another job first, and that seems fair. Another had a pretty rough time looking after a relation, who died after a long illness. She hasn’t said no, but she needed time to get over things – I let it drop for a while, but in the meantime she’s really got her teeth into another, rather tricky, job that she’s making work better than anyone ever has before. So it’s been suggested that I carry on. I’ve been reluctant, but a decision will have to be made in a couple of weeks.

This evening, I’ve had two emails from one person –

“I fear we put poor J under pressure, seeing that her Ely visit isn’t until June. She managed to get it sorted pronto and brought it in today. I had envelopes stamped and labelled, and put in the newsletter and J’s contribution, and will hand them in tomorrow at the post office second class.

I much admire J’s contribution. In fact, on contemplation, I reckon all your committee are highly efficient. People comment on the high quality of the talks, the visits and the holidays away in such complimentary terms. I should add, Z, how much they like you as Chairman, in that you don’t make them feel artistically inadequate, but give a happy human touch. No wonder we have such a huge waiting list.

Best wishes, P”

Names abbreviated to protect the innocent, of course.

Second email, shortly afterwards –

“Come on, Z: In Norfolk we “Do Different”. Why the hell must we all listen to “Three years etc”? Why can’t YOU go on for six years, and all your committee continue in the jobs they do so very adequately? If it works, why mend it? Our Nadfas will never have a better team, so why not hang on for another few sessions? I hate bureaucracy dictating, and suggest all who are able and willing keep on for the good of our Nadfas.

Love P”

I haven’t replied yet – I think it’s permissible not to have read emails and answered them on a Sunday evening. But it’s been apparent for a while that I haven’t much alternative. As I said the other day, if things are not going the way I choose and I can see it, why waste the powder?

The thing is, I’ve been a good chairman in the past. But I’ve been at my best in a crisis. When things aren’t going too well, I am pretty good at focusing on the best way to go and making things happen. I found it quite difficult when I started to chair this committee, and the society, because it was all fine and I didn’t feel I had much area of focus. It took me a year or two to get going, but I’ve found my feet now.

But if I say yes, I’ve got to put this across to the members so that they, er, vote me in. I’m not much of one for electioneering. At least I’ll be standing unopposed – but they still might vote me out.

And people do like me – but I’m not like the other chairmen they’ve had. I have gone down the route of being warm and informal – yeah, I want them to like me and smile, I go for laughs and the ‘human touch’, rather than the ‘professional’ one. I try to put some substance into what I say, but also to be personal. Complete ignorance helps, of course, because as P says, no one feels inadequate to me. All in all, I probably drive some people quietly mad, because they feel I’m just too dumb for the job.

Z tried to remember her classical education, but is vague

Pliny was a most erudite chap, who used to publish his letters, which ranged in subject considerably – for example the most famous one was the account of his uncle, Pliny the Elder, visiting Pompeii when the volcano erupted and dying there; another was the account of the murder of a vicious and cruel master by his slave at a visit to the baths. My favourite, because it made me laugh, was the letter of reproach to a young man whom he had invited for dinner, but who had not arrived

I can’t find my copy of the letters, so I’ll have to give the gist. Maybe Dave or Dandelion can help out.

He told him the culinary delights on offer, such as an egg and a whole lettuce [each!!(!)]. He described the evening’s entertainments – after dinner, Pliny himself would have regaled him with readings from his own oeuvre. Instead, Pliny scornfully said, he evidently preferred another party, with honeyed larks’ tongues and figs*, followed by singing and performances by dancing girls.

*maybe, look, I took Latin A level in 1972

Anyway, the recipe I use for rice.

8 ounces (225 g) basmati rice
a little oil and butter
cardamon pods. I use about a dozen, but the recipe says 5 – 8
A piece of stick cinnamon – about 2 inches (5 cm)
A little more than 1/2 pint (300 ml) water

Soak the rice for at least 30 minutes, drain and rinse several times (Zain says that it’s a good idea to rinse it alternately in hot and cold water). Drain it finally, while you heat the oil and butter (I use very little of both, but the recipe says a tablespoon of each), add the cardamon pods and cinnamon stick, swish around, add the rice, water and salt. Bring to the boil, covered tightly, and cook on a low heat for 12-15 minutes until the rice is tender but still has a bite. Leave off the heat for a couple of minutes before turning it into a serving dish. I remove the cinnamon, but love to squeeze the cardamon seeds out of the pods and eat them.

Z receives a compliment

“Don’t think I’m being racist or anything” he said, “but for a white country-woman, you cook really good rice”. There were snorts of laughter from his girlfriend and my son. “No, really,” he emphasised, “that rice you cooked last time I came was as good as my granny’s.”

Well, thanks, Zain.

Z put her foot on a tussock and found herself in a deep and boggy hole

It was A’s fault. He called me over cheerily and introduced me to her, saying we had an interest in Latin in common. I replied with an enthusiastic agreement, although adding that I hadn’t studied it for 35 years and had forgotten most of it. Within moments, I realised that A’s cheerfulness had been at the thought of getting himself out of a situation – that it was at the expense at getting me into it was an unfortunate, but ultimately unimportant, detail.

She said that she was gathering together a group of people with a view to taking Latin classes and was glad of my interest, because I could join them … what day would suit me? It was almost too late to back-pedal, at least to someone who won’t easily take ‘no’ for an answer.

She’s now sent me an application form for the U3A and says that the classes will start in March. Now, it’s true that I like Latin and I’m sorry that I hardly know anything of the language now, but I’m not in tune with her ideas anyway. She said dismissively that she’s not interested in poetry or any other literature, but that grammar is the thing and that’s what we’ll study. Of course, grammar is fundamental to Latin and you won’t get far without it, but it’s a means to an end, surely, not the end in itself.

I want to take clarinet lessons and I’ve started to help in the music department at the high school since I saw her. In fact, I’m doing more altogether at the school now – I’ve reached a stage where I either quit as a governor or do more, because I’ve been coasting for a year or two. I just don’t think I can take on something else, especially not just out of good-nature. She has only got a few people involved, and if one drops out the whole plan may fold – but I can’t help that. In fact, one of the teachers at the school is looking into an online Latin GCSE course, and I’d be more interested in offering to get involved with that if it were to happen.

Maybe I’m being too negative? But I feel pushed and I don’t like that. Oh dear. I’ll have to compose a letter of extrication and explanation.


Forgive me, please, if I sound in any way complacent, because I don’t feel it, but I do feel very glad.

I spent yesterday building myself up nervously to phone Miss B, and then was out all morning and lunchtime today, so hadn’t before, this afternoon, she phoned me. To thank me for my help and kindness, and to apologise for ‘being nasty’ to me.

I asked her, of course, if she had been satisfied with the place where she had been sitting and if she had enjoyed the lecture (which was splendid, actually) and we had quite a long chat. She is quite reconciled to sitting in the designated place, which is actually a good one, and I was sympathetic to her situation, at being obliged to use a wheelchair and the adjustment in personal perspective (I don’t mean physically) that this entails.

I really do feel for her, it is hard for someone, especially one who has been used to, and proud of, her independence, to have to go out looking frail and needing help. When she apologised, I said that she is right to fight her corner and to challenge what she sees as unfair (oh dear, am I a bad person, to say that when I’ve won my point? Well, it’s the impression you give as much as the words, isn’t it?).

It’s not the first time that I’ve stood up to someone who has afterwards looked upon me as a trusted friend. I’m not sure how I do it, but it is a knack I possess. I think it’s that I stand my ground, but don’t look pleased to win, and am conciliatory afterwards and aim to concede a way to save face. I do sound self-congratulatory. Sorry. I’m not, really. I’m just glad that she doesn’t look on me as a bully, and that she has said that, having made the effort, she feels able to come to the lectures again – where, of course, I’ll make sure I stop and chat to her for a while.

By the way, I’m a good loser too. I give in very quickly, unless I’m right. Then – I’m pragmatic. I win if I can, but if not I don’t waste the powder.

Z’s not old, she’s Classic

The girl sitting next to me at dinner looked about nineteen, and a complete throwback to 1967. She was very slender and wore a turquoise and white mini-dress in a geometric print. Most time-specific of all, she wore knee-length white boots which, if they aren’t made of PVC (does anything get made of PVC now?) certainly looked like it. They had chunky high heels. She had nicely bleached blonde hair and a heavy fringe, and was very pretty.

In the course of conversation, she mentioned her daughters, aged fifteen and eleven. I tried to mentally double her age, but she still didn’t look it. Her husband looked almost as young, certainly less than thirty.

It’s a post-Christmas dinner rather than one that pre-empts the December rush. The Sage and I were talking to one chap about his 1962 Wolseley. “Not exactly old” he said. “Classic, rather” agreed the Sage. I shall adopt the term. I’m not middle-aged, I’m classic.

You are slowly shaking your head, aren’t you?

You wait until we get old Rover out next summer in time for his birthday. He’s Vintage.

Z’s new leaf goes too far

I heard Al leave for work at 8.20 this morning. It was raining. I felt for him, having to set up shop in the wet – but I was very glad it wasn’t me. On the other hand, Dilly, this evening, said that they’d been thinking with complacent pity of the holidaymakers, newly arrived at Center Parcs, who had been greeted with rain and wind.

Now I’m released from my duties, I’m starting to catch up with paperwork again. ‘Starting’ is certainly the operative word – I’ve got a succession of mini-deadlines and I’m working to them. One tomorrow morning – that’s done; one tomorrow afternoon – that’s for the morning. The one on Thursday is a bit of a bummer as it will take quite some time and we’re out tomorrow evening – the Classic Car Club has its Christmas dinner in mid-January and we’re committed. But it’s just typing, I don’t need to think, so I can always get up early and do it then. Of course, if I had any application and backbone, I’d be starting now.

I was going to say ‘pfft’, but actually, I think I’ll just get on and do it.

I apologise for being sensible.