Monthly Archives: September 2008

The Newspaper Bag Project

join the newspaper bag project

R works for a company which does web development. It is a very small company, run by two people and Ro is their only employee. He’s been there about a year, he likes it very much, because he likes the work, he gets on well with his bosses and he appreciates their high standards – it being such a small company means that every detail is carefully checked and got right. Ro has no problem when it’s his work being checked – if there’s anything that can be improved he’d rather someone found it before it’s gone online.

They have tried to employ more people, but it seems that they haven’t found anyone yet who will fit in so well as Ro. And they look after him, taking him out to lunch once or twice a week, sometimes booking him in for a back and neck massage so that the hours spent at his desk don’t get to him and if, on a Friday afternoon, all the week’s work has been done, it’s not unknown for them all to spend the last hour playing online games against each other. But then, Ro will often spend an evening working on some tricky detail of programming that he would like to improve.

So, the most recent bit of fun that they’ve come up with is for each of them to set up a website and see who can get highest in the Google rankings. The two of them both came up with highly technical and very clever ideas, but Ro, who maybe is a bit less of a geek, went at it from the other end and thought how to get people to link to him, because apparently that’s the best way to get a good score. Having done Al’s greengrocer site, he went for the paper bag idea.

So, please, will you go to his site and join the newspaper bag project. As a bonus, you get a photo of Ro, his boss’s cat, my bicycle and, in the video, the sight of Al actually making one of his wonderful paper bags. Look out for glimpses of Squiffany, who was very interested in the whole thing.

And then, if you could have a go at one of the bags, please send him a photo, because that will be the entertaining and interactive bit.

And then, I’d be most grateful if you would put a link on your own site, and if you could consider linking to him (just for a few weeks) on your sidebar, that would be even kinder. He wants to win, but I want him to have to acknowledge that bloggers are totally lovely, because I still get teased about blogging.

I’m not sure about a prize, because he hasn’t quite worked out how to do the judging. But there is one in it for him, so maybe we should put him under some pressure if he wins?

Oh, and when you send in your picture, would you be kind enough to mention me, so that he knows whom he should appreciate?

Thanks, darlings. Lots of love, as always. MWAH!


I found it a bit hard to get going this morning and lurched out of doors and into the car a bit later than usual. It was probably that which made me not notice the car seats in the back until I’d parked in Norwich. I phoned Dilly (at least I’d remembered to stuff my freshly-charged phone in my bag) to apologise and offer to come home again in time to return Squiffany’s seat in time to get her to nursery school at 12.30. Dilly, being always kind and relaxed, said it wouldn’t hurt Squiff to miss school for once, especially as she’s not 100% at present, having a cold.

Later, she got online and ordered a couple more seats – the present ones will only fit Squiffany for a little while longer. There can be two in Dilly’s car and two in mine, or else one in mine and one in Al’s van and swap about. It’s a bit difficult to remember as Dilly works Monday, Wednesday and Friday one week and Tuesday and Thursday the other. It’s dawned on them how much more she can earn as a teacher than Al does as a greengrocer and they are pondering a bit.

Anyway, another splendid lecture, about the workmanship of the treasures of Sutton Hoo and the king who is (most probably) buried there – or rather was, the acid soil destroyed his bones. His name was Raedwald (pronounced Radwald; if you can do a nice gutteral thing on the R – that is, Hradwald – then all to the good). The fine workmanship on the jewellery, on belt, scabbard, epaulettes, bag etc, which is gold inlaid with garnets, has been replicated but not by the original methods. They do not know how these early Angles worked the garnets with such precision, cut and faceted and inlaid in their gold setting. They are done so precisely that there was no padding to keep them in place and they are as perfect now as they were in about 625.

Ah. The headteacher of the village school has just called round. She wanted to tell me, at the time she told the parents, that she has just handed in her resignation, although she won’t be leaving until the end of this academic year, next July. She wants to move nearer her family, in short. I haven’t been a governor there for a couple of years, but I was one for 18 years and she says she still thinks of me as part of the school and wanted to keep me in touch.

I wish I could tell you all about the circumstances preceding her appointment but I can’t. I actually signed a confidentiality document, so I really can’t. Sue has been a fabulous head and has brought the school through some difficult times (mainly staff illness, there was some dreadful bad luck there) and it won’t be easy to find someone of her quality.

This post doesn’t really go anywhere, does it? I will have something specific to talk about tomorrow though, when I will ask for your help and it will involve Ro. No, he is not causing problems. He’s fine.

A Second Helping (of school dinners, darlings, if you remember)

You know, I think that there are things that really stir the memories. I feel sorry for the few children (even in my day) who grew up without television, because one has an immediate link to people of the same age as oneself. Another childhood memory that seems to hit a chord is school dinners, and that even links the generations as we can compare and contrast.

My sister started school in the year I was born (in Weymouth), which was the year that rationing finally came to an end over here. Yes, it took 8 years from winning the war for the government to relinquish that bit of control. Maybe that’s why, after so many years of making do on very little, the meals at her school were so dreadful, or so she assures me. Apparently, it got a whole lot better when, 5 years later, she started at the convent school in Lowestoft and was pleasantly surprised by the better food. I, on the other hand, had been dismayed.

However, it was not the quality of the cuisine that upset me. It was communal eating. We ate in the same dining room as the older girls, but earlier. It was 2 large rooms knocked into 1 – I’m trying to remember how many tables, but I suppose 100-150 people could all dine together at tables of 8. The serving area ran along one side of one of the rooms and then there was a smaller room where the puddings were served and we also took our empty plates.

I was, as I’ve said before, an exceptionally shy child. I was also very small. I wore the smallest uniform in the shop, but it was still taken up and in and still hung on me. I had been dressed up and taken to school twice (my mother got the day wrong) and taken down into a basement classroom – there was no such thing as playschool in those days and, as my sister was still in Weymouth for that term (we have no idea why) I was all on my own. Then I was taken to this huge room, a plate of food was given to me, cutlery put in my hands (what, no laid table? No napkin?) and I was expected to eat. I didn’t. I didn’t cry, I just sat there.

A few days later, my mother found out that these kind nuns were taking me to a room in the convent itself and giving me milk and chocolate biscuits. Now, I had no problem with that at all, and managed to eat quite nicely, but she decreed that I should eat with everyone else. So I sat there again. After quite a long time, a kind older girl came to help me and I remember her persuading me to eat – “open wide – down the red lane!” and I did. After a few days, I must have got used to it enough to just get on with it. I’ve no idea who she was or what she thought when she turned up for lunch one day and I wasn’t there – was she disappointed or relieved?

Now that I’m reminded, I do remember the Spam, which I didn’t mind. The salad wasn’t exactly inspiring, but it was fine. I remember diced mixed vegetables, carrots, cabbage and peas. When my sister was little, apparently she asked our mother once if we could have “nice brown cabbage, like we have at school”. Later, with more refined taste buds, she described it as “good food spoiled”. I also remember gravy served from a jug. It was all right – made with gravy browning of course (we used sherry, meat juices and vegetable cooking water for our gravy), but at least it moved around on the plate.* Wink says that we had fish cakes – yes, of course we did. They were quite peppery and not very fishy. She says that there was a monthly Friday rota, with fishcakes, fish fingers, the nasty cheese and potato pie and the hard yet watery scrambled eggs. I never noticed the rota part of it. I’m sure we didn’t have macaroni cheese, which other people have mentioned; I don’t remember pasta ever being served and the only rice we had was in pudding and there were various milk puddings; sago, tapioca, semolina. Each bowlful had either a blob of jam or of dark brown sugar.

It was after my boycott of the school meals that chips were introduced to the menu. My timing was a bit off there. I think I used to eat hard-boiled eggs, mostly, and orange peel. My friend Lynn used to take a satsuma every day in season and her mother washed it so that I could eat the peel. I ate apples, core and all. I had a small appetite but I wasn’t wasteful.

I haven’t even got on to my children’s school meals, which were far worse than mine.

*Thinking of Tony Hancock – “I used to think my mother was a bad cook, but at least her gravy moved around on the plate. Yours just lies there and sets.” Hattie Jacques, with dignity – “That’s the goodness in it!” TH – “That’s the half a pound of flour you put in it.” From memory, don’t quote me. I think the episode was called ‘A Quiet Sunday Afternoon at Home’.

Sandy has been kind enough to give me an award. I will have to see if I can import it. I had another a while back, but I couldn’t so it was never handed on. I owe someone an apology for that, because it wasn’t that it was unappreciated.

Z is not odd, even if behaviour might occasionally indicate as much

I sent an email to friends last night and mentioned that I’d met a friend of theirs who might have thought I was behaving a bit oddly. I had a reply from the husband, which said not-quite-comfortingly that she’s used to odd people – what? I wasn’t saying that I was odd, just that I’d been behaving a bit unlike myself. Really, people are peculiar.

You see, I was telling him about my visit to Norwich yesterday, and this walk around the churches. I did start by cycling, but it was foggy first thing so I only went to the five most local churches and didn’t bike more than about 3 miles. Then we dropped Wink off to visit the baby and parked in the city centre.

One of the first churches went to was the loveliest. A non-conformist chapel, built in the 1760s, it is octagonal in shape, inside and out, and is quite beautiful. It’s in Colegate if you ever visit. The children behaved beautifully, returned greetings politely and commenting on what they saw inside the churches. Pugsley was particularly taken with the stained glass, saying “goodbye, windows” as we left each building. We visited 16 churches altogether, including the cathedral, and one of the last was the Quaker meeting house. My friends, to whom I sent the letter, are Quakers and attend there. Having had our forms signed, and leaving Dilly outside with the children (not all the buildings are easy to take a pushchair into), I asked if I might look inside. As you might expect, it was very simple indeed, with a circle of chairs and a table and plain pale walls, undecorated by pictures or anything else. Two women were talking; one was expressing some disappointment. Apparently, she is interested in religion except that she can’t stomach the thought of a god, and she’d rather thought that Quakers didn’t believe in one. The other woman was explaining that they do believe in a deity.

When the disappointed woman left, the other one chatted to me, and I did hold a proper conversation, but I was a little less than normally fluent. It was the atmosphere of the room. I’m not sensitive to this sort of thing as a rule, but there was a powerful feeling of goodness there. I actually felt quite dizzy. It wasn’t a religious feeling, but simply one of strength and peace. I told her how it made me feel – she didn’t quite get it any more than my friend did when I tried to explain. I suppose they’re used to it.

Anyway, I’ve briefly emailed back, telling him that I AM NOT ODD.


School Dinners

So, how were they for you? I was at school before the days of choice and one was expected to clear one’s plate regardless – mind you, one did have a choice as to what went on it; that is, yes or no to each item. I have an abiding memory of a boy called Gerald standing at the end of the line with an empty plate, having refused each item as he went past. It’s a snapshot memory, a mental picture, and I don’t know what was done about it.

There was always soup, which was served out at the end after you’d got your main course so that you didn’t spill the bowlful while your plate was being filled. I never ate this but once – it was made up from a packet and had no nutritional value and I had a small enough appetite without filling it before the main course. The time I did eat it was on a day when you could offer to have bread, cheese and soup and the rest of your dinner money went to charity. Because these were Roman Catholic overseas missionaries and I wasn’t RC, I didn’t usually opt in to it, but on the occasion I did I found that I had a much nicer meal than usual.

The main courses were not very appealing on the whole. On a Friday, we either had fish or a vegetarian meal. The worst by far was cheese and potato pie, which tasted sour. I can’t identify what if anything else went into it, it seems to me that it was lumpily mashed potato beaten up with cheese with some grated cheese sprinkled on top, but that sounds quite edible so something else must have made it so nasty. We were given fish but it has mercifully been banished from my memory. The fish fingers were nice – you can’t go far wrong with fish fingers, although a boarder swore that she had once, at a weekend meal, lifted the breadcrumb layer to find a thin streak of blue mould underneath. It’s probably the reason for my good health and cast iron digestion now.

On a Friday we sometimes had scrambled egg. This – we assumed it was powdered egg made up – came in huge stainless steel pans and the top was hard curds of egg which became more watery as you got further down. It was served out with a slotted spoon and if you were unfortunate enough to be at the back of the queue you watched the serving lady fish around to scoop out a few curds among a sea of liquid.

We did get meat most days. One of the better options was the meat pie. This was minced meat between two layers of pastry and was quite good. The stew was a different matter. Gristly meat, thickened gravy and no vegetables. I was used to lovely casseroles with tender meat and lots of veg, and a carefully seasoned, unthick gravy at home, and this unpleasant gloop with no texture except the gristle and unexpected blobs of fat was hard to choke down. We had sausages – made by a local butcher whose daughters attended the school; I suppose they were all right although they were obviously cheap with as little meat as the law allowed. However, they wouldn’t have contained the mechanically recovered meat which commercially manufactured sausages contained later, so we were luckier than we knew.

There always were vegetables of course, but I don’t really remember them. I remember the mashed potato, which could have done with a bit more mashing, and the baked beans, but I expect the greens were overcooked, I don’t see how they couldn’t have been.

Things changed right around when it came to the puddings. They were universally delicious. Indeed, the least interesting was the jelly and ice cream, the only bought-in item, that we had once in a while. We had steamed puddings with jam, steamed chocolate pudding with chocolate sauce, rice pudding with a dollop of dark brown sugar, fruit crumbles and pies with custard, treacle tart – every one a winner. Since we never had puddings at home, I looked forward to them.

My parents paid for the meals with the school fees. One could only opt out by going home for lunch and I didn’t live close enough. It was before the days of packed lunches, but when I got to about 14, I rebelled. I was a very quiet rebel and no one noticed. I started to take in packed lunches and ate them quietly on my own, and was never caught. However, the idea started to catch on among the other girls after a while and lunchboxes started to put in an appearance. I don’t remember that it ever became official though.

The older girls helped with the washing up. Although, by then, I didn’t eat school dinners any more, I took my turn with the rest. There was a machine for plates and dishes, but we washed the cutlery. I have been extremely fastidious about washing up ever since – I can’t bear using water that looks the least bit discoloured and it has to be scalding hot. I suppose it was seeing the murky lukewarm sinkful and finding bits of stuff still stuck between the fork prongs which was, as often as not, cheerily wiped off with the cloth rather than being rewashed.

In fact, I did better with my school dinners than my daughter and elder son at their prep school. I may come back to that.

Z is on Governor Duty

I had a really good time at the high school today. I went in at 11 o’clock for a music lesson and happened to bump into the chairman of governors who was arriving at the same time, so we agreed we’d have lunch together if we both finished at about the same time. Later, she and the headteacher (they were touring the school together) came into the music room, and she told me she was staying at school for lunch, so I said I’d join her.

It was a new Year 9 class, all pretty cheerful and lively, and I ended up supervising a group of 8 trying out the drum kit. One of them is a really good drummer, none of the rest had had a go before. It took a while to persuade a couple of the girls to have a go but they all did after a while. Yes, it was in a practice room; yes it was loud.

This year, the school has moved to 3 lesson days; ie 3 lessons each of 1 hour 40 minutes. Since year 9 previously had one 50 minute lesson a week, the teacher was consulted as to whether she would like to share a lesson with another department (such as drama next door) or have them once a fortnight, and she went for the latter option. I think it’s a good idea as they will get more done; it’s hard to get around every group within 50 minutes, as well as explain the lesson and round it up at the end.

I must do a bit more work at home – I haven’t got the same music program on my computer as they have (I have Garageband) but I should learn a bit more about it and I should get Ro to show me some guitar chords as I don’t know any.

This year, another innovation has been that the Lower School (years 9, 10 and 11) are no longer allowed to leave the school premises at lunchtime – this means that they can’t spend their lunch money going down to the corner shop to buy crisps and fizzy drinks. The lunch menu has been revamped to make it more appealing – the food was always good, mind you, as Gilly and her team are good cooks. A canopy has been put up outside the canteen so that in good weather people can sit outside and in bad, at least they’ve somewhere to queue in the dry. There are other plans too for outside seating with picnic tables and benches. Indoors, the tables now have tablecloths and the room looks more attractive and welcoming.

The school used to buy into the county school catering service, but they had become less than satisfied with it. They thought that the portions were too small for growing teenagers and charges were very high if food were needed for a function. They also didn’t think there were enough fresh vegetables. It was decided to take it in-house and the bursar (properly titled Financial Manager or something I think) organised it because it was something she felt strongly about. It was reckoned that more and better food could be provided for the same money and the catering team has remained the same.

I had quiche, green salad and Waldorf salad. All very good. They are still working on getting the menu right – they have to have fish on twice a week and yesterday they did a salmon, broccoli and pasta bake, but not many children would try it. They like the vegetarian lasagne and they love the weekly roast dinner.

What I enjoyed most about the day was the cheerful atmosphere. All the staff and pupils I ran into seemed really happy and relaxed. There’s a lot of helping out going on in the canteen – as there’s such a bigger take-up of meals, teachers and support staff have been offering to help out with the service – the bursar was cheerfully ladling out vegetables today and the deputy head was dishing up puddings. They’ll have to get that sorted out – these people need a proper lunch break. I chortled at the Head, brolley raised (not in anger, it was raining) supervising in the playground. I suggested that he should pull rank and get someone else to do it. Later, he suggested I might care for the job. Over my left foot, I replied. But I’m a dab hand in the kitchen. I can see myself dishing out the roasties if I don’t watch out.

I was wearing a pair of Weeza’s trousers, which are a bit long for me and my ankles are wet and so are my shoes. I really should go and get changed.

Oh, and my friend who doesn’t reply to emails came online this morning to tell me he has dished his knee. A ligament or something. He woke in the middle of the night in agony earlier this week – it seems he turned awkwardly in bed. He’s on crutches, waiting to see a specialist. Ouch.

Z and the Good Cause

Having said I’d take part in the annual Church bike ride (each county’s Churches Trust runs it and proceeds are shared between the church of your choice and the Trust) this Saturday, and Dilly having said she’d join me, we’ve done nothing about it. I have had a route in mind, but the details had not been decided upon – it’s not that it exactly matters except that I didn’t want to find too many unexpected hills, as neither I nor my bike excel at hills. Dilly hasn’t actually used her bike for the past four years.

Then my sister asked if it would be a good weekend for her to come up and meet Zerlina. Well, the best weekend for all of us this month as it happens. Then it turned out to be not an ideal day for anyone to look after the children.

So our plans have changed. I will whizz out for a couple of hours in the morning to take in the most local churches (most inconveniently, Suffolk churches won’t be manned until 10 am, whereas the early-rising Nor folk will be ready for business from 9) and then we’ll set off for Norwich, drop Wink off at El’s house and then Dilly, I and the children will do a walk round the churches in Norwich – the city centre alone has dozens of them. This is within the rules, a walk is allowed.

The other fly in the ointment is that I am incapable of asking people for money. So I have exactly two sponsors as yet. I have, finally, sent off an email to churchy people, not actually asking for sponsorship but reminding them that the thing is happening. I don’t really care much and will shove in a donation anyway – I am a bit iffy about this whole sponsoring thing, especially when you find yourself sponsoring someone’s adventure holiday in the name of charidee, which has happened to me in the past.

I’m no good at this sort of thing.

PS. This is NOT a veiled request for money. Please don’t even consider the notion.

The sun shines on Z

“Happy Birthday” said the Sage, as I strolled, rather late, into the kitchen this morning. I apologised. Another year older; I’m not the woman he married any longer. “No, no,” he assured me, handing me flowers, “You get younger every day, it’s me who’s getting older.” I decided that we’re both young and lovely (I didn’t mention the failing eyesight.

Still, it’s a sunny day. I think I’ll go out and frolic for a while.

Win-win, it seems

Dilly came through this evening for a chat and to check on arrangements for the next week or two. She’s working part-time for the next school year; her school has just moved to a two-week timetable so she’s doing Monday, Wednesday and Friday one week and Tuesday and Thursday the next. Al is planning to spend a lot more time with the children but some juggling is needed as Squiffany has nursery school three half days per week; it’s too far to walk and only one car seat can be fitted in his van, so I either need to take her or look after Pugsley while Al does. Nothing difficult to arrange, so long as we all know what’s going on.

Dilly had a full timetable today and was quite tired by the end. Since she last worked, Norfolk has gone from a 3-tier system to a 2-tier one and so she was teaching Year 7s for the first time (age 11-12). She taught 2 bottom set groups and she said they were sweet; still of an age to try hard but some of them were really earnest and anxious to do well but found it very hard. The classes were small – a few children were away so she only had 10 in one class and so she is hopeful that she can give them some good individual attention, which should help a lot.

The children were thrilled to see her and made a big fuss of her when she came home. They are also enjoying having their father’s attention so much. Al has been able to arrange more cover for the shop – this could all work very well. Dilly’s parents and we are helping out too and it should be enough for everyone to enjoy and no one to be overburdened by. Dilly will be working very hard mind you, as the children will want every minute of her attention when she’s home. She’s also still doing some individual tuition with a couple of children and she doesn’t want to give that up as they are both making good progress.

She wanted to know what’s happening tomorrow for my birthday. I said that nothing was planned and that I’ve a meeting on at 5 pm. She says she’ll see if Weeza, Phil and Zerlina can come over and she’ll do dinner. I said I’ll leave my meeting early if necessary to be home by 7 o’clock, as then the children can go to bed when they are tired after that. 7 o’clock is usually their bedtime, but they’re always ready for a party.

Z drinks a glass of wine and finds more than she’d expected

Little z has put on 5 ounces in the last 5 days, which is very satisfactory. She slept on me for a couple of hours. The child finds me restful.

Before that, I’d been to the New Members’ Coffee Morning and so did a lot of cheery meeting ‘n’ greeting and Addressed the Assembled Multitude (20 new members plus the committee who already knew what I was like), which would have been embarrassing if I were the sort to be embarrassed. I am not any more, and I never cease to be surprised by that, having been at one time the shyest person I’ve ever met – or, I should say, shyer than anyone whom I’ve ever met. If you don’t mind making a total tit of yourself, there’s a good chance that you’ll bluff it out, at least over ten or fifteen minutes.

Afterwards, someone asked me where I did my public speaking; I said nowhere. “But you’ve been trained.” She didn’t say it questioningly. I assured her that I hadn’t, but actually I felt awfully complimented. The trick is to sound confident and friendly and not to say er and um.

Damn. Another fruit fly is drowning in my glass of wine. Fortunate that I’m not vegetarian, since I can’t reach it to fish it out. That reminds me that all the wasps have died in the last few days. Until last Monday they were a real nuisance in the shop; for the next couple of days there were a few dozy ones about – so dozy that I could lift one by a wing from a basket of grapes with impunity – and then there were no more. Cold and wet, I suppose.

By the way, am I the only one to feel embarrassingly voyeuristic if I should happen to catch any of the Paralympic Games? I admire them, genuinely, and I think they embody the spirit of the Games in a way that has become rare in the Olympics over the last few decades, but it still feels as if I’m intruding. I know it shouldn’t. Sorry.