Monthly Archives: May 2009

Z co-hosts a Party

It was a good party today. Our lovely friends Dave and Deb are leaving the village – she is to be ordained next month and is taking up a post in Norwich. Dave is the Fellow whom I’ve often mentioned; my former fellow churchwarden, who I love dearly in a rare and valued friendship. We’ve not seen so much of Deb in the last three years as, during her training, she’s been affiliated with a neighbouring benefice.

I thought we’d have about 40 for lunch, maybe 50, so still erred on the generous side, which was just as well as rather more than that number turned up. No one had mentioned wine, so I brought 8 bottles and someone else brought 1 more – again, just as well, as most of it was drunk, quite a lot by me. The lunch was of the sort dearly beloved by the church; “bring and share” – as hosts, we provided the etceteras; mustard, salad dressing, that sort of thing, as well as our share of food – and we also prepared the rooms. Fortunately, as the weather was lovely, we were able to lay up 3 tables outside which meant there was room to move indoors.

Being devious, I bought plants to decorate the tables, with a view to taking them home afterwards and sticking them in tubs to brighten the place up for my lunch on Tuesday. I’ve also been potting up some tomatoes for Al – the unsold ones are getting leggy and he sold so many plants on Saturday that he hasn’t got much left for tomorrow. He can take in some aubergines, chilli and sweet peppers, tomatoes and a couple more courgette plants.

The Sage is so busy that we’ve had to tell Dave that there’s no time to brick-lay tomorrow. Disappointing, but I know how he feels. He’s very busy on several different things at the moment and he needs to concentrate on completing them. Indeed, there’s something else I need him to help me with (to do with the Village Festival in July) that I’m not even going to mention for a week or so.

Dilly and Al will also need some back-up next month. She is working some extra days and Al will be short-staffed while Eileen is on holiday. It will all get much easier once we’re into July. And positively relaxed at the end of the summer holidays, because Dilly has decided to take a break from teaching for a year or two. Apart from tutoring, which she can do in the evenings.

Will the weather hold?

I’ve bought several packets of flower seeds, most of which need to be sown in the next few weeks for flowering next spring and summer. Biennials mostly and a few perennials. Ever with an eye to Al’s business, I’m thinking that I can keep the few plants I need and he can sell the rest. He’s done well this spring from the foxgloves he grew last year, which have been coming into flower in the last few weeks.

Very hot again today, although again there is a fresh wind. I still would like to serve lunch out of doors on Tuesday, because our dining room, facing west as it does, is not at its best for a summer lunchtime – not unless it’s so hot outside that we’re grateful for its dim coolness. Usually we’re sun-starved and want to grab all we can, even at risk of pink ears and freckled nose. However, I suspect that we’ll shiver if I do. There will be twelve of us, and we can just fit around the dining table, but it’s a squeeze.

That’s still a slight niggle in the relationship between the Sage and me, actually. He wanted a refectory table, and found some lovely old oak planks, 8 foot long. We discussed the matter, and agreed that the table would be 8 feet long and 4 feet wide, so that it could comfortably seat 4 people at each side and 2 at each end. When the table was ready, it turned out to be 3 foot 6 wide. “I thought the proportions would be better,” he explained. I reminded him of what we’d agreed. It was obvious that he hadn’t actually been listening. He was quite unaware that there was a reason for the decision, so he saw no need to consult me on the change. As a result, family meals have often been quite awkward.

The legs of that table were made from an oak tree that fell down about 20 years ago. It had been in the middle of our orchard; now an ex-orchard. Nearly all the trees fell down in the ‘hurricane’ of 1987, knocking each other down like dominos. The oak tree, apparently strong, firm and in its prime, fell over a year or two later. Without its protective surround of apple trees, it couldn’t withstand the next strong wind.

Z is grateful

I’m considerably luckier than I ever deserve to be.

I had a phone call this evening from someone who’s been given a huge flower arrangement, won in a raffle, which is too big for her house so she has given it to her village church. But there’s no service in that church this Sunday, so she asked if we’d like it in ours. Oh, yes please. I haven’t got anyone to do flowers this week and it’s a special service this week as the Fellow and his wife are leaving and we love them and are saying goodbye (they’re only moving to Norwich, but that’s another world to the countryfolk in the villages). Yet again, I’m saved from last-minute panic.

I nearly flew into a strop with the Sage this morning as I assumed that he was going to let someone down, but I enquired gently and politely instead, and he’s got it sorted after all. So all is love and tranquillity and I didn’t put myself in the sour-faced wrong.

I’ve re-remembered in time that I need to buy a present for the person leaving the committee (as well as me. It’s just occurred to me that they’ll give me a card and flowers and stuff. I don’t think they should. It’s been a pleasure. I know they will, so I’ll just be pleased) and I’ve remembered in time to do it without last-minute panic (see above).

Hayfever has gone. I sleep soundly.

My new lawnmower has arrived. I never need nag the Sage to cut the lawn again, I’ll just do it myself. And I daresay that sometimes he will. Either way, no irritation for anyone.

I wrote a letter to someone and he came to visit me this afternoon, straight away upon receiving it. Can’t explain more, but I did the right thing by writing, because he wanted to talk to someone and it made him feel able to do so.

We’ve got more than half the photos done for the catalogue and are double-checking the text and condition report. Several alterations made, so it’s worth the extra time which will be repaid in total tranquillity on sale day.

The Sage bought a piece of china for our mutual anniversary present last week that both of us have coveted for a couple of decades.

Tilly had a flea yesterday, but I turned the search for more (none found) into a cuddle and a back-scratch, so she was happy and felt loved instead of accused. Dear little dog. She let Zerlina crawl all over her today and pull her tail and poke her face, and she wagged her tail throughout.

The Sage just brought me a cup of delicious coffee. I feel so cheerful that I might just have a small glass of limoncello, a bottle of which just happens to be sitting in the fridge.

Bringing on the wall, Day 7 – pictures of Dave

The Sage suggested that Dave work on the next pillar today while I built up the straight bit of wall. It was a beautiful day, hot and sunny but with a cooling breeze, so it was very pleasant to work outside. We all wore hats and sunscreen, in case you are feeling concerned and protective of our well-being.

I’ve said that I don’t weed and, indeed, it was not I who pulled up this bramble from the garden in front of the house. I hope it’s reasonably clear; I took another one with the family holding it up, but it showed faces, so I’m not allowed to post it.

We decided that the umbrella pine tree near the wall would have to come down. We’re very sorry about this – the Sage’s late brother brought back seeds from North Africa 50 or 60 years ago. There are still two left, but most of them have had to be felled as they were getting unsafe. This one wasn’t yet, but it was quite close to the wall. An oak sapling was growing next to it; originally we’d left it to take over when the pine died, but it’s too close to the drive and to the wall, so that came out too.

The photo was taken after a couple of branches were removed.

Not much left now.

And this is the result of today’s labours. We put in a short morning today as the Sage, Weeza and I had work to do this afternoon, so we didn’t add a great deal, but now it’s a definite wall and, with the beginning of another pillar, there’s a defined future gateway.

The next few photos are a sort of flip-book. If you look from one to the next very quickly, you’ll almost see the movement of Dave’s hands as he expertly laid the final brick of the day.

You’ll notice that he is smiling. We’re still all having fun.

Z loves the moon

I’ve done a whole lot of work this evening, though not in my own house. Good Deed for the day done however. They’ll be reasonably ready for the removal men in the morning.

Otherwise, not a lot to report. We’re looking forward to bricklaying tomorrow and the weather should be good. Have you noticed the beautiful new moon? – it was new last night in fact, but still a perfect crescent. I enjoy the moon in all its phases. When I used to walk dogs late at night, I was very aware of the phases of the moon and the alignment of the planets. Do you remember the comet Hale-Bopp a few years ago? I loved that. Its position in the sky was a little different every night.

We never took a torch – well, once I did, for no reason, when I was on my own and a lucky thing it was, because I nearly trod on a large hedgehog. I think we’d both have been rather hurt. But usually we enjoyed the darkness. That is, as much darkness as one is allowed nowadays. I wish street lights were still switched off for the early hours.

Work to do in the morning, I’m going to bed. Goodnight.

Z cocks up

I’m such a fool. I knew that Weeza’s appointment was at 11 o’clock, but somehow I put it in my mind that she had to leave the house at 11 o’clock. I realised on my way to Norwich, pulled over and phoned her (at least I’d remembered to remove my phone from its charger and bring it). “I’ve screwed up” I announced. “Oh shit” she replied. Weeza and I, at least, speak the same language.

Anyway (has anyone ever counted the sentences I start with Anyway? Whole lots, I bet) I suggested we meet at the dentist and she agreed. I arrived just after her – the traffic was awful – and, rather than take Zerlina home, I decided to wait, as Weeza had sensibly brought some Marmite and cream cheese sandwiches. That baby was adorable. She happily ate, in little cubes, most of her sandwiches, and then waved her feet around for a bit until she was bored, then sat on my lap looking at books. Eventually, she became a little bored but was prepared, graciously, to be amused, and by then it was time for Weeza to come out. I also made an appointment for myself – somehow, I forgot to make another appointment after my last check-up, which was in April last year. Whoops.

The boiler in the flat will cost a couple of hundred pounds to repair. My lovely tenant must not be without hot water a moment longer than he must. I’ve given the go-ahead and thanked him for saving me a trip to London. He has also said how much he likes the new tenants upstairs. Aren’t people lovely?

Tomorrow, the Sage will be out all day. I must do lots of housework. Don’t let me slack, will you? I have things to do and I must be busy. If you catch me blogging any time before 10 o’clock tomorrow night, Stern Words will be in order.

Z packs up

I think, don’t you, that one of the hardest things to do is to ask for help. People usually hate to feel that they’re taking advantage, even if a friend has offered, and one feels one should be self-reliant and able to cope. Time was when I never asked for help, however much I could have done with it.

For example, many years ago, the Sage had an operation and, on his arrival home, would have to sleep downstairs for a week or so. This meant bringing a bed downstairs. Now, our only single spare bed was (this was indeed a long time ago) an old metal-framed one. A new mattress but a very old and heavy base. I had to carry it downstairs. Why didn’t I phone a friend and ask for help? I was too shy. I even knew who I wanted to ask, but I couldn’t. Years later, I told him about it and was roundly told I was an idiot. True. Knew it at the time. Didn’t help.

Anyway, now I ask for help and offer it too. I’ve made good friends that way in fact. A long time ago, someone I didn’t know very well was telling a few of us at WI that her parents’ new house, in the process of being renovated, had been flooded because of a burst pipe (a breakdown in communication between the person doing the pipework and the one doing the insulation, followed closely by a hard frost). The place was in a total mess and she was having to clear it up in haste before her poor mum and dad saw it. “I’ll come and help,” I said, and I did, and we’ve been great friends ever since. We muck in together.

Last year, I was gloomily painting my flat in London and I texted Dandelion to cheer myself up, and she offered to come and help. Now, I was being completely selfish because I knew she was busy, but I accepted her offer. I hope she felt complimented by that, because it is a compliment to have an offer accepted – that is, that it’s assumed that you mean what you say and are not being simply polite in a “we must do lunch” way, and that the recipient trusts you enough to ask or accept.

Anyway, the Fellow and his wife are moving house, and on Saturday I offered to help with the packing up. This morning, she rang and took me up on it. That’s all really, but I’m so glad they’ve asked.

Z seems to have said ‘yes’ again

It’s a good thing that we did so well yesterday, because our planned 4 days of wall-building has rather fallen apart this week. First, the Sage has decided to go to the funeral of his friend, whose death I mentioned the other day. It’s 4 hours drive away, so it’s quite a commitment for him, but he’d known her and her family for nearer 50 years than 40 and he’s not that likely to keep in touch with her son and daughter in future, so he feels he’d like to.

And today it rained, so bricklaying was off the agenda. Instead, I did the paperwork that I’ve been ignoring. D’you know, it was really difficult to get stuck into it. I worked for a long time, but kept allowing myself to be distracted. It had to be done though, wall or no wall. One part was for a meeting this evening, and the other was for the agenda of next Tuesday’s. In addition of course, I had a load of emails that had to be replied to and phone calls to make – they were not part of the distraction, they were necessary but time-consuming. One was from my tenant saying that the boiler is on the blink – he is, lovely chap that he is, dealing with it himself, but I replied under the complete misapprehension that it was the other tenant. Coincidentally, he (Tenant Number 2, whose name might be James) rang up this evening, wanting to okay a couple of small alterations he’d like to make in the flat, so he put me right. I had to send another email to Tenant Number 1 (shall we simply call him Andrew?) apologising that I’d got things all wrong.

This afternoon, I played the organ for the funeral of an old man I used to deliver Meals on Wheels to. 87 years old, he was born in the village and died here, although he lived in Luton for a few of the decades in between.

Now, just after 11 pm, I’m still eating dinner. Damn these evening meetings.

Apart from the fact that I’d much rather have been outside, the other reason I couldn’t concentrate this morning – in fact, I felt quite dull and lethargic – was that I was awake for over an hour coughing in the night. I woke before 2, and although I could, after a while, control the impulse to cough, it took enough effort that, as I relaxed into sleep, the cough reflex kicked in again and woke me up. I drank water, I sucked a peppermint that has been sitting by the bath for the last few weeks (no, it wasn’t dusty, it was wrapped) and nothing seemed to help. I contemplated going downstairs for some honey, which does seem to have an effect, but it was just that bit more effort than I was prepared to go to. Let’s hope the rain has laid the pollen low.

Oh, I seem to have joined another committee. Well, a working party. Hang on, and another one too. Fortunately, the day that one meets next is on a day I’m at Hampton Court. So I just agreed to go along with whatever they decided.

Bringing on the wall, Day 6 – Ro joins in

The morning has gone really well. Ro soon got the hang of bricklaying and the three of us together, with the Sage keeping us supplied with mortar, bricks and tea, worked steadily until after 1 o’clock. Then we sat and ate pizza on the lawn.

Dave completed the second pillar.

My hands went a bit funny.

So did Ro’s to a lesser extent.

And this is how we’ve left it. Note also, if you please, that I have cleared away some of the nettles and replaced them with carpet.

This afternoon, I have plants to pot up for Al, more scything to do and a couple of trees to fell. I also need to plant out the rest of the squashes and other things.

I’m having a lovely time. This is as much fun as I ever wanted it to be, and exactly what I hoped for when I first thought of the idea, with the splendid bonus of having Dave to help us.


I woke up coughing at 4 o’clock this morning. I suppose it’s because I’d had a chest infection a few weeks ago that hay fever is making me cough rather than sneeze this year; that is, it’s affecting the weakest area. The Sage is far more patient with me than I would be with him and sympathises rather than sighs. I lay waiting to go back to sleep and then remembered the bacon and rolls I’d forgotten to take out of the freezer last night. Tilly was quite surprised when I padded downstairs, out to the porch and then back into the kitchen with a box of food. She waited at her bowl for breakfast but I pointed out the time and she went back to her armchair. And then I forgot to take them with me when I went to fetch the papers and go to church. The Sage kindly brought them down the drive so that I didn’t have to come home again.

We went for a drive to the depths of Suffolk later to fetch a painting we were buying. The old lady who is moving house is charming and so is her daughter, who is a farmer and breeds Suffolk Punches (which are heavy horses). One of the mares foaled yesterday and is not too impressed with her baby. It was necessary to get up four times in the night to make sure she fed the foal.

It’s very pleasant, driving through the Suffolk countryside. It seems more substantial and prosperous than Norfolk. Now, with the trees in full leaf but with wild flowers still blooming and grass fresh and green, it seems comfortable and well cared for. As we drove past a stretch of verge that had recently been mowed, we noticed a clump of blooming poppies. The mower had deliberately left them to flower, which we thought was a nice touch. The may (hawthorn) blossom going over but the horse chestnuts are in flower. It’s so enjoyable, the countryside in spring and early summer. Later in the year one forgets to remark the subtlety of the different colours, but in March and April one looks for each change as the leaves unfurl and first the blackthorn and then the hawthorn come into flower, and the different flowers bloom in the meadows and verges.

Al’s bees are now calm and happier. After his queen swarmed, they were anxious and bad-tempered until a new queen hatched – two, in fact, as he split the colony again. He’s keeping his fingers crossed for their successful maiden flights so that eggs will be laid and numbers will build up again.

Bricklaying again tomorrow. Dave says the weather forecast is more doubtful for Tuesday. I’m enjoying the hot weather and in no hurry for it to rain, but I’ve had to start watering the garden.

A friend asked how many years we’d been married. I told her – “you’re a year behind us then” she said. She and her husband were both born the same year as I was, but are several months older so, although they married at 19, it was in the year previous to my wedding. Nowadays, maybe young love often doesn’t last because it’s not expected to? I know many parents who don’t mind at all when their sons and daughters live with a partner, but would be horrified if the young couple said they were getting married. I’m not saying that the couple themselves don’t take their relationship seriously and wholeheartedly, but that if their friends and families don’t expect it to last, maybe they’re more easily discouraged when, inevitably, some troubles creep in and they can be less likely to persevere and work through them. I’m glad I married young, and gladder still that we are still together.