Monthly Archives: December 2009

Z, not being two-faced, looks forward

No review of the year here, I resolutely move ahead. Not that it has been anything but a good year. I’ve had a lovely time. The best has certainly been Bringing On The Wall, which has been great. I loved it. Thank you, Dave, for all your time and good humour and for deciding not to mind when we inadvertently crinkle-crankled a bit.

I’m mostly looking forward to being cut open and having a bit of leg cut out. And, lucky as I am, that will put me right for the next decade or two, so in a few months I’ll be ready for all the walks anyone would like to join me on (bad grammar alert).

Our hostess yesterday had a hip replacement operation some years ago. I’ve been told that she asked for the bone as a souvenir and (she’s not the sort of lady it’s easy to say no to) bore it home. Apparently, she cooked it and offered it to her dog,* and was quite upset when he wouldn’t eat it. I’m not surprised – I’m sure he was Shocked and Appalled. I don’t know if it’s her current dog, who is a Bedlington Terrier, appropriately named Larry (they look like lambs).

*If this story isn’t true, I apologise unreservedly.

I went over to visit Weeza today – Zerlina had her flu jab yesterday and was a bit sleepy, though in a gently good-humoured way. They are clearing out the spare room to turn into a bedroom for her, as their third bedroom is really too small for the description. They bought a new bed when they moved to Norwich, so decided to throw away the (12 years old and at the end of its days) spare bed, so they put it in and on my estate car, filled their car with other rubbish (rubble from the building of the conservatory, empty bottles, general Stuff) and we drove to the tip. I mean, recycling site. They were really pleased to get it all done in one trip, as it would have meant four in their car and getting the mattress in would have been a puzzle.

Tonight, I’m mostly downloading apps.

I hope that 2010 will be a good year for all of us, and much health and happiness to you all.

Happy New Year, darlings.

Lord Bruin and Lady Rosie entertain

Our hostess lives in an old watermill. This is the view from her conservatory. She is an artist and her studio is on the second floor (that’s the third floor to Americans). It’s beautiful and very peaceful.

I thought you’d like a picture of the teddies. Edbos and Ted aren’t in this picture I’m afraid.

The family will all be here for lunch on Sunday again. Isn’t that lovely? Wink is driving up from Wiltshire on Saturday for a week, so no doubt we will get up to some girlish escapades together.

Tomorrow, I’m going to go and see Weeza and family. It is all go and jollity around here. I’ve bought some new headphones for iPhone listening for, as is well known, the earpieces supplied with iPods and iPhones are pretty rubbish.

At present, not through headphones, I’m listening to Carl Stamitz’s Clarinet Concerto No. 1, as mentioned by Vicus. Never heard it before. I’m really quite ignorant.

Z gets ready to party

It’s party season at last. Not that we haven’t been thoroughly entertained over the last week, but in a family setting. Tomorrow, it’s Lord Bruin’s 24th Annual Christmas Party, to which bears of all ages and denominations will be welcome, together with their human staff. Rabbits are not allowed under any circumstances.

Edbos and Ted are looking forward to it no end. Some bears dress up, for there are prizes to be won – indeed, the first year Edbos went, he won the prize for Most Loved Bear, because Ro, who was then about eighteen, wouldn’t leave him on the table with the rest of the teddy bears but carried him around (not at all in a Sebastian Flyte way) for the whole party.

I’m sounding arch, but it isn’t – it’s fun in a slightly off-beat very English way. And the food is extremely good and not at all hunny-related.

We have no plans for New Year’s Eve, which is a bit lame of us but we don’t normally bother, but on Friday we’re going to our Great Green friends’ New Year’s Day walk – there’s a choice of routes and we can walk between two and seven miles. I will walk about fifty yards, the length of the friends’ drive. I have regretfully cried off from the walk proper. Usually, I’ve done the longest one but last year I chose the shortest and that was a plod by the end (muddy fields were involved at this stage), though I still enjoyed it. This year, the Sage will go (there’s a whole crowd, he won’t be lonely) and I’ll stay at the house with the other disinclined or unables.

No, sorry, it’s still Christmas

I’m not doing much. And I’m not even thinking much. I’ve mentally written a post or two, but when I do that it doesn’t seem necessary to write them in the flesh (as in, it’s the thought that counts).

I got up promptly this morning, as Dilly was tutoring and had asked me to babysit at 8.30. However, she’d changed it to tomorrow, which I should have checked on really, as I knew that Al wasn’t opening the shop today. I presume that means I need to babysit tomorrow. I shall go through clutching my breakfast in one hand, my face in another and the papers in a third, on the assumption that the children will be willing to watch CBeebies for a bit until I’m awake.

By the way, if you haven’t listened to “The News At Bedtime” on Radio 4, do. I’m not a lol girl every day, but I chortled happily. Turned out Ian Hislop was one of the writers. Figures.

What I’d like, by the way, is if the tv listings said if a programme is to be repeated in the next week. Number of times I’ve recorded one thing, watched another, regretfully missed a third, only to find out that one of the first two is on again at a convenient time. Why? Just tell us. Or maybe they do and I don’t know where?

The Sage is getting so au fait with looking for things on eBay, by the way. He’s even finding useful stuff now, and is also discovering that things he has and doesn’t really need will fetch Ready Money. Mind you, if he starts selling as well as buying it will quadruple the agony for me. I just pay the bill when he buys something.

Having my hair cut tomorrow afternoon. That means I’ll get on my bike for more than 500 yards for the first time in at least 10 days. Oh dear. I might have put on a pound or two.

That reminds me. Still a bit of yesterday’s pudding left. Too much for one. I think the Sage will have to share.

Or maybe I’ll be virtuous and abstain.

Or maybe I’ll not mention it and we can eat it tomorrow.

Maybe the bantams would like my share.

Actually, I’m genuinely undecided. I don’t know which way I’ll go. Although, come to think of it, if pudding is involved, the Sage would rather eat a double helping than give it to the bantams.

Z is still mellow

Which seems to have inhibited my conversational trigger.

I couldn’t get to sleep last night, which was puzzling – usually, I fall asleep and then wake an hour later or at 4 o’clock and twitch wakefully for a long time then. But it was nearly 4 by the time I dropped off, and then I only dozed.

I spent the morning cooking, as the family was all here for lunch. Yet more presents exchanged hands, this time between El’s family and Al’s family. We gave Squiffany and Pugsley a camera as our main present – I was hesitant about giving them a joint present as it’s asking for trouble, but fortunately they are remarkably good-natured about sharing and, also fortunately, it is a real hit. I’d only got fairly small things otherwise, books, a puzzle and a game each, and I reckoned in the end that rivalry about whose turn it was would be better than jealousy about one getting a better present than the other. It’s a robust little Lego camera and they’re having fun – thank goodness for digital cameras, wouldn’t make their parents fork out repeatedly for films, or for development. Only thing is, they snap away when you’re not expecting it and, since they come in a bit close, the flash is giving us spots before our eyes.

Z likes Christmas

I’m having a very good time. Fortunately, the company is excellent so the fact that there’s sod all on television doesn’t matter.

Lovely to have Ro home, had a most entertaining chat with him a couple of nights ago. Just catching up, you know, but he’s really good company and I haven’t seen much of him in the seven months since he moved to Norwich.

Now, since there’s still nothing on television and Ro is engrossed in a jigsaw, I am (with a glass raised to my Secret Santa via ILTV) going to watch M. Hulot’s Holiday, which has been one of my favourite films for about 45 years.

The dark night wakes, the glory breaks,

And Christmas comes once more.

I hope you have a wonderful time, but if that’s not what you find from Christmas, I hope you have some pleasure and tranquillity. Or get drunk, or write your first blog-post in a fortnight. Or your first blog-post ever.

Thanks for being such good company. I can’t describe, without being mawkish, how much I appreciate you all.

Here are some photos of the crib that the village schoolchildren made for us a few years ago –

Mary was, perhaps, a little unprepared for the experience of childbirth. The donkey was a bit startled, too.

Jesus finds a bed of hay very comfortable

Merry Christmas, darlings.

Z is sad, grateful and ready

My thoughts are with DG this Christmas. I met a friend in town this morning and she said that, her father having died earlier this year, it’s bringing home to her all the more how much she misses her mother too. I’ve been feeling the same, with the 40th anniversary of my father’s death coming up, I’ve been missing both my parents very much. I said as much to her, though I haven’t mentioned it to my family – only my sister would understand. And a lot of you do too. It doesn’t matter how long ago it was, you never forget and you still feel the loss. *Cough* – group hug?

Right. Moving on.

Just while I’m here, I’d like to thank people who have been working their socks off this last week in the freezing weather and very difficult conditions, many of whom have received a lot of criticism when actually they could not have done more.
Specifically –
The people – nearly all men, I’m sure – who’ve been out restoring power. They’re done their best. Miserable to be cold and have no electricity, but they were colder.
Those who drive gritting lorries and clear roads who’ve kept our main roads as passable as they could – they’re not going to get down the side roads. They never did, in fact, I’ve never lived in a road that has been gritted. Can’t be afforded and most years it isn’t necessary. If we regularly had temperatures well below zero for several days and night after night of snow, it would be worth the investment. We don’t so it isn’t. As a result, we’ll come to a halt sometimes. If it might snow, keep a shovel, a few sacks, a rug, some water and some chocolate, and some stout boots and a stick in case you end up walking, in your car. The main roads should be gritted, but don’t blame the people in the lorries, blame the ones in the comfortable offices who didn’t get their act together. And sometimes, during a snowstorm, gritting doesn’t help or the amount of stuck traffic on the roads stops the lorries getting through.
Delivery people – yesterday, Al was in a pickle because his big order didn’t arrive until after 9 o’clock, when the shop was full, he had still got orders to complete (he does them on the day ordered) and he had to stack everything outside and spend the day sorting things out. However, he didn’t complain. The order arrived in full and as soon as the van could get there. By the way, if the supermarket or farm shop sells brussels sprouts stalks at well over £2 each, as I’ve seen them, they are robbing their customers. Al has put the price up to £1 this year (90p last) and he makes a satisfactory profit at that.
Everyone I’ve ordered anything from over the internet – all despatched promptly, thank you.
The Royal Mail – realising I couldn’t get out to do any shopping as the pavements were more treacherous than the roads, I did a final last-minute order from Amazon on Monday afternoon. Two out of three packages have arrived, although they said they couldn’t guarantee it. I think that’s damn good – the only things I haven’t got are some books for Zerlina and she’ll be pleased with more parcels to arrive next week so it doesn’t matter.

And an apology to anyone who thought they might get a Christmas card from us this year. Er, yes. Sorry about that. I think my Christmas card writing days are over.

It’s thawing now, but that means that the ridges in iced-over roads and paths have smoothed to a glassy surface and actually it’s more difficult to walk anywhere that isn’t completely clear. I went out to the Co-op this morning and had to carefully pick my way around the drive to avoid the worse bits. A stick didn’t help as it slipped and didn’t hold. It isn’t very busy in town – Al says he expects to be (and was) far busier the day before Christmas Eve, and this year, CE is also market day so he didn’t get more in than he needed for his orders and for a usual weekend. So he’s pretty relaxed. He’s got Eileen and Reese in, and they are managing fine, so he’s taking the view that what he doesn’t get in takings aren’t paying out another person’s wages, so it’ll balance.

Time to start wrapping presents before long, I think. Always more fun at the last minute.

Zeating Christmas Dinner

For years, my mother and I took it in turns to cook Christmas dinner, until I took over the job every year when her health and nerves weren’t really up to it any more. My in-laws always invited the Sage’s sister and family for Christmas Day and we went there on Boxing Day. When it was my turn, I was very organised and made a time plan for the day. I decided when I needed everything ready by and worked out the timings accordingly. Christmas dinner was served on time, unless flexibility was planned in – if you’re having roast beef, for example, you eat it when the Yorkshire pudding is cooked because it won’t wait but, knowing it will take half an hour, you can adjust other things around it.

What we ate varied – sometimes I did cook turkey – free-range Norfolk Black was our choice, sometimes beef and sometimes goose. One year, my niece asked me to teach her how to bone a chicken. I had a hasty lesson from our butcher, showed her (that is, I boned half and let her do the other half) and then, that Christmas, I boned the turkey and stuffed it with a piece of gammon which I’d pre-cooked. I put other things in there too, can’t remember what. I did that a second time before deciding that it was quite a lot of effort. Nice, tasted good, easy to carve but it looked like a well-browned thigh.

I became a bit ambitious over the years and incorporated various different starters which usually had to be prepared, or at any rate cooked, at the last minute. Blini were particularly popular, I remember and so were some little filo pastry things. I was always careful to put in time to leave the kitchen and come and spend time with the family. It was scheduled, but it was always there. Several times. Each time, the children opened a present or two and then we played or whatever for half an hour. This was what I’d have liked as a child, which I still remember as a time when I’d have liked my parents’ time and didn’t have it. At 12 or 12.30, by which time things should be well under control, I stopped for champagne and canapés (this was quire often the first course, which was easier and nicer eaten an hour or two earlier than the rest of the meal) and we opened the rest of the presents, or most of them. This caused some difficulty when my sister became a Catholic and went to Christmas Day mass, which went on forever and really screwed up my timings, because I always forgot. I’d already been to church (and played the organ – usually carol requests) for the C of E 20-minute service. Anglican clergy being married, they knew better than to expect women and children to drop everything for 2 hours, and that you’ll feel a whole lot kinder disposed to Baby Jesus if you’re not worrying about the roast drying out. Wink tends to slum it with us in the C of E nowadays when she’s here on Christmas Day.

For years, I used to make Christmas puddings. I’d make three, we’d eat one that year, one the next and the last was two years old when it was served. My daughter was working in a hotel in Brussels one year and was the only English member of staff. No one could quite believe that the English kept their Christmas puddings for two years and still considered it fit to eat. Eventually, I bought a pudding at the local deli one year when I was busy and hadn’t made one and, when everyone said how good it was, thought soddit and have never made one since. No one is that fond of pudding, so I often have something else as well. The year Delia’s last Christmas book came out was brilliant – it had loads of stuff, such as cinnamon icecream, an orange trifle, chocolate torte, sticky toffee pudding – I worked through her puds for years and they were all Christmas gold.

My time plan is limited to noting how long the main dish takes to cook nowadays. But this year, I’m not cooking at all until Sunday. Dilly and Al have invited us for Christmas Day and Weeza and Phil for Boxing Day. Weather permitting, of course.

Deck Oration

When my children were little it was still quite usual for mothers of little ones not to go out to work, not full-time at any rate, until the children started school. I was very hands-on with my children, and we did lots of crafts and cooking and playing together. We started preparing for Christmas in late November, by making the Advent calendars.

I’ve said before that I’m not in the least artistic, so we had to keep it simple in design, but they took quite a lot of time to do. We started by taking out the previous year’s cards and cutting out small pictures, such as a bell, a snowman, a robin. Ideally, they wouldn’t be much more than a centimetre square, but a few could be larger. Then, on a large sheet of paper, we’d draw and paint our picture. One year this was a Christmas tree, once it was a house, with Father Christmas coming out of the chimney, once it was a snowman, another time it was just Father Christmas and once he was on his sleigh. There must have been others, because I don’t remember that we ever repeated ourselves and by the time Weeza and Al were growing out of doing it, Ro was growing in.

After that, we set out our little pictures on the big one and lightly drew around them, then I cut out a flap on three sides for each. Next, we stuck the big picture lightly onto another sheet of paper, carefully glued each small picture in place under the flap, then reglued the whole securely. Last thing was to draw on the numbers. It was fairly unsophisticated, but we enjoyed ourselves and were more than satisfied with the finished artwork.

Once December started, we decided on our tree decoration project. We made new decorations every year, not instead of the old ones but in addition. I can’t remember all these – I know that one year we made Father Christmases with a cardboard tube for the body, a golf ball for the head (yeah, a ping pong ball would have been better) and a paper hat, another year we made snowmen, we did the usual angels out of doilies – home-made doilies of course, we made snowflakes. We had room for everything because we had a huge tree. We lived in a large Edwardian former Rectory for ten years and, as in the house I grew up in, there was a big hall with a stairwell suitable for a tree.

That reminds me, once, we were all in the study, having spent the afternoon doing the decorations, when we heard a falling sound. We had great difficulty getting out of the door – the tree hadn’t been attached securely enough to the banisters and had fallen – must have been at least 15 foot tall and it followed us into the room.

While we were making our decorations, we sang Christmas carols. We had a Rupert Bear book – I don’t know where it is unfortunately, although I have seen it in the last few years. I’ll have to have a search. The story was that one of the character’s granny (might have been Pong Ping’s) was poorly and all the chums felt sorry for her and wanted to buy her a Christmas present. So they went carol singing round Nutwood to raise money, and everywhere they went they asked the person for their favourite carol, made them all into a book and then gave it to her with the present they’d bought, and she was feeling much better by then and everyone had a lovely Christmas. We had this book out every December for years, which is the reason I remember it so well. Apart from whose granny was involved.

By the time Ro was growing up, we did less of this sort of thing, although we still made an Advent calendar, but he and Al enjoyed making things out of card. Once, I bought a book full of decorations to cut out, fold and glue and we still have a few of those. I’ve hung this one on the tree this year.

For a couple of years, my mother went to evening classes in stained glass work. They were in Norwich, so Weeza went with her the first year – she loved it and would like to take it up again. Al, who was then fourteen, went with her the second winter. He took to it too, and afterwards, when my mother equipped herself with the necessities for carrying on with it, he made decorations for the tree.

I also love these fragile clear glass baubles. I bought them, fifteen or more years ago, from a local shop for £1 each – most of them have been broken but I cherish the ones that are left, hanging them myself at the top of the tree.

I bought this from the Christmas market in the Grande Place in Brussells. I also bought a glass treble clef which I loved, but I haven’t been able to find it for the last few years. I’m afraid I may have not checked carefully enough when the tree was taken down, and it been left on.

The fairy – or, as I call her, the floozie, is very old. She has adorned the Christmas tree every year of the Sage’s life and earlier. I threaten to make her a new dress – the present one is not original – but I haven’t quite got the heart. I do rather love her, homely as she is (such a kinder word than plug-ugly, don’t you think?) and she’s all the decoration that the Sage really thinks a tree needs.