Monthly Archives: May 2010

Z continues into Uncharted Territory

For those of us who are lifelong Southerners, heading towards the Highlands gives rise to a certain trepidation. I feel that I need to hold on to my seat … I wonder if that was the effect that the prospect of Glasgow had on the young man yesterday?

Today, we’re off to Loch Lomond, via Stirling Castle, and then to Hill House in Helensburgh. I was unimpressed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s house (reproduced) yesterday. You sit on one of those very low, though uncomfortably straight-backed chairs and it would be quite difficult to get up again without help. Appearance over function is not much use in a chair.

However, the Burrell Collection is fantastic. I could spend another day there very happily.

This post is brought to you by Z’s iPhone, from Alistair’s coach, whilst Tom the guide tells us about the Battle of Bannockburn.

Z pokes fun

My friend Jill and I laughed so much we had to prop each other up. We had taken our final glasses of wine – the four of us, two Jills, Pip and me – to sit in comfier chairs and chat after dinner. Jill and I noticed a short, dapper man come out of the dining room and, a few minutes later, return. We both saw his hand gesture low down in front of him and sniggered. “He’s having a little scratch” chuckled Jill. “He could have been doing up his flies,” I suggested, slightly more charitably.

An hour later, he came out of the dining room and vanished in the direction of the loo again. We made observations about the amount of beer he had been drinking or the weakness of his bladder. Then he came back.

He scratched his groin again. We were helpless with mirth.

Scots wahay. Or something like that.

Do you know, I’m further northward than I’ve ever been before. Considering that Buchanan is my middle name (yes, honestly, darlings, it’s something I usually keep quiet about, it may seem odd that I have never been over the border, but it’s something I’ve managed to miss out on.

Anyway, here I am in not-so-sunny (esp considering it’s 11pm) Glasgow after being on the road for over eleven hours. Including stops.

I have already embraced an hotel employee.

What a difference…

… a couple of days make.


And, with the addition of some well-rotted (and completely odourless) manure, afterwards.

The stuff on the left, with the exception, of course, of the tomatoes in the big pots, is available for the shop, as are peppers and aubergines on the right. The sweetcorn and several varieties of squashes and pumpkins are going to be planted when I get home.

I meant to take a photo of the veg garden too, with its rows of five sorts of beans, plus herbs, lettuce, spinach, chard and courgettes (and anything I’ve forgotten about) but I didn’t get around to it as Tilly was hoping for her dinner. Well, I went out afterwards to pot up aubergines, but when I finished the Sage was hoping for his dinner, so it still didn’t get done.

I’d promised to make a card for everyone with phone numbers on – it had seemed a good idea, at one stage, to put the National society logo on them, and I fiddled round for ages because I’m not very good at this sort of thing, finally got it done and then printed out a sheet – and the blue of the logo was streaky. I tested and cleaned the print head – all the other colours were fine, it was just the blue. So, I thought, it doesn’t matter, I’ll print it in black and white. it wouldn’t. As the ink cartridge was nearing its end, I decided to change it. The new one was no better.

The Sage had his dinner late. I’ve emailed it to Dilly and she will print it out for me. I’ve had enough.

Z’s back (aches, that is)

Golly, I’m tired. I woke up at 6 o’clock, quite unnecessarily early and didn’t get up at once – checked my emails in bed however, so as not to waste time – and was out in the greenhouse by 7, getting everything ready for Al. By the time he came out, I had loaded up the car. Remembering to put my eye in, I shot inside and then followed him to the shop…a quick unload and I was back for the second load. Breakfast at 9, a look at the newspaper, off to church, where I’d put myself down as sidesman, for coffee and as organist – home again, quick lunch and then into the garden to start planting.

That’s gone well, actually, and I’ve got broad beans, two sorts of french beans, runner beans, chard and spinach planted out, and the remainder ready for Al to sell. Tomorrow, the courgettes, haricot beans, some lettuce and herb seedlings to plant out and tomatoes to put into final pots, as well as aubergines to pot up. When I arrive home again, there will just be the squashes and sweet corn to plant out, plus anything in the aubergine, tomato and pepper line that there isn’t room for in the greenhouse.

I was so anxious not to waste time that I decided on the time I could spare for each job and set the timer. It’s a method I’ve used for years to get myself going – it’s an illusionary time limit, of course, but it works for me. In fact, I was pretty accurate, and I was done within a minute or two either way each time. I’ve also restocked the trays of plants for Al for tomorrow – each variety of tomato is separate, and everything is clearly labelled. I’m out of outdoor cucumbers, but have been able to replenish his supply of beans and have potted up a few spinach and chard plants as well.

Al was quite indignant yesterday, on behalf of one of the wholesalers’ driver. I was talking to an elderly lady customer whom I haven’t seen for a long time, as she hasn’t been well enough to get out – Al has been delivering to her – and I noticed a woman waiting to talk to him. I didn’t hear any of the conversation, but afterwards he said he’d had a complaint. She had had to wait while his daily ordered was delivered at 7.30 that morning.

The road by the shop is narrow (and one-way), but there’s just room for one vehicle to pass another. However, cars had been -illicitly – parked on the double yellow lines overnight so, when the van stopped in its usual place, cars couldn’t pass to the left of it. She complained bitterly that she’d had to wait, and so had other drivers.

“Suffolk and what?” was my reaction, I admit – I know how quickly the deliveries are made, and how cheerfully, and I respect the hard work of the delivery men, who start their working day at some time before 3 am, loading their vans with the daily orders, in the right order for delivery, driving for several hours to do their rounds and never missing a day, whatever the weather – they’ve been late a few times during the snowy periods but they’ve never let Al down. “Too lazy to walk a few extra yards, that’s his trouble”, nagged the woman. I’d love to see her lift half-hundredweights (25 kilos), portly as she was, never mind carry them an inch further than necessary. A lazy person wouldn’t turn up for the second day.

From his report of the conversation, although Al stuck up for the driver, he was more polite than I’d have been. I was indignant, and afterwards apologised to Al’s Saturday boy (who is a pupil at the High School) for my outspoken language. He was more amused than offended.

Al is pretty unhappy at the thought of losing him after the summer. He’s about to take his GCSEs (that is, the exams taken at the age of 16 at the end of compulsory education) and has gained an apprenticeship at Sizewell – one of 26 out of 170 applicants. He’s going to do his initial training in Portsmouth, so has handed in his notice. Al has only once had a young employee so intelligent, reliable and good-natured. He’ll be very hard to replace.

What ho!

“Pob says that honey production may not be my forte as a beekeeper, but I’m certainly good at expanding the bee population.” “Well”, I replied, “that’s what you want, isn’t it?”

It’s true, he’s always said that he is more interested in the honey bee than the honey. He and Dilly took classes for a year before getting a hive and still go to the local bee society talks and demonstrations (showing you how to do things, rather than protesting, darlings). He became interested because of all the news about the decline in the honey bee population. Pob also says that it takes at least five years to be able to say you know anything at all about beekeeping. He started at the age of 13, but only started to expand his apiary when he retired, and now has 150 hives. Al will be quite happy with 3 for now, so will sell his surplus colonies, which will help to recoup the money he’s just laid out on several more nucs (only this afternoon, someone in Yagnub came into the shop to say there was a swarm in their garden – Al phoned Pob to get it, but he’d be quite happy to pick it up himself if he had somewhere to house it).

A swarm is not aggressive, by the way. There are a lot of bees, but they have gorged themselves on honey and are quite docile.

Today, at last, the weather has changed and was warm and sunny, as long as the sun was out. I took a lot of plants in to the shop for Al to sell and planted out more – there’s a lot to do tomorrow as well. I think I’ll get everything out except squashes, if I can – well, and except surplus aubergines and peppers, which I hope to plant against the wall. When the capping is put on it, that is. Although I suppose the ground will be extremely hard and need thorough digging – might put them in pots instead.

My back ached and I was tired out by the time I came in at half past six. The Sage had been looking after the children so hadn’t made me a cup of tea (not that I expected him to, but he often does) and I suspected I was so exhausted partly because I was thirsty. “Will you have some tea now,” enquired the Sage. “A bit late, I think I’ll go straight on to wine.” I had a big glass of water first though, being awfully good and sensible and everything. Then I poured the wine and took a sip. Honestly, I started to feel better at once. I remember that my mother, who had to stop drinking alcohol when it started to give her migraines, took a long time not to miss it. She would come in of an evening and say “I’ve had a hell of a day” and pour me a glass of wine. I had to drink for two for the rest of my teens.

That reminds me, I started preparations for my holiday today, taking the first and sensible precaution of getting used to daytime drinking again.

When I mentioned signing off emails yesterday, I should have started with the less thorny but equally quirky salutation at the top. So, how do you start? With the name, with Dear *name*, with Hi *name*, with Hello* name – or something else?

Ooh, and while I’m on the subject, how do you spell hello? I’ve got friends who write hallo, hello or hullo, and holloo is, if old-fashioned, not incorrect either. Come to that, I have known people, rather posher than I, who pronounce it “hillo”, however they spell it.


I think you have to be over forty – maybe even more – to be aware of the difference in our behaviour to each other over the last few years, in this country. We kiss. We never used to kiss. You had to be quite close friends even for a peck on the cheek when arriving for dinner, but now we do it all the time, quite often lip to lip. Indeed, today I kissed three colleagues whom, a few years ago, it would not have been appropriate to have more contact with than a handshake (two women and a man, since you ask). Two of them lunged forward first and the third was a mutual thing, by the way, I haven’t been having a startlingly exuberant day at the office.

Then there’s the signing off of emails – oh, how simple it was when the choice was between “yours faithfully” and “yours sincerely” – because there was a Rule. Nowadays, though they still cut it for a letter, it seems to have moved to “kind regards” giving way to “best regards” – and where exactly does “best wishes” come in to play?

Not that we should forget those who opt out with “take care” or “cheers”, or simply “best”.

Of course, and I go back to the kisses again, it doesn’t take a much closer friendship to sign off with love … but how many of those x’s* to put? I’ve got x friends and xx friends, a couple of xxxers and a XXX. It always seems polite to reciprocate. While I was on a committee with one of the xxxers, it seemed slightly too close to do the same, so I generally restricted myself to Zxx, but now we’re not on a committee together and see each other less often, I’m more relaxed and follow his lead (it’s true, darlings, don’t try too hard and I’ll follow you anywhere).

I’m not terribly Continental by instinct – I go along with the multiple cheek to cheek kisses of course – oh, that question of whether to go for the third kiss – or worse, a fourth which always catches you out – but I’m actually more of a ‘one kiss with hug’ girl for someone I’m fond of, which I feel is more close and friendly than the impersonal double mwah. It isn’t necessarily impersonal of course, but air-kissing someone you don’t know very well or air-kissing a good friend feels much the same.

It has to be confessed, I do usually touch the cheek with my lips, which probably shows my general oikiness. And then, of course, there’s the matter of lipstick. Is it polite to rub it off? And how intimate is that? It feels more personal than the peck on the cheek, but on the other hand, it surely isn’t quite on to leave the imprint.

Lots of love, darlings


* whilst not, strictly speaking, a place for an apostrophe, I tried xes and exes and xs and they didn’t work.

A bale of hay

I’d just said to the Sage that I was going to get changed, ready to leave at 6 o’clock to meet my friends for dinner, when the phone rang.  It was Al.

He’d been out to check the bees and found that a swarm was clinging on to one of the hives.

He knew they were about to swarm so had split them already – an artificial swarm, that is, you bamboozle them into believing that they have swarmed and, among the ones left behind (the queen and half the bees take half the food with them to set up a new home, leaving queen larvae and enough workers and food to keep the colony going) the new queen will hatch, fly, mate and return to the hive to spend the rest of her life laying eggs. Evidently, they had not been deceived.

By the way, Blue Witch, I’m sure this is only vaguely connected to the actual process, but bear in mind I don’t really know what I’m talking about. I’m not the beekeeper of the family.

He was wanting the Sage to babysit while he and Dilly went and dealt with the swarm, but he soon realised that it wasn’t going to be easy. The bees were all over the back of the hive with the queen somewhere in the middle and they were going to have to be coaxed into a new home. So he got in the car and drove off to Pob in Boringland to ask his advice. Pob lent him another hive and some tools to help and back he came.

In the meantime, of course, I’d been out to have a look but then had to leave for my evening out.

The other thing is that Al didn’t know which colony had swarmed. It was probably one of the established queens, but occasionally a left-behind colony will swarm – this is beyond even my vague understanding so I won’t try to explain – anyway, it could have been any one of the five, three of which are presently hatching out new queens (or two of them, anyway) and mustn’t be disturbed. And evening was drawing on and the swarm might take off at any time to find a refuge before the air chilled. If they flew before he returned, nothing could be done.

Anyway, I got back just before 10 o’clock and hurried indoors. “Did they catch the bees?” I demanded. They did, said the Sage, and have put them in the hive lent by Pob (who is a long established beekeeper with a hundred or a hundred and fifty – can’t remember – hives and provides all the honey for Al’s shop.

The title of the post is from the rhyme
A swarm of bees in May is worth a bale of hay.
A swarm of bees in June is worth a silver spoon.
A swarm of bees in July isn’t worth a fly.

Mind you, it’s not that Al has gained any bees, just that he hopes not to have lost any. All he’s gained are some grey hairs and some more worry lines.


How odd.  My phone just quacked and I went to answer it, and the screen said “blocked caller.”  I don’t understand at all – I’ve not blocked anyone and I can’t find anything on the phone that says how to block or unblock anyone anyway.  Can any of you suggest an explanation, please?

Things going bump

It’s no wonder that nothing is growing much – some leaves of the french beans, which are in the greenhouse about 5 feet away from the side panes of glass, are scorched by last night’s frost.  The aubergines are looking unhappy and so are some of the tomatoes.  The pepper and chilli plants are holding up well, as are the greenhouse cucumbers, although they have hardly grown since I planted them out.  The courgette plants are looking good and have almost outgrown the frost damage of a few weeks ago.  All these things are in the big Dutch light greenhouse of course – nothing tender is planted out at all.  I’m doubting now that they will be before I go away, which is a bit disappointing, but I think it’s too risky unless the forecast is really much better by the weekend.

Dilly phoned this morning, asking me to go through and help to calm down Pugsley, who had got himself into a real state.  There was a hanger on a door which had stopped it from shutting (I’m not sure exactly about the details) and he had convinced himself that there was a monster or something in the house which was out to get him – he was genuinely terrified.  We were puzzled and a bit unnerved – he asked to come to my house as he was afraid of his.  He was having sandwiches for lunch before going to nursery, so he brought them and I sat him on my lap while he ate them and I did some careful explaining of what’s real and what’s not, and that there are stories and films that are just stories – he did listen sensibly and we talked it all though, and then discussed things that really are dangerous in the wrong places, such as fire and cars.  And then animals that are real, like lions, but are not exactly a threat to him, and snakes.  I said I’d look out the snake skin I found in the greenhouse, but luckily he didn’t think of it when he came home, because I couldn’t remember where I’ve put it – it’s not where I thought it was.

Anyway, when he came home he said that he was all right and it had all been a game – it hadn’t at the time, but he seems to have got over it and he didn’t mind at all about going home again.

When sitting on my lap, every time he wanted to say something, he started with “Excuse me,” which was sweet – I suppose he’s picked that up at nursery school.

Zerlina has had two days at the childminders now and it’s gone very well.  The first day, last Friday, apparently, she cried for nearly an hour and was very relieved when Weeza went to pick her up, but the Monday afterwards, although she cried when Weeza left, she stopped almost at once and was quite relaxed upon Weeza’s return.  She was asleep when her mother left her with me yesterday and took a while to placate when she woke – though I think that was because she was hungry – anyway, when Squiffany arrived she cheered right up.  When Weeza got back she was pleased, but almost immediately left with Dilly to go to their house – we followed a few minutes later, and by then she was happily bouncing on the trampoline and laughing with Squiffany and Pugsley.  So that seems to be all right.  No separation anxiety there, unless it’s on Weeza’s part.