Monthly Archives: September 2010

It’s not all Z’s fault

I’d been blaming myself for not keeping things up to scratch, but now I’ve checked through thoroughly, I was in almost every particular.  Most importantly, I’d kept a record of the cheques  sent – and the cheques themselves, of course.  So this morning, I sent out an email to everyone who hadn’t yet sent in their evaluation forms and/or their cheques – the former by email, the latter by post.

I’ve had several replies, most of them promises of answers pdq, but one was from someone protesting that he’d sent his cheque.  I’ve checked through, and he has.  But he put down West Suffolk instead of Bury St Edmunds on the accompanying form, so I credited it to West Suffolk, who hasn’t paid up.  And another email was from someone who said that she’d sent me the details – which she has – and that their society treasurer is also Area treasurer, so he would deal with the finance direct.  PITY HE DIDN’T TELL ME, THEN.  Sorry to shout.  It’s been a bit like that.

I also had an email from someone who didn’t like a form having a yellow background in one section because of the extra ink involved printing it out.  He went all environmental on me.  I wrote back cheerfully suggesting he read it online and not bother to print it out at all, thus saving the paper and the ink (the reason it’s in yellow is to show people where they may type, as most of it can’t be altered). But you know, he was barely polite – frankly, I was treated as a lowly-paid employee rather than an unpaid volunteer like him … but it’s those who are paid less who deserve the kindest treatment – I don’t mind being taken to task when I’ve screwed up, but I’m still doing it for free, you know.  I’m sorry, here I’m going to quote my great-grandmother, whom I never met.  She used to say to my (very young) mother “my dear, never be rude to those who cannot answer back.”  There is no excuse for being lofty with someone whom you perceive as being in a menial position.  None.  That’s flat.

The Head told me this evening that a North Norfolk titled bloke (no gentleman, I fear) was extremely rude to a young teacher who was giving up her weekend to take some of our children on a Duke of Edinburgh Award trip.  Whilst not wanting to make it Googleable, I’m going to name names because, apparently, he behaved like an upper-class shit.  She had arranged to camp on some of his many thousands of acres and, because a completely separate booking had left a mess, he chose to blame the schoolchildren who had been there too, but in a different area.  He was very intimidating and rude to her and accused her of not having booked at all – he’d evidently forgotten having spoken to her himself a few months ago when he took the booking.  For money, which was paid.  Lord W@lp0le may be a Baron, but he is no gentleman.  I think he’d not have spoken to me that way, because he’d have recognised someone on what he’d consider his level.  I can’t bear the “class” thing and don’t do it.  But I can do it, if it’s necessary.  I’d have been what my children call “fruity”.

Anyway, the Head has written a totally tongue-in-cheek letter of apology, which will make the Baron embarrassed if he has any shred of decency.  I don’t know the fellow, so he may not.

Like a dog

I was just on my way to bed when I realised that something was lacking in my day.  So here I am.

I have got quite a lot done this evening actually – not the things I intended to do, but anything achieved makes one feel better.  And, having gone through the matters I referred to yesterday, there was actually very little that I hadn’t filled in, it just needed checking.  Next time, I’ll print out a paper copy first and make notes on that of what changes have been made as I go along.  I’ve been using different colours on the document, but actually I’m old enough to be reassured by paper and pencil, and it can be less fiddly than using several documents on the screen at the same time.

The main job is still to come, but I hope to concentrate on that tomorrow.  Several people have still failed to send me the information I need, so I’ll start by sending out emails, and try to work out how to use the programme (it’s a PDF rewriter called Nuance) in the meantime.  I can’t remember if I said, so sorry if I’m repeating myself, but I’m going to have to use the Sage’s laptop so have the added trickiness of using a pc instead of my Mac, so I have to think about how to do all the things that usually come naturally to me.  This isn’t a pc/Mac argument, it’s just what one’s used to is easier, especially when learning something extra.

It’s a funny thing, how perspective changes over a day or two.  Nothing has really got any more sorted, but I feel more in control again.  It’s specious really – if I can’t work out this programme I’ll be in trouble – but I’m sort of assuming I can.  I can only be anxious for a while and then I just get over it.  I think that’s true in general, our brains naturally try to adjust to circumstances and normalise whatever’s happening.  It’s only when you get beyond your ability to cope that you fail to do that – whether circumstances beyond your control take over or whether you are ill, depressed or overstressed.

I read a book on dog behaviour – that is, managing your dog’s behaviour, and it said that a dog adjusts to new circumstances within four (I think) days.  So, if there’s a major change, you might as well do it all at once, because otherwise, if you do it in stages, the dog will have to keep learning and being surprised.  I doubt we’re much different from dogs, in that respect.

Z’s learning curve is – um -curvy

Yes.  I’ve got a bit of a workload and it’s rather my own fault.  People have been sending me information and I’ve been downloading it but not acting on it instantly, and now I don’t know what I’ve done and what I haven’t, so I’m having to go through all the emails and checking them off  – it’s a bit of a nightmare.  I’ve got 23 different societies sending me information to correlate, some of them have a change of chairman and some are reasonably computer literate and some aren’t.  One said that she couldn’t save a form after she’d filled it in and there should be instructions – I’ve just done one myself, for someone who couldn’t manage, and it was easy, so I don’t actually know how to write instructions without sounding really patronising – anyway, quite a few people haven’t sent in the info – or their cheques yet – so I was going to send out a reminding email when I realised I haven’t altered the names to the new chairmen yet.  And, do you know, I can’t be bothered tonight.  It can wait until tomorrow.  I was given lovely DVDs for my birthday (all of Black Books and all of The Wire – saw them when they were on television of course, but now I can enjoy them again) and I haven’t had time for any of them yet.

So, for next time, I shall make every change as it comes in.  And make notes of what changes I’ve made.  As it is, I’ve got to spend tomorrow evening working at it too.

But not the day, because Weeza rang up this afternoon to say that Zerlina is asking to come over and see Granny and Grandpa.  Huzzah!  Very happy, as you might imagine.  So I invited them to lunch.  Al and family are here and there tomorrow, so won’t have time to come to lunch, but I expect we’ll see them at some time.

Al had a ceremonial lie-in this morning, as he hasn’t got a shop to go to any more.  That is, he has, but not to run.  He was in later painting.  The new floor looks great and Tim has also been working hard, painting the shelves and units.  He’s rearranging everything – Al did too, when he took over, you’ve got to stamp your mark on the place.  I said to Al, he and Dilly have got enough to get by for a while, don’t look for another job until you’re ready.  Unless, we agreed, an offer he can’t resist drops into his lap.

I didn’t feel too sharp yesterday and had a really bad headache.  My temperature control was all over the place too, I kept feeling too hot and then cold.  I slept quite a lot in the afternoon and went to bed early.  I put it down to very poor sleep for ages and then a really busy day, but I didn’t feel 100% today either (I meant to cycle into town but was a bit anxious of getting wobbly so didn’t) and Dilly and Zerlina were both under the weather, so maybe something’s going around.  I’m over it now, I’m pretty sure.  All the same, I’m inclined to another early night.  I’d love to feel I’d had enough sleep.

Acute accent, as Rog would put it

A friend called in this morning.  She and her husband live most of the time in New Zealand – their daughter and her then boyfriend took a trip round the world and ended up there, where they now live, married, with their three daughters.  Sandra and Graham loved it so much that they spent more and more time there; a couple of years ago their respective mothers died and now they live there and visit here, rather than the other way round.  The Sage and Graham are great friends and still have long conversations on the phone.  Graham always used to help on sale nights, showing the china (holding each lot up as it’s auctioned) and giving it out to the buyers once they’ve paid.  Alex does this now.

Anyway, Sandra will be leaving again in another ten days – the Sage has promised to drop a catalogue in to her in a week’s time when they are back from the printer but I won’t see her for a couple of years, probably.  She’s become very integrated into New Zealand life, even having gained the accent.

It’s funny, isn’t it, how some people adapt their accent to where they are living and others never do.  I wonder if there’s a connection with how good you are at picking up other languages?  Or maybe it’s if you are, in the rather old-fashioned phrase, a people person.  Sandra spends a lot of time with her granddaughters and they were born in NZ.  It’s natural that she should adapt her speaking to theirs, in the circumstances (that she’s living in their country, I mean).

Ups and downs

It seems that Dave likes the later years in a decade, as far as age is concerned, such as 46-the end of 49.

I quite disagree, without making an argument of it.  I visualise a decade topographically – starting on the plains, the years rise cheerfully to a plateau before sinking towards the nines.  So, as far as I’m concerned, the ages ending in 8 and 9 are the ones not to like.  Especially 9.  It’s like standing with one foot about to drop for a whole year.

I can’t say that this is reflected in the events of my life particularly, it’s just a feeling.  I’m certainly not superstitious about it. I prefer not to pass a decanter of port the wrong way (not bothered about a bottle) but otherwise, I’m fairly free of superstition.

We all want some figgy ice cream doesn’t sound right, but it tastes good

I promised Julie the recipe for the fig and cardamon ice cream that I made the other day.  I’m afraid it’s in metric measurements.  The cardamon flavour doesn’t come through much, but you wouldn’t want it to dominate – one could experiment a bit, but with all the cream and figs in it, you wouldn’t want to risk an expensive disaster.  I think you’d only do it if you have access to cheap figs or grow them yourself, but it’s very good for using up those that are ripe to the point of splitting.  Very easy to make, I altered the given recipe slightly as it didn’t mention cooling the figs before adding the cream, which I thought was odd.

20 fresh figs
165g caster sugar
100ml water
1/4 teasp ground cardamon seeds
120 ml double cream (that’s the sort that can be whipped)
120 ml single cream (which can’t, still thicker than the sort you might put in coffee)
3 tablespoons blood orange juice (they’re out of season here, but I used plain oj)

Remove the stalks from the figs, mash them with a fork.  Cook in a saucepan with the sugar and water for 20-30 minutes, stirring from time to time.  I then used a hand-held blender on the mixture as it was quite lumpy, but you could beat it with a whisk.  Leave to cool and meantime whip the double cream until it’s floppy.  Add to the fig mixture with the cardamon, single cream and orange juice and stir thoroughly.

If you have an ice cream machine, churn according to the instructions.  If not, put in a container in the freezer and take out when half-frozen to beat, to break up the ice crystals.

It is delicious and quite unusual – I don’t know if I’d have recognised the fig flavour if I’d been given it, as one doesn’t usually eat puréed fresh fig.  The colour would probably depend on the variety of fig, mine is a rather attractive pinky-mauve.

Tonight, I made smoked haddock risotto, which was very good.  Made in the usual way, using the haddock cooking water as stock.

Things are going on well at the shop and a lot of the painting has been done.  A new floor will be laid tomorrow.  Dear Tim came along after work to lend a hand.  Everyone’s being very kind and saying how glad they are that the shop will reopen next week.  Dilly says that a lot of the parents at the village school have come up to say nice things to her – it’s occurred to her that they are concerned for her.  She’s taken it all in her stride, however, and doesn’t seem to be in the least put out by the speed of all the changes.  She says it’s typical of Al, she knew what he was like when she married him!  She certainly is a wonderful girl – we’re all so lucky to have her in the family.

I knew it was coming up in the next couple of weeks, but I realise I’ll have to go to London next week to get some things sorted out at my flats.  I’ve emailed the gas man to make an appointment and hope he can do it next Thursday.  I usually try to fit in an exhibition or something at the same time, but I don’t know if I’ll have time.  Does anyone know what’s on?

Chapter 3 – not an end, but another beginning

As I said, Al had been considering getting another job for himself for the sake of his family life (just to mention at this point that there are no lines to read between; there is no marital crisis or disharmony here).  The shop is not failing.  He has, I will say, cut down on his hours this year – when his assistant Tim left for a full-time job, he didn’t replace him and closed the shop earlier in the day, which meant he had more time at home with the family after school and the money not taken was counterbalanced by not paying out.

Just to explain – the shop is always busiest in the morning.  Then, it’s very quiet between about 1.30 and 3ish, then it picks up again, but it really is hardly worth being open for a couple of hours, sometimes you might take only a couple of pounds in that time.  And after 4, it’s quiet again.  Usually, that is, there’s some random days when customers are queueing to give you their money at ten to five, but that’s not the norm.

Back in the summer, Al was considering his options and came down to expanding the home delivery side – he has a website and offers free home delivery (and always has) but contemplated doing mail drops in local villages, each with a day for deliveries.  It would not, obviously, be feasible to employ anyone to do them, but he and his father would fit them in.  The other option (I’ve a bee in my bonnet, by the way, about “two choices.”  Two or more options, one choice) was, as I said, to find a tenant.  Al owns the shop outright and he spent several thousand pounds doing up the outside last year.  Still some inside work to do, but it’s pretty sound.  He had thought of shutting for a week or two during the autumn while it’s quiet to get on with the repairs and painting.

It had all been a lot to think about and he, quite calmly, snapped last Thursday.  But it didn’t mean he’d given up on the business and he still wanted to find a tenant to take it on as a going concern.  And one has come to him.

Tim worked for him for a couple of years.  He was self-employed and it was useful to have some secure weekly income.  But in the end, he decided to take a full-time job.  It so happened that, on Thursday, his mother dropped in to town and discovered what was going on.  Tim wasn’t enjoying his job at all and she reckoned he might be interested.

In short, he phoned that night and came to visit Al the next afternoon.  He promised a decision on Sunday. And, reader, she married h… – oh sorry, wrong story – they have come to an agreement and Al is beavering away this week to get the downstairs ready (new flooring and a repaint) and it will reopen next week.

Al has made no decisions on his own future yet, but there’s no hurry.  They have enough coming in to get by and it’s early days.

The remarkable thing is the links between the events of now and eight years ago.  Derek made a snap decision to close (thank goodness there is no similarity between reasons – I’m sorry to say that his daughter died a few weeks later) and so has Al.  It was a chance visit by a customer (and parent of the shopkeeper-to-be) in each case and a decision and agreement was made within a few days.  It was, for the incomer, a huge opportunity to make a positive move from a less than happy situation.  It was a load off the mind of the outgoing shopkeeper, who was feeling really guilty about letting the customers down and losing a really important part of town centre shopping and community life.

Best of all, Tim is ideal.  He and Al know each other really well and there is mutual trust.  He knows the business and has realistic expectations – and probably ideas for opportunites too.

I can’t wait.  I have been unable to buy supermarket veggies, I can’t bring myself to do so, and Dilly says the same.  If I haven’t got it in the garden, we’ve been having frozen veg.

I still can’t get over the exact eight years – to the very week.

Chapter two – the shop shuts, to save you reading to the end

Okay, as I’ve received the gentlest of reproofs from the Chairwoman, a woman I care for very much, I’ll carry on tonight with the explanation.

It’s not a complicated story at all, but it’s hard to explain just how emotional we were at that time.  A new chapter was opening for Al as a self-employed shopkeeper, for Ro as a university student, I was in the middle of a really complicated situation as a school governor and my mother was desperately ill.  She was jaundiced and weak and I thought she was dying.  She was dying.  She went into hospital the day after my birthday and none of us expected her home.

Al opened the shop on the 16th and loved it at once.  He had to give a month’s notice at his other employment, so worked in the mornings in his shop and in the afternoons and evenings in Norwich.  At least I had a meal for him in the evenings.  My mother had an endoscopy, and we were summoned to the hospital for the results – Wink was with us, of course.  It was a very young doctor, obviously being given some practice at handing out bad news.  He couldn’t say the ‘th’ sound, so he kept telling us about a growf on her pancreas.  They found stomach ulcers too, and had given her two units of blood, and her bile duct was blocked, which had caused the jaundice.  They had put in a stent to open it up.

It was explained that there was nothing to be done, it was too far advanced and she was too weak.  She might have a few days or weeks.  One day I may write more about this, but I’m only explaining the whole situation here as a background, it isn’t the actual story.  Suffice it to say that, remarkably, she rallied enough to return home after a few days and was amazingly well for another six months.  She finally died on 17th March, which was the longest estimate of life she’d been given.

I was falling apart, rather, though saying I could cope.  Ro got ready to leave and his father took him to university in Lancaster – hundreds of miles away.  I think he’d chosen it for that reason.  Ro had an awful migraine on the day he left and could barely function.  The Sage left him in bed in the hall of residence.

Al was doing really well, especially bearing in mind his double-shifting.  After the first week, he said “I don’t know why people say being self-employed is stressful.  I think it’s wonderful”.  Bless.

I’ve given you enough background, I think, to appreciate the emotion and commitment we all felt at that time.  The first winter was incredibly hard for Al, but he never complained.  I gave him tights to wear under his jeans for warmth.  There was a lot of hard physical work, especially at Christmas.  In fact, Christmas has revolved around the shop for the last seven years.  The two days before, Al goes in hours early to get orders ready and the days are incredibly busy.  Squiffany’s first Christmas, she had croup all night and they phoned NHS Direct on Christmas morning (too polite to bother anyone until 6am).  Al then phoned us.  “Don’t worry when an ambulance arrives,” he said, “the paramedics are going to assess her.”

For eight years, Al has loved his work, but it’s been hard and the hours are not good for a family, as he’s always open all day on Saturday.  He’d come to the reluctant conclusion that he would have to consider doing another job, but he still felt a big commitment to the people in the town.  There used to be several greengrocers here – four, even when he started – but now he’s the only one.  He hoped to find a tenant to take it on as a going concern.

A couple of weeks ago, he arrived to find the tills empty.  He left a float of £25 in each, normally, but sometimes there was more in change – he reckoned there was probably £75-£80 that night.  There had been no break-in.  The obvious suspect was one of the delivery drivers.  He phoned both his wholesalers, who vouched for their men – he knew one of them well, but the other firm had had a series of temps over the last few months.  However, it wasn’t one of them that night.

Al changed the locks, but was very upset at the breach of trust.  It was just after that when he went on holiday.  I took all the money home each night.  Last Thursday, he arrived for work and couldn’t unlock the door.  There had been an attempt to force it, which had bent the lock.

We have no proof, but we suspect that it was one of the temps who had had a key made, and had been helping himself to small amounts of money for a while – Al had kept thinking he’d made mistakes in accounting at the time – but, once he’d left, he had no reason for caution and had emptied the tills.  A couple of weeks later, he tried again and tried to force the door.

For Al, it was the last straw.  He seemed quite calm when I went in to see him as he waited for the police, but after the door had been opened he put up a sign inviting people to help themselves.  There was a box for money if anyone wanted to pay, but he wanted the shop cleared.  By the end of the day, it was, almost.

Dilly and I were at home, feeling quite stunned.

There is more, but that’s enough for one day.  Toodle-pip, darlings.

Z explains. It may take some time

We’re all feeling a bit peculiar, it’s been an extremely eventful few days that has affected all of us.  The first thing was the one I was being mysterious about.

I’m sorry, but I need to go back eight years.  This whole thing may take more than a day.  Sorry, no one ever said I didn’t give a full explanation.

Eight years ago, Al was working in a shop in Norwich.  He’d been living in a flat for a few years, then his landlady decided to sell up and he had to leave.  He couldn’t find anywhere as nice for an affordable rent, so moved home while he looked.  His job was not that interesting, but he’d decided he liked a retail business and was looking for something better.  He had savings.  He was only interested in a shop selling things people needed, not luxuries.  He liked a constant throughput, not one lucrative customer per day.

Back home, my mother was ill.  Very ill and getting worse.  She had been to the doctor, who was very concerned and suggested hospital tests might be in order; he was going on holiday for a week and that was about how long it would take to arrange.

Ro was about to start university.

I was in the throes of major upheavals at the village school.  I can’t tell you about it, but I can tell you that, at the beginning of June, the chairman of governors, a dear friend as well as a respected colleague, had dropped dead at the age of 62.  It was shattering, and I was vice-chairman to boot.  Things came to a head in early September, where a chairman’s casting vote was the right decision, as has been proved, but controversial.

That’s the background.  Now, the greengrocer, for ten years, had been Derek.  A lovely man, we’d been friends all that time, in a shopkeeper/customer way.  His daughter had been ill and her cancer had returned in a more aggressive form.  He and his wife decided to go to Scotland to nurse her for as long as it took, and both to give up their businesses.  He put a sign up to say the shop would close in a week’s time.  The Sage saw it.  He knew the landlords, who had previously run the shop themselves, and went to get the key.  Now, the Sage is a subtle man.  He said to me, that the upstairs might suit Al as a bedsit.  So, I went with him to have a look.  It was out of the question.  Far too small, and couldn’t be separated from the shop as the store-room was also the corridor to the stairs.  I said so.  But, what a fabulous location, I said.  In a few minutes, I had Al as a greengrocer.  Of course, so had had the Sage already, but he tests an idea by letting me think of it independently.

About 11.45, Al came home and was greeted by an excited me, who explained the whole story and is not subtle at all.  He and his father went to look.  They came home.  “I’m interested,” Al said.  “How long have I got to make a decision?”

I promise, we hadn’t rehearsed, but the Sage and I simultaneously looked at our watches.  “Ah”, said Al. “I’ll tell you in the morning”.

So, at 9 o’clock the next morning, Al decided to buy the shop and he and his father went to negotiate with the owners.  Terms were agreed and they went to tell Derek.  I went in to town later and was slightly startled to be hugged and kissed by a very emotional Derek, who was thrilled.  Eileen and Jean were asked to stay on, having been given notice a few days before, and they agreed that they could cope with afternoons while Al served out his notice at his job.  We employed someone to help clean and paint the shop, which was closed for one week only.  It closed on 7th September and reopened on 16th September, a Monday.  Al’s first order cost £250 – he’d forgotten a few things, but we all laughed at the thought of stocking a whole shop for that sum.

In the meantime, I phoned the doctor to tell him my mother was much worse, and asked if it was worth her going into hospital.  He was startled.  “It was a week ago”, he said.  I said that she was so ill that it might be kinder to spare her.  Somehow, however, she lurched out on the day before my birthday to buy me a present.  It’s hard to believe that I can’t remember now what that was.  She went into hospital on the 11th.

Of course, poor old Ro was getting ready for university, and not a lot of support he got from us.  I explained to him that there was not room for us to think – anything he wanted us to do, we’d do, but we weren’t able to think for him and he’d have to tell us.

Crumbs, darlings, I knew this would be complicated and long-winded, I’m so sorry.  I am leaving whole lots out, I promise.  And it is relevant – well, it is in regard to the events of the last few days.

Z finds it all too much

I’ve had to move all my bookmarked blogs from Bloglines, which is shutting down.  I’m not surprised, it’s been not working properly for some time.  I ‘exported’ them in one go, but it made me look at them – there are an awful lot of blogs which I’ve read for ages but don’t have any particular relationship with, and I think that some of them are going to have to go.  I keep adding a few but not removing any and I haven’t caught up with all posts for a long time.

I don’t mind if someone whose blog I read and comment on doesn’t visit here, and some people rarely leave comments anyway and that’s fine.  Though there are a few bloggers who complain when they receive fewer comments/readers than they used to, but never see it from the other side – that is, that if it isn’t reciprocal, they can’t really complain.  Plenty of people whom I’ve followed for ages have never given any indication that they return the favour – not that they have to, but one comment would be polite, I think.  I dunno, maybe I’m getting a bit of a stickler in my old age (just had a birthday, you know, a year older than last week).

Anyway, I’m starting to jettison some blogs.  I think I’m going to have to come down to about 100.  I can cope with that.  No one who’s a friend, of course.  Even if we don’t chat often.