Monthly Archives: December 2010

December leaves, January prepares to bud

I finally went shopping.  First time I’d left here since Christmas Day.  I went to the bank first, to pay in the money from the Christmas services at church – they are really cheerful and helpful, the tellers in our local banks.  Then I went to get some food for the weekend – I could manage on what we have, really, but I had to get something to take Andy.  Then after that, I remembered that I hadn’t been able to find my wellies when I’d wanted them last.  This was a mystery as I never leave them anywhere but the porch.  I can only think that we lent them to someone and we’ve all forgotten about it.  They are nowhere to be seen, anyway, so I went to the big store just a couple of hundred yards away, next to the church, and have bought myself  a new pair.

I only stayed with Andy about 20 minutes, by which time he was tired.  He’s lost a lot of weight (not overweight to start with) and speaks quietly, but his mind and spirit are as always.  He is going to spend tomorrow at home, which he’s really looking forward to.  It’ll be a long time before he’s able to manage stairs and he’s been advised that living in a bungalow or having a stairlift would be a good idea, so Gill has already been house-hunting and has found somewhere suitable, in this village (they live a couple of miles away in Yagnub).  An estate agent is coming round to measure their place next week.  Although the property market is pretty flat, the small modern estate where they live is very attractive and houses usually sell very quickly.  On Gill’s suggestion, I took bananas (low potassium levels) and Lucozade, and added a box of Maltesers, chosen because they’re small and appealing and not wrapped.  His face lit up, he asked me to open the box and he put it on the bed by him!

Then I called on a friend, the one who wants an iPad, from whom I’d had an email asking if I’d be free next week to have another go – the weather turned against us last time.  We’re hoping to go next Tuesday.  After that, the Sage and I went next door where Al and Dilly were having a family party, with her parents, sister and family, Weeza and family and us.

And that’s our evening.  I’ll still be up at midnight and might turn on the television to see the London fireworks, but I’m not in the mood for New Year’s Eve television antics.  I started the crossword earlier (a friend and I have got into the way of doing it together and moaning to each other by text when we can’t get a clue) but have yet to read the paper, and will listen to music, I expect.

Tomorrow, we’re going for the New Year’s Day walk in Denton – the last one, I couldn’t join in as it was impossible for me to walk far, so I stayed in Gilly’s kitchen stirring soups for lunch.  The previous year, I’d had to do the short, 2 mile walk, having always done the longest one before that.  This is what I need wellies for, by the way, it’s very much a country walk.  I’ll put out the puppy word on the route, the Denton grapevine extends far and fruitfully.

I hope that this year has been a good one for you, friends, and that 2011 will be even better.

News about Andy

There is a diagnosis now – he has vasculitis, which is inflammation of the blood vessels.  There are still tests going on to show specifically which parts of his body are affected and how badly, but he’s being treated with cortisone now and is showing some improvement.  It is a chronic condition, but there is every hope that the symptoms can be considerably alleviated.  I’m going to go and visit him tomorrow, just to pop in for a quick half hour, which is about as long as he’ll want to cope with a visitor.  It’s hoped that he can be moved to the local cottage hospital soon, which will be much more home-like, it’s lovely there, and he’ll be able to make frequent home visits.  

I spent the morning with the children.  I didn’t sleep a whole lot last night, and in fact spent a while exchanging texts with a friend who couldn’t sleep either.  Dilly and Al had to go to Norwich, where the lease was to be signed with the new tenants at their house.  I helped Pugsley finish his complicated Lego castle.  
This afternoon, we’re not doing a lot actually.  It’s been foggy all day, although mild, and I’m not going anywhere.  I’m enjoying the peace.  It’s rare to have nothing that I have to do, it’ll be soon enough that I’ll have deadlines to meet and work to prepare, but I’m taking the rest of the year off from it all.  Tomorrow, we’re going next door (after I get back from the hospital) where various family and friends will gather – not sure who or how many, though I know Dilly’s parents and Weeza and co will be there.  It’ll be families with young children, not a midnight do.  

Z is fairly mean

I don’t think I’ve ever relaxed quite so much.  I’ve been getting up late – not waking particularly late, but if I get up before the Sage, it wakes him, so I only do so if I have to.  Then, when he finally wakes up and wants a cuddle (this doesn’t imply I don’t), I then snuggle down for a bit once he has got up, so I’m even later.

Then, the Sage went out to a party – it was a general open house, I hadn’t been specifically invited and I am still in the mood to relax alone, so I didn’t go, and instead cooked myself a substantial lunch which included, but was not limited to, two fried bantam eggs which were so fresh that the yolks sat well on top of the whites, and i, in my turn, sat on the floor by the fire to eat it, with a glass of white wine.  Then I read the papers and then I watched the last episode of Series 3 of The Wire.  The next series is about the kids, as I remember, and Prez becomes a teacher.  And I guess that Chris and Snoop will become truly scary – does it include the buying of the nail gun?  That is the most hilarious piece of the whole series.

The Sage went out again later, to show his present to more friends – he is so thrilled with it, it’s like finding the last ever pair of naked mole rats have had babies, in its rarity and also its ugliness.  I, having temporarily (I hope) taken charge of the church cheque book, made out several cheques, one of them to me (two other people signed the cheque, because that is Correct) and so all bills have been paid.  I have to visit the bank this week, unfortunately, I’m sure the queue will come out the door.  Maybe next Tuesday will do.

I have not drunk an injudicious amount of red wine, but if I have any more I might wish I hadn’t in the morning, because it’s very red and so hangover-inducing.  Maybe I should move on to something paler.  Or maybe it’s time for coffee.  Yes, that’s the best thing.  Coffee.  I’ll see if the coffee fairy is on form this evening.  The bin fairies bloody aren’t.  I did half their job for them, putting a bin bag by the door, and it’s still there.  I wasn’t pleased.

That reminds me, the Sage is on an official warning, though I’m not sure he realises quite how perilous his position is.  I’ve explained how vital it is for the dishwasher filters to be cleaned frequently, but he hates the job.  So, when he clears the dishwasher (this is not a specifically designated job, either of us might do it), I ask if he’s cleaned them, so if he hasn’t he has to do it.  Now, he’s had a bright idea.  “I’ve cleared the dishwasher – but I haven’t cleaned the filters,” he says, brightly, as if remembering that the job needs doing is the point.  I’ve been letting him get away with it for some time, but now I’ve pointed out that this is a cop-out and no excuse.    Next time, there will be a polite request to take his turn at a job neither of us likes.

Putting stuff in the dustbin isn’t my job, so it doesn’t come into negotiations.  Any more than doing the washing, which he has never mastered.  I may be mean, but I’m quite fair.

Frozen toez

Lunch went very well yesterday.  A socking great 16 lb rib of beef, with all that goes with it, and the pudding was a hit too.  I decided on Queen of puddings – most of you will know it, it’s a Victorian recipe I  think.  Not that even I quite recall it from those days.  For those who don’t know it, you heat milk, add breadcrumbs, a little sugar and lemon zest and, when it’s cool, egg yolks and then bake it like egg custard.  When set, you top it with warm jam and, when you’re about to start your meal, whip up the egg whites with sugar – less sugar than for regular meringues – spread on top and bake gently again.  I did a double quantity and it all went.  Squiffany had a second helping, which was a rarity and, when Zerlina was asked if she liked it, she didn’t stop eating long enough to reply but just nodded.

I cooked the beef for ten minutes to the pound, which was rather guesswork but which was fine.  Most of us like it on the rare side.  There’s some of it left, but everything else vanished except half a dozen sprouts – though even Pugsley has decided he likes sprouts now.

Zerlina has been enjoying Christmas.  She loved the idea of an Advent calendar – Weeza has a chest of drawers for Advent, and she puts a little present in each, she did it first for Squiffany and Pugsley one year.  Just a balloon, hairclip, sweet or suchlike – but with that, and doing the rounds of the family for several days, the first day with no parcels to open came as a disappointment to her.  When we were over there, each present offered to her was opened with a hopeful “Might be chocolate?” – fortunately, there were some chocolate coins, so she wasn’t disappointed.

Something always breaks down at Christmas time, so we were more disappointed than surprised when it turned out to be our new electric blanket, which was only three weeks old.  £65, it cost, bought online from John Lewis.  I was glad that I’d bought it online, as it meant I didn’t have to trail back to the shop with it, but could email.  The blanket itself seems to be all right, it has dual controls and it’s one of the leads that has stopped working.  The one on my side of the bed.  I snuggled up very affectionately to the Sage to keep warm, but after warming me up thoroughly, he insisted on us swapping sides and taking the cold side himself.  A gentleman, he is.  I emailed John Lewis customer services department last night.  I was surprised and gratified to receive a reply first thing this morning – it being a bank holiday, I hadn’t really expected one until tomorrow.  I was less happy that, with apologies, they said it was out of stock so they couldn’t replace it at present, but offered a full refund with no need to return the blanket.  They also gave me two London branches that, at the time of writing, still had some in stock.  I haven’t followed this up, as I have now put on a blanket from the spare bed.  I’ll see if the local electrician can do anything with the lead – the working lead is fine either side of the bed, so it isn’t the blanket itself.  If not, I’ll replace it when stocks come in again.  Though, presumably, at a higher price as VAT will have risen by then.

Aural (and nasal) sects

People are in one of two camps – either like it or can’t bear it – background music, that is.  I’m not talking about muzak, because I can hardly believe that anyone likes that, of course.

As I said yesterday, I’m not a fan.  I listen to it if I like it, and if I don’t it jars on my ear intolerably.  There was one occasion when I was in Al’s shop on a Saturday.  I know it was Saturday because his then Saturday girl, Laura was there.  The Sage had just been in too and then said goodbye and left.  In those days, Al used to have the radio playing on a local station (of course, this had to end when the then government decreed that any business doing such a thing had to pay for a licence).  Whenever I was in the shop alone, it was turned off, of course.  Anyway, Travis came on singing ‘why does it always rain on me,’ a song I have no fondness for.  “Oh go away, you dreadful irritating man,” I snapped, and then realised that Laura was gaping at me, horrified.  “Well, I can’t bear that song,” I mumbled.  Alex was snuffling with mirth in the corner.  “She thought you were talking about Dad,” he chortled.

On the other hand, if something came on that I liked, I would be completely distracted because I wanted to listen to it.  And yet, if you are listening to something, whether music or the spoken voice, on the radio, people don’t think it matters if they interrupt you.  My mother had that knack of speaking at a critical moment.  She was quite firm if I went in and she was watching something on television, I had to wait quietly until she was ready to speak to me, which was fair enough.  But if she came here and I had the radio on, she’d start talking immediately.  It nearly always seemed to be at a vital moment, when a mystery was being unveiled or a news item announced.  By the time I’d said, hang on a moment, it was too late – without a picture to give context, you had to hear every word or you lost the sense altogether.

I don’t like wind chimes, either.  I find them very irritating because they are intrusive.  And I’m iffy about running water )of the ‘water feature’ type) in the garden.  It depends on how splashy it is.  Natural sounds are different.  Obviously, a constantly yapping dog is not a good sound (and Dave isn’t too keen on our chickens squawking as they sometimes do) but normal outdoor sounds are fine.

Then there are air fresheners.  Now, if there’s a bit of a whiff, then squirting around something to disguise it is all very well, I suppose, but those plug-in ones, that keep on puffing out at regular intervals are dreadful. I dreaded it when my friend Caroline took me anywhere in her car, fond as I was of her, because she had the air conditioning turned to ‘too cold’ and she had a dangly fruit-scented air freshener in her car.  I have no idea why, she didn’t smoke, or even smell like rabbits, as Dave does.

I’m more intolerant than any of you thought.  Sorry about that.  Of course, whatever you have in your own home is fine.  I’m talking about other people, naturally.

Scents and sensitivity

I rarely wear scent.  This is not because I don’t like it, but out of consideration for other people.

Many years ago – twenty or twenty-five years – I went to a play at the Theatre Royal in Norwich, and the next evening went to a Prom concert at Snape Maltings.  I sat in the circle on the theatre evening, as I remember, towards the right hand side as looking from the back.  The theatre was full and it was a very warm night, and I could hardly breathe because of the mingled smells of poor-quality perfumes.  I was not at all comfortable.

The next night, it was a classical concert – again, I sat towards the back.  I had not yet realised that the sound is very good wherever you sit, so you might as well get cheaper seats, and I was in the middle-ranking seats.  Again, a very warm night and the place was full – and my poor nostrils were assailed by the smell of expensive perfume.  The difference in quality was marked, but it didn’t make it a pleasant experience.

Since then, I have never worn scent to the theatre or anywhere that someone sensitive might be uncomfortable with the smell, not just of my perfume but by the mixture of every other woman’s.  It’s not that I am allergic to anything, just that I notice smells and so they can be too much distraction.  It’s the same with music.  If there’s music, I generally listen to it, so I don’t have it as a background.  That is, I will play music while I type or read blogs or something like that, but I can listen at the same time.  I don’t have it on if there’s conversation going on, because I’ll have to choose which to listen to.

The floozie

I had taken a much better photo than this, but I can’t find the camera lead, so this is from my phone.  Squiffany decorated the tree yesterday, with some advice from Pugsley, and I put the Floozie in pride of place on top.

Happy Christmas, darling friends.

Chester’s first Christmas

Chester was born in mid-October, so he was 8 weeks old the week before Christmas.  We didn’t get a dog for Christmas, but it just so happened that our puppy was ready to leave his mother in time for Christmas.

I will recap, darlings, because I do like to tell a story from the beginning.  I went to coffee with a friend – it was one of those charity things where the first person asks 8 people, each guest asks 4, those ask 2 and they each ask a friend, everyone concerned giving a donation.  I don’t think I did, I just gave the money, because I wasn’t going to ask a friend for a cup of coffee and expect her to pay for it.

Anyway, Bridget was there, and I mentioned that we were looking for a mongrel puppy, and she said that the man who delivered their horse feed had said that their dog had had puppies, and she might have one.  I asked her to pass on my phone number, and a day or two later, Z phoned.  I didn’t phone myself of course, that would be silly, her name is Z too.  Anyway, we went to visit and there were four black pups, three of them female, and three blond boys.  The largest and palest, they were going to keep.  In the car, I’d said to the Sage that I hoped there would be a blond boy.  There was a choice of two, almost identical.  One had a few white hairs on his head.  I wanted him.  Without saying so, I asked the Sage for his choice.  He said the same pup.  They were three weeks old then and, Z being hospitable, we went to visit every week.

That Christmas was, intentionally, a quiet one.  We didn’t have a tree, because we thought that would be asking for trouble.  There is an oak beam holding our ceiling up, I just asked the Sage what the upright beam is called and he said a wall plate, and the curved bit joining it and the beam is called a knee.  We nailed a fir branch into the knee and decorated that.  I forgot all about that and, a couple of years later, thought we’d got some damn big woodworm.

To the end of his days, Chester adored Christmas.  Most of all, he loved opening presents.  We bought him various treats and wrapped them, but soon discovered that it was the unwrapping that he most enjoyed.  So we’d wrap individual biscuits, or sneak back the same hide chew and rewrap it, just to see his excitement at receiving another present.  He never touched anything belonging to another member of the family, but pounced excitedly on the parcels he was given.

Fair’s fair

I didn’t want to give the impression that Weeza complained about her childhood Christmases, or that I was upset about what she said, we were both amused by our not-quite-parallel perceptions.

However, there was one thing I certainly did get right, and I didn’t know that either until that same conversation.

Dave may upbraid me for this, but we did give the children several presents. I think it’s cheering, seeing whole lots of parcels under the tree and, as I said before, I didn’t want present-opening to be over and done with in no time.  When Weeza and Al were little, we didn’t have a great deal of spare money and my children didn’t know for years that being given socks and pyjamas and other necessaries was a bit of a cop-out.  In those days, I started shopping for their presents early.  The Early Learning Centre only had two shops and so did a lot of their sales by mail order, and I had their catalogue early and ordered all sorts of things.  Then I browsed book shops and often the Sage and I made things for them, and eventually I got everything together and considered what was for whom.  Board games, jigsaws, Lego, books and suchlike, they would both use anyway, and I wasn’t keen on girly toys so tended to avoid dolls, so although some items would be bought with one child or other in mind, there were always some things that would be equally suitable for either.

I never wrapped anything until I was satisfied that there was enough for them both.  And then I carefully apportioned everything out, making sure that each pile had the same amount of presents, that they roughly equated in size, style and price, and then finally wrapped and labelled them.  Weeza and Al never commented on this at all – but when I referred to it a few weeks ago, Weeza said that she and Al had always checked.  They’d gone through all the wrapped gifts in the days before Christmas and counted them out, and they eyed each others’ pile of stuff to check we’d been fair.  So, it was just as well I’d taken that trouble, wasn’t it?

Even now, I still try to be roughly equal.  And I try to include a present that’s fun.  Not necessarily silly, although it could be, but something that you can play with on the day.  It doesn’t always work out that way, but I like it to.  And ideally, I like to spoil them a bit, because that makes them know that their mummy loves them.  The Sage knows it already, so I can get away with giving him a rather ugly cracked mug from 1795.  Which he’s already taken to show the local history expert, he’s so pleased with it.

Family planning

It’s an interesting thing, different people’s perception of the same thing.  A few weeks ago (too early to tell you about it then), Weeza and I were talking about childhood Christmases.  I recalled my careful time plan that scheduled in several stops during the morning, so that I could spend time with her and her brothers, so we could open presents, play with new games and they wouldn’t be left, as I was as a child, with my mother in the kitchen working all morning and becoming very harassed while the rest of us hung around disconsolately out of her way, not allowed to open any parcels because that was a whole-family activity and when, after the meal, she spent the rest of the day in the kitchen again while we had to be quiet because of all the elderly people who were invited to spend the day, sometimes several days, with us, who didn’t want to be bothered by excited children.

I was convinced that I hadn’t made this mistake.  I kept everything simple.  Everything possible was done in advance and I had my schedule to be sure that everything would be perfectly cooked at the same time.  Even so, there was a lot to do, but I always thought that I was relaxed and gave the children my full attention for half an hour at a time, until noon when, our other guests having arrived (always my mum and stepfather, normally my sister and her husband when she had one, sometimes another person), I brought in champagne and we sat down for an hour, chatted and opened presents together, and then I went and did the rest of the cooking.

The thing is, I’d always found Christmas Day a slight let-down.  Eagerly looked forward to, of course, but I really wanted my mother there.  I didn’t care about the vast meal, the huge turkey with two stuffings and a dry breast, the whole ham, loads of vegetables and then a massive Christmas pudding that no one liked which was later fed to the birds.  Looking back, I’m not sure what took all the time.  She always decorated and laid the table several days in advance, so we couldn’t use the dining room, the meat took hours of being largely left to its own devices – yet she was always busy.  Actually, to tell the truth, she was terribly hard-working, but I’ve wondered since just how efficient she was.  I’m very lazy, so have to use my time cannily to have plenty left to do sod-all, but I suspect she was the opposite.

My reasoning was – that the family would miss me if I wasn’t with them much of the time.  That I didn’t want to miss out on the fun.  That it was a good idea to open a few presents at a time, because of the feeding frenzy that children can’t resist, left to themselves, so there’s ten excited minutes while paper is ripped off, then the flatness of being surrounded by a whole load of stuff, no more parcels and a mother getting cross because they didn’t take any notice of who gave what, which makes thank-you letters awkward.  I thought I’d got a pretty good compromise, and it took care and planning, giving them my full attention when there were things to be done.

Weeza’s recollection is different.  She remembers the frustration of only being allowed to open one thing at a time and then having to wait until the next break in my time plan.  Her friends did the feeding frenzy and that was what she’d have preferred too.