Monthly Archives: January 2011

Hippy Anniversary

It’s been a whole year.  I’ve been looking back at the post I wrote as soon as I was back in my room after the operation.  It’s short, but worth reading for the lovely comments, for which, thank you again.  I was so damn chirpy, wasn’t I.  I’d built myself up into quite a high, having managed to go, in a week or two, from extreme reluctance to have the operation to a gung-ho state that might be more usually associated with a bungee jumper (that is forbidden to me, by the way, as is parachuting).

The coffee morning was very jolly.  I got up late and so didn’t make a cake, so took marmalade instead.  Tim has finally got Seville oranges in and I’ll make a batch tomorrow.  Sally, our hostess, had made cakes, rock buns, flapjacks and biscuits, so it was as well that I’d not eaten any breakfast in preparation.  I don’t usually not eat breakfast, I hasten to add.  I’ve gone off porridge a bit for now, so usually have a poached egg on virtuously unbuttered toast.  Buttered toast would be nicer, but I’m showing the lack of recent cycling with a gain in weight.  I’m wary of cycling if the weather is cold, just now, as I keep getting a blocked feeling in my ears (as I mentioned two or three weeks ago), which then shifts and makes me dizzy.  It’s not bad, and it’s the equivalent of blocked sinuses and I know that the doctor will just recommend a decongestant, so I just leave it.

I feel that it’s the anniversary of getting my life back.  I’m very grateful.  I feel for those people whose implants have not been successful.  Manufacturers are always on the look-out for new and better ones, but sometimes they turn out to be potentially unsafe, particularly the all-metal ones.  I hope my other hip doesn’t start to go, but there’s no point fussing about it, it will or it won’t.  If I get a few active years before the downward lurch to another op, then I’ll be happy.  It’s not the new hip, it’s the gradual deterioration that’s the downer – but the main thing is, it’s completely treatable.  I’m absolutely fine now, and – well – I’m glad and grateful.  I’ll go back for a checkup and another x-ray with Mr C in a few weeks, and I’ll tell him.

Z eats breakfast at lunchtime – you’d think there would be a word for that

I saw both John and Andy today in hospital and they’re both looking loads better.  Each has their own room, with a bathroom, with charming staff who pop in to make sure there are enough clean towels and that sort of thing.  John’s radio didn’t work very well, and by the time one was found that did, three different people, including the top brass, had been onto the case.  The hospital does have voluntary support, but is still largely funded by the NHS – mind you, the government tried to close it down about ten years ago, in the interests of “efficiency” and it was only a concerted local effort, which included pressure from the doctors’ surgery, that saved it.  There would be even more of a problem with “bed-blockers’ as those who aren’t fit to return home but can’t find interim care are insultingly named, if such places had all closed.

Other than that, not a lot.  I’ve brought my paperwork up to date and paid bills.  I got up extremely late, having slept on and off until 11 o’clock this morning.  I’ve not slept well since the nights turned mild a few weeks ago and it finally caught up with me yesterday, when I really didn’t feel too sharp.

Tomorrow, I’m going to a coffee morning.  I haven’t been to one of those for years, I hardly knew they still existed.  I think there’s a bring and buy stall too.  I have no idea what to take.  Should I make cake?

Kind Sage

Today, I’ve mostly been babysitting. Weeza had an appointment over lunchtime and in to the early afternoon, so I extricated myself from my lunch engagement and a couple of meetings. It all went fine, I picked up a couple of friends and took them to the lunch as promised, and gave them papers to be handed out – I’m secretary of this lunch club, which is very little work.

Zerlina wanted to go to sleep soon after Weeza left, so babysitting didn’t involve any actual childcare. When I arrived home, the Sage said that Al and Dilly has to go to Norwich, so I’ve spent the evening here babysitting too, except while I was cooking dinner and the Sage took over.

He has had a day of looking after people too. John is now in the local cottage hospital, the Sage having organised it. That is, he would have had to wait longer or maybe gone to a different hospital, but the Sage helped. Then he went to see Andy, who is also in the same hospital. And then he went to visit the wife of a dear friend of his, who died a few days ago. So he has excelled even his usual lovely self in kindness today.

Z dines out

We were going out this evening, and I was a bit reluctant.  Not for the being out so much as for the going up and getting changed into something not as warm and venturing outside.  It was the Classic Car Club Christmas dinner.  It’s always held well into January.

I’m quite happy to go, although I find the conversation a bit sticky.  I’m not uninterested in old cars, but I haven’t the passion for them that most members have.  Usually, when someone starts talking about a particular interest, you can just listen and, by interjecting the odd reasonably unstupid comment or question, you can turn it into a one-sided conversation rather than a monologue.  It’s more difficult when you should reasonably be expected to know a bit about the subject.

The talk wasn’t all about old cars, of course, and everyone was very jolly.  I have eaten rather more than usual, I have to admit.

Years ago, I remember, I was at a party, a get-together for parents at Weeza and Al’s prep schools.  It was held at a very nice local hotel owned by one of the boys’ parents.  It was in the summer and we all sat around tables outside to eat.  One man was very tongue-tied and shy and hardly said a word throughout the meal.  Chatting afterwards, somehow the subject of honey bees came up.  This chap’s face lit up.  Seems he was an enthusiast, and at last he could join in the conversation.  Not having good social skills, however, he didn’t know how to make it a conversation and, half an hour later, he and I were still talking about bees and everyone else had quietly melted away, including his wife.  She was a sociable woman and was off chatting happily, having seen her husband in safe hands.  I hadn’t actually got stuck, although I had had enough of the bee talk, to be honest. I was in one of my rare moods of kindness.  The man knew a lot and talked well, it was just his awkwardness that didn’t let him join in general conversation.  It was, admittedly boring – I came up with every single think I knew about bees and thought of various questions too, and couldn’t find a way out of the hive talk.  He had a good evening though, and so did his wife, so I didn’t mind, just for once.

More recently, although still a while ago, we went to dinner with friends.  Another couple was there, who had moved into the village not long ago, and one got the impression that they didn’t really go to dinner parties, or whatever you might choose them to disguise the fact that the best glasses actually had been got out.  The hostess warmly welcomed us and was chatting away, and then excused herself to see to the dinner.  A silence fell.  I suddenly became aware that everyone was looking hopefully at me.

I was quite tired that evening, in fact.  I was not unhappy about going out, but I’d quite have liked to sit back and be entertained and not do much talking.  But, I realised, there was an expectation that I’d start the conversation off and be sparkling.  So, I took the proffered glass of wine from our host, took a gulp from it and started chatting.  I hadn’t been mistaken, faces lit up into a “Z’s off!” expression and it all went fine.  And, of course, once you pretend to be in a mood, you become it, so I wasn’t tired any more. I was uncomfortably aware that everyone assumed it was the first glug of wine that did it to me, however, whereas it was, in fact, an effort of will.

I’m not so good at a general party, however, the sort where people stand around in little groups with glasses of wine.  The business of circulating, not spending too long with anyone but extricating yourself without leaving them flat – or being the one left alone, looking for a conversation or a lone person to join – having lots of small talk that is entertaining without being too involving, eating the occasional canapé without spilling it down your front or getting tomato stuck between your front teeth is something I’ve never really mastered.  How many people have, I wonder?  You rarely get anyone who admits to enjoying it.

Mind you, I did well the other month.  Back last summer, we went to London to view an auction – we’d viewed it in the daytime, and then there was an official view, with wine and canapés, in the evening, to which we’d been invited.  It went quite well, because there was always the china to talk about, and to look at if you were alone for a few minutes.  The Sage always abandons me instantly on these occasions.  There’s no question of us looking after each other.  However, after an hour or so, we found ourselves together, talking to a very nice chap, whom we offered to send a catalogue of our next sale, and he came to the sale.  When he turned up to the sale, four or five months after this meeting, I greeted him by name.  It was a rare triumph, and he was duly flattered.

Roach for the shy

I am alone.  Just for the evening, that is, the Sage is at a meeting.  I feel more pleasure than is warranted by his absence, because he’s at a PCC meeting, and I’m no longer on the PCC (this is, I should explain, the committee that runs the church.  I used to be secretary and then, for six years, churchwarden).  I have been asked if I’d be willing to rejoin at the AGM in April and I’ve said no.  I was forewarned that the present secretary is standing down, and I have to admit to myself that I don’t want to be secretary of anything again, partly because I’d have no one to delegate to.  But I’d not do it anyway.  If anything proves to me that I made the right decision, it’s the glee I feel when there’s a meeting on and I don’t have to go to it.

The Sage’s sister gave us a tin of chocolate biscuits for Christmas.  We’re quite matter-of-fact about this, we give her Stilton and she gives us chocolate biscuits.  When the Sage opened the tin, he offered it to me and I took one.  Just now, I thought that maybe I’d have another.  I’ve just looked and there are three left.  Hmm.  Not that I’ve any objection to his eating of good quality chocolate biscuits, but I’ve only seen him munching two or three of them, and the tin has been in this room the whole time.  He’s a secret muncher!

Anyway, I thought I might watch television.  Nothing appealed.  The least tempting offer was on Channel Four – sorry, Channel 4 – Grimefighters, A Dagenham flat overrun by cockroaches.  So I’m listening to a CD of Round the Horne, instead.

I am quite relaxed around all sorts of creepy crawlies.  I’m the one in the family who’s called on to lift spiders out of the bath, centipedes out of the artichoke and bishy barnabies (not that anyone dislikes them, of course, except the Harlequin variety on principle) from the rosebud.  I did have quite a thing about cockroaches, however.  We once had a load of coal delivered, when I was a child, into the cellar and it must have contained eggs, because during that winter a great many of the little beasts emerged into the kitchen.  They’re terribly difficult to kill, being almost impervious to insecticide.  Stamping on them is the best option, and my mother used to sneak out into the kitchen, snap on the light and lunge on to as many as possible as they scurried for cover.  It was most unpleasant.  Eventually they were vanquished and I never saw one again until, in a fairly basic hotel in India, they were always to be found in the bathroom.  To my surprise, they didn’t bother me at all.  They were quite small, for one thing, and they weren’t in a kitchen (my poor ma, how horrible for her).  I was relieved that what I’d thought was a lifetime phobia had resolved itself into matter-of-factness.  I still don’t want to see a television programme about them, however.

As I say, they’re almost impossible to kill except by a direct blow, and there are various creatures and plants like that, and I always wonder, why haven’t they completely taken over?  In my garden, it’s a constant battle – well, it would be if I hadn’t given in long ago – against ground elder, thistles, nettles, brambles and bindweed.  So how come they don’t cover the entire ground?  And sycamore trees! – A large example blew down in 1986 and we were getting seedlings sprouting up for years afterwards.  I was really pleased when it blew down, even though it landed across the drive (no harm done) because of those damn seedlings, and there are still a few saplings that, however often they’re cut down, keep sprouting again.  Then there’s hawthorn, which self-seeds everywhere, elder bushes,  all sorts of things.  Is there something self-limiting about them, so that they kill themselves after a few years’ proliferation?

Wet newspaper

I woke up early, having had another disturbed night.  I don’t care for these mild nights.  It’s January and supposed to be cold, and I keep waking up.  I’ve reached the stage of tiredness that I soon fall asleep again, and it all adds up.  I do love a good sleep however, and I think I’ll soon be due for one.

When I did wake for good (well, not quite as it turned out), the Sage was still asleep so I played cards and so on, until I started to receive emails, and answered them – some people do get going early in the day, I’m sure they weren’t all on their iPhones.  I faffed about on Facebook for a while too, and generally was mildly sociable.  Then the Sage woke up, wrapped his arms around me, we hugged and both fell asleep.

And so, by the time we got up, it was raining and the newspapers were soaked.  I put them on the Aga to dry out and they are thoroughly crinkly.  We spent the morning on the computers and the phones, a good three hours.  I was surprised at how busy we were.  One call after another, on various subjects.  I’m awaiting some replies, but have dealt with most things, which was not bad.  I haven’t written up the notes from Friday’s meeting, mind you.

This afternoon, I went to visit John in hospital.  It’s actually the very top of the humerus that he broke – “the ball broke right off – not in the sense that it was rolling round the room though,” as he cheerfully put it.  He had been hoping to come home very soon, but is becoming aware that he is finding it hard to get up and move around.  He may come to the local cottage hospital, which would be ideal.  I’ve said, I’ll keep in touch with his wife and visit him again soon, wherever he is.  He’s rather wishing he’d bought the iPad when we went to Norwich, as he could do with it now.  I’ve said, if he wants me to go and buy it for him, I’ll be very happy to do so.  Indeed, I’d enjoy it.

I started to write a post about school finance, but I have found myself giving a lecture.  I don’t suppose you all want to know about the Age Related Pupil Allowance and the Standards Fund.  I shall have to start again.

Tomorrow, Year 9 Music.  I’m looking forward to it, including the school lunch.

Shouldering the burden

My friend John, the one I went with to look at iPads, has broken his shoulder.  Apparently he fell in his bedroom.  It happened on Friday and he’s in hospital in Norwich.  They intend to pin it, but haven’t yet.  He has rheumatoid arthritis and, because of the steroids he takes for that, has a compromised immune system, so any operation gives cause for concern.

On the other hand, Andy has moved to the local hospital where there’s a brilliant physiotherapy department and much more one-to-one care, and he’s managing to walk across the room on a walking frame and with help.  Gill says it’s starting to hit her, the long-term implications of all this and how much of the burden will be on her shoulders for the next few years.  And yet, I am sure she will cope.  She and Andy love each other dearly and there will be no sense in which he’s a burden on her.  They will both give up their stressful jobs, she’s looking for a new one, part-time and unstressful (she’s brilliant, if I wanted a PA/bookkeeper/administrator I’d not advertise, I’d ask her) and I think that, once there is real progress in Andy’s condition, she will focus on looking after him.  He will need her time, and she needs to slow down and get off the treadmill.

As I typed that, I thought, I could do with some music and opened up Spotify and looked up ‘What’s New’.  On a whim, I clicked on ‘The Essential Tony Bennett’.  Blimey, that’s soothing.  Gosh, one track and I’m so relaxed that my muscles aren’t working and I’ve started to drool.  In a good way, honestly I’m so mellow now, and I’m sure that the wine glass in front of me hasn’t a thing to do with it.  Anyway, relaxing is good, as long as you’re in a position to accept it.  I can see that something so easy-listening might drive me nuts on a brisker day – and usually does.  In fact, I’m not sure that this mellowness indicates the real me.  Wouldn’t it be worrying if people liked Zzzz better than Zizz?

I thought of Gill, and the one-time me, when I was reading yesterday’s Times.  Sorry, can’t link as The Times online is now subscription-only, but The University of Queensland has done studies that indicate that the more stress you’re under, the more you crave.  When we’re under stress, the body releases painkilling opiates to compensate, apparently, and you can get hooked on that.  I don’t know about that, I think that it depends on whether you have power with the responsibility.  I think that the stress connected with being in control is – I don’t like to use the word ‘addictive’ unless it’s literally so – irresistible and feeds on itself.

The next bit of the article, quoting, from British psychologist Guy Claxton, came home to me much more.  When we’re under pressure, we do ‘fast thinking’.  It is rational, analytical, linear and logical.  But for strategic, creative ideas, only relaxed ‘slow thinking’ will be really effective.  I absolutely go along with that.  When really pushed, I feel myself in a different gear.  I whip around, twice as fast as everyone else, knowing exactly what needs to be done and automatically slotting everything into its most efficient place.  No danger of realising that something should have been started an hour ago or it won’t be ready in time – I’ll have done it.  I know what takes longer, what relies on someone else getting back to me, what to hold in reserve as ‘desirable but not essential’, that can be dropped if necessary.  But I can’t do that all the time.

What Gill is and I was in thrall to is an inability to let go.  When barely in control, you can’t bear to let anything go.  You know that you can cope, but if you pass on something to another person and they don’t do it, or don’t do it well, you know you’ll have to pick up the pieces.  If you do it from the start, you know you can rely on yourself.  This feeling escalates, and the more you do, the more ‘fast thinking’ you do and other people are intimidated out of offering, and you start to feel indispensable.  Which you’re not.  No one is, and thankfully Andy’s body has put him out of action in a manner that he can recover from, more or less (no one’s sure of the extent of his recovery yet, but there’s a lot of hope).

I learned that lesson by the sudden death of a dear friend.  It was nine years ago,- that is, it will  be in June.  This friend had a heart attack and, in seconds, he was no more.  That was how I became chairman of governors at the village school, because I had been his Vice (ahem).  He’d been chairman or treasurer of everything in the village, and a most beloved friend, husband, father and grandfather too.  He is still greatly missed.  But, in practical terms, he who had looked after everything was gone, and the rest of us had to pick up the pieces – at the school, it was the worst possible time, and I genuinely was the only one who knew enough to take over.  So, I will always have a team.  If in charge, I’ll not keep it to myself and I will prepare my exit strategy, almost from the start.  If not, I’ll support the person who is, so that they aren’t driven to the brink and don’t feel isolated.

I didn’t know I was going to write all that when I sat down.  Gosh.  Sorry.  I’ll tell you more about school finances later, or maybe tomorrow.  The Sage has just got home, he’s been to visit Big Pinkie.

Marking benches

I’ve been geekily looking through figures this afternoon.  The benchmarking figures, which are now in the public domain, give the income and expenditure of every state-run school, also the proportion of income spent in various categories, such as teachers and other staff, heating, learning resources, and the expenditure per pupil.  It also gives the position in the league tables.  I’ve got a list of all the Suffolk schools.  It’s very interesting to see that, on the whole, the schools that spend most per pupil tend to be in the lower half of the results table.  This doesn’t in the least stop the Local Authority pumping more money into failing schools, at the expense of succeeding ones, even though it doesn’t, in itself, improve results.

I had a phone call from Weeza, asking me to babysit next Thursday.  It’s not terribly convenient, actually, as it’ll mean me missing my lunch club (you did know I’m a Lady Who Lunches?) and a school committee meeting, but I said I’d rather help her out, so I’ll send apologies for both.  In fact, it doesn’t suit her very well either, so she’ll see if she can alter the appointment, but as she works three days a week she hasn’t got much flexibility in her timings.

I’m reluctant to admit it, but I’ve almost had enough of faffing about and relaxing.  I’m completely unstressed and it’s a bit dull.  Back in that week between Christmas and the New Year, I enjoyed being able to do whatever I wanted, or not do anything at all, but I’ve almost reached the limit of pleasure in that.  I’d like to make it clear that I have stayed strong and not succumbed to anything dreadfully worthy and sensible like turning out the linen cupboard or sorting out the kitchen cupboards, but I can see such a fate beckoning unless I rapidly become too busy to consider doing any such thing.


I went to see the Headteacher this morning.  We usually have a weekly meeting, unless he’s too busy or not a lot is happening  and that can be easily communicated by email.  Last week’s was about a particular topic, so this was the first time we’d got together over school events.  One little moment for rejoicing was the confirmation, with the publishing of school league tables this week, that our school is sixth in Suffolk, including private schools.  We allowed ourselves a moment of satisfaction, before discussing how we could do better this year.  I don’t have much to say for league tables, they reflect rather than guide what we do, and we don’t play to them, but we might as well be pleased when they show how well the pupils and teachers do.

Anyway, at one point we were talking about Krakow (relevant to school matters, but in a personal moment, because we’d both been there) and we agreed how much we’d loved it and want to go again.  I mentioned the food – look, if you ever think of going to Poland, be hungry.  Gosh, they can cook.  He told me in detail about a soup/stew, served in a hollowed out loaf of bread, that he ate slower and slower because he didn’t want the meal to end.  “We tried to cook it at home, but it wasn’t the same,” he said.

Anyway, it was just a two-minute digression and we got back to school matters, but it made me think, what wonderful meals I’ve had in other countries, particularly ones where short-cuts haven’t yet become the norm.  So, all those fabulous soups started with home-made stock.  The best chicken stew I’ve ever eaten was in Delhi.  Not the meatiest, but absolutely the tastiest.

Which reminds me, the Sage is cooking dinner tonight.  I arrived home at quarter past five (not from the school, I went from there to a meeting at Bury St Edmunds) and made a cup of tea for both of us.  I also had a piece of toast and Marmite.  I was really hungry.  Since then, I’ve had an apple and a satsuma and I’m still hungry.  I had a poached egg on toast for breakfast, with the result that I wasn’t hungry at noon, when I had to have a quick lunch before leaving for Bury.  So, toast and Marmite (all those B vitamins are very good for you) and some plain yoghurt, but it wasn’t quite sustaining enough to last me all afternoon.  Andy’s jelly babies are still in the car, and it took some willpower not to eat some of them on the way home.  I did use the willpower however, because if I’d opened the box, I’d probably have eaten half a pound of them. Better not start.

Anyway, i made tea and, as we were drinking it, asked the Sage what he’d bought for dinner tonight – he had offered to do the shopping today as I was going out.  “Lamb chops,” he said.  “I’m cooking them.”

Readers, darling, I married him.  And I *totally* would again.

Z the unwinder

I didn’t go to visit Andy today, but this was good news.  Gill sent me a text mid-morning to say that he was going to be taken to the local cottage hospital this afternoon.  I haven’t heard more since, but I presume all has gone as planned, and it will be lovely for both of them.  It’s a more relaxed, less hospital-like atmosphere and only a couple of miles from their house, so she can pop in and out much more easily.  No car parking charges and more relaxed visiting times.  The physiotherapy department is excellent, I went there a couple of years ago and had several ultrasound treatments and massages, and was given exercises to do (I must get those out again, I suspect they would do me good.  I remember several of them, but not all).

Now I have a box of jelly babies in the car, which call to me.  It only now occurs to me that I could have dropped them in at the hospital as a little welcome present to him.

I was out early this morning – not early by the standards of many of you, but it was unusual for me – because I had an appointment for a haircut at 8.30.  I thought I’d be the first customer, but my friend Carol was just being finished when I arrived.  “I’ll show you the back,” said Jo.  “No, don’t bother, it’ll be fine,” said Carol. I asked if Jo had ever been told it wasn’t fine, and she acknowledged that once, when she was a trainee, the customer had spoken out.  It was awful, she (Jo) had cried.  I didn’t probe.  Because that’s a pretty horrid word (in its Latin sense, yay!) and I didn’t want to pile on the remembered agony.  Anyway, my hair was fine, and I was told I looked particularly smart and attractive (by the lady of the shop, not her husband) when I went into the sweet shop afterwards to buy the jelly babies.

A friend is on holiday with her family, all of them having had a really difficult few months.  Their difficult time (a bereavement) is more recent than the death of my mother, and other horrible things, that had happened when Weeza and I went to India for the wedding of her friend Kavitha seven years ago – almost exactly seven years, I think we left at the end of January.  I hope that they are finding it as healing a process as I did.  After an enjoyable, but very busy week of wedding parties, Weeza and I flew to Kerala for a second week, of relaxation and calm.  We spent as much per night in the hotels as we’d spent in a week in Madras (that is, £60 per night for two instead of £60 per week) and pottered around seeing sights and having a wonderful time.  We rode elephants, bareback (elephants’ backs) and fed them bananas, we had a wonderful trip on the backwaters and pottered about and sunbathed.  It was the only holiday in my whole life when I did nothing that wasn’t relaxing.  I’m not a sunbathing person (actually, I never moved out from the shade of an umbrella, come to think of it, I sunshadebathed).  I told Weeza, that week healed me.

Not quite actually, it took another two and a half years, but it certainly started the process.  It was the most deliberately relaxing week of my life, and was a revelation.  I’ve been able to wind down more quickly and completely ever since.  All down to Weeza.  She’s brilliant.