Monthly Archives: October 2011

A Great-Grandmother

I didn’t know my mother’s grandmother of course, she died about twenty years before I was born.  There is a picture of her as a fairly young woman, one of those Victorian photographs that was tinted to look like a portrait.  My mother used to say that I looked like her.

My mother’s mother died when she was only twenty-five and her father’s engineering job took him away from home, so it was up to the grandparents to look after the 18 month old child.  Two of the four parents had died already, but his mother and her father, who were cousins and must have known each other well, had set up home together (they were not, of course, ‘living together’ in the modern sense).  My mother adored both of them and was very happy with them.

Grandmother (I don’t know whether she was called Granny or Grandma, she was always referred to as “my Grandmother” and I’ll call her Grandmother here) was a rather formal Victorian lady and very firm about the right way to behave.  It was the ‘right’ way, too – not just formality for the sake of it, but to behave in the best, kindest and most honest manner at all times.  For example, a shop assistant or a maid must be treated politely and considerately – “Never be rude, my dear, to those who cannot answer back.”  She dressed mainly in black of course, but suitable colours could be worn in a blouse.  My mother remembered going shopping for material to make a new blouse.  The young assistant asked what colour she was looking for.  Grandmother stood erect and firm.  “Heliotrope,” she said.  Mummy remembered all her days the confused look on the girl’s face.

Grandmother had three sons, two six-footers and my grandad, who was five foot seven.  Both the others died in the First World War.  When the wartime archives were put on the internet, my sister looked for and found them both.  Their mother was with each of them when they died, in fact, for one she travelled to France to the field hospital; the other was brought back to England and she went to be with him.  My grandfather was in the trenches throughout the war but was never injured, or not seriously at any rate.

Grandmother suffered from dreadful headaches (Mummy realised, later, that they must have been migraines) and sometimes had to retire to bed for two or three days.  Once, the little girl had a bad head herself and said so – it was, poor child, the first migraine of those that laid her low regularly all her life.  She remembered the look that passed between her grandparents, obviously thinking she was copying Grandmother, who asked her exactly where it hurt.  When she said, at the side and behind her eyes, she saw them realise she was telling the truth.

My grandfather remarried when his daughter was seven years old.  In the way things were done in those days, the fact was presented to her after the marriage had taken place and she had the shock of being taken away from her home and beloved grandparents.  It’s not surprising that she clung on to and treasured memories of those years with them.  They were certainly the happiest of her childhood.

It didn’t happen

The drive is finally done and looks great, although the chippings are still quite loose and need a good rain and being driven on a few times to bed them in.  Apparently, two tonnes of bitumen alone has gone on to the drive, as well as a lorryload of stone chippings!  I’ll have to sort out a few photos and show you, it’ll take a while though and I can’t quite be bothered as yet.  Which is not the right attitude, but it’s not that interesting except to me, let’s face it, so I don’t suppose you mind.

I drove over to Beccles to pick up my friends to take them to Norwich for lunch, but one of them wasn’t feeling well so it was just her sister. On the way home, a car was waiting in a side road to my left (that is, on my side of the road, we being quite peculiar in this country and driving on the wrong side of the road), angled to go across the road and turn right.  As I approached, it moved forward a little so I slowed and prepared to move slightly to the middle of the road to give it a wide berth.  And then, far too late for me to stop, it pulled out right in front of me.  I cannot think what the idiot driver had on her mind, I don’t think she saw me at any time.  Her complacent face didn’t look towards me at all as I braked and swerved.  If I hadn’t already slowed, I’d have gone right into her at 50mph.  And if the side road had not had a widely splayed entrance, I’d have hit her rear.  As it was, I had room to miss her.  Lilian and I looked at each other.  “Good as a mile, hey,” I said.  I’m finally, several hours on, starting to feel a bit shaken.  Still, onwards and upwards.  It didn’t happen.

Z doesn’t run out of petrol

I went here today.  Very interesting and it’s been a good day.  When they built/rebuilt the house in the 1930s, they spent an astonishing amount of money on it – all the more remarkable because they didn’t actually own it, it was only leasehold.  They incorporated all sorts of features that I hadn’t realised had been invented by then, such as an elaborate under-floor (and upstairs, sometimes over-ceiling) heating system, all powered by a boiler in the cellar.  Only trouble was, it didn’t occur to the architects or anyone else that you don’t need exactly as much heating in all parts of the house at the same time, so when it was on the bedrooms tended to be far too hot as it was all on a single circuit and there was no way of controlling any individual area.  They also had the facility to pipe music into any room from the gramophone and had a  system for the vacuum cleaner, so that a hose could be plugged into an outlet in the skirting board and the motor in the basement sucked all the dust up into a central container.  Rather appealing work-saving idea for people who had plenty of household staff and never picked up a duster in their lives.

We had a really quick journey and arrived over an hour earlier than we expected, so had coffee and had a look around the gardens before the tour.  We also had no hold-ups on the way home, very lucky.  I’d had to leave home early this morning because, on my way home last night, the low fuel light came on.  I have never established quite how long I can go from that point, but occasionally have gone right down to pretty well flat-lined (usually on the way home from Mike, he seems to have the knack of returning my car to me at just that point), but I haven’t run out of petrol since I was 18 years old and my mother, my sister and I all used the same car … I don’t know who drove it home almost empty one Friday, but the car stopped less than two miles from home when I drove it the next day.  Taught me a lesson anyway, hasn’t happened again in all these years.  It was surprising to me, how many other people were filling up at 7 o’clock this morning in Norwich.  I have to admit that, whilst I used to check oil, water and tyre pressure in my car, I’ve rather let the job go over the years, because the Sage does it anyway, whether I do or not.

Lucky hedgehog

I was in bed by nine last night and, apart from being woken by a phone call at nine thirty, I slept right through until the alarm this morning.  So I have functioned perfectly well today.  Music at the school this morning.  The teacher was a couple of minutes late, so I let the pupils in, they all put their bags in the corner, sat down without being told, then I stood in front of them, introduced myself (I haven’t been in this class before) and said that the teacher would be there soon.  There was total silence.  I felt that they were waiting for more.  I was about to say, er, you can talk to each other for a few minutes until she arrived – when she did.  Which was just as well, that degree of good behaviour might have gone to my head.

I went to Gardening Club this evening, which was good, because I never made it at all last year.  I make my good resolutions in the autumn more than in January, and one of them is always to be more sociable and not to let duty override pleasure – good intentions always peter out after a while though, there gets to be too much to do and something has to give.

The other good thing is that my car has passed its MOT again. I’m still not fond of it, but it’s been very good value.  Only cost £1500 three years ago, then on 98,500ish miles, I’ve added another 18,000 and the engine sounds as good as ever.  I have no excuse for ditching it – and I won’t do so.  Mike dealt with it all, and so I had to get about on my bike today, which felt very worthy.  After all this time, I’m sure that cycling shouldn’t still feel like an effort, but it does more often than not.

Getting on with the drive, they aren’t going to be here tomorrow, but will do the resurfacing on Thursday and Friday, having almost finished the preparation (the Sage has decided we need another soakaway, so that’s being dug).  It’ll be quite chaotic around here, I daresay.  I must remember to move the car to the road, I need to go out on both days – though possibly by bike on Friday.  It’ll be great to have it done.  The job was started in April – although we have done a lot else over the summer, it’s not been a single job that has taken all that time.

The hedgehog in the title was in the road on my return home tonight.  Confused by my lights, it started to run one way and then the other; it was a narrow country road and I didn’t know how to avoid it.  So I stopped, rather abruptly.  And then had to reverse because I didn’t know if it had curled up or run away.

Z is still awake

I have been awake rather a long time.  I had no sleep at all last night.  Literally none, not even a brief nap. I lay for a while, turned on my phone for a while, when the light made my eyes tired I turned it off and tried to settle – nothing worked.  At about 3 am, playing PathPix Pro, I noticed something crawling across the sheet.  I couldn’t tell what it was and had to turn the light on, just a flicker on and off, to see that it was a ladybird.  The light didn’t wake the Sage, but opening the window to bundle it out did.  After that brief excitement, he went back to sleep.  I didn’t.  I finally got up at 4, meaning to do some typing of the minutes from last Friday, but then it occurred to me that, with the Aga off for its service this morning, it was the ideal time for a really good clean, so that’s what I did next.  Later, eating an apple and drinking camomile tea, I made a good start on the minutes.

I really thought that I’d have a nap at some time, but it didn’t happen.  It did not help that the governors’ training session in Lowestoft that I thought was going to take a morning was actually a full day.  I have been awake for 36 hours and I’m still not especially tired.  I am, however, quite cheesed off.

News of the day is that work has started on the drive.  By the end of the week, weather permitting, it should be done.

And now it is time for University Challenge.  I know nothing, but I watch it – it’s almost the only programme I watch – for old time’s sake, because Bamber Gascoigne was my first heartthrob.  Paxo isn’t in the same league, of course.  I tolerate him, however.

Granny Z has no role models

There is something about reaching the top of the family tree, I think, that concentrates the mind.  Both the Sage and I have elder sisters, but no living parents, aunts or uncles.  And I’ve been thinking about my grandmothers.

I know so little about them, you see.  My mother’s mother died when she was only 25, from complications in her second pregnancy, so there’s very little to know anyway.  She had a lot of siblings, she was the ninth out of ten children, but my mother lost touch with them during WW2 and I know nothing more, except that her name was Janet.

But my father’s mother was still about when I was born, though I doubt I had much contact with her.

I’ve mentioned her before, I know – she was the daughter of a very wealthy owner of a Norwich brewery, she married at the age of 16, had a son at 17, bolted at 21 and was married after the divorce to the father of her second son, had a third, then her husband died of cancer and my grandfather, seeing her destitute (her parents had cut her off when she’d ‘misbehaved’), remarried her from a sense of honour.  The youngest son died in the war – not in action, actually, in a flying accident.  She had cancer in her face and had early radiation treatment, which killed the bone so that the wound never healed over and she wore a bandage tied carelessly round her face from then on.  She was an alcoholic, had a sharp wit, was not loved by her eldest son who had had a miserable childhood, abandoned by her when his father was away during the way,  my sister was afraid of her and she died, a vastly old woman from her appearance, at the age of 63.

I can flesh out very little.  On their return from honeymoon, actually on their way home, they called on friends of his or her parents in the middle of the afternoon and were offered tea – “You must be parched!” said the lady of the house hospitably.  “Actually,” she drawled, “at this time of the day I usually have a gin and tonic.”  However much she was wanting to make an impact, it probably worked, it being 1910 and she so young!  Apparently, it was not unusual for her to drink champagne at breakfast too.*

Once, out with the family, when my sister was a child, they parked the car at the same time as another small saloon drew up.  She watched in silence as a family piled out.  Mother, father, grandparents, a procession of small children – no seatbelts in those days and children must have been on laps, crouched on the floor, they had squeezed in anywhere there was a spare inch.  When the last finally emerged, Grandmother spoke.  “I suppose …  the others couldn’t come.”  We still say it in our family.

What else?  Not much.  She was totally careless of appearances.  She had a lovely bow-fronted display cabinet in the drawing room (my parents had no idea what happened to it and suspected that the staff sold most of the house contents as soon as she died) and it was full of foil milk bottle tops.  A rag and bone man used to come round every year and was given them.  When he stopped coming, she still kept the milk bottle tops and they were shoved in the cabinet.  She listened to the radio, but didn’t know how to tune it, so had three in every room, each tuned to a different station – Home, Light and Third.*

When my mother first met her in-laws, on her wedding day (and after she and my father impulsively married), the door was opened by the butler and they were ushered into the drawing room where my grandfather, just out of hospital after an operation, was in his dressing gown.  They were given sherry.  My mother took a cautious sip, never having tasted it before, and put her glass down.  She caught a movement out of the corner of her eye.  “My word, dear girl,” boomed her new father-in-law.  “You’re fond of sherry, better refill your glass.”  Strictly rationed alcohol didn’t suit a desperate drinker, and she grabbed it when she could.

My grandfather was devoted to his civic duties.  He was a town councillor and alderman for many years and was mayor of the town for a total of 13 years, including all through the war.  Their remarriage was not happy, and my mother always wondered, was Grandad always out because Granny drank, or did Granny drink because Granddad was always out?

I have absolutely no way of ever knowing, but I can’t help wondering what her point of view was?  Was she reconciled with her parents, before or after remarriage?  Apart from her youngest son, my uncle John, did she love anyone?  Did she have friends?  I have a few photos of her, but they are indistinct – the most noticeable thing is the bandage or scarf knotted around her head to cover her cheek.

I have her napkin ring.  Her name was Helen.  And that’s about it.

*Both these seem jolly good ideas

Forty years on

The whole family was here in the end, all thirteen of us, which was brilliant.  Must be … oh, I don’t know – well, several weeks.  A month or so, I should think, which is a long time for a small baby.  Augustus now weighs over 12 pounds and is 2 feet long.  He’s 8 weeks old today.  I carried him around much of the afternoon, asleep against my shoulder.

The weather was wonderful for the fete, warm and sunny and, although it was rather slow to get going, it became busy during the afternoon.  I’d spent a couple of hours in the morning making cakes; two chocolate cakes and two dozen fairy cakes, and I bought other cakes and a pavlova, so didn’t have to make a pudding tonight.  Hay, who is not officially on solid food yet but who enjoys trying flavours, spent some time sucking on a slice of cooked courgette, and some more munching a piece of kiwi fruit.

It still doesn’t seem right to call it kiwi fruit, you know.  I’m such a stick-in-the-mud.  To me, it’ll always really be a Chinese gooseberry.  And physalis is Cape gooseberry.  And Sharon fruit is persimmon.  Come to that, it took me years to adjust fully to decimal coinage.  I translated back for ages.  This came in handy two and a half years after the switch when I married the Sage; where we went on honeymoon, the rate of exchange was 13 rupees to the pound, so I just thought in one-and-sixpences.  It’s slightly less convenient now, when I find that I am unable to think in metric weights and measures and always have to convert.  It’s not difficult – indeed, if it were harder to do, perhaps I’d need grams to become second nature to me.  As it is, I’m fairly sure I’ll think in pounds and yards all my life.


The Summer Fête is tomorrow, held over from July, when it was rained off.  It’s very jolly to find that Weeza and co are coming over, also Ro and Dora.  Weeza hadn’t thought they would come, because it will take place about the time of Zerlina’s nap but unfortunately, in the last couple of weeks, she has pretty well abandoned her daytime nap, which means she’s a bit tetchy by the evening – but at least they aren’t so limited during the day.  I’ve said I’ll make cakes, but I haven’t had time, so I’ll have to do it in the morning.  I think I’ll also be helping on a stall, but with any luck there will be plenty of us and I’ll just have to do an hour or so stint.  I don’t think I’d be a bad influence on anyone if I nipped over the road to the pub and brought a pint back with me, do you?

Ro asked casually if I was thinking of providing dinner in the evening, so of course I said I would.  Not sure yet what to cook though.  Something that everyone likes and doesn’t take long to cook.  Followed by cake.

Clearing a space

We’re hoping for dry weather next week, because at last the drive is going to be resurfaced.  I don’t recommend that motorbike riders come along it for a week or two, there might be some wayward chippings, but after that it should be fine.  In addition, the substantial pile of very large logs (the fallen oak from the hedge by the drive) that cluttered up the front garden are being split and moved, to be used for firewood.  The pile of sand near the logs has been used in the bricklaying and the area cleared.  And the last of the potatoes have finally been dug up.  It seems that things are finally coming together a bit chez the Sage and Z.

I had a few minutes to spare when I arrived for music after lunch today, so I went into the library to see what was going on.  A couple of tables were occupied by people playing chess and draughts.  A girl who knows me bobbed along to greet me and she started to tell me that she’d noticed a Year 9 (still the year of entry) girl spent a lot of time on her own, eating her lunch alone and then sitting reading, so she’d made her come along to play draughts and she had proved rather good at it, so was making friends and joining in with things a lot more.  Her friend (a third girl) then started chatting to me about her family, books and her interests at school; after a few minutes she politely excused herself, thanked me for my company and explained she was due at Biology.  All charmingly polite and awfully keen.  It is a very friendly school.  So unlike my schooldays, I can’t imagine going and engaging anyone in conversation like that.

Music went well, I spent my time helping pupils who had never played the guitar or keyboard before.  Not that I play guitar myself, but I can show the basics.  They were playing Word Up, which I don’t think any of them had heard before.  Quite a pleasure, after last year’s Coldplay effort.

I have to think I’d have grown up a very different person if schools 40-odd years ago had been more like they are now.  It would have taken such determination to remain silent and withdrawn, only producing good written work and rarely speaking in class, and not bothering with subjects I didn’t care about, that I wonder if I’d have succeeded in holding on to my reserve.  Nowadays, I’d be given targets and things, including joining clubs.  I was a dedicated non joiner in those days and I’m still more an observer than a participant.  That I never took up smoking, for example, was for two reasons.  One, that almost everyone smoked, and I didn’t do things because everyone else was, peer group pressure had the opposite effect on me.  And two, that I had not the least intention of being addicted to anything.  That I didn’t try drugs either was for those reasons too (not that *everyone* was doing it, they weren’t, but there were plenty around in the early 1970s), plus that I wasn’t going to do anything that might make me let my guard down without meaning to.  Evidently, I’ve always had that control-freakish tendency.  Although, only of myself.  Everyone else can do what they like.  Liberty Hall around here, darlings.

Z’s belt is a little tight

It’s a question that I’ve asked local authority education experts on more than one occasion at training sessions over a period of year, and they’ve looked startled and evaded the issue, but what I’d like to know is this.

If a pupil has been permanently excluded from a school because he or she physically attacked another pupil or a teacher, and the governors of another school agrees to accept him or her and it happens again, are they liable because they knew there was a risk?

Since they could not answer, my answer was, obviously the governors would have to refuse to accept the pupil.  If there was an appeal or (since, until now, the LA was the admissions authority; now the academy is) the LA said the school had to take the pupil, the school itself could not be held liable.  Who would, is another matter.

No, we have not at this time been asked to accept a pupil who has been violent or aggressive.  Just wondering.

Anyway, darlings, you’ll be terribly impressed, or possibly laugh like drains, to learn that I’ve been re-elected chairman of governors.  It was a shoo-in, to tell the truth.  No one else has as much time lying heavy on their hands, or is quite as foolish as I am.  I did, in fact, tell the Head a couple of weeks ago how long I was prepared to stay, so he knows where he stands.

I had a very substantial lunch, beef stew with a cobbler topping, carrots and cauliflower.  I turned down the mashed potatoes.  It cost £1.80 and was very good.  The plate was piled high and I had difficulty clearing it, but I didn’t want to hurt the cook’s feelings, so I ploughed through.  I then spent the afternoon meeting sipping away at several glassfuls of water – just the one glass, darlings, I refilled it – so that I would be all set for losing a pint of fluid later.  Having once fainted afterwards, I take every precaution.

And now, I’m relaxing with a nice red wine.  I must look up what it is.  Tomorrow, Year 9 music.

Now, I shall phone Wink.  She arrived home from her holiday in Spain today, and I need her passport number to book a holiday for both of us next year.