Monthly Archives: December 2011

Happy old year

A final picture for you, of my childhood home.  If you know 0ult0n Br0ad, it’s right opposite the park, although nowadays the yacht club building is fenced off, so you cannot stand opposite the house any more.  The house has been divided into two and several houses have been built in the grounds, all with long thin gardens to preserve the building line.

The photo was taken in winter, normally there was virginia creeper all over the house.  My bedroom, which I shared with Wink as a child, was the one on the top right and was above our parents’ room and the drawing room was below that.  The study was in the middle and the dining room on the left.  The conservatory led off that.  I remember it always being warm and steamy, with a plumbago and a nectarine against the back wall.  The building to the left was the garage, a huge two-storeyed one (there was a work bench upstairs, darlings, it wasn’t a multi-storey car park).  I’m not sure whether that was converted to a house or pulled down and rebuilt.

The people who lived in the right-hand part invited us over about ten years ago.  Very strange to go back again after so many years.  They wanted to meet my mother, but I didn’t feel able to tell her about it.  She so loved that house and would never return to the road after she sold it.

Alex was born here, not in a room you can see from here but at the back of the house, in my father’s childhood night nursery.  Only a week or two later, the Sage suggested I go with him to look at a house that his firm was auctioning the next day.  It was, like this, a large Edwardian family home, and also a former Rectory.  I walked in the door, turned left into the drawing room and, momentarily, staggered and gasped.  “Can we buy it?”

And so we did.  We hadn’t been planning to sell our own home, a nice four-bedroomed detached house half a mile away, but plans can change in a moment.

Dears, thank you for your friendship over the past year.  I hope you have fun tonight, whether partying or curling up in bed early or anything in between.  We’re having a family get-together and I’m just going out to buy ingredients and will spend most of the day cooking.

See you next year.

love from Z xx


It was not the childhood memories that upset me most the other day.  It was the newspaper cuttings.  And here they are – they enlarge quite readably – and you’ll see what I mean.

I’ve been thinking about my father a lot recently, as it happens, triggered by a photo of my baby grandson Hadrian, in whom I recognised my father’s smile and eyes.  And then this … the second article was written by a reporter called G**rge Sm*11m*n – I saw him again as it happens, about three years ago at a Hindu wedding I went to in Lowestoft.  I recognised him immediately and we had a lovely chat.  You can see the shock and feeling of loss that went into the article, but it isn’t exaggerated, you know.  It’s true.

What I have felt a keen sense of loss for, during the past 42 (nearly) years is not the person described, of course, but the father I knew and loved, and what I’ve so regretted is that I didn’t have the opportunity to reach maturity and get to know him as a person as well as my daddy.  But reading these and other newspaper clippings, I’ve realised that I’ve spent much of my life, in particular the last 23 years, unknowingly trying to model myself on him.  I’ve always wondered, and increasingly so of late, why I have such a huge sense of duty, why I have to feel that I’m contributing to *the community* (whatever that means) and why I feel that it is, outside my family, my purpose in life.

I’m not so unusual in that, of course, I know plenty of others, and many people do far more than I.  Nor am I suggesting that it is because my father died relatively young that I have turned in that direction.  I don’t feel I am proving myself to his memory or anything like that.  I said that the past shapes you, but to be shaped is not necessarily to be scarred.  I’d probably have gone in much the same way, whatever happened.  However, I do feel I’ve learned something about myself in the last couple of days.  And, although I was terribly upset when reading all the tributes, the account of his funeral and memorial service and so on, I hope I’m going to find it a comfort as time goes on.  So much love and respect.  But such a loss.  One never really gets over it, you know.

Portraits of a younger blogger

 Demure, tidy, the picture of a nice little girl.
 But this is nearer to the real Z.
 ’nuff said.
 And this is how I preferred to spend my time.
 We’d been married three months and this was our wedding reception, at the Yacht Club in Lowestoft.  I was pregnant here, but didn’t yet know it.
 Three years later – I was 22, my sister Wink was 28.  Also in the picture are her first husband, Weeza, the Sage and Al.
 And here I’m 30 and it’s the day after Ro was born.
 A year or so later.  Joepie (pron. Yoopi), my Dutch au pair when I was 6, and we remained friends with her and her sister (who had been our au pair a year earlier) for many years.
There really is nothing to say about this one.  Although it does show that I am not, and never have been, vain about my appearance.

Z looks forward.

Not sure why the print was small yesterday, I didn’t change it.  Sorry if it was difficult to read.

This afternoon was rather emotional, as it turned out.  But I’ll go back to the beginning and explain.

We have more rooms in this house than we use, now that the family has grown up and left.  There are two specifically, one which the Sage uses to put stuff in, every time it’s necessary for him to clear up all his chaos and one which I’ve stored my late mother’s stuff, cleared from her place next door, where Al and his family live.  Most of it was put in there about five years ago and I wasn’t able to deal with it.  But in the last year, I’ve started to, and now I’m finishing the job.  The intention is that the Sage will then take it over, go through all his boxes of stuff and sort it out.  Indeed, I’ll believe it when I see it too, but I have stipulated that a box may not be taken in unless and until it has been gone through.  I’m getting a bit tetchy about this and have hardly a yearsworth of patience left.  But in fact, the Sage’s room has to be cleared before that, as various things that he wants to do hinge on it.

It didn’t start well when I went in to *my* room and found that boxes belonging to the Sage were lining the walls.  Only yesterday, he was blaming my dilatoriness for him not being able to do his sorting out, and then I discovered that his junk was the problem more than mine.  And here comes a Useful Tip for a tranquil marriage.

Find out really annoying things when you’re on your own.  Shout and complain, let rip all you want.  Once you’ve done it, you won’t have to again and you can be pleasant and constructive when your husband comes home.  Nagging is counter-productive and deeply boring.  Just listen to yourself, woman. No wonder a man switches off.

So, having got angry and got over it, I went through various boxes.  A lot of things could be thrown out/put for recycling, and old photos and papers were put on one side, mostly.  But I kept coming upon things that I found very poignant.  An old puzzle book with my father’s handwriting in.  Old Christmas decorations from my childhood that I’d assumed had been broken, but which my mother had carefully packed away, too fragile to use.  The newspaper notice of my father’s death and a letter of thanks from his Oxford college, thanking my mother for a donation in his memory.  Looking through more papers and photos tonight brought back more memories, and I’ll scan in some of the pictures tomorrow (you might see some of them, darlings.  Z the tomboy, and Z the bride, Z the little girl and Z’s school report.  I was untidy, unsurprisingly).

It’s better not to look back, you know.  Memories, even of happy times, don’t make you happy.  They just fill you with regret for what’s gone.  Face forward, even if the best is behind you.  The present and the future are what matter.  The past shapes you, but you shape what is to come.

Z has nothing to say, so posts pictures instead

The chicken, Elf/Eve/Pearl, has had a small run built for her.  The Sage is feeding the others near her, so that they will get used to being with her and then he’ll let her out.  The cocks will be brought along soon – either he’ll have to put them in a run or will have to enclose all of them for a few days, because we don’t want to risk them flying off and getting lost.  
But now it’s after midnight, and the post I originally wrote was so dull that I deleted it and started again, and there isn’t a thought in my head.  So I’m padding, darlings, with a few recent pictures.
First, a couple of chickens.

Then, some of the same area of the drive as work was in progress.  I didn’t put up pictures as we went along, because they weren’t that interesting.  And they still aren’t, come to that.  But I’m posting every day until the end of the year, whether I’ve got anything to say or not.  

The ghost of Christmas presents

Moving swiftly on, darlings (I’ve shown yesterday’s effort to Wink, who is laughing like a drain) … I was talking to Weeza the other day about her childhood Christmases.  I may well have written about this before, she and I have discussed it, but I’m not sure and I trust you’ll either have forgotten or will kindly put repetition down to my old age.

I haven’t always been as laid back about Christmas preparations, as I am now.  When my children were small, we started before December with the making of the Advent calendars.  Then we made tree decorations during December.  Our house (we moved here when Ro was two, or rather the day before his second birthday) had high ceilings and a big hall and we had a tree that went in the stairwell and could be as tall as the banisters on the landing, so it could take any number of decorations.  At that time, we didn’t have much spare money and so the Sage and I made a lot of the children’s presents too.  And then I did a whole lot of baking and so on, made cakes and puddings – went to loads of effort.

For the day itself, I made lists of what was to be done.  And – I’m getting to the point, darlings, there is one – I scheduled in to my time plan several breaks to stop work and join the family.

When I was a child, you see, my mother worked for hours in the kitchen to prepare the Christmas meal.  My sister and I had opened our stockings when we first woke up, and then that was it.  No present opening until after lunch.  You can see why I’m so good at deferring gratification.  I learned early.  But in fact, never mind the presents, what I really wanted was all of us to be together, not to sit around quite bored for hours before a meal I wasn’t too bothered about – and, after the presents were opened, my mother disappeared again to clear away, and was gone for hours.  No question of us all piling into the kitchen and sorting it out, I suspect she actually didn’t enjoy the whole occasion much and preferred to be on her own, leaving Wink and me with the old ladies she invited round for the day.

Anyway, I always looked forward to Christmas and never learned from experience that it was going to be slightly disappointing.  So things would be different with my children, I resolved.  I scheduled in these breaks, when I downed kitchen tools and spent half an hour at a time with them and let them open some presents.

Oh, another word here.  The family would rock along sometime about noon and wanted us all to open presents together.  So I had to compromise, just a couple of parcels at a time so the bulk were still there when my mum, stepdad and sister arrived.  And then it was champagne at noon and presents were opened, never mind what needed to be done in the kitchen.

I thought it had been quite a good compromise, but Weeza’s memory is of frustration at not being allowed to dive in and rip paper.  Not so different from mine then but, as I pointed out, with much less cause.

There was one matter where my careful planning worked out though.  I started buying early and amassed several items for each of them.  There were no uncles, aunts or cousins, we didn’t greatly get into the way of exchanging presents with friends because no one had much spare money for them, so I made sure there was a good pile of parcels under the tree anyway.  When I’d got them all together, I spent a lot of time equalling them out.  I made sure that the number was equal, so was the cost and even the approximate size.  This was never remarked on, so I thought it was just me who knew – I don’t think I even mentioned it to the Sage, it was just what I did to be fair.  But Weeza says now that she and Al always compared.  Devious little brats.

Christmas Eve. Or possibly Elf. If not, Pearl

The Sage left for Yagnub, to go and wish various shopkeepers a happy Christmas, and to pick up the local paper that I’d accidentally left at the greengrocer’s.  A couple of minutes later, he was back again.  “You won’t believe this,” he started (I believe anything and everything where the Sage is concerned), “but I found a chicken wandering around in the road.”  He was indeed holding a large chicken.  He said that her crop was empty and he could feel her breastbone sharply, she was thin and hungry.  She’s very tame, however and I found a large box – well, that wasn’t hard, I’d just emptied it of wine bottles in the kitchen – and then gave her a cuddle while the Sage fetched her food and water.  She wouldn’t feed from his hand, but started eating as soon as she was put in the box.  Here she is, doing just that.

We’ll keep her indoors for a few days while she regains strength, and put the word about that we have her in case her owners get in touch.  If not, she has found a new home.  She can have the run of the porch for now.

Squiffany suggests that she be called Elf.  The Sage wants to call her Pearl, it being the second name of his friend Frances (her husband and son run Big Pinkie’s farm).  I think that Christmas Eve is too obvious a name to pass up.  But actually, I don’t really name chickens.  I barely remember the names of my own family, calling every chicken by name – hell, choosing a name for each of them and remembering which one is which – is way beyond me.

In other news … I trotted round the village calling on elderly friends in a Christmas cheer sort of way, and then I went to the Carol Service (if we find another hen tomorrow, I suppose that will be her name) where I swayed gently to the music as I played, as I realised part-way through.  How undisciplined of me.  I’ve not done a lot else today.

So, darlings, have a lovely Christmas, however you spend it.  I love and appreciate you all very much.  I feel great warmth from this blog, and I hope you will all be happy.

Give me a break

I thought I’d get on upstairs, and was cleaning the bathroom when there was a knock at the door. Not the bathroom door, the porch door. I scurried down and found Graham – Graham who has sheep, not Graham who has cows. After our chat, I never did go upstairs again, so the bedrooms are unfinished and I’ve now been shoeless all day. This may not be unusual for many of you, but I always wear shoes about the house. Always except today, that is. Inevitably, I’ve had to keep popping outside for one reason or another, so my feet have been quite cold and damp most of the day.

I’m attempting HTML line breaks, we shall see what happens. I only know the most basic HTML, I have to admit, just enough to inset a link, a hidden message, italics and so on, and I’ve never found it a great shortcoming in life. But if I want to use the iPad for posts – and it certainly beats sitting in a cold study with just a candle for warmth (we’re old-fashioned as far as heating is concerned and tend to put coats on) – then maybe it’ll be necessary, although I have got symbols for bold, italics, strike through, link, photo and block quote. Not paragraphs.

Enough of that, darlings, quite boring enough. So, I hope you are all set for a splendid weekend, and Christmas if you celebrate it.

I’m less set than I was, because I received my tax return from the accountant this morning. I have to admit, I was a bit disappointed. Having paid two years worth of tax last year, I thought it would be rather less this time around. However, apparently I still owe nine hundred and something from last year, have to pay upfront for the current year (it’s being self-employed that does it) and am, of course, having to pay tax on this year’s full income, whilst I have about £3,000-worth of expenses to off-set, but that won’t be taken into account for another year. First world problems, hey.

We shall not end on a low note, however. Least of all, me bleating because I’m fortunate enough to have enough money to pay tax on.

There is certainly some good news. The Sage went to see the cockerels today, and he says they are lovely. Quite small and very friendly. They follow James around and he can pick them up and give them a stroke, so that’s brilliant. He had eight eggs hatch and, fortunately, four of the chicks were female. I don’t know, because I didn’t ask, if the other two boys are being kept by him or have been found another home. I’ve suggested to the Sage that we make or buy a second hen house in the next few weeks so that, as they each gather an entourage of females, they can, if they wish, make separate territories. We hope they won’t fight. They’re about six months old now, so should be well ready for fatherhood by the spring. It’ll be lovely, having chicks about the place again.

I’m going to feel no end silly if all these line breaks haven’t worked.

Z is ready for Christmas

I seem to have finished the shopping. Except to pick up the fruit and veg orders, of course. Such a luxury, to hand that in, not expecting to go in and put it together myself at 5am on Christmas Eve. Although the years that Alex was a shopkeeper were happy ones. What he wanted was a shop that sold things that people really needed, not the occasnal frippery. He’s enjoying being a postman now, though, with paid holidays and everything. Quite a luxury. I’m with him there, I haven’t had a paid holiday since I was 19 years old and worked in Lowestoft Borough Library. The Sage has been self-employed since 1968, so he’s in the same boat. But anyway, this is an achievement. I’ve also written out my music for the carol service, and played it through. So, sad as it seems, I have no more excuses and seem to be on house-cleaning duty tomorrow. That this doesn’t happen often is apparent to the least observant visitor. Our last house, the ceilings were way up high, but even I can touch most of ours, which also means that the cobwebs are horribly visible. I don’t mind cobwebs, in fact, which seem to give a homely air to the place, but it’s when the develop dust bunnies of their own that it isn’t, perhaps, such a good look. I was going to tell you all sorts of things but I can’t remember now what they were. I had a nice chat this evening about chilli peppers, and have been promised some. The cows got out again, dammit, but Al suggested they went back to their field and they just trotted back, which reduced the drama of the occasion quite considerably. Maybe I’ll remember tomorrow what was more interesting than that about my day. In the meantime, darlings, rest assured that my life is more quiet and uneventful than yours is.