Monthly Archives: July 2012

Z the wedding caterer

I’ve mentioned that our ex-neighbour’s wedding reception will be held on our front field. Over the last few days, the Sage has been mowing a substantial part of it, ready for the marquee.

It was a surprise in a way when I realised that our two family weddings took place before I started blogging and I can’t remember what, if anything, I ever said about them. The receptions for both Al’s and Weeza’s weddings took place on the field and were quite similar – hog roast and ceilidh band both times. I did more of the food for the second wedding though. First time round, we got a caterer to provide for vegetarians and do the puddings, but Weeza wanted me to when it was her and Phil’s turn.

I can’t remember what I cooked for the veggies, though I think one of the dishes was stuffed peppers, but the dessert was straightforward. With the number of guests coming, I had to start cooking well in advance, and Weeza chose something simple: meringues, poached fruit and ice cream. Since I bought the ice cream (I did offer to make it, but Weeza was adamant that it was too much work) I have no idea what I did with all the excess egg yolks, I simply don’t remember, but meringues do have the advantage of keeping well in tins. I poached twenty or so peaches or pears at a time and froze them.
I cooked the vegetarian dishes on the afternoon of the reception and had a working party to make salads in the morning.

The more astute of you might wonder what I was doing, cooking on the day of the reception – thing is, it wasn’t the same day as the wedding but the day after. We are all meek and modest people of course, and neither Dilly nor Weeza wanted a big occasion with lots of guests, though they did want a big celebration afterwards with all their friends. But what Weeza did want instead of a wedding cake was a croquembouche.

I’m not sure if I’ve ever told you about my first experience of making a croquembouche, which was when I was about fourteen years old. It’s easy enough of course, being numerous choux pastry buns which you can fill with cream or mousse or whatever you want, but they are supposed to be stuck together into a conical shape with caramel. You can buy moulds for them, I’ve seen them, but I think that’s cheating a bit – though it’s quite understandable if you’ve ever tried to make one in the classic way.

You make the caramel in the usual way of course, and then you dip each choux bun in it and construct this cone. It’s a lot easier said than done. I tried it with the bun on a fork, held in tongs and then, disastrously, in my fingers. It was inevitable, I suppose, that after a few of these I dipped my finger in the caramel. It wasn’t boiling in terms of caramel, but it was way, way above the temperature of boiling water and, although I was too busy at the time to take much notice, it turned out to be the most painful burn by far that I’ve ever had. And it wasn’t much good anyway, I found that the caramel hardened far too quickly in the pan, that the buns didn’t stick together very well at all and in the end I admitted defeat. We had made some raspberry mousse to serve with it, and we piled that in the dish and constructed the cone of buns around it. It was fine, although it was a bit spready by the time it was served.

So this time, I copped out. I decided that the bloomin’ buns would be stuck together with a dab of cream and that I’d drizzle the caramel over the whole. And then I’d make spun sugar to go on top. Not that I’d ever made spun sugar, of course, but I’m nothing if not over-confident.

I had a to-do list, natch, and I got through it all over the weeks leading up to the wedding, all except one item – that is, practising the spun sugar. I think I knew all along that it wasn’t going to happen.

So it was that we returned to our house – just the two families, none of the other guests was going to arrive until the party the next day – and I went out to the kitchen, looked up how to make spun sugar, made it, spun it and piled it on the croquembouche.

Darlings, bring it on. It was fine. It wasn’t … well, obviously it wasn’t professional standard, it wasn’t even gifted amateur, but it looked pretty good and I was quite satisfied. And it tasted good, obv.

In print

The catalogue was finished and sent off to the printers yesterday which is a relief, really – that is, if there are any mistakes (and we all proof-read) it’s too late to do anything about it. We have two sales this autumn, because the Sage is so much in demand. It does seem a pity that he’s so busy now, at a time of life when he might be winding down a bit, when at one time he worried that he wouldn’t be able to put on a sale of china at all. It always came good, however.

I will finish the series about the village school – it’s occurred to me that I was the only person involved throughout all the time I’m writing about and it might be a good idea to get it all down. Though there is quite a lot that I can’t write about for one reason and another,discretion and all that, can’t write about people. Anyway, I feel like a break from that for a few days and I daresay you do too. I’ll think of something quite different for tomorrow.

The Village School 3

The school soon gained a very good reputation under its new Head and numbers started to rise – it was at a time when the then Conservative government was advocating parental choice rather than the assumption that children would attend their nearest school. There were various changes in education coming in – Ro’s year was the first to sit SATs in Year 2 (age 6-7), for instance. These were brought in to measure children’s attainment, but the original idea was simply that – it was explained that exams mostly demonstrated limits in a child’s ability or knowledge, whereas the SATs showed what he or she could do. Similarly, the National Curriculum, just being brought in, was initially going to set down some basic stipulations of expectation. They soon got out of hand and started to rule schools’ lives.

As Local Management of Schools got under way, there was a lot of consultation by the Local Authority (I’m going to use initials from now on, if you don’t mind). Consultation documents came out on the extent and manner of delegation to schools, and it was in those days a genuine process. The LA took the results, looked at them and worked things out accordingly. We got our first computer, and the secretary decided to step aside, though she stayed in her job as a teaching assistant. The secretary appointed was, as it happened, the Sage’s cousin, a great friend. Interestingly, the LA chose Apple Macs for their computers, though they changed their minds a few years later when Apple nearly hit the buffers. I bought my first computer around that time too. Not having much idea what to buy, I talked to a friend who said he had bought a computer, couldn’t get to grips with it at all, bought a Mac and hadn’t looked back. So that’s what I did too and nor have I.

There were three classes, but five year groups, Reception and Years 1,2,3 and 4. The middle class, therefore, had some of three of the years. It was such a small school that there was a real family atmosphere and this was no disadvantage. I used to go in weekly to help, as did some other mothers. The Sage helped too, with woodwork, and years later a young man stopped him in the town, introduced himself and thanked the Sage for his help.

One of the governors, who was Chairman for a time, knew our local MP quite well. He was, at the time, the Secretary of State for Education and I rated him highly. He visited the school on occasion and always took trouble to ask for opinions. I can’t remember the topic he asked my views on once, but the next week he repeated them in the House of Commons. I don’t think for a moment that I was the only person who said the same thing, but he listened and learnt from the people actually in schools.

I had always been rather doubtful of middle schools. I felt that it would be easy for them not to have a great stake in a child’s education, not starting or finishing it. However, I knew that the school that Al went to (an academically selective private school in Norwich) would not suit Ro – not that he wouldn’t pass the exam but that he would not be happy there and we decided to send him to the middle school and see how it went. However, I was midway through my second term of appointment as a governor and didn’t really want to stand down, so carried on with my jobs, governor, clerk and voluntary teaching assistant.

The Sage and I did have a discussion, however, because it would have been quite a good point for me to start looking for a paid job. But we were happy as we were. In fact, I was as happy as I’d ever been, those first years in our house. At one time very shy, something I disguised with effective social skills and therefore gaining a reputation, I suspect, for standoffishness, I had had to make an effort to make friends and had also gained confidence as a governor and other things I’d taken on in the village. So we decided that we would rather be content and happy than look for a bigger income and that we would carry on in the same way as before.

The village school 2

I need to explain more about the school. It was a traditional late Victorian village school, financed by the Church of England to enable village children to learn to read and write, get a basic education, which would not have been available otherwise. Those people who oppose the concept of Church schools may not consider their origins. Not that I’m arguing in favour of teaching dogma or excluding families who don’t toe your line. I am not in favour of schools’ admission criteria demanding that the children attend church or sign up to anything at all and I think that a range of views should be presented.

Anyway, back to the building work. As I said, the piece of land being looked at for sale was partly a small field and partly the village allotments, but it was situated right in the middle of the village, opposite the pub and shop and next to the village hall. The local landowner was and is a very good and fair man and, although it was not unreasonable that he should be willing to make some money out of an opportunity, he wouldn’t try to do it at anyone’s expense. He offered as an alternative another piece of land taken out of a field about 100 yards away and, when it was accepted, fenced it, manured the ground and left it in good order for the allotment holders. That land is still the site of the village allotments.

One of the reasons that the Local Authority wanted to close the school was that it was quite old-fashioned – that is, the school building was out of date. There were no indoor children’s toilets, which was the main problem, a large classroom and a small one and a small office. There was a rudimentary kitchen, but meals were brought in from another school. There was also a staff lavatory. In addition to the lack of facilities, pupil numbers were very low and there was a temporary Headteacher and just one other part-time teacher. In the afternoons, the Head took the whole school (age range 5-8) with the help of a teaching assistant who, in the morning, acted as the school secretary. That this wasn’t terribly satisfactory explained the low pupil numbers. And then the children went on to another school a 25-minute bus ride away, whilst the Yagnub middle and high schools were only two miles away.

So the landowner, the Rector and a small group of parents got together to make a plan, for the land to be sold, the village church to finance the updating of the buildings and a small new housing estate to be built which would help to bring in more young people who would be pupils. At that time, this village had the largest proportion of over 65-year-olds in the whole of Norfolk.

An extension was built to house a cloakroom and lavatories and the classrooms were altered so that there was one large room divided by a folding screen. This made two classrooms that could be turned into one hall for lunch, assembly and PE. The Headteacher was given a new office which was to be shared with the secretary. There was already a mobile classroom in the playground which was the third classroom when there were enough pupils to warrant it. The alterations cost around £48,000. And a new Headteacher was appointed on a permanent contract. The other agreement made was that the age range be increased to 5-9 (the Suffolk first school age, 5-8 was Norfolk’s) and our pupils go on to Yagnub schools – Yagnub being in Suffolk and our village being in Norfolk.

At the point when I became a governor, the indoor toilets had just been built and the new Head had been appointed. I was pretty green and clueless, but the Church Education Board (which is not its actual title) had as its director a lovely man called John N. who was immensely kind and helpful to me. Every time I needed to know anything, I phoned him and he would advise. I only realised several years later that this was not really his job at all and just how kind he had been.

The Village School 1

I’ve been meeting prospective governors recently (we retained two places for governors of the middle schools which are closing, having already offered places to two more last year) and one of them asked me how long I’d been a school governor and how it came about. And then someone else, I can’t remember at the moment who, asked the same thing. When a third friend asked what motivated me in that respect and how my own schooldays influenced what I did, I thought that maybe I should give the matter a bit of thought. So I did.

The third question was easy – or, that is, its second part. I don’t think I’m in the least influenced by my own schooldays. I do wish I’d been to a better school – it wouldn’t have been hard – but I was quite happy there, if rather disengaged. And as for motivation, now it’s simply that I’ve become quite good at it and will keep trying my best until I stop altogether and resign. Motivation in the first place – look, I’m really sorry to be so flaky, but there wasn’t any. It was chance, in that I was asked.

Back in 1988, the then Rector phoned me and asked if I’d be willing to be proposed as a governor for the village school. Ro had just had his fourth birthday, though he wouldn’t start school until Easter the next year (now most schools take children in the September after they’re four, but then it was in the term they were five). And, naïve little creature that I was, I was quite flattered to be asked and I agreed straight away. Then he asked if I’d be Clerk to the Governors. Now, I have to give him credit – if I’d said no, he would still have had to honour the offer to make me a governor … on the other hand, if he’d started by asking me about the clerkship, I might well have turned it down. But anyway, I agreed. Nowadays governors are not allowed to be clerk, but it was different then.

At that time a new system of school management was starting (and quite a number of long-term governors standing down as a result) called Local Management of Schools. That is, schools would run themselves rather than Local Authorities – gradually, more of the budget would be handed over, schools would appoint their own staff and so on.

Our village school had become very small over the years in terms of its pupil numbers. When Ro joined it, he was the 25th. It had been scheduled for closure, like a number of other small Norfolk schools, but there was a campaign by local parents to keep it open. It was and is a Church school – that is, the building belonged to the Church of England but it was run by the state and free to its pupils. The village church happened to own a bit of land in the middle of the village and a local landowner owned the adjacent allotments. It was at the time of a housing boom and the land was sold with planning permission for 40 houses for a lot of money. It wasn’t just the money, it was the fact that family houses were to be built, thus providing more pupils for the school. But the church was able to pay for improvements to the school buildings, its future was secured as a going concern and, well, it worked. Under a very good Head, the school went in Ro’s time there from 25 pupils to 76.


No, really, this is a bit much. I take the weather as I find it normally, but the temperature has taken quite a dip in the past week and now I’m back in jeans and jumpers. At least June was warm and wet. I really rather wish I was back in Corfu.

It’s a funny thing, and I’m very lucky, that my tolerance for heat has actually got better over the years. My mother was the opposite and suffered both in the heat and the cold. It was quite irritating, I have to say, when a lovely summer’s day led to grumbles from her over the awful weather. She could never say “I don’t like this weather,” it had to be that the weather was faulty and everyone else should feel the same about it. So I suppose I shouldn’t say that a cold, wet July is bad in itself. Just that I’m not enjoying it at all. The only good thing is that we haven’t had to water the garden at all this year, or not since I planted out the new flower bed, anyway. And I only bother to say that because I have a great need to find a positive spin to everything.

Back in my teenage years, I developed a sort of allergy to sunshine. I had to be very careful and spend only a short time with my arms uncovered until I’d become acclimatised or else I’d get a rash, a sort of prickly heat thing. This was no great fun at all and quite unattractive, but luckily it only lasted for a few years and I have never had it since. Mind you, I’ve never had much of a suntan in my life. I get back from a holiday – “oh,” people say, “you’re not very brown.” It’s true, I don’t go brown. And I have to head for the shade anyway after a few minutes because otherwise I burn. But I love the heat of the sun. And I love snow. A cold, wet July, not so much.

Z takes a taxi

What a brilliant party. I had such a good time, met Tim’s friends and family who were all very friendly and it was so good to see Tim and Mig again and meet Barney. Thank you so much, Tim, and thanks for pouring me into the cab sometime after midnight.

This morning I shall walk back and retrieve my car before breakfast – I know, I’m so hearty – and later I’m visiting friends for lunch. Remarkably enough, these are friends whom I met years ago, long before I started blogging. This year, I’ve seen more of my blog friends than of most of my conventionally met ones – though of course, the last time old friends came to supper, I was off to Corfu with them a couple of days later. Whoever would have thought that sensible Z was so impulsive?

I’m staying in a guest house which has obviously been recently refurbished. My room is not only very clean, but the furniture and fittings have the air of brand newness. I picked it for its proximity to Tim’s house, when I said the name of the road to him he said “ah” in a manner that makes me think that it’s perhaps not the most salubrious of addresses, but I certainly can’t fault this place. And excellent quality sheets and towels, which always give a good impression, don’t you think?

Darlings, I must get out of bed and start the day. The sun is shining, it’s almost as if this was summer. Or rather, the sort of summer where one has hopes of a whole day without rain.

Z realises I am quite silly, really

I was changing the bedclothes this morning when it occurred to me that I don’t usually do this on a Saturday. Then it occurred to me that I don’t have a regular day for changing the bedclothes anyway, so Saturday is as good a day as any.

While I was having occurrences, I started to muse. I realised that I deliberately avoid doing routine jobs on a set day. Of course, there are lots of things that happen on the same day or every week or month, that’s not quite what I mean, and when I had a cleaner she, or the two of us together, usually changed the beds and that was perforce on one of the days she came, but I try slightly too hard not to get into any sort of comfortable routine.

The Sage, for example, is quite happy to have the same thing for breakfast every day. I might do that for a week or so, but after that I’m terribly bored with toast or porridge or poached egg or whatever, even if it’s something I like. Well, of course it’s something I like, I wouldn’t be eating a breakfast I didn’t like.

The Headteacher was saying a few weeks ago that what he likes so much about his job is the variety. He said this when our meeting had been interrupted by several different urgent matters, each requiring his attention within a short time. After each interruption, he effortlessly returned to our discussion, not having lost his thread in the least. I suppose it’s a bit the same with me.

Not that I’m saying it’s a good thing – I mean, it’s one thing to have a job with plenty of variety but I rather think it’s a fault, or at least a weakness, to be so fixed on change that I can’t bear to do a routine job on the same day each week in case I get into a rut. Frankly, I think it’s silly. I can’t think of any reason for it either, it’s not as if my mother was either too rigid or too undisciplined so I’m not rebelling, nor do I know nothing different.

When my children were very young, I avoided a routine for them too. But now, having observed a lot of parents and babies, I realise that babies actually like routine. Maybe life would have been easier for us all if they’d known what to expect day after day. I’d have found it hopelessly dull to start with, but perhaps I’d have preferred it myself after a while. I think I’m a bit old to change my way of thinking.

Z’s nervous tick. Yes, I can spell.

Well . . . I think I’ve caught up with myself.  I’ve emailed off the list of lots and condition report, uploaded the photos and made the changes that the Sage suddenly thought of after I thought I’d finished.  Grr.  He thinks the sales are fun, I think of them as work, I get the bits that aren’t fun and I don’t get paid, so I tend to feel that the least he could be is considerate.  But there we go, it’s a bit late to wish he’d change.  And he went out for fish and chips and has just made me a pot of coffee.

Apart from having unwisely bought a summer frock for Tim’s party, all is in hand for my weekend away.  I should say that Tim invited the Sage too, but he’s otherwise engaged, unfortunately.  But there’s something rather nice about a bed to oneself and being able to read all night without disturbing someone if one wants to (saying ‘one’ only works *one-ce* – after that, it becomes horribly artificial, doesn’t it).

The Sage had his mid-year tax demand a couple of days ago.  Since I’d completely forgotten that a second payment is due at the end of July and I hadn’t budgeted for it, I was slightly alarmed.  Not *that* alarmed because my habit of not overspending is deeply engrained.

In fact, I shall explain it.  I never spend more than half the money I have available.  I never have – when I first had a Saturday job at the local library when I was 16, I was paid monthly by cheque – I had to open a bank account specially.  I’d never received pocket money as a child – I was always grateful for book tokens or cash as presents because it was the only time I ever got my hands on any money.  Books were bought for myself, but I saved the money for presents.  But this monthly paycheque was awfully exciting.  My father had died not long previously, and I felt I had to contribute to the family budget, so I bought a treat each month.  A nice meal, some grapes or olives or something like that – my mother wouldn’t have thanked me for chocolate.  The rest was mine, but I never spent it all.  I made an arbitrary rule that I never spent more than half on any one thing.  But I really didn’t earn much, so I didn’t fritter it on cheap stuff either.  I usually had to save for two or three months to buy anything – by which time, I usually didn’t need or want it any more.  But the thing is, it worked, whether I had a fiver or five shillings – I’d only ever be down to my last penny if I’d only had tuppence in the first place.

Anyway, I can’t remember how much I owe the taxman.  I’ll get a bill, but I must look up the papers, just as soon as I remember where I put them.  And it was a going to be a case of frisking the back of the sofa and long-neglected handbags in the hope of finding lost change or the odd forgotten tenner, until I opened today’s post.  A company I’d forgotten I had shares in has been bought out and I’ve been bought out too.  Pity to spend it nearly all on a tax bill, but I’m not too bothered about that.  The main thing is, I’ve got the money.  Whew.  And my to-do list is almost fully ticked, for this week anyway.  Not that I wrote it, it’s all in my mind and on my nerves.  Sort of a nervous tick-list.

Zcalded Catz

It’s been such a muddled day and I still have a lot of work to do, so this’ll be a quickie, darlings.  I was going to do the condition report, and the Sage would have done the fetching and carrying, but a friend of his died a couple of days ago and his wife wanted some help, so of course he put her first, which was entirely the right thing to do.  So I got myself set up, laptop, tray of china, list of lots – and then got an urgent call into the high school.  So everything got locked away again and off I went.  On my way home, actually turning into the drive, I got an alert that it was time for Meals on Wheels, so I swung round the drive and went straight back out again.  Then when I got home, the phone kept ringing, and I finally got started and then Dilly called in, so it seemed a good excuse to stop for coffee.  And then an email that needed answering straight away and some typing led from that – I felt quite harassed by the time the Sage came home – and then I wanted to talk to him but a friend who can’t drive any more phoned asking to be taken to the post office, and then someone called for the Sage and I had to talk politely until he came home again and couldn’t carry on with any work.  It took until 4 o’clock to do a job that should have taken about three hours.

Then I had to go to Beccles because there isn’t a cobbler in town any longer and the shoes I want to wear on Saturday needed to be reheeled, and I’ll have to pick them up tomorrow.  And the Sage’s phone shows the wrong number and I am past bothering to try to sort it out myself but will go to the shop and ask them to do it, but that’s another trip to Norwich.  Frazzled, darlings?  Just a bit.  I’ve not sent out the minutes from the meeting the other night yet, nor sorted out the Meals on Wheels rota – two of my helpers are having operations and won’t be able to drive for the next couple of months.  And that’s before Nadfas – Friday is another deadline because we’ve got a meeting in a fortnight.  I’m all ready except I’m waiting for someone to send me their address before giving out an up-to-date list.

So, let’s say something positive…well, I did do the condition report, so that’s good.  And we had our first courgettes tonight, and tiny and delicious they were.  Rather late this year, but no matter.  And I’ve got another picture of a partridge chick for you.

Too sweet for words.  The mother didn’t mind me going close at all.

Back to work now.  Hang on, the Sage offered me coffee half an hour ago – better go and check whether he forgot to make it or forgot to bring it through.  Or just switched the kettle on, which is frankly the most likely.