Monthly Archives: August 2012


A brief foray into the up-to-date is not that enjoyable, to be frank.  Several worries on my mind, and Zerlina has a dread skin disease.  Impetigo.  Yes, I know.  I too thought it had vanished years ago, sometime when there was one pair of children’s boots in the family and the youngsters had to take it in turn to go to school.  But z developed a painful blister which turned into a scab that was agonising to touch (at this point she kissed me, cried bitterly as a painful result and I’m now waiting to see if I caught anything) and now she’s on disgusting-tasting antibiotics for a week which will wipe out her immune system, just in time for her to start school.  Nice.

But Weeza and Phil, Z and the Sage are pulling together as always and it’ll work out.  We all have additional concerns of our own and honestly I’m best talking about the past for now.  It’ll get better, it usually does.

Weeza was working today and couldn’t leave z with the childminder as she’s contagious, so I slept at their house overnight and brought z home with me.  I stopped on the way to stock up on sweets, chocolate and that awfully healthy yoghurt drink that’s supposed to restock *good* bacteria.  Even the nurse suggested sweet treats to take away the flavour of the medicine.  Did I mention that it’s administered 4 times daily?  The sound of z’s bitter cry as I made her drink it still rings in my ears, and poor Weeza and Phil have to do it for most of next week.

Still, we did have some fun too.  I threw a tennis ball and she turns out to have a pretty good eye and quite often returned it – okay, that was sometimes because I hit the racquet, but she also swung it and hit well.  We picked runner beans and sweet peas for Weeza, we made cakes and we watched cBeebies, because television is sometimes the best thing when you’re played out.

Tonight, I mostly drank gin.

Tomorrow, back to the past.  

The doghouse – Christmas 2

The best thing was the anticipation.  I especially loved decorating the tree.  We had six little painted glass birds, each with a clip attached to its feet to hold it to the tree.  I thought all of those had been lost or broken.  I remember once we planted out the tree – though it died, it was too big to survive being dug up, indoors for a fortnight and replanted, and when we went to dig it up again we found one of the bird decorations still on it, with the colours bleached away by sun and wind.  There were little glass bells with clappers and I always made sure one of them was near the stairs so that I could touch it as I ran past.

I didn’t always run upstairs, only if I didn’t have a book in my hand.  If I was reading, I walked slowly. When I came down, I usually jumped.  I’ve already said that there were 18 stairs and two half landings. The first flight was six and I had to be feeling quite brave to jump them.  It wasn’t the six down, it was the length out.  I never did dare jump the seven, I knew I’d catch the last stair and have a nasty landing. I always jumped the final five into the hall.  My sister reminded me recently that our mother called me “Baby Elephant” because of the noise it made, although no one ever told me to stop.

I always loved the old glass baubles, although a few got broken every year.  There were also a few pine cones painted gold that my parents had decorated in the first year of their marriage when so much was still rationed and more unobtainable.  They bought a crib set from Woolworths and this was always set out too.  I’d not seen any of these for years and I assumed that they were gone, but when sorting out the last odds and ends of my mother’s stuff that had been put in a back room here, earlier this year, I found a box where she had carefully put them away.  There was still one of the birds complete with its nylon tail and a second without.

In those days, I don’t think there were many parties before Christmas Eve.  There was the Yacht Club children’s party – I found up a photo of me and two friends recently in an old edition of, I think, East Anglian Life magazine.  If I can remember where I put it, I’ll scan it in and show you some time.  I’ll also take a photo of the decorations.  But mostly, celebrations were held after Christmas – after all, the holiday period is actually from Christmas until Twelfth Night, although now this has gone by the board and many people take down their decorations before the new year.

I can’t quite remember what my parents did, but I can work it out, I think.  There can’t have been anything before the day, because my mother decorated and laid the table several days early and we ate off a small table set up in the study.  I expect they had a party a few days afterwards and served turkey and ham pie to use up the wretched bird, it wouldn’t have been wasted and she was a good enough cook to make it delicious.  And of course there was the famous biannual trifle, which I’ve already mentioned.  She had a Victorian glass jug and basin, not a good one at all, very thick and plain, but the basin was very useful when feeding a lot of people, for fruit salad or trifle, and I remember the Christmas trifle being made in it, so it must have fed at least 20 people.  And then there was the Stilton and other cheese and celery, it wouldn’t have been a complicated meal at all.  Just a relaxing, chatty get-together with friends.

And that’s what I enjoy about parties.  Good straightforward food so that the cook isn’t worn out and stressed.  A relaxed atmosphere, where you can chat with friends and be welcoming to incomers.  I dearly love to be spontaneous, and there’s nothing I love better than to gather people up and bring them home for pot luck, though that doesn’t happen very often.  But as with this blog, where the interest lies less in what I say than in how you respond to it, both to me and to each other, a party is all about the guests.  If they come to have fun, no one cares if the food has gone a bit wrong, none of the plates match or you bring a bottle or pudding because the host can’t afford money or time.  If anything, it adds to the jollity.

I think I’m partied out for the moment – that is, writing about them.  Something else next time.

The doghouse – Christmas – 1

My father and his lifelong friend, Ford, shared a similar sense of humour.  At one time, my father subscribed to a DIY magazine – not serious stuff around the home but carpentry projects for amusement rather than use.  I’m pretty sure it was an American magazine, but have no idea of its name.  Actually, Daddy was quite keen on woodwork and made various things at one time.  For example, he made several large wooden planters to go along the terrace.  But for the Christmas issue one year there was a Santa Claus scene, complete with Father Christmas, sleigh and presents, reindeer etc, all cut out of plywood.  So Daddy made it.  Must have taken weeks.  And on Christmas Eve, one of our friends always held a big party to which *everyone* was invited, so he waited along the road until he saw Ford and Bunty’s car leave and drove down, with Mr Weavers the gardener, and they spent the next hour or so erecting the scene on their roof.  Father Christmas himself was halfway down the chimney.  Then of course he and my mother went on to the party, fashionably late.

The next year, Ford turned up after my parents had gone to the party and spent quite some time planting plastic daffodils in the shrubbery.  A petrol station had given them away and they’d had all their friends saving them up.

The Christmas preparations seemed more important than the day when I was a child.  Keenly looked forward to, it was always a bit of a disappointment.  The decoration of the table was a big thing.  My mother used a big white tablecloth and red and green satin – one colour was laid in strips along and across the table and the other was made into big bows and pinned at each person’s place.  We had a huge tree in the hall which almost reached up to the top of the bannisters above and vast amounts of food and drink were bought.  Tell me, did anyone ever eat those packs of dried figs and dates?  And it was the only time of year you ever saw those little lemon and orange half-slice sweets.  Everyone bought them in, it was part of the ritual, and they hung about for weeks.

The turkey was massive.  It took hours to cook.  So did the whole ham, which was boiled, taken out and skinned, sprinkled lavishly with demerara sugar, the fat slashed into diamonds and alternate diamonds decorated with a clove.  Then it was put in the oven to caramelise the sugar.  It was the best part of the meal, none of us was all that fond of turkey and after my father died we never bothered with it.

With a great deal of preparation to do, the first course was always tinned consommé with sherry added. Then the turkey and ham, roast potatoes, sausages wrapped in bacon, several different vegetables – no bread sauce, we never had that.  We had mustard and redcurrant jelly though.  There was so much food, it bewilders me.  None of us was fat and I had a tiny appetite as a child.  The appearance of the pudding, boiled for hours, doused in brandy – a sugar lump on top soaked up brandy which meant that once it had been lit the flames lasted well – and brought to the table ablaze.  Unfortunately, we then had to eat the wretched thing.  None of us liked it much, it managed to be both rich and dry.  So was the elaborately decorated Christmas cake.  Both were made by our ex-chef, Mr Dyke in Weymouth and my father picked them up on his pre-Christmas run to fetch my grandfather for a holiday and distribute presents to friends.  We used to valiantly eat about a quarter of the cake and pudding and spend the rest of the winter breaking them up for the birds.

There was also a whole Stilton of course, which was wrapped in a large white napkin and put on the Stilton cheeseboard, which was large and round with a cover, and attacked with a cheese scoop.  That was the other best part of the Christmas food, every bit of it got eaten in time.  The rest of the ham was eaten for breakfast every day between Christmas and New Year.

We were allowed to open our stockings of course, Wink and me, but no other presents could be opened until Mummy was ready.  In theory, this was noon.  It never was, of course, and we waited for hours.  Eventually, there was the big ritual of the present opening.  Wink and I didn’t have much family, my mother was an only child whose father’s brothers had been killed in the Great War and, although her mother was one of ten, she died at the age of 25 and they lost touch with everyone in the family in the course of the Second World War, having just moved from North Wiltshire to Dorset a year before it started.  But we were given a lot of presents by our parents’ friends and every one had to be written down, of course, so that we could write and thank them.  Father Christmas always gave a packet of notelets for this purpose.

I’ve run out of time.  The rest tomorrow.  Toodle pip, darlings

The doghouse – party food – 2

The standard regular get-together was, of course, the drinks party, which happened regularly.  A number of my parents’ friends never held dinner parties, though they might invite us round for Sunday lunch, but of course hospitality was returned in one way or another.  We all belonged to the Yacht Club in Lowestoft so often met there – I seem to be including me in this, but of course it depends on what was happening and how old I was at the time.  As we got older, Wink and I certainly joined our parents at Sunday drinks dos, and when they invited people round we’d have helped out, offering plates of food and so on.

Canapés would have been quite simple in the early days, eg caviare on Ritz crackers, bits of smoked salmon on brown bread, morsels of cheese and so on, and there would have been olives, nuts, crisps, all the usual.  It was fine just to have the latter, there was no need to do more as it was a pre-lunch or dinner affair and only lasted an hour or so.  Interestingly – well, to me anyway – although neither of my parents smoked, they always provided dishes of cigarettes for their guests back in the early ’60s.  That’s a real mark of changing times.  I don’t know when that stopped, but ashtrays were still put around for years.  Now of course, few people would smoke inside their hosts’ house but go outside for a smoking break, even if invited to stay.

The other thing that strikes me is how much people drank in those days – although I suspect that alcohol wasn’t a part of everyone’s everyday life and just kept for the weekends.  As I said in an earlier post, wine was always on the table at dinner time in our house, but that wasn’t the norm with everyone.   But at drinks parties it wasn’t just wine on offer but a full range of spirits and mixers.  As a child, I remember drinking Bitter Lemon at our friends, Frank and Jean Barnitt’s house, which I liked very much as we never had it at home and it seemed sophisticated.  Once I was in my teens I was given sherry and I seem to remember knocking back a fair bit – easily a couple of glasses, enough to make me feel warm and woozy.  From my teens, I was allowed wine at home too, but I rarely drank it as it was a bit dry for me, it took some time to build up the palate for it.

But at dinner parties, everyone would start with pre-dinner drinks, at least two, sherry, gin, whisky, Martini or beer, then go on to wine with the meal – a different wine for each course, that is, though I don’t think we ever served a dessert wine with the pudding, then port with the cheese, and/or brandy and liqueurs.  Wine was less alcoholic then and glasses were quite small, but even so.  I don’t remember anyone ever appearing the worse for wear and everyone cheerily drove home afterwards, but they all must have had what was known as a “skinful.’

An abiding memory for me, and one that I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, is a Sunday morning drinks party when my parents served champagne.  One of the guests had Parkinson’s Disease.  She was the mother of a friend, whose husband later became our family doctor (it was he who delivered Al) and lived with them.  She was probably in her early sixties then, and already quite shaky and incapable of holding a glass steadily.  She was always happy, chatty and laughing however, with an indomitable spirit.  I have an abiding memory, half a century on, of her sitting on the settee, one person holding the champagne glass, another holding the straw to her lips, another keeping her head steady as she sipped, and of her laughing at the ridiculousness of it, so much that she could hardly drink.  As an example of sheer gumption and determination to retain a love of life, whatever adversity hit you, it made a huge impression on me.

The doghouse – party food – 1

I can’t really remember much about the food served at dinner parties.  I should think the main course was fairly classic in the French style, boeuf bourguinonne, boeuf stroganoff, chicken Marengo, that sort of thing.  I remember koulibiac, if that’s how it’s spelt, which was a sort of fish and rice pie encased in pastry, I think. The focus was usually on the main course – I’d have to look up recipes because I still have all her books and could look for the stained pages – the rest was usually fairly quick and easy, often cold and prepared in advance – the first course might have been avocado – avocado vinaigrette was quite avant garde in Oulton Broad in the early sixties.  Otherwise, pâté (home made), smoked salmon, a fairly sophisticated soup, oeufs en cocotte, scallops – that sort of thing.

Mummy had little interest in sweet courses, but lemon syllabub was a staple (and still is with me, can’t go wrong, totally delicious) and I remember her recipe: juice of a lemon and half the grated rind, a sherry glass of sherry, 4 oz sugar, 1/2 pint cream.  Although actually I adapt it now because the modern taste is for more alcohol and less sugar.  So I put in 3 oz sugar (about 80 grams, darlings), all the rind of the lemon and, as well as the sherry, a slug of brandy.  Otherwise, she had no compunction about serving bought ice cream.  Cherries jubilee was a tin of black cherries heated in a chafing dish, then kirsch heated, set fire to and added so that they were brought to the table ablaze, then served with vanilla ice cream.

When I was in my teens, I liked baking so it was quite likely that I’d make a gâteau for a pudding.  I remember a very good lemon one, where several layers of sponge were sandwiched together with a lemon icing.  You did some very thin slices of lemon and simmered them until soft and then added sugar and reduced and poured the liquid over the sponge, then topped it with the lemon slices to decorate.  I also made chocolate cakes and mousses – oh, my mother did a very good raspberry mousse – and we did poached peaches or pears.  Nothing elaborate, ever.  For my father’s birthday and at Christmas she made a trifle, which never contained fruit or jelly, it was sponge cake with jam and sherry, then custard and cream, decorated with glacé cherries, almonds and angelica.  I haven’t seen candied angelica for years.  The almonds were whole in their skins, you poured boiling water over them, let them cool a bit then slipped off the skins.

I remember the party food rather better.  She did big cold buffets, lots of salads – green and tomato salads of course, also classic Caesar, Waldorf, coleslaw (always made with vinaigrette, not mayonnaise) and so on, and her elaborate party pieces were a big hand-raised pork pie and a French raised pie.  These both were made with hot water pastry and I never learned how to make them myself.  Because they were quite complicated she did the whole thing.  The meat was cooked first, then the hot water crust was made and constructed.  I don’t think she used a mould to shape the pork pie, she certainly did the French raised pie.  The latter was oval with incurved sides, pointed at both ends, she had to roll and fit the pastry while it was still warm and malleable, then fill it with the various meats and top it with another rolled-out batch of pastry, then pierce holes, cook it and fill it again (this was the case with a pork pie and probably the French raised pie too) with liquor which would set to a jelly.  I think she used a calf’s foot for that, can’t quite remember.  They both did look spectacular and taste delicious.  I still have her pie mould but I’ve never used it.

For a big party she might cook a whole ham and a salmon.  Decorating the salmon was several hours’ worth in itself.  I remember my engagement party, when she peeled cucumber, sliced it so thin you could see through it, quartered each slice and carefully laid them as if they were scales.  It was so pretty.  Very simple food, elegantly served.  Mayo was home-made of course, it was always the quality of ingredients that mattered, also its presentation.  She made salmagundi, which was a big mixed salad containing cold meat and cheese, all arranged in concentric circles on a huge dish.

She also decorated the house very beautifully.  I have somewhere a photo of Wink standing in front of the buffet table at her 21st birthday party.  It was decorated with garlands of flowers.  For one party, she made big flowers out of crêpe paper and stuck one on every door.  This was a great success and was repeated with different flowers according to the time of the year – I remember anemones and daffodils.  She never counted the time it took, whereas I’ll drop a job if I run out of time (and always schedule at least one thing that I’d like to do but can be omitted if necessary), she just stayed up all night to complete it.  We helped a lot, my sister and me, but we flagged long before she did.  Mind you, after the event she might well collapse with a three-day migraine, I don’t think a more balanced view is a bad thing.

I’ve just remembered one spectacularly successful party, at a time in the late ’60s when food was getting more and more sophisticated and she decided to turn it on its head and made several big steak and kidney puddings instead.  Everyone was thrilled at the traditional, delicious food, especially the men.

I’m remembering more about parties and celebrations.  I’m going to have to come back to this.

The doghouse – in the kitchen

My mother worked incredibly hard, even when we had a daily help or, for a while, a live-in maid.  We had a cooked breakfast, a proper lunch and a cooked dinner.  Most of the vegetables were home-grown – brought in by the gardener every day, but a lot of preparation was needed.  She didn’t make cakes or puddings and usually there was only one course.  We did have a dishwasher – for years, ours was the only family I knew of with a dishwasher and she had a very well-equipped kitchen.  My father was also an excellent cook, but my mother rather dreaded him taking over.  He used a new utensil for everything and never cleared up as he went along.

One job he always took over was cooking fish and chips.  This wasn’t a matter of popping down to the chippy.  I never ate from a fish and chip shop until after my father died – in fact, I remember when I first did, it was during a school visit to Wales with the Lower VI and the games teacher, Miss Hewitt, to celebrate the end of the school year.  I got on quite well with her because she didn’t bother me, knowing my complete lack of team or competitive spirit I was left to my own devices as long as I did something reasonably active.

So, fish was bought, potatoes were dug up, peas were picked if it was the season, otherwise Birdseye were permitted (they were grown locally and frozen at the factory in Lowestoft).  The fish was filleted and battered, the potatoes peeled and chipped and fried until pale but cooked through.  Then the fish was fried and the chips received their second frying.  Tartare sauce would have been homemade from scratch and lemon quarters provided, along with Malden sea salt.  After the meal, my mother would disappear for an hour to clear up.

The other job my father took on was making marmalade.  He made lovely marmalade and added extra ingredients at the end, such as glacé cherries or a few whole almonds so that it looked pretty in the jar.  He also, if my mother had been away for a day, cooked a celebratory meal for her return, spending hours looking for new recipes and planning carefully.  I remember one once, a whole pear, carefully peeled and cored and wrapped in puff pastry which was cut into a strip and wound round the pear, leaving the stalk sticking out.  Underneath the pear was a spoonful of raspberry jam.  As it baked, the pear juice became a sauce that spilled out when you cut into the pastry.  It was delicious.

My parents had frequent dinner parties, they were very sociable.  Wink and I helped get ready – we were very involved in everything.  It always surprises me a bit when someone explains an inability to cook well by saying that their mother was a good cook so they never needed to learn.  I learned by watching and helping.  We all talked a lot about food too, I learned classic cooking terms early and the proper techniques – though there are a lot I don’t use nowadays.  For example, one made pâté from scratch then, it was normal.  And it was before the days of food processors, so the liver was minced twice to make sure it was smooth.

The doghouse – keeping it clean

Some of you have suggested that it was an awful lot of work, looking after seven dogs (no one has mentioned eleven, I suppose it’s beyond your imagination to understand how to do that!) but it didn’t seem to be at the time.  That is, one dog is a lot of work and two is a bit extra.  Having three isn’t anything more at all, and so it goes on.  And there was plenty of room so, whilst they enjoyed a walk with one of us, there was no need for them to have several long walks a day when there was a garden big enough for them to run in.

What dogs do mean is more housework.  And it was a house that seemed to take a lot of cleaning anyway.  It was a light, airy house with high ceilings and, as you can see from the photo, big sash windows, which let in a lot of draughts and therefore dust.  We had open fires in the winter and that created dust too of course.  And the dogs trod in dust and shed hair and if you didn’t clean up every day there were dustbunnies drifting across the floor.  We had no fitted carpets downstairs (except in the kitchen, as it happens) and the parquet floors had to be polished daily.  In dry weather, you might get away with going around with a dry mop first to get rid of the dust and hairs, then go over with an electric polisher, but  dogs (and people) coming in with wet feet left pale patches on the floor and you had to start by spreading Mansion House liquid polish with a mop, then polish it off with the electric machine.  That would be done a couple of times a week, even in dry weather.  Dusting was done most days and was thorough.  Every piece of silver (which was all kept out, none in cupboards) and every piece of china had to be dusted, picked up and the furniture it was sitting on dusted.  It was all taken off the dresser or cabinet regularly so that the furniture itself was polished.  The ceilings and picture rails were dusted with a long-handled brush and the rugs were hoovered daily.  The silver was polished every week – sometimes you could get away with just ‘rubbing it up’ but often you had to get out the Goddard’s silver polish, especially if there had been foggy weather.  Brass was polished slightly less frequently, but at least once a month.

Obviously, kitchen and bathroom cleaning was done every day and bedrooms regularly, probably rather less than downstairs because they were used less so didn’t get so dusty.  Beds were changed every week and sheets, pillowcases and towels were sent to the laundry.  My mother and I used to wonder, in later years, at our complaints at having to unpack the laundry basket every week, check off each item and fill it again, making a list as we went.  Once we did the laundry ourselves, we appreciated what a luxury it had been.  Johnny called in every week to pick up one basket and deliver the previous week’s, ditto the dry cleaning.  Everything else, my mother hand-washed.  The window cleaner called once a week and I’ve a feeling that, once in a while, he was also asked to clean the windows inside, but I may be wrong there.

Oh, by the way, while Wink was here last week I asked her the purpose of the little room on the left of the stairs in the passageway to the guest bedroom and the upstairs loo.  It was the ironing room, apparently, an ironing board was kept set up there permanently.  She’s right of course, I’d forgotten.

As I’ve said before, the dogs used to be let in and out of the tall narrow side windows in the drawing room and dining room.  However, if it was raining they were allowed out but not in.  So they’d come to the window, scratch at the glass and you’d stand and point to the back door (which was way round the side of the house and they’d run off.  If you were busy for a minute and didn’t want to go – maybe a vital moment in a tv programme, then it wouldn’t be long before one of the dogs would reappear looking impatient and you’d have to go to let them in straight away and apologise.  Of course, it took a few minutes to dry them with towels before they could come through to the rest of the house.

The dogs’ food was cooked freshly for years, my mother bought cheap cuts of meat and it was boiled up with vegetables, a few days’ supply at a time, and we cut it up daily and biscuit was added along with some of the gravy.  They especially liked liver, but it was too rich for them to have more than a little in with the rest.  They also had household scraps.  We’d never not had dogs, so we didn’t notice the extra work, and when there were a lot of them it took a bit more time, but not much.  We walked them at least once a day, but only because they enjoyed it, they got plenty of exercise in the garden.  Susie and I used to go off together often, sneaking out unobserved by the other dogs.  I remember it as being me who did a lot of the dog walking, certainly by the time I was ten or so.  We didn’t use poop scoops but they weren’t often necessary anyway – the dogs preferred to ‘go’ unobserved in the garden.  Certainly, no male dog would deign to squat in front of any of us.

The doghouse – the rest of the eleven

Wink and I spent some time talking about the rest of the dogs that lived in the doghouse.  There were two more generations of pups and, whilst I could remember all the dogs of course, I couldn’t always place the siblings together.

As I’ve said, all was fine while Simon was alive, but things fell apart a bit after his death.  The Sage says he remembers Simon but not Huckleberry, so that means that darling Huck must have died first.  I remember that day well because I looked after him for some hours while waiting for the vet, it still brings tears to my eyes, more than forty years later.

Things went a bit awry when one of the pups that had been given away was brought back after a few weeks – which was all right, it’s quite understandable if someone can’t manage a young puppy after all and changes their mind – but they didn’t contact us, they just left him tied to the gate and he might have been there for hours, he was certainly quite upset.  My mother resolved never to give away a puppy again to someone she didn’t know personally – although when she did next time, to my stepfather’s secretary, that didn’t work out either, she was out all day and she had to give him back too.  And so Mummy ended up with eleven dogs.  And they were…

The old stagers – Jessica Gee and Susie
The gang of three – Muldoon, Nefertiti and Cleopatra
The next generation – Valentine, Bassington and Clovis
The young ones – Sam, Simon II and Isobel

These last were born once my stepfather was on the scene, after I was married but before they were.  And my mother didn’t prove equal to being the pack leader and Muldoon wasn’t bothered, and the young boys had a fight.  It must have been awful for her, such a thing had never happened before.  Valentine got bitten on the neck and later developed epilepsy.  It was such a shame, he was a lovely dog.  Rather like Huck in appearance, though his hair wasn’t as long, he had a heart-shaped white mark on his head which prompted his name.

After this, my mother kept the dogs apart as far as possible for a while – that is, in two groups – until things settled down.  Weeza remembers visiting as a small child and being quite nervous in amongst the swirling mass of dogs at her shoulder height.  I used to ask my mother to shut some of them in the kitchen, but she pooh-poohed that, they were all friendly and harmless and it would be good for Weeza to get used to it.  It wasn’t, needless to say.  She was quite wary of dogs for years.

My stepfather wasn’t that keen on dogs himself, but he loved my mother very much and willingly moved in with the lot of them upon their marriage.  This was in early February (I’m not big on anniversaries, I have a feeling it might have been the 9th.  Otherwise the 8th or the 4th), 1976, and I do know the year because Al was born that April, in that house.  Having hated a hospital birth with Weeza, I asked my GP if he was willing to deliver my next baby and he was very pleased to.  Home births were well out of fashion at that time and it was an unusual request.

Jess and Susie lived to be very old, 17 and 16 respectively, but both Valentine and Clovis died fairly young, Clovis in an accident.  It wasn’t really fair to expect Wilf (my stepfather) to live long-term in my father’s house so it was put on the market.  Two building plots had already been sold, a widow had to pay death duties on her husband’s estate in 1970 (Socialism gone mad?  I’m not a Socialist, you tell me) and she had to raise some money.

However, by the time the house was sold and a new one bought, there were only five dogs left, Muldoon, Bassington, Isobel, Sam and Simon.  But it still seemed too many to take with them, so Wink and I offered to take one each.

Thank you

Thanks so much for all your helpful advice and suggestions yesterday.  It’s clarified several things for me.  Trying before we consider buying is certainly the way forward, and hiring a tool in the first instance makes a lot of sense.  In fact, that might be the best thing to do overall, and maybe buying a much lighter strimmer to keep things under control, along with scything, earlier in the year.  If we do decide to buy a brushcutter, it will be for the use of a gardener, its weight and power will be too much for me for more than occasional short use.

Time to consider downsizing?  Well, it’s been discussed.  But it’s out of the question as far as the Sage is concerned.  So I’m tackling the situation round its edges by trying to declutter instead.  With his proclivity for continuing to collect stuff, any stuff (I discovered a chair he’d bought last week and hidden in Ro’s bedroom), this is an uphill battle.  I point out that when we’re dead the children will get in clearance people and have massive bonfires, so better to deal with it now while he’s got control.

Anyway, yesterday I started to go through Kenny’s shed.  I still can’t get in the door, but there’s space on a couple of shelves.

Z needs advice

Darlings, advice needed, please.  We’re pretty well without help in the garden again and it’s all running away from us.  The Sage is keeping reasonably up with the grass cutting, but I’m going to have to buy a strimmer.  And so, since personal recommendations are always the best thing (and the ‘don’t touch it with a bargepole’ ones sometimes the most useful of all), can any of you help?

It needs to be pretty heavy-duty, so possibly a brushcutter – certainly not something for lawn edging, which would be the last job I’d do after everything else: ie, never.

It’ll have to be petrol-driven, because I’ll be using it too far from the house for an electric one.

I’m short and not that strong, the handle has to be adjustable and it shouldn’t be too heavy.  I have done some research (blimey, it’s boring, which is why I’m asking you) and the lighter-weight ones don’t seem, from the reviews, to be especially well made.  But I’m looking at a Draper one that seems to be well made, efficient, easy to start, not too expensive – but it weighs over 10 kilos before fuel and I’m not sure what I weigh in kilos but it’s somewhere in the 50s, which seems to make it quite a lot, proportionally.

I’ve got to use it, it’s too much for the Sage, who has had mini-strokes and needs to take care.

There seems to be a sudden price jump from between £100-£200 to £400+ and it would have to be damn good to consider spending the latter.  I’d rather not.

I want to order it soon.  I’m going down to the local shop to see what they have, because ease of carrying and use is fairly vital.  But I’d appreciate your input, if you can help.