Monthly Archives: October 2012

Z is a little bit proud

I’m feeling a bit jagged.  The internet is being a bit of a bugger and so is the Sage’s computer.  He is starting to use Skype to call a friend in New Zealand – the problem is that, whilst we can hear the friend (whom I shall call Graham because that is his name), Graham cannot hear us.  So I installed Skype too (which I never have before because I’m not a telephone fan and can’t be arsed to use it) and called the Sage’s computer – and he could hear me and I couldn’t hear him.  I don’t understand pcs, I haven’t a clue what to do.  And the internet goes up and down like a … thing that goes up and down, insert your own metaphor.

On the other hand, the National Health Service is proving itself something to be proud of.  Elle needed an appointment at the doctor’s – a nurse would have done, but we went to explain things to the receptionist, she gave us a temporary registration form and suggested a doctor’s appointment an hour from then.  The doctor was kind and helpful, and suggested that a blood test would be a good idea though he thinks it will probably prove negative – still, you can’t take chances, innit?  While we were waiting to go in, I told Elle that a local woman had given £250,000 towards the building of the health centre because she would rather the money was well used during her lifetime (a couple of decades previously, she had given a similar amount to ensure a new library could be built), and after the doctor’s consultation, we spoke to the receptionist again to book the blood test next Monday.

“Do we pay now?” Elle asked me.  I assured her there was nothing to pay.  “But how is it paid for?”  … ‘Does everyone pay health insurance?”

I explained.  I’m so damn proud of the NHS.  And I told her a little story from getting on for 45 years ago.

I can’t remember the original contact with Martina’s family, but it was probably something similar to Lena’s: a friend of a friend.  Martina visited us a couple of times, she lived in Stutttgart.  One day she went to the beach with friends and, once she was back, came to my mother in tears.  She’d left her purse behind, it contained her passport, her money, everything.  “Don’t worry,” said my mother, “I shall phone the police station.  It will have been handed in.”  Martina was doubtful, but my mother assured her it would be Fine.  And so it was.  Not a penny was missing, the kind finder had gone a mile to hand it in, everything intact. Martina was dead impressed and my mother was equally relieved.

I’m happy to report that England is as damn good now as it was 45 years ago.  I like England, I’m glad I’m … well, I’m British as well as English.  My great-grandmother was Scottish.  They can have independence if they want to and welcome, but I’m very attached to Scotland too.

21st October

Until 1968, today was my grandfather’s birthday – that is, he died the next summer.  He was born on Trafalgar Day, so given the first name Nelson, though he never used it and was always called David.

Today, there were 14 of us for lunch, the Sage and me, Elle, Weeza and Phil, Al and Dilly, Ro and Dora, Squiffany, Pugsley, Zerlina, Hay and Gus.  We had roast rib of beef, roast potatoes, Yorkshire pudding, carrots, broccoli, peas and then German cheesecake made by Elle and English trifle made by Dilly.  We drank champagne, red wine, white wine, sparkling elderflower, apple juice, lager, Guinness and sparkling water, though no one drank all of those.   Everyone ate something of everything though, with the result that we all ate rather too much.  The Sage lit fires in the drawing room, sitting room and dining room (not in an arsonist sort of way, in the fireplaces as one should) with the result that the house was actually a bit too warm, a rarity.  It was all great fun.

Tomorrow, I’m going to Norwich to have coffee with a friend.  Well, with several friends, at the house of one of them.  I’m looking forward to it very much, they are all people who used to be (still is in one case) on the Nadfas committee I used to chair.  It was a happy time and place.  Well, it lasted several years, so it wasn’t one of either, but you know what I mean.  I look back on that time with great affection and a little nostalgia.

Z’s favourite things – 3

My school was a bit rubbish, has to be said.  Lynn and I took English and History at A Level and Lynn took Art as well.  We were talking about that when I saw her a few weeks ago, actually.  She said that the teacher didn’t have a clue what to do and gave her a pile of books on artists that my mother had recently given to the school and told her to do her research on Art History with them.  So passing the exam was all down to her and not to the school at all.  I’d have quite liked to take Biology but I’d have been the only one, so it wasn’t possible.  So I went to the local high school for a third 6th form year.

It was only its second year as a comprehensive, it had been the Grammar School.  When I went to the school I was quite devastated to discover the range of subjects I could have taken and would have loved to take – years later, Al took Ancient Greek (a group of boys had taken Latin a year early so filled in their time before A Levels with Greek) and I was a bit envious.  In fact, I’d given up French and failed Latin O Level (twice!), but pulled myself together in my first attempt at the Upper Sixth (at this stage, having taken English after one year I was only taking an exam in History, though I was going to English lessons to keep Lynn company – you’re following me?  Darlings, you’re marvellous.  I thought I was losing you for a moment there).  I took up both French and Latin again and passed both O Levels with good marks.

Actually, dropping French wasn’t a bad thing – well, not altogether.  They didn’t quite know what to do with me – it was a kind school, they were very accommodating – and so suggested I went to the Business lessons: ie I learned to type.  It has been so useful over the years.  I couldn’t be bothered to learn shorthand, but I can touch-type like a good’un.

So my bright idea was to take French and Latin A Levels the next year.  Didn’t see why not – I have to admit, I thought I was rather brighter than I really was, but it’s always been my way to jump straight in and see if I could swim (as long as it isn’t real swimming mind you, I’m afraid of being literally out of my depth, and feel ashamed to have to admit it because I think if you’re afraid that’s all the more reason to do it).  And it can be done, but it’s not a very good idea, but I did scrape through with a grade E (having been dumped by my boyfriend a few weeks before the exams probably didn’t help all that much, either).  But (there is a point, darlings, I’ve been setting the scene up to now) some girls I made friends with were studying Russian – it really was a tremendous school with a very impressive curriculum – and so I spent my spare time reading Russian, French and other foreign novels. In translation, apart from the French ones, of course. And the one I was most impressed by was Crime and Punishment.  Oh, apart from La Peste.  Blimey, I was a miserable git, wasn’t I?  The story of a murderer and his conscience – though mind you, the victim was horrible, you saw his point – and the detective determined to prove the truth; and the story of a plague-hit town in Algeria.  No, actually, I’m going to sit and ponder for a moment here.

Yes it’s true, that was me.  It still is, too.  I like miserable stuff.  

Z does the mousework

Last night I received a text from Elle.  I say last night, it was actually 20 past 4 this morning.  She could hear a strange noise in her bedroom and wondered if I was awake?  I was, of course, and trotted through to apologise and say I’d fetch a mousetrap.  I went downstairs to where the Sage had set it the night before, emptied it of dead mouse, rebaited it and put it in her room.  This morning, I emptied it of dead mouse again.  The Sage went out and bought four more mousetraps.  Elle is taking it very well, in the circumstances.

Blue Witch commented that her dishwasher isn’t proving entirely satisfactory, although it’s a make she’s found good in the past.  I agree.  I have to pay more attention to cleaning this dishwasher’s filter than I ever have before, and my theory is that it’s because it uses less water.  I suspect that the water is run through several times rather than fresh being used (though obviously the rinsing water is fresh), or else there’s less used in the wash so it gets dirtier.  It stands to reason – and if it boasts about how little water it uses (not the dishwasher, obv, the blurb about it) then that water will carry more debris.  And I do rinse off anything that’s likely to clog the system and I don’t overload it.

I spent most of the day at school, first a meeting, then lunch, then Year 7 Music, so I haven’t a lot to report.  Except that I’m off the wagon again.  I’m sure that four days is more than adequate if I needed a break and I felt neither better nor worse in health for it.  I just had a small glass and a half with dinner, nothing before or after, terribly sensible.  

Z gets jobs done

Day four without booze and I’m bored.  I still don’t miss alcohol itself, but dinnertime is just so uninteresting.  And the grape juice is far too sweet.  Why do drinks have to be sweet?  A sweet drink doesn’t go with savoury food (unless it’s a Big Mac of course, in which case nothing but Diet Coke will do).  I think this will have to be the last day.  It’s taking me two hours to get to sleep and I’m still awake for two or three hours in the night and can’t sleep past 7.30 in the morning.  I’m sure my liver is as bored as I am, with nothing to do.  It’s usually such an energetic organ, always cheerfully busy.

Oh dear, I’ve been sitting here for several minutes assigning personalities to each of my organs.  I think I’m cracking up a little bit and had better pull myself together.

In fact, I’ve been quite sensible and purposeful today, dealing with various bits of domestic admin, writing letters, making phone calls.  I’d planned this, as I’d succeeded in catching up with almost everything else, but was nearly waylaid by the dishwasher.  It’s been struggling a bit recently, you see.  It’s not very old, about four years I think, but for several weeks there has been water left in the bottom of the machine at the end of every wash.  I’d press the reset buttons and it drained away, but it was not at all satisfactory.  I’d got to the stage of having to clean the filter and the rotor arms after every use, sponge out the last of the water or else it got gungy after a day or two, and rinse crockery before putting it in, or the cleaning wasn’t good enough.  I was sure that there was something blocking it, but there seemed to be no way of cleaning it completely.

So today, before giving in and phoning to get it serviced, I decided to make one last effort.  I consulted the manual.  I know, darlings, a last resort indeed.  And it took a long time, because there was an awkward little screw that needed an Allen key, but I did the job and removed a surprising amount of limescale (surprising because we have a water softener and I use dishwasher tablets that are supposed to mean you don’t have to use salt, so there shouldn’t be limescale) and I hope it’ll be okay now.

What I don’t get, though, is why they make them so difficult to keep clean.  Those rotor arms, for example.  Things like mustard seeds and melon pips get caught in them and block the holes. Why don’t they make them so you can take them apart?  I have to poke out blockages with a pin and bang it against the sink to shake the bits out.  And the filter, you have to be able to bend right down to take it out to wash it.  What if you can’t?

Year 7 Music again tomorrow.  Whoopee!

Z rides the wagon

I went to a lecture today about the Bloomsbury Group.  At the start, we were shown a ‘family tree’ that linked, not only those who were married to each other, but those who had affairs with each other, colour-coded for heterosexual and homosexual.  Very useful.  I thought I knew a bit about the BG people but I ended up a bit overwhelmed by detail.  Interesting, as a friend said to me afterwards, that such talented artists didn’t have many original ideas, their paintings were quite derivative.  I agreed (look, I can keep my end up in a three-minute conversation about Art), saying that their styles didn’t so much develop over the decades as change completely according to whom they admired at the time.

Afterwards, I mooched about in J@rrolds for a bit (a large department store, still family-owned, in Norwich).  I’m keeping my eye out for a new winter coat, but I didn’t see anything I was tempted by.  I liked the colour of one, but it was too short and the style far too young.  Most of them – black, camel, maroon, red, the occasional bright blue, brown or grey – were a bit ‘same old,’ I thought, but I’m not the keenest shopper and didn’t examine the racks carefully.  I bought some books instead – nothing special, just what took my fancy – and made mental notes of others to have up my sleeve in case anyone asks me what I’d like for…no, we don’t talk about that in October.

I was meeting a friend after lunch, so had an hour or so spare and wasn’t at all in the mood for more shopping.  So I just bought quite a lot of coffee beans and went to Waitrose to buy some groceries that I can’t get in Yagnub (including Lapsang Souchong.  Why on earth can’t one buy Lapsang in Yagnub?  No idea) and have some lunch too.

My purchases included tomato and grape juices (not from concentrate.  I rather like the thought of the grapes being individually squeezed, but I suspect I’m being fanciful) and ginger beer.  Yes, I’m still not drinking alcohol.  There isn’t any particular reason for this, just that I was starting to look forward to gin or wine o’clock and you know how I resist both habit and need.  Although there’s also the thought that it will be interesting to see if, over the course of a few days (this will not last longer than that, I’m quite sure), anything is different.  So, a bit of a diary…

Sunday evening.  Drank slimline tonic water.  Didn’t miss the gin.  Slept quite well, though I do usually manage a couple of reasonable nights’ sleep each week out of sheer exhaustion.  Probably slept the best part of six hours in total, waking only two or three times.

Monday.  Felt fine, energetic…ish, it’s Z we’re talking about here.  I had lots to get done but every email and phone call gave me more to do and we had several callers, the Sage needed a lift, I managed to leave my phone in a local shop and had to go back to retrieve it, so it took far longer than I planned so I decided to work on after dinner.

Monday evening.  Drank tonic again.  I took the computer into the drawing room so that the Sage and I could tap away side by side – well, not quite, we like our elbow room.  If I’d had a couple of glasses of wine, it would have been very unlikely that I’d have been able to concentrate on the work.  On the other hand, I would have written a blog post.  I was tired when I went to bed (I’d had a good break after finishing work, I don’t think it was that) but couldn’t sleep for at least two hours and was awake quite a lot in the night too.  Usually, I sleep soundly for the first hour and rather rely on that.

Tuesday – as I’ve already said.  I started to get a headache as I drove home from Norwich.  I don’t often get headaches, though I used to in my younger days – hang on, I didn’t drink much in my younger days.  Hmm.  Maybe it’s just because I’m tired though.

Tuesday, 5.30 pm.  I don’t have to wait for gin o’clock, I can have a drink Right Now.  Tomato juice, though.  Thank god for Worcestershire Sauce.  

Z takes a tonic

I’ve spent the last hour or two going through the annual report and financial statement that has to be submitted by the academy.  We’ve just had another set of papers sent to us too, a massive undertaking as it has to be completed and audited by the end of the year, it’s a huge document with no guidelines, the accounts are onerous for our small three-person finance department (who have to keep up with day-to-day business too, of course).  Public money though, it’s right that the scrutiny is rigorous, though the powers that be keep changing the documentation when they find they haven’t got it right, it’s all quite chaotic and we have to deal with the sharp end.  I’ve been going through the governors’ report, of course, not the financial detail.  Anyway, whilst I was about it I became thoroughly nit-picking, changing several semi-colons to colons, rewriting sentences to avoid too many apostrophes, I feel as if I’ve spiralled down into pernicketyness.  And I’ve just this moment had an email thanking me from our finance director – she shouldn’t be working at 6 pm on a Sunday!  It’s all very well for me, I’m not paid so there’s no reason I should ever take time off.

Oh, that’s all right, she sent it from her iPhone, at least she wasn’t at her desk.

Anyway, I’ve rewarded myself with a glass of tonic, ice and a good squeeze of lime and … no gin.  Nor vodka.  Yup, I make no promises regarding an alcohol-free evening, but not before dinner tonight.  I’ve been too busy and too tired and under some strain and drinking has crept up.  Not horribly, but it’s time to re-tweak down again before an extra glass or half-glass in the evening becomes normal.

Elle has been staying with a friend for the past week and will return sometime in the next few days.  I’ve missed her, I’m looking forward to having her back.  Mind you, come to think of it I haven’t changed her bedclothes yet, I mustn’t forget (yes, I’m missing a trick, she should do it herself and be treated as a member of the family rather than a guest, but hey, I’m in loco grandparentis* here and we’re allowed to be indulgent).  She’s popping back to Germany at the end of next week for her father’s wedding, but just for the weekend.  Then she’ll be with us for half term, but is hoping to find some work experience or something voluntary to fill her time as all her friends have jobs outside school and won’t have much free time.

Have I mentioned that Ro and Dora are in the process of buying a house?  Very exciting, and also quite ageing for the Sage and me – our baby!  I’m afraid I’m going very grey, I looked in the mirror in a good light this morning, always a mistake and I was quite disconcerted.  Worse, I’m reaching the age when my personal thermostat is a bit haywire – yes, I’m a bit late to this but find I’m not ready to face its approaching significance.  I’m happy to be middle aged, okay with contemplating old age, but the prospect of being menopausal – no, that’s not something I feel able to take on board.  I’m looking at it with a surprising degree of loss.**

However, I won’t end on a dismal note.  Um…oh yes, I’ve been making quite a lot of cake recently.  It all started with Elle’s birthday and I’ve just carried on.  I’m trying not to eat it myself though, I wore a skirt the other night that I’ve been keeping for years until I shrank into it and it fitted and I’m not letting my weight creep up again.  It’s sugarfree tonic I’m drinking now, by the way, not that I approve in the least of artificial sweeteners but I can’t contemplate fizzy drinks full of sugar either.  Which is one of the reasons I drink wine, of course.   I’ve never found a soft drink that will do, I’d rather drink water.  But I’d rather drink wine really, obv.

*Anyone who has a problem with my Latin will be soundly kissed until they stop complaining.

**TMI, I’m afraid – you see, I can be as indiscreet without alcohol as with.  I’m always expansive in the evenings, it’s the time I’m most awake.

Z’s favourite things – 2

Apart from Chaucer, Shakespeare and Milton, the period in literature we were studying was the early 19th century.  In History we studied the whole of the 19th century, extended to include the French Revolution and the First World War.  So it tied up quite nicely and it was a natural follow-up when I picked up War and Peace.  Our copy had a pull-out list of the families who appeared in the book, which needed to be referred to frequently, to start with.  When I read it most recently I couldn’t find my copy so bought a new paperback one.  I was very annoyed to find that it had been edited to give male and female characters the same surname – Rostov, for example rather than Rostova for the women.  I thought it quite rude to the Russians and patronising to the readers, that we would apparently be unable to comprehend the structure of Russian names.

I enjoyed the rhythm of the book and, because there was such a large cast of major characters, had to read it slower than usual – normally I used to read very quickly.  I deliberately slowed down my reading some years later when it was becoming too expensive.  When my children were young I used to walk the mile or so into Lowestoft and never failed to come back with a book or two a few times a week.  It was all I bought for myself, I couldn’t afford clothes and mostly wore my mother’s cast-offs.  When Weeza was in her teens, I wore her cast-offs.  I was unwise enough to work out a rough and ready budget once and was very pleased to see that the books balanced almost exactly, until I noticed that I’d allowed nothing for clothes.  Nor for holidays, but that was all right because we never took them, not for several years.

That was long in the future, of course.  I read War and Peace, that first time, over several weeks and immersed myself in the stories of Natasha and Pierre, of the Napoleonic invasion, of life and death and privation and riches.  I’ve come back to it several times since though there was a long gap, probably twenty years, before I read it most recently.

A year or so after reading the book for the first time, I got a Saturday job in Lowestoft Borough Library.  It was my dream job, really.  It must have been 1971.  1970 had been horrendous, starting in January with the death of my father, going on to the evaluation of all my parents’ possessions so that my mother could pay Death Duties on everything, the collapse of a company (after the share values had been taken into account, unfortunately) that my father had a fair bit of money invested in because he was supporting a friend who worked there, which left my mother severely strapped for cash, then a serious accident to my sister who spent weeks in hospital as a result.  There’s a lot about the year that I’ve forgotten, but there were a couple of upsides.  One was meeting the Sage – the Sprout as he then was – for the first time and the other was first tasting samphire.  

Z’s favourite things – 1

I thought I’d take you through the interests on my profile.  I kept it brief, I’m not that interesting – or maybe -ted.  But it was Liz‘s thoughtful, entertaining but not entirely complimentary review of one of my ‘favorite’ books that made me think I could get a post or two out of this.

I’m not going to review the books – which, to save you looking it up are Pride and Prejudice, War and Peace, and Crime and Punishment but, rather, to tell you how I first came to read them – all within a couple of years of each other as it happens, all in my impressionable mid-teens.

P&P came first, when I was sixteen.  Emma was a set book for English A level that year.  That is, it was if you were planning to take it after one year instead of two.  Although there were a number of us in the Lower Sixth – between 12 and 15, I think – most of us weren’t taking A levels and the school begrudged paying two teachers just to teach English and History to Lynn and me.  They couldn’t back out, they’d promised our parents, but wanted us to speed up and do the work in one year instead of two.

It’s possible to take English in a year and get a decent grade but not History, by the way.  We didn’t even attempt it.  In fact, I got a B in English and was perfectly happy with that (I was the casual sort) but Lynn got a C so the school had to keep Mr Baker for another year just for her.  I went to the lessons and did the work to keep her company, but I couldn’t be arsed to take the exam.

Anyway, I can’t imagine how it was that I’d not read Jane Austen before.  I suppose I thought she’d be staid.  I read voraciously and was sometimes really quite pretentious, but I’d simply left her out.  But I enjoyed Emma  – not that I particularly liked many of the characters, but they interested me and I certainly liked Jane Austen.  And so I read all her books within the next few weeks – I would have, even if I hadn’t much enjoyed the first, because I always did.  I thought you had to read a good many books by one author to be able to write about the set book.  I was astonished, years later, to find that not everyone thought that.

I loved them of course and reread them all a few times that year, and have continued to do so ever since.  Well, I don’t bother with Northanger Abbey.  And I read some more often than others.  Actually, it’s about time I went through the whole lot again.  But I have reread Pride and Prejudice within the past year and I do love it.  Again, I’m not sure that I like any of the characters that much – I certainly wouldn’t identify with any of them.  But I don’t think that matters.

Thinking about it, I wonder how many characters I’ve ever really liked.  Another favourite book set in a similar period is Vanity Fair  – and yes, I’ve returned to a lot of much-loved classics in the past year, largely because so many modern novels have deeply disappointed me and I wanted to know if it was me or the books that had got small: it is the books.  And Becky Sharp is one of the most unlikeable ‘heroines’ of all.  But she’s compelling, all the same.

Z nods off

I did go straight upstairs (after playing my turns at Scrabble) and only read briefly in the bath because I was too tired for the long soak I’d promised myself.  Asleep soon after 9, of course I was awake by 11. But I did fall asleep again, briefly … and was woken by the burglar alarm.  Of course, the little thief will have been a mouse, I stomped downstairs (I did peer out of the window first, just in case there was a burly figure in a striped teeshirt carrying a bag marked ‘SWAG’ climbing in a downstairs window), turned off the alarm and returned to bed grumpily.  I slept a bit fitfully after that.

This morning, I received the appointment for my eye operation.  The day of our next auction.  It would be, wouldn’t it?  Anything else, I could cancel or change.  So I phoned – I don’t know if it’s just the eye department at the Norfolk & Norwich, but again it was marvellously efficient.  The phone picked up on the first ring, my details speedily checked and, within a minute or two I was offered another appointment on the next working day after the original appointment.  I’ve accepted it of course, Dilly will take me to the hospital and then I have two offers – either she will wait with me until I’m ready to come home or otherwise she can leave me there and Weeza will pick me up after work.  Plenty of time to see which is more suitable.  It’ll be Monday 19th November, so not too long to wait.  A bit unfortunately, I’ve got a couple of things on that week – a Nadfas study day and a governors’ meeting where I shall, undoubtedly, have to explain repeatedly what’s wrong with my eyelid.  Never mind – as I said before, if that’s the worst that’s wrong with me I can only be grateful.

I was very tired again today – fine until lunchtime, when I cooked myself bacon and eggs (I’d only had a couple of mouthfuls of plain yoghurt for breakfast, the Sage had eaten out and, much as I like cheese and salad for lunch I’d had that every day so far this week) and afterwards I had to curl up in an armchair and go to sleep again.  Is it food that’s doing it?  It’s just occurred to me that last night and today I was wide awake before eating, had to sleep afterwards.  I’m going out to dinner tonight and have to drive home, so I rather hope not.

I’m assuming it’s just this time of year, of course, because I’m used to having a drop in energy in the darker months.  Our friends Pam and Peter, with whom I went to Corfu back in the early summer, spend several months in Portugal to get away from the cold and dark.  I can quite see their point of view.  And the clocks haven’t gone back yet, when things take a distinct turn for the worse.  Changing the clocks twice a year seems an absurdly old-fashioned ritual.  British Summer Time all year round would drop a heavy enough hint to the weather, surely?