Monthly Archives: November 2012

There are times when Z becomes introspective and is better ignored until the feeling passes

It was a lovely party and I saw several old friends whom I hadn’t spoken to for a long time.  I sat between Betty, who is 91 and Mary, who’s aged 90.  They both looked very well, but I know they’re not.  They put a brave face above their painfully ageing bodies.  A couple of friends (there were over 50 of us there) had changed and looked very old.  I’ve known most of these people for over 20 years, we’ve all got older together, though I’m the youngest of this group of friends, and because we’ve all aged we don’t see it in each other.  But…well, Florence, whom I hadn’t seen since her 100th birthday party in August last year, hadn’t changed.  A couple of others, who I saw a few months ago, didn’t look the same women.  So, whilst it was a delight in so many ways, and it was enormously thoughtful of Marian, whose birthday it will be in 5 weeks, to get us all together, there was a valedictory air (I had an attack of imagination, something I can normally avoid).  Some of us will not be alive this time next year, I know it.

Of course, that could be said of any one of us anyway.  Ho hum.  Ignore me, darlings, I did have a great time this afternoon but it’s left me feeling a little melancholy.

I do rather love old people, though.  I feel a great warmth towards them – well, that is, I don’t think that age really matters all that much, old or young, or it shouldn’t.  And if you’re with someone who is old, especially who lives alone, do touch them.  Nothing inappropriate of course, but so many people miss the warmth of affectionate human contact.  There was a lovely old man to whom I used to deliver Meals on Wheels, who always wanted a hug.  I remember once, he didn’t want to let me go, and I heard him mutter “this is what I want, this is what I want.”  He didn’t do anything to make me feel awkward, he was a kind old man who missed being hugged.

I don’t mind getting old.  I do hope that I never become argumentative or feel the need always to be right, or become grouchy.  But I might, sometimes you can’t help it.

Z is musselbound

I suppose it was inevitable, having mentioned it – I’ve eaten more bread today than I have for weeks, though it was only a couple of slices.  I just couldn’t face plain yoghurt for breakfast this morning, so ate a slice of dry toast instead.  And, since the Sage was out and I visited the market today where there is a splendid fish stall (a different fishmonger calls on Mondays), I was tempted by mussels.  I also bought trout and squid, come to that, something is going to have to go in the freezer as I went to the butcher too.  I got a bit carried away.

Anyway, mussels.  The Sage is a moulefree zone, so I generally eat them when he’s out.  In fact, I deliberately plan nice meals when he’s away because I don’t react to being lonely by being sorry for myself, which is just silly.  I buy something I like and he doesn’t, so it works out for the best.  Sometimes, I cook a new recipe, especially if it’s spicy, so that I can gauge whether it needs toning down for him.

It was quite a trayful in the end, a dish of moules marinières, a separate dish of the liquid because I’d strained it in case I hadn’t scrubbed every grain of sand off the mussels, and it was easier to sip separately, a plate, a dish for the shells, a glass of wine, a spoon and a plate for the bread.  Because a rice cake just doesn’t go with the dish.  I sat in the sitting room – oh yes, dear hearts, I’m not one to avoid the obvious, and I read the paper and I watched daytime tv.  Though I can’t remember what was on, come to think of it, so I must have mostly scooped mussels out of their shells and afterwards read the papers.

As Blue Witch says, a lot of people find they feel healthier without bread.  I’ve got several friends who had IBS, diverticulitis and suchlike, who cured themselves by cutting out wheat.  One had had to give up all raw fruit and vegetables, to her great disappointment, but now is fine – she’s still cautious about raw veg which is noticeably heavy on a delicate digestive system, but she’s good with salads again – and a couple of others who just feel generally better.  In my case, I’m already surprisingly healthy, which I put down to eating a little bit of absolutely everything and – let’s face it – being extremely lucky.  But, though I don’t feel any different, I have got that little fat round tummy this evening.

Tomorrow, I will have it again.  Because we’re going to a tea party to celebrate a friend’s 95th birthday.  I suspect we’ll have the full monty, sandwiches, scones, cakes and all.  It’ll be great and I will not consider the diet at all.

What to have for breakfast is the problem, though.  It’s not quite porridge weather yet.  I’ve bought some muesli, although I’m not that keen on the way any cereal goes soggy the moment milk touches it.  Maybe an egg, otherwise.  Or a banana.  *Sigh*.  I get bored with anything that I eat daily, I have to ring the changes.

Z muses rather than amuses

It really is great having Elle here.  We’ve been to the cinema again tonight, with another school friend of hers, and I’m not going to let this go again after she leaves.  I’ve been far too solitary, not going to concerts, theatre, cinema, because I’d be going on my own.  The Sage has never enjoyed it, though he’s patient about music if it sounds pleasant.  I’m not meaning to be rude, he’s quite close to tone deaf and doesn’t feel music in the way he does tangible things and it isn’t his fault.

I’ve also been busy rewriting and updating the induction pack for governors.  This is quite dull – well, it was while I was just updating, though it was the easy part.  I inherited a couple of letters, quite formal, welcoming new governors and saying a bit about what we do – but it isn’t me, it doesn’t give the right feel.  So I’m going to write a new one tomorrow, which should be a lot more fun to do and will give a more inspiring introduction, I hope.

The Sage is going to visit friends in Manningtree, which is near Ipswich.  He’s known them for many years, longer than he’s known me.  They’re both in their 80s now, both have dementia and we sometimes get rather confused phone calls from the husband.  It’s very sad, but the Sage is never one to turn his back on old friends.  And he’s not as sharp as he was himself come to that, he’s seemed ageless all these years until recently and now he isn’t.

But there’s another thing entirely that I’ve been meaning to talk about, and it should be on my other blog really – and I’ll update that in a day or two – and that is … oh, I hate having to say this because it seems faddy and I can’t put up with that – but I’m still losing weight, very slowly (but I always do and that’s good and healthy) and yet I’m not dieting.  I’m not overeating, but the key is bread.  Sorry loves, I like bread and I haven’t cut it out, but I’ve cut wheat down to a minimum without being fanatical about it, and that’s what makes the difference.

Ever since my mother, desperate for a cure for an illness that the hospital couldn’t diagnose (my friend Sophie said to me, once cancer was finally diagnosed, that the digestive system is huge and a small tumour can’t always be found), slipped into the hands of alternative *medical* therapists, some of whom, whether well-meaning or not, were charlatans, I’ve had considerable reservations about alternative medicine.  Yet I am a balanced Z and don’t dismiss them all equally.  Similarly, although I have utmost respect for food intolerances, preferences, allergies, dislikes (you have only to mention it to me once and I will remember and respect it), I don’t want (and hope that medical necessity doesn’t make me have) to avoid any food.  But modern wheat doesn’t really suit me.  When I’ve eaten more than a slice of bread or a spoonful of pasta, I get a fat round tum, and when I avoid it I lose weight.  Simples.  At least the fat round tum doesn’t presage flatulence, that’d be a real bugger.  But I often eat cheese for lunch, and at one time I’d have avoided it and simply gone for salad (I love salad, that’s no hardship, but not eating cheese is), but it isn’t necessary.  Woo hoo.  I’m sure it’s modern varieties of wheat and methods of breadmaking, by the way, and not all countries use them.

I’d have had more respect for her therapists, you know, if one of them had ever said, please go back to your doctor because something is plainly wrong that I can’t help with.  But, although I saw in the faces of a couple of them that they’d have liked to say that, they never did.  They just kept taking her money. Which made them all charlatans, though not as bad as those who spouted mumbo jumbo and didn’t give a….well, there we go. One has to forgive, though it’s a damn sight easier to forgive wrongs to oneself than wrongs to those we loved.

Rambling?  Yes, sorry.  This is why I blog, loves.  I tell you what I’m thinking about.

And now I’m going to bed.  Goodnight.  Thank you.

Endings and a fresh start

It’s been hanging in the balance for a few years, and last Friday I received a letter confirming that WRVS Meals on Wheels would finish altogether in Norfolk.  I’ve told all the helpers (I’m the village co-ordinator) and today I told our customers that their last delivery will be on Thursday.  I asked if they need help, if they can manage, and that the local cottage hospital does a similar service, but daily instead of twice weekly – unfortunately, at about double the cost, but it’s extremely good.

I’ve delivered MoW for much of my life.  As a child, I used to help my mother and once I learned to drive I did her deliveries when she was laid low by three-day migraines.  I took a few years off once Al was born – you can manage with one baby but not with two – and have delivered them in this village for the last 25 years.

Al and Dilly have been house-hunting and, a few weeks ago, put in an offer on a house in a village just this side of the Norwich/Ipswich road which was accepted.  They’ve been waiting to hear and today were told that the completion date is, as they hoped, this side of Christmas (sorry, BW, but I’m using it in the sense of a deadline).  The Sage and I will really rattle around in the house once it’s all turned back into one (the bungalow was originally a granny annexe).  The children will move schools, it’ll all be quite a change.

There’s a covenant on the bungalow to say it is an annexe to this house and can only be lived in long-term by a relative, so letting it out isn’t an option at this stage.  We’re in no hurry to do anything yet, we’ll think about it for a while.  There’s no reason why we can’t have guests to stay, of course, so we may (if we buy more beds) be able to have more of you to stay over at the next blog party.

This evening, I’ve spent quite a lot of time updating governor information, because we’ve had two newcomers and some changes on committees and so on.  We’re in the process of having a parent governor election at present, at the end of which there will be a full governing body, and I do always hold that as one of my aims (we held two places free to offer to governors of the middle schools when they closed), as long as everyone is really good and committed to helping the school.  And they’re very good.  We’ve got a wonderful set of governors, everyone works hard and supports the school but isn’t afraid to ask awkward questions.

Al and family are doing the right thing and I’m very pleased for them, but of course we’ll miss them.  It’s been great having them living next door all this time and a privilege to see so much of the children during their earliest years.  They’re not going far though and we will spend quite as much time together in future, the main difference being that we’ll have to plan it rather more than we do now.

Young Jane – 4

So Jane joined the Land Army.  She was keen not to be looked on as a girlie, but as someone who could keep up with the men.  Land girls had the reputation of being afraid of cows, seeing every one as a potential bull, of squeaking at the sight of a carthorse or a bale of hay (heavier than straw, as I’m sure you know) and thinking that the job entailed the carefree scattering of corn to the chickens.  My mother (darlings, think me and you get my mother, only I don’t have the hang-ups … no, I’m quite normal and have no hang-ups ………. oi.  Shove it, darling) was pretty tough, in a charmingly feminine way and took a lot of pride in accomplishing anything that was thrown at her.

There were three horses on the farm she was sent to.  One was a carthorse, and I’m sorry to say that I can’t remember his name.  Wink might know and, if she tells me, I’ll let you know.  One was a regular horse.  The third was an ex-polo pony called Monsieur de Talleyrand, who could turn on the proverbial sixpence.  What he thought about farm work he kept to himself.  Jane could work with all of them.  The carthorse (I’m ashamed that I can’t remember his name: I want to say it’s Boxer, but of course that’s another story entirely) could pull a big cart of hay and my mother took pride in being able to steer him at speed through a gateway, only a few inches to spare either side.

She found it a tough life, for several reasons.  One was, of course, the physical hard work.  She was just under 5 foot 6 inches in height (appreciably taller than I have ever been) and slender, but took on as much as the men did.  Not that there were many men about at that time, most of them had been called up.

I’ve got several stories to tell you about her time in the Land Army and she did a good job, I don’t want to hurry it.  I’ve talked to women who were in the ATS and the – oh blimey, I don’t really do initials.  Women’s army, navy and air force.  Few of them worked as hard as my mother did, none of them as hard physically.  I admire her – but then I admire people who put their back into a job.  

Custard, anyone?

Actually, if you want to see me with really green eyes, not just in a photograph, make me cry.  Green against red is intense.

Mig commented on how cruel it was to make my mother cycle home for such a meagre lunch, and that maybe shutting her in a dark cupboard was seen as less unkind than hitting her.  In fact it’s true that my mother never mentioned that her stepmother hit her.  But I think that the psychological bullying was intended to break her spirit, as they used to say, to make her give in and become malleable.  Jane was more stubborn and more clever than her stepmother and wouldn’t give in.  Terrified as she was of that cupboard, she never showed it at the time, though the effects lasted all her life.

My father was the same.  He never gave in over anything, once he’d made a stand, although he very rarely argued.  There were a few childhood stories – the most pertinent one being the tale of the pudding fork.  After his parents divorced, he often spent school holidays (having been sent to boarding school at the age of six) with his godparents, who were loving but quite strict.  He’d never used a spoon and fork to eat his pudding, he was only a little boy, but he was required to.  He just sat there.  The spoon was taken away.  He was told he’d sit there until he’d eaten his pudding with a fork.  He just sat there.  I don’t know how long this lasted, but I suspect that they begged him to eat the damn pudding and he just sat there.  I doubt he ever gave in.  I don’t know the end of that story, I just know that the consequence was that he never ate pudding with a spoon and fork in his life.  He’d only use a fork, however inconvenient it was.

Z does not show herself in a good light

I’m not sure why my skin is so strangely yellow, but that isn’t the point of the photo.  Nor is showing you my wrinkles.  If you look at that tiny mark on my eyelid just above the right edge of my iris (as you look at it) that, with a faint residual bruise, is all I have to show for the operation on Monday.  I couldn’t be more pleased, relieved or grateful.

Young Jane – 3

I skipped through her childhood far too quickly – actually, it was because it wasn’t happy, not at home, but I suppose I shouldn’t shy away from that.  I have had a quick look back through old posts, most of which were in the ‘family story’ series if you did want to search back, in 2006 and 2007, and I’ll only repeat things if they’re relevant to a story I’m telling.  I don’t feel inclined to repost anything, I like writing to you.

Jane was very conscious of being the only child at her school without a mother.  She remembered another small girl telling her that her mother had smacked her.  Jane was shocked, she knew this woman and she was a loving, kind mother with apparently endless patience, so she asked what happened.  The child had behaved badly and kept doing it when told to stop until mother snapped.  This was 80 years ago, that sort of behaviour just didn’t happen!  So Jane asked why on earth she’d behaved that way.  “I was seeing how far I could go,” wept the girl – which I still think is funny and I know just what she meant.

Jane couldn’t go far at all with her stepmother.  It was all such a shame.  I don’t for a minute suppose that she embarked on that marriage without hope, even though there wasn’t a romance involved.  Mummy said that it wasn’t too bad to begin with, but then she inherited a lot of money, over £40,000 – a fortune in those days.  I suppose the irony of marrying for security and then getting it through a legacy, so she was unnecessarily saddled with a husband and stepchild she didn’t care for, embittered her and she took some of it out on the child.  My mother was quite claustrophobic, as a result of having been shut in a cupboard as a punishment.  The stepmother, whose name I don’t know, became very mean.  Although she had adequate housekeeping money, she wouldn’t pay for Jane to have school lunches and she had to cycle three miles home and then back again every lunchtime (as well as the same at the start and end of the day of course) to eat a lunch which, typically, would be a small bowl of cornflakes and half a banana.  School never shut for bad weather by the way, and Mummy remembered sometimes having to carry her bike through snowdrifts.  Occasionally, she couldn’t tell where the edge of the road was if the fence or hedge was entirely covered with snow.

She was immensely proud of her bike, by the way, which was new and a very good one.  It had been a present from her father on passing the exam and interview into the high school at the age of 9 instead of 11.

Mummy remembered one time when her stepmother and she laughed together.  They decided to make lardy cake, which is a traditional West Country pastry.  They followed the recipe carefully, cooked it – and it was so tough that, when they tried to cut it, both knife and cake ended up on the floor.  It might have infuriated the mother, but it was so ridiculous after all their work that they looked at each other and burst out laughing.  Even the birds wouldn’t touch it.

As an aside, I’m so sorry about the dreadful weather that you’ve been having in that part of the country. It hasn’t touched us in East Angular, but I’ve been thinking about you and hope none of you have been flooded out or otherwise affected.

Young Jane – 2

My grandfather remarried when Jane was seven, but it wasn’t a success.  It was a sad situation all round – Jane was devastated to be removed from her grandparents and she didn’t get on with her stepmother.  This lady had married in the hope of a comfortable life, I suppose, maybe children of her own, but they didn’t come along and she had a resentful little girl who never came to love her.  Jane did get on well with her stepmother’s sister, who lived on a farm in Devon and had her to stay in the summer holidays,  but in the end her father left his second wife and he and Jane moved to Weymouth.  This was in 1938, when Jane was 14.

And here’s a funny thing.  My mother never hid her age, we all knew she was born on 11th November, 1923 – and yet she got her sums wrong.  She always said she was 14 when the war broke out (September 1939) but of course she was 15, nearly 16.

She was a clever and ambitious child and had hoped to go to university.  She passed the entrance exam to Trowbridge high school two years early.  But she’d hardly started at her new school in Weymouth when war was declared and, on the south coast, it seemed a safer place than London and refugee children were sent there.  So the pupils had half day schooling and had to leave their books behind for the refugees in the afternoon.  Once the headmistress started to hold frequent fire drills and everyone had to leave lessons to go and hide in hastily-dug trenches, nothing was learnt at all.  So Jane left school the next summer after taking O Levels and went to a secretarial school near Weymouth harbour.

It sounded quite fun really.  The teacher, a rather fussy chap, had little control over his students.  When the air raid warning sounded, they all rushed up to the flat roof to watch the ‘dogfights’ between enemy and Allied planes whilst he wrung his hand and begged the young ladies to go to the shelter.  They thought the fighting was great fun, especially when a German plane was shot down.  They they’d go downstairs in time to watch the airmen being taken to the local police station.  They were always in their socks, having lost their boots to the water.  Mummy got to know the local policeman later, Mr Carter, and could imagine his stolidly courteous interrogation.

Finally however, one of the British planes was shot down and the crew were killed and it brought home to them that it wasn’t fun at all.  Worse, a plane was lost altogether, and at harvest time the next summer it was found in a cornfield, with the bodies of the crew still in their seats.

As time went by, Jane became old enough to be called up.  She didn’t want to join one of the Forces.  She was confident among people and in situations she knew, but she was uncertain about being with strangers.  She didn’t want to wear military uniform and she was very modest and didn’t care at all for the idea of a medical examination.  So she volunteered to join the Land Army.

Young Jane – 1

My maternal grandparents were cousins and fell in love at an early age.  My grandfather, David, served in the army throughout the first world war, when both his brothers were killed.  My grandmother, Janet, was the ninth of ten children – her mother had had a baby every three years, starting at the age of twenty and finishing in her late forties.

Tragically, Janet died at the age of 25, when my mother was only 18 months old.  This was in 1925 and David wasn’t able to look after her alone.  His mother and Janet’s father, both widowed, had set up home together (they were brother and sister) and took in the little girl while he was at work – he was an engineer and had to travel to find a job.

My mother remembered her early years as idyllic and adored her grandparents.  They were both quite elderly, especially her grandad, and she always said she had quite a Victorian upbringing.  Her Grandad used to refer to policemen as Peelers, which was quite outmoded by that time – for anyone younger than I am, I probably need to explain that.  Both Bobbies and Peelers used to be nicknames for policemen, both after Sir Robert Peel but whilst you still might hear a reference to ‘bobbies on the beat’, I can’t think anyone has mentioned a peeler in decades, not in normal conversation.  Mummy used to quote her grandfather whenever possible “we’ll finish the game of bowls and beat the Spaniards too” was one of his sayings (think Sir Francis Drake) and she used to describe how his blue eyes twinkled when he made a joke.

Her grandmother had, as I said, had the tragedy of losing two of her three sons in the war.  My sister did a bit of research a few years ago and discovered that she had actually been with both of them when they died.  In one instance, she was able to travel to France to nurse him in hospital, in the other he was brought back to England but died of his injuries.  They were both six-footers, whilst the third and surviving son was several inches shorter.  An advantage in the trenches?  Not much help if you had to go ‘over the top’ I would have said, but he was the lucky one.

She brought the little girl up to be polite and kind.  “Never be rude to those who cannot answer back,” was one of her maxims – meaning shop assistants, waiters, servants.  And mummy never was and nor am I.  She was a very precise lady.  Once she went to buy material for a new blouse.  The assistant asked what colour was wanted.  She drew herself up very straight.  “Heliotrope,” she said.  My mother never forgot the expression on the poor girl’s face, not having a clue what she meant (purple, darlings.  Heliotrope is a flower of a rather dull purple colour, which has the most wonderful evening scent).

There were other memories of those early years.  She did remember her mother, just – on a train station platform, suddenly the train let off steam and, frightened, she buried her face in her mother’s coat.  It was her earliest memory.  Painful ones were when she disturbed a wasps’ nest in the garden and ran screaming to the house, wasps in her hair and stinging her all over.  She was terrified of wasps all her life, quite understandably.  And once, a piece of gammon had been boiled and the pan of hot water left on the back doorstep.  Running in from the garden, she stepped right in it and was badly scalded – though no scar was left, it was a frightening experience.

She received nothing but love and care at home, but maybe it was the knowledge that she was different, that she had no mother, that gave her an insecurity that lasted all her life – although it was well hidden for many years.