Monthly Archives: December 2012

Chin chin!

I was going to say that not a lot has happened today, but now I’ve thought about it I’ve changed my mind. Momentously, I moved every stick of furniture in the drawing room (not counting the TV) and hoovered the whole room to bugge… – well, it’s cobweb free.  And the reason for this enthusiasm is that I was planning to bring in the Christmas tree.  It’s only little, I can’t take it seriously, but it’s sitting in its pot on the revolving bookcase.  Not decorated, obv.  Far too early.

I remembered last night that I’d been phoned a couple of days ago by someone wanting me to write to someone else (yes, that’s the sort of thing I do) and I’d written down the name and address but actually it wasn’t the most convenient time.  So I left it until *later* and totes forgot, darlings.  Fortunately, I remembered again, because I hadn’t yet emptied the waste paper baskets.  So, while filling them with odds and sods, I warned the Sage against binning anything before I’d found this wretched piece of paper.

Turned out I’d put it in a sensible place and not in the waste paper basket at all.  I wasn’t a bit surprised, honestly, but there’s never any harm in taking precautions.

It’s worryingly clean and tidy in here at the moment, apart from my computer and one – yes, darlings, only one so it’s quite all right – of the printers.  And the Sage’s stuff, but he’s impossible so has to be shown every indulgence.  And, talking of every indulgence – well, the Sage occasionally gives a brilliant present but usually it’s rubbish.  Last year, for instance, he paid the bill for my iPhone, £140.  It was just a credit card bill, I’d already bought it and over the year I pay rather more in monthly fees.  I spent £500 on him.  And I wrapped the present and gave it to him.  He gave me nothing on the day.  Bitter?  Well, frankly yes, but I’m also sensible, so I went out and bought some clothes and told him how much I’d spent and he gave me the money.  He also suggested I might wrap them, but I – no loves, I was perfectly polite.  I just gave him wrapping paper and sticky tape.

Oh, and the Sage looked out to show my friend Mary, who took me out to lunch today, a picture of me from 1963.  It’s also got my good friend Lynn, who is the only person I’ve never lost touch with (a few more I’ve regained touch with, but Lynn and I have been stalwart and I’m godmother to her daughter) and other erstwhile good friend, but with whom I’m not in touch, Angela.  And after that, I’ll have to scan and post it.  Watch out for the Z chin.  It’s remarkable!  

Z counts blessings if not pennies

I’m way ahead of myself.  In the event, which seems most unlikely, that we all die tomorrow, I shall have the satisfaction of knowing that I’m out of debt six weeks before I need to be: I have paid the taxman.  I know, it’s usual to wait until the last possible moment but actually I think the country needs the money, paltry sum as it is, more than Barclays does and it’s only sitting in my current account at present.

So, having been to the accountant first thing, I dropped the Sage off with Weeza as she was bringing him home again, then toddled off to the hospital.  Encouraged by being seen by a nurse for a completely unnecessary check on my eyesight, some five minutes before my appointment time, I was disappointed to wait a whole hour before being called to be seen by the surgeon.  Not the one who sliced into my eyelid, but a nice chap.  I was there all of two minutes, was given a clean bill of health – I hadn’t expected anything else but am glad to know for sure I didn’t have any malignancy in my eyelid – and came out again.  At least I finished a whole level of iAssociate while I was waiting.

I’m luckier than a small boy I know, whose parents have just been told that an operation that, it would hoped, would save the sight in one eye has failed.  He’s hardly aware of a problem himself as yet, as he’s never seen much with it – at least his other eye is all right.  But goodness, poor little chap.  He’s only five.

Small pleasure of the day – writing a cheque with the date 20/12/2012.  Easily pleased, hey.  Other pleasure was having Weeza and Gus over here for lunch, and Dilly, Squiffany and Hay for tea.  I made scones.  Squiffany was very complimentary about them.  Charming girl.

Z accepts the inev

I’ve wrapped the presents.  I’m vaguely disappointed as it’s usually done somewhere near midnight on Christmas Eve whilst I eye the whisky left by the fire for Father Christmas, wondering if he’d mind if I had a swig.  But everything has been bought so they might as well be wrapped.

We are organising a whole-family get-together, which at present seems to be likely to be on the 1st January.  We’re waiting to hear from Ro and Dora, who are the only ones going to have a jolly on New Year’s Eve so may be disconcerted to find they are asked to be out of the house and on the road by noon or so the next day.

Talking of Father Christmas, I realise that the contest is lost, he’s irredeemably Santa.  Not even Santa Claus.  I can’t bring myself to say it myself, but I’ve given in.  In the same way, it’s Thomas the Tank, uni … look, I’ve nothing against abbreviations in principle* obv, but I like them to make sense.  So, whilst While Shepherds Watched is okay, In the Bleak and Once in Royal are not.  Anyway, Santa – children think it’s his name, so it is.

The other thing I did today was to turn out the main food cupboard in the kitchen.  I found all sorts of things.  I threw away some of them.  I have resolved to buy no more pasta until I’ve at least used up the opened packets.  It’s slightly unfortunate that it was only yesterday that I bought some spaghetti and penne, but never mind.  I won’t need to buy coffee for a while either.  On the other hand, I was a bit dismayed to discover that there’s not a chocolate biscuit in the house.  It’s not that I eat chocolate biscuits, but it’s good to know that they’re there in case of emergency.

*waves at AQ

Land ho

Watching the programme Wartime Farm Christmas on BBC2 reminds me of something my mother used to say after her experience working as a Land Girl during the war.  “The hedger and ditcher is the most important man on the farm!”  Good to see the job being marked as vital on the programme too.

Squiffany and Pugsley had, respectively, Brownies and karate tonight so, after Pugsley’s nativity play in the church (he was a shepherd) they came here for tea.  I got back at 3.15 and it dawned on me that I’d made no preparations at all.  Their mother had said I needn’t worry as they’d had school dinner so only needed a snack.  All the same…

Eggs on to boil, sugar, more eggs, flour, butter, baking powder and vanilla essence in a bowl, beaten, put into paper cases and in the oven.  Squiff and Pugs arrived in time to help with that bit.  Into the oven, shell and mash the eggs, make sandwiches, also cheese sandwiches, remove cakes from oven, make glacé icing (icing sugar, water, slightly too much cochineal), spread on top, add sugar sprinkles.  Make drinks for children, tea for the rest of us, open pack of Hula Hoops.

4 o’clock.  Serve tea.

4.10.  Make more egg sandwiches (I had reserved surplus eggs for tonight’s fish pie, but we did without), as Dilly and the Sage were scoffing them too.  Open more packs of Hula Hoops.

4.20.  Make more tea.

It all seemed to go quite well.  Dilly said that I make the best cakes, which rather surprised me (and pleased me no end) as I don’t do a lot of baking any more.

I was just remembering (again, as a response to the same programme) the time when my mother took pottery evening classes at L’toft college.  Some 40 years ago, evening classes were very popular.  Wink and I did motor maintenance, being of a practical bent.   The Sage started to reminisce about the College Principal, but I didn’t know the one he spoke of, except by name.  I said he must have retired by the time my mother was on the town council, the one I knew slightly had a surname beginning with B but there was no hope of my remembering it.

And then I did.  Alan Boddy.  I’ve always thought that no one will notice when I lose my marbles because I’ve got such an abysmal memory already.  But maybe they will.

Z ticks boxes

The speech has been delivered, having been written last week, rewritten last night and again this morning.  I might just as well have left it to the deadline and got it right first time.

I had to open an account with German Amazon today, to send a present from Elle to her father.  It’s a long story and let’s not bother with it.  I thought I could bluff my way through reading a number of languages – well no, I can, just not German. Or Dutch or Flemish come to that, and I think I detect a linguistic theme.  I remember visiting Weeza when she was working in Brussels and we went out for dinner and I couldn’t read the menu at all.  I had rather expected it to be written in at least two languages but it was only in Flemish and I couldn’t decipher anything to speak of.  Well, to speak of, blimey, I wasn’t going to even try to pronounce any of it.  I pointed and hoped I wasn’t ordering horse.  It was very nice actually and not a bit horsey.

Anyway, I had great difficulty in getting started because, although I was able to work out that I needed to fill in my name, address and phone number, I couldn’t quite cope with my country.  Look, how was I to guess the German for United Kingdom?  You may know it’s Vereinigtes Königreich but I saw no clue in the name at all at the time, although now, with the benefit of hindsight, it seems quite a bit more obvious.   And then I had to work out how to put in another delivery address from my own.  I got quite agitated.  By the time it was finally done, I had little time to scuttle upstairs and put on the Smart yet Appropriate Frock for the Prizegiving, and it was a jolly good job I’d already printed out the speech and put it in my handbag, or I’d have had to ad lib. I’m slightly concerned that I might have signed up for a trial of Amazon Prime in German, but I hope not.  I’ll ask Elle to check it out when I see her.

I seem to have done most of my Christmas shopping, almost without noticing.  I spent five minutes in a shop in the town and cleared up the last three people – well, apart from the Sage and he’s impossible so doesn’t count.  There are only three options for him: clothes, china or vesta cases.  I’ve given him china for the last two years and I think I’ll buy him a new coat.  He doesn’t wear enough and it makes me feel cold.

Z thanks the Bishop

I shouldn’t be grumbly, so you’ll have the pleasure, hem hem, of another post tonight.

The Bishop called.  Not here, at the church.  There are suffragan bishops and diocesan bishops, the latter being senior in rank – to the extent there’s a hierarchy, I don’t understand it.  It was confusing enough at my Catholic primary school when they tried to explain the difference between seraph, cherub  and angel.   It didn’t sink in, I thought for some time that a seraph was different from *a* seraphim.

Anyway, Bishop Alan turned out to be a jolly good sort (he’s been in post a couple of years or more but I hadn’t met him before) and he understood how to programme the church boiler.  The churchwarden had tried to do it yesterday but had somehow managed to convince the system that today was Monday and I couldn’t change it back.  He could.  Good man.  He was, quite rightly, impressed with the quality of refreshments – proper coffee and really nice home-made food.

I have no idea why anyone serves poor tea and coffee.  Stewed tea and the cheapest instant coffee made too weak are nasty.  The Fellow (my former fellow-churchwarden, neither of us being in that position now) used to say “Good coffee is part of Mission!”  I’m not really into mission, but I am into decent coffee.

Tonight, I cooked dinner rather early.  Butternut squash risotto and sausages.  Once the three and a half remaining squashes are eaten, that’s the rest of this year’s food crop apart from the Jerusalem artichokes.    Al, with Dilly’s brothers-in-law, took out the rest of the furniture from the bungalow tonight.  There must be more stuff left as they haven’t returned the keys yet, but I think the big stuff has gone.  The bungalow is too far from us to hear them, so we won’t really be aware of their absence.  Still, end of an era.  

Z might as well get the Christmas grumble out of the way early

My mother used to go to a huge amount of trouble with the Christmas meal.  As a result, I simplified things down … well no, I didn’t really, it just seemed less fuss than when I was a child.

It started several days before Christmas Day with the Decorating of the Table.  She always used an elaborate layout with red and green satin, lots of flowers and candles and it was very pretty.  Afterwards we ate at a small table in the study or on our knees in the sitting room because the dining room was out of bounds.  And on the day itself, she spent the entire day in the kitchen getting hot and flustered, except for the brief moments she allowed herself to eat or when, much later in the day than Wink and I wanted, presents were opened.

I’ve said in previous years that people were always invited for the day, elderly people who lived alone and did not have relations to go to, and usually my grandfather came to stay too.  So in the morning, our father went off to fetch them whilst Wink and I helped prepare vegetables and so on.  By this time, the massive turkey had been in the oven for some time, while a whole ham on the bone was simmering and so was the Christmas pudding that had been made for us by our cook from Weymouth hotel days, Mr Dyke.

The thing is, a roast is the easiest meal to prepare for a lot of people.  You shove it in the oven, having weighed it and written down the cooking time.  You’ve prepared and inserted the stuffings already of course, and there’s plenty of time to parboil the potatoes if it wasn’t done the day before, get the bacon and chipolatas ready to go in the oven and so on.  It’s all a matter of having a time-plan and remembering to put everything on it.  And if something was forgotten, then forget it altogether.  There’s too much food anyway, who cares?

My ma did.  Looking back, I can see why the food took a long time to cook, but not why she had to spend the whole day in the kitchen.  The first course was tinned consommé, for goodness sake, with a generous slosh of sherry (this counted as sophisticated in the mid-1960s).  It was quite sensible actually, the vegetables could cook while you were eating it but it didn’t fill you up at all.  Then the turkey (which had a dreadfully dry breast, she was an excellent cook normally so I don’t understand) and ham (gorgeous) and everything else, and then a pudding that had looked after itself for about three hours, then a Stilton.

It was quite boring for Wink and me, because Daddy kept out of the way of the bevy of old ladies and we weren’t allowed to open presents.  So we sat there being polite for several hours while they drank sherry and bickered gently.  After we’d eaten, they bickered again as they compared presents while we watched Disney Time.

So, when I had children, I wanted it to be different and I wrote a time plan that scheduled in break times to be with the family.  I accepted help if the Sage offered, which was usually peeling potatoes (yay!) and otherwise just checked the oven at appointed times. I’d prepared veg the day before, it was simple.  For a few years, Weeza didn’t eat meat so I made a separate meal for her.  The first course might be wontons or blini or something like that, which were made on Christmas morning.  And for the past 20-something years, I’ve scheduled in playing the organ for the service at 10 o’clock too.  And none of us wanted more than a mouthful of the pudding, so I always made another dessert to go with it.  But there was always a couple of hours, in chunks, to stop work and be with the family, because that was what we all wanted.

I can only assume, however, that it wasn’t what she wanted.  Otherwise, why would a superb hostess be red-faced and flustered in the kitchen for hours when I, admittedly efficient but much less practised, could spare hours of my time to be with my children?

I have to say, however, that Weeza’s memories aren’t the same as mine.  Because when I had my half-hour breaks, we’d open a couple of presents and I reckoned that would enable them to appreciate what they had, and I’d not miss out on the fun.  But what she remembers is the pile of presents that was not opened until noon, when champagne was opened and the blini or whatever served.

The last few years, we’ve been invited to the family, either Weeza’s or Al’s.  This year, I’m doing it again, but there will only be four of us, me and the Sage and Ro and Dora.  We’ve decided on roast pork, because Dora, who had never eaten crackling until I served it to her (her family background is Muslim, though she has no particular religion), adores it.  We’ll have the proper Christmas roast beef (turkey, pah!) another day when we’re all together.

Z goes from dairy to diary

I’m afraid I’m stealing an idea again, this time from Tim’s post about diaries.  Thank you, Tim.  You thought so that I didn’t have to.

I have always been quite specific about my requirement in a diary.  A week to view with 4 days on one side of the page, three on the other (every day has the same amount of space) and the last section for notes.  Slim enough to go in a handbag but big enough to be able to get several appointments in per day.  It’s not necessarily that I have lots of appointments every day, but that it’s so easy to forget details. My mother, for example, regularly used to say something like “Have I told you what I’m supposed to be doing on Thursday darling, because I’ve got EL, Norwich, 10.30 and I have no idea what it’s about.”  So whole names and specific places and a reminder of what I had to take or do, which takes a fair bit of space.

This wasn’t necessarily that difficult to find, but it wasn’t the only requirement.  I plan ahead, sometimes by several months.  So a diary that started in January and ended in December was useless, I needed overlap.  Ideally, a diary should include the whole of December, so that I could do the changeover early, and finish at the end of January or later, because I’d have quite a bit to write in by then.  I’ve got engagements on 19 days in January so far, for example, and 12 in February, and I’m not as busy as people with a proper job.  I never managed to find a diary that gave that much scope, though.

It wasn’t bad when my mother had an account with Coutts.  They had jolly good diaries, and actually she had two accounts so received two diaries and gave the spare to me.  It came as close as I ever found to my requirements and was the right size and thickness.  But it all became too expensive in the end, it’s a sad day when you can’t afford your banker any more – and it wasn’t the same when they’d been taken over by Nat West, in any case.

So I used to spend ages leafing through all the diaries in the shop and what I bought was always a compromise.

Buying an iPhone and discovering the diary was a happy day.  Not only could I set it up to repeat regular events so that I didn’t have to write them all in individually, but it all backed up on to the computer so that, in the event that my handbag was stolen (this happened once about 20 years ago: fortunately in October so that my year wasn’t a complete bewilderment, only a couple of months of it), I didn’t lose a single appointment.  To a belt, braces and bailer twine woman like me, this was immensely reassuring.

For the first year, I carried a paper diary too, because I have to acknowledge that it’s quicker to jot something down than type it in, on a phone’s keypad at any rate.  But I couldn’t be bothered to fill it in very often, so it was never up to date, and I haven’t bought one since.  Life is so much simpler now.

Ho, ho, oh

Wink has arrived on her Father Christmas run.  She’s just here for one night, with Weeza and co tomorrow and then home again.  She’s marvellous, such a darling to go to the effort, she had a dreadful journey in the rain.

Elle has been away for a couple of weeks and called in to pick up and wrap some presents for her family that she had ordered over the internet.  We’re planning to go to Norwich tomorrow to see The Hobbit.

The Sage has been off on the train today visiting old and close friends and distributing presents.

I’ve done housework and not a lot else.  What else I have done was mostly chillin’.

Al and Dilly’s house purchase has gone through and they are moving over the weekend.  The Sage and I will rattle around like marbles in a steel drum.  Still, we’re both the solitary types.  He has already declared that my piano can go through into the bungalow so that I won’t bother him – politely, he didn’t say the last bit, but that was what he meant.  I offered to move through there entirely, but he didn’t quite want me to do that.

I have picked up a milk bottle for Blue Witch.  If anyone else would like one, let me know.  I think they would make attractive storage containers, I will acquire a few more.

Very sadly, a calf was stillborn here today, a breech birth that was unexpectedly early, though this seems to have been a mistake in terms of dates (not the farmer’s mistake, what he was told) rather than prematurity.  The mother seems okay, she had a rough time though.  When I went to the farm to tell Jonny about the cow in trouble, I managed to wade through some slurry and I think my trainers will be whiffy forever more.  I don’t mind the smell of cow myself, but I might not make friends.  Still, dogs will like me.

Chuffed! Granny’s grin of triumph…

…when she got the baby to sleep, when everyone else had failed.

Yes, it’s dark.  It was past his bedtime, we were on our way home from York on a steam train.

Now drinking whisky and Lapsang Souchong and eating Stilton and oatcakes.  Will I sleep afterwards?  It’s *maybe* every night, so it makes little difference what I eat and drink.

I may be back later, darlings, but Wink is arriving at lunchtime, so jollity overload could happen and short-circuit blogging until tomorrow.