Monthly Archives: December 2013

Z looks forward

A few things that have been on the to-happen list for ages have taken place, notably the replacement of the horrid (in both the nasty and the bristling sense) carpet tiles in the passageway and the return of the pianola.  So the next thing will be for me to improve my piano playing a bit.

I’ve been wrecked as a pianist by playing the organ, which I don’t even enjoy in any case.  It has ruined my touch – I just thump away and the volume is regulated by the stops, not by how I play.  And, because I can’t be bothered with the pedals any more, the stretch of all the chords is often too much, so I simply leave out the trickier notes – churn out the tune with my right hand, some bass chords with my left and aim for some of the notes as they’re written –  it isn’t exactly a compliment to Beethoven, Schubert et al to treat their works like that on a piano, but it’s a hard habit to overcome. Rereading this, I realise I sound dismissive of organists – it’s a tremendously hard instrument to play well and sounds wonderful when it is – I’m incapable of even a passable standard on the organ and have become discouraged.  In addition, as I said, I’ve never liked playing it.  No insult intended, however, I only am criticising myself.

It was because I realised, when I was in my late thirties, that I was never going to bring my piano playing back to the standard (never that good) I’d reached twenty years earlier, that I took up the clarinet.  But I could be better than I am now and at least be able to enjoy it a bit.  Funny that I like playing the piano and not the organ, isn’t it?  It feels like a warmer, if not a richer instrument.

The next thing I’ve managed in the last few months is to grow my nails, at least to an extent (one broke only yesterday).  It’s not easy because I’m literally very hands-on, I get going and don’t fuss about my nails until it’s too late.  But I’ll try to keep them stronger, now that I’ve made the initial effort.

The next thing, of course, is this motorbike training.  Sorry, Sir B, I just didn’t find – or maybe make – the time during the autumn.  I knew I’d be busy, but not quite how busy.

I have managed to fit in time for some of the things I enjoy, though that largely involves going away – finding a few days free and taking advantage of them has been my saviour this autumn.  It’s not been an easy year in many ways – largely because of some extraordinarily bad decisions on Russell’s part – all agreements to repair things, all attempts to help have been disregarded, to the extent that his blog name has been dropped.  It’s not remarkable that we ignored our 40th wedding anniversary, as we’ve never taken much notice of anniversaries anyway, but it was a difficult period and I’ve been closer to despair than ever before in my life.   But I’ve got my resilience back and things have been sorted out and it’s ok now.

I’m not making great plans for next year – as I said yesterday, my priority is my sister and I’ll be with her for as long as she needs me once she has her hip replacement.  I’m hoping to fit in a visit to Elle and her family in Berlin this winter, but will have to see if the timings work.  The next priority (equal in magnitude to Wink’s, but later in the year and there will be no clash) is Ro and Dora’s wedding.

As far as the school goes, it’ll be busy.  But I like having commitments, makes me plan and fill my days and gives me a buzz.  I’d be discontented with not enough to do.

We have hopes of help in the garden from April.  That’ll be brilliant – though I’m sorry about the circumstances, which involve redundancy (the owner of a company is to retire and close it down), but it will really help us.  I hope to get the kitchen garden up and running again this year and I’m afraid the chickens are not having it permanently.  We do need a long-term solution for them, but that isn’t it.

The other thing to look forward to is next year’s blog party, if you still would like it to happen – I’ll be asking about possible dates very soon.

I know some of you have worries, mainly about illness of people dear to you.  May we all have health, strength and love to see us through.  Happy New Year, darlings.

Z doesn’t look back

Well, Ronan had the last word in the comments yesterday, when he thanked you for your good wishes and hopes to meet you at the next blog party.  Might manage a few bottles of fizz to toast their happiness…Russell was given a wine rack for Christmas, of such a size that it will only go in the kitchen.  90 bottles worth – yes, I filled it.  There are a few gaps already though (actually, I have a crate of claret in the larder, I will do some topping up in the next day or two – yes, I realise I could get obsessive about this).

Wink was not with us for Christmas this year, because she didn’t feel up to the journey, but she has changed her mind and will come up for the first weekend in February instead, unless that’s when her operation is.  I’m keeping my options entirely open, ready to shoot down there at any time.  I’ve warned people that she comes first and apologies will be given for any meeting – only thing that would give me pause would be the Ofsted call and I’ll evaluate that if it arises.

Today, I went to the funeral of my friend Mary, who died at the age of 91 after a rich and full life, if you’ll excuse the cliché.  Warm tributes from her family, we’ll all miss her.

A poem was read – Laugh and be Merry, by John Masefield.

Laugh and be Merry

Laugh and be merry, remember, better the world with a song,
Better the world with a blow in the teeth of a wrong.
Laugh, for the time is brief, a thread the length of a span.
Laugh and be proud to belong to the old proud pageant of man.

Laugh and be merry: remember, in olden time.
God made Heaven and Earth for joy He took in a rhyme,
Made them, and filled them full with the strong red wine of His mirth
The splendid joy of the stars: the joy of the earth.

So we must laugh and drink from the deep blue cup of the sky,
Join the jubilant song of the great stars sweeping by,
Laugh, and battle, and work, and drink of the wine outpoured
In the dear green earth, the sign of the joy of the Lord.

Laugh and be merry together, like brothers akin,
Guesting awhile in the rooms of a beautiful inn,
Glad till the dancing stops, and the lilt of the music ends.
Laugh till the game is played; and be you merry, my friends.

Sorry for the religious overtones, but I liked the attitude.  And – if English isn’t your first language ‘ better’ is used as a verb, meaning ‘get the better of’.

A number of you have said you’ll be glad to see the back of this year, it’s been a tough one.  Darlings, I’ll agree with you there.  Though there have been high points, many of which have involved you.  And the year is ending on a high point in our family, thanks to Dora and Ro.   So let’s look forward, shall we?

Congratulations, Ro and Dora

We’re having a number of family get-togethers over Christmas.  As I said the other day, we don’t all meet on Christmas Day because in-laws and small children are prioritised, but everyone comes over here sooner or later and we’ve also met up at Al’s house and, last night, at Weeza’s.  And we discovered that we had further cause to celebrate.

Dora is part of the family already, very much so.  She and Ro met nearly four years ago (on the internet, which is an excellent way to meet as many of you can testify) and she was introduced to the family at Easter, a couple of months later.  I’d had a slight concern, since all five of my children got on so well, how it would work out when Ronan brought a girl home because it was quite a lot to hope for, that she would be equally comfortable with the whole family, but I need not have given it a thought, she fitted in from the start.  I call her Dora here because she’s adorable.

Yes, you’ve guessed it – they’re engaged.  The wedding will be next September.


Z’s Christmas

The pattern of life over Christmas has changed over the last few years.  I try never to impose on the children – one thing I remember from when they actually were small children was that they didn’t like being dragged from one house to the next and preferred to be at home at Christmas, however much they loved to visit their grandparents (I think overnight stays would have been fine, it was the disruption from attending to their new stuff that mattered).  I’ve always made it clear that whatever they want to do is fine, they can come here, they can do their own thing, if invited we will come but there’s no obligation.  Since we’ve got a big enough house for everyone and a big enough oven for a surprisingly large joint of beef, everyone is invited over when it’s convenient, though once that didn’t happen until the end of January.

This year, we went to spend the day with Weeza and co.  And we’ve had such a lovely time.  I’m always the designated driver nowadays, so have become a moderate and early drinker (I don’t mean *that* early, but soon enough for most of the alcohol to dissipate before we go home.  We took Ben with us – he’s not a good traveller and was sick on the way, but I put a waterproof sheet in the back of the car, it washes down and no harm is done – he spent some of the time in the garden and some back in the car, not being allowed in the house because of the new pet gerbils.  He’d launch himself at their cage, it would be unkind.

Weeza cooked chicken stuffed with duck, and very good it was.  She cooked it perfectly, by educated guesswork and the two meats went well together, with flavour added to the chicken by the duck.  I took along the pudding and two ice creams I had made – I resteamed the pudding before I left and thought it might keep hot, but had to give it a couple of minutes in the microwave.  The strawberry ice cream went down well with Zerlina and her father, but the cinnamon was a surprising hit with little Gus.

I has books and am very happy.  When I was a child, I quietly thought the only presents worth having were books and sweets – I couldn’t get enough of the former and rarely got any of the latter.  Those unsophisticated days when a Selection Box brought me so much joy – except for the Fry’s Chocolate Cream, which was truly horrid and which, I think, has now succumbed to general dislike and vanished from manufacture.  As has that box called Weekend, which had few items that appealed to me.

I hope you’ve all had a happy Christmas, darlings.  I considered doing a wee video this morning, but an attempt with my present gruff voice showed it not to be a good idea.  I struggled to play all the notes in the last hymn this morning, it’s always B and C that vanish first.  I read the lesson an octave lower than usual, too.  Not that I mind, I’ve always rather regretted the operation that removed my husky voice and gave me an ordinary one.

Z has almost* run out of jobs

Bits of roofs were blown off barns, but a kind neighbour came and helped patch things up and no harm was done.  Meanwhile, I was still cooking.  And playing the clarinet.  I’m a bit concerned whether my lungs will hold out, as I have a cough today – I felt a tickle in the throat for the last few days, but now I’m a bit chesty.  Ahem.  If you see what I mean.

I haven’t had time to go near the piano today yet, but I’ll introduce the children to it this evening.  Al and co are coming over for the carol service and then coming back for something to eat – I’ve made sausage rolls and mince pies and meringues, and have cheese and smoked salmon and so on in the fridge.

I’ve also made two lots of ice cream and iced the cake, properly, with royal icing.  None of that disappointing (on a fruit cake, anyway) bought fondant stuff.  I had egg whites left over from the ice cream anyway (quite a lot, hence the meringues). Not that I’ll eat much of it, truth to tell, I’m not too bothered about icing.

Bemused as I’ve been at my diligence, it has only just occurred to me that all this used to be normal.  I just haven’t bothered since my children grew up.  But in the past, I used to do all this baking malarkey as routine, as well as look after small children and I did all my own gardening then, too.  And we used to live in a bigger house than this one.  I suppose I was just quicker then.  And actually, I loved looking after my family – and still do, of course.

In case none of us has time to read or write blogs tomorrow, I will say now that I hope you have exactly the Christmas you most like, whether it’s peaceful, jolly, energetic, sleepy or anything else.  Bless you, darlings, you are kind and lovely friends and I am so glad to have the opportunity to know you, whether we’ve met yet in person or not.  Happy Christmas.

*vegetables for tomorrow still to be prepared.

It’s here!

Well, I don’t quite understand it.  This cheery get-up-and-go hasn’t yet (got up and gone, I mean, of course) and I’m still scurrying about, doing more jobs than are really quite necessary. This morning, I went out early, which turned out to be a Good Thing, as the shops were less busy than I expected.  At the butcher’s, all the assistants were busy but I didn’t have to queue, but by the time I left there were half a dozen people waiting.  I didn’t need that much as our Christmas beef is ordered for the weekend.  A similar story in the supermarket and other shops.

Russell has been asked to sell a collection of china, but he won’t hold another auction, so he has given the introduction to a firm of auctioneers a few miles north of Norwich.  They had given him catalogues and franked envelopes, but hadn’t realised that they have to go through their own post office.  The sale is only a week into January, so we had to take them back today. Or at least, Russell did, I offered to keep him company and he asked me to drive.  So we spent some time stuffing envelopes and addressing them.  On the way, we had a discussion on which way to go around Norwich.  The way he suggested was the one I thought would have most traffic, but he was right, it was the best (yes, I did tell him so) – all the same, we were out for a good couple of hours.

The weather forecast was dreadful – the wind and rain hadn’t reached us yet, though it was getting breezy, so I suggested getting outside jobs done while we could.  He fetched coal and took some boxes to burn, while I … darlings, I washed my car.  Look, it was filthy.  I had to clean the rear numberplate a couple of weeks ago, and have again since – surprising, how many people drive around with illegible (and illegal) numberplates.  After that, I planted the bulbs and plants that have been hanging around for a good couple of months, while they’re neither dried out nor frozen.  And then I came in and made the marzipan for the cake – yes, I know one should ideally do that earlier, but I like it fresh.  After that – are you exhausted, dearest hearts, reading the details of my entire day? – I wrapped a few more presents I’d bought, not entirely necessarily but just because I like my family.  And then we moved the grandfather clock and got the room ready for the pianola.

It arrived rather later than he’d said, I suspect it took some time to get into the trailer, and it wasn’t easy getting it into the house.  It’s appreciably larger than a regular piano and, though there was a bit of room to spare through the front door, it only just fitted through the hall and dining room doors.  But it’s in place and here it is.

A very poor photo, I’m afraid, but the light was just above it and there was a reflection.  I’ve brought a piano stool through now.  My restorer had brought a roll of music, and I’ve put an extract on Facebook but no one has identified it yet, oddly enough – though moving the piano has taken it somewhat out of tune, of course – all the same, it’s quite recognisable, I think.  It needs to settle before it’s retuned, and I’m told to play it a lot because that will do it good.  It’s been completely remade, almost, the mechanism has been overhauled, the strings replaced, also the felt pads, and the bellows.  I asked again how much and he said he hasn’t worked it out yet…we’ve known him a very long time, several decades, and we’re all just trusting each other.

Later, after dinner, I wrote out all the carols for the service tomorrow evening.  I’d have done it days ago, but they have been changed since the meeting we had to decide them.  I don’t know why.  I only had the new lot today, so, apart from a run-through this evening, I’ve only got tomorrow.  It’s my own fault, though, that I haven’t been playing more.  The notes are not hard, it’s having enough breath for all of them.  Since I’d brought the hymn book from church, the first thing I played on the piano was from it, and happened to be Silent Night.  Poor Russell and Ben won’t have too many of those.  Ben was a bit disconcerted, especially by the clarinet.  Heh.  He’ll get used to it – though my setter, Chester, never did like it much.

The gale did arrive and, as I type, I hear things thumping about a bit in the garden.  When I went to turn the tap off after washing the car, I saw a small hen scurrying anxiously about outside the greenhouse where the chickens are living for the winter.  I told Russell, who went to let her in (she’d probably have run away from me) and we’re very glad she’s not having to roost in a tree on a night like this.

Pedalling the pianola is quite hard work, but he says he’ll oil something or other and it’ll be easier.  Though it’s good exercise.  I’m afraid the 14 second clip is too large to upload here, but I might be able to manage a shorter one.  Otherwise, I’ll have to resort to YouTube, I suppose, but it seems a bit over-complicated.  I’ll have a word with Ronan.

Z is still cheerful and surprisingly organised. For Z, that is.

I woke after an hour or so’s sleep with a tickly cough.  And after a while, I had to get up and fetch a drink of water.  That was the end of sleep, until nearly 7 o’clock, when I dropped off for a bit. Pah.  Still, this is infrequent now and used to be a regular pattern – without the cough – so I shan’t complain.

What can I say, darlings? – all is well at the Zeddary because I’m far ahead of my usual bumbling Christmas self.  I’ve wrapped all the presents! – that is, I’ve realised a couple of little gaps, once I compared everyone’s gifts by quality and quantity as well as pizzazz, but that will be remedied in the morning.  I will ice the cake tomorrow and make ice cream as an addition/alternative to Christmas pud.  Delia’s cinnamon ice cream and Katie Stewart/Caroline Youngs’ strawberry (possibly the easiest ice cream in the world, I might even tell you some time).  The cinnamon uses egg yolks, so I’ll have to make meringues too (or else clarify a shedload of consommé, which ain’t happening).

I was just about to mix the Spaghetti Carbonara when my phone rang.  It was our good friend Aberdeen Angus, who now lives in New Zealand – another person I don’t know well at all, but have always hit it off with (Hah! – to the grammatically precise, you put it better!), mostly by phone or email – we know him as a L’toft china collector.

Russell has met some baby tortoises and is rather keen on the idea.  He took Edweena to their owner and she checked her over and said she’s barely hibernating, it’s not cold enough.  She’ll be fine for another month, but will be underweight if left to sleep until the spring – I agree with that, she hibernated too early.  But baby tortoises mustn’t hibernate or they will probably die, so keeping three of them warm won’t cost more than one.  *Sigh*

Al and Dilly checked out eBay for pianola rolls and there are lots, cheap as chips.  And Rog says that they come up at auction too.  I will see what we have, I only remember the top twenty or so that we played often, and do a bit of research.  It’s going to be splendid.

Z tries and fails to temper happiness with caution

My piano restorer phoned this afternoon.  4.30 pm on Monday.   Might I allow myself pure hope?  I don’t care to risk disappointment, if I can help it.  I know the ways in which I am vulnerable and take great care of myself; careful and balanced at nearly all times.  Which is something that some of you will recognise and others will be scornful about – but I know myself pretty well and am self-protective.  On the other hand, this time I’m wildly excited and don’t care about admitting it.  Rain is forecast, which is the only thing that might scupper the plans – we’ll see.

I did all my Christmas shopping on holiday, locally in Yagnub or online, and the last of the parcels (as far as I remember) arrived today.  Of course, now I see that I haven’t quite treated everyone equally, so will have to do a bit of topping-up in the next couple of days, but I’m largely there. One package, I didn’t recognise and, when I opened it, I realised it was an unexpected present.  Badgerdaddy, with whom I stayed in Ludlow, and was so hospitable, asked me for my address the other day and I thought he was sending a card, but it’s more than that by a long way.  I don’t normally open presents until the day but, after hesitation, I succumbed.  And then cried a bit at the sheer thoughtfulness of it.  I’ll tell you after Christmas, I haven’t thanked him yet.  How kind and lovely friends are.  He’s young enough to be my son and there’s nothing but friendship between us (at my age, I hardly should need to make that clear, but I will, categorically), but we’ve always clicked with each other instinctively, though really we hardly know each other.  Writing can do that, don’t you think?  One gains insights beyond the superfluous…or maybe that’s pretentious.  Anyway, I love and value my internet friends.  And real life friend, obvs.

There are people who, having been hurt too much, find that their pets are more reliable – and it’s true, pets are reliable, especially dogs and horses – and birds of the parrot family, I understand – but I hope I never prefer animals to people.  Non-human animals I should say, because we’re all simply mammals when it comes down to it.

Yes, I’ve lost the thread of this post.  My contact lens has buggered off behind my eye again and I’m not in full command, dammit.  I’m off to read blogs now.

Z says goodbye

It’s the Headteacher’s last day.  I’ve been in to see him, as I have done nearly every week for the past four years, but we didn’t talk about governance, just chatted.  His PA is also retiring, after more than twenty years at the school.  They will both be hugely missed.

Not that any of us look back, we’re a forward-thinking lot.  Our Deputy Head is taking over for the next two terms and she is exceptionally good, and then we will have a new Head in September.  The DH is not a caretaker in any sense, she will bring in her own ideas and we’ll keep moving forward.

I have found out how my credit card was hacked.  I had a letter this morning from my travel insurance company: it is they whose security was breached.  I knew it had to be someone I’d dealt with online, the card had never been out of my possession, no one but me knows the PIN (and it’s not written down and each card has its own, different PIN) and I’ve only used it with reputable companies – if in doubt, I use PayPal.  Apparently, my card number would not have been accessed, but the three-digit number on the back could have been, so they must have got the card number itself from elsewhere.  I bought the insurance at the end of March and they were hacked into in October, so there was no likelihood I could have worked it out.  But it’s not what goes wrong, it’s how it is put right that matters and I’ve been impressed with B/card and now am satisfied with the insurance company.  And I don’t have to wonder any more and can put it out of my mind, relieved at least that I hadn’t done anything wrong that caused the situation.

Z tries not to be too happy yet, just in case…

I’m a cautious sort of Z, not given to counting chicks, but I’m allowing myself to feel optimistic that I will have my pianola soon, possibly before Christmas but before the end of the year anyway.  I spoke to the restorer this morning and he is trying to pin his helper down to a time to bring it.    Tomorrow, I’m going to go and look at the rolls and remind myself of what we have.  I’m afraid I’m going to inflict some of them on you, I won’t be able to resist.

Today, I went to the funeral of a friend’s mother – I was very fond of Edna, a delightful and very chatty lady who lived in Bungay.  She was a few weeks older than my mother and they married in the same year, but they never met.  She and her late husband first met at school when she was five and he was six and they were childhood sweethearts.  In their teens, he used to walk her home from school and then cycle the five miles home.  After the funeral I was chatting to the family and I was told about a cookery book, which I will pass on in case it’s useful to any of you – it’s about cooking for people with allergies and the writer explains the properties of various foods and suggests alternatives – there are some recipes but the idea is that, once you’ve got the idea, you can adapt others.  Although no one in the family has allergies to common foods, I do try to bear it in mind when I’m cooking for parties and always provide some food that is free from the most common culprits, such as gluten, eggs or dairy products – I haven’t bought it yet but I probably will, it sounds interesting as well as useful.

In the afternoon, I looked after Hadrian, now aged two and a half, because Dilly was teaching and it was a great pleasure.  Ben was thrilled and wanted to be as close to him as possible.  Since I’ll have Hay every Monday for the next few months, I was very pleased that he was happy to be here.  He didn’t even rush to his mother when she got back, though we could see he felt quite emotional and had to determinedly control his feelings – but he did so, and then we all ate cake.