Monthly Archives: February 2016

Being Sociable

It’s getting quite sociable in Z’s blog world.  First Mike and Ann calling in last week, which was a great pleasure; people saying they are coming to the blog party in July increasing, which I absolutely love – nothing I enjoy more than a houseful of friends, including those I’ve not met yet; and now a dinner invitation from Mig and Barney when we’re down their way next week.  Once we’re back here again (we use ‘home’ to refer to Tim’s house or mine, interchangeably, which is fine between us as we know what we mean but it might be confusing for others), I hope we will be able to ambush Rog and Mrs Rine, as they can’t come to the party, and this is our Year of Being Sociable; or rather the first of those years.

This afternoon, I went out to feed the chickens and found that several of the young chicks had got out of their coop – they’d dug their way out.  No harm done, but they couldn’t get back in and yet resisted being caught.  I’ve got the coop in one of the greenhouses and move it a few yards weekly – uneaten wheat germinates and gives them a nice treat next time round – I’d let them loose in the greenhouse but there are a few broken panes from the strimmer, which is a nuisance.  It’s just too cold to work on them, I’m a fair-weather worker nowadays.  I caught all the chicks in the end and put a much bigger water dish in there, mother hen (who is a good mother but a really annoying hen) keeps filling the smaller one with earth when she’s scratching around, which means they don’t have anything to drink until I return.  I’m hoping that, now they’re big enough not to fall in the bigger bowl, the problem will be solved.  I can’t use a drinker, by the way, as the ground isn’t flat.

Once I finally got round to the other bantams’ run, it turned out that the door latch hadn’t caught this morning and a few of them were still out, one of which was being set upon in an aggressively sexual manner by Roses’ cockerel, Jenga.  My cockerel was annoyed but chose not to get involved.  Again, I rounded up hens and fed them.  And then fed barn cats.

Unusually, the tortoises are the least nuisance of all the non-Eloise animals.  She can do no wrong, of course.  Any misbehaviour is shrugged off … “she’s a cat…”.


The little chicks are doing very well and getting their feathers, instead of their baby down.  It annoys me a bit that I can’t help getting fond of them – I can’t afford to; some of them will be cocks and I’ll probably give most of the females away.  All the same…IMG_4368 That little tweedy one at the front – so cute.

IMG_4371 Random black feathers!

I can only hope my favourites are girls, but I can’t rely on it and I can’t keep any boys.  I just never want this to happen again.

The adults are doing nothing.  I’m getting eggs from the two remaining young pullets, but nothing from the rest, who are eating and laughing at me.  One of them hurt her leg a few weeks ago, I don’t know how, but she was mostly standing on one leg, though she could hobble.  It’s getting better.  I couldn’t find any actual injury and it’s not a good idea to take them to the vet – we tried that once, and she died of fright.

Edweena and the Tots have been basking under their heat lamps.  And eating.  There’s not a lot else to say about tortoises, really.  I give them baths quite often, which they like.

Eloise has discovered cat treats and searches out the hiding place of the pack.  I’ve put it under the seat cushion of the sofa this evening and she could smell it but not find it.  Eyes narrowed, she spent some time looking and Tim and I pretended not to chuckle.  Yesterday, she sat on the window sill and chattered annoyedly at a fat pigeon in the garden.  We would never have thought a cat could be so entertaining, or so much loved.  I’m besotted with her and so is Tim, I believe.


If I were a shepherd…

I’ve been paying bills this evening.  One of them was from the Water Board.  I can’t remember doing so, but it seems that I paid the bill twice last year, because I had such a sizeable credit that I owed less than a tenner.  What was surprising, though, that it told me I had until October to pay.  I didn’t feel I had to wait, under the circumstances.

It also told me how much I could save by having a water meter.  All the examples except one were for more than I do pay.  So that’s not worth following up.  Anyway, with a septic tank, no water is wasted because, duly digested, it goes back into the ground anyway.

My lugubriousness last evening was added to by my inability to find some papers, some for school and the insurance renewal on my car.  I’d searched the only two places where they could possibly be – actually, three for the car renewal – and I couldn’t find them.  So, this morning, I went out to search the recycling wheelie bin.  I half-emptied one into the other until the latter was full, then emptied the rest of the former into a box … and the papers weren’t there.  LT came to help and he really is quite remarkable because, when I then went back into the house and found the papers in a place I’d already searched, he didn’t utter a word of reproach.  Nor, indeed, could I detect unspoken resentment.  I have found a treasure, darlings.

So I’ve added him on to my car insurance as a reward.  My car isn’t anywhere near as nice as his, but he’s taken it in the spirit it was meant; I give him what I can.

The slurry with the fringe on top…

There was nothing to do but have a new outlet pipe from the septic tank.  The chap who redid the drive a few years ago was the man to ask – I’ve known him for many years and he’s an accredited layer of drains and so on, he knows what he’s about.

It was all rather dire, darlings.  There’s a T-junction, or there should be, inside the septic tank, which stops any slurry or grunge getting into the outlet; but it wasn’t there.  It must have fallen off in the last few years and, as a result, more than water had got into the pipe and it was blocked solid throughout its length.  So a trench was dug, the old pipe was removed and then Alan decided that a new soaraway was needed, so more digging was required for that.

By half past three, this was the situation –IMG_4365 IMG_4366 IMG_4367
They look like plastic crates, basically their job is to let the liquid and any slurry that gets through, which has already been digested by the septic tank, soak into the ground.  I had to go out to a meeting at that point, so Tim made Alan and Dan more coffee and they have, apparently, nearly finished the job and will come back and clear up.

My part in the proceedings included opening the field gate, which I secured with a new padlock last year.  I had memorised the combination, but – having traipsed the diagonal of a 4-acre field, which feels an appreciable distance when you’re an old hobbling thing, though it isn’t really – it wouldn’t open.  So I plodded back again, picking dandelions for the tortoises on the way, and looked it up.  I was right.  So I told Alan the combination and it turned out to need a stronger hand than mine to press the button.  I must lubricate the padlock, it seems.

Anyway, the job is done and, though the soakaway might need extending, the pipe should last to another generation.

I didn’t enjoy the meeting and frankly, by the evening, I was feeling cold and lugubrious.  But LT cooked me a lovely dinner and has been entertaining me with charming conversation, so I’m starting to cheer up a bit, especially as I have had a letter – hand written, no less! – from my friend Sheila in Atlanta.

The annual iron – or, dullest post ever

I’ve been doing a spot of housework.  Remarkable, I know.  But I’m a surprisingly resolute little thing and I intend to go through all the cupboards and drawers in the house, in my own time.  Today, it was the double cupboard in the kitchen where I keep crockery, followed by all the spices I could amass.  Of the former, not a lot has changed but the bewilderingly dusty cupboard isn’t any longer – how does dust get in a closed cupboard that I empty and wash at least once a year?  And all the out of date spices have gone and I must buy some jars because I keep too many in packets and can’t tell what they contain without removing the packet from the shelf.

This sounds terribly, terribly dull, but it gets worse.  I spent half an hour ironing.  Worse, I was ironing tablecloths.  Except that, after three of them, plus a number of napkins and handkerchiefs, I rebelled and shoved the other two tablecloths back whence they came.  But I’m going to do the lot, which includes my entire stock of double damask dinner napkins and most of my summer wardrobe.

After that, we had kippers for supper.

Very flat, Norfolk…

I’ve finally managed to impress LT.  I have a way of launching into song, particularly when I think that no one is listening, but LT does and – bless him, poor man – he is remarkably tolerant.  Anyway, this evening’s effort made us wonder who wrote “I’ll be seeing you” (not now sure if that’s the name of the song, but either you know it or you don’t, so no need to explain).  Anyway, Tim suggested that Noël Coward wrote it?  And he was going to google it, but I said “Wait!” and scampered upstairs, as well as I could up the winding back stairs with a couple of glasses of wine in me and, quite remarkably, the book was just where I thought it was.

Darlings, The Noël Coward Song Book is a fine volume and LT is so pleased.  He’s clearly going to spend quite some time with it.  NC didn’t write the song in question, as it happens, but …

… LT and I are happy about the same things. And this reminds me of an occasion, nearly thirteen years ago.

I picked broad beans, cut asparagus and dug new potatoes, cooked them and served them with a whole baked fish, cooked simply with herbs, lemon and a dash of white wine.  It was perfect in a way that my mother and I completely understood.  Russell and Al, who was living here for a few months at the time, enjoyed it but they didn’t have the same feeling of perfect accord as Mummy would have had with me.  She’d died a couple of months earlier and that was when I realised that – not in every way, not by any means, but in that and certain others – we understood without words.

As so often, I didn’t know what I was going to write when I started.  But I keep having a similar experience and so does Tim, in regard to each other.

I’m not even being sentimental.  Because we all know what a hard-bitten old cynic I am.  I just know when something is right.

Party guests

This year’s blog party is already exciting some interest, which is delightful – it’s genuinely open house and I love to have lots of people in the house, it enjoys parties.  This morning, a former blogger, Chairwoman of the Bored phoned to say that she plans to come, along with her daughter, best known to some of us as Katy Newton of Everything is Electric.  And this, reported on Facebook, has garnered several more guests.

Several people will want to stay over – I have two spare double beds and a single, plus a double blow-up bed.  After that, either someone sleeps on the sofa or, sharing a bedroom with another couple, on a sofa bed.  The bedrooms are big enough to fit whole crowds of sleepers, but I only have five of them.  So I’ve kept a bedroom for Zoe (ex Brussels) and her other half, one for Mig and Barney, though I don’t know if they can come yet as they won’t be able to confirm until April and Keith Smith hopes to come and I expect is wanting to stay.  Eddie-2-Sox and family say they’re coming and I had promised a room, but I suspect they will be in a tent after all, at this rate.  Dandelion also hopes to come, so does Alan – a sofa will be called into play, I suspect.  Then there’s Vicus Scurra too and his wife – I need to make a list.  We will sort things out, I’m sure, but some cosying up may be needed.  Another camp bed in the study, perhaps.

July 16th, darlings.  Looking forward to seeing lots of you.

The family story part 21 – Helen part 2

It could have been a romantic story with a happy ending, but it wasn’t.  I don’t know the frame of mind of Selwyn and Helen when they married again and suppose they had goodwill and good intentions, at least, but it became clear that no spark of love was rekindled for long.  Malcolm, my father, regained a mother and acquired two half-brothers, whom he got on well with.  In his later years at any rate, he had little affection for his mother.  Her best-loved son was the middle one, John.

At some point, Helen contracted cancer in her face and underwent early radiation therapy.  this was successful but her face never healed and she disguised the wound with a scarf, wrapped casually around her face.  I’ve seen (rather long distance) photos of her, she looked decidedly quaint and made no effort to make it attractive.  Apparently, the bone was dead and, periodically, a bit would break off and work its way through the skin, but I’ve no knowledge of that beyond what my mother told me.

Selwyn became very involved in local politics.  Although a dyed-in-the-wool Conservative, he had a strong social conscience and, as a child, people used to tell me about the good deeds he had done, and my parents were told them similarly.  For example, he was once being dropped off outside the Town Hall by his chauffeur, when an unemployed man shouted out bitterly, on the lines that it was all right for some rich buggers, but real men like him couldn’t feed their families.  Selwyn (always known as The Major; it seems he didn’t like his name either) swung round and demanded to know the man’s name and address.  Defiantly, not caring if he got in trouble, the man gave it.  When he got home, he found a lorry delivering a ton of coal and later had a letter with an offer of a job.  He had an elaborate rock garden laid out in his garden, to provide employment.  I’m not justifying his wealth compared to others’ poverty, but I know that he and my father were both ambivalent about it and felt their duty was to help others.  Whilst retaining their money, clearly.

When the Second World War broke out, my father was called up but not allowed to fight, because of his short sight.  He joined the RAMC as a private and eventually became a Regimental Sergeant Major.  I don’t know which of the Forces John joined, but I know that William was in the RAF, because he was killed in an air crash in bad weather.  His grave is in the churchyard of St Michael’s Church, in Oulton.  Malcolm was in Burma at the end of the war and came home weighing eight and a half stone.

I don’t know at what time Helen’s drinking became a problem, but by this time she was an unapologetic alcoholic.


The family story Part 20 – Helen part 1

I don’t think I’ve ever said much about my father’s mother.  It’s a slightly sensitive subject, or it was to him, anyway.

Helen was only 16 when she married my grandfather, whose name was Selwyn.  Honestly, who calls a baby Selwyn?  It’s a name to grow into, for sure.  Anyway, he was about ten years older.  I’m pretty sure I have mentioned the fact that she was quite sophisticated for her age (if that’s the word), though it was 1909.  Her father owned a brewery, Youngs Crawshay and Youngs, in Norwich, and a number of pubs too.  It was death duties that scuppered the business in the end – but that’s a story not to be told, because it’s not especially interesting, except to those involved.

Helen was married at 16, had her first baby at 17 and, only four years later, her husband went off to the war.  She was rich and spoilt, a habitual drinker – I know little about her, but I should think it wasn’t too hard for a charming man to catch her eye.

In the family, she was known as a Bolter – that is, she abandoned her small son and ran away with her lover.  But I’ve put two and two together over the years and realised she had no choice.  My father’s half-brother John was five years younger than he was; clearly Helen became pregnant and was obliged to leave.  Welwyn did the decent thing and divorced her, so that she could marry Colonel Wake (in those days, it was impossible for the ‘guilty party’ to instigate a divorce and, if there were any hint of complicity between the unhappily married couple, they were not permitted to divorce either) and, a couple of years later, a second son, William was born.

I think my grandfather married again too, but I don’t know this for sure.  Young Malcolm, my father, was packed off to his grandparents in London, where he spent a lot of time ‘below stairs’, picking up a rich Cockney accent, soon eliminated at his prep school in Oxfordshire.  He spent holidays with his godparents in Wallingford – they had a lovely Arts and Crafts home, which I visited as a child, with a garden that ran down to the Thames.  I think I have written about his childhood, so will leave that to go back to Helen.

My mother once told me that she found a couple of letters between young Malcolm and his father, Selwyn – “Your mother would like to know what you would like for your birthday?” “Please tell my mother that I want nothing from her for my birthday,” which shows how hurt and abandoned he felt, but he had to put a brave face on it later.  My grandfather’s second wife died and Colonel Wake died of cancer, leaving Helen pretty well penniless.  Selwyn was a gentleman, she had young sons and was the mother of his son too.  He did the decent thing and offered to marry her again.

The family story Part 19 – the Land Army part 3

I last wrote under the heading of ‘The Family Story’ back in 2007, so it’s not surprising that I can’t remember whether or not I told any particular story.  I pulled together all the family anecdotes I could think of under this category – at the time, I was thinking of having them written down for my children and grandchildren but my blog friends enjoyed them too.

I can hardly believe I forgot this one …

My mum, Jane, was nearly 16 when the war broke out, having been born in November 1923.  It wrecked her education, as a London school was evacuated to Weymouth and used her school and the text books in the afternoons, so she left school the next summer and went to secretarial college.  Once she reached the age of 18, she didn’t want to be called up into the Forces so she volunteered for the Land Army.  If you want to read about any of it, you can look up old posts in the ‘nostalgic’ box in the sidebar.

There was a Prisoner of War camp somewhere nearby and Italian POWs were sent to work on the farm.  They were cheerful and hard working men, apparently, and their rations were much better than those of the natives.  They downed tools mid-morning every day and brewed up cocoa, sweetened with raspberry jam (which was never seen in England, when there was sugar for such a treat as preserves, I think that plum and apple jam was more usually the thing).  They generously shared the cocoa with the English farm workers and everyone became pretty friendly.  Jane was young, only 19 or 20, with curly brown hair (people said she looked like Deanna Durbin, if that gives you a picture) and she was a very hard worker.  As I’ve said in a previous post on the subject, she prided herself on working as hard as any man and she was not there to feed the chickens and squeal at the sight of mud or a field of mangold-wurzels to harvest.

One young Italian was particularly charming (though most young Italians know how to charm: it’s in the blood) and one day he spoke to her earnestly and nervously.  He’d been watching her admiringly for some time; she was knowledgeable and enthusiastic, a born farmer.  She was also very pretty and he had fallen for her in a big way.  He asked her to marry him.  They would return to Italy once this wretched war was over, his parents would love her too and they would live on the family farm, which he would inherit in due course – he would look after her and make her happy.

Yes, he’d seen she was a jolly good worker and she was, indeed, very pretty and unaffectedly friendly (and no flirt – to the end of her days she would charm men but never led them on.  She, like I, genuinely liked men and treated them as friends, not potential boyfriends).

She assured me that she was kind but firm, and let him down gently; and had to forego the morning cocoa after that because it was too awkward.  But think – I could have been Italian!