Monthly Archives: June 2017

The hedgepigs

Last week, Wince the Gardener was cutting grass outside the north wing (heh) when the mower stopped working.  So he had to haul it back, which wasn’t easy, and he found that the fan belt was slipping and put it right, but then had to finish the job this morning. LT was in the kitchen and I was in here, when Wince arrived at the door.  LT was a bit puzzled when I shot through the kitchen, calling out “they’re usually asleep at this time of day,” but I explained later – I’d been looking for a box to put in a dismal hedgehog which had been disconsolately wandering about on the grass.

I put it in a big plastic crate with a bowl of water and one of cat food, and watched it for a while. It had a lot of fleas, as hedgehogs often do, and it was long and thin and looked miserable.  It seemed unable to open its eyes but found the water, had a drink and fell asleep with chin in water.  A while later, I put the food in front of it and it sniffed keenly and climbed into the bowl.

I went and sent a Facebook message to a friend, asking for advice.  He gives sanctuary to hedgehogs and knows what to do.  And he kindly said he would come round in the afternoon to pick it up.

Soon afterwards, Wince arrived again, clutching a baby hedgehog.  I put that one in another box with more food, but it curled up and slept.  Meanwhile, the bigger one had worked out how to eat and was hoovering up the cat food and opened an eye.  Later again, it opened the other eye, which was very good, but it still didn’t curl up, which was a bit worrying.

My friends arrived with a box full of shredded paper and were quite happy to take both hedgehogs.  S agreed that the bigger one was in need of some help – it’s a she – and surmised that she might be the mother of the other.  Moments later, Wince turned up carrying two more babies.  That seemed to confirm it, and also explained why she was so thin – she’s been feeding babies and has lost weight, the hot weather made it hard for her to find enough to eat and drink and the subsequent cold and very wet conditions were no better.  But she didn’t seem to be injured, so should be all right with good treatment.  Wince went back again and arrived with another baby hedgehog.  So S and L have taken off all five and will bring them back when they’re big and strong enough to fend for themselves in the long term.

The hedgehog population has plummeted nationwide in the last few years and, even here, I rarely see them any more.  I don’t know why – this is a big garden, surrounded by fields, well away from the road and you’d think it would be perfect for them: in fact, I’m sure it is and their relative scarcity here just reflects the general drop in numbers.  I keep a drinker for them in the kitchen garden, for dry weather, which is low enough even for babies to use, and tops itself up automatically.  I’d put out food if I knew where they were, but there really should be plenty of food about.

I found the smallest egg yet in the nest box.  It weighed 22 grams, which is three-quarters of an ounce.  So sweet.  It must have been laid by Jet, the tiny black Serama.  I love her fearless expression when she runs up to me, hoping for treats.  I absolutely refuse to give them mealworms twice a day, however, and occasionally they just get layer’s pellets, which they’re always a bit disappointed by.  I’ve been known to top them with grated cheese, just to please them.

Getting on for fifteen years

I’ve been too introspective of late, though I hope it hasn’t shown too much.  But there have been too many illnesses and deaths and funerals and too much awful news and it has to have an effect.  In the night, when I couldn’t sleep, I unexpectedly recalled the time when my mother was in hospital, six months before her death, when we were – she, my sister and I – together given the news of her fatal illness.

Shocked as she was, she rather appreciated the drama, in her feisty way.  I think I’ve mentioned, in the past, at least one anecdote about that and, since I’m fast reaching my anecdotage (whom have I to thank for that?  Gilbert Harding comes to mind, but I may be wrong – it was he who described himself, rather sadly, as a “telly-phoney” … anyway, I digress) then I’m bound to tell it again, but what I was remembering was how completely I fell apart.

I suspect I was rather scary, actually.  I insisted on driving to and from the hospital and cried and talked all the way home every day and surely I can’t have been safe.  Weeza or Wink were with me mostly, I think.  I’ve no idea what I said.  I do remember, several days on, saying to Weeza that no one – none of the men of the family – had said a word to comfort me.  She said that they didn’t know what to do, I was normally so self-contained and strong that they were nonplussed.  I was astonished, frankly.  I thought I just didn’t like to bother people.  Anyway, she evidently had a word because later Ro and Al came and hugged me.

I remember, though, thinking as I went through immense grief, that I wouldn’t have to feel it so intensely again.  Took a few years to get over, though.

I don’t know whether to write about this or not.  I’ve never felt able to before and I’m not sure it would serve any purpose now.  Probably better not.  Except for the anecdotes, because they’re quite funny.  But it’s a fact that I’ve blanked or put in a box an awful lot of emotion ever since, and only acknowledge happiness.  It’s better that way.

The man who mistook his wife for an ant. Nearly.

It occurred to me that the ants might have come in on the table mats that we’d used for one of the outside tables.  It seemed that there were too many for that, but at least it was a working theory and we really needed one.  So we carefully wiped the mats and left them off the table.

This evening, we laid the table – actually, LT did that – and then replaced the mats and sat down to dinner, and then LT let out a great sigh of despair.  More ants.  Five of them.  And then I spotted a sixth.  And then I looked in the fruit bowl, which wasn’t on the table any more, and there must have been twenty ants.

The table has been cleared of everything but the cloth and we’re having a cold meal tomorrow lunchtime – well, there’s breakfast first but that’ll probably just be fruit and toast – and so nothing except cutlery and food will be added.  And then we’ll see.

At lunchtime, LT came up with a bon mot.  Or actually, a number of mots, because I fetched my bag after lunch, while we were still at the table, and put it on the chair between us, which is Eloise cat’s chair.  I fished my phone out of the bag because I wanted to check my diary, and we kept on chatting.  And then he glanced sideways and did a double take, because he momentarily thought that the bag was Eloise.

“I’m the Man who Mistook his Wife”s handbag for a cat,” he said, and I thought it was so funny and clever that I repeated it on Facebook.  And it amused a number of people who left witty comments, but no one seems have to picked up on the Oliver Sachs reference, which was the best bit.  Except, LT tells me that Rose’s Lawrence just has, so three cheers!!

Otherwise, today we have mostly been preparing redcurrants.  And I have made summer puddings, two of them, but I wasn’t able to get any blackcurrants.  You can’t really substitute, but destalking a kilo of redcurrants left me in no mood to do anything but complete the job.  So I lessened the sugar, added extra redcurrants and a good slug of Ribena.  Hah.


We’ve had an extremely small plague this week – tiny black ants, just a few at a time.  The odd thing is that they appear on the dining table when we’re having a meal.  There have never been more than ten of them and usually three or four.  I’ve taken off the tablecloths – it’s a nice rosewood library table in fact and not very suitable as a dining table as the top is most unforgiving of heat or damp, so we have a piece of heatproof cloth on top, which has to be covered by a tablecloth.  I took off the cloth from the party after a few days and washed it, and put another plain one on top, covered by a lace cloth that’s just the size of the table.

At the next meal, there were still a few ants.  I’d removed the vase of flowers already, in case they were in there, and taken each apricot and nectarine out of the fruit bowl (which hadn’t been put on there until Thursday; the ants having first appeared on Tuesday) and examined them before putting them in a different bowl on another table.

More ants at the next meal.  Afterwards, I took the lace cloth off and shook it outside.  No ants on the table.  Next mealtime, a few more ants.  They had to be climbing up the central leg or dropping from the ceiling.  Carpet and ceiling were examined.  No ants.  I looked at the window sill.  No sign of ants, nor on the wooden floor surrounding the carpet.  I removed both cloths and the heatproof one, shook them all outside, looked at them carefully as I replaced them.  No ants until the next meal.  Ants.

I shook the cloths again and put them on one side.  I spray-polished the leg and feet of the table and found no trace of ants.  I polished the top.  I left the cloth off until the table was laid for the next meal.

Ants.  Just three or four.  This morning at breakfast, we surmised that the four additional ants had been hiding in the lace.  So the cloth was shaken again.  Lunchtime.  You’ve guessed it.

I’ve put the cloths to be washed and got out another one.  I’ve polished the table again, going under the rim this time too, and left the cloth off all afternoon.  No sign of any ants.

“If they come back again,’ observed LT, “they will have won.  We may have to consider death as the only honourable action.”  I was interested in planning this, but Tim’s heart wasn’t really in it, I don’t think he’d been entirely serious.  He pointed out that we still have the upper hand as we’re considerably larger than they are and there aren’t many of them at a time.  I started to imagine them ganging up on us, forming a monstrous Alien-style creature that might tower over me and pounce.  But it doesn’t seem very likely.

Early in the morning

Yesterday, we went to the house-cooling party of friends who are moving to Wales, to be nearer their children who have both made their careers in the North West of England.  We both like them very much: I met her through school as we both became governors at about the same time.  I’ll miss her immensely, she is one of my best and most stalwart friends.  After my family, she was the first person I phoned after Russell died as, it happened, she was coming over to see us later that day, so I rang to put her off.  But she insisted on coming straight over anyway.  And she was one of the people who continued to care for me in the next year, when the majority hung back, not sure what to do,  however kindly disposed they were.

It’s now 5 in the morning and I’ve been awake for a couple of hours.  In the winter, I might as well lie awake but at this time of the year, when the nights are too warm for much sleep, it’s better to get up.  So I’ve had tea and toast and will probably have a nap in a while.  Rummy, Rose’s cat came to see me.  He hurt his eye the other day – the vet can’t find much wrong, though it was inflamed and sore, so it’s assumed he scratched it -and he was subdued for a couple of days while he was in pain.  And he started to become less defensive with me and let me stroke him, and that effect seems to be lasting.  He’s a one-person cat at heart and adores Rose, but it’s nice to gain his cautious trust.

It’s very dry here and I’m having to water the kitchen garden.  I only water flowers and shrubs if they’re newly planted or actually flagging, but the veggies need more help.  There’s rain forecast next week, but so there was a few days ago and it turned out to be a brief shower that barely laid the dust.  Friends in the Midlands and the south west spend much time bemoaning the quantity of rain they have, but it rarely gets this way, it seems.

Z is stimulated

The promised rain lasted all of five minutes and I’m having to water the garden.  The broad beans were flagging and – not that I’m watering them – the hedges are starting to look autumnal.  It’s June, for goodness sake.

For the last couple of mornings, I’ve woken in the early hours because I’m too hot, and then not slept again.  So breakfast has been at 4.30 am.  And that’s rather a pleasure, actually.  Two tiny bantam eggs on toast, freshly squeezed orange juice and tea, on a tray in bed.  And a glass of iced water on the side.  Then I’ve listened to the radio for a bit – only downloaded stuff, I can’t listen to the news any more – and another hour’s sleep from about 6 o’clock.  It’s worked surprisingly well and I’ve been able to get lots done when I finally get up and don’t have to bother with breakfast again.

This will not suit Tim, mind you, whom I welcomed home enthusiastically at about quarter past twelve today.  He’s very good at going back to sleep until the time he chooses to get up, I can only envy him without much hope of emulating his ability.  But I hope that, no longer alone, I’ll sleep baby-like.  I’ve been up to open the windows and switch the fan on, anyway.

Not sure what’s happened to the evening, it’s nearly 11 o’clock.  I’ve been in bed and asleep by this time all week.  But I’m quite wide awake now.  Must be LT’s stimulating conversation.

Z is alone – temporarily

I got up early this morning and spent an hour and a half slicing the remains of the party ham and beef, boxing them up (and the remains of cake) and putting them in the freezer then clearing everything up.  So we will have enough to eat for a while – I’m really not great at catering for the number coming to a party: that is, I have to cook far too much or else I worry that people will have to be polite and not eat quite as much as they’d like to.

By this time, it was still only 8 o’clock, so I got on with other chores around the house, ready for a business appointment here at 11.  Later again, I was ambling round the garden and I thought how spacious it all looked without cars here.  Roses was out, Boy was at work, LT is away and I’ve lent my car to Weeza, so the place was empty apart from me – and cats and chickens, of course, but Eloise cat was asleep on the sofa and none of the others were about.

Weeza’s father-in-law has been ill for over a year, with a brain tumour.  And it’s been pretty grim for the last six months, but he died yesterday and, sad as we are, we cannot wish he’d lingered longer.  Luckily, Phil went to visit at the weekend and his brother arrived on Sunday, so they were both able to visit and he knew that they did, and his mother wasn’t alone at the hospice when David died.  Of course, Phil wanted to go back straight away, so Weeza left work early to come over here, took my car and left theirs, Phil cycled here from work and picked it up to drive over to Staffordshire.  I cancelled one thing last night and can use my bike otherwise until LT is home.

It’s a funny thing, being alone when one isn’t used to it any more, though it was formerly a normal situation.  I’ve always been quite comfortable with my own company. That is, I remember being very lonely after Weeza was born.  I didn’t really have friends at the time – I did, of course, but few of my age and none in my circumstances and I was quite isolated, at home with a baby.  I trained myself not to be lonely and, a couple of years later when Al was born, I was too busy to miss adult company during the day.  Russell was always a bachelor at heart and never thought twice about disappearing for hours at a time – though he would have worried awfully if I did, he genuinely never thought that I would mind.  I have a feeling that he thought I was in a bubble here, that things only came to life when he was home.  If he were not part if it, it wasn’t happening.  It wasn’t at all that he was thoughtless, nor was he self-absorbed (and he was a kind and considerate man) but there was an ‘out of sight, out of mind” element in our relationship, which 41 years of marriage didn’t affect in the least.  There is no complaint in this, just a clumsy attempt at an explanation – I was mostly as comfortable with this as he was.

But you enter a new relationship with a different attitude, and it’s perfectly easy to adapt to different circumstances.  And, mostly. Tim and I do things together, because we want to.  And after he went yesterday morning, I was quite busy, because I was going to a Nadfas lecture and I was in phone contact with Weeza, as explained above – I wasn’t actually much alone until after 7.30 and, by the time I’d had dinner and cleared away, I was so tired that I went to bed early.  And then this morning I was busy too, and quite enjoyed being quiet and just pottering about.  But then, this afternoon, when I’d finished appreciating the tranquillity, I started to feel lonely.  I’ve rather embraced that, in fact, because it is specific.  I miss Tim.  I miss lovely Tim and, having expected and wanted to live alone, I’m so glad that I don’t, and that this situation will only last for a couple of days.


Common did or mean

This evening was the annual tour round the Common for its owners, which warrants some explanation at the start (and I’ve probably told you before but, keenly as you hang on every word that drops from my lips, you might well not remember) – that is, Yagnub Common is actually privately owned.  It comprises 400 acres of land (if I’m right in thinking that a hectare equals two and a half acres, that means 160 hectares according to my marvellous mental arithmetic) which is owned in 300 equal shares – goings, they’re called – between a number of people.  Much of the land is rented by the golf club and most of the rest is let to local farmers for grazing.

The Sage owned ten goings, which I’ve inherited.  I have often been on the annual tour, but it was always as a representative of another owner who couldn’t be there, in Russell’s lifetime.  And we all meet by 6 o’clock and get into a trailer to be pulled by a tractor – this used to be an open thing and we sat on bales of straw, but now it’s a much posher affair and we’re protected from the rain or, as it was this evening, from the blazing sun.

The advantage of the Common being privately owned is that a great deal of land management is done on a voluntary basis by people who know what’s what but also are receptive to good advice from conservationists.  It really is excellently done.  There was some controversy, some two or three decades ago, when the programme of removing surplus oak trees, gorse and other growth started, but it’s much clearer now that it is being done sensitively and for good reasons.

If the land were left to itself, it would eventually become an oak wood.  There are a lot of oak seedlings.  There are also birch and other trees and they would flourish for a while, but the more persistent, long-lived oaks would take over in the end.  And there’s nothing wrong with that, after all.  What could be finer than an oak wood?  But that’s not what the conservation people actually want, because heathland is a rarer habitat and encourages different, sometimes rarer,  plants and animals, so that’s what planning aims for.

Back in the distant past, there would have been heather on the Common, as the soil is (in the upper areas anyway) quite acid, but it was probably overgrazing many years ago that killed off heather and there are no plans to reintroduce it, though if it turned up it would be encouraged. There are numerous native plants though, such as sheep sorrel and lady’s bedstraw, though one interloper: American blackberries, has an interesting history.  Back in the second World War, there were American air bases in the area and it seems that the airmen’s mums used to send over good food for their boys, such as apple pie and blackberry pie and … well,*somehow* the seeds were spread.  I suspect that contents of septic tanks were spread on the land rather than a more direct method, but anyway, now I know what American brambles look like, which is rather more ‘cut” than a British blackberry leaf.

Most of us are acutely interested in wildlife of one sort and another and asked a variety of questions, it was all very interesting.  And then we were invited back to the golf club for a drink and we chatted for half an hour before I returned to find my dinner all ready for me.  I’ve spared LT the whole explanation, on the grounds that he’ll be able to read it here.

The blog party

Tim and I have marvelled again at how fortunate we are, to have met such great friends through blogging (as well as each other, of course).  I wonder every year if people will still want to come, I don’t mind whether there are six of us or forty – we’ve not hit either extreme yet … actually, if it turned out to be more then we’d rethink the system a bit but we wouldn’t turn a hair.  LT and I both love welcoming guests and making friends (which is just as well, really, it’d be a pity if only one of us did).

The weather was glorious and, for the first time ever, we lunched outside.  We’d had Rufus Russell’s first birthday party the week before and learned that putting tables in the sun made people take their chairs into the shade, so we relocated the tables instead.  And we thought we’d need three tables but people squeezed themselves onto two.  We put the food in the first dining room, where it was reasonably cool, and everyone helped themselves and ambled outside again.

I’ve cooked a whole ham on the bone for the last couple of years, but we actually couldn’t face the leftovers this time, so I just did a piece of gammon.  And the piece of sirloin I cooked and LT sliced for our wedding feast was gorgeous, so we did that again (cooked at 15 minutes to the pound and then taken out 5 minutes early, it was perfect if you like juicily rare beef) and we cooked a side of salmon and LT made his famous wholemeal leek quiche.  And salads – heads up to Roses for her fabulous potato salad and hummous – and then Ann brought trifle and meringue, M brought her delicious pineapple fruit cake and I made brownies and syllabub and put out soft fruit, and we had a cheeseboard.  Simple.  As simple as it could be, because it was hot, too hot to cook.

It’s true, darlings, I’m obsessed with food and so you get the full details.  But in fact, it is always the company that makes a party, not the food at all.

I wore my wedding dress, by the way, and it didn’t take much persuasion (no persuasion at all, to be honest, it just was mentioned) to get me to find up and put on my Hat, either.  Overdressed, moi?  Hah.  I didn’t care.

It’s been even hotter today, we’ve taken it pretty easy.  Zoe and Mike, with Scout the border collie, stayed over and we had a leisurely and late breakfast before they trecked the 100+ miles home (they drove it, to be precise) which must have been a bit of an ordeal, especially for Scout.

Thank you all.  And if you’d like a party next year, we’ll be happy to do it – and, as ever, you’re all invited.

Arriving is better than travelling, however hopefully

We went to Snape again – Midsummer Night’s Dream: Britten’s opera, which was superb and very entertaining.  And then, after not the easiest of drives (a lengthy diversion, misleadingly signposted so that we thought one road was closed and approached the next road by a different route, only to find it was actually that road closed and we had to drive back the way we’d come), we arrived at our hotel in Romford soon after midnight.

It was the journey into London the next morning that posed a problem.  We walked the half-mile to the station and caught a train to Stratford and then went to find the Central line into central London.  But the tube platform was right by a train platform and there was no place to check in with a contactless card or Oyster card.  But how, without one, were we to get out at the other end?  We went and asked a guard, who said it was all right, our ticket would take us all the way through and we could put it in the barrier at Charing Cross.  Since the ticket was clearly to Stratford, we didn’t think it could possibly be right, but we thought we’d sort it out at the other end.

There happened to be a party of young schoolchildren on a trip to the National Gallery, and I’m afraid I just scooted through the gate that was opened for them.  Tim, slightly behind me, was asked by the guard if he had a ticket, so he waved it at her and we were out, feeling rather naughty.  Though the Stratford guard had told us our tickets were valid, we didn’t believe they were.

On the way back, we debated what to do.  We wanted to buy single tickets at the machine, but it kept trying to give us all-day travel cards, which we hadn’t asked for and so, in the end, we decided to touch our cards in, then walk out of the station at Stratford to be able to touch out again, then come back in using our train tickets.  Just to explain, if this is hopelessly puzzling, there are six Tube zones, radiating out, and Stratford is in Zone 2/3.  So when you touch in, it clocks your card but takes the fare when you clock out again.  If you don’t, there is an assumption that you’ve gone the furthest distance and you’re charged accordingly.

So this is what we did.  And then we looked for our platform for a train back and couldn’t find any information.  We were gazing at a map and wondering what to do when a nice railway chap came and asked if we needed help.  And he sent us to the right place and we caught our train and finally came home.  And now we’ll turn our attention to the blog party and looking forward to seeing you on Saturday.

By the way, I’ve just looked at my ‘activity’ app on the phone and I’ve walked four miles today.  Since we walked a mile to and from the station and only a few hundred yards otherwise, that means that quite two and a half miles was spent walking underground between Tube lines.  And I’ve climbed 24 floors, too.  Which makes me feel tired, so I’m off to bed.