Monthly Archives: November 2019

Z enthuses

My mother did throw fabulous parties. I’d like to think that, if someone who knew me fairly well was describing me, one of the words would be ‘enthusiastic’ and that would be spot on for both my parents. I make life easier for myself than my mother ever did, but it was a different age and, actually, one of my other descriptive words might be ‘efficient’ which would be less likely to apply to her. She’d work until she dropped and then get up early the next morning. I prioritise and dump the non-essentials, if it comes to it. But then, it depends on your definition of non-essential. Hers was rest, sleep and mine is percentage of effort compared to result.

Not that I’m knocking high expectations. I remember the weeks of preparation for parties, when the whole house – downstairs, anyway – was decorated with fabulous hand-made paper flowers or actual garlands. The food – she was never big on sweet foods, so I used to make cakes and puddings – involving hours of work on food that would outclass Masterchef even now. largely because of the time it took. Both my parents were beautiful cooks and took such care in preparation.

I’m not in the same league. However, I made some lovely stock the other day, which was turned into French onion soup this evening. I sliced the onions on the mandolin. wearing my anti-cut glove because I’m not an idiot, and then gently cooked them for at least an hour until they were nicely browned without being anywhere near burning, And then the home-made stock and the white wine were added and cooked for another hour. A long time for the simplest soup. But it was good.

Z remember, remembers

Last night, hearing fireworks being set off round the village, LT and I started to talk about various bonfire parties, whether organised ones or the back garden sort, that we’d been to over the years. He has blogged about long-ago ones in the past (link at the bottom) and I certainly have about family ones here, when they happened. Tim reminded me that we had a family party here three years ago.

Bonfire Night was never taken much notice of when I was a child, in fact. I gather that Wink, as a very small child, was chased round the kitchen garden by a Catherine Wheel that hadn’t been fasted properly to its post and my parents were put off completely: too risky. So it wasn’t until I had my own children that we did anything about it. The Sage’s father was born on 5th November – and known as Guy, which is quite odd when you think about what happens to the guy on the bonfire – so there was always a bit of a celebration here.

The firework parties that my parents held were grown-up ones and they took place in the summer. As you know from previous posts, our house Seaview was by Oulton Broad, opposite the park. The broads are the man-made lakes (made thousands of years ago) that link the rivers of Norfolk and, in this case, North Suffolk. In August, a sailing regatta is held every year, the small yacht club being at the edge of the park next to the marina. As well as all the yacht races and so on that took place on the water, there were all sorts of attractions in the park; stalls, funfair and so on and there were various evening entertainments, though I don’t know what, as we never went to them. My parents weren’t very interested in unsophisticated sorts of jollities and it never occurred to me to mind. I’m sure, if ever I’d asked, I’d have been taken along, though probably not by either of them.

Anyway, it ended over August Bank Holiday. This used to take place over the first weekend in August but changed, in the 1960s, to the last weekend. So whether the regatta changed then too or whether it had always been later in the month, I’m not sure. It was the end of the main holiday season and finished with a celebration – two of them, in fact, because for a time, there were two firework displays, on the Thursday and then – a bigger one – on the Sunday.

As our very wide garden with its Broads frontage was right opposite the park, it was an ideal place to set up the firework display. It was also a perfect opportunity for a party with built-in entertainment. Never any children of my age there – my parents’ friends were mostly my fathers’ age and, as he was over forty when I was born, they all had older children and it really wasn’t a kids’ do. But the fireworks were fantastic.

I can’t remember the name of the company, though it was the best known one at the time, but the chief firework technician’s name was Fred Faithfull and he became a friend. He and my parents exchanged Christmas cards for years and kept up with each others’ family news. Watching, from the house (we children weren’t allowed anywhere near), the displays being set up was fascinating for a curious child. There were two sets of poles with lines between, one being for the vertical strings of golden lights that I remember as Golden Rain, but surely not? The other had the set piece that ended the evening. On Thursday, it was simply Goodnight in fireworks but on the Monday, it was God Save The Queen. And as those fireworks burned down, we heard the roar of applause from the crowd on the far bank.

The fun was more than the fair and the fireworks, there were lots of boats on the water, all lit up. On Monday, there was the famous Burning of the Golden Galleon. I was told solemnly that the authorities went along the river checking for the most unkempt boat, which was commandeered and set fire to and I always worried that our old launch would be chosen. Of course, it was really a raft piled with scrap wood. It did look spectacular. It must have been secured between two boats so that it didn’t drift to somewhere it shouldn’t go, but that didn’t occur to us at the time.

They were great parties. I was more comfortable than many children of my age with grown-ups and was, in any case, quite happy to potter around handing out food and hanging out with the dogs. We went upstairs to watch the fireworks themselves, for the best view.

Z on the move

The Old Rectory must have had a huge garden originally. They’d built a new house for the Rector next door, which was a spacious five bedroom house with a wide drive, double garage and a garden, and as well as our own big garden, there had been an orchard at the bottom of the lawn which, as I said, we sold.

We bought a greenhouse where I was able to grow tomatoes, aubergines, cucumbers and melons – and had to buy another smaller one a couple of years later because you could hardly get in the door by August for the lush vegetation. I put my tomato plants in there.

As I said the other day, we were there for ten years. But after seven years, Russell’s father died and the decision was made to move to the house where I live now. Ronan was born in the meantime, the annexe was built for my mother-in-law and considerable refurbishment was done to this house. We sold the Old Rectory to people we knew – he was an antique dealer, very successful at the time, though things went badly awry for him some years later. His daughter was the same age as Ronan and they were friends.

We moved the day before Ronan’s second birthday and they invited us back a few times for tea. When they’d done all the redecorating and so on, they gave us a tour of the house. It was spectacular. Gilding, painting effects, quite remarkable. Not to our simpler taste at all, but done with love.

We did well on the sale. That sort of house was in vogue by then and we made a sizeable profit, even after the work was done here. And that was 1986 and we’ve been here ever since. I realised, earlier this year, that I’ve lived here more than half my life.

It had taken me a long time to feel that I might ever make it my home. I used to find it dark and oppressive. My in-laws’ decor had something to do with that. The walls weren’t dark but the ceilings were low and the windows had small panes and the curtains had pelmets, which cut out a lot of light. But eventually I came to love it, or I’d never have suggested moving. We enlarged the windows, got rid of the yellow gloss paint that dear Ma thought would brighten the passageway and did various alterations, with listed building planning permission, to make it more comfortable. Ma only lived in the annexe for six months and died suddenly in her bed of a heart attack.

My stepfather Wilf had a heart attack himself, not long afterwards and it was recommended that they move to a smaller house, preferably a bungalow. So we offered them the annexe and they accepted. But that’s another story in itself. Nothing is ever simple in my family.

The Pakefield years

We lived at the Old Rectory for ten years. We bought it when Alex was a tiny baby, moved in just before Christmas the same year – 1976 – and I loved it.

I’ve described the house itself. It was light and sunny with high ceilings and lots of windows – draughty sash windows, but that was what I’d grown up with so it didn’t bother me. We bought a half-tester bed, which is like a four-poster except that it has two posts and a canopy just over the head end and I remember lying in bed watching the curtains billow when there was an easterly wind.

We’d stretched ourselves financially to buy the house. And we couldn’t really afford to heat it, so doors were kept shut in the winter so that no heat was wasted. There was central heating but it wasn’t used as much as it would be nowadays. I had a small grand piano – a “boudoir grand,” which is a size up from a baby grand, that was placed in the octagonal bay window in the drawing room. If I played it with the lid up, I could be heard all down the road, I was embarrassed to discover.

Once, I found a swift on the drive. It had crash-landed somehow and couldn’t get airborne again. I picked it up, beautiful little bird that it was, and it climbed up my arms with its curved, hooked claws. I carried it upstairs to our bedroom, which was above the drawing room and had a similar octagonal bay, and held it out of the window. It carried on climbing up my arm. But finally I persuaded it to to go the other way up to my fingertips and launched it into the air. It tried to fly, but dipped down towards the ground. I thought it would crash land again – but it just swooped upwards at the last moment and started to climb. It circled round and up, round and up and I watched as it rose higher, until finally I couldn’t see it again. It had left its calling-card … yeah, it had evacuated its bowels onto my arm. Insects. The outside skeletons of insects, black and bitty.

My mother and stepfather sold Seaview after a couple of years and moved out to a village on the A12 south of Lowestoft. My mother still had rather more dogs than was manageable in a smaller property, so we took one of them and my sister took another. Ours was a black and tan boy called Simon. He was a very nice dog, about the size of a labrador and he loved the children. My mother had too many dogs and he relaxed and was happy with us. I remember once, Russell had gone out with the children – Weeza and Al, that was, it was before Ronan was born – and I’d stayed in bed for some reason. Simon started howling at the window by the half-landing near the front door. He sounded wolflike and pathetic, full of self pity. I stood at the top of the stairs and said “ahem.” The sight of that dog jump, because he’d thought he was alone, and his embarrassed face was one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen.