Monthly Archives: November 2019


LT and I tend to sit chatting over dinner. When he’s away, dinner takes five or ten minutes to eat but usually it’s an hour or so. It’s probably why we never watch television, that we’re too busy talking.

About the old days, tonight, both his and mine – plus Russell’s wartime boyhood too, which I came to in a roundabout way because we were talking about family businesses. At the end, Tim said I should write these things down because they’ll be lost otherwise. And I said, I have tried but it’s hard to do so: to write someone else’s story in a readable voice. You can do it for yourself but it becomes stilted when it’s about someone else, unless you are a very good writer, which I’m not – blogging is just a matter of sitting down and talking to friends – and possibly if you fictionalise it. I did start stories from Russell’s childhood, quite some time ago, but I didn’t keep it up. I should look for it and try again. He was born in 1936 so remembered the whole of the war, through a child’s eyes. I’ll have another go.

I can’t remember someone’s name tonight. I knew her better than her two brothers, but I know that they were Roy and Aubrey Skinner and I don’t remember her first name. The three of them inherited their parents’ farm and lived in the lovely old (completely unmodernised, they didn’t even have mains electricity) farmhouse all their lives. But what was her name? It’ll come to me, but it hasn’t yet.

Doreen. As soon as I said I couldn’t remember, I did. I published the post and then, immediately, remembered. Pfft, innit.

Z is nosey

A few weeks ago, we went to a day of Nadfas lectures. After lunch, Tim and I returned earlier than most people to our seats, which were in the middle of the back row of the small lecture theatre (being considerate types, we didn’t want to disturb anyone by pushing past them), so watched everyone else coming back. Ever since, I’ve been rather fixated on noses.

A woman caught my eye. She was probably a few years older than I am and very chatty and cheerful. She had a big round, plump face (and body, in fact) and was pretty but her nose, while a perfectly nice nose, didn’t quite fit her face. It was small and tip-tilted to the extent that the nostrils almost faced forward. I did wonder if she’d had a nose job at some time. If you remember the actress Susan Hampshire, she was frank about having her nose altered early in her career – I’ve never seen a picture of her before that happened, but her later nose was quite distinctive and pretty. This woman’s was not dissimilar but a bit more piggy. I’m sounding rude and I don’t mean to be, I thought it was rather charming. Anyway, it prompted me to look round at other noses and think how different they all are. I’ve been doing it ever since. I can only hope I don’t stare.

Tim arrived home today after a few days in Reading. While he’s away, my food shopping changes somewhat. Mostly, I impulse-buy vegetables. Just the sight, as well as the prospect of the taste, of lots of different veg cheers me immensely. Tim came back with more vegetables, in fact; specifically big bunches of coriander, curry leaves and a kilo of chillies. I had a kilo of jalapeƱos that I’d grown, which I’ve turned into relish, but while I feel enthusiastic I’d like to make some more. It’s quite an effort because every one has to be topped, de-seeded and shredded by hand, but we do love the relish so it is worth it. Most of the family like it too, so jars will be distributed. I must look for the weekend food supplement from Tim’s paper before it vanishes into the recycling bin, because there were some relish/jelly recipes that looked rather good. A smoky beetroot one (smoked paprika gives the flavour) and an apple and grape one, in particular. This Christmas, the family will receive the gift of luurve – or at any rate, their mother’s long hours slaving over a hot Aga for their gastronomic benefit.

Z still lives. And blogs!

Oh dear. I’ve almost turned into an ex-blogger and I always thought I’d be Last Blogger Standing, as far as the general chatty everyday blog is concerned. I’m too tired in the evening or else I’m talking to LT: I just don’t get to the computer. I should blog in the morning, as long as I can think of something to say when the day has hardly begun.

I’m not sure if I told you, a few weeks ago, about the painting that fell off the wall. We were having breakfast at the time and heard a ‘whump’ sound, as if a pile of newspapers had collapsed. I save newspapers for the local hedgehog rescue, so I thought that was it, but it wasn’t. A while later, Tim came in the drawing room and didn’t notice it at once but then called me through to show the disaster. A rather appealing oil painting of a Dutch river town scene had slipped its moorings, as it were, and slid down behind another piece of furniture, landing with a hard thump on the carpet.

The frame is quite badly damaged but fortunately it’s not the original one from about 1880, which had been beyond repair when Russell bought the painting some 40 years ago. The picture is jarred more than damaged – luckily, it didn’t fall forward – but needs remedial work and there’s no point in doing that unless it’s cleaned too, which is a specialist job and takes a long time. I’ve watched it being done and it takes patience and skill.

Cutting to the chase, I took it to my restorer who appraised it and then took it to the framer. And, with considerable anxiety, I phoned my insurance company. Who just said yes, get it done. Such a relief that I didn’t have to shop around for quotes and that sort of thing. It’s small change for them, but worth claiming for. I’ll tell my broker, because it’ll affect the shopping around next year, but I’m pretty sure I won’t lose overall. I haven’t claimed for anything for several years, and that was for an iPad that Russell damaged accidentally by knocking on the floor.

Anyway, I suppose the reason I don’t blog much is because not a lot happens that I haven’t mentioned many times before. And yet, there’s always something to say if one makes time to talk to friends.

Rose wanted space on the wall in her hall and asked if I could find room for the painting that’s there at present. I can’t, sadly. It’s at least 4 foot long and 3 foot high and, at ceiling height, the bottom of the frame would be at my knees. It won’t fit here and it won’t even go up the attic steps to be stored out of the way; and it’s a family heirloom so I only have it for my lifetime, I don’t own it. So I’ve had to say sorry, it’s a fixture. She’s rethinking….actually, I have had a thought and must mention it to her. Tomozz, darlings.

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.