Monthly Archives: November 2020

Z buys a Christmas tree

Yeah, I know, it’s still November. But, in mitigation, it’s not for me but for Wink and it’s staying outside for now. It’s growing in a pot and she didn’t want to risk the garden centre selling out of growing ones. Be assured that I won’t get one for us for at least a fortnight – unless I do, in which case it’ll still stay outside.

Having said which, I feel much more indulgent than usual to those who are decorating early, this year. It’s all so peculiar that we might as well all do what we want to keep our spirits up.

A few weeks ago, I started reminding myself of favourite museums – not the obvious ones but the smaller places. I should get back to that and I might extend it to other favourite places. Walled cities and towns, for instance. I love those. Not for a couple of days though, as I’m off down to Wink tomorrow. I thought lockdown was ending tonight but I’m a couple of days out: however, Wink is in our ‘bubble’ and I will only go to her house and nowhere else, so I don’t think I’m going too far beyond the rule boundaries. I’ll fill the car before I go and won’t need to do it again until I get home. So no ‘mingling.’ *Sigh*

Anyway, I’ve charged the phone with various downloaded programmes and will listen to the radio app all the way. And I’ve hardboiled some eggs and will make a sandwich to eat in a lay-by. Oh yes, Z knows how to have fun, all right.

Z maintains a stiff upper lip

It’s quite hard to keep my spirits up and I know I’m not alone in that. Cooking helps, it takes time but not much energy, which is really lacking at present.

I made a batch of medlar jelly the other day. Medlars are peculiar fruits, which are inedible until they’re overripe to the point of rottenness. The term for that is ‘bletted.’ Medlar jelly, made by cooking the fruits in water until they’re soft, then straining through muslin, then added to sugar and boiled until they set, is eaten with meat or cheese, rather than as a cake filling or whatever. They don’t have a great deal of flavour, to be honest, not compared to quince or redcurrant (used in the same way) but the jelly is pleasant enough. I bought the rest of Simon’s stock – because I’m really nice and he hadn’t sold any more since I last bought it – and will make more this weekend.

I also made courgette and apricot chutney and will make more of that (my children will receive a box of preserves among their Christmas presents) and have also ordered a kilo of chilli peppers which will be added to what I’ve picked from my own plants and used for, possibly, the best relish in the world.

And I’ve made bread and rolls and will make naan bread and yoghurt tomorrow. It’s not quite obsessive but it’s borderline. I want to be busy and not become either despondent or frustrated; which I am but don’t acknowledge. Again, I’m with practically everyone else here, but we all cope in our own way.

I will, at least, have a change of scene next week. I’ll drive down to Wink again and pick up anything more that she doesn’t want to go into the removal van. Tim is making a flying visit to Reading too, and then Wink’s moving day is the week after. Then, basically, we’ll hunker down until Christmas. But we’ll all be together and we’re looking forward to that.

Roll on vaccination, darlings.

Z rolls a mop

I did no such thing, of course, but I made rollmops. They’re boned herrings, pickled in vinegar. I love them but have never attempted to make them before. However, there are lovely herrings being caught off the east coast at present and, a week ago, a Times columnist who lives in Aldeburgh (about 30 miles away, it’s Benjamin Britten country) said that she’d bought some on the beach, dirt cheap, and thought she’d try her hand at soused herrings. It wasn’t a success because of the faff of preparation and she gave up.

It inspired me, though, because I quite like faff and we’d had some beautiful herrings the week before, which I fried traditionally in oatmeal. So I bought half a dozen from Paul the Fish and looked up recipes. I decided, in the end, to make rollmops rather than soused herrings; the main difference being that the rollmops are pickled in vinegar rather than cooked in it.

It’s straightforward. You cut the heads and tails off; the innards come away as you pull gently at the head. You scrape off the scales and wash the fish, you split and bone them (this is the faff, but it’s not actually difficult), then steep them for a few hours – 3, I think – in salt water. Meanwhile, you boil vinegar with spices and let it cool, and slice an onion – with a few gherkins if you like. You pat the fish dry, cover it with onion and gherkin, carefully roll it up, secure it with a cocktail stick and put all of them in a dish or jar, covered with the vinegar. Leave it at least four days.

They’re delicious. I made a sort-of coleslaw, but with kohl rabi, onion and cucumber, and sliced some golden beetroot. I’m really pleased to have an extension to my food repertoire. I think that halving the fish into fillets and making smaller rolls would be a good idea, for a fish platter with various other ingredients. Not being able to entertain, I can at least dream of it. I will try soused herrings another time and see which we like best.

I’ve also been thinking about traditional American cookery. My mother made a mean jambalaya and delicious cornbread. She also used to make proper Boston baked beans, Chicken Maryland and various other dishes, so she must have had a good American cookery book, but I can’t find it. In discussing it with Tim, I became intrigued with the history of American food. So I must look into it.

Musées des Belles Zs – 3

My favourite museum is in Scotland. If you’ve never been to the Burrell Collection, I urge you to put it on your to-do list this instant. If you have been, you’ll know already how wonderful it is.

If you are in the habit of visiting stately homes and so on, you’ll already know that there is a difference between those that are still lived in and those that are lifeless. It’s hard to say what the vital factor is – there may be family photos and so on, but I’ll repeat the word lifeless, because that’s what makes the difference. Life, that undefinable but literally vital quality.

In the case of art galleries and museums, I think it’s someone’s genuine collection that counts. The Kröller-Müller was a collection; Helène bought paintings and sculptures that she loved and gave them to her country so that other people could love them too. Similarly, Sir William Burrell, a shipping magnate who used his fortune to buy wonderful pieces that he loved and then gave them to Glasgow. What a guy. It’s a fabulous place and I wrote about it when I visited it. We were on a Nadfas trip and a lot of visits were crammed into our week. The only downside to that is that, if you’d like to spend longer somewhere, it isn’t possible because of the careful schedule.

There are several places I’d love to revisit. One is India. Anywhere in India. Of course, there are other countries and cities and the thought of travel is too remote to consider without some pain, at present. But, being realistic yet hopeful, I’m going to put the wonderful Burrell Collection close to the top of my wishlist.

Links to past posts –

Art in a woodland setting

Burrelling again

Do click through. I’ve loved revisiting the memory.

Z cracks. Or anyway, a window does

I must get back to the art stuff, because there’s nothing much happening here. If I’m bored, I’m also boring and I can only apologise.

A few weeks ago, Wince was trimming weeds in the front garden and a stone must have flown up, because I noticed the next day that there was a neat hole in the window. I thought it was an air rifle at first, until I realised the more likely situation. I haven’t told Wince, he’d be upset. And I didn’t do anything about it apart from wondering if a windscreen repair kit would work, until we had a frost and the hole was joined by a crack. Then, the other day, another queen wasp was buzzing round, so we opened the window to let her out. Yeah, a mistake. I should have caught her instead. Shutting the window caused yet another crack, so I finally got onto Terry The Builder. He called round to measure up and will do the repair soon.

That counts for excitement this week. I know, darlings, I know. I’ll enthuse about my favourite museum tomorrow, unless anything urgent crops up.

Z thinks of friends

It hasn’t been the best few days. Nothing has gone wrong here, but several of my friends have told me bad personal news. One dear young friend, whose wedding we hosted here some years ago, miscarried her second baby last week. Another friend, also much younger than me, suffered the death of both parents during the summer. A third has discovered he’s got a cancer of the blood and is about to start treatment and a fourth is about to have a colonoscopy because she has symptoms that need to be investigated.

I went to the greengrocer the other day and, as so often happens, I was completely carried away with enthusiasm for all the lovely produce on offer. The fridge and veg basket are crammed – or they were, we’ve managed to eat quite a lot of it already. Now that I can’t go into a bookshop, a vegetable shop excites me instead.

Today, resolved to Think Positive, I went and squeezed a couple of bantams and we had poached eggs for breakfast. New-laid eggs are so easy to poach, there’s no need to worry about having to add vinegar to the water or swirl it, they just cook in a neat package all by themselves. I decided to make some bread rolls later, as we’d so enjoyed the ones I made for family visits. I put the dough to rise and, an hour later, was just about to drink a pre-lunch glass of sherry before shaping the rolls when there was a knock at the door. It was Wince the gardener, who’d brought me a ‘present.’ A hedgehog had been scuttling round his garden, so he brought it to me as I’d “know what to do.”

Well, I did. I passed the buck. I put the hedgehog, whose name is Jack after Jack Monroe the fabulously economical cookery writer, into a box and put a saucer of cat food in with her. Then I went to phone the hedgehog rescue place in the next village. Tessa is lovely and so dedicated. She phoned back a few minutes later and so I got in the car and took Jack, who’d had a good meal and fallen asleep in the saucer, over to her. Jack weighs less than 300g, which isn’t enough to survive the winter and she’s underweight for her size. She also carried eight big ticks, which is a sign that not all is well. Any animal can attract a tick, but they latch on to anything that isn’t in good health. But at least she’d eaten and was active.

By the time I got back, I was rather late for shaping the dough, but Tim had got lunch ready. So I punched the dough down and left it for a while. It was made eventually and we shared a roll later and have frozen the rest.

Last night, we had a takeaway from our local farm shop restaurant; a mushroom Wellington which was really excellent. We shared the single portion, they do feed you well and we haven’t got huge appetites. We’d bought a boeuf bourguignon as well, but will have that tomorrow. Vegetables are included and it’s very reasonable for one serving, absurdly cheap for two. I had no business to buy all those veggies really, but they are so lovely that I had no inclination to resist.

Musée des Belles Zs – 2

I’m aiming for the less well known ones, not the Louvre or the National Gallery, though I may sneak in an exhibition or two along the way. But today, I’m in the Netherlands.

I visited Delft on a Nadfas trip a few years ago and the Rijksmuseum had only just reopened after a major refurbishment. Every picture had been rehung in a new location, except Rembrandt’s Night Watch. It was wonderful. I’d never been there before and we intended to return this spring – but maybe 2022, if not next year.

That’s not the one I’m going to write about today though. The startling coincidence is, because I’d been talking to it to Tim yesterday, is that my friend Pam posted a link on Facebook to an article. This one. One of the museums most closely involved is the one I was going to speak about tonight. The Kröller-Müller Museum. It is exceptional. Modern art works; that is, from Van Gogh onwards, with several thousand paintings and sculptures in a parkland setting. Many of the sculptures are outside and you can stroll round the sculpture garden. You can also borrow a bike – I think there’s no charge; or at any rate, it’s included in the entry price – and cycle round the park at your leisure.

This is its story – The Timeline includes the story of Helene Kröller-Müller, who bequeathed the world’s second largest Van Gogh collection to the Netherlands and founded one of the first museums for modern art in 1938. And the story of the museum during the war years, in which you read how curator Willy Auping Jr. kept the art collection out of the hands of the occupiers during the Second World War. You will read that Bram Hammacher gave the museum a new dimension with the realization of the sculpture garden in 1961 and that his successor Rudi Oxenaar had a new wing built, designed by the Dutch architect Wim Quist.

I’ve thought about my love of art and, sadly, that I have no ability towards it at all. There is no point in regret, at my stage in life, but I still can’t help being sorry that I was never given any teaching, confidence or belief in any aptitude. I don’t know if I might have been had any sort of artistic ability but I do think I could have been taught some proficiency. Sadly, my art teacher at school was rubbish. I don’t remember her name but I do know I was slightly afraid of her and knew that she dismissed me. I was a small, shy child and I would have liked to draw. Painting was out of my modest comfort zone, but I might have managed something delicate. She wanted big daubs of colour and I was unable to achieve anything. I have never been taught anything about perspective, colour, how to look or to turn what I saw into a picture. Like a games teacher to this day, those with an existing aptitude were her favourites and those who needed encouragement and the guidance of an undiscovered ability, however modest, were ignored and even ridiculed. I’m still unable to hold a paintbrush with confidence. Yet I can assess a painting or a sculpture and appreciate it and I well remember the first time I visited Tate Modern, not long after it opened. I had seen little modern art then but, by the time I’d been there a couple of hours, my eye had learned a lot. There were a vast array of paintings and the rooms were arranged in themes or types. I walked into a room of dots and eyed, in moments, the couple that were worth looking at, those that were derivative nothings, those that were art school studentish but had potential. I don’t know how I knew, but I did. Seeing is not the same as doing, but I despise that art teacher from 55 years ago. Too late, I’m not going to pick up a pencil now.

Anyway. The Kröller- Müller is to be recommended. I would love to go again. But I will check out the Van Gogh virtual exhibition.

Musée des Belles Zs – 1

I reached my anecdotage some years ago, which is probably why blogging has suited me so well for all these years. So, having whinged and whined, I have pulled myself together. Calling on memories and hopes of normality to come, Tim and I were talking at lunchtime about museums and art galleries – this was mostly me, to be fair, but he and I have our memories and sometimes they even overlap.

So the theme for the month is art and it may broaden out from galleries, because I’ve thought of musicians, actors – people, places, things and ideas (when I was a child, Wink and I had a series of four encyclopaedias of those names. I wonder if I still have them?).

I’m starting with the anecdote that started this all off. It’s the Musée des Beaux Arts in Brussels. Weeza was living there, 23 years ago, and Ro and I went to visit her at the beginning of December. It was incredibly cold. My mother had warned me – “they don’t call them the Low Countries for nothing,” she said darkly, which I still can’t make much sense of: still, she was right – to take my warmest clothes, but we were still bitterly cold.

One of the nicest meals I’ve ever eaten came out of our coldness, though. There’s a Square; the Place du Grand Sablon, where there was a tea shop, Not just a place to drink it, they also sold a huge range of fabulous teas. There was a little restaurant above, where we went for lunch. We each ordered a different tea – one had their Christmas blend, another their China Rose and the other had wintery spices, but I can’t remember who had what. They were all fabulous and we each had our own teapot with a litre of tea. We all ordered the roast beef salad, which was thin slices of delicious, rare roast beef and salad with a lovely dressing and we sat and enjoyed it all for quite two hours, and then bought lots of packets of tea and ventured out into the cold again.

Brussels was, at that time, surprisingly old-fashioned in some ways. A bit run down, I thought. The buildings were filthy with old smoke and pollution, like London in the 1960s. It’s probably changed now, but the pavements outside the Royal palace were weedy and, in the area round the European Parliament, they were pulling down wonderful old Flemish buildings to replace them with modern insignificance. The churches were dark with centuries of incense and candle burning and I just didn’t see any of the modern cosmopolitan city that I’d expected; which was not to say that it was without charm. We went to the Christmas market in the Grande Place and we visited the cinema twice, mostly to warm up, and we had several good meals. At least one was the traditional moules frites with Belgian beer and another was in a delightful little restaurant, which i’d call a bistro if it hadn’t been resolutely Flemish. We stared at the menu and didn’t understand a word of it and didn’t like to ask for a translation. I did manage a few words with my modest Dutch, but didn’t know what any of the meats were, so just hoped we weren’t going to eat horse.

What I really wanted to visit was the Musée des Beaux Arts, though and there was a specific reason. I’d read the poem when I was in my early teens.

About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just
walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy
life and the torturer’s horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

I had always, for thirty years, wanted to see the painting. “The sun shone as it had to.” What a line. Everything about it, the captured image. I was in its city, in Breughel’s country, I wanted to see the painting that had inspired Auden to write the poem.

Weeza and Ro were perfectly happy to accommodate my wishes, for the first few hours. But the layout of the museum was, frankly, pretty dreadful. We spent the first hour solemnly staring at indistinguishable religious paintings from the mediaeval period. We found that nothing in the museum had been cleaned, ever, so some paintings were so dark that you could hardly make out the subject. There was a very bright note when someone spotted the Surrealist section. Ro and I were both pretty keen on Surrealism and we had a happy half hour there – I expect it was the highlight of the day for Weeza too, down in the basement with the Magrittes and the Dalis.

Eventually, I tracked down the paining I’d wanted to see all my more-or-less adult life. Weeza and Ro stared at it. I did too and was thrilled. It was all I’d hoped for. “Is that it?” asked Ronan. “Mum, remind me never to go to an art gallery with you ever again,” said Weeza.

Upon a painted ocean

I’ve lost my blog voice and I’ve lost most of my ‘voice,’ come to that. Days just drift by and I find it difficult to remember what day of the week it is. I have alerts on my phone to remind me of anything coming up, because I don’t look in my diary very often now.

The pretentious title is from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, of course. Sorry. I do think in quotations, as Tim mentioned just a few minutes ago as we chatted after dinner.

This week, though, let’s catch up on my week. No, I’ve just realised how long it is since I wrote anything. The last ten days.

I drove down to Wink last Wednesday, to help her with more packing. She’s struggling, because she should have had a new hip six months ago and still hasn’t got a revised date. I stayed two nights this time – two whole nights! I took the day in between as an autumn holiday – and relaxed for a bit. We did go to the banks in Warminster. I use internet banking, but I had two cheques for larger sums that can be paid in online, and two more (for a different bank because I have different names) that had two signatories and the app couldn’t deal with that. Otherwise, we chatted and laughed and drank – and packed up the car to the gunwales, if you’ll excuse the incorrect allusion. Pronounced gunnels, of course.

I returned on Friday, perfectly legally; though going down to see her then wouldn’t have been. I filled up the car on the way down and back, using the pay at the pump facility every time, so didn’t feel that I’d bent the rules in the least. There isn’t a bank in Yagnub so I’d have had to go out of town anyway.

On Sunday, again perfectly legally, I had several lovely chats with friends (I will never take this for granted again) because there was a short outdoor Remembrance Sunday service at the war memorial in the village. There were a dozen of us, and another two turned up a few moments later and joined in.

Today, the electricity was off for several hours. We’d been notified of this in advance, but it left us without coffee. Heating a saucepanful of water is not acceptable. So we went to the deli for takeaway coffee – which was okay but not as good as Tim’s, so I look forward to a lovely cupful tomorrow. In the afternoon, I took Eloise cat for her booster vaccination.

Darlings, you see why I have nothing to blog about? I do have a lot of blogable thoughts, but by the time I get to the computer, I’ve lost interest if I’ve thought about it, or forgotten if I haven’t. I’m drifting, silent as a painted ship … which is where I came in.

November is going to be a long and quiet month at the Zedery

I’m so glad we managed to see all the family over half term, as there’s no question of meeting this month. Some juggling had to be involved, but everyone saw everyone else at some time. How very lucky we all are to be good and loving friends, which isn’t the case in every family.

I remember, when Al and Dilly, Weeza and Phil, and Ronan (please excuse the questionable comma but it seemed to be appropriate) all got on so well together and I wondered about a future partner for Ro. It was quite a lot to ask, that she would fit in and not feel an outsider. But that hasn’t been the case. Dora has four siblings and cherishes family life and she immediately became part of the family without anyone thinking anything about it.

I don’t suppose the whole lot of us, 16 including Wink, will get together for a long time. But we’ll do what we can. I am going to have a flying visit to Wink while I can, because she needs some help with packing up and her hip is very painful now. She had to postpone the removal firm until December, because she couldn’t get ready.

The good thing for me is that my hairdresser phoned this afternoon, offering me an appointment for tomorrow, as they’ll be closed from Thursday. I love having longer hair but I realise that it’s getting out of hand. And having it tied back or put up doesn’t honestly suit me any more. I don’t have the cheekbones for it. So I’ll tell her to do what she likes, but not to cut it shorter than she can help. I’ll miss my lovely hair though, it feels so soft on my face and neck.