Monthly Archives: April 2021

Z still thinks positive

Best thing today was, when chatting to Richard over coffee, we saw swallows for the first time this year. And a friend says they’re nesting in her garden. Such a cheerful, hopeful sign.

I spotted an animal in the garden the other day, which I can only think was a big, dark fox. Not the fox I saw a few weeks ago, which was red and not especially large, so I guess it was the dog fox. It vanished behind a wood pile. Clearly, I can’t possibly let the chickens out, so it’s just as well the new run is underway.

The chickens are so tame and friendly, as a bunch they’re the best ever. They jump on my hand, let me stroke them, I have to shoo them out of the way to walk along. I’m giving them plenty of greens and they’re healthy, but it’ll be lovely when they can go outdoors safely. By the end of the weekend, I hope. Nine eggs today, but I gave away twelve, so the mountain isn’t out of control.

Yesterday, the wood was delivered for the run and Richard and I agreed to move it under cover so it wouldn’t get wet. We decided on the greenhouse (for plants, not chickens), which is actually three ten-foot greenhouses end to end. Richard took the first lengths of wood over, but there was a strange scrabbling sound. I went to investigate. Poor Zain, the friendly tabby barn cat, had been napping in the sun when a strange man invaded his space. He ran to the far end and was trying to escape through the glass roof. Which didn’t work. Richard retreated and I went in. Zain crouched on the staging and yowled at me, TELLING ME ALL ABOUT IT AND IT WAS HORRIBLE and I listened and sympathised as he bared his teeth and acted out the story. He’s a sweet boy, not at all aggressive, so I wasn’t afraid he’d jump at me, but I was cautious. Once he calmed down, I gave him my hand to sniff and then wondered how to encourage him to run outside. But luckily, he thought it through himself, once the *danger* was over and trotted out. Later, I fed them all and he was happy to be stroked as usual. I’m not sure he’ll risk going in the greenhouse again, though. A thorough fright is never forgotten by a cat.

Asparagus is horrendously expensive, it’s still so cold, even when it’s sunny. But I don’t care, even though it’s 50p a stalk. I never begrudge a farmer the return on his effort.

There are 13 young cattle on the field. They haven’t been close enough to say hello to yet, but they look happy enough. We really need some rain though, or else the grass will dry up in no time. It’s forecast over the weekend, though, which is normal for a Bank Holiday.

Z only looks for the good things. Mostly

It’s been a tricky few days, not much has gone right. However, some highlights, so I’ll go with them.

We went to see Ronan and family on Saturday and had a picnic on the village green near their house.

Wink had her second vaccination this morning and, this afternoon, I had the text offering me mine. So it’s booked for Thursday week.

Local new potatoes are in the greengrocer, though I haven’t bought any yet because I haven’t had time to go shopping – that is, I could have today but he’s shut on Mondays at present. It’s the quietest day and the fishmonger opposite has always shut on a Monday. Recently, Michelle who owns the deli made the same decision – her excellent excuse was the imminent arrival of her baby and pressure on the other staff (baby girl has now arrived safe and well) – and so Simon has shut up shop for a day a week too. So Monday is using up veggies day here. Ratatouille tonight saw to that, pretty well, following a salad for lunch.

In fact, the lunch was highly retro. Avocado, prawns, Marie Rose sauce made in the time-honoured way by adding ketchup, Worcestershire sauce and lemon juice to mayonnaise, salad. It was actually very good.

On a less cheerful note, it’s jolly cold again. There has been a frost most mornings and there’s a bitter wind tonight. Tim has been reminiscing about April sea bathing when he was a lad in Bournemouth. I admitted that I never ventured near the sea at that time of year, even in my prime.

Z fails to draw part 18 – small sketches

In the last few days, I’ve drawn a cyclamen leaf and seed pod, a dandelion leaf (the flower was far too hard) and a pansy flower. I tried a wooden bowl and gave up after a few minutes. I acknowledged that a simple, symmetrical shape is way beyond me.

In fact, the detailed study of a small object is very tricky. I’m not being judgemental and just taking the fact that I’m doing it as the achievement. It’s really a struggle and there’s no point in berating myself for not making much progress for now. I think that using colours would make leaves and flowers far easier, in fact.

Tonight’s dinner was nice. I’d bought a couple of crabs, which we had with a salad last night. I thought I’d bought some watercress, but it was rocket. Rather a lot of rocket, we’d never eat it up – not that it would be entirely wasted because the chickens would. Still, we couldn’t manage all the crab either, even though Eloise cat helped. So I suggested making a rocket and walnut pesto, stirring it through spaghetti and adding the crab meat. And that was dinner tonight, with the addition of a few asparagus tips. We amused ourselves thinking how chefs in the Sunday supplements would present this simple meal. Nigel Slater in particular would talk it up and Delia Smith would emphasise the ‘leftover’ crab. It wasn’t walnut in the end, though, because what I’d thought was a pack of walnuts was a second pack of pine nuts. It was actually very nice. I’ve still got half the pesto left and a small amount of rocket, so more inventiveness is required in the next couple of days.

Plans are afoot for a new chicken run. There’s a family of foxes very close by and I’m anxious about letting them roam freely. Also, I don’t want more chicks, but it’s their safety I’m more concerned about. I’ve come up with a Plan and Wince and Richard are going to help me with it.

Z sees friends

The days drift by and it’s not easy to resolve to do anything on any specific day. It doesn’t seem to matter. Yet it does, of course – but I’ve not sent out a group email that I was absolutely intending to send today and I haven’t made any progress with securing lots for the next auction, which really needs to be done in the next few weeks.

However, this is a positive blog, so this is what I have done. Wink and I took a stroll round the village yesterday and, walking down the main street, moved into the road to make way for a woman in a wheelchair. As we were ready to pass each other, her face lit up and she greeted me by name. Thank goodness I immediately knew who she was, because I’m not great at facial recognition and she has lost a lot of weight. I introduced her to Wink and we had a chat. My friend Beryl has had treatment for pancreatic cancer for several years now – six or seven, I think – and she says she hasn’t got much longer before she dies: there is no more positive treatment. She can’t walk far, but she was chatty and cheerful and her granddaughter was going round the village with her. We both took circular routes, so met again ten minutes later and chatted again.

Today, I phoned a couple of friends to offer them eggs – I knew a third would be at work, so I just dropped them off at hers (not literally dropped, obvs). The final dozen, I took to my friend John. He invited me in for coffee and I was probably an hour there, we had a lovely catch-up. He and his late wife were good friends, but she died of Alzheimer’s three years ago and we’ve only seen each other a few times since then. He’s in his late 80s, though you wouldn’t think it to look at him or talk to him and I have, belatedly, taken on board that I mustn’t neglect my friends any more. We haven’t been officially allowed to see each other but now we are, so now we should. So I’ll phone Jan tomorrow – we did speak last week, but we haven’t seen each other this year yet – and I’ll crack on with those neglected emails and phone calls.

The reason for the walk round the village was for Wink to post some letters. Yes, she does actual snail mail for her friends without email. She’s far better at keeping in touch than I am. She says it’s because she hasn’t got children, so she needs her friends, but I said that she’d do it anyway and I probably wouldn’t, because I find it hard to manage to keep up with people and she loves it. At least the prolific bantams ensure that I contact friends to offer them eggs. The next lot will be taken to Beryl.

And now I’m going to write that group email, which is about meeting for lunch next month.

Z fails to draw part 17. Regrouping

I’ve let it all out, so I have space to consider. I would like to draw once in a while, for pleasure. I’d like to understand and engage with the process. I’m not interested in landscapes or portraits, but in small detailed studies. I don’t rule out colour, but I’m not trying my hand at paint and, if ever I did, it would be oils. It won’t be, though.

So, for now, I’m going down the same route as with the guitar. Ten minutes at a time. Never mind setting aside an hour to slightly improve on the last attempt at a chair. Take a leaf, an indolent cat’s paw, the detail on the design of a plate. Anything that catches my eye. Try to draw it as I see it, note what I’ve done well or not, but not mind either way. Just sketch and see how it goes.

If I give it ten minutes a day for a while and see what happens, I might make some progress, I might engage with it, I might decide to stop. Of course, if I accidentally miss a day or spend longer, that’s fine too, but this is what I’m going for.

I didn’t manage very long on the guitar today. I’m really trying very hard and making decent progress, but the chords are a problem for me. Tim doesn’t get this at all: as far as he’s concerned, guitar playing is mostly about chords. But I only know two chords for sure, one more fairly well and a couple more at a push and I can only move reasonably accurately between the first two. And if I do it too quickly, I’ll get the right shape on the wrong strings. And I have no idea how anyone can do it, though clearly they can. So, while usually my practice involves some scales – working out scales has really helped – some exercises and chords, then going on to tunes, today I lost heart when I was really struggling with being overambitious with the bloody chord changes. Tomorrow, I’ll fail again. Will I fail better? You bet.

Z fails to draw Part 16, I think

Drawing = boring, I’m very sorry to say. I bought another book, which was well reviewed on Amazon and I’m not doing well with it. Why, really why, do these earnest teachers start by trying to persuade you to draw things that are really dull and you don’t care if you don’t draw well? This one started with you putting your feet up on a stool or sofa – so far so good, for indolent Z – and drawing them, shoes and all. Meh. Then it had the foreshortened hand thing. Honestly, I just couldn’t be arsed. I made an attempt but my heart wasn’t in it, as it hasn’t been for anything I’ve drawn for the last few weeks.

I can, I find, do a reasonable sketch of certain things. Let’s say I’ve got 70% there and let’s say I could try really hard and get to 80%. Not worth it. And that’s that. I’m not being asked to draw anything that I find worth the considerable effort. I was really pleased with my first few drawings, which were way above the standard I’d ever managed in my whole, fairly long, life, but I’ve drawn my hand, I’ve drawn a chair, I’ve drawn my shoes and I’ve drawn or lightly sketched a few other things that are totally uninteresting and what the books don’t lead me towards are anything that make drawing a pleasure. I know that the first book, by engaging the *other* side of my brain, was trying to do that but, while I can concentrate on what I see rather than what I think I should see, what is harder to cut out is the sheer boredom. Too much effort for a meh result.

It’s not what I’d hoped for. I wanted to lose myself in the act of drawing and I think that the exercises offered are so hard and yet so uninteresting that I stop caring. In short, I do not care a flying fuck about drawing my foreshortened hand. Tell me to and I’ll switch right off. I’m not sure that the answer is drawing classes, once they’re allowed, because I’d probably be asked to do the same thing, in which case I’d be prepared; I’d take along what I did weeks ago and explain that I’m never doing it again because it is an excellent exercise for someone who wants an intense course on excellent drawing, but it’s really not much use for someone who wants to enjoy herself, casually, to try hard but not take it seriously, to learn how to portray what she sees but not to emulate the Masters.

In short, I’ll skim through both books but I doubt I’ll go much further with them. It doesn’t matter if I fail, I’ve learned and I haven’t anything to prove. I do feel despondent, but it’s not any reflection on me or on the authors. I still fail to draw. I might manage to start again but, if not, I have achieved more than I ever did through the dismal lessons I had at school.

Rambling again

I was excitedly ready to watch a Zoom lecture on the geology and fossils of Norfolk, organised by Norwich museum. Unfortunately, I was a week out. But hey, something to look forward to.

Cold, sunny days with wintry showers and frosty nights here. Not much of a spring, so far. Tender plants have caught the frost in the greenhouse, probably more because of the early morning sun than the overnight cold. I’m not going to grow much this year. Last year, I’d been intending to have a fallow year and to spend it getting on top of the bindweed, but Roses and her fella persuaded me otherwise, because they were keen to grow veggies. Then he discovered how much work was involved and rather went off the idea and then the chickens ate most of the veggies anyway. So I’m back to plan A and I’m going for the easy life, at least for the time being. I know I’m going to have to let the chickens out as soon as it’s reliably warm, but I’m putting it off as long as possible because I don’t want chicks and there are four broody-ish hens at present. If I let them out, I’ll have two dozen chicks within a month. It really is a quandary – I love having the chickens all around the place, but it will make far more sense to enclose an area for them. Never mind, I’ll come to a conclusion at some point.

The good news is that I’ve had a brainwave for Tim’s birthday present and have set the wheels in motion. He has no idea, it’s unguessable. Hah.

Otherwise, please permit me a short rant about banks. A couple of weeks ago, I had a dental appointment in Norwich. Lockdown was still in place, so I hadn’t visited Norwich for a necessary banking thing, but I’d be within a few hundred yards so I felt it was justifiable. I checked on the bank’s website and the branch was open until 5. I arrived at 4pm, to find a note on the door saying it closed at 3 nowadays. The morons hadn’t updated their website in many months. This was the NatWest. Today, I drove Tim to his second vaccination appointment and wanted to visit a different bank – Lloyds – on the way back. I checked the website. The Beccles branch is open from 9-5. Having parked quite some way away and walked there, arriving at 9.15, no it bloody isn’t. It opens at 10. You would not think that it’s beyond the intelligence of someone to alter the damn website, would you? These are both things that cannot be done online. I loath banks and do all I can on an internet-only bank, because at least it doesn’t mislead you.

There we are, that’s all the ranting and I’m back to cheerful Z. Not that I have anything much to talk about. Nothing happens any more. We did have a telephone (landline) problem, but Sam sorted it out for us. Wink is now 6 years older than me, for the next 5 months. My daughter and son-in-law have had their first vaccinations. I have given away 66 eggs this week and still have three dozen left. I’m quite happy, on the whole.

Catching up with news. Or rambling on a bit. Whatevs.

Hah, well, that single portion of curry turned out to be enough for three. The remains of the curry and rice are now in the freezer. I’ll make an extra vegetable dish, add a naan bread and it’ll easily feed us yet again. Even the pie and vegetables defeated us – some of the pastry and veg went to the chickens this morning and I’ll fry the rest of the potatoes to go with our halibut tonight. Buying from a working farm means that you get farmer’s portions!

Blue Witch suggested that learning to draw from a book isn’t the best way of going about it and I do agree with her. Although it was the only way I’d have tried – even if actual classes were happening now, I’d have been too timid to sign up. It’s not impossible that I’ll give it a go in the future, though not terribly likely. Capacity to improve and wish to improve are both uncertain at present. However, I’m regrouping a bit and will think things through, skim through the rest of the book to see if there’s anything I might enjoy more (furniture and corners of passageways are just dreary) and otherwise I’ll do what I really want, which is probably flowers and animals.

In regard to the guitar, what I need is to find my way around the instrument. Tim plays by ear and can’t read music, but he knows the entire fretboard and he recognises intervals between notes, which is something you don’t need to do if you do read music and have a piano to look at. Not that I need to look at it when I’m playing, my hands automatically follow what my eyes see on the page, both on clarinet and piano. And in church, if I’m playing a hymn, I play the melody with my right hand and if I can’t always manage the right notes with my left, the chords will be in the right key and I’ll get away with it. I’m afraid that 30 years of unenthusiastic hymn playing has wrecked me as a pianist.

It’s Wink’s birthday this week and I’ve bought part of her present locally and part from Amazon. Sorry. But anyway, while I was ordering it, I decided to replace the sticky tape dispenser that has a bit broken off, so tearing the tape off is a two-handed thing. I ordered a heavy one and it was delivered, with the other items, today. But the box was oddly light – and, in fact, empty. The dispenser had broken through the tape, ironically enough, and fallen out, probably into the van. I had to go on the helpline to explain. I’m not sure if I’ve ever needed to contact the help desk before, but Chanelle was certainly helpful. My word was taken as fact and the money was refunded, and I’ve even been given a £5 gift voucher, which was completely unnecessary. So I’ve reordered and will be able to use it to wrap Wink’s presents. The locally bought part was plants for her garden. So I may not actually wrap them.

The Amazon assistant’s name reminded me of a piece I read in the paper at the weekend, about people who’d visited Windsor Castle or Buckingham Palace to leave flowers or messages. One family came from Basingstoke. I do hope they don’t mind me mentioning the little girls’ wonderful names. Caprice and Hosanna. Isn’t that marvellous?

Timbo and Zed

The local farm shop plus café has been offering Friday night takeaways for the last year. Normally, they’re open for breakfast through to afternoon tea and the shop itself stays open until six o’clock. It’s a lovely farm, with Jersey cows – the calves stay with their mothers – and pigs, goats, guinea fowl, peacocks and so on. The rare breed pigs are raised for meat and so are the male cattle, though they’ve never had goat meat for sale, so I think they must just be pets. Anyway, it’s one of our favourite lunch places when allowed, and we usually have the takeaway as a substitute. Portions are huge, however. Tonight, unable to choose – well, we could have, so I suppose that unwilling is the word – between a chicken and mushroom pie for two or a Goan pork curry, we decided to have both. A single helping of curry would feed two of us – and it turned out that the pie would have fed four. And there were twelve new potatoes, plus vegetables. I know that Rebecca, the farmer, works hard and must have an appetite to go with that, but frankly we don’t. So we’ll be eating all that for the rest of the weekend.

Wink is away for a few days, back to where she used to live, for various appointments and so it’s Derby and Joan at the Zedery. I’m happy to say that I have no plans. I have ordered a new drawing-tuition book, as the one I have has jumped too far ahead for me – as Tim pointed out, it’s based on a week’s intensive tuition in person at the writer’s studio, so she’d be there to ask for help. In short, I don’t find drawing my hand or a chair interesting enough to keep doing, the next chapter is too much and the one after is *really* too much. I’ve done a few sketches, but nothing worth showing anyone and I need to re-engage. At least I’m keeping up my daily guitar practice. My ambition is way ahead of my abilities, but if that means it’s painful for Tim to listen to, then he’s too polite to say. He’s going shopping at the Co op tomorrow – can’t remember what the vital things are, but there are some – so I’ll make a hash of it while he’s out.


The cooking obsession shows no sign of diminishing. Yesterday, we woke up to snow on the ground – several snow or sleet-falls the day before, but we hadn’t expected it to settle. So I spent the morning making soups. I’d already planned the French onion, because I’d made lamb stock, but I had various vegetables that wanted using. So asparagus, using the trimmings, leek and potato, and squash and fennel. Today’s effort is pea and ham, though the split peas are taking an inordinate time to soften and it’s just occurred to me that I should have cooked them in plain, unsalted water first before adding the ham stock. Which wasn’t very salty but probably has caused the delay in softening. I’m a fool, I know perfectly well not to add salt to peas or beans before they’re softened, but I didn’t actually add it so I didn’t think. I suppose it’ll be all right in the end and, if not, I’ll put it through the mouli and leave behind the hard bits. The flavour will be okay, anyway.

As the dinner was tonight. Tim cooked, it was monkfish in a tomato sauce. Tomato, shallot, garlic, vermouth and parsley, he tells me. Lovely.