Monthly Archives: February 2024


I haven’t done much ‘entertaining’ in the last few years. I’ve asked individual friends round and had casual get-togethers but, other than the blog parties, I’ve not had more non-family organised gatherings, except once. That was last autumn and I asked two couples and one single friend, as well as Wink of course. Today, a single friend asked the two of us round for lunch. We’ve exchanged quite a lot of hospitality between the three of us and I especially value the fact that she was one of the very few – think fingers of one hand – friends who asked me round for a meal after Russell died. I had low expectations, so they were realised, but I particularly appreciate those who did invite me (mostly blog friends rather than local friends). A polite year later is nice but it’s when you really want and need it that it’s least likely to be forthcoming.

Which is apropos of nothing except, if you have a single friend and you’re asking people over, please include him or her and be relaxed about an odd number. Don’t make a ‘couple.’ It’s disconcerting. Tim and I talked about that – it didn’t happen to me because I wasn’t asked much, but it did to him; that he, a single man after Viv died, and a single woman of a similar age were asked to make the numbers up and they were seated together and both felt awkward. If it’s a big party, of course numbers didn’t matter. Anyway, just suggesting that you relaxedly have odd numbers or more women than men or vice versa, because match-matchy doesn’t matter. Being included, for your own sake, does.

Z takes her clothes off

I needed new clothes. I haven’t bought any summer clothes for a few years – in fact, I’ve hardly bought any clothes since a big post-lockdown splurge when I wanted to support the local clothes shop. Wink and I took a trip to Norwich.

It was not a success, except for the very good pizzas we had for lunch. I trailed through Marks & Spencer in increasing dismay. Patterns were garish, garments were too long, sleeves didn’t exist on warm-weather clothes. Plenty of adequate teeshirts but, without anything to wear them with, I didn’t know what colours to buy. So we decided to head up the hill to John Lewis and see what we could find there. It was much the same, but more expensive. The one dress I quite liked was £165 and I didn’t like it that much.

I came home, dropped Wink at the end of the drive and headed for the local clothes shop. Lovely owner helped me pick out lots of clothes and I bought about half of them. She was tremendously pleased as she said that it’s been very quiet so far this year – she gave me a discount, though I said she didn’t need to and then knocked another £20 off the final bill, which I also said she didn’t need to. So I will pop back to M&S to get a couple of teeshirts, but otherwise I’ll remember where the good shop is and be loyal.

Later, I had a bath and fell asleep. I dreamt about the barn cats and woke up puzzled, that I was immersed in warm water. It had been hot, half an hour earlier.

It all started 100 years ago … part 3

I’ll go back to the story of Sheila’s mother Carol, who moved to the States nearly 100 years ago, another time – it’s time I came up to date, I think. The story of the Freston Wests and Aunts Annie and Katie is one that Russell used to talk to me about, but I’ve forgotten a lot of details and will have to check them out.

Up to date is a relative term – Russell and I married in 1973 and honeymooned in the Seychelles but, once we had children, our travelling was curtailed, especially once we had a dog too. But we did plan to travel, preferably leaving the children with grandparents. Russell especially wanted to visit the Caribbean – he had his sights set on Trinidad and Tobago and also on Saint Lucia. We went some way towards planning the first trip and I can’t remember why it was never booked. But it wasn’t and we didn’t really have many holidays at all.

It became more complicated once we moved here, to this house, because there were more things to take into account. Kenny came daily to look after the garden, but there were also my greenhouses and Russell’s bantams. Then there was the dog and my mother and the house, all of which needed company and looking after. We managed one family trip to France and a few British visits, but it all became complicated, especially as I was very busy with a lot of demanding voluntary work. The auction business was easier to leave.

In the past few years, I’ve become gradually more aghast at my mother’s attitude. She used to live alone in previous houses and had felt perfectly safe and comfortable, but she utterly refused to let us go away unless we organised people to stay here in the house. She said she was afraid of there being a big, empty house next door. I don’t believe that’s true, now, I think she just wanted the control and, I’m sorry to say, she was being a killjoy. Russell and I were both too patient and too reasonable and let her get away with it. We were both inclined to put others first. Now, I don’t want to be selfish but I want to do what I want to do, while I still can and encourage my family to do the same.

As I said in part 1, we were going to go to New Orleans in March 2003 but, just as we were going to book it, the autumn before, my mother’s terminal cancer was diagnosed and we shelved the matter. A few months after the diagnosis, she remembered about the proposed trip and asked me. I said, of course with her health being uncertain, we were not going and she said, oh, that wasn’t because of me, though. I said, yes it was. She was extremely ill at the time and there was no possibility of making plans and it didn’t matter. Of course she came first. No, she denied it, she was angry. It was not because of her that we’d cancelled the plans. Even then, she both wanted the control and to deny it. I’m so sorry that I have rather a lot of negative memories of someone who had so many lovely qualities too.

But there it is. A year or two later, I proposed the trip again and Russell flatly refused to go. At the time, Al and family lived in the annexe and Ro was here at home in the holidays from university – and he lived here for a couple of years afterwards too, as he worked half an hour’s drive away. But Russell wouldn’t leave the house and we never did have another holiday together, to my great sadness. After trying to persuade him to go fairly short distances in this country, I finally suggested that I holiday with others or alone and, though he was surprised, he could do nothing but agree with good grace.

When Tim and I got together, he also talked about the Caribbean, having had a couple of holidays with his brother and sister in law, after his wife died. But sadly, lockdown put paid to that and all we managed was a trip to Corfu and one to Jersey.

So, to come to the point, I’m off to St Lucia in a fortnight’s time. Rhonda is flying there from Atlanta and we’ll have a couple of weeks together. We’re talking about visiting New Orleans next year – Victoria will be 21 by then and legally able to drink. I’ve never really had totally relaxing holidays, apart from a week in Kerala recovering from a fabulous Indian wedding in Chennai, so it’ll be a fabulous novelty.

Z’s relaxed day

It’s been dry today. That could just about make the blog post, it’s such a relief. I’ve taken the day off, more or less. I sorted out my electric bike insurance renewal and Wink and I have been organising a couple of trips to London later in the spring. I also pruned the grape vine in the greenhouse, though I need to take a stepladder to finish the job. Otherwise, I’ve been reading all evening.

Not being sure what to have for dinner, I found a recipe for spinach and coconut milk soup that sounded good and I had some stock and half a tin of the milk. The stock, two lots of it, needed boiling as it’s been in the fridge a couple of days. There was a mysterious jug of gravy – it was onion soup that I’d made the other day and forgotten. The coconut milk and spinach could wait until tomorrow. I made toast and grated cheese and had a relaxed supper by the fire. And now, having been so tired at 4.30 that I had to force myself not to go to bed for an hour, it’s after 10 and I’m comfortably relaxed. I don’t lose myself in books as often as I used to and it’s good for me.

Mago asked me what books I read, but I’ll have to come back to that another day. Sorry, dear Mago, I’ve suddenly realised that I’m thoroughly tired after all.

Still raining

We’ve had more rain this winter than I can remember for many years. As I said the other day, I’ve got downpipe problems – that is, not the actual downpipes but a hopper that takes the rain from a roof and directs it into a downpipes. It abruptly turned into a colander. This is right by my big porch and the rain is wetting the wall and coming into the porch – not dripping, but wetting the wood and round the ceiling and also the wall behind the toilet in the cloakroom. When the guttering was replaced before we moved here, for reasons best known to himself, Russell replaced everything but this one cast iron hopper. He always liked to leave a job not quite done. Used to drive me nuts. He would deliberately leave everything with a small part imperfect and I like things to be completed. However, it lasted for decades without problems, admittedly. Now, it’s a disaster. I can’t shut the side door completely as it’s swelled and have to lock the inner door and not the outer one. It’s at times like this that I wish I’d dealt with all the house mending stuff, because Russell insisted on it and I don’t have the contacts that he did. He was very protective of his house – it was very much his. He was born here and he died here and I understood his protectiveness. Until the last few years, when things were neglected and I was very worried about the future, I loved living here and I do again now, but it was my home, not my house. I’ve sometimes felt that I should have argued more, but neither of us would have liked that.

Blogging without frontiers

The good thing about a personal blog is that I can digress, break off or give opinions and no one can stop me. I rarely do the last, as I’ve been shouted down too many times over the years and, in the past, it was very upsetting. I’m less vulnerable but also more cautious now. But anyway, tonight I digress. Only to be more current.

For the last several days, I’ve had a poorly cockerel. Jenson, son of Jenga, proud patriarch who died last year, was a gentle soul who cared for his wives but who was never seen to mate with them. He must have done so, as some, at least, of the eggs were fertilised, but it seemed he didn’t impose, unlike the average rooster. He went from proudly calling them to eat, when I’d scattered leftovers, greens or mealworms, to being on his own and his wattles and comb were paler and purply. In the course of a few days, he became worse. I couldn’t catch him and it would have made no difference. I’ve discovered, over the years, that I can’t nurse a cockerel, though sometimes I can persuade a hen to recover (from Hop to Hope could equally well have titled this post, though it’s only relevant because that girl chicken has done so well over a year and a half of being poorly).

Three days ago, he had collapsed and Wink, who fed them that morning, told me he was dead. But she had only looked from outside, he was just flopped. I put him in a box, with a bowl of water and some food, though I had no expectation of his recovery. Next morning, he was weaker. The next morning, I didn’t look for a few hours. Schrödinger’s Cock, I thought, as I avoided checking on him. But he was still alive and remained so all the day and evening. Even this morning, I wasn’t entirely sure as he was still warm, until I lifted him. Poor little guy. He wasn’t so old, but only Stringfellow is still alive of Jenna’s sons and I won’t let him father any chicks. New blood is needed for a healthy flock.

Last night, I took my second eldest granddaughter, Zerlina, to the theatre. She loves musicals and her mother doesn’t, so lucky granny is called on. I’m also a Friend of the theatre so get priority booking. Last night, we went to Six. Very good, very well played – it always cheers and thrills me to see how much performers put into a show. They work so damn hard! And, I’m not sure why this specific thing hadn’t occurred to me before, and the religious aspect wasn’t flagged up last night, but the paradox and irony finally came to me, that the devout Roman Catholic, Catherine of Aragon, caused the Reformation: that is, secession from Rome. If she had, however reluctantly, accepted an annulment of her marriage, Henry would never have broken from the Church of Rome.

But there. Too long ago to dwell on.

It’s still raining. I’ll come back to that too, sooner or later.

It all started 100 years ago … part 2

It’s just occurred to me that I took a photo of Carol’s grave in the churchyard, a few miles from here, that I visited with Rhonda and Victoria last year. So devoted was her daughter to everything English that her ashes – or half of them, anyway, had to be brought back here and interred, along with those of her husband. The snap I took isn’t very clear so I’ll have to go back and look again at some time. But she died in 1981 at the age of 77.

Dan and Sheila had a passion for antiques. Their enthusiasm surmounted even Russell’s and he was an avid collector. They couldn’t go past an antique shop without going in and they couldn’t leave until they’d looked at everything. They bought a huge amount of stuff, including a lot of duplicates. I’ve still got a couple of creamware teapots in my dining room, that Russell bought for them (they’d asked him to and they’d have paid him back) but which they didn’t visit again to pick up and we never got to Georgia to deliver them.

Sheila is completely unworldly. She’s very interested, still, in what’s going on in the world and in all sorts of historical subjects, particularly British history and especially royalty, old houses and old things – not wars or inventions, unless there was a connection to antiques. Otherwise, nothing. She had no idea what to do with a baby and I suspect that Carol had to help a lot. I love Sheila dearly and hadn’t realised how difficult she was, and Dan when he was alive, until I visited Danny and Rhonda. That they spoke freely to me, whilst knowing and respecting that I loved Dan and Sheila was something that brought us together. We aren’t blood relatives at all, but we decided that we were close enough to feel as if we are.

It all started 100 years ago… part 1

You may remember that I visited my not-cousins in Atlanta a couple of years ago. Just to recap on how they are and aren’t cousins, here’s their bit of the family story.

Carol and Doris were cousins and close friends and Carol had an elder sister, who fancied moving to the United States. She got herself a job as a nanny to a family on the West Coast, got all the necessary permission and was all ready to go, but then got cold feet. Carol was only 18 but she was up for an adventure and volunteered to go instead. It took some explanation to the authorities when she arrived, but there was a job to go to and she stayed. This would have been sometime in the early 1920s.

Eventually, she married and moved East – or it may have been the other way round. Anyway, she had a daughter, Sheila, who loved her stories about England. Sheila married Dan and they had a son, also Daniel. Dan was able to travel a fair bit on business and he and Sheila always managed to fit in visits to England, so they came to stay here with us several times. The last time, on their way back from living in the Far East for a year, would have been about 35 years ago. We had a standing invitation to visit them in Atlanta and, for our 30th wedding anniversary, in 2003, I said to the Sage that I didn’t want parties or presents, I just wanted to visit Dan and Sheila, who we realised would never travel out of the US again and then go to New Orleans. It was agreed and I started to get travel brochures and so on – this would have been in summer 2002. But in September, my mum was diagnosed with terminal cancer and it was clear that travelling wasn’t on the cards. She died the next March, just about the time we’d have planned to go.

Oh. This is going to turn into a saga.

The rain, it raineth on the Z

Every day, I think of things to blog about and every evening I don’t do anything about it. There’s too much going on that I don’t intend to write about, or at least, not until some things are resolved. I’m struggling, in various ways. However, some catching up to do here.

I’ve had a few places where heavy rain has come in, for a long time. Some of the leaks were sorted out, in the year or so after Russell died, because Jamie is very resourceful and worked out what was going wrong in one area of the roof. Another area, where the extension joins the original house, has been something of a problem for a very long time. It’s got worse. Then, a couple of weeks ago, I realised that there was a musty smell in the cloakroom and that it was in the alcove where the toilet is. It’s got an old fashioned high-up cistern, but it was replaced three or four years ago, so I didn’t think that was the problem, but I decided to take the wooden cover away and investigate, once I had time. But then the damp lessened. Then it got worse again. Then it pelted down with rain and I realised that water was coming in the porch around the door, and there was damp around the edge of the ceiling and the cloakroom is next to the porch.

To cut to the chase, I asked a friend whom he could recommend. Personal recommendations are always the best. I saw my friend on Saturday night, he phoned the roofer/general handyman next morning and texted me to say Craig would be able to come round on Sunday afternoon. So I telephoned Craig and he duly turned up.

There’s a fair bit of work to be done, but that’s because there’s a lot of roof. The main part is fine, it’s edges and joins and there are a lot of them. There’s one urgent job, which I hope will get done in the next week, but the rest can wait until drier weather. I’m not getting quotes, though Craig will give me an idea of costs, but I know very well that he won’t be able to tell what’s involved until he’s doing the job. We had a sensible discussion.

I find it so hard to deal with things, sometimes. I had my quarterly electricity bill over a week ago and only looked at it today. Then I checked it against the meter and it was appreciably higher – it all works out in the end, but I sent in the correct readings anyway. But the website didn’t want to accept readings lower than expected. The truth is, it’s been quite a mild winter and I don’t need so much heat anyway, without Tim. He was used to the whole house being centrally heated, whereas I’m the old fashioned sort, who tends to warm the rooms I’m using. So I had to use the chat box – amazingly, I got through straight away, but my photos of the readings wouldn’t upload. All the same, the very helpful assistant accepted them and put them through.

I also hadn’t looked at my car insurance renewal quote, but did that today as well. I know insurance has gone up, which was why I avoided it for a few days – honestly, it’s so silly. It’s only something to worry about until I look and then I know and I won’t worry any more. Barking, darlings. But there are a lot of us who bark.

I did try to renew my bike insurance, but discovered that it was due in a month and a day and I could only renew it a month ahead. So that’s pending. I did, however, let the chap I bought the bike from know that the battery wouldn’t charge at all. It had been giving trouble last summer, a bit, but then I broke my foot and tried to keep the battery charged, then forgot about it and now it’s dead. Very kindly, he’s going to replace it under guarantee – I think it should be, to be fair, though I couldn’t argue it if he had been reluctant, because I hadn’t charged it for the last few months and it’s recommended not to leave it completely uncharged for long.

I’ve also updated my travel insurance, but more of that another day.