Author Archives: Z

Free ranging

The four young pullets were three months old on Sunday and they’ve been hankering for an excursion into the big wild world, so I opened the door of their run and let them out. They are rather sweet, nervous little girls who don’t squabble with each other for food, but just help themselves to the plenty that’s offered, so they were wary about going out. I sprinkled a handful of dried mealworms, which encouraged them. Later, I looked again and they were pottering about happily and, later again, the other chickens were with them and there was no bullying going on. So this seems to have been a smooth transition to the grown-up free-range world and, in a few weeks, I expect they’ll join the others in the hen house at night. They are, at present, very biddable and go back into their coop when I guide them.

The younger chicks, who hatched on 31st July, are also impatient to get out, but they’re too young. With the predators we have about here, I can’t take the risk. So I give them handfuls of grass and scraps from the kitchen as well as their own food, and they’re doing all right. Of the five, I’m sure that two are girls but don’t know about the others. They may well be cocks, but they don’t square up to each other and bicker, so I won’t come to any conclusions yet, until they start to crow or they don’t. The other ones were accosting each other from a few weeks old but, just as Canasta and Scrabble, their mothers, have different personalities, so do they.

Indoors, we’ve been putting together a cabinet to hold drinking glasses. In the dining room, there’s an alcove that used to house a cupboard staircase until 1928. It’s not used except to hold a small corner cupboard with Russell’s collection of Goss china. I’ve been looking for a shallow cupboard for quite some time, but haven’t been able to find what we needed. Display cabinets for small collectables seemed to be promising but the glass fronted ones were too shallow and I just couldn’t find the right thing. Finally, it occurred to me that a CD cabinet might fit the bill, and that’s what we now have. It isn’t glass fronted, but that was not possible to find, and the shelves are completely adjustable. Of course, the cat will jump up there if she has a chance, but I’ve found a suitable curtain – there are advantages to having a lumbar room – and we can put that up to stop her doing so.

We’ve also finished the catalogue for the next auction and that will go on the website and be posted out within the next week. So progress is gradually being made. I still have sleepless nights about personal admin and so on, but I may manage to get through all that too, one of these days.

Seaview, the bedrooms

My parents’ bedroom had an en suite bathroom and dressing room – of course it did. The bath was a six-footer and, when I was a child, I used to lie full length under the water with just my nose sticking out. There was another bathroom, but it was a big, cheerless room and only guests used it. There was a separate loo – of course there was – and no cistern, when you pulled the chain, the water came straight from the tanks up in the attic, so if the valve stuck open, as happened once, water just kept flushing through. There was a wooden seat, a nice old one, well polished by years of sitting. There was no lid.

Also on that floor was the spare bedroom, which was above the dining room, which had its own washbasin, so guests didn’t have to use the cheerless bathroom unless they wanted a bath. There was the housemaid’s pantry, which was a room about five feet wide and ten feet long, and the linen cupboard; about the same size. Not sure why they needed both, but of course my grandparents had Staff. Then there was a passageway, with the day nursery halfway down and the night nursery at the end, down a couple of steps, above the scullery and next to the back stairs. The day nursery was used as another spare bedroom – in 1976, my son Alex was born there. The night nursery had all sorts of things in it, including my father’s office stuff. He had a printing set – the proper thing, you set the individual letters to make up the words and there was a Roneo duplicator and a franking machine.

Tim asked delicately, what happened to all the money, then? Death duties, taxation and a kind but unwise investment, in short. The investment surcharge of the late 1960s raised a top slice of over 100% on invested earnings – it was retrospective, so couldn’t be planned for in advance. A year or so after that, my father died suddenly and a company he’d put a lot of money in, to try to keep it afloat and help a friend keep his job, went bust. It was, unfortunately, after it had been included in the valuation of everything Daddy owned; because, in those days, a widow paid death duties on the death of her husband. So she had to pay tax on an investment that no longer existed. My father had set up a trust, which was only intended to last until Wink and I had grown up and wouldn’t need a guardian, and really was planned for if both our parents were killed in a cross-Europe trip in their sports car, which they’d taken ten years earlier. But that didn’t happen, my mother didn’t inherit the capital and nor did Wink or I. So, if you’re thinking of me as an heiress, I’m not, in fact. Russell inherited this house from his parents (which needed a lot of work done at the time), but otherwise we’ve made our own way in life. And that was easier to do than it is for our children and there are no complaints.

Z goes to London

I’ve been busy for a few days and have not sat down at the computer very much, and when I have, it’s been to check other blogs rather than my own.

I had a day in London on Thursday, walked a good five and a half miles and my foot bone survived it, though I have to confess I was a bit blistered, after a couple of months of lounging around. I’d bought my train ticket online as usual and, once I got to the station, went to download it, only to find that I’d inexplicably been signed out of the website. I had the email confirming I’d bought the tickets, but I tried numerous times to sign in and couldn’t do it. I tried to reset my password and it didn’t make any difference.

It did in the end, of course, and it was just in time, after a good half hour because, just as I finally signed in, the conductor turned up at the end of the carriage to check tickets.

After that worry – because I do worry, I can’t help it – the day went smoothly. I arrived two minutes before my appointment, which should have been more but I was so surprised at being offered a seat on the crowded Tube that I missed my stop and had to go on three more before I could rejoin the Northern line. I spoke to the builder, his workman, had lunch, visited the British Museum, where I particularly went to see the Sutton Hoo jewellery, the Elgin Marbles (because I expect they’ll finally go back to Greece and I’ll never see them again), the Easter Island head and the two pieces of Lowestoft china that are all they own. And I had a cup of tea and a bun.

And then I met A and we went on to meet his wife L, who’s one of my oldest and dearest friends, for dinner. And, embarrassingly, they won the tussle for the bill – embarrassing because I proposed the meet-up and they paid last time too. Lovely to see them all the same, it’s been some months. So it was a good day and I was home by 11.30 that night.

The top floor

My bedroom was on the top floor, on the right as you look at the picture. I shared it with my sister. It was a long room, 12 or 14 feet wide and maybe 20 feet long, but I’m guessing that. There was a gas fire and, because I was an indulged child, I made my sister get up first in the winter to light it. Once, I forgot an apple I’d left on the fender, for half an hour or so and looked again to find it was half-baked and very tasty.

I must have been a trial to her. She’s five and a half years older than i am, so my childish prattle can’t have been particularly entertaining. At least she was allowed to stay up later than I was, but I have never been good at going to sleep and was awake for a chat when she came to bed. We had an ongoing story, known as The Game, which only she and I know about, until this minute. It was generally based on a book I’d been reading and we played the various characters and extemporised, making up a story as we went along. I was always the instigator – “Let’s play The Game” and she never refused, though sometimes she could hardly stay awake.

On the way up to bed, we passed Bobby the leopard in his glass case. I always patted the case and said goodnight to him. Then up eight stairs to the half-landing, which I hurried past because the window had its top half at the bottom of it (and its bottom half at the half-landing of the staircase beneath) and I always imagined a hand would appear out of the gap and grab my leg. i’ve never told anyone that either – it’s no great secret, but I knew it wasn’t a real fear, even then, so simply never mentioned it. There were two other bedrooms on the top floor, one of which had two steps down to it. Later, that was my bedroom and before, once Wink left for college, I had the smallest room, long and narrow under the eaves. It had pretty blue and white wallpaper, done specially for me – cornflowers, I think – and a blue curtain the length of the room where the ceiling was too low to use. I slept with three dogs, which was quite a lot when it was a single bed, but the bigger room I used later had a double bed, so we fitted on it rather better. Still, three labradors do take up most of any bed.

Otherwise, on that floor, was the Tank Room, which had the four big tanks, each holding 250 gallons of water, which were filled twice a day from the well. Otherwise, it was a lumbar room. And, of course, there was the wooden ladder staircase to the Lookout. That had a trap door to keep all the heat from being lost.

Some years ago, the people who lived in the right hand side of the house invited us for Sunday lunch, which I’ve referred to before. As they showed us round and took us to the top floor, my hand slipped under the banister and found the sliver of wood that was missing. It remembered.

The kitchen

One of my earliest memories of Seaview is the kitchen, or rather Mr Weavers the gardener having his morning coffee there. He spoke broad Lowestoft and I hardly understood a word that he said. Of course, my ear became attuned after a while, but very little Z was mystified. North Suffolk dialect is very different from coastal Dorset.

After a year or so, the cooking was moved into the scullery, because the kitchen was having a makeover, as we’d say now. My parents forwent a holiday for a couple of years to pay for it. This would have been about 1961. Honestly it was – as we’d say now (sorry) – state of the art.

Do you remember the Beverley Hillbillies? We all laughed, while actually being more in their situation than most Americans. We didn’t have the things they marvelled at and misused through ignorance. I didn’t know anyone else with a freezer or a dishwasher, but it was still rather over my head. But anyway, my mum designed her new kitchen. There was a big alcove where there had been a range cooker, and she had two hobs in there, plus a huge extractor fan. There was also a separate grill unit because my mother didn’t want to have to choose between grill and oven. The oven itself was between the hob alcove and the outside wall. It was set at eye level – before I had an Aga, I always had separate hob and oven because I didn’t see the point of an oven you had to bend down to – and it was amazing for its time. It had a built-in rotisserie – which we used hardly ever – and a timer. And that was a problem, as it turned out.

A few days after the kitchen was finished – I will describe it in more detail later – we all went out for pre-dinner drinks at the Yacht Club. So my mother set the timer to cook the food for when we arrived home again. However, the brand new timer and the thermostat failed and we got home to clouds of smoke. So the kitchen was back, almost, to square one. The manufacturers had to pay for a new oven, cleaning the room, redecorating it and everything. We never risked using the timer again, though.

Opposite the double hob and cooker was a peninsula unit – this was also unheard of. Next to the window was the sink, which had a waste disposal unit – also unheard of; truly this was the most modern kitchen anyone could have. My mother slipped up though, because there wasn’t a draining board. No doubt this was for aesthetic reasons, but it was inconvenient. Further along, there was a cavity with the built-in base for the liquidiser. Unheard of, as before.

Underneath the hob and the oven were cupboards for all the pots and pans and under the work surface were more cupboards for the other utensils. At the other side of the peninsula was space for people to work or to sit and watch or chat, and against the back wall was a big, dark oak Welsh dresser which held various items of china. On the wall opposite the window was another built-in dresser with cupboards and drawers, known as the white dresser because it was painted white. That had always been there, because there was a space in the middle that was the hatch through to the dining room. As a child, I often sat on the white dresser. I used to give a little bounce and then jump up, without needing to put a hand down. It was the height that a work surface is now, I don’t know how I did it. But I well remember the little bounce and jump.

Seaview – the house – downstairs layout

The front door was painted deep yellow, the same colour as the door you see in the header photograph. Just to complicate the matter, the side that faced the road and had the front door was, from the point of appearance, the back of the house. The back door was at the side. Yeah. I know.

There was an open porch and, as you came in through the door, a small hall that we called the airlock, because there was a door between that and the main hall. Off the airlock to the left, was the cloakroom, with a washbasin and pegs, and the downstairs toilet was beyond that. It was a chilly room, so we tended to go upstairs to the loo, although it wasn’t unused. I kept a book in there, of course, but rarely read more than a page at a time. Plato’s “Republic” lasted me for years and I can’t remember if I ever got to the end of it. I did find it quite an annoying book.

As you entered the hall, the gunroom was to your left. This was long and narrow and lined with glass-fronted shelves, which housed books. I frankly doubt that many guns were ever kept in it. My grandfather had a Purdy shotgun, but I don’t think he was interested in shooting and my father certainly wasn’t. At the end of the gunroom was a desk and the house telephone lived on it. There was also a dog bed in front of the desk. We stood in the dog bed when we used the phone.

When I was a child, you were connected to the person you wanted by the operator. Once, I crept in there and picked up the receiver and a woman’s voice said “number please?” I was horrified at my naughtiness being found out, slammed down the receiver and – I suspect – that’s where my mild phone phobia dates from. In later years, I would answer the phone but only made calls reluctantly, though automatic dialling helped. When I did use the phone, i always unravelled the cord. My mother turned the receiver every time she used it until it eventually twisted so much that it couldn’t be replaced; though I’d usually held it up and let it spin round to correct itself before then.

The hall itself was a big, rectangular room. On the left – which is the right as you look at the photo – was the drawing room. Then there was the passage, which was basically a dumping ground. We never used it. In the middle was the study, under the balcony in the pic and then there was the dining room. Those all faced the river and the garden. On the other side of the hall was the small room under the stairs where the booze was kept. Known as the beer cellar (though it was at ground level), it had a wooden plaque on the door, reading The Slip Inn. For a long time it was kept unlocked, until an unfortunate incident when a house guest, who needed to be saved from herself, was found in there with an upturned bottle to her mouth. As my father’s mother had been an alcoholic and it wrecked everyone’s relationship with her and ended her life at 64, he was shocked into putting a lock on the door.

Between the beer cellar and the foot of the stairs was a big, built-in oak coffer known as the Coffin. My mother kept pianola rolls in there. The stairs had nicely carved newel posts and banisters and two half-landings, so you went up five stairs, turned right, went up seven, turned up, went up six and you were on the landing. As a child, I used to jump down the stairs, but I never had the nerve to jump the full seven. I knew my limits. My sister reminds me that my mother called me “baby elephant” for the noise I made, though no one ever suggested I should stop.

Between the door to the dining room and the stairs, there was a side wall with the Dutch hanging clock, which now hangs in my hall, Mike having coaxed it into working order a few years ago; and then a door to the kitchen area.

Straight ahead, after a small lobby, was the butler’s pantry. My grandfather had a butler, but we never did. It was a long, narrow room, lined with shelves on both sides and the dishwasher was in the middle, in front of the window. My parents were the only people with a dishwasher that I knew, at that time. To the left of the lobby was the kitchen, a big room that would have been amply big enough to be a family room, but I’ll tell you about that later. Through that was the scullery, though it was no such thing. It started as our kitchen and then became a little sitting room. To the left of that was the pantry, where we kept the fridge and, later, the washing machine, and the stairs to the cellar were off that. Straight ahead was the back door, with an enclosed porch, and to the right was the walk-in larder. I can see it all, of course, in my mind’s eye. Every detail.

Seaview – the garage workshop

My father was pretty good with his hands and, for a while, he subscribed to an American DIY magazine. There were projects in it that were for fun rather than serious pieces of furniture and he did a few of those. The one I remember was an elaborate practical joke that he played one Christmas on their friends Ford and Bunty.

My father Malcolm and Ford (short for Wallingford, not that he ever let anyone know it) had been friends since childhood. He’d been best man at their wedding. Ford was great fun and had a mischievous sense of humour. He was the local photographer in Lowestoft and, had the war not intervened, they’d have gone into business together. I’m still friends with Ford and Bunty’s son and his wife and Weeza is friends with their daughter.

Anyway, that’s by the bye. The Christmas special issue of this American magazine, if you can still remember before I digressed, had the template for a Santa Claus scene, complete with Father Christmas and his sleigh, the presents, the reindeer, everything. Daddy spent weeks cutting it all out of plywood.

On Christmas Eve, friends invited the neighbourhood round for evening drinks. A watch was kept until Ford and Bunty left their house and then Daddy and Mr Weavers drove down with Santa and his gear and they spent an hour or so constructing the whole scene on the roof. Father Christmas was stuck in the chimney and the reindeer were strung along the ridge. Afterwards, of course, Mummy and Daddy went along innocently to the party and – actually, thinking about it, I have no idea what happened the next day. I remember seeing the construction on the roof so I must have been taken along there, but I don’t know how quickly it was realised who was responsible. Probably pretty smartly.

Sorry to mention the C word at this time of the year. I suspect I’m pretty well finished with the garden – there is more I can say, but it would be all about meeeee – and I should talk about something else. Even if it’s just the house. Isn’t it funny how you remember every inch of where you grew up?

Z returns

We’ve been to Reading and Pembrokeshire and are now back. We were taken out to dinner by friends, longstanding as far as Tim is concerned and, of course, more recent for me, who are just lovely and the greatest fun. Tim and I always intend to be more sociable than actually happens – I think we should arrange more things in advance, because one always makes time for what is in the diary.

Tim has nearly finished the catalogue, then there’s proofreading. On the home run soon. I’ve got various business stuff to get on with too, as well as a lot of cooking and garden things. Tim had a lot of apples on his tree – they’re cooking apples and he thinks they’re Bramleys, but they don’t look like mine and they’re ready earlier. Still, his house is down south.

That reminds me, while we were away we had a crab salad at the village pub, and very good it was. The Pembrokeshire crabs are quite different from Norfolk ones. The white meat breaks up more and the dark meat is darker. They taste of crab, not sure I’d know the difference in the dark. It’s a nice pub. The same person owns the caravan park (not Tim’s, it’s more tucked away and doesn’t have sea – or any – views, but it’s nicely laid out), the little shop and the pub, and we usually have a drink and sometimes a meal at the last. I had a quiche last time, which was considerably better than I’d expected, homemade with lovely pastry. It’s always busy and there are lots of young bar staff, so never long to wait. Good to have a business thriving in these uncertain times.

Still sort of winning

Tim is a third of the way through the catalogue. He says it may not be quite as professionally produced as before, but I am pretty confident. He’s being an angel. Can’t thank him enough.

I caught up on everything I meant to except for making a loaf of bread, because I couldn’t, after all, be bothered. Buying bread isn’t out of the question, after all.

Upsetting as it was, the young cockerels had to go, and they’ve gone and been dealt with by a very kind, practical young farmer, to whom I’m grateful. I cleaned out their run and Tim and I moved it and, with some difficulty, shifted the three week old chicks and their mother into it. Job done and I surprised myself earlier this evening by crying rather a lot. Silence of the chicks.

We had the first sweetcorn tonight and it was tender and delicious, freshly picked and rushed to the pan of boiling water. Well, almost.

So, sort of winning, though it doesn’t particularly feel like it. It should be better tomorrow.

LT wins through. We hope.

The last few days have been trying. Tim is putting together the catalogue for the next sale – I type up all the details and do the condition report, we do the photography together, I crop and, if necessary, straighten the photos and then send the whole lot for him and he compiles the catalogue. Up to now, it’s been on Microsoft Publisher, part of the Office programme. I can’t do that part, even if I were up for it, because Publisher doesn’t work on a Mac – though I could use a different programme if I had the least inclination to address the learning curve, Weeza always used this one, so we just tweak the template.

Tim was in Reading and made a start, and got some way with the photos. Then he took a break, saved progress and quit, and came back a while later. The message was that the file was corrupted and couldn’t open.

He thought it must be a photo that hadn’t saved properly but, to sum it up, that wasn’t it. Publisher had done an auto-update and it was wrecked. He’s spent many hours on the phone to Microsoft and they’ve tried to fix it, and they have retrieved the document but, as soon as he adds anything and saves, it fails again. Eventually, he gave up and told them so.

In short, having checked out other desktop publishing programmes, he’s simply using Word. Even that hasn’t been easy. But he’s on his way now.

It doesn’t help that my business partner didn’t tell me that a piece has been withdrawn from the sale, because I spotted a repair that the owner hadn’t noticed and recommended a lower reserve. Would have been good to know before all the numbers went on. I can’t change the last 20 lots, so there will be a note that this lot is withdrawn. He forgot to let me know, which is fair enough, but saying “just to recap” when he hadn’t told me would be irritating if I let it be.

Anyway, we’re letting it all wash over us and being good natured about it. Tim is so patient and treating the learning curve as a challenge. I made risotto for dinner, which is always cheering.

I’ve procrastinated, day after day, until I’ve run out of time and I’ve got an absurd amount to do tomorrow. I used to be good at this sort of thing, but I’ve relaxed in my old age. Now, I think I can wing it until it’s too late to worry. What else can a Z do?