Author Archives: Z

Z’s anecdotage. The prologue

Not having slept much for the last week, I’ve been thinking about other things and going back to my childhood again. I’m sure I’ve mentioned that I was a shy child – it was my defining attribute, I must have. When I first went to school, I was small for my age. My mother bought the smallest size in everything and it had to be taken up and in.

I surely must have said this – oh, go on, it’s a funny story so I’ll tell you again. My sister was still down in Weymouth, she hadn’t moved schools yet and stayed in the week with friends and at weekends with Grandad. She liked this arrangement and still rather resents it having ended – but the point is, that meant that the momentous First Day Of School was faced alone by little Z. I remember clearly being dressed in my bulky new uniform: navy gym slip, light blue blouse, dark blue tie and sitting in the back seat of my mother’s Daimler. We arrived at school. “Well!” said Mummy. “You’d think they’d have the gates open, at least. That’s not very welcoming on the first day of term.”

I’m not sure how long it took for the penny to drop, but a brief discussion between my parents established that we’d arrived a day early. I took it in my stride, being taken home and undressed again and put into mufti. Grown-ups inhabited a different planet from mine and I took life as it came.

This isn’t the story I told Tim yesterday, merely the preamble. Tomozz, darlings.

LT loses his clutch

The journey to Reading was eventful, in the wrong way. In short, Tim’s car broke down on the motorway. Luckily it wasn’t the misnamed “smart” motorway with no hard shoulder and he was able to pull over safely. But it took a long time for a low-loader to arrive and take us on to Reading. We were just approaching the A1(M)/M25 junction at South Mimms services – 100 yards short of the slip road, in fact, when Tim said he couldn’t get the car in gear. He’s fairly sure that it’s the clutch that’s gone west.

Anyway, we duly got out and climbed over the barrier but Tim soon realised he had to get back in the car as the traffic noise was such that he couldn’t talk to the breakdown people when outside. So he stayed in the passenger seat and I hauled the coolbox out of the boot and made sandwiches. Luckily, we’d brought plenty of provisions and I asked him if he’d like a bottle of beer? “Well, it’s not as if I’m driving anywhere. What sort of cap does it have, though?” I was already ahead of him there and produced a corkscrew/bottle opener from my handbag. So we sat, eating Norfolk salami sandwiches on homemade bread and drinking bottles of Adnams. It was two and a half hours before Gary appeared, a really nice and very capable guy, who loaded the car up and drove us home. He deposited the car with impressive skill in the convenient parking space outside Tim’s back gate.

I’d started to regret the bottle of water and half litre of beer an hour earlier. I’d had a mug of tea and a cup of coffee before we left Yagnub and it was all rather telling on me. Tim couldn’t get at the house key until the car was at ground level. So I used his front garden, tucking myself nicely between a thick hedge and the garden wall.

Tim luckily had his driving licence with him, so has rented a car and we duly appointed a gardener and he made a few phone calls about his car. It’s old, he’s had it from new and it’s the best car he’s ever had. He’s been considering a replacement for a while – you know you’re on borrowed time after a decade or so, before something goes badly awry – but he never had a pressing reason for a change. Now, he has to decide whether to get the repair done, which will cost nearly as much as the car is worth, and reckon on scrapping it eventually, or whether to bite the bullet and scrap it now.

For my part, though I haven’t felt ill, I’ve had a headache and tinnitus ever since my second vaccination. Not badly but for most of the time, though hanging around on the motorway surely didn’t help. So it’s not been a great week, all told. However, no actual harm done and we’re back in Norfolk now.

The sky was grey

Not all the time, we’ve even had sunshine in heavy rain showers. But it’s all pretty grey on the whole. Luckily, when I went out mid-afternoon to shut up the greenhouse, I thought I’d give the chickens some mealworm treats and they all came home, so I was able to shut up their run and didn’t have to cajole them inside later. They were not pleased with me and clustered disconsolately round the entrance to the tunnel, staring at me. I’ll let them out early tomorrow as I have to be out before 9, to get my second vaccination. I’ll vote in the local elections on my way home, which together seem to me to be quite enough achievement for the day. Anything extra is a bonus. I’m so bored. So, so bored and yet I have little inclination to get much done.

Still, never mind. It will get better. Next week, Tim and I are planning to head down to his place for a couple of days. He needs to find a new gardener and has a couple of interviews lined up. I’m just going to keep him company. I haven’t been there since early February last year. Wink will be in sole charge here for a couple of days. I must buy more Go Cat for the outside cats, they will surely succeed in convincing her that they’re woefully underfed (their bellies sway underneath them as they walk) and that they need double rations if they aren’t to starve to Actual Real Death. Likewise, Eloise cat will persuade her that she cannot eat the food put out for her, but needs a different brand, each three times a day. She does not know this yet and I’m no snitch.

Z is virtuous

Yes, well I shouldn’t have mentioned rain. No warmer but wet and windy, though not really enough rain to do much good. The chicken run is finished and the girlies had a lovely time outside today. If you follow me on Fbook or Instagram, I put up a short video of them coming outside for the first time.

Al and the family called over yesterday. By good fortune, I’d made a chocolate cake a couple of days earlier, so I could ply them with tea and cake. They brought Wink’s birthday present – some solar-powered lights for the garden – and I gave them eggs to take away, so all was happy. I love to see people, but it tires me out, I’m so unused to it. I suppose I’ll get better at this.

The only other remarkable thing is that I’ve addressed the alcohol situation. We’ve been unashamedly treating every day as a weekend and I knew, of course, that it had gone beyond a cheering-up thing and become habitual. Not addictive, of course, we don’t have that problem, which is lucky. So a spritzer before dinner and a glass of wine with is my normal preference now. Though I sometimes just have tomato juice before. Still no substitute for wine, I’d rather have nothing at all than low-alcohol versions, I don’t want to drink fruit at dinner, nor anything sugary. Water is fine, obviously, if I’m thirsty.

I’m using the contents of the salad drawer, so it’s roasted veg for dinner, vegetable soup for lunch and salad yesterday. So virtuous.

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.