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Everyone is a year older now

The last family birthday of the year is today. My lovely daughter-in-law Dora’s birthday is today. That’s it until the end of January.

It used to be that I couldn’t start thinking about the occasion known as the “festive season” until after my mother’s birthday on 11th November. Now I can, but that doesn’t mean I do.

I’ve already blown it somewhat because there was something that caught LT’s eye on eBay the day before yesterday, so I promptly bought it for him and will give it to him as soon as it arrives, which may be tomorrow or the next day. I should have secretly noted it and hidden it away for the next twelve weeks – but “Should.” No I shouldn’t. Give when you want to and worry about Christmas later.

I was dismayed to discover that the place where I have bought kindling for some years isn’t going to have it any more. A 20kg feed sack (for kindling this is volume, not weight) was £4.75 and it’s almost as much for a tiny string bag from the petrol station. I will have to make enquiries. In the meantime, we will be rubbing two sticks together and it won’t actually work.

The pecking order

You know those bags that are fastened at the top with thin string, whereby you cut the end and pull and it unravels, but it has to be the right end? If you cut the wrong end it doesn’t work and normally that seems to be the one you try first. Well, it wasn’t. The bag in the boot of the car – actually, the top one of three – opened at the first attempt and poured a good cupful of its contents on the floor. My pristine, valeted car has joined the household. I felt quite bad when I swapped the old one for it, actually, because getting the straw out of the fabric was nearly impossible. I’d had a tarp in the boot but wisps escaped.

Anyway, the chickens are out again, after three days franked up in hold (Shakespeare, actually a pigpen but who’s counting?) and they were thrilled to find the wet soil to scratch in. Most of the chicks are still at the stage where they could be girls, so I can look at them fondly and choose to believe they are. Only two or three have the legginess and general demeanour of young cocks, as yet. I was lucky with the last ten, though – or rather, they were – because seven of them are pullets.

We had prawns for lunch today. Paul the Fish called and I wanted a piece of white fish to bake in yoghurt, which is another story. I bought a piece of hake. But he also had some nice prawns in the shell, so I bought some of them too. We had salad and mayonnaise and I prepared finger bowls, complete with rosewater, rose petals and a slice of lemon, because just because.

Eating with our fingers, we discarded the heads and tails (but ate the shells) and I took the remains out for the chooks. It was entertaining enough to stay and watch. There were several chickens and chicks on the grass, so I threw out the food and they ran over. Mothers soon gave their babies permission to forage and the smaller ones had the food beaked up for them. I watched the pecking order. Jenga, alpha male, was the host. He called in his “great provider” voice to attract his wives. The young cockerels hung about hopefully. The two big black hens were snappy with the chicks, but if they were too snappy then the baby-mommas stepped in to take control. One chick possessed an entire head and took it off. She removed the meat and worried at it, bearing off a fat morsel triumphantly. Only then did the young cock dare to go in and peck at the rest. So chicks are higher in the pecking order than cocks. Jenga waited until all the girls and babies had taken food before he started to eat.

In the meantime, the barn cats were interested – Zain and Freddie, at any rate. Zain is the boldest, but even he knows better than to mess with the chickens. He also waited until everyone was busy with their food before venturing forwards. And he was pretty unimpressed. Clearly, he told Freddie not to bother, because they both wandered away. I don’t know if Betty Kitten came along afterwards because I know she likes some fish – tuna, at any rate. Eloise cat rejected my salad lunch the other day, understandably, and of course I can’t bear her to be disappointed, so I opened a small tin of tuna. After she’d eaten it a couple of times and I’d eaten it once, we were both bored and I took the rest down to the barn. Betty gets chased away from the choicest bits by her brothers but she knows I’ll sneak her a treat if I can, so she watched me put the bowl in a corner and went to eat it by herself, unnoticed.

The first night of the storm was so wet and windy that the food I’d put for the barn hedgehog went uneaten. I put down a small amount of Go Cat dry food and some tinned cat food. Interestingly, next day the cats hadn’t eaten it either. It was all gone by the next day though, so the urchin must have ventured out. The hedgehog food in the chicken coop had gone and the pile of straw was suspiciously rounded, so I have a feeling that hedgehog was having supper in bed. I didn’t investigate, but today it was gone, so I think I’ll put more straw down in case it’s thinking it’s a good place to hibernate.

Z comfort-cooks

It rained for most of the night. I know because I was awake for most of the night. There was no good reason for that, I usually sleep easily for an hour or more, but never mind. I started to worry that Eloise was shut outside in the wet, though I knew perfectly well that I’d let her in and locked the door and, if she went out through her cat flap, she could come back that way too. But you worry in the middle of the night.

I listened to the radio – or rather, I put on the radio in the hope that the quiet music would help me to sleep. And I did sleep eventually of course, woke up around 7, fetched breakfast and fed Eloise, who’d been asleep on the spare room bed of course, and had breakfast in bed. Then I slept until nearly 10 am.

Honestly, when Tim’s away, the Z will revert to the wild. I dunno.

In view of the filthy weather, I had no intention of letting the chickens out and they had enough food for their breakfast, so I knew they’d have come to no harm. I soaked a couple of slices of bread and added some sunflower seeds in apology for my lateness, and they were fine. I gave the cats extra too, so that they wouldn’t have to leave the cosiness of the barn.

I was running low on the plain mixed corn I feed the chickens while there are chicks – I’m still putting down chick crumbs, but they eat the other food too. Layer pellets and oyster shell, which their normal food contains, are unsuitable for growing chicks. So I went out to buy a few more bags and went to the greengrocer too. I thought that it would be a quiet day for him, as there’s only room for one at a time in the shop at present and we have to queue outside. I did have to wait for a couple of minutes, though and, when I came out, a couple were waiting, so he was actually as busy as he could be.

I spent a couple of hours cooking, making minestrone soup, celery and leek soup and a venison casserole. I don’t quite know how it is that being on my own sends me straight to the stove. I chopped and stirred all through lunchtime, to Eloise cat’s annoyance and I had nothing suitable for her. I ate raw vegetables, a hunk of cheese and some Twiglets, which is about the most balanced meal one can manage. Eloise’s annoyance became louder and I gave in. I opened a tin of tuna. She adores tuna and approved of me again. I shelved plans to get something out of the freezer or have soup for dinner, and boiled an egg – a bought egg, though it’s a very good one from the deli – to go into a salad Niçoise, instead.

At least, with the chickens staying in all day, there were no shenanigans at bedtime. I did find an egg in the henhouse, the first for quite some time, so at least one of the big black hens is laying. I still think Mary probably is, so we’ll see tomorrow. The forecast is just as bad, so they can frolic in their greenhouse for another day. If it is pouring, I can’t quite face the thought of barrowing down their bags of corn though, so I’ll have to take a tubful and leave the rest in the boot of the car until Tim gets back on Sunday. Manhandling an open bag will be another thing to manage but I’m sure it won’t be as bad as moving a 20kg sack in the rain.

Tim says it’s been fine weather down in Reading. Windy, but dry and sunny. I told him he’s in the best place for a day or two and he can bring the better weather back here with him.

Tomorrow, I’m going to make bread and yoghurt. Anything to stay in the warm and dry.

Thickula

Tim has gone to his house for a couple of days, because there are things he needs to do there. I always think that I’ll do a lot while he’s away but it doesn’t necessarily happen. I did clean out the henhouse though, so that was quite enough to satisfy my casual, self-indulgent work ethic.

Putting the chooks to bed was a palaver, though. I went out early, which was a mistake. I nearly fell asleep about 4.30 and rain was forecast, so going out to chivvy them in early seemed a good idea.

They all ran after me happily, I thought it would be fine. But half the chickens waited outside. I threw handfuls of mealworms and got most of them inside, but there was still a posse hanging about. So I half-closed the greenhouse door and went to feed the cats, because they were bothering me. Honestly, I can be so stupid.

I fed the cats, then put some dry and tinned food on a plate for the hedgehog. Then I put tinned food on two more plates, one for the coop and one by the garage, for the other hedgehogs. I did all this, went back and found several chickens eating the hedgehog food. So I chased them and most of them went into the chicken greenhouse. I grumpily went indoors. Then I came out and got two more into the greenhouse. One had hysterics and ran under the gate into the field and under the next gate into the drive and through the next gate back into the kitchen garden and, when I chivvied her, repeated the process. So I swore at her, named her Thickula and stalked off – to observe Eloise sneaking into the coop and eating the hedgehog food there. We eyeballed each other and I went away.

Next outing, some of the chickens thought they might come out again. So I shut the greenhouse door. Ten minutes later, I checked again and Thickula was glumly waiting outside. I opened the door. She ran away, shrieking. While she was being a fool, I refilled the hedgehog plates and propped open the chicken greenhouse by a few inches, shouting at Jabba the Cluck, who thought she might come out again.

Finally, Thickula went in. And now it’s raining but at least it didn’t rain on me. I trust the hedgehogs are all right, because they’re the only animals who have not been any sort of a nuisance today.

I have remembered to take the bins down the drive, put out a coolbox for the milkman tomorrow and lock the door. Tim would be impressed. Well, he is because I’ve told him to be, hem hem.

I have more chickens than I need and I hate the thought of giving them away. Except Thickula. She’s going to a good home as soon as I can catch the little bugger.

Z looks back and forward and sits here in between

By tomorrow, I hope that the auction catalogue will have gone to be printed and I can start to relax. I’ve got a to-do list that isn’t written down – I only do that when I’m at risk of forgetting things – that really needs to be tackled in the next week or so.

The first things are birthday presents for eldest grandson and my daughter-in-law. They’re the last birthdays of the year now. My mother’s birthday was in November, which was always a bit of a worry. Presents held a lot of significance for her and, the older she got, the harder it was to get it right. She never criticised a present but one could tell that one had fallen short again. In fact, after she died, we found quite a number of things that had never been taken out of their wrappings, though Wink and I had gone to a lot of thought and tried hard to get things she would like. I still don’t know how we could have done better and perhaps it was not possible.

I’m not especially imaginative in that line, I wish I were. I have managed a few successes with Tim, fortunately – it’s sometimes the unexpected ones that work surprisingly well, such as the ice maker of a few years ago. He’s really good at presents, in contrast to me, quite exceptionally so.

All the same, neither of us is too bothered by anniversaries. It’s our fourth wedding anniversary on Thursday, but I doubt we’ll mark it. At least I remember the date – it took years for Russell and me to get it right, we had to look it up every time.

I have promised to take Tim out to lunch one day this week, though. We missed last week, I’m not sure how. Rare for us to let an opportunity for fun to pass us by and we will make up for it.

The angel is in the detail…

As I construct a catalogue, I examine each piece of china carefully and, sometimes, this means that I notice something that isn’t obvious at first glance. That is the great attraction and, whatever your own enthusiasm, you probably know what I mean. It’s the subtleties that appeal.

A few photos to show you what I mean. Here is a small vase, quite an early one. Sadly, it’s been spoiled in the past, because the rim got chipped or cracked or broken and some joker thought it was a good idea to grind the entire rim down. But the lovely early flower is on the front and that’s very attractive. Look at the back, though. Isn’t that a fabulous strutting bird?

The next two pictures are of a coffee can. Mandarin figures – Chinese characters in a garden, most often – were popular because Oriental china was very fashionable in the 18th century. But look at this woman and surely you’ll admire the artistry of the decorator. The cup itself is three inches tall and the face is about 1 centimetre across (I use imperial and metric measurements according to what fits) but what an expression. Tim thinks that she’s wondering when her cup of wine will be filled? I think she’s more quizzical altogether – what are you giving me? But just a few brushstrokes give such an enjoyable scene.

This spoon is absolutely copied from the far east. As unEnglish as you can get. I remember an auction, years ago, when a health club/spa folded and the contents were sold off and there were two Lowestoft spoons. Russell and I really wanted one of them, but we were outbid. This one is a bit damaged but still delightful.

Last of the summer lunch

I’ve just written and deleted a blog post that was so appallingly boring that I couldn’t inflict it on you.

The last few days of late summer are here and we had lunch outside. I rolled a table – how sensible to have a circular table outside – to the paving, because it’s a bit more sheltered than the lawn, which caught the chilly breeze, and several chickens joined us in the hope of receiving treats.

One of my jobs for next week is arranging to give chickens away. Mary is about six months old and there are seven more girls, her cousins, which are at least five too many. My friend Lynn will take some and I’ll email her to ask how many she’d like. There will be more, I don’t want all the chicks either. It’s not so much the feeding of them or the eggs, but the babies that would turn up next year.

A new small supermarket opened a few months ago, but I only visited it a couple of days ago. It’s run by a Polish woman and specialises in Eastern European food and it’s very good. I don’t want to remove custom from the excellent deli but there’s not too much overlap, so I don’t feel disloyal. I bought various spices, some polenta, some salami, gherkins and sesame grissini – she didn’t have poppy seeds but hopes to have them this week, so I’ll go back. I visited three shops on Friday and chatted happily in each one – I do miss my friends but, day to day, I am not hugely sociable and a friendly chat in a shop seems to be quite enough. The family came over three weeks ago and it was agreed that caution would prevail until we knew the effect of a return to school, so I haven’t seen any of them since. Ugh. This whole thing is so depressing, but I know from experience that one should not give in to depressing thoughts, but make every effort to be cheerful and positive. Dammit. Happy thoughts, darlings. Tomorrow, I will enthuse about Lowestoft china, because preparing the auction catalogue reminds me how much I like it.

Z and LT share a minor celebration

Tim has completed the first draft of the catalogue, not counting the front and back covers, so we celebrated that with prosecco. I need to proofread, but not after prosecco, hem hem. Tomorrow will be soon enough.

I had a horrid discovery yesterday, when I found that one person’s china’s reserve prices had skipped a line – not the descriptions, only the prices in a spreadsheet. Not having realised, I then put everything into lot number order, so quite a lot of pieces’ values were wrong. Fortunately, I’d saved separately at every stage, so it was quite quickly put right, though checking everything just in case took rather longer. I’ll turn on tracking changes from the start in future, assuming there is one. I don’t mean that I expect Armageddon, just that I have to evaluate whether strict distancing rules will be in place by late next year. I can’t do it, if so. It’ll be time to retire. My lovely auctioneer has been very helpful but I’ll break even at best, with no profit (ie my time paid for at a very low rate) this year and I’m not doing it again.

I probably should have already, in truth. I’m not all that good at letting go. I don’t mean in a controlling way, because I don’t think I do that, but sometimes when friendships or situations have run their natural course, I don’t recognise that – or don’t want to – and keep trying for longer than I should. Although I’m getting better at that, in that I recognise the situation, at least, there is still scope for improvement.

Years ago, probably nearly 20 years ago, I had a 5 year plan for coming off all committees. The thing is, if you say you want to leave next month no one believes you. You have to give a timescale and plan for retirement. Ideally, you set that up in advance – that is, you suggest a period that it’s reasonable to serve a term. Three or four or six years is reasonable, depending on the job. If you do something for two or three decades, no one will take it on because they see it as a life sentence.

My five year plan turned out to be a rolling one. I even added to it – as I relinquished one role, I took on another. But finally, I was pretty successful A couple of trusteeships is all I have now and that’s quite enough. I’m ready to give them up, in truth, as soon as it’s feasible. But, on the other hand, I’ve given quite a bit of thought to giving up everything and moving to a more sensible house with a garden rather than land. I’d be bored, I know I would. I can’t find the balance between sometimes having too much to do, or sitting around wondering what to do.

Anyway, Sunday will be spent proofreading, taking photos and writing an introduction to the catalogue. As long as nothing else crops up, that is.

Z rushes in, hot and bothered

It’s been a fortnight, I’m so sorry. Time ran away with me and I never remember that I need to write during the day because I don’t (apart from now) use the computer after dinner nowadays.

Wink and Veronica came to stay and the family came over the weekend before last. There is plenty of room in the garden (we have been lucky with the weather on every family occasion this year) for as much distancing as anyone wants to have. And we’d already agreed on caution, once schools restarted, until we knew how much infections would rise. Dilly, who’s a high school teacher, said that she, Al and the three children are in 9 bubbles between them. There’s no social distancing in high schools, in practice, she says.

We are, at present, putting together the catalogue for the next auction. It can’t take place at its usual venue, but my lovely auctioneer has agreed to host it at her salerooms in Diss. I am basically doing it for my vendors, I’ll hope to break even on the event, but never mind. As for next year, it’s far too early to say. If there are likely to be restrictions, I’ll just call it a day and retire. If not, I’m finding it harder to do all the work but I still love the china and the event, so I will probably carry on for a bit longer.

All the chicks are fine. I count them all and none of the mummies, even the hapless Slapper, has lost one of them yet. They are dear little things and I have my favourite colours – so hoping that the little dark one is a girl. My friend who kindly gave me some pullets after the fox got my chickens would like some of the surplus girls, which is good as I just can’t deal with all the chickens I’ve got any more. I’m sure some are laying, but I don’t know where, so I’m having to buy eggs.

I’m also feeding a fair few (as we say in Norfolk) hedgehogs. I’ve seen more of them this year than I have for a while, so I hope this suggests an increase in numbers. One evening, I fed four of them, though I only saw the newest two on that occasion. I put out three dishes of food normally, in various locations, and I’m going through a lot of cat food.

Since LT is working hard on the catalogue and most of my work in that regard is done, I have no excuse not to post. So I’ll hold myself to that resolve.

Z counts chickens

Things have gone a bit awry at the Zedery. My young bantams are constantly broody and I gave them some old eggs to sit on. This ploy has not let me down before, but this last week has been spectacular. First Polly Garter turned up with 10 chicks and I didn’t realise she’d been missing, because I thought I knew where she was sitting on old and unhatchable eggs. But it was her sister Slapper – who hatched five of those old eggs. And yesterday, the ones in the nest boxes managed to hatch five more eggs. So now I’ve got three sisters co-mothering a single chick and two bantams with two chicks each. I’ve given up and left them to it. I haven’t got enough coops and the thought of putting three adults and a baby together in a confined space is too much.

There we are. I hope against hope that’ll be it for the year. Pollywollydoodlealltheday is moulting, the big black hens never are interested in sitting and Gladys G has been gone for several weeks. If she doesn’t turn up soon, she’s not going to.

I’m running behind on events, but I really need to start writing during the day rather than waiting until evening, when I’m getting tired. I’ve told Tim – or rather, I suggested to him, because we don’t give instructions to each other – that I’ll take him out to lunch tomorrow because the weekend is starting now. Just as soon as I’ve had a nap.