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Z is stimulated

The promised rain lasted all of five minutes and I’m having to water the garden.  The broad beans were flagging and – not that I’m watering them – the hedges are starting to look autumnal.  It’s June, for goodness sake.

For the last couple of mornings, I’ve woken in the early hours because I’m too hot, and then not slept again.  So breakfast has been at 4.30 am.  And that’s rather a pleasure, actually.  Two tiny bantam eggs on toast, freshly squeezed orange juice and tea, on a tray in bed.  And a glass of iced water on the side.  Then I’ve listened to the radio for a bit – only downloaded stuff, I can’t listen to the news any more – and another hour’s sleep from about 6 o’clock.  It’s worked surprisingly well and I’ve been able to get lots done when I finally get up and don’t have to bother with breakfast again.

This will not suit Tim, mind you, whom I welcomed home enthusiastically at about quarter past twelve today.  He’s very good at going back to sleep until the time he chooses to get up, I can only envy him without much hope of emulating his ability.  But I hope that, no longer alone, I’ll sleep baby-like.  I’ve been up to open the windows and switch the fan on, anyway.

Not sure what’s happened to the evening, it’s nearly 11 o’clock.  I’ve been in bed and asleep by this time all week.  But I’m quite wide awake now.  Must be LT’s stimulating conversation.

Z is alone – temporarily

I got up early this morning and spent an hour and a half slicing the remains of the party ham and beef, boxing them up (and the remains of cake) and putting them in the freezer then clearing everything up.  So we will have enough to eat for a while – I’m really not great at catering for the number coming to a party: that is, I have to cook far too much or else I worry that people will have to be polite and not eat quite as much as they’d like to.

By this time, it was still only 8 o’clock, so I got on with other chores around the house, ready for a business appointment here at 11.  Later again, I was ambling round the garden and I thought how spacious it all looked without cars here.  Roses was out, Boy was at work, LT is away and I’ve lent my car to Weeza, so the place was empty apart from me – and cats and chickens, of course, but Eloise cat was asleep on the sofa and none of the others were about.

Weeza’s father-in-law has been ill for over a year, with a brain tumour.  And it’s been pretty grim for the last six months, but he died yesterday and, sad as we are, we cannot wish he’d lingered longer.  Luckily, Phil went to visit at the weekend and his brother arrived on Sunday, so they were both able to visit and he knew that they did, and his mother wasn’t alone at the hospice when David died.  Of course, Phil wanted to go back straight away, so Weeza left work early to come over here, took my car and left theirs, Phil cycled here from work and picked it up to drive over to Staffordshire.  I cancelled one thing last night and can use my bike otherwise until LT is home.

It’s a funny thing, being alone when one isn’t used to it any more, though it was formerly a normal situation.  I’ve always been quite comfortable with my own company. That is, I remember being very lonely after Weeza was born.  I didn’t really have friends at the time – I did, of course, but few of my age and none in my circumstances and I was quite isolated, at home with a baby.  I trained myself not to be lonely and, a couple of years later when Al was born, I was too busy to miss adult company during the day.  Russell was always a bachelor at heart and never thought twice about disappearing for hours at a time – though he would have worried awfully if I did, he genuinely never thought that I would mind.  I have a feeling that he thought I was in a bubble here, that things only came to life when he was home.  If he were not part if it, it wasn’t happening.  It wasn’t at all that he was thoughtless, nor was he self-absorbed (and he was a kind and considerate man) but there was an ‘out of sight, out of mind” element in our relationship, which 41 years of marriage didn’t affect in the least.  There is no complaint in this, just a clumsy attempt at an explanation – I was mostly as comfortable with this as he was.

But you enter a new relationship with a different attitude, and it’s perfectly easy to adapt to different circumstances.  And, mostly. Tim and I do things together, because we want to.  And after he went yesterday morning, I was quite busy, because I was going to a Nadfas lecture and I was in phone contact with Weeza, as explained above – I wasn’t actually much alone until after 7.30 and, by the time I’d had dinner and cleared away, I was so tired that I went to bed early.  And then this morning I was busy too, and quite enjoyed being quiet and just pottering about.  But then, this afternoon, when I’d finished appreciating the tranquillity, I started to feel lonely.  I’ve rather embraced that, in fact, because it is specific.  I miss Tim.  I miss lovely Tim and, having expected and wanted to live alone, I’m so glad that I don’t, and that this situation will only last for a couple of days.


Common did or mean

This evening was the annual tour round the Common for its owners, which warrants some explanation at the start (and I’ve probably told you before but, keenly as you hang on every word that drops from my lips, you might well not remember) – that is, Yagnub Common is actually privately owned.  It comprises 400 acres of land (if I’m right in thinking that a hectare equals two and a half acres, that means 160 hectares according to my marvellous mental arithmetic) which is owned in 300 equal shares – goings, they’re called – between a number of people.  Much of the land is rented by the golf club and most of the rest is let to local farmers for grazing.

The Sage owned ten goings, which I’ve inherited.  I have often been on the annual tour, but it was always as a representative of another owner who couldn’t be there, in Russell’s lifetime.  And we all meet by 6 o’clock and get into a trailer to be pulled by a tractor – this used to be an open thing and we sat on bales of straw, but now it’s a much posher affair and we’re protected from the rain or, as it was this evening, from the blazing sun.

The advantage of the Common being privately owned is that a great deal of land management is done on a voluntary basis by people who know what’s what but also are receptive to good advice from conservationists.  It really is excellently done.  There was some controversy, some two or three decades ago, when the programme of removing surplus oak trees, gorse and other growth started, but it’s much clearer now that it is being done sensitively and for good reasons.

If the land were left to itself, it would eventually become an oak wood.  There are a lot of oak seedlings.  There are also birch and other trees and they would flourish for a while, but the more persistent, long-lived oaks would take over in the end.  And there’s nothing wrong with that, after all.  What could be finer than an oak wood?  But that’s not what the conservation people actually want, because heathland is a rarer habitat and encourages different, sometimes rarer,  plants and animals, so that’s what planning aims for.

Back in the distant past, there would have been heather on the Common, as the soil is (in the upper areas anyway) quite acid, but it was probably overgrazing many years ago that killed off heather and there are no plans to reintroduce it, though if it turned up it would be encouraged. There are numerous native plants though, such as sheep sorrel and lady’s bedstraw, though one interloper: American blackberries, has an interesting history.  Back in the second World War, there were American air bases in the area and it seems that the airmen’s mums used to send over good food for their boys, such as apple pie and blackberry pie and … well,*somehow* the seeds were spread.  I suspect that contents of septic tanks were spread on the land rather than a more direct method, but anyway, now I know what American brambles look like, which is rather more ‘cut” than a British blackberry leaf.

Most of us are acutely interested in wildlife of one sort and another and asked a variety of questions, it was all very interesting.  And then we were invited back to the golf club for a drink and we chatted for half an hour before I returned to find my dinner all ready for me.  I’ve spared LT the whole explanation, on the grounds that he’ll be able to read it here.

The blog party

Tim and I have marvelled again at how fortunate we are, to have met such great friends through blogging (as well as each other, of course).  I wonder every year if people will still want to come, I don’t mind whether there are six of us or forty – we’ve not hit either extreme yet … actually, if it turned out to be more then we’d rethink the system a bit but we wouldn’t turn a hair.  LT and I both love welcoming guests and making friends (which is just as well, really, it’d be a pity if only one of us did).

The weather was glorious and, for the first time ever, we lunched outside.  We’d had Rufus Russell’s first birthday party the week before and learned that putting tables in the sun made people take their chairs into the shade, so we relocated the tables instead.  And we thought we’d need three tables but people squeezed themselves onto two.  We put the food in the first dining room, where it was reasonably cool, and everyone helped themselves and ambled outside again.

I’ve cooked a whole ham on the bone for the last couple of years, but we actually couldn’t face the leftovers this time, so I just did a piece of gammon.  And the piece of sirloin I cooked and LT sliced for our wedding feast was gorgeous, so we did that again (cooked at 15 minutes to the pound and then taken out 5 minutes early, it was perfect if you like juicily rare beef) and we cooked a side of salmon and LT made his famous wholemeal leek quiche.  And salads – heads up to Roses for her fabulous potato salad and hummous – and then Ann brought trifle and meringue, M brought her delicious pineapple fruit cake and I made brownies and syllabub and put out soft fruit, and we had a cheeseboard.  Simple.  As simple as it could be, because it was hot, too hot to cook.

It’s true, darlings, I’m obsessed with food and so you get the full details.  But in fact, it is always the company that makes a party, not the food at all.

I wore my wedding dress, by the way, and it didn’t take much persuasion (no persuasion at all, to be honest, it just was mentioned) to get me to find up and put on my Hat, either.  Overdressed, moi?  Hah.  I didn’t care.

It’s been even hotter today, we’ve taken it pretty easy.  Zoe and Mike, with Scout the border collie, stayed over and we had a leisurely and late breakfast before they trecked the 100+ miles home (they drove it, to be precise) which must have been a bit of an ordeal, especially for Scout.

Thank you all.  And if you’d like a party next year, we’ll be happy to do it – and, as ever, you’re all invited.

Arriving is better than travelling, however hopefully

We went to Snape again – Midsummer Night’s Dream: Britten’s opera, which was superb and very entertaining.  And then, after not the easiest of drives (a lengthy diversion, misleadingly signposted so that we thought one road was closed and approached the next road by a different route, only to find it was actually that road closed and we had to drive back the way we’d come), we arrived at our hotel in Romford soon after midnight.

It was the journey into London the next morning that posed a problem.  We walked the half-mile to the station and caught a train to Stratford and then went to find the Central line into central London.  But the tube platform was right by a train platform and there was no place to check in with a contactless card or Oyster card.  But how, without one, were we to get out at the other end?  We went and asked a guard, who said it was all right, our ticket would take us all the way through and we could put it in the barrier at Charing Cross.  Since the ticket was clearly to Stratford, we didn’t think it could possibly be right, but we thought we’d sort it out at the other end.

There happened to be a party of young schoolchildren on a trip to the National Gallery, and I’m afraid I just scooted through the gate that was opened for them.  Tim, slightly behind me, was asked by the guard if he had a ticket, so he waved it at her and we were out, feeling rather naughty.  Though the Stratford guard had told us our tickets were valid, we didn’t believe they were.

On the way back, we debated what to do.  We wanted to buy single tickets at the machine, but it kept trying to give us all-day travel cards, which we hadn’t asked for and so, in the end, we decided to touch our cards in, then walk out of the station at Stratford to be able to touch out again, then come back in using our train tickets.  Just to explain, if this is hopelessly puzzling, there are six Tube zones, radiating out, and Stratford is in Zone 2/3.  So when you touch in, it clocks your card but takes the fare when you clock out again.  If you don’t, there is an assumption that you’ve gone the furthest distance and you’re charged accordingly.

So this is what we did.  And then we looked for our platform for a train back and couldn’t find any information.  We were gazing at a map and wondering what to do when a nice railway chap came and asked if we needed help.  And he sent us to the right place and we caught our train and finally came home.  And now we’ll turn our attention to the blog party and looking forward to seeing you on Saturday.

By the way, I’ve just looked at my ‘activity’ app on the phone and I’ve walked four miles today.  Since we walked a mile to and from the station and only a few hundred yards otherwise, that means that quite two and a half miles was spent walking underground between Tube lines.  And I’ve climbed 24 floors, too.  Which makes me feel tired, so I’m off to bed.

Clarinet, vegetables and an idiot…

I mentioned about three weeks ago that I’m planning to buy a new clarinet – but I haven’t had a chance to do anything about it yet.  Or not much, anyway.  LT and I went into the very good music shop in Reading but, though they had a few clarinets, it clearly wasn’t somewhere to go for really good advice on them – guitars would be a different matter and so would keyboards, I believe.

My music teacher was going to ask around for advice on where to shop (clarinet isn’t actually her instrument: it’s a long story, but basically, we are friends and we agreed that I’d learn the notes and technique myself and she’d take care of the musical teaching) but we’ve had to cancel the last two lessons and I was away the week before, so I’ve been having a look myself.  It seems that the place I’m most likely to find a good choice and advice is at Howarth of London in – er, London.  If any of you out there can give me the benefit of your knowledge and experience, I’d appreciate it.  I don’t want to buy on the internet, however good the terms and free trial are, I really need to play several instruments and choose the one that suits me, and have a variety of price ranges too.

This won’t happen for a week or two yet, at least, though.  The rest of the week is very busy and, includes a very sad visit to London for a funeral.

But we are still cultivating our own garden, literally, and I have picked the second batch of peas, the first of broad beans and the last of the greenhouse potatoes for tonight’s dinner.  We have also planted the young leeks and are feeling rather pleased with ourselves.  Not so pleased with the young lad who’s helping Rose in her garden, put a forkful of weeds on the bonfire with my pitchfork and left the pitchfork stuck into them so that she didn’t notice (who would?  He’s an idiot) and it had burnt half through by the time Tim found it.  I am extremely cross about it – he has done some work for me in the past but I won’t be employing him again.  I should make it clear it is not young Stevo, whom I’ve mentioned here before.

Saturday. Yes, a bit late.

Ro, Dora and Rufus arrived at about 11 o’clock and Ro helped shift tables onto the lawn – LT and I had moved one, and the chairs, but two more tables were a bit heavy for little Z.  It was such a lovely day that we thought that tea could be taken outside, where the children could have more fun anyway.

Saturday was a lovely day.  Ro and I made about four dozen scones and whipped cream and put out dishes of jam.  That was almost the extent of the food preparation, apart from putting out the rather splendid cake that a friend of theirs had made, and putting out bowls of savoury snacks.  Ronan was right.  Keeping it simple is a good way to go.

Dora has three brothers, one married with three daughters, and a sister who has a daughter, and all our lot turned up too.  All was happy and cheerful.  LT was introduced to everyone and – my goodness, the lovely man finds himself keeping extremely busy.  He used to have such a calm life and now it’s – well, you know me, darlings.  And so did he, from this blog, well before he even met me.  He knew what he was in for.  I’ve gained a lot of fun from his lifestyle too, I must say, but he’s the one who finds himself working jolly hard.

I digress.  It was fun and there were two or three half scones left over, that was all, so we’d made the right amount.  Young Rufus was very pleased with his presents, if a bit bewildered at the sheer number of them.  He and his parents will be at the blog party next Saturday and it’s not out of the question that we might eat outside again, but we’ll have to see what the weather is like on the day.  We will be in the teens, numerically, so it’s quite possible, but so is fitting in the big dining room.

At this point I should add, there’s always room for more, if you would like to come, whether you’ve been before or not.  It’s just relaxed and easy, whether there’s six of us or thirty.

In the evening, we went to a concert at the Aldeburgh Festival.  It was a first at Snape for LT and the weather was perfect for us to have a stroll through the reed beds, as is traditional, beforehand.  We noted that the string quartet all used iPads rather than sheet music – they had a foot pedal to change pages.  They were really rather brilliant, especially the lead violinist and we were quite bowled over by the Britten string quartet; the final piece he wrote, shortly before he died, that was premiered posthumously in December 1976.  We will be there again on Wednesday, when we are going to the opera.  Another first – I’ve been to operas there in the past, but never seen Britten’s Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Birthday Boy!

Today is Rufus, my youngest grandchild’s first birthday.  And here he is, riding his birthday tricycle, which looks rather like something you get in a gym.  He’s clearly very pleased with it, anyway.  We’ve got him some Duplo Lego and a rucksack – this is a cunning bit of kit that very much appeals to the child (I know because Weeza’s two had them) and they love wearing, but there is a strap that one can hold and keep the child under one’s control.  
We haven’t done a great deal today after our exertions in the early part of the week.  There will be about 24 of us for tea tomorrow, but the forecast is fine and we’re thinking to have it on the lawn.

And then it’ll be just a week to the blog party.  There are a couple of people who said they hope to come but haven’t confirmed, so I’ll get in touch with them, but otherwise, if you haven’t said yet, then you’ll be most welcome, whether you’ve been here before or not, just please let me know and I’ll send you the address.  And there’s still a spare room or two, if you’d like to stay over.

We had a treat this evening; the first bottle of our wine from the local vineyard.  It was exceptionally good.  I bought LT membership of their wine club, which includes a dozen bottles, six of which (three each of two varieties) are only available to members.  We are also offered tours of the vineyard, but we haven’t had time to take them up on that yet.  Once the party is over, we’ll have a bit of spare time.

Z skips

The porch is cleared and cleaned and is positively echoey with emptiness.  And the latest skip has been filled with the last lot of total junk from the big barn.

If you are one of those people who keeps everything that might possibly have a little bit of life in it, please ask yourself what you’re doing it for?  Let it go, darlings, let it go.  Among the things I hauled out (and then Rose and others shifted round to and into the skip) were two oil-filled electric radiators that might have been put in there when my mother-in-law moved into the annexe in 1985 – that is, if not then, it was earlier.  Why were they not disposed of?  I don’t know.   There was also a radiant and a convection electric fire, probably put there at the same time, but they’ve never been used since and they’d been long forgotten about.  There had been no need to keep them if they weren’t to be used and, through decades of neglect, they’d become unusable anyway.   I found a bag full of old clothes, some of them mine but some were my mother’s, obviously intended for a charity shop, but they never got there.   I suspect a certain amount of lethargy was involved – easier to store than arrange for disposal, but this can’t have been the situation in every case.

Never mind, it’s done and I think that’s the last skip we’ll need.  There’s a lot more to be sorted out, but much of that is wooden, destined to be used (stored for possible future use, that is!), sawn up for burning indoors or put on a bonfire.  But not yet, we will catch up with everyday life for a bit.  And we’ve got a First Birthday party to get ready for on Saturday and a Blog Party the next weekend.

Many thanks to Lovely Tim, Roses, Lawrence and Boy for all their help.  Rose and I ache today, don’t know if the men do, but their work is hugely appreciated.


Z gets dusty

This afternoon, we’ve been dismantling the indoor tortoise run.  If you’ve visited here in the past two and a half years, you’ll know that an eight foot by four foot section of the porch was taken over by it.  Indeed, my friend Jamie and I were just starting to construct it on the day that Russell died.  I went upstairs to see if he was getting up when we stopped for a coffee break, which he was, and minutes later he died on my lap.

But the tortoises were going to have to come indoors for the autumn and so, a week or so later, we had no option but to finish the job.  When I got Eloise cat, we had to make a cover for it, as it was just too tempting for a cat, both to lie under the sun lamps and – I’m sorry to say – to use as a litter tray.  We constructed it so that it would be possible to unscrew the structure during the summer, but it was actually just too much effort to rebuild it and I left it in place, just replacing topsoil.  Now, it’s gone and we have barrowed away about fifteen square yards of earth and gravel (which I’d put there in some of the plastic trays that Alex used to have strawberry punnets delivered in because, at the time, I thought about taking it out again) and, tomorrow, we’ll finish cleaning the whole room and rearrange furniture.  Porch isn’t really the word for it and nor is conservatory – my mother-in-law used to call it the sun room and that’s as good a name as any, but the back porch was removed when we built on the room that’s now the study, and I’ve got to have somewhere to keep my wellies.

The new chickens are eating a lot, so they must be reasonably happy, though they keep treading earth into their water bowl.  This is just what chickens do, they are daft birds.  Russell used to change their water bowls several times a day, which doesn’t really seem to make much sense (he had endless patience and didn’t mind: I am patient but more practical) but when he wasn’t well enough and I started caring for the cooks, I went and bought a couple of drinkers so that the water stayed clean.  It’s no good in a coop though, there’s not enough room  and they manage to dirty the water whatever it’s in.  I grew early potatoes in two bags in the greenhouse, which was very successful and we’ve had all the potatoes we wanted for several weeks.  I emptied out the first bag today, taking the last few potatoes in it for a lunchtime salad, and picked up several slugs hiding underneath.  I left the woodlice as I’m fond of them, but took the slugs for a treat for the chickens.  The remaining original bantam tried a peck and was rather disconcerted (I’ve no idea why, they all used to love them) and the others wouldn’t go near.  So I gave them to the newcomers, who also looked nonplussed.  I expect they’ll have worked it out.  They’ll get used to my ways – they polished off the remains of last night’s cheese soufflé, anyway.