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Z is ordinary. But has good hair.

I’m going to bite the mask bullet, darlings. It has become politicised, unfortunately, at least in America, so views seem to have become polarised. I haven’t got a strong view, however. I wouldn’t choose to wear one if it isn’t required but I haven’t the least objection if it is. I suspect that this applies to the majority of people in this country. I have learned, over the years, that I am very ordinary and what I think is what most people think.

So if I need to use public transport or my hairdresser wants me to wear a mask or my doctor does, that’s not any problem. As it happens, none of these apply right now because I’m not using the buses and never do unless I’m in London, which I won’t visit any time soon; I don’t need to visit the doctor and my hairdresser will wear a mask so that I don’t have to. But I visit each of those for choice but not for fun and this is my point.

I have had a couple of questionnaires in the last few weeks from art and music establishments that I pay to be friends of. A question asked was whether I’d be more or less likely to visit if required to wear a face covering? I had to say that I’d be less likely.

As I said, I do not object. I do not think it impinges on my personal liberty and I do not believe I’d suddenly feel faint or be more at risk of cancer (yes, I know someone who does, or says she does). But it would diminish my enjoyment. On Friday, I was driving out to pick up the weekly treat of a takeaway from one of our favourite restaurants and I arrived at the end of the drive at much the same time as a young woman was cycling past it. She looked momentarily alarmed in case I drove out in front of her, I had seen her so smiled to reassure her, she smiled back. I had thought about the matter before, but that cemented it. Facial expression matters so much for communication. I don’t mind wearing a mask so much as I mind being surrounded by expressionless people. If need be, that’s fine; but I’m not doing it voluntarily. So no to theatre, cinema, concerts, shopping except locally in small shops, or anything unnecessary.

I went to church this morning. There weren’t many people there, about a dozen or so in the congregation and a few were missing because they’re shielding and others are of an age to, but chose to come anyway because it really matters to them. What struck me was how gorgeous our uncut hair is. It’s beautiful. I’m including me in that, I love how my hair looks. I used to receive compliments on my haircut, now I get them about my hair. It was a good cut back in February, so hasn’t gone wild, but I love its soft fullness and all the other women’s hair was beautiful too, including those whose colour was growing out. I love the softness of grey, too. I do have an appointment at the hairdresser for later this month, but I’ve said I just want a trim, nothing much. In due course when things aren’t so busy, we can talk about a style, but I’ll enjoy being relaxed for a while longer.

Speaking out of turn

The story I started with yesterday, about a WI speaker whose talk did not go down at all well reminds me of another occasion, some years ago. It was very funny, but not quite as intended.

I’ve been going to a lunch club for many years, which I’ve mentioned before. As I’ve said, I was the youngest there thirty years ago and I still am now and I joined to keep my mum company on the way.

We didn’t normally have speakers, it was purely a social club, except at the pre-Christmas lunch. I can only remember two of those, one because it was so good (one of our number who could do a broad Norfolk accent and told hilarious anecdotes) and one because … well.

She was American, in her forties, an exuberant and friendly lady who had a reputation for giving entertaining talks on her life. One of our number had recommended her, poor woman. I suspect she got a Talking To later. Our Chairman, Marian, was a wonderfully formidable ex-Headmistress of a boarding school in Surrey. She was tiny, under 5 feet tall and slender, but had a commanding presence and personality and very high standards of behaviour.

The American woman, whose name was, I think Barbara, was married to a man in the US Air Force and was stationed over here. They’d lived in many places and she had a tale to tell about all of them. It was quite thin stuff and she laughed rather more than we did, but it was rattling on good-humouredly until she mentioned a visit to Washington DC, with an English girlfriend who was visiting the US for the first time. Barbara was showing her the sights, of course. And they were approaching the White House and decided to cross the road.

You’re not supposed to jaywalk in America, I gather and, if you want to do it, near the White House probably isn’t the most sensible place; and they were stopped by chunky, armed police officers and given a lecture and a warning. And Barbara got the giggles. And then she wet herself, which she cheerfully described in some detail to this roomful of rather proper, retired English ladies, who were mostly around 80 years old and this was twenty years ago. The microclimate around Marian, who was sitting next to Barbara, chilled and froze. Lines deepened around Marian’s mouth. Her reaction was the funniest thing of the whole day. I’m sure Barbara was thanked very politely, but we never had another ‘outside’ speaker again.

The WI speaker I mentioned several weeks ago

Only once do I remember a speaker who dismayed us all. He was some sort of psychotherapist, I suspect not medically qualified at all. He didn’t name anyone, of course, but the salacious soft-porn stories of abuse, sexual hang-ups and so on that he related left us all silenced. We didn’t learn anything useful, just felt dirty. When he was near the suggested end time of his talk, he asked if he should draw to a close or carry on as he had lots more stories? The then President tactfully said that she felt it was time to finish.

Most speakers were good to great. I remember most the ones who got us doing stuff, even if it wasn’t something I really was inclined to do, such as painting or lino cuts. I have no artistic bent, but I can enthuse for an hour, even if I never go back to it. One very pleasant speaker met her match with us, though that had been no one’s intention.

She had been engaged to talk on Public Speaking. And I can’t remember much of what she said, to be truthful, but she ended with an exercise in speaking and asked for volunteers. That was her first mistake. She should have latched on to the women who didn’t want to speak and avoided her eye. But Adèle, Gill, Mandy – confident professionals, two teachers and a midwife, were among those who offered their services, not knowing what she was going to ask of them. She produced a cloth bag, which she said had a number of items in it; she’d ask each woman to take an item and then speak off the cuff for two minutes about it.

30 years ago, even, a lot of people were up for that. Of course, what she wanted was for them to hesitate, get tongue-tied and then she’d be able to explain some good techniques for when we’re out of our depth and feeling shy in front of people. What she got, however, were practised, entertaining raconteurs who could talk on any given subject at the drop of a hat.

Gill came first and she drew out a credit card. She admitted that she didn’t have a credit card herself, but then she told a very funny story about the time a friend’s credit card saved the day. I can’t remember if they sprung a lock with it or used it as a scraper; the story doesn’t matter but the telling of it was the point. Then Adèle had us all rocking with laughter at her tale, which I think was about a battery, Mandy followed on, then Kath – I can’t remember who the last person was, but everyone kept to their time, which is part of the knack too, was funny and/or informative and no one dried. The poor speaker must have been gutted, however smartly she pulled herself together. She acknowledged that those speakers had little to learn from her and just told us what they’d done right.

At that time, I didn’t have the knack, but now I do. I can talk about anything at any time to any number of people. It helps if they don’t know more about it than I do, of course. I used to find it very hard, but several years of doing extempore votes of thanks at Nadfas lectures eliminated all nerves and I worked out my own techniques.

WI refreshments

The first time my mum and I put our names down for food was for the November meeting. That’s the AGM, there is no speaker so, after the boring business is over (including the election of the committee), the chat is the main thing. Of course, we pulled the stops out. We treated it as a cocktail party, if a bit late in the day, and made canapés. We thought we should tempt the palate of those who’d eaten before they came out and, if anyone had yet to dine, they’d be easy prey for a first course.

I can’t remember what we made, that first time, but I do know that we laid all the pieces out on serving dishes at home, rather than putting them in boxes and risking being helped by having them put out with no care for aesthetic harmony. This is neither boast nor apology. We both felt that the beauty of the plateful was part of its appeal. Every little piece had its appropriate garnish, colour schemes were considered and we reserved much of the day for the cooking and preparation. Unsurprisingly, we were asked to do the November food every year from then on.

Everyone’s food was delicious and ours was no better, but I think that we put more emphasis on lightness (no sandwiches, for instance) and savoury food, though there were always some dessert-y things at the end. For instance, tiny brandysnap cups filled with lemon soufflé and little chocolate cups filled with chocolate mousse.

My mother worked hardest. She would make little pastry boats to be filled with fish mousse, whereas I’d slice a cucumber, dry the pieces and top them with the mousse, which would take at least two hours less. The realisation has, very gradually, came upon me that I’m not as lazy as I’ve always said and believed I am. I’m simply – please excuse the capitals, it was a mind-blowing revelation – LAZY COMPARED TO MY MOTHER. THAT DOES NOT MAKE ME LAZY, AS I’VE BELIEVED (she never suggested such a thing) FOR MOST OF MY LIFE. I am, however, more efficient than she was. And I take more care of myself. I may well come back to this at some time, but it’s not a subject for now.

Our cakes weren’t as fabulous as some of the others’ – this was the WI after all and everyone was a great cook – and many people worked full time and still produced something wonderful. I’m not boasting, we weren’t the best at all. But our presentation was fabulous, so that is a small puff to J and Z.

Z the newbie

Back to the past, darlings.

My mother and I were invited by Gill to join the WI in the next village. Unlike many, it has its meetings in the evenings, so that all ages could come and members ranged in ages from their twenties to their eighties. I gathered that it had been in the doldrums and several young mums decided to support and literally rejuvenate it.

There was a speaker every month, of course, and we all sat around the room in a horseshoe rather than in rows. Being very poor with names but anxious to improve, I used to sit there trying to put names to faces every month. I had always been absolutely dreadful with both names and faces but I have worked very hard, over the past 30+ years, at improving and I can tell you that it is possible. I finally pinned down that I can manage the first name much better than both, so that’s what I focus on.

I used to be permanently worried as a child, in case I got a name wrong or hadn’t taken on board that Sue had decided to be called Susie or Liz was now Betty. I was frightened of giving offence or being ridiculed, so avoided using names altogether. I don’t know when I turned that around, but I completely have – if there’s anything I’ve ever achieved, squashing that demon comes high. A couple of weeks ago, in the dress shop, when I greeted a friend from way back by name and asked after her children BY NAME – I was actually genuinely proud of myself, which no one will comprehend unless they’ve been equally incompetent as I used to be.

After a while, i joined the committee and then it was only a matter of time before I became secretary, which really helped with names as I had them all written down.

Food was a big thing at the WI. We’d all eaten before we came out, so didn’t want to eat biscuits with our end-of-evening tea or coffee, but appreciated some nice little snacks to finish the day. There was a rota you signed up for, with a couple of other people, and you set up everything and served it. The big urn in which the water was boiled didn’t have a cut-off so, when the water boiled, the kitchen filled with steam. One tried to remember to pop through and turn it down before that but, invariably, it was forgotten and when the hostess opened the kitchen door, a cloud wafted through and it never failed to amuse.

Mood swings

I seem to have been up and down several times today. Perhaps I’m missing Wink. So I’ll pull myself up with the good old five positive things.

  1. I’ve got quite a lot done outside. I’ve been strimming the rough grass just outside the house, an area I’m very fond of. It’s not a big patch but there are bluebells, crocuses and various other flowers until midsummer, lots of different grasses and then it usually gets cut back by Wince. However, he hasn’t done it yet, first because I left it for Eloise and then because he wasn’t able to work last week. So I’ve cut it longer than he does and I prefer it. It’s about six inches long, still green and still appealing to wildlife and Eloise.
  2. I’ve also caught up with the washing. This does not sound remarkable and it isn’t, but I have changed Wink’s bedclothes and, while I was about it, done our bed too, and washed the sheets and also the tablecloths. I have booked a session of ironing with my cleaners – they’re not coming back for more than three weeks (I have two ladies for two hours once a month, more than which makes me too lazy) but, while they’ve been out of action, I’ve asked them to do the ironing instead; at any rate the biggest items plus Tim’s shirts.
  3. Eloise cat is over halfway through her cage incarceration. It’s not an easy time for any of us, she isn’t happy. But her leg is doing really well and she hardly limps at all.
  4. Tim cooked dinner tonight and it was delicious. He made rissoles from the leftover lamb and they were so good that I’ve asked him to use the other half of the leftovers to make the same thing tomorrow, to be frozen for another day.
  5. Wink is safely home in Wiltshire and Weeza and her business partner are coming on Wednesday to start redecorating the cottage. Initially just one room is to be done, but most of the other rooms will be repainted in a while. It was going to happen next month, but W and M have an unexpected delay next week, so can spare a day to get started.

There we go. I feel better. Not fabulous, but certainly better than when I started.

Chicks better scurry

It’s been such a lovely week, but tomorrow is Wink’s last day here for now. She has numerous lists of things to do and things to bring next time and people to contact and so on. She’s far more organised than I am, especially nowadays, so I know it’ll all happen.

This evening, I went to the chickens’ greenhouse to give them a handful of mealworms. Scrabble turned up, which was a bit alarming as she was supposed to be in the big coop with her chicks. It was my fault, I hadn’t wedged the door shut enough and they’d all got out. No harm done luckily and I put food down which they clustered around to eat, but that just gave me time to ponder what to do. If I’d been able to put them with the others, it might have been an option, if not a very good one, but herding chicks is not at all easy. I have a net, but one only has one chance to use it. After that, they’re afraid and scatter.

In the end, I raised a corner of the run onto concrete slabs and waited patiently until they returned. Wink stood the other side from me so that they wouldn’t go the wrong way. All six followed each other like the good little chicks that they are. Scrabble was undecided, so I simply picked her up, to her indignant squawks, and popped her back. I removed the wedges and blocked any way out and all is well.

I do need to work out a way forward, though. I know what would work, but it depends on Scrabble and the chicks doing what I want them to. So I may funk it altogether.

It’s hot here, darlings. I like it hot but I glow like a shiny thing and my hair is lank. The hairdresser hasn’t phoned yet, so there must be an awfully long list as my appointment should have been on 9th April.

It’s just occurred to me that I missed the longest day and we’re past midsummer. I didn’t notice. Still, apart from missing friends, all is well at the Zedery. I hope it is with you too.

Z and Worzel Gummidge have a lot in common

Wince the gardener was around early, to explain that he couldn’t come today as there was an emergency. His girlfriend, whom he doesn’t live with so couldn’t help at the time, had fallen and hurt her hip, was taken to hospital last night and he was visiting her this morning. So the grass will continue to look as shaggy as my hair does, and that’s completely unimportant under the circumstances.

My hairdresser put a post up on Facebook to explain that the staff are phoning all the customers to book appointments, in order of those that have been cancelled, followed by those who’ve contacted them since. My haircut was at the end of February and the next was booked for early April. So others will come first and that’s fine. I really don’t mind at all. I’ll go full Woodstock (peace, man, make love not war) if need be, I’m enjoying having hair that’s officially long enough for a ponytail.

Rose had a vacuum cleaner especially for the woodburner. It clears out the ashes and has a filter that’s so efficient that it sucks up dust and lets none out. She doesn’t need it in her present house, so left it for us. I used it today and it is brilliant. A revelation. That is, after I’d got over having put the pipe in the wrong place, so that it blew instead of sucked. That did actually suck, paradoxically, and it was just as well that I’d started on a bit of dust at the corner rather than actually in the grate.

After that, I dusted and hoovered and shifted furniture like a mad thing, with the result that my back has ached for the rest of the day. I’m being careful now so it’ll be fine.

Tomorrow, I’ve no idea what we will do. It’s been a busy week and I think we should be a bit jolly.

Z chops weeds

I’ll come back to my anecdotage soon, but keeping up to date with what’s going on for now.

As it’s so hot, I’ve got up early for the last couple of days and done some weeding and so on. I’ve got so much that needs to be done in the garden, as well as looking after the chicks, the regular watering and stuff around the house, yet I’m happily taking time out as much as I can while Wink is here. And while it’s so hot, of course. I am usually awake very early – about 3 am – and nod off for a bit at the time I’m thinking of getting up. If I get up, I’m ready for a nap by 9.30 and have to resist temptation, which always goes against the grain. But I thought that 6 or 7 am is manageable and, if I need a siesta, that’s perfectly reasonable.

My realisation of the day is that I can use the strimmer between the sweetcorn plants, to keep the weeds down. It stops evaporation from the bare earth, too. I have to be very careful not to hit the corn plants, of course, but I am normally careful. Sad to say, I don’t think I’d trust anyone else. Not that I necessarily trust me, but it’s my responsibility and so, if I swipe a plant, I’ll just have to take it on the chin. Anyway, said realisation is a game changer. We all hate weeding and I have plenty of space. So, in the future, rather than planting close together to try to squeeze out weeds, which doesn’t work; if I plant further apart, I can strim in between rows.

We have a huge television that we never watch.The only time I might watch it is when Tim is away and then, more often than not, I catch up with things rather than watch scheduled programmes, which I can do on the computer. So, as Wink doesn’t have internet at present here, we offered our TV to her. Slight problem when we discovered that the aerial cable hadn’t been left -Rose didn’t need one as she only watched online stuff, not on iPlayer or live, so it’s been a long time since one was needed – and I ordered one for tomorrow’s delivery. All the same, Wink can watch a DVD and she vanished with some alacrity after dinner. Since I also lent her the table it sat on, there is now a big space in the room. The first thing to do is to clean the whole room, obviously, because the TV is something that doesn’t get moved very often, then I can move furniture. I love moving furniture, which is something that Tim doesn’t yet much know about me. It used to be that the family would leave home in the morning and hardly recognise the place when they returned, but I’ve mellowed. Or rather, I’ve not got the muscles that I used to have. Though, having moved that immense television, we’ve built up a fair bit of muscle today.

Z the matriarch

It has been such a lovely day. With some of the family here, it feels as if we’re getting back to normal. Of course, we’re only too aware of risks that haven’t gone away, but we manage those sensibly, I hope.

Really hot weather. Luckily, none of us minds that. I got up early this morning and spent an hour weeding – a lot still to do, though – and then cuddled Eloise cat for an hour before breakfast. When I’m busy, it feels as if time spent with her on my lap is time wasted. But it isn’t, of course. It’s just that there’s a lot to do. Later, I took her out on the lawn and she had a peaceful time wandering round and resting. Wink held her lead while I moved the garden furniture, because it had to be put somewhere out of direct sunlight.

It’s now nearly 11 o\clock and I’m very tired. Busy since 6 this morning , it’s hardly surprising, but it hits me suddenly nowadays. Goodnight, darlings.