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Z’s been busy…

The old faithfuls came to the party, no newcomers this time and a few apologies (and one forgot, but I’d only half expected Charlotte!).

Blue Witch wondered how everyone is getting on these days. Well, Sir Bruin, aka Steve, retired early from his Very Important Job, a few years ago and has been far too busy enjoying life since to miss it. He and the Small Bear Liz go away in the Hodmedod (caravan) regularly and are really very sociable, considering that Sir B pretends not to be. Liz was about to give up her part time job and pause to think what to do next – she’s far too young to retire, but is not sure that’ll stop her.

Sir B, who is a kind and thoughtful type, which he tries very hard to hide, gave me a present of a soprano ukulele – he’s determined to get me back to playing musical instruments. I have been playing it, also the clarinet, but I’m dismally inadequate nowadays and it’ll take a lot of work to get even a bit better.

Indigo Roth and the Lady Lisa are both enjoying married life. They’ve been an official item for 9 years now and got married about a year and a half ago, having bought a house in a lovely village in Cambridgeshire. Indigo is about the kindest man I know and was wonderful after Russell and then Tim died. So much above and beyond the usual warmth of friendship and Lisa is his equal.

Zoe and Mike – she blogged from Brussels, a long time ago and Mike wore Da Hat, but this was long before they met – came from near Peterborough. Zoe, who can’t drive, hasn’t found it easy to get employment but now works as a teaching assistant, which she very much enjoys. Mike still mends electrical goods and takes fine photos as his second job. They come with Scout, the border collie, who is getting stiff nowadays because of hip dysplasia, which has given him arthritis. I can sympathise as that’s what I had. But it’s easier to pop in a replacement joint with people. Mike and Scout stayed the first weekend. Zoe was able to stay the whole week as it was half term and then the guys came again on Saturday for another night.

Rose had to cry off because of hay fever season. She really struggles every year and nothing seems to put her right. Wink also has bad hay fever and takes medication all year round – her asthma is also a problem for her now, but she doesn’t suffer from pollen as much as poor Rose does. Ronan had picked up some bug from his children, who were with their mother for the weekend, so he couldn’t make it either.

While Zoe was here, Nandini also arrived from Chennai. She came over last year too, with husband and son, but it was a working visit this time – she’s a photographer. She took a lot of pictures of my house, especially pleased because it was untidy. It has taken all my willpower not to mind that. Clutter looks worse in photos and I’m not sure what her project is about, but it can only embarrass me. However, I can only choose not to be embarrassed by it. Because I don’t actually care that my house is cluttered and was, I can’t deny, even more untidy than usual. It’s been very difficult because of the repeated floods inside the house. Bloody mice eating pipes. I ran out of time to clear up, though I’ve done it now. Mostly.

Since, I’ve been catching up with stuff and spent this weekend typing up 70+ pieces of china and some books, some of which will go into the next auction. Tomorrow, I will go to the funeral of a very old friend – in both senses of the word, as I’ve known her over 40 years and she was in her 90s. She and her late husband were great collectors, particularly of Lowestoft china but of many other antiques too. My colleague David and I are rather apprehensive about the future of our auctions, as when her china is sold, it’ll rather spoil the market for a few years to come – unless it enthuses a new generation, perhaps.

51 isn’t an interesting number

It’s 51 years since Russell and I got married. 50 would have been a milestone, but it wasn’t because he’d already been dead for nearly 9 years. So it’s even less of one now. Yet, I feel melancholy. It’s good that I’m getting ready for a party, because it’s stopped me dwelling on it.

We’ll be a select bunch this time. The Bears have been to every party, bless them. Indigo came to the third I think – I lose track – and he and Lisa, once they’d got together, have not missed since and nor have Zoe and Mike, since their first, which I think was 8 years ago. Rose has, of necessity, come and gone and she’s cried off today at the last minute because of hay fever and general unwellness. My friend Charlotte is expected, but that’s all, as far as I know, as Ro is also unwell. So I’ve overcatered, but that’s nothing unusual. I am sure the chickens will like leftovers. I did have the sense not to prepare too many dishes, once I knew that there wouldn’t be any vegetarians. It’s very tempting, as I love feeding people.

The gazebo canopy won’t arrive until Tuesday and I’ll grumble about it. I paid a lot for next day delivery and being told at 8.30pm that I’m not getting it isn’t good. It’s the couriers rather than the sellers, but that’s not really the point. Although we went from an 8% chance of Saturday rain on Wednesday to a 75% chance now, so eating outside wouldn’t have been likely anyway. Better really to just lay the table indoors. I’m just wondering if I’ll need a fire.

As long as it’s not too cold after that, nor in August. When our Indian and US friends visited last May, they were a lot colder than they expected to be. Hats indoors and log fires and they were still cold. It’s unpredictable, English weather, and always has been.

EgnoreCat

My cat has cold-shouldered me for a fortnight now. I was away in Wales for a week, came back on Wednesday, brought grand baby Perdita back for the day on Thursday and was away that night, returning the next night with Perdita and her brother, who stayed until Sunday. ECat has not forgiven me. I’m being kind but unyielding. I shared my dinner with her (she’s not ignoring me to that extent) but ignored her when she stood on my computer table and purred for snacks tonight. She’d had snacks and she’s quite fat enough. Now she’s demanded to go outside and I don’t expect to see her before breakfast time. Cats forget their loved ones if they don’t constantly remind themselves. I’ve got too much else to think about.

We had two exceptional evenings out at the local theatre, where they sometimes show films. I hadn’t seen One Life before; the story of Nicholas Winton, who – not without help from brave friends, one of whom did not survive the Nazi takeover – saved hundreds of children, mostly Jewish, before the last war. If you saw the Esther Rantzen That’s Life programme when the whole audience was made up of those people, you’ll never have forgotten it and the film did him justice.

Last night, there was a live-streamed performance from the Royal Opera House. The opera company and the ballet company share performances equally through the season and they’re going to reflect that with a change of name. I’m not sure if the RBOH will quite take off, though it’s a slightly puzzling acronym, but anyway, it’s was ballet’s turn last night.

Until last year, I never quite got ballet. But Don Quixote won me over and it’s changed my perception of the art. This time, it was a quite new ballet: The Winter’s Tale, from Shakespeare’s play that’s mostly remembered by ‘exit, pursued by a bear.” It was fabulous. It was first performed 10 years ago and Hermione, in that series of performances, coached the dancers in this. Joby Talbot wrote the music, which I must look up to hear again, because it was impressive. The dancing was wonderful and the staging and production made one of Shakespeare’s lesser plays into something far better.

Today, I’ve been getting ready for the weekend. It’ll be a simple meal, I’m reverting to a cold lunch. I’ll serve salad Niçoise, cold roast beef and ham, with other salads and cheeses and various desserts. When Wince put up the big gazebo today, we discovered that the small tear in the canopy had been a precursor of almost complete breakdown. Luckily, it had the name of the company printed on the side, so I’ve ordered a new one. For a fairly substantial price (no cheaper option) they’ve offered next-day delivery, so I’ve told my guests that they’ll have to put on the new cover, please. They seem to have taken it well.

Lucky for some

I realise I’ve taken too much on, but too late to regret that. I’m scooping up things before deadlines all over the place. Luckily, Wink deals with the admin for most of our visits to London, so I don’t have to worry about that.

I’ve got three areas of focus for the next week. One is the choice and booking of lecturers for next year’s arts society (still correctly known as NADFAS, but that’s another matter), one that I’ll simply put as meetings, because there are several of them, all of which on widely different groups and the third is the blog party. That’s the one I am actually looking forward to, of course. But there’s a lot of preparation to be done, one matter being the sanding down of the cloakroom door.

When I got back from St Lucia and water leaked from the bathtub drain into the cloakroom, I belatedly realised that the problem had been building up for a while. I had leaks all over the place and I thought that one of the other matters was the cause of this one. The fact is, the door doesn’t now shut completely. I’ve left it for weeks, hoping it will dry out, but it’s in no hurry. All I can do is sand down the top where it sticks, but it’s quite a big job. There’s only a couple of inches between the top of the door and the ceiling, so I can’t use an electric sander and I have to stand on a step to reach and I’m not very strong in the arm nowadays. I had a good go the other day, it’s getting better but the door still won’t shut. Wince didn’t come today because it was raining, otherwise I’d have asked him. I had to stop when I did, because my hand was tingling. I’ll have another go tomorrow, once I’m home from my next appointment.

Anyway, I don’t suppose anyone who reads this rather than Facebook is likely to come to the blog party but, of course, you’re welcome if you are able to drop in. Open house as always, I just need to know any dietary issues. I’ve lost count of how many years – of course, no party in 2020 because of lockdown, but I can work it out. The first was in 2011, because Tim came to the second and it was the year he was 70. So this must be the 13th?

Goodday!

Everything went well, which is absolutely worthy of note. Trains on time, nice ticket collector, we dodged the forecast rain. We met a very nice couple before lunch – she’s a published poet (not even self-published) and then another woman joined us and it turned out they had a shared knowledge and interest in genetics and cancer, which gave rise to another fascinating conversation. At lunch, I sat next to a man called Roy and we enjoyed chatting to each other.

With half an hour to return to the station, we didn’t quite make it to the next train (there in 28 minutes, which wasn’t good enough) but waited for the next one. We bagged seats at a table and were joined by one woman and then another, and that gave rise to another really interesting chat. W1 recognised W2 as a visitor to a hotel where she’d been assistant manager, and they started to talk. W1 had had a career swerve, about 8 years ago and is now a landscape gardener. She’s currently working on a rooftop project in London and showed us a lot of pictures and we talked about it all the way home – or to Ipswich anyway, which was where they got off.

Ecat hasn’t spoken to me yet. She’s friendly with Wink but gives me the cold shoulder. I’m allowed to feed her and let her out, but there’s no interaction.

I needed to contact a call centre, which I did on WhatsApp and had the most helpful and friendly person I could ever imagine. Her name is Nafisa and she is brilliant. She started to raise a complaint for me, but I said I wasn’t complaining, I just wanted help with the matter, so she sorted it out. She’s going to guide me through the next bit on Thursday evening, but all is well right now. Slightly odd that the direct debit I set up (without her, by this time) had no option but for a set amount, whereas I’d prefer it to be the actual amount of the bill, but I’ll deal with that in due course.

Carrying on with a busy week, I’m going to a lecture tomorrow about the Ravenna mosaics, which I have visited and they’re incredible, but I’ll be happy to see again, albeit on a screen. Then we’re taking Ro out for lunch.

Z is a lady what lunches, 100 miles away

I have to enjoy beautiful weather, whatever else happens, because it usually doesn’t last long. All the same, I’ve done some of the intended admin and some other things that just cropped up. The h on my keyboard is reluctant to work now, so if anything doesn’t make sense without it, apologies for not noticing.

A mishap today turned out to be a blessing after all. My login to an email didn’t work and it turned out (I must have been told, but can’t track it down and won’t bother to search harder) that the address had been changed. Then the unchanged (autocorrect is working so far) password didn’t work. Without much hope, I tried to log in to the keychain that I haven’t managed to find the password for, for months and, to my surprise, the first one I tried was correct. I’m not going to overthink this. I’m in and don’t ave to worry any more. And now am in the email account too. I’d missed that one of the schools in our multi-academy trust has had an Outstanding at Ousted. Well done, that’s wonderful, but it’s time that Ofsted was ditched in its present form. It’s turned into a bully. So has the entire government-driven education system, but this isn’t what my fluffy blog is about.

Wink and I are going to London tomorrow for lunch. Yes, a long way for lunch. But hey. I’ve set the alarm for an hour and a half before we need to leave the ouse, not because I take tat long to get ready but because it takes me quite some time to galvanise myself to get out of bed.

I stopped bothering to insert aitches, renewed apologies.

Z has a successful week

Pembrokeshire was as magical as ever. I feel closest to Tim there, which is bittersweet, but better than usual this time as I wasn’t on my own as Rose was with me. The weather was unexpectedly marvellous, apart from a rainy Sunday, but I sat outside in the sunshine and went for long walks. However, there had been disaster over the winter because, in exceptionally rainy conditions, there had been several landslips onto the coastal path between the village and the next town of Saundersfoot. It’s going to be a considerable logistic problem to make the steep bank safe, I think, and rumour has it that it’ll cost in the region of £600,000, but it will be done.

Everyone at the caravan site was cheerful in the sunshine and I chatted to more people than I ever have. Tim and Viv used to have a convivial time there, with evening drinks and various get-togethers and Tim still had a good many friends a few years ago but, inevitably, people started to give up their caravans and younger incomers had their own families and friends. It’s not really a park for young adults though as there still is no internet.

We got back on Wednesday and, on Thursday morning, I went over to pick up Perdita from Dora’s house, to look after her for the day and then fetch her brother in the afternoon after school. Ro had a series of business meetings in Chester and Dora was about to go on holiday – since their divorce they have remained on good terms and always help out and swap childcare, but the meetings had cropped up after Dora had booked her holiday. It’s been a fabulous few days with the children and we persuaded Ro to let them stay an extra night.

When I got back from returning them home, Wink and I went to the street market in Yagnub – several times a year, the street is closed for stalls and, in May, the theme is plants. I came back with some greenhouse vegetable plants and bedding plants for tubs. I didn’t need a huge number as I’d got some for Perdita to plant on Thursday. When we’d put our spoils in the car, we went back to the pub for a drink. We’d hoped for lunch but everything on offer was hot and we’d really have liked a salad, even a sandwich. So cold lager had to suffice. We had an entertaining conversation with two women who sat at our table, the ebullient younger one was a hoot. Very chatty, with an infectious laugh, we spent a convivial hour.

I came home and slept most of the afternoon, on and off. I was listening to a radio serial and I had to keep going back to a bit I remembered. I’m getting a bit long in the tooth to be woken up early by cheerful children – who normally stay in bed until after 7 at home but were awake much, much earlier with the excitement of being here. We’d cooked and eaten a pile of pancakes before 8 o’clock on Saturday.

Tomorrow, admin and planting all the goodies I bought today.

Spring in Z’s step

The London weekend was really good. We went to three exhibitions, to the theatre to see Simon, had a couple of particularly sumptuous lunches and an equally decadent tea and thoroughly enjoyed being in our lovely city. The hotel was very close to the Business Design Centre in Islington, which was very convenient and we mostly took buses, as it is easy when you’ve got the TFL app to guide you.

Since getting back, spring seems finally to have arrived and today was warm and delightful. Cooler weather and, inevitably, rain forecast for Pembrokeshire, but I expect nothing else there. I’ve been too busy to get ready for the drive tomorrow, but I’ll leave as soon as I can in the morning to pick up Rose on the way. I have, at least, sorted out bedlinen, though was depressed, if not surprised, to be reminded by the caravan notebook that I’d intended to buy new net curtains, as they’re getting somewhat holey and I measured up the last time I was there and instantly forgot when I left.

We had a guest last night, a charming Russian woman (who married an Englishman and has lived in this country for the past 26 years) who gave a very good lecture on Kandinsky this morning. I’m rather keen on him and the other Blue Rider painters and we went to the exhibition about them at Tate Modern on Monday. I’m finding that I want to go to more art galleries, opera and ballet than ever before. I need the uplift, I suppose. We love the live streamings from the ROH and went to Carmen – which was fantastic – tonight. Beforehand, I had a long chat with Rhonda in Atlanta, which is why I haven’t packed but I’d rather talk to my friend than pack and will get up early tomorrow.

So it’ll be another week without blogging as I won’t have internet. For once, I want to watch something on television – or anyway, on Disney +, which I can’t get at the caravan. I’m so sorry that CJ Sansom has died. I knew he’d been ill for quite some time and it is a sad coincidence that he died the very week that the dramatisation of his first Matthew Shardlake book was about to be aired. I’m also sorry that Paul Auster has died, whose books I admire too.

Z feels gung-ho

Well, progress is being made. I have had a reply from the Listed Buildings man from the council. He will take the next step and get back to me. The lovely electrician charged me a mere £24, including VAT, for two visits. Next, I’ll contact Jason at the stove place to discuss the fireplace – I’ll certainly need to have the chimney relined, even if the present fire goes back into situ.

Dear old Polly bantam died today. She was 9 years old. She, Scrabble, Canasta (RIP) and Jenna (cockerel, RIP) were the parents or grandparents of the entire flock I have now, apart from Jabba the Cluck, who is also 9. She and Scrabble are still looking to be in good shape, but so was Polly until a couple of days ago. This means that Hope is in the coop on her own at present. I will put Dot, the one with the broken toe, in with her after the weekend. I tried her a few weeks ago, but the feisty Polly bullied her. She’s only just coping in the henhouse, but I can’t do anything about it until I get back from London. Al is holding the fort over the weekend, but it’s not fair to land chicken-coddling on him at such short notice.

I’ve not contacted the painter and decorator yet, but everything else on my to-do list has been done. The house is a bit chaotic still, but there we go. Alex lived here for long enough, he should know what I’m like. With all the problems there have been, it’s not really surprising. The carpet in the cloakroom is still in place, but I’ll take it up when I get back – I’m not sure what the floor underneath is like. Although I still feel very anxious about everything, I’m coping well. I’m good in an emergency and its aftermath, it’s the everyday extras that I find tricky. But I want to get sorted out and I won’t feel better until it all has been.

Zo’s Ark

Oh, chaotic doesn’t even start to describe it. The mouse problem has not gone away after all, but there’s no sign of them except for them eating the waste pipes. The dishwasher one was eaten last Friday night (presumably, as I discovered it on Saturday morning). Fortunately, I’d cleaned the tannin marks off tea mugs before putting them in the dishwashing machine, for which I briefly turned on the kitchen tap. If I hadn’t and had started by turning on the dishwasher, there would have been an awful flood. As it was, I was without use of the sink over the weekend – I kept a bucket in the sink to catch drips from the tap and anything like coffee dregs or cooking water. Kind Jaden came and fixed it at a reduced price on Monday morning. I hate myself for it, but I’ve bought poison baited traps, though I haven’t brought myself to put them down yet. The mice aren’t touching regular mousetraps and I don’t know what to do.

I’ve been having a burst of activity this week and, stressful though anticipation was, having done various things was very encouraging.

However, the falling apart of the house continues. A week or two ago, I realised that the chimney was smoking a little. I couldn’t quite work it out, but there was certainly smoke. I finally twigged that the smoke was coming from where pointing was missing from the brickwork surround, on one side. Since the chimney is lined, this is disconcerting. I had been thinking about the chimney lining this last winter, as a matter of fact. I felt it should be replaced and wondered whether it’s time to put in a woodburner rather than keep the open fire. But if I don’t take out the whole fireplace, which my in-laws put in (and I have never liked) then the full heat of the woodburner won’t be felt. But, as the house is listed, I may need permission and, as woodburners are not popular with Powers That Be at present, I may not get it. I’ve emailed the chap at the council who can advise. If it’s difficult, I can keep the status quo. I’ve got plans A, B and C at present. For now, I’ve put Blu Tack (which isn’t blue any more, it’s a very suitable putty colour) in the gaps.

We went to the local theatre last night, for a live-streamed performance of Swan Lake, from the Royal Opera House. These are done regularly, both opera and ballet. There were a number of people there, mostly women, who don’t normally come, presumably there because of a particular fondness for that ballet. A lot of cut-glass accents and rather loud voices. Unfortunately, the loud voices continued during the intervals. After a few minutes to secure drinks or ice creams (it’s a sensible theatre where you can take your wine glass or coffee cup into the auditorium), there are interviews with backstage staff, which are very interesting. They focussed on costumes mostly, last night, but we could hardly hear the interview with the woman in charge of costumes because of braying voices. They did shut up when the actual costume makers were demonstrating how tutus were made, but started up again when a man who designed the backdrops was speaking. It was annoying. The braying voice last week, at the film on John Singer Sargent, was an elderly man (no older than I am, I daresay) who had something irritating to say about everything. Has it got worse since lockdown? Am I more irritable? I don’t know.