It’s quiet without the children here…

I’m home and all has gone very well.  The children had a good time, I hope, and were delightful. The weather was iffy, it must be said – the quite daunting heatwave in Southern Europe isn’t showing its face here – but they were keen to be at the beach and in the sea at every opportunity.  Gus only gave up and came out of the water when his lips turned an interesting shade of blue.

Towards the end of the first day, they’d been in the sea and were clambering over rocks, when Zerlina called me over, because a bee was on Gus’s back.  I climbed up as fast as I could but somehow, just as I reached them, she accidentally flapped her towel in his direction and the bee stung him.  I just caught a glimpse, it was neither a honey nor a bumble bee and I didn’t recognise the species, but bee it must have been as it left its sting behind.  Fortunately, LT had picked up an interesting shell and I was able to use its sharp edge to flick the sting out.  And Gus was hugely brave.  We headed back up to the road and LT went to the caravan to get anti-histamine cream while I bought ice creams all round.  The bee can’t have injected a full load of venom because it didn’t redden too badly and, after the first few moments of being, quite reasonably, upset, Gus pulled himself together and was incredibly stoical.  And by the next day, there was just a small red mark and he didn’t mention it.

Best throwaway remark of the week was also his.  I was wondering what we could have for lunch.  “Well,’ he said consideringly, “we could go to the pub…”  So we did.  In fact, we did so several times that week, it was our holiday too.  Olivia and Rhys, children of the same age as our two, were staying at the caravan next door so they were able to renew their friendship.

We were planning to visit other beaches but it was too windy on the day we tried one of LT’s favourites (actually, it was the local pub he particularly likes and we did have a very nice lunch) and we were going to check out another on the way back, but Gus said he liked our beach best, which pleased LT, who has always thought of it as his beach too.  If it had been more settled weather, we’d have spent time in Tenby, but we rather felt we needed to be within dashing distance of the caravan in case the weather changed again!

We also had a couple of days in Reading, went to the cinema and the local park, played hide and seek in Tim’s garden and did all the washing and drying of clothes and towels.  So Weeza and Phil will be immensely impressed – I think we managed four loads, though that included some things from home, such as a tablecloth of Tim’s.

And the return trip went well too – LT said the children were beautifully behaved in the car.  I’d done them each a bag of snacks, rice cakes, cheesy biscuits, a couple of sweet biscuits and some chocolate, with a bottle of water each, and they had their tablet computers and didn’t bother him at all.  And I met my four agents and after three I wondered how on earth I’d choose whom to go with, but by the time I’d seen all of them, I’d got a pretty good idea.  When I got home, I went through all the figures (all have different commission rates) and talked it through with Tim, explaining why I thought one had the edge.  It’s not the cheapest and three put down similar valuations, but I just feel they’re overall best.  He’s agreed that if they don’t get someone at the price suggested in a fortnight, I can give joint agency with another company.  So I’ve now got to write to all the others.  But it’s Saturday evening and it can wait until the morning.

And I arrived home to find that the two youngest chickens have started to lay.  There are two eggs that are an unusual, rather muddy greenish brown and another that is somewhat larger than any of the bantams normally lay.  And the Virginia creeper needs cutting back, it’s grown right over the drawing room window.

As tricky as 1,2,3

I spent the morning setting up several appointments in London, neatly about half an hour apart, all within a fairly tight time frame.  The idea was, we’d go along and LT would entertain Zerlina and Gus while I met the people concerned, then we’d have lunch and a bit of a jolly before going back to Tim’s place.  And it would have been fine and wonderfully efficient, which is what I aim for more than anything (naturally lazy people must be efficient if they’re going to get everything done) … and then I told Weeza.  And they’ve all been invited to a party that afternoon and z knows about it and is looking forward to it.

There were three options.  One was that I had the meetings and LT drove the children back to Norfolk on his own.  Scary.  The second was that he took my place at the meetings and I drove them.  The third was that we came home a day early and I went to London by an early train.  There was a fourth, which Weeza suggested, that she come to London by train and immediately turn round and take them home and, actually, a fifth, that they missed the party.  But 4 – no, absurd and 5 – what?  Miss a party you want to go to?  So I suggested 3 and LT, who is just like Mary Poppins in one vital respect (practically perfect in every way) volunteered to drive the children for three hours all on his own., i.e. option 1.  Respect, darlings, respect.  And huge appreciation all round.  I wouldn’t have asked him, it wouldn’t have been at all fair.

Anyway, while we’re away I will have limited, if any, internet connection – though I’ll be interested to see if it’s at all better with BT than it was with O2.  And blogging from the phone was something I did in the days when I determinedly blogged daily, and I made the equally resolute decision, a couple of years ago, not to do so necessarily.  So while we’re away, I might write but it won’t be every day.

I’ve noticed that a few people have returned to blogging, by the way.  It’s still best.  Although even I have felt disheartened a few times, it’s still best.

Diving up the chimney. Dove up the chimney.

Young Rufus is quite a character, which is (not necessarily, but in this case certainly) a compliment.  And he likes his granny’s home-made scones, which is a further point in his favour.

But I will start with the events of the morning, which didn’t go that well.  We were woken by a bird falling down the bedroom chimney.  The chimney pot itself is about six foot high and there is no possibility of putting a ladder up and blocking it off with wire, and occasionally an idiot bird will perch on the pot, lose its stupid footing and fall down.

It was a dove.  And, when we moved the chest of drawers and then the board in front of the unused fireplace, it fluttered up to the ledge a few feet up.  So we left it.  We left the door shut, the curtains drawn except for where a single window was open.  An hour later, we checked again and it was still huddled there.  A further hour on, there it was.  So we took a poker and gave it a bit of “encouragement” but it just fluttered up, then landed back in the same place.

So I went and fetched the net from the hen house, where I’ve occasionally had to use it.  But its angle didn’t quite trap the bird – I could catch it but it wriggled out.  I had to – excuse the capitals – GET INTO THE FIREPLACE AND, SPITTING GRIT, STAND UP IN THE CHIMNEY AND CATCH THE SODDING BIRD IN THE NET AND THEN GRASP THE LITTLE DEVIL IN MY HAND and then wriggle out again, extricate it from the net and chuck it out of the window.

Lunch involved a glass of wine.

And then Rufus and his parents came over, and all was tranquillity by then, so the afternoon was a great pleasure.  It’s Ro’s birthday tomorrow, so it was especially good to see him.  And everyone was measured on the family height chart – well, just Dora, who’d never been measured before, to our surprise, and Rufus, who’s grown since the last time.  Dora is still taller than Zerlina, to her relief.  After all, Zerlina isn’t yet nine years old.

 

Z wines. Not whines, obvs. Not your Z

I think I’ve mentioned our local vineyard to you, a few months ago.  The owners had started up a supporters’ club and, once I heard about that, I bought membership as a present for LT, though I confess I put it in our joint names.  One of the perks is a guided tour and winetasting, which we took advantage of today, bringing along a friend who was interested too.

We had such a good time.  H took us down to see the vines first of all, explaining how they developed an interest, how her husband B took a degree course in viticulture and oenology and then they moved to France to further his knowledge.  And then they fetched up in this village, not actually by chance as they’d identified a specific area with the right conditions, but they were fortunate in finding the right land with the right slope and the right soil, and with all the business opportunities here too.  They do guided tours for a few pounds, so if you want to know more I’ll be happy to pass on details.  It was really interesting – B took us round the vinery and the project they’ve taken on is stunning and pretty challenging, but we feel that they will make it a success.  English wine has come a long way in the last thirty years and B certainly knows what he is doing and, having tried the wines (we ended up with a tasting, but we’ve got some bottles at home too: fewer than we did have), we know that it’s good stuff.  And our friend signed up for the club, which was lovely of him.  They are planning to produce sparkling wine, but not for a couple of years, because the first batch is currently fermenting in the bottle.  It was all very interesting and a bit challenging for chemistry-clueless Z.

Starting with wine at 11 o’clock, it seemed not inappropriate to keep going – not all afternoon, obvs, what do you take us for?  And we had stuff to do anyway.  We had some of the pickled cucumber for lunch and seemed to manage about half the jar with ease, so I made a couple more jars.  I need to frisk the cucumber plants tomorrow, and pick everything else within a day or two.  The veg garden has suddenly taken off – not entirely literally, I should add… though I daresay you are ahead of me there.

And Ro and Dora, with young Rufus, are coming over tomorrow.  We haven’t seen them for a month, it’ll be a pleasure.

CarZ

The day was more complicated than expected.  LT and I were up and breakfasted early enough to drop off the car and go to the local supermarket before the car parts shop was open, so we hung about a bit before picking up the wiper, returning it and coming home in time to greet a friend who’s over from New Zealand for a visit.  Except, it didn’t work out quite like that.  A warning notice came up on LT’s car information panel saying that the car was overheating and he must drive very slowly; followed by one saying it had overheated and he must stop.  And the power reduced considerably.  Quite confused, as the heat gauge indicated no such thing, he stopped and turned the engine off, waited a couple of minutes and started again – all this happened three times in the final mile home.

Never a couple to make a drama out of a crisis, as the cliché goes, we didn’t fuss but greeted my friend when he arrived and I introduced him and Tim.  He’s already been to a niece’s wedding, stayed with other friends and is now visiting old haunts in Lowestoft before heading northwards to visit his son and family, so it was good to catch up.  And then LT phoned the BMW garage in Norwich, which is a branch of the one he normally uses in Reading, then the RAC breakdown people.

The way all this was dealt with was impressive.  The garage in Norwich was helpful, the receptionist put him straight on to a mechanic who agreed that bringing the car over was necessary but it shouldn’t be driven the 22 miles involved.  The RAC was excellent, a mechanic arrived in short order, checked out the car, confirmed that coolant was not circulating and said he’d arrange for a breakdown lorry to come.  Later, my own garage owner phoned to say my car was ready and, since I’d have had to walk in for it, he brought it back and I drove him into town again and paid the bill.  They fitted the new wiper blade without charge, now I think about it.  The breakdown lorry was here when I got back, LT phoned Norwich to let them know it was on its way and a while later, that garage phoned to say it had arrived.  All good communication and it inspires confidence.

In the meantime, we were making bread and butter pickles.  I bought a jar of this simple pickled cucumber with onion a couple of years ago and thought it was delicious.  I didn’t have much of a cucumber crop last year, but now I’ve got rather a glut.  So we’ve made a jar and hope they’ll be as good as the ones I bought.  It really is simple – you just salt the cucumber and onion, boil vinegar and spices, then cool them, then pot up in a sterilised jar.  I also harvested a vast amount of basil and made huge amounts of pesto for the freezer.

Anna del Conte, the wonderful cookery writer (who shops in the town where Wink works, by the way), says that you should freeze the basic basil/oil/pine nut combination and add the cheese and garlic when you defrost it, because freezing garlic makes it taste off.  However, I’ve not found that and so nowadays I put in everything before freezing it.  I’ve made nearly three pounds of it, frozen in four ounce batches, so I need to be right about this.

Tim has offered to make his famous pasta dish, with pancetta and tomato.  The pancetta is actually some of our home-cured bacon and the tomatoes are home-grown, so it counts as another free meal.  Apart from the wine, that is.  I expect we’ll have a glass or two.

 

Local shops for local people. Again.

Well, that was a peculiar dream.  I dreamt that I’d set myself up in business, cleaning people’s houses.  No, darlings, seriously no.  I’m very good at housework (this is mainly theoretical but true none the less), but if I cleaned for others then I’d never touch a duster here again at all.  Don’t take my work home, obvs.

I went to Norwich for lunch today and, on the way home, it rained on and off.  At one point, I accidentally turned on the rear windowscreen wiper and it was  a good job I did, because otherwise I wouldn’t have noticed that it had seen better days, to the extent that it was flopping down.  Trouble it, the car is having its MOT tomorrow morning and a defective wiper blade is a cause for failure and, since the garage had kindly fitted me in at short notice, there isn’t much time in hand.  So I called in at the motor parts shop in town and asked if they’d got one in stock.    I’d taken the precaution of photographing the back of the car, really in case I forgot the model (cars mean very little to me) but it turned out that the age of it was crucial for the size.  And they hadn’t got it in stock but phoned the supplier, who hadn’t got it either but would get it straightaway and it’ll be delivered first thing in the morning.  So I’ll take the car to the garage, go straight back for the blade, deliver it for the garage to fit it and all will be well … assuming the car passes its MOT, which I’m sure it will.

Another point in favour of personal service in local shops.

Rog wondered, the other day (in the comments) if pensioners having a free bus pass encouraged people to shop in bigger towns rather than locally.  I don’t know, it might do.  I think it would cause an outcry if it were taken away.  I had a conversation on a bus with a nice lady once, who was on her way to visit her daughter in Cromer.  She said that she found that bus drivers could be quite sniffy about her free pass, they obviously thought she was an undeserving freeloader (her viewpoint, I’ve no experience in the matter).  And she said that, while she was glad to have it, as the bus was quite expensive for short trips, she would be very happy to pay towards the cost.  If she got it half price, she’d feel inclined to travel by bus still but, especially on the longer trips, she thought it was unnecessarily generous.

I suspect that, by the time I’m entitled to a bus pass, it might have been withdrawn anyway – they keep putting up the pension age – but I’m not about to go to Norwich by bus anyway, it’s a slow and winding road round all the villages.  I’m sorry to say that the internet has superseded city shopping.  I buy locally or online and have done for some years.  And many of my older friends, even in their eighties or nineties, use the internet quite confidently now.  I don’t know how shops keep going.  Tim and I were in a jeweller’s buying him a watch for his birthday, a few weeks ago, and there were about five staff in a prime city centre location.  There was one other customer in the half hour we were there and we couldn’t quite work out how the sums added up.  Unless a watch actually costs three and sixpence, of course, and all the rest goes to the wages.  Will there be any shops left in a few years’ time?

 

Z stops

Today, I went to the retirement celebration of a friend, who’s worked at the village school for the past 25 years.  It was just delightful – the children love her, she is fun, inspirational and immensely kind, and that came through in all that was said and done.  She has always been particularly interested in drama, song and dance and really brings out the best in everyone.

Several previous members of staff turned up too, which was a pleasure.  I caught up with news and was glad to see how well and happy everyone looks.  Afterwards, there was a meeting scheduled, so I had to stay to the end as I’m the secretary of that particular committee.  I’ve written up half the minutes this evening, but I’ll finish in the morning – I’m waiting for an extra item of information, so that I get the right wording … a fine excuse not to work all evening, hey.  But it isn’t normal to do that any more, so I wouldn’t anyway.  Not unless it was urgent, personal business.  I’ve been a dedicated volunteer for three decades and I’m almost entirely retired from it now and am very happy to be.  Not that I haven’t enjoyed and been enthused by it all, but I needed a break so badly that it’ll probably have to last the rest of my life.  I rather want freedom from responsibility, unless it’s personal. This is, I suspect, quite a relief to LT, who must sometimes wonder if I’ll be drawn in to local good causes again.

I remember when I was fourteen or fifteen, a boy friend (not quite a boyfriend) phoning to invite me to go to the cinema with him and I said I couldn’t that night, my parents had a charity do on and I’d be expected to hand round drinks and so on.  Looking back, I can’t quite believe it – of course they’d have understood and managed perfectly well without me.  But not fulfilling an obligation didn’t even occur to me.  Poor, stupid child.  I’m probably younger at heart now than I was then and i certainly have more sense, at last.

I didn’t even tell them,  It didn’t occur to me to play the martyr.  A trick missed there, certainly.

 

Z waves her hands in the air like she don’t care

I digress.  I think I’ve more to say on the things I’ve blogged about in the past few days but this is a weblog after all: a day-to-day record to some extent.

He was a long-term supporter of the Sage’s auctions, both as a buyer and a seller.  He died rather more than a year ago, well in his eighties, and recently his widow has sold his collection, through a Norfolk auctioneer.  I’d not have been able to do the sale in the time she wanted, had she asked me – I might reluctantly have two sales in a year rather than one but it would have been just that, and I do have a lot of other clients, and she chose another auctioneer.

The first part of the sale was a few months ago and the second was today.  i didn’t buy first time round, though I went and had a good look and really liked some pieces … but the ones I liked best were too expensive and somehow I didn’t have the buying boots on that day.  Today, it seems I’d changed my shoes.

The journey was pretty dire.  It should have taken about an hour to get there, it took more than an hour and a half, simply because of roadworks with traffic lights.  But less simply, the first lot had gone wrong.  I saw, later, a post on a local website that said the temporary traffic lights had completely broken down and showed red in both directions, for hours.  When we went through, they were working erratically, allowing one car through before going red again and, though cars the other way seemed to come at a greater rate, the queue was awful.  So we resolved to come home a different way.  But even on the way there, there were three more lots of roadworks and many more traffic lights.

But we’d allowed time and all was fine.  We had time to view, for a snack lunch and to settle ourselves.  I met some old friends, one of whom I only had known by email and phone in the past, and was able to take the new address of someone I’d known for ages but whom I’d lost touch with.

I looked at the china and told LT what I particularly liked, but didn’t expect to buy.  But I ended up bidding for three lots and buying them – one, I was frankly helping the market, I just felt it was going too cheap and I’d liked it, I didn’t seriously expect to buy.  The other two, I’d identified as pieces I’d love to buy but only at the *right* price.

There was just one lot I missed, but I know who bought it and it’s gone to a good home. I waved my hand to bid once, but so did several other people and I just had to let it go, it went for too much money for me.  I congratulated the buyer afterwards – but I still have a sneaking regret.

Otherwise, I had a lovely time.  I first bid at a major auction some 28 years ago and have been used to visiting them for about 45 years – my mother bought much of her furniture at auction considerably earlier than that.  I’m not a collector at heart, I appreciate what it is to be one but i don’t share the compulsion or the expertise.  I have made the decision to have an item *at any price* on a few occasions (three, actually) but am usually very sensible.  Today, I have had the happy situation of feeling a bit recklessly extravagant, whilst also knowing that I’ve bought well and could (and won’t) sell on at a modest profit.  It seems that I’m more of a collector than  I thought I was and maybe have a hint of dealer in me too – only a hint though, as there were a number of items I know I could have bought and sold on at a profit, and didn’t care to bother.  I’m a genuine amateur, I’m in it simply for the love of it.

Monkfish in tomato sauce with samphire and french beans

I’ll deal with the samphire, which we bought the other day when we were on the North Norfolk coast.  Our mobile fishmonger has decided to stock the French stuff this season; or rather his supplier has, but it doesn’t have as much flavour. LT is cooking the rest of the meal.

The business of fresh food does interest me – this is partly because of my parents’ professional interest in the subject, though they sold the hotel when I was only three or four years old so I wasn’t aware of it at the time, and partly because of Al’s former business as a greengrocer – partly also because I’m just curious about how things work out.

We’re well supplied with fresh food in Yagnub, on the whole.  The splendid little greengrocer doesn’t have the range of basicsthat Alex had, it’s a smaller shop and he goes a bit more for the luxury end of the market.  I can see his point but I could also see Al’s who strongly believed that the single person on a pension who wanted the basics in small quantities was every bit as important as the one who bought luxury goods and lots of them.  Both of them believe in supplying local goods in season and I can certainly see that a smaller shop doesn’t have space for everything.

We have two independent butchers and a farm shop a couple of miles away.  There is also a fishmonger and one of the two fish and chip shops has a wet fish counter a couple of days a week.  There’s also a very good wet fish stall on the Thursday market (as well as a very good fruit and veg stall) and Paul the Fish has called here on Mondays for a good twenty years.

I find it hard to work out how they all keep in business, considering how many people buy all their food in supermarkets, whether in person or online.  Especially the highly perishable fish – at least on a slack day in Al’s shop, most of it would keep for a few more days, but Plautus had it right a couple of thousand years ago: fish (and company) stink after three days.  And shellfish and skate only last a day.

And then we come back to restaurants and cafés and, as Rog mentioned yesterday, reviews on Trip Advisor.

I should plan out blog posts better, innit.  Because I’m rambling on and the more I say, the more I think about it.  But I can’t blog like that, I’ve tried it before.  When I carefully draft a post and leave it to finish later, it never does get finished.  Like an oyster, if it’s not fresh it’s not worth having.

 

Baba Ganoush and ratatouille

We’re all set to have a glut of vegetables again, which is fine and absolutely lovely as I like veggies very much … but we haven’t finished the freezerful from last year and we need to make space.  Isn’t it always the way?  And yet, unlike when you freeze masses of runner beans and are only too thankful to throw them out next year to make room for the next bunch, this is stuff we want to use up.  So tonight’s dinner was mostly vegetables – not that much out of the freezer in fact,  just some leeks, but aubergines and tomatoes from the greenhouse were added, along with cheese sauce, herbs, nuts, garlic and half a tin of anchovies.  And a nice bottle of red, or at least some of it.  So far.

Last night, I was looking up the website of a fairly local pub that we used to go to some years ago, and got out of the way of visiting, for no particular reason – Tim and I have been discussing the awful uncertainty of the catering trade, but that’s another story – last summer, I went to a funeral in that village and saw it had been sold and was being refurbished.  We tried to book there a few weeks ago, but they’d had some domestic problem and had to shut for a few days … anyway, we’re always on the lookout for a nice pub that’s not too far away, so I checked out the menu.  And I’m not sure.  it looks a bit generic gastro pub grub, to be honest.  So it depends on how well it’s done: with flair or just pretentious and a bit overpriced.  I suspect we’ll check it out when we’re in the area, but I’m not sure it’s worth making a special journey.

Anyway, yes, the catering trade.  We hardly ever go out to eat in the evening but we make a point of eating out about once a week.  Yagnub and the surrounding area has lots of good places, many of which are cafés serving good lunches, cakes and so on but don’t normally open in the evening.  So people don’t necessarily book, but their reputation is gained from their freshly cooked food.  So they have to buy it in and plan their menu, not having much idea how many people will come on any day.  I honestly have no idea how it works.  My parents owned a biggish hotel, many years ago – that is, they sold it sixty years ago – and my mother never forgot how stressful it was.  We had a very good lunch a couple of weeks ago locally, but we were the only customers in the 40 minutes or so we were there, though someone was in the bar.  And the other day, we went into the place where we had our night-before-the-wedding bash and, most unusually, there was hardly anyone else there on a Friday lunchtime.  Yet sometimes, midweek, in the same place, we’ve been lucky to get the last table.  We decide where to go at the last minute, normally, just think where we haven’t been for a while or what sort of food or ambiance we’re after – it’s just potluck and pretty random.

“Most unusually,” I very slightly mistyped.  It autocorrected.  To ‘moist Tunisia.’  What??????