Just as a taster, and as an indication of how badly a new name plate is needed, here’s what the present one looks like –

I have to admit that no one notices it.  And this will be the new one, which should just fit nicely into the area with a small space around – it’s 20x25cm but we’ve ordered it slightly smaller as that size would be a bit tight. I had to crop the screenshot as there were bright orange bricks around it, which clearly wouldn’t look right.

We will not go unnoticed any more – there will still be the question, once someone gets down the drive, whether to go to Rose or us but the implication of ‘Cottage’ will surely send most people to the right house. Anyway, once it arrives and assuming we are happy with it, another picture will go up.

This week, we’ve mostly been eating eggs and vegetables, especially courgettes, or zucchini if you’re of the Italian or US persuasion. Last year, I wanted two plants, sowed two seeds, only one came up, I sowed two more and neither came up and the plant that survived didn’t do very well. So this year I sowed three seeds, all sprouted and flourished and we’re getting two or three courgettes a day. *Sigh* – I sometimes put them in the food processor, chop them up and feed them to the chickens, who are very appreciative. Tonight, I just roasted some courgettes, an onion, some red and yellow pepper and garlic, with thyme, coriander seed, cardamom seed, salt, pepper and olive oil. At the end, I cracked a few eggs on top and grated a bit of cheese. Surprisingly, as there was quite a lot of food, we ate it all. So another free meal, pretty well. I’d bought the peppers at the market last week, thinking I’d roast them for the barbecue, but I didn’t. They’re absurdly cheap, about five, depending on size, for £1 and they’re fresh and good quality. The chickens lay rather more eggs than we can sometimes eat – which reminds me, the eggs I pickled a few weeks ago must be ready to eat. If we like them, our glut problems are over! I also found a recipe for courgette chutney, which was rather vague in several respects but we feel is a goer, so that might deal with another excess.  The cucumber plants haven’t fruited yet but are covered with flowers, so that’ll be the next glut.  But I’m not sure that the concept of ‘too many cucumbers’ exists.

Taxing times – I know, but the obvious has to be said

My accountant came over this morning – I”d thought it was going to be the afternoon, but luckily I checked – and so I had to gather all the paperwork together.  It was a dismal hour or so, mostly because I had to face quite how much I’d had to spend on the London flats in the past year.  A year’s income from them, in fact – more, when you take into account lost income as one flat was empty for four months.  First there was a problem with the roof – I think it was brought about because of building work next door but I can’t prove it – and then a problem with the drains.  My tenants left and I couldn’t get a new one until everything had been done, and then the drain thing happened once the new (and lovely) tenants moved in.  I am hoping for the best now.  I’ve got a tax bill for the end of the month and all these expenses should wipe it out, at least.

At least it’s out of my hair now for the rest of the year.  She will let me have the returns for signature and I can relax again.  I hadn’t consciously been thinking about this, but I only slept for about four hours last night – I took LT out to lunch in celebration of dealing with it and then I napped heavily for an hour, I should think, this afternoon – which may well scupper my attempts to sleep tonight.

I was intrigued, the other day, to read a newspaper article about treating depression with sleep deprivation.  It seems completely counter-intuitive, but apparently some people who are chronically depressed (particularly bipolar people and those with mood swings) find that they can function best after a sleepless night.  This was discovered about 50 years ago in Germany; but the benefits were short-term.  But the article in The Times says that the patient is called into hospital as an out-patient and stays awake all night, then goes to bed with instructions to go to bed at 5pm and set an alarm for 1am.  A nurse phones half an hour later to be sure they haven’t gone back to sleep.  At 7am, the patient shines a white light on their face to mimic the morning sun and then, over the next two evenings, they gradually move their sleeping and waking cycles back to normal.  By the fifth day, they’re back to normal timing and studies in Italy and Denmark show that the therapy is of longterm benefit in about half the patients who try it.  It’s like a reset button for the brain, they say.  Of course, depression is often accompanied by sleep problems, so this very controlled resetting of the body clock presumably counteracts the irregular sleep.  The trouble with newspaper articles is that they never give the full facts – it said this has been trialled in this country for a year and gave an interview with a woman who’d tried it and was thrilled with the results, but didn’t say how long it had lasted so far.  All the same, there are no drugs and you basically have to give a weekend, plus a couple of evenings/nights to it, so it doesn’t even have to mean time off from work, and it can be repeated if depression builds up again, so it could be of huge benefit.

A rum ‘un

Rummy is a keen ratter and often asks to go into the chicken’s greenhouse, to crouch by the rat holes – and he’s caught quite a number of the blighters.  But after a couple of times when we’d had to go back to let him out, he found a way out by himself and this has been puzzling us for several weeks.

This afternoon, I went down to water the other greenhouse, the one used for its intended purpose, and a black chicken was standing on a seed tray just outside.  I shooed her and, instead of stalking off as I’d expected, she crouched down.  I double-took and realised she was one of mine, not Rose’s black bantam Polly.  I picked her up and then noticed the big brown hen.  So I took the black one back to her greenhouse, the brown hen followed and so all was well, as all the other chickens were there, where they were meant to be.

LT and I searched for quite some time and we have not been able to work out how they got out.  I can only think that the door didn’t fully close, they got out and then a gust closed it – but I’m really careful and I don’t actually believe it: however, I have not found another answer.  Rummy, who had been entertaining himself chasing the barn cats (who are barely afraid of him at all now, only one still runs) came in with me and LT and I agreed we’d watch him to see where he got out again.  And LT spotted it – there are a lot of panes removed for airflow, and the gaps are covered with netting and wire; and there’s a small gap where, having jumped onto a feed bin, he can slip out.  So that’s clever of him and there’s no risk a chicken can get out of there, as long as it doesn’t get bigger.  A stoat or something could get in, but a chicken is only at risk if it’s trapped in a confined area and they’re safe on their perches in the shed.

Tim hadn’t watched as I put the chooks to bed for a while, and he was rather impressed by how good they are now.  I chuck in a few mealworms and they mostly go straight in, though there are always a couple who like to be chivvied.

In the hot weather, the plant greenhouse has to be watered twice a day and RasPutin was waiting for me this lunchtime.  So he’s had rather a lot of food today, though he’s still quite skinny.

In other news, we’ve ordered a name plate for the wall at the end of the drive.  There is the house name, but the sandstone it’s etched into has crumbled rather since 1967 and you can only read it if you already know it’s there.  This doesn’t really bother us as the entrance is easy enough to describe to potential callers, but we finally decided the time had come.  I hope it’ll be delivered in time for the blog party, in case we have newbies.  Newbies and old guard, equally welcome, as ever.

Quite a lot of armfuls

We had a lovely weekend.  Dave cooked dinner on Saturday and we ate outside in the evening sun.  Scout, MIke’s dog, is very afraid of cats, though he and Zoe have a cat and, when Rummy realised that, he taunted the poor dog unmercifully.  They all (not the cats) went off for Sunday brunch while we got ready for the family barbecue – Ro had said he’d go up the double ladder and cut back the creeper, which was all over the gutters and heading for the roof, but he wasn’t well.  I thought it was the sun, as he had a headache and was feeling woozy, but we don’t think so now; it’s one of those mysterious viruses, probably.  Anyway, Weeza and Phil kindly did the job instead.  I must try and find someone for next year, who’ll go up ladders, as we don’t want to impose on the family.

Although hot, there has been a cooling breeze and it’s lovely.  The countryside is crisping up though, all the grass is turning brown.  We mowed part of the lawn on Saturday – the half that’s in the sun is brown and all the weeds (I like a weedy lawn and there’s plenty of plantain and clover) were seeding.  The more shaded part is still green and that looked fine.  There are clover flowers and coltsfoot and various other nice wild plants, and we didn’t mind them at all, but the dry part looked scruffy.  So I just took off the stalky bits and didn’t cut the grass itself at all.

LT and I barbecued the meat between us.  We started with two huge steaks which I then cut up, and then put on the chicken and sausages.  The children wanted the sausages and had to wait, which was my fault – we should have done them first.  As it was, I was just biting into a huge mouthful of steak sandwich with roasted vegetables when I caught Rufus’s reproachful eye.  It was hilarious and chastening at the same time.  But they all had plenty to eat.  Ro had particularly asked for the delicious spicy chicken recipe that everyone loves.  It is fabulous.  Onion, garlic, ginger, spices (coriander, cumin, cardamom, clove and cayenne pepper), tomato purée, oil and vinegar, all whooshed up to a paste, marinaded with chicken pieces that are then grilled or barbecued – it’s not hot so much as spicily aromatic and even Ro, who wasn’t really eating, couldn’t resist.  This is the third party this summer when we’ve been lucky with the weather – fingers crossed that it’ll last for the blog party, though it won’t be a barbecue and we can sit indoors or out.

I only have one bedroom definitely booked and another one possibly – still plenty of room, but let me know if you’d like to stay over.  Two double rooms, after that we move on to a sofa or a blow-up bed.

Today, I donated my 25th pint of blood.  All started because of my blog friend Greg, a decade or so ago.

Z had lemons so made lemonade. Obvs.

All this relaxing in the sun is very enjoyable but it doesn’t get much work done.  I did manage a bit – business emails mostly, including the booking of meetings  with my business partner and with my accountant for next week – but all I did this afternoon was make lemonade and yoghurt.  Which latter must be potted up and put in the fridge.  I’ll do it now while I think of it – excuse me for five minutes, please.

Right, that’s done.  The last time I made it, I had just one pint of silver top (ie whole) milk spare and it had too much whey and had to have some drained off.  A pint of whole milk plus the top third of another pint is ideal, just the right consistency, and that’s what I used today.  It exactly fills two pound honey jars.  So that’s LT’s breakfast yoghurt dealt with for another week.

The lemonade, I hadn’t made for some years, though it used to be a regular thing.  Very easy, a Good Housekeeping recipe.  I first made it for a WI competition that was being judged by professionals and it scored 19/20.  Simply, you thinly peel a lemon – I use a potato peeler – and put it with 2 oz sugar in a jug, add boiling water to half a pint, cover and leave to cool, add the squeezed juice and strain.  That’s it.  You dilute it a bit, not a great deal.  For modern tastes, I think next time I’ll put in a little less sugar.

Zoe and Mike – long-time blog friends, whom some of you will know – are coming to stay tomorrow for the night.  They’re really staying with Rose, but she doesn’t have a spare bedroom.  It’s all very convenient and friendly.  We respect each other’s privacy but drop in, borrow, give and lend, help each other out and it just works without having to worry about it.  If one of us is away (in my case I mean two of course, but you know what I mean), the other looks after cats and chickens and we all look out for each other but give space too.

Talking of space, Wince the gardener has a drone which he flies from the front field.  To say thank you, he took a photo of the house the other day and gave copies to each of us.  It doesn’t show the veg garden or even the Wall, but it does show the sprawl of the house.  I’ll scan and post it sometime.  I describe bits of the house sometimes and, if you haven’t been here, it’s hard to explain.  It’s a much-altered Tudor house with modern extensions and it rambles almost as much as I do.  Tim says I over-explain and he’s right.  But when I don’t, no one has a clue what I’m talking about.  I strive to be brief and I become obscure, as Horace put it a couple of thousand years ago.  I like Horace.  My Latin teacher said, it’s said that you have to be middle-aged before you appreciate Horace, but I think I was born middle-aged.  The teenage Z had a sudden moment of clarity.  I was born middle-aged too.  It was immensely comforting to start to understand myself.

Z goes clothes shopping

The other thing we did in Norwich was visit M&S.  I wanted some teeshirts, because most of my ancient ones have indelible stains on them – I’ve no idea why, greasy or grubby blobs that nothing will shift; I’m just a messy eater or something  – or are faded.  I really don’t buy clothes very often and, actually, I don’t think I’d bought anything at all this year except two pairs of really cheap sandals, until yesterday. When I announced my intention, LT said he could do with a pair or two of lightweight trousers and he knew exactly what he wanted and the size, so they didn’t need to be tried on, which is a huge bonus in anyone’s book.

We spotted the teeshirts quite quickly, but they were very cheap and thin, so I thought that possibly the better ones were upstairs (I’m too old to be quite that casually dressed, really) and we might as well check out the trousers first.  Tim said, odds were that they wouldn’t have the right colour in the right waist/length combination because he’s a pretty standard size so they sell out and don’t replace them.  That reminded me of when my children were small and I was buying them school uniform and that was what I found too, even thirty-plus years ago.  I’d go in for a – let’s say – age 9-10 white school shirt and they’d have every other size but.  So I’d think (it being half way through the summer holidays) that they would be getting in more stock soon.  And I’d revisit every week and they never did.  Sometimes, I’d move shirts about to a pattern I’d recognise but wasn’t obvious, and it was the same next week.  This was annoying but not incomprehensible, before the days of automatic stocktaking in the time of barcodes, but it seems that it hasn’t changed.

In the chinos that Tim wanted, there were Pure Cotton Regular Fit, Regular Fit Linen Rich, Regular Fit Stormwear, Pure Cotton With Active Waist, Straight Fit Pure Cotton and Straight Fit Pure Cotton With Belt, which is too much choice to start with, in just one style of trousers.  What he actually wanted was Super Lightweight Regular Fit, but they didn’t have any of those.  Why they had Stormwear in a heatwave is open to debate.  But we started looking through for his size.  We found them in black, in the Pure Cotton Regular Fit and in navy, the colour he wanted, in Straight Fit Pure Cotton, which he’d have had to try on in case they were the wrong shape and, by that time, he couldn’t be arsed.  Admittedly, we didn’t search the Linen Rich or Stormwear because he didn’t want those at all.  So we came away without.  It really did take me back all those years to when they had every size but the most popular and never restocked.

After a quick foray through the immense first floor women’s section, we ended back on the ground floor women’s casual again and I found there was actually a choice of tee-shirts in a whole section to itself.  The choice, as in the trews, was puzzlingly wide.  V neck, round neck, boat neck, vest, several different weights and sleeve lengths.  What I liked and wanted in white, size 12 or 10, wasn’t available in anything under 14, though it did go up to 22.  Subtract two even numbers for American sizes, of course.  In the end, I did buy five teeshirts in various colours, excluding the hideous ones, and spent a little under thirty quid.  I had shrugged and reckoned they were cheap enough to last a season and be put in the charity bin if necessary.

Later, I looked up the chinos online and found the ones Tim had wanted.  It said there were two pairs in his colour and size in the Norwich branch, and four of the pure cotton ones.  I don’t believe it.  There wasn’t a single pair of Super Lightweight Regular Fit on show, though they did have winter weight in midsummer.

I’d not be surprised if Marks & Sparks had to close a lot of their shops, as other retailers have had to.  Surely they’re too big to go under – but honestly, I haven’t found anything to buy there in years and had pretty well stopped looking.  There’s too much stock that no one wants and they don’t have the lovely everyday basics that people do, in the size they need.  It’s all own brand, for goodness sake.  Why don’t they sharpen up a bit?

Anyway, today I went to buy fruit, get a new watch battery and pick up new contact lenses – all easily done with free parking in lovely Yagnub – and, as I ambled back to the car, caught the eye of the nice woman in the dress shop.  So I deposited my shopping in the car and went back.  I had a pleasant half hour browsing and trying on clothes and could have bought several outfits.  I bought a dress and a skirt and, unasked, she knocked off nine quid.  She didn’t have any teeshirts, but it reminds me why shopping local is much nicer than anything else.  If only there were still a shop with men’s clothes here.

The seduction hob*

Talking about the possible turning-off of the Aga, I said that the only problem with the Baby Belling is that the two electric rings are higher than is convenient when it’s placed on the kitchen counter.  LT suggested buying an electric induction hob, freestanding, to use instead.  I was a bit dubious, because it would be one more thing to store when not in use, but I looked at the John Lewis website this morning and found just the thing – one with a single ring, it’s small enough not to be in the way at all.  So if we were cooking something that needed stirring, it could go on that, whilst something that could simmer away undisturbed could go on the Belling.  And there were two in stock at the shop in Norwich, it said.  So, after breakfast, I turned off the Aga, changed into something less casual – I didn’t want kind people to assume I was a bag lady and give me money – we drank coffee and set off.  On the way, we stocked up on beer at the Co op because Phil is going to be here at the weekend and we didn’t want to have run out.  There is plenty of beer at the Co op in Yagnub and no sign of panic buying as yet.

In short, it’s just the thing and we think it’ll be very useful, even when the Aga is on.  A nice little gadget.  I cooked dinner on it, and the Belling, this evening, which was a bit of a workout for me.  I decided to cook eggs Florentine, because we have a lot of eggs and spinach, with courgette because they have to be eaten daily or else we will be overwhelmed with socking great vegetable marrows.  That meant one pan for spinach, another for courgettes, another for cheese sauce and, at the end, the spinach pan was reused to poach the eggs.  Then the whole thing went under the grill for a few minutes at the end.  I was also chopping and stirring and grating and so on – even though the kitchen was not Aga-heated, I was a bit hot and bothered by the end.  But it was all a success and the new hob is quick to get going, unlike the electric rings.  The other lucky thing was that the new frying pans I bought last year are suitable, as are my stainless steel pans and the non-stick milk saucepan.

The instruction leaflet reads as if it’s been translated from a language very different from English, so I didn’t bother with it.  Tim, who is more sensible than I am (yeah, really) did, so when I kept saying oh blimey, what’s happening now, he was able to reassure me.  Which is one of the things that husbands do, innit.

*because it remains hot, even when switched off.

If we can’t stand the heat………

RasPutin came for breakfast again, so at least he’s eating well for now.  He’s still hungry but not quite so desperate, poor boy.  He doesn’t come in the evening, I suppose he sleeps most of the day.  I was a bit later than usual going out to feed the barn cats and put the chickens to bed and I saw all the barn cats lounging round waiting for me.  There’s usually one, who rushes off to tell the others, but they’d become impatient tonight.

I made courgette chutney from a  vegetable cookbook that my sister gave me a few years ago.  The writer airily said that she’d been given it by another chef and it was his grandmother’s recipe.  Clearly she’d not tested it or paid any attention to it at all but just had it typed and printed.  It said the range of pickling spices to use, but no hint of quantity.  It said to cube the courgettes and add the other ingredients but didn’t suggest cutting up the dried apricots or the apple.  It said to steep the ingredients together overnight in a preserving pan, then to heat them in the pan and cover it.  You can’t really cover a preserving pan, it’s too big.  It said how long to cook it for – at least an hour until the courgettes were translucent and the liquid was syrupy, but describing how it should look was vague and, having covered it in my biggest casserole dish for half an hour, I had to leave it uncovered or it would have been far too liquid.  Then, having potted it, it didn’t say whether you can eat it straight away or whether you have to wait for a month or three.  I suspect it will be very sweet and I think we’ll try it at once to see whether it’s worth persevering and tweaking the recipe.  At worst, it will add to the compost heap.

We’re debating at present whether to turn the Aga off.  Cooking becomes less of a pleasure in one way, but at least it isn’t so exhaustingly hot.  We’ll have to check the longterm weather forecast.  Tonight, LT made a delicious mushroom risotto, but he suffered somewhat.  Half an hour stirring a pan over the Aga in the height of summer is not for the weak.  It was worth it – which is easy for me to say, I just made the stock … by putting the ingredients in the pan and leaving it for an hour while I did something else.

Z tosses up between blonde and senior

RasPutin came again for food and I gave him plenty, he didn’t leave the breakfast bar hungry.  It was hot, I’ve spent all day watering the vegetables, which were flagging.  I think the squashes would be dead by now if I hadn’t given them a good watering this morning.

Last year, for the first time ever, I was short of courgettes.  I sowed two seeds and only one came up and that plant didn’t do very well.  So I sowed three this year, all germinated and have thrived and I’ve been caught out twice already by fruits that hid under a leaf until they were nearly marrows.  So I found a recipe for courgette chutney and that’s what I’m in the process of making – the ingredients have to steep in vinegar overnight.  I also made bread – this on the hottest day of the year in an Aga-heated kitchen.  But I put the extractor on and an electric fan on, and opened a window too and it was not too bad.  All the same, we relaxed on the lawn for a couple of hours this afternoon and I was quite hot and bothered for a while.

The good thing that happened this afternoon was that Hannah turned up with our box of wine from the village winery’s wine club.  We opened a bottle of rosé this evening to go with our lemon sole and approved.  The less good thing was that I went in to unpack the dishwasher and found that plates hadn’t washed very well.  I put them aside to re-wash, then discovered that the bottom of the machine was full of dirty water.  On the assumption that the filter was blocked – the machine had turned off rather than interrupt the programme – I looked to see how to empty it.  Then Tim did.  As a last resort, I looked out the instruction book and Tim took over – this is brilliant, I’ve always been the one to have to deal with this sort of thing my whole life – and he was very puzzled and quite indignant.  The instructions seemed to bear no resemblance to the controls, he said.

i know, darlings, it would really help if I hadn’t fished out the instruction booklet from the old dishwasher.  How we laughed.  And then I put the book back in the drawer, until he pointed out that it might be better to throw it away.

Turned out – once we’d looked at the instructions and found that nothing was wrong at all – that I’d leant on the dishwasher when I went in to make tea and accidentally turned it off.  And that’s all I’m going to say on the subject.  Except that, with all the faff, I completely forgot about the bread in the oven and, by the time I came back from feeding cats and chickens, the timer had been beeping for at least five minutes.  It’s only a bit browner than it’s supposed to be, I’m sure it’ll taste fine.

I blame it all on the hot weather.  We’re not used to it.

Z’s summery summary

I appear to have a clear diary for the next week, which means it’s not possible for me to put off various items of business that I’ve shelved for the last few weeks, which is a pity.  I’ll feel so much better once they’re done (said insincerely, because the thought of that doesn’t seem worth the faff).

The village fete seemed to go well yesterday, though I’m not sure if the paying stallholders were very busy.   The cake stall had made exactly £100 by the time I left, which they were pleased with but, as I’m mercifully not involved with any of the organisation nowadays, I didn’t hear from others.  In the evening, we went off to our final visit to the Aldeburgh Festival, which finished completely this afternoon.  After the food shortage on our first two visits, we decided to take sandwiches and just get a drink there – inevitably, as I noticed when I went to the bar, there was plenty of lovely salad left this time.  There was an earlier start and finish – 7pm to just after 9 – and I suspect some people had decided on a later supper this time rather than have to get there very early.  The concert was splendid and we came home feeling uplifted.  Today has been a gentle, cheerful sort of day.

Poor old RasPutin, the father of the barn cats, came for breakfast this morning and he looks quite thin now.  If only he’d come every day, I could look after him better.  As it was, I just kept on putting food down and he kept wolfing it.  About a year ago, he grew thin but then he did come daily for a few weeks and it did him a lot of good, he gained weight and didn’t look so desperately anxious any more and there’s no reason why he shouldn’t come twice a day when I put out food. It’s possible he comes for the dry food I put down overnight, I don’t know.  He’s not injured and I’ve no reason to think he’s ill, but he’s old and losing the knack of hunting, I think.  I’ve become very fond of him, he’s got no malice in him except around other tom cats, and his children and he all get on well together.  He’s never shown teeth or claws to me but mews plaintively now, begging to be fed.

I went out to the weed the round bed in front of the house this afternoon.  It’s so dry that even the weeds were drooping.  We’ve had to top up the pond too – doesn’t take many days of dry weather for the ground here to look parched.  The vegetable garden is doing well, though.  I watered thoroughly one day last week – a good soaking every week seems to keep it going.