Jane in the Land Army – 2

She was sent to a farm not too far from Weymouth – I never thought to ask her how much she got home to see her father or other friends. Why does one only think of this sort of thing when it’s too late?

It was a family farm and the son Bobby was excused Army call-up because he was an essential front line worker. There was a second son and he was called up for a time, but I think he returned to the farm later. Other workers on the farm were older men, past the age to be called up, and Land Army girls. When Jane turned up, they assumed she’d be wet behind the ears and only able to throw food to the chickens, but she was determined to do anything they could, and so she could. No tractors because of fuel rationing, but they had a big heavy horse, a cob and, rather oddly, an ex-polo pony called Monsieur de Talleyrand, who was very quick on his feet and lively, but I’ve no idea what work he was actually capable of. The heavy horse, which I think was a Shire, pulled the wagons and heavy machinery. My mother learned to drive him – she was already an experienced rider – and prided herself on her abilities. Such as going at a trot to an open gateway, pulling a laden cart and carrying on through it with inches to spare. She also proved her worth when it came to harvesting root crops. The men chose the big tools and she was left with the smallest one, but she bent down to the job and it was far quicker. She also learned that, if everyone was working together side by side on the rows, it soon became a competition. So you stopped, took a swig from your water bottle and stood and stretched, and soon everyone was in a different place and unaware of who was quickest.

Once, she was sowing wheat in a hillside field near the road. She got to the end of the day, marked the place and went home. Next day, she realised that, whilst she knew where she had stopped, she hadn’t marked the line of the drilling. So, that whole summer, there was a place where the rows went off at a different angle and she – and the farm owners – were teased thoroughly. Everyone thinks they’re the first to say the witticism that the recipient has heard a hundred times. It palls.

Later, other girls did arrive from towns and cities and they were pretty clueless. The old farm workers had various jokes – sending them to shut the five-barred gate to cut out the draught in the middle of the field, going to buy a left-handed pitchfork, that sort of thing. I’m not sure how long any of them lasted and she never mentioned any friendship she had with any of them. She was always drawn more to the company of men, in a completely non-romantic way. She thought of herself as one of the blokes. Yet she knew she was attractive – slim, with curly brown hair, she was sometimes likened to Deanna Durbin. But she was uninterested in having a boyfriend and rather despised the girls who were known to be “easy.”

Jane in the Land Army – 1

I can’t remember if I told you about my mother’s Land Army experiences, so I’ll assume you can’t either. If I’m repeating myself, I apologise – but then there are stories she told many times herself, which is the only reason I remember them. I do know I’ve said some of this – but this is a way of escape from our current difficult times. To previous difficult times, but that’s another matter.

Jane was still at school when the War started. Al was saying to me today, how sorry he was that Squiffany’s 15th birthday was spent quietly in isolation with the immediate family, but Mummy was only 15 in September 1939. It scuppered her hopes of a university education and I don’t think she took exams at the end of the school year. A London school was evacuated to the south coast and they shared the school with the existing pupils. The latter were there in the morning but had to leave their text books behind for the afternoon pupils. And the headmistress was very agitated and held practice evacuations several times a week, so lessons were spasmodic.

So she left school at 16 and went to secretarial college in Weymouth. The college was in sight of the harbour and there were regular “dogfights” over the bay. I suspect that the evacuees had gone back to London or elsewhere by that time, it wasn’t the smartest move to have sent them to the South coast in the first place. She said that the tutor, a rather fussy chap, used to wring his hands and say “oh ladies, ladies, do come down” when the girls all used to rush up to the flat roof to watch the aerial battles. Until one day, when a plane was shot down and hit the water in flames, and they realised that they were watching real life and it wasn’t a bit of fun at all.

When she was approaching 18, she realised she’d be called up to the Forces. She was shy and unsophisticated and felt completely out of her depth, so volunteered for the Land Army instead. Her grandfather had been a farmer and she was a healthy, outdoorsy girl who relished physical work.


Tim and I chat over dinner, often for quite a long time. It’s a two-person dinner party and occasionally we disagree, even more occasionally quite strongly, but usually it’s a stimulating discussion and we laugh rather a lot. Tonight, for reasons I don’t quite remember, we got on to swearing and blasphemy, both in English and Italian and, at some point, Tim remarked that my mother (then aged about 25) must have led a sheltered life.

Yes, she had, actually. When, aged 23, she and my father got married, she didn’t drink tea or coffee and she didn’t drink alcohol. She certainly didn’t smoke – I’m not sure how I’d cope with no vices at all, but she was a perfect example of those virtues – if virtues they are.

It doesn’t mean she never slipped, however. When she was in the Land Army, she was friendly with an old man and used to visit him with a small gift once in a while. Nothing less than completely innocent, obviously. He was a farm worker who should have been long retired, but carried on working because there was a war on and most young men were in the Forces. He used to give her his clothes coupons in return for – well, I’m not sure what was couponed. Tobacco? If it was, that would have been it.

One evening, she called round and he offered her a glass of his homemade cowslip wine. She didn’t drink at all, she had probably never tasted alcohol. Still, it was quite innocuous, or so she thought, and delicious, so she accepted another glass or more. And when she got up, she found her legs didn’t work. She was fine as long as she sat down, but her legs let her down quite badly. The moral of that story, of course, is never to accept a glass of cowslip wine from a nice old man.

I had a similar comeuppance once, though no old men were involved. We had dinner with friends – she’s not the best cook but she’s the most brilliant hostess. Her brother had brought a bottle of Irish whiskey and we polished it off after the meal. I felt fine and we sailed home, Russell and me, chatting merrily. R hadn’t drunk much, being The Sage, obviously, so was fit to drive under the limit. It was a Saturday night and my mother was invited to lunch the next day. This was one of the most embarrassing Sundays ever. I was legless. I felt fine when I was lying down and I felt awful standing up, I wobbled and was dizzy. I managed to get whatever we were eating into the oven, and then I lay on the sofa. My mother arrived and I had to apologise. She and Russell finished cooking and then brought me a plate of food, which I ate with good appetite. All I couldn’t do was be upright. It was peculiar, because I felt fine until I tried to use my legs.

My mum was very understanding. I expect she remembered the cowslip wine.

Z motivates myself

The only thing to do was to regain motivation. So I made a list of household jobs, ranging from the everyday or every week to the one-off. It includes emptying the dishwasher but not preparing food, because I want things to tick off reassuringly, but to challenge a bit. Anyway, we managed seven today. A daily thing will be emailing/messaging or phoning friends.

Today’s good things –

1 The first load of wood has been delivered for the new fence down the drive. I’m so sorry you won’t see it this summer, but I’ll post pictures, of course. I asked for the better quality wood and I’m very pleased with it. It’s attractive and also smooth – when grandchildren finally visit again, they will certainly run their hands along the rails as they go down the drive, so I didn’t want them to get splinters.

2 Tom Tree Surgeon phoned to bring forward the date for judiciously cutting back the oak. He wasn’t able to do it on the original date because the cherry picker broke down, so he arranged for early April, but he says that he can see oak buds swelling and doesn’t want to wait that long. I like Tom, he cares about trees.

3 Well, there isn’t much more, actually, apart from the various things from the to-do list. But a cheerfully tranquil day with Lovely Tim, a brave face when I want to be with all the people I love, a good night’s sleep, they’re all going to count, even if it would look a little desperate to give them each a number. Ordinary life isn’t meant to be itemised. But –

4 The birdsong is lovely in the spring.

Z lacks motivation

I’m not the most motivated of Z’s, it seems. I did fanny bloody all this morning. I did pull myself together and cook lots of food this afternoon, for the sake of using up raw and leftover stuff, so we’re pretty well sorted for a bit. All the same, having realised we’re down to our last lemon, I’ve put in an order for the greengrocer, hoping that after dinner isn’t too late. But if it is, we will make a quarter of a lemon last.

Alex and family are in quarantine because he and Dilly have bad coughs. They’re both rather front line. Two of the children have colds, but that isn’t anything extra, probably. It’s Squiffany’s birthday on Friday, poor darling. But we are all sensible – how could any of my family be anything but sensible? – and she will make the best of it. I’ve sent her a present and I appreciate Amazon, however evil it is. I’ve sent a few random presents to spread the love, as well.

Having said I can’t make it to next week’s meeting, others agreed and then it was decided to try videoconferencing. That disconcerted me. i don’t like seeing myself online – but yes, fair enough, having said I’m staying at home, I can hardly say I can’t be there for an online meeting. We trialled it this afternoon and I found that my browser wouldn’t support the app, but it’s dealt with now. Trying again on Friday, when hopefully there will be more than three of us. And then ready for the actual meeting on Wednesday. I have no idea how necessary this is, particularly now that schools have closed for most children and that exams have, as sensibly as anything else that has been decided, been cancelled.

I know, I said only yesterday that the current events are not what this blog is about, but it’s all that’s on my mind at present. I will do better, I assure you. I will finish with a few positives.

1 I spent an hour or two cooking this afternoon, so that’s meals sorted for most of the week.

2 I’ve ordered lemons from the greengrocer (that’s by no means all I’ve ordered, of course) on the assumption that Tim doesn’t run out of gin.

3 I have had some lovely online chats with friends and we are bucking each other up. I like to think that this is something I’m good at, but I also appreciate backup for me too and I’ve received it.

4 It is spring and nature is lovely at this time of year, every year, no matter what.

5 Pollution must be way down.

Z cheers a chick

I could use this as a diary about “how I feel” but i’m not going to. This has always – well, mostly – been a cheerful and outward-looking blog and that’s how it’s going to stay. I know people enjoy it when I reminisce and I’m trying to think of something to reminisce about that I haven’t already done. Hmm. I’ll come back to you. Or if you can think of any subject, do suggest it.

But, as for today. During the strong winds that went on for weeks, several ridge tiles blew off the barn/garage complex. I know, that’s not a great way of describing it but it’s quite a sizeable area, it’s quite old – I suppose there were stables and workshops originally and the present workshop is where a piggery used to be, apparently. Anyway, I spoke to my friendly neighbourhood builder, whose daughter has joined the business with him, a few weeks ago and they turned up today. She’s the one who clambers about on roofs nowadays. The tiles hadn’t broken, luckily – there were about eight in all and they were from the end rather than along the top of the ridge, so it was quite straightforward to get at them. I’ve known T and his family for as long as I’ve lived here, they and their children are much the same age as me and mine.

The foster mother hen and chick have been getting very impatient in the smallish coop – it’s supposed to be big enough for four hens to live in, but the poor things wouldn’t much care for that and I can’t think where their food and water would go. Last summer, Tim and I constructed a wood and wire run to attach to the coop, which we draped netting over, but we can’t find that anywhere. I’ll ask Wince if he’s dismantled it or else where he’d put it, but I didn’t want to wait a couple more days until I see him. So we carried the dog crate we bought for Eloise cat last summer when she was confined after her op and put that in front of the coop instead. It gives them an extra 4 foot by 2 foot space in the open air on grass and I can edge it from side to side a bit when they destroy the grass. We had to block it in with bricks and cover over part of it so that their food doesn’t get wet with rain or dew, but it’s much better than they had. I’ve got a horrible feeling that the chick looks more guy than gal, but I haven’t any others to compare it to and it’s too early to know really.

I was a bit tired and headachy tonight – I am perfectly well, but due a good night’s sleep – so didn’t cook the fish I’d bought. Tim scrambled home-laid eggs instead. Tim is good. Totes adorbs, in fact. I don’t mind being confined to barracks with him in the least.

Two hens a-laying

A bantam is laying too, so our nourishment is assured. So is theirs – I have bought three bags of feed for them, although I had a whole bag left unopened. It’s the only panic buying I’ve done.

I’ve also been speaking to friends and family online and on the phone and have sent a few presents because they’re the ways to stay connected right now. I don’t think I can spend several months without seeing my children and grandchildren, so we’ll work out the best way. And I’ve suggested to Wink that, if we’re all holing up at home, she might as well do it here with us. She has an appointment at the beginning of April that, unless it’s cancelled, she doesn’t want to miss, and she’s shopping for a friend at present who’s recovering from an operation, but after that she’s free as a bird. As are we.

I didn’t get around to asking Wink about food – my puzzle is, we had a lot of meat in the house when I was a child. And I know my mother made shepherd’s pie and casseroles from the leftovers, but somehow I feel there must have been more that wasn’t used.

Her friend Jane was kept quite short of money by her husband, which is a story in itself. He had a girlfriend and, though it can’t be known if he spent money on her, Jane looked after his elderly mother and his Down’s Syndrome sister and had paying guests too, and he had a very easy ride – but that’s not the point and I shouldn’t digress. I remember once, my parents and sister were out and Auntie Jane came to spend the evening with me. We looked in the fridge and there was a small remnant of roast pork. It wasn’t enough to feed two – until Auntie Jane got her hands on it. It was sliced and cooked with onion, apple and gravy and it was plenty, as well as delicious. I remember being astonished and impressed – and I’d do the same myself now, I learned a lesson that night. And my mother was in her teens when the war broke out, so was well used – being motherless and her father’s housekeeper – to using every scrap of food. But she’d put that behind her afterwards, with much relief. All the same, being wasteful was not possible, I’m sure. So what happened to the leftovers? Maybe I’ll never know. Maybe the dogs came in handy.

Z needs to search the garden

I didn’t let the chickens out yesterday as the weather was miserable. About six in the evening, I went to shut them in their shed and one of the black girls was the only one who hadn’t gone to roost. She tried to skip past me out of the door. I stopped her, picked her up and put her to bed. She hadn’t laid an egg by this morning, but I suspect she, and probably others, have been laying away.

There are two big black hens and one big brown one, and she actually did lay an egg – I know because it’s a distinctive khaki colour. Then there are Rose’s two bantams, and then the rest of the young ones, hatched last year. I think that they are actually off lay, but I don’t trust the rest of them. And I don’t want to have to search, fail and then have a clutch of chicks to cope with, not right now.

Having said that, I don’t feel the need to stock up unnecessarily, but I do think I’ll get some more chicken feed tomorrow. I’ve got a bag still, but I’ll be flummoxed if I run out and can’t get out to the shop.

I’ve been thinking about food; specifically the food my mother provided when I was a child. There seemed to be an awful lot of it and I wonder what happened to the leftovers. I think another blog post is coming on. But I may have to ask my sister first.

When I went out this evening, it had just stopped raining. But the chill has left the air. It’s still raining, but it’s spring rain, not winter rain. There may be cold weather ahead but the tide has turned.

Z’s de-fence

The old wire and angle iron fence has been removed. I did take photos, but the best angle was into the setting sun, so they’re not very good. I’ll take some more in the morning, if I remember. There’s nothing to see, of course, because it isn’t there. The hardwood gate is ludicrously expensive compared to a softwood one, but I’m biting the bullet. I want something that looks good and will be really durable and it’s the only time I’ll have to buy it, after all. I don’t like to think how much I’ve spent here in the last five years, but the old fence had been there for nearly forty years and it wasn’t secure any more. And the septic tank drainage and the fencing round the field and so on and so on…never mind. If we’re living here, we have to look after the dear old place. It’s been in the family since 1928 and maybe we’ll keep it long enough to make the century.

Tomorrow, the Calor gas guys are coming to upgrade the system. Apparently, it doesn’t allow enough gas through or something – they came to check it out a year or two back, said the job needed doing and would be scheduled, but I’ve had to hurry them up because Rose’s annexe needs a new boiler and the boiler guy says he can’t test it properly unless the supply is correct. Calor gas has been very good, I must say. The man on the phone and the one who came round were helpful and efficient and, when they couldn’t manage the original date they were going to do it, they juggled jobs and brought it forward, so as not to inconvenience the heating chap.

I have lunch with women friends once a month; it’s a club that’s been running for over thirty years. My mother took me in the first place and I was the youngest then and I’m still the youngest. We’ve all grown old together. The person who makes all the arrangements and I have had a couple of phone calls, wondering if we should go ahead next week. So I emailed round to the two thirds of our members who use email to ask. Some of them phoned back, some emailed. We’ll decide tomorrow. I suspect that there may be about a dozen willing to turn out. Several of us are in their nineties, everyone else but me seventies and up, so we’re all “vulnerable” and many have health issues. We meet in a private room in a small hotel, there have been no cases in Norfolk and so, at present, the risk is modest. My dear friends mostly live alone and their social life really matters to them, but so does staying well. Isn’t it sad?

Z feels productive

It feels as if it’s been quite a productive day, though I’ve not actually done all that much myself. It’s finally getting warmer, so I’ve moved the chicken and chick to the bigger run outside and they seem quite happy there. Foster spent the first ten minutes shifting all the bedding outside. They’ve got plenty of grass to scratch in and eat, so I hope she won’t wreck the food in the dishes any more. The chick is very perky, too early to tell whether it’s a girl or boy. None of the chickens has laid an egg for the last week, little buggers.

I phoned a friend who had to spend nearly a week in hospital because of heart trouble. She’s feeling all right now, but rather unnerved because she’s rarely unwell and this is a new problem. I also wanted to check on another friend, who had a cancer operation last month – they were able to do keyhole surgery, so she’s recovered much quicker than expected from the op. I’ve sent her flowers on behalf of a group of us, so that’s the next job done if you can call clicking a keyboard a job.

The chap who’s putting the new fence in down the drive called round and that’ll happen in the next couple of weeks. We’re having a new oak gate rather than the softwood field gate that’s there now, but he’s going to move it by the black cowshed, to make a way through to that part of the garden. Then I can have a load of muck delivered and it’ll be easy to barrow it through to the kitchen garden.

I went to the blood donor clinic and I’ve ordered new roller towels for the cloakroom, and LT is cooking dinner.

And I’ve lent glasses to the church – I’ve got lots of small ones and they aren’t using the chalice at present. It was quite jolly on Sunday, we each had our own glass and, whilst one normally takes a polite tiny sip of port (Communion wine has to be fortified or it’s horrid and the bottle doesn’t keep, and I pushed for decent port because – well, obvs. I do buy it though), there was enough for two swigs, so everyone was cheerful. Apparently, a lot of shops are running out of toilet paper, but not the local co-op, which is fine for stocks. Just the cheap brands have sold out. On the other hand, LT was in Waitrose the other day and they only had the cheap own-brand soap left. The expensive ones had all gone.

And now I’ve blogged too. No wonder I feel accomplished. No justification, but anything to raise the spirits. Six o’clock and still light, which is another reason to be cheerful. And I’m 200 pages into the new Hilary Mantel, which is yet another.