Dumb as an Oyster

The Oyster card was a fabulous innovation, in its day.  For anyone who might not be aware of it, it’s a pre-paid card for use on London tube trains or buses, you don’t need a ticket but just touch it on the screen and it opens the barrier and deducts the cost of the fare.  You are charged less than the standard ticket rate and, if you reach the cost of a daily pass, it stops charging you.  Splendid.  When introduced, you paid a deposit of £3, which I think is now £5.

I bought two of them years ago, when they were first introduced, registered them on the London transport website and registered a credit card for automatic top-ups – this was mainly for Russell’s benefit as he would have been puzzled to manage that at a station if he ran out of credit.  But I mislaid both those cards a few years ago, replaced them – but one can also use a contactless debit card, so it doesn’t much matter if you don’t have it with you.

Last week, I found an old wallet with various cards in and there were both my original Oyster cards, so I logged on to my account and found that one had about £25 on it and the other had about £17.  So I thought I’d cancel the automatic top-up and use up the money – to do so, you had to use it.  It said, touch onto a yellow reader by 1st December, three days hence and it would be cancelled.  So we did, LT with one card and me with the other, when we went to London the next day.  But they didn’t cancel, I had an email to say I owed £20 (that is there was £25.20 on my card but it hadn’t been able to take payment because my credit card was out of date) and if I didn’t pay it, the card would be cancelled.  Pay or phone.  So I phoned.

Helpful chap with a Scottish accent, said neither card details had gone through as having top-ups cancelled.  And he couldn’t prevent the card itself being cancelled if I didn’t pay.  I explained that, as the same fault had occurred on two cards being used at different stations by two people, it indicated a problem in the system and asked him to report it.  I also said I didn’t want that money outstanding any more.  Could I apply for a refund?  Yes I could.  So I have.

So, instead of them holding on to my £5.20 plus original £3 deposit, because they took another £20 that I instructed them to cancel, I’ve taken the whole lot back again – assuming the refund goes through.  Christmas is paid for, darlings, clearly.  I’m £8.20 in profit here – indeed, you can point out that it was my money all along and I would have to agree, but it was paid so long ago that it counts as new money, innit?  And, as LT points out, that £8.20 will buy his Christmas present, for sure.

Z worries less. I think.

I went to sleep after lunch. It wasn’t a heavy lunch, just the effect of my seasonal inclination to hibernate.  And I was cross when I was woken by the phone ringing and it was evidently a cold caller because they rang off when my answerphone kicked in.  I’d been dreaming, though I don’t know what about and, as I gathered my befuddled thoughts together, I remembered a dream I had several times in the year or so after Russell died.

I’d never lived alone before.  I lived with my mother until I married.  I coped quite well, though, managed to order refills of gas and coal before I ran out, fed the animals, looked after myself and the house and kept outside matters going and I was mostly busy.

I dreamed I was having a heart attack.  I was alone in the house but, not completely struck down, I phoned for an ambulance and then rang Weeza.  I told her what was happening, asked her to phone her brothers to tell them and then gave her a list of other people to contact to cancel a whole string of appointments.  The ambulance came and I was still cancelling things.  When I woke up, I reflected that I’d been somewhat optimistic in the assumption that I’d still be able to focus on all these matters and deal with them; but I was a bit shaken too, that – in my dreams – I first of all thought about efficiency, not letting people down, reorganising events so that I wouldn’t be missed.  I also remember my first words to Weeza: “Oh darling, sorry to bother you, but I’m not very well and I wonder if you could help me.”

Conclusion: I was an over-committed idiot who worried too much.  Can’t really cut down on the worrying, but I’ve stopped the rest of it.  And I like to break bad news gently.  Not that I have any, I’m glad to say.

Z’s Saturday

The traps weren’t set the night I was away, nor the following night but, all the same, I’ve caught ten rats so far. Or rather, I’ve killed ten rats.  The morning I went to London, I went down to feed the chickens and found four in traps, but one was just caught by a foot.  I let it go.  It squealed in terror and I would have had to deal with it more brutally than I was prepared to.  But there, ten rats fewer to breed in the spring.  I have to blank out a bit of my mind that doesn’t want to cope with it.  I’ve got a number of little oubliettes in my brain, where the trapdoor is kept firmly shut, it’s safer that way.

When we arrived at the station on Wednesday, we huddled into the (warm and reasonably comfortable) waiting room until the train was about to come, because it was cold and clammy.  And our good friends Bobbie and Simon came in, a few minutes later.  It was her birthday – which means she’d caught up with me and Simon will match us in a few more months – and she’s had a rough time this year, so they’d chosen a jolly day out.  We said we were going to the theatre too and Bobbie supposed our choice was more highbrow than theirs – Labour of Love/Kinky Boots – I s’pose.  I am solemn, I can’t deny it, though the play was my sister’s choice this time.

Today – let’s see, what has happened?  The usual, feeding of animals and disposing of rat, feeding of ourselves.  I made French (style) onion soup yesterday, so we had half of it for lunch with some toasted cheese.  The proper thing of floating the slices on top doesn’t greatly appeal to either of us, so I served it on separate plates.  I made yoghurt, LT split logs and barrowed them up, I changed the bedlinen and finished turning out the larder.  I’d found several bottles of home-made liqueur and rebottled them, and today it was the turn of the sloe gin.  Three lots, so I conscientiously tasted them all. The best was already in a suitable bottle, the other two could go in smaller, but more attractive ones.  I was a bit giggly for a while.

I’ve got things I should get on with, but working in the evenings is for absolute necessity only, nowadays.  Just a couple of emails I must write.  I still let the answerphone pick up calls and the last cold call was at 8.15, just as we were eating dinner.  It’s so damn rude, as well as intrusive.  Just as well I didn’t pick up the phone, I might have indicated a touch of frost in my demeanour.

Plans for the rest of the evening, after these two necessary emails – absolutely nothing.  I’ve read the newspaper, apart from half the colour supplement, so I’ll just drink another glass of wine and hug a husband.  Probably my own.

Just do it

I’ve been away for a couple of days.  My sister Wink and I have been exchanging birthday presents – I took her and LT out to the theatre and, before that, she took me and LT out to lunch.

Plans changed, at the start of the week, in fact.  For some time we had been shelving the question of whether to drive down to LT’s place in Reading and travel to London from there, or else to go by train from here.  And then I discovered the need for a business appointment in Notting Hill this week, so it seemed straightforward and sensible to travel from Reading each day, and so that was decided.  Until last Friday, when Lawrence, Rose’s boyf, had to spend a few days local to the hospital where he’s being treated, and it was uncertain when he could come home, and Rose obviously needed to be there too.

In the end, we decided to go by train on Thursday, Tim would travel back in the evening, I’d book into a hotel and go to my morning meeting and then come back at 1.30 on Friday.  And it was fine, it worked perfectly well.  As my mother used to say, we finished the game of bowls and beat the … actually, I’m not sure I want to use war metaphors nowadays, even if it refers to something that happened in the 16th century.  But you get my drift.

Wink will be coming here next week – which reminds me, I must get her present sorted out, because she’s going off on her travels for Christmas.  She’s going to visit our friend in Chennai first, then going to Kerala, then to see other friends in Singapore and home again, taking a month in all and being away for an Indian Christmas, which is a jolly good idea.  She has retired again – can’t ever be sure with her that it’s for the last time – and so is looking for adventures.  I do have something for her and will probably give her a voucher for when she gets back, for some treat or other, because she doesn’t want more Stuff any more.  So if she can’t eat or drink or wear it, then she’d rather do it.

Z smells a rat….

The courier finally got here after lunch.  When I mentioned that the item had been expected yesterday, he was surprised – he hadn’t had it until this morning.  He seemed perfectly genuine and I’m inclined to believe him over the company’s website.  But anyway, it’s here and hidden away until Gus’s parents are here on Sunday week.  They can wrap it and we’ll take it over on Christmas Eve.  Or I’ll wrap it if it’s more convenient (it’ll need a lot of paper or a big bag, it’s a new bike).

The other success was in the hen house.  All six traps were sprung and three contained dead rats.  I keep rubber gloves down there specially now, because I’m certainly not touching them.  I sprinkled extra food around last night and I think that has done the trick, they started eating and then put their heads in the traps.  Two of them were not that big, one was fully grown.  I don’t like killing them, but it’s all too much.  I’d be completely happy if the cats were killing them, because they’d eat them too and I have no problem with killing for food.  I do also set mousetraps if I have them in the house – which I only need to do in the attics now that we have Eloise cat.

Today, I’ve mostly caught up with admin, which included the final auction accounts.  I’d done everything that involved all the clients immediately after the sale but hadn’t investigated how much profit I’d actually made – obviously, I don’t count my time at all.  If I’m working for less than minimum wage, I’d rather not know.  I was cooking lunch on Sunday when I had a call from a potential client – it’s the way it is, people phone those who work from home at their convenience and one doesn’t mind, but I do think 1.15 on a Sunday is an odd time to make a phone call at all.  Fortunately, we didn’t have anyone over because it would have been just about the time when I was busiest, if cooking for friends and family – or worse, just sitting down to lunch.

It’s nearly 7 o’clock and LT has brought me a glass of wine.  Dinner is a goat cheese tartlet out of the freezer tonight, we’re taking it easy.  And I’ll bake a squash and cook some purple kale.  And, just possibly, have another glass of wine.

 

Z waits about

It’s been quite a frustrating day.  Weeza and Phil had arranged for Gus’s present to be delivered here, as no time slot would be given – any time between 7.30 am and 9 pm *rolls eyes* – it’s now 8 minutes past 9 pm and it hasn’t arrived yet*.  And I’d been told by the building suppliers that the pier caps for the two pillars that Dave built had been located, a month ago, but nothing since.  I emailed Dan, my contact there, a week ago but there had been no reply.  So I phoned this morning and was promised a call back as they’d probably be able to get them in today.

I was planning to view an auction north of Norwich, so I asked to be told by lunchtime.  A few minutes after 2, I phoned again.  Dan was serving a customer but hadn’t forgotten me and would phone in a few minutes.  At quarter past 3, when it was too late to leave because of afternoon traffic, he sent me a brief email to say they hoped to pick them up tomorrow.  I sent a briefer, terse one back to say that today had been my only opportunity this week to fetch them and would pick them up early next week.  Let me know by Monday morning if they weren’t in.

We’d planned a few days at LT’s house, as we are going to be in London on two consecutive days, for the theatre with Wink and a business appointment for me.  But Rose’s Lawrence has had to stay in hospital for a few days for monitoring and now, though he’s out and doing well, they want him to stay near London.  This is more important than anything else, of course, there is no frustration or anything but loving understanding and support, but it means a change of plan – nothing compared to R and L’s changes of plans, though.  So LT and I will go to London by train, I’ve booked into a hotel overnight, he’ll return alone and look after animals and I’ll come back after I’ve had my meeting the next day.  The cost of the hotel is no more than an extra return ticket and a lot less hassle.

On the positive side, I’ve started *you know* shopping, all online I’m afraid.  I can’t go to Norwich again, it’s too busy.  I will go to local shops but I can’t get everything there.

The rats set off three traps but I didn’t catch any.  I’ve reset them and sprinkled more food around – the container for food is very small and I think rats are too cautious to just dive in and grab it.  We will see.

So, because I am a cheery Z and don’t want to end on a low note, here are a few positives.

1 I’ve started Christmas shopping, as I said – that has to be good, innit?

2 We are really enjoying the tranquillity of a temporarily almost furniture-free room.  It wouldn’t suit forever, but it’s nice for now.

3 Lovely halibut for dinner tonight.  The fishing restrictions have really helped stocks – my fishmonger tells me that the only prohibited fish now is rock eel (I’m not sure I’ve ever eaten it) and that most fish are doing very well – obviously, that does not mean that it should be a free-for-all again.

4 I slept well last night.  I woke a few times but went to sleep again.  This is, as far as I’m concerned, worthy of remark.  Having had to get up early on two days running, last week, and having felt really quite rough the second morning and for much of the day, I realised that I need the short but deep sleep I usually get when it’s actually time to get up but can usually delay a bit.

5 I’ve had a letter from the drainage board to say that a stretch of water which runs through one of my fields is to be dredged.  This is very good as it has got quite clogged up in the five years since it was last done.  And I was going to phone G, to check if I need to have any clearance done first or if there will be sheep on the field – but he called in this evening, so we’ve sorted it out between us and I don’t have to do a thing.  Which reminds me, I must email the council about a soakaway I’ve given them permission to put in another field.  I’ll do it Right Now.

Toodle-pip, darlings

  • 9.44.  Still not here.

Z works jolly hard

It took seven hours of painting, not counting a short lunch break.  Weeza emailed at ten to eight in the morning to say she was leaving and would take it steadily, as it was frosty and she has a few miles of back roads before she’s on one that would have been gritted.  We had time for breakfast and to take down the curtains and clear most of the last bits and pieces, and fetch dust sheets before she arrived (as well as feeding animals as usual).  And we cracked on and it went really well.  We started with edges and then I carried on with them, and window surrounds and so on, while Weeza wielded the roller on the ceiling and walls.  We’d got all the first coat on by lunchtime, ate it speedily, exclaiming over the deliciousness of jalapeño relish and damson chutney and cracked on again.  LT kept us supplied with food and drink.  We knew that it would get dark relatively early, so couldn’t afford to hang about.  And we were finished with the painting by about ten past four, and very pleased with it.  I was shining a lamp around as she finished the ceiling, to make sure there weren’t any bits of the second coat that she’d missed.

It’s just a soft cream colour  (Little Greene, White Lead Mid, if anyone is interested) and rather paler than the previous colour and we are very happy with it.  Weeza had recommended the brand as she said it’s lovely to use, doesn’t spatter and covers well.  She doesn’t recommend F&Bll which, she says, is a beast to apply, however fashionable and expensive it may be.  Certainly, there was no spatter at all.  We didn’t have to take particular care of the carpet, as it’s being replaced, but all the same, one doesn’t want a mess to tread in.

Today, we’ve rehung the curtains and the pictures.  We took the opportunity to change things around a bit – I’ve got three nice oil paintings that wanted a home and we replaced two paintings of flowers and added the third, several others have been replaced and another one has been brought in from the hall, where it was partly behind a door, when it was opened against the wall.  There’s just one more, which had been reframed four years ago and never hung, and I have to find the rings and copper wire that is in a box and carefully put in a safe place.  Sigh.

Then I took loose covers off and washed them, and hoovered, and LT brought in logs and all is lovely and clean and tidy – mostly tidy because we can’t bring the furniture back yet, until the carpet has been replaced in a couple of weeks.  So the hall and dining room are a bit cluttered.

And I had slept soundly from half past ten until half past four, which is jolly good for me.

The rat traps I ordered arrived yesterday, so I’ve set them all this afternoon.  I don’t like doing it, but I’ve had enough.  They must be too big for the cats to tackle – not that Eloise cat would go anywhere near a rat.  RasPutin, the father cat, had been very thin a couple of months ago and I was worried about him, but he’s got quite fat on my good food.  Not on rats, unfortunately.

Z catches up

Weeza is coming over first thing tomorrow and we’re going to paint the drawing room.  It’s so kind, she wants particularly to paint the ceiling to spare our old arms.  First thing isn’t too early, in fact, as she has an hour’s drive and she’ll send a text as she leaves home, so we’ve got time to get ourselves sorted out.  We have taken out all the furniture that needs to be removed and we’ve taken the pictures off the walls, but we are leaving the curtains until the morning for overnight warmth retention, because it’ll be frosty again.

I had a message on the local email network to say that a friend was having a sale of her sister’s jewellery.  Her sister died last month of breast cancer, she was a successful jewellery designer and and there were a lot of her pieces.  I’ve still got some of the earrings I bought from her more than 20 years ago, when she was starting out.  My friend has had a pretty tough year, with two operations herself, one of which was only partly successful and the other was shockingly sudden, though it cured a problem she hadn’t known she had.  And her brother in law is currently paralysed with Guillain-Barré syndrome, though there are hopes of a good recovery, not to mention the illness and death of her younger sister.  As soon as I heard, I went straight over and have bought a number of pieces, as presents and for myself.  So little one can do.

Before that, I’d  been to visit the high school, to see the alterations they’ve done over the summer – and are still doing.  When the school became an academy several years ago, it was left with a backlog of years of repairs because the local authority was only really interested in big town schools.  They put millions into those, nothing to rural schools.  But finally most of the major repairs have been done – new roofs, new windows and doors, as well as other improvements.  Still lots to do, but it’s structurally a lot more secure now.

Yesterday, we went to a tour round the puppet theatre in Norwich, which was a lot of fun.  It’s housed in a redundant church and has been there for nearly 40 years.  The puppets hanging up all over the place are rather creepy, frankly, but impressive in action and the enthusiasm of the people who run is it a joy.

Cheerful music tonight and early to bed, I think.  Have a good weekend.

The Sprig – Part 2 – mod cons

Russell remembered the days before there was a mains water supply to the house, when the family relied on the well for water.  I think he told me it is 30 feet deep, not quite sure.  It’s got a very solid, cast iron manhole cover over it but it’s completely open when you remove that – circular, brick-lined and the water down there looks quite forbidding.  There used to be the remnants of the original hand pump on the wall, but it must have fallen apart and I can’t remember when it was taken away.

Sprig didn’t remember when electricity was brought to the house but his elder sister did.  She was born in August 1932 and he was born in June 1936, so odds are that it was in 1937 or 38.  This seems quite late, but wires had to be brought across the fields from Yagnub.  My mother, who was born at the end of 1923 remembered when electricity was laid on at her house, which she left at the age of 7, so that was done sometime in the 20s.

What both sister June and my mother remembered about electricity was how cold the house was that first winter, compared to the old gas lights.  I remember gas lighting myself – back in the 1960s and early ’70s, I delivered Meals on Wheels with my mother and one old lady, a Mrs Cockerton in Nelson Road, Pakefield, still used gas.  She had a gas cooker, fridge, lamps, everything.  In fact, friends of Sprig’s family, who will be mentioned again, lived in a farmhouse half a mile from the road and they didn’t have mains electricity to the ends of their lives, though they did have a generator.

When Sprig was a little boy, the hand pump was used to fill the large water tanks in the attic, which must have been a strenuous job.  I suspect the gardener did it.  I grew up in a house with a well myself, it was a wonderful thing and I’d never have gone on to mains water if I lived there.  We had four tanks, each holding 250 gallons and the pump worked automatically twice a day to fill them.  I very much doubt the tanks here were anywhere near that size, the water supply ddn’t warrant it.  My mother-in-law told me that they had to be careful in summer or the well ran dry – it filled again, it wasn’t a serious problem but a nuisance for a few hours.  Once the electricity supply had been brought, an electric pump was installed at The Close too, but it must have been later, maybe about 1940.   I don’t know when the mains water came, but mains drainage never has and the big brick septic tank is still in splendid condition, though – as I wrote about at the time – we had a problem with the pipework the other side of it, the year before last.   The water supply comes across the Ups and Downs, there’s a stopcock (just in case anyone ever needs to know) a few yards into that field and another by the road, between the churchyard and the old mill yard.

Russell always had a sneaking ambition to put in a new pump, so that we could use well water for the garden, but we never got around to it, which is a pity.  Still, just one more thing to look after.

 

If Z knows of a better ‘ole…

LT’s phone dropped out of his pocket, the other day.  I rang it and it had just fallen in a bag by the sofa, but I took it as a prompt to set up family sharing on our respective accounts.  I often use the “Find my phone” app but he doesn’t have any other Apple products, except an elderly iPod.  It gives various options, which we haven’t taken up but, of course, to be able to find each other’s devices means that we can each look up where the other is.  Which we usually know, of course.  But oh, how we laughed.

It seems to be completely impossible to keep rats out of the hen house.  Earlier in the year, after the fox disaster (when they’d got in through the adjoining barn), we upped our defences considerably.  Unfortunately, since the old rat runs had been blocked off, they tunnelled instead and made great mounds of earth.  We’ve paved part of the run, put wire down, rubble … they just dig through.  It wouldn’t really matter, i suppose, except that it looks such a mess and they eat the chickens’ food.  I don’t go out to let them into the greenhouse until about 9 and they can’t wait to eat until then.  I don’t leave food in the greenhouse any more, they were really munching their way through the layer pellets – indeed, they like them a lot more than the chickens do (and they’re moulting anyway, so we’re only getting an egg every other day at present).

I can’t put poison down because of the cats and I can’t put traps down because of the chickens and I’m rather afraid of rat traps anyway.  I guess I can pave the whole of the hen run, though it will take another 28 paving slabs – which I probably have – and a fair bit of work for Wince.  It’s a nuisance, certainly.

I pre-empted another blocked drain, having noticed the kitchen sink plughole was a bit slow to empty the other day.  It wasn’t bad but, having cleared the pipe between that and the first manhole, I put the rods down the next section and it was starting to back up a bit there.  So we lifted the next one, which was clear, so I rodded between the two, lifted the other cover which leads from the bathroom and cloakroom and was relieved to find that was entirely clear.  Actually, I lifted the wrong one first, and we gazed down into the well.

I don’t think I’ve told you about the well.  And that reminds me that I was going to write down tales from the Sprig’s childhood and I’ve hardly started.  So I should continue with that, too.