Z ponders words

Jack, who still delivers the papers although he is 85 years old, was late this morning. “It’s the Bank Holiday, they were late in,’ he said. We knew and didn’t mind – I said we’d only just finished breakfast, but he said some of his customers had complained.

“He got wrong,” I said to Tim, before remembering that was a Norfolk term that may not – how should I know? – transfer elsewhere. People were cross, he was in trouble, he was told off. It made me think of another term though, that seems to have been used more and more over the past decade or two – ‘don’t get me wrong.” People who normally speak very proper English use it, but it jars with me. Don’t misunderstand what I mean, is what it says, but it seems to be really poorly constructed as a phrase. I’ve never used it myself, but then I have my linguistic quirks that seem nonsense to others, I know.

I’m old enough to have been warned off ‘get’ as a word when I was a schoolchild. It was intrinsically a dubious word. Like ‘nice’ if you meant pleasant and ‘a lot of’ because … just no. I found a diary – or a journal, as she called it, to distinguish it from an appointment diary – of my mother’s after she died and I cautiously opened it, not wanting to intrude. There were no private thoughts, though, it was actually an account of what she had done, day to day, starting from when she got up. But ‘get’ was one thing to say, another thing to write down. So she “arose” every day, which seems a big word for simply getting (whoops again) out of bed, even if it is a four-poster.

No one said “get wrong” in Lowestoft when I lived there. I had to move over the border to Norfolk – though Yagnub is in Suffolk and it’s only a mile away. On the other hand, I’ve never heard “coo, that funny hurt” since I moved here, nor anywhere else but Lowestoft. Dialect is a peculiar thing. I used “cwm” in a game of Scrabble against Indigo Roth the other day, not to score a lot of points but because I could. Of course it’s a Welsh word for a valley – but my grandfather lived in the Coombe Valley near Weymouth in Dorset, which is exactly the same word, as it is all over the south west.

Z at work and the Sage at play

I’m saying this here first, though I should put it on my website first, but we have an auction this autumn, in spite of the pandemic. My fabulous and lovely auctioneer has agreed that it will be based at her firm’s salesroom as my hired venue isn’t suitable. We have got 95 lots and I’ve got quite a lot of work to do in the next few days, typing out the detailed descriptions (I research everything to be sure, even when I know) and finalising the condition report.

Wink and Veronica are coming to stay next weekend, so that’s my deadline. V is going to stay with Wink for a few days, then coming here in her own car so that she can return to Canterbury without going via Wiltshire. Next weekend, we’re hoping for fine weather – very much unlike the present conditions – so that the whole family can eat outside. Veronica is Ro’s godmother and such a dear friend that she was one of only three that I invited (non-family and not local) to our wedding, nearly four years ago.

I know her through Russell, in fact. Her father was a Colonel in the Indian army and she lived in India until she was 8, when her father retired and bought a big house three miles from here. The families became friends and, in Russell’s case, lifelong friends. They both lived (not together, it wasn’t like that) in London in the 1960s and got up to all sorts of escapades together. She was even allowed to drive his Lotus.

I was immensely jealous when I discovered he’d owned a Lotus. He didn’t have it for very long, in fact, as it was very unsuitable for London traffic, even in the 1960s, mainly because it was so low to the ground. He felt that he was invisible to lorries and it jolted at every bump in the road, too. I asked him about bringing it back here – surely it caused a sensation in Norfolk, even though it was designed and built here? Um, no, he never brought it home. He never actually told his mum and dad that he’d bought it. Pa had helped him buy a more sensible car and he felt unable to admit that he’d blued his savings on a snazzy sports car.

He sold it at a profit though, so that was all right.

Z buys cat food

As things are – the “new normal,” as it’s called – I rarely use cash nowadays. I pay very small bills with cash because of bank charges to the recipient, but otherwise it’s debit card (rather than credit card because, again, the charge to the recipient) or bank transfer, which means I have a record of what I’ve spent. Most is certainly at the deli, though the greengrocer runs it a close second. Then fish and the milkman, next the butcher and wholefood shop. The supermarket comes right at the bottom of my shopping list, though that’s probably because it’s usually Tim who shops for gin there as he drinks it more often than I do. If I’m feeding other people then I’ll suddenly spend more on meat for one meal than I normally do in a month, I should say.

The hedgehogs are getting bolder and I have to make sure I frisk the various nesting places for new eggs, as they may well be stolen otherwise. I can’t begrudge a hedgehog an egg or two, but I do like to have a few for ourselves. Since Zain has returned and I’ve been feeding two hedgehogs as well, I’ve been using more than a tin of cat food a day and I’ve finally given in to prudence and have started adding GoCat dry food to the hedgehog bowl in the chicken coop. I’ll see in the morning if the hedgehog has deigned to eat it.

Gladys Gladstone, the big brown hen, hasn’t returned yet. I didn’t note down when she vanished to sit on her eggs, but I think they should hatch within the next few days or else she’s succumbed to a mishap. Not the cats, they never go near a chicken. Yesterday, one of Polly Garter’s baby chicks managed to get out and, when I went down to check on them, it was desperately cheeping, yet none of the cats showed any interest at all. They kill for food, not for the sake of it, as a domestic cat will. I managed to catch the chick in a net and then found out where it had got out, I hope – at any rate, none of them had escaped today. It’s been cold and wet, so it’s just as well that they’re in the coop under the Dutch barn where it’s dry, whatever the weather. I do keep an old sheet down there so that I can use it as a windbreak if necessary. Which it shouldn’t be in August, of course. Friends are reporting glumly on Facebook that their heating has come on because it’s so cold.

Summer weather comes and goes earlier nowadays. The late August Bank Holiday is too late. I’ve thought for a long time that they should revert back to the first Monday in August rather than the last – or as well as, instead of the many Spring holidays – but I don’t suppose it’s likely to happen. Not that it matters to us, but for the children about to return to school for the first time in months, this weekend is their last one of holiday. Getting up and out of the house on time is going to be quite a challenge, I think.

Z eats out

We rather missed out on the Boris Bounce/Rishi Restorer deal, as it happens. We’ve been taken out for meals by family who did take advantage of the offer, but we haven’t had the discount ourselves. Today was a case in point. We decided to have lunch out but, it not being Monday to Wednesday, it wasn’t eligible. That was okay, we have always aimed to support local food suppliers by lunching out every week and we don’t care about the discount as a result.

The only disadvantage of the lovely local farm restaurant that we like is that the staff aren’t necessarily prompt to take one’s order. Being reluctant to waste paper, they chalk up the menu on a board (sandwich board, hahaha) rather than print on disposable sheets. But in the past, they haven’t instantly brought you the board so, when someone comes to take your order and you say you haven’t seen the menu yet, they fetch it and then disappear.

Twenty minutes, last time. At least the drinks were brought, but actually it was a bit much.

This time, we’d learned. We went and checked the board and chose what we wanted. They’ve learned too, because when I smiled at the waiter he came straight over for our order, which was a delicious Baron Bigod brie and leek quiche with a leafy salad, tomato salad and new potatoes. So delicious was it all that we nearly cleared our plates, only leaving a potato or two. Anyway, all was lovely and tasty and, afterwards, we went to the farm shop and bought stuff there and then I had a longish conversation with Pippa, who I’ve become friends with since chatting to online in the Friday Takeaway days. Tim probably wondered why I was taking so long, but we were being sociable. That’s a treat nowadays.

I’m getting to the point of this post, as I do in the end. We chatted over dinner and I warned Tim every time when I was digressing, but always returned to my main point afterwards. I think it’s quite hard to keep up with me unless your wits are sharp, but Tim copes without demur, which says a lot for him.

My point, in case you need a pointer – heh – is that I’m especially aware of restaurant service. My parents owned and ran a sizeable hotel in the late 1940s to late 1950s and my mother, at any rate, was always on the alert for the business end of the catering trade. She used, unobtrusively, to turn over a side plate to check the make of the china, check out the cutlery and always drank from the ‘wrong’ side of a cup unless she was really sure of the establishment. She’d been there, she knew.

I’m not so much into those details as in the service end. I notice the awareness of the waiting staff. I see when a waiter is so busy that he or she is ‘wearing blinkers’ and doesn’t ‘see’ the people trying to catch his/her eye – and when a walk through the restaurant, though focussed primarily on one table, also takes in every other with sideways glances, so that anyone whose plate or glass is empty, or who’s hoping to put in an order is noticed and the order in which they need attention.

I would have been brilliant in that environment. C’est mon metier. But thank goodness I never went there. Too much stress and too much Customer Is Always Right syndrome, even when Customer clearly isn’t.

Pippa said that Rebecca and Ian, who own the farm, haven’t taken a day off for months. Everyone else has had their holidays but they literally haven’t left the farm for more than a month, not to the Yagnub to Norwich road at the end of the farm track. We agreed that they must. Now that things are less stressful (Lord knows about the future but there’s a respite right now), they should switch off sometimes. You’re fine, until you aren’t. And, the longer you’ve gone without rest, the harder you hit the wall. Lots of us have done it and, if we’re wise, we avoid it in future.

The slice is white!

When Weeza & co came over last week, I made a loaf of white bread for the occasion. Zerlina and brown bread don’t get on – it’s not that she won’t eat it, but the consequences can be regrettable. My hearty seedy loaf would be disastrous. The loaf expanded hugely and was incredibly easy, compared to my usual dense but tasty number and we enjoyed white toast for a change at breakfast the next day, as well as croutons with the split pea soup I made for lunch.

I was so very impressed by the easy rising that I made another loaf. Blimey, if I’d left it any longer, it wouldn’t have fitted in the oven. What is it about wholemeal flour and a few seeds that stops it rising so effectively, I wonder? Anyway, I’ve mostly made breadcrumbs and more croutons with that loaf, as well as cutting a few slices to use up for breakfast or lunch.

The artisan bread thing going on seems to be rather a licence to charge quite a lot for simply plain decent bread. I know that sourdough is trickier technically and, as it takes a long time, isn’t so suitable for mass production and that would explain the high price. But I costed out my usual bread a while ago and, at shop prices for the ingredients, I couldn’t make it cost more than £1 for the loaf they charge £3.50 for in the bakery. There are now four shops in Yagnub that sell ‘artisan’ (not necessarily sourdough) bread as well as a weekly market stall and a decent regular bakery and I can’t help wondering if the buyers realise how easy and cheap it actually is to make. In my younger days, I kneaded by hand, though I can’t be bothered now and use a dough hook in my Kenwood. Weeza uses a bread maker and makes a loaf every couple of days.

Anyway, never mind, people are earning an honest crust (!) and it’s better than most supermarket bread.

I haven’t done a lot for the past couple of days. My busyness in the heat of the kitchen has caught up with me and I’ve sat around a lot reading. This is, of course, by no means a waste of time. Reading is the best use of time there is, even better than bread or soup making.

Z slaves over a hot Aga

Yeah, well, the recipes for damson jam lie too. The stones do bob up to the top but that doesn’t mean they can just be skimmed off, because the skins bob up too, and some of the pulp is attached to the stones as well.

It’s been a long day and I’m tired. If anyone has the definitive method for dealing with delicious damsons, please let me know.

My cleaners came today, which only happens once a month but it seems to work for me. When I had a cleaner for a couple of hours, twice a week, I didn’t bother with much housework and left it for her. With it being once a month, I’m not so lazy but at least things don’t go too much to pot if I’m really busy.

The fishmonger called and had both squid and monkfish – amongst many other things, of course. I make no attempt to resist temptation of this sort, so bought both. I knew I was buying too much squid but I could hardly ask for just the fabulous tentacles, so I fried those and the right amount of the finely-sliced tubes tonight and will cook the rest in tomatoes in the next couple of days. The monkfish goujons, I don’t know yet. So much choice. I’ll browse a few recipes and then decide. Or just ask Tim, of course.

Tim tells me he has drawn up a to-do list. I’m terribly impressed. Right now, I’ve got a don’t-do list because I’m waiting for 10 o’clock and bedtime. However elderly that is of me, I can hardly wait. A lovely warm bath and clean sheets are all I want right now.

Summer is agoing out…

It’s the last week in August from tomorrow. My family members are not looking forward to September and going back to school. Not so much because of anxiety but because of losing the pleasant, leisurely start to the morning that they’ve got used to over the months. Before the school holidays officially started, Weeza was keeping the children to school hours, pretty well, except that they had a good breakfast and started schoolwork at 10 o’clock. This seems very much more civilised than the daily rush.

But there we are. Whatever passes for normal nowadays. I’ve been making chutney today, with the back door open and a fan on, so that I didn’t actually collapse into a damp heap on the floor. I have six and a half jars of damson chutney and four of tomato relish waiting to be put in the larder, and I’ll make damson jam tomorrow.

Recipes for damsons cheerily tell you to halve them and take the stones out. They lie. For one thing, the stones don’t come out, the flesh of the fruit clings to them and for another, the damsons weigh about 5 grams each. So a kilo of damsons is 200 fruit, give or take, and each one has to be prised out and wastes a lot. Obviously, this makes no sense, so I cook the fruit first in the least possible water and sieve them in the mouli. Then rinse through with the measured vinegar to remove the remains of the juice. The jam is better because the stones bob up to the top once it’s cooked. I hope.

Jam tomorrow

Now I’ve looked properly, I see that it’s Polly Garter who’s the proud mummy and Slapper who’s sitting on eggs, on and off, in the glazed butler’s sink that’s planted up with flowers (her presence makes watering quite awkward) by Kenny’s shed. I’m still quite confused as I didn’t think that both pale bantams were missing, but evidently I’m wrong because here’s the proof.

The late frost in the spring was disastrous to the fruit of the plum trees on the lawn, the apple tree, usually so reliable, by the beck and the figs. The dry weather has done for pretty well everything else, except the spinach and Swiss chard which were pecked to pieces by the chickens. It’s fair to say that this is not a very good year for fruit and veg at the Zedary. Still, never mind. At least Simon Greengrocer stocks plenty of excellent local produce and I’ll just buy it all instead. I do have plenty of peppers and aubergines in the greenhouse and we had sweetcorn for dinner, followed by an omelette. Tim also picked a large quantity of tomatoes, which I’ll have to deal with tomorrow. Or we will, rather. We also picked damsons or possibly bullaces – I’m not very good on identifying wild plum types – the other day and I just shoved them in the fridge until I had time to deal with them. The damson chutney and jam we made a few years ago, with the fruit from Tim’s garden, was gorgeous but quite a lot of work because of the stones. Worth it once in a while, though.

I mentioned a letter I had, a few weeks ago, from the Office of National Statistics, asking me if I’d take part in a consumer survey about spending habits. I didn’t mind signing up and it’s taken place by phone rather than in person, because of ‘you know what’ – there were a lot of questions directed at me and Tim, and then we’ve been saving all receipts for the last couple of weeks, noting down in a book anything else we’ve bought without receipts. Some poor person has to itemise all the receipts and compare supermarket prices and so on – sounds an incredibly dull and painstaking job, I have to say. They’ll be rather confounded by what we buy and where, because we don’t go to supermarkets much – as I said before, we make everything from scratch, pretty well. I’ve noted on the receipts what I bought at the greengrocer and so on, but that’s not much help without the quantities, which aren’t put down. Today’s receipt was from the feed store, where I bought chick food and mixed corn for PG, because she can’t have food containing growers’ pellets in case the babies eat it. I don’t think we’re average shoppers. I’ve also realised that we have hardly bought any meat in the time: to be precise, two venison steaks from the greengrocer, who is stocked from a local small farm that provides a fridge for their meat, as well as sending veg. This implies that we rarely eat meat and that’s not necessarily the case. We just haven’t done so recently. I’ve spent far more on flowers than on meat.

Z is confused

I also think that time going by can make significant events more difficult. I can’t describe the feeling, but there should be a special word for it.” Scarlet Blue in a comment.

I think so too. I’ve noticed it for many years. In part, I think it’s because you’re caught off guard. After a few months or weeks or years, the bereavement isn’t at the front of your mind any more. So when something happens to make it hit you, your defences are down and it hits hard. Also, and I’m not sure whether people realise this or not, you are “allowed” to be hit hard at first and then you try very hard to cope, and you manage all the things that have to be done, such as a funeral and writing letters and dealing with the practicalities and being brave and coping. And, after a few months, you’re exhausted with the strain of all this. It coincides with people thinking you’re doing very well and starting to not check on you every week, but actually it’s just then that it dawns on you that being brave and decisive and coping doesn’t reward you at all. Nothing has got better. It’s got worse.

This can go on forever, in its way. The 50th anniversary of my father’s early death, back in January, whacked me and I’d known for weeks that it would. My defences are still high in regard to my mother’s death and Russell’s, I don’t think I’ll ever let them down. I think, but I don’t speak about it much.

Anyway, enough. I feel for you and sympathise if you have any inkling of what I mean.

Back to the present. I went out to feed the cats and hedgehog and shut the chickens in their greenhouse. I haven’t been shutting them in their shed for a while because it’s been so hot, but the shed is in the 40 feet by 14 feet greenhouse, so they’ve lots of room.

The chickens get shut up first because they will go and chase the cats and eat the food themselves. I noticed a cream-coloured chicken in the run where Scrabble brought up her chicks. She was sitting contentedly and I said to her, she was welcome to sleep there if she wanted to. I shut the door, went on to feed the cats and fill the hedgehog’s plate, then went back to fetch her some corn and water. She got up to show me ten chicks.

I’m completely confused. I knew a brown hen was missing, presumably sitting, but I can’t work out which one this is. I haven’t missed her. I’m finding it difficult to keep tabs on them all and I’ll have to have a good look in the morning.

Luckily, I still had some chick food and I sorted it all out. They’re all well and lively and mother hen is attentive. And she had the good sense to take them to the best possible shelter. So surely she isn’t Slapper, who’s a bit daft. Polly Garter is sitting on eggs that I’m sure won’t hatch and the four buff-coloured sisters are sitting on duff eggs in the nest boxes. I frisk them for newly-laid eggs every couple of days and have marked the old ones with indelible Xs. It’s all a disaster, I’ve got so many chickens I don’t know what to do and it’s all because I stupidly let Canasta sit and rear chicks instead of just letting the flock die out. But I’m so fond of them and they’re lovely bantams and we’ve had them for over 30 years…but they’re just so damn maternal.

Z says aah

I went to the dentist this morning – just a regular check-up, but it’s been postponed twice. He took x-rays as well as the normal examination and all is fine, which wasn’t unexpected but is still a relief. Losing a filling or chipping a tooth would have been such a disaster during lockdown, I’ve been exceptionally careful. I’ve made my usual six-monthly appointment, which is a wonderfully normal thing to do. I also asked about Wink becoming a patient – my middle-aged (way younger than I am) dentist said that he and his co-owner are wanting to work fewer hours so are taking on two more dentists, but there certainly is capacity for new patients. He will see her first and evaluate who’s the best person to see her in the long run.

I spent the afternoon valuing china and I need to type everything up on Friday. Not tomorrow because that’s a family day. Tim has been in Reading and is home now, after some car problems on the road, so we’re both ready for an earlyish night.

Polly Garter chicken was waiting for breakfast again this morning. She went back to sit again later but I think there is less and less chance of any chicks hatching, thank goodness.

I have been careless. I went to the deli and the greengrocer and then, carrying three bags, I called in at the florist. I put down my bags while I was being served and picked them up on my way out, I thought. As I was in a hurry when I unpacked, I didn’t take much note but, wanting to prepare vegetables for dinner, I couldn’t find the beans. And then I couldn’t find the salad greens, radishes, garlic, plums or spring onions. I can only think I left one of the bags in the florist. I’ll have to pop back or phone in the morning. So stupid, I could have gone straight back if I’d been thinking about what I was doing and had noticed.

I bought extra flowers for Russell’s grave as it’s the sixth anniversary of his death tomorrow. I used to be mercifully forgetful of anniversaries but it’s getting harder to be and I have a build-up for several weeks of the difficult ones. It doesn’t make any difference, how long ago the event was. I think it gets worse as time goes by. But making a fuss doesn’t help either, better to acknowledge it and move on.