Z’s mind skips back fifty years

And so to leftovers … it’s remarkable that we have so many, as we didn’t even host Christmas this year, but we brought back some ham and cheese and had left behind various things in the fridge, as I’d bought too big a piece of beef and I’d made stock from the partridges, and there were some vegetables left, and so on.

Wink filled her car with petrol ready for her return journey today, and also bought some milk.  Slicing up the beef, we’d offered her some and we hadn’t touched the cheese she’d bought, so she was going to take some of that back, and I’d promised her some eggs too.  Half an hour after she left, we discovered them all in the fridge.  So, though we did go shopping this morning, mainly because we had a money-off voucher from the Co-op, which would more than pay for half a dozen tins of cat food, we didn’t need a great deal of food.

Tim is amused by my pleasure in using every possible scrap of food.  Little is wasted, because the chickens eat the small amounts that are left over and the final remains go on the compost heap.  ‘Another free meal,’ I’ll chuckle gleefully, when a few  vegetables bought or picked for a previous dish, some scraps of meat or a heel of cheese are turned into something palatable.  Last night, it was LT’s turn.  Wink had taken us out for lunch and, though I’d intended to make risotto (using the stock from the partridges), we didn’t think we could manage anything so substantial.  So LT volunteered to make minestrone and use up some of that stock, plus those vegetables that were left over – an onion or two, a carrot, part of a red pepper, a bit of broccoli, a potato and some mushrooms, as well as half a tin of tomatoes from the cottage pie I’d made the night before (using some of the beef).

I’ve been thinking about this frugality and wondering where it came from originally, because I don’t think I was brought up to it.  My mother was, having kept house for her father from the age of fourteen on a careful budget, with restricted supplies during the war years and afterwards, and I suspect she’d had enough of that.  I’m not really sure what happened to all our leftovers when I was growing up but I think that anything she believed was too small to bother with was just fed to the dogs.  I do remember seeing her discard a whole onion because there was a soft spot and thinking, even as a child, that I’d have just cut it out; so I must have always had an unwasteful side.

I do remember the moment when I found out how little food you need to make a meal, though.  Our neighbour came in to spend the evening with me – I was probably in my early teens – when my parents were out and it must have been unexpected, because she was going to eat dinner with me and there wasn’t much in the fridge.  Just a very small amount of leftover pork.  I looked at it, thinking that it wouldn’t even feed one – but ‘Auntie’ Jane took it and cut it up, fried an onion, cut up an apple, added a bit of gravy, cooked a few vegetables and it tasted jolly good.  It was a revelation, in fact – I can still remember how impressed I was.  I’ve been able to make a meal out of almost nothing, ever since.  Thank you, Auntie Jane.  She fed her family on a shoestring from necessity, but she taught me a lasting lesson and I still appreciate it.

Tonight, the risotto, using the rest of the stock, the mushrooms and the scraps of partridge.  Tomorrow, potatoes boulangère, using some of the milk that Wink left, with the beef that she left.  And on Monday, cheese soufflé.

Catching up

It’s just so adorable, seeing the two youngest cousins together.  Gus and Rufus are such chums; not that Zerlina is left out, and they played together the whole time.  Weeza decided not to go down the traditional Christmas dinner route, and served a huge amount of mostly cold food – it had been Gus’s idea, he suggested a Harry Potter feast, with the whole groaning board of fabulous food theme.  Weeza had done a lot of preparation, but it was mostly in advance, so she said she didn’t feel stressed by it.  We took wine, beef, a big pork pie, a loaf of freshly baked bread and I can’t remember what else, but it was nearly all her work.

Their huge living room and kitchen are perfect for parties, there’s loads of room.  They’ve finally, this year, finished all the work on the house and it looks wonderful.  It’s taken a long time – I think it’s six years that they’ve lived there – but there was a lot to do.  They did all the decorating themselves, and learned floor and wall tiling, but had builders in to do everything else.  With all the work they’ve done to get it just as they like it, I don’t think they’ll ever move house.

Zerlina is extremely pleased with herself.  She is certainly taller than me now.  We took off our shoes and stood back to back.  The child was ten in August.  Last time I was measured, I was a shade over five foot two, but I’ve probably dropped a bit since.  I’ve told her that, if I am now officially a little old lady, I’ll act like one and cultivate a whiskery chin and smell a bit funny.  I realise I’m destined to be the shortest but one in the family (Dora doesn’t quite make it to five feet) but I didn’t expect to be overtaken by a ten year old.  I cannot complain and Zerlina is certainly happy.

LT has booked a holiday on Jersey in the spring, which we’re looking forward to very much.  We’d meant to visit back in September, but it all became a bit busy and we lost the opportunity. So he’s been decisive and organised, so that now we’re committed, which is a very good thing.  You can fit anything in if the date is in the diary.

Tomorrow, family is coming over here – not Weeza and co, who are visiting Phil’s family, but everyone else.

Happy Christmas, darlings – a bit early

It’s been a quiet, lazy day – I seem to have alternate days of bustling about and being really useful, and doing nothing to speak of.  Alternate sunny and dull/rainy days might have something to do with that too.  I did have a feeling of a series of jobs having been completed though, so I felt quite entitled to do nothing much but read today.  And, in the afternoon, Wink arrived, so we’ve had an evening’s chat over roast partridge and red wine.

Dilly is dropping the children off in the morning, as she is booked for a manicure or something suitably indulgent for a busy working mum at this time of the year, so they can help me mix the bread dough and make a few cakes or something, as well as soup from the rest of the partridges.

Rose has been away for a couple of days, so I’ve been looking after her animals, as she regularly looks after mine.  Rummy, her main cat, gets quite anxious after a day or two, and starts to return to his feral roots, so I feed him his main meal with the barn cats – he has his own dish on a higher level than theirs, but he prefers to eat there than in the house.  Chip does come indoors to eat and he was wet from the rain, but he was affronted when I took a tissue to dry him.  Eloise cat likes to be dried.  Little so-and-sos are all different.

We will be busy tomorrow night, so I might not have a chance to write here.  So I’ll wish you a happy and enjoyable Christmas now, with my affectionate good wishes.  I’ve known some of you for well over a decade and I know that many of you are my true friends.  Thank you for your friendship and for watching me ramble on for so long, with such enjoyment.

Z is relaxed. Christmas? Pfft.

I did a bit of rushing about yesterday and caught up with a lot of the remaining preparations, so I took the day off today, pretty well.  I suspect the difference is that yesterday, the sun shone and today it rained.  The weather has quite an effect on my energy levels and attitude.

We’re spending Christmas with Weeza and co.  Wink will arrive here on Sunday and stay for a week.  It will be lovely and mostly relaxed – Weeza, like me, is pretty organised when it comes to feeding a houseful and we don’t fuss about minor things and plan the major ones.  I know she enjoys being the host, it’s a pleasure to see that going down the generations.  It’s something I took on board from my parents, but am happy to relinquish so that my kids can do it their way too.  We’re taking various foods and drink and I’ve been as exuberant as usual in my present buying – actually, not as much as when my own children were small, now I think of it.  Then there were three, now there are a dozen.  I probably only buy half again as many presents as I used to.

Z has an interesting day

I had two engagements today.  The first was a meeting of the members of the proposed multi-academy trust, with the purpose of appointing the first trustees – who are the overall governors, above the governors of the individual schools; although “above” is a term that, while legally accurate, is not particularly helpful.

I’m pretty happy that we’re on the same lines, which is reassuring.  In particular, matters like having a broad curriculum, which is being curtailed in many schools, and supporting students with extra needs, were specifically mentioned as being valued.  Having the money and clout to buy in services that the local authority is no longer able to provide, and which have been cut back for years, will be very helpful.

Then, this evening, I went to the annual prize giving at *my* school.  I haven’t been able to attend for the last couple of years but I don’t want to lose touch, though I only knew a handful of the students receiving awards.  The head student – no longer head boy and girl, but two head students who happened to be girls this year, is the daughter of the woman who took over from me as chairman of governors at the local primary school, so it was good to have a chat afterwards and catch up with news.  She’s one of those people whom one likes very much but don’t necessarily contact without specific reason, if you know what I mean – if I were more sociable it would be a different matter.  Perhaps one day.  Tim probably needs to push me.

The guest speaker was excellent.  An ex-student, as our speakers often are, he’s done very well in the 15 years since he left school and is now a surgeon, specialising in spinal surgery.  Yet, he said that, when he was in his early teens, he was most interested in rugby.  He’s an impressive young man – in terms of achievement, hardly young, though he can’t be older than my Ronan, and his speech was inspiring and, also, very funny.

Z feels sociable

We went to the Nadfas Christmas lecture yesterday, which was on Russian Christmases (Nadfas is now officially called the Arts Society, but that could mean anything from a corporate body to a club in the village hall and is, therefore, meaningless) and the charming and erudite lecturer gave a very vivacious talk with a lot of illustrations.  I particularly liked the painting she started the lecture with, which is by Ivan Shiskin and is called In the Wild North.  It seems that the image is in the public domain – the painting itself is in the Ukrainian art museum in Kiev and I don’t suppose I’ll ever see it in reality, so here is a reproduction. The painting of the tree is incredible – her reproduction on a large screen did it justice in a way that this doesn’t as it’s rather too dark; the shadow, the quality of the light shining through the branches, the effectiveness of the snow weighing on the tree – and she quoted from War and Peace, which always gets my vote.

Tomorrow, we’re going to meet our good blog friends Mike (The Armoury) and Ann, for lunch, which we’re looking forward to very much.  They weren’t able to come to this year’s blog party and we haven’t been down their way either, so it’s been nearly a year and a half since we’ve seen them.  They only live a little over an hour away, we often say that we should make more effort to catch up with friends.  I only saw Sir Bruin and the Small Bear a few months ago because I was visiting a friend in hospital near them, and imposed on them for a cup of tea afterwards.  And I visited Rev Dave a little while ago too, but it’s not much really for a sociable Z.  I do invite you all here, of course – every year for the blog party, but you’re always welcome if you’re in the area.

Z becomes anxious

Bit of a panic this afternoon.  I actually contacted my local councillor, for the first time ever.  I don’t normally make a fuss.

The chap who lived on the corner of our road had a big garden, part of which he sold off, and four houses and two bungalows were built there.  They were all round the corner, not on our road.  After he died in his nineties, a few years ago, his son sold one building plot to a very nice young couple, who’ve built a chalet bungalow right opposite our gate.  A builder bought the house and the rest of the garden, assuring the son that he didn’t intend to build, which he clearly did, and there are now two houses and a bungalow on that plot.  I made no comment on any of those – nor did I when the small field opposite had planning permission applied for, originally for 20 dwellings, latterly for 16 bungalows.  I’m really and truly not a nimby and I don’t want to look as if I am.  On the other hand, when there was a development in the offing, that would have no effect on me, but for which the plans were vague and also unfair on very local residents, I spent some time picking out the inconsistencies and unspecifics in the application and wrote in with them.

The planning part of the local authority website is very difficult to find one’s way around.  But I finally managed to get detailed plans for the 16 bungalows – and I was alarmed.  It looked as if the intention was to pull down my hedge to widen the road.  Now, I do not have the detail of where the boundary is, because the deeds are with my solicitor. but I planted that hedge myself on the same line as the original hedge.  It was in very poor condition and we had it uprooted – we received a grant to do so, and had another grant to put in the new one – and we had a trench dug and tons and tons of manure delivered.  To the extent that was possible, that was dropped the length of the trench, but there were a lot of heaps that had to be spread out.  It’s a few hundred yards, and I shifted an awful lot of muck.  And then Russell and I planted the hedge and we watered it for the next couple of years – it was our hedge- and we’ve had it cut back and cared for as necessary ever since.  It’s personal.  It’s more than just a hedge to me and, if I sound sentimental about it, I am.

When the plans were put in for the development opposite this hedge, which is the boundary for our front field, the people next door objected that there was a plan for a new pavement which went in front of their hedge, over a piece of grass that they’ve always looked after.  They thought the pavement should be on the other side of the road.  I didn’t take that seriously as I reckoned there wasn’t room – it would be fine to put one there but then they’d just need to take the same land opposite for the widened road.  However, when I finally worked my way through the dreadful website, it had a line on my side of the road and it said – or appeared to say – that the hedge would be removed and a new one put in.  I panicked and, as I said, wrote to my councillor, whose a very sound chap, whom I know reasonably well.

He’s written back, saying he’s pretty sure that is not intended, but he’ll check tomorrow. Looking again, i realise that it’s possible that it refers to the other side of the road.  There has never been a hedge on the other side of the road, just a grassy bank that’s overgrown with brambles etc, that might look a big hedgy at a glance.  I’m still quite anxious though.  I don’t trust anyone at the council, really.  Though the council tax people are lovely and very helpful.  Oh pah.  I need to spend the next hour or so unwinding or I won’t get any sleep tonight.

First mince pie of the season this morning, in other news.

Z goes up the city, as we say in Yagnub

I’m going to Norwich after lunch, dropping off a piece of china, meeting Weeza and co, hearing Zerlina in her school choir singing at John Lewis, then going home with Dora to babysit Rufus tonight, leaving my car with Weeza as she’s borrowing for the week as Phil needs theirs.  They’re usually fine with just one car and prefer it – they think about when they need to use a car rather than just get in and drive and, of course, it saves a lot of expense.  Phil knows it would be very tempting sometimes to drive to work instead of cycle and, I daresay, the time will come when he can’t bear to cycle 45 miles a day, whatever the weather.  But anyway, he’ll bring me home tomorrow on his way to wherever he’s going – I didn’t really take in the details.

The only bit I’m less than cheery about is parking in the centre of Norwich on a Saturday in December.  I avoid the city as far as possible this month and especially at the weekend.  But I hope that after lunch some people will be going home and it won’t take forever in the queue.  i’ll leave plenty of time, anyway and if I can park unexpectedly quickly then I might even do some shopping.  Anyway, it’ll be good to see the family and I’m looking forward to the babysitting.  Dora says that Rufus talks about me almost as often as he talks about Gus, which is a huge compliment – those two boy cousins adore each other.

Z has a funny feeling that I’ve won….

We visited That London today, to see builders who we hoped might do the job at the flat, and we were bowled over by the loveliness of the flat all over again.  I often feel I’d love to live there, but it’s absurd, it’s far too small and I’m not a city girl at all.  But Tim has just the same reaction to it, it’s quite delightful.

The pub next door has been totally renovated, not before time – though I think that all the pulling around done there has brought about my problems – and it’s now an excellent restaurant, specialising in Creole food.  I’ve meant to eat there for ages but it hasn’t worked out – last time, at the end of October, i’d reserved an hour which was taken up with the extra travel caused by the signal breakdown on the East Angularian line.  Anyway, all went exceptionally smoothly today and we had a most splendid gumbo.  My mother used to make gumbo, with home grown okra, back in the 1960s and I’ve never eaten it since, but this was damn good.

We duly discussed what was needed with the builders, and have been edged towards a roofer, and hope to discuss matters with him next week.  And we got a train earlier than expected home, having sailed through changes on the underground – as we arrived on the platform, so did the Tube train, it was most fortunate.  So it’s been a good day overall.  I made omelettes for supper and we’ve been singing ever since, and LT has played his guitar.

I know, darlings.  Quite awful, aren’t we?  But it makes us happy.