Z is still floored

Tim is away again for a couple of days and so I decided on an early night.  I’d been watching a film on Netflix and I planned to finish it on my iPad, in bed.  I rarely do this, but I was quite tired and didn’t want to risk falling asleep in front of the television, which I really try to avoid.  So, I was bathed and in bed by soon after 10 – but a while later, the phone rang.  Too late for even the most persistent cold caller, and there’s a friend whose calls are nearly always fairly late in the evening, so I answered it and, indeed, it was Daphne.  We had a lovely chat and she’s coming to stay next week.

However, of course it scuppered my winding-down process and I wasn’t able to sleep for a long time and I’ve felt a bit peculiar all day.  Not unwell, just funny.  The chap came to measure the room for the new carpet – still haven’t decided, but at least we know a bit more about the situation.  Because of the size of the room, we are fairly limited in our options.  A John Lewis one we quite liked won’t do, for instance, because it only comes in 4 or 5 metre widths.  Nor will made to measure, as we don’t want completely plain.  We’re left with a range of Ulster carpets, which are almost plain but have a slight two-toneness about them, or the plaid one we liked in the first place.  Although it’s 12 feet wide, it would actually be possible to cut a second width in two and butt them together – I asked the fitter, who is very capable and I’ve heard excellent reports of him, and he says it is possible.  He also said he recently fitted the same carpet in a farmhouse and it’s very attractive.  So we may be back to that after all.  Whatever we decide, the next thing will be to repaint the room.

But that won’t be next week, because that’s my Lowestoft auction week and we’ll be busy.

Z gets down and dirty. Very dirty.

About a year and a half ago, we had a fair bit of a problem with the septic tanks and I had new soakaways for both of them.  But it had become clear over the past week or two that there was a bit of a blockage in the annexe’s pipes and, having checked the tank, it didn’t need emptying – and having it emptied wouldn’t solve the problem.  The pipe needed rodding out.  And, though I keep a few drain rods outside the back door because the kitchen pipework clogs up every few months (clearing it is a simple job), the large bundle that used to be in one of the lean-to sheds simply vanished a year or two ago.  I don’t suggest it was taken but that it was used, not put back and lord knows what happened to it, or the chimney brush that was with it.  The rods are dual-purpose, you put a brush on and sweep the chimney, or a rubber disc or a screwy thing and rod the drains.

The obvious thing to do was to buy more and so I did.  And, on Saturday after lunch, I made a batch of cakes, meaning to decorate them and give them to Dave, and trotted out purposefully to clear the blockage. which would only take an hour or so.

In the days when my friend Jamie used to lend a hand with such things, he very sensibly used to lay out the rods first to see how many would be needed, but i didn’t remember that until later.  It is really difficult to get the rod into the narrow pipe in a modern system – it’s so much easier with the old ones which give more space, and I’m going to draw a veil over the process as it was dismal and rather unpleasant.  And I didn’t have enough rods, not even when I added the three from the back door.  I needed one more.

My second phone call found a friend who had some to lend me but he was out and he suggested I drive to his farm, phone back and he’d tell me how to find them.  By this time my arms were almost useless with fatigue and I couldn’t unlock the awkward door with the too-high handle.  And lovely friend phoned one of his farmhands, who happened to be on his way home and it was convenient for him to come and help.  And he loaded the bag of rods into the car and we had a chat – he’s a young man from the village whom I’ve known all his life.

I drove home, fetched a wheelbarrow and LT lifted the bag into it.  And out jumped a very large mouse.  Rummy was walking past.  “Look Rummy, mouse!” we cried.  Rummy was oblivious and kept strolling on.  Stoopid cat.  I was just relieved that the mouse hadn’t jumped out while it was in my car.

Briefly, I spent another half hour failing to get the rod into the drain and I gave up.  And Dave had finished the pillar and I hadn’t iced the cakes and was not in a state to touch food or anything else.  Frankly, when I’d driven up to the pig farm, the pigs themselves had recoiled from me.  So Dave took the cakes as they were and said he’d add jam.  And Rob picked up his cement mixer, which he’d lent us, and apologised that he couldn’t help as he was on his way somewhere, and they both drove swiftly away.

I went indoors, took all my clothes off and put them straight in the washing machine, scuttled up the back stairs and had a long, hot shower.  First I washed with soap and shampooed my hair, then I washed all over with Hibiscrub.  Then I got out and dried myself and put the towels to wash, sniffed my fingers and washed twice more with Hibiscrub.  Then I got dressed, came downstairs and washed my hands twice more, using a nail brush.

Later, I had a bath and went to bed feeling clean.

The next day, things went much better.  I made better preparations and had a sheet of plastic to kneel on and proper rubber gloves instead of disposable ones.  I wasn’t tired out any more and, with more control over my muscles, I was able to get the rods in.  Thirteen hadn’t done it, but fourteen did and the blockage was clear.  I was triumphant.  Too soon, as it turned out, as there was also a blockage further up.  But this was a much easier job as there was a proper manhole cover and easier-to-get-at pipes, and the job was done in a few minutes.

Beer was drunk and Twiglets were eaten before lunch.  And more beer with lunch, as a matter of fact.  But we shared that bottle.

I felt that I’d achieved something worth celebrating.  I’ve come to the realisation that I prefer getting things done myself, if it’s possible, than asking someone else to do it.

Photos of pillars!!(!)

Events overcame me yesterday, and I spent a considerable time rodding out the drains to Rose’s septic tank.  It was necessary to finish the job today – this may make another blog post, largely because of the mouse….anyway, the pillars.

Here was the first day’s work.  The bricks and sand were nearby, LT and I barrowed over the rest of the materials (Dave having lifted the cement bag into the barrow) and the mixer and we brought him regular cups of tea and cakes.  It was a long day’s work and the first pillar was done by the end of it, except for two bricks where he’d run out of mortar.

I’d expected a phone call to say the capping bricks had arrived at the builder’s merchant, so phoned to ask, in the afternoon.  There was some doubt as to whether they’d been ordered after all.  So I re-ordered them and here’s hoping.

Dave came back the next day and built the other wall.  I shifted the bricks – 84 of them, though I added a couple more in case of breakages – for him and then went to make more cakes.  But I was distracted by drains and didn’t get around to icing them and so, at the end of the day, he had to take away undecorated cakes.  I couldn’t possibly touch any food – or anything, in fact – before I had a shower and a major scrub down.

But the pillars are built and they look fabulous and we’re very grateful to friend Dave – actually, were it not for his partnership in the building of the Wall seven and eight years ago, I’d never have met a number of you.  Indeed, I might never have met Tim.

Bringing on the wall – er, pillar…

It’s been like old times.  Dave came over and has spent the day bricklaying.  We’ve only got a couple of pillars to build this time and he’s doing all the construction himself – hardly enough work for two, though LT and I did some fetching of bricks and so on, to help out.

I have pictures and they’ll go up tomorrow.  My phone, where they are, is charging in another room and I’m too lazy to go and get it.

Chim chim cher-ee

We forgot all about getting the chimney swept until last month.  Then, I phoned the brother of the chap who installed our new woodburner last year – keeping such things in the family, he’s a chimney sweep himself.  He was booked up for weeks, so we’ve been looking forward to his arrival today.

“There was quite a lot of soot in that chimney,” he said, with a note of enquiry.  We explained that a different sweep had been booked last year, but he’d phoned the day before he was due because he and his family had been struck with a sickness bug and he had to cancel.  He said he’d phone to arrange another appointment but he never did and it just got left.  And tonight, we have a lovely log fire burning in the grate.  It’s not that it’s so cold, but there’s a point of the evening, sometime after sunset, when there’s quite a chill in the air and it’s tempting to set a match to a few sticks and bring some cheer into the room.

This was also the day when my once-a-month cleaners visit, so I asked them to leave the sitting room until last, so the house has been cleaned and polished as well, which is another pleasure. I think I’d appreciate it less if they came every week.

And I’ve paid bills, so I owe nothing to anyone – financially at any rate – and that’s good too.

Rambling Z

We went to Norwich and, as we had some time to kill, we went to the carpet department at J**n L***s, to check out a carpet I’d rather liked on their website.  The very helpful assistant put a bit of a damper on our exploration because he pointed out that they sold very few carpets that would suit a room of this size.  The one we were interested in came in 4 or 5 metre widths, which isn’t much use if your room is over 5 metres each way.  There is a bespoke service but every carpet is completely plain and we didn’t find anything we liked anyway.  They did have one which guarantees a match within, say 15 feet plus 3 feet (one has to be equally conversant with metric and imperial measurements which, fortunately, we are) and there was one possibility there.  But we’ve also come up with another possibility with the local shop.  So we will persevere, though it’s all pretty tedious.

Of course we should have got it done sensibly in the summer but we didn’t, so we had to wait a few weeks to get the chimney swept and, since we know it’s very sooty, we haven’t felt inclined to light the drawing room fire.  But tomorrow is the day when the deed will be done, so after that we can light the fire and be cheery.  LT pointed out that it’ll soon be cold enough to hang home-cured bacon in the attic.  And the bricks have been delivered.  So things are looking promising.

Regarding the bricks, we had an extra complication there.  The reason for the visit to Norwich was LT’s car’s service and, when he phoned yesterday, he was pleased that they could fit it in the very next day (I’d given Tuesday or Thursday as possibilties).  It wasn’t until later that he remembered that the bricks were being delivered, which I hadn’t remembered at all.  So I phoned the depot and it was agreed that we’d put up a sign telling the driver where to put them.  In fact, LT made two signs and I wrote on them, and the driver phoned to check once he reached our road.

To digress, it’s a funny thing.  I’d had it put on the delivery notes that ours is the entrance with two curved brick walls and wrought iron gates at the end of a long drive (the only one in this road) opposite a new chalet bungalow with ranch-style fencing … the only one in this road.  Yet the very nice-sounding delivery man drove right past it and phoned me when opposite the church – I’d also specified, 50 yards before you reach the junction by the church.  Clearly, I’m not specific enough, but I don’t know how to be  more so.  Anyway, once I’d directed him and assured him there was plenty of room to turn round, he dropped off the bricks and there they will sit until Friday, when they will – weather permitting – be laid, or at least some of them will.

After looking at carpeting, LT wanted a new coat and we searched a couple of department stores – of course, they all have the same makes nowadays, there’s little distinction between them.  We still had time to kill, so I suggested looking at books in Jarrolds.  And, since we were there, I also suggested looking at coats there.  And LT found a very suitable coat and tried it on and was very pleased and bought it at once.  It was actually less than he’d been expecting to pay, too, though it seems durable and well made.

I was less fortunate with handbags, which i want a new one of (grammar alert!!!).  Apart from the appearance and interior practicality of the thing, I can’t bear to have a company’s name or logo on a bag.  I don’t wish to pay an absurd price and then advertise free, after all, and I don’t see why I should.  But anyway, I couldn’t find anything I liked.  But it’s all right, it’s not a priority and I’ll keep my eyes open.  I did shop, I bought some new bags for my hoover.  Sooooo thrilling.

We also had an interesting lunch, so the day went well,  I delivered LT back to the garage and they’d dealt with the thing he’d taken it for and also, at his request, checked out a new part they’d fitted a few weeks ago.  It was indeed faulty, but they were able to replace it straight away, because they happened to have that very part in stock, unusually.  And later, LT cooked a delicious dinner.  And I retrieved a mouse that Eloise cat had chased under the doormat and I let it go outside, poor little thing.  They have such lovely eyes and their little hearts pound when they’re frightened.  That’s twice in two days I’ve had to do it – Eloise cat is not good at hunting, but either the mice got in or she brought them, I don’t know.

Reaping and sowing

We’ve harvested the squashes.  There are a lot of them – we didn’t count, but I’ll guess about 75, of three varieties: Festival, butternut and Baby Bear – so none of them is huge (I accidentally grew large butternut squashes one year and was unable to use any of them before they went rotten) and mostly, one will make the basis of a meal.  Not much is still growing in the veg garden at present – leeks, swiss chard and spinach is about all that will be useful over the winter  though there’s still the greenhouse full of peppers, tomatoes and aubergines and a few beans, courgettes and raspberries are still persevering.  It’ll soon be time to fill in the seed order for next year.

I grow too much for us to use, I can’t resist it.  I always sow too many seeds and then raise the plants.  Although it is actually sensible to sow a few too many – this year, I just sowed two courgette seeds and only one of them grew.  So I sowed two more, as I actually wanted two plants, but neither of those came up.  I just had one plant and that took ages to start to fruit (I think it must be the seeds at fault, because there was no good reason for it) and it’s the only year in several decades of growing courgettes that I haven’t had too many; or rather, I haven’t had enough.

We continue to sort things out here.  There are tons of wood cut up in one of the buildings and the rest is due to be cut on Thursday.  It’s mostly as tidy as we want it to be, which isn’t hugely tidy, but that’s not our way.  If it were a town garden, then anything out of place would jar, but that’s not the case.  We’re still working on a couple of areas, but we’re getting there.  We have more plans for next year and we don’t think too far ahead for now.  We don’t know whether we’ll move from here in two or three years or not.  We don’t feel we need to consider it yet, we just know we’re happy with things as they are, here and now.  The less stress and the fewer irrevocable decisions, the more relaxed we are and it’s good not to have things to worry about.  Or less, anyway.


Z prepares

Today, we harvested a sizeable squash crop and we’re wondering where to store them.  Last year, they went on a couple of shelves in the larder, but they won’t all fit.  We’ll find homes for the surplus.  I cooked one for dinner.

Yesterday, I went over to a brick depot and found some bricks that I’m reasonably happy with, to build the two pillars by the drive.  I can’t remember if I’ve told you all about that – the Ups and Downs, the very uneven field on the right as you come down towards the house from the road, that is probably mostly undisturbed since Saxon times, has three brick pillars and a concrete pillar and a wooden gate post, with several strands of wire between each.  The wire needs to be replaced, after 40-something years and we’ve had difficulty getting sufficient tension since I had a new gate and gate posts.  So, having discussed it with Jonny the farmer, it was decided that I’d have two more brick pillars and he’d put in a new fence next spring before the cattle go on the field.

It didn’t turn out to be easy to find suitable bricks, but our mutual friend and former blogger Dave has kindly volunteered to build the pillars.  And now we’re all set.  All we need is some fine weather before the frosts set in…

The Sprig – Part 1 – preamble

A while ago, I wrote a series of posts about this house, which my in-laws bought in 1928, the year after they were married: it was called The Close Connection.  I’ve just been looking back on some of them, and I saw that I’d said I should write about the Sage’s childhood stories, but I didn’t get around to it.  I said to him, four or five years ago, that I should write them down for him, but we didn’t get around to that either and, however many times one hears a tale, the details sometimes escape.  I’m going to have a go, though – there is sure to be some overlap with previous stories, but I reached my anecdotage long ago and trust you’ll pardon me.

He had an elder brother and sister, but he was actually his parents’ fifth child, as their twins, born a year after their marriage, were stillborn or died soon after birth.  So the safe arrival of their next son, Austin, born in 1930, was a relief, a joy and they adored him.  June was born a couple of years later, prematurely and her life was in danger for months.  She was so fragile that she used to be carried around on a cushion and, when she was cutting her first tooth, she ran such a high temperature that the doctor told her nursemaid to rub a thimble on her gums to help it through.  Many years later, June and Russell gave that nursemaid the gold thimble as a memento, to commemorate her fiftieth wedding anniversary.

Russell was born four years later in June 1936.  His mother used to call him Sprig, his childhood nickname.  Mother-like, she sometimes used it to the end of her days, though no one else did.

The only detail I know about his babyhood was his phobia of rubber.  There’s a most odd cine film somewhere, where he was sitting in the bath and someone had put a rubber ring round his waist, so he was crying in complete panic.  This film used to be put on sometimes and was watched with hilarious laughter by the family, which I couldn’t understand at all.  Why would you do that?  But it seemed to work, in that he completely got over the phobia as he grew up.

Here are a couple of photos of the Sprig – the first being pushed in his pram by his nursemaid, Hilda and the second which is marked in the album as one year old.

Checks and balances

I have often mentioned my preference to shop locally and we’re very lucky here, that so many of the shops in the town are still independently owned and are really very good.  There’s the usual selection of charity and second-hand shops and so on, and a few chain stores – newsagents, Boots and the Factory Shop are all that spring to mind, plus the Co op a mile from the town centre, but you can do most of your day to day shopping right here.

The very useful little dress shop just closed, unfortunately, apparently through lack of business. I bought most of my clothes there, though I don’t buy a lot of clothes and no one could keep going through my custom.  The only clothes I’ve bought this year have been there – a skirt and a dress a couple of months ago and a few things back in the spring, but my (I guess) £250 clearly wasn’t enough.  And, over the past decade or two, we’ve lost our book shop and shoe shop although, whilst some shops haven’t lasted, others selling similar produce have started in their place.

One of the oldest and best shops in the town is the furnishing/haberdashery/etc etc shop.  The double-fronted shop front doesn’t give much indication of what’s inside – the dress materials and so on are only the start of it.  To the left, it goes back two rooms that are filled with carpet samples and, behind that, there’s furniture.  To the right, there’s a room of fabrics – the last thing I bought there was heatproof material to go under the cloth on the french polished library table we use as a dining table, but I’ve had curtain fabrics and all sorts of things there in the past.  And behind that, there used to be – and probably still is – a selection of fairly traditional nightwear and underwear.  I haven’t been in that part since my mother died, but she bought a really lovely dressing gown there to keep her warm and cheered during her last winter.  In the front, there’s dressmaking stuff and bedding, gloves and various small household accessories and upstairs there are beds and mattresses.  It really is fabulous.  And LT and I spent half an hour or so being shown samples by John, the eponymous proprietor and came home with two pattern books and five samples, four of which we pretty soon dismissed.  So now we have to consider whether the fifth is the one we want.  It’s very good quality pure wool and expensive, and it’ll last us the rest of our lives or as long as we live here, so we don’t want to regret it.

Indeed, I’ll show it to you.  The check doesn’t stand out quite as much as it seems to on the photo.  We might have liked something a bit more autumn leaf-ish and we don’t want completely plain.  But this might fit the bill.  Any thoughts?