Monthly Archives: September 2007

Z arrived home and drank a single glass of wine

When the tyre was mended, I trotted back to tell people they could come and board the coach when they were ready. Some were relaxing in armchairs and quite reluctant to move at all.

Andrew was chatting to several of our party and telling some rather good jokes. His comic timing is splendid. While we were waiting for the last few arrivals, he said again that it had really helped him, that I had been calm and reassuring all the time. “It’s not what goes wrong that matters, you couldn’t help that,” I said. “It’s what you do to put it right, and you reacted in the best way possible. And what I find in these situations is how helpful people are. You don’t know how kind someone is until you need their help.”

He agreed with that. He had been struck by the garage mechanic immediately leaving his job and coming to help. “The thing is,” I added, ” Things may go awry, but they never go as wrong as your imagination thinks they can. There’s no point in looking ahead to the worst-case scenario, because it won’t happen. I’m very, very old and I’ve learned never to get upset about something I can’t help, as things always work out.”

“But you’re not very, very old!” he exclaimed. “Old” he added, “But not very very old.”

There was an intake of breath from the few people nearby. But Andrew had my measure. I was already laughing.

I have no idea how people know within a short time of meeting me that they can rib me something shocking, but they always do and I am teased by everyone. It makes me fall about, I love a joke at my own expense.

We stopped at the same motorway services on the road home and Andrew, who had developed a gung-ho attitude to life in the last few hours, parked in the same place as last time. We piled in and Pam asked, hopefully, if alcohol was sold anywhere on the premises. We all looked disappointed when were told the whole place was dry. So we ordered great plates of fish and chips instead.

The drive home was uneventful. Andrew, relaxed by now, chatted to me quite a lot of the way. He’d come into coach driving by chance, as he was an engineer with a good job and just fancied an extra challenge, so went for a HGV licence and then a coach-driver’s one. The coach company is based in the village where he lives and he started by helping them out as a relief driver. Now, he’s self-employed and does what he chooses – which is mostly to work very hard. But he doesn’t mind it, he explained, as he is under no obligation. He can always say no, though he usually doesn’t. He also drives a sugar beet lorry at harvest time, looks after his and his parents’ 2-acre garden and enjoys life. It didn’t sound as if there was room for a girl- or (perhaps) boyfriend in his life and he obviously genuinely enjoys the company of his parents – which was why he got on well with me, perhaps, I am very motherly.

We actually arrived back in Norwich at the time we had originally expected. I was home by 9.45 and the Sage greeted me at the door with a glass of wine.

I,LTV asked why we’d gone to H1ghgr0ve. Simply, a couple of people on the committee had been and recommended it. We applied in March 05 and at the time were told that it might be up to four years before we were offered a place. However, since there is such demand, Prince Charles decided to up the number of parties and they are booked in at 20-minute intervals all day, every week day, April to September. He makes no charge, the guides and shop assistants are volunteers and any donations and all profits on shop sales go to his charitable trust.

And the part of H1ghgr0ve that made me warm to him most? It was the front entrance. It’s a lovely, though unpretentious house and not in any way a stately home. There are plants growing up the house and they are left to roam as they will, though trimmed away from the windows. There is a five-barred gate opposite, which leads to fields and a view of the church spire of Tetbury. Outside the front door is a gravel drive with an oval piece of grass to drive around. In the centre is a huge and beautiful pot planted with flowers, but the grass has uneven edges and creeps into the gravel. It is so small and unfussy an entrance (though the front door is huge and tall) as to be almost disconcerting before it makes you smile.

The garden and the bolt-hole

H1ghgr0ve is a lovely place, tranquil and friendly, with 16 acres of meandering garden, as well as its accompanying farm, set out in various styles, most of them informal and based on greenery rather than flowers. I suspect that it’s best seen earlier in the year, when bulbs or wild flowers or tree blossom are out, but I loved it now too. The policy is to leave as much as possible, so there is ivy on the trees, some visible (small) weeds and heaps of mole-hills on the wild-flower meadow. Around the house there are several small gardens, more laid-out and themed – one is a cottage garden, one has a black and white (more like blues and purples, white and green) theme and another, the most stylised, has a Persian carpet inspiration to its layout. There is also a substantial kitchen garden, although I noticed that the runner and french beans have not been picked recently.

We were taken round in two groups. Mine was led by a very attractive and slender woman called Michele. Her skirt was tight and flared and reminded me of an Edwardian riding skirt.

What I’d liked about our greeting was its friendly informality. I had expected to go through a security check of some sort but, apart from the photo ID check at the gate, we were treated as guests. At the end of the tour, which took rather more than an hour and a half, we were given tea and some divine biscuits (not the usual Duchy ones, but some only available at H1ghgr0ve) and then the shop was mentioned in a generously ‘you might like to’ sort of way. Sorry to be so uncritical, but I even liked the shop.

I was in the second group and Andrew our driver, who had stayed with the coach (it would have been really nice if he could have joined us, which is my only criticism), was already having tea with the first lot. He came over when he saw me and said he’d better go back to the coach. “Actually,” he said, “I’m waiting for ATS to come. We’ve got a puncture.”

If you remember, he had started the day by finding the car he’d expected to use had vanished and had, for a while, believed it was stolen. Then we’d had the breakdown at the motorway service area, when the coach battery had suddenly failed. Now there was a socking great bolt in a rear offside tyre. It could so have not been his day, if he hadn’t met us, for we were lovely to him. Indeed, I went so far as to put a consoling hand on his shoulder.

I left him to it for twenty minutes or so while I pottered round the shop and bought things – I felt he would be happier if not fussed. The whole thing only delayed us by a short while. It was lucky that he had taken a stroll around the car part and noticed a hissing sound…

We were so lucky. I told him that, whilst I’d obviously jinxed this trip (he said that he had only had two coach problems in ten years, and now there were two in a day), I was a useful person to have around, as I am unnaturally lucky. It’s not that things don’t go wrong around me, but they always end well.

Which is obviously a note to finish on, so I’ll spin this out for one more day.

Z is Sparky, but the Battery is Flat

I didn’t really sleep – a doze for a few minutes at a time and I was up before the 5 o’clock alarm and in Norwich before 6. Everyone arrived by 6.15 and we were ready to leave early.

The first hitch came when the driver had a call from the second driver, to say that the car had vanished from the depot and he couldn’t go to meet us en route. There are strict limits on the total length of time a coach driver can go without a break, and overall in a day and a week, and this was to stay within the rules. At first, they assumed that the car had been stolen, but after a while they realised that someone else was due to use it later, so it was quite likely he’d picked it up already, not knowing it was wanted.

So we went and picked up Driver 2 from the depot.

He was a young man called Andrew. I say young – I don’t know how old he is. He seems youthful and has an unlined face. He is very slender. However, his hair is already noticeably greying. Mid-thirties at least, I suppose. He was very pleasant and we chatted, on and off. A couple of hours later, we stopped for a break and agreed to return in 45 minutes. I offered to stay on the coach so that he could leave without locking it.

It occurred to me that it would be a good idea to have H1ghgr0ve’s phone number, just in case, so I rang the person who had it. Such foresight is rare in one so scatty. Andrew and I worked out the timing and reckoned on having at least 15 minutes to spare, which was good. Then he tried to start the engine and he went white. The battery was dead. Not a spark. He looked completely shocked.

You know, sometimes it’s only when things go wrong that you find out how helpful people are. He rang his boss, who was able to tell him that there was a suitable garage at the service station. He ran, literally, to it. Afterwards, he said that he burst into the office, apologised for being out of breath and had to stand and pant until he could speak. “We’ve got the batteries in stock, we’ll fit them right away.” A mechanic was taken off another job and they fetched the two huge batteries, carried them to the coach and, less than half an hour later than we planned, we were on our way.

I spoke soothingly to our members and was cheerfully reassuring to Andrew, who was grateful. One member had been flapping a bit, but I told her it would be fine. This is my role in a crisis, telling everyone it will be fine. Because, usually, it is and panicking is no help. I rang, explained to the answerphone, and later got a cheerful phone call back saying there would be no problem. In fact, we were less than five minutes late. We all had our passports checked by the friendly policeman and then got out of the coach into an anti-Foot and Mouth foot-dip.

Emily, who greeted us, got my name a bit wrong. My friend Nick has now christened me Sparky. I’m not sure if this is better or worse than Boss, his previous name for me.

I’ll tell you the rest tomorrow, but now I’m going to bed.

Z is going to bed. At least some of the time, Z will sleep.

Ro and I were listening to Front Row on the radio this evening – amongst other things being talked about was Tracey Emin’s artwork, ‘ My Bed‘.

The presenter (ooh, I am bad with names) was talking to Germaine Greer. He said that the artefacts scattered around the bed referred to all the main connections with a bed: sex death pregnancy and childbirth. Ro and I looked at each other. “What?” said Ro. “Isn’t sleep in there somewhere?” We decided he was being just a little pretentious.

Has anyone seen quinces for sale yet this autumn? Al has been offered some, and he can’t remember what he sold them for last year. He can’t get them from the wholesaler so relies on locals to bring them from their gardens. He probably, he said, sold them for £1, but whether that was for 1 lb (one pound weight) or 1 kilogram, he isn’t sure. He wants to know whether to offer 27p per lb for them or 60p. Or, indeed, something in between.

I’m off on my visit to H1ghgr0ve tomorrow. I am going to leave the house rather before 5.30 am. I have to unlock the gate to the carpark and some people will arrive absurdly early. Others will get there at the last minute. I am going to bed now.

Z milks applause

I am bemused that I wrote a post, however short, about what potboiling television I watched last night. I am so sorry.

Back to Norwich yet again – and blimey, twice more to come this week – to a lecture on Francis I of France. Very interesting. I trotted awkwardly on stage to introduce the speaker. I bobbed, waving, saying “Look at me, look at me. Like me! I’ll grin and talk and waffle and be funny and loveable until you think I’m wonderful.” That is, I might as well have done. I won’t stop until they smile, at any rate.

I’d been a bit alarmed. Someone had asked what time we were leaving on Thursday. “6.30 – please arrive by 6.15,” I said. “Oh,” she answered, “because I thought it was 6 o’clock but someone told me it was 7.” I reminded her to bring her passport or driving licence. “Oh, do we need that?” she asked. Then she mused that it was a long day, so if she didn’t feel like coming, could I find someone to fill her place? “No, I sent in the names a fortnight ago for the police check.” She decided to come. Someone else was anxious, because she had been told she couldn’t take a handbag. Of course you can take a bloody handbag! It’s a camera you can’t take, or a phone. I had, of course, written to everyone as well as sending them a copy of the Highgrove guidance notes, so there is no reason they should not know.

This is my excuse for rabbiting on at some length about the whole thing. Get ’em to laugh at me and they might actually listen. I said, truthfully (for Z may exaggerate but she only lies when she wants to), that I put my passport in my bag yesterday, in case I didn’t think of it again.

Afterwards, I went up the hill to Jarrolds and bought a new diary. I know one is always given various diaries, but if it’s not a layout I like, it annoys me all year. I started to fill it in while I waited for lunch and am a little cast down by how many dull things there are to write in already. I must plan some frivolity.

Z is still a Child of the Sixties

I babysat last night. Slightly disappointingly, both children were being put to bed (Al’s job) and were asleep within moments of their parents leaving the house, so I didn’t have a chance to play with Squiffany.

I watched television most of the evening. I hardly ever do that. Though I fell asleep part-way through Nigella. I hardly ever fall asleep in the evening either, whether I watch television or not, which leads me to suspect that her new series is not a patch on any previous one.

But before that, I’d watched Mastermind. And one of the subjects was Round the Horne. I chortled helplessly just at the questions. It took me right back to Sunday mornings when I was a lass when we listened to it. Mind you, if my mother had heard of Polari or understood any of it, it would have been banned from the house. Listening again, years later, it was considerable ruder than any of us had realised.

Mairzy doats and dozy doats…

…and hafftun cowzy divy. Bart Simpson is the boldest cow and she waylays the barrow to check what’s edible on it before it goes to the bonfire. I’ve mostly been cutting out brambles and dead trees today. They are so dead that they fall down quite nicely if you push them.

But first, I went to the dentist. That hurt. Not the dentist himself, but his bill. He looked carefully for several minutes, assured me that my gums and tongue and suchlike look in good order (I’m glad to hear this, because both the people I have known with mouth or jaw cancer had it originally spotted on routine dental check-ups) and decided to give me a quick clean and polish. The extra five minutes this took presumably justified the £45 bill.

Tonight, babysitting. Dilly and Al are going to the beekeepers meeting. A couple of weeks ago, a customer was stung by a wasp in the shop. She (Val from the pet shop, Badge) was unperturbed, but later her finger swelled up and the next day she collapsed. Steroids put her right, but she’ll have to be careful in future.

I’m a little anxious. Several weeks ago, I was asked if I’d play a few Harvest hymns for a nearby village’s Harvest Supper, which is in their village church. I gained the impression that it would be a bit of rousing singing before the meal. Yesterday, I had a phone call from a chap who wants to agree with me what’s happening and he’s cheerily talking about 40 minutes or so after the meal. What? I’m not doing any sort of recital here. I haven’t time to practise and I haven’t the suitable repertoire. A dashing voluntary or some quiet funeral stuff is what I do, when it isn’t hymns. I haven’t played the piano for ages as mine’s still off for repair. He’s coming round in half an hour to talk about it, and I’ll have to make it quite clear that I can lead singing or accompany a soloist, but I’m not the main event, in any sense.

Z listens to a friend

The organ-ising could have gone better. Unfortunately, I played the tune from a different book than the one used for the words, as I preferred the arrangement, and I realised after I’d started that I’d forgotten to check the number of verses. I hoped it would be the same as in the book I was using. It wasn’t. There was an extra verse and the congregation carried on singing. I caught up in the second line. It gave people a golden opportunity to be kind, and for me to be humble.


The next hymn tune was Hyfrydol (sung to Alleluia, sing to Jesus and I will sing the wondrous story amongst, possibly, other hymns) which I like very much. I learned it properly, a long time ago, as it is quite tricky in bits (I am quite lazy and often pretty well sight-read) and so let my fingers twinkly exuberantly over the keys, to the extent that the congregation lagged behind to begin with and had to buck their ideas up and sing faster. Hah!

Later, a friend told me that he had been helping, in a professional and advisory capacity, a woman who had got her life into something of a mess. In the course of conversation, she discovered that, when wearing his other hat, he’s a self-employed carpenter and she said that she has some work needing to be done at her house and asked if he’d be able to do it. He said that he’s in a quandary. He would like to help her, and he could do with the work. However, he knows that she is quite needy and vulnerable and has an instinct that he might find himself in an awkward situation if he were to visit her at home. He knows that she is grateful to him for his help and that they like each other. She’s also, he said gloomily, a very attractive woman. He knows (for he’s a realist) that, for someone who has been treated quite badly by men in the past, to be talked to as a person rather than a sex object and to be helped without an expectation of ‘reward’ (other than payment of a fair bill), might be quite a heady experience and he doesn’t want to risk engaging her emotions.

I’ll make it clear that I know him and his wife well and they are very close. I do not think for a minute that he’d lead this woman on. I am taking his word for it, that there isn’t a problem but there might be.

Whether he does the work or not, I’m sure he will keep her at arm’s length, because he is aware of the situation. But I do know how naively one can get into an awkward spot. And I wonder if one is culpable if, just because of being friendly, ones actions are misinterpreted?

I had an awkward situation of my own about a year ago, which still rankles a bit. It was all dealt with amicably at the time, but this reminded me that I still feel a bit peculiar about it.

Z is useful and cheap

Spurred on by Mike and K’s noble example, I trotted out to prune the wisteria. The Sage came and watched me. “Hm, I think I need the pair of steps” I decided. The splendid fellow went and fetched them for me and put them up. “You won’t go up on the top step?” he asked. I assured him I was not planning a plummet any time soon. Reassured, he went off to do *whatever errands that take him out of the house for several hours a day*. I reflected that some blokes hold the ladder. Or ascend it.

It’s all right. I didn’t plummet and I used the secateurs and pruning saw to good effect. If we ever used the front door, we could do so without being forced off the path into the lavender.

I didn’t, of course, clear anything up. That’s not my job.

By the way, I’ve been meaning to ask you – does anyone have an opinion whether or not it’s worth keeping capsicum (in this case, chilli) plants alive during the winter, rather than growing them from seed every spring? I could keep them in the porch, which is frost-free, but that’s the best I’d do. No heat. Apart from the jalapenos, which have lost a lot of their leaves, they are all still really healthy and covered with flowers, as well as having given loads of chillies but usually I just let them go as the weather gets colder.

I completely forgot about dinner and had to rootle in the larder and the vegetable garden. Butternut squash risotto and sautéed swiss chard was the result. I didn’t use the chard leaves, which will be cooked as spinach tomorrow. Ro came and grated the squash for me, which gave us a chance to chat – we’re all a taciturn lot who are quite comfortable being quiet most of the time.

He had been out to the pub last night with old school friends, for the first time for a while and, as I know quite a lot of them, he filled me in on their current doings. It’s a bit startling, to hear that one was (until a week ago, whoops) contemplating marriage and another buying a house. Another has finished his stint in the RAF, and he’s only 23. Ro approves of the smoke free pubs. And he said, with some satisfaction, that he hadn’t had a drink all evening – no alcohol, that is. Although, as he said, there is only so much lemonade you can drink. He does drink, but he hates being pushed to keep up and have a pint bought with every round. Easier to say no at the start. I know what he means, which is why I usually drink halves in pubs. My popularity depends, in part, on my reputation as a cheap date.