Monthly Archives: June 2009

Here comes Z

And, as I type, Blogger is down. Ho hum.

Last night was the first I’ve spent alone in the house for years – I can\t remember how many. I slept toppingly and the day started well when I ignored the alarm and went back to sleep. I was reading happily in bed when the phone rang at 8.30, with friend B talking about arrangements for setting up the village hall for the quiz and supper tonight. It was agreed that I’d go along and meet her at 11.15.

I read for a while longer.

Eventually, I got up, made porridge and coffee and started to read the paper. The phone rang. Al wondered if I might have time to help a bit in the shop as, Eileen being on holiday, he was a bit rushed. Friday is busy anyway, and he also has several orders to make up. I promised to be there in 15 minutes. However, 5 minutes later Kenny arrived. He will be 90 in a week’s time and it’s always a pleasure to see him – but I didn’t really have time. I finally arrived at the shop and Al had time to finish putting stuff out on shelves while I served customers and filled my baskets with stuff for tonight’s supper.

The rest of the day was spent cooking and back in the shop, and I was ready to get changed – but it was time to leave, so I went in scruffy clothes and hair unbrushed. We came joint second. Al, Dilly and I should have taken that third bottle of wine. Barry was a splendid quizmaster, starting by giving the answer to the first question immediately after answering it, and reading out all the rest of the answers in the wrong order. It was great fun. I won a raffle prize, which was a fabulous little hamper with Fortnum & Mason caramel and nougat (hard and nutty!!(!) ), Himalayan tea from the Everest Tea House, in a little zip-up bag, no fewer than four little jars of Wilkin & Sons’ preserves, a small box of Guylian chocolates, a 200g tin of foie gras de canard (sorry) and a pack of superior biscuits. As well as a dear little wicker hamper.

The Sage had a successful trip and we’re both mightily pleased with my purchase (which was his birthday present). It is a collector’s cabinet; a nicely mid-oaky-brown coloured, albeit pine, chest of 10 drawers, just over 2 feet tall, each drawer dovetailed rather than pinned with dear little turned knobs. It is of a size that can stand on the floor or on a piece of furniture; I do not yet know his intention. He wishes to fill it with his collection of vestas, which he has been amassing over 40 years or so.

Tomorrow, I will go to the shop early with Al (early for me is late for Dave, admittedly: I mean at 7 o’clock) and then come home to load my computer (which, being a Mac, is highly portable) into the car to take to Norwich, for a little outing – it enjoys this sort of thing. Then I shall wander around for a little while and have lunch, and then take tea with the Bishop. After that, we’ll fetch Ro home for the weekend and have roast chicken for dinner.

Blogger is back! Here I come!

Bringing on the wall, Day 12 -Wednesday

Sorry about last night. I needed to send a couple of emails, but googlemail was playing up mightily and it took ages, and it was impossible to get Blogger to let me write yesterday’s posts. I didn’t have time this morning either, as the day started with a phone call which sent the Sage out across the field and resulting him walking a mile, clutching a pitchfork and driving a black bull, whose ownership he didn’t know, well away from our cows. He phoned one farmer, but this chap, though charming in person, resolutely never answers his phone – so the Sage put the bull in his field of heifers anyway (it probably does belong to him). One shaggy Highland-type cow had settled herself on our field, so we’ve left her there .

Meantime, I was babysitting as Al had to go out early and Dilly leaves for school at 6.45. Then I had Pugsley all day, so couldn’t get to the computer. Anyway, back to yesterday.

Dave decided to keep going on the pillar one-third of the way down the longest stretch of wall, having sketched it so that he could replicate the pattern twice more in due course. So I built up the brickwork to support it. Probably, this is as far as we’re going with this pillar for now; we’ll next raise the end pillar and the wall in between to the same level and then start to put in the decorative bricks. We’re going to put them in 1 row lower than we did before, so that there’s 3 rows of bricks and then the capping on top.

I wished the Sage a happy birthday, but we’d decided to postpone celebrations until his present, which I was buying from eBay, arrived. He knew about it – I’d found it but needed him to decide if it was suitable for his purpose. He had two to choose from in the end; one was in Cambridge (60 miles away) and the other in Torquay (more than 250 miles) and he chose the latter. The cost of carriage by courier was only £16, however, which I thought was reasonable. I could have paid by PayPal and he’d have it by Friday.

So, imagine my surprise when he casually mentioned that he was driving down – which will, of course, cost considerably more and take an awfully long time. Up to him of course, and soon I was quietly planning what I’d have for dinner the night he was away – I am quite obsessed with food and it can be an opportunity to eat something that’s more of a treat for me than him. He said that the owner could meet him part way – it turned out that meant Honiton, which is still in Devon and still must be 200 miles from here.

Back to the wall – here are yesterday’s pictures –

After Dave had left, I was clearing away the lunch things when the Sage called me to see a moth he’d rescued from a spider’s web. I didn’t know it, so quickly took photos while it was still resting and looked it up.
Isn’t it beautiful? It’s an elephant hawk moth. Apparently it’s not uncommon, but I suppose it normally flies at night? – neither of us recognised it. The adult particularly likes honeysuckle nectar; fortunately there’s a sweetly-scented honeysuckle right beside it, and the caterpillar lives usually on rosebay willowherb or lady’s bedstraw both of which are in our fields.

Later, having talked to the vendor of the piece of furniture, they agreed to meet at 4 pm and the Sage rang my sister in Wiltshire to bag a bed for the night. “Just ringing to finalise details,” I heard him say, to her bemusement, as this was the first she’d heard of it. It took me half the evening to get the email to work to let Dave know – by the time I was ready to give up and phone, it was well after 10 pm and he wouldn’t have thanked me for the call. I couldn’t rely on having time to ring or email this morning.


This is the card that I was given by the committee. How well they know me.

So, all went well although, having got to the last item on the agenda – that is, voting on the new committee; they’d each been proposed and seconded already, and had then been proposed and seconded for election en bloc – it suddenly dawned on me that I hadn’t taken votes on anything else, only proposals. So I did a rapid recap and made everyone raise their hands three times. Fortunately, they resisted any temptation to turn it into a Mexican wave. I’d love to think I’ve brought a pleasing informality to the running of the society, but I’m afraid the most I can hope for is lovable amateurism, and more likely is patient acceptance of mild incompetence.

I’ve been given a generous book token, and now I need to look for books on the arts (this doesn’t have to mean paintings – eg, our talk today was on Saxon churches). Then we went out to lunch, where I wasn’t allowed to pay, and then I came home in time to pick up Squiffany from nursery school.

She had cried every time she was left there since the beginning of term, but last week, after the dentist told her it was time to stop sucking her thumb, her parents set up a star chart to encourage her – she’s the sort of child to respond very well to that. Indeed, she has tried very hard and seems to have broken the habit, although it hasn’t really been put to the test yet. While they were about it, they suggested that other examples of good behaviour (she’d been a bit wilful recently) might be noted, including not crying when left, when everyone knew she likes nursery really. Reader, it worked. I was surprised, last week, when she didn’t look tearful when I left her (as I didn’t know about the chart at the time) and today, when we arrived, one little girl said to another “oh good, here’s Squiffany”. I helped her hang her things up and asked her what she wanted to do while waiting for everyone else to arrive. “I want to play with Megan,” she said cheerfully and I left the three girls in the playground. Normally, she likes to be left with an adult.

I took her to spend some time afterwards in the shop with her father. Al had been slightly frustrated yesterday. It was after 6 o’clock and he was nearly packed up, and the phone rang. It was a customer who’d found a swarm of bees in the garden and was asking him to come and take them away – and he’d have loved to, but he didn’t have time. He had to be at a governors’ meeting at 6.30, so he gave them another beekeeper’s number to contact. He’s been wanting to have a go at taking a swarm, having lost his own.

Bringing on the wall, Day 11 -Dave’s back

Oh I say. There’s a thunderstorm, rather close – the latest clap of thunder made Tilly jump off the sofa and she’s normally quite unbothered by loud noises – and it’s raining torrentially (just as the forecast said, unusually), and the Sage is out on the Common in an open trailer. He’s a Common Reeve, you see, and it’s the evening for the official Annual Inspection. He’d said to expect him back around 8 o’clock, but I think he’ll be rather earlier than that. Wet.

It really is tipping down, and if the lightning comes any closer, I’ll turn off the computer.

Anyway, there was little sign of this earlier when we embarked on our 11th half-day of construction (I hope the mortar is well set by now as there’s little point in my rushing out to cover it up now). Dave decided to work on the pillar one-third along the next stretch of wall, as he had been pondering on it all weekend. So as to keep an unbroken line of whole bricks along the face of the footings, the brickie had not tied the supporting pillar in, but had offset its bricks for some strength. We didn’t think there was much use in doing this for its whole height, but some care was required in the design for appearance, strength and least brick-cutting possible.

A request has been made for a picture of Dave’s rear view. So here it is.
I’d love to think that, one day, I’ll show a bit of the garden that isn’t scruffy. Yes, the summerhouse needs re-felting.

Anyway, this afternoon, when it was warm and sunny, I went in to visit Al. He had taken all the fruit off the shelves and was painting the wall behind. He had some lovely local vegetables and I bought some and then went and picked more, and some fruit, from the garden. Tonight, we have new potatoes, peas, tomatoes, carrots, broad bean tops, asparagus and globe artichokes, as well as Lowestoft herrings and gooseberries. Actually, I think this is a bit much and I may keep the tomatoes and carrots until tomorrow.

I’ve brought the speech down to 1400 words and I can do that, at measured speed, in 10 minutes which is all right. We only allow half an hour for the AGM and that includes time for visitors to come in at the end – we actually aim at 20 minutes. I shall ask the incoming chairman if she’d like to give the vote of thanks at the end – in any case, my duties will end at 12.15 at the latest. And then the committee is taking me out for lunch!

Wittering away, as promised

It was sometime around 11 o’clock last night, when I was dismally getting to grips with the rota that was already a fortnight overdue, that I remembered that it would be the early service today and I had to be in church by 7.30 this morning. This thought made me so depressed that I stayed up for hours, mostly listening to music by bands with names such as Slobberbone. I did do some work at the same time, but I didn’t finish the rota until after 10 this morning, by which time I was due in church for the next service, An ordained life would never be for me. I have a low attention threshold and couldn’t put up with multiple daily (albeit also weekly) church attendance.

My problem was, and the reason I’d been putting off writing this wretched rota, that I’ve been losing helpers in droves. Never mind decimation, it was more like quindecimation – that is, I’d lost about 50% of the people who used to help. No, I haven’t driven them away. It’s just several of *those things*. I may ask people if they’d be willing to always do the same thing on the same week of the month – that is, if it’s the first week of the month, A reads the first lesson, B reads the second, C is sidesman, D plays the organ and E makes coffee – that way, I’d need fewer helpers overall and writing the rota would be simple, especially as some will both make coffee and read the lesson at any given service.

Anyway, after I’d printed them all off – well, not quite all as my printer ran out of ink with 2 to go – and marked them with a highlighter pen, and also emailed them out, I went back to church and grovelled to all the people on whose good-nature I’d presumed most, with such charming effect that they all smilingly agreed to do everything I’d asked and offered to do more if necessary. Manipulative? No, darlings, I just look worried and sincere. As I am, of course.

Al is very happy with his bees – I think I told the sad tale, briefly, that his bees swarmed a couple of days before he was due to divide the colony and he lost his queen. There were queen cells ready for a new lady to hatch out, so he divided them again, into two rather small colonies, and hoped for the best. He knew both queens had hatched because he’d heard them – Twitter is nothing new, honey bees have been doing it for a long time – but it wasn’t until today that he checked to see if they’d been on their maiden flight (following which they are no longer maidens and there is one drone who dies happy, whilst the rest of the drones relax their lives away with nothing to do) and they had, for there were plenty of eggs waiting to hatch. He also managed to find and mark both queens. *Result* as the young people say.

Today, I cut the first cucumber – I could have picked it a day or two ago but it didn’t go with the meals. Tender and delicious and it made me happy.

I was cycling home yesterday and the view from the dam (it’s the road that separates the fields which are part of the flood plain) pleased me, so I got off and took photos each side. Nothing special as you see, but a pleasant place to live. As you’ll have seen from my wall-building posts and the photos in them, we live a field away from the church with spire that you see in the latter two photos. What looks like long grass in the field is reeds, because waterways criss-cross the fields so that flood water drains away quickly. The water table isn’t far below the surface and it doesn’t take much rain for flooding to take place, although it’s confined to the fields and, sometimes, to the lower-lying bits of road.

This afternoon and evening, I’m writing my valedictory chairman’s address for Tuesday morning. Yes, I’m ahead of the game, isn’t that splendid and most unlike me? Indeed, Dave would have had it done weeks ago, but I didn’t need to do it weeks ago: I need to do it now. Or anyway, by tomorrow night. I have written 866 words so far and reckon I’m more than half done. The main thing is to thank people and to leave no one out, because you don’t forget the obvious people but the unsung helpers who, modest though they are, might feel left out if they are.

Update at 11.55 – finished the speech – it’s 1579 words long, which takes ten minutes to deliver briskly. I think I might do a little paring down tomorrow – at least I’ve got a day in hand to let it settle.

12.15 am – 1468, and better for it. I’m going to bed. Good night.


I don’t know what to have for breakfast at present. I eat a fairly sustaining but plain meal first thing in the morning – in the winter it’s usually porridge, made with half a cup of oats, half a cup of water, half a cup of milk and a pinch of salt. I don’t add anything when it’s cooked. At other times of the year, I usually eat dry toast and plain yoghurt. If I want, I might have some fruit juice or eat a piece of fruit, but usually I restrict myself to weak black tea – generally Rose Pouchong, Earl (or Lady) Grey or Lapsang Souchong.

Today, I didn’t know what to eat. I felt dispirited at the thought of toast and on a lovely summer’s day I didn’t want stolid porridge. I considered cold cereal, but I can only eat the first few mouthfuls as I don’t like it as soon as milk makes it soggy – besides, I’m not that fond of milk. If I’d had some lovely bread, that would have been fine, but I only had bog-standard sliced wholemeal. I didn’t fancy an egg.

I would have had some fruit, but I only had apples and a banana, and I didn’t feel like eating them. I considered Ryvita, but didn”t want it. I thought of adding Marmite to the dull toast, but it didn’t appeal. I don’t use butter on bread, only in cooking, and I don’t want sweet toppings in the morning. I like muesli, but I don’t have any in the house at present, and besides it’s awfully high in calories and I don’t like it so much that I want to put on weight for it.

So I didn’t eat anything until after 10 o’clock, when I remembered some leftover granary rolls, heated one in the Aga and ate it with a bowl of plain yoghurt. It wasn’t actually what I wanted, but I had to eat something, after all. I get bored eating the same thing day after day, whatever I choose.

Z is fussy in the kitchen, in some respects

Weeza and I were talking today about levels of hygiene and scrupulousness/fussiness in the kitchen. We agreed that we all have things that just get to us. For example, a while ago I was going to visit a friend, and texted him to say I was shopping and could I get anything? As I was at the butcher, he asked for a small piece of pork. I took it along, he diced it and added it to vegetables in a pan. Then he washed his hands, made a pot of coffee and led me to the conservatory to drink it. But I was still staring at the chopping board, which was still in its usual place on the counter and, I knew, was covered in raw pork juices. I felt almost unsteady and found it hard not to take it and wash it up immediately, or at least leave it in the sink so there was no risk of anything else being put on it. I had to mention it in fact “Er, you won’t forget to wash it before using it for anything else?” He was amused and slightly patronising as he assured me he wouldn’t.

Weeza can’t bear to see anything uncovered in the fridge. A lid, foil, cling film, whatever – she hates the risk of cross-contamination or unwanted flavours.

I can’t tolerate a dishcloth or teatowel gathering germs. I can almost see them. I use J-cloths and wash them after a day’s use at most (in fact, pretty well as soon as they’ve been used at all), in the washing machine. I greatly prefer crockery to be washed in a dishwasher so that I’m confident it’s clean. On the other hand, if I drop something on the floor I’ll give it a cursory wipe and eat it anyway. I’ll pull a carrot from the ground, dust off the obvious earth and put it in my mouth. When my late dog, Chester, drank out of my friend Christopher’s teacup and he shrugged it off and drank the rest of the tea, I didn’t turn a hair – I’d not have hesitated to do it myself. But when Weeza commented that she couldn’t bear to see someone touch raw chicken, turn on the tap to was their hands and then not wash the tap with soap afterwards (and wiping hands on a damp cloth instead makes her feel ill) I completely concurred. Indeed, when I needed new kitchen taps I chose ones with levers so that I could use my arm to knock it if my hands weren’t clean.

Sell-by dates, pfft – that’s the question Blue Witch asks about today. I prefer to make my own decision and use them as no more than a guide – and as a reason for merriment in some respects.

Weeza said she was relaxed about dust. Blimey, I don’t even see dust until it’s festooning the month-old cobwebs dangling in front of my face. One of the reasons I loved the Edwardian houses I used to live in was the high ceilings – I couldn’t see the cobwebs at all. Here, I have to hoover the walls and ceilings. Occasionally. I remember the late cookery writer, Marika Hanbury Tenison saying how fanatical about cleanliness she was, and that her kitchen floor had to be washed twice a day. Um. I wondered why – did they usually eat off it?

In short, I’m casual about dirt but pretty fussy about hygiene. I recognise that my precise definition of ‘hygiene’ may not be yours, one way or the other. Anything that really gets your hygiene or cleanliness goat?

Bringing on the wall, Day 10 – 20%+

Because it was raining at 8.45, Dave and I decided to wait and see how the weather looked in a while. By 8.55, it was fine here, and so it was all morning. But the decision had been made to go for it during the afternoon. It’s been changeable. A couple of sharp showers, and thunder in the distance, with hot sunshine in between.

I did a few bricks while I just had Pugsley, but after I’d fetched Squiffany home too, I left it to the men and joined in again once Dilly arrived back. By that time, they’d finished the first section and were carrying on with the next piece at ground level, so I started building up towards the pillar that Dave had started a couple of weeks ago.

The first section isn’t finished of course, as it will be capped, but all the bricks have been laid. We’ve decided to leave the ornamental brick where it is – probably – it can always be cut out and reinserted later if we want to. We have, however, agreed both to put them in sideways on to the first one, and to put them at least one course lower, as only two bricks being above looks slightly out of balance.

The Sage lays a few bricks, and he did the final one today, just before it started to pour with rain. I’d already covered the work I’d been doing.

Nothing more now until next Monday – weather permitting. So I can regale you with senseless witterings in the normal manner. Is that not a happy thought?

Bringing on the wall, Day 9 – preparing the Apprentices

The forecast rain did not happen and we made an early start. Both Dave and the Sage had, independently, decided that the ornamental brick’s setting wasn’t quite right, so they redid the top part and have more adjustments in mind for next time.

This was, except for the addition of one more brick, how it was left after this morning’s work. The darker bricks have been on the ground and are more weathered; they’ll all go like that in a year or so.

I was only able to work until 11 o’clock because I was expecting visitors.

We chalked on the paths, rode bicycles and watched the workers, and then decided to trim the hedge by the drive.

We also inspected the globe artichokes, the first of which are almost ready to eat.

After lunch and when Dave had left, Pugsley asked to use the rest of the mortar, which he calls “mint” for some unfathomable reason. Pugsley and Squiffany made brick sandwiches while the Sage laid one final brick.

This is all part of the plan. I mean to put the whole family to bricklaying before long.