Monthly Archives: April 2011

Mrs Ziggywinkle*

In case you read this in a feed reader, the official invitation is finally up on the blog – whether you’ve already said you’re coming or not, if you need my address please email me and I’ll send it.

Isn’t the weather fantastic?  So hot and yet the air is fresh.  Just delightful, unless you’re working out in the middle of it, of course.  I was some of the time, though not very hard, and wearing jeans which wasn’t probably the best choice for the day.  No matter.

Wink is here for the next few days, which is highly jolly.  We are going out to lunch tomorrow, and then into Norwich shopping.  Weeza will probably join us, with Zerlina of course.  We’re planning a family get-together over the weekend, on Sunday.

Squiffany had four little schoolfriends over to play today.  They were all so sweet.  Al had done a treasure hunt for them on the field and they all trotted out, with Pugsley in front.  I said to Al and Dilly, it looked like five little sisters, all much the same size.  I became momentarily sentimental about the thought of such a family.  Having the eldest child a girl does add a civilising influence.  We pondered about five 6 year old boys and a small girl.  Much as I enjoy the company of little boys, they would be altogether more rowdy, but the girls were good as gold.  They all wanted a rest indoors after their treasure hunt, it was too hot to be outside in the sunshine for long.

At least, as there was no dusty digging being done today, I was able to hang the washing out.  Five loads of it.  The last will stay out overnight.  And the sixth is still in the washing machine.   It’s been a while.

*Not to be mistaken for our friend Ziggi


The fishmonger calls on a Monday and I usually get fish for a couple of nights.  For today, I bought two trout.  I asked the Sage to pick up some vegetables to go with them when he was in Yagnub.  He came home looking happy.  The first asparagus of the season was in – we only ever buy English asparagus and it’s only in season from the end of April or early May, depending on the weather, until the longest day, 21st June, when the growers stop cutting to let the crowns build up strength for the rest of the summer.  He had bought a bunch of ten spears.  He had also bought six Jersey Royal potatoes, again newly in season.  He said he wasn’t going to tell me how much they had cost, but to relish every mouthful.

So, in keen and happy anticipation this evening, I put the fish in a roasting tin, each in its own square of greaseproof paper, with slices of lemon and a sprinkling of salt, a smear of butter and a shake of white wine, and wrapped them up to bake in their juices.  I trimmed the asparagus, frugally cooking the ends in with the potato water – soup will be made tomorrow from the ends and the cooking water – and scrubbed the potatoes.  I poured a glass of wine for myself while the meal was cooking, and remembered.

What I was remembering was an occasion, eight years ago and a few weeks after my mother had died.  One day, I bought a whole fish to bake, I can’t remember what it was.  I picked broad beans and asparagus and dug new potatoes from the garden.  Two of the three were the first of the season, probably the beans and potatoes.  It was, to me, the perfect meal – not only because it would be simple, delicious and fresh but because the first of each seasonal vegetable is a celebration, and the lovely fish complemented them perfectly.  And, in the precise sense that I enjoyed it, my mother did too, we completely understood how each other felt, and no one else would in just that way.  And I felt such a pang of loss.  Today was the first time that I really felt that the Sage got it too.

After dinner, he wanted to go for a walk to investigate the boathouse, so I went with him.  The boathouse has been neglected for at least forty years.  We did have a boat, a dinghy, but the hut was already tumbledown so we kept it on the river bank.  The Sage has had a wish to get the boathouse back into use for a long time, but it’s going to be a big job, largely because it’s so awkward to get at.  However, he feels that it would be possible now, with Jamie’s help.  I’ve stipulated that there are several more important things here to do first.  However, I do agree, it would be great.  The river is quite silted up in places, so we’d need something flat-bottomed.  It’s a really quiet, tranquil place and I would love to have a little boat.  I grew up by the river and like nothing better.  He stayed on the path while I (who was wearing wellies) trod down the nettles and scrambled up onto the river bank.  I found the boathouse, but it was too dark to take a picture by then.  However, I had taken a couple of snaps of the river a little earlier.  It was dusk, but you can see the tranquillity.

The Cup of Kings

We’ve been working on the drive all day, but I’ll spare you pictures until something is completed.  At one point, when J and R were both breaking up rubble, I observed that they looked like members of a chain gang.  I’ve been feeling rather guilty about them doing that job ever since, although they look quite happy.  Jolly hard work though.

I tried again to load the video, but although Blogger doesn’t specify the largest possible size, it doesn’t load.    I could try doing it via Picasa I suppose, but I suspect that would take just as long.  I do put some pictures on Picasa, Flickr or Photobucket sometimes (don’t ask me why I have accounts on all, I can’t remember) but only if I want to share them with the family.  Otherwise, I don’t bother.  They take an age to load too.  Anyway, then I tried to edit the video and split it up but it played sideways on, can’t think why, and I couldn’t work out how to change it.  I could have gone through the tutorial, but how boring that would be.   Reading a manual is one thing but being taken through stuff on the screen is not for the impatient.  Pity though, as the sight of Al blithely brushing thousands of bees off a tree is quite a good one.

I did take pictures of the marsh marigolds/kingcups or whatever.  The first shows just how overgrown the pond is – very little actual pond left.  The second shows the leaves, but the sun was so bright that the flower was washed out so I took a third, you lucky people.  I do hope you like multiple pictures of the same yellow flower.

Bee-z-y does it

I had actually got the hoover out and ready to use, when Al came through asking for help.  There was a swarm of bees at the bottom of the garden.  It was from one of his three hives and they hadn’t gone far, just a few yards to the nearest tree.  Dilly was out in Norwich with her mother and sister, shopping.  I know that a swarm of bees is normally a gentle beast, so I was quick to volunteer to help and went next door to dress in Dilly’s beekeeper suit and my wellies.  Al couldn’t find his camera, nor could I mine, so I’ve captured the whole thing on the phone.  Not a picture of me in the suit though, I’m afraid.

Pictures aren’t going too well on Blogger at present, for a brief while one could arrange them nicely side by side, but now they seem to go in a line downwards again, so this may be a long post in every sense except the wooden one.  The long video is taking an age to load.

This is the swarm.  The text book way of securing them would be to tap them in one lot into a basket, or else cut off the branch and drop them that way.  However, they were clustered round in the crook of two branches of an elder, and it was not possible.  Al decided, instead, to brush as many as possible into the basket, trying to include the queen who would be in the centre, drop them on the sheet and they should then walk upwards and find the hive.

I was too interested in what he was doing to film it very well, but I got most of it – it seems that Blogger can’t cope with 50 seconds of video however, and it won’t load.  I’ll try editing it into bits tomorrow.  A swarm of bees is not dangerous unless they think you are threatening the queen.  As you see, they are completely docile here.  They were bewildered but not angry.  I had my suit on, but my right hand uncovered to use the phone camera (and Facebook, because I was excitedly live-FB-ing it) and no bee settled on me or tried to sting.  Even though Al was brushing right into the heart of the cluster, the hum of bees never became an angry buzz.

Their instinct is to walk uphill, so they started moving into the hive at once.  However, they would be looking for the queen.  If they didn’t find her, they would come out again, as you can hear Al explain to me.  Sadly, that droning voice saying “They’re going in”…”Right” is me.

Al was the first to spot her, she still has her blue paint on – you mark your queen so that she’s easy to find, but the workers try to clean the paint off so it usually doesn’t last long.  I’ve zoomed in, you can just get a vague blue blur near the centre of the picture if you peer closely, though I thought I’d got her better than that.  Al chivvied her over towards the entrance, but she managed to get under the hive.  Luckily, she came out again a minute later and we both saw her walk in.  I was too interested in looking at her to remember to take a picture of the moment, I’m afraid.

And here are pictures of the rest of the bees following her, apart from those still on the tree.  On my way back to the house, I took a picture of the hive that the swarm came from.  The queen, before leaving, will have left plenty of eggs.  Some of those would hatch out into queens.  Al will go through the hive, destroying most of the queen cells – which are easily recognised, being much bigger than ordinary egg cells – because if more than one hatches at the same time, there will be another swarm.  If one queen hatches first, she will destroy the other queen larvae herself.  A newly hatched larvae becomes a queen by being fed royal jelly by the workers, as you probably know.

Twenty minutes later, we heard a loud droning noise (not me, that time) and Al was concerned that the queen had rejected the hive and left again.  He hurried down the garden to look.  But it was all right.  The signal had gone out that the queen was in residence, and the rest of the bees from the tree and in the air were all going to their new home, all in one loud mass.  Within a few minutes, they were tranquilly out foraging again.  This evening, we moved the hive to its new situation by the rest of the hives.  It was a slightly awkward job as we were wading through nettles on uneven ground, but it went without problems.

I’ve offered to be apprentice Second Beekeeper for the rest of this year.  Dilly is rather too pregnant to want to put on the suit and it would be upsetting for her to be stung, now or with a new baby to care for. I’m not afraid of things buzzing around, won’t panic if I’m stung and do what I’m told quite nicely.  And the bees are fascinating.  I can see myself becoming as interested as Al, if I don’t watch out.


I spent a while with Squiffany and Pugsley this morning as their parents were taking some things to the tip. Before leaving, they warned me that Pugsley was under the weather, which showed itself in a very short fuse.  There had been some shouting and crying that morning.  He was fine when I arrived, but soon proved unco-operative.  I was firm but cheerful, and got them both out into the garden to show them what work had been done and tell them how it would look at the end.  I asked them what they thought about the pond which, having been completely neglected for about three years, is overgrown with irises and some yellow flowers – maybe marsh marigolds, or don’t they grow in ponds? – and there is a lot of duckweed.  Even the frogs have rejected it this year.  I asked what they think, should I clear it out, refill it with water and baby-proof it, or should we fill it in until the babies are older.  Squiffany said refill it and make it safe and Pugsley said fill it in.  He was more interested in keeping it when I mentioned tadpoles, though.

He did get upset later – I took them round to watch a tractor ploughing the field behind their house, and he pricked himself on a hawthorn.  I looked, there was no mark, but he bawled.  Squiffany was remarkably kind and patient with him, doing her best to cheer and distract him.  She wondered ruefully what having two little brothers would be like.

What I’ve been wondering is how minority parties will fare at general elections if the Alternative Vote wins in the referendum.  I think a lot of people, either from sympathy for a cause or in protest against the mainstream parties, would like to vote for a minority, but knowing it would be a wasted vote, take the sensible option of voting for someone who might actually get in.  But knowing that their vote would be counted again, they might as well give the Greens, the BNP, UKIP or whoever their first vote.  There would be no point at all in giving them second place.  Since none of the main parties is particularly in favour at present (though, of course, who knows what will happen in three or four years?) this could skew the results quite entertainingly.  I haven’t heard anyone mention this factor – but I haven’t exactly been devouring all the available information and opinions, I admit.

I’ve had envelopes from both my accountant and the Inland Revenue.  I’m even considering getting my papers together and getting it over and done with.  I’ll probably get over the impulse, but I do have that time-on-my hands feeling during the school holidays.  In the evenings, that is.  I’m still hacking at brambles during the day.

Driving – Part 2

We have been working on both sides of the lawn.  The wall side, Jamie has almost finished the edging, he’s left the end so that the digger can get in.  There’s some brick rubble a few inches down which is quite a job to dig out, so we’ll take it away by digger and bring in some better soil and some muck.  That’s one of the next jobs.  I’m inclined to think that I’ll put in annuals this year because I’m not sure how many of the perennial weeds will come up again and it’ll be better to be able to dig it over thoroughly at the end of the summer.  I am wondering what I can put in that the chickens won’t eat or pull up, and not that hopeful!  He’s done more bricks than this actually, I evidently forgot to take a final picture.  At the point he’s finished, the bed is about 6 feet wide and increasing.

The other side of the lawn, there used to be a big laurel hedge which was taken out five years ago or so.  I’d spent two decades trying to keep it under control, but it had become so wide that anything less than six feet high looked out of proportion, and at that height it was so strong it grew quicker than I could keep it pruned.  I don’t mind losing some of the area to provide more parking space because the original intention of including it in the lawn has been rather thwarted by the chickens.  They are thrilled at the efforts we are making to dig over fresh earth for them, although the ground is so dry that there are not huge numbers of worms.  It’s poor sandy soil too.

 My chicken amused herself by hopping back and forth over the trench.

This is another of the bantams I’m particularly fond of.

Later, several of them were out turning over the soil.

And at lunchtime, several had a dust bath. Yes, this is the edge of the lawn.  Chickens come a long way above grass in order of importance.

The edging looks lower than the ground, but it won’t be.  It’s the same height as the kerb the other side of the drive, so we’ll take some soil away. It will not be used in the garden, as it has ground elder in it.

Hiplog – the check-up

It’s fifteen months since my new hip and I went for a check-up to the consultant.  It was a friendly reunion, he is a very nice man.  He immediately  (well, first he greeted me and asked how I and the hip am*) asked if I’m aware of the problems with and recalls of a lot of metal-on-metal hips.  Thanks to Pamela’s Hip Headlines, I do indeed.  Several styles are now not used after failures, sometimes quite soon after insertion and they don’t use them at all in Norwich, and hadn’t done even before the problems were confirmed nationally and internationally.

His next question was whether I had any problems with my other hip and I said I suspect that I’m in the early stage of arthritis there too.  As the x-ray, although of my right side, would show both, he would look at it.

The passageway to the x-ray place is down a slope – I suspect it was originally built with stairs – and I remembered back to when it was so difficult to walk down when I was there in January 2010.  This time, I trotted down speedily and hopped on the bed with agility.  When I went back to see the consultant, he said that the new hip is perfect, and I could see that it was.  Text book stuff.  It looks fine, though I have to say, it’s weird to think of that long porcelain spike inside my femur.  I suppose it’s that long to add stability.

The other hip, he agreed with my suggestion that I’ll need a new one in five or six years.  There’s just the start of arthritic wear.  If I hadn’t had one, I’d not be aware of such early signs.  He said, I do have unusually shallow sockets – the right one particularly so, which was why it went first, but the other one is shallower than average too.   I’m not thrilled of course, but I’d rather know – my regret is not that I’ll need an operation, but for the gradual decline that I can expect to start in about three years time.  We talked it over, fairly briefly as we were in complete agreement, and I said that I’d rather have it done sooner next time.  My doctor had initially suggested waiting until I was over sixty if I could, and I’d got fixed on that – I knew a long time ago that I couldn’t wait that long, but I could see the point of hanging on as long as possible, because of future revisions.  The second time, there’s no point in waiting and I don’t want to be hobbling round with a stick again.  Also, this hip cost around £12,000 all told and I jolly well don’t want to damage it by limping heavily with the other leg.

So we shook hands and I thanked him, and he said that when I want to discuss it, to ring the hospital and make an appointment or, if I want to see him on the NHS, to speak to my GP and ask him for a referral.  In any case, he’ll take a look at my operated hip in about five years, so the two events might even combine.          

*Slight grammar alert there, but I concluded that now the hip is part of me, I shall treat us as a single entity.

Z is rested and raring

I was sure that you would want to see a picture of my favourite chicken.  She always follows any of us when she sees us going to work in the garden, expecting us to dig over the ground for her and, of course, one cannot disappoint.  She ignored a wireworm however, and I had to despatch it myself.  Maybe they taste bitter. I haven’t tried one.  Mind you, I’ve never eaten a worm, either, and have no plans to.

I was interested to see that they were making croquembouche on Masterchef this evening – and shocked to see Michel Roux blithely using a mould to shape it.  That wasn’t what it said in the Cordon Bleu book.  Very much the easy way out.  I gave myself the severest of burns when I first made croquembouche, when I was fourteen, by inadvertently dipping my finger in the caramel.  I admit that, since then, I’ve used a dab of cream as glue to help the caramel as it sets – but not a stainless steel mould like a witch’s hat!

It was interesting to observe myself, now that term is over and I have nothing to organise, that I actually went out with a notebook to discuss what is to happen in the garden and on what timescale.  The Sage, I’m sure, sometimes thinks I spend too much time on other things – but he had a brief taste of me concentrating on what goes on here, and I suspect he’ll encourage my outside interests in future.  I actually did a job today (a written one on the computer) that I’ve been meaning to do for some time, unasked for but that will be beneficial for all concerned, that has seemed far too much bother for the last six months.  I evidently have rested quite enough and need something to do.

The Foresight Saga

I did think ahead, although my prescience did not extend this far.

Years ago, before Broadband extended to this village, Ro bought himself a computer to help him with his school work.  It must have been when he was 14 and just starting his GCSE syllabus.  Dial-up was already a slight bone of contention between the Sage and me.  The internet connection was slow of course, and the phone line overrode it.  So, if I’d waited some minutes for a site to load and the Sage, who loves to talk on the telephone, picked up the receiver, I lost the connection even as he said “Sorry!” and hastily put it back down again.  I knew very well that the three of us wanting to use the same line would fall out badly.  I’d have been able to accommodate Ro better than the Sage, because I could do my work while he was at school, but the Sage spent a lot of time on the phone in the evenings and Ro’s room was barely within shouting distance (this house rambles almost as much as I do).  So I suggested that we have another phone line for Ro.  We would pay the rental charge and he would pay the call bills.   This saved many an argument, I’m sure, and the arrangement lasted until we got Broadband and we were all able to use the same line concurrently.

The engineer came today and said that new H&S guidelines came into operation on 1st April and he couldn’t climb the pole that he needed to get to the top of, and a cherry-picker would be needed.  To start with, he said that it wasn’t accessible at all, but then the Sage worked out how it would be, so it was booked for tomorrow morning.  However, the van turned up, with three men and a cherry-picker on board, at lunchtime.  They had a look, but said that the junction box would out of reach – the obvious and easy way would be by ladder and that’s what was used.  “Sometimes, you just have to use common sense,” the man said.

Our line is no good.  Al and Dilly’s, a mere 25 years old, is fine.  So is Ro’s line.  So he’s used that.  And he says that, from now on, our Broadband connection and speed should be a lot better too.  So we’re very happy about it.

The other thing that happened today, the new washing machine was delivered (second attempt) to the flat in London.  They successfully managed to get it upstairs, a beastly job I’m sure, and in place, and the old one down again, but the hole for the pipe from the machine into the cupboard under the sink is slightly smaller than the new pipe.  I have no idea why they couldn’t just enlarge it, but they couldn’t.  However, my lovely tenant is willing to do it, and they have shown him how to couple it up and test it.  Embarrassingly, it seems, because they couldn’t do the final fixing, I will be refunded my £25 installation fee, which was a massive bargain for that particular job anyway.  I’m so glad that I texted James to ask him to give them a tip each.  And I think that the next time I visit the flat, I shall leave a bottle of wine for him.  Still a bargain price.  Can you imagine having to get in a plumber, pay his call-out, get a train to London to let him in?  I shall have to spend a great deal in John Lewis in future in conscience money, and certainly all equipment for the flats will be bought from their Brent Cross branch.

Stupid bird

I’m feeling quite jolly, for no particular reason except that I’m ticking things off my ‘to do’ list.  It’s a mental list, it’s a sign things are getting on top of me if I write it down.

They are coming tomorrow morning to check the phones again.  Some wiring has been replaced, but maybe it all should be.  About 12 – 15 years ago, a lightning strike fried the phone line from the telegraph pole right back to the exchange and right down to our phones, all of which had to be replaced, and our phone was off for three weeks.  There is a suggestion that the damaged lines have finally given out.  In the meantime, my mobile is being used as a landline substitute again, which is a blessed nuisance.  I had to pull over to answer the phone three times on the way to Norwich again and once on the way back, all calls for the Sage.  He, I should say, rang up to complain this morning.  Later, I rang to sort it out.  His call had not been down as registering a fault, so I’m not sure what happened.  He doesn’t always explain things in the most logical manner which, I’m afraid, I have told him more than twice.  Anyway, phone calls are being diverted to my phone again.  We’ve just had one from New Zealand.  I don’t like to think what that is costing, but we don’t count the cost of friendship, hey.

I think that I’ve finally put the school governor work to sleep for the moment – that is, replies I’ll get to my last epistle will engender a response, but it’ll be straightforward.  I’ve still got write-ups from classroom visits to do, but I have all the notes.  I have vague hopes of gardening between now and Easter, but not getting too worked up about it.

Oh, this morning’s mini-drama was being woken up by, apparently, a gravel delivery lorry.  I got up and peered out of the window and nothing was about.  Then I heard loud scrabbling from the chimney.  A largish bird had fallen down it.  I grumpily retreated to bed for another hour, and eventually removed the chest of drawers and the sheet of board that covers the fireplace, and left the window open, all but one curtain drawn and the door closed.  Later, I went back and a dove was sitting in the fireplace, but it flew up the chimney, stupid bird.  Later again, I heard a racket from the bedroom and went to find it flying about.  I couldn’t chivvy it to the window, so opened the other window and waved my arms a bit, and eventually the stupid bird flew out.  The chimney pot is 6 foot tall, it’s no easy matter to cap it.