Monthly Archives: October 2013

Z tries on clothes

I’ve been getting involved again.  Why, oh why? I should just keep out.  But finding solutions is so satisfying, if it helps people.  What I have learned over the years is not to go too far ahead without backup because that causes more potential problems.  So I’ve talked, written letters, consulted.  And, dammit, offered to help.  I know.  But only in a very limited way, I’ve kept a distance.

In other news … not much.  Miriam and Charlotte took us out to lunch – Miriam is leaving for Australia tomorrow, she won’t be home for some months at least, as she has a year’s visa and, if all goes well, she will emigrate there.  It’s been lovely having her stay next door and Ben will miss her very much, he loves both of them.  Miriam took her driving test last Thursday and passed, first time, clever girl.  It was a great relief, last thing she wanted was to have to take more lessons and take it in Australia in unfamiliar conditions.

Although I’ve written letters of a businessy sort, I haven’t done any other paperwork.  I took the whole weekend off.  I know I only returned from holiday a fortnight ago, but I still needed the break.


Miriam had various clothes she wasn’t going to take with her and offered to me. She is more slender than I am, and the best part of 40 years younger, but you know me, I’m always game. And h’mm – Charlotte and I agreed, lose three pounds before next summer.  It’s very youthful, but will be great if I go to the sort of climate where being cool and comfortable comes before being age-appropriate.  Or else wear a little jacket… there’s no room for underwear, anyway.

Early start tomorrow, a few school emails still to write.  We all spend Sunday evenings getting ready for Monday nowadays, don’t we?  It’s our only chance of a flying start to the week.



Z catches up

I always regret it when I take time off, but that doesn’t mean it’s the wrong thing to do.  I’ve studiously ignored all work today – well, paperwork, I’ve done more housework than I had since I arrived home from holiday – though I had cleaners in two days after that, it’s not as bad as it sounds.

Dilly and the boys came over while Squiffany was at gymnastics, which was fun, and then she went back later for a meeting after the lesson.  I suggested the boys stay and Pugsley was pleased because he hadn’t looked forward to joining the girls after their lesson while they waited.  I offered to cook lunch too, so we had a good time.  Unprepared, I luckily had a cauliflower, so made cauliflower/macaroni cheese and trifle.  A bit dairy-heavy, admittedly.

This evening, I’ve been watching the tribute programmes to David Frost and I was reminded of listening jealously while my parents and older sister laughed at the first episode of That Was The Week That Was in 1962.  It was on after my bedtime and I sat on the stairs, unable to hear or see anything of the programme, just feeling resentful.  I didn’t care for my position as the much younger sister and expected to get all the privileges that Wink had.  Horrid child, no doubt.  Anyway, I don’t suppose it was because I protested the next week so much as my father feeling it was such a groundbreaking programme that I shouldn’t miss it, but I stayed up to watch it too after that.  I was only nine, some of it must have gone way over my head but I thought it was brilliant – as it was, of course.

One of the things that’s fallen by the wayside over the past month or so has been keeping up with blogs and I’m sorry for my neglect.  I’ve finally caught up, albeit at the expense of commenting on many of them, and I hope I won’t let it slip too much again.  I’ve missed you.

Z lets down her hare

Today, I had been going over to Weeza, to receive the wood delivery for their new floor.  But the firm, which we all agree has been excellent, found a time on Wednesday that suited her, so that gave me a free day.  And all the scheduled deadlines, ending on Thursday evening, had been met.  So I’ve had an easy day.  I could have used it to catch up with everything else, but I haven’t.  A couple of hours were spent this morning on straightforward paperwork and then, at 1 o’clock, I decided to call it a day.  I had some of Johnny’s lovely local unpasteurised cheese with some nice bread and a glass of wine, I sat down to read the paper and then I settled down for a nap.

I’d slept exceptionally badly again last night, five hours awake around three hours sleep.  But what really tipped the balance was my difficulty in reading.  I wear one contact lens to help my distance sight, nothing in the equally short-sighted left eye, which I use for close work and reading.  And it was blurred.  Yes, I did take it seriously, my first thought was to consider a detached retina, but it didn’t seem that bad and it could well have been eyestrain and tiredness, so I took the measured approach and decided on rest first.

I was nearly asleep when someone called round to see Russell and the dog barked and so, in case I was called on to be hospitable, I scuttled upstairs and into bed.  And I slept, darlings, for well over an hour and, on waking again, I just lay there relaxing for a while longer.  It was all better done today than waiting for the weekend, I was lucky to be able to collapse when I wanted to.

I didn’t say, because I was still writing about Holland, that there was an excellent Food and Drink Festival in Yagnub last weekend.  We went along and had a lovely time.  I came home with a lot of food, including some beautiful home-made charcuterie from Norfolk, local cheese and sausages and some Suffolk fig preserve and mayonnaise, amongst other things.  We ate while we were there, sausage rolls and ice cream, the latter being local as well, made within five miles of here and very fine quality.  I had salted caramel, Russell had rum and raisin, the raisins had obviously been steeped in the rum and were delicious.  I also came home with an oven-ready hare, having decided against the goat, squirrel and rabbit.

I believe I’ve mentioned before my only previous attempt at eating hare, when it was disgusting and neither I nor my husband could eat it.  And that was the better part of forty years ago, probably thirty-eight.  I thought it was time to give it another chance, but to take matters into my own hands.  I looked up a Sophie Grigson recipe – she credits her mother-in-law, in fact – and marinaded it in red wine, onion, carrot, bay leaf, thyme and juniper berries for two days.  The smell, every time I opened the fridge (it was in a sealed bowl but the aroma came through) was wonderful.  Then I chopped another onion and a large carrot, fried them gently in butter and olive oil, lightly floured the pieces of hare and browned them.  I put them in a casserole with more herbs – bay leaf, juniper berries, thyme and rosemary – stock and the wine from the marinade, seasoned, added some tomato ketchup and cooked it for about three hours.

That was a couple of days ago, all I needed to do tonight was reheat and add some redcurrant jelly.  I don’t have any redcurrant jelly though, so I put in some of the fig preserve instead and it was fine.  I describe the process at some length because it was truly gorgeous,  a wonderful dish.  Sophie suggests mashed potato and red cabbage – the potato was the obvious accompaniment, but I roasted a chopped home-grown butternut squash with home-grown tomatoes and Turkish garlic to serve alongside.

And then we had cake.

And here’s a brilliant advertisement for the opening of the Rijksmuseum to entertain you.


Z sits still

It’s been a tricky couple of weeks with a lot of deadlines to meet and some matters I must not get wrong.  And I’ve got through them all successfully.  It’s such a relief.  I was leaving a committee meeting at about quarter past six this evening and said I’d go home and send out the letters to the applicants we wish to interview, and then Mary and I started to talk about the information pack to go out next week.  Quite soon, I stopped her.  “Are you all right?” she asked.  I said that I needed to get today’s job done first before I looked to next week.

And then I came home and did it and prepared dinner (a beef casserole I’d cooked a couple of days ago, hurrah) and I’m waiting to see if I unwind.  Hasn’t happened yet, but maybe soon.  Strong black coffee should do it.

I mentioned Dutch dollshouses the other day, and here’s a picture of one.

Dollshouse, Haarlem150

The club tortoise a lesson

Well, that was disconcerting.  Tortoise Club was a presentation by two vets who specialise in reptiles and exotic animals, both with a particular affection for tortoises, who spoke about diseases.  Darlings, we’ve been through worms, gout (who knew?), chlamydia, liver failure, follicle stasis (something like that, I got a bit lost) and being egg-bound.  Not to mention the poor tortoise who was attacked by a dog and had to have a leg amputated.  She’s doing very well, they attached (superglue?) a set of Lego wheels to the underneath nearside corner of her shell and she whizzes around nicely, especially around corners, where she can turn on the proverbial sixpence, like a taxi.

I am glumly resigned to having Edweena live in the drawing room with us from January, it’s clear that it’ll be too long for her to sleep until the weather is warm enough for her to go outside.  Assuming she lives so long, that is.  I didn’t quite realise how much illness tortoise flesh is heir to.

Having arrived home half an hour ago, I’ve rapidly polished off a piece of raspberry cheesecake and ice cream, a glass and a half of red wine and four pieces of salt liquorice.  Oh, and a bit of local cheese.  I’m not sure that a very modest, early dinner is a good idea.  Now I’ve made tea, but milkless, sugarless, weak Lapsang surely hardly counts as anything?  Since he asked, persistently, I gave Ben a bit of liquorice – not a whole piece, just a little bit.  He was deeply unimpressed but it stuck right in his teeth and he couldn’t spit it out.  It was very funny.

As was Tortoise Club, in the end.  I started by being disconcerted, then alarmed, then horrified. But the picture of the poor dog-savaged one with the wheel for a leg brought on an unsuitable attack of levity and the sight of the unshelled eggs removed from the one with follicle stasis or whatever it’s called when they just sit there, a cluster of yolks with a single complete egg attached too, left me open-mouthed, especially when the vet said that, though her ovaries had been removed, reptiles were unusual beasts that could regrow almost anything, so she might lay eggs in the future.  Oh, and that milk thistle is good for a sick liver, but the tincture you get from the chemist contains alcohol so you both heal the liver and give it cirrhosis, both at the same time.  Then I chortled shamelessly.

Z catches up

Yesterday, work finally had to come first, second and third, though I managed to cook dinner in the evening (very quick and easy, haddock on a base of tomatoes, garlic and onions).  But the meeting that I’d allowed all day for was over by lunchtime today, so things are looking up.

Deadlines always come one on top of the other, don’t they?  I’ve been getting ready for the East Angular Area meeting and it’s been really difficult.  I’m about to hand over to a new secretary and we’d asked one form to be posted to me with a cheque and one document to be downloaded to her.  There are twenty-five societies, obviously things were sent to either of us randomly, or not at all, because that’s the way it is.  And both she and I are very busy so, though we liaised as best we could, one of two things slipped.  I’d have passed it all on to her already, but she can’t come to tomorrow’s meeting.

Anyway, all done now, I hope, and I’ve just got to do a final count of the cheques and note who’s going to bring theirs tomorrow.

On top of this, last Friday was the deadline for applicants to the Headteacher’s post.  He’s retiring at Christmas, but we’re looking to next September.  Today was the shortlisting meeting and I’ve had great difficulty finding time to go through the applications thoroughly.  I’d read them all of course, a few times, but studying them against our criteria and looking between the lines had to wait until last night.

An extra event yesterday was the opening of our Skills Academy, which was quite a do.  This vocational centre has been running for a few years, but my school has just taken it over and we’ve added aeronautical engineering to what’s on offer.  I could enthuse about this for a long time, and did to our guests yesterday (a number of them from the RAF and BAE Systems, I made my number with them quickly by saying how enthusiastic aviators are, which they liked, but it’s completely true.  Pilots love flying).  Our catering students made delicious canapés and the sun just about shone.

The students can, if they wish, help to build a plane like this. It’a a voluntary thing, mentors are coming along to tutor them evenings and weekends. Those who take part will have it on their CV of course and they are going to be offered a joyride at the end. Not necessarily in the plane they’ve built, mind you… As you might imagine, I have dropped the strongest of hints that I’d like a flight too.

On Saturday (I always seem to do this when catching up, travel back in time rather than chronologically), we went over to Thetford to meet Weeza and co in search of their new floor.  Because of the under-floor heating, they can’t simply lay floorboards, solid wood could warp or shrink, so it has to be engineered.  There was an excellent choice, we had a lot of comparing of finishes, shades, wideness of board, thickness of veneer (the one we bought has a 6 mm veneer which is thicker than it sounds).  It came down to two and the final choice, because there was very little between them otherwise, came down to price.  Even so, my credit card couldn’t take it and I paid a deposit, paying the balance yesterday from another card (this is our housewarming present to them).  It’ll be delivered tomorrow and then needs to acclimatise for a few weeks before being laid.  It’s going to be wonderful.  They’ve tiled the kitchen floor and are living in there for a few weeks.

Edweena seems to have finally gone to sleep, she hasn’t been moving about for the past few days, so I’ve transferred her box to the coldest spare room.  It’s Tortoise Club tomorrow night, we’ll get further advice then.  If she’s only supposed to go another three months or so without food, it’ll be far too cold for her and she may need to go into lodgings with someone who has other tortoises.  I’d like to make it clear that I’m not joining a Tortoise Club, by the way.  I’m just being conscientious.

Day 6 and home

Our final morning.  We left early, straight after breakfast, for Amsterdam.  I’d been eating bread and cheese every day – when in Holland…  Two slices of bread and cheese with caraway seeds, a glass of orange juice, a cup of black coffee.  I took a few sachets of sprinkles, to astonish my grandchildren with what’s put on bread for breakfast over there, but didn’t use them myself – I hadn’t been impressed with them even as a child.

We went straight to the Rijksmuseum, where entry was a lot more straightforward than at  the Van Gogh six days earlier.  But then it’s a much larger place with more staff.  The museum has not long been reopened after its major revamp – apparently, Rembrandt’s Night Watch is the only painting that has been rehung in its original position, everything else has been moved.  Broadly, each floor, or half of it, has been given to a different period and there is furniture and other artefacts along with the paintings.  And what paintings!  My goodness, for a small country, the Netherlands has an astonishing number of masterpieces, as well as some of the most deservedly famous painters.  You’d think that Rembrandt (particularly famed as an early proponent of selfies, of course) would be enough for the self-respect of any country, but not this one.  The Gallery of Honour, as they call it, is in the rooms leading towards the Night Watch and contains some of the most famous paintings, including works by Vermeer, Steen and Hals, though I don’t want to start simply making lists and my photos are not going to match the ones on the galleries’ own websites or elsewhere on the web.

There were very jolly things in the side rooms, of course.  In the room displaying Delft, I was amused to see a teenage girl playing a game on her phone, bored already and it was only 10.30 or so.  Antique glass appeals to me a lot and there were displays of that, along with explanations of some of the drinking games that were popular at the time.  One room had amazing models of ships.  The Dutch were very keen on dollshouses, substantial models with intricately-made furnishings, obviously never meant to be any child’s plaything.  Down in the basement, there were clothes dating from around 1800 and, in a nearby cabinet, wool shawls.  I happened to meet one of our party there and she was thrilled to recognise the colour of one of the three on display as Norwich Red – she has studied the subject and knows her stuff, she said it was certainly made as well as dyed in Norwich.  The area of Norwich called the Maddermarket (a church is still called St Johns Maddermarket and our society holds its lectures at the Maddermarket Theatre) was called after the red dye of the madder plant.  Here’s a link if you’re interested in the history of dyeing in Norwich (yes, a lot of churches, they were concerned about dying too).

In the next room to the textiles, I was very happy to discover a display of magic lantern slides, which I love.  I wouldn’t try to begin to talk about favourites among the things I saw over the week, it doesn’t seem relevant really.  The whole experience was great, though we did cram more in than we could truly appreciate.  I’ll have to go back and see some of it again.

After a couple of hours, I went to find some lunch.  It was only noon, but I was beating the rush.  I had fresh pea soup with smoked haddock which was interesting – I’ll not put the two of them together again, though both were good separately.  And I had Dutch apple pie and coffee.  Every gastronomic cliché, why not?  I still had an hour or so afterwards, so had a quick recap of some favourites and pottered round the shop for a bit – it’s manageable to see the whole place in one go, as it isn’t to see our National Gallery for example, but I’d done enough.

And then back to the splendidly organised airport, which ours could learn from (though Norwich is already perfect just as it is) and the quick flight home, where we landed ten minutes before we’d taken off.

Day 5

Off we went to Leiden to spend the morning.  It was Saturday morning and there had been some celebration the night before, the town was in no hurry to wake up.  A number of people wanted a relaxed boat tour on the canal, but we all strolled off to explore for a while first.  As usual, I decided, after a while, to head off on my own.

I only knew three things about Leiden: cheese, canals and the university, which is the oldest in the Netherlands.  Looking on my map, I discovered the botanical gardens were not far away and trotted off to see if they were open.  And they were – a very mini Kew, with a huge greenhouse with staircases and upper walkways, a tropical house, herb garden, rose garden (none in flower) and lots more besides, all beside a wide canal with a gracious curve.  It was very attractive and it was a beautiful day.  I’d finally left off my cardie and didn’t need a jacket either.  I walked round the observatory – they did tours, but I’d decided I wanted a break from receiving information, so didn’t go in.  For the same reason, I didn’t take the boat tour, which has a commentary – very interesting, I’m sure, but I was saving what little intellectual curiosity I still had for the rest of the visit.

I bought some tulip bulbs and walked back to the square, where friends were having lunch and called me to join them.  I had pancake again.  Then we clambered on the coach again (very nice driver called Toon) and went to Haarlem.

Leiden is charming, I’d call Haarlem a handsome town, built on a rather bigger scale.  There are some lovely buildings there.  I like town and city centres that have houses jumbled together in tightly-packed rows with interesting alleys between, different heights with nice roofs.  I’m very fond of roofs, and not just to keep the rain out.  I also like shutters and am endlessly interested by windows that open in rather than out – easier to clean but no chance of keeping pot plants on the sill, and so un-English.  I don’t think it’s something I’ve ever seen in England.

While we were in Haarlem, we went to the Frans Hals museum.  He’s one of the few artists who successfully painted people laughing or smiling, usually it just doesn’t work.  Afterwards, with an hour to spare, I went to the big church just off the high street (I can’t remember its name) where Frans Hals is buried – I think his memorial stone has been gussied up a bit, it was the only one whose lettering was picked out in white.  It was a huge church with a tremendously high ceiling.  More friends called me over as I walked back, so I joined them for tea, then went back while they visited the church.

I met a group who’d arrived early to meet the coach – I’d intended to explore a bit further but it seemed off-hand, so I stayed to chat and then Jane and I became interested in the wares of the nearby bike shop.  They are splendid bikes, built for comfort rather than speed, with a platform at the front for a box of groceries and one at the back to hang panniers on.  The ones with a wheelbarrow-like contraption at the front for holding children are nearly €2,000.  I know a woman here with one, she takes her three young children in it and it looks immensely heavy, but she manages it.  I doubt she bought it new, but whether she and her husband went to Holland for it or bought it here is something I haven’t asked her.  Jane and I each picked a bike, she went for pale blue and mine was an unusual shade of sage green.  Neither of them had a child seat though.

For the evening, we’d booked half a local restaurant so we could have dinner together for our last night.  I had a final genever, back at the hotel, and paid my bar bill because we were checking out at 9 the next morning.  I’d already packed most of my stuff, the night before – I know, I can’t help it.  In this uncertain world, planning ahead for the small things reassures me.

Day 4

At last I was to find out which painting Van Gogh sold in his lifetime.  Not that I’ve seen it, because it’s in the Pushkin Museum in Moscow, but here’s a picture of it – the Red Vineyard.  We visited the Kröller-Müller Museum at Otterlo, which is a purpose-built museum surrounded by a marvellous sculpture garden, set in a National Park.  If you have time to explore, you can borrow one of their white bicycles and spend a day there.  I loved it.  Helène K-M was a keen art collector who, with her husband, spent thirty years buying works of art, then his business did something of a wobble in the mid-thirties and, to make sure the collection would remain intact, they donated it to the state.  There have been some additions since, but that’s most of it, though there are too many to put on show.

It really is a lovely place and the quality of the paintings is breathtaking.  I didn’t take many pictures, though it wasn’t forbidden, but I’m afraid I haven’t got around to sorting them out yet – a thousand words will have to paint a picture on this occasion, but do visit if you have a chance.  And go on a fine day, the gardens are just wonderful.  It was another occasion when I parted company from the others and rambled around on my own and was perfectly happy.

It was such a lovely place that it felt as if we’d done enough for the day really, but we obediently piled back on the bus and set off again.  By the time we reached Het Loo (The Woods), we’d recovered our keenness.  Het Loo was a Royal summer palace, very much loved by the Dutch royal family.  Queen Wilhelmina chose to live there after her abdication and it was where she died in 1962.  She had been immensely distressed when it was taken over by the invading Germans during the War and, for a while, didn’t want to return, but managed to love it again.  On her death, she asked that it be given to the state and opened to public view.

It was a fine place with beautiful gardens.  If you visit, it’s worth having the audio guide, because it gives so much history.  Some of our party didn’t want it, though it was included in the entrance price we had paid, but I noticed they were the ones who didn’t spend much time in each room, because it had been laid out skilfully as a tour through Dutch royal history.

The Dutch king William III had three sons with his first wife – who loathed him – but they all predeceased him.  After she died, he remarried – his bride, Emma, was only 20 and he was over 60.  Wilhelmina was their only child; he died when she was ten and she became Queen, with Emma as Regent until she grew up.  In due course, W had one child, Juliana, whose eldest daughter, Beatrix, abdicated this year in favour of her son Willem-Alexander.

Fine as the furniture and artefacts at Het Loo are, an abiding memory will be of the hunting trophies of W’s husband, particularly the horribly disconcerting elephant’s trunk turned into a support for a wall light.  Not that I wish to put you off, it’s well worth visiting and the gardens are beautiful.

I know you must be thinking we were a troop of culture-vultures who descended on a place for the purpose of ticking it off a list, but I don’t think it was the attitude of any of us.  It was a pretty expensive visit overall, we wanted to make the most of our time, and it’s not so far away, it gave us all ideas for future holidays.  Many of us had been to some of the places, no one to all of them.

I’ve only reached Friday night so far, still a day and a half to come.  Aren’t you glad I started?  Heh.  In fact, it’s lovely to cast my memory back, I’ve had such a busy week that it could easily have slipped right to the back of my mind.  I haven’t got very good photos, they were intended to jog my memory rather than to display (I only used my phone) but I’ll put some up in a couple of days, if I get around to it.

For tonight, reading more job applications.

Day 3

As we went through the Hague, we stopped at the Peace Palace or whatever it’s called, and piled out to look at the Peace Flame.  I’m afraid it was one of those “Is that it?” moments.  It flickers nervously as if embarrassed to be there, and you can’t blame the poor thing, given the state of world peace.

We had little idea of what to expect when we stopped at the Panorama Mesdag building.  I know I’ve gone on about this a bit already, but honestly it’s brilliant.  You go up a staircase into a circular room and you’re completely surprised by the seaside scene all around you.  I don’t really want to tell you too much because you shouldn’t overthink it, just experience it.  After a while, you can distinguish painting from reality but even then, it’s still marvellous.  Very skilfully painted by Mesdag and his colleagues and splendidly set up (it was restored some years ago, the canvas having sagged badly over 100 or whatever years.  We loved it.

The most wonderful picture gallery of The Hague, the Mauritshuis, is closed for renovation, but the best pictures have been put into the Gemeentemuseum, not to disappoint visitors, which is jolly nice of them.  i forgot to say, we had a lecture on the Mauritshuis’s pictures the evening before, given by an American lady who lives in Holland.  It was done in a spirit of friendship at no charge, wasn’t that kind?  The paintings were wonderful, including Rembrandt, Vermeer, Rubens, Frans Hals.  The Gemeentemuseum (you can see why I like Dutch) holds modern paintings – I take it you can still describe the likes of Picasso and Mondriaan as modern and you’ll know the sense in which I mean it.  The layout was quite confusing at first, though we had it sussed eventually.

We had intended to spend the afternoon in The Hague, but decided to return to Delft as we all liked the city so much and wanted to spend more time there.  So we had a quick drive to the beach at Scheveningen and then headed back.  The weekly market was on, so I toddled round and bought a few things (I like local markets) and then visited the Old and New churches.  The Nieuwe church is 14th century, not that new, but you really can see the sense in which Picasso is modern.