Monthly Archives: August 2016

Mostly photos and a couple of birthdays

It’s weeks since we saw young Rufus and his parents, there wasn’t an opportunity before we went on holiday.  LT and I drove over to Norwich today so that I could get my fill of granny/baby contact.

It’s such a truism that it’s absurd to say so, but he’s really grown.

And here are a couple of photos.IMG_4607 IMG_4605
Today is Zerlina’s eighth birthday and in a couple of days time, it will be her brother Augustus’ fifth.  Here they are perched on some of the splendidly climbable rocks on the beach.

Version 2
It is also Eloise cat’s second birthday (and, as it happens, the birthday of Zig’s younger daughter, Baby Doc.  For those who don’t know, Eloise used to belong to Zig but Baby Doc was allergic to her hair and so she came to live with me).  Here she is, with one of LT’s guitars.  She had her favourite treat for lunch today, dressed crab.  Just the brown meat, she doesn’t like the white.


Happy birthday to all of them.

The Close connection – Part 11 – in front of the house

When Russell was a Sprig, during the war, the front garden was taken up by an Anderson shelter but afterwards, his parents reshaped the area with crazy paving around three circular flower beds.  Beyond those, there were long narrow raised beds, faced with flint and, behind those two, there was an elm hedge, with a big elm tree in the middle.  This all died of course, in the first sweep of Dutch elm disease and had all been removed by the time I first came to the house.  There wasn’t a hedge or a tree there at all and there still isn’t, for a reason I’ll come to later.

When Russell and his older brother and sister were in their teens, Pa and Ma had a tennis court put in – this would have been around 1950.  The land was taken out of the four acre field between the garden and the road and a privet hedge was planted on two sides against the field.  On the other short side, there was a small lawn and the ‘tennis court hut’, a summer house where all the equipment was kept and where people could sit to watch others play.  Pa and Ma would have been in their mid fifties themselves, quite sporty and active and I wouldn’t be surprised if they’d had tennis parties with their friends, though I don’t know for sure.

By the time we moved in, the court was long disused and grown over, but the bricks around the edge were still in good condition and the upright irons that had supported the fence were still there.  The fence itself was gone.  After a year or so, we had the court relaid, but we couldn’t also afford new surrounding netting, so we just chased a lot of balls into the field.  Then we had the bright idea of buying fruit cage netting, which was a cheap substitute until we had a dog who kept running into it and breaking it.  In the end, we had to bite the bullet and get proper mesh, which we put up ourselves.

Pa and Ma had roses in those three circular beds, but they were old and sickly by the time we moved in.  It’s a very sunny, dry spot and gets all the south and western sun.  The soil is sand over gravel.  We took out all the roses (and planted them elsewhere, we didn’t have the heart to throw them away) and I got the Bressingham Gardens catalogue, which was fabulous.  The nursery is nothing now, it used to be owned by the Bloom family, who raised a lot of plants and bred many new varieties.  Eventually, it was bought out and nothing is grown there now, it’s all bought in and it’s like any other place to buy plants and expensive garden stuff – no better or worse than any other, but nothing like the old days.  Anyway, I spent a week or two choosing what to buy.  My criteria were, interesting foliage, mostly evergreen, thriving in hot, sunny conditions and poor soil and no more than 4 feet tall in maturity.  Much of what I planted in one bed is still there, though the other bed was finally taken over by eryngium after everything else finally died and the central bed never thrived – I discovered in the end that a seam of almost straight gravel runs through that, it’s hard to get anything going without lots of watering.

Some years later, we got fed up with weeding the crazy paving, took it all up and laid several inches of gravel over sheets of black plastic, though we cut holes to plant things.  Now, the area is quite neglected and one of the projects for next year is to enliven it.  It’s okay, but there’s a lot of vetch that keeps cropping up, ground elder and, unfortunately, brambles.

Regarding the hedge, Russell and I wanted to replace it and we agreed on a beech hedge.  But I wanted green beech and he wanted copper beech and we never could agree on which.  So it was never planted.  I’m glad though, actually, it would have darkened the house unless cut quite low.

Gardening leave

I’m having to be relatively organised this week.  The time has come to put together the catalogue for the next auction in October.  Yes, it’s a bit early, but it takes a while and I have more spare capacity in August than any other month, so it’s the best time to concentrate on the sort of job that takes several days.

We’re getting all sorts of other things done though.  LT is quite wonderful and assures me he enjoys all the work entailed in keeping this place from total bedlam.  It should be said that Wince, who helps in the garden, is pretty fine too.  When we go away, he calls in every morning to water the greenhouse and keep an eye on things, and Roses looks after everything else.

Since we got home on Saturday, we’ve weeded the whole vegetable garden, apart from the disaster areas of an old herb bed and a nearly defunct asparagus bed.  Both need starting again and I’m going to cut them to the ground and lay old carpet down to kill off perennial weeds before replanting.  For the last five years, I’ve been gradually bringing more bits of the garden under control – I couldn’t do it when my hip was too disabling, and I’m going in that direction again but I won’t be starting from the same place this time.

It’s a nuisance, actually, having a part of the body that’s slowly packing in but can, once it has got bad enough, be completely cured.  I don’t want an operation any earlier than I need it, but I’m sort of impatient to need it because I’m a bit limited in what I can do in the meantime.  I have to evaluate – can I walk that far?  With a stick?  But I mustn’t give in, it is good to push myself and I volunteer to go up ladders and, I discovered, all the extra walking I did on holiday has made me more resilient.

I hope I’m not moaning, I don’t mean to.  I feel very lucky to feel healthy and only to have a dodgy hip that can be cut out and replaced.

Anyway, tomorrow will mostly be spent typing.  Apart from a clarinet lesson.  I’m terribly rusty, I’ve hardly played for the last two months.  This evening, LT and I have been playing about on clarinet, piano and guitar.  I don’t mind playing badly for him to hear, I don’t have any pretences to keep up.  We just laugh about it.

We did like to be beside the seaside part 2

We bought more buckets and spades and built sandcastles.  The tide washes the whole beach twice daily, so it’s always clean and fresh.  It worked rather well for us old ‘uns, tide came in during the morning and turned in the middle of the day, so we didn’t have to hurry down to the beach but had the whole afternoon and as much evening as we wanted there.  Crabbing and shrimping didn’t happen, there weren’t enough days, but the days passed happily.  They were in bed by 8, a bit later than at home, but that’s what holidays are for – and they chatted together for a good hour most nights, which we turned deaf ears to.

Meanwhile, Weeza and Phil took the opportunity for a few days away too and they went to Amsterdam.  They had a good time, they said, and were away from the children long enough – actually, I suspect it only took a few days – to miss them thoroughly.  They’ve been working very hard on their house and Phil’s father is very ill with a brain tumour, so there has been a lot of tension and anxiety in the family.  Time off from that is healing, of course, as we all know.  Phil went to spend the weekend with his mum after they returned home.

We quickly learned that the children needed food at regular intervals – so do most of us, but not necessarily hourly…  They are both tall and thin and we don’t know where they put it all.  They are no trouble to feed, plenty of prosciutto, salami, chorizo (yes, the pig looms large, I’m afraid), Marmite, vegetables, fruit, tortilla wraps with peanut butter or chocolate spread, pasta with pesto, cheese – I’d made it clear from the start that pancakes were off the menu, I was on holiday too, which was accepted with good grace.  Thank goodness, they never asked for a dish and then changed their mind once it arrived.  On the way home, we were astonishingly highly charged for soft drinks and sandwiches at a motorway Costa, but even those were eaten cheerily.

We’re already talking about next year.

We did like to be beside the seaside – part 1

The children were amazingly good, it was quite a challenging journey for such young ones.  First, Weeza met me and LT at the childminder’s with their luggage (a lot of it.  Quite half of it remained unworn).  We drove home for three quarters of an hour and they stayed here overnight.  Then we drove three hours to Tim’s and stayed another night there, then set off for Wales.  We managed to leave early enough to get to a really nice pub, family owned for many years, that Tim knows, for lunch, and then it was a short hop to the caravan.

They adored everything.  We went for a walk along the beach and they were thrilled.  The next day, we went to the other end of the beach and they were even happier at the rocks to climb there.  They both started to scramble up, knowing no fear but being clearly sensible and sure-footed, we watched attentively but had no reason to be anxious.  When Gus got to a high point, he danced with excitement.  “I can see the whole world, I can see all the sea, I can see everything!”  This was just how the young Tim had felt, some decades earlier, and I could see how happy he was that they just got it.  It really is a lovely beach.  There’s plenty of sand, but also rocks – the ones going out into the sea are covered in very sharp barnacles and one has to take care, but there are others that are good for scrambling on.  Even I, on that first day, scrambled up Tim’s rock, his favourite as a child.  I walked everywhere with a walking pole, which enabled me to manage pretty well, but I didn’t want to be too much of a wet blanket.

The children also loved the rock pools.  Well, that’s the best part of a beach for me, in fact.  Coming from a seaside with sandy or pebbly beaches, rock pools are a huge treat.

Each day seemed to have its beach theme – the rock pools, the sandcastle building, the scrambling, the frolicking in the sea.  Some of them took place most days, but they all took it in turns to take a major part.  We walked the tunnel to the next small town, we found that the village shop had the best souvenirs (though the town had had the better buckets and spades) and we tested the beer at the village pub.  The children didn’t, of course, but we all liked the excellent ice cream at the van.  LT and I never quite achieved the double scoop but Zerlina and Gus did.  They’ve got immensely healthy appetites.

The other side of the country again…

We are home again, having had a fabulous week by the Welsh seaside.  Although it’s only ten o’clock it’s too late for me to tell you about it tonight.  Lovely Tim has written a couple of blog posts I think, though I haven’t read them yet.

LT also cooked dinner this evening.

All is healthy in the greenhouse, though the courgettes in the garden have turned to marrows.  Lots of ripe tomatoes, aubergines, peppers and so on – we must eat mostly vegetables for the next week.  I daresay there are plenty of beans too.  Three eggs today.  This indicates a certain casualness – I have several hens who sit in nest boxes all day but very rarely lay any eggs, but then it’s all right to be relaxed once you’re old, I suppose.  Anyway, I gave the eggs to Zerlina and Gus so that their mother can make them pancakes tomorrow.  And tomorrow, I will write a more purposeful blog post, I hope.

Catching up

I’ll digress briefly from my saga to let you know that I’m not going to be about much for the next few days as I’ll have limited internet connection.

LT and I let things slide in the garden a bit.  Having been away at his house last week, we’d picked what vegetables we needed, not what needed to be picked.  And chickens have come home to roost.  We’ve now got pounds of beans, tomatoes, a massive aubergine and several more on the plants, courgettes and peppers and chillies – and weeds.  Though we made a start, finally, and have cleared quite a lot of those and Wince has pulled out more.

This morning, two of the bullocks got out and managed to break a bridge as they went over it, thus cutting off their route back to the field.  They wouldn’t be driven towards the other gate to the same damn field, either.  So Roses’ Boy managed to put the bridge together sufficiently for them to jump over the gap.

We rarely spend a day as we expect to.  Things always crop up.

Mother Cat vanished before we went to Corfu and I hadn’t seen her since, until a couple of days ago.  I felt it was quite likely that she’d adopted a family and was being fed – there was no reason to think she’d come to any harm and she’d gone away before, though never for this long.  But then she just turned up again – she’s almost identical to her daughter but has bright green eyes instead of olive, so I knew her at once, even before she came to greet me.  She has been waiting to be fed ever since – this morning, Wince and I were chatting and looking for the tortoises (we found all three of them, which doesn’t happen very often) and she became impatient and came to ask for her breakfast.  She hisses when she’s hungry.  It’s not aggressive, more anxious, but she only does it when she really needs to.  So last night’s hunting hadn’t gone well.  But she looks healthy and is not thin, so I still think someone has been feeding her.

I’ve looked out a pad of graph paper and will attempt a floor plan of the house.  Far too lazy to measure rooms though, so I’ll just have to guess.  Could be a disaster.


The Close connection – part 10 – the dining table

It’s rather a fine refectory table.  A young friend of ours, who was a very good joiner, had several wide oak planks in his workshop, 8 feet long.  And that was, half the reason why we commissioned the table from him.  He had some lovely wood.  The other half of the reason started in 1987, with the Great English Hurricane of 16th October – which wasn’t a true hurricane, of course, but which certainly was the biggest windstorm in living memory.

Russell had a 7 acre apple orchard, quarter of a mile from here by the river.  There were lots of trees and he used to pick the apples for cider-making.  But in time, the price he could get for the apples went down to a matter of pence per bushel and so he just left them.  But it was a lovely place, with lots of wildlife, though very overgrown.  However, in the great storm, nearly all the trees blew down, in a domino effect.  There was devastation there.  And they couldn’t be left, the ground was waterlogged and getting a tractor in to pull them all out – I can’t remember what happened to the wood, whether it was brought back and cut up or sold or what – made the place a terrible mess.  So we had it levelled and improved the drainage a bit – not a great deal of change, we took advice from the wildlife trust people – and didn’t replant.  We let a friend graze sheep there, because they would crop the grass without being at all destructive.

One of the few trees left was a fine oak in the prime of life.  We were so glad it hadn’t been damaged.  However, a year or so later, for no apparent reason, it fell down in a minor gale.  We could only think that, for its entire life, it had been surrounded by other trees which formed a windbreak, so it hadn’t got a really sturdy root system.

The biggest part of the trunk was quartered vertically and turned as green wood into the legs of the dining table.  Look at it next time you’re here.  The top of the table, everything about it, is beautiful.  However, it’s not as Russell and I agreed it would be.

There were six of us in the family, including my mother, and we often had people over for meals.  At that time, of course, Ro was too young to stay up for dinner but it still wasn’t unusual for our 8-seater dining table to be a squeeze.  One that was eight foot long, however, could have four at each side and, we agreed, if it were four feet wide, then two could be fitted at each end – i.e. it would seat twelve people and that would suffice for a good many years (we have now outgrown that, of course, at a family doo).  When it was delivered and I saw it for the first time, I immediately said, that isn’t four feet wide!  Russell had thought I wouldn’t realise.  He’d decided that the proportions would be better if it were three foot six inches and, though we’d agreed the original dimensions, he had simply changed his mind and not consulted me.

This was not unusual.  He was a bachelor until he was nearly 37 and over 40 years of marriage didn’t actually reconcile him to the idea that he had any requirement to take my views into account.  We might discuss something at length, agree on a course of action, then he’d change his mind and do something quite different and I wouldn’t find out until much later.

I reminded him of the reason we’d gone for four feet wide, which he’d completely forgotten, and said that we could have compromised, a few inches longer and a few inches wider – it was too late of course and we can squeeze two people at each end, and I saw his point about the proportions but it’s still been just the wrong size all these years.

Anyway, it meant that we had to revert to the former dining room and use the new one as another sitting room, which was quite all right really as it was about that time that I got a computer – the children already had one but we mostly played games on that.  And this room – I’m sitting in it now – is lovely in the morning as it faces east.

As I said before, the table was in that room for years and there was plenty of room for it, but it never felt quite right.  It wasn’t a squash in there but it wasn’t entirely happy.  Now it’s in the bigger room, it’s quite relaxed.  And, when there are more of us, I put another table at the end.  I’ve managed up to 17 in that way.  Or, by turning it round and putting another table separately, I can fit 20 into the room quite nicely and another 16 in the second dining room, on two tables.  I like feeding lots of people.



The Close connection – part 9 – cooking and eating

We started out planning it quite sensibly, of course.  It never seemed to get out of hand at the time, but I can see that it might appear rather excessive to some of you.  It’s just a rambling cottage to me, though.  The only thing that takes it out of the sensible is two dining rooms, but I do know other houses with a similar set-up.

When we first moved here, we had decided not to use the former dining room as such, once all the furniture was out, we realised what a lovely room it was and wanted not to take up most of the space with a dining table and chairs.  There’s a passageway from the side door to the kitchen – just inside the door it opens into a small hall, off which the cloakroom, drawing room, main hall and dining room lead.  But halfway to the kitchen, there was a sort of semi-room, with no door but big enough for a sink and dishwasher and built-in cupboards, which was used as a sort of scullery for washing up.  Beyond that, beyond its outside wall, was a little conservatory, brick and wood, which was used as a back porch and, rather oddly, Ma also kept a propane gas cooker, on which she cooked most of their meals.  She also had (not in the kitchen either, but in a back lobby) a large electric oven, which she used for baking but didn’t much like.

Actually, it was an odd set-up really.  The kitchen had built-in cupboards in orange and stainless steel, and a central table.  But the cookers, the washing machine and the dishwasher were all elsewhere, though there was a sink.  There was also an alcove where an old range had been removed and this just had a chair and table with flowers on, it was used decoratively rather than usefully.  It seemed to involve a lot of walking to get anything done, though of course Ma had Hilda to help her.

Anyway, this conservatory/porch was outside the back door and we had the bright idea that the scullery area could be opened up into the conservatory and a whole extra room be built there.  The existing back door could be half bricked up and a hatchway left, and the new room could be used as a dining room, accessible from the kitchen.  And, with planning permission, this was done.  It worked fine until we had a new table built (next post, darlings) which was too large and we reverted the old dining room to its previous use.  I put my piano in there, a CD player and my computer, and we made it into a little sitting room/study/music room.

In the lobby the other side of the kitchen, where this electric oven used to be, we put in a new back door instead.  We’ve never used this much and I wish we’d given it more thought as we’ve never had a back porch since, and that means that wellies and so on are kept in the side porch, which we use most of the time.  We could have built on a glass-topped porch outside the back door if we’d thought about it then, it would be difficult now because of drains and gutters.

When Tim reads these accounts of the alterations to the house, he says he could do with a map.  And he knows the house very well – it must be harder for you, even if you’ve visited here.

In the kitchen itself, the Aga has gone where the old range used to be  We took out the old cupboards each side and put in two windows – it used to be a dark room and still couldn’t be called light.  We have oak cupboards which were chosen to go with a nice dresser that fits along one wall, backing onto the back stairs.

The Close connection – Part 8 – the New Room

It was just called the new room for years, though it’s now the big dining room.

Some people Russell had chatted to, somewhere or other, were knowledgeable about old houses and he invited them over.  I can’t remember their names, just they called their sitting room ‘the parlour’ which was fairly unusual for a young couple.  The advice and information they gave set Russell to learning more and he was told that the square block of Tudor chimneys wouldn’t have been at the end of the house, it was far more likely that they would have been in the centre of the house and, at some time over the centuries, a wing had been demolished.  So we went straight onto the idea of building it right back again.

Although the rooms were large, we were a bit pushed for space – actually, I’ve realised that I’ve left out a whole room when I was telling you the work we’d had done when we moved here.  Whoops.  Another time.  Anyway, Pa and Ma had divided one large bedroom into two plus a passageway and we’d reinstated the one big bedroom.  But this meant that we had only four, and three children, with the two brothers eight years apart in age; so they really each needed their own room.  When we moved here, we explained to Al that he, having the biggest room with a double bed, would have to be the one to sleep on a mattress somewhere when we had guests, which he was quite good-natured about. So we could do with an extra bedroom, especially as Eloise’s room was, being over the Aga-heated kitchen, too hot in summer.  And Russell fancied an extra room downstairs so he could acquire more stuff.  And, for both of us, it was another project.

It’s a big room, downstairs being about 25 feet by 18 feet.  Upstairs has a build-in cupboard/wardrobe so is slightly shorter.  We’d planned for Eloise to have an en-suite bathroom and a room for arts and crafts – at the time, she was quite keen on painting and had done a stained glass course too, and we were going to kit it out.  But, once the wooden floor was down, she came to us.  “Do I have to have my own bathroom?” she asked?  We said we’d thought that a teenage girl would love that.  “But look at the proportions of the room, it’s beautiful!  It would be a shame to break it up.”  So we agreed at once and saved quite a lot of money, we didn’t mind.

Downstairs, Russell decided on oak floorboards and herringbone brickwork for the walls, with a beamed ceiling.  He also had cupboards built in for displaying china.  Then we realised we’d got quite a lot of living rooms – this made four and we didn’t always use all we had.  So we tried various ways of using this room for quite some time and eventually Russell just took it over and there was far too much stuff in there.  In the end, I put my foot down, insisted on a turn-out of every room in the house – this took me three months and it was very hard work, especially as Russell wouldn’t get rid of anything and kept cluttering up rooms I’d cleared.  But I did it and then we looked afresh at the New Room as it was still called, some twenty years after it had been built.

“The thing is,” I said, “it’s stuck on the end of the house and we don’t have enough reason to use it.  So how about putting the big dining table in here, which is a bit too big for the dining room anyway, and changing it to the dining room?  We can always put the nice rosewood library table in the present dining room and using that when it’s just us.”  The passageway between the two rooms is narrow but we measured and it seemed just all right, if we took the top off the very heavy oak refectory table we’d had made about twenty years previously.  Oh, I must tell you about that table some time, by the way.

Anyway, when we came to move the table, it was too big after all.  The only possibility seemed to be to take out the entire window.  We were despondent and thought we might have to give up.  But then I went out and came home later, to find our long-suffering friend Jamie and Russell struggling with the base of the table, which was magically fitting through the doorway after all.  The three of us managed to carry it through together and then I looked – Russell had cheerily cut a bit out of the door frames at each end of the passageway to accommodate it.  We’ve never stained the cut-out bit to match, you can see it now.

This has worked very well, as you’ll know if you’ve come to the blog parties.  The table looks lovely in there and we can add on to it if we need to, or put it round the other way and put in another table.  Likewise, the other room, which now houses my pianola as well as the round table, is used as our usual dining room.  The bedroom isn’t used regularly, only when we’ve a houseful, but that doesn’t matter.