Monthly Archives: February 2017

Z’s week

It’s been a busy week so far.  It’s the half term holiday and Zerlina and Gus have been to stay with me.  LT was down at his house.  As I said the other day, Stevo has been doing some clearing, so I’ve been juggling my time between entertaining children and supervising him, with some joining in on the part of all of us.  Gus especially is very good at practical things.

We went to Norwich on Tuesday afternoon – I’d thought we might go to the museum, but was rapidly put right on that and we went shopping instead.  And we went to the zoo yesterday.  The forecast had been for sun all day until the dull and damp morning arrived, then it said it would be dry between ten and four.  I looked at the weather app on my phone, where it said zero chance of rain right now, and then at the rain outside.  If it was raining, did they still want to go? I asked.  Yes they did.  So I assumed things would clear up but took a brolly anyway and the children had raincoats with hoods.

There was a surprisingly long queue actually and it took well over half an hour to get in, but I chatted to a nice mother and daughter, with a very beautiful baby boy in a pushchair.  He had huge dark brown eyes, long lashes and a charming smile.  His father is American, working in the Middle East so his mother had come back to England to stay with her mother for a few months.

Later, I asked the children what were their favourite animals.  “All of them:” said Gus expansively, while little z had a very long list, including meerkats (babies!!!), giraffes and the bald eagle.  I was enchanted to discover that the female cheetah, waiting to be fed, mewed in exactly the same way that Eloise cat does when she’s hungry.  And that the zoo donates to Namibia to fund the provision for guard dogs in farms, to fend off attacks by wild cheetahs.  Other highlights were the five month old zebra, the fabulous colour of the scarlet ibis and the beautiful markings on the giraffes.  And the lemur enclosure was brilliant!  They are free to roam around and quite happily sit on the railings while you walk past.   I suspect most of us are ambivalent about zoos but there are certainly animals that would be extinct by now if they did not exist, with effective breeding programmes.  And at their best, they give the animals a good life in as natural surroundings as is feasible.

Once I got home, I checked the *health* app on my phone (it’s just there, I didn’t download it) and discovered that we’d walked 7 km while we were there – and been on our feet considerably longer, of course.  As ever, I’m so thankful for my new hip.  I couldn’t walk a single kilometre – just over half a mile – before the operation, not even with a walking stick.

Afterwards, I drove to Norwich and so did Weeza and we met in a convenient car park to hand the children over.  I came home, fed the cats – I’d left food for the chickens as I knew I’d be back after they’d gone to roost – and went to fetch the post from the front porch.  As I returned to the car to fetch my bag and keys, I noticed RasPutin walking across the gravel.  He limps nowadays, a bit, he’s lost a few fights.  He was obviously going to check the food situation and I couldn’t leave him.  I knew his children would have finished the food I’d given them.  So I plodded over and dished out another half tin for them all, including him.

I’ve been tired out by the evenings.  One night, I was asleep by 9 o’clock and, though I was awake for an hour or so in the night, then slept until after 7.  That night, I’d munched the children’s leftover macaroni cheese and just fallen into bath, then bed.  The next night I did manage to cook a meal but was still too exhausted to do anything much else.  However, a good deal has happened here this week and LT – who arrived home this afternoon – is duly impressed.  There are more clear spaces and there is a Plan.  Wince, our lovely gardener, always asks every week what is my Plan.  Today, it was mostly supervising Stevo and Noah as I was going out to lunch, mind you.  But we’ve got the children again tomorrow and I needed some recreation.

Back in time

Russell’s parents bought this house in 1928 when they were newly married and lived here for the rest of their lives.  We moved here in the summer of 1986 but we had spent the previous year or so having repairs and improvements done.  As it’s a listed building, we had to get planning permission for all the changes.

Today, Stevo and I were tackling the big workshop – it had been cleared of most of the big machinery last summer but the end with the workbench still had a lot of stuff in there, much of it rubbish.  While Stevo was barrowing a load of paper and bits of wood to the bonfire, I found a lump of something odd on the floor.  
It took me a few moments to realise it’s a piece of the house.  The wood is one of the hazel (I think) wattles that are the wooden uprights, packed around with a mixture of clay and straw.  I don’t know enough about the construction of timber-framed houses to tell if it’s clay lump construction or wattle and daub, but this is what this house was made from, back in the 16th century.  The main structure of the house is oak, of course, and it was brick faced at some time – the bricks are old but not Tudor, except for those in the area of the oldest fireplace.

The wood is completely worm-eaten, quite powdery, but we did find a strong, intact piece back in 1984 and my brother-in-law made a walking stick from it, which I’ve written about here before.  Here it is.

I’ve kept the piece of clay of course, I couldn’t throw it away.   Better not let it get wet, though.


Z and LT have a houseful of children!

Zerlina and Gus have come to stay for a few days.  It’s half term and, though their parents could take holiday time to look after them, it’s a great joy and privilege that I’m able to help and spend time with darling grandchildren.  But my goodness, they have fine appetites.  I’d made a cake with jam, fruit and cream for tea and they were able to tuck into a substantial cold dinner afterwards – yes, the courses in the wrong order but they aren’t children who have to be coerced into eating the main course by the promise of a pudding.  I’ve always put them in the same double bed for convenience up to now, but they sleep better separately, each having their own bedroom at home, so that’s what they’ve got now.  They are enjoying the luxury of their separate double beds.

LT is away this week so it’ll just be the three of us.  I’m planning a couple of days out and a few treats – it’s the holidays, after all.  There was a modest amount of overnight snow but not enough to build a snowman, so that might be a pleasure that’s not to be had this winter.  We will take it philosophically.  Once we’re in the second half of February, the thought of heavy snow rather loses its appeal and we look forward to the spring and sowing lovely vegetable seeds instead.

Dog in the henhouse

I haven’t felt like writing for the past few days – I don’t now, truth to tell, but days can drift past and a blog be neglected too easily.

A dog tore through the wire of the chicken’s tunnel between the greenhouse and their run and, by the time Wince heard them and came running for me, and I ran down there, five chickens were dead and one of the cocks was badly injured.  It was a powerfully built Staffordshire bull terrier but, when I grabbed it, it let me hold it firmly while the men hurried off for a rope.  We tied it to a gate while I went to check the chickens but it bit through the thick nylon rope in moments.  Luckily, Tim was able to get it again and we took it into the porch while I phoned the number on its collar.

The owners turned out to be really nice people and the dog itself was well trained and well behaved, except in the obvious respect.  Their neighbours were having their hedge cut and the gardener came through to finish off from their side.  He left the garden gate open and they didn’t realise and let the dog loose.  He was gone in seconds and the wife was out in the car searching when I rang.  Of course I was nice about it, we were all upset at what had happened but I wasn’t upset with them or their dog.  I don’t often react with anger.  It rarely helps and it’s easy for it to spill into unkindness.  There’s enough of that around without me adding to it.

Having turned down their offer of compensation, I was touched when they sent flowers and wine later.  The poor little chooks.  We had to kill the cockerel, his leg was badly hurt and he was bitten too.  The survivors are still subdued but getting over it.  It’s a sad thing that the dog found  a place to get its claw or teeth into the wire, which otherwise seems to be very secure.  Thankfully, Eloise cat was in the house at the time and knew nothing about it and all the other cats, including Rummy, were fine too.

You usually come to me for a cheery bit of nonsense – apologies.  i’ll be back on form next time.


Those outside cats are so sweet.  I’ve become terribly fond of them.  Mother and father come along for a meal if they’re hungry, but they nay not turn up for several weeks.  Mother, whose latest name is Mehitabel, was here the last frosty morning – she looks healthy and well fed and I wouldn’t be surprised if she is fed by other people too – and father, RasPutin, comes a bit more often.  He’s a big bruiser of a tabby tom, and in the past year he’s lost a serious fight because he now has a crooked ear and he has less swagger and more anxiety.  I still don’t know if he’s a pet or a stray or actually feral but he’s friendly and I stroke him and he has never shown his claws.  None of them has, in fact, they are quite unaggressive and peaceable.  Mehitabel cuffs her children but that’s all.

They all have wonderfully thick, fluffy coats and look healthy and I’m actually rather proud of that.  If they were all unneutered it would be a different story, I know.  The four kittens, nearly two years old now in fact, are still very affectionate together and constantly reinforce the bond between them, rubbing together as they walk.  Zain the tabby is still the friendliest apart from Mehitabel, Freddie likes to be stroked, Betty is wary but can be stroked if she’s touching one of her brothers.  Barney, I’ve never touched.  I could, when he’s eating, but I don’t want to worry him.  If ever he comes to me, I’ll stroke him without looking at him.

Restrictions regarding poultry are still in place because of avian flu.  My lot are perfectly content in the greenhouse with the tunnel through to their run, but they don’t lay eggs.  I can’t remember the last egg we had but it was at least three weeks ago.  Wretched little freeloaders.  They get layers’ pellets, mixed corn, various greens and table scraps but they refuse to lay.  In a week or four, we’ll have more eggs than we know what to do with.

My dear friend Mary broke a bone in her pelvis, skiing.  She’s a proficient skier but was unlucky, slipped on hard ice and fell awkwardly.  She’s going to get the result of a scan tomorrow and will then know how long it’ll take before she heals and what she can and mustn’t do.  I hope to go and see her before the weekend.  She and her husband have their house on the market at present – they’re moving west and north, nearer their children – I’ll miss her terribly when she goes.

A friend died today.  Not a close friend, though she only lives three or four miles away, but it comes close after another friend’s death, both from cancer, both a few years older than me, in the same social circle. I feel strangely diminished by it, more upset than I’d think from the relatively slight acquaintanceship with either.  I don’t know why I’m feeling a little vulnerable at present, but I tell myself it’s quite all right to be fragile and self-protective sometimes and not surprising.

On a happier note, my good friend Graham, who did so much to help me with turning out, the summer after Russell died, is going to be over here (he lives in Auckland, New Zealand) in May.  It’ll be great to see him again, show him all the good changes round here and introduce him to Lovely Tim.

One more step along the world Z goes

Tonight, I’m looking forward.  And what am I looking forward to, you cry?  Or some of you do, anyway.  Well, surely at least one.  You’re all going to find out, darlings, anyway, because ‘never knowingly undershared’ is the Z way.

  • I’m expecting my seed order to arrive tomorrow and am absurdly excited.  Growing vegetables has to be about hope, innit?
  • Also tomorrow, Ro, Dora and Rufus are coming to visit.  Rufus is cutting his first tooth and finding it a bit trying, but he’s able to sit up independently now and it’s been two or three weeks since we’ve seen him, so I’m excited about that.
  • We have a date for the blog party: Saturday 17th June.  I love our blog parties – is this the sixth or seventh?  I’ve lost count.    I only see some of you once a year so look forward to that, and there are usually some newcomers, which is such a joy.  You don’t, of course, need to be bloggers, there are no rules at all because LT and I don’t do restrictions, just a welcome.
  • Yagnub is inching its way to a degree of modernity in terms of its mobile phone coverage and internet connection.  The other day, it vanished entirely (one was all right on one’s home broadband, though) and it gradually became known that they were working on the mobile phone mast.  And a couple of days later, it started to return and it was discovered we had 3G.  Woo hoo.  There has never been any useful internet in the town and LT’s mobile provider doesn’t let him have a signal in the house or various other places.Or rather, it didn’t.  I’m told that the full upgrade will take the whole of next week, by which time we’ll have 4G.  I’ll not be raising my expectations too high, but a modicum of hope is not to be ruled out.  It can be a bit tetchifying to be notified that one has received an email (from someone whom one really wants to hear) but that it can’t be downloaded until one gets home.
  • I’m looking forward to a good night’s sleep.  Because I’m about due and I’m really quite tired.

Z and LT’s blog party

I’m looking at my diary with a view to planning this year’s blog party, if we hold one – LT and I are willing, so it’s up to you, the potential guests.  As always, it’s open house but we need to know if you might be coming, just so we can plan.  You’re welcome to stay over as well, but of course we’d need to know that too.  But first, the date.

June or the first half of July is probably best from the point of view of the weather and not clashing with school holidays, though May is not out of the question.  There’s only one weekend in June we can’t manage (the Aldeburgh Festival, darlings) so, if you’d like to come along, then please let me know which dates you can or specifically can’t manage and we will see if we can find a good day.  I’ll assume a Saturday lunchtime, but the corresponding Sunday would be fine too.

June – 3rd (though that’s the end week of half term), 17th or 24th.

July – 1st, 8th or 15th – in Norfolk, schools break up on Friday 21st and I know some people like to avoid the holidays for one reason or another.

Of course, there is nothing to say you have to be a blogger or a blog reader or anything else at all.  Just that, if you would like to come, you are welcome.  It should go without saying, but Z is never knowingly understated,  that all allergies and food preferences of any sort are catered for.  We take it in our stride, it’s our pleasure.

Update – Not 3rd June, 8th July or 15th July.  So that leaves:-

17th  or 24th June or 1st July.  Any of those are fine for us.

Update two – two guests can only make the 17th June, so that’ll be the date.  Hope you can come – actually, if you all come we’ll have to hire a marquee, but we look forward to seeing many of you.



Good fences make Z a good neighbour

We had a swift burst of good housekeeping, in a general sense – we fetched in coal and logs to the porch, then filled the various scuttles and baskets in the drawing room and dining room so that we will have enough for the next couple of days.  I swept the porch and LT fetched the bins from the end of the drive.  We cleaned the kitchen and washed up the things that wouldn’t reasonably fit in the dishwasher.  We shrugged at the thought of dusting or hoovering, having done quite enough to feel satisfied.

I mentioned the other day that I’d ordered another field gate: that was delivered this morning.  To start with, I’d thought to have it put where it was going to be placed but then thought again – apart from it being rather tempting for a ne’er-do-well with a gap, I realised it, and its posts, need to be painted with wood preservative before they’re installed.  I had asked Wince if he might be able to put it in and, being endlessly willing, he’d said yes, if he had someone to help him, but he said it doubtfully.  So yesterday, I suggested to him that it might be better to ask the farmer if he could do the job or suggest someone who might, and Wince was obviously glad to agree.

I have been meaning all winter to go and speak to the farmer – well, farmers, it’s a partnership of two couples, parents, son and daughter-in-law.  They sell the raw milk, butter and cheese that I’ve mentioned before.  Some of their cattle graze two of our fields – the Ups and Downs and Humpy’s Meadow; the Front Field is just cut for hay.  The wire fencing is in need of some repair, and the job is beyond LT and me.  Some of the wooden stakes have rotted at ground level and there is no question that we can drive in new ones.  It occurred to me that, if they would put in the gate too, it would be ideal.  They’ve got all the machinery to do it more easily.  As far as the fencing was concerned, I reckoned that, if I supplied the materials, they might do the work, but when additional work was included, that’s more than I’d ask for and I’d rather offer to pay.  While I was about it, I’d ask them to demolish the rotten remains of Humpy’s stable too (Humperdinck was my mother’s pet donkey, who died some 18 years ago) and, I suddenly remembered, replace another gate I’d forgotten about because it hadn’t been used for so long.  I know, not everyone manages to completely forget entrances, but I had.

After lunch, LT sat down with the newspapers while I headed off to the farm, remembering to take wellies in case I had to search.  I parked outside the milk kiosk and trotted off to the farmyard.  It was a pleasure, actually, it’s beautifully looked after.  The cows were all in their well-strawed pens, mostly standing or lying chewing the cud, there were some half-grown heifers, some other cows were eating silage.  There was a great stack of straw bales and a couple of huge heaps of muck.  Obviously there was some mud and muck around, but it was very tidy and the yard had recently been scraped clean.  However, there was no sign of either man, so I completed the tour and arrived back at the car, planning to go and check the office and the dairy.  And I met a chap who was helping someone about her milk requirements and asked if he knew where G or J were.  Both gone home for lunch, he said, so I said I would go and call on G, the father.

All is sorted, I’m glad to say.  I explained all that is needed and G will come and check the gate entrance where I haven’t yet bought the replacement – he explained that they stopped using it because it’s so awkward in the narrowish lane, but if a new gate were wider (or, preferably, if there were two eight foot gates), perhaps put in at a slight angle, then the problem would be solved.  I could leave it to him, he’d talk to J and they’d come back to me.  I asked if they might also deliver me a load of muck, which would rot down over the summer and be dug in this autumn, and he said he would.  So I was quite pleased with myself.  I hadn’t been putting off the job exactly, I’d just not got around to doing it, but there’s plenty of time.  They won’t be putting cattle on the fields before the start of April, so they’ve got a couple of months to find time – I expect they’ll get on with it sooner rather than later though, as springtime is very busy on the farm, of course.

Roses will be a bit disappointed, naturally, once we don’t have the occasional drama of cows getting out into the garden, but I’m sure I can make it up to her.

Z may forget a name but I never remember a face

I’ve noticed a difference in myself over the past – well, there I don’t know.  It may be the past few months or it may even be two or three years or so, it seems to have crept up on me.  I’ll tell you now and then waffle on as usual in explanation – I ask people their names and I used not to.

In my early years, I was somehow afraid to call people by their name, school friends in particular.  I was the shyest, most awkward child and was very unsure of my ability to remember anything I hadn’t read in a printed book.  Take this as me being as pathetic as you like and I shall not argue in the least.  I was quite afraid I’d get the name wrong or the person would say “Oh, everyone else knew I didn’t call myself Beth any more, I’ve been Libby for weeks” and I’d be desperately embarrassed.

I got over this eventually of course, certainly in my teens, but I still had something of a social handicap, in that my poor memory for faces was matched by my difficulty with remembering names.  In fact, I hardly tried as it was so hard.  I started to get over that when we moved here.  I met so many new people that I had to make much more effort.  Now, if anything, I’ve got a reputation for being really very good at it and friends ask me quietly to identify others – if only I’d known, as a child, how many people hid their poor recollection then, I’d have been less embarrassed about my own difficulty.

Yesterday, I had the hedge by the road trimmed – rather late and I’m afraid the blossom will suffer this spring, but it had to be done.  And the very nice man who did it is the brother of Wince’s girlfriend, and Wince had arranged for it to take place.  So I trotted down the drive to introduce myself and, while we were chatting, I simply asked his name.  And today, I went to the dentist and had a hygienist appointment first and, at the end, she asked if I had any questions for her.  And I hadn’t, but “oh, but what is your name?”

They are, respectively, John and Allison.  And I’m sure I’ll know their faces next time too.  In the past, if I were, let’s say, looking for a friend I’d mislaid at the market, it would be impossible to ask anyone.  I haven’t got the vocabulary to describe people.  Apart from their hair colour and their height if it were unusually extreme one way or the other, I can’t do it.  And if asked what they were wearing, I wouldn’t have a clue.  Mind you, if I had my eyes closed, odds would be that I wouldn’t be sure what I’m wearing myself, often as not.  But at least I know them when i see them.

Bump of direction is another thing, mind you.  I can drive somewhere ten times and manage to get lost on the eleventh.  And the first ten too, if I haven’t got the satnav on.

But why I’m suddenly comfortable about asking someone their name … I probably need to give that a bit more thought.  I’ve got a few ideas but trying to work my way into my own mind isn’t particularly easy, to be frank.

There’s one thing, though.  Every single person who’s ever come to one of my blog parties, I’ve always been able to greet by name, whether I’d met them before or not.

Z reminisces – again. But I don’t think I’ve told you this before

Nadfas lecture today on Coventry Cathedral.  I have been trying to remember the only time I’ve visited there and I think it must have been in 1970, when an astonishingly good-natured games teacher offered to take a group of us on a camping holiday to Wales.  She had a VW camper van painted in pale green and cream and about ten of us piled in, with tents and so on, and went off for a week or two at the start of the summer holidays.  It was very good fun, though I only remember a few specific details now – let me see….

  • A girl called Liz, wearing a very short skirt, in the front seat as we went through Newmarket.  The front door slid open and she received an appreciative comment from a very small jockey cycling past.
  • The aforementioned games teacher receiving a speeding ticket.  She was asked her full name and muttered the middle name very quietly, as she disliked it.  It so happened, as I was sitting just behind her, that I heard it, but I refused to tell the others when asked because it didn’t seem fair.
  • We having eaten a Vesta prawn curry, sitting on the bank of a stream scraping the sticky residue off the saucepan.  My trousers were never the same again – the mud got into the corduroy.
  • The teacher had brought her new duvet to sleep under – it was the first one we’d seen.
  • After about a week, we were all tired and flagging a bit and we went off to see the new musical, Oliver, at the local cinema.  it did the trick and we came back laughing and singing.
  • We wanted to go into a fairly smart looking hotel for a drink and I was sent on ahead to ask if we could come in because we all looked a bit scruffy.  I was voted the most likely to succeed.  I did.
  • Having become completely used to direct-dial phones, I was disconcerted to find I had to go through the operator when I was in a phone box, and put in my money and press button A and so on.
  • On the way home, we stopped at Stratford on Avon for a night.  I managed to watch three Shakespeare plays in a day and a half. I dropped my ticket in the foyer for one of them but retraced my steps – remarkably, because it was crowded, I found it again.
  • We merrily camped in the park and were investigated by the police as we were getting ready to go to bed.  Girlish squeals followed and the nice policemen simply explained that camping was absolutely not permitted and … please move on first thing in the morning.

There are other things I remember of course, the waterfall at Betws y Coed, several castles, Snowdonia – it was foggy on the day we planned to go up Snowdon so we didn’t do it and time was too tight to wait an extra day, visiting the ‘sister’ convent at Rhyl, the rather delicious Welsh ice cream – but it was too long ago and I had forgotten it included the visit to Coventry.

The impressions that came back to me, at this morning’s lecture, were that I really disliked it from the outside, it seeming very bulky and blocky, with angular brickwork, but that it was stunning inside.  I remember it as an uplifting place, quite noble in its atmosphere.  There had been a lot of publicity a few years earlier when it opened, of course, and the modern style and artworks were pretty controversial.

For those of you too young to know, in brief, Coventry was severely bombed in November 1940. There was a full moon and the city was a clearly lit target.  The cathedral was destroyed, along with much of the city centre and, after the war, a competition was held to design a new one to stand alongside the old.  Basil Spence, a Scottish architect, won – the lecturer said this morning that he was in a meeting with a client on the day the result was announced and was not to be disturbed.  But his secretary phoned his client who passed the phone over.  Furious, Basil took the phone and, when told the news, he fainted!  When he came round, he was given sherry to revive and toast his success.  Later, he went to St Paul’s Cathedral to muse on the astonishing fulfilment of his dream and to realise he didn’t feel worthy of it.

He was given a pretty free rein on the fitting out, though everything had to be passed through the commissioning committee, and chose famous and up-and-coming artists,  Jacob Epstein, Graham Sutherland, Elisabeth Frink, John Piper and more.  The old cathedral remains have been preserved as a reminder of the waste of war and the whole is a symbol of peace and reconciliation.  When Basil Spence proposed Jacob Epstein as the sculptor for the statue of Michael the Archangel at the entrance, someone objected “But he’s Jewish.”  “So was Jesus,’ said Basil drily.

Apparently, the whole thing cost less than a million pounds, by the time it was opened in 1962.  And that seems remarkable too, now.  Anyway, the lecture has done its work – I would like to revisit soon, and LT says he has never been there.  I’m hoping for a cross-country trip to visit Ludlow again – my old blog friend Badgerdaddy lives there and I had a lovely break with him about four years ago, when I also called in on friend  and former blogger John near Lutterworth.  So Coventry could, perhaps be called in at on the way there or back.