Thursday, 13 May 2021

I Am Still Here

It has taken the best part of a month to change my profile on Blogger. Yes, I am now retired and living in Norfolk.

But I am having email issues.  Some of you good people have sent me messages and they have bounced back saying "Undeliverable - Inbox full"

Do not worry - they are getting through to me. However although I can read them, I am unable to reply from my regular address - so my replies will come from somewhere else. Apologies for all the confusion this has caused. Sometimes technology is not our friend.

A Still LIfe

Liz gave me this book for my birthday "I think you might like it, Mum" she said "She knitted a weather scarf" Josie, like my girls, is in her thirties, also a young Mum. I read the book, cover to cover, and found it thought provoking, interesting, and amazingly positive in the face of so much that was negative. Here's the blurb - which sums up things beautifully. 

"Josie George lives in a tiny terraced house in the urban West Midlands with her son. Since her early childhood, she has lived with the challenge of disabling chronic illness. Her days are watchful and solitary, lived out in the same hundred or so metres around her home.

But Josie’s world is surprising, intricate, dynamic. She has learned what to look for: the patterns of ice on a frozen puddle; the routines of friends at the community centre; the neighbourhood birds; the slow changes in the morning light, in her small garden, in her growing son, in herself.

In January 2018, Josie sets out to tell the story of her still life, over the course of a year. As the seasons shift, and the tides of her body draw in and out, Josie begins to unfurl her history: her childhood bright with promise but shadowed by confinement; her painful adolescence and her hopeful coming of age; the struggle of her marriage, and the triumph of motherhood. And then a most unexpected thing happens in Josie’s quiet present: she falls in love.

A Still Life is a story of illness and pain that rarely sees the light: illness and pain with no end or resolution; illness and pain that we must meet with courage, joy, ingenuity and hope. Against a world which values ‘feel good’ progress and productivity above all else, Josie sets out a quietly radical alternative: to value and treasure life for life itself, with all its defeats and victories, with all its great and small miracles."

She has faced so much adversity, and I really admire her for the way she has come through. Because her illness didn't fit into a neatly defined diagnosis, and has good spells, and bad spells, she was unable to take on regular employment. So she determined to be self-employed and provide for herself and her son in the best ways she could - using writing and photography.

People who complain about their relatively trivial deprivations of lockdown should consider there are others who've been 'locked down' for much longer, and in much worse situations.

You can read her blog on her website [here] and follow her wonderful photography on Instagram [here] at 'Porridge Brain' . Last month she became one of the regular contributors to the Guardian Country Diary feature.  She is so gifted with book the pen and the camera. Check her out

By the way, she never mentions the weather scarf in the book [you can see it on Instagram though]

 I haven't mentioned my scarf for ages. It is finished now, and I just found the box I packed it in. I'll post about that soon. I rate this book ***** - thank you Liz!

Wednesday, 12 May 2021

Have His Carcase

For what feels like ages, in the weeks before we moved, I had the minimum number of garments to wear - rotating three tee shirts, a few bits of underwear, two pairs of trousers- and one smart dress to wear for recording Church Services! Then we got here, and I put some stuff on a clothes rail - and revelled in wearing different some tee shirts and a couple of prettier tops with leggings. 

But mostly clothes were spilling out of bags and generally the corner of the bedroom looked like the backroom at an Oxfam shop!

Its two years since we went to IKEA and selected the wardrobe we'd really like for this room. But we knew we needed to save up for it first. we said to the guy that we'd return in 2020 and finalise this order, and then spend the summer building it so it was ready for our retirement. But then the pandemic arrived.

In June I went into the store and asked about delivery, and the said "Come back in August" In August they told us that by October we could have the fittings [rails, shelves, drawers etc] but no carcases. [btw Have his Carcase is a great detective story by Dorothy L Sayers] That wasn't much help. Finally the week after we moved, we went into the Norwich store again. Muneeb, who said he had only been working in the store a couple of months, was determined to sort this out for us. He looked at our original specifications, and managed to get it all sorted, to arrive on May 11th. We were very impressed.[and grateful to UCF - their Farewell Gift helped with the costs]

The boxes arrived at 8am. Lots of boxes. Now there was one drawback- which we had known about for four years. The height of the wardrobe is 10millimetres higher than the bedroom ceiling [our previous next door neighbours had discovered this fact - and they had to make modifications] 

Bob is not a man to be put off by such issues though - and with his new Power Tools [also purchased with Farewell Gift] he set about trimming off those unwanted millimetres. We took ages over the building first section together- anxious to understand the instructions properly, anxious not trim too much, anxious to position in exactly the right place. The flatpack instructions had pictures of a cheerful couple assembling the furniture, and pointy fingers showing what not to do!

Two small parts had been damaged in transit- I rang customer services and these are being replaced ['I will send you a gift voucher as well, Mrs Almond, as an apology for your trouble' - said the nice guy. I had been on hold for 5 minutes, most amused that IKEA's 'on hold' music is Abba, singing "Mamma Mia!"]

By tea-time, Part 1 was almost complete - drawers at the bottom, and high hanging rail at the top, for Bob's shirts etc. Being very determined, Bob went back to work after his meal to get the doors on. We will work on the rest of the build today.

Did you know that 600 years ago, the King had a Royal Wardrobe?  It was actually a storehouse for all sorts of accoutrements - clothing, arms and armour, and other personal goods. And it wasn't a wooden box, but a large building. In 1351 it was located in Blackfriars, not far from the Tower. The parish church next door became known as St Andrews-by-the Wardrobe. Many famous people worshipped there over the years [included William Shakespeare, who lodged nearby]

During the time of the Commonwealth [and no King] many orphans were housed there. But Samuel Pepys noted in his diary that during the Restoration, the new Keeper of the Wardrobe evicted these poor children. In the Great Fire of London, the Wardrobe, and St Andrews burned down. Christoper Wren designed a new church, and that was damaged in the Blitz, but restored and rededicated in 1961

St Andrews-by-the-Wardrobe / St Robert-by-the-Wardrobe


Tuesday, 11 May 2021

I'm A Twirly!

It's official - my OAP Concessionary Bus Pass has arrived.[which is more than you can say for my OAP payment] And I'm officially a "Twirly" [for non-UK readers- bus passes in England work from 9.30am - if you try to use them before that, they say you're "Too Early"]

At least the photo is better than the one on my Driving Licence and Passport. Bob does not get his pass till November. I can get into Dereham [eg for the Bank] quite quickly- the bus runs every hour, and takes about 15 minutes. 

It takes an hour and a half to get into Norwich bus station [that's three times as long as going in the car - is it worth it?]  On the other hand, I can also use the pass for buses in both London and Manchester, which may prove useful on future family visits.

Bob has just renewed his car insurance- and found that the best policy came via Saga["Now I am feeling old too!"] 

I'm approaching all this retirement stuff with a Positive Mental Attitude- after all, my word of the year is adventure 

Monday, 10 May 2021

Wet! Wet! Wet!


I felt it in my fingers, felt it in my toes...

Cold, and damp - that's what I felt on Saturday morning. It was absolutely throwing it down when we woke up. Bob managed to locate the patio umbrella, a large tarpaulin, ropes and ratchet straps. He did a brilliant job of setting up an awning to cover two of the tables [we'd planned for more] 

9.30 am We put out some of our stuff - most on the Sales Table, and some on the smaller Freebies table. And the rain came down in torrents. [the red and white 'defiance tape' marks off a triangle round the newly planted tree] We'd paid £2 to be part of this Village Yard Sale. 

A neighbour came along with her phone. "Can I take a picture for Facebook? there are 5 of us in the Close who have pitches- and I want people to know we're here" We agreed. By 9.45 the Close was 'parking carnage' as Early Punters [ie people buying to sell on at Boot Fairs] turned up in their vans. We sold £2 worth of items to one, three others looked and went further up the Close...

By 9.55 the rain was heavier, and the wind really strong. Stuff was blowing off the tables - my "Sanitiser Station" was destroyed. We took all the goods inside, put away the tables, took down the umbrella and awning and admitted defeat.

Sharp eyed readers will spot that the outside light is hanging down in the top picture- somehow it got broken during the business of fixing the awning. Bob promptly removed the light and made the wiring safe [and we've made plans to get that sorted properly next week...]

We locked the door and ambled round to see our other 4 neighbours [all with sale goods inside their open garages] Some had made money, others not. By 10.30, Bob and I were back inside drinking hot coffee, our dripping coats hanging on the airer over the bath. 

Thanks everyone who wished us well - but the British weather really defeated us this time. The goods are all neatly packed away, awaiting the re-run in June. 

£2 out, and £2 pain, no gain, as they say!

Sunday, 9 May 2021

Happy Birthday, George!

I cannot believe that my grandson George is a year old today! This precious little bundle arrived on May 9th, 2020 - Mum having just tested positive for covid-19, and everything being a little bit dramatic. Now Steph and Gaz both back at work, having finished parental leave. George has really settled well into nursery.

We've only seen him twice since his birth - but Steph and Gaz have been brilliant at sending pictures, chatting on WhatsApp etc. And I know they tell him Grandma Ang knitted the jumper, and Grandad Bob made his Climbing Triangle.

Just a few pictures from the past twelve months...

I am glad that his other grandparents live much closer, they've been really great, supporting this gorgeous little family - and good at keeping us up to date with news too [thanks Andrea and Danny].
Feeling so blessed, to have this cheerful, cheeky chappy in the family. And really looking forward to meeting up with him again soon. God bless you, George, and keep you safe.

Saturday, 8 May 2021

Come Buy!

grass cut √ [thank you Bob]

signs prepared √

items priced up √

tables ready 

charity tin on freebie table √

sanitising station organised 

bags sorted √

cash float in tin √

The organisers contacted all the sellers a couple of days ago, as the weather forecast is Not Good. How did people feel about having it on Sunday instead?  Quite a few people pointed out there is a cycling event through the village on Sunday- and it might not be good to have cars parked along the main street, or pedestrians wandering unthinkingly into the road. So it is staying as a Saturday Event. 

Now all we need is reasonable weather, and a good number of punters.

Update: 7:45am rain incessant. Bob currently trying to locate his large tarp and create an awning. 

Friday, 7 May 2021

It's Got To Go

When we changed to a King Sized bed in 2005, I bought a new king sized duvet, plus cover. And [being mean  frugal] I modified two existing duvet covers to make them larger. The 2005 cover split and wore out years ago. The other two have remained. One was bought in 1997 - so is coming up to 25 years old, but is wearing well [see left] 

The other was a 1979 wedding present. That is not so much 'wearing well' as 'wearing thin'. Bob suggested that however strong my sentimental attachment to this cover is, I perhaps ought to consider whether it is time to remove this from my store of bedlinen. I muttered a little about Marks&Spencer items are not the same quality as they used to be - I doubt a replacement purchased now would last me 42 years [nb, I am not sure I shall need a King Sized duvet cover if I live to be 108]

But I have had to admit defeat - when I put fresh linen on the bed this week, I realised the fabric is so thin now, you can actually read the newspaper through it! It's got to go! Despite passing on a load of bedlinen to a charity in Bournemouth before we moved, I have a superfluity of double duvet covers here. I shall have to see if I can do some 2-into-1 reconstructions.

On Saturday there is a Village Yard Sale - all carefully managed, socially distanced etc. So our duplicate items are being stacked up in the Futility Room. We have a few things which will raise a quid or two. We're also planning to have a 'freebies' table, for those items we feel have some life in them, but are not worth paying for...all those little glass ramekins and terracotta dishes, empty ring binders, etc

After all, who needs two cheese graters, or 48 teaspoons? It's all got to go Let's hope for fine weather and lots of punters. I'm aiming to make space, rather than make money.

Thursday, 6 May 2021

Two From the Bottom, Two From The Top

Question - what's the connection between Pinky and Perky, Max Bygraves, The Spanish Flea and Countdown?

Answer - Marcel Stellman, who died this week at the age of 96 [pictured here with his wife Jean]

He is the amazingly talented Belgian who wrote loads of popular songs in the from the 1940s onwards. He worked with Englebert Humperdinck, Kathy Kirby,  Dame Vera Lynn, Sir Tom Jones, Petula Clark, Charles Aznavour and many others. He wrote Spanish Flea for Herb Alpert and Tulips From Amsterdam for Max Bygraves [today's trivial fact, MB's wife was called Blossom, and at school, she was in the same Netball Team as my Mum]

But back to well as his songwriting/producing career, he was also involved in television production- and in the 60s worked in the children's TV for the BBC, including the show "Pinky and Perky"

Then in 1982, he pitched the idea of "Countdown" [based on a French show called Des Chiffres et des Lettres - numbers and letters] Yorkshire Television took it on - and it became the first ever programme shown on the fledgling Channel Four, hosted by Richard Whiteley, with Carol Vorderman. It was an instant his. Marcel was called "Mr Countdown" - to which he replied "If I am MR Countdown, Carol is MRS Countdown". Ten years later, lexicographer Susie Dent joined Dictionary Corner. She said on Tuesday "Marcel was our patriarch and most passionate advocate"

I used to watch Countdown with the girls when they came home from school, to help their maths and spelling. Whilst still quite young, Steph realised that the word "dangerous" had 9 letters. Consequently, whenever the final 'conundrum' appeared she would automatically shout "dangerous!" But sadly I am not sure that the producers ever chose that word!

Did you singalong with Max Bygraves?

Imitate Pinky and Perky with their squeaky voices?

Or watch Countdown and try and beat the contestants' scores?

RIP Marcel, you provided much entertainment for adults and children alike. Merci beaucoup, and adieu!

Wednesday, 5 May 2021

These Boots Are Made for...Gardening

I have never considered myself to be any good at gardening. Relations gave us a spade and fork as wedding gifts "But we have no garden, we live in a flat" I said- and was assured that one day I would need them. Over the years I have attempted to grow things - but with very little success. But in the past couple of years, two things have encouraged me to try again - firstly the triumph of the orchids [oh I do hope I can keep them going without Jenny my orchid-tutor on hand to advise] and the arrival of the compost bin.

Back in February I made a brief trip up to Cornerstones, to provide Grandparental Support. It was that week when it was very windy and snowy. When I looked out into the garden, I noticed a compost bin. I put on my wellies and went out to check - it was clearly brand new. I rang my brother. "You said you'd left our Christmas presents here - I found the giftwrapped parcels- but did you leave us a compost bin too?" He denied all knowledge - and agreed it would be an unlikely gift.

Perhaps it had blown over the fence? I checked with all the neighbours- nobody had lost one. The council had been selling them for £10  - perhaps this one was delivered to the wrong house? But nobody has come to claim it- so I have started filling it up.

At Cornerstones, we have lots of grass- but very little by way of flowerbeds. The fig and bay trees are in their pots, and there's a honeysuckle growing over the fence which hides the oil tank. Along the front of the property is a narrow bed, where I planted lavender, rosemary and sage. These were fairly easy going and coped with our prolonged absences. To the side we planted an apple and a pear tree- and now an almond tree.

I can tell you now, the spade and fork have had more use in the past week than in the previous forty years. I'm determined to get the hang of gardening. In the past there have always been lessons to prepare, youth activities to organise, committee meetings to attend. But I am retired now...

A hundred years ago the artist William Nicholson went to paint Gertrude Jekyll the garden designer. She was too busy to sit for her. So he painted her gardening boots. I saw this picture in the Tate years ago, and was fascinated by it. I have been doing my gardening in a pair of 'desert boots' which originally belonged to Steph [I think] and they must be nearly twenty years old now! I am not posting any pictures of my gardening progress yet, but here are the boots [hers and mine]

Tuesday, 4 May 2021

A Balancing Act

Rosie spent last Saturday at Cornerstones, to give her Mum a much needed break. We had originally talked about a day at the coast, but on arrival [after Grandad Bob cooked breakfast pancakes] she said she would rather stay inside and do something with playdough. But I didn't have any to hand - so we made some.

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup water
  • ½ cup salt
  • 1 tsp cream of tartar
  • 2 tbsp cooking oil

Rosie measured and mixed, then I divided the mix into three and we added food colouring to each. [she's standing on my kitchen Dalek - she's not grown taller than me - yet] We stirred like mad as we heated the pans gently, then tipped the mix out onto a floured worktop to cool and firm up.

I suggested Rosie might like to do some science with our playdough. We prepared some "Balancing acrobats" from this brilliant little book.
We used a some of my business cards from Ferndown [now obsolete] to draw these little banana shaped people.
Then the sun was out, so we left the card acrobats on the side next to the cooling dough and went off to the sea as originally planned. The sun was still out when we arrived and while Bob wrestled with the Car Park machine, Ro and I went into Tesco and picked up meal-deals for lunch.
By the time we had walked to the Prom and sat down, the blue sky was grey, the sun had disappeared and the wind was so strong. Half a lettuce leaf covered in mayo blew out of my salad and stuck to my glasses like an eye patch. Rosie and I had blue fingers, it was so cold. It started to rain and at one point tried to snow! I dived into the bargain shop for some cheap gloves. We gave up on any ideas of paddling or sandcastles, and drove back to Cornerstones. Stopping to pick up milk in Morrisons, I saw the doughnuts reduced.
How much better you feel in a warm home with a jammy doughnut to eat! As we ate, we talked about gravity and falling over and falling down. Then we made little hemispheres of playdough with my mini scoop, and tried to unbalance the acrobats. But being bottom-heavy, they always flipped up again.[no jokes about being bottom- heavy please!]

Then Rosie did some more conventional playdough activity, cutting and shaping and rolling. And while she did that, I re-sewed the arm on Annabelle doll. 
Rosie was so excited to see that there are lots of children's books at Cornerstones now. And Grandad is never too busy to read her a story!
Our granddaughter is growing up fast - and her cousin George is one year old on Sunday. The weather was clearly better up North- he spent Saturday at a farm park looking at the animals.

Monday, 3 May 2021

Blind Spot


In 1864, John Lewis opened a department store on Oxford Street, he was just 28 years old. The store was founded on principles of  "value, service, assortment and honesty"- his two sons later joined him in the highly successful business. To the young John Spedan Lewis it seemed wrong that his father, his brother, and himself, should draw £26.000 a year from the business and “to ALL the other people who were likewise giving to it the whole of their working lives, it was only yielding another £16.000 a year.” He thought it so unfair and so inefficient, that he devised his new system. He had to fight his father’s opposition to the “new fangled” notion, but when his father gave him Peter Jones Store to manage, he made it pay and then introduced the scheme which made his name famous.

The employees – all Partners in the business – have a say in the running of the business and a share in profit, knowledge and power. This democratic ethos is still at the heart of the Partnership, and means every customer interaction takes place with an owner of the business. I think the Partnership’s commitment to John Spedan Lewis’ original model is something it can be proud of.

I've always had a fondness for good old fashioned department stores[ my gran was in service to Lord and Lady Gamage when their store was in its heydey] But John Lewis has always been my favourite. In my student years a trip to London had to include a meander round the haberdashery department. "Never knowingly undersold" meant that they were best value for branded goods, with excellent aftersales service. Not everything purchased new for our home, but some special items, have necessitated a trip up to town [in the days before online shopping] The girls' red tubular metal bunkbeds - which lasted us ten years and were as good as new when we sold them, the Sebo vacuum cleaner, well over 20 years old, and efficient as ever, my Kenwood Chef Christmas 1995] etc etc.

Since acquiring Cornerstones, I have saved up any JL vouchers and used them to buy curtains. They are well made, and reliable quality. So we have gorgeous blue blackout ones in the bedroom, and a couple of years ago, I was able to get "Strawberry Thief" ones for the lounge. My latest purchase has been to use a birthday voucher - plus a leaving gift from the 'Churches Together' friends in Dorset to buy a new blind for the kitchen.

I've always hated the old vertical blinds in the kitchen here - the plastic bits were breaking, it was hard to clean the sill and the window behind. Now I have a smart Kingfisher Blue roller blind. It was Bob's suggestion that this windowsill should be the home for my orchid collection. A south facing window, and in a place where they can be seen and appreciated.

I am so thrilled with the cheerful, fresh look, and grateful to friends whose generosity made it possible.No way is it a 'nightmare' And I am sorry that some people feel that my choice of furnishings from a company with high standards, of service and honesty, implies I have inferior taste. 

Sunday, 2 May 2021

What's In A Name

In mid April, 2009, we got the keys for this lovely little Norfolk bungalow [and scary mortgage to go with it!] 

The mortgage was due to be paid off in May 2020. That was just after my 65th birthday, when the government had told me I would receive my state OAP. Then the rules changed- and retirement was a year further away. In ways too amazing to go into here, that 11 year mortgage was paid off early in 2018. In mid April 2021, we retired from Dorset, and moved all our 'goods and chattels' here. But in the 12 years between, Cornerstones has been a holiday home for us, for family and for friends. It was a honeymoon hotel for a young couple who could not afford to go anywhere else, a temporary residence for my bro and family during a complicated house move, and last summer, it was Grandma's Nursery for Rosie when covid19 meant her regular Nursery was closed.

People often ask "why is is called Cornerstones? Was it always called that, or did you name it?" 

The answer is - we chose the name - because it seemed very appropriate - after all the property is on a corner plot [it isn't actually built of stones, though, just regular bricks]

But more important than that, it represents the Cornerstones of our life- 

  • our faith, 
  • our family, 
  • our friends
These are the things that matter most to us, it is who we are and what we are about. We thank God every day for his goodness, and for Cornerstones. 
[and we do hope that if you're in Norfolk, you will get in touch and maybe we can meet up]

Saturday, 1 May 2021

The Gasman Cometh


A great Lego animation of the old song by Flanders and Swann. There is no gas supply to Swanton Morley, but we have had our fair share of visits from the working men** of Norfolk in the past week.

The Amazon guy - thanks to the generous parting gift from friends at UCF, Bob has at last been able to purchase the Makita power tools he has been dreaming of for years. But of course, we had to stay in for the delivery.

The Electrician - the previous owners of this property did not think through some of the alterations they made. And having the consumer unit inside the back of an inaccessible corner cupboard in the kitchen is downright stupid. It has been OK until now, but that is where I want to store my baking tins - and I cannot empty the cupboard every time we need access! Plus we will need to run a power supply to the new garage [being forward looking, Bob wants to have cabling for an EV charging point fitted at the time of construction] Paul has been to inspect and will be sending us a quote.

The Boilerman - our previous chap retired last year, but we have found someone else to fix the faulty bearings and service the boiler. Gavin came early one morning and worked very efficiently to sort the problem. 

The Binmen - I misread the chart and I put the garden bin out on the wrong day. But they did take all the recycling, including some scrap cardboard which I had left beside the very full bin. [The majority of local authorities in the UK use wheelie bins made in Telford - but these appear to come from Basingstoke]

The Postman - the redirection service is working well. We continue to receive beautiful Welcome to your new home/Happy Retirement/Thankyou/Good Luck for the future cards

**yes they have all been men, thus far

Other working people seen regularly in the Close include

The Pharmacy Delivery Service [he's a very friendly chap, who drops off meds to most of my neighbours- but we are walking round to collect ours in person for as long as we are able to do so]

The Dog Walkers - who take out canines for neighbours who're unable to walk their own anymore [more women than men doing this, I notice]

The Fresh Fish Man. I'm not sure how often he visits, or what his prices are like - but I think I should investigate this one...

The Carers - most of these are female, and we have a number of people in the close needing support at the moment. These carers all seem friendly, resolutely cheerful, and very efficient. I hope they will not be needed at Cornerstones for a few years yet!