Art 3

Lovely new Ex. opened at the gallery yesterday. Huge oils all abstracts super colours. 10 years ago I would have fallen for one – 10 years ago – but getting rid of things is the order of the day.

Thank you so much for sending the stuff on Mary Fedden – and also interesting on Julian Trevelyan who had some work in Charing Cross hospital I remember. I shall take the pieces over to show my father, who knew them and used to go to open day parties at Durham Wharf.

We went to the Academy (David and the ‘Prisoners’) this morning, and then on to the Pitti Palace across the river. There we were both sure that there is the original of one of our two old portraits in the gold frames (which themselves seemed very Florentine). It was a self-portrait by a Venetian around 1700 called Nicolo Cassana.

We went up to X on Saturday for the opening of the exhibition. We got there with 15 minutes to spare to find the others all waiting outside though the place was open. In due course we trooped in, and found that the gallery owners had hung the pictures very well – they had managed to make them good neighbours, even when the styles were quite different! But nobody came to see which was sad! In the whole afternoon we had five visitors, and only two of those were people we knew before. The others came to see some pictures by an artist which occupied the rest of the gallery.

What a traumatic time you had getting your exhibition launched!! But it was nice to sell two big ones the first two days. Nice of X to go twice and take someone else too. I call that real support.

The art gallery was half occupied with an exhibition of ‘works’ made of bits of old motor cars, or a pair of pantyhose stretched from a cushion to two points on the walls, and so on. Some of the exhibits were quite cleverly adapted, but on the whole it was a bit way out for me. Upstairs they had some pictures from a university collection and these were nearly all abstracts, of the most abstract sort: six feet by four of brown paint with a single line running from top to bottom 2 ft 6 and a half from the left hand edge – that sort of thing.

The way-out exhibit

They had a new show opening in their Gallery. These were pictures by a woman who we had not heard of before, and not very prepossessing, but she did lovely watercolours, mostly scenery, some flowers – but much too pricey to think of buying.

There’s a lovely little bits and pieces shop opened beside the petrol station. I went in to look round and fell for a fascinating bracelet which I found was made of nails used to shoe horses. I asked if they were interested in miniatures and one of the women glowed and said she was anyway as she had a photograph of her daughter in her wedding dress she’d like to have painted (sounds hell). I think I’ll ask them over for a drink on the way home then they can see the worst before committing themselves.

I did a pastel portrait of the newly married wife of an old acquaintance last week.  He’s asked me so often it was becoming an embarrassment – she’s 65-70ish and has already buried two husbands – she’s gaunt but has very good bones and a delightful expression. I haven’t done her justice – he insisted she wore a suede pull-on hat which didn’t help at all. I must get it out of the house ASAP before I wreck it poking it every time I go past.

X seems to be getting into New Age stuff!…  She was also fascinated with some ‘art’ by a woman with very heavy ‘magical’ overtones and strange things happened to people who bought it.

This was a selection of enormous pictures all abstract, of named bits of X, which one could not recognise and all filled with strange eyes. I could find absolutely no merit in any of them.

We went to see ‘the Queen’s Pictures’. They certainly were a lovely collection of thirty out of her hundreds or thousands; I can’t imagine how they chose which ones to include. I thought one of most striking was Judith and Holofernes, illustrating a story from the Apocrypha, in which Judith gets this oppressive general Holofernes drunk and then chops off his head. The pictures shows the lady in lovely yellow gown holding the head by the hair, and attended by her maid. But the humour of the painting lies in the fact that Judith was modelled by the painter’s mistress, and her maid was a portrayal of the mistress’s mother, while the head was a self-portrait of the painter! … The way out of the exhibition involved going through a number of rooms where we were confronted with a few nice pictures and a lot of stuff like ? – the man whose painting largely consists of scrawls of writing. I never can understand why he is regarded as having any merit whatever!

Transport 2

X drove me to the airport only to find the place had been closed all night to in and out traffic because of the very high wind. They were on the way to the circus so I waited and eventually our plane was given the OK as the wind dropped quite suddenly but we didn’t get in until three-quarters of an hour late, we settled in and were then asked to return to the waiting room: a small private plane had pancaked on the only runway, it took over an hour to remove it (we’re just a wee bit primitive here!) Anyway then we were off.

I saw the ideal petrol saver the other day. A tricycle with enormous balloon tyres – very safe and comfortable. You could even put a big plastic sheet over you to keep you dry like an umbrella!

There were many pictures to choose from: cameleer posties, policemen on camels, soldiers on camels, women (only one described by profession – governess), couples on camels, camel trains, camel buggies, camel carts, camels hitched to ploughs, hitched with donkeys or horses… Camel riding was obviously a necessary attribute for many of this nation’s forebears.

When I got the Maxi three years ago it used to take $8 of petrol at a time. This week it got a bit low and took $17.96 worth to fill. It is a real pleasure to take my Honda in to be filled for the next 75 miles or so and have 75 cents to pay!

X wants to examine the passenger lists of ships sailing from England to South Africa between 1871 and 1876. Could you ring up the National Maritime Museum in SE10 and ask them whether they still exist (the lines that is) and if not who took them over. It is difficult to believe that the passenger lists won’t have been pulped decades ago, but I suppose there’s a chance that they may exist in some archives somewhere.

It was certainly a great deal easier to manoeuvre the van being almost level with the drive now and a smooth surface. I hope I shall be able to get it out more easily too – up to now I have had to haul it forward with a cunning pulley wheel device I got, on the end of a rope round a tree on the other side of the garden!

The pulley thing

X kindly lent us her Mini which we returned to her yesterday. They are an odd contrast to drive. A Mini seems very ‘tough’ compared to the Fiat: a matter of ‘Esau was an hairy man but Jacob was a smooth man’!

You wouldn’t expect to have a lovely time on a canal in London somehow – though I seem to remember a very leafy glimpse of it once round about Regent Park somewhere. A pity about the collision in the tunnel. Glad it was only paintwork – though paint is bad enough with most boatees!

I must say that the problems of garaging on the street sound reason enough for moving, to me! I’m glad my bike has never fallen over (or been pushed) yet; how the people with the really big ones manage I can’t imagine. I got into conversation with the tyre man at one of our local garages a week or so ago, when he was kindly repairing my back wheel which I discovered to be flat on arrival in the village – he has a Japanese 600 or 750 of some sort. I made some remark about having avoided death so far (since I’ve always heard that about 30% of the people who buy those big bikes kill themselves in the first six months) and was told very firmly that the class of rider who had most accidents on a mileage basis was the 125 and downwards. (Mine is a 125, you remember.)

A string of cars appeared coming north towards us. Suddenly from behind the first one appeared a red car, overtaking. But when he saw us he braked to pull in again. However the road was damp after rain, and he went into a front wheel skid right in our path. All along that straight on our side of the road there is a high bank, with sometimes up to a car’s width of hard shoulder – and sometimes not! There was, at the point our paths were going to cross, so we avoided a head-on crash but did a very hearty side-swipe from just behind our front wheel. The hard shoulder than disappeared, and we went up the bank and ended up with my side of the car on the ground and X hanging in midair above me in her seat-belt. From looking at the place some time later, it appeared that we had travelled about 17 yds between the place where the strip had come off the side of his car to the point where the glass came out of my window as I put my elbow down to take some of my weight, so our deceleration had been comparatively mild compared to a head-on smash, and we were lucky to escape with only very mild bruises – and X with a stiff back for a few days, which was probably from her gymnastics getting out of the car when people arrived very quickly from the other cars, and opened her side door, while I was able to loose off her seat belt once she had some other means of support.

Outings 4

X suddenly decided on Saturday night that she was fed up with cooking, so we went over to the Old Flame on Sunday for lunch, which was very pleasant and not vastly more than it would have cost us to buy the food to eat at home, I suppose. (Well, only about five times as much.)

Eating out is expensive

Your trip on the canal took me back to our various trips on the Thames, but not on any 50 foot long, at least you didn’t sink your barge(?) as one of our party did a motor boat on the first day out! The biggest thing I’ve steered was a tank landing craft when we went for a fun ride in Suez Bay, when the Captain from the parent ship signalled ‘Wrens take the helm’! We did have a bit more space than you, though when a battleship came through the canal at the narrowest point by Navy House there were only a matter of feet either side of her – nasty.

He was describing how he and X and a friend had gone for a day’s tramp on a recent day off and of horrific adventures involved in finding a way out of the bush again, including walking down a stream up to their waist in water for quite a way – at the end of which he had had to be dropped off for a meeting, still in the same pants, because there wasn’t time to go home to change. It sounded to us just the sort of expedition which leads to these searches which continually happen in the summer, though X maintained that it was really quite safe. But it only takes a fall to break a leg or something which would put a different complexion on it. Our friend did just that. It took six burly men and a boat to get her back to the beginning of civilisation, plus an aeroplane, and she is still in plaster to her knee, with a cracked rib into the bargain from a fall when she got out of bed by herself, because it was her ‘good’ leg which she had broken.

We went after lunch to the pictures, and saw Forest Gump. It was rather a nonsense story in some ways, but in others was worth watching, and at any rate it didn’t have any bad language and no violence other than the Vietnam bits which the story justified. So we thought it worth watching.

A colleague and I had a lovely 2 days familiarising ourselves with the Shotover river which is just upstream of the project but still in the same catchment. We drove about 50 km up the river on the first day staying overnight in a tiny hut on a sheep farm. The farmer lives alone with his wife and 2 children who do their schooling by correspondence. Such a remote life must be quite hard on both parents and kids. On the second day we tramped up a couple of tributaries to look at various areas of engineering interest. The whole river has been extensively worked for gold since 1862. The various remains were fascinating. Apart from the tailings there were numerous pipes, buildings, ropeways and even a 10m high dam about 2 miles up a tiny tributary; the gold must have shone awful brightly!

I will leave you in peace at Easter to get straight as I shall still be recovering from the 17th I expect, both financially and in sheer exhaustion at the train journey and the crowds in London. Unfortunately I can’t change X from the 17th, as she is the holy one who knew the family, and Holy Week and Easter are her busy times of course as she is a deaconess or something (does it have 2 n’s in the middle?). In fact quite why I still know her I don’t understand, as there is only the tenuous link of school and her knowing the family, but she is a persistent old thing and I quite like meeting about once every two years.

We went to the village yesterday on the way here but were unlucky. The Rector and our neighbours were out, Mr. X – still the head teacher – was running school sports and Miss Y (ex organist) was having a nap on her couch from which we did not like to try too hard to wake her. So the only person we saw to talk to was Mrs. Z, who hadn’t changed a scrap and was still slightly frightening, as the whole family always were because one felt they were all so clever, erudite and artistic musically. It was a joy to see the little church again as beautifully kept as ever and especially nice because there had been a wedding and there were extra flowers.

My only visit to Browns Hotel was when my ex-boss cut a Directors meeting to take me to lunch (complete in uniform so a little conspicuous) only to find on looking round the rest of his ‘meeting’ lunching the other side of the room!! The next time he took me to lunch – post war – it was the Berkeley.

We went out to ‘see the seals’. We drove over to X and down that valley where we had the nice picnic by the little dam, and climbed those steep slopes. At the end the road runs along by the sea for a couple of miles and then comes to an end at a sheep farm. From there we had to walk about a mile and a half partly on grass and partly on shingle and over rocks to the place where they were all laid out sunning themselves, with others floating about on the waves as they came in. It seemed surprising that although the waves were three or four feet high and the rocks very sharp looking they seemed to be able to scramble ashore whenever they liked without any harm.

We went down to the Park to watch the extraordinarily assured young women (from about eight upwards) putting their ponies over the jumps. No one would think we have had a depression for years, judging by the array of horseboxes, rugs, Range Rovers etc., apart from the horseflesh – and well rounded rumps in stretch jodhpurs! But it was cold, in the southerly, standing to watch, so we did not stay long.

Then we went in search of Miss X – who is said to be 92, and is small but very much compos mentis. She lives in the house she was born in, which is vast, just for her. A corridor stretches away for about twenty yards from the front door with the same complicated plaster designs in the ceilings and two or three arches, which her father had apparently made when he first bought the house as a shell, and finished the interior himself. She said he was a plasterer by trade, and maybe he started that way but he must have done better for himself than that to afford this house. She keeps it spick and span with the bits out everywhere and she showed us it all: sitting, five bedrooms, dining room, kitchen and bathroom and a billiard room at the end of the passage. And on top of that she does her garden too which was full of dahlias and all sorts of flowers, slightly untidy but very fruitful – and she has a gardener once a month, whose main job I gathered was to remove her rubbish. We stayed an hour and hope we didn’t exhaust her too much.

Grandchildren

I had X yesterday – you can’t take your eyes off him for a minute – even when he’s ‘asleep’! His father put him to bed when they came the other day – after 1/2 hour I said I could still hear him talking so Y decided to get him up. He’d turned on my bedside light and I suddenly saw what looked like strips torn off the wallpaper – then we smelt my new large pot of hand cream. He’d put the lot all over his face and hands and a square yard of the wall, 3 pillow cases, sheet and my candlewick bedspread. We scraped it off with a knife – fortunately it was a washable paint on the wall and it doesn’t show!!

The infants v. good – X is a really delightful and responsible little boy and Y is much improved though I gather a constant source of worry to the parents as to what she’ll say or do next! She was cut off sharply once or twice before I could gather what she’d said – maddening!!! Z is a nice cuddly little thing and ties her mother round her little finger.

There’s a constant whirl going on from 5.30 a.m. on. One morning at this time X crept into the family room where I slept and excused himself in a penetrating whisper, as he wanted his song book. He crept back to the room they all three share now and they quietly shut the door and went to it, the lot, but the lot, from Yellow Submarine to Lily the Pink in a really wall shattering chorus.

We had X to stay over the weekend a week or so ago, which was interesting. We hadn’t seen her apart from one or two hours since before she went to Canada, and she has grown up a lot; in fact she is a very different person from the rather whinging schoolgirl she was ten years ago. Now she knows it all (with admittedly more justification than most nineteen year olds, for she has got herself around a great deal). She is planning to go to Vietnam, on some sort of biological research team, to work in the forests next January, together with her boyfriend. I would be heartily glad if the whole plan falls through, for it seems to offer a variety of dangers: but I suppose one can only just express an opinion and leave it at that. She is a nice affectionate child (young woman).

She is the oddest baby. Her mother said she wasn’t at all what she expected – and she looked just like her g’mother! I think she looks like a cross between Grumpy of the 7 Dwarfs and Queen Victoria. Enormous dark eyes she turns on you in a very critical way, dark brown curly hair – lots – and she ruminates all the time with her mouth well turned down and pokes her tongue out and licks her lips. She has a little round bullet head and long fingers and lovely nails.

[Outing with young grandsons] The lunch was super and we all ate hard for 2 hours! … We played racing demon until it was time for tea – ‘We’re really not hungry – just a small piece of pizza please’ all the boys said – but it was remarkable how hungry they felt once more after all – and went on happily to drop scones, flapjacks and burnt house cake most in the plural: an outstanding performance after the lunch they ate!

Praise be X is now really friendly and very sweet and actually knows me – I couldn’t cope with Y – we just don’t ‘take tea’. I laughed and laughed last week – he came for 2 hours whilst his mother went to the hairdressers. He seemed v. chatty and was in fact being quite pleasant and friendly – and all in the same chatty voice said to me, ‘mummy says I mustn’t say I don’t like granny’!!

We had X up here for a couple of days this week. She is most exhausting, and delightful, though with a frightful accent and not very usual table manners, which she has acquired from her flatmates, I suppose – they both work in the builders trade, so eating becomes rather like feeding a concrete mixing machine. But X is determined to find some sort of vocation in life: and it obviously ought to be concerned with people, as she seems to have a way with her.

We’ve had X here from Thursday evening until this evening. He is a great giggler (in a raucous way reminiscent of his mother at his age) and very quickwitted – with quite a facility for making Limericks, for instance, which I thought surprising for his age. He has also got much more agile in recent months – runs quite fast and far. We did a few jobs, like planting out the strawberry bed and visiting the water supply and went a long walk up a new track the neighbour has had bulldozed right up to the far end of his hill, on which he was setting the pace most of the way. He got himself soaked 3 times (in the stream, filling the watering can and finally slipping and sitting down on the walk in a very wet patch of grass which he said very indignantly was ‘camouflaged’!!!). I think he enjoyed it all.

The puddle was camouflaged

X wanted to tell us his news! And of course, I couldn’t get a word of what he was saying! However Y then suggested he tell me what he had done at the play centre this morning. I was duly surprised to hear he had played with some gold dice, but Y enlightened me when she came back to close down. It was cold ice they had been playing with! But when I think that I was quite frightened of the telephone until the age of about fifteen, I marvel.

Talking of the way professional families are turned out, do you remember the photo of my family on holiday circa 1920 – scruffy wasn’t the word for us. And come to think of it, X tends to appear in jeans which are more hole than cloth, and all the boys wear terrible gym shoes all the time.

I think we shall have to give up offering meals to her brood. They all came in to tea yesterday on the way back from their parish weekend, although to begin with X just stayed in the car apparently asleep. Y came in and managed two or three ham sandwiches (very ladylike – no crusts) before we eventually produced the biscuits, and then he did quite well on them. Later X wandered in, and of course got the choice straightaway: he managed two nibbles out of a cream cheese and pineapple sandwich, and deserted it for a chocolate biscuit. We had all the crusts for supper!

He gave X a big polystyrene surfboard and Y a recorder – Y burst into tears and said, ‘I want a BIG present too’! All was saved when a swimming ring was in Y’s parcel too and his mother quickly blew it up – BIG!!

Significant other 6

Also have an arborist coming this week to trim a large maple tree in my backyard which hangs over a rather troublesome neighbour to the East. This woman lives alone with 2 cats and a very belligerent noisy dog. As far as anyone knows she has never worked. Her resident man left her about 4 years ago. She occupies herself by reporting the neighbours to the City at the least opportunity – though I think that now the City people don’t bother to listen to her!!

We both went to have our hearing tested a week or so ago, and I have just ordered a thing to fit in my left ear, which is apparently worse than the other. It remains to be seen whether it is going to help, but I do find that I have to ask X to repeat herself more often than she asks me – though (privately, of course) I think that that is because she is so deaf that she keeps the radio on too loud which interferes with my hearing her the first time!!

Have you heard X has remarried? A doctor 2 years widowed – I hope he’s a better bet than her first disaster – he sounds nice, with a mind of his own, as he proposed after they’d known each other 3 weeks.

He’s about X’s age – his wife suddenly upped and ran off with a friend of theirs about 2 years ago – so he’s married a charming widow (twice widowed) of about 60 and they appear to be enthralled with each other and madly happy!

She tells me his sister- who we knew and her husband, a solid little solicitor whom I liked, but X made disparaging noises about – have separated – 4 young too – tho’ I s’pose the twins must be 16 now.

X gave us a gorgeous lunch today at the hotel. It was beautifully and lavishly presented and as [partner] said coming in, ‘I’m having a holiday. No lunch to get and I ate so much that I shan’t have to give you much for supper’!

Look after yourself – I sometimes wish you had someone to look after you – but I doubt if you’d let them!

X still lives there and still happily married to the rich old man who was a great friend of Y.

She’ll probably end up getting a brilliant degree and marrying this vicar bloke or someone similar! She says there’s nothing but friendship between her and this ‘wotsisname’ but X seems to think otherwise. We shall have to wait and see.

He said his wife went back to UK for a holiday and took $3000 with her and so liked being home and everything was so much cheaper she’d put down a payment on a house and bought a coloured TV and he was now going back too!!

I agree with you, I think he’s a honey, not a ball of fire, but then he was regular Army!! He’s always been the same, and far too nice for X in my opinion.

I was fed up with X – he’s really been smoking much less lately but he must have had 8 in the evening even when I demurred politely. It’s difficult as if I make him mad he’ll just be foul and that makes her asthma worse.

She was difficult to make progress with. You couldn’t see her face as she wore a lot of make-up; she hardly said a word the whole time, and it was very difficult to prise X away from her – he was being super-protective the whole time. They did not appear to talk even to each other very much – so it’s very difficult to form any opinion about the whole affair. It must have been very terrifying for her – rather like being thrown into a tankful of piranha fish I should think.

Meeting the piranhas

In company they appear to be quite close and equitable, but I’m afraid X does not get much joy out of his marriage, and the peace is only maintained by a good deal of self-control on his part just refusing to get upset by her more pathological traits.

I went up to see her that afternoon and discovered that X (her husband) had gone to sleep on her bed, a state in which he remained the whole half-hour or so that I was there. I think he must be very difficult to live with, because is he manic depressive, and liable not to take his pills into the bargain.

They have a son who married 3 years ago and went off the rails a few months later departing with an ex-girlfriend and leaving his wife in an advanced state of pregnancy. This largely I think through sheer immaturity: he was probably finding it difficult to make ends meet. Anyway he came back and his wife forgave him (one up for Rome – she’s an R.C.) and the whole family moved to a 30 acre patch to grow vegetables.

Things fall apart 5

I’d have been v. frightened if I’d had X’s hoax phone call, but what a disaster shooting herself.

We had to go to the new house because a couple of young trees we’d ordered had turned up and needed planting. The rain got steadily heavier. We spun out the journey having lunch and saying hopefully that it was getting lighter. But eventually it could be deferred no longer so I donned my shower-proof mac and dug the holes, drove in stakes and spread roots and applied manure and filled in – apart from a few minutes when the rain changed to sleet and I cowered behind a bush – while X sat in the car morally supporting. We drove to Woolworth’s and bought a bright orange towel to dry my hair – and drape over my de-trousered legs while X drove home. But I kept them (the trousers) round my ankles just in case she had an accident and I needed them in a hurry!

orange towel for modesty

X phoned t’other night to cheer us with the news that the sewage is coming up through the front lawn at the house! It’s time it was pumped out – so we hope it’s just that and the Jehovah’s Witness hasn’t misled us – Y was full of praise for his uprightness (?!) so we hope for the best.

We had great manoeuvres yesterday getting the van out from its ‘hard standing’ as I had to take it for a warrant of fitness test. Putting it back is easier being downhill – except that at one critical moment the jockey wheel fell out having been unscrewed too far and I was left holding the front up until X could put it back!

On the whole the general impression of this Christmas has been almost completely secular, spurred on by that fat chap in red urging everyone to make it a ‘cracker Christmas’ by spending more than they can afford. A bit sad, really, and I suppose it is no surprise that the news this morning is dominated by the number of children in hospital as the result of drink-inspired ‘domestics’.

I set to and tidied up the rhubarb and this afternoon put some on to cook – come an hour later there was a suspicious smell – it must know I don’t really like it!!

The FIRST time I took it out going round the bay the gear lever came out in my hand, very NARSTY- fortunately it freewheeled round the corner and to the curb before stopping. However the firm was most efficient and have replaced the gear lever with a new one. Plus the light system for the dashboard that fell to pieces on X’s feet (glad that wasn’t my own effort too!) and now we hope for the best.

I daren’t try and hang any more paintings – I was fixing something in my glass-room and getting down I found my standing leg gave way and me and chair fell in a heap on the concrete floor – felt sure I must have broken something, but praise be only more bruises.

Apologies if my typing takes a sudden dive like that at intervals. One of the Shift controls has broken and although I have got used to using the other, the broken one can’t actually be removed and every now and then jiggles itself in play in that irritating way. As my machine is now twenty-five years old and Swedish to begin with, and long out of production I gather, there is not much to be done.

Far worse is Old Jordans which was called the Hostel was turned into a conference centre and then became a hotel and has now gone seriously bankrupt and the bank is insisting on them paying up a very large loan. It’s on the open market for sale but it has so many restrictions on its use that only a charity could buy it. Luckily George Fox lived there (?) and William Penn who is buried in the graveyard. So Pennsylvania will probably come to the rescue. It sounds like the wrath of God!

X had a couple we hadn’t met coming to tea today. I got held up gardening in the morning and had to dash out to get my glasses in the afternoon. I trod on one pair and dented the other ones when I fell over so was in a rush – and did everything wrong; the biscuits didn’t look right, the cake leaked through the moveable bottom all over the oven and I forgot to put the lemon it it – so it’s so dull I didn’t produce it today, I ran out of icing sugar icing some Russian Squares then this morning I did shortbread and dropped scones and …’no, I won’t eat anything, I’m on a diet’!!

Did I tell you that I ran into a rock which had fallen off the bank at the sharp bend which is called ‘the devil’s elbow’? The car bounced a foot into the air, and I discovered that it had a hole in the gearbox, and the gears were not connecting any more. We had so many things on this week, it seemed, that I had to hire a car to keep us going – which was expensive, and perhaps not entirely necessary, because now the hire car has gone back and Bill the local garage man has made ours work and says it should be OK over Easter. He had ordered and obtained a secondhand gearbox as required by the insurance assessor, but when it came yesterday it was the wrong shape and didn’t fit. Maddening. So he took a large hammer to ours, and apart from the fact that the gear lever nearly runs into the passenger seat before it goes into first and second, it seems to work nicely! Knowing when and how to take a hammer to it is a great art in these days of ultra-complicated motors!

Poor X. I know what a mess it can make leaving the cap off the oil, having done it once myself. But over £100 is certainly adding insult to injury.

The ancient Mini sounded a very questionable convenience from the garage, especially after I had looked up ‘HGV’ in my dictionary to appreciate the horrors of finding yourself in front of it with no power. I hate it when one hears the hiss of brakes behind one, and finds the mirror completely occupied with a Mercedes symbol or whatever, sitting a yard or two behind ones back bumper.

It worries me that you find it easy to go to sleep in the bath, having had the experience of not being able to get out and fearing the same for you with no one to shout for. Perhaps you need the equivalent of tramways ‘dead man’s handle’ which you have to hang onto on pain of a shattering bell if you loosen your grip. That ought to stop you going to sleep.

Nuisances of life 6

Poor X tripped down the step in the middle of our sitting room after breakfast and caught his face just above his eye, between eye and temple, on the corner of my grandfather’s old oak table – blood everywhere but his mother was marvellously calm – I suppose she is getting used to it as they had had I think seven lots of stitches between – picked him and shoved his head under the kitchen cold tap, and then we took him off to the doctor – but in fact it was only a plaster job and not stitched.

Right under our noses with the TV at full blast, a mouse has been running to and fro all evening. X set a trap beside him on the fireplace and the cheeky thing has managed to eat it all and not set it off. We saw the first one since we’ve been here this week, and caught him. We hoped to get t’other one before we got a clutch, or whatever you get of little mice. … The mouse has been layed?!!laid? to rest – now we’ll see if a family appears too.

X was attacked by one of our vast magpies when she went for a walk at the w/e – it dive bombed her for 100 yards actually hitting her head – ugh.

Your efforts with your frames and the varnish sounded a bit like my efforts to make a new box for the Scrabble set which I recently finished. It was a question of using up bits of wood that I had on hand, and I ended up with the box just an eighth of an inch too narrow to take the Scrabble board flat, so it has to go in on an angle with both the bits of wood that hold the pieces on the same side. Maddening. And apart from that the lid which is made to slide in and out jams when it is fully shut and is liable to fall out of its grooves altogether before it is fully withdrawn. Not a successful piece of carpentry, I fear.

X had the car out two days ago, and came back unaware of a large dent in the front wing on the driver’s side. Maddening! I don’t know whether it was a friendly shove from a larger car – maybe a four wheel drive with a high bumper which just nicely come above our wheel arch, or whether she did it herself against a post outside one of the shops she stopped at. Which doesn’t seem likely but is possible because she remembers trying to reverse and getting out of the car to check she wasn’t running over someone because the car resisted reversing.

A mob of hippies had a demonstration outside Parliament and they – some 100 strong – mobbed the official’s car when he was leaving and came into the car park as we were all coming out. Some sensible young priest (from X district so he’s v. likely had experience!) invited them in to see the cathedral. They flocked in girls on boys’ shoulders, smoking cigarettes and climbing all over the chairs in bare feet. The organist rose to the occasion and played the organ so loud they couldn’t shout the odds but in fact got talking in several groups and some joined us for tea in the hall and eventually the chaplain for the university who’s a very good type suggested they weren’t having much fun and now they’d seen it why didn’t they go – and they did!! As some 8 had already been arrested outside for abusive language, damage and knocking a policeman down, I think we got off lightly.

I’m sorry for not replying sooner, especially as you were sounding altogether rather miserable. I confess it was semi-deliberate as I thought X would think it odd if you didn’t share the letter but that to commiserate about the difficulties of cohabitation would not be news she’d really want to read! However she’s safely back here now so I feel freer to write! We went out to the airport today to make sure she caught the right plane. It was good to see her and all went well once we’d actually got her through customs – first she had to borrow $30 to pay her duty and having done that she left her two bags on the collection turntable – how she got past the customs guys without the evidence I can’t think! – I could well believe that the two of you in a single flat for 3 months would be potentially lethal. However she was most effusive about how well you’d got on and seemed really enthusiastic about the whole trip.

It’s really stupid of Mrs. X – she’s made her command performance ‘Regrets only’ put on awful printed bit of pink office paper, why she thinks any of us would ‘regret’ I can’t think!

[re puzzle] How queer it is that one can search and search for a particular feature and be sure that that piece, at least, must have got lost, and then ten minutes later when you are doing something else, you find you have filled that particular gap up without noticing. Talk about gremlins!

On the whole, the leadership was hot on the results to be achieved, and weak on how to achieve them, I thought. And that is not new.

The hospital rang me for my long awaited op. (Coincidentally a cancellation occurred only one day after our speech director phoned up to complain about how long I’d been waiting!) Alas the op was not so wonderful. The guy doesn’t seem to have sealed the fistula and when the surgeon saw me 2 days later the conversation included a priceless, ‘Oh, if it’s your speech you want to improve it’s your soft palate I should be correcting; I could do something with that’. Grrrrrrrrrrrr! So I’m back on the waiting list for round two.

We were just off to bed last night when there was a bit of a furore in the road outside. Some young lad had come off his 756 cc mini-motorbike and broken a leg. We called the ambulance and directed traffic etc. for a while. What did seem rather bizarre was that while the ambulance guys were doing their thing at one end of the victim the traffic cop was busy booking the other end for riding an unregistered bike, having no licence, being under age etc. etc. – at least I suppose it kept his mind off the pain!

Summer is upon us, meaning that there is seldom ten minutes of the day indoors when one isn’t being bombarded and threatened by the buzzing of our enormous brand of bluebottles. We have at last invested in two fly bats of plastic, which are a good deal more effective than rolled up newspapers, but still not much fun especially as they are very difficult to hit on the wing! and sometimes take a terrible long time buzzing round and round before they decide to sit down for a rest.

The bluebottles

X and co. moved out of their house on Friday and came down to us yesterday – they are to stay until I think 17th (by which time I expect we shall all be round the bend) when the house they are renting to begin with will be vacant.

But perhaps you hadn’t heard that the Xs finally got out still owing us $400. We’re pretty fed up with the solicitor who said Monday 10 days ago yes, he would get a summons out the next day – but when I called on him this Monday at a time suggested by his secretary the summons was no further forward. But yes he would do it directly he got back from a funeral and wouldn’t wait for the bailiff, but would serve it himself on Tuesday for certain. I rang him this afternoon and he was just then hoping to get it from the Court! We are beginning to despair of anyone when your solicitor can no more be trusted than your defaulting tenants!

[continuing saga]

And talking of giving up – we have a tremendous and frustrating hate on with the solicitor who seems by now almost certainly to have lost us all chance of getting any of the money the Xs owe for rent by the most unremitting negligence and inefficiency – added to which, when we ring him weekly to hear what he hasn’t done, he manages to sound patronising even when he obviously can’t remember where the ‘due processes of law’ had got and what he was supposed to be doing next.

I’m handicapped in writing this as I have a shrewd suspicion I posted the first since my return without a stamp or on a UK form – so you may get it in 6 months or not at all, or have to pay vast sums for it – but I don’t want to leave it longer to hear it’s arrived.

Too maddening, after working all day to get ahead so we’d be at the club on time, we had to rush through a delicious steak and kidney pie and go before our pudding – and were late – and then I got annoyed with a silly woman who first told me a spit and sawdust dubious joke and then tried to be funny at my expense. After this my play got worse and worse – we revived the fire when we got home and ate our puddings – mine cold bread and butter pudding – and didn’t get to bed before 12.15.

My heart sank for you about the lecture you turned up for a day late. I knew just how you felt as I did the same – we were flat broke and X came to visit and we had that ghastly Swedish girl and Y with us and I’d got tickets for one of the outdoor plays and we arrived to find it was for the night before – I could have wept.

But on the way back the car developed a definite ‘ticking’ noise which I put down to a very loose tappet – but was perhaps something more serious which I didn’t recognise as about 5 miles from home there was an almighty bang followed by horribly expensive grinding and cracking noises and a smell of hot oil! It has since appeared that a con rod broke and the loose end thrashing about went through the sump, demolished the oil pump and cracked the cylinder block beyond hope of guaranteeable repair. All of which adds up to about $600 of new bits and $200 of labour pulling them together – on top of which I shan’t ever feel confident in towing with the car again – so that we shall have more expense in changing it for something a bit more powerful – unless we give up the van which would be rather a policy of despair.

I think she’d be bored stiff here and I’d hate to lend her the Viva – she’s the most erratic driver.

It was me who convinced you there were humming birds in the hot houses at Kew as I took you there to show you and I even got one of the old gardeners and he denied it – I was v. put out and quite unconvinced – but now you have solved it for me as we lived quite near Syon Park and I must have seen them there and told you the wrong place – I get quite despondent how often I’m wrong!

I achieved my first real bit of work on the computer this week. When it finally came to printing it I pressed he button with trepidation, only to discover that the last eighty or so letters of each full line were being printed as the beginning of a new line. And of course I didn’t know how to stop it safely, so I stood there wringing my hands like the sorcerer’s apprentice while it wasted about eight sheets of paper (I’ve got it running on continuous sheets now).

When we got back from the station yesterday X discovered that somebody had picked and gone off with her only two daffodils, which were growing temptingly near the front gate. A rotten trick!

It’s a maddening thing that our TV, which is more or less audible and with a vague and rather snowy picture most evenings always seems to degenerate into a blizzard complete with a gale-like roaring on Sundays, when there is a David Attenborough series which we like to see.

I am sorry about the bird down your chimney. I can just imagine how distasteful, to say the least, dealing with the plagues has been. [Bluebottles and maggots…] It seems a pity you can’t have a holocaust up the chimney. But I suppose that might be rather tempting the fates.

Hobbies 6

I got ‘Reflex’ from the library, and enjoyed it and since then have read another of Francis’ books, called ‘Risk’ which I also enjoyed. There didn’t when I looked that time seem to be any others of his on the shelves. Anyway, I must ration myself – the library obviously regard them as second class literature since they charge for them – 30 cents a time, superannuitants 15c. I am intrigued to know by what standards they decide which shall be rental books, and which free. I suppose that John Wyndham for instance (who is free) has a serious idea underlying most of his writing, as Neville Shute (also free) often did – but then quite a good case could be made for Dick Francis as a ‘serious’ novelist portraying psychological development or something, and not merely as a writer of thrillers.

We went to see X’s play. It got an incredible write-up for a 7-man show in a really scruffy little theatre. Only 2 people mentioned by name were the nun who is on the stage all the time and X who is on 99% of the time: ‘Young X was simply splendid in his unflappable arrogance.’ He had to embark on Ave Maria without so much as a tuning fork by himself – he seems to have managed not to get cocky about it.

The wind has resolutely refused to blow enough to sail my new little Giggle. We drifted about for an hour and I failed to make any headway to clear the rocks at each side of the little bay we had launched in – but just enough to drift me backwards onto a couple of motorboats! However a man and a small girl in an aluminium dinghy offer to tow me clear – which saved me getting the sail down to row myself. Ignominious but useful!

We’re being just so lazy you wouldn’t believe it. Can you imagine us having a cup of tea in bed and playing trial hands of bridge?!

I’ve gone a trifle mad this week and bought a knitting machine – the one thing I’ve never wanted but I’ve been looking for a jersey for months – all mine I brought out have collapsed – and when I asked the woman in the meat shop where she got hers she told me she made it on a k. machine and swore by them and told me the kind she’d just got and I saw a 4 month old one advertised at nearly half price – the woman had got a big commercial one and couldn’t spare the time to work two tho’ the one I bought takes double knit and the big one won’t. It will pay for itself with about 6 jerseys. I also bought 56 lbs of clay so I can try this cold cast bronze lark – tho’ it sounds vastly complicated. I’ve got a book all about it from London. In fact they sent me two by mistake but I fear that won’t make it twice as easy. Just off to buy my first wool, feeling vaguely guilty as I’ve got a shirt for X ready to cut out and still about 30 yds of material – quite apart from the clay – I think I’ll get 1/4 ox and box of beans and go into house arrest for a year – lovely!!

We did several sketches on the holiday – she working with water colour and me with the new crayons she gave me, which you subsequently paint over with water rather like a magic painting book to produce what looks like a watercolour! You can if necessary add another layer and repeat the process to change the colour (since it’s not easy without more practice to guess what a first mixture of crayons will produce). As always the difficulty seems to be to produce lifelike greens, toning down the rather violent ones in the box. Our last sketch was of an old barn up the valley. She was okay in the car but I wanted to be nearer so sat out and got much attacked by those horrid little black flies (which people call sandflies but they are more ‘forest flies’) – which produce lumpy bites the next day and have only just ceased to irritate a week later. I had to do the colouring afterwards at home from very rough notes it got so unendurable. But I was quite pleased in the end with the sketch.

By evening I get at my piles of natural wool – 45 ounces – I bought to make Aran knits for all the grands for Xmas – I’ve done a long sleeved one of immense intricacy for X’s birthday. (I must have been out of my tiny mind – about 3 patterns all going at once.)

I have stopped spinning for the time being to use up an old offcut of canvas web trying to make a small wall hanging with cubes that you see different ways (a la Escher) – but I fear it may not be going to work since the lines are not precise enough – partly because of the difficulty of making a line on a diagonal out of tufts fitted into vertical and horizontal squares; and partly because the wool is about a inch and a half long when slotted in, and wavers about.

Hmm…

I made a pair of mitts for X, out of a black lambskin which I had cured (wool inside) I reckoned she might be glad of them next winter down south – always assuming that she can get into them – I couldn’t get any patterns anywhere locally, and had a guess based on some gardening gloves. I wondered whether I ought to treat the skin with silicone car polish, or something, to make it waterproof, as I have a feeling it may get a bit gooey, like wash leather, in the rain, but eventually decided to chance it. At least the sewing, in special oiled silk, should hang together.

When I was young 3

He turned up himself, and spent a whole afternoon hand digging 3 ft deep, starting at the road frontage, and on and on to the link up with the sewage pit, commenting the while that he must have been drunk when he put it in as it was so crooked, and when he was at school his father told him he had to keep at his lessons or he’d end up digging holes all day, and now at 35, having done just that and got University Entrance, here he was, digging holes!

Wednesday 27th. Now there is actually going to be a post out today, the first since last Friday, (things are not what they were in my young days, when the postman used to struggle to our door on his bike, two or three miles from the post office with another two or three to go beyond us on his round, on Christmas morning!) so I must really get this finished at this session!

I thought I would type this morning to show off my nice new nylon ribbon. Of course, having fitted it last night, I noticed that the faint one I was replacing appeared to have been used one way only, and should really have been rewound upsidedown – so I put it back on the spare spool and put it away in my desk drawer – where I then discovered another half-length, which had never been used. So I now have about a year’s supply. I haven’t been able to get a ribbon on the right spool for this typewriter, which is made in Sweden and now 25 years old and always have to rewind the new ones onto the same old spools, which have both had replacement lugs added by me with Araldite to make the reversing apparatus work! Sometimes the ribbons I buy seem longer, and overflow my spools – hence having a half-length one put by.

It sounds a very go-ahead school. Last month they laid on a Victorian day ending with a ‘swep up’ [=grand!] tea at the house of one of parent’s parents – with all the family silver out and some of the parents dressed as maids in frilly hats and aprons. I was able to find some old pictures of my Great-grandmother with the maids in the garden of her house when she first moved into it, new. The kitchen up the back stairs was then the conservatory, and the maids lived and cooked in the back basement. Pretty horrifying really.

Your 2 people who nearly died having been in hosp. goes back to the days the babies had at hospitals died – until it was found the doctors went straight from working on dead bods to producing babies without washing.

Just had a call from the library saying they have ‘A man called Intrepid’ in for me, have you read it? I gather it has references to the set-up I was working for at Woburn Abbey. I can hardly believe I’ve been involved in so many exciting things. I really do mean to write some articles entitled ‘It’s funny I’m so boring’!

Listening to secondhand gramophone records was one of my standard ways of spending Saturday afternoon in my first two years in London – only the place to do it in those days was at Foyle’s in the Charing Cross Road. I can’t remember what they cost – of course they were all 78s and I think you could buy a new 10” for half a crown (remember what that was?!) so I suppose you could get a 10” for a shilling and a 12” for two, or thereabouts.

It is one of the memories connected with Christmas which I have, that there used to arrive a parcel of crystallized fruit every year, sent by Dad’s brother. The ones we were least fond of were the pears, and the firm favourites were the apricots. But if you got more than one of those a year you were definitely cheating!

we don’t like the pears

Stocking the larder/ self-sufficiency 3

On balance I think we have done better on the vegetable front, here, than we left, there. They must have beans coming out of their ears, as I had planted a lot and they all seemed to be doing enormously well when we left. But there really wasn’t a great variety of stuff, whereas we have come into a large fortune of carrots, onions, sweet corn, beetroot, and spinach beet. Then there is a vine with a singular and small bunch of grapes, and two or three pumpkins big enough for coaches, and a queer thing called an apple cucumber, which has the taste but not the indigestion, and the tomatoes which at present are producing about 5 pounds a day.

Beans coming out of their ears

In a mad moment I bought a 35 lb box of runner beans in the market. After a day and a half stringing them and putting them through the slicer I felt I had beans coming out of my ears and sold the last 8 lbs to my grocer – then I heard the family were coming over and I had to go and buy them back and he obviously has now put me down as a nutcase! The next day I bottled 20 lbs of plums – again forgetting to keep any for current use and had to dig out some deep freeze rasps. I was more cunning today and put an 18 lb box of apricots in the d.f. (at least 13 separate bags of stoned and sugared ones) and did remember some for dinner – v. good they were too – I still want to do 20 lbs peaches and 20 lbs nectarines but fear I’m almost too late. Oh, and soon the tomatoes will be here.

Our neighbours gave us a huge bowl of strawberries for dinner when X took over a surplus cabbage to them. Lovely exchange of goodies – our eccentric neighbour appeared at the back clutching a large grapefruit and could she have the handful of beans X offered the other day but she hadn’t finished the cabbage then, so she picked those and I gave her some of the huge pile of strawberries too. Seldom a day passes I don’t have a lemon, a posy or something sitting in my letterbox.

Another diversion was the arrival of Christmas Dinner. C.D. is a lamb which belonged to a family we knew. C.D. was their only venture so far into livestock apart from a few hens. However X couldn’t face the idea of their ewe lamb going into their deep freeze so she was presented to me – and one day I’ll have to make a return offering (which tactfully had better be a large ham rather than a side of lamb, I suppose!) So far she has cost me about $10 in wood and a hard morning’s work knocking up a cage to go in the trailer to bring her here, and $6 for a pair of shears to clean her up a bit as the poor animal couldn’t see out of its eyes and was equally untidy at the other end. The going price of a lamb is $15! – still no doubt the cage and the shears will have other uses.

[And by the end of the month…]

You have not heard that I now have a flock of sheep – having collected 6 wether lambs to join the one ewe. I drove by a third-hand appointment to a shearing shed hidden away in the hills and proceeded to wait for half an hour or more. Eventually I found an extension telephone and got on to the farm for the son of the house, who was the man I was expecting to meet. In about another quarter hour he, three men, 5 dogs, a farm bike and 2 utilities had assembled to serve me. The sheep were still half a mile away in a field. But one of the dogs was sent to fetch them, and nearly succeeded with the aid of various whistles – but he didn’t round up all of them, so one of the boys went on the bike for the rest with his dog while the rest ushered them into the yard as they arrived and soon had sorted out six wethers from the rest with the aid of a neat switching gate. They then picked them up bodily and flung or stuffed them into the 3×4 foot box I have built on my trailer. I had expected to make two trips but they got all six in with not more than 2 or 3 legs left hooked up over the backs of others, poor things.

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