House repairs & housekeeping 6

It sounds as if your flat is a great success even if the man below does share both his heat and noise!

We had an uncomfortable three days in the kitchen when X was busy painting all the cupboard doors a new colour with a cunning new painting device which she got at a ‘Home Show’ we went to. It is a square of about five inches covered with a sort of short nylon fur, which certainly does cover the ground when you are painting – it generally took her longer to clean up afterwards than to get the next coat on! Then we pussyfooted round all the doors which were scattered about the floor of the kitchen and laundry until the next coat was due.

The electrician came and managed to charge me $60 for about an hour and a half, plus two switches and a fuse box, which I thought fairly steep. I had already organised a new wire from the switchboard in the garage – it was X who actually crawled about under the house collecting it from where I had fed the end through a hole in the floor and pulling it down to the hole at the other end (at least he did it with a washing line and I pulled the cable through afterwards). What it would have cost if the electrician had had to do that too, I shudder to think.

I’ve got a big bag of our own runner beans in the d.f. and we’ve been using our own potatoes for a few weeks – (not v. good ones actually – they fall to bits when you cook them – X bought a sack ‘cheap’ for me when I asked for a few lbs only to find when we opened them they were sprouting so he planted them!)

I bought a tubular heater for the bathroom, which was very cold and got very steamed up – but have had great difficulty in getting it fixed and wired. Eventually I wired it up myself and have been running it on an extension lead from the landing – which is strictly against the law – so when (failing a local electrician) I rang the Elec. Dept. to come and fit it I was careful to tell them to ring me first. Let’s hope it’s enough notice to get it cold as well as unplugged! But this morning I had a call from them raising all sorts of difficulties – they don’t recommend that sort, you can burn yourself and scorch towels, it’s a fire risk and why didn’t I have a nice heated towel rain. Answer: Because that’s $46 and this is $14, and why had they themselves recommended that I go and buy it? ‘Just a moment while I consult my colleague’ – long long pause, and he came back to say ‘My colleague was not informed that you would have a towel rail over it’ – very reproachfully. However I promised to obtain a guard to go round it and eventually he agreed to send the man to do it (subject to this, that and the other!). It’s all so nonsensical because I could drill a hole in the wall and take a wire from the hot cupboard as easy as winking – only one is liable to be prosecuted if any inspector ever does happen to see it. And it is true that X burnt her leg on the one we had at the other house!

[story continued in another letter]

X looked out and saw a little van arrive with MED on the side – so she had to rush upstairs, disconnect, stow the revealing extension cord away, pick up the hot heater and dump it in the hall, and descend bright and breezy and disguising her hard breathing to the door! The man must have guessed I would have thought – but said nothing! X warmed to him (metaphorically) because when she suggested taking a wire from the hot cupboard through the wall and running it round the room he said very scornfully ‘That would be a mess. I’d rather not do the job than do that!’ I would never dare play with a telephone though, like Y. Perhaps it’s the idea of getting a s(h)ock in the ear’ole, direct, which puts me off.

I believe a safe way to leave pot plants is to put a jam jar of water beside each pot with a piece of wool in it and going over to the pot and it soaks slowly from A to B – I’m sure I’ve done it – but not for years. It may be wise to stand both on a tray in case they get too enthusiastic about it! You could always leave them near your home brew so it could dribble over them – you might get a forest.

It’s been quite interesting seeing some of the tricks of the trade of building – especially how easily a spurious sense of solidity can be given by attaching a piece of 10”x 3” timber with four inch nails to a 4”x2” framework! However if 4×2 is enough I suppose that small hypocrisy doesn’t matter much.

One of the agents was advertising that they had a ‘desperate’ buyer and we thought we might give them a ring – which we did though the house looked pretty untidy and all the grass 3 inches long. When we collected the key the next morning the agent had been in touch but I don’t know that anything has come of it. But by lunchtime I had cut the grass and taken a trailerful of rubbish to the tip – bottles, a car door and other bits, old boxes and tins, hedge clippings and a mattress! – and X had hoovered all through the house. Then it rained so we abandoned further tidying in the garden but it looked a good deal better.

The process has not been helped by waking on Thursday to an absence of water in the taps – some stoppage in our supply from up the hill. That took 2 or 3 hours of my time toiling up to investigate and down to the river to check our alternative supply, and changing over the pipes into the house (which sounds easy but meant a long struggle delving in a hole full of muddy water to disconnect one, and persuade the other thread to catch). On Friday the neighbour came up the hill with large spanners and a massive crowbar and we established that the catchment drum which sits in the creek was half full of silt. However we got half the top bent back and on Saturday three of us renewed the attack and bailed it all out and got it all reconnected. On Monday I switched the pipes back (in the muddy hole) with more journeys up and down to turn taps off and on – and then we had a really rainy night and most of the flow disappeared again! This time it was dampening to investigate as the stream was spraying all over me – but all was well there. I traced it to a small stone stuck in the ballcock valve on the roof. Joys of home plumbing!

Fixing the pipes

Emigration/moving 2

I had a letter from an ex-colleague wondering whether to come here. I only met him once – as he reminded me – on the top of a mountain in Basutoland! I mostly remember it because his son had been playing the fool at the hospital we had built there – he was the engineer! They have a much younger boy and want to come here because it’s ‘so much cleaner physically and morally’. I felt I had to disillusion them a bit on that one – though not very harshly because on the whole I’m glad we came.

It’s all GO here [prior to moving] – I’m mortified at the state of my outside room – I’ve even found a mouse’s nest in the back of a hanging! Won’t rest until it’s cleaned out. I’m being very strong minded and even mean to weed out my ‘this is my life’ box!

We were delighted to get your tape with all the horrors of your move. Traumatic is mild. Your frig must be obsessed with a devil, surely the shop should have fixed it but it must be difficult for you being out during the day. I must say I don’t like leaving things open for workman to do whilst I’m out. At the best it makes my nasty suspicious little mind work overtime! The eggs popping out of their shells conjured up lovely picture, and should surely be made into an animated sequence for TV! I can well imagine the result of the lemonade as X’s ginger beer burst all over their kitchen whilst we were there and in spite of mopping everyone was sticking to the floor for days afterwards.

A friend commenting on the effect of movers on ones furniture: ‘three moves are as good as a fire’! I took a Friday off and a friend brought her trailer round and we moved lots of boxes and some light furniture. On the Saturday another friend came round with his 6’x4’ trailer and the two of us moved all the furniture by 3 p.m. On the Sunday I moved another 2000 boxes – full of useful things like old magazines! By that evening I was quite dead and glad to go back to work for a rest.

I expect you rustled up a selection of friends and made them walk in a column bearing your household goods to save a moving fee? I hope X was able to help with moral support or the car or something to encourage you in your battle. It is exciting, although slightly horrifying, to be at last in possession and rapidly finding out the snags. I never realised how badly the doors fitted here until the winter winds showed them up. Some have enormous gaps and others won’t shut and require frequent rubbing down or encouragement with a bit of soap to try to make them close. Condensation is a bind and it is v. gruesome here in the bedrooms. It streams down the windows in the sitting room too, but I do nothing about it except mop up the result! When they were all frozen inside I did rather object, but it was too late to do anything until they chose to thaw, and Y with central heating was just about as bad.

We decided that prices in the latter were grossly inflated (any village which has 5 flourishing estate agents’ offices in 30 yards must be the wrong place to go). The general effect of the other tour was to increase our interest in the first house we saw there (which was probably the agent’s idea in taking us round!) It was in some ways a stupid house with this wide corridor along the front and 2 10×10 ft bedrooms – but it had something about it in spite of large disadvantages such as having no kitchen door, the bathroom leading out of the kitchen, the only loo as near as down the garden as it could be while remaining under the one roof (you went through the kitchen and the laundry to reach it), and a garden with a grass bank nearly as steep as at the Avenue. We were told by the valuer that it was worth $25,750 against their asking price of 30,000. We offered 26,000 and were indignantly refused – and the latest we have heard is that they are toying with an offer of 28,000 by someone who still has to sell another house.

X did all china, glass etc to save some money and just as well – the stacking, travelling and unstacking (we’ve done all the unpacking) took 12 hours – they said we’d got twice as much as anyone else they’d moved!! They gave us some v. old fashioned looks at some of our belongings – treasured bits of wood, boxes of stones, and of course the 2 drainpipes [part of an idiosyncratic stereo system]– I really got quite embarrassed!

Our buyers moved our bulky stuff in what proved to be a rather smaller van than we’d imagined and took 3 trips so we were glad we’d got professionals to move our piano, my stereo deck, table and deep freeze – for awkwardness and weight, plus my Regency sewing table and china cabinet for safety! – that took 3 of them nearly 3 hours so we were glad of the other help.

The small van

Church/religion 6

We had the church fair last Saturday. The usual vast collection of hand-me-downs of everything from washing machines to children’s books, plus the usual plants, flowers, pots of marmalade and cakes. We managed to get there earlier than we usually do, and had a correspondingly good choice, so the final result was more satisfying than often. For the church, it was pretty satisfactory too, I think – $6500 was the provisional figure next morning.

We went to X’s induction. It is a funny little church – a sort of prefab hall, which they have been aiming to replace for a long time, I believe, but I seem to remember that the last Vicar but two or maybe three decided to use all the money to build the vicarage first. They had a very good turn out to fill the whole place, and sang very ‘hearty’, which was nice. And we had the new locally made service, so they did not have to process endlessly round the building singing odd verses of ‘We love the place, O God…’ Instead at the right point, various people bring up a chalice, a prayer book, a bible and offer them to the new Vicar with words to the effect ‘Mind you use this properly’ to which he replies to the bearer ‘Sure, I will’ and then to the congregation ‘And don’t you forget to come and see me at it’ or words to that effect.

We had harvest festival at the beach church last Sunday, and I took a box of apples, and little red tomatoes – and shall have to dig out another for next Sunday when we shall be going to X, who have their harvest festival then. The green cooker apple has got so much fruit on this year that you can hardly walk underneath it for all the windfalls which make it quite difficult not to turn ones ankles all the time!

X was invited to tea (at 2.30 if you please) by the wife of the ex-vicar where she found seven clergy wives she had collected in order to discuss some group for maintaining the rights of women, or something of the sort, which X did not approve of.

In spite of X’s depressing remarks about my star being a different colour/shape and in the wrong place when we’d spent a day making it and a morning hanging it, with Y on the roof pulling fishing thread through 2 light openings and me below tying it on and directing proceedings to make it hang straight, I was already feeling like hell and think that was the last straw to give me a migraine the next day. But it was a huge success and masses of people remarked on it. It was really rather bogey as we lighted it with blue spotlights from behind the screen and it threw a huge shadow of what looked like a dove descending on the back wall – also remarked on. A second spotlight was put on the crib (full size) which stood inside the altar rail on a bed of straw. At the beginning of the midnight service all the lights except the spotlights were put out and the choir came in with candles and it really looked beautiful.

I’ve been having a fairly miserable time this Lent,with my house group. I was asked by a lady down the road to join hers, which seemed a polite thing to do, rather than the group I have been going to for the last two years, which is several streets away, but in fact she has only managed to get three other members besides me, all women; and the material we have been using has been very lacking in real content, so we go at 10, chat until 10.30 while having a cup of tea, do the study which lasts about half an hour and may then chat for another half hour before going home. Never mind! There is only one more study left in the series now.

Have you by any chance heard tell of the ‘Toronto experience’? They had a couple of people talking about it at the evening services here a week or two ago, and my hostess in my group went along. Apparently what started happening at this small church near Toronto was that people started rolling in the aisles with laughter, without anything really amusing happening, but presumably just a release of tension of some sort, which they put down to the Holy Spirit. And it seems the same thing started happening here, and my hostess experienced it. When I told X about it she said she would like to go the next time they have one of these services, but I’m not sure myself whether I want to. We shall see.

Rolling in the aisles

We had brass bands most of the day on the radio, and a Gallipoli film on TV, and the usual parade service, which remains surprising popular, though I can’t really think why, because we use the same service papers and therefore the same hymns every year, and an address which is nearly always unsuitable. This time it was the headmaster of one of the secondary schools, who said he was going to say three things of which the third was particularly for the young people present. (There is always a full parade of scouts, guides and cubs plus some cadets.) In the first place he was barely audible, and very often not even barely, and secondly his language and content was quite over these small children’s heads. A pity.

We’ve gone back to our 5 p.m. winter time for the evening service from today (largely because War & Peace is too fierce a rival later on!)

We had so many heaters on that the trip-fuse blew during the sermon. What a blessing they are, compared to the old fuse where you had to mend them before turning them on again.

This last weekend I had a girl visiting who is to be married here in September and is determined to have a service of her own devising – which is an increasingly customary thing here. Apparently most the University Chaplains have a copy of a thing called a ‘marriage kit’ which is a sort of box file containing bits of any and every wedding service they can get hold of. The user picks out Introduction No. 3, Giving Away No. 5, Vows No. 2 etc. until they have the selection they want adding a few bits if they want to of their own composing. Unfortunately this girl’s literary taste is deplorable (although she is a secondary school teacher) and her service is a mass of sentimental and turgid gush – to my way of thinking. After one or two minor amendments and some more daring – such as actually including a prayer and a blessing, I told her that if she got it typed out I would submit it to the Bishop for his approval. Actually he is pretty conservative so he may well turn it down flat and I don’t know what happens then. They ought really go to a Registry Office I think.

The retreat was very enjoyable, as it was a silent one, but at the same time I knew most of the people there quite well. There is a lot to be said for not having to speak to people you know – or for knowing people you are going to be silent with! I didn’t particularly take to the conductor but that didn’t matter much.

Am now due to go and see X (ex Eighth Army brigadier) whom I am supposed to exchange war stories with, as he is not prepared to discuss his coming demise owing to raging empheseema (?).

I went out for a walk and suddenly saw X crossing the road from his car to the church. He had apparently come for the funeral of somebody I think of as an old boy. So in spite of my unfunereal dress I went in. And discovered among other things that the ‘old boy’ was just a year older than me! He had chosen to have the old prayer book service which was as wordy as ever and not as good, I feel, as the new one, but among other things we had ‘Jerusalem the golden’ which was fun.

We had an interesting conversation about the questionnaire the committee are contemplating on the subject of the way the clergy prepare people for marriage – but in fact it was pretty discursive and I don’t know that we got far. (I don’t know, mainly because I haven’t yet had time to think about it!) I had to go in again on Friday p.m. for a Prayer Book Committee. Put baldly you could say that we spent 2 1/2 hours talking about one sentence in an alternative Prayer of Consecration – but actually it was an interesting and quite useful meeting about the principles of what we were trying to do.

We had a rather mixed bag of instruction (with our Bishop well at the bottom, I thought – he varied from dull to abysmal!) – but I enjoy talking shop every now and then and I was asked to do a weekend course at the end of July which will give me something to think about when we are snowed up.

The Assistant Bishop told us a delightful story of a bishop he met at Lambeth (so the tale goes) who got himself engaged to be married rather late in life. Having little experience of how to live up to the occasion and being too shy to ask his colleagues he went to Foyle’s for enlightenment – refused the help of the assistant – but eventually found just what he felt he needed, though he was surprised at the price. It was a large volume entitled How to Hug. He hurried home with it, and settled himself down to read, only to find that he had acquired the XIth volume of Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Children 7

LETER thank-you very much for my action man kit I am playing with it alot. It has come in alot of handy. We have been doing alot of things at X. On Wednesday 21st of Mrch. We are going to a Gold minning-town On the Earnslaugh which is a big ship and we are going to Water-fall-park. I have just got my bronze koru which is lost of funny but exciting bits and pieces you have to do. Hope you are feeling well.?

thanK you ant X fo the book I like reeding tham to myself and ges woat I got a starwars game For citismas. and the boaks a raeally interesting I reed them to the othe boys evry day affte School. they a very Frnny

thanK-you FoR KnicKerBocker. He is a nice green monster. I have a BaBy Doll calleD Katey. She is in hospital getting hEr EyE fixeD. I have a Nice teacher. I have a Nice swim at SchooL. I am EnrolleD at Brownies.

X seems to have suffered more than the others over the last couple of months’ traumas. She’s spent the last fortnight being a right little sod. However she slowly seems to be coming round – or is it us that are coming round?

She has just spent 2 days with them. She enjoys it but I think finds that enough – X is going through a very difficult stage – much ‘no, no, no’ and stamping – and of course with his mother’s determination that everyone will do just what she wants – but now – it doesn’t go down too well and they’re having a fairly explosive time.

He went to bed in X’s room. He slept like a log and his father went to collect him some 2 hours later – a cry of anguish came from him: before going to sleep he’d wrecked her room – books everywhere and her drawer she’d put all her first pay in open and money all over the place. I retrieved a screwed up fiver and 2 $20 notes from the WPB and another $20 lying around – one $20 has completely vanished. He kept saying he’d ‘posted it to sea’. Whilst everyone played hunt the $20 note he disappeared only to reappear looking like a Red Indian having drawn all over his face with my lipstick – he’d put it all back v. tidily as he proudly showed me!

The PM came to visit the college a week ago. Afterwards he stayed for a cup of tea during which your 2 nieces rolled up and presented him with a scruffy bunch of flowers they’d purloined from some pluty hedge on the way home from school!! Praise be I wasn’t close at the time – I’d have been slapped on the computer as a trendy liberal and been blighted for life!

I was assisted by a very young teacher whom I greatly admired for her control of this group – which didn’t all come from her own form. One boy tried it on near the beginning, when she had demanded silence, and she just gave him a look and said, ‘You’re not special, you know. You have keep the rules like everyone else’ and after that they all ate out of her hand. It’s maddening not to have this gift. I only have to go into a class to have pandemonium in no time!

You’re not special, you know.

Ageing 7

I love the local handyman who was working on the house yesterday and said firmly ‘the only thing I have against you coming here is your age!’ He decided it was a good acre in all, and that he wouldn’t take it on himself. As he stands quietly meditating for most of the day I can quite see that he wouldn’t, but of course I am now spurred on to show him that he is wrong – even if I have nightmares when I close my eyes and consider the decorating in the house, the garden… Ah well, all will pass and you must come and help cut a hedge in due course!

X had a bad crash in her car. She apparently dozed off while driving, and went into a 32-wheeled articulated truck carrying a load of lubricating oil in drums, in spite of the driver getting right onto the grass on his side of the road in the effort to keep out of her way. As you would expect, hitting such a heavy vehicle more or less head on, her car was severely crushed, and poor X had both legs broken and her pelvis – one leg in no less than seven places. It took two hours to cut her out of the remnants of her car, and she is 81, and must be almost indestructible to survive at all, I think. So maybe Y is right not to allow me to drive further than about five miles alone!!!

X has become progressively worse. She won’t go out at all. Her mind is in a loop and at times she can be quite aggressive. She doesn’t answer her phones and they should be cut off. Carers go in to her three times daily, seven days a week.

Her mind is in a loop

I had another x ray, another ECG and then the interview. The ECG was drawn out as the sister wanted to use me as a demonstration for a couple of medical students. Luckily they had warm hands.

How I hate having my eyes tested – especially the big blue light which they bring closer and closer until one can’t help watering and blinking madly however much they say, ‘Don’t blink, just for the moment. Try not to blink.’ However the result was satisfactory. He reckoned that my glasses were the right ones to have, and thought my eye strain might have been through keeping the things I was looking at at the near limit of my capacity to focus, whereas the man who made the glasses had made them for typewriter range, as it were; and he couldn’t find anything else wrong or impending apart from a minor infection of the lids for which I have an ointment. He also reckoned that the deterioration I had noticed was to be expected, and could be expected not to continue for a good time – so no reason for alarm (apart from wondering how much his bill will be, which he said they would send!)

The cough is supposed to be getting better. In the meantime I developed a nasty pain in my foot, and went back to him to learn that I had GOUT, if you please. (I didn’t think I lived licentiously enough for that, but apparently the diuretics I take to stop my ankles swelling etc., make it more likely.) So that was another pill, twice a day to add to the eight. I had also developed what I thought was a stye but that he treated with admirably scant respect, and said it was a something cyst (I gather based on a blocked tear duct) and flicked it out with a bit of paper. So that was one problem apparently finished off, and certainly it has been admirably free of pain since he did it

I wanted to tell you that the eye op had gone brilliantly, and I am already driving the car with renewed vision! Having put the local in they covered up my face with a vast blue sheet, rather similar to the thing I collect my garden leaves in, and gave me an oxygen tube underneath to keep me alive, and a peg on my finger to show that I was. It pinged if I wasn’t. On the whole I was glad I couldn’t see anything, apart from a few colours through this blueness, the sounds were startling enough, but in fact I couldn’t feel a thing.

House repairs & housekeeping 5

We’ve had some horrid cold weather and I spent two half days putting pink batts in our roof. It is a very low pitched roof so that one can’t get even onto hands and knees. I started by laying a nice smooth plankway the full length over the kitchen and sittingroom so that I could slide on my back hauling myself along on the roof trusses. Then I retired to the far end with a rope and X fed bundles of batts into the roof attached to the other end, with a second rope to haul the cover back for more. Then it was just a question of poking them into position with a broom – but my elbows and hipbones got a bit sore! I don’t know whether it’s improved the ceiling but it had a marvellous effect on the weather. It was almost balmy when we went for a Sunday walk this afternoon.

I’m sorry you are still having trouble with aspects of the flat e.g. those windows and beetles but I suppose it is one of the debit aspects of property-owning that one always does. I was under the trapdoor into the hole under the house a week or so ago and was horrified to find a large patch of bright yellow mould surrounded by reaching tentacles and clouds of white fibres, all sprouting within a foot or so of the wall. After 2 days I nerved myself to scoop the horrid stuff up in an ice cream carton and take it to the building inspector who (thankfully) dismissed it as harmless as mushrooms.

I’m so glad that the kitchen fan is a success. They certainly are expensive things. Ours was all the more because it wasn’t practical to put it in the kitchen wall or window since that faces the prevailing wind and the poor thing couldn’t be expected to cope with that, and if it did it would only blow the grease and smell back into the bathroom next door; so we put a pipe through the ceiling and straight up through the roof. Of course what with the plumber to cut the hole in the decromastic roof, and the carpenter to cut the hole in the ceiling, and the tinsmith to make up the pipe and the electrician to wire up the fan, the fitting cost about twice as much as the fan itself!

X’s new plan for household tidiness – no more cupboards for marmalade, empty yoghurt pots etc. You just have one shelf on which everything is put in chronological order, everything else being moved up to make room – and anything which gets to the other end is thrown away. We agreed an improvement whereby there would be a hole in the wall at the far end and one of those disposal bins parked outside so that the whole system would become automatic. Brilliant, n’est ce pas?

First in first out

Poor X, he saw the enormous earth mover working next door and leapt out to get him to level our drive prior to concreting: at $50 an hour + an earth carrier lorry and man, he put in three-quarters of an hour and didn’t do the heaviest part, in fact I think it was a dead and expensive loss, but that’s what happens when one tries to supervise yourself and economise.

The main preoccupation this week is the start of the new room. I worked with our chosen one-man builder – mostly fetching three loads of sand in the trailer to fill in for height. By evening it was all prepared and the concrete ordered for the morning. Three minutes before the appointed hour the lorry arrived – but no builder! Panic – but, by the time he had backed up the drive and got a cup of coffee, he arrived so all was well again – until the last scrap of mix dribbled out with a miserable hole in one corner of the boxing. I think if I’d been on my own I would have raked it all across and levelled it off an inch or so lower! As it was we ordered another 1/2 yard, waited an hour and a half for it, and then had to fit half of it into the caravan standing – a very expensive sort of fill-material.

As I have now decided to do most of it myself [adding a new room] I am obviously going to be busy for a long time. X estimated it at 200 man hours or thereabouts – and you can bet that I don’t count as that sort of a man and will need quite a bit of extra time putting right the things that go wrong as I go along. X was a bit horrified when we started examining the carport in detail as the great 10 inch rafters which support its roof (and our new room on top) appear to be resting on only one inch of a beam at the house end of them and to be held in place largely with a couple of 6 inch nails each. So I must see if I can incorporate some slight reinforcement as I fill in the carport just to stop them all falling off and our new room with them if we have an earth tremor.

I was fortunate to get an off-cut of particle board the floor is made of, and replace the patch I cut out. Having measured it about four times to make sure I didn’t cut it wrong, as I so often do, I cut it wrong, would you believe, and had to fit in a strip a quarter of an inch wide to make up!

Things fall apart 4

I said yes I did know about sewing machines when she rang up and asked what I thought might be the trouble, and at great inconvenience as I was just going to drive up to town, went along and found she hadn’t oiled it in 12 years and it clanked madly, so started by upending it and unscrewing the bottom plate and generally dismantling it; by which time she was getting distinctly worried, especially as I said I hope she knew the bottom casing was cracked, as I hadn’t done it, and she didn’t know, and as that didn’t cure it I looked in her instruction book and altered a screw they suggested, and hey presto it seemed cured. I didn’t see her for a week and unwisely asked her how it was going, both of us wished I hadn’t asked, as after half an hour it had the same trouble. She took it to the shop who eventually said it needed oiling and readjusting, having paid the bill she went home and set about her job again and the electrical connection went up in smoke!! I suspect both of us will think I was the cause of it for ever more! But it has reminded me that it’s much kinder of me to not try and help people, the results are always disastrous!!

I really think it’s a sickness this inability to throw anything away – X now has an electric frying pan, an Electrolux and a Kenwood that don’t work – tho’ she has new ones!

I felt a bit indignant with the motor corp today. You will recall that on our trip just after we got the car, last October, the speedometer start jumping about and threatening to burst into flames. It cost me $41 to get it repaired, which I wrote to claim back under warranty directly we got home. I called in to see them before Christmas since I had heard nothing but still nothing happened so eventually I wrote a politely rude letter to the General Manager about a fortnight ago. Today a cheque arrived with the invoice I had sent them – but no letter – not so much as Sorry scrawled across it. Things are not what they used to be.

Our arrival was little less than spectacular – we got half way up the drive with the van and then we spun – X said get out and push which I did and the mud shot up all over my front. At one moment I thought it was going to career backwards across the grass but I shoved rocks under the wheels. We were then joined by a young man visiting the neighbours who knew what he was about but couldn’t get right up either – then Y joined us to my horror (he’s got a heart and v. frail), so we rapidly decided to park it on the grass verge for the minute but it’s a bit sad we can’t get it outside the house, as we’d thought of it as an overflow spare room.

The muddy drive

Gardening 6

The drought is getting very serious for the farmers – though we are still allowed a hose for 2 hours on odd evenings (since our number is 31) and that has kept the veg garden producing well – especially runner beans, and a couple of plants I bought as courgettes which produce full-size marrows more or less overnight at the drop of a hat. My solitary grafted ‘Super Tom’ has only done moderately though – not more than 100 tomatoes I should think compared to one round the corner which (so I hear) is 8’ high and has 600 on it!

The garden’s a bit of a mess at present because some grass clippings we carefully dug into the new vegetable bed as enrichment for the soil had grass seed in and we now have lawn where there shouldn’t be and dry grass and dandelions where there should! The first of the home-grown produce is just about ready now – carrots’ll be the first. And we’ve a whole cupboard full of apples, pears, rhubarb, tomatoes and beetroot, more beetroot and yet more beetroot!

I am starting on the huge garden. It has a great tennis court of lawn and some more grass and veg, and is spotted with stupid beds in the grass and many queer trees and bits and pieces. They were mad keen gardeners and did some pretty peculiar things to my mind. The so-called compost heaps appear to have everything but the kitchen sink embedded in them and it is all too obvious to me that enormous rose prunings and suchlike will never rot down in a thousand years, so I shall have to do a little re-organising in due course. Not to mention the odd plastic bag or bottle that seem to have got in too. But although I am rude about them they actually got things to grow in an extraordinary way and there are all sorts of twigs and bits and pieces stuck into the ground which will apparently take root in time! Except that by then I shall have probably dug them up in my ignorance. There are miles of hedges!!

The trouble is that the compost is so full of weed seeds that wherever I use it I have to go back endlessly to repair the damage! I don’t know why it should be, as I use some expensive and evil-smelling mixture supposed to contain millions of bacteria per cubic hair’s-breadth so that the compost ought to be beautifully sterile.

The lemon tree is bowed down with ripe fruit and every other stage of growth, which is a good thing as I’m down to my last pot of marmalade, the peach blossom and prunus are in flower, the buttercup and mimosa trees too, and the camellias are still flowering. Also the daphne which smells delicious, the forgetmenots and odd daffodil too, and lilies of course and masses of pink daisies that go on for months.

Lemon tree

Holidays 6

I’ve booked the early ferry (7.20) on 2nd Jan. (we have to report at 6.20 I’m afraid!) and the evening (6ish) on the 19th. What I reckon is that we go down to Greymouth on the 2nd via Blenheim and the inland road and stay Greymouth in a guest house B&B (get some fish and chips or something en route) – go to Lake Moeraki on the 3rd which should give us enough time to have a bit of a look at the Fox Glacier and other points of interest. There’s a motel at Lake M. that we stayed at before – bit sandfly-y but otherwise OK – and then over Haast Pass the next day and down to Cromwell. If we leave on the 18th, stay in Christchurch and come on up to Picton on the 19th.

Of course I have been frustrated by the number of shop windows which enchant X (and I fear she is equally frustrated that she doesn’t have long enough to look). We went into a big covered market near San Lorenzo this morning to buy our picnic, and that was fun to see. But the high spot was visiting San Gimignano yesterday – although fraught with misfortunes: (a) we went by train, not having enquired about the bus which was 50% cheaper – we returned that way; (b) we were late so got on without tickets and were charged nearly as much as the fare as a penalty – a minimum, our charming conductor appeared to be saying; and (c) most catastrophic of all, in the hurry I forgot my camera – I could have used a whole film on such a place. Some postcards and a sketch we did will have to suffice for the record.

The Jamaica trip sounds very exciting and I’m green with envy, and if souls can change colour I expect X would be too!

Green with envy

We are here on the Salmon River drinking our white wine and watching the locals celebrating our loss of the colonies. This is no doubt a wonderful continent – the country, the wildlife, the space – we love it. BUT, it is difficult to define why, we would never live here. Wonderful BUT.

They had double booked my seat – a large lady was ensconced in 16F. So – alas [!] they had to put me in CLUB ha ha – a window seat too – end of the saga.

Still the same as ever here – buildings have deteriorated a bit more but the people still as nice – the island still unspoiled. Grenada is off the main tourist tract – cruise ships come and go quickly so are of no real benefit. Yachts and a few private houses who rent out and a few hotels and that is about it. We are enjoying the peace.

She suggests that I go for a short coach tour in Switzerland next spring – given I can sell the house and feel less broke and more energetic, I’d rather fancy going with her.

We can put a bit of the money from the house aside in the hopes of a trip next year. Of course X wants to go via Mexico, the Russian Georgia and Crete – you know her sublime indifference to the dull facts of geography!

He has recently ‘put into the water’ a 33ft motor launch. He bought the hull and finished all the top works himself. It has a $15,000 diesel engine in it and does 27 mph. He described how he had taken it across to the Sounds for Easter, and I must say it sounded a hair-raising trip with ten foot waves and visibility down to a kilometre or two. And he has never learnt any navigation, and only had a little hand compass somewhere tucked away in a cupboard. Apparently he dug it out, screwed it to the woodwork in front of the wheel, and he had a chart from which he managed to get a rough bearing from the north entrance of the sounds to the island and in due course, there was the island in front of him. ‘Good fun,’ said he – which reminded me of the head man of the Air Force who was talking on the radio the other day, and described flying Tornado aircraft at low levels as good fun – by which I gathered that he meant good for the flow of adrenalin!

Time is moving at a rate of knots and we sink weary and sleep 8 hours plus a night (praise be) however noisy the traffic. We did Ostia yesterday and I kept a close eye on your steps – X couldn’t believe we’d covered the whole city. We were there rising 4 hours when our feet and empty tums gave out and we missed out on a lot. I was disappointed X wasn’t as enthusiastic as we were – I must have talked about it too much. It was v. sad how much of the reconstruction was crumbling again and half the gorgeous mosaics covered in sand and even being broken up by weeds – tho’ people are still working on it. One of the joys was having less tourists than in the more accessible places. We had a bottle of vino and water with us which helped on the way and went to find lunch at 3 p.m. The nearest place wouldn’t serve any more and the second was wildly expensive and all fish dishes. We had the cheapest pasta speciality which had – we think – prawns, snails and other unmentionables – but we were so hungry we enjoyed it! We ordered a carafe of wine but they only served whole bottles – the cover charge seemed wasted if we didn’t eat something else so we had a piece of the most gorgeous gateau – and left a trifle light-headed at 4 p.m.! When we got there there was an American couple at the next table who’d also got involved in a whole bottle of wine and he was a riot. He kept telling us he’d never got drunk before and giggling and she kept assuring us she’d never seen him like this – but was sweet and amused about it.

We had a rather queer meal in a takeaway place and ended up for the night in the Railway Tavern – rather surprisingly! – and all the more since there doesn’t appear to have been a railway there for decades. Their drinking habits were very orderly and quiet (and we were in the Residents’ Lounge anyway) – in fact we were more disturbed by someone who seemed to be leaving at 4 in the morning and was insisting loudly on his companion bringing the b. teapot so that it could be rinsed out. An odd conversation in the still of the night.

We had been warned that the sandflies there had been crossed with moas before the latter became extinct so we were glad that another shower absolved us from taking an evening stroll and we slept with the windows tight shut.

We’ve collected quantities of stone from various beaches (on Friday afternoon my trousers got soaked to the knees by one wave I was too busy to notice but I hung them out of the window the last 25 miles which got them nearly dry again – well, the 25 all but the 1/2 mile I needed to get them on again to face the motel office!)

Hong Kong was interesting for two days, but I’d not want to go again, we went on a 3 1/2 hour bus tour, their expensive houses on the hills overlooking the harbour were super luxurious and the usual comparative squalor down by the harbour. The remains of the disastrous tornado of 2 weeks before (of which we’d had no knowledge) had left a trail of rubble behind it, uprooted trees etc. it must have been ghastly for the people who live in boats. They seemed a very light-hearted people and happy, apart from the few aged bag of bones one saw sitting in corners, I wondered just how old they were, I fear the life must age them young, if you see what I mean.

Children 6

X still talks 19 to the dozen and I think the whole town knows of her as a chatterbox – if she were anyone else’s child I’d think of her as precocious and rather revolting, but someone has to love her!

[Visitors viewng house for sale] The wife’s approach to her outdid my grandmother – on seeing X’s darkroom she told the 5 year old it would be a good place to shut up bad little girls, and when Y offered them a strawberry each she said she didn’t expect they’d eat them, they didn’t like anything that was good for them – would you believe it this day and age! She was delighted with the sitting room and sunroom, which go through the house, and said she could keep the children out of it and they could play at the end of the kitchen, the space about 9 square feet [one hopes this actually means 9 x 9 not 3 x 3!] where we normally eat. Lucky children.

Must repeat gorgeous misprint of the year – found on wrapper of local frozen chickens – ‘before serving remove the wrapper and brown the children in a moderate oven for half an hour’!

The boys are almost eating more than I do now – certainly they all do for breakfast and lunch if not dinner! At dinner they get a main course: meat, spud, and 2 veg generally, then a milk pud or similar and they’re always still hungry and usually manage a piece of bread and quarter apple afterwards! My housekeeping costs have risen 50% in the last year. I’m dreading when they’re 12, 14 and 16 – they’ll cost a bloody fortune!

X seems to cross swords with her teacher; I suspect the worthy lady sees in X’s somewhat precocious manner a reflection of her own two obnoxious little brats! Last time X complained about unfair treatment at school her mother went and ‘had it out’ with both teacher and headmaster. The upshot was that X was required to go to the front of the class and publicly apologise for lying. Charming!

If the boys all go in one room they get up at the crack of dawn and jolly well see to it no one goes on sleeping. They’ve done such ghastly things as raiding the kitchen and throwing the eggs +++ around; their mother’s put a padlock on the kitchen door, which she locks before she goes to bed.

The egg fight

X staggered in from school looking like the wreck of the Hesperus dragging his satchel and saying, ‘I’ve had a very long day’ – I know the feeling.

X at a meeting – best manners asked, ‘Can I have another pipe clean please?’ She meant pikelet!

The family went To X Last Saturday. I went on a boat and I went on The miniture train Twice and Than went to Granny’s New house and hoD Cish and chips.

This afternoon I had X’s assistance again, as she left them both with us as she was going into town for ‘The Boyfriend’. But I must say he was very good and dug away with a fork bigger than him. The only snag was when we went down to buy some wood to finish the carport fence. We went into the Mall and he suddenly advanced on a little girl (rather smaller than him) and started a punch up – but luckily she had a slightly larger sister who defended her fairly aggressively until I could remove him.

The hyperactive batty boy certainly sounds a cross – no doubt his teacher heaved a sigh of relief at the clever idea of unloading him on you, even if only for half an hour a week.

[Drawing received with letter written on it.] This is about Beatrix potter and It’s a FiLm and we are having a Nice haiday love X. and we went to Y love from X

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