Friday, October 21, 2016

Next year, the Booker prize

Grandson decided to write a story. He enjoys actually writing the words but his inspiration was flowing too quickly for his penmanship, so he dictated it to his dad. He is, after all, only five.

To fully catch the atmosphere of this story, you have to pronounce the Ks in the names of the hero and secondary character: K-nooker and K-nacker.

He then illustrated it. The above picture shows Knooker - who is, incidentally, a hedgehog (that surprised you, didn't it?) - setting off from home with his anxious (hedgehog) mother saying goodbye to him.

This picture shows him being pursued by the dragon - whose cheerful expression shows that he thinks he's going to catch Knooker - the element of suspense - while Knooker's friend Knacker shouts  encouragement from his upstairs window. And - here's the twist in the tail - it turns out that Knacker is a biscuit. Knacker the cracker, as Grandson himself told me.

(PS Please don't think I'm trying to suggest that he's a genius! I just think it's a hoot.)

Sunday, October 16, 2016


By contrast, this is Edinburgh, with its roads running down to the sea.

Lovely though Florence and Venice are, I wouldn't like to live there. It would be very hard to be old or disabled in Venice. Wherever you walk, you need to cross bridges with steps, every few hundred yards, and the public transport is, of course, by boat, not by bus with frequent stops, as here.

I wouldn't actually like to live anywhere except Edinburgh or very near it. I do love being where I understand all the systems: how to get where I need to go, where the shops are and the quiet places to walk, such as...

this street, where we were yesterday with our walking group. It was somewhat wet, so we cancelled our proposed long walk and just wandered through the back streets of the centre of town for a couple of hours and then went for coffee.

I even like the climate. Yes, it rains sometimes but that's why Scotland is green. And we don't get extreme heat or cold. We don't get hurricanes or tornadoes.

I just like home, I suppose.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

And then there was Venice

It's ridiculous: I know that everybody raves about Venice and that's why I wanted to see it, but I just hadn't expected it to be so totally Venetian all over. Many (most? all other?) cities have lovely but also unlovely parts. Or indeed pleasant but ordinary areas. Venice isn't like that. There's no room on the islands for bungalows or high rise flats - and presumably some far-sighted officials a long time ago recognised the unique quality of what was there and made laws to keep it that way.

Some bits are somewhat scruffy, with peeling paint or plaster. But everywhere is picturesque.

Even St Mark's Square wasn't nearly as busy as I expected. October was a good time to visit: not too hot but still pleasantly warmish.

There were also amazing museums. In the Museo Correr, for example, there was this holy book from the 15th century (and there were many, many other equally old and beautiful books on display).

This is a plate from the Correr Service, made about 1520. Such a cheery lion; clearly a music lover. Imagine eating your food from that! - though I imagine that no one ever did, or the service wouldn't have survived. I love it. (I want it.)

And this painting by Vittore Carpaccio - just look at the expressions on these ladies' faces as they wait for their husbands to come home from hunting. Never was boredom so brilliantly captured - in 1490, and completely recognisable today. Evidently the women were previously thought to be courtesans, but then someone found that this painting is actually the bottom of a painting in the Getty Museum (and the whole left hand side is also missing). The top part shows the hunting. If you'd like to see the two surviving bits married together (I'd recommend it) go to

But also - gondolas.

And canals.

We went over to the island of Murano, where I went into many, many glass shops (Mr Life is a patient man)

and a glass museum, where you see him doing a passable imitation of those two ladies. He claims he was examining the fancy ceiling.

Murano is also very photogenic.

We also visited the island of Burano, with its gaily painted houses. So unlike Edinburgh, which has grey buildings and lots of gardens. Grey and green. We saw no gardens in Venice and therefore hardly any birds except pigeons - not even sea birds, which was surprising.

It does have palazzos, though - palazzi, I suppose - of which this is one. It's now a museum and is HUGE. Those dukes must have been immensely rich. Can you see Mr L, in blue, at the very far end of the room, reading a notice?

And, you know, gondoliers.

And Canaletto, wherever you look.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Florence again

I have decided that all roofs should be red, as in Florence. So much prettier than grey, as we usually have here.

One day - the hottest, as it happened - we climbed the hill opposite the main part of the city. The guide book described it as a "strenuous" climb, and while it wasn't particularly strenuous to climb up to get this view (look at all the olive trees) ...

it was...

a very steep, smooth and rather slippery road down again - much steeper than it looks here. "It must be very difficult to walk down here when it's frosty," I said to Mr Life. But actually, no one but us was being foolish enough to walk down even on a hot day, so presumably the Florentians don't attempt it in winter.

Then, to get to another part of the hill, we had to go up again. Once more, the road was much steeper than it looks in the photo. This time there were two or three other couples toiling up it, all thirty or forty years younger than us.

And then there was another steep road down, but we were rewarded with this plaque, which seems to say that Galileo perfected his telescope here. He must have been fit, is all I can say.

Still, even Florentian washing looks pretty against a golden building.

Then we walked down to the river again.

We visited the Uffizi and saw Botticelli's "The Birth of Venus", which is totally familiar to me because a copy of it hung in our school. Mr Life pointed out that it seemed a slightly strange picture to choose for a school for young ladies and I suppose it was. Possibly not as strange as it would have been for a school for young gentlemen.

I can't remember what the label said about this painting but I thought it was remarkable that it didn't mention that a monster is about to eat the praying lady.

And look at these flowers offered to the infant Jesus. Aren't they beautiful?

I loved this face, painted in the last quarter of the 15th century, possibly by Filippino Lippi. I wouldn't be surprised to see this old chap on an Edinburgh bus tomorrow, though with a different hat.

Everywhere we went, there were stunning ceilings. I don't think our necks will ever recover.

And can I have this floor, please?

This is one of the many views from the Uffizi. Here we have the mediaeval Ponte Vecchio, or Old Bridge. (It sounds more romantic in Italian.) It's got shops on it, and when the shopkeepers ran out of room in the seventeenth century, they just built extensions sticking out over the water. These haven't yet collapsed into the Arno so I suppose the builders must have known what they were doing.

And that was just Florence. Then there was Venice - even more amazing, if possible.

Monday, October 10, 2016

We have a bucket list and this was on it

We've just come home from a week in Florence and Venice. They are mind-blowingly beautiful. I knew that they were special places but I hadn't realised that everything was so lovely: wherever you look. For example, above is the ceiling in the Baptistry in Florence. All that gold!

And this is a tiny bit of the floor. Imagine working out how many bits of marble of each colour you would need. And then cutting them.

Even on my little phone camera, it was impossible not to take beautiful photos of Florence.


And ahhh.

We climbed the hill opposite the main part of the city.

Not a bad lunch time view.

There's more, lots more, but you may have had enough of my holiday snaps for now. But if you haven't been there: you should really, really, really go.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Thrilled and not so thrilled

Saturday was Edinburgh Doors Open Day and Daughter 1 and Son-in-Law 1 took Grandson to the bus garage. They saw around it  and got a ride on a vintage bus. Grandson was very happy. He was even happier that the bus company was selling off old bus stops - or at least the signs from the tops of bus stops. Son-in-Law 1 bought one for him without realising that Nanny and Gramps from Worcester, who were visiting, had also bought one. So Grandson now has two (different) bus stop tops and he is thrilled.

He made signs for himself, to transform himself into buses of various numbers, and now conducts bus rides round the house, ideally with passengers.

He also created other bus stop signs to go along his routes. In this case he seems to have written some of the information backwards.

 We had Daughter 2 for the weekend and Son, Daughter-in-Law and Baby Granddaughter M for Saturday overnight, so everyone else came over and Grandson and Granddaughter L met their new cousin, which was lovely.

Then on Sunday afternoon, Mr L, Daughter 2 and I went to the Botanics, where autumn appears to have started.

And since then I've been cutting out a steam train quilt for Mr L. (This isn't the final arrangement.) I'd been watching a video of Jenny from the Missouri Star Quilt company, in which she demonstrated a "really quick and easy" method of making four-patch squares, so decided to try this. Alas, Jenny's idea of speed and ease isn't exactly the same as mine. It's a very clever idea, which would never have occurred to me (though I'm sure proper quilters do it all the time). You sew two big squares together at the left and right edges, with the fronts of the fabrics facing each other; cut them down the middle vertically; and then open the bits out, sew them together sideways and cut them in half vertically again, resulting in your four-patch square. Easy. Hmm. Easy if you're Jenny. If you're me... well, let's say that it allows you to make quite big mistakes with something you've laboured over for quite a while, and thus to waste quite a bit of fabric. These four-patches look all right from a distance but two of them are mysteriously slightly too small and I think I'll have to recut them. I'll just do it the slow but safer way this time. We live and learn.

(Thank you, by the way, to the non-blog-owners who've been leaving nice comments. They are much appreciated. If you had a blog, I would visit it and say hello.)

Thursday, September 22, 2016

What one does in the retired life

I'm still trying to pretend it's not autumn, though today is the Autumn Equinox. But look: flowers in the garden. (Yes, all right, the one below is Sedum "Autumn Joy".)

The other day, Daughter 1, Son-in-Law 1 and I went with the children to the recently reopened Dalkeith Country Park. It was very enjoyable, though I wouldn't have liked to go there with fewer than three adults per two children: two to crawl after the children into the various tree houses and other structures into which they alarmingly disappear, and one to hold the bags and coats. This last person was generally me, I'm happy to report, though I did at one point have to scramble up this thing to get to the same level as everyone else:

As well as the alarming structures such as this tree house below - which actually had several storeys and the capacity to keep the children out of sight for a good ten minutes, argh,

there are also lots of smaller bits of play equipment such as this, below - much less stressful for the onlooker.

We were there for five hours (and it only costs £1 per child!) and the children were reluctant to leave, but then on the way out....

- well, to go back a bit, on the way in you have to cross this bridge and you can see this mesh tunnel affair that goes under the bridge and up the other side. The drop below, into the river, is about 30 feet. Grandson, who like his granny is a generally cautious soul, wisely decided that he wouldn't risk his life by crawling through it, as many other more foolhardy children were doing.

But then, as we crossed the bridge to go home...

he became braver. He went through it seven or eight times. Impressive, but bonkers. Granddaughter would have been game to have a go, but you had to be six years old to do it. (Grandson is actually five... .) It would be impossible, or at least very difficult, for an adult to go in to rescue a stuck child, though possibly the slender SIL 1 might have managed. However, this wouldn't be fun. Happily, no one got stuck and the tunnel seemed extremely popular among the children at the park (who clearly have no sense of self-preservation).

Then on Tuesday we went up to see Granddaughter M. I don't think Son wants me to show pictures of her so you'll have to take my word that she's beautiful. We took her for two walks and I got lots of cuddles. But then we had to leave her behind.

Yesterday Mr L and I went to see an exhibition, mainly of paintings by Charles Daubigny. I can't say I'd more than vaguely heard of Daubigny, but the exhibition was demonstrating his influence on Monet and Van Gogh, which does appear to be considerable. I'm not a huge Impressionist fan, but I thought Daubigny was jolly good. (I'm sure he'd be relieved to hear this.) His depictions of light are wonderful without being too blobby. (A career as an art critic was probably never going to be mine.) On the way in, we saw this girl in a white dress sitting on the grass in Princes Street Gardens, being photographed with her dress pooled around her. I thought at first that she was a bride, but if she was, none of the rest of the wedding party was anywhere near, so I suppose it must have been a fashion photo-shoot. (Why does there appear to be an advert for garden sheds at the right side of my photo????)

Afterwards we sat having coffee and looking out at the gardens and at this couple who were also admiring the view.

It must be admitted that some of the leaves were turning just a teeny bit yellow... .