Friday, April 18, 2014

Hello Auntie Meg

I was sorting through some of my late aunt's things the other day - mainly photos that I'd put aside to look at later and had then forgotten - and came across this. At first, I couldn't think who the people were and then I realised that they are my Auntie Meg and Uncle Jim - in fact my Great-Auntie Meg and Great-Uncle Jim - when young.

Auntie Meg was my paternal grandfather's sister. I never knew that grandfather - he died in the February of the year in which I was born in the July. Very little remains to tell us what he was like. I know that he was originally a coppersmith, that he had to retire early from his job, which was something to do with the buses at Scottish Motor Transport, because of ill-health and that he died from smoking-related causes on my father's (his son's) 30th birthday. He was a quiet man, according to my mum, and we have a violin that he made (and played).

But I did know Auntie Meg. She lived in Edinburgh, in Greenhill ... Gardens, maybe? The house was a lower villa flat, a beautiful old building with big rooms and high ceilings. We used to go there for tea occasionally and I remember the sitting room, which had a china cabinet in which was a Doulton model of a lady balloon seller, which I really liked. Between the sitting room at the front and the dining room at the back was a wonderful stained-glass door which featured a peacock with its tail unfurled. I loved this as a little girl. Auntie Meg and Uncle Jim had no children, so when we went to their house, my brother and I just sat there and listened to the adult conversations. I don't know what my brother did for entertainment, but I focused on the balloon lady and the peacock. In those days, no one thought about amusing children on such occasions; one just sat quietly.  We did sometimes get to walk round the garden; Uncle Jim was a very keen gardener.

I dreaded the actual meal because (in my memory) it was always the same: cold meat and salad, specifically cold ham and tongue. Tongue! Ugh! I've been a vegetarian for many years and even when made to eat meat as a child, never liked it after someone told me what it was. I've no idea what I thought it was - just food, I suppose. I didn't like (and still don't) tomatoes either. At Auntie Meg's, I think I surreptitiously fed to my brother as much as he could tolerate off my plate.

I didn't know it at the time but I later heard they did have one baby, who died in infancy or was possibly stillborn. Auntie Meg had diabetes, so this possibly had something to do with it. Anyway, there were no more babies. And so I suppose that there are now very few people who remember them. My other aunt does; and Uncle Jim may have some relatives. I don't know. This is why I thought I'd give them a little mention here. None of us will be remembered for very long, but having children and grandchildren gives one a short afterlife in their minds.

Auntie Meg died when I was about eighteen or nineteen. Uncle Jim then presented me with her engagement ring, a little flower-shape made up of diamonds. I was very surprised and touched. "I want you to wear it," he said. And I did. But alas, about twenty years ago I lost it. For years I was convinced that it would turn up but no. I never took it off outside the house but had a bad habit of taking rings off and putting them on the nearest shelf. That was when we were doing up our current house and I now wonder if we had a tradesman who picked it up and pocketed it. Or possibly it just fell into a pot of paint or on to the floor and got gathered up with rubbish. Anyway, I still feel guilty. Sorry, Auntie Meg and Uncle Jim. I do remember you, though I never really got to know you well.

They were a very devoted couple and Uncle Jim was very protective towards her. When she died, he lived alone for a few years before he too died. He left the house and all the contents to the hospital where Auntie Meg had got treatment. I no longer remember exactly where the house was but when I'm in the area, I think of them and hope that the peacocks still stand in their beautiful blue, green and turquoise plumage, dividing the lofty sitting room from the dining room with its view out over the immaculate garden.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Old dog, new tricks

I took the grandchildren to the Botanics yesterday and was keen to try out the photographic potential of my new smart phone. Or, as I think of it, "smart" phone. I may be blaming the phone for my own lack of smartness but I think the dumbness could be said to be evenly matched. It was a very sunny day and so of course I couldn't at all see on the screen what I was trying to photograph - but that applied to my previous phone also. The difference is that my previous phone had buttons, and so I could at least see and feel the bits I needed to press in order to take a photo. Whereas by the time I'd got the new phone out, woken it up from its deep and dreamless sleep, angled it away from the sun, squinted at the bits I was trying to tickle into life and pointed it at the intended subjects of the photo, they had trotted off. Well, Grandson had. Unfortunately my finger got in the picture instead.

I have six days left of the fourteen at the end of which I can take the phone back and have it replaced by a non-smart one. I don't think it's going to be a long-term companion. I hardly ever use a mobile phone for speaking into. I do text and take photos; and in my experience so far, it's much less user-friendly for these tasks, though I've no doubt these are sacrifices worth making if one feels the need to use the internet while not at home. But I don't. I can see it would be very useful for lots of people; but personally, I'm at home a lot, being retired. And when I'm not I very often have the company of Mr L, whose smart phone is always at hand.

Having said that, we had a lovely time at the Botanics and Daughter 2 is about to come home for a week, so I shouldn't grumble, especially when the news is full of the Malaysian plane disaster, the Korean shipwreck, the terrible, terrible situation in Syria and the problems in Ukraine. How lucky we are to be living here.

Saturday, April 12, 2014


Because I had been complaining (on the phone) about my general incompetence - not being immediately comfortable with the new phone, not being very good at playing the piano even after two years of lessons, not finding quilting as easy as those who produce complicated and beautiful creations over a weekend - Daughter 2 drew the above illustration and attached it to an email. Now can you see why I miss her so much? Sadly the skills she is able to find for me are not hugely impressive - such as making macaroni cheese - but I so appreciate the sentiment. She's mildly dyslexic - hence the reference to spelling - the words in the little list are some of those which she used to find difficult and can now spell - even though "tomorrow" occasionally acquires a rogue "m" when she's not paying close attention, which is why it occurs with a cross against it here. 

What I used to be quite good at was teaching; and while there's no denying that retirement is enormously more relaxing than teaching and all its attendant preparation and marking, and is generally perfectly pleasant, it has left me sometimes feeling somewhat at a loss. Suddenly one becomes a little old lady instead of a competent professional. I'm not really complaining because work was far too busy for so many years and spilled into everything. But it's quite an odd transition. Though I'm generally used to it now, there are moments when I think - so that's it, then? 

We were also cheered by a day with Grandson. He enjoyed playing in the garden. 

He and I made lots of sandcastles. He was careful to keep his white glove (for his eczema) clean. When we went back into the house, he left sandy bare footprints on the rug. "Look!" he said. "Foot shadows!"

We took Dolly to see the trains and trams at the tram station. He waved to them all. The tram drivers, who're still driving empty trams around as Edinburgh tries to get used to being a tram city again, always wave back to him. I'm sure they're delighted to have something to take their minds off driving along the tracks without passengers.

We walked home along the cycle track, which is a former railway line on an embankment. He gazed down at a garden in which there was a slide and a trampoline. "There's a park!" he said  (we call playgrounds "playparks" in Scotland). I told him that it was just someone's garden. He thought about this. "A garden with things to play on!" he marvelled. Then, after a dramatic pause, he said, "And in [Grandson's] garden - nothing!"

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Future shock

The day started all right. I picked some flowers - granted, slugs have been crawling up the stems of some of my daffodils (such as the pale one above) and eating them, but that's life.

Then we went up town and bought some books and walked down to Princes Street.

That was fine. The sun was shining.

We looked at people lying on the grass in Princes Street Gardens and thought, how nice.

Then Mr L said casually that we could just pop into a phone shop and discuss getting new phones. Mine is a bit wonky sometimes but it usually works and is nice and simple. His is coming to the end of its contract and he likes new things. I should have been more wary. Instead I looked idly at the ornate plaster ceiling in the phone shop and wondered who put it up and who decided on the patterns and what they would have thought if they'd known about mobile phones.

And then I found myself agreeing that I should probably embrace the 21st century and get a smart phone. Most people can manage them. Surely I could?

This turned out to be a big mistake.

We wandered on home, glaring at the horrible tram wires for our new, so far passengerless, trams, as illustrated above.

Then Daughter 2 texted me and Mr L showed me how to text back and it was HORRIBLE. I  hadn't realised that it would be a qwerty keyboard and yes, I'm using one now, but I'm touch typing. I don't know where the letters are. My fingers know, as long as I type fast, but my eyes have no idea. And my fingers are also much too big for the teeny wee letters. Look, there's my enormous little finger. Well, yes, it's a lot smaller than Mr L's forefinger, which he manages to text with. But - arrgghh.

I wish people would stop inventing things.

Do you remember that book called "Future Shock" that was written by Alvin Toffler in 1970 about how there was too much change in too short a period of time for us to cope with? Yes, well. I'm suffering from it now - delayed future shock. I've just looked Toffler up and he appears to be still alive and aged 85. I imagine he's coping fine with his smart phone.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

The garden crew

After a week of dull and damp weather, today was sunny and mild and so we got stuck into the garden. Mr L cut one of the hedges (hurray for him) while I cut the grass and did some weeding.

My pots of pansies are looking good. No doubt the slugs are stretching, yawning and making their way towards them as I write.

Luckily slugs don't eat polyanthus.

Spring flowers - so bright and cheering.

Cassie Cat always likes company so she came to help.

She also likes sunshine.

She didn't do much weeding, though.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Edinburgh's child(ren)

Son and Daughter-in-Law came down yesterday and stayed till today. We all went with Daughter 1 and the grandchildren to the local playpark. It's particular fun in the playpark when your fit young uncle is prepared to go on the equipment with you.

I've just finished rereading a book I found in a second-hand bookshop a few years ago. It's called "Edinburgh's Child - some memories of ninety years" and it was published in 1961 when its author, Eleanor Sillar, was 92. She was born in 1869, not all that long before my grandparents (1880, 1885, 1893 and 1895). It's a series of essays about the Edinburgh of her childhood as the child of a Sheriff - a judge in the lower courts, as opposed to one who would deal with very serious crimes. I've just looked up the current salary of a Sheriff and it's about £130K. So her family was quite well-off. They had at least three live-in servants - mind you, there were six children and the mother died when the youngest was born, so they would certainly need help in the house.

Edinburgh as she describes it is clearly recognisable, though almost all of the shops have changed and the customs and attitudes are in some cases extremely different. As you get older, you realise how short a period of time a century is - if you remember 50 years back (and it doesn't seem such a long time ago) you are aware that 100 years is just twice not-very-long (and 1000 years just ten times that...). And yet she describes being a debutante - I never knew that Edinburgh people used that term - and going to balls at the Assembly Rooms. The Rooms are still there - I've been to a couple of dances there in my youth, but not with chaperones, candles and corsages as she describes them. And when she got home, at four in the morning, her nanny/maid was "awake and alert, ready to unlace me and to brush my hair, and eager to hear all about it. She pulls the flowers in my bouquet off their wires and puts them in water."

Eleanor writes very appreciatively of the three woman servants who were with the family for over fifty years. However, she writes that "they had been bred to think that to earn their living in this manner was their high calling". That doesn't feel too comfortable nowadays. She says that "our maids shared in all our holidays and outings" which sounds good, but adds "my memory pictures Christina weighed down with her enormous basket stuffed full of picnic fare and Ann wandering along, her arms laden with our discarded coats". Hmm.

Ann had joined the household when the writer's mother heard that she had had a baby by her betrothed, who had been killed in an accident before the wedding. The writer's mother, being a kind woman, immediately "sent for her, and kept her, earning thereby the selfless gratitude of a gentle being". But there's no mention at all of what became of Ann's child. This child had been born in Ann's mother's house so presumably remained there with its granny (no mention even of whether it was a girl or boy). When Eleanor Sillar married, Ann went with her to help with the next generation of children, not retiring till the age of seventy. I wonder how she really felt about all this?

But things were hard even in an affluent family. Two of the writer's brothers and her only sister died in infancy before Eleanor was born; her mother died in childbirth with Eleanor's younger brother; and her father died when she was thirteen. My grandfather too had several brothers and sisters who died before he was born; I remember asking him about them and he couldn't be sure even of their names.

In some ways it's not long ago. The buildings are much the same. I can Street View the addresses she mentions. And yet in other ways it seems a very long time ago. So interesting.

Friday, April 04, 2014


Having unwisely given the impression in my previous post (before correcting it) that Grandson was being much more bouncy than he actually was, I got one perfectly nice comment from a bloggy friend who obviously felt slightly worried for the lady behind him and one rather less nice one from an anonymous commenter - which I deleted because it's my blog and I can.

I tend to feel that people who read my blog know me and can therefore read between the lines, but of course this isn't really the case. Or - it is to some extent. I've met quite a few bloggy friends now and they've all been lovely, just like their blogs. But blogs, though they may be more or less true, are not the whole truth. We are actually quite shy people. I often feel that we may have brought up our children to be more repressed and to think of other people more than is compatible with getting on in the real world. We certainly never allowed them to make a noise in public places and annoy others - not that they ever showed much tendency to do so. They are all kind and considerate. They, and we, probably get walked over a bit.

Pictures tell only half the story. This is Grandson yesterday and yes, we are very blessed to have him. But what you can't tell from the picture is that he has a terrible cold and cough, is having to use his puffer because of wheezing and that his body is covered in itchy eczema. He currently has to wear a special tight suit covering his entire body under his pyjamas at night so that the cream with which he's slathered stays on and he can't scratch and make himself bleed.

I read blogs because I'm interested in the writers' lives and feel warmly towards them. If I weren't and I didn't, I wouldn't read their blogs. It's odd, though salutary (and I suppose obvious) to to realise that there are those out there with different feelings.

Or maybe he or she was just having a bad day.