Monday, May 29, 2006

Naked marking?

Further to my last post, perhaps I should add that slippers are not the only things I wear to mark. Believe me, that would not be a pretty sight. I tend to wear a normal number of garments, ideally suitable for dashing out to do the odd bit of therapeutic pottering in the garden when maddened by boredom.

The best scripts are either the very good ones - they don't require too much thought because they obviously deserve the marks - or the really terrible ones, which clearly deserve nothing. The ones I agonise over are the rather bad ones, which are so clumsily expressed that the candidate might have some idea of the answer, or might not. Do I give them 1 out of 4, 0 out of 4, maybe 1 and a half? Do people deserve some marks for simply finding their way to the exam room and spelling the name of their school correctly? As for candidates with unreadable writing... .

Of course, the ones I really really like are those who don't finish the paper. Oh, the joy of turning over the page and finding a blank sheet.

Sunday, May 28, 2006


I'm in the throes of marking (or, as I believe it's called in America, grading) Higher English papers. Higher English is the national exam taken by school pupils in their second last year of school, and is the English part of their university entrance qualification (as well as a general English qualification for those not planning to go to university). I have 207 papers to mark, all Paper 1 - each paper has answers to questions on two passages. I've done 75 of them; I have to be finished by a week on Wednesday for them to be posted the following day. I've done this for years and though it's very boring, there's a certain masochistic pleasure in getting through them. Though I do take it seriously; it's important for these candidates.

When I myself was doing my Highers, I vaguely assumed that they would be marked by someone in a suit, sitting at a desk in an office somewhere. Not by a woman at her kitchen table, wearing slippers, half-listening to a CD of George Gershwin's piano music, drinking coffee and trying not to eat biscuits to relieve the tedium.

Off I go to get on.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Sunshine, showers, snails and slugs

I keep forgetting that, when I post pictures, they come up in reverse order. I meant to start with the bottom one - simply to remind myself that the sun sometimes shines. Because this week, the weather hasn't been good: it's really quite cold (and it's nearly June!) and there's been a lot of rain. And I really really don't want rain tomorrow, because it's an Edinburgh holiday and I'm desperate to get all my summer bedding plants in before I have to vanish beneath a pile of marking.

Anyway, all these photos were taken in my little garden a few days ago. The one above shows a yellow trollius - it's brighter than it looks here - against a purple-leaved berberis. I pruned the berberis severely at the beginning of spring - it's normally a bit bigger than this - but I love the contrast between the dark red and the yellow - and the bright red tulips look good there too, I think. I also enjoy the various shapes and colours of the other herbaceous plant leaves - delphinium behind, geranium to the left, paeony to the right.

I didn't mean to put this one in as well; I meant to put it in instead. But my blogging talents don't stretch to deleting, and Daughter 1 is in the bath. However, the colours look different in the sunshine, don't they?
Looking down the garden: a clematis scrambling over a standard contoneaster. Note the pink grass in the foreground: cherry blossom.
And at the bottom of the garden, another clematis climbing up the... well, we in Scotland would call this a sitooterie. That is, something to sit oot (out) in. I suppose you could call it an arbour.

Gina commented the other day about my friend's nasty habit of cutting the heads off snails. I could never do this myself, because I'm much too squeamish. It's an interesting philosophical point, though: at what point do creatures lose their right (in our view) to life? Snails are actually rather cute, but how about slugs? Come to that, chickens, sheep, cows? Fish? I'm a longtime vegetarian myself, and don't eat any of these, because I think it must be terrible for them to be slaughtered, but I'm afraid I don't feel a huge amount of sympathy - though a bit - with slugs, greenfly, wasps... . And I have to admit that I do wear leather shoes, so can't claim the moral high ground.

Saturday, May 20, 2006


Today my husband and I went through to the west of Scotland to visit friends who live in Kilbarchan. It was raining (again) but we took umbrellas and went for a walk through woods filled with bluebells. This is a photo taken on the outskirts of the wood. It was a lovely sight and a bit of a Wordsworth's "Daffodils" occasion. I'm sure I'll remember the bluebells for ever and they'll make my heart fill with pleasure.

I've known the woman of the couple since we met in primary school at age 5 - in 1955 - and her husband since we were 22. It's good to meet up with old friends - though new ones are good too.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Colours and scents

It's rained quite a lot over the last few days. I quite like living in a changeable climate - you don't take sunshine for granted - but I do want it to be good weather at the weekend, since I need to plant up hanging baskets and pots with half-hardy plants such as begonias, fuchsias, geraniums. These are irises in my back garden last Saturday. They look an amazing blue colour in this photo, though unfortunately it's not very accurate. They're actually purple. But still very pretty.

These are doronicums - a nice bright splash of yellow.

And dicentras - delicate and pink.

The front garden - forget-me-nots, daffodils with pieris in the background.

Also in the front garden, my crab apple tree. Nice blue sky - not like today.

On my evening walk, I was thinking about lilac and how much I love the scent. The air was full of it from lots of gardens I passed - bliss. Is it my favourite? I think so, though I also really like the smell of hyacinths. And lily of the valley. And roses, of course. Then there's mock orange, the philadelphus.

Baking bread is excellent, too. On the other hand, maybe the best smell of all is clean baby. Yum.

If there's anyone out there, would you like to tell me what your favourite smells are?

Monday, May 15, 2006

Lilacs and blue glass.

Had a bit of a rubbish day at work - nothing to do with the students, all to do with management - but here's a cheering picture of a vase of lilacs in my sitting room. They smell like heaven. I also like the blue glass lumps on the table, though they could do with being arranged more symmetrically.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Sunny garden in late spring

This is my garden last Thursday morning before breakfast. Do you blame me for not wanting to go to work? It's not large and has nothing particularly unusual in it. But flowers are so wonderful! These are just bright yellow tulips.
A view down the garden. See the fantastic red leaves on my little plum tree towards the end.
Flowering cherry with rhododendrum at its base. Already today, three days later, the blossom is starting to fall like pink snow on to the lawn.
Lilac - the sweetest perfume in the world, I think.
And here is it again. With my hand holding it towards the camera! One-handed photography - what skill.
The cherry again. Look at that sky!

This is Alpine forget-me-not - a wonderful intense true blue. It seeds itself - but not too freely. The photo doesn't really do it justice.

Now I must go and ice a cake. Son-in-law's birthday yesterday; Husband's today.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Houses and snails

Very exciting time last weekend: Daughter 1, her new husband and I went to see a house on Sunday and they bought it on Monday! It's by far the nicest one they've looked at and it was a fixed price, which is quite unusual here (or at least, there tends to be something a bit less desirable about fixed price property - it's usually been at an offers-over price and hasn't sold). Anyway, they liked it; they went back later to look at it again with my husband; they offered for it on Monday; and their offer was accepted. It's really lovely: a living room, kitchen/diner, little utility room and loo downstairs, and three bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs. Small but south-facing back garden and a paved front garden with a run-in for the car they don't possess. Only four years old, so it just needs a freshen-up of its paintwork.

I'm so pleased for them, though I don't think I've quite taken in that they're actually going to move into it and not come home again. I mean, I know this in my head. But not really in my subconscious. She's been away before: a few months' au pairing when she left school; three years at Oxford University with a year in the middle in France; a year doing a Master's in Stratford. But she always came back. I think I kind of feel that this is something the same.

It's good, though. And they won't be far away. She said firmly.

It's been yet another far too busy week. Now the gardening season is in full swing, I really want to be outside most of the time. Unfortunately I have to be at work. I took some digital pictures of my garden on Thursday before breakfast, and once Daughter 1 shows me how, I shall put them in this blog. It's not that they're fantastic photos, or that my garden is big and impressive. But I love it all the same! Every day, it's just slightly different: some flowers are just beginning to fade while others are that bit further open.

And every day, the snails nibble just a few more holes in the leaves of my hostas.

I have a friend - a very nice person - who collects snails from her garden and cuts their heads off! That's telling them. But I'm not nearly that strong-minded. Sometimes, however, I take them out into our street and leave them in the middle of the road. This isn't as conclusive as you might think, because we live in a cul-de-sac with only five houses in it, one of which is occupied only at weekends. So the traffic isn't exactly whizzing along. I reckon that the snails have a sporting chance of making it into a garden, and there's always the possibility that this garden might not be mine...

Once I did this, an hour or so before Son came home in the car. I was still in the front garden. He stopped the car before reaching our drive and he got out.

"What are you doing?" I called.

"There's a snail in the middle of the road," he called back. "I'm just moving it to safety."

That's what you get for bringing up your children to be kind to their fellow creatures.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Cookies and forget-me-nots

I tried to sign on to Blogger a moment ago and it told me that my brower's cookie was disabled. I know no more about what this means than I know about the contents of your fridge, dear reader (not that I think there are many readers. If any). Anyway, I tried again and here I am.

I feel about computers the way I used, many years ago, to feel about calculus. I could do it, sort of, but had little notion what I was doing. Not that this has caused me any problems in life. And I'm ok with computers while doing simple things such as writing Word documents and emails. And doing this blogging thing, as long as nothing peculiar happens. But I'm no good in a computer crisis.

I have been so busy! A lot of the problem has been work: students who haven't worked hard enough all year are waking up to the fact that the national exams (Highers) are impending, and have been doing LOTS. Of course, as I've been urging them to do so, I shouldn't really complain; but believe me, that's not going to stop me. Grrrr, aarrgghh and so on. It's quite funny, really: the students think they're pleasing us when they produce things for us to mark, and of course we say, "Oh, thanks - you've been working hard," and we think, "*!@^*!*!*! - not MORE to add to the marking mountain!!" It's not so bad when they do things at the right time, since it's easier to mark a whole lot of questions about the same passage. But they produce stuff that they should have done months ago, and this means working out the answers all over again for a lot of separate exercises.

Another problem is that most of our students aren't very able. They tend to have failed Higher English at school, or else been in too low a class to sit it. So neither their answers to questions about the passages, nor their essays, are very good. It's a scoosh to mark good stuff: a lot of ticks and a couple of admiring comments and you're away. But bad stuff takes ages, because you have to keep explaining, in the squishy little spaces that they leave among their (sometimes) horrible handwriting, what's wrong, and what they should have written. The temptation to write "This is utter rubbish and you're never going to pass; please go and get a job in Tesco" is always there. But I don't. I'm diligent and sympathetic and do my best for them.

The other - I hesitate to call is a problem - about my life is the standard middle-aged woman's situation of being at the stage of having both dependent children and dependent parents. There are many good things about this: for example, I feel needed, which is nice. But I sometimes feel consumed. Take the last few days, for example. On Thursday, Son brought his girlfriend to dinner. This wasn't unusual, and was fine, since she's a very nice girl. But I had to stop by the supermarket on the way home from work, since otherwise the meal would have been a bit scrappy (I normally stock up on Fridays so the fridge is emptyish on Thursdays). Then after the meal, Husband and I went with Daughter 1 and her new husband (who are still living with us) to take a second look at a house that they were considering buying. When we came back, I went up to my parents' house to put out their dustbin - they're 86 and 84 and find it too heavy. Then Daughter 2 emailed me her essay to proof-read - she's doing a Master's in architecture. Then I did my marking for a couple of hours.

Friday: work (very busy); big supermarket shop; lots of ironing that hadn't got done earlier in the week because of marking.

Today: potted up lots of cuttings; Husband and I took my parents to Peebles (small town about an hour away) for a little outing and lunch; home mid-afternoon; cut the grass and weeded front garden; tidied kitchen (did dishes, washed floor etc). And here I am. Big pile of marking sitting on my conscience.

Don't get me wrong: I love my family and they're loving and supportive and affectionate back to me. And when I'm a lonely old widow then I'm sure I'll think back on these days and remember how busy and happy I was. And I am, mainly. I'd just like to be a bit less frantic.

And I haven't even weighed myself. But it would be a miracle if I'd lost any weight. Not that I've been particularly stuffing myself, but neither have I been for many walks, or had much time to consider what I was eating.

Still. Life ain't dull. And my garden is a wonderful whoosh of colour. (I must learn how to scan photos into this.) Forget-me-nots everywhere (well named - plant them once and they're with you for ever, but they're such a singing blue), tulips, cherry blossom, daffodils, polyanthus - oh, I love spring!