Sunday, February 25, 2007

Feeling better

Our-in-law is feeling better; great news. He’s a lovely lad and the cleverest person I know. He got the starriest first class degree of his year in German from Oxford University, despite having decided early on that he should have done something scientific instead. Then he did a Master’s in Computer Science at Birmingham and again came out very much top. They sent him a letter to say that his project “far surpassed any that has been submitted during the 15 years that the course has been running”.

This would all be fine if he didn’t suffer from depression. Not that he has anything obvious to be depressed about. He has a lovely family, and he’s clever, funny, kind, popular, good-looking, musical, artistic… . But this is all dust and ashes if he’s depressed. Luckily, Daughter 1 is saintly and is so good with him. But it’s very hard.

He has hardly been at work this year and we’ve been really worried. However, on Thursday at 4.30 pm he suddenly felt better – completely normal. I don’t know whether this is the power of prayer or a chemical change in him, but… anyway, he’s still cheerful. He’s planning to go back to work tomorrow, afternoons only, and to return full time next week. Keep your fingers crossed for him.

Today, at a family lunch, the subject of Sheepcat’s Facebook page was mentioned. “Maybe I could make him a Live Journal page,” mused Daughter 1.

“Or a MiceSpace,” son-in-law offered with his cheeky grin.

Ah, it’s so good to have the boy back to normal.

Friday, February 23, 2007

RequiesCat in pacem

Son heard a rumour last week that the powers behind Facebook were going round deleting pages belonging to anyone whose second name was Cat. Spoilsports! And sure enough Sheepcat’s page (or Sheep Cat, as he was designated to fit the form) has gone! Wiped out! And he had 64 friends all over the world! (You may have to look at a few posts ago to know what I'm talking about.)

Son sighed, disappointed at the killjoy nature of cyberspace.

“I could make him another page,” he mused. “I could call him Sheepcat Edinburgh, or Sheepcat Again…”. Pause. “On the other hand, now I’m not revising any more, the matter doesn’t seem so urgent.”

He passed his exams, by the way. I give the credit to Sheepcat. The fluffy chap himself is quite well, you’ll be glad to hear. I gave him a pat yesterday. He seemed untraumatised by being deleted.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Look at my new computer!

I have a new whizzy computer! So exciting – well, actually, not all that exciting, since I’m not really interested in machines apart from what they can do for me. But the previous computer wouldn’t let me blog, which was a grave displeasure. This one is much better… so far. Thank you, dear husband, for setting it all up for me, despite being gravely ill with a cold. And I can add pictures, so this is one of the garden ten days ago: our only snow of the winter, and it lasted all of about six hours.

I love hyacinths so much. The scent transports me back to my childhood and somehow to school, where presumably we must have had hyacinths in the classroom. Though I wouldn't like to be a child again. Doing sums; how boring.

Another extract from a student’s essay which made me smile. Again, it took me a few seconds to work this one out: “Uncle Peter deserts from the army and goes a wall.”

Honestly, I’m not making these up.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

How to use a dictionary and still get it wrong

Another little gem from my marking. It took me a few moments to understand what had gone wrong.

It's from a correspondence course for Higher English.

Question: What are runes? (You may like to use a dictionary to help you answer this question.)

Student's answer: Runes are remnants of a dwelling or building that are no longer kept mended.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Life and other problems

My computer is giving me lots of problems and I’ve been trying to post for days, without success. I don’t think it’s New Blogger’s fault; I think it’s my computer’s. So I’m doing this on my husband’s – which is why I haven’t put a photo on the top. I’m on holiday (mid-term) and he’s not here to show me how to send his computer one of my photos. Technologically challenged and deeply frustrated is how you find me. Also amazed at the whizziness of his computer. Wow.

However… deep breathing, sense of proportion and other such sensible reactions…

I’ve been having lots of chats recently with my mother, and when I compare my her life to my own, I’m aware of huge differences. She was born in 1922 and was 17 when the war broke out. She had just gone down to London to work as a Civil Servant (government worker) and was there throughout the Blitz. She had many long-distant friendships with young men who were in the forces but life was so uncertain that she didn’t commit to any relationship till the war was over. That must have been a hugely difficult time in her life.

Then she got married to my father and they returned to Edinburgh. They had actually known each other since their mid-teens, since my mother and his sister were good friends.

After marriage, she never worked outside the home. My brother and I came along quite soon and of course housework was much more time-consuming then. But later, when we were off to school and when labour-saving devices were available, she had a lot of freedom to do as she wanted, which turned out to be church committee work and coffees with friends. She says, however, that she would have liked a job. She’s a very intelligent woman. When my dad retired, they took a lot of holidays.

I also met my husband in my mid-teens; I started going out with him when I was 17. I continued to live at home while I was at university and teacher training college. Indeed we lived with my parents for a year after we were married at (23 and 25) because we couldn’t afford to buy a house. Having taught at a tough comprehensive school (never again) for six years, I was then a stay-at-home mum for the next nine, though did some tutoring and taught evening classes. When our son, the youngest, was four and went to nursery, I started teaching at college part-time and then steadily increased my hours. I’ve been teaching full-time plus an evening class for years now, which means lots of marking and preparation. Life is very busy, ridiculously so; like the lives of so many of our friends.

I enjoy my job most of the time but would rather not have gone back to work – or so I think. Life has been far too busy and I believe that I’d have been happier as a housewife, doing the job properly and having free time for my own projects. But maybe I’m fooling myself. Maybe I’d have been bored.

My generation of women had working lives pressed upon us; it was possible for us to go back to work and it therefore became expected and indeed necessary for most women. House prices soared but dual-income couples could afford to pay more, which meant that it became hard to buy a house on one normal income. It was stressful then, as it is now, to be a working mother when the children were small; lots of guilt and lots of juggling, especially when they were ill.

However, I do feel very lucky that I had those years with them when they were little. I wish I could think that my own daughters will have that privilege. Young women now seem to have to take a few months off and then go back to work. Of course, being at home with toddlers isn’t a picnic – I do remember a lot of days mainly spent picking things off the floor. But ah, the little chubby arms round one’s neck…

Would I have my mother’s life if given the choice? Would she have mine? And my daughters – what sort of lives would they choose?

Friday, February 09, 2007


Our son has been revising for exams in opthalmology, dermatology and ailments of the ear, nose and throat. He’s been sitting at the kitchen table surrounded by large books with horrid pictures of pustuled skin, diseased eyes and deformed noses. These don’t seem to bother him at all, but he’s been rather bored. To make things worse, his girlfriend, to whom he is devoted, has been studying the same books 100 miles away.

So he’s been keeping a keen eye on his Facebook page.

(In case you don’t know, Facebook is a website on which young people have a page about themselves on which they can post news, photos, short videos and so on. Their friends volunteer themselves to be listed on this page and can leave little messages. It’s a way of keeping in contact with school and university friends – and also the friends of the friends. It’s very diverting and a splendid waste of time; thus ideal for a bored student.)

Not being able to while away quite enough time on his own Facebook page or that of his acquaintances, he naturally decided to create a page for Sheepcat, the extremely fluffy feline who lives round the corner from us. Son and his girlfriend are extremely partial to having a quick word and cuddle with Sheepcat (probably not his real name) whenever they pass his house. Sheepcat is not a shy animal and is happy to be stroked by anyone who is willing to spend a few minutes in his company.

Within hours of getting his own Facebook page, Sheepcat had acquired various “friends” – either Son’s friends or their pets – who left him messages. There are clearly a lot of revising students around at the moment. “Hmm,” said Son this morning. “I’ve had two messages this morning and Sheepcat’s had sixteen!”

We don’t know Sheepcat’s owners except by sight. They might be quite surprised at his sudden rise to prominence and popularity. And his name, come to that.

You can see a four –second video of Sheepcat here:

Saturday, February 03, 2007


Weeks ago, I was tagged by Aunty Evil of Evil Manor (what fun!) and through a combination of not being at home enough (it's a long one) and absentmindedness, never got around to doing it. Here it is. Sorry about the ramblingness of my answers.

I'm fascinated, by the way, by her spelling of MeMe. I had never realised that it was called a meme because it's about Me! Me!

Anyway, this post is long enough already, so...

A - Available/Single? – Can hardly remember what single was like. I fell for my (now) husband when I was sixteen and even though he took a year to get the hint, that was over 39 years ago. He’s a nice chap – I still think so.

B - Best Friend? – That’s a trickier one. I think of my friend Pam as my best friend, since this was definitely the case from the age of ten and all through university. But when we were 23, she moved away down to London and we don’t meet very often, though when we do, it’s just the same. We were part of a group of four girls and I still see another of them, Beryl, a lot, so maybe her. And I have other very good friends. Pathetically, though, a part of me would still like a “best” – I think this might be because I don’t have a sister and would always have liked one. But I have two daughters, who are sister-equivalents. And a son. And my husband. All very good.

C - Cake or Pie? – Alas, I do like a nice piece of cake, yes, though because of constantly trying not to get any fatter, don’t eat it much. Chocolate cake is best, though fruit is good too. Pie – not so tempting.

D - Drink Of Choice? Tea or coffee, depending on the time of day. I’m not much of a one for alcohol. If I’m going to consume empty calories, then I’d go for cake or chocolate.

E – Essential Item You Use Everyday? – My computer (though ideally not the very very s-l-o-w one I’m using now). Never thought a few years ago that I’d be a computer fan. I love writing, even if it’s just notes for students. And it’s so much more fun answering emails than actually doing any work.

F - Favourite Colour? – Probably blue. But I really hate orange and don’t like purple much either. I won’t even have orange flowers in the garden, though quite like purple ones, in moderation. (I make an exception for orange oranges, by the way.) I like all other colours, depending on context.

G - Gummy Bears Or Worms? – I think I quite like Gummy Bears if they’re those little chewy sweets, though probably wouldn’t bother with them as against nice dark chocolate. WORMS??? Baffled here.

H - Hometown? – Edinburgh, Scotland

I – Indulgence – Time to myself. Doesn’t happen much.

J - January Or February? Well, neither, particularly, since they’re both winter here. Certainly not January, which is cold, dark, usually wet and a long time till the next college holidays.

K - Kids & Their Names? Three, but I haven’t quite reached the stage of feeling able to blog their names. Daughter 1’s name is quite Scottish, Daughter 2’s isn’t particularly and Son’s name is the same as my brother’s. None are cutely original. Don’t like cutely original names. I think you have to call your children names that are ok for 85-year-olds in due course. “I'll put you
on the commode now, Rainbow.” Not good.

L - Life Is Incomplete Without? It’s got to be my lovely family, but a garden comes a close second. And singing. And music in general. And friends. And books. And my computer, or at least some means of writing. And things made out of coloured glass. I’m really not a minimalist.

M - Marriage date? 1973. I didn’t really enjoy my own wedding because I was quite shy, but I loved Daughter 1’s, last year.

N - Number Of Siblings? One brother. We get on fine, but we’re very different. I always wanted a sister (see above). I do have a sister-in-law, and again, we get on very well but aren’t soulmates.

O - Oranges Or Apples? Both are nice, though I can’t be bothered with proper oranges that take 20 minutes to peel. Satsumas and the like are fine.

P - Phobias/Fears – Blood. I know this is entirely ridiculous, since we’re all full of it, but I am so phobic that I once not only passed out, but had an actual fit, when I was having blood taken. In fact, just thinking about it now….

Q - Favourite Quote? – What a hard question! My mind is full of quotes. But maybe, from “Cliff top, East coast” by my favourite poet, Norman MacCaig,

I’ll write you a poem
that praises you so well
It’ll glow in the dark.”

My husband is splendid but not poetic. If he has a fault, that might be it. On the other hand, he removes dead birds from the garden, unblocks toilets and so on. Who needs a poet in the house?

R - Reason to Smile? Again, my lovely family. Of course, they worry me sometimes, as I’ve recently blogged, but oh! the fun, the cuddles, the love.

S - Season? – Summer. I love herbaceous borders in June or July, but of course as a British teacher, I don’t have to work in July, so – no contest!

T - Tag people? Molly. I don’t know how to do that underlining thing but her blog is The Molly Bawn Chronicles.It's wonderful.

U - Unknown Fact About Me? I had a children’s novel published when I was in my twenties. Then our children came along, combined with work, and the years whizzed by, and somehow I haven’t quite got around to writing another one. Yet.

V - Vegetable you don’t like? Turnip. I’m a vegetarian, so there’s not much future in disliking vegetables.

W - Worst Habit? My husband has just walked in so I asked him. He said, “You don’t have any.” (You can see why I’ve stayed married to him for 33 years.) But maybe… I have a tendency to read the instructions on things only as a last resort. Not really very sensible.

X - X-rays You’ve Had? – Some of these questions are hard! Teeth, certainly. I’ve had scans when pregnant for the third time and also of my gall bladder – does this count? Can’t think of any others.

Y - Your Favourite Food? – Inevitably, chocolate comes high on the list, but I’m also very fond of sweetcorn, peas and raspberries.

Z - Zodiac Sign ? - Cancer. I was born on July 4. Does this make me an honorary American?