Friday, March 30, 2007


My father, in hospital since September, took a turn for the worse on Wednesday and has now been unconscious for more than two days. We sat by his bedside all yesterday and today; I'm currently having a little break to organise a meal and check emails. I've been absent from work yesterday and today. Luckily it's the last day of term today and we had no students. I must now return to the hospital, where I've left my brother and mother. It's just a matter of waiting till the end. My dad is 87, had little quality of life left and has had what might be called a good innings. That's easy to say. But it's harder to feel. It's all very emotional. Meanwhile, his heart beats firmly on.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Something beginning with G

Suse ( posted a letter meme the other day and asked if anyone would like to be allocated a letter. Hence I got G.

I’ve never particularly liked G as a letter. Is it just me, or do other people think that some letters have nicer personalities than others? I’ve always particularly liked K and D and S, but G… hmm. So at first I thought that I wouldn’t be particularly inspired by it. And then I started thinking. It was quite diverting, really, going about the daily round while vaguely looking out for G things that meant something to me.

Here are some of them.


See above. We’re so lucky to have two daughters. I remember being in the maternity hospital when I'd just had my first child, Daughter 1, and feeling genuinely sorry for mothers who had boy babies. I knew that there must be a tiny flaw in my reasoning but nevertheless it really seemed that these mums must realise that their babies were just slightly inferior…. ( I saw things a bit differently once we’d had a boy ourselves.) Daughters 1 and 2 are very unlike in personality but as you can see from the picture of Daughter 1’s wedding, they’re very fond of each other. Daughter 1 and I share a lot of interests – we both did English and French at university, for example, and are very keen readers – and I love her to bits. However, Daughter 2 and I are more similar as people. We agree that we’re more or less the same person, except that it’s clear to me that she’s the improved version.


Very much related to the girls, particularly to Daughter 2 and me, who are very prone to giggling in unsuitable circumstances such as church services and other solemn ceremonies. We set each other off just by a glance. It’s as well that she didn’t attend Daughter 1’s graduation at Oxford. The entire occasion was conducted in Latin, with the graduands queuing up twice to have Latin sentences intoned at them and to be greeted by various dons removing and replacing their hats in a ceremonial fashion. It was very giggle-inducing indeed and Daughter 1’s gaze met mine several times during this, with unfortunate results. Fortunately she is more adult than her mum and managed not to disgrace herself.


My Granny was such a sweetheart. She was very loving – my brother and I were her only grandchildren and she thought we were simply perfect. Indeed, she always thought the best of everyone. I’m like her in her ability to get a lot of pleasure from simple things, which I think is one secret of happiness. She loved her garden and enjoyed watching the bees on her crocuses and seeing things grow. I remember her cutting open a cabbage and saying, “Look at it. All of that out of one tiny seed.” And it is indeed amazing.


Our garden is small but it’s very loved. I would hate to live in a flat. It’s so wonderful to be able to step outside and breathe in the fresh earthy air. I love the colours and textures and scents of leaves and flowers and shrubs. I don’t love slugs, though. Here’s a view of what our garden should look like in about a fortnight.


Meggie of “Life’s Free Treats” doesn’t like green. (Later amendment - Meggie says that she does! Apologies. It must have been someone else.) This seems very odd to me but then I don’t like orange AT ALL, which may seem equally peculiar to other people. I’m glad that grass isn’t orange. Books with advice about small modern gardens often urge one to replace one’s lawn with paving slabs, decking or pebbles but I think lovely green, soft, fragrant grass is the thing to set off plants. And to walk on with bare feet. And to lie down on.

Golden daffodils

All right, maybe this is more D than G, but if it’s good enough for Wordsworth, I think it’s allowable. And it’s spring! This is what Daughter 2 and I saw when we went out for a walk last weekend. How all that goldenness lifts the spirits.


I’m very fond of glass. I love the colours (not orange, though) and the shapes that can be made out of it. This is a pot of glass anemones that we bought one year at the Strathearn Gallery in Crieff. I have various bits of stained glass round the house and enjoy seeing the light shining through them.

Grand Designs

I’m not a great watcher of television but my husband, Daughter 2 and I really like “Grand Designs”, in which people self-build their dream houses. The presenter, Kevin McCloud, is splendidly predictable: in each programme, he visits a house at various stages in its building and foresees doom. The design will never work; the rooms are too small/big; it’ll never be finished in time for winter; it won’t fit in with its surroundings; it’ll cost far too much. And then by the end he’s amazed: it’s really successful; it looks good with its neighbouring buildings; the windows make it seem bigger/ lighter/ sleeker than he’d expected. It does always cost more than planned, though. Whenever we watch it, I’m dying to sell our house and get Daughter 2 to design us a new one, somewhere with a fantastic sea view. Maybe we should wait till she’s been an architect for more than six months, though.

Thanks, Suse.
If anyone would like a letter allocated randomly to him/her, please ask. And since you're not going to ask, Person from Salford - how about taking S and thinking about S things you like as you go through your day at the university? Sandwiches might feature. Students. Spreadsheets. Go on, think of some more.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Random scenes from family life on Mother’s Day

This was my Mother's Day card from Daughter 2 and Son. Subtle, what? By the way, Son does say that he’d take this possible cat with him when he leaves home. Hmm.

Scene 1

Daughter 2 [to Son]: It would be a shame to leave a kitten alone all day. You could get one of those baby sling things and take it to university with you.

Son: That sounds like a good idea. [Pause] A bit tricky when I’m in theatre, though.

Daughter 2 [meditatively]: The kitten would have to scrub up.

[Daughter 2 and Son make kitten-objecting-to-being-scrubbed noises.}

Scene 2

[Daughter 2 takes the sticker off a bunch of Mother’s Day lilies and attaches it to her brother’s sweatshirt.]

Son [reading upside down]: “Guaranteed to last 9 days”. What happens to me after that?

Daughter 2 [firmly but sympathetically]: Well, after that you begin to smell.

Scene 3

Son: You know those two cats we’re getting?

Me: What??

Son: Cataract and Glaucoma…

Saturday, March 17, 2007

My helpful boy

"If we were to get a guide cat for you ..." said Son.

"Mmm?" I said.

"... I've thought of a good name for it."



Thursday, March 15, 2007


Ok, now. I’m stamping my feet petulantly for a little while, so you might want to skip this post.

1) My dad, now moved permanently from the hospital he’s been in since September to another hospital for old people who need a lot of nursing care, is upset by the move and much more confused than he was before. He seems to think that he’s back in the army during the war and is trying to organise all the other old chaps into springing into action and… well, it’s not quite clear what he wants them to do, but they’re equally away with the fairies and are ignoring him, much to his fury. Not good.

2) My mum hasn’t been very well this week and I’m back staying every night with her, having got down to three nights per week. This is all right in its way but I’m worried about her too.

3) My son-in-law isn’t well again. Poor chap. Send him some prayers or good wishes or whatever you have available, please.

4) Daughter 2, whom we love and adore, is going out with an actor. This may not seem a problem to you, but it is to us. To be more precise, she’s going out at a distance with a mostly unemployed actor, and I’m sure that eventually she’ll have to move down to London to be with him. While I know that this would be perfectly natural, and we wouldn't stop her, we will miss her so much. And she doesn’t want to go to London anyway, except that of course he’s there. Or at least, he would be if he could get enough work to afford to live there, instead of in the Midlands with his parents.

5) I went to the optician today because I have a funny pink spot in the middle of the vision of my right eye. He spent an hour and forty minutes shining lights into my eyes, puffing air at them and showing me photos of my eyeballs on a computer screen (and if there’s anything that makes me feel more squeamish than veins, it’s anything to do with eyes apart from the view one normally gets of them; and as for veiny eyeballs….!!!) and then told me that I have the beginnings of cataracts in both eyes and also appear to have a hole at the back of my right eye. He’s referred me to the eye hospital. He says that it might not matter, but – sorry if this seems fussy - I prefer my eyes unperforated. Up till this afternoon, I thought that the only parts of my body that weren’t showing signs of late middle age were my eyes, since unlike most of my contemporaries I don’t need glasses apart from to read the phone directory in poor light.

6) Salford Person has abandoned me, or at least she hasn’t read me today. SP, I hope my speculations haven’t offended you. Come back!

I know everyone has problems, and some people have much worse ones than my family. But – that’ll do for the moment, thanks. Enough is enough.

Ah well. Above you see some wonderfully blue hyacinths and below, some lovely flowering plum blossom. Better concentrate on the good things in life. Like spring.

As I typed that, Son arrived home. “I’ve had an exciting day,” he said. “I got to stick my finger up someone’s bottom and feel his prostate.” (He’s a medical student. I hope you were taking this for granted.) I told him my eye news and he was sympathetic. “Maybe you need to get a cat,” he said. (This is part of a continuing get-a-cat campaign.) “Then if you can’t see, the cat can go and find you things. Like… mice. Have you ever felt a dead mouse? You could, if you got a cat.” He’s definitely one of the good things.
Post script the next day:
Thank you so much, fellow bloggers, for your sympathy. I particularly enjoyed Thimbleanna's comment that I should be thankful that it wasn't I who had to put my finger up someone's bottom. How very true. I mentioned this to my husband.
"It would be even worse," he said sagely, "to be the owner of the bottom."
Yes, indeed. Suddenly my life feels quite lucky.

Monday, March 12, 2007

eBay and childbirth

Most of the following will be of interest only if you use eBay. This happened to my husband, but on the day that it did, I read a blog which detailed the same sort of event.

A few days ago, my husband, an occasional eBay user, got an email from them reminding him of his password, because he’d apparently requested this. Only he hadn’t, so he just deleted the email. Then on Saturday evening he checked his emails to find three from irate people asking why he hadn’t paid for the items he’d bid for and threatening to give him negative feedback on his record. Only he hadn’t bid for anything for months.

He tried to go into his eBay account to see what was what, but was told that his password was invalid.

Clearly someone had somehow requested the password and then intercepted the email reply; and put in some bids purporting to be him, using the password. He reported all this to eBay.

He then spent a sleepless night worrying that, if a hacker could do this, maybe he could gain access to my husband’s PayPal account and withdraw money from his bank account.

And the next day he signed into PayPal, to be told that access was restricted because of a potential problem with two transactions. These were two payments, of £500 and 60 Euros, which had been requested (but, of course, not by him) and not paid – he doesn’t quite know how PayPal knew there was something fishy about them. He then changed his password and security details and reported the whole thing to PayPal.

So do beware if you get the email reminding you of your password.

It’s rather unsettling, isn’t it?

However, there’s always something to cheer one up, such as daffodils and this, from a student’s essay. Again, she’s in my adult Access to University class.

“Up till then, my only experience of childbirth was when my mother gave birth to my teenage brother when I was seven.”

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Kelvingrove Museum

Yesterday we had our first Saturday off since my father went into hospital in September. We visited friends who live in Kilbarchan, a village over in the west. After lunch, we all went to the Glasgow Kelvingrove Museum, which has fairly recently undergone major renovation. The collections are now organised in what seemed to us quite an interesting way: at least partly in what I suppose you might call themed areas. For example, there was a butterfly section which had actual butterflies but also pictures, ceramics, embroidery and so on with butterflies on them or inspired by butterflies. Maybe not so useful for the ceramics scholar who might not think of looking there, but fun for the casual wandering browser. I keep seeing wonderful quilts on people’s blogs; wouldn’t a butterfly quilt be lovely?… A project for my retirement? Ah, the number of wonders I’m going to achieve in my retirement!

In one section, there were faces: mainly lots of busts from various eras sitting around companionably on shoulder-height plinths as if having a chat. An Australian girl put a toy kangaroo beside a bust of Queen Victoria and took their photo. I wonder if Her Majesty would have been amused? There were other face-type exhibits and also these fibreglass heads (designed by Sophy Cave) hanging down from the (very high) ceiling, which as far as we could see were all the same chap with different expressions. I’m not quite sure whether they were creepy or funny; anyway, they were quite striking. (The photo above is a bit blurry because it was taken on my husband's phone. )

It was so refreshing: having a day off, catching up with friends, seeing beautiful and interesting things and not giving too much thought to hospitals, work or housework.
(P. S. I've just noticed from the Blogger Dashboard that this was my 100th post. Do I get a telegram from the Queen?)

Thursday, March 08, 2007

The Salford mystery thickens

Thank you so much for all those comments. My record so far (though of course 2 of them were mine...). Several of the commenters are also visited by Salford Person. I wonder what he/she is like... .

My guess is that it's a she, probably in her forties, very intelligent and with excellent taste (naturally), married with two children, interested in reading (we don't need to be Sherlock Holmes there). She quite possibly doesn't have a blog herself; if she does, she's not going to be outed unless she wants to be (and indeed, there's no reason why she should be. Stand firm, Salford Person). I think she's elegantly blonde, the colour possibly assisted a little by modern technology, she's blue-eyed and she works... well, obviously at Salford University but maybe on the admin side rather than as an academic. She drives a blue car and is semi-vegetarian. She likes flowers and has a dog.

Am I telepathic at all? I never have been in my life up till now, so I apologise, SP, if you're a dark-haired male teenager who loves cats and Big Macs.

Salford, for the information of any non-British readers, is near Manchester, which is on the west side of England, north-ish, just above Wales.

On another subject: here follows an email exchange between me and a student in my adult Access to University class. I have been trying since August to improve the technical accuracy of her writing.

Student: hi isabelle,

thus is to let you know that ill not be in college today Anything that i have missed i will try and catch up with during the week

Me: Ok, thank you for letting me know. But don’t write emails with mistakes such as missing apostrophes and capitals, even if you’re not well!!!

Student: sorry i wont do it next time

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Hello Salford!

It occurred to me this morning that yesterday was my blog’s first birthday. And I'm a year older too. Obviously.

I’m very ashamed to say that, despite starting out a year ago with good intentions (again) of losing weight, I didn’t.

I’m sitting here more or less the same weight as a year ago. A little of it has been lost and then regained.


Still, to cheer me up in my shame, how about commenting on my blog, some of you people who show up in the site meter but who lurk furtively in the shadows? For example, someone at Salford University (I assume it’s one person rather than a vast horde of occasional readers) regularly has a look. Hello. Who are you? How are you? Are you having a nice day? And how are you, person in Amsterdam, Noord-Holland? Has it been sunny with you?

Four people in China tuned in yesterday – very unusual, and four, in different towns? How did that happen? I’d love to go to China.

I used to wonder how it was that so many people turned to my blog for 0 seconds, but then very recently I read the site meter FAQs and discovered that unless people go to a second page, the meter can’t tell how long they’ve been on the one page, and so this counts as 0 seconds. This is quite cheering. I myself often have a quick peek at blogs to see if there’s anything new and go on my way if not, but I couldn’t ever understand how anyone could do this in no time flat. (I did admit a few weeks ago that I had a habit of not reading the instructions unless there was no other way of working things out.)

I’ve been spending some time today saving my early blogs for posterity, in case Blogger decides to delete me. (Like Sheepcat.) Goodness, it’s been boring, and I’ve only done March, April and May last year. I suppose I should save them as I write them. Maybe I will in future. I ask myself precisely why I’m saving them, and I’m not sure. Poor old posterity will actually have far too many of my words of wisdom when I’m gone, since I write a lot of letters and have also been writing a diary – not every day, but quite often – since I was 15.

I’m off to read “Slaughterhouse Five”, lent to me by an insistent student. The title’s very offputting, but then so is “Pride and Prejudice”.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Crocuses and lovely singing

Well, that last entry was a case of speaking too soon. I kind of knew, as I typed it, that I was tempting fate. There was a definite mid-week wobble in the son-in-law department. Thanks to the commenters; he’s had many, many courses of medication over the years and nothing seems to make any difference. Except - well, who knows? Sometimes he's fine.

However, to be more cheerful… I know I tend to write about our students’ little mishaps with the English language, but this week our music and drama department put on two performances of Purcell’s short opera “Dido and Aeneas” and the students were just FANTASTIC. One or two staff members, including me, have been going along to sing in the chorus and it’s been such fun. The music is lovely and the choir and orchestra, mainly music students, put their hearts into it and sounded really excellent. The soloists were spectacularly good. Our Dido has a sweet, rich voice that flows like cream, and the others were almost as impressive. When Dido is dying of a broken heart – Aeneas having left her, instructed to do so by an evil spirit pretending to be Mercury – she sings such a beautiful song and every time I heard it - “Remember me” - in rehearsals or performances, my eyes welled up.

This was mainly because of the beauty of her singing, and partly because she was so young to die… which I know is silly, because the Dido in the story wasn't really 20 and our Dido isn’t, of course, really dead… and partly because, a mum myself, I kept thinking how proud her mum and dad were going to be when they heard her. Motherhood makes one sentimental. But anyway, it was a wonderful, uplifting experience.

Often in college I pass rooms in which young men are bashing the daylights out of drum kits or twanging away at electric guitars as if trying to loosen the hinges on the classroom door. And my inner music snob mutters away, “Call that music? It’s just a lot of noise.” So it’s been lovely to see all those young singers and instrumentalists mastering – and really enjoying – this music of Purcell, who died at the age of 36 in 1695. At my age, 50 years is beginning to seem not a very long time, and 300 years is just 6 times 50. The music bridges that gap without difficulty.

My head’s still full of it: a much-needed transfusion of joy.