Sunday, April 29, 2007

Flowers. And the difficulty of following my own advice.

Edinburgh in general, and my garden in particular, are one huge meringue of cherry blossom at the moment. (I mistyped this just now as “cheery blossom” – quite appropriate, really.) So pretty! And the lilac makes the air smell heavenly.
Fifi commented after my last post that St Cloud sounds like an imaginary place. Gosh, surely not. That suggests that Lake Wobegon might be imaginary too and I want to go there some day: the town where it’s always been a quiet week, where everyone is nice underneath a tiny bit of grumpiness and where things are bound to turn out right in the end. Oh, and Molly – Garrison Keillor has a weekly column? And you get to hear his radio programme? (Or, program, I suppose.) Not fair!

I don’t know quite what came over me in the previous post where I decided to give the world (or a very small part of it) the benefit of my accumulated wisdom, including the part about not handing out advice… . Apart from that little irony, I can imagine a quiet guffaw echoing round Scotland from my dearly beloved children. Well, I did say that I wasn’t actually the best at following my own principles, didn’t I? I’m quite good at biting my tongue for a little while… and then a tiny bit (ok, a great big bit) of advice just tends to burst out like the water from a dam. (Not that I’ve ever seen a bursting dam. But I can imagine.) This advice is usually on the subject of the girls’ significant others: the lovely son-in-law (whom I love to bits, but who has depression (though he currently seems to be improving again, fingers crossed)) and Daughter 2’s boyfriend, who is trying to get work as an actor. Hmm. Nice enough chap but… . Hmm.
Will try to be a better person from now on.

My workmates gave me these flowers

and this hydrangea on Thursday as a sympathy present. How lovely!

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Hello, St Cloud

I've just noticed that someone from St Cloud, Minnesota is or at least recently was reading my blog. How exciting! Garrison Keillor country!

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Thoughts from this life.

Daughter 2 is in Seville, visiting her last year's flatmate, Danielle. They'll soon be joined by their friend Anna. Here are the flowers she bought me. Have fun in Spain, D2!
Son is in Livingston, a few miles away, on duty in the maternity ward. He hopes to deliver his first baby soon. He's not going to tell the mother that he's never done it before... . The house is very quiet.

There should be some advantages in growing older, because there are certainly quite a few disadvantages. I wouldn’t claim to have acquired wisdom but I thought I might list a few things that have perhaps become clearer to me with advancing years. Unfortunately I don’t always remember to order my life by these little insights at the right times.

1. Most things that upset you will one day be a distant memory.

2. People aren’t thinking about you nearly as much as, when you’re young, you think they are.

3. Your children will never remember much that you do with them before they were about 5 despite the fact that it’s awfully hard work.

4. When they’re little, you need to feed them, cuddle them, talk to them, read to them, sing to them, keep them safe and play with them from time to time. They don’t need ballet lessons, gym classes, music appreciation groups… . Let them play.

5. Emails need to be worded very carefully. You can’t retrieve them from the hall table if you think better of them.

6. Similarly, when in doubt, it’s probably better not to tell people what you think. People don’t really want advice most of the time. Especially unsolicited advice.

7. It’s much easier to get fatter than to get thinner.

8. “Do it now” is a good maxim to apply to filling in forms, washing dishes, writing letters, making phone calls, travelling the world. (Why does America spell this with one “l”?)

9. There some things which, if you postpone them long enough, never have to be done at all. But then, there are others that you’ll never get round to doing and wish you had.

10. Life is short. It really is.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

That bloke again

I have marking to do. Naturally, therefore, I'm looking for some displacement activity.

Thank you for your kind admiration of my boy and his elbow. Actually, he sent me three cheering photos in the Some Bloke series, of which I blogged only the one. I now offer you, above:

Some Bloke with Sheepcat (not so good of the Bloke but splendid, I think you’ll agree, of the Cat. Does he have any bones? Or is he simply stuffed? By the way, there is now a Sheepcat Appreciation Society on Facebook).

And finally:

Some Scary Bloke. (He was at a fancy dress party. You may have guessed that. He looks in this photo as if he has a big bulgy nose, but actually he doesn't. The elbow phenomenon again. Neither does he have a tiny right arm. )

Marking, here I come.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Life goes on

I’m feeling a bit – hmm. It’s been a busy week – back to work on Tuesday, feeling that I hadn’t had a holiday. Yes, I know: no one apart from teachers gets two weeks off at Easter. And of course those terrible events in Virginia cast a long shadow over all the world. My heart goes out to all those bereaved parents.

While my dad's life was drawing to a close, our son spent a lot of time at his bedside, and the contrast between my dad - 87 and almost finished - and the boy - 22 and glowing with health -was both poignant and comforting.

His girlfriend took this picture of him on his phone a few days ago. I saw it and liked it, so he emailed it to me, entitled, "Some bloke with a big elbow". He's a cheering lad.

Daughter 2 came home from work with a huge bunch of flowers for me: daffodils and tulips and roses. She's a darling too.

I spent all Monday battling with the weeds in my mother’s garden. It has been much neglected of recent months. She’s supposed to have a chap who comes to tidy it once a week, but he seems to have vanished. Five hours’ work improved about 20% of it. Then I had my evening class after work on Tuesday, choir on Wednesday evening, another evening duty at college last night. Lots of visits to my mum, and three nights spent in her house. Tomorrow I must visit my elder’s district in the morning and on Sunday, the choir is rehearsing all afternoon and performing in the evening.

Haydn’s “Creation”. Glorious music. Wednesday’s practice was the first with the orchestra and soloists. The tenor was a young Oriental chap with a beautiful, soaring voice. I found myself walking up the road beside him afterwards and said how much I’d enjoyed his singing. “Oh,” he said, “I’m really exhausted. It was such hard work.” I’d just been thinking how fantastic it would be to be able to open one’s mouth and hear such a sublime sound emerge. Of course, it should be obvious that anything that wonderful isn’t achieved without effort. But it sounded effortless. Balm to the soul.

I haven’t had much time to read my usual blogs apart from the odd one at lunchtime, at work, and for some reason I don’t seem to be able to comment on them there. I don’t think the weekend is going to have a lot of time to spare either. But I shall get back on track eventually. Hello to all blog friends, and especially to those lurkers in Dublin, Norfolk, Ohio, New Jersey... and of course, Salford.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Goodbye to my father

The day before yesterday was my father’s funeral. It seems very weird indeed to be typing these words. I don’t think that I’ve really taken in that he’s gone. It also seems a bit strange to be writing about him into the cybervoid, but on the other hand, blogging has come to feel a bit like talking to friends. It fulfils part of the need to communicate.

Wednesday was a long day. Mum had decided that she wanted a family cremation service in the morning followed by a thanksgiving service for friends in the church in the afternoon. I wasn’t sure about this – I thought it might be too much – but in fact it worked out well. Somehow the saddest part seemed to be over after the cremation service, and by the afternoon we were able to be much more positive.

My brother, Daughter 1 and I all spoke in tribute. I wasn’t at all sure that either Daughter 1 or I would be able to do so; funerals can be very emotional. But in fact we were all right. And it went very well; lots of people have told me how nice it was. Many people came, from many stages of his life.

Dad was no saint. He could be very unreasonable and difficult, even in his youth. On the other hand, he was a remarkable person. He won a scholarship to a famous school and went on to be dux of it. He then won a scholarship to university to study maths and physics, but after his first year, the war broke out, and he joined the Royal Engineers. He was sent to Egypt as the British Army's first bomb disposal officer outside the UK – he was 20! – and spent much of the war defusing bombs from instruction manuals. He won the George Medal (very prestigious) for his work there, and was later mentioned in dispatches for his work bridging rivers between Normandy and Berlin under heavy fire.

After the war, he returned to university and was awarded three degrees in three consecutive years. He spent his working life with a big electronics company, ending as one of their top managers. In his own time, he did a lot of work for various organisations such as Edinburgh University, who gave him an honorary fellowship.

He was a very hard act to follow.

He was very musical, playing the piano and organ to a very high standard. He was also very interested in words and used long ones to us even when we were small children, which gave us a good vocabulary. He used to make up bedtime stories for us when we were little, draw funny pictures and quote large lumps of poetry. For example, when he came to tuck us in at night, he would declaim, from Gray’s “Elegy in a Country Churchyard”,

“The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
The lowing herd winds slowly o’er the lea,
The ploughman homeward plods his weary way,
And leaves the world to darkness and to me.”

The “to me” was very dramatic: “TO ME!!!!”

He could continue for several verses. And frequently did.

In the mornings, he would tend to fling open the curtains to the accompaniment of the beginning of the Fitzgerald “Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam”:

“Awake! for Morning in the Bowl of Night
Has flung the Stone that puts the Stars to Flight:
And Lo! the Hunter of the East has caught
The Sultan's Turret in a Noose of Light.”

Again, you have to imagine being asleep and then being woken by a very loud, bass, “AWAKE!!!!!” Quite startling.

He was a character.

This is what I said about him at his funeral:

"Dad was a lot of different things, as you’ve heard. He was a scientist but he was also a musician, a linguist and a very literate man. He could also be a lot of fun. As my brother told you, he made up very fine stories for us when we were little. Many of these were about the Poff family, who had lots of children: Angela, Beatrice, Clara, Dorothy, Ethel, Freddie, George, Henry, Ian and James.

He also used to write – maybe poems would be overstating the case, but occasional verses.

These were written over a more than 20 year period when he and a friend sent each other holiday postcards - in verse. Dad kept copies. We were reading these the other day and I thought I’d let you hear one.

The poem I’m going to read is actually the last one he wrote: the series came to an end in 1999, when his friend died. Mum and Dad went on a lot of holidays to warm places. This poem is called “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” - which tells you Dad’s attitude to hot sunshine. It’s very characteristic of him. It starts with that literary allusion – to the Noel Coward song. Then it’s got science in it, a bit of religion, it’s very logical and – it’s quite forward thinking for 1999 – it ends with a very topical bit of advice.

I also suspect that this may be one of the few postcards ever written to feature the word “sapient”.

Crete 1999

Mad Dogs and Englishmen

Solar radiation may offer benefits
To such as maladjusted hounds or Deeply Southern Brits.

Those of us who favour a climate less intense
Feel long exposure to the sun makes little or no sense.

Sapient creation, when first the Earth was made,
Decreed that when the sun was bright, it generated shade.

Don’t rely on ozone; it’s thinner every day.
Relaxing in the cooling shade is much the safer way.

So that was Dad, getting (more or less) the last word. He would probably have liked that. "

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Happy Anniversary, Daughter 1!

A year ago today was such a happy day: the wedding of Daughter 1 to her lovely young man. They spent the day with us today, which was very pleasant indeed. These are our three beloved children on that day. They are such nice young people: kind and loving and funny.

My dad wasn’t very well, but as you can see, he got to the wedding all right. Here he is with my mum. Isn’t she glamorous for a nearly-84-year-old? Unfortunately, I don’t look very like her…
Very good memories.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Dad and other observations

Thank you so much for all the kind comments.

Yesterday I registered my father’s death. This seemed a very grown-up thing to do. Of course, one should be grown-up at my age.

I had to stay in the house in the morning for the gas man to come and try to stop our heating system sounding like an aircraft taking off. Then I went up town. As I got to the top of our street, there was a nice shiny van belonging to a car-valeting service. It was parked half on the pavement, near to a hedge, so I walked round it on the road. The side of the van announced that the company was “commited to excellence”. Though I was in a bit of a daze, I obsessively proof-read this in my English-teachery way and wondered vaguely if it said the same on the other side. Popping my head round between the van and the hedge in pursuit of this thought, I came face-to-face with a startled young man, the car-valeter.

Me (feebly): Oh. I was just looking at the spelling on your van.
SYM (looking at writing): Is it not right?
Me: Umm. Well, “committed” should have two “t”s.
SYM: Should it?
Me: The way it’s written would be pronounced “co-might-ed”.
SYM: That’s my designer’s fault.
Me (wishing I’d never started this conversation): Well, I’m sure your car-valeting is excellent, anyway. That’s the important thing.
SYM: Thanks. (Pause) What does “co-might-ed” mean, then?

It was a lovely sunny day. There were lots of tourists on the bus. One tourist looked at Donaldson’s School for the Deaf – a beautiful, castle-like building - and asked a fellow-passenger what it was. “That’s Fettes College,” she replied confidently. I considered putting her right but then decided I wouldn't.

The registrar was lovely. She must have to register people’s deaths all the time, but she sympathised, asking what Dad was like and how Mum was coping. She told me that her father died when she was 11, and that she was the oldest of six children. Wow. But they had a happy childhood, she said, and have all done well. I asked her if she liked being a registrar and I admired her neat handwriting. She said that it was an interesting job, and that she’s careful to sign the certificates legibly, because she likes to think of people in the future seeing her signature and wondering who she was and what she was like.

Very nice, that’s what she's like. I wished I could add a bit on to the certificate to tell this to any future researchers into our family history.

And then I came home. The sun was still shining. Later we noticed that, since the gas man’s visit, we no longer had any heating or any hot water.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Dad again

My dad died in the early hours of yesterday morning. We were summoned to his bedside on Thursday morning but he held on for several days. His heart was very strong; not always a good thing. It was horrendous seeing him struggle for breath all that time; though he was on morphine and apparently unconscious.

We’re all a bit dazed by the rapidity of his descent from not-very-well to dying; and by lack of sleep; and by sadness. He could be very difficult; but on the other hand, he could be really good fun as well. He was an original; full of good ideas for entertaining little children. And I thought about all this while watching him over three long days.

He was 87 so of course it’s not surprising that he’s come to the end of his life. But it’s still very sad. Life is too short.

Thanks so much to all of you who sent good wishes. It's much appreciated and very kind. I will be back in due course.