Friday, June 29, 2007


I realise that there are some people in the world who don’t like kittens, though I have to say that my Sitemeter shows a greatly increased number of hits since I started devoting my blog to Sirius and Cassie, the furry cannonballs.

However, I don’t want to become a total kitten bore, so above are some poppies...

and here’s another bit of my garden this evening. The weather has been cool and showery – nothing like the terrible floods in some parts of England, but nonetheless very unJunelike. My poor paeonies are hanging like limp handkerchiefs and my alliums are wetly drooping their big pompom heads.
Enough of that. Kittens.
Our pair spend their lives at the moment in our quite large kitchen and the adjoining dining room – which is also a living room. Theoretically they will keep out of the sitting room next door, since Daughter 1, Son-in-Law and my brother are all allergic to cats, which is a great pity since they all like them, particularly Son-in-law, who turns out to be even more allergic than we thought. Sigh. Anyway, we need a cat-free room. The twins’ litter tray is in the corner of the kitchen, and to access it from the dining room they have to go through the door between the kitchen and the dining room and turn left. They’re exceedingly talented at using their litter tray – how unlike 10-week-old children in this respect – but are often having such a good time playing that they wait till the matter becomes urgent. Then they rush through into the kitchen, skid to a halt using all four feet, just like in cartoons, slide to the left and take a flying leap into the litter tray, scattering the (clean) contents over the floor.

They’re very interested in new things but have a short attention span, so it’s a case of “Ooh, exciting! exciting! exciting! exciting! exciting! exciting! oh no, boring, boring.”

They love shoelaces, strings, boxes, climbing, warmth, cuddles, wrestling and sleeping.
What a simple life.
We’re having friends for lunch tomorrow so I must go and transform the house from a kittens’ playground to a stylish and elegant home.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

They don't sleep all the time

As preamble to this post, you need to know one of those stories that has become family folklore. Some years ago, our whole family went on holiday to a rambling old house in France: my parents, brother, wife and two children and us with our three children. Not long before, there had been a horrible incident in a youth hostel in France in which a young girl had been murdered by an intruder as she slept.

One night, I woke and went to check on the children, all five of whom were sleeping in one big room. Daughter 2, aged 14, wasn’t in her bed. I checked downstairs: not there either. Not in the bathrooms; not anywhere. I panicked and woke my husband and we searched together. No sign, though no obvious break-in. But I became convinced that she’d been kidnapped.

And then eventually my husband found her. Asleep underneath a bed on the opposite side of the room from her bed, squeezed against a wall and under a pile of blankets. And fine, though unable to explain how she got there.

This is the reference at the beginning of the email my husband sent to me at work today. By the way, I sleep at my mother’s house to keep her company on Monday, Wednesday and Friday nights, so hadn’t been at home this morning. The chap had been in charge of the kittens – Daughter 2 had gone to work and Son wasn’t up yet.

You also need to know that I have an ambition to have a cat-free room: the sitting room. Yes, I know it'll never work.
Read on - my husband's email follows.

Subject: Kitten report
From one of their owners (traumatised)
I had a "Daughter under the wrong bed in France" few minutes this morning. Cassie managed to escape from the kitchen without my noticing and make her way to the sitting room. She has learnt to scale the cardboard washing machine protection both ways (i.e. in and out) and as I left the kitchen to go to the bedroom she was climbing in. I was sure, wrongly, that I had shut the kitchen door and, for once, didn't shut the dining room door to the hall.
When I came back only Sirius was in sight and, after I'd checked all the usual places, panic set in. I couldn't be sure that there wasn't a way out round the back of the sink unit (there isn't - the mouse ingress was filled in by me years ago). She wasn't in the dining room and so I rushed upstairs to get [Son]. He also looked in the usual places and then hauled off the cardboard and pulled out the washing machine and the dishwasher. Plenty of dust but no pussy. Sirius was just looking on and keeping dumb. I then decided to try further afield and found her nosing round the sitting room.
Panic over but as a consequence I didn't get to work until nearly 25 past 9!
Also when I went in first thing they were sitting in their new basket which had been put on a chair under the table. However, a geranium (still in its pot) was lying on the floor with compost scattered all around. The kittens were very interested when I cleared it up in a "Goodness. How did that happen?" sort of a way. They were then fed and watered (by me) and toileted (by themselves - although at one point they both tried to occupy the tray at the same time which didn't seem like a good idea). I'm beginning to calm down slightly and had better do some work.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

The twins

This is their bed. They quite like it, though possibly not as much as they like flying through the air, swiping at things with their paws.
I think this is Sirius.

The two-headed kitten.

Look at the bird box - one of two that our son made the other day. He's fond of birds and feeds them regularly. I wonder if the kittens will understand this?

We did eventually get out of our pyjamas.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

The efficacy of pester power

You think we finally gave in and got a kitten, don't you?
Look more closely.

The house is in chaos. Grandchildren would be much less work.

Also, it's very hard to take photos of black cats.

I think this is Sirius - a Harry Potter allusion, I'm told. On the other hand, it might be Cassie, short for Casseopeia - continuing the approximate constellation theme. Son chose the names. We had a cat when I was a girl who was actually named Dido but always called Pussy. The children point out that we can't call them both Pussy, though at the moment I can't really tell which is which, so it would be less trouble. And I think they're going to be quite enough trouble as it is...
The offspring are very very happy. Son is especially delirious. He says that he'll take them with him when he has a house of his own. Hmm.
We ordered new sofas for our dining room a few weeks ago. They're due to arrive in a month or so. We've had the old sofas for over 20 years and I wouldn't mind them being attacked. But my nice new ones...

Thursday, June 21, 2007

I'm not good at being brief

Several days ago, I got tagged by Tanya the Art Butcher (sorry that I still don't know how to do the underlining thing) for that one word response meme, so here I go.

1. Where is your cell phone? Handbag

2. Relationship? Supportive

3. Your hair? Wavy

4. Work? Teacher

5. Your sister? Sadlynonexistent (What? Is that not one word?)

6. Your favourite thing? Family

7. Your dream last night? Forgotten

8. Your favourite drink? Tea

9. Your dream car? Free

10. The room you're in? Study

11. Your shoes? Comfortable

12. Your fears? Accidents

13. What do you want to be in 10 years? Interested

14. Who did you hang out with this weekend? Family

15. What are you not good at? Directions

16. Muffin? Shrug

17. Wish list item? Time

18. Where you grew up? Edinburgh

19. The last thing you did? Gardening

20. What are you wearing? Beads

21. What are you not wearing? Earrings

22. Your pet? Husband

23. Your computer? Precious

24. Your life? Busy

25. Your mood? Calmish

26. Missing? Youth

27. What are you thinking about? Son-in-law

28. Your car? Useful

29. Your kitchen? Pretty

30. Your summer? Scottish

31. Your favourite colour? Blue

32. Last time you laughed? Recently

33. Last time you cried? Slightly

34. School? Boring

35. Love? Lots

As for whom to tag... I can't now remember who's done it and I must go, but how about Beakus, Positively Mom and Yummers - if you're there, any of you!

It's the longest day. Ater I'd visited my mother this evening, I walked home. It was eleven o'clock, and still more light than dark, though twilightish under the trees. I love the long, light summer evenings in Scotland. It's dark now (midnight 02) but in about three hours the sun will start to rise again. Now that's not quite so welcome... birds singing lustily at three in the morning...

By the pricking of my thumbs...

Our college music department (plus a few staff, eg me) is having an extra performance of the “Dido and Aeneas” opera that we did a few months ago.

We’ve had a couple of brush-up rehearsals, and today the young lad who plays the Sorcerer remembered that, in the previous performances, he’d had a big stick that he waved menacingly around. Where was this stick? It couldn’t be found, but someone produced from the props cupboard a Victorian-syle walking stick – not right at all. He took this, but said with a sigh….

“You just can’t get the staff these days.”

Which is the sort of thing I’d have thought of some days later.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Sophisticated toddler in Tesco

In the supermarket today I heard a mother say to her toddler, who was in the child seat in the shopping trolley: “Do you want asparagus tips or baby sweetcorn with your mange-tout peas?” He said, “’Sparagus.”

And I thought: not a question my mum ever asked me, back in the days of austerity. As I trudged 100 miles to school, barefoot, dressed in cast-offs…

I’m exaggerating. But our vegetables were potatoes, carrots, turnip. And cabbage, peas and leeks in season.

Gosh, I’m cold – must go and have my bath and heat up a bit. How can this chilly weather be June?

Monday, June 18, 2007


I’ve been away with the family for a long weekend and must go and sort things out, but in brief, to answer a couple of people's questions on a recent blog post: this is a mecanopsis – in the above case, a blue Himalayan poppy.

How kind of some of you, by the way, to admire my infant chubbiness of two posts ago. Alas, the chubbiness is still with me (or at least, it departed for some years but has now returned), but I don’t think I’m at all recognisable from those photos. Hair is still brown on the whole, but with grey streaks at the front - it was never as dashingly dark as it looks in the photo with the bow – and it’s wavy, though the Shirley Temple look has gone, which is probably a good thing. My cheeks are still rosy (yes, I know those are black-and-white photos so you’ll have to take my word for it); I still have two eyes (brown) a nose (unremarkable) and a mouth (small). But I now look like a boring 57-year-old.

I remember Germaine Greer saying that the worst thing about being middle-aged is that you become invisible, but I quite like it on the whole – the invisible bit. It’s quite stressful to be young and self-conscious, worrying that people are looking at you. Now I know they’re not. I would probably like to look just a trifle less boring, though. But not enough to do anything about it.

Oh and - again referring to a comment from a few posts ago - Daughter 2's aspiring-actor boyfriend has done his two years at acting school in New York and has been back in Britain for a year now. But success has not so far crowned his efforts. It's not that he's not a good actor - he really is, as far as I can tell. But I fear it's a crowded profession.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Cats and dogs

I’m a cat person – not a great fan of dogs. Except of course, dear reader, your dog, who is doubtless quiet, fluffy, loyal, obedient, a soothing presence and not too large. More or less like a cat, in other words. Well, all right, cats aren’t really loyal.

The kind of dog I don’t like much is the size of a small horse, with rippling muscles, a bark fit to break the sound barrier and strings of drool swinging from its jaws. Like the one that woofed hungrily at me yesterday as I passed the college janitor’s garden. It was a Rottweillerish sort of animal, but with a bit of Great Dane in there somewhere. Fortunately it was in the garden and I was not, though it was clear by the way that it bounded up to the fence and hung its front paws over that it was just a matter of time till Fido was on the path beside me, munching on my leg. Or indeed my head.

However, the janitor’s wife was in the garden too, digging away. She’s a lady of about my age, though she generally makes a lot more effort with her appearance than I do: carefully blonded hair, a fair amount of mascara and blusher and a lot of gold jewellery. On this occasion, she didn’t look her best - in her shorts - but she was in her own garden, wielding a spade, so shorts were no doubt a practical decision.

Seeing me saucer-eyed with horror, she called the slavering hound back and said, as owners of such animals always do, “He wouldn’t touch you.” Yeah, right.

Just then two lads came towards me on the path. They were eighteen or nineteen and clearly dog-fanciers, because they looked appreciatively at the hound and one of them said to the other in ringing tones, “He’s gorgeous”. Then he glanced at the janitor’s wife, whose gaze had fallen on him. Suddenly his face was suffused in horror as he clearly thought that she thought that he had called out to her that she was gorgeous. He went bright red and said loudly to her, “The dog. He’s gorgeous.” She smiled proudly, in obvious agreement, and the poor lad hurried mortified away.

Sometimes – not very often, but sometimes – I’m quite glad to be no longer young.
PS - by the way, Person from Salford, I dreamt about you last night! We were at a lecture and you introduced yourself to me. You were young and sort of Gothy looking. Most surprising.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


At my book group this evening, Susie, a student counsellor, said thoughtfully, “I’ve got to deliver a seminar next week on how to stop procrastinating.”

“Oh yes,” we said encouragingly. “What are you going to say about it?”

A pause. Susie looked slightly worried.

“Haven’t quite got round to working it out yet.”

Friday, June 08, 2007


I’m currently reading the autobiography of John Simpson, a television journalist, who claims that he can remember things from when he was very small – in his pram, in his cot and so on. And I remember someone commenting on one of my posts that she, too, could remember very far back. I can’t now find the comment; was it Velcro?

I think my first memory is probably of having the above photo taken. How old was I? Three, maybe? It was very exciting because the photographer came to our house. Some of the pictures were just of me, some of my big brother and some of both of us. I can remember clearly what it felt like to stand up and hold on to the back of that chair, which had a fawn, slightly slippery cover. The dress was what my mother called my Coronation dress, because it was white, with red, white and blue smocking and also little tufts of these colours. The Coronation was in 1953 and I was born in 1950, so this figures. My mother persisted in putting bows in my hair for some years, but I always hated them. They kept falling out and anyway I thought I looked silly. I was very shy and a lot of things made me feel silly.

Of course, we had the chairs till I was about ten, and the photos were there as a reminder of the day. So maybe that's the real reason for the memory.

But I don’t remember the one below being taken. I look about two, do you think? The age when it's socially acceptable to be short and plump.

Another early memory, though I have no idea how old I was: I was crouching down in the bedroom I shared with my brother and suddenly realised that I didn’t know the word for what I was doing. I asked him, the fount of all knowledge – two years and eight months older. “That’s crouching,” he said. And that was another word added to my vocabulary.
I’ve been told of the time when I carried an opened newspaper while toddling past an electric fire with radiant bars. My mother had to wrap me up in a rug to put the flames out. I wasn't permanently injured, but still, you’d think I’d remember that. But no. Strange thing, memory.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007


Well, hallelujah, I’ve finished the marking and can rejoin the civilized world. The poor souls who sat the exams will have to wait till mid-August for the results but I hope that they’re currently enjoying the summer.

Life has been not uneventful in other ways in the Life household. Our son-in-law is still pretty unwell, with only intermittent good spells, which is a huge worry. Daughter 1’s work contract ends in July and there has been nothing to apply for in her field, archivism. This doesn’t help, though doubtless something will come along in due course. Daughter 2’s singer/actor boyfriend came up to stay for the weekend; he has hardly worked this year. You’d think that at least one of our daughters’ significant others would work regularly; but not at the moment. I do wish he would just give up this acting idea and get a proper job!

Just before he became Daughter 2’s boyfriend, or at least before they’d come out as an item, he was our son’s university flatmate for a year (though he’s older than our son). Our son has a lovely voice and he and the chap in question used to be in a university light opera group together. One evening, I remember, after a show that they were both in, I gave them a lift back to the flat, and the future boyfriend said that he was about to go to a theatre school in New York. I remember saying something like, “Oh, how exciting!”

Now, I suppose he might reasonably have thought that I meant this. In a way, I maybe did, in a well-if-that’s-what-you-want-to-do-but-fortunately-it-has-nothing-to-do-with-me sort of way, but really I was just giving a conventional reply. I certainly didn’t mean that it was exciting, desirable or in any way remotely a good thing for the boyfriend of one of my daughters. I have definite double standards here.

What would I have said if I’d known about this burgeoning romance?

“Oh, that doesn’t sound like much of a plan.”

“Well, don’t think that you’re going out with our daughter, then.”

“You do realise that we think salaries are a good idea, do you?”

“How are you ever going to get a mortgage?”

No, I don’t suppose I’d have said any of these things. But ah, the satisfaction of imagination.

More and more I feel like the mamma in some Victorian novel: “And pray, how do you propose to support a wife and family?”

Meantime it’s June. Though the weather is currently not all that summery, little birds are tearing around the garden with beakfuls of unmentionable squashy things, the garden is blossoming - isn't this ceanothus a zinging blue? - and the summer holidays are in sight. One foot after the other, Isabelle, and keep on breathing in and out.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Working hard

Our son has been revising for exams in obstetrics and gynaecology, breast disease, haematology, oncology and palliative care, renal medicine and urology.

It seems no time since he was just a little blob of gynaecology himself. How can he possibly be almost a doctor? I can barely spell these words he needs to write exams on, and I'm much older than he is.

There’s a lot to learn, all in medical language. I don’t know how he remembers it all. He was a bit anxious that he wouldn’t. Here he is, surrounded by books and other marking detritus in our kitchen, looking unaccustomedly stressed. Now that I look at the photo, I rather like the juxtapostion of the half-eaten apple and the Apple computer. Anyway, the exams were yesterday and he seems reasonably sanguine about them now.

My jug cupboard is behind him. I like jugs, as you may guess.

I’ve been marking exams at the other end of the table. Here are my marking “toys” – things that I twiddle with my left hand while marking with my right. It eases the boredom somewhat.

One of the passages that the students have to answer questions on is about libraries and how great they are. The extract – from a male writer - begins: “I have a halcyon library moment. I am sitting under a cherry tree in the tiny central courtyard of the Cambridge University Library, a book in one hand and an almond slice in the other. On the grass beside me is an incredibly pretty girl”.
Question: What mood is created in these lines?
Student’s answer: A dull mood.
Well, I suppose it’s all a matter of personal taste. This candidate might not like cherry trees. Or books… or girls...
… or indeed almond slices.