Saturday, July 28, 2007

Scenes from our Saturday

Sirius where he possibly deserves to be.

Cassie with her adoring slave.

Kittens helping with washing.

One new sofa as I like to see it.

Other new sofa. Can you see a kitten?

Such fun to play with the new sofas! See the kitten just about to have a nice scratch!

Hide and seek - such a good game. (Taken through a doorway, hence the funny-shaped photo.)

A nice trailing cloth and exciting flexes underneath this table.
On Monday night, we're going to have to take all this furniture out of the room again because the painter's coming on Tuesday. Ah, it's my planning ability that makes this household run like clockwork.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

New sofas and garden envy

Nearly two-thirds of my six-week holiday from teaching has flown in and yes, I know, I know: six weeks is a long time. But I need more!

Today was the first day this week when I didn’t have to take my mum somewhere (hairdresser, chiropodist, hearing aid place) and wasn’t frantically restoring order in the garden in between times, so I went up town to try to find curtain material and paint for our smaller living room. This is the room for which we ordered new sofas about a month before we decided to get the kittens. Yes, I know, I know: dumb. The sofas have now arrived: a pale, bluey-green fabric with a nice loose weave… about to become looser, I greatly fear. Currently they’re in our larger sitting room, the one the kittens aren’t allowed in; so that room is somewhat full. Next week we’re getting the smaller room painted – yes, I know, I know: we should have done this before the sofas arrived. We also ought to have chosen a new carpet. I’m normally quite efficient, but the trouble with holidays is that I believe I’ll be able to do a million things during them and then they’re not long enough. Also I think I switch my brain off.

Never mind: here are some more pictures from our holiday in the Borders. Above is a general view of the countryside near the cottage.

This is a beautiful geranium in the gardens of Alnwick Castle in Northumberland (over the border in England).

The gardens have been made slightly Disneyesque – lots of ingenious water features and so on. This is me, taking a photo of my mother and husband reflected in a cylinder with water pouring down it.

Here we have some genuinely free-range hens in one of several such farms near our cottage. I found these greatly cheering. I had suspected that “free-range” meant that the hens were wandering around in a shed but these ones had quite a big field, though interestingly you can see that they clearly prefer to do their pecking pretty near home. A bit like me.

Here are another couple of views of the garden at Floors Castle.

Daughter 2 was once in an expensive clothes shop with her friend Anna, and Anna stretched out her arms towards a particularly desirable garment and said, “Want! Need!”

When I think of that garden, I know what she meant. My little patch is very nice in its way, but not quite so splendid. Also my house. Ah well. Think of having to hire and fire all those servants. What a bother that would be. And they don't have my nice pale green sofas.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Son ironing his lab coat

Kittens just love to help.
The next time you see a medical student ...

with lots of little holes in his lab coat...

you'll know why.
There have been terrible floods in midland England. Thousands of people are marooned in their houses with no water or electricity supply. Here, it's been the best day of the summer: day-long sunshine. It's been so weird, seeing news reports of towns that have turned into islands, while the sun beats down on Edinburgh.
Much sympathy to anyone affected by these strange and awful events.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Holiday in the Borders

We're back. This was our cottage. We had a very nice time.

This was the view from our sitting room window. We are now quite expert in the habits of sheep.

This was our one sunny day - we visited Melrose Abbey.
This is the garden at Floors Castle. I want it. Do you think it's too late to marry into the aristocracy?
Back in due course.
(The kittens (left in the charge of Daughter 2, her aspiring actor boyfriend and Son) missed us, of course. They've now learnt to run along the work surfaces in the kitchen. Lack of discipline in our absence, that's the problem.)
PS - I've been catching up with blogs written by people who commented while I've been away, and for some reason I can't manage to comment in return on some: Aunty Evil, Meggie, Rosemary Grace and Connie so far. Others have been fine. So hello and thanks for the comments, you four. I remember this happened once before and I found a cunning way round it, but senile decay has set in and I can't remember what this was. Any suggestions, anyone?

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Holiday ploys

My husband has been on holiday this week so we’ve had a few outings. He took the photos, since I never remember to bring a camera. On Monday we went to Newhailes House, a National Trust property. It’s a smallish mansion house, built in 1690 and extended a hundred years or so later. It was occupied by the same family (and its descendants) from 1710 till 1997, and they did very little redecoration in the last hundred and fifty years. When the National Trust took it over, with lots of the family furniture, possessions and pictures, the necessary repairs were done but it wasn’t restored it to its original state of smartness. It’s quite an interesting point – do we want to see it approximately as it was when first decorated, or as it was when the last owner lived in it: a bit scruffy and with some twentieth century alterations? Which is the truer version of the house?

I occasionally wonder this about people too. Which version of you is the real you? The six-year-old you? The sixteen/twenty-six/thirty-six/forty-six/fifty-six/ etc you? I thought about this quite a lot while watching my father in his last, sad days. Was that really him? Or was he more the brilliant and brave young man who won the George Medal for bomb disposal in the war, or the young, powerful Dad I remember carrying me upstairs to bed?

On Wednesday we went to Malleny, a lovely garden on the outskirts of Edinburgh, again owned now by the National Trust.

On Thursday we visited my husband’s aunt and uncle, who are lovely people. They’re both retired doctors and they live in a village in Fife, to the north of here. Their large house is absolutely beautiful: built in 1880, in stunning gardens and with a view over the water to Edinburgh. They took us in their new S-type Jaguar car – I've just Googled this and it costs more than my gross annnual salary – to a club in St Andrews where members of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club can take visitors. It’s in a building which has been converted from an old golf club factory, and is really luxurious – fine panelling, squashy armchairs, big windows overlooking the 18th hole and the golden beach and the sea – and we sat gazing out at the scene and the milling throng below, as we ate a delicious lunch served by solicitous waitresses.

Ah yes, I could get used to living like that.

Our son – all going well – starts as a doctor next year, and in his first job he’ll earn more per annum than I do now, after teaching since 1973. Yes, I think doctors should be well paid, and yes, medicine is a very important and responsible job, but I do sometimes wonder why teachers get paid so much less than lots of other professions.

I know, I know. I get six weeks’ summer holidays, two weeks at Christmas and Easter and a week in October. No evenings to speak of, though – lots of marking.

My husband and I are off this afternoon for a week in a cottage near Selkirk in the Scottish Borders for a week, taking my mum, and I’m not packed yet, so – I must go. Have a good week. Sorry I haven't commented much on others' blogs - too busy gardening in the long light evenings.
(There - I've done a whole post without mentioning kittens.

Oops. Oh well. Here they are.)

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Getting trained

The day that we got the kittens, we went up to the supermarket to buy equipment for them: a bed, a scratching post (so that they wouldn’t scratch the furniture – ha!), some toys, some dishes, a litter tray, some litter, some food…

We didn’t buy anything else, and the lady behind us in the queue noticed the exclusively feline nature of our purchases. She enquired about our cats, told us about hers and said as farewell, “Don’t worry. They’ll soon get you trained.”


Training cats not to walk on tables - part 2:

a) Cassie and Sirius are now getting used to us waggling a finger at them in reprimand if they walk on a table, and therefore this is becoming less effective. (Well, it was never actually effective; but at least they noticed.) So we’ve moved on to waggling a finger and saying “No!”.

What they now do is to glance over their shoulders, like people in audience participation shows who’re being picked out by the host – “Who do you mean? Not me, surely?” - and, finding no other cat behind them, they gaze at us in innocent puzzlement and continue on their way.

b) Today they started climbing the dining room curtains. Very bad. But we were cunning. We hooked up the (floor length) curtains on to the table. So now there’s a nice soft bit of curtain on the table for the kittens to walk on, instead of nasty cold, slippery wood.

Oh yes, we’re getting these kittens trained.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Scones and things

I was born on the fourth of July, or as I suppose Americans think of it, the Fourth of July. Thank you, kind commenters, for your greetings. I think it’s a good day to be born. It’s not only that citizens of the USA celebrate it with gratifying enthusiasm; it’s also pretty nicely situated between Christmasses, so one has built up a list of wanted gift items in case anyone asks. And they did, as you see from the above haul. And also it falls in the college holidays and the second week of Wimbledon, and a birthday is a good excuse to sit and watch tennis, though this year it kept raining in London and there wasn’t much play.

Some of my cards had a certain feline theme, as you may notice.

I don’t think I’m very talented as a cat trainer. The only aspect of their behaviour we’re really attempting to change is to stop them walking on tables. Either they don’t understand or – and I rather favour this interpretation – they don’t care. My cat book says that we’re supposed to tap them on the nose when they do something undesirable, but this seems mean. Their noses are very small. So we’re trying finger-waggling instead. Promisingly, they don’t really like having fingers waggled at them.
They react slightly differently to this nasty gesture. Cassie looks aghast and collapses submissively on her side, thus revealing the extreme fluffiness of her tummy. Then I go “Oh, fluffy girl!” and tickle her tummy, and she purrs. Sirius, on the other hand, just stares at me with reproach and freezes. I then pick him up, he starts purring loudly and I give him a cuddle.

Somehow this disciplinary measure doesn’t seem to be working. How did we manage to bring up three law-abiding children? And how do I succeed in keeping the attention of lots of young people in the course of my job?

Yummers asked for a scone recipe, so here it is. I’d like to point out that this is pronounced with a short “o”, as in “hot” (think Scottish accents here, Joni). (Some?) English people pronounce it with a long “o”, as in “hope”. But these are Scottish scones. I’ve tried to translate the recipe into cup measures as much as I could, though how to measure butter in cups is somewhat beyond me. Or indeed why anyone would want to. Also, I never remember American flour names. I think “all-purpose flour” is what we call plain flour, but I don’t know what self-raising flour would be. Anyway, as the name suggests, it’s flour with some raising agent in it – about the same as you’d use for cakes.
I don’t do metric. But if anyone cares, there are 14 ounces in a pound, and a kilo is 2.2 pounds or something.
So, in ounces and things:
8 oz self-raising flour
2 oz margarine or butter
milk to mix – around ¼ pint
egg to glaze, or just use milk (it’s almost as good).
1 and a half cups self-raising flour
¼ cup butter or margarine
milk to mix – around ¾ cup
egg or milk to glaze
Chop butter into pieces and rub into flour with fingers – or use a mixer/ food processor– till the mixture is like fine breadcrumbs. Then add milk until the mix is combined, but not too wet and sticky. You need to be able to roll it out on a floured board to a thickness of about… oh, I don’t know… an inch? … and then cut it into rounds with a scone cutter or biscuit cutter or if all else fails, a cup. Well, obviously you could make squares if you want.
Squash up the remains, roll it out again and repeat the process of cutting.
Glaze the scones in milk/egg, put on a greased baking tray and bake for about 7-10 minutes in a hot oven, maybe 450 F or 250 C, gas mark 8. Eat with butter/jam/honey/whatever. You could add various things to the mix, eg a handful of sultanas or raisins or a cup of grated cheese.
Hope this works transatlantically. Happy afternoon tea!

Monday, July 02, 2007

Being a bit dwelly

On Saturday, we had friends to visit who live near Glasgow. One of their daughters works part of the weekend at Glasgow airport. Mid-afternoon, the phone rang and it was this daughter, very upset. She was now home, but had been getting lots of text messages from friends asking if she was all right, because – I don’t know how much this has been in the news world-wide – attempted suicide bombers had tried to crash a burning car loaded with explosives and nails into the arrivals lounge at the airport. She had actually walked out of the relevant door on her way home half an hour before the attack.

By a miracle, or possibly by the ineptitude of the would-be bombers, everyone escaped injury apart from one of the terrorists, who had set himself on fire. The car got stuck in the doorway, the men were captured and the only result – and of course, it was no doubt one of the desired results – is major disruption of the airport (and other airports too) and huge inconvenience for many people.

Here in Scotland, up till now, I think most of us have felt reasonably immune from such events. Well, I suppose I can only speak for myself, but though I was of course aware that my complacency wasn’t really well-founded, I did half-believe that terrorists wouldn’t be awfully aware of Scotland. Goodness me, the BBC have only recently noticed that we exist – and even now, we all get told on the radio that it’s exam time (when it’s exam time only in England) or school holiday time (in a few weeks’ time, when English schools are on holiday) or bank holiday time (for purely English bank holidays). Scotland is just a wee bit on the top of England, and most of the time I quite like it this way. Rather like being middle-aged – no one really notices you and so life is peaceful.

That illusion is now gone. Saturday was the first day of the (Scottish) school holidays, so most of people at that airport would be families with children. How impossible to imagine the mind-set of those who would target specifically them. And Glasgow is, I’d think, the most cosmopolitan city in Scotland – still not all that cosmopolitan, but with quite a lot of Asian families, particularly. So it’s not as if the passengers would be wall-to-wall Anglo-Saxon.

It’s absolutely not that I think it’s all right to bomb London, or Baghdad, or anywhere else. But however much you empathise with people in other places, suicide bombers only fifty miles away seem horribly near.

At more or less the time of this incident, my mother was arriving at Edinburgh airport from a brief visit to Cambridge to attend my niece’s graduation. The plane was late, so our son, who was collecting her, spent a lot of time in the arrivals lounge there. Hmm. And if our friends' daughter had been a bit later leaving work...

I once said to Daughter 1, who as a teenager was sometimes a bit mournful, “There’s no use in dwelling on the gloomy side of life.” Well, that’s what I meant to say. What I actually said was, “There’s no point in glooming on the dwelly side of life.” This has become a bit of a mantra in our family. And it’s true. We just have to get on and hope for the best.

So here are some kittens.

My blog has become so much more visited since I started posting kitten pictures, but most people aren’t commenting.

I suppose that once the first person has said, “Ah, nice kittens”, there’s not much more to write. But go on, say it all the same. Come on, all together now: “Ah, nice kittens.”
(Look, there's Mr Life. He's looking a bit grumpy, but he's not really. He's a major kitten fan.)