Thursday, July 31, 2008

A gardening tip and a black cat

Thank you for all your kind sympathy after my shameless demand for it. I shall try to stiffen my upper lip for a while now. No guarantees, though.

I was listening to the radio yesterday, to a programme called “Gardeners’ Question Time”. The premise of the show is simple: people ask questions and expert gardeners answer these questions. For a change, yesterday, an audience member produced a piece of advice on how to remove pondweed from your garden pond.

What you should do, she said, is fall into the pond wearing nothing but a white towelling dressing gown. You then scramble out and will find that your dressing gown has attracted most of the weed to it. You look, she said, like a green giant. The slight disadvantage is that you have to take off the dressing gown in your garden, since otherwise you’d make a big pondwatery/weedy mess in your house, but as long as your neighbours are broadminded, this is all right. Then, since you were just having a little potter in the garden after having had a shower and before dressing to go out to dinner, you have to get in the shower again. But it’s effective for the pondweed.

Maybe my lily-of-the-valley problems aren’t so bad.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008


Sorry to cast a blight on your day but I’m rather miserable. Maybe you should stop reading now. My troubles are nothing, I know, compared to many people’s; but it doesn’t really help to cheer me up when I contemplate that lots of people are considerably more miserable. My gloom is all based round my children, who are such kind, affectionate, deserving young folk. I mean, I know I’m their mum. But they really are lovely.

Our son-in-law is still not at work. In fact, he’s hardly been at work for about eighteen months. He’s been on every medication known to man, had various types of counselling, tried fish oil, St John’s Wort, homeopathy and so on.

Daughter 2 is going out with an actor, a relationship that has lasted over four years. It’s not that we don’t like him: as far as we know him (and we don’t feel we know him that well) we like him all right. It’s just that he’s not around much. Either he’s working around the country in some minor role in some minor production or he’s unemployed and living with his parents in the Midlands of England. If he did by some fluke become successful, he’d still never be around much, by the nature of the work.

She’s an architect and in normal circumstances could get work in London, where he really needs to be based for work (except that he can’t earn enough money to afford London rents - Catch 22…). But then even if he could, he would frequently not be there because of work - Catch 23. With the recent downturn in the building trade this wouldn’t be a good time for her to change firms and she doesn’t particularly want to live in London anyway. We certainly don’t want her to be so far away. At the moment, he’s just arrived here to stay with us while he takes part in a musical in the Festival Fringe, so they’ll see a bit of each other for a month or so, but then what? She’s 27 now. Time to know where she is, in my opinion. Not that she complains. She's too nice.

And our son has left home for his first job at a hospital in Dumfries, a couple of hours away. He’s there for a year and then in Glasgow (not so far) for a year, so of course he won’t be home to live again. He does know where he is and I don’t like this either. He’s such a jolly, helpful, cuddly, funny chap and he’s gone.

Now, I know that things could be worse. We like our son-in-law and he has many good qualities. We’re very lucky to have had Daughter 2 with us so long; also our son. And two hours isn’t that long a journey. But there’s no use people saying these things because I know them and I’m still miserable. Children leave home; it’s natural; I’ll get used to it; they’re all healthy; we can visit; we’re lucky to have such great kids; and so on. Yes, yes, yes. I don’t want to be reasoned with; I want things to be different. It doesn’t help the sadness when friends give good reasons why I shouldn’t be sad.

I remind myself of the poet Philip Larkin. In one of his letters he was replying to a friend who had experienced various disasters – ill health, redundancy, divorce – and he recounted his griefs - maybe a corn on his foot, a hole in his shirt and a piece of mouldy cheese in his fridge. He then added that he knew his problems were trivial compared to hers but, he added, “mine are happening to me”.

Well, quite.

So I’ve been making myself even more fed-up by doing destructive gardening – my very unfavourite kind. We’ve been in this house for 19 years and my herbaceous plants have become a bit jungly – lily-of-the-valley being the most rampant of all (why did I ever plant it?) – so I’ve been wrecking my already wrecked back by digging huge clumps of things out. I’m hot, muddy, scratched and not finished by a long way. My garden looks a mess (well, bits of it). And I’ve hardly touched the even-more-rampant ivy which I foolishly planted to hide the ugly garden wall. Wall? What wall? Take my advice: never plant ivy.

The cats are nice, though. Furry. They're happy enough.

Friday, July 25, 2008

More holiday snaps

However, on a more upbeat note, here's a balloon floating near our Cotswold cottage. There's no way you'd get me up in one of those, but it looked very pretty and they must have had a great view.

Mr Life and my brother are steam train enthusiasts. Here's my brother admiring an engine in the Lake District which is about to pull this train with us aboard it.

Here are Daughter 1 and her husband, on this train. What nice smiles.

From above the door to the ticket office, some little faces looked down on us - swallows or perhaps swifts?

On our way to the Cotswolds we visited Liverpool to see an exhibition of paintings from the age of steam. We also passed some morris dancers. "They look a bit like steam enthusiasts," said Mr Life, "but slimmer."

A further, Cotswold, train, which we also went on. Don't say I'm not good to you, Mr Life. (But he's good to me too.)

This is Snowshill, a Cotswold house belonging to a rather eccentric architect, who collected - everything you can think of. Pictures, antique furniture, oriental artefacts, bicycles, weaving looms, various other mechanical whatsits, clocks, china - everything in vast amounts. The dusting! He accumulated so much stuff that he bought this house for his collection but actually lived in an adjacent cottage (also with a lot of objects in it but no electricity or heating or anything soppy like that).
He married at 60 (what was the woman thinking of?) and when he died, she moved away and lived in a hotel in beautiful Broadway. I wonder why.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Holidays and sad thoughts

We were in England for our holidays, and for the first week, we were in the Lake District (as Thimbleanna rightly guessed). We stayed in this house. The landscape consists of towering mountains, glittering lakes liberally supplied with (when we were there) misty rain. That’s why it has lakes, of course. And waterfalls. It’s dramatically beautiful, and as Wordsworth put it,

"The sounding cataract
Haunted me like a passion: the tall rock,
The mountain, and the deep and gloomy wood,
Their colours and their forms, were then to me
An appetite; a feeling and a love,
That had no need of a remoter charm,
By thought supplied, nor any interest
Unborrowed from the eye."

I have loved these lines (from “Tintern Abbey”) since I was an intense teenager myself.

This was the view from our house.

This is Blackwell, the most interesting Arts and Crafts house I've ever seen.

We went on a cruise on Lake Windermere.

This is the Hardnott Pass. It may look tame enough, but click on the picture to see how far below us that next car is. These are single-track roads, and it was raining hard. Luckily we didn't meet anything coming in the opposite direction. It wouldn't be that much fun to have to back down the hill to find a passing place.

For the second week, we went to the Cotswolds area, which has a much gentler landscape – sweet hillocks and impossibly pretty villages. The sun shone from time to time, though not enough for my mother, who likes it to be hot. We stayed in this barn conversion.

This was the view from the garden. The fields were usually filled with sheep, who woke us every morning with their dawn chorus. "Meh!"

This is nearby Broadway. So picturesque.

And Dumbleton, the nearest village to where we were staying.

Hidcote Manor Garden. I wanted to roll it up and take it home.

Here's another view. Hidcote is made up of "garden rooms". My plot at home is rather small to try this sort of design, alas.

It was all good, but really it all seems dust and ashes because my son-in-law has been ill for a long time with depression and though he occasionally improves, he doesn’t seem able to sustain this long enough to be able to lead a normal existence. He is such a lovely boy and incredibly talented in so many ways. It seems so unfair. Of course, no one ever said life would be fair but this doesn't feel very comforting.

Monday, July 21, 2008


If you haven't seen this video of a sneezing panda, then you really need to do so. You will like it. Guaranteed to cheer anyone up, I'd say. I was feeling a bit in need of cheering up before my boy showed me it.

He did the link thing. He's cleverer than me, though not quite clever enough to make the wee tv screen appear on my blog. Still, no one's perfect (though he's nearly so. I'm his mother, so this is an unbiased opinion).


Sunday, July 20, 2008

Like a bad penny

We're back! We spent the first week near here - above - ah, the British summer! - that's the road, by the way, bending back on itself along the line of rocks to the left of the wing mirror and then trickling down the hillside above the stream - it was quite an exciting drive -

and the second here, in much more relaxing landscape.
Today (or strictly speaking yesterday) we drove back. To be more accurate, Mr Life drove back and I sat there going -"Aaah!" every now and then as cars and lorries hurtled past us on the motorway or sometimes as we whizzed past them. I'm a nervous passenger, expecting death any second, and what would the children do without us?
We didn't get back till after 9 pm, and I'm at the stage of being tired and brain dead but unable to sleep, though it's nearly 2 am.
We had a good time, but I do like home. I quite like being away for about ten days but after that I want to go home. Especially, in this case, as Daughter 2 and our son and our cats were there and I missed them all a lot. Daughter 1 and her husband were with us the first week, which was nice.
Thank you for all your kind birthday and other wishes. I can't wait to find out what you've all been up to in my absence - nothing unseemly, I trust - but feel I should go and read something boring (which wouldn't be your blogs) and try to get to sleep.
Watch this space for more exciting holiday snaps soon.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Happy birthday, USA

My birthday falls on American Independence Day. Hang out some flags for me, US, and let off a few fireworks. I just settled for some cards, in my understated British way.

Also cake. One of my presents was this fine teapot. Son and his beloved, with a few extra kitchen assistants, made dinner while I watched Wimbledon. Luxury.

At ten this evening, I went outside and took these photos of the garden. It's still light here well past then at this time of year.

Tomorrow, we're off on holiday for a fortnight. I'm not packed yet.

I'm always a bit reluctant to leave my flowers, and in this case also Daughter 2 and our son. And the cats. Other family members are coming with us.

I hope someone remembers to water the baskets and pots.

The clematis will be fine as long as the snails don't get them.

Have a good couple of weeks, everyone.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

The first week of the holidays

Here I am on holiday from work and you’d think I ought to be blogging all sorts of deep insights into the human condition. Instead, I’ve been sharing with the world some news about the contents of my fridge and some pictures of a young man cleaning a skylight. So, continuing with this rather narrow viewpoint, I give you: a walk with our friends at the weekend; and our boy’s graduation yesterday. And a cat in a tree. Above, you see the two bridges over the estuary that Edinburgh is built beside.

We walked with our friends along to causeway to Cramond Island, which isn't an island except when the tide comes in. People occasionally get stranded, but we didn't.

It was a typical Scottish summer day. The sun shone intermittently.

This is looking back at the mainland at a castle whose name escapes me.

Here's the boy's graduation. The girl in black robes with a white hood is Daughter 1, who works for the university - she was only there to see her little brother graduate but was put in the procession of bigwigs and given a seat on the platform, amusingly.

Here are the boy and his friends swearing the oath to be good doctors.

Edinburgh graduands get biffed on the head by a bonnet which is allegedly made out of John Knox's trousers. (You'll see this if you click to enlarge.) Well, we all have our little eccentricities. Knox was a Protestant reformer (1510 - 1572). Actually, if you do click to enlarge, look at the expressions on the faces of the front row platform people. Chaps: uniformly bored. Lady: I think she's going "Ahh!" Mind you, the graduands were biffed on the head alphabetically and our surname begins with D. I imagine she too got a bit bored by the time Z came along.

Two fledgling doctors. Don't get ill in August, British people, which is when all the new doctors hit the wards.

Back home, unimpressed, Sirius tried to catch a bird in a tree.

He prowled along the branch.

Then he fell off.