Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Cough cough cough

That last post was written from a state of denial – that I was coming down with a nasty virus. I’m fortunate to be healthy and energetic as a rule; but last Friday, when Daughter 1 and I met up with the very nice Loth of, I was aware that my throat was sore and I was a bit feverish. (Hope I didn’t pass it on, Loth.) I did manage to struggle out to dinner at the New Club but since then I’ve really been quite unwell. It’s just the same as so many people have had: aching all over, streaming nose and eyes, hacking cough and general exhaustion. It doesn’t help that I can’t sleep lying down, so have to spend the nights on the sitting room sofa, propped up, watching alarming news on television during coughing bouts.

And I can’t smell my lovely hyacinths!

I dragged myself into work – it’s too difficult being off if you’re a teacher. You have to issue instructions for trouble-free lessons for others to take with your classes and then you have to mark the outcomes of these lessons. It’s easier just to crawl in and teach gently from a seated position, barking away pathetically.

Anyway, in the evenings I’ve been too tired to blog-read - that’s how ill I’ve been! - so I’m way behind in all your exciting doings.

Thank you to those of you who replied to my portrait-of-you enquiry. I enjoyed your responses. As for mine, I suppose that - to enter into the spirit of this painted lady’s dogs and roses - the appurtenances ought to be symbolic of attributes rather than important simply for themselves. But it’s hard to think of such symbols: rosemary for remembrance is all that comes to mind – and I do like preserving memories (hence blogging). I think I’d have to stick with the literal, though: the portrait would have a beautiful herbaceous border (with a distant little me nearly invisible behind it) and in the foreground a pile of books ready to read on a rug. And if a couple of little black cats happened to wander into the picture that would be perfect.

I must go and do some work but tomorrow I shall plunge back into the world of blog. You may hear the splash.

Saturday, January 24, 2009


Overheard at the New Club (club for posh people which we visited this evening):

"Whenever she gets painted, it's always with roses and dogs. Roses for love and dogs for faithfulness - the qualities she thinks epitomise her personality."

Well. Um.

All right, then. What would you have the painter put into paintings of you - apart from your loved ones - and why?

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Weakest Link

My guilty secret is that I watch "The Weakest Link" while making the evening meal. After a gruelling day, it's nice to feel relatively clever.

Tonight's gem:

Question: What's the English name for the town that's called Turino in Italian?

Answer: Toronto?

Sunday, January 18, 2009

A very little walk round the district.

It was sunny (but cold) yesterday morning as I set out to buy a morning paper. I decided to look on the bright side and see if I could find any signs of spring. First there were the winter pansies outside the front door - as the name suggests, they're not strictly spring flowers ... but they're bright.

Yes, more pansies and winter-flowering heather, but I'm sure I saw a few buds in the leaf joints of that clematis.

Down the lane beside the house. Look at that sky. Positively Australian. You think?

This is the main road - unusually quiet. Not too many leaves on those trees.

Back round the other way and up the (quiet) road at the top of our street. Look! There's Sheepcat, the local giant feline, out for his morning constitutional.

Round into the back garden. This rather moth-eaten polyanthus seems to be the only splash of colour...

... apart from this slightly less scruffy one. These have been blooming in a desultory way since autumm, so they're not really signs of spring at all.

Ah, but see! Daffodils pushing through a mat of dead leaves. That's encouraging. It's spring! (Or it will be soon.)

See, I told you this was Australia - here's a eucalyptus in a neighbour's garden against a burning hot sky.

Inside, defrosting, I took a picture of a begonia semperflorens living up to its name. This was outside till the autumn, when I rescued it, or it would be seriously dead by now.

And here are some chrysanthemums, cheering up our sitting room. How lucky we are to be able to buy flowers in these rather dead months of winter.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

A million years?

While I was listening to the radio and making soup this evening, two eminent chaps were considering whether, if it were possible, one would want to live for ever. Would life eventually get boring, they wondered?

They agreed that they’d be willing to give it a go, with two provisos: that science had also managed to arrange that they didn’t get decrepit; and that they could opt out at any time, for example if after a million years they felt they’d seen it all before.

Hmm. I feel I could certainly sign up for two or three hundred, provided that all my friends and relations were still around too. And you all.

Sunday, January 11, 2009


Last Sunday I took some flowers from our church to an 87-year-old lady in a hospital ward for women with dementia. She wept. “I don’t know why I’m here,” she said. “I’m fed up. I want to go home. I’ve got my own house. I don’t know why I can’t go home.”

Yesterday I visited a 92-year-old lady in a care home. She’s in full possession of her mind, but has various physical ailments which make it impossible for her live any longer on her own. “I’m bored,” she said. “I can’t play the piano any more, my eyesight’s going so that I can’t really read and I don’t want to spend all day watching television.”

I could quite understand their point of view. I wouldn’t like my life to be like theirs.

When I got home, Mr Life was transferring some family videos on to DVD. We watched one for a bit. There was 5-year-old Daughter 1, the future archivist, deep in a book; and 3-year-old Daughter 2, the future architect, drawing – both of them frequently talking non-stop in that way children do. (“This is my seal. I call him Flipper. Do you like him? He likes to swim in the sea. Now I’m going to take him downstairs and….”.) There was their little brother, the future doctor, a wobbly-headed baby giving that sudden, huge beaming smile that all babies produce with the thrilled gasping “Aahh!” laugh. And look: Mr Life, young and raven haired. And me, at 34, slim with glossy dark hair, my every waking moment consumed by these lovely, never-stopping children.

Yesterday evening we went to see Scottish Ballet performing “Sleeping Beauty” – lots of impossibly lithe young people leaping around in the prime of their strength, raising legs effortlessly skywards and bending in unlikely directions. Surely they’ll never get old and creaky?

It’s all made me a bit thoughtful. My thoughts are totally unoriginal. Time flies. Where does it go? Life is short. What’s the meaning of it all?

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Disentangle this

"I've got an essay for you. I've done two pages and it's got a staple and everything."

"Thank you. Well done!"

Then I read it. He'd decided to write about whether the legal age for drinking in Scotland should be raised from 18 to 21. The first paragraph was:

A young adult waiting his or her life to get to that age where there are finally treated/told they are an adult at the age of 18 would most certainly rebel against the raised age for drinking law as being told they are an adult and then having someone taking away one of there responsibilities and at the age where there are wanting to try new things, these are the people that the government say can vote, stand in parliament, smoke and get married but to drink would not be allowed.

And there were two very similar pages to follow. Lucky me.

The staple was the best part.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Love between our furry friends

We were having the usual intellectual conversation in the staff room this morning.

“My daughter’s dog,” announced a female colleague, “is enamoured of our draught excluder. One of those things like a stuffed snake. He keeps trying to make love to it.”

“Is it a particularly attractive draught excluder?” I enquired.

“I bet,” said another colleague in his wonderful Dublin accent, “it’s the kind you dream about.”

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Darkness and light

This afternoon, teachers everywhere (as well as other workers) have that sinking feeling. Back to work tomorrow. And it’s January. I’ve just checked on Google and the sunrise time in Edinburgh at the end of December was 8.44 am. Tomorrow, January 5, it’s crawled up to an impressive 8.42 am. So we go into work in the dark (though it’s not pitch dark; sort of twilight). We have 7 hours, 12 minutes and 42 seconds of daylight, evidently, and sunset is at 3.55 pm, so we come home in the dark too.

We live like moles in the winter, never seeing natural light. Well, those like Mr Life, who stops for lunch and goes out for a walk, get a blink of it but those of us who don’t have time to stop live in artificial light.

Still, by the end of January, sunrise is 8.09 am and sunset 4.44 pm, giving us a dizzying 8 hours, 34 minutes and 59 seconds of daylight.

And gradually things improve a lot. By June 21, sunrise is at 4.26 am, sunset at 10.03 pm and daylight lasts 17 hours, 36 minutes and 33 seconds. Though I don’t like the short days, I think it’s worth it in exchange for the long summer evenings; when even before dawn and after sunset there’s a long period of half-light. The birds start singing loudly about 2.30 am (not so popular) but one can go on gardening till 11 pm without difficulty.

On Friday I went out for lunch with long-standing friends in Haddington , a small town a few miles east of the city, which was very nice. We also walked in the sunshine through the grounds of St Mary’s Church (above)

and along

the river.
I took a photo of the bridge which leads to a street called (not too originally) Bridge Street. My lovely grandmother was born there on June 4 1895. Whenever I’m in Haddington, I keep wishing I'd remembered to find out the number of the house.

She didn’t live there for long because her mother died when she was five and the family went to Glasgow, where her aunt took over care of the children, allowing her father to work to support them. Above are Granny, her aunt and her brother. I’ve blogged about this before; sorry if you’ve already read this story. Her mother died of TB and Granny’s little sister also got the disease, dying at the age of 14 after a long period of ill-health. When Granny was 15, her father remarried and the stepmother wouldn’t have Granny or her older brother in the house. The brother, Alex, joined the army and Granny became a sewing maid in a big house in Edinburgh. Alex was gassed during the war and died in 1920. Granny married my grandfather and had a reasonably happy life, I think, but always talked about her beloved Alex and her happy home in Haddington before her mother died.

It all makes a little darkness, lit and warmed artificially, seem not too much of a hardship.
I still have the little silver chain-mail purse that Granny's holding in the photo. It's strange to think that so many of our possessions will outlive us. It's obvious. But I still think it's quite hard to imagine. I have some of Granny's rings too and I sometimes look at them and at my own engagement ring and think: they'll still be here when my fingers aren't.
Just trying to cheer you up on a cold January day...

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Ha ha

Sirius jumped on the bed this morning when I was still in it. He purred a lot, rubbed his head enthusiastically against my hand and then lay down, leaning on my ear and vibrating contentedly and VERY LOUDLY into my ear-drum.

“Who says cats are aloof?” I said. “You’re not aloof, are you, Sirius?”

“No, he’s a cat,” said Mr Life.