Thursday, May 28, 2009

Silly people

At this time of year I’m mired in marking Higher English, our university-entrance level English exam. 210 scripts from all over Scotland sit on our dining room table. I do not have time to blog. Or garden. Meanwhile the weeds sprout liberally in the balmy air.

I’ve also been editing the church magazine and adding some little pictures here and there. They were in colour on my screen, so I printed them out to see what they’d look like in the magazine in black and white. It didn’t occur to me that since my printer is a colour one, this wouldn’t help much. (Should this woman be allowed to mark the nation’s children’s exams?)

A man at the exam board rang me up at work today to ask me to do an extra 13 scripts. My mind said “NO!” and I heard my voice saying “Yes”. Stupid voice.

“Where do you want to collect them?” asked the chap.

“At the parcel depot in – I think it’s in a street called Bankhead Crossway,” I said.

There was a pause while the chap consulted his list of depots. “Ah,” he said triumphantly, “that would be the postal depot in Russell Road.”


Must return to my toil. I’ll be reading you all at lunch times but won’t have time to comment much for the next two-and-a-bit weeks. Groan.

(In response to comments: yes, the shrub is a ceanothus. It's a wonderful blue, isn't it? I can see it from my position at the kitchen table as I plough through the scripts. Except that I'm not supposed to be looking out of the window, of course.)

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Cats and holidays

From Thursday June 18 till Monday June 22, we’re off as a family to Crieff, about an hour’s drive north of Edinburgh. We’ve had holidays there for years, but this time we have the Cat Problem to contend with: what to do with our furry friends?

There are various possibilities – we have helpful neighbours who would feed them, we could take them to where our son lives (he can’t come to Crieff because he can’t get the time off) - but we wonder if by any chance there a cat-loving blogfriend out there who would like a long weekend in Edinburgh? Free accommodation; the only duties would involve feeding the two cats, patting them from time to time and, ideally, shutting them in at night (though they do occasionally stay out in the summer).

The last time I blogged this suggestion, Thimbleanna ( and her husband came all the way from Indiana to stay in our house. This was last October. Isn't the blog world strange and wonderful? I somehow don’t think this is going to happen this time – but if anyone who lives a bit nearer would care to come, this would be lovely.

Our house is not palatial but it has a biggish sitting room, a smaller one, a biggish kitchen, two bathrooms and various bedrooms. And a garden. It’s detached, in a quiet cul-de-sac and is two minutes' walk from a bus stop into the city centre. There are frequent buses and the journey takes about ten minutes. Once you're in the city centre, you can walk to most things of interest. I should warn you that Edinburgh is being somewhat dug up at the moment because it has been decreed that we’re to get trams. However, it’s still quite possible to access everything and you would see the city in a period of transition with Princes Street, the main shopping street, devoid of traffic but full of holes and chaps in hard hats doing things in them.

This picture is taken looking down on Princes Street from the hotel that Daughter 2 has been working on for three years (the subject of a future post, possibly). If you click on it, you'll be able to see the red-and-white barriers that adorn the city's roadworks.

Anyway, I know it’s not likely that anyone will want to come but I thought I’d ask. Obviously this suggestion is open to blogfriends and their friends and family but not to random strangers…

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


A random kitten picture taken nearly two years ago.
Who knew? - well, lots of you, clearly, but not me - that "invigilator" wasn't the word used by English speakers worldwide for "grumpy person employed by educational establishments to sit glaring at students while they sit a national exam"? Various commenters have declared themselves unfamiliar with this expression. It has a verb form too: "to invigilate".

What do the rest of you call such a person?

It’s a standard English word, I think; not particularly Scottish. But we do have lots of Scots words, so I thought I'd make up a little Scots-flavoured story for a change. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin.

It was a dreich evening. A snell wind blew a few leaves around. Mary had a bit of a hoast and so decided to stay in the house and do some knitting. She made a cup of tea and settled down. However, she’d been gardening the previous day and had a skelf in her finger, which made it difficult. After a while, her wool got into a bit of a fankle. “Ach!” she cried, getting into a stooshie, “I canna be fashed with this!” And she went off to bed, cooried down under the covers and went off to sleep. In the morning, things seemed less scunnersome and she was able to keep a calm sooch.

Need a translation?

It was a dreary, damp evening. A bitter wind blew a few leaves around. Mary had a bit of a cough and so decided to stay in the house and do some knitting. She made a cup of tea and settled down. However, she’d been gardening the previous day and had a splinter in her finger, which made it difficult. After a while, her wool got into a bit of a tangle. “Oh!” she cried, getting worked up, “I can’t be bothered with this!” And she went off to bed, cuddled down under the covers and went off to sleep. In the morning, things seemed less trying and she was able to keep a calm demeanour.
Like to tell me some words local to your neck of the woods?
(Edited to add: these are all traditional Scottish words, as used by my granny's generation and, to a lesser extent, my mother's and mine. Scots dialect isn't used nearly so much by the young. Which is a pity, I feel. Another word for "splinter" is "spail", now I come to think of it. Wood must have been rough in the past, I suppose, since they needed two words for this.)

Saturday, May 16, 2009


I’m not a person who is particularly easily annoyed, but I was a bit annoyed yesterday. I had a student who was sitting Advanced Higher English – only the one student. It's a national exam which requires an outside invigilator.

This exam may be an hour and a half (one question) or three hours (two questions) – depending on which other options the student chooses. This student was doing the three hour exam, in a room by herself with the invigilator. However, our exam section had misinformed the invigilator that she was only doing the one-and-a-half-hour version. So the invigilator wrested the paper from the student after an hour and a half and, despite her protests, sent her away. Fortunately the girl sought me out; a colleague fetched me from the class I was teaching; and I managed to get the paper back and the exam restarted. But by that time, the student was in floods of tears and probably not in the right frame of mind to do her best.

Now, goodness me, anyone can make a mistake and the original mistake wasn't the lady's fault. But it seems to me that if I were an invigilator and a twenty-two-year–old girl sitting Advanced Higher English assured me that she was supposed to be in the exam room for three hours, I think – even though that wasn't what I had been told – I’d at least investigate: let her start writing the second part and then go and find out what the situation was. Wouldn’t you? Rather than insisting the girl leave and just going off and having a cup of tea, as this lady did?

The invigilator wandered in from her cup of tea while I was sorting this out and didn’t seem at all worried. It was by then 3.30 pm and when asked if she could stay and invigilate for the next hour and a half, ie till 5 pm, she said well, only till 4.45 because she was being picked up then.

Another 15 minutes would clearly have been too much to ask. (We did get someone else to take over from her.)

I don’t mind mistakes. But I do mind sheer unhelpfulness.
Cats in drawers, however, I do like.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Animal Farm

I was marking essays and thought this was rather a fine example of a piece of writing that was doing all right until it unaccountably fell to bits:

"I feel Orwell is trying to warn us of the dangers of the way people act when they are in power. In the same way, the pigs can fool the rest of the animals because they are ederactected and speak with such fluencency."

One takes one's pleasures where one can.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Happy birthday, Mum

It's been a somewhat rubbish week, the kind when you think to yourself that it's all a bit much and it would be easier to go to bed and not wake up, "To cease upon the midnight with no pain", as Keats said. And then you pull yourself together and realise that this is ridiculous: poor young Keats was dying of TB and would have been happy if his worst problems had been ... well, anything but that. So you cheer up a bit and think about the white lilac in the garden, which smells like heaven.

And lovely Daughter 2, representing here lovely Daughter 1, Son, Mr Life and other friends and relations.

And cats. Happiness, or something very like it, is a warm cat.

And the garden helps a lot too.

The lawn is pink with cherry blossom.

The sitooterie* is an arbour of clematis.

The bluebells are very pretty, though getting out of control - must dig some up after they've finished flowering.

More lilac. Nothing could smell sweeter.

Lovely lovely irises.

Today we took my mother to Peebles to celebrate her 87th birthday. The weather wasn't exactly tropical.

But we had a nice lunch in the Park Hotel and then in the evening Daughter 1, Son-in-Law, my mum and my aunt came for a meal with Mr Life, Daughter 2, her actor boyfriend and me.

So life goes on and there are many blessings to be counted. It would be easier, however, to be a cat. Less interesting, though. And I wouldn't like not being able to read.
* A sitooterie is a place to sit out... oot... in the garden. A seat with a framework of some kind.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Things that happened

It’s been a beautiful weekend, if not exactly tropical. I’ve spent much of it doing un-green gardening duties: putting weedkiller on my mother’s and our paths and weed-and-feed on her lawns. I’m sure in 20 years’ time this is going to be thought very unecological (sorry, future) but it’s so time-and-labour saving, though not my favourite type of gardening. The actual gardens are very floriferous. What a lovely time of year!

The lilac is at its best and there’s a big vase of it perfuming the dining room.

Last Saturday, Mr Life opened the front door to find a big bird of prey – a sparrowhawk? - a couple of yards away from him on the lawn, clutching and indeed plucking another bird. It’s hard to say whether he or the hawk got a bigger fright, but the latter immediately flew off with its victim, leaving lots of feathers on the grass. Just as well Mr Life saw this or we’d have thought the cats were getting alarmingly successful in their hunting!

The scene of the crime... really quite near the house.

This past week, the gas company dug a hole right outside our driveway to facilitate the fitting, this coming week, of a new gas main for the street. (What do Americans call the stuff that fuels non-electric cookers – since they call petrol “gas”?) Fortunately I had driven to work in one of our cars, otherwise both cars would be now trapped in the driveway. As it is, only one is. Our son, who was at home at the time, asked if he should remove this car and the chap said no, they wouldn’t be blocking the drive. Hmm.

There’s another hole at the top of the street. So handy.

They also dug up our path and put a rather horrid gas meter box right beside the front door.

Still, I suppose I have to look at it as a plant-positioning opportunity ...

... rather than as a problem.
Son has now returned to his distant town, alas. He managed to fit in, as far as I can remember, two lunches with Mr Life, one with me, one with Daughter 2 and one with both of his sisters (who always lunch together on Thursdays) as well as an afternoon coffee with Daughter 1. He also saw various friends and on Friday took my mum to a funeral, for which he nobly donned his suit and white shirt (which happened to be here) and his father’s shoes (because Son’s smart shoes were in the distant town). Mr Life’s feet are rather smaller than Son’s. What a lad will do for his granny. (“He looked so smart!” said my mum proudly.)

He also let various gas men into the house to do gas-related tasks.

So he made full use of the time at home and gained himself some (more) Good Son/Grandson gold stars.

A squirrel has been enjoying the peanut feeder on our cherry tree. Who could grudge him his meal?

(Well, possibly the birds. But we enjoyed his acrobatics.) Photos by Mr Life, who has a better camera than I.

At the book group last night, a friend said that she’d been speaking to an animal psychologist who told her that cats don’t like their water bowl beside their food. In the wild, they wouldn’t drink water near their kill because of contamination. Our cats are never seen to drink from their bowl – the bird bath, yes; the taps, yes; the glass of water on one’s beside table, yes. So we tried moving it.

Et voila!

Daughter 1 has recently taken up knitting and decided to make herself a moderately complicated shawl. This evening, however, having spent some considerable time on it, she found a couple of mistakes and unravelled it to start again. I don’t know where she got this knitting perfectionism. Not from her mother. I couldn’t really see what was wrong with it but if I had felt the need to rip out that much of knitting I'd done, I would first have had to jump up and down on it and utter several piercing screams. This is why I haven't knitted anything for the past thirty years. She's made of sterner stuff and I'm very impressed.

Cassie* found the unravelling process quite interesting.

And those have been the highlights of the week chez Life.
*Daughter 2 says this is Sirius. Looks like Cassie to me, but she remembers that it was Sirius so I'll believe her. Normally we're astonished when friends don't know the difference, when to us, they're not alike at all. Apart from being, you know, black cats. Small black cats. Small black sleek cats.