Saturday, February 27, 2010

Signs of spring?

I can never remember such a long period of cold weather. You can tell that the cats want me to put the heating on. (They're sitting on a hot water bottle under those blankets.)

Mr Life has nobly taken my mother through to Glasgow to see friends and I've had a domestic day, cleaning and potting up cuttings. I went for a walk and took some books back to the library and it was COLD - biting wind and grey light. I took my camera to look for signs of spring but there weren't many. These little daffodils on my doorstep are a cheat: I bought them at the supermarket yesterday. Still, they do bring a bit of cheer.

The pansies by the door are blooming,

but these potted crocuses are not hurrying to flower.

A few straggly snowdrops in the garden

and some equally unenthusiastic crocuses. I know how they feel.

On the walk down to the library, I did see these aconites, doing their best.
Can you see the snow-covered Pentland Hills in the middle of this picture? They're almost invisible against the grey-white sky.
I was just thinking rather pathetically: what's wrong with life now that the offspring have sprung off is that it's rather dull. It's all right. We can cope. But the children were such fun. Among other benefits, Daughter 1 is always interesting - she's got such a wide set of skills and knowledge different from ours; Daughter 2 is very empathetic and knows how to cheer us up; and Son is very funny and always made us laugh when he lived at home.
Now we just have cats; and all the time I've been trying to write this post, Cassie has been walking to and fro over the keyboard typing little messages to you such as qqqggg/////, rubbing her fluffy side against my face and sticking her tail up my nose. Composition under difficulties!
I think I shall be very decadent: put the heating on, make a cup of tea and read my book. Mind you, it's Jodie Picoult's My Sister's Keeper, which I bought only to make up a 3 for 2 offer and took a while to get round to because I realised it wouldn't exactly be a giggle. Which it's not. I've not got very far but (as I always do) I had a look at the last chapter and - goodness me, she piles on the misery at the end.
(As I was potting the cuttings, I was listening to Othello on the radio and having much the same "For goodness sake! Do you have to write about this?" thoughts about Shakespeare. Could you have made this a gloomier play, do you think, Will?)
Mutter, mutter, mutter...

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

What we did on Friday

Mr Life is an only child. This probably has its advantages in some ways – he got his parents’ concentrated attention. (Is this a good thing? What do you think? One reason that I wanted several children was to dilute the concentration of my worrying.) However, it also has its disadvantages and one of these is that, since his parents have been dead for a long time, he has no one with whom to share his childhood reminiscences. His father died at 64, when Mr Life was 36, and his mother at 70, when Mr Life was 43; and he’s now 61.

He does have eight cousins. I myself am completely cousinless and quite envious of his, but he didn’t see all that much of most of them when they were young – two, indeed, emigrated to Australia – and though we’re in touch with them all, only one lives in Edinburgh and we see only her and her brother at all regularly. And however nice cousins are, they don’t usually share your past like siblings do.

His family also moved around quite a bit with his father’s job, which it made it harder to put down roots. I myself am extremely rooted and attached to my home patch.

For a few years he lived in Alloa in Clackmannanshire, where his maternal grandparents also lived so that even after he left, at the age of seven, he visited it frequently. But we haven’t been back for years. So on Friday we got the train there (this has only recently become possible again and Mr Life likes trains) and we wandered around, visiting the scenes of his childhood.

On the way, we went through Linlithgow - there's the palace on the skyline where Mary Queen of Scots was born.

And here's Stirling, with its castle on the rock - rather like Edinburgh's at first glance. Mary was crowned there in 1543, but bits of it had already been on the rock for four hundred years or so.

Approaching Alloa, we got a good view of the Ochil Hills.
Alloa's just a small town and it’s changed quite a lot. There are various new roads for which buildings have been cleared away and the main street isn’t looking prosperous, with many small shops which have closed presumably because of the big supermarket just a short walk away. But the town hall, above, is much the same, as is the area where Mr Life lived as a boy, round the corner from his Granny and Granddad.

The technical department of the school where his Granddad taught is still there but it's boarded up.

Here's his grandparents' house - it has new windows and it looks quite loved.

This is where little Mr Life lived for a while. A lady inside was somewhat startled to see me taking photos.

The park. It was very chilly!

And the church where Mr Life's parents and grandparents were married.

After our nostalgic wanderings, we were glad to find The Royal Oak open for lunch. It was excellent – should you ever happen to find yourself in Alloa. (This is maybe not very likely.) This painting was on the wall beside our table; it’s supposedly of people going off to America from Alloa harbour because of the Highland Clearances. They all look a bit sinister so maybe they weren’t a great loss to Scotland. Isn’t the water of the River Forth a startling blue?

I spent a lot of the next few days marking, though. Explain to me why I gave my evening class TWO literature essays to do for homework for last Tuesday and then made them write another one in class – all as preparation for the preliminary exam this week? There are 18 people in the class, so 18 x 3 = 54 essays! What was I thinking of???
This was probably rather a boring post unless you happen to be Mr Life or me (and let's face it: most people aren't). Sorry! - but I wanted to record the day.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Half term - what we did on Thursday

We got two days off for half-term - Thursday and Friday. Mr Life took them off too. This is what we did on Thursday. First, you should know that the building above...

... and above this, is where Mr Life used to work. It's a couple of minutes from our house - a building dating from the early 80s, quite impressive (we think) from the outside and beautifully finished inside. After he left, the company moved out to a building further out of town. Another firm moved in but then moved out again, and for - five? six? - years, the building has been empty and up for sale. Various companies considered buying it and turning it into flats, but it wasn't really suitable.

Yesterday morning, I passed it and saw this. It was horrible to stand and watch this quite famous building being destroyed. We've lived in our current house for 21 years and have passed it virtually every day.

I stuck my camera through a gap in the gate and got told off by a chap in a hard hat.

Then the day improved. The girls always have lunch together on Thursdays, so Mr Life and I joined them. Here is Mr Life, unaccountably without the top of his head, having a post-lunch cup of coffee and biscuit.

Here is Daughter 2 stealing a bite of his biscuit.

Daughter 1 improved the shining hour by knitting a headband...

... which will look like this. And we all wrote a card to Son, wishing he was with us.

Then the girls returned to work - well, someone has to - while Mr Life and I went to the Museum of Scotland, where among other things we looked at the train section. Mr Life likes trains.

Afterwards, on the way down to Princes Street, we passed this lawyers' office, which struck us as worth remembering about if we ever get into trouble with the police.

Half way down the Mound is the little Writers' Museum.

Here's a bit of the Bank of Scotland. It too has a little museum, which we visited.

Its money used to be kept in this iron chest. Pity it still isn't, what with the recent shenanigans.

Down the Mound steps, here's the Art Gallery beside the bus stop.

Getting off the bus, we wandered past the office again. Hmm.

Still, as my mum said, she saw sights like that all the time when she was working in London during the Blitz and it was much worse because people had been in them at the time.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The trouble with my iPod

Twice a week, usually, I get the bus into work instead of driving. And then I walk home; my gesture towards the environment and fitness. It’s a distance of about three miles and I vary my route so that I don’t get particularly bored (lots of people’s front windows to look into). However, sometimes I remember to bring along further entertainment in the form of my iPod. My taste in music is almost exclusively classical and I often listen to the piece my choir is currently learning, to fix it into my head. I try not to sing as I walk (mad old lady in trainers and with rucksack, carolling as she marches).

Our students are keen iPod wearers. Whenever I see a lone student in the lifts or making for the bus stop, he/she is invariably plugged in. The music isn’t precisely audible but there’s what Garrison Keillor describes as “the sound of distant chainsaws” emitting from their headphones. Luckily I won’t be around when this generation suffers from the deafness that I’m sure they’re inflicting on themselves - lots of old people going “You’re mumbling!” and fiddling with their hearing aids. (Then they’ll be sorry.)

And possibly I will too, especially as a result of listening to our choir’s current piece, “Carmina Burana”. I’m not a natural with technology, and find that walking, plugging in earphones (L in the left ear, R in the right) and getting the device to work - simultaneously - is a bit too much multi-tasking for me. But I’m always in a tearing hurry to get home – having stayed too long at work – so I set out briskly, fiddling with the controls as I forge through groups of ambling young people.

I don’t know if you know “Carmina Burana” but it starts VERY LOUDLY, with the words “OHHHH FORTUNAAAAAAAA!!!”. And no matter how much I think I’ve turned the volume down before it begins – it’s never down enough. I shoot into the air like a startled cat – AARRGGHH - and my ears fly off my head, landing in little pink shattered pieces on the grass. Or so it feels.

By the time I’ve adjusted the controls and my heart’s returned to a normal rate, I’ve reached the road. Now the traffic is roaring and the choir has moved on to a quiet bit, currently inaudible to me. I have my iPod on a string round my neck (which is probably not a cool look) so that I don’t drop it, so I stuff it inside my jacket to stop it swinging around as I walk. But this means that whenever I want to adjust the volume – which is all the time – I have to fish in an unladylike fashion down my front. The timing of this particular piece ensures that by the time the singing is forte again, I’ve reached the next quiet bit of my walk and have to readjust it once more. And so it continues.

Maybe this is the reason why today’s popular music – I use this vague term because I don’t know the differences between garage and rock and dance and so on – is all loud. Yes, it’s deafening. But at least it’s consistently deafening and you don’t have to feel in your clothing to adjust it.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Next week

1) Work is busy; and I'm feeling a bit forlorn. However, we get two days off next week for midterm.

2) My young(ish) Irish colleague stood in the workroom last Thursday and said dreamily, "Next Thursday I'll be in the West of Ireland. I'll just have finished a big meal and I'll be saying, 'No, really, I couldn't eat another bite,' and my two aunts will be saying, 'Oh, go on, go on, sure you could have another little slice.'"

And he nodded contentedly.

3) What are you planning to do next Thursday? My day will involve the dentist... .

4) P.S. Mr Life has just found this on YouTube. Watch it - if you haven't seen it before, it will bring a smile to your face:

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Life and death

Today would have been my father’s 90th birthday. But he died nearly three years ago.

When he was in his 80s he was seen by a heart specialist who told him that his heart was in good condition. “You’ll live till you’re 90,” the doctor rather unwisely predicted. And therefore my dad, half-seriously, believed that he would do so, “- though, “ he added ruefully, “when you’re 83, that doesn’t sound such a good deal.”

That feeling that the dead are just in the next room is such a potent one. My father was a brilliant man with a forceful personality. Where have all that intelligence and fire gone? Surely not into the heap of dust that we scattered under a tree in Perthshire?

Paradoxically, when the “children” aren’t here, I almost feel as if I’d dreamt them. It was a wonderful dream, filled with love and purpose: I created these lovely young people from my imagination; and now they’ve vanished into the air. I suppose that maybe my dad is so real to me because he was around forever, whereas the children came along half-way through my life. They arrived and now they’ve gone. It seems that they were with us for such a short time.

To combat this illusion, Mr Life and I went to Glasgow on Saturday to spend time with our son. Here he is wearing a Santa hat in the kitchen of his (rented) flat. Not sure why he keeps it there but I’m bidding for the record of posting the first picture this year of someone wearing Christmas fancy dress.

Here’s the view from his sitting room over a bowling green.

We walked to the Botanic Gardens (nice enough but not up to Edinburgh’s standard…) and wandered round it and into the Kibble Palace. This would sound to American cats like a good place, I suppose. ( It’s a very large glasshouse donated by a Mr Kibble.) Then we had lunch and walked back to the flat, stopping for coffee on the way. He regaled us with interesting stories about bowel operations (he’s on Urology at the moment). It was lovely to see him. But where is he now?

On Sunday, the rest of us all went to Daughter 1 and Son-in-Law’s house to have dinner. There’s something very soothing about being fed by one’s children. I suppose it’s like returning to childhood oneself – being nurtured – with the added satisfaction of watching one’s child being efficient and able to provide for itself. Daughter 2 was there too, so at least we had the reality of two offspring. And they’re not in Australia or anything. (Not that I’m suggesting that Australia is a bad place, you understand. It’s just a bit far away. From here.)

Anyway, happy birthday Dad. We’re not forgetting you.
Gosh, life is brief. (Yes, I like to end with an original remark.)

Monday, February 08, 2010

What people said

This picture is just here to remind me of last August. The winter will end. Summer will come again. Won't it?

I don't have time to blog but will just post unconnected two quotes. One was (I think) from David Attenborough, who said on the radio last Saturday, "We can only ever be as happy as the least happy of our children" - which I think is very true. I had never thought of David Attenborough being unhappy, but I suppose everyone is sometimes.

And one of my students wrote last week that if she was given £1000 she would buy a canapĂ© bed.

For midnight feasts, presumably.

Got to go and mark. Sigh.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

I feel like dancing for joy

I just cannot tell you how often a student who has missed a class will meet me in the corridor and say, "Did I miss anything on Friday?" or "Did you do anything last class?"
Of course I immediately want to say, "No, we just went to the pub."
Rosemary Riveter ( gave me this link in her comment on my previous post. If you didn't click on it then, I would recommend you do so now. Especially if you're a teacher. But even if you aren't.
I would die happy if I'd written this poem. It's called "Did I miss anything?"

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Not a post about work

Well, I must say one gets far more comments when one posts pictures of cats than when one moans about one's paid employment. So I shall stop complaining.

Here are some photos of last Sunday afternoon when, among other things, Daughter 2 and I went for a brisk walk. It was brisk because the weather, though sunny, was absolutely freezing; also we were having the rest of the family (minus Doctor Son, alas) to dinner.

Here's Daughter 2 marching along. She doesn't hang about, Daughter 2, and since she's taller than I am and has longer legs, I have to scurry a bit to keep up.
She had come home for the weekend, thus brightening our dull, middle-aged lives.

Not a leaf on the trees either by the road or on Corstorphine Hill in the background.

Back home, I had cheated by planting primroses from a garden centre in a pot, giving a false impression of spring. What a cheerful sight for winter-jaded eyes.

Here are my winter-flowering pansies, still blooming after eighteen months in that pot. A bit weedy, but colourful compared to the rest of the garden. I must dead-head them.

Meanwhile Mr Life had hauled the pink blanket out of the cupboard so that he and Sirius could have a nice nap on the sofa. This is the blanket that I had on my bed when I was a girl, years before downies. It was very long and I used to wrap the top of it round my head on cold nights. No central heating then; the windows used to ice up on the inside, the condensation freezing into star-like crystals.

A little bit of spring inside too.
The days are getting longer, the first snowdrops and crocuses are forcing their way through the hard ground and soon, surely, winter will draw to a close in our little island. Sending it your way, Australia.