Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Ups and downs

An email from our doctor son today, reporting on his night shift. He went on,

Apparently the front of our building is sort of falling off, so builders need to come into the flat, take up the floor boards and tie the front of the building to the floor. I can't really see how this will achieve anything other than the front of the building taking a small slice of the floor with it when it crumbles to the ground, but what do I know? Unfortunately it's going to involve the sitting room, probably tomorrow when I'll be trying to sleep. Ah well.

I'm glad it's just a rented flat, that's all.

I do miss him. He's been gone for a year and ten months.

Mother feeling better, by the way, thank you. Aunt still cheerful but very forgetful. (Maybe that's the answer to life's problems: if you can't remember anything for more than about three minutes then you cease to worry.)

Sunday, April 25, 2010


My mum is pretty unwell in a rather unspecified way. One morning I took her in a cup of tea. "I couldn't sleep for worrying," she announced.

"Oh dear," I said. "What have you been worrying about?"

"Mountains," she said.


"Well, I suppose I was really dreaming," she said, "but I was worrying about what would happen to all the mountains when the world ended. Would they all become volcanoes? And who would deal with all the ash?"

You know, I think that's one thing I won't bother worrying about at the moment. My ill mum, my confused, broken-hipped aunt, my unemployed daughter... and a few other things... are further up the list right now.

Still, I managed to fit in some gardening yesterday. Cassie always likes to help but isn't good at standing still long enough for a digital photo.

This would have been a great action shot if I'd taken it just a second earlier. Her tail came out well, though. In a blurry sort of way.

The flowers stood still, however. Polyanthus, hyacinths and daffodils.

A flowering plum. Pinky pink pink.

My garden's only little but I love it.

Fresh! More polyanthus.

Lurid ones!

Bright little daffies!

Forget-me-not and polyanthus.

Pity about the other houses. The Pentland Hills are in the distance but the houses are in the way. How I would like to live in the country. (I think.)

Grape hyacinths - what a great blue.

In the corner, a barrow full of garden compost.

Daughter 2 was plumping up the sofa cushions and made a temporary pile. Cassie was tired from all that gardening. You can see why her nickname is Queen Fluff: she's so regal.
Next week, things are going to improve. Positive thinking. Hope the sun's shining on you!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Can I speak to Mr Life?

And then my mother took a funny turn. But enough of my woes (and thank you for your kind sympathy). Today I won a tiny victory for consumers. I think.

A chap phoned up just as I got home. He had an Indian or Pakistani accent and was quite hard to understand, but he wanted to speak to Mr Life. Now, Mr Life is a fine chap but he's not fond of being cold-called. He wasn't there anyway. So I enquired who this was. He said he was calling from "Three"and wanted Mr Life to phone him back. Not knowing much about our electronic affairs, I wasn't really sure who Three was/were and had no idea whether we were customers or whether the chap was trying to sell us something, so I enquired about the reason for the call, since Mr Life wouldn't want to call him back just to be sold something. The chap prevaricated. I asked again and - he hung up on me. Result!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The week of doom

This week – the second and final of the Easter holidays, was going to be a busy one. I was going to perform - miracles.

I had a long list of useful tasks, the sort I don’t have time to do when working.

It started off well: on Monday I gardened. In fact this wasn’t as much fun as it sounds, because although I weeded one little bed (and got stung by nettles), most of the time I was shifting leaf mould and garden compost around – not ideal for someone with a bad back. But still, it was progress. Then in the evening I had a meeting with the trustees who own my childless, widowed, confused aunt’s sheltered flat. She used to be a missionary doctor and so she has no money to speak of; her church bought the flat for her to live in and trustees are in charge of it. The trouble is that she now has dementia and decisions have to be made. Then I went and spent the night with my mother – I do this three times a week – who told me at length about her various ailments.

On Tuesday I had to go down to my aunt’s flat in the morning because the carer who cooks her dinner for her had phoned up on Monday afternoon to say that there was hardly anything in her fridge or freezer to cook: mainly butter and chocolate. This did indeed turn out to be the case. I had a chat with the warden, who was worried about her, and then I went and did some food shopping for my aunt. In the evening we heard that one of the guinea pigs belonging to Daughter 1 and her husband was ill. This is more serious than it may sound, since SIL – though a lovely young man – is fragile: he suffers from depression and obsessive compulsive disorder. He’s been relatively well since a year past November but was very unwell for two years before that. And he and Daughter 1 are sensitive souls and responsible pet owners who really love their guinea pigs. So they wanted to borrow our car (they don’t have one) to take Pumpkin Pig to the vet college out of town the next day.

On Wednesday they did this while I had a nice day out with friends and did some useful things later. The vet college diagnosed kidney stones and kept Pumpkin Pig in for treatment, warning them of the huge sum (think of an amount you might think excessive and then multiply by at least 10) that this was going to cost. One thing that causes SIL only slightly less stress than his pets being ill is the spending of large sums of money. Then the lady who comes in to give my aunt her evening meal phoned to say that she couldn’t gain entrance to the flat. (We subsequently established that my aunt was just asleep.) Then I went up to my mum’s for the night to hear about her symptoms.

Mr Life was also ill, by the way: he had a bad cold and cough. He got a bit ignored in all this, poor chap.

On Thursday morning, Daughter 2 phoned to say that Brownie Pig was exhibiting the same symptoms. What unbelievable bad luck was this? Then the warden of my aunt’s sheltered flat phoned and said that my aunt had had a fall and had probably broken her hip. I took distraught D1 and SIL out to distant vet college for further diagnosis of kidney stones, in-patient treatment and predictions of vast costs and then went to visit confused aunt in fairly distant hospital. She had indeed broken her hip.

On Friday, I had a friend for coffee and then went and visited my aunt. She was remarkably cheerful. Then I went up to spend the night with my mum and hear about her ailments. This was Daughter 2’s last day of work, she and most of her architect colleagues having been made redundant because no one’s building things at the moment.

On Saturday, I took D1 and SIL back to distant vet hospital to collect the two guinea pigs and see D1 and SIL hand over a sum which would make a nice dent in the national debt. (We gave them half. We remember paying a silly amount of money for Cassie being hospitalised when she was a kitten – only the guinea pigs cost MUCH more. But it was worth it to fend off (we hope) our SIL’s meltdown – quite apart from our lovely D1’s feelings and the question of the piggies’ continued existence.)

Then I drove to Daughter 2’s flat (she has a mortgage to pay now, of course; perfect timing) to lend her the car so that she could drive to a wedding up north.

In the afternoon, Son and his girlfriend came from Glasgow to visit confused aunt in hospital, which was very nice of them. Daughter 1 also went. Son and girlfriend collected my mum and they all stayed for an evening meal, which was also nice. Son had some cat time.

Daughter 2 enjoyed the wedding and delivered the car back this morning. She had a bit of a nap and some cat time. By the afternoon, alas, when my mum and I visited confused aunt, she didn’t remember that Son and girlfriend had visited. Mum and Daughter 2 came to an evening meal tonight but Daughter 1 and SIL were too anxious to be able to leave their (we hope) convalescent patients.

So all this is why my list of useful tasks to be accomplished that week didn’t really get much shorter. Tomorrow I go down to confused aunt’s flat to remove the food I bought her from her fridge because she’s not there to eat it. And then on Tuesday, I’m back to work.

I suppose it’s all part of life’s rich pageant.

I failed to remember while uploading these pictures that one has to do them in reverse order, but...

... it doesn't really matter because I'm only including them to cheer myself up by looking at pictures of Daughter 2, Sirius and Son..

... and this is just a blog, not a PhD dissertation....

... but the D2 photos were taken today...

... and the Son, Sirius and Mum photos were yesterday. Look at Sirius's limp wrists.

He's such a butch cat.

My Mum's looking good for nearly 88, isn't she?

And Son's looking ok for 25.
And it was actually the cats' third birthday, which we forgot about

in all the trauma. But they're looking fine for 3.
I might just have a bath and an early night now. Who knows what joys next week has in store?

Friday, April 16, 2010

The difference between a person and a cat

Person is weeding flower bed in front of as-yet-leafless lilac hedge.

Cat comes and insinuates herself in the middle of this hedge to get a good view of proceedings.

Person notices that cat is sitting on a little clump of stinging nettle seedlings in the middle of the hedge; thinks Oh no, don’t get stung! Person realises that cat is furry; therefore cat’s bottom is also furry so presumably stingproof; but then cat’s … um… actual functioning bit of bottom is not. How nasty would it be to get stung on actual functioning bit of bottom?

Person reaches with difficulty into hedge, threading arm through scratchy bits of lilac, and yanks, at full stretch, on bits of nettle that cat’s not sitting on. Hedge retaliates by prodding person in chest and face.

Cat watches with interest.

Person extricates arm from hedge with bits of yanked-up nettle seedlings.

Cats shifts over to sniff at remaining bits of this patch. Oh no! Cat’s nose not furry and therefore not stingproof!

Person frantically heaves out remaining bits of this clump before cat can get stung; and then rethreads arm through sharp, tangled twigs to get at now-squashed nettles (previously sat on by cat). Squashed bits harder to get out, because squashed.

Cat wanders off, yawns, and lies down on grass in sunshine.

Person succeeds in removing final bits of nettle. Wryly regards various bleeding scratches on arm and is aware that despite gloves, she has managed to get stung on wrist.

Cat goes to sleep.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Houses and gardens

I've been gardening but have been driven inside by the heat! All right, it's not hot by continental standards, but for our little northern island, it's toasty out there if you're actually working. It must be ... oh... coming up for 20 Celsius, I'd think - the high 60s Fahrenheit. (Don't laugh. This is Scotland. And I'm wearing a black tee-shirt and black trousers. Gardening clothes, you know, though black does absorb heat as our science teachers told us. The cats find the same problem.)

Above you see the view from the house of the Ladies of Llangollen near Llangollen in Wales, not far from Chester. (The double "l"s are pronounced a bit like a Scottish "ch", as in "loch", or the German "ch" as in "ach" or "Eichmann". So, "Chlangochlan". Sort of.) The Ladies were two "romantic friends" as they were called - who set up house here in 1780 in what was regarded as a cottage. They called it Plas Newydd (New Place - one could imagine more exciting names, but it was their house) and panelled the inside with lots of bits of mediaeval carved wood from churches, old houses and so on. The wooden fancy bits on the outside were added by a subsequent owner though the Ladies had the porches made. They were actually Anglo-Irish and their families didn't approve of their relationship, though later accepted the inevitable and gave them an allowance. The Ladies became quite famous, though not for actually doing anything as far as I can tell, and they were visited by various distinguised people of the day.

It was interesting in a mad sort of way and it shows what life can be like if you don't have anything much to do. They had maids and gardeners so just spent their days reading and so on. Very restful.

Llangollen itself has a steam train. Mr Life takes some photos.

It's a pretty little town, though a bit full of tourists.

We walked along the canal. Look! Sunshine again!

We also went to Chirk Castle, which has extensive views. Whenever I'm in the country, I wish I didn't live in a city. Just gazing out over distances empty of people feeds the soul. Though I like people too.

It's rather a fine place, satifyingly castle-ish, don't you think?

It was so wonderful to wander around in the sunshine. The winter has been so long and cold. I can't believe that Australians are still in shorts in what looks like baking sun - which they are - I've been reading blogs. Sunny clime people probably can't imagine what it's like to have warm sunshine on your face after months of cold, mostly dull weather (fantastic) - though as you see, Mr Life is still wearing his jumper. It wasn't that hot.

Ness Botanic Garden. Not quite up to the standard of Edinburgh's - but I would say that, wouldn't I? But most acceptable.

Great magnolias. I didn't know they grew that big, and according to a radio programme I heard yesterday, neither did anyone else, or at least no one knew they would grow this big here. The first ones brought over by plant hunters are only now getting to this sort of size. Just as well I never planted this variety in my front garden, though in fact I could sell the house and be thoroughly dead before it would have grown this large.

And here's Port Sunlight, a "model" village built by William Hesketh Lever for the workers in his nearby Sunlight soap factory. Very cute. Prince Charles would like it. We liked it too, though it must be a bit tedious for its inhabitants to have tourists wandering around looking in their windows.

Lots of open spaces. I wish our area had as many.

Mr Life inspects a house.

Building started in 1888 and as you can see, the houses are in the Arts and Crafts style. Port Sunlight contains 900 Grade II listed buildings, and was declared a Conservation Area in 1978.
And now, sitting in my cold study, I'm distinctly chilly and will return to my gardening.

Sunday, April 11, 2010


Where we went, as Firebird guessed, was Chester. I'd never been there before but had seen pictures and thought it looked very interesting. Which it was. I hadn't really studied its position on a map, however, and didn't realise that it was quite as far south as it is, so was somewhat disappointed at how long it took to get there. (Fortunately Mr Life, who was driving, had taken more interest in its exact location.) However, it was worth it. We stayed in this nice B & B, which I would recommend for everything except its spelling.

I mean, I know some people are better at spelling than others and it's not a moral flaw to make mistakes and we all have different talents. I'm just saying that if for instance I had to do a mathematical calculation and then get the answer put on two plastic signs outside my door, I think I'd check it first with someone who's done maths more recently than I have.

Anyway, Chester is lovely, with lots of old buildings and many newer ones which have been built in a similar style. I know there are people who mutter things about pastiche, but personally I don't like modern buildings that make no attempt to fit in with the old ones around them - as happens quite a lot in Edinburgh. Chester has city walls (as on that bridge in the picture above) that run right round the centre of the city - you can walk round them and we did. It's about a 2-mile circuit, the only complete city wall in Britain.

Here's Mr Life at one of the watch-towers.

Here's Chester Cathedral behind these red-brick buildings. I don't know why I didn't wait till we got a bit closer before I took the picture but there we are. We visited the cathedral, which was very impressive.

I took this photo inside the cathedral for my quilty friends. It represents the Chester mystery plays.

The River Dee. At this point the sun came out and stayed out for the rest of our holiday. Summer at last! Or at least spring.

A bridge. The oldest one perhaps? Can't quite remember.
This is Stanley Palace. See below.

Quite elderly.

But not as elderly as these arches, apparently built in 1274 AD and now part of this shop. The notice says that it's the oldest (part) shop still in use in Britain. I like the exactness of this date (no, no, not 1273 or 1275) and the way they put "AD", just in case you thought it might be 1274 BC. That would be quite an old shop.
Gosh, it's hard on the feet, though: trotting round a city all day.
More exciting holidays snaps coming soon.