Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The cat sat on the mat

Because I am a mad, reckless person who laughs in the face of global financial collapse, I spent £5.99 the other day on a cat mat in Tesco supermarket. As I went through the checkout, I reflected that this was probably a waste of money. Then I went home and put it on the floor.

Cassie instantly threw herself upon it as if it were her long-lost lover. She rolled on it and rubbed her face ecstatically on it. Then she discovered the furry ball on the elastic string. Ah! her long-lost teddy!

Cuddly! Delicious!

A perfect fit!

Then Sirius came in. He loved it too. He licked the ball thoroughly.

Never were there two happier cats. They might like prawns even better than their mat, but it's a close thing. And ... I hesitate to say this, but... Cassie almost seems to prefer it to the sofa as a medium for sharpening her claws. At least it's an alternative.
Happy woman: clean oven. Happy cats: bit of mat with furry edge and furry ball. It all goes to show the importance of matching the gift to the recipient.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Being not fat

I was listening, while working around the house, to a radio programme discussing what one should put on one’s internet dating profile. (Not that I'm planning to have one.)

Well,” said one girl, “I start with the positive: I’m not fat.”

(Now, if she’s not fat, then that’s not really positive, is it? Nice, yes. Satisfactory, yes. But ... . Ok, I'm a pedant. )

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Not cleaning the oven or defrosting the freezer

This is a picture turned sideways by my camera or possibly Picasa. Tilt your head to the left and admire it.

I hit a low – or possibly high – spot on my rather blank decadence record yesterday when a chap came and cleaned my oven. While not appallingly filthy, it was definitely on my mind as needing attention the other day and then I came home to find a leaflet on the doormat offering this service. Reader, I was tempted and reader, I succumbed.

It felt horribly bloated-plutocrat-like, but this cheerful oldish chap with a Lancashire accent turned up at the appointed time and spent an hour and a half making it gleam. He was happy to tell me how he did it – basically hard work, not chemicals. And certainly it’s a long time since I spent an hour and a half on this task – well, in fact, let’s be honest, it’s never happened. (The hour and a half, not the cleaning. I have cleaned it. Occasionally.) I felt slightly less guilty when he told me that on the scale of dirtiness, mine was quite unmucky. Sometimes he has to spend three hours on the job.

Which made me glad that I’d resisted – with some difficulty – the urge to give it a quick scrub before he arrived just to spare my embarrassment.

I don’t think I was born to be a lady but actually I think I could get used to it. I found myself wondering if I could kidnap him and force him to defrost my freezer.

The oven-cleaning cost £55. It's more than I get for an hour and a half but I don't think I'll swap jobs with him.

This morning I put off defrosting the freezer by taking pictures of flowers and the fluffy garden inspector, Cassie. Clematis above.


More paeonies.

Petunias, begonias and lobelia.

Cassie inspects the undergrowth of geraniums.


Back again.

Why is her dish of clean water only the last resort, after the birdbath and the kitchen tap?

I'm not really a fan of purple but I like it in flowers.

Pretty yellow daisy things whose name I'm not going to look up because I have Better Things to Do.

Enough of this footering. To the ice, ho!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Life is hard

Overheard in college library:

Student: Can I renew this book?

Librarian: Has your course finished?

Student: Yes.

Librarian: Well, I’m afraid not, then. Not unless your course continues into the next college year.

Student: Oh.

Librarian: Sorry.

Student: But it’s a beautiful book.

Librarian: That’s nice. But I’m afraid we want it back.

Student: [Martyred sigh].

Monday, June 21, 2010

Light nights

This is the longest day of the year. I’ve just checked sunrise and sunset times for Edinburgh and says they’re 4.26 am and 10.03 pm.

However, I’ve just come in from the garden and downloaded photos I started taking at 10.10 pm, when the sun may technically have set but it was still very light indeed. These are in the order I took them, completely undoctored photos and taken without flash. Even now, 10.29, it's not remotely dark.

It’s been beautiful weather – but oh dear, it can’t last until our catsitter arrives at the end of next week. I would like it to rain soon because the garden is very dry and I’m having to water my tender plants. And if it rained now then it might be nice again for our visitor.

I do love summer evenings. It’s balmy and still; the birds are trilling away outside the window and the garden is frothing with oomph. Even now, at my great age, I find it hard to remember when the flower beds were heaps of sodden dead stalks covered with soggy brown leaves; or when the snow covered the ground, etched with the pawprints of cats and foxes and badgers and the delicate twiggy footprints of birds.

Now the beds are bursting with plants, elbowing for room in my little garden.

Scottish winters are dark and damp much of the time and the days are short. But they’re worth tholing (a good Scots word which means “putting up with”) because of the compensating light nights, when I’m reluctant to go to bed and the dawn chorus starts up around three. The picture above was taken at 10.20 pm.

I’m looking out of the window. It’s 10.35 now. The sky is blue-grey, tinged with pink. The birds sing on.

Tomorrow, dawn is at 4.27 - ever so slightly later.

Soon our six weeks of holiday begin. That's when being a teacher pays off...
PS - for anyone who doesn't read the comments, this is my brother's clarification of why it's light so early/late:

Sunset and sunrise aren't everything. At your latitude, 'civil twilight' - when it's officially light enough to see objects outside - ended at 11:03pm and started again at 03:31am last night. 'Nautical twilight', when it's light enough to navigate a ship, lasts all night in Edinburgh at this time of year. You are at about 56 deg north and the Arctic Circle is at 66 deg, so the centre of the sun is never more than 10 deg below the horizon on 21 June (though of course there's a hill between you and the horizon). Your big brother thought you ought to know that.
Well, there you go. Handy if I ever want to navigate a ship at midnight.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Stolen from Fran

Isn't this wonderful? I saw it on the hilarious Fran's blog, Being Me.

(Look, Ali Honey - I've done the linky thing!!!! Though I had to get Daughter 1 to explain the technical terms over the phone. But Ali gave me the incentive. Thank you!)

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


Good news: I found suitable summer trousers the other week in Marks and Spencer's. (I am not a dressy person. If it's not in Marks and Spencer's, I go without.)

Bad news: the trousers fasten with a zip and hooks and eyes; the hooks tend to unhook themselves after which the zip slowly unzips itself.

Good news: this doesn't matter that much because I always wear a long shirt (to cover my bottom) when I wear trousers so that the unfastened zip isn't really visible, and my stomach sticks out far enough so that the trousers don't descend round my ankles. Or at least not immediately.

Bad news: I bought two pairs of these trousers (the second for when the first wears out) and though I discover this design flaw immediately, I can't be bothered returning them to the shop. I just spend the day rehooking and rezipping.

Good news: this is tedious but not unbearably so.

Bad news: now a bit of material has got stuck in the zip so that it doesn't go down more than an inch.

Good news: this is enough for me to get the trousers off at necessary moments by pulling in my stomach.

More good news: then when the trousers are up again, I can let out my stomach and the trousers are fully secure.

Even better news: this is the first time I've discovered an advantage in having a stomach that sticks out. Read this and weep, Molly Bawn.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Having fun

When one’s children are small – well, dash it, even when they’re not – one tends to think that they’re superior to the general run of other people’s children. You know: sweeter, cleverer, more charming and all that.

Mine actually are all these things, of course; but even those with lesser offspring are inclined by evolution to admire them. Which is just as well.

I believe, however – though I may be misremembering – that if one of my children had stood out in the garden on a lovely summer’s day yelling over and over again, “This is my garden – aeeeeeeeeeeee!” I would after a while – say at a conservative estimate after the fortieth “aeeeeeeeeeeee!”– have taken the little darling gently by the hand or another convenient part of its anatomy and led it inside with the suggestion that it might like to listen to a story, since there are other people on the planet who might be enjoying working peacefully in their gardens on a nice afternoon.

This child was several gardens away in the street at right angles to ours. Just as well, or I might have – oh, I don’t know – thrown slugs at it.

Our street is normally very quiet. It’s a cul-de-sac with five houses in it and the inhabitants are: D and S on one side of us, well into their sixties; us, and we’ve established that we’re 59c and nearly 59a; N and K next door to the other side – in their 50s, childless; A, about 70 and unmarried; and Mr C, also unmarried and well down the 59 alphabet. When we first moved here, 21 years ago, I was unnerved by the quietness. I felt that one could easily die and lie festering in the middle of the road for some months before anyone passed by and noticed anything amiss.

However, I quite like it now. But this evening the people up the hill – not in our street but on the corner of it – are having a party. They put up a tenty thing earlier and all their friends are standing in this tenty thing or beside it and going
This isn’t a terribly good photo – I didn’t have the nerve to stand in the middle of the street to photograph their tenty thing, but here is: the green bit is the tenty affair, the brown bit is their fence and you can see some heads of partygoers over the lower bit of the fence. It was 9.30 at night when I took the photo and it’s now 10 but it’s still quite light outside, which is why one can keep gardening here till 11 if one wants at this time of year if one doesn’t mind being eaten by the Great Scottish Midge or deafened by people’s noisy parties.

But I’ve been driven in. The air is filled with the revolting smell of barbecued meat (yuckyuckyuck – I hate barbecues – why do I, a vegetarian, have to have the air in my garden smelling all meaty?) and “I Will Survive” is belting out, further polluting the atmosphere. They might at least have played some decent music, “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik” or something.

Grumpy? Me? I can still hear them hahahaing from where I'm sitting in the study. Where's the rain when one wants it?

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Houses and getting old

Marking finished, hurray hurray.

Next urgent tasks: rescue the garden from the neglect of the past few weeks and find a care home for my confused aunt. Currently she’s in her own home with 24-hour, privately-funded care, but this has to be fairly short-term for financial reasons and I need to find a nice home which will have a room some time soon and which she will agree to go to.

She would much rather stay in her flat but her short-term memory is gone and she’s not safe. Since she doesn’t see the need for any of this, she hasn’t got her name on any waiting lists. I have to do something about this pronto and go round visiting homes to find somewhere that will take her and where she’ll be happy (I hope). She used to be a missionary / doctor so it has to be somewhere with a definite Christian ethos, which cuts the choice down considerably.

I’ve already visited a couple of homes. My mother came with me to give me the benefit of her advice. When we came back from the second one, she said to me – but in a jokey sort of way – “I suppose I ought to put my name down for some of these places!” And I didn’t like to say… and didn’t.... “Well, it wouldn’t be a bad idea.” She is 88, after all – the same age as my aunt (my dad’s sister). A care home wouldn’t be the first option for Mum – she would come and stay with us if possible – but still, it would do no harm to have one’s name on the waiting list, just in case.

I wonder if it would be too soon for me to put my name down…? A nice room looking out over a garden; meals made; housework done; laundry taken care of… . Would they let me bring thousands of books, my computer, Mr Life and the cats? (Perhaps I’ve put these items in the wrong order.)

I’m approaching a Big Birthday which my brother suggests that I should regard as 59a (and then proceed to 59b, c, d etc) and I do think from time to time about the next house. The last house, I suppose. Rachel of Slow Lane Life ( is boldly entering the next phase of her life and planning to move down near the south coast. We wouldn’t move far from Edinburgh, but I’m torn between thinking that we should buy a really practical house for our old age and thinking that we should buy one we really like. I want to move back to the other side of the city, near the sea, where I lived till I was nearly forty. Or a nearby seaside town?

What would you go for? Sensible or the dream?

I would like a bigger garden, but how practical is that? My parents moved twenty years ago to a big, elegant flat, the bottom of a very large divided house. It seemed suitable enough then but now my mum is rattling about in it, worrying about redecoration and dry rot and elderly pipework. Not to say the garden, which seemed manageable when they were in their sixties but which Mum can’t do now. My aunt, in contrast – my other, non-confused aunt – lives with friends in a wonderful big shared house with an enormous garden in Norfolk. It wasn’t a practical move but it was a fantastic one.

She did have a secret weapon, though: one of the friends had a husband who was – and still is – almost thirty years younger. So I just have to trade in Mr Life for a chap in his early thirties and I’ll be fine. It’s a thought….

No, it’s all right, Mr Life. I couldn’t face holding my stomach in for the rest of my life. And you’re a nice old chap. (Or maybe not old; just 59c.)

Now: off to haul up forget-me-not and plant begonias.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Flowers and gardens and falling over

All work and no play isn't all that fun so the girls and I took my mum to the flower show at Ingliston today. Clematis above - so many flowers per plant. Yum.

My agapanthus plants look a bit dead after our severe winter. Only a bit dead; I have hopes of a partial recovery. These ones looked stunning.

I'm never quite sure what I think about bonsai but I think I do quite like them - not so much from the horticultural point of view - they're hardly natural - but from the artistic point of view if they're beautifully shaped. And anyway, gardens aren't really natural. I fight quite hard against nature, which in my garden's case would be hairy bitter cress, shepherd's purse, red campion and couch grasss.

A little bonsai copse.

Lilies. Not quite of the field. They smelled heavenly, though.

And chrysanths, again not quite as nature intended. Huge lollipops. Or popsicles.

Look at this paeony! It was as big as a saucer.

Various plants in a planted display - paeonies, alliums etc.

More clematis.

And more paeonies.
I've just finished reading (in very short, late-night chunks - slices more like) a wonderful book: The Morville Hours by Katherine Swift. I must read it again in a less fragmented way. I'll quote from the blurb on the back: "In 1988 Katherine Swift arrived at the Dower House at Morville to create a garden of her own. This... book is the history of the many people who have lived in the same Shropshire house, tending the same soil, passing down stories over the generations. Spanning thousands of years, The Morville Hours takes the form of the mediaeval Books of Hours. It is a meditative journey through the seasons, but also a journey of self-exploration. It is a book about finding one's place in the world and putting down roots."
She writes about her garden, about the monks who used to live at Morville, about history and poetry and her family and the weather and butterflies and mazes and all sorts of things. She can make even mowing grass sound interesting:
I like mowing. Up and down, backwards and forwards, each time a different slice of the garden, each time a slightly different view. Time to look. Time to consider. Would that penstemon look better over there? Would it be fun to cut a window in the hedge over there? And all the time, that wonderful smell rising. And when it's finally finished and the shadows are lengthening, and you stand back to admire your handiwork, the swallows come skimming the smooth green surface of the newly-cut lawn like skaters on a vast green ice-rink.
My poor brother slipped yesterday while getting off a punt on the Cam in Cambridge (he and his wife were visiting their children, both at Cambridge University) and fell and broke his jaw. The poor chap - who unlike me takes after the lean side of the family and needs to keep his strength up - is having to exist on soup and smoothies while he heals. He reads this sometimes so - hope you're feeling a bit better, big brother.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Happy birthday to her

Today was our darling Daughter 2's birthday.

Here she is.

Her actor boyfriend came up from London for a couple of days. Please excuse the rather messy kitchen - I came home from work and had time to ice the cake and make the meal but not tidy up to photographic standards. Mind you, what would a kitchen be without a big pile of exam scripts in the background?

Mr Life, SIL and Daughter 1. Our son, alas, was not with us.

She blows out the candles.

Oh dear, more chaos. We did tidy up afterwards. Here's my mum.

Cake, anyone?
I am SO exhausted. Life has been more than usually frantic recently for reasons connected with my poor confused aunt and the Marking.
Scripts have to be finished on Wednesday. Then life will begin again, I hope. And blog-reading.