Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The snow it snoweth every day. Several times.

You're probably tired of seeing pictures of snow by now, but this is the view from our front door this morning. It was a bit of a white-out at that point...

... though later on it became more like this.

Sirius's opinion of the weather...

... is very similar to Cassie's.
On the positive side, however, THE COLLEGE HAS BEEN CLOSED both yesterday and today!! You can imagine how upset and frustrated I have been, being unable to get to work and having to stay at home and read books. Disaster! But I coped - the wartime spirit and all that.

Both days, I trudged up through the snowheaps to visit my mum. Look - blue sky against snowy branches. Pretty.

This is the view from my mum's front door.

This is the view as I trudged back again.

Our back garden, gradually being effaced under a blanket of white.

This is the front garden - I had to think hard to orient myself here - looking towards the hedge. Path to the left (theoretically). Driveway across the back. I keep digging a path through the snow and then it keeps getting obliterated again.

Still, I went out yesterday to do a bit of hunter-gathering. Christmas cake ingredients...

... become cakes!
Today I've done a whole pile of marking and feel rather smug.
Our car, still up in the adjacent street, has become walled in by huge heaps of snow that people have piled round it while digging their driveways clear. It's very frustrating that the main roads are reasonably clear while the side roads are impassable. I think we'll just have to stay inside, reading and reading and blogging and blogging while we wait for spring... Except of course that the buses are running fairly normally, down at the bottom of the lane. Pity.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

What we did today

We woke this morning to even more snow - it looked like this - and since then there's been more yet. Very romantic, Stomper Girl? Well. Kinda. There's a certain appeal about being unable to go anywhere for a bit. A fleeting appeal.

I rather like the juxtaposition of the pink pelargoniums (rescued from the patio the other week) and the white garden.

This was the view from the front door.

This was the view from Daughter 2's bedrooom. Can you see the disapproval in every muscle of Sirius's body?

Down the lane I went to the main road to collect the paper.

Looking up the street. Like to try driving up this? Ha ha ha.

Down might be ok. But then what? It's a dead end apart from the lane.

This is the adjacent street that our car's parked in till it thaws - there it is, four cars up on the left. Not really sure I want to try driving it down this road either.

Still, Daughter 1 and Son-in-Law arrived on the bus for lunch. Daughter 1 has been knitting gnomes and a Santa to fit round wine corks.

Spot the intruder.
He looks good in a hat, don't you think?

Consternation among the gnomes. (He's a Lewis chess man, or a replica of one of them.)

(Well, on a snowy day you have to find amusement where you can.)

Sirius has a sniff.

Three of them - a bit many for a sensitive cat. He has to pretend they're not there.

Sirius and Cassie decide to go out.

Cassie bravely takes a few steps.

Then they both return. It's a sofa day, they've decided.
Work tomorrow; there's an appealing thought. Funny how appealing and appalling are so similar and yet so different...

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Snow, apple crumble and Mr Law

This is actually a picture of our back garden in February 2008, but it looks much the same today except that the hedge is much taller, alas. Our son had attacked it vigorously some months before. He was good at doing energetic and destructive gardening, the very kind I don't like. His father is all right at it too, but prone to exhaustion nowadays in a way he wasn't in his prime.

Anyway, it's cold and snowy and I don't like it. Grump. I took my mother's shopping up to her this morning and foolishly went up the usual way, taking a hilly, little-used road so that I would end up facing in the direction of home. But alas, I ended up stuck. Fortunately Mr Life, aka SuperHub, leapt out of his pyjamas (see him whirl) and into his clothes and boots and came to the rescue. The usual problem we have when it snows (which it normally doesn't, much) is that we live down a little hill in a dead-end with only five houses in it, so of course it never gets gritted and becomes impassable quite quickly. Thus we have to park up at the top of the hill in the adjacent street - not handy if we want to bring my mum to the house, which we'll be doing at lunch time tomorrow.

The cats are Not Impressed.

We were going to visit friends in the west today but sadly decided that discretion was the better part of getting stuck on the M8. Of course it didn't actually snow any more after we made this decision. However, I've got a cough which makes me sound like a sea lion so I was probably better not to give them my germs for Christmas anyway.

Must go and organise tomorrow's lunch. I've made soup and now must do main courses for both vegetarians and carnivores. I think the whole world should be vegetarian, myself; it would make my cooking life easier. But I suppose it would upset the farming industry, the world economy and Mr Life, so maybe it's not a very well-thought-out proposal. Then apple crumble to reward Mr Life for his heroism. (He also printed out the church magazine, of which we're the joint editors (I do the language bit, he does the technical bit) all by himself last night while I was coughing over my book group - Joyce Carol Oates's Middle Age - good, I thought. Actually he always does it all by himself but I'm usually with him to keep him company and sympathise when the Risograph misbehaves. Or sometimes it's Daughter 2 - who is quite enjoying her job in London, by the way. They're going for their staff Christmas lunch to the Groucho Club, where her boss's daughters were intrigued, the last time their dad took them there, to see Jude Law and Sienna Miller having an argument outside the Ladies. It's another world.)

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The sorrows and the joys of English teaching

More little nuggets from today's essays:

* The men exchanged Frosty Stairs.
* At that time, I was a venerable sixteen year old.
* I would like to learn to surf hens this is why I want to move to Australia.

(In case you're not so battle-hardened to poor spelling as I am, the second one meant that he was "vulnerable" when he was sixteen and the last chap meant to say "- hence this is why...".)

Monday, November 22, 2010

With catlike tread...

It's so easy to have a conversation with family members who've been around you for years and know how your mind works.

In our choir, we've just started singing Rossini's Petite Messe Solonnelle, ie Little Solemn Mass. I didn't know that Rossini wrote sacred music; I was more familiar with The Barber of Seville and so on. Anyway, this piece starts reasonably solemnly but the fourth bit suddenly turns into something that sounds like a comic opera.

"Listen to this," I said to Daughter 1 and clamped my iPod to her ear. The words are very traditional: "Domine deus, rex caelestis, deus pater omnipotens" - Lord God, king of heaven, father God all powerful - and so on. But the music is very jolly.

She listened and her face brightened. "Ah yes," she said. "This'll be where the Pirate King comes in."

I don't know how much sense that makes to anyone else, but it's exactly what I meant. I love you, dear Daughter.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

All the uses of this world

Feeling a bit ... nothing... these days. Last weekend, a chap who worked in our main college office collapsed and died - at the age of 38. I was so shocked and still can't quite believe it, though I know this is illogical because of course people die young; I know this. He'd been at the college for almost exactly the same time as me: twenty years. It's a long time in my life (though it doesn't really feel it) but much longer in his. And I'm sure he must have had plans, thoughts about what he'd do for the rest of his years. Too late. How very sad.

I very much feel that this is the beginning of the Rest of My Life - now or at least around now. The children are gone and I shall retire soon - possibly in June or possibly the next year. And who knows how much Life is available to me? I suppose I should take advantage of it and stop faffing around and feeling sorry for myself.

Sirius in the picture above is lying on one of the Yellow Blankets. These are eiderdowns bought by my Granny Campbell about ten (maybe?) years before she died, which was thirty years ago. They were on her and my grandfather's beds. When she died, my grandfather went to live with my parents and the Blankets came to us. For a long time they were laid over ill or napping children (or their father) on sofas. Gradually they got more and more scruffy and for the last few years we've put them on the sofas when we went out, to protect the fabric from depredation by cats. One Blanket reached the point of intolerably embarrassing scruffiness a while ago and was discarded, and the second one reached that stage today - well, I'm sure it reached it long ago but today was the day that I acknowledged it. Being blissfully pummelled and clawed by our furry friends hadn't really improved its beauty. I couldn't quite bear to throw it away because of its sentimental connections, though, so Mr Life did the dirty deed.

I'm sure Granny would be absolutely thrilled to know that her eiderdowns (not really blankets at all, though one side was a nice cosy fabric) had lasted this long and had kept her descendants nice and warm in moments of need for all these years. She wouldn't even have grudged them their afterlife as cat blankets; she liked cats. In fact, she liked more or less everything. She was a lovely person. I've written about her before: her rather sad early life. Her mother died of TB when my Granny was five and her little sister was infected with TB as a baby and died at fourteen. Then her father remarried and Granny and her brother were sent away by the wicked stepmother: the brother joined the army and was gassed in the First World War while Granny got a live-in job as a sewing maid with a family who were very good to her and when she married, gave her a party in their house and garden.

To be more cheerful: a quote from my nephew's Twitter account (he's a student in Cambridge): I could make a bar chart of my favourite pies and a pie chart of my favourite bars.

Ah, to be young again...

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The trials of life

Overheard in corridor:

Student: That form says you need to write 4000 words for your personal statement to apply for university. I'll never think of that much to say.

Her friend: It's not 4000 words, it's 4000 characters.

Student: Oh, right. But I've got an itchy tooth as well.

Sunday, November 14, 2010


Gosh, it's quiet round here with all the offspring scattered. We think about our departed Daughter 2.
The cats consider whether they want to go out into the rain.

They decide that they don't. They're not usually allowed to sit on Linds's lovely quilt but we're too weak to stop them, today.


Sirius. Some people can't tell them apart but this is clearly ridiculous.

Sirius has long legs.

Here he is, having a nap on the quilt again. Bad boy. It contrasts nicely with his black velvet fur, though.
What a long day it's been. And though we've done very little, I'm exhausted.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Just thinking

Our sweet Daughter 2 got made redundant from her job as an architect in April because of the collapse in the building trade. Since then, she's been temping as a secretary. Next week, however, she starts a six-week job (which might be extended if the work is there) at an architect's in London. She needs to go to London in due course anyway, since her fiancé is there, trying to make a living as an actor. They've had a long-distance relationship for over six years.

We're pleased for her, of course. But life will be empty without her. At the moment, she visits a lot, knowing that the Aged Parents love to see her. She's a fantastic daughter.

I don't like London. I'd rather she lived anywhere else.

Our lovely son has been away from home for two and a bit years now. It's astonishing how life goes on. People tell me I'll get used to it but I don't really. Sort of. But not in any useful way. He came home for a few days last week and left behind some clothes. I've just ironed them and shed a little tear.

I like to find words for how all this feels and it occurred to me a while ago that it's a bit like unrequited love. In this case, I know they do love us. But no one loves anyone like a parent loves a child.

Daughter 1 is still in Edinburgh, which is a blessing, though actually she and her husband are down in England, visiting his parents, this weekend.

No one tells you about all this when you're contemplating having a baby. They tell you about sleepless nights. But not how fast it all goes and what it's like afterwards.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Foot in mouth

Some quotes from essays I've been marking recently:

I started applying for vacancies in retailers in town. Many either never replied or they sent letters informing me of my unfortunate decline.

It doesn’t matter what is built and for how long it lasts – it will eventually turn to sand and be flattened in the vast dessert of time.

A year passed and he got an infection in his legs and arms and had to have them decapitated.

(I feel bad about laughing at the last one. But... well, you know. It's kind of - laugh or cry.)

Monday, November 08, 2010

Out of the mouths of babes

I watched “The Antiques Roadshow” last night. The presenter was talking to a small boy. The conversation went something like this:

“How old are you?”

“I’m eight.”

“And what have you got in that box?”

[Opens box]: “An MBE.” [ie Member of the British Empire - a medal presented by the Queen to signify an award to a theoretically worthy person].

“An MBE?”

“Yes, I’ve always wanted one and my dad gave me one last Christmas.”

Baffled pause.

“Do you know anything about the person who got it originally?”

“I only know…” [there followed a considerable life history of a Colonel Someone who joined the army in 1915, was a member of the Royal Ordinance Corps and retired in ... etc].

“And… um… what do you do with it? Do you… wear it?”

“Yes, I sometimes wear it. But usually I keep it in my safe.”


“You have your own safe?”


Ah, such are the little gems that make life bearable.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Mouse life

Mr Life is a good-natured chap. Give him his dinner followed by a sofa, a crossword, a cat and "Midsomer Murders" on the tv and you won't get much trouble from him.

On Friday night, we'd just sat down to our dinner when the phone rang next door in the dining room. Mr Life got up to answer it. It was Daughter 2, who'd left the house a few minutes ago in the car. It had started to rain heavily and she just wanted to check that the black shadow she'd seen galloping towards the house was indeed our gentleman cat, Sirius (as featured in the picture. Butter wouldn't melt.) His sister, Cassie, was already home for the night. Just that moment, Sirius came through the cat flap so Mr Life was just assuring her that yes, all was well, when he noticed that Sirius had brought in a friend. A mouse friend. Mr Life yelled, I leapt up from my meal and we both started chasing Sirius, who took refuge under the dining room table. This is a table with four legs and a crossbar, not to say various chairs tucked underneath, so extracting an alarmed cat who is clutching an even more alarmed mouse is not an easy task.

However, after a while he dropped the mouse and ran back into the kitchen, so I shut the connecting door - Cassie was also in the kitchen, which left us with just the mouse. Mr Mouse was unfortunately not at all grateful for his deliverance. He appeared to be quite unharmed physically by his capture but a certain amount of post-traumatic stress seemed to have set in. We probably didn't help by pursuing him round the furniture for some time. Mr Life was by now... slightly... exasperated. He had not had one bite of his dinner yet.

"I wonder," I suggested, "if we could get a box with a hole and maybe the mouse would run into the hole?" (I think I'd got this idea from Rachel of Slow Lane Life, who is a seasoned mouse-rescuer.) Mr Life didn't exactly call me an idiot but he did cast doubt on the efficacy of this tactic, so we continued for a while in our attempt to corner the mouse.

Then I tried the box thing. "Why would that work?" enquired Mr Life - well, I hesitate to suggest that he said this scathingly, but.... At this point, the mouse ran into the box and we put the box outside and that was that.

Till we went back into the kitchen to find Sirius on the table, scoffing Mr Life's dinner.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010


One of my students - who’s quite dyslexic - was wearing a t-shirt with this picture on it today.

“Oh, that’s rather funny,” I said.

He gazed down at himself. “Funny?”

“Well, you know,” I said feebly. “It’s a pun.”

“Is it?” Pause. “I just bought it because I’m a vegetarian.”

It was one of those conversations that you wish you’d never started, but I had, so I continued: “It’s like - Give peace a chance.”

Light dawned. “Oh, I see!”

Encouraged, I went on, “The John Lennon song.”

No, it’s all right; he didn’t actually say “John Lennon?” but he did say, “What song?”

Sometimes I feel very old.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Ghostly travels

They got home again tonight. I was delighted to see them.

The knitted ghost on a tram about to go up the Great Orme at Llandudno.

At the top of the Great Orme.

At the top of Snowdon. It was windy but fortunately he was wearing his knitted jacket.

On the Welsh Highland Heritage Railway. He likes trains.

At the house of the Ladies of Llangollen. (What a pity they never saw him.)

Home safely with Sirius.
Welcome home, Ghost and your companions. Nice to have you back.