Monday, October 31, 2011


I think - do correct me if I'm wrong - that English people didn't really use to celebrate Hallowe'en much. We did celebrate it in Scotland when I was little, but we didn't do the trick or treat thing that seems to be coming in from America. We did "guising" - the word's from "disguising" and nothing to do with Guy Fawkes' Day, a completely different event. Children dressed up and went to their immediate neighbours' houses and sang songs or recited poems, and were given a reward of a small amount of money, or more often just apples and nuts. The dressing up wasn't necessarily ghost- or witch- or skeleton-related, but could be just anything out of the dressing-up box, though the songs and poems tended to be witch-related. Certainly no costumes were ever bought. And this was just the same when our children were little.

Please don't think that I have anything against America and its traditions, but I am slightly sad that Hallowe'en here seems to have become a bit Americanised, presumably through the influence of films and tv. Not that I've ever heard of anyone actually doing the "trick" bit here. But the media seems to refer to "trick or treating" as if it were a British tradition, which it never was.

Another thing we used to do at Hallowe'en was to make turnip lanterns, not pumpkin ones. I tell you, it was very energetic work, hollowing out a hard turnip - it used to be the father's job because only he had enough muscle power to manage it. You never saw pumpkins in our shops in those days. I would admit that pumpkins are much easier, though a tiny bit of me thinks it's a bit feeble to do it the easy way... The other disadvantage of turnip lanterns was that they smelt revolting if they got a bit singed, as they tended to do.

At Hallowe'en parties in my childhood, we used to "dook" (duck) for apples - I wonder if modern children do this? My brother and I used to do this sometimes at my grandparents' house and sometimes at ours. There was a zinc bath that got filled with water, and apples from our or my grandparents' apple trees - none of this buying-them-at-the-supermarket nonsense - and with nuts, which we never had at any other time of year except Christmas. Then the apples and nuts were whooshed round and you had to kneel down and use your mouth to extract an apple or a nut or two when it was your turn. We did this at Guides as well, and the more obstreperous Guides would sometimes shove your face under the water as you struggled to bite into an apple. We also had a jammy or treacley piece (sandwich or scone) on a string and you had to try to get a bite, again without using your hands.

Innocent fun. I feel slightly uneasy when I see lots of Hallowe'en costumes and decorations in the supermarket and I never did like skeletons and ghoulish things. But there we are. Times change.

Happy Hallowe'en.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Another day

Was there ever a more relaxing life than that of a cat? Cassie and Sirius enjoy lying in the sun.

And we enjoy seeing them so unconcerned about things. Well, apart from the ironing board - they don't like that. Or the vacuum cleaner. Or the mop.

Meanwhile, my poor little mum is taking a long time to get over her operation. She's still in a lot of pain at times and has no appetite. And for someone who's about six stone (84 pounds) this isn't good. She's often awake during the night because of the pain (and wakes me to see if I can do anything, which I can't, really) and so she sleeps a lot during the day. But I don't. So life is a bit difficult at the moment.

I'm not an enthusiastic cook - I mean, I don't hate cooking but it doesn't interest me. And cooking for a carnivore (Mr Life), vegetarians (the girls and me), a gluten-intolerant, nut-allergic pescatarian (Son-in-Law 1 - he's happy with vegetarian food but I always feel I should feed him something nutritious since he's built like a blade of grass) and a mother who doesn't really fancy anything... isn't really very rewarding. The worst bit, as I'm sure many women feel, is trying to think what to cook. In many different pots and dishes.

Anyway, Daughter 2 is home for a long weekend, which is lovely. We went and visited Daughter 1, SIL 1 and Grandson this morning and Daughter 2 indulged her auntly instincts.

Who's a nice nephew, then?

Up in the air!

Big cuddle.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Lend a hand and play the game

I saw this the other week, in the grounds of the hospital where I was visiting Mum. I've never seen one before. According to the world of Internet, it's a Fly Agaric and it's only mildly poisonous though somewhat hallucinogenic.

I didn't eat it. It was too like the toadstool that we used to dance round at Brownies. Though smaller.

Amazing what you see at this time of year when you're not spending all of your life marking.

I almost miss the marking on a few mad occasions, one of which came yesterday when my ex-colleague (who's still working in college) emailed me the first line of a poem that a student wrote for her:

"The qualmless quiver of the waft rewinds around the strain.....".

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


Look, Grandson can play with a toy now. What a talented boy. And what a joy he is in our lives that are a bit iffy at the moment. My mother is home from hospital with us, but is requiring a lot of care. She's getting better, but slowly, from what the GP described as "a massive operation" to remove the bit of bowel that had the tumour on it. Mum is 89 and a half so it's no wonder that she's not leaping about, but I don't like to leave her alone in the house so this has pinned me down more than somewhat. Also, Mr Life has been very fed up at work - far too much to do in far too little time - so has decided to retire a few months early, immediately after the turn of the year - which will be interesting. I'm not sure how he'll take to being tied to the house.

Anyway, who wouldn't be cheered up to have this smile flashed upon them?

Son came down on Sunday and rebonded with his nephew.

Mum got up and bathed in his smiles.

Son used Grandson to improve his upper body strength.

But as if life (aside from the baby) wasn't tedious enough, there's a chap who's just won the Times crossword championship by doing three of its cryptic crosswords in 24 minutes. Mr Life and I enjoy a cryptic crossword but it takes the pair of us working as a team about as long as that to finish one such puzzle, and that's on a good day when we do manage to complete one. This chap had difficulty with only one clue: "Often pouring cups one's filled with dried fruit". The answer is "raisiny" and I'm frustrated because even knowing the answer, I still can't explain the clue!

Leaving aside the question of whether "raisiny" can really claim to be much of a word (hmm) - I can see that "often pouring" is "rainy" or maybe just "rain", and "one" is "i" and so "one's" could be "is" - but what do "cups" have to do with it? I'm sure it's obvious to someone out there, so could you explain it to me, please?

Edited to add: Thank you Freya! As she points out, "cups" means "holds" so it just means that "rainy" and "is" are held together to mean "raisiny". I still feel thick but at least I no longer feel frustrated.

In my defence, I've got a streaming cold together with sore eyes, throat, bones etc so what with being up during the night to accompany Mum to the loo, my brain isn't perhaps in top gear. But still. Grrr.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The quality of mercy is not strained...

My nephew and his friend have set up a Twitter account (!/IambYourFather)
to retell the plot of Star Wars in blank verse, as used by Shakespeare and others. You will remember that blank verse involves iambic pentameter, the rhythm of which goes de DUM de DUM de DUM de DUM de DUM - ie 5 de DUMs).

Once you get this particular beat into your head…

It’s hard get iambics off your brain.
It’s getting late and I must go to bed,
Though first I’d like to eat a piece of toast
But – woe! - I am already fat enough.
I wish I could be skinny like my mum.
I wonder why I look more like my dad?

Blank verse is easy - since it doesn’t rhyme.
No wonder Shakespeare churned out such a lot,
Though unlike me, he made his language soar.
(He also wrote of envy, lust and death,
Which added to the drama, I suppose,
But I have no desire to do the same).

The Bard did put rhymes, sometimes, at the end
Of scenes, which on the whole I can commend.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Hasn't he got lovely eyes?

One difference that I find between being a mum and a granny is that I'm very aware of Grandson as a little bundle of potential. I think that being less involved with his day-to-day care allows time to speculate about what he might turn out to be. When we were parents of little ones, the days whizzed by but it was hard to imagine them being any different from what they were at that moment. And yet in retrospect they seem to have grown up in a flash.

I do have vivid memories of wondering what they'd be like. When they were little, I used to imagine walking along a road behind them as grown ups and willing them to turn round so that I could see their faces. But I could never make them do so, not even in my imagination. I don't think I ever speculated about anything but their appearance, though. I don't remember imagining careers or spouses or children for them.

The cats don't bother speculating, which is perhaps wise.

Sunday, October 16, 2011


This is a picture of the older part of the hospital where my mum is being treated. It used to be a private house. Can you imagine sweeping down those steps in your crinoline and into a carriage?

It's set in quite extensive grounds and this is the view over Edinburgh to the Pentland Hills.

Not a bad life, I'd think. As long as you were the lady of the house and not the scullerymaid.

Daughter 1, Mr Life and I were in the car together the other day and we were listening to Classic FM on the radio. An advert came on for some dating agency or website - I wasn't paying much attention. The last sentence of the advert was "... and you can find someone just like you."

Mr Life and Daughter 1 exclaimed simultaneously, "Oh, I wouldn't want someone just like me!" and I laughed because I'd been thinking precisely the same thing.

Not that there's anything very wrong with any of us. But I need someone who can do d-i-y, can deal with birds which kill themselves flying against our windows, can work technology, can reach high shelves and is brave enough to drive on motorways - none of which is a talent I can claim.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Tubes and boots

Well, my mum's op to remove the tumour from her bowel went well, evidently. All the doctors and nurses seem very cheerful about it, though as my mother says, they might be a bit less cheerful if it were their middle that had been chopped about and sewn together again.

She's still a bit confused. Yesterday she had the fixed idea that the problem had been with her liver.

Various remarks through the day included:

"They've taken my liver out."
"It's sore where they took my liver out."
"They thought they might have to take my liver out but they didn't."
"The doctor took out - what was it? - my liver?"
"Why do I keep thinking that they took my liver out?"

So that shows progress, I suppose.

Though I've spent much of the week at her bedside in the high dependency unit, she doesn't really remember much about it. Which is just as well. I don't think it's been much fun. Being a squeamish person, I haven't found it much fun either (in a lesser way). I have to focus my attention on Mum's face rather than the various drips and drains going in and out of her. I'm particularly phobic about ... can't even type it, really... the pink stuff that we're all full of: bl--d. Gah. And she's needed some extra units of this, going down tubes (argh) into her.

Moving on... I had an afternoon off yesterday to accompany Daughter 1 and Grandson into town for her to buy a few things. These included boots. We were in a shoe shop when a girl came in wanting black boots. The shop had the right size in the ones she chose, but only in tan, so she tried them on. She liked the fit.

"We could order them in black," offered the assistant.

"Hmm," mused the girl. "I'm not sure what they'd look like in black, though."

I'd have thought... much the same but... black. But I'm not known for my stylish dressing so maybe I was missing the point.

The girl bought the tan boots. Daughter 1 got her boots too. And I got to hold the baby, who is much more interesting than footwear of any colour.

Monday, October 10, 2011

A chilly seat

We were up at Mum's flat today, collecting things for her to take to hospital for her operation tomorrow. We looked in a cupboard in a spare bedroom. Among other delights we found a china bedpan. The heating's not on in the flat so this item was very cold.

I had never seen it before. Where has it been for the past 60+ years?

"I'll take it to a charity shop," I said.

"Oh no," said Mum, "I might need it after my operation."

Hmm. I don't really think so. Can you imagine being unwell in that department of your anatomy and having to sit on a very hard, cold, shiny device like this? I now realise that this is why plastic was invented.

Plant pot, anyone? Available in a charity shop in Edinburgh from tomorrow.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Things that have been taking up time

Daughter 2 came home to visit us this weekend. Daughter 1, Son-in-Law 1 and Grandson came to see her on Friday. Grandson was wearing his burglar outfit.

On Saturday Daughter 2, who is an organised person, decided to tackle the bedrooms that used to belong to Son and to Daughter 1. (My mum is now occupying Daughter 2's room.) Both rooms were somewhat full of the possessions of 1) Daughter 2, who didn't take all her stuff down to London when she left home and 2) Son, who didn't take all of his stuff to Perth when he did. She has now thrown some things away and packed her remaining possessions into cupboards. This was a great improvement, or at least it's an improvement unless you want to put anything else into the cupboards.

Interestingly - well, ok, not very interestingly, but startlingly - she found in these cupboards a box labelled in her handwriting "Nil china". This, above, is what was in the box. Now, Nil is the china which I decided to phase out in the summer because it kept acquiring chips. As I said at the time, I supplemented the unchipped pieces with other blue and white china bought with money donated by colleagues when I retired.

Where did this extra Nil china come from - apart from an upstairs cupboard? Well, presumably I bought it. Some of it had "20% off" stickers on it, so I suppose I snapped it up as a bargain to use to replace, in due course, the Nil china that would chip in the future. And I imagine I must have staggered home with it and it seems most unlikely that I didn't mention it to Mr Life. And Daughter 2 must have labelled it and put it neatly away for future use. And none of us remembers this.

Or... we can all persuade ourselves that we do. Vaguely.

Too much on our minds, that's the problem. Minds on higher things. You think?

I will not need any more china for the rest of my life. I must bear this in mind.

Inspired by Daughter 2, Mr Life nobly decided to have a purge of some archives. Here he is at the discouraging stage of the clearout. It improved later.

On Sunday, Daughter 1, Son-in-Law 1 and Grandson came again. Here is Daughter 1 taking advantage of having doting relations cooing over the baby. She appeared to be knitting a shawl made out of cobwebs. Clearly her life isn't difficult enough as it is.

Daughter 2 and SIL 1 posed obligingly.

Grandson had a little nap.

Then he woke up. This time, he'd been dressed as an Edwardian chap about to go for a swim. Oh, how delicious he is.

Somewhat to my horror, SIL 1 claims that his entire family reads my blog (to see pictures of Grandson). I'm not sure if this is true - he tends to pull my leg. However, if it is, hello very-nice-in-laws! Sorry that you had to wade through plates to get to the baby.

Saturday, October 08, 2011


I know I shouldn’t complain. Some people have far more difficult lives than I have: war, famine, earthquake. But you know those lists of life events which are supposed to be the most stressful you can experience? I feel we’ve had most of these during this year alone. Of course, one of these has been spectacularly lovely: the arrival of Grandson. But most of the others haven’t.

For example, we’ve had birth (Grandson), marriage (Daughter 2) and death (my confused aunt, for whom I was the chief carer or at least the person who organised the care).

We’ve had engagement (Son), retiral (me), life-threatening illness (my mother).

We’ve tried and failed to sell a house (my mother’s). We’ve moved her in here (though her house is still full of her stuff – we quail at the thought of the further stress to come when we try to dispose of 89 years’ worth of rather copious possessions).

We’ve lost Daughter 2, when she moved permanently (or for the foreseeable future) to London, which has been so sad. And now, for the second time in two years, she’s lost her job. The architecture firm she worked for in Edinburgh more or less collapsed because of the financial crisis and then she moved to London for a six-week job which turned into an eleven-month one. But now that firm too has run out work. So – back from honeymoon, one week’s notice and that’s that, apart from a little freelance work to finish off a project.

Since she’s married an actor who doesn’t get all that much work, this means that they’re both now seriously impecunious. And the country’s financial position seems to be getting worse and worse.

Luckily, Grandson just beams affably despite it all.

I suppose there’s got to be a plot twist at some point. You think?

Can't I just be a cat? No? Well then, I'm complaining.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Say cheese




a jolly baby. Most of the time.

But you have to be serious when you're only 11 weeks old and trying to figure out that walking thing.

Oh, that feeling of the bouncy little cheek on your face. And the peachy skin. Yum.