Sunday, May 27, 2007

Big purple allium

Well, I’ve marked 70 scripts so there are just 140 to go, and I’m getting much faster, as is always the case as the passages and questions become more and more familiar. I’d better not mention anything specific about the scripts, although there is one rather nice howler… but I’ll not tell you it yet. I don’t want to get disqualified as a marker and I’m sure that the Scottish Qualifications Authority reads this blog every morning just to check I’m not being indiscreet.

There was a nice example from three or four years ago, however, that I don’t think I ever mentioned here. (Apologies if I have. I don't have time to check.) The passage was about the way we tend to overprotect our offspring, and the writer said that children were in danger of becoming as restricted and unable to cope with the real world as battery hens. The candidates were asked to comment on the effectiveness of this image.

You would not believe how many pupils wrote that it was effective because, just as with the hens, if you took the batteries out, the children wouldn’t be able to do anything for themselves.

The first time I came across this, I read it to my family and we all rolled around the floor in mirth. But then the same thing kept recurring – about a fifth of the papers I marked said something along those lines. Exam hysteria had clearly taken Scotland by storm that year. I know we all tend to be removed nowadays from the source of food, but – come on.

Never mind the hens; wouldn’t small children be perfect if, from time to time, one could just remove the batteries…?

Thank you for your thoughts and suggestions about our son-in-law. It really is kind. He’s had a bad week, though seems better this weekend with Daughter 1 around to administer soothing words and cuddles. Let’s hope the improvement continues.

Sorry I haven’t commented on anyone’s blog – I’ve been keeping myself strictly away from the computer. But I might just have a tiny read now for a few minutes before bed.

Monday, May 21, 2007


You know when you wake up with the feeling that there’s a cold hand round your heart, and it’s a second before you remember why? Of course other people have far worse things to contend with; for example, the McCanns, whose little daughter Madeleine was abducted in Portugal a fortnight ago. But I’m feeling very low indeed about our son-in-law. And of course other worries creep in as well, such as Daughter 2, who is in herself a total joy but who is maintaining a long-distance relationship with a chap who is trying, not very successfully, to establish himself as an actor. Even if he succeeded, it would be in London, which is 400 miles away. I know it’s perfectly normal for grown-up children to live that far from their parents, but it doesn’t make it any easier to contemplate.

But the main problem is J. Anything is bearable if the children are happy.

Yesterday, Daughter 1, my husband and I dragged him round the Botanic Gardens, which were as usual lovely. The lad cheered up fractionally, perhaps.

Today is a holiday and I’m planning to get my bedding plants into the garden, the pots and the hanging baskets planted up. Which, if it happens, should be enjoyable or at least provide a sense of achievement. But there’s a big stone in my stomach.
And tomorrow is the markers’ meeting for Higher English (Highers are Scottish national exams) which means that between tomorrow evening and June 7th I have to mark 210 scripts, each with two close reading passages – 21 questions per script. To do this, I need to work for 3 hours per evening and 9 hours per weekend day. It’s my own fault that I’m doing this, of course; I do get paid. And there’s a certain masochistic satisfaction in getting through the task, year by year.

However, my blogging time will be severely restricted, especially as I’ll be spending much more time with my mother than I have in previous years. So if I fall relatively silent, this is why.

! expect I’ll be back. Bet you can't wait to read another cheery post like this.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Looking 95

I’ve been tagged by - oh dear, I've forgotten! I will find out! - for 7 random facts about myself. I had to take a class for an absent colleague this afternoon and had nothing else to do while they wrote, so didn’t allow myself time to think, thus making this more random, as specified. This is what I came up with.

1. I’m sitting looking at my engagement ring, which is an opal set in diamonds. Opals are supposed to be bad luck – presumably because they chip easily – but thirty-five years on, all seems to be reasonably well, at least as far as the engagement goes.

2. My lilies of the valley, with which I have a love/hate relationship, are going to need some serious attacking after they’ve flowered. I love love love the scent, but they spread as fast as I can dig them out – these nasty little tangly roots. They’re coming up in the lawn and between the paving slabs. Very bad.

3. Daughter 2 decided to cycle to work today for the first time. We live in Murrayfield, which is about three miles west of the city centre, and she works in Leith, which is about three miles out of the other side. There’s a cycle track most of the way, but Leith is by the sea – so at sea level, obviously – and while it’s downhill there, it’s uphill back again. And it’s unseasonably windy, and rather wet. (PS – She got home exhilarated but a bit exhausted. It’s now 10.03 pm and she’s just come into the study. “I’m going to bed,” she said. “An hour and fifteen minutes of exercise's made me feel 95.” She doesn’t look 95. See above. That was her in Seville a few weeks ago.)

4. I love baths and hate showers. I’m not very technically-minded and showers, to me, are machines. I’m not good at controlling them. Also I’m always cold in a shower – the bits of me under the water are warm, but not the bits that stick out. But lying in a nice, warm bath, with all my aching joints (which seem to be most of them, these days, alas) cooking nicely… bliss. And of course, you can’t read in a shower, can you?

5. I blog in our study. This is possibly rather an elevated name for the room, but it has two desks (my husband’s and mine) each with its computer; lots of bookshelves; various files and other stationery equipment; a chest of drawers containing all sorts of vital things such as programmes from school concerts that the children appeared in and drawings and letters they produced when they were little. There also tend to be little piles of… stuff… sitting around. We keep the rest of the house tidy by popping things into the study. This is not a good idea. Eventually it all gets moved on.

6. I have four names – three and then a surname. This is a bit much, in my opinion. My first name is also the title of what is usually considered to be the first novel written in English, though most people abbreviate it when addressing me. My second is my mother’s – she was named after the month in which she was born. My third is Isabelle, which I like quite a lot more than my first name. Both my grandmothers were called Isabella: one was always known as Isa (pronounced Eye-za) and the other as Ella. I hide behind “Isabelle” just in case - extremely unlikely - any of my students read this. But I do feel quite like an Isabelle.

7. I’m quite interested in science, but realised a few years ago that I’m really much more interested in lots of other things and that therefore the vague idea that I’d always harboured that I would become more scientifically literate wasn’t going to happen, not in the one lifetime. I have real enthusiasm for writing, reading, design of various sorts, gardening of course, and languages – not necessarily in any particular order. I speak reasonable French, bad German, very bad Spanish and Greek, absolutely terrible Japanese and Gaelic – but really enjoy going to language classes and allowing some of the grammar, vocabulary and culture of another language to sink in a bit. I can also claim Latin, I suppose – does that count? I did it for six years at school and it’s amazing how much has stuck, despite my having had the world’s most boring teacher. Nowadays, alas, things tend to slide through my ancient brain leaving little trace.

I'm sure most of you have already been tagged, so apologies if you have - I don't have time to check, since I must get up to my mum's for the night - but how about Rise out of Me, Fifi, Square One and Wifemomchocoholic revealing seven random things about themselves? Sorry that I don't know how to do the underlining thing. No wonder I drown in showers.

(Next day: have just read Fifi's suggestion that my name might be Arthur, Mallory or Morte. I love it! But no.)

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Thank you!

Oh, you are all so kind to send your suggestions about our son-in-law. I’m really touched.

I think he reads this, so shouldn’t really broadcast his problems to the world (but it’s a very select part of it, J …). He’s been on every medication known to man, including homeopathy, and none makes any difference, or at least not any good difference. He’s had therapy and the only one that helped (for a while) was Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, so he’s on the waiting list for more of that. And he does exercise, or at least he does when he feels well enough, and you’re all quite right: it does help. He runs and cycles, though I’m not sure how much he’s been doing of these in the last few days.

But many thanks for all your suggestions. I shall follow them up. And if anyone has had success with boiled nettles or vitamin E or cutting out sprouts from the diet … do let me know. All ideas gratefully received. It’s comforting to know that there are clearly so many people out there who’ve had experience, directly or indirectly, of depression – and survived. He’s such a lovely lad and has achieved so much in his life. (Yes you have, J.)

I wonder who it is that reads my blog in Dublin. Sometimes twice a day, which seems very unlikely. Unless it's two different Dubliners. Well, either that or one very bored one. Hello there, anyway.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Not the best day in my life

Lilacs - how I love the scent. Things are not good in the Life household at the moment – various family problems, by far the worst of which is my son-in-law’s depression. Which is intermittent but completely disabling when it strikes. Anyone have a magic wand? He seems to read this sometimes, so - we love you, J, and you're great. Just keep determinedly thinking about the good things.

Also I just don’t have enough time to read all the interesting blogs I keep coming across. I’ve just had a big catch-up, and people have had panic attacks, babies, grandchildren, knitfests, quiltfests, painting sessions and so on without waiting to see if I was watching. So thoughtless.

A while ago I was kindly awarded the Thinking Blogger award (but I have no idea how to put it on my template – if that’s the word). Actually, because I read so many thinkers’ blogs, I can’t now think who hasn’t had it. Most of you have. So give me a few days to pass it on. Also I’ve been tagged for 7 random facts, but – I have to go! I’ll be back- but don’t do anything exciting in the meantime.

I do wish all you bloggy people could all come round for coffee. Including you, J, and Daughter I - oh, and you, dear husband, if you wanted (but you'd probably hide in the study). I don't think Son or Daughter 2 reads this, but they'd be very welcome too. I'd make a cake.

This post is probably full of mistakes because I am in a great rush, and this would serve me right for the odd critical comment which has appeared on these pages (are they pages?). Still, see me dash off....

Sunday, May 13, 2007

The full set

Ahh, shucks - thanks for your kind comments on my children. On second thoughts, here's the whole brood. Though I do think in my motherly/auntly way that they're quite nice-looking, the important thing is that they're all lovely, caring young people. The photographer said to me afterwards, "They all get on very well, don't they?" - and it's absolutely true: they do. I think you can see it in the photo. The five of them are more like brothers and sisters than cousins - lots of fun and giggles and in-jokes. It's a pity that my nephew and niece live down south of London.

I have two aunts but no cousins. Deprived.

I always wanted four children, but alas, my husband would never agree. He was an only child, so three seemed quite a lot to him. I shall always regret my missing fourth child - even though I know I'm very lucky to have the ones I do.

My mum took us out for dinner tonight: the three "children" and their significant others, my husband and me. It was a nice occasion, but of course it seemed very odd, and sad, for my father not to be in the party.

When I consider the last few child-centred posts, I don't want anyone reading this who has no children to feel I'm suggesting that life without descendants isn't worthwhile. I love our children with a passion; but on the other hand, children do remove any chance of achieving anything much in the way of other self-fulfilment. Or so I've found it, though some less clingy mothers do seem to manage to write books, star in films, run companies. But most of us just go to work (or not) and wash the kitchen floor and pack the schoolbags and so on. Which is fine. Life is infinitely various and interesting, even if not when one is washing the kitchen floor.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Babies. Mine and other people's.

Our son phoned us yesterday morning to announce that, overnight, he’d delivered his first two babies. He’s been hoping to do this for a while, but had up till then been elbowed aside by eager midwifery students - he’s rather gentlemanly and not particularly pushy. He was all excited on the phone – he’d been up for 24 hours but was still running on adrenalin. Both babies were called Ruby and both of their surnames begin with R – clearly a pattern here.

It seems no time since he was a baby himself with two protective big sisters. See above. How does time pass so fast? (and other clich├ęd questions).

It was my mother’s 85th birthday on Wednesday. When my dad was 85, we commissioned a cake plate commemorating the day, with his quirky sayings inscribed on it. I then made a cake for the plate and Daughter 1 made a model of him, sitting in his armchair and reading “The Spectator”, out of icing, which we put on top of the cake. As I sat by my father’s bedside for four long days in March, I wondered how we could mark my mother’s 85th.

Then I had an idea. When Daughter 1 got married, a colleague who has a sideline as a photographer took the photos and they were lovely. He’s a really nice person and lives just round the corner from us. I thought it would be good to get some photos of the five grandchildren – our three and my brother’s two. The only available time was the evening of my dad’s funeral, since my brother’s family had to get back down south the next day. Miraculously, the photographer had just decided to set up a studio in his house. So in 15 minutes that evening, the young ones changed into less funereal clothes and popped round to get their photos taken: some of all five, some of our three and some of my brother’s two. I then made up a birthday album of these for my mum, with one in a big frame. She was thrilled. I thought I’d better not blog my niece and nephew, but here are our three.

They've grown up a bit. But they're still my babies.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Iris, clematis and infarctions

Our son and his sweet, slender girlfriend – a very devoted couple for the past four and a half years – have been spending time in (separate) maternity wards.

They were setting the table the other day as I made the evening meal. Chicken for the carnivores, beans for the vegetarians.

Son [with enthusiasm]: I got to see a twin placenta today!

Girlfriend [with rapt interest]: Oh! What was it like?

[He told her but I have mercifully forgotten the details.]

Girlfriend: I saw the placenta of a woman who smoked! It was a funny colour and it was full of infarctions!

Son: Wow!

Me [prodding chicken pieces gingerly]: What are infarctions?

Son: Blood clots.

Girlfriend: That’s really interesting, isn’t it?

[They gaze fondly at each other.]

By then, even the beans were beginning to look a bit suspect. Still, romance is not dead in Edinburgh, which is good to know.

Personally, I prefer flowers.

Thursday, May 03, 2007


Thank you for all your comments and helpful suggestions re access to Garrison Keillor. All much appreciated.

I'm currently going down for the third time under a tide of marking so don’t have time to follow up any of these suggestions (but I will). Nor do I have time to read any of your fine blogs or to blog myself. I’m not really blogging even now, despite appearances. I’m just off to mark essays any second now.

I’ve been looking out for some little infelicities in these essays, with which to amuse you before I return to my toil. Unfortunately, after a year of my brilliant teaching (ahem) my students are currently not producing anything very terrible. However, I did find a couple of rather sweet things that I jotted down from my last year’s marking of national exams (which are about to impinge again, alas). I didn’t blog them at the time since the students hadn’t had their marks back and I imagine that the exam board would disapprove extremely. However, after a year I feel the extreme secrecy of the marking process must be a bit diluted.

One of the expressions I noted was just for the spelling: one candidate wrote that a character was suffering from “worrie and panick”, which I felt was splendidly Shakespearian.

The other was from a close reading passage – sort of practical criticism – when candidates were asked to pick out a metaphor from the text and comment on its effectiveness. There were various obvious possibilities, but one candidate ignored all these. For some perverse reason of her own, she picked out “human offspring” and said that she imagined lots of little frogs bouncing about.

Yes, yes, I’m going. See me springing off.