Saturday, March 29, 2008

Where have we been?

We've been away for a week. At first the weather was as above...

... and then it improved somewhat, though frankly it was still a bit chilly and wet at times.
No time to write more just now. I'm looking forward to reading what you've all been up to.
But come on, someone. Where do you think we were staying?

Friday, March 21, 2008

Buddy Johnston

My Grandpa C died in 1982 at the age of almost 89 and this is a story that he used to tell me.

Grandpa was born in Edinburgh in 1893 and one of his best friends was called Buddy Johnston. Or possibly Johnson or Johnstone. Buddy must have been a nickname but if I ever knew his real name then I’ve forgotten it.

When he and Grandpa were mid-teenagers, Buddy emigrated with his family to Australia. The boys kept in touch by writing letters, though these must have taken a long time to go to and fro. Then in 1914 the war broke out and my Grandpa enlisted in the Royal Scots Regiment. That's Grandpa above. I never saw a photo of Buddy.
Buddy wrote that he too wanted to join the Royal Scots and fight for his homeland alongside Grandpa. So he set out by boat, going via Canada (not sure why). He started to cross Canada but on the way decided to enlist in the Canadian army instead. I suppose the journey on his own was just too difficult.

He landed in France with his Canadian regiment and was killed in their first battle. He’d be 22 or 23, much the same age as my son is now.
This sad story made a great impression on me and I’ve always wondered if anyone but me knew about him any more. For some reason I’m the only one in my family who remembers Grandpa speaking about him. I presume that Buddy wasn’t married and had no descendants. I have no idea if he had any siblings and if so, whether they or their children or grandchildren still talk about their Great Uncle Buddy, as I do sometimes about my Great Uncle Alex and his blue vases. (See post for January 5. That's Uncle Alex below, with his sister my Granny C and the aunt who brought them up.)

Anyway, here I am like the Ancient Mariner, passing on Buddy's story. I think he deserves to be remembered and celebrated – even if it’s in a bloggy world which he could never have imagined. Can I ask that you tell someone about him sometime, too?

Happy Easter, one and all.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

My boy lies over the ocean

Our boy and his girlfriend are in New Zealand for nine weeks. These are his Mother’s Day flowers. Sniff.
New Zealand doesn’t look too far away on the map.

But they set out on Saturday afternoon, touching down in London, Bangkok, Sydney and Auckland, and didn’t land in Nelson, South Island, till Monday morning our time (Monday evening, NZ time).

It took them nearly two days, whizzing dangerously through the air, to get there. I find it hard to believe that anywhere in our earth can be so far away from here.

When I read blogs the world seems very small. When I think of my boy’s long journey, it seems very large.
Still, he has his girl by his side for company, his handy phrase sheets (see January 8 post) to help him communicate with the patients and the driving badger for all other emergencies.

The driving badger?
When he was 17, he sat his driving test. The examiner began by telling him to drive out of the test centre and take the first right. He wasn’t familiar with the area and didn’t know that the first right was a one-way street. The sign had got bent so that it was turned to the wall and he couldn’t see it. So he drove up the one-way street – the wrong way - and immediately failed. This did seem a bit mean.

Not being a lad who’d had much trouble in his life, he came home rather downcast.

His big sister, Daughter 2, was in town when she heard the news. Arriving home, she announced, “I know why you failed. You didn’t have a driving badger!” – and she produced this finger puppet.

Sure enough, the driving badger has accompanied him on all vital occasions from then on. It helped him pass his second driving test. It’s successfully sat all his medical exams with him. And now it’s keeping him safe in New Zealand.

I hope.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Where I'm from

This is in response to Molly’s “Where I’m from…” meme. It’s been a long time coming – not because I’ve been honing a masterpiece but because my recent posts have been five-minute nonsenses, dashed off in brief intervals between horrible busy-ness; and this one required a little more thought.

I feel a bit silly presenting it. It’s rather solemn. Doesn’t seem very British. But anyway. Here we go. Mumbling slightly and shuffling our feet. Don’t read it, dear son-in-law. There aren’t going to be many pictures of cats.

I’m from the little house in the big garden where lilacs bloomed, lupins swayed, apples thumped on the lawn and, in the winter, birds’ footprints patterned the snow.

I’m from the big house by the railway where the white cat slumbered in the sun and the air was full of promise.
I’m from my grandparents’ garden: sweet peas, gyposophila, cabbages – “All that out of the earth!”

I’m from three other houses: the first furnished with wedding presents and cast-offs, the second ringing with children’s voices and the third full of books and plans and purring.

I’m from a childhood full of funny words and stories, of worries and insecurities, of sleepless nights when the sun hardly set and or when the frost scribbled on the windows and the darkness was black indeed.

School had high windows, tiled corridors, girls in navy uniforms and 100-year-old teachers (or so it seemed).

In my head are holidays in Perthshire – sheep safely grazing and tiny blaeberries on the Knock and picnics by the wide river among the towering hills of the Sma’ Glen.

I’m from Smiths and Campbells, from Boyds and Watts, from May and Jim and Tom and Ella and Isa and James, from tales of wars and bombs and of a green island with a mountain in the middle.

I’m from a city of spires and domes and hills, a university built round a city garden and from years of chalky fingers in classrooms with young learners.

I’m from a grey church by the sea with a twinkly-eyed minister where there were lots of ladies in hats and husbands in sober suits.

I’m from a long beach where the sand blew up into the gardens, and from the Quarry Park, where we played rounders on long, balmy Scottish summer evenings.
I’m from books and diaries and now from blogs, all trying to preserve a tiny part of what we are and what we were.

And just in case anyone did struggle through this far, a reward: kittens.
Edited to add: I tried to edit this the minute I'd posted it, but Blogger wouldn't let me. And now it's probably too late because many of the people who visit me have read it already. What I would have said was: how about someone else doing this meme? Lots have already done it. Anyone else care to?

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Cats, cake and other profound thoughts

I’m sure there was no mystical significance to my dream about my dad, by the way. I’d been thinking about him and feeling a bit sad and this no doubt translated into my dream. He was a difficult man in many ways – very brilliant but not very empathetic and not, in our later relationship, very huggy. But when I was a little girl he was great fun. He made up stories and drew funny pictures and invented words and phrases that have stayed part of our family lexicon. A “fluggy”, for example, is a generalised word for a mythical animal of the monsterish variety, and “wurfles” is another useful term for any part of one’s anatomy (eg “I have a pain in my wurfles”). Even when he was dying in a geriatric ward, he still had that spark at times. At one point the nurses tried to get him walking with a Zimmer (walking frame) and he would say, “They had me Zimming around the ward today.”

When are we truly ourselves? Is the twenty-year-old person, full of health and vigour, the real us? Or the slightly creakier but possibly wiser forty-year-old? How about the sixty-year-old, the eighty-year-old? Ah, questions, questions…

Daughter 2 and her actor boyfriend are in Pickering, Yorkshire, for a non-stag weekend. (A stag party is a party for the groom and his friends in advance of the wedding. But this is a weekend for male and female friends, hence a non-stag party. The groom has an ambition not to spend the weekend naked, tied to a lamp-post.) Daughter 2 and actor boyfriend were out on Thursday evening and when they came back, she decided to make a cake for the event, which began the next day. She is known for her cakes.

It was chocolate, iced with chocolate butter icing, and then they made a road sign for the top – based on the one warning motorists of deer, but with a line through it. If this version existed, it would mean “No deer permitted”. (I have no idea whether any of this is self-evident to non-British people. Or even non-mad people. And I never know how carefully you're reading. No deer = non-stag. Yes?)

It was a work of art. (Daughter 2 is an architect. ) The kitchen became very sticky. So did they. Daughter 2 changed into the bottom half of her pyjamas for some reason connected with stickiness.

It was one in the morning before they finished it, put it in a cat-proof plastic box and went to bed.

By breakfast time, our son had left a little note on the box.

(He was joking.)

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Remembering Dad

I'm not one for ascribing great significance to dreams but I had a very strange and vivid one this morning just before I woke up.

I was at some sort of function and went into a room to find my father - who died on April 1 last year after a sad decline - standing leaning against the wall on the right, looking at me. He was an old man, as he was before his last illness. But then, standing behind him in a line were different versions of him - slightly younger each time. I walked down, just looking at them all. The last one in the line was him as he was when I was little, with his hair slightly ruffled as it is in a photo we have of him standing in the garden. He would be in his early thirties.

When I got to the end of the line I put my arms round this youngest Dad, and we stood hugging, not speaking, though I had my head turned away into his shoulder and couldn't see him.

Then I woke up. I have tears in my eyes as I type this, but it was actually a nice dream. "Nice" is such a feeble word but I can't think of a better one. Comforting, maybe. But also sad.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Shakespeare and Mrs Shakespeare

Cassie shows up nicely against Daughter 2's red top, doesn't she?

First two sentences of a student's essay:

"The theme of insanity has been present in many of Shakespeare's plays and literary works. Shakespeare was born and raised in Stratford-upon-Avon where at the age of eighteen he married Anne Hathaway."

Yes, well his parents probably thought he was mad to marry her.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Happy Mother's Day, British mums

Scenes from Life family life today:

1. Daughter 2 recalls going out for a drink with Daughter 1, her husband and his brother last night: "J [her brother-in-law] said he likes to eat salt and vinegar peanuts by sucking off 'all the salt and vinegar goodness' and then crunching the peanuts. "

2. Daughter 2 writes something on a post-it note and sticks it to a packet of jelly beans at J's place at lunch. (He likes jelly beans.) I read the note. It says, "Happy Mother's Day, J."

3. Daughter 2 considers the words of a piece in Latin that her choir performed last night: "'Christus factus est' - what does that mean, now?"

Son-in-law: "'Christ is a postman' presumably."

(That only makes any sense if you know some French.)

Yes, well. I'm sure every family has its eccentricities. Maybe not everyone celebrates half-birthdays.

Now I must go and read Advanced Higher dissertations.