Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Marking 08

On Tuesday, I went to the markers’ meeting in Glasgow, an annual event attended by the hard-up, hardworking or just plain masochistic teachers who volunteer to mark (in this case) Higher English – the English exam taken by Scottish pupils who hope to gain university entrance.

Markers come from all over Scotland and you meet some people there year after year. Rather pathetically, it feels like a bit of a day out. I get the train through to Glasgow, which counts as excitement in my life, and a taxi – a rare event – to the venue. We then get free coffee and muffins! Later, even more thrillingly, there’s a free lunch.

We’re paid £2.67 per script and the first evening it took me three hours to mark seven scripts. I reckon that’s about 60 pence per hour. This is the point in the process when you think about how free that lunch actually was… .

I’ll speed up, though, once I become more familiar with the passages and the questions and stop agonising so much over the exact shades of wrongness of some of the students’ answers.

On the train on the way home I talked to a fellow marker whose teacher husband left her for the school secretary a few years ago. Now the deserted wife has a new partner, a millionaire businessman. He’s actually an old flame who sought her out after thirty years apart. You couldn’t put this in a novel because it would seem unrealistic, but there she was, glowing with happiness and prosperity.

I bet she won’t be doing The Marking next year…

And now I must ignore my garden in the evening sunlight and get down to work with a red pen.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Travelling in New Zealand

I would love to show you lots of wonderful pictures from our boy's trip to New Zealand, but my computer is going through a difficult phase when it sometimes - not always, mind you - not often enough for me to remember to get a chap down to look at it, but sometimes - won't save things. So after much struggling, this is the only one of his emailed photos that I've persuaded the thing to save and therefore that I'm able to post.

So instead, here are some extracts from some of his emails. These are from when he and his beloved were travelling in South Island, though they did fit in work experience at the hospital at Nelson. In their final week they went to North Island.

They had a lovely time but I was so glad to see them back again.


Just a quick email to let you know that I’m still ok.

We went in to hospital this morning (or yesterday evening to you, I suppose) and got told that they had an audit on, so could we go away and come back tomorrow? This is somewhat typical of being a medical student, but somehow, when it’s 25 degrees Celsius outside and you feel like you’re on holiday, you don’t mind so much.

We came back, got changed and went for a walk. This took in the town centre, a bit of beach, some Japanese gardens, a historic park and the “centre” of NZ. We were quite tired by the end. During the time we ought to have been watching Neighbours we went to a supermarket and bought quite a lot of food, then ate some for tea and sat around for a bit.


Tomorrow, I suspect we may actually have to do some medical studenting, but I suppose that’s technically why we are here…

Someone said G’day to us today. It made me happy.


(This accompanied some photos.)

1. A view over Nelson from "The Centre of New Zealand"
2. One of the many crossings of the Buller River in the Buller Gorge
3. The Pancake Rocks at Punakaike on the way down
4. Your favourite son/brother in front of the Franz Josef Glacier
5. A rather atmospheric shot on the glacier
6. Guess who at the foot of the Fox Glacier



Now in Queenstown. Arrived safely, although the landing seemed to come perilously close to mountains. We've seen several other planes take off/land and they all did that, not just us.

Our hostel has two cats, plus one who comes and begs for food from the kitchen - very nice, though obviously not quite as good as our cats.


Somewhat time-limited right now (there's no such thing as free internet in NZ, apparently, and what we have in this campsite is rather slow). Today we went on a cruise on Milford Sound - very big, very pretty, very wet below, fairly wet from above. I also wrote you a postcard - are any of them getting through? This [picture above] is it - rather misty but very atmospheric. You probably can’t get how impressively big it was in a picture.

Tomorrow we're off to Stewart Island off the South coast, the best place in NZ to spot a kiwi, apparently.


Hello there,

Just to let you know that we're still alive. We are. Yesterday we went to Stewart Island off the south coast. It was very nice, although the weather was somewhat changeable. Very choppy journey there too. We're now in Invercargill and about to drive to the Catlins National Park. The weather is currently sunny.


Hope all are well back home. We are currently in a campsite in Timaru, which is sort of halfway between Dunedin and Christchurch. There's not a lot to Timaru, so we're really just stopping off in between the two cities (Christchurch is our target, where we will drop off our little Suzuki Swift tomorrow - sniff). For those who I haven't spoken to recently, since Saturday we have covered Queenstown, Milford Sound, Invercargill, Stewart Island, The Catlins, Otago Peninsula, Dunedin and Oamaru. It has been somewhat whistlestop. Over that time we have seen tui, fur seals, albatross, sea lions and penguins. No kiwi though.


We're now back from Nelson Lakes, which were lovely, but VERY cold! It was beautiful weather, but if you weren't actually in the sun (ie when we were walking through the forest, which was much of the day) it was really fairly chilly. We walked up one side of a valley on Sat, and we could see our breath (and snow on the ground) towards the top. This morning the car (a Mitsubishi Colt this time) was completely frozen up. However, we barely saw a cloud.


We made it back from Picton - which is where I last phoned from - driving the scenic coastal route. Those who get car sick would not have liked it much, but it was very pretty. Since Sunday the weather has been pretty cloudy and exceedingly humid, but still pretty warm, at least. Yesterday we went on an 8am ward round in the morning, wrote some discharge summaries and then both worked on our elective reports. Mine is currently about 3 pages long (maximum of 5) and very waffly.

In two weeks and two days I'll be heading back across the world - very odd. But nice. I'm looking forward to seeing you all and the cats. I'm intrigued by what you say about Sirius’s entirely logical fear of hot water bottles. Is it the mere presence of a hot water bottle, or does it need to be a particularly aggressive one?

Friday, May 23, 2008

This is not a cat

Various people have kindly enquired about our son's sojourn in New Zealand. He had a fine time and visited many places, the names of which have not lodged in my brain because they tend to begin with W, feature NG somewhere along the line and end in I. These are hard for a person used to places called Edinburgh and Fraserburgh and Peterburgh to remember.
He's not currently here to ask for the details, since he's at his young lady's house up north to celebrate her birthday. (He did manage four whole days without her between coming home and rushing to her side once more.) But meanwhile, here's the suggested guest post - or at least the caption he sent us with this picture.

"A fur seal on the beach at Porpoise Bay. It looks slightly like it’s been shot and is dramatically recoiling, but I thought this was better than the other photos of it, in which, frankly, it looks a bit dead. It wasn’t. It was just lying and rolling about a bit on the beach."
He also took lots of pictures of stunning scenery which I don't have access to just now.
(By the way, talking of photos - can you tell which one of the photos in the previous post was taken with Mr Life's very expensive new SLR digital camera and which with my little not-very-expensive non-SLR one? It was the first one. It does look quite atmospheric, I suppose. Not that I have any idea in what ways SLRs are better than anything else.)

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Mr Life is 60 and a bit

Above, the cake on the actual day.

The second cake on the official birthday with the extended family.

My mother, Mr Life and his cousin, with cake.

Cousin, Daughter 1 and her husband being a bit silly.

Son and Daughter 2 being affectionate.

Son wearing Daughter 2's necklace as coronet. Regal.

Son-in-law wearing the necklace that Daughter 1 had just given me. Fetching.

Daughter 1 reading paper after the guests had gone. Restful.

Recycled birthday badge. Don't know why it decided to post itself sideways. Sometimes my technical incompetence surprises even me.

Saturday, May 17, 2008


Our son, newly back from New Zealand, kindly offered to go to the supermarket for me.

He did four years of German at school (up to 2000); I did three (up to 1967). As a family, we occasionally converse in what we know is bad German, French, Latin, Spanish or whatever. In German especially, we tend to elide the endings and other hard bits.

Needing money to do the shopping, he said to me, “Habst du Monat?”

Monat?” I translated mockingly. “Have I month?”

“Ach,” he said. “Geld, then, habst du Geld?”

“Ja,” I said. “In mein Handtusch.”

“Ah, gut,” he said, picking up my handbag (or purse, in American English). Even though, as I realised after a moment, I’d just told him that I had money in my handtowel. I think what I meant to say was "Handtasche".

You might have to know a little German to understand the above, though I think a genuine German person would have some difficulty. Still, my boy and I knew what we meant.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Work and non-work

It’s been a bit of a crazy week. This is partly because tomorrow is our big national exam day and therefore our exam students, who have spent much of the year not doing a lot of the homework that we set them, have leapt into action, burnt lots of midnight oil and given us big piles of things to mark. And of course it all has to be handed back more or less immediately to give them a chance to benefit from our sage advice.

It’s amazing how many students wait behind at the end of class at this time of year and say things such as, “I’m having trouble writing literature essays. Can you give me a few pointers?”

Exactly what do they think I’ve been doing all year? Telling them a whole lot of nonsense so that I could keep the good stuff, the answer to all their problems, till the very last lesson – when all would be revealed?

But I don’t say this. I sigh and repeat all the usual advice. The real answer, I feel like telling them, is to read a lot and practise writing a lot, well in advance of the exam. Starting when they were about eight. It’s a bit late now.

Anyway. The other thing keeping me busy has been that this is the start of the birthday season chez Life. My mother was 86 last Friday, our son-in-law 28 yesterday and Mr Life attained his 60th birthday today. How can I be married to a 60-year-old? – at my age? Astonishing. There have been various celebrations of these splendid events. We had my mum to dinner on her birthday and then on Saturday we took her to lunch at Crieff Hydro. At the top, there she is in the gardens, with the hotel in the background. Then above, another view of the grounds - it was a lovely sunny day.

Later we went for a walk up the hill behind the Hydro where we scattered my dad's ashes last year. We said hello to him.

Here's Mr Life pointing out something or other to my mum.

Maybe it was this view. The weather had got a bit hazy by then, but it was still lovely.
Then today we had a birthday dinner for Mr Life (and son-in-law) and on Sunday, once our boy has returned from New Zealand, we’ll have the extended family to lunch for further celebrations. Mr Life got a single lens reflex digital camera for his birthday and has been playing happily with it ever since. He’s a man easily pleased with cake and expensive technology. No doubt he will share today’s photos with me in due course. Watch this space. You can’t wait, can you?

Thursday, May 08, 2008


The weather is balmy, the sun comforting after a cold spring. The sky is brochure-blue. In my garden, last week’s rain and this week’s sunshine combine to send sap shooting through the plants. There’s a visible difference from one day to the next: clumps are sprouting like teenage lads, all legs and elbows. The earth smells damp and warm. The birds are taking their young ones for test flights and teaching them to twitter. The cats watch with interest, basking in the sun.

Standing on the grass – which is lush again even though it was cut only last weekend – I can almost feel the roots creeping through the ground beneath my feet, almost see the stealthy burgeoning all around. I sense that if I turned round quickly I’d catch plants growing: stems stretching, buds plumping busily up, leaves uncurling their fingers, flowers colouring and opening. And weeds boldly rampaging too: their seeds splitting and their little roots and shoots wiggling their weasly ways through the flowerbeds, tangling with the roots of the legitimate occupants of the garden.

Or at any rate I would feel all this, see all this, smell and hear all this if I weren’t composing these words in a stuffy classroom while my unfortunate students practise essay-writing for their exam next week.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Lovely day

Today felt like the first day of summer. It was a holiday (though not for everyone, eg poor Mr Life). In the morning, Daughter 1, Daughter 1's parents-in-law, Daughter 2, Daughter 2's actor boyfriend and I sat under the cherry tree in the garden drinking coffee and talking.

In the afternoon I gardened. Here's a pieris and magnolia stellata.



The front garden - little crab apple tree not quite at its best yet.


Even nicer tulips.

Here they are again.

And here's the pieris from the other side.
No profound thoughts today. Just flowers.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Always look on the bright side of life (te tum, te tum te tum te tum te tum)

I’ve read some blogs in which people try to – for example - post about three good things each day. This seems an excellent plan to me – not that I have time to post daily but I like the philosophy. I like it because sometimes life is a bit rubbish but there’s not a great deal of point in dwelling on the rubbishy aspects. We’re going to grow old and die but we might as well try to enjoy life while we can. (Just because it’s a cliché doesn’t mean it’s not true.)

This rings a bit hollow from me, one of the world’s worriers, but hey, I would be considerably more of a worrier if I couldn’t be distracted from my sorrows by enjoying things I see along the way.

I very much believe that the secret of happiness is the ability to take delight in small pleasures.

These last few years have certainly not been the easiest part of my life so far, for reasons which I won’t detail. (At least, not today.) But I give you three of the (many) things that give me pleasure.
My garden. The grass needs to be cut just now (all this Scottish rain) but there’s lots of colour and it’s spring. A garden is undoubtedly a lovesome thing, God wot. Including these tulips.

This glass vase. Mr Life gave it to me many years ago and I’ve always liked it. (Mr Life is also a lovesome thing, as are all the little Lives.) The vase has “J.Ditchfield” on the bottom. I looked this up on Google a little while ago and J.Ditchfield is still glassmaking, though there’s nothing on his website like my little crooked pot.

This poem (one of many) by Norman MacCaig. I love his poetry. It makes me wriggle with enthusiasm. There’s nothing like a good wriggle when life seems almost too tough to be worth struggling through. And look! Norman MacCaig knew the difference between "it's" = it is or it has and "its" = belonging to it! (Unlike some people out there... mutter, mumble...)

Caterpillar going somewhere

Its green face looks as if
it were about to spit – pft.

It moves along a twig
by doing exercises, bend, stretch –

hard to imagine
a potbellied caterpillar.

It looks so active (hard to imagine it
in the lotus position)

and yet, and yet
it looks so melancholy.

Is it because it knows that
when it reaches a green leaf

its jaws will open sideways
instead of up and down?...

It’s standing erect now – it turns
from side to side

like a retired sea-captain
scanning horizons.