Sunday, August 31, 2008

Room in the house

Do you know a certain song that used to be on children’s television? It’s about an old woman whose house was too small. She went to some wise person who advised her to take her cow into the house. But the house was still too small. So the wise person advised her, in successive verses, to take in her horse, pig, chickens, ducks, geese and so on. When the old woman complained that her house was STILL too small, the wise person told her to take all the animals out at once – and this did the trick: suddenly her house seemed so much more spacious.

Much the same happened to us this weekend. Before the weekend my husband and I felt somewhat sad about our frequently depressed son-in-law; our other daughter’s actor boyfriend, who spends much of his time doing nothing and the rest of it doing very little; and our son, whom we’re missing so much since he left home.

And then two things nearly went very very wrong – but didn’t quite – so we feel better!

On Friday evening, Cassie Cat wandered through into the living room and we all noticed that she was walking oddly. Her back legs kept collapsing. Panicking, we rushed her to the emergency vet, who thought she had been poisoned, maybe by slug pellets in a neighbour’s garden. There was a mysterious green smudge of something under her chin and she’d started to twitch. However, this story ends well: she was put on a drip all night, given antibiotics and anti-inflammatories and by the morning she was much better. She has bald bits on her legs from having the drip put in and is rather offended with us, but she’s fine.

(Which all cost £254. She herself cost only £30, so we could have bought 8 new cats instead, but of course we love her too much and anyway we have enough cats. Definitely.)

On Saturday, our beloved son was to come home for the weekend for the first time since starting work as a junior doctor. His birthday was on the Friday so he was coming home for cuddles, presents and cake. He’s working at a hospital about two hours’ drive away from here (and is living in the country, half an hour away from the town where the hospital is) and I haven’t been happy about this from the beginning. Apart from not wanting to part with him, I was worried about his driving when tired from long shifts – and just worried in general about all that being on the road: to and fro from the hospital and also coming home sometimes. He's a good driver but roads are dangerous places.

I wouldn’t say that the male members of the family have exactly mocked me for my fears, but they have certainly dismissed them. They’ve been too polite to call me a fuss-pot but that has been the subtext. Nevertheless, when our son phoned – as we were bringing Cassie home from furry-hospital - to tell us that he’d crashed the car, I didn’t say “Well, I told you!”

He was going round a bend when the wheels lost their grip and he went sideways into a wall. It turned out that there had been two previous accidents on the same spot that very week, and there was oil on the road. It had just started to rain and so the oil-water combination had created a slide. And I also suspect that some weeks of 85-hour day shifts followed by a week of 13-15- hour night shifts would certainly not make it easier for him to avert disaster. Fortunately he wasn’t going fast and equally fortunately - since he at first slid to the opposite side of the road - there was no one coming in the other direction.

My husband set out to collect him (he was half-way home) and we’re only too glad that the boy is all right. Unlike his car. He got his cake. There are now some complications, since he needs a car (he starts work again tomorrow night and is living in the country, half an hour from the hospital - as above).
But, well. When you think that we might have been down to two children and one cat in the space of sixteen hours, we’re feeling very thankful.
For now.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Being someone else

On the way back from work today I noticed a girl running along the pavement on the other side of the road. She was young, tall, blonde and slim – I am none of these. She was moving athletically, with long strides; clearly she was very fit. And I wondered whether I would, if I could, change places with her.

I doubt whether she would have agreed to the exchange…

I decided that I wouldn’t actually want it either because I love my family and friends so much. But it made me think vaguely about the other people I have half-wished to be, in the course of my life.

The first one, I think, was my friend M – who’s now tragically suffering from Pick’s Disease, a form of dementia. When we were girls, she seemed to me to be blessed by fate in a way that I was not. (In fact, now that I’ve lost the melodramatic tendencies of my youth – or at least some of them – I see that I too was quite blessed in various ways: interesting family, lasting friends, robust health, reasonable looks and minor but useful talents. But then I was embarrassed and self-conscious and full of doubts.) M’s family were very intense, very talented and very hardworking. They resembled each other strongly, with neat features, straight thick hair and smooth, pale, peachy skin.

When I was at university I used sometimes to walk along behind some young man – just in the course of events, you understand, not in a stalkerish way – and think how wonderful it must be to have such a small bottom. It was in the days when boys tucked their shirts or tee-shirts into their trousers. I thought I was plump in those days – though in fact when I look at photos of myself I was perfectly fine – and was always self-conscious about my body. How I would have liked not to worry about how I looked retreating; or indeed advancing. Generally speaking I thought that having a lean, rangy body must be such a treat and I would have quite happily changed with any of them – at least for a while.

At teacher training college I got to know another friend, also an M. She is just so lovely: totally confident in the nicest way – she just never sees any reason why she or her friends and family shouldn’t succeed in whatever they aspire to. She’s energetic and has lots of good ideas and enjoys life. I always think that it would be easy to be her. And yet she’s had her troubles too; in fact her husband suffered from bi-polar disorder and then cancer and she was widowed quite young.

And every now and then I see people on buses or moving along the street and I walk with them in my mind for a while and wonder what it must be like to be them. I’m sure that some of their lives are more interesting, better-paid, more enviable. But I think now that - though there are certainly adjustments that I wouldn’t mind making to myself and my life - I’m reasonably happy to be me.

Which is just as well.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

A boy and his dog

Our son worked 86 hours last week.

One evening, he was driving back in the dark to the house where he's staying when he noticed a little dog – a West Highland terrier – alone in a street with hardly any houses in it. He’s a kind lad, so despite being tired, he stopped the car. The dog greeted him enthusiastically. Then he remembered that, about half a mile back, he’d passed some people who seemed to be looking for something.

So he put the dog on the passenger seat and turned the car round. The dog climbed on to his knee and sat there, licking his face. Son arrived at where the people were and asked them if they were looking for a dog.

No, they were looking for a public telephone. Their mobile (cell) phones had no signal in this rural area.

So Son had kidnapped a dog.

The dog had a phone number on her collar, but there was of course no mobile phone signal. So he drove to the house, dog still on knee, and phoned the number. Had they lost their dog?

Well, the people said, they had certainly let their dog outside a little while ago.

So Son had kidnapped a dog from outside her own house. (“Promising medical career ruined by dognap incident.”)

He drove her back again and handed her over.

“Still,” he said philosophically, “it was nice having a dog for a little while. And she seemed to enjoy her drive.”

We're really missing him. I wish someone would put him in a car and bring him back to us. Sonnapping. Good plan.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Humph mark 2

This is the view of the house from the sitooterie.

This is the sitooterie.
A sitooterie is a place in the garden where you can... sit out. Or oot.

The last few days, for reasons with which I will not trouble you, haven't been fantastic. Which makes it quite nice, sometimes, to sit in the sitooterie and wallow for a while in self-pity. And then get up and get on with life.

Humph. As I may have said before.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Cassie being rudely awakened.

You're a cat and someone has left a newspaper and a bag of rolls on the table in the kitchen, where you spend the night in your basket. Well, they think you spend the night in your basket. Once you've settled down last night, they come back in unexpectedly and find you like this. So? You're entitled to a sheet and a pillow, aren't you? You're a person, after all.

We're going to the Festival Fringe show tonight that Daughter 2's actor boyfriend is in. Bit nervous about it. Don't think it's going to be my thing, and he's just apologised in advance in case it isn't, so he presumably feels the same. Hmm. It starts at 11.15 pm, too, which isn't great.

Still, my biggest agapanthus is looking good, don't you think? I know they grow like weeds in Australia, but this is Scotland. It rains a lot, especially recently.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

How unlike the home life...

We brought our children up in a calm, happy household, sheltering them from the realities of life. At least, that was the idea. It worked up to a point.

Conversations with offspring:

1. Son phoned yesterday to say that he’d met his first murderer. A young man came into the hospital because he’d been stabbed, though not badly injured. It turned out that he’d been in a fight which he’d started by stabbing another young man. He objected to being treated before he knew how his victim was doing. They didn’t tell him at that point that the other lad, just 20, had died before reaching hospital.

2. Daughter 2 (whose firm sometimes does prison architecture): Do you know what the principal design consideration is when you’re designing a prison?

Me: Good locks?

Daughter 2: Chips. (ie French fries)

Me: Chips?

Daughter 2: Yes, prisoners insist on having chips available every day. If the deep fat fryer breaks down, they’re liable to riot. So, to be on the safe side, you have to design a kitchen with two deep fat fryers. Of course, you don’t want dangerous criminals round hot fat. So you do need good locks on the kitchen doors.

Yes. Well.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

"The Weakest Link"

I watched “The Weakest Link” today ( a quiz programme not noted for having the most intellectual contestants) and there were a few excellent answers:

Q: What “V….” is a name often applied to Mary, the mother of Jesus?

A: Virginia?

Q: What invertebrate, whose name in Latin suggests that it has a hundred feet, actually has a variable number of legs?

A: A giraffe?

Q: What language was spoken by the Ancient Romans?

A: Greek?

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Life is serious

Our son, the extremely-junior doctor, has now taken over from the slightly-less-junior doctor he’s been shadowing for the last couple of weeks.

On the third day of this actual doctoring, our son admitted to the hospital an elderly lady who deteriorated rapidly and then died the next day. Our son, aged 23, was the only doctor on duty in the ward during the main part of this second day, and when it was clear that there was nothing to be done to save her, her husband was summoned and our son had to break the news to him. He sat with the couple while she died; checked that she was indeed dead; and then wrote out the death certificate. Then, after a senior doctor had come to explain the situation further to the husband, and then gone, our son stayed a bit longer to answer the husband's questions, since he seemed to need this; and then accompanied him to the hospital door.

Serious stuff and very emotional. Our son is a kind chap and felt deeply for the lady and her husband, neither of whom had realised how ill she was. I think he also worried that the old gentleman might reasonably have thought a 23-year-old not quite what he had in mind for such an occasion.

I wanted to give my boy a cuddle and tuck him into bed, but he’s a long way away.

He’s working 70 hours a week at the moment.

I go back to work tomorrow but it seems a bit pathetic to complain about this, so I won’t.

Here's Cassie cat exploring her territory.

And here she is coming back again. It's probably easier to be a cat than a person.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Digging and Wales

Can you see the difference? (Apart from that the cats have moved off.) Possibly not really, from these photos, but the second photo shows the result of my slaving away for days in the hot Scottish sun... well, it was warmish... for some days, battling with the jungly bit in the middle which (you'll have to take my word for this because you can't really see it) was mainly lily-of-the-valley with roots going down to Australia, and Solomon's Seal, which is very boring apart from briefly in spring-time when it's only fairly boring. So I've planted some nice new things: blue and pink delphiniums, yellow crocosmia (don't like the normal orange version because I don't like orange), pink sidalcea, dark pink echinacea in two sizes and blue agapanthus. They're a bit sparse at the moment because they'll spread (I hope) so I've put some busy lizzies in the gaps.
We've also had a tree surgeon to prune the flowering cherry, which was too big, and to remove the ceanothus, which was lovely when flowering but also too big for the space.
Re our Wales trip - amazingly, we have a couple of nibbles from possible cat-sitters. Isn't the internet wonderful?
Also re our Wales trip - an email from Daughter 2 reporting on emails to her from her baby doctor brother in Dumfries. Remember that the children are standing us this trip as a birthday present for Mr Life.
This is Daughter 2's email:

Hello there,
I've had three emails from a Dr. D.......... in Dumfries on the subject of him sending me a cheque for his portion of the Wales extravaganza. They were titled:

1. Money makes the Wales go round
2. Wales, wales, wales, could be wales, in a rich man's world.
3. Money can't buy me love. But Wales can.

To the second last one I replied - "PS - did I mention you are quite funny?" to which he responded : "Well no, but one just assumes. P xx".
L xx

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Free holiday, anyone?

Look, I know this is probably a very very long shot, but does anyone know someone who would like to spend a rent-free week in Edinburgh from Saturday 18 October – in a comfortable house, with two friendly cats?

We have house-exchanged for holidays at various times in the past and always found it worked well. In this case, we don’t want an exchange; just a cat-loving house-sitter (or sitters) who would be happy to spend a week in our house and be nice to the cats.

We need to sort something out for the cats because to celebrate Mr Life’s 60th birthday (which was in May) the offspring have organised for us all to go down to Wales so that he can spend a day driving a narrow-gauge railway train. Those of us who live in this house are staying there all week. This gift has made him very happy. He’s been sent a programme of events, which will involve his being on his train from 7.30 in the morning till 5 in the afternoon. Such fun. Well, no, it wouldn't be the top of my list of great activities but he adores steam trains.

However, we haven’t worked out what we’re going to do with Cassie and Sirius. I have various friends who’ve offered to pop in and feed them, but I really don’t feel I’d be happy thinking of them all by themselves in the evenings, when they’re accustomed to watching television with Mr Life. "Scrubs" is their current favourite programme. We could put them in a cattery, where they’d be safe, but I really don’t think they’d be very pleased. Guilt, guilt… My mother thinks that this is silly – they’re just cats – but… well.

It's just possible that Daughter 1's guinea pigs might also be in our house if our son-in-law decides to come with us. An added incentive for any prospective house-sitters! I don't think the guinea pigs are so interested in television, though.

I asked my brother (who lives in Epsom in Surrey) if any of his friends would like a week in Edinburgh and he said, “In October?”. He can be quite scathing. He’s lived too long in the south and has become soft. All right, October perhaps isn’t the very best month to spend here. It might be lovely (crisp days, still air, sunshine) but it might be dark, rainy and windy. You just can’t predict these things. But there’s plenty to do: museums, art galleries, walks, historic buildings and so on. And we have heating, lighting, a roof – things to combat rain and wind.

We have one room with a double bed, one with twin beds and two with single beds; two bathrooms, two living rooms and a big kitchen with the usual appliances. Our house is in a quiet cul-de-sac but two minutes from a bus stop into town. There are lots of buses and you can be in town in ten minutes – it’s only a couple of miles. Or you can walk there in half an hour. Edinburgh is a good city to walk around; it’s not too big.

Anyway. Any ideas? This offer is open, you’ll understand, to any of my blogfriends or their friends and relations, not to random passing burglars. Do leave a comment if you can help. Or even if you can't.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

A cake post

Has everyone seen this picture - from a website that Daughter 2's friend alerted her to? The website features cakes that could have been made with more care. This one was ordered over the phone from a cake shop. The customer instructed that the cake should say "Best wishes Suzanne" and that, underneath, it should say: "We will miss you."

The website is

should you desire more of the same.

Or you might prefer to see this picture of our cats in their little kingdom. Catdom.