Sunday, January 04, 2009

Darkness and light

This afternoon, teachers everywhere (as well as other workers) have that sinking feeling. Back to work tomorrow. And it’s January. I’ve just checked on Google and the sunrise time in Edinburgh at the end of December was 8.44 am. Tomorrow, January 5, it’s crawled up to an impressive 8.42 am. So we go into work in the dark (though it’s not pitch dark; sort of twilight). We have 7 hours, 12 minutes and 42 seconds of daylight, evidently, and sunset is at 3.55 pm, so we come home in the dark too.

We live like moles in the winter, never seeing natural light. Well, those like Mr Life, who stops for lunch and goes out for a walk, get a blink of it but those of us who don’t have time to stop live in artificial light.

Still, by the end of January, sunrise is 8.09 am and sunset 4.44 pm, giving us a dizzying 8 hours, 34 minutes and 59 seconds of daylight.

And gradually things improve a lot. By June 21, sunrise is at 4.26 am, sunset at 10.03 pm and daylight lasts 17 hours, 36 minutes and 33 seconds. Though I don’t like the short days, I think it’s worth it in exchange for the long summer evenings; when even before dawn and after sunset there’s a long period of half-light. The birds start singing loudly about 2.30 am (not so popular) but one can go on gardening till 11 pm without difficulty.

On Friday I went out for lunch with long-standing friends in Haddington , a small town a few miles east of the city, which was very nice. We also walked in the sunshine through the grounds of St Mary’s Church (above)

and along

the river.
I took a photo of the bridge which leads to a street called (not too originally) Bridge Street. My lovely grandmother was born there on June 4 1895. Whenever I’m in Haddington, I keep wishing I'd remembered to find out the number of the house.

She didn’t live there for long because her mother died when she was five and the family went to Glasgow, where her aunt took over care of the children, allowing her father to work to support them. Above are Granny, her aunt and her brother. I’ve blogged about this before; sorry if you’ve already read this story. Her mother died of TB and Granny’s little sister also got the disease, dying at the age of 14 after a long period of ill-health. When Granny was 15, her father remarried and the stepmother wouldn’t have Granny or her older brother in the house. The brother, Alex, joined the army and Granny became a sewing maid in a big house in Edinburgh. Alex was gassed during the war and died in 1920. Granny married my grandfather and had a reasonably happy life, I think, but always talked about her beloved Alex and her happy home in Haddington before her mother died.

It all makes a little darkness, lit and warmed artificially, seem not too much of a hardship.
I still have the little silver chain-mail purse that Granny's holding in the photo. It's strange to think that so many of our possessions will outlive us. It's obvious. But I still think it's quite hard to imagine. I have some of Granny's rings too and I sometimes look at them and at my own engagement ring and think: they'll still be here when my fingers aren't.
Just trying to cheer you up on a cold January day...


  1. I'm thinking hard thoughts about Granny's stepmother (and how could her father have allowed it?)

    The wannabe teachers in my family are probably dreading tomorrow more than you are... (the teaching's ok, it's all the other stuff!)

  2. Good reminders of a slightly different time, when so many were lost to disease and hardship.

    Your granny's stepmother sounds like a real "piece of work".

  3. Yes, this teacher has had a case of the blahs all weekend. We actually had a workday on Friday... no students, but time to get our heads wrapped around the subject again. We face the 2 toughest weeks of the semester beginning tomorrow...the review week, and finals week. Then we start again with new students on the 22nd.

    We do have a bit more sunlight than you... although being at work at 7:30 and home at 5 means I too feel very mole-like. But I can already feel the days lengthening!

  4. The walk looks beautiful, the river and the bridge. In no time it will be spring.

    (I don't want to wish away my light, so I don't want to think it will be autumn any time soon)

    I actually know someone who refused to allow her new husbands children to live with them. their mother died of cancer, and the children were 8 and 10. She is a horrible person, and always was. It must be a bad stepmother gene.

  5. I hate to harp on about this, but I start my new job tomorrow, I finish at 1pm so I will see daylight! In the Scottish winter! Woo hoo!

    And most importantly, did you go to the butcher's in Haddington? I think it's called Peat's - best butcher for miles.

  6. I remember reading the story of your Granny earlier, but a reprise is always nice.
    I have some of my grandmother's rings, & my mother's wedding ring.
    I also think about the ones, such as my mother's engagement ring, that got 'lost' & wonder if they ever will be 'found' again.

  7. Hi Isabelle, I hope your Granny's aunt was good to her and it is too bad when she could not live in her own fathers house, how terrible about her brother Alex, it is sad when children can't live to grow up when their life already was a hard one. Please treasure the things you have of loved ones and someday yours will be cherished also. I hope this new year is being nice to you.

  8. What a lovely mix - light and dark, just as you say.
    Haddington looks lovely, and your grandmother's belongings are a reminder that we can't really own anything, but can look after things for the subsequent generations.
    Have a lovely first day back! You'll have forgotten the holiday in less than five minutes.

  9. You're so funny Isabelle! The part that really cheered me up was your last line about trying to cheer us up -- made me laugh! I've often wondered how people remarry and when made to choose between the children and the spouse, they choose the spouse. Unthinkable to me! One day I'm bringing my mother to meet you and when I do, you must remember to show her your little purse -- she loves them!

  10. Light and dark, so apt.

    The lives our relatives led, should all be written down as you have done.

    I remember going to work in the dark and coming home in the dark. The days rushed by so quickly.

  11. I do enjoy your posts, Isabelle. You provide such a variety of subjects in a few paragraphs, leaving me(us) much food for thought. Whenever I hear that phrase 'he was gassed during the war' I feel almost physically ill. It must have been horrific. Alex is so good looking in the photo; what a waste of young manhood, and a tragedy for his family.
    On a brighter note, I love 'touring' Edinburgh via your photos! We were watching the Tattoo on New Year's Eve, and I said to Ken "I wonder if Isabelle can hear this from where she lives?"
    Your closing comment about your rings being here when your fingers aren't, caused me to giggle! I had visions of rings waving around in the air on invisible hands!!

  12. Huh...I think my first comment got lost in cyberspace. Forgive me if this appears twice!

    In my family, allll of your possessions stay around to haunt future generations. When my grandmother was small, she fell out of the hayloft. She wasn't expected to live, and they shaved her curls off and had them made into a wiglet. My father STILL HAS IT! I can hardly wait to inherit it...along with the two zillion pieces of antique glassware, my grandfather's christening gown, a metal candle mold from some revolutionary war relative....argh.

  13. Dear Isabelle,

    I am reading all about the cold snap: to me , the pictures look amazing and it all sounds very exciting and beautiful. But is it, or is it just nasty and too cold?
    Just wondering.
    (I do like a bit of snow and it's a heat wave here.)


  14. Fascinating piece.
    Happy New Year AND I shall return to read more!

  15. Happy New Year to you and your family!

    Our hours of sunlight during Summer isn't quite as much as where you are, but lapping up and loving the temperatures here, today it's meant to reach 30!

  16. Have you ever been to the medical garden in Haddington? It's round the corner from the far end of the main shopping street (if you are driving in from Edinburgh).

    As for accosting strange women at the Water of Leith pushing Count-like babies in green pushchairs, you could always walk past muttering something like "velcro, penguins"?

  17. wonderful for you to still have your Granny's chain mail purse, a real little treasure. I inherited quite a few items of the sort, but without knowing details of their ownership. To have the picture as well makes it perfect.

    Thanks for visiting my blog.

  18. The days do seem very short, don't they? But they're gaining a bit of light every day. Ours aren't quite as short as yours...nor quite as long in summer. I can garden until until about 9PM.
    Your granny certainly suffered through some very hard experiences. Talk about a wicked stepmother! You obviously had a lovely relationship with her and are lucky to have such fond memories and some precious keepsakes.