Saturday, February 28, 2009

You win some...

Ah, thanks, blogfriends, for your generous sentiments. But alas, the next day that I had this class, Claire was in a bad mood. When I gave her some work to do, she said… well, I won’t tell you exactly what she said. But it meant that I should go away (though it wasn’t as polite as that) and insert my worksheet up my… (I’ll leave it to your imagination). Ah, the joys of teaching.

She did apologise later in a sort of head-down “SOrrEE (humph)” way. Of course, I could report her and have her excluded. But then where would she be? Back out of education.

I’ve been in the garden and gardening is always reliably soothing. Mind you, it’s a source of annual astonishment that although each October I sweep up every dead leaf which has fallen from my two trees in the back garden and put them in plastic bags to rot down for leaf mould, by the end of November all the flower beds are once more covered with a thick layer of dead leaves. Where do they come from? We don’t live in the middle of the Amazon rain forest, or the thickly-wooded acres that I remember from American journeyings in my youth. There aren’t that many trees within blowing distance of my little patch. And yet they must come from somewhere.

Between November and February we’re hardly home in the daylight so I more or less ignore the garden. It looks horrible – the herbaceous plants that I didn’t cut down in my October holiday because they were still blooming feebly are now skeletons of dead twigs poking out from this nasty carpet of soggy dead leaves. Snowdrops, crocuses and the shoots of other bulbs are beginning to force their way through the mush but everything looks deeply depressing. And I know that the only way to remedy this is to get out there with the rake and secateurs to cut down the dead bits and rake up the leaves. So that’s what I’ve been doing.

Our garden is small and yet I’ve made it fairly labour-intensive by having quite a few flower beds. The biggest is a herbaceous border about 36 feet by five feet. (Mr Life is a tall chap, over 6 feet, and I tend to measure things by imagining him lying down (something he does quite a lot). So I think the bed is about 6 Mr Lifes long and a bit less than 1 Mr Life deep.) A lot of leaves can lie on a bed this size, all tangled up with dead stalks of Michaelmas daisies and marguerites and Japanese anemones and so on. Dealing with these is not good for a woman with a bad back.

However, it’s now mainly done and the garden's MUCH better. While it currently looks rather empty, I know that lurking beneath the surface of the earth are wonderful summer flowers, already beginning to send their shoots up towards the increasing light. The early spring bulbs are blooming and there are some green shoots on the little crab apple tree by the gate. These photos were all taken today.

Gardening is an optimistic pastime. You’re always thinking ahead to the pleasures of the next part of the growing cycle. And although I didn’t exactly enjoy my raking and cutting, it did give me a feeling of achievement.

The cats are particularly interested in gardening, though their assistance is more theoretical than practical. They enjoy jumping over piles of leaves, for example, and chasing bits of vegetation around the garden. Cassie cranes her neck to look at seagulls flying overhead (not a chance, Cassie – they’d be more likely to eat you).She’s good at climbing up the middle of hedges and is extremely alarmed by the flapping polythene bags that I’m cramming with leaves.

After that, they're tired. No, Cassie – that is NOT your quilt.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Healthy eating?

Goodness, that last post garnered some unexpectedly nice and interesting comments. Aren’t blogging connections fun? My non-blogging friends clearly don’t understand why I do it, but – you all know why, don’t you? It’s lovely!

One of my classes consists of a motley crew of disaffected 15-17 year-olds who’ve managed to slide through life avoiding education – mainly by being expelled from their high schools. This is their second chance – and they’re not always terribly keen on it.

I decided that we would do a little project on healthy eating. They tend to graze on crisps (chips) and fizzy juice. We’ve researched websites, done surveys and then I got them to make up leaflets about this. We did them on computers using Publisher and – from a distance – the leaflets look great and the young ones are proud of them. Most of the information on them is good but I have to admit that some of it needs a little further tweaking. Here are some extracts:

* Minerals: drink 6-8 medium glasses a day

* Fat: we should take them three times a day

* Carbohydrates prevent heart attacks and cancer

* Vitamins keep us green and healthy

* When cooking meat, try and grill it or at least cut off as much of the meat as you can

* Always try and stay active and moving around after eating fatty food like kebabs and burgers

* Fat and sugar consists of sweets, cakes, cream and butter. We need these so that we can have our essential fatty acid which is vital for our proper nerve functions. We should have 2 portions a day.

(Now, that's a diet I could follow. Two cakes a day. Yum.)

By the way, I do apologise to anyone who Googled "Healthy Eating" and got this...

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The wonder of the internet

I've just had a wee look at my stats. Oh, I thought, someone from Morocco. I wondered why they looked at my blog. I investigated. They'd found me by Googling "Nice people" - the title of a recent post.

I looked at the web page they'd found me on. It was on a page full of links to holidays in France, specifically to Nice.

Possibly I came as something of a disappointment to them.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Winter and spring

The cats are having a bit of a rest.

This is what the view from the front door looked like a couple of weeks ago –

and this is what it looks like today.
Spring has sprung – or at least, I’m hoping so. We have two days’ mid-term break, so I’ve seen friends and done some gardening – so much better than working. Also I’ve taken over as editor of the church magazine, which I optimistically thought would be easy. (Hollow laugh.) Some of the things people sent me came out in funny formats or looked all right on my screen but printed with one side missing… . It’s been quite a lengthy process.

However, Mr Life is a computer whizz, thank goodness, so he’s done the technical bit and we’re just about there. Three cheers for Mr Life!

My friend J brought the catlets some chopped raw liver this morning, which her cat adores. Ours? They won’t touch it. I don’t blame them, mind you, and there would be no point in their developing a taste for it because – ugh.

Our beloved and lovely Daughter 2 is down south, visiting her actor boyfriend as he tours round small towns. All you want for your children is for them to be the most important aspects in their partners’ lives, and though I’m sure the actor boyfriend loves her, acting seems to take precedence. He sent her these beautiful tulips on Valentine’s Day. I do like the way tulips start out restrained and end up looking wild and exotic. In people, however, I go more for the steady and reliable type.
I want to go out and do some more gardening, but it’s started to drizzle. Hardly even that – it’s just a wee smirr, as we say in Scotland – just rain in the breeze. I think I’ll go out anyway. Can’t be daunted by a wee smirr. The cats, however, say that they’ll just stay in their elegant cardboard box with its shredded paper filling.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Walking home

On Wednesdays I usually walk home from work. It’s about three miles. We’ve had a bit of snow and last Wednesday, while crossing the car park of the wholesale supermarket next to the college, I skidded on the ice. Though I managed not to hit the ground, I did pull a muscle in my leg. To take my mind off this, I took some photos as I limped on my way. Would you care to limp along with me?

The college isn’t built in an architecturally distinguished part of Edinburgh – in fact it’s in an industrial estate, with some council housing nearby. So I didn’t photograph any of this. However, after a bit, my walk takes me through St Margaret’s Park (above) in the old part of Corstorphine.
This is now part of Edinburgh but was once a separate village and still has an old-world, villagey appearance. I took a picture of this house in the park – the Dower House - and wondered what its history was. It looks like Scottish traditional architecture but is it genuinely old? And here the answer, from - mid-seventeenth century.

The Manor of Corstorphine was acquired in 1347 by Sir Adam Forrester from William
More of Abercorn. The Forrester family built a castle on this land and were owners of
the estate until 1689.

In the 18th century, the village became popular as a fashionable summer spa resort for
visitors attracted by the beneficial medicinal qualities of the Physic Well. Its reputation
was such that in 1749 a regular stagecoach ran between Edinburgh and Corstorphine
eight or nine times a day. However, the Well lost its medicinal properties and fell into
disrepute around 1790.

The Forrester family were also responsible for the construction of the mid-17th century
Dower House, also known as Gibsone's Lodge from its late 18th century occupants,
which is set within the north east corner of St Margaret's Park. The entrance gateway to
the house is reputed to have been constructed from stone from Corstorphine Castle,
which was demolished in the 18th century. It was badly damaged by fire in 1991 but has
since been restored and is now occupied by the Corstorphine Trust, an organisation
dedicated to the stimulation of public interest in the character, history and preservation
of Corstorphine.

(I'm sorry about the poetic-looking layout of this. It didn't look like this at the draft stage.)

Then I walked through the grounds of Corstorphine Old Parish Church. Again, Google gives me information about it: a chapel was founded here in 1128 but the present building has been there only since 1429, though there have been various later additions. The sun, low in the sky, was shining on its tower as I passed.

Some of the gravestones are pretty old, the lettering worn away.

Limping on up to the main road, I admired Williamson’s flower shop, which always raises my spirits. At this point I decided to take a bus, but examining the contents of my purse I found that I had no change. A bus ticket costs £1.20 and I only had a £10 note (buses don’t give change). My leg didn’t hurt enough to warrant such extravagance so I plodded on.

The sun was beginning to set now, casting its rosy glow on these silver birches outside the Zoo.

On top of the pillars by the Zoo gateway stands this eagle

and also this - what is it? - a succulent plant of some sort. Why are they there, I wonder?

Walking eastwards, I saw Edinburgh’s city hill, Arthur’s Seat, supposedly like a crouching lion. Look at all the cars with people going out of the city, home for the evening.

Here are the Pentland Hills, snow-covered, to the south.

This is a milestone that always intrigues me: on this side it says “Glasgow 40 miles” and on the other, “Edinburgh 2 miles”. It looks pretty old – archivist Daughter 1 thinks the style of lettering is eighteenth century. It must date from when Corstorphine was a separate village because it’s definitely in Edinburgh now.

By the time I got home it was nearly dark and in our absence there had been lots of activity in the garden.
(PS - how kind of various people to wish my leg well. It's fine now, thanks - or as fine as one could expect a 58-year-old leg to be.)

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Nice people

Someone built a tiny snowman in our garden on her way to work. I discovered him when I came home. We haven't had very much snow and he's now a bit melty. The rosebud (from the garden) is just to show the scale, but I also like the incongruity of the rose and the snowman. Louis MacNeice wrote a splendid poem about roses and snow.

Please, Australians, don’t think that we in the chilly, damp bit of the world don’t care about you. We care a lot, and when I read that Suse of Pea Soup has a car packed full of her family’s vital documents, just in case they need to make a quick getaway, it really brings the awfulness home.

Forgive me, though, if I have a slightly cheery post. We’re not forgetting you.

First of all, HELLO to the Lady from Salford. Some of my blog friends may remember that from time to time I've speculated about the Person from the University of Salford who quite often looked at my blog but never commented. I don’t quite know why I picked this person to speculate bloggily about; all we bloggers spot regular silent visitors on our site listings. Anyway, when I’ve mentioned her / him, other blog friends have said that she/he visits them also.

Recently I realised that I had seen no mention of the University of Salford for a while, and wondered what had happened. It didn’t occur to me till later that he/she might have graduated, but I actually didn’t think that my middle-aged maunderings would be of any interest to even the most bored student. I thought that Person from Salford was a bored employee. I am sometimes a bored employee myself and blogs are a happy distraction over a cup of coffee.

Well – as you may have noticed from my comments – she has now very kindly peeked out from behind her veil via Meggie’s blog Mine doesn’t accept anonymous comments (I didn’t know that) and Meggie’s does.

And - TA DA! - here is the Lady from Salford – in person:

"For 'In This Life' - I am still reading but am temporarily not in Salford as I am on maternity leave! (so now you know I am a woman and of a certain age...)I don't have a blog so can't comment on your blog."

How lovely to be on maternity leave! I wonder if you’ve had the baby? Boy or girl? Thank you so much for allowing yourself to be rooted out from your peaceful reading. Can you see us all waving at you?

By the way, I'll try to enable Anonymous comments so if you ever feel like letting your fan base know how you’re doing, Mum from Salford, feel free. (I hope I now don’t get a whole lot of strange comments from people who hate Scottish teachers or whatever…) Though actually I think you don’t need to have a blog to comment; just a Google account, which you can get on the Google home page.

And the other lovely thing is that Anna has sent us these sweet Valentine presents: beautiful home-made hanging pouches filled with such exotic goodies as Hershey Kisses and Tootsie Rolls. My brother lived for a while in Hershey, so I know about Kisses, but Tootsie Rolls are the stuff of fiction to us. Thank you so much, Anna! (These two pictures are in the wrong order but I really must go and do some marking and stop fiddling about.)

Sirius Cat was very interested indeed and spent a long time sniffing them. Clearly he thought you might arrive soon with some nice knitting for him to help with. If only… . We're all very touched!

So in these sad days with the awful fires, some - unbelievably - started by arsonists, and with businesses crashing, folk out of work and bankers pocketing big bonuses – all making one feel rather despairing of humankind – it’s so lovely to feel kindness and to remember that, on the whole, people are very nice.

Monday, February 09, 2009

The fires in Victoria

Like the rest of the world, we in Britain have been hearing about the terrible fires in Victoria. I do hope that all my blog friends and their friends and family are safe. My thoughts are with all those who have been affected by these dreadful events.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

The rest of the interview by Tracey

It's taken me a while to find enough time to answer Tracey's other "interview" questions, but here we go. Some of them were hard! (Clears throat and pats hair nervously.)

2. Each generation bemoans that "kids aren't like they were when we were young." What have your years of working experience shown you to be enduring qualities of children, those that are inter-generational?

I actually spent only 6 years teaching secondary school pupils; then I spent nine years at home being a mummy; then I gradually went back into teaching – part-time at first - but this time in further education. However, most of our college students are young, ie between sixteen and early twenties. So I’ll substitute “young people” for “children”.

I think that young people haven’t changed fundamentally at all – or not the ones I teach. The best thing about them has always been that they can be fun. The school where I taught between 1973 and 1979 was in a working class area in a small town outside Edinburgh, where most of the boys went into mining or fishing and most of the girls expected to marry and be full-time mums. Behaviour was not always good and academic expectations weren’t particularly high. In the college where I teach now, a lot of our students haven’t succeeded at school for various reasons – family circumstances, bullying, skipping school, too many outside distractions or simply not being particularly “academic”. But the pupils in my past and more recent students have taught me that there are different kinds of cleverness. Some people who can’t write a coherent sentence are nevertheless very quick-witted – far more so than I am – and have given me a lot of laughs – intentional ones.

They’ve always been concerned with their appearance – though of course fashions have varied hugely, many of these reappearing with slight variations and then disappearing again. Young folk are mainly lovely: peachy skin, shining eyes, slender bodies. Of course there are always the genuinely unattractive ones with pitted skin and bulgy noses, which seems so unfair. But so much depends on personality: often the most popular students are the ones who, looked at dispassionately, are rather plain.

Most young people are very good at socialising, quickly forming little groups for support; but there have always been those sitting in a corner who just didn’t have the ability to break into conversations, make the right kind of jokes or give eye contact in quite the right way. You don’t need to be a genius to be good at social interaction – it’s an instinct which most of us have, more or less, but some have to learn painstakingly; and it’s been very interesting watching this over the years. Young people are mainly very loyal to their friends, even if (as happens at college) they’ve only just met them. Nowadays they have each other’s mobile phone numbers and text each other to find out whether a missing student is late or absent – very useful for the teacher.

And I have to say that in my experience, young people don’t like doing homework! (This is definitely an inter-generational thing; I didn’t either…)

3. Summer or winter? Which do you prefer and why?

Summer! No doubt about that – since I'm a teacher, my 6 week summer break is a huge joy. However, Daughter 2 has just told me that it’s 47 Celsius (116.6 Fahrenheit) in Melbourne, which is just unimaginable to me - I wouldn’t like this at all. I start complaining when it’s about 75 Fahrenheit (23.8 Celsius). That’s about as warm as it ever gets here and even then I consider it too hot to garden except in the shade, and certainly too hot to walk anywhere in the midday sun.

But I love flowers, I love balmy air, I love sea breezes and blue sky.

Winter here is usually not particularly cold – not often below freezing – but it’s often raw, damp and windy. And the days are short.

Summer here means that my herbaceous border is in full flower (above) and the days are long; the sun is below the horizon only for a few hours and I can work in the garden until after 11 at night. Bliss.

4. What is a wise saying that your mother said to you, that you said to your children, that you hope your children will say to their children?

I found this a difficult one to answer. My mother is indeed a wise person. She’s much more discreet than I am when it comes to handing out sage advice and therefore I actually can’t think of any particular sayings that have become part of family lore. What she has consistently said is that war is wrong. She lived in London through the Blitz, while my father was in bomb disposal in Egypt and built bridges over the Rhine later on. The war covered the period when she was 17- 23 and my father was 19-25, so their youth was completely taken over by it and they lost many friends. She was strongly against the war in Iraq.

Strangely enough, my grandmothers’ words come to mind more readily. One of my grannies developed dementia in her early 70s – scary thought – and used to say, “It’s a funny wee world”. And we repeat this sometimes – it is indeed a funny wee world which continues to surprise and interest me. My other granny, whom I knew much better, and adored, used to say (when I, a rather timid child, said I couldn’t do something), “Never say ‘I can’t’. Always say ‘I’ll try’.” I fear I haven’t followed this good advice all the time, but I agree with the sentiments.
Maybe I would like to hand down what my mother-in-law once said to me. I had managed to bash the car slightly on our gate and was upset - we were quite hard up at the time. And she said, "It's only money." Which is so true. Money and stuff in general don't really matter. People, health and happiness do.

5. Tell us something impulsive that you did as an adult that worked out to be a very good decision.

This is the hardest question! I’m still rather cautious and my life would probably have benefitted from a bit more impulsiveness. I’ve always had an embarrassed sympathy with Logan Pearsall Smith when he wrote, “People say that life is the thing, but I prefer reading”. But I suppose there are four main things which – ridiculously, since they turned out to be very important – I did kind of on impulse: I asked a young man to my school dance when I was 17 – and he became Mr Life in due course; and we had three children - with very little idea, certainly the first time, what we were letting ourselves in for. These were four very good moves.

(Quite a few people have asked to be "interviewed" and I've really enjoyed making up questions and reading the answers, so if anyone else would like their moment on the big leather sofa, just ask.)

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Questions for Anne

Anne - you asked for questions but you've made your blog private (and I miss it!) so this is the only way I can think of sending you your interview. Here are your questions; hope you see this!

1. Where did you meet your husband, and in what circumstances?
2. If you could give your younger self one piece of advice, what would it be?
3. What’s the best thing about being a grandmother?
4. If you could choose a different job, what would it ideally be?
5. Tell us about one object that you treasure.

I would love to see the answers!

Edited to add: Aha, Anne has seen the questions already. That was quick! If anyone else would like questions, do ask. I'm enjoying making them up; the ideal occupation for a really inquisitive person...

By the way - completely irrelevantly - for most of my blog-writing days, someone at the University of Salford used to read my blog more or less daily and I fantasised occasionally about who she (he?) was. But for some months now, she hasn't been around. Has she got bored? Has the uni banned her from blogging in work time? Has she switched jobs? Retired? I'm really curious. Does anyone know or - Person from Salford, would you do me a huge favour if you're still there, and satisfy my need to know? Please delurk, just once.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Imagine that...

Like many of you, I was intrigued by the interview thing going round and put my hand up for some questions. Tracey of Peppermint Patcher and – now – Imagine That… quilts - - kindly took some time off from her new project to think up some for me. And then I got ill and have never had the oomph to answer them.

Most of my bloggy friends already know about this, but just in case you don’t, before I tidy my hair and take the interview couch let just tell you about Imagine That… quilts, her new venture. This is Tracey speaking – drum roll...:

“What are Imagine That… quilts? They are a new concept in quilted wallhangings for children. I have created imaginary scenes around a photograph of a child’s face printed onto printable fabric . In these quilts your child can be anything that they imagine - a pirate, a fairy, an astronaut, a princess. The list is unlimited, just like the imagination of a child.

The quilts are quick and easy to make. Perfect for even the beginning quilter. They use applique, no piecing and are small enough to hang on a bedroom wall.

The look on the face of a child when you present them with their very own Imagine That… quilt is priceless. I started making these for my nieces and nephews and their squeals of delight have made every single stitch worthwhile.”

Do visit her website to find out more.

Now, her questions. The first one is about my children and of course like any adoring mother I can never resist an opportunity to talk about them. So I’ll deal with the other questions another time.

1. Each of your children has taken a different path as a adult. What talents did you see in them as children that suit their chosen careers?

Hmm. That made me think. In a recent post I said something about seeing a video of the offspring as children when they were reading/drawing/being a baby and thinking of them now as an archivist/architect/doctor. But in fact Daughter 1, now an archivist, spent as much time drawing and playing with Lego as Daughter 2, now an architect, did. They were both keen on art and making things .

Daughter 1 learned to read very early, however – a useful skill for looking at documents (and indeed doing most other jobs…). We had those magnetic plastic letters on the fridge and my friend Janet swears that she can remember Daughter 1 going “C-A-T cat!” from these when I was pregnant with Daughter 2 (who was born when Daughter 1 was 21 months old).This might have been a bit of a fluke, but she was certainly reading short words and phrases during the time she was 2 and books by the time she was 3. I’m not claiming that she was a genius; it’s just what she decided to do. She wasn’t very sociable with other children apart from her sister and brother, preferring the company of adults, so tended to have an adult vocabulary. Also she was never a child who slept in the evenings, so when we packed her off to bed at 8.30pm or so, she lay there looking at books and (as we later discovered) working out how to read. One of her very favourite books around the age of 5 was “The Usborne Book of the World” (I think it was called) – a science book for children – and she knew it off by heart. My father and brother are scientists and she was like them in some ways, so I think I rather expected her to be a scientist. She was also quite advanced in maths, in a theoretical way – I remember her saying when she was about 4, “There are 2-numbers and not-2 numbers, aren’t there? “ and I said “What?” and she said, “Well, you know, 2-numbers are 2,4,6,8,10 and not-2 numbers are 1,3,5,7,9.” But reading was always her favourite thing, so I think she’d be very happy if she could spend her days reading and cataloguing interesting archives rather than making up archive policies, which is more what she’s doing in her present job.

Daughter 2 is mildly dyslexic – she could read perfectly well but had eccentric (though logical) spelling when she was little. Lots of her architect friends are slightly dyslexic too, as it turns out. Apart from that she was a good all-rounder and I don’t think it occurred to us that she might do architecture till we had an extension built to our kitchen when she was 14 or15 and she took a great interest in how it was being put together. She’s also always had a good sense of direction and been able to think three-dimensionally and she’s always been efficient too and very sociable – good people skills are useful for dealing with tradesmen and contractors and awkward clients. Architecture is a tough life, though. She was always wonderful with small children and in an alternative universe she'd have made a great primary teacher.

Our son was also a good all-rounder. He was particularly able at languages at school but decided quite early that he wanted to do medicine. We come from quite a medical family: my aunt and Mr Life’s aunt, uncle and cousin are all doctors and another of his cousins is a nurse, so it didn’t seem a particularly surprising decision. He also loved cars from when he was a small boy and I think one attraction of doctoring might have been his great-uncle's salary, which allowed him to buy a constant supply of BMWs...
All his teachers used to say at parents’ evenings that he was very quiet; but he wasn’t really quiet at home, though not noisy. He was always funny but quite calm and laid-back. He used to work at the local pharmacy on Saturday mornings and I remember going in one day and hearing him speaking so nicely to old ladies collecting their prescriptions and I thought then that he would have a very kindly manner as a doctor.
Sorry for the garrulousness. Answers to the other questions will follow, but I think I've rambled on quite enough for one day.

Meanwhile, if you'd like to be "interviewed" then say so in a comment and I'll think up five questions for you.