Monday, March 30, 2009

Getting older

I was walking along the corridor behind two youngish male members of staff this morning - they're probably in their late thirties.

"You know you're not young any more," said one gloomily, "when there's no mud on your bedroom floor because you've stopped playing football."

"I think I knew I was getting old," sighed the other, "the first time I walked past a traffic cone and had no desire to put it on my head."

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Street View

Is your house on Google Street View? It was launched in Britain last week and has been the subject of oohs and aahs in offices throughout the country. Much of Edinburgh has been “done”, including our street. First there was Google Earth, allowing you to zoom in on any city. I noticed the other day that the Google Earth image of our house has been updated. No longer does the blue car (long gone) have a ghostly presence in our driveway; it’s been replaced by the red one. The image is pretty clear. If I’d been sunbathing naked in the back garden you’d be able to see me. (Note to self: don’t start doing this.)

And now there’s Street View. There’s our house. Our bedroom is at the front and you can see the mirror on the dressing table. A plant pot has been blown over in the front garden. The grass is newly cut and it must be the end of summer because the bedding plants are past their best. My mother’s house can be found too, and the houses where I grew up. Would you like to see where I lived from the ages of 12-24? A lot of thinking and growing up went on in that bedroom overlooking the back and side of the house. If you’re interested, go to Google Maps, type in EH15 2NZ and move slightly to the left. It’s the big house standing back from the road. It used to be a farmhouse many years ago but long before my parents bought it most of the land was sold off for housing. The straight-on image is two photos stuck together; you can see that the roof and half of the windows at the left are slightly down from where they should be. Move to the left and the windows join themselves together again. Our current house isn't so fine, alas. (I can’t see how to copy pictures from Street View. Does anyone know?)

The photo above is of my cat Dido in the back garden of that house. Below you see Dido and me - in a then-fashionably short skirt. I don't think it looked quite so short when I stood up.

Is Street View is good thing or an absolutely appalling one? It appeals to the horribly inquisitive side of me. But is it too Big Brotherish? People in other cities have complained about what they think are intrusive images of themselves – a man vomiting outside a pub, another going into a sex shop. One of my colleagues was shown by a student a Street View picture of this student in her dressing gown, taking the rubbish down her path to put it in the bin. The student thinks it’s hilarious. Is it?

I certainly wouldn’t like Street View to be live. That would be very intrusive. Or at least I think it would. And I can’t help feeling that it will be the next development.

We bloggers, of course, fling our lives open to any passer-by through stories and photos about our joys, sorrows, worries and dreams. Blogs might seem more revealing than any images of a house at one moment last summer. But bloggers have a choice. We reveal what we want. I’m currently wearing a blue denim calf-length skirt with a faint floral pattern, a plain lighter blue blouse, a navy cardigan and black loafers. Or is it a pink miniskirt, strappy top in stripes of green and pink and white stilettos? I’m not telling (though I imagine you can guess). But anyone can see on Street View that my front door is dark blue and that we have a gravel drive. Weird? Spooky? Intrusive? Legitimate right to know? Or just fun?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

This weekend

The sun shone on Saturday. It shone on my daffodils...

and on these bits of coloured glass. (I love glass.)

I took my mother to the Botanic Gardens. Not bad for nearly 87, is she?

This was the view of the Edinburgh skyline as we came out from having our coffee.

Crocuses dotted the grass.

The gates out on to Inverleith Row. I just love them: so delicate and shiny.

Back home in my more modest patch, I cut the grass for the first time this year and admired spring in all its exuberance.

The colours, after a dark Scottish winter, feed the heart.

The pink plum blossom doesn't really go with the yellow daffodils, but who cares?

Not sure why the hose is there. We haven't needed it for some time and it's not exactly ornamental.

Cassie watching the birds. She's not going to try to catch any, though. I hope.

I decided that some flowering currant would look good with the daffodils. I know it smells of cat pee, but I still like it. It's such a good pink and it reminds me of my childhood garden.

Another amaryllis is blossoming. I can never bear to throw them away, and yet they flower for such a short time and are such walloping great leafy things for the other eleven and three-quarter months. This is so beautiful, though!

On Sunday it was Mother's Day in Britain.

Daughter 2 gave me two lovely books - just what I like.

Daughter 1 gave me this sweet necklace - exactly my taste.

And our son sent these flowers - so pretty. I wish he could have sent himself as well, but he was working this weekend and lives too far away to pop home for a few hours. But it's lovely to be remembered. I'm a lucky person.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Old Professor

The second blog I ever read was Paul's, and I chanced on him by accident by clicking "Next Blog" at the top of the page of the first one I ever read. As you may know if you've tried it, this normally leads one to the rantings of illiterate teenagers, so I count myself very lucky to have found Paul.

He's 85 - must be coming up for 86 now - he lives in California and he's a hoot. We've been exchanging long emails for about four years now as a result of that lucky click. This is his picture, shamelessly stolen off his blog - or click on the link on my blogroll.

Do visit him and say hello if you don't know him yet. You should read his second-last post ("Things Old Professors Do") before you read the last one ("Sheez!") , or you won't get the full effect. I want to be like him when I'm 85. Except not a man. Preferably.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


Oh dear, I’ve misled you into thinking that I'm Anne of Green Gables. Or maybe I mean Pollyanna. My ten happy things are indeed aspects of life for which I am, and ought to be, grateful. And they do make me happy. But I’m actually a bit melancholy these days from time to time. The trouble with having nice children who have always been sweet and loving and funny is that they leave such a void when they go. But would I have preferred rude, charmless offspring? Or not to have had them? No.

I suppose it’s just the sadness that inevitably comes with life. Willy Loman complains that the mortgage is paid off and “there’s no one home”, and his wife Linda says, “Life is a casting off. It’s always been that way”. I’m amazed at the insights that Arthur Miller had into getting old and feeling unfulfilled – and he wrote “Death of a Salesman” when he was 33.

If this is what I’m like while we still have sweet, loving, funny Daughter 2 at home, what am I going to be like when she goes? You won’t want to read my blog then. And of course she must leave and make her own life too in due course.

Three nights a week I go up and sleep in my mother’s house to keep her company. I’ve done this for over two years, since before my father died. She’s 87 now and very active for her age, but she does tend to pour out her worries on to me, which is quite understandable but not cheering. I never particularly want to leave my own house, with Mr Life, Daughter 2 and the catlets, and set out into the dark to hear her views about bankers and her anxieties about her roof.

And yet, and yet, and yet… there are good things too, and we’re warm and well and fed and neither too hot nor too cold. I need to count my blessings. I know this. And most of the time, I’m counting away. Life's all right really.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Happy stuff

Daughter 1, K of Square One (/, tagged me a while ago to write about six things that make me happy. I somehow never got round to this, but here we go. My list is very like hers, because though we’re not very similar in personality, we seem to have similar tastes in happiness. Only, I couldn’t stick to six.

1) My family. I’m extremely proud of our children: they’re all really nice, kind people with very caring attitudes towards others. And they’re good fun. The only problem is that I don’t want to part with them: the worst aspect of parenthood, one of the many things that you don’t think about when having a baby. You don’t even really imagine them going to school, let alone to university, into the world of work, or bringing significant others into their lives. And then leaving home. Of course I’m pleased they can do without us, are doing well and so on. But there’s nothing like their jolly presence around the house. (We still have Daughter 2’s jolly presence, but can’t expect her to stay much longer with her aged parents.)
2) My husband. I don’t think he has any plans to move to a separate house or start going out with an actor. He’s a nice chap and we get along well and he’s always supportive when I need him to be.
3) Flowers and other growing things, especially in gardens. They mean beauty, hope for the future, joy.
4) Scenery, particularly mountains. I don’t get up to the Highlands often at all, but my heart’s there: Sutherland, Wester Ross. Towering mountains, huge horizons, no sound but the soughing of the wind. I also love the sea. We used to live within short-walking distance of the sea and I miss it. There’s nothing like looking at the grey waves (I’m talking Scotland here) constantly turning over and over on the beach. It makes me realise that I’m very unimportant. It’s comforting to realise that my little troubles and worries don’t matter to the sea and when I’m long gone, there will still be waves shooshing dispassionately on pebbles.
5) Reading. I particularly like biographies and diaries and letters. And blogs. I read fiction as well but I like getting into people’s lives, being a very very nosey person.
6) Writing. I like other creative activities as well and would ideally live with a private income in a self-cleaning and tidying house, spending my days writing, reading, drawing, sewing, gardening. But in my real life I don’t have much spare time, especially in the gardening season. Of all these activities, though, writing is the only one that occupies the mind wholly.
7) Music. I love classical music, the songs of wonderful writers like Cole Porter and the Gershwins and the very occasional more poppish thing. I love to sing around the house or in a choir: another stress-busting activity (for the singer, at least).
8) Friends. I’m not such a solitary person as numbers 1-7 make me sound; I’m quite sociable and hospitable.

9) My house. The house we live in isn’t my ideal home; but all the same, I quite like it and enjoy being here, with my stuff: china, glass, pictures, books, cats, plants. Minimalist I’m not.
10) The cats. They’re so fluffy and peaceable and ask for so little: sunshine if possible, but failing that a radiator; a snooze; a rug; prawns; a bit of company.

I’ve just spent much of the day potting up cuttings – begonias, fuchsias and pelargoniums, mainly destined for the garden in due course - while listening to Vivaldi and singing along. Now various rooms are full of little pots and the kitchen is covered in compost and bits of leaf. Better go and see to this.
Goodness, that was a very boring and self-indulgent post. Sorry. Next time I shall have to reveal my keen interest in boxing, nuclear physics, Socrates, computer programming, snails and diseases of the skin. (Lies, all lies.)
I'm supposed to tag six people. You've probably done this already, but if not: how about Rise (where are you?), Molly, Kerri, Loth, Rosemary Riveter, Almost a Normal...?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Lying around being lazy

Chris arrived, panting, twenty minutes after the assessment began today.

“Sorry,” he gasped. “The buses from Livingston are terrible. I really meant to get in early today, too.”

“Ah,” I intoned, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.”


“Do you know what that means?”

He nodded guiltily. “Don’t be so lazy and lie in bed when it’s time to get up.”

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Not being dead

My third blog-birthday passed the other day, without my realising it.

I've been rereading "The Thirteenth Tale" by Diane Setterfield - it's nonsense, really, but very good nonsense and I'm enjoying it a lot.

This is a quotation from it, and it expresses very well one of the reasons why I like writing: letters, diaries, the blog. It's also one of the reasons that I like reading. In case you haven't read it (and I recommend that you do) you need to know that the narrator works in a second-hand bookshop.

People disappear when they die. Their voice, their laughter, the warmth of their breath. Their flesh. Eventually their bones. All living memory of them ceases. This is both dreadful and natural. Yet for some there is an exception to this annihilation. For in the books they write they continue to exist. We can rediscover them. Their humour, their tone of voice, their moods. Through the written word they can anger you or make you happy. They can comfort you. They can perplex you. They can alter you. All this, though they are dead. Like flies in amber, like corpses frozen in ice, that which according to the laws of nature should pass away is, by the miracle of ink on paper, preserved. It is a kind of magic.

As one tends the graves of the dead, so I tend the books. I clean them, do minor repairs, keep them in good order. And every day I open a volume or two, read a few lines on pages, allow the voices of the forgotten dead to resonate inside my head. Do they sense it, these dead writers, when their books are read? Does a pinprick of light appear in their darkness? Is their soul stirred by the feather touch of another mind reading theirs? I do hope so. For it must be very lonely being dead.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Kitchen cupboards

My friend and colleague J told me today that she keeps a list on her electronic organiser of the current contents of all her kitchen cupboards. This means that when she goes to the supermarket and thinks, "I wonder if we need rice?" she can then check on her organiser and buy rice only if she needs it.

Having known J for sixteen years, and seen the frequent untidiness of her desk, I was amazed by this revelation. My desk is quite organised, but when I go to the supermarket I think, "I wonder if we need rice?" and come to a decision based on a vague memory of how full the packet was when I last used it. I tend to err on the side of buying more.

"Doesn't this mean," said J, "that you sometimes end up with lots of rice, some of it past its sell-by date?"

Well. Possibly. La la la.

The cats think that it's quite surprising too.

Do you have a little obsession like this? (Or a sensible habit, depending on your point of view.)