Tuesday, April 28, 2009


No, it's all right - we didn't let her swallow the wool. She enjoyed playing with it, though!

The very second that I pressed “Publish” for my last masterpiece, I got an email from Blogger saying that my blog was suspected of being spam and had now been locked. So I was unable to go back in and add the image I’d forgotten, which was our own cherry blossom, above.
I was to email Blogger and ask them to check my blog otherwise it would be deleted in 20 days. Ow! So I did, and now I assume they’ve scrutinised it and have decided that I’m not trying to persuade you to order cherry saplings from my black-market nursery.

Just imagine if I’d been away on a three-week holiday or in hospital with some lengthy disease. What a loss to the world that would have been. My little bloglet would have been obliterated. Well, maybe the world would have kept turning but it would have been a loss to me because it’s a record of the last three years of my life, or at least a part of it.

Occasionally I think to myself that if I want to have access to my posts, then there’s no use relying on Blogger. I have no real conception of what Blogger is, to be honest. A website? A server? (Could I define these in any precise way?) And I certainly don’t know why it kindly hosts my blog and millions of others. There doesn’t seem to be enough advertising to pay the salaries of those friendly and literate chaps who send us little messages about outages and improvements. I’m always amazed when people rail at Blogger when it’s so handy, so easy, so – free.

Anyway, from time to time I save and then print out a few posts, but it’s a boring job and I have a huge backlog. Though in fact if I ever do catch up and then regularly print them out, they’ll just be a burden on the children when I die. (“What’s this folder? Oh, it’s Mum’s blog. We can’t throw that away.” Yes, you can, darling offspring. Go on. Bin it.)

What do you do with your blog posts, people? Are you content to trust to the continuation of Blogger or whatever you use? Do you have leather-bound volumes of your blog on your study bookshelves? Would you care if your blog host (is that the word?) suddenly stopped operating and your words and pictures suddenly dematerialised like Doctor Who aliens, burst like soap bubbles on a windy day, vanished like a dream on waking?

Our son was to come home yesterday for a week but on Friday evening we heard noises in the hall and when I went intrepidly to investigate, it was him! (Or he, to be pedantic.) He’d come home early to surprise us. So we’ve had him all weekend. Lovely! Here he is just working up the strength to deconstruct the washing whirligig.

Some cat time, with the remains of a chocolate Easter bunny.
Oh, I've been so busy and haven’t had time to comment on blogs, though I’ve kept an eye on some of you from work. However, I have half an hour now so here I come…

Thursday, April 23, 2009

I live about three miles from work. Four days a week I drive there, for reasons of speed and convenience. I do feel guilty about this, though, and so on Wednesdays I take the rather infrequent and slow bus to work and then walk home – as my gesture towards the environment and my waistline.

The car journey normally takes about ten minutes. However, Edinburgh is currently being extensively dug up and there are numerous red-and-white-fenced-off bits of road, each one featuring four chaps standing in a huddle, stroking their chins as they gaze into a hole.

On Tuesday, I left my mum’s house at 8.10 am but got snarled up in a huge, updigging-related jam and didn’t get to work till 9.20. Not good. Thank heavens for a mobile phone with which to communicate with colleagues and ask them to start off the 9 o’clock class. I don’t know whether it’s legal to use a phone in a car by the time it’s been stationary for twenty minutes but I’d be prepared to argue the case in court.

So on Wednesday, I decided to avoid the jams and walk to work as well as home again. Naturally, the traffic was now flowing freely past all the barriers so I was denied the feeling of smugness that I would have had if I had marched past queuing cars. However, fresh green leaves were frothing on the trees and the sun was glowing on tulips, flashing from windscreens and pinging off pavements. Even the Scotmid Funeral Parlour had a cheerful air as I stomped along. I didn’t stop to take photos of the spring-like scene; I’m not really a morning person and anyway my mind was focused on work.

Funnily, the route home at the end of the day seemed shorter. There was definitely more of a bounce in my step as I drew gradually nearer to the house, the kettle and the cats. Also I amused myself by selecting photo opportunities. Would you care to join me in my walk through the cherry-blossomed suburbs of west Edinburgh? The sun was no longer shining but nature was burgeoning away.

Near the college, there's nothing particularly scenic: biggish roads and open spaces. But some celandines were growing among the bushes beside the pavement. Sweet, though not if growing in my driveway.

I always try to convince myself that dandelions are pretty. But I never succeed. They're such pests.

There's cherry blossom everywhere. That's definitely pretty. And extremely pink.

More blossoming trees. I do believe some weak sunshine appeared at that point, but it didn't last.

What a wonderful fresh green on that sycamore, with its little tassly flowers.

Through the park; more cherry blossom by the bowling green.

Looking back over the park, towards the hills.

A bed of pansies. There were also weeds but you can't see them from this angle. Photography can lie, as we said.

Through the churchyard. More blossom.

A typically sad grave, telling of lives cut short: "Erected by John Greenock, in loving memory of his children Andrew, who died 18th Nov 1861, aged 2 and half years, and also Matthew, who died 25th March 1866 in his 18th year, also John Greenock, their father, who died 10th Nov 1893 aged 57 years, also John A Greenock, son of the above, who died 7th April 1901 aged 35 years, George Greenock. died 13th Nov 1901... " and I don't remember the details about him but I read them at the time and he died as a young man.
I wonder what happened to Mrs Greenock?
How glad I am that we live in the age of antibiotics and other life-saving advantages.

On the home stretch now, azaleas outside an office building. Bright!

The Zoo has this admirably ambitious flowerbed, with Edinburgh's crest made up of sedums and grasses, held up by a penguin and what appears to be some sort of small dinosaur.

Nearly home; the Pentland Hills to the south.

The road works. Note traffic flowing through unhindered.

The path up to Corstorphine Hill. It looks quite tempting but not as tempting as home.

Tulips in the front garden. Such a good red.

Magnolia stellata - blooms like little stars.

The new leaves of pieris - magically pink.

Round the back, these polyanthus have been blooming for weeks - and there's forget-me-not, so well-named because once you have it, you have it for ever.

Still in the back garden, the lilacs are just coming into bloom - my favourite scent in the world.

The colours don't exactly blend, but who cares?

Back to the pansies at the front door.

An impatient furry face. "Where have you been?" enquires Cassie.

The tulips as I go into the kitchen - again, you couldn't call the colours subtle, but they're exuberant all right.
And now it's time for a cup of tea.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Red in tooth and claw?

There's a lot on the news at the moment about alleged police over-reactions to demonstrations in London, with photos used as evidence. I have no idea about the rights and wrongs of what happened on that day, but I wonder what you think of this photo? Is Sirius about to eat Cassie?

No. He was yawning.

He does look fierce, though, doesn't he?

Pictures can lie.

I had a nice second week of holiday: various meals / coffees with various friends, three choir rehearsals and then our concert last night. I'm really too busy for this work thing... which starts again tomorrow. Sigh. Sulk.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Poland 4, Catlets 2

Guess whose birthdays it was today?

Of course I had to bring home something from Poland. There was so much lovely pottery and I'm a sucker for such things. I almost bought a jug/pitcher to add to my not inconsiderable collection, but decided on these instead.

On our last day in Poland we went to Zakapone and Chocolow, near the Slovak border, and saw these beautiful traditional wooden houses. They look new but some of them are quite old - well over a hundred years - and according to our guide, they look new because the women scrub them - the actual outsides of the houses - every spring, which cleans off the... whatever it is that makes wood go silvery... and also removes the woodworm eggs.
Why the women, one asks oneself? A job for a man, I'd have thought. I'm glad no one depends on me to rid our house of woodworm. I don't mind cleaning inside but the line must be drawn somewhere, and washing the entire house definitely falls outside that line, in my view.

The house on the left is the old family house and workshop of a woodcarver. The one on the right is where he lives with his family.

This one is much more elaborate and was designed by the artist Stanislaw Witkiewicz (1885-1939), who was inspired by the distinctive architectural style of wooden houses in Zakopane and helped to make Zakopane a popular place for artists to live and later for tourists to visit.

Zakapone main street. We ate Polish dumplings for lunch. They were very sustaining: excellent for those who have to go and till the fields, shovel the snow or wash the house, but perhaps a bit filling for the average tourist.

The Tatra mountains. Look at the pile of snow! And the stunning scenery!

A wooden church.

And another. Quite beautiful.

Back in the apartment in Krakow, I rather liked this nifty arrangement: a cupboard with a drying rack and a drip tray underneath it. A boon for the housewife, exhausted from house-scrubbing and unable to be bothered putting the dishes away. Just close the door and the kitchen is tidy.
The weather was lovely in Poland: sunny and about 70/20 degrees. As we arrived back home and were alighting from the plane into a chilly, grey Scottish spring day, I heard one flight attendant say to another, "The first time I flew with you, you gave the arrival announcement and you said, 'Welcome to the tropical paradise that is Edinburgh.'"

Happy Birthday, Cassie and Sirius, our little furry friends. What would life be like without you? (Well, cheaper, simpler and with fewer stringy bits hanging from the sofas and rips in the wallpaper... . But we love you lots!)

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Poland 3

Polish history is very complicated and I won’t try to relate it, but everyone there is very aware of the genocide of the Jews by the Nazis during the German occupation. Krakow had a very large population of Jews, who lived in an area which is now part of the city. Estimates vary but the consensus seems to be that there were over 60,000 Jews in Krakow before the war, of whom only 2000 survived by escaping the city or just by not being killed in the camps. Nowadays there are only 200 people in the city who identify themselves as Jewish, and only one synagogue is used for services out of the 90 active ones before the war.

It’s so hard to conceive of such inhumanity. And it would be some tiny comfort to think that nothing like that will never happen again. If only.

There’s a memorial to the dead in a square in the formerly Jewish part of the city. It takes the form of 33 larger-than-lifesize chairs on illuminated plinths and 37 smaller ones, arranged in the otherwise empty space. We heard various explanations of the symbolism of this memorial. One is that the chairs represent the furniture thrown out of the ghetto apartments after the Jewish people were sent to the camps. Another is that the empty chairs symbolise those who have gone and will never return; and a third that Jewish people will now always be welcome in Krakow. Any and all seem appropriate and it was very moving to see them. Sorry for the tininess of the photo. We didn't take any pictures of the chairs ourselves.

There are day trips to Auschwitz, which is not far from the city. We didn’t go. Cowardice?

Monday, April 13, 2009

Poland 2

Ten years ago, I’d never have expected to have gone to Poland. It was an unknown place: distant and vaguely alarming, with connotations of invasion, Auschwitz and Communism. Nowadays, however, lots of Polish people are in Scotland (among other places) and we have many Polish students at the college, all bright and pleasant. It’s amazing how meeting some of the people makes the country seem less strange.

Last year I had to teach a class of prospective tourism students how to make presentations, and among these were several Poles. Two did presentations on Krakow and one on Zakapone and both places sounded really interesting. As they turned out to be.

Our apartment in Krakow was off the main square in the old town, which wasn’t bombed during the war but has clearly been restored since then. Round the square the buildings are mainly stuccoed and in an Italianate style,

but the Cloth Hall, for example, is much more East European-looking.

We spent a long time at Wawel Castle – the Cathedral (in the background of the picture above) is on the same site - not far from the main square. There's a whole collection of buildings, added to over the centuries and very much restored, but most parts are very old, some dating back at least 800 years. According to http://www.krakow-info.com/castle.htm,

People lived on the Wawel Hill at least as early as fifty thousand years ago, in the Paleolithic Age. In the Neolithic and the Bronze Age, i.e. some three thousand years ago, the settlement was apparently bustling with trade, with assorted crafts and with farming. It was at the turn of the past millennium when the rulers of Poland took up their residence here. During the early 16th century King Sigismund I the Old (1506-1548) brought in the best native and foreign artists (Italian architects and sculptors, German decorators, etc.) to create the splendid Renaissance palace-cum-castle which survived, little changed, till now.
We were blessed with lovely warm weather for our entire trip and enjoyed wandering around the grounds, drinking in Polish history. We had a highly enthusiastic and very helpful guide for some parts of the Castle visit and then, for the State Apartments, a hilariously fierce one who whizzed us round at lightning speed without giving us time to look at anything and glared sternly at the three very well-behaved small children in the group, hissing at their rather posh English parents to control them, even though they were being perfectly good. She also seemed to take pride in telling us all the least interesting things she could think of. “Ziz building,” she barked, “has been restored by the Polish government so ze plasterwork is 11 years old.” (Hmm. We have some paintwork in our house as old as that. Should we start giving guided tours?) “Zeese pots” – she pointed to some nice blue and white jars on shelves on the wall – “are very cheap imitations of Chinese porcelain.”

When I blogged about our trip to Rome, people asked for fantastic food experiences (which didn’t stretch beyond margherita pizzas for a vegetarian like me). So I made more effort this time. Wawel Castle has a very nice outdoor cafĂ© which sold us cake.

Daughter 2 and I decided to share a piece of “fruit cake” between us. It arrived on two plates and even a half portion was amazingly substantial. It wasn’t what we would have called fruit cake but it was delicious, in a sort of school-dinner-trifle sort of way: jelly, sponge and artificial cream with a few sultanas scattered on the top. This sounds horrid but it was quite yum. If you like school dinners.

The central courtyard of the Castle, which isn’t actually falling over as it looks in my photo, is very large and impressive.
There's more...

Friday, April 10, 2009


We’ve just come back – Mr Life, Daughter 2 and I - from five days in Poland. We stayed in Krakow - above, you see the city's Wawel Castle with the Cathedral - and had one day trip to Zakapone, in the Tatra Mountains - which you see below.

It was very interesting indeed and I would definitely recommend going there. Some of the architecture in Krakow is stunning and the Poles are all very friendly and – fortunately for us – speak pretty good English.

However, language isn’t a simple thing. Various sayings of our Zakapone tour guide will stay with us; the best of her invented words was “architectonical”. And a local restaurant had a sign outside with an English version of – we assume – a Polish proverb: “If the pot fits - eat it”. This may have lost a little in translation.

We had a lovely time but it’s always nice to come home. As we traipsed through Edinburgh airport today on our way to collect our baggage, Mr Life glanced through a glass wall at a packed departure lounge and said, “What a shame for these people – they’ve got their holidays to come.” He was joking. More or less.

Daughter 1 and Son-in-Law have kindly been looking after the cats, who seemed unperturbed to see us back. We’d been looking forward to seeing them, though. Our Polish apartment, above, seemed unfurnished without little furry friends. (It’s also good to see our human loved ones.)
More later, but now I must go and find what you’ve all been up to.