Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year

I always associate the scent of hyacinths with being young. Teachers tended to have them in classrooms when we were in primary school. I've grown them in pots in the winter throughout my adult life, so why they should evoke my childhood so strongly, I don't know. Anyway, I love the perfume.

This grandbaby, whom I scarcely dare believe in, makes me think of flowers and fresh hope and nice scents (yes, I do remember nappies, but think of that clean baby smell - yum).

Thank you for all your good wishes - bloggy friends are so lovely - and Happy New Year to all.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010


Well, it's been a while since my last post, simply because there hasn't been much idle time in this house. Everything got done by Christmas, as everything always does. I iced the cake and thought I might have mastered the way to turn photos round - but no. Nice presents were exchanged. I've done a lot of cooking and most of us have done a lot of washing up.

We have been a large but steadily shrinking party. My brother and his wife, son and daughter are staying with my mother but eating here, and Daughter 2 and her fiancé have been with us, as was Son. So we were thirteen on Christmas Day when my confused aunt was of the party. Then twelve for a couple of days, till our son went back up north. Then Daughter 1 and her husband went down south yesterday to be with his parents so today there were nine of us. Tomorrow Daughter 2's chap, my nephew and my niece all head back to England, so we'll be six. My brother and his wife remain till the 2nd and Daughter 2 heads back down to her new life in London on the 3rd. And that will be that.

It's been a time of mixed emotions. It's lovely to have the children but we're very aware that they're visitors now, which is painful, especially since Daughter 2 is going to be in London for the foreseeable future and we're not convinced that marriage to someone trying to make a living as an actor is entirely the path to happiness. Her six-week London job is continuing at least for a while, which is of course good from the point of view of continuing to earn; but her absence leaves a huge hole in our hearts.

However, Daughter 1 and her husband popped in unexpectedly early yesterday to give us some wonderful news:

All going well, we should become grandparents in July. I know it happens all the time, but when it happens to you, it's very exciting! And worrying.
It's going to be a busy year. My mother is going to move in with us once we've sold her flat and found something (what???) to do with her very many household effects. The little person above should be joining us in July. And Daughter 2 is getting married in September, an event for which so far only the church, the hotel and the ceilidh band have been organised.
Mixed emotions indeed. Almost too much to cope with.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Jingle bells

So the house is decorated and I'm about to make up beds while listening out for text messages telling me how Daughter 2 and her man are getting on in their attempt to get to Edinburgh from London on a snow-disrupted train line.

I've featured Santa before. I got him when Daughter 1 was in her pram. She insisted on cuddling him as we walked to the shops and after a while - just as we'd come up the hill on our way home - I noticed that his hat was missing.

It was a heavy pram, Daughter 1 was at that sonsie (chubby) stage of babyhood, but down the hill we went again to retrieve the hat.

This Santa dates from my childhood. My mother was going to throw him out some years ago. NO!!! I gave him a new beard and hat fluff and he's good for another 50 years, surely?
I bought the stained glass candle-holder in the early years of our marriage, though I usualy just place it under a lamp to light up the design. If I use a candle, then blowing it out tends to spatter the inside with wax.

The girls gave me this as a Christmas card when they were little. It's by Janet and Allan Ahlberg.

I got this last year and really like it.

These birds were made by my mother-in-law, who died in 1991. They need a bit of adjustment. Maybe this year they'll get it.

I just like this glass star. It's hanging from a plate from my grandmother's wedding china, beside another old plate I bought years ago just because I thought it was pretty.

What would Christmas be without these incredibly heavy yellow glass balls, hung from the light fitting on the lowish ceiling in the sitting room just ready to strike unwary tall people on the head? (Sorry, Mr Life etc.)

I would like to have made this cushion. But I cannot lie. I bought it. It's jolly, though, no?
Oh, that's the last picture. I suppose I'd better get on with the tasks, then. Beds, hoovering, dusting etc. and clearing my mother's path of snow.
I hope everyone's sitting in a clean, tidy house eating mince pies and chatting to their loved ones. I also hope that this is what I'll be doing this evening. Some of my loved ones, anyway.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Guest post from Sirius

It's fur-fluffingly chilly around here and our outside territory is all cold and white. The only sensible thing to do is to cuddle in to your sister and have a snooze.

Occasionally it's nice to wake up and give your sister a bit of a wash.

And then resume the nap.

The slaves have been doing mad things, such as going outside to climb up a ladder and pour hot water on the frozen condensate pipe again. Well, they needed to do this because the heating wasn't working again. And cats need heating in weather like this.

Fortunately, long legs and opposable thumbs are necessary for doing stuff like that so... zzzzzzz.

Monday, December 20, 2010

I love Dylan Thomas

My little camera can't cope with so much brightness. Most of my snow pictures are just blindingly white blurs. This photo was taken yesterday before Mr Life and I dug out the drive, the street and quite a lot of the street at right angles to ours. Then it snowed a lot more. This morning I did it all again - not good for a woman with a bad back. But we're keen not be be left with solid packed snow-turned-to-ice on the road. Last time, we didn't take it seriously because, as I keep claiming, we don't really get much snow. (Hollow laugh.)

My brother, wife and offspring are supposed to be coming up from Surrey (near London) on Christmas Eve. They did plan to drive but have now bought train tickets. Darling Daughter 2 and her fiancé are coming from London by train on the 23rd, fingers crossed, and Son on Christmas Day. I don't see all of this happening. Son currently lives north of here and will have to drive. Anyway, this is why I'm trying so hard to make our streets passable.

Meanwhile, here's a bit of Dylan Thomas's "A Child's Christmas in Wales", which I LOVE. No one uses language as he did. I've read this with classes at Christmas for thirty years. It makes me squirm with pleasure - and at least while I'm reading it, I'm reconciled to the Arctic scenes outside.

Years and years and years ago, when I was a boy, when there were wolves in Wales, and birds the colour of red-flannel petticoats whisked past the harp-shaped hills, when we sang and wallowed all night and day in caves that smelt like Sunday afternoons in damp front farmhouse parlours, and we chased, with the jawbones of deacons, the English and the bears, before the motor-car, before the wheel, before the duchess-faced horse, when we rode the daft and happy hills bareback, it snowed and it snowed.

But here a small boy says: "It snowed last year too. I made a snowman and my brother knocked it down and I knocked my brother down and then we had tea."

"But that was not the same snow," I say. "Our snow was not only shaken from whitewash buckets down the sky, it came shawling out of the ground and swam and drifted out of the arms and hands and bodies of the trees; snow grew overnight on the roofs of the houses like a pure and grandfather moss, minutely white-ivied the walls and settled on the postman, opening the gate, like a dumb, numb thunderstorm of white, torn Christmas cards."

"Were there postmen then, too?"

"With sprinkling eyes and wind-cherried noses, on spread, frozen feet they crunched up to the doors and mittened on them manfully. But all the children could hear was a ringing of bells

"You mean that the postman went rat-a-tat and the doors rang?"

"I mean that the bells that the children could hear were inside them."

"I only hear thunder sometimes, never bells."

"There were church bells, too."

"Inside them?"

"No, no, no, in the bat-black, snow-white belfries, tugged by bishops and storks. And they rang their tidings over the bandaged towns, over the frozen foam of the powder and ice-cream hills, over the crackling sea. It seemed that all the churches boomed for joy beneath my window; and the weathercocks crew for Christmas, on our fence."

"Get back to the postmen."

"They were just ordinary postmen, fond of walking and dogs and Christmas and the snow. They knocked on doors with blue knuckles..."

"Ours has got a black knocker..."

"And then they stood of the white Welcome mats in the little, drifted porches and huffed and puffed, making ghosts with their breath, and jogged from foot to foot like small boys wanting to go out."

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Saturday before Christmas

Well, the fairy never turned up so I donned my pink net tutu (and I have to tell you, it's a bit chilly here for that sort of garb) and hied me up town. Things went much better this week, although if you happen to be a very large lady, I can tell you that there's a good choice of pyjamas in every pyjama shop for you. Hardly a single smaller pair, though....

Moving on: I'd left Mr Life to carry out a separate mission or two. These included retrieving the Christmas tree from where it had been unceremoniously dumped in the back garden last week after he went to fetch it; and then putting it up and stringing it with lights. Well done, Mr Life, apart from the point at which you shut yourself out of the house without your keys.

He then phoned me to enquire when I was coming home and could let him in. This was just at the moment when I was inserting my Marks and Spencer's card into the machine to pay for [mumble mumble] and my stress at the thought of him freezing to death - his stiffened corpse found on the doorstep as I returned, burdened with bags, from my mission - made me get my pin number wrong. However, I pulled myself together and keyed in the right number - but it was rejected. I tried again - rejected again, and the card locked. I was mildly indignant, but then it occurred to me that I could always pay with money, so I did.

It was some time later that I realised that I'd typed my Visa card number in, instead of the Marks and Spencer one.

I blame Mr Life.

(He didn't die. He went up to my mother's and borrowed her spare key. I knew you'd want to be reassured of that.)

Alas, those parcels at the top are Google's, not mine. Mine wrapped? Not as such. But still - things are progressing. Kind of.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Christmas is coming - oh dear

Ten things I would like the Christmas fairy to do.

Well, there’s bringing my children home, but apart from that:

1. Put up the Christmas tree, preferably without sighing and puffing to excess, and decorate it, making sure that the lights work.
2. Drape tasteful seasonal thingies in appropriate places round the rest of the house.
3. Clear up the resulting pine needles, bits of tinsel etc.
4. Put the empty decoration boxes back into the atticky space off Daughter 1’s old room.
5. Buy some inspirational presents for my dear ones.
6. Wrap them, ideally not at 1 am on Christmas Day.
7. Fight her way round Marks and Spencer to buy some festive fare for the fourteen people who are confidently expecting to eat it on the Day and beyond.
8. Do splendid things with brightly berried holly and stuff.
9. Wave her wand very vigorously at the extremely unacceptable weather.
10. Create an extra week – but, crucially, not a working week and not a week that the offspring aren’t here – between now and Christmas Day.

Anyone seen that fairy?

(Actually, she looks discouragingly like me. She's even got the wellington boots for the snow, though mine aren't actually pink. Mine are black and have my initials on the outside, in white correction fluid. I am sometimes mocked for this, but the boots were originally Son's when his feet passed through the size 5 phase, and they needed to have his initials on them for school purposes. It just happens that my initials are the same. My feet are a bit smaller than 5 but near enough. And wearing these boots, I'm less likely to forget my name. Or at least my initials.)

Monday, December 13, 2010

Swiss Appelrara

In fact, though for some unaccountable reason we call this Swiss Appelrara, its original name was Franca Appelrara. That's what it says on the messy bit of paper - now much splodged-on - on which my friend Gill wrote the recipe about 37 years ago. I have no idea why we've changed the name over the years and I don't know what it originally meant anyway. What's a rara and who are the Francs and if they're French, why did we change them to Swiss?

Gill and I were at school together. At the point that she made this pudding for us, we were in our early twenties and she was living near London. She'd just done a Cordon Bleu cookery course and this was one of the recipes. As she pointed out, it looks very boring but is in fact very nice - if you like apples and almonds.

Years later, I was saying how this had become a family favourite and Gill didn't even remember it. I'm sure there's a moral there somewhere about the influence we have on other people... but I can't quite think what it might be. Anyway, the pudding:

Franca or Swiss or Whatever Appelrara

1/2 pint cold water (in fact I use less)
1/4 lemon (I omit this because Mr Life is allergic to citrus fruit)
4 large cooking apples, peeled, cored and halved
3 tablespoons caster sugar (ie fairly finely ground)

Cook the apples till slightly soft in water, sugar and lemon juice. Remove while still intact, ie apple-shaped, and put flat side down in shallow dish. If the phone rings and the apples become mush by the time you've got back to them, it doesn't really matter. They still taste good. Spoon them out and put in the dish.

Then do the topping - in fact I usually double the quantity below because it's so nice! On the other hand, this makes it twice as unhealthy.

5 tablespoons caster sugar
4 ounces butter (would this be a cupful?) - no it wouldn't! See below from Thimbleanna:

(And btw, a stick of butter here is 8 oz. and also 1/2 cup, therefore, 4 oz. should be 1/4 cup.)

Thanks, Anna! Sorry to misinform you, Americans.

Cream this until it's reasonably fluffy.

Add 1/2 cup ground almonds
3 egg yolks

Then whip 3 egg whites and fold into the mixture.

Spread this over the apples and bake in a moderate oven for about 30 minutes, till it looks like the picture.

You can eat it hot, room temperature or chilled - it's nice any way - with cream, ice cream or not. We usually have it room temperature.

Ann, who doesn't have a blog on which I can leave a comment, I sympathise completely. America is too far away for children to go.


By the way, I actually like getting those Christmas letters. They would be rather nauseating if they were as boastful as people sometimes say, but our friends tend to be truthful, or at least sufficiently so. And anyway, I do rejoice in my friends' happiness. It's just some of those shiny happy blogs that occasionally make me question the value of my own existence - and yet some other shiny happy blogs are very cheering, like Thimbleanna's. It's all down to the tone, I suppose, and the humour and general loveableness of the blogger.

Anyway, I have marking to do, so thanks for all your kind comments and enjoy the pudding!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Mr Life learns to cook

I don't know about you, but sometimes I get a bit ... downcast... by blogs that say,

"I'm married to my wonderful husband, have six fantastic children, all home-schooled and so clever, and live in my dream house in the best country in the world. Our garden has views over mountains, lake and beach and I grow all our own organic vegetables, which is why we all look so slender and healthy. We've just been on a fabulous holiday to Utopia and I'm now putting the finishing touches to my sixth book on how to have a beautiful life like mine..."

So, to balance things out a bit (and as an excuse for a moan) yesterday was – frankly - a bit rubbish. All right – no famine, flood, bereavement, burglary … but not a good day.

I went up town to start my Christmas shopping, armed with a small list and very few other ideas. Quite soon, I went to Waterstone’s book shop in Princes Street to try to get some of the – admittedly somewhat esoteric – titles requested by Daughter 1. I work in the suburbs and am not often in town, so I was looking forward to a nice browse among the books.

What a disappointment! Waterstone’s has moved everything about and turned itself into a shop full of cards, book-related presents and bestsellers. I couldn’t find anything I wanted, couldn’t find my way around and was generally frustrated and unimpressed.

Normally I’m quite a cheerful person but yesterday – well, I was “on a shooglie peg” (shooglie = Scots for shaky) - in other words, only just hanging in there. Sometimes I miss the children so much that it doesn’t take much to knock me off this peg and … anyway, I just had to come home, feeling feeble and wobbly. Having moaned to Mr Life, however, I pulled myself together a bit. I’ll finish the Christmas cards, I thought: achieve at least something. And then I couldn’t find the stamps for the foreign cards. I knew I’d bought them and could remember tucking them away somewhere really safe while I was in the Post Office. I searched everywhere in vain.

Later I decided to make Swiss Appelrara for lunch the next day. (Highly recommended.) I started to cream the first ingredients in my (37-year-old) Kenwood Chef. It started beating very slowly and then went s-l-o-w-e-r and s—l---o….. and died.

Never mind, I thought, stiffening my resolve. I’ll use my hand-held electric beater – hardly used, inherited from my mother-in-law, who died in 1991. At this point, Mr Life, who has known me long enough to notice signs of stress, started rallying round. He assembled the beater and – and this is a first for him, bloggy friends – continued the creaming of the butter and sugar, followed by the almonds and egg yolks. Then he whisked the egg whites.

Mr Life’s first ever cooking experience! Maybe this is the start of a new hobby for him? We can only hope…

Then copious white smoke smelling strongly of burning plastic started to pour from this beater. True to my feeble persona that day, I could only squeak in distress and point – and he unplugged it and threw it outside into the garden.

But I did later find the stamps - in the little pocket of my purse where I’d put them for safety.

And tomorrow was another day – well, it was today – and the pudding tasted good. I think Mr Life should cook more often, though I do need to sort out the mixer problem before too much time elapses.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Mr Life saves the day again

Things are very quiet with the children gone. Tidy. Easy. But dull.

Except yesterday, when an hour or so after we got home from work, I found out why the house was still remarkably chilly: the central heating hadn't gone on. Mr Life tried restarting the boiler but it responded only for a few moments.

At that point, I'd have rung the Gas Board (with whom we have a service contract) - though how the technician would have got down the snow-bound street, I'm not sure. Anyway, Mr Life is made of sterner stuff. He looked up the blurb on the boiler on the internet and diagnosed the problem: our condensate pipe was frozen.

(Not too exciting for you, this post, is it? I personally don't think much of "condensate" as a word. However, I digress.)

This is our newish, startlingly expensive boiler, I'd like to point out. Our old boiler didn't have a condensate pipe so this naturally never froze. But new boilers do - a fine example of progress not necessarily being a good thing. It's a pipe which takes condensation from the boiler, goes out through the roof and drips it outside down into the gutter.

Or in this case, takes the condensation outside and freezes solid so that the boiler grinds to a halt.

It was PERISHING COLD outside but Mr Life, pausing only to put on his SuperHub suit (the version with long underwear) got the stepladder out of the garage, forced it down into the snow and wobbled up it with a watering can full of hot water - as advised by the internet. I thought to myself: this'll never work. However, handmaidenlike, I refilled the can while Mr Life shovelled snow from round the pipe (and on to himself) and poured the water. And after a while the pipe went "glug glug" and the boiler started up and lo, there was heat.

And there still is. Hooray for Mr Life.

However, I am mentally composing a letter to the managing director of the boiler company. It's the coldest winter for 45 years or something, but still. Whose brilliant idea was this condensate pipe and why did they have to invent a new word for it, anyway?

The weather is thawing a bit today, but the Everests of snow will take forever to melt and our roads are still hard-packed with ice and not driveable. And more snow is forecast for the weekend.

I really must do some Christmas shopping one of these days.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Join me?

I thought I'd do a bit of imagining. After another day of staggering home through alternate slush and hard-packed, icy snow, I've picked this picture at random from Google images (it's a garden in South Africa) and am about to enter into it. Care to join me?

The heat is soaking into my back and starting to tan my wintry skin. I'm just going to wander down that little path, admiring those flowers - not sure what they are but probably something exotic that enjoys sunshine and dry earth. Look - a pool. I don't think I can quite be bothered to put on a swimsuit, but I'll sit on the edge and dangle my feet into the cooling water. Ah, that's so soothing. Now I'll stroll over and sit in the shade on one of those white chairs. I'll just read my book and wait for someone to bring me a drink - fresh orange, perhaps, with ice. Delicious. And so refreshing.

Bright-plumaged birds are carolling foreignly. Crickets - or the South African equivalent - are chirping. Can you hear the comforting buzz of non-bitey insects? Can you smell that newly mown grass? - not mown by me? The sky is a deep, uniform blue with threads of wispy clouds. There is the very tiniest of breezes.

In the far distance, I can hear the roaring of lions....

I have no real idea what South Africa is like (oh, you noticed?) and am sure I'll never be able to go there. But there's something about that picture that makes me think that it might be a tiny bit better than here, now, where the temperature is claimed to be -13 C (unheard of for Edinburgh), the buses are on a restricted service, the car is snowed in and the house is still quite chilly despite the central heating.

And meanwhile that sunshine beats down, the flowers bask in the heat and the giraffes look thoughtfully over the garden wall...

Monday, December 06, 2010


Email from student today.

Subject: Slightly panicking is an understatement

I'm currently in the middle of a panic attack and I've just realised you won't get this email until tomorrow but I haven't handed in my reflective essay because

a) the college was closed,
b) emailing it to you would do funny things to the layout and
c) I possibly may have forgotten about it due to the extreme weather.

If perhaps you were to find my essay hidden amongst paperwork on your desk and a box of chocolates just appeared there as-if-by-magic would you consider accepting the essay?

As if I'd be tempted by a bribe! Although...

I particularly like the bit that says I may have forgotten about it due to the extreme weather.

It's all right, though. She can have an extension.

It snowed heavily again today. The students were sent home at midday because Edinburgh buses had been taken off the roads, though since this is the day when I have fewest classes, I stayed on till twenty to four to get on with things. Then I slosh-slipped home, three miles through deep slush.

Tomorrow? Who knows.

I'm getting a tiny bit fed up with all this. Come on, weather gods. Send us some nice warm rain.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

The Great Freeze

Advantages of all this snow:

1. Four and a half days off work.
2. More cat time.
3. Getting my mother's Christmas cards written and posted.
4. Getting the Christmas cakes made.
5. The Blitz spirit - people speak to each other in the street to complain of the snow.
6. If you're a cat - having heating on in the house in the daytime.

Disadvantages of all this snow:

1. Daughter 2, who was planning to come home from London for the weekend, wisely deciding not to - the trains are somewhat disrupted.
2. Not getting enough exercise - it's too much effort to walk very far on the snow and slush.
3. Spending too much on heating and still not being terribly warm some of the time.
4. Worrying about the birds and foxes and rabbits and badgers and mice and other local wildlife.
5. Spending lots of money on bird food which the birds don't seem terribly interested in - I even bought some very expensive dried wormy things and only some are being eaten. (Mind you, I wouldn't eat them myself.)
6. If you're my mother - being stuck in the house.
7. Being carless - our street isn't driveable. Also no deliveries, rubbish collections etc.

So on balance? Not working is great, though I've spent a lot of time visiting my mum. It's not just that I've had days off - I've also had evenings off, since I've no marking to do. So wonderful. Normally my non-working time is at Easter (tidying the garden after the winter), summer (keeping up with the gardening), October (tidying up the garden for the autumn) or Christmas (doing Christmassy things and seeing friends who've come up for the festive season). I've never had this extra time before. It's wonderful. It's what it must be like not to work. Why haven't I written a novel this week?

It's about time we got back to normal, though. Time feels suspended and it's all a bit odd and the rabbits must be getting awfully hungry. And I'm longing to see Daughter 2 again. She's been away for three weeks.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Spilt beer

From the Forth One (radio) website:

A1 - closed at Haddington – also a broken down tankard at Torness Power Station.


The message, is whatever you’re route - take extreme care again this morning – if you have to go out.

Maybe the proof-reader was stuck in the snow and couldn't get to work.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

A very very very sad post

This is a post that I publish most reluctantly, because I don't want to fall further in the affections of one of my most admired bloggers: Fran of Being Me. She said that I was one of her least favourite people. Sob. My shortcoming? Being the beneficiary of two days - Monday and Tuesday - when the college was closed because of the snow.

Sigh. Alas, alack, eheu, o me miserum, quel dommage and similar expressions of sorrow. Because... well, we did go in today - that's the good news, Fran. I had a grand total of two students in my first, two-hour class. The corridors echoed as the few hardy, keen students squelched to classes, their jeans flapping soddenly around their ankles, their boots leaving a trail of little lumps of compressed snow - Hansel and Gretel, the Arctic version. And then the longed-for email came: the college is closed till Monday. I am doomed as far as Fran's opinion of me goes.


Or, to put it another way, HURRAY!!!!

I did suffer a bit, though, Fran. I trudged a mile and a bit to the supermarket through - I'm not exaggerating - slush that came up to the tops of my wellies. I then overestimated the amount of shopping that I could carry through more slush to the bus stop. Still, it's amazing how you find that little extra bit of strength when the alternative is putting your canvas Tesco bag down in ten inches of khaki goo.

While at Tesco, I bought a hat. See above. I did this because I don't possess such a thing, the reason being that I've never needed one in recent decades. Persiflage asked if it's true if the British, when snow falls, always react as if it's a great surprise, and the answer is yes, sort of. Because we really get very little snow - or at least we did before global warming set in (there's a misnomer for you...). Councils can't have huge workforces just sitting around in snowploughs waiting for the two days of slight sleet that we tend to get. So it's not surprising that they get into a bit of a stooshie when something unprecedented like the current weather hits us. I have never seen snow so deep.

I haven't actually worn the hat yet, but I'm confident that it'll make me almost indistinguishable from the gnome line-up of two posts ago.

Sorry, Fran. As I sit drinking coffee and reading Kate Atkinson tomorrow, I'll spare you a thought. Is that ok? Do you like me again now?