Sunday, March 27, 2011

This, that and a journey to the moon

Morsels from my day: I occasionally look at my nephew's Twitter page. He's 21. Today he tweeted: Oh no I just burped up a kidney after drinking a can of Dr. Pepper real fast. (He makes me such a proud auntie.)

Mr Life is on Facebook. He's not a keen Facebooker; in fact he has only 6 "friends": our children, our son-in-law, our son-in-law's brother and a chap in our church. When we were all sitting round after lunch, he read from our son-in-law's brother's page: It's a lovely sunny day, just right for mending the toilet with a hangover.

"I wonder," remarked our son-in-law, "how the toilet got a hangover."

Nephew: Cambridge University. Son-in-law: Oxford University. They pick only the best and brightest.

Later I came across this 1902 film of a journey to the moon. It takes 10 minutes but it's quite diverting. Sorry I can't do the wee tv screen thing.

Well, that's the weekend over again. Hope you had a good one. Back to work.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Pictures and bodies

After my pontificating about words being more important than pictures, I was studying Robert Browning's photo (he's the writer, you may remember, of "Porphyria's Bloke") and noticed that he was rather handsome. Here he is when young. He has a slight air of Colin Firth, don't you think? This photo mercifully shades out his rather appalling side whiskers, mind you.

You can see why Elizabeth Barrett might have leapt from her sofa when he appeared.

Still quite good-looking as an older chap.

And even when fairly venerable, he's quite sweet in a Santa-ish way - though actually he died at 77, so he does look his age, I suppose. Too many pies by that time.
On another topic: is it just me, or do you find this first sentence (edited to: this second sentence (thank you, Veg Artist))* by one of my science students (to whom I teach English) a bit ... creepy? I asked them to write about why they'd been inspired to do science at university and he wrote:

Science is a beautiful subject. The human body is an inner space, poised and ready for dissection by the inquisitive and hungry-for-knowledge biologist of the present age.

Yes... Don't think I'm going to leave my body sitting around too near this chap. Luckily I wouldn't often describe myself as poised.

* I think I meant first paragraph but you might think I'd know the difference between a sentence and a paragraph, wouldn't you? It was late at night. I was rushing. And stuff.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Robert Browning

We have correspondence courses at college, including a literature one which I wrote a few years ago. I've never had any problems with it till this session. Students enrol all through the year and are at different stages at different times. Recently I'm finding that they email me their work and all goes well until suddenly they stop contacting me. I email them to enquire what's happened and they reply, aggrieved, that they've sent me work to which I haven't responded. But I've never received this work.

I got our computer services team on to the problem.

The solution was found today.

I hadn't noticed, but my nice computer chap did, that it's Study Section 5 that causes the problem. Students put the title of the Robert Browning poem they're studying - "Porphyria's Lover" - as the subject of the email. And our spam filter has taken to deleting the email, thinking I'm being offered naughty stuff.

Problem solved. From now on, we'll be referring electronically to "Porphyria's Bloke".

Monday, March 21, 2011


In a comment on my previous post, Marcheline
(oh, must write down how to do that linky thing) said that she thought that a picture is worth a thousand words.

I don't really agree. Yes, there are some things that are better seen than described. A rose, for example. A baby. A house, maybe, especially if one's planning to buy it. But not a person, definitely not a person.

We have photos of various ancestors - great-grandparents and the odd great-great grandparent. And it's lovely and interesting and intriguing to have them. But they don't really tell us much. I'd so much rather have their words. Words give a far better impression of the person, don't you think? I have only one piece of writing from my father's father - who died a few months before I was born. It's a letter that he sent to my grandmother, his future wife, saying that he hoped to see her again. I have not a scrap of writing from that grandmother. I have two plates from her wedding china but that's it. (And quite a lot of her genes, I suppose. I look a bit like her.) I do have a few letters written to me by my other grandparents and they give at least a flavour of their personalities.

But I feel I know a lot about Samuel Pepys and Anne Frank and Nella Last and Virginia Woolf and lots of other people whose diaries I've read, and about Philip Larkin and Noel Coward and all the Mitford sisters and Joyce Grenfell and lots of other people whose letters I've read.

And then there are blogs, of course. Our children and grandchildren, if the blogs survive, will know a huge amount about us and our lives. And what an archive for historians - if our journals don't disappear when we do, or shortly thereafter.

What do you think? Words or pictures? If you could only have one of them?

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Rain and tulips

My confused Aunt Jean, who is now in a care home, is a widow: her husband, my uncle by marriage, died about ten years ago. In some ways they were a remarkable couple. They had no children because as a girl, my aunt had both ovaries removed in separate operations, because they were … I don’t know, but infected in some way. It’s hard to imagine this happening now but this was in the 30s. Anyway, she and my uncle were very religious and decided that, since they couldn’t have children, they would be missionaries instead. His family were – indeed still are – Plymouth Brethren and my aunt became one too.

She was a doctor and he was a pharmacist and they spent their working lives in a hospital in Pakistan. But as well as this, they preached Christianity to the Pakistanis, which now seems rather… . Well, they did what they did with the best of intentions, I’m sure. My uncle was also quite a scholar and published learned commentaries on various Bible texts.

When we moved my aunt out of her flat into the home last August, we found lots of photograph albums. I’ve been gradually taking them to her room in the home. She and my uncle travelled a lot, both from their base in Pakistan and during their furlough years. And, happily for the current circumstances, they were very good at labelling their albums, so that I often look at them with her and can say, “Oh look, this is Baghdad – you went there in 1947” and she can agree.

One album that I haven’t taken there yet is actually a notebook, a sort of diary kept by my uncle and illustrated by photos and postcards. There’s nothing intensely personal in it; it’s mainly just an account of their travels and other activities during a few years at the beginning of their marriage. But I never knew it existed and am touched to read it. I never knew my uncle particularly well - we never saw all that much of them because they were so involved with the Brethren. He was quite fun, but not someone who was interested in children. And of course they were abroad throughout my childhood and young adulthood.

Here’s the first page:

The Wedding 24th February 1945

The place: St Philip’s Church, Joppa
Time: 2.15 pm on a dull, cold day
Officiating: Rev. J. E. Adam and A. Hutchison, Craigmillar
[and he lists them]
Best man: John [his brother] Bridesmaids: Effie and Gracie
Organist: Jim [my father]

We arranged for a taxi for Jean but it didn’t arrive so walked to church [it’s only a couple of streets from where my grandparents lived]. The wedding went smoothly. Thence to photographers – photos turned out pitiful. The guests went by special tram to Darling’s Hotel, Regent Place. A splendid occasion – speeches by Uncle Tom, Uncle Andrew, Wm Campbell, Jean’s father and Reg as well as the two ministers. Finally the singing of Psalm 23 and some choruses suggested by Mother brought the proceedings to an end. A delightful and very happy occasion.

Then we went by train to Glasgow. Taxi, in a most tempestuous storm of rain and wind, to Mayfair. At Mearns next morning Mrs Connell announced us as a honeymoon couple. Lunch at John Smith’s. His mother vastly amused at honeymoon couple.

My mother always says that the reception was like a prayer meeting - and you'll notice that none of the wedding party is exactly glamorous, though of course it was wartime and clothes were difficult to get. (My mother is a very pretty and elegant person.) She also laughs at the corsages, which are made of tulips - quite unusual even then!

But it was a very happy marriage.

I feel a bit odd having this notebook but there's no one else closer to them and though I shall take it in to read to my aunt, I don't know how much it will mean to her. I wouldn't like it to get lost so I suppose I'll bring it back here again. The ink's a bit faded so I shall type out the rest of the words to preserve them. The last entry is July 15, 1947.

I do like having this link to my uncle.

Words. There's nothing like them. As we bloggers know.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Sirius makes music

It's always easier to do marking when someone seranades you on a rubber band.
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Thursday, March 17, 2011

Feeling bleek?

I have been marking lots and lots of exams recently. Now, I'm not saying that when I myself was an examinee, I necessarily wowed the markers with my genius.

But I think I might have managed a bit more coherence than these two students:

1. As this is a very important scene and it happens very shortly after the first scene ends we need to realise the impact that the first scene had on the significant part of the first scene.

2. The setting down by the river through John Steinbeck’s structure of the way it’s written from you imaging somewhere beautiful with lush green fresh hills to the orange flicker of the last of the days sun reflecting of the water to feeling bleek lonely no life like nothing has no colour just a grey matter. It’s the same place but due to the excellence way in which its written excuceded and procented it doesn’t feel like the same place at all.

I think I need to read these again.

(No. Didn't really help.)

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

I carry your heart

Since our children have left home, I am often sad. This poem comforts me a bit, though it also makes me cry.

It would probably make E E Cummings cry, too, since he called himself e e cummings and didn't really go for capital letters or punctuation. But I put it as our "Poem of the Week" on the noticeboard at work (and heavens, it's hard enough to persuade our students to use punctuation without poets giving them dangerous ideas) so I "improved" it (sorry, e e). This is that version.

I CARRY YOUR HEART by E. E. Cummings

I carry your heart with me. (I carry it in
My heart.) I am never without it. (Anywhere
I go, you go, my dear; and whatever is done
By only me is your doing, my darling.)

I fear
No fate (for you are my fate, my sweet). I want
No world (for beautiful you are my world, my true)
And it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
And whatever a sun will always sing is you.

Here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
And the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
Higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
And this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart.

I carry your heart. (I carry it in my heart.)

Sunday, March 13, 2011


Oh, Japan! Words fail; but like everyone else I feel so much for people involved in the terrible catastrophe there.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Born and bread

I know obesity isn't funny - I'm not thin myself, and wish I were - but I thought I'd share with you the odd crumb (ho, ho) from my marking - specifically from an essay about poor eating habits:

These people have done it to themselves through self-loafing.

They use food to fill the cracks in their brains.

That second sentence is a bit disturbing... though in fact quite apt. Maybe he was thinking of the cracks in one's heart.... no, I think that's worse. Shudder.

Thursday, March 10, 2011


I left work early today to go home and tackle the marking mountain. First, I popped into the supermarket to buy Dreamies, the cats’ rather expensive little treats. I’d been to the other supermarket yesterday and there were none. Shock! Horror! I don’t know what’s in Dreamies but the cats adore them.

I also needed fruit.

However, since the alternative was to go home and do my marking, I had a little wander round the supermarket after buying the fruit and the Dreamies. It was earlier than usual so I felt relaxed, which I wouldn’t be once I’d started the marking.

So by the time I left the supermarket, I’d bought:

1) A plastic mini-greenhouse – only £20! What a bargain, and I’ll really use it if the weather ever improves (it’s very cold and windy today and the mini-greenhouse would blow away).

2) Two lamps – because one of the dining room lamps has gone phut and I don’t want two non-matching ones, do I?

3) Bubble bath – because a bubbly bath is essential at the end of a long day.

4) A plastic colander to replace the one I melted the other week. (The saucepan that I melted it into wasn’t improved, either.)

5) A packet of mung beans, for sprouting. Protein, you know.

6) A set of three ducks for the bath. I hope that the expected grandson will like them. Or is this hopelessly old-fashioned? Will he want a waterproof computer game?

7) Letter trays and a magazine holder for my desk, which is constantly trying to become chaotic.

8) Loo rolls, for obvious reasons

9) Two bunches of daffodils because it's spring (brr!) and they were half price

10) Fruit

11) Dreamies

Total cost: £61.42.

I told you that Dreamies were expensive.

And I clearly had to share all this with you before starting my marking. But I'm off to begin it now... though I might have to make some soup first. It really is very cold here.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011


I'm a bit squeamish and don't like seeing the picture of that poor dead chap - or possibly lady - so though I don't think I have anything particular to say, I'm replacing him/her with a photo of my darling Daughter 2. The only other picture in this folder in Picasa is one of our 2010 Christmas cake. I think she may be about to cut this, hence the raised hand and somewhat "Aha!" expression on her face.

She's coming up to Edinburgh again at the weekend to search out a wedding dress. This time we're trying dressmakers. Keep your fingers crossed for us.

I've just been watching some of her actor fiancé's friends on a tv improvisation programme. I imagine that some of them will be coming to the wedding, which I find rather alarming. They're all very witty and smart and poor Mr Life's going to have to make a speech in front of them.

I felt very unsmart this morning when I was standing at the bus stop, replying to a text from Daughter 2. (This is my new phone - I decided that I needed one with a camera in preparation for being a granny in July. All my granny friends show people phone photos of their grandoffspring. I mentioned one Friday evening to Mr Life that I was thinking in terms of a cameraphone, and the next morning at 9 we were in a phone shop. Mr Life likes gadgets.

I can't really claim to have mastered this device. I can manage texts (though don't know how to delete them) and can phone people, though haven't yet got used to the doorbell-like burble that it gives when people are phoning me. Indeed, I tend to ignore it, merely wishing that whoever owns that phone would hurry up and answer it. Then I realise that it's mine.)

Back to the bus stop. Mid-text, I must have touched a wrong button and Radio 4 started bellowing out of the phone at me. I kept frantically pressing things, without result. I continued to regale the bus queue with the "Today" programme. Eventually I had to ask a young man if he knew how to stop it. He did.

I warned you that I didn't have anything to say. Still, it's a nice picture of Daughter 2, don't you think? How I miss her.

Sunday, March 06, 2011


On Thursday, Son came to the college at lunchtime and we went to a nearby shopping centre for lunch. Afterwards, we wandered round a bit and inspected this display about Edinburgh's projected tram system. "Coming soon" - hah!

This is a major source of mockery and grief in the city since some bright spark decided a few years ago that we should bring trams back. No one I've ever met wants them; it's cost umpty-tum millions; the streets have been hugely dug-up; the companies doing it have run out of money/gone into dispute/whatever and the whole thing has ground to a halt. We have a few tram rails but no trams.

We hadn't heard about the chap above, but evidently he's been excavated in the course of the works. Son inspected him in a doctorly way (too late for emergency procedures, I fear). A passerby peered over Son's shoulder. "Aye," he pronounced gloomily. "Poor man was probably waiting for a tram."

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Doctor, doctor, there's a cat on the sofa

By the way, Meggie - in answer to your question - these are Moomins. They're sort of ... um... creatures - in a series of books. I can't really remember much about them but Daughter 1 used to be fond of them.

And here's our son, home for a brief visit, looking at Cassie Cat, who is declining to show any interest. He went for a cycle ride this afternoon, hence the shorts. It's not really shorts weather, in my opinion. Note the phone in his hand, as befits a young person, particularly one parted temporarily from his lady friend.
Then Cassie woke up and posed.

Here's the lad again. He was working last weekend and so got this week off. It's lovely to have him back for a while. He's been listening sympathetically to my mother's various symptoms. She gets many of her medical facts ("facts") from her daily newspaper or from the health page of the magazine that her cleaning lady brings round, and is usually reluctant to believe that the lad, who's been working as a doctor for three years now, might have slightly more accurate medical knowledge than The Woman's Weekly. He bears this stoically.

Sirius enjoying the heat from the radiator.
Gossypia, I've left a message for you in the comment box of my previous blog post.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Easter is coming...

As I've said many times before, we love our cats dearly but they do make it rather hard to get away on holiday, since we're softies and couldn't enjoy ourselves if we thought they were pining in a cattery. This Easter holiday I had hopes of bribing a friend's son to catsit, but alas, before I got my request in, he had been nobbled to beaglesit for three weeks over the one-week period that we wanted him.

We do have kind friends and neighbours who would pop in and feed them if necessary but I'd rather have live-in sitters.

So - this has worked before so I thought I'd ask again, on the off-chance - would any of my bloggy friends or their friends or family be interested in a free week's holiday in Edinburgh? The only duties would be to dish the meaty chunks out to our furry friends from time to time and, ideally, to shut them in at night and let them out in the morning. They have a (close-able) cat flap.

We would like to go mid-week to mid-week (I realise this might be tricky) because our destination is my non-confused aunt's house in Norfolk and our beloved Daughter 2 would be able to pop down from London for the weekend. The dates we're thinking of are Wednesday 13 - Wednesday 20 April, though as long as we're there over the weekend Friday 15 - Monday 18, this could vary.

Anyway - I know it's not very likely but I thought I'd ask. Our house is in a quiet cul-de-sac, with parking in our driveway, about two minutes from buses into town. It takes the bus about 10 minutes in the non-rush hour to get to the centre. Or you can walk - it's about two and a half miles. There are various beds and chairs and so on.

The weather might be nice at Easter. Or it might not...