Thursday, May 26, 2011

All change

Well, my poor little confused aunt died yesterday morning, aged almost 89, which was in many ways a great relief, since she's been so ill and unlike herself for the past two weeks. Still, it was a shock in a way as these things always are, and there has been the usual flurry of phone calls and arrangements which stop one from fully taking in what's happened.

Although she had become extremely forgetful, until those last weeks she never changed in personality from the stoical and cheerful person she's always been. She was a doctor in Pakistan from 1951 till her retiral and had a very interesting and exciting life. Though married, she was childless because she was unwell as a teenager and had an ovary removed. Then, in a separate operation a few years later, the second ovary was removed by a doctor who didn't read her notes, didn't thus realise the implications of taking out the second one and had a better-out-than-in policy.

Because she became seriously confused only in the last couple of years, I remember her very well as an energetic, matter-of-fact and very capable lady. I hope soon to forget her last days, when she lay in bed looking anxious and bewildered, and touchingly like my dad, her brother, in his last, sad weeks.

I'm not a person who craves excitement. Yet this year:

Son got engaged and is buying a house with his beloved.
Mum's trying to sell her flat and is planning to move in with us.
Daughter 1's having a baby.
Aunt has died.
Daughter 2's settled(ish) in London and getting married to her actor chap in September.

And I'm retiring on July 1.

It's all a bit much. But meanwhile - back to the marking.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

All work and no play...

Today I started The Annual Great Marking Marathon - marking national exams in English. I look just like the lady in the picture: young, blonde, long-legged and wearing high heels. Or not.

Q: Why do I do this?
A: I don't really know. I do it because that's what I do at this time of year.
Q: Do we really need the money that much?
A: No.

I've done it almost every year since 1979 and I suppose I just have a sense of duty and thrift. It's a way of earning extra money (not a huge amount, but a useful sum) so I feel I ought to continue; and in a strange way it brings satisfaction. Well, finishing it brings satisfaction. But I'm a long way from this happy stage. So far I've marked 3 scripts. Out of 240. And it's taken me two hours.

Back to the grind. Let's hope for some really silly answers; like the ones some of you may remember from last year, when candidates had to discuss the expression "The wind is starting to come out of the sails" and two candidates misread this as "The wind is beginning to come out of the snails". They tried hard to explain what this meant but... no.

Right, that's it. Back to work. No time to blog. No time to read blogs. Life is hard; life is earnest.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

I'd like to be...

I'd like to be…

in a pretty and tidy cottage near Loch Assynt in Sutherland, in the north-west of Scotland. Ideally I’d have Mr Life and our offspring with us but I’d settle for Mr Life by himself. It would be sunny and not too windy and there would be a big window with this view over the mountains and the loch. We would just have come in from a health-giving walk during which the Great Scottish Midge (so called because of its minute size and famous ferocity) failed to bite us. And we’d be drinking a cup of tea, possibly with a small cake (which we would deserve because of the walk). Dinner would be a long way off (because of the cake).

There would be a big pile of interesting books – biographies or really amusing novels for me with no sad or gratuitously naughty bits, and books about narrow gauge railways or mediaeval detectives for him. It would be cosy. There would be nothing worklike to do. Someone would be at home looking after the cats.

My mother, who isn't really a fan of bracing walks, would be on a nice holiday somewhere warm with one of her friends. My confused aunt would be no longer confused. There would be nothing to worry about.

(I’d also like to be thin and rich, and preferably twenty-five, but I don’t think my imagination can stretch that far.)

Thursday, May 19, 2011


Over my lunchtime sandwich, I was vaguely pottering on the computer and thought to look up Anna Massey, an actress whom I rather admire - daughter of Raymond, sister of Daniel.

I found an article in which she said of her father: "He stammered rather badly, unless he was acting. He stammered at emotional moments. Once he tried to tell me he loved me, and just couldn't because the stammer was so bad. It went on for so long that I offered him a scone in the middle. I couldn't prompt him. I couldn't say, 'You... love... me' - it's not a line you can prompt somebody with..."

Which I thought was both funny and sad.

My aunt seems to have rallied a bit. But not much. And Daughter 2 has been in London for six long months.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Journeys (and hello, Els!)

Alfred Wainwright (1907-1991) published handwritten Pictorial Guides to the Lakeland Fells (and other places), illustrated by his own drawings, which he compiled between 1952 and 1966 and which have given inspiration to many walkers over the hills and mountains.

I sat in my confused aunt's care-home library yesterday, leafing through one of Wainwright's books as I waited to speak to the assistant manager. The book was about one of my favourite places, Sutherland in north-west Scotland. Wainwright writes, "No direct descent from the summit of Caisteal Liath is possible, other than by falling off it to certain death, and steps must be retraced to..." [and a detailed route is then described]. "This alternative route of return is strongly recommended."

It made me smile. A little later I went to my aunt's room, where she lay ill. Her eyes were very blue and very blank. I wasn't sure that she recognised me. Then I took a big photo of my late uncle from her bedside cabinet, turned it sideways to where her head lay on the pillow and said, "Who's this?"

She gave a small but very sweet smile and whispered, "My husband."

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Mr Life gets cake

Happy birthday plus two days, Mr Life! It's now about 46 years since we met. I can't remember exactly when it was, because I just gradually became aware of you around other young folk locally. We started going out in December 1967 and that was more or less it. We've been married for 37 and a bit years. And I still love you. Thank you for being so supportive. I have no idea why you like watching DVDs about steam trains but on the other hand, you don't complain that I sit blogging so - whatever makes you happy.

Daughter 2 is back in London now. She had her first wedding dress fitting on Saturday morning. Or at least, the dressmaker put what looked like a calico sack on her, fiddled about with some pins and - hey presto, look out Kate Middleton. Daughter 2'll be back in three weeks to try on the resulting dress. But we miss her so much. Just as well the old chap and I have each other.

And in eight or so weeks, we should have Daughter 1's baby son. Well, strictly speaking she'll have him. But anyway - we're so looking forward to meeting him!

Friday, May 13, 2011

A lovesome thing

Well, Blogger was a bit absent for a while, wasn't it? At least it was absent from here. And when it came back, it had eaten some of your comments. Oh well. Here are some photos from our trip last Sunday to lovely Branklyn Gardens in Perth. There's Daughter 1 with her bump and her husband, Mr Life and Son and my mum. She's not really disabled, but gets tired walking very far so we have a chair for these occasions.

The colours in the garden were spectacular. I love meconopsis, which clearly flourishes there, and there were rhododendrons and azaleas in rainbow shades.

And white.

Look at that blue!

Mouthwatering. Don't plants feed the soul?

I must go back sometime and see what blooms in other seasons.

Who are these people? Happy birthday to Son-in-Law, by the way.

I'm not purple's greatest admirer but I like it here.

And I don't like orange at all - but I might make an exception for this.

Trilliums in large quantities.

Then we went and inspected the house that Son and his fiancée were about to buy (and have now more or less bought). This is the view from the front garden.

And this is the house. If it were about 60 miles nearer here I'd like it better, but it's much better than London, where Daughter 2 is. Except that she isn't at the moment; she's on a train and we're about to leave to collect her at the station. But on Sunday, alas, she goes away again.

Have a good weekend, bloggy friends. Tomorrow, Son and his girl are coming to Edinburgh and we'll all be together (except Daughter 2's actor fiancé) having lunch at a hotel in town with Mr Life's aunt, uncle and cousin. Which will be good, except possibly for the waistline.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Hawthorn time

Today I walked home from work along the cycle path. There were hawthorn trees everywhere, frothing with white. That sight of those bright green leaves against the creamy flowers and the smell of the blossom - slightly sour and earthy - always reminds me of visiting our friends in the west when we were all newly married. They lived in a high-rise flat but B, a true homemaker, had put a flowering hawthorn branch in a green bottle on the side of the bath. It looked lovely.

Every year in May I'm transported back to that happy time in my life when we were all young and starting out.

Or that's how I tend to remember it. Actually, I was a schoolteacher and found work very stressful in many ways. I wouldn't really like to go back to standing in front of a class of 34 stroppy teenagers crammed behind desks in a small airless room, as I pretended that I was in control.

I wouldn't mind reliving the weekends, though.

Ooh, 20 comments! How exciting! Nothing like being plaintive for eliciting reaction... Thank you!)

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Boy at table

Today we took Daughter 1, her husband and my mum to see Son in Perth. We had lunch in the Royal George Hotel (rather a fine lunch, actually) and then walked in lovely National Trust Branklyn Gardens. The colours were spectacular but it's rather late and I must tidy up and go to bed so I won't take time to post more pictures just now.

This post is a bit of an experiment to see whether Mr Life, who downloaded the photos from my phone (but they were all sideways, gah) has managed to turn them so that they remain turned on the blog. Yes, seems to be the answer.

I've only recently got a phone with a camera so that I can take photos (I hope) of our grandson, in about ten weeks.

Meanwhile, here's our son awaiting his lunch.

A minor mystery: quite a lot more people click on my blog than did this time last year, but I get far fewer comments. I wonder why. My theory is that my bloggy friends now read more blogs than they did before so don't have time to leave as many comments. This is probably true of me too - because I read so many blogs, I sometimes read several of people's posts at a time so leave a comment only on the most recent one.

Not that it matters. I'm just interested. Eight seems to be the magic number for comments on my blog in recent weeks.

Anyway. I hear a bubbly bath calling my name (or at least I will when I've run it). Have a good week.

Friday, May 06, 2011

The gas man cometh

Phone call number one - in morning break between classes.

Me: How's it going?
Mother: It's a CALAMITY!
Me: Oh dear. What's happened? Is the gas man there?
Mother: Yes, and both of my gas fires are leaking. They're both condemned!
Me: Oh well, don't worry. We can take you to get new ones.
Mother: But the disruption! I can't cope.
Me: I know, but we'll help you to cope.
Mother: And the expense!
Me: Well, yes, but it's not as if you're hard up. It's only money.
Mother: It's a disaster. This flat is doomed.
Me: It'll be all right ... [etc]

Phone call number two - in afternoon break between classes.

Me: How's it going?
Mother: Oh, it's fine. The gas man's slaved away all day and he's fixed both of the fires. I feel much better.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

In which I consider the advantages of being a hermit

Devoid of inspiration for a blog post is how you find me. Life is busy and not in a good way. One of the causes of stress is my poor little mum, who at nearly 89 is finding things too much for her. She's trying to sell her flat, so far with no takers, and also has various health problems - fairly minor compared to those of most 89-year-olds, I'd think, but problems nevertheless. And she constantly foresees calamity, which is a bit wearing for her hearers, ie usually me.

And things are happening such as chaps who're supposed to be changing her gas and electricity meters not turning up on three occasions, which means she has to phone up distant call centres and complain. And then at last a chap did turn up today and discovered that she has a gas leak, whereupon he turned off her gas. Another chap is coming tomorrow to fix it, but she expects him to find dry rot, lead pipes, underfloor floods and probably death watch beetle and subsidence as well.

Normalish domestic life, really. But she's too old. She should have moved to a nice simple modern flat years ago. How I wish she had! One old lady doesn't need ten rooms all filled with furniture.

Today I had to:
* go into work late because I had to buy her eye drops
* work a full day, punctuated by many doom-laden phone calls to/from my mum
* come home and collect her to bring her down here to eat since she has no gas to cook on
* take her home again
* go with Mr Life and vote in the election
* go to the supermarket because Daughter 2 and her chap are coming up in a van tomorrow to collect lots of her stuff and Friday is usually a day when the fridge is empty but Daughters 1 and 2, their chaps and my mum will be here for dinner
* put the shopping away
* make up beds for the visitors
* do this blog post - well, ok, maybe I didn't have to do this
* and now I must go and mark.

I trust my bloggy friends are having a more restful life...

Oh, to be a cat.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Being ten

Sirius and Daughter 2 enjoy a cuddle last weekend.

Fifty years ago (fancy being able to remember that far back!) I was ten, coming up for eleven. We lived at 1 Durham Terrace in the Portobello district of Edinburgh, in a bungalow which had been converted by having two rooms built into the attic. I had the one at the back, overlooking the garden. It was a small house, but it didn't seem so to me because it was the only one I'd ever lived in. My room had wallpaper with little pink roses on it. The carpet was fawn - it wasn't new (I think it had been cut down from the living room carpet or something). My bedcover was green, made from some old curtains as far as I remember. It was the early 60s, still a make-do-and-mend sort of era here.

I loved gardens even then and enjoyed opening the window and gazing out at ours. It was quite a reasonable size, with a lawn near the house, then two long steps which led up through a gap in the hedge to another lawn with apple trees in it. The hedge used to go all the way across, dividing the ornamental garden from the vegetable garden, but my dad opened it up and planted the grass instead of the vegetables. He wasn't really a keen gardener. There were quite a few flower beds also, though, with herbaceous plants which I loved: purple bearded irises, various colours of lupins, geums, a trollius... also a lilac and a pussy willow tree... and we used to plant annuals such as candytuft, Virginian stock and nasturtiums.

I don't suppose I did this often but occasionally I used to go out into the garden very early in the summer holidays, before anyone else was up. I can imagine myself there now: there weren't many cars around in those days and our little street was very quiet anyway. At that hour of the morning the air smelt only of dew-damp earth, there was no sound but the singing of birds and the world seemed new. Our house was at one end of the street with a big brick wall between our garden and the garden of the house in the next street, but between all the gardens in our street there were just low fences, so that I could see all the way up. At that time of the morning, it was my territory.

A couple of years later we moved away, to a much bigger house of which I also have fond memories. But it would be good to be able to slip through time and stand for a few minutes again on that dewy lawn, on a sunny childhood morning, when the world was full of possibilities.