Saturday, March 31, 2012

The weight of possessions

This is the view over the city from our walk today. We'd spent some of the morning packing up twenty large supermarket bags full of books from my parents' flat - those "bags for life" that hold really quite a lot. Then we'd added four or five bagfuls from our house and, in the afternoon, put them in a cellar beneath a New Town flat where books are collected for the Christian Aid sale in a town church in May. It all involved quite a lot of stairs.
Quite a few of these were gifts that we'd given my parents for Christmas: books on antiques or reminiscences of the war years for my mother and on music or science for my father. Many were full of nice pictures and therefore very large and heavy. I regretted not giving them chocolates instead.
It's very sobering, this packing up of someone else's life. We came home and looked at our own very many books and wondered how long we would live and if we could calculate when it would be good to give them away.
Mr Life tends to buy books that he reads once and will never read again and so he often does pass them on to charity shops. (I exclude railway books from this generalisation.) But I do reread mine and cherish them. However, the question is: is there any realistic hope of rereading them all even once - and also reading the many new books that come out every year and that I also want to read - before I die?

Ah well. Meanwhile we enjoyed a bit of fresh air. This is Moray Place, a very desirable crescent near the centre of town but with no through traffic and with a private garden in the middle. If I were to live in a flat in town, it would be here. Well, actually it wouldn't because we couldn't afford it. And anyway I don't want to live in a flat. But Moray Place might tempt me.
I'm determined that we're not going to do to our children what my parents have done to us: stay on too long in a too-big house full of too many things and leave the offspring with the problems: furniture, photos, ornaments, pictures, memorabilia. But it's hard to work out the timing. Ideally, you should reduce your effects to a minimum just before you no longer have the capacity to do so by yourself. It would be sad but, I hope, a bit liberating. But when? Ah, that's the question.
It's so cheering, all this talk of death. I like to spread sunshine.

Friday, March 30, 2012

What's hers is his

Today we went to see Son in his house in Perth. Last weekend, he took possession of quite a lot of my mother's furniture (with her consent!) and we took her up to see it in its new home. It was rather weird to see it all, but it fits into his house rather well.
Daughter 1 and Grandson came with us. Here he is, about to have his lunch out.
After lunch we went for a walk along beside the River Tay.
We chose a nice house for Son to live in when he wins the lottery.
Here you see my mother's (now Son's) armchair and her/his dining table and chairs. And Son teaching Grandson how to be silly.
Mum and Grandson sit on her/Son's sofa and commune.
Do you like Grandson's sunhat?
Then we came home. Son's now on night duty in the paediatric wards so think of him as you turn over in your comfortable bed. I do. I wake up and imagine him tending the children of Dundee and district in the middle of the night. I want to go and tuck him into bed.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Easter items

Though it feels like summer in this unusually warm March, it's not, so today I got out the Easter decorations. I've had most of the things on this table for well over 20 years, though I got the "tree" only a few years ago. Previously I used an actual twig, but it's difficult to find a suitable one in our garden. Cutting off bits of neighbours' trees tends to be frowned upon.
Daughter 1 bought me these eggs.
And these.
Actually, these too, now I come to think about it.
This wooden egg string is more recent. It clacks satisfactorily against the glass door.
I treated myself to these glass eggs only last year. Or possibly the one before. How the years rush by... .
And I rather like this recentish acquisition, a fat glass chicken.
I like hanging things seasonally around the house but feel slightly guilty about it. I was born in 1950 and all the excess that we have today - the spoilt-for-choice prettiness for sale cheaply in so many shops and supermarkets - simply didn't exist. We lived in a mildly threadbare way and thought nothing of it. I don't mean that we were poor - not my particular family. But we were frugal; most people were. We bought necessities on the whole, with a few treats for special occasions. New clothes were kept for "best" and when they were no longer smart, they were worn on Saturdays, for playing, even if they were by then a bit small.
I'm suffering from Grandson deprivation - haven't seen him since his return to Edinburgh on Tuesday. However, that will be rectified tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Mummies and grannies

After my piano lesson today, Mr Life and I walked across Bruntsfield Links,
- you can see the Castle from the non-postcard angle to the left of the spire in the photo at the top and the right of the spire in the one immediately above -
and across the Meadows. The weather is still unseasonably warm and it was very odd to see people sunbathing on the grass in t-shirts and shorts while the trees were still leafless.
We then walked up Middle Meadow Walk to the museum, to see the Fascinating Mummies exhibition.
We didn't actually see this picture but we did see many examples of similar Egyptian drawings and inscriptions. It's very strange to look at objects created up to 5000 years ago and to think of the people who drew them. In many ways they were very different from us and yet in other ways, probably, they were quite similar.
In the late afternoon, Grandson and his parents returned. It was lovely lovely lovely to see them. Meanwhile, Daughter 2 was in the office till after 10 pm for the second night running.

Monday, March 26, 2012

The cat sat in the flowerbed

Today was rather dull. I did have coffee with friends, but otherwise I swept up leaves and assorted dusty stuff from the side of the house, cleaned the garden furniture, hung out washing in the beautiful sunshine and suchlike mundane tasks. Which wasn't exciting but was useful, I suppose. And it was better than marking.
Oh, and I missed my children and worried about Daughter 2 working far too hard, far too long hours (ie till ten at night or later) in her London office.
Not happy. But then, we're not promised happiness.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Ain't nobody here but us - no chickens

Today in Scotland was the warmest March day since records began. (Mind you, I think they only began in 1958 or something.) The sun shone from a cloudless blue sky and the noisy child in the next street only shouted "CanniBAL! CanniBAL!" for about ten minutes and then stopped.
Spring is definitely springing.
We worked in the garden in shirtsleeves and were still a bit hot.
It was very pretty.
But very childless, what with one being in Perth, another being in London and the third (plus baby) being in - well, the baby was in Worcester with his dad and other paternal relations but his mum was in Cardiff at a Doctor Who convention. Strange but true. Anyway, none of them was here which made the nice sunny day somewhat of a quintessence of dust. Sulk.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Saturday photos

Mr Life and the cats spent some quality sofa time this afternoon. Well, and every afternoon.
Now, this is a family heirloom that I will keep. (Sorry that it's sideways.) It's such a good size for an heirloom, don't you think? Like most of our family heirlooms, it's probably worth about 50 pence, but it used to belong to my granny and I'm fond of it. I've never really looked properly at it before but it looks as if the little lady (whose skirts form a bell with a clapper inside) is dressed in Breton costume - can't think why, since my grandparents never got to France on holiday. And on the back, much worn by polishing, there seems to be the word DEPONE. Very mysterious.
And today, Saturday 24 March, is Mother's Day in my house. Yes, it was also Mother's Day last Sunday, but Son got the week wrong and sent these lovely hyacinths today (and roses to my mother). Which is lovely, since last week's Mother's Day flowers won't last much longer. Thank you, Son!

Friday, March 23, 2012

The dresser

This is a strange stage in our lives. We went up to my mother's flat today to meet a valuer who was looking at her stuff and advising what it might make at auction. In most cases, as we knew, not very much. You don't get a lot for second-hand furniture and ornaments.
This dresser is perhaps the most valuable item. I wish we could keep it but it's quite large and we have nowhere for it in our house. (Anyway, Mr Life doesn't like it. But I could probably persuade him... anyway, we don't have a space for it unless we got rid of the piano, which Shostakovich is currently making me think might not be a bad idea. Gosh, my current piece of music is hard.)
The dresser isn't a family heirloom. My parents bought it with the flat, 21 years ago. But it's quite old. It's an eighteenth century piece but the valuer thought that the top bit had been replaced and was perhaps nineteenth century. It all looks the same age to me, but I assume he knows what he's talking about. Open shelves like that get broken when dressers are dragged about, evidently, and have to be replaced.
I just like it because it's old. I like to speculate about where it's been, what it's seen (well, ok, not seen exactly, but what scenes it's sat in the middle of) and the variety of things that have sat on its shelves and been tucked away in its cupboards. It would be even more interesting if there were any way of finding any of this out, of course, but there's not.
It's rather depressing to consider that it's probably got another few centuries in it, while we... . The previous owners of the house lived there for twenty years or so also, but I've no idea where they got the dresser. My parents' ownership of it has been quite brief in terms of its existence.
The valuer said that it's English and provincial. I imagine it sitting in some farmhouse kitchen in Derbyshire or somewhere, its cupboards filled with pots and pans, and with plates propped up on the shelves between meals of ... I don't know ... soups and stews or whatever farmers ate in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
I'm quite tempted to slip a note in one of the drawers telling its new owners where it's been for the last forty years. It would be good if they then added to the note so that in another couple of hundred years, when we're all completely forgotten, the dresser would have its own little, partial, history.
Yup. Feeling really cheerful tonight... .

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Good and not so good

It was a lovely day today. This picture, from my walk home from having coffee with a friend, shows the hill, Arthur's Seat, in the background with the Castle in front of it.
I walked past the school attended by our daughters. I half-expected to see them there in their uniforms. I felt wistful. On the other hand, I also felt slightly gleeful at being out in the sunshine instead of in front of a class at college.
Grandson is down in England with his parents visiting the other grandparents. I'm delighted that they're getting the benefit of his beams. But we won't see him till Tuesday - oh dear!
Daughter 2 has been offered (without applying!) a new job in London. She's very excited about it. I'm delighted that she's pleased. But on the other hand, this project will last about two years and I'm not at all delighted about her being in London for another two years. In fact, she'll probably be there for ever, if her husband continues trying to make a career as an actor, but I can't really think too hard about that.
A day of mixed feelings, then.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


Daughter 2 hasn't been home for three and a half weeks and isn't coming for another three and a half, for various reasons. We miss her so much. There's such a hole in our lives.

And she's not seeing Grandson who - forgive me my grandmotherly gushing - gets more delightful every day.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Great Grandpa's picture

This is one of the many little problems we're going to have in emptying my mother's flat. It's one of two oil paintings by (I think) my father's grandfather - his father's father, so my great-grandfather. It's possible that the painter is even one generation further back. The other picture is a copy of "The Laughing Cavalier" - the slightly evil version. Now, both paintings are quite well done for an amateur. I myself would be rather pleased to paint as well as that. But I don't actually want either of the paintings. This one is of - I assume - the Scottish countryside and there are a couple of chaps fishing in the river, but it's not exactly an exciting picture.
It's difficult, isn't it? How can we throw it away? Would a saleroom take it? Would anybody buy it? How about all the things that my beloved Granny (my mum's mum) used to own? (All these questions are rhetorical.) I'm emotionally attached to them but some of them are really rather horrid and one can't keep all one's Granny's possessions. Oh dear oh dear oh dear.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Happy Mother's Day

It was a beautiful day today. Happy Mother's Day, British mothers. If you still have children at home, bringing you breakfast in bed, I hope you enjoyed it. Mine, alas, have gone, though they sent lovely presents.
However, Daughter 1, SIL 1 and Grandson came to lunch, which was nice. Grandson played and played.
And beamed.
And, eventually, snoozed.

Saturday, March 17, 2012


My friend D and I had coffee today in a bookshop. The coffee shop is run by a well-known chain and we were served by a young man with a big name badge on his lapel. "Good morning," he said to me. "My name is Bradley. What's your name?"
"Don't tell him!" said D, who's a strong-minded person. "It's this new thing that they ask your name so that you think they're your friend."
Bradley looked nonplussed. "I want to write it on your cup," he said. D gave him a further little lecture about globalisation and marketing and so on.
They've up till now managed to unite me and my coffee without knowing my name but it didn't seem to be Bradley's fault so I told him my name, which isn't Isabelle and which, in the shortened form I gave him, has only three letters. It's not uncommon.
"How do you spell that?" asked Bradley. We sorted this out. I can imagine that coffee queues must be getting longer all over the world if people called Phoebe or Mairi or Aoife are trying to buy coffee.
Then he looked helplessly at D. "Just put her down as [my name] 2," I suggested. So he did.
D and I sat down on two of a group of four armchairs and started chatting. She decided that in future she would just claim that her name was the same as the server's, even if this were Bradley.
Very shortly afterwards, someone asked if the other two chairs were taken and, when we said no, this person sat down in one of them. I'm saying "this person" because it was very obvious that (s)he had started life as a man, but (s)he was wearing a shortish skirt and blouse, tights, high heels, pearl earrings and quite a lot of eye shadow. (S)he sat there for most of the two hours that we did, presumably listening to our fascinating talk about our children and grandchildren, about work (D still works at the college), holidays and so on. Eventually s(he) got up, smiled very nicely at us, said goodbye and departed.
It struck me that D and I were not really taking full advantage of our freedom to dress in a feminine way. We were both wearing black jeans and flat shoes. I was wearing a checked shirt in green and black and D had a tee-shirt, though admittedly that was pink.
After this person went, we had a bit of a chat about it all.
Including that the fact that the name written on our companion's coffee cup was - as we were surprised to notice - Alan.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Grandson and me

I paid a visit to Daughter 1 and Grandson this afternoon. I shouldn't have worn beads. But look - a tooth! Well, the beginnings of a tooth.
There's that tooth again. He's still smiling even though the necklace has been whipped away from him. (He could be a girl in this picture, don't you think?)
This is how my piano-learning is going:
Tuesday. I have my lesson, play my little tune, the teacher makes encouraging noises and then plays me the next tune in the book. It sounds simple and lovely. I have a go, one hand at a time, and it's not too difficult.
Wednesday. I have another go, one hand at a time. Easy.
Thursday. I try both hands together. Rubbish.
Friday. Still rubbish. I think: oh woe is me. Why did I ever think I could do this? I'm wasting my time and money. I'll never be able to do it, especially BY TUESDAY!
Saturday. Things improve a bit.
Sunday. Actually, I'm getting better at this tune.
Monday. I can play it, though make the odd mistake from time to time.
The following week: process repeats itself.
Currently it's Friday.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012


This morning, when I left for Zumba, the cats were resting on the sofa. When I returned, they didn't appear to have moved.
Our Zumba teacher is svelte and lissom and very supple. Fair enough - she spends much of her life leaping around. I am not. But then, one hour a week probably isn't going to be enough to make me thus. (Indeed, I wasn't supple even when I was twelve.)
But the cats? They're svelte, lissom and extremely supple. And extremely lazy.
Where's the justice in that?
And then there's this lady....

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Chopped finger (mine!)

We hadn't seen Grandson since Thursday - far too long - so he and Daughter 1 came round today. He played with his heritage rattles.
He smiled.
I love the way that he can look so serious and busy, examining each one thoroughly to remind himself of its particular properties. He's like a little scientist at his workbench.
Daughter 1, Brother, Mr Life and I took him for a walk. Brother ("Goodness, am I going to appear on your blog?") is interested in transport, so we went to look at the progress being made on Edinburgh's infamous new tram system.
Grandson wore his most colourful hat.
This looks as if it's going to be a station or platform or whatever trams have. I can't really imagine who's going to alight here on their way from the airport, but we shall see.
Then we walked along by the golf course.
Yesterday I tried multitasking by chopping onions with a sharp knife while watching television. This was not wholly successful. It gave me a good reason for not playing my tunes very well at my piano lesson. I wonder if I can use the same excuse for my ineptitude at Zumba tomorrow?