Sunday, September 30, 2012

Take 100 lines

Ah well. Anonymous finds me irritating because I sometimes whinge about missing my absent offspring. I should count myself lucky that I have them.
I sympathise with Anon because I too frequently find myself irritating. I apologise to her and anyone else who feels the same. The trouble is, no matter how much you feel you should count your blessings – and indeed no matter how much you do count your blessings – it doesn’t necessarily make you feel better. Not all the time, not completely.
However, though I can’t help how I feel, she may be right that we bloggers should stiffen the upper lip. One of the questions this raises in my mind is: who do I imagine is reading this? The rather na├»ve answer is: the twenty or thirty regular commenters whom I’ve come to think of as friends, even though we're unlikely ever to meet (though in fact I’ve met a surprising ten of them). And they probably don’t all that much mind me complaining, as I wouldn’t if they did. (Indeed, some of them sometimes do.) Another hundred-ish people read the blog most days but I very seldom think about them because – it's hard to think about people if you know nothing about them. Do I write for them? Well, perhaps slightly. Really I write for myself. My natural reaction to life is to write. The comments are (almost always) a bonus, an accumulating relationship with individuals.
Most of us, I imagine, have burdens of sadness that we carry around; usually we never find out about those of passing acquaintances. The bloggy world is rather different – we’re mainly strangers to each other but some bloggers unburden themselves to some extent – in some cases, a lot. By contrast, other brave souls are consistently sunny. But no one tells it all. We present a picture of ourselves on our blogs. It’s probably true but it’s not the whole truth. I have other big worries that I don’t blog about. Does that get me any credit?
Yesterday morning on Radio 4 a chap was offering to suggest poems to console people with particular sorrows. He asked listeners to contact the programme. There was an immediate response, and I smiled wryly to hear him say that the vast majority of the first responders were parents missing their children who’d just left for university. I wondered if Anon was listening to that and tutting.
Anyway, I do take your point, Anon, but  … a suggestion. If I irritate you or anyone else, I really am sorry but - just don’t read me. There are lots of better, jollier, funnier, more interesting blogs around.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Big and little boy

Today we drove up to Son's to sit in his house in case the electrician arrived before Son got home from work on a half day. (He didn't.) The countryside looked very autumnal, with those rolls of hay - don't know what they're called: not haystacks because they're not stacks. Those black clouds rolled over without giving us rain, despite their threatening look.
We collected the keys of Son's house from the surgery where he works. Here he is, looking like a real doctor. Well, of course he is a real doctor.
This was one of our Grandson days, so the little one came with us. It seems but a few moments since Son was just like this.
It's lovely to see the wandering offspring but I'm always sadder afterwards. No cure for this disease.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Plants in Granny's garden

We walked in the Botanics a week or so ago and I took this picture of autumn crocuses, which aren't really crocuses at all, but colchicum speciosum. And I thought of my lovely Granny, who grew lots of these bulbs. And I also thought about the various things that are inside our heads that we probably never talk about but which are inextricably woven into our memories of people and places. For me, even as a small child, plants were endlessly interesting and the plants I knew best were those in our and my grandparents' gardens. As well as autumn crocuses, I asssociate proper spring crocuses with my grandparents' garden - yellow ones. My Granny's house faced south and I have a vivid memory of sitting on her front path - which was made up of some sort of composition material with bits of granite in it which sparkled in the sunlight - and it was warm and sunny, warmer than you'd expect in early spring, and there were bees buzzing around those yellow crocuses which grew down each side of the path. And I had nothing I needed to do, no responsibilities, no worries - I was only really aware of the garden and the crocuses and the bees and the sunshine.

At the front gate were two laburnum trees with yellow tassels blowing in the breeze in summer - again I shall always associate laburnum with my grandparents. And in various places in the garden there were lavender bushes. Granny used to cut the flowers and sew them into lavender bags which she put in between her clothes in the drawers and wardrobes, so the scent of lavender always reminds me of Granny. Also the scent of mothballs. I don't know if my children would know what mothballs smelt like: naphthelene. I suppose it's not that beautiful a scent, but to me, mothballs and lavender = Granny = happiness and security and approval.

There was a lot of Rose of Sharon in that garden, and a lilac plant whose name I don't know - the flowers are a bit laburnum-like, but the plant is much smaller. Is it herbaceous? A small shrub? I'm not sure. And in the summer, my grandfather had wire netting stretched between canes to support sweet peas. My sweet peas are never so good. Again, that scent...

And you? Do you have plant memories from childhood?

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Other people's houses

Yesterday was quite interesting: this is Edinburgh's Open Doors weekend, when various buildings and gardens not usually open to the public are made available to visit. We've never had time to take advantage of this before, but yesterday we had no commitments so we devoted the day to visiting six places. The first place we went wasn't the house in the picture above, but a newly-built house quite near us that we've seen under construction and wondered what it was. This area is very posh (we're in the less posh bit that borders it) and this house was built in part of the large garden of a much older, very big house. The new house too looked puzzlingly large. My mum thought it was going to be a block of flats but I didn't think it looked quite big enough for that. Anyway, it turns out to belong to the Christian Science church, and it's an retirement home / administrative centre / study centre, with six beds (and currently three residents). I didn't quite have the nerve to take photos, but in my (uninformed) view, it's a wonderful example of good modern architecture. It has wonderful views over the Pentland Hills from huge picture windows in the sitting rooms on the first floor. There's a very spacious feeling inside with lots of white walls, internal glass - on the sides of the staircases, for example - and various little nooks for armchairs to give a feeling of privacy even in communal spaces. And views from one part of the house to another. What a wonderful place to end one's days. Though our cats were there, all the glass would have little nose-marks along it...
The second place we went to was extremely different: a conversion of what had originally been a shop into a home, done by a young architect for himself and his wife. He'd put in a mezzanine floor for a little studio and done various other space-creating tricks. Again, I didn't like to take photos. It was very different - small and interesting but without the wonderful light and views.
Then we went to the Dower House in Corstorphine, which is shown in the picture above. I've written about this house before, though never been inside. It was built in the 1570s and is now a heritage centre, with lots of photos of Corstorphine - now a district in Edinburgh - as it was when it was a village in a rural area. Interesting but rather sad to see the fields where now there are houses - though I dare say life was pretty hard in those days.

Next we visited the office of Ove Arup, built in the 1960s and recently modernised and extended. This is the picture with the coloured chairs.  It's light and airy and uses the latest environmentally sound techology, such as lots of small light wells with lenses (is that right?) that throw light into the room. It was a sunny day, but according to the young man who showed us round, there's a lot of light even on a dull day.
Next, we visited this lovely house above - alas, we didn't get into the house, just the garden - that turned out to be the home of the Governer of Edinburgh Castle. I suggested to Mr Life that he might like to apply for the job when it became vacant, because I would like to live there if I don't become a Christian Scientist and get a room in that new house - but he pointed out that the current occupant is a Major General in the army. Mr Life felt he might not qualify for such a post. Ah well.
Here's the walled garden. Wouldn't you love that? - shades of "The Secret Garden". Yearn...
 It has a river flowing through it, with the wall becoming a bridge.
Then today we visited another house - just someone's home - which backs on to the beach (thus) and has had an extension built to take advantage of the views. One can see why. Again, I didn't like to take photos of the actual house.
I have to say that for a nosy person like me, it's such fun to go and visit people's houses! It's very noble of them to allow people in.
And then we came home to our house, which is considerably less impressive than some of the above but has the advantage of being ours. And I took a photo of some of my pots. It's getting chilly at night now and one of these days, the frost will kill these plants off it I don't bring them inside. Such a pity about winter.

Friday, September 21, 2012


The other day, Son-in-Law 1 and I took Grandson for a walk in the park round the biggest of our city hills, Arthur's Seat. The hill is so familiar to me, from all angles, from 62 years of walking or driving round it (and occasionally climbing it). Whenever we're driving back Edinburgh, I know we're nearly home when we can see it on the horizon.
The next day we took the little chap to a playpark. Ah, the future possibilities of swings and chutes (as we call them in Scotland - slides, as you may know them).
Grandson isn't well, though. He's had a cold for ages and I think it's now segued into another one. Yesterday he was a bit feverish and from time to time had to sit on someone's knee and suck his thumb, looking solemn, which isn't like him.
To cheer us up, SIL 1 got dressed in Grandson's play tunnel. He managed to extract himself afterwards, you'll be pleased to hear. (These are his cycling shorts, by the way. How lovely to be that slender.)

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


On Monday, Mr Life and I walked by the Water of Leith, not far from where we live. I imagine that in many cities there are areas like this, that feel miles from the traffic noise. But on the whole, you never find out about them when you're a tourist.
This house backs on to the river. Rather nice...
with a lovely garden, though you couldn't let your small children out by
themselves to play in it.
We saw a heron.
It must have felt like William's Kate pursued by the paparazzi. It flapped upstream; we followed - just because we happened to be going in the same direction.
Here it is again.
And here.
I've decided I wouldn't like to be a heron. It's idyllic down by the river on a sunny day, but imagine being here at night, alone and in the cold. Brr. And I don't like eating fish.

Monday, September 17, 2012


Well, the Great Retirement Photo Reorganise hasn't happened yet and I'm not feeling strong enough to do a major search for photos, but I had a very quick look in a drawer and came across this slide, which Mr Life has scanned in for me. It's a fairly rubbish picture, but it shows Mayfield, the house where he lived from early teens till we married when he was 25. There are his mum and his great-aunt Chris in the garden. Look at the lovingly-tended lawns and flower beds. Inside the house, there are high ceilings, cornices, beautiful fireplaces, polished surfaces, the smell of wonderful cooking (my mother-in-law was a domestic goddess).

And this is it on Saturday, taken a bit to the left of the other photo, from the bottom of the drive.

Mr Life's parents moved out in the mid-70s after his father retired. The house went with his father's job and the Coal Board sold it after a while. It was then made into a pub/restaurant, rather to our shock, and for the past - ooh - thirty years we've wondered about going there for a meal. We were a bit wary because we didn't want to see it messed up. Last June (we don't make rash decisions) we decided to go for lunch but found it closed and obviously empty.

But it never occurred to us that it would be demolished.

Well, nothing lasts for ever. But if you'd told me, when Mr Life and I were gazing into each other's eyes in that sitting room whose windows you can see at the front and side of the house, that we would outlive the house, we'd have been most surprised.  Most surprised indeed.

This is how it happened:

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Well. Gosh. Alas.

Today was a funny old day. Mainly it was very nice. The sun shone and we took Daughter 1, Son-in-Law 1 and Grandson out for lunch and then went for a walk along the River Esk in Musselburgh, near where Mr Life lived with his parents, in his teenage years and early twenties, in the lower half of a beautiful big house . The house belonged to the Coal Board, for which his father worked. It was Victorian, very elegant and spacious.
We observed the river, discussing the various times that Mr Life's family dog, a somewhat bonkers spaniel, had fallen in the water.
 We looked at a chap fishing and wondered why anyone would.
 We failed to notice (until he pointed it out) that Grandson had his hand stuck inside the buggy straps. And we approached the beautiful house that Mr Life had lived in, planning to show it to Son-in-Law 1. Mr Life and I had last walked past it on June 19th last year - Father's Day - after lunching nearby.
Look at what we found.
 It was gone. Demolished.
I don't often feel the need to use the word "gobsmacked" but this would have been a suitable occasion. Gobsmacked and horrified.

Thursday, September 13, 2012


Grandson and I walked past the Bank of Scotland headquarters today (well, technically I was doing the walking; he just sat) and saw this chap picking up fallen leaves with one of those metal grabber things. One by one. There aren't very many at the moment but in a week or two I think he'll have to devise a different system ... .
I like fuchsias. Yes, Rachel, I know you don't. But I really enjoy their ridiculous frilliness at this time of year, when some other things in the garden are beginning to look a bit sad.
Phlox - we had phlox in the garden when I was a little girl. I just need to smell its perfume and I'm eight again. These have lasted well - they were in flower when Thimbleanna was here, weeks ago now. (Could be the absence of blazing sunshine that's kept them fresh.)
I seem to have a lot of pink at the moment. I prefer it to scarlet.

Pink pelargoniums and begonia semperflorens.
This is a really lovely dark fuchsia.
And another, a bit less dark. This one is frost-hardy; some of the ones in pots aren't, so I take cuttings in the autumn and just keep these in a jar of water till the spring. They produce lots of roots but don't seem to mind just hanging on, sitting in water on the kitchen windowsill. I do bring some of the pots in as well, but overwintering plants aren't really an ornament to a spare bedroom. Oh, for a heated greenhouse (that someone else would pay for and clean and defumigate and so on).
Grandson still has a cold. We've had to postpone a photo session with our local photographer because the baby's tiny nose is a bit pink. Alan, the photographer, emailed today: "I hope the wee man gets rid of his cold or I may have to use the anti-snot button in Photoshop." I could have done with one of those buttons today. Grandson is not keen on nose-wiping. But he's so cheery!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


Today it was COLD! What a shock to the system. In town, people were walking around in their summer clothes - with jerseys (this is Britain) but only thin ones - looking surprised and murmuring to each other, "That's a very chilly wind."
My hanging baskets are still quite pretty, as is the rest of the garden, but light levels are falling, the days are shortening and before long it will be autumn. Why does this come as a surprise every year?
Grandson has a cold and though generally as cheerful as ever, is less stoical than usual when faced with minor disasters such as getting himself stuck on the Velcro on his play tunnel, being squashed into layers of clothes or being kept waiting ten seconds longer than he would like for his lunch. He finds it difficult to sleep, too, since he sucks his thumb when falling asleep and then can't breathe. He has to go suck, suck, gasp, suck, suck, gasp.
Most of the time he beams, though.
Look at him reading that book. That's my boy.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Cow creamer

Yesterday, at Son-in-Law 1's suggestion, we took a trip to Gullane in East Lothian, not far from Edinburgh. His very nice mother was visiting. We had lunch at The Old Club House (very good, except that they don't cater much for vegetarians) and then took a walk. Grandson enjoyed swinging...
... and sliding.
Then we strolled along the beach.
You probably can't see clearly in this reduced-for-Blogger photo, but there are people swimming in the sea. The North Sea. Brrr. It was a pleasant day for walking, but I can tell you from experience (not recent, but memorably chilly) that even in high summer, our sea is not warm.
And lastly, also at SIL 1's suggestion, we had tea in Falko's German Bakery. Yum. I'm sure our long...ish... walk counteracted the Sachertorte that I shared with Daughter 1. There were cow creamers on the tables. I've never seen one in actuality; just read about them in P G Wodehouse. In a moment when we were all distracted by cake, Grandson picked ours up and poured a stream of milk on to the table in a most interesting way. I was impressed by the speed of our reactions in relieving him of it.
And Happy Birthday for today, Daughter 1. It was a good idea of ours, having you.

Friday, September 07, 2012

Slug and jug

I'm sure one ought to be blogging about the economy or the American elections or other distressing and important things but one doesn't feel qualified to do so. Well, I don't anyway. So I thought I'd tell the bloggy world about my slug rings. See above. Daughter 2 kindly sent away for these. They're copper and you put them round your plants and evidently when a slug comes into contact with the copper on its way to gorge itself on my gerberas, it gets a teeny electric shock and this makes it decided to slime away and eat something else instead, for example my pansies, which are now a lost cause.
I was favourably inclined towards these when I'd read the instructions. Two extracts:  Make sure that the rings are scrunched into the soil a little way to leave no gaps underneath from a slug to sneak through. This writer understands the nature of slugs, which inspires confidence. Make sure that there are no leaves overhanging the ring which allow snails to abseil in. Spooky - has this person been observing my personal slugs and snails, which are athletic and can climb like monkeys?
Anyway, they do seem to work! My gerberas don't appear to be any more chewed than they were before. I doubt if I can afford a huge ring to go round my entire garden, but it's a tempting thought. Though actually this would simply trap several million within my garden - not such a good idea. (If you want to try the rings, the company is called Slug Rings Ltd: a simple but informative name.)
And from slug(s) to jug. This is a little ornamental tankard that was my mother's. It's not a family piece; she bought it at an antique fair some years ago. She didn't have space for it in her room in our house (she had a lot of things on shelves) so I adopted it and put it on top of the piano. On the lid - see below - the name "William" is engraved.
I find it most frustrating that I shall never know who William was. I wonder if this was a christening present. It seems an odd thing to give to a boy or a man - I know it's a tankard shape but I don't think it was ever intended for use. It wouldn't hold much beer.