Thursday, January 30, 2014


I'm always interested in the idea of home - the importance of having a home and in the way we have of making our homes into individual spaces.

"We all hate home / And having to be there", says Philip Larkin in "Poetry of Departures" and I always think, no, I love home. It's not that our house is a palace, though it's nice enough and perfectly comfortable. But it's ours, our sanctuary, our place that we can invite people into; and, when they go, we can shut the door and be among our stuff. I love coming home. If we've been on holiday, one of the best bits is always getting back, inspecting the garden and seeing what's grown; just looking about and thinking how nice and familiar everything looks. Even if I've just been up town, it's so satisfying to leave the main road, come up the little lane that leads to our street, open the front door, put down the shopping and relax with a cup of tea.

Things are a big part of this. It's so beautifully easy to live in one's own house, knowing where everything is and how the devices work. And it's enjoyable to be surrounded with objects that please, colours that seem soothing, photos of loved ones.

It doesn't need to be somewhere you actually own or rent on a long-term basis. I'm always amused at my own behaviour in a holiday house. I find myself arranging things to personalise it a bit. We fall into little routines, choose favourite chairs, start feeling that it's slightly ours. This even extends to people's behaviour on trains or planes, I've noticed. No matter how crowded it is, you feel a bit more secure if you have a little bit of tray on which you can arrange your book, cup of tea and newspaper (or whatever). That then becomes your little home for the duration of the journey.

And as for past homes - I've lived in five houses altogether, all in Edinburgh. Firstly it was a bungalow; then a biggish stone house; then our first married home, which was a small modern terrace; then a much bigger, older terraced house with high ceilings; and lastly this one. I kind of feel that they all belong to me still and am a bit indignant if the present owners aren't keeping the gardens weeded and the front doors painted neatly. I have a little bit of homesickness for each one.

And if I moved away from Edinburgh then I'd always suffer from nostalgia for it. I suffer from nostalgia even for places that I've visited often and vaguely miss because I feel they're sort of mine: North Norfolk and Crieff particularly. But perversely, if I moved away and then back again I suppose I'd forever miss the place that I'd left to get back to my original town. Though maybe you can't ever really come back, because things would have changed and it wouldn't be quite the place you remembered.

I once met by chance, in the Botanic Gardens, a woman who'd been at my school. She and her husband and sons were back living in the city. "Mind you," she said, "I don't know if we'll stay. I think we've outgrown Edinburgh." I wanted to laugh because she sounded so pompous ("BIG ME!") but indeed they moved on after a few years. I have no idea where they went.

I wonder if Larkin was interested in the colour of his curtains. Did he enjoy choosing lampshades? He did eventually buy a house (having previously lived in rented flats) but complained that it was ugly. I hope he got some pleasure from it, all the same.

Mind you, it's just a poem, not necessarily true. Maybe, like most of us, he really quite enjoyed putting his slippers on, sitting by the fire with a cup of tea and feeling at home.

I am very grateful to have a home.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Whiling away half an hour

Daughter 1 was getting her eyes tested. The grandchildren and I went for a little walk in Princes Street Gardens while she did so. "There's man on big horse, Granny."

It began to rain slightly but we were not daunted. We had hoods.

He posed for a photo with Edinburgh Castle.

He paid no attention to the Castle. After all, he had a tractor to run along the railing, which was at a convenient tractorish height.

It was an interesting challenge to walk along this line of cobblestones.

"Look, Granny. A cone!" (Yes, it's there if you look hard enough. He's a great fan of street furniture, including traffic cones. He also likes keep left signs.)

He stood for a while, admiring the cone. (Well, he's seen the Castle often enough. But you don't often see cones in parks.) As he did so, he slotted his feet into the little bit between the path and the grass and leaned on the fence. This is how he got a wet stripe across his tummy and rather muddy shoes. (Oops.)

Then we went back to collect Mummy.

Sunday, January 26, 2014


My mother was a keen flower arranger. When I was young, people didn't buy flowers except for special occasions; and though my parents weren't poor, there wasn't money to splash around. So she would pick a few flowers from the garden and make the most of them, which meant arranging them with foliage in a pinholder in a shallow dish. And often she would put this frog in the water beside the flowers. I have no idea where he came from.

The frog was known as Winterbottom. I imagine that my dad named him; he was the one who came up with silly names in our household. I remember asking my mum why Winterbottom was thus named, and she said she didn't really know but maybe it was because he sat in water all the time and thus his bottom was cold.

In 2007 my dad died and in 2011 my mother moved in with us. When we were clearing her house, I came across Winterbottom in a cupboard. I couldn't bear to throw him away, so since then he's sat outside our front door, beside a pot of plants.

Grandson has therefore walked past him for most of his life, but it was only last week that he remarked on him. "He's called Winterbottom," I told him, "because he's got a chilly bottom." I don't know why I said this because it's unlikely that Grandson, at two-and-a-half, has much idea about seasons.

The next time we entered the house, Grandson picked Winterbottom up. "Take in the house," he said firmly. "Then will have a warm bottom." And he put the frog on the stairs.

It didn't occur to me till much later Winterbottom might be called this because frogs spend the winter at the bottom of ponds. (I think.)

Thus is history rewritten. Possibly.

All these photos are seriously rubbish. Here's a fairly terrible one of Granddaughter too, for the benefit of Nanny and Gramps in Worcester, who will probably prefer it to out-of-focus pictures of a frog. She beams when the the flash has gone off but it's too late then. Still, this shows off her lovely blue eyes.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Stripy hat and yellow walls

Yesterday, Daughter 1 and I took Grandson and Granddaughter to the Botanics. It was sunny but chilly. There were interesting bumpy bits of path to stand on.

He wore his boots because there were occasional puddles.

There were signs of spring.
 There were interesting shadows.

And there was what has become the tradition of sitting on the little wall for a while, in sight of the car, regardless of the fact that my parking ticket is about to run out. At least I'd be able watch from a distance as a traffic warden descended on my vehicle to give me a fine.

What was Mr L doing meanwhile? you ask.

Well, he was not painting the kitchen. He'd been doing that for a few days and had progressed as far as applying colour to the walls. I don't know if you're the same, but I'm not good at judging whether a paint which looks just right when applied from a sample mini-pot on to a piece of paper will look equally good all over a large wall. It's not that I don't know the problem. The problem is that the colour looks much more intense on the wall and sometimes also - just - well - different. I know this and I still find it difficult.

The previous colour of the kitchen walls was pale lemony yellow. I fancied a bit of a change and flirted with samples of pale green but in the end, for various reasons not unconnected with the above, decided to play safe and chose a shade called Soft Cream. I not unnaturally expected this to be cream-coloured.

It was pink. Well, perhaps not strictly pink. But certainly pinkish cream. And since the curtains are white with yellow, green and blue, I did not want to introduce pink into the mix. So after painting one wall, Mr L stopped for further instructions.

(He's a good man. You can see why I've kept him in post for forty years. We both remember the time when he'd finished painting the sitting room (also yellow, coincidentally... or maybe not...) and I decided that it wasn't quite right. Yes, he repainted the whole room with hardly even a reproachful sigh.)

This was the point that we had reached yesterday when I went to collect Daughter 1 and the little ones. As we put the children's coats on, my gaze fell on Daughter 1's kitchen walls. Well, fancy that: they were the exact colour that I'd had in mind at first: very pale buttery yellow. And she remembered what paint it was, and it was still available.

Simple! Yes, yes, it would indeed have been even simpler if I'd thought of that in the first place. But he's done it now and it looks very nice.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014


I went with a friend today to an exhibition of John Duncan Fergusson's paintings. He was one of the Scottish Colourists. There were some that we could happily have lived with, such as the one above. That would look very nice in my sitting room. Isn't the light reflected in the glass vase beautiful?

Then there were various others that - maybe not. This one is ENORMOUS. It reminds me faintly of my Zumba class... .

I do know that art isn't just about what would look good in the home. All the same, I prefer the restful flowers (though they're a bit botanically vague) to the alarmingly bouncy dancers.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

You can do it!

Granddaughter is at the stage of not quite being able to crawl, but managing to move around in a sprawl/squirm sort of way.

The other day, Grandson was watching her with interest as she struggled to push herself towards a toy.

"Go on, [Granddaughter]," he said encouragingly. "You can do it!"

Let's hope that he's always such a supportive big brother - such as in (I'd estimate) about two weeks' time when she hurls herself at his Brio train layout and grabs handfuls of it.

As for "through in the west" - I wonder if we say that because Scotland is a little country. It's only about sixty-five miles from Edinburgh in the east to Glasgow in the west so you go "through" to the west just like you'd go through the house. Or, to add another element, you might go "ben the hoose", as some people still say. A but and ben is a two-roomed cottage, the "but" being the first room you come to and the "ben" being the bedroom beyond. So going "ben" means going further into the house. "Come ben," a Scots speaker might say whatever size of house they lived in - just meaning to come into the main part of the house.

These aren't words that I'd normally use but my pupils in the comprehensive school I taught in during the 1970s in a mining village near Edinburgh did say "ben" quite a lot. And of course also "ken", which means "know" or "you know". So: "Ken that homework you wanted us to do? Well, the dog ate it."

Friday, January 17, 2014

A wally close

"Through in the west" is where our friends live. I'm surprised and interested that Veg Artist picked this out as being - as I suppose it must be - a Scottish expression. I can't think what other people would say. "Over in the west"? "Across in the west"? Maybe just "in the west"?

Here's another phrase, then. These pictures are of a "wally close". Is that clear?

Well, maybe not. That's certainly a Scottish way of putting it, particularly a west of Scotland way.

A close (pronounced "clo-" as in "clothes" and "-se" as in "cross" (so, maybe "cloh-ss") is a narrow lane between buildings or, in this case, the public entrance hall of a block of tenements (traditional flats). In Glasgow these were often tiled, partly for hygienic purposes but also to suit the taste of the time, which was probably the late 19th/early 20th century. Our friends had come across this particularly nice example so we popped in to have a look.

As you see, there are boats and a lighthouse and villages - a general coastal scene.

This is the view over the water which may have inspired them.

This is the next-door close - not nearly so artistic. 

And "wally"? (with a short "a" as in "apple" - nothing to do with walls). That means "china" or "pottery". So a wally close is a tiled hallway (to tenements). 

There are other "wally" things, for example wally dugs - those Staffordshire pottery dogs (etc) with flat backs that were made to stand against the wall on your mantelpiece.

And what might one's personal wallies be? As in "Ye'd better get yer wallies in - the meenister's at the door."

("Put in your false teeth - the minister's arriving.")

PS - if you're interested in the tiles, one of which says J Duncan, have a look at

The firm also did shop walls. 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Snakes in the grass

We spent the day yesterday through in the west of Scotland with friends. They took us to a little travelling quilt exhibition. The quilts were all on Celtic themes and were astonishingly varied and impressive. This one was my favourite. The colours aren't quite right on my little phone camera - they were brighter than they look here (not to say more in focus).

It was very simple in a way - just strips mainly of green, with beautifully realistic dandelions, poppies, daisies, forget-me-nots and purple clover appliquéd or embroidered on top. I really love it.  

When I say "simple" I mean that in relative terms. Not simple as in something that I could ever aspire to.

I did wonder what the brown things were and then I read the label. They're snakes, representing the snakes that St Columba is said to have driven out from the island of Iona. While I might have thought the hanging even prettier (or at least less snakey) without them, they do fulfil the Celtic requirement and also, I suppose, provide a design element (she said vaguely, not sure what she really means).

The lettering on this one was beautiful.

I can't remember what the swans had to do with anything but I'd be quite happy to have this one on my wall as well. The lady at the museum where they were displayed did say that they might be for sale if we "made an offer" but I think it would have to be a rather enormous offer.

And then we went to a café and ate cakes while looking out over the Clyde. 

Don't you think this photo looks a bit like a painting by some Impressionist whose name eludes me? Or maybe one of the Scottish colourists. Apart from the cars, of course. It's something about the blocky colours and the table and the flowers and the light. Facing the other way, I could have taken a picture of our almost-demolished cakes but this wouldn't have been so pretty.

(Sorry about the funny font sizes. It's all because the only way I know how to put acute accents in is to type "cafe" in a Word document - Word puts the accent in - and then copy and paste the e acute into the blog. Blogger doesn't like this. I shouldn't be such a pedant.)

Sunday, January 12, 2014


Feeling a bit down tonight so to divert myself, I'm posting pictures of Grandson and Granddaughter, both at 10 months, to see if they look like each other. Before doing this, I would have said that they didn't. Now I think they do, a bit. (I'm sure this seems ridiculous to those not particularly interested in babies, to whom all babies look the same.) The boy's ears stick out more (though this doesn't show at all now he has hair), his eyebrows are more marked and his eyes look bigger here. Also Granddaughter's eyes are a lovely bright blue, while his were darker blue when he was tiny and more tending towards hazel by the time he got a bit bigger. She's also darker haired and indeed her hair is thicker at this age than his was.

The more I look at them, the less alike they seem.

Her eyes remind me of my dad's. He and his sister, my latterly confused aunt, both had beautifully bright blue eyes.

I do wish my parents could have seen the children. Well, my mother did see Grandson; he was nearly thirteen months old when she died. She absolutely doted on him. As do we all.

Doting is a good thing for grandparents to do, I think. My maternal grandmother thought that my brother and I were perfect, and even though we knew we weren't, it's soothing to have that unconditional approval. My maternal grandfather was less easily impressed. I never knew my father's father, and my father's mother moved down south when I was five (I think) so I never knew her well. Then she developed dementia not long afterwards. She had lovely blue eyes too.

Ah well. Piano practice beckons.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Nothing much happened but...

It's been a nice day, despite the fact that it started with a check-up at the dentist. He didn't need to do anything, though there was an element of "yet..." in his verdict. Still, the sun shone once more and the city looked pretty.

Afterwards I rewarded myself with a visit to a bookshop with a café. A very pretty blonde girl was in the queue in front of me and she chose a cupcake. "Actually," she said to me, "I'd like one of each flavour." I looked at them. They were from Cuckoo's Bakery, near Daughter 2's wedding dress dressmaker's workshop. The daughters and I used to go there after fittings to have mum-and-daughter-and-sisterly chats.

"My husband would like that sticky toffee pudding one," I said, not intending to buy him one (since I'd like to keep him alive a bit longer. I didn't think it looked healthful).

The girl said to me, "The first date my boyfriend took me on was to Cuckoo's Bakery followed by the Botanic Gardens."

I applauded his taste in date venues (as well as girls. She was lovely). We had a minor chat. Their relationship has now been going for two years. I mentioned the fact that I'd been married for forty.

"Well," she said, "you should buy your husband one. You buy one for him and I'll buy one for my boyfriend. Let's do it! It would be romantic!"

So we did. I'm not sure whether he was more impressed by the romance or the taste. (Actually I think it was the taste.)

The pretty girl's name was the same as Daughter 2's.

Then I collected Grandson and he and I went to the Botanics.

There was a heron on the duck pond but it flew away as I took its photo. See that blur?

Home again, I got out our 30-year-old Duplo. Grandson hadn't seen it before. He LOVED it, especially as it has traffic lights which change colour if you move a lever up and down and even has red and green men signs. Traffic lights are among his favourite things.

It was dark by the time Mr L took him home after tea. About to get into the car, Grandson looked up at the clear sky, with moon and stars clearly visible. "Look - stars," I said. "Twinkle, twinkle, little...?"

"Twinkle twinkle little MOON!" he said, and chortled. Then he continued, "That's [Grandson]'s little joke. It's a very good joke."

Well, it made me smile.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

New year, new quilt

Thimbleanna, anxious that I shouldn't forget my new quilting skills and should indeed expand them, has kindly sent me this kit for a baby's cot quilt. Not, I fear, that there are currently any new babies on my horizon, but one lives in hope. It's still not anything terribly fancy but is certainly more complicated than the identically-sized squares in the first quilt. On the other hand, materials and instructions are included so there's less arithmetic and there are no decisions to be made.

I find it interesting that two or three fabrics are included that I would never have chosen if left to myself, and yet the photo of the finished quilt is lovely. I really don't like orange and am not a great fan of purple, so was a bit dubious about the ones at the top of the picture below - but in fact in the small quantities used here, I think they'll be fine. In my previous quilt I chose only fabrics that I really liked and that I thought went easily together; though since it's a Christmas quilt I was sticking mainly to greens with a bit of red and touches of yellow and blue, so I suppose I wasn't considering anything particularly unChristmassy.

I started cutting out last night and then, after I'd cut 6 big squares and 24 little ones, I suddenly thought that maybe I should have prewashed. The instructions didn't say so; on the other hand, babies' quilts are likely to be washed more than most. So I decided that I should. Would you have, o quilty people? I put the bits inside a pillow case but nevertheless quite a bit of fraying took place and though I've now trimmed off all the tails that tangled together, I'm yet to measure all the cut squares to see if they've shrunk or frayed enough to be too small now. There's enough spare to redo them if necessary so it's not disastrous either way.

One lives and learns!

In other news: Son and Daughter-in-Law have at last arrived in Auckland. They left Edinburgh about 4pm the day before yesterday and arrived about 11 this morning. They had to wait in Melbourne for 9 hours before their flight to NZ, but went to the airport hotel, used the gym and the showers and had a nap. But it's a long way. I hope they don't like New Zealand too much (see previous post). Meanwhile, we haven't been having the storms widely reported in the south, but instead quite a lot of sun, as demonstrated by Cassie Cat above.

It's been a very mild winter so far. These polyanthuses were optimistically flowering in the garden. I hope America isn't planning to send over its cold snap.