Wednesday, April 30, 2014


Well, since yesterday was warm and sunny, I couldn't resist taking some more pictures of different cherry trees, this time against a blue sky.

And then some tulips and forget-me-nots in our garden. What a colour!

I was interested in the comments about life being fabulous. (Actually, that's not a word that's part of my normal vocabulary anyway.)  But it struck me that - though I don't think I'm in the least superstitious from the black-cat-walk-under-ladders point of view - I maybe have a slight feeling that the minute I claim that everything's great, something bad will happen. Silly, because I don't actually think it works like that, but... .

Cherry blossom is wonderful; I'll say that with confidence. Flowers, gardens, great music. Talking of which, I'm just off for the second-last rehearsal of Mozart's Requiem before our concert on Saturday. We're really quite good at it now; and that's as enthusiastic as I'm going to get - just in case something goes wrong with our performance on the night.

Mustn't tempt fate even if I don't believe in it.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Cherry blossom and fabulousness

A friend has recently returned from Japan and was enthusing about the cherry blossom.

So when Mr L and I went for a walk this afternoon, I took some photos of the local equivalent.

Granted, it would have looked better on Saturday, when we had all-day blue skies.

And I dare say that Japan offers other exotic attractions not so evident in suburban Edinburgh.

In a few days the blossom will start to coat the pavements in pink, which is slippery if it rains. But still, it's all very pretty at the moment.

Earlier today I was with friends and one of them said (in the context of one of those cheery friends-with-cancer conversations that one has at this age), "I've had a fabulous life, so..." . And I was somewhat startled by her wording. I have myself been fortunate in various standard ways and nothing tragic has happened (yet). I'm grateful for friends and family, enjoyed my work most of the time and feel lucky to live in a peaceful, pleasant place with a temperate climate. But I hadn't ever thought of describing my life as "fabulous". My friend was a teacher too, so we're not talking about film star fame or riches.

I suppose it's obvious - if you tell yourself that your life is fabulous, it's more likely to seem so. Perhaps I'll try it. "In This Fabulous Life"?

Friday, April 25, 2014


Daughter 2 came home for a week and we variously: walked by the beach;

helped her to design hotel rooms;

stood in front of a huge rhododendron at the Botanics;

made our favourite joke about a waterfall ("Waterfall! Ouch!");

admired lots more spring blossom;

and slid down a slide with our little sister - not actually strangling her.

We've been telling Grandson about spring. Daughter 2 advised him not to walk on the bit of lawn which has been reseeded - because the seeds would grow into nice new grass. We watched a moorhen on the pond at the Botanics as it sat on a nest, and discussed how this would lead to lots of baby moorhens. I told him how things grow out of the ground, where they've been invisible all winter, and burst into bloom.

Later, we read a book about ducks in Boston who're trying to find a good place to nest. At last they find somewhere and the mummy duck lays her eggs. "And what'll come out of the eggs?" I asked.

He thought for a bit. Then  he said triumphantly, "Flowers!"

(It's a principle of teaching that I should know by now: test that the student has understood one concept before moving on to the next.)

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Branklyn again

On Easter Monday, we went with Daughter 2 to visit Son and Daughter-in-Law in Perth. S and DIL had a meeting in the morning so Daughter 2, Mr L and I visited Branklyn Gardens. I took a ridiculous number of photos because the spring blossoms are just wonderful - over-the-top frothiness and colour and oomph wherever you look. The viburnum above had the most amazing fragrance - it wafted through the air.

Such pinkness!

The rhododendrons are so happy here. You can feel them sighing in contentment.


 Lots more rhododendrons.

I've seen a lot of springs now but it always amazes me when the earth suddenly erupts in colour. I do sometimes wonder how many more I'll see (she said cheerfully. But you know: certainly fewer than I've seen up till now. Facts must be faced at least occasionally; and maybe I look at each spring with such wonder because, well, you never know... .

Fifty springs ago I was coming up for fourteen, and just making my subject choices for the rest of my school career: English, French, German, Latin, History, Maths. It now seems a bit early to make such decisions but that's the way it was then. However, I don't think that the world of science has greatly suffered for lack of my further input.)

Then we had lunch with S and DIL and raked the moss out of their lawn with Mr L's (bought last year) electric scarifier. Chaps do enjoy pushing a machine that makes a noise and produces big piles of stuff.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Beach babies

The other grandparents are here this weekend and they all went to the beach. Daughter 2 and I joined them for a short time yesterday.

What timeless pleasures: sand and sea.

Granddaughter wouldn't wear her hat. (Her mother was just the same.) Nowadays, according to Daughter 1, you can't buy children's hats which tie under the chin in case they strangle themselves. We feel that sunburn is a more likely hazard, so ties are going to be attached.

As we all do at some stage, Granddaughter discovered that sand is not good to eat. Life is full of learning experiences.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Hello Auntie Meg

I was sorting through some of my late aunt's things the other day - mainly photos that I'd put aside to look at later and had then forgotten - and came across this. At first, I couldn't think who the people were and then I realised that they are my Auntie Meg and Uncle Jim - in fact my Great-Auntie Meg and Great-Uncle Jim - when young.

Auntie Meg was my paternal grandfather's sister. I never knew that grandfather - he died in the February of the year in which I was born in the July. Very little remains to tell us what he was like. I know that he was originally a coppersmith, that he had to retire early from his job, which was something to do with the buses at Scottish Motor Transport, because of ill-health and that he died from smoking-related causes on my father's (his son's) 30th birthday. He was a quiet man, according to my mum, and we have a violin that he made (and played).

But I did know Auntie Meg. She lived in Edinburgh, at 14 Greenhill Terrace, in the lower villa flat of a beautiful old house with big rooms and high ceilings. We used to go there for tea occasionally. The sitting room had a china cabinet in which was a Doulton model of a lady balloon seller, which I really liked. Between the sitting room at the front and the dining room at the back was a wonderful stained-glass door which featured a peacock with its tail unfurled. I loved this as a little girl. Auntie Meg and Uncle Jim had no children so when we went to their house, my brother and I just sat there and listened to the adult conversations. I don't know what my brother did for entertainment, but I focused on the balloon lady and the peacock. In those days, no one thought about amusing children on such occasions; one just sat quietly.  We did sometimes get to walk round the garden; Uncle Jim was a very keen gardener and there were lots of little paths along which we enjoyed walking.

According to my brother, Uncle Jim had been the manager of the Government Bookshop in Castle Street.

I dreaded the actual meal because (in my memory) it was always the same: cold meat and salad, specifically cold ham and tongue. Tongue! Ugh! I've been a vegetarian for many years and even when made to eat meat as a child, never liked it after someone told me what it was. I've no idea what I thought it was - just food, I suppose. I didn't like tomatoes either (and still don't). At Auntie Meg's, I think I surreptitiously fed to my brother as much as he could tolerate from my plate.

I didn't know it at the time but I later heard they did have one baby, who died in infancy or was possibly stillborn.  And so I suppose that there are now very few people who remember them. My other aunt does and so does my brother; and Uncle Jim may have surviving relatives who knew him, but none known to me. This is why I thought I'd give Auntie Meg and Uncle Jim a little mention here. None of us will be remembered for very long, but having children and grandchildren at least gives one a short afterlife in their memories.

Auntie Meg died when I was sixteen. Uncle Jim then presented me with her engagement ring, a little flower-shape made up of diamonds. I was very surprised and touched. "I want you to wear it," he said. And I did. But alas, about twenty years ago I lost it. For years I was convinced that it would turn up; but it didn't. I never took it off outside the house but had a bad habit of taking rings off and putting them on the nearest shelf. That was when we were doing up our current house and I now wonder if we had a tradesman who picked it up and pocketed it. Or possibly it just fell into a pot of paint or on to the floor and got gathered up with papers. Anyway, I still feel guilty. Sorry, Auntie Meg and Uncle Jim. I do remember you, though I never got to know you well.

They were a very devoted couple and Uncle Jim was very protective towards her. When she died, he lived alone for a few years before he too died. He left the house and all its contents to the hospital where Auntie Meg had got treatment - a hospital which closed years ago. There was an auction of the contents. My mother and I went along and I bought the crystal jam dish which had always been on the table at tea time. It was sad to see all Auntie Meg's treasures sold to strangers.

When I'm in the area, I think of them and hope that the peacock still stands in its beautiful blue, green and turquoise plumage, dividing the lofty sitting room from the dining room, with its view out over the immaculate garden.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Old dog, new tricks

I took the grandchildren to the Botanics yesterday and was keen to try out the photographic potential of my new smart phone. Or, as I think of it, "smart" phone. I may be blaming the phone for my own lack of smartness but I think the dumbness could be said to be evenly matched. It was a very sunny day and so of course I couldn't at all see on the screen what I was trying to photograph - but that applied to my previous phone also. The difference is that my previous phone had buttons, and so I could at least see and feel the bits I needed to press in order to take a photo. Whereas by the time I'd got the new phone out, woken it up from its deep and dreamless sleep, angled it away from the sun, squinted at the bits I was trying to tickle into life and pointed it at the intended subjects of the photo, they had trotted off. Well, Grandson had. Unfortunately my finger got in the picture instead.

I have six days left of the fourteen at the end of which I can take the phone back and have it replaced by a non-smart one. I don't think it's going to be a long-term companion. I hardly ever use a mobile phone for speaking into. I do text and take photos; and in my experience so far, it's much less user-friendly for these tasks, though I've no doubt these are sacrifices worth making if one feels the need to use the internet while not at home. But I don't. I can see it would be very useful for lots of people; but personally, I'm at home a lot, being retired. And when I'm not I very often have the company of Mr L, whose smart phone is always at hand.

Having said that, we had a lovely time at the Botanics and Daughter 2 is about to come home for a week, so I shouldn't grumble, especially when the news is full of the Malaysian plane disaster, the Korean shipwreck, the terrible, terrible situation in Syria and the problems in Ukraine. How lucky we are to be living here.

Saturday, April 12, 2014


Because I had been complaining (on the phone) about my general incompetence - not being immediately comfortable with the new phone, not being very good at playing the piano even after two years of lessons, not finding quilting as easy as those who produce complicated and beautiful creations over a weekend - Daughter 2 drew the above illustration and attached it to an email. Now can you see why I miss her so much? Sadly the skills she is able to find for me are not hugely impressive - such as making macaroni cheese - but I so appreciate the sentiment. She's mildly dyslexic - hence the reference to spelling - the words in the little list are some of those which she used to find difficult and can now spell - even though "tomorrow" occasionally acquires a rogue "m" when she's not paying close attention, which is why it occurs with a cross against it here. 

What I used to be quite good at was teaching; and while there's no denying that retirement is enormously more relaxing than teaching and all its attendant preparation and marking, and is generally perfectly pleasant, it has left me sometimes feeling somewhat at a loss. Suddenly one becomes a little old lady instead of a competent professional. I'm not really complaining because work was far too busy for so many years and spilled into everything. But it's quite an odd transition. Though I'm generally used to it now, there are moments when I think - so that's it, then? 

We were also cheered by a day with Grandson. He enjoyed playing in the garden. 

He and I made lots of sandcastles. He was careful to keep his white glove (for his eczema) clean. When we went back into the house, he left sandy bare footprints on the rug. "Look!" he said. "Foot shadows!"

We took Dolly to see the trains and trams at the tram station. He waved to them all. The tram drivers, who're still driving empty trams around as Edinburgh tries to get used to being a tram city again, always wave back to him. I'm sure they're delighted to have something to take their minds off driving along the tracks without passengers.

We walked home along the cycle track, which is a former railway line on an embankment. He gazed down at a garden in which there was a slide and a trampoline. "There's a park!" he said  (we call playgrounds "playparks" in Scotland). I told him that it was just someone's garden. He thought about this. "A garden with things to play on!" he marvelled. Then, after a dramatic pause, he said, "And in [Grandson's] garden - nothing!"

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Future shock

The day started all right. I picked some flowers - granted, slugs have been crawling up the stems of some of my daffodils (such as the pale one above) and eating them, but that's life.

Then we went up town and bought some books and walked down to Princes Street.

That was fine. The sun was shining.

We looked at people lying on the grass in Princes Street Gardens and thought, how nice.

Then Mr L said casually that we could just pop into a phone shop and discuss getting new phones. Mine is a bit wonky sometimes but it usually works and is nice and simple. His is coming to the end of its contract and he likes new things. I should have been more wary. Instead I looked idly at the ornate plaster ceiling in the phone shop and wondered who put it up and who decided on the patterns and what they would have thought if they'd known about mobile phones.

And then I found myself agreeing that I should probably embrace the 21st century and get a smart phone. Most people can manage them. Surely I could?

This turned out to be a big mistake.

We wandered on home, glaring at the horrible tram wires for our new, so far passengerless, trams, as illustrated above.

Then Daughter 2 texted me and Mr L showed me how to text back and it was HORRIBLE. I  hadn't realised that it would be a qwerty keyboard and yes, I'm using one now, but I'm touch typing. I don't know where the letters are. My fingers know, as long as I type fast, but my eyes have no idea. And my fingers are also much too big for the teeny wee letters. Look, there's my enormous little finger. Well, yes, it's a lot smaller than Mr L's forefinger, which he manages to text with. But - arrgghh.

I wish people would stop inventing things.

Do you remember that book called "Future Shock" that was written by Alvin Toffler in 1970 about how there was too much change in too short a period of time for us to cope with? Yes, well. I'm suffering from it now - delayed future shock. I've just looked Toffler up and he appears to be still alive and aged 85. I imagine he's coping fine with his smart phone.