Tuesday, July 28, 2015


The other day, Grandson took a toy that his sister was holding out and gave her a different one. Then he said to her, "This is a quid pro quo."
Daughter 1, startled, said to him, "Do you know what that means?"
And he said, "Yes, it's when someone gives something to you and you find something for them."
I recount this not to suggest that he's a genius but partly because it made us laugh and partly to marvel at the way children - all children - learn language. None of us can remember using this phrase in his presence, but someone must have, and he remembered it just like any other phrase that comes his way. Children have this amazing capacity to learn words, whether it be a little snatch of Latin or a bit of equally difficult English: it's all language to them.
I often thought, when teaching, how impressive it was that even students with moderate learning difficulties could chat away to each other with fluency - and yet it's so difficult to learn a foreign language when you're older and have only an hour or two a week to spend on it. Sit on a bus and listen to a language with which you're unfamiliar - Finnish or Mandarin - and you can't even make out where one word ends and the next begins. And yet, within a couple of years, children are saying everything they need to.

Son visited today. Granddaughter wouldn't come to him for a cuddle at first. "Who is this bearded stranger?" she enquired. Well, she didn't. But you could see her thinking it.

We had just had a plumber to the house, who, in the manner of all plumbers, disapproved of the way the previous chap had tried to fix the blockage in the pipe to a bedroom radiator. Son listened to our tale of their conflicting diagnoses and remedies and nodded. "Much like GPs," he said.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Sightseeing with Frogdancer

This is very exciting: Frogdancer of Dancing with Frogs https://dancingwithfrogs.wordpress.com/author/dancingwithfrogs/ (I've been told how to do the proper linky thing but can never remember) came and stayed with us from Wednesday evening till this morning, ALL THE WAY FROM AUSTRALIA. Well, admittedly she didn't come over solely to visit us. But she did come. Here she is at Edinburgh Castle. It's not a good view either of the Castle or of her but I suddenly realised that not only was the sun shining but she had her sunspecs on, and I wanted to record this for posterity. I have to admit that the sun didn't shine all day. We've been having very changeable weather with lots of brief showers.

We went down the Royal Mile from the Castle (earliest bit 11-something) to the Abbey and Palace (earliest bits 11-something and 16-something). On the way we visited Gladstone's Land (14-something) and John Knox's House (16-something). Fortunately my visitor likes history. Here she is listening hard to the audio guide. I shall send her a quiz on it next week.

Another day we went to The Georgian House and the Botanics. Here she is, reclining elegantly on a Botanic bench.

Look, the sunglasses are on again as she smells a sweet pea.

She points out... not really sure, but you have to admire her pointiness. I couldn't actually get her to remove the jumper/sweater, despite Edinburgh's best sun.

Later we went to dinner at South Queensferry. Note how, in case of evening chill, she was carrying a poncho to go with her jumper.

This is the view from the restaurant window. She hadn't heard of the Forth Bridge. She has now. I believe that Australia has at least one famous bridge, but is it pink? Well then.

Having done London and many of the picturesque places in England before she came up here, she's now off to do some more of these before heading off on an amazing tour of the Continent: Amsterdam, Paris, Rome, Lucerne and all sorts of other places. Check out her blog if you want to be exhausted at the very thought of it... but I'm sure she'll have a ball. Thanks for your visit, Froggy!

Monday, July 20, 2015


Scene 1: Worcester Nanny is reading Granddaughter a story. Granddaughter is very interested in stories. She is wearing an indoor sunhat and happily sucking her fingers. She likes hats. Grandson is dressed in his mother's childhood nurse's outfit, made by his great-granny, who died in 1991. Meanwhile, I give Grandson a packet containing some birthday chocolate road signs from Auntie Daughter 2. This is foolish of me, since it's nearly lunch time. He is delighted.

Scene 2: Granddaughter, who is not daft, notices the chocolate road signs. She is very very interested in chocolate. Grandson, with permission from his mummy, takes a small bite of one of them. Granddaughter indicates her urgent desire for chocolate. Someone says, "Oh, give her a nibble." He hands over the entire road sign for her to take a bite. This shows his trusting nature but is not a wise thing to do.

Scene 3: She stuffs the entire road sign in her mouth. He is indignant. Someone says, "Never mind, you have another one." He selects this.

They weren't very hungry for their lunch. Oops. Still, our lessons in sharing have obviously worked, though he may be re-evaluating them in light of this experience.

Friday, July 17, 2015

All change...

It now seems a long time since we returned from holiday. Sadly, if you leave your garden to its own devices for over a fortnight, it grows to such an extent that it takes you the next fortnight (well, hampered by having to watch Wimbledon) to lick it into shape again. (And of course I had to spend lots of time with the grandchildren.)

This, above, is the garden I would like to have. Sadly, it belongs to Mr Life's aunt and uncle. Ah well, it's nice to visit and would take even more work to keep it looking lovely - there's a lot more of it than you can see in the picture.

Luckily, you don't have to wield a trowel when visiting the Botanics.

This is Grandson's End of Roadworks traffic sign picture - there's a red triangle and inside it is a man with a spade, "digging mud" as Grandson says. Then underneath, there's a rectangle with the word "End" in it. If you know the sign then it's fairly recognisable. We didn't know he could write anything apart from his name, but he created this unaided. Clearly a genius. And very interested in road signs.

Yesterday I took the two of them to Dr Neill's garden at Duddingston, a favourite haunt.

Today, excitingly, someone made a good offer to buy their house so unless it falls through (please cross your fingers) they (and their parents) will be on the move to something a bit bigger and nearer a better school. And it's Grandson's fourth birthday today. And, also today, Son and Daughter-in-Law have handed over the keys to their house in Perth, having bought another near Dundee (though they don't get into it till September). Now the search is seriously on for Daughter 1 and Son-in-Law 1 to find a new house. It's all go!

Sunday, July 12, 2015


There's an absolutely beautiful public garden in Lerwick which we visited several times. Despite the chilly wind, there were the most beautiful herbaceous flowers, such as these lupins - which, unlike mine, seemed to be immune to the depredations of slugs and snails - delphiniums (ditto) and every imaginable colour of columbines with nary a greenfly (unlike mine). I imagine the greenfly are blown off. Or perhaps they can't fly this far in the first place.

There were also lots archaeological sites, such as the Clickimin Broch, dating from about 100 BC, with an impressive indoor stair.

The Shetland wildflowers included these red campions, which were everywhere and absolutely lovely. Orkney had the usual pink ones but these were much brighter, with stems really thickly covered with blossoms.

Commenters have asked if I visited knitting shops. To my shame - no - though I did look in some windows. I'm not really a knitter. However, at the Bon Hoga Gallery there was a great café with this basket of knitting - a long scarf. I knitted one row, thinking of Thimbleanna and Daughter 1, both industrious knitters.

These notices were beside litter bins in various places. "Bruck" means "mess" - so "Don't drop litter".

 lovely to look at.

And more Viking and older remains. This is Jarlshof, which was occupied over many centuries.

Fortunately it hardly rained. Lerwick has a wonderful museum and there are a few other minor museums and some shops, but there's not a lot for tourists to do in either Orkney or Shetland in bad weather unless they just do it in the rain. Should you decide to go - which I would recommend - take warm, rainproof clothes, hats (yes, Mr L wore his fleecy hat on occasions), gloves (we didn't have any but often had to retract our hands inside our jackets to keep them warm) and a lot of books.

I got quite a bit of evening quilting done.

And yes, there were many Shetland ponies. Very cute!

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Simmer dim

And then we got the overnight ferry to Shetland.

Shetland is really quite far north - about the same latitude as Bergen in Norway or Hudson Bay. It's about as far from Edinburgh (up the way) as Edinburgh is from London (down the way) - only with more sea in between. And one thing I was really looking forward to was experiencing the "simmer dim", or summer dimming of the light, at the end of June. It never gets completely dark at this time of year. Even here Edinburgh the nights are very short - just now, for example, it's half past nine in the evening and it's as light outside as it would be on a rather dull afternoon. But in Orkney and particularly Shetland, it's broad daylight till 11pm, somewhat duskish between midnight and 1am and then it starts getting light again.

We didn't have a great view out of the window of the place we were staying. We weren't far from the sea, but somehow Mr L isn't the sort of chap who's enthusiastic about going down two flights of stairs and making his way down to the harbour at midnight. And I didn't particularly fancy a lone midnight walk. So my photos are unspectacular but you can still get the idea of how light it was.

I did go outside and take a photo of the house at 11pm, above. We had the light on, as you can see up at the top of the house, but only because the windows of our living room were quite small and didn't let in very much light at any time of day.

These are views from the kitchen window about 11.15pm.

Midnight. The little light is the moon.


3.15 am, above and the two below.

Yes, you're perhaps right that I should spend more time sleeping. But I'll be doing that permanently one of these days. I don't like to waste too much time doing it now.

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Plus ca change...

Thank you for your birthday wishes. I don't know why 65 seems so much more of a milestone than 60 did. Maybe it's because when I was 60 I was still working, my mother was still alive and I felt of more use to the world? Retirement is very pleasant but I often feel rather guilty at not working, especially as women only slightly younger than I are having to work much longer, with the new pension arrangements.
Anyway, back to Orkney.

This is St Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall, which was founded in 1137 and took about 300 years to build. After all the New Stone Age buildings, this seemed virtually new, but is pretty impressive for such a small place.

Kirkwall also features the Bishop's Palace, which dates from a mere 1600 but hasn't been so well looked after as the cathedral. Mr Life is standing in the great hall, which used to look more like -

- this. You have to use your imagination.

But there are older ruins - lots more - to enjoy. This is the Brough of Birsay, with Pictish and Norse buildings.

Again you can see how the builders used slabs of stone to build cupboards and beds and fireplaces.

This is where they got the stone from - the natural slab formations all around them.

This is what the buildings might have looked like.

Back in time again to the Neolithic (New Stone Age - 5000 years ago) period, here's the Unstan Chambered Cairn. Again, it has the stone stalls dividing it up inside, though there's also an extra chamber off to the side. Mr L decided not to go in because he's a bit tall, but I did. I have to say that I didn't stay in long. It was somewhat claustrophobic - not that I thought I was claustrophobic, but arrgghh. When it was opened up, they found lots of bones in the stalls and two complete crouching skeletons in the extra chamber.

Now, here's something really interesting - or at least, I thought so. We visited a croft (subsistence farm) house, which has been preserved as a museum. It's comparatively recent - dating from the eighteenth/nineteenth century. And look, above, at what they used for shelves. No trees on Orkney, so of course they used slabs of stone.

And this is the byre for the animals. Stone stalls, just like in the Neolithic houses and tombs. It's not really surprising - people just use what they have, and they didn't have wood apart from driftwood or imported wood.

A stone ? water tank in the garden, just like the ? fish tanks in the Neolithic houses at Skara Brae.

And a stone box bed, again, just like those in the Neolithic houses.

What particularly surprised me was that no one pointed the similarity out to us. I suppose it's all quite natural, especially to an Orcadian. But it made me very thoughtful. Time telescopes.