Thursday, September 27, 2018


We've had a few days in Hamburg, which has the biggest miniature railway layout in the world. It was Son's fine idea that a visit to this should be Mr Life's 70th birthday present (in May, but somehow this was the soonest that we could fit it into our packed schedule) and Mr Life was A VERY HAPPY CHAP.

When I tell you that we arrived at 9.30am and didn't leave till 5pm, this may give you an idea of how big it is.

There were nice little touches for the lesser-railway-enthusiast of the species. These people were taking a risk! There was a sheer drop to their right.

And look at this Venice bag snatching incident! The poor old chap with the plaster clearly fell down while crossing a bridge; easy to do (she said with feeling).

And we did other things too. This is Hamburg's new concert hall, built at a cost of 789 million Euros. Let's hope that roof doesn't spring a leak any time soon.

We visited the Hamburg history museum and, wonder of wonders, they too have a working model train layout. Not so enormous as the other one, but still pretty substantial and this one is 1-gauge, which is very exciting and unusual (evidently). So that was a very nice surprise for Mr L.

Their Botanic Gardens aren't (sorry, Hamburg) a patch on ours, and I wouldn't have given planning permission for that Radisson Blu looming over it.

I shall go to my grave not understanding modern art. Here, from the Hamburg Art Gallery, we have a whole lot of Woolmarks. "This becomes a critique of the modern world trapped in itself, appearing to repeat and reaffirm itself perpetually." That's what the notice said, so it must be right. 

This is much more my sort of thing: Frederick the Wise, John the Steadfast and John Frederick the Magnanimous, Electors of Saxony, painted by Lucas Cranach, 1472-1553. I love those faces, though I'm not sure that Cranach has quite captured the essence of magnanimity. Maybe he didn't intend to. Possibly John Frederick was a bit mean with his commission money.

And look at this! It makes the eyes go a bit funny but it's certainly got a vanishing point. Well done, Wilhelm Schubert von Ehrenberg, 1637-1676. He died young, poor chap.

And this silver jug! Willem Claez. Heda, 1594-1680 or 1682 (he lived a long time) - very good indeed, sir.

And this still life - sorry, painter, I neglected to note down your name, but I salute you.

Look at these stones! You can almost feel their hard shininess.

And then we came home again and went up to visit Son and The Unbloggable Toddler, who is so lovely, so chatty and very good at bouncing.

And because of all this visiting and being visited and so on, I haven't done any patchworking since June, when I decided to do a border of half-square triangles to add to the middle bit of the quilt for my niece. This now seems a very rash and ambitious decision and I'm not sure I can do it. But enough of these feeble procrastinations: off I go to try. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Lakes again

David has been carrying around an emergency shelter in his rucksack for the past four years . (He's in the group that does serious hillwalks quite often.) But he'd never tried it out. So on Saturday evening, he decided to do so. Imagine a sort of large shower cap that pulls down to your feet. Then imagine six people - it claims to shelter six - standing together, putting this shower cap over all their heads and pulling it down. Then imagine them all falling over in a big heap.

They tried this several times, becoming more and more hysterical. They were not helped by the onlookers, who were also helpless with laughter while offering unsympathetic suggestions.

The six then decided that four would be more likely to be successful.

They weren't.

As someone pointed out, trying to put this over oneself in a force 9 gale wouldn't be any easier.

Then David put the shelter back into its bag and we played Donkey with it.

This is the view from the back garden of the house we rented. Rather good.

On Monday we had a lovely flattish walk round Buttermere.

Six miles again, but it seemed like nothing - we must be getting so fit, we told ourselves smugly.

Towards the end of the walk we could see rain approaching through a gap between the hills, so we all put on our waterproof trousers - no mean feat when you're struggling them over muddy boots and trying not to get the insides of the trousers muddy.

Then it didn't rain.

It was such a lovely weekend, with good company, lots of laughs, beautiful scenery, plentiful food, comfortable accommodation and a certain amount - surely - of acquired fitness.

PS - unlike some commenters, I don't find the lack of facilities a problem. I just don't drink much. Even when not wearing waterproof over-trousers, the whole thing would be far too difficult.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018


We've just come back from a long weekend in the (English) Lake District with our walking friends. On the first day, our friend Brian suggested that we climb Catbells. The internet tells you that it's an easy climb, suitable for the whole family from grannies to infants.


It kind of depends on the grannies. And an infant who was destined to become an Olympic athlete might have coped well.

Catbells isn't that high - 1480 feet - but it's often steep, and at the top there are quite a few scrambly bits that require somewhat longer legs than some of us possess. You know when you have to put one leg up at full stretch, and then you have to push off with the lower leg, with no handholds on the smooth, slippery rock face? Hmm, yes. Fortunately, there were some helpful chaps in the party who did a bit of pushing and pulling and we all got there. It was not always dignified. True enough, we almost all were actually grannies (and grandpas) and we all made it, but it wasn't exactly a gentle stroll.

This bit was fine, though we'd been climbing for quite a while at this point (puff puff) and yes, that's the false summit of Catbells in the middle of the picture. The actual summit was cruelly hiding behind it.

(Puff puff).

You get some idea from this how far we'd come from the fields down below. I don't have photos of the hardest bits which come next, since I was too busy trying not to fall backwards on to rock at that point.

At the top were lots of other people, mostly at least thirty years younger than us. There was a sudden cheer from another group - a chap had just proposed to his girlfriend and she'd accepted! They then produced champagne. It was just as well that she said yes: it would have been a dismal walk down if she hadn't.

And talking about the downward journey - in some ways it was harder. We descended on the other side, which was much less steep - but still quite steep. After an hour of bending your knees to go down and down you're aware that they're not as young as they used to be.

But the views were lovely and we all enjoyed it, especially in retrospect.

The following day we decided on a less hilly walk, round Loweswater. In fact it again turned out to be slightly more climby than we'd thought - though nothing in comparison to Catbells.

You can see that we've ascended quite a bit here, but it was much easier walking.

Again, the views were spectacular.

Both walks were about six miles on the map, but some of them were considerably less horizontal than others so it felt a lot further.

And then, the next day...

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

The dying of the light

It's still summer here, or so we're persuading ourselves, and Mr L and I had a lovely walk in the Botanics the other day. We haven't been there for a while, what with being away and then having Littlest Granddaughter to stay. It's only ten minutes' drive away but she's not a great fan of car journeys, not being used to them.

Soon the view of the city skyline will be much less impeded by leaves.

But there's still plenty of colour in the gardens.

Mr L has been painting the garage doors. Biggest Granddaughter and Grandson were an interested audience - watching, as it were, paint dry.

They love their Lego at the moment.

At last, six years after my mother's death, I've forced myself to go through her archives. It's so hard to know what to keep - lots of albums with my parents' holiday snaps? hmm - but I probably won't keep this photo, inscribed by - whom? - Asqualina Taifa??? - to my father. Dad was in Egypt for much of the war, defusing bombs, so I imagine that this man was an Egyptian.

I know this young chap's name. He was a friend of my father's, and also one of the suitors for my mother's hand. He sent her quite a few studio photos of himself. He remained a friend of both my parents for some years, and did marry, though his wife was agaraphobic and wasn't able to visit much and I think they lost touch eventually.

And this chap - I only remember his first name - swore that if my mother wouldn't marry him, he'd enter a monastery.

She didn't. And he didn't. But I don't know what happened to him apart from that. Mum didn't keep in touch with him. But she didn't throw away his photo.

My dad kept annual albums in which he put lots of carefully jigsawed photos of the main family events of the year. He never got round to doing 2006 because he was in hospital by the end of that year, and he died in April 2007. There a lot of poignantly blank pages in this album.

Ah well. As my mum used to say, you can't live for ever. Which is one reason that I have to deal with these archives. And then there are mine... .

Saturday, September 08, 2018

Great uncles

We've just watched The Last Night of the Proms, in which they remembered the First World War and sang some of the popular songs from that time, such as "Keep the Home Fires Burning". This made me think of my long-dead Great-Uncle Alexander, who as I said in the previous post, was gassed in the war and died in 1919. Here he is, with his little sister, my Granny.

She always said that he was a lovely boy, but he died at 25 and left little behind that has survived: only a few photos and a vase that he gave to Granny. Granny remembered him saying that she - a little person - was "just the right size for dancing underneath the bed".

Because he died after the war, though from its effects, his name is on no war memorial. Effectively there's no one to remember him. So I thought I'd at least write this.

Here they are again. 

And again. And that's more or less all there is of him apart from a couple of snaps. He never married. His name was Alexander Anderson Watt.

Even more sadly, as I said in the previous post, there was a sister younger than my granny: Agnes. She had TB from an early age and there are no photos of her, even though she was only two years younger than my Granny so must have been alive when the top photo was taken. Presumably she was too ill to go to the photographer's?

And this - I think - is the army death list for my Grandpa's brother, John Campbell, who died in the war at the age of 33.  There he is, right in the middle of many other young men who died tragically young. It's not an unusual name in Scotland but the dates and his age match up with the information I have, so I think this is the right chap. I assume there will be no death certificate in the Scottish records because he didn't die here. My Grandpa was also shot at Gallipoli, but he survived, though the forefinger of his right hand was permanently bent and useless. We don't even have a photo of John. I have no idea what he did or what he was like. I'm sure my Grandpa would have told me, but I never asked, which I now regret.

And that's only that side of the family. Those of us who came after are so lucky compared to that generation.

Monday, September 03, 2018


When we went to Register House the other day, I decided to investigate something that had puzzled me for some years. Why did my lovely Granny show no interest in her half-sister? and was Granny's step-mother really, as my mother once said, "a terrible woman"? 

These are my great-grandparents: my mother's mother's parents. Her name was Isabella Currie; his was Alexander Watt. After their marriage they lived in Glasgow. They're a handsome pair, I think. 

And these people are - left to right - my great-grandfather Alexander Watt's unmarried sister Jessie, his son Alexander and his daughter Isabella - my lovely granny.

(Family history would be easier to research if people hadn't so often given their children the same names as themselves. However, my father did lots of research and compiled a family tree, so this helps greatly.)

Now, my granny's life in the early days was very sad, because her mother died at the age of 35, when Granny was only five. I think I've blogged about this before. There were two other children: Agnes, who was three when her mother died, and Alexander, who was 6. As we thought, and as confirmed by the death certificates, Isabella (the mother) died of tuberculosis, as did Granny's sister Agnes, who died at 13. Granny said that her little sister had always been ill and she seemed to know very little about her, so presumably Agnes had been kept apart from the other children in case they too were infected by this terrible disease. What a dreadful life little Agnes must have led.

After Isabella (the mother) died, Alexander (the father)'s sister Jessie came to live with them and bring up the children. But in 1913, when Granny was 18 and her brother 19 or 20, their father remarried. His new wife was called Annie Hepburn. I found their marriage certificate. It said that she was a spinster, maiden name Hepburn, and her parents were Mr and Mrs Hepburn. So far, so ordinary.

We did know, though, that after the marriage the stepmother, Annie Hepburn, refused to have my grandmother and her brother in the house. Granny came to Edinburgh and got a job as a sewing maid, and Alexander - I'm not sure whether he joined the army at that point, but the war broke out not long afterwards, and then he did.

Now, the remarriage was in November 1913 and in June 1914 a child was born: Anne. Yes, indeed, a bit quick, but these things happen. But my mother once hinted darkly that Anne wasn't actually my great-grandfather's child and that he had married Annie because she was expecting another man's baby. This did seem a bit like a lurid novel, but when I looked at the daughter Anne's birth certificate, she was registered not as Watt (my great-grandfather's surname) but as Anne Cleland Hepburn, and the father was named as Matthew Cleland Hepburn, with the date of his marriage to Annie as 1889. This was 14 years before Annie married my great-grandfather and she was 17 at the time.

I then found the marriage certificate of Annie and Matthew, on which Annie was once more down as a spinster, maiden name Paterson, and her parents named as Mr and Mrs Paterson. Hmm. But she said her maiden name was Hepburn in the later marriage certificate.

I strongly suspect that Annie was still married to Matthew Hepburn at the time she "married" my great-grandfather. She was a domestic servant and I can't think that she would have been able to obtain a divorce very easily. And I found Matthew Hepburn's death certificate. He lived for many years afterwards and his death was registered by his son. (Was this also Annie's son, I wonder?)

Despite all this, the child, Anne, was brought up as Anne Watt - my great-grandfather's name. She married under that name and when my great-grandfather died in 1949, she registered the death, calling herself his daughter.

It's all a bit odd - why would Annie not register her daughter's birth as her new husband's child? She already falsified other details and presumably she wanted the child brought up by her new husband rather than the biological father.

Anyway, sadly Granny's brother Alexander was gassed during the war and died in 1919 from the effects, so Granny was now effectively without family. She was such a loving person and very family-orientated - though she had only one child, my mother, and two grandchildren, my brother and myself. This is why, when I found she had a half-sister, I was amazed that she wasn't really in touch with her. But this probably explains it. Presumably it was known that Anne wasn't really my great-grandfather's child. Did Granny and her brother try to dissuade my great-grandfather from taking on this child? Was that the reason that their step-mother wouldn't have them in the house?

It's too late to ask how much anyone really knew. Interesting, though.