Friday 31 July 2009

seven months

from January to July is all it took to turn this fuzzy, excitable little girl with enormous feet into a plump and glossy sophisticate. Oh, and regular applications of stolen butter.

Thursday 30 July 2009

Mother Grasses On Son

Son is noble, honest, self-sacrificing. "You have to tell them, mother. I will accept my fate like a man, transportation to the colonies being no less than I deserve. Hanging is too good for what I have done."

Mother also noble and self-sacrificing, though somewhat less honest, is impressed, overcome with pride at Son's manly courage, but demurs. She will take the rap for Son's criminal act.

(Note: Son rarely drives, and Mother rarely speeds, so neither worry too much about points on licences.)

Enter K the stern magistrate, who tells Mother that perverting the course of justice and covering up a misdemeanour is Not Allowed. Son must suffer the full force of the law. K will stand down from the bench should I appear before her court, and will sit at the back instead, sniggering. K has shared this sorry tale with brother in law, also a magistrate, and both laugh like drains and predict a long-running saga of police pedantry and bureaucratic complexity. And they should know.

Spineless Mother caves in, preferring stigma of being a grass to that of a felon. Rings Police HQ in the morning and confesses all*. Then has to provide Son's details in writing, so that he may receive his very own frightening notice with its big black lettering declaring Intention to Prosecute.

Son then reverts to normal mode, and while still being noble and self-sacrificing, emails Mother with rant about police. No swear words, but terms are included like:

little bureaucrats
supplementing the coffers of

and is signed off as 'Bitterly....'

Mother knows that along with the frightening form, a fierce little leaflet will be sent to her Son, dealing in a no-nonsense way with any emotions that usually arise when one is caught out, for example: "So you're p***ed off that you got caught? Ha ha - you broke the law-aw!!" The police have customer relations down to a fine art.

Also, Mother has forgotten to emphasise to police that Son will not be able to present his documents personally in Newcastle, now that he lives in London; the worst is anticipated
, and she looks forward to the emails that will result.

*Charlotte, she of the Handsome Young Policeman boyfriend, advised sympathetically that I should go in person to the police to confess, wearing my slippers, mad hair and clothes, and clutching numerous carrier bags. But isn't that my Sainsbury's look?

Wednesday 29 July 2009

Oh ****!!

I am going batty. I fabricate freely. I barely know truth from (my own) fiction. Here is the proof. After writing the last post, I went out in the rain and posted that dratted form to the police. When I came back indoors, the phone was ringing. The Lovely Son said "Mum, it was me! I was driving you to the station!" And so he was, on the morning I was meeting up in Berwick with fellow-blogger Isabelle. He insists that the points must go on his rarely-used licence, not mine, although he did laugh at the thought of the police thinking "What a nice lad, taking the rap for his old ma"..... (yes, yes, of course the police think kindly thoughts like that).

But meanwhile, another crime is being committed inside that red postbox, I guess, covering up the law-breaking of another. Stern magistrate K (who had wondered what I was doing out on the roads at a time of day when I'm usually still in my nightie) says I must write to the police immediately and confess all, admitting that I am a batty old woman; she agrees with me that I could add that the ferocious form induces fear and guilt in even the innocent, and that the police have a duty not to entrap the feeble-minded into untruthful admissions of guilt.

We all agree that a bureaucratic nightmare is bound to ensue. I will keep you posted, if I remember, of course.

so how do I feel?

Well, foolish, definitely in the wrong, and resigned to paying £60 as punishment for my crime. I had been so surprised to find that Jesmond Road, normally so traffic-choked that you can listen to an entire episode of The Archers before you reach the next set of lights, was almost vehicle free that I had put my foot down, and my 38 mph were captured for posterity by the speed trap van. I knew I'd been caught. It was a fair cop, guv'nor.

It was also my first such transgression since I was stopped by a traffic policeman about 26 years ago, for doing just the same speed, after which I became less cavalier about speed limits. Not that I have ever been a girl racer, you understand - normally I am the despair of passengers from pacier cities (naming no names, although he is now back in London) for pootling gently along within the speed limit, harsh braking or lane-dodging unknown to my boring little grandad-cardi-coloured car.

But when this fierce-looking notice arrived through the post today, I felt a bit frightened - Intended Prosecution? Me? A criminal? A flagrant law-breaker? Well, yes, I supposed I was. I thought the form was complicated, not user-friendly, and would be difficult for the less-literate to fathom out. It took me several readings to work out what I had to do and what would happen next, and I've been able to read for quite a long time.

My friend K the stern magistrate came for tea and dropscones in the afternoon, and told me that many people ended up in court because they hadn't understood the form or which of the numerous instructions, threats and admonitions they must follow, and hadn't sent the form back at all. Though how anyone could ignore such a scary form seemed odd to me.

So my form has been filled in and will go in the post when the summer weather improves enough to go out without a canoe. I will get some points on my licence, if anyone can work out how to put them on what is a threadbare, heavily-seamed and grubby scrap of paper, and I will Definitely Not Do It Again. I will be a model pootler once more. Boy racer passengers can sit on their hands and say nothing.

Tuesday 28 July 2009


The first beans, a few miraculously slug-free potatoes, very welcome too, but five eager heralds of the courgettes? "Stop now!" I want to cry, "you are plump and pretty, but five is enough!" But courgettes just don't listen. I know they are gathering their legions out there in the damp darkness....

Monday 27 July 2009

separation and loss

Sigh.......and I thought it was getting a bit easier....

I'd started mentioning - very carefully - to friends the planned move, and the areas where my initial exploration of possible destinations would start,
probably in the Spring. For years I have said that I would sell up and downsize, and have a garden next time round. For months I have been candid about getting the house finished for valuation and sale. I have accepted that some people wouldn't like it, and that I might have to do all this thinking and planning unaided (although some morsel of support wouldn't be turned down!), and I have found myself increasingly longing for it all to be over. Once I acknowledged how much I hate living in this hard and unkind city where I have never belonged, it became more difficult by the day to be patient about staying in it while my plans were slowly formulated.

From the start, reactions from friends haven't been exactly warm or encouraging, and there's more than a hint of cynical disbelief ("it'll be one of her daft crazes; she'll calm down eventually"), but I've managed recently to leave a map of South West England lying about in the sitting room, in open view, without finding it shredded by outraged visitors while I'm making cups of tea next door. Mostly, though, I have said very little, and only one friend
and my son have discussed my thoughts and anxieties in depth and offered their wholehearted support, with emailed cheers of approval from Toronto, where separation, in terms of distances and travel times, takes on a different meaning from ours, here in our crowded little island.

But yesterday I talked to a
visiting friend about an actual place where I intended to go and explore first, and trustingly opened the map to show her where it was. I mentioned the road and rail links nearby, the proximity of an airport, the things that would keep me connected to people, and they to me. I described what appealed to me about the area. Naively, I thought the topic was becoming safe. After all, I was talking to the same friend who only a year or two earlier had considered moving away from the North East herself; that idea hadn't been appealing to me either, but had been respected.

But her response was withering: had I thought about what my life would be like there? The tone was one of utter scorn and disbelief, and for a moment I
saw myself as I imagined that she saw me: silly, impulsive, irresponsible, and unable to think through the consequences of my actions. My hands shook suddenly, and I felt a wave of disappointment, defensiveness and hurt feelings. I was saved by the phone ringing and the visit coming to an end.

Later, I had time to think calmly through this fleeting but piercingly-painful moment. Of course I had thought of what my life would be like; wasn't the thought of a different life exactly what prompts us to make life-changing moves? Of course, I wanted to say; I'm not a complete fool. I do understand the feelings of friends - anxiety, anger even, at being left behind, perhaps abandoned, and in there too, worry for me, setting off without them. I know that change is scary for most of us, and I have been here for a long time, a mutual friend and helper,
reliable cat-feeder, plant-waterer, provider of tea and sympathy and occasionally a spare room, not given to going away often, rooted in this house. I know that change will come to friends too, not just to me, when I move away.

Except that these established and predictable things are not enough any more for me to stay here. Living and working in this city has hurt me, and I know and notice too much of its harshness and ill natured side. I am weighed down with terrible memories, and surrounded by reminders. I yearn for a softer, more gentle place to live, where I can recreate a calm and tranquil home for myself and anyone who cares to visit, can have the garden I have dreamed of for years, and be nearer to open countryside. I don't idealise or romanticise my future life, but I will make sure it does meet some of my needs more than my present life can. But I feel sad that there is so much disapproval and hostility to this plan. If my friends could bring themselves to listen to how much of my thinking and planning involves making sure there will be room for them too, they might not resent my leaving quite so much, and could even be part of the new adventure.

But no matter how much it is opposed, it is going to happen, that I know.
So, it's off my chest now, the self-pity had been set down for the day, and I might google the Devon-Dorset border for a while to regain my equilibrium. If you feel like cheering, that would be very encouraging; I will hear you clearly, because nowhere is really that far away.

Sunday 26 July 2009

and the audience loved it

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small but exacting

Two newel posts installed, thus repairing the terribly-damaged staircase to an acceptable degree, although it would have been wonderful to have found (and afforded) antique posts that matched the ornate mahogany originals. I grieve to think of how these were vandalised in the name of modernising this old house, no doubt having been thrown out as worthless dust-gatherers, along with the balusters, the marble fireplaces, the panelled doors and their handles, before the introduction of new doors with thick wavy patterns in their four glass panes, and many, many acres of polystyrene ceiling tiles. The handrail was, inexplicably, moved closer to the wall by about three inches, creating complex problems for any future restoration. The little tiled fireplace in the newly-painted room was hidden behind a false wardrobe, its mantelshelf hacked off - the current one is in fact a wooden bookshelf - and only budgetary restrictions prevented the previous owners from replacing all the sash windows and the front door with UPVC ones.

But we could see the potential of this battered shell, and the vandalising owners were in fact a delightful and happy family who were pleased to pass their home over to people who would love it as much as they had - despite our unspoken intention to undo much of their handiwork as soon as we could. But it was to take a very long time. Over the years, doors and fireplaces were re-installed and ceilings stripped and plastered, but the stairs remained a challenge, and a decision was made not to replace the missing balusters on the lower flight as one job too far and too complicated. The next owners can tackle that one!.

This week, the Lovely Son painstakingly sanded and lacquered the old paint-spattered handrail and stained the new posts, which, when next to real mahogany, immediately revealed themselves to be such cheap and tawdry fakes that we judged it better to paint them white. They are still ugly, wrong and new, but definitely an improvement on the mutilated stump of handrail that hurt the eye every time I passed it.

This chore has taken hours and hours, with drying times in between, and that's only one length of handrail! Two more floors to go! The house still smells pungently of paint, varnish and turps, and hanging over it all is a cloud of misery, as the dog mourns the departure of the Adored One, who has gone back to London and his own cat. Lottie and Millie will miss the presence of an unreconstructed carnivore from whom to beg food. I will miss his company, the sharp humour, the willingness to tackle dreary easily-put-off chores, and the perfectionism that my son, who inherited from me a rather casual approach to finishing anything, seems to be developing. Perhaps I won't miss the colourful language, the tuneless whistling, the leaving of half-full mugs of cold tea all over the house, and the phenomenal amount of washing and dishes that seems to accumulate in his wake, but I will miss him. I'm off to clean paintbrushes now, as I did promise not to leave them to harden till they were ready to get thrown into the bin - he seemed to think this was important; very odd.

Friday 24 July 2009

out of the blue, tiny loveliness

This exquisite little pendant arrived in the post this morning, sent by the delightful Marianne as a gift for me. I have known Marianne since her teens, and am very fond of her; she is a friend of the Lovely Son, and they have maintained their friendship over the years despite taking very diverse paths in life.

Marianne and husband Rob are jewellery designers, and have a chic little shop (and a tempting website, Saunders & Pughe - do look!) in Corbridge, Northumberland. Their photographs do justice to their delicate and beautiful creations in a way that mine just can't.

She had worn a similar pendant, with an aquamarine (mine has a peacock pearl, something I hadn't seen before) when she came for dinner the other night, and I had admired it, particularly the tiny, perfectly-detailed gold acorn, never thinking I would have one of my own. This was a hugely-undeserved but wonderful thank-you for a dinner, and a lovely, very special surprise too.

distinctly pinkly

The finished bedroom before the bed and all the usual bits and pieces go back in. New scalloped lace panels give it an even girlier look. The Lovely Son says his masculinity is not in the least threatened.....

decorative sleeping

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Thursday 23 July 2009

lost: one young apprentice

The painting of the spare room is finished, the radio has been switched off, and Wally has gone home. The nubbly woodchip walls are now lovely and smooth, the glossy white woodwork gleams, and it turns out that Simply Pearl, chosen for its neutral tone to go with the creamy carpet, could have been more appropriate named Distinctly Pink. But it's very pretty, if distinctly pink, and will go well enough with the assorted furniture that will be put back in there tomorrow. For assorted, read ill-assorted.

Fickle Millie abandoned her apprenticeship and paid no attention
this time to Wally or the painting process, being far too thrilled with the open windows downstairs and the novelty of having freedom, as did Lottie, to pop in and out of them like little weather people. All day long. Not bored for a moment: hup! onto the sill! flop! in through the window! swoosh! mad race round the house! clatter! out of the window again! And again. And again.

Pictures tomorrow, when there is daylight.

Wednesday 22 July 2009

down memory lane, Berwick

Yesterday Isabelle and I met up at a halfway point between our respective cities of Edinburgh and Newcastle. We travelled by train to Berwick upon Tweed. I have lived there several times, both in childhood and as an adult, returning often to visit my mother before she moved to live nearer to me, and I had warned Isabelle of the likely flood of reminiscences that might (and did) ensue. Poor soul, it must have been like visiting an elderly aunt who could remember the war and nothing much since, but she was patient and attentive, and without really aiming to do so, I gave a great deal of personal history.

And to my own surprise, so much of it was miserable! Twice we had lived in the Army transit camp while our soldier father was on active service abroad and we waited for our next posting. Supposedly for a few weeks, these stays had lasted for months and even over a year. Camp families were rather looked down on by the local population and it could be difficult to be a "camp child" although the camp itself, a straggle of wooden huts perched on top of the cliffs, with its residents consisting mainly of mothers and children, had been an idyllic and safe playground. Did I talk about that? About the freedom to run about outdoors in a virtually traffic-free zone minutes from the sea? Not at all. Instead, Isabelle heard "this was where we got flashed at by the naked man on our way home from school.... this was where the jeering Grammar School boys used to chase us.... the wind used to howl over the cliffs and blow our dustbins away".

Had there been more time, I might even have told her more dreadful tales, about our neighbour's attempt to kill herself by putting her head in the gas oven, and how her baby was looked after by my mother for several months - no Social Services in those days to regulate an unofficial fostering! And even her gentle questions about my family yielded
more details of bleak tragedy and long-lasting consequences. I had not been aware of this strange skill I seemed to possess yesterday: how to recount one's life history as a catalogue of sadness and regret!

We had planned to walk round the town walls, weather permitting, and so we did, talking all the way (yes, eventually Isabelle was graciously allowed a turn at talking). We walked and talked, stopped for lunch, plodded slowly back towards the station via a couple of little shops, and found that we still had time to spare in the now-pouring rain. And so we ended up in an amazing little bookstore that sold only used books. We became so engrossed in the shelves, searching, discussing and recommending, that by the time Isabelle had bought her six or seven and I had bought my four books, we ended up having to sprint to the station in the rain with moments to spare before our trains were due. But the kindly new operators (the Government?) of our benighted railways saw to it that Isabelle's train was delayed, so our puffing, panting, book-laden scuttle had not been necessary. My train was on time, but had to sit in a field just outside Newcastle for 30 minutes while some points problem was sorted out, the guard keeping us informed almost continuously of the fact that he had no information but was very very sorry.

I'd had a very nice day despite the horror story titled My Hard Life, although I felt we could have done with more time, especially having found that tempting little bookshop, and I very much hope we will meet up again. Meantime, here are some of my photos from the day. Note: the upstairs window where the naked man used to flash at small girls has not been photographed. Also note that the giggly small girls had been most amused by this experience, and had never thought to mention it to a grown up. Ever.

The clifftop holiday site, where once was a small cluster of wooden Army buildings: "the camp".

The road I would take to Mass before school, wind and weather permitting, during my ardently-religious phase, age 10.

Part of the Quay Walls, with its glorious Georgian houses with almost no privacy.

Next time, I shall either shut up and try to act normal, or if I must traipse down Memory Lane again, dredge up memories of the happier times I spent in Berwick: my beloved primary school teacher Sister Hilda, who, despite the possibility of our getting a posting at short notice, pushed me through the 11-plus exam, thereby opening a world of education that would never have been possible in Army boarding schools; going for afternoon tea with my mother to the Kenya Cafe, where little iced cakes on proper cake stands were served; many years later, spending hours on the beach and the cliff tops with my own little son... Kinder perhaps to just shut up and listen instead.

Thanks for suggesting our meeting, Isabelle! Let's do it again!

Tuesday 21 July 2009

day trippers

Today I abandoned everyone* and took a train to Berwick upon Tweed, to meet up with dear Isabelle of In This Life, and walk round the walls of this most interesting little Border town.

*They all coped without me - sort of.

Tomorrow I shall post pictures and details of a very pleasant outing; just now, though, I have to catch up on my cups of tea and maybe some dinner.

Monday 20 July 2009

here we go again - fun! uproar!

The Lovely Son is here, and up till now, we have had a quiet and homely time, watching tosh on DVD and pottering about outdoors. I have been tired and washed out, he has been even more tired after a long stint of work with irregular hours and no time off, and we have excused ourselves from anything that feels like work, but have lazed about and eaten much ice cream.

But such excitement in the house today! Wally arrives at lunchtime to decorate the Lovely Son's room, which for many years has had the much-hated woodchip wallpaper that seemed like a practical idea at the time. This room was once painted grey (the nearest I was prepared to go to agreeing to completely black walls), with a black fireplace, on which sat a sheep's skull (with candle). The walls were covered in an assortment of hideous and gruesome posters, and the floor was covered in hideous and gruesome clothes, interspersed with shoes, crockery, books and CDs. I tried to go in there as little as possible, telling myself that I was a tolerant and sensitive parent allowing my child to have privacy, but in reality, I was protecting my own physical and mental health from exposure to so much squalor, and avoiding warfare that I suspected I couldn't win. (Although I cracked once, and washed his denim jacket, and believe me, the repercussions of
that crime could be heard streets away.)

Then the Lovely Son stopped being a teenager, and eventually left home - for the first of many leaving-homes, as he kept coming back to recover from travelling and pennilessness - and the grief of that first separation remains a terrible memory, although it was never so intense again. Over time, we acknowledged that he had really left home for good; things got packed up and stored. The room eventually became the spare, and was painted in a restorative pale shade.

The excitement thrumming through the house today is because the room has had to be emptied and set up again in the upstairs sitting room. Little cats just love furniture being moved, and have helped a great deal, diving into drawers, scooting in and out of the bed, as we were carrying it, naturally, their tails and eyes wild. Millie got trapped in the re-making, and was tucked in tightly with the bottom sheet. Soon there will be ladders and steam, and plastic bags full of soggy stripped wallpaper. Cat heaven.

Saturday 18 July 2009

well, that helped a bit

I was half-kidding about the swine flu, having no sniffles/streaming/nose-hooting symptoms, but an early night certainly helped whatever it is. All I have today is the ongoing headache, and maybe I can blame the lowering clouds and continuous rain for that. Thank you for the sympathy; I know I'm a pathetic wimp with a tendency to catastrophise. Be thankful I know my own weakness well enough to resist having a medical dictionary in the house, because I would have every illness going, and my GP would have to ban me from the surgery.

The girls
all loathe rain, but are coping as best they can with having to stay indoors - Millie thinks a bit of central heating is delightful, and has rediscovered her cosy radiator bed. Notice her one pink toe? Lottie prefers to sit next to me upstairs, growing her magnificent whiskers through masterly inactivity.

I'm off out shortly, to force a reluctant dog to go for a necessary walk, watching her like a hawk for that telltale furtive look over her shoulder before she bolts for home (this can happen before she's even off the front step). She'll perk up at midday, when her Adored One arrives.

Friday 17 July 2009

moan groan

I have got several of the symptoms of swine flu. Admittedly, not the first two, the major ones, the high temperature (though how would I know when I don't own a thermometer?) or a sudden cough, but I Don't Feel Very Well at all, with a sore throat, aches and pains, and a general feeling that I need to be lying down in my bed, even though it's too early and I risk waking up at 2 a.m. So that's what I'm going to do, in the hope that the Lovely Son doesn't arrive tomorrow to full-blown nursing duties. He's a deeply unsympathetic nurse, and besides, the last time I had real flu, he had it too, and we had to lie in adjoining rooms calling feebly to each other from time to time to check that we (and each other) were still alive.

Goodbye, cruel world, at least for this evening. The bored animals and their self-pity-sodden human are going upstairs now. There will be nothing but tales of political gloom and human vileness on the radio, and the rain is still falling; my specs hurt my nose, and combined with shooting pains in my head make it unpleasant to read. I shall lie in the gathering dusk and groan softly instead.

wet, whinge, woe is us

This heavy rain is supposed to last all day, and certainly went on all night, hammering on the roof and making me dream awful dreams, of leaks in all the rooms (including several that don't actually exist in this house), of water dripping onto my bed, and giving me the most intense headache on waking. But the roof held, despite its pressing need for the overhaul planned for August.

The wind is driving the rain horizontally now. It's cold and bleak, and despite a sweater, I have had to put the heating on, just for a guilt-laden hour, you understand. More than ever, I yearn for a wood-burning stove, that most comforting of all sources of domestic warmth.

The rain-hating dog is beside me, tightly curled in that particular position that denotes misery; bored cats wander miserably from cat flap to front window - yes, the weather is awful at both sides of the house - and I have to go out shortly, to shop in Sainsbury's, the supermarket that specialises in the iciest aisles ever. People preparing for Arctic exploration shop there in order to acclimatise to extreme cold. The car park is full of deep pools of water, so you enter with wet feet, and the trolleys drip, so that small icicles might form before you've finished in the dairy aisle.

My sister emails me from her Greek island; the heatwave continues; she is having a wonderful time. There's something most unfair going on here.

Thursday 16 July 2009

the apprentice II

Tony the joiner has been here today, putting in the newel posts that have been missing from my staircase for as long as I've lived here, the previous owner having worked for decades to remove as many original features as possible before the house would fall down of its own accord. It has taken me just as long to find, rescue, barter, swap, salvage and reinvent these features, although a close look at most of them would reveal that they weren't original to the house.

Millie loved having Tony around, and has been expanding her practical skills. She is now fully aware of how chisels, drills and screws work, and how many trips to and from the van are required before the job is done. Naturally, as a conscientious student, she had to go with him each time. She's had a busy day.

There have been many cups of tea, and for Millie, that meant that the sound of the kettle boiling brought her running many times - kettle boiling = fridge opening = milk being taken out of fridge = very small chance of a drop of milk for a practised beggar. Whose digestive system processes milk in a rather anti-social way...

But when
Tony had tea and cigarette breaks, Millie had fly-chomping breaks; both front and back doors being open all day meant a steady stream of prey. Then, licking her chops, it was back to joinery tuition.

Next week her guru Wally the painter returns to decorate the spare room. He provides the added excitement of ladders to climb. And I know for certain that a large spider lives somewhere in the spare room. She'll like that.

Wednesday 15 July 2009

Millie hearts....

Phillie. If and when she can.
Followed by bamboo.

Hmmmm, not bad....maybe some dressing?

maybe not

Lovely Son arriving Saturday instead; got 2 days' work at short notice. Why freelancers don't get to see their mums often enough.....

Fingers crossed.

bag packed stop arriving Friday stop

He'll kill me for posting this, but I couldn't resist....

The Lovely Son (pictured here with Grandpa's hat and Grandma's shopping bag and what might be Mummy's own work, a lumpy hand-knitted jumper) is coming home on Friday for some R & MS (Rest and Maternal Spoiling). He hasn't been home since March.

The dog can't be told yet, or she'll spend the next two days on full alert at the front window, waiting, waiting, waiting....

At least I can keep myself busy till then, airing his room, planning walks, and shopping for
all those meals.

Tuesday 14 July 2009

seriously though

Mostly, I avoid being serious in this blog, having had enough of serious in the past to last me a lifetime. But this I couldn't let pass.

Linda left a comment on my previous post which has hit a painful nerve, throwing me back sharply into my former working life in child protection, where parents of young children often found themselves hideously defeated and deceived in their efforts to keep their children safe. This site, which focuses on keeping children safe online, has guidance for parents, including the words:

It's ... not a good idea to post pictures which can identify the school which your child attends since this could help someone locate them".


"Encourage them not to give too much away in a blog".

Words that blogging or social-networking adults might do well to consider
too. Thank you, Linda.

Monday 13 July 2009


I've been tinkering with my Blogger settings, as two people told me today that my links-thingies didn't seem to work. Friend Roger the Computer Boy Wonder is in Venice having a lovely time, so I have had to deal with this hugely serious problem myself - tinkering really meant closing my eyes, reaching gingerly into the blog's innards, twiddling the knobs and pulling at the wires, hoping that suddenly my Profile would be made available without my Privacy becoming invade-able - are blogging and privacy incompatible at heart, do you think?

Anyway, I find I have a little email symbol at the end of each post now. When I click on it, I get this amazing message from Blogger:

"The information you provide on this form will not be used for anything other than sending the email to your friend. This feature is not to be used for advertising or excessive self-promotion."

So, we need to have a think about this. What constitutes excessive self-promotion on one's blog? And is it as annoying as excessive humility? Your thoughts welcome.....


The Great Panjandrum


No, I don't want the curtains opened. No, I don't want you to talk to me. No, I don't want to go out for a walk.

You got up too early! and I haven't had enough sleep.

So I shall stay here in this tight little curled-up ball and try to recover from the outrage. Come back in an hour.

Saturday 11 July 2009


For the amateur detectives amongst us, here are the clues:

  1. stupid human leaves half pack of butter on kitchen worktop, goes out of room
  2. returns to hear catflap clattering, and butter pack lying on floor
  3. butter has considerable amount missing and rough tongue marks on what's left
  4. small cat sits on fence, casually washing her face
  5. when questioned, small cat protests "It wasn't me!" but has a shifty look
It's a mystery, all right.

healthy eating

Inspired by Kristina's post about elderflower and mascarpone cheese cupcakes, I decided that these would be just the thing to mark my friend Lesley's 55th birthday, and here is one of them. They were just as delicious as Kristina said, and the icing, an incredible amount for 8 cupcakes, was beyond delicious, although perhaps not the best thing for one's cholesterol or hips. The elderflowers added a pretty touch, even though I'm a bit squeamish about eating flowers. Happy Birthday, Lesley!

Tuesday 7 July 2009

Claw reborn!

And here they are! The old claw and the 'new' claw, now in the silver mount of the family brooch . This is the part you were promised right at the start of the saga - shock, horror, amazement. If you feel none of these things but find yourself with a strange little primitive urge to wear a dead bird's cured foot about your person, I can heartily recommend eBay as a hunting ground.

It reached M today. She was thrilled, and didn't mention the inordinate time it had taken to resolve this little matter, but thanked and praised me beyond all deserving. But I was merely the temporary servant of the Claw, and my work is done. I am free.

I just hope with all my might that she won't bequeath it to me.

Intermission and second half

The Claw languished in the safe keeping of Mr D for a long long time. This was entirely due to my poor memory. I forgot all about it for perhaps a year, then, starting up one day in alarm ("The Claw! The Claw!"), I had to ask John to re-send the old email, that I had lost, with Mr D's details on it, so that I could contact Mr D and find out if any of his contemporaries were still alive enough to have been consulted.

John duly searched for and sent me the email, and I forgot all about it again for a long time.

Eventually, memory rallied, and I rang Mr D. to ask how he was getting on with his grouse foot enquiries. A slow, creaky voice informed me in that most genteel Edinburgh-Scots accent that, alas, no one knew of foot-curers any more. But never fear, he had the Claw, safely stored in a drawer. Good, I thought, no one has been maimed or savaged in the night, with only tell-tale scrabbly scratchy marks on the doors to indicate the escape of an unknown intruder after perpetrating a hideous crime against an elderly jeweller.

That could have been the end of the saga, but I had been on eBay - I knew that such brooches did come up from time to time, under various titles, including lucky rabbit's paw. I asked Mr D if he would be able to cannibalise (horrid thought!) another brooch to restore M's, if I could obtain something similar. Yes, he creaked genteelly, he thought perhaps he could. I offered to email him a picture of any brooch I managed to obtain. Oh nooooo, we don't have those computers or anything like that heeere..... (how crass of me to have thought of such a thing; he made it sound like they might still be getting used to the new-fangled electric light).

So the hunt for a donor was on. I stalked a selection (pictured below in Enter the Claw) and sent pictures of them to M. She didn't fancy any of them, but as it had been so long since she had clapped eyes on the original, I suspected that she had forgotten the sorry state it was in, and therefore couldn't compare it with the glorious condition (ahem) that the selected replacement was in. So I went ahead anyway; my blood was up by now, and M wasn't going to throw a talon in the works now!

I employed my considerable and surprising skill at last-second bidding to obtain the one I wanted, in the teeth of some determined opponents bidding furiously against each other. I really dislike bidding on eBay, as I hate that rush of adrenalin - anyone who has ever had a panic attack will know exactly how horrible adrenalin can feel - but I'm rather good at it, having been taught by the Lovely Son, who has nerves of steel and fast reflexes. I just have to have a little walk outdoors afterwards, breathing deeply, telling myself it's only shopping and greed, so get a grip.

When the chosen donor brooch arrived, it looked rather elderly and pathetic too, but had a striking resemblance to how M's Claw may have looked 20 years ago before baldness struck and toe-amputation occurred. I duly packed it off to Mr D the jeweller, with a polite letter and my contact details. And then I forgot about it again for a long time. Mrs Short Term Memory Loss meets the Claw of Forgetfulness... anyway, this time Mr D had assured me that he would let me know how he was getting on with the job.

Several prompts later, Mr D having an inordinate number of foreign holidays for a man of his advanced years, the postman brought me a little parcel. It was perhaps the most gruesome package I have ever received, and I opened it with the fire tongs and leather gardening gloves. Then without showing the cats, I rewrapped it with a note and sent it on to patient and unquestioning M, back in her home in Toronto. It could be her next birthday present, I said.

The Claw Goes Forth

Some smart alec (me) decided that the Claw, having a Scottish look, with its Cairngorm-y stone and hint of kilt-pin about it, might find its spiritual home in Scotland, and in particular, Edinburgh's Royal Mile, with its vast array of souvenir shops and tartan-influenced paraphenalia. And its well-heeled connections to Scotland's grouse moors.

So I asked brother in law John to join the mission to restore the Claw to its rightful state of perfect gruesomeness. John originates from Edinburgh, and is thus entitled by birth
, which I am not, to mock its tourist-trap shops, and to label them Granny's Hielan' Hame; moreover, he was happy to use his newly-earned pensioner's travel pass to travel from Glasgow and tramp the cobbled streets of his home town in our service, brandishing the mutilated Claw with its stump of a toe, and striving not to look or indeed feel embarrassed about it.

But the Edinburgh jewellers also threw up their hands in defeat. No one wants claw-like grouse feet any more; fluffy feathery Disney paws, perhaps, but not something that looked like it might rip out your windpipe in the middle of the night. And no one cured grouse feet any more; not a trade to attract the young.

But then, miles of cobbles having been tramped, hundred of tartan ornaments having crowded in on him in cramped little shops, John struck lucky. The ancient Mr D would ask his contemporaries about obtaining a replacement claw; perhaps amongst the dying breed of old-time jewellers, someone still knew of a wee Hielan' craftsman's cottage where grouse could come to have their feet cured. If a replacement could be found, Mr D would restore the brooch. He was scathing about the fluffy Disney version; a man after our own hearts. The Claw was handed over, and all went silent.

For about two years.

Enter The Claw

My sister-in-law M owns one of those grouse foot brooches* that were so popular back in the mists of time (as lazy/clueless would-be historians would put it). Set in silver, the foot, or claw, was a gift from her father to her mother when they got married*.

Years later, M was given the brooch as a gift from her mother, and dutifully wore it, perhaps not as her first choice of costume jewellery, but certainly out of nostalgia. Over the years the feathers dwindled in majesty, and the claw began to look its age.

One day, one of M's cats leaned across and delicately bit off one of the talons. This might have proved a major disappointment to the biter, but who knows, cats being the mysterious and inscrutable creatures that they are?* Maybe it was simply irresistible.

The mutilated Claw, now almost featherless, began to assume a certain B-movie horror film appearance, and M began to wonder about repair or restoration, as continuing to wear it in public might be a nostalgic gesture too far for the delicate of constitution
or nerves.

But Newcastle jewellers threw up their hands in defeat - no one made or wore such brooches any more, did they? (And if they did, who were these people? Did they hunt their own costume jewellery?) There did seem to be a more modern version, but the claw element of the brooch had been transformed into something Disneyesque, a fluffy-feathered affair that obscured the talons - so fluffy, in fact, that they were sometimes thought to be rabbit's feet brooches. Again, who would wear a rabbit's foot brooch?*

* things to ponder, in a quiet contemplative moment

Coming Soon To A Blog Near You!!!

The Saga of The Claw

Admission free. Prepare to be shocked, horrified, and

Monday 6 July 2009

sun cat on the stairs

with a long and ghostly tail.

Sunday 5 July 2009

addendum: two careful previous owners

PG asks if A's plot had been left in a terrible state by its previous owners. Well, no, actually.

P and her partner had it for years, and only left because they felt it wasn't productive enough. They left the raised beds, and one of the sheds, but dismantled and rebuilt this one - note the flagged floor and the stove! - on their new plot, which now looks like they have been there for a decade instead of a year and a half. Sadly, I don't have a picture of the plot, just the coveted stove.

(Having the stove means that they happily garden in deepest winter, cosy, warm and with a ready supply of tea and toast. I want one! Maybe in my back yard...)
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