Thursday 31 December 2009

All quiet

All the lovely and much-loved visitors have gone home. The house has been cleaned, the presents and cards put away, the excess food ruthlessly passed on to departing guests, and the silence is deafening. After a concentrated burst of family activity, I'm left with mixed feelings; I miss everybody, and I'm all too painfully aware of how far away from each other we live, but I'm also very tired, and looking forward to eating what and when I like, spending the evening in my dressing gown, and not having to worry about keeping guests comfortable, warm and stuffed to the gills. And I don't need to consider for a year, if I so choose, serving another potato roasted in goose fat, delicious though it might be. Was.

Anne and John went off yesterday, on a noisy, busy train filled with folk heading for a Hogmanay knees-up in Edinburgh. We hoped that Anne would not need to attend to the call of nature during her journey, as this is clearly a dangerous thing to do. She had told us the story of a day when she and John had travelled from Glasgow to Edinburgh, and she had found herself unable to open the door of the train toilet to get out. She had tried pressing, twiddling and wrenching everything she could see as a possible handle or lock. Nothing worked. Eventually she pressed the Help button itself, assuming that this would alert a train attendant. Nothing happened.

She resorted to banging on the door, and shouting. After a while, another passenger came along and tried the lock. Anne called out that she was trapped in the toilet, and couldn't get the door open. "Oh. Right." said a woman's voice, and the passenger went away. Anne waited patiently for the woman to fetch help. Nothing happened.

Time passed. Eventually, tired of banging and shouting, Anne pulled the handle that used to be called the communication cord, and waited for the train to come to a halt. And nothing happened.

Eventually, when the train reached Edinburgh, help did arrive, and the door was opened - with a crowbar. Anne then located John, who had spent the journey reading the newspaper, and, with astonishing restraint, asked him if he hadn't thought that she's been away quite a long time? It is awe-inspiring testimony to Anne's noble and forgiving nature that John still lives.

The Lovely Son went away at an unnaturally early hour this morning. The dog has been sitting in the window for hours, looking mournfully up and down the road, unwilling to accept the evidence of suitcases and rucksacks that They, her beloved humans, have gone away.

The cats, who have had several days of intensive spoiling socialisation and imaginative play, will miss the humans too, once they wake up from their obligatory afternoon sleeps. James, his name now thoroughly Scottified to Hamish, has become an adventurous little cat, surreptitiously exploring the stairs, wrestling with Scooter, and peeping through the cat flap. Poor Hamish suffered a setback today when I put a collar and name tag on him - it was the peeping through the cat flap that was enough to raise the alarm for me. He is still at that uncertain stage where he thinks he can't walk with a collar on, and freezes every few steps before fleeing back to his box, but this evening he'll be out, pouncing and ambushing, and probably wondering why the lovely dinners have gone back to being just cat food. Ah, the grim realities of a post-festive regime! Kibble for them, oatcakes for me. It's back to the workhouse for us, my darlings.

Happy New Year. May 2010 bring you all the loveliness that you would wish for, and more.

Monday 28 December 2009


They're here, bringing heaps of lovely presents, including a very silly UFO remote controlled toy that has mesmerised the dog:

and a ferret-and-ball toy that has had the cats thoroughly excited, in a slightly scared way:

And we are all having a perfectly lovely time.

Train of thought

Or trains and thinking, at any rate. I really want to wring my hands and intone "Woe is me!" in a doleful voice, and for Woe you may read Idiot.

Yesterday I had everything ready for sister Anne and her husband John's arrival. I even despatched the Lovely Son to meet them from the train, although I wasn't sure which train they were on (long complicated story of unfindable emails due to their recent change of ISP and quirky increase in number of email addresses). Two were strong possibles, only five minutes apart. The East Coast website told me that both were due in on time.

But Anne and John weren't on either, and the Lovely Son, who'd had a difficult time finding anywhere to park, found that many trains were in fact delayed, despite what the website told us. He came home, and we texted and emailed to A & J, receiving no response. New Christmas Phone Syndrome, we thought, slightly exasperated. The website told us that one train would be an hour late. One! What about all the trains queuing behind it? By now, we were prepared to disbelieve anything.

But surely, we muttered, they would have the sense to take a taxi from the station if we weren't able to contact them or obtain accurate arrival time information? So the dog sat at the window, on full alert, primed to watch for Anne, but no one arrived. Taxis came and went - amazing how many taxis drive past when you're looking out for them - but none bearing cross-looking Scottish people laden with gifts.

Horrible thoughts smote me, and I rang their home number, to be answered by a cheery voice, clearly not at all bothered by train delays, switched-off phones, emails not picked up on Blackberries. There was a moment of horror as my sister almost believed that they'd forgotten to pack, leave the house, catch their train and visit her only sister. And then John asserted himself in the background: it was tomorrow they were coming. It had always been tomorrow. "We texted you and rang you! Your phone wasn't switched on!" I said. ""That's because I'm at home." said Anne, gently, not sounding as outraged as she might, given the quite irrational, slightly-blaming nature of my call to her.

I had a little feeble weep to myself later, as such demonstrations of my own stupidity always rather upset me, and because like most of us, I'm terrified of early-onset Alzheimer's, and am easily plunged into certainty that I have it already but have forgotten I had. The Lovely Son was surprisingly reassuring, and didn't capitalise on this opportunity to tease. And then I let out my breath, had a cup of tea, rethought the meal plan, checked sell-by dates, and pulled myself together, with a mortifying  trickle of memories coming back to me about knowing a while back that the Lovely Son going home a day earlier than A & J, and doing the maths that would have told me I'd got their arrival date wrong. The sentry dog was stood down, not fully understanding why, when she had been told to watch for Someone coming, no one had, to be barked excitedly at, bounced up and down over, and generally be thrilled by.

And later, the LS decided to go back to London later than planned. What a sweetheart. Perhaps he can see that his dimwitted mother needs a bit of support and the opportunity to empty the fridge too.

So we started all over again today. With an early morning phone call from Anne, standing at Glasgow Central, telling me that their train was stuck due to points failure; later the call came to tell me the train was cancelled. They would walk to Queen Street station and try to get to Edinburgh, and take pot luck from there.

And we wait. I shan't tell the dog yet.

Sunday 27 December 2009

'She' protests!

'She' would like to say that the cats, far from being cruelly deprived, as they tried to insinuate, had very posh cat food yesterday (we always spend Boxing Day with a friend, so no special dinners cooked here on that day). Tonight it's chicken in tarragon cream sauce; tomorrow is roast lamb with their Auntie Anne, and the next day will be something leftover-ish but nice too. And there's a bathtub-sized dish of home made smoked salmon pate going the rounds as well, so it would be wise not to believe a word those sly sympathy-grabbing creatures say. And don't offer them anything either; you'll only encourage them in further martyrdom.

We humans are much maligned!

Guest blog with whiskers

Hello, it's us! She said that us cats could do a blog post! But she said we weren't to go on and on about mice and furry things on a string. We are supposed to tell you about our Christmas, and what a nice time we had. We think she exaggerated the nice time bit, but here goes.

Well, it was cold and snowy. We went out on the ice with the dog, such a feeble creature who needed encouragement all the way: "Come on, dog! You can do it; you won't slide down the hill! The alternative is to burst your bladder...." What a fuss she made about having cold feet!

We rather thought there would be twinkly lights and tinsel on our climbing frame, but She wouldn't allow it. She said one of us would eat it or be electrocuted.

We rather thought there would be very special dinners.

No, just same old same old.... we waited, but no special dinner appeared.

She said it was too early for special dinners; that would be tomorrow. She said she was sorry not to have explained that we don't get Christmas dinner before Christmas Day. We were disappointed.

Not good enough, we thought. All those promises, and still just kibble!

She lit lots of candles, but she wouldn't light the fire. She said one of us would singe our whiskers. I don't think she credits us with much intelligence.

She was a bit silly with the decorations.

But then it was Christmas Day, and what nice things we got! There was lots of wrapping paper and ribbons, with things inside that we let the humans have.

We made confetti.

It was slow, careful work.

Didn't Scooter do well? He's the champion confetti maker.

Millie liked the curly ribbons best. They put up such a fight!

James was a bit scared, so he stayed under the table for a while with a mouse. He's still a baby, and doesn't know about confetti or fighting curly string.

Lottie decided that the climbing frame should be decorated, and did it herself.

She instructed Millie to help.

And Millie helped. Millie would do anything for Lottie.

James donated his rosette.

The humans said they got some interesting things inside our paper and ribbon, but we thought they were disappointing. There are no recipes for field mice, rabbits or voles in this book! What a rip-off.

This would be a cosy scarf for us to sleep on, I suppose, with wool stitches to pull out with our nice sharp teeth.

They had books that made them laugh a lot. They wouldn't let us make book confetti.

But why aren't candles ever catnip-scented?

She got this from Australia. Apparently she moaned all the time she was there about not seeing a wombat. Ugly looking things, if you ask us. No decent whiskers at all.

All their other presents were boring. No mice, no string, no fishy treats, no feathery things. What strange things humans play with! Dishes, books, chocolate. Chocolate - yuk.

The dog was taken for a walk. She had to be carried for a bit - such a wimp! We think she's milking that bad leg story a bit.

The Human didn't want us to show you this photograph. Usually it's the dog who needs a haircut, but the human looks like a bag lady with that long straggly fringe. Unlike us, humans are hopeless at personal grooming.

Eventually it was special dinner time. We thought it was very nice, but there's none left to show you. We are promised more - a special dinner every day! We will believe it when we see it, but it's a nice thought, we suppose.

We hope your cats had a nice Christmas too. And your dogs, although we know they're generally freeloaders who never contribute to decorating and confetti-making. Now we're off to play with string and have afternoon naps......

Thursday 24 December 2009

Happy Christmas!

From all the cuties living life in the slow lane with me, warmest wishes for a relaxed, comfortable and contented holiday. See you when it's all over!

Wednesday 23 December 2009

Family time

Phew! After all the shopping, wrapping, tidying, cleaning, bed-making, cooking, baking, cat-polishing, and the general retail and domestic hyperactivity that is Christmas nowadays, it's time to sit down quietly with a cup of tea and a mince pie (thank you, Bee, for the pastry recipe; after all these years, I'm capable at last of rustling up a decent mince pie!) and think about what it's all about. Not only the traditional meaning of Christmas, but the opportunity to have family come together and spend time in each other's company, enjoying ourselves and admiring the gleamingly-polished cats.

I am so looking forward to the arrival of this baby:

The Lovely Son, now 38 years older than when this was taken, and who wouldn't be seen dead in yellow hand-knits. He can still make that face, though.

And, shortly after Christmas Day, this baby:

From left to right:

Bottle-blonde Dolores, who could walk and turn her head with each step, pouting attractively in her best frock and little real shoes. Her hair couldn't be combed, however and she soon lost that Hollywood starlet-of-loose-morals look. In time, she would be supplanted by Rosebud, my favourite-ever baby doll, who had no hair at all, and cried "Mama!" when tipped forward. I may have tried the same trick with the Lovely Son many years later.

Me. My mother always cut my fringe like that, and if it wasn't level at each side, would continue cutting until either she got it right, or there was insufficient fringe left to cut. This was to remain an agony to me for many years.

My sister Anne. She looks like a Giant Baby, although this is deceptive; to my joy, my mother once described her as looking like a long, skinned rabbit.

Let me reassure you that this will be the only time any of you will get to see a protruding naked tummy or an exposed nipple belonging to either of us.

Brother-in-law John will also be here, but sadly, I don't have any embarrassing baby pictures of him to share with the world. You know I would if I could.

Tuesday 22 December 2009

Knowing my limits

My Christmas mantels are the favourite part of getting the house ready for the festive season, and there is always fresh holly and ivy intermingled with the candles and bits of gleaming glass and gold. No one ever notices the glasses of water that hold the stems; they aren't hidden, but somehow the eye fails to register them.

Over the years, the sitting room mantel has grown or shrunk in its load, according to whim or unconsciously-absorbed fashion; during the overblown '80s, there were large swags of greenery hanging below the mantel, more on top, and enough candles to light a cathedral.

This year, I've been much more restrained. A few strands of ivy, a few candles, a few bits of gold; the ancient dull gold wired ribbon that has appeared every year since the '70s - well, everyone needs something old and nostalgia-inducing to decorate with - and not much else.

And why? Remember this?

Ye-e-e-e-e-ssss...... you've got it now. She wasn't here last Christmas.

She's had a speculative look now and again, but she knows me well enough now to avoid too brazen an attempt on the summit while I'm watching.

Monday 21 December 2009

Scared now!

Getting the hen horrors in Tesco: I have just been shopping (crunch crunch crunch over crisp snow sparkling in bright sunshine) and spotted the hugest, absolutely eNORmous free range chickens I've ever seen in my life. Those birds looked like they belonged to another age, or had been bred and trained as Special Forces combat chooks but had failed the final, crucial survival test. I didn't dare buy one. For one thing, I'd need a larger oven, a roasting tin the size of a zinc bath, and a chainsaw to carve. For another, even when dead, those chickens were just plain intimidating. Cowed, I tiptoed away and bought some spinach; that wouldn't be capable of rearing up and pecking my eyes out.

After finishing my unexciting shopping, I squelched back to the car through streams and pools of slush, the bright sunshine having worked its special magic on the crisp sparkling snow, and went home.

And observed that the cats and dog looked - well, just like dinky little canapes, elegantly bite-sized.

Sunday 20 December 2009

Attic views

It's beginning to feel Christmassy round here.

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