Wednesday 30 June 2010

The sea! The sea! The.... cars and buses....

My sister lives just across from the right-hand side of Glasgow's City Chambers.

A grand and imposing building. Hardly a family home.

Large and accommodating though!

Soaring spaces.

Cliffs of stone,  with many ledges and sheer drops.

Rather like St Kilda, maybe?

These little gull chicks think so.

They toddle eagerly along the ledges when their parents come to feed them.

Although perhaps not with herring......

So far the local sparrowhawks haven't introduced themselves to the little family.

My sister will be away in Greece when these babies fledge, so won't have to live, heart in mouth, waiting to see how they fare as they launch forth into the bustling city centre.

Tuesday 29 June 2010

Not counting chickens....

Too superstitious to say more than this:

Serious interest in my house is building up. Hard decisions may be on the horizon.

I have resorted to home remedies for stress.

Also, I'm in Somerset next Monday to view two houses. I'm seriously scared now.

Many fingers being crossed might help, for both buying and selling.

Monday 28 June 2010

Art, sun, stone, and playing with bows and arrows

Well, didn't we have a grand afternoon out! 

Belsay Hall, Northumberland, stands in beautiful grounds, with woodland walks, a quarry garden, a ruined castle, and, in recent years, has hosted a range of exhibitions that draw visitors even on days like today when England is playing for the World Cup. 

For the first time ever for me, I managed a visit on a day that wasn't cold and windy, and in consequence have a far less bleak impression of Belsay.

We began with the exhibitions in the Hall. It started well - two small boys tumbling out into the sunshine in fits of giggles, saying "We liked the big willie man best!"

And here is the 'big willie man' - Ron Muecks 'Wild Man' - although in Belsay he looked even more imposing, with a look of extreme discomfort and anxiety. We were unable to take photographs, but marvelled at the detail of all the sculptures; the eyelashes, the toenails, the utterly convincing portrayal of the human form, even when scaled up or down. These figures conveyed and elicited emotion, and left us thoughtful. We watched a video of the process of creating such incredible works, and marvelled even more.

Attendants pounced, snapping and snarling, if anyone strayed unwittingly over the viewing-limit lines. We were duly chastened. These were not people who seemed happy at their work, despite the cheerfulness and evident delight of the viewing public.

We walked through the Quarry Garden to the Castle. Birdsong, hot sunshine, and mounted photographs of Slinkachu's tiny, witty works, and in a glass case in the woodland, Tessa Farmer's little stuffed creatures and their tormentors, the malevolent fairies. These were rather disturbingly nasty, and we found we couldn't gaze for long, despite marvelling again at the scale and intricacy of the work. 

A wonderful juxtaposition of scale throughout: the towering arches through the quarry, the huge gunneras, figs and rhododendrons.

And some rather short people; this one (me) wearing that familiar expression of one who wonders what's taking the photographer so long.... it's point and click, for heaven's sake!

We emerged to find ourselves at a field where confident-looking people stood about nonchalantly wielding huge bows. Gulp! Those targets were impossibly, scarily, far away for us total novices! Perhaps we wouldn't bother, thank you....

But we had found the real archery competition, not the "Have A Go" fundraiser. That was safely tucked away behind the castle.

And we did have a go. What fun! A patient tutor from Ponteland's archery club coached us through the basics, and we didn't do badly. (Bumblevee, champion archer, don't shudder like that! We had never even held a bow before!)

Lynn, Annie, then me.

The targets weren't very far way. This was a Good Thing. See the yellow area in the centre? Two of my arrows are in there!

We wandered through the castle, to find that Mat Collishaw's zoetrope had broken down. A friendly attendant apologised, and sent us up the winding staircase to look at it anyway, and to poke around in the castle ruins.

But the ruins themselves were interesting too - even with floors, those stone rooms must have been perishing cold in winter, with only those small fireplaces, now used by nesting birds.

The return route through the Quarry Garden took us to Mariele Neudecker's huge, lovely replica of the Belsay sash window.

Three small humans reflected in the lower right pane.

And dwarfed by it.

The garden itself gives one a sense of being very small in the eyes of Mother Nature.

And finally, to the tearoom, for a cup of tea and a slice of butterscotch cake - let's take a picture... oops, too late! -   before driving home to our familiar-sized homes. Such a lovely day out!

Saturday 26 June 2010


A change of house.

I'm off to Belsay Hall, Castle and gardens to see these exhibitions and to try my hand at a bit of archery. There may be photos, and hopefully no casualties.

Friday 25 June 2010

Remembering Mark

On this day in 1963, the accidental death occurred of my youngest brother Mark, aged 5.

Here he is, a chubby smiling baby, well swaddled against the cold, his big brother K, 3 years older, looking over the pram wearing the brown cap of which he was inordinately proud.

And again, in a rather frayed terry nappy, toddling sturdily with his little wheeled horse.

At about 3, on his tricycle on a quiet German road, wearing one of the striped tops favoured by my mother. A cheerful, lively, loving child, fair-haired and brown-eyed, often getting into scrapes, requiring rather more of a watchful eye than his brother or his two sisters had ever needed.

Mark's sudden death was to change all our lives for ever. No family really 'gets over' the loss of a child; coping day by day and going forward cautiously, as though walking on splintered glass, trying to bring the remaining children safely through their childhood years, was to take every ounce of strength and commitment that our fragile parents could muster, for a very long time.  

Three weeks later, my sister and I, who had been away in England at boarding school, our attendance at Mark's funeral never an option, stepped into a family we could barely recognise, and which was never to be the same again. Overlaying everything was a fog of grief and loss, of unspoken guilt and terrible self-doubt. Our 7-year-old brother's entirely erroneous conviction that, somehow, he could have prevented the accident, was already buried deep and silent within him, not to emerge for 40 years or more. Kind friends and neighbours had removed Mark's larger toys, unwittingly emphasising the loss of a younger playmate and generating a sense that this loss was best not acknowledged too openly.

We learned very quickly not to mention Mark, for fear of adding to parental distress already overwhelming; people were kind, but no one, as was common in that era, seemed to understand much about the grief, fears and fantasies of bereaved children. We three were quiet, tiptoeing, shadowy children throughout those long, tormented summer holidays, and some months later, my father was posted back to Britain. A shipwreck of a family, washed up in winter on the shores of a cold, grim, uncomprehending Edinburgh, a city that even now I cannot return to without a shudder. 


In 2003, after my mother's death, we found two little striped t-shirts, one of which Mark had been wearing when he died, and a silk scarf (his bedtime 'shawl' without which he could not, would not, sleep) carefully wrapped up and tucked away in the back of her wardrobe. She had never mentioned them, although sometimes, with sorrow as raw as it had been in 1963, she would talk about Mark himself; we ourselves had learned all those years ago not to mention his name except with extreme sensitivity and caution, and in fact rarely did so. Unresolved grief was the background music of our family life.

My sister and I re-wrapped the 3 small items, adding an extra beautiful layer of tissue paper and ribbon, and put them inside my mother's coffin. They had been hers for all these years, and were not ours to keep.

Little Mark, such a small child, such a large personality, such a grievous loss. Not forgotten.

Thursday 24 June 2010

You can suffer with me

Do Not Read Too Much Into This....

...but Tuesday's house viewer, the tall, dark and handsome young doctor, came back for a second viewing today.

And he brought his mum and sister, who had driven up specially from the Yorkshire Dales.

And another couple are coming to view this evening.  It's all go, here.

No one is allowed to uncross their fingers yet.....

Wednesday 23 June 2010

My Year of Living Tidily

Today, I considered how I was feeling about this house sale business. And what came up surprised me somewhat.

It's actually rather nice to live in a tidy, finished house, and moan as I might (and do) about the constant housework, it doesn't really take that long and the results are gratifying. There now, I've said it! I think I may just have fallen off a donkey on a back road to Damascus. I hope I'm not dusty.

Not everything is finished, if truth be told, but it's achievable now. Margery and I cleaned the two large pan drawers under the cooker hob today, and found that when everything was put back in again (with only two items reaching the charity bag) there was a strikingly large amount of room in there, and cluttered, badly-stacked things no longer fell into the void behind the drawer, to be dragged out with the tongs.

And I found the little home-made rack that lets me put an espresso pot on the hob without risk of it tipping over very annoyingly. That little treasure has been lost for years.

The For Sale sign is irritating - not for itself, but because the two pieces of timber that keep it upright are at odds with its main post, and look scruffy. I feel like painting them black to match. I am getting more in touch with my own place on the autistic spectrum, I can tell.

And that Zephirine Drouhin is so messy with her petals! Tut.

I realised that I don't mind if no one buys my house for ages; I am under no pressure to move, and am happy in my home. If it does sell, I will find another house to be happy in, because happy is what comes with me, not what belongs to any particular house. But if it doesn't sell, then I'm having an interesting time living without clutter and heaps of paper.

I suspect that I shall tire easily of showing people round - just two viewings have shown me that talk of roof and drains is dull, and that remembering not to say "And this is the kitchen!" when it could be nothing else, slightly saps the will to live. Perhaps I need to work on my script. I could hint at a small secret door (yes, there is one, and I may tell you where it is when and if I do move).

Or I could print out nursery-class-style labels and pin them to the doors, with descriptions, perhaps, of what each room is and its hidden mysteries.

After all, the estate agent's blurb describes the upstairs sitting room, really the master bedroom, with far too many odd chairs, two unmatched desks and the computer, as the Drawing Room. Moi, having a Drawing Room! How very Jane Austen....

(If I really were to have a Drawing Room, it wouldn't have a carpet the colour of a damp digestive biscuit, that's for sure. A friend says I'm not to be trusted to buy carpet unsupervised, as, no matter what my intentions, they always turn out to be biscuit-coloured. And she's right.)

I could just send viewers to look for themselves. I could sit in the kitchen with my feet up, drinking tea, and waiting for them to come down and ask me fascinating questions about roof and drains....
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