Thursday, December 18, 2014

Santa with a cold

Lovely to see Grandson again after his southern sojourn. He has a(nother) cold and can't breathe through his nose, poor little mite, but he had a lovely time playing London trains and buses and then watched some "Fireman Sam" wrapped up in the Christmas quilt while I cooked dinner.

And Daughter 2 is on her way home on the train. Keep your fingers crossed for no delays. She should get in at 11.30pm but has to work in the Livingston office tomorrow and is really tired so needs to get a good sleep.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Love postcard

The house is Christmassified, eg above and below, though I must go and find some holly from somewhere to make a tasteful arrangement for the sitting room. One of the cakes has been iced. Most of the presents have been bought, though not wrapped.  I was out carol singing with one of my choirs tonight and it's our carol concert on Saturday, so altogether I feel I should be slightly more steeped in the Christmas spirit than I am. I suppose it's because the family is scattered. I never expected them to be. I always envisaged us all living close to one another.

Still, we went to see Son today and had lunch with him, and a walk. Daughter 1, Son-in-Law 1 and the babies are home from London this evening, though we haven't seen them yet. Can't wait. And Daughter 2 comes home on Thursday, which will be lovely, though it makes it worse when she goes away again. And then my brother and his family come next week from the London area, which will also be good.

Yes, yes, I realise that I shouldn't complain. Things, as my granny used to say, must aye be some way. And Grandson dictated a "love postcard" to us yesterday, which Daughter 2 typed out for him:

"Good morning, Granny and Grandpa. Postcards coming up for you. In London I saw big red buses and Auntie [Daughter 2]. I am playing bus doors with brick blocks. This bus is going to Charing Cross Gardens. It's a new 21. That's enough."

Sunday, December 14, 2014

O Christmas tree (skirt)

The Christmas tree is up and decorated. The house is also more or less decorated, if you discount the empty cardboard boxes and plastic bags which no longer contain the decorations but which haven't quite been put away yet.

Please note the accountant-designed, craftswoman-made tree skirt. Thank you.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Auntie Bee

I know I keep going on about this, but as I get older I become more and more aware of how things last much longer than people do. Here, for example, is Auntie Bee's china. I'm fairly sure that it lived in the wall cupboard - what we in Scotland call a press - in my granny's sitting room when I was a child. This cupboard had glass doors in the upper half; but the sitting room was used only when my grandparents had visitors so I didn't see the china often. When my grandmother died, it went to my mother, who kept it in her china cabinet in the dining room. She told me that Auntie Bee - who was actually her maiden great-aunt - was the ladies' fashion buyer for Small's, a big department store in Princes Street in Edinburgh (which was still there when I was a girl). Auntie Bee used to go down to London on buying trips; a long and difficult journey for a single lady in the earlier years of last century. Late in life she was crippled with arthritis and had a housekeeper who lived in the basement of her ground-and-basement flat. Mum said that my granny, who was a good soul and often rallied round elderly relatives, used to visit her a lot and take her out in her wheelchair. Auntie Bee was a tiny lady and wasn't hard to push about in  her chair. I never knew her myself and wasn't sure when she had died.

When my mum came to live with us, the china came too and I put it in a glass-fronted cupboard in my kitchen, where it remains.

I'm sure it's not remotely valuable but it's pretty. The cups and saucers all feature different flowers. The plates, jug and slop bowl were bought later by Auntie Bee and don't match exactly.

When I was looking vaguely at the china the other day, I realised that I didn't actually know who Auntie Bee was. I now know that she was my mother's great-aunt, but up till today, when I did a bit of research, I wasn't sure - I thought she might be a cousin or second cousin. My dad compiled a very detailed family tree, but though I knew that Auntie Bee was on my mother's side of the family, I didn't know whether she was a relative of my grandmother or my grandfather. I didn't even know her proper name. She was always referred to as Auntie Bee.

After some perusing of the family tree, which didn't feature any Beatrices or anything else which particularly suggested "Bee", I decided that the most likely candidate was Isabella Enwright Tait, my mother's father's mother's sister, who lived from 1856-1942. There are a lot of Isabellas on both sides of my family, so it seemed possible that an Isabella could have been called Bee - though it didn't seem an obvious contraction.

And then it suddenly came to me: I knew what she looked like! I remembered a photo of her in my mother's collection; I could picture it. And, on investigating, I came on the photo I remembered, and on the back, my mother had written, "Isabella Tait, aunt of Thomas Tait Campbell". Thomas Tait Campbell was my grandfather. So I'm now sure Auntie Bee was indeed Isabella Enwright Tait, and here she is, above.

It has just occurred to me that she may not have been Auntie Bee, but Auntie B - short for Bella? I never saw it written down.

Anyway... I wanted to record her existence. She lived for a long time - about 86 years - and was presumably quite a successful career woman in her way. She's pretty; she certainly looks elegant. Look at that lovely hair. I wonder why she didn't marry. Mum always said that she was sweet-natured.

I don't suppose I'll ever know any more about her - my brother knows even less than I do. This is all that's left of her - I'm sure Mum had some jewellery that had been hers too, but I can't remember which bits they were, so it comes down to one photo and the china. Something else for the children to decide what to do with when I'm gone... . Sorry, offspring.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Great Grandpa's painting

Bloggy friends may remember that last month (16 November) I wrote about the indenture binding my great-grandfather, James Smith, as an apprentice painter and decorator for 7 years. I reflected that all we have of him is his signature on this document and, inwardly, I marvelled how little of us remains when we die.

And then, in the middle of last night, I remembered this oil painting. Painted by him. And sent by us to auction when my mother moved in with us.

I've known the painting for most of my life. I assume that it was in my grandfather's house (the painter's son) but he died in 1950 and a few years later my grandmother moved to England with my aunt. She must have taken the picture with her. It ended up back in Edinburgh with my parents when my grandmother, who had dementia, went to live in Pakistan with my other aunt, who was a doctor there.

It's a competent amateur painting, but not terribly exciting. I always knew that it was painted by my grandfather's father but hadn't quite put him together in my head with the person in the indenture. I'd always vaguely imagined the painter outside with his easel on the hillside, maybe in his retirement. But actually, having studied the family tree, I now know that he died at 40 in 1893, the father of seven children. So where and how did he come to paint this, and how did he find the time? There was another painting by him (yes, also sent to auction) - a copy of The Laughing Cavalier. It wasn't wonderful - a bit more sinister-looking than the original. But on the other hand, Great-Grandpa couldn't exactly have copied it from Google Images. How on earth did he, a painter and decorator in Kirkcaldy, see this painting in the Wallace Collection in London? I don't think he can have done so. But did he have a book with illustrations? Did he also copy the landscape? Could they have been on biscuit tins or something?

At the time of the auction we were terribly busy. My mother had a large flat full of belongings to do something with and she was not a minimalist. I felt bad at the time not taking the paintings, but was aware that if I did, in a few decades or less our children would have them to deal with along with all of our possessions (and I am not a minimalist either). I was already taking quite a few family things: a chess table, a grandfather clock, a bureau, china and so on. So I hardened my heart and left the paintings to be taken away by the auction house. I imagine that someone bought them for the frames.

And then there's my other grandparents' brass coal box, also in Mum's flat. I nearly took that too, not because I liked it but because it reminded me so much of them. At the time I decided that it would be just more stuff to cause problems to the children when they need to clear our house. But I think of it in the middle of the night too, and wish I'd kept it; and then am glad I didn't.

Stuff. We have so much of it. How sentimental should we be about it? Do I regret not taking at least one of the paintings? Yes. And no.

Ah well. Too late now.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

In the slightly chilly midwinter...

Another walk with the walking group, this time round and about North Berwick.

You might not think that a seaside walk in Scotland in December would be ideal, and it was a little windy, but not really cold.

I've often thought I'd like to retire to North Berwick, which is east of Edinburgh, but then it would be more difficult to see the family. In another life, maybe... .

I do like being beside the sea.

This is the entrance to the Sea Life Centre, which has a nice cafe, but we had mulled wine and mince pies on the seats outside instead. We like roughing it, but only to a certain extent.

You can't go wrong with a photo of boats.

And off again, along the beach, along the edge of the golf course and back into the town to have Christmas dinner: thus replenishing our dangerously low calorie levels.

Thursday, December 04, 2014


Granddaughter started piling up bricks.

She got quite a high stack.

And even higher. Ah, I thought: the simple pleasures of watching children play with bricks. I photographed her impressive pile.

Then it fell over. Grandson picked up two of her bricks. "That's eighty-eight," he remarked. I agreed.
He added a brick. "What's eight eight five?"
"Eight hundred and eighty-five."
Another brick. "What's eight eight five nine?"
"Eight thousand eight hundred and fifty-nine."

A further brick. "So what's eight eight five nine four?" he enquired.
"Um, eighty-eight thousand, five hundred and ninety-four," I said, rapidly tiring of this game.

"What's eight eight five nine four four?"
"Eight hundred and eighty-five thousand, nine hundred and forty-four," I groaned.

"So what's eight eight five nine four four eleven?"
"Well, you can't really put an eleven in a line of numbers like that."
"Yes, you can," he said, pointing at it.
"Well, all right," I said. "Eight million, eight hundred and fifty nine thousand, four hundred and forty eleven."

And so it went on, for some considerable time.

I'm not really into numbers.

But I did my best.

Meanwhile my husband, the retired accountant, sat peacefully looking at his iPad.

I think we got up to the billions, but with two elevens in there.

"Now I've covered up the first three numbers with stones," he said. "What's the number now?"

And so it went on till all the numbers were covered.

If he doesn't get his university entrance maths in due course, don't blame me. I never said I was a maths teacher.