Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year

Because of the kind anxiety displayed by various warm-climate commenters about my soapy green mangoes (which our son ate) I bought a pinker one today to reassure you. The boy’s sadly gone now but I’ll add it to tomorrow’s fruit salad for a little taste of sudsy goodness.

Things are very quiet here at the moment. Daughter 1 and her husband are in England with his family; Daughter 2 is in London with her actor boyfriend and other friends; and Son has returned to Dumfries, two hours away. Mr Life is at work and my brother is doing some d-i-y jobs for my mother; he recently popped in to borrow some tools. There will be only eight of us for New Year dinner: Mr Life, my mother and aunt, my brother, his wife and daughter (their son has returned down south), my niece’s friend who’s doing a PhD in Edinburgh, and me.

As I've confessed before, I’m not at all good at the let-them-fly aspect of parenting. I mean, I’m fine with my darlings going off to visit people, but I do like them to come back. And yet, contradictorily, I like being by myself too; pottering about; doing bits of writing and reading and walking. But I find it very difficult transforming myself within a relatively few years from a very hands-on attentive mum to a … person. And it doesn’t help that I’m really getting quite an old person with baggy bits and wrinkles. Which are only going to get worse.

Still, we do have cats who demand attention, a bit like babies. I’m currently sitting in the cold study while there’s a nice radiator on in the living room, where the cats are sleeping happily, full of Tesco Finest prawns. They usually get Tesco Value prawns, but these were sold out this morning.

Well well, enough of this random wittering.
2009 may turn out to be a funny old year, what with the credit crunch and all that – I had my friend Maggie to coffee yesterday and she was saying that both her sons had lost their jobs – one a stockbroker and the other a salesman. But I hope all my bloggy friends manage to avoid too much crunchiness and I wish you health and happiness in the coming year.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Post Christmas post

I hope everyone in the bloggy world is having a wonderful festive season. Ours is going well.

Look what I got for Christmas: a little 19th century Chinese medicine chest. I can’t quite decide where it’s going to go, but I love it.

Also please admire my Christmas jug, or as I find it must be described to Americans, pitcher.

Our son came home and Daughter 1 and her husband have been around quite a lot too. My brother, sister-in-law, niece and nephew are up from England; they sleep at my mother’s house five minutes away – more space – but everyone eats here in the evenings. So we’ve been quite a numerous party at meal times. Lots of cooking and washing up.

Daughter 2, Son and Mr Life and I went for a walk in our beloved Botanic Gardens on Boxing Day. We saw lots of parents trying to exhaust small children, urging them to run about.

Last night the eleven of us went out for a meal to celebrate the Life thirty-fifth wedding anniversary. I’ve just Googled this and evidently it’s either the coral or the jade anniversary. I can’t say I feel great desire for either of these stones. Mr Life gave me a nice book on Sissinghurst Garden and I gave him… well, nothing. Oh dear. But he got a sat. nav. for his Christmas, which he’s been playing with since then.

We also raised a glass to Thimbleanna and TheManoftheHouse, who celebrated their thirtieth anniversary on the same day. We discovered this coincidence when Anna and I were discussing the possibility of their coming to look after our fluffy friends in October. Clearly they’re just beginners in this marriage thing compared to us, but I would say it’s beginning to look as if it might last for them too. Happy Anniversary, Thimbleanna and TMOFH!

Today we went to visit Mr Life’s relations on the other side of the estuary in Fife. They live in this large and enviable house, with a terraced garden and an uninterrupted view over the sea.

We had lunch – 20 of us – in the nearby golf club – with this view.

Then the more energetic members of the party walked back along the beach.

The sun was setting though it was only mid-afternoon.

Still, the days are getting imperceptibly longer. Spring can't be that far away.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas, sad times and cuddly cats

Our boy has arrived safely back from his distant town; my brother, sister-in-law, nephew and niece get here tomorrow; and I have done much of my Christmas shopping. Tomorrow I might wrap things. I apologise for the airer that stands in the archway in the picture above: it's an elegant semi-permanent feature to discourage our furry friends from regarding the arch as a tree for climbing. It sort of works.

This morning we were at a very sad funeral: the lovely 41-year-old son of extremely nice people in our church died suddenly last Wednesday, leaving a wife and two teenage children. What a difference a week makes.

It made me appreciate our son even more. Not to say our daughters. They’re all so precious.

We like Sirius and Cassie too, who have decided that this cardboard box with its crumpled wrapping paper is even more comfortable than their specially-designed cat beds, lined with soft, warm fleeces. It’s the new fashionable, credit-crunch shabby chic.

Tomorrow I really shall have to concentrate on Christmas – I have much still to do – so I hope you all have a wonderful day with your loved ones.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Two emails

Well, here’s the Life Christmas tree. Mr Life nobly did his stuff (aided by Daughter 2) with a saw and electricity and water – not the best combination for a man who had already erected his mother-in-law’s tree and now had a sore back and a desire to sit and watch “Scrubs” on tv. However, he lived to tell the tale. Three cheers for Mr Life!

Excuse my boasting (I don't get much opportunity really) but I got a lovely email from the mother of one of my students the other day. Further education teachers don’t have much contact with students’ parents – no nice hand-made-by-mum cookies for us - and this really made my day/week/term. After writing that his high school had been a bit unsatisfactory, she finished her email,

In contrast, he comes home from your English class full of enthusiasm and with a very positive attitude towards the English coursework which is markedly different to last year. He now knows that he CAN work to the standard required and, in our opinion, this change in attitude is entirely because of your teaching!

Once again, many thanks for being so good at what you do.

The result will be, of course, that I shall make even more strenuous efforts to be interesting and stimulating and get him through his exam. This lady understands the psychology of teachers… or indeed of most people. It’s a good thing for teachers to remember too: praise students and they work harder. (Sometimes.)

I’m now on holiday. (Little joyful dance.) My brother and his family arrive on Christmas Eve from their home in the deep south (of England), which will be lovely, but before that, on Tuesday, our darling son comes home for Christmas from his current abode in the slightly shallower south. (Enormous, jubilant dance, involving whoops of delight and the shaking of pompoms.) This morning I bought some of his favourite foods, including mangoes, which it has pained me to walk past in the supermarket since his departure. The rest of the family don’t eat them much since they taste a bit like soap, but he’s very fond of them.

He’s on night duty at the moment and emailed me after I had expressed concern that the population of Dumfries who had been celebrating not wisely but too well might be causing him extra work and trouble. He pointed out that he wasn’t on the emergency ward at the moment, but on Surgery. He wrote,

Happily the people who come into A+E having indulged in a little too much alcohol don’t come my way. Unless they develop pancreatitis, I suppose, then they’re all mine. So far it has been q-u-i-e-t (you’re not allowed to say it out loud by hospital law, just in case). [Girlfriend] was on late for Surgery and seems to have got the wards sorted out. She finishes at 9pm (when I start) and starts at 9am (when I finish). So essentially, we’re in charge 24 hours a day.

Oh, how delighted I am not to be in charge of anything but the Life Christmas.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

December 17th

Mr Life bought new lights for the outdoor little tree. They're a bit small, but we like to think of the effect as subtle. They could flash but I wouldn't let Mr Life leave them on flash mode. Subtle, remember? Not flashy.

Daughter 2 borrowed a Santa outfit for her boss to wear at their work Christmas dinner, so of course, being a subtle and tasteful person, I made her try it on.

I think she quite suits a beard.

Naturally we had to get Sirius in the photo too. He seemed a bit confused.

Lastly, Mr Life was forced to dress up.

One size seems to fit all, surprisingly.
By the weekend, our real tree will be standing on that spot. Mr Life will have put it up, with a merry smile and not a single complaint.
Tomorrow will be the 41st anniversary of the evening that I took him to my school dance, the beginning of our romance...

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Christmas shopping

Overheard while shopping this morning:

1. Mother and small boy in bookshop

Mother: Would you like to ask Santa to get you some of these nice books?
Small boy: No, I want a Roboraptor.
Mother: Santa knows you like books.
Small boy: How does he know?
Mother: Oh, he’s clever. He knows what little boys want.
Small boy: Well, tell him I want a Roboraptor.

2. Two twenties girls in department store

Girl 1: I’m going to tell you his middle name and then you’re going to laugh.
Girl 2: What?
Girl 1: Harold.
Girl 2: No!!!

3. Father and small girl in other bookshop

Small girl: Daddy, you said we were going home soon.
Father: No, I said we were going home as soon as we could.
Small girl: Well, we could go home now.
Father: Do you want to help me choose one of these cookery books for Mummy?
Small girl: No, I want to go home now.

I wanted to go home now too. So I did. But I'll have to go up again one of these days.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Christmas lights

One of our college janitors always appears to me to be what we Scots would call “dour”. This is pronounced to rhyme with “poor” - unless you have the sort of accent that would pronounce that as “pore”. Imagine a full-bodied Scottish “ooo” in the middle. D-oooo-rr. Anyway, it means a sort of mixture between gloomy and grumpy, and it may be significant that we Scots seem to need such a word.

This chap has a very nice wife who works in the college office so I suspect he’s secretly also nice. He may simply have discovered that it’s more convenient in our establishment to send out unhelpful vibes. If you have the reputation of being helpful, people ask you to do things. Which is time-consuming (she said with feeling).

The other evidence against this janitor’s actually being dour is this amazing Christmas display (above) that he puts up every year. I blogged about this last December as well, if you care to be redazzled. It’s maybe not hugely tasteful, but you can’t help admiring the effort he puts in. Ladders are involved. So is a lot of global warming, I’d think.

As a comparison, this display at the top belongs to one of our neighbours (not in our street, Anna, if you’re trying to place it. Turn left at the top of our street and go up the hill. The green house. But you possibly never went in that direction). Sorry about the rubbishness of the photo. I don’t think my camera’s up to night photography. But you can see that his effects are less random than those achieved by the janitor, who seems to disagree with the “less is more” philosophy. In his world, more is definitely more. The neighbour goes for artistry. I suspect that the janitor has a nip of whisky before starting.

And then we have our house, where, at the moment, less is – well, nothing much at all, apart from the cushion cover. I do also have a poinsettia in the front window but I don’t think we’re in danger of winning a prize for the most original display at this stage. This weekend – are you reading this, Mr Life? – I hope to persuade my dear husband to put lights on the little tree in the tub outside the front door. He’s a good soul but tends to point out that struggling with lights and prickly trees is not one of his favourite things. And then the following weekend we’ll do the indoor tree – which has to be persuaded into its water-filled holder, further persuaded not to fall sideways like a stricken warrior and then strung with lights. At this stage, Mr Life tends to retire from the fight, all his Christmas preparations over apart from the wrapping of presents, which we usually share on Christmas Eve, grey with exhaustion.

But let’s end on a positive note. ‘Tis the season to be jolly. And I’m going to start my Christmas shopping this weekend. I’ll be up town at 9am and home, all problems solved, by 11.

You think?

(By the way, why did no one admire the splendid job that Mr Life did rewickering the back of the chair? I was very impressed myself by this hidden talent. He reckoned that if he were doing it for a living he'd have to charge about £250 per chair to make it worth while, but maybe he'd get quicker with practice. He's not taking orders, though.)

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Christmas letters

This is a cushion cover that I bought… no, alas, I didn’t make it… at a Christmas fair last weekend. Pretty, isn’t it? The chair belonged to my late parents-in-law and it was languishing in a rather scruffy state, the wickerwork unravelling and the seat shabby, till Mr Life a few years ago bought himself a book of instructions and redid the wickerwork. I then got an upholsterer (yes, I know, I should have done it myself) to redo the seat. The cushion is the sum total of our Christmas decorations so far. I’m not one for decorating the house this early in December, which is just as well since I don’t have time.

I’ve been doing our Christmas letters. We have quite a few friends abroad or in England and in days gone by I used to hand-write letters to all these people. I felt that the computer catch-all letter was a bit impersonal, though actually I’ve always been happy to get these. I like getting news from people who wouldn’t actually have time to write individual long letters. Eventually I succumbed, but instead of sending everyone the same letter, I tailor it for each of the 33 (this year) recipients, adding or subtracting personal bits, varying the jokes a bit and making more subtle changes - such as when I’ve referred to “my brother” in a letter to those who don’t know him, I change it to his name for those who do. This is actually quite a footer – I think this is a Scottish word, is it? It means a fiddly and time-consuming task. But I quite enjoy it.

The manufacturing process is greatly slowed by my wandering brain. After I’ve adjusted each letter, I print it out. Mr Life supplies me with the requisite number of bits of paper with a nice border (this year) of Christmas trees at the top of the first page, and I print “current page” twice to get the paper double-sided. Or, that’s the idea. But sometimes I put the paper in the wrong way round; sometimes I put it in the same way twice, thus getting a mysterious double-typed message that Sherlock Holmes might have enjoyed deciphering; sometimes I get the border on the second page instead of the first. But eventually, with some unChristmassy muttering from me, they get finished and the letters go into cards, often with a photo also. Actually sending them involves one of us standing in a long queue at one of our ever-decreasing number of Post Offices so that the envelopes can be weighed and stamped and then paid for at huge expense.

And I think: why do I do this? I could send most of these people emails with photo attachments. I imagine that I’m one of the last generation who’ll bother. But I do like getting other people’s Christmas letters and cards when I come home from work, a nice pile behind the door. Emails are good but just not quite the same.

Anyway, I must return to writing notes on “The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas”. I want to give them out to the class at 9 am tomorrow, less than 12 hours from now, so less of this blethering. On, on!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Music good and not so good

I’ve just come back from choir, where we’re singing Vivaldi’s “Gloria” – beautiful! – and Lauridson’s “Lux Aeterna” – ho, hum, lots of dissonance. Judging by past experience with horrid modern things, I’ll probably get quite to like this eventually; but the unfortunate audience at our performance won’t get the chance for their ears to become accustomed to it. I’ll recommend that Mr Life bring a crossword that night.

I was musing, during the boring bits of rehearsal, about music that I can’t stand. I mentioned “A Whiter Shade of Pale” recently. Ugh. Dirge. And “MacArthur Park”. Drone, drone. (In my opinion.) The other day some students were discussing songs that they were now embarrassed to admit having liked and asked me for my contribution. I came up with Barry Manilow’s “Copacabana” and they laughed – satisfactorily ridiculous in their eyes. I’m actually not much of a pop lover and certainly not a rock lover – don’t like noisy bangy music - but I still quite like “Copacabana” and some of the Beatles and various other things with tunes. But really Cole Porter and Gershwin are more to my taste in light music.

I really dislike the hymn “Amazing Grace". It was ruined for me some years ago by being constantly on the radio in a bagpipe version. Another set of drones. I don't mind bagpipe music really (from a distance) but somehow it did nothing for this particular tune. I couldn’t help singing along: “Uuuuuuuuuuu-ah-maaaaaaaaay-zzzzzziiiiiiiiing-graaaaaaayce…”.

What music can’t you stand? (Bah, humbug.)

Monday, December 01, 2008

Advent cat

This is a picture from last year but I thought it deserved a second airing. Sirius is such a goodnatured and tolerant cat. You can see the resigned expression on his face.

Christmas preparations so far: two cakes made; all cards bought, still in packets.

Well, it's a start. And now I must go and do some marking - the story of my life.

Happy Advent, everyone.