Category Archives: Life and Family

A Gold Toothless and Other Ramblings

There’s a touch of blogger’s block going on here.

A couple of days ago a friend happened to mention it’s a good trick to write for yourself only, not for any particular audience, and to avoid editing as you write.

Today I’ll just write and see what happens.

Yesterday my sister replaced the broken old cat flap. When I checked it out, My boy cat (blog name Samson) sat bolt upright, ears straight up, staring brightly at me, one eye slowly closing in a quizzical wink. It looked like he was saying, “Well? What do you think?”

You would think he had bought and fitted it himself. And I was reminded of someone. Every so often I’ll look at him and be bothered by the feeling he’s like a character on TV, but I can never remember who. Eventually it hits me… it’s Toothless. Never anybody else. Just Toothless.

I don’t have Toothless in mind already and say “Toothless is like Samson”… I don’t do that. I can never remember who I’m being reminded of, but the resemblance… something in the expression and posture… is strong.

Although mostly silent, Samson seems to be communicating with every fibre of his being. He’ll sit and stare intently at you, and the minute you turn and catch his eye, he leans forward and his face is absolutely radiant.

Nothing cheers you up quicker. 🙂

My mother is unwell; eating very little these days. For supper last night she had three breaded scampi and an onion ring. Today she managed a poached egg on toast. When I brought a plate of food the other night, she courageously drew herself up to meet it. I said she looked like a contestant on I’m a Celebrity, about to eat something with sixteen legs.

Christmas will be a puzzle this year, as I’ve not been getting out to shop. I feel there’s not much time left online either. Still… As the citizens of Whoville found out in The Grinch, Christmas is Christmas all on its own. We still have our trappings… a six-foot silver tree, lights and decorations. The cats with their 3D superstar impressions. Sisterly visits. There will be turkey, roast potatoes and bread sauce on the day.

I’ve been avoiding Facebook for most of the year, but decided there would be no harm in checking in with people over Christmas. Was surprised to find some really lovely comments about one of my cats… two pages of them! Perhaps my friend is right when she said you can make Facebook work for you. Check your privacy settings. Choose who you want to interact with, and write about those things that are tongue-in-cheek and fun. Don’t get all serious, angry or political. If you’re not enjoying somebody’s statuses, quietly unfollow them.

Well, perhaps. It still feels to me like we’re shark-bait.

It’s nice to get away from the internet from time to time. Talking of which, I have a lot of DVDs and am in the mood to watch some. I don’t often get the chance to, but when I can, there are old favourites I have in mind.

How to Train Your Dragon
Horton Hears a Who
How the Grinch Stole Christmas
The Young Montalbano
Master and Commander
Cadfael
The Croods

Those will be a good start.

*This was just an attempt to kick-start my failing blogging habit. Normal service will be resumed shortly.*

Talk of Happy Beats

I love listening to my CD collection while working, but some gloomy ballad always comes along and grips me by the throat for days. Lately I was set upon by Sweet Marie (Hothouse Flowers).

Oh, I hope you find your good fortune
I hope you find peace in everything you do
I hope the colours of the rainbow, they colour your clothing
And I hope you’ll find love, true love, I do…

As an antidote, I’ll recount this conversation I had with Mum the other day. We were sitting in our favourite coffee bar writing everything down in a notepad. I don’t hear well, so there would be a lot of repetition and rising frustration without it. The advantage of writing everything down is that I can recall our conversations word for word!

I began with, “Most cheerful song you know?”

“Different songs stick in my head for a while. Right now it’s Malaika — not cheerful.”

“More cheerful than some. It’d be our summer holiday stick-your-head-out-of-the-car-window song.”

“Or Wimoweh!”

But now I was frowning. “For some reason I was confusing it just now with Sugar Sugar.”

“Cheerful,” nodded Mum.

“One I thought of yesterday is Mouldy Old Dough. It would scorn to be thought of as sad!”

“Oh yes! absolutely. What was that one about Bangor?”

“Didn’t we have a luvverly time?”

“Oh yes, that was it.”

“I haven’t heard it for a while… it’s not one anyone still plays.”

“Mr Tambourine Man.”

“Can’t quite remember lyrics. Isn’t it a bit sad?”

“No, I never thought of it as sad.”

Melanie sang it — always sounded sad.”

“Who is Melanie?”

“‘I rode my bicycle past your window last night‘ and ‘What have they done to my song, ma…'”

“Beryl always liked the one from Thingy and the Sundance Kid.”

“Last night I dreamed I had a hammock chair at the end of my house. I’d sit in it with a book and two cats, and crank it up, and it’d go up as high as the second storey. Then one cat started wriggling and I had to crank it down again, and said to him, ‘What did I tell you about not making me have to grab for the controls?'”

All right, that last bit had nothing to do with songs, happy or otherwise, but that’s what was under the conversation.

Not all those songs we mentioned are full of joy, but I thought of a few others to add here:

Saturday Night — Whigfield
Always loved this!

Living It Up — Bert Kaempfert and His Orchestra
Sumptuously fresh and breezy.

12 Bar — UB40
Old favourite — used to study along to this.

Kingston Town — UB40
My favourite UB40 song.

Sunshine — Gabrielle
A happy song that sounds sad. It comes up a lot when I play music, so has a comforting familiarity!

Cheerleader — OMI
620,833,553 views on YouTube! And they weren’t all by me, fancy that.

Mum is often unwell — she’s fine just now, but before our visit to the coffee bar she was under the weather. Seemed amused, though, when I came in from the garden and said, “There’a a red admiral out there, but it’s fluttering around so much I can’t tell if it’s one or many.”

Butterfly (Danyel Gerard)

Butterfly, my butterfly, now I know you must be free
Butterfly, don’t flutter by, stay a little while with me

Feeling the Storm

In Scotland yesterday it was unusually hot. The wind here is generally cool or cold on your skin, but for once it was like a tropical bath. Our bus stopped for a small group of people who took their time buying tickets. The sun burning through the windows became intense. Heatstroke started to seem like a real possibility, and when we finally got moving again, fresh air circulated through the bus and everyone breathed a sigh of relief. I didn’t think we could take many such hold-ups.

When we got to town, there were queues in shops where there are normally few people; tourists and locals ‘enjoying’ a day out. It’s odd when you think about it — shopping is the least fun thing to do when you’d rather sit in the shade with an ice lolly.

According to weather reports we were heading for thunderstorms, so it wasn’t surprising when the sky started lighting up that night. At 2 a.m. when everyone was in bed, the menace was profound… ancient forces were stalking the land. Like mice, we lay quiet in our lonely burrows, hoping to escape the attention of something much bigger than us.

Lamp switched off; curtains closed; all I could see was the repeated repulsing of outer darkness. A picture formed in my mind of houses huddled across the curve of the earth. Nothing dared go abroad while the storm stepped overhead with stately imperiousness. It was all very old and powerful, and I could imagine dinosaurs in the streets and in open fields, hoary heads swinging, on the hunt for prey.

In the midst of all this I started worrying about the sunflower.

It normally sits in the kitchen window but was crawling with aphids. I didn’t want the little horrors to spread to my chillis, so put the sunflower out for the night. Standing on the doorstep, I belatedly remembered the snails, and put the pot on the top shelf of a tall garden what-not which was standing beside the back door. Above my head, the sunflower stabbed the night with its loathsome burden of greenfly.

Now, in my darkened room, I had visions of this slender green rod attracting lightning. The aphids would burn up, which would be great… but, less happily, so would the sunflower. I could get up and move it to ground level, but told myself not to be so stupid. After all, the house is taller than the sunflower… if there’s any stray lightning around, it’s more likely to hit the roof.

Being all too aware of aforementioned ancient forces, you have no wish to stir out of bed. I didn’t want to be found on the doorstep the next morning as a small pile of ash covered in slime trails, so the sunflower would have to take its chances.

Lying in bed, not sleeping, you still worry.

The cats were indoors and in their beds, probably as glad about that as I was. Was everything unplugged? I reassured myself I was unlikely to be zapped and there was nothing I could do to make it less likely, while probably a lot I could do to make it more likely… then was disturbed by a memory. Something happened on a night like this years ago.

That other night, I lay awake with frequent flashes of lightning punctuating the darkness. The rain came down so hard it bounced off the tarmac. Suddenly there was a crash, causing me to leap up and run around to see if anything had blown up. It wasn’t till next day I found the aerial booster had stopped working, though the TV itself was fine! Ha.

I said there was a crash that night, but it’s not that simple. I’m profoundly deaf. I only know I started to my feet all of a sudden, and it wasn’t out of panic… it was because some internal alert had gone off abruptly, as yours would if there was a loud bang in your house.

Fortunately last night was uneventful. It rained, the sunflower fell off its perch and the aphids disappeared. There was thunder I couldn’t hear, which lacks all drama — yet I knew something big had passed.

Marking Time

Apparently we should write lists to get through our gloomy spells.

Hoping to achieve:

(1) Better artwork and photography.
(2) Avoiding living forever and turning into a sort of desiccated bat. (I should put at least one that’s achievable).
(3) More friends, casual or otherwise.
(4) Better writing and blogging.
(5) In time, a greater measure of peace. 🙂

Short-term goals.

(1) Get on with painting… will start again at the beginning as something wasn’t right.
(2) Rouse up new music for my collection. Will try anything except Pooh’s Top 40 and Duran Duran.
(3) Read more books… loads I bought for the Kindle and never got round to!

Long-term goal:

(1) Write a book? So many people are writing books, though. If I don’t, I’ll be the only person who hasn’t written one, which will be doing everyone a favour.

Things I’ve survived in life already:

(1) Loss.
(2) Irate hamsters, especially the Russian dwarf variety.
(3) Finding out I’m only average (that’s both depressing and a relief)
(4) Embarrassment (one of the worst indignities life throws at you).

What I love in life and what makes me happy:

(1) Family, friends (including iPad) and cats.
(2) Art and music.
(3) Comforting routine.
(4) Things beginning with C… comments, cadeaux, comedy, computers, cameras, chocolate, coffee, cream, cheese, coconuts, curry, chilli, cinnamon, cashew nuts, clematises, cherry blossom, colours, colouring books, creativity, comfortable slippers and conversation.
(5) Writing, diaries, blogging and haikus.
(6) Reading and books.
(7) Ideas and simple philosophies.
(8) Teddy bears and denim shirts (not necessarily together).
(9) Eggs, mushrooms, sausages and bacon at breakfast. (Not so keen at night).
(10) Roads of Rome, Northern Tale, Trolls vs Vikings and other iPad games.

What’s good about me:

(1) Curiosity and lots of casual research.
(2) Always improving writing skills and artwork.
(3) Trying to be fair even when people make me cross.
(4) Slowly cultivating a little healthy scepticism and caution!

What I’ve learned about myself from all of the above:

(1) There do seem to be a lot of Cs in my lists.
(2) I have no long-term goal!! Is that bad?
(3) No cake listed, but I don’t love it anyway. Especially not fruit cake.
(4) The things I love come together to make an acrostic. Is that to be my new goal in life? I’ve no wish to enter slanging matches with other Wikipedia editors, so can’t say I’m enthused.
(5) Simple living for me, please.

All My Greatest Failings Start with the Letter P

My worst quality could be one I’m not aware of. Perhaps what I see as caution and an eye for a bargain would be seen by another as typical Scots parsimony. A wish for clarification and detail might be written off by the unsympathetic as pettifoggery. But from the list of failings that I own to, which would be the worst?

Let’s see…

Picky
Panicky
Prickly
Prattly
Prissy
Pernickety
Pesky

This list could go on quite some way, but is already sounding like the seven dwarves.

I was labelled ‘pedantic’ at the age of 19 by family and friends. Was surprised and indignant, but over time began to realize what they meant. When I wrote letters, I answered every single thing that was said, dissecting each comment and rambling away, only to get back on track with the next nano-topic. It was only polite, all right? It showed I was paying attention.

I hadn’t shaken the habit by the time I was working — one colleague told another I tended to fly off at a tangent. The same urge to dissect everything and really get my money’s worth out of it was at play. Sometimes you’re not sure if a relayed comment is a compliment or not…

Anyway, you keep combing over little clues like this in your mind, spinning out a long list of weaknesses to be worked on. Pedantry might be undesirable, but I don’t think it’s the worst. It seemed to amuse more than annoy, and probably keeps my nose to this whole self-improvement track, though that’s not as New Age as it may sound.

Since that revelation back in time, maybe I’ve swung the other way and been too casual with emails and letters, ignoring a lot of things I should have responded to. Sometimes you just don’t seem able to get it right. The worst of it is, I can look back and see where I went wrong. I shouldn’t have talked so much about this; should have said more about that. I microanalyze everything I’ve written, cringing and thinking “no, that was terrible!” One friend recently reassured me that I didn’t come across as sounding the way I thought I sounded even though I didn’t mean that anyway. Maybe she knows me too well! Either that or she knows me better than I know myself, and would be able to tell you without hesitation what my greatest failing is. I would be very surprised and completely indignant… then bound to acknowledge the truth of it!

If I microanalyze everything I say or do, you can be sure I do it with other people. I used to believe implicitly that if you said it was so, it was so. Not so much now. “Your letters are so light and chatty,” could mean “you don’t half go on… I’m not able to keep up.”

And what about ‘keep in touch’? Never used to trouble me — schoolchildren commonly wrote it to each other and I thought it meant exactly what it said. But now my crazed and self-loathing brain sees: “I don’t mean to talk very much to you — just once every Christmas, maybe?”

Actually, that’s probably what it does mean.

I seem to have singled this out as my greatest failing… pedantry? I’ve talked so much about it here, but perhaps I’m just reluctant to get to the nitty gritty. Which leads me to…

Procrastination. This is a failing I’m annoyed by so much that I fight it by being earlier with things. This year I got the Christmas tree up in November! I feel better for it. The better and happier you feel with yourself, the more you think “that wasn’t bad at all!” and the more likely you are to be early with the same thing next time. Because there’s nothing I hate more than something weighing me down increasingly… the one thing I haven’t yet done that must be done.

If you get a Christmas card from me these days, you’re one of the lucky few. But if you’re thinking “she dropped me from her Christmas card list!”… oh no, I didn’t. I dropped the whole list by accident when busy a-procrastinating, back in the days when I was a greater procrastinator than I am now. I never took it up again, as I found I liked being free of that particular albatross.

I still shilly-shally sometimes. For instance, there’s the picture I never finished. Well, more like 500 pictures I never finished.

The back-up drive I haven’t bought, though my main one failed several weeks ago (I guess this might eventually solve the problem of the unfinished pictures).

The emails and letters I never wrote.

The squeaky wheels I haven’t greased. (Sorry, trolley!)

The coffee percolator that still has old coffee grains in it. (That should give a good rich, ripe, earthy flavour to the next brew). Yes, the pink one.

The failed spotlight bulb still not replaced, after years of irritably wishing the spotlight would work.

The ‘solar lights’ owl I didn’t furnish with batteries (and it got smashed in the next gale anyway).

Dental check-up. Had it to here with dentishts after being elevated to the status of a vampire at my last session, blood streaming down my chin. “What did your last dentist think she was doing?? Why so long to get this gaping hole closed?” Gosh, I don’t know.

All things considered, looking at it point by point, it seems procrastination is a failing I’ve not yet vanquished. In my vain pursuit of personal perfection, though, I’m sure I’ll get to it. Maybe tomorrow?

Making Sure I’m on the Same Page

The place is littered with bits of paper, old envelopes folded over, small notepads, even postit notes… these are what we write to each other on.

Today is Halloween. Without even thinking, I was wearing a loose black skirt decorated with beads. Kind of witchy. Mum came home from somewhere, and made me turn round. She plucked a yellow postit note off my skirt — it said, ‘The eve of all hallows.’

Thanks for the memo….

Flooding Burn

Sorry, I was away from my blog for a while. We went for a holiday in York, and that was the week it flooded! Miraculously, our main road out of town was cleared hours before our departure, but we passed a couple of drowned fields on the way. The tops of the hedgerows barely cleared the water.

Now there are floods where we are, including the little burn out the back. It overflowed across the path, but has receded now, touch wood. I’m beginning to feel chased around by these muddy rushing rivers…

Hope to get myself sorted out soon, then I’ll get back to responding to blog comments.

The burn seen from our back gate.

Ask Me No Questions

or

Hail Fellow Ill Met

 
A few weeks ago:

When we were going home on the bus, I was writing a message to Mum on our conversation notepad. An elderly man got on the bus and stood for a while, tucking his ticket away. I felt his eyes on me and looked up, and smiled. Then I went back to the message I was writing. Mum jerked her head towards him suddenly, and gestured apologetically, with a half-turn of her head towards me. I could imagine her saying, “I’m sorry, she can’t hear you.” He sat down across from us, where I couldn’t see him, and for the rest of the journey they talked politely, their voices lost in the roar of the bus. After a while I put my conversation notepad away, my message unread.

When we reached our stop and Mum moved towards the exit, I glanced at the man, intending to say goodbye. But he sat with his head turned away, so I said nothing. I didn’t ask Mum who he was or what they were talking about, and she didn’t mention him… he was just a passing ship.

 
Two days ago:

We were walking in single file along a narrow footpath, when we came across a bearded man on a ladder who was preparing to trim a hedge. He and Mum exchanged jolly-sounding greetings. Powered by her presence, I breezed past in my turn with a cheery smile. But I thought about how, on my own, I would either not look at him, or would raise my hand in a polite salute.

A little way further along, when we came onto the road, another man stood nearby. Again he and Mum made friendly noises. “People are so kind!” said Mum, as we passed on.

 
Yesterday:

We went into Costa’s for coffee, but it was quite busy. All that was left for us was a small round table for two, wedged between a lady in the corner (reading a newspaper) and two gossiping boys. The woman looked up and smiled, and she and Mum talked for a little… I wondered if they knew each other. Then the lady went back to her newspaper, and Mum and I wrote to each other in our conversation notepad.

“It’s hotter than I thought,” said Mum. “Have you noticed that the students get younger every year?”

“I never looked,” I said.

Mum rolled her eyes good-naturedly, while I thought about the old man on the bus, along with years and years of students passing me by, unseen.

After a while I said, “You know why I don’t look at people? I don’t want them to think they can speak to me just because I smiled.”

Mum laughed and shook her head at me. “They don’t always — and don’t smile,” she said. “Just observe.”

 
A small mystery cleared up:

When we left, the woman reading the newspaper didn’t speak to us again — she was a stranger after all. But Mum later volunteered the information that she’d told us (when we came in looking for somewhere to sit) she’d been watching a single student taking up a table meant for four.

Oh, I so know the feeling! Especially when we are meeting my sister, and the three of us have to huddle (with two shopping trolleys) round a tiny table for two, while a skinny kid stretches out blissfully in a tasty piece of cafĂ© ‘real estate’… and stays there forever.

Lady next to us — I share your frustration.

Kindle Waffle

We meant to go to the supermarket this morning, but the car refused to start. Mum says the battery has gone flat (again). We don’t use it enough!

When I was glancing at my list of old Kindle purchases on Amazon, it said there was an update available for one of the ebooks. Any notes and highlights I made on that particular book would be wiped out… but I don’t care about that. I can always put them back in!

I’ve seen people saying on a Kindle forum that they are sometimes offered these ebook upgrades… but I don’t think I was notified about mine by email. I should check the full list of purchases in case there are other offers!

Mum has apparently been going crazy watching me share many happy hours with my Kindle, because she suddenly announced that she wanted one too. Instead of sitting around waiting for one to arrive through the post, she bought a Kindle Touch from Argos. (Reminds me of the Argos advert… she’ll be the one darting brightly through the door with Argos bags, while my house of cards tumbles down about my ears).

She wanted to make the font larger, as she can’t read very well in bed. It took us both a little time to find out where Amazon had put the font sizes… it’s right there on mine, but harder to find on hers.  Anyway, it’s all sorted now.

She seems to be reading Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death. Maybe I should do all the cooking for a while…

Letter to Myself

When I turned on the computer this morning, a surprise was waiting for me. iCal (my calendar) alerted me to a Letter to Myself that I wrote a year ago. And my first thought was, “oh no, do I really HAVE to read this?? I was going to get more work done on my drawing!”

I told myself off for being lazy, found the letter to myself, read it, and thought, “is that it? No blinding words of insight that will add something to my day? It’s all stuff I could have written yesterday (or could write tomorrow), though I do have glasses that work now (varifocals), and have found some (not all) of the books I was looking for.”

Unimpressed. Though that snippet about my father was of value, as I would have forgotten it otherwise.

I didn’t say much about it last year: Memory of a Garden. But below is the blog post I meant to post last year, and didn’t!

WordPress prompt:

“Write a short letter to yourself, to be read one year from now. You don’t have to post the entire letter, but you do have to:

(a) write it

(b) post about what surprised you the most about what you wrote

(c) whether you found the experience interesting or not…

…and don’t forget to set a reminder in your calendar to read it in one year.”

Thursday 21st July 2011

Dear Me,

I have no idea where you’ll be and what you’ll be doing, but I hope all of your current aches will have gone, and that you’re wearing glasses that work! (Right now I can’t read, write or draw well, with or without them). I hope you’ll have found and read the books on your ‘to track down’ list… Sean Thomas Russell, the missing Patrick O’Brian novels, Robin Hobb, Raymond E Feist and Janny Wurts.

I don’t know what else I hope for you, as I can’t wish a particular course in case it’s the wrong one. Que sera, sera, perhaps… but the newspaper article that Mum found today struck a chord… she handed it to me with a significant look.

Meet Generation X: Women born between 1965 and 1978 aren’t having children OR success in their careers… Why? (by Anna Pursglove).

After reading it, I was silent for a little, then said, “Obviously we haven’t flattened the men quite enough. I vote we start with [censored].

“Spoilt for choice!” said Mum, with a basilisk glare.

She said earlier today how men of previous generations did not like shopping — but my father ‘was unusual’ because he enjoyed it. I asked what was in it for him? Gadgets? And she said “I don’t know. Just enjoyed looking.” It lifted my heart to think of him enjoying such frivolity. Of course he always was warm and human, but it makes him seem even more so.

My main regret, I think, is that everything rushes by so fast — and sometimes you don’t fully understand or appreciate people, things or places till they are long in the past. To want them back seems useless — to fly in the face of how life is.

Regret is also futile in other regards — if I didn’t say or do certain things, I wouldn’t be me. Sometimes you read something bad you wrote, or find a depressingly poor picture you’d worked on for hours, but other times there’s a pleasant surprise or two. Today I found panoramic images I didn’t remember creating — of the garden and my bedroom! Rough, but evocative.

Just don’t give up on yourself… try to keep your ship afloat, like in this morning’s dream. It would have been easy to let it sink, but I kept on and was around to rescue someone who sank his own. Also, it’s such a cliche to say “you’re never alone,” but it’s true that you’re one speck among many who share similar experiences.

That last bit sounds detached and a little frightening, as though you could blow away at any moment and never be seen again through the swirling dust storm. But you’re still in there, along with people you know — the dust cloud is all of us.

I’m beginning to feel a bit lost in this message, and my pen has already run out, so I better stop. As you know, there is the blog and the private journal if you want to read more from the past! Asterix and Obelix are waving to you from the side trolley, as perhaps they are waving to me from wherever you are. The song in my head is ‘I Am, I Said’ by Neil Diamond, which is strangely apt.

Please keep blogging, reading, making pictures/videos, sitting in the sun outside, looking round the shops… enjoy life while you have it.

Lots of love,

Me.

To complete this assignment, I’m supposed to post about what surprised me the most about the above letter, and whether I found the experience interesting.

Previously I scoffed at myself, writing ‘…my entire journal is a letter to any future me who cares to read it.’ But some things came out in the letter that I was too lazy to write in my regular entry for the day… Mum’s words, the panoramic pictures and the newspaper article. I don’t mention my blurring eyesight much either, though it causes me problems every day. I wonder if it will be better a year from now, or worse? Will I have found a solution… bifocals??

Did anything surprise me about the letter? Yes, that it wasn’t longer and more waffly! That things like my dream fitted into what I was trying to say. That I wouldn’t tie myself down to anything more specific, such as a better career or a more organized life… as I know how life often isn’t what you expect.

Something I didn’t mention in either letter or private journal entry but which I found interesting… Apple is building what I would call a mini city or a Ringworld. Rather scary… but I wonder if there is room there for me. 🙂 I could do a panoramic photo there…. “my new abode”.