Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Describe your memories of some major world events that have happened in your lifetime…Part 2

September 11th, 2001 is a date that no one will ever forget. It will go down in history – in fact has already done so.
I was working that day for a former British cabinet minister, from Mrs Thatcher’s time, who shall remain anonymous. He was staying at a château near here, and I was their chef for their holiday.

I was in the kitchen cooking, with the radio on. As the news came on, I was only half heartedly listening, and wasn’t quite sure that I had heard right, or even understood correctly.

The minister man came into the kitchen and asked me if I had heard the news. I said I had, but I wasn’t sure I had understood right and he explained it to me, and I went to watch on the television.

We saw the plane going into the first tower and that was incredible enough, but when the second plane went into the second tower – it defied belief. All I remember feeling is complete disbelief and thinking “oh my god, I’m watching history in the making”. It was complete shock and terror. If they can do that, what else are they capable of? The terror of knowing that so many hundreds of people were trapped in there, seeing scenes of people fleeing through the streets terrified for their lives – it was simply unbelievable.
The one thing I found very hard to understand was that some people there actually had the presence of mind to whip out video cameras to film the whole thing as it happened. I would not have been able to do that – I would have been running fast in the opposite direction with all the other people.
I don’t know how anyone could have got over being involved in that – either first hand or second hand if they had lost someone that day.

The scary fact is that it could happen again. Indeed it did happen in London in 2005 when they tried to cripple the capital with several bombs. Luckily, security had been tightened up to such a degree that what happened in London was by no means as catastrophic as what happened in New York, but they still caused devastation.

Monday, 27 October 2008

Describe your memories of some major world events that have happened in your lifetime…Part 1

The two major world events that I can remember are the death of Princess Diana and the collapse of the twin towers.

I was 20 when Princess Diana died. I had been out on the Saturday night in Dumfries and stayed over at my then boyfriend’s (Jamie) house. On the Sunday morning, I got up quite early and a friend and I nipped out to Tesco’s to get some sausages and bacon for a proper fry up. When we got to the supermarket there were rows and rows of newspapers with the headline “Diana Princess Of Wales 1 July 1961 – 31 August 1997”. I didn’t believe it – I thought it was some sick jokes dreamt up by the media. We got back to Jamie’s flat and the first thing I did was turn the TV on. I can’t remember if we ever actually got our fry up because we just sat staring at the TV watching the reports coming in about her death. I drove home somehow to find my mum, dad and Grandma doing the same thing – just transfixed by everything we were seeing. What amazed me was the public outpouring of grief. I didn’t think that we, as a nation, had that sort of public grief within us. The sea of flowers around Kensington Palace was incredible and it struck me that Diana herself would probably have preferred people to make donations to the charities of which she was patron (or any charity really) rather than spend the fortune that must have been spent on those beautiful flowers. The tide of grief that swept through the country even had an effect on the Royal Family themselves, shaking them out of their private grief because the public needed to see that they cared. Public pressure on them was incredible.

I remember the funeral very clearly. Everyone in the country had the day off work, so everything was shut, at least for a half day. I think there were probably very few people who didn’t watch the funeral. The moment that really got to me was seeing the coffin being transported through the streets with wreaths on top, and a white envelope with “Mummy” written on it. Of course, after that I cried throughout the funeral service. I understand why I cried at the envelope – two small boys had just lost their mother – it was sympathy with them. But why did I cry watching a funeral of someone I never knew and never met? I’ve never particularly been a royalist, or an anti royalist – it doesn’t mean a lot to me.

Maybe it was because she was such a public figure – the poor woman had lived her life in the spotlight and she eventually learned how to use that spotlight to her advantage to help causes that she believed in. I think she was a good person, and too young to die. And I think it was because those two little boys were left without a mother. Diana Princess Of Wales

1 July 1961 – 31 August 1997

Sunday, 26 October 2008

What are a few of your favourite things?

“Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens…”

Hmmmm, dogs obviously.
My favourite things presumably means inanimate objects though so:-
mobile phone
ice cream
Diet Coke!

Saturday, 25 October 2008

What are the happiest or greatest memories of your life?

The happiest and greatest memory of my life is obviously having Isla. Not that I remember much about the actual moment!

Other happy memories I have are to do with my childhood and family (which is expanded on in my Random Ramblings and Recipes blog. I also have many happy memories about various pets etc.

Other things that I’m sure will become happy memories to look back on – at least once a week I try to make sure that Isla and I snuggle up to watch something together, every Saturday night we have Saturday Night Party Night playing board games and eating party food, on the run up to Christmas we lie in bed having a cuddle singing Christmas carols very quietly to each other!

Friday, 24 October 2008

Is there anything you would like to change about me?

Not yet, but ask me again when she’s a teenager!!

Describe what you like about me…

I like that Isla is a very happy, well balanced little girl. Despite the fact that there is no Daddy around these days she is very happy and has no lack of male influence in her life as she has my dad – her Dandad!

She is a very bright child – and I mean that in every sense. She’s not only intelligently bright, but also has a bright, sunny personality, with a little bit of cheek and mischief thrown in!

Thursday, 23 October 2008

What were you most proud of about me when I was at school?

The one achievement I am most proud of is Isla’s ability in French. She started school at three years old – they can start as young as two if they are dry during the day. The first three years in school are dedicated to learning skills like co-ordination, speech, the correct way to hold a pencil – basic life skills really. And then the hard work starts after that. She found it really hard going to start with, as she could only count up to ten and say I need a pee in French! The teacher had very little English, so it really was sink or swim. Complete immersion. And it worked. Within two years she was completely fluent – her teacher told me that her level of French was no different to that of her classmates. People who say their kids were fluent within a couple of months are lying – it takes a lot longer than that, but it’s worth the tears and trials and tribulations. So yes, Isla’s greatest single achievement so far is becoming completely bilingual.

Also this year I have been very proud because she was finally brave enough to master riding her bike!

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

What attributes did I have as a child that I still have now?

Again, Isla is still a child. She’s quite a mature child though, and I don’t mean in a precocious way. As I said before, she is good company because she can hold an intelligent conversation. But she still loves her barbies and Playmobil. She’s a very cuddly little girl, but she’s got to the stage where holding hands in the street is just so not cool Mummy! She’s very loving though, and will often come into my bed in the mornings for a cuddle, or into my mum and dad’s bed for a cuddle with them.

She has a few funny little quirks that make me cringe in recognition! On the odd occasion she will come out with the weirdest expressions, and I suddenly remember that I say that, it just sounds weird from a nine year old! I swear she is also the clone of her great grandmother – obsessed by the weather forecast – she went through a stage of getting up early just to watch the météo on French TV! She can also be pedantic and pernickety!

But she’s great and I wouldn't change her for anything!

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

What was I like when I was a child?

Well, obviously Isla still is a child! She’s very sweet, polite and well behaved most of the time, but she has that cheekiness and mischievousness that makes a child good fun to be with. I love spending time with her. I can’t understand the parents who dread the holidays and spending all that time with their kids. I’m the opposite – I dread term time coming around again because I miss having her around all the time. I actually enjoy my nine year old daughter’s company – and I don’t know many other parents who do.

Monday, 20 October 2008

Describe some of the favourite memories you have of me.

I have so many memories of Isla that are favourites, I don’t think I could number them all here! I love it when she is delighted about something. You know sometimes you watch something or someone? And you get this little bubble of happiness welling up inside you? That’s how I feel about Isla all the time. I can’t think of specific memories, apart from obvious ones like Christmas or birthdays – my favourite memories happen every day.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

What was the first word (or words) you remember me saying?

The first word Isla said was, as is apparently normally the case, Dada. Colin was well chuffed, until the Health Visitor told him it was just because that was the easiest sound to make! Mama came pretty closely after, but the first real word was pub! This is not as bad as it sounds!! My life at the time revolved around the pub (again, not as bad as it sounds) because I was working 50 – 70hrs a week. We were short staffed, and at the time I was the only one, apart from the kitchen porters, working in the kitchen. A couple of times, when I got begged to come in on a day off, I would take Isla and stick her in her car seat on top of the deep freeze. Not the most sensible thing to do, but rather than paying childcare for a couple of hours it seemed to work. She got lots of attention and cuddles and tickles each time someone walked past her.

So, it was no wonder her first word was pub!

Friday, 17 October 2008

Before I was born, what other names had you thought of calling me?

If Isla had been a boy, she almost certainly would have been called James Gordon. James after Colin’s father who died when Colin was only about 6yrs old, and because I always liked the name anyway. The Gordon part was after both my dad and my Grandad.

We spent a few evenings sitting with friends going through the baby name book – it was quite fun actually to see what horrific names came up in the books! Colin came up with Samantha…while I have nothing against the name itself (it’s actually quite a nice name) there was no way I could call my child that! In the village we lived in in SW Scotland, the was a mum across the road who would open her door every night and scream out of it “Smamfa” – so there was no way I could use the name after that! Hearing it now still makes me think of Smamfa!

We came up with quite a few traditional Scottish names for her, and eventually settled on Alannah (which is more Irish than Scottish), only for it to be changed when she was born! Ah well, she wouldn’t have suited the original one anyway!

Thursday, 16 October 2008

What was my nickname before I was born or when I was young?

When Isla was a tiny baby I used to call her Smiler, because once she could, she didn’t stop! I loved it once she got to the age of baby giggling – too cute.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

What did I look like when I was born?

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

What were my statistics when I was born? Time of birth, weight, height etc…

Due Date – 26/05/1999
Birth Date – 02/06/1999
Place of Birth – Simpsons Memorial Maternity Pavilion, Edinburgh
Time of Birth – 01.32
Weight – 7.03lb, 3190kg
Height – 56cm
APGAR – 1minute test score of 2
5minute test score of 8

Monday, 13 October 2008

What did you think when you first saw me after I was born?

When Isla was first born I actually couldn’t think straight. I had been given pethidine and god knows what else and I was flying high! I mumbled her name to Colin, well what I thought was her name – turned out it was completely different to what we had decided between us, but we both liked it anyway so we kept it! Because she was born by C-section due to being distressed during labour, she was whisked up to the Special Care Baby Unit. Also, she scored really badly the first time they did the APGAR test – luckily the second time she got a great score. She had also swallowed some meconium during labour, so had an infection. All in all, she really wasn’t very well. I don’t know why, but it didn’t occur to me to be worried – it was like I knew she would be just fine. The nurses from the SCBU took a Polaroid picture of her for me, and every time I awoke from my morphine-induced stupor I looked at the picture and thought “Abigail” and then thought, “No, that’s not it, oh, it’s Isla!” Funny what drugs can do!

So, my first thought was Isla’s name, which wasn’t the planned one, then it was Abigail, and then, once the drugs wore off and I could think straight, it was just love.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

How long had you known each other when you decided to have children, and how did you feel when you found out you were going to have a baby?

Well…we didn’t exactly decide – it was decided for us! I found out I was pregnant about a month after we moved in together. The timing wasn’t perfect, but we were both happy with it, despite the initial shock and panic!

My main worry was telling my mum. I don’t know why I panicked, it was stupid! She had always told me to do things the right way round – ie. Find a man, marry him, and then have kids – not to do it all the wrong way round like she did. So I worried…and worried…and worried! My mum and dad came up to Edinburgh for the day with my baby nephew, and I spent the whole time trying to break the news. I still didn’t manage it.
I eventually took the coward’s way out. I went home one weekend, and on the Monday morning I wrote a letter, put it in a envelope with the picture of the first scan, and ran away! I told everyone at work to say we were busy so I wouldn’t have to talk to them on the phone, and when I got home I unplugged the phone! I eventually spoke to them the next day, and they suggested that the two of us came home even if just for an overnight to chat about everything. My dad said to me “Be careful on the icy roads…there’s three of you now.” That made me cry.

Once we got home the next evening, we walked into the house, and my mum and dad got the champagne out. They berated me for not telling them sooner, but were happy about the baby.

Saturday, 11 October 2008

What was “your song”?

I don’t think we ever had a particular song that meant something to us. I listened to music all the time, Colin did sometimes. The song that always makes me think of him is the Ally MacBeal song, because he loved it.

Isla had a song of her own. When she was tiny, I listened to a lot of music channels on cable TV. My favourite channel that summer was VH1, and there were a lot of good songs released that year – 1999, I still listen to some of those songs! Every time this song would come on, Isla would sit upright in her bouncy chair, stare at the TV, and sort of boogie along to it – it was Mambo Number 5!

Friday, 10 October 2008

What would you do for a night out when you were dating?

A lot of our social life revolved around the pub, as I worked there, he worked just up the road and it was easy.
However, our first proper date was going to Edinburgh Zoo – something I now do every time I go back to Edinburgh. I also went up to the Hillend Ski Centre where he worked one day and we went up on the ski lifts to see the panoramic view of the city and the Firth of Forth. It was amazing, and really quite romantic! We also went to a great Chinese on Lothian Road once. We didn’t really have many “dates”, but we did have fun.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

How did you meet your child’s Father?

I met Colin just before I left university, when I was working at the Fairmile Inn in Edinburgh. I was working behind the bar then, and we got chatting. It was his 29th birthday and he was celebrating with friends. I finished early and had a few drinks with them, and we got on really well.

After about three months together we decided we were in love and moved in together. I’m not sure we ever were really in love, or should just have been friends. However, I can’t regret a thing about it, because I ended up with Isla – the most precious person in my life.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

What age were you when you started work? What jobs have you had?

Because I lived in the countryside I didn’t start working until I had passed my driving test. I was 18, and the first place I worked was a restaurant/bar at a caravan site near Kirkcudbright (pronounced Kirkoobree for those who don’t know!!) in SW Scotland. I was basically a general dogsbody and the wages were beyond awful! I waited on tables, I worked behind the bar, and I did washing up. I was only there for a couple of months, and by the time I finished there I had such bad dishpan hands that they were bleeding! That was the first time I discovered the wonders of E45 cream! It was a really crappy job.

The second place I worked was at the Co-Op in Dumfries. I was a checkout bimbo! I was also at uni, so I only worked at the weekends, and during the holidays. Occasionally I was asked to work Sunday, which was great as it was a relatively short day but I got paid double time. I worked there for about two years – it gave me enough money to go out every weekend, which was fine for me at that point!

I then got a job at a Mackay’s clothes store at the Gyle shopping centre in Edinburgh. It wasn’t the best job I have ever had, and the manager was an old harridan. Also, she insisted on shortening my name, which I hated and it irritated me beyond belief! The worst thing was that most of my time was spent folding up tops as customers love to come in and just mess things up! Sometimes I would have to work in the teenage section of the shop which was great. All the things in there were trendy – the adult section was dull! The baby section was great too because a lot of the people who came in were excited about new babies – that was fun.
I worked at Mackays during the week while I was at uni in Edinburgh, then at the weekends it was back down to Dumfries so my mum could do my washing and I worked at the Co-Op on the Saturdays!

Not surprisingly, my uni work suffered because I was working too much. I hated university anyway, but I liked living in Edinburgh. I got a full time job at a pub on the outskirts of town – The Fairmile Inn – and quit the Co-Op and Mackays. Oh, I also quit university as I hated it. I couldn’t afford to stay at university anyway without working full time, and I liked working. I started at the pub as a waitress, but quickly moved to the bar. I really loved that, although it was hard work with late finishes. But, my social life and my work life were one and the same and it was great. After a while, due to staff shortages, I ended up working in the kitchen and within the year I was the Head Chef. This was when I knew that this was what I wanted to do. I had always been a very good cook, I was taught by my mum from a young age, and cooking under pressure was such a buzz for me. I stayed there for two years, and the only reason I left was because we got a new manager who brought his own Head Chef with him (who liked ordering pre-prepared meals, not making fresh food) and he wanted to cut everyones’ hours back to 20 a week. At that point I was working about 70hrs a week, and could barely afford the childcare on that. So, I spent a day looking for another job in local pubs, and got one just down the road at the Stable Bar as 2nd Chef. I was happy enough with that, but I was only there for about three months as it was around that time that things went wrong in my life and I moved to France.

The ease of finding jobs was over.

When I got to France I tried very hard to find a job, but after three years of no practice my French wasn’t exactly tip top! I did eventually find a job though, as a barmaid and waitress at a local restaurant. Most restaurants around here are straightforward, serving local produce with no pretensions. This was a very pretentious restaurant, and very expensive. I started on one day at about 10am. There was no discussion about wages or hours, but I assumed they would get around to it. I didn’t have the French to argue at that point. I didn’t get home until 2am. The next day was the same – still no word about money or hours. I went home at about 2am again, and cried all the way home from sheer bloody agony because my feet were red raw and bleeding from blisters. Even working 70hrs a week in a kitchen with lots of responsibility was not as hard as this. I never went back, and never got paid.

The next job I had lasted for two years, despite the fact that I hated it. It was a doddle really, I taught English to kids from 8 to 16 in a variety of local schools. It was great money for the amount of hours I did, but after two years, I really didn’t want to do it any more.

After that, I worked for a friend of ours who had bought a house to renovate and then sell. I painted windows, walls, shutters, you name it – if it stood still it got painted! The money was fantastic – I had never earned so much in my life. I worked for him for probably about 3 or four years. Eventually I had other worked, so gradually stopped working with him. Also, around that time France started to attract the Czechs and Slovaks who came here for work, and were extremely cheap labour.

Two years ago I started working for a local estate agent – part of a massive global chain. This too was short lived. It was commission only. I thought I’d give it a go, but I did not realise it would be so expensive. The company did not pay fuel allowance, even though their staff have to take clients out and about to view properties. In a very rural area you cover a lot of miles. They also did not give any allowance for mobile phones, although they had to be used. In short, there were no allowances for anything, and after I figured out that those three weeks had cost ME €300, I decided it was not worth it. It might be a good job if you have a few thousand behind you to start with, but not for anyone else. Even if I had sold a house within those three weeks, no money would have come through for at least three months.

Anyway, shortly after I left I broke my leg. Lucky I left when I did otherwise it could have cost me even more to earn nothing!!

In between all these jobs I was still doing decorating and gite changeovers with my mum, so there was a little money coming in.

Since the estate agent job that is pretty much what I have been doing, and it now includes gardening as well, which I really quite enjoy. I have been lucky enough to get a few photography jobs – mainly photographing gites for websites, and doing a few portraits.

So, now I am a chef/gardener/cleaner/decorator/photographer. Oh, and a short film maker, but that’s for another post!

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Describe any family traditions you had or may still have.

We have never had any particular traditions within our extended family. In our immediate family unit we take birthdays very seriously. A lot of people I know give each other maybe one or two presents on their birthdays. I have never worked on my birthday – I have made a point of it (bar one exam at uni that I couldn’t postpone just because I turned 21!). This goes for all of us! We go way overboard with presents. Birthdays are important because each person only has one special day per year that is all theirs so I think you have to make the most of that. For me, I share my birthday which in one way makes it more special, and in another doesn’t! It’s great that Isla was born on my birthday, but also it means I have to share my special day. So we make sure it is a brilliant day for both of us.

Christmas Day is another day when we have our little rituals. When Isla wakes up (normally not too early – around 8am) she wakes us all up excited because she has found a stocking (now how did that get there!!!). So, we do stocking presents all sitting on the bed. Then, it’s shower time for everyone. We also have a full, cooked breakfast before the presents under the tree are allowed to be opened. Oh, the tree is another tradition – it always has to go all the way up to the ceiling and across a foot or so! So, once we’ve all showered, got dressed in our finery, eaten a good breakfast, poured the drinks (champagne, Baileys, sherry etc) we are allowed to start opening. My dad acts as Father Christmas handing out the presents. In the last few years (since she learned to read) Isla has helped him – she has a habit of only finding the ones with her name on though!!!!!! The present opening can take around two hours – we really do go bananas on presents! After that, there’s normally a toy to build – oh joy! Then we get the roast on – never turkey as none of us like it, so it’s normally lamb but sometimes it’s beef. Grandma is normally with us and doesn’t like beef.

Then in the afternoons the TV normally goes on to watch whatever crap is on, and we sit and play with our new toys – for me it’s usually some new gadget!

I love Christmas and birthdays, and I’ve never quite lost the childish excitement – I think I get even more excited now because I can’t wait to see Isla’s face when she opens her presents and realises that she’s got what she asked Father Christmas for in the letter she sent up the chimney!

I think she may have cottoned on about him, but is just humouring me now!!

Monday, 6 October 2008

What music would you choose for your personal Top 10?

Ok, so I had a real problem doing this one. I went through iTunes and picked out the tracks that have really meant something to me throughout my life. I thought I was being ruthless until I realised that my Top 10 had become my Top 28! I have narrowed it down to a Top 15!

In no particular order:

I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) / Letter From America – The Proclaimers
- Obviously no one who comes from Scotland could dislike The Proclaimers – it’s like saying you don’t like Irn Bru!

Goodbye To Love – The Carpenters
- I adore this song because it has one of the best guitar solos I have ever heard.

Zombie – The Cranberries
- The first song I ever did on karaoke!

Song For A Small Man – Billy Connolly
- This isn’t a comic song. It reminds me of a man I used to know who was an extremely dear family friend.

There Were Roses – Cara Dillon
- This song is about the futility of the Troubles in Ireland

Sweet Child o’ Mine – Guns ‘n’ Roses
- Fabulous song!

Layla – Eric Clapton
- Again, fab song!

Sweet Home Alabama – Lynrd Skynrd
- Probably my favourite song ever, possibly because a friend of mine plays the solo so amazingly well!

Foolish Games – Jewel
- One of those songs that can put a tear in your eyes.

A Case Of You – Joni Mitchell
- I just love the sentiments in this one. Joni Mitchell’s lyrics are like poetry.

Caledonia – Dougie Maclean
- The best song about Scotland ever written.

Flower Of Scotland – The Corries
- Obviously!

The Bell (Tubular Bells 2) – Mike Oldfield
- I’m a big Mike Oldfield fan, but Tubular Bells 2 was brilliant.

Au Fond Du Temple Saint (from The Pearl Fishers) – Bizet
- I don’t know what it is about this particular piece of music, but it just moves me.

Clarinet Quintet (I Allegro) – Mozart
- The reason for loving this piece is not at all highbrow or cerebral! It is used a lot in the final episode of M*A*S*H. I had never heard it before seeing this episode, and it is just a beautiful piece of music.

Sunday, 5 October 2008

What was the first piece of music you bought?

I don’t know if it could be classed as “a piece of music” exactly – there’s certainly nothing highbrow or clever about it, and you have to remember I was only ten at the time! The first record (see, that’s how old I am!) I bought was Kylie Minogue’s first album – the one with I Should Be So Lucky on it! Not long after, I bought the single of Especially for You by Kylie and Jason!!

Sad eh?!

Did you have an idol when you were young? Tell me who and why.

I never had any idols that I looked up to when I was younger. I had pin-ups obviously – only they weren’t the normal ones like Tom Cruise (short arse little twerp now) or whoever else the teeny boppers liked. On my walls, I had massive posters of Axl Rose, Slash, Eric Clapton and Mel Gibson! I loved Mel Gibson, and my dad actually went into the local newspaper office and acquired some movie stills for me! I was well chuffed!

I have never really had anyone who I’ve looked up to that much, or who I would like to be like. I think probably now, one of my main idols would be Joni Mitchell, but that’s just because I love her early music.

Saturday, 4 October 2008

What were your favourite hobbies when you were young?

I don’t remember having any hobbies as such when I was a child. There were things I liked to do, but nothing I was passionate about, and I kind of think the word “hobby” implies passion about one particular thing.

I played the recorder – badly! I used to watch the person next to me as it took me years to be able to read music, and consequently I was always about half a note behind everyone else! Not that it mattered; the music teacher was tone deaf anyway!

I swam a lot – our school had swimming galas every year, and it was something I was actually very good at. I did get my bronze ASA award (can’t remember what it stands for), which taught you haw to life save and swim long distances. I didn’t do the silver award, as I couldn’t be arsed!

Ah, I think I’ve thought of one. I was passionate (and still am) about reading. As we didn’t have TV in Malawi when I was small, and until much later we didn’t even have TV and video (there was a local video club – people would go back to UK on holiday, tape loads of things and put the tapes in the video club) I was a voracious reader. Every time we had to have the rabies vaccines I got a new book. My mum always said I could have a new book if I managed not to cry! I always did cry, but I still got the book! And I would have finished it by the time we got home! I have always been an extremely fast reader – I don’t skim, I do read properly, but I have never met anyone who reads as fast as me.

I don’t understand people who don’t read – I’ve always felt rather sorry for them. They are missing out on a whole different world. I love to open a book, and lose myself within its pages.

Friday, 3 October 2008

Who was your best friend as a teenager…and why?

I had a few best friends when I was a teenager. When I was at Fettes my best friend was called AB – and we got into loads of trouble together. I lost touch with her after I left, and am sort of in touch with her again now on Facebook.

When I moved to school in Dumfries it took me a while to make the really good friends who I am still friends with today. It takes me a while to get to know people well – I’m really quite a shy person. I’d hang out by the school gates smoking before school and during break times, and got to know Lara and S (who I later had a relationship with – S, not Lara!)

I don’t remember how I got to know Colette. Maybe it was because we caught the same bus home. Anyway, she and I became best buddies, and through her I became friends with Lyndsey and Joocey (real name not supplied as she’s another blogger).So there was a little group of us. None of us were the “popular” kids, but we weren’t the unpopular ones either. I would say within our year group we were pretty average. The popular ones were all pretty bitchy anyway, and quite a few of them never made it into 5th or 6th year as the rest of us did. We were all just pretty damn clever!

Anyway, I’m still very close to Joocey and Lara although we don’t see each other very often. I haven’t seen Joocey since my Japan trip in April last year, and I haven’t seen Lara for years, but we keep in touch all the time through emails, blogs, facebook and msn. When Joocey and I get together it’s as though we only saw each other yesterday, and I’m sure when Lara and I manage to see each other it’ll be the same!

What did you want to be when you grew up?

I can’t really remember having any fixed idea about what I wanted to do when I grew up. My friends and I played teachers, doctors and nurses and mummies and daddies obviously! I think probably being a teacher scored pretty highly, at least until I grew up enough to discover that teachers are just big whining kids who have never left school in their lives and have no idea what living in the real world entails.

I know I wanted to be a mummy – I know that sounds completely lacking in ambition! But I was only small!

When I was older and choosing where to go to university I decided that what I really wanted to do was to become an interpreter. I hated every minute of university. To be fair, maybe it was the course. I should have accepted the offer from St Andrews, which would not have meant doing awful courses like economics, accounts and business studies. That was just a straight French degree. But it’s easy to say in hindsight. If I had completed my degree my French would not have been any better than it is now – I could speak it before I moved to France, and can speak it much better now, and have a much larger vocabulary. A degree could not have improved on practical usage.

So what do I want to do with the rest of my life now?

I’m damned if I know!

Thursday, 2 October 2008

What were you best at when you were at school?

Believe it or not, when I was very small at primary school my best thing was sport! Not the running around type – oh no! But I adored swimming, and I was very good at it. I was also really good at high jump and long jump – again, two sports that don’t require a lot of running! I used my asthma as an excuse for the rest of them!

I can’t remember any subjects I was really good at when I was small, except for reading and spelling. I was a champion speller! I have always been a very fast reader, and when I left the school in Malawi the headmaster was delighted because I had read all the books in the school library! Not many people can claim to have read Dickens by age 9 – abridged or not!

When I got to secondary school it quickly became obvious that I was very good at modern languages. For my Highers I did English (B), French (A), Spanish (A), Italian (A) and Modern Studies (D). I have never counted the Modern Studies, as I’ve always considered the D to be a fail – but people have got into universities on D’s! I only took the subject to fill in my timetable – there was nothing else I was capable of doing. I did pass all my Standard Grades which included sciences etc, but I had to have a tutor for maths. I did pass maths, quite well, but if you asked me to explain a quadratic equation I wouldn’t have a clue! Seriously, languages were it for me!

Lucky really, seeing as I now live in France!

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

What sort of pets did you have when you were young?

Ever since I can remember we have had dogs in our family.

When I was born we lived in Portsmouth. My mum had a Golden Retriever called Honey who was lovely. We also had a large golden Labrador called Linus who actually belonged to my aunt and uncle (R&D). He chewed all my toys! We also had a cat – a big ginger tabby called TC – very imaginative – he also belonged to R&D.

When we moved to Malawi we had to leave Honey with my gran – and Linus too obviously, as he wasn’t ours anyway. My dad already had two dogs there – a Rhodesian Ridgeback called Henry, and a golden retriever crossed with god knows what called Eska.

My dad had a cat called Bert – he had sort of Siamese/Burmese colouring and was a cool cat – he ate spicy food and his favourite was samosas!

I’m not too sure on the chronology of the next lot of dogs, but after that we had Koma (beautiful in Chichewa – the local language), a Red Setter puppy. He was very sweet and his favourite pastime was chasing butterflies! He died at about a year old from rabies. He had what is called dumb rabies, which means that the dog becomes paralysed from the muzzle backwards. So, there was no danger of being bitten, but the worst thing was that to prove it was rabies (to qualify for the vaccine ourselves) we had to wait until he died from it. He could not be put down. Luckily, I don’t remember any of it – I was only very small. He did eventually die, and it was proved to have rabies. He must have been bitten by a rat or a mongoose or something in the garden. I do remember that we were all heartbroken.
We then had to organise vaccines, and not just for us. We were told to count all the people who had been in our house for the past three weeks (not sure of timescale but something like that). All these other people had to have the vaccine too. Some of them were kids who were at boarding school in UK, and had been out on holiday. So, their parents had to contact the school and get them to organise it – easier said than done, especially then. I mean, this must be around 25 years ago at least. The vaccines hurt – big time. They were in the underside of the forearm, the needle went in quite shallowly, and you ended up with like a big bubble under your skin. It hurt like hell, and for a while I think we had to have one a day, then one a week, then a yearly booster. Something like that anyway – it may have been less, but it was a traumatic experience and I just remember tons of them. My mum used to buy me an Enid Blyton book each time – I got quite a collection! It left me with a complete phobia of needles though, which I have to this day.

Anyway, back to pets. I have no idea when any of the earlier pets died, except for Koma, but I was only very small. At some point we got a cat – he was sort of a black tabby I think, and we called him Huggy Bear after the character in some TV show. I don’t know much about 80’s TV either because we just didn’t get that in Malawi! He was a cool cat. We also got a German Shepherd puppy who we called Kali (fierce in Chichewa). She was a big softy, and slept on my bed.
A while after we got her, some friends of ours left, and they had a big, fierce German Shepherd called Samson. We had to travel up to Lilongwe (the capital) to collect him, and he had been doped up for the journey. When we got home, and the drugs wore off he was a completely different dog. All the ferociousness had disappeared (apart from when he was being a guard dog!), and he followed my mum everywhere, even crying outside the toilet if she was in there!
Also, around this time, we rescued another Red Setter, an elderly dog, called Tasha. She was very sweet, but totally dippy!

When we left Malawi, we just had Kali, Samson and Tasha left. We homed Tasha with my friend R’s parents, and Kali and Samson went to my other friend L’s parents. So it worked out beautifully all round.

When we got to Scotland it took a little while to get a dog. All our belongings were being transported across the high seas in a crate, so there wasn’t much we could do until we had turned our house into a home. When it finally did arrive, and everything felt right, my mum and dad came home one day with a tiny black Labrador puppy. He was adorable. He was (technically) my dad’s dog, and he named him Chaka Zulu, after the biggest, blackest bugger he could think of. That’s not meant to be un-PC at all by the way! Anyway, my dad was the only one who ever called him Chaka – his name very quickly got shortened to Lulu – not very butch for the big, black dog he turned into. But he was Lulu until the day he died – now more commonly known as Saint Lulu! He was definitely the most intelligent dog I have ever had – I swear he knew everything you were talking about, and during my teenage years I quite often sobbed out my woes to him, and he’d put his head on my knee and look up at me with those big dark brown eyes and make me feel all better!
At about the same time as we got Lulu, we also got Bracken, a Golden Retriever puppy. She was lovely, and we tried to have puppies with her, but in the end only two survived. She died herself at two years old from cancer. It was really my first experience of death.

We got another retriever quite a while later. She was a Camrose retriever, which meant she was almost white instead of golden. She was lovely, although she definitely had a mind of her own! We eventually tried the puppy thing again with her, but again it didn’t work. Out of 10 puppies, only one survived, so of course, we kept him and called him Harvey. He was very sweet, but a total mummy’s boy! He would hide behind her if he thought he was in trouble – even when he got bigger than her!
These three dogs, Lulu, Barley and Harvey, lasted well into my adulthood, and we actually brought them to France with us. Barley got tick fever after six months here and died. She could have been saved, as we have since found out, but the vet did not want to do anything to save her, as she was 12yrs old. Then, two months later, Lulu had a stroke and died. He was 14 and a half.
Left on his own, Harvey stopped eating because he was pining for his mum and his friend. We ended up going to the SPA to rescue a dog, and rescued two! We got a Pyrenean Mountain Dog who we called Ben – of indeterminate age, and an 8-month-old pup who was a spaniel up to his knees and an Alsatian on top! We called him Fleet. The SPA told us that Fleet had kennel cough, but he was dead within 10 days – our new vet said it was not kennel cough after all, but distemper – a highly infectious canine disease. We had to bleach the entire house to ensure that Ben and Harvey didn’t get it. That was awful.
After a couple of years I got a golden Labrador puppy, and called her Champers, because she was Champagne coloured! Then we got another golden Labrador called Islay – yes, the same as Isla – she was about 6yrs old when we got her, so it was much too late to change her name!!
Anyway, Ben died suddenly one day – the vet said it was probably a heart attack, and we never knew his age exactly, but giant dogs don’t have a very long lifespan.

We now have Islay, Champers and Murphy – a dopey Newfoundland.
We also have several cats now – Pepper, Spice, Stompy (their kitten – the others we found homes for), Thomas (Isla’s cat) and two gentleman callers that we have called Ralph (pronounced the posh way – Rafe) and Julian because they seem like a pair of cads!

This has gone way beyond my childhood animals, but once I started I couldn’t stop until I got to the end!