Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Where do all your blog readers come from?

To see where all my visitors come from, take a look at this post on my other blog, Random Ramblings and Recipes.

If you had the opportunity to change anything in your life, what would it be?

Ooh, is this a bit like “What would you do it you won the lottery?”!!

Well, my perfect life would be…

Enough money to be comfortable – not having to worry about where the next penny is coming from.

Isla and I would live in Scotland during the summer and autumn, and somewhere in the Southern Hemisphere during the winter. I would have found the perfect man who loves me desperately, and adores Isla as if she were his own. We would also maybe have another couple of children by then. I already have a boy’s name figured out, so I’ve made one tiny step towards that goal!!

During my time in Scotland, I would donate my time to walking dogs from shelters. I would also be able to reconnect with old friends, and make new ones.

Not sure what I would do about Isla’s schooling in this dream existence, but it’s a dream, so reality isn’t important!

I would have a few dogs – a black lab, and golden lab, a golden retriever and maybe a Bernese Mountain Dog. Which obviously would have passports and get used to flying a lot!

It’s a dream right…none of it absolutely HAS to make sense!

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Do you enjoy participating in music, art, gardening, needlework, sewing, carpentry, mechanics, etc.? Which members of the family did these activities?

I’ve never really been one for hobbies and the like – mainly because none have ever appealed to me enough to spend very much time doing them!

I learnt various musical instruments when I was younger – see
here for my post on that. I was never passionate about any of them though.

My mum has always been good with a sewing machine, and has done various things with one, the most recent being a pool cover for our neighbour and friend, and recovering the armchair in my bedroom. She’s very clever with it, and can do beading and all sorts of things! I’ve never had the inclination to learn – I don’t have the patience for that sort of thing. She also knits, and does a very natty line in Arran jumpers, which I lived in when I was younger, and Isla had loads when she was smaller. She hasn’t knitted for a while – but is hopefully going to knit new jumpers for Isla and me for next winter.

My dad is great at carpentry. He makes great cupboards and wardrobes, and the next project I think will be new cupboards for the kitchen – which is in serious need of work! The only thing we’ve done to the kitchen since we’ve been here is to plaster and paint it – we are lacking in cupboard space and work surface! It’s amazing what we manage to do, cooking wise, in there, but it would be fab to have a lovely new kitchen!

I do the odd bit of gardening – as in, not very much at all! Every spring I buy new herb plants, because I love cooking with fresh herbs. The taste is so different to dried ones. I would also love to know more about herbal remedies. I have tried a couple before – and infusion of rosemary for a headache made me seriously ill, and an hot oil treatment for my hair left me smelling like a roast lamb! Sharpens the appetite, but only for food! Not exactly an attractive fragrance unless it’s emanating from the oven! Anyway, I plant my herbs out every year, and sometimes they grow, and sometimes they don’t! I don’t exactly have green fingers. I always say to people when I’m house sitting that I’m good with animals, but plants have a tendency to commit suicide when I’m around!

Something I don’t mind doing is card making. My mum makes lovely cards, for all occasions, should you ever need one! She can sit for hours and make cards, whereas I need to wait for inspiration and can do it for maybe an hour. All our Christmas cards are homemade, and that’s a mega marathon in about November. The card below is one I made for Isla's 9th birthday last year. She adores Hello Kitty!

My favourite thing, although I wouldn’t class it as a hobby, is photography. The reason I wouldn’t class it as a hobby is that I have had some paid work, so I would say I’m about 5% professional! For an example check out this website of a gîte I photographed nearby. It’s a beautiful house, in a lovely area. Go on, check it out and book a holiday. I dare you!

My favourite photography subjects are people. I love natural photography - none of that studio stuff, and I use natural lighting, mainly because I can't afford anything else! The photo I'm posting below is of a close friend of mine - she won't mind me posting - she signed a model release years ago! She's one of the most photogenic people I know.
I also spend hours photographing Isla, and she gets so sick of it! The dogs are great subjects too, but it takes ages to get great photos as labradors and newfs rarely stay still! The picture below is one of Isla at about 3 or four, and one of our old Pyrenean Mountain Dog, Ben.NB. All Photographs My Own Work except Thyme and Basil.

Friday, 20 February 2009

Describe the saddest time in your life.

The saddest time of my life was probably 1992. I was 15, and at school, in my Standard Grade year.

My grandfather had two cousins, J and E. Grandma worked with J during the war, which was how she met my Grandad. She got to know E and they were all great friends. When my grandparents were overseas, and my mum and her brother were at boarding school, they used to stay with Aunty J during their half terms. Aunty E had a husband and daughter of her own, but AJ and her husband had never been blessed with children, which was a great pity as she would have been a truly wonderful mother.

So, AJ and AE were always known as Aunties – and they were much loved by all of us. For me, it was like having two extra grandmothers. In 1992 AE discovered that she had cancer. She got sicker and sicker, and eventually she couldn’t live alone any more. Her daughter, L, was living with her husband in Scotland, quite near to us, by then, so it was decided that she should come up to Scotland to spend her final months. My mum and L went south to collect her in our Ford Sierra estate. They had discussed her being transported to Scotland by ambulance, but the logistics of that were just ridiculous. They would have had to change ambulance at EVERY county border, and it wasn’t feasible. They put down the back seats in the Sierra and put a mattress, duvet and pillows in there for AE. They then gave her sleeping tablets so that she could sleep for most of the 8hr journey. It went without a hitch, and they reached Scotland safely.

While AE was in Scotland, her sister, AJ, came up to visit her, along with her 84yr old live in lover, UC. She had discovered, while all this had been going on, that she too had cancer and it was terminal. I think they both had stomach cancer. She stayed with us while she was there, as it would have been too much for L to deal with.

AE died in August. I didn’t go to the funeral – I discussed it with my mum and she said she didn’t think it was necessary that I went, but it was up to me to decide. She was cremated, and I’ve always hated the idea of cremation. I didn’t think I could deal with that, so I didn’t go. I think I made the right decision.

After the funeral, my mum talked with AJ to find out what she wanted to do. They discussed her going home to her flat in the south of England, with no family around to support her and an overloaded health care system as opposed to her staying with us in Scotland, with all her family around and an excellent health care system. We all decided, as a family, including AJ and LIL UC (live in lover UC), that she would stay, and I think that she was relieved by the decision.

However, it meant a shift around in bedrooms. My mum asked Grandma to stay to help her (remember, I was only 15), so she had the small bedroom upstairs. I still had my room, as my mum thought it was necessary to try to preserve some normality for my sake. We transformed the study downstairs into a bedroom for AJ and UC, and they had sole use of the living room. Sole use mainly because there was no way we could listen to the TV at the same volume as UC, or put up with him squeaking his shoes or listen to his squealing hearing aid, which obviously didn’t work. We sat every evening on stools in the kitchen, or I went to my bedroom.

They stayed with us for five months. It was hard. This much loved aunty was dying before our eyes, and there wasn’t a thing we could do about it. She had several heart attacks, and stayed several times in the terminal ward in the local hospital, which was fantastic. Her care couldn’t have been better. Our doctors were fantastic, and close to the end, we had a Marie Curie nurse come in overnight to make sure she was ok. Several times, I went straight from school to the hospital to meet my mum there.

There were some “up” times during this period. I remember when it was UC’s birthday – I promised to make him a birthday cake, and duly set about doing it. I had all the ingredients in the bowl of the Kenwood Chef, went to get a couple of eggs from the fridge, cracked them into the bowl only to discover that they were hard boiled!! If you read both of my blogs, you will understand how I feel about eggs, so this was a major disaster! I literally had to start again, as I couldn’t make a cake that had been contaminated with cooked eggs! It gave everyone a good laugh!

Also, UC was a bit forgetful I think, and a couple of times a week he would bung me a fiver! He kept me in cigarettes all that time, and I have to say I did need them to stay sane. I know, I was only fifteen, but I think it kept me calm. My mum had no idea at the time, although she does now.

I must have been more stressed than I realised, because I didn’t have a period during the whole time they were there. I was delighted at the time, but looking back, it shows that I was actually having a tough time, only not admitting it.

We did try to make their time with us a bit fun – we took them to some local botanical gardens and various other places, and made sure we got out and about a little, while AJ was still up to it.

It about October, my mum contacted a few family members to tell them to come now, if they wanted to see her. They did come – my aunt came back all the way from Saudi Arabia, and AJ knew nothing about it, until she walked into her hospital ward. She was so pleased – she kept telling all the nurses how far her niece had come to see her. She must have known why, but as far as I know, she always tried to keep her spirits up. Possibly, alone with UC or my mum she didn’t, but I was never aware of it.

She died in November, 13 weeks after AE had died. My mum had asked her what she wanted, and it was to be buried in our local cemetery, which was outside the village, in the most peaceful spot imaginable.

We had the church service in our local town, and the man that did the eulogy was UC’s son, who she had known since he was a little boy. It was possibly the best thing he ever said. By the time we got to Abide With Me, no one could sing.

In the cemetery quite a few people from the village had come, as well as family, to pay their respects, although no one knew her well because she hadn’t been there that long. It was a sunny day, but absolutely freezing – that Scottish cold that goes right through to your bones.

L had a headstone erected a little while later, which had both AJ’s and AE’s names on it. Simple, but lovely.

I have never experienced anything that was as hard to go through, or as sad, as those few months, and I hope I never do again. Is was exceedingly painful for the entire family, not only because we lots both of them within such a short time of each other, but because it was long and protracted, and they went through such pain.

I think it made all of us stronger. Some good came out of it – my mum went back to redo her nurses training after almost thirty years. Unfortunately, she didn’t quite get to qualify as her back let her down, as it had done thirty years before. But, she’s an almost nurse, and much better and more empathetic than any nurse I have seen. She’s a born nurse, and it’s a great pity that twice, she didn’t get to complete her course.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Did you learn a hobby or craft as a child or teenager? Did you continue to use it as an adult?

When I was a child, I was never any good at art. I couldn’t draw to save myself – still can’t! I could, however, do calligraphy. I can’t remember how old I was, possibly around 10 or 11 – my mum and dad bought me some calligraphy pens and some beautiful paper to practice on. I got quite good, and could do several styles of font I suppose you’d call it.
Eventually, instead of making me draw or paint in Art class at prep school, the teacher gave in and let me design the signs for open days, parents’ evenings and school plays etc. I was delighted with this, because it was something I could do and I didn’t feel like such an idiot.

I don’t do it now though. Computers come with so many fonts, and you can always download them free, so there’s really little point. It was a nice skill to have acquired though.

When I was in my teens, and new ice rink opened up in Dumfries. So, for a few moths it became the cool place to be seen, and every Friday and Saturday night it was full of teenagers trying to look cool while falling over on the ice!I loved it so much that my Grandma gave me a pair of ice skates for either Christmas or my birthday one year. The only problem was that I was crap at skating! I could skate around the rink ok without falling over, but I could do the cool skiddy stop thing, like all the little kids who’d whizz past me if I was daft enough to go during the day. As far as I was concerned, that what the walls were for – crashing into!
The fad only lasted a few months – I eventually sold my skates and gave it up. It knackered my ankles, and kind of stopped being the cool thing to do. In fact, I think we graduated from the ice rink to the pub!

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Did you or any of your family sing or play musical instruments?

When I was little and at primary school I learnt the recorder like everyone else did! I was rubbish though! I found it really hard to learn to read music, and consequently I was always about half a note behind everyone else. I used to sit next to my best friend, and I always watched what she did so that I could do the same. It didn’t matter – no one noticed – the music teacher was completely tone deaf! Bizarre – I can’t understand why a tone deaf person would become a music teacher!
I remember when I was about 7 or eight, we were doing a school play, and the recorder group were playing. The teacher asked us if any of our parents played, and to my mum’s abject horror, I put my hand up and volunteered her! She hadn’t played for about 30yrs. To make matters worse, she had to play a tenor recorder which, although it has the same fingering, is about twice the size of a normal descant recorder! She wasn’t best pleased! On that night, there were two of us half a note behind everyone else!

When I got a bit older, once we were back in Scotland, I started to learn the clarinet. I hated it. Every time I played it I ended up with a headache, and I hated the feel of the reed, so I gave that up pretty soon.When I moved school though, to the prep school, I started to play the flute, which I quite enjoyed. Oh, I also started piano lessons, but I hated the teacher, couldn’t get my hands coordinated enough and used to hide my music and pretend I had lost it! I gave it up after a term!I carried on with the flute though. I moved to senior school in Edinburgh and carried on learning there, with a wishy washy teacher who again I didn’t like much, but it wasn’t worth trying to run rings around her! When I went to school in Dumfries I couldn’t carry on with it, so my mum found the phone number of my original flute teacher from my prep school, and she taught me and a couple of friends privately. She was a great teacher, and made me want to learn. I got up to Grade 5, by the skin of my teeth! She told me that when I went into the exam, the first thing I should do, before even getting my flute or music out, was to put my inhaler on the music stand! I’ve always had very mild asthma, and the only thing it has ever really affected was my breathing when I played the flute. Anyway, the ruse worse, and I scraped a pass. I didn’t carry one after that, mainly because I had to study (ahem) for my Highers and after Grade 5 you have to learn theory as well and take a test on that, but also because I really wasn’t that good. I had finally learnt to read music though!!

I still play sometimes, although it must be over two years since the flute saw the light of day. It normally happens if I’m drunk, and it’s really not very impressive!

My dad used to play the guitar, sort of! He played it so often that when we left Malawi we gave the guitar to our gardener who then taught himself!He also played the banjo when he was much younger, and played in a skiffle group. This was well before he met my mum though.
I often wish I had learnt to play the guitar – it a much cooler instrument than the flute! I love singing, and, well, it’s a tad hard to sing when you’re playing the flute. I think being able to play the guitar is a real asset.

NB. Photos Not My Own Work.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Did you like to read? What were your favourite books as a child? As an adult?

I have always loved to read – I am a voracious reader. When I was young I read all of the Famous Five books, and most of Enid Blyton’s other books. My favourites were the Adventure books, Mr Galliano’s Circus books and the Faraway Tree books. Pure fantasy and well written enough to grab the attention of a child!

I had very few other things to entertain me, so reading was a lifeline. I have always been able to completely lose myself in a book, especially if it is unputdownable! To such an extent that I actually lose consciousness of the world around me and lose myself in the world of the book!

After Enid Blyton I read a couple of Michele Magorian books – Goodnight Mr Tom and Back Home. They were excellent. And like most girls of my age at the time, I loved Sweet Valley High! Such great teenage books!

My favourite books now are written by Diana Gabaldon. To learn more about them, go to her website, blog or Compuserve forum. They are brilliantly well written, and make you laugh, cry, sit on the edge of your seat, and, just occasionally, totally sob your heart out! If you don’t believe me, give them a go. You won’t regret it, I promise! All are available from most bookshops, except An Echo In The Bone which has yet to be published - Autumn 2009 hopefully.

I also like Lesley Pearse, Jilly Cooper and Jackie Collins (for pure trash!)!

What were your favorite foods?

I’ve had lots of favourite foods over the years! I think my most favourite meal must be a full roast dinner – beef or chicken. Complete with roast potatoes, Yorkshire puddings, stuffing and vegetables and gravy.
I also really like samoussas – see my other blog for recipes – and Chinese food. And Italian!

Sunday, 8 February 2009

What neighborhood gatherings do you recall?

In the village where we lived in Scotland we had a ceilidh at Christmas time, in the village hall, for a couple of years. A ceilidh is a social gathering, involving traditional music and dancing. In history, it was any social gathering, but nowadays there is generally music and dancing.These were brilliant. We would have a band on the stage, with a caller. The caller explains the dance to the party goers, and talks them through it until they have got the hang of it. If you have never had the opportunity to do Scottish Country dancing, I suggest you give it a go. It is fun. I don’t normally dance – I hate discos etc because I can’t dance. However, Scottish Country dancing has rules and particular steps and involves flinging your partner around as hard as possible, and the more alcohol you consume, and the more dances you do, the more bruises you will end up with at the end of the night!

We also had a couple of village fêtes – these were held in a field at the bottom of the village. All I can remember about this is that we played a game called nurdling. You get a biggish log, and lie a long stick across it. With another stick you whack the sticking up end of the stick across the log, and the person who whacks it the furthest, wins.

We also used to go out Christmas carolling every year. There were four of us who played the flute, and my uncle played guitar. We would go up and down the village every Christmas Eve for about 5 or 6 years playing and singing carols, and collecting money for our local Adult Training Centre which was for disabled people.

Apart from that, there really weren’t any gatherings. Villages these days don’t seem to have the community spirit of years gone by, which is very sad.

Saturday, 7 February 2009

What cars have you owned or driven?

Renault 11 - this is the car I learnt to drive in. It was a crappy old car - if you accelerated too hard the accelerator would stick - instant cruise control!! To unstick it you had to put the clutch down and rev it really hard!
Austin Metro - this was my first car. It cost me £500 and lasted for about two years before it blew up! Might have had something to do with the fact that it was only a 1 litre engine, and I could get speeds of up to about 95mph out of it before it started shuddering too much!

Ford Ka - my first decent car. I used money that Grandma had saved up for me since I was born to go towards the deposit, and the first year's finance was paid for as my 21st birthday present. Lovely little car, but difficult to get a baby car seat and buggy in and out of!

Vauxhall Frontera - my dad's 60th birthday present. Great car, great workhorse, and by the time it got taken away last year to a scrap yard it didn't owe us a thing.
Vauxhall Corsa - my mum's old driving school car. I also had this car in Edinburgh when they moved to France, as it was more convenient and practical with a baby being a five door car. This is the car I mainly drive now, and is also the car that I will take back to UK if/when I go back.

I had an MG Midget briefly. Well, I had it for about three years, spent an absolute fortune on it, and eventually decided to sell it as it was costing me far too much to run. I loved it, but couldn't afford it - it was too high-maintenance! I sold it on eBay, complete with loads of photographs, explaining that yes it did have rust - being a 30 year old car an all. Some bloke in Ireland bought it, I had it transported back to Scotland, he turned up to collect it and refused to. Apparently it was not roadworthy, desite having the French equivalent of an MOT. So, I ended up getting it scrapped in Scotland, but I did keep the guy's deposit. I complained to eBay, but nothing happened. So my lovely little sports car ended up as a small chunk of metal. Ah well, such is life! It was a nice fun car to have for a while, but I wouldn't have a classic car again. Too much like hard work, and too expensive.
Peugeot 807 - our family car now. It doesn't currently look like this, being bereft of a windscreen thanks to Hurricane Klaus! Lovely car to drive, comfortable and great on fuel. We don't have the seven seats, just five, as for us it isn't a people carrier, but a puppy carrier! The boot is a great size for 1 Newf and 2 Labs - gives them plenty of space to lie down comfortably.

So, what cars have you owned?

NB. Photographs not my own work, except the MG Midget.

Are there any special heirlooms, photos, bibles or other memorabilia that have been passed down in your family?

I have done quite a lot of research into our family tree. I was inspired by all the family photographs that we have, dating back to 1895 – my grandmother’s father at about 5 years old. Grandma had all these photos in her flat, and a few years ago my mum went through all of them with her and put them all in to date order, worked out who was who and put them all into albums. It’s an amazing piece of family history. Grandma also has a lot of family birth certificates I think, and I’m sure she has more old photographs in her flat.
Apart from that, we don’t have anything that’s been passed down. We don’t have any antiques or heirlooms or legacies or anything.

But I think the photographs are amazing, and wouldn’t swap them for some old bit of tat masquerading as an antique!!

Are there any physical characteristics that run in your family?

There are no particular attributes that run in our family – nothing like big noses or anything. Most of us have hazel eyes, but that’s about it. Our family genes are very strong though – when members of our family have children it is almost always our genes which are the dominant ones. Thank goodness, or Isla would have ended up with a big nose!!