Saturday, 31 October 2009


It's that time of year again. I spent a significant part of the afternoon carving a pumpkin lantern. Which, as I told XUP, is still a lot less time than it used to take us to produce a lantern using a turnip and a tablespoon when I was a child. We were tough in them days, I tell you. Anyway, I must confess I am quite proud of "Skully" as my deeply imaginative offspring have named him.

Not bad for a Scot with no training, eh? The boys produced their own outfits this year with only minimal assistance from me. This is how they look. Can you tell that my elder son is well aware I have a bit of an issue with clowns?

The only part of Second Born's get-up that I helped with cannot actually be seen in that photograph. He wanted a severed shrunken head to hold - which he bought from our local supermarket (they really do sell everything there these days.) That, however, was not enough - he wanted the head to be in green liquid. I explained that water would drip out of the plastic box he had in mind, so we settled instead for green jelly. Which is why I spent an odd hour last night, setting a shrunken head in lime flavour jelly. Looks good though. If not exactly tasty.....
Happy Halloween to all who are celebrating it! (And for those of you who are not, happy evening-spent-under-the-stairs-with-the-lights-off-not-answering-the-door!)

Wednesday, 28 October 2009


That's what our wee holiday was, according to First Born who seems unable to plump for either immaculate or impeccable, preferring a mix of the two. The word has stuck and is now in common use in our family. Much to the confusion of the boys' Headmaster who was greeted with it today by FB in the school reception. I am expecting a call to come in for a quiet word about our parenting skills any day now.

So, yes, Yorkshire was lovely. Not a part of the country we had ever been to before - we pretty much picked it off a map as being within a few hours drive of Edinburgh and having lots of stuff to do nearby. We stayed in a lovely little cottage on a dairy farm, so were woken up most mornings by slightly irate sounding cows heading in to be milked. There were also real honest-to-goodness roosters - the boys were pleased and astonished to find that roosters do actually do that cock-a-doodle-doo thing. Here we are, looking at chickens (this was sneakily snapped by Husband from our bedroom window.)

We visited Dalby Forest (very tree-y) and Scarborough Sea Life Centre (it was raining that day and it was both indoors and really cool. The boys spent some time in front of the Great Barrier Reef tank trying to hypnotise two small sharks, with what appeared to be some success).

We visited Whitby which I was personally quite excited about, given my slight fascination for all things vampire. The Dracula geek in me got a kick out of pretending to be Mina, sitting on a bench in the churchyard up on the cliff by the Abbey, overlooking the bay where the ship was driven in by the storm, the black dog jumping to shore before the townspeople discovered there was no crew and a dead captain lashed to the wheel. Gave me goosebumps. Or it might have been slight palpitations after climbing 199 steps to get up there in the first place. Ooh, I should also have mentioned that on the way to Whitby we stopped off in Goathland which is famous as the village which doubles as Aidensfield in "Heartbeat". Which I have never watched. But its railway station is also used as Hogsmeade Station in the Harry Potter films, so that's quite cool.

We also visited Castle Howard - just the grounds, as there is little point in making 11 and 9 year old boys tour round a stately home looking at furniture. You are just asking for trouble and having to spend most of the tour hissing "Behave!" under your breath. We opted instead for lots of walking and a lengthy sojourn in the adventure playground. Very fortunately, the aforesaid adventure playground was situated next to the Great Lake, right alongside the Lakeside cafe. Now the cafe itself was shut, but the terrace was open so while the boys threw themselves around on various contraptions fashioned out of timber and rope, Husband and I got to use our favourite wooden leisure equipment, ie chairs. We spent a long time being boring adults, sitting down and gazing out over the lake, watching ducks do that upside-down in the water thing that is so oddly rivetting to behold. The boys thought we were boring. We thought we had died and gone to heaven.

We did join them in the adventure playground and then we walked through the woods, to the Temple of the Four Winds and on through the grounds back around the house to the Atlas Fountain. Here are the boys, considering whether or not it is the done thing to go for a paddle in the Atlas Fountain.

At one point, Second Born came running up, breathless with excitement, saying "Mum! Mum! You'll never guess - do you know what film was made at this castle?"

"Why yes," said I, beaming with pride at the literary knowledge of my precocious offspring. "Actually, they filmed both versions of Brideshead Revisit....."

"GARFIELD 2!!!!!!" he gasped, absolutely awestruck. "This is the castle in GARFIELD 2!!!"

I'm going to have to take his word on that, as I have never managed to watch more than 5 minutes of Garfield 2 before wanting to scratch my own eyes out with a nail file. Mind you, I'm sure the TV series of "Brideshead Revisited" would have the same effect on the boys. So here you go: two small boys on the set of Garfield 2

Incidentally, are there any other Scots reading who get slightly annoyed by references in the media to Yorkshire and similar areas as "the north of the country"? Given that we had to drive SOUTH for four and half hours to get to North Yorkshire? Just me and Husband then.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Hello! We're back!

Just back today from a week in lovely and only slightly downpour-y Yorkshire. A good time was had by all, details of which I shall post when I can be bothered. In the meantime, a sample of the sort of comment we got from one of our delightful children, overheard as he ran amok around a large adventure playground: "This is just like The Matrix, but really boring!"

I can't tell. Is that good?

Friday, 16 October 2009

Stories that stick

I was over at Jessica's blog, as I often am, and she had a meme on there from Sweet/Salty's other blog, one that I did not know about. I am, as you all know, a sucker for a meme and especially a meme about books. So here you go. (My bits are the bits not in bold.)

1) You are facing an epic journey. You may choose one companion, one tool and one vehicle from any book or film to accompany you. Or just one of the three. It's up to you. What do you choose? Thursday Next as a companion (she can jump into books - who wouldn't want a friend who can do that?). Tool? Hmm, well the alethiometer from the His Dark Materials books would be useful, provided it would actually work for me, and vehicle would have to be............ the Wishing Chair (I was a big Enid Blyton reader as a child)

2) You can escape to the insides of any book. Where do you go, and why? Hah! If I say "Lost in a Good Book" then I can go from there to ANY BOOK I LIKE! (This is the literary equivalent of the smugly annoying person who, when offered a wish, asks for a million pounds, eternal life and three more wishes). So to avoid being virtually slapped, I will say...........Iain M Banks' Culture novels - a future where all humanity's ills have been eradicated, money no longer matters and space travel is commonplace. Oh yeah.....

3) You can bring one literary character into your current life. Who do you choose, and why? Mary Poppins. I spent this morning with the boys tidying up a small part of the disaster zone that is their bedroom. I have no wish to repeat the experience. Ever.

4) The Crow Road is my go-to book. I could read that book fifty-seven times in a row without a break for food or a pee and not be remotely bored. In fact I’ve already done that but it wasn’t fifty-seven times. It was sixty-four.

5) Of all the literary or film characters that made an impression on you as a kid, who was the most enviable? I really really wanted to be George from the Famous Five. Or Jo from Little Women. (Spot the slight tomboy fixation.) On balance I think I really wanted to be George, though. She had really cool adventures with smugglers and stuff.

6) Of all the literary or film characters that made an impression on you as a kid, who was the most frightening? Dracula. In black and white, with Bela Lugosi. I still have a copy of the original movie poster (in French, 'cos I'm pretentious) hanging on the wall in our downstairs loo.

7) Every time I read Jane Eyre, I see something in it that I haven’t seen before. I dismissed it as a glorified Mills & Boon book when I read it as a teenager, but I am more interested now as a middle-aged wifie.

8) It is imperative that "One Fine Day in the Middle of the Night" be made into a movie. Now. I am already picketing Hollywood for this—but if they cast Bruce Willis as Matt Black, I will not be happy. I will, however, be appeased if they cast Ewan McGregor.

9) Perfume is a book that should never be made (or should have never been made) into a film. Or The Da Vinci Code, although come to think of it, that's also a book that should never have been written. (Like Labyrinth, Jess - I agree wholeheartedly).

10) After all these years, the scene of Renfield laughing when they open up the hold of the ship in the original 1931 movie of Dracula still manages to give me the queebs.

11) After all these years, the scene where Sham, the arab stallion beats Hobgoblin in the book "King of the Wind" (and especially the epilogue) still manages to give me a thrill.

12) If I could corner the author Jeffrey Archer, here’s what I’d say to them in one minute or less about their books (all of them): Please stop.

13) The coolest non-fiction book I’ve ever read is: Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell (it is sort of basically non-fiction with a bit of added......fiction but I still think it counts). Every time I flip through it, it makes me want to: read it again.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Eminently suggestible

Yesterday, we got an e-mail from the boys' school, warning that there has been a sharp increase in the number of pupils and staff displaying the symptoms of swine flu. This morning I wake up with a throat that feels like it has a tennis ball rammed into it. My sub-conscious is clearly rather easily swayed.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

A quieter weekend

Okay, first things first. Isabelle? Rich lawyer? You've been reading The Scotsman again, haven't you? I would just like to point out that it is my resolutely non-lawyer little brother who is presently staying in the Four Seasons Hotel in Sydney (that's Australia, not Cape Breton) with his lovely wife. They were both flown out there first class and are staying a week while my brother's former employers try to tempt him back to work on a project Down Under. Anyone else think I did the wrong degree?

Anyway, just to add to the glamourous, cosmopolitan flavour of this post, would you like to know what the weather was like in Geneva on Sunday? Of course you would. Here you are:

This was taken by Husband and e-mailed to us on Sunday afternoon. He left on Sunday morning at the crack of dawn for the annual domain name-y judgely huddle in Geneva. We sadly couldn't tag along this time as the boys' school holidays don't coincide this year so he decided to let us see what we were missing. Kind of him. I think.

The boys and I spent the day tidying the living room, doing laundry (me) and playing on the Wii (boys). I was only able to make the boys knuckle down in this fashion because I had taken them out on the Saturday to a local country park and let them off the lead for a while. This is Second Born, halfway down his favourite slide. First Born went down once, declared that his heart was about to burst with the adrenalin and didn't go near it agan.

We had a nice afternoon in the park. The boys ran around and shouted a lot, played on (and fell off) the flying fox and we went down to the riverside and explored the tunnels down there.

Second Born insisted he could climb up on top of the tunnel by going through, rather than round, the bushes. Turns out he couldn't.

Husband meantime was enjoying a pre-Geneva "Knob Twiddling Day". In other words, we left him alone with his music equipment, including a new toy he had received but not yet had a chance to play with. I am still not sure what it does, but it is a shiny black box with lots of knobs and light-y up bits on it. Husband is besotted so we left the two of them alone to get acquainted.

And now the working week has started again but this time it is a four day week and then I am off when the boys break up for the October week. Woo hoo! Anyway, I am off to play the silly games I have discovered on Facebook. (I haven't yet plucked up the courage to play anyone at Scrabble yet, but will do soon. Hopefully.)

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

I ache in the places where I used to play*

A lovely but unusually active weekend has left me feeling (a) achey and (b) my age. I scooped the boys up from school on Friday, got them changed out of their school uniform, threw them into the car together with bags of food, changes of underwear and several duvets and set off for sunny Arbroath. Oh wait, we picked up Husband on the way too.

I will confess to having mixed feelings as we set off, for the weather forecast was abysmal - gale force winds accompanied by torrential rain. Not a good combination when your accommodation for the weekend is going to be a hut with no electricity or plumbing, necessitating a hundred yard dash to the main house in the dark if you want to use the loo after bedtime. I was pinning my hopes on the fact that none of the weather forecasts this summer had been even close to accurate so hopefully this one wasn't either. Fortunately it wasn't. At least not entirely.

We stopped off in Arbroath itself for fish and chips in what used to be a wee chippie with a couple of plastic tables and chairs you could use. It has been "poshed up" somewhat and now boasts carpet! And napkins! And waitresses! We were slightly taken aback, but reassured by the steadfastly stodgy menu. Husband briefly toyed with the idea of sampling the heresy that is Arbroath Smokie in batter (yes, you read that correctly) but then sanity returned and he plumped for haddock and chips like the rest of us. I went off to visit the ladies before we left (last chance to wash hands in HOT water!) and noticed that the restaurant had cunningly placed a copy of the dessert menu above the hand dryer - I was almost lured into trying the Chocolate Lumpy Bumpy as a result (the name alone was enticing enough!).

We arrived at the cottage in darkness, which is always fun as we try to locate the right unmarked, unsurfaced, unlit, single track farm road among many unmarked, unsurfaced, unlit, single track farm roads. Luckily it did not rain as we hauled sheets, duvets and pillows for four into a small garden hut on the edge of a cliff in preparation for the night.

Do you want to see the hut? Here it is in daylight:
As you can see, it is very important if you pop out in the dark to answer the call of nature that you make sure to turn right and not left. This was taken on Saturday morning when the promised gale force winds arrived, although thankfully without the rain. In the background you can see the beach in the next bay, most of which is airborne.

We had a nice day, slobbing around the house, reading and pottering about the rocks. The boys in particular like to clamber about down by the water. Given the wind, we made them wear lifejackets as a precaution.

It was blustery enough at times that I thought we were going to have to tether them down like little balloons! That night it was very cosy in the hut as the wind howled around outside. Before going to sleep, we played a game which has become sort of traditional when we stay there: we come up with summaries of the plots of movies and TV shows. Played backwards. So that Frankenstein, for example, becomes the tale of a monster rampaging around a neighbourhood, who is lured into a castle by a mad scientist, tied to a table and killed by a convenient bolt of lightning. The scientist then dismantles the creature and buries the evidence in a number of local graveyards. The End.

Get the idea? We amused ourselves greatly with TV shows - Strictly Come Dancing (some judges hold up a score and then a couple have to come on and dance a dance to precisely that standard before leaving); the Olympic 1oo metre sprint (some very fit men have to run backwards very fast and synchronise their speed so they arrive in the starting blocks at exactly the same time); Bagpuss (if you are old enough to remember, is the story of a bunch of destructive mice who steal perfectly good items from a shop window, smash them up and then make their accomplice, a small girl called Emily, take the debris away and dispose of it). Silly, but it kept us laughing.

On Sunday, the wind had dropped so we decided to walk across to the beach in the next bay, but instead of taking the clifftop path, we decided (I cannot now for the life of me remember why) that it would be more fun to go round the bottom of the cliffs, over the rocks. The big rocks. See?
That's First Born in the grey and the beach we are heading for in the distance.

That's Second Born, proving that somewhere in the mists of time, one of his ancestors was part mountain goat. Seriously, the boy was scampering along there. The rest of us were more sort of lumbering. And sliding down rocks on our bums, while squealing in alarm. Sadly, the tide beat us by about 20 minutes and we could not get round the last headland to the beach. Which left us with the choice of clambering skipping all the way back over the same rocks. Or climbing up the hill you can see on the left in the photo of First Born up there. Guess which option we chose.

Yes, that's SB at the top of the hill, encouraging the less agile. The scrap of pink in the bottom left corner is a bit of me. I don't know how Husband managed to take that photo. I think he was holding onto a clump of grass with his teeth.

We all made it though, and this is the view back down where we had climbed up. Had I seen that first, I don't think I would have done it.
The aching muscles in my legs and bum still wish I hadn't. But it was fun and we got to the beach and wandered around in the sun, and drew pictures on the sand before wandering back across the cliff.

And now we are back in Edinburgh again, and looking forward to our little trip to Yorkshire in a couple of weeks. I hope that will involve just as much walking and laughing and eating, but slightly less pulling myself up cliffs by my fingernails while holding my breath and praying.

PS To all of you who are coaxing me into the warm shallows of Facebook, thank you. (Whee! I have friends!!)

PPS *Name that tune.

Thursday, 1 October 2009


I have a confession to make: I don't really understand how Facebook and all that stuff works. I am chuffed enough with myself that I manage to blog, even though I use Blogger which I suspect is like trying to recreate the painting of the Sistine Chapel with Chubby Crayons. The finer points of keeping in touch 21st century style have sort of passed me by. Don't even get me started about Twitter.

That said, I do have a Facebook account. A while back, I wanted to check if someone was on Facebook (due to advancing senility, I cannot now remember who. Or why.) and I discovered that to search on Facebook, one had to join Facebook. So I did. And this leads me to my confession - although I have the account, I have NO IDEA how it works or what to do with it. I rarely remember I have it and never log in. Until today, when I discovered that I have friend invitations! From nice people from the bloggy world! Who I have, it would appear, been ignoring for who knows how long! I am so rude!

Anyway, I have now accepted the invitations (I think) so feel more in touch with my inner teenager. I still have no idea what to do with a Facebook account so if anyone wants to teach me, all guidance would be gratefully received. (I had better find out about all this stuff before my children start wanting accounts on sites other than Club Penguin. I bet if I had girls, I would be fully up-to-date by now!)

On a totally different topic, I am slightly scared by how American my children are. The North American culture is so all-invasive now that even my dyed-in-the-wool, born Scots boys sometimes sound more like Californian teenagers. They do that annoying thing where they raise their voice at the end of every sentence and turn them all into a question? Drives me potty. And the even scarier thing is that they now laugh at me for talking like, oh I don't know, a Scottish woman of 42!

I can't remember what prompted me the other day, but I was ranting about the phrase "to go". I was explaining to the boys that I steadfastly refuse to give in to the American (*cough*Starbucks *cough*) term of describing a coffee you want to remove from the premises as "to go". Or one you want to drink sitting at their tables as "for here". NO. In Scotland, you do not ask "To go or for here?". You ask "Sit-in or take away?".

I explained to the boys therefore that on the rare occasion I decide to blow £3 on a cup of coffee in an unattractive mug, I will ask for "a latte to sit in". They of course howled with laughter.

"It would need to be a REALLY big latte if you were going to sit in it!" they crowed. I can't help feeling I was being insulted on more than one level there.