Sunday, 26 December 2010

A post in which I barely mention Australia.......

.........or at least I only mention it in a good way. Christmas was a bit last minute in many ways, but none the worse for that. The boys got the presents they wanted (or in the case of Second Born, a large wodge of cash over which he could gloat whilst planning what to buy in the sales) and were gratifyingly grateful. Mother-in-law and her husband were uplifted from their house without incident, despite the snow, and Sister-in-law and her partner arrived less than half an hour late, which is something approaching a record for them.

Gifts were exchanged and exclaimed over. (We know we have got it right with MIL's husband when he drops out of the conversation for half an hour after opening his books, so engrossed is he.) Husband got a Kindle of his very own, so he can now stop downloading things like "Memoirs of the Anglo-Boer War" onto mine when I am not looking, Not good for my street cred when I am demonstrating the wonders of Kindle to friends and colleagues and that's what pops up. We are now a two Kindle household. I don't think we can get much more geeky.

Christmas lunch worked, more or less, despite some lower-oven-malfunctioning setbacks. We have enough goose and turkey left over to feed an army, or possibly even a husband and two boys for a day or two.

On Christmas Eve we were finally able to Skype my brother's family in Australia and confirm with our own eyes that Mum and Dad really have reached the other side of planet Earth. It is beyond weird to be chatting to your family at 10pm on Christmas Eve when they have already had Christmas morning, presents have been opened and they are about to have brunch on the balcony. Lovely to see M&D looking well and happy, playing with their other grandchildren.

And now it is Boxing Day and we are slobbing about (there is no other word for it), recharging the batteries and playing with our new toys. Tomorrow, weather permitting, we will head off to sunny Troon to see Husband's Dad and do a version of Christmas all over again.

I hope you all had as happy and chaotic a day as we did here at Chateau Loth.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Can I get a woo hoo?

Parents are safely on a flight to Singapore, due to arrive in Sydney at 8.15pm local time on Christmas Eve.

I, on the other hand, need a lie down and some chocolate. (Not necessarily in that order).

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Five in a row and not in a good way

Mum and Dad arrived at my house two hours ago, ready to leave for the airport at the crack of dawn tomorrow for their flight to Australia. About an hour ago their flight was cancelled. Again. That makes 5 flights booked, 5 flights cancelled. A 100% record they could have entirely done without.

Please send any spare vodka to Livingston. My mother is in dire need.

Friday, 17 December 2010

Deporting one's parents

So, I took my parents to the airport for their fourth attempt at getting to Australia today.

A-a-a-a-a-a-nd 6 hours later I went to the airport and brought them back. Flight cancelled.

Again.

Mum is a bit demoralised to say the least, so I sent her home (again) with a chilled bottle of cider and a couple of custard doughnuts. Small compensation but the least I could do.

Monday, 13 December 2010

We're so proud

Second Born, at the ripe old age of 10, has just answered his first question on "University Challenge".

The answer was "epiphytes".

I have to confess, I didn't even understand the question.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

I wish me a Merry Christmas!

The Humpty Jock has been opened, checked for injuries (there were none) and is currently sitting in my kitchen full of chicken and carrots and leeks and squash and thyme from my garden (which survived the snow surprisingly well) and bubbling gently. A full report on the first experiment in slow cooking will follow tomorrow.

In the meantime, I have a confession to make. The slow cooker is not the only Christmas present I already have. I bought myself a present too. You see, Husband and I allow ourselves a little "fun money" each month, cash set aside to buy non-essential fripperies. I have not spent any of that money for absolutely ages because the only thing I tend to buy is books, and since joining www.readitswapit.co.uk I have not had to buy books at all. So I had a little cash to play with and I took the plunge and bought a Kindle.

I know that a certain proportion of those reading this will be appalled. And bizarrely, I sort of understand that. I don't think Kindles and their like will ever replace real books, nor would I want them to. I would miss the tottering piles of dusty books lying around our house and I would miss the excitement of going to a real bookshop when someone is kind enough to give me a book token. I would miss just reading a real book. Indeed, despite having the Kindle, I just finished reading the genuine paper version of Audrey Niffeneger's new book (which I rather liked, despite the fact that it was decidedly odd).

Where the Kindle comes in handy is that it is small and slim and fits in my handbag very snugly. I do a lot of reading on the bus and in the car waiting for the boys to come out of school and the Kindle is handy for that as I don't have to lug the actual books about in my bag along with my other junk.

Also, as it is 3G, I can download books anytime I want so I will never, NEVER run out of things to read. At the moment, all the books on my Kindle are free ones - things like G.K. Chesterton, Mary Shelley and Polidori. Stuff I want to read but have never got round to buying and which is available free from the Kindle shop and from websites like Project Guttenberg. Gotta love free books!

And I know someone will point out that I can get free stuff from the library too, and that is true, I could. Except the nearest library to me is a car drive away with very poor parking around it and whilst I could make the effort, I am honestly unlikely to find the time given the mounds of other things I have to do in an average day. I love libraries in principle (I virtually lived in our local one as I grew up) but I don't frequent them in reality. Sad but true. Happily the boys have access to great libraries at their school and our house is constantly littered with books they have scanned out (which is what they do in libraries now - gone are the days of those little slips of card stuck inside the cover and transferred by hand to your brown library ticket when you took the book out!)

Of course, having bought the Kindle, I have also had to buy myself a Kindle cover to make sure that the aforesaid junk in my handbag does not scratch my new toy. It's at times like this that I wish I was handy like K and could knit my own Kindle Skin!

Friday, 10 December 2010

Humpty Jock time!

Tonight, people, I will be getting a Humpty Jock. I know you are all jealous, but you will just have to learn to cope. It is sitting at the moment in a box in the hall, but I will be tearing into it later and having my way with it.

You see, in my Husband's family (and now therefore in our family) a Humpty Jock is the catch-all term for a present which you get in advance of the relevant occasion. I think it dates from Husband as a child once being given a Christmas or birthday present early (I think he was ill? Maybe? He will correct me once he reads this). The present was a Humpty who was named, unsurprisingly, Jock, and that became the term for any gift you get ahead of time.

My kind Husband had ordered an enormous slow cooker for me for Christmas and it was delivered to his office. (Before anyone suggests that this is a dangerous sort of present for a man to buy his wife, or even just a little unromantic, I would like to reassure you that I LOVE this present - I like to cook and have always wanted a slow cooker/crockpot thingy so I am delighted that Husband has done this. This is, let us not forget, the man who moved mountains in order to pimp my Kenwood Chef for me. He knows me well, is what I am saying)

Anyway, the box arrived during the worst of the snow and has taken a serious dunt during transit - heavy enough to cut right through the heavy cardboard external box to the flimsier cardboard inner box. The item itself is apparently unmarked but with an impact that hard, we need to check quickly that it is in working order too. So I am to be allowed to get it out and play with it. Woo hoo!

I am thinking of cooking a whole chicken in it this weekend (it's a BIG slow cooker!) so any crockpot veterans out there with advice on how best to cook chickens in one, speak up now.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Hurray!

My parents are back home! So in the space of a mere week and a half, they have managed to transport themselves and several boxes of Lego the 17 miles from Livingston to Edinburgh and back again.

Now if we can just get them onto a plane heading in the general direction of Australia some time this year, that would be grand.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Brief Update

Sister in law got away to Kuala Lumpur on Sunday. She e-mailed us this morning to say she was just back from a nice dip in the outdoor pool.

Grrrrrrrrr.

Mum and Dad did not get away on Monday as another few inches of snow were unceremoniously dumped on Edinburgh on Monday morning. They have decided to re-arrange their flights entirely and are now due to fly out on 17th December, returning on 21st January.

Now we just have to get them back to their house in Livingston. It is only 17 miles away but might as well be on the moon at the moment. The M8 (the main highway between Edinburgh and Glasgow for those non-Scots among you) is closed and has been closed since yesterday. The other main-ish road to Livingston is described as "just about passable" but there is no way of knowing what the roads are like once you leave the main drag.

So parents planning to stay one more night and then head home tomorrow. We hope. (By writing that I have, of course, just ensured that an unexpected blizzard will hit tonight with another 3 feet of snow by morning.)

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Accidental B&B

Yep, 5 days later and my parents are still with us. My brother has phoned a couple of times from Australia and on both occasions he has greeted me with "Hi, is that Sangatte Refugee Camp?"

Mum and Dad's flights on Wednesday were also cancelled, although at least this time it happened before they left for the airport so they didn't end up stranded on a snowy kerbside with their suitcases. They are re-re-booked to leave on Monday, a week later than originally planned, but better than nothing. We are not predicted to have any more snow before then, so the signs are looking good. (They had better get away on Monday: we learned today that their neighbours in Livingston, believing they were away in Australia for 5 weeks, have used their driveway as a repository for all the snow they've cleared from the road. The pile is about 5 feet high. Oh, and the water has gone off for some reason in the entire estate. So there's that.)

Also, my sister-in-law was supposed to fly to Schiphol today and from there to Kuala Lumpur on business and she too has been cancelled due to snow in Holland. Fortunately we had driven her to the airport and were able to turn back and collect her and bring her home. She has been re-booked for tomorrow. Our free Edinburgh Airport shuttle business is working well.

I think the gist of this post is: Britain does not cope well with bad weather. The End.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

It's also hard to type with your fingers crossed

Well, the parental units left for the airport yesterday at about 3pm. (We used a sledge to take their luggage round to the main road to meet the taxi!). Their flight was cancelled shortly after they arrived and they spent a couple of hours arguing about who was supposed to sort out a rebooking and whether they would have to pay for new flights to Sydney. Then they joined the monumental queue for a taxi. In a blizzard.

We couldn't sit in the house knowing they were standing there so we rounded up some neighbours and with spades and judicious use of elbow grease and cardboard sheets, managed to dig our car out and physically push it the 30 yards or so to the main road. Once there we managed to get to the airport to collect them and bring them home.

They are re-booked to fly out tomorrow (Wednesday 1st) at 16.40. A severe weather warning is out predicting another 10cm of snow falling tomorrow. Fingers firmly crossed again.

Monday, 29 November 2010

It's hard to twiddle your thumbs when your fingers are crossed

Well, on the plus side, Edinburgh has never looked lovelier and the two feet of snow means my garden now looks just as good as those of all my neighbours. The boys are delighted because all the schools are closed so they have been out throwing snow around, sledging and burying each other up to the neck in snowdrifts (fortunately we've discovered that we can find the hidden boys by looking for their breath pluming upwards).

On the downside, I kind of feel cheated of my day off for St Andrew's day since I can't actually go anywhere. And worst of all, my parents are supposed to be on the 18.10pm flight to Heathrow this evening to catch their connection to Australia. They are going to spend 5 weeks with my brother. At least, that is the plan.

They sensibly left Livingston early yesterday and came to stay with us in Edinburgh - they were snowed in for about two weeks last winter and didn't want to risk getting stuck again. We live pretty much right on a major road so things have to be very bad indeed if you can't get out of our driveway.

Today, however, the airport is closed, the trains are not really running and the major motorway between Edinburgh and Glasgow is closed as are most of the other major roads in Scotland. Nothing much is moving. We are therefore refreshing the Edinburgh Airport Twitter updates every 5 minutes and keeping our fingers crossed that the runway will open soon. I love my parents but would really rather not have to put them up again tonight!

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Yummmm! I think.

I bought some Purple Majesty potatoes the other day. Because, although they are rather gimmicky, they were on special offer in Sainsbury's. And they were undeniably purple. So with dinner tonight we had purple mashed potato.


Astonishingly, the boys scoffed them down without complaint. Plates were licked clean. Huh.

So if I understand this correctly, expecting my sons to eat anything green is completely unreasonable. However, offer them something that looks like a Play-Doh meal concocted by an enthusiastic three year old and they're sold. I am now waiting with bated breath for the invention of fluorescent pink cabbage.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Drat those pesky kids

I have just spent the evening playing three card brag with the boys. We raided the old Fauchon biscuit tin in the kitchen for pennies and tuppences to gamble with, just like I used to do with my granny when I was little.

The little cardsharps just cleaned me out. So I sent them to bed. (Can't do that in Las Vegas, now can you?!)

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Good news

Not a proper post today, just two bits of news that made me happy. The first one because I have a dyscalculic son and most people have never even heard of dyscalculia. It is rare to read anything about the condition at all, never mind reading that they might be figuring out how to deal with it.

And the second one just proves that Canadian people really are generally wonderful.

Sunday, 31 October 2010

You didn't really want to know about this, did you?

So I promised you tales of my scabby finger. Are you sure there isn't something better you could be doing than reading this stuff? Re-arranging your wardrobe in date order? Colour coding your clothes pegs? Staring into space and drooling slightly? No? Huh. Okay then.

I have had slightly dry, scaly and frankly not that attractive skin on my hands for a while. It has got worse recently, to such an extent that my right hand had been christened by my charming sons: "The Scabby Finger of Doom". I sort of ignored it and thought it would sort itself out until whatever-it-was started to affect the nail bed on my right pinky, giving me a nail worthy of the wicked queen in the Snow White cartoon. (The ugly old version, not the glam version at the start. She had fabulous nails.)

So eventually I dragged myself off to see the doctor. Our old family doctor has now retired so I saw one of the new ones. He was approximately 7 feet tall and about, ooh, 12 or 13 years old I reckon. Slightly older than the local policemen but not by much. He took one look at my hand claw and declared "Pompholyx!"

Which, as well as being an excellent word to remember for Scrabble, is what I have. It's the official term for dry, horrid, sometimes weepy and scaly scabbiness. It is also, my children and dear Husband have decided, the new name for my right hand. They reckon it sounds like a previously unknown character from Asterix. I imagine him in the background in a big black cloak, shedding fingernails and skin cells all over the place.

On the plus side, I now have ointments and moisturisers and advice on taming the pompholyx. I also have confirmation that, as I suspected, I also have vitiligo on my hands. (This causes patchy white areas where my skin won't tan and is referred to by my sympathetic family as "giraffeyness"). Combine all that with my tendency to scald, burn and otherwise scar myself when I am cooking, and I reckon I have very little chance of a career as a hand model.

Which is why I don't mind wielding very sharp knives of a Sunday afternoon in order to preare props for my children before they go out guising (which is where they are now).

And to finish, a snap taken from outside our cottage first thing this morning. This is why we keep going back (and why we can't wait for the hacking off of plaster and re-damp proofing to be finished so we can move in properly.)

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Home again

Hmmm, yes, that last post - perfect example of what happens when you are interrupted mid-ponder and decide to save the post and finish it later and then hit "Publish" by mistake and think to yourself "I'd better come back and sort that out later" and then you go on holiday instead. Honestly, I had a stunningly witty ending to give you involving ruminations on why companion sets are so called but I have forgotten most of it and since we have been to the cottage (twice) and Geneva (once) since I last posted, I can't be bothered to try to remember what I was going to say. Let's all agree it would have been hilarious and move on, shall we?

So anyway, yes we went back to the cottage for a quick visit before we left to go on holiday. This wasn't as obsessive as it sounds since we had to let a man in to look at the damp work that needs doing, but it did also give us a nice little break before our....slightly bigger break. It also let us formally christen the cottage "The Corbies" by installing some permanent residents to keep an eye on the place.


These are primarily Husband's fault. They are hunting lures he found on the internet and since that little shelf above the stairs was crying out for a big stuffed fish or similar, he bought them. The addition of the googly eyes was a joint effort. We think they add a certain je ne sais quoi. My mother thinks they're creepy.

Geneva was lovely if cold and a bit blowy. Husband went off to his judgely conference on Monday and the boys and I pottered about Geneva. We discovered a lovely little zoo in a suburban park (free! There wasn't even a box where you could make a donation to the upkeep and I was actively looking for one!). We also found a little artificial beach festooned with swings made out of old tyres. I had to use a crowbar to get the boys away from this place

and the next day they dragged Husband and me back for another go. We also decided to spend ridiculous amounts of money (when they say Switzerland is expensive, they are really not kidding) on train tickets for a day trip to Montreux. It was worth it though - the scenery is fantastic, even if you have a constant soundtrack of "Smoke on the Water" running through your head the entire time you are there.

We visited the 11th century Chateau de Chillon and it was just lovely. Being October, it wasn't too busy so at times we had parts of it all to ourselves.
The boys were particularly fond of the dungeons, where legend has it a monk called Bonivard was chained to a pillar for 6 years. Lord Byron later visited the castle and heard the legend and it prompted him to write "The Prisoner of Chillon" and also to carve his name in the pillar to which Bonivard was supposed to have been chained. Fortunate for Byron that he was famous so his scratched name in the stone is now a tourist attraction in itself, rather than just a bit of rather arrogant vandalism!

We decided to walk back to Montreux rather than take the bus and took a lovely lakeside path all the way back - it follows the edge of the lake in the picture below which was taken from the top of the Chateau keep.

Apart from the lakeside, Montreux is pretty much vertical and we clambered up to the top of the old town for dinner, finding a fantastic little restaurant serving game of all descriptions. "Madame" in charge was lovely, very French and chatty (I am glad Husband's french remains in better nick than mine!) and she really took to the boys. It helped that both FB and SB were being very co-operative during the trip and were happily ordering their dinners and drinks in French. FB opted to try horse, much to Madame's approval. Husband and I had venison in different forms and it was heavenly. If only that restaurant wasn't a two hour flight, a one hour train journey and a stiff 20 minute climb away, I swear I would eat there every day.

And now we are home again. The washing is done, the boys' bags are packed to go back to school tomorrow and I just have to prepare the makings of Husband's lunches for the coming week. Back to earth with a slight bump. But if you are very lucky, next time I will tell the tale of my horrendously scabby finger.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Well, you learn something new every day

So, whaddaya know, there are autumn flowering crocuses which aren't really crocuses but look like them and are called bare naked wimmin, or something. I must say I am very grateful to my knowledgeable readers for putting me right and also relieved that Mother Nature has not decided to amuse herself by messing with my head for no good reason.

Bellus is now not only on the road to full recovery, but allowed outside again. He is insured now (we weren't going to let him out of our sight again until that was sorted) and he is verging on the delirious at being allowed out to chase stuff and climb our straggly buddleia and hide in the grass (black and white being such a good colour scheme for camouflage in the grass).

We had another good trip down to the cottage last weekend, a trip which included all 6 of us (the Loth Clan plus Sister-in-Law and her other half) scrubbing the summerhouse and then slapping a coat of wood preservative on it. It looks pretty good. We then loaded up the car(s) with bags and bags and bags of garden rubbish for dropping off at the dump and then went for a wander round the local builders' merchant-come-garden centre- come - woodstove merchant

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Confused

There are crocuses flowering in the centre of Edinburgh. Right outside my office. Purple ones. I find their presence unsettling. Are they late for this spring or early for next? Or have I been mistaken all my life in believing that crocus flowers are a sign of spring? I am also slightly worried that they will invoke Murphy's Law and we will have a sudden three foot deep snowfall.

Monday, 4 October 2010

And... breathe.

Thank you all so much for your kind thoughts after our loss of Zyra. We are all okay, even Second Born who takes these things so much to heart. It is very odd when we come home not to be greeted by the Tortoiseshell Terror, tail aloft, miaowing her disapproval of our absence but in due course we will get used to being, once again, a one-cat family.

Bellus goes from strength to strength. SB and I took him to the vet today for a check-up. He is something of a celebrity at our vet's surgery - all the staff come out to see him when we arrive, fussing over him and marvelling at how perky he is when, only a week ago or so, they were all holding various bits of him in place as the vet reconstituted him more or less from scratch. They have all seen parts of my cat that I, hopefully, will never see, and they are delighted to see him now looking so well.

The vet's verdict is that Bellus is fine, his breathing sounds absolutely fine and his stitches will dissolve on their own. He does not need to go back until his jabs are due in December (unless we see anything to worry us) and he can be allowed out again by the weekend. For our part, we are absolutely positive that we will not be letting him over the door until he is insured up to his furry little eyebrows.

SB was a great help at the vet, keeping Bellus entertained in his cat carrier (Bellus dislikes his cat carrier. He dislikes the cat carrier in the car even more. In fact he dislikes it so much, he took his revenge at the weekend when he was halfway to the Borders by pooing most odoriferously in his cat carrier. That was a fun car journey. He did it again on the way back.) On the way home from the vet, SB piped up out of the blue "Do you think I would be a good vet?"

"I am sure you would make an excellent vet" I replied.

"Because I am good with animals," he said, "but you also have to be good with people to be a vet, and I can be good with people."

"That you can"

Perceptive, my son.

Friday, 1 October 2010

Not a good week, all things considered

Bellus continues to recover well from his surgery and is very obviously looking forward to getting out of solitary confinement. Sadly, however, we have lost Zyra.

Husband and I were out at Ikea last night doing a bit of shopping while my mother looked after the boys. While we were gone, Zyra was hit by a couple of cars. A neighbour round the corner saw what happened and called us to let us know. He also kindly moved her off the road (the drivers of the cars involved hadn't stopped). She must have died instantly and there was nothing we could do for her.

Second Born is pretty upset - he and Zyra were very close and the Empress of Death and Destruction was often to be found asleep on SB's bed, buried among the stuffed rats and guinea pigs. Coming after the trauma with Bellus last weekend, this has been a bit of a shock to the system for all of us but particularly for SB. I am planning to feed him junk food and let him watch wall-to-wall DVDs all weekend if that is what he feels like doing.

In the meantime we will be trying to figure out how many mirrors we must have inadvertently broken to give us two such accidents in under a week.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Squished Cat Update and photos as promised (not photos of squished cat though)

Thank you for all the good wishes for Bellus. The reconstituted kitty is doing very well. The biggest problem now is the enforced isolation in the dining room as he is not allowed out and is supposed to be resting for a week. He is not happy about this and has already made a break for the catflap. Clearly nobody has told him that he had his entire insides rearranged on Saturday and he's not supposed to jump around. It does look like he will make a complete recovery, thanks to a LOT of effort on the part of our vet and a LOT of money. Unsurprisingly we have been spending some time this evening getting pet insurance quotes. Better late than never, as they say.

On a more enjoyable and less stressful note, I managed to take some photos at The Corbies last weekend when we went down for Round 2 of "Battle of the Garden". I think we did okay too.

Here we have the slightly aged summerhouse - this is the next task on the list: get some timber preservative onto that wood pronto! The low white brick building is the back of the pigsty/kennels/boys' clubhouse.

Then we have the holding cells. Least said about them the better, I think.

And this is the view from the holding cells out across the fields. This patio area faces sort of south-west so gets the afternoon and evening sun (if there is any). It is a lovely spot and we are already planning tables, chairs, barbeques, lazy bottles of beer.....

I have just realised I did not take any pictures inside the house (mainly because we spent most of our time outside). I will try to remedy that next time. If we go this weekend and need to take Bellus with us, you may even get photos of Irate and Not At All Sickly Cat Trying to Escape from Empty Cottage Bedroom.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Eventful, I think they'd call it

So I had planned a cheery photo-filled post all about what we were up to this weekend. The celebration of Husband's step-father's 87th birthday followed by a trip to the new cottage (tentatively named "The Corbies") with details of all the work we were planning to do there this weekend. I will still do that, I promise, but not tonight. Our weekend was knocked off kilter slightly when Bellus (the quieter black and white one of the cats - not the one that chases squirrels up the house walls) got himself hit by a car on Friday.

We didn't know he had been hit by a car at first, of course. The boys and I came home on Friday afternoon to find that Bellus had done his doings on the kitchen floor and was, even more unusually, covered in the said messy and unpleasant doings. I pinned him down to scrub him clean and he barely complained. He was subdued, breathing rather heavily and did not want to eat. We could see he was not himself and decided we would monitor him overnight and figure out what to do in the morning. By Saturday morning he was no better (Zyra sleeping on his head won't have helped) and I managed to wangle an emergency appointment first thing at the vet.

Where it was confirmed that he had almost certainly been hit by a car and suffered either a pneumothorax or a ruptured diaphragm, hence the laboured breathing. Either his lungs were collapsing or they were being compressed by all his internal organs which normally reside in his abdomen suddenly and traumatically being relocated to his chest.

I left him with the vet for x-rays and we went off to my mother-in-law's for a wee celebration of her husband's 87th birthday (he always wins at those "I remember when we didn't have colour TV!" type conversations. He can remember when they didn't even have radio. Shuts the rest of us up instantly.) We were then phoned with the bad news: it was indeed a ruptured diaphragm and full-on surgery was required. So to cut a long story short, a few hours and several hundred pounds later, Bellus had been opened up and re-arranged in his proper form like a furry Rubik's Cube and sent off to a 24 hour clinic for post-op care and observation.

We picked him up this afternoon, expecting a wan, long-suffering, slightly pathetic cat. Instead he is almost unbelievably perky. He has a very odd haircut indeed as various parts of him had to be shaved for incisions, drips, anaesthetics and so on but he is pretty much himself otherwise. We have him quarantined in the dining room with his favourite blanket, a litter tray (oh the luxury!) and food that Zyra can't steal when our backs are turned. We need to take him back to the vet for a check up tomorrow but he is looking pretty good considering all he has been through in the past 36 hours or so. Better than we are, to be honest. We are kicking ourselves for not having insured the cats in the first place (Hey Isabelle, want to compare cat versus guinea pig vet fees?) and feeling slightly guilty at feeling short-changed by how not-ill he looks!

We are relieved to still have him with us, nervous about how or whether we can stop him doing the same thing again and wondering whether you have to declare previous near-death experiences on pet insurance proposal forms.

Please send gin.

Monday, 20 September 2010

I'm a plutocrat!

At least that's what Isabelle called me in a recent e-mail. She meant it fondly. I think.

This name calling was in response to my telling her that Husband and I have clubbed together with his sister and father and bought a wee cottage in the country. We are of course pretending to be grown up and responsible and claiming that this is primarily a long term capital investment, sensible in these days of non-existent interest rates, but in reality it is the realisation of a long held desire to own, like The Broons, a but n' ben.

Our version is in the Borders rather than the Highlands and has a few more bedrooms (where did all 9 Broons sleep in the but n' ben? Shelves? Some side-by-side arrangement like a big cutlery drawer?). We also have a summerhouse, where the boys plan to sleep out if the weather ever allows, and a former pig sty (make up your own punchline to that one). The pig sty was converted into kennels a while back and sports very impressive metal barred gates on the individual runs. These have been christened "the holding cells" by the boys and claimed by them as part of their "clubhouse". Not quite sure what kind of club they are planning on forming that requires holding cells, but sort of hoping that I will at least get good blogging material out of it. And that the neighbours aren't too traumatised by the goings-on.

We got the keys on Friday so all trooped down for a glorified camp out on Saturday morning. There is no furniture yet as we have some damp work to do that will require plaster removal and the resulting mess and we didn't see the point of moving in furnishings that will just require to be taken out again or cleaned of layers of plaster dust . So we slept on an assortment of folding beds, camping mats and mattresses borrowed from bed settees.

We haven't had to sleep in a room with the children for a while and had forgotten how "entertaining" that can be, what with First Born's very impressive snoring and Second Born's vivid dreams and talking/fighting in his sleep. Hardly a dull moment, I tell you. I would have filmed them if I hadn't been fully engaged wondering why, when I have so much padding around my rear, it seems to do nothing to actually offset the effects of a hard floor and a camping mat with the cushioning properties of Kleenex.

Fortunately we had spent the afternoon trying to wrestle the cottage's garden into submission, so we were pretty tired to start with. The house has been unoccupied since June 2009 so the lawn was a hayfield and the weeds had taken over everywhere else. There is a wee patio at the bottom of the garden beside the holding cells and the nettles there were taller than I am and very reluctant to move. But move they eventually did - 8 full sacks of garden debris are now lined up and awaiting disposal. The garden still could not be described as tidy, but is also less likely to be described as "Oh my God, what HAPPENED??????" So that's good.

Next weekend we plan to buy some creosote. Then we'll cover the boys in clingfilm, hand them a couple of paintbrushes and point them at the decking. If you are very lucky, I'll take photos.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

They don't know they're born

I have a little schoolday morning routine with Second Born. While I am in the shower, he charges upstairs after he has eaten but before he is dressed and tries to get into our bed and hide without me noticing. Usually he fails (he is getting a tad big these days to be convincingly camouflaged by a mere duvet) but we have a little chat for a while before I turf him out and send him to get dressed. It's quite a nice little interlude before the day starts in earnest.

The other day SB was complaining about being a bit cold and was using this as his excuse for staying under my duvet and not going to his own room to get dressed. I suggested he might want to consider wearing something more than a t shirt and a pair of boxers if he was feeling a bit chilly in the morning. He looked slightly taken aback by the suggestion, as if the idea of putting on more clothing in order not to feel cold was a distinctly alien one.

And it dawned on me that it actually was. Our children have always lived in a centrally-heated pretty much draught-free house. They can (and do) wander around in t-shirts and boxers in the depths of winter and don't give it a second thought. So to much eye-rolling from SB I told him at length how we didn't have central heating in the house I grew up in (or in the first house Husband and I bought together, for that matter) and how you sometimes woke in the morning to find ice on the inside of your window. How you had to wear several layers around the house anytime after September and how you would lie in bed in the morning watching your breath rise in little steamy puffs, putting off the dread moment when you had to throw back the blankets and run for the bathroom.

And that reminded me too of getting "fireside tartan" or "corned beef legs" as my Granny used to call them - that mottled red itchiness on the skin caused by sitting too close to a source of direct heat. SB refused to believe such a condition existed - again, proof that he has never had to jostle with his younger brother for a spot in front of the two-bar electric fire that is the only heating in the entire house. In fact as I told these tales, I realised that he was looking at me in exactly the same way I used to look at my Dad when he told me stories as a child - how he had no bathroom in his house until he was in his twenties and how as a young lad he used to deliver milk round the streets of Leith from a handcart with an oil lamp tied to the front. An oil lamp! It sounded virtually Dickensian to me and I suppose that's what no central heating sounds like to a modern 10 year old.

It's an interesting thought, isn't it, that the twentieth century was such a time of rapid social change that my family went from oil lamps and no plumbing to central heating, laptops and PVRs in two generations. Maybe I don't know I'm born either.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

It's a miracle!

Those of you who know me on Facebook will also know that here in Casa Loth we have had some toilet trouble recently. (Now, aren't you sorry you don't follow me on Facebook? Toilet problems - who doesn't want to read about that on a more or less daily basis?) More specifically, our downstairs loo (sometimes referred to as "the cloakroom" if we are feeling particularly elegant) gave up the ghost about 10 days ago. It just refused to flush. Nothing I did - you know, taking the lid off the cistern and peering in, poking the various components, bobbing the float up and down - made any difference. It was broken.

I carried out the limited diagnostic tests of which I am capable. Is there water in there? Check. Is the handle connected to the wee metal hooky bit? Check. Does the plunger-y bit go up and down when you pull the handle? Check.

At the limits of my limited expertise, I resorted to the all-knowing Dr Google who promptly diagnosed a faulty siphon. Not only diagnosed, but provided photos of the part in question and little video clips of how to remove and replace it. Husband and I conferred. He also tried the float-bobbing and handle-wiggling tests (just in case I had done them wrong) and he too could not get the flush to do its thing. It did appear that a new siphon was needed. We agreed that we are, ostensibly, grown-ups and should be able to tackle such a task ourselves.

We needed a new siphon, of course, which I went out and purchased. It turned out that we also needed a pipe wrench - a seriously efficient looking implement for removing and fitting......well, pipes. I even ventured forth to a proper tool shop (ie not one of those big warehouse-type chains but a proper shop with a bloke in overalls who goes and fetches what you want from the back of the shop) to buy said wrench. Husband agreed that it was something we would almost certainly need again at some point so we should just buy one.

I must tell you that when I bought the pipe wrench, I popped it into my handbag to carry it home. I have a large handbag as I tend to carry around a lot of junk (by which I mean books) and I put all sorts of stuff in it (today for example, it contained at one point a pair of slippers and two pairs of gloves as well as the usual purse, umbrella, notebook, diary etc). The man in the overalls looked mildly impressed and said "That's a rare big handbag." I nodded. "A girl's gotta have somewhere to carry her pipe wrench" I said.

Now I am slightly worried that he thinks I was buying a pipe wrench to carry around with me as some sort of offensive weapon ("Yeah, the claw hammer is okay for brute force but you can get a much better grip on the extremities with an adjustable pipe wrench")

Anyway, we were now all kitted up and the Great Siphon Replacement Project was pencilled in for this weekend. Until Husband went in to the loo to check we really did know where to turn the water off. He pulled the flush experimentally. And it worked. Repeatedly. It is still working now, hours later.

So I can only conclude that in fact we have a miracle on our hands: the Self-Healing Toilet of Edinburgh. Admission will be charged and I am, as we speak, working on my range of souvenir knitted toilet roll cosies. Place your orders now.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Important question

Our wireless router has apparently decided that it does know me after all and has stopped cutting me dead and refusing to recognise my existence (or at least that of my laptop). This may have had something to do with the dire threats I am sure Husband was muttering under his breath as he wrestled with the settings in order to get the printer back onto the network (router also didn't like printer so pretended it wasn't there either).

Anyway I am back now, albeit briefly, to ask a very important question: when you go to the hairdresser, do you tip him/her? This is obviously a question for the non-North Americans among you as the whole tipping culture is completely different over there.

As a British person I find the whole subject of tips excruciating. I hate not knowing whether to tip, how much to tip etc. I squirmed with awkwardness when the duty manager showed us to our hotel room in Prague. Are you supposed to tip him or is a duty manager above that? If you should tip, how much? What if you only have the equivalent of a £20 note in local currency? You can't ask for change, surely? This sort of agonising is the main reason I avoid full service gas stations in Canada: I am pretty sure one is expected to tip the guy who fills your tank and wipes your windscreen but I never NEVER have change on me in gas stations and I always pay by credit card and you can't tip when you pay that way and I don't know whether it is better to actually say "I'm sorry, I'd tip you but I have no change" or to say nothing so I always end up slinking away in an embarassed fashion, sure that the poor guy is muttering about stingy Scottish people behind my back.

So, back to my question. It has never in all the years I have been an adult occurred to me that my hairdresser might expect a tip. Am I wrong in this? Do I not in fact have an awkward cow's lick in the front of my hair, just successive hairdressers over the years cutting it funny to punish me for my lack of gratuity-giving? And if I am wrong, again, I always pay by card and there is no option for a tip on the wee machine. What do I do? And what is the acceptable amount of a hairdresser's tip?

Or am I worrying about nothing? Please tell me I am worrying about nothing or I may have to change hairdressers again.

Sunday, 29 August 2010

The sun is shining and I have just finished a plate of haggis

In other words, feeling quite chirpy just now! The boys voluntarily offered to help in the garden today, for a modest financial reward, and they actually did the work they were retained to do without whingeing, and they didn't even complain when the rain came on and cut the work short, resulting in less cash than they were anticipating. They then got their waterproofs on and headed off to spend their earnings on a DVD, which they are now watching upstairs (hence I can get hold of the laptop to blog in peace).

The garden badly needs some attention now as the constant rain and warm days have led to the weeds running riot. I have not managed to deal with all the weeds, but at least the grass is cut. I will have to get round to that task soon though, as the sight of the encroaching weediness is bugging me. I tend to see it more nowadays as I have been wandering about my garden on a regular basis recently, partly to see what the cats are up to and partly to marvel at the fact that the seeds I planted earlier this year actually grew. Into stuff. Stuff you can actually EAT.

Anyone who knows me in real life knows that I tend to be the kiss of death to all plant life. Houseplants curl up their leaves and die in my presence, even (or especially) the ones people tell me are impossible to kill. Hence I have never gone in much for gardening - if I can't grow plants in a sheltered atmosphere, what chance do I have when I am also competing with the elements, cats, snails and birds? But I do like to eat, so always wanted to grow veggies. You may remember, therefore that back in May I decided to plant some dead easy lettuce and some courgettes (zucchini for you North American types).

Well, to my utter astonishment, those little specks of green turned into these:

"Oak leaf" salad bowl lettuce, and

Courgettes! Yellow ones (they are supposed to be yellow. I checked.) I harvested one teeny tiny one today because the rain had gathered in its flower and the very end was starting to rot a bit. So I cut that part off, sliced it lengthwise and stuck it on the barbeque when I was cooking some chicken earlier. Husband and I then shared the most wonderful morsels of courgette ever tasted by mortal man. Seriously, they were fabulous. We are considering having a barbeque tomorrow purely so we can pick the rest of what is there, douse it in olive oil, lemon zest and thyme, grill it and gorge ourselves. (That being "gorge" in the sense of "eat the entire harvest in one go". I doubt there are enough courgettes there to constitute an entire meal!)

So I am converted to home grown veggies. Suggestions for other low maintenance crops gratefully received. (Croila, your photos of your produce make me drool, but I suspect I don't even look after my kids as well as you care for your tomatoes!)

In other news, the cats' occupation of any cardboard box left lying about continues. We have started saving any odd-shaped boxes we come across just to see if there is any sort of box they won't sleep in. So far, there isn't. Even the long, high-sided and narrow box that FB's drumkit pedal came in is acceptable. Bit of a squeeze mind you.


That photo makes both cats look much more angelic and well-behaved than they really are. Zyra (the tortoiseshell minx) in particular has been bringing in a steady supply of mice and birds throughout the summer. Nowadays, however, she is finding that small rodents and fledgling blackbirds no longer pose enough of a challenge and is moving on to bigger game.

I wish I had had the video camera ready that day, as the racket that squirrel was making was unbelievable. I am now keeping my fingers crossed that Zyra never manages to actually catch a squirrel. Can you imagine what my kitchen will look like if she ever does?

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

One down, one to go

Ah, the end of the summer holidays. Hasn't come a day too soon. Much as I love my children, they have just been........here a lot recently. It is on perfectly pleasant summer days when your children stubbornly remain indoors that you begin to wish you lived out in the country with a huge area of wilderness for them to explore, rather than in a large city with a major traffic route on the doorstep.

But today, today was Day Zero. Day Zero is exactly what it sounds like: the day at the end of a long countdown. In this case, the countdown to my baby boy, my First Born, starting senior school. All the new S1 pupils went into school for a half day today before school proper starts tomorrow (Oh the howls of anguish when FB first discovered that he would be in school and SB would not!). The idea is to give the new kids in the senior school a day to acclimatise, find their form room, get their timetable, locker key etc, all before the building fills up with huge 6 feet tall blokes in blazers masquerading as school pupils.

FB seemed to enjoy the experience - he has made a friend, a boy who did not attend the Junior school but has joined from an outside school, and said friend is also "into" Warhammer, so that's good. (Have you heard of Warhammer? Chances are if you are at all familiar with a boy child between the ages of, say, 10 and 15, then you do. If you don't, then consider yourself lucky.)

I must confess that Husband and I fretted a bit when FB began to get interested in Warhammer. It smacked to us of Dungeons & Dragons and the slightly geeky, uncool image that went with that when we were young(er). However as a hobby among young teen boys, it seems to be quite widespread so we have decided to unclench a little. Given FB's problems making friends at all (as an Asperger's child, social interaction is a bit of a mystery to him) it would be a little unfair of us to deny him the opportunity of getting into a subject about which he knows EVERYTHING (as an Asperger's child, when he gets interested in something, he gets REALLY interested, REALLY quickly). So we will let him collect small and essentially pointless plastic figures and talk endlessly with other small boys about the powers of said small, pointless plastic figures and hopefully it will make him happy and give him the chance to interact with other small boys of like mind. My fingers, they are firmly crossed.

But what of SB? He is still in the junior school, entering primary 6 but that is, in itself, a little milestone. For tomorrow is his first day at school IN LONG TROUSERS! You have no idea how happy he is about this. Honestly, to hear him talk, you would think that for the last 5 years we have routinely forced him out into blizzards and ice storms with his knees uncovered, risking terminal frostbite of the kneecaps. He is pleased to be getting into proper trousers at last. I am pleased that I can now clothe his lower half for school from Asda or similar at a cost of about £4 rather than spending £25 on a pair of regulation shorts at the school outfitters. However I am also slightly scared.

You see, SB spends every moment of free time at school playing football. And when doing so, he falls over. A lot. Part of the coming-home-from-school ritual with SB has always been an examination of the new cuts and bruises sustained during some cutthroat game of 19-a-side at playtime. He often came home with full-blown dressings applied by matron during injury time. I did not worry overly much about this. Knees are blessedly self-repairing. Trousers, however, are not. And I am no use whatsoever with a needle and thread. I suspect I may end up giving all the money that used to go on shorts to Asda anyway. Unless anyone out there has a reasonably-priced trouser-knee repair service I should know about?

Sunday, 22 August 2010

I am worried my blogging license may have been revoked

Yes, so, it would appear that during the school holidays, when I have the pleasure of the boys' company during every hour when I am not at work, I find it more difficult to sit down and write about what is going on Chez Loth. There is, you see, too much going on Chez Loth for me to be able to sit down and describe it. Admittedly, what is going on is mostly arguments about who gets to play the Penguin on Lego Batman on the Wii, so it is probably just as well that I have not felt the need to post on this subject in any detail. You lot don't really need to hear my well worn speech on "If you can't agree on who is doing what, then I am TURNING THE WII OFF!!!".

Anyway, the boys have gone to Camp Granny and Grandad for a couple of nights before they go back to school on Wednesday (First Born) and Thursday (Second Born), and I am therefore free to hog the laptop for a while. So how have you all been? I have still been reading some blogs, albeit not commenting much. I must confess I had to take a deep breath a wee while ago and hit "mark all as read" on a few. There were over 450 entries in my reader and there was just no way I was going to manage to read all those with the care they deserved and still, you know, eat and shower occasionally. Please forgive me, therefore, if I have been noticeable by my absence over at your place recently. I'll be around shortly.

In the meantime I have about 3 dozen name labels to sew onto various items of schoolwear before Wednesday. Anyone who knows me and my sewing skills knows this will take me until about 4pm on Tuesday if I start now, so I had better get started......

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

You know you're in Edinburgh during the Festival when......

.............you find yourself behind Zorro in the queue for the cash machine.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Newsflash!

"Local council radically extends recycling scheme in Edinburgh"


"Representatives of the small rodent and bird communities welcome the initiative.
"

Monday, 26 July 2010

Canada Retrospective

So, yeah, Canada. Did I tell you we really like it there? We are so sad we even love Halifax Airport. They have people employed to stand at the top of the stairs leading to immigration control purely to smile at you and welcome you to Canada. How could you not like a country like that? And anyone who has entered the UK recently, particularly through one of the big London airports, may like to compare that description with the ubiquitous scowl and monosyllabic grunt employed by all staff at Heathrow, Gatwick etc.

We spent a couple of days down in Liverpool on the South Shore of Nova Scotia, including Canada Day when we met Jess and she stupified my children. The weather was glorious and we took a picnic down to the Keji National Park Seaside Adjunct where we had a walk and then found a little cove where we could stuff our faces with sandwiches. A cove which we had all to ourselves. If you need any persuading that NS is a good vacation destination, how's this?

In the background are rocks covered with seals, all suffering from eye strain inflicted by my sons' fashion choices.

From Liverpool, we headed off to Prince Edward Island where we had rented a cottage on the beach for a week. We stayed there once before in 2007 and thus were able to justify spending most of our days lazing around in the cottage and on the beach rather than seeing the sights. (In other words, we managed to avoid seeing Anne of Green Gables merchandise for most of the week!)

We did however go into Charlottetown on the day we arrived in order to see Great Big Sea in concert, and they were absolutely fantastic. FB and SB have been GBS fans since they could talk, if not before, and they enjoyed it too. SB in particular had a whale of a time - if we had been allowed to take a video camera in we would have been tempted to film SB instead of the band. He bounced and danced and sang at the top of his voice for the entire concert. The lady standing just to our right spent much of the gig watching my son's performance rather than the band! Just a brilliant evening.

From PEI we went to Sackville, New Brunswick. We stayed there one night because (1) we needed to stay somewhere for one night and (2) we had never been to Sackville before. It turned out to be a nice little university town, although it was pouring with rain the entire time we were there so I would quite like to go back sometime when the weather is better. One little unexpected bonus was discovering that Alex Colville had taught at the University there and that his house was now open to the public as a little gallery. Husband is very partial to Alex Colville, as is SB (we were lucky enough to see an exhibition of his work in Wolfville last year) and we spent a very enjoyable half hour wandering round his house and looking at some great prints.

We finished up with a few days at our regular haunt in Port Williams in the Annapolis Valley. It is always wonderful to see our favourite view of the valley from the window of our usual room in our favourite B&B on the planet.
That's the view I want to gaze at every day when I retire. We did pretty much what we always do. We pottered around the bookshops in Wolfville, visited the cats in the local shelter, went to Tim Horton's (it's the law) and wandered around a selection of the little towns that dot the coast of the Bay of Fundy. We visited Hall's Harbour, home of the famous lobster pound and Husband and I reminisced about how, when we first went there, it was little more than a shed on the quayside where a couple of blokes would sell you the lobster of your choice, cook it in a dustbin full of boiling seawater and then serve it to you out of a hatch in said shed for you to eat, hot and dipped in melted butter, as you sat on the side of the harbour and watched the boats and the fog rolling in. Now there is a proper restaurant and a gift shop and stuff, and that's great because it means jobs and money coming in to the area, but it is somehow less fun.

So instead of eating lobster in the restaurant, we nipped across to the general store for some bags of chips and something to drink while sitting on the harbourside and that was definitely the right choice. The store was like something from a time warp. It sold just about everything and the bottles of water etc were kept in an old domestic fridge - the kind with a big, thick door and a handle you had to pull to open it. The lovely old lady behind the counter calculated our bill using a pen and a scrap of brown paper, and then gave us our change from a cash register that went "ker-ching!!!" when she opened the drawer. Husband would willingly have stood there all day, just listening to that sound.

We were, as always, sorry to leave. The story of how long it actually took to leave the country, I will thrill you with next time.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

We're back!

The Loth clan has successfully returned to its den after the annual Canadian Extravaganza. The lack of posting since we got back on Friday is due to (1) the 2 days it took us to get home and (2) the monster pile of laundry which has been squatting in our upstairs hall threatening to eat the children unless I did something about it.

The laundry has now been beaten into submission and our sleep patterns have just about recovered so I will be regaling you with tales of our travels shortly. I apologise in advance for the level of tedious detail I will be going into - this blog serves as my memory these days so I need to record the events of the holiday for my own benefit. Feel free to skip through the posts if descriptions of my younger son eating fish and chips for 9 days straight don't thrill you to the bone.

Just before I go off to try to cut my grass (it grew three feet in the two weeks we were away) I have to tell you the best bit from the holiday. We were in Liverpool NS for Canada day and managed (this time) to meet up with Jessica from Daysgoby. This was very exciting for me, and Jess, Husband and I spent a lovely half hour or so laughing and chatting. Second Born joined in initially to claim responsibility for stealing crops from Jessica's farm on Facebook and then wandered off. First Born isn't fond of chat unless it revolves around Dr Who and other forms of science fiction, so he too wandered off.

Realising it had gone quiet, we looked around and found this


Yup, the excitement of meeting Jess in the flesh was so great, it sent my children to sleep. On park benches, no less. Jess tells me she is willing to repeat this feat on any other children, for a small fee. Form an orderly queue now.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Testing, testing.....

No, Isabelle, I am not dead, but thanks for checking up on me. It's nice to know that someone cares and worries about whether I have collapsed in a heap over my laptop, exhausted by the production of mindless wittering.

But no, I am here, I just haven't been able to get near the computer (other than for brief Scrabble battles with my mother) due to small boys spiriting it away and watching Top Gear on Youtube (because there is not enough Top Gear on Dave apparently). There has also been quite a lot going on, none of which I can remember at present, but I promise I will come back again shortly and thrill you with the wondrous goings-on at Chateau Loth.

PS Only a week till we leave for Canada. Are you ready, Liverpool? Are ya?

Monday, 7 June 2010

Distractions

Second Born just appeared at our living room door wearing pyjamas and a straw boater. Things like that happen all the time in the Loth Clan Headquarters, and I invariably think "Ha! I must blog that." and then something else happens to distract me and I forget, for I am now 43 and Getting On A Bit and my memory is not what it was. In fact, I don't think it was ever what it was. If you know what I mean.

Anyway, I managed to write about the straw boater outfit purely because I actually had the laptop on my lap at the time. SB has now gone upstairs to his bedroom. His parting comment was "I had better remember to give Big Nick his hat back or he will be angry..". Big Nick is the King of the Cotton Humpties and he lives on our landing. Have I told you about the warring Humpty clans which occupy our house? No? Must remember to do that sometime.

So what else has been happening in our little corner of Edinburgh? Well, Husband and I have a new hobby. I am so pleased that the lettuce and courgette seeds I planted continue to grow that I have declared war on the snails. We have a lot of snails in our garden. Seriously. A lot. I don't know whether they just really like all the dense undergrowth or if they like the old stone wall that surrounds the garden (there are always a lot of snails asleep on the wall), but whatever the reason, there are loads of the little critters hanging around. Especially when it is wet outside. And since this is Edinburgh, it is pretty much always wet outside. A couple of nights ago I looked out of our kitchen window and counted over 20 snails on our little patch of lawn - a lawn you can cross in about 10 paces. They were advancing across the grass in a line like a little synchronised munching team. If they only ate the grass I would be delighted - save me cutting it for one thing - but they don't. They like my little herb garden (particularly the lovage which strikes me as an odd taste preference but there you go) and I am of course now fretting about my baby lettuce leaves.

So Husband and I now go out in the cool and damp of the Edinburgh dusk, hunt down the snails and chuck them over the garden wall. I hasten to add there is a nice grassy border with trees and everything on the other side of the wall and I checked first thing in the morning and found no snail corpses lying crushed in the street, so they presumably survived their flight. It is a strangely satisfying and relaxing pastime and it's nice for Husband and me to have a hobby we can share. I do slightly worry that at some point we will be mid-fling when a neighbour passes by outside and is caught in a shower of flying molluscs. But not worried enough to leave the little terrors to do their worst.

In other news, First Born has not been able to pluck up the courage to invite a girl to the end of year dance but he is pretty laid back about that and happy to go solo, so that's okay. He has however, just been told that he has won the school Poetry Trophy for the year so will actually get to go up on stage at Prizegiving this year and collect a prize. "An actual silver trophy!" as he has told everyone he could find on speed dial today (the chinese takeaway were surprised but very supportive). We couldn't be more pleased for him as we had sort of resigned ourselves to the fact that his particular strengths were not of the kind to result in prizes from his very traditional school. That he has won something for poetry that he wrote is just fanastic. I have not seen the poem which won, but FB tells us it was inspired by Edvard Munch's painting "The Scream". I will confess to being equal parts proud, intrigued and scared by that information.

There is almost certainly more to tell you but my cup of tea and square(s) of Green & Black's are calling to me so I will leave you with another photograph. This demonstrates what always happens if you leave a box lying around in a house where cats live. ANY box, no matter how small.


PS: Hey XUP/Alison! Husband is on the other laptop (yes, we are somewhat geeky, what of it?) and has just found a Sequential Circuits synthesizer on sale on Ebay for some ridiculous sum of money. It is in Ontario. He says I can come and visit you provided he comes too and is allowed to buy the synthesizer. I suspect the ridiculous sum of money is truly monumental if he is willing to do that deal, what do you reckon?

Thursday, 27 May 2010

There is life after death!

Long term readers may remember the tear-stained post I wrote when my beloved 1970s orange-and-chocolate-brown Kenwood Chef died in the line of duty. That was in October 2008. Grays of George Street, that venerable Edinburgh institution is no more and I didn't know of anywhere else I could go for help with a disabled Chef. Despite this, I kept his body in the garage. I just couldn't bring myself to throw Kenwood away.

This morning however, I came downstairs to a (tuneless) chorus of Happy Birthday from Husband and Boys and look what was waiting for me!

They pimped my Chef! Kenwood had been smuggled out of the house (apparently I actually helped with this operation in the mistaken belief that Husband was taking an amplifier into his office. If you knew Husband, you would completely understand why I accepted this ruse without question) and then sent off to the Hospital for Geriatric Kenwood Chefs where they gave him a brand spanking new motor, a groovy new control knob, new rubber feet and all sorts of wonderful new attachments (not the sausage stuffing one though - I may have to wait until Christmas before I get that). He lives! He even has a pulse (function)!

Isn't he lovely? I suddenly feel the urge to make bread. Or drink tea and eat chocolate while admiring him. One or the other.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Wow! It's like Barn Buddy in real life!

That's what Second Born exclaimed when I told him I planned to break the habit of a lifetime and actually try to grow some vegetables this year. (If you don't know what Barn Buddy is, then good for you! I strongly recommend you keep it that way. And Jess? I chased away some raccoons and squirted some bugs for you. You're welcome.)

Anyway, I decided to take a gamble that we had seen the last of the frost in Edinburgh and I planted some lettuce seeds and some courgette seeds. I was slightly concerned that the cats might just follow me round the garden and dig them right back up again - you know how cats can't resist freshly dug soil. However, some of the seeds appear to be actually, you know, growing! Look!


Those miniscule little spots of green are going to be lettuce when they grow up. Provided Zyra doesn't roll on them. Again. I also planted garlic a while back and it seems to be holding up reasonably well too,......


........given it is kind of in the cats' regular route from the area where they lie around in the sun outdoors to the area where they lie around out of the sun indoors. It is a hard life being a cat. So much territory to cover, defend and sleep on. (PS Do you think I need to cut the grass out there?)

When I was out taking these photos, Bellus came out onto the back doorstep to supervise operations and assumed his most regal position, sitting upright on the step with his tail tucked neatly around his paws, nose in the air and eyes half-closed, the embodiment of inscrutable wisdom. I took a photo of that too. See?


Cats. Motto: Never cooperate when you can scarper and ruin a good photo instead.

In other news, First Born has decided, entirely off his own bat, that he will attend the Primary 7 end of year dance. This is the social event that had me choking on my tea when I read the letter about it from school. The letter that asked us very nicely not to send our children to the dance in stretch limos, as they cause traffic jams.

Stretch.

Limos.

Seriously??????!!! FB is 12. He has to be marched at gunpoint to the bathroom to take a shower and his idea of fun is four hours of building Lego empires followed by chasing his brother round the garden with a water pistol. I had been thinking of maybe buying him new trousers for the occasion. I was no more thinking of hiring a stretch limo than I was of sending FB to the ball in a pink tutu. I clearly need a bit of a reality adjustment. But oh how I wish I didn't.

In any event, he is going, and of his own free will which is good. FB, with all of his issues, finds social situations a bit tricky and I would not have wanted to force him to go. That he wants to go is a relief. Mind you, I think the main reason he wants to go is that he gets a new bow tie. FB is a sucker for bow ties. If I would let him, he'd wear the new tie (black silk with geometric-y purple and white pattern, since you ask) AND carry the very realistic fake pipe he bought with his pocket money. He took some persuading that this might be a wee bit over the top. As would braces and a tweed jacket. He basically wants to go to his dance dressed as Doctor Who. This is not going to get him a date.

Did I mention they all ask girls to be their partners to the dance? My insides turned over when I heard this. Husband and I have spent 12 years protecting FB from aspects of the big wide world he finds difficult. We are trying very hard to teach him now how to deal with the tricksy, slippery field of human social interaction by himself. This development however is a biggie. Ideally what Husband and I would like is to be made invisible so we can stand behind the girl in question and, as FB asks the question, whisper menacingly into her ear "Be NICE to our little boy!!" So if any of you have managed to invent invisibility over the weekend and haven't announced it yet, please let me know. There could be macaroon bars in it for you.

What else? Saturday was scorching hot and we had a barbeque in the garden which was lovely. Sunday started out grey, cloudy, misty and rainy as I headed off in the early(ish) morning to Musselburgh to volunteer at the Edinburgh Marathon. I had to take refuge from one of those sudden cloudbursts which are so heavy you are convinced the rain is going to leave little dents in your skull. And then it cleared up again and was scorching all over again. I realised that whilst I had remembered sunscreen, I had forgotten a hat so ended up with a sunburned scalp where the parting of my hair is. That really hurts, in case you have never done it.

Volunteering was as much fun and just as exhausting as ever. I was on my feet and on the go from 8am until after 4pm. The latter part of the day was spent manning the part of the finish line where the last member of the 4 person relay teams came through. The runner of the last leg had to collect 4 medals, one for each team member, and 4 goodie bags. With t-shirts in them for each team member. Ever tried to ask an exhausted, sweaty, dehydrated, disorientated bloke what size of shirts he thinks his three female team mates take? The look of desparate panic was heart-rending. I think he would rather I had poked him in the eye than try to answer that question. I took pity: "Take 3 mediums. You can't go wrong with mediums". He just about fainted in gratitude. Or it might have been heat exhaustion. Hard to tell.

It was great fun and I will almost certainly do it again next year. I'll just remember the hat next time.

Harumble! The sofas are back!

And so am I! A double whammy of circumstances kept me from the beloved laptop for quite a few days. First, I caught a cold. One of those sneezy, tickly, drippy, red flaky nose-y, "I'll just lie down for a moment or two and rest my eyes oh dear where has the day gone?" sort of colds. I was pathetic. Still am, only now it's a "taken-up-residence-in-my-chest,-horking-up-all-sorts-of-unpleasantness-that-reminds-me-uncomfortably-of-putty" sort of a cold. That moment a half hour ago when your windows rattled for no apparent reason? That was me. Coughing. Sorry.

Secondly of course, our lack of living room furniture. I discovered very quickly after the sofas were packed off to Furniture Infirmary that (a) I am not very good at sitting on hard chairs for extended periods (I would have failed deportment lessons at finishing school. Good job I was never sent for finishing) and (b) you can't easily use a laptop while sitting in such a chair. As a result I have not been online at all since some time last week and my mother is biting her nails in frustration waiting for my next Scrabble move (she still hasn't forgiven me for quern and is plotting her revenge).

But today! Oh, today! Today, the couches came back and I am once again enthroned on only slightly ripped and scuffed leather wonderfulness, with my laptop on my lap. Wondering how on earth I am supposed to get through 375 entries on Google reader without giving up work entirely. (I know, "mark all as read", but I hate doing that - it feels like throwing books out unread - books written by friends at that - and I am pathologically incapable of throwing away a book without at least peeking inside for a wee look and then reading on a wee bit to see how it develops and then.....well, you can work out the rest. I think I am going to have to be strong and drastically cull my Google reader subscriptions. Soon. My, this is a long passage in parenthesis isn't it? Or should that be "parentheses"? Isabelle?)

I seem to have wittered on a fair bit already, and I haven't even started on my thoughts on the forthcoming Primary 7 end of year school dance to which FB may be going. I'll save that for later and just leave you with the observation that this global warming thing is very odd, if what it does is give us snow in May.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

This is the opposite of an update

I don't have anything terribly interesting to say, really. I promised myself I would try to post more often on here and reassured myself that once I had a blank window open, fingers poised over the keyboard, inspiration would strike.

Well, I think we can all agree that hasn't happened. I blame the election myself. I have spent so much time watching no-one actually being elected on television that every last atom of creativity has leached away into the sofa.

Actually talking of the sofa, both of our sofas are going into furniture hospital this weekend for a bit of reconstructive surgery. This is long overdue and I can't wait to have seats that don't make an ominous "boing" noise every time you sit down. I am not however looking forward to a few days of sitting on green plastic garden furniture. I made the mistake of telling the boys we would just have to bring all the duvets downstairs and have a sort of hippy commune set-up on the living room carpet. They didn't appreciate my brand of subtle sarcasm and are now happily looking forward to a weekend of lolling on duvets while eating Frosties and watching Top Gear. Do you think it's better to risk their wrath by telling them I was kidding, or go along with it?

Anyway, as compensation for this rambling brain dump, have a cat photo. Proof of how delicate and ladylike our Zyra is. And how Bellus, the ultimate opportunist, will never pass up the chance of a free pillow.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Fame at last

My dear Husband has informed me that if one Googles the term "crunchy little mouse" (and why wouldn't you?) this fine blog is the number one result. I'm so proud.

Also slightly on edge as the boys have typed said phrase into a text-to- speech programme and now the laptop intones "Crunchy little mouse" at me in clipped RP tones.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Miscellaneous

Miscellaneous number one:
Having just spent an obscene amount of money on filling up our car, I commented to the boys in the back seat on how expensive diesel is these days. Without looking up from his Nintendo DS, Second Born observed that diesel was still cheaper than running the car on bull sperm. No, I didn't ask. Scared to, frankly.

Miscellaneous number two:
Another in the series of "Sentences You Never Thought You'd Say" from Husband (he was in the living room with the boys, I overheard as I was lurking in the kitchen): "No, it's not realistic, it's a stuffed monkey firing a gun."


Miscellaneous number three:
Do you have any idea how mind-bendingly annoying it is when your Husband decides to play "Tijuana Taxi" (again, no idea why) and then adds lyrics as if sung by our cats, which go "Crunchy little mouse, it's a crunchy little mouse, it's a crunchy little mouse, and you eat it......for your break-time sna-ha-hack!" If you don't, would you like me to come round to your house and sing it for you? Then you too can have it in your head FOR THE REST OF ETERNITY. (Clue: no, you almost certainly don't)

Friday, 30 April 2010

Excuses

I had every intention of getting out into the garden and doing some serious weeding in preparation for the planting of some vegetables. But my good intentions were thwarted.

Someone is holding my tools hostage.


I don't get snack, you don't get fork.

Ah well, back to playing Word Twist.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Boys are different. #2

Another morning, another wrangle. This time the.....

"Have you got your waterproof jacket in your schoolbag?"

"It's not raining"

"You live in Scotland. It can rain AT ANY TIME ON ANY DAY. Get your waterproof"......

routine. The culprit this time was Second Born who steadfastly maintained that he did indeed have his waterproof in his bag. Call me cynical but I checked. I did not find his waterproof but I did find a bag of apple slices left over from his lunch. Now, my forensic science skills derive entirely from my voracious reading of Kathy Reichs and Jeffrey Deaver books, but I reckon the lunch from which the apple was left over happened about 3 weeks ago. The bag was full of brown squishiness. I really only knew it was once apple because I recognised the bag.

SB, needless to say, was unfazed by my initial yelp of surprise and the subsequent expressions of disgust from the rest of the family. "I must have forgotten to eat my apple," he shrugged.

Boys. Girls wouldn't do that, would they? And, hypothetically, say if I had girls and I were to climb up on to the top bunk of the bed in the spare bedroom to change the sheets, I probably wouldn't find a plate strewn with crumbs and the dessicated remnants of a piece of ham hard enough to cut wood with, would I? Thought not.

(Note to self: my mum is coming to stay tomorrow and will be sleeping in that bed. Carry out emergency reconnaissance as soon as this post is published.)

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Boys are different. They just are.

So, Friday was interesting. I spent a chunk of the morning before we set off for work/school mopping blood off the bathroom floor.

The boys had been engaging in their customary pre-school skirmishing ("It's my turn to have music on!" "No it's not, and I don't want to listen to "Firestarter" in the morning anyway!") and I was studiously ignoring them while getting dressed. Then the level of wailing coming from FB rose a couple of octaves and a couple of hundred decibels - a sure sign that physical hurt of some sort had occurred. This was confirmed shortly by SB dashing into my room and breathlessly announcing that "FB has hurt himself"

I sauntered into their bedroom with very little in the way of concern - FB's idea of what constitutes grave injury does not exactly tally with the rest of humanity's. I am quite accustomed to having to utilise a magnifying glass to locate the wound from which FB claims to be "almost bleeding to death and you're not even bothered!!!!!!".

However on this occasion I was greeted by the sight of FB literally dripping blood. It was running down his forehead and dripping rather dramatically off the end of his nose. He was practically hysterical. I manouevred him into the bathroom and eventually calmed him down enough to get him to stand with his head over the sink. I am no nurse but I am familiar enough with head wounds to know that any scratch on the scalp bleeds like billy-o and looks like something from a Hammer horror movie circa 1973, and that therefore this probably looked a lot worse than it was. It did. A gentle rinse under the tap disclosed a small cut on his head which stopped bleeding with a little bit of pressure. FB started to breathe normally after about 10 minutes.

I asked how this had happened. "I was putting my belt on and it hit my head." It is a mark of how far I have come in my understanding of boys that this did not phase me in the slightest. I just nodded.

"Need to be a bit more careful next time, eh?"

It was only when I got into work and was regaling my co-workers with this tale that some light was shed. Most of the other people in the room where I work responded with "What? How on earth did he manage that?" A significant proportion however (all male, aged 25-40) nodded sagely.

"Indiana Jones moment"

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

I am an idiot

Sunshine over the weekend? Was I seriously hoping for more sunshine? That is the very definition of "triumph of hope over experience". Today we got hail. HAIL! The newly arrived, fragile and lovely blossom on the trees was battered into wilted submission by little pellets of ice falling from the sky. (No volcanic dust in it though - I checked.) Spring this year is weird.

In other news, FB passed two great childhood milestones in the last few days. On Saturday he travelled by bus from outside our house to our nearest bookshop (a journey of about half a mile) and back, all by himself. This is quite a big deal for our First Born with all his various developmental and other issues and his father and I nearly hyperventilated ourselves into early graves waiting for him to return. Which he did, grinning, proud of himself and bearing the new Skulduggery Pleasant book which he had found and purchased all by himself.

Then, yesterday, he jumped over a small stream in a park near my parents' house, landed in mud, got stuck in mud, lost his right shoe in mud and then finally fell over into mud as he struggled to pull his said shoe from said mud. Not something one would normally consider a huge achievement, I know, but it's the most typical "messy small boy" thing he has ever done and, more importantly, he allowed his grandparents and his brother to tease him about it without having a complete meltdown. He even laughed a little himself about how stinky he was and the fact that he had to travel back in Grandad's car wearing nothing but boxer shorts and a t-shirt. Coping with and joking about a situation where he lost his dignity as well as his shoe? Big step for FB. I am proud. (And glad that my mum got the job of washing the clothes and stinky shoes.)

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Greetings from under the cloud!

I write from dusty Edinburgh, draped in a delicate layer of volcanic ash. Personally I am delighted by this development as it means that the whole city is soon going to look remarkably like my living room. My (lack of) housekeeping skills are, as you all know, legendary, and I knew I could drag everyone down to my level eventually!

Having said that, my garden is looking, if not exactly pristine, certainly better than it was. I have cut the grass for the first time this year and by a careful application of (1) promises of ice cream and (2) cold hard cash, persuaded the boys to assist with a bit of weeding. SB was game but FB after a bit of desultory poking around with a fork, declared that there were too many beasties around and retreated to the house.

Zyra and Bellus, on the other hand, thoroughly approve of the beasties. They are particularly enamoured of the big fat bumble bees which have been tempted out into the spring sunshine. The bees stoat drunkenly about roughly twelve inches above the ground - a distance otherwise known as "perfect cat attack height". I am curious to see what will happen if either of them actually manages to catch one. A bee sting might be suitable karmic payback for the small crowd of deceased mice which have, one by one, been brought into our house over the past couple of weeks. I suppose we should be grateful that the said mice had been quickly despatched and were not brought in alive and then toyed with on our carpets.

Praying now that this lovely sunshine will continue through the weekend when we can actually enjoy it.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

I must be getting on a bit

Astonishing. My younger son is 10. Both of my children are in double digits. I can hardly believe that. It seems like only a few months ago that we brought SB home from hospital, a bouncing, healthy, hungry and chubby boy who was nicknamed "Humpty SB" for ages due to his generous proportions. That said, he now has the physique of a fitness-mad whippet (although that may not last long given he blew £5 of his birthday money on an absolute mountain of cut price Easter chocolate today - big Lindt Easter gold bunnies for £1!)

I think I have been irritating SB just a little bit this last week, repeatedly grabbing hold of him and wailing "My baby! My baby is going to be 10! Don't leave me, my baby!" His eye-roll is now worthy of the most jaded teenager, but at least he still lets me hug him. For now.

SB was given the option of where to have his celebration dinner on Friday and he chose a little italian restaurant close to where Husband and I work. Despite being a petite soon-to-be-10-year-old with the aforementioned pipecleaner physique, he managed to pack away calamari, followed by pepperoni pizza followed by vanilla ice cream with hot chocolate sauce. The boy must have hollow legs or a Tardis stomach or something. Even FB, the dairy allergic boy, enjoyed the outing - the kind staff spirited away the lump of dairy-free cheese substitute I brought along and produced a creditable milk product-less pizza for him. Dessert stumped them, but then desserts always stump restaurants when faced with someone who cannot partake of the juice of the cow, and I can't blame them for that. Fortunately I had come prepared with a bag of jelly babies in my handbag.

On Saturday, the day of The Birthday itself, Granny and Grandad came to visit and partake of tea and cake. SB had requested that his cake this year bear a "flaming skull" motif. Which is why I spent part of Friday night searching Google Images for "flaming skulls: how to draw". The list of my talents grows ever longer, and slightly weirder. I would post a photograph of the finished item but I don't really want to risk attracting that sort of traffic.

The cake went down well and SB enjoyed forcing his grandparents to play him at various Wii games including golf and boxing. In a memorable boxing match, SB and his granny managed to simultaneously knock each other out. We decided to declare that one a draw.

SB is now enjoying the aftermath of his birthday revels, contemplating what he is going to spend all his newly-acquired cash on. I hope to goodness he comes up with something other than chocolate.