Sunday, 31 October 2010

That time of the year

Halloween, Day of the Dead, Samhain - call it what you like, it's very definitely that time of the year again. The time when the nights start getting much darker, days of fog or frost, leaves falling off trees, smoke in the air and gloves, hats and scarves all round.

This morning, after the clocks went back for the end of British Summer Time (possibly for the last time?), Halloween kicked off to a gloriously autumnal foggy start. Before too long, the sun starting breaking through and we were set for one of the fabulous 'tail end of the year' days. No more inspiration was required - before heading off for my tango class I managed a quick walk round Stirling and caught some beautifully atmospheric shots with my camera. Wreathed in mist, with the reds and golds of the falling leaves competing with the last shoots of green, the city looked so pretty - I swear there is nowhere better on days like this.

What do you think?

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Laugh, and the world laughs with you

I was reminded of this classic by a friend on Facebook tonight. And it really took me back, and made me laugh out loud. In fact I've spent the latter part of the evening on YouTube finding clips.

For those who don't know, this is just a very small clip from the late 1980s/early 1990s comedy show, The Mary Whitehouse Experience. Not to be confused with the real Mary Whitehouse, who most definitely would NOT have approved of said show.

I laughed so much I bought the show (on eBay) to paraphrase that old advert - and a prize to anyone who can tell me what the advert was for.

Anyway, thanks Emma for leading me back to the joys of Messrs Baddiel, Newman, Punt and Dennis. Guys, you were great together!

Friday, 29 October 2010

3rd time lucky?

This is the third time I've tried to crochet the sleeve for this cardigan. Hopefully this time I've got it right!

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Spooky times

Today was a first for me - I received my first ever Halloween car. (Thanks Frances!) It was sat waiting for my on my doormat when I got home (late) from work tonight - all resplendent in its pumpkin orange envelope. What a treat - not just my first ever Halloween card, but a piece of lovely mail when all too often all I get is bills or circulars.

And it's reminded me that this weekend is indeed Halloween. Tomorrow is spooky Friday at work - I've promised to take in my witches' hat and wear it for at least some of the day. I also think I need to find myself something spooky to do over the course of the weekend. There's bound to be plenty on, the trick will be finding it - although probably nothing will compare with the 2 Halloweens I've spent with my nephew; one in Scotland when he was very little and somewhat bemused by the whole dressing up and guising tradition, and one in Canada when he was a bit older and which incorporated all sorts of North American Halloween festivity - pumpkins, spooky skates, trick or treating and fantastically decorated houses and yards. 

And it's also got me thinking about (and looking forward to) my next trip to see said nephew (and his mum and dad) at Christmas. Under 2 months now - tickets all booked and anticipation well in hand - on both sides of the pond!

Hope you all have a fabulous weekend, readers. Feel free to share your spooky adventures with the world in the comments section!!

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Midweek mini-break

I just want to say - I had a fabulous day today! By chance I'd managed to book myself a midweek day off and (having business I needed to do in Glasgow anyway) I decided to treat myself to a visit to a place I've been meaning to go to for months but never quite got round to - Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery. It was just the kind of pick-me-up I was needing.

For those who don't know, the Kelvingrove is a fabulous late Victorian building, purpose built as a museum and designed to look on the outside like a Spanish church and on the inside, like an Italian palace. It followed on from 2 of the great Empire inspired International Exhibitions that were the vogue at that time and placed Glasgow on the map as (allegedly) Britain's second city. And, it truly is an amazing building in its own right, without even talking about what's inside.

I happily spent a good few hours wandering round the various exhibitions that make up the Kelvingrove collection - paintings, natural history, archaeology, sculptures and more. There were lots of amazing things to see, all laid out in a very easy to access way.

I loved it on my own level but I also think my almost 8 year old nephew would love it too and I've already got it on my list of places to visit with him when he (hopefully) is across next summer. I don't think he'll like the same things as me and his mum, but I think the viking boat, the dinosaurs, the engines and airplanes and all the hands on exhibits might just be a winner! I think he'll probably like the Phantom of the Opera style organ recital that takes place every lunchtime too!!

 From my own perspective, also a winner was the restaurant - a great range of food and - miracle of miracles! - gluten free bread for the sandwiches and an extensive menu that I could eat. I opted for burger with goats cheese and chips (fries), all washed down with a glass of red wine - and I have to say it was a great choice and added a very decadent touch to my midweek treat.

Happy days. Maybe it will help me keep with the happy faces from the Kelvingrove aerial sculpture - and away from the sad ones.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Taking (back) control

OK, I confess up front. I've been having an off few days just recently. Life as a single gal has been getting me down a bit. Quite a bit. Well, a lot really. I've been really down for some time and the last couple of weeks have been tough.

Not that many people would necessarily know. One of my traits is to 'put on a good face' in public and keep up the 'life and soul' character I tend to adopt in my everyday dealings. In part, this is about not wanting to inflict my unhappiness on other people, and in part it's pure self preservation - I can't talk about it without getting upset and the last thing I want is for people to see me too upset. Of course, there are friends that I have been a bit more open with - and some of my online buddies will be thinking, what's she talking about? She's pretty candid with us about being miserable! - but on the whole I tend to keep stuff to myself until it gets too much and I ex/implode.

But the point at which I feel I have to speak to someone about it is usually a pretty good sign that I need to get a grip. Being tearful for no reason in public is not something I enjoy, and 18 months after becoming (voluntarily) single again, it's not something that gets - or deserves, to be fair - a lot of sympathy. I am, however, blessed by amazing friends who, once they know, really go out of their way to cheer me up - and for that I am truly grateful. I only hope I'm half as good a friend to them as they are to me when/if the time ever comes.

But to get to the point of the post - I have been feeling sorry for myself recently. Struggling with being entirely on my own - left to deal with all the mishaps and daily tribulations of modern life. It's hard when you come home from a crap day at work and there's no-one there to share your pain, give you a hug and be utterly and completely on your side. It's hard waking up morning after morning on your own, when the only physical contact you get is at your dance class or the beauty salon. It's hard rocking up to events on your own and launching yourself into other people's conversations rather than stand around the edge feeling like a spare part among all the couples around you. It's hard when you feel like you're imposing on other people's lives, when you need to rely on friends for social company when you know they have so many other calls on their times. In short, it's hard being one in a world made for two.

Today at work I was researching something online* and I stumbled across a couple of quotes - the first made me think about how I come to the issues I face in my life and the degree to which I let them control me, rather than me take charge of them. It chimed with 2 conversations I've had recently with well-meaning friends but whose advice I wasn't ready to take at the time - both of them, in their separate ways, said what I need is a plan, an active approach to sorting myself out, a concerted effort on my part to fix my problems rather than waiting for the world to do it for me.

The second quote reminded me that we only get one shot at all of this, and it's far preferable to have a good time than a bad one.

Now I know it's not that easy. Just thinking doesn't actually make it so. But it can help. And being positive, thinking happy thoughts and finding joy in my every day life will all make me feel better. And if I feel better, it's much more likely that it will be better. My life, all in all, isn't really that bad - it's difficult at times but I have my health, I can afford to live, I have family and friends who love me and I am safe. When you look at it that way, I'm pretty lucky really!

So, now (if you're still awake) you're wondering what the quotes were? Number one was

"for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so"

Good old Willie Shakespeare with his tragic hero and deep thinker, Hamlet (although in retrospect, perhaps not such a good role model for throwing off melancholy and tragedy!)

And number two was

"You live longer once you realise that any time spent being unhappy is wasted"

As for the photograph, I have been wallowing a bit over recent weeks!!

*If you're interested, I was researching for a discussion on deprivation and poverty that's coming up next month. I was looking for a quote that had been used at a seminar I was at the other week - which I found on a brilliant quotes website and which I've now got bookmarked at work and at home. 

But I also found a couple of other pithy comments, my favourite of which is probably

The poor we have always with us, and the purpose
of the Lord in providing the poor is to enable us
of the better classes to amuse ourselves by
investigating them and uplifting them and at dinners
telling how charitable we are. The poor don't like
it much. They have no gratitude. ...But if they are
taken firmly in hand they can be kept reasonably
dependent and interesting for years.
--Sinclair Lewis (1885—1951)
closely followed by
Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity
over humanity, nothing exceeds most of the
criticisms made on the habits of the poor by the
well-housed, well-warmed, and well-fed.
--Herman Melville (1819—1891)

but there were lots more too, including some challenging ones that I'll probably use. 

And the one I was looking for?

I used to think I was poor. Then they told me I was not poor, I was
needy. Then they said it was self-defeating to think I was needy;
instead, I was deprived. Then they said deprived had a bad image;
I was really underpriviledged. The they said underprivileged
was overused, I was disadvantaged. 
I still do not have a dime but I have a great vocabulary.
--Jules Feiffer

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Look what I made!

At long last, a photo of the coat I crocheted earlier this year. It's made from Rowan kid silk haze, and even though it took 6 months to complete I love it so much that I'm thinking seriously about making another one.

You would not believe how cosy it is for something that is so light and delicate.

A real winner I think.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Autumn part 3

I had forgotten how glorious clear autumn evenings could be.

Today was the first day of this autumn that I've needed to wear my hat. It was a chilly but beautifully clear start to the day. And the evening was equally gorgeous. Still enough light left at 5pm to go for a wander round Stirling, but crisp enough to know that we're definitely getting into bonfire, frost and jumpers time of year.

The city was looking lovely though. It fair lifted my heart to see it! Where else would you want to be but Scotland on days like today?

Friday, 15 October 2010

Autumn part 2

Look how beautifully my favourite tree is welcoming autumn.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

That time of year

Well, summer does seem to be well and truly over. It may be sunny some days but the heat is rapidly disappearing. On the plus side however, the trees are turning a beautiful colour and the light is getting hazily soft. Before we know it, the mornings will be crisp and fresh, with frost hanging off everywhere and my breath in the air around me. I love winter. Autumn isn't too bad either!

Roll on Halloween,

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

What's cooking?

Despite how tired I can be at the end of the day, more often than not I find cooking really does make me feel better. And those days that I'm too tired to cook from scratch, I try to make sure I always have something in the freezer that I've made earlier and can just heat through. It's very rare these days that I buy in a prepared meal - even as a treat.

This is last night's tea, creamy fish pie cooked at the weekend and a portion saved in the fridge for heating up when I got home from work. Somehow it made all the trials and tribulations of the day melt away and gave me a real sense of satisfaction. As you can see I even managed to add a bit of colour with some sliced beetroot and green 'squeaky' beans on the side. Yum!

And while it seems all too rare these days, I'm pleased to say I'm not the only one. My sister has started blogging recently about some of her recipes for busy working mums, while a friend's sister dedicates her whole blog to all things cooking. Both are inspirational to someone like me who loves cooking, and hopefully to others who maybe don't like it quite so much but want to give it a try.

If you want to give it a go, why not have a look at their blogs, get out your cookery books, watch Food shows on the the TV, take out a magazine subscription, visit your library and see what's on the shelf. Whatever it takes! It's fun, you know it is.

So, after all that, what's your favourite recipe?

Monday, 11 October 2010

What's in the bag?

A couple of my fellow bloggers recently confessed to what was in their handbags, and after yet another experience of 'can't find the one thing I'm looking for' in my handbag, I thought it might be fun to chronicle what's in mine too.

So here goes...

1 x umbrella (with a shoe print fabric of course!)
1 x hairbrush
1 x elastic hair tie thingie
1 x pouch of unmentionable items (women's things!)
1 x lip balm
1 x lip gloss (from my fave new make up brand) plus 1 x lipstick
1 x handcream sample (from the lovely Lush!)
1 x eye shadow stick
1 x nail file
2 x spare contact lenses (for the same eye??)
1 1/2 packets of tissues
3 used tissues (ew, yuk!)
1 x packet painkillers
1 pair sunglasses (complete with pouch, unusually for me!)
1 x purse (fresh from Granada, Spain. Ole!)
1 x mobile phone (personal - yay!) plus 1 x Blackberry (work - boo!)
1 x USB memory stick (promotional from Stirling Castle)
1 x security pass for work (with half way decent photo for a change)
3 (count them!) x highlighter pens plus 5 x ballpoint pens plus 1 x pencil (not going to be stuck without anything to write with. Possibly nothing to write on, however!)
Various business cards (some of them mine, somewhat creased!) and appointment cards (none of them current. Anyone know when my next hair appointment is?)
Various loose 'cards', including work charge card, bank card, 2 x gift cards, 1 x gym membership
1 x old receipt
1 x used post-it note
1 x Scottish Environmental Statistics handy guide (don't say I'm not dedicated!)
3 x tomatoes (harvested on my way in the door tonight, last of the summer crop!)
1 x piece of sea glass (from my last visit home)

No wonder I can never find what I'm looking for!

And do you know the scariest thing? I'd already cleared out a whole heap of stuff before I left work today. Eeek, I think I need a smaller bag.

What's in your bag then?

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Cast adrift...

I'm off this morning on the train to Edinburgh. It's a murky grey morning and the trains are disrupted, I've already had a run-in with the wrong side of bureaucracy and I'm exhausted at the end of a long and busy week, but still I'm feeling really happy.

One of the reasons for my cheerful start to the weekend can be seen in my photo at the start of this post - a cup of coffee and a yummy chocolate muffin. Yes, a muffin. A gluten free muffin. A tasty gluten free muffin that I bought at the Farmers Market on my way to the station.

The other reason is that I'm on my way to meet an old friend that I used to share a flat with and haven't seen for more than 20 years. I'm so excited!

I hope you all have equally lovely things planned for your weekends. Have fun!

STOP PRESS: I had the most amazingly wonderful and fabulous day. It might have been 22 years (no, surely not that long!) since Diane and I had last spent any time together, but it didn't feel that way. I guess that's a sign of true friends, when you can just pick up again like it's been the blink of an eye. I discovered that we'd been more alike than I'd realised when we shared a flat and if there's any twinge of sadness from yesterday, it's that I've let 22 years go by without keeping up with this lovely woman.

It definitely won't be 22 years until we see each other again - there's now a guest bed waiting for me in Shetland when I want one! Yay!!

Monday, 4 October 2010

Reasons to be cheerful, remembered

dad and mauz

I blogged the other day, amongst other things, about a nonsense rhyme my Dad had made up when my sister and I were younger. I was reminded of it by a misheard lyric and it was just one of many things that day to make me smile. (Actually, that one made me laugh out loud at the memory!) And that got me to thinking about the stuff my Dad used to do, and in some (many!) cases still does that keeps him in touch with his silly side.

(It has already been commented, by the way, that I don't need to do a silliness course, having inherited a definite silly gene from my Dad and exhibiting it frequently at home and at work. My boss has even been heard to say, when asked what things about me he particularly values, that it's my irreverence. At least I think he said irreverence, but it might have been irrelevance! Which reminds me of Viz now I come to think of it - Roger Irrelevant, He's completely Hatstand!)

Anyway, enough of this stream of consciousness and back to my Dad. As long as I can remember my Dad has had this delightful silly streak to his personality. A lot of the time he's an incredibly serious academic, able to talk at length about any number of subjects, including of course his professional specialism, Roman archaeology. His love of language is palpable - the fun that can be had with the English language, but also the root and connection of all languages. At times it can be frustrating, I can still vividly remember bringing home my Spanish exam from school and showing it to him. At which point he translated it - perfectly, of course - straight off and never having been taught Spanish in his puff!

But this post is about his silliness not his intelligence. Every birthday and Christmas my Dad would (and still does) decorate our cards with his cartoons - each of us has our own figure, with haircuts and other characteristics updated to keep up with our ever changing styles. I think he first started doing them while he was courting (what a fantastic word!) my Mum and would leave drawings on her notebooks in the University library. She has always been a Mouse in his cartoons - her cartoon hairstyle has remained unchanged in the over 50 years they've been together. It's still styled in the beautiful '50s inspired ponytail she had when they met even though she hasn't worn one for at least 40 years. True to his silly streak, however, the bit on her cartoon figure that gets updated are the various scars and injuries she's acquired over the years! One day I really must scan and publish the vast collection of drawings I've accumulated. I don't think I've ever knowingly thrown one out.

His silliness wasn't/isn't confined to drawings, however. I can well remember the tales he used to tell us on long car journeys to keep us entertained. Stories appearing entirely from out of his own head - like the electricity pylons that were actually naughty giant children who didn't come in for supper when their Mummy called them, or the snake become stone wall for some other similar transgression. Now I think about it, the stories were always highly moralistic and thinly disguised parental instructions!

And then of course there were his nonsense rhymes and word games. The only one I can remember with any clarity is the Porcupine one quoted by my sister in response to my earlier post. I only have impressions of them left otherwise. I do remember the names he made up for us and for Mum when he used to send us postcards from his summer work trips away from home - Euphemia Bracegirdle (Mum), Beetle (me), Monkey Face (big sis - sorry!) - and many others!

Which reminds me of the postcards - I'd forgotten them. While my sister and I were away from home for the first time at University he used to send us religiously every week a postcard so that we would have a little bit of home with us while we were away. Aw, sweet! I hear you say. And it was, but the thing was, the postcards were complete nonsense. The ones to my sister told a story but were never sent in order and missed huge chapters. They were doubtless filled with strange people with fantastical names. The ones I received were equally silly. But do you know what, he never ever missed a week.

For these and many many other things, I have spent a very pleasant half hour thinking about the silliness of my Dad, and thanking him for passing just a little bit of it on to me! Whoever said puns were a low form of wit, clearly just wasn't very good at them.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

What's on the pins?

Or more accurately, what's on the hook? Well, this.

I'm sure you'll be pleased to know that in amongst all my running, writing, working, silliness and other pursuits, I'm also still finding time for yarn. I chose this pattern to take away to Spain with me - partly because, being made of individual granny squares, it was highly portable and also partly because it calls for cotton yarn and therefore was less likely to be hot and sticky to make.

As regular readers will know, it was incredibly hot in Spain and even with cotton yarn, doing much crochet wasn't really an option. So I've been battling on with this since I got home. And it's finally beginning to take shape. This picture is from a week or so back when I eventually got to the stage where I could join the squares together. I've now progressed even further and I'm crocheting the body section on to the joined squares.

As I'm doing this 2 thoughts strike me. Firstly, why on earth did I choose a pattern that involves 40 individual squares - with, of course, 40 individual squares-worth of ends to darn in afterwards, not to mention the ends from joining the damn things - when I just hate finishing off. Secondly, never ever let me choose a pattern with stripes again - what a pain having to change colour every row!

Don't get me wrong I am actually enjoying making this cardigan but I know that when I get to the end I'll be cursing at the amount of darning in I'll have to do. There's every chance as well, that it won't actually look right since I went wrong with the decreasing at some point and while the length will be about right, the armholes might be slightly off. The challenge will be to make sure I make exactly the same mistake on the other side!!

Oh well, onwards. I'll post a pic when it's finished so you can see how it turns out. Nice colours though!

Saturday, 2 October 2010

The dark corners

Sitting in the dark corner of the restaurant, at the hidden tables reserved for the solo diners, the scraps and sounds of other people's conversations come to me, rolling in and out like waves on a beach. Snatched moments of other people's lives lap round me, entwine mewith their ordinariness and threaten to overwhelm me in my solitude.

The family crowded round the table in the centre of the room, Mum and Dad struggling valiantly to keep their children from disturbing the atmosphere. Jubliant shrieks and petulant whines intermingle with hissed instructions and muttered exhortations to 'behave'. It's a losing battle that's painted on the faces of the guests at the neighbouring tables, starched in their stuffiness and intolerant of the exuberances of childhoods long forgotten.

The young mum, escaped with her still single friends for some brief respite from the daily humdrum of work and home. She casts a look of pity and annoyance in equal measure at her fellow traveller, unable to control, letting the side down, no more successful than she herself would be. But this forgotten, protected by the regiment of shopping bags lined up round her feet, overflowing with treats that will end up being the concrete reminders of her day of freedom.

The couple in the corner, still very much in love, entirely absorbed in each other, oblivious to the world around them, engaged completely within their own reality to the exclusion of everything else.

Through it all the waiting staff pass - some rushed and flustered, others serene and calm, all proficient in their efficiency. They share a word with a guest here, whisk away a finished meal there, ever eagle eyed for attention required to ensure a smooth service. Made solicitous by the lure of tips, they share their favours equally around the room.

A gaggle of women erupt into the room, squeezing between tables as they blunder their way to the toilet, giggling as they navigate their somewhat unsteady course through their fellow diners.

All this I observe from my table in the corner, segregated from the rest as if my solitude is a contagion easily spread. The modern taboo that dare not speak its name. I've become adept at donning the armour to protect me from their pity. The book to read, the music to listen to, the notebook to write in, the mobile phone to check. Without these props I can easily feel adrift, unprotected and vulnerable to the storm of companionship and human connection swirling around me.

I try to regain my equilibrium, keep it from touching me, find my still centre that allows me to be content with my silence and separation. I strive to be at ease with my sense of whole and ignore the pricking of need for another to make me feel whole. In a way I pity them their desperate race to fill the silence with chatter and to ward off loneliness with touchs and smiles. Yet, at the same time, even as I think it, I know it for a lie. A deception of myself that I almost manage - almost, but not

Friday, 1 October 2010

Proud to be...


It was a comment on a friend's blog that inspired me to write this post. The post was about the things we thought as kids. The comment talked about the innocence of youth and in particular spoke about losing the ability to be unashamedly proud of things we're good at.

This really rang true with me. I can't remember when in my childhood I started being embarrassed about things I was good at. I was a smart kid at school but I seem to have learned fairly on that it wasn't something to let on about. I can remember being thought a swot just because I knew the answers, and quickly learning to keep quiet in class. Worse still I ended up being bullied for being just that little bit different - I was a year younger than everyone else, my Mum was English so we 'spoke posh', I was brainy and not very good at sports. And I always felt like the ugly duckling. I was definitely not in with the 'in-crowd'.

I did have a few good friends. Or sadly and more accurately, fairweather friends who were only too ready to give me up if the tide of popular opinion turned against me. Things did improve as I got older. By the time I was in the later years of High School I'd worked out who my real friends were and I was more accepted for who I was, not shunned for who I wasn't. But I'm sad to say it has stayed with me much of my life. I can honestly say that it's only really the last 3 or 4 years that I've come to a peace with myself about who I am, and can take the comments about my intelligent mind as the compliments they're intended to be instead of the sleights they've always felt like to me. (Although having said that, I'm still a little embarrassed writing this today!)

I guess what I want to say is, those of you with little people - cherish them, celebrate their strengths, allow them to be proud of who they are and what they're good at, even if it is unconventional. Don't let life grind them down in its headlong rush for mediocrity and celebration of the average. Celebrate difference. Praise achievement. Love success.

It's not true that pride cometh before destruction - handled right it can come before a happy successful settled and peaceful sense of self, which is the greatest gift the world can give.

Wise Words

Thanks to a Facebook friend for reminding me of these words of wisdom.

Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexatious to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.

Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs;
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.

You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.