Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Somebody loves me.

Unfortunately he just won't sit still long enough for me to take his picture. Too intent on nuzzling me and demanding kisses. Just like all the men in my life. Ahem, perhaps not. But he is great company and, despite disgracing himself with masculine cat tendencies recently - spraying in the flat - I loves him back.

If we can't have summer, here's to happy days and cat filled evenings!

And I still ...

... haven't found what I'm looking for.

If I'm honest I probably don't even really know what it is. But like all good art hopefully I'll know it when I see it.

Sorry, deep in thought tonight. Normal service will be resumed tomorrow. Good night all.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Home comforts

This weekend I find myself back in the homeland. It's Father's (or is that Fathers'?) Day of course, so where else would I be?

There is something both comforting and confusing about being back in the parental home I find. It's comforting to be looked after, and to be honest, I visit so infrequently that my Mum and Dad are (or at least appear to be) genuinely pleased to see me and I get relatively pampered as a result. Or at least, someone else does the cooking, tidying up, washing up, etc and I get cups of tea brought to me with the morning papers as a wake up call. That's pretty pamperful in my book!

And it's confusing because I'm 43 and spending time with 2 other adults who still think of me as a dependent child, with everything that entails, is a very strange experience. Particularly when I'm used to being so independent, and also so responsible, in my day to day and working lives.

But, on balance, provided it's not for extended periods of time (for the sake of all our sanities), I think I like this 'coming home' lark. I like to be looked after. I like to see my Mum and Dad. I like that they seem happy to see me when I roll up, and even occasionally seem interesting - rather than annoyed - in what I'm saying.

All this my big sister has to look forward to when she and my nephew come across in the summer. She gets to share our childhood haunts with him, help him discover his own pleasures and adventures of a Scottish seaside village, encourage him to spend time with his grandparents and learn to love them the way we were able to love ours. I'm jealous!!

You never know, the rain might even hold off for a day or two - although that's not looking likely at the moment. Sorry guys!

Friday, 17 June 2011


Words can be many things. If you're really lucky, sometimes they can be truly amazing and touch your heart.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Liberty, equality, fraternity

but what about sorority?

I was reading an article in the weekend papers about the new phenomenon known as Slutwalks. These started in Toronto as a protest against a policeman's comment that suggested that women who were subject to sexual assault 'asked for it' through the clothes they chose to wear. As most women will know, this is just the latest in a long line of attempts to blame women for the crimes some men comment against them. Whether it's the rape victim who was too sexy, or the one who said no when she really meant yes, or the abused wife who 'provoked' her husband through some failing on her part in tending to his needs. Slutwalks attempt to reclaim the right of women to wear what they want without it being seen as an invitation to men to assault them.

It is, of course, a tricky issue. We've probably all done a double take at a young girl wearing a skirt not much longer than the standard belt, often with plunging neckline and copious cleavage thrown in for good measure. We unconsciously probably make value judgements about the clothes she chooses to wear.

Most women would be liars if they didn't admit to being secretly pleased to draw admiring glances when wearing a slinky little number, or even the odd wolf whistle or two. Does this objectify us? Yes, probably. Do we like it? If we're honest, yes probably. Do we wear clothes to attract attention, often from men? Again, if we're honest, probably. Does it mean we are 'up for' anything a man wants to do to us? Definitely not.

Slutwalks are drawing mixed reviews. Many see them as the rebirth of feminism, an affirming declaration of the girl power of the 21st Century. Others see them as misguided endeavours that play into the sexual stereotype, the irony lost on the 'lads' the walks are intended to challenge. Some are uncomfortable at the anti-men message inherent in the concept. Not all men are rapists. These days not all rapists even need be men.

Rape and sexual assault are serious issues. They are crimes of sex, of violence and of power. They are as much about intimidating and cowing as they are about violation - if not more so. And they are the extreme manifestations of attitudes sadly still prevalent in our supposedly modern, liberal and equal societies.

These are the attitudes that label women with many sexual partners as promiscuous sluts, while lauding the equivalent men as 'jack the lads' or Romeos. That see ambituous women as ruthless, while their male equivalents are go-getters. That create the term cougars and lolitas for women, and sugar daddies and toy boys for men. That see women as the easily swayed or influenced in any relationship, the led rather than the leader.

It's also the society that still almost universally assumes the woman will be the caregiver and homemaker and the man the breadwinner, regardless of what either sex wants to do. How often do you hear a male colleague referred to as a working father?

Of course, it works in reverse too. Why is it that Page 3 pin-ups and posters of topless women are frowned upon, but it's perfectly alright to have a hunky guy with a nude torso and a honed six pack displayed in work environments? That a group of guys commenting on a woman's physical attributes is denigrating but a group of women doing likewise about 'fit blokes' is all just good clean fun?

Our double standards remain astounding. Sadly they also remain real, and they continue to have a real impact on our attitudes to and experience of equality. Can the two genders ever be equal? I genuinely don't know. It's true, we are different from each other but being different doesn't mean we have to be treated less fairly. Have I experienced inequality? Yes, but I always perpetrate it too. I am guilty in things I say and do, and things I think. We all are. The next step, I suspect, is realising it and acknowledging it. And then, hopefully, doing something about it.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Good grief...

Charlie Brown...

Kind of sums up my day really, at least from the perspective of the title and the pics if not the lyrics!

Fingers crossed for a better one tomorrow.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Carrying a torch?

Today's public service announcement is brought to you by Crafty Manoeuvres. This could be your moment to shine - or more accurately, you could help someone else to have theirs.

In case you haven't noticed, the design for the London 2012 Olympic Torch was revealed recently. As was some information about the relay route - we now know where the overnight stops during the 70 day relay around the UK will be next summer. Hopefully soon we'll know the exact route and we'll all be able to work out whether we'll be able to see the Torch as it makes its way round the country.

But in the meantime, you have got a chance to get involved yourself. Or at least to nominate someone you know/love/admire to get involved. A lucky 8,000 people will get the chance next summer to carry the Olympic Flame as it makes its way around Britain on its way from Greece to the London games next July. It really will be a once in a lifetime, always to be remembered opportunity.

If you know someone you think deserves to have it, what are you waiting for? Log on and nominate them today. You've got until 29th June to do it through the Olympic Organising Committee, so get a move on. There will be other opportunities through the official Games sponsors, but why wait?

You never know, next summer you might just have someone carrying a torch for you too.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Talking sh*t

Today's blog is in celebration of innovative use of social media to communicate a difficult social message about a particular unpleasant piece of highly practised anti social behaviour. Perpetrators don't necessarily see it that way. To many anti social behaviour is about yobs on the street, drunk and swearing and fighting with each other. It's not something that the nicely heeled middle class indulge in. But sadly that's just not true. This particular piece of anti social behaviour is sadly all too common and committed by people from all walks of life.

Well, it's not really the people. No, it's their dogs. And, if you haven't already worked it out - I'm talking shit. Dog shit to be precise. An all too common scourge and hazard on our footpaths. And something that just doesn't need to be there. It's dirty, smelly, dangerous and just basically horrible. It's irresponsible behaviour and it shouldn't be happening.

And so to the social media angle. Launched today by Stirling Council is a new - hopefully to become viral - online campaign, aimed at encouraging local dog owners to 'bag it and bin it' rather than just let their dogs curl one out and leave it for the joy and delight of everyone else. It's a brave piece of action on the part of the Council. It's a light hearted look at the topic but there is every risk that people with sense of humour by-passes will take exception to it. Hopefully they will be few and far between, and they will help to spread the word by bringing attention to the issue rather than stifling it at birth.

So what do you think? Too risque or just good plain fun?

Coincidentally, I also came across another good piece of clever use of popular culture to help embed serious messages. Zombie attacks may sound like a joke or sci fi fantasy, but CDC in America is using the concept as a hook to get across the message of being prepared for more likely events. Good on you, guys. Go for it. Humour wins!!

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Healthy? Wait!

As only the most infrequent readers will have missed, I'm in training this year. Not just training as in getting fit. No, training as in for a race. A marathon to be exact. One of my friends has commented that I'm rarely one to do things by half. Not just jogging for me, or a simple 10k. Oh no, I have to go for the big one and aim for a marathon just 18 months after starting running. It's probably just as well I'm a weak swimmer and can't stay upright on a bike or I'd probably have signed up for an iron man (woman!) triathlon as well.

So far the furtherest I've run is a half marathon. And at the moment I can't even imagine having the stamina to do the same again on top. At least not without proper training. So that's what I'm trying to do. I'm trying to get myself organised enough to get out running 3 times a week, including some interval training at the gym.

And do you know what? It's hell. Sure, I get a real sense of achievement notching up the miles. But I also get sore feet, knees, ankles and toes. And bizarrely, I'm also getting heather instead of lighter. Go figure!

Which is all a long way of saying, if you haven't already done so, go make a donation on my Just Giving page. I'm really not doing this for the good of my health. I'm doing it hopefully for the good of others.

And by the way, I'm not entirely to blame on the over-ambitious challenge front. It was all Frances' idea after all!

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Lunch stops and coffee shops

I promised, so here they are - Stirling's lunch stops and coffee shops. All hand tested and with the Bex seal of approval.

Drum roll please for....

The Burgh Coffee House
81 Port Street
The Junk Rooms
Clive's at Bridge of Allan
Zak's at the Peak
Old Town Coffee Shop
Darnley Coffee Shop
Unicorn Coffee shop at the Castle
EC's in the Arcade
Pumpkin at the station
The Bistro at the Campus
Scottish Arts & Antiques Centre at Doune
Sunlite Cafe, Cowane Centre

And if you must, we also have a Costa Coffee and a Cafe Nero. But, really, why would you bother?

Summer's here?

The Whitsun Weddings

That Whitsun, I was late getting away:
Not till about
One-twenty on the sunlit Saturday
Did my three-quarters-empty train pull out,
All windows down, all cushions hot, all sense
Of being in a hurry gone. We ran
Behind the backs of houses, crossed a street
Of blinding windscreens, smelt the fish-dock; thence
The river's level drifting breadth began,
Where sky and Lincolnshire and water meet.

All afternoon, through the tall heat that slept
For miles island,
A slow and stopping curve southwards we kept.
Wide farms went by, short-shadowed cattle, and
Canals with floatings of industrial froth;
A hothouse flashed uniquely: hedges dipped
And rose: and now and then a smell of grass
Displace the reek of buttoned carriage-cloth
Until the next town, new and nondescript,
Approached with acres of dismantled cars.

At first, I didn't notice what a noise
The weddings made
Each station that we stopped at: sun destroys
The interest of what's happening in the shade,
And down the long cool platforms whoops and skirls
I took for porters larking with the mails,
And went on reading. Once we started, though,
We passed them, grinning and pomaded, girls
In parodies of fashion, heels and veils,
All posed irresolutely, watching us go,

As if out on the end of an event
Waving goodbye
To something that survived it. Struck, I leant
More promptly out next time, more curiously,
And saw it all again in different terms:
The fathers with broad belts under their suits
And seamy foreheads; mothers loud and fat;
An uncle shouting smut; and then the perms,
The nylon gloves and jewelry-substitutes,
The lemons, mauves, and olive-ochers that

Marked off the girls unreally from the rest.
Yes, from cafes
And banquet-halls up yards, and bunting-dressed
Coach-party annexes, the wedding-days
Were coming to an end. All down the line
Fresh couples climbed abroad: the rest stood round;
The last confetti and advice were thrown,
And, as we moved, each face seemed to define
Just what it saw departing: children frowned
At something dull; fathers had never known

Success so huge and wholly farcical;
The women shared
The secret like a happy funeral;
While girls, gripping their handbags tighter, stared
At a religious wounding. Free at last,
And loaded with the sum of all they saw,
We hurried towards London, shuffling gouts of steam.
Now fields were building-plots. and poplars cast
Long shadows over major roads, and for
Some fifty minutes, that in time would seem

Just long enough to settle hats and say
I nearly died,
A dozen marriages got under way.
They watched the landscape, sitting side by side
-An Odeon went past, a cooling tower,
And someone running up to bowl -and none
Thought of the others they would never meet
Or how their lives would all contain this hour.
I thought of London spread out in the sun,
Its postal districts packed like squares of wheat:

There we were aimed. And as we raced across
Bright knots of rail
Past standing Pullmans, walls of blackened moss
Came close, and it was nearly done, this frail
Traveling coincidence; and what it held
Stood ready to be loosed with all the power
That being changed can give. We slowed again,
And as the tightened brakes took hold, there swelled
A sense of falling, like an arrow-shower
Sent out of sight, somewhere becoming rain.
                                                                Philip Larkin

Not quite that weather this year sadly. 

And, by the way, what a miserable supercilious git Larkin was, don't you think?!

Thursday, 9 June 2011


Clouds are wonderful things. Amazing creations of nature. They look so soft and fluffy but as anyone who has flown through them will know, often they're anything but.

I've been looking at clouds this week for a photo challenge. I think this one looks like an eagle. Kind of. If you squint and turn your head on one side. Maybe. But to be honest I often look at clouds. Not just because I live in Scotland and we have lots of them. But because they're genuinely interesting.

Making shapes out of clouds is a great game. Anyone remember that great scene from Truly, Madly, Deeply? Watching them gather or melt away is fascinating too. Seeing them race by on a windy day is awesome.

You're never bored with a cloud. We really should appreciate them more. Especially when we have so many of them! So here's to sore necks from cloud gazing. Or perhaps what we really need is some Cloudbusting ?

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Fine dining

Ok, I promised a post on dining in Stirling, so here it is. And be assured, contrary to popular urban myth (fie on my shallow cynical colleagues) there are plenty of great places to eat in Stirling - and you don't even have to take a picnic. Although if you do, we've got great places for them too.

So, here goes. We may not have Michelin stars but we do have:

Ziggy Forelle's
The Terraces
The Bank at Adamo, Stirling
The Junk Rooms
Henderson's at the Albert Halls
The Riverhouse

And, if you're in to Indian, chinese etc food, we've got:
The Cottage
Spice Garden
The Regent
Wilawan Thai

Slightly further afield we've got:
Nick Nairn at the Doubletree Dunblane Hilton
Adamo at the Queens in Bridge of Allan
Monachyle Mhor
The Lake Hotel at Lake of Mentieth
Braeval at Aberfoyle
The Sheriffmuir Inn
The Gargunnock Inn
The Bistro at the MacRobert
Cromlix House
and of course, if you must, Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles - now it has got Michelin stars

And that's enough for now. I'm starting to feel hungry!!

Stop by later though for coffee shops and lunch stops galore.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Sterling Stirling

As regular readers of this little blog will know, I am a big fan of the place I live - this wonderful city of Stirling. One of my favourite pastimes - apart from running, knitting, drinking wine or dancing tango - is to get out and about around Stirling with my camera. And it's not because I'm easily bored, or because I'm a skinflint - it's just because there genuinely is so much to see and discover in this fair city.

For example, if you like the big set pieces, you'll love our heritage sights - the Castle, the Wallace Monument and Bannockburn Heritage Centre. If you've got little people in tow, or are just young at heart, you won't go wrong with the Old Town Jail, Blairdrummond Safari Park or the Kings Park play area. The Smith Museum with its child friendly dress up box and outdoor adventure garden will probably please too.

Shopaholics will just love the Thistles/Marches shopping mall, Stirling Arcade and just a 5 minute train ride away, the quirky boutique shops of Bridge of Allan. Sporty types are also well catered for, whether it's participating - at the Peak, the University Sports facilities or just getting out and about in the surrounding countryside and hills, including Scotland's first National Park, or spectating there's lots for you too. Go and see the mighly Stirling Albion at Forthbank Stadium, Scotland's only fan owned professional football team. Or pop down to Bridgehaugh and see Stirling County Rugby club strut their stuff on the field. If you fancy a slighty slower pace, try New Williamfield, Stirling's own international standard cricket square. Or even drop by the Peak again to see international hockey, curling or any number of other sports. If you look hard enough there's even Petanque to be found in Stirling!

But the thing I really love most about Stirling is just wandering round and looking at what there is to see. Stirling is one of those places where, if you look hard enough and lift your head (and eyes) above the street in front of you, there is a wealth and abundance of quirky features and beautiful features just waiting to be discovered. And hidden places too. Like Ailie's Garden at the Smith; like Pithy Mary's pond in the Old Town Cemetery; like the views from the Back Walk below the Castle (Europe's best urban walkway); like the Provost's Lamp-post in Cambuskenneth - and many many more.

I could go on but then there'd be nothing for you to discover yourself when you come to Stirling. Because you should, you really should. It's Scotland's newest city and - although I may just be a little biased - its best!

Coming soon - a blog post that scotchs the myth that there's nowhere decent to eat in Stirling. Fie on you for saying that. Meanwhile I'll leave you with another teaser about the fabulous new Royal Apartments at Stirling Castle. If this doesn't capture your attention, nothing will.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Getting back on - part 3

As I've blogged recently, I'm ready now to 'get back on'. Or at least I think I might be, and I'm trying hard to make myself. I really am. But it is much much harder than it sounds and at the moment, it just doesn't seem to want to work out. I am thwarted - great word that, by the way - at every turn it seems.

And I'm not just talking about dating here. I've decided that my 'getting back on' should extend to other stuff too - it should be a holistic endeavour, to borrow a work related cliche. A whole system solution. A 'whole of life' package of care.

Now, dating - I tried, I really did. And I'm trying not to let the fact that my first date out in since becoming single was not a great success get me down. The fact that my date took one look at me and fled for the safety of the other side of the room hasn't knocked my confidence or enthusiasm for the whole thing...Ok, it has. But I'm trying hard not to let it. That surely counts for something.

I haven't quite plucked up the courage to join a dating agency or singles club yet, or answer a Lonely Hearts ad - although I did get as far as phoning up a box number to listen to one - but I am at least making the effort to get out and about a bit more, and put myself places where I meet other people. It's hard going, but I am led to be believe that I will be getting a new wing [wo]man in the not too distant future, so perhaps things will start to move then. Or at the very least, we'll have some great fun trying!!

As for other stuff, I've also stirred myself to start looking at property again. And I was struck this weekend, after 2 unsuccessful viewings how like dating the whole property search is. Looking at ads for places that promise so much and then fail to deliver, photographs taken from the most becoming angles that turn out to be hiding the damp patch/crumbling wall/miniscule attributes, misleading descriptions, teasers, come-ons and - sometimes - downright untruths!

So, am I being unrealistic about it all? Is it worth waiting for the one I fall in love with or should I settle for the one that is perfectly adequate, but not quite right? Will those little flaws be something I get used to and learn to live with, or will they magnify as time passes until all I can see are the faults? Is good enough really good enough, or should I hang out for just plain fantastic?

Romantic that I am, for now I'm going to wait for my prince of property to come. If I can keep my enthusiasm up, I'll keep looking, searching for frogs with hidden depths, opening my life to new possibilities and maybe, just maybe the right thing will come along for me. But whatever it is that I'm looking for - whether it's a soulmate or a sanctuary - it's not going to happen if I hide myself away and ignore it all. Even if I'm not out there seeking, if I'm in here hiding, even opportunity can't force its way in.

As I've said before, time to get my feet wet...

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Crafty ways

 I confess, it's quite some time since I've blogged on what this blog is supposed to be about - craft and handmade.

So here, to make up for it, is a picture of my current project - a cute little crochet cardigan made from a gorgeous hand dyed yarn. Hopefully it's going to fit when it's finished. Particularly after the number of times it's been ripped back and started again.

As you can see, Cat isn't too impressed and is making his presence felt. Added cat hair anyone?

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Good evening

And it was. A good evening, that is. I've had a great time out with the marvellous Deborah, a friend from work. We were partaking of comparative hospitality research - except our comparisons were messed up by the eating establishment we were heading for being fully booked, which forced us back to where we started from. Great hardship as we drank more glasses of pink bubbles, cocktails and ate lovely food.

It was a fabulous evening, at the end of a beautiful early summer's day - don't blink or you'll miss our Scottish summer - so why do I feel sad now? I quite often find that at the end of a great evening out with friends, I will feel a bit down. I think it's the contrast between good times out with friends and coming home to an empty (apart from Cat) flat.

Again, I don't want you to feel sorry for me. The sadness passes. But it is a reality. I would love to be coming home to someone special. Or at least knowing that there's someone special waiting for me to get home and thinking about me even if they're not physically there. Maybe some time. But for now, it's me and Cat, and my friends. And for that I'm truly grateful.

Friday, 3 June 2011

I choose the mountain

The low lands call
I am tempted to answer
They are offering me a free dwelling
Without having to conquer

The massive mountain makes its move
Beckoning me to ascend
A much more difficult path
To get up the slippery bend

I cannot choose both
I have a choice to make
I must be wise
This will determine my fate

I choose, I choose the mountain
With all its stress and strain
Because only by climbing
Can I rise above the plane

I choose the mountain
And I will never stop climbing
I choose the mountain
And I shall forever be ascending

I choose the mountain
Howard Simon

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Royal appointment

Stirling Heads

Yesterday evening I was invited to the Palace and was presented to the Queen. That would be James V royal palace at Stirling Castle and the Queen was Mary of Guise.  More accurately she was the Dowager Queen and also Queen Regent to the infant, Mary Queen of Scots.

And how did I get to do that? No, I haven't learned to bend time yet (still working on that one!) but I did get an invitation to a preview before the public opening of the newly renovated Royal Apartments at Stirling Castle. All I can say is £12million definitely very well spent. It is simply sumptuous and I can't wait to go back as a visitor to wander round at my own pace and drink it all in again. (Last night I was forced to hurry off and drink in champagne instead. It's a hard life!)

For those who don't know, James V was the last of the Renaissance Kings in Scotland. He consolidated the Auld Alliance between Scotland and France and was responsible for the Renaissance Court at Stirling Castle, then the seat of Kings in Scotland - and commissioned a new set of Apartments at the Palace for him and his second wife, Mary. Sadly he died before his magnificent Royal Apartments at Stirling were finished, after losing the Battle of Solway Moss and left as his heir his infant daughter, Mary - only 6 days old. Hence, when you see the Apartments now the King's bed is unmade.

What the renovations at the Castle have done is take it back to our best estimates of how it would have looked at the time. Gone are the grey stone walls and draughty empty rooms. In their place are brightly coloured, ornate and flamboyant spaces - fit, indeed, for a King and Queen. The tapestries that have been woven on site at the Castle for the last few years are now hanging on the walls of the Queen's Presence Chamber. And the replicas of the famous Stirling Heads are now fully painted and installed on the ceiling of the King's Presence Chamber. Absolutely stunning! You can see the originals in the gallery above the Apartments - getting that close to historical artifacts is truly humbling.

There's plenty of fun to be had for the young at heart too - hands on exhibits and games in the basement, costumed actors explaining the history and helping you live the experience as you go round, and of course the fabulous Unicorn Cafe for when it all gets too much. As an added bonus, last night we were treated to a talk from one of the archaeologists who has been work on the restoration project and he brought to life some of the hidden history they've discovered along the way.

I've blogged before about what a wonderful place Stirling is to visit. There's tons to see and do. And now, well from this weekend, there's even more. Get yourself across here. I promise, you won't be disappointed!!