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No ice, please

What’s all this with the ice bucket challenge? Is the world going mad, or is it just me? I was challenged yesterday, and I’m going to refuse, partly because I’ve already donated, and partly because, well, I don’t want ice poured all over me. I can’t really see the point.

Ok, so I understand all the reasoning about ice giving you the same numbing feeling that you get with ALS (or cerebellar ataxia, for that matter, which definitely needs research). And good for all the people who have accepted the challenge. But I’m with the Australian newsreader Lincoln Humphries on this one:

‘I nominate everyone everywhere has more than what they need to donate what they can to the people who need it most. Because that is what charity is about – not putting yourself through mild discomfort with a bucket of ice and water. Ice is for keeping produce fresh, beer cold, and your nipples hard. Deal with it.’

I gave my dosh to help research into cerebellar ataxia which, like ALS, is a progressive neurodegenerative disease. My friend Bob Gurney, who died earlier this month, suffered from it for 10 years. He was taken away from his family and normal life piece by piece. The charity funding research into ataxia is tiny and if you would like to give them something, they are at http://www.ataxia.org.uk



Even a woman can read this


Have you ever seen that Laurel and Hardy film where Ollie is getting married and Stan buys a jigsaw puzzle? He’s supposed to be the best man, but he can’t tear himself away from the puzzle, and everybody who is sent to get him winds up doing the puzzle as well.

It was like that with me and stack of 1960s DIY magazines yesterday. We went, en famille, to an enormous car boot sale, and Claire, a friend of ours, came along too. Everything was going quite normally (I had just bought a leopard print telephone) when I spotted the February 1964 issue of Homemaker (monthly, price 1/6) on top of a whole crate of magazines.


Of course, I had to have a look. Who wouldn’t be drawn by a feature on how to make lovelier net curtains? Or, (in the March 1967 issue of Practical Decorating and Building) a week-by-week guide to building your own four-bedroom house with garage and full central heating?


Claire came up. She let her Clarice Cliffe inspired marquetry picture and brass cat letter holder slide unnoticed to the ground as she found the ‘Put your feet up special’ 1969 Homemaker magazine, complete with instructions for a super settee that even a woman can build.

In the end, because it is simply not car boot etiquette to sit down by someone else’s stall and start reading, we bought the entire crate of magazines and took them home and spread them over the kitchen table. Steve, who had been planning on frying some sausages, picked one up, and was immediately consumed by the article (inspired by Mr MF Ryder of Manchester) entitled If you want a king size bath – build one. Another friend of ours dropped by. She had only come to give William a birthday present. But one glimpse of a feature on the decorative allure of timber cladding and she was lost. ‘It’s just like our living room when I was a kid,’ she said. ‘Isn’t it awful?’

‘There’s an advert here for a pussy door,’ said Claire.

pussy door

I think I read nearly every issue, and I loved every one. But it wasn’t just because of the casual sexism and appalling taste and marvellous naivete. I felt, as reader, increasingly drawn into a world of possibility; instead of being told to go out and buy stuff, which is what so many magazines seem to do now, I was being shown how to make my life more comfortable for myself. And, when I had finished building a yacht in my living room, and sprucing up my net curtains; how to add a bit of sparkle to my existence by drinking wine (it’s everybody’s cup of tea), by going abroad for my holidays or signing up for an organised excursion to Paris (visits to a nightclub will, of course, cost extra).


I loved the whole innocent, enthusiastic approach, the adverts that gave you lots to read (as exemplified by the two-column closely typed ad for the fabulous Crofton chip-faced concrete garage), the underplayed headlines (other interesting features, p. 23) and the readers’ letters (there is a spoon in my kitchen drawer that I have used for levering off a bicycle tyre, repointing walls, stirring distemper and refilling pin cushions – FS Weston, Watford, Herts.).

So for my next post, how about full instructions on how to make a unit that turns your bedhead into a whole feature wall? Anyone? Even a woman can build it, you know.

Holiday snaps


Well, I’m back from my hols. The suitcases are spilling their guts all over the house, the dogs have come back from the kennels, and I’ve thrown away the orange I found mouldering on the kitchen counter.

I’ve been to the supermarket and stocked up on beer and bread and jammy dodgers and such fare as you lay before the faces of husbands and teenage children, and I’ve put away my shorts for another year.


I’ve got some nice pictures, including one of a beauty salon in Bordeaux, that my cousin Douglas seems unaccountably to have given his name to. We spent the day in the city, shopping and farting about in the sunlit squares and generally behaving like happy tourists.


But the best memory is of our first night. Son, 14, who was in rather a giddy mood, decided to wind up his sister by thrusting her hairbrush down the front of this pyjama bottoms. ‘Look Rose,’ he crowed rather disgustingly. ‘Look what I’m doing with your hairbrush.’ To which his sister witheringly replied, ‘That’s not my hairbrush. That’s dad’s.’


Postcard from France


Dear all,

having a lovely time. Went to Bergerac yesterday, home of that guy Cyrano. Thought you might like this shot of a fashion shop, and a look at the recipe books they were selling in a very upmarket cook shop:


But for all you traditionalists, here is a cute touristy pic:


A bientot!

Hello, sunshine!


Am now officially on holiday. No more posts for a bit. Back soon.

Thanks, Bob


I was going to see an old friend of mine this morning, but last night his wife phoned me to say he had died.

Bob’s death was a long time coming, he had been attacked by a virus which reduced his body to a wreck, but left his brain as sharp as ever. Imagine being in a prison like that.

I knew him since we were teenagers in the 70s. I always thought he was like Ritchie in Happy Days. Ritchie with a very dry sense of humour and an ability to neck a pint in one easy go. He was best mates with my boyfriend and we all hung out together. We went to see the first Star Wars film together, and laughed all the way home on the bus to his student house in Acocks Green listening to some bloke in a Brummie accent giving a low down of the plot. I can’t write it down. It doesn’t work on paper, 40 years later.

We all went to America together too, in 1980 on a Freddie Laker bargain flight. Bob nearly fell down the Grand Canyon and then got taken in hand by some weird Californian girl on a greyhound bus, whose entire luggage was a child’s travelling cot, and who kept announcing she was going to get pregnant by artificial insemination. And I remember on some plane trip during that journey, when all the other passengers were either chucking up in sick bags or looking with fierce concentration out of the window, because the turbulence was something terrible, Bob teaching me how to sing Paddy McGinty’s Goat. I wrote down the words. I must go and look for them.

And then of course, we grew up, and Bob found Eve (or rather, she found him, lucky boy) and they got married and they had two kids, and lived very happily, and I heard from them at Christmases.

A few years ago, Bob came to see me, right out of the blue. He was staggering slightly, but it was nothing serious, it was a hangover from him getting pneumonia and he’d be as right as ninepence in a few months.

He didn’t get better. He just got worse. Eve and their sons had to watch him being taken away from them piece by piece. They had to struggle with incompetent bureaucratic twits to get the help they needed, and finally he had to go into a nursing home. I visited him, not a quarter as often as I should have done, and it didn’t matter that he couldn’t speak any more, we could still communicate; we still, unbelievably, had a laugh.

I’ve been meaning to see him for the last few months, but, I suppose, I was too scared to go. I didn’t want to see what new low he’d been brought to. But Eve said he was getting worse, so I arranged to see him today.

And it’s too late. He’s gone. And all the jokes we shared are gone too. So, here’s to you, Bob. It was really, really nice knowing you. And I’ve still got the dog biscuit you gave me for my 18th birthday.

There is one more thing I want to say. If I am ever incapable of looking after myself, or standing up for my rights, I want Eve in my corner. She is one strong woman. She didn’t just stick with Bob all the way through those nightmare last years, she fought for him every single inch of the way. She didn’t shout, she didn’t threaten, but by God, she made sure Bob got the best care that could possibly be got. They loved each other to the very last second. They still love each other. And that’s something no stupid virus can take away.

Say, Cheese


What is the worst name for a child that you’ve ever come across? I started thinking about this yesterday after reading LBWoodgate’s post on Alaska governor Sarah Palin. Her daughter is called Bristol. (Bristol???) Still, I suppose it’s better than Stoke Poges.

But get this…a survey of half a million people by parenting website BabyCenter found some parents had named their new baby Cheese.

I take it back…Bristol, your tea’s ready!

picture courtesy of sha3teely.com via Creative Commons

The Twinkies have landed

twinkie box

I am editing something at the moment that has a bibliography so long it stretches out like the explanation in Star Wars, to some galaxy far far away. I have to check every entry, and so far, on my way to Betelgeuse Minor, I’ve only got to Basingstoke. (Metaphorically speaking, because everybody knows that if you get to Basingstoke, you never get out again).

So naturally, I have turned to cake. Fellow blogger Naptime Thoughts was so astounded by the fact that I didn’t know what a Twinkie was, that she sent me a packet. In return I sent her Cadbury’s mini rolls and Jaffa cakes (which are what God has for his elevenses).

The Twinkies arrived yesterday, after a two-week journey, but there are no worries about them going off because, according to Naptime Thoughts et al, they are:

  • mostly made of plastic;
  • designed to survive Armageddon.

It was a hot day, and we were all in the yard lounging about, drinking tea and watching husband and son-in-law mending bicycles, when Julia the post lady arrived. The parcel caused the kind of excitement not seen, I suspect, since the people on Hawaii looked at Captain Cook, saw past his gaudy wrappings, and thought, hmm, dinner.

Captain Cook

Captain Cook

Everyone watched as I wrestled open the packet and extracted the brightly coloured box (containing 10 individually wrapped golden sponge cakes with a creamy filling). There was writing on the box next to the sell-by date, saying ‘LIES’ and an arrow pointing out the Twinkie cowboy (some kind of cultural icon?) and a note saying, love from America.

The reactions were roughly:

Julia the post lady – ‘What’s a Twinkie? Oh, cake. All the way from New Jersey? That’s a lot to pay for postage. Still, that’s America for you. You’ve got two bills and some junk mail. No. I can’t throw it away before I give it to you.’

Husband (swallowing one whole) – ‘Mmmph. Nice. Bit sweet. Can you put the kettle on?’

Son in law – ‘Nice but they’re not as good as I thought they’d be, considering how people are always going on about them in films. I thought they’d be orgasmic. Like chocolate hob nobs. Is there tea?’

Daughter – ‘The inside is just like a Tunnocks Tea Cake. Do they have Tunnocks tea cakes in America? Shall I put the kettle on?’

Teenage son – ‘This is what they eat in that zombie film.’

Teenage son’s best mate – ‘They’re lovely. I love them… I’d love another one.’

So, thanks, America, (and Naptime Thoughts) and here are my conclusions on the cultural cake exchange:

  • we’re quite familiar with the names of your stuff, but that doesn’t mean we know what it is (Kool aid? Grits? A sedan?);
  • offering to put the kettle on will get you in anywhere;
  • Twinkies are all right, but chocolate hob nobs rule.

And Captain Cook, this advice is probably a bit late, but you’d have been way better off not landing on the beach looking like the Twinkie cowboy.

Twinkie Cowboy

Twinkie Cowboy

Picture of Captain Cook via Creative Commons, courtesy of


Bad to verse

Digital StillCamera

Two haiku:

Creeping silent from

her lair – she came to get the

reeking camembert.


And now she licks her

chops, blinking calmly on the

mutilated socks


Madame Zsa Zsa

tightrope walker

It’s funny how the most familiar things can really turn out to be really strange, while exotic sounding stuff just falls flat when you have it explained to you.

Look at Madame Zsa Zsa. If I told you she was a retired Hungarian tight-rope walker and former Parisian café owner, you’d think whoa, exotic. But if I then told you that really she played the organ in the kirk every Sunday, and everybody knew her as plain old Jeannie Delvine, then maybe you’d think, ‘Oh, well that’s boring.’

But to me it was Jeannie who was the more interesting person. For a start, I didn’t know her in her tightrope days. I was only eight, after all. But I did see her walk out on the rocks in the Tay to save Bugs from drowning, and she certainly had an assurance in that treacherous, whisky clear water, that I knew I would never have. And she was old then. Not old old, but old to me. Old as in her, what, forties, fifties?

She moved in next door to us on my eighth birthday. It was a blisteringly hot day, and my aunties and granddad were all round the table in the back room. Granddad was wearing his blue suit with a watch chain stretched across his waistcoat. He had taken his jacket off because it was so hot, and he kept wiping his face and the back of his neck with a brown and white striped hankie. We were eating ice cream and raspberry jelly. It was Neapolitan ice cream, three glorious stripes of colour in a damp cardboard box from Mr Menzies the corner grocer. Colin, my brother, had been sent up the drowsing street to get it. And when he came back he was full of the news of our new next door neighbour.

‘She’s got blonde hair,’ he said, handing two threepenny bits in change, to my mother.

‘Aye,’ said my auntie Nellie, looking meaningfully at my other auntie, Maggie. ‘Blonde hair? And did she have one of they short skirts?’

Colin wiped his hands on his shirt front and looked confused. ‘I don’t know,’ he said. ‘Just normal. With flowers on and things.’

‘Nellie!’ my mother said gently. ‘Don’t ask him questions like that. Asking him to look at women’s clothes.’

Mum pushed back a limp tendril of hair from her forehead and looked at him. ‘Is she nice?’

‘Oh, aye,’ said Colin. ‘She’s awfy nice. I helped her in with a box and she gave me sixpence.’ He looked at Auntie Susie. ‘She didn’t have a short skirt. She talks funny and she’s quite old.’

‘Old?’ said Auntie Susie, catching a look at herself in the mirror and smiling.

Colin dug into his ice cream. ‘Aye. About the same age as you.’

Jeannie, or Mrs Delvine as I had to call her, had blonde curly hair. It was not, as my mother said, ‘out of a bottle,’ and therefore she was not, as my auntie Nellie would have had it, a Jezebel. If my auntie Nellie had known that Jeannie was once called Madame Zsa Zsa, she definitely would have been a Jezebel. But nobody knew anything about Mrs Delvine. She kept herself to herself, except for the odd smile here and there when you passed her in the street.

With every fresh bit of news about a new person in the village, there would either be a collective nodding by the women standing at the counter waiting to be served in Mr Menzies, or a pursing of their lips. Not that there were many new people coming to our part of Perthshire in 1963. I knew by their discussions that, if you were a stranger, you had to get certain things right. That you had to pass a kind of a test. And not just the one.

Anyway, the women didn’t have much to go on with Mrs Delvine, except, as Colin said, she had a funny edge to her voice. Nobody could quite place it. And then, when Mrs Melville got too much rheumatism in her hands, and couldn’t play the piano in kirk on a Sunday any more, Jeannie went to the minister and volunteered. And she was a fine, fine musician. So that was another test passed. But what all the tests were, was something that I spent a great deal of time pondering. Would I have to take these tests, when I grew up? When I went anywhere new, would people walk behind me, inspecting my hair and my clothes, and thinking my voice was funny? And how many tests were there and what were they for?

I asked, I did ask, about these tests, but my mother would just tell me to stop blathering and go out to play. So I would go, with Bugs Leckie and Anne Sutherland and Margo Menzies, up to the field behind the school where the swings sat in deep muddy puddles, and where the older kids would dare you to lick the snowball bushes. ‘They’re poison they are. They’ll kill you if you swallow a berry. Go on, I dare you…’

Or we would go down to the Tay. Not often, because it was fast and rocky where it went past our village, and when it was in flood it scared me. But on hot summer days, when it lay quiet and brown under the trees, we would venture out on to the rocks and dip our hands in the cool water and try to catch the sticklebacks that flitted in the shadows. But we wouldn’t go right out in the middle. It was dangerous out there. It looked calm enough, but it was deep and cold, even in August, and the wrinkles on the surface let you know there were big currents underneath.

Bigger boys would sometimes dare each other to cross the river by leaping from rock to rock. And sometimes they did, and sometimes they fell in. My cousin Kenneth had drowned there in 1942, when he was just a boy going after his football. And his mother, my auntie Nellie, had never really got over it. Sometimes, she went a bit odd and looked in the kitchen cupboards, calling his name, and then she would have to go to hospital for a while. We never talked about going down to the river, in front of her. But we still went.

Anne and Margo would stay on the steep tussocky bank and make mud pies with an old frying pan, but Bugs and I would go out into the shallows, before it got dangerous. Bugs wasn’t a girl. His real name was Bob. But he had sticky out teeth, and the boys made fun of him because his dad had refused to fight in the war. Peter Menzies, the grocer’s son was the worst. It was him that thought of calling Bob ‘Bugs’. But they all called him a coward.

The war had ended 18 years before, but memories were still strong in the village of some of the men who had gone and who had not come back. Peter’s uncle was one of them.

Bugs’s dad came to the school to get Mr Roberts to stop the bullying, but Mr Roberts wouldn’t have anything to do with him. They stood in the dim brown corridor by the school hall, wee Mr Leckie, with his Sunday jacket on and his hair combed flat, and big tall Mr Roberts with his gown and his dark suit. ‘I will not see you, Mr Leckie,’ intoned Mr Roberts, in that same booming voice that he used in assembly. ‘I will not see a man who refused to smite the Germans.’

Smite the Germans. I was standing by my classroom door. I had been sent out for talking. I had to stand there for five minutes. But I had no way of knowing how long that was. I had no watch. I could not see the clock in the hall. All I could do was look through the glass in the door and hope Miss Thomson would see me and wave me back in. But smite the Germans took me away. I could see Mr Roberts dressed like Goliath in the bible with a big shiny breastplate, and metal shin pads, his sword raised. Smiting the Germans as they came over the purple plains in their tanks and low flying planes. Smiting them.

Was he going to smite Mr Leckie? And what with? I could see Bugs’s dad clasping his hands and then standing almost to attention. ‘My beliefs are my own, Mr Roberts,’ he said quietly. ‘It is not right that my son should suffer for them.’

Mr Roberts twitched his gown and turned away. ‘I will not hear you, Mr Leckie. I will not hear you. Your son is getting an education. And that is more than the Germans would have given him.’ And he opened the door to his room and strode in and shut the door in Mr Leckie’s face. And Mr Leckie turned and looked at me, and I wanted him to open that door and go in after Mr Roberts and give him what for. But he just stood there and put his hands deep in his pockets and turned away. Maybe he was a coward after all.

I wanted to go after him and ask him why he didn’t want to smite Germans, or even smite Mr Roberts, but at that moment my class room door opened and Miss Thomson pulled me inside. I was sent out again, half an hour later, for asking too many questions, so I don’t know why she bothered, really.

So there we were on the rocks, Bugs and I, trying to catch sticklebacks when I asked him if it was true he was a coward.

‘I am not,’ he said. His hair, blue black, fell into his eyes, and he swept it out with a wet hand. ‘I am not a coward.’

‘I was just asking,’ I said.

He got up on his feet. ‘I’m not a coward!’

‘All right,’ I said. ‘I don’t mind. Dinne fash yersel.’

He was standing in the light of the sun coming through the trees, and the light was bouncing off the water on his hair and face and arms. It was like he was covered in diamonds.

‘I’m going to walk across the river,’ he said.

‘Like Jesus?’ I said.

‘On the rocks,’ he said. ‘I’m going to jump between them. And if I make it, you can tell everyone, and I’m not a coward, ok?’

‘But the water’s calm,’ said Margo. ‘Anybody could do it now. Even cowards.’

Bugs looked at her, his pale face flushed bright pink. ‘Would you do it then?’

Margo looked out over the broken line of rocks in the water. ‘No. Because I don’t want to get wet. And anyway, if you fall off you’ll get swept down to the weir, and that’ll be the end of you. There’s currents in there. My mum told me. ’

‘Right,’ said Bugs. ‘I’m going.’ And he turned and there was a moment that I saw on his face, that he really was scared.

‘Bugs,’ I said. ‘Bugs.’

But he leapt for the next rock out. ‘I made it!’ he turned and his face was shining. ‘I made it!’ he shouted. ‘I made it, and I’ll go all the way. You’ll see!’

‘Bugs, come back! You’re not a coward!’ The look on his face was so determined it made me clench my hands. I wished I’d never asked him that terrible question.

But he was too busy looking out at the next rock to listen to me. I shouted again. But it was too late. He had leapt, and he had missed and the water was deep and still and cold there, and Margo and me and Anne screamed. And past us came a flash of yellow on the path by the bushes. It was Mrs Delvine out walking in her Sunday best and she glanced at Bugs sinking in the pool and bobbing up again, his face pale against the dark water.

And as neatly and quickly as if she were bending down to get a dropped hankie, she kicked her shoes off, put her handbag on the bank, and then jumped lightly out on to the rocks. It was easier for her, of course, because she was bigger than us, but there was an assurance and balance that she had, that I had never seen before in anyone I knew. She reminded me of the gymnasts I had seen in the Moscow State Circus on the TV. She just moved from rock to rock as if she was avoiding puddles on the High Street, and when she came to the pool she knelt down, reached out and grabbed Bugs by his hair and then she got an arm under him and pulled him out, and he fell against her, and her lovely suit was dark with water and river muck.

Men had come by then, and women too. Anne had run off to get them. Mrs Leckie was standing shrieking on the bank, ‘My wee boy! My baby!’ Mr Menzies was going out, in his grocer’s white cotton coat, to help Mrs Delvine, but Mr Leckie pushed him back. ‘That’s my son out there,’ he said. ‘I’ll get him, thank you.’ And he went out on the rocks almost as easily as Mrs Delvine, and took Bugs from her, and hugged him, and that was all I saw because my mum had come by then, and I was being dragged willy nilly back home for an early tea and bed and no argument, or it will be the worse for you. And all that long late afternoon and evening I lay in my bedroom and watched the shadows lengthen on the wall and wondered at Mr Leckie saying that, ‘thank you,’ and remembering the way Mr Menzies had blinked and stepped back.

And the next day apparently, Mr Leckie went into Mr Menzies shop, and the women stopped their talking entirely and the men went into the back room and talked for an hour together. And auntie Nellie wanted to go in and see what they were saying, but Mrs Sutherland stopped her. So nobody ever knew what was said. But when Bugs came back to school Peter asked him how he was. So that was all right, because that is the ordinary thing that I wanted to tell you.

Later on, days later, maybe weeks, I can’t remember now, I was round at Mrs Delvine’s because I was having a piano lesson, and there was a picture of her on her piano in a spangly leotard, balancing on a tightrope. Everybody had seen it except me. And exotic as it was, it was given only a minute’s worth of attention by the women waiting to be served in Mr Menzies. ‘Oh yes,’ they said. ‘See that Jeannie Delvine. She used to be a tightrope walker, in Hungary. And then she got arthritis, and her husband, aye, John Delvine, from Glasgow, that she met in the war, he died, poor soul. And then she ran a café in Paris, and it failed and she came here and saved wee Bugs Leckie fae drowning. Fancy that.’

cup of coffee

Pictures via CreativeCommons, via pixabay.com and commons.wikimedia.org



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