Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Our very first

4 years ago today Mountain Man and I got married. That was after 17 years together, which makes it 21 years since we first became an item. This morning the conversation went like this:

(as I hand MM a present wrapped in a brown paper bag)
MM: I didn't think we were doing presents?
Me:   Well it's our anniversary, not Valentine's Day. And we only get one every 4 years.
MM: Oh. Well I didn't think we were giving them... sorry.

Ever the romantics we are! We've always said we wouldn't bother with Valentine's Day and I'm not sure how this translates to our anniversary too, but obviously somewhere in the annals of MM's brain it does. Actually I'm not complaining because the first anniversary is traditionally paper, so my present to him was neither romantic nor exciting, merely practical.

One thing I do have to say is that his card to me was a whole lot more romantic than mine to him. I couldn't find anything but sloppy ones and they're just not me, so I gave him a 'congratulations' one instead... seemed appropriate! Then MM announced that he'd left the exact same card on my desk yesterday after I'd found out I was having a poem published. I didn't see it, which says that not only am I not romantic, I'm also not very observant and my desk is a guddle!

We're off to the bright lights of Edinburgh tonight for a dinner at David Bann's, one of our favourite vegetarian restaurants, and we'll celebrate in style then.

I wonder if MM will remember our next one, and if so that we are giving presents? I shall just have to wait another 4 years to find out, by which time we'll have been upgraded to cotton... so I'm not holding out much hope in the pressie stakes!

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Exciting news

I got back from my weekly Monday social bowls session to be greeted by an email which stated that one of my poems has been chosen to appear in the next edition of The Eildon Tree.

Apart from having one of my poems actually in print, the fact that it was chosen by editors of some renown makes it very special. But even more than that is the fact that this poem was about my dad, who died 26 years ago this year. My mother gave me his war medals last year and as I was framing them the first line came to me.

And just in case you're interested here's the first verse:

Plucked from civilian life to fight a war
an echo of a man is all that’s left,
stories of a name and nothing more.

It's a villanelle by the way, and as the first and third lines are repeated 4 times in the poem, which is 19 lines long, you've actually got quite a lot of the poem just in these 3 lines!

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Hormones hit

For any of you who haven't been through the menopause look away now...

It doesn't really end in the sense that you never get any symptoms that don't revisit from time to time. Well you were warned!

Yesterday I had one of those days when I was extremely hormonal. Not only did I have the house heating problem to contend with (see yesterday's post), which saw me starting the day on an extremely cold note, the moment the heating went on I had several hot flushes and... shock, horror, amazement... I fancied some chocolate. Now for me that is extreme indeed. My OU friend Larraine had sent me a book I needed last week and in the box were some small chocolate eggs. And so yesterday morning I ate 2 and immediately felt sick (stop laughing Mountain Man), but at least that's probably my chocolate consumption taken care of for the year so not all's lost. I also felt quite low and didn't feel like doing a whole lot of anything, which was exacerbated by the absolute crap that seems to be on the telly on a Saturday night.

I ended up with good book and a glass or two of a rather nice South African Fairtrade Pinotage, the latter didn't help my hot flushes, but it certainly made me feel better.

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Mountain Man makes a mistake

We have been experimenting with our heating system this winter and have found that if we keep the heating on all day but extremely low, the house stays warm and we don't use as much oil as when we turned it on and off during the day. And given that we're home a lot it's nice not to have to wear a coat and gloves in the house.

However, this last week has got a lot warmer and we made the decision that we'd drop back to putting the heating on once in the morning and once in the evening. When I got back from Edinburgh yesterday, where I've been for the last couple of days, the house was cold... but I thought well it's just our new regime and I'll get on with my work and maybe have an early night.

Mountain Man, who was to oversee the change over, went off before I got home to get up a mountain somewhere above Aviemore for the weekend. He's doing his Winter Skills training with Borders Search and Rescue, which should be fun as they're apparently supposed to be doing avalanche training, but given that the temperature has been as high as 11 degrees I think they'll have to use an inordinate amount of imagination. Anyway, MM was dealing with the boiler.

This morning I was very cold when I got up. Not a radiator on in the house and the outside thermometer said it was 4 degrees out there. I had a quick shower and then went down to get the dog out and breakfast ready and investigated what was going on with the boiler.

I shall have to have words with my man. Instead of flipping the switch to twice a day, he had flipped the other switch - the one that turns the heating off and keeps the water on - but he'd left it with the water being heated on low all day. I'm off out with the dog in the hope that by the time we get back from our morning saunter that the house will have warmed up a bit.

I'm so pleased the coffee plants are wrapped up in their fleece, I don't think they would have survived a night in the cold otherwise. Poor delicate things. I'm sure they'll have a thing or two to say to Mountain Man when he gets home.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Some people have all the luck

Phil and Caroline to be exact. They are, or at least up until this point, have been regulars at Spin, the art group I go to every month in Edinburgh. Last night was their very last Spin night as both of them have traded in their jobs in IT at a well known High Street bank to go and teach English as a foreign language in Venice and anywhere else in Italy that they can reach from there. Who wouldn't jump at the chance to change their lives if they could, and in Venice too... lucky buggers.

And so it was, after a visit to the Anna Barriball exhibition at the Fruitmarket Gallery (which was great and I urge you to get to see it if you can) we went for a goodbye dinner at The Dogs in Hanover Street. A lovely evening was had and although I had to leave around 10.30 as I had an early start to go and chair an all day meeting today, I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

Phil and Caroline will be missed, but of course it also means it will be a great meet-up when Spin eventually heads back to Venice for another Biennale at some point next year or the year after. They have been warned to stock up on the Prosecco. That Spin lot mean serious business, especially if Prosecco's involved!

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

A bit of a boast

I know pride comes before a fall and all that, but I'm afraid I'm going to tell all because it's truly unbelievable and might be my one and only ever chance for this to happen.

Tonight was my women's league bowls night, the ultra competitive one I told you about last week. Each week four of us out of five play. Well this week in my team were two Scottish players - the person who plays skip and the one who plays third. Our Club President, who last week played our lead, wasn't there, so we had Chris, who's been playing for years as our lead, and then there's little old me (who only started indoor bowls last year) who plays second, which is traditionally the place for the weakest player.

Well this week was a completely different story to the last one. I... as in me... played the best in our team! Our skip was rubbish and the others weren't much better, and we were lucky to come out with a draw at 13 all. And every end we won, at least one of my bowls was in the mix.

Ok, boast over. I'm playing next week where I'm sure normal play will resume.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Retirement sinks in

I had to do some work for my accountant to sort something for me, and when I wrote down the hours I'm working now - as in paid work - I was shocked. The realisation of what 'retirement' means has slapped me round the face and then beat me up some more.

Since my official announcement, I hardly seem to have worked many hours, let alone days, and yet I've also managed to be in total denial... as in people saying to me 'are you busy?' and the reply is 'oh yes, lots of work things on' when actually I've done very little at all!

I'm also shocked that for the past few weeks I've managed to fill my hours quite adequately, but not with much worthwhile whatsoever. Well ok, that's a bit of an exaggeration, as I have a conference workshop I'm preparing which certainly has taken time, and then I still have my last client to see,  London work to do, my NHS Education work to do... but somehow it's not quite the same as it was a mere month ago.

And so yesterday I decided to make a start on the 'big clean up'. It was with trepidation that I looked at all my files and started to sort them. Amongst all the dross there were: wage slips from 10 years ago, car details of a car I sold in 2007, jag certificates for animals who've been dead for more years than I care to mention, and a whole lot of paperwork from the union that I stopped subscribing to when I left my NHS job back 2008; and all that's just the tip of the paperberg.

Mountain Man was not amused at the mound of paper that now needs to be shredded (he has the shredder in his office) and that's only a fraction of the amount that's still out there. But he was rather pleased when I also found a rather fetching trophy which belongs to him that had somehow found it's way into my 'hoard'.

I wonder what other things are in the depths of my work space? It'll probably take me most of  my retirement to find out!

Monday, 20 February 2012

Slave labour or being supportive?

Yesterday was one of the most beautiful of days of the year so far. Cold, but sunny and bright with a fantastically blue, blue sky. And where was I on this loveliest of days? I was 'chained' to my bed and computer while I worked for nothing for Mountain Man - yes that's right, nothing, nada, nil -  while he went out for a run in the sparkling sunshine.

I spent a frustrating day rewriting the pages for his Bhutan travel pages, which were sent by his Bhutanese partner. The guy's English is really very good for someone from Bhutan, but as for readability and making sense...

It was unbelievably time consuming and I only realised the time at 3.30 pm as the sun was beginning to disappear and rushed to get out for a walk in the woods with the dog. She loved it, but age is catching up with her and she spent the whole time sniffing rather than walking. When we eventually got home, she ate her food and then completely flaked out for the rest of the evening.

I worked on my 'translating' until just past 7, when I gave up for the day. Only two completely finished, one more half done and there's still another four waiting in the wings! 

Still a girl's got to support her man in any way she can, doesn't she?

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Amazonian tactics

I had been talking about my book 'START to Stress Less' with a friend the other day, and yesterday, for some strange reason, I was drawn to looking it up on Amazon. Imagine the shock when I saw that they were selling for the following eye-watering prices: £100.08 new and £96.12 used.

I think this is an Amazon punishment for my not dropping the price from it's original £4.95 to so cheap that I would be paying people to buy my book, and now they've made it these prices so people absolutely wouldn't buy it.

Is there a way of changing the prices they've quoted? I don't think so. It doesn't seem fair at all, but there's nothing I can do so I'll just have to sit and take it.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Book news

One of the things that doing an Open University Creative Writing course teaches you is to critique others writing. After all reading others work and commenting on it is a great way to sharpen up your own writing - of course this is assuming that one's time is spent writing and not just reading! And so, a little while back, when one of my writer pals from the village encouraged me to join Newbooks magazine as a reviewer, I decided to use my new found skills and see if this was something for me.

As a test the mag sent me one of their previously reviewed books to read and then I had to write a 250 word piece on it. The book was An Object of Beauty by Steve Martin - yes, that's the Steve Martin. It was one of those books that I'd possibly pick up in an airport shop and read the first page, only to put it down again knowing it wasn't for me. I'd read other people's reviews where they'd raved about it, but frankly, I was disappointed. I wrote what I thought was a balanced review, keeping it as objective as I could.

I didn't hear anything from the powers that be at Newbooks and thought I'd maybe blown it, but then yesterday a brand spanking new book dropped through my letterbox. I was so excited.

The book I was sent is The Parisian's Return by Julia Stagg. If readability is anything to go by, by this morning I was already almost half way through it, which bodes well, and I have some mental notes as to what I might say when I come to put fingers to keyboard, though I have to admit to feeling the weight of responsibility that comes from actually writing a real review.

And other book news? I've been chosen for the 2nd year of it's inception to hack around on World Book Night delivering 25 books to deliver to the unsuspecting folk in my village, which is half the amount I had last year. This year my book is The Player Of Games by Iain Banks. Just one slight problem and that is that I'll be away on Holy Isle facilitating a course on that night. Mountain Man has said he'll take my place, but I think I'll get in touch with the officials and ask if that's allowed. After all I don't want any embarrassment if it's reported back that a balding man with a beard was seen knocking on people's doors trying to force books on people. No, I definitely don't want that!

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Women are different

Last night I played in my first ever women's league game. OMG, was it competitive! I thought the Tuesday mixed league I play in every fortnight was bad enough, but nothing like this. I know I'm pretty competitive, but nothing like the other three in my team, who themselves were mild compared to the opposing team skip. She was scary as hell. And it didn't help that we won (17-9) - which I have to admit was not down to me at all as I didn't play very well - as she got more and more bad tempered as the night wore on.

I'm pleased to report that, in spite of my being the worst player by a long chalk in my team, I did get the very last shot bowl so at least I finished on a good note.

One of the women on the opposing team is in my Tuesday mixed team. We actually get on very well and she was having a laugh with me as we were starting and telling me how competitive the women are. I thought she was just trying to put me off, but it turns out she was warning me. Next time I think I'll pay attention!

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

A change of plan

I was looking at Nicola Morgan's recent post, which is all about making the most out of your blog. Of course she's talking about writerly people and people who want to be in the public eye.

I posted a few weeks back about whether my blog should continue (or not) in its current form and I decided to keep going at least for a while. In some ways this blog is to let my friends know what's happening in my world (not much) and to keep me writing (ok there's writing and writing and this comes under the former). I'm not famous or infamous (as far as I know), so followers are people I know and it feels quite friendly and uncritical.

However, I made the decision to play with the colour choices. Of course if someone had told me I'd never be able to put it back how it was, I'm not at all sure I'd have done what I did. Since I started this blog Blogger have changed their backgrounds/foregrounds/and any other ground they could find. I used to like that mine was a bit on the plain side, but that style is now long gone.

I played. I changed it. I went jazzy and zizzy and hated it. I tried to change it back, but couldn't. I tried plain, pink, blue, green and any other colour I could find, but I didn't like them. However, of course, being a coffee lover, I decided the obvious choice was coffee.

And so, good people, my blog has changed it's look. Let me know your thoughts... but keep it polite please!

Tuesday, 14 February 2012


Mountain Man and I are now in our 21st year of being together and yet still he spoils me. For this Valentine's I got a lovely meal together with pink fizz all done for me. All I had to do was enjoy it, which I absolutely did.

Lucky lucky me.

Our cards to each other show our true feelings I think: his was a very sweet card telling me the top ten reasons he fell in love with me. Mine to him? Two chillies (magnetic of course) and one says to the other 'Hey Hot Stuff'... I'm saying no more in case I incriminate myself further!

I hope yours was as good as mine.

Monday, 13 February 2012

A depressing thought

I had to go out this morning and, because we've been around 3 degrees for the last week, I dressed appropriately - a polo neck and a woollen cardigan to keep me nice and warm. Then there's my long winter coat, which is rather like a black duvet with the top and bottom taken off; and of course my gloves and hat.

I positively sweltered all the way down to Kelso and immediately came home and changed into something cooler because... and I kid you not... it's 9 degrees out there. And according to the weather forecast it's going to stay pretty much the same all week.

I only hope that it doesn't mean that it stays the same for most of the year and actually we're already in Summer... no I can't afford to be thinking like this, it's far too depressing.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

My 2nd birthday celebration

Today is my February 'birthday', and it was lovely to share it with friends who were travelling back up to Inverness, our old stamping ground. It hardly feels like three and a half years since we moved here and talking about shared times and reminiscing was a great way to spend the day.

Mountain Man had booked a table for the two of us at one of our favourite veggie eateries in Edinburgh for tonight, but because when Rosemary and Nasir arrived last night we managed to sink a bottle of fizz (R and me), red wine (N) and all of us partook in some blueberry gin (along with quite a lot of food), we were all rather tired today. After R and N had left for the final leg of their journey home Mountain Man and I decided we would rather have a shared evening in the quiet and warm of our house than slog into Edinburgh, however nice the meal would have been.

So my second birthday celebration will be a quiet one, which is no bad thing, and I might just open the last bottle of fizz in the store cupboard. I've got to acknowledge the passing in some way and that seems as good a way as any.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Trials and tribulations

On Monday night, after picking me up at Berwick Station, Mountain Man was complaining of a sore ear. This then evolved into him vomiting throughout the night. It turned out he had a virus, which is a repeat of the one he had in December and another bout in January. I also succumbed, but luckily not the vomiting bit, just feeling dizzy and not well. Unfortunately the other 'person' to feel the effects of illness that abounded in our house was my laptop. It went into shutdown mode and refused to get up again. Nell the dog, meanwhile, slept through everything.

I have a backup system on my mac, called Time Machine, and very useful it is too as it automatically backs up when attached. This is great, except when the computer won't start. And so it was that, on Tuesday, I had a telephone appointment with the Computer Surgeon Supreme, Andy, who was at that moment heading for the door to take a plane to do his good work somewhere down south. We decided that my computer needed to come in to his surgery in Edinburgh after his return, and so I found myself without a computer for the majority of this week, and it was unbelievably painful.

I have an iPad and although I love it to bits and for watching films, listening to music, searching the web etc it is fab, but it isn't the workhorse that my computer is and I can't do 'serious' work on it.

Today, I set off for the Edinburgh Sick Computer Hospital to take my beloved laptop to Computer Surgeon Supreme Andy. I couldn't stay in the room while it was being operated on as it made me feel sick just to think it might never get up again. So while Shirley and I had a coffee and a catch up, CSS Andy did what he had to do and I am pleased to report a miraculous recovery. The patient is now home and, after a half hour of chuntering away rebuilding whatever it needed to rebuild once we got back into my office, it is now up and running perfectly.

I can't tell you how relieved I am. CSS Andy is a wonderfully generous man to give up his time to help me, and this, good people, is on the day of his 39th wedding anniversary... that's dedication to duty if ever I heard it.

So, congratulations to Shirley and Andy, and a huge thank you Andy for your surgical attentions.

And Mountain Man? He's all better now, as am I. Nell meanwhile is, after a short hiatus, back asleep.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Strange times at The National Gallery

Of course the snow did cause havoc. Not with my travelling, as I got to London just fine. My dinner out on Saturday also was fine, but London went into lockdown on Sunday because of an inch of snow and hardly any roads were gritted and pretty much no pavements. Consequently my OU meet-up got cancelled.

Although I was sorry not to catch up with folk, it did have a good outcome for me. I had a ticket for the last day of the Leonardo Da Vinci exhibition at The National Gallery. My ticket was for 4.30. The OU meet-up was to at about 7 and a way away in Pimlico, which would have meant I'd have had to leave the National around 6.30. So instead I had a leisurely time at the exhibition, which was brilliant.

It was such an amazing experience to see all these fab paintings and drawings, made 600 years ago, and which still have the power to attract and draw people in. Many of them are owned by the Queen, the lucky thing. The place was heaving and there were no tickets left at all, so I was pleased I'd booked.

What was also lovely was, because it was the last day of the exhibition, they'd laid on a string quartet, called Cadena in the foyer. They were absolutely stunningly attractive and played very well indeed. Mozart to the Beatles to Adele.

Cadena String Quartet in the foyer of The National Gallery

Champagne was also on offer and because I wasn't going to spend money in a pub I decided to have a glass, sit down and enjoy the music. It was great.

I did have one rather strange thing happen and that is that when I was in the lift (the exhibition was in 2 separate parts of the building and it was easier to take the lift) I was accosted by an Indian lady. She said, 'You are the artist. I love your work. You are so clever.' I said I wasn't, but she was having none of it! It was a bit of a surreal experience, especially as I overheard the other two people who'd been in the lift say, 'How exciting,' as I was on my way to the next part of the exhibition and smiled and nodded.

So who the hell do I look like? Who am I supposed to be? What art work? I'll never know of course, but it was an 'interesting' interlude.

Friday, 3 February 2012

Travelling light?

It's that time of the month... no, not that one... the one where I have to get myself in gear to go down to London and, as usual, the weather is looking like it's going to play havoc with my travel arrangements.

My travel is also not helped by the fact that the bus from Galashiels to Berwick, that is supposed to connect with the train going South and North, only runs every two and a half hours on a Saturday and therefore connects with no trains at all.

Mountain Man has kindly offered to take me in his 4 wheel truck so that 1) I'm not weather dependent and 2) I don't have to freeze my arse off hanging around in Berwick-on-Tweed for nigh on 2 hours waiting for a train to come. A good start. That is as long as the trains tracks aren't frozen/snow blockages/and/or any other things that can happen in the next 24 hours to get in the way of my travelling.

I'm looking forward to this trip, as sandwiched in between meetings I have a dinner out, a trip to the Leonardo exhibition at The National Gallery (it's the very last day of the exhibition) and a meet up with some OU friends for a drink and a catch up in a salubrious pub in Pimlico.

Now all I have to do is pack the right clothes to keep me warm when I'm out and cool when I'm in (I'm staying with my mother, who's idea of climate change is to keep her house as hot as she's able); and then there's something for dinner out, something smart for meetings and something casual for meet-ups.

So it's definitely not the overnight bag then!

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Film review

At 5 pm this afternoon Mountain Man and I went to the cinema. What a lovely thing to do in the afternoon, it really is. We saw Iron Lady.

I came away feeling angry because of:
The way our parliament acts. It hasn't changed in hundreds of years. People shouting, waving pieces of paper and putting each other down. Yes, in the 21st Century, they're still acting the same way. It makes a mockery of what we call democracy.

The futility of war, and for this I also mean terrorism, which is still fighting a war of sorts. All totally and irrefutably futile.

The destruction caused by Maggie Thatcher and how we're all paying for it now.

The violence, which, I can't stand under any circumstances.

That they got some dates wrong. I was at Art College for the 3 day week, which, according to this film happened several years later than it did.

That if we didn't live in a so called democracy, Maggie Thatcher would have been called a tyrant.
I also came away full of admiration for:
Meryl Streep's acting.

The portrayal of dementia.

The way the flashbacks were used.

I came away less than impressed with:
Some of the dialogue e.g. Dennis Thatcher's. He came across as a cartoon character, as did a lot of  Maggie's cabinet.

However, the film as whole held my attention, and also it seemed the other 8 people in the cinema as we all sat at the end and didn't move til we got to the 'gaffer' credits.

Made me feel a bit sorry for all those who work in films and who are credited but we never get to see unless we sit for more than the 5 minutes allotted before the cinema staff come in and chivvy everyone out. 'See Mum, I do have a credit, I do work in the movies.' 'Yes, son, if you say so.'

I give this one a 7 out of 10.