TW3 (That was the week that was … )

Indeed a week in three parts starting with the realisation last Saturday that I might have caught flu. I had been in the vicinity of someone the previous weekend who had taken to his bed, complete with woolly hat, and despite my best efforts had succumbed. This was doubly infuriating as I am no longer in any category that allows me to have a flu jab but by all accounts this year’s version is more resistant and fierce. I was never good at being ill, not good at staying in bed (I didn’t) and not good at realising that my body really couldn’t manage a brisk 7km walk or a quick birl on the exercise bike. So not going to London for four nights was not a consideration. But cognitive impairment had clearly kicked in by the time I left on Wednesday as I left the heating on (lucky cats).

The second part was having got to London, to wind my way around to Liverpool Street and hence to Colchester where I spent two nights in a very, very old and dilapidated hotel that I would not recommend to anyone, ever. I did wonder, as the staff appeared oblivious to the parlous state of affairs, that it was possibly ‘vintage’ and I am just incapable of its appreciation. The purpose was to attend a two day workshop by an eminent emeritus professor on the documentary approach I plan to use for my research. It was worth the effort, the night sweats and the coughing, and hopefully no one else caught it. But then I had to hurry back to London for the evening session of a weekend symposium at the Wellcome Institute – What makes a good death?

There was an hour of readings about death and dying which was about as much fun as it sounds. It was well done, by proper actors, but it was a wee bit gloomy or may be that was the flu. There was also a chance to see the associated exhibition of some of the Richard Harris ephemera collection, Death: a self-portrait, without the madding crowds. I left in time to get back to the hotel to watch the second episode of Silent Witness.

The next morning, fortified by a Wellness Warmer (fresh lemon, ginger, echinacea and Manuka honey) from Planet Organic, I sat through a varied and thought-provoking series of speakers including art historians, palliative care specialists and a Buddhist. By the afternoon tea break I had reached saturation point and was in a fairly dark place – time to go for some retail and alcoholic therapy.

Being a canny adopted Scot as I had to stay an extra night I thought I would soon find something interesting to do on Sunday morning. But this is London, England though it could have been Stornoway for the amount of activity once I left the hotel. Nowhere open until 12 and few folk about despite it being a crisp, sunny morning. There are supposed to be some interesting markets down the East End at Spitalfields, Brick Lane and Petticoat Lane. They were also supposed to be open at 10 so having found which bus went down the Whitechapel High Street, I headed east. Well the markets were open, some were stocked but most seemed to be setting up. The choice was designer tat or cheap tat depending on whether it was the revamped, covered Spitalfields or out on the street. It was mostly clothes and frippery, no interesting food or indeed anything else noteworthy apart from a curious repetition of striped garments in Petticoat Lane. They were very flimsy and badly made – cheap enough to wear and bin because I doubt they’d be washable – there’s some pictures here – none of Spitalfields as it was festooned with ‘No Photography’ notices and I couldn’t be bothered with undercover camera work). It was really cold so I decided to go up west and find some hot soup. On the way I noticed this ‘structure’ at Aldgate which was made for the Olympics (or London 2012 as they like to call it).

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Restored and reheated by tasty soup at Food for Thought in Covent Garden and an excellent 10 minute shiatsu at The Walk in Back Rub, I was most definitely ready to head north by way of the hotel for my case and Kings Cross for the train.

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(Self) Preservation Society

I started to write this post a fortnight ago after I’d made some chutney and then gone out to Cramond Island but it ended up pickled. This weekend I’ve been out in the winter wonderland and made some marmalade. In the beginning of the new regime I found the weekends a bit of a struggle, especially Sundays but somehow, possibly with the lengthening days, they now seem to whizz past in a flurry of household chores (cats will not lift a paw to help with cleaning, laundry, tidying, litter tray management or anything else that suggests staff duties) and long walks.

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I had always wanted to visit Cramond Island but when I lived in Edinburgh before it was allegedly a rat infested drug den. Now it seems to be much frequented by a variety of visitors including happy families with pushchairs (robust all terrain models to get across the causeway), alfresco party-goers and middle aged folk with an interest in wildlife. The perspective is interesting as are the views and the walk back across the sands, under the airport flight path, was quite invigorating. The chutney was the happy result of excess buying by the supermarkets for the festive season – a glut of mangoes and melon that had the special yellow stickies beloved by Adamsons who have well trained eyes for bargains (irrespective of actually needing the items). I had intended to eat the melon but found in to be similar to turnip in texture and flavour. In honour of my frugal mother, who trained us to seek bargains and then waste nothing, it went in with the mangoes, ginger and garlic.

Despite overnight soaking, putting all the pith and pips in a muslin bag and boiling to the requisite 105o C,the marmalade has not set. It tastes delicious, will be perfect on pikelets and next year I shall just out in some magic pectin powder as used by continental cooks. I suspect it was not using the prescribed quantity of sugar and a quarter of the sugar used was dark muscavado. DSCF2252.JPG

Now this post has taken so long to do another week has passed! My excuse (why do I need an excuse – so I can have some self-inflicted guilt to assuage) is that the web site has had a series of technical problems. Automatic upgrades were not, manual repairs resulted in a  corrupted site … but all is now fixed, plugins updated and tweaked.

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That was the year that was …

2012 will live in our hearts for many years, for some the rest of our lives. For me it has been one of great joy and deep sorrow, almost simultaneously and in equal measure.

January was when we had the (almost) perfect Christmas. With hindsight, the Belgian contingent would have been more comfortable aloft with the simple provision of a heater. I think I had some strange fear of incendiary incident but at the time, the many anxieties I had, led to some odd decisions. Shortly after Rose and Sly departed, we headed to London for a wee holiday and to bed the ghost of the previous visit in June 2011 when something seemed to be not right but innocence prevailed. We loved the Grayson Perry exhibition at the British Museum and then a visit to Kew in winter – a tick on the to do list. And then we just wandered around doing the usual things, going to familiar pubs, restaurants and book shops.

February – the month started for me with a hellish day. I took Jane to the Royal for 8am and the promise of a diagnostic laparoscopy which would confirm or reject the possibility of further surgery. By the time she was trundled off to theatre 21/2 hours later, we had the prospect of major surgery. She sailed down the corridor on her hospital bed in her surgical gown, with a huge grin and waving in my general direction (she couldn’t really see me as they’d taken her glasses). The ever enthusiastic surgeon had theatre time he didn’t think he would have so he ‘consented’ her for ‘if I get in and think I can do something useful’. Basically the gynaecological equivalent of the works with nobs on (sorry boys). I remember driving home thinking if only that could be true knowing that the chances of the phone ringing some hours later to say that they had indeed been able to do something useful was probably of the order of one in a million. But I had to hope and believe it just might be possible for her sake. It wasn’t, silly man messing with our hearts like that however well intended. By the next day she’d bounced back and was through in Glasgow visiting Margaret and dining out with the school chums. The following week we had a tour of the Scottish Parliament, another tick on the to do list. My birthday is towards the end of the month and so a visit to North Berwick and the lovely Buttercup Tearoom was required.

March started well with a visit by Margaret for a few days which was an ideal opportunity for Jane to show off her new potting shed (so much nicer than the disintegrating Anderson/Morrison shelter). We also managed a day excursion to Abriachan to collect her majesty’s selection of plants for the recently completed herbaceous border created as part of the works for the driveway. And before the end of the month, her majesty had further decreed that a Hyundai, especially a left hand drive model, did not suit or look right in the new drive. The Hyundai was speedily sold, a new Bluemotion Golf sourced and parked correctly before any further fuss or ado.

April was the month for visits from family, friends and foreigners (also friends). Silvia arrived at the beginning of the month with whisky and chocolate (great for me, less so for the royaly indisposed) and we had the excitement of Jane driving herself around the Botanics on a mobility scooter. Aileen and Stuart dropped in for lunch and then the royal court was entertaining the Peters from Alsace Lorraine. The ‘girls’ also came – Jane’s school chums Alison, Anne and Susan – for evenings of shared memories and warm times. Family visited and were visited, we all shared the common knowledge of precious time and making the most of what time we had together.

May started with a visit from Wilf and Gélise who came for a long weekend of knitting and nattering – tea cosy production was in full swing. But the odd nights in hospital and hospice signalled a darker truth, the circle of love tightened around us and held fast. May has always been a favourite month for me in Scotland; usually warm with trees coming into full leaf, abundant garden colour, lambs, baby birds and all things joyful. We did what we could manage to make the most of the sun, blossom and blue badge parking – our favourite spot being at the top of the dam for Torduff Reservoir enabling the royal perambulator to be pushed into the hills and scented gorse. Then we fell through the void and I was on the train to London, the Chelsea Flower Show and a watery numbness.

June was the month I made myself wait and sort immediate bureaucracy, attend to a slightly neglected mother (memory loss has its benefits – she hadn’t noticed I hadn’t visited for a few weeks) while planning a few weeks in Belgium chez le bâtiment. There was also some very neglected work to sort and send or I wouldn’t be going anywhere. Before too long I was loading two irritable cats into the car with all sorts of accoutrements and paraphernalia, and we were heading due south.

July was largely spent in Belgium, I had planned to cycle to the horticultural extravaganza of Floriadae just over the Dutch border but talked myself out of the effort. If I’m honest it wasn’t just the thought of the journey and the crowds but I didn’t want to leave the cats. There were excursions to Brussels, Antwerp and Ghent, Sir Wiggo whizzing past on his bike in the Tour, walks with kind companions in secluded gardens, as well as a cut thumb needing sutured and cats with fleas. Time to go home but not before a night in a hotel in Peterborough for serious de-infestation.

August was when I think my feet were found or at least located. I set about the bathroom with a hammer and chisel – destructive and cathartic. Once all the horrible tiles with nicotine stained grout were off, the plasterer came and made a beautifully smooth wall – a skill that I always find exciting and humbling. Why a smooth surface should cause such emotion fails me – maybe the possibility of decoration, a blank canvas. The bathroom makeover was all that I had wanted it to be and the unsightly ridges that had developed in the drive were rectified with two regimental lines of paving slabs (always important in Colinton – regimental lines that is). As there had been no funeral in May, we had wanted there to be something more celebratory for family and friends in Glasgow. A Marie Curie Blooming Great Tea Party seemed to tick a number of boxes and my to do list. The reality was far better than any of us could have imagined or hoped for. A total of £1,100 was raised and sent to Marie Curie – I know it will be put to good use, thanks again to everyone who helped and supported us.

September was significant for being the start of something new but not before Margaret and I had an autumn break in Seahouses with a promised visit to the poison garden at Alnwick Castle. It was an excellent weekend with good food (lobster and kippers) and good company. No sooner back than I was a matriculated student registered for the degree of doctor of philosophy at the University of Edinburgh (apologies for the full Monty but I’m still ridiculously pleased and surprised). Ironically I spent Jane’s birthday talking to my contacts at Marie Curie about palliative care but it seemed more appropriate than not and I will need to be strong to see this through. By then end of the month my darling wee sister was here with Sly and the flat was almost full again with the arrival of  Wilf and Gélise for some shared happy days. Then we were off to London on the train making new memories in life’s battered notebook (Moleskine of course).

October and a busy diary – the cultural diversions of a botanical art class and classical concerts. catching up with friends, Rebecca’s (Jane’s eldest niece) 18th birthday, work and supervision meetings. Slowly, gradually, almost subtlety another life has emerged from the embers and a different way of being has settled into a rhythm, a quiet hum.

November was more research oriented as I lost myself in the wonders of real online resources (not just free stuff through the wonder of Google), journal articles at a few clicks for permission and textbooks that were either pristine or required quarantine if they were to be admitted to the flat. I do love the libraries but my issues with germs, an international student population and an apparently almost complete lack of hygiene means I probably now spend as much time washing my hands as reading books, well in the library anyway.

December and the impending doom of Christmas – I know everyone loves it and all the family, food, presents etc but it’s the commercialisation and assumed gluttony followed by mandatory dieting in January that leaves me cold. But I had a happy time in my own small world with long walks in the rain, one portion of Brussel sprouts (not sure that they really agree with me) and some thoughtful presents from my nearest and dearest. I even visited mother on the very day, ‘Oh I thought it was Sunday’. Then a few days in Glasgow staying with Margaret between the two ‘highlights’. The cats came to which apart from the confinement to baskets and the car, was deemed to be acceptable to feline sensibilities. We had a run down to Troon and had our cobwebs blown away by a fierce wind in a wintry sun. 

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So that was the year that I will mostly remember with a wry smile in the knowledge that as Jane once observed, we are kind to ourselves with our memories. Yes, I can go back to that morning and dwell on that awful moment, but that would in some way dishonour her memory and her love. For the most part my life is content, thankful for all that I had with her and all that I now have.

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Solstice solace

Now that I come to think of it I’ve never actually spent Christmas on my own. As a nurse I worked both day and night shifts, as a child celebrations were always either at home or in Fife with the great aunts until my brother had the invidious honour of being a chorister at a cathedral school. That meant we spent Christmas in a seedy Midlands hotel while he processed into the cathedral in his cherubic finery and we all sat in the ancient pews opposite. After the service brother was released and my father drove maniacally home (know doubt over the limit as well having had a ‘good’ lunch at the seedy hotel).

The real fun was Hogmanay as despite being in the English shires my father claimed his Scots ancestry and there was a big party. Brother aged about 10 and now resplendent in a kilt, ran the bar – he was meant to just pour the drinks but he was overly influenced by his frugal mother and so if people left something in their glass, he would drink it rather than through it away. I do vaguely remember seeing him sitting slumped behind the bar (really just a table covered with a white cloth) and thinking that wasn’t quite right but wasn’t really sure what was wrong.

As an adult I tried to avoid being with family but that rarely worked as mother always required my presence and usually a whole lot more. My best Christmas ever was last year with the six of us just very warm, relaxed and filled with love. My second best was the year before, it was extremely cold in a minute caravan on a campsite in Alsace but it was just Jane, me and the very irritable pussy cats. It was joyous and hard in equal measure but felt very special, more so now.

Childhood memories of adult tensions – my father invariably caught the flu bug of the day, my mother was harassed by her self-imposed pressures to do the full turkey with trimmings meal – have left me with a vague feeling of uneasiness and no worries for this year’s solo affair.

In actual fact for many years I’ve preferred the winter solstice as the noteworthy day – the prospect of lengthening days and Spring is quite uplifting. My self imposed prudence couldn’t quite run to a Saturnalian celebration but that would be serious fun, maybe another time. I decided to forgo the local Christmas parties this year at the Lit and the Gardening Club. We went to both last year and although they were quite entertaining, once was quite enough. To me what is really important is being with family and friends if possible (and that includes the wonders of skype), having a few food treats for the darkest days and ignore the commercialism wherever possible. I believe the great aunts only partook of Christmas festivities once small children started to arrive but that was Scotland in the good old days – austere warmth and an old chap with an accordion. Here’s some local winter views …

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PS – While writing this post I was multi-tasking as usual and attempted to send a number of festive emails. They included a wee picture I had done but irritatingly it seemed to have vapourised in the Cloud. To save boring everyone with another one of my cheery attempts at staying in touch, here it is:

Seasonal Greetings

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St Andrew’s Day – no patriotism please!

30 November this year promised to be one of those crisp late autumn/early winter days that need good use to be made of them. In anticipation I had already established that I did not need to celebrate the national saint but could benefit from free entry to Edinburgh Castle. It was due for a proper visit after our excursion to the tattoo last year but then Jane declined on the basis it was expensive and she’d been as a child. I couldn’t remember being taken as a child and was keen to go but agreed that not much change from £30 for two was indeed pricey.

I realised that I was not alone in having an eye for a bargain further compounded by it being the most popular historic attraction in the UK. Portcullis was due up at 9.30 and I had an appointment on the west side of town at 12; speed and efficiency were of the essence. As was judicious parking but then I do have a university permit for occasional users of a car park adjacent to Edinburgh College of Art and even nearer to the Vennel. For those unfamiliar with the Old Town this is a historic stair alongside George Heriot’s school that cuts down to the Grassmarket with a section of the Flodden Wall for added value. From there another flight on the other side of the Grassmarket takes you up to the Castle Esplanade – all very convenient if a little energetic. It was all smiles and tartan welcomes into the castle until I stepped over a low chain for some art photos from the Half Moon Battery. As usual I was taken for a male European by a very surly guide who said tha’swhathechainsfer geroff which was barely intelligible even for a native Scots English speaker. I decided against my usual tactic of feigning Germanic origin in case he had more talents than were immediately obvious, but I was quite pleased with the pictures.

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When I arrived at the Royal Apartments there were few other visitors but I scuttled anyway around all the ‘must sees’. The Honours of Scotland were displayed in an oddly funereal fashion but I knew Jane had that childhood memory of their importance and I had always wanted to see the Stone of Destiny. Mary Stuart’s apartments though had retained a whiff of atmosphere and historical significance. Not least because of Schiller’s marvellous yet tragic play of her final days. We had greatly enjoyed the 2005 Donmar production at the Apollo in London. The shop had various romanticised versions of the Queen’s biography but not the Schiller. The view from the leaded window over Calton Hill to the sea was quite poignant – I mused on her distant gaze and thoughts of France.

I was pleased to hear an American tour guide explaining the origin and significance of the one o’clock gun – to enable ships to navigate into the Port of Leith. St Margaret’s Chapel seemed to loose some of it’s dignity with the number of tourists who seemed to need their picture taken in front of the alter – and I’m not religious in any way but I had hoped for a candle to light. Alas, they don’t go in for that Roman nonsense in the land of Knox.

My plan had been to go to the Camera Obscura, which I thought was also free, but it turned out it was a small child that was free and two cats are quite enough. So back down to the Grassmarket for a coffee before climbing back up the Vennel. Back at the car park I noticed a very odd plaque – I think it must be an art installation of sorts but then again maybe we’re the ones in the parallel universe …

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It’s a dog’s life

Having set myself the challenge of blogging (ironic really given that it was my idea to start this blog so we could record our progress for the auspicious year of 2005) I now find the identification of the interesting thing to write about a little challenging. It’s not that I’ve been idle or lost for words but I am trying to keep some sort of separation between this and the research by which I am, at times, totally preoccupied. Why bother, given that in some ways the two are inextricably linked? A generational thing I suspect and in the same place as my struggle with Facebook – great way to keep up with the younger, musical and filmic family members but not somewhere that I am moved to post. I did try to embed a link to this blog on my Facebook page but apparently that feature was disabled a while ago. So for the time being a personal – professional divide; now to the dog.

Once again I was in the Usher Hall enjoying the RSNO in a concert of Mozart and Strauss (Richard of course). I was finding the pianist a little too flamboyant and my attention strayed to the audience when I noticed a large golden labrador. The dog was so bored with Mozart, which was odd in itself as Agnes (the singing cat) is very partial to all good classical music. Anyway, the dog was doing three point turns, nuzzling the elbow of the woman in front, lying on its back with paws in the air for tummy tickles and generally not doing what assistance dogs are supposed to do. The assisted lady was doing a lot of petting and cajoling to persuade said dog to sit quietly but said dog was it seemed so very, very bored. And then, tah dah, the interval and dog was whisked out by assisted lady’s companion. I suspect legs were uncrossed and dog was somewhat relieved. Post interval, one and all delighted with Also sprach Zarathustra and dog lay quietly head on paws even through the timpani. dog231112.jpg

But in my brave new world it’s not a dog’s life but a kitten’s fancy – for without my two fluffy companions the Scottish winter would be much greyer. Currently, they have taken to their beds – Agnes with her blanket on the pouf and Bob is in Aggie’s basket deemed cosier than her own. And for the height of kitten comfort the human has thankfully seen fit to install an electric blanket. Bob now demands the bedroom door be opened by 10pm so heat is not wasted while Agnes waits for all the lights to be out before she assumes pole position at the foot of the bed ready to ward off any nocturnal spiders (she at least has her uses). To be fair to Bob though, she has been a little poorly following her field testing of harvest mites – tiny wee orange beasties, also known as chiggers! I don’t recall these pests being an Edinburgh problem when we lived in Morningside all those years ago. The household cats in those days, Jessica (black and white fluffy, cute but dozy) and Ygor (large, grey fearsome and fearless – slayed next door’s gerbil and once arrived home with a neatly folded Gregg’s bag containing a fresh jam doughnut) had fleas but not harvest mites.

Back to Bob and her affliction – the mites are apparently devilishly itchy and can drive some cats to utter distraction. The vet gave her the usual slug of magic cat potion – steroid with antibiotic. But she was still little Miss Scratchy. I asked said vet if cats could be given antihistamines (very cautious now about giving cats anything after very difficult situation with late lamented cat who was given aspirin after advice from helpful neighbour – highly toxic to cats). Back to Bob and my ongoing issues with self medication. Apparently cats can be given 1mg of piriton and so I bought her some, cut them in quarter crumbs and gave her one each night before tea. After the second night I noticed that instead of her usual tongue brandishing and washing, she immediately went to her basket for a post prandial lie down – caution this medication may cause drowsiness (even in cats who are not daft).

Which brings me back to the dog and the realisation that these days I may be taking more interest in animals than humans, for they are my constant companions.

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Culture vulture

The past fortnight has been one of either culturally related events or aspects of culture ranging from the multicultural diversity of UK universities in the 21st century to the myriad opportunities of living in the festival city. My supervisors encourage me to do various things in support of my research, one suggested attending any courses that took my interest while the other simply extolled me to enjoy being a student. The first was fairly easy to deal with – a quick romp through the extensive online catalogue at the learned place revealed little in the way of temptation but then it is only semester one. What skills do I need to improve or add to the repertoire? Well writing has never been easy, I was the one who gathered up all kinds of obscure but fascinating resources and you know who made them into something concise and readable. So a one day course on the writing process seemed ideal – duration wouldn’t interfere too much with my usual routine, no assessment and only for postgrad research students. But enjoy being a student was proving more difficult – I’ve never liked alcopops, mood-altering substances or loud music in dark places and I’ve had to take voluntary redundancy from sex. Then I discovered I could get any ticket for classical concerts at the Usher Hall for £5 – oh happy day, the cultural wilderness years of the Highlands are but a distant memory. On Friday night it was the RSNO playing Mahler and Sibelius – here’s a good review of an excellent concert by a chap who I happened to notice was sitting in front of me. Next month Carmina Burana and a Mozart piano recital, but I need to kerb my enthusiasm as it’s turning cold for being out late of an evening and their feline majesties are not amused.

The writing course was also a cultural event as, of the twenty students attending, only two of us were from the UK. It was fascinating to hear from so many diverse backgrounds and research interests that included how to escort patients in Thailand and the importance of urban green spaces in Taiwan. But I did also find myself wondering why there was so few native English speakers – I suppose people assume if they’ve managed the first degree, then writing a thesis will just come naturally. Oh isn’t it jolly fun being older and wiser!

I did learn some interesting things though especially the pomodoro and free writing techniques. Curious? Briefly, the pomodoro techniquepomodoro technique is about time management or more accurately procrastination and distraction management – you make a list of tasks each lasting 25 minutes, you set a timer and off you go. After 25 minutes you have a 5 minute break as hopefully you have completed the task, if not continue else do the next one on the list. For writing tasks it is important to not allow distractions – email, phones, the internet, people – to interrupt the productive flow. Why pomodoro? Because that’s how long it takes to make a good pomodoro (proper Italian tomato sauce). Free writing is something that you might do as part of a pomodoro – you hand write continuously without being distracted by mistakes – punctuation, grammar, spelling – or pausing for thought, on your chosen topic for 5 minutes. I found this really liberating as I usually have loads of ideas but can never get started. And writing by hand means that you don’t switch to edit mode as you do with word processing – seeing the text on screen is much more inclined to interrupt the narrative flow.

There was more culture with a visit to the Scottish National Galleries Van Gogh to Kandinsky – Symbolist Landscape in Europe exhibition but it was hard to enjoy without my German interpreter – sometimes being without her is just too darn hard.

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Halcyon days

Writing this post had me worrying about it being a month since the last but it’s an indicator of a busy time rather than nothing to report. Having made a good start to the PhD with the fevered excitement of access to e-journals which led to excessive downloading but not enough reading, I prepared for the imminent arrival of the very dear sister, brother and respective partners. Accommodation has been upgraded with a shiny, almost new bathroom (resisted temptation to remove tiny bath) and an eco radiator in the loft bedroom to save freezing the Belgians. And then they all arrived and it was big smiles, hugs and cats retreating in the dogged way that they do, to behind the couch. Jane was toasted, very much missed and remembered with poignant warmth and love.

And so the outings began first to Robert Smail’s Printing Works in Innerleithen, a must for the resident printmakers at rosepink, a walk along the Water of Leith to Stockbridge, and then along the canal so Rose could test Jane’s touring bike for size and suitability. It was Horis’s birthday on 24th September which was honoured by a mass visit with suitable, edible gifts (she has no interest in anything else) and a large, sweet pink cake courtesy of Camilla House (which in bygone days would have been received with derision). But she had less to say than at the Christmas visit, didn’t (thankfully) notice we were one less in number, but can still manage the automatic chat that almost convinces you she’s all there.

Wilf & Gélise could only stay for a few days as they are both busy with film and music commitments but we were lucky to receive pre-release cd’s of the sound track for Fat Cat written and mostly performed by Wilf. We did all manage to meet with Katie & Martin in Portobello for dinner at the Espy, preceded by a tour of the local charity shops and a sea side promenade. 

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The pre-planned highlight for Rose & Sly was the excursion to London – two nights in our preferred hotel, The President, travel by train first class and visits to certain pubs and restaurants. We did it all, I walked the legs of them, Sly managed a personal pilgrimage to the British Museum and the British Library, while Rose and I wandered childhood haunts and the BlueJade favourites. Two special places though were the very wonderful artist’s colourmen Cornelissen’s and the roof top garden in the former Derry and Toms building in Kensington, now part of the Branson empire – Rose was too wee when she was taken there as a child to remember it but Wilf and I do. 

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Friday 5th October was Rose’s birthday so we had just had to go to North Berwick for a walk on the beach, lunch at the ever lovely Buttercup Cafe and a wander through the various wee shops. Then back via Musselburgh for an ice cream (oysters for Rose & Sly) at Luca’s and a quick stop in Portobello.

But then all too soon it was the last weekend, no time left to visit Margaret in Glasgow, and hurried visits to various shops and supermarkets for those special wee items you just can’t find in Canada. Packing took on a new layer of complexity as Jane’s touring bike was emigrating as was her wish. We considered various options and settled on the bike bag I had bought as a failed solo experiment in car-assisted bike transport (far too much fuss), and paying for an extra checked bag. The bike had to be dismantled to the extent of wheels and mudguards off, pedals left behind as deemed unsuitable and everything else turned or twisted to fit into the giant bag – very awkward to manoeuvre but only weighing 20kgs despite some additional items that didn’t quite fit in anywhere else …

I busied myself in a birl of washing and quiet, the cats reappeared, the dining table slid back to being square, the research computer rebooted, I buried my head in research papers and took a day to get back on the perch. But we don’t say good bye anymore, it’s see you through the Skype window – then the miles and anguish float away.

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Registration, matriculation and graduation in a week!

It’s taken me a few months to adjust to a life alone and it involves many aspects not just the obvious one of living alone, well apart from the cats. Glenaffric trundled along through all but the more difficult times and my plan was always for it to continue. But I knew I would need something else, something more to keep me out of mischief – there had been talk of a book, a sort of account of Jane’s care and her attitude to what had happened. When I set off for Belgium I thought the distance would give me the impetus to start and I did do a fair amount of preparatory work. But it was so personal and in many ways so private that I felt I just didn’t want to share it with the world or be exposed through any subsequent publicity. And if you leave out the personal then it’s just another story of someone who had cancer and you know who would be less than impressed.

But there’s more to the story than just what happened to Jane – I spent many hours sitting with her through diagnostic procedures, clinic appointments, chemo sessions and during her few hospital admissions. I would feign reading when appropriate but most of the time, apart from giving Jane my undivided attention, I was observing what was going on around me. Not in a negative or judgemental way, I was just curious about how nursing and hospitals had changed and I was also interested in how other patients reacted to what was happening to them, especially in the clinics and during the chemo sessions. But that doesn’t make much of a book, but it did set me thinking.

I’ll cut to the chase, and the title of this post, I decided that what I really, really wanted to do was research. I had done some in the mid eighties but for various reasons walked away after two years and never finished it. After a false start I had a research proposal that was acceptable and then before I knew it I had been accepted by Nursing Studies at the University of Edinburgh for a PhD. It’s entitled ‘Keeping control: a model of practice to support self care following initial cancer diagnosis’ – that’s really just a way of giving it a broad scope and is likely to change as the research progresses. There’s not much more I can say about it at the moment beyond it’s to do with understanding how patients make sense of what as happened, how they learn all the new things related to their diagnosis and treatment while remaining in control. And Jane did know about it, partly because she was concerned about what I would do with myself but also because I needed to know that she didn’t think it was daft – although at the time it was more dream than a likely reality.

So by Wednesday I had registered and acquired a student card with the statutory terrible picture (I’m sure they do it on purpose, and there’s no point in pretending I’ve lost it because in these happy, digital days it’s on file so a new card would have the same ghastly image). Technically I haven’t matriculated yet as you need to pay the fees for that but in all other matters I seem to be a postgraduate student at the university where my grandfather studied medicine, and father until he was encouraged to leave – we were never sure of the real reason but I think he was a bit too squeamish in the anatomy classes …

And the graduation was at the Royal Botanic Gardens on Thursday where they had a presentation for all the various courses ranging from horticulture and herbology to botanical art where I seem to have achieved a certificate with merit. It wasn’t particularly easy but then the next three years will need more than fine paper and artists quality colours.

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A poisonous place

We’d planned a visit to Northumbria in April for me to take Jane and Margaret to Alnwick for the night and a visit the next day to the gardens at Alnwick Castle but Jane’s body wasn’t playing game and it we had to put the plan on hold. What that really meant was that I would take Margaret when we felt ready for it and had a free weekend – we have such busy diaries us widows! And what a weekend we chose for warm sunshine when I’d taken wellies not sandals.

My plans had already been the subject of amusement and surprise when I happened to mention that we would be staying at Seahouses – it was suggested we might find it to be an amusement arcaded disappointment. We arrived via Bamburgh and after a turn around the village found the Bamburgh Castle Inn beside the harbour but entered from the rear (not as inauspicious as it sounds). Margaret’s room had a grand view of the harbour and the Farne Islands, mine was also good although a combed garret.

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We amused ourselves with a walk along the coastal path, having already had a good lunch and turn around Berwick. Then dinner in an adjacent hotel who had the temptation of lobster …

After a good breakfast featuring a kipper from nearby Craster, we were off bright and early to Alnwick. It’s well worth a visit especially if you have Harry Potter fans but I don’t think Jane knew about that or its influence on the Poison Garden. Interesting but frustrating with poison the emphasis as it witches, wizards and spells but no mention of the therapeutic use of these deadly plants. In the end I was glad Jane had missed it for I fear she would have been annoyed at such a one-sided view. But the gardens are well laid out, have a number of interesting water features and more formal flower and rose gardens. After lunch in Alnwick I suggested a visit to Howick Hall, seat of the late fifth Earl Grey for whom the tea was blended. A much more traditional affair with an extensive arboretum – much more my cup of tea although Margaret enjoyed the comfortable seat in the Golf for a well-earned rest. But we did have tea in the resplendent east ballroom now tea room. 

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Another kipper for breakfast then we were heading up the coast road to North Berwick for a dander around the shops and lunch in the delightful Buttercup Tearoom. We’d had a grand time and of course Jane was much mentioned and missed.

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