Thursday, November 30, 2006

St Andrew's Day

If it isn't too much of an irony for St Andrew's Day I'll post Dick Gaughan singing Tom Paine's Bones. The man is one of Scotland's best treasures.

Bloody workmen

I'm starting to feel like jonnyb, workmen said they'd start at the end of this week or next, but more probably this week. Not a sign of them, mind you there's a howling gale today, so I'm quite glad that the windows aren't being removed.

Got a nice letter today from Cancer Research UK thanking me for the funds raised by my "First Aid Kit for the Soul" night. I've written a letter to the local paper just to pass on their thanks to those who attended and supported the event.

Judith's reading was a great success last night, and I managed to sell all her copies.
Colin Will pulled the other three pamphlet writers, including me, out of the audience and gave us all a bow which as nice of him.

Today I'm delivering the big format print commission that I got. I hope it's well received, I always find these things nerve wracking. I've had it printed on white vinyl as it's going into a kitchen and it will handle steam etc better that way.
Also promised the head gardener at Craigievar a panoramic shot of the trees in front of the castle. It means "stitching" together in Photoshop about 6 shots I took when I was up there, and I've not had time. They've lost a lot of trees lately, to storms etc, and she wants a record of what's still there to help plan replanting etc.

Also got to write a conservation report for Haddington House Garden as part of our grant application. Quite looking forward to it, as it means researching the garden archive to extract useful bits, and meeting with one of the county archivists to dig out bits on the use of the land the garden stands on going way back. One of the enclosing walls was built in brick by Napoleonic prisoners, so I want to find info on that. I'm going to start tomorrow by picking up the archive from one of the other trustees.

So I'm not bored, just lack time to do everything I want to get done.

Tonight I'm seeing a good friend in Edinburgh and we're going to get something to eat and catch a film at Edinburgh's Filmhouse, home of arthouse cinema in the city. Not a clue what's on, but hopefully something will catch our eye.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Torture numbers, and they'll confess to anything. ~Gregg Easterbrook

I love what can be done with statistics. In my old life I had policy responsibility for certain aspects of Scottish homelessness stats. So this morning I've been interested in listening to all the coverage of the Shelter press release on the back of the Cathy Come Home anniversary. I think Shelter apply a multiplier to homeless applications to derive the number of children affected by homelessness. But I won't argue the point either way as everyone cuts stats to suit their own particular point of view.

Yesterday I came across this site, numericlife,this blogger clearly has a real love of numbers. The post I read mentioned the Miniature Earth Project and I liked how they chose to present this information:

"If we could turn the population of the earth into a small community of 100 people, keeping the same proportions we have today, it would look something like this ...
1) 47 live in an urban area;
2) 61 Asians, 12 Europeans, 16 Africans;
3) 9 are disabled;
4) 33 Christian, 18 Muslins, 16 are non-religious;
5) 6 people own 59% of entire wealth of the community;
6) if you have a bank account, you are one of the 30 wealthiest people in the world;
7) this community spend more than $1.12 trillion dollars on military expenditures, but only $0.1 trillion dollars on development aid."
See more at: The Miniature Earth Project

A few more quotes on stats:

I always find that statistics are hard to swallow and impossible to digest. The only one I can ever remember is that if all the people who go to sleep in church were laid end to end they would be a lot more comfortable. ~Mrs. Robert A. Taft

After all, facts are facts, and although we may quote one to another with a chuckle the words of the Wise Statesman, "Lies - damned lies - and statistics," still there are some easy figures the simplest must understand, and the astutest cannot wriggle out of. ~Leonard Courtney, speech, August 1895, New York, "To My Fellow-Disciples at Saratoga Springs," printed in The National Review (London, 1895)

The theory of probabilities is at bottom nothing but common sense reduced to calculus. ~Laplace, Théorie analytique des probabilités, 1820

I abhor averages. I like the individual case. A man may have six meals one day and none the next, making an average of three meals per day, but that is not a good way to live. ~Louis D. Brandeis

The death of one man is a tragedy. The death of millions is a statistic. ~Joe Stalin, comment to Churchill at Potsdam, 1945

I could prove God statistically. Take the human body alone - the chances that all the functions of an individual would just happen is a statistical monstrosity. ~George Gallup

Tuesday, November 28, 2006


I was interested to see this postcard on postsecrets this week, see my sidebar for the site. The guy himself was interviewed on Midweek last week on BBC Radio 4.

This woman has had reconstruction, so I'm not sure what the ref to mastectomy in the postcard means, other than the scars would be similar. This is a bi-lateral reconstruction, without nipples, they tattoo the nipples on, or give you ones to stick on.

When I was asked to consider reconstruction I was given a book of photographs to look at of women who had already had it done. It was all a bit like looking at a big book of carpet samples. This particular picture is not too bad, as at least the breasts are symmetrical. But the ones I looked at, where only one breast had been reconstructed looked like someone had stuck a new boob beside an old one, which is more less what happens. The silcone one is all pert and nubile and the old one is, well old! So that was one of the reasons why I didn't do it, the other being they wanted to flip a piece of shoulder muscle under my armpit and onto my chest wall, where it would have been topped off with a silicone implant. I couldn't see the point of compromising another piece of my anatomy to fix a bit that wasn't really fulfulling any useful function. I've still not changed my mind and anyway the outcome now would be even less favourable as radiotherapy has a lasting effect on skin's elasticity.

One of the things I hope for the book is that one day a researcher will pull it off the shelf in the library, dust it off and say, "My God, look here, they used to treat cancer by lopping off the offending bit!"

Changing the subject to happier things I've finally made my Christmas cake, and the house smells of warm cake and brandy, which is what the fruit was soaked in.

Tomorrow I'm helping at Judith Stewart's pamphlet launch, manning her sales counter. I hope it goes well for her. I already have my copy, it's a good read. She has a very wry take on life.

Monday, November 27, 2006


Had a lovely weekend. We swam a lot in the hotel pool, and used the steam room and sauna. It was all very relaxing. I took the camera, but didn't get a chance to take many shots as it's difficult to play around with tripods and things when you're with people. But this is Queen's View on Loch Tummel, named after Queen Victoria visited it during one of her progresses around the Highlands.

Got the car back today. Had a few problems initially as the brakes had got soaked and they were binding when I started it up. But after I put it into reverse and move around a bit they cleared. Glad it sorted itself before I took to the bypass!

Colin Will gave me a name check on his blog and mentioned the book which is kind. He's done the Nielsen Book Data for me, which means the book will be available on Amazon shortly, about a week I think, although I don't expect to be knocked down in the rush!

I had a coffee today, and I wish I hadn't. I rarely drink it now and I feel a bit 'zoomy'. I hope it wears off soon as I don't really like the sensation. Funny because in a past life I used to run on the bloody stuff, that and chocolate, which I also gave up after my illness.

Also want to wish Joanne, a breast cancer friend, good luck for 30th of November. Joanne lives in Canada, but is travelling to the world renowned Sloan Kettring hospital in NY for a second opinion after suffering a second recurrence of her cancer. I hope the visit gives her some peace of mind in what must be a very difficult situation.

I've yet to grasp the Christmas nettle. In fact I don't really intend to. I'm going to make a Christmas cake tomorrow, and order the turkey, but I'm not going overboard with anything else. Son and nieces and nephews are all of an age when cash is welcome and the rest of us are past bothering much with presents. Will cook a nice meal and enjoy Boxing Day, which is my favourite with turkey broth and everyone making their own personal variation on the turkey sandwich!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Well the curtains are up!

I explained what a good deal they were and he didn't bat an eyelid, so I was worried about nothing! They look good, the leaf motif brings the garden into the house some how.

Car is still MIA, must phone again and see what's happening. Nieves gave me a great surprise, a friend has got her a weekend break hereand she's taking me with her! Two night dinner, B&B. Only trouble is we have to leave on Friday, which is kind of short notice, but it should be fun. The pool looks lovely.

The new windows are going in next week. I just wonder how much mess it will make, especially around the frames, as the old tongue and groove is very dry and splits easily, but hopefully it won't be too bad. Quite glad it's finally happening as recent storms really shook the old casements, they really don't have much life left in them.

I feel good about doing this as it shows I'm engaging with the house and life again, for a long time I felt like nothing was worth doing as it would all outlast me. Pathetic I know, but that's how I felt.

Must fly and chase up news on the car. N is kindly walking Gus for me today, which gives me more time - it gets dark so early now. I really, truly hate this time of year, it's so hard to believe that the plug hasn't been pulled on the whole world, that it's almost Spring in NZ, that the sun is lapping somebody, somewhere. The garden is not dormant though, bulb leaves are already appearing, and the willow and hazel are making new catkins. I've trimmed all the old leaves off the hellebores to get good new growth in February. The pic shows last year's great display.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Desert Island Discs

I must say I think Kirsty Young is doing a great job in the hot seat on this BBC Radio4 programme. It is one of my favourite radio shows, and I have this personal list of records in my head, which I thought I'd set down here. DD limits you to 8 records that you'd like to take to a desert island, I think that's a bit stingy, but I'll give it a go:

Puff the Magic Dragon, Peter, Paul and Mary. Part of the the soundtrack of my childhood.

At Seventeen , Janice Ian. This is the classic teenage angst song for all girls who weren't the cheerleader type.

Because the Night (belongs to lovers), Patti Smith, fab version of a Springsteen song.

Elgar's Cello Concerto in E Minor, Jacqueline du Pre. Just the most beautiful thing.

Now Westlin Winds, Dick Gaughin/Robert Burns. A faboulous Burns song, way back then he was writing about man's treatment of Nature.

Village Idiot, Van Morrison, one of his later songs, but a great one about whether a simple man who never travels has more than those who go off to conquer the world.

Run, Snow Patrol, this was the theme song for a bunch of us going through chemo.

Anchored down in Anchorage, Michelle Shocked. Just a great song about two women/friends leading very different lives.

OoH I've got loads left over too, but I really think I couldn't live without these.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Girl Aloud

Last night I went to the writers' group in a nearby town. They were having an open mike night. I was pleased and surprised to meet the lovely Rob He's been invited to read at a prestigious poetry event next year and wanted some practise, so I told him about last night.

I really enjoyed his readings, and they were very well received. I also met Sue, who did a really great poem on being diagnosed with cancer. We got chatting afterwards and it turns out we both did the same adjuvant therapy regime, which is fairly rare as it's only given in cases of fairly advance breast cancer, and we share a surgeon and oncologist. It was all a bit spooky. Anyway she bought my book and is going to give me her thoughts on it. She's just about to have her first novel published.

I read three short pieces, the Spanish Costa one, one called Poke, which is based on sorting through a bag of papers after my father died last year, and a daft McGonagall style thing on the rare red-rumped swallow that got scoffed by a sparrow hawk this week up in Montrose.

I enjoyed the night, but still suffer from a feeling of panic that someone is going to ask me what I'm doing there and then throw me out!

Today I must find a way to bring the curtains out of the cupboard under the stairs..............Might not be the best day to pick as my husband's back is playing him up. Advice on a postcard please ;).

Friday, November 17, 2006


Yesterday I was in the shops. N and I went to IKEA, where I resisted everything save the shower curtain I went for and a wonderful pair of curtains, which claimed my heart. Now I just need to get them past "budgetary control"! I was going to make some for my diningroom, and I couldn't have bought the material and lining for the price I paid for these, and not many places make 3m drops, and it will save my arm from pushing a sea of fabric through a Singer....

I know, it's not you I need to convince is it?

After that I went out for tea with two other friends who dragged me off to this awful marketing thing at a garden centre. It was like the Shopping Channel under glass. But I resisted anything there, apart from a beany cushion thing for my poor old FIL's bad back.

Christmas will be simple this year, good food and little fuss. The woman's pitch at this garden centre thing was very telling, she said there are only two problems with Christmas, finance and time! Very spiritual I must say.

I've had a good laugh at all the fuss over the Christmas stamps, the fact that they're all so secular and that on one it looks like Santa is pooing down the chimney. The Royal Mail blurb says they used a famous Japanese artist this year, I wonder how they briefed him. I've put the offending stamps up top, which probably breaks some copyright issue.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Another place to get the book

I just got listed at Scottish-pamphlet-poetry

The site is really good, and it's a great place to find out more about current Scottish writing.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

What to do?

I'm wondering about keeping on with this blog. So I'll mull it over, and maybe post less often for a while. I sense the whole thing has kind of gone off the boil anyway.

Yesterday was a good day, as I got N's computer to work on broadband. The set up instructions didn't work and her son hadn't had time to speak to the support desk at the weekend as the waiting times were in excess of 30 minutes. But I got through yesterday, and this really nice guy in Bangalore sorted it out. I must admit my experience of overseas help desks has not always been good, often communication breaks down over understanding the post code, and I don't have a very thick Scottish accent. But this guy was very good indeed and his English was brilliant. I'm quite pleased with myself as she has a Mac and I'm not usually very good with them. She's been waiting for over a month to sort it out, but her son and I have both been away and/or busy. I left N's happily surfing the Net and catching up on her e-mails.

I said I'd post one of the Russian poems/poets that I liked:


I am a crowded station. I realized it.
I realized,
there's a simple answer to everything.
I let the dry grain of human destinies
sift through my concrete fingers.

Hundreds of people in constant displacement
appear, only to vanish for ever.
Do not look for the comfort of regular accommodation
in these smoky halls with transit breezes.

I'm a lost child whose name is called out
over the loudspeaker, again and again.
I'm an unshaven lush who stares wildly
from the refreshment-room bar at the people hurrying by.

I'm a belabelled tourist, a businessman with a briefcase,
a failure, glancing more and more at the rails...
I am packed with people -I'm lost, lost!
I long to go on trips, to visit other places.

Do not look for one person in me,
do not look for order in the noise and crush.
But come to me if you've nowhere to sleep,
put your feet up on my hard benches!

German Plisetsky

Must be my Baltic blood, but I love this.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Monday, Monday

Really enjoyed our weekend. I think we are learning how to adapt to being a child-free. We had a really good pub meal on Friday night, right across the road from the flat. I had fresh crab from Eyemouth, which was delicious, and a pheasant and bacon casserole with red cabbage,apple and onion. Looking at the number of pheasants squished on the road on the way down made me wonder if the pub makes very good use of road kill! There's a diner on one of the big routes in the USA that has a sign saying "Roadkill, you kill it, we grill it".

Saturday there was a second hand book sale, again just over the road. I bought three poetry books for £1.50. The one I like the best is a Penguin book of Russian post- war poets, obviously in translation. Russians always make me feel like I'm lacking in soul. I'll post details of a few of the poems I like at a later date.

The weather was wild and windy and the light low and poor, so camera work was not very rewarding, but the shot I've posted here was taken down by the Tweed. I liked the massive rows of poplars marching down the river bank as far as the eye could see.

Good test of any break is that it feels longer than it actually is, and that was true of this weekend. Also went to the French market, everything was pretty dear, but very good. Bought "brut" Normandy cider, and lovely bread and pastries. I brought back some Madelaines for N, which she adores for breakfast with really good coffee.

So sad to read on the support board that Janice has died. Not unexpected, but very shocking all the same. I think cyberspace makes it all the more unreal, as it is such a one dimensional world.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Away to the Borders for the weekend

Finally get to use my free weekend in the apartment I shot the pictures for. My husband is already fretting that our son won't switch the iron off. He's already reminding me of the OCD sketch in the Catherine Tate show the other night.

Dog is going to N's for the weekend, which he'll love as he'll be able to snuggle up to his squeeze Basha.

My friend Meg in PA is hosting an 80th birthday for her Mom. She's bought a pinata, a Mexican puppet thing that when bashed dispenses gifts, anyway she's filled it with rain-mates (bonnets), a magnifying glass and a dollar store pistol, plus soft candy.
They are a great family I'm sure it will be a good party.

Borders should be good as there's a French market in the town square on Saturday, you can buy great food, including lovely gratin dauphinoise potatoes and cooked meats etc. So we may just have a picnic type dinner in the flat on Saturday night.

Looking forward to a change of kitchen sink :)

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Well sun is shining

It's a beautiful day, though bitterly cold. I've been pruning my old apple tree, and then I watched N's grandaughter for a while, which was fun. We were doing pencil rubbing of coins and then cutting them out. She's never seen this done before and she loved it. We used to do it as kids to make our own "shop money" for our make believe grocers.

Getting some interesting feedback about the show and book. A few of the women who came have decided to forego Christmas cards and give a donation to MacMillan Nurses instead. I think it's a wonderful idea. This woman on the breast canceer support board I used is currently being supported by a Mac nurse. Janice is an amazing woman, who recently commented that she was becoming Marge Simpson as the cancer in her liver was making her so jaundiced. In this post she mentions how they've set up a bed for her in the living room, so she can have more time with her family.

The book is going out on loan in the library, which is quite a kick. Maybe I'm achieving a little of what I set out to, which is to make people see that you are just a person dealing with a tough break, and that help and kindness can make it all so much easier.

So I'm again reminding myself that I have much to be grateful for, this and every other day and I'm off to walk the dog and shop for dinner. I fancy making a minced lamb sauce with coriander and tomato and aubergine, to have with some penne.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

I share DNA with a Grizzly Bear

I know I share 98.97% or something of my DNA with chimps, but I think I'm more grizzly bear than anything else. I had a lovely weekend, Barbara and I work really well together in a garden, we sort of instinctively know how to go about a job. She's over 6ft and I'm wee so we can work at different heights. Although while doing a massive pruning job on an old apple tree she did pull the rope that brought a branch down on top of me, which left me eating tree and lichen! But that just made me laugh. I was still finding bits in the bath that night

Came home very tired, and a bit sore as my "bad arm" has a little lymphodema from overdoing heavy work. (We mulched masses of soft fruit with muck that was water-logged and therefore very heavy.) I've done some lymph massage, as that's the only way to drain the fluid, but my arm still feels too short on the inside for the outside, if that makes sense.

My men seem to expect me to be grateful that they've managed to feed themselves while I was away! Heaven forefend that I should actually expect them to do any tidying up!

And I've discovered that I've double booked myself for two events on the same night. Why does my brain have this split memory that thinks I can be in two places at the one time! Sad thing is I still want to do both! One is a pamphlet sale for the book and the other is Christmas dinner with charity that I work with. We're really pleased as we've just secured funding for another three years - and I'm quite proud as I suggested a way to rearrange our work to meet the funding requirements of the people we had to bid to - the goal posts are always shifting on these things.

So I need to unpick that stupid mess, and I've loads of phone calls to sort out. Plus we're away at the weekend, so I need to get organised for that too.

But I'm tired and a little grumpy, and feel like I'd really like to hibernate until Spring. Christmas looms, and I really can't be bothered with it. Can't we all have a truce? Can't we all just agree to have a nice meal and maybe one decent present and then go for a walk on the beach?

BTW this is the castle curator's lovely Burmese Blue, stuck up a tree. I love the way the blue of her coat is mirrored by the grey-blue of the lichen. She eventually got down backwards in a very unladylike fashion.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Well I'm away tomorrow

Hope to see some great colours on the way north. The castle grounds hae some fantastic trees and a beautiful beech lined drive. We're in one of the old keepers' cottages, so we won't go far after work, which is good as it will be dark by 3.30/4pm. I'm going to make a big pot of soup when I get up there tomorrow afternoon, and that will sustain us at lunchtimes. It's amazing how hungry you get working outdoors for five or six hours.

Nieves is doing something even more exciting, she's doing a sleepover in a crannog This is a Scottish iron age house, of course the one she's going to is reconstruction, and isn't this particular site, but you get the drift. They will be keeping the fire burning all night, but rather her than me as it will be an on floor sleeping bag job. I'm not sure she's thought about what it might do to her back, but she loves trying new things.

The local library services has asked for copies of my book, to lend and sell. So that should be interesting. My friend and I are also doing a poetry pamphlet sale together next month.

Anyway better run as I've got a trustees meeting of the public garden I'm involved with. So lunch and then I'm off out.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Grrr, men in overalls with spanners.......

I'm trying to maintain my Zen like calm, but men in greasy overalls in garages piss me off. My poor wee Clio is in being fixed after my disagreement with a kerbstone at 30mph. All I want to know is if it's fixed, but they're passing me around like a parcel between the bodyshop and the service people. They hear a woman's voice and immediately start taking the piss, while their "on hold" messages sing stupid bloody jingles about what a great company they are.

Well I've got a courtesy car, so stuff them. But I was hoping to have mine back before Friday as I'm going up north then and don't want the complications of using another car, or having to cancel the trip to return the courtesy one.

Six-word biography challenge

Got this from Barbara's bleeuugh. It seems as if you actually get 18 words, as you are allowed three six-word lines.

This is mine:

Stubborn, African-born, female Scot.
Loves living, a recently discovered art.
Lessons learned? This too will pass.