Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Cracks in the Pavement - A Brief Wallow

Sometimes events conspire to make you feel really superstitious.

When I talked to a psychologist about my cancer she told me that "cracks in the pavement" type fears are the most primeval of all.

Well I've just got my new passport back. (The picture is awful, but I didn't take it - I couldn't face setting everything up with a white backdrop etc.) And I've found it quite chilling to look at the changes in my face over these last ten years, my face a little thicker, eyes a little less sparky.

But somehow it feels very good to have a piece of paper that says I can travel the world until 2017!

The fact that my passport was expiring around my 5 year survival point really did feel like stepping on the cracks in the pavement. What made it worse was a woman I got to know when first diagnosed. She claimed our prognosis was similar, if not the same, because I had such a lot of lymph node involvement and she had less, but had a higher grade of breast cancer.

My brain knew this wasn't logical or indeed true, it merely put us in a similar band of statistical risk, and after a while I just had to break away from her as it really wasn't helpful for me to hear these sorts of messages, or to be told I was lucky to be married with a child. (There are no winners in cancer, whatever your life circumstances. And having cancer when you have children is as heartbreaking as not having them.)

Sadly this person died this month (after making a number of very different treatment choices to me and putting up a fantastic fight - I don't usually use this kind of language re cancer, but in this case it was true).

So my new passport feels like a very life affirming thing - which is equally daft, but sometimes it's the crazy things that help you make sense of life.

And it took a lot for me even to write/admit to this irrational thinking - but light and fresh air are very good at blowing the cobwebs away.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Zimmers on a wet Monday

Sorry to those of you with a day off work today, it's typical bank holiday weather - dreich!

I remember when I was working how much I loved May as we had two or three long weekends in it and it always felt like the threshold of summer, having staggered through from Christmas without any real break apart from the Easter weekend.

I got a nice surprise at the weekend, a friend paid for a day workshop that we did together and also bought me The Tree House by Kathleen Jaime, who is a wonderful Scottish poet. It was such a kind and unexpected gesture and it really touched me. She said it was in thanks for me ferrying her back and forth to things - but I'd have been going anyway. There aren't enough gracious people in the world, but J is one.

The workshop was on reading your work to an audience. Colin Will and Debs took it with input from another friend who has a drama background and I learned quite a bit, although I doubt I will ever overcome my natural shyness.

There's a great poem by Kathleen Jamie about being in a black and white minstrel show at primary school sometime in the 1960s. She's a little younger than me, but we both grew up in the same education authority area and my school did these concerts too. (It's hard to believe it now when life has change so much, but back then the schools were just copying a much loved BBC television programme.)

Anyway I got picked, in my absence with chicken pox, to sing "If you were the only boy in the world" to a boy I didn't like - called Robin. I think that sealed my fate as a performer as the teacher prodded me on to stage with a shepherd's crook from the Christmas nativity play, and I stuttered out the song through a petted lip and a blotchy tear stained face.

And yet I'm still nearly word perfect on all the songs we learned for that show. So if ever get to my dotage I'll probably serenade some poor bugger in the next bed with "My Grandfather's Clock" rather than the much better option of My Generation,
brillantly performed here by the UK's new rock power, the Zimmers:

Wednesday, May 23, 2007


Funk - Derived from the Flemish word 'fonck', meaning 'disturbed' or 'agitated'.

Well I'm coming out of mine today, despite having just flooded the kitchen with garden hose. (small curse to budgetary control/husband for not allowing me to install an outside tap)

Yesterday my MIL was finally diagnosed with dementia. It wasn't unexpected and having a label for what's wrong will help us get her the support she needs, but I can see how upset my SIL is.

I'm glad neither of my parents had to go through this illness, my mother died of cancer in her early 60s - different kind from mine - and my Dad sort of self-destructed over many years, although he was lucid right up until the end, though perhaps not sober!

A friend says we're now in the sandwich years, when you still have older children around and your parents' health starts to fail.

So maybe I'm luckier than some in that I appear to have an open sandwich - though I feel for my husband as he's facing up to having aging parents in two different parts of the country, which leaves him torn on many fronts.

I just hope his mother can enjoy a bit of time when her worries fall away before the down sides of the disease become too pronounced.

When I told N she joked that that's another silver lining of having a poor cancer prognosis, you don't have to worry about dementia!

It strikes me that life makes it hard to arrive and equally hard to depart, and it's what you do in between that's the important part.

The garden is doing well, pumpkins are starting to romp away, and the first flowers are on my tomatoes. Garden residents now include a blackbird with a lot of white feathers and the blind in one eye thrush. It seems I'm cultivating the bird equivalent of Ellis Island.

Yesterday I was researching Lady's Mantle, a favourite plant of mine and discovered that it's botanical name alchemilla means little magic one, from the Arab alkemelych (alchemy). I think this is just such a lovely name. The plant was/is used to help menstruation problems and stop other types of bleeding, and one German herbalist claims prolonged use could cut gynae ops by a third. The name Our Lady's Mantle was given to it in early Christian times.

It is also known as dewcup because of the way it collects rain. (The pic is a web sourced one.)

This is the scientific explaination of why the plant beads water so well:

"The leaf surfaces of lady's mantle (Alchemilla vulgaris L.) are covered with small hairs, in addition to a waxy coating. A droplet of water carefully placed onto a dry leaf will rest on the "fur" and have no apparent contact with the leaf surface—a contact angle of 180°. The SEM image above shows a 2 mm droplet resting on a leaf hair cluster.

This might seem to indicate that the leaf hairs are hydrophobic, not unlike the cuticular wax on nasturtium leaves. However, if a single leaf hair is inserted into a water droplet, the meniscus is found to be less than 60°, clearly indicating that the leaf hair is hydrophilic.

Droplets that condense onto a cooled leaf nucleate onto the waxy cuticula with a contact angle well above 90°. When the droplets make contact with the hairs, they are lifted from the cuticula onto the hydrophilic hairs. As more droplets form and coalesce, they cause the hairs to bend and form bundles.

Energy minimization calculations based on the elastic modulus of the hairs establish an optimum size and degree of bending for the hair bundles. In this manner, it is possible to establish an optimum distance between the leaf surface and the bottom of the water droplets.

Long before humans mastered such things as car wax and rain slickers, plants were building hydrophilic lifting devices and differentiating between dew and rain drops. It appears we still have a thing or two to learn."

We do indeed have a lot to learn.

Monday, May 21, 2007

World Music

If you are interested in music that goes beyond the borders of the UK and USA
BBC Radio 3 has a feast of world music coming up. Check it out here:

Here's a little Ali Farka Toure, alas no longer with us. You can't listen to this for long without feeling a smile come over you.

And Yasmin Levy, who is fabulous

Sunday, May 20, 2007


This is a great song. I'm a bit tired of the UK right now. I don't want to see Tony Blair take his leave of every friggin' place he's ever been to in the last ten years. He's like some sad rock band that doesn't know when to quit touring.

Nor do I care what Gordon Brown plans to do to the country - with the help of the eight people he actually likes and trusts.

Friday, May 18, 2007

6 year old view of Baghdad

Dima is a 6-year-old Iraqi girl living in Baghdad who was given a camera by
Index on Censorship to take pictures of her life in Baghdad.

See her pictures here

It is now 70 years since Picasso painted La femme qui pleure (Weeping Woman). The picture hangs in the Scottish Museum of Modern Art and the blurb on it states:

"This is one of Picasso’s most iconic images. It was created as one of the main studies for a huge mural commissioned for the Spanish Pavilion of the 1937 International Exhibition in Paris. Picasso chose to focus on the horror of the bombing of the small Basque town of Guernica, bombed at General Franco’s request. Some 1700 people were killed or wounded. The study of a weeping woman, her mouth fixed in a silent scream of pain, is a motif to convey the plight of the Spanish people of the Basque region."

See it here

It strikes me that nothing much has changed in these 70 years - womem still have their mouths fixed in silent screams of pain. No that's not true, actually their screams are very audible, it's just that those in power and those with the guns and the bombs and the fixed ideas of what is right and what is wrong - mostly men - choose to have selective deafness over their suffering.

So this is how I feel about the endless images of suffering of women:

The Weeping Woman: Picasso, 1937

She’s wept for seventy years.
And with good cause, as nothing
has changed. Please, no more pictures

of howling women, iconic or otherwise!
Paint men instead, compassionate men,
and then she might just dry her eyes.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

graffiti a castle

In case you've not heard of this here's the link. Like many ancient monuments here the wrong mortar was used in renovations in the 1950s, causing damp to get in, so it all has to come off and be replaced with proper old-fashioned lime mortar. Until it does, in 2/3 years time, graffiti by these Brazilian artists will stay on the walls. The painting project will finish in early June.


I've been outdoors the last two days. On Monday I started the series of plant shots for the autumn flower show. I visited a local man who is an expert on growing competition fruit and veg. I photographed his seedling leeks, which will end up monsters, and the barrels he's sown with parsnips and carrots in order to achieve huge roots that look like torpedoes.

He collects soil from mole hills to grow his prizewinning roots in, as it is very fertile and has no stones. It all such a labour of love that you can only marvel at his skill and dedication - another demonstration that life needs to have a little passion/obssession in it to be worthwhile.

He has the most amazing plot, full of self built glasshouses, rows of barrels and apples trees with all sorts of varieties grafted on to a single tree. I'm going to visit him monthly up until the show. He gave me some onions for my own garden, but I doubt I'll be able to get them to monster size.

And yesterday I did a long coastal walk with a friend and our dogs. The thrift is flowering on all the rocks and it looked lovely. And for some reason the gannets were close to shore and we were able to sit and watch them streaming by on the wind.

These are some peonies from my own garden, bud to full flower. They are one of my favourite summer things.

I must go and catch up on the house now.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Eurovision Song Contest

It should be done under trading standards, and renamed Baltic/Balkanvision.
And I was disappointed in Terry Wogan too, he's usually much funnier than he was last night, but maybe he's been told to tone it down.

I've awarded my husband the gong for comment of the night - he said the French entry should have been called Four Piafs and Piano - I almost choked on my red wine.

They're really called the Fatal Picards - it's certainly killer music - next year's entry must be a top priority for Sarkozy! :)

The picture, which is very flattering, is of the winner - Serbia's Marija Serifovic, a Balkans' k d lang look-alike me thinks.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Dancing partners

I've taken to listening to my i-pod when out walking the dog in the woods. I rarely see anyone, and lately I find myself skipping the light fantastic on mossy paths in hiking boots. And I love it.

I'd like to hear from any other Scots who got taught Scottish Country Dancing at school in the 1960/70s to see what you called a pas de basque/pas de bas. We called this hop step that some dances required a "Paddy Bar" because that's what we thought our teacher was shouting as we hefalumped our way round the drill hall. We never, ever saw the term written down, so we were none the wiser.

Our PE teacher, who was crippled with arthritis, used to beat the backs of our legs with a bamboo cane if we failed to achieve the required three beats in a pas de basque/pas de bas. She was a very scary old dude!

This is an early draft of a poem about it:

At seventeen, going on fifty-two

I dance in walking boots, in sunlight woods,
on the sphagnum-loaded ground.

No-one watches, or even sees, save my poor
bored dog and the odd surprised roe deer.

No-one reaches for the rod when my infant feet
skip a beat in some improv’d pas de bas.

No heady mix of beer and Brut lurches
over to spews up, “fancy dancin’?”

No tsunami of teenage disapproval
to cramp this mother's style.

Here's Janis for you too:

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Thursday, May 10, 2007

Random Receipts

I've finally mastered the "do it yourself" checkout in the supermarket, and it spews out your receipt once you've paid, but a bit like the "hole in the wall" cash machines no-one picks theirs up. These two belonging to complete stangers, who went through the checkout just before me.

Supermarkets must be able to glean an awful lot of data from these things. The first person here clearly isn't a diabetic, but I'd bet they don't have many teeth, and the second one obviously likes animals and birds and approves of organic food. And that's probably just for starters, if you'll excuse the pun. I suspect that the one with all the sweet stuff is probably a bunch of school kids buying lunch, which they'll graze on the street.

Receipt 1

Receipt 2


I may collect a bunch of them and collage them in some photographs - as the randomness of it all appeals to me.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007


In Finnish, the month is called toukokuu, meaning "month of sowing".

In Slovene, it is called veliki traven, which means the month of high grass.

In Czech, it is called květen, which means the month of blooms

In Croatian, it is called "svibanj", derived from the word svib meaning dogwood.

Here in Scotland for school students it means external exams. As of today my son has all but left school, as he's now on study leave for his final exams. I can sense the strain, but I just keep putting out good food and clean clothes and saying the odd silent prayer, or whatever passes for one in my head, that he'll come through it with reasonable results.

We have wild winds at present, so picture taking is on hold. Though I've arranged to photograph a series of shots with some members of the local horticultural club who grow championship dahlias and chrysanths.

I've just read Louise MacNiece's poem Flower Show, and it's spot on about such flowers, he writes ..

" having long since forgotten, if they ever knew, the sky,
are grown, being forced, uprooted"

and "But they are too many, too unreal, their aims are one, the
aim of a firing party."

However, like super models, they are also very photogenic so it should be fun to do. Hopefully I'll also get to meet some growers of monster leeks.

I also found this great wee poem on Jen Hadfield's blog. It's about blue and chakras.
And it's inspired me to write one of my own on another chakra/colour, which I'm taking to Poetry school tonight.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Watch Feist do 1234, it's fab - buy the album you won't regret it!

life on the outside

Couple of sunny shots

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Reasons to cheerful part III

All this political fallout - blech. Apparently it has something to with hanging chavs - people in Burberry baseball caps are being lifted off the street as I write! ;)

And the Labour Party may take legal action on one closely disputed seat. Oh yes that's really going to help - open up that can of worms why don't you! And Tony think's he's left Gordon a good springboard to win the next election - please - I somehow doubt that he'll be invited to comment on the diving during the London Olympics.

Nor can I get excited about all these allegedly disenfranchised souls. If you misread a bus timetable and you then miss the bus you don't expect the company to turn the vehicle around to come back for you! Ninety odd percent of those who voted managed to do things right, so can we please move on - preferrably using a pencil and a sheet of paper with five bar gates.

And the reasons to be cheerful are:

Feist's new album The Reminder
rain in the night, however little
Sophie Grigson's Moroccan salad recipes
beech woods in new leaf
my new skirt, which goes with everything
A young Chinese girl I mentored last year has been granted a Canadian visa

Friday, May 04, 2007

Peeling Onions

I've mentioned the poet/writer Judi Benson before in this piece.

Recently Judi was involved in a newspaper article on a book by Susan Graham, an amazing woman who wrote about dealing with the loss of her two teenage daughters to a genetic disease, and then being struck down with cancer herself. A book based on her personal account of her life has just been published and an item on it was published here

Judi was interviewed for the piece and was kind enough to give my book a mention. I just wanted to say that I'm truly humbled to be mentioned along side other people who have dealt with so much more than me. Read the article if you have time, it's a good reminder to us all to stop complaining about the little things in life.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007


Sorry I'm not posting much, but the weather is so lovely it's a real thought to boot up the computer.

I go into the garden to do one thing and end up pottering for ages - to the extent I got sunburnt, quite appropriately on Sunday. So now I'm using high factor sunscreen again, as since chemo\radio-therapy I'm very susceptible to burning.

My family were playing football and watching it that day, so I had a whole day to me and decided to take off in the car. I visited the local scrapyard, where I bought an old mirror to put behind the horse trough and two wire contraptions that I've decided to use as plant supports for my daisies. The mirror looks great, reflecting light back into the garden, and I've used bamboo canes to mask its edges, which helps it to blend in - not a bad result for a couple of quid.

Although the birds are literally doing a double take as they come in to bathe, and it is now covered in their splash marks.

In yet another of the local villages I bought some plants, from an old man who sells them for 50 pence a clump over his garden wall. I bought loads of Icelandic poppies, which I love, as they look delicate, when they're actually as tough as old boots.

I love poppies, all the papavers and the meconopsis. The Welsh poppy has seeded itself throughout the garden, and I have big orientaland opium ones too, the opium poppy also self seed, though less effectively than the Welsh ones. And I have one meconopsis, but it is really too dry for them to do well here, although I do grow it in semi shade to try and give it the moisture it needs.

I've also noticed the resident thrush is back, whacking the snail population like some avenging winged and speckled Charles Bronson. But it's sad because he/she has lost the sight of one eye. I was able to walk right up to him on his blind side, and noticed the eye has a milky film right across it, much like a human cataract. It had better stay in my garden, where Gus the dog ensure that cats get short shrift

I'm also reading a book my husband got for his birthday, Chris Stewart's The Almond Blossom Appreciation Society. I don't usually like these expat type of books, usually they have a nah nah nah nana air about them, but I'm quite enjoying this one, which is about his life on a small Spanish hill farm - I especially like his description of going to Morocco to collect the seed of Moroccan Broom, Cytisus Battandieri, it's a gorgeous plant/shrub whose flowers smell of pineapple. I planted two in the big garden to replace one big one that had died out years ago, and they are now really popular with visitors who adore the scent on a summer evening.

Stewart also writes affectingly about N. African men walking for hundreds of miles through Spain trying to reach the market garden area of the country, just to pick up hard day labourer work in a labyrinth of polytunnels.

So lots of displacement activity going on here, but that's what summers are for, there will be enough long winter days to catch up on things......