Thursday, 29 September 2016

Hiding in a ranty ramble while Trying to Understand where the lines are drawn and wishing for rEdemption

'Drawing the line' - an innocuous little phrase at first glance. Pick up a pencil and make a long straight mark on a sheet of paper. Or use your finger or a stick to drag a line across sand. It's creative. Lasting (though not in sand). A demarcation of sorts. It says, I am here. This is my mark. It is a beginning; a boundary between what you were before you drew the line and what you are now. Life after drawing the line is different. Changed. Redefined.
Thus, we understand the literal meaning of drawing the line. And perhaps how drawing a line can change us. But metaphorically, as it is often used, what does it really mean?

Drawing the line: definition - idiom, meaning to put a limit on your actions or to avoid doing something because you think it is wrong.

People draw the (aspirational, imaginary) line in different situations all the time. Different people draw different lines. Or versions of the same lines but set at different levels.  Some lines are - or should be - common across all peoples.

As G K Chesterton said, 'Morality consists of drawing the line somewhere.'

Morality; drawing the line between right and wrong. Underscoring what is right. Emphasising the way ahead. Or as a legal constraint - below the line you break the law; you are a scoundrel, a vagrant, a thief, a liar, a cheat. But what if the line moves; if it is not fixed; if defining or interpreting the line becomes blurred?

In our own lives we operate within lines drawn by law and nature. But within those lines we draw our own. We use them to set targets - this is the grade I want to achieve; the promotion level I want; the amount of chocolate eaten that I will not exceed every day; the fitness level I want to attain; the number of books I want to read in a year; the number of coffees I will limit myself to in a day; the words I will use and those that I never will; how far I will let myself be pushed at work and the level at which I regard that pushing as exploitation; the amount I will spend on new clothes before I blush and try to hide the bags; the word count I wish I could achieve every day and the laws I would risk breaking if I had to.

Fall through our lines and we sink and drown. Climb above them and we risk being out of our depth. Both line crossing scenarios to be avoided, if possible.
But what if the line you draw for yourself and your family or team is drawn publicly. And because it is out there in the public eye it is scrutinised constantly by a pack of scandal-hungry journalists all clamouring for the slightest sign that your nobly constructed line has been stretched. You know they will bay in victory if your lines are breached. And that your downfall - the wreckage of everything you believed in; your morals; your honour; your mantra - will be excruciating. Would you risk it? Risk ever having to ask yourself why you took such a righteous stance. Why you set your lines so high that they were bound to crack? Why you trusted others to respect your lines? Why you were blinkered when you should have been vigilant?

Okay, so you're probably wondering what caffeine fuelled ramble my brain has wandered off on. But you might have guessed where this might be going. If you haven't it will become more obvious shortly but not hopefully I'm-going-to-get-trolled-obvious. If you still haven't a clue, the message at the end is for you and you can skip the next bit.

Here goes - feet first into a hole of my own digging or a plea for redemption? And no,  in case you wondered, I'm not taking sides - read this and interpret it yourself. Draw your own lines. Decide who you wish redemption for.

NICE - the drug regulation authority that provides guidelines for treatment of illnesses within the NHS in England and Wales - is clear on the prescription of medication for asthma. Asthma treatment starts with a stepwise progression in inhaler strengths - preventers and relievers - the familiar brown and blue inhalers, of gym bags, sports kits, sleepover suitcases, handbags and pockets. The brown or orange or sometimes purple ones are steroid inhalers and the dose prescribed depends on the severity and frequency of asthma symptoms. Asthmatics sometimes have acute exacerbations when their cough and wheeze and shortness of breath get suddenly and sometimes dramatically worse. When this happens - usually over a few hours or a few days - their need for the instant, relieving medication (the blue inhalers) increases. Sometimes, increasing the blue inhaler is not enough. Typically, in this state the asthmatic has a 'tight chest', can't speak whole sentences, is only comfortable sitting still in a stiff upright posture and has their shoulders raised as they struggle to use the accessory muscles in their chest wall to help them to breathe. An asthmatic in this state needs help. They won't be shifting much air in and out of their lungs - their peak flow rate will have plummeted and they may not be wheezing. Their oxygen saturation will have dropped and they will feel terrible. I paint a picture that is not at all infrequent in the primary care and emergency department setting. These patients need rescuing. They can't breathe properly. They struggle to speak. Exertion is impossible. They need steroids. Fast.

Usually and following the NICE guidelines they will be given five days of high dose oral steroids. And will be monitored in case of deterioration and a need for emergency hospital admission.

So - asthmatic - acutely unwell - unable to exercise - given oral steroids. Fine. Normal management.

An article in the Annals of Emergency Medicine in 1998, concluded that 'when compliance with a daily oral regimen (of steroid) is of concern, a single intramuscular injection of steroid would appear to be an attractive alternative.' Their words not mine. An alternative when the patient is sick enough to need oral steroids but would either not remember or struggle to fit taking them into their life.

Surely, being sick enough to need steroids would not be something you would forget. Repeatedly. Plus, acute exacerbations of asthma usually appear at random. Random ...

That's one interpretation. Of what? I'm not saying.

What are the chances of acute exacerbations occurring repeatedly at the same time each year? Perhaps, if you suffer from hay fever the odds are actually quite high.
Perhaps, if your life's ambition depends on not letting the allergies that have blighted your fitness in the past blight it again; perhaps then, you could have a steroid injection to prevent that acute deterioration that would prevent you from breathing properly. Perhaps. But where does that leave the lines - the lines that govern what medication you are permitted - are they blurred; stretched; manipulated or blown away?

Two interpretations. But I did mention redemption. Didn't I?

Ultimately, we know ourselves if we have crossed the line. An honourable man will remain honourable to the end. But he might have to take the flack if on his watch others have crossed his hallowed lines. If he was responsible ultimately for the behaviour of others, then the buck has to stop with him and he will have to take the blame. He deserves it, of course, if he breached his lines himself. But if he didn't, he will inevitably ask himself if he drew them too high;  if he believed too much in the goodness of others; and if he was dazzled and guilty of turning a blind eye. Maybe, no-one did anything wrong. Maybe, time will ink over the faint lines making them stronger. Maybe, good intention, integrity and honesty will win out in the end. And maybe redemption will be climbed towards and reached, one newly drawn line at a time.

Rant and ramble over; I am sorry if I lost you. It was just something I felt needed saying. Unfairness needs a voice. You can decide where the unfairness lies; if indeed it lies at all.

Go and draw your own lines - not in sand if you want them to last. Define your own integrity and push those lines to your own limits.

I'll try to get back to the dogs and funny tomorrow. Perhaps it's the whiff of rotting mouse corpse spreading through the house that's souring my brain. Pickled in stink and running out of scented candles ... I think the garden beckons.

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Departures and new beginnings

Departure - definition:  the act of 1) leaving or embarking on a journey or 2) deviating from the expected path. From old French, departir.

Robert Frost wrote ' The only certain freedom's in departure.' True; you depart, you leave everything behind. It's up to you if you embrace the freedom totally. Or taste it and come back. You can return. You can always depart again. And repeat again. And again.

While recurring departures and arrivals occur every day and carry us on a roller-coaster of emotions through life - precipitating tears and laughter; elation and despair; love one minute and betrayal the next; and can-I-come-too and are-we-nearly-there-yet - forever my favourite source of pithy, heartfelt words, Winnie the Pooh, reminds me ' How lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.'

Whenever I find myself saying goodbye to one of those somethings, especially if the something is one or more of my children, I (always in their case) mean goodbye in the sense of this being a good time to part and it only being for a while until we next meet; when at that precise point, I can hug the one or more of them again. I often refuse to actually say goodbye, instead opting for see you soon or see you tomorrow or see you next week as though by saying it, I can somehow ensure that seeing them again will happen.
I seldom say a final goodbye. That would be a goodbye in anger; more of a good-riddance. And I can't remember doing that. I'm sure I've thought it. Probably the last time someone was rude to me or barged in front of me in a queue for coffee and then bought the last chocolate brownie and cheerily turned to all behind him (it's almost always a perky porky him; very occasionally a pushy-but-round-butted her) to say 'bye. This is definitely not met with a flurry of good-byes; bad-byes or grumpy-byes or hope-you-choke-on-it-byes would make the un-chocolate-brownied feel better. But in Britain we don't do being rude in order to make ourselves feel better, do we? No, we grit our teeth and politely hiss good-bye.

September is a month particularly laden with goodbyes and departures. From the clammy unsure hand of the four year olds starting school and bravely saying goodbye to parents who are determined not to cry until the school door has shut, to the students leaving home and embarking on new paths; new beginnings. The newly independent fledgelings, freshly and finally finished school, flying from the nest and parental smothering and all the oddly faded, familiar family things to a world where they can re-invent, find and grow into themselves. Just themselves. Free, if they choose, to depart from life's expected path and (this bit scares parents) experiment with their idea of who they are and who they want to be? A growing-up adventure that is scary and exciting, all at the same time. Experimentation and self-discovery can be precarious. Things can go wrong. But the empty nest at home is seldom re-let. There is usually a vacancy for any wounded fledgeling in need of a rest, or a hug, or some food and a bath.

I don't know who it was who said of children 'if we love them we must let them go.' True - but it didn't stop me privately crying through much of last Monday.
Crying prematurely, before departure.
Crying many, many hours before we had to say goodbye.
The process of finding suitable accommodation had gone spectacularly wrong and then had got much much wronger (apologies for the grammatical errors. I was hearing the words inside my head and imagining the loaded emphasis one could put on much, much wronger). There had been a desperate need for somewhere to live and somewhere that looked superficially fine was found. The deposit was paid and the soon-to-be-a-student person had started packing. A life-fairy - one of those benevolent sprites who, if we are lucky, step in just before we make a mess of things - pressed the pause button on the packing activity and forced a search for reviews of the room that had been  booked. Now, there are bad reviews - uncomfortable mattress and stained carpets that can be remedied and are to be expected. And spectacularly BAD reviews - broken sinks that don't drain; broken loos; no hot water; insect infestations; absence of the advertised free wifi; mice; regular disturbances and police presence at the entrance; mould and filthy ovens and dangerous cracked microwaves ... etc, etc. I am not exaggerating! There were accompanying photographs to banish any suspicion that the reviewers  were purely malicious; they were very angry - well, wouldn't you be? - but not malicious. The gist of the many and recent reviews was that if they could have awarded nul points, they would have done so and that the one star rating was monumentally over-generous. Monday afternoon was a stressful afternoon. One punctuated by frustrated private tears. The soon-to-be-a-student was rescued by generous friends with space in their own empty nest and has since found private halls to move into in a couple of weeks. All calm. And all (including mother) happy and dry-eyed again.

Why the tears? It's not like I haven't done it before. This departure is the third and in a few years, there will be another, and it will be the last which will either make it the hardest to bear or by then being a veteran of students departing from home, the easiest. I think it was mostly frustration - we do everything for our children while they are living in our nest. As Garrison Keillor said, 'Nothing you do for children is ever wasted.'

It is only when they depart or prepare to depart, that we realise they can and will survive without us. Of course they will. We did our job fairly well. Hopefully. They know to brush their teeth; to eat their breakfast; to sleep ... occasionally. They even know or can discover how to load a washing machine or buy a bus ticket. They might cook. Or they might live on take-aways and food scrounged from friends. They won't starve.
But they do need somewhere to live. And hunting for that somewhere is what flamed my frustration.  London - London! - is so impossibly expensive. The cost of student rooms in the capital is humbling. The majority are in the £350 to £450 per week bracket, but you could easily secure rooms at double that rate. Where are the students who afford these rents? There are either vast numbers of very wealthy students. Or vast numbers of empty rooms. Most halls tie you in to 51 week contracts - that's over £20,000 a year on accommodation. On top of that, the student must find money for food and clothes and occasional journeys home and insurance and health and laundry and booze and parties and stationery and text books and night clubs and phone contracts and occasional treats. Treats! - Hah! The accommodation hunt left me sad and angry. Angry that the graduation certificate will be weighed down and wallowing in a deep trench of debt.
So, to the saying 'If we love them we must let them go,'  I add 'if we love them and they know we love them, they will come back.' They won't be able to afford anything else.

As September sets - hello autumn, goodbye summer; goodbye and good luck fledgelings everywhere.

We'll keep the nests warm.

Friday, 16 September 2016

Respect for fashion. Roman holidays. Ruins. And procrasti-Rambling.

Anyone who knows me, or has read my blog posts before and has a feel for who I am, will look at that title and shake their head in disbelief, for I am no follower of fashion - unless it's the fashion of the gardener or dog-walker: slightly dishevelled, crumpled round the edges, wearing fraying jeans, shirts with no discernible remnant of shape, wellies and a little mud (on a good day ... a lot of mud, on every other day).

But look carefully. For what I wrote was not 'follower of' fashion but 'respect for' fashion.

I respect fashion.

Not - as will be obvious to everyone - in the sense of acquisition and adornment of myself. For a start, I am short and un-fashionably rounded at the edges; soft and squishy and good for cuddling, I have been told. But in the artistic sense. I appreciate the artistic beauty of (most) fashion. And the industry and craft that prop up the big fashion houses. I am not referring to the near slavery that underpins and undermines the cheap throw-away markets. How could anyone respect the greedy arrogance and bullying brutality of that aspect of the industry? No; I am referring to the art of fashion houses like Missoni.

Inspired by paintings

And by colour

And by artisanal fabrics

And built on the dreams of visionaries, who combine all of those, to make clothes that are worthy of museum exhibitions - this was the London Fashion Museum in July. And a star-struck Littlest.

I respect vision and form and beautiful, high-quality materials. And I respect the finished products, even if I couldn't or wouldn't wear them myself.

Does my respect extend to having favourites? Well - Missoni, of course, for opening my eyes to how art inspires clothing; Chanel, for classic, elegant lines that will always be identifiable as Chanel; Victoria Beckam ... yes! Surprised? Well you shouldn't be - her latest show combines relaxed easy to wear clothes with fabrics that look good and are packaged into garments that most women could wear; and Prada for dressing Lupita Nyong'o in luminous blue, for the Academy awards, in 2014 and in doing so, transforming her into a Vermeer painting.

What frivolity! What unexpected appreciation of the eye candy that is fashion. What surprisingly feminine dreaminess in someone usually so grounded (literally) in spades and watering cans and soil  and shortly (just as soon as I've finished procrasti-writing here) in vats of bubbling chutney - but if you have read this far and are thinking that, you miss my point (which arguably wasn't hard to miss, because I haven't got to it yet). Yes, I have some respect (with a small r) for the industry that dresses the high priestesses and gladiators of the Paris, London, New York and Milan fashion weeks (you see, I even know where they happen). But I have full Respect (with the capital R that it deserves) for the fashion houses that renovate, donate and support causes that are diametrically opposed to the fantasy worlds they create on cat walks and red carpets. You haven't heard of this? Neither had I; let me enlighten you ...

We were in Rome 2 weeks ago.
In blistering heat, a lovely, Italian friend took us on a walking tour round the sights - we had only a few hours, so pavement walking, plus strategically moving his car between areas to gain maximum exposure to as many sites as possible, was the best option. The aim - "to get a feel for it," so that we could "return one day to do it properly."

Littlest and the Italian Grandad she adopted for a day

Well, one slight disappointment was all the building work - scaffolding, cranes and billboards (blank) - that flanked our route to the Colosseum. This largely obstructed our view, as we approached, of probably the most iconic structure of ancient Rome. The Colosseum itself, when finally revealed, was  also gripped and stuccoed with scaffolding.

However, what was amazing in retrospect, was the blankness of the billboards. And the lack of advertising - no banners, no flags, no painted signs - on the scaffolding. Why? You're thinking I have lost the plot - strayed from the subject; earned the buzzer for deviation if playing by 'Just-a-Minute' rules. But I haven't. I am still referring to my Respect for fashion and this time the Respect is for the philanthropy of the owner of Tod's who is paying millions for the renovation of the Colosseum. Without, apparently, any self-promotional motive for either his own name or his company.


It was difficult to photograph the building without evidence of the renovation work, but I managed, so there is no scaffolding in these pictures

But I didn't know, then, about Tod's.
If I'm honest, I don't know much about Tod's now; they make luxury leather goods - bags and shoes - I understand. My favourite bag is leather, the stamp in it claims it was made in Italy and it was bought last year in the Piazza del Duomo, in Florence. But I can't claim that it has designer credentials; it doesn't even pretend to be a designer bag. I like it and that's all that matters. To me. Plus, it fits with my stuff and my lifestyle; it passes my "only buy it if it's made well" test and it's a good colour. It is not a Tod's bag, but that's not what this is about ... Buzz! Oops! Challenged on account of deviation (Just a Minute rules) but if I argue loose association, I win back the subject and return to Respect for fashion.

'Respect' which doesn't stop with Tod's.

Fendi sponsored the recent renovation of the Trevi Fountain. Again, apparently without any advertising fanfare that they were doing so. The restored Trevi Fountain is truly astonishing; a wonder of the ancient world, so stunningly beautiful that it appears to steal some of the light of the day and glows.

All Fendi asked for was a small plaque (we missed it) and a fashion shoot, for its 90th anniversary, when the renovation was finished, on a glass stage above the clear waters - crystal on crystal: stunning and inspired. A tribute both to its home town and to the waters that for millennia have sustained life in Rome.


Fendi clearly has a passion for fountains (fendi for fountains), as they have pledged financial support for the restoration of several others in Rome, including this one

- the Fontana dell'Acqua Paola in the Trastevere district above central Rome. And the four small fountains known as the Quattro Fontane. Fendi thereby giving something back to the city that has sustained its birth, life and industry - Big Respect.

And there's more. Everywhere you look in Rome, there's more. These are the Spanish steps, iconised  by Audrey Hepburn in the film, Roman Holiday

Note how bereft of tourists they are; how pristine; how clean the gleaming steps. What is not shown (because I thought them ugly at the time and certainly didn't imagine writing a blog about them) is a line of temporary fencing, keeping the crowds back, below the lower edge of the photograph. The Spanish steps have been closed for renovation, which is now almost complete. They shine in the sun. Pristine and apparently unblemished. Again, there was no obvious advertising. Again, no organisation boasting its generosity. But plentiful generosity there was; raise a hand for Bulgari, the luxury fashion jewellers, who quietly sponsored the project.

Again; Respect.

I suspect there are many more examples of similar philanthropy by other fashion houses; a quick search finds Ferragamo and the Uffizi in Florence; Renzo Rosso and the Rialto Bridge in Venice; Gucci, Prada and Cartier just three of many that support art and culture with galleries, museums and educational facilities. Many other and diverse industries follow the same path. Charitable giving, or support for heritage - philanthropy in any form - always deserves respect. Particularly when the juxtaposition of extremes of luxury with extremes of poverty or the perilous state of decaying antiquity is hard to ignore. But it is where philanthropy is done without any self-regard; without an eye to what might be gained as a result and without drawing any attention to yourself that it earns the full sized, quietly applauded, massively capitalised R.

So, humbled, I acknowledge my Respect for fashion. And doff my hat, or stamp my wellies, or wave my thornproof gloves at the industry. In salute.

Finally, digressing a little, but still on the subject of Roman beauties; still within the rules of Just a Minute, just. Though, I admit I cling to my subject somewhat tenuously, if lean, leggy, impeccably-dressed beauties are what you expect to see. This isn't one of them -

- there's something about this chap ...

He is one of the Dioscuri twins - Pollux (the immortal one, son of Zeus) and Castor (who wasn't. Immortal, that is. Nor the son of Zeus. Which makes their being twins a bit puzzling. More so, when added to the myth that they hatched from an egg). This one is Pollux (probably) - at the Piazza Campidoglio.
There is ... well ... hmmm ... something about him. Something eye-catching. Something arresting. Something that makes you stop and think 'Well, hello! That sculptor had either a theatrical inclination or a sense of humour. Or both.'

It's the pose that he strikes, as he models his conical hat; a remnant of the pointy egg from which he hatched - apparently - but who am I to say that an egg from which human-ish beings hatch wouldn't be pointy. I pity the poor swan that laid it! His perfectly curled hair and casually draped, loosely falling robe - look at the carefully exposed shoulder - and the relaxed outward turning knee, all scream that his position at the top of a long, wide, sweeping flight of steps, the Cordonata, looking down on Rome, is entirely intentional: he's making an entrance, darling! That he is standing at the edge of The Piazza Camp-idoglio is perhaps apt, in modern English at any rate. I know - I know; Campidoglio actually refers to Capitol as in capitol square, the seat of power atop the Capitoline hill and only a quirk of Roman dialect changed it from Capitoline to Campidoglio. But the sound of the word in my head and the flamboyant, foppish angle of Pollux's wrist made my small brain smile and the voice inside my head whisper 'Ooh, I say!' *

Finally, back to Respect (note the R is now heavy - this is not just Respect but Respect with a heady, heavy overtone of awe), the Piazza Campidoglio was renovated, too. In 1536. Not by charitable donation as far as I know. But by a one-man-brand of cultural and architectural and artistic genius that defined the 'fashion' of his day and influenced design for centuries to come: Michelangelo.

*Apologies to anyone who thought this might be a serious discussion of the antiquities of Rome. Or of fashion. Or of art. Or of anything really. A procrasti-ramble is all that it was. That and a few words highlighting an industry, often misunderstood, and misinterpreted as being inward looking and elitist, that in fact is neither.

Monday, 12 September 2016

Big Birthdays, surprises and wee beasties

The wee beastie - 'weight for weight more ferocious than the Bengal tiger' * - or Scottish midge, is as effective a spoiler of the 'best laid plans o' ... men' (and probably also of mice, since they feast on other unfortunates too) than any other 'spoiler' I know - better than rain, or forgetting to write a list, or an attack of the lurgy. Because the wee beasties are just so utterly and incredibly MADDENING!

Nothing else lets you plan an early evening drink outside with friends, enjoying the last of the summer sun and then sends you running into the house in a frenzy of screaming 'Open the door!-Shut-it-QUICK!' while simultaneously spilling your wine, tossing your canap├ęs all over the ground and slapping your ears, scratching your ankles and generally behaving as though suddenly demented. At least, you would look demented to anyone watching, though anyone in the near vicinity (anywhere North of the Clyde) poised enough to be watching, would be doing so behind a wall-constructed-to-keep-the-flying-teeth-out-and-not-built-by-the-wee-beasties-because-expecting-them-to-build-a-wall-to-obstruct-their-own-passage-would-just-be-plain-silly-a-bit-like-expecting-the-midge-to-devise-its-own-barricade-to-prevent-it-bothering-the-golfers-on-a-Trump-golf-course, otherwise of course known as a window.

If you hunt for a reason in favour of the existence of most creepie crawlies, you will find one - bees producing honey  perhaps the most obvious; loads of bugs eating each other, often helping to rid the garden of pests; many in the recycling trade, assisting nature in the business of rot and decay; wasps even (!) scavenging dead things and eating aphids. But what malevolent guiding hand created the midge? Is the creation of the midge perhaps proof that a guiding hand does not exist? Or that if one does, he or she has a sadistic sense of humour? What is the point of the midge?

Distressing fact: 40,000 ... yes! ... Forty thousand midges can land on one exposed human being in an hour. FORTY THOUSAND! My skin is crawling as I write that. Someone tell me, why the midge?


Perhaps, it caps the Scottish tourist industry - one theory being that without it, Scotland would be over- populated, over-exploited and spoilt. I hesitate to accept this hypothesis. A Scotland without midges would surely be better.  **

Somewhere, as stunningly beautiful as this

is blighted from May to October every year by clouds of tiny teeth.
As Clive Anderson says, "The West Coast of Scotland is gorgeous to look at but you have to contend with the possibility of being blown away or rained on. And in the summer months you can be eaten alive by midges."

September is still a 'summer month' in Scotland - this was yesterday; Sunday 11th September

Sun, warmth and no rain was a pleasant surprise.

Good weather for a brief trip North to co-host a party for Dad-Grandad-cousin-in-law-brother-friend.

Dad the gardener. Turning twenty for the fourth time. A surprise 80th birthday party for him ...

Or not ...

It clearly isn't a surprise if you turn up at your surprise party with a five page speech in your pocket. But that's probably better than your relatives worrying where the nearest defibrillator might be in the event of the surprise going terribly wrong. 

Family parties and celebrations equal cousin time - and breezy walks - and too much food - and rum in water pistols (don't ask!) - and barbecuing a whole salmon called Sven - and catching up with old friends - and laughing - and remembering why Scotland will always feel like home - and not minding when I'm asked to say 'purple squirrel' (try it with a Scottish accent and you'll understand. Also I have a Cumberbatch-'penguin-pingwing'-like-failing when I name the bushy tailed creatures 'squirrls' instead of squirrels) - and liking that I still have Kilbride Bay sand in my shoes - and worrying that the stones I picked up on the beach might trigger a bag search at airport security (they didn't) - and liking (more than I can say) that I wasn't the only member of my family sneaking a stone into my luggage - and promising myself that I'll be back soon - and lots and lots of hugs. 

Congratulations again to Grandad and M&L and lots of love to all. 

* Probably a mis-quote - I thought the source was either William McGonagall or Spike Milligan - but the internet has let me down. However, Billy Connolly refers to them as 'pterodactyls' which is a typical Connolly hyperbole but a brilliant image.

** Hmm and Grr and Bother-said-Pooh! It seems that a Scotland without midges would also be a Scotland with starving bats

... could we live without bats ...??

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Of holidays and holiday snaps

Foreign holidays; what are they good for?

Blue skies and pretty buildings

Opening your eyes to things new and different and inspiring that send your head off into an intoxicating spin of words and stories and pictures and magic and light and mystery ... I see these lamps and imagine spirits huddled round them at night to keep warm; spirits that sing so quietly that you almost notice a softly lilting hum and then wonder what it was you were hearing and look away before anyone notices how intently you were studying the lamps and comments on the mad, far-away glint in your eye and wonders if it is something to do with the bottle of red at lunch-time; and spirits that sway as they sing, making the hot air dance and shimmer ...

Seeing strange places and dreaming a people, their culture and history, at a time very different to our own 

Being one of a crowd and experiencing that awkward, shuffling tourist-as-one-of-a-herd discombobulation at sites of special antiquity. And trying to see through the sea of feet and strollers and screaming, bored children all wanting the colourful tatt on display that is probably about as local as a polar bear in Africa, and the smoke and chatter and sweat, with an individual eye; looking for pictures that aren't just copies of thousands of other holiday snaps but catch the spirit of the place ...

... snap 

... slightly better snap ...

... probably not many other snaps of the ground. But think softly falling feet; centuries of softly falling feet that polish and wear the stone and slip past into the past. Gone. Like spirits into the shifting air. A silent touch of life on stone. Till only the stone remains. 

Noticing flowers that are at the same time both familiar and different from those at home

And wondering why so many Europeans still smoke and looking forward to the relatively cleaner air of streets (and pavements) at home 

Also, laughing when it rains

and running wet through emptied streets. 

And looking for the sunlight on newly washed stone.

The foreign holiday; its purpose then? - to experience a different place (buildings, food, smells, language, noise, light) and in doing so open tired eyes, reawaken imagination and spark the awe and wonder that feed the soul. 

Or - in competitively counting the insect bites (Littlest 38) and struggling to sleep in the heat (spritzing water and writing at 02.37am) and gasping at the truly terrible and terrifying local driving - arriving at the end of the holiday with a longing to go home. And a plan for all the things to do when  back at home. A bit like the post-holiday version of New Year's resolutions.

If the plan includes write more; drink less; and stop procrastinating, it will be about as successful as all my resolutions, on all the January firsts, of at least the past ten years. Unless, of course ...