Thursday, September 08, 2022

A little too much haste

I have too many windows in my house... 28 to be precise, not to mention the five main doors. I got it into my head, given we're in the middle of a drought, that it would be nice to freshen up the paintwork a little; they're wooden double-glazed units, you see, and I thought it would look better if they were all the same shade of grey/lilac. Off I went to Bauhaus a couple of weeks ago and bought a massive tub of special outdoor wood paint mixed to my colour specifications - the best quality, most expensive they had, mainly figuring it would be cheaper in the long run than me having to paint them annually, which was never likely to pan out. I also thought the whole project was quite doable, given it's a bungalow and none of the window frames is more than two to three metres up and I have no less than three different-sized ladders. 

I was down to having three windows and all the doors left on Tuesday morning. I was particularly pleased that I was yet to run out of paint and that there was definitely enough left. The only thing worrying me was the ominous forecast of rain, starting on Wednesday afternoon, for the first time in months. So, I got out extra early around 8:30am with my Danish audio book, my various brushes, and my glasses for the fiddly bits. 

The sun was quite strong and I could feel it starting to dry up the paint, so time was short. I dragged the ladder into the shade and ran up it, slapping on the paint as quickly as I could while still doing a decent job. I needed to go back down to move another metre to the left. That's roughly when I realised that over-sized crocs, ladders, and haste isn't the best combo... Pot of paint in hand, I somehow missed my footing, falling not just from the top of the ladder onto the patio, but spectacularly bypassing the patio right over the top of the garden wall and landing half way across the lawn in a flower bed, all the while watching in slow-mo as the grey paint rained down on me and the sun-scorched lawn. I was right, there definitely was enough left in the pot, because it managed to cover my clothes, hair, and about 3m2 of the lawn. Lying on the lawn, winded, I could hear my Danish novel in the distance. It was just getting to the exciting bit where the kidnapped journalist was trying to throw molotov cocktails at the serial murderer! I tried to sit up but the searing pain in my left ankle decided that wasn't the best idea. I lay there for a whole chapter looking at my phone on the windowsill, unable to reach it to ring Charlotte to come outside and pick me up or ring anyone else. 

Eventually I managed to crawl in shaking and dripping with paint and text Charlotte that I needed someone to make me lunch. Fortunately a colleague had asked Thomas to drop some crutches off at the hospital for him so I used them for the remainder of the day. But I could not use my foot AT ALL. By day two, still unable to do anything I was forced by the busybodies in my family into a trip to A&E, which is quite different here, but that's one for Contemplating Denmark. I seem to have torn some ligaments in my foot, sigh. And now that the pain of that is getting slightly more bearable on that side, it would appear I also hit my shoulder, arm, side, hip, and bum. I vaguely remember them connecting with the top of the garden wall somewhere mid-flight. Funny how I could only feel the foot for the first day. 

Anyway, as usual, I am being a totally unbearable patient. After two days stuck in a chair, I'm climbing the walls... unfortunately not literally. I cannot stand sitting. I have windows that need painting. I can't drive, so I can't go to Bauhaus to buy the now-necessary replacement paint. I need this to be over now! I can already tell that there is NO WAY I'm spending the advisory two weeks 'resting with my foot up'. I'll give it till the weekend, MAX! 


Omelettes, Muslim men, and death


This one is a bit more personal than my standard ones, but it gives me comfort and it makes me smile and is a memory I will cherish, so for what it is worth...

Let's go back to February 13. I'm visiting mum in hospital. She has less than two weeks left, though we didn't know that then. The catering staff come in with her evening meal: an omelette and mash, accompanied by some nuclear-fallout-coloured carrot and turnip cubes. Weird in itself. I’m not sure I’d put those together. They leave and mum, who’s been completely lucid and coherent throughout my hour-long visit till then, looks furtively from side to side and suddenly exclaims ‘Muslim men!’ I’m puzzled, given the guy who’s just delivered the food is almost a caricature of your bog-standard ethnic Scot of the gingerheid variety. ‘Muslim men know a thing or two about these matters!’ she elaborates, gesturing with her head towards her plate. I wonder if she’s trying to tell me she’d rather have a decent curry from the Village Curry house round the corner, than more hospital food.

‘About what?’ I ask, vaguely terrified of what she’s going to come out with!

‘Omelettes!’ is her rather unexpected reply. ‘I can see them out my window’ she explains. The photo above is of the view from her window that afternoon. ‘Can you see them down there?’ she asks. I can see nothing but rain and a rooftop carpark. She insists that I look all the way down the seven floors to the pavement below. She is insistent, so I play along. She needs me to see them – I don’t know if the brain tumours are causing her to see them or the high doses of morphine she’s taking for the brain tumours but I know there is no point in arguing, she needs me to confirm what she can see so I look down. ‘Oh, yeah,’ I say.

‘Do you know what they are doing down there, crouched on those little carpets?’ she asks. ‘Eh no?’ I reply, lost for words. They’re comparing their omelettes, swapping them, then passing them along the row so they are ordered perfectly, by size – from biggest to smallest, fluffiest to rubberiest. And once they are all in the right order, they bring them back inside and up here to us! Told you! Muslim men – they know exactly how to go about these things – clued up they are, well clever! They sure as hell know a thing or two, especially when it comes to omelettes!’

And then, as suddenly as the topic had been brought up, it disappeared again, and with a wink and a smile she sat happily in her bed, slightly in awe of and genuinely impressed by the prowess of the rows of Muslim men on their knees below her hospital room on that drizzly Glasgow winter Sunday.

I’ve no idea at all what inspired the story other than the rubber omelette handed to her by the catering staff. No notion why Muslim men were involved, but by agreeing to her story, she was so calm and happy that I could see them too. It’s truly fascinating how the human brain works. That afternoon, I had gone up to visit her alone, having flown in on the Friday night but Covid restrictions meant she was only allowed two visitors a day and Thomas had gone with Charlotte the day before. She’d been moaning constantly about the insipid hospital coffee that tasted of nothing, so I stopped on my way and bought her a caramel cappuccino to go from Costa. She was happy. Dying, and yet receiving a decent coffee seemed worth mentioning more than the news that she'd just been diagnosed with lung cancer that had spread to her spine, bones, liver, and brain just days before. 

I enjoyed my visit that day, in a bittersweet way because she was pain-free and at peace. I think age has helped my perspective. When my gran was dying of lung and brain cancer when I was 16, I found 'mad' stories of this type excruciatingly embarrassing but learning to lean into them and go with the flow was somehow calming. At 16, I remember desperately thinking, that I would prefer to die than come out with something mad and unreal. I wanted to leave this planet with my dignity intact, but at 54, I realised it no longer matters. My mum was happy that day. She appreciated that I could confirm her belief that Muslim men were to be admired for their skills in this department. I know mum loved a good curry so I guess she was probably just complimenting Muslim cuisine and it just came out a bit jumbled up. Nothing positive would have come from me contradicting this moment of confusion. Dying is also a part of living, it's just taken me this long to work that out.

And as an addendum to this story, it seems sweetly fitting that when we put mum's house up for sale after her death, the young family who moved in were 'the Islams'. It's nice to think of their two little girls growing up in the same house we did. I guess Muslim men know a bit about house hunting as well as about omelettes! And I expect there will be some excellent cooking coming out of her kitchen after many years of microwave meals from Aldi.

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Windows or Mac?

I've been a bit remiss on the blogging front this last year. I guess between my boob problems and my mum dying suddenly things have just all been a bit too up in the air. But my other issue was more mundane - my computer. 

Over the last decade, I've bought three, if not four windows laptops, all of which have been hopeless. They start out fine but within six months are on a go-slow, taking up to half an hour to boot up. Thomas fixes them and the problem recurs within days. He's been telling me for a decade to get a MacBook - he's been using one for eight years, as has Marcel and neither have had any issues other than the battery. So, I finally gave in, figuring that even at Mac prices, one would cost less than four. It turned up last Monday night. I'm not used to Macs but I'm willing to learn a new set of workings as long as I have something that starts up nicely.

Tuesday morning, I tried Zoom for the first time while I sat chatting to my Danish language helper, Jens. He said the picture and audio coming from my end was much better than usual. Result!

Wednesday, I replied to a couple of emails and looked for a recipe to make plum tart. Again, I got in at lightning speed and all was well.

Thursday, I was busy with other things so didn't check it out.

Friday, I decided to upload all the photos I took when Derek and Amanda were here...

I opened it but it appeared to be out of charge. I plugged it in but no light appeared on the charger cable. We phoned Apple support. They went through a troubleshoot to no avail.

Yesterday, I drove it into town to the Apple specialist who has declared it dead as a dodo.

FFS! Even the Windows machines lasted more than three days! 

I guess I am sending it back now to be replaced but I'm now less than confident that I have found the laptop to take me through into the 2030s, after all.

Friday, June 17, 2022


When I moved in with Thomas the first thing I noticed on his bookshelf was a book entitled 'God mad'. I thought that was a rather strange possession for a guy whose mum was a minister and whose dad was a theology professor. Whatever misgivings he had about his parents' religion, I thought this was a step further than expected. 

Of course, when I pulled it from the shelf and saw the cover, it became obvious that it was actually a cookbook, god being 'good' and mad being 'food'. I laughed at my own error.

Still the word mad amuses me today. There's a snackbar near here called 'Go' Mad' which makes my English native brain smile whenever I drive by and this car that passed me a few months ago also caused a mild chuckle. Childish I know, but still...

Saturday, June 11, 2022

A different kettle of fish

Since day one Nacho has been a fussy eater... in a good way. Nacho only eats dried cat biscuits. We offered him the expensive wet cat food samples the vet gave us on his first visit and he refused to try them. We tried salmon, prawns, cooked chicken, and raw mince and everything was sniffed and entirely rejected without the smallest crumb passing his lips. The only thing he seems to like that isn't cat biscuits is cheese. He doesn't even catch birds or mice because they aren't dry crunchy biscuits! I'm not sure he's fully read the manual on how to cat. We've long given up on trying to get him to taste anything other than dried biscuits.

So, last week Samosa came into our lives. Day one saw her refuse everything edible and even water. We ended up feeding her water on a teaspoon. We were worried, but shouldn't have been. Turns out it was nerves. Moving in with a new family apparently makes you a nervous wreck for precisely 18 hours, then you bite the bullet and decide you're willing to give wet cat food a go, followed by the biscuits, whiskas kitten milk, cheese, meat, fish, crisps, breakfast pancakes, and everything dropped on the floor including a strawberry. This is going to be a problem because we're used to leaving a snack on the coffee table knowing there's no chance Nacho will so much as smell it. Just imagine Léon's face last night when he left a plate of mash, IKEA meatballs, and meatball sauce on the desk in his room, only to come back from the loo and find a rather small girl sitting on the plate wolfing down more mash than he thought was humanly possible!

Meaningless questions with no answers

Yesterday, driving down to IKEA, Thomas and I were discussing how just 100 years ago the villages around where we live must have had every sort of shop imaginable, and therefore some people never really left the 10km radius around where they were born and yet today travel is so integrated in our psyche. I mentioned that my own grandmother never went further than Wolverhampton in her 68 years. She never went as far as where her granddaughter, and five of her great grandchildren live. She never even saw London. 

Growing up we were told stories of gran's stay in Wolverhampton, when her sister, Rita, was dying. The sweet story went that when my poor great aunt was diagnosed with cancer in her late 30s, my gran (her little sister) moved down to care for her and her 6 year old son, taking my 5 year old mum with her. Gran was 33 at the time. Mum started school in England, Gramps got a plumber job and gran cared for Rita. One day after six months, mum came home from school and nonchalantly greeted my very Glaswegian Gramps with 'ello love' in a very Brummie accent. Gramps promptly packed two cases and told gran no wean of his was growing up with a Brummie accent and took the train back to Glasgow telling her to follow home once the inevitable came to pass! Never again did my gran voyage further than Blackpool. 

I know they weren't the richest pair, but I am puzzled that they never went anywhere, they both worked after all and Gramps got a free house and van with his job. Gran told me at least once a month for the 16 years we overlapped that she had two dreams: to ride in a helicopter and to visit Switzerland. The Switzerland dream came up again and again. It suddenly struck me yesterday that I never once asked her 'Why Switzerland?' I mean: was it mountains? cows with big bells? cuckoo clocks? chocolate? I even went to Switzerland on a school trip two years before she died and brought her back a rather cheesy cuckoo clock and some chocolate but still she never told me why Switzerland and for some reason I never asked. I suddenly realised yesterday that the one person who might know is suddenly gone and now I'll never know. When death comes suddenly, you forget to ask the questions that don't really matter. 

Since February 26 there have only been two people left on this earth with the key to my childhood memories. I remember my mother-in-law saying that the day her mum died, her childhood was nowhere other than in her head, her only sibling having died before their mother, which is even worse I guess. Maybe when I'm gone, my kids will appreciate their army of siblings even more than they do now.

Here's a pic of my poor gran who never got to Switzerland.

Tuesday, June 07, 2022

Samosa Friday Buchanan-Widmann

At Easter we spent a night at Thomas's sister's house. That meant leaving Nacho in the house overnight alone. We weren't going to be there long enough to check him into his usual cat hotel, so left loads of food and water and toys, but still we felt guilty. Back when we got Nacho, we had had the option of taking his brother too. Amaia was really not sure about cats back then so we weren't sure two wouldn't be too much for a kid who was scared of animals. We should have known better. After a fortnight, Amaia had come round and regret was setting in. This overnight though made us realise how it would be easier going forward to leave him if he had a wee friend, or a sibling. The search began, scouring most of Denmark for kittens in need of rescuing or rehoming. We found a litter two hours away but they were too young to leave their mum so we've been getting updates for about six weeks now until last Saturday when we could finally bring her home.

We decided to name her Samosa - as it was another orangey-coloured triangular snack food like Nacho and she too had quite a lot of ginger in her. I have decided single-handedly that her middle name is Friday as she looks like the kind of cat who could only have been assembled last thing on a Friday - Orange legs, white feet, a half grey, half orange face, a long tail that doesn't fit with the rest, and better still it turns out she was born on a Friday! 

It's day three and they are already chasing each other in a non-agressive manner round the house and stealing each other's food, so things are looking positive. Hopefully there will be many updates on here going forward!

It's good to see things from another perspective

I considered not publishing this one. There are some things you don't talk about - like miscarriages, menopause, hysterectomies, and mastectomies but how would not publishing it help anyone in the same situation? I can tick all those boxes. So, for what it's worth, here goes...

I was never a particularly self-conscious person body-wise. Not that I had any sort of model figure as a young woman - I was a little too short, my boobs were always a bit too big but I was happy enough with the way I looked and thought nothing of baring all, be that on a dodgy beach in Greece or in a communal changing room. I remember having a rather animated conversation about an idea for a dictionary many years ago on the way out of a sauna on a business trip. Enthusiastically, my boss (an Italian woman) and I stood discussing our ideas, when I noticed people around us were giving us funny looks. I assumed it was because lexicography was not the most normal of topics, but I slowly realised it was probably because we were both completely naked in the middle of a large room, arms waving, and no one else was!

Obviously over the years I've had five babies, the biggest of which weighed in at 4.5kg, so things aren't quite how they were but again that was more a badge of honour than anything shameful, so I even managed to embrace that version of me and still wander about naked without too much thought.

However, I've been through my own personal war these past few years. My ovarian cancer scare of 2018 left me with a scar from my belly button to my pubic bone. Moreover, an infection I got post-op left me with a rougher edge to the top of that scar. I feared at the time that it might end up looking like 2 belly buttons, one under the other, but in the end, it wasn't quite that bad. I think it took me over a year to walk past my kids in my underwear after that one, and when I did, I'm not sure they even noticed I looked any different.

I had just about come to terms with that when I was hit with last year's boob bombshell. Some dodgy cells found in the milk ducts of my right boob meant all the breast tissue and the nipple had to be removed as a precaution. That left me with the option of one boob as an E cup and the other completely flat, or a more invasive reconstruction of the right to a size B, but a simultaneous reduction of the other to match. I'm not sure I was ready in my early 50s to become completely asexual-looking so opted for the more complex of the two operations, not so much because of how society wanted me to look, but because of how I could face myself. Surgical menopause in 2018, before my body was ready, had already done little for my sense of femininity or self-esteem, so I didn't need to lose my boob on top of the rest, especially before the first scar had even faded.

The upshot is that I look passable in clothes, which is good for my sense of self. No one needs to know what I have been through unless I want them to. But I wasn't ok on the underneath. I took to avoiding mirrors and locking the door to the bathroom. This was a far cry from a few years earlier when I routinely was joined in the bathroom when I was in the bath by some kid or another asking for homework help. I didn't want to see me and I didn't want anyone else to see me either, checkups with the consultant excepted, of course.

After about nine months, Amaia questioned why I was no longer as open as I used to be. At 12, she sees things differently to me I guess. I reminded her what I had been through, as I had kept them in the loop all along, but to my surprise she was completely unfazed. To her I am still me, so all I got was a shrug and a 'so what's the problem?' I told her it made me more self conscious than before and she asked why. I described how I look now - huge scars round half my body, nipples removed and again she said she didn't see why that would change my confidence levels. 'Sounds to me like you now have Barbie boobs!' she said nonchalantly, with a smile.

So, there you have it, two major operations down the line and apparently I now look like a Barbie doll! Well, maybe a wee bit less tall and slim, but still... Maybe it's time I opened up a bit and went back to being just me.