Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Bilingual issues

Bilingualism can have amusing consequences. 

There's a Danish rhyme Thomas is forever singing to the kids that goes:

Hop, hop, hop, hop, 
Hop, hop, hop, hop, 
Ride, ride ranke
Hesten hedder Abildgrå 
Den skal Amaia ride på 
Ride, ride ranke

With Anna and Léon we had no particular issues, but Amaia has more difficulty with the Danish R sound so has taken to asking Thomas to sing it by shouting 'Daddy, can you sing Wanker, wanker!' 

The first time she says it in public, I swear I am going to laugh!

Monday, July 30, 2012


My ex was a very negative person. The glass was always half empty, or worse! One of the things I love about Thomas is his positive nature - the way he always sees the best in a situation.

When we flew out of Pisa last week it was 36 degrees at 10 in the morning. We came through the clouds this end for nearly twenty minutes before we could see Prestwick, the weather was that bad (yes John, it does rain in Ayrshire!) On touchdown at 1pm it was 9 degrees. Waiting for the airport car park bus in the torrential rain all five of my kids look nearly suicidal, Thomas of course is smiling happily as always. I definitely got the right guy this time!

Saturday, July 28, 2012

My boys

I'm missing my boys. My beautiful boys.

I miss Marcel as a friend - we have lovely chats, he's such a lovely young man, an interesting and interested one - we share a taste in music, in literature, in life and when he's away the silence is crippling. Thomas and Marcel and I can talk for hours on life, politics, economics, linguistics, history - you name it. I even miss the deep voice turning up at midnight with five other 15 year olds begging a mega-sleepover on my living room floor!

I miss Léon - my soft, innocent boy, my funny little boy with his wacky anecdotes, his endless chat about Harry Potter and pirates, my brave little boy who jumps from cliffs into deep water and yet won't sleep without his scabby Snowy teddy. My little boy who still needs stories and hugs and kisses.

Yesterday was Marcel's 15th birthday. I've never not been with him on his birthday before. I expect that'll happen a lot when they are adults but it only feels like a few years since he was born, so it doesn't seem right just yet.

Like a prison sentence, I'm ticking off the days till they come back from visiting their granny in France and I can go back to having my noisy, bustling, chaotic but happy and harmonious large family all under the one roof.

One for the Danes

We've just been over in Italy, where like most hot countries, fresh milk is not easy to keep and UHT is omnipresent. Léon describes UHT as the kind of milk you have to hold your nose to drink because it tastes so awful. Anna and Amaia just refuse to drink it altogether. Given they like a cup of milk before bed, that left them with a dilemma. What to drink? Peter (my father-in-law) likes to drink sparkling mineral water. We never buy sparkling water except when Peter is around so the kids aren't used to it. Amaia decided Peter's sparkling water was an ok going-to-bed drink. Given she didn't know the word 'sparkling mineral water' she invented her own term for it 'colavand' (literally coca cola water). The whole family decided it was such a good description, we are now all calling sparkling mineral water 'colavand'.

Thursday, July 26, 2012


Léon is such a sweet wee guy. He's not always the most on-the-ball when it comes to detail but that can have amusing consequences...

Here's a photo of our wedding. Pictured with Thomas's mum is our good friend Hilary (left). I've known Hil for ten years. Léon's known her all his life. He sees her once or twice a month when we're having coffee. One day in Italy I was setting the table. I happened to say aloud in front of Léon. I need someone to get cutlery. Léon turned and smiled, delighted. He immediately exclaimed - I didn't know she was coming too, can I come with you to get her? Totally puzzled I asked what he was on about... You said Cutlery was coming, your friend Cutlery... emmm... oh that's not her name, is it? I thought you meant Hilary! What's cutlery? I guess I usually say knives and forks at home! Sweet boy!

3 minute coffee

Thomas has bought a new science nerd coffee gadget just like this. It is great fun to watch but if he thinks for one minute it's going to replace the cappuccino machine, he's madder than I thought!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Well done us!

Well if someone was going to cock up big time at the Olympics, it might as well be us, on the first night - D'oh! Annoyed to be working tonight as I was actually offered tickets to the match - then I could have got a photo of the flag in all its glory!

Poor baby

I've just had a call from France where my two boys are visiting their grandmother to say Léon has fallen and broken his left arm. There is nothing more upsetting than being miles from your child when he's hurt himself. I can't wait to get him home for a cuddle.

The automatic Fiat 500

Avis in Arezzo seems only to rent out automatic drive cars for some reason. I've never booked one, but I've also never not got one. When I was presented with the keys to last summer's automatic Lancia, I curled my lip in disgust, got on with it and slowly came to quite like it, despite myself. This year when I was given my little automatic Chuggy, I didn't just like it, I really liked it. I just couldn't be bothered with all that constant gear changing nonsense involved in mountain driving. I said it last summer and I seem to have aged even further this year. Next I'll be considering buying an automatic for at home and then I will know it is only and matter of time before I need to order myself a zimmer frame!


I really like taking the odd sepia photo. Warmer than b&w, it still manages to focus you more on the subject all the same. I found myself using it a few times on holiday. Maybe it is because of the sunlight in the south. It might be less appealing used for a rainy Scottish landscape.
I wonder if southern Europe is more sepia and Scotland is more b&w. I'm sure I'll have plenty opportunity to test my theory...


We went to Cortona for the day when we were in Tuscany. Surprisingly I had never been there before. I went to Perugia uni when I was 18, and Perugia is just 30 miles away. Given it is up on top of a mountain and I went everywhere by train when I was a student, I guess Terontola was as close as I ever got. What an omission! Beautifully quaint, it is built on top of a hill with spectacular views of Trasimeno and the whole Tuscan and Umbrian plain.

And it wasn't even knee-deep in tourists. Parking was free just outside the city wall too. You don't find that often! I'd definitely recommend it if you have a couple of hours to kill.

Very (southern) European

All of my kids are half foreign, despite the change of husbands midway. (Yes I have heard Marcel's teenage friends come out with - 'Bloody hell, did your mum shag her way round Europe?!') I try, myself, to put it down to studying modern languages, living abroad and finally working in bilingual publishing - in other words, I don't think I ever met a Scottish bloke after I left school!

Anyway, this has resulted in kids, some with pale eyes, most with blond hair but all with very non-Scottish skin. Not one of them has ever turned pink, they all instantly go that golden brown shade you never see here. And high factor sun cream is just a joke on them. Léon in particular, despite being the fairest with the palest eyes really acts like a native in the southern heat. He can literally run up steep hills in blazing 35 degree heat, without even flinching. On this square in Arezzo last week he managed to run and sprint for a good half an hour without even stopping for a drink (with both his younger sisters following him). I doubt many blue-skinned, ginger Glaswegian kids would have managed that with such enjoyment!


I love the way I caught Léon's reflection here jumping into the clear calm water of the Arno for a nice swim. He really enjoyed his diving this year!

I also quite liked his seeming ability to walk on water... or maybe it was just a very fast shutter speed!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Tandal shoes

I think my favourite Amaia word at the moment is 'tandal shoes'. She never just says 'tandals' for sandals, always 'tandal shoes'. Looking at this photo she exclaimed 'Oh look mummy there's me and Marcel and my tandal shoes!' And of course the whole family is now following suit, calling their own sandals tandal shoes. So sweet!

Old chuggies again

I love the size of old Fiat 500s. I often think when I see Léon ans Anna (6&4) standing beside one that they look just the right size of couple to get in and drive away! I wonder what age kids actually reach a size when they could physically drive one, if they knew how to?

We live in a curious world...

Glad I'm European - give me a nice slice of comté any day!

What is this?

I bet you think this is a fir cone? According to Amaia it is in fact a 'pinkle'. It is such a sweet word, I have a feeling it is going to take on 'jalt' status in our family!


I'm kicking myself a bit. What with bloody Ryanair and their baggage allowance of 10kg which needs to incorporate all your clothes and shoes, your handbag and all your camera equipment, I've taken to leaving the camcorder and all but the most generic of lenses behind when I visit my in-laws. I didn't really figure on meeting some psychedelic bugs that would really have better lent themselves to a macro. Imagine how much more impressive these shots would have been if I'd actually had the right lens with me?!

Note to self - next time I go to Italy in the summer leave behind my underwear and take my macro lens instead!

Only beautiful Chuggies are left

I've been counting 'Chuggies' aka original Fiat 500s in Italy since I first lived there in 1986. Back then, they were by far the most common car.

By my return in '92, many were falling to pieces but still they were omnipresent.

I have noticed since Thomas and I started visiting Italy more often since his parents retired that only the beautiful ones now remain, the loved ones, like the one below I found in Arezzo last week or this gleaming orange one I found in the forest last summer.

It'll be a sad day when I go on a trip to Italy at some future date and come across none. I know it is bound to happen one day, but it is unimaginable to me.

Monday, July 23, 2012

What a loss

 I didn't discover her till just before Back to Black was released. I'd heard the odd track from Frank, but hadn't really sat down and listened. I bought Back to Black when it came out and as I tend to do when I like music, I listened to nothing else for months. I knew all the words and was singing along without analysing them deeply - I'd listen to it on the school run, or running errands or driving home from work in rush hour traffic. My mind was always on several things. Then I remember one sunny day driving to visit a friend down at the coast so having time to really listen to what Amy and I were duetting. A cold chill ran up my spine in stark contrast to the beautiful weather that day. I remember my thoughts as if it was yesterday. It was before all the drugs and drinking and tabloid headlines had begun to appear. I remember thinking - these lyrics are mindblowingly profound for one so young, so moving, so brilliant but if I was your mother, Amy, I would be utterly terrified by the depth of feelings you are expressing.

For the next few years the world watched as she slowly died in front of our eyes. Some of us tried to hide from the pain of it all but most lapped it up, gloating. As often happens in today's society, people couldn't differentiate between soap opera and reality. A young woman, a poet, a musical genius was was slowly slipping away before us as people enjoyed the show. There was a terrible inevitability about it. I hoped and hoped but I didn't believe, not really.

It took me nearly eleven months to listen to her again after that day in July in Tuscany when I turned on Facebook and saw that someone had put the status 'RIP Amy'. I didn't need to look any further, I knew immediately what must have happened. Even now each track is greeted by floods of tears, thinking what might have been, and imagining the pain of what she was trying to share with us.

She died with her best work still ahead of her. Listening to her songs on Youtube hurts, but knowing what could have been hurts so much more. The silence she left where the music should have been is hard to bear.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

32nd Casentino rally, Talla

Thomas's parents retired up the Apennine mountains so we go there quite often. Driving up and over them isn't particularly hard once you get the hang of where all the hairpin bends are and memorize which chunks aren't wide enough for two cars.

On Friday 13 July, we offered to drive mum from one side to the other for a nice ice cream in a wee shop we like to visit once a summer.

I set out in my beautiful hired Fiat 500 with Mum, Charlotte and Amaia. Thomas set out in his rather more boring Nissan Micra with Anna and the boys and we started on up the mountain. Surprisingly, we were overtaken by quite a few cars on our way over. You almost never meet other cars on those mountains roads. We didn't think about it and sat and had our ice cream. 

On the way home things were odder. Many more cars were coming towards us than I had seen on the way there. Again they were all going in the same direction. They were all fast little cars and they each had two males inside. It started to dawn on me that the annual Casentino rally was taking place the next afternoon so these cars were rally drivers out checking the route in their normal cars. I was no longer in any doubt when I rounded one tight bend to see a Lancia and an Alfa Romeo coming towards me at speed. The Alfa zoomed past me on the left (as it was meant to in Italy!) as the Lancia mounted the grass verge on my right on the very edge of the mountain, overtaking me on the wrong side simultaneously! I wasn't overly fazed... Italians drive wilder than us and I'm fairly used to it but mum look more than surprised!

So we took the kids on the Saturday to the rally. We had a great view point above a sharp bend in Brita's and Peter's village Pieve Pontenano. Some of the villagers had a programme and any thoughts I had about leaving before the end were dashed when I noticed the last car to go was a vintage Fiat 500 (pictured above). It came round the corner to rapturous applause and flag-waving, even if it didn't seem to be the fastest thing through the village!

Given there isn't much night life in Pieve, we headed down the mountain to watch the night rally at midnight too. It was much scarier and more impressive, though it probably took about ten years off my life. Sitting along a pavement okayed by the local Carabinieri, with Lots and Granny at the front, one car missed the bend and came hurtling towards us at full speed in the dark before coming to a stop less than a metre from Charlotte's feet! One of the people sitting beside us caught it on their phone.

And for any other vintage chuggy fans, once I'd stopped shaking enough to pick my camera up again, I caught it on the night leg too!


Thomas found this on facebook today. I think he's right when he suggests Léon might find it more than amusing when he gets back from visiting Oma in France! (It's jelly, by the way!)

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Coloseum from a 6 year old perspective

'Mum, do you have to pay to get into the Coloseum?'
'Yes Léon'
'Why, it's all broken and half of it is missing!'
'It is an important historical building Léon'
'Oh I know that mum, people used to fight in it. They were called... emmm... I think it was something that rhymed with alligators! Emm Gladiators?'

Friday, July 13, 2012


How do the wee buggers know who to bite? I could understand if some people got fewer bites than me but how can you get none? Lots and I are oozing yellow pus from open sores caused by an allergy to them. Marcel, Anna and Thomas have some red lumps but nothing more. However Amaia and Léon have none, not a single bite! How can they tell they don't want to taste them without tasting them? I don't get it.

As Léon announced yesterday looking at the state of my legs 'I'm so glad mummy that I am mosquito-proof!'

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Amaia's lizards

It's awfully sweet when little kids almost get a word right, but not quite!
Today Amaia's been chasing lizards all over my mother-in-law's patio shouting 'a wizard, a wizard!' How cute! I half expect Harry Potter to turn up any minute... reminds me of our wizard photoshoot here last summer!

Saturday, July 07, 2012


If you are daft enough to do what I have just done, here's a wee piece of advice...

So Thomas baked fifty large round chilis in the oven and asked if I would peel them and pull out the seeds. They were only medium strength so I thought I'd be ok. After my hands and arms had swollen to double size and I'd tried cold water for half an hour, aftersun cream and anti-histamines, I decided googling a remedy before driving myself to casualty would be infinitely less embarrassing. Cleaning your hands thoroughly in white spirit brings the pain back from unbearable to just about livable with! Now I'm wondering what they are going to do to my insides once he's stuffed them with ricotta for tomorrow's starter?

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Gammon steak

I just had a gammon steak for dinner. I don't have them often but when I do they always make me smile - more than thirty years on...

We were on holiday down south - mum, dad, little Derek and I. Derek must have been about seven - just finding his feet reading. It was a typical wet UK summer day and we decided to go to the aquarium in Brixham to keep out of the rain. Derek was reading the names of the fish out loudly to everyone who was gathering round the tanks. Suddenly he got very excited. He was in front of a large tank containing a 'common skate'. 'Ooooooh I've always wondered what these look like!' he squealed in delight. A seven year old who's always wondered what a common skate looks like!? But he immediately clarified by reading it to us 'Look daddy! A gammon steak!' - The entire room erupted in awwhs and laughter!

Tuesday, July 03, 2012


I spent a lot of time in Besançon in the 80s. I've been back a few times since I moved away but not since 2004. It's funny, I nearly ended up living there. My ex worked there and had I not got the job as a lexicographer for Collins, I would have moved there in 1991, so it where I would have lived my adult life in some parallel dimension. The really, really ironic thing is that it wasn't the place that was wrong for me, but the person I lived there with. I loved the colours of the stones there, the river running round the old town and the beautiful nature all around. It smelled beautiful - flowers, river, sunshine, French bakers... It feels very odd to me that I have not been there since Thomas and I got together. It seems strangely as if I haven't taken him home yet to see where I came from, if that makes any sense! Maybe one day I can take my husband and my kids to my other home town and show them around.

Monday, July 02, 2012

Drink driving in France - the dilemma!

This amusing new law is about to come into force in France. My nieces have been lamenting it on Facebook for weeks. I'm sure it was brought in with the best of intentions but one summed up the stupidity of the idea: Roughly translated she wrote 'I have to have an unused breathalyser test in my car or I am not allowed to drive it. So I leave my friend's house after a glass of wine. If I use the breathalyser to see if I am allowed to drive, then I have used it so I am not allowed to drive! If I don't use it, I might be over the limit so not allowed to drive! Best solution is probably just to stay at my friend's house and get drunk!'

An amusing take on the 'no' campaign

I enjoyed this little post very much. I wish dad could have read it.

Sunday, July 01, 2012


Amaia is more of an introvert than Anna. It isn't immediately obvious when she's surrounded by her family because she's the baby of the family so often plays cute and clowns about. When I take Anna into a stranger's house she often acts quite grown up - she asks questions, and she tries to engage them in conversation. Amaia used to be quiet but in the last month she's started covering her mouth whenever she's ill at ease or afraid. She doesn't do it momentarily though, she leaves her hands there until she's happy again!

I was recently invited to a Breast Cancer fund raiser at a friend's house. When I walked in she had approximately thirty friends in her kitchen eating cup cakes. Amaia was with me. She didn't cry or ask to be picked up, she simply clasped her mouth and remained motionless for the whole hour I was there. I had to laugh when one woman actually asked me 'Excuse me, is your baby going to be sick?'! I think I am going to have to work on her showing her introvert streak in a slightly less embarrassing manner!