Friday, November 28, 2014

Baby Lily Mildred Buchanan-Widmann!

After last week's upset, we sneaked out on Tuesday morning to acquire a new family member. We got to see two boy hamsters and four girls. One of the girls, an all-over brown one, had already been reserved. That left this one, one who was almost identical to Rosie, right down to the triangle, but with red eyes (so we ruled her out as being too much of a reminder) and finally a really pretty fluffier creamy striped one. Of the boys, one was also really fluffy and coloured like a ginger cat. Almost immediately I started to toss up between the cream girl and the ginger boy. The owner said this grey one was friendlier so we played with all three for ten minutes before ruling her in and the creamy one out. She was a bit too chewy to live with young children unfortunately as she was stunning. This grey one was a tiny bit more curious, The ginger boy was so laid-back we weren't sure we'd ever see him again once he discovered our deep sawdust compartment, so she was chosen.

Once we picked the kids up from school and brought them home to their surprise, we had a conference on what to call her. Everyone, excluding Marcel who was at work but including granny, who'd dropped in for coffee, had opted for Lily but Anna was on a bit of an over-tired, post-school power trip so dug in her heels. Eventually she gave in with pouted lip and folded arms. The following morning, well-slept, she decided she needed to climb down though. Firstly, she tried to claim she had misheard us and thought we were trying to name a girl hamster 'Louis' and claimed that had been the reason for her strop. But later in the day she decided once again she needed somehow to have one up on her siblings so told me quietly 'Since the others got to choose her name, I think I should be allowed to choose her middle name'. Not realizing such a small animal needed one, I saw no harm in agreeing. Then she announced this tiny ball of fluff would be known forthwith as 'Lily Mildred Buchanan-Widmann'. Apart for making me laugh, I do wonder how she's even heard the name Mildred. I thought they all died out when Phyllises were still in nappies, and that was nearly 100 years ago!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

The child of a campaigner?

The local primary must have been doing some slightly premature St Andrew's day celebrations today. Amaia and I were sitting in the living room when we heard lots of children's voices. This isn't unusual as we are equidistant between two primary schools, but this time they were accompanied by a piper, no less. As he made his way past our house we heard the bagpipes being played very well for a good five minutes without a break. Amaia sat quietly, listening and when silence finally reigned, she turned to me, smiled knowingly and announced 'Mummy, I think there is a Yes outside!' 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Rosie Hamster 12-4-13 -> 21-11-14

You can't spent 18 months living with someone without getting attached... On Friday our little Rose Hamster fell in her cage - she was always a climber. She broke her leg too badly to be treated.

At 5pm I was happily making dinner and sharing a slice of the butternut squash with our much-loved hamster and by 7pm I was listening to three hysterical kids as we buried her in the garden. This is the last photo I took of her a couple of weeks ago.

We were already having a shit enough day without that (a combination of watching another UKIP win down south - this time by a man who just last week stated he wanted EU citizens repatriated as soon as 2017 - goodbye husband?) That, and a wonderful new piece of legislation from our favourite ever Tory government stating that people whose circumstances change between taking out a mortgage and it coming to its end 25 years later (excuse me for being naive, but isn't that eventually likely to be almost everyone?) will no longer be eligible for new deals on fixed rates, trackers etc even from their current lender, but will be forced onto the standard variable rate. I don't really understand the logic of forcing people onto a variable rate when they most need stability and visibility, unless it is a way of increasing the government housing stock by repossessing everyone's house. But there you have it, and ours runs out next week! Wowser.

Anyway back to the main topic.

We originally chose a hamster, to be honest, because we couldn't really be bothered with a pet, or rather we wanted one and felt the kids would benefit from one but had so much on our plates that we couldn't commit to dog walking and knew a cat would end up under the number 4 bus that passes our house every 15 minutes all day long. We figured a hamster would serve the purpose of teaching them about care and companionship without us having to get overly involved. I did worry a hamster wouldn't have much personality to be honest. I now ask myself how wrong I could have been?!

Within days of getting Rosie, however, I was surprised to find I really liked her. I guess she entered our family at the point I usually have another baby, so she became that! And once she was installed in our internal hall, the one leading to all the downstairs rooms in our house (except our bedroom), I found myself talking to her every time I passed through. Hamsters are good listeners, especially when life throws shit your way. They look both interested and understanding. They nod a lot when you talk to them. She got to know the family routines and got up every morning at 8 to wave the kids off to school before retiring until about 5pm when dinner smells would again have her up for a chat. She knew us each by smell and was always happy to chat to us as any nosy and outgoing creature would. I'm the family salad maker so whatever I was making, she got a slice. She loved everything in a salad, except tomatoes. Tomatoes were a definite no-no. Thomas and Rosie had a chat at bed time every night - in Danish, of course. Like our kids, Rosie was a bilingual hamster.

Now maybe I'm just a soppy old git but if you'd asked me last week what I was most dreading when she eventually died, which I thought wouldn't be for about a year, so I hadn't even started psyching myself up for it, I'd have said the kids' reaction but today, two days on and having only caught about four hours sleep since Friday, I feel utterly lost without her. I miss sharing my salads, I miss our chats, and the house feels too quiet by half. Unlike the stereotypical mum showing relief at no longer having the hassle of cleaning her and feeding her and the likes, I find myself missing her dreadfully. She had her own wee character, so in a way is irreplaceable but I already find myself googling where I can adopt another little hamster I can chat to about its big sister, who died in such a silly way at just 19 months old. I find myself going through my flickr pictures sobbing, like a daft cow... She was such a sweet baby when we got her, so tiny.

I think one of the things that surprised me most, never having had a hamster, was the fact that she was very like a human, in many ways: curious about the same things and similar in her reactions to situations. Her little hands looked just like mine.

Every two or three months we'd get up and she would have rearranged her furniture - she had a three room cage and we'd suddenly find she'd moved all the bedding from one room to another overnight. She'd suddenly decide to move from living in her cosy glass jar to making a bed under her sawdust with a long tunnel leading up to it and then just as soon as she'd moved her stuff in, she'd change her mind again. I'm a bit like that myself. I like to move furniture, redecorate and move house so I could really relate to that. I like to imagine what must have gone through her mind because her moves always took quite a lot of planning and to-ing and fro-ing. It takes a little hamster a long time to move 2kg of sawdust using only her pouches!

Finally, we were of course very proud when she became the face of Scottish Hamsters for Indy ;-)

But she had a good life for a hamster. She was adored by us all. She had a huge cage thanks to our hamster expert friend who advised us early on that the cages sold in pet shops really aren't suitable for grown hamsters. We changed her toys often so she had a bit of variety and took her out to play with her in the bath (empty of course!) And she had rather a posh diet for a hamster too. Banana was her favourite.

Léon drew this for her which set me off again:

And little Amaia did her own wee drawing of Rosie in a tiara which is too sweet:

Monday, November 17, 2014

The saga continues

This wee it is springs instead of gadgets...

First casualty was the mattress on our bed - a spring has popped through along either side - not in the middle where we actually sleep at least so we don't roll on it while we are asleep, but right on the edge so it nips my bum every morning on my way out. Mum very helpfully asked if our bed had perhaps seen too much action?! You've got to laugh!

Next, the couch in the TV room followed suit. I sat down last night and found another one up my backside. At this rate we'll need to buy each other bean bags and airbeds for Xmas. Oh to win the lotto!

I wonder what will die on us next week...

(I suppose after nearly six years of replacing nothing and trying to live freelance, things have decided to self-destruct en masse!) Joy...

Sunday, November 09, 2014


Here's my boy in the Himalayas with the world at his feet!

Just after Marcel turned 16 he was asked to write a (max 1300 word) essay about an emotional topic as one of the pieces to be submitted to the SQA as part of his Higher English portfolio. It seems to follow a similar pattern to the format of the Intermediate 2 he'd done the year before when he wrote about dad's illness back when he was 14 (see here). He toyed with a few topics and then suddenly announced he was going to write an essay about his father. I was afraid. Higher English is the one thing you need to get into any uni course. It is not something you can screw up. I knew it had been over a year at that point since he'd seen his father and wasn't sure he was emotionally mature enough to open that can of worms but he submitted his topic to his teacher and that meant there was little chance of turning back.

Every night for weeks he came down drained, but having only written a few lines. One night he broke down as it all started to come out and he began to question whether he could have changed their relationship. The whole process put us both through the wringer. We discussed it a lot over the course of a few weeks. Often we found ourselves admitting to each other that he had affected us both in the same way. We are probably the most alike of all the people in the family, in that regard anyway. It was hard as a mother to hear that he, like me, had often psyched himself up for his father being negative and abusive and how he also found himself trying to appease him constantly even when nothing had provoked it. It was even harder to hear that, like me, the times when all the psyching up had been in vain had left him more emotionally drained than the occasions when he was aggressive. Anyway, enough said. He has given me permission to share this with you. (And by the way, I needn't have worried from a uni perspective, the SQA awarded him one of their rare 100% for this, making his English Higher his highest scoring one). So without further ado, here it is:


There really is nothing more comforting than cuddling a toddler. The way they smile at you with

complete admiration. The way their honest faces resonate with the love and trust they have for you.

When a problem becomes so deep-rooted, so embedded that your search for it becomes beyond

exhausting, looking through those eyes of a toddler, with no concern for the complexities of the

world, really soothes you. This is me and my little sister plonked in front of the telly watching yet

another one from her exquisite collection of films. There are only so many times a teenage boy can

watch the same princess meets prince love story but that doesn’t matter. I enjoy it because she

enjoys it. A small giggle comes from under my arms, I must have missed the joke but her happiness

evokes a wee smirk in me. Her smiling face shines in my direction but as quickly as it appears it is

replaced by a distressed, questioning look. She has noticed my distracted expression. I’ve only got a

few more minutes at home before he picks me up. These are long, long minutes. That anxiety that

callously seeps into me and takes over me is already here. I answer her gaze. The mask that shields

her from my pain shows itself once again, this time through an exaggerated grin. She is happy

again. And this comforts me for a while. However, that dread I recognise all too well grabs my

stomach again, its grip tightening on my stomach with every monotonous throb of pain. I don’t

want to see him but the car horn that condemns us so often cries its familiar sorrowful tune.

Immediately, my mind is reduced to frenzied anticipation. Am I ready to take his insults? Maybe it’s

not him outside. Don’t lie to yourself. I’m ready for his erratic behaviour. Who are you kidding? You

can never be ready to face him. Something outwith my control begins to march me towards the little

green Fiat. I go over the top and into battle through the open door of the car. Instantly, I am

shattered by a welcoming “Hi son, how are you?” There is no enemy today. The pain, the suffering,

the stress, the tension, the agonising psychological battle – it is all in vain. How dare he force me to

feel this way? The heightened state of conflict that fills me soon dissipates and is replaced by silent

resentment. It is worse when he is kind. My name is Marcel Gautier and I am a victim of verbal

child abuse.

Constant conflict, belittlement and pain was the skewed perception of normality by 14 year old

me. The abuse was increasing; I could feel it but had not yet recognised what it was. It was

becoming malignant, maliciously seeping through my entire body and mind without me realising

the extent of it. Something felt wrong but I didn't know what.

I get to his house and retreat upstairs. It is as far away from him as I can get. I walk past the

bedroom mirror and do not recognise myself. Where has the enthusiastic character bursting with life

gone? “Away” my mind tells me. He cannot survive here. The insults have worn him down to the

point where he feels nothing but worthless, silent and powerless. This is all that remains of him and

these remains are me. Suddenly, my sister’s cold shriek that I hear so often in this house pierces me

like an icy dagger. Followed, as always, by the sound of that man storming up the stairs. His attacks

begin again. Stupid, un-educated, moronic me had forgotten he’d made the fatal error of defending

his sister last time he was here. You two are always siding with your mother you horrible children.

His constant belittlement of me makes me reserved and knocks away my confidence one strike at a

time. You are useless. I question myself, I interrogate myself. Why are you not good enough to

make him happy? What is wrong with you? What is wrong with you all? You are unintelligent. I

embarrass myself trying to find a way to dance to his tune, to derive some formula which will make

him the shining image of the ideal dad I so often hear of. I’ll take you back to your mother’s house;

the very sight of you both disgusts me. I embarrass myself searching for some way to persuade him

to take an interest in me and who I am. The futility of my attempts are saddening. He leaves. The

void he creates inside me progressively fills with a searing agony. A dad who was so dear to me, my

idol, now diminishes me for no reason other than to satisfy his selfishness. After all, his selfishness

is why he treats me this way. He doesn't care for me, he doesn't care for my siblings, he cares only

for himself and the destruction, the devastation that that leaves behind is for us. His lack of

comprehension of anyone other than himself pushes us to switch roles. I am the adult. He is the

child. It is I, the fourteen year old, who has to attempt to fix this family that is rapidly eroding

beneath us children. His ignorance, of course, absolving him of all responsibility. My innate love

for him has died long ago.

Unfathomable rage courses through my entire body knowing I allowed myself to be subjected to

this. I scream at this memory in desperation in a hope that my old self will hear me and revolt

against him. My blistering anger however is focused on that man. It sickens me that a man can

direct such vulgarity towards innocent children, his own innocent children, causing them to doubt

the world they do not yet know. To force doubt into their naïve minds over the relationships that are

central to their lives is maliciously inhuman.

They are bad. He drops me off at home the next day and I am greeted by my mother and step-dad's

warm embrace. They are evil. This embrace only confuses me however because it doesn't tally up

with what he says. They are liars. His poison has lurked into my mind spreading its cancer causing

me to feel ill at ease in my own home. They are cunning. My suspicion grows, I am increasingly

apprehensive, hesitant and withdrawn. They are callous. Maybe he is right, maybe this is all a

façade and I am the naïve fool. Their children are evil. No. Those are my innocent infant sisters.

They have never harmed anyone. He is the liar, it is certain now. I will no longer be poisoned.

And then true normality and reality came crashing down.

My little sister. Someone whom I infinitely admire had the strength to say enough is enough. As

far as she was concerned, she’d had enough of fighting, enough of being defended, she’d had

enough. One warm summers day she turned around and simply said no, starting the snowball that

freed us from him. To her, I am eternally grateful. She is and always will be a true heroine in my


The road to recovery is a long one, one that I have not yet seen the end of. One thing is certain

however. He has not destroyed my enthusiastic, full of life character. I see it return more every day,

an enhanced version even. Strength learnt from my sister that I have projected through

myself, life experience turning into maturity beyond my age and above all a sense of real family

instilled in me. It has been 14 months since I last saw him. My name is Marcel

Buchanan and he no longer has any power over me.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

First tooth out at last

Anna has been desperate to lose a tooth (any tooth) since p1 when most of her friends starting losing theirs. Now, half way through p3 (with two of her adult teeth fully through behind the baby ones) one has finally given up! She is so pleased.

We've never really done Santa or tooth fairies in this house - it's a bit too confusing multi-culturally, given different countries have different norms. Going to bed on Thursday evening she said quite matter of fact 'I'm putting this tooth under my pillow because although I know there's no tooth fairy, I don't know for sure that money won't appear here in the morning if I do!' Good, strong logic there!

Well, that was my week...

It didn't get off to the best of starts: Marcel offered to make us cappuccinos. He pressed the espresso button - this is usually followed by a grinding of beans, followed by the sound of the grinds moving through the machine to the water outlet and dripping down into the espresso cup while the milk steamer heats up. Silence and a flashing warning light were not a good substitute. A quick check showed there were beans and water, it just seemed to have no engine. We turned it off and on. A second attempt resulted in the beans starting to spin, followed by a hiccough, a whine, and a splutter and the light started flashing again. A third attempt resulted in nothing whatsoever other than a flashing light. Mr Gaggia was pronounced dead at the scene. How the hell are we going to get through a Scottish winter without the coffee machine?

Not sensing he was on to a loser, Marcel's next offering was toasted cheese. I don't mind if I do...

Unfortunately the Mr Rangemaster seems to be in cahoots with Mr Gaggia and decided there was no real need for the grill (top left) to continue functioning. So as of Tuesday this is a coffee-free, toasted-cheese-free, in fact toasted-anything-free household. (Bottom lip quivers.)

Wednesday was parents' night at the primary school. We had gone for 3-20pm onwards appointments so we could just pick all the kids up while we were in to see the teachers. We texted Charlotte to walk to the primary so she could sit outside the classrooms with three, four and five while we had our meetings. A cunning plan, or it would have been had Mr Citroën not obviously joined the same protest as the other two. We went out at ten to three and the engine was sounding vaguely like it had run out of fuel, except I could see it contained 20 litres. Then the immobilizer fault light came on, then the ABS fault light, then 2 other fault lights containing three-letter acronyms I didn't even know my car had. If it was a competition between the three Big Mr C was definitely trying his hardest to gain the gold medal. I abandoned it and took the five-seater knowing that after our meetings there would be six of us to transport home... somehow - sigh.

On our return I phoned the RAC. They always get things going so I wasn't worried. I stood outside in the freezing cold, deafened by fireworks for an hour while he got me to turn it off and on to no avail. He plugged in his diagnostics compter. Mr C refused to acknowledge its presence. So Mr C now needs towed to a Citroën (ouch that sounds expensive when it is already nine years old and showing signs of needing new wheels, tyres and an exhaust) dealer to be diagnosed with something vaguely terminal, but probably not before I've coughed up a wad of cash I don't have to fix it enough for it to limp home, no doubt. Come on, it's less than a month since I had your Turbo fixed, you're not playing fair! Sigh, sniff, sob.

Unperturbed, Thursday was our monthly trip to Makro day. We needed one of their 180 wash washing powders, we needed 96 toilet rolls and similar items you need when you live in a family of seven. By moving our trip to during nursery hours we figured we might manage to fit everything into Thomas's car - just about, anyway. While there we noticed they had rice cookers on special, which was great because another thing that is on its deathbed is our family rice cooker and when you are making a kilo of rice at a time, it is so much easier to do in a rice cooker. We bought one and brought it home. Thomas rustled up some lovely curries then threw the rice in a flicked the switch. The 'red light that indicates your rice is cooking' indicated our rice was not cooking, or rather indicated nothing at all because there was no effing red light! The rice cooker has died before it was even unpacked. Just great... I really feel like trying to visit Makro again, this time with the kids, or rather with the ones that fit in the car... Maybe we should have left buying gadgets to another week...

But my man always says I should look on the bright side of life... So I should try to dwell firstly on Wednesday's meetings: 

Léon was described as delightful, bright, focused, (well, focused when he's not in a chatty mood!), motivated, polite, caring, popular, and having actually got to grips with all the numeracy and literacy concepts that are being thrown at him. His teacher was more than impressed by his bilingualism and even had him teach the class a song in Danish, line by line to the great enjoyment of both Léon and his teacher. She says he's a 'lovely, gentle wee boy' - how can you feel anything but happy, when the woman who spends 6 hours a day with your child, thinks he's a lovely and gentle wee boy?

We then saw Anna's teacher, who gushed with enthusiasm for a bright and positive little girl who is clever beyond her years and motivated and focused all day long. She loves nothing better than to show the teacher how well she has understood everything and make her happy. The teacher seemed almost teary-eyed with enthusiasm when talking about her and she too was thrilled to have a Danish-speaker who could teach the other kids a bit about how life is in a bilingual household. She had taught both Léon and Charlotte in the past too and remarked that 'it must be easy growing up in a family with so many exceptionally clever kids'. That's a nice thing to hear as a parent! She genuinely remembered each of them and came out to talk to Lots too.

On Thursday I also got to meet one of Marcel's teachers - for an update on his crash drama course. Of course, given he's sitting on seven Highers and one advanced Higher after fifth year, I didn't need her to tell me he's clever, but it was nice to hear again what a lovely young man he is considered to be at school. She suggested he could 'charm the birds out of the trees' but I've always known he's a schmoozer, so all I could do was laugh! He's my boy and I'm proud of him. As for Charlotte, her parents' meetings aren't till March so I didn't get to speak to her teachers this week, but she, like every week, helped me look after the little ones, she made me laugh and she even made us impromptu Brownies so I know she is a lovely girl too!

Then on Friday morning Marcel astounded me once again by showing me his schoolwork. I know he's growing up, but I remember giving birth to him so recently (on my timeline at least) that it seems barely possible to me that he can have reached the depth of thoughts he has. It started last week when he was exploring Villanelle in Advanced Higher English. He explored that concept by writing a very strong poem about his father. I will republish it here once his folio has been marked by the SQA in spring, but for now I need to keep it under wraps.

This week in his spare time he moved on to playing with sonnets and decided to see if he could write a few - one of which he composed to a 'female friend' during a 20 minute trip on the number 4 bus. I was blown away. How can you go from baby to writing deep and meaningful poems in just 17 years? Again, I will re-insert it here once it  has been marked.

And there's Amaia - my beautiful baby who came home with a nursery photo this week that surprised me. To suddenly see her through another's eyes, or another's lens, I was moved to realize she isn't a baby or even a toddler any more but a beautiful young lady, already. A bright and gentle soul. A gift to us, that at the time may not have made much financial sense, but who needs money when your life is as full as mine?

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Nursery rhymes with a 21st Century slant

I was on bedtime duty tonight. I read Anna and Amaia the book of Toy Story 3 and tucked them into bed. A bit hoarse after all my reading, I asked if they maybe wanted to sing me/each other a wee song instead of me doing all the singing. Amaia jumped in straight away with '3 little speckled frogs'. It came to Anna's turn and she opted for Sing a Song of Sixpence.

The lyrics she sang however (filtered through her 21st century ears) were as follows:

Sing a song of sixpence,
A pocket full of fries.
Four and twenty blackbirds,
Baked in a pie.
When the pie was opened,
The birds began to sing;
Wasn't that a dainty dish,
To set before the king?
The king was in his counting house,
Counting out his money;
The queen was in the parlour,
Eating bread and honey.
The maid was in the garden,
Hanging out the clothes,
When down came a blackbird
And pecked off her nose.

McDonald's anyone? :-)

Spot the 'English' textbook!

Léon's to do some spelling revision for a test this week. His list of words (that apparently he might confuse!) is as follows:

        • sore
        • saw
        • floor
        • flaw
        • shore
        • sure
        • poor
        • pour
        • paw
He read them out once in his accent, looking puzzled. Let's face it, with a Scottish accent you are no more likely to confuse 'poor' and 'paw', than say 'rhinoceros' and 'zebra'! Then he read them in an English accent and fell about laughing! It reminds me of this ridiculous piece of homework Marcel got years ago!

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Future Maths teacher?

Anna was sorting through her primary one papers the other day when she came across this, written when she had been at school for about nine months. I thought I'd blog it here for posterity, in case it gets lost over the years.

Firstly, I had to laugh at the way she presented me with it exclaiming how 'sweet and cute' she had been when she was 'young'! She wrote this when she was five and she's now nearly a month off seven! I am particularly amused that she is going to teach 'cids' to 'writ' and 'spel'! Hee hee - maybe she should start by teaching herself! I like the way she constantly refers to them as 'little peple' too, as if she had been 'big' when she wrote it! But my absolute favourite line has to be her explanation of what she's planning to teach all these little people: given 'Maths' or even 'sums' would have been easy to spell, you have to give her credit for her attempt at 'adding and take-away' or as it will be known forthwith in this house 'adng taicawy'. Love it!

Tuesday, November 04, 2014


She came down to breakfast with this overlength ribbon hanging from the left hand side of her head...

Me: Shall I tie your bow for you?
Amaia (in a condescending tone): This is not a ribbon! I've had hair extensions!

Who even knows about hair extensions at four? I don't think she's even been to a hairdresser yet! The youth of today!

Saturday, November 01, 2014

What's the point of a pumpkin?

I'm slowly concluding that pumpkins are pointless entities...

Every year I forget, and I'm fooled into buying one because they are so much easier to carve than a neep.

This year, worse than ever, the October climate has been way too mild and despite leaving buying and carving it till just four days before Halloween, it had collapsed into a useless pile of fustiness a full twenty-four hours before Halloween and been evicted into the garden. (And had to be scraped off the garden table this morning as it could no longer be picked up without disintegrating!)

This year, inspired by my bedroom wall calendar, we even decided to buy a second culinary pumpkin on top of the carving one and make every American's dream dish - the pumpkin pie. Lots and Marcel managed one spoonful each before declaring it 'just wrong', Léon did better and had a whole slice, but to be honest, it didn't do much for me. I didn't dislike it, but it wasn't special enough to bother increasing my body weight by however many calories it contained.

So next year I will buy a neep for my lantern and skip the pudding.