Saturday, August 19, 2017

A holiday surprise

I'm just catching up on some things I meant to post in the summer...

This year we went over to visit Thomas's parents in Tuscany. Marcel had an internship job all summer working for Lloyds banking group so couldn't join us on our family holiday. The little ones were quite upset, especially as they don't see him much term time when he is living in Edinburgh. One night, a few weeks before we left he came to Thomas and me to tell us that he had managed to get three days off and if he could tack it onto a weekend, he'd love to fly over and surprise them. Marcel is often full of great plans, many more than a human can actually execute so I figured it would prove impossible given the timing of flights and the fact that Brita and Peter are quite remote from any airports, but I didn't count on his determination. By leaving from Edinburgh, he worked out he could be in Rome by 10am on a Weds morning and by flying home via East Midlands, he could leave late on the Sunday, so he managed it and we managed to keep his secret, even from the big wee ones.

On the Wednesday I suggested a day trip to Arezzo to 'find something we could take home' for Marcel's birthday, not mentioning it would actually be Marcel we'd be taking home. There were some moans as it was a particularly hot day (in the high 30s) but we managed to drag all four into Arezzo, where we'd prearranged Marcel would simply walk up to them in the main square. I pretended to take photos with my phone while Anna had a break for some water and Lots and Léon watched some Wimbledon on Charlotte's phone. Anna was first to notice who was walking towards them...

Isn't that sweet?! They were all so thrilled and much fun was had together...

Fond memories

From '79 to '85 I went to Eastwood High School. Times were a tad less exotic than today and our annual school trip at the end of June for all years was a bus to Irvine's Magnum centre. Depending on your age you were told a time when you were allowed on the ice rink and in the pool and for the rest of the day you could use the other sporting facilities, wander along the beach or into Irvine town (where people seemed to return every year with goldfish in bags, so maybe there was a fair or something in town - I never got beyond the ice rink.) 

So it was a bit sad to see that it was being demolished the other week when I took Charlotte on her Irvine trip - end of an era. I so fondly remember the convoy of buses going down the A77, best day of the year - every year.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Finances and rewards

When Charlotte scored her six A grade Highers (English, Maths, Chemistry, History, Spanish and French), I asked her how she wanted to celebrate. Obviously the norm around here is a slap-up meal, driving lessons and a brand new car with a ribbon round it, but she was au fait with our family's latest tiny financial drama... (her estranged father has decided to brexit off out of the country (I don't blame him one bit on that front - I'd have left too if I didn't have the sole responsibility for a bunch of kids I had with him who are being educated here - grrr!)).

The child maintenance service had rung me the day before her exam results to notify me that as he had left the country, they would be closing our case with no notice as they have no authority to force a foreign national living abroad to give me any maintenance payments at all - gulp. The good news was that there is a reciprocal agreement between the UK and France on child maintenance (phew), the bad was that I'd need to take him to court to enforce it (sob)...

Under Scottish law he is liable to provide Marcel with maintenance till he leaves uni and Marcel has just spent over 2 years fighting him through the Scottish legal system (completely unsuccessfully) to enforce it. He runs round and round on the same loop... His dad's lawyer says he's only willing to pay if Marcel works to provide a little for himself too - fair enough - so he gets a job and his dad's lawyer says he is rich enough to pay for himself now so needs no maintenance, he gives up the job, he says he's not trying, he gets a job - yip you guessed it!

So Marcel is desperately trying to do an Honours degree in Law while also working a 20hr week and doing compulsory voluntary work (as part of a scholarship). His room (not his flat, his room!) costs a whopping £550 a month and he has to pay all that himself while all his flatmates have their parents pay between 80 and 100% of their rent. It's hard to express the level of frustration it brings me, knowing Marcel is trying to do well so he can have a great career, while the playing field is far from level. Last year he had five flatmates - four didn't work at all and concentrated only on their studies, one had a one day a week job, Marcel worked all weekend every weekend and from 4-8pm two nights a week, fitting his studies in as best he could, and he even did really well. I'm sure he will succeed as he is a determined boy... man, even, but I can't imagine this is great for his mental well being. He's had to grow up and support himself way too young. Till now Thomas and I have been sending him all his food money at least as a help but now we've no maintenance, Marcel will have to bear the brunt of that too, I suspect.

So back to Charlotte. Being a sweet soul, she asked for a 99 at the beach and a walk up to the Irvine dragon. We had a lovely day out - me and the three girls. Well, more accurately they had a lovely day, while I felt guilt and inadequacy mixed in with my bursting pride at her astounding achievement. Even in a high-achieving school she was one of only 3 kids (out of 250) to sit six Highers. And she worked her socks off to get there. She didn't even seem to be upset at her beach trip and ice cream.

Anyway, we'll see how this pans out now. If it turns out we need to move because of the cut in income, that could ironically be the brexit straw that breaks our back too. Maybe we'll be forced to move to France and make a claim there!

Back to school 2017 - the turning point

We went 'back to school' yesterday so I dragged the kids out for the obligatory official photoshoot. I had simply intended to write under it August 2017: Amaia p3, Anna p6, Léon s1, Charlotte s6, Marcel (about to be u3) but still working in Glasgow and Edinburgh on his summer internship.

Without realizing at the time though, I captured a wonderful moment, a turning point in my family:

They lined up naturally and I took a photo (which wasn't great because Marcel closed his eyes)...

Then Charlotte noticed they were not standing in the correct order of ages (which they do for school photos, though not in general), so she tried to physically move Léon down the line, by pulling him while the girls looked on to see what the problem was...

Léon stood his ground and pointed out that the school photo was done in age order because of height and now that he had noticeably overtaken her, he would be staying in his rightful position in the line as number two! Charlotte laughed it off and gave in much more gracefully than I had expected! I wonder when the next change in rank will occur?!

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Scottish Coke

When I was a child in the early 70s, growing up in the rather posh Glaswegian suburb of Newton Mearns, we called any carbonated soft drink lemonade - orangeade was a type of lemonade, as was cola. We didn't call them Fanta and and Coke back then. Mum's best friend was bringing her daughter up in the slightly less leafy Glasgow suburb of Glasgow - Castlemilk. Heather and I were the same age. When we entered the chippie at Heather's house I soon learnt that asking for 'orange lemonade' provoked howls of laughter and queries of 'Is this your cousin the snob?' After flooring them on several occasions, I learnt you had to ask for a 'bottle of ginger' and you sure as hell, didn't pronounce the double 't' if you wanted to survive it out the shop alive! I also quickly understood that just as lemonade was a no-no there, mentioning ginger back home made my teachers' eye brows rise and their lips curl in disgust. Newton Mearns back then was a great place to have the Scottish cringe beaten into you (sometimes literally). Gladly, my kids are now less self-conscious here, it is ok to be Scottish now, and they even learn Scots songs and poems at school.

Yesterday I was shopping in ASDA. They had these on special at the checkout. It made me laugh out loud and I just had to buy it for obvious reasons - I expect it tastes bloody awful, but it made me smile anyway!

Friday, August 04, 2017


Phyllis the photographer

Anna and Amaia were lying in bed lasting night singing along to Lady Gaga's Paprazzi together. Suddenly Amaia stopped and asked 'Mum, what's a paparazzi, anyway?' Before expanding into Italian grammatical plural explanations and the finer nuances of the word, I simply said 'Well, it's a kind of photographer who...', to which Amaia replied, 'So you're like our family paparazzi, then?' I suspect my older kids might even agree with that definition (if I put it into the singular, anyway!)

Monday, July 31, 2017

Phyllis Buchanan turns 100

Saturday would have been my granny's 100th birthday. Of course, most people don't get to 100, so it's not surprising that we didn't need to have a family get-together this weekend... but July 29 was not a date we celebrated in my childhood at all - not like my other three grandparents - 26-2-16 (gran), 29-2-16 (granda), and 21-3-21(gramps - the baby of the bunch), granny (or whatever I would have called her, had we met) died the week before my birth. She only made it to 50. I don't think I actually knew when her birthday was till I was 29... I remember when I found out; I announced my pregnancy to my parents and told dad the baby was due on 29-7-97 - he looked surprised and shocked - 'That would have been my mum's 80th birthday', he told me. As it happened, Marcel was in a rush so turned up two days early.

So as this Phyllis rushes towards her own 50th birthday (next February), I hope I will be a bit luckier that the original model, and make it at least a little closer to the 100 mark than she did.

Friday, July 21, 2017


So there I was the other day in COOP in Bibbiena (Italy), with Amaia, shopping. Suddenly she stops and shouts me over...

Amaia: Italians are weird, mum!
Me: How?
Amaia: Well, I don't know about you but I sure wouldn't buy a candle that smells of dog or of cigarettes!

And there was me thinking that 'Elimina gli odori di...' was fairly self-explanatory.

Monday, July 03, 2017



Charlotte's always had a bit of an obsession with watermelon - from the annual family watermelon-eating photo, to watermelon, feta and mint salad... Whenever we find watermelon motifs, we end up buying them - Amaia has watermelon pants, I have a watermelon swimsuit...

Charlotte is due to leave school next summer, with a lovely graduation ceremony and of course a prom in a top hotel... This just randomly popped up on my Facebook sidebar! For some reason, she thinks my suggestion is tongue in cheek!

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The smallest Ferrari in the world

I was parked beside this little car in a car park the other day. I used my phone to take a photo of it with mine as they looked like father and son (this is the smallest in the range, mine is the biggest). When I looked at the photo later I noticed, with a certain degree of amusement, that the owner has customised it with the famous Ferrari horse logo on the front. I chuckled to myself at the thought of a Chuggy owner thinking they had their own little Ferrari (though I expect, given this is the Abarth model - ie a sporty souped-up Chuggy, it probably drives more like a Ferrari than you'd expect!) 

Amaia came in at that point so I showed her the photo and pointed out what I'd noticed. This is when seven year old economics came in to play: 'Well that's a bit daft!' she exclaimed, 'Why would anyone go to the bother of buying a Ferrari horse and sticking it on the front of their Chuggy; if it's a Ferrari they actually want, why don't they just trade the Chuggy in for one to save them the hassle?!'

Hmmmm, should tell her?

The London fire

Seeing the news this morning made me think of my dad - I was going to write down why, but I could never explain it as well as he did in his own memoirs (written a few years before he died), so I'll just leave this here...

Chapter 6  ( That First Fire …1951 )

Then there was the day,  or was it the night ? ------ yes it was definitely the late evening,  and one I’ll never, ever forget …….
We heard the screams first of all,  loud and piercing and prolonged screams …. Awful screams …..
We thought at first,  well I thought,  that maybe someone was “carrying on“ ,,,,, some “ high jinx in the close “ ,  something like that …… then the thought that some people were fighting or ………… then finally,  the sudden realization as the screams became even louder and more pain-filled,  that someone was in real trouble …. and right outside our door,  3-stories up !!
Up each of the closes in Burgher St., three families  lived on each “ landing “, with one communal outside toilet on the half landing . That was 12 families to the close ? …..  very bloody close we all became …. we stayed in the top flat,  left as you climbed the stairs,  right of course if you looked  up from the street  !
Jean Moore and her old dad stayed directly opposite  us on the top floor. I can still see big Jean in her Rangers Scarf going to the football match on a Sat. afternoon … A big bruiser of a woman she was …. I think I even to this day still have a photograph of her just as I’ve described . But the Salt of the Earth .
Old Mrs. MacFedris stayed directly below us.  She and her sister lived together, two old Lady-Buddies … and boy,  did they suffer !  These were the two old dearies that used to have to put up with that budding football star and his coach , when dad and I played football up and down the lobby with the tanner ba’.  Thinking back we really must have made a helluva din on top of these old souls ….. dad wasn’t  exactly your light weight coach  !!!   and we would hoot and holler up and down the lobby for ages some nights …. no  tv  in those days either so we could do our own thing ,,,,, make our own entertainment … and these were also  the days of minimalist floor coverings ,,,, no wall to wall thick Axminster carpeting in this neck of the woods …… bare floorboards were more the order of the day !!
I can recall mum shouting at us to calm down some nights so I guess we must have been going at it .
Anyway to return to the story which,  quite frankly,  I’m not sure I can write,  and I know I’m trying to avoid actually putting  it  down on paper  …… some painful memories are perhaps better left dormant ?
I’ve spoken about this incident before, to people very close to me,  but I’ve never seen it written down  and I don’t know that I really want to .
The little girl was perhaps 5 or 6 , maybe as old as 7 but no more  ----  she was 2 or 3 years younger than me,  that’s all I can remember. She lived next door,  in the middle flat .
How sad,  do you know I don’t even remember her name ?  I seem to recall an older sister and a mother but I don’t recall a father in that house somehow.
I can’t focus on her name or the family name ,,,,,  I’m sure the trauma of it has made me block them out of my mind .  I started to think about her again after my dad died …….. naturally …. but that’s another painful story for much later .
She had long, long  black hair , that I remember, and she was wearing a long white nightie that fateful night.  This I know absolutely.  I can still see her .
The screams suddenly got louder as their door was thrown open and her mother started yelling for someone to help …..
“ Help ! help me , she’s burning ,”  she cried. 
Only then did we realize what was happening …… this seems to have taken an age to tell to this point but it all happened in seconds , from that first scream until we were all out on the landing .
If I live to be 100 I’ll never be able to forget that horror scene on the landing .
It simply won’t erase itself from my memory. 
The little girl was ablaze,  from head to toe ----- her long beautiful hair was on fire and her face and head were in the middle of a raging inferno and she was jumping up and down on the spot,  screaming and screaming and screaming ……. and screaming …
I couldn’t look, yet I couldn’t look away ,,,, I’d never witnessed anything so  truly awful in my life before,  nor since,  and I never, ever want to again .
My mum pulled me to her apron and hid my face …… but still I witnessed the horror ….
My dad turned into an instant hero that night.
He pulled the loose  carpet runner from our lobby  ( fortunately not fitted or nailed down ) and dragged it onto the  landing . He pulled the little girl down onto it, still screaming in terror  and burning wildly ,,, the flames were about 3feet above her head now,  and all the way up his arms , ,,, he wrapped and rolled her in the carpet until the flames went out.
However,  by the time that was done it was already too late --- the damage had been well and truly done …… her body and head burns were so severe that  my little neighbour died but not ‘til some 3 or 4 long, long painful days later . That’s another smell I can smell still ….. human flesh burning …..
I have absolutely no recollection of anything else that night,  no ambulance,  no medics,  doctor ,,,,,, all of which must have happened ,,,,,, but to this day I can still see that little figure standing there totally engulfed in flames ,,,  and I still hear her screammmmssss  ,,, oh the screammmmmmsss …………..
It could have been yesterday ……….. it WAS yesterday … and today …. and tomorrow ….
This I guess is what affected me so badly when my dad died from the effects of that dammed  fire .

I now just hate  fire so much that when I hear of anyone suffering a similar fate on the news  it destroys another little part inside my soul .   

Friday, June 09, 2017


He's gone, he's moved on!

I would like to take this opportunity to praise my kids' primary school. I have no idea how they do it, but they have managed it all three times (so far).

For the first six years, they adore their school - it's the best thing since sliced bread and they couldn't even begin to contemplate going anywhere else, then somehow from the p7 February holiday onwards, they begin to disconnect.

First there's the week away, then the show and whatever is going within the actual classes, but before they even get to the induction days at Mearns Castle, they are ready to move on. This week has been induction week and Léon hasn't looked back. He has no desire to return to his primary on Monday for the last two weeks, a little nostalgia maybe that will drive him onwards to the graduation ceremony and prom, but basically he's already moved on mentally. He's so ready to be in high school, it's almost frightening. He actually has no kids from his primary class of seven years in his new high school class, and still he's completely unfazed. I have no idea what tricks of the mind they use to prepare them to leave, but they have been 100% successful all three times, with the timing perfect.

I feel a little emotional, knowing how fast they come out the other end of this next phase in life, but am so grateful that they've looked after him and helped him grow into the man he will soon become.

Thursday, June 08, 2017


I was all fired up to blog about the election last night and then my Internet went down - joy of joys.

This morning I simply feel dread... Dread that people across the UK are voting for a party that will dismantle the NHS in England (this will, of course, majorly cut funding to the Scottish NHS), they want to inflict taxes on people for dying and for suffering from dementia, they are desperate to repeal the Human Rights bill, so you'll be losing your employment rights, maternity rights etc etc. They sell arms to Saudi Arabia and then stand scratching their heads when terrorists attack the UK. They have cut benefits, policing, doctors, disabled services and education funding... they are charging so much for universities that most people will never be able to pay back their loans - so work that one out, five to ten years from now all uni funding will collapse in England, and they'll be scratching their heads again. The deficit has trebled since they came to power vowing to get rid of it altogether. And that's before any effects from Brexit...

Brexit is an interesting one - it's been an elephant bigger than the room in this election... what Brexit will do to your day-to-day life is unimaginable - price rises, loss of rights, job losses, importing and exporting grinding to a halt, queues at border points, Northern Ireland cut off from the South, currency fluctuations, no access to EU terrorist information databases and much more, and yet the two main parties have barely touched on it in their campaigns and the journalists have simply let them away with not explaining their plans.

May's claim that a stronger majority will help her negotiate in Brussels is, quite frankly, bullshit. Brussels knows its stuff so no threats from May that she has fifty seats more than last month will sway them. Brussels is voting for what is in Brussels' best interest, and that is showing everyone else that you should never consider brexiting. Leaving the EU can never result in a better deal with them than being in the EU - even a primary school child can follow that logic. May knows that being stroppy the UK has almost always got its way. To prevent the UK leaving, the EU always gave in (like a bad parent) to our threats, but May has forgotten the most important issue - they gave in to stop us leaving, but now we're leaving they have no incentive to give in, none at all.

The reason the unionists have fought the entire election in Scotland with 'No 2nd referendum' as the only policy, is because the SNP doesn't want a referendum just for the sake of it, they want it because they know that by March 2019 the effects on the UK and Scottish economy will be so clear and obvious that we will want to vote in droves not to Brexit. Sturgeon came up with a detailed compromise plan to remain in the single market, that was dismissed before it was looked at by Westminster so the referendum was called as the only remaining way out of Brexit. People would, of course, be at liberty to vote no, but the Unionists know that the state we'll be in by then could make all the difference so they want us to vote away our Get out of Jail free card  before it becomes obvious why we'll need it and we are lining up to do exactly that. Old ladies are parading up and down the main streets holding 'Vote Tory' placards, and will be horrified when it results in their pension being removed and their kids no longer inheriting their houses. Turkeys and Christmas...

I lived through the cold war and the upheavals of '89 and the UK today is scaring me witless. Should May gain her increased majority, of course, the blame for the imminent decimation will be Tory and all Tory, making them unelectable for longer than I am likely to remain a member of the human race but that's cold comfort if it wrecks my kids' lives.

The most ironic of all is that in voting for Brexit, the UK citizens have voted away their ability to flee the country once the shit hits the fan - more turkeys... Sigh.

My kids deserve much better than this.

Saturday, May 27, 2017


This was taken the last time we spent a whole day in Pisa - we've flown through it since, but the kids haven't been to the tower since Anna was 18 months old, so that means Amaia was -5 months last time she saw the tower. So we were discussing it tonight and Amaia decided she just has to visit it this summer.


She sat looking at photos on the computer with Charlotte as she hadn't seen the tower before and then as always she came up with a profound question: See before the tower started leaning to one side, what was its name? Ehhhhh...

Friday, May 12, 2017

Teenagers are definitely getting younger

Is it normal for an 11 year old to stand admiring himself in the mirror (when he hasn't noticed his sister is behind the door 🤣 ) and remark 'Looking swag, if I do say so myself!' 😂

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

7 year old philosophy

Fascinating question of the evening from number 5:
Amaia: Is this a leap year?
Me: No, last year was.
Amaia: But we leapt over the 29th of February this year and last year we didn't, cos we had a 29th.
Woah - I'd never thought about that before! She wants to know what others think!

Monday, May 08, 2017

Cunning plans for cheating

Léon has always had mild allergies. He doesn't even need to touch himself to end up looking like this, he simply needs to swim a couple of lengths of a chlorinated pool. He dives in looking fine and when he emerges at the other end the life guard tends to look somewhat alarmed - are there perhaps sharks in there, that I've somehow overlooked? Giving his back a gentle rub tends to result in 6-10 hours of this attractive look. There's hay fever too and blue food colouring used to bring him out in eczema. We, of course, had him allergy tested at hospital for all the usual culprits - grass, milk, egg, nuts, sea food etc - all showed a very mild reaction, nothing bad enough that he should avoid it, nothing good enough that he can stray too far from the cetirazine. It's odd though - he has good months, then bad but the one thing that is always bad is the skin thing - diagnosed when he was little as dermatographic urticaria.

Although it looks sore and itchy, Léon claims it doesn't actually bother him - it's apparently neither sore nor itchy despite the dramatic look. He told me recently he has been known to play knots and crosses on his arm with school friends when bored in assemblies (but only when he gets a seat at the back)!

With Charlotte half way through her Highers, it suddenly occurred to the wee bugger last week - hey, when I'm Charlotte's age I could write all the Maths formulas or English quotes on my skin with my nail and they would fade away by the time I come out the exam! I don't think so, pet! He even gave me this demo!

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Mushroom photography

Aren't baby mushies really photogenic?

A post shared by Phyllis Buchanan (@phylbuc) on

A post shared by Phyllis Buchanan (@phylbuc) on

The amazing things you find hidden on Youtube

We are used to being able to track (some parents, literally, though not me) our kids. When Marcel is in Edinburgh I can see on Instagram or Facebook where he's been or what he's been up to. You always know where they are these days. But when the kids go off on their World Challenge trip, they don't take their phones so you are completely cut off. Phones are strictly forbidden - the rationale being that if they're having a wobbly 10 000 miles from home, then they would contact their family or friends and it would leave both them and their family in a state while being unable to help, if however, they have no phone or social media, they will rely on their team mates for support and they'll quickly get through any downs. Because of this, I've never seen any footage of Marcel's trip through India, just some photos.

Charlotte is in the final countdown to her trip to Nicaragua - 39 days, so while procrastinating over her Maths studying today, she googled MCHS (Mearns Castle High School) World Challenge and happened upon three wonderful videos of Marcel and his team in India.

I have to admit, watching it brings on a whole host of emotions. I'm thrilled to see my boy on the other side of the world, so happy and at ease. I'm tearful seeing him handing the gifts to those villagers and waving them goodbye. At the same time I'm sad that I never had an opportunity like that in my day and desperate to jump on the nearest plane to experience the chaos, the heat, the smells... (I was born to travel and that need has never left me). Finally it fills me with determination that all my kids should get to see the world while helping others - what better start could there be to adult life?

Next month when Charlotte gets on that plane to take her fifteen hours away, I'll be scared witless that my tiny little girl is stepping out into the world, and at the same time I will be so thrilled for her. She is such a lucky girl.

Hey, maybe they do World Challenge for pensioners? Maybe my day will come... one day?

(I have to say too how much I love the third video - it's so cute, but I think Marcel's auntie Gillian might need to give him some dancing lessons!) Lol.

Monday, May 01, 2017

Swimming perspectives

We took the kids swimming at the weekend. Léon and Anna were competing on lengths of the pool. Léon managed twelve without stopping, so Anna tried (and failed) to beat his record, only managing about ten. Later on, discussing their achievements, Amaia chipped in with a surprising - Oh, I managed fourteen! Of course, she went on to elaborate, I stopped to rest after each one of course and I did seven of them up and down the way and the other seven from side to side! 

Side to side lengths is quite a sweet term for breadths, but give the other two their due, they let her believe she was the winner, which was sweet.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Can it be pyjama day every day, please?

It's pyjama day at the primary today - I think they are trying to raise funds for some playground equipment, or something like that...

Talk about a stress-free start to the day! For the first time in over a decade I didn't spend ten minutes shouting at them to stop eating and chatting and start getting dressed now, I did need to ask where the hell their ties were, nor where they'd taken off their school shoes or jackets the day before and why they weren't hanging where they were meant to be, etc, etc. It was so much less stressful.

I'm away to research whether there is a school that uses PJs as a uniform, with a view to moving house.

(Of course, the downside is that Mr I'm-Cool-and-Self-conscious is refusing to walk home today as people might see him (apparently he will stand out as a freak in the crowd of over 650 kids all walking home in their pyjamas from the same starting point! Looks like I'm having to pick him up at 3 when I go for Anna anyway! LOL))

Nicaragua - it's all change with just a few weeks to go

Charlotte has slowly spent the last eighteen months trying to accumulate the money to go off on a World Challenge expedition. In 2014 Marcel flew out to India after the flooding destroyed much of the infrastructure in some of the more remote villages in the North and spent a couple of weeks restoring drainage and building water collection devices in tiny villages before enjoying a few days trekking the Himalayas tiger-watching and quickly stopping to see the Taj Mahal.


I think it was a life-changing experience for him as he's happily done volunteer work since his return, giving up his time for varied activities ranging from helping to redecorate the houses of people recovering from addictions, to working in charity shops and soup kitchens. I don't think he will ever see the world in the same way again after a woman, in the mountains of India, cried when they offered to leave behind the blankets they had been using to camp in her village, thanking them as if they had offered her a precious gift. That must be life changing at 16.

For Charlotte's year group rural Nicaragua has been chosen. Her remit; to rebuild a run-down part of a local school, while also teaching the kids some English. Her perk - volcano-boarding in the only place in the world where you can volcano-board down live volcanoes!

With about six weeks to go, she is just a few hundred short of her target so should hopefully be back in the black by the end of the summer, assuming she gets enough babysitting, gardening and car washing to do!

Since the beginning of the year she's been booked on six United flights transiting across the US: Glasgow-New York-Texas-Managua. I'm not sure if all the adverse United publicity has anything to do with things but we received an emergency update yesterday, claiming they had decided the time in Texas was too short to change flight so the entire trip has been re-routed, with all 46 tickets cancelled and re-booked, funnily enough avoiding United and Trumpton altogether. Looks like my wee girl is now getting to try out an 11 hour flight on a B777 from Amsterdam to Panama City. As she said herself - this is definitely more exotic, as she's less likely to find herself in Panama than NYC in the future, so she's quite excited. Of course, I've asked her to pick me up a chunk of mature Gouda, if she's stuck in Schiphol for an afternoon on the way home anyway - I think she thinks I'm kidding! So it's going to be Glasgow-Amsterdam-Panama city-Managua. And the other advantage is she's now getting back nearly 12 hours later so all the wee ones can go and collect her at the airport as they'll be on their school summer holiday already. Woo hoo.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Amaia's glasses

Marcel dropped by for a few hours last week. Well, more truthfully, Marcel and his flatmates turned up here at 1am one night last week as they'd been at a gig that finished after the last train back to Edinburgh, and stayed till breakfast. Given how little Marcel is home, he deliberately got up at 8 to say hi to the wee ones. Immediately on seeing Amaia in her new (week-old) specs, he shrieked 'Jesus, who's shrunk mum, that's just scary!' Not sure I see it...?

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Multicultural life descending into a government rant

Thomas cut the grass for the first time last weekend. I cut the edges. As I stand in the kitchen looking out over my garden, everything looks so familiar. I've lived ten years in this house, the longest I have lived anywhere other than with my parents during my childhood. The spring flowers are in bloom everywhere... And yet I feel like a spectator looking at something I find hard to recognize. It looks like my garden, it feels and smells like my garden, like my garden always looks. Yes, there are more spring flowers because every year I plant another few bags full, but otherwise nothing has changed, and yet it feels as if everything has changed. I struggle to recognize the world around me. Someone has taken it and flipped it on its head. The unimaginable has become boring and mundane. Just when you think nothing can surprise you any more, things take a new dramatic turn... The lunatics have taken over the asylum, and I for one am no longer feeling bien dans ma peau.

That's how things are in families like mine - some phrases and idioms come to you more readily in another language than your own. We are mixed-up citizens of nowhere and citizens of everywhere. A multiprise will never be an adjustable spanner, clous de girofle took many years to become cloves for me and although I know contreplaqué when I see it, I'm never sure if the English is chipboard or plasterboard.

And the languages and dialects are multiple - I grew up speaking only English, but of course my parents and more strongly, my grandparents spoke mostly Scots so from as early as I can remember I've been filtering more than one set of vocabulary on input and changing it for output. Uni brought French and German, then Italian and Swedish. After that I learnt the German dialect from Saarland - my first mother-in-law did try to speak to me in Hochdeutsch but always forgot a sentence in and so Kartoffeln slowly became Krumpe (though I've never written it down so I'm not sure of the spelling), a Hose became a Buks and that list became much longer than my arm - Mein liever Mann! Next up came Danish, of course and simultaneously with that came some more Swedish, some Norwegian and of course Schwäbisch (although my father-in-law doesn't speak much of it in my presence, it is Thomas's native form of German so can't be avoided.) We've just finished watching all three series of Die Kirche bleibt im Dorf (highly recommendable but beware the title is the only bit you'll understand if you only do Hochdeutsch!)

We dabble with little bits of other things of course - we went through an Icelandic phase a few months ago where we tried to guess how many words we could get without the subtitles and we actually spend our Saturday nights playing other similar games. We often find some Icelandic word strikes us simultaneously as cute while watching a drama and we turn to each other and ooh and aah in a way that is possibly inappropriate to the gruesome victim of a crime that is being uncovered as we smile at the words. We analyse cases and tenses and word order as we listen to the unknown - of course Thomas has a hell of a head start having both linguistics and old Norse but I can hold my own trying to follow Icelandic all the same - I know which questions to ask and he knows the answers, which kind of makes us the perfect couple - perfect for each other anyway, as no one else would want to spend their Saturday nights watching Icelandic snowstorms while analysing the genitive form of personal names!

There has not been a day for the last 32 years where I have not heard more than one language at home. I know to many people that makes us freaks, but it is the very essence of who we are and that is why the current political situation feels like it has cut us adrift and left us floating in a limbo where we've lost our identity. If the 23rd of June felt like a vote to invalidate the lifestyle we have chosen, May's ever-increasing right-wing agenda feels like an annihilation of everything we hold dear.

We are multicultural, multilingual, we embrace diversity. It almost feels like May has a window into my soul and she's attacking everything that makes me who I am. Leaving aside the appalling treatment of EU citizens who have lived here decades, who are the parents of UK children; their being hung out to dry and treated with contempt on a daily basis (that is a whole blog posting in itself), the things that matter to me are making sure there is health care for all, a net for people who fall sick, care for the disabled, help when people lose their job (even after they have had their third kid!) We now have unqualified administrators quizzing women about rape here in the UK, ffs! When 90% of rapes are never prosecuted, how few people will be able to claim help for their child, and how many victimized women and children will simply be pushed into poverty? It feels like we're one step from third kids having to wear some sort of symbol denoting they are the result of rape just to get a free school lunch and that makes me feel sick to the stomach. She wants to drag us out of the single market leaving us free of any trade deals for up to a decade when the country is at breaking point through her party's austerity measures. People voted for this because they were desperate and they believed the lies - when their situation becomes worse rather than better, we'll have riots. Her recklessness terrifies me. She wants to roll back human rights and environmental protections, she wants to court Trump and every dodgy Saudi Arabian arms dealer. She wants to invest billions in WMDs when there are children and pensioners who can't afford food and heating. She wants to bomb Syria then refuse asylum even to unaccompanied minors. It beggars belief. God knows my house is full but I'd have them here under my roof if it could help them - they're simply people who, unlike me, have not won the postcode lottery of birth. The bottom line is that everything I believe in is diametrically opposed to what the current government is pushing and now she's called an election to increase(!) her number of seats as the people of England seem to think she's by far the best thing on offer. Look at that list. This is the best thing on offer!?

I am actually incapable of understanding how anyone could think like that. When you remove free health care, you are saying that there are circumstances when it is ok to refuse someone treatment on the grounds of their income. It becomes acceptable to say 'You don't have enough money so we are willing to let your child die of a curable illness.'  I cannot comprehend that. When you remove people's rights to claim tax credits for a third child, you are saying it is fine to have number three starve if you lose your job. They claim it is to deter poorer people having a third child but when I think back to my own situation, my household was earning over £100K (and had paid many, many years of tax) when we decided to have number three. Under those circumstances, a third child is a valid and fairly uncontroversial option. I was not to know that a year later I'd be separated from the father with an income cut of 80%. I would love to know where it is the Tories think you can take the kid back to when hard times hit? Their world is very simple, but the real world isn't as black and white. My list of questions is endless. I would like to ask why as the mother I can't claim tax benefits for my number three but my ex-husband can start a new family and claim for two more new kids? I'm allowed two but my ex-husband is allowed four - hmmm. I would like to ask why my second husband, who had no kids, can't claim anything for his first two kids because he is forced to take on the financial responsibility left behind by the father of my first two? Realistically the very bottom line is that no one should ever have a third child even on over £100K because these days circumstances can change. Someone can be made redundant, fall ill or die crossing the road - oh yeah I forgot she's cut widow(er)'s allowance too. This is the best option, really? I feel sick and disgusted.

I feel an ever-growing desire to run as far away from the UK as my legs will carry me and never ever return.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Teeth and toes: a question for the musicians

I am not very musical. I mean, I enjoy singing along to the kitchen ipod while I am doing the dishes as much as the next man, but my ability to read music and play an instrument is almost nil. I don't even have the excuse kids have today that they didn't learn anything; music reading and recorder playing were compulsory in my day from the age of 7 to the age of 13, so I had ample opportunity to learn to read music, I was just crap at it. Given a whole day I could sit with a piece of sheet music, reciting Every Good Boy Deserves Favour over and over and writing it down, or even count the spaces as FACE but as for reading it at the speed you were meant to - no chance and the difference between wee coloured-in notes and wee blank ones, not a scooby...

So it never ceases to amaze me that Léon has managed to learn to play the violin. For a while, I figured he was ok, because his teacher was ok, but over the last year I've noticed he seems to actually know more than he's meant to. He decided to play with a couple of girls from his class (who have been attending the same music lessons). One day he mentioned that while they could only play with sheet music, he could memorize tunes after playing them just twice so didn't need to bother taking his music with him. I was well-impressed. I did, after all, take five years to learn Silent Night on the recorder (and can only play the chorus). I then found out that while the others bought music they wanted to play, Léon simply asks you to sing him a tune and then he can play it back to you. Recently because the school didn't have the sheet music for Lion King, he was asked to write it out for them, as he had taught himself to play it from listening to the movie. Then the others in the school could join in too. He was extremely proud when the head singled him out for special praise for having written the score for the show. I know this simply sounds like a bragging post, but you know me, I don't do bragging...

So there I was sitting yesterday in the living room, when he confided in me. 'Mum, do you know how I can write the music for the shows when the others can't?' Of course I didn't! So he went on to explain. 'I practise the music all the time when I don't have my violin here' Well that blew my mind to start with! How can you practise a song till you get the notes right, without the instrument you are playing the notes on? He grinned and pointed to his teeth. (Curiouser and curiouser). 'See my two big front teeth? I imagine them to be the first two strings, then I skip a tooth because of the spacing on the violin and use the next two.' Use the next two? What the hell does that mean? 'I play my top teeth by touching them with my bottom ones. Because I know what the notes sound like I listen to them in my head till I get it right and then I can play a tune straight off, no errors'. WTAF??? I must have looked dubious because he continued 'When I don't have my socks on, I can play the carpet with my toes too! And when I am sitting at a table, I can strum the table with my fingers. Because I am right-handed, I do it with my right hand, so that means I could play the tune on my violin with either hand, although I'm meant to use the left one!' Well blow me away! He hears the notes in his head when plucking invisible strings on his teeth and toes!!! I am gobsmacked. So here's my question to the more musical amongst you (ie the professional musicians on Thomas's side of the family!): Is my kid a weirdo, or do all musical people play silent musical notes on their teeth or toes till they get it right? In other words - is he normal or should I be saving up for a therapist/strait-jacket already?!

Unfathomable nicknames

I had a vague memory from my childhood about a chat I had either with my mum or my dad about nicknames. They told me they had ruled out the name Andrew for any male child as they disliked the name Drew, although they didn't mind Andy. With that in mind, I wasn't 100% sure about calling Charlotte Charlotte when she was born. I liked Charlotte, and didn't mind any of the Lottie diminutives but my downstairs neighbour at the time (a bloke named Charles (Charlie to his mates)) had a young daughter who was about four years old, named Charlotte (Charlie to her mates), and I wasn't too fond of that sort of androgynous name, so it worried me our Charlotte could end up a Charlie too. Incidentally, Marcel used to refer to the neighbours as 'that pair of Charlies downstairs', which made me smile, given he was only two!

We eventually plumped for Charlotte, figuring we could steer the direction and hoping the Charlie downstairs would make it less likely we'd end up with two in the one close. Also, given we spoke French at home back then, the Lotte syllable was the most prominent in the pronunciation of her name. At first she was only Charlotte, then once she started crawling and wrecking Marcel's lego, she became 'Naughty Lottie' and eventually dad shortened that to 'Lots'.

Today, at home, in the family, she's Lots, and to her schoolfriends she's still only Charlotte. I have the odd friend from her toddler days who still refers to her as Lottie, but that's about it, or was about it, until the unforeseen happened.

Léon started calling Charlotte Chim! Chim? Chim? CHIM? Where the hell did that come from? It must have started three or four years ago. After hearing 'Chim will you....?' for the tenth time one afternoon, I shouted at him 'Where the hell did Chim come from?' His deadpan reply 'It's short for Chimmy Chamallow Lot'. Well, now I know! On further pressing, he explained Charlotte had bought  him a bag a marshmallows in Primark, that were named Chamallows, so he expanded that first to Chamallow Lots, then to Chimmy Chamallow Lots, then immediately reduced it because it was too big a mouthful, but somehow he ended up reducing it to part of the name that wasn't part of the marshmallow's name or Charlotte's own name. Confused? Me too!

When I had Charlotte, did it ever cross my mind her brother would shorted it to Chim? Nope (funnily enough)! No amount of forethought would have avoided that one, so I guess Charlotte will be Lots to five of us, and forever Chim to Léon.

When I had Amaia, there seemed, of course, only to be one obvious short form: Maia, and for the first couple of years that was how it went. She was called Amaia, or Maia by both friends and family.

How simple. How predictable... Spoke too soon.

At dinner one night maybe two or three years ago, I thought I heard Marcel mumble 'Mike, can you pass me the salt?' While still looking round the table for the visitor I had obviously not spotted in the large crowd that is my family, Amaia, without a second glance, picked up the salt and passed him it. I must have misheard... A few weeks later, I overheard Léon shout something upstairs that sounded remarkably like 'Do you want any noodles, Mike?' and again Amaia replied. This was getting weird. How do you get Mike from Amaia? Am I just thick, or what? So I asked. Yet again, the explanation was contrived - 'Well', Léon told me, 'when Amaia was wee, Marcel used to call her Maia. Sometimes he'd use silly voices to make her laugh so occasionally, he'd call her Mai-ers, which sounds like Myers, so he lengthened it to Mike Myers, and then shortened it to Mike, so we both call her Mike as well as Amaia!' 

OMG! Are there not already enough names to learn in this bloody family without renaming people after bags of marshmallows and famous actors? At least the Amaia one, I kind of understand, I still have no clue where the Chim came from, but quite frankly, I'm scared to ask for a deeper explanation as I'm sure it'll blow my mind completely.

Saturday, April 15, 2017


Various members of my family have down with a new ailment over the past two or three weeks - speckyitis. Sigh.

Given I've been wearing specs for reading since my early 40s and Thomas and Amaia have now joined the full-time wearers brigade, that only leaves Charlotte, Marcel and the hamster to go before we can apply for a whole pack of guide dogs!

Friday, April 07, 2017

Modern kiddie pastimes

With the immaculate timing of freelance, the two weeks of full-time work I'd been expecting last December turned up the first day my kids were off school for two weeks and one day for Easter... have I mentioned how much I love my job recently? So I have been trying to work 8-30->1 every morning and then 8-30 in the evening till around midnight, so they aren't completely left to their own devices.

On Wednesday, I asked them to find something to do while I was busy, and stupidly thought they'd read a book or watch a movie - how very last century of me. After two days of silence and camaraderie (I should have known they were up to something!) Léon presented me this morning with this! I presume that is what they 'found to do'!

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Oh no, not again :-(

It was not without some measure of relief, that I blogged back in 2013 that Amaia had passed her nursery eye test. 

At the time I had two small children with glasses. When Léon was fitted with his first glasses at four, I felt completely crushed when he walked out the shop onto Byres road and proclaimed 'Wow, is this what the world looks like!?' I felt so guilty that I hadn't realized he couldn't see. I felt, as his mum, I should have known something was wrong, but I had two perfectly sighted kids and Léon had shown no signs of his struggles, writing and drawing like his siblings before him. But a mum is supposed to be superwoman, right?

Not wanting to make the same mistake a second time, I begged the hospital on my visits with Léon and my GP at the time but was told that they wouldn't check Anna till her nursery screening, two weeks before her fourth birthday. When she was also found to have a different visual problem. Whereas Léon is very long sighted (+5.50 when he was four, down to +4.75 now) Anna's vision isn't bad (+1.25) but she's got fairly bad astigmatism making glasses an all-life thing for her too.

So when Amaia came along, I held my breath and was beyond relieved when she passed with flying colours. I was thrilled she wouldn't be plagued with optician visits, overjoyed that my baby could see the world around her, no longer stressed about having to have glasses fixed at short notice when a lense fell out in the playground or a leg got snapped off at softplay and also, I admit, happy, as a keen photographer, that her beautiful caramel eyes wouldn't be hidden behind some horribly reflective piece of glass that invariably ruins 30% of my photos.

A couple of weeks ago I realized that neither Charlotte, nor Amaia had had their eyes retested recently, so with no worries or issues, I booked Amaia a routine test (Lots claims she's too busy till after her Highers in May). I got Anna's usual optician in Barrhead. He made her read from the charts, then said he was concerned about her answers not being within the normal range. He went on to dilate her pupils and test her without having her read, then turned and told me he'd no idea how she'd managed to fluke a pass at nursery because she was definitely long-sighted, around +3.00. Nooooooo!

Amaia is completely unfazed and almost thrilled to get glasses like her siblings. I am not so thrilled. I feel annoyed that she somehow managed to hoodwink them at the previous test - had she come back with a fail or an ambiguous test at nursery, I would have taken her often to double check but she passed with flying colours and they told me at the time they had no concerns about her. I think I was too happy to accept the diagnosis I wanted to hear, and therefore failed her somehow. It upsets me to think she's not been seeing well at school and hasn't realized herself. And I swear if she comes out with a statement like Léon next Wednesday, when she gets her glasses, I might just cry. 

But for now we have to look on the positive side. They've found the problem and hopefully it is going to be sorted.

Friday, March 31, 2017

They certainly know how to make you laugh!

Anna and Amaia love to watch the programme Operation Ouch. It's an educational children's programme to teach the kids medicine, anatomy etc.

Yesterday I walked past the TV room and noticed Amaia was watching it while I was cooking, I stuck my head in and noticed the two doctors were discussing voices breaking, and after a few moments it became clear that particular episode was a puberty special. Given Léon is well into puberty and Anna is also showing several of the most obvious early signs, I thought it was a good opportunity to watch it with them so they could ask me anything they wanted. Obviously, Amaia was a bit too wee to get it but I figured it'd help her understand what was happening with the other two, at the very least. They analysed sweat, discussed acne, growth spurts, levels of grease in your skin, melatonin levels in teenagers, voices breaking, where all you get hair, as well as the more obvious. The girls watched interested in it all and asked a few questions about the differences between boys and girls etc.

Fast forward twenty four hours... I burst into the loo, to find Amaia sitting on it. While waiting for her to finish, I catch sight of myself in the mirror and I look a bit like a drowned rat (having been caught in several downpours today).
"Oh, I need to wash my hair, it's so greasy!" I say out loud, though not really to anyone other than myself.
Excitedly, Amaia points at me, and explains, trying hard to get everything exactly right "Greasy hair? Oh mummy, I know what it is! You are probably going through pube...puber...PUBERTY!"


Awwwh, cute!

Cutest conversations overheard: 
Charlotte: What's the capital of Scotland, Amaia?
Amaia: What's a capital?
Charlotte: It's like a big town that's sort of in charge.

Amaia: Glasgow?
Charotte: No, somewhere a wee bit smaller...
Amaia: Giffnock?!