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?!

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The joys of having bilingual kids

I had a cute little conversation with my youngest today...

Amaia: Mummy, I've got a brilliant joke!
Me: Ok
Amaia: It's in Danish so I'll translate it for you just to make sure you get it all!
(My Danish is significantly better than hers to be honest but she has that native confidence that eludes me!)
Me: Ok, what is it?
Amaia (slapping her thigh and laughing): What kind of clothes can't you wear?
Me (Yes the answer is very obvious even to me): I don't know, Amaia, what kind of clothes can't you wear?
Amaia: Toys and Jam - hahahahaha!

(It loses a bit in the translation, don't you agree, Danish friends?!)


My boy, my flag, my parliament

You don't get to vote away my family's right to exist without a fight. I have nothing more to say today.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

PR - permanent residence

In the aftermath of June's vote, Thomas and I joined both an EU citizen forum and a legal advice page for people with EU passports. Of the 3.2 million EU citizens in the UK, it feels to me as if the vast majority have decided to scramble to obtain PR, despite the 85 page form, the ridiculous amount of paperwork requested (five years + of all P60s, salary slips, bank statements, housing proof, receipts for every trip abroad since you arrived in the UK, proof of private sickness cover, extras if you happen to be self-employed etc, etc) - the list seems endless and I have seen many people clocking up up to £60 in postage to forward this to the Home Office. It also costs money to apply and gathering together the necessary paperwork seemingly takes months. However, I felt almost from day one that this was not a route that attracted me. The reasons for that are many:

  • I'm bloody-minded and don't see why we should jump through hoops after nearly two decades legal residence.
  • I can see that many people will fall at completely arbitrary hurdles such as an ex-employer being unable or unwilling to re-issue payslips, or people not having the CSI that no one knew about in the first place, so it is unfair.
  • It only gives you the right to remain if you don't leave the country for more than six months, otherwise it is rescinded - six months is a completely reasonable amount of time to leave the country, especially if you work internationally or have relatives abroad.
  • It is governed by EU law so potentially worthless from Brexit day on.

I could see only one reason to obtain it and that was so Thomas could apply for dual nationality - the only way he could retain his right to come and go as he pleased. Dual nationality costs over £1200 but would allow us both to leave with the ability to return one day, if we so desired. If we leave tomorrow, six months from now Thomas will have lost all rights to PR (and therefore citizenship) despite being here since he was 30 and having UK national children.

But as time has gone by I have become much more conscious of the reason why, unlike most EU citizens' partners, I am not pushing for him to apply to be allowed to stay... I can see that it is in human nature to fight tooth and nail to keep the rights you already have, so life can go on as usual, uninterrupted. You want your status quo, but that's gone now. Subconsciously at first and now consciously I am very aware that even with PR, life is about to change dramatically. From tomorrow onwards, unless someone knocks some sense into May, or overthrows her, we will be moving towards being an isolated state on the periphery of Europe, attached to no trading blocks, with no EU funding and no joint projects in our universities. We will haemorrhage skilled EU doctors, lecturers and the likes. We'll lose the right to move, work and love elsewhere. Our already struggling economy will hit rock bottom while she struggles for a decade to even match the trading capacity we have already. The desperate people who voted for Brexit because they wanted their lives to improve will become an angry mob, when exactly the opposite happens. It was after all the poorest places, and those most dependent on EU trade that were hoodwinked into voting for Brexit - 67% of Welsh trade is with the EU in the parts of Wales that voted out! If Scotland cannot escape and remain at least within the single market, it will be hit with an even greater force than the south of the UK. England's NHS will need to be privatised so there will be no block grant to Scotland for ours. Despite the Scottish government pulling in the other direction, no funding will mean no choice and we too will lose our NHS, our free higher education and worse still, our Scottish government will ironically be blamed for our economic woes. As Sturgeon has been saying for months, this is about what kind of country we see ourselves living in going forward - an open, cooperative, internationalist one with a welfare state to care for our sick and elderly, or a closed, xenophobic, low tax, no welfare state economy. The country May describes in her Empire 2.0 fantasies is of no interest to me as a home. If Scotland's dragged along chained to that vision, Scotland is not a place where Thomas will need PR, because it is not a place where I will want to bring my kids up. I don't need Thomas to have PR because if we become a country where he needs it to remain, I am the one who will need to look at changing nationality.

It is a strange sensation to watch everything you have built in your adult life being taken away, without your having a say or any ability to change it. Some days I am angry, other days I am crushed to the point where I can hardly get out of bed, some days I relish the challenge of restarting again at 50 but today I simply feel strangely calm.

My children will be brought up in the EU, one way or another.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Colorized ketchup

I've had this on the wall in my hall since I took it back when Charlotte was 8.

Amaia has always wanted her own 'ketchup' photo so when biiiiig ketchup was on special in Makro last week, I took the opportunity to snap her. Hopefully she'll be pleased when she sees it.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

West Linton

When I was Léon's age we went on our residential trip to West Linton and stayed in long wooden huts. I assumed the site had long since fallen into ruin - it has been 38 years after all but I googled it yesterday and found out, not only is it still an outdoor centre, albeit with a different name, it still looks exactly the same! I think I'll take a run over there some weekend with the kids to see what, if anything, I can remember!

Digital dependence

When I had my first child in the summer of 1997, I didn't own a mobile phone. I went back to work full-time after the 29 weeks you were allowed back then and unless I was at my office desk, there was no way for nursery to contact me. When I had Lots in January 2000, I went back again when she was 29 weeks. Having two kids to pick up and having a fairly old car, I decided to invest in a Motorola Timeport L7089 in case the car ever broke down. I actually left the phone in the glove compartment of the car at all times as it was my 'break-down emergency phone'! So again the nursery could have burned down while I was in a meeting and I wouldn't have found out till I turned up at six! There were no smart phones, there was no Whataspp, nothing.

Back in 2009, when Marcel's p7 class went for their residential week to Castle Toward, we waved them off and five days later went back for them. They were tired, dirty, exhilarated and full of news. We had no idea they'd arrived safely and no idea they'd survived the rafting - other, of course, than the lack of bulletin on the six o'clock news. When they went on school day trips, we heard nothing and saw no photos. In the summer before Marcel's last year at school, he disappeared off to India for 17 days. They flew through Dubai to New Delhi then took a twelve hour bus trip to the jungle at the foot of the Himalayas (where tigers roam freely!) I have to admit I didn't sleep as well as usual those 2.5 weeks but it did prepare me a little further for him moving out, living in another city and me going sometimes four or five days without hearing a word from him. Kids don't really use Facebook so I can't sit looking for activity there - I don't think he posts more than a status every couple of years. The main thing is slowly from day trips, to weekend trips, to week trips to months away, I was weaned off my natural helicoptering instinct.

It's easier with subsequent children. You have been through that trip before so worry a little less with each passing child. But I think schools are going in the wrong direction. Now with social media, I see parents struggling to get through a day trip to the Science Centre without confirmation of arrival and a few happy photos. Scout camp photos are sent to us on arrival. Just yesterday the school felt it necessary to email us they had arrived safely and again this morning to say they had slept well and were happy. Yes, it feels great to know that, but it doesn't prepare us for reality. The reality that one day very soon you'll drop your kid at student halls in some far away city, then drive home to no update on whether they found their way to campus, or whether they ate last night, maybe they got drunk and staggered home in the dark streets of a town they don't yet know, maybe they fell asleep on a couch belonging to a friend of a friend - you will have no idea. It's 4 am and you are lying awake - are they in bed or out clubbing? I don't think we're doing ourselves any favours by hovering above them longer because those emails aren't for the kids' benefit, they are for ours and if we can't let go, they can't grow.

It's getting through that first day when your seven year old is in Glasgow that one day helps you get through that year your kid is in Edinburgh ten years later. It would be good if we could try to forego the fixes, however lovely and reassuring they are, for our own sakes more than theirs. I guess the alternative (which I actually know some parents use) is to install tracking software on your child's phone but honestly there are some things I really don't need to know about my kids. If they want to spend a night with a girlfriend or boyfriend, do I really want to be tracking them? I had a friend who once took out his iphone and announced to me, pointing: look, my wife is currently getting petrol in the Ayr road and my son is in town at the cinema. Life's too short to spend staring at dots moving about on a map. If we parent well enough, we give them the skills to get on and then we can trust them to make the right decisions, tracker off!

(I do still reserve the right, however, not to sleep a wink while Charlotte is in Nicaragua for most of this June! They are making her climb a live volcano - aaaaaaaaaaargh!)

Monday, March 20, 2017

Brexit lecture - Glasgow university

So she is going to trigger Armageddon next Wednesday. I feel physically sick. Of course, this limbo isn't any better... Part of me wants the shit to start hitting the fan as hard as possible before it's too late for them to come to their senses, or so as to precipitate a collapse of that particular government. I know polls say the Tories would win again but some slightly more centrist Tories could at least be less mad than the current mob.

In retrospect, I was not as upset as I should have been on June 24. I was hurt and devastated of course because I wanted Remain to win but I wasn't suicidally depressed  because I thought that the only sensible option for the government, who after all had campaigned for Remain, was to opt for some sort of Norwegian solution retaining the single market and not curtailing my right to move around but losing their right to vote and veto. As a true European, the thought of an EU without England (and I'll call it that because I don't think it ever was the UK as a whole) vetoing everything like petulant kids felt almost attractive. I've always seen myself as European, then Scottish and not really British at all. It's only normal when you've spent the last 32 years living with an EU citizen and going home for holidays, never really setting foot south of the border. Europe is much more my home. Every time England threw a spoke in the wheel I thought in terms of what they were doing to us. I was on the EU side not the UK side, so a quiet, subdued UK appealed a tiny bit, at least long enough for them to come to their senses and resume full EU membership, a little humbled. Little did I know, a completely insane path would suddenly be followed forcing me to give serious consideration to changing my entire future.

Thomas and I attended this on Friday: It was very interesting. David McAllister (despite the misleading name) is a German (CDU) MEP (of Scottish descent, of course). He gave us an insight into what the EU and in particular Germany are expecting after next Wednesday. He was infinitely more prepared than our government (he even had two A4 ringbinders of notes with him!!!), and had looked into things in much greater detail. There was sadly, however, a naivety that the EU would be dealing with a sane group of MPs who would put the interests of their country at the heart of the upcoming negotiations and that worried me.

He underlined, for instance, that no one in their right mind would prioritize no deal over a bad deal because frankly, in the EU's eyes what we have at the moment is the best possible deal, anything on the table will be inferior but crashing out after 18 months on no deal would be way beyond the catastrophic implications of any bad deal that could be on offer. He was frank and told us that the 18 months (not two years as we keep being told) that our government will have to negotiate both our leaving terms and the setting up of a new deal fell so far short of the time needed for even negotiating the leaving (even with people who actually have a well constructed plan, set of goals and realistic ambitions), that there is a ZERO per cent chance of a new deal being in place by October 2018. All negotiating needs to finish then if everything is to be ratified before the 2019 EU elections. Their Canadian deal (which is much smaller in scope than what the UK is aiming for) took eight years, and nothing had to be disentangled before the new negotiations began. He said, realistically. we should be looking at negotiating a holding status within the single market for two, three or even more years, continuing to pay into the EU budget at a reduced rate but remaining inside the single market and the customs union if we do not want our economy to drop off a cliff and set us back twenty years. That seems infinitely sensible to me, and Thomas had proposed that back as early as last July (he has a lot of EU experience from his Danish political days so actually understands how it all works, having been down to Brussels on several occasions). I've always considered it better to base your knowledge of a subject on something other than the gutterpress's interpretation of it. But terrifyingly, I suspect that the people negotiating our kids' future will not be prepared to accept this sensible suggestion and instead will simply allow us to crash within the next two years.

There was a deep sadness at the fact that the EU had allowed the UK so many vetoes and opt-outs like a harassed parent trying to keep their child onside, only to have them believe the twisted truth of the tabloids and rebel anyway. He could not conceive of the UK not changing its mind and trying to get back in within a generation - especially given youth polling is up at 70% pro-EU. He feels desperately sorry for the kids here losing their open futures and potentially no longer being allowed to use the wonderful Erasmus scheme while watching their economy destroyed.

Ireland was an interesting topic. The EU will, of course, negotiate for Ireland. There will be no question of bilateral Irish/UK talks re the border as Ireland are part of the EU-27. He can see that we do not want to return to the pre-Good-Friday agreement days of a hard border. But given countries like Germany are entirely surrounded by Schengen members so have no control over their immediate land border, the EU must have hard borders to non-EU countries. In McAllister's eyes, he could see no solution other than to offer some sort of inside EU pseudo-status to Northern Ireland with a hard border between the island that is both Irelands and the island that contains Scotland, England and Wales. Call me a sceptic, but I suspect Theresa will veto this before they get to the end of the sentence suggesting it. I suspect peace in Ireland is lower down her list than a hard border to Britain (though if the EU pulls it off, I'll be first to look into moving to Belfast!)

He tried to remain on the fence re Scottish Independence, though emphasized greatly how warmly we have been thought of since last June. The 62% Remain in Scotland, he said, was higher than he would have expected in even some of the core EU states and between the lines he came across as in favour of us at least considering whether we wouldn't be better off inside the EU. We would finally have our own say on our future, sitting represented by our own people rather than distant Southern English ones who have little understanding of our fisheries and oil. The alternative would be to sit on the periphery, being exploited and ignored as England desperately tried to prop up its new status. He underlined how impressed the EU had been by Nicola Sturgeon, calling her the only visible UK politician after June 23. He ridiculed Boris and Gove's disappearing act while Nicola rushed to the EU to hold talks. He strongly criticized the tabloids for being affronted at Juncker's agreeing to meet with her, pointing out that no tabloids had blinked an eye when he, as former First Minister of Niedersachsen (one of the German regions), had often met with Juncker's predecessor Barosso when they were both in office. He told us to beware of double standards... He wished us luck with the decisions we have ahead while stating that although it is hard for a new country to join the EU, that is not the case for a country that is already a member - read into that what you will - personally, I can only see one country that might want to join that is already inside.

I also got the impression that everyone attending the lecture was Remain, if not also pro-Indy Remain as people shifted nervously and uncomfortably every time he expressed a regret that we had chosen that path but the EU would sadly respect it. It felt tangibly as if we might at any moment all scream in unison - we didn't - save us please - that is not who we are! I don't know if he's been to England and therefore had different experiences - it really is different up here. On a daily basis in the EU support groups on Facebook, EU citizens, full of anxiety, talk about the pressures of carrying on their lives where everyone is a Leave voter, confronting them in a hostile and racist tone. They feel scared to speak in public in case their accents set off a torrent of abuse. That never happens when Thomas speaks. We are eight months on and I have still never met an out Leave voter. There may be the odd closet one kicking about, I guess.

At the end there was a question section and Thomas asked the obvious 'If I lose my right to stay here at the same time as my wife loses her right to leave for the EU-27 with me, what does the EU foresee happening?' He said he saw no circumstances under which the spouses, partners or children of EU citizens living in the UK would not be granted leave to follow their partner to another EU member state. The right to family life could not be compromised in that way. I found it hard not to cry at this to be honest. Much as I don't want to leave as two of my kids will be at the uni stage when Brexit happens, I am prepared to do so if the government proceeds down the unforgiving path it has set out. I cannot bring up European kids in a closed-off, xenophobic, backward and inward looking country with a collapsing economy, if the option is on the table to leave for somewhere more open and tolerant. I owe it to my kids to take them somewhere with an economic future and if we can't create that here, I will have to make the hardest decision of my life. Had this happened five years ago, we could simply have moved as a family unit, doing it next year or two years from now will be gut wrenching but there will be no place for my family in Hard-Brexit Britain. I will simply have to hope the ones at uni come to join us as soon as they possibly can.

Ninety have fun in Lochgoilhead

Well we get to school at 8-45. The p7s aren't to go in till 9-10 so their luggage doesn't trip anyone up. At 9-07 we get out the car - Léon sticks on his rucksack...

'Where's your ski jacket?' I inquire, nonchalantly. 
'Oops! I've forgotten it. Never mind, I'm sure it'll be fine!
'Emmm - no it won't - Up north in March for a week without a jacket? Are you barking mad?'

I drive him back home, get jacket, get back to school for 9-20 at which point it is so torrential we can't get out the car! Fine? Huh!

And so he's gone off to grow a little (probably both physically and psychologically, if the rest of this year is anything to go by) and make memories to last a lifetime.

I love the idea of school trips. I don't remember much of primary school at all, not even all that much of p7 but I vividly remember a week spent in this draughty wooden hut in West Linton in the snow and freezing drizzle. I remember my dorm and dorm mates, what we got up to and where we went and yet it was 38 springs ago. I hope 38 years from now, Léon will be seeing his own child off on a trip like this, fondly remembering today in the same way as this little girl is remembering hers today.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Light relief

Prestwick trip

I've just had a rather surreal conversation with my youngest after turning her bedroom light out - you know the classic, age-old delaying tactic when you try to leave them to go to sleep!

Amaia: You know, mummy, we've been learning a lot at school about tinned peaches.
Me: Really? Why is that?
Amaia: Well, we're doing space as our topic at the moment. In fact, on our school trip last week to the Science Centre lots of the boys really talked about nothing else!
Me: And what exactly does that have to do with space?
Amaia: Everything!
Me (science must have changed since my day - I remember a dog being sent to space in the 60s - but I guess maybe they sent up tinned fruit to study its properties in a gravity-free zone or something...): Well, that's very interesting darling but I need you to go to bed now, you can tell me more about the fruit tomorrow.
Amaia: What fruit?
Me: The tinned peaches.
Amaia (gasping for air through hysterical laughter): I didn't say tinned peaches, I said Tim Peake!