Subversive rants and grateful raves

It’s the second Tuesday of the month so it’s whine and whoop time. I’ll start with my gripes and save the goodies till later.

The grumpy, cynical and subversive bits of my old bat personality are well and truly stirred up this month. I hardly know where to start. So deep breath, focus and here goes…

Politics – or rather UK politicians – when did they stop being political? Was it in the 1980s? Did Thatcher strangle the passion out of them? And by naming the blessed Margaret, I’m not trying to be party political. I’m getting at the whole blooming lot of them, regardless of affiliation.

Being a politician is now, more than ever before, a career. Politicians are no longer driven by a passionate commitment to change or preserve things for the greater good – whatever their perception of that greater good might be. Now it seems to be about personal ambition, promotion, power and fame. Of course these ‘perks’ have always been part of the motivation and reward for success in politics – but it seems to me that they’re now the sole motivation. Posh boys dominate on all sides and it’s all more X-Factor than solid apprenticeship and hard slog. All of them take the short-term view, basing decisions on what will work for them during their short tenure – and to hang with the long view of what will be best for their constituents in the long run.

As for Scottish politics – good grief! It’s embarrassing. There’s wee Eck Salmond’s vanity project a.k.a. the campaign for independence. In Scotland we are subjected to a cynically controlled trundle towards the 2014 referendum. Meanwhile almost one in four Scottish children live in poverty. Yes, it’s relative poverty and not the absolute poverty of a child in famine hit country in Africa. But that doesn’t make it acceptable. Some of our youngsters eat only one meal a day i.e. their free school lunch – with some having nothing between the Friday one and the Monday one. Some parents are going without food themselves in order to feed their children.

And local politics are no better. I live in the local government area with the most scattered population in the UK i.e. the Highland Council area. The council is currently holding a series of budget consultation meetings which the public are invited to attend.  However these meetings have been poorly advertised and held in the evenings at a wet and windy time of year in places with no public transport during the day, never mind in the evening. They have also been held on only one evening in each location. Oh, and in an area where the council is a major employer, employees like myself aren’t allowed to express an opinion in public about council business. So I can’t comment personally on what is up for discussion but I’m told that’s what’s causing the most consternation is the proposal to save money by cutting the school day for primary children. Draw your own conclusions on this one.

And breathe…

So to the good bits – my wee granddaughter continues to be a joy. Nine months old already and what a privilege it is to see her every day. She and her Ma and Pa are living with me and Mr Writeanne as they’ve relocated to Skye and are awaiting the sale of their flat before they can get a place of their own here. It’s so fascinating watch her develop – something new every day. I wonder anew at the amazingness of the human brain and its capacity to learn and develop.

This weekend me and Seanair (Grandad) will be in sole charge of the grandbaby as her parents are away for the weekend to celebrate their anniversary. Can’t wait.

In other good news stuff – On the writing front – I got my entry sent off for the Mslexia magazine children’s novel competition. I feel a great sense of achievement just to have got it to this point. I’ll know in November if it’s got to the shortlist. I’ve also completed my contribution to the October issue of Words with Jam, the writers’ magazine. I’m proud to have contributed to every issue of this magazine since its inception. I also just received my second royalty cheque for the kindle version of my novel. That’s quite a buzz. And now the competition deadline for the children’s novel is past, I can leave it to one side for a while and get back to my second adult novel. My writing keeps me sane and is my anti-stress drug of choice. I love my day job teaching children with special needs but it is exhausting at times. However, I always find the energy to write no matter how tired I am.

Another positive is that autumn is my favourite season and I am enjoying the softer light, the turning of the leaves, the nip in the air. This year the heather is particularly magnificent with all the hills sporting a gorgeous purple blanket. And a wee robin has taken to visiting the garden feeder on a regular basis – so that and the selection boxes in the co-op gives an intimation of end of year festivities.

And that’s it. Gosh that feels better. Thanks for listening.

Tioraidh till next week!


Unconditional Granny

I originally wrote this piece for the Scottish Book Trust‘s ( )  ‘Family Legends’ series. My husband reminded me about it the other day and I thought it would be nice to post it on the blog – especially since I now have the privilege of being a grandmother myself.

Granny Peggy

 She died two days after my eighth birthday. It was my first experience of bereavement. The last time I saw her was in the week before she died. It was a Thursday in August. On Thursdays she got the bus across Edinburgh from her home in the Boswall area of the capital and spent the day at our house on the south side. I could never wait to get home from school to see her.

On that last evening she left her cardigan behind when she set off for home. Mum told me to take it and go after her. I called out to her as I ran along the road. Eventually she heard me and turned to wait for me to catch up. I’ve never forgotten the hug she gave me for my trouble. For a long time after she died I often thought I saw her walking ahead of me in the street. I wasn’t allowed to go to her funeral and I found it hard to accept she was really dead.

My Granny had time for me.  I was the eldest of five girls and sometimes my mother needed a break. So in the school holidays I was often sent off to Granny’s to stay. The memory of the taste of her mince and tatties with HP sauce can still make my mouth water. Lunches such as this would be followed by watching ‘The One O’clock Gang’ on the television and then a trip to the ice-cream van for a vanilla cone with raspberry.

Granny was born in 1890 when Queen Victoria still ruled the Empire.  She was one of six children in a middle class Glaswegian family. Her intellect was sharp. In more modern times she would probably have been an academic or a writer.

In any event she should have lived a comfortable life. Two world wars meant that was not the case.  During the Great War she nursed wounded soldiers. My grandfather was one of these soldiers. They married in 1920 and settled in Edinburgh. She was 42 years old when, three months prematurely, she had my mother, the younger of her two daughters.

Everybody in the Boswall area knew Peggy. There are people in the area today who still remember her. She loved to write and she loved children.  In the 1930s and 40s she combined those two loves when she wrote and directed plays for the local children. One of her motivations for doing this, apart from a love of writing, was to give her extremely shy, younger daughter a chance to come out of herself.

At the beginning of the Second World War she took a party of evacuees, including her own two daughters, from the local primary school to rural Tayside. I still have the diary in which she recorded the fascinating account of their evacuation.

My grandfather died in 1942. In order to support herself and her girls, Granny had to get a job, her first job for thirty years, at the age of fifty two. She found work as a typist in Bruce Peebles, a local engineering company. From her modest salary she found the money to send my mother to a new school which opened in Edinburgh in the 1940s. This was the RudolfSteinerSchool, offering a very different form of education to the conventional model. Granny made a leap of faith, believing that the holistic and arts-based approach that the school offered would suit her withdrawn little daughter rather well.

All my earliest memories are permeated by the presence of this formidable but kind woman. I loved to get into bed beside her in the early morning and listen to the amazing stories she told. These were stories of feisty young girls, both princesses and commoners who triumphed over injustice, trouble and their own failings. I also loved when she got me ready for bed, washing my face while I sat on the draining board at the side of the kitchen sink, telling me I was her china doll. Afterwards I was allowed to put on a little of her special, Nulon hand cream.

The plays she wrote for my mother and her friends were revived for her grandchildren. My sisters, cousins and I, along with many of our peers at school and church, took part in several shows, pantomimes and concerts – all produced and directed by my grandmother.

One of my first memories of her, is of us sitting side by side on a bench outside the City Hospital in Edinburgh. I was only about four years old. My first little sister had acute bronchitis and was receiving treatment there. My parents were with her. I had insisted on going to the hospital too, but I wasn’t allowed in. So Granny and I kept vigil outside.

I also remember her barefoot on the beach, in her seventies, playing football with all the grandchildren during family holidays at Loch Long. I recall her nursing me and my little sisters through measles and chickenpox and the doses of some sort of tonic that she inflicted on us afterwards. I remember her administering poultices for my poisoned finger and her faith in herbal remedies.

Even now the smell of roses in a summer garden takes me right back to sitting on the seat at Granny’s back door, shelling peas into a basin, and listening to her talk.

She instilled in me her own values of self-reliance, independence and compassion; more than that, she showed me the power of unconditional love. And more than forty years after her death I still carry her in my heart.

I grew up to be a primary school teacher and have put on a few children’s plays myself during my thirty years in the job. My hobby is writing. Granny’s influence lives on.

Now, with grown up children of my own, I look forward to maybe being a granny myself one day. I would be proud to be even half as good at the job as she was.