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Chasing the Blackbird

I begin with a quote from Felix Mendelssohn – ‘Though everything else may appear shallow and repulsive, even the smallest task in music is so absorbing, and carries us so far away from town, country, earth, and all worldly things, that it is truly a blessed gift of God.’  This quotation can also be linked, in my eyes, to art and writing, or to anything really which a perceiver or player is passionate about.  Here’s another quotation – ‘A jack of all trades is a master of none.’  This has the possibility of making one feel inferior.  One who has a hobby rather than a vocation.  One who has more than one hobby, who’s skills and time is split between pastimes.  However, if you read out aloud the full quotation, which is – ‘A jack of all trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one.’  In other words, we can’t all be masters, but this doesn’t bring disadvantage.   


Is your grown-up persona sprung from schooldays?  A trickling brook of ideas and passions widening as it flows?  In school, I was in the netball team, the hockey team, the cross-country team, the school orchestra, the choir, the gymnastic team, the swimming team.  I jumped from one to another with boundless energy, becoming master of none.  What I did become, was outgoing, a team player, could play an instrument, could sing, (not now, whoaaa, no way would you want to hear me sing now), built up stamina, kept out of mischief.


The house is at its best when it is full of life.  I live in a three-bedroom house, with floored attic, which sags with shelves upon shelves of books, pages and pages of words, fictional, factional, educational, romantical, crying out to me, in the night, when I wake with ideas, or dreams, the latest one a phone call with my mum.  ‘Oh, and just before I go,’ she says, ‘your grandad had blue eyes.’  That I had been toying with the idea of emailing my uncle, to ask if he could remember what colour of eyes my grandad had, coming immediately to me.  My grandsons come to stay or visit from time to time, and it’s then the house really comes alive.  It’s when I move.  Otherwise, I’m attached to a laptop, in whatever corner of the house is the warmest, while the dishes soak, the washing in the machine lies crumpled, cold, whining to get out, to be hung and dried.


There’s a bird feeder in my garden, hanging from my Red Robin shrub.  The birds aren’t around right now.  The winter days here in my town have been bleak.  Out the front I see gulls, or wood pigeons, and a magpie who’s stolen the wood pigeon’s nest.  It’s in the beech hedge belonging to my neighbour, and I see it brushing through the branches.  I haven’t noticed my blackbird yet.  I await patiently to greet it.


Looking back historical references to my town, I see numerous references to the Silver Band.  It appears to have been entertaining the residents since around 1835.  I have a photo in mind of the band marching past St Mungo’s Church, and people gathering to listen.  In those days there were no speed bumps or horse shit to avoid, while marching through the town.


Once upon a time I regretted my traits.  I was a social but competitive butterfly, chasing the blackbird, never succeeding in being the best.  My head was filled with the sweet scent of romance, the budding friendships, the growing stem of learning and the petals of participation.  As a youngster, apart from all the sporting activities, I had an affinity for music and writing.  I was in the school band, and wrote diary entries and stories.  The writing came as a result of reading.  I loved to read, to be carried out of my mediocre self to another world, where I was the heroine, and after each good book I thought, I wish I’d written that.  Work and motherhood kept me away from both these things, although I did write when I was troubled.  After I had my first child, I may have suffered slightly from post-natal depression, and then my dad died.  I dipped my heart into jotters at those times. 


Mid-seventies an office job was considered a good job.  Not being confident enough to grab a job in The Scotsman offices I began in the Financial Industry, a job I stayed in until recent retirement (early) except for the odd stray into cleaning, bar, shop assistant, reception duties, after becoming a mother.  Independence was important to me, and ordinary jobs, not being the master of anything, still provided me with money.  It’s funny how life pulls you down, birls you around, and then flings you up again, into a companionable mistral, landing you back on the flower head you once adorned.


A boat trip with my most accommodating mother sees me making my way to Staffa, in The Hebrides.  We boarded a Caledonian MacBrayne ferry to Mull, travelled by bus to a small bay where we climbed onto a small boat, seats up each side.  We could almost touch the sea with our hands.  The waves were rough, so a caveat was reeled off.  We hummed along with the gulls, before deciding we would risk it.  All fine if you like watery undulations, small boats, and cold salty sea spray peppered over you.  All this because I’d learnt about Felix Mendelssohn in school while studying music.  I remember finding out how he was inspired to compose his concert overture named The Hebrides, also coming to be known as Fingal’s Cave, on one of his trips to the British Isles, in 1829, visiting the Island of Staffa.  He was said to have started writing the opening theme at first sight of the Island’s dramatic formation.  I wonder if the geography of the land made him gasp?  I did.  I flapped internally with emotion, my heart leapt, and dipped with the waves as we headed to shore.  How could my eighty-year-old mother manage this?  It’s fine if you’re fit for getting off in Staffa, if you can manage the climb over large slabs of layered rock, then balance on the narrow rock path, to the mouth of the cave.  There are ropes to hang onto in the event of a sudden loss of equilibrium, but you need to think quick, grab on in time, or it’s a cold dip in the sea, a swim with the seals, or a broken hip on the rocks, at low tide.  To some it’s just a cave.  To me it’s a cavern of emotions, the memory of a young romantic girl, studying music.  A lonely class, only she and two others.  Was it this trip which sent me back to the band?  Or was it simply an urge to recreate my happy schooldays?        


There is a room where I leave out my trumpet and my cornet, in sight, bell to the floor, to remind me to practice.  If I want to improve, I must oil the tubes with my spit, I must rumble the keys, blow air through and play to my heart’s content.  Once I begin, I’m off the scale.  I hear or see nothing but my music and my sounds.  Writing or music, what do I perfect?  I’m trying as best as I can with both.  I’m forever the butterfly chasing the blackbird. 

Arched BaCK

The sunlight filters through the arch of bare branches, and I worship their knotted and gnarled beings.  They are the lucky ones, the ones not to have tumbled in the storms.  A blanket of moss moulds itself under my favoured feet, as surely, they are privileged to be able to walk in this dell, the flavour and the scent of pine crisply pointing out a cluster of ever greens.  A goldfinch whistles then trills high above me, his call to friends echoing far off, lingering around the shivering leaves of a rhododendron.

Winter is fading, slowly, icy fingers tapping knowledgably.  Is winter knowledgeable?  Does it have insight into when and where it goes?  I don’t suppose it does, but for now, in my head, winter is shaking a finger, saying, don’t throw off your padded jackets, your hats and scarves just yet.  I am not done with you.  The trees grumble and creak, their roots gripping in for dear life.  It’s during these wanderings I see a tree with a red cross on it.  Is this an old tree, diseased tree, dodgy unstable tree?  Is this tree for the chop?  It’s a process known only to the landowner, forester and logger.  If I pay attention, however, while out and about, I may discover which colours mean what to this particular landowner.  One day I’ll pass and this red painted tree will be gone. 

I move on from the archway of trees, the tangled, broken and strewn branches littering the ground and I come upon the church.  A truncated square plan Rogue Gothic Church built in the late 1800’s, short columns, tall pointed arches, a tower, rugged stones.  At the front of the church there are two high archways, within which there is an outside space, perhaps to shelter in the rain, somewhat like the external arched corridors found in ancient university buildings.  Above the arched area there are three Celtic designed windows and above those are large arched stained-glass windows and then another array of Celtic designs.  Its power is notable. It’s a fairy tale church, setting my mind to flutter.    

I see an apparition under the arches.  A beautiful bride, alone, looking miserable, on this, her wedding day, her pure white dress covered in lace, revealing a slender waist, her veil not quite hiding her nose.  Is she jilted?  She looks lost within the thick columns, the solid stonework, the bricks.  Her nose is red with the cold.  It is still winter, winter told us.  Don’t be fooled by the sun.  Is she in her right mind, getting married in winter?  Perhaps that’s it.  The girl isn’t in her right mind.  Is it the spot demoralising her chin?  A spot on a maiden, not plagued by spots.  Nerves must have pushed this one to the surface, postulating tension. Love, honour and obeyance is no light task.  The vision in white fades into the cracks and pores of the bricks, chased by a fan of dog’s breath.        

Heel, I hear someone shout, and a woman and her dog approach.  It’s a collie.  A beautiful black dog with a white breast, and intelligent eyes.  It knows to obey, but it does so in its own time, after circling a hedge once or twice, then sniffing the dampened leaves.  I say hello to the woman and then with a little more emphasis on the o ending, I say hellooo to the dog.  I often greet dogs.  Dogs that deserve to be greeted of course.  Not all do.  Like wise with humans.  Talk about arched?  The arched backs, of some you come across is laughable.  Is it, IS laughable, or ARE laughable?  IS laughable looks ok, doesn’t it?     

The church is on the main road into the town and I turn up the hill over the bridge crossing the river.  I look over the parapet.  This is a frequent occurrence for me.  I like to see the river from this vantage point.  That I can see into the gardens of some of the dwellings below is neither here nor there.  I am not a nosy person.  Is that a wood burning stove, and a wood pile?  That’s new since I was last down this way.  Their fence looks a bit worse for wear.  Another casualty of the storms.  Is this another brewing?  My hair is whipping my face, my unzipped jacket acting like arched wings.  I take-off, fly home. 

Driving Decoy

Slept well.  Rose.  Left the house to meet my friend for coffee.  It was a lovely morning, and the sun was out.  Once in the car, and on my way, my peripheral vision was sparked by a black car, sidling up at my driver’s side.  I was approaching traffic lights, on a road which only had one lane leading up to the junction, and I was thrown by this.  He was flapping his hands, his passenger window down.  I switched the button to roll down my window, looking in my mirror, conscious of the obstruction.  He informed me one of my tyres looked wobbly, didn’t seem sure which one.  ‘Oh,’ I said, my mind working overtime.  ‘I’ll stop at Sainsbury,’ I said.  ‘Just thought I should let you know,’ he said back, his forehead lined, his chin stubbled and his eyes bleary.  I drove on, slowly, making no sudden turns, looking in my wing mirrors, listening for clanking, or grinding or something to indicate I was about to lose a tyre.  I drove another five hundred yards before turning in at the Golf Course, worried about his reckoning.  I kicked both the front and the back tyres, which were solid, kicked them again before continuing on my way.  It was all pretty strange.  Maybe it was his eye sight which was wobbly I thought, but continually checking my wing mirror and my rear-view mirror, checking, checking that my car wasn’t cracking up.  Watch that bump in the road.  Easy around that corner. 

Once on the straight and narrow, and walking with my friend, it was pointed out that there were people about, waving cars down and committing crimes, stealing cars, handbags, or worse, kidnap.  It was broad daylight.  Surely not.  This didn’t stop my mind throwing up visions of the guy with the bleary eyes sitting in the carpark at Sainsbury waiting for me.  Yikes.  Lucky escape. 

After talk of the corrupt nature of people, various other subjects were discussed at my coffee morning, some with a high level of hilarity, subjects unfit even for the most secret of journals, so I’ll say no more.  The world has gone crazy, and me with it, my only source of survival to laugh in the face of it.  A big huge ha ha ha to the world and its craziness.  Our laughter made a dog bark.  We were at once charmed by a wagging tail and loose tongue.  No kisses for me, don’t save your kisses for me.  ‘Come on Fido, please keep your tongue to yourself.  It might be good enough to disinfect your sore bits, but I’ll pass, thanks.  It’s bad enough trying to avoid Covid, without contracting a zoonotic disease.’  What?  I love dogs, they are so much simpler than us.  And they’re not kidnappers.  They don’t steel your handbag.  ‘Hey, get your nose out of there.’  Would you believe it, Fido just stole my gloves? 

The current news is discussed.  The political pages.  I go through all the MP’s and political people I don’t like.  I’m not political, don’t have the back knowledge, the history of politics, don’t have the patience to read through everything written.  No, my process is to look at a face, listen to their words, their mannerisms, and from there I make up my mind about them.  I’ve never met them, but I dislike them, at least a handful of them, their arrogant, smarmy, bumptious faces looking up at me from one newspaper or another.  I do the same with dogs.  I look at their faces, I see their bared teeth, their glaring eyes, the raised hair on their backs, threatening pose and I think…run.  No, I’m joking.  I learnt young, from experience, never to run from a dog as it will chase you and bite you.  It was a dwarf Pekinese, if I’m allowed to say that, with a big bite.

I watched a documentary recently.  It was called The Center Will Not Hold.  A profile of Joan Didion, directed by her nephew Griffe Dunne.  Joan Didion was an American Writer.  She died on the 23rd December last year, aged eighty-seven, so the documentary, for me, was like a farewell to Joan.  She was awarded The National Medal of Arts and National Humanities in 2012 by President Obama.  Joan mentioned during the documentary that she’d never considered herself into politics and yet, for example, she wrote about the US press coverage of Salvador’s internal war and then went there, to this dangerous country, to see for herself.  Joan was a small woman, 5 feet tall, sitting out of the limelight, but came over as a blinding light in her writing.  New journalism.  She wrote for the papers and for magazines, made it personal, in the I voice, and her voice was loud. 

I was truly inspired.  I may not be particularly political, but perhaps I can still write about what I see and hear.  I’ll study Joan Didion’s work, I say before another kick of my tyres.  I leave for home.       

Night falls.  I relax into Question Time, knowing that the next day I’ll have forgotten all the pertinent points amongst the whimsical whirling of my mind, the thoughts of loose rolling tyres, of sociopathic decoys, of simply puzzling human behaviour.

Journey Back

After a few days of abstaining, I’m back at my laptop. 

I finished reading The Remains of the Day and it was sad.  Stevens travelled to see Miss Kenton, wheels of the past murmuring about dignities, whirring around integrities, trust, all for nothing.  Her letter told him she’d left her husband, and he hoped she’d come back to Darlington Hall.  When he eventually met her, he learned she was back with her husband.  He feels sad and as if his life has passed him by, but quickly pulls himself together.  So, what does he think of, in the end?  He thinks of improving his bantering skills for his master’s sake.  Wow. 

A scenic drive to Peebles released a mist of memories into the banks and braes of my mind.  The fields are turned into a spring levy of gambolling lambs.  Mum and I in the car, mum chatting, me adding the odd word, my concentration on the road, once a well-travelled one for us.  We would walk up and down the high street, going for tea and scones at the Coffee Pot.  On the approach into Peebles, I saw Venelaw Hill, the layers of trees filming my mind with more memories.  Whenever we parked the car, in the carpark opposite, I would ask, ‘did you know I’ve climbed that hill.’  How boring, but she smiled every time.  Wilkies had such a creaky floor, I loved it.  We would walk down passed rails and rails of blouses, dresses, stands with shoes and shelves bearing handbags and scarves.  The iron monger, the ice-cream shop, the chippy.  Two or three times we’d be naughty and buy a poke of chips.  They were great chips.  Today I was going for butcher meat, Forsyth’s being the best butcher around. 

My mum enjoyed her trips to Peebles and so did I.  We stopped going latterly.  I’m not sure why?  She never seemed to want to go.  I can only think it was too much walking for her.  Even so, how can I ever go again without her being there, in my head.  It’s been eight and a half months since her passing and still questions pop up, and things I want to say, like, I’m looking after your Peace Lily’s and your orchid.  I want to tell her I grew the lilies I gave her for Mother’s Day last year.  I’m hoping they come back again this year.                              

I went to the library for a book by Joan Didion.  We’re studying her this week in zoom writing class.  None in stock right now.  I’ve had them order one.  Not the one I wanted – Slouching Towards Bethlehem – but I’m happy just to get a handle on her writing.  Joan Didion died just last month, on 23rd December.  I watched a programme on the TV about her.  She was intriguing.  It turns out she wrote from a very young child and was an avid reader.  I can relate to that.  She worked for Vogue, did journalistic work as well as being an author.  I wrote as a young child, read a lot and had dreams of being a journalist.  But my life went down a different route.   

Instead of one Joan Didion’s books, I got a book called Goblin, from the library, by Ever Dundas.  What a great name.  She’s from Edinburgh.  I’m sure Nicky once told us she was his cousin.  I must ask him.    

Yes, now I want to tell mum, I’m still Writing with Nicky.  I’m learning and think there’s improvement.  There should be, I hear her say.  She once said I thought more about my stories than I did about talking to her and I’m sorry she thought this.  It probably did look that way.  I was completely wrapped up in myself, but I want to tell her I was worried about her, I was worried about other things too, and I felt so bad for her, for her pain, her struggles in even such simple things as buying clothes, dodgy fridge, and desire for a new chair.  Delving into reading and writing took me away from my worries.  I want to tell my mum to believe me when I say I felt so much for her in her decline, which began seriously in October 2019 when she went into heart failure and had to be hospitalised.  I want to tell her all of this.

The History Cupboard, my novel, an auto memoir, is more important to me now, than ever.  It brings my young mum alive.  It brings her mum alive, and writing it has brought my memories alive.    

The Horned Goat Bleats

Capricornians are born between 22nd December and 19th January. So, this is their time in the zodiac.  If you were born between those dates, this is your time in the zodiac.  This is your time to show off the traits of a soul born into this sign of the zodiac.  Capricorn originating from the constellation of Capricornus, the horned goat.  Oh, how some would love to call me that. 

Facts about Capricornians:- Element – Earth – does this mean they’re grounded.

                                                  Polarity – Negative – are they?  

                                                  Quality – Cardinal – definitely. 

                                                  Ruling Planet – Saturn – Ok.

                                                  Ruling House – Tenth.

                                                  Spirit Colour – Dark Blue – my favourite.

                                                  Lucky Gem – Lapis lazuli.

                                                  Flower – pansy – love those colourful little darlings.

                                                  Top Love Match – Virgo – oh well.   

I remember once reading that Capricornians were pragmatic and cup half empty types.  Their polarity, as seen above, signifies negative, but some must be positive, or are they just positively negative?

My young grandsons, none of them Capricornian, are living in a time of the zodiac when it doesn’t matter what star sign you are, to have the words negative or positive resonating loudly.  Am I negative mummy, one asks of his mum the day after they’d all had PCR’s.  Yes, you’re negative.  Is D negative, he asks on behalf of his brother. Yes, D is negative.  The younger child, he’s six, runs through to his brother and shouts, D we’re negative.  He then returns to the doorway of his mother’s bedroom and says, I’m sorry you are positive mum.  Will you always be positive?

Now mum’s a Taurean.  The bull.  Are Taureans positive?  Will she always be positive.  Well, on the internet it says they are stubborn, definitely, warm, yep and indulgent in the material world.  I’m saying nothing.  Polarity – negative.  There you are then.  Of course, she will not always be positive with Covid, but that young mind, what will he go on to remember of this time.  Will he be left with an obsession to test things, to discover their conditions, whether negative or positive?  Look at all the words a young person of today is hearing – covid, isolate, cough, test, track and trace, sanitise, mask, negative or positive.

They say we’re coming out of it, but there are more people now than before, falling down with the dreaded lurgy, or being affected by it in one way or another.  No one wants it, no one wants to be told they’ve been in contact with someone who has it. Everyone wants to be negative, but sometimes they’re given the bad news that, they’re positive.  They won’t always be positive.  This positive will return to a negative before long, and they’ll be back on track, up and running, living their life. But in the meantime, it’s hard to remain positive when coming into contact with a positive.  Sadly, two positives don’t always make a negative.  

In a family of four, two adults and two children, one adult positive, what happens? The hope is that the others do not turn positive, one by one, turning the work situation untenable.  Be positive.  I really hope this all rides by us soon and we can stop worrying about this, that and the next thing.  We can arrange our lives without the blight of Covid filtering over us. 

I think now of my granny.  She was fifteen when the Spanish Flu broke out.  Two years it lasted.  She survived and turned out ok.  Our young will recover from this.  Is this positivity at best?  Me whose negative, positive hangs in the ether, the message still to come through.

Find Lust for Life

The results of my daughter sticking a swab back to twizzle her tonsils and then up her nose for her Polymerase Chain Reaction test has proved positive.  I’d decided I’d go for a PCR test today if hers proved positive, as like her, my lateral flow test from yesterday was negative.  Confused.  No wonder.  Anyhow, I do have a cough, which has worsened a bit so I think it wisest to get tested.  My only burst of freedom today.    

That done, I’m lodged upstairs for a second day, hiding out, my potential bugs lurking around my nasal passages, swinging from my tonsils.  Is it in my head that my nose is itching, or am I allergic to cotton wool?  I’ve stuck so many cotton-wool topped sticks up my hooter of late, I’ve perhaps caused an intolerance to it.  My eyes are itchy and heavy.  Anyhow, I have drifted from what I was aiming to say and that is that I needed to find something to keep me alert.  The temptation when one is upstairs is to creep into bed and vegetate. 

I disappear up the attic, my library, and search for my copy of Lust for Life by Irving Stone.  Isn’t it strange how I should search for a book of this title when my life has turned so small, so limited?  But as you probably know, this book is about Vincent Van Gough.  I admire him as an artist.  I love his bold sweeping brushstrokes which people in his day frowned upon, and I love his bright colours, his apparent fondness for the colour blue, which is my favourite colour. 

I had the idea of looking out this book on the back of the Radio 4 articles highlighted by Kirsty, in my Writing With Nicky Class.  Five writers looked at art, to mark the 50th anniversary of the 1972 series and book by John Berger – namely Ways of Seeing.  Their accounts on paintings that they admired, inspired me very much.  Let me look at Vincent Van Gogh, I said to my bookshelves.  They groaned under the weight of books, and I griped at the struggle to find it.    

But I did and back down the ladders I creak.  Not my legs, no, the metal Ramsey ladder.  It creaks.  Under it I swing, risking bad luck, or maybe just a cracked skull, and make for my desk, the room freezing.  I have the window open for airflow.  Don’t worry though I’m wearing my fleecy muffler and my fleece, with a throw around my feet.  If only I’d bought one of those big slippers you once could buy.  Just like a horse feeder, but lined with sheepskin instead of horse food and for your feet, not for your horse.   I was too cool back then.

Turning the pages, I see that Irving Stone writes so descriptively about Vincent.  He talks of his massive shoulders and chest, of having thick and powerful arms, broad cheeks, voluptuous mouth, a vigorous walker.  He doesn’t mention the red hair in the beginning but it is mentioned later in the book.  He speaks of people finding him eccentric however at age twenty-one he’s in love for the first time, with Ursula, and her presence in his life has changed his nature.  His head was turned as we’d say now.  Poor Vincent soon learned that this girl’s heart belonged to another and she was disdaining of him.  He didn’t give up and spent many months, watching her from the distance, went back to Holland, then back again to England, watching the house, waiting to catch her.  I think it’s called stalking in today speak.  Eventually he did catch her, coming out her house under a cloud of confetti.  That was it.  He went back home. 

One of Vincent’s uncles was called Vice Admiral Johannes Van Gogh, uncle Jan for short.  That makes me smile as I used to think my name – Jan – was a Dutch boys name.  I never liked my name.  The only thing that got me by was that the little Dutch boy by the name of Jan, was a hero.  He’d stopped a flood by putting his finger in the dyke.

I’ve never been to Holland.  I’ve never seen an original Vincent Van Gogh.  There are none of them in the Louvre, in Paris, where I have been.  I was fourteen.  More into the buskers playing My Sweet Lord and the painters by the Seine than Vincent in those days.  My tastes were simple.  Got my first taste of coffee there too.  One of my first impressions was the strong smell of coffee and French cigarettes.  No, not mine.  I didn’t smoke, then.  I valued my singing voice too much. 

Talking of singing, I need to practice my cornet.  Haven’t blown into it since last Friday, and if the competition goes ahead, it’s usually early March.  I pick it up from the floor where it sits, shining its brass bell at me, to remind me to practice.  I begin.  Oh, is that my tonsils I’ve just blown out. Back to Lust for Life.    

Lute Afoot

Nicky, our writing tutor said keep a Writer’s journal over the Christmas break and sent us three excerpts from writer’s journals – this an excerpt from mine – to help us along the way.  Virginia Woolf, Derek Jarman and Witold Gombrowicz.  In addition, alone, I’m studying the language of Shakespeare.  Think I’ve overloaded my mind.  If I’m not wakening through the night with potential entries for my journal I’m wakening up with other thoughts. 

For example, I awoke at three o’clock this morning, wondering how I could get my old battered mandolin and case into The Repair Shop for fixing.  I dictated silently in my sleep, well demi sleep, into an invisible Dictaphone all the where’s and why’s and who of this instrument’s life, in a bid to get it considered for repair.  It’s old, that’s for sure.  It was given to me years prior, after my dad died and upon my mum’s move to a smaller home.  It was stored up her attic and receiving no reprieve was then sent up mine.  It was such a highly strung manoeuvre. 

I never heard my father play the Mandolin, or even sing for that matter.  He whistled and he played the harmonica.  These simple skills besides, it was always implied that my dad was musical as were his side of the family.  His niece sang like an angel at a family wedding after all, intoning some authenticity to this tale.  I was inspired, took to singing folk songs and hymns from the hymn book, played chopsticks on my granny’s piano and eventually learned to blow my own trumpet.  This was all down to my dad.  

For years this four stringed (there should be eight), mellow-maker, has melodised my attic space, dramatising with the wedding china, transistor radio and the moth-eaten masterpiece.  My aim was always to have it restored but life didn’t allow for this luxury.  I had two young babes-in-arms to look after, I had an assignment with assurers, working on Nursing Officers and University staff pensions, using twelve by twelve calculators, A5 cards and cardboard sleeved folders, and I had my personal disorganisation with which to condescend.  Woe is me. 




Enter DUKE ORSINO, CURIO, and the other Lords; Musicians attending


If music be the food of love, play on;
Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken, and so die.
That strain again! it had a dying fall:

Sorry, I depress. 

So, whose was the mandolin?  I’d always thought it was my paternal grandfather’s, passed from him to my dad and then to me, but my mum, only very recently, gave me a little insight into the mandolin’s beginnings.  She thought it belonged to an aunt of my dad’s.  An aunt on his dad’s side.  She played in an orchestra, or something.  Did she live at Fairmilehead?  In a bungalow?  Memories were sketchy, as memories can be.  The human brain cannot retain everything photographically.  Most human brains anyhow. 

My sleepless, racing brain then went off on a tangent.  I needed to find out more about this mandolin before writing to Jay Blades, it whispered about ten times.  It’s funny how, when you’re meant to be sleeping but you’re not, you’re having a mind conversation, the dialogue lines in that conversation are repeated over and over.  As a result, the conversation takes ten times longer, sees you into daylight.  But how can one write a worthy story to Jay if one doesn’t have a handle on the story?  I needed to get it right. 

Today, I can tell you, I have two harmonicas, keyboard, a trumpet, a cornet, an electric guitar (my lad’s), two acoustic guitars, a child’s guitar, a ukulele, a chanter and tin whistle, a pair of maracas and a mandolin up in my attic. And yet they all gather dust.

Our granny must have been musical, my grandsons will perhaps say one day, when I’m gone and they have at least one of those instruments stored in their attic.  She could whistle a great tune. 

Dream Home

The dream, a home invaded.  It woke me up.  I must ask you at this point, have you ever felt like a tortoise?  I did, this morning on wakening, my head was tucked deep into my neck and a feeling of discomfort coming over me.  I stretched, rubbed my stiff shoulders, then remembered my dream.  I’d been attacked by a bee.  It stormed me then burrowed into my neck.  This dream was no doubt brought on by an occurrence last week, which has continued to torment my mind.  I omitted to note this in my writer’s journal at the time, but I now reflect on it.  It was a shock, rising, shuffling to the bathroom to happen on a bee sitting at the sink.  Honey I’m home, it honed in, buzz off I cried and ran.  Wasn’t sure if it was a wasp or a bee.  It was large                pregnant perhaps.  No couldn’t be.  The honey bee’s mating time is June to August, eggs laid not long after, possibly up to around two thousand a day. 

You may think it strange that, on awakening, I should start penning about tortoises and honey bees, but when you wake, your head retracted some way into your chin with the scent of beeswax around your person after having dreamt of an angry bee coming at you, all buzzes blazing, it has an almost supernatural feel to it and you need to jot it down.  Where had it come from?  The bee, I mean. Not the dream.  Bees don’t appear in December.  I came to wonder if it had been nesting in the eaves above, popping out at the feel of spring, the weather being almost sultry, spiralling in and down through the fan into the bathroom, looking for the first of the year’s nectar.

You’d have thought I was on the nectar when I made speed down the stairs, slipped, battered my hip off the last three steps before landing in an unsightly heap at the bottom, my arm clinging, too late as it turned out, to the banister.  That’s ok you may think, what’s she worried about, it was only three steps full, however, I was worried.   A youth challenged woman with osteoporosis has to worry about these things.  Her bones are brittle.  Now, if I had been a tortoise, I’d have been ok, a shell for a home, and no stairs.  Neither me or the bee had this level of protection.  Bumbling bee, not only lacking in shield but homeless also.      

I went a walk to scatter my cobwebs and to stop my limbs ceasing up.  Came across a small stone dwelling with a thorny pitched roof, doorless and two oblong windows, daylight shining through.  Being the curious person I am, I moved closer for a look.  There were signs of habitation.  An empty crisp bag, a mask, some fag ends too.  Was this the home of a hermit?  It was in a copse, close to the sight of what had been the Roslin Colliery and Brickworks.  It could have been a guardsman’s post, or an air raid shelter.  As I was ruminating a light wind blew a tentacle of thorny bush in my direction, catching my right ear, where a thorn pierced and took lodging.                

Who to help?  I’m isolated, but no from the corner of my eye, I see many lodgings.  New builds.  So many springing up.  Where do all the people come from?  And the deer?  Where do they go?  The deer are homeless, the fox and the squirrels all flung from homes in the surge of construction.  In affirmation of this, I spotted three deer on a grassy banking at the side of the City of Edinburgh Bypass.  Cool as you like, eating the grass, disregarding the hundreds of cars whizzing by.  I hope they stay safe. 

Some facts on bees:-               

Honey bees are descended from wasps.

Honey bees have hairy eyes.

Honey bees have five eyes.

The honey bee brain is sophisticated even though it’s the size of a grain of sugar.

Female bees can sting, but male bees cannot sting.

Bees have been trained as bomb detectors and can detect hidden landmines.   

The latter are the bee’s knees. 

Albert Einstein said ‘if the bee disappeared off the face of the earth, man would only have four years to live’ which is why I didn’t immediately pelt my insect dead.  If said insect was a bee and not a wasp then I’d be committing an act of terrorism against the eco system.  I know, I shouldn’t be killing wasps either, but I’m frightened of their ferocity, especially in a confined space.  Nowhere to run.  And I couldn’t just leave it there, eyeing up my bare bum? 

Leo Tolstoy said ‘Bee to the blossom, moth to the flame; each to his passion; what’s in a name.’ So, tortoise neck, what the heck, straighten that spine, and grasp the sublime.    

Facets of Glass

On this day, the 28th December, 2021, I turn to my phone and click play.  I have music.  I’ve downloaded Facets of Glass, 1984, Gordon Langford.  PSB’s contest piece for the Scottish Championship in March.  We’re now in the third division and the heat is on.  I must listen, listen and listen to this piece and ingrain it into my head, so I can play with conviction.

I’ve taken the opportunity on this inclement day, (it’s peeing down) a day which holds no demands on my time, to work.  I’m in my office.  My office is merely the wee room where my grandchildren sleep when they come for sleepovers.  Not ideal, and not really an office as such, but it’s the smallest room and it makes sense.  The library is upstairs in the attic.  I’d love my office there, as I love attic spaces, but it’s too cold right now.  Why, I wonder, do I like attic spaces so much?  I’m not sure.  All I know is I’ve always been lured by an attic, whereas my sister refuses to go up an attic.  Ann Frank, who led me on my research of Jews, to learn their horrendous stories, spent time in an attic.  I remember watching the film, being disturbed by it and so talking about it with my dad, who I once thought was from Jewish stock.    

My Penicuik born dad.  He was a character.  And now my mother and he are together again after thirty-seven years.  He died in 1984.  I remember my mum asking, not that long ago, how would my dad recognise her when she joined him in the afterlife as she was an old lady and he’d still be a relatively young man?  I told her that all time would vanish with the passing into this other plain and not to worry, he would know her.  I’m not sure what she thought of that answer and I’m not even sure what does really happen once you die.  I believed in the afterlife once, but age and experience have confused my views.  I do hope they are together though.    

I can’t believe I was sixty-five last week.  I’m an old lady.  I’m not an old lady.  I’m getting on, turning old, stiffening up a bit, but I refuse to let my mind age.  I’m wakening up, after eight months of grieving my mum.  I have to let go of the guilt.  My mum knew I loved her and that I would miss her greatly, and I do.  This is not going to vanish in a mere eight months.  I love her, and my dad, and I thank them both for a wonderful childhood.  They kept us safe, taught us good manners, but showed us humour and love without being demonstrative.  I am now my mum of my family.  I am the matriarch.  I must pick up.

I click play.  Doo do do doo.        

Would you like

Would you like a cup of tea

a smile a nod, a movement from me

takes me through to the tea jenny jar

where the kettle, the teapot and teabags are

Chamomile tea will do for me

a soothing scented cup of calm

to take me back, to the me I should be

not this bilious, jumpy Jimjan

Would you like a cup of tea

I’ve a scrumptious cake from Sainsbury

or a special treat, a Cadbury sweet

please dig in and find your favourite

I would like to sit quiet with you

watch a programme, perhaps that one

home in the country, with lovely views

or we could sit outside, enjoy the sun

Would you like a cup of tea

or coffee, or chocolate, or how about all three

don’t look like that, it’s just a bit of fun

where’s your sense of humour my honey bun

I would like to laugh, to feel good

but life has turned, I’m sad and I’m down

humour has left me I’m not in the mood

leave me in my pit, with my able frown

Would you like a cup of tea

Or how about coffee she says to me

there’s cake and there’s biscuits too many by far

we can sip and chat, just as we are

I would like to go back to the day

to before you left us, taken gently

I’d laugh and joke, have so much to say

how I miss that cup of tea.   

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