RIP Alistair Alpin Innes

When I was ordained one of the first things my dad said to me was: “Jolly good, darling. Can I book you for my funeral now? Is it free to family?” (Actually it’s free to all but don’t tell him that.) For seventeen years he’s been in a Care Home with dementia and over the years we have chatted about his funeral. He’d chosen his hymns: Courage Brother Do Not Stumble and the Lord’s My Shepherd. The first one we’d never heard before but I understand it is well known in CofS circles. Dad used to sing it in the choir at Howgate Kirk in his youth and promised he’d sing the bass line from his coffin. The organist at the Crematorium said she’d play loudly and sing a long, which she did. Vigorously. We’d written down his life story as he remembered it and this is the eulogy I gave yesterday:

On the 11th April 1929 Alistair was born in Polmont to Georgina and John Innes. He had an older brother Ian, now deceased, and a younger brother Ronnie. A few years ago we all asked dad for his memories and his life story but bearing in mind he had dementia, we can’t verify all of the facts as you will hear them. If you knew him, you will know my dad was not averse to telling a good story so there is a chance that some of this may be entering the realms of fantasy but we think it is true.

His father taught at the Borstal in Polmont and then moved to be Head of the Wellington School near Penicuik. Dad remembers Penicuik seemed huge compared to Polmont. He passed his 11+ and went to Lasswade Senior Secondary and I asked him what he wanted to be when he left school. “Free of school!” was his reply. He proudly told me he started smoking at the age of seven, and pinched apples from the Headmaster’s garden and came close to being expelled for smoking in the back of the Latin class. He loved cricket and rugby and in his 4th year was made Captain of the Rugby Team. It was at school that he met my mum, Isobel, and they started going out together. I think that involved her mostly standing on the edge of a field in Penicuik watching him play rugby.

Dad and tiger moth 1952When he left school he did his National Service, first at Glencorse Barracks where he could go home every night, and then Aldershot for basic drill and then Southampton in the Royal Army Medical Corps where he trained to be a Physiotherapist. After his National Service he joined the RAF in Cranwell for officer training as a pilot and was posted for two years to Rhodesia, Kenya and Nairobi where he flew Chipmunks and Harvards. However he was invalided out for flying a plane upside down without a seat-belt, fracturing his skull and thereafter blacking out when he reached a certain height.
He loved being in the RAF – they were some of his happiest memories – and met Princess Margaret when she attended the passing out parade. Dad was delegated to dance with her, which he did – a quickstep, we’re told.

In 1954 he married my mum Isobel at St Mungo’s church in Penicuik. She worked as a mum and dadNursery Nurse in Edinburgh and he would pick her up on his Matchless motorbike and take her home for lunch and back, all in an hour! No helmets in those days and they were once stopped by the police and dad was given a ticking off for going so fast with a pillion passenger. He also once took a corner too tight and they crashed. His bike ended up in a ditch and mum on the verge. She put out her hand for him to help her up but he ran straight past her to his bike. In his defence, he did say he thought it might burst into flames.

He went back to the Wellington briefly to keep his friend Bob Crocket’s job of PT Instructor open for him when he went off to get his qualifications. Dad teaching PT! Imagine that!

There now follows a long list of jobs, not necessarily in the right order…
He went to work with the British Engine Insurance Company as an Underwriter. Then he became an apprentice Quantity Surveyor for two years but never finished his qualifications. He worked for Procter & Gamble, joining as a Rep so he could get a car, but they gave him a Ford Popular which he said he hated. With his friend Dougie Crombe they left and set up a business Innes and Crombe in Stafford Street selling costume jewellery and Scottish goods. According to my birth certificate I think I was born then when mum and dad lived in a flat in Morningside which coincided with him getting the new Ford Anglia which he loved. He joined the Scotsman as an Ad Manager where he met a lifelong friend Ali Ross.

Mum, Dad and I moved to Kingsknowe and they quickly made friends with the neighbours. My sister Carol came along and the family seemed complete. Then Dad met File 11-04-2017, 20 50 54Barbara at the Ideal Home Exhibition in Aberdeen and fell in love again. Mum and Dad got divorced and Dad insisted that his old family and new one should all get along. So Dad took my mum along for lunch on the day of their divorce to have lunch with Barbara at the Caledonian Hotel. Mum said that neither she nor Barbara could eat for nerves, but Dad tucked in to his beloved smoked salmon and kept the conversation going. And Mum and Barbara did indeed become good friends.

By this time Dad had found a new interest – advertising – and he worked for Nevin de Hurst in Walker Street. They moved to Kilmaurs Road in Newington and Lesley and Joanne came along. Lesley spent a lot of her early years in a plaster cast to keep her hips in place and he’d gaily swing her from the bar between her legs. Not recommended by the hospital, by the way.

Dad was asked to open a new branch of Dixon Compton, part of the Saatchi Group, in Leeds. They moved to live in Knaresborough and my sister Carol remembers going down to visit during the holidays and dad picking us up in an old Humber Super Snipe.
“Do you want to go faster?” he’d say.
And we’d shout “Yes!”
“Then hold on to your tin hats, put your feet in a sand bucket and I’ll tell you a story about the desert,” he’d say as he put his foot to the floor.
“And don’t tell Barbara!”
Carol says we reached the giddy speed of 105mph, all sitting on the bench front seat with not a seat belt in sight.
The family moved back to Currie when dad took over Dixon Compton Advertising Agency in George Street. These were his hey days, his cars became bigger and faster. Oh how he loved his cars. His business entertaining took him most days to the Café Royal and he was always a very generous host.

Eventually he opened his own business in Rutland Square doing advertising and File 11-04-2017, 20 52 30marketing. His clients included Peter Scott Knitwear, the Borders Development Agency, Glayva (Oh how we had fun making up Glayva cocktails for that one!), Head and Shoulders and the rumour is that Dad came up with the phrase ‘Pick up a Penguin.’
Lesley has memories of going to do secretarial work for him there. Unfortunately Dad was a little too trusting with people and his company folded when the Accountant was rather creative with his finances.

Undeterred Dad planned his next venture – and there were many. Waterless toilets featured heavily, I seem to remember. He’d meet someone in the pub who had a good idea and off he’d go on his next new business opportunity. For a few years he worked for his friend Blair at Edinburgh Cameras; and his son-in-law doing anything and everything from putting up suspended ceilings to marketing the business. Dad and Barbara separated and he moved into a flat in Haymarket.

Then in 2000 after a series of mini-strokes he had a big stroke – just the week before my finals at Edinburgh University. Quite quickly he recovered physically but we noticed that things were just not quite right. He’d had to give up his driving license when he had the mini strokes but he seemed to have forgotten this. “I’ve left my car in the car park,” he’d say when we visited. “The keys are on the dashboard.”  “No Dad,” we’d say. “You sold your car, remember?” But he never remembered that. And every time we visited, every single time, the subject of his car came up. Right up until he lost consciousness two weeks ago he was asking Joanne where his car was and did she have the keys. “They’re right here, dad,” she said. “In my bag.” And he’d relax.

He was diagnosed with vascular dementia and we realised that he wouldn’t be able to look after himself again. He went into the Tower Care Home at Murrayfield where Steve then Veronica became his Care Worker and he settled in. His short-term memory was gone, he kept forgetting his mother was dead, but he seemed quite happy. He did escape once and was found at the Ellersly Hotel across the road, having ordered a large gin, and reporting his car had been stolen. Luckily one member of staff recognised him from the family meals we had there and he was escorted back to the Tower.

File 11-04-2017, 20 50 33A few years ago the Tower closed and Dad moved to Drumbrae Care Home. Sadly, a few weeks ago he had a fall and broke three ribs which brought on pneumonia and he was taken into the Royal but it was too late and nothing could be done. He died peacefully on the 8th April, just three days short of his 88th birthday.

Really we lost our dad seventeen years ago when he had that first big stroke.
We lost his ‘life and soul of the party’ personality;
his loud infectious laugh;
his ambition and determination to be successful;
his short-term memory;
his unfailing generosity.
But occasionally we got glimpses of his wicked sense of humour as he continued to crack jokes and make cheeky remarks at inappropriate times.

Our dad was always late, never remembered a birthday unless one of his wives reminded him, and often forgot our names and we were introduced as Daughter No 1, 2, 3 or 4. He was a romantic, loved all women and was an outrageous flirt, to our eternal embarrassment when we were young. He loved his daughters, I have no doubt of that, and would have preferred that my sister Carol and I had daughters instead of sons.
He never really knew what to do with his grandsons Craig, Gareth, Davy and Stevie but I know he loved them and always asked what they were up to. Then Joanne produced his beloved granddaughter Hannah and he was over the moon. He had two precious years with Hannah as a baby before he had his stroke. Joanne remembers that he’d often arrive at her house, mid-afternoon, when she was still in her pyjamas, saying he was ‘just passing’ (which he wasn’t) and he would take over and send her off for a shower in peace and quiet. Hannah and Dad adored each other.

Our Dad had a passion for:File 11-04-2017, 20 49 08
classic cars;
classical music;
good old fashioned manners – he always stood up when a lady entered the room – it just took longer lately;
smoked salmon;
gin (with just a dash of water);
his elder brother Ian, who was also his best friend;
and the finer things in life.
And of course he will live on in all of us who follow as we each have inherited some of those genes, and I’ll leave you to work out which we each have.

He battled illness over the past seventeen years and bounced back time after time, against the odds. From his hospital bed he would grin and say, “I’ve got more damage to do yet.” But this time it was just too much, even for him.

Alistair Innes, our dad, a much loved father, brother, grandad, uncle, and friend to many of you. Today we are here to say goodbye to a man who touched all of our lives. So let us give thanks for dad’s life, and look forward with hope to what is to come. Eternal life.
This is the hope that we hold, and it’s in this hope, that we commend his soul to God, who created him in love and now receives him, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

And now in a moment’s silence I ask you to bring to mind your own memories of Alistair, and give thanks for his life and love…

My baby got married

One of the greatest joys in this job is being part of those big moments in people’s lives.  And it is especially joyful when those people are part of your own family.

On Saturday my eldest son Craig married Vicky, the light of his life. It has been planned since the beginning of the year and early on it was clear that this would be a wedding with a difference. For my son is not what you might call conventional and we love him for that. However it did make the planning just a little chaotic which does not always sit well with this control freak.

The liturgy was poured over and my wordsmith son had considerable input when it came to names for the deity. From the beginning they wanted to write their own vows but as the day got closer the vows were not forthcoming. It was only the day before that they arrived and were so beautiful that they instantly made me cry. Craig loves the sea and sailing so that was a theme throughout the day and also in their vows:

Vicky said to Craig:

I vow to always remain your anchor, to bring you stability in a chaotic world
I promise to be a safe harbour for you, through the highs and the low tides, to guide you through stormy seas to calm waters
And I vow to remain by your side on our adventure as we grow old together.
And Craig said to Vicky:
I promise to always fight my way back to you from dark mountains, valleys and seas
I promise to recognise the light in you, when the darkness is blinding
You are my lighthouse and my siren, and I will always come to your song.
The wedding was small and informal. No organist, no hymns. Vicky came down the aisle on her mum’s arm to the theme from the film The Life Aquatic and later we all sangalong to Kooks by David Bowie. Craig read two beautiful love poems to Vicky and everyone sighed.
Even my lovely sister who suffers from agoraphobia managed to dope herself up sufficiently to come and sit at the back, along with her son Stevie who suffers from CRPS and although he was in horrendous pain he managed to stay for the ceremony. I know Craig and Vicky were surprised and delighted they were able to be there.
Then some of their closest friends trotted down to the Voodoo Rooms (used to be the Café Royal) for a wonderful meal and my youngest son Gareth gave a hilarious best-man speech. Unfortunately the noise from the wedding next door was such that we didn’t hear all the jokes. And then we hit the dance floor and more friends arrived to share in the joy.
I didn’t stay long after that. Three glasses of Pinot Grigio was just too much on top of all that adrenalin! It was a gorgeous day, not without its mishaps, but a day which I shall never forget.

Christmas past and present

So, as ever, one of my New Year Resolutions might be to blog more and as thoughts of Christmas past and present have been whirling round my head for the past week, let me share them.

My childhood memories are of desperately waiting to go through to the lounge to open those parcels under the tree. Dear old mum loved to have a long lie so there was always the worry that she wouldn’t want to get up and let us in to the lounge. And my sister Carol would never go in first in case Santa was still there so we hovered in the hall coughing loudly. Eventually mum got up and gathered her notebook and pencil to record everyone we opened, taking turns but peeking through gaps in the wrappings to get a hint of what was therein. Of course Carol knew most of hers already for she had been snooping in the top of mum’s wardrobe for weeks but I was always happy to wait for the surprise.

After the pillow cases were emptied and the tangerines and shiny Macintosh Red apples discarded in favour of Selection Boxes and chocolate treats, and the wrappings put in the bin, the serious work of reading or playing began. After breakfast, and I don’t remember what we had but it certainly wasn’t anything resembling smoked salmon, we had to get dressed for Christmas lunch. This was a grand affair when Dad came to pick us up andCafe Royal we opened more presents before heading off to the Cafe Royal where Grandma, Barbara, his current wife, and Lesley and Joanne (our half-sisters) all gathered sharing lists of what we’d got.

The Cafe Royal was probably the most grand restaurant in Edinburgh in those days and we’d always have a table in the Crown Room. There would be luxury crackers to pull and beautiful gifts for the women. That’s when the serious eating of smoked salmon began although I do remember Dad occasionally have scrambled egg on toast if he’d been overdoing the dining out. Dad was always adamant that both families and both wives got on and Mum and Barbara went along with it and did indeed seem to get on although, looking back, it can’t have been easy for mum to be brought face to face with the newer model.

When I became a mum of two little boys some traditions remained the same. The pillow case became a proper Santa Sack but the orange and apple remained and the notebook always came out to make a list ready for thank-you letters. Mum came to us for Christmas and helped make lunch, a more informal affair round the dining table with no white-aproned waiters in sight. Breakfast might be smoked salmon and a wee Croft Original sherry, or maybe a bacon roll.

Then ordination changed all of that. The boys were growing up but still around but Mum died in 2006 and I was left to make the food myself. Friends who know me will also know that cooking is not one of my gifts. Heating things in a microwave is my gift but cooking things and having them all ready at the same time is definitely not one of my gifts and charisms. And I was exhausted. I was so busy in the week leading up to Christmas that I sometimes didn’t get to the shops until the last turkey was gone and there was not a potato to be found.  One son was a fussy eater and the other had cordon bleu tastes so there was never an agreement on what we should eat. One year I remember a fridge full of lobsternibbles and savouries and only a lobster platter from Marks and Spencer as a main course.

For a few years it fell to Son #1 to make the food but as he and Son #2 had often been up late drinking the night before they never felt like cooking or eating until about 7pm. By that time I’d done about 14 services over the past few days and made so many bacon rolls to see me through I never felt like eating and was ready to go to bed by 6.30pm.

Then Son #1 decided he’d rather have Christmas with his new partner, and who can blame him? And we were left, the two of us, who really didn’t like the same food as each other. He didn’t want to get up early to open presents before I went off to do the Christmas day services but I was desperate to see what Santa had brought. No sherry for breakfast when you’ve got the Holy Mysteries to see to and bed was only a few short hours before. Midnight Mass can really up the adrenaline levels and it takes hours for me to come back to earth after the high. No sleep for me before about 4am. And so I come back from the Christmas Day eucharist and Son #2 is still in bed and reluctant to leave his cosy pit and share the love of the baby Jesus.

A few years ago we made a splendid decision to have a Chinese carry-out for our Christmas meal. I can’t believe we hadn’t thought of it before. It was the perfect solution for we both loved Chinese food and I didn’t have to cook it. And it worked beautifully. Until last year… the Chinese restaurant decided to close for Christmas Day. We phoned every Chinese carry-out in town and not one of them was open. That year we had a plateful of chipolatas and some sausage rolls. Oh how we laughed.

This year I actually planned ahead and no Chinese restaurant could be found. I asked Son #2 what he’d like instead and he said the only meal he could remember that I’d ever cooked which was edible was a slow-cooker stew so that’s what we had. I put it on after the Midnight Mass and it was really tasty at 5pm. (The veg were pre-packed and the gravy came from a bottle.) This was also the Year of the Lindt overload as I’d casually lindor-003.jpgmentioned my love of Lindt chocolate and I received rather a surfeit. 8 boxes in fact, not to mention the Thorntons boxes of chocs. That did nicely for breakfast and lunch.

What I failed to do this year was get that old notebook out to write down the presents for the thank-you letters. So thank you, dear friends, for all those lovely presents. I love them all, even if I can’t quite remember who gave what.

Ordination really messes with your Christmas folks. Unless you have a lovely spouse who happens to enjoy taking care of that kind of thing, it can be a messy business and a stipend doesn’t quite stretch to dining out in the Cafe Royal, although I hear its not quite the same these days. So spare a thought for the poor children of clergy who don’t get to open presents at a reasonable hour and have to eat stew on Christmas day after mum has snored her way through the afternoon movie and is ready to go back to bed at 7pm.

New Year Revolutions 2015

Jumping on the blogging bandwagon of making some New Year resolutions (though Revolutions sounds more fun) for 2015. You should know that I am not very good at keeping them, however. Last year, or was it the year before, I made a resolution not to buy any more books until I’d read the all the unread ones I have. That lasted until May. And I still have a 6ft bookcase outside my study which is positively bulging with unread books. So that brings me to my first revolution:

books and coffeeReading
This year I shall put in my diary some time for reading. For the past few months it has taken me 4 weeks to read our book group offering and occasionally I can fit in another one but I read two pages in bed and fall asleep. As for reading theology and books to feed sermons… pathetic!  So this year I shall put some time blocked out in my diary and not feel guilty at all about reading. Which leads me neatly on to my next one…

Sabbatical
From 14 April to 14 July I shall be taking my first Sabbatical. 12 weeks of time away from the parish to restore, refresh and renew myself and ministry. For years I’ve wanted to put together a Lent Book/Blog using a piece of art each day with a meditation. I am a visual person and really look forward to gazing at lovely paintings and matching them with meditations for the 40 days of Lent. I’ve taken some advice and have been told New York and Washington are the places to go to see great art so that’s where I’m headed. Then perhaps some time in Gladstone’s Library for putting it all together. My Bishop tells me there must be some rest in there too and I’m not arguing with that. Of course this is all dependent on getting some Grants to help finance it so if you know of anyone who can help…

Health and Fitness
I know! Can you believe I even have considered including this? Last year was not a great year for health but was much improved when I was sent for Pulmonary Rehab at the hospital. 6 weeks of exercise and diet left me feeling so much better and my plan is to carry on with that in the new year. I’ve been referred to the local gym and some lycra may even be purchased. Steady, Ruth! I also have liver disease (of the non-alcoholic kind, she quickly added) and was given a scary warning about losing weight (not before time, I may add) so I need to continue to eat cottage cheese and resist all cakes and biscuits on church premises. I will need your help in this, so if you see me reaching for a wee slice of malteser cake you have permission to smack my hand.

Miscellaneous
I’d like to say I will spend more time keeping my study tidy and organising it better, spending more time visiting family and friends, learning how to crochet, avoiding wasting time on stupid computer games, spending less money on purple Purple-Leather-Handbaghandbags (how many purple handbags does one woman need? really?), making time for mutual support with clergy friends, tidying up my computer files which have been desperately needing doing since I got new computer and can’t find anything, blogging more on topical issues, not leaving my tax return till the last minute, etc etc. I’d like to do all these things but suspect they are an annual hope which take more effort than I’ve ever given. Maybe this year… Oh, and stopping smoking again. Yeh that.

Ian Innes MBE RIP

A few weeks ago my Uncle Ian died. He was my day’s elder brother (by one year) and they were very close. Ian and his wife Marie lived in Headingly, Leeds and used to come up several times a year to spring Dad out of the Twilight Home for the Bewildered and take us all out for a lovely lunch. Ian and Marie were great characters, having lived and worked for many years in Kuwait, with great stories and love for us all. We always enjoyed their visits.

Sadly, just over a year ago, Ian was diagnosed with Alzheimers. Last year was their last visit to Edinburgh and it was shocking to see how quickly he was forgetting things. There was dad with dementia who hasn’t improved or got worse really since his diagnosis 14 years ago, and within months Ian was forgetting us so quickly.

Ian’s wife Marie is a Roman Catholic and decided that they should move house into sheltered accommodation where they could have help on hand. Marie’s church is a convent which has rooms and all the help she needed so they moved in there. But within six months Ian was too much for her to look after and he had to go into the Nursing Home part of the convent where she could visit him every day.

Then he died peacefully with Marie, nuns and a priest by his side. It was a comfort for Marie and I’m sure for Ian, if he was aware. My sisters and I and my youngest son were able to go to the funeral last week which was held in the chapel of the convent. Marie had told her priest, Fr Dan, that I too was a priest and he asked if I would like to take part in the funeral. It was a generous ecumenical offer and so I took my robes.

Fr Dan and I met the coffin at the door of the convent and I noticed that all the nuns had come to watch and pay respect. We processed in with the coffin behind us and as I turned I realised that it was not the undertakers wheeling the coffin in but four of the eldest nuns. It was really so beautiful to see. The chapel was full with standing room only, Marie was brave and dignified, and the overwhelming scent of lilies were in the air. I had been asked to do a reading and the Commendation which was an honour and privilege.

After the funeral the family went on to the Crematorium while the guests tucked into the ‘purvey’ waiting till we returned. At the Crem Fr Dan asked if I would do the prayers. He really was exceedingly gracious to me and I know it meant a lot to Marie.

It was good to leave Marie knowing that in her mourning she will be looked after and cared for my the clergy and nuns in the convent.

Our journey home by train was a complete and utter disaster, but that’s another story!

Rest in peace, Uncle Ian. May the angels lead you by the hand into paradise, a place where there is no more sorrow.

DadIan 2009

Ian on the left and Dad singing, I think, on the right!

In which Ruth ponders her dad’s Life Story

There has been a project on the go now for a number of years in which old folk in homes are encouraged to put together (with help) their Life Story. The Twilight Home in which my dad lives has just got around to doing this with the inmates residents. A lovely volunteer sat down with dad one afternoon and filled in the book of his life – and very amusing it was too. 

For readers who don’t know, my father has dementia. Not Alzheimers, but dementia brought on by a series of strokes. This manifests itself in various ways: he knows who we are but doesn’t always remember our names (but then he never did and we were often introduced as numbers – I am No 1 Daughter); he doesn’t initiate conversations and dislikes questions as they tend to be a test of his memory; his short-term memory is lousy but his long-term memory is not too bad; if he doesn’t know something he has a tendency to confabulate, ie make up something plausible; he pouches food he doesn’t like (like a hamster) which means he eats very slowly because his cheeks are bulging and nothing else will fit in. (Note: he never does the latter with smoked salmon.)

Dad and tiger moth 1952The volunteer had to ask dad about his memories of childhood, school, family, homes, jobs, cars, things he liked and disliked, influential people and friends, spirituality and faith, and jokes. What an interesting read it was too! Most of it was factual but there were some delightful insights into our Walter Mitty papa. At my last visit I had to ‘red pen’ considerable chunks of it and we spent a lovely few hours adding some more memories which I was able to trigger for him. 

I also learned that Dad has spent his first twelve years near here in Polmont. I always knew he was born near there but hadn’t realised that he had lived her for quite so long. He remember where he lived (9 Whitesideloan) and went to Wallace Stone Primary which still exists. He said he’d love go back there some day to see what its like now so I’m planning to do that soon. 

Dad’s cars were a great source of conversation and it is probably a blessing that he hasn’t been able to drive for many years now. I remember vividly as children sitting on his knee being allowed to steer the car and encouraging him to go faster, faster. And he never wore a seat-belt. On journeys we played many car games – counting makes of cars, counting baths in fields (what happened to baths in fields?), guessing when a mile was up, etc. Who needs computer games? We reminisced about his Daimler Sovereign, Ford Capri, Humber Super Snipe, and the one which had a long seat in the front. Anyone remember what they were called? (Just before the Capri.)

So if you should ever read my Dad’s Life Story please take it with a pinch of salt. Especially the bit about his many wives. Not all of it might be true.

In which Ruth takes a trip down memory lane to Penicuik

So my sister and I go out to Kirkhill cemetery in Penicuik to lay a wreath at mum’s grave. There’s something about cemeteries in Scotland – they all seem to be on the top of hills or in exposed places where the wind blows and the snow falls. Sometimes we drive right up to the grave and hurl the flowers/wreath out onto the ground without getting out the car, it is so cold. This Christmas we were a bit braver and got out and tethered the wreath to the concrete flower-pot lest it be whisked away up the Pentland hills at the first gale.

The road into Penicuik had been really busy so we decided to go home by another road. Carol tells me that there are plans to demolish granny’s old mill cottage so we decided to go and have a look at it before that happens. And there it is.

cottage frontFor all the years of our childhood my sister and I spent most of our holidays here with granny in this cottage. It is at the foot of Kirkhill in Penicuik and used to be a tied cottage for the paper mill over the road. There are garages on either side which looked after the carts for the horses, then lorries, then cars, and now derelict I think. To us now it looked so small. The room to the left of the front door was the ‘front room’ – the room which was always cold and always tidy. It was the room the minister or any visitors were taken into. There was a piano where I learned to pick out tunes by ear (and yes, I used my fingers too!). The room at the right of the door was the ‘front bedroom’ where Carol and I slept in a huge, high double bed with a bolster pillow. It was a very scary bedroom with a large cupboard which had no door but a curtain in front of it. That’s where the ghosts lived. We knew this for a fact because the curtain moved sometimes and scared the heebeegeebies out of us.

When my mother was a child aged about 7 she contracted TB of the stomach from drinking unpasteurised milk. This would be during the war and she couldn’t be taken to the City Hospital in Edinburgh where infectious cases were sent, because it was being used for soldiers. Instead she was put into the front bedroom and they transformed it into a kind of sanatorium by removing the window completely and letting the fresh air in all day and night. How this cures a child of TB I’m not quite sure but that was how it happened. For months. And months. During the day men from the mill would come to the window and chat to her while she did her jigsaws on the huge counterpane or reading her books.

So as Carol and I peered through the windows, we remembered the stories. The gates at either side of the house were long gone so we decided to go and look round the back. Would grandad’s aviary still be standing? The place where the hens scratched? The stick house? The swing? The dyke covered in snow-in-summer where the huge wasps’ nest was?

Round the side and back it was all overgrown with plants and weeds and trees. No sign of the outhouses or the swing – just a broken greenhouse.    Cottage rear And it was so small. The yard at the back door where we played every day was tiny! The dyke was only up to my shoulder but when I was little it had seemed so high. There were the steps where we had our photo taken with the leprechauns which mum brought back from a holiday in Ireland. The garden sloped upwards to open fields where we disappeared for hours on end during those long hot summers. Pictures of a brown catsuit with yellow jumper came into my mind’s eye. (And you wonder why I wear nothing but black and purple today?)

But where was the hut? The hut had been built by grandad for his own two daughters: my mum and aunt. He must have built it in the late 1930s at the top of the garden. It was really a play-house, not a hut, but that was what we called it. When I was a child it contained an old comfy chair where I’d sit for hours reading anything and everything. There was an old gramophone just like the one on the HMV logo with a large trumpet which we wound up and listened to ‘I tot I saw a Puddy Tat;’ I’m a Pink Toothbrush, You’re a Blue Toothbrush’; Joan Sutherland singing ‘The Maid of the Mountains’ and other such delights.

There was no sign of the hut. But of course, it would be over 80 years old and unlikely to be still standing. “What’s that blue thing over there?” Carol asked. But we both agreed the hut hadn’t been that far away. Or had it? Could it be the hut? The hut where I read and we played and cousins came for tea? The hut where my mother had played? The hut which sheltered us from summer showers? But we fought our way through the undergrowth and manoeuvred our way up the slippery and mossy steps, being whipped by branches and wet leaves, before we stood before the hut. It was still there!

Hut

Our hut! Still standing but smaller than we remembered. OK everything was smaller than we remembered. We were so pleased to find it. So pleased to find a place with so many happy memories of long, hot summers and making jam, and learning to sew, and sticking a needle in Auntie Jean’s nose (serves her right for standing over me when sewing), and adventures up the Targets (yes, I think people shot guns there!), and taking Sooty for walks; and plucking chickens, and gathering eggs, and lying in the grass trying to whistle with it.

In fact I surprised myself with how happy those times seem considering they were practically in the countryside. Readers will know that these days I twitch dreadfully the further I get from concrete. But they were fun. It will be sad when the old cottage is demolished. But you can’t take away the memories. They last forever. Well, until I get dementia!

Good service costs nothing

Last week I had two experiences of bad service, both in completely different spheres, but both leaving a really bad taste in my mouth.

The first was my birthday meal at Gambero Rosso in Falkirk. (Yes, let’s name and shame them.) I’d heard it was a really nice Italian restaurant and when Son #2 asked where I’d like to go for a birthday meal I suggested there so he booked a table. Three of us arrived on time and stood for a good 5 minutes at the desk waiting to be seated. There was nobody there and although waiters glanced over from time to time, they were all busy and ignored us. Eventually a man, who might have been a manager, came over and barked, “Yes?”  We told him we’d booked and in silence he walked off to a table. We followed and sat down. No, he didn’t hold out chairs or flip out napkins in a showy manner.  Another long wait before menus were produced, and an even longer wait before a waiter came to take our order.  “You want wine?”  So Son #2 has a look at the wine list. I suggest the house wine might be fine, to which the waiter responded, “Pinot Grigio?” (Turns out that this is not the house wine but considerable dearer.) The wine eventually arrived but the waiter had difficulty opening it, in fact the cork broke. He persevered at the side of the table getting little bits of cork out, before skulking off to open it at the bar. This is all done in silence. I watched him dig it out and give the bottle a wipe of cork debris before bringing it back and pouring it into my glass for tasting. I did and it was sour. So I asked for anther bottle which he brought. All of this is done with no conversation whatsoever. The meal itself was okay, nothing to write home about. Portions were small. We decided not to stay for dessert or coffee but waiting for about half an hour after getting the bill before Son #2 eventually took it to the bar to pay. Needless to say, we won’t be going back there again. And no, we didn’t leave a tip.

The second incident was at the hospital visiting a woman who was dying. Her family were gathered around her bed in a single room and had been with her day and night for a couple of days. “What are the doctors saying?” I asked. Then they explained that the doctor had taken her off all food and medication apart from pain relief, although they didn’t really know why. And that ever since they hadn’t seen a doctor. Oh they did do their rounds but stood outside the room with a bunch of young doctors telling her story but never venturing into the room and never explaining anything to the family. It was almost as if they had washed their hands of her now that she was approaching death. I’ve seen this happen before, especially with the elderly. (And yes, I know not all consultants behave in this way, but I’d say the majority do.) Far too often people who are ill and their relatives are told nothing. They have to ask to make appointments with the doctor – and usually it is the junior ones who are sent – to find out what is going on with their treatment. Praise is always given to the nurses, however. This family said they had been super, kind and popped in frequently to turn their mum and make sure she was comfy. But they are always so busy, and sometimes people get forgotten. And that’s the worse thing about being in hospital, isn’t it? Thinking that you’ve been forgotten, or are a nuisance. I’m sure doctors don’t mean to be so rude, but perhaps someone could point out to them that by not coming in to the bedside and actually speaking to the patient or family, they are causing untold upset and needless worry.

Good service costs nothing.

Rita kitten and the Sacrament of the Present Moment

Rita kitten has joined the rectory household and our lives have changed immeasurably. My life has changed because I have become a mother to a lively 8 week old bundle of tortoise fluff who delights in climbing up my legs at any opportune, and inopportune moments. My nose and eyes have been thoroughly investigated and a trail of blood drops follow me around as the wounds of climbing expeditions and wrestling matches slowly heal to make way for a new batch. Who needs to watch the Olympics when you have a kitten around? We have our own long jump, high jump, earring swinging, running up legs, boxing rats on springs, squeezing through tunnels and under sofas, patting balls and hop, skip and jumping just for fun.

Lucy Pussy’s life has changed because she is not happy with this small creature invading her space. This is rather unfortunate as we had hoped that they would be company for one another. So far there has just been hissing and a low growling and they haven’t yet been allowed together in the same room without the wee one being in her pet carrier. But we are doing what the book says and taking it slowly, introducing them for a few hairy moments each day (at a safe distance).

Son #2’s life has changed because he now is told to take tortoise fluff when he comes in from work to give mummy a rest. All of our computer speakers are now on the floor in amongst a tangle of cables and much has been produced from under bookcases and drawers. (Not always nice things.)

As I watched Rita kitten last night it occurred to me that she was absolutely living in the moment. She will sleep where she drops (on the bookcase, under the table, in the pet carrier, on the back of my neck…) and when she is awake she is completely engrossed in what is currently taking her attention. She will play with a ball for ages and then move on to the scratchy post with dangly pom-pom then investigate each of my five fingers and their bitability before moving on to intense scrutiny of my nostril and then eye-lid. Each moving part is focused on with such attention. Her own back leg can amuse for a good few moments and I can’t wait until she discovers her tail. The bookcase with the glass door and the shiny fire place surround have caused great amusement as she catches her reflection and flies at it with a resounding thud and embarrassed look. But the sideways startled leap into the air with all four paws off the ground amuses me most. (You can’t be depressed with a kitten around.)

We have tried to photograph her but she just doesn’t sit still long enough. I think I need an action camera or something. So I have many shots of an empty space or her bottom. Our lives have certainly changed for the better and I have definitely enjoyed living in the moment with her. (I have even forgiven the pee on my duvet and then feather bed, all parcelled up to go to the cleaner later today.)  I fear I am indeed turning into an old cat lady, or at the very least Mrs Slocombe continually talking about my pussies.

I thirst

There is a horrendous story in today’s papers about a young man who died in a London hospital from dehydration. Throughout a catalogue of disasters and omissions by the hospital, the 22 year old even dialed 999 to try and get the police to get him a drink of water. It is a horrible, horrible story and one which resonates with me too. My father, who has multi-infarct dementia, has been admitted to hospital several times in the past few years with dehydration. The care-home where he lives often ‘forget’ to give him water to drink and as a result he starts to become seriously unwell, fits and eventually is admitted to hospital. Although he is given coffee at certain points of the day and juice with his meal, he has to be prompted to drink it. He forgets to drink what is in front of him.

It is not a huge care issue – to prompt someone to drink. Without the prompting he just forgets. It is not like dealing with incontinence or wandering or shouting which many others in the home do. All it takes is for a member of staff to remind him to drink whenever they pass him. And to make sure that he has a drink beside him all the time. That’s not a big care issue in my books. We’ve even had it written into his Care Plan because for a while there were so many temporary staff nobody knew about it.  But still I will visit and find him with no drink beside him.  He has a catheter so it is important that he drinks plenty fluids. There’s barely a month goes by without him being on antibiotics because of an infection with that and I wonder if drinking more might just help.

We used to always take drinks in for him when we visited but were told we didn’t need to because they would provide it. And sometimes they do. But not always. He has gout too and what is one of the causes of gout recurring? Dehydration. It just seems such a simple thing but somehow it doesn’t always get done.

And hospitals are not excluded from this either. For when he is admitted and is given a drip it sometimes takes 4 days to rehydrate him. Then when he is taken off the drip the problem starts all over again. Water jugs out of reach, full cups of coffee removed because they are cold but nobody thinks that this means he hasn’t drunk anything.

You’d think it was such a simple thing. We are not a developing country; water is freely available. But time and time again I visit people in hospital suffering from dehydration. It is just so preventable and so simple really. Their needs are few. They thirst. Just give them a drink.