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 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!


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!

7 Up … 56 Up

There is a programme on TV just now called 56 Up. I could be taking part in it. For I too am 56 just now. (Pause to allow you all to gasp with horror… “Surely not, Ruth!”) I have followed it every seven years although I’m not sure that I did watch the very first one when I was seven. So I wondered what I would have had to say every 7 years of my life.

Age 7 – Mum, my sister and I had just moved to Valleyfield Street, Tollcross in Edinburgh and I was walking to James Gillespie’s Primary school over the Meadows by myself. I remember school milk and begging to get a letter to excuse me from it, as it was warmed by putting the crate next to the fire in the classroom. (Yes, a real fire.) If you’d asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I’d probably say ‘A man’. I was a tomboy who played with cars and never with a doll. Hobbies: reading Enid Blyton; collecting comics; buying jokes and disguises from joke shop.

Age 14 – Still in Valleyfield Street and still at James Gillespie’s, but this time the High School (all girls). I may have started smoking and other such rebellions (short skirt, multiple badges on blazer, etc) but boys were still a mystery. There was a school trip this year to Switzerland along with boys from Boroughmuir School and I could barely speak to them for shyness. Was feeling drawn to dentistry and medicine but as I couldn’t do science this was looking less likely. Hobbies: reading; movies; music of Marc Bolan and David Bowie.

Age 21 – Still in Valleyfield Street with a husband and two babies. Dreams of being an actress have had to be put on hold but the dream is still there. Convincing myself that having children at a young age means that I’ll still be young enough to have fun when they are grown up. Have worked in the bank and now part time Auxiliary nurse at Simpsons hospital. (As close to medicine as I ever got.) Eldest son is hyperactive and proving to be a bit of a challenge. Nobody agrees with me that it might be related to artificial colouring. Hobbies: knitting; reading.

Age 28 – Divorced and living in Brougham Street, still in Tollcross. Rebellion is my second name. Working part-time in a Cocktail Bar and having lots of fun. Dabbling in New Age spirituality and reading lots about Native Americans and Shamans. Dreams of being an actress have been shelved. Both boys are at Gillespie’s, which is now co-ed, and it is very weird being summoned to the head teacher’s room when I spent so much time outside it in my childhood. Hobbies: reading; Bach flower remedies; crystals; Shamanistic drumming; crosswords.

Age 35 – Still in Brougham Street, but have my own business making and fitting self-adhesive signs with Jenners as my biggest client. Loyal member of St Michael & All Saints across the road from my flat. Have been Confirmed and now read, do intercessions, on coffee rota and help run the Youth Group. Still trying to integrate New Age spirituality and Christianity but finding some Christians rather hostile to the notion. Against the ordination of women because ‘Father says so’ and rather a spiky Anglo-Catholic in love with ritual. Learning how to be an Altar Server – first time for women in our church. Passionate about Cursillo (renewal movement in the church). Hobbies: reading; church; cross-stitch; making jewellery.

Age 42 – Have been made homeless and am now living in a council flat in Hyvots, Edinburgh. In my second year at New College, University of Edinburgh studying Divinity and in my first year of Tisec (Theological Institute of SEC) training to be a priest. Working part time for The Rock Trust working with young homeless people. Still dream of being an actress but wondering if priesthood will fulfill at least some of those desires (standing up and showing off in front of an audience). Not able to watch anything on TV except for Casualty once a week because every night is revision night. Loving it! Hobbies: church; theology; reading fiction during holidays; exploring churches.

Age 49 – Living in Linlithgow as priest-in-charge of St Peter’s & St Columba’s Bathgate. Have been curate in Perth but glad to be nearer home to visit sick parents. Dad is in a Care Home in Edinburgh and Mum has been diagnosed with cancer. Juggling two churches is hard work (12 hours days not unusual) but loving being a parish priest. Surprised at how much I love working in a small town where everybody knows your name and stops for a blether in the High Street. St Peter’s has just been redecorated in shades of lilac. Also working as Diocesan Co-ordinator of CMD 1-3, General Synod member, on Mission and Ministry Committee and Board, and on I&C Board. Hobbies: reading; romping round churches.

Age 56 – Now in Falkirk at Christ Church, having done nearly 5 years in Portobello, Edinburgh. Only serving on one committee now – I&C but about to serve as Diocesan Vocations Adviser. Blogging seems to keep the attention-seeking actress in me amused some of the time but I have learned that it is not always wise to blog everything. Looking forward to living on my own some time soon (one son moves in as the other moves out, and so on and so on).  Hobbies: knitting prayer shawls; reading my Kindle; blogging.

So there we have it. Looking back it seems as if there is no clue to what the next seven years will find me doing. I seem to leap from one thing to the other, changing opinions willy-nilly as I go. Ah, ever fickle and flighty. So where will I be in 7 years, I wonder?

Total Solar Eclipse 2010

Son #1 and girlfriend and friend have been on Easter Island for the past few weeks at a festival to celebrate the Total Solar Eclipse. I’m told the festival was a bit of a disaster – no drinking water, few bands as advertised but just rave music,  etc – but it looks as if they had fun all the same.

Here is the link to what they did. Son #1 doesn’t feature much because he seems to have been videoing it so I won’t tell you which one to look for. Just enjoy the music and watch some hippies dancing and the sun disappearing.

See full size image

Hospital shambles

I spent about 6 hours yesterday sitting in A&E of the Royal Infirmary with my dad from 6am to 12noon.

Not once did anyone use the antibacterial handwash in his bay. Not once. But then it was empty so they wouldn’t have had much joy anyway. I did ask a few folk if they’d give me a new one but no joy.

Dad was hooked up to 15 minute blood pressure which was taken automatically, along with his oxygen level and resps. From time to time a nurse had to come in and write these figures down. Most of the time they didn’t say a word to my Dad. No “How are you?” No “I’m just taking a note of this for your file.” No “Everything is looking fine, don’t worry.” No “Can you get you anything?” No nursing. Just note-taking.

At around 8am Dad decided it was breakfast time.  I asked a nurse if it was okay to get him a coffee from the machine in the waiting room. “No,” she replied, “we’ll get it. Just give me a minute.”  An hour later I asked the same nurse if he could get a drink as he suffers from dehydration occasionally and is diabetic.  “Here’s a cup of water.”  At 10am I asked a nurse who had come to write things down again if they ever got breakfast in this place.  (For I’m pretty sure all the nurses did.) “Only if they are well enough to eat and drink,” was the reply.  “Well, he is,” I said. “<Sigh> Alright, I’ll get someone to get it for him. Toast ok? Coffee?”  A young smiley nurse brought it to us 10 minutes later. I didn’t see anyone else being offered anything and not all of them were on death’s door. Far from it, as far as I could see. No wonder they are ill.

The doctor was called away 3 times in the course of speaking to us. I have no complaint about that. There were other sick people. He always came back, sometimes after an hour, and apologised. (Dad thought he was too young to be a consultant!)

Dad was to be kept in for observation for it may have been a heart attack but there were no beds.  We were told we’d just have to wait.  But then someone came in who was quite poorly so dad was put out of his cubicle and parked beside the nurses bay in the corridor.  He was meant to be on oxygen but the nurse who was going to get some portable oxygen never returned.

In the course of our time there I watched nurses deal with a drug overdose patient hand-cuffed to 2 policemen. They wore gloves while dealing with her but then would come out and answer the phone while wearing the gloves. What about the next person who picks up with phone without gloves?

I saw lots of things. What I didn’t see was nursing. What I didn’t see was caring.

Is that too harsh?  Were they busy? Yes, I’d say they were kept pretty busy.  But how much longer would it have taken to talk while doing the blood-taking, or the ECG, or pillow plumping – oh sorry, I forgot, there were no pillows. A shortage.  I didn’t see hand-holding, reassuring arms round shoulders, listening. Too busy to listen perhaps? A listening shortage.  I saw nurses deal with a patient and go back to the computer screens and stand and click the mouse until the next task. Filling in on-line forms? Possibly. But most of the time they didn’t type anything, just stood and swirled the mouse around while looking about – but never catching a relative’s eye.

I realise that emergency medicine is different from ward nursing. But I don’t accept that they are too busy to talk and reassure. And I don’t accept that a system can’t be put in place that someone makes breakfast for those in the emergency ward. For they were not all emergencies, as far as I could see.

Bring back Matron. Not to swish around checking the nurses are all working. No, a Matron who walks round the beds asking the patients if everything is okay.

Arrivaderci Roma

Just back from a quick birthday jaunt to Rome with Son #2. It was gloriouso in every way, not to mention very scorchio. there is not a sight that has not been seen and photographed from every angle by said son.  I have been to Rome before – just for the day many, many years ago with Brother Basil and two friends and we ‘did’ St Peter’s and the Vatican Museum. I remember coming away impressed and with fresco neck. This time it was less of the religious stuff and more of the ruins although many churches were visited en route. And Son #2 did want to do St P and Vatican so I was delighted to do it again. Much has changed, not least the amount of people and the noise.

But for now I must leave you with that tantalising tease for I must sleep before the parish outing to Lindisfarne tomorrow.

Garage sale

Son #1 has finished his finals (and passed!) and is taking a year out before going on to do the Masters. (Scottish Lit in case you’re interested.) He is looking for temp jobs and they don’t seem to have fallen in his lap quite as quickly as he thought they would. Plan B involves selling his goods and chattels on EBay. It seemed like a good idea at the time. But this has involved raking through boxes in the garage and making a considerable mess in the process, hauling them all indoors to be photographed and listed, interrupting me constantly to ask advice – heh! what do I know?

I fear it will all end in tears. Or at least it will be me who has to run up and down to the Post Office. And just how much does it cost to send a book to Japan?

And on the Sabbath you shall rest

I don’t think so.

We kept the Feast of All Souls twice yesterday morning, reading out the names of all those known to us who have gone before. It was a long list this year and I could read most of them because most people heeded my plea to PRINT the names of their beloved. The church was still bedecked with skeletons which added a certain je ne sais quoi.

Then it was a mad dash across town to St Michael & All Saints for the celebration lunch to celebrate the restoration of the church. The green carpet is down and looks just spectacular. Red and green is a bold choice for a church but if anyone can carry it off, St Mike’s can. Lots of familiar faces and plenty clergy to hobnob with. Nice to see Fr Tom Cuthell (retired CofS minister from St Cuthbert’s) who is the most catholic presbyterian ever. A long time ago I went on one of his Assisi pilgrimages and have very fond memories.

Back home to see Son #2 off to his new flat in the centre of town, making it much easier for him to get to work. Mind you it looks like there is still a lot of detritus to clear up. Of course five minutes after he’d left and I was just enjoying the peace and quiet, Son #1 phoned and asked if he could come and stay the night. The peace was short lived.

Then back to church for our Alternative Service which had the theme of Remembering. Tisec’s training in ministry with tea lights came into its own. Lots of silence too. Bliss.

And throughout it all we had to take part in the new census of age/gender profile which is happening throughout November. Everyone who comes through the doors has to tick their age group, gender, and whether they are a family or not. There would have been a time when the vast majority would have ticked the over 60 box but no longer.

And finally, for those interested, there are 3 vacancies on St Mark’s Vestry. Names should be in by next Sunday.

A mother’s love

A mother’s love is sitting for three hours hunched over a laptop admiring Son #1’s photos of India and Nepal. There is not a temple or mountain I have not admired.

They were actually Son #1’s girlfriend’s photos so I did get to know her better too. You can learn a lot from someone’s photos. She is an artist after all – and a good photographer.

But he still has to be the messiest child (at the age of nearly 32) in Christendom. Today we deal with the aftermath.

Update on Dad

Dad is back in the Home for the Bewildered and firmly ensconced in the smoking room.  Turns out to have been bad dehydration. Clearly he’s not getting enough to drink – or not being prompted to drink it. If only he was closer to this side of town…

But we can all relax again, safe in the knowledge that I have no doubt whatsoever that he will outlive us all.