Saturday, 30 June 2007

Safe as houses

Before I came to Glasgow, I anticipated that our time here would feel safe. By European standards, Glasgow doesn't have the best reputation for crime, but by the standards of most places I've lived it's really secure.

We chose to live in a nice southside suburb where people may twitch their curtains, but would never look inside your unlocked car. The residents of this wee corner of the world sometimes complain that nothing ever happens here but after years of electric fences and endless petty theft that suits me just fine.

I have felt safe here. I walk back from the station after dark on my own sometimes and we have even been known to leave our back door unintentionally unlocked from time to time (please don't tell my landlord), without incident.

And then, this afternoon, two people drove a vehicle into the check in area of Glasgow airport. It ignited, they were arrested and, although significant damage was done to the building, nobody was hurt. Actually that's not quite true. The two people in the car were taken to hospital with burns - I'm finding it difficult to feel too much pity for them right now.

The police now suspect that this is an act of terror linked to the discovery of two car bombs in London yesterday. And the UK is on full security alert.

I think it is human to feel a little less safe when terror breathes down our necks like this. But is it right? A terrible thing happened today. But will I be in any greater danger tomorrow than I was yesterday, when I felt no fear at all? Perhaps, but probably not.

Sadly, the success of terrorism depends on that 'perhaps' - the human response to an unpredictable event. In absolute terms, far fewer people will be directly effected by terror attacks than will have their lives effected by the fear these incidents generate. And then terror wins.

I passed through Heathrow on my way back from South Africa in August last year. It was the last time this country was on high alert and the launch of the liquid-in-hand-luggage restrictions. What struck me was how everyone just got on with it. The queues were unreal and the rumours very frightening. But the great British public know about queuing and developed a quiet camaraderie in the face of it all. There was no panic.

So, no. I am not going to bed afraid tonight. It's something I learnt while living in Scotland.

Friday, 29 June 2007

Look what I got!

Annie over at Blooming Marvelous liked me enough to give me a gift. An Award! My first!

I'd like to thank.... well, I'd like to thank Annie I suppose.

It's not an award that involves voting or monetary gain but is, rather, a simple thumbs up from a fellow blogger. I think 'form' dictates that I pass the award on to other bloggers who I really enjoy, which is easier than nominating fellow bloggers for tags - in doing that I always worry that they'll just get cheesed off and stop visiting.

But here's the thing. Annie's post (and, by extention this award) came on a day I was feeling pretty low - a bit worried about the move, a touch self-critical about my time in Scotland, the beginnings of the sense of loss associated with any move beginning to creep in. It arrived on a day I needed approval. And let's face it we all have those days.

So I've decided not to give any awards today. (Stick with me here). Rather, I'm going to nominate a Rocking Blogger each weekend (cunningly allowing myself research time for when I've run through those I already know and love). You never know, I might make a few people's days along the way...

And thanks again Annie!

Wednesday, 27 June 2007

Summer holidays

Okay, I know this is well travelled territory for me, but what the hell is up with the weather in Scotland? Where sunshine is involved, this is the country of false hope.

Through all my misery and whinging about the arctic winter conditions I was comforted by Scottish friends who reassured me that summer here was wonderful thing - warm, sunny days in beautiful landscapes. They regaled me with tales of swimming in lochs, long walks in forests and up mountains. In short, dear readers, they lied.

I doubt this was intentional. You see, the Scots had all booked their tickets to Majorca - a tradition they follow every year, and, therefore, have no clue what a Scottish summer looks like. They are Scottish. Their memories of summer are sunny. Somehow, these facts are mixed together and voila! Sun in Scotland? Lies, I tell you!

Intuitively, the combination of the warmth and good humour of the Scottish nation and it's truly appalling weather are at odds. Most countries with truly lousy climates and long periods of darkness each year have reputations for high suicide rates and depression. With all the scientific backing (cough!) of two years of living here I have developed the following theories as to how the Scots survive:

Theory One: Scots photosynthesise more efficiently than other races. They have the ability to absorb sunshine rapidly and live off it's glow for longer periods of time. They simply don't need more than two days of sunshine a year.

Theory Two: Hope and happiness are closely intertwined. All Scots need is the promise of good weather, not the actual thing. To ensure mental health in Scotland, the met office has introduced the 'catch all' icon. It depicts a sun peeking out from behind a cloud from which rain is pouring down. Anywhere else this would be called 'hedging your bets'. Here it's the daily forecast. It will rain. But the sun may peek out too. Hope.

Theory Three: Scotch whisky.

You would have thought that, by now I would have learnt to follow local wisdom when it comes to holiday planning. But no. While all sensible Scots are beginning the annual exodus to Majorca, I have just booked our summer holiday to Orkney.

If summer hasn't arrived by then.... well, we're leaving in September anyway.

Monday, 25 June 2007

Traveling light

When the Good Man and I first moved in together he packed his worldly possessions into a BMW, fetched me from my parent's house with a suitcase and that was it. We stopped at a liquidation centre on the way through to the house we'd just bought and got them to deliver a bed, table and chairs and borrowed linen from family.

We now also own a few sofas and sundry other items which live in our house in Cape Town. But the tone of our life together was set with this first move. We travel light.

Our approach to moving is a little different from most. We set ourselves a target volume and then shed things until we can pack to that limit. For this move, our upper limit is eight cubic metres. We'd like to come in at around six if we can. Given that I usually get blank looks when I 'speak metric', we're targeting less than a quarter of a container. This is not a lot.

The only item of furniture we'll be taking is my mother's oak cheval mirror so that she can keep an eye on us through our travels. A large chunk of the balance will be taken up by art (paintings and sculpture), clothes, kitchen equipment and toys. Pre-Bambi we we would have targeted four cubic metres. She compensates by taking up less space in the car.

Anyway, I have now begun the process of ditching the things we will leave behind. I tend to be quite unsentimental through this process. If I haven't actually looked at something, worn it or used it in six months, it's out.

According to some, this makes me quite a hard person. But it's not that I feel no emotion, rather that I don't link my emotions to items. I like to remember things - they often look better in my memories than they do in reality.

Anyway, I thought I would throw a question out to Blog world:

If you had to pack you and your family's life into eight cubic metres, what would you take? And, perhaps more interestingly, what would you leave behind?

Friday, 22 June 2007

Cheap wine and a three day growth

It all started when Bambi had just turned one. Our wee gazelle was an early talker and had several multi-syllabic words under her belt by her first birthday. She could also sing sentences. Yes, sing. She couldn't talk in sentences but could sing full song verses. Strange, but true.

So there we were driving somewhere (I know not where) when our little cherub piped up with,

Cheap wine and a three day growth, oh yeah!

A long look was shared between good man and good woman and Cold Chisel was summarily ejected from the CD player.

All of a sudden we were faced with the not insignificant challenge of finding music for the car that would not result in a visit from Child Services. And that we could bear to listen to as well. Bambi favoured her Rhythm Time CDs. These were sweet to start but got increasingly annoying with each turn of the wheels on the car.

I discovered Dan Zanes (very bearable) and Laurie Berkner (sometimes catchy, sometimes not so much). All seemed on track until my daughter got a lift in a friend's car and came home demanding the 'Doo doop' song. At first I thought she'd been listening to the Andrews Sisters, which seemed odd but innocent enough. It then transpired that my dear friend Janet had been playing the Fratellis for my daughter's listening pleasure. And the 'doo -doop' in question was the opening refrain to Chelsea Dagger.

To be fair I rather enjoy the Fratellis. They're a Glasgow outfit with an upbeat indie sound that now forms the soundtrack to my time in Scotland. That said, their lyrics can get a wee bit hinky. For example I may get concerned if Bambi starts a rousing chorus of She gets naked for a living, she aint afraid of giving, ah huh... in the aisles of Tesco. Or lets rip with He's been out for days, in a deep malaise in her nursery school.

But, for now, enough of me is relieved for the respite from Baa Baa Black Sheep. She can have her doo doop CD. I'll just hum along loudly.

Wednesday, 20 June 2007

Question Tag

Lady MacLeod tagged me with these questions forever ago and I have neglected them. Apologies Lady M.

What were you doing ten years ago?

Let's see. I was chasing a corporate marketing career for a large financial services institution in Cape Town. And I was newly married to my good man. We had bought the cottage you see on the right side of the screen - our home, even now while we travel.

What were you doing one year ago?
I was about to leave Glasgow to spend a month in Cape Town helping my Mom care for my Dad. The month turned to six weeks as it became apparent that the lung cancer he had fought for over a year was to take him. Bambi came with me but the Good Man had to stay behind for much of that time. It wasn't great.

One of the many things I learnt through this time was the importance of all family members in times of crisis - the toddler who gives reasons to smile just by being there and the support of a husband shown from afar. The roles we are to play aren't always obvious, but they are always important.

Five snacks you enjoy
Cheese - all types
Cashew nuts
Chocolate (heck, I'm a girl after all!)

Five songs to which you know all the lyrics
Twinkle Twinkle little star
Baa Baa Black Sheep
The Wheels on the bus
Chelsea Dagger

I would like to stress that this question required the songs I know the lyrics for - not the songs I listen to after bed time. And that Bambi has a deep affection for the Fratellis, requiring knowledge of the lyrics so that humming can be inserted over inappropriate stanzas.

Five things you would do if you were a millionaire
In which currency? I was a millionaire in Zambian Kwacha. I bought groceries and paid my bills.
But if I were a pound millionaire I would:
Go for a facial
Renovate my house in South Africa
Take my Mom to Vietnam
Have a shot at persuading the Good Man to consult from home.
Split the difference between Habitat for Humanity and the Starfish Foundation.
I'm actually quite happy with my lot and fear that a truck load of money would quite spoil that.

Five bad habits
I absolutely cannot keep my opinions to myself.
Blogging - which isn't actually bad - but the amount of time I dedicate to it could be considered unhealthy.
I can't say no or exercise restraint when confronted with good food or good wine.
I am loud. Volume is a habit.
I brag about my daughter a lot. She's brilliant and I simply feel the world should know...

Five things you like doing
Reading good blogs - ones that make me laugh and ones that make me cry.
Swimming - I do about 2kms a few times a week
Cooking - especially when I don't have to clean up afterwards.
Painting. This is not to say I'm any good but I enjoy it nonetheless.
Going to the African bush. Wild places heighten the senses and simply make me feel more alive.

Five things you would never wear again
Stilettos - how can they possibly be worth it?
A boobtube. Too much has gone south.
A bikini. Bambi was a big baby. She now has a big mother. I don't feel the need to reveal too much more of this...
My wedding dress - served its purpose.
White lipstick and blue mascara - what was I thinking when I was fourteen!?!

Five favorite toys
Non-misting swimming goggles (although what they allow you to see can be frightening)
The Good Man

I tag:

Reluctant Memsahib
Gwen (with her walking boots)
Annie (whose Blooming Marvelous)

Tuesday, 19 June 2007

Daisy chains 101

Granny has now gone back to Cape Town. But I've decided not to blog about that - it was the first of many goodbyes to come over the coming months. I will not dwell. I will not!

Instead I thought you may enjoy a short lesson on daisy chain making:

Step One: You'll need some daisies. Scotland is a good place to find them right now. This one's from Skye...

Step Two: Make small incisions in the stems and thread them together. This is tricky, especially if you're two and may require that you stick your tongue out...

Step Three: TADA! Oh dear, it fell off before Mom could take the photo. Quality control is only covered in the next module, Superior Daisy Chain Making!

Sunday, 17 June 2007

The problem with Skye

To reach Skye, one drives through Dornie. It is not a big place and, were it not for the flight of fancy of a wealthy family in the early 1900s it may have little claim to fame at all. As it is, the MacRae-Gilstrap family bought a wee island there in 1911. On this island stood the ruins of a castle. And for twenty years they painstakingly restored this ruin, turning it into the glorious incarnation of Eilean Donan Castle we know today.

It is hailed by many as the most romantic castle in Scotland and may well be the most photographed. Here's one I took:

Not far beyond this sentinel one suddenly reaches the far more modern outline of Skye Bridge. And beyond that bridge the problem begins.

You see, Skye is magnificent. And breathtaking. It's breathtakingly magnificent. Each corner reveals a vista more glorious than the last. The view from the front is as good as the view from the back. And therein lies the frustration.

It cannot be captured on film. I tried. I took this photo.

Then this one...

And this... (where Lady MacLeod left her tables).

But none come close to the pictures I see when I close my eyes, imagine the warmth on my shoulders and the breeze across my face. None capture the freedom I felt and the deep sense of well being that stayed with me throughout our visit.
The photos have nothing on my memories.
I think I'll get out my paints.

Friday, 15 June 2007

A room with a view

We spent last weekend in Plockton, a beautiful village on Loch Carron. It is also a mere hop to the Isle of Skye.

It is impossible to spend any amount of time in Scotland and not be instructed to go to this island. It does, however, come with caveats and warnings. My Scottish friends, all advised the taking of appropriate rain gear and bulk purchases of midge repellant. For the uninitiated the midge is a little blood sucking insect that leaves nasty bites and is the bane of the Scottish hiker. It is also the national bird of Skye.

So armed with fleeces, macs, wellies and enough midge repellant to annihilate the entire species, we went on our merry way. Of course, there is nothing predictable about Scottish weather and generalisations are always dangerous. This time we were quite happy that the locals were proved wrong. The sun came out and it was warm. Really warm. Even I wore t-shirts! All weekend! And there was a light breeze for most of our stay. Not strong enough to make you cold - but just enough to disperse the midges.

There were a few clues that we were rather lucky. Firstly, the postcards all showed beautiful views topped with angry, dark clouds, leading me to suspect that a good day on Skye is high cloud. The other was that sunscreen was incredibly difficult to come by. It clearly isn't in high demand in this neck of the woods.

We were booked to stay on a farm just outside Plockton. The decor could best be described as 'cow and collie'. Particular attention was paid to the display of the photographs of the bulls over the years, one of which watched over the toilet. Inspirational!

Our hosts were real characters. We were treated to their tales of farming, courting in the highlands, gossip from the village and their deep suspicion of anyone from 'the south'. And the breakfasts were fantastic.

But the best part was the view from our room...

That's Skye in the distance. Tomorrow, more of our explorations on the island...

Thursday, 14 June 2007

It's Nairobi!

That's right! In September we'll be moving to Nairobi, Kenya.

I've told a few friends offline and the responses have been varied. There are those whose eyes gleam in anticipation of safari trips. And there are those whose voices rise a notch and who ask tentatively how I feel about the move. The number in the latter camp has increased dramatically since the bomb blast in downtown Nairobi on Tuesday.

So how do I feel about the impending move back to Africa (but not the part I know)? On the whole, I am really happy about it. I have always wanted to explore East Africa and now I'll have my chance. Nairobi is home to good schools, game parks and an outdoor lifestyle in which, I am sure, Bambi will thrive. The weather will undoubtedly be better. And I can hang up my toilet brush - we'll have staff.

On the other hand, I am realising just how cushioned from risk I have been over the past two years. The UK is a far more controlled society than any I have encountered in Africa. This can be frustrating but does make it a relatively safe place to live.

I grew up In Cape Town in the 70s and 80s. During that time we had numerous bomb scares, incidents of politically motivated violence and high crime rates. Being cautious and sensible was simply a way of life and we got on with it. I anticipate this is how we'll be in Kenya.

And, once again, we will be faced with the stark contrast between the comfortable expat lifestyle we will lead and the desperate poverty in Africa. It has become too easy to push these issues to the back of my mind while living in such a wealthy society. I hope to be able to actually do something while we are there.

So there you have it.

PS. I will write about our amazing trip to Skye soon. With pictures. Sorry for the delay - I've been a bit distracted!

Wednesday, 13 June 2007

A final clue

So far we've had only one real taker on the 'where am I going?' game.

In an effort to ensure webwide success on this question, I offer this picture.

I rank the beastie in the foreground as a pretty big clue....

Alas, this city has also been in the news of late.

Tomorrow, I tell all.

Friday, 8 June 2007

Weekend away

We're taking Granny to the Highlands this weekend. Hopefully, by the time we get back on Wednesday, I'll be able to reveal all about the move.

As a taster though, the picture shows the skyline of the city we will more than likely be moving to. Guesses anyone?

Thursday, 7 June 2007

Globe toddler

Bambi was born in Cape Town. At six weeks we took her to Zambia and at ten months we moved her to Scotland. For the first year and a bit of her life, those first six weeks represented the longest period of time during which she hadn't flown somewhere. She flew to the bush. She visited South Africa a few times. She's also been to Victoria Falls. The more I think about it, the more I realise that I have tended to treat my daughter a bit like a laptop.

Perhaps it's because of this early start, but she travels really well. Of particular entertainment value is her early interest in languages. You see, Bambi may have only walked at 15 months, but she's been talking since 11 months. She's just never been worried about giving words a go. So when the hotel concierge in Paris said, 'Bonjour!' to my wee 14 month old princess as she crawled behind the reception desk, she shot back a 'Bonjour!' all of her own. And we got the best service imaginable for the rest of our stay.

In South Africa she leaves most homes with a breezy 'Totsiens!' and greets anyone with a tan with 'Molo!'. As there are actually 11 official languages in South Africa she's not always on the money, but her efforts raise a smile anyway.

I do sometimes question our decision to live a nomadic life and, in the rundown to a move, I do worry about the effect this could have on Bambi. It was, after all, our choice, not hers. She has friends here - in fact she definitely has a best friend here. One whose absence will be noticed and whose presence will be missed. I keep in touch with my friends and I hope to teach her to do the same but it is a difficult one to explain to one so young.

I just hope that her budding interest in different cultures and languages makes it as worthwhile for her as it is for her parents. I hope that she doesn't hate us one day for not having given her a geographic base from an early age. On the whole she seems pretty happy with her lot in life. But teenagers can be decidedly odd - you just don't know what to expect. I fear the hormones, and the ammunition I may have given them!

For those who read between lines, yes, our big news is that we will be moving in the next few months. The details of the destination have yet to be ironed out. But here's a clue. We're probably going somewhere we've never lived before, but I anticipate living there as much as if I were going home...

Tuesday, 5 June 2007

Scary things

The night before Easter, my normally confident little Bambi announced that she was 'a bit scared' of the Easter Bunny. It transpired that she had seen two people in bunny outfits handing out eggs and (do give a child credit here) thought something was amiss. As tempted as I was by the thought of a sugar-free Easter, I felt that some Easter eggs should make it into the fray (not the least for me!) and began negotiations.

She was not buying the story about the human sized bunnies being fake - this was clearly what differentiated the Easter Bunny from normal bunnies. Extra height and reticulated thumbs are quite obviously what gives him his supercharged chocolate producing powers. Eventually we promised to not let him into our house. But, if it rained, he was allowed to leave any offerings inside the storm door. One should always take care not to let one's chocolate offerings get soggy, you understand.

Then, several weeks later, she announced that she was scared of Barney. This made more sense. A large, purple dinosaur would freak me out too if I hadn't made the whole person inside connection. Don't let those catchy tunes fool ya!

But then, when I asked her what she thought Barney was going to do to her if she met him, she told me that he would tickle her. Exuberant tickling by a large purple dinosaur....hmmmm. Okay, fair enough. Again we decided that, should Barney ever visit our street we would simply not let him into our house and take cover in the pantry.

Today I took Bambi and Granny to see The Wiggles - Live in Concert at the Royal Concert Hall. Her first foray into live theatre was in the form of four loudly dressed Australian men. I'm still not too sure how I feel about this. I had imagined something more highbrow. Carmen for Kids, or The Nutcracker perhaps. At least Dan Zanes. But then he didn't make it to Glasgow.
Anyway, before spending a fair whack on tickets I asked her if she was scared of The Wiggles.
'No Mummy. They're men. Like Daddy.'
Just wait till the Good Man hears that he's a hip-wiggling, primary colour-wearing, Aussie accented singer of itty ditties. At least in the eyes of his daughter.

Monday, 4 June 2007

What nonsense!

I know that there are plenty of newspapers and magazines that make their bread and butter from sensational headlines. For many, that the headline may be misleading is incidental at best, if it is able to generate sales en route to the recycling bin.

Before yesterday, I would have put The Times into the other category - those who report more responsibly with usually thoughtful commentary on politics and opinion.

Front page of the Sunday Times (Scotland) carried the headline: Scots NHS and 462,000 'avoidable deaths'. The article, by Mark Macaskill, states: The deaths have been blamed on a series of failings, including GPs not recognising symptoms early enough, unacceptable delays for hospital treatment, poor access to drugs and botched operations.

The term used for 'botched operations', incidentally, is 'misadventures during surgery' which does conjure up images of the cast of Grey's Anatomy in pith helmets. But moving on...

Shock! Horror! Nearly half a million people dying for going to the doctor! However, the rest of the article actually reveals the following:
The figure represents a period of 30 years during which time millions upon millions of people would have been treated. In fact, the avoidable death rate for men is 176 for every 100,000 which translates to just 0.17%. For women it's lower, at 123 per 100,000 (0.12%). Figures are shown to be lower in Austria (129 per 100,000) and Italy (100per 100,000) but given the minute figures we're talking about when we get away from that ridiculous headline, I wonder the extent to which they're even statistically significant.

The author of the report, Dr Colin Fischbacher, is also quoted as saying, better treatment could have saved the lives of almost all the patients who died. Considering that many died of cancers and heart disease, both of which can be unpredictable, I find this quite a sweeping statement.

Then, on page 13 is a further diatribe. In an article titled 'The Killing Wards' and illustrated by a picture of a ward with each bed playing host to a coffin (nothing overly dramatic here!), Mr Macaskill reveals that, while undoubtedly the figures for Scotland are higher than other European countries, they have improved significantly over the last 20 years. Of course, this is couched in several column inches of doom and gloom so you really have to look for it. That will happen with good news.

The chief executive of the Patient's Association is quoted as saying:

It's getting to the stage where people are going to be scared of going to hospital. The NHS is supposed to be a wonderful thing but this study makes a mockery of that.

Really? The NHS is a wonderful thing. I reckon a 0.17% chance of something going wrong when you go to hospital is pretty good odds. And, that these figures are improving is impressive to me. Ultimately healthcare professionals are human and human error is always going to be a factor.

Don't get me wrong, if one of my loved ones was the victim of a 'misadventure' I would sue the suckers for all I could - and still be completely gutted. But we are not talking about a crisis here. We are talking about a very small chance of things going wrong when people require medical treatment. I'm actually surprised it's as low as it is.

Even Dr House, with the benefit of a squad of scriptwriters and Hollywood advisers gets it wrong occasionally. Probably somewhere around 0.17% of the time.

Rant over!

Sunday, 3 June 2007

Three Scottish Piles

Scotland is well known for its castles. And well it should be - they are gorgeous and allow us a small glimpse into history, and a way of life which may well be gone forever. They also make an excellent backdrop for weddings and other special occasions. Every country should have a few.

Take this one for example:

This is Culzean Castle on the Ayrshire coast. On a clear day you can see Arran from its front windows and it has a 500acre garden including a deer park. A lovely place for horse riding, but, perhaps a bit tricky if you're trying to locate a lost welly. It is the former home of the Marquess of Ailsa but, as is not uncommon these days, the family couldn't find the funds to pay the necessary taxes on the property, or pay the army of cleaners/gardeners/ maintenance folk to look after the place. Having a small issue with the arctic conditions in Scotland I would also hazard a guess that the heating bills were a touch staggering.

Anyway, the castle was gifted to the National Trust for Scotland and now anyone with £12 can spend a day there. I like to pretend it's all mine. The trick is to dress down - lots of tweed and green boots - and stride confidently while wielding a riding crop. I probably don't fool anyone but I have had a few long looks.

Of course, not all lairds have handed over their homes. Take this one:

That's Blair Castle in Perthshire - ancient seat of the Dukes and Earls of Atholl. It is beautiful and also boasts some significant acreage, but it is telling that the current Earl lives in South Africa. This family's solution to the tax/staffing/utilities issue has been to open the family home to the public. I suppose if he's lapping up the sunshine in SA he probably doesn't find this too intrusive.

It is a really lovely spot - beautiful art exhibits and fantastic furnishings. Bambi quite liked it - that's her saying, 'Mine, mine, mine!'.

But the prize for Eccentric Things to do with your Scottish Pile goes to the Earl of Glasgow. His wee spot, Kelburn Castle, currently looks like this:

He has let a team of Brazilian Graffiti artists loose on it! The castle is still owned by the family but the grounds are open to the public. What makes this place particularly special is that it has been developed exclusively with whimsy in mind. It is home to the Secret Forest - glorious woodland punctuated with goblin houses, woodcutter huts, crocodile swamps, giant's castles and a maze.

Theoretically, it's targeted at children, and all the houses and tunnels are built to child scale, but who can't love a place so full of imagination and fun. Bambi certainly tired of it before Granny and I did!

And I bet you thought this post was going to be about hemorrhoids!