My Boy Next Door

Fandango’s Provocative Question asks this week – How did you meet your spouse, boyfriend/ girlfriend, or significant other? Ah well, now there’s a story to tell!

In 1973, the year I turned 10 and my husband turned 12, North Sea Oil was big business and my father in law moved his family from Louisiana to the North of Scotland to open an oil rig construction yard close to where my family lived. We became near neighbours that summer, and soon my dad also began working for the same company.

We were all friends the way neighbouring families are friends, socialising together in either our house or theirs, and when I was 14 and my husband 16 he fancied me but I couldn’t stand him. Then when I was 16 and he was 18, I fancied him but he was no longer interested romantically, but we stayed friends anyway.

His parents went through a very acrimonious divorce, and my husand left school and moved away. I stayed close to home and married someone else and had three children in quick succession. But still we stayed friends, and kept in touch. Stuff happened, I got divorced, years passed, life carried on for both of us and we grew older, but we always stayed close friends.

And then in our late thirties, we decided that maybe we loved each other after all, so we got together as a couple. We actually lived together for thirteen years before we finally decided to get married, and here we are seven years on, having just marked twenty years together, and this summer we’ll have been friends for forty seven years… 🙂

No Treatment…Just Tears

If only there was some kind of treatment for vascular dementia, but sadly there is not.

My dad is 83 and has had four strokes over the last few years, each one leaving him a little more physically debilitated, a little more mentally confused every time. Most of the time for now, dad is still recognisably dad in his own mind, but nevertheless occasionally his brain fails him completely with no warning, catching us all by surprise.

Sometimes he forgets how to co-ordinate his two walking sticks and two arms and two legs just to be able to walk across the room – sometimes while he is halfway across the room in question. Sometimes he forgets where he is even in his own home, becomes lost or disorientated, or thinks he is somewhere else from his past. And sometimes he forgets who we are, or how we are all related.

Sometimes he knows I am Ruth, but is surprised to find out I am his daughter. He asks my mum in confusion – if he is my dad, who is my mum? Yet at other times dad’s memory seems sharp as ever – well, to be accurate, as rambling as ever. I grew up more often than not being called Edith, who was my dad’s eldest sister. So to be called Ruth so regularly by my dad these days is, in itself, odd.

It hurts so much to see him fail, my strong, unfailing dad. Dementia is such a cruel disease… We all rely on a lifetime of memories crafted cumulatively in our mind’s eye to create our sense of self, anchor us firmly in the present. So when our precious memory fails us so catastrophically, when the shutters come down so suddenly, who are we then?

Fandango’s One Word Challenge: Treatment

Remnants of the Past

My youngest daughter returned my old sewing box to me yesterday – no pressure, she said, but I’m re-organising and need it gone. It’s been sitting unused but very much loved in her house for the last 18 years, and inside it I found random buttons and threads and zips and fasteners just as I’d left them, and a small bundle of bright fabric remnants that brought me up short. Each remnant is a ghost of a memory of something long gone, kept by me at the time for sentimental reasons, kept intact all these years by my daughter for the same reason, and so my old sewing box is an impromptu time-capsule of sorts.

The sudden reappearance of my old sewing box into my life symbolises – encapsulates, perhaps – how strange I’m feeling about a lot of things at the moment. Remnants and snippets of the past keep catching me unawares, an odd kind of double-exposure deja-vu image of the vibrant present superimposed on old faded memories of almost 20 years ago, or sometimes even longer. I pass someone in the street and think – oh, I’m sure I know them from somewhere – and realise afterwards we knew each other decades ago, in what feels like another lifetime.

I was in a busy shop the other day, and overheard an older woman talking animatedly to another two older women about retiring from work, and booking cruises, and general chit-chat of that ilk. I recognised her voice, and looking more closely saw she was one of my lecturers from college 22 years ago, but much older and greyer. Had I not heard her voice, I might not have recognised her straight away. And in another shop I was served by someone I used to work with over 40 years ago – in my first job as a Saturday girl while I was still at school.

What takes me aback is that I see elderly people I remember as being middle-aged, and middle-aged people I remember as being young – everyone looks so much older these days, and with a shock I realise so do I. Moving back home to where I grew up and spent my younger adult life after nigh on two decades is such an odd feeling – I feel like me but not-me, the same but different, young and old all at the same time, and it’s quite disconcerting.

So as I was looking through all the saved remnants in my sewing box, I realised that I want to make myself a patchwork cushion with all these random fabric memories interspersed with more up-to-date scraps of bits and pieces collected more recently, create for myself one cohesive piece, a mosaic of myriad memories, an eminently practical use of the past and the present to then carry on forward into my future.

And I realise too that perhaps I need to do that with my whole life, remove the closed-off compartments in my mind that make it so decidedly ‘then and now’ inside my head, and create one cohesive ‘me’ that transverses all mental barriers…

Fandango’s One Word Challenge: Pressure

Monday Peeve – The Past

Yeah I know, a bit of a weird thing to be peeved about, but the past is really messing about with my mind just now, and it’s annoyingly pervasive and persuasive in its pester power.

Let me explain. Four months ago my husband and I sold up in London in the South of England and moved to Inverness in the North of Scotland. This was a long-anticipated move, and one we’re both delighted about – in fact, we first met as children in the local area (but not in the town itself) forty-six years ago, when I was 10 and he was 12 and our families became near-neighbours. (I say near-neighbours because we all lived in the countryside, and rural neighbourly closeness is in no way measured on a similar scale to urban neighbourly closeness.)

Anyway, although my husband had moved away from the area in his late teens, I stayed here, got married young (to someone else at that point), had three children, got divorced, and became a working single parent while my children were still relatively young. So I find myself in the strange situation of once upon a time having gone to secondary school here in Inverness, had my children in the hospital here, commuted in to work here, and having done all my main shopping here for years, but never actually having lived within the town as we do now – and it all feels very weird.

It’s weird because I remember places that don’t exist any more, or have had several name changes and/or changes in use. I remember people I went to school with, or worked with, and have a basic understanding of the geography of the layout and yet I’m living in an area of the town I’d only ever passed through in the past on the way to somewhere else, so in that sense it’s all quite new to me. In fact, even me calling Inverness ‘town’ is well out of date, as it achieved city status at the turn of the Millenium, just as I moved to London so I keep forgetting – I still think of it as ‘town’ because to me it’s always been ‘town’.

So overall I have both good and bad memories of a past reality that sit rather disjointedly with my present reality, and an 18 year gap in between when I was no more than a short-term visitor to the area coming up to see my family several times a year, and I find it all quite disconcerting to deal with at times. For example, there was a reunion of staff at one of my old workplaces at the weekend, but I found myself unable to face it so in the end I didn’t go. I know I’m still the core ‘me’ in many ways but in terms of age and life experience I’m not the same person who left all those years ago.

So I find I’m no longer living a London life, but not yet living a full Inverness life again, either. I’m back here for good, but not as the young insecure person I was, and not to the same place or the same circumstances that I moved away from. So I feel like I belong, but I don’t belong all at the same time. In the intervening years I’ve got a degree, got married again, have become a dreaded mother-in-law to two strapping lads and have had six grandchildren who I absolutely adore.

Don’t get me wrong, I love being here so close to my family again, and feel like I’ve come home for sure, but I also inevitably feel a bit out of step with the real-time everyday actuality of the world around me. I know for sure my future here will be fine once everything settles down again, but for now I’m finding the past and present colliding in a confusing kaleidoscope of thoughts and feelings that I’m struggling internally to visualise clearly.

I know I need to just sit with all of this and let it all unravel and settle and sort itself out in its own good time, but I’m thoroughly peeved to be feeling it all the same! 🙂

Monday Peeve

Art Class in School

Fandango’s One Word Challenge prompt word of ‘silkscreen’ today immediately takes me straight back to high school art class, nearly 40 years ago. As well as focusing on understanding (and practising) the basics of drawing and painting we also experimented with lots of other techniques for creating art, some of which I haven’t thought about for years.

I remember early on we were introduced to lino block printing, where we each carved out (with various-sized special little tools) our favoured design on our little rectangle of lino block – carved in reverse, of course. I chose a capital letter ‘R’, decorated with patterns all around like the grand initial letters in old manuscripts. Once all our carving was done we carefully rolled coloured ink onto the surface of the block before up-ending it onto paper and printing countless versions of our chosen design.

Then once we’d taken the block printing as far as we could (with one block there are only so many options to experiment with) we used plasticine to build a little sealed wall around the edge of our lino blocks, and filled them with plaster of paris and left them to set to create an image in relief, which we then painted to keep along with our many prints. Such a lot from one little rectangle of lino block though… 🙂

And then of course later on there was the screen-printing and memories of the taut silkscreen frame used – I can still hear the strident sound of the squeegee pulling the ink purposefully across the surface of the screen, a bit like a muffled zip-wire sound cut short – vvvvt. There was a knack to getting it just right – not too fast, not too slow, not too much pressure, not too little – and then the moment of anticipation as you lift the screen off and remove whatever ink-blocking template used undereath to reveal the final result.

And for me, the result was always a little bit disappointing. I mean, effectively it did exactly what it was supposed to do – sharp lines, strong colour, vibrant solid shapes – but personally I found it all too formulaic. I do appreciate we were schoolkids so our designs were inevitably simple, and that more complex designs could be created by using multiple templates and different colours of ink to build up clearly differentiated layers.

But still… for such a laborious process where the purpose was to create easily replicated sharp-edged identical images, I found that promise a little lacklustre. We screen-printed both onto paper and onto cloth, so I could definitely see how using this process for printing multiple T shirts with exactly the same design would make sense, or multiple identical paper posters, but somehow it just didn’t catch my creative imagination at the time…

But batik – now that lit a creative spark in me! Batik basically uses hot wax painted free-hand onto cotton fabric with a tjanting tool and being left to set hard before dying the cloth in a cold water dye bath. Once this is done, the wax is removed and the cloth is boil-washed to remove all remaining traces of wax. It’s a little like tie-dying but using wax instead of string to create areas of dyed and undyed cloth. You can then repeat the process as many times as you like, building up layers of colour and shape.

Each individual piece of batik is unique, and because the chosen design is painted on free-hand you can change your mind creatively in the middle of applying the wax so there’s always an element of uncertainty in outcome of the process, which is probably the thing that really appeals to me – I like not knowing exactly what I’m going to end up with. Aaahhh… the memories… what fun I had… 🙂


One of the few things I learned at school by rote that I can still regurgitate verbatim without thinking about it at all is Pythagoras Theorem – ‘The square of the hypotenuse of a right angled triangle is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides.’ I’ve no idea why that particular theorem has stuck in my head for so long – I mean, it’s not like I’ve ever had to use it for anything in the last 40 years? (Come on all you right-angled triangles out there, gimme an angle to calculate, I’m all ready and waiting…)

Yet something that would be really useful to remember without ever having to think about it, and that I really do need to know quite often, is which way to turn a screwdriver to screw something in, and which way to turn it to screw something out. But every time without fail, I position the screwdriver squarely into the screw head, pause stiffly for a second with a sudden confused look of panic, and have to say to myself ‘Lefty loosey, righty tighty’ before I make my directional choice… 🙂

Fandango’s One Word Challenge: Verbatim

Stream of Consciousness Saturday: Rhymes with Rosy

I was born along the North East coast of Scotland, in a world where the Doric dialect was spoken. My mum went to a posh school in Aberdeen so always spoke ‘proper’ English, but my dad went to an ordinary secondary school and spoke mainly Doric – in fact, at 83, he still speaks Doric with family and fellow Aberdonians, but has since tempered his everyday accent to be better understood in the Inverness area he has lived in for the last 50 years or so.

Anyway, the point of the little family history lesson is that I mainly associate hearing an abundance of beautifully descriptive Doric with my early childhood memories, and oh, the wonderful words I miss these days! Because as well as the accent affecting how many easily distinguishable English words are spoken, at times Doric seems to have a completely different vocabulary all of its own. For example, I remember very rounded old ladies always wanting to give you a ‘bosie’ – the kind of cuddle that hugs you tight to their bosom (which presumably is where the word originated).

Other great Doric words I remember from childhood include ‘oxters’ for armpits, and all the Doric men I knew would be wearing a ‘sark’ and a ‘semmit’ – a shirt and a vest – and of course their work trousers would all be held up with ‘galluses’ – braces (suspenders). To be ‘drookit’ is to be soaked through and ‘clarty’ is dirty (I was a real tomboy, and if there was water or mud nearby I’d inevitably fall in, so remember hearing those particular words with regularity).

To ‘birl’ (rhymes with girl) is to spin around really fast (usually until you get dizzy) and to ‘dirl’ is to vibrate – like when you get a ‘skelp’ across the ‘lug’ (a smack on the ear) it gives you a ‘right dirl’. Not to be confused with the love-it-or-hate-it ‘skirl’ of the bagpipes though! If you’re ‘scunnered’ you’re fed up, and if you ‘canna thole’ something you can’t tolerate it, and to be ‘fair tricket’ is to be delighted. Hmmm… Probably best to stop there before I get myself into a right ‘bourach’ (or mess!).

So there we are, that was my random, rambling Stream of Consciousness Saturday post brought to you today by ‘bosie’, my slightly off-the-wall word that rhymes beautifully with rosy 🙂