Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Thwarting the thief of time – by blogging...

There is a certain irony in the fact that after perusing a fascinating article about procrastination on the BBC Viewpoint page last night (and recognising too many time-wasting traits for comfort) I suddenly felt spurred to pen a long overdue blogpost.  There is undoubtedly further irony in the fact that, by turning my attentions to writing this blog, I am neatly dodging a host of other – possibly definitely more urgent – tasks...
After the plethora of ‘pre-fifty’ pontifications published in my last blogpost, you’d imagine that in the three weeks since I penned it, I’d have been exuding positivity and rigorously pursuing a ‘sensible’ diet for a middle-aged woman who is striving to achieve mens sana in corpore sano by August 7th, 2013.
Yes, after all my heady promises about becoming a ‘half-full bottle of Irn Bru’ person and getting into shape to embrace my half-century, you’d imagine that by now I’d be oozing wellbeing and starting each day with a lowfat-milk-and-branflake-fuelled bellow of “Say ‘no’ to negativity! “ You could imagine all that – but you’d be wrong...
In my defence, there were a couple of setbacks on the positivity front. Firstly, my beloved little Shetland pony Veness (named after a place on Orkney) – whom we’d been treating daily for laminitis for the past 2 months – suddenly fell seriously ill with internal haemorrhaging during the weekend that we were en famille (almost) at the Olympics.
Luckily, Veness was being cared for by the eminently practical P (she who single-handedly cooked dinner for 80 at DD1’s 21st back in June). P called the vet immediately, and the only explanation he could offer was that being desperate to eat any greenery (because we had to keep her off grass in deference to her laminitis), she had possibly eaten a poisonous leaf from a neighbouring tree, perhaps wafted into her small enclosure by the wind. As Veness was on a diet of dry feed, she would no doubt have avidly gobbled up anything remotely green, even things Mother Nature would normally have told her not to.
So it was that on Friday, 10th August, I had the rather surreal experience of standing in the middle of the wonderfully upbeat and inspiring Olympic Park in Stratford, fresh from watching the GB women’s hockey team winning a bronze medal, and giving our vet permission via mobile phone to put our lovely little Shetland pony down.  It felt utterly wrong not to have the chance to say goodbye to her and, even now, I still look out our kitchen window every day while washing the dishes and expect to see her peeking cheekily back at me from the field shelter. P thoughtfully cut off a small piece of Veness’s forelock for me to remember her by, and I’ve squirrelled it away safely.
Columbine, aka Combine, the Highland pony is looking rather ‘sheepish’ with her new field companions (Spot and Cocoa the Shetland tups)
A further (much less serious, but still frustrating) disappointment came in the form of yet another injury to Son+Heir. After at least 30 seconds of contemplation, he had opted to forego our long-planned family sortie south to the Olympics in favour of an unexpected invite to join Scotland U21 men’s hockey squad in Germany, for their final weekend of training games before the European Championships in Holland (still happening at time of writing).
Sadly in the second training game against a top German club side, Son+Heir was on the receiving end of a hefty tackle from a former German national senior team player, resulting in a re-dislocation of that unlucky left shoulder. Not only did this unfortunate incident rule him out of contention for the European U21 Championships team, it also means that nearly three weeks later, he’s still not able to wield his hockey stick in battle.  Still, at least the shoulder is steadily improving, thanks to the interventions of our friendly local physio.
Meanwhile, out in the Sparrowholding garden,  green things that should be growing and thriving are - quite simply – not! [That bottle of Irn Bru is looking less full by the minute, n’est-ce pas?!]  The leaves on the lovely Victoria, our valiant plum tree, have evidently been hosting that lethal larva The Very Hungry Caterpillar – plus all his chomping caterpillar friends in Scotland by the looks of it.  Not one of the baby plums that I spotted earlier in the season has survived, and the same goes for the nectarines in the polytunnel. Only one of the 20 apples on the apple tree has resisted the relentless ‘summer’ rain splurges, and now – to top it all – the potatoes have succumbed, perhaps inevitably given the season, to blight. However, on the POSITIVE side (pour in a generous measure of Irn Bru), the blackcurrants and Tayberries were plentiful, and the spinach in the polytunnel is proving superprolific this year.  Better still, the peas have formed a promising crop of pods, so it’s not all doom and gloom J
Holy Moses – a holey plum tree! 
Bothersome blight – our once healthy potato plants don’t look so good now...
All in all, HunterGatherer and I have one very good reason to be hugely grateful. For despite the various minor horticultural horrors that we may be facing, at least we’re not full-time tenant farmers trying to scrape a living out of this precarious, weather-governed, growing game!  I positively shudder to think how my brother and father (Farmerbruv and Farmpa) must be feeling at the moment.  Indeed, I suspect their bottle of Irn Bru is looking pretty darned empty...

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Facing up to failure as I flail towards fifty

This week something rather perturbing happened: Yours Truly turned 49. Why so perturbing, you might wonder? After all, it’s just one more year. But this, of course, is not just any year: it’s a landmark, because in just one more short year (and years feel exceedingly short by the time you’ve notched up nearly half a century’s worth of them) I shall be ... cue slightly disquieting music... fifty. I can’t quite make up my mind how I feel about this, but one thing is for sure: I am painfully aware of how many sinister character flaws I had intended (but have so far failed) to “address” before I hit the big 5-0. 
This list of personal aberrations to be conquered in twelve measly months is alarmingly long: get fitter, lose weight, subdue my plethora of paperwork into some semblance of order, be more organised and focused in my copywriting and translating tasks, eat more healthily, make significantly more effort to dress in something other than baggy jeans, a holey (no, I don’t mean holy...) rugby shirt and wellies (or even sandals and socks!), veer away from a distinct tendency towards pessimism and start to ooze positivity instead. Aaarrghhh - where to begin?!
Let’s start with the positivity issue. Half full or half empty – which type of bottle are you? According to my beloved offspring, I am a typically Scottish half-empty Irn Bru bottle.  Personally I prefer to call it realism – finely honed by the intermittent buffeting one inevitably experiences as one navigates one’s way across the choppy waters of life. What’s more, I am pretty confident that in another 30 years, the said sprogs’ life experiences will have sent their cynicism into overdrive and then they’ll finally understand where their grumpy old mum was coming from.  Anyway, as I see it, I’m in a win-win situation, because if I expect things to go wrong and they do, then I have the satisfaction of having been right. And if, contrary to my Calvanistically cautious expectations, things do actually go right, then I can be happy that they did – despite having been wrong... The logic all seems perfectly sound to me ;-).
Two other little idiosyncrasies that I am hoping to tackle in the coming 360 or so days are 1) being a tad too pedantic and 2) being slow to let go of past mistakes. Now whilst being an unashamed pedant has its (not “it’s”...) definite advantages when it comes to being a proofreader, my inability to forget failures is something that I seriously struggle with. Daughter No2, on the other hand, has no such problems and could certainly teach me a thing or three about never brooding over her mistakes. The reason? Well, partly because she hardly ever makes any mistakes (according to her...). But more importantly, on the rare occasion when she does concede that she might just have got something ever so slightly wrong, she simply says “I can’t change that now” and moves on without a backwards glance. Unlike her fond mama, it has to be said...  

Just take the example of my Higher results (rather topical this week, given that this year's Higher results have just been released here in Scotland and are “the best ever”).  I should confess here that out of all the academic exams I've ever sat, I only once dropped to a B grade – and that was in my Higher maths. Now, most sensible people would be very happy to have only one B, but being the self-confessed sad perfectionist that I am, that blinking 'B' still haunts me to this day. Try as I might to forget about it, it is always there, lurking in the back of my mind.

And my mathematical misery is not completely alone in my murky cerebral recesses, because keeping it company are the  failed cycling proficiency test (the result of my far-too-busy farmer father's failure to fix the brakes on my bike before the test and a crushing blow to any 11-year-old!). There is also a skulking lone German word “Nelke”, which had the audacity to pop up in my O’Grade German exam (bear in mind that we’re now talking 34 – thirty-four! – years ago) and which, Ach Du Liebe, I did not know. My agony was made infinitely worse upon emerging from the exam hall, when my arch rival in the German class informed me smugly that he had known it meant “carnation”. I'm ashamed to admit that ever since that moment, I’ve struggled to subdue a wholly unreasonable resentment towards this lovely, unsuspecting flower species.
Of course, with the benefit of hindsight and (many years of) maturity, I can see how utterly ridiculous this relentless self-flagellation about such minor failures is. Any life coach worth his or her salt would tell me to put these things firmly behind me and move on.  And they would be 100% right.

So that is what the next 12 months are going to be about: changing my paradigm as I flail through my fiftieth year - putting myself to rights. That means I’ll be cutting down on calories (and yes, that includes my favourite cocoa bean derivatives), forcing myself to tackle the mile-high pile of paper on my desk (and the kitchen table and the coffee table and the sitting-room floor ...), and stop punishing myself perpetually for things that happened a very long time ago and that were never really that important in the first place. It’s not going to be easy - nothing that’s worth doing in life ever is – but luckily, I’ve never been afraid of hard work. In fact, I have something to say to you, “Oh 50th year of my life,” (I knew that vocative case that I learned for my Higher Latin would be useful one day...): "BRING IT ON!"

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

A gold medal and a golden wedding aniversary

Pushy parents often get bad press, but there are times when – as a parent – there is a strong case for being at least moderately pushy, and one of those times is if your child has a natural talent that they wish with all their heart to pursue and which thus needs careful nurturing.  “Nurture” sounds like such a positive, gentle word, doesn’t it?  Yet supporting a youngster who happens to demonstrate a particular sporting skill from an early age brings with it an immense responsibility. The huge commitment which has to be made by parents is often financially draining (especially in the case of pursuits involving expensive equipment) and always time-consuming. 
This sacrifice by parents (and indeed sometimes by a budding sportsperson’s entire family) was alluded to by the mother of South African swimmer Chad Le Clos the other night, after he stormed to victory in the 200m butterfly.  And she is not alone in her awareness of the commitment that serious sports training involves for the mums, dads, grandparents and/or extended family members who loyally transport swimmers to pools, runners to tracks and hockey players to pitches come rain, hail or shine, day in and day out.
I remember once hearing rugby player Phil Vickery being interviewed on radio, just after his autobiography had been published. He spoke movingly about the fact that during all the years he was training with local, district and national squads as a teenager, his mum would have to sit waiting in the car for him – sometimes in the freezing cold with a blanket over her knees and a flask of coffee for company.  And the former England captain was very obviously genuine in his gratitude to her for being prepared to put up with a degree of discomfort on a regular basis in order to allow him to pursue his dream.
Even at a much lower level, I hesitate to calculate the number of miles that I’ve driven over the past decade, transporting Son+Heir to a succession of hockey training, matches, camps, more training sessions, etc. By now my carbon footprint is probably roughly the size of a Hebridean island, purely as a result of these sporting forays (and that's despite having shared transport with other hockey mums wherever possible). The time commitment is not inconsiderable either, though I don't grudge one minute of it, for I'd far rather that Son+Heir was engaged in real live sport than pretending to play it on a computer game (the Sparrowholding has always been an XBox and Playstation-free zone).

                                             Practice makes perfect
Take last weekend, for example: 6 hours on Saturday and Sunday sitting proofreading in an Edinburgh car park during a Scotland U21s training camp (not wanting to drive home in between for risk of the dreaded carbon footprint becoming Scotland-sized!). This coming weekend it looks likely that I shall be spending another 2 x 6 hours in a similarly exotic car park in Glasgow (although at least this one has the benefit of being within walking distance of House for an Art Lover , which does excellent afternoon teas!).
So when I admire all those Olympians (be they winners or losers), whose relentless schedule will have involved a gazillion times more training and travel than I can ever begin to imagine, I also spare a thought for the legions of family members who supported these athletes in their quest to be the best. And I also understand the delight and pride of those parents when dreams do come true and their child wins a much-strived-for medal. Few could have failed to appreciate the reaction of Chad Le Clos’s inimitable dad, Bert, to his son’s victory, as seen in this BBC interview. I’d like to hazard a guess that at some point in the past, Bert will have had the “pushy parent” label applied to him, yet by being pushy in a positive way, he has allowed his child to fulfil his undeniable potential. Bert has every right to be proud of his son – and he also happens to be endearingly funny!
Although still sticking loosely with the theme of gold, now for something completely different... Last week we celebrated the Golden Wedding Anniversary of my beloved mum and dad (aka Supergran and Farmpa).  Now, as I’ve described in previous blogposts, Yours Truly is a botcher extraordinaire when it comes to baking. I can render a cake flat from 60 paces and brutalise (or perhaps even brittle-ise!) a biscuit without blinking.  For these very sound reasons, the family opted to commission a cake to mark the occasion from Celebration Cakes in Perth.  And these gateau gurus certainly went to town on the decorations, all based on photos and info that I gave them about the happy couple. As I'm sure you'll understand looking at the photo below, we were delighted with the result :-).
Golden Wedding Anniversary Cake - yum!
Farmpa is sitting happy as Larry aboard his beloved Grey Fergie tractor and Supergran is sitting beside her tennis racket, fresh from thrashing her latest opponent. It would appear that the strong competitive streak (this is, after all, the woman who had Farmerbruv and Yours Truly out in the garden practising sprint starts the night before each school sports day...) never fades, no matter how old you are!