Tuesday, 18 December 2012

The Square Sparrow 2012 – the Antidote to Round Robins

A lovely handmade gift from one of my pupils - the real spirit of Christmas

Dear all,                                                                                           

As the gold and silver memories of the Halcyon Olympic summer entwine seamlessly with similarly coloured tinsel on Christmas trees from Land’s End to John O’Groats, and as Rudolf and his antlered amigos enter their crucial last week of sledge endurance training, the moment has come to take stock of another year. In time-honoured tradition, no stone will be left unturned in Yours Truly’s quest to bring you a blow-by-blow account of family life at the Sparrowholding in the year 2012 AD.

The 21st ceilidh: kilts in full swing!
DaughterNo1 turned 21 in May and celebrated “Scottish style” with a riotous ceilidh in the local village hall (which, contrary to expectations, is still standing). Suffering significant withdrawal symptoms from Gallic culture and cuisine following her previous stay in the French capital, she chose to spend her 3rd year studying at the Sorbonne. ‘Paris: Act II – La Rentrée’ began with  a huge “dilemme” about which of the many available courses to study – a traumatic experience which saw daughter dear swithering between Courtly Conventions in Medieval French Literature and Ancient Egyptology (in French...). Quel problème, indeed. 

Of course, being a complete cultural philistine, Yours Truly would have swiftly resolved the situation by avoiding both courses like the plague (note token medieval analogy) and heading for Angelina’s Café on the Rue de Rivoli, there to imbibe hot chocolate so dense it’s more akin to luxury custard. As they say across the Channel, “à chacun son goût”. In addition to University, plus her evening job teaching “Baby English”, Daughter No.1 has joined a French hockey club. Consequently, she is amassing a useful new set of bijou French sporting phrases such as “go for the legs” and “that umpire doesn’t know his derrière from his elbow.”  

My precious: a tin of Angelina's chocolate powder
Daughter No.2 (19) is sharing a flat with two fun-loving fellow music students in Edinburgh and has continued her 2nd year of study just as she began her first: “inspecting” every possible pub and party venue for the good of the student body (though possibly not her own!). Sadly, successive bouts of tonsillitis mean that she has been consuming antibiotics as if they were Smarties this year. Indeed a cocktail of painkillers and antibiotics possibly contributed to her sleeping so soundly on the train home one weekend that she missed her stop, thereby causing Yours Truly to venture bravely into deepest Fife (bandit country...) to retrieve a semi-somnolent daughter several stations down the line before heading hotfoot (or rather “hotwheel”) up the M90 to attend a Beethoven Concert in Perth. 

To intense parental relief, she has swapped last year’s sleep-starved nightclub employment for a daytime job as a hockey coach, and is still getting used to being called “Miss”. Painful shin splints caused by her own excessive hockeying over the last decade mean she is often reduced to hobbling up the field instead of sprinting, but that doesn’t seem to have made her any less terrifying to her opponents. Indeed, one of her own teammates was overheard recently saying: “I’m really scared of her when she’s playing: she gets so angry...” 

The daughterly duo spent a sisterly summer together in the south, keeping 100s of 14–17 year-old language students on the straight and narrow (possibly an example of ”poacher turned gamekeeper” in DD2’s case). Their work was certainly far from dull  – for example, one of DD2’s charges slightly misunderstood the “total immersion” aspect of the course, and immersed himself in vodka rather than vocabulary, necessitating a 999 call. Another couple of students decided they’d head off to visit a friend in London for the weekend, but never thought to mention to the house manager (DD1) that they were going... Paramedic and police visits notwithstanding, it was an uneventful summer’s work experience!

Total immersion: the continental way...

As for Son+Heir (17), well, his teachers all share one thing in common: a grudging respect for his ability to turn homework avoidance into an art form. He is, it would appear, the Picasso of procrastination and the Degas of delaying tactics. Suffice to say, this year saw him continue his tour of the country’s educational establishments, culminating at our local high school. Fortunately, his lack of academic rigour is not mirrored by his unstinting efforts on the hockey pitch, and 2012 saw him head off to Ireland and Wales with the U18s and Germany with the U21s. In a rueful phone call during the latter trip, he advised his fond parents that as he and two of the others were under 18, they’d been dispatched to the funfair in Hamburg for the evening while the others sampled the city’s more “interesting” nightlife. Sadly, his weekend of high-level sport was marred by a collision with a German player who had evidently consumed several tonnes more Bratwurst than Son+Heir had haggis. Result: one dislocated shoulder and several weeks of enforced rest. 

While he was facing the might of the German sausage-munchers, his sisters and parents ventured to the Olympic Games. Yours Truly had, of course, secretly been hoping for selection, but since my prodigious penalty-flicking skills somehow failed to catch the eye of the GB coach, we had to settle for watching the real hockey players. There are no superlatives sufficient to do justice to the atmosphere that prevailed in the Olympic Park this summer. It was epic, amazing, sensational, phenomenal, incredible, utterly unforgettable – and that was just the giant McDonald’s...

Belgium vs Spain: superlative hockey skills

But I digress... Back to the family news and a marathon of a different sort: July saw Farmpa and Supergran celebrate 50 years of marriage, and recently another family milestone was reached when Farmpa turned 80 (though that doesn't stop him being out on the farm seven days a week!). HunterGatherer, too, remains firmly a man of the soil and, for the past six months, has been based on a large soft fruit and vegetable farm near Perth. Having spent long hours in the autumn getting up close and personal with turnips (a skill well honed after living with us for many years), our very own Baldrick is now busy tucking up strawberry plants in “bed” for their winter nap. 

Disappointingly, his often protracted working week has left little time for hockey, but he still managed to score the odd goal during his rare escapes from plant policing duties. One highlight of 2012 was attending his first-ever ‘pop concert’. Luckily we didn’t have to travel “500 miles” to see the Proclaimers, as they were performing just 25 miles down the road at Edinburgh Playhouse. The late-starter enjoyed the experience immensely, though his aged ears (they – and he – turned 50 in March) are still readjusting after this unprecedented assault on their unsuspecting tympanic membranes. His big 5-0 in the spring was celebrated with a family meal for the five of us at the Hard Rock Cafe in Edinburgh. Unfortunately, a 90-minute wait for a table saw the birthday boy (‘fresh’ from a 12-hour shift, in fairness) morph rapidly into a veritable Victor Meldrew [translation for foreign readers: ‘grumpy old man’!].

Nothing to beat hearing "Sunshine on Leith" in Leith!
In the spring, Yours Truly took the risk of jumping into the freelance abyss and – as the bank manager would, without doubt, testify – I’m still falling, though pleasingly at a slightly slower speed than back then. Painfully aware of my impending half-century (August 2013 – argggghhhh!), I tried to thwart the ravages of my insidiously sedentary lifestyle by playing hockey all summer as well as winter.  However, sadly a hefty collision in July saw my shoulder AC slightly displaced in one on-pitch collision, only to be knocked rather conveniently back into place during a second collision in September (which left me with whiplash instead!). Am now considering taking up freestyle rock climbing in the hope that it might prove a safer option. 

November was my most frenetic month of 2012, as – in a moment of madness – I signed up for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). This involved penning 1,667 words of prose per day for the whole month, in between doing the ‘day job’ (copywriting), the evening job (private tutoring) and playing Little Bo Peep to our 20 Shetland sheep (alias “the chocolate sheep”). The outcome of NaNoWriMo was one extremely rough 51,000-word novel, which is about as far from the infamous "50 Shades" as it is possible to get – and is thus destined to remain forever in the recesses of my PC and never see the light of a candle, far less a Kindle.

That was a hard month, that was...

Having dug deep (and missed a lot of sleep) for those 50+ thousand words in November, I had initially feared that it might be a step too far to gird my loins for this, albeit shorter, literary endeavour in December. However, the deeds of 2012 have now been consigned to virtual posterity, so it only remains for me to wish those hardy souls who have made it to the end of this epistle a very happy Christmas and a (not too) merry New Year!   

Festive greetings from all at the Sparrowholding and here's to a great 2013 :-) 

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