Monday, 25 February 2013

A birthday to remember – for all the wrong reasons!

I have a tendency for catastrophe.  This facet of my character was observed during my student days by my flatmates, who, to celebrate/commiserate with me, once bought me a card. On the outside it said, optimistically: “One day your ship will come in...”  On the inside, it said: “And knowing your luck, you’ll be waiting at the airport.”

Daughter No2 could probably empathise with me, after her 20th birthday yesterday was marred by a similarly unfortunate travel mix-up – only this time a real-life one.  It had all seemed like such a great idea... She and a group of old school friends were meeting up in Newcastle for the weekend, to mark the birthday of both DD2 and another chum. 

Being an impecunious student, she had booked the train ticket weeks in advance, to ensure a low-cost fare. And lo and behold, Trainline must have known that she would be returning north on her 20th birthday, as they offered her the chance to “top up” her ticket to First Class for the princely sum of £1.00.  Daughter dear whooped inwardly with delight, said “yes” and began to look forward to her first-ever first class travel experience.

Having evidently inherited her mother’s slightly (!) chaotic tendencies, DD2 was a tad flustered when she pitched up at Newcastle Central station yesterday afternoon and proceeded hurriedly, but in good time, to the platform. 

Along came an Edinburgh-bound train at around the right time, so she jumped aboard, made her way in anticipation to the hallowed terrain of the First Class carriage, and duly sank down in comfort to enjoy the journey back North to Edinburgh. A fairy-tale ending to a lovely weekend.  Or it should have been... 

Enter a grumpy , middle-aged male train conductor, stage left, like the veritable panto villain. He took one disdainful look at DD2’s first-class ticket and said, with not a little pleasure: “You’re on the wrong train. This is a CrossCountry train – your ticket is for the East Coast train. You’ll need to buy another ticket.”  

DD2 was simultaneously perplexed and confused, as her mistake (a genuine one – the train she had mistakenly boarded had been running slightly late so arrived closer to the time her train was due) was explained to her. Her public shaming was carried out loudly, in full view and hearing of all other passengers, and with no discretion whatsoever.

The happy chappy (let’s call him “Kev” – because that appeared to be his name) insisted that she pay £30 there and then for a ticket, which only caused her more distress, as she had to explain (still in full public hearing) that she was a student and didn’t know whether there would be sufficient funds in her account to cover that. 

“Well then, you’ll just have to stay at the station in Edinburgh when we get there until someone pays it for you or transfers money into your account,” retorted her inquisitor, with less compassion than a seriously hungry lion getting stuck in about a frightened wildebeest.

By this time, the humiliation and sheer disappointment of the happy birthday train journey gone wrong had become too much for DD2 – who is not known for displays of weakness even when in pain (just ask her hockey opponents). She became visibly upset as he booted her verbally (and again with no discretion) out of the First Class carriage.

She then proceeded to spend the entire (£30) journey sitting on the floor or standing in the small space between carriages, as there were no seats at that point in the second class carriages. Incidentally, Kev walked past her several times and completely ignored her.

I have absolutely no problem with him asking DD2 to leave the carriage or pay for another ticket – those were the inevitable and unfortunate consequences of her having accidentally alighted a train run by a different company from the one she bought her ticket from. Lousy luck, but these things happen – even on your birthday.

What I cannot excuse is his officious and uncompassionate handling of the situation.  If he had been a semi-decent human being, he could still have been paid the fare and have got her out of his precious carriage without utterly humiliating her.

Firstly, he could easily have kept his voice down when discussing the situation with her rather than turning it into a public spectacle. Secondly, whilst still charging her for the ticket (which I fully accept he had to do) he could have at least sympathised with about her misfortune, instead of using it as an opportunity for his own professional peacockery. Even when his poor passenger mumbled through her embarrassment that this wasn’t much of a way to spend her birthday, he didn’t bat an eyelid.  

I do hope the illustrious ‘Kev’ enjoyed his moment of power and glory yesterday afternoon – that he went home basking in the warm glow of satisfaction that can only be achieved from having kicked a fellow human being when they were down.  And no doubt it gave him even more of a kick to know that he’d ruined her birthday, too. Truly a job well done!

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Stovies and stripping the willow

You know who your friends are...

My acute sense of smell is legendary in our family – I inherit it from Farmpa (also a keen bloodhound!) and it has a tendency to drive HunterGatherer and our offspring mad.   I think it fair to say that my over-zealous olfactory faculties have been particularly tiresome to the kids during the teenage years, when I could detect scents of smoke/drink/etc at 50 paces. Indeed, had I not been tee-total, I fancy I might well have carved out a pretty successful career as a wine taster in some remote sun-kissed vineyard in France (a girl can dream!).  As it is, instead I spend most of my days sniffing out Son+Heir’s dirty hockey socks from their multifarious hiding places in his personal midden bedroom.

Exhibit A: removed from Son+Heir's bedroom recently
One distinct advantage, however, of having a good sense of smell is the ability to appreciate food.  And, as ever, I’ve been doing plenty of appreciating recently... including a batch of delicious home-made tablet brought to me by a fellow pedant and proofreader, S, who popped in a couple of weeks back to discuss an imminent collaboration.

Evidently S’s quests for orthographical excellence are mirrored (unlike mine) by her pursuit of perfection in the kitchen. Suffice to say, her tablet was a sugary hit of the highest order and disappeared post haste.  As indeed did the other gift which she brought with her: a bar of Swiss chocolate – perhaps not as versatile as a Swiss army knife but tastes infinitely better!

Calorific but terrific tablet

To add further torture to my best diet intentions, I'd the opportunity to tuck into another Scottish delicacy over the weekend - in the form of a stovie supper - when HunterGatherer and I enjoyed a rare evening out on Friday at a Valentine's Ceilidh in the local hamlet church hall. And what a "rare" (in the Scots's sense of the word) night it proved to be, kicking off with a Valentine's Hat competition, which many locals (with the exception of our table - we were there with a couple of fellow Shetland sheep breeders) had evidently taken very seriously.  Entries ranged from a charming lady with an attractive green light shade on her head to intricate hand-made offerings featuring myriad red love hearts, to a gentleman wearing an illuminated top hat.  Competition was tough, and the judge certainly didn't mince her words, dispatching one poor soul from the parade with an acetic "Well, you obviously haven't made much effort at all!" 

Tension mounts as the hat judging begins
Needless to say, our bashful foursome watched the ongoings agog, while privately thanking our lucky stars that we hadn't exposed ourselves to the straight-talking judge's frank - albeit amusing provided you weren't on the receiving end! - critique. The lively Ceilidh band kept the whole evening reeling along nicely, and HunterGatherer and I proved that despite stumbling disgracefully into our 50s (he last year and me this coming August) we can still dance a pretty mean Strip the Willow. The fact that I could barely walk this morning due to the after-effects of stuffing my normally welly-clad feet into court shoes for three hours is neither here nor there...

The rest of February bodes to be busy, as Yours Truly continue with one of several current projects: 65,000 plus words of proofreading (a novel – not written by me). This is to be followed by a similarly weighty proofing project in conjunction with my tablet-temptress proofreading pal. As a certain explorer is rumoured to have said, “I may be gone some time” i.e. blog posts might be scarce for the rest of this month. Chocolate, I suspect, will not...  

                                                     Did someone mention chocolate?

50 (well, 3!) shades of chocolate sheep: dark, milk and white choc

Sunday, 10 February 2013

What would be on your kist list?

Home Sweet Home - but what if you had to leave?
When not correcting other folk’s words, I pen a few of my own and am a member of our local Creative Writing Group, which meets twice monthly.  We’re an eclectic group and produce work that ranges from lyrical poetry to sci-fi to amusing anecdote.  For our last meeting, the optional brief was to imagine that we’d been given a short time to pack our most precious possessions and leave our home, possibly never to return...  We were given a fictional “kist” (old Scots word for “chest” or “trunk”) in which to place the chosen objects and, to my surprise, apart from the family, FatCat, FatHorse and the Chocolate Sheep, plus essentials such as passports and critical paperwork, there were very few material possessions that really meant a lot to me.  Here's my motley collection of “treasures” which I felt would be worth saving:

Sentimentals: my kist list
First up, would be an album of photos, including a wedding photo of HunterGatherer and myself (so any grandchildren would know we weren’t always grey and wrinkly!) plus a selection of our three offspring growing up from infancy to now – just a few snaps to remind us how they’ve stretched from cute, cuddly bundles of mischief to edgy, adolescents and eventually (in the case of the girls, at least!) to mature, sensible young adults. These are irreplaceable memories that, as a mother, I would be terribly sad to lose.

Second into my kist would be the small, furry teddy that my mum (aka Supergran) gave me when I travelled abroad on school exchanges as a teenager. She knew that I had no room in my luggage for a soft toy, not to mention the fact that it would not necessarily be deemed “cool” to carry a full-grown ted with me as a hip, trendy teen. So she removed a fawn, 3-inch-high teddy furry motif from a sleep suit that had been mine as a toddler (possibly one of the earliest recorded “onesies”!) and stitched a back onto it to form a tiny flat transportable teddy.

Third in would be my younger daughter’s first flute, which bears the scars of being the possession of a rather butter-fingered owner. Music has been an essential part of the past 21 years of child-rearing – almost every night for about a decade there were up to five music practices done in our household.  No X-boxes or PlayStations in sight at our “boring” residence! As the flute is the only instrument that would fit in my kist, it would have to be the memento of those musical years. One particular dent in it still fills me with maternal mortification.  Being a member of Sunday School at the time, Daughter dear had been asked to play in an adult-only Easter Communion at the local parish church, where everything tends to extremely conservative – and that’s with a capital 'C' and a lower case 'c'! At one point in the service, there was a period of silence for meaningful contemplation, and DD chose that precise moment to allow her flute to roll off her lap and clang loudly onto the floor of the church. As if this was not bad enough, the clang was followed by the stertorial whisper of her father saying “Jesus Christ, girl!"  So the bashed but beautiful little curved-headed flute, full of happy and mortifying memories, has to come.

Each bump and scratch = a musical memory

The fourth item on the sentimental list is peculiarly precious to me – it was given to me by a complete stranger on the Potato Marketing Board stand back in 1989 at the East of England Show near Peterborough. I was one of the Scottish Potato Representatives on the stand, tasked with chatting to all visitors and extolling the virtues of Scotland’s natural role as a producer of disease-free seed potatoes. While I was conversing with an elderly American gentleman about the merits of Scottish growing conditions, he suddenly plunged his hand into his pocket and leant towards me almost conspiratorially, whispering: “You seem the sort of girl who’d appreciate this.”  

Then he pressed something smooth and flat swiftly into my palm.  Somewhat taken aback and not sure what my gift of stealth might be,  I looked at the object – it was a stone, polished till it almost shone, but not painted – completely natural. It was triangular in shape and half yellow/half grey in colour. Fortunately, I was well trained by SuperGran at an early age to appreciate stones – indeed she still can't pass a white “chuckie” stone without commenting on it.  So my reaction of delight at this lovely and unexpected gift was completely genuine, a fact that was not lost on the donor. Leaning towards me again, he said earnestly: “There’s somethin’ special about rocks, isn’t there?” His wonderful words have stayed in my mind, and I see that stone as the symbol of the age-old bond that links man to the earth and its natural treasures – not diamonds or emeralds. Just pretty stones.

There is one final precious possession that I would try to find when packing my kist, and it is a single ear ring. A tiny ornate gold leaf that dangles from the traditional, drop ear ring metallic twist.  It is the sole survivor of the pair of ear rings that SuperGran bought me when I plucked up the courage to have my ears pierced – my first (and only) rebellious act after leaving high school. Leaves are significant for mum and me, as there is one particular bough of a tree on the farm where I grew up, which for some reason has leaves that dance in the wind and “sing”. Every autumn when they were turning to a different colour from their peers and “singing” their sibilant song, my mother would with me to the tree so we could both share in this magical music of the countryside. Simple pleasures.  What about you? What would you put in your kist? 

Don't forget to pack us!