Not Waving but Drowning (just kidding)

I have to begin with a confession. After boasting about going for a bike ride in my last post, I haven’t done it again. Too scared. Too wobbly. Too much traffic. Frightened of falling off. Static bike in the Wash House yes, out on the road, no. It’s a U-turn. I know…….

I thought I’d get that out of the way first.

Tarot card for September (selected at random from the Major Arcana) is The Hanged Man. This is about sudden reversal, powerlessness, a trial of endurance. Waiting for change. We want to turn the hanging man the right way up and fix him. It is worth noting that he doesn’t seem too upset. He is smiling and even appears to be dancing. With 314 new Covid cases in Scotland in the last 48 hours, there seems no likelihood of life returning to normal any time soon. With his head near the ground, close to nature, our hanged man may acquire new understanding. We will certainly need patience.

Some things have cheered me recently. Lunch with friends in our favourite cafe. Staff in snazzy black masks. Greeter with clipboard. We wear masks, give mobile number and surname, use QR code for menu. Paper cups and plates. Tables rearranged. New cakes. The food and the atmosphere feel familiar and comforting. I was excited about heading to Glasgow where Cannyrob and I have two nights booked in a city centre hotel. We had planned dinner with Sister on Friday, afternoon tea with Oldest (in years of friendship) Friend on Saturday and a visit to Very Good Friends on Sunday but the news today about new restrictions means we may have to change our plans. It will be the first time we have seen any of them since last year.

Wearing a mask has inspired me to change my make up. My favourite orangey red lipstick leaves traces on my mask and can’t be seen anyway. I love my MAC eye palette (Art Library) and have had fun trying out different looks. All fairly extravagant. With lots of black mascara. I think it works, and even lasts through a swim.

Which takes me to a rediscovered pleasure – outdoor swimming! Our indoor pool may open again later this month, but in the meantime I’ve bought a wetsuit. The unused harbour is a good place to go when the tide is fairly high. Water temperature here is usually between 6° and 13°. I just love launching myself into the water, tasting the salt on my lips, floating on my back and looking at the sky, then turning over to watch the underwater scene of sand, plants and sea-life as I swim crawl or breaststroke with my face in the water. Daughter is coming to swim with me in two weeks time and I’m looking forward to swimming in the sea at Gairloch when we go up in the campervan later in the month. (Covid permitting)

A real joy over the last ten days has been the online Edinburgh Book Festival, free, available to all. Having been a faithful patron of the festival for a long time I was sceptical about how the virtual version would work, but I loved the intimacy of the interviews in my own living room! So many writers, such variety. My own favourites: Maggie O’Farrell, Hilary Mantel, Sebastian Barry, Ali Smith and Bernadine Evaristo (interviewed by Nicola Sturgeon).

Cannyrob and I have both been reading N.K. Jemisin’s The Broken Earth Trilogy, ‘proper’ science fiction, demanding and absorbing. In contrast, I’m now enjoying Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams. With its text messages and lively dialogue it reminds me a little of Michaela Coel’s BBC drama I May Destroy You. Its initially light-hearted tone gives way to a realistic portrayal of a young woman’s breakdown and the healing properties of family and friendship.

In Diary of a Young Naturalist by Dara McAnulty we see the world through the eyes of an autistic teenager. It helped me understand how his experience of life is different and special. Acclaimed poet Lemn Sissay’s book My name is Why tells a very different story of childhood and adolescence. Through his resilience and creativity he has overcome some of the hurt and rejection of his early years.

I have other books lined up, including Janice Galloway’s autobiographies, on order from Blackwells. Wee Boy has become a Dr Seuss fan, having discovered Hop on Pop and Fox in Socks in our house. He now has some of his own including Son’s favourite Green Eggs and Ham. He can read these funny, crazy books himself: I remember so well the thrill of finding I could read!

I’m glad that the children are back at school, but it brings another level of anxiety. The inevitable colds and tummy bugs are around, but so is Covid. Knowing when to keep them off is a tricky task for parents. Some children are happy to be back, others are struggling with leaving the security of home.

A friend’s grandson came home after his first day at secondary school

What did you do today?

Heavy sigh Double Covid

I feel good about finally 
completing my second Venice 
It's taken a while to put 
it all together but it is done.  
I've bought some new oil pastels 
so am planning to do some drawing, 
maybe portraits, next.  

Thanks for reading and for all your messages. How you are doing? Is life getting easier or just more complicated? Are we ready to move from Zoom back to real life?

Remember you can email me privately (about anything really) at or leave a comment below.

On My Bike

Absolutely not as a result of orders from Boris, I have been riding my bike for the first time in two years.  I ventured out early, round the deserted streets of a nearby housing estate.  I didn’t attempt to change gear, concentrating on steering and practising indicating.  It felt good, although my legs felt a bit wobbly when I got off.  I plan to do a bit of off-road training on the static bike in the Wash House.

Here is today’s randomly selected Tarot card, The Emperor.  This is a ‘seed’ card, marking the end of a cycle, furnishing the impetus for the next.  Rational thinking, practical measures now take precedence over emotion.  Does this meaning looking to government for guidance? Or trusting our own rational ideas?  Conscious judgements need to be made every day about where we go, who we see, how we plan our lives.  It is very different from the emotional, intuitive approach of lockdown.  The Emperor may be our ruler but we would do well to think for ourselves.

After weeks of blank calendar pages, our social life has been picking up.  Walks (and even lunch) with friends, Daughter staying overnight and a recent weekend visit from Wee Boy have made life busier.  Our lockdown decorating project had to be accelerated, with the theatre collage wall finally completed.  It consists of theatre posters and programmes from 1962 to the present day, with some art exhibition flyers.  It is hugely nostalgic for Cannyrob and me, with little prospect of getting back to the theatre in the foreseeable future.

As well as cutting and pasting for the wall, I’ve been getting back to some actual painting out in the Wash House.  This is my second Venice picture, based on photos and sketches from one of our last holidays, left half-finished before my knee operation. It feels so remote now.  We were there at the end of a long trip by rail from Leuchars in Fife, via London, Paris, Versailles, Zurich, Chur, Tirano, Milan, to Venice, coming back by sleeper, one of the last journeys by the Thello train to Paris.  It was a packed ten days!

I see that European sleeper services are in demand again as people opt not to fly.  There is a romance about rattling through the flashing dark, tucked up in a bunk. I am so glad we have had such great holidays over the past twenty years from San Sebastian to San Francisco.  Even if we never make it out of Scotland again. We have just cancelled a holiday in Tenerife booked a year in advance, for this November .  The prospect of last minute changes to rules and possible quarantine makes staying at home preferable.  Even locally, it is a challenge to go anywhere.  On Sunday we promised Wee Boy a picnic at our favourite (usually deserted) beach.  There was not even the possibility of parking.  Cars and campervans squeezed down the narrow road to park on verges.  Our second choice proved more accessible but it was too cold and windy to stay long. 

The gazebo in the garden provides a vaguely festive vibe (provided the puddles of water which collect in the roof don’t descend on unsuspecting guests).  I enjoy reading and lazing in my hammock (if I close my eyes to weeding and pruning).  We are very lucky to have our own outdoor space.

My varied summer reading continues.  I’ve just finished Maggie O’Farrell’s Hamnet, which I found fascinating, as a glimpse into the mystery of Shakespeare’s life, and moving, as a narrative of grief.  It has stayed with me.  I have returned to science fiction after many years.  If our real world seems too difficult to deal with just now, learning the lexicon of an invented reality is a diversion.  In The Fifth Season the world is threatened, not by a pandemic, but by constant tremors and earthquakes, requiring strict rules of behaviour. Masks are worn to protect against ash dust. I do plan to read Lemn Sissay’s book next though.

Some of you mentioned following up my book choices to read yourselves. I’d be interested to have some feedback.


There’s a hidden epidemic of racism in UK schools – but it’s finally coming to light 

Aditya Chakraborrty

…..62% of black Britons agreed that the reducation system had a culture of racism. It is also to see just how school communities can punish their non-white children. Black girls are still policed for their physical appearance; Asian kids are laughed at for having strict parents. In the whiter areas or the better schools, there is often a sense that the minority-ethnic children are lucky just to be there. Naomi told me about starting primary in Chelmsford, Essex, and being the only black girl in her class. Kids called her “poo”, said she smelled and laughed at her hair. “I felt very, very ugly,” she said.

‘We couldn’t be silent’: the new generation behind Britain’s anti-racism protests.

This article contains shocking interviews with young people about their personal experience of racism.

Thanks so much to all of you who responded to my last post.  Most felt that we should keep our statues but put them in a historical context.  My Wee Sister sent me this example of modern sculpture via WhatsApp.

Wee Sister: Have you seen St Mirren, put up a few years ago? It’s horrific!! All out of proportion, he has tiny legs.

Me: He has a footballer haircut.    

Wee Sister: Looks like a very sad pint sized wee guy whose mum gave him a perm.

How has this summer been for you? Do message, email ( or leave a comment/reply below.

Leaving Lockdown, Challenging Assumptions

I was intrigued to see which Tarot card the Major Arcana would turn up today.  It’s The Hermit, a wise old man holding a lamp.  Exuding calm, his simple presence brings new light and hope when we have lost our way.  His message is to discover and nurture our own hidden spark, withdrawing from society if we need to. Talking to family and friends I find we are all wary of coming out of lockdown, of returning to ‘normal’ activities. Friends admit reluctance to commit to meetings, actual and virtual.  Like the Hermit, we need more space and time for quiet reflection and growth.  I like the idea that this wise man is there, watching over me.

This poem, quoted by Seamus O'Reilly
in his Guardian column, appealed to me:

Subh Mills by Seamus O'Neill. (Translated)
There was jam on the door handle, 
But I suppressed the anger that rose up
in me,
Because I thought of the day that the door
handle would be clean,
And the little hand would be gone.
Children have lost some of their innocence, 
some of their trust in the world being a
benign place, taught not to touch door
handles, to keep washing their hands,
to see danger everywhere.

Black Lives Matter has become the focus for young people leaving lockdown to come out on the streets. It has certainly generated discussion. A friend asked ‘Where are you on statues?’ I’ve thought a lot about my own attitudes to race. I  remember a school assembly just after Rhodesian Prime Minister Ian Smith’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence on November 11th 1965 to prevent black majority rule in what is now Zimbabwe.  Our school chaplain, Rev Dr William Rogan, spoke in support of Smith and white supremacy,  From the top balcony one of the science teachers shouted ‘Shame on you!’  I was very struck by this unprecedented evidence of opposing views expressed in the setting of my very traditional school.  It generated a great deal of discussion among pupils and staff.  At home that night I had an argument with my parents about it and I think that was the start of my awareness of the injustices of colonialism.

In 1968, Enoch Powell’s ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech again divided opinion and I remember many heated exchanges.  By then I was at university and attended political debates which widened my knowledge and shaped my views.  I had still encountered very few non-white people but that began to change.  Friends adopted two mixed race children (this was the 70’s).  My own children were unaware that they were in any way different from them.  A close friend whom I visited in Oxford in the 1980s had an African partner and friends from different racial backgrounds. Now I too have friends of different ethnicities.

Bernardine Evaristo’s book, Girl, Woman, Other, had a major impact on me.  By telling the stories of women of colour from different generations and backgrounds, she paints a vivid picture of the casual racism experienced in Britain over past decades up to the present day.

In Sitting in Limbo, a recent BBC tv drama, a Jamaican-born British man, Anthony Bryan, living in the UK since 1965, is a victim of the UK Home Office ‘hostile environment’ policy. He is suddenly told he has no right to remain and taken to a detention centre. The idea of repatriation has become acceptable although in the 1950’s Commonwealth citizens were encouraged to come here. Many people are still waiting for their cases to be resolved.

David Olusoga, a historian born in Nigeria, goes some way towards explaining this in his book and BBC television series Black and British. There have always been black Britons, seen at different times as equals, novelties, entertainers, freaks, pets, soldiers, cheap labour and, of course, slaves.  Black Tudors by Miranda Kaufmann tells the story of the free Africans of 16th C England when social class was more important than skin colour.  Theories about fundamental genetic inferiority, limited intellectual capacity, insensitivity to pain, lack of morality,  came later as scientific knowledge developed in the 19th C.  The history of the slave trade is well known, although to read the stark detail of Bunce Island, the notorious British slave trading fort in Sierra Leone and the horrors of the ‘Middle Passage’
(the sea journey undertaken by slave ships from West Africa to the West Indies) is shocking. I was also appalled by the way black soldiers were treated in both world wars.

Blood & Sugar by Laura Shepherd-Robinson is a
fascinating, if harrowing, historical novel
which uses real events such as the Zong massacre
as the background to a murder mystery. This event
was the mass drowning of more than 130 enslaved
Africans by the crew of a British slave ship in
November 1781. Set in Deptford, London, it
deals with inter-racial relationships, the
politics of the slave trade and, above all, power.
For light relief, I'm painting my nails
and eyelids blue (just for fun) and reading
this clever ghost story by Elly Griffiths.

I read about Grace Nichols in the Observer. Born in Guyana, she wrote this poem in May. It’s called Harbour

How are you doing? Just getting back to normal or creeping cautiously outside and retreating? Where are you on statues? Let me know through commenting below, emailing, WhatsApp or however suits you.

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