Monday, 29 December 2014

Merry and Bright

'Merry' and 'Bright' are definitely the right words to describe Christmas in The Little House this year. Last Christmas we knew that it was going to be our last in the farmhouse we so loved and the upcoming move in January hung over us all like a black cloud. This year things were more relaxed and, now settled once again, the skies were literally bright and the mood merry. 
The happy snowmen collection 
The run-up, as always, was a little frantic with lots of last-minute present buying, card writing, meal planning and house decorating. Every year I vow to be more organised, to start earlier, to sort through the overflowing Christmas boxes before putting them away, to spread the cost across the year etc. etc. but it never happens and I'm running around in a festive panic - thank heavens for Amazon Prime! 

Christmas baking
Inevitable materialism aside, there was much to be grateful for this year not least the fact that we were able to have my mother-in-law with us once again. Having won a hard fought battle against cancer a few years ago, at 80 years old, she remains one of the most glamorous grannies I know though being Danish she prefers the term 'farmor' - father's mother. 

Farmor is very popular with Fabbydoo and Luna too!
Old Christmas books came down from the loft and we enjoyed looking through them all. I especially love 'Mog's Christmas'. If you don't know the Mog series by Judith Kerr then I should explain that Mog is a thoroughly silly cat who is always getting into scrapes. In this particular adventure she is not impressed by the Christmas tree at all and escapes to the roof only to then fall down the chimney! 

The Wonderful Man excelled himself with not one but two Christmas feasts and not for the first time I thanked my lucky stars that I married a man who can cook!  Christmas Eve was our Danish celebration complete with traditional ham and caramel potatoes not forgetting the rice pudding and marzipan pigs. I wrote more about Danish Christmas Eve or Juleaften in this post last year.  

Then on Christmas Day the UK version where we ended up more stuffed than the turkey!

Christmas table set
Unlike Mog, I am very impressed by our Christmas tree this year.  It is a proper fir tree complete with little cones, thick branches and lovely long needles that so far have stayed in place.  We have many tree decorations but that doesn't stop us buying at least one new one each year. This year's favourite? I think it would have to be the Christmas sloth! 
If I'm honest, then I'd say these quiet days inbetween Christmas and New Year are my favourite.It's lovely to be able to stay in my dressing gown all day, to read, watch seasonal classics, eat peculiar mixtures of leftovers and at the end of the day just to sit by the fire and watch the twinkly Christmas lights. Hope your Christmas was merry and bright too. Blessings to you and yours.  

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Life with the Old Lady

Well it's been a little while since posting. Don't worry, we haven't moved again! My excuse this time is the Old Lady who's been rather difficult lately and makes getting through the week feel like a battle. Who on earth is the old lady you ask? Well this is what I call Sjogren's Syndrome, a chronic autoimmune condition. You can read more about her here. As illnesses go it's not so serious, and I am really grateful for that, but it is downright annoying and makes me feel about 97 rather than 47. Plus, the weird sounding name is hard to pronounce (and spell) and no one has ever heard of it. Old lady syndrome seems more fitting.

At my last rheumatology appointment I was asked to describe the difficulties the old lady causes in order to work out the best course of treatment to manage her. Here's a typical day:

Dr Ziodberg a.k.a Lobster hands!
Morning time the old lady makes it really difficult to wake up. It doesn't matter how early a night I've had, or how well I've slept, I always wake up feeling exactly the same way I did when I went to bed...exhausted. The 6 o'clock alarm is like the boxer's count and even trying to lift my head off the pillow is a Herculean effort. Having got out of bed, the task of getting washed and dressed takes twice as long as my stiff and aching joints refuse to move. My children call me 'lobster hands' or 'Dr Ziodberg' after the character in Futurama as my hands tend to seize up making it impossible to do anything involving fine motor skills - I've lost count of the amount of mugs I've dropped. I have considered filming the pantomime of me trying to put on tights as I think it's worthy of You've Been Framed or YouTube.

Dry eyes are one of the most common old lady symptoms and I have plethora of gels and drops. Before I had this condition I thought artificial tears were something actors used to fake crying, now I use them around 8 times every day otherwise I look like Marty Feldman.  People look in horror when they see me putting drops in my eyes. I think it's something lots of people are squeamish about but I've got used to doing this anytime, anywhere, even without a mirror.
Marty Feldman (image credit. wampler foundation)
Trying to work full time is hard and my job as a specialist learning support teacher is not one I can do from home. I am beginning to learn how to adapt my teaching to suit the old lady. As much as possible children come to see me in my little classroom rather than me go to them. They think it's funny when I whizz around the room on my office wheely chair and they love that they get to write on the whiteboard. My school have been really understanding and do not, thankfully, expect me to do a whole range of extra curricular activities. 

The brain fog that seems to accompany so many autoimmune illnesses is one of the most frustrating aspects of life with the old lady. I have always prided myself on my ability to find the right word at the right time. Now I struggle to finish a coherent sentence and though I can come up with all sorts of words, they are frequently the wrong ones. Office staff were perplexed at my request to have something 'recycled' 30 times until they worked out I meant 'photocopied'. I've talked to bewildered pupils about 'exploding' a theme in an essay rather than 'exploring' it and I've written a very misleading report which warns against 'prototypes' rather than 'stereotypes'! 

Having survived another work day, the 36 mile drive home is the hardest part. I don't really understand what 'cytokines' are but I understand all too well that the old lady likes to make lots of these and in turn they make me feel like I am starring in the Night of the Living Dead. By now the fatigue is overwhelming and I will need to stop and sleep. I often pull over into an out-of-town Asda carpark and slump over the steering wheel. Interestingly, no-one has ever enquired after my welfare; perhaps this is normal post-superstore shopping behaviour. I have to set an alarm on my phone otherwise I'd still be there in the morning!

Once home, I fight off the desire to go straight to bed and I try to do normal things. I long for a glass of wine but having a dry mouth, often with ulcers, (another old lady specialism) means that it tastes very much like paint stripper and burns my mouth and tongue. Curries and anything spicy are off the menu too. Old lady food is the order of the day - bland, bland, bland. 

Sleep is instantaneous and I'm in bed before the children and long before my husband. Living with the old lady does little for your love life! I've just started a medication which I hope will help keep the old lady in order but it will take at least 6 weeks to kick in. There have been some side effects already but I'm still hopeful that it will make a difference. One of those side effects is vivid dreams but so far I'm quite enjoying the technicolour craziness of my dreams - they are certainly more lively than my waking life! 

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Moving On

The new little house
Well, it's been more than a month without a single blog post. And the reason for such tardiness? We've moved house...again. In fact, we've moved four times in the last five years so you'd think that by now we would have the art of packing and unpacking down to a smooth and seamless operation where everything is organised and reorganised with professional ease. You'd be wrong. Each time we move it seems to be more chaotic and stressful than the last.  Consequently, I have no useful tips to pass on to other potential house movers. Moving house for me is a bit like my tennis: the more I do it the worse I seem to get! So where I was planning a post full of useful advice I will instead regale you with a few 'home truths' about moving and a few glimpses of the new place (as long as you understand that it is still in a state of moving flux and this is not the finished Pinterest-worthy interior).

Home Truth 1: There's nothing like moving furniture to reveal the truth about your housekeeping
Yes, the neglect of every corner, the failure to hoover or dust adequately, the stains on the carpet - all will be revealed in horrible slovenly detail when the furniture is moved out and you're left looking at the empty carcass of a rather dirty house.  Fortunately, we have good friends who were happy to go along with my excuses about, 'That being a very difficult place to get to' or how, 'There's been no point in hoovering these last few weeks what with all the boxes everywhere.'

Home Truth 2: The curse of the random box
I think our main problem has always been to seriously underestimate how long it takes to pack. We start off with the most beautifully packed boxes, items carefully wrapped in packing paper, boxes clearly labelled. As moving day looms ever nearer, the boxes become more and more random until items from entirely different parts of the house are thrown in together, possibly wrapped in an old towel or just wedged in with the odd cushion. Worse still, the description on the outside of the box rarely corresponds with the contents and so could end up anywhere which is how the tv remote ended up in the garage.

Home Truth 3: Sibling rivalry reaches new heights
Room sizes are just the start, we've had arguments and bickering about the most trivial of issues in the new house, even lampshades, and the view out of the window, have been the source of disagreement. A sharp reminder that the girls now have their own rooms and that we could insist they share again have swiftly restored the peace and they are now enjoying making their rooms very much their own.

Home Truth 4: No sleep for the exhausted
It doesn't matter how tired you are after moving, or even if you've managed to somehow reassemble your bed and you're not sleeping on the floor, the first night in a new house brings no rest. I spent the first night with seemingly super hearing, listening in to every strange new noise and feeling disorientated by now sleeping east to west rather than north to south as we had in the old house. Getting up in the middle of the night to try and find the loo proved interesting as I tripped over packing boxes, the hoover and the cat basket in my attempts to find the bathroom in the dark. I would have turned a light on if I'd had any idea where the light switch was!

Home Truth 5: New is better
Moving tends to bring out the optimist in me and I view each new place in a positive light. This home has lots of lovely features. It's terrifically light to start with. The house faces east and sunshine floods in through generous windows. An oak-framed extension has been added to the side of the kitchen, originally as an artist's studio, but for our artistically-challenged family it makes a super dining room instead and I'm looking forward to decorating the beams come Christmas time.

View from the kitchen window
Despite being towards the centre of the village, we are tucked away in a quiet corner and surrounded by hedges making it feel private and the sheltered garden provides the perfect environment for a huge variety of feathered friends. Best of all, from the kitchen window I can just see the sea!

Warm &Cosy
With stiff and aching joints, I'm thankful to be on one level - no more stairs to drag the hoover up - hooray! This little house is on higher ground and well insulated and so we no longer have to endure the damp and mould that permeated the last house.

Luna has found her chair

Home Truth 6: Moving makes you thankful
Thankfully we are blessed to have the most wonderful friends who came to our rescue onec again and helped us to move. They hauled 'the impossible wardrobe' onto the van and friends who were not able to help move furniture, helped instead by providing a much appreciated delicious lunch for the workers.

The Wonderful Man was entirely wonderful and managed to sort out all the technology in the new house in record time (the Ryder Cup which was on at the time and various other sporting events proved a useful incentive). He also took more than his fair share of physical punishment as chief removal man - this eventually resulting in a very sore knee (he is still hobbling - bless him!)

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Word of the Week: Undecided

I had promised (to myself) that I wouldn't write anything to do with politics on my blog but it is hard to avoid when you are surrounded by giant displays of 'YES' and 'NO' everywhere you look, and everyone you meet, even complete strangers, want to discuss the Scottish referendum.

I have read everything I can get my hands on about the issue even the glossy tome produced by the Scottish government. Nobody could say that I am not well informed but with less than a week to go I am still undecided as to which box to cross.

I am an English woman living in Scotland, not a rare thing at all, but perhaps a little more unusual is that I am not married to a Scot, I have no Scottish roots or family here, other than my own, and I did not move here as part of a job relocation package. Why then did I choose to settle here? The simple answer is because I love Scotland. It's a beautiful little country with a big heart and I love how it celebrates its individual history so passionately while striving to promote inclusion and equality. Scotland's political gravity seems to me to be entirely different from England's and more firmly rooted in social democracy - one of the main things that drew me here in the first place.

The desire for social justice makes it easy to understand the resentment felt by many Scots who do not trust a Westminster government they did not vote for. (Whether or not Scots can trust the buffoonery of Alex Salmond is another matter!) But is independence the answer?

(image credit: Cuckoo's Bakery, Edinburgh)
When looked at from a philosophical and political standpoint, the proponents for and against independence are equal contenders. Both carry an emotional punch too. This is much like a divorce with squabbling over custody and where jealousy and recrimination abounds. Are there grounds for irreconcilable differences or can the wounds be patched over and a healthy discussion of differing political viewpoints begin the healing?  

There is no hiding the hard economic and practical considerations of independence either and in the final weeks of campaigning the scare-mongering has intensified. It's working. I applauded Dr Scott Hames, lecturer at Stirling University, who during a TV interview this week said perhaps one of the truest statements I've heard yet about the referendum - "What have we found out in the final weeks of the campaign...? That Scotland doesn't decide. It's the markets that decide, it's the industrial magnates and captains of finance who'll decide what we're allowed to choose."

So there you see is my dilemma. The indecisiveness stems from being torn by the heart and the head. The English part of me does not want to cut the apron strings that tie me to the land of my birth while the 'adopted Scots' part of me is drawn by that desire to be autonomous. The head is warning me of the obvious risks involved while at the same time evaluating the potential rewards. My heart sinks at the thought of separation and simultaneously soars at the idea of liberty.  

The Reading Residence

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Word of the Week: Diagnosis

Back in May I wrote my this whingy post about my elbow and now 14 blood tests, various examinations and an MRI later, I have a diagnosis - Primary Sjogren's Syndrome. If you're still reading this second whingy post then you'll be thinking two things at this point:  Never heard of it, and What a weird word, how do you pronounce it? 

Henrik Sjogrens
Sjogren's (pronounced 'show grins' or 'shur grens') is an autoimmune disease that affects mainly women, (9 out of 10 sufferers are female). Named after the Swedish ophthalmologist who discovered it, it affects around 4-5% of the population making it the second most common autoimmune condition after rheumatoid arthritis. I didn't really understand the term 'autoimmune' until it was explained that it is where the body's immune system turns on itself and attacks its own tissues and organs - a kind of personal civil war! In Sjogren's the immune system targets the moisture glands, such as the tear and salivary, meaning the most obvious symptoms are dry gritty eyes and a dry parched mouth. Just as common is chronic fatigue and multiple joint pain caused by inflammation. 

I have to say that rather than being dismayed I was relieved at this diagnosis. My GP had thought that it was rheumatoid arthritis, my rheumatologist had considered lupus, and both conditions are so much more serious and debilitating. Sitting, waiting for my MRI was also an experience I am grateful for as I was able to meet and talk to the less lucky, and tremendously brave souls, who were preparing to do battle with life-threatening cancers. In comparison this condition is little more than a minor inconvenience. I worried that it was something that I had ended up with as a result of a mainly sedentary lifestyle, and an ongoing love of chocolate, but was assured that it is not and given the example of the tennis player, Venus Williams, who dropped out of the US Open in 2011 after being diagnosed with the condition just a month before. 

Venus Williams: now back on form 
There may be no cure but there is, thankfully, ways to manage Sjogren's and trying to stave off the recurrent flares typical of the disease. I have been managing my dry eyes for many years now with artificial tear gel not realising that this peculiarly-named condition was the cause and I have spent vast sums at the dentist for torturous hours of root canal (lack of saliva and a dry mouth mean inevitable decay).  I will be starting medication that I hope will eventually help me to deal with the joint pain and stiffness and the terrible tiredness that a good night's sleep never fixes. These are the symptoms that I find more difficult to deal with and the reason I have renamed the weird sounding 'Sjogrens Syndrome' to 'Old Lady Syndrome' - a more fitting description.  If I'm to have the old lady in my life as a permanent visitor then I will need to learn how to make her comfortable and stop her from moaning!

(image credit:
The Reading Residence

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Word of the Week: School

Here in Scotland the new academic year started this week and most schools opened their doors once again for the start of the autumn term.  Living here, it's something I don't think I will ever get used to - back to school in August! Plus to add insult to injury, this isn't a bank holiday weekend for us either *makes sulky face*

Nevertheless, our two girls managed to drag themselves up at a hideously early hour, donned new uniform and squeaky new school shoes and headed out. It was quite an occasion for our youngest as she begins senior school this year.  

There's no surer way to feel well and truly ancient as when your youngest child is no longer at primary school but instead hurtling towards the teenage years and all the angst that brings! It doesn't seem very long ago that I was standing at the school gates waving her goodbye at all of 4 years old in her bright blue sweatshirt, chubby knees beneath grey skirt, heading off to reception class. It's the start of something new but also the end of a stage too. No more skipping in the playground and running about with the exuberance and unselfconciousness of early childhood.  Now it will be huddles in the corridors and in doorways as she moves through the tricky adolescent years with grunting posses of other teenagers.  I will miss that wide-eyed wonder stage, running into my arms, clutching lunchbag and latest art creation still wet with bright splodgy paint. But, though it's new, and a little bit scary, it's exciting too. As her world widens,  I look forward to seeing her branch out and learn new things knowing that this family tree of love is there to support her.

The Reading Residence

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Word of (last) Week: Results

I'm rather late with this word of the week - a whole week in fact. Although most of the news in Education this week has been about A Level results, here in Scotland we received results for both National 5 exams (equivalent to GCSEs) and Highers (like A levels) back on the 5th August. That may seem terrifically early but then we broke up for summer hols at the end of June and most pupils are back to school next week (next week! Eeekk!)

It's funny that in all the talk about Scottish independence it is often forgotten that we already have, and always have had, an independent education system with a separate exam body. It was one of the main draws for me in wanting to move back to Scotland - an escape from dreaded SATs, Ofsted and league tables. The first proper external exams are not taken until S4 here (year 11) and this year was the first of the new style exams. Our eldest daughter felt very much like an exam guinea pig as her teachers struggled to get through the new curriculum and, having no past papers to go on, it was hard to know what to expect.

Though exams may differ, I'm sure that students across the globe experience the same emotions - anticipation, anxiety and fear. Every pupil knows that those 'results' can open doors of opportunity and choice, and,  just as easily, close them too.

While we were on holiday and enjoying the sunshine there was still that niggling date in the back of our minds - the dreaded Results Day! H has had the same ambitions since she was about 4 years old. Now 16, she still wants to study drama and hopefully have a career in film - lofty aspirations indeed, especially when I look at the list of drama schools she plans to apply to (my chances of her staying in Scotland where there are no tuition fees look slim! #mayhavetosellakidney)

I'm pleased to say that she did brilliantly and got the A grades she really wanted. We're all incredibly proud of her especially when you consider that as someone with dyslexia getting that A in English was an achievement indeed. So here's to you, my clever daughter, you're one step closer to living the dream! 

The Reading Residence

Thursday, 14 August 2014

O Captain! My Captain...

I've been going to bed shamefully late during this summer holiday and so I happened to see the reports of Robin Williams death just minutes after they appeared online. Such a statement was hard to take in; it just wouldn't process that such a brilliant man was dead and that he'd taken his own life.

I love stand-up comedy and if ever there was a king of the impromptu, and a master of the ad-lib, surely that had to be Robin Williams.  His comic genius knew no bounds and he could free-wheel his way through a routine with no destination or prepared lines to hold manicness in check, just an uncontrolled explosion of hilarity. It was that high octane energy that shook audiences to their core with laughter.  As a headline in one of the papers read, 'He needed cocaine to keep himself calm'!

It wasn't just the ability to make you laugh that Williams will be remembered for. He inspired a whole generation of teachers in Dead Poets Society and made grown men cry in Good Will Hunting. As one critic famously put it that 'humpty dumpty grin and crinkly eyes' made for such a convincing character that it was hard to believe he was simply acting. Sincerity and understanding leached from the screen in bucket loads and left the viewer wishing to have such a teacher, such a mentor and such a counsellor as Robin Williams. Such irony then that he did not feel able to reach out to someone for support himself. 

His death made me ponder as to why so often creative genius seems to come with the parasitic twin of mental anguish? It's hard to imagine how far down the tunnel of despair he must have travelled that he could see no way out. He is, perhaps, the best evidence of depression as an invisible illness - 'the smiling disease' as it's sometimes referred to. A skilled and consummate actor, he hid his anguish from the world. Perhaps that extraordinary act of humour was not as effortless as it appeared but instead a carefully crafted mask, honed to allow him to cope with an inescapable and all consuming sadness. 

I hope that if nothing else his death and the inevitable publicity may prompt more recognition and more acceptance of depression and anxiety and persuade others to speak up and ask for help. 

Friday, 25 July 2014

Word of the Week: Haar

A haar (pronounced like far ) is a useful little Scots word for the peculiar sea mist that comes to visit every so often on the east coast. This week it has made quite a few unwelcome appearances. While the rest of the country bathes in brilliant sunshine the haar will suddenly roll in across the North Sea and envelop the land around the coast in an eerie hazy blanket. 

Looking down at the haar rolling in
The word itself, as I understand it, derives from a German and Dutch term originally meaning a cold easterly wind but in this part of the world it specifically refers to the fog that rises off the sea. The 'cold' reference is appropriate because the haar is a most unseasonal guest. Its clutches are damp and icy and it's liable to cause those who get caught in its wintery grasp to scuttle home to find blankets and turn on the central heating, forgetting that we're in the midst of summer!

You never know when the haar will appear or how long it will stay. This week it arrived quite suddenly and ruined a bright sunny morning. It burned off by midday but then later crept slowly around the edges of the garden, extinguishing the afternoon's warmth with its chilly breath. I can understand how some locals are superstitious about the haar as it has an almost supernatural quality in the way it shifts and shrouds everything in grey.  If it was a character then I imagine the haar as a gloomy figure, perhaps like the Groke in the Moomin books.

The Groke (image credit:

Driving along the top of the coast road yesterday I came upon the most spectacular haar which quite literally rose up around the car obscuring all road markings. The sun was desperately trying to get through but the murky curtain was determined to keep it hidden. Once high enough and out of the mist, I pulled the car over and tried to capture the spectacular sight with my phone's camera. Normally, this is a good viewpoint; you can see right across the bay and out towards Dunbar and the Torness power station and on a clear day beyond to North Berwick Law and Bass Rock. Yesterday, however, the haar had completely covered the sea and the coastline with billowing waves of cloud. It looked a little scary like some science fiction movie but also rather magical and I found myself mesmerised. 

The usual coastline view

Yesterday's view: you can just see the cement works chimney peeking out

The Reading Residence

Saturday, 31 May 2014

Word of the Week

So why have I chosen the name of a random body part for my word of the week? Well, basically because for the last few months I have come to hate my elbow and all it might represent! 

In fact, elbow is a fairly stupid word to begin with - 'el' part from old English for length of forearm and 'bow' from West Germanic origins meaning bend or arch. That seems sensible, right, but go back further and other older translations show 'el' and 'bow' as being the same thing so elbow in this sense means 'bend bend' - ridiculous! And ridiculous it has been trying to do anything involving my right elbow at the moment - it doesn't bend well even once let alone 'bend bend'. 

I've been plagued with what I've assumed is 'tennis elbow' for months. It seems an unlikely ailment for someone who never plays tennis but it's a lot easier to say than its proper medical term 'lateral epicondylitis'. I found that I couldn't lift a full kettle or brush my hair with my right arm (there are those who would say that my hair doesn't look any different unbrushed anyway), I couldn't turn a door handle or open a jar. These were all minor inconveniences as I could generally use my left arm instead. But then, I discovered that I couldn't fill the car up with petrol and when I tried to do so with my left hand, I dribbled petrol on the ground in what the garage called 'a spillage' and caused the attendant much moaning and muttering. I  probably would have continued to put up with it but the aches and pains seemed to migrate and my other elbow came out in sympathy for a while. Then a few days later my wrist became painful and then the joint at the bottom of my thumb. It was like a peculiar bodily game of 'pass the pain parcel'. 

Fed up, I took myself off to the doctor. She's quite a character my doctor. A fervent energetic lady who likes to sit in her doctor's swivel chair with her legs curled up beneath her like a cat, her shoes discarded beneath her untidy desk. In a voice much like Victoria Wood's she told me that I was right to come in and she wanted to do some 'fancy' blood tests. Blood tests? For a sore elbow? Ok, I thought, whatever,  and smiled indulgently at her.

The phlebotomist looked thoroughly delighted to see me. There were at least 8 phials awaiting my blood - more than enough to keep a vampire going for at least a month. She told me in hushed tones that these 'fancy' tests were expensive and so I did not complain as she repeatedly stabbed me, searching in vain, well, for a vein!

It turns out that I am something called 'seropositive' for rheumatoid factor and antibodies. Despite believing myself to be the very best 'Google doctor' I still don't really understand the rather complicated information about rheumatoid arthritis but I do understand that this isn't a confirmed diagnosis as apparently it is possible to have a positive result and not have it. Not so 'fancy' a test to be really useful then! So I will have to be patient and wait to see a rheumatologist for his opinion. I am thankful that my symptoms at this point are relatively mild and manageable and I'm still hopeful that rheumatology will laugh at such a suggestion and dismiss the idea altogether. I'm still working on my relationship with my elbow. 

I'm joining in with The Reading Residence and The Word of the Week Linky.
The Reading Residence

Sunday, 18 May 2014

A Fishy Tale

Well, it seems an awfully long time since I posted anything on this blog. The reason?...Just life, I think, taking over and filling up all my time. The teen has needed my help persuasion to revise and get ready for her exams; I was faced with an inordinate amount of paperwork to do and this nagged at my conscience each time I sat down and considered writing for pleasure rather than form filling; also I have been suffering with a RSI type elbow pain that has had me wincing every time I go near the keyboard. Now the exams are over for H (they're terrifically early in Scotland), some of the paperwork is done and I can type, slowly, with my left hand!

Keep reading - all will be revealed 
I know what you're thinking - what has any of this got to do with fish? Well bear with me and all will be revealed...eventually.

Our village hall is a rather utilitarian building with little going for it if you were judging purely on aesthetics. But we have a wily committee full of enterprising types who have done much to improve its appeal and increase its use. There's a community cafe, plant sales, a second hand book store, musical performances and a weekly mindfulness session to name just a few of the many events that take place regularly. So it came as no surprise to hear that there was to be a play in the hall and I duly bought tickets. The last time I went to see a 'local' production I had to bite my lip to stifle the giggles as various octogenarians shuffled about in dubious costumes and forgot their lines, and so I was not expecting much. I was to be proved very wrong in my assumptions.

'Get Up and Tie Your Fingers' by Ann Coburn is set against the worst fishing disaster in the UK's history. On the 14th October 1881,  20 boats and 189 men were lost in a storm (129 of them from the small community of Eyemouth, near Berwick).  Just up the coast from there, our tiny harbour, Cove, was hit the worst proportionately, losing four of its five boats and 11 of its 21 fishermen. Many of the family-run boats tried desperately to get back into the harbour but were swept past the harbour mouth and onto the rocks in the bay. Women and children were close enough to watch their menfolk drown but had no way of reaching them. You can understand why that terrible day is still referred to as 'Black Friday'. Long-time locals, some of whom are direct descendants of survivors or those who died, explained that the title relates to the call given to rouse the herring lassies who lived and worked in the local area and travelled with the herring down the east coast of the country.  These plucky women needed to work at terrific speed, sorting, slicing and gutting up to 60 fish in a minute! Those 'silver darlings' were slippery little blighters, and a gutting knife sharp, and so the women would bind their fingers with cotton strips to protect them from cuts and the stinging pickling salt.

The play managed to pull off that difficult feat - of being deeply moving but at the same time uplifting. Through the characters of young Molly, her obsessive and fearful mother Jean, and fun-loving Janet, the play brought to life the courage and resilience of truly remarkable women while exploring the metaphorical ties between mother and daughter. The cast was entirely women supported in turn by an all female choir.  Karen Wimhurst's original score sung a cappella added a haunting quality which was difficult to forget. The inclusion of a nineteenth century children's hymn,  'When Lamps are Lighted in the Town' left hardly a dry eye in the house - a simple and plaintive tribute without being mawkish.
Bronze sculpture at the Cove to commemorate the tragedy
I was so pleased that I went to see it and cannot think of a more fitting setting than within the very community that was so affected by this tragedy. To further the links to the local community, the village school children and crafting groups helped to decorate the hall and knitters across the region were responsible for delightful shoals of knitted herring that will be following the production as it travels down the east coast of England. I really admired the display and managed a chuckle when I wondered what the real herring lassies would have thought of the knitted silver darlings!

Even the corridor outside the toilets was decorated!

A creel of knitted herring