Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Choo Choo

The steam train passes our house every day at 11.30am. It is a highlight in the morning and choo-choo is one of my baby's first words. As soon as we hear the chugga-chagga-chugga-chugga we rush to the window in time to watch the engine and carriages pass by. The kids stand at the window pointing and waving and shouting choo-choo.

The other day we went out for a walk to watch the train coming over the viaduct. We walked along the single-track road behind the tourists rushing ahead, cameras at the ready. Up ahead we saw photographers setting up a shot and decided that would be the best place to watch. We left the road and squelched up a boggy hillside and waited surrounded by the mountains. As we waited we watched a pair of dragonflies dancing in the air, bees buzzed around wildflowers and the sun shone warmly. My baby pointed out birds flitting around. My girl needed a pee, urgently. We hid behind a bush and she giggled as the grass tickled her bum. I realised that should the train come now all the passengers would see her bum. It didn't, they didn't.

Then we heard the chugga-chugga-chugga-chugga and we saw the clouds of smoke and the baby chanted choo-choo choo-choo and my girl shouted as loud as she could choo-choo choo-choo. And there it was racing over the viaduct. The shiny black engine and red carriage after red carriage. We waved and waved. The driver waved and pulled his whistle several times Woo-Woo. And we kept waving and all the passengers waved and waved. The kids were so happy and I was so happy tears came to my eyes. It was something about old-fashionedness of it and the sheer joy of waving at people on a train and their joy at being on the train with people waving at them. A shared happiness with strangers on a train. We walked home to the sound of the baby chanting choo-choo all the way. 

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

foraging for food

We are getting in to foraging. Walks have taken on great purpose when we are looking for things to eat. My wee girl loves this. Picking blueberries was especially tasty and we ate them straight from the bushes and walked home with stained hands and mouths. We also tried mushroom picking but gave up as we really needed someone experienced to come with us and show us what not to pick. I didn't want to take any chances and poison the family.

We are keeping an eye on the brambles (blackberries) watching them ripen slowly. When they are ready we will pick them and make crumbles and jam. There is an apple tree nearby we collect apples from to make chutney. Foraging is one of the great delights of autumn. It feels so wholesome to go out with the kids, pick food and then eat it.

Most summers we put our boat out on the loch and go trout fishing. We just didn't manage this year as we are so busy with the house build and my husband has been away loads. 

There are a few locals who occasionally go out at night to hunt deer. They just take 'one for the pot' and fill the freezer, pass some out to neighbours. They usually go when the estate manager is in the bar drinking. One renowned poacher is also a hill-runner. He was out on the hill one night when he heard footsteps coming nearer. He hid his shotgun up high in a tree and broke into a run towards the footsteps. As he ran past, the estate manager asked him, "In training for the hill race?" to which he replied, "Aye."

I will never forget the time when I first moved to this village. There had been a clay pigeon shoot on and then a big drink taken in the local hotel. Prizes of game were awarded to the best shots. I went home to bed early and was woken up at 1am with a big party going on in our cottage. My husband had brought back the entire pub it seemed. He ended up going to bed and I was left with the party.

Next morning I was woken with banging on the door and the window. An angry wife had tracked down her errant husband and brother-in-law to our house. They were asleep together on the sofa bed. I had insisted they stayed rather than drink-drive. I have never seen anyone jump out of bed as quick as that man did when he saw his wife's face looking through the window at him. "How did she find me?" She got the two of them going quick smart.

I went through to the kitchen to see a whole side of smoked salmon lying on the floor and then in the back porch I was met with the sight of a hare tied at the hind legs dangling from the window latch. A single bullet wound to the head and blood drips on my floor. I could only laugh. Country life! Well no-one claimed the smoked salmon so after about a week we ate it and the hare went to a neighbour for skinning and butchering and he returned it to us diced. Hare casserole it was then. 

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

I have settled on the kitchen

The housebuilding is going well. We are partially insulated and plasterboarded and some of the outside walls are bricked up. The plumbers and electricians have done as much as they can for now. We are at a point that is not very stressful. I am happy as there are men there every day working. One of them is my brother and it is special to have someone working who really cares about us and our house. It is also exciting for the kids to go down and join him for 10 o'clock tea. 

The main news is that I have finally settled on the kitchen. I have spent weeks agonising. Yes, really agonising about worktops, sinks and taps. It was my last thought at night and my first thought in the morning. Obviously, I have lost all sense of perspective. The trouble is I found a kitchen I love but couldn't afford so I bought it and compromised by selecting cheapo worktop, sink and tap. The kitchen doors are white-painted timber shaker-style with modern long handles. I wanted to put on a black quartz worktop but I couldn't afford it. At long last I have decided to go for an oak worktop, belfast sink and beautiful tap. This way I can marry the modern with the traditional, create a heart of the home kitchen and be comfortable that I am using natural materials. Wood is the most environmentally friendly choice as it is a renewable source. I feel happy. Just have to squeeze the budget a bit.

We are trying to be as green as we can with the build. It is timber frame, well-insulated, high-performance timber doors and windows. We will have a wood-burning stove and we have installed underfloor heating. The heating system is an air source heat pump. It is expensive but should pay for itself within a few years. Basically, the fuel source is the outside air. The air is compressed which makes it hotter and it then heats the water for our water tank and the water that flows in the pipes of our underfloor heating. As there is an infinite supply of air we will always have fuel and we won't have to worry about not being able to afford to fill an oil tank. 

Monday, 18 August 2008

Highland Games

We had our village Highland games on Saturday. Throughout the summer, Highland games are held in towns and villages all over. It is a day for meeting people and for people to participate in or watch 'the games'. There are heavy man events involving tossing the caber, throwing the hammer and athletics for all ages. There is usually a hill race and there are Highland dancing and piping competitions. It is a huge event in our tiny village with lots of people helping. Crowds come from all over and it is popular with locals and tourists. 

My wee girl has been excited about the games for the last week. She was eating all her dinner to be strong for winning races. She is of the mindset to win and is not fobbed off by the notion of it being fun to take part. She wants to win. At everything. Getting to the car is a race. Going down stairs is a race. Eating breakfast is a race. And now her brother is walking it won't be long before she has someone to win races against every day. She was confident she would win a race at the games in her new flashing trainers. And she did! She won the three-legged race with a little girl on holiday from England.

And she loved watching the Highland dancing. She wants to learn but I have resisted taking her to classes as they are on Saturday mornings. I run around all week in and out of town for nursery. I can't face being tied to Saturday mornings too. And if she likes it, and sticks with it, it means expensive costumes she will grow out of quickly and summers spent going to Highland games. I am not really keen on going to Highland games. I just like our own one as it is a village event and a sociable day. 

For the first time in years my husband was at home for the games and we went as a family. At the end of the day I joined him in the beer tent and had a couple of gins then spent the evening alone as the kids slept and my husband played in the ceilidh band for the dance. I knew the whole village was there and it would be a great night but I had no babysitter so I poured myself a vodka and tonic and then another and went to bed. My husband got in at 5am. It had been a great night. A wild ceilidh dance and house parties after. Next year I will plan ahead and book a babysitter. I love nights like that with music, dancing, drinking, laughing, partying and stumbling home at the end.

There is a man who a lot of people are not keen on. He is odd, grubby and there is something unsettling about him, particularly when he is drunk. He is nicknamed, but not to his face. I was just chatting with my good friend about how tolerant and polite Highland people are and how maybe we should be more upfront about how we really feel when I heard that this man had sat in company all evening drinking top shelf (malt whisky) and never once put his hand in his pocket to buy a round. Eventually, a local estate owner who is not a toff but a self-made man told him "you are obnoxious and you have a strange sense of humour" to which he just giggled. 

Friday, 15 August 2008

jags and peeing outside naked

I took my two little ones for jags today as they were both due immunisations. My poor wee girl had to have three injections  in her arms as I held her close, holding her elbows in so she couldn't lash out.  The worst part was her utter outrage at this being done to her against her will. She cried for hours about it asking why did she have to have it, why did the doctor do it and insisting that she is never, not ever going to the doctors again. I was still comforting her when it was the baby's turn. 

Fortunately, I had brought Mum with me to help as I knew I could not manage them both. Mum held the baby who was sitting on her knee watching his sister roaring crying. Then one quick jag and he screamed. His poor little face shocked at the sudden pain. I wanted to hold him but I was still holding his sister. Moments later he stopped crying and for the rest of the day it was as if nothing had happened. He is as hard as nails that wee boy. He is used to feeling pain as he hurts himself every day on his climbing, crawling and learning to walk adventures.

Mum had tears in her eyes at the trauma of her grandchildren. I didn't. It worried me that I was okay with all this trauma. The first time I took my girl for injections I cried for hours after. I will never forget her lying on a table smiling and cooing at the doctor, so trusting, and then in an instant screaming. I felt like I had betrayed her. I think I have just become tougher as I have been through this many times and I am confident I am making the right decision in having them immunised against nasty diseases whose effects are much worse than getting a jag. Older generations remember the seriousness of diseases such as measles. 

We went home and after lunch and some quiet time doing jigsaws with me (while baby slept) my girl decided she wanted to go out to play in the garden across the road with her best friend. The trouble is I could see the bf playing and eating lunch with her Dad and sister and playing on her swing completely naked. She was like that for hours. Her garden is very exposed and anyone entering or leaving the cul de sac goes right past it and several houses look on to it. Also there was a squad of men painting the neighbouring houses. She was dangling upside down on a swing with her legs open. Then, rather than walk a few steps into her house she held on to the wooden frame, next to the road, opened her legs and peed. Then, it gets worse, wiped herself with her hand. Later, her Dad, held her under the knees as she peed in the garden...where they play. I was aghast. Even my little girl could see it was not right. She said to me, "Why does bf pee in the garden? How can D let his child pee pee in the garden? I think bf has a silly daddy." 

The bf is an odd little thing but she has no hope of learning normal social behaviour as her parents don't teach her. Indeed, they have no idea of normal social behaviour. My concern is that they make her vulnerable and that my daughter copies.  My girl promised me she would pee in the toilet when she went to play there. Last year the bf was always peeing in the gardenin full view of neighbours and her parents and I saw my girl copying her. My girl knowing it was not all right in our garden thought it was all right in the bf's garden. Then one day I got a phone call to go over as my girl had done a poo on their front path. I was horrified. I couldn't believe she had done it but when I thought about it she was confused as in their house kids were doing the toilet in the garden. My other worry was had anyone seen her! Their kid habitually does pees outside but mine goes one better and does a poo on the doorstep. I could hardly say anything about their kid. Toddlers would turn into little savages left to their own devices but that is why we have an important job to do to teach them how to behave and live in the social and cultural world they are being brought up in. 

I started to question myself. Am I being OTT? She is just a wee girl after all. Kids pee outside all the time. But, it wasn't the beach and it wasn't a private, enclosed garden. And when kids pee outside, isn't it usually behind something like a bush, a rock or a wall. They know to hide. What strikes me is that the bf doesn't know any better. My girl knows to use a toilet if there is one nearby and she knows it is best to keep her pants on in public.

Saturday, 9 August 2008

melancholic day-dreaming

I've been feeling a little melancholic and day-dreamy lately. I've been dwelling on the fragility of life, the fleetingness of life and the impermanence of it all.  I find myself day-dreaming tragic scenarios. How wasteful of me, when life is happy and good, to spend time imagining how it would be and how I might feel in different circumstances. I can't help it. It is something I do from time to time. I have a cloying need to hold close those I love knowing that one day we will inevitably be parted.

I look around at the rugged mountainous landscape, the misty mountains and still lochs and ponder on the generations of people who have been and gone who looked at, and walked on, this same land which has remained unchanged. I wonder too how I am shaped by the landscape I have been brought up in and continue to live in. The land of my ancestors. There is a wildness within that is very real in the rugged rocks and ragged peaks and stormy atlantic seas. The beauty of it all is humbling and at times I can't see it as it is all too familiar yet at moments the sheer beauty around me takes my breath away. 

When I look at my children in the same way their beauty is spell-binding and I can scarcely believe we made them. I mean how clever is that! I sniff them in and they cuddle in for a moment before wriggling free to continue with their play. My boy practising walking and my girl being busy in a thousand different ways. Their smiles light up my heart and lift my mood.

In the summer time as I sit in the evening, once the children are sleeping, I keep the curtains open so I can see the dark silhouttes of the mountains against the skyline and the flight of bats out hunting in the night. And I am glad.

Sunday, 3 August 2008

housebuilding stresses and significant birthdays

I can't believe it has been over a month since I posted. What can I say? I have been too busy, tired and stressed. The house building gathered apace and completely took over and then it all stopped. And now it shuffles forward. 
It is the middle of the trade fortnight when traditionally all the tradesmen down tools and go on holiday for two weeks. Crazily, my husband insisted we go to stay with his parents for the two weeks before the trade fortnight. So the joiners didn't do the plasterboarding and the brickie phoned to say he had slipped on a wet slate on the site and pulled a ligament and would not be able to work for four weeks. I did hear reports he was seen walking around without a limp two days later. 
He, helpfully, fixed us up with another brickie. It didn't take long for us to learn that the new brickie was not up for the job. "Don't let him near your house," one joiner advised while another's first words were "Jesus Christ! He's horrendous!" So we had to cancel him. Unfortunately, he had already started so it was actually a sacking. Our first one. I insisted my husband did it. He felt terrible and paid him £300 for his work so far. We were seriously ripped off but my husband couldn't see clearly for feeling bad about sacking him. By a stroke of luck our new neighbour is a brickie and on his trade holiday so he is doing the work with my husband labouring for him. It is going to take a long time and we are now behind schedule. 
We now have the first fix plumbing and electrics in and when the joiners return they will get on with plasterboarding so we are getting there.
The other major stress has been the drainage. We have to put in a private sewage system so we paid our site agent to design one and submit it for building warrant. We got all the necessary permissions and were set to put in a septic tank and soakaway system. Thankfully, the digger driver, who is like family to me, was sceptical of this system working so we got in an independent consultant who said there was no way it would work and all our waste (i.e. shite) would end up in our garden and in the ground below us. To cut a long story short we have a new solution which involves going in to neighbouring land which the owners are not happy about because they want to sell it but thankfully we have the legal right to do so and can go ahead. Phew! We almost found ourselves in the position of building a house we could not live in or sell. I was very anxious about this. Understatement.
We have also had two family birthdays. My baby boy is now one and he has totally emerged as a boisterous, loving, funny little man. He has also taken his first steps and likes to practice at every opportunity. Especially whilst paddling in the sea. My husband has turned 40. I think I am more affected by it than him. I find myself wondering, "How can I have such an old husband?" and I find myself worrying about ageing and dying and the best years of my life being over with all the wasted opportunities and wrong decisions. What will I be like when I turn 40?
The holiday at the in-laws was not without its stresses. Mainly due to the fact that I was not talking to my husband when we arrived and remained mad with him for about a week. This was because he had dragged us away when we were very busy with the house and put me under enormous pressure to get things done and organised before we left and then on the ferry journey to Ireland he disappeared for over an hour and he had the bag with everything in it. He left me with the kids and no nappies, snacks, no nothing. My arm nearly fell off from holding the baby. It was okay until we got fed up in the playroom and then couldn't find him when we looked for him. "Where is Daddy?" asked my girl. "Is he swimming in the sea?" It got even worse when I realised the baby needed a new nappy and my girl and I needed to use the toilet. Even I, multitasker that I am, cannot manage to hold a baby and a girl on the toilet on a rocking ferry let alone use the toilet myself. Eventually, a mother took pity on me and held the baby while I went to the toilet with my girl. I had to leave my treasured angel of a boy with a stranger. I was fizzing mad. Eventually, as the ferry approached the harbour my husband sauntered over looking rather refreshed. He had been for a sleep. "I'm sorry, I was tired after the drive. Get over it." That was his apology. If it hadn't been for the fact we have two young children and a house to build I would have left him as soon as we docked. Of course, it wouldn't have been an issue if we didn't have two young children.
At least we were going to a city with all its delights. Only it transpires when you have two kids and ageing in-laws in poor health you can't just dump the kids and go off and do your own thing.  I have become very familiar with city playgrounds and child-friendly visitor centres. We did manage a couple of meals out and an afternoon at the gaelic football. I managed a couple of shopping forays and spent money on clothes I like but don't really need. I should have left the cowboy boots on the shelf and kept the money for a toilet. Still, there's only going to be one cowboy on our house site and that will be me!