Wee Scoops

Measure for Measure

Helpful People

This is just narrative. Just saying. 

My drive home from ASDA did not go as planned. The clutch was being weird. Kind of stuck to the floor, a bit. Then it just stopped working. 

This was as I pulled up to a fairly popular T junction, at about quarter to 5… with the vain hope of going right. I couldn’t get into gear. Not a sausage. Sudden visions of traffic backing up from behind me, all the way back to ASDA; a memory triggered of a previous breakdown in an equally unhandy location, being told by a driver-by: “You can’t park here.” Eh, yuh.

Hazards on, I popped out on to a tiny island thing, abandoning ship. I whipped out my phone to inform the family that the ASDA snacks would be somewhat delayed. 

A split second later, a very helpful man offered to help me get it out of the way of the rush hour traffic, so I got back in, and steered as he pushed and I bumped it up on the pavement out of harm’s way and off he went. Thanks, Helpful Man!

Next on the to-do list was to call the AA. I rang them up and the automaton on the other end of the line suggested that the best thing to do was to request help online. I googled it, put in all my details, got to the SUBMIT page, and… nothing.

 So, I rang them up again and pressed 1 repeatedly until I got a human, who texted me a link… to the webpage with the broken SUBMIT button, so that was hopeless – but happily, the AA person was still on the line. He seemed surprised that I could know where I was without knowing the postcode. But I did, and he found me on the map. Happy days. 

The advice is not to sit in the car while you wait for the AA. Happily, I had a deck chair, a good book and a bootful of ASDA snacks to keep me going. So, I had a wee seat, a banana and a read at “The Pilgrim” in the sunshine. 

The AA man then phoned me up to say he would not be long. Seconds later, a friend happened upon me, wondering why I had decided to take a break at such a random location, then figured I must be in some kind of problematic situation. This was all very fortuitous. When she appeared, I had been on the phone, negotiating with my mother to come and rescue the ASDA shopping, so that I didn’t have to carry a whole load of shopping home from a hypothetical garage on a series of buses – but my friend then offered to ferry the groceries. Very kind. 

Within a few minutes, the AA man appeared. It was like I was in Mr Ben’s shop. “As if by magic…” and all cheerful and yellow was the van. So, he did his mechanic thing – intermittently muttering “hydraulics”, rummaging about and removing, then putting back lots of large bits of plastic – concurred that the clutch was indeed broken and a patch up job was not possible. He explained that since COVID, you were not allowed to just pitch up at a garage hopefully; he would have to tow me home, then we would have to book it in somewhere then call them out again to get it there. This would be less than ideal. 

This time Husband stepped in and found me a garage willing to accept me. So, my friend took off in her car, with my shopping, to rendezvous with us at the garage. The AA man hitched my car up to his van and gave me the necessary training to be towed, and off we went. It was something like a very, very dull rollercoaster ride. The garage accepted the car, and off I went, me and my ASDA shopping getting a lift all the way home.

As rescues go, this was a great one. Such a happy, sunshiny bubble of helpfulness in which to break down. Helped by Helpful Man, located by the call-centre man at the AA, encouraged by my mother, booked in by Husband, accepted by the garage, towed by the AA and delivered safely home by my friend. 

 Smashing. 

All this, of course, means that I am now reliant on the orange buses again. And, as we know, they are a rich seam of blogging material – staggeringly unreliable, gaily disregarding such details as routes and timetables. But I made it to work on time today, so that was good. And, eventually, I got home. 

That’s the narrative… I must justify the narrative with some kind of reflection… Here it is: people are great. People are helpful. No one wants anyone to bung up a key T-junction at 5pm. The AA membership was worth it. I am very thankful. 

Sweating In Kitchen Shops

We had a new hobby for 2022. Every Saturday we set out to go and sweat in a kitchen shop. Sometimes it was the price; sometimes it was the heat – but whichever it was, I miscalculated either my budget or my outfit and had a rivulet of sweat running between my shoulder blades by the end of the visit, either way.

 You’ll be glad to know we have settled on a kitchen design and supplier. My regular readers (which, were I to post actually regularly, could actually be that) will be delighted to hear that our kitchen design contains precisely zero corners, which is something of a miracle. But I am delighted. 

You would think that a kitchen shop would be a kitchen shop and that they would sell kitchens. But it’s weird. The three places we went were so, so different to one another. 

Our first port of call was a small but perfectly formed showroom full of lovely people and lovely kitchens. The design they came up with was pretty much how it looks now but with (much) more expensive cupboards. They had lovely brochures, their 3D renderings had our own art on the walls and our own view out of the windows. I just couldn’t get excited about the design though. And I certainly couldn’t get excited about the quote.

The second place we went to was like a kind of time warp/dystopia. There was literally no one there. There were bits missing from all the kitchens and drawers full of miscellaneous samples. Our physical visit was followed up by a zoom call with a man who presented as weary, unsupported and depressed. So, we moved on, trying to find people who wanted to sell us a kitchen. 

Our third place was this. They want to sell you a kitchen. They want to show you kitchens, let you stroke the surfaces, play with the cupboard interiors, sit on the bar stools. They also, as it turned out, wanted to have their heating up so high that it felt like Gran Canaria in mid July, except we were wearing clothes fit for Scotland in February. They wanted details, many many details to punch into their tablets, hung like messenger bags around their waists. This was a well oiled kitchen selling machine, and we could have felt like unsuspecting prey… but happily we wanted to buy a kitchen; they wanted to sell a kitchen. What a joy!

The stupid thing was that this was on the way home one Saturday from Kitchen Place number 1, and we thought we would pop in for a quick look round. But, there were still more and more questions for the tablet, while the temperature cranked up higher and higher. I started to shed layers. Did we want a sink the same material as the worktop or in a contrasting finish? Did we want a mixer tap, a quooker tap, a tap for carbonated water? Did we need a wine fridge, a warming drawer, an island? Colours, colours, colours… and we are like, eh, we are just having a look round but yes, admittedly we do, in fact want a kitchen.

Time passed. I wilted. The teenager we had in tow had also wilted. The boy with the tablet had not wilted and he had many, many more questions… I needed a seat (of which they had many), a coffee (and yes, they did offer, but at this stage in the day I just wanted to go home), and probably most importantly, a shower (not their remit)… It was weird that the kitchen boy was more interested in my new kitchen than I was.

For our return visit, I was better prepared, with more summery layers. The guy took us through his design which was a) revolutionary and b) exactly what I had asked for. He had listened about the no corners thing. He had listened about my wish to come in the back door and have a place to put things. He shuffled images about on his computer until I felt seasick looking at it and, boom. All good. Very exciting. 

And that’s what I was hoping for – to be excited about it. The first place was very lovely, but, with hindsight, a bit unimaginative. The second place, I just felt sorry for the man that worked there, but that’s not really reason enough to make a major purchase. So, with my free cool bag in my hand and a very, very, very detailed breakdown of hundreds of decisions that I hadn’t even known required to be made, we decided to go with the third place – on the grounds that they are really into selling kitchens and designed one I think will be good.

One of the major problems with the current kitchen is that it is ABSOLUTELY FREEZING for six months of the year, so, here’s hoping one day I can break sweat in a kitchen of my own. The dishwasher is still broken and washing dishes is now pretty much what I do in my spare time but we are hoping to get it fixed now that keeping it broken, as a strategy to motivate kitchen purchasing, has worked. 

Now that we have selected a kitchen it now means I have Saturday afternoons again. And one day soon I won’t have to spend those free afternoons doing the dishes.

The pictured kitchen isn’t the new kitchen, it’s just a shot from inside one of the kitchen shops. I just like teal. Generally.

Kitchen Clarity (… in which I consider what I love and hate about kitchens…)

We have cracked tiles, peeling plastic, an odd window ledge and a chronic issue with heating, so we are hopeful that 2022 will be a year to get our kitchen under control. It has done well, though: three children raised into three teenagers – suitably(ish) fed and watered and the laundry done. 

Brewing in the background is a debate about the merits of “clean lines and surfaces” versus “curated clutter on open shelving”, but we will leave that for the future. Today I want to think about great kitchens of the past and what drives me nuts about the kitchens I hate. 

Corner cupboards? I hate them. I especially hate them when they have oh-so-clever mechanisms that make them seem not really like a corner cupboard. I hate any kind of a whizzy wheel gadget or clunky basket contraption that supposedly brings all of your corner cupboard things out to be easily accessible. It is all a myth.

I have one corner cupboard that is like an honest corner cupboard, but I don’t even like it. I literally have to put on a head torch to get anything out of the further back half. And inside the cupboard, there is the opportunity for baking trays to fall down a hole into kitchen oblivion. The other corner cupboard is cursed with an over designed mechanism that just sticks, judders and generates rust, dust and still makes things nearly impossible to reach. Even with the items in view, the mechanism itself takes up so much space, I can’t hardly get anything out. So, no corner cupboards. 

What else do I hate? I hate “up” cuboards – at least the top shelf of them. I am short and cannae reach them. What is the point? They just get filled with things that are never used, so those things should be “gone through”, clearly. What is in my up cupboards? Excess snacks, plastic plates, water bottles that are no one’s favoured/used water bottles, nuts and dried fruit for baking I won’t get around to, calpol, random alcohol that we don’t drink, electrical gadgets that we don’t use, odd socks and impractical drinking vessels of every genre. Instead of wobbling about on a chair looking for birthday candles up a height, I would rather there was no ‘up a height’ to consider. 

This is all a bit negative. There are some things about kitchens that I love. The best kitchen I ever worked in was the camp kitchen in Ballater. It was all under canvas. The kitchen was a screened off corner of a massive marquee. The quartermaster’s store was adjacent to the kitchen. We had two big gas Dominator ovens, a water boiler, a Salamander grill, and every utensil you could ever want in full view on open shelves. Between the ovens and the shelves were four tables shoved together to make one massive table for prep. We had the purest of running water from a burn to a sink and a bucket under the plughole to catch the water. That was the dream. Had the design not been perfect, it could have been reconfigured – but every year, we set it up exactly the same way. It was weird, reaching for a ladle that you knew would be there, even although it had been in storage for the previous 48 weeks! The best feature of that kitchen was that, if it was too hot, you could take the walls down. No refrigeration was required; the butcher would deliver the meat as we needed it. Them were the days… (“Intents Catering: We’re in a field of our own”)

I think the trick to a great kitchen is the flow. You want the food to be in one place, then the prep to be in another, then the cooking, then the wash up, then the serving. So, I want to come in the back door with the shopping, then have the fridge and whatever storage immediately to hand, and so on.

Kitchens without that flow make me want to scream. I want an oven that is idiot proof, sharp knives, colour-coded chopping boards, a meat probe, useful things to hand and not banged up in the inaccessible reaches of corner cupboards. 

So that would be fine, if all a kitchen was was a kitchen. For us it is also a place for general kipplization. Shoes multiply. Bags, likewise. Jackets. Sport stuff. Jotters. Chargers. Bobbles. Masks. Bibles. Drying laundry. Baskets of clean laundry. The sweepy brush and mop. Bits of paper. Opened mail. Things that no one is claiming but no one feels like disposing of in case it is important. There is a whole transfer station zone that shouldn’t exist in an ideal world but kind of needs to exist for anyone to leave the house ready to go somewhere and do something. 

What are your biggest kitchen regrets? What was your best kitchen epiphany? When is a kitchen not a kitchen? Please share your ideas with me before I am in a space age corner-cupboard supposed utopia of clever storage solutions, wondering why I didn’t listen to myself.

Happy New Year! 2022

Much as the year feels like twenty twenty too, it has got off to a different start to twenty twenty one. Last year, we were in a winter wonderland icescape and went on a daft trip to the windfarm to slip about and freeze. This year is a ridiculous 13 degrees and the windfarm was just windy, as it should be. Here’s hoping 2022 feels similarly different, as years go. 

2021 was a year of two halves, I think. My diary is full of blank pages. The one thing that happened for me was an operation on my wrist which was a raging success, although has left me with a gammy hand in some respects – but it is undoubtedly better than before. (I can actually use my hand for things. I can stir things, hold things, grip things. Bonus.) Then the gammy hand recovery phase exacerbated an underlying gammy shoulder, so there was a weird phase in the second half of the year when, in response to the question, “Does anyone have any injuries?” I would respond with “Gammy hand; gammy shoulder”. It was good to have an answer to the question beyond my usual answer – “General decrepitude” – which doesn’t excuse one from any pressups. 

So, the first half of the year was kneejerk educational policy from the SNP resulting in a lot of stress and creativity, plus the gammy hand. The second half of the year was borderline normal, plus the covid. 

When we pared back everything in life in 2020, I was keen to learn from it and prioritise more effectively. In August 2021, I chose this as my verse for the academic year: “Seek first the kingdom of God” – in order to try and understand the concept and actually try to do it.  Then, of course, I was overexcited with the prospect of normal life that my diary became jammy packed with fun things to do again – and I had a lot of fun in 2021. 

Church has been great – and it is so much better “in person” than online – although when I was banged up with the Covid I was so appreciative of the online version. Trips to places beyond my local council area feel laughably exciting. Keeping up the exercise has been fun too – missing five weeks with the covid makes me glad I started to get fit when I did – it is so good to be back and feeling well enough to take part. 

We also made two fun purchases in 2021. In lieu of a lockdown dog and a lockdown caravan, we got a vintagey BMW Z3 (that I had my eye on in 1999) and a summerhouse (that I took down the shed to make way for in 2018). So I now have the opportunity to have the wind in my hair and a place to look at a view, read, snack or nap. All good. 

So, from where I am sitting (in the summerhouse), 2022 looks to be potentially pretty busy. I have an unrealistic pile of things to read, an infinite amount of housework to do, too many fitness goals, a fair few community commitments and all the things I know I won’t get around to – in terms of sewing, baking, writing and painting. In all of this is the advice from Jesus in the Sermon on the mount to “Seek first the Kingdom of God”. Here’s the verse in context. It’s all very good advice:

 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?  Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?  Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life ?

 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labour or spin.  Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.  If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?  So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.  But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Pancake Perseverance

Readers who have been with me since the beginning will be aware that pancakes have been a bit of an issue. It is well documented that I can’t make pancakes. This, however, is no longer true: I can now, in fact, make pancakes. If you want to see many examples of previous failed attempts, just put “pancakes” in my WeeScoops search box. Hours of fun. 

What caused my fortunes to flip? 

First of all, one of my children went off cereal. This left a breakfast vacuum. I am a big believer in breakfast, so we searched for a palatable solution. This turned out to be crepes from Asda – crepes that were pre-filled with chocolate spread – 30 seconds in the microwave and hey presto – breakfast.

The considerable downside of the crepes was the packaging. There were eight individually wrapped (in plastic) crepes and those eight crepes were also wrapped in plastic all together. So, it was a bit of a plastic-fest just to get some chocolate crepes. Surely there was a more sustainable and plastic-free way to have crepes and chocolate spread in the morning?

So, I googled how to make crepes and found a recipe and began the systematic re-creation of the crepes but without the plastic. After a few goes, it was going well. They were thin, they were “lacy”, they were being eaten. Boom.

 The key to success was threefold: not using too much/hardly anything to fry it in while not being anxious that it’s going to stick to the non-stick pan; keeping a hot but steady heat and letting it actually heat up and attain steadiness before beginning; using one’s apple watch to give each side precisely one minute and trying not to think “I know better”. Trust the timer. 

The buoyant crepe phase was going fine, so I began to revisit and experiment with discarded pancake recipes of the past. Transferring my skills into the world of pancakes, I began to have more and more consistent success. I have now settled on my favourite recipe (thanks, Jay!) and can now be found making pancakes ALL THE TIME to keep up with the breakfast demand. No plastic wrappers are involved. 

There are, still, many ways for pancakes to go wrong. One can easily miss out an ingredient. My recipe involves 2 tablespoons of oil. If you leave that out, they still look like pancakes but they are a bit weird. But the oil is less hassle than the melted butter in a lot of the other recipes. Forgetting to sieve things can end up with consistency issues. Using too much oil/fat rubbed on to the pan gives the pancakes an uneven appearance – so I have to eat those ones. And the first batch are always weird. Without exception. So, I have to eat those.

No matter how late at night or how early in the morning I make the pancakes, it is a calm time. I trust in my apple watch timer; I trust the recipe; I am happy that it’s a plastic-free solution to a plastic-tastic problem. 

If this raging success continues for much longer, I may even start making them for people beyond the confines of my own household. Maybe pancake pride comes before a pancake fall, though. Until then, I will continue to enjoy the fruit of my pancake perseverance. 

Covid Story

I was meant to be writing a poem in response to the prompt: “Forward” on the last day of the COP. But my eyes hurt and my head hurt and my face started to dissolve, then I started coughing. So, I didn’t go forward, I stopped. 

I did a lateral flow and watched it go positive as I figured it would. At least it wasn’t a pregnancy test. I took myself off on a sneezy adventure to the testing centre, came home and took to my bed. 

While being ill is never a bonus, there is relief in being officially ill and allowed, in fact compelled by the state, practically, to take to one’s bed and isolate for ten whole days. 

So the headache was like there were metal spades clamping my brain. My eyes were hot. Then sneezing and coughing and spluttering and sweating. Thankfully there was plenty of paracetamol to chug and my family all came back negative with their PCRs. 

This did mean that their Sundays were ruined – we were back to church on the YouTube, which isn’t quite the same. And all my generalised housewifery was suspended as a daughter implemented a covid-secure towel policy and the kitchen began its slow but steady descent. 

The illness felt like a childhood flu – with a temperature and sweating and keeping hydrated and paracetamolled up. So I slept a lot and food was delivered outside of my bedroom door. Everyone shunted round a bed so my splendid isolation was both isolation and splendid. The best thing was having a shower. A shower when you’re ill is so much better than a shower when you are well. 

Much as I wanted to read, I just couldn’t for the first while. I set about watching “Grey’s Anatomy”, which I began during the gammy hand phase in May. Then I had a phase of “Who Do You Think You Are?” working on my trivia on Boy George, Joe Lycett (grim Irish pasts) Judi Dench (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are indeed dead) and Craig Revel Horwood (clogging championships – great!). 

After 18 years of parenting, one does get utterly fed up of deciding what other people will eat all the time and then having to make it, store the leftovers and tidy up – so it was something of a novelty to have meals made at home by people other than me. But because of the covid, I couldn’t taste or smell the food. 

At sense-deprivation max, I remember a plate of pasta and pesto. I was totally bunged up, like being underwater. The weird thing was that I could tell that the pesto was the tasty bit – I could tell it had more flavour than the pasta – but I couldn’t taste either. Same with a chilli prawn stir fry that came later – I could feel the chilli but couldn’t taste the prawns. I could tell chocolate was sweet and that peanuts were salty, but zero flavour. Very odd. 

There’s a post I haven’t written yet, but intend to write (but maybe this’ll do) about how I have become victorious in the pancake making department and my children have pancakes every day for breakfast. So, there was a bit of a pancake panic but my mother came round with pancakes and a bonus chocolate cake so that was great. 

By this point I was out of bed and having a change of scenery in the summerhouse (there’s another blog post I haven’t written). I also began to be able to read in the mornings, before crashing out in the afternoons. During the course of the isolation I read two autobiographies: “In Order to Live” by Yeonmi Park about escaping North Korea and “Infidel” by Ayaan Hirsi Ali about escaping an oppressive Islam/Somali culture and becoming a Dutch atheist living in America. Both of them were very, very interesting – and sobering to think that their lives were happening during my free little western life – and that similar oppression is still such a thing. Of course I know this on one level – but when reading it, it sounds so… historical – and then they hit out with what year it is and I could remember it. Most striking was when Ayaan Hirsi Ali started a new job on the very actual day I started my own current job, in early September in 2001 – and then the twin towers happened and she had her worldview finally shattered and she turned away from Islam. 

A package arrived in the post. I was excited. It was book shaped and I wondered if I had ordered a book and forgotten about it. Sadly, it was a blood test kit – but at least that gave me a focus for a morning. The last time I had to do an antibody test I had just completed a fitness class, been for a swim and the blood flowed effortlessly. This time, despite hydrating and doing some jumping jacks, I had to use all three lancets and barely managed to fill to the line. The most exciting thing about the antibody test was that you are allowed out of isolation to go and post it, so I got to leave the house and walk around the corner and post it in the priority post box. (When I got the result back they said that I had had antibodies before I contracted the covid. So that’s weird. My jags must have worked, but not totally.)

My last day of isolation was a Sunday. I watched the church on the YouTube again and then hung out in the summerhouse being unable to taste a chunk of Malteser cake and a coffee. It was a beautiful day anyway. 

So, that was iso; that was the covid narrative. Covid reflections to follow once the covid has actually lifted from my brain. 

Snooker Loopy

“And as young Kevin Moffat comes to the table, he needs only one meatball to clinch the world snooker title…”

Kevin Moffat? Pah! Back in the day, I was the King of Snooker. The Queen of Snooker. Whatever. (Anyone remember Kevin Moffat??)

Such a satisfying sport/not a sport. Whatever. 

Snooker’s heyday, from my perspective, was 1985. The final between Denis Taylor and Steve Davis was the most stressful and gripping sporting event I have ever watched. It was brilliant. 

Also brilliant were Denis Taylor’s glasses. They had the legs coming out from the bottom of the frames so that they looked upside down. I, in response, had similar. (As I write, I am hoping and dreading finding a photo of them in equal measure… probably I have them on in one of my “girl Harry Potter” school photos.)

Found one

My snooker table was smaller than a regular pool table, but it did the job – and handily fitted in my bedroom at the time, although you did sometimes have to hold the cue at a weird angle so as not to hit a corner of wall. 

The small table did mean that a disproportionate amount of breaks resulted in the white going straight in a pocket. At least, that was my excuse. 

However, there were a lot of things to enjoy about the snooker table. The lovely cubes of smooth blue chalk that you could prep your cue with. The setting up of the balls, which I could already do before Chas and Dave hit out with their very helpful lyrics in May 1986:

“Pot the reds and screw back

For the yellow green brown blue pink and black”

Very satisfying was also getting “a plant” where two touching balls handily lined up with a pocket. Then, it didn’t matter what angle you hit the nearest ball to you at – the one nearer the pocket would go it. Magic. 

Less great was the time I was lying on the floor looking at one of the snooker balls, enjoying its weight and shininess, then I dropped it on my face. Crack. Ouch. Not much you can do about gravity. 

Having a snooker table was a pretty sociable thing. Where now, teenagers have to be in separate houses with a large TV and a console to “play together”, we spent hours and hours and hours and hours playing snooker. 

This turned out to give me a handy transferrable skill as my gran’s neighbours had a pool table in their garage, so the holidays there were also spent setting up the balls, learning trick shots and trying to get better all the time. 

Another transferrable skill was mental arithmetic – working out what your break was and never managing to get anywhere near the magic 147. 

A full-size snooker table is a different thing though. Too big. Not a hope. 

In time, though, the skills of snooker, pool and mental arithmetic that were so much of my life in the mid-eighties have all atrophied and disappeared without trace during the intervening thirty-five years or so. I can still count up Scrabble and Yahtzee scores alright, but, meh, numbers… 

For my own children, the snooker table was brought out several times, over the years – taking over the living room for a few weeks at a time – but we didn’t use it during the whole pandemic so far, I don’t think – and I then figured we should probably move it on.

Hence the nostalgia. 

It is kind of encouraging to think that, while I was going out of my mind watching Denis Taylor, so was the rest of the snooker-watching world. It was genuinely a great (very long) moment. I was an 80s kid, having a very 80s kid experience. I am glad I didn’t miss it. 

More Bus Fun

This morning I took my car into the garage to have it looked at. I sanitised the key, handed it over and made my way to the bus stop across the road.

I told the bus app where I wanted to go, along came the relevant bus and away I went… a slick and efficient service.

I spent the morning having a coffee to myself, reading a book in the sunshine. Then, I did a fitness class. Then I got a lift home. Boom.

The only thing I needed to accomplish during the rest of the day was to get back to the garage to pick up my car at 5.15. According to my trusty bus app, this was very straightforward. The bus from the end of my road was due to leave at 4.15 ish, and that would get me there around 5. Cool.

4.15 came and I went to perch at the bus stop. Along came the bus and on I got, beeping my all-day ticket and taking my seat. Slick.

As we went along, I checked the bus app and the map app and zoomed in to see which shops I was looking out for to hit the Stop button. So I looked out expectantly for my selected landmarks.

As the shops I expected came into view, I pressed the button. At the next stop, I got off.

I broke into a half-hearted jog – time seemed to be running out on me – and made my way along the road I had studied – and waited for the landscape to become more familiar. This didn’t happen.

I arrived at my destination, horrified to find that I was at THE WRONG BRANCH of the garage! It was 5.04pm and I was in completely the wrong place!

Sweating and flushing, I checked my phone. My map app said it would be a 36 minute walk or an 11 minute car journey to the correct branch – and I had almost no time to get there before the 5.15 car-pickup deadline. Panicked bewilderment.

Providentially, as I was sheepishly texting Husband to confess to bumbling the whole perfectly straightforward bus-trip and car-collection thing, a cab driver was right there in front of me, helping his passenger out with her luggage and he happened to be free! Amazing.

Sans perdre de temps, we set off, my face red as a red thing and my eyes fixed on my watch while hoping that taxis take plastic… I haven’t been in one for … well…. since pre-pandemic or before…

Unbelievably, my most helpful driver managed to complete an 11 minute drive in about half the time and I got there for the 5.15 pickup. Relief. (I did have to lollop/gazelle my way inelegantly up a grass verge… but I am taking my arrival at 5.15 as an actual win.)

I was never more glad of my mask to conceal my roasting beamer, while the girl spoke car to me.

As her words and advice washed over me, I became aware of all the half-thoughts and inklings that I had systematically ignored all day – about how the bus to the garage seemed to be handier than I thought it would have been – about how I hadn’t realised how close various places were to my bus route (they weren’t) – about how the parks on the Southside are not actually as near each other as I deluded myself into thinking they were…

In my defence, both branches are, technically, on the same road… just 1000 buildings or so apart…

I resolve to improve my geography of the Southside.

(Eh, the picture of the Knight Bus is the only faintly relevant pic I could find of me and a bus… sorry if you were hoping for a Harry Potter post…)

On the buses

I have had cause to be on the buses of late. Gammy hand.

Public transport is pretty limited here, but there is a service that very handily goes from the end of my road to the end of my work’s road, although what is a fifteen to twenty minute drive becomes a forty minute whistle-stop tour.

The buses are cute, and generally a cheerful orange. They have seatbelts (that no one uses); the fare is fair; the payment contactless. Much better than the bad old days of the exact-change-only thievery of the other buses.

I was a fan of the buses, before the gammy hand, before the pandemic, even. Just standing there, fairly confident that the bus will come – and once you get on, it still has the vibe of a trip, a day out, a jaunt… I can sit back, relax, people-watch…

The bus service from the end of my road has a couple of quirks though. The main one is the sense that you get, on occasion, that the bus driver isn’t entirely confident about the route. Once, the driver missed a turning and I had to shout directions to get us back on track. Hope no one was standing hopefully on the road we missed. And twice, the driver has hung a left instead of a right therefore missing an entire estate. Hope no one was standing hopefully there either… And then there was the day that there were roadworks that took the driver by surprise and when he called in to let base know, he didn’t seem entirely confident about where we were…

So this uncertainty makes each trip potentially a wild-west maverick adventure, so that is who I am when I get on the bus. I mean, you make your plan, you get on… but who knows how it’s all going to end?

City buses have it easy. They float down main roads, slide into bus lanes; automated displays let the passengers know the real-time ETAs of their buses. Not so in suburbia. We swing speedily along wide open roads, windows rattling, hearing the engine straining as we scale hills and judder to sudden stops; we navigate the badly parked cars in busy residential streets. Curtain twitchers frown disapprovingly as we loop round roads where no one ever gets on and no one ever gets off…

I love the “there” journey. In the morning, the buses run to time and all is well with the world. Waiting for the bus home is another matter. A depressing game of psychological chess. I have to bolt out of work and make it to the bus stop. At that point I check to see how things are progressing on the bus app. There is, because of the way things are, in reality, a chance that the bus may, just may have been and gone – early – and I have no way of knowing. So I might be standing there in ignorant futility. At what point do you think – enough – and break into a walk to another transport solution half an hour away? Because you know, that as soon as you do that, the cheerful orange bus will appear. But will it?

On the way home I am generally aching; my bag feels heavier; I am tired in all kinds of ways. The route seems daft on the way home but it makes sense of the way there. Always good to get home for a cup of tea.

I have to say, though, the service has been pretty reliable this time round. In the winter of 2019 there were more fails and close calls – the worst one was when it was dark and raining and the driver didn’t see me… sad times…

Of course, it is the people that are most interesting. There is a wee element of groundhog day with people living in the same pattern as me, at least on the way there. There is one kid who has his ticket on his phone, and by the time we are going home, his phone is generally out of charge, so he has to rely on the kindness of the driver. But it has always worked out for him. The drivers are kind. And the passengers are always polite. It warms my heart when people say “Thanks Driver” as they leave the bus, as if it is the guy’s name. I can’t say that. I just say thanks. I kind of wish I was a “Thanks Driver” kind of person.

A lot of the people who use this service are very frail and they make me worry. It is so shoogly and swingy. I imagine it must be quite daunting to be shunted about in your seat, keeping one hand on your zimmer-trike gadget. The wise advice on the signage says to ring the bell then stay in your seat until the bus stops. This is very good advice but almost no one takes it. The urge to get up just as the driver is drawing in is irresistible, but really stupid, as that’s when one could easily come a cropper.

Let me tell you about yesterday. It was forecast to be 17 degrees, and in a non-public transport context, this would normally mean that the DMs would be patched in favour of the Birkenstocks. But with the back-of-my-mind lack of faith in the bus service, and the potential need to walk far in case of an epic fail, I had to stick with the DMs, while knowing I would regret this when the 17 degrees were out in force.

I made it to the bus stop after work in good time. Roasting. The bus was just two minutes late, which I think is reassuring; I would always rather it was two minutes late than pressuring me to be on time. On I got and away we went. Just me. Bus to self.

Lovely bright sunshine. As we went along, I was joined by three teenagers, then a very old lady with a wheeled shopping trolley bag thing. As we took off, the trolley went slamming into the wall opposite but when we turned the other way it slammed back then she caught it. Very deft. We got to the bit where the driver is meant to go right, and he went left, leaving that estate unserved, then we took off into the depths of the residential bit.

Suddenly the driver pulled over, donned a high-vis vest, got out the bus, opened the back of it and declared the bus broken down. Like a rat, I abandoned the sinking ship, failing to think through how the very old lady might get herself out of the situation. I should have made sure she had a plan B but I didn’t think it through. So I am kicking myself about that and hoping that the bus company had contingency plans.

The teenagers and I spilled out into the middle of des res suburbia and started generating solutions. My solution was to walk to another bus stop and start piecing together an alternative patchwork bus route home. I was glad about the DMs for the walking, but could have done with the Birkenstocks for the heat. When I got there and checked the app, it was going to be AGES until a bus came, so I gave up and thought I would walk to the parents’ house and sit in the 17 degrees in their garden and await rescue.

At that moment however, I was rescued by none other than my partner-in-work who happened to be passing. A joy. As ever. Unbelievably fortuitous. Providential.

The gammy hand is pretty good now, so I may well be driving within the week. Exciting times.

So, as I come to the end of my bus-dependant phase, here’s what I think. Buses are great and people should use them. When you are going past all the houses day after day, hour after hour, you think – surely there are people who want to get on here, and go wherever and then get home again with no effort? I think that people should download their local bus app and see what jaunts they could be going on.

I am thankful that, even in the case of epic bus fail, I am fit enough to walk the 10k home from work and have friends, and family who live where I could walk to in a disaster. But for people who are dependant on the buses, we are not quite there yet.

Thanks, Driver. It has been fun.

A Breath of Fresh Air

A year ago I set off for work with a buff around my neck, to use as a mask, before masks were a thing. A year on, I cannot believe just how far we haven’t got in getting back to “normal”, except I now have a wide range of masks in various colours to accessorise different outfits. It is so rubbish. We need a breath of fresh air.

Going into work last year in full expectation of lockdown

A year ago, Mr Salmond was acquitted at his trial. A year on we have been through a Jarndyce and Jarndyce with the weirdly compelling viewing of the big fish squabbling in in the SNP pond. What a bleak phase of Scottish politics. We need a breath of fresh air.

On the plus side, outdoor exercise in groups is allowed again – so that involves breathing and fresh air. While zoom classes kept my strength and mobility on course, my cardio/calorie burning end of things crashed a bit so I am relieved to be back.

Physical church as also set to reopen but it’s so covid-secure/restricted. I think of the hymn writer who wrote the hymn:

O for a thousand tongues to sing
my great Redeemer’s praise,
the glories of my God and King,
the triumphs of his grace!

I have often found myself this year wondering what he meant – whether he personally wanted 1000 literal (okay metaphorical “literal”) tongues to sing with, to express his praise for God – or whether he wanted 1000 people with one tongue each to praise God together. Either way, congregational singing has been banned for a year which is really shocking, in terms of liberties. Who would have thought that? It’s so dystopian, but here we are. I wonder when I will ever be in a room with 300, 500 or even 1000 tongues, to sing my great Redeemer’s praise… It’s a great hymn. A good one to belt out. I am “normally” belting it out on the violin – but I will maybe sing this one if we are ever allowed to sing it again.

We had tree surgeons in this week and our back garden is looking very different. There is a lot more sky; a lot more sky. I will be interested to see if there is, as well as the vast vast sky, a lot more wind and whether this means there will in time be a lot fewer pieces of garden furniture… We will see. So I will certainly have plenty of fresh air and bright light.

Despite the failure of the world to get to the end of the pandemic, and despite the sickening quagmire that is the state of politics, I hope you are enjoying the longer days and the prospect of spring. Whether we look forward to getting a haircut, celebrating Easter or scheduling some sunny garden visits – hopefully we can shake some of the 2021 scunneration.

I came across this poem by Edwin Morgan which, although it is describing getting scaffolding down from his building, manages to get across my mood at the moment and the lifted spirits that you get from more light, more sky and a sense of greater freedom around the corner.

The Release, by Edwin Morgan

The scaffolding has gone. The sky is there! hard cold high clear and blue.
Clanking poles and thudding planks were the music of a strip-down that
let light through
At last, hammered the cage door off its hinges, banged its goodbye to the
bantering dusty brickie crew,
Left us this rosy cliff-face telling the tentative sun it is almost as good as new.
So now that we are so scoured and open and clean, what shall we do?
There is so much to say
And who can delay
When some are lost and some are seen, our dearest heads, and to those and
to these we must still answer and be true.

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