Anniversary

Today should be mum and dad’s anniversary. It’s peculiar and quite depressing how a date once wrapped in happier memories becomes a slow, heavy weight on your heart as time goes on. Switched on the TV to try and distract myself a bit and what’s on but a Buffy repeat and it just happens to be the one where she is coping with the sudden death of her mother. Oh thank you, universe, that’s really what I needed to see this morning. Couple of things I can do later so I think I will take myself out to do something. I love you both so much, mum and dad, always.

A little piece of family history

My dad recently handed me over some very old family photographs, and in the very old leather wallet they were in was my grandfather’s pass for the Saint Andrew’s Ambulance Corps, Kirkintilloch branch (he was a very fine first aider, also looked after the fitness of the local football team and worked the ambulances during the second world war):

papa's St Andrew's Ambulance Corps pass 01

When you look at the interior you can see that he signed it on the 8th of April 1933:

papa's St Andrew's Ambulance Corps pass 02

And here he is even earlier than that date, he’s the one standing here, with waistcoat and pocket watch on a chain, both things I am rather fond of myself; I’d like to think it got that from him:

old print 01

Happy birthday, mum

Today should be my mum’s birthday. I should be hearing her delight at the flowers I always get her for her birthday, instead on a cold, misty winter day dad and I are taking flowers to her grave. I still don’t understand why she isn’t here, I don’t understand how someone you love so much can be ripped away from you just like that. Why is her name on a bloody cold stone?? The world without her I don’t care for; it feels like nothing has really gone well since we lost her, just seems to be one thing after another, more strain, more bad things, even someone who was so important to me letting me down very badly and always just under the surface the raw hurt of having her taken from us. There are honestly some days when if it weren’t for dad and taking care of the mogs I really wouldn’t care if I went to sleep and never woke up again. I don’t see anything in the future to inspire me or encourage me and it feels like just waiting for the next bad thing to happen all the time and that really isn’t much reason to keep going on, makes you wonder why bother.

One hour to go

One single hour to go before I am no longer a thirtysomething. End of the year and end of my thirties, hello being a funky fortysomething. Thank goodness for my creamy Celtic complexion and youthful exuberance – with those most folks think I look only 39 and a bit… Nah, that’s not true, it seems to surprise a lot of folks who didn’t think I was that age yet, although of course they may all just be being polite, but frankly I’m taking it the positive way. Bottle of champers chilling nicely for the birthday breakfast as we speak, any excuse… Anyway, champagne for breakfast is something everyone should indulge themselves in from time to time and if you can’t do it on your birthday then when the hell can you? First time I ever had champagne at breakfast was way back in the mid 1980s in a hotel in Aachen in Germany and its kind of become a birthday ritual these days and why not? Got to live a little, especially at my age 🙂

Dad continues to be on the mend – he seems a bit more tired than before, but that’s pretty understandable between the lethargy having to spend several days in a hospital bed can impart and the shock to the old system. He’s pretty upbeat and the final scans were clear (although he will go back in sometime in the next month or two for some routine further checks to make sure) but I think it has rattled him a little more than he lets on. We had a good Christmas together, the pair of us took every excuse to sit and watch the Wallace and Gromit repeats on the BBC while my mum tutted at us about enjoy cartoons at ‘our ages’, although by the time they were halfway through we heard barely suppressed sniggers coming from her direction, then out and out laughs from the woman who claims animation is for kids and not funny… Mind you that’s not bad going, it took us from the early video days (Betamax no less) to just a few years back to persuade her that Blazing Saddles was a comedy masterpiece (she finally gets it).

Ton of food was guzzled of course, all homemade – can’t beat yer mum’s cooking! My veggie main course this year was a delicious herb-stuffed pinenut roast in red wine sauce (again homemade). Mum’s meringue nests, cream, fresh fruit and some ice cream from the bloody excellent Equi’s (one of the best ice cream emporiums in Scotland) for dessert (although my cousins opted for the traditional Christmas pudding instead), all washed down with a bottle of Saint Joe. My mum couldn’t resist buying this bottle when she saw the name on it, although I don’t actually answer to that name to anyone except her and a couple of family members as I have hated my full name for as long as I can remember and prefer just Joe; anyone else using the full name will find themselves being ignored…


(Saint Joseph, the patron saint of mixing good chocolate and red wine)

As ever we all collapsed after dinner feeling as if we had swallowed a (delicious) cannonball, full, full, full… I always look forward to enjoying mum’s cooking at Christmas, but getting dad home on Christmas Eve made it particularly special. I could see him through a window as I was walking up to the house and boy was that a nice sight. We’re still trying to get him to take it easy, but mum and dad have been out a bit in the last few days and in fact they took me out for an early birthday treat lunch this weekend, which was good, off to the Bridge Inn at Ratho, which is a spot I first found years back when I used to cycle a lot and Brendan and I cycled out the canal towpath several miles out of Edinburgh, saw the village, the old humpbacked bridge and the canalside pub and thought we had earned a pint, found out they did food and that was it (incidentally Brendan’s 40th was a couple of weeks back – the party had a loose theme of dead rock stars and one guy came as Kurt Cobain; when he turned round he had fake blood and brains on the back of his head).

The menu was a bit disappointing – the veggie options were extremely poor which was annoying as we’ve eaten there many times and they usually had a number of options (I once had gorgeous hot peppers stuffed with fresh cream cheese from one of the local farms, shame they don’t do it anymore) so it was irritating to see a new menu that was so limited on the veggie front – most places tend to add more vegetarian options rather than reducing them. Still, I picked out a couple of simple items and enjoyed them with a decent beer from the Atlas brewery and it meant having more time to spend with the folks which is never bad.

Family crisis

I’ve not blogged for a while partly because I was busy trying to meet friends and catch up before the holidays last week. But sadly also because at the end of the week we were hit by a sudden family emergency when my mum phoned to say my dad had been taken into hospital back home in Glasgow. He had been feeling peculiar, on and off, and mum had forced him to go to his doctor. Typically the day of the appointment he felt fine, but she made him go (this is the woman we practically have to tie up and drag to the doctor’s practise when she feels off) and it turned out to be a good thing she did. Although he felt fine his GP was a bit worried at a heart murmur combined with some dark flecks on his nails which can be indicative of Endocarditis, where an infection enters the body and, as you might infer from the name, attacks the heart, especially the heart valves which is an area of that extraordinary muscle where our white blood cells which fight infections can’t go. When the heat of the surgery made him feel faint she decided not to bother booking him in for a visit in the New Year and just sent him directly to hospital then and there.

We were told not to worry unduly, that he wasn’t in danger, but when a doctor starts talking about possible damage to heart valves it is pretty bloody hard not to worry and I don’t mind admitting I felt physically sick with fear, as if I had swallowed a bar of lead, a heavy, nauseous feeling inside just worrying about anything happening to my dad. I was due to finish on Friday for the Christmas holidays and fortunately my boss told me just to leave now (thanks, Kenny), so after a quick stop to leave some extra food for the kitties I was straight home so I could go into hospital to see him and so I could stay over with my poor mum who is putting on a brave face but is obviously worried and scared too (and I wanted to be home for her as much as for my dad, think that did help her. She said she’s made up by old bed before I phoned to say I was on the way because she just knew I’d be there). The rest of the family have been great too, offering lifts in and out (even my wee cousin who just passed her test days ago, bless her, phoned to offer a ride in if needed – naturally using her mum’s car and petrol). I don’t have any brothers and sisters, but I have a legion of cousins and aunts and uncles and count myself very, very lucky.

I hate even visiting in hospitals – I hate the smell and feel of the places and I hate seeing someone I love in one, but I had to see my dad. He had been a bit tetchy earlier, I heard, mostly because he hated being in there and wanted home (and this is a man who is almost never rude or tetchy) but he was in better spirits when I went in and the nurses on his ward were very nice and friendly. Much as he wanted to go home the doctor had made clear to him if it was Endocarditis then he had to be treated now; if not treated early it is a condition which could potentially hospitalise a patient for months and be dangerous. You just can’t take chances with infections, especially one that can damage the heart, especially as at dad’s age he is out of manufacturer’s warranty. The doctor also told him he had a bloody good GP to pick up on these signs and send him in promptly, so good call there, Doc.

The bad news: he’s still in there. The good news: he had an echocardiogram – essentially like an ultrasound scan but on the heart – which showed no trace of infection on the organ. Second doctor also joins in for a look and they pronounce what they are looking for isn’t there and he’s not showing other symptoms of this nasty infection such as pains, marks on the palms of the hand etc. Blood and urine tests look clear too, although they put him on an antibiotic drip as a precaution while cultures are grown from the blood for a final check, which takes a couple of days (the senior ward nurse was very helpful when I asked her for the name of the condition so I could look it up, talking over his results, the tests and what they were checking for). If everything continues to be clear, as they seem fairly confident it will (in fact they took him off the antibiotics yesterday, so they must be pretty confident), then his principal doctor will have another look at the blood cultures on Monday and if they too are good then we should hopefully be allowed to take him home. On Christmas Eve. That would be the best Christmas present we could ever have. Although I’m not sure if that would mean we would have to leave him wrapped under the tree till Christmas morning…

Small world: in the bed nearest to my dad was an elderly gentleman who turned out to be from the same part of town as some of my dad’s older relatives from many years ago and who remembered some of them. He was having a slow blood transfusion, the drip feed bag connected to him. He’d asked how long it took and they nurse said about four hours, so he said what if I need to go the loo in that time? Few minutes later several of the nurses come back with those long-necked bottles for patients who can’t leave their beds and they pile a dozen next to him, laughing – nice to see they can joke with the patients and keep their spirits up. I told him if any of the blood they were giving him had a peaty aftertaste to it then it might be some of mine (its all the single malts, good for the blood flow, you know) – it was interesting to see someone benefiting from a blood donation.

You know when you give it that it will help someone, but you don’t normally see it in action. Of course, dad didn’t need a transfusion himself, but he might well have done and frankly that’s another bloody good reason to be a regular donor – you never know when something might happen to the people who matter to you and how they might depend on those donations, so again I’d say to everyone who has thought about but never done it, please, please go in and start donating; you might help a perfect stranger, you might be helping someone at the centre of your world. And it feels good to do something positive for life when there’s too many bad things in the world. And if you find one of your loved ones in hospital (and sadly at some point in our lives that’s likely to happen to all of us at some point) you’ll be bloody glad folks do give blood, so don’t just assume other will do it, go out there and do it yourself.

So fingers crossed we get my dad home tomorrow and we get our family Christmas together. We’re feeling more positive than we were at the end of last week, but obviously we’re still concerned and we’re eager to have him home and worried that some last minute thing will crop up to get in the way, so think positive thoughts for us and if I don’t get a chance to post again before the big day then peace and love to you all. We’ve just passed the Longest Night of the year; slowly, almost imperceptibly the long, dark nights of our northern kingdom will grow shorter and the days longer. Maybe that’s a good omen for us. And after two days of mist and freezing fog today the sun rose bright and clear. I hope that’s another one.

Random recent scenes

Princes Street this evening on the way home, basking in late sunshine; outside the oh-so-posh Jenners department store a bagpiper in full highland dress is jamming with two black musicians playing some sort of ethnic variation on tom-tom drums. They’re clearly all enjoying themselves as are the locals and tourists who stop to listen to this mix of African and Scottish. It sounds brilliant.

On my way in and out to work I pass some spectacularly beautiful displays of bright, colourful, fresh flowers in Princes Street Gardens and the crescents at the West End; in the bright sunlight the flowers almost glow. The council mismanages a lot of things in Edinburgh but kudos to the gardners for creating such beautiful, eye-catching displays that just make your day nicer by being there.

Making the most of the sudden burst of warm, summer-like weather we head down the coast where near the beach at the Fidra Lighthouse I bump into my friend Claudia with her visiting parents. After a very long walk all the way down the beach to North Berwick we’re licking our yummy ice creams when my big cousin and her husband suddenly appear.

Bus to work on Monday; as I am getting off one of my friends from the book group is getting on although I only have a chance to say hello to her as we pass. Clearly it is my week for randomly bumping into friends and family as I go about. Who will be the next Guest Star in the ongoing soap opera of life?

Walking down Middle Meadow Walk a temporary wooden wall hiding the building works in the old Royal Infirmary which has been covered with posters for Fringe shows is now peeling and torn, scraps flapping in the breeze now it is all over. The grass of the Meadows still shows the marks of the recently departed marquees and big top from shows.

Hot, sunny day, warmer than most of the summer – great. Except it is too hot and dreadfully airless at my desk at work and I’m dying for some fresh air all afternoon – a good excuse to meet a friend and sit outside a pub on the way home drinking cold beer in the fresh air and watching the sun slowly dipping towards the horizon.

Sitting in Beanscene with Mel, enjoying coffee and cake I notice they have details on how to buy the antiqued leather sofas they have in the cafe – the sign advertising this is simple but brilliant “order a sofa to go”. Oh yes, please, can I have a skinny latte, triple choc muffin and a sofa to go?

Saying goodbye

Our family and friends had the sad task of saying goodbye to my Uncle Ted this weekend. On Friday evening his body was moved to the chapel where he worshipped for years and worked in a variety of groups and movement to help other parishioners out. A great many of them turned out to pray for him at the requiem mass and on the following morning for the actual funeral service. In fact there were so many people there taking communion or a blessing after the service we were late getting to the cemetery; he was a well-loved man and it was uplifting to see how many people outside of our family came along.

In a bitter twist the requiem on Friday the 13th (of all days) fell on the day which would have been the Comrade’s 74th birthday. It was pretty emotional as you can imagine; for a moment I was going to have to step in as one of the bearers as another bearer was held up, but thankfully he arrived just in time. Naturally I agreed right away when my aunt asked me if I would step in, but I was also relieved not to have to do it as it was emotional enough already.

I was, however, one of the cord holders at the actual burial, the first time I’ve ever had that sad, final duty. I couldn’t say no, but it was one of the hardest duties I’ve ever had to perform. Obviously the professionals there have the large straps to properly lower the casket, the role of the cord holders is ceremonial. But if means that I was standing there right over the plot and I helped to lower my dear uncle down into that deep, damp hole. That really hammered home the finality of it all as I let the black rope slip through my fingers and watched his casket sink deeper and deeper. I know that what’s in there isn’t really him – the thing which made him the person we love has gone from that vessel – but its still damned hard to do.

It breaks me up even a few days later just thinking about it, the image of the wooden casket with his name on brass retreating into the earth. It was onerous but I felt I had to do it for him; many years ago my uncle asked me to do this when we buried my papa, his father. That was the first time I had been old enough to go the graveside part of the service and I was too young to handle it and had to say no. This time I carried it out for him, but I was so relieved to get back to stand with my mum and dad as soon as it was done. Still, hard as it was to do, it did give me a sense of closure.

The awful weather of the last week lifted for us on the day of the funeral and we had a crisp, cold, clear sunrise coming in through the stained glass of the chapel early in the morning; a huge full moon still hung over the Campsie Hills when I woke up at my parents. Naturally more than a few of us joked that with all the work he did for the parish the Comrade’s connections upstairs had arranged a decent bit of weather for the day. He never lost his faith even to the end; we never argued over this sort of thing, he knew I didn’t believe and he did but we both knew everyone has to take their own path and left it at that. I almost envy him the strength of his belief and, much as I personally dislike religion, I know it was a huge strength to him. There were three priests carrying out the services, including a rosary at the grave, which I’m told is unusual. One priest was his brother-in-law while the senior priest was also a good friend of his and as such he made the eulogy far more personal than these things sometimes are – he was, after all, mourning a friend as well as giving a parishioner his last services.

But he’s out of it all now – regardless of which spiritual belief system (if any) that anyone follows he is now free of the pain he was in. And the doctors and the support of his family – not to mention his own strength (and that damned stubborness, which I think I get from him) – he had more years than we thought; four years ago or so when it was first diagnosed he was so ill we thought we’d lose him within a few months at the most. Instead he enjoyed four more years and for most of that was fit enough to make the most of them, including making his golden wedding anniversary and to see his brother become a grandfather for the first time only a few weeks ago.

And I got to see more of some of my family members than I have in ages (sad, as you get older that sometimes you only see some folk at funerals and weddings), including my uncle who made the trip over from Canada to bury his brother and stayed over for a couple of nights with my mum and dad back home. I’m not five anymore and know that a hug from your mum can’t make everything better anymore, but it certainly still helps. Okay, maybe that’s a little slushy, but I don’t give a damn, we’re a touchy-feely family for the most part and even the most cynical of us knows deep down that a good hug from your folks is one of the best things in the world, whatever age you reach.

The phone call comes

The phone call I’ve been dreading but expecting for the last couple of weeks finally came late on Thursday night when my mum called me to let me know the Comrade had only just slipped away from us. I think hearing the tears in my mother’s voice was hurt almost as much as losing this wonderful uncle. When Mel and I lost our little furry Zag last summer it was a sudden shock; this was expected any day, bearing down with a grim inevitability on our family. Being expected rather than a sudden shock didn’t make a damned bit of difference though, as any of you who have been in similar circumstances will know.

I did go to work on the Friday; I felt gutted but to be honest I needed to keep myself occupied rather than dwelling on something I couldn’t change and if I went home I’d only be in the way as preparations are being made, so instead I got my head down and kept busy. My colleagues were very sympathetic and kind, with my boss telling me to go home if I needed to and just to let him know what days I needed off and so on, which I greatly appreciated. Mostly I got through the day alright, although a call from my mum to see how I was doing almost set me off. I had a very nice surprise though in the shape of a gift arriving from the States from Jeff and Ann VanderMeer, a delicious batch of Ann’s Bourbon Balls – it was a lovely gesture from a fabulous writer and they way the timing worked out was perfect because it gave me a little much-needed lift when I really needed it, as I tried to face the world that morning.

Towards the end of the day though I started to feel it overwhelming me. There’s a line in my favourite film, Cyrano de Bergerac, towards the end, where he feels as if he is shod in marble, gloved in lead. I felt that way by late afternoon, as if someone were draping cloaks of lead around my shoulders; I felt slower and slower, heavier and heavier and everything seemed more remote. When I got home I just curled up with my little portly pussycats and let it out while they snuggled up next to me and soothed me with their purrs. I’d like to think they were looking after me, but know full well that cats are mercenary and were more than likely taking advantage of a chance to curl up against me for tummy tickles and attention in a warm spot.

Mel had just returned from a business trip to London and offered to come right round, but at the time I needed a few hours just to let it out when I felt like it. Once I’d indulged myself this way I felt a lot lighter, so round she came and we settled down for the evening to talk and watch some movies. I went to open some wine and found the bottle my uncle and aunt had given me for Christmas, a lovely 1996 Rioja (where did my aunt get the time to buy presents with all that was happening???) – it seemed like a very appropriate time to uncork this bottle and enjoy it. I opened it just before Mel arrived and toasted the Comrade with the first sip.

Mel has been great at keeping my spirits up – not dragging me out to do things, but making sure she knew she was there to sit with me or take me out for some distraction and so we did go out on Saturday to my old second home of the Filmhouse to enjoy some distraction in the shape of the beautiful Japanese film Hidden Blade (from the maker of Twilight Samurai), a slow but gorgeously crafted work which made me feel much better and certainly beat the hell out of sitting at home and feeling miserable. Mel also volunteered to come through with me to the funeral, which is just one of the reasons that I think she is such a wonderful person.

Today I feel not too bad – relatively speaking of course – but the coming week will be quite emotional because we have the service and funeral to get through. Being a Catholic ceremony the Comrade’s body will lie in the chapel which he spent so much time in for the evening before the burial. Next Saturday was the earliest we were able to arrange. Its not going to be easy to say goodbye to someone who was such a big presence in my life, for the whole of my life; he’s been there for as long as I can remember, tall, strong, intelligent and caring and despite knowing what was coming it is still hard to come to terms with the fact that he isn’t there anymore; the finality of it.

And it’s not just losing him; events like this raise that spectre of mortality that we all are aware of but leave in the back of our minds for most of the time. It makes you wonder how long you have with the different people you love and the awful knowledge that such time is finite. We all know that is the case, but we don’t think about it too much and, let’s be honest, we shouldn’t. What will happen will happen and dwelling on such thoughts all the time only means that we fail to live that time and enjoy those people who matter as best we can while we have one another.

In many ways that is what funeral service are for – not just to honour the beloved dead but for those who remain; it is a way of saying goodbye and coming to an emotional understanding that they are gone and we go on, like cauterising a wound. It doesn’t mean you never think about them again – they will always be a part of you after all – but it does mark an emotional turning point. Like Neil has Morpheus say to his son Orpheus in the Sandman when he loses his wife, you’re mortal – you need to grieve, you need to say goodbye and then you need to go on with living. Not easy to do, but good advice nonetheless. Perhaps it is also the last thing you can do for those you loved and lost – you go on and live your life, the thing they would most want you to do.

2005 was the tenth anniversary of my graduation and in the last few days I kept thinking on the Comrade when he came to the ceremony. We were allowed to bring three people, so I had my mum and dad of course and the other person I wanted most in the world to be there was the Comrade, who was delighted to come along and I loved the pride in his face when I received my honours degree. He never made it to college himself, although he was a very intelligent man – he and I enjoyed many good debates and conversations over the years and I have his stubborn streak which means I stick to my guns when I know I am right; naturally I am almost always right J. He beamed when I refused to stand for God Save the Queen at the graduation ceremony (I don’t acknowledge anyone to be mine or anyone else’s superior, besides the second verse is anti-Scottish) and he was a great strength to me this time last year when I faced down my former employers. As a good left winger he was delighted to see my union supporting me so well and the support I had from so many folk warmed his heart as much as it did mine.

University wasn’t really an option for most working class men of his generation, but he made sure it was for his children. Today with so many people going to college it may not sound such a huge deal, but believe me for the working class son of mining stock to get several of his children to university was an enormous deal and I know he was proud to see me go as well. I held off going to college until my mid twenties; when I did the Comrade started giving my mum ‘pocket money’ for me again, like he did when I was a boy, so whenever I came home there would be a little bit of dosh there for me to enjoy a few beers in the Union with – that was the sort of little kindnesses he would do. It doesn’t feel right to know that he’s just not there anymore and that I’ve had my final conversation with him.

But at least I got to see him several times in the last few weeks and we talked and, more importantly, we laughed. My aunt could hear us guffawing from the upstairs bedroom as my dad, the Comrade and I shared some jokes and reminiscences. I still believe laughter is right up there with love as our defence against the world’s worst aspects. And in our family we balance this awful loss with a recent arrival as my wee cousin in Canada had her first child, while my other wee cousin and his new wife are eating for two as we speak, another new entry to the family due in the spring. And with the treatment he got and the support of his family the Comrade survived several years more than we first thought likely; he got to see grandchildren turn into great grandchildren and was still fit enough to not only reach but to enjoy his Golden Wedding anniversary last summer.

I’m normally not bad with words, but I am going to miss him more than I can express, I just can‘t shape the words to articulate it. Everyone in your life is like part of the jigsaw of your existence; some are background characters, some are major parts in the centre while others somehow manage to be major jigsaw piece in the middle while also being edge pieces, the parts that define the shape and parameters of the jigsaw or mosaic of your life. The Comrade was one of those special people who fulfilled both roles for me. It’s very hard to write this right now, I can feel the emotions bubbling up as I do, but it is even harder not to write about it, so I hope you’ll forgive my indulgence.

Ups and downs

I’m keeping myself distracted with my usual sources of inspiration and escape, movies and my books to stop myself from dwelling on things right now; really I’m waiting on a call from home that I don’t want to take. But I can’t stand the lingering limbo my uncle is in now either. My mum told me last night on the phone how poorly he now was; I think she’s trying her best to prepare me for it. I know its coming and she doesn’t really need to, but the fact that she tries, even when she is nursing her terminally ill big brother (who now looks so like his and my mother’s father, my papa, it must make it even harder since she nursed him too) makes me love her so much more.

If I dwell on it I can feel myself ready to buckle, the emotions running so close to the surface, like a river in winter, flowing fast under a seemingly still, frozen surface. So once more my books come to my rescue, a literary landscape composed soley of letters sculpted into every shape, but in little quiet moments you can feel the ice cracking and splintering, the frozen river pushing its way out. I felt it the other morning sitting on the bus on the way to work, not really taking in the book in my hand. It was a very cold morning with freezing fog swirling around Edinburgh; the slowly rising sun wasn’t visible directly, but the fog around the great mass of the Castle was glowing with a diffuse amber light.

Then the bus turned over North Bridge, giving me a view west over the Gardens towards the Castle, the mist lying in the valley of the Gardens and east, out to the Forth and the magnificent view of Arthur’s Seat, a huge extinct volcano right here in our city and the spot where Hutton examined the rocks and started to lay down the rules of the science we now know as geology centuries past. Arthur’s Seat looks magnificent in all weathers, but this morning it looked remarkable. The pale, low, midwinter sunrise struck the crags, turning the cold stone a warm copper, while between the heights the mist had sunk, curling around lower rocks and outcrops and pouring out into the small loch at the base by the Palace like a living creature. It was as if the rocks were breathing and this twisting, low-lying mist was its exhalation, showing sharp in the cold air just as my own breath did. For a little moment I saw magic and beauty in the cold, winter dawn. No one else seemed to lift their heads to look out from the bus and it felt as if the spirit of the rocks had put on a beautiful show just for me.

Christmas

Apologies for the gap between posts, but I’ve been busy with last minute Xmas shopping, then back off to the outskirts of Glasgow for a nice time at my parents. While there I also took the opportunity to visit my dear uncle – known to most of the family as ‘the Comrade’; he’s old school socialist with a human face and has proudly worn this alternative moniker I dubbed him with many moons ago.

I was warned by everyone to brace myself for his appearance, because he has deteriorated so much even since my previous visit two week ago. One of my cousins up visiting from the Deep South of England (land of thatched cottages) hadn’t seen him for many months, certainly not since the Big C came back with a vengeance and was so shocked she couldn’t stay long in his room. I can’t blame her for that – he’s wasting away before our eyes and growing weaker every day; frankly I was surprised he was still there, I had the horrible feeling that my previous visit would prove to be the last time I saw him alive. That’s a bloody horrible feeling – worse for my Canadian uncle over to visit his dying brother and knowing full well that it would be the last week he would get to spend with him.

So I braced myself and did my best not to let it show when I was with him, or round my poor mother who is fighting to stay together to help my aunt look after her husband, my mother’s big brother. Again we managed to swap jokes and share some laughs (the sense of humour must be up there with love as our finest defence mechanism), despite his voice growing weaker and fainter, as if every faculty is slowly winding down for him now, except his eyes which still shine. Lord knows what is keeping him going – he always was a tall, broad built, strong man with a good constitution; it is what helped him fight this awful disease the first time round, but now it is as much a liability since it is prolonging the inevitable. Part of me likes to think that he tried his level best to hold on through the holidays so as not to ruin Xmas for the family. Sheer speculation I know, but it would be very much in keeping with his selfless attitude and since no-one can prove such conjecture either way I choose to think it.

So I did manage to keep it together and spent some good time with the Comrade over my days back home. Between those visits, being around my beloved parents and seeing so more of my cousins and aunts than I have in ages (perhaps a positive aspect to all of this) I managed to keep it together, although I did fall apart in the car as my Dad drove me home after Xmas. We were just talking about it and the damned thing up and overwhelmed me, the sheer unfairness of this happening to such a good man. As regular readers know I’m not religious, but the Comrade is a devout Catholic (his absence at the special Xmas Eve mass finally drove it home to my poor aunt that his days were really coming to an end). If I hadn’t lost faith in any god decades ago I would now – he’s a good man, never missed mass in his life, did good work for the church… What sort of reward is this for any god to show to such a faithful follower? I know, life simply isn’t fair and bad things happen to good people, it rains on the just and the unjust, but it doesn’t mean I have to like it and it still doesn’t make it right. Naturally I keep such observations to myself – not really the time or place to air them around my uncle, aunt or mother (watching what this does to her is as hurtful as the thought of losing the Comrade).

Despite this we actually had some good times over Christmas. Spending time with my folks is always good (I am a very, very lucky boy in that respect). My mother’s home cooking was the highlight of course and naturally I did my best to eat absolutely everything she put out on the table until it felt like I’d swallowed a cannonball. Main veggie course for me was a gorgeous terrine of wild mushrooms, two types of cheese, two types of nuts and spiced potatoes, with an accompanying (and also home-made of course) spicy tomato sauce. My mum’s cooking skills are matched only by her baking skills (she is the official maker of cakes to the family) and her meringues crunched delicately under my spoon…mmmmmmm……

My birthday arrives tomorrow, on Hogmanay when I will be – ahem – years old, although I’m not especially in a birthday or New Years kind of mood really. Will try and post something slightly less depressing later on – its hard to talk about this stuff but equally hard not to talk about it, if you know what I mean. Hopefully go for a complete subject change when I next post (actually I wasn’t even going to write what I did today, but it just kind of came out and I feel a little better for that. I know all too many of you have loved ones who have endured or fallen to cancer as well, so you know where I’m coming from) – perhaps it is that time to do a review of the year (the one just ending, not next year; I would review 2006 for you now but I promised the Time Lords I wouldn’t monkey around with causality anymore)? Pick a few best of an worst of movies and books from the last twelve months, maybe some events – anyone wanting to add their own best or worst ofs for 2005 feel free to post (on which note I apologise for having to make the Woolamaloo comments non-anonymous, but I was getting some awful hate comments from some right-wing neo-nazi thugs for an earlier posting, and, as always with nasty folk, posted behind the cowardly ‘anonymous’ mask, so I had to withdraw that facility – apologies to the majority who used it for constructive purposes).