Tag Archives: family stories

Letters to The Times, and wetting a new baby’s head!

5 May

On 24 August 2021 I wrote

MisoCat sat with me on the sofa as I stabbed yesterday evening.

She’s occasionally good company, when she’s not attempting to hack into my work laptop by pressing ALL the keys on the keyboard.

The bonus pics today are mum’s father, Commander James Graham. I met an elderly gentleman at a party the other week (I know! A party!).. and he discovered who I was, and then reminded me how much Grandpa liked to write to the papers. Most weeks there seemed to be a letter from Cdr James Graham in The Times.

One of my cousins asked who the elderly gentleman was, who recalled our grandfather… and I responded with what was actually the more interesting story:

He is a neighbour of Archie and Sarah McConnel. The first story he told me (when all he knew was that I’m from Gatehouse) was when he first started work as a trainee quantity surveyor.. he had a meeting in Fleet Street with Mr Wolffe. At the end of the meeting Mr Wolffe cracked open a bottle of champagne and invited him to join him… in toasting the birth of his latest child. That baby was me! His name is Robert Waugh.

The moment I tell Sarah that her neighbour toasted my birth, over half a century ago


Trying to care for Mum as she developed dementia nearly broke me on a number of occasions. Gentle meditative stitching the Fisherman’s Smock probably saved me, giving me a focus and forcing me to carve out time when I could let everything go and just concentrate on those tiny stitches. I would really appreciate it if you could make a donation towards Alzheimer Scotland. They’re doing stuff that makes living with this more bearable for so many people. Thank you, thank you, a thousand thank yous.

And if you want to read more about my relationship with Mum and her dementia, then you could start here at Taking smock of the Situation. Or just dip in. After all, if I’ve learned anything this last couple of years it’s that chronology and time are less important than we might believe.

Giving nature a wee nudge

13 Dec

On 14 July 2021 I wrote

It’s beginning to look like I might complete this cosmos flower, eh?

I was thinking about Mum’s garden today, and how very good she is at giving nature a wee nudge here and there to create something beautiful. It feels like she uses the plants as her palette and she paints something glorious.

When we were wee we had a big garden, including a kitchen garden where Mum grew enough vegetables for us to be virtually self sufficient throughout the summer. And one of Mum’s superpowers is getting people (especially kids) to do things… so some of my happiest memories are sitting with Mum at the table by the back door (it would be called on the stoep if we were in South Africa I guess) and shelling peas, extracting broad beans from their fluffy pods, topping and tailing gooseberries … I still love processing the harvest.

I think a lot about Mum.

In the first weeks, months, perhaps year I felt unbearably sad, thinking of how she is, how much she seems to have lost. And I guess, more selfishly, how much we have lost.

But more often these days I think of her with a smile on my face, recalling small details, generally of something recent. For instance how she declared this weekend how much she enjoys bedtime – and the nurse who was with us at the time commented that we should take comfort in the fact that she both knows that she enjoys bedtime and she can tell us so. It seems such a small thing, but he is right – and also, how wonderful to be 91 years old and to be able to do something you enjoy every day!

When I was with Mum I was telling her some of the things I have learned from her over the years, including making the best soup and how to sew. Mum was somewhat sceptical about the sewing, and to be honest when I think about it so am I. I do recall Mum encouraging me to sew, but I’m not sure how much she actually taught me – I learned most of it from books (in the days before the Internet and all those wee how to films on You Tube).

Mum also taught me how to appreciate birds in the garden. In latter years she declared that her garden was her wildlife sanctuary and (perhaps because she could no longer go further afield) she encouraged all wildlife to come to her… she would sit quietly at the big window, and watch all the activity just feet away from her. She had a pair of collared doves who lived just above her house and would come and sit on the back of the garden chair on her patio, before hopping down and eating seeds she had thrown out for them. And then the cheeky wee territorial robin, always at her feet, hopping around after her wherever she was in the garden. A sleek blackbird. A variety of blue tits and coal tits hanging on the bird feeder. Sparrows, so many wee sparrows and dunnocks. And over the years various pigeons, who became more and more demanding that food should be thrown out to them by late morning – if it was not there, they would hop up on to the window ledge and tap at the window till Mum noticed and threw out some food.

Birds would often get into the house – swallows would occasionally swoop in and then circle round and round the chandelier, before perching on one of its arms, trying to work out how exactly to swoop back out again. One morning we found a bird fluttering about inside the wood burning stove – the fire hadn’t been lit for weeks, so the wee bird wasn’t in danger of being burned. But it needed to be rescued, so Mum opened the glass door and picked it up, holding it so gently in her hand before letting it fly off outside. Other birds would fly into the conservatory (well, the door was always open and there were usually nice plants in there for an inquisitive bird)… and they would flap around, trying to get out the windows. Mum always calmly picked these panicked flappy wee things up in a way that I never quite mastered… and she would check them out, identify them (referring to the Big Bird Book if necessary) and then let them go.

These memories seem all just part of ordinary, daily life with Mum.

But she also had a talent for killing birds. It was a talent she only used rarely. One of my earliest memories was of being in the garden and mum picking up an injured bird (I think it was a baby blackbird) from under the hedge. Mum then turned her back to us, and when she turned around again the bird was dead. She had wrung its neck, put it out of its misery. I was in awe. This woman had some superpowers (not just being able to pick up a bird, but also to despatch it!).

And there was also the fable of Mum as a child shooting a sparrow with her bow and arrow. And then roasting it over a wee fire and eating it. This tale always seemed almost too fantastical to be true, but all Mum’s life she has sworn it really happened. Not much meat on a sparrow evidently.


If you want to catch up on how we got to this point, this series of posts starts here, with Taking Smock of the Situation, and embroidery project I started shortly after I realised Mum might have the early stages of dementia. So, there I was, embroidering her old fisherman’s smock with symbols relating to her life as her memories were being thrown around like so many pieces of jigsaw in a big box.

Not in the mood for this? That’s ok. But if you feel like a bit of cooking or baking, perhaps making a Christmas cake for people who don’t really like Christmas cake, then you could check out my recipes here.

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