Tag Archives: memories

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.

Hope. And love in a jar.

1 Feb

Snowdrops are my absolute best and favourite flower. I love how they battle through the cold, and poke their delicate wee heads up, often through snow, and wind and rain. But always COLD. I love their soft gentle colours, their crushable petals, their amazing scent, and how they look just perfect in a wee vase with an ivy leaf.

I love how the represent hope. Hope that Spring will come, that life goes on.

But most of all I love how, for me, they represent so much more. They mean love, and kindness, and knowing I am loved.

I left home at 18, and moved to London, where I lived for over 20 years. Every year I received a small cardboard box, containing scrunched up newspapers (for padding). Carefully, carefully I would open that box and then gently remove the newspaper… to reveal a bunch of snowdrops with a couple of ivy leaves (a plastic bag over the flowers and another secured tightly around the stems, which were wrapped in wet newspaper). The scent of snowdrops still takes me back to that homesick longing to be where they grow, under Mum’s magnolia tree in her ‘winter garden’.

Today I have picked snowdrops from Mum’s winter garden and will take them down to her this afternoon. I hope she recognises the love they represent.

Miss Morgan’s Butterscotch Sauce

4 Mar

I asked Mum about Miss Morgan a wee while ago, as I only have vague (but good) memories of her. She lived along the road from our house and occasionally babysat for us. I’m not sure why she looked after us, as our usual babysitter was Rachel, who was tall and manly and lived with the wee feminine Emily. Rachel and Emily were sisters; they had loved and lost during The War, and hence lived with one another, or that was what we were told.

Miss Winifred Morgan to my childhood self seemed sweet and kind, but with something more about her, perhaps she was secretly a Miss Marple? The other day Mum said that she had been a nurse and that she had worked in Egypt, possibly training or setting up nursing there…

My most concrete memory of Miss Morgan is her butterscotch sauce recipe. I think she was looking after us over a weekend, and to go with ice cream she taught me how to make butterscotch sauce. This was a revelation – until then I think we only had stewed fruit, or jelly with ice cream. Or on special occasions we would have a tin of fruit salad – but I sense that Mum avoided this at all costs as it would only cause arguments about who got they sole pink cherry from the tin. Butterscotch sauce seemed utterly exotic. And there was unexpected DANGER in making it.

Butterscotch sauce

  • 4oz sugar (just granulated is fine)
  • a scant 1/2 pint of water
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla essence
  • 1 dessert spoon golden syrup
  • 1 TBsp cornflour
  • 2 TBsp cold water
  • 1/2 oz butter
  • a few sultanas
  1. Measure the sugar into a dry heavy based saucepan
  2. Stir over a moderate heat until it melts and turns golden
  3. Now here is the fun DANGER part: take your pan off the heat and pour in the 1/2 pint of water. It will all sizzle and bubble and steam, and then the sugar will seize and solidify on the base of the pan. That’s ok
  4. Put it back on a low heat and stir gently, until the sugar is all dissolved
  5. Add the salt, vanilla, syrup and stir
  6. Mix the cornflour and cold water together in a wee cup or mug, and then pour into the pan, stirring as you pour
  7. Bring back to the boil, stirring all the time, so the sauce thickens nicely
  8. Take off the heat, and add the butter. Stir till it is all melted in
  9. Add the sultanas if you want them. You could also add some rum, brandy or whisky at this stage to turn it into grown up butterscotch sauce.

Pour warm over vanilla ice cream. I’d say ‘the best vanilla ice cream you can afford’ but actually this would be pretty good over any vanilla ice cream, even the cheap stuff. That’s definitely what we had back in the 1970s, if only because that was all there was available at Brydens, our local shop.

Nowadays I guess I would probably sprinkle some salt flakes over the top too, to make it salted butterscotch, making that exquisite sweet-salty combo. I might use a bit more butter too. Just because.

It would also be delicious on warm gingerbread, a bit like a sticky toffee pudding. But I’m just saying that because I have a gingerbread in the oven.

There’s another butterscotch sauce recipe here, a more modern one, probably not created by a wee lady who was probably born over 100 years ago now. And if sweet treats aren’t your thing, why not look through the other delights I’ve been rustling up in my kitchen, here.

Memories, remembering, remembrance

9 Nov
The War Memorial
Gatehouse of Fleet

It is nearly 11am, on Remembrance Sunday, a time for reflection.

In my childhood I took part in the Remembrance parade at Gatehouse, the small town where I was brought up. Most of the town took part in some way – I consider standing watching this parade as participating. Some years we had bright shiny sun and a blue sky, other years were less kind, and there were years of grey clouds, of smirry rain and one or two of proper big rain. But still the town turned out to remember. Mum nearly always wore her Astrakhan coat. I never really knew what an Astrakhan coat was, except that it was an inherited, enormously heavy black fur, with a curly coat, like a big black lamb. We all wrapped up warm. We were all freezing cold by lunchtime.

We would march up the town, past the clock tower to the War Memorial, a simple granite cross. The traffic through the town was stopped, and this, perhaps more than anything was what first told me that this was important. Mum told me about her Uncle Bobby who had died in the war, but when I was young I don’t think I really understood. I felt I should think of real people during that 2 minute silence, but I didn’t feel emotionally connected to anyone who had died in a war. I didn’t actually know any of them. I am lucky in that I still have no direct connection to anyone who has died in any war. But I do feel a real connection with this act of remembrance. I feel it is an honour and a duty for me to recognise it in some way each year.

When I first lived in London in the early 1980s I attended the ceremony at the Cenotaph each year, probably for about 8 – 10 years. It felt like the right thing to do, to show my respect, my thanks for those who had given their lives so that we could live in freedom. I thank them. And thank them again. I suspect that attending the Cenotaph is a different experience these days; there will be more security, and just more people there. The crowds were much smaller in the 80s and early 90s, despite the recent war in the Falklands. Most years, I had a direct line of sight to the Queen, who was only 30 or 40 feet away from me.

Since then I have mostly listened to it on Radio 4, or watched the BBC coverage of the ceremony. I don’t remember in what year it was that a silent tear first fell down my cheek, but now it never fails. So, here I sit considering those familiar words:

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning,

We will remember them

In my mind I feel the weight of the flag, as I lowered it, that one year. The determination not to let it wobble as it lowered, or as I raised it again. It may only have been the Girl Guide flag, but it mattered. It still does.

Memories are important.

Remembering matters.

Remembrance shows we care.

St Paul’s Cathedral
The Garden of Remembrance
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