Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Holiday 2014

A month in Spain - I've returned feeling restless and unhappy with my lot.

This has happened before - I've felt worse about my everyday reality on return than I did before I went. Though this year I needed the holiday more than I'd ever felt I needed one before - so maybe that's what's turned me into this apathetic shuffling slob; the epicentre of malcontent...

It's not even that the holiday was 'the best I've ever been on' or similar.

Though it was restful.

A month in the Priorat. Torroja del Priorat. A very small mountain village: five and six storey 17th, 18th and 19th century houses clinging to a mountainside - just finding space amongst olive groves and the most steeply terraced vineyards I have ever seen. So steep, in fact, that all grape-picking has to be done by hand.

The village was eerily silent from 10am until about 7pm - aside from the first week when bottling was underway in the massive Comarca building which sat at right angles to ours. You'd hear voices from behind the huge wooden arched doorways of village homes - and from the courtyards and cellers which lay beyond. You'd smell cooking - the garlic and the smoked paprika and the olive oil scenting the air. But you'd seldom see anyone.

Unless you were at the communal village pool - which itself lay on the highest plateau (signposted 'Part Alta' of Torroja), giving views of Torroja rooftops from at least 200 feet above and beyond that, giving panoramic views to Gratallops (Grata-yoops) and right across the vastness of the valley.

View from the track leading into Torroja del Priorat from the village swimming pool

The road to our holiday home... Torroja del Priorat
It is hard to do justice to the beauty of the place. Photographs from an iPhone just don't cut it.

Evan was with us for the first 9 days. Despite the quiet of the place he enjoyed his stay. There wasn't a lot to do - besides swim, rest, walk, eat and drink and admire views - not usually high on any 17 yr olds' holiday agenda. Our days began to blur into one big day... with the church bells - so intrusive and loud to begin with - becoming muffled and then lost in our sleepy haze.

We ventured down the mountain most days. We were 40 minutes from Cambrils and Salou - a perfect distance. Not too far if we wanted to join other holiday makers on the perfect beaches of the Daurada - just far enough to avoid them becoming the focal point of the break and changing the balance of the holiday entirely.

Cambrils is still a working fishing village - though its primary income must come from tourism and package holidays.


Cambrils merges into Salou - which merges into La Pineda and Port Aventura and latterly into the industrial hinterland of Tarragona. Salou and La Pineda are purpose-built package holiday Meccas (mainly for the Russians) - with Port Aventura advertised as 'the largest theme park in Europe'.

We didn't go. My youngest children have a warped fear of fun fairs and water parks. They would've tholed a visit if their older siblings had been with us (though Lew has a pathological fear of water parks and heights...) - but they would not be convinced that a visit would be a good thing - branding it 'boring' and refusing to explain beyond that.

In fact, if I am honest, Jamie is at that awkward age where everything (aside from loitering in Lanark with his mates) is 'boring'. Ana just copies him. Though if you'd to point that out to her she would swear blind that he was copying her.

Mind you - on our return it was hilarious listening to Jamie describing the places we visited to my Mother. All those astonishing, overwhelming and beautiful places which had been written off by him as 'boring' at the time were suddenly 'great', 'really interesting' 'enjoyable' 'fantastic'...

Tarragona really was a surprise - which really highlights my ignorance. Formerly Roman 'Tarraca' (at one point the capital of the Roman Empire), the city visibly rests on its Roman foundations - concrete blocks of multi storey flats built onto the exposed massive blocks of Roman sandstone and of Roman streets.

A short walk from the impressive 1950s Rambla Nova (built to a style proscribed by Franco), down narrow streets and you are suddenly confronted by a preserved Roman street  - a raised and incongruous plaza surrounded on four sides by modernity- the newer city peculiarly 30-40 feet lower than the ancient.

Roman Street amongst modern flats - Tarragona

The Roman amphitheatre is breath-taking. The engineering that went into its making is astonishingly advanced. And it commands views right over the Mediterranean Bay. Deliberate - a show of wealth and power. And it would have been a place of gore and death. But today - well...
Amphitheatre - Tarragona
 The medieval quarter was impressive too. Lots of narrow cobbled streets, marble steps and blindingly white sandstone (there was the ubiquitous clean-up and conservation project on the go). The Cathedral was very attractive as churches go - though I'm never much into all that glitter and gold and bloodied Christs that make up the interior.

Evan in the fore-ground looking reasonably impressed

Painted gable-end - old quarter in Tarragona
We sat in the street cafes and ate the tapas and drank cervesa and the salty sparking Vichy Catalan (this is Catalunya after all). We gorged on olives - mainly arbequina - small and hard and aromatic. And on chiperones and boquerones and calamares. Jamie would eat little but calamares or chiperones bocadillo. With patatas bravas - chips, really! Ana existed on croquettas (any but usually chicken or ham); on chorizo and on melon and curado de jamon serrano. And tortilla. And rabbit stew.

We took the bus to Barcelona. And were humbled by the city. From Parc Guell to Camp Nou; Barcelonetta and the old Bull Ring; to the Sagrada Familia, the Ramblas, the Bouqueria and the Placa de Catalunya. Too big for two short days. A taster which has us planning our next visit.

Ana - after Mother FC, Barcelona is her favourite team
Sagrada Familia (back of it) - work in progress - and not expecting a finish until 2026.
Torre Agbar - this poor photo gives no indication of the shimmering surface - iridescent, burnished glass and metal in blues and reds
Chinese Restaurant on the Ramblas -look at the skill of the wrought iron work and the stone masonry  - beats wee China Chef in Lanark... The 'bubbles' on the front are parasols.
Street art on the Ramblas
Bouqueria on the Ramblas - the colour and noises and smells of this beautiful market were overwhelming

Xavi's shirt in its glass box - reflecting some of the hundreds of trophies Barcelona have won
Jamie in repose - feeling bored no doubt - at the Barcelona Olympic village
Reus was also a surprise. Don't write it off as 'just the airport place'. Perfectly proportioned placas - fringed by perfectly proportioned buildings - covered in Catalan Independence flags... The Gaudi Museum is worth a mention. And the food was very very good - fast, fragrant and fresh. Lots of seafood - and everything served with flat leafed parsley (an old-fashioned herb which is mostly relegated to soups and stews here).
Jamie and Robert walking towards the Placa del Mercadel in Reus.

Reus - Placa del Mercadel - we ate in the restaurant pictured
And Sitges! That elegant Riviera-like seaside town. Gay, stunningly beautiful, just the right side of seedy. I need to find our photos -but here is a little taster:

Spain. Catalonia. Ah. I loved reading about their Indyref...

There is nothing about this country that I do not love. Whether Castilian; Galician; Navarrese, Basque or Catalan (apologies to all those I've missed) - I love Spain.

It is a country built for people. The public spaces are beautifully maintained; easy to use and as a result, well-used; and they prioritise people over commerce or cars. Cities are alive. Unlike here, city centres are human and lived in - with residential properties and the needs of their inhabitants met by the commercial properties which are their servants (not their masters). Their pedestrian crossings prioritise people.

Spanish engineering and design is advanced and it works... Not for them dank concrete crumbling multi-storey car parks - instead the air conditioned vast and deep (sometimes four levels down) underground car parks which direct you with electronic arrows to your space; or the roads that tunnel through the Garaf mountains - for a km or more; or the road system that is so well-signed that we didn't use our maps or satnav despite travelling 3100kms over the month. The modern architecture is astonishing - striking beautiful floating boxes of glittering granite and marble and glass and metal. But otherwise the blend of Colonial spanish with Gothic; beside Gaudi or Gaudi-esque and Romanesque and Mudejar-style buildings -these are the buildings that populate my dreams.

The village we lived in was poor. The lifestyle of locals was simple and revolved around farming. With a few rich in-coming foreigners having bought into a lifestyle and offering a slice of that lifestyle with the Hotel Abadia del Priorat (a casa rural) or similar. But Fincas with large plots of land can be bought for as little as 35000 Euros.

Hotel Abadia del Priorat - entrance

Rents - even in the cities - are affordable (or look as if they are from this Scottish perspective). With three and four bedroom apartments in good areas going for 400-500 Euros per month - a fraction of what would be paid here - though admittedly wages are lower and the economic situation very different.

I've come back to a cold house that desperately needs a new boiler (the current one is done, finished, over); to quotes of £3500 min; to rain and to the fear that I will not be able to hold out doing this job until the new business is up and running.

I've allowed myself to sink a bit. General unhappiness with my lot made worse by the brief vision of a life lived elsewhere.

Ach. I'm not daft. I know that there's a great deal to be thankful for. Not least, Dad's radiotherapy is proceeding without too many problems and he's upbeat and looking well. And I've always known that change must come from me - so I've only myself to blame if I'm still unhappy in the same way this time next year,,,

Here's my favourite photo of the holiday. It's a grumpy Ana - not happy that her three hour stint in the pool had to come to a siesta-end...
A wrinkly cross Ana reluctantly leaves the pool after a full three hours in water... Torroja del Priorat

Monday, 28 April 2014

The Family Artist

It's been a tiring strange time with work and work-related anxieties consuming far too much of my time.

Evan - my gentle giant - brought respite, with his beautiful, meticulous artwork.

He's just pulled together all the elements for his final exam - this is the 'expressive' unit folio of the Scottish Higher Grade.

Humour me. Here are some imperfect pictures of his now-submitted work. The theme is 'Decay'. He tells me that he wanted to convey his sense of 'decay' as just another metamorphosis - that things break down and rot - but that the transformation can be (and is) beautiful. There is a cycle - death is just another 'becoming'.

I loved that.

I also love his beautiful detail. His perfectly realised vision.

I'm also his Mother... and I love him dearly regardless.

The pieces are largely charcoal, pencil and watercolour.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Two Nights in Liverpool

Robert and I took Jamie and Ana down to Liverpool for a couple of days last week. A couple of nights in the Holiday Inn Express - cheap, clean, functional and well placed for the Docks and the City Centre.

Last time I was in Liverpool it was 1996 and I was there for a final interview with the Health and Safety Executive. Success was admission as one of Her Majesty's Inspectors of Health and Safety.

I had an overnight in a nasty, fowsty, run-down, rent-by-the-hour 'hotel' just beyond what I think is now an impressive Chinatown. I didn't sleep. For a place with only fifteen rooms there were a lot of doors banging and a lot of comings and goings... (pun intended). My door was tried at least twice. In the end I wedged a chair under the handle and scratched at the red lumps that were appearing on my legs.

I couldn't have given a shit what happened at that interview.

That's probably why I got the job.

Anyway. Liverpool was a derelict frightening dump of a place. The Liver Building was covered in mesh - presumably to prevent loosening masonry from braining some innocent passerby. The Liver birds were miserable looking craturs - tethered (as they are today) and scaffolded (as they are not).

It looked like what I thought a war zone might resemble.The aftermath of the ideological war was ugly. Liverpool was defeated - and there were only faint traces of rebirth. Some scaffolding here and there and development at the old Albert Dock area from where a popular morning tv show was broadcast- but I could only see this as a manifestation of contempt for what the old City had been.

Now it's transformed. It's been middle-class-ified. In that sense I suppose it's no different from any other Northern ex-industrial behemoth. Glasgow, Leeds, Manchester, Sheffield, Newcastle. All regenerated. All to varying success.

We managed to avoid the Beatles and mostly everything Beatle-related (who were the Beatles, Mum? They've spelt the name wrong. Shouldn't it be Beetles?). But we bored the kids with museum overload. The Tate Modern (Jamie enjoyed a binary art/not art trip around it - deciding he definitely didn't think spots or splashes or anything installation-y was 'art'). The Maritime Museum. The Museum of Slavery. The Museum of Liverpool Life. We took a Citysightseeing bus and short-circuited city knowledge. The Cathedrals are astonishing buildings - even for this non-religious family. The City Wheel went up too high for me. The Mersey was vast and chill - an astonishing river for one used to the Clyde.

The people, though - the people. They were funny and warm and acerbic. Certain in their sense of self. They wanted to talk and smile and show you things. They wanted to engage. The humour - self-deprecating, taking the piss - was one that I recognised from Glasgow. I felt at home. There was the same edge to things - a sense that someone might pull a knife as quickly as a laugh. But that was familiar, the known. And it's been years since I saw anything violent in Glasgow - or felt afraid walking through its streets - so I was not afraid.

I'm glad we went. Really glad.

Liverpool Wheel - Ana and Robert in foreground

Albert Dock - view from the hotel room. Grey overcast and cold. It's now a World Heritage Site.

Robert and Jamie freezing their balls off looking out over the Mersey vastness...

Monday, 24 March 2014

A Guest post for elsewhere...

Thought you might enjoy reading a guest post I authored for the MumsandDadsnet.com site...

You can find it here: http://mumsanddadsnet.com/2014/03/24/family-care-grandad-delivers-baby-dad-calls-midwife-older-brother-sister-watch/

Big thanks to my talented friend Jamie Marzella for the accompanying photo (gable-end and communal garden of my house/Row)

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Here's to mumsanddadsnet.com

A very minor, very broadsheet-type stooshie blew up over the weekend. Hit The Independent. Caught my eye.

There's Mumsnet. And now, fighting the 'gender equality in parenting' corner, there's Mumsanddadsnet...

I'm all for gender equality. Been fighting for 'equality' since I was in Nursery and was redirected from the sandpit with the immortal words 'all good girls like the home corner'. So Mumsanddadsnet sounds alright to me. And it is. Alright that is. The few articles authored so far sound imminently sensible and well-reasoned. Decent. Honourable. Measured. All in all its creator, Duncan Fisher, presents well with his very civilised endeavour to address a serious issue: the inherent sexism of our culture and society - a sexism that identifies the 'real' parent as 'the Mother' - and which ghettoises women and condemns men to the parenting fringe in the process.

So, why am I apprehensive? Why should I be anxious? Surely any effort to redress imbalance should be welcomed?

Probably because experience tells me that sites that set themselves up as flag bearers for parenting equality are invariably hi-jacked by the women-haters and mother-bashers. By those who think they win equality for Fathers/Men by attacking Mothers/Women. The binary thought processes lead to well-trod battle-lines: women use residency/contact to punish men; men and women are mentally and emotionally inherently and qualitatively different; it's all a feminist plot to take over the world; it's not about 'parents', it's about Mothers and Fathers; the attack on 'father's rights' is a result of the feminist attack on 'family values'; families without fathers are an abomination before God (ah dear, never mind what this implies about same sex couples who parent together)... and before you know it, reasonable discussion about a serious subject becomes impossible.

As soon as the discourse of the 'Comments' become peppered with references to 'the innate differences between men and women' I am off. And - for what it's worth - for every sexist conclusion neuroscience (neurosexism) allegedly encourages us to make there's another* neuroscientific study that 'proves' there's no such thing as the male/female brain - that what minute difference can be observed can be explained  by the impact of the socialisation process which attributes gender to everything (pink lego anyone?).

What is it that all those who cannot bear the descriptor 'parent' fear?

'Parent', the great semantic leveller, emphasising what He and I have in common when we've done our fertile best and reproduced.

I mean, there we are, my fellow Parent and I, besotted with the little blighter and doing our best to deliver he/she safely to independent adulthood. Do we get hung up on gender roles when deciding who does what, subjecting every task to gender-interrogation? Is changing the nappy a Mother or Father duty? Should He iron the babygro, whilst I change the hoover plug? Or should He be principal breadwinner, come home to his dinner on the table and the kids in bed?

Get a grip.

Having brought the kids into this world, we have a joint responsibility and common interest in seeing them safely to independence. The enterprise is more secure if we parent together (whether in the same household or not). Success is more likely if we co-operate and help one another. Success is an even greater certainty if we have the support of a network of extended family or friends or a loving community. 'He and I' are yer 'traditional married heteros'. But the above holds equally true for all those parents who are living apart, those single parents, same sex parents, adoptive parents or foster parents who are lovingly working together - either with each other and/or others in their extended family or friendship groups - to nurture the children in their care.

I suppose I've never understood the desperation of those who feel compelled to define themselves as 'masculine' or 'feminine' - who are determined to view the world as binary. Does my vagina really make me more suited to the colour pink or to flower-arranging? Does it really mean I'm ruled by the moon? Or that I am innately nurturing and emotional? Does His penis mean emotional distance, power-tools and play-fighting? Or that he is 'the boss', the main breadwinner, the head of Me?

There is the stench of desperation and of the protection and exercise of power in the attacks perpetrated by some of those commenting in the early posts of Mumsanddadsnet.

But maybe that was inevitable - and is ultimately an essential part of establishing a message. For if you are good enough to attract their approbation - you may just have a meaningful message and an effective vehicle.

So, here's to mumsanddadsnet.com - to parenting and to hope.

* Thanks must go to Prof Gina Rippon (Professor of Cognitive Neuroimaging at Aston University) who debunks the neurotrash theories of 'men are from Mars; women from Venus'...
** http://mumsanddadsnet.com/

Starting from Scratch: a business venture...

Days like this were invented to sleep through... But no. Instead there was work.

So, a quick shift up the M9 to visit a distressed wummin seeking advice and support. Job done. Now home.

Things have been slow recently. Or maybe 'slow' is relative and is in fact what happens when you want to crack on - get started - but have to endure the frustration of anticipation; the drag of preparation; the slow-burn torture of knowing that where you currently are is not where you a) want to be OR b) will shortly be... when things are 'ready'.

I never did apply for that GS/CEO job. Not only would it have been wrong for me, the chances of me actually getting it were nil. I say that informedly. I am no defeatist.

By way of encouragement/discouragement (you tell me) I was told - by the manager in charge of recruitment to the post - that I was 'too young'.

Ha! Was it the hoodie gave me away? Youth! 'Too young!' I've never been told that before. And I daresay - from a shallow, vanity perspective it would normally have tickled me. But. I am nearly 47. No child. No inexperienced whipper-snapper. And in most arenas I would be written off as 'too old' - equally iniquitous of course.

Yes, yes. I could sprint off down the age discrimination route. But what's the point? And anyway I need some income - and the raising of any ET action would really (maybe not legally, but mentally and emotionally) require that I walked out.

My hearts not in it. Nor is my head. Not in claiming and not in staying long-term.

It wasn't the worst of moves. I did need to kick myself out of the ease of my last job - before I found myself at 67 yrs, still trooping off to the Sheriff Court to repel some appeal or prove some pair wee wain should be taken 'into care'. I had to (for my own sanity's sake) cut the cords tying me to what I knew and then I had to land somewhere.

The somewhere just isn't where I am.

So now I'm planning to do something so strangely un-me that I cannot quite believe that I'm even thinking the words. That is, I am going 'to launch a new business'. Concentrating on an HR/employment law/training/employee engagement + mediation offering.

It's taking time. I'm talking to a very bright insightful woman about a joint venture - but if that isn't going to work I'll be on my own. Though I've been approached  by a couple of lawyers looking for escape - they too are interested in mediation - so there are other possibilities.

I need to sever links to my current position gradually. Weaning to half time around August/September (I've asked - and it seems it'll be granted). Unfortunately it takes time to build a client base...

In the meantime, all business tips will be gratefully received. And anyone looking for HR/employment law/mediation - please contact me. Please.

I'm good at this stuff. Honest.

Monday, 10 February 2014

The news was good.

With the NHS waiting list for 'routine' appointments (my GP had marked my referral as routine as she couldn't feel the lumps) running at 12 weeks in this Board area I called the Friendly Society which I've been a member of for years (Benenden - £7.80 per month flat rate regardless of age or previous medical history) and they immediately ok'd diagnostic testing up to a maximum of £1500.

I saw a lovely Consultant on Friday 7th Jan and he instructed three tests: mammogram, ultrasound and needle biopsy.

I wasn't imagining the lumps (the GP's not very pleasant bedside manner had me checking continually in the run up to the consultation). They are real. And they are benign.

The biopsy results aren't back yet - but I've been told not to worry.

I am one of the lucky ones.

Workaholic Robert took time off and came with me on Friday.

It's a funny old thing how relationship complacency is bust by a wee bit of worry. We spend most of our lives together ignoring or taking one another for granted or pulling one another apart. Then discover that we are there for one another when it counts most.

When the testing was over we decided to go for lunch. The Nuffield Hospital is less than a mile from Glasgow Uni and the West End - my 2nd home for so long - and I found myself automatically driving down University Avenue and towards Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum.

Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum - back entrance

Parking was difficult and we were about to give up and move on when a car moved on and we got their prime space.

We opted for the basement cafe and its table service and fresh good food.

The cafe conservatory

Our waitress was a punchy spiky Glaswegian - energising and uplifting. Nosy. In yer face. Happy. Laughing and joking. Slagging banter and self-deprecation a speciality.

We placed our order. Robert read his paper and I looked out of the modern glass cage we were sitting in - over the car park and up to the dark University spire.

Glasgow University from Kelvingrove

The cold sun spilled through greying clouds and lit up the modernist conservatory. And there was the naked truth of it all revealed to me.

I was in the right place. I was with someone I loved and who loved me. The generosity of our waitress was uplifting. This day was just the beginning. And I was overcome by such a stark and perfect and beautiful joy.

Vintage Art of the Day

Shakespeare Quotes