(The photograph, courtesy of John, shows Alexandra in Switzerland at the wedding of Rory and Sarah, 2011.)

My grand-daughter, Alexandra, is 17 years old today. I don’t quite know how she managed to sneak past me to this mature age for it seems just like yesterday that she was born.

I would not really regard myself as a strongly maternal woman, and because grandchildren came to me early in life, I did not have to yearn for them but was thrust unready into the role. I now have seven grandchildren, four girls and three boys; but there is no doubt you have a special relationship with your first grandchild.

Alexandra being the first born occupies the same position in the family hierarchy that I did.

She referred to John and me as ‘the Grandmas’ and to herself and her two younger siblings as ‘me and the sisters’. (Her English is better now of course.)

Alexandra is tall and slim, beautiful after the Irish fashion with dark hair and eyes the colour of the Atlantic. She has a natural edgy stylishness. She has many talents. She can draw very well. She has a good voice and it was a pleasure to listen to Carolyn Hulatt give her an impromptu lesson on singing during the rehearsal for Elisabeth’s wedding. She is musical and plays the French horn for one of the Glasgow orchestras and also the double bass. She is clever.

Alexandra is insightful and shrewd. She has word skill and can be wounding: she generally knows where the weaknesses lie. But she is not wantonly cruel and can be very kind.

She spent a lot of time with us in her childhood. The first time she went abroad she stayed at the Antwerp Hilton and was sensible enough even as a toddler to befriend the doorman and came and went with great self possession. She and Joanna came to Northern France with us and to Portugal. She came away with us in our caravan in the UK on numerous occasions. Once when she was staying with us we had a flood, and we escaped with Anne Hall to the welcoming hospitality of the house of Barbara, Anne’s mother in Somerset. We had a lovely visit, but the pressure of being the only child clearly got to Alexandra for she complained to me, “There’s too many grandmas and not enough children.”

I don’t keep in touch with my grandchildren weekly (though they’re welcome to talk to me whenever they like) but when we are together I look forward to Alexandra coming to see me when we fall easily into conversation as though we had left off the previous day. What she has to say is always thought provoking and interesting. I like talking to her.

Walk in the light, Alexandra, and may your birthdays be joyful and many.



We’ve had here in the UK the worst week of weather in what has been a very mild winter. In the previous five years we have scarcely had a day with ice on the roads. The Northern parts of the UK had some snow but our news is very Southern dominated.

So this week we have had people who spent 13 – 20 hours stuck on blocked roads. Hundreds of schools have been closed. People have been advised not to present at hospital. Hundreds of buses have been cancelled. Most trains have not run. Thousands of planes have been grounded. Food is running out in supermarkets.

The general call has been, Stay at Home, Do Not Go To Work. If You Set Out In This, You Risk Death. It is no wonder the public becomes alarmed and stays at home. Weather forecasts are frightening in the extreme.

Yet what has actually happened is that we had some nights (here in the South) the temperature fell to about -2 or 3 degrees; there was a cold wind, for about 2 hours it snowed and left about 1 – 2” of snow, a few roads were blocked by drivers who got stuck on hills and other drivers couldn’t pass them. This is hardly the worst winter since records began. (Conditions have been much worse in other parts of the country.)

We need to treat winter with respect. We should carry a snow shovel, a blanket, some food and drink, and a mat to go under our wheels all the time. It’s not going to take up that much room.

Perhaps people should have to do some winter driving on the equivalent of a dry ski slope in order to pass their test.

We should not go into Panic mode whenever we notice a snowflake!




I was fiddling about with some blue gingham material, cotton, attempting to make an apron for William, my grandson. The joins where the halter and waist ties join the body of the garment were messy and I couldn’t seem to resolve this. Also I had appliqued a W in red and this had not worked well. Then I had a bright idea. I would make it double and reversible.

I ditched the blue gingham and chose a plain black cotton and a grey cotton with sailing boats on it in black and gold.

I measured the width of the body of the apron at the top of it, the waist and the hem. I drew on a piece of paper half of the apron, drawing a curbed line from the waist to the top. I had folded the material so I placed this half pattern on the fold and cut it out. Then I cut 3 pieces 4” wide and about 15” long. I cut the black out first; then I cut the other body out of the printed boat material. I did not need to cut out the ties and neck piece in this material, but I cut out a pocket with a boat on it to go on the black apron. I also cut the black side 2” longer than the printed so that there was a black border on the hem of the grey material. It didn’t take a lot of material. I reckon half a yard of each would probably have been sufficient but it depends on the size of the wearer.

Then I sewed down the side of the tie pieces, and sewed one edge; the neck piece could have both ends left unsewn. I sewed a hem on the top edge of the pocket and ironed down the edges. Then pinned it carefully in position and sewed it down. I then placed the two apron sides, right sides together, and put the unfinished edges of the ties  between the sides of the apron and pinned them in place. I then sewed right around the entire body of the apron, leaving a space on one side of about 3 “ through which one can pull the apron and ties so that it is the correct way round. You then sew up that small section by hand.

This makes an attractive apron, thicker than normal to withstand spillages etc.

There should be some link in colour, pattern etc between the two fabrics. It was fun to do.



When my youngest grandson, James Kenneth Sullivan was first put in my arms a day or so after his birth, he never opened his eyes. So long as he was comfortable, safely held, warmly wrapped and with his stomach reasonably full, he seemed content. It did not matter whose arms held hm.

The next time I saw him was when he was maybe 3 weeks old. This time he did open his eyes and took a long, appraising view of me. It was the first glimpse I had got of his eyes which are an indeterminate blue-type colour and we cannot tell yet whether he will be a cool misty grey like his mother and maternal grandfather, or a true and brilliant blue like his paternal grandmother, or brown like his father, brother and other relatives. I would bet on the grey. I saw him stiffen slightly as he thought, this is Not-My-Mother; but I spoke to him warmly and he responds well to the pitch of my voice.

We visited Elisabeth again last week, so James is about 8 weeks old now. He is so tall that he outgrows the measuring device and the nurse shouts at Elisabeth that she cannot be holding him in the right position. She is however and the nurse makes a note on the file and asks Elisabeth to keep visiting the clinic.

Elisabeth is putting James (whom William for some mysterious reason refers to as Bates) for a rest but William starts wailing for something to eat. Elisabeth hands me the baby while she fixes something. To my great surprise, after he has looked at ‘Not-My-Mother’ with interest, he smiles at me – his first smile that I have seen. He makes a few squeaks, blows bubbles, listens to me, smiles again. So expending great energy, he begins to shake and to move his arms so that it almost looks like the dancer’s solo. He smiles at me. I praise his efforts and he coos with delight. I am overwhelmed with joy and pleasure,

He lies before us, like a new country. There is mist among the sunshine and we cannot see clearly but certain features are already outstanding, like mountains in an unknown landscape. I sing to him, the Scottish lullaby, Coulter’s Candy, and then for good measure, You cannie throw your granny aff a bus. He listens and tries a few squeaks of his own.

James Kenneth Sullivan. You have arrived. May you live and prosper.



I was born in 1949 when sweet rationing after the Second World War was still operating. My father gave me his rations and I felt rich.

At that time, with the war so recent, it was not taught in school, and survivors of the fighting did not feel inclined to speak of it much.

The first I heard of the war was the recurrent ‘She was at Dunkirk’ which skipper after skipper of the local fishing boats would say to my mother of their vessels. I asked my mother, “What is this Dunkirk that they keep talking about?’ and she explained briefly that it was a rescue by small boats of soldiers who had been stranded on the beach at Dunkirk and were being repeatedly bombed by German fighter planes. I thought this a dastardly act, was glad the rescue had been mounted, and then thought no more about it.

My father during the years of the war drove steam engine trains from Aberdeen to Glasgow which was a reserved occupation and so the war affected him very little (and this was just as well, for he would not have fitted in at all well to the army and was likely to have been shot by our own side!)

When I was about ten I lived briefly with my grandmother in Glasgow. She had television (which we never had as children because needless to say, my father didn’t approve of it.) There was a series of programmes called Victory at Sea, which were broadcast on an evening when my mother and grandmother were out at some ladies meeting, and my father working shifts, so I watched this alone (I don’t remember where my brother was – perhaps he went to bed earlier). I was enthralled by this wonderful programme; the lines of battle ships spread out across the Atlantic; the whoop, whoop, whoop call; the epic stories of the ships that were pursued and hunted down. This was how I learnt the history of the Second World War.

John and I saw the film ‘Darkest Hour’ earlier this week and greatly enjoyed it. It is a bit gruelling in parts, but you can scarcely avoid this given the subject matter. There was a moment when I waited anxiously to see what the action would be when one of our heroes has been left behind as he is too ill to make the crossing. The German officer who comes across him is kind, and gives him water and a cigarette. And glad that the Germans were nor universally vilified. There are always good men and bad on both sides.

The portrayal of Churchill was possibly the best rendition of the role that I have seen.   He showed some of the integrity and capacity to hold to his own judgement that we know Churchill possessed. In general, I am not an admirer of Churchill. He was wrong about practically everything except the war, but then that was what chiefly mattered. There he was equipped (but only just equipped) with everything he needed. Of course it is mandatory to explore all avenues of peace before you commit to war, but you have to be careful who you pick as your allies.

Churchill was an orator. There are not many of these in a generation. In our own, there is Alex Salmond, George Galloway, Billy Graham, Boris Johnson and a few others. George Galloway didn’t have anything to say; Billy Graham sold fairy stories; Alex Salmond was unable to ignite his audience to action; Boris is too self-interested. But Churchill was able to see what lay in the heart of his people and articulate it for them. We will fight them on the beaches – in other words, even if we have lost the battle and are facing slavery and death, we will fight on to the last man; and we will never surrender, Churchill spoke the words but they were what was in our hearts. The Germans could not understand why we so rated Dunkirk which to them represented defeat and failure, but it was because we all stood together; we did not abandon our colleagues; we would sink or swim together, and we despised the German’s lack of gallantry and dastardly conduct. It is not easy to be an orator. Very few people can do it. Much of the time you just sit around doing nothing much apparently, but you are honing your skills and thinking, so that when the day finally arrives, you can recognise that it has come and write the speech and deliver it.

Churchill wrote the speech that was in our hearts; and for this service alone we are forever in his debt. We forgave him all his sins and took him as one of our heroes.

I recommend the film!




In my youth, I had an ocelot coat (fake of course) which I had bought when shopping with my mother, in of all unlikely places, Bathgate (a fact I did not reveal to anyone remotely fashionable.) I wore it for about ten years, from approximately aged 19 – 29. It therefore accompanied me through the adventures of my youth and into the first years of my marriage. I had other coats of course: a stone coloured, narrow wool coat with a neat, blonde fur collar; a dark brown maxi coat of Harris tweed; a green anorak that I bought when I met John to walk the dog in; and a red suede coat that was a present from a boyfriend. But the ocelot was my favourite. It attracted pickpockets: I fought them off three times (well, I did not do any actual fighting, but I grimly held on to my bag and made a lot of noise.) Eventually however it would no longer do, and I sadly made the unworn parts into cushions.

For the past 40 years, I’ve been looking for a replacement. There are, in my view, slightly more exacting requirements for a coat than for cushions. Its fabric’s colour and pattern must suit you. Its neckline must be flattering. For me, it should be slim-line and naturally minimalist. It’s buttons must be an appropriate size, shape and colour It must be a style and colour that is suitable.

John goes to Wickes for some DIY tools in Burgess Hill. I elect to go into Miss Mabel’s, a medium sized emporium which has many small sections selling an eccentric collection of stuff.

And there is The Coat. It hangs on a hook, calling to me softly. Beside me in the cafe section, there is tea, fragrant, piping hot in a pretty delicate Chinese patterned cup which doesn’t match. There are gluten free scones – not as good as an exacting scone-maker would prescribe but tasty enough, and I wonder briefly if I should have some first. But I know from experience that in this kind of shopping you have to focus on what you want, and if you see something you want, buy it at once. This is no time for dithering. I go straight to the coat. It is in cool shades of black, white, beige and grey. It is in a style that suits me – straight up and down, no visible pockets or belt. I try it on. It fits. It is very light, warm and comfortable. It is well within my budget and I think, I’ll have it.

(NB No ocelots were harmed during the making of this coat or this story; except perhaps that it reinforces the idea of fur being acceptable to wear, though both of these coats were of course artificial. )




I’ve noticed an increase in the number of persons prefacing an answer to a question with the word, ‘So’. It seems to me to be entirely superfluous. I wondered if it is used to give a few more seconds to put together a reply. Yet people were using it who were not under any pressure to make a response.

I find you can frequently use a word quite easily and happily, yet when challenged as to its exact meaning you are stumped. So it is with ‘so’. Applying to the dictionary just confuses matters rather than clarifying them.

So what? So we start many of our sentences with So. Does this change the meaning so much​? Maybe our blogger is just a nit-picky so-and-so. If people feel the need to employ So constantly, so be it.

So I’ll leave you now. So nice, talking with you. So long.