Julia Margaret visited our house for the first time yesterday (accompanied by her parents and brother of course.) She was a good-mannered and undemanding visitor – remained quietly where she was put down; consumed with evident enjoyment the nourishment which she was offered; and made only occasional tentative squeaks and calls for further refreshments.

This time she deigned to open both eyes. They are that deep turquoise baby blue that need not remain the permanent colour, although I would think she will be blue or grey eyed. She has beautiful long fingered hands and toes so long they remind you of a Roman statue. Her ears are dainty and delicate and close to her head. Her face is even featured and she has a pointed chin. She is like a rosebud whose petals are only very slowly beginning to unfold.

When you sit with your newest grandchild in your arms – alive, warm, other – carrying the genes of your own darling child and the ancestors of his blood, as well as those of their spouse, who came to you as a stranger but now inhabits a beloved position at the heart of your family life, you realise you are witnessing something miraculous and wonderful.

In the evening of that day, I was host to a group of friends who meet to discuss matters of philosophy. Because we discuss freely matters close to our heart within the trusted intimacy and privacy of our small group, we know each other well, and certainly every member of this group is a friend greatly valued by me. We were discussing ‘the meaning of life’ and you will I am sure not be in the least surprised to learn that no, we couldn’t provide an answer either! But considering that we include persons of widely different views I was surprised how much our answers echoed one another. We all felt profoundly grateful for the gift of our life, and that in spite of its griefs and potential for pain, we had been privileged to live it and experience both its joys and sorrows.

Julia’s life is just beginning. We do not know who she is yet – except that she is one of our own, and loved and wanted. She starts life with great blessings. Will she be clever? Beautiful? Thoughtful? Strong? Bold? Musical? Artistic? Practical? Kind? We do not know yet. But we will be watching.

She will be Julia. That will be enough.


We were waiting until 26 March for the arrival of our grandchild. I had just completed the boat quilt, and we felt things were well in hand.

At 10.30 pm on 14 March, we got a call from a resolutely calm Rory requesting that John drive up to London as pre-arranged to look after Ewan. He duly set off; Sarah and Rory went to the hospital and Julia Margaret swiftly made her first appearance ON 15 March 2015.    At 8 lb 7 oz she is quite a large baby; but being used to her bigger brother, you feel she is tiny.

Sitting there on Monday with the bonny baby on my knee, Sarah looking delighted and well beside me, I reflected that it’s only when you experience the huge relief that it’s all over and everything has gone well that you realise what an anxious time a pregnancy is. You weren’t worried of course – there was no reason why you should be. Still, you’re glad it’s all over.

Julia, as is proper for a two day old baby, wasn’t interested in anything except being fed and feeling comfortable. She has an instinctive feeling for where her mother is, and would turn her head in whatever direction Sarah sat.

I cuddled her, with her wonderful feeling of warmth and life and otherness, and her gorgeous new baby smell, and wondered what she would be like. Julia Margaret suggests to me a stately woman, tall, competent, calm, of cool temperament. She did not open her eyes, and you realise you need to look into someone’s eyes to make any judgement on their character. She has long fingered hands.

As for Ewan he was such a good boy for the day and night he stayed with us. He went cheerfully back to his own house in London, carrying a card and present for his sister and mother. He was friendly and gentle with the new baby. He kept this up for several hours, and then it all just got Too Much. We heard him on his little toy telephone, ordering a taxi. Who was going in the taxi, we wondered? Was it for him, to escape from the chaos? Or was it for Julia, who had visited for long enough now and should return to wherever she came from? Of course it may have been for us, his grandparents – you can have too much of a good thing!  Ewan can keep his own counsel, so he didn’t enlighten us.

We rejoice in having ten grandchildren!    Keep them all safe!



I watched a recording of Question Time from Glasgow, which I think was broadcast on 5 March, and am still reeling in astonishment.

I am no longer resident in Scotland (although still Scotland Forever in my heart) and therefore I cannot claim to read the groundswell of current opinion on any issue of the day. I discuss these matters with family and friends of course, but I do not claim to have a typical Scottish reaction any more.

Since the Referendum, the issue has subsided somewhat I thought (and certainly here in the Deep South most people sincerely hope it’s dead in the water) and I wondered if the Scots would lose their stomach for the fight, and just settle for the status quo. Judging by the passionate response of the audience, this does not appear to be the case. (I should state that the city was Glasgow, which voted Yes, but I still believe the views expressed by the audience were representative of Scots views in general.)

Scotland, since the dark days of Margaret Thatcher, has loathed the Tory party with an intensity that I doubt if our fellow nations realise, far less understand. Whereas once the Tories had a strong presence in Scotland, since that unhappy time their support has dwindled to a paltry one or two MPs.

Labour, on the other hand, has always been the natural party for the left-thinking Scotland. I had wondered if after the failure of the Yes vote in the Referendum, Scotland would revert to its ‘normal’ position. I was astounded at the outright hostility the audience repeatedly displayed towards Labour, almost indeed that same intensity of loathing it has for the despised Tories. One characteristic of the Scots – I have it myself and it’s not one of our more charming attributes – is that once our resentment is aroused, (and believing ourselves to have just cause) we can hold to our position in perpetuity and be spectacularly unforgiving. I was quite shaken by the depth of feeling which accompanied the audience’s loss of trust in Labour. I think this resentment will take decades, if not actual generations, to dissipate.

I was also extremely surprised that all the politicians of whatever party admitted that they thought their party would lose to the SNP in Scotland and quite evidently the majority of them felt they were at a high risk of losing their own seat in the first following election that would affect them. Since politicians are generally tiresomely upbeat about their prospects even in the face of the most discouraging of polls, for them to admit these fears in public before the election was unprecedented.

I can think of three possible reasons for this reaction. (All three may apply.)

1 It is possible that the Scots despised the Tories so much that even for Labour to share a platform with them would lead to condemnation by association.

2 Since it appears that Labour’s sole preoccupation in its support for the No vote was to preserve its power base IN WESTMINSTER, it was evident to the Scots that though they had supported Labour for decades, their loyalty was not returned, and that Labour did not give Scotland first priority or have its best interests at heart. I think Scotland felt like a woman who discovers that her fiance has only proposed to her because of her wealth, which he plans to spend on another woman whom he actually loves.

3 It would seem that more people than the 47% who actually voted Yes wanted either independence or (more likely in the case of No voters) devo-max; and were persuaded by Gordon Brown that they could still obtain this if they chose the safer and less disruptive No option. But as soon as the vote was cast and the immediate danger over, Cameron (he is a politician after all, what did they expect) began re-adjusting his position, and Scots whowanted Yes but voted No may have felt duped. They can’t dislike the Tories any more than they already do, but they feel Labour has betrayed them and they intend to lay the full burden of their resentment on Labour.

In a previous blog, (Referendum: Winners and Losers) I listed those persons whose reputations I felt had suffered damage in Scotland because of their actions in regard to the Referendum. I counted the loss of Gordon Brown as a champion of Scotland as our greatest grief, although even his neutral advice would have been acceptable if that was all he felt he could in conscience offer. But behaving as he did, I felt he was the greatest betrayer of our trust and affection since Bonnie Prince Charlie. However, I thought this was just my private opinion, as I had read no public condemnation of him. But I begin to suspect that this judgement is more widely held than I had supposed. Gordon Brown is not standing for his Westminster seat in the May elections. I wish he were. He had a majority of 23,000 and I’d really like to see him lose.

We are not a nice people when we are well and truly offended and once we are in that mindset, empires can fall and kings be overthrown and it all makes no difference to our view. On reflection, I think those politicians have good reason to be pessimistic on their chances of retaining Scottish seats.

Scotland forever!


The other week, I went with John and Elisabeth to see the John Singer Sargent exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery.

I’m a great fan of John Singer Sargent. He could create a portrait of someone sufficiently flattering that it soothed their vanity, while at the same time clearly signalling to the wider audience what an undesirable they were.

Perhaps there are three requirements of a portrait. That it offers a recognisable characteristic likeness of the sitter; that it offers a deeper level indication as to the painter’s assessment of the personality of the sitter and that the artist’s judgement is insightful and sound; and that the painting is a beautiful and harmonious creation in its own right. Sargent ticked all these boxes.

Tickets for the exhibition cost £14 per person and it was extremely crowded. I begin to wonder if these exhibitions are worth the money. I loathe those hearing guides to exhibitions where you have to pick your way round people loitering for ages listening to some expert wittering on – look at the paintings first; form your own judgement; and only then read the expert’s opinion to see if you’re ‘right’.

There was a fine portrait of the great Henry James (seated; James was an observer rather than a participant) showing however his vast intellect and understanding. There was a striking painting of a very handsome gynaecologist in a red dressing-gown which I thought was a study of vanity ( subtitle of painting: he thinks he’s a Cardinal). There was a study in black and white (mainly) at the entrance of a pretty woman playing a piano; there was a charming study for the painting of children playing with lanterns among a flowerbed of lilies; and there was a painting of an amateur lady singing in public where she had such a poseur’s stance that she looked ridiculous and one concluded she wasn’t as good at singing as she thought she was. The rest of the paintings (while still lovely: this is John Singer Sargent, after all) were lesser examples of his work.

Then I thought of the London museums and art galleries (often free entry). The British Museum whose nether regions I have never explored because I spend so long on their wonderful Oriental ceramics, making a detour to see the Parthenon marbles and say, Send them back, (we could have a replica) and make a genuflection in the Roman section to the goddess Athene/Minerva; the Victoria and Albert with its opulent Constables; the National Gallery with its magnificent Turners, including The Fighting Temeraire and my all-time favourite, The Burial of Sir David Wilkie at Sea; the National Portrait Gallery, where I make my bow to Oliver Cromwell as he stands among the useless Stewart kings, and to Captain James Cook, who went everywhere; the Wallace collection which has a stop-you-in-your-tracks Bronzino… and that is just to scratch the surface.

I think most of these exhibitions are principally money making exercises and often are minor examples of one artist’s work or a motley collection of artefacts cobbled together and with an insufficient theme. And – dare I say it – I think we should charge an entry fee to our great museums and galleries. A modest £5 per head surely would make very little difference to the average visitor, but it would make a big difference to the institution.e