Waiting for the arrival of my daughter’s baby, I am reminded of the births of my own children, and how one waited with great anticipation to meet the infant. This is a critical introduction: this person unknown to you will be one of the most important people in your life.

In truth, I think most mother’s reaction immediately the birth has taken place is of relief that it is over. You listen to your husband speaking to the baby and welcoming it to the world. As you gradually recover over the next few minutes, your next preoccupation is to examine the baby to assure yourself that externally at least it appears as you would expect. I found that at this moment the babies were wakeful, alert and oddly mature. They, it would seem, are examining you much as you are examining them. So, you exchange a first look with your baby. I thought, of each of them at this point, this baby is fine and will be OK. Then you look at its actual appearance; whether it has hair; what colour might it eyes become. Often the baby at birth strongly resembles its father. You look at the hands, so tiny, and yet the character is already there, and at the beautiful feet which have yet to walk the earth.

But you still don’t know him or her. That’s a long journey you will start together and the child will leave you to continue on his own. For nine long months he has been growing, hidden under your very bones. But now he lies, separate from you, mysterious, unknown, but definitely ‘other’.

Still, ignorant of these mature reflections, you clasp your tender baby in your arms and rejoice. You have been safely delivered of a child. You are blessed among women.

PS To Elisabeth and Robert, on 23 March 2016, a son, William John Sullivan, 9lb 3oz. Mother and baby both well.


Last year on our annual pilgrimage to the land of our birth, we indulged ourselves in some nostalgic revisiting of old haunts.

We visited John’s eldest son and his children, who live in Manchester, so we looked up where John had gone to school in Sale but we could only find the section for girls. Later we discovered that the boys’ school had been demolished and houses built on the site. We drove along roads he had walked and cycled and looked at houses that his parents and their friends had occupied.

In Glasgow we had lived – he for the first 12 years of his life and me for 6 months with my Grandparents – in much the same part of the city. He has more interest in re-visiting former homes than I do, but when we visited Holmwood House – another Alexander ‘Greek’ Thompson ‘masterpiece’ (not!) which backs on to a cemetery, I realised that my grandparents’ house was very near that same cemetery. I still had the map in my head, and I recalled the house number and street. I realised that the area of the city which you knew as a child, and walked or cycled and could remember and navigate was actually very small; just a grid of a few streets. There were some little detours off these well known streets that you could recall perhaps from trips to a library, the city centre, a friend’s house; but this recollection was vague and not to be relied on. I directed John to the address, somewhat to his surprise.

The house had fallen on hard times. The front garden was a weed strewn mess. The two rowan trees that had stood, guarding the house from evil spirits, were gone. I was glad I could not see into the ruin of the back garden where I had played for hours in the shade of a pergola covered in that lovely rose, New Dawn, still one of my great favourites The door and whole sections of the windows were crumbling into neglect.

Other houses in the street were in much better condition so it was not the area which had deteriorated; just this one house. I felt sorry for it. Once I had loved it, and my grandparents had looked after it, but nobody loved it now.

Then I thought, as I always do about things from the past – that is all gone. All we have of then are memories. The present reality of that house belongs to someone else’s life, and not mine. In my recollection of that house, the rowans will always guard the gateway; the pergola will always be heavy with scented roses, their buds pink on opening but fading into white; my brother, a beautiful boy with blonde hair and brown eyes will hide among the potato rows with their tiny purple flowers; my grandmother will carry a tray out with milk and biscuits for us and tea for them in pink fluted cups with gold stars; and my grandfather, with his wonderful masculine smell of honey, the smoke from the bellows used to subdue the bees, and pipe tobacco, will fall asleep in his deck chair while reading the paper.

It is strange to reflect that we in our turn have become the grandparent in the garden of someone else’s memory.


I was thinking that there is a very small selection of clothes styles that really suit you, especially if you are a small woman like me. Fortunately I have an oval shaped face, so almost every style of neckline suits my face – but square or boat shaped necklines make me look shorter, so I avoid them.

I suit:

straight skirts, with a waistband, a back zip, and a slit or pleat in the back seam, coming to 2 inches below my knee;

shift dresses, ideally with a V neck and sleeves to just below my elbow, fitted to the body and the back seam opening at the hem

trousers that have a waistband at the actual waist, darted to fit, zip in front, straight legs narrowing to the cuff, no pockets or any design details.

Long, straight jackets

classic coat, long enough to cover the underneath outfit

short, rounded edge jackets worn with a long skirt

Channel type jackets

V necked fitted T shirts and jumpers.

Any frills or flounces, or ‘pretty’ accessories look ridiculous on me

Because I want attention on my face, I generally wear shoes and boots in black leather.

I like scarves which I wear knotted round my neck with the ends dangling down to give an elongated look.

I am able to wear quite dramatic jewellery and not be over-powered by it.

Pleats, gathers, waist details make me look fat.

I’ve been thinking about this because some years ago I bought a brown and white randomly patterned suit. The skirt was made up of 6 gores which widened at the hem, topped by a jacket with a large wide  collar and adorned with two pockets at the hips. I was never terribly comfortable in it and the skirt was first to go. I bought some fine brown wool with a tiny white stripe in it, and made a shift dress as I have described above, The dress was fine, and it went with the jacket (just about.) The trouble was, I could always find an alternative in my wardrobe which suited the dress and me better than the jacket, ie a winter white very long and straight knitted alpaca coat/cardigan; a mushroom coloured long coat/jacket worn with a silk scarf that contained both the brown and the mushroom. I came to really dislike the jacket. I wear my clothes in rotation (obviously I can decline what the wardrobe offers me, but I rarely do,)  and it seemed to me it was no time at all until the unloved jacket was waiting reproachfully to be worn.

Last week I snatched it off its hanger and stuffed it in a carrier bag for the charity shop. Such a relief to be rid of it. Everyone makes mistakes, the saying goes. This was definitely one of mine.