Holding hands and skimming stones

Like many households across the country, today was the dreaded return to normality after the Easter holidays. For Heather it was back to school, for Gemma it was back to work – both after 2 weeks off – and for me it was a return to the office after two weeks mostly spent at home. I don’t know yet how the others have fared, but I had a successful morning, which included my fastest door-to-door cycle to work yet, tantalisingly close to the hour mark I’m aiming for. One day…. one day…

Our break itself was pretty successful too. We started the process of clearing out and overhauling our bedroom, celebrated Gem’s birthday with an impromptu party and a night out in Glasgow, hung out with friends (including a trip to see Muppets Most Wanted, which I highly recommend), had a new front door fitted, and even found some time to relax. Poor Heather spent a good chunk of her first Easter break ill – possibly with scarlet fever – but even she still found time to get out on her bike and play with her friends.

Possibly the highlight, though, was a trip to Millport with the extended family on the Saturday of Easter weekend, in memory of my Grandma who died last August at the age of 95. Three generations of us, seventeen people in total, made the trip over the water to “Scotland’s most accessible island”, a place that Grandma loved. She spent many a holiday there, especially in the years when her mother, my Great Grandma, ran a boarding house overlooking the sea front, which made it a fitting place in which to say our final goodbyes. And I think she was looking out for us too, as the sun split the heavens all day, with barely a cloud to be seen.

Of course, no trip to Millport would be complete without having a picture taken on the Crocodile Rock. Nothing to do with Elton John, I hasten to add, this one is an actual rock, similar in shape to a crocodile and with painted eyes and teeth. First painted around 100 years ago, it’s one of Scotland’s best-known landmarks, and if our photo collections are anything to go by, one of its most photographed as well.

My dad has been scanning old pictures and slides recently, and compiled a set of Crocodile Rock pictures to share with everyone at the weekend. Obviously we took a few more, meaning we now have four generations of Blacks pictured on top of the Croc – a veritable family tradition!

And one which is likely to continue for some time to come – Gem and the girls enjoyed their first trip to Millport (yes, shame on me for not taking them sooner) so I’m sure there will be plenty more trips – and photo opportunities – in the years ahead. Although I don’t expect the sun to be blazing every time we go :)

Grandma and Grandpa, c.1939

Dad and Aunt Eli, 1950s

Paul, Ali, me, Gill, Rachael and Uncle John c.1992

Rach, Matt, Iain, Me, Gem, Ali and Gill, 2014

Me, Megan and Heather, 2014

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Let’s get the party going, and we’ll party hard

image

For most folk, the lead up to Christmas involves a party or two. Only the hardcore, though, can party every weekend, often on consecutive days, and sometimes even multiple times in the same day!

Believe it or not, that’s precisely how hardcore Heather is, at the ripe old age of 5. By amazing coincidence, a huge percentage of her school friends have birthdays in November and December, meaning that for the past month her social calendar would have worn out a Kardashian. And that’s before you factor in the Christmas parties!

Of course, somewhere in the middle of that was her own birthday, which featured no less than three celebrations – dinner with family, a soft play party with her friends, and an after party with our besties. As if that wasn’t enough we managed to squeeze in a cinema trip to see Frozen, which was ace, although we did have to schedule it around another birthday party. But of course.

Fortunately Heather’s birthday weekend went off without a hitch. Other families weren’t so lucky – one mum ended up in plaster, having broken her ankle at her daughter’s party!

Unfortunately I suspect that might be a preview of what we can expect in a few years. If Heather keeps the same group of friends into her teenage years and beyond, November and December will be carnage.

And that’s just the girls – I’m refusing to factor any boys into the equation.

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Here comes the sun

Gro-clock sun

The sun, this morning

I’ve written before about how much we love Gro-clocks. Megan’s hasn’t been quite the raging success that Heather’s was, but to be fair to her she’s only now reaching the age Heather was when we got hers, and I think she’s just about there. She definitely understands the concept of staying in bed until the sun comes up, she’s just not very good at executing it. But she’s getting better, and that’s all we can hope for at this stage.

Now, since I started cycling to work, I’ve developed a very fixed morning routine. It’s become a well-oiled machine, just like my bike itself: out of bed, pull on my clothes, visit the bathroom, put lunch in my bag, eat breakfast, and go. No room for dawdling, something which can sometimes be difficult with small people around.

This morning I was in the bathroom, doing… well, what one does in the bathroom… when I heard the pitter patter of toddler feet. Toddlers aren’t renowned for respecting privacy, so I wasn’t surprised when Megan appeared to tell me cheerfully that the sun was up. I asked her if it really was (knowing that it would be) and she said she’d go and check. What I wasn’t expecting was the next bit:

“Close your eyes… and no peeking!”

Now, when a 2 year old tells you to close your eyes and not to peek, what can you do but comply? So I’m not really sure what the banging, huffing, puffing and muttering that followed was all about. I think she had knocked her Gro-clock over in trying to turn it round, but I guess we’ll never know. Eventually, though, I was told I could open my eyes, and there was Megan, standing proudly beside her Gro-clock where the sun was, indeed, up. “See? Sun’s up” she said. And it was!

And then, just to add to the feeling of “aren’t kids great?”, Heather appears from her room to tell us we were being too noisy! 4 going on 14, that one.

Of course, all these goings on somewhat derailed my smooth machine-like morning routine. But in this instance I’m not fussed. I don’t get to spend much time with the girls during the week, so moments like this are absolutely priceless.

I just had to pedal a little faster to make up the lost time.

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I walked with you once upon a dream

GrandmaOn Tuesday we ended a strange week – a strange few weeks actually, months even – by saying goodbye to my Grandma, who died the previous week. An ever present in my life, she had reached the ripe old age of 95, and although her body had slowly been failing her for a while, especially her eyes, it was only in the last few weeks that her mind had followed suit. When she departed us last Thursday, a week ago today, I actually commented to one of my cousins that the woman I’d visited in the hospital the previous evening, for the last time as it would turn out, wasn’t really my Grandma, because she’d really died a few weeks before.

Born in the final months of the First World War, married in the midst of the Second, and widowed just as the Sixties were beginning to swing, life wasn’t always easy for Grandma, but she was never one to give up and always managed to carry on past whatever life had to throw at her. Indeed, in her last few days, lying in hospital, all of us who saw her were amazed at how her body seemingly refused to give in. I’d love to think I’ve inherited that fighting spirit, but I’m really not sure that I have. Even a pinch would be good though.

I think my earliest memory of Grandma is queuing up outside the (now demolished) Odeon Cinema in Union St in Glasgow, which I discovered years later is only a block or two from where she got married all those years before. We were going to see Sleeping Beauty, and I reckon I must only have been about 4 at the time (Wikipedia tells me that Sleeping Beauty was re-released in 1979, so that fits). I know it wasn’t my first trip to the cinema, that was to see Pinocchio with my Dad, and I slept through most of it – these days that’s his trick :) The final battle between the Prince and the wicked Queen, where she turns herself into a dragon, is what I remember, and when I saw the film years later I was transported back to my childhood. Back to roughly about the age Heather is now in fact, an age where I had no real concept of death.

Grandma's wedding day

Wedding Day, 1941

And, of course, neither does she, which made telling her about her Great Grandma one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. Unsure how she’d react, and in the middle of her first week of full school days, we waited until the weekend to tell her and Megan the news. Megan unsurprisingly barely registered that we’d even spoken, but Heather cuddled into Gem, looking like she was on the verge of tears, then after a couple of minutes went off to play with Megan like nothing had happened.

She’s obviously been thinking things over though, because in the days since there have been all sorts of questions, like “where is Heaven?” and “what age was Great Grandma?”. Part of me would love to know what’s going on in her little head, how she’s dealing with it, but I think it’s for the best that we let it go. If she comes to me or Gem and starts asking questions, then of course we’ll talk to her about it, but she’s got enough on her plate right now without us bringing it up.

So now, all that’s left are the practical matters – sorting out her estate, clearing and selling the house she lived in for over 50 years. That’s mostly being looked after by my Dad and his sister, but I’m more than happy to help wherever needed. I’ve already volunteered my services to scan all the old family photographs, so that everyone can enjoy those memories.

Rest in peace Grandma, gone but never to be forgotten xxx

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Once in a lifetime

Heather, ready for school

A momentous event took place yesterday, one that’s been a long time coming and that’s been greatly anticipated by all interested parties, every one of whom had their own opinion of how things would turn out, with most being optimistic of a good result.

No, I’m not talking about the England v Scotland game at Wembley, but Heather’s first day of school. Actual school. How did we get here so fast?

I actually had the chance to go down to London for the football, but didn’t take it once I realised the horrendous date clash. There will be other games against the Auld Enemy (hopefully sooner than the 14 years we waited since the last one) but Heather will only ever get one first day at school, and there was no way I was missing out on it. How could I?

Naturally we took a bunch of photos of the new schoolgirl in her new uniform, and I’m pleased to report that Heather even posed nicely for some of them. Some of them. One of my favourites is one where she’s holding up a sign saying what she wants to do when she grows up. Gem got that idea from Pinterest, and it’s a cracker – the idea being, of course, to do the same thing every year. Heather’s chosen career path, owning and running a toy shop, shows a certain entrepreneurial flair, and is definitely more sensible than my ambitions at a similar age (circus clown, if you must know).

Heather on her first day of school

After photos, we walked along to the school, where the playground was heaving with all the other new starts and their families. Heather spotted her friends from nursery and was off like a shot, sharing hugs and catching up on the summer. Not wanting to miss anything, Megan climbed out of the pushchair and ran off to join her, although it wasn’t long before she headed off to the other end of the playground, to play with some of the boys. I need to watch that one…

Once we got inside the school it was all a bit chaotic. The corridors are nowhere near wide enough for the volume of people who were there, and it was made clear that the kids were to be left as soon as possible. I never even got inside the classroom, staying in the corridor with Megan to keep out of the way. And… well, that was that!

We headed home one down, killed an hour or so, then went back to collect her. This time we got to spend some time in the class, which was good, not least because it’s very different to the classrooms Gem and I remember. One of the things I remember vividly from my own first day (aside from the boy who cried and wanted to go home) was having my name taped to the top of my desk, and thinking the boy next to me was called LAN. How was I to know that a “l” and an “I” might look the same, but are quite different things, and his name was actually Ian?

Handwriting practice

I’m not even sure there are desks for every child in the class (there are 35 of them! And two teachers!) but with activity stations dotted round the class and even a PC in the corner I’m sure finding somewhere to sit/play/learn will never be a struggle.

After that we headed off to Pizza Hut for a celebratory lunch (Heather’s call) and that was that. Day one over. Being me, I did some rough calculations, and worked out that there are roughly 2,500 school days before Heather leaves. So that’s one down, 2,499 to go!

It will be interesting to see how Megan adjusts over the next few weeks, without her partner-in-crime by her side. I guess this first couple of weeks will be similar to when Heather was at nursery, but when she full days start in a couple of weeks it’s a whole new ballgame. I think it will be good for her though, and will give her more space to be herself instead of copying everything her sister does.

And of course, it’s a big change for Gem as well – moreso than for me, because I’ve always been used to Heather being away from me all day, every day during the week. She’ll cope though, and getting to spend more time with just Megan will be nice too.

Last night, watching the football (which I don’t regret missing, and that’s nothing to do with the result) I realised something else – if it takes another fourteen years to stage a game between the two oldest footballing nations in the world, Heather will have left school before the next one.

Which was possibly the most frightening thing I heard/saw/thought all day!

The Mad House
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