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

This autumn I'm running/cycling in a 30km duathlon and a half marathon, to raise money for Breast Cancer Campaign. You can read more about my challenge here or support me here. All donations, however big or small, gratefully received!

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

This autumn I'm running/cycling in a 30km duathlon and a half marathon, to raise money for Breast Cancer Campaign. You can read more about my challenge here or support me here. All donations, however big or small, gratefully received!