bee on a flower

Sausages in memorium

This week I’m…

Doing Sunday lunch. My family in total equals fourteen these days and it’s a tight squeeze fitting them all in our house. And if they want to eat at the table, we have to do it in two-three sittings.

Still, I like to play the grand hostess at least once a year. It means I get to make lists. A lot of them—five different menu possibilities, what we need to buy from the supermarket and a schedule for the day. (Which I never stick to. I’m writing this for instance when I should be making the pea and feta cheese salad. And Lord only knows when I’ll get round to chopping those carrot sticks.)

Too many sausages?

Today’s a special day for us as we’re celebrating the memory of John Gilmour Baird, (15/08/40 to 18/08/2010), and I’ve bought in some of his favourite things for us to eat—sausages, hard-boiled eggs, the fruit and nut version of Dairy Milk and beers. Can you eat too many sausages? My father often tried to prove you can’t put the words “too many” and “sausages” in one sentence. If we have any left post dinner, I’ll eat my… well, the rest of them obviously.

Writing THE END. Oh, the lovely, lovely satisfaction of typing out the words ‘the end’. I’ve finished Highland Wedding—the third book in the series that began with Highland Fling (available here). Initially, I thought three books would do it but truly successful indies publish what they call ‘deep’ series, so I’m going to aim for five books even if the prospect makes me shrivel up inside… I mean, what next? I’ve got Highland Fling, Highland Heart, Highland Wedding, so Highland Baby? Highland Divorce? Highland Funeral? Or, for that matter, Highland Tinder and Highland Grindr?

Reflecting on good fortune. The marvellous health care system that is the NHS system in the UK (if you ruin it, Boris, I’ll kill you with my bare hands) saw fit to reward me with a flash glucose monitoring system recently. I’m a type 1 diabetic and flash glucose monitoring allows you to check your sugar levels multiple times a day.

Flash glucose monitoring

I’ve got a sensor on my arm and I hold the meter to it to check the reading. Big, big plus—you can do it through clothes.

If you want to know the difference it makes to me, here’s the before example.

3am, chez Baird-Birnie household. I stir awake sweaty and head-achey, and think, “Blast it, I’m not feeling well. Better check what the heck my blood sugar thinks it’s doing…” Sticks out hand, pats around the floor trying to locate handbag. Handbag found and hauled onto bed. Make-up bag spills out, as do two pens, a purse, phone and the laminated bit of card that contains a four leaf clover my dad gave me twenty five years ago. Finally finds blood glucose testing meter kit at the bottom. Opens it up. Wrestles the top of the tube and inserts the stick into the meter. Pricks finger and tries to place blood droplet on the top of the stick. In the dark, so I don’t wake my husband. Give up as I can’t see it and switch the light on. Blood disposed. Wait five seconds. 3.2mmol. (Under 4mmol is too low.) Scrabble round for open bag of jelly babies and spill them all over the floor.

The after version.

3am, chez Baird-Birnie household. stir awake sweaty and head-achey, and think, “Blast it, I’m not feeling well. Better check what the heck my blood sugar thinks it’s doing…” Takes meter from bedside table and runs it over arm. 3.2mmol. Scrabble round for open bag of jelly babies and spill them all over the floor. (Yeah, haven’t nailed that bit yet.)

Finally, in case you were wondering, the picture up the top is one of the climbers in our garden (a special prize to any nature lovers out there who can tell us what it is—my husband bought it from Asda and didn’t keep the tag). The bees love it, and I love it for that reason. Save the bees, right?

Jedburgh abbey

Borders country – inspiration for writers (and terrific places to visit)

Do you ever visit places because you’ve read about them in fiction? Writing can do that—conjure up places, educate you and inspire curiosity.. Years ago, I visited Rosslyn Chapel thanks to Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, and this year’s spring break featured a trip to Vindolanda.

Vindolanda, in case you haven’t heard of it, is the remains of a Roman army camp in Northumbria, what was the edge of the empire for centuries. I’d read a couple of historical fiction books by Adiran Goldsworthy that featured Vindolanda, and as I find the Romans fascinating I was desperate to visit.

VindolandaWhat a place… Northumbria is wild and rugged in places so picturing a Roman army in situ and their guarding of the fort and the nearby Hadrian’s Wall is easy to imagine. The remains of the fort and the surrounding villages are complemented by a museum, every artefact in there excavated from Vindolanda.

Preserved shoes

A remarkable set of conditions resulted in the find of the largest number of Roman empire leather goods in the world. (I know; in cold, damp England of all places.)

And Vindolanda is also famous for its collection of wax tablets—basically, cards people wrote on, from an invite to a child’s birthday party, to a letter to the commander from a soldier protesting at the injustice of a severe beating.

How does the past come alive? When people in those times write about their ordinary lives, and the curators of Vindolanda view the tablets as their most precious find. Rightly so.

Sir Walter Scott

Still on the writer theme, we visited Smailholm Tower, made famous by Sir Walter Scott. The famous Scots writer stayed at the nearby Sandyknowe farm when he was a child to recover from illness.

There, his aunt Jenny taught him how to read and the tower, by then unoccupied and derelict, stirred in him a lie-long passion for the history and ballads of the Scottish borders, from fairy tales to the legends of the Reivers. His second publication, The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Borders, tells many of those tales.

Tamlane figurine displayThe tower has lots of little models that enact some of those ballads and fairy tales, created by a local artist. (I wish I’d taken note of her name because I can’t find mention of her anywhere.)

I loved them, and my picture here doesn’t do The Young Tamlane justice. The ghost horses, the woman who sits on his cloak to save him from the fairy queen… again, powerful imagery.

Abbeys

The Scottish Borders are studded with the remains of abbeys, and we visited three of them.

In the 12th century, King David I thought their construction would impress and awe his English neighbours—look how wealthy and sophisticated we Scots are, kind of thing.

Mel;rose abbeyUnfortunately for the abbeys of the Borders, their proximity to the English made them easy targets in times of war. Of the three we went to, Jedburgh (featured image), Kelso and Melrose (left), the most intact one is the Cistercian abbey at Melrose and it’s awe-inspiring.

 

Old churches and abbeys fascinate me, especially when you consider the work that went into building them. And given what happened to Notre Dame this week, the abbey visits felt particularly fitting.

Food, glorious food

picture of woman with a glass of wine sitting in front of a ruined abbeyIf greed is your motto, Northumbria and the Borders offer plenty of choice when it comes to food and drink. We stopped off at a quirky place near Hadrian’s Wall for lunch one day, its walls festooned with beagle pictures and horse brasses. The Belter’s Bar in Jedbugh specialises in home-made beefburgers and the choice of toppings huge so we ate there twice.

And finally, the weather in Scotland hasn’t been great so far this year but on the final night of our holiday, it was warm enough to have that first drink outside. As you can seen from the background, drinking in the shadow of historical monuments adds gravitas to the occasion…

Harrogate, Literary Tours and Good Grub

This week, I…

Visited Harrogate! As any hardy British holiday-maker knows, sunny weather is never guaranteed but the gods of fortune smiled on us. The sun shone brightly. No jackets required. We did our fair bit of sitting out in beer gardens to support the local economy. I know. Aren’t we good ‘uns?!

Harry’s Free Walking Tours offers you a guided walk around the main attractions and explains the town’s history from Roman times to its best-known period, the late Georgian and Victorian era when it was THE choice for the hoi-polloi wanting to take the waters.

The Royal Pump museum details what a typical spa day might involve. No surprise to see that drinking lots of water and taking gentle strolls is the main point. For some patients, the advice stresses, massage might be better than exercise… Heavens, wouldn’t want the rich and far too privileged to over-exert themselves, would we?!

Haworth Museum

Yorkshire has plenty of literary connections; the best known being the Brontë sisters. The museum in Haworth feels perfectly preserved in its 19th Century past. This year is the bicentennial of Emily Brontë’s birth, and the original of Branwell’s famous painting (below) is on display.

Various theories abound about why Branwell painted himself out. The first is that he didn’t—his oldest sister ordered it years later because of his subsequent alcoholism and drug abuse, and the effect it had on the family. Experts at the National Gallery, however, have studied the painting and their view is that he painted himself out at the time.

So, perhaps he was too critical of his self-portrait. Or the composition didn’t work. If you step back from the painting, it’s easy to see that four people would make it crowded.

A Typical Teenager?

My husband’s theory is that having three teenage sisters pissed seventeen-year-old Branwell off sometimes. He painted himself with them, took a hissy fit one day and thought, “Sod it, I’m not immortalising myself with those b****es.”

Works for me…

Harrogate’s literary connections involve Agatha Christie, who turned up there in 1926 at the Old Swan Hotel following a brief disappearance and country-wide manhunt. She claimed amnesia. Most theories for the disappearance relate to her husband, whom she divorced two years later.

In 2006, biographer Andrew Norman said he thought her disappearance related to ‘fugue state’, a rare, deluded condition brought on by stress or depression.

Writing Festival

The Old Swan Hotel is still there, and in July writers will gather there for the annual Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival. I’m willing to bet the room Agatha spent her week there in 1926 is booked months in advance, if progress didn’t demolish it.

In another (sort of) literary connection to my holiday, I met up with an online chum. Caron Allan edited my book, The Girl Who Swapped, last year, and we struck up an online friendship. As a writer you spend a lot of time in your own head, battling voices that tell you, why oh why oh why do you think you can do this? Fool! Email exchanges with someone who shares your plight are invaluable.

Caron has also been very successful this year, and her story is hugely inspirational. She’s done all the right things—she has a website, she’s writing a popular genre (crime) and a series, and she’s figured out what works on Amazon advertising. We met at the National Rail Museum café and the three hours flew past in no time.

Gorgeous Grub

Finally, Sandy and I are greedy guts one and two. And by ‘eck (to use a local expression) did Yorkshire serve our unregulated appetites well. Thanks to its spa past, beautiful location and many conferences and festivals, the town’s well-served for restaurants, cafes and pubs. If there was a doozy, we never saw it.

The most famous of Harrogate’s five-star places is Betty’s Tea Rooms, a fairy-tale looking place from the outside, its windows displaying rainbow-coloured piles of macaroons. We, er, didn’t go. However, my standout meal was from the Blues Bar on Montpelier Parade. Yorkshire tapas are new on me, but blimey it makes sense to offer folks a small sample of imaginative interpretations of local dishes, doesn’t it? If they over-order as a consequence, on their heads be it.

My favourite was their Yorkshire rarebit mac and cheese, carb heaven for someone who avoids them in daily life. The resultant high blood sugars were well worth it.

 

 

 

Celebrations and Literary Endeavours

This Week I’m…

Enjoying the sunshine. For one day only, the Celsius hit more than 18 degrees. It was glorious. More of this, please.

Supporting independent publishers, a la Comely Bank Publishing. Lucy’s Lloyd’s Russian Doll is out now, as is The Blogger Who Came in From The Cold. Available direct from the publishers here.

Peeing to help medical research. I spotted a poster recently, recruiting volunteers for research into the effects of the low-carb diet. I like to feel I can be useful so I stuck my hand up and said ‘yes please’, secretly hoping they might do tests and say, ‘Well, you ARE a special snowflake aren’t you? Never seen anyone with so much this, that or the other.’

Part of the initial sign-up involves 24 hours of pee collection. Oof, really? I said to myself. Not sure those flasks will hold everything…

Attending literary events, a la Booked 2018, West Dunbartonshire’s annual festival in celebration of books and writing. The Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell is described as ‘a wry and hilarious account of life in Scotland’s biggest second-hand bookshop and the band of eccentrics and book-obsessives who work there’.

Celebrating my wedding anniversary—five years ago and the original raison d’être for this blog. (Flaw in the plan was that a run-up-to-the-wedding blog has a shelf life.) Flowers, chocolates and maybe a wee trip out this weekend beckons…

Chain Letters and New Beginnings

This Week, I’m…

Working to keep my mum well. I’ve assured a young friend she’ll be live and kicking in 20 days’ time. Why? My teenage chum sent me a text promising dire consequences (my mother’s death) if I broke the chain.

Ah, the chain letter! It’s enough to send you hurtling back to the 80s and those letters that did the rounds. I got a few of them. In those days, they were actual letters and much harder to pass on. You had to copy them out a few times. They focused on good luck—send this to 20 friends and you’ll come into money, marry a handsome stranger, etc. The bad luck wasn’t stated implicitly, but implied.

Now, it’s much easier to copy and paste a text or email of forty words that warn of terrible misfortune. And how kind of people to prey on the vulnerable and fragile among us, such as my poor wee friend.

The text promised me my mum’s death was imminent—giving me a woman’s name to Google as it happened to her. Must be true if the internet tells me so, hmm?

So, after sending my friend a text begging her not to believe this awful s**t, I’ve told her I’ll message her on May 7, confirming the continued good health of the wonderful woman who granted me life.*

There’s a story in there somewhere…

Starting a new job on Thursday. I’ll be working part-time for a project based at Glasgow University looking at better ways public sector services can work together. My role is to help the existing communications administrator.

I’m delighted as this gives me the best of both worlds. Freelancing is terrific and I love the freedom (the clue’s in the name) it gives me, but the money isn’t regular or great. It’ll also satisfy my need to do something worthwhile. I’m not going to change the way public sector services work, but at least I’ll write about some ways they can!

 

*A bold promise, but the odds are with me.

Ten Reasons to Delete Facebook

delete facebookAre you sure you want to delete your account?

Hell, yeah. Cheerio Facebook. It’s been okay knowing you…

I’m as guilty as the next person of kneejerk reactions. I sign petitions without finding out more about the issues. I throw my hat in with stuff trending on Twitter. When a famous bod’s words are taken out of context, I tut without bothering to read the whole interview.

The Cambridge Analytica stuff was alarming, but was it enough of a push to press that delete button? I’ve hung onto my account for the last year because I thought I should be on it. I work in communications. I try (and mainly fail) to sell books. Two (sort of) reasons why you should be there. I added up the pros and cons of remaining. The plus points list was jolly feeble.

Delete!

  1. No more accidental, drunken posts. You promise yourself you’ll never ever do it, but wine o’clock comes round. Bye-bye inhibitions and hello Too Much Information.
  2. You’ll feel a bit secretive and quite powerful.
  3. You’ll never have to go to a kid’s birthday party again. Well, you might. A real-life one. But Facebook often feels like being at one long children’s party you RSVP’d to, saying ‘no, ta, I’m busy’, so they brought it to your house instead.
  4. You can genuinely claim not to have seen anything on Facebook, instead of pretending you missed the latest holiday snaps/ill status/kid’s birthday pics. when you don’t comment on something.
  5. No more working out weird Facebook etiquette. Do I say ‘happy birthday’ to this person, even though I’m going to see them in the flesh later today? Do I ‘like’ something (anything) on someone’s account just because I haven’t done so for a long time? If I miss commenting on a child, am I a rotten friend?
  6. No more fear of missing out. I’m an adult, but occasional pics of my friends enjoying a night out make me feel like I’m twelve all over again. Why, why, why didn’t they invite me?! Now, I won’t see it.
  7. No more of that heart sinking feeling when you read views you never suspected a friend/family member held. Brexit? Casual racism? Calls for capital punishment? Islamophobia? Hating cheese?
  8. No more lectures. I love it when someone lectures me on politics. Said no-one, ever.
  9. No more wondering why everyone else in the world has the photography gene and I don’t. Seriously, my photos are s**t. The rest of the world appears to take beautifully composed and focused shots. Yes, Instagram is all about pics. But I don’t know most folks on there personally. They can’t judge me for my lack of skill.
  10. Time! One less social media platform to procrastinate on is A Good Thing.

Builder Etiquette, Mini-Eggs and Stupid Things You Do In January

This week, I’m…

Admiring my cat’s ability to get comfortable everywhere. We’ve got the builders in and the house is covered in scaffolding. A nice sunny day and a bird’s eye view over the surrounding gardens? I’ll take that, he said.

Pondering builder etiquette. How many cups of teas and coffees do I offer? One in the morning, one in the afternoon? Should the tea be dead strong, as builder mythology suggests? And biscuits? Do Marks & Spencer’s salted caramel teacakes spur them on to finish more quickly than a bog standard Rich Tea?

And what, in the name of everything, is acceptable re the loo? I don’t know where they’re going to the toilet. This haunts me. Do I offer ours? You know what I’m going to say next. “Chaps! Please, use our toilet. But not, you know, for a number two…”

Watching The Frankenstein Chronicles. Seriously creepy, but seriously good! I do love finding a series to watch twelve nights in a row.

Wishing I hadn’t impulsively entered the Glasgow half-marathon. Seemed like a cool idea in January. When it was eight months away. February and StormEmma happened. Then I got a bad cold and ended up in hospital. The regular as clockwork runs stopped.

Plus, running for two hours?! I don’t mind pounding the pavements for half an hour or so. After that, not so much. Ah well. I can always walk it.

Persuading my pelvis to tilt back and forth. I do love a Pilates class or two, but isolating your pelvis is a tricky move. Seriously. You try it. Bodes well for my old lady future, tho’.

Gearing up for a family gathering. We’ll be marking Easter at my sister’s home in Edinburgh. EB and other half, siblings one and two, their husbands and kids, my mum, her partner and his daughter. A big roast* and a tonne of chocolate will feature. There’ll be a mini-eggs hunt post-lunch. And I’m warning you kids. I will win this. You don’t get concessions just because you’re young and wee**.

Googling things to do in Crete. At some point, hopefully soon, I’ll go outside and be warm. In the meantime, I fast-forward myself to October and imagine cloud-free blue skies, turquoise waters and the sun shimmering above me.

 

 

*Fingers crossed for lamb! But buying lamb to feed fifteen would bankrupt you.

**Actually, all but two of them are now bigger than me.