Who exactly was Auntie Vi?

I have vague memories leftover from long-ago early childhood of an Auntie Vi, and yet there is no-one in my immediate family tree to fit my memory. As with many of my generation I grew up with a slew of honorary aunties and uncles, mainly parental family friends, and yet still there remains no trace of an Auntie Vi that I can see anywhere along the horizon of my dim and distant past. But I fuzzily remember a large-built woman with red-gold greying curly hair and a rather solid, plain face, so she must have existed?

Puzzled and intrigued, I asked my mum, and it seems the mystery is solved. Or rather, replaced with another kind of mystery…

Before my maternal grandparents got married, as a single man my grandfather lodged with a family who let out rooms. The daughter of the family was called Violet, and as they were round the same age she and my grandfather became friends. Once my grandparents married, as a newly married couple they carried on lodging there for a while and their continued friendship with Violet remained strong.

Eventually she became Auntie Vi to my mum and uncle, and was still close enough to the family for her to register in my earliest memories a couple of decades later.

But then apparently she just dropped off the radar, disappeared suddenly from all our lives and was never really mentioned again, and it was only years later that my mum discovered that Violet had developed some mental health problems, had been institutionalised, and had eventually died there. Mum has no idea what kind of problem she may have had – was it schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression? We have no clue, and it seems a sad epitaph for a sad end – who exactly was Auntie Vi?


JusJoJan: Memories

My husband and I have far more shared memories than you might think, considering we’ve only been married for six years. We’ve been together as a couple for the last eighteen years, but will have been friends for forty-five years this summer. There are definitely many benefits to having known each other – and our respective families – for so long.

There were no stilted conversations or best behaviours to be on when each ‘meeting’ our prospective in-laws, no misunderstandings over what kind of families we were marrying into – and you do marry into a family, even though you may be marrying an individual! Our memories of each other go back as far as school-days – in fact my brother-in-law and myself were even in the same primary class for a couple of years before moving on to different schools at secondary level.

Growing up together means my husband and I have seen each other across many different moods and along the length of the behavioural continuum from puberty onwards. One of the best things we share is a silly sense of humour. And it means that, even as two mid-fifty-something grandparents, we can still collapse into a fit of childish giggles by quoting a well-known phrase or two from the old Monty Python sketches of our youth at a particularly apt moment in a conversation.

Favourites that tend to crop up regularly include offering a ‘Wafer-thin mint?’ in a decidedly dodgy accent when replete, referring to extremely obese Mr Creosote who explodes in a restaurant after over-eating and vomiting over everyone else, and commenting ‘Nice though the abattoir is…’ from the architects sketch, whenever something imaginitive yet completely inappropriate is offered up.

And ‘Even the police began to sit up and take notice’ from the Tale of the Piranha Brothers never ceases to amuse us as a muttered aside when watching the laughable comedy of errors that so often passes for news these days. They’re all wonderful short-cuts to remembering our shared past, these odd little snippets of comedy sketches, and I really love that we still have that childhood bond of silliness between us even after all these years… 🙂

JusJoJan: Memories

Daily Prompt: Compass

Thinking about using a compass made me think about the great fun I had in Girl Guides – I’ve always been a real outdoorsy girl, and in my early teens I loved hill-walking and camping, and earned (amongst many others) my Ramblers merit badge, my Backwoodsman badge, and of course my Camper’s badge. Part of the Pathfinder badge required using a compass and accurate map-reading, which was perfect for me as I really enjoyed orienteering too.

I’ve still got a pretty good sense of direction even now, so all those practical outdoor skills I learned in my youth are not lost to me. The only thing I’ve not remembered as much as I’d have liked is my direction-finding at night using the constellations to get my bearings – I’ve lived in London for the last 16 years where star-gazing is pretty much impossible, so although I can still point out Orion and the plough when somewhere other than London, that’s about it these days… 🙂

Daily Prompt: Compass   

The Birth of Hope…

It’s an important yet bittersweet anniversary for me today. Thirty years ago tonight I sat down in my living room after everyone else was in bed asleep, and swallowed a bottle of Valium (diazepam) with the best part of a bottle of paracetamol and washed it all down with neat vodka. I was a mentally fragile 24-year-old mum of three small kids in a desperately unhappy marriage, and all I wanted was for the emotional pain of living to stop, one way or another.

I was already receiving treatment for longterm depression, and as well as being under psychiatric care as an outpatient I had been taking Valium daily for a good couple of years. I think many unhappy housewives were prescribed it at that time yet ironically nowadays my history of depression would be a clear contra-indication. It didn’t really make me feel any less depressed, instead it turned me into a spaced-out zombie running on autopilot. From the outside I perhaps seemed quieter and more pliable but inside I still felt like a complete failure of a human being.

Trust me when I tell you it’s not easy getting that volume of dry pills and neat alcohol down your throat – your natural gag reflex kicks in early on, but you persevere, determined. You retch and bring some up but swallow it all back down again, and take even more. It burns like hell, but you do it anyway, choking on tears and tablets until you just can’t take any more of any of it and start to lose focus, both physically and mentally.

Yet just at that precarious not-quite-conscious, not-quite-unconscious point I remember suddenly calling the Samaritans – my best friend had been visiting a couple of weeks previously and, worried about my mental health, she had looked up the number and left it by the phone for me incase I ever needed it. So I saw the number sitting there and as I didn’t want to die alone I called them up and I remember speaking to a soft-voiced guy named Martin…

The next conscious memory I have is waking up in a hospital bed feeling dead, except I wasn’t. And my insides felt raw and violated from my throat downwards – having your stomach pumped out is neither a delicate nor a glamourous procedure, and not surprisingly it hurts like hell. Once I came to various professional people came and spoke to me, and although somewhere along the way I had lost a day I still had my life and I was eventually allowed to go home with my mum and dad – but not to my husband.

I learned afterwards that my husband had woken up in the middle of the night and had found me incoherent but still on the phone to the Samaritans, so in a panic he had called my parents and it was they who drove me straight to hospital, who explained to the A&E staff that I was a psychiatric outpatient being treated for depression. And it was my parents who eventually took me and my children home with them for the time being. After that catastrophic turning point, I never again returned to my marriage…

The gnawing guilt I still feel at almost abandoning my children in the most extreme way has never left me, but I have finally forgiven myself for being young and helpless and struggling with a longterm condition I had no idea how to handle and that was never openly discussed in public. Mental Health problems were still taboo, so my overdose was just swept under the carpet like an embarrassing glitch and family life just carried on for all of us, but never quite in the same way as before.

Anyway, the point of me telling you all of this is that although part of me died that night, something new was born, and that something was hope. The whole horrendous experience of my overdose and its decades-long nuclear-fallout aftermath has taught me that even when everything else in life feels like a barren wasteland, the smallest glimmer of hope always remains and with that glint of hope comes so many potential possibilities for a brighter and better future – eventually.

So every year I mark the anniversary of my overdose with enormous regret that I ever let things get that bad in my life, but with intense relief that I’m still here, thirty years on, and thankfully still have a close relationship with all of my adult children. Happily remarried I’ve also completed a degree and now have five beautiful, precious grandchildren to add to my wonderful family. I still struggle with life from time to time, still experience bad bouts of depression, but I just sit tight because I always know I’ll get through it somehow, because I’ll always have hope for a brighter tomorrow… ❤

Stream of Consciousness Saturday: Contrast

My first memory of the concept of contrast was from a Ladybird book I always loved, the story of Snow White and Rose Red. Not the well-known Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, but the old traditional fairytale of sisters Snow White and Rose Red. Snow White was fair-haired and quiet and favoured being indoors and wore a white dress, while Rose Red was dark-haired and vivacious in a ruby-red dress and loved nothing more than being outdoors exploring in nature.

Even as a little girl the dramatic contrast between the two sisters puzzled me and pulled me agonisingly in two, lurching between either end of the spectrum – did I prefer Snow White or Rose Red? It always seemed to me that the meeker, gentler stay-at-home Snow White was portrayed as the ideal of femininity, especially as she won the main prince as her husband, whereas the more boistrous and robust Rose Red with her confident wanderlust had to settle for marrying the prince’s brother – who presumably was also a prince, but not the heir apparent?

Even then I recognised some of me within each sister, and I suppose even at the age of fifty-four a small part of me is still pulled between wanting to be each in turn, or more often than not struggling to be both at the same time… 🙂

Stream of Consciousness Saturday: Contrast

Songs from the Past: The Pogues and Kirsty McCall – A Fairytale in New York

We’re almost at the end of the year and my participation in Hughs 51 Songs from the Past in 51 weeks has fallen off a cliff – sorry Hugh!

So for week 49, Hugh has asked for our second favourite Christmas song – and as week 48 was supposed to be our first favourite, I thought I’d post that too, albeit a little late 🙂

My first favourite is The Pogues with Kirsty McCall from 1987 with A Fairytale in New York. I love the change in tempo, and the way it reminds me of the kind of New Year family get-togethers where everyone drinks too much and sometimes a couple of otherwise-very-different individuals pair up to sing a duet in the same kind of odd way that this song somehow works, even though it probably shouldn’t… 🙂

And for my second favourite Christmas song it has to be Nat King Cole from 1961 with The Christmas Song…

I just love listening to Nat King Cole all year round, but this particular song reminds me of my early childhood Christmases in the 1960s ❤

Thoughts On My Dad

I’ve been thinking a lot about my dad today. He’s still in hospital recovering from a recent series of small but troublesome strokes, and it may be a while before he gets home again. Always assuming he doesn’t have yet another stroke, of course – and at 81, with his health having been noticably deteriorating over the last few months, sadly nothing is certain any more. He is getting old, and the realities of age are causing him to fail almost in front of our eyes: A diagnosis of vascular dementia is adding a cognitive element to his physical limitations.

I’m thinking about the last time I saw him at home, not even a month ago, standing watching out the kitchen window and waving at my train as it passed the house. The thing is, the train to London from Inverness doesn’t usually pass by that way, but on that particular occasion due to engineering works we were diverted via Aberdeen, which meant travelling along the railway line next to my mum and dad’s house.

Dad had said beforehand that he would watch out for the train and wave, so I was looking out for him. Even in the dark and after all these years living elsewhere I still remember the area like the back of my hand so I knew we would go through a short deep cutting, pass under a road bridge, and immediately after we would rush past four houses in a row, with mum and dad’s house being the last to see.

I know it takes only a few precious seconds for the train to pass and it was dark outside, so I decided not to try to take a photograph of the house as we rattled by but just to see how much I could see at that time of the evening. I just didn’t want to risk missing anything by concentrating too hard on my camera instead of looking out and maybe not even getting a shot in focus, so I left my camera off.

As it happened, it was actually the darkness that helped me see him so clearly, a solid dark figure reassuringly framed squarely in the centre of the brightly lit window, waving slowly and steadily with both arms, a familiar gesture I’d seen a million times before. Every time we had visitors I remember dad standing in the road waving them off in just the same way, keeping waving until the car had disappeared over the top of the hill.

So I simply kept watching for as long as I could, tears blurring my vision, as dad and the window grew smaller, flickered, and in an instant vanished from sight. I felt overwhelmed with love and longing for those happy family memories, and a sudden flash of fear that I might not ever see him stand there again. Five days later, he had the stroke that took him off to hospital and has kept him there so far. It seems that train diversion was meant to be.

I do have a photograph I took a bare month ago of my dad sitting in his front porch, snoozing in his usual armchair in his well-worn jeans, old navy blue heavy-knit jumper and workboots – his everyday garb for being at home and messing about outdoors. He had come in supposedly to read the paper, but after only a page or two had dropped off – having forty winks, as he would often say, although forty minutes was more usual these days. I snapped him snoozing from through the grubby rain-spotted window so as not to disturb him, and the ordinariness of that candid shot touches my heart.

I also have a photograph of him in hospital, only a week or so later, taken on the ward with my not-so-great phone camera. He had just had his hair trimmed by a nurse so was looking very smart, and in that moment he looked directly at me and smiled just as I clicked the silent shutter button. In contrast to the previous photo there is nothing ordinary about that image, a clean-shaven spruced-up dad sitting in a dress shirt (well, his version of a dress shirt) in a high-backed hospital chair, but somehow in that split second he looks more like dad than he has in months.

His brilliant blue eyes are sparkling and bright, with no hint of the dull bewildered confusion that has been plaguing him on and off since these little vascular incidents have been challenging his brain. That lucid look of complete clarity didn’t last long, but I’m so pleased I managed to capture it while it was there…

Love you, Dad, I wish you could get well soon… ❤


Songs From The Past: Andy Stewart – Barnyards O’ Delgaty

This week’s Song from the Past is a real blast from my very long ago past! Hugh has asked us what song would be top of our Halloween play list, but to be honest I’m not really into Halloween, or any other kind of celebratory parties for that matter.

But what did come to mind was the spontaneous impromptu family get-togethers of my childhood, where friends and neighbours all simply got together in someone’s house bringing a bottle (or two!) and a bite to eat to share and we all made our own entertainment for the evening.

Mum played the accordian, so would usually play a medley of whatever was requested with everyone else singing along, and as the festivities flowed along with the whisky Dad would put on his favourite Jimmy Shand Scottish Country Dance music, or Andy Stewart singing traditional songs from the North East coast of Scotland.

One of my favourite sing-along bothy ballads of that time has to be ‘Barnyards O’ Delgaty’, so that’s my song from the past for this week. It’s sung in the Doric dialect, so don’t worry if you can’t follow it, but with bothy ballads the tunes are always easy to pick up and have a simple repetitive chorus. The theme is always farm-related, and the lyrics usually quite tongue in cheek 🙂



The Graveyard – My Old Haunt


This is the Graveyard, my old haunt, set into one corner of an agricultural field, alone and exposed yet contained and comfortable in its position, settled silently and solidly into the landscape with peaceful purpose. It does have a proper name – Bracklich (or Breachlich, or other variant spellings) Cemetery – but for my lifetime it has been known locally simply as the Graveyard.

All traces of the old church to which the graveyard was originally attached has long gone, with the church building itself going out of use in the late 17th Century due to the merger of this parish with a neighbouring parish, and whatever remained being in ruins by the late 18th Century. The current visible gravestones are dated from the mid 18th C to the late 20th C, but this has been a traditional burial place for centuries before that.

This is the view looking up across the field from my mum and dad’s front gate – we always used to joke about having really quiet neighbours. The trees have grown and been cut down and have grown again countless times, but their silhouetted outline softening the regular headstone shapes remain a constant presence against the night sky, and I can’t imagine any of it not being there.


Walking up the quiet single-track graveyard road and into the walled cemetery itself has been a fun adventure for three generations of my family – my brother and sister and I loved exploring and playing there when we were young, as did our children and now our grandchildren in turn. The mossy grass is so springy and soft underfoot, a safe surface for toddlers to practice walking outside and getting a feel for the naturally uneven ground beneath their feet.


Below is the view of the local landscape from inside the graveyard, looking down towards the village of Ardersier and out across the water to the Black Isle in the distance. This is a beautifully peaceful spot from which to watch the sun set over the undulating horizon in the summer months.


Share Your World: 30 October 2017

Where do you eat breakfast?

Nowhere – I’m really not good with eating anything at all when I first wake up and need to be up for a couple of hours at least before I eat. But I always like to have my first cup of tea quietly curled up on the sofa, contemplating the day ahead.

Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want to have an evening with?

My long-gone paternal grandmother, who first inspired my love of cooking – a farmer’s wife with a large family and a large farmhouse kitchen, I discovered at her knee the traditional task of coaxing minimal food ingredients into making maximum impact with a lot of love and practical ingenuity. So I’d choose to spend just one more evening cooking a huge family meal with her as she was in her prime, but with me at the age I am now – two women two generations apart but with hindsight a lot more in common than I’d ever imagined was possible during her lifetime ❤

If you could be a tree or plant, what would you be?

I’d be a beautifully delicate yet hardy snowdrop, triumphantly pushing through the partially-thawing frost and snow every winter to herald the promise of spring ❤

What inspired you or what did you appreciate this past week?

My mum is newly home from hospital after having another chest infection – she has chronic respiratory problems – so while mum was being treated in hospital, instead of staying with my youngest daughter as planned over the last couple of weeks I stayed for several days with my 81 year old dad who is in the process of recovering from a recent mini-stroke.

It felt quite poignant being once more in the house I grew up in, as it has become resoundingly clear to both mum and dad that they simply can’t go on living there alone for much longer – the sprawling house is just too big for the two of them rattling around in, too impractical for coping with ongoing failing health issues as they grow older, and far too isolated from the increasingly necessary intensive support of the rest of the family.

Sadly they know now they need to think seriously about moving somewhere smaller and easier to access for them and for everyone else. So this last week or so I’ve truly appreciated the chance to spend precious time quietly with my dad in the rural landscape of my youth, which will always hold a special place in my heart ❤


Cee’s Share Your World