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Another Five Things about Teenagers

I have blogged before about my three lovely, wild, frustrating, up-and-down teenagers. In just a few months, the oldest will be twenty years old and hence no longer a teenager. He will still be at home briefly before travelling to Japan to learn the language and absorb the culture he has been mesmerised by throughout his teens. The next son will be off to Africa around the same time, a passion in his heart for that huge, complex continent, a worry for his parents as he makes his journey. The youngest, now sixteen, is in Year 11, GCSE madness all around, gobby, lippy, a young woman who stands up against injustice who can be a joy to have around or a minefield of emotions to pick our way through. I wouldn’t be a teenager again for all the tea in Waitrose. It’s the best of times and the worst of times and yet when they go, how I will miss the mess, the half-drunk coffee mugs, the slamming doors, the late-night taxi pick-ups, the heaps of washing, the nagging, the moaning …

Okay, so here are my five things:

1. Teenagers do need a lot of sleep, they really do. They have a different circadian rhythm to the rest of us and need those lie ins. If they need to sleep, let them. Just as it’s wrong to wake a sleeping baby, so it is wrong to wake a sleeping teen. On your head be it.

2. If they want a party at your house and they want you to go elsewhere for the evening (remember Abigail’s Party), then go. Take the dogs, the booze (they will bring their own whether you like it or not) and your iWotsits. Give the neighbours a heads-up and a curfew of eleven o’clock – which sounds fair, as long as it’s not a regular event. After all, you have to put up with the neighbourhood toddlers all summer, screaming in their paddling pools. What goes around comes around. Your teenagers were once toddlers. One day those neighbourhood toddlers will be teenagers. We all have to live together as as a community. (Our neighbours have been awesome.)

3. Praise them the same you would for any child. Show them they have talents and gifts and even when they feel crap about life, remind them of a funny incident from childhood.

4. Hug them, whether they like it or not. Even the grumpy boys.

5. Put a big map on your kitchen wall with stickers for the places you would love to visit. It gives you stuff to talk about at family meals. It shows them that their tiny, troubled life is a speck on the planet. Their worries are usually first world worries. Let them go to Japan and Africa or wherever, but yes, it will be really hard.

And I know I shouldn’t blog about my teenagers but they won’t read this. After all they haven’t read their mother’s novels. But maybe one day, when they are on their travels, they will turn to their mother’s words on the page, or remember their mother’s words to them over the years, the dos and the donts and the ILoveYous.

2013-07-28 22.38.20

PS. The Generation Game is still on Kindle at 99p for the next week. I need those sales for my teenagers food and loo roll consumption.

Lizards, Centipedes and Rain

Sunday, April 22nd. 1900

My dearest Mother

George has gone for a bike ride with Mr Van Dort, something about cocoa-nuts. He doesn’t usually go out without me on a Sunday, but I persuaded him to go today, as he gets so little exercise and as it is cooler I don’t think it will hurt him.

We had such a lovely rain last night. It began about 6 o’clock and kept us well into the night. It thundered a good deal, but it was not too close so I didn’t mind. It is wonderful what a difference even a few minutes heavy rain makes. The thermometer soon drops from 89 or 90 degrees to 82 or 83 degrees and you feel a different creature. The last two nights it has been 81 when we went to bed and we quite appreciated a sheet over us; lately we have not had anything at all. It does not feel so bare as it would at home, as of course the mosquito curtains are all around and over the top so nothing can get at you. The bed has a top and posts rather like an old-fashioned four-poster, and the net is stretched right over and you tuck it in with the sheet. The top is made of thick calico, so you see if anything does fall off the roof, it can’t fall on the bed. The curtains are pulled aside in the day-time. The boy tucks them in in the evening, so that grasshopper must have hopped in sometime.

I am so glad of that thin dressing gown I made. The one Mrs Gillespy gave me has washed so thick I simply can’t wear it; it makes me drip. Directly after breakfast I always take off everything except my combies and put on my blue dressing gown. When that goes to the wash, I wear a petticoat and a dressing jacket. Since it has been so hot I have not changed for tea, but have waited until about 5 o’clock. It simply makes me drip to do my hair or put on clothes any earlier. It is so horrid to have water running down one’s chest and back. But the worst of the heat is over now. It will be fairly hot for another month till the real S. W. Monsoon bursts, but it won’t be so bad. It gets very hot again in August and September just before the N.E. Monsoon breaks, but now is always reckoned the hottest part of the year.

I don’t believe I have told you about Mr Meinhold’s present which came the other day. We are so disappointed with it. I can’t think why he chose it. It is a big cruet stand with four bottles, very common moulded glass, just the sort of thing you see in a lodging house. I expect he gave a lot for it out there and I could cry when I think of what jolly silver or brass things he could have got at Rangoon. He might have got a silver salver for the money.

Thank Amy ever so much for the book. I have enjoyed it so much, have just finished it. It came just in the nick of time when I had not got a single thing to read. We have found the library at Colombo and get 12 books at a time, but they take such a fearful age coming and going in the wretched boats that it means being stranded with none for some time. Since it has been so hot, I’m afraid I’ve read more than I’ve worked; the needle does get so sticky.

The other night there was either a centipede or a millipede on the dining room wall. George was not sure which it was and the boy was vague so he killed it to be safe. Centipedes sting but millipedes are harmless. It was like a big black caterpillar with reddish legs. In fact I drew George’s attention to it by saying ‘What a big caterpillar!’.

I am glad you like my photos. I suppose they are about as good as I could expect. My face certainly is fatter and so is my body. It is the collar of that blouse that gives the effect of thinness. I don’t mind a bit who you give the other copy of the group to. First I thought of the Justicans but really I don’t care a scrap. Give it to whoever you think would like it the best. Perhaps Aunt Amelia?

Monday morning
It began to rain this morning at about 4 o’clock, came down in torrents and thundered a little. George thought it was going to be a bad storm but it passed over. It kept on raining till about 8 o’clock and is still very cloudy and heavy. I expect it will begin again this afternoon. This is really the ‘Little Monsoon;’ and I expect we shall have it showery for several days. It is cooler but rather steamy this morning as the sun is sort of half-shining.

I’ve just been watching such a fat lizard out of the window. He is living on the sloping tiled roof of the kitchen which joins the house just below this window. His body is like a fat frog’s and he has a very long tail. He is on the watch for flies but has one eye on me all the time. It is wonderful how quickly they spot you.

The thing we thought was a centipede was quite harmless Mr Van Dort told me at dinner last night. George and he got back from their ride about 6 o’clock.

Please thank Carrie for her letter and also the Chicks. I was delighted with their epistle and will answer them soon.

Lots of love and kisses from Mab.

Mabel and George's wedding, Colombo, Ceylon, 1899

Mabel and George’s wedding, Colombo, Ceylon, 1899

Ewan Morrison – YES: Why I Joined Yes and Why I Changed to No


Interesting piece…

Originally posted on wakeupscotland:

 Ewan Morrison is an award-winning Scottish author and screenwriter.

how one word silencedFour months ago I joined the Yes camp out of a desire to take part in the great debate that the Yes camp told me was taking place within their ranks. Being a doubter I thought maybe I’d failed to find this debate and that it was exclusive to the membership of the Yes camp, so I joined hoping I could locate it and take part. But even as I was accepted into the ranks – after my ‘Morrison votes Yes’ article in Bella Caledonia, I noted that 5 out of the meagre 20 comments I received berated me for either not having decided sooner or for having questioned Yes at all. Another said, and I paraphrase: ‘Well if he’s had to mull it over he could easily switch to the other side.’ That comment in Bella Caledonia worked away…

View original 1,803 more words

Three days to go…

If you read this, then please receive it in the spirit it is written. I am not a well-reasoned person, whatever I may think, but I do have passion and emotion. And I am writing, down in Devon, about the looming Scottish referendum in which I have no vote but in which I have so much at stake.

It has been said enough that this has been a campaign about heart and head. And indeed it has been. And now I add my two penn’orth.

I have a few thoughts in my head that I will try to get down here.

I think a campaign based on difference is a worry. In this day and age have we not learnt enough to know that building walls, metaphorically or otherwise, brews otherness, and otherness can bloom into hate? David McKee’s book The Two Monsters illustrates what happens when there is a barrier between people. It can lead to conflict as it is so much harder to understand each other’s point of view. I cannot see how a union that has fought and defeated the fascism of the last century can be better off split into pieces.

Two Monsters by David McKee

Two Monsters by David McKee

I can see why so many Scottish people want to split from the union. The argument is mainly that they do not want to be ruled by Westminster. Living in Devon, I know how frustrating it is to be ruled by a London-centric government but I don’t advocate breaking off from the rest of Britain. In unity is strength. Can we not change things from within? Together?

And my heart?

My heart says I love being British. Like most Brits I am Heinz 57. I have Scottish blood, Welsh blood, Huguenot blood, blood of the aboriginal race of Australia. Even a drop of Eleanor of Aquitaine’s blood. And a big chunk of me is English, mainly west country. I was a student at Lancaster for three years, I’ve lived and worked and had my babies in London, I’m married to an Irishman, I live in a Devon town that over the years has struggled to keep its head above the water which cut us off from the rest of the country for a few months earlier this year. (Eventually the PM paid us a visit…) And over the last few years I have fallen head over heels in love with Scotland. Like so many of us Brits, I represent What a diverse nation we are.

As Jenny Colgan said in her recent piece in the Guardian, pleading eloquently to resist the break-up of the union:

Naw. No. No. Never. Swear at me all you like. You shall not take it. My home. My land.

And I agree with that plea, with both my head and my heart, as I wait to see where my future lies. Whatever happens, change is ahead. But please, no, not that magnitude of a change.

Oh My Godmothers


When I was a few months old, I was christened into the Church of England in Christ Church, Swindon, where we were living in 1968 when my father worked for GEC. My brothers had also been christened as had my mum and dad before us. Mum was also confirmed. Not sure about Dad, but possibly as he had been at public school. Neither my brothers nor I were confirmed. Despite the promise made by our godparents:

Ye are to take care that this child be brought to the Bishop to be confirmed by him.

Do godparents still promise this? (And has the Church changed its baptism cards to include ‘her’ as well as ‘him’?) I wouldn’t know as I haven’t been to a C of E christening in a long time, not because I am not a Christian. I am. But I’m a Baptist.

Back in the day I would have been persecuted for being an anabaptist – someone who has been re-baptised as a believer – because I was baptised again as an adult (full immersion this time). As Baptists we bring our babies to the church for dedication and then, when they are older, they can make their own decisions about baptism – the equivalent of confirmation in the Anglican Church. Nowadays there’s a trend for Baptists to choose godparents for their kids too, which I think is lovely.

I have three godparents: two godmothers and a godfather. Despite them, I still became a Christian. Auntie Anne did her best. I haven’t seen Auntie Brenda since I was a kid so I don’t really remember her (though I did find out that her brother was the late, legendary, TV chef who liked a glass of wine). And then there’s Uncle John who is very dear to me but not exactly a fully paid up member of the church club.

So what are godparents? And why have I never been asked to be one? I think I would have made an awesome godmother. But none of my contemporaries had their kids christened back when I was of an age for godparenting. And now, when I have more friends who are both Christians and having babies, I am too old.

To be asked to take some responsibility and care for a child’s spiritual journey is a privilege. Whatever beliefs you hold, spirituality is an aspect of personal growth that can be missed and that should be cherished and nurtured. It’s never too late.

And remember, it’s not all about who you ask to the party. Really.

5 More Things about Teenagers

sophie lecture 029

I blogged ages ago about teenagers. I still have three of them and I have more things to add to my previous list. This list, specifically about A Levels, is about my two teenage boys, 18 and 19. So, technically adults. But still teens.

1. You can’t revise for them. You can cajole and bribe and make nice things to eat. But they have to want to do it for themselves, not for you.

2. After they have sat an exam, they will not want to talk about it when they get home. You might get an ‘it was s’alright’. Or an ‘everyone said it was hard’. But that’s about it.

3. They won’t automatically assume they are going to university just because their parents went. Their parents were the lucky ones, with free fees and maintenance grants. They don’t want to load themselves with massive loans unless they are absolutely sure they want to go. You can’t make them go.

4. You can’t make them do anything. They have to want to do it, life, themselves. They have to make their own decisions.

5. You have to let them go. (But they will be back. I’ll make them.)

Letter to Amy, 19th February 1900

February 19th

Dearest Tommie

I hope you won’t mind a short letter this week, but I have sent a long one to Arthur which he will bring down. I did not find out till last night that my mail must go at 3 today, and this morning I had to write to the Captain and the doctor and finish my letter to Arthur. And then in the midst of it George came up to say that a photographer from Colombo had come to take views of the mills and that he must ask him to breakfast. He was a very nice man, but of course he came up and talked and we have taken longer over breakfast and now the morning has gone before I can look round.

I have been writing to the Captain and doing up my photo for him. I have had to send it to London as the tiresome people did not send it in time for me to send it on board the Rome here. I have had a very nice letter from him. I had sent him some cake to the ship. Poor man, he seems very cut up at his son’s death.

The little doctor has sent me a copy of the photo he took of Admiral Keppel. He took it on my last day, and the old man is smiling at me. It is very good of him. I am so glad it turned out all right. He was rather doubtful as the light was bad. I will send you some of my photos next mail.

My mosquito bites are getting better, but my feet and legs are still quite a mass of wounds. It makes George’s flesh creep to look at them. However, I suppose I ought not to grumble if I don’t suffer from anything worse than that.

I am so glad you have got a servant at last. However small, she is better than none, and what I can remember of her, rather a nice child. I hope Mother won’t ‘cope’ with her too much. I wish I could have the mater out here for a month of two. How she would suffer at not being able to go into the kitchen (I have never been in mine yet, I’m afraid) and at having to eat curries most of which you can’t help having misgivings about. My tummy has been very good so far, I am thankful to say. I was only ill one night at Veyangoda when I had a mango for dinner which George was rather afraid was not ripe enough. I eat a lot of plantains (bananas). We don’t get much else in the way of fruit here. How I wish I could send you on some. They are about 4 or 5 a penny, beautiful fat ones.

I must finish up now as the ‘Tappel’ (post) boy will be waiting.

Please thank Mother ever so much for her letter. I am so glad she is better. George weighed me at the mill on Sat, and he and I are exactly the same, 9 stone 9. Not much for him, is it?

Love and kisses to all

From Mab

Letter from George


Jan 24/00

My dear Amy

I have owed you a letter for a long time past, and now I have left it so late that I have only time for a few lines. I have received my marching orders to proceed to a mud hut in the jungle abut 240 miles from Colombo. Fortunately the place we are going to is a healthy one on the whole and we shall have the additional arrangement of a two storied bungalow which is a great thing in any tropical place healthy or otherwise. The journey is by coach or water but our launch is just now out of order so we can’t go by the latter this time, so Mab will have the new sensation of an 8 or 9 hour journey by coach broken by an hour and a half at a place for breakfast. I am afraid she will find it more tiring than a train but it will be quite new to her and more exciting. She had her first experience of a tropical thunderstorm tonight. There was one quite startling clap which made us jump out of our skins. It is unusual this time of year but the rain was welcome as we were getting dried up.

Mab doesn’t seem to feel the heat very much though the days have been somewhat close of late. We have games of tennis and badminton nearly every evening. There is no court at Horekelly but I must set to work and make one when we get there. The house there as I said is a two storied one, two rooms below with a verandah in front and two rooms above with a verandah also. The verandahs are of course wide ones and the upper one will be a useful sitting ‘room’ if I may so call it. One of the lower rooms is now used as an office but I hope to build another office and then we can use both rooms. The house faces the canal which runs past the mill. It is a fairly deep cutting and the banks are lined with trees and other vegetation. It is rather pretty.

The soil is all sand and opposite the house on the other side of the canal – and the road which runs by the side of the canal – is a large coconut estate, one of the oldest in the district with tall trees, so tall that you can’t see the trunks unless you look up and that has a monotonous effect as there is no colour of course on the coconut palms except at the top. There are coconuts near the house but they are all young ones. Then there is a bridge built of iron. There is a waterway all the way to Colombo partly canal and partly natural streams or lagoons and the same beyond Horekelly for miles up the coast.

The mail goes out this morning. It is settled that we leave Veyangoda next Wednesday, stay in Colombo probably at the Grand Oriental Hotel for two days and go down to Horekelly on Friday. I believe Mab gave you our future address.

℅ Orient Co Ltd
Horekelly Mills

We shall not be very badly off there as we shall see one or two Europeans now and then which is more than we do here and of course a member of the Colombo staff will be up once a month and stay at the bungalow. There is also a doctor fairly close, in fact very close as distance goes in Ceylon, only about 1 1/2 or 2 miles I think.

Goodbye now. Many thanks for your letters which are always welcome.

With best love

Yours affectionately

G. T. Gillespy

Mabel is Married.


Tuesday 2.30 (late December 1899)

My dearest Tommie*

I thought you would like to know how I am getting on as a “married woman”. It is a bit weird, as Hubert would say, but it is wonderful how soon one gets used to it. George is awfully good, in fact, I think too good to last. He is most tremendously shy. It is a good thing though as it makes it much nicer for me. I was so relieved when I found he had a dressing room. He bunks straight into it for dressing and undressing and shuts the door tight, which is decidedly convenient of him.

I sometimes try to think that he is you, when he is fast asleep with his arm round me just as you used to put yours, then I get hold of a pyjama sleeve and remember where I am. He is such a dear boy and has certainly improved in a great many ways. He spoils me tremendously, but apart from that he is much more thoughtful and considerate, especially in little things, and I intend to keep him up to it.

I am most awfully well and have a huge appetite now. I am always hungry for my meals and thoroughly enjoy them. I am very glad I brought that warm velvet blouse as it is most useful for putting on in the evenings. It is warm enough for a print blouse in the daytime, but the velvet is quite cosy after 6 o’clock.

7 o’clock
We have just been for a long walk and now George is having a bath before dinner. It is quite cold and I am writing this sitting in front of the fire, a wood one which makes me think of Fairbank. I am so longing for letters but of course the mail is late this week. I do so wonder how you are getting on and if you have got a decent servant – how I do hope you have. I keep picturing you all slaving away and having such bad times.

Be sure to tell me everything when you write and if anybody has colds or anything.

Goodbye dear. I must leave off as it is dinner time.

Much love from Mab.

*Tommie is Mabel’s sister, Amy

Letter from Mabel, 21st December 1899


SS Rome
Thursday, December 21st

My dearest Mother

Not much longer to wait now, but the days do crawl. I can’t a bit realise that I am going to see George in three days. I suppose it will dawn on me soon and I shall be wildly excited by the time Sunday comes. I had a letter from George at Aden and also one from Maggie. She is coming to Colombo on the Friday to do some shopping and then she and Mr Bois and George and I will all go up by the 7 o’clock train on Xmas morning and we shall arrive at their house in nice time for dinner. It seems rather a shame to cut up their Xmas day, but she is awfully kind and does not seem to mind.

Mr Haines bought me such lovely feathers at Aden with his share of the prize money. Wasn’t it nice of him? There are four bunches, one of white, three of natural. The only drawback is that they are all quite straight and flat. I don’t know whether I shall be able to get them curled at Colombo. The Captain says they are worth the money he gave for them. I am going to send some home to Amy when I am sending a parcel. They might come in for something or other.

We all felt very sad on Monday when all our various soldier boys left us. We had quite an affecting parting. Mr Renny got quite chokey. He and I have been such chums. There is hardly anybody nice of the male sex left except Mr Haines. The first officer Mr Bruce is an awfully nice man, and the doctor and purser are both jolly fellows, quite youthful specimens. I don’t know any of the other officers except the fifth. He looks after the library and we have great fun with him.

There are two very nice Australian girls, Miss Way and Miss Stirling. The latter is most comic and we never know what she is going to say next. We played cricket yesterday and the day before, mixed teams, and it is rather good fun. I have proved the champion bat, much to my amazement. I made 24 on Monday and got too excited for words.

Maggie said in her letter that she thought we should be married on Wednesday the 27th. It does seem close now and I can’t quite believe it. I have a dreadful sinking sort of feeling every now and then when I begin to think how far I am away although generally I only feel as if I were just staying away for a time. I think when I get on shore I shall begin to take it in more. Life on board is so messed up somehow that one’s thoughts won’t flow properly. And we are all so terribly lazy, it is quite dreadful.

I shall be very glad to get on shore and have a more comfortable bed. Mine is like lying on wood, it is so hard ad lumpy. My bones quite ached at first. Both the bed and the pillows are stuffed with horse hair, so you can imagine what it is like.


Tuesday, December 26th

Well, Mother dear, here I am safe and sound and in a state of excitement too great for words. It is so lovely seeing George again and he has not altered a bit, just a scrap thinner, that is all. We had a most awful time landing on Monday night. We did not get in till past nine and it was simply pouring with rain, thundering and lightening as well. George and Mr Bois came to fetch me. It was too wet for Maggie especially as it was so late. We managed to get my big trunk all right but I had to go down in the pelting rain to pick it out. We finally got on shore about eleven o’clock and got to the Bois house at 11.30. I had put on my clean blue print and it was absolutely filthy when I arrived. We came up here by the seven o’clock yesterday morning and got here about 5 o’clock. It is three quarters of an hour’s drive from the station. This is a jolly house and all the furniture and everything is perfect.

We are going to be married tomorrow at one o’clock, quite quietly I am thankful to say. Then we are going to stay up here for about a fortnight. George has taken a little house a few miles away. It is called ‘Elephant’s Nook’, why I can’t imagine. We went over to see it this morning and it is a dear little place, quite hidden away. George’s ‘boy’ has come up to this house and will take charge and look after everything, so I shall not have anything at all to do with the housekeeping, unless he suggests anything I don’t like. He was there this morning and filled me with awe and admiration. I know I shall be dreadfully frightened of him.

I have just been unpacking and looking at my clothes and they all look satisfactory, so be sure you let Kate know as it will ease her mind. My hats are also all right, the feathers hardly a scrap out of curl. I am wearing my check coat and skirt here as it is quite cool enough for it. I am going off in my white alpaca tomorrow.

It was quite affecting saying goodbye to the Captain and everybody on Monday. I had the chief and fourth officers and Purser to see me off, nearly all the passengers had gone. Mr Bois had a special launch so we did not go with the others, and we were so late because of my box. I was the only one who got any heavy luggage. It was so delicious! Mr Bois passed the box with the silver teapot inside it through customs as a Christmas pudding, wasn’t it cute? He did not know what was in it so said the first thing that came into his head.

Well, I must say goodbye now. Thank you and everybody for the calendars and cards. We were very delighted to have them. We drank to ‘absent friends’ last night at dinner. All the children sat up for it. Gwinnie is such a duck, tell Lottie she is simply sweet. I will write next mail and tell you everything. I feel too topsy turvy today to think much. Maggie has got another wedding cake. We could not possibly get more.

Goodbye, kisses and love to everybody, from Mab.

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