‘Iceland is Beautiful,’ they said…


‘Iceland is beautiful,’ they said… ‘Iceland is my favourite country in the world,’ they said… ‘You’ve never been?’ they said, ‘You should plan to visit.’ So we did.

I prepared for our trip by watching Icelandic films, hoping to learn the odd phrase and perhaps see a little of the culture. This was a mistake, as I mostly watched crime films. I therefore stepped off the flight, entered the arrivals hall and was confronted by a line of serial killers holding name placards. Luckily we had rented a car, so avoided all the psychopaths and edged our way to the Avis desk. Avis had queues of people, very little space, and lots of signs about wind (the weather version). Wind is a thing in Iceland.

Known as the land of ice and fire, it should also be called the land of blue lupins. They were everywhere, lining the roads, growing on ancient mounds of lava, covering every hill and plain. Iceland in June is blue. Blue and grey. People told me that Iceland is beautiful, and it’s true that many parts were, but there’s an awful lot of grey. As we drove from the airport the landscape reminded me mostly of the groundwork when a new motorway is being built —mounds of grey rubble. Volcanoes are not tidy, and Iceland was produced by a string of eruptions. I guess there’s no point in clearing up the lava flow, so it sits there, pretending to be builder’s rubble, until the lupins move in to cover it in blue.

We rented an Airbnb in Reykjavik. This turned out to be wonderful, a converted printing works that consisted of one huge room filled with plants and nicknacks, with separate bedrooms and bathroom. It was used in the Netflix series Sense8, though most of the furniture was different.

Reykjavik is more town than city, with mostly wooden houses covered in colourful corrugated iron. It has clean streets, happy people in weird clothes (though to be honest, I think the clothes of most people younger than me are weird) and high prices. Iceland is expensive. The city also has a harbour, and a huge church (which looks like a cathedral) high on a hill, seen above the city. 

A cool church building, towering over Reykjavík.
Pretending to be a Viking, outside the big church.

We were told that in June, it would only be dark for a few hours each night, between midnight and 2 am. This was a lie. I got up in the night to check, and it was never dark. Slightly gloomy perhaps, like a grey day at home, but never dark. I took a photo for evidence…

No streetlights needed: 2am and definitely NOT dark.

The June weather was cold, but not freezing. I needed a warm sweater and a coat, but not a ski jacket (which is lucky, as I don’t own one!) A woolly hat is fairly essential, not so much for warmth but more for hair control. Husband declined repeated offers to borrow a hat, and the hair style wasn’t good. As I said, wind is a thing in Iceland. 

We saw some amazing stuff while we were there, but I’ll tell you about our trips in another blog. Is Iceland beautiful? Beauty is very subjective, and I never really saw past the grey rocks, the black mountains, and the lack of trees. Especially the trees. Most other people have a different view, so I’ll leave you with some pictures and you can decide for yourself.

Thanks for reading. Take care.

Love, Anne x

I try to learn a little more Hebrew whenever I run (it helps take my mind off the pain!) In Iceland I began to learn 2 Chronicles 7: 14. You could try to learn it too?
*Note to Mother: Please learn the English version and we can make another Facebook video!
I will add it to the end of each Iceland blog:

If my people, who are called by my name, humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways,
then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. 

2 Chronicles 7:14

וְיִכָּנְעוּ עַמִּי אֲשֶׁר נִֽקְרָא־שְׁמִי עֲלֵיהֶם וְיִֽתְפַּֽלְלוּ וִֽיבַקְשׁוּ פָנַי וְיָשֻׁבוּ מִדַּרְכֵיהֶם הָרָעִים וַאֲנִי אֶשְׁמַע מִן־הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֶסְלַח
 לְחַטָּאתָם וְאֶרְפָּא אֶת־אַרְצָֽם׃

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Mini Break After Easter


After a fantastic Easter Sunday with the family in Cambridge, we kept driving north for a week away. Despite my vow to never again take elderly dog on holiday, the kennels were all full and so she travelled in a well-prepared boot and all our luggage was on the back seat. Husband had booked an Airbnb, so I told Mum we were off to the Lake District and I would see her in a week.

The roads were empty, so even with a few stops for elderly dog, we arrived at the cottage early evening. Beautiful scenery. No lakes though, so I messaged Mum to say we were in the Peak District.

Our cottage is the middle one behind me. This is my tired face. I need a holiday.

The cottage was lovely, plonked right in the middle of a field with lambs skipping around. There was an enclosed back yard, so even if elderly dog had been at all interested in them, she wouldn’t have been able to reach the lambs. However, the lambs were interested in us—or to be precise, the car. They kept licking the wheels. Husband worried they might nibble something important. I told him lambs don’t have teeth. (This may not be factually correct, but it stopped him worrying.)

Lambs attempting to eat tyres.

On the first day we wandered into town. There were some nice shops selling posh food products. Lots of cheese and wine from Wensleydale. I messaged Mum and told her that actually, we are in the Yorkshire Dales. The nearest town is called Hawes. Husband told me you’d need to be careful not to name your house: The Hawes House, and I nearly fell off the pavement laughing. (This shows the sort of conversations we have when our children aren’t around to correct us.)

The first café we saw advertised bacon butties, so we had a cup of tea and a sandwich. I think it’s a biker café, as everyone else looked slightly like Hagrid, wore leathers and carried a helmet. I’m sure we blended right in though. Very nice bacon butties, so I think we’ll go there every morning.

I attempted a short stroll with the dog. She’s unkeen on hills, so had that ‘tolerant look’ when we set off. Lots of lambs skipped away, but their mothers did not. One mother in particular was very angry that we were in her field, and she walked deliberately towards us, her head lowered. She then stood facing us, and stamped on the ground. I don’t speak ‘sheep’ but the message was very clear. Not sure that elderly dog would fare very well in a stand-off with angry ewe, so we went back to the cottage. Dog returned to her bed with an ‘I told you so’ look. I told Husband he would have to come instead.

We went for a lovely walk across the fields. Husband wore wellies because it might be wet—he walks quite slowly in wellies. I wore walking boots, because they’re comfy for long walks. I walk very fast in my walking boots. You can guess how that turned out. Husband has a clever ordinance survey app on his phone, so he could give precise directions as we walked. I mostly ignored him and followed the footpath signs. This is how our household works. But the walk was lovely, with lambs everywhere and stone walls with little stiles and far-reaching views over the… lakes… peaks… dales.

Hope you have something lovely today too. Don’t forget where you are…
Thanks for reading. Take care.
Love, Anne x

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xxxx

Crazy gang of lambs! Touch to watch the video.

More From Madeira


I’m writing this on the balcony, listening to the waves wash over rocks. No seagulls though, as Madeira seems to have more pigeons than seagulls. One comes and sits on the rails next to me, checking to see whether I am eating, before flying off in disgust. I will give you a quick tour of the rest of Madeira. Then you can add it to your list of places to visit. Coming in January/February was brilliant, because we had hot sun, cool wind, and very few other tourists. But perhaps we were lucky with the weather, it would have been gloomy if it had rained all the time. Either way, we needed summer clothes for the too-hot-to-sit-for-more-than-10-minutes sunny days, and warm clothes for the cold evenings. Wish I’d known that before we came. Also wish I had packed my walking boots because when it rained, it really rained, and all the walks we did were basically up, or down, the steep side of a mountain. Not much call for flip-flops because the streets are all cobbled.

The north side of the island seems to be always under cloud or in the shade of the mountain. We need to remember to take jumpers when we drive north. There are some brilliant natural swimming pools, built into the rocks, and we had fun swimming there, watching the waves crash over the rocks while protected by the edge of the pool. It was freezing though.

We stayed in the old town of Funchal. I am looking across orange-tiled roofs as I write, the cable-car sweeping past in the distance. If I walk down to street level, I am met with uneven cobblestone roads, palm trees, painted doors. Painted doors are a thing here.

The plants on Madeira are brilliant, it really does feel like a tropical island, even in the winter. There also seem to be very few insects, which is a bonus. One day we walked up the mountain to the botanical gardens. This was not worth the effort. Perhaps it’s seasonal and we were unlucky, but the plants growing wild were better. The garden in Funchal was disappointing. In contrast, the garden of Monte Palace was beautiful, with exotic plants, and vibrant colours, and water features. There were little displays of African art and mineral crystals, plus a taste of Madeira wine all included in the ticket price. Worth the cable-car ride to get there.

One other disappointment was the fruit market in Funchal. It’s basically a tourist-trap, with aggressive stallholders trying to entice you to buy their fruit. I read online that they tend to soak fruit in sugar, offer some to tourists to taste, then sell the not-so-sweet fruit at inflated prices. It was worth a visit, just to look, but don’t buy any fruit! If you walk round the corner, there is a big supermarket, where you can buy all the same fruit at a much better price. It annoyed me that they were so blatantly ripping-off tourist. But maybe that happens in every city in the world.

It is, however, worth trying some of the fruit after you have bought it from the supermarket. There is the big green ‘custard apple’ which is white inside with big black seeds. It tastes of custard. The ‘delicious fruit’ (Monstera delicious) is the fruit of the cheese plant (the one with holey leaves in your auntie’s house). It tastes like a pineapple crossed with a banana, and is poisonous before it’s ripe (so only eat the soft ones). The peel falls off in hexagonal segments when ripe, and the inside is slightly slimy (like a banana). The ‘English tomato’ is not an English tomato and I thought it tasted more like a red version of kiwi fruit. The skin was very bitter, so not great if you take a bite, and you should scoop out the acidic seeds with a spoon. I didn’t like it much. Some of the more delicious local fruits were the bananas and avocados.

The water is carried around the island in levadas, which are sort of long drainage ditches. It’s possible to hike beside them, as they all have maintenance paths next to them, though some are dangerous. We followed the Levada do Risco to a waterfall, and the walk was beautiful (but incredibly steep, so hard work walking back to the car).

Santana has some examples (mostly modern copies) of tent-shaped houses that were typical in Madeira in the past. They are pretty, but I preferred the church of St. Ana (which is what they named the mother of Mary—I didn’t know that).

One day we did a tour of Blandy’s and learnt about the production of Madeira wine. It used to be fortified with rum, made from the sugar cane on the island. But the EU stopped that, saying a wine needed to be made only from grapes, so now they import the strong grape alcohol that fortifies it. There are different flavours, depending on the grape used. It tastes very like sherry, I think, and is nice to sip after a meal. Restaurants offer it, or limoncello, (which I’m not so keen on) when you pay the bill.

Eating on the island is very easy, and there are no queues in February, so we never needed to book. Most restaurants have outside eating, and it was often chilly but okay in a thick sweater. The food is nice, very like in Italy or Spain, and we found the staff friendly and helpful. Everyone speaks excellent English, and the menus are always available in English. Importantly for me, all the eateries seem very clean, with good hygiene procedures. Covid rules here seem less strict than in Zurich, but everyone wears masks in restaurants unless sitting.

If you want some winter sun, come to Madeira. England seems a long way away, and I can feel my batteries recharging. The perfect place for a holiday.

Thanks for reading. Hope you have something nice today too.
Take care.
Love, Anne x

My next few blogs will all be about the Lent challenge that I am going to attempt. More next week…

Whaling in Caniçal


Whaling in Caniçal

A short drive along the coast from Funchal is Caniçal, which used to be a whaling community but is now, according to the guidebook, at the forefront of whale conservation. We went to have a look.

The best place to start seemed to be Museu da Baleia, which looks like a huge warehouse. The museum had a strict covid protocol, and we were instructed to sanitise our hands, and show our covid certificates before we could enter. We were given headphones, charged 10 euros each, and sent off down a series of ramps to the lower level. The headset was very clever, with the commentary automatically changing as I wandered around, giving the correct information for the display I was standing next to. At one point we were given 3-d glasses, and watched a film about how whales evolved, the land mammals returning to the sea.

I was expecting the museum to be about whales, explaining their habitat, showing how they were protected, perhaps a model that I could stand next to and be amazed by their size. There were models hanging from the ceiling, but too far away to really appreciate their size. Mostly, the museum seemed to be about whaling.

A modern museum, with smart headsets and 3D films.

There was a photo wall of whaler portraits. There were models showing the process of stripping the whales after they had been slaughtered, explaining what each component was used for. There was even a film, showing whalers in the 1950s, running to their boats, putting out to sea, harpooning whales. The emphasis seemed to be on the courage of the whalers, the dangers they faced, the difficulty of catching such a huge animal on small wooden boats. It was uncomfortable to watch, like watching a film of hunting elephants. It was also telling that the film was so dated. Nothing from the late 1970s (whaling stopped in 1981) when the boats were more sophisticated, when the whales had no chance of escape. If I had been a ten-year-old on a school trip, I would’ve been impressed by those early sailors, they would appear as brave heroes. Perhaps, at the time, they were.

I guess it’s difficult to know how to portray whaling in a community that until relatively recently has survived due to the practice. School children will know that their grandad was a whaler, the teachers probably grew up in the home of a whaler. I wonder whether my grandchildren will feel the same about me eating meat, and if they will wonder how and why I did such a thing. I wonder if my abhorrence of whaling is hypocritical.

We left, walking up a ramp with portraits of the whalers painted by school children in the style of famous artists. They were clever, the sort of work I would have been pleased to encourage when I was teaching. Though I still felt uneasy with the subject. Were the children honouring their past—and should they have been? But should the community cope with judgement and condemnation when at the time, it was seen as a way of life? I don’t know. But I had hoped to learn more about whales, to stand in awe at their size, to understand how they are faring in today’s world. I had hoped that killing these magnificent creatures would be seen as wrong. Perhaps I was in the wrong town for that to happen, perhaps we need to be further removed from the mistakes of the past before we can face them.

Some talented artwork, portraits of whalers.

Thanks for reading. Take care.
Love, Anne x

Anne E. Thompson
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Madeira in the Winter


Exams were over, essays submitted, it was a chance to relax. Husband, who is forever lurking in the background trying to entice me away from home (because his work is mostly online) persuaded me that some winter sunshine would be good for me. I didn’t take much persuading. We went to Madeira.

Have you ever visited Madeira? The only thing I knew about it was that it named a rather nice plain cake. I now know that the cake was invented in the UK, to eat when drinking Madeira wine. I now also know how to make Madeira wine (had a tour of Blandy’s) and that it’s delicious—but more of that in later blogs.

Madeira is a small island (about the size of the Isle of Man) owned by Portugal but actually nearer to Morocco, a drop of volcanic rock in the Atlantic Sea. My brother told me to look out of the window as we approached the airport, and I wish I hadn’t because I saw the rather flimsy-looking runway perched on stilts. I also saw that the island is basically a series of mountains, caused by an ancient volcano and now covered in plants. The plants are fascinating.

We visited right at the end of January, which is sort of their rainy season, though we mostly had glorious sunshine. We rented an Airbnb, which was owned by an agency so fairly plain (individual owners tend to care more and decorate the house a bit) but it was very clean. The main thing was the position, which was brilliant. We were right at the end of the old town, next to an old fort (which someone decided would look nice if painted yellow—a mistake I feel). We overlooked cobbled streets and the sea, and the bright yellow fort.

Driving to the apartment was an adventure. We picked up a hire car ( a small one, thankfully) and set off along the main road. But then the Satnav took us into the city of Funchal and the streets grew smaller and very steep. As we approached the old town, the streets sort of disappeared and turned into narrow cobbled pathways. Very steep narrow cobbled pathways. With blind-bends at the junctions, and parked cars and pedestrians. Some streets had tables spilling out from cafes, for even more excitement. I was map-reading, and we made a few wrong turns, but I decided it was best to not mention it and just to keep talking in a calm voice. We arrived at the apartment, but there was nowhere to park, the narrowed cobbled street/footpath was busy, and a couple of policemen were strolling towards us. Not the time to practice my Portuguese.

Hard to know what to do, so I took charge (I felt Husband had enough on his plate with not killing anyone). I told him to unload me and the luggage and drive off and find somewhere to park, before the policemen reached us. Then he could walk back to help me find the key and lug our bags up to the flat. He left me with the cases and drove off.

I was standing in the entrance to a student residence. The sun shone down, I could hear the sea, the cases were unstable on the old cobblestones. I shuffled into a space next to a wall. Felt conspicuous. Tried to edge cases further from oncoming traffic, and blend into the background. It was quite hot, the street was busy, I had heavy bags, no key to the flat, and limited Portuguese. Felt rather vulnerable and hoped Husband would arrive quickly.

Husband was gone some time. He finally showed up, still driving the car, which was rather disappointing. He told me he had done several laps of complicated one-way system up and down steep, narrow roads, and there was nowhere to park. The flat provided free parking in the town carpark (which cost 40 euros) but the ticket was in the flat. Super.

We left the car sort of jammed in the entrance to the student building and hoped no one (especially the police) would notice. I used the code to get the key, ran up to the flat, grabbed everything that might possibly be linked to parking instructions, and ran back. Husband took the wadge of papers and drove off again. I stood next to heavy bags, feeling things hadn’t really improved.

Eventually Husband returned without the car. Things were getting better. He lugged the bags up to the flat. The view from the balcony made it all worth the effort. I will tell you more in my next blog. Madeira is lovely. But hire a small car.

Thanks for reading. Have a good week, and take care.
Love, Anne x

Quick Trip to Zurich


Zurich

I am writing this in Zurich. My college had a week with no lectures, set aside for reading and reflection, and it coincided rather nicely with Husband having to visit Zurich for work. I had a mountain of reading to do, plus an essay to finish writing, but we agreed that I could work in the room, and breaks would be spent wandering the city and eating meals that I hadn’t had to cook. An excellent plan (which I hoped would turn out better than the Devon ‘excellent plan’ of earlier!)

We arrived late Friday night. As the aeroplane neared Zurich, I could see the Alps, white with snow, shining in sunlight. We appeared to be flying over a sea with islands, but as we dropped, I realised the sea was cloud, and we dropped down, into the misty ‘water’ to the gloom of a city in dusk. The mountains were like a basin of cloud, and the sunlight was hidden from the land below.

As this was a ‘work trip’, our room was a rather lovely suite opposite a park in the city centre. We had the weekend to explore, so after a run round the park and breakfast in the hotel, we set off. (The breakfast was good, but there was a lot of sausage on offer, and I am pretty sure one of the fruit options was coleslaw.) The weather was crisp but dry, and gradually some of the clouds dispersed so we could almost see mountains beyond the city.

The city has the river Limmat flowing through it and we walked beside it to the large glacial lake, the Zűrichsee. The houses are very Germanic, with pointy roofs and shutters at the windows. It was all very pretty. It was also hideously expensive for British travellers, as the exchange rate is very bad at the moment. There were coffee shops with seats in a pretty square, huddled around patio heaters, all the seats lined with fur to keep people warm. But to pay £6 for a coffee was off-putting, so we enjoyed looking but kept walking. Luckily we had access to the ‘members lounge’ in the hotel, where there was a coffee machine for free.

As I am studying theology, I felt that I should visit the church where Zwingli preached. Who, you might ask, was Zwingli? Ulrich Zwingli (not a looker, but you wouldn’t expect him to be with a name like that) was quite a character in the 1500s. He was a priest in the large Grossműnster church, during a time when the church was ruled from Rome and was very powerful. Zwingli began to preach against some of the practices (which made him popular with the people, but not especially liked amongst his clerical peers). He decided that fasting in Lent was wrong, and (somewhat controversially I feel) attended a sausage supper during Lent.

He learnt Greek and Hebrew (so must be a good chap) and sought to find the correct translation to passages that he felt the church had corrupted. He preached against celibacy for priests (which I cannot help but feel sceptical about, as he had a wife at the time so I feel he was perhaps slightly biased). He also tried to rid the church of icons, and told people they shouldn’t worship saints. He was a contemporary of Luther (who is more famous) but they disagreed over the Eucharist, and were never friends. When there was a plague in Zurich, many people left the city but Zwingli stayed to help the sick. He survived the plague, but died during a battle (which I think he partly caused by speaking out against the church).

So, an interesting chap with some strong beliefs. It seems silly now, that he and Luther didn’t work together, simply because they disagreed over one point of doctrine. It seems to me that Christians still do this today, it can feel a little like a club, where if you don’t agree with all the rules some people don’t think you belong. Perhaps that’s why Jesus never tried to start a new religion, he showed people how to live and left them to copy.

We saw Zwingli’s statue, and went to the Grossműnster, which was very plain because he had removed all the icons and decorations. I blame him a little, for the ugliness of Baptist churches. I understand the sentiment, that we should be worshipping God not the building/statues/icons. But I do feel people go too far. Baptists seem to thrive on very ugly places in which to worship. I find it off-putting.

I will leave you with some photos of Zurich. Lovely clean city, mortgage your house and pop over for a weekend. You will need proof of two vaccines to enter any public building, and people here wear masks whenever they’re inside a public building. Other than that, it’s almost the same as pre-Covid times.

Hope your day is good, wherever you happen to be.

Thanks for reading.
Love, Anne x

*****

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The Holiday That Wasn’t…


It was half-term, and when Husband suggested a mini break in Devon, it seemed like a good idea. A reward for forcing myself to confront lots of scary things during the college term. I had lots of study to do, but I decided I could study in a cottage just as well as at home, and my breaks would be striding over windy cliffs rather than walking down the road. Plus, no housework, so all rather lovely. We decided to take elderly dog, as she loves the beach and there won’t be many more opportunities to take her. Mother hasn’t had a holiday in ages, so we invited her too. It was an excellent plan. But even excellent plans can go wrong…

Things started to be difficult fairly early on, but we will skip the description of the dog fouling in the car on the way there, and jump straight into the cottage—which was lovely. A small semi-detached house with two bedrooms and three bathrooms, it seemed ideal. It was incredibly clean, and everything was comfortable and modern. They had painted murals on the walls, and there was a view of the sea from an upstairs window. I set up a table with my computer and books, and settled into a week of study and seaside.

It happened in the evening, when we were leaving to have dinner in a local pub. It was dark, and pouring with rain, and the wind was racing up the cliffs. The cottage had off-road parking a short walk from the house, and I set off with Mum while Husband locked the house. The wind was pulling at our hair, and the rain was beginning to increase, so I hurried ahead to unlock the car and open the heavy door before Mum got there. Such a mistake. Why did I not walk with her, holding her arm for support? Why did I not have a torch? Why did we even think taking an elderly woman to the pub was a good idea? Hindsight is a terrible thing.

There was a step up to where the car was, then a step down. Tricky to see in the dark.

“Mind the step,” I called as I unlocked the car and threw the keys inside.

Mum stepped up onto the kerb, but forgot the step down. I was heaving the door open, heard her call out, watched her stagger forwards. I left the door, rushed towards her as she fought to keep her balance, reached out to grab her hand, missed, lurched forwards and clutched the front of her coat, which slid from my gasp and Mum fell, straight back, smack onto the concrete.

The rain was still falling, relentlessly wetting everything.

“Mum!” I shouted, rushing to her.

No response. She lay, still, not a sound.

“Mum!” I called again as I reached her side.

There was a groan.

Husband arrived, tripped over the same step and managed to get his balance. I yelled to him to call an ambulance. There was no phone signal, so he ran back to the house to use the wi-fi. A man from the flats opposite shouted, asking if everything was okay, and could he help?

I asked if he had an umbrella, and he arrived, knelt next to us, tried to cover Mum. I took off my coat, hardly noticed the rain seeping through my cardigan, tried to cover Mum, told the man to get the old towel from the back of the car, and the blanket from the back seat, all the while telling Mum to keep still, she was safe now, the ambulance would soon arrive.

I tried to remember distant first-aid courses: Don’t move the patient in case of broken bones, keep them warm, reassure them, check for bleeding, check for breathing…but not in that order.

Husband came back to say the ambulance person wanted to ask some medical questions. I went into the house. They took some details, told me the ambulance would be at least two hours (two hours!) and then put me on hold. I was on hold for a long time.

The nice man from opposite arrived, saying they thought they should move Mum as it was so cold and wet. I tried (desperately) to decide what was best. “Don’t move the patient” was embedded in my mind. But it was pouring! And two hours! I told him I agreed it was best, but not to lift Mum, make her get up alone, with help supporting her, but never lifting. Then, if she had broken anything, the pain would make her stop and she was unlikely to make anything worse. If moving was too painful and she stopped, we could have a rethink.

The operator came back to the phone. I asked her whether I should give Mum a drink (sweet tea was in my mind) should I lie her down or sit her up for a head injury? Should I let her eat? Should I remove her wet clothes?

The operator told me not to move the patient. I could lift the visor of a helmet but not remove it. I should check for breathing.

I realised she was reading from a list.

I stopped her, and asked if she had any clinical training.

She told me not to move the patient.

I asked her again (using my teacher voice, which I’m not proud of) whether she had any clinical training.

Long pause.

No, she did not.

I thanked her, said she had been very kind, told her I understood everything she had told me. Ended the call. Dashed upstairs, grabbed duvet and towels, covered the sofa (because it wasn’t my cottage and we mustn’t spoil it) and removed the back cushions so soaked mother could lie down.

Mum arrived, supported by kind man from opposite and husband.

We sat her down, she wouldn’t lie. Should I make her lie down? She said the light hurt her eyes. I knew I needed to observe her, told her it had to stay on.

We tried phoning NHS 111, I needed to speak to a medic to ask what to do. It was on a continual loop, asking us to choose options, then starting again. Might have been due to dodgy wifi-calling with dodgy-internet connection (no phone signal). I realised that actually, I know a LOT of medics, half my friends seem to be doctors! I would message them and ask for help. Felt slightly cheeky, because they would be off-duty and trying to relax/live their life, but I decided I needed a favour. Sent messages to two friends who are doctors.

Managed to remove wet clothes from Mum, left them in a heap on the floor, wrapped her in duvets. She was too shaken to want to be fussed with dry clothes, and it was warm, so I left her for a while as she was. Tried to chat, told her funny stories (which weren’t funny) about the children when they were small, and about my course, and all sorts of strained boring conversation.

She was very shaken and weak, and I wanted to rouse her. I poured some sugar into my palm, told her to dip her finger in it and put some on her tongue. She did. I told her to do it again. Gradually I watched the energy return, it was like magic! Mum noticed too, and asked what I had given her. Assured her it was sugar and not cocaine.

She wanted a drink. I gave her sips of water. She was sick.

Kind doctor friends responded, telling me what to do—which was pretty much what I was doing anyway. But a relief to know that sitting or lying probably made no difference, and a big cup of tea was a bad idea until she had been checked, and being awake was important.

I phoned the ambulance service again, told them Mum had been sick. Made it clear that she had been unconscious for a short time, that she seemed muddled. I could hear her chatting to husband, sounding much brighter. I didn’t mention that, I wanted her checked by someone who knew more than me.

Two hours is a long time. We waited, keeping Mum warm, keeping her awake (not easy) trying to appear unconcerned. My mind was full of cracked skulls and internal bleeding and strokes. I talked about the ducks and how naughty the boys were when they were 10, and did she remember her first job? Husband was better at chatting than me, he managed to get her talking, she would only sigh and groan when I tried.

Daughter messaged, suggesting I pack a bag in case the ambulance took her to hospital. I ran around, guessing what might be needed, searching for prescriptions and toothbrushes and clean underwear and something comfy to wear in bed.

The ambulance arrived—a little over two hours. I opened the door, heard the crew share a joke, fought to control my irritation, to remember that this was their job, they couldn’t do everything at a run even if tonight I needed them to.

They came inside, declined a cup of tea, chatted to Mum while they assessed her. They weren’t sure whether they needed to take her to hospital, as it was already more than two hours since the accident, so they left to phone a doctor. I wondered if they would come back, worried some more about all the things that might be happening inside my poor shaken mother.

They came back. Mum needed to go to hospital. They wrapped her in blankets and took her bag, and I watched them lead her away.

“Try to get some sleep,” they said. “The hospital will phone you later.”

Husband told me to eat (a day without dinner) but I was too tense, ate a bowl of cereal, felt better.

I went to bed and didn’t sleep. The guilt was immense. Why hadn’t I been holding her arm? Why had I taken her out in the dark? Why hadn’t I been quicker at trying to catch her? I cried then, and lifted all my guilt and worry upwards, to God, who was big enough to handle it even when I didn’t have the words to explain it.

I must have slept because at 2:30 am the hospital called and woke me. The doctor asked who I was, said he was with my mother—what was her name? I said her name. He asked if I knew what had happened. Somewhere in my sleepy brain an alert sounded—was this a scam? He had given me no information and seemed to be getting lots of details from me. I stopped giving proper answers, started to be equally vague: yes, I knew what had had happened. He paused, considering. (Afterwards, Husband, who was listening, told me that the poor doctor was trying to verify my identity before he gave confidential patient information. But at 2:30 am, this was too subtle for me.)

Mum had a fractured skull and there was a small bleed but they didn’t need to operate.

He told me that they would keep her in for observation, give her medication so nothing got worse, that everything was stable. It didn’t feel stable. The whole world was out of kilter.

*

The rest of the holiday was spent visiting the hospital, and trying to enjoy walks on the beach that weren’t relaxed, staring at pages of college work but not really absorbing anything, planning what would happen if Mum had to stay after our cottage let ended.

But she didn’t. We collected her, and we came home. While the course of pills continued, I wanted her with me, to check on her easily. Mum was tired, and shaken, but not ill.

After a week she moved back to her own house. Gradually her confidence came back, eventually her bounce did too.

She’s okay now…though probably needs a holiday…

Anne E. Thompson
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Stonehaven and Dunnottar Castle


While staying at Thornton Castle, we visited Dunnottar Castle—which is a ruin and is my absolutely favourite castle in the whole world. We visited on a day full of sunshine and wind, and as we left the car park we could see a wind farm which looked as if it was floating above the horizon due to the mist. The castle was reached via steps which drop down from the cliff and then rise steeply to the spit of land housing the castle. The cliff edges are pitted, with large pebbles held by rock, which we were told is called ‘pudding rock.’ It is gradually eroding, so visit the castle quickly, before it tumbles into the sea.

The Perfect Ruined Castle

Dunnottar is a complete ruin, the skeleton of the castle reaching towards the sky. Some of the towers still have several storeys, some walls have almost completely disappeared. There are helpful information signs, and we saw the hole where William Wallace (Braveheart) is said to have attacked the British. The dark cavern of the old brewery is said to be haunted by a woman in green who is searching for her children (she has my sympathy, losing children in large buildings like castles/supermarkets is easily done). Seagull cries mingled with tourist’s comments: Mind your head, these guides are beautifully produced for the money, let’s sit here for a bit…

There was a lion’s den in the castle, dating back to Earl Marischal. Apparently his Coat of Arms had a lion, so he thought it would be a good idea to keep a real one in the castle. However, the roaring kept the Countess awake at night, so they got rid of it. Poor thing. The lion, not the Countess.

The surprises of the castle were the well, which is a large pool of fresh water right in the centre of the castle, and the public loos (also right in the centre, and very clean) and the sheer size of the place. It really is the best castle ever.

After visiting the castle, we walked along the cliffs. There is a great walk from Stonehaven, along the cliff top towards the castle. In a couple of places you can climb down to the beach.

Just outside the town, on a hill, is a war memorial. After the first world war, over 200 men from Stonehaven never came home. That would have been a huge percentage of the young men. The memorial looks like a ruined Greek temple, to represent the lives ruined by the war. It also fits very well with the view of the castle, and is very in keeping with the atmosphere of the area. As we walked past, there were several people walking up to look at the memorial, and people running with a dog in tow—it is clearly a dominant feature of the town.

Stonehaven is a fishing town, with a big harbour and some interesting sculptures along the sea front. It is also the home of the deep-fried mars bar, so I insisted that we try it. It was pretty revolting! I think our order was unexpected as it wasn’t tourist season, and so I am guessing that they simply dipped a mars bar into the batter they were using for fish and then fried it in the same vat of oil. It tasted very fishy anyway. Imagine biting into a piece of deep-fried fish, and then finding a melted mars bar inside. The flavours clashed horribly—maybe it would be better with fresh batter, more of a mars bar pancake perhaps.

Tasting a deep-fried mars bar.

Although I cannot recommend the mars bar, Stonehaven is worth a visit. They were busy building sea defences when we were there, so it was quite noisy, but I expect it’s rather lovely most of the time. We found a great bakers to buy lunch from, and then we sat, watching the boats bob on the water and listening to the gulls. A lovely way to finish our holiday.

Thank you for reading about our road trip through Scotland. There are so many places that we didn’t have time to visit, and so many that I hope to return to one day. To be honest, I’m not sure why we spend so much time in Italy and France, when Scotland is easily as beautiful. I guess you just have to be lucky with the weather (and the midges, which were a nuisance when they appeared). But if you have never been, go soon…before the rest of the world realises what a treasure it is.

Take care.
Love, Anne x

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Don’t forget, my travel book, The sarcastic Mother’s Holiday Diary, is available from an Amazon near you. It’s a fun read, and makes a great gift.

The Sarcastic Mother's Holiday Diary
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*****

Thornton Castle


More Castles

Does anywhere in the world do castles like Scotland? They are everywhere—even ‘normal’ houses tend to include the odd turret. Fabulous. While we drove around Scotland, we would turn a corner, and there would be a castle, sitting atop a hill or rising from the mist in a loch. I would shout ‘Stop!’ and we would park somewhere and look. Often we knew a photo would never manage to capture the scene: those turrets reaching to the sky, the walls stark against the water, mist swirling around the base. I am not much interested in the history of tribal wars or the dates of battles, but castles make you remember stories of princesses and sea monsters and dragons. I love castles, especially ruined ones.

We left Balintore Castle and drove north, on the snow road, to Balmoral Castle. We thought it would be interesting to see the castle built by the royals. There was a car park, with a £3 charge, and a short walk over a bridge spanning the River Dee to the gift shop and entrance gate. That’s it. The grounds were closed, and from the road we couldn’t see anything—not even a turret. The £3 charge was basically to enter the gift shop!

This is all we saw of Balmoral Castle!

Instead, we went to Ballatar (where the Queen pops to the Co-op when she runs out of teabags—there’s even a bus stop right outside Balmoral, which is handy for her). There is the ‘royal station’ where the Queen’s train used to arrive, but it’s not used today and the rails have been removed, which sort of fitted with our experience of the whole day.

Of course, I still had no idea where our final location was going to be. I was hoping it would be less cold than Balintore Castle—and it was. Husband had booked another castle for us to stay in, and this one was very comfy. We arrived at Thornton Castle about 4pm, and to my relief, this one was not derelict.

Thornton Castle–a great place to stay.

Our host welcomed us, and gave us a tour of the grounds from the battlements. I pretended to be completely comfortable with walking along a narrow walkway 4 storeys high with only a low parapet between me and certain death. Our host pointed to a round tower, which dated from about 1200’s, and a square tower with dated from about 1500’s, and the remainder of the house which was added much later. Thornton Castle has been in the same family for many generations, and is full of family paintings and artefacts (and not so many stuffed animals as the last castle!)

Our Airbnb was in the square tower, and it was magnificent. We had a beautiful bedroom with a little adjoining sitting room. Above was another bedroom (which we didn’t need) and a bathroom, and there was a kettle and fridge so we could make our own drinks. We also had use of the billiard room, which was very grand, but I preferred our little sitting room. The rooms were reached by a spiral staircase (a bit dangerous if very tired or drunk). Breakfast was included in the price, and this was served in the dining room.

Breakfast was amazing, and deserves its own paragraph. We were shown into the dining room, where the long table was set with two places opposite each other. The sideboard was laid with cereals, and juices, and fresh fruit, bowls of yogurt, bread and a toaster. Our host offered us a range of cooked food, so Husband had a full Scottish breakfast each day, but I was happy with yogurt and fruit and cereal. We had a big pot of good coffee (very important) and I sat there, feeling like I was living in Downton Abbey, and loving it. It was such a treat. Our host was very friendly. It was slightly odd being waited on by the owner of the castle, but I managed to cope! It was perfect.

Such fun!

Thornton Castle is near the coast, so we had some lovely meals in little fishing villages. We also visited Dunnottar Castle, but I will tell you about that tomorrow.

Thanks for reading.
Take care.
Love, Anne x

If you fancy staying at Thornton Castle, the link is here:

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Inverlochy Castle Hotel


Two Scottish Castles

When we left the little studio flat near Applecross, I wondered what Husband had planned next. We had seen the coast near Glasgow, and enjoyed the canal at Crinan, seen the beauty of Glencoe, and stayed on the islands of Mull and Skye. I doubted that anything in the next part of our holiday could possibly compare. But I was wrong…

On the way to our next location, we passed Eilean Donan castle. I like castles, and Husband had booked us tickets. The castle was like something from a storybook, standing on the shores of a loch.

Eilean Donan Castle
(Named after a ship, not a woman!)

Guides told us a little of the castle’s history. Eilean Donan was a ship (not a woman, as I had assumed!) The castle was well maintained, with some rooms furnished to show how they would have been in the past. The guide told us we could see three sea lochs from the window, which excited Husband, who likes canals and heard her say “three sea locks!” Our Scottish still needs some work. The castle was pretty, but again was spoilt by too many tourists. It was hard to imagine how it would have been when walking in a line of people and having to sanitise our hands at the entrance to every room. (I used so many different sanitisers—because the guides insisted we use it—that they started to react with each other and my hands were very itchy!)

We left the castle and drove to…another castle! Husband had booked a few nights at Inverlochy Castle. Wow! This is a hotel fit for royalty. In fact, Queen Victoria stayed here during her tour of Scotland. What a treat!

Inverlochy Castle
What a treat!

I changed into a skirt so I could swoosh when I walked, and we explored the grounds. They have a walled garden, and a lake with a rowing boat (Husband was keen to row across the lake, but I was too busy swooshing my skirt and pretending to be important.)

Dinner (6 courses) was in a pretty dining room, and there were drinks first in the sitting room, where there was a fire in the hearth and views across the lawn to the mountains. I don’t usually drink much, and half a bottle of red wine after a G&T was quite a shock to the system! We went back to our room via the rather fine billiards room, but I sat in a big leather chair and wondered if I would make it up the rest of the stairs, so a game of billiards was never going to happen!

Breakfast was an almost silent meal, with silver cutlery and floral china and bit of a headache from the night before. We then walked to the ruins of the old Inverlochy castle. But the road was very busy, and I wanted to just be in our posh hotel and enjoy the luxury of it all.

We had afternoon tea in the lounge, and then went out (somewhere cheaper!) for our evening meal. Breakfast the next day was lovely, and then we packed our bags and left. As we crunched down the gravel drive, I wondered where we were going next. Surely, I thought, it cannot be as extraordinary as staying in this hotel. But I was wrong…

Thank you for reading and sharing our travels.

Take care.
Love, Anne x

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