Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Jesse Ramsay And The Bluebell Woods

Thinking about doing some cleaning ( not something that happens often)  I walked round my house and looked at the pictures on the walls and noticed there were two distinct themes, either horses or woods.  Over my fire is the very common print of The Three Kings. For  some reason when I was wee I was a big fan of Arkle who is not as famous as his two fellow subjects (Red Rum and Desert Orchid)  in the painting but it’s nice that he’s there all the same. Arkle’s owner famously said that she loved him too much to ever run him in the Grand National in case he came to harm.

                                          The Three Kings by Susan Crawford

My favourite picture of all is a tiny print in a simple wood frame with a typed label on the back.  It hung over my granny’s sideboard for many years. It has been a constant in my life, a feeling that  I want to live in that house down this lane.
My granny too said it was her favourite picture.  Yet it is so small, so unprepossessing, with no mount around it, no fancy frame. It’s held together by a bit of string. It’s not even a painting. It’s not even very good. The brown paper on the back looks as though it came from a paper bag and it is crumpled, torn and repeatedly stained with watermarks from the floods when my granny’s neighbours upstairs left their bath running.

                                                    Only 10 " by 8", 

 But the picture is beguiling. Enchanting.
I’m not sure if the picture is one of extreme calm or imminent threat. There is no light coming through the tree canopy, it’s all dark. There is a single winding path that is waterlogged leading up to a tiny cottage that may or may not have a thatched roof.  The path seems to wind its way beyond the cottage into the only area of light so the viewer’s eye is taken from the darkness and into the light.  From that point of view, the viewer has found themselves in the middle of the forest and faces a long walk to get out.


Even the way I wrote that ‘has found themselves’. … How did they  get there?
  The floor is covered in bluebells so it is spring and the trees are green but goodness knows how awful it would be in the winter. There is a sense of contented isolation about it and I’m sure this picture was in my mind when I wrote about the isolated cottage in Blood of Crows.  But the picture asks a lot of questions. Who lives in that wee cottage?  Why do they live in such a remote place? If you were brutally murdered there, would any body hear you scream. Would anybody find you if you were buried in amongst the bluebells?  Forensic topography would mean nothing here.  A mobile  phone  will not work here. You will be at the mercy  of the spirits of the forest and the wood elves.
And the biggest question of all, if my granny liked it so much, why isn’t it in a nicer frame? 
There is something of fairytale darkness about it, of Hansel and Gretel, and the Little Red Riding Hood. It is Grimm, if you pardon the pun.
I keep coming back to the isolation, the sense that you are on your own and you will either rise or fall but it will be by your own hand.


My gran, the owner of the picture, was orphaned as she was born, the youngest of 13 children and grew up in an orphanage. With her closest sisters, they lived together as a unit, with a house  mother in a ‘small cottage’ somewhere outside Sheffield. There they learned to cook and sew and clean with a view to going into service. She dreamed of being a seamstress, always darned everything. I mean everything.


She never said a bad word about the orphanage, the ‘cottage homes’ as the system was called. They had food in their bellies and many folk didn’t in the north of England in those days ( we are talking early 1900 here). She grew up being terrified of ending up in the workhouse (which was what the Southern General of last week’s post was originally built for.) and while researching some pictures for the blog I realised why; the workhouses and the cottage homes were both part of the action on poverty at that time.  So the home was not just for orphans, but for children whose families could no longer afford to keep them.


And it was a label of social disgrace. But Yorkshire girls are tough and I don’t think my gran ever noticed or if she did, she didn’t care. The only thing I heard her comment on occasionally, was the cruelty of the local village children to the cottage home children. They would bully and taunt the orphanage kids. It was a five mile walk, over rough ground, often in snow, from the orphanage to the school. The cottage children wore leather boots all year round. The boots were good quality and handed over from child to child as  the foot size changed,  to cope with the long walk to lessons – and the boots were the badge of ‘being different’ was how she put it. 

 All her life she stood up for the underdog and taking this literally, would come home with unwanted   puppies and stray dogs with bits missing. She had a difficult life, moving to Glasgow to live in a Govan tenement over run with mice,  being widowed and left with three children but she never lost her ‘we never died a winter yet’ attitude. Don’t get me wrong, she wasn’t a sweet nice little granny, she was more your functional granny. She was a strict disciplinarian and would bruise my knuckles by rapping them with a wooden spoon, when I misbehaved at the tea table.

 Which  was often.

At thirteen, the girls had to leave the cottage home to go out to work and in her first week of being a junior housemaid, she was crossing a road, avoiding a young man cutting a hedge. He took one look and said to her, ‘Are you Jessie Cadwallander’. It was one of her older brothers and the whole family slowly got back together again.


Only to be ripped apart by two world wars.
She was never one for looking back. She  died at 105 without a bit of dementia, and apart from sight loss and hearing issues, she was in good health.  It said on her death certificate ‘extreme old age’. And that canny be a bad thing.


Her secret to a long life? She didn’t drink ( one advocaat at Christmas and even then she couldn’t finish it as it was too strong). She always had a four legged companion somewhere. She worked hard (still in the community canteen in her seventies). She had, because of poverty,  what we would call a good diet. She was green fingered and grew everything. Red meat was a rare thing. She ate fish, porridge and every morning started with a glass of water with a lemon squeezed into it. Her number one tip, be content with your own company. She was never ever lonely although she had few friends and lived on her own for the last fifty years of her life.
 Which brings us back to the picture, and the isolation of that  house, and the carpet of bluebells.
 And where do I live now? In a house  across the road from the woods that are known on the map as the bluebell woods. Every morning the dog and I go up there to be on our own. We don’t need  company so we walk up on the high ground away from the handbag dogs and anything that ends with ‘doodle.’
I think it might be in the genes.

Caro Ramsay  

Sunday, 19 April 2015

The Southern General....

We are in the throws of the undignified name calling and ludicrous argument that passes for political debate over here. It will go on until May 7th when various reprobates will think they run the country. And hopefully keep out the way of those that actually do.

                                   The hospital is being transferred  from this  to this..

                                                                 The Death Star

Some things are  too important to be in the hands of politicians. I think Gordon Brown thought that  about interest rates and  handed  them over to the Bank of England.

The NHS is a popular football for the various political parties to kick around while most of us believe that it is too valuable to be in the hands of  any political party.

                                              The helicopter landing pad

I have always suffered from migraine but since February they have changed character. From the 'go away and leave me alone while my head feels like it is being skewered so I want to lie still and watch the kaleidoscope on my eyelids' type of migraine, to something much. much worse. Rolling on the floor, banging my head off the tiles, pulling hair out type of pain. Short lived, but brutal.
Even I reckoned this was not normal.

                                                   new meets old or vice versa

Went to Gp and got stuff to stick up my nose as soon as the headache starts. This medicine works very well but gave no clue as to what was causing  the pain. He diagnosed cluster headache, often called the suicide headache because it is that painful. I am lucky that, with me, the pain is there and gone within thirty minutes and (so far) it is always in the small hours of the morning. But I can’t imagine living with that pain four or five times a day. If a patient does, the current treatment of choice is a having a brain stimulator surgically placed in the deep part in the brain to derail the signals.

                                          Fancy car park. With no spaces.

The only problem was my cluster headache is not in the part of the head that gives cluster headache. So the GP referred me for a neurological appointment at the Southern General Hospital, known by locals as the Suffering General. He said it was not urgent, the appointment may take a while to come through. The subtext of that ( and what the political debate is always about) is that the waiting list is a bit long at the moment. But just to make it clear, if you really need it, it will get done and the NHS will do it quickly. But if you can wait – you wait.  Neurology is always busy as for some of their patients, waiting is a matter of life and death. Mine wasn’t, Mine was just sore. So a routine appointment was requested and came through within two weeks. On a Sunday. Subtext,  so busy they were doing Sunday clearance clinics. I had a thorough consultation with a neurologist  who was very nice and very engaging. What did I think? What did she think? What did I think of what she thought? Why can I not have cluster headache in the same place as everybody else? Because it might not be cluster headache.

She recommended two MRI scans - brain  and neck. Not urgent. The appointment for the scan came through  two days later.  Eight o’clock in the morning.

                                                      Nice quiet surroundings for the patients

And that was this morning.

By now, the neurologist and I had been thinking about Arnold Chiari malformation which means the bone at the top of the spine is a bit wonky so bits of the brain start to slid down the spinal canal.  As you can imagine, that is a wee tad sore.

                                                   This hurts!

But I am consoled that it only happens to folk with big brains. That is not really true but it’s my blog so I can say what I like.

It used to be thought of as a fatal condition but as scanning gets better it has been realised that a few folk are walking about with various versions in various degrees of malformation with no symptoms what so ever.  Until something else annoys it. Like an old spinal fracture. Like mine.

                                                      Where exactly  do we walk?

And when the neurologist read about that, her little face lit up in a true light bulb moment.  That is now coming back to haunt you, she said with something approaching glee.  I was still with the theory of big brain in a wee head.

The Southern General is a big Glasgow Hospital, right on the side of the Clyde at Govan. It is slowly being rebuilt into a super hospital called the ‘death star’.  It has become a local talking point as it has been built with very little regard to patients.
And the fact that patients need transport.
And maybe need somewhere to park their car.


Driving around the Southern General building site for an hour and a half to get a parking place is common. Locals now need permits which they have to pay for, to park their own cars in the streets outside their own house. Promises of free buses, and patient transport have not yet come to fruition.  The radiologist who dealt with me parks in the garden centre a mile and a half away and walks it from there.

The hospital/ building site is about fifteen  minutes drive from my house so I left at six thirty am for my eight am scan and got the last parking space available on the first drive round. I sat in the car waiting and writing the next book while the builders in front of me kept taking their clothes on and off like some geriatric Coca Cola advert. I don’t know what they were wearing underneath their t shirts, but it needed ironing. The old jokes are the best.
The old hospital  was based in a Victorian Workhouse. If there was a fire,  patients had to be strapped  to their mattresses  and bounced down the stairs. The hospital then had big wards, a stern matron, no MRSA,  no talking back and stank of Dettol and boiled sprouts.
Now the whole scene is weird; builders everywhere, trucks, diggers, cement mixers, people walking around confused and lost, taxis doing u-turns, wheelchair users bumping up curbs, patients running from A to B, then B to A, posters telling folk where to go ( the posters have been drawn over as a new building was added or opened or closed ). There are over head tunnels temporarily connecting bits X to Z as Y has not been built yet.  To get to the scanner, I had to walk for about twenty minutes from my car, into a reception, upstairs, along a corridor, through a kitchen ( so it seemed), passed a few disused lift shafts,  all the time following a series of printed out signs sellotaped on the wall,  over tunnels, under ground until I bounced almost by accident into the MRI scanning reception. After the scan , the nurse took me by the hand,  across the hall, into an office, over some boxes and out a side door, and lo and behold, there was my car.

Once the superhospital is finished, there will  be rest stops, sherpas and Sat Navs.
So the scanner has not been moved to the new  bit yet so the waiting area was well worn, battle scarred and depressing. But it was spotlessly clean and the service was second to none. So what  if the gowns looked as though they have been washed to within an inch of their existence, the bit of the service that actually saves lives was running like a well oiled machine.

I was aware of the comedic drama the other patient  - some old guy who had been hauled in off the street outside for his scan  as he was having a last minute fag, and wouldn’t come in until he had finished.  I bet he was having a scan for a growth in his lung. He was round; five feet five in every direction and too breathless to undress himself.  And the nurses were great with him, humorous and cajoling but taking no nonsense.
                                             Fried egg roll, black coffee and notebook!

After a hour of being zapped and blasted, I climbed into the small Fiat and drove round  (and round and round) to the garden  centre…. Just to chill before going back home on the motorway.
                                                  goodies at the garden centre....

                                                These are the size of one of small asteroid.




And did some more writing...
                                                               The view out my writing room window!

Caro Ramsay  17 04 2015

Sunday, 12 April 2015

The law is an ar!!

The British Legal system only began to update in 1965 and the squabbles between the various parts of the union over the years have left some interesting laws in its wake.

It is illegal to die in the Houses of Parliament. If you did you would be entitled to a state funeral as you would be a charge of the Royal Coroner. It is also illegal to enter Parliament wearing a suit of armour… in case you  are going to start something and think you might need it.

It is legal to shoot a Scotsman within the city walls of York. If he is carrying a bow and arrow. But not on a Sunday. Scotswomen are not mentioned.

 In Scotland, it is illegal for a boy under the age of 10 to see a naked mannequin.
                                               Cue joke about her being 'armless..'

 In Scotland the law obliges citizens to allow whoever knocks on their door to use their toilet. This is a variation of the trespass law and it is often thought (indeed I have said it on this blog site) that there is  no law of trespass in  Scotland. There is, technically, but the word trespass refers to camping, inhabiting or doing injury to the ground. So we have the right to wander where we like as long as we do no damage. The law obviously comes  from the fact that a lot of Scotland is empty and it was useful to go from A to B, over the land of other clans, without going the long way round to ask permission.


The head of any dead whale found on the Scottish coast automatically becomes the property of the king. And the tail becomes property of the queen. (Sturgeons also!). And any mute swan living in open water belongs to the monarch ( so I think you can be shot for killing them.) In reality, you are supposed to tell the Natural HIstory museum about any  whales washed up on shore which could be bad news for Dippy.

Any Scotsman found to be wearing underwear beneath his kilt can be fined two cans of beer. This is internet nonsense. No Scotsman would pay such a fine.

 It is illegal in Scotland to be drunk and in charge of a cow. As there are a lot of cows and a lot of drink this is true. It is also the law that being drunk in charge of a motorbility scooter is charged under.

In Carlisle, any Scot found wandering around may be whipped or jailed.  I was taking my life in my hands at Crime and Publishment! This law is a remnant from 1157 or thereabouts.

It is an act of treason to place a postage stamp bearing the British monarch upside-down, presumably her crown might falloff


Mince pies cannot be eaten on Christmas Day in England. I remember reading somewhere that this was Oliver Cromwell’s fault.

In the UK a pregnant woman can legally relieve herself anywhere she wants, including in a policeman's helmet.
It is still an offence to beat or shake any carpet rug or mat in any street in the Metropolitan Police District, although you are allowed to shake a doormat before 8am.  You crimey types probably know that there is the Met police and the City of London police- they are two distinct forces. The City is a tiny part right in the middle of London. PD James  wanted to lie a body right where the boundary lay to see what force would deal with the murder and was told that it was the position of the corpse head that counted. ( A Certain Justice.)

It is illegal to keep a pigsty in front of your house. My entire house mid novel, resembles a pig sty.

It is illegal to order or permit any servant to stand on the sill of any window to clean or paint it.
Under the Metropolitan Police Act 1839 no person (other than persons acting in obedience to lawful authority) is to discharge any cannon or other firearm of greater calibre than a common fowling-piece within 300 yards of any dwelling house to the annoyance of any inhabitant thereof.
It is illegal to use a television in Britain without a license. Even if you only watch the TV programme on a computer, you must still hold a licence.

Under the terms of the Protection of Wrecks Order 2003: A person shall not enter the hull of the Titanic without permission from the Secretary of State.

It is also an offence to activate your burglar alarm and leave your property if you haven't nominated a key-holder who can access your house to silence it should it go off. This is a fairly recent addition to British law and was established under the terms of the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act – 2005. 

A horn should only be used when warning someone of danger, not to indicate your annoyance at a manner of driving ... whether or not the car is parked!!

In London, it is illegal for a person (knowingly) with the plague to flag down a taxi or try and ride on a bus. It is illegal for a cab in the City of London to carry rabid dogs or corpses.     And when I did my training, we were warned not to take our training skeletons (which were real) on London public transport.

It is illegal under the terms of the Prohibition and Inspections Act of 1998 to cause a nuclear explosion.     Well ... that's a pretty good idea! But ... why it had to be a special law though is a mystery...

In Ohio, it is illegal to get a fish drunk
In Alabama, it is illegal to be blindfolded while driving a vehicle.
Florida, unmarried women who parachute on a Sunday could be jailed.
In Vermont, women must obtain written permission from their husbands to wear false teeth.
In France, it is illegal to name a pig Napoleon.