Sunday, April 28, 2013


This is an extract from a 1950 article by the science editor of the New York Times. It imagines the Dobson family, living in a suburban American house in "Tottenville" in the year 2000. Some of it is amazingly right or at least not all that far off the mark; some is... not. I dare say that the writer didn't entirely believe all his predictions... .

The Dobson house has light-metal walls only four inches thick. There is a sheet of insulating material an inch or two thick with a casing of sheet metal on both sides.
In the center of this eight-room house is a unit that contains all the utilities: air-conditioning apparatus, plumbing, bathrooms, showers, electric range, electric outlets. Around this central unit the house has been pieced together. Some of it is poured plastic - the floors, for instance. By 2000, wood, brick and stone are ruled out because they are too expensive.

It is a cheap house. With all its furnishings, Joe Dobson paid only $5000 for it. Though it is galeproof and weatherproof, it is built to last only about 25 years. Nobody in 2000 sees any sense in building a house that will last a century.

Everything about the Dobson house is synthetic in the best chemical sense of the term. When Joe Dobson awakens in the morning he uses a depilatory. No soap or safety razor for him. It takes him no longer than a minute to apply the chemical, wipe it off with the bristles and wash his face in plain water.

This Dobson house is not as highly mechanized as you may suppose, chiefly because of the progress made by the synthetic chemists. There are no dish washing machines, for example, because dishes are thrown away after they have been used once, or rather put into a sink where they are dissolved by superheated water. The plastics are derived from such inexpensive raw materials as cottonseed hulls.

When Jane Dobson cleans house she simply turns the hose on everything. Why not? Furniture (upholstery included), rugs, draperies, unscratchable floors - all are made of synthetic fabric or waterproof plastic. After the water has run down a drain in the middle of the floor (later concealed by a rug of synthetic fiber) Jane turns on a blast of hot air and dries everything. A detergent in the water dissolves any resistant dirt. Tablecloths and napkins are made of woven paper yarn so fine that the untutored eye mistakes it for linen. Jane Dobson throws soiled “linen” into the incinerator. Bed sheets are of more substantial stuff, but Jane Dobson has only to hang them up and wash them down with a hose when she puts the bedroom in order.

Cooking as an art is only a memory in the minds of old people. A few die-hards still broil a chicken or roast a leg of lamb, but the experts have developed ways of deep-freezing partially baked cuts of meat. This expansion of the frozen-food industry and the changing gastronomic habits of the nation have made it necessary to install in every home the electronic industrial stove which came out of World War II. Jane Dobson has one of these electronic stoves. In eight seconds a half-grilled frozen steak is thawed; in two minutes more it is ready to serve. It never takes Jane Dobson more than half an hour to prepare what Tottenville considers an elaborate meal of several courses.

Some of the food that Jane Dobson buys is what we miscall “synthetic.” In the middle of the 20th century statisticians were predicting that the world would starve to death because the population was increasing more rapidly than the food supply. By 2000, a vast amount of research has been conducted to exploit principles that were embryonic in the first quarter of the 20th century. Thus sawdust and wood pulp are converted into sugary foods. Discarded paper table “linen” and rayon underwear are bought by chemical factories to be converted into candy.

Of course the Dobsons have a television set. But it is connected with the telephones as well as with the radio receiver, so that when Joe Dobson and a friend in a distant city talk over the telephone they also see each other. Businessmen have television conferences. Each man is surrounded by half a dozen television screens on which he sees those taking part in the discussion. Documents are held up for examination; samples of goods are displayed. In fact, Jane Dobson does much of her shopping by television. Department stores obligingly hold up for her inspection bolts of fabric or show her new styles of clothing.

There's lots more...

PS - oh yes, definitely written by a man!

Friday, April 26, 2013


The ceiling didn't fall down when they took away the props. (There's a beam to hold it up.)
 Lined with wood.

Architraves (I'd have called them wooden bits but Daughter 2 says they're architraves) to finish it off. Well, not finish. That's Mr Life's job. Can you see him, starting to work on the decorating? Go for it, dear.

Granddaughter's making progress too.

She smiles now. She does also have a penetrating yell from time to time.  "Aaah," observes Grandson on such occasions, glancing over at her with a tolerant smile. Babies, eh? Not like big boys. She shows so little interest in buses, tractors, cars, trains or traffic lights. Still, she'll learn.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Prestonpans Tapestry

Today I went with a friend to see the Prestonpans Tapestry. This isn't actually a tapestry, but an embroidery inspired by the Bayeux Tapestry - which is also actually embroidered. As Scottish people know, the Battle of Prestonpans happened in 1745 and was a victory for the Jacobite cause - the attempt by the descendants of the deposed James VII and II to regain the throne of Britain. James, who was a Stuart king, was supported by many Scots, particularly Highlanders, and his grandson Bonnie Prince Charlie was the centre of this part of the campaign. Defeat later came in the Battle of Culloden but the tapestry doesn't extend to that. The final panel shows the Highlanders marching down towards England, full of hope.

The tapestry came about as the idea of one local man, who later recruited an artist to design all 104 panels - 104 metres of drawings. These designs were then drawn on to linen and embroidered by 200 women and two men - mainly in Scotland but in some cases overseas. The idea was to celebrate the Jacobites but also to create tourist interest and local pride in the Prestonpans and East Lothian areas. This is of particular interest to my friend and me because in 1973 we started our teaching careers in Prestonpans. In those days, many of the pupils went on to jobs in the coal mines or in fishing. However, the mines closed years ago and fishing is greatly reduced in this area. (We used to find that some of the pupils didn't see the point in spelling and punctuation because their career plans were "gaun doon the pits" (going down the mines) or "off tae the fishing". We did somewhat see their point.)

The tapestry is touring the country and abroad, but today it was in Loretto, a very posh school just outside the city boundary, in this rather lovely building (where Bonnie Prince Charlie stayed at one point).

The room has a painted ceiling, which is traditional in 18th century Scottish houses.

The panels illustrate the progress of the campaign in chronological order. The top one above is the first, depicting 9th January 1744.

Look, Anna! Men in kilts! The embroidery is amazing - who would have thought that you could embroider tartan?

I particularly like these ships passing the Bass Rock.

Here is BPC at Duddingston, near where Daughter 1 and SIL 1 live. The Sheep Heid pub is still there, as is the house where BPC had a council of war.

This is Colonel Gardiner (an Englishman fighting for the other side - George II) dying under a tree. You can see a few other Englishmen in a poor state in the middle distance. The tree looks good, though.

The conquered Sir John Cope's carriage is pulled past Duddingston by sturdy Highlanders.

Highlanders in training for the next battle. More men in kilts.

It's all well worth seeing, should you find that it comes near you. I believe it's going to Paisley next and then Prestonpans and then Inverness and then Kingussie (all places in Scotland) - and then "somewhere in France" said the lady who sold me a book about the tapestry. I've just checked the website and it turns out that the "somewhere" is Bayeux. You might think this would be memorable.

After that, Derby (in England). Eventually they hope to raise enough money to give it a permanent home in Prestonpans.

On the way home, I popped in for a fix of the grandchildren. Grandson picked up his elephant (or to be strictly accurate, Granddaughter's elephant, but currently what's hers is his. Might is right).

Me: Can you say "elephant"?
Grandson [obligingly] : Hello, Phant.

Monday, April 22, 2013


Well, as I've said, I have a tendency to have Ideas. Not the theory of gravity or the cure for cancer, alas, but ideas which tend to involve poor old Mr Life in a bit of work. This time all he had to do was strip a wall and lift a carpet (yes, quite tiring, I know) and then Steve and George took over. Above is how our hallway looked yesterday...

... and this is how it looked this afternoon. I'd been thinking for a while how much better it would be... or at least, I thought it would be... if we made that silly little archway much bigger.

It is just a touch stressful to have people knocking a bit of your house down. I was sitting in the study - which is the door just to the left of the left-hand chap - and could hear their conversations. Things like "Ach, it's no as bad as what it looks." Hmm.

At one point, Steve the boss popped out and I heard George give several deep sighs. Oh dear, I thought, something terrible has happened to our house. I'm ashamed to say that I was relieved to find that he'd gashed himself with his chisel. I did then rush to get him a plaster. I'm not totally heartless.

Anyway, I'm assured that the upstairs won't collapse as long as those props remain in place. So that's all right. It can only get better. I hope. Just now we have a bit of a dust situation.

The cats Did Not Approve.

"If I ignore it," said Sirius, "then it's possible that it's not happening. I'll try that."

Saturday, April 20, 2013


What is there to say about the events in Boston except how awful for everyone there and how especially, terribly awful for those who lost loved ones? And thank goodness that the second chap has been caught. What must it be like to be him? And his mother?

And what is there to do about it except breathe in and out and go about one's life? In my case, friends and I went to have afternoon tea at Greywalls, a house designed in 1901 by Edwin Lutyens (and extended since then) with gardens laid out to a plan of Gertrude Jekyll. It's now run as a hotel and is really lovely: not too huge (one could imagine living there) with elegant but cosy rooms. How decadent we felt: jaunting about on a school day and being waited on by a nice young lady.

The tea was delicious but not particularly healthy. Since it wasn't particularly cheap either, we felt compelled to do it justice. Afterwards we were presented with the leftovers in four (there were four of us) cake boxes! Oh dear!

We had a little wander, which must have worked off - ooh - at least ten calories.

I must come back in the summer, when all the herbaceous borders will be at their best. Beyond the wall at the back, on Muirfield Golf Course, preparations were going on for the tournament next week.

We peered over. You can see the nice louring Scottish clouds. (That's pronounced to rhyme with cowering, by the way and it means dull, grumpy or in this case threatening to rain. It didn't, but no doubt by the time everyone arrives for the golf it'll be good and wet.)

There were nice vistas through gaps in hedges.

And jolly fluffy hens. I wanted one to take home. They were very friendly. They reminded me why I'm a vegetarian.

Outside the study door as I type, Mr Life is stripping wallpaper. This all stems from one of my Ideas (Mr Life just loves my Ideas) and the next stage is for chaps to come next week and knock down a bit of wall in the hall. Meanwhile I've been killing the lawn. For the past twenty-four years I've been regarding the moss in the lawn as pseudo-grass - it's green, after all - but this policy has resulted in the lawns being more moss than anything else. So I've put moss-killer down. I knew as I was doing it that it would mean that 90% of the lawn (the moss) would go black and die but somehow I did it anyway. The hope is that the lawn feed in the stuff I've just sprinkled on will stimulate the 10% of lawn that's still grass so that after I've scarified it all (not looking forward to that bit...) everything will spring up green and lush. You think?

Meanwhile it needs to get rained in. The sky is blue; the sun is shining... .

Thursday, April 18, 2013


Today Grandson and I went to the library. When I was a child, libraries were places with tall bookcases and stern librarians who told you to shush. Not now. It does have books but after looking at quite a few, Grandson got into the ball pool. (Ball pool???)

"What colour is that ball?" I enquired.

"Red," he told me. True.

This seemed to give him an idea and he immediately started handing me all the red balls. He didn't even stop to look at me and check I'd got them but just busily reached-handed-reached-handed-etc.

This is me trying to balance a lot of them on my knee while taking a photo of them. It wasn't easy. 

Eventually I had to admit defeat and put them back in the pool. He seemed to feel that his work was done and trotted off to a box of trains.

We had the place to ourselves, which seemed surprising.

My childhood library didn't have a Wendy house either.

He is such a sunny little soul.

The other night when Daughter 1 put him into his cot, he said, "Tuck tuck cosy bed bed." Awwww!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Never get into a stooshie

We were staying at Portmadog, which has a very pretty harbour. You can't really go wrong with boats, water and a bit of sunshine.

Daughter 2 was with us, along with Mr Life's cousin, who - we found out relatively recently - is interested in trains.

The countryside, though lovely, was still winter-coloured: brown rather than green.

On our first day we went up the line to Beddgelert which, it must be admitted, was somewhat rainy.

Our spirits were not dampened even though I think my umbrella may have seen better days.

This is Bodnant again. The gardens are spectacular. We've been before, but in autumn, when everything was blazing with red and yellow and orange. This time, spring was springing.

I liked these frilly hellebores.

Lower down the garden is a dell, with interesting slate formations and lots of rhododendrons and azaleas.

Doesn't colour do the soul good after a long winter?

She didn't fall in.

The meaning of yesterday's words, in case anyone is interested: stocious means drunk (we weren't); perjink means neat and tidy - sometimes (but not always) too neat and tidy to the point of fussiness (you may judge from the photos how perjink we were); drookit means drenched (see bus shelter picture); shoogle means shake-and-wobble (like an old narrow-gauge train); wappit means weary, the way you feel after a long journey or after flu.

Today's words - first, as used today by (English) Son-in-Law 1 today (he's picked up a bit of the lingo) stooshie. It's quite comical hearing him say this in his rather refined English accent but as he says, it would sound silly if he affected an Edinburgh one. "No need to get into a stooshie - Mummy's just about to feed you." I'm trying to think of a translation but a single word doesn't spring to mind: it means get worked up in an unnecessary fashion.

And another couple that arose today - not that they apply to my house at all, I would like to point out. There's stour or stoor - I would spell it stour but it's pronounced stoor: dust. The adjective is stoury. And then there's oose, which is that fluffy stuff that you find under furniture you haven't moved for a while - pronounced oooosssss.

Monday, April 15, 2013


We have been away in Wales.

On narrow gauge railway trains.

Such as this one.

To make the weekend slightly less train-heavy, we went to Bodnant Gardens this morning.

They were lovely. To my mind, even more lovely than trains. But it's a matter of taste.

On re-reading my previous post, I feel compelled (because I am a pedant) to point out that though "Go lights" may actually sound like a sentence (with the imperative verb "Go"), it actually isn't because "Go" is an adjective describing the lights. Just in case anyone thought I didn't know what a sentence is.

I do realise that no one thought about it for even an instant apart, possibly, from Fran.

I noticed us using various Scottish words over the last few days and jotted them down for your edification: stocious, perjink, drookit and shoogled. ( None of us was stocious or particularly perjink. We did get a bit drookit at one point. The trains shoogled. I trust that makes everything clear.)

Now I must go and do some piano practice because I didn't take the piano with us so couldn't do any while we were away. I feel a bit wappit, though.