A few weeks ago, I discovered my son had grown one very long thumbnail. I found him bent over, examining, and stroking it.“What in the name of God!” I shrieked.He sat on his hands before I could reach for it. I waited patiently on his explanation. Bracing myself for the latest invention. A nose picker I thought.“It’s just in case. “He piped up. “In case, I get locked, or stuck in a room, and I can’t get out. This will help me. “Nature and Nurture appeared over his shoulders. “He has it, inheritably” said Nature. “Excuse me,” said Nurture. “I do believe she is making him.”I have always thought that my poor mental health was something that happened due to external factors. Things that I did not process or address. Events that I attempted to delete. My son has my nature, and with the fingernail theory reveal, I began to worry.A week later, I spent time with my aunt. She has suffered with mental health problems on and off, all of her life. In her 60s now, she can still remember her 6-year-old self, and “the feeling”. Unsure how to put into words how she felt she simply said she felt sick. In the late 50s, there was no clear definition or recognition of mental health issues. Asylums were commonplace, as was electro – convulsive therapy. These institutions housed thousands together, regardless of gender, age, or individual needs. Admittance could result in a life sentence. The birth of the NHS in the previous decade had kept these institutions separate. It was not until 1961 that Enoch Powell started to lead the way to Care in the Community. Recognising these institutions as the prisons, they were. When my aunt describes that first memory, she vanishes from my living room. Frozen in terror and time, truly believing that she is going to die. On the phone to my mother a few days later, she remembered her sisters “feeling” well. Planned days out cancelled. Her sister hiding under the bed, terrified she was about to die, my Nana, pleading with her to come out. Everyone has a different explanation of the feeling. For my aunt it is black and stands behind her. My feeling starts far off behind my left shoulder. Like an imaginary friend, creeping closer and closer. To think of this on a 6 year old, the terror and the inability to put that into words is terrifying. “Ma Donnelly was the same”, said my mum down the phone.“Planning nights out, getting there, that feeling coming over her, and away up the road”.“We all knew her as “bad with her nerves”.For not the first time I wished I could have met my great grandmother. Did something happen to her for this feeling to emerge? Or was it perhaps the uncertain time she lived in, bookmarked by two wars? Was it always there? A pre – determined matter of genetics?Did she have the feeling?Did she grow one long thumbnail?Yesterday we went swimming. As my son prepared for his 200th cannonball launch, he discovered the carefully curated thumbnail had broken off. He screeched from his launching position, informing me of the most recent development. I froze and waited to see his reaction.“Oh well”, he shrugged, and dived into the pool. The water quiet for a second before his dark wild hair reappears. Happiness framing his face, and soothing my sou
Bedtime with my children is a lengthy process. A million teddies in just the right place. Ice to sook and blankets just so. Another million songs and a story. Sometimes an old family funny, sometimes made up by Mama.The Bedtime Story “Guys, have you ever heard of a Mada?” I ask my children. “A Mada” they echo. Synchronised eyebrows up in the air. Quavers paused mid crunch.“Nope”, they chorus.Well the Mada is a very rare and unique creature. Four eyes open wide, ready to drink in another story. Ten fingers wrap around the edge of their covers. Quavers floating to the floor.The Mada is big. With an even bigger head. So big that he can never ever wear a hat. The Mada does not speak much choosing instead to keep all his thoughts inside that large head. The Mada has a trumpet that lives in his bum! It toots often, and the Mada will ALWAYS verbally acknowledge this. Even if he is on his own, he will confide to thin air “Ive farted”.Laughter commences as I turn off the lights.The Mada is not a hibernating creature, but he does tend to stock up. Meals far apart and lots of. The Mada’s diet mainly consists of pork chops, chips, assorted veg, and brown sauce.Never leave your Mars bar alone with the Mada; he will eat it all in one gulp!“Mars bars are my FAVOURITE”, comes a confession from a bed. A Mada has no teeth. He wears special teeth that help him bite. To be honest, he gets a bit embarrassed about this. Expect when he is with his pack and all his cubs. Then he takes them out and makes funny faces to make them all laugh.The Mada likes his own habitat. He feels at peace within this environment. He has a strong bond with his mate and it is rare to see one without the other. The Mada is a creature who gives. He is largely behind the scenes, orchestrating and silently doing. He gives his time, his vehicle, and his practical help. This is how the Mada displays love and affection. The Mada has a great ability to adapt to suit the needs of his tribe. He can become nocturnal and work all night if his mate and cubs need this. He can also change form.“Wit! “ Shrieks my son. “Like a shapeshifter”.“Yip” I confirm. As the Mada ages, he transforms into a….“PAPA.”Shrieks of delight rise up in the darkness.“We know PAPA” they shout. My daughter reaches round into her “I am going to sleep now” pose. Her eyes start to close as she mutters, “I can’t believe Ive met a Mada.”“You are so lucky,” I whisper to her sleeping head.To have met a PAPA.Ma Da.Happy 60th Birthday Da, you truly are one of a kind xx
The chaos of life was paused this morning.
An unexpected delight of watching my children, within the school playground, and unaware of my being there. A pre 9am meeting with teacher, allowing me to observe from a distance;
Them being them without me.
My son and his co-conspirator deep in conversation at a railing. His right hand picking away at an icicle, always the fidget. My daughter’s woolly hat, offset with running wild and now a tipsy tea cosy. She carries her satchel with the assuredness of the business woman she is. No one aware of its true contents; a pair of pants and a packet of hula hoops.
I watch the confidence in both of them.
Socialising without my leg to hide behind.
No need for my hand.
I want to go over and cover her ears from the cold. Tell him to get his hands out of his sleeves he is not an orangutan.
I resist as the bell rings, and they fall into line with their class mates. A quick look for each other and their lunch boxes. “I made that lunch box!” I want to shout. Tuna sandwiches. No crusts. One triangles, the other “long squares”.
Of course, they already know this. Contentedness shines out of them. The security of their sandwiches, and knowing how loved they are.
The cold air turning their breath into smoke signals, as they begin to file into school. The crisp winter morning framing the scene in white.
They are safe. Safe inside their snow globe.
I begin my retreat. To start my day, without them.
My son WAS obsessed with Skylanders.
For his birthday last month, I visited every gaming shop in Glasgow. Before entering each shop, I practiced what to say. Ready for any questions, Imaginators, Skylanders? I learned all the characters names, screen shot the portals, and pleaded with bored store attendants.
Apart from yelping with pain, every time I bend down to pick a toy up, it is the oldest I have felt in a very long time. My son can work the TV, the computer, the iPad, the Nintendo Switch, better than me. He rolls his eyes at me daily suggesting I change the HDMI. Check the WIFI. Change the batteries. Find the charger. On Christmas day, I spent four hours building a Nintendo Labo. A giant cardboard robot, strapped to his back that projected him as a robot on to the TV.
It is exhausting.
He has full conversations with Alexa and Suri. Google is a word used every day. Like the dictionary in the school library, Google is his go to. She has all the answers his bewildered Mama does not.
I hate the bitch.
My mind is very rarely at rest. Even when I am sitting still, my brain rolls round like a little determined hamster on a wheel. The hamster loves a google. If I happen to glance at my last Google searches in a day, I am certain I have finally lost my sleep-deprived mind.
What does it mean when my four year old does not pee for 24 hours?
Who is the evolved form of Pikachu?
How to get to Vietnam cheap.
What does a raised spot on my right inner thigh indicate?
What age will I be when my child is 35.
And so on.
After trawling every shop, I hit the jackpot with kind donations and a chance visit to Cash Converters. We arrived at his birthday dinner with fistfuls of the things. All lined up and introduced to the rest of the family. Alongside the hamster in my head, I have now filed an encyclopaedia of Skylanders. I am fluent.
There I thought. Peace.
Two days later and my son became the proud owner of two magnets. Suri and Google were called upon, and off I went again.
How do magnets work?
If my son were to ingest a magnet what would happen?
Like a modern day marble, they are in his hands constantly. Click. Click .Click.
“Papa! Stop the car, I have dropped a magnet”
“Mamma my magnets are inside the bed covers. Not the duvet, the actual sheet.”
Everything is actual.
In I go. Searching for the buggars. When I find them a feeling of achievement washes over me. I can just make out the silhouette of my children cheering and applauding.
The magnets came with us to see the new Lego movie. The evil villain being a future self of the central character. Time travel and the temporal paradox are this week’s focus.
My son and his cousins all talk in a strange language too.
“Hey dude you are such a doof nugget. Actual.”
I start to Google some supposed chicken nugget hybrid.
Hashtag this. Hashtag that. Lack is the word of the moment. “Mamma, you are so LACK.” With a big L finger shoved in my face.
Emoji’s? Another mind field. Up until recently I though the folded hands, meant praying, or one hopes. NO mama its thank you.
My sister also recently advised me that the water drops does not mean sweating, but in fact male bodily fluids.
Gym session done. WATERDROPS
Cleaning day done. WATERDROPS
I often wonder if my own mother felt the same, but I cannot see how.
The complexities of a Polly Pocket?
The hidden key in my Clark’s school shoe?
Castles made up of mountains of Nancy Drew books.
It all seems so much simpler.
I have a broken butterfly that lives inside my head
It has the most beautiful wings, but it has no back!
As I grow and learn the wings flutter and dance,
Yet they will not talk to one and other,
Which can make me mad!
They make it hard for me to walk,
So hard for me to skip!
I am only four you know,
But my determination is my thread.
My Mummy and Daddy hold the needle,
As I sew them piece by piece,
In any way I can.
My walking frame,
And lots of games.
My big brother by my side.
His butterfly is strong,
So he helps me stitch.
We all have different butterflies,
Living in our head.
I have a patchwork butterfly,
I made all by myself,
Can you see it fly!
Dear Mummy to Be,
Now this is a hugely personal part of your day. You and your beloved do not mention it or acknowledge it. A 5-minute absence a whiff of roses and then normal service resumed. That will change forever. From the very first day when you have been stitched up and sent on your merry deluded way. The midwife will advise the first poo can be difficult. I know! I changed the green nappy! 2 days later and you will be weeping on the loo, wishing for a new ass, and the midwife to come and hold your hand. As your family grows and you have one loo, shiting becomes a topic of huge importance. Screaming up the stairs to your husband who has been in the loo for 15 minutes. Your husband screaming back something about basic human rights. Poo diaries. When did she last poo? The entire family in the toilet singing poo songs and cheering “PLOPS”. Standing in a restaurant clutching every item of your son’s clothes as he MUST poo completely naked. Your husband giving lessons on how to save the environment by using a centimetre of toilet roll. You having to deal with the wee fingers thrust in your face covered in poo. When daddy goes out, making the kids howl by fashioning a headdress with an entire toilet roll. Trust me away to the loo and enjoy. Check your phone, examine your cuticles, have a wee stretch.
The big one that everyone keeps telling you. Sleep while you can! No one really prepares you. Heavily pregnant you struggle to sleep comfortably through the night. You sit and watch SATC and eat a whole box of after eights, and think, “Hey I’m up through the night and it’s OK!” The next day you sit on the sofa with another box of after eights, drifting into unconsciousness, the chocolates shored on your belly. You cannot know, but you will. At first, you can follow the advice and sleep when baby does. Lovely. 7 years and two kids later you will be a sleep deprivation case study. Your husband will go on and on about the kids sleeping in their own bed. You will be incredulous, wishing to lie down anywhere and have a wee nap. You will no longer go to sleep and then simply awake. There will be a constant flow of nighttime traffic. Visitors to your bed, you visiting other beds. Lying on the floor beside beds covered in a jacket. Searching under beds for teddies, propping up pillows, and administering Calpol in the dark. Getting up at 4am and staring at Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Dancing with Dick Van Dick at 5am. Trust me away for a wee nap.
Look, there I am strolling casually through Sainsbury’s. My husband and I casually perusing the fish counter goodies. Deciding on hake, we stroll on to the continental meat counter. I have decided a good Parma ham will complement the fish perfectly. I send my husband off in search of some capers and spinach. We rendezvous at the cash desk with our finds, and arms full of wine. Later we open this to breathe as we stand in the kitchen and chat about our day, crisping the skin to perfection, watching the butter melt and wilt the spinach. An extract from the history books. Nowadays Sainsbury’s is day light robbery. Aldi every Sunday. This I enjoy. Morrison’s through the week for a top up shop? Hell on toast. The main issue is the café. They can smell it as soon as they enter. They do not know that they can smell it, but their wee bellies do. As we pack stuff in to the trolley, my daughter reaches in and tears open a packet of ham. My son arrange hula-hoops on his fingers and toes. My husband appears clutching a bouquet of cucumbers. The kids love them, and he truly believes they hold magical powers. They are silent in their presence. Two wee handies reach up for a stem each. Silence. We seize the opportunity and participate in Supermarket Sweep. We arrive at the checkout 5 minutes later. The kids covered in the shopping each holding out a wee green stump to be scanned. I apologise repeatedly as I hand over the half-eaten shopping. We argue about my frivolous behaviour in over estimating the amount of reusable bags we need. Where are the kids! Two wee heads peek up from the café where they have seated themselves, ready for their next course. I abandon my task and rush to order for them, leaving him to pay, and mutter about my lack of money sense. Trust me; go for a solo shop.
At the moment, you can choose whom you afford this to. Whom you let in, whom you care for and what you are truly passionate about. Enjoy this power. With your new bundle, you are volunteering your heart out of your chest. Your poor heart does not know. The love that you will feel for these wee people will tear him right out of there. A permanent boom box on your shoulder. When they are new-borns and you carry them around like a glass egg. When they take their first steps. When you hold their hand in a hospital bed, and they stare at you as their axis. When you stand at the school gate and they whisper “tell me you love me and then walk away, I’m fine”. You retreat, and keep your promise. Your heart on a battered string trailing behind you. When you observe your brother’s quiet nature in your son, and your sister’s theatrics in your daughter. You love your siblings more as a result. Love stretches out of you, your children washing away any barriers or control. The beating love that you feel becomes your metronome. Exhausted and needing the loo, you will not have time to crisp the skin, to wilt the spinach. But, trust me;
What you will have is a masterpiece.
As a new mother, soft play quickly became part of my social calander. I would meet up with a friend and her baby and lounge amongst our new cushioned horizons, both stifling yawns and discussing our changing nipples. The topic of conversation was always around the kids and we were always naively stationary. I yearn for those days of sitting amongst soft dolphins and coloured balls. Blissfully ignorant of what lay ahead. Even when my son started to walk, I had an easy time in soft play land. Cautious by nature, or due to his crazy mother, he has never been one to vault or run head first at any obstacles. He hid behind my leg, looked for my support to guide him up to this new found vertical land of soft play.
This changed when I was expecting my daughter. Looking like a weeble from around twenty weeks, I truly struggled to walk without toppling over. My arse, hips, and legs ignored the fact I was pregnant. Staying non-existent, small and skinny. The result being that I bobbed around, bouncing off walls, and required general assistance to stand up right. I refused to let this stop me going to soft play. I dragged myself up the plastic steps and teetered across nets in the sky. My son now 2 would assist me up, turning back often to ask if I was OK. I spent the majority of these visits in tears. Whispering to my son that nothing would change when the new baby arrived. “You will always be my baby”, I often wailed into a spongy floor. My daughter came along and sure enough, we still made the journey. With my daughter on one hip and my son by the hand, we would begin the long hike up. My son now able to clamber up, leading the way. I took frequent breaks to realign my hips, and reassure my daughter. On these occasions, I would push my face through the string bars and stare at the scene below. “Look at all those adults!” I used to marvel. Sitting enjoying a latte, sharing nachos, someone was even reading a book, A BOOK! When could I sit down there and gab? What age would my children be? The true answer, I knew, was never. Whenever the tannoy announced “would the parent or guardian…” I was already down on bended knee peering at my children, making sure they were in fact, MY CHILDREN. “You are here!” I would cry, into their confused little faces.
The whole affair is a terrifying emotional roller coaster, and I can truly say I hate every minute of it, with it typically costing me about fifty quid a visit. My kids of course love it, so off we go every other week. My husband finds the whole situation ludicrous. Having spent a childhood running along golden sands and chilling with sea creatures, he looks up at the soft play metropolis in disbelief. We have had a few attempts of sitting on a sofa with a latte and small talk. Letting our children enjoy some “independent play”. This usually lasts around three minutes before we abandon our pretend nonchalance and sprint to find our children, splitting up and shrieking out to one and other when we locate an offspring.
The thing that baffles me most in this marshmallow hell is the behaviour of the other adults within the soft play structure. The kids run wild, farting freely, offering snotters as currency, and scream out with delight at everything, and nothing at all. When there are adults within the population the dynamic changes. Kids are reminded to, “Let the wee boy go first”. I have seen grown adults nudge other children out of the way to let their child go first on the plastic death slide. I have also witnessed adults veer their children away from children of a different ethnic origin. Society seeps in and it makes me weary. I often like to gaze from my penthouse in the soft play and think imagine if us adults had a soft play. Could we all run around, let go of our inhibitions and play. Or would we all walk around like hamsters at a trance party. Rotating endlessly in our soft environment. Excusing ourselves when we cut across a passer-by. Holding a cushioned door open for the person behind us. Smiling demurely to an elder. Like an apartment block sliced down the middle and opened to reveal the well-behaved inhabitants inside.
An Eric MacMillan opened the first primitive soft play in 1976 at Sea World in San Diego. With Chuck e Cheese quickly cashing in on the idea, MacMillan is known as the “founder of soft play”. Interestingly his idea for this new play area was based on a developing theory that ball pits were an ideal therapy for physically disabled children. Where is this fantastic kernel of thought in today’s soft play? It cannot be a question of finance. If all we inhabitants are parting with fifty quid, there must be a big pot of gold at the end of someone’s rainbow.
Eric was also passionate about emphasising how children do not differentiate between play and learning. At the time of soft plays conception, MacMillan was quoted as saying,
“If adults played more, there would be far less fear and more understanding, because play is an open and honest exchange.”
Well that sold it to me.
The next time I am at soft play, I will invite all the children to sit in the café area, and demand all the adults go play. I would let you know how it goes, but you see, I have just started a really good book….
The sun is here to visit, and it has been marvellous. Not here to stay we all know this instinctively and make the very most of it. People saunter around the streets semi naked, BBQs are sold out across the country. My own mother refuses to come in doors. Stationed in her vintage deckchair outside, she coories into her pug and basks in it. Occasionally she will utter, “THIS is the life”. That apart she is lost to us.
In the absence of the sunshine, we become accustomed to being frozen. Layers and tea are my best friends. The Greek is unaffected by the weather. He saunters about semi naked all year round. Still, with the sun having his hat on, he is even chirpier than normal. He hums away to himself in the garden at 6.30am whilst hanging the washing out. He chats to Woody and Jessie (the wood pigeons) and checks the progress of his greenhouse. He shouts up to me with glee that his radishes “are out”! I stand in the doorway, with my tea, and worry aloud “is there a breeze”? My enquiry is lost in the rabble that emerges from behind me. My two kids tumbling over their wilkies. Cilla (the puppy) bringing up the rear with a sun hat on and whistling, “Zip be dee doo dah”. “It’s to be a SCORCHER the day”, she informs me. And out I go.
My favourite past time, along with reading, is to observe. Not one of life’s doers, I work behind the scenes in life. The anonymous cook who takes pleasure in watching the central characters munch. The Greek is not an observer, but very much a participant. At any house party, he is famous. I take on the title of the Greek’s Mrs’. When I arrive at social occasions, people always look behind me “WHERE is he”! Over by the Margaritas is my usual response. As their eyes, locate him he waves and pirouettes in time to the blaring Whitney Houston song.
The sunshine is ideal for the observer. First, sun glasses on. Second, plant arse in the background. Third, observe. The face armour akin to a “do not disturb” sign, it is most peaceful. My favourite subjects to observe are children. My kids have a million toys. Rocking horses, pottery wheels, a 4ft batman, iPad, switches, digital cameras, to name but a few. There are many viewpoints these days about the pros and cons of this. I do not feel it realistic to deny my children the chance to engage in the trends of their generation. I indulge this and become an expert in whatever the current obsession is. Presently I am fluent in Lego dimensions, peppa pig, and all the you tube vloggers.
I also always encourage them to play outdoors. With the current weather, I do not have to ask, they are “out back” right away and it is here that the fireworks of their imaginations put on the most wonderful show. Reality is not welcome at these events, only the incredible and unimaginable. Role-play is always a big feature. When my nephews visit, my daughter is immediately demoted in the ranks. Unsure of her new role she stomps around in the background, shouting, “that’s me away to work”, and “has anyone seen ma glasses”. In these events, they do not reach for their expensive toys but anything else they can get their hands on. Empty beer boxes become communication stations, a series of twigs a tightrope, the garden hose a boa constrictor. At a recent sleepover, my eldest nephew was a sceptic at first. “But, that’s just a garden hose!” Said he. Two hours later and he was running around naked with the rest of his teammates. Hot from the desert he had found himself in, but determined to defeat the venomous villain. My daughter shrieks with delight as she encircles the edge of the desert. Occasionally picking up long weeds and draping them over her shoulder, “scarfs done” she shouts. My son has become his sister’s biggest critic and screams, “you can’t have a scarf in the desert!” Whilst my eldest nephew pipes up, “You can when it starts to SNOW!” Polystyrene goes everywhere and I feel sorry for my neighbours. They have joined the strange trend of hoovering the grass as soon as the sun appears, and are missing this amazing weather phenomenon!
As a child I can remember playing outdoors frequently, and not just in the back garden. My son begs me to tell his visiting cousins about these “olden days”. They listen enraptured to a story where you went out to play for the summer. Out with your mother’s sight, gone independently for hours. Kirby, red rover, chap the door and run away. Spending hours practising my skipping before screaming, “I call in my sister, is she in?” My sister always ready to excel screaming back, “yes she is! Does she like coffee, does she like tea…” Free spirits until our mum shouted down “come in before the bogey man gets ye”. Not a long time ago but a time that will most definitely be lost forever. Technology has played a huge part in this. My son will soon be asking for a mobile phone. He will never know the joy of your pals from across the street chapping the door and asking “ye coming oot to play”. They will text each other, whats app one and other, no tin cans on a string.
The traditional Glasgow school games are an important part of the history of our youth. The birth child of poverty and imagination they have a casual literature all of their own. Rhymes for who was “het”, for playing ropes, for playing balls. They cost nothing and kept the weans occupied for hours. My mother and aunt are both in their 60’s now, but toss them a ball and they are young sisters again, immediately resuming a synchronised routine paused decades before: “My girls a corker she’s a New Yorker, I’d give just anything to keep her in style. She’s got a pair of legs just like two boiled eggs…,” they chant.
Now more than ever it is a harder sell to get the kids outdoors. The draw of the TV, Netflix, the PC, and IPad is a strong force. Pass times are literally at our children’s fingertips. There is a growing trend in the UK towards outdoor nurseries. The ethos being that the outdoors is the best classroom. Outdoor play helps develop problem solving, social relations, balance and coordination. It also promotes resilience and calculated risk taking. Children on a computer all day are essentially engaging in solitary play. The health implications are already evident with the continued rise in childhood obesity. Playing outdoors is a great form of physical exercise, it also exposes our children to bacteria, helping to build their immune systems.
The games and trends of our children’s world will always continue to evolve and change. However, their natural landscape will be a consistent state of play. An eternal mystery of textures and challenges. A canvas for them to create their own apps. To become key characters in their own video game platform. To change the channel they see in front of them by a shared imagining.
Happy Sunday xx
Something is going on “doon the barras”.
When we visited last week for a “dauner” roon, there was a lot of building work going on. In amongst the many tourists who stop to take pictures of the old buildings, where men working hard, cursing the strange phenomenon of the sun, and pulling up old rickety kerbs. We were on our way to St Luke’s, a former church, which is now home to a restaurant and arts venue. Not serving food until 12 and my son claiming his usual starvation we relocated to a wee pub across the road, Van Winkles. Another lovely spot with a nice menu and a beer garden at the back.
A quick google later and I learned that the area is undergoing massive change. The Calton Barras Action Plan seeks to regenerate the market and the surrounding areas. Historically the Barras is an important thread in the fabric of our dear Glasgow. In the interwar years, a young mother of nine set up a market place to allow traders to sell their wares on the back of their “Barras”. A densely populated area at the time, people flocked here. The young entrepreneur subsequently opened the Barrowland Ballroom. A dance hall and now a world-renowned music venue. Whilst the Barrowland venue has sustained a booming trade, the market and surrounding are has lost its lustre and crowds in recent years. Something that the CBAP project aims to turn on its head, and allow this historical area to shine once more.
The centrepiece of this regeneration is A’Challtainn bar and restaurant. Meaning Calton in Gaelic, it is clutching our Scottish history in one hand whilst doing the Highland fling through our current culinary scene. We visited on a Saturday evening, and it was mobbed. There are a good number of fish restaurants in Glasgow these days. Gandolfi fish is definitely worth a wee swim too. I am not a fan of the Crabshakk, with a thinly sliced seating arrangement, designed to maximise bums on seats, the proximity to other dinners causes the Greek to whisper his week across to me. There is no space for my ear trumpet, so I just nod along and swig my wine. The food is lovely but presented all wrong. Seafood and shellfish do not need pompous ceremony to announce their arrival. They merely have to lie on the plate; holding up this season’s must have lemon. “Look at me”, they shout, “aren’t weeeeee so delicious”. Nor do the oysters need to arrive on a silver tray on stilts, with ice cascading down the plate. These theatrics have little to do with the food or the talent of the chef. The diner would be aswell standing up and putting a sign around his neck reading: “IVE ORDERED THE OYSTERS NOW. LOOK AT ME”
In Spain, the seafood is thrown down on your table with all the magnificent crustaceans cosying in with one another. On a trip to A Coruna years ago, my good friend and I would head out every evening sit our arses down and wait for the inevitable. “Seafood please”. Plomp. Spider crab chilling out with some langoustines. Mussels hugging the side of the silver buffet platter, wee clams cooried in. One chilled bottle of wine, two sets of crab crackers and pickers and that was our evening. Talking shite largely, but really savouring each other’s company and our ultimate fidget food. I thought of that holiday when eating in A’Challtainn. They have a shellfish counter section on their menu. The Greek’s oysters arrived with no ceremony, just their wonderful selves, straight off the flight from Barra and ready to accept their fate. I knew why I was there. My mother had been the week before and each evening on our nightly phone call she had commented “ohhh those mussels”. I was already decided in my choice. Whilst the Greek studied the menu, I was a strong confident woman. “It’s the mussels for me”, I confirmed.
This restaurant appreciates and respects the sea. I think its surroundings are a huge draw, but the quality of the produce is flawless. Some of the best mussels I have tasted, the Greek sat with his eyes closed for several minutes after those oysters. Clutching the tabasco and I suspect meditating. The last time we visited was in October last year. The squid was sensational. One of my pet hates in a restaurant are those flaccid fried rings of nothing that are called “Calamaris”. They are clearly a distant relative of a Johnny onion ring and nothing to do with the creature in question. Only in Greece and now A’Challtainn have I seen the real thing. A big ugly looking thing that again is confident in his own fabulousness. He was not on the menu this visit. Why? He ain’t in season.
There is also a section of starters and mains that air on the convoluted side, but have been skilfully paired with thoughtful and supportive accompaniments to the stars of the show.
A’Challtainn is not without its teething problems. There were many floor staff on the ground, but it seemed to be missing a head to this octopus. We had to ask for our drinks 15 minutes after ordering. The young girl who served us was clearly very busy and stressed. She described the evening’s special as a South American crab claw and squat lobster pot. What actually arrived was a pot brimming with the flavours of South East Asia. Delicious, but not what we ordered. We also had to prompt for the safe landing of the oysters from the cold counter. A person overseeing this busy evening of trade seemed to be missing.
That aside, we will be back. Crab crackers in hand. Ready for some oyster meditation, with the eternal hope that chipirones will be found in Scottish waters. Hopefully greeted by the presently AWOL head of the octopus.
Happy Sunday xx
My son is in primary one, and loving life. Part of his daily reports now includes who fancies whom. Who has a boyfriend, who kissed in the canteen? The same little girl’s name crops up often in his tales and he does not like this to be observed. Another rite of passage, the primary school crush. My chosen one was Ryan. I have grainy VHS footage of myself behaving unlike a 6 year old should when participating in “The farmer wants a wife”. Serenading and well, gyrating are how it can only be described. Poor Ryan shuffles from side to side, not in time to the music, and generally looking uncomfortable. Then it happened. One day an invite to kiss. “Well ok” I told the messenger. An eternal geek, this instantly raised my status in the class. Someone commented to me “I can’t believe you are going to nip Ryan”. I smiled and confirmed this. Inside I was a pinball machine. “Nip, NIP?” What the hell does that entail? I had agreed to “get off” with someone, never NIP. Did this involve nakedness, babies? Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, what have you done. I imagined the horror on my mother’s face as she registered this new state of affairs at the school gates. I would be unable to meet her eye as I stood there with a newly birthed baby and a life partner. “That’s me NIPPED”. I would confirm. Plus nipping sounded sore. Nipping made my Ryan an amorous lobster in my mind, approaching and snipping at my skirt tails. Confused I ran to the protective cove of my nana’s house and hid behind my baked potato and episode of Home and Away. Ryan never offered his lobster claw out to me again. Understandably.
My son loves this story and does a great lobster impersonation. He always states somewhere along the line that it would never have worked anyway as you were meant for dadda. I smile and confirm this. He states it with such certainty, like identifying a colour or a shape, because that is what we have taught him. As parents whatever we decide to teach our children, becomes fact to them. We are their encyclopaedia, their fountain of knowledge. Being hopeless romantics, we have inadvertently taught our children this outlook. Through us, they will believe in fate, destiny, and soulmates. Have we made the right decision? Is there a right decision? My son also asks about religion constantly. We are not religious and have made the conscious decision to tell him we do not believe there is a man in the sky who is responsible for all. I tell him that we do not agree with the exclusions that come with this way of life. We tell him, marry someone only if you want to. Be with whomever you love, whether it is a woman, a man, or a really good cheese. We teach them about spirituality and our belief in the existence of the soul.
My Granpa Paddy tossed a coin with his best pal to approach my nana. If it had come up heads, would his pal be my Granpa? I do not think so. An East Asian proverb talks of the red string of fate. An invisible string that connects us to others. A predesigned and perfect path, which will allow us a labyrinth of encounters and shared stories. I teach this idea to my own children. A scarlet tapestry whose threads are given to us when we are born but which we knit ourselves. These strings may become tangled or stretched but never broken. When the Greek arrived on my Café floor, gift wrapped in the finest red string I was unsurprised. I have spoken many times about the differences between us. We have very different personalities. On a train journey, I sit with my nose in a book. He roams the carriages like the mayor of Glasgow. Offering stories and gin and tonics to his fellow passengers. I see a lot of my own nature in my son, and as he grows older and more aware, I can see him observe his father’s extroversion. I can feel his discomfort in this action, but I can also see pride and awe in his big brown eyes. My daughter swings from his back, the most adorable koala. She shares his nature, and welcomes the admirers, thrilling the rows of bystanders with her pigeon Greek and bigger brown eyes. Despite this difference, we share the same outlook to life; we can talk to each other across the carriage without opening our mouths.
When we stumble off the train together, I trip over the red thread that connects the four of us. My Granpa sways up ahead on the platform. Clutching his lucky coin and cursing the red string. I wave to my 17-year-old father on the opposite platform. I watch him dust the flour off his hands from the bakery. Breathing in and out quietly. Sooking in fresh air, exhaling confidence, preparing to ask the new start on a date. When he yanks the red thread, my mother spins towards him, her red hair catching the light, and illuminating the sky. My son looks up and shrieks “hey, look that big dude God has put the lights on!” Everyone laughs at his joke as I stop to knit myself some new worry lines on my forehead. Am I doing this right? What will the other passengers think at this blasphemy? Then again, they most likely did not hear. They are busying laying petals for the Greek to walk on, fighting about who gets to meet him first for a pint. As he meets my eye, he knows its home time. My Nana reaches out and stops me fidgeting with the red string around my finger. “Move yer arse and away up the road wee barra,” She whispers into my ear.
Who knows if we are doing it all right? The world today is such a blinding glitter ball of opinions and views. Maybe it does not matter that we are teaching them what is right, but that which we truly believe.
Happy Wednesday xx