The most inspirational woman I ever knew

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It is 25 years today since my Gran died.

Of all the women I have known, she has been the one who influenced me more than anyone else I know.

My Gran was born and brought up in Whitehills in Aberdeenshire.   The second oldest daughter of a large family.

She was a talented and clever woman, who wanted to be a teacher.   Her own teachers asked her father to allow her to train as one but he refused and sent her into service to work for a local landowner.

During this time she met George Laing, my grandfather.   George and his older brother traveled Scotland working on various farms.  Their family had emigrated to Canada but George as his brother had refused to board the ship.   The ship sailed without them and none of them every saw their family again.

After being banned from seeing George by her father, my Gran ran away.   She spent a year in Glasgow under the care of The Salvation Army.   We are not sure why, this was a period my Gran wouldn’t talk about, but we believe that perhaps there was a baby involved.  We will probably never know but every year my Gran insisted on giving a large donation to the Salvation Army.

Eventually my Gran and George married, her family disowning her, but the two of them took on Co-operative farms and although George was the named leaseholder, it was widely known my Gran was the brains and inspiration behind the pair of them.

Eventually my Uncle Davy was born and then my Mum.   Times were not easy, there was no family to help but they struggled on and made success of the farms they were put in charge of.

When my Mum was five years old there was a tragic accident.    My Grandfather had been working in a byre with a bull when the bull made a charge for the gate.    According to onlookers there were only 2 options for my Grandfather.   The first being to let the bull run out of the gate into an area where my Uncle Davy was playing or to slam the gate shut knowing he would be crushed by the bull.    My Grandfather chose the latter.   Saving his son, but being crushed to death by the charging bull.

The Co-operative farms then did something quite exceptional.  They made my Gran in charge of the farm, a very unusual thing to do in those days, resulting in my Gran being the first woman in Scotland to be put in charge of a Co-operative farm.

During the war my Gran was given Italian POW’s to work on the farm, along with rations to feed them.   The rations disgusted my Gran and she refused to feed “rubbish” to her workers.   Everyday she cooked breakfast and lunch for up to 30 men and gave the rations she had been given to the POW”s to take back to camp for their supper!

None of the prisoners ever tried to escape and when the war was over and for many years (including after she died) Christmas Cards used to arrive at her old farmhouse.  Sadly these have now all stopped.

My Gran continued to work the farm and raise her two children on her own, but eventually she did remarry to a Jimmy Macauley from South Uist.   His first language was Gaelic and he was a quiet, gentle soul with a huge heart.   He was a perfect step father to my Mum and my uncle and I remember his kindness and gentleness when I was a child.   He was adored by everyone and was happy to play second fiddle to my Gran!

The earliest memory I have of my Gran is walking into a byre to see her with a calf under each arm, trying to teach them to drink from a bucket.   For those who do not know about Dairy farms, the calf is taken away from it’s mother very soon after birth and have to be taught to drink milk from a bucket.    The amazing thing now is realising how strong calves are .. and how strong my Gran must have been to have one under each arm!

Jimmy MacAuley also died on the farm.   He died suddenly of a brain haemorrhage whilst milking cows. Soon after this my Gran decided to retire but couldn’t settle into village life so eventually moved in with my family.   She was a true Matriarch, ruling the family with her thoughts, her humour and her threats!     I was never allowed to eat a take away Chinese meal in the house as she was convinced that noodles were “rats tails”  (I kid you not!).

Eventually my Gran’s body began to let her down.  She had two strokes which effected her body badly.  Her mind was as clear as a bell and she hated being a patient.

I was living in Croydon at this time and was summoned home by my Mum to say my goodbyes to my Gran in hospital.

The day I walked into the ward is a day I will never forget.  I actually walked past my Gran, I didn’t recognise her.    It was her voice I heard and I realised that the strong, buxom woman, who always wore a pinny and headscarf,  I had known all my life had been replaced by a frail, curly haired old woman … but when you looked closely you could still see the glint of mischief in her eyes.

I spent an hour or so with her, holding her hand and laughing about my life and how I was a bit of a rebel, just like her.   It was a hard conversation, I knew she was saying goodbye to me and after I had to let my Mum and Dad into the ward to visit her, I knew I would never see her alive again.

I was sitting outside the ward, having a wee quiet cry to myself when a nurse came round the corner.   It turned out I knew her from school.  She sat down and she asked who I had been visiting and I explained it was my Gran, Mrs MacAuley.   She laughed then and said “it all makes sense now” .. seemingly my Gran had been regaling stories to the nurses about her grandchildren and about the one who had caused the most worry (me!)… she hadn’t put the names together since my surname is Johnson.

Elaine (the nurse) sat with me for wee while and was honest enough to say that my Gran probably wouldn’t have much longer as her body was failing quite quickly but that I should remember her not as the withered body in the bed but as the strong, buxom woman that I remembered.

A couple of weeks later my Gran did die.   She left very little behind apart from a small family who loved her and a suitcase under her bed that contained all the lovely gifts we had bought for her over the years that had been “too good to use”.

Margaret Jane Bremner/Laing/MacAuley… you were one formidable woman.  Tough, gentle, funny and with a heart as big as Scotland.   I love you and miss you.

 

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Hot Water

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Lying in the bath, at peace and just thinking made me realise something this morning.

Friendship and relationships are very much like having a bath … they should be warm, relaxing and surround you.

Sometimes we take friendship and relationships for granted and forget to “top up” to keep them warm and when they go cold there is really nothing else to do but to get out and let it pour away.

A good bath, and a good friendship/relationship is when you can stay in for as long as you like, because you can keep topping it up and grow wrinkly in the warmth that surrounds you.

A strange analogy I know … but one that made me smile today.

 

Take the hint …..

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Stop …. just stop…  I have said all I can say … I have heard your words, your excuses, your lies.   I have had enough…. please stop… just stop.

Get on with your life … your life does not concern me now … and mine should not concern you .. take the hint … 

 

 

The coolbox saga

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I love my family.   We may all be slightly eccentric in our own little way, but we are close and help each other whenever we can in all sorts of ways.

I am going away this weekend and I have bought some things that I want to keep cool during my 5 hour drive.   However, I could not find my coolbox.   I searched my cottage from top to bottom (which took all of 2 minutes, since it isn’t exactly a big cottage!).. but no luck.  Then I remembered …. back in the summer I took Big Muva and Little Sista away for a week in Wales and used the coolbox then … so I called my mum, who was out, but I spoke to Margaret, my sister.

The conversation went like this:

ME: Margaret, I can’t find my coolbox, is it there?

MAG:   No.

ME: Are you sure because the last time I seen it was when we came back from Wales and mum had stuff in it for the fridge.

MAG: No it is not here but it might be upstairs in mums room.

ME: *sigh* Can you check and call me back

MAG:   OK, what is it?

ME: Its a coolbox, you know what we put the stuff in to keep it cool when we went to Wales, its blue with an orange lid and should have a couple of cooler blocks inside!

MAG: OK.  I will check

(Phone goes down)

A couple of minutes later the phone rings

ME:   Hi Margaret .. was it in mums room

MAG:  Well, there is one in mums room but I think its mums.

ME:   No Margaret it is mine, we used it to go to Wales!  (by this time my voice was getting shrill)

MAG:  But I remember mum buying one about 6 years ago.

ME:  Yes Margaret, she bought it for ME!!!  It is mine, I use it for camping. 

MAG: OK

ME:   Can you do me a favour, can you rinse it out for me and put the cooler blocks in the freezer

MAG:   Will the explode?

ME:   NO …. THEY WILL NOT EXPLODE!!!

MAG:   Can I rinse them in warm water or just cold water

ME: Warm soapy water will be FINE!!!

MAG: and they won’t explode?

ME: NO!!!!!!

MAG: What if there is no room in the freezer?

ME:  Why don’t you go and check then ….

MAG: OK ……. (footsteps, bang, crash, rustle, rustle and rustle some more, tap gets turned on, splish and sploshing for a few minutes, footsteps)

MAG:   Jayne, there is room and I’ve washed the two blocks and put them in the freezer.  They didn’t explode.

ME:  Thanks Margaret (in an exasperated voice!)

MAG:  When are you coming to get them

ME: Tomorrow morning sometime, I will call mum in the morning

MAG:  (long silence) … how long can I leave the blocks in the freezer

ME: Overnight is fine Margaret.

MAG:   Will they explode?

ME: NO THEY WON’T FUCKING EXPLODE!!     LEAVE THEM IN THERE OVERNIGHT, GO TO WORK IN THE MORNING AND DON’T WORRY ABOUT THEM

MAG:  Ok,   What time will you be coming for them

ME:  (getting to the end of my tether now…..)    I’ve just told you … I will phone Mum in the morning.

MAG:  Ok. but she takes me to work in the morning at 8.10am

ME:   That’s OK I won’t be that early .. I will call her tomorrow to arrange a time.

MAG:  Ok.   Are the blocks safe to leave in the Freezer overnight?

ME:   YESSSSSS … 

MAG:  Ok.   I will just keep checking on them.

ME:  Margaret, there is NO need to check on them….they will NOT explode, they will NOT burst… they won’t do anything apart from freeze!!!!

MAG:   OK.   Bye.

ME:   *banging head off wall*

A leap of faith

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From the moment we are born we are forced by nature to take a leap of faith. We learn to talk, to walk, to ride a bike, to letting go of our parents hand and stepping out into the big brave world of the unknown in front of us.

We go to school, we learn how to make friends.

We grow up, we learn about love and about how the world works and we forget the joy of just taking a step into the unknown, taking a risk because of our past, our fears, our assumptions and our ability to analyse and in many cases over analyse.

Now and then, if we are lucky, something unexpected comes along that makes us sit back and think and realise that we have reached a crossroads where we can decide to carry on the same path of safety and protection or to take a deep breath and just let go and allow ourselves to see where we land.

A child never has these thoughts, a child just accepts that life is about learning, about new experiences and about “becoming”.    Sadly as adults we do have more of an awareness about hurt, about trust and about self protection, which is no bad thing… but sometimes stops us from really living.

A Child’s Window

Smiling faces from beneath the hoods

their future as colourful as the sleeping spring.

The paths they walk lead to home,

The walls they climb are made of stone.

But soon, too soon, their play will end,

hopes and dreams left behind,

they wander now down paths of fate.

So let them play and learn their game,

let them dream and speak their minds.

For a child has eyes where we are blind.

11.11.11.

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Photo courtesy of Nicola Mead

“At the 11th hour, on the 11th day of the 11th month, we will remember them”

It is, perhaps, too easy to forget about history.  To forget about sacrifice.  To forget about the men and women who laid down their lives to give us the present we have now.

It is also too easy to forget about the men and women who have sacrificed their lives in more recent times.  It is too easy to ignore the news, forget that somewhere a mother, a wife, a husband, a partner, a child or a friend is mourning the loss of a loved one.

For those who have not served in the forces, or lost a loved one, it is difficult to explain the pride and the respect that today, of all days, we, who have served, give to those who have not only died for us, but those that have survived with injuries and scars both physical and mental.

So, today, as you enjoy your Sunday, just think, think of how lucky you are, think of your family and your children and cherish the fact that they are with you.

For me, it is a personal day to remember friends who I have lost, not always in battle, not always when still serving but who served their country with pride and honour.

For Dilys, Maxine, Graeme, Mo and all the others…. at 11am I will be thinking of you.

Respect.

Crossing the line

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We all have limits.   Whether it be emotional or physical.   There is a point when we have admit that we cannot continue.   This is not failure this is simply recognising that the limits we can work and live to and adjusting our lives or our emotions to live within these boundaries.

I am beginning to know and understand my limits, perhaps for me I see things in a very black and white way.  I do not handle the “grey areas” of life well.  Something either is or it isn’t, I’m not comfortable or easy with anything else so I live my life as open as I can.  Some people like this about me, some do not.  There is nothing I can do about that and gave up worrying about this a long time ago.

Sometimes I lose myself, I fall into the grey area and get trapped in a cage surrounded by doubt and fear.   This is when I begin to allow stress to envelope me and I fall into a pit where nothing makes sense.   It is a vicious circle that is hard to break and guilt and duty keep me there as I fight, often in vain, to try to save something that isn’t always worth fighting for.

I am by nature quite trusting, maybe it is a fault, maybe it isn’t I don’t know, but I have been forced to draw a line in the sand and just accept that somethings and some people will cross the line and that there is nothing I can do about this apart from walk away.

 

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